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Community News
The Newsletter of the Community Campaign (Hart)
Issue 13, Winter 2013

Local Development Planning (LDP)

Our last newsletter focused on our concerns about the extent of, and the proposed locations for, the new housing developments which were at the time being put forward in Hart’s Local Development Plan (LDP). In particular, we were most concerned about the 450 houses which were being suggested for the Grove Farm site. This development would have coalesced Netherhouse Moor and Crookham Village into one mass of housing. In doing so it would have removed a rich bio-diverse ‘green lung’, which is highly valued, being the transition into the countryside from the town of Fleet.

We made it a pledge of our 2012 Hart District election campaign that if we could win enough seats, along with the independents, so that between us we would hold the balance of power, then we would use this influence to have Grove Farm removed from the LDP. We duly won two additional seats; with Tony Clarke winning in the Crondall ward and John Bennison coming back to join us on the Council by his win in Fleet Courtmoor. Combined with Alan Oliver, an Independent winning in Fleet West, we did gain sufficient numbers to exert significant influence on the LDP process.

Straight after the election, we set to work talking with officers about how to re-distribute the 450 houses from Grove Farm fairly around the district. This is when Hart dropped the bombshell that due to the evolving situation, the plan was inherently short of another 550 homes of which an additional 350 were being targeted at the Fleet and Church Crookham area. So, we were faced with the horrific prospect of identifying suitable locations in Fleet and Church Crookham for a total of 800 houses once Grove Farm was taken out of the plan.

With the mandate from the electorate to support us, we were able to negotiate effectively. From being faced with 800 additional new houses, Fleet ended up just taking an additional 150 homes in the town centre (to be found mainly with the redevelopment of redundant office blocks). Unfortunately the huge step in housing numbers to be allocated meant that it was not possible to relocate the 175-house expansion of the Edenbrook development.

In the circumstances, to have removed the 450 units on Grove Farm from the plan and to have diverted most of the 350 additional houses to locations fairly spread around the district, is a major achievement. We could not have done this without the mandate from the electorate and we have to thank all those who voted for the Community Campaign in May 2012 for having put your trust in us.

However, this is not the end of the matter and there may still be some jeopardy. The Local Development Plan will need to be ‘tested for soundness’ in an Examination in Public (EiP) during the first half of 2013. Any developer who is unhappy with the proposed site locations will be trying to demonstrate that the plan is ‘unsound’ in order to promote their own site. It is down to the government appointed planning inspector to determine if the plan is sound or not. We are hopeful that the process and evidence base which underpin the evolution of the LDP are sound and that they can be successfully defended at the EiP. The Community Campaign will be attending the EiP to support the LDP in its current form. Should the EiP determine that Hart are required to take a more aggressive housing figure then some very difficult decisions will be forced upon us.

Grove Farm

Numerical breakdown of Hart Council

As can be seen from the pie chart below, the election of May 2012 left no political party with overall control of Hart District Council (HDC). The Community Campaign were emphatic that our ideal solution would be for an inclusive administration which was proportionally representative of the make-up of the council as a whole. Unfortunately despite lengthy negotiations, it was not possible to persuade the Conservative group to agree to work with the Lib Dems in the interest of Hart residents. While it is true that both of the national parties were willing to work individually with the Community Campaign, we were adamant that we would only be prepared to pledge support for an administration that embraced the strengths of all the groups.

What was clear from the election result in which Tony Clarke and John Bennison for the Community Campaign Hart (CCH) and Alan Oliver as an Independent won decisive victories based on the total rejection by the electorate of development on Grove Farm – was that whoever ended up running the council needed to pledge to remove the Grove Farm site from the LDP. This was going to be necessary because with no one group holding a majority and with the CCH and Independents firmly aligned, the Local Development Plan (LDP) was not going to get voted through a meeting of the full council if the site was still included. Any new administration therefore had both a moral and practical imperative to take account of the strength of local feeling.

HDC Pie chart (2012)

In order that a workable solution could be found, the CCH let it be known that we would not support any motion to try to force the Tory council leader to resign, provided he pledged to support the removal of the Grove Farm site from the LDP. In addition, in order to ensure the stability of the Council, the CCH would want a guarantee that the new administration would keep all parties fully engaged in the decision making process. It is a universal facet of human nature that a lack of information breeds suspicion and mistrust. It is fair to say that since May, Hart’s Cabinet and senior officers have gone out of their way to keep all members informed and tightly coupled into the decision making process.

