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SOLVE – The Council carries on regardless

SOLVE – The Council carries on regardless

August is usually a quiet month but not so for SOLVE. In our letter writing campaign so far we have written to MP’s, Councillors and the Council Chief Executive. All these can be seen, with replies, on the SOLVE website under “News & Media”. On 14th September SOLVE members Kate Tuck and Clive Pinder have a meeting with the Kings Fund, owners of much of the land planned for development. We hope to produce a report for our website.

On 13th August Basingstoke & Deane Council Corporate Director published her report on the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) sites referred to her from the Borough Council Planning and Infrastructure Oversee and Scrutiny Committee (P&IOSCOM). There were no changes to the site categorisations. In other words they stay in the SHLAA as “sites assessed for potential housing”. There were some amendments to the detail and constraints such as the removal of the reference in BAS121 on the need to work with developers in BAS102 and 103. This report along with other P&IOSCOM documents can be found on the Council website.

SOLVE was able to assist the Corporate Director when she had difficulty locating the Environment Agency (EA) comments referred to in the SHLAA. This SOLVE letter, with EA comments, is also on our website under “News & Media”. During the P&IOSCOM debates the question of total housing numbers in the Borough appears to be unresolved. It is a matter of public record that the previous government’s target of 945 houses per year has been scrapped as has the Council’s own figure of 740. However, the Council Planning Officers have retained these figures in their SHLAA document. We could have the ridiculous situation where out of date figures appear in the final SHLAA before a new figure, after public consultation, is agreed.

The 9th September meeting has as its main agenda item “Community Engagement”. The draft documents supplied for this (see council website) makes assumptions about housing numbers and contain draft questions which can only be described as loaded, presumably to trigger debate within the meeting. The public consultation will run from 29th October to 14th January2011. The public responses will form part of the ‘evidence base’ that councillors will refer to when making their decisions about which sites to develop. Identification of ‘strategic sites’ will be made in June/July 2011.

Many Councillors have said they don’t believe there is a need for so many houses in the Borough. (Our own MP, Maria Miller, believes the Borough has had its share of housing and there is no need for more.) This is not translating into action within Council committees or shows signs that they are taking note of public opinion.

The Coalition Governments new ‘Localism’ bill will put a great deal more responsibility on to elected Councillors. The way some of our Borough Councillors on the P&IOSCOM have behaved throughout the SHLAA process does not inspire confidence that they are ready to take on that responsibility.

Tony Curtis, the Borough CE, said in his reply to my letter, “- - it is my experience that, inevitably, objectors to potential housing development sites are unlikely to be impartial or objective”. Mr Curtis, this does not mean we are wrong.

Peter Bloyce

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