Hedge End belatedly debate local plan

Tumbleweed photo: Judy Hedding

Hedge End Town Council finally overcame its inhibitions this evening and managed to hold a worthwhile debate on the Boroughs draft Local plan.

Hedge End’s only independent Councillor, Cllr Keith Day, has previously tried to get the Town Council to discuss the local plan at a Full Council meeting, but as he is the sole opposition figure on the Town Council, Cllr Day’s efforts in September and December 2011 were easily prevented by the Lib Dem Councillors.

But things were very different this evening. With Borough elections safely out of the way and Cllr Louise Bloom just elected to the chair of Hedge End Town Council, Cllr Day tried again, keen to get the matter discussed in Hedge End Town Council before the local plan is discussed further at Cabinet level in Eastleigh.

Cllr Days motion was as follows; 

In light of the Draft Local Plan summary consultation representations published by the Borough Council, and the overwhelming public opposition expressed therein, Hedge End Town Council urges Eastleigh Borough Council Cabinet to reconsider the large scale development proposed for Hedge End and Botley in favour of a plan for smaller-scale, sustainable, organic growth evenly spread across all the Borough’s settlements.

Whilst introducing his motion Cllr Day said;    

I suspect I am introducing another Tumbleweed moment here, but I’ll give it a try.

Hedge End Town Council has a good track record of consulting its residents. Last years reluctance to discuss the local plan was, to use a popular phrase of the moment, an omnishambles. Its time to put Hedge End first. Its time, well past time actually, for Hedge End Town Council to make it clear where it stands.

Cllr Louise Bloom then introduced the “Tumbleweed moment”, by asking if anybody was prepared to second Cllr Days motion. She was effectively asking one of the Lib Dem Councillors to support a motion that was put forward by the sole opposition Councillor, a motion that proposed a radically different approach to that being proposed by the Lib Dem controlled Borough Council, asking somebody to break-ranks under the watchful eye of the Leader of the Borough Council and leader of the Lib Dems in Eastleigh, Cllr Keith House. It was a big ask. 

There was a short pause that felt much longer, with Councillors anxiously looking around the room at each other, each trying to work out what the others were going to do, many clearly wanting the debate but hoping that somebody else would sacrifice themselves.  Cllr Helen Corben, a single-hatter who only serves on the Town Council,  finally put her hand up to second the motion.

The room noticeably relaxed, but there was a second “Tumbleweed moment” when Cllr Bloom opened the debate and asked if anybody wanted to speak, adding “You get 3 minutes, unless I’m feeling generous”  (which she was)…!

Nobody really wanted to go first, so Cllr House eventually kicked things off by saying;

Consultations on any plan tend to get all of the objections and less support. People who are happy with the proposals often don’t participate in the consultation.

The evidence is that there is NOT overwhelming opposition to the local plan. The motion is based on a false premise.

Most of the opposition to the plan is from Boorley Green, rather than Hedge End and Woodhouse Lane.

The motion is flawed because it does not provide for sustainable urban development. Hedge End is already a large urban area. Development needs to be here. The Sundays Hill bypass will relieve congestion. 

We tend not to hear the voices of those who are happy with the proposals, only those who are against it.

Having broken the ice and set the tone of the debate, Hedge End’s Councillors were now a little more relaxed about coming forward.

Cllr Rupert Kyrle, Eastleigh’s new Mayor, was next to speak but was careful to start by saying;

 “I’d be expected to speak on this, as I’ve just gone through an election”

Cllr Kyrle (with his Town/Parish Councillors hat on) then proceeded to say;

There has been a lively debate on the local plan in Botley, with some acceptance and some rejection of the proposals.

It is unfair that Hampshire County Council have rejected the proposals for the Botley bypass on the grounds that there is not enough traffic. We believe that the case for the bypass has been proved since the 1980’s. When HCC resurfaced the A334 through Botley recently, they chose to do it overnight on the grounds that to do so during the day would cause trafic chaos. Hampshire County Councils decision not to look at the Botley Bypass for another 20 years is irresponsible. Hampshire County Council has turned its back on the residents wishes for Botley. I will fight this tooth and nail until Hamshire County Council accept their responsibilities.

The Borough Council has to make some difficult decisions, but I don’t believe that Boorley Green is a sustainable site for that level of development. 

