Eastleigh’s Conservative councillors have claimed that the Lib Dem ruling party do not want to protect the Leigh Road Recreation ground from development.
The allegation followed a stormy meeting of Eastleigh Local Area Committee on Tuesday night after a Conservative motion to protect the Rec from any development was condemned as ‘politically motivated’ by the Lib Dem majority committee and amended using a form of words that would still provide scope for non-recreational interests.
Eastleigh town centre residents had been concerned that the integrity of the Recreation ground was at risk after the council had indicated it was willing to lease a portion of the recreation ground for a new store redevelopment subject to planning permission
Lib Dem councillors had declared Sainsbury’s plans for the Rec as “Good News for our town’ in their newsletter and the planning department gave Sainsbury’s the thumbs up to hack down 50 trees and concrete over 5,000 square feet of the much loved park on condition that the Supermarket paid the council millions of pounds for civic improvements.
Sainsbury’s however, unexpectedly withdrew hours after receiving details of the payments being demanded by the Council.
No representation without opposition
As it was apparent that area Lib Dem councillors supportedthe Sainsbury’s plan and because there are no opposition councillors on the Local Area Committee townsfolk say they had been forced to secure representation from the only four opposition (Conservative) councillors who are all located in Chandler’s Ford.
Conservative Councillor Judith Grajewski had attempted to introduce a motion to ‘resist all moves to develop any of the land for residential, commercial or other purposes deemed not to be recreational” at last month’s full council meeting but It was deferred to Tuesday’s meeting of ELAC.
The public gallery was filled with opposition members and supporters (including Maria Hutchings who had previously spoken in support of the Rec at a rally) and members of the residents action group “Friends of Eastleigh Rec and Open Green Spaces” (previously known as Rescue the Rec).
As none of the Liberal Democrat councillors were prepared to second the motion Cllr Thomas duly did so in his role as Chair.
Councillor Grajewski’s motion read as follows:
“This Council resolves to retain all of the remaining land (as at 18th October 2012) known as the Leigh Road Recreation Ground for the amenity and recreational use of the residents of Eastleigh and visitors to the Borough. This Council will resist all moves to develop any of the land for residential, commercial or other purposes deemed not to be recreational and in keeping with the present character of the facility”
Speaking to move the motion Cllr Grajewski described the Rec as the most prominent landmark in the town and that local residents were ‘naturally worried’ that it could be reduced in size.
She addressed the councillors directly saying:
“This motion is an opportunity for members to show that they are listening to local people an opportunity to reassure them that the Rec will mail for future generations that councillors can be relied on to speak up on their behalf. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
“Whatever our political allegiance, I would hope that all members put people first.”
Cllr Godfrey Olson, leader of Eastleigh Conservative group said he had been contacted by a ‘goodly number’ of residents regarding the Rec adding that.
“Eastleigh Rec matters as much to as does to a lot of other people.”
Cllr Olson had brought with him a copy of the 1896 deed and said it showed the land had been purchased for the “recreational purposes of the residents of Eastleigh” observing that:
“In 1896 before a lot of houses were built they thought there was a need for recreational land in the town”
Cllr Olson went on to say:
“People use the recreation ground as an extension to they own gardens many have relatively small gardens.
“It is a green lung in the centre of Eastleigh not only do the resident s use it that way but also a lot of the residents people who work here use it lunchtimes on a nice sunny day you can see the place bussing with activity,
“we have already seen this site reduced in size as has been said and there was great concern with the Sainsbury’s applications although it appears to have gone away I’m not sure that it is dead and when I read that Eastleigh Borough Council will continue to talk to s there is in my mind that they may come back and they may want to take quite a large chunk of the Rec and relocate 42 trees and erode the amount of land available for general use.”
Matthew Myatt – a local environmental issues campaigner also spoke saying:
“You as councillors are entrusted to maintain and look after the Rec.
“Since 1900 a 33 per cent reduction in footprint has taken place on Rec and its time for it to stop.
“We can longer build on this land it’s not just ours but it is our children’s and your grandchildren’s -please put party politics aside.
“You have to think of the people of Eastleigh – this land is their land so stop building on it please”
At this point Cllr Mo Sollitt announced she wished to propose an amendment – this was met with groans and mock surprised “ahhs!” from the public gallery.
