Eastleigh’s councillors have agreed to submit the Local Plan for independent examination by the government inspector at last Thursday’s (18 October) council meeting at The Point. The Local Plan determines the location and number of new homes to be built in the Borough up until 2036 and provides for over 5,000 new homes and a relief road to the North of the Borough, effectively expanding Bishopstoke and Fair Oak and shrinking the existing green gap between the two villages and Winchester’s southern parishes.
During the full council meeting in December 2017 the plan was given an approval in principal to proceed with the gathering of the evidence base and the public consultation and delegated key decision making to the Council’s Chief Executive ,but during Thursday nights’ meeting Council Leader Keith House said as there had been an ‘all out’ election in May that saw many new councillors elected the most ‘transparent and democratically inclusive course” would be to bring the plan back to the members to seek their approval before submitting it the Secretary of State.
The question was he said, “Do we press the button to send the plan to the secretary of state?”
Last December hundreds of people filled the Hilton Ageas ballroom to hear a succession of residents and representatives of interested bodies speak on the Local Plan, the majority overwhelmingly against the adoption of options B and C (Bishopstoke and Fair Oak) and on Thursday night in introducing the agenda item Mayor Councillor Bruce Tennent announced that because of “significant public interest”, an hour had been set aside for public participation but in the event, and with fewer than 30 members of the public in the audience, only 18 minutes of that hour were needed.
Plan “massively unpopular”
The first speaker was John Lauwerys, representing ‘Action Against Destructive Development’ (ADD) a group of residents opposed to the Local Plan, many of whom like Mr Lauwerys live just outside the Borough in the communities most likely to feel the impact of a new road and housing .
Mr Lauwerys described the council’s preferred choice of site as “surreal” and said it was not supported by “objective evidence.” New data from the Office for National Statistics he said, indicated that housing need in the borough could be revised down with 3,000 fewer houses required then previously estimated, but he added, this reduction had not been reflected in the Local Plan. Mr Lauwerys suggested that the extra houses were vital for the council in order to finance the construction of the proposed new link road.
Mr Lauwerys also said that consultations had shown that the Local Plan was “massively unpopular” with residents and “not what local people want.” The first of the two public consultations that were held produced 592 objections and in the second 766 people registered their opposition.
The ADD representative complained that councillors were being asked to approve a plan without having read the responses to the recent consultation and warned the council that as a result of protestor donations, ADD now had a £100k war chest with which to hire consultants and a barrister to “expose the flaws in the draft plan you are asked to adopt this evening.”
Majority of proposed housing “unaffordable”
Representing the Labour Party Josh Constable said he was concerned that there had been little publicity about the meeting and that potential speakers had been required to pre-register their intentions.
The activist said Eastleigh Labour Party objected on three points: The lack of genuinely affordable housing, the lack of adequate infrastructure planning, and the lack of environmental considerations.
He said the council should be ensuring that the new plans contained adequate provision for affordable housing. There was no need he said, for up to 65% of the proposed new housing to be unaffordable and urged the council to take action to fund more cheap housing in order to combat homelessness and poverty.
Mr Constable reiterated Eastleigh Labour Party’s previously expressed concerns over the effects of the increased traffic congestion they say will be generated by mass development, inpacting negatively on quality of life, business efficiency and air quality.
“We at Eastleigh Labour Party strongly encourage the council to reconsider its local plan and, instead of ignoring the consultation responses it received, act on the comments of the overwhelming majority of respondents who found this plan to be ineffective and unsound” the council must “innovate, lead and act in its own capacity to ensure Eastleigh has a bright future.”
A member of the public, George Baker also spoke against the plan describing it as “Three hundred pages of high-minded rhetoric” that summed up “everything that is wrong with politics today.” Mr Baker said the council had ignored evidence provided through the public consultation and that the proposals were“ not a plan that provides for the people of this community, and not plan that provides what they want.”
MP: Council “working with developers not the community”
Eastleigh’s MP, Mms Davies also took part in the public session – a chance she said “to speak up for my constituents” and present their concerns to the council having been unable to attend the main debate at the Ageas Hilton last December.
The MP told the council that constituents were “dismayed” that their concerns were “being ignored” and asked councillors “what has happened to the duty to co-operate?”
“We have had no plan for close to a decade leaving piecemeal development and erosion of green spaces. What this administration are presenting this evening demonstrates just one thing – it’s ability to work hand in hand with developers and and not with the whole community and our neighbours”
Mims Davies was then cut short and had to return to her seat after raising another matter relating to child safeguarding issues at Bursledon Parish Council that the Mayor ruled was not on the agenda.
