Lib Dems continue to split over Local Plan

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Mark Balaam ‘ I have no choice’  pic: EBC

Another councillor has resigned from Eastleigh’s ruling Liberal Democrat group over the direction of the Local Plan and has joined rebel councillors Steve Sollitt and Sarah Bain who who have been sitting as the Independent Liberal Democratic Group since resigning themselves in August.

Cllr Mark Balaam who was elected in 2015 for Eastleigh Central said he found it “difficult to reconcile voting on conscience with blind loyalty to a party position.”

Referring to the council’s decision to identify land north of Bishopstoke and Fair oak as their preferred local plan options (options B and C) for development of new housing and a link road Cllr Ballam said:

“On such an important issue, I feel that I have no choice but to put my environmental concerns above any political ambition or group loyalty and I will not be tied down to a party line on a fundamental issue as the Local Plan.

“I am impressed with how the Independents on the Council have remained focused on the environmental damage that the draft plans for option B seem to present to the ancient woodland to the north of Bishopstoke. Although not in the ward that I represent, councillors have to represent every resident of the borough and I strongly believe that there are serious environmental risks attached to the draft Local Plan.”

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Keith House: “Council yet to reach a decision on local plan” pic EBC

Reacting to the news Council Leader Keith House said independent councillors had “buckled under pressure” and accused them of backing development in the green gap South of Bishopstoke:

“Sadly some councillors buckle under the pressure of having to make difficult choices and Mark and two others buckled to support the ADD political pressure group line of predetermining the Council’s Local Plan backing development across the countryside gap merging Bishopstoke, Fair Oak, Horton Heath, Hedge End and West End, with no new infrastructure and potentially irreparable environmental damage.”

In an email to Eastleigh News Independent group leader Steve Sollitt denied any suggestion of pre-determination and said that his group was still “open minded” as to the best options for Eastleigh’s local plan but added they did not believe Option B was viable:

“We don’t believe the road with Option B in particular is achievable and will cause significant environmental damage north of Bishopstoke and in Allbrook village.

“In addition, we do not believe that the building of this road will relieve the existing road network through Bishopstoke and Eastleigh Town and could put more traffic onto the roads through Boyatt Wood and Eastleigh North.”

Cllr House insisted that while no decision had been taken yet, Option B seemed to be the most sustainable:

“The Council has yet to reach a decision on the Local Plan, but noted in July that the most sustainable solution appeared to be to create a new settlement north of Bishopstoke, with an expansion of Fair Oak and a major new road linking to the M3 to help stop traffic pressures on Bishopstoke Road getting worse.”

Eastleigh’s councillors will be considering the best planning option for the Borough Local Plan at their next meeting on December 11 at the Ageas Bowl Hilton (7pm).

Councillors will be facing up to their ‘difficult decisions” in the knowledge that they will all be facing the electorate in May’s “all out” local election.

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