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Eastleigh Local Plan – inspector demolishes council’s evidence

ADD UPDATE, 6 April 2020: ADD has given a strong welcome to the Planning Inspector’s letter to Eastleigh Borough Council in which she instructs the removal of Options B and C and the North Bishopstoke link road from the local plan.

This is exactly what ADD has been campaigning for since early 2016, arguing that the plan would have created a massive urban sprawl, caused huge and unnecessary environmental damage and lead to traffic chaos without significantly addressing Eastleigh’s housing needs. In her letter Christa Masters states in paragraph 41: “I therefore conclude that these policies should, therefore, be deleted from the local plan.”

She also criticised the process by which the council drew up the plan as flawed, saying that insufficient consideration had been given to other possibilities, something that ADD has consistently argued.

“This is a tremendous day for those thousands of ADD supporters who have worked tirelessly and contributed hard-earned cash to support our efforts. The inspector’s letter means that Options B and C can no longer go ahead and that the plan should be fully evidence-based, which has always been our main aim,” said ADD chair John Lauwerys.

“The leader of Eastleigh Borough Council appears to be in denial claiming that this marks some kind of victory for him, which suggests that he hasn’t actually read the inspector’s letter. However, ADD would be delighted to work with the council and share our knowledge to help it come up with a local plan that genuinely meets the housing needs of the area and does not cause avoidable environmental damage.”

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Inspector promises advice on Eastleigh Local Plan ‘as soon as possible’

ADD UPDATE, 28 March 2020: The news that Eastleigh Borough Council had posted a letter from the Planning Inspector on its website on 25 March initially caused us a flurry of excitement. The next major step in the Local Plan process is for Christa Masters, the Planning Inspector, to write an ‘advice letter’ to the council following the recent Examination in Public, at which interested parties including ADD presented evidence. Although not the final document, it will give a strong indication of her thinking about the Plan and therefore of our chances of having it declared unsound.

As it turned out, she had written to say, in effect, that she needed more time and that the advice letter would be issued ‘as soon as possible’. It is now more than two months since the public hearing ended, but gaps of this length and longer are quite common in Local Plan examinations even without the impact of Covid-19. So we will all have to remain patient.

ADD thanks the public for its continued support and will, of course, inform you as soon as we learn anything substantive. Click here to read the full letter. In the meantime, we hope you remain safe and well in these challenging times.

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Yet more flooding causes Eastleigh police to close proposed access route for 5,300 new houses

ADD UPDATE, 17 February 2020: It’s now 19 days since the Planning Inspector completed her examination of Eastleigh Borough Council (EBC)’s Local Plan. She is now considering the evidence before reaching her preliminary conclusion, due soon.

In the meantime, the realities on the ground are clear for everyone to see. In the recent storm, for example, the road under the railway bridge at Allbrook, which is the key access route to and from the proposed estate of 5,300 houses, flooded yet again. This time police decided to close the road (see image above), stating: “Please be aware that Highbridge Road has now been closed (under the railway bridge at the bottom of Allbrook Hill) and no vehicles will be allowed through. The decision has been made for the interest of Public Safety and the likelihood of vehicles becoming stranded while trying to navigate the flooding.” 

Comments on social media reflect what we have been saying to EBC since the idea of its preposterous estate was first mooted over four years ago. One person wrote: “Wow, houses planned over there and that bit of road is going to be the main access route – another well thought out plan by the council!!!!” Another said: “Not sure any thought has been given to this all too familiar situation here!” Meanwhile a third wrote succinctly: “Mother Nature (and Eastleigh Police) pass judgement on EBC’s Local Plan!” Quite. 

Thousands of local people and many local and national organisations are against Eastleigh’s Plan, for numerous reasons. ADD has been working with them – day in, day out – to ensure it never flies. As judgement day approaches, we hope more than ever that the Planning Inspector will agree. We will keep you posted! 

