The Newsletter of the Community Campaign (Hart)
Issue 17, Autumn 2015
The inescapable truth about housing growthThere has been a lot of publicity in the past year about the proposal to build a new town of between 3,000 and 5,000 houses at Winchfield.
Hart District Council are ‘obliged’ to produce a Local Development Plan (LDP) which sets out where future housing in Hart will go. Until Hart have an LDP which meets the approval of a Government-appointed inspector, developers are in effect able to build on almost any greenfield site they choose. A fact that residents had brought home to them starkly by the Government inspector when allowing 300 houses on Watery Lane, overturning Hart’s original refusal of planning permission.
The Community Campaign and FACE-IT supporters invested many months of painstaking preparation to fight the developer at the Watery Lane appeal hearing in April. However, without the protection afforded by the LDP, the relentless drive of the Government’s house building programme rode roughshod over legitimate environmental and traffic concerns
We also worked together to develop the planning arguments against another major housing development in Fleet, 423 houses on Grove Farm off Hitches Lane. The planning application was unanimously rejected by Hart’s planning committee. The negative impacts of such a development on Fleet and Crookham Village and the lack of basic infrastructure to support it will be argued by the Community Campaign in any appeal the developer may make.
The pressure to buildIn order to be judged as being ‘sound’ by the Government appointed inspector, Hart’s Local Plan has to show where the majority of the 7,500+ homes that Hart needs to provide in the period up to 2032 will be built. Hart’s housing numbers are based on nationally imposed ‘objectively assessed housing needs’ criteria.
There just isn’t enough brownfield land available to accommodate that number of new homes, unless we are going to build high-rise tenement blocks along the length of Fleet Road.
So, regretfully greenfield sites are going to be developed somewhere in Hart. This is the sad but inevitable consequence of the Government’s house building programme.
This is not something over which Hart councillors have any say. Just like income tax, this is imposed by the Government whether we like it or not.
Given the Government diktat to build 7,500+ homes in the district by 2032, no matter how incensed we may be about the impact – Hart has to be pragmatic and proactive in pursuing a viable strategy.
We’ve been doing our bitOf this 7,500+ housing quota around 4,000 dwellings have already been given planning permission – the majority in and around Church Crookham, Fleet, Crookham Village and Hook. The Community Campaign are adamant that the relentless ‘onion ring’ style development around the major settlements is not sustainable. Time and again it has been shown that such incremental development fails to deliver vital infrastructure.
In recent years the community of Fleet and Church Crookham has been joined by the residents of Elvetham Heath, Edenbrook and most recently Crookham Park (the former QEB site). Admittedly each of these developments has caused concern at the time of their inception.
The Community Campaign fought against the initial QEB proposal, because it did not offer to deliver suitable infrastructure.
We stood up and succeeded in arguing for sports facilities, a new community centre and expanded school capacity – so that eventually, the final QEB proposal did deliver the necessary contribution to local infrastructure.
Our town and villages at capacityThere comes a point when the existing infrastructure of our suburban town cannot accommodate any more pressure. The existing roads do not get any wider, nor is there room for proper cycleways. Schools are expanding to the point where they are in danger of losing the personalised child focus for which our local schools are noted. The railway station has already been expanded – and still the car park is full.
Incremental growth simply does not work. New developments on the edge of Church Crookham and western Fleet are closer in journey time to Winchfield station than Fleet station (especially true at peak times). Onion skin development cannot address the capacity issues on local roads, which are already overloaded.
A new settlement approach has major benefits in that it would justify having its own new secondary school. A new settlement can be planned with a suitable road network, rather than exacerbating existing highway pinch points, as has been the case with the ‘bolt on’ developments of the recent past.
Tough choicesThere is every sympathy for anyone who enjoys living alongside an expanse of green fields who discovers that the outlook they cherish is being proposed for development.
However, when development is being forced upon Hart at the level it currently is, then some people, somewhere are inevitably going to face this very anguish. In recent years no major national party has ever suggested anything other than a comprehensive house building programme.
Therefore, when looking at which green fields should be sacrificed, it is vital that the decision is based upon what will bring about the best outcome in terms of creating an effective, sustainable and liveable community.
Benefits of a new settlementWith a mainline railway station far closer to it than to any other new development in Fleet; with the option to integrate new roads onto the A30 and through to the M3; together with sufficient scale to fund three new primary schools and a new secondary school, Winchfield strikes many as being the best compromise.
Not unsurprisingly residents of Winchfield do not see it this way. They are naturally going to lobby very hard for housing development to go elsewhere. This inevitably means continuing to envelope the existing larger towns. Consequently they have resorted to social media and other marketing techniques to promote the ‘wehearthart’ message.
However, their messaging is incomplete. They point to the council wishing to build a new town at Winchfield and seek to demonize anyone who may have reached the conclusion, however reluctantly, that a new town at Winchfield is the least worst solution out of an abhorrent set of options. They do not explain what the alternatives are, as the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) mandates that this level of housing must go somewhere within Hart’s borders.
No one in the Community Campaign relishes the idea of building a new settlement at Winchfield. However, those of us who are on the council carry a responsibility to future generations, to ensure that we face up to what the Government is forcing on us – and that we look for the most sustainable option.
If we do not, then we compound the traffic problems in the existing towns. We end up with large impersonal schools with extended catchment areas and a significant deterioration in the quality of life for the majority of Hart residents.