Point of order
As soon as the public participation ended Cllr Gin Tidrige, a member of the Bishopstoke Independent group raised a point of order. The former key member of ADD who recently been elected to the Borough Council on a platform of opposition to the Local Plan said that members were wrongly being asked to delegate authority to the Chief Executive to submit the Local Plan for inspection and not simply to note its progress, which was what she had been expecting. Tidridge said that councillors had not been given sufficient time to consider all the public consultation responses and as this was contrary to Council standing orders any vote should be postponed.
Through the delegated medium of the Mayor, the Chief Executive who was – as is customary – sat next to the Mayor, told Cllr Tidridge that this stage of the process members were no long required to examine all the evidence – the examination would be done by the independent Government Inspector.
It’s a “nightmare”
Opening the debate the Leader of the Conservative Opposition group Cllr Judith Grajewski compared Local Plan debates to “a recurring bad dream” and predicted – correctly it transpired – that “nothing we say this evening will stop the submission of this plan.”
Cllr Grajewski also noted that the evidence base was still not complete and suggested the plan was being “rushed” to avoid having to consider the newly downwardly revised housing figures from that John Laurweys had previously quoted.
The Conservative Leader also said she was worried that if too many houses were built that were not supported by employment opportunities, then Eastleigh would become a “dormitory town.”
Cllr Grajewski said she believed that building more houses in the borough would not make housing here more affordable adding “this the wrong plan for Eastleigh.”
Taking up the theme of missing or incomplete evidence, the Leader of the Bishopstoke Independent group, Cllr Lou Parker-Jones highlighted a number of areas where more work was needed – and although the Chief Executive had already (through the Mayor) said that the evidence would now only need to be assessed by the independent examiner – Parker-Jones argued that as a result councillors could not reach an evidence-based decision as to whether or not they should send submit the plan.
Cllr Parker-Jones also threw doubt on the council’s plans to construct a new link road describing it as ‘mythical’ and said it had been downgraded in the plans to the status of a street warning that the council might have to fund it themselves rather than through developer contributions, thereby “saddling the residents of this authority with further debt.”
Cllr Parker-Jones echoed Cllr Tidridge’s point of order saying that the Leader had tried to mislead members. Parker-Jones maintained that the leader had told members that they were only required to consider the local plan in order to note its progress, but “the recommendation is far more important – it is to approve the local plan!”
This was clearly something that Parker-Jones wasn’t prepared to go along with:
“In the light of the lack of evidence, I do not see how members can support such a recommendation.”
Cllr Stephen Broomfield the Conservative member for Fair Oak said he had noticed that there was already lot of infill building going on in both Bishopstoke and Fair Oak and the associated construction traffic was causing problems:
“It is pretty bloody chaotic and this plan will make things a damn sight worse”
Cllr Tidridge: “plan is unsound”
Following her unsuccessful point of order, Cllr Gin Tidridge rose again undaunted to deliver a round up of local parish council verdicts on Eastleigh’s plan with all of the Winchester Southern parishes – and Winchester City Council itself – stating the plan was unsound. She also listed objections from outside bodies including the Environment Agency and the Woodland Trust and pointed to areas of concern within the plan where evidence gathering had not yet been completed, accusing the council of decision-based evidence making instead of evidence based decision-making.
As no Liberal Democrat councillors wished speak on the plan, it was left to the Leader Cllr Keith House to sum up and respond in it’s defence.
Cllr House: “Confident plan is sound”
Cllr House emphasised that the decision required from members was not about policy nor the detail of the plan:
“What we are saying is that the council have put forward their view, residents and the community have put forward their view it is now right in process terms that all that evidence is put forward in front of the planning inspector appointed by the secretary of state to make recommendations back to this council.
“There will always be a significant body of people not happy with the content of the plan. People who live close to development sites do not support development close to them. We are not ignoring resident’s views but we are confident that we can put all of our evidence in front of the inspector for an objective look at all of the issues that have been identified.”
The Leader also said that professional planning advisors engaged by the Council – including a leading QC and expert on planning law – believe the plan is sound. Cllr House described the Council’s QC as “one of the best in the country.”
The Leader responded to the criticisms made by Eastleigh Labour party over a lack of affordable housing by listing a number of initiatives to help younger and less well off buyers find suitable accommodation. he went on to describe the council’s performance in this area as “innovative” and said that housing developments in Eastleigh are “not just about executive homes.”
Summing up, Cllr House said the government had made it clear that the alternative to not agreeing to submit a local plan was to “hand over planning” to Whitehall
“If we were to hand planning over to unelected civil servants the chances are we’d simply see Southampton grow to absorb us. Let’s turn the page, submit the plan and make sure planning is in the hands of Eastleigh people and not civil servants.”
At the vote, councillors decided to submit the plan for inspection by 25 votes for to 7 votes against. The public examination of the plan will take place sometime in the spring.
This meeting was the last meeting of the full Council for 2018, the Council is not scheduled to sit again until 21 February 2019.