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As the examination of Eastleigh’s Local Plan closes, the wait for a verdict begins

ADD UPDATE, 31 January 2020: On Wednesday afternoon, the Planning Inspector closed her Examination-in-Public of Eastleigh’s Local Plan with a short statement in which she thanked those who had taken part in the hearings and those who had attended. She declared that she would be writing to Eastleigh Borough Council in due course and that, until then, they should put a hold on progressing any of the many action points she had identified over the course of the examination. (These action points comprise clarifications and corrections to the text of the Plan, as well as the provision of additional evidence.) Asked by an Eastleigh planning officer about the likely timing of her letter, she said she was unable to give an answer.

The hearings were conducted over 14 days, beginning on 21 November last year. A welcome break was taken for Christmas. The Inspector heard representations from a total of more than 30 individuals and groups, including ADD, CPRE – the countryside charity, the Independent Group of Councillors (Bishopstoke ward), the Environment Agency, Natural England, several parish councils and housing developers.

ADD was represented not only by our chair, John Lauwerys, but also by our planning barrister (on the first two days of the hearing) and planning consultants, as well as a number of experts on transport matters and on the environment. We feel that we and our ‘allies’ put a very strong case at the examination, and we await the Inspector’s letter to the council with cautious optimism.

To all our supporters, thank you for your help, encouragement and donations, without which we could not have come this far. As soon as we know more about the next steps, we shall let you know!

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As Botleigh Grange Hotel goes bust, Eastleigh’s Local Plan examination moves to council’s HQ

ADD UPDATE, 21 January 2020As reported in today’s Daily Echo, Botleigh Grange Hotel & Spa, the venue for the examination of Eastleigh Borough Council’s Local Plan, has gone into administration.  An ADD supporter who has been to several of the examination’s hearings so far, told us: “It’s no surprise! At the last session I attended there were notices up saying the spa and pool were closed, the lift was out of order, and the heating wasn’t working!” Another ADD supporter said: “The hotel failed a food hygiene inspection before Christmas, so the writing was on the wall. Given all the problems with the Local Plan, you couldn’t make it up!”

For those of you wondering where the remaining two hearings of the examination – on Tuesday 28 and Wednesday 29 January will be held, ADD’s chairman, John Lauwerys, commented: “Louise St John Howe, the Programme Officer, has confirmed that the final two days of the examination will be held in the council’s offices at Eastleigh House [Upper Market Street, Eastleigh, SO50 9YN].” He went on: “On the final day, the hearing will start at 9.30am dealing with site allocations in Allbrook etc and continue immediately afterwards with matter 14 on Delivery and Monitoring. That latter session will deal strictly with the issues raised in the Planning Inspector’s main issues statement.”

He concluded: “My understanding is that there is little chance we will gain any clues about the Inspector’s thoughts on the soundness of the council’s Plan at this meeting. This is largely because there are so many issues on which she has requested further information and until that has been submitted and she has had a chance to consider it she can hardly reach a conclusion.”

As always, we will do our best to keep our supporters fully informed.

 

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Tiny Allbrook bridge, the planned escape route for 5,300 new houses, floods badly… again

ADD UPDATE, 16 January 2020: The bridge under the railway line at Allbrook has flooded… again. This matters because Eastleigh Borough Council (EBC) want to use this tiny bridge as the principal exit to the M3 for a new estate of 5,300 new houses and 30,000m2 of employment buildings. This proposed development north of Fair Oak and Bishopstoke is central to Eastleigh’s Local Plan, the soundness of which is currently being examined by Christa Masters, the government’s independent Planning Inspector.

Alongside numerous other organisations and individuals against Eastleigh’s Plan, ADD has been representing our thousands of supporters at the Inspector’s examination, which is due to end on 29 January.

There are many reasons against Eastleigh’s proposals, not least that not all the viable alternatives were properly explored.

The Allbrook railway bridge is just one, very visible, reason why it makes no sense. Last week, we reported how the height of the bridge is a major problem for HGVs, which have a habit of striking the top of it. Eastleigh’s plans to raise the headroom by just 15cm by straightening and re-profiling road won’t be enough. Severe problems with a similar bridge in Romsey prove that point.

There is another problem facing this inadequate bridge, namely that in very heavy rainfall, if the pump installation fails or is overwhelmed, the road floods – as it did again yesterday.