Cllr Sheila Baines then asked for clarification on what was in the plan, as she’d found that non-political residents were confused by the proposals. Cllr Keith House clarified, by saying;

For Hedge End there are propsals for 90-100 homes at Foord Road and 1000 new homes at Woodhouse Lane. At Boorley Green, the golf course site, 1400 new homes are  proposed. At Winchester street in Botley 300-400 new homes are proposed, along with allotments and a new cemetery.

Cllr Cynthia Garton was next to speak, saying;

The plan is not just about housing. Sports fields are needed. We are encouraging kids to get out and about and not stay indoors on their computers. People want to live here and have homes  and facilities.

By now the Councillors had overcome their reservations and were queuing up to speak, with chairman Cllr Bloom happy to let the debate run and not restrict Councillors on time.

Cllr Dan Clarke, one of the Town Councils younger members, was on-message too, saying;

To say that there is “Overwhelming public opposition” is simply not in the real world. That’s not what we’re detecting on the doorstep. People are concerned about Youth services and Libraries. Those are the things we should be concentrating on as Councillors.

People are concerned about their children and want their future housing needs to be met.

The local Blogosphere has been active on this, which is welcome, but it is far removed from the concerns of most people.

The motion is an “over-simplified, Victor-Meldrew get them out of Hedge End false premise”.

Cllr Caitlin Bloom, the youngest member of Hedge End Town Council and still studying herself, followed Cllr Clarkes lead, by saying;

Forthcoming events in London are encouraging us to inspire a generation. We should think about young people returning from University who will want a home in the area. I support the proposals in the local plan

Cllr Bruce Tennant didn’t say much on the detailed proposals for Hedge End, but added;

The feedback from canvassing recently is that this is not a big issue. I agree with Rupert. The proof of the pudding is that he was returned as Borough Councillor.

Cllr Derek Pretty added;

They are well thought through plans, but this is clearly an emotive issue. Those who object say so. Supporters tend to stay silent. The local plan has been well thought through. I can’t go along with this motion.

Cllr Jane Welsh took the debate in a different direction, saying;

Look around Hedge End. How many of us are living in homes that were once strawberry fields. The local plan is much better than popping houses in back gardens.

Having seconded the motion and listened to everybody else speak, Cllr Helen Corben then said;

I supported this motion because we needed a round table discussion which we’ve now had. Woodhouse Lane bothers me. I’d like to remind people of the problems at the roundabout by Wickes. The Maypole roundabout will be the same if the plans go ahead. We’ll need some substantial infrastructure to prevent that roundabout from becoming a problem.

Cllr Louise Bloom then added her own observations, saying

The Woodhouse Lane site is open to conjecture, as there is no clear message from Hampshire County Council.

I’ve only received 1 email on the subject. If we’re thinking about “overwhelming pubic opinion”, lets not forget that Cllr Welsh just had 48.2% of the vote whilst Cllr Kyrle managed 49% 

We mustn’t forget that some of the objections are from people, developers, who want to build even more houses on these sites.

The next stage is for this to be debated at Cabinet level in Eastleigh, and then in the Full Council.

I’ve asked Cllr Garton to debate the revised plan in Highways and Planning, in September. The public are welcome to attend.

Cllr Day proceeded to sum-up, saying;

I can’t help wondering why the Borough Councillors bothered with the public consultation if they are now relying on election results to justify the local plan.

And I refer to the recent Lib Dem campaign material, which was strongly anti-development. It  seems that Cllr Welsh has said one thing before the election and another after. Before the election she wanted no more housing. Now she seems to accept it…

Are the plans well thought through..? Cabinet seem to be about to approve the housing without the necessary bypass, but I suppose perhaps they are still being thought through…

It was incredibly remiss last year, for Hedge End Town Council not to debate this matter, but I’m pleased that whatever the vote this evening, this will be debated again in September. 

The motion was then put to a recorded vote, with Cllrs Day and Corben supporting the motion, Cllrs Kyrle, Baynes, Houghton and Watson abstaining and the 14 other Cllrs that were present voting against it (n.b. only Cllr Jenny Hughes was absent this evening).

The meeting then moved on to other business, but closed a short while later with an umistakeable buzz in the room. It is rare for Hedge End Town Council to have such a debate and although the outcome of this one was not what Cllr Day or the public gallery had hoped for, everybody seemed pleased that the Town Council had broken through the political obstacles that had prevented this important dicussion from taking place last year.

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