So far, this openness has allowed business at Hart to progress effectively. The inclusive nature of information sharing has resulted in a far more open and consensual process than we could have achieved if the CCH had sided with one main party or the other to form a coalition administration.

There will be another full municipal year (starting in May) before the all up elections of June 2014 which have been brought on by boundary changes. So, it is unlikely that there will be a significant change in the political balance for another 18 months. However, the current council cohesion would be tested if the Examination in Public (EiP) on the Local Development Plan (LDP) was to find the plan unsound.

QEB update

The planning application by Taylor Wimpey (TW) to build a further 100 high density houses on the part of the QEB dedicated to employment usage was thrown out by Hart’s planning committee in June. TW did as expected and appealed the decision. Once again the Community Campaign has made a submission to the Planning Inspectorate and will be attending the appeal hearing to give evidence. The public hearing was to have been held in January but the Secretary of State has ruled that TW’s environmental statement was inadequate and that it will need to be re-written. The appeal is now expected to be heard in the summer.

The main thrust of our argument is, as planners are keen to emphasise, the importance of ‘sustainable’ development. Surely a sustainable development is one which caters for the needs of the people who will live there? This must mean including some form of opportunity for local employment. TW seem somewhat insulated from the hard economic reality of life. Generally, buying a house requires the buyer to have a job to pay off the mortgage and having a job usually means having a place to work.

The economic recovery in the UK is going to be reliant on small specialist companies. So despite large modern office blocks lying empty, successful small businesses still need somewhere to base their operations.

It would seem prudent to stick with the plan to build small light industrial and small office buildings to complement the housing on the QEB. Without these, we are giving in to the expectation that everyone either works from home, sits in a long traffic jam, or stands on a crowded train to commute to work. If we want to reduce traffic then having places of employment co-located with new housing development must surely make a lot of sense.

Replacing an area dedicated to providing local employment with 100 additional houses is rather short sighted and doesn’t seem to fit in with what most people would consider to be ‘sustainable’ planning.

Village Report

by Tony Clarke Tony Clarke

Starting a year back, it was clear that there was growing local dissatisfaction with the draft Local Development Plan (LDP), which at the time identified West Fleet and Grove Farm in particular as the launch pad for new housing development in Hart District. This meant that Crookham Village could soon become absorbed into a ‘Greater Fleet’, losing its identity and changing the unique landscape context forever.

After so much strain had been put on our local infrastructure by one new housing estate after another, local people started to realise that they had missed the significance and scale of this threat – and mobilised quickly to address it on different levels. At the May local elections residents on the countryside fringe of Fleet, Crookham Village, Ewshot and Church Crookham voted strongly for another way. Turnout of 65% in Crookham Village was almost a national record.

So, I became one of 35 Hart District Councillors who make the key decisions that affect some 89,000 residents across Hart. I have taken a special interest in the evolving LDP and I am pleased that it has improved to its current form.

Apart from the main Full Council meeting for all Councillors held once a month, I am on the Planning Committee, which decides certain developer and householder applications - and also the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, to which all council departments report when called to account.

In addition, I sit on the Planning Service Board, which inspects the internal workings and budgets of the Planning department as well as the new QEB Transport Contributions Steering Group, which will decide how and where the £3m developer contribution from Church Crookham will be spent to improve local transport related infrastructure.

Crondall ward covers four Parish Council areas too, so I try to keep in touch with local issues and attend their meetings when possible. I am also the Hart representative to the North East Hampshire Campaign to Protect Rural England. Beyond these official duties, it is a pleasure to help local residents realise that they can make a difference.

These have been important months for our villages. I have learned a lot, with great support from the CCH group and I am pleased to have been involved with such relevant matters that affect our quality of life.

News round up

There are always lots of things happening that don’t, on their own, warrant a dedicated article but which are nevertheless of interest to local residents, hence this brief list.

QEB infrastructure: You can’t help but notice the new pedestrian crossings on Aldershot Road, Reading Road South and Gally Hill Road. These are being put in to provide safer crossing places for local schools and are directly funded by the developer, Taylor Wimpey (TW). They have been located where the