As one resident told us: “At around 10am yesterday morning I drove through what I guess was about 9 inches of water under the bridge at Allbrook. While I took photos, one small red car stopped fearing to go through the flood while a lorry driver joked that if it carried on like this he’d need a ferry to get through! My car went through OK although being a hybrid I was a bit concerned about the electrics. It would only take a vehicle’s engine to stall under the bridge for it to block traffic and creating large tailbacks.”

He added: “A friend who phoned last night said there was still water under the bridge in the evening. While it may have been an extreme storm that caused this flood, we will see many more of them with climate change.”

Conservative estimates suggest that the proposed development will generate an additional 25,000 daily vehicle movements, including a 30% increase in HGVs. If these drivers wish to head west, their principal escape route will be under this tiny bridge. Sounds sensible? If the Planning Inspector approves Eastleigh’s proposals, expect long delays.

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Eastleigh’s plans to adjust the level under Allbrook railway bridge won’t be enough – just ask Romsey!

ADD UPDATE, 5 January 2020: As reported in the Romsey Advertiser last month, Romsey residents have been “venting their anger” as HGVs continue to crash into a low railway bridge in Greatbridge Road. This happened twice in December alone (see a picture from 11 December above), taking the tally to 22 times in the last 15 years.

As ADD supporters know, we have our own problems with a low railway bridge at Allbrook, which has itself been struck by five HGVs in the last three years. Eastleigh Borough Council (EBC) now want to build 5,300 new houses, and 30,000m2 of employment development, on land to the east of Allbrook, the main access road for which will end up going under the Allbrook bridge. Indeed, by EBC’s own calculations (which we believe are underestimates), this development will lead to 30% more HGVs passing under the Allbrook bridge by 2036.

As part of its Local Plan, EBC say that they will lower the road under the Allbrook bridge to ease lorry traffic but even with these alterations (which will increase the effective headroom under the bridge by 15cm to 3.85m), the height will still be way less than the 4.3m clearance of the clearly inadequate Romsey bridge. Meanwhile, as we all know, the Allbrook bridge floods badly, so lowering the road will hardly help solve this problem either. Can Eastleigh’s proposal really be a sustainable one?

Christa Masters, the Planning Inspector currently examining Eastleigh’s Local Plan, will restart her hearings next week. The hearing on Wednesday (8 January) will focus on ‘transport, infrastructure and delivery’. Expect the Allbrook railway bridge to feature!

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Update on Planning Inspector’s examination of Eastleigh’s Local Plan

ADD UPDATE, 8 December 2019: The Planning Inspector’s examination of the Eastleigh Local Plan has now adjourned until 8 January 2020. ADD would like to thank the hundreds of people who demonstrated at the Botleigh Grange Hotel to show their support on 22 November. It was a great turnout when you consider the difficult timing (8.30am on Friday), the lack of parking space and the lousy weather. There was considerable media interest with both main local TV channels, Radio Solent, Wave 105, the Daily Echo, Hampshire Chronicle and Eastleigh News providing coverage.

Turning to the examination itself, it has been an intense couple of weeks for ADD and our advisers, but we feel we have made our case effectively. Christa Masters, the Planning Inspector, has listened carefully to the many people presenting their critical views of the Plan.

She can be congratulated for her thorough knowledge of all the mountains of papers relating to the Plan, her control of the examination and attention to detail in the way she takes Eastleigh Borough Council to task over their responses. There have been some interestingly long silences as Eastleigh scrabble around for answers to her calm but keen questioning.

ADD’s barrister and planning consultants have been incisive in their probing of Eastleigh’s evidence and the reasons why the two options (B/C and Allington Lane) have not been properly compared. In this they have been ably abetted by Caroline Dibden of the Campaign to Protect Rural England and ADD chair John Lauwerys.

We were especially pleased that Professor David Sear of Southampton University could testify to the damage that the development would in his view cause the River Itchen, a direct contradiction of the case presented by Eastleigh. He is a world expert on chalk streams, and his evidence will be particularly hard to counter.

The Inspector will have several months after the end of January to reach her conclusions on the soundness of Eastleigh’s Plan, so it is of course far too early to have any sense of her decision. However, we believe we are putting up a strong case. We are, of course, hugely grateful to ADD’s supporters whose financial contributions have made it possible to acquire the necessary professional support.

