Eastleigh Borough councillors have voted to send the latest draft version of the Local Plan out to public consultation at last Thursday night’s meeting of the full council.
The new plan is essentially identical to its previous incarnation. The major developments that were earmarked for Boorley Green, Woodhouse Lane and Chestnut Avenue remain but there are now an additional 1,800 new homes pencilled in for sites in Fair Oak, Horton Heath and Hedge End.
The meeting had been advertised as a 7pm start but had brought forward by an hour to 6 pm. This would have allowed plenty of time for public participation but in the event there were only around twenty souls in the public gallery from where just three local residents addressed the council.
Perhaps the early start combined with rush hour traffic kept people away, certainly there was one councillor who, unfortunately, couldn’t make it – the member for Bishopstoke West – Eastleigh’s MP Mike Thornton who has now missed six of his last seven schedule council attendances according to the council’s own website.
(See also: Thornton I won’t give up my council seat)
Before discussion of the plan could get underway, Cllr Roger Smith had to leave the chamber as the member for Fair Oak and Horton Heath has an interest as a landowner in the Horton Heath area.
Introducing the item on the Local Plan Council Leader Keith House said the plan was about:
“Where we choose to locate the homes and the jobs that are needed for the future of the borough through to 2029 along with the protection we give to our countryside gaps between our local communities.”
“Not having a plan is a risk to the council. The quicker we progress it the quicker we will have security to protect the remaining greenfield sites that we most want to give protection to from building along with making sure we do achieve the homes we need for our local community in the future.”
The Leader explained that the consultation period will last six weeks. A leaflet would be delivered to every home in the borough summarising the plan and giving details of a series of public exhibitions which will give residents in every parish a chance to raise concerns with planning staff face to face.
Cllr House advised that the planning officers will “listen very carefully to try and understand the issues raised by residents …but the best opportunity for residents is make their views known is in writing or by email.”
Perhaps it should be made clear that all those who have previously written in with comment s or objections will need to do so again as this is an entirely new plan, despite its similarities.
It’s ‘back to square one’ for both the council and for residents and while speaking from the public gallery ‘Save Stoneham’ campaigner Fiona Mapleson told the chamber it was very “frustrating” to have worked for two years against the old plan – only to have to start again.
She also complained that many residents did not receive the council’s consultation literature through their door the last time and that the options detailed on it were so limited as to be, in her opinion, undemocratic.
She hoped that this time the process could be completed quickly:
“We would not like to wait 15 years like Winchester just to see countryside built on. We would like the decision to be made in the near future so people can see what is happening on their doorstep.”
Fair Oak resident Matthew Sharfman said that he was previously aware of the local plan but:
“I now realise this is going to have even greater detrimental effect to my neighbourhood then I previously envisaged “
“I am very disappointed with the council that they haven’t actually taken an opinion poll of the borough as a whole and ask if we are ‘for’ or ‘against’ these 11,000 homes. I thought being local government there would be an interest in local democracy as opposed to pitting one community against another”
He claimed that if 11,000 extra homes were built, thousands of high paying jobs would also have to be created in order to service the mortgages.
Mr Sharfman also warned that a sudden increase in the number of households would result in a massive strain on water supply in the borough.
Community activist Sam Snook bluntly asked the council:
“This country is broke. Where you going to get the money from?”
With public participation quickly over it was the turn of councillors to debate,
There are only four (Conservative) members in Eastleigh Borough Council’s opposition group and the residents they represent in Hiltingbury are not directly affected by the proposed developments – nevertheless they doggedly went into bat.
Opening, Cllr John Caldwell said:
“Now that the numbers have increased from 9,400 to 10,140 with the additional coming from green field sites, don’t let me see anymore propaganda from the Lib Dems saying ‘we’ve saved the green fields’.”
“Looking ahead in 16 years in the next plan, surely it means only green field sites are going to be built on?”
Cllr Caldwell wondered how effective the plan would be in finding homes for those on the housing register:
“More housing is needed particularly in affordable housing but the Eastleigh Housing Register – having been 7,300 in July – has dropped to 5600 this month following rationalisation.
“Even so in the last three months only 300 applicants were housed. These plans of 10,000 anticipate 2,500 affordable houses over the next 15 years – so just how long are applicants going to have to wait?”
“I believe it is wrong to put 1400 houses in Boorley Green on the golf course therefore destroying that part of the borough forever…It is wrong to build over a 1000 houses in Stoneham Lane as well.”
Cllr Caldwell’s colleague Judith Grajewski thought the council is premature in sending the plan out for consultation.
“The council is having to rush out a new plan that is not yet ready for consultation because the supporting documents needed for a considered assessment are incomplete.
“It has not been possible to provide a full transport assessment, not been possible to provide a full sustainability assessment and only a partial habitats regulation assessment which omits the air quality implications of the plan.”
