MPs condemn Local Plan after Inspector’s letter

Inspector tells council to 'delete' policies to build North of Bishopstoke | Says sites in South Bishopstoke, Horton Heath, Fair Oak and West End a 'pragmatic' solution'| MP Paul Holmes: 'Scrap the Plan'

Stoke park woods

The current proposed development would be close to ancient woodland at Stoke Park Woods.

A letter from the planning inspector advising the Eastleigh Borough council of her ‘significant concerns’ with their Local Plan has sparked a row between Council leader Keith House, objectors and local MPs.

Like all councils Eastleigh is obliged to develop a sustainable plan for future development setting out the location and number of new homes and associated infrastructure that can be built over a 15 year period.

The centrepiece of Eastleigh’s current draft plan is to build over 5,000 new houses with an accompanying link road on green fields north of Bishopstoke and Fair Oak (plan Options B and C). This has proved to be controversial and a huge crowd of residents turned out to demonstrate against the plan at the public examination in January.

Today (April 6) the planning inspector Christa Masters wrote to the council to itemise ‘significant concerns’ with the local plan, in particular the process by which the chosen site was selected, stating that consideration of alternative sites had been ‘inadequate’ and instructing the council to delete the policies based on options B and C.

Instead, the Inspector suggested the council re-site the proposed large scale housing development on land to the South of Bishopstoke, North East of Fair Oak and at Horton Heath and West End (previously rejected options D and E) describing building on these sites as a “pragmatic” solution and “the most beneficial course of action.”

Soon after posting the Inspector’s letter on the council website the Local Plan was under fire from Local MPs Paul Holmes and Steve Brine.

Eastleigh’s MP Paul Holmes wrote an open letter to Council Leader Keith House to complain that a statement posted on the council website summarising the the Inspector’s letter was misleading by downplaying the extent of the Inspector’s concerns and proposed modifications.

The MP called on the plan to be scrapped:

“I believe it is a fundamentally flawed plan and that we should scrap it and go back to the drawing board.

The Inspector agrees that it is fundamentally flawed and that is why she has asked you to withdraw the flagship element of the plan, which is Strategic Growth Option B/C for the land to the north and east of Bishopstoke and Fair Oak.

The MP added:

The manner in which you have announced this latest development is contrary to the open and transparent way in which your administration should be operating.”

Steve Brine, the MP for Winchester and Chandler’s Ford concurred with Mr Holmes saying:

“Eastleigh’s Local Plan has been a debacle from start to finish but the sad truth is it’s nowhere near finished. We now have the unedifying spectacle of misleading spin being put on the inspector’s report at a time when people are understandably distracted at a time of national crisis

The only good thing to come from today is the way the inspector has demolished the case for Options B and C which would be so damaging to places such as Colden Common and Otterbourne where, of course, my constituents have no voice on how Eastleigh is run.”

B and C “the only deliverable option”

In an email to Eastleigh News Cllr House defended the plan and said that although the Inspector has rejected policies based on options B and C  – the site itself was still viable and that none of the options had been ruled out.

“The overall case is clear that the only deliverable option to tackle traffic congestion and still keep the separate identity of our communities is growth in the north of the Borough.”

The Inspector has not rejected the Strategic Growth Option and has been very clear to say so.  What the Council has been asked to do it to provide more evidence on long-term growth, following achieving significant levels of new homes in recent years.

Local action group ADD told Eastleigh News that the Planning Inspectors letter was a “vindication of everything we have campaigned for.”

But in response Cllr House said;

“There is a real risk that pressure group ADD will mislead residents.  The Inspector has not rejected the Strategic Growth Option and has been very clear to say so.”

The Leader insisted the council would get the additional information the Inspector wanted and get the plan adopted with options B and C.

“A tremendous day for ADD supporters”

But despite Cllr House’s optimism, ADD chair John Lauwerys is satisfied the Inspector’s letter means that Options B and C can no longer go ahead saying it was a “tremendous day for thousands of ADD supporters.”

“The leader of Eastleigh Borough Council appears to be in denial claiming that this marks some kind of victory for him, which suggests that he hasn’t actually read the inspector’s letter.

However, ADD would be delighted to work with the council and share its knowledge to help it come up with a local plan that genuinely meets the housing needs of the area and does not cause avoidable environmental damage.”

In 2014 the Council withdrew their previous draft plan after the Inspector warned that it would be found to be ‘unsound’. This prompted the council to withdraw the plan and start over.

Concluding her letter, Masters said she recognised that her decision would be ‘a disappointment’ for the council but if the council did not want to proceed with the plan with her modifications in place, then the “withdrawal of the plan from examination would be the only other realistic option.”

Although the Inspector could not find the plan’s main proposals sound she did approve of plans to build 740 houses on smaller greenfield sites adjoining Allbrook, Bishopstoke, Bursledon, Fair Oak, Hedge End, Netley and West End.

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