The examination reopens at 9.30am on 8 January at the Botleigh Grange Hotel (details here). Members of the public who wish to attend are free to do so. 

In the meantime, we wish all our supporters a very Happy Christmas and New Year.

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General election, Flick Drummond, Conservative candidate for Meon Valley, writes…

ADD UPDATE, 4 December 2019: Ahead of the general election on 12 December, ADD has invited each candidate for each constituency that will be impacted by Eastleigh Borough Council (EBC)’s Local Plan and, in particular, its plans for a ‘Strategic Growth Option’ (SGO) of 5,300 houses and a major new road north of Allbrook, Bishopstoke and Fair Oak, to supply us with up to 350 words on their views on the SGO.

On 3 December, Flick Drummond, Conservative candidate for Meon Valley, sent us the following email:

“I am opposed to the planned development of 5,300 houses (Option B and C) by Eastleigh Borough Council on some of the last green space in the Bishopstoke area. The road infrastructure is already bursting at the seams. Residents in Durley, Curdridge, Owslebury and Upham have all complained to me that traffic is becoming unsustainable and minor roads are clogged up at rush hour.

There are still brownfield sites which should be prioritised for house building in Eastleigh. I am not against house building as we need more houses especially affordable ones, but they have to be in the right place, next to public transport and easy access to shops and public services. Our green spaces and strategic gaps should only be built on when all brownfield sites have been used.

I am also concerned about the environmental impact on the River Itchen with the run-off from the roads especially the new proposed road which will be over the Itchen. This is a Special Area of Conservation and has salmon and trout that spawn up the river.

I urge Eastleigh councillors to revisit their Local Plan in conjunction with neighbouring councils and work on a long-term sustainable plan that makes sense to all local residents.”

Flick Drummond, Conservative candidate for Meon Valley

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General election, Sam Jordan, Labour candidate for Eastleigh, writes…

ADD UPDATE, 27 November 2019: Ahead of the general election on 12 December, ADD has invited each candidate for each constituency that will be impacted by Eastleigh Borough Council (EBC)’s Local Plan and, in particular, its plans for a ‘Strategic Growth Option’ (SGO) of 5,300 houses and a major new road north of Allbrook, Bishopstoke and Fair Oak, to supply us with up to 350 words on their views on the SGO.

On 27 November, Sam Jordan, Labour candidate for Eastleigh, sent us the following email:

“To get straight to the point, I am against Eastleigh Borough Council’s Local Plan, specifically Strategic Growth Options 5 and 6 (formerly Options B and C), and I was pleased to be able to support ADD and local residents on 22nd November by attending the protest at the Botleigh Grange Hotel.

With any housing development there can be controversy. However, we must use a sensible and balanced approach in our choices for development locations, prioritising residents, infrastructure and the environment. The planned new communities north of Bishopstoke and Fair Oak comprising 5,300 dwellings and serviced by a new road that will cut through our precious countryside, endangering wildlife and woodland, does none of that. It is also difficult to reconcile how Eastleigh Borough Council can declare a Climate Emergency, then push for the destruction of the very areas that help prevent such an emergency.

Quite apart from the environmental and ecological damage the new road will bring, it is hard to imagine how it will alleviate the traffic congestion Bishopstoke, Fair Oak and Eastleigh experience on a daily basis, and despite claims to the contrary, I fear it will make things worse.

Throughout the whole Local Plan exercise, Lib Dem run Eastleigh Borough Council, for whatever reason, has refused to properly consider other options. I have lived in Eastleigh for 30 years and, like other residents, remember how years ago £385,000 (possibly more) was spent by the council on work to progress a Major Development Area in Allington Lane. It had plans for road, rail, schools, doctors and other key infrastructure. The Council even went so far as to officially name the new town “Allington” before suddenly calling a halt to the project.

As a local person I understand the need for housing, but not only should this be the right kind of housing, it should also be in the right place. SGOs 5 and 6 are, quite simply, the wrong place. Anyone who lives in the area, understands the area, or shares a love of nature, knows that.”

Sam Jordan, Labour candidate for Eastleigh

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