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SOLVE Report April 2013

The Housing Debate flares up
Residents from Overton and Whitchurch were incensed by the Cabinet recommendation to add more houses to their villages. As a result a special meeting of the Council Planning & Infrastructure Overview and Scrutiny Committee (P&IOSCOM) was held on 28th March where Councillors from Whitchurch and Overton exercised their right to ‘Call in’ this decision. This is a process which scrutinises the reasons behind the Cabinet decision. The debate at the P&IOSCOM was very one sided with the Cabinet Portfolio Holder struggling to defend a weak Cabinet recommendation in the face of probing questions from all sides. 
 
Following this, the Cabinet, meeting on 15th April, decided to withdraw their Decision Notice (DN) agreed on 28th February. Unfortunately this means that 150 houses on Redlands Farm (SOL002), taken out by the withdrawn DN, have gone back into the Local Plan. This is a setback for SOLVE as it opens up the land east of the A33 into the Loddon Valley. SOLVE is working hard to ensure that yet another fiasco in this long running saga does not adversely affect the Loddon Valley.
 
Housing Numbers Methodology, P&IOSCOM meeting, 12th March. ‘GVA edge analytics’ (demographic modelling consultants) presented a review of the methodology behind the housing figure. This was a comprehensive report which mostly supported the current work of the Borough Officers. Amongst other things GVA recommended BDBC use the same or similar demographic model as used by Hampshire County Council.   More work on household size is required and they confirmed the view that – “if we build then they will come”. 
 
In answer to questions, GVA confirmed that Borough policy will play a big part in housing numbers and should be modelled in. This includes the vision and growth policies led by the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) including Destination Basingstoke. Some believe the unelected LEP growth ambitions and the consequent expansion of Basingstoke could destroy everything the people love about Basingstoke. Not something the electorate have asked for.
 
Worryingly, GVA gave a strong impression, based on recent decisions, that the Planning Inspectorate is biased in favour of building houses. This was not lost on some Councillors. The Inspectorate should be independent and if they are not, then our task of defending the Loddon Valley, if it comes in front of the Inspector, will be challenging.
 
Incinerator Health Risks - Unfortunately Pyotts Hill (BAS121) remains in the list, recommended for 900 houses despite the owners, Hampshire CC, saying they will promote only 450. At the Cabinet meeting in February one public speaker with a long background in the Pharmaceutical industry highlighted the continuing debate around alleged health issues living close to Incinerators. He suggested that if BAS121 is developed there is an ideal opportunity to test these claims and counter claims if the Developers and Councils fund a 10 year research programme amongst the new residents. He gave a long list of medical conditions which could be investigated. (The full list can be viewed on the Council Cabinet Webcast, 28th February, approx 2hr 58mins from the beginning.)
 
Read on for Tadley and Housing Number
 
 
Tadley - The Cabinet, like SOLVE and Countrywatch, shared concerns that Tadley, the second largest settlement in the Borough, has no allocated sites. This is despite a desire for housing in Tadley. A number of sites have been put forward which could contribute some 1,000 houses. Unfortunately the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) advice over safety issues around the AWE meant the Borough Officers were reluctant to recommend development here. This reluctance was not shared by the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, when, at appeal in 2011, he said the risk to the general public was extremely remote and agreed to a 115 homes development, Boundary Hall, much closer to the AWE than other sites currently in the frame. Using Tadley sites could reduce the need for so many houses in the NE of the Borough. We are pursuing this further with the help of MPs and Councillors.
 
Housing Numbers - The Full Council meeting on 21st March debated a motion from Councillors Cubitt and Tilbury to retain the 594 housing target agreed previously by the Council given the constraints such as infrastructure, water etc and our past high rate of expansion compared to others in the south. However, the result was no surprise given the, some would say, confused position of the political parties. The vote was 7 for, 18 against and 33 abstentions. Those voting against included all the Councillors from the Basing Ward and Cabinet member Elaine Still (Chineham), voting against her party ‘advice’. The high abstention rate indicates unease and uncertainty amongst Councillors from all parties.
 
The total housing numbers across the Borough (730-770hpa) is still not final. Councillor Golding, former portfolio holder responsible for the Local Plan, said if the infrastructure could not support the housing numbers “then the numbers will have to come down”. The good news is that the SE plan has at last been revoked and it is no longer necessary to consider 945 hpa as an option.
 
From the above it is clear that further work is required on many aspects of the Borough housing requirement and infrastructure to support any increase in our population. However, it is hoped that a draft Local Plan, complete with agreed housing numbers, will be ready for public consultation later this year. SOLVE will be commenting.
 
Peter Bloyce
SOLVE
 
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