CCH success over 12 yearsSeptember marked 12 years since the Community Campaign was founded. A packed Memorial Hall saw many hundreds of local residents come to vent frustration about how their concerns were being ignored by the council.
Hart District Council was at that time dominated by one of the national parties and they held a strict doctrine: that if you had been elected as a Conservative, you did as the Hart Conservative group mandated. This seemed to hold true even if their agenda adversely affected the residents they represented.
A better deal for Crookham Park
One of the biggest issues at the time was the proposed redevelopment of the Queen Elizabeth Barracks (QEB) site, now Crookham Park.
It is important to note that this was not a case of people not wanting development on their doorstep, but a very real concern that this development was not going to provide any significant supporting infrastructure. Initially there were no plans for any school expansion, there was no intention for off-site road improvements and not even a plan to provide a community centre.
Most significantly for local people, in order to protect the European designated Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA), the developer was intending to close off the car park at Bourley Road. It was the threatened loss of access to this much loved area of open space that really motivated the wider community to pull together.
Through painstaking campaigning and successful challenges to the planning application at appeal, the original plans were scrapped. Now we have a development on a smaller scale, with more open space, a brand new community centre and extra provision for school places.
Most importantly the development was shown to not require the closure of the Bourley Road car park – a victory of which the Community Campaign are particularly proud. However, as many local people know, especially mountain bikers, there are new threats to the rights of access we enjoy over the local heathlands.
Gaining local representation
Back then, part of the challenge faced by Fleet and Church Crookham residents was getting a fair deal from the district council, as we did not have parish and town councils to look after our interests.
As well as looking after key community facilities such as parks and community centres, parish councils have a more direct influence on the district council than residents alone.
Community Campaign supporters were able to obtain 2,000 signatures on a petition to say that local people wanted town and parish council representation for their area. However, even then the local Conservatives tried to quash the movement. They wished to continue to take an additional slice of the council tax from people who didn’t have a parish council and use it for ‘Special Expenses’, a fund which was ineffectively spent compared to how the parish and town councils spend the same money today.
By tenaciously pursuing the issue and supported by the community as a whole, CCH finally won the argument and in 2010, Fleet Town Council, Church Crookham and Elvetham Heath parish councils were formed. Something which certainly was never going to happen if the political status quo had remained unchallenged.
From a position of the District Council running down the Harlington as an unnecessary expense on council tax payers to Fleet Town Council looking to rebuild it to provide a modern community facility for its residents is the type of change that has been brought about.
Fleet Town Council and the Community Campaign now actively works with and supports local retail and community groups to make changes to revitalise our High Street. Shop occupancy rates are rising and the new owners of the Hart Shopping Centre have big plans for improvement
The political landscape in Hart has now changed; the Community Campaign has changed it.
Now people can expect their local councillors to fight for local concerns. The Community Campaign have awoken all parties to the idea that local residents can and will take matters into their own hands if they feel neglected.
This is why having an independent local group on the district council remains so very important.
No place for national politics
If someone is standing in a local election under the badge of a national party, are they doing it because of a wholehearted focus on local issues, or do they have a political motive?
If they claim to be independently minded, focusing on just the local area and not going to put party politics ahead of local issues; then why are they not standing for a local residents group, or as an independent?
Keeping the buses running
by Jenny Radley
Many residents in Hart are fortunate and don’t yet have to rely on local bus services. However, for those who need them, they can offer a critical lifeline; a means to get to hospital appointments, the only feasible way of getting to work or college – or simply allow someone to remain independent.
It was therefore a devastating shock when it was disclosed with just two weeks’ notice before last Christmas that the regular bus services through Church Crookham were going to be scrapped from 4th January 2015. Fleet was almost as badly affected, being left with just a skeleton service. Stagecoach (the local bus operator) was faced with having to axe the services because they were not viable and Hampshire County Council (HCC) had decided to stop providing subsidies to keep these services running.
Due to pressure from the Community Campaign and local residents, the skeleton service was extended to do a loop through Church Crookham. However, this reduced service did not help people get to Aldershot which was having a devastating impact on those who needed the service to get to work, school or Aldershot Medical Centre.
Now thanks to the determined efforts of a few dedicated people in the ‘Don’t Cut Buses in Fleet and Church Crookham’ campaign group, there is finally some good news. This group which is led by Sarah Horton of Transition Fleet has been working hard with Stagecoach to identify routes which will hopefully be commercially viable.
Meanwhile, Stagecoach will continue to provide bus services to schools and colleges, which are subsidised by HCC. For now HCC will continue to support the Fleet Link service which they run along with funding from the local parish/town councils. They also provide Fleet Taxi-share a pre-bookable passenger service to areas which Stagecoach are not able to reach.
If we are going to help to keep the local buses going and bring about further improvements to connect all parts of the area by public transport, we need to continue to support the campaign. Please report any problems, and indeed benefits to the campaign group. They need to have evidence to be able to work with HCC and Stagecoach.
Most importantly we all need to try to encourage as many people as possible to use the local buses. This is the only way to keep buses running and to encourage further improvements.
The ’Don’t Cut our Buses‘ campaign can be reached at www.facebook.com/dontcutourbuses, online at www.busesinfleet.org. If you prefer you can telephone me, Jenny Radley on 628751 or by e-mail at JennyR@cchart.org.uk and I can give you details on the latest situation.
Published by: Julia Ambler, 39 Du Maurier Close, Church Crookham, Hampshire, GU52 0YA