ADD UPDATE, 5 January 2017: On 11 December, Eastleigh council leader Keith House (above) and his fellow Liberal Democrat councillors ignored the expertise and common sense of thousands and voted to pursue a Local Plan that lacks critical evidence to support its deliverability, sustainability and affordability.
In front of 800 aghast members of the public (and many hundreds more following on social media), they forced through so-called options B and C of their Plan which – if completed – would deliver 5,200 new houses, well in excess of the 3,350 needed to meet the borough’s housing target in the period to 2036.
No one seems to be able to understand House’s intransigence on this issue. Can it be that his Plan is politically motivated? We believe he is set on options B and C because they deliver the balance of all housing needed in Eastleigh for the next 20-plus years in the relatively less populated north of the borough, adjacent to neighbouring Winchester. Building on this countryside, far from Eastleigh’s town centre and existing transport infrastructure, might be electorally advantageous for his majority-controlling group, especially ahead of ‘all-out’ elections in May. House has led the council for a remarkable 24 years and is clearly desperate to stay in power.
House has gambled that the government’s planning inspector, who will have to scrutinise his Plan, will be blind to the many glaring gaps in evidence, including in particular transport and biodiversity, that thousands of others can see so clearly. Amongst those sounding the alarm are Hampshire County Council (the Highways Authority), Winchester City Council (through whose land a proposed new road to serve the new houses would run), the three local MPs, seven local parish councils, the Campaign for Better Transport, the Woodland Trust, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Angling Trust, the Test and Itchen Association, Chris Packham, the conservationist who grew up in the area, the list goes on… and on. You simply could not make it up, particularly given House has on his desk a very credible alternative plan that he once supported but now chooses to ignore.
House had tried to bury the fact that his Plan includes nearly 2,000 more houses than mandated by the government. However, at the meeting on 11 December, he was forced to explain, clearly under pressure, that this was because the “government might change its mind on housing numbers” and that he needed “a buffer”. Of course, everyone knows that the real reason he needs these extra houses is that, without them, the developer would be unable to meet the cost of the proposed new road, which he has made central to his Plan but has – to date – no proven wider benefit. Indeed, after 18 months of work, Eastleigh council is still unable to offer any evidence that the road will provide relief for traffic in the surrounding communities.
Having regrouped over Christmas, House has now had the gall to tell Isabelle Fraser of the Daily Telegraph, in an article published two days ago (click here; you may need to register, but it’s quick and free), that the decision to build 2,000 extra houses was taken “to foster growth rather than manage decline”. Isabelle Fraser describes what he proposes to do as Yimby-ism (‘Yes In My Back Yard’).
Rather clumsily, House also let slip to Fraser that key benefits of the scheme will be more jobs and council tax revenue. Could more council tax revenue really be emerging as a key justification for House’s destruction of the finest remaining countryside in the borough?
Last month, House and his fellow councillors took a massive decision that will impact Eastleigh and its neighbouring communities for generations to come. Nowhere in its public consultation exercise, which was predictably a sham, was there a question about whether the public agrees that the council should ‘seek to build 2,000 more houses than the government requires in order to provide more jobs and council tax revenue’. Nor was there any reference to this Yimby ‘policy’ in the council papers before the meeting. How did House suddenly reach this conclusion? What further surprise arguments, without any evidence base, are yet to emerge?