She said she is opposed to development on land at Boorley Green and Woodhouse Lane as the land there is of high agricultural quality:
“The opportunity for local food production is likely to be of increasing importance in the coming years.”
Cllr Grajewski also urged residents to take part in the consultation process:
“People have been contacting me about the plan saying they don’t think the council is going to listen to their views. Whether they are right or wrong in that belief I would urge them to go to the consultation, have a look at the plan and make your comments because the independent inspector who looks at the plan when it is submitted will listen to your views.”
Opposition group leader Cllr Godfery Olson warned about the dangers of over development:
“This plan will transform Eastleigh from a pleasant semi-rural borough to an urbanisation which can lead to the forming of part of a “Solent city” when you add the developments of up to 50,000 houses built by neighbouring authorities.
“Gaps between existing settlements will be lost. The gap between Eastleigh and Southampton will be almost non-existent buildings on recreation land open space and green fields must be resisted. Once built upon they will be lost forever.”
“The rural parishes of Botley, Boorley Green, Fair oak and Horton Heath will be over-whelmed and lose their character.”
Cllr Rupert Kyrle is one of Botley’s two Lib Dem members – the other being Cllr Cathie Fraser – who previously broke ranks to vote against the original local plan.
He is continuing to oppose the plan but his objections are now largely centred on in what he says are:
“Real and significant concerns over traffic and air quality issues that we are facing in Eastleigh.”
“I am very concerned that with the very real need we have to build more homes in our borough but without the necessary infrastructure in place at the right time during the course of this plan we willl have potential gridlock on our roads with increasing problems of air quality as a result of increased traffic volumes.”
Normally any dissent on policy is quickly followed by de-selection but Cllr Kyrle was keen to point it out it wasn’t his fault he couldn’t support the plan, it was the fault of the Conservative County Council who he claims have failed to address traffic issues.
He recited a litany of what he claimed were County Council failures –or a downright refusal – to tackle bottleneck Botley’s traffic problems: no funding for a by-pass,no new roundabout, no speed limit reductions.
In fact he overran his allotted five minutes of time but was indulgently allowed to continue Tory bashing before concluding:
“I have no confidence in the county or the highways agency. I cannot see my way at this moment to support the plan.”
Speaking in support of the plan Lib Dem Councillor Steve Holes observed:
“The fact is we have a statutory obligation to produce a borough plan. We have an obligation to provide around 11,000 homes.
“If we don’t produce this plan if we don’t produce the houses we will be inundated by developers putting in plans for those sites that are not only allocated in this plan but all those other sites that we hold so dear around the borough.
Cllr Tonia Craig told Cllr Caldwell the low number of tenants that were housed simply underlined the need for more house building.
Winding up the debate Leader Keith House responded to the points raised.
Addressing Mr Sharfman he said of the consultation process:
“It is not an opinion poll, it is not a referendum it’s the council options for where the best choices are for development. The exact number of homes and where they are is up for debate but the broad number is based on the genuine demographic need we have in the borough based on a number of different assessments and if we don’t plan enough, the plan won’t get past the planning inspector.”
Responding to Sam Snook’s claim that ‘The country is broke’ Cllr House said:
“Well it certainly was, the Liberal Democrats in government have certainly tried to fix that with our current partners in government the Conservatives.
Almost immediately he then said:
“The reason only 300 (social tenants) have been housed is because that is the only number of affordable homes we have been able to deliver -there is a lack of money from government.”
So Mr Snook was right?
He dismissed Conservative objections:
“The only way we can achieve more affordable homes is to allow more planning permissions to be awarded”
“Never do we hear (from Conservatives) realistic proposals of where homes can actually be built.”
Actually Cllr Caldwell had neatly anticipated this last – and frequent – charge by asking if the Lib Dem rebels were also being challenged to supply alternative housing proposals.
The Leader also revealed that the County Council had agreed that there should be a new secondary school built in the east of the borough. (Plans for a new primary school for Horton Heath have already been confirmed).
The Leader looked forward to a new era of co-operation:
“The council (EBC) is firmly in favour of a Botley by-pass. Now we have a more constructive and collaborative arrangement with the County Council maybe they will agree with us.
Finally the Leader used his closing remarks to take a further swipe at the opposition pointing out that more housing had been built under the previous conservative administration (hang on, is that a good thing or a bad thing?)
Cllr House also went on to claim that the majority of people in Botley and Hedge End agreed with Lib Dem housing strategy because it was Lib Dem candidates that were returned in the most recent elections while the Conservatives finished third (ouch!).
At the vote, the motion to scrap the old local plan was unanimously carried and the vote to send the new draft out to public consultation was carried by 31 votes in favour versus six against – the four Conservative opposition members being joined by Lib Dems Kyrle and Fraser.