Although Mo Sollitt’s amendment contained the words “Leigh Road Recreation Ground” it appeared everything else in the original motion had been changed .
Cllr Sollitt’s amendment:
“This committee considers that Leigh Road Recreation ground brings significant recreational, economic and amenity benefits to the town and should therefore be given the maximum possible protection from hostile planning applications and asks that the head of Regeneration and Planning Policy considers how the protection given by the emerging local plan can be strengthened.”
The amendment referred to” maximum possible protection” rather than total protection, and then only protection from ‘hostile development rather than ‘any development.
The stipulation that the Rec should only be used for recreational purposes had disappeared as well.
On this last point a council legal officer passed a note to Cllr Thomas to say that restrictive covenants on the original deeds preventing non-recreational use of the Rec had been removed in 1948.
(Non- recreational use under terms of deed is therefore permissible.)
Cllr Mo Sollitt was supported by her fellow Councillor, and son, Steve Sollitt who seemed to take his lead from Council Leader Keith House who had previously dismissed Cllr Grajewski’s original motion as “political posturing”
Cllr Sollitt criticised the Tory group:
“ Not least because most inroads into the Rec took place on their watch, We all want to protect the Rec but writing motions that are politically motivated that don’t actually contain any ability to for this council to put something in place to ensure that things don’t happen is a weak thing to do”
“People don’t agree with my amendment”
Mo Sollitt spoke to the Public Gallery – from where a steady stream of adverse comments had been emanating:
“Obviously people don’t agree with my amendment as I can see from the shaking of heads.”
Cllr Sollitt described how important the Rec was to her and her family recounting how she used to hang around the Rec as a teenager and met her husband there.
The amendment strengthens the ability to protect there is no way I would in my lifetime to allow the Rec to be used for anything else bar a recreation ground.
Cllr Irish praise for Grajewski
Although the Conservatives came in for sharp criticism from the Lib Dems, Cllr Wayne Irish nevertheless made a point of praising Cllr Grajewski for bringing the motion.
“I would like to start by thanking Cllr Grajewski for bringing this to us. We are borough councillors and we look after the whole borough and I think it’s only right that councillors should bring up issues in the town centre. It’s good that it’s been done”
“We really do need to protect the Rec it’s a very important area used by many people. It’s used to put on all these marvellous events that we have and we have got one coming up with the Christmas light switch on, but the original motion may have got us into a few complication with various things. I think the amendments put forward will strengthen our case to protect the Rec.”
Cllr Olson thought that a reliance on planning policy as a protection did not bide well:
“You talk about planning policy strengthening protection of the Rec. It didn’t seem to protect it from the Sainsbury’s application when there appeared to be a willingness to allow Sainsbury’s to take part of it.”
Planning agreed to development
Cllr Thomas attempted to disagree with Cllr Olson but only seemed to reinforce Councillor Olson’ s point claiming that the council was powerless to prevent plan applications and admitting that the planning department’s recommendation on the Sainsbury’s megastore was to permit the Rec to be built on.
Responding to the amendment Cllr Grajewski told the committee:
“The amendment does not strengthen my original motion. It is a watering down of the original motion. Putting the recreation ground into planning policies will only protect it till 2029 and as you have said, a planning application can be submitted anytime and who is to decide whether a planning application is hostile?
“However by bring though a positive, although watered down version of my amendment, there is recognition that the status quo before I brought my motion to full council without that there would no than been adequate protection for the recreation ground.”
The vote was taken and the amended motion was unanimously passed.
After the meeting Cllr Grajewski said the amendment was “totally expected”
Cllr Olson remarked:
“They don’t want to protect it as it is. They have been talking to Sainsbury’s about this for two years and they say they are still prepared to talk to them now.”
Conservative Cllr John Caldwell said
“They got themselves mixed up. Planning policy is decided by Cabinet not by area committees so if the council couldn’t debate it should have gone to cabinet.”
John Grant, Chair of Friend of Eastleigh Rec told Eastleigh News
“We expected this would happen and the motion would be watered down. We are grateful to Cllr Grajewski for forcing this debate tonight but we are not satisfied that the motion that was passed goes far enough.”
This is not the first time an opposition motion has been amended in such a way as to defeat the original intention.
Hedge End Town Councillor Keith Day, an independent, has previously been forced to vote against a motion he had proposed after it had been amended beyond recognition.