Government’s planning proposals – will we have to fight all over again?

ADD UPDATE, 7 October 2020: ADD is increasingly being asked what impact the government’s new planning proposals will have on Eastleigh’s Local Plan. The short answer is we don’t yet know because the proposals, which are out to consultation, may change considerably before any legislation is introduced. But one thing is certain – we do need to be ready to fight again. Indeed, ADD and CPRE are already making representations, as are Upham and other parish councils. CPRE has also published an excellent summary post alongside a petition, which we ask everyone to sign (before the 29 October deadline), and share with friends.

When Eastleigh Borough Council (EBC)’s cabinet decided in June to scrap Options B and C (the plans for 5,500 houses and a new road north of Bishopstoke and Fair Oak) and put a halt to all new development in the countryside for at least ten years, it looked like the whole saga was coming to a happy conclusion. Unfortunately this may no longer be true.

You may have heard that the government wants to make it much easier and quicker for developers to build new homes, by-passing any local community involvement except in those areas designated for conservation. One obvious possibility is that it might give builders the green light for opportunistic and largely unchecked development in much of our area, including Mortimers Lane and other parts of Fair Oak. A depressing prospect indeed.

Of even greater concern to ADD is the less publicised requirement for certain, mostly rural councils to build many more houses than was previously the case. The government is proposing an algorithm that would – at a stroke – require Eastleigh to find room for over 3,000 more dwellings on top of the 15,000 target already in place up to 2036. For its part, Winchester would see its target rise even more, by 48%. (Since much of Winchester comes under the South Downs National Park, that amounts to an effective 80% increase in the areas where it can be delivered.)

ADD believes there are huge flaws in the government’s plans. Indeed, after the summer’s fiasco over public examination results, it defies belief that it could place so much reliance on another algorithm in such an important policy area. The algorithm places scant, if any, attention to local circumstances. It is likely to incentivise the building of larger houses rather than the starter homes that we need; it encourages the development of greenfield rather than brownfield sites; and it pays no attention whatsoever to the impact on climate change. Nor is it at all clear how the government arrived either at its total target of 300,000 new homes a year for the whole country or the local components of it.

The proposals are not yet law. They face considerable opposition and may well be amended. Moreover, we do not know how EBC (or Winchester City Council) will respond. We hope that EBC will show imagination and respect its recent pledge, made on several occasions, to protect all green spaces in the borough. It would, though, be extraordinarily complacent of us to assume that all will be well. We must watch and be ready to react. And, yes – whether you live in Eastleigh or Winchester – we ask you to be ready to fight again.

Having said that, we remain optimistic. The new legislation would not abolish local plans. If the council were to designate the Options B and C areas for development, they would still have to go before a planning inspector. And the arguments that won the day at the end of last year would be as valid and powerful as ever. So, to use a well-known phrase, we must hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

To see ADD’s representation to the government on its proposed planning changes click here.