The Eastleigh Local Plan – where are we now?

ADD UPDATE, 21 April 2020: We recently reported that Eastleigh Borough Council (EBC) intends to press ahead with Options B and C – the monster developments north of Fair Oak and Bishopstoke rejected by the planning inspector – once the current Local Plan is formally approved.

At the same time we promised to provide our own considered assessment of what might happen next, once the ADD committee had met to discuss it. In summary, we remain optimistic that Options B and C and associated link road, whilst not yet dead and buried, are unlikely ever to see the light of day. Nonetheless, ADD and our supporters need to be on full alert.

Where are we now?

EBC’s refusal to accept the planning inspector’s main conclusions – that Options B and C are flawed and inappropriate – is incredibly frustrating. ADD supports the building of new homes of the right kind in the right location, but the current Plan does not address Eastleigh’s housing needs. Of all the available options, it would wreck the most eco-sensitive parts of the area whilst maximising CO2 emissions.

There are two key points that we would like to make: 1) We think it highly unlikely that EBC will ever succeed in justifying Options B and C; and 2) it will nonetheless probably be necessary for ADD to make further representations once we see what the council is proposing.

What the council is saying

EBC’s initial spin suggested that the planning inspector’s recent letter was an endorsement of its Plan, even though she made it clear that Options B and C and associated link road are unacceptable. EBC has since accepted that it will indeed have to delete these options from the Local Plan, but hopes to reintroduce them at a later stage when it comes up for review. It argues that Christa Masters did not say the Plan was unviable (true, but nor did she say it was viable) and all it needs do, therefore, is gather some more evidence and then make a few tweaks to justify the original scheme.

It is worth noting that Council Leader Keith House told councillors at their meeting in December 2017 they could make a decision on the Local Plan as they already had 98%-99% of the necessary evidence; it could be left to the chief executive to assess the rest. Nearly two and a half years later, and the planning inspector has identified that there are still huge gaps and inconsistencies in the council’s evidence as well as flaws in how it was gathered. What does this say about how decisions are made at EBC?

What ADD is saying

The inspector is very clear in her letter dated 1 April: “The selected option of B and C does not represent the most justified and reasonable way forward.”

A large part of her criticism does relate to the council’s failure to carry out an evaluation of the alternatives on a comparable basis and flaws in the justification for gaps between settlements. EBC could, in theory, go back and rectify these failings, though in ADD’s view any thorough and objective research and a proper comparison with other possible Strategic Growth Options would rule out Options B and C.

It is important to note, however, that the inspector also highlights weaknesses that are embedded in Options B and C: their impact on the landscape and the South Downs National Park and the fact that they would encourage greater car use (described by the inspector as “a fundamental drawback”). The inspector has yet to publish her final report, and she may yet identify further shortcomings in Options B and C.

Times have changed

In the five or more years since EBC started work on the Local Plan other issues have emerged to make it hopelessly out of date. The council has since declared a climate emergency; adopting Options B and C would make it impossible to meet its target of becoming a carbon-neutral borough by 2030. The new housing would be so utterly car-dependant that it could have been designed to maximise CO2 omissions.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the Local Plan was based on a 2014 assessment of likely population growth and housing needs in Eastleigh. Since then revised population and household growth projections from the Office of National Statistics imply that the need for extra housing is likely to be significantly less than previously estimated. This means that the 3,350 houses proposed to be delivered in an SGO will not be needed in the time covered by the Plan.

The more you consider it the Local Plan looks obsolete, as well as flawed.

What now?

  1. The ball is in the council’s court. It must respond to the inspector, proposing modifications if they are to achieve an acceptable Local Plan. These will include deletion of Options B and C and the link road.
  2. There will then likely be an iterative process during which the council and inspector agree the modifications she requires. This may involve her asking the council to prepare further reports.
  3. There will then be a six-week consultation period for interested parties, including ADD, to make comments on the proposed modifications and supporting studies.
  4. The modifications should then be finalised.
  5. The revised Local Plan will come into force once the inspector has given her approval and issued her final report and the full council has approved the revised version.
  6. The council will then be free, if it wishes, to commence an early review of the new Local Plan.
  7. We estimate that stages 1-5 will take about a year – though that is a very rough guess.

How can ADD’s supporters help?

Firstly, a big thank you to everyone who has helped us in so many different ways – by delivering leaflets, lobbying their local representatives, attending meetings, contributing their expertise for free, writing letters and emails, providing us with useful evidence and information and, of course, giving us their hard-earned cash. All that and more may become necessary all over again.

Right now, though, there is little to do except watch and wait. Once we have read the inspector’s final report and seen what the council proposes, we will certainly be in touch again, if not before.

In the meantime, we hope everyone stays healthy and safe.

With best wishes

John Lauwerys
Chair, Action against Destructive Development (ADD)

PS Please remember to take part in our ADD Live interactive webinar at 7.30pm on Wednesday 29 April. We will be briefing our supporters on the status of Eastleigh’s Local Plan and answering any questions you may have. FULL DETAILS WILL APPEAR ON OUR WEBSITE SOON.