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SOLVE Update November 2012

The Good News. 
After representations from local Borough Councillors, Sven Godeson and Onnalee Cubitt, Hampshire County Council (HCC), the Landowner, has reduced the proposed yield on the Pyotts Hill site, east of Chineham (BAS121), from 900 to 450 homes in the 2013 to 2029 Local Plan period. This was done with the help of our County Councillor, Elaine Still. This is a step in the right direction. However, we believe the same arguments that were used to get this reduction would apply equally to the case for removal of this site from the Local Plan.
Local Plan & SHLAA
Following the Manydown High Court judgement, a draft revised Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA), version 7, was published in September. As many will know, the SHLAA identifies sites which can be developed for housing as ‘suitable, achievable and available’. It does not mean that they will be developed. 
Version 7 includes Manydown and a number of new sites all over the Borough. The Council’s Manydown Executive Committee recommended that the Manydown land take some 3,200 - 4,000 houses over the life of the Local Plan, 2013 to 2029. This gives a bigger choice when it comes to site selection for housing in the Borough for the next 15 years. Some new sites have been rejected as not suitable and others, such as the all important Pyotts Hill (see above), east of Chineham, have been pushed back to 2018.
SOLVE, members of the public and Councillors identified inconsistencies and omissions in the SHLAA at the Planning Infrastructure Overview and Scrutiny Committee (P&IOSCOM) meeting on 12th September. This included the Landscape Capacity Study from 2010 which recommended that ‘Area B’ north of Whitmarsh Lane, part of BAS121, Pyotts Hill, should not be developed.
In considering policies for the Local Plan the Committee agreed unanimously to include the River Loddon and Test Valley as High Quality Landscapes which should be protected under Landscape Character policy EM1, similar to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The P&IOSCOM site assessments will be on 17th Jan and 21st Jan 2013 followed by the Cabinet on 29th Jan 2013.
Housing Numbers: - an ‘Expanding Basingstoke’
For the revised Local Plan the Council Officers recommended that 770 houses a year, up to 2029, be built, as opposed to 594 in the original Local Plan. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) now requires net migration to be taken into account in the housing calculations. The 770 figure also assumed a much steeper decline in household size despite all the indications that this has levelled out.
At the P&IOSCOM meetings during October Councillors were uneasy about the prospect of building more houses than the local need, attracting those that want to come because – “it’s a nice place to live” and “if we build they will come”. The P&IOSCOM Chairman said that eventually we will build so many houses people won’t want to come here anymore. Councillors were also critical of the assumptions on household size and migration.
The P&IOSCOM recommendations to the Cabinet did not include a specific number allowing the Borough Officers figure of 770 to go forward. SOLVE calculations take this requirement closer to 600 hpa.
On a positive note the P&IOSCOM agreed, by a majority vote, that there were inhibitors to housing expansion in the Borough in particular the water supply and quality. Unfortunately there is a statutory obligation on the water companies to supply water and say “yes” when asked if this is possible, even though the honest answer is “no”. Ridiculous, given that the most heavily populated part of the UK, the South East, is the driest part of the UK and is recognised as being “water stressed”.
There remains a concern over the infrastructure deficit and it is still difficult to identify a plan as to how this will be addressed or, more importantly, paid for. We continue to face the prospect of building thousands of houses around the Borough with only minimal infrastructure changes.
On the 30th October, at the Cabinet meeting to decide housing numbers, SOLVE and many others gave presentations and urged the Cabinet to keep a lid on housing development. Unfortunately, despite all the above, the Cabinet approved an interim recommendation of 770 homes per annum with a future housing requirement likely to be between 730 and 770 hpa over the period 2011 to 2029.
However, the door remains open for a revision of this figure. In the words of the Council Leader – “this is work in progress”. We would like to remind the Council Leader that in the Borough Council elections the Conservative’s ran on a commitment to limit housing numbers to 594 hpa, and now after being elected have increased this by 30% to 770. 
SOLVE continues to question the figures and will be working hard and listening to residents who told a local consultation that they did not want high levels of house building. Let’s be clear, if building is allowed to continue at the pace currently planned all Greenfield sites around the town are in danger of being engulfed by an ever-expanding Basingstoke

Read on for the Manydown Independent Audit Report and NPPF restrictions.

Independent Audit Report
The Ernst & Young independent audit report of the events over the Manydown debacle is now public. It runs to some 161 pages and can be found on the Council website. It shows the background to the activities of some Councillors in their attempts to stop Manydown development and promote building in the east. Ernst and Young obtained a number of documents and electronic information. Unfortunately some documents ‘could not be found’. They recorded interviews with Council Officers and Councillors and it is disappointing that the Portfolio Holder, from the time in question, declined to be interviewed. Leading players in this saga come away from this as ‘damaged goods’.
On 7th November the Council Audit Committee debated this report. Ernst & Young were criticised for using Council lawyers as advisors since this created a conflict of interest. Many members of the public and Councillors were scathing about the legal advice which failed to answer the questions asked by Ernst & Young. Public speakers commented on a number of issues arising and demanded action against leading players. One suggested that some interviewees may have perjured themselves. Controversially, the Audit Committee accepted the report by virtue of the Chairman’s casting vote. The report has been sent to full Council after a furious opposition invoked a procedure to force the full Council vote.
National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)
Apart from a recommendation that Councils take into account net migration, the NPPF invokes a duty to cooperate with neighbouring authorities. During the ten year period up to 2012 Basingstoke and Deane built 8,690 homes. In terms of the Basingstoke housing supply, 69,300 as at the 2011 census, this represents 12.54%. Whereas West Berkshire (WB), over the same period, completed 3,920 homes (6.29% of their housing supply). WB is urging Basingstoke to build more! Other figures show that in the last 6 years we are the fourth highest provider of new homes in the SE; none of the top three are local to us.
Government policy changes to planning are causing Councils to reassess their housing plans. A Local Government Association (LGA) report shows that, as of December last year, there were 400,000 new homes which have received planning permission but have not yet been completed, and that building had yet to start on more than half of the plots. The Chairman of the LGA said that “Even if planning departments did not receive another new home application for the next three years, there are sufficient approved developments ready to go to last until 2016 at the current rate of construction.” The Government’s attempt to get Britain building with 70,000 new homes is aimed at kick starting existing stalled projects. In Basingstoke & Deane there are currently some 1500 homes in the pipeline.
The 2011 census identified 50,000 people in the age group 0 to 26 but in the age group above (26-50) there were 62,300 people. Arguably this does not appear to demonstrate upward pressure for more homes. There are also some 1800 long term empty homes in the Borough. All this demonstrates how difficult it is to predict the housing requirement.
However, what is agreed by all in the Council and other groups such as SOLVE is that the current natural population growth figure, births over deaths, leads to housing requirement of 390 hpa. Adding inward migration and a highly disputed continuing household size decrease forces this figure way above what the Borough can cope with.
Peter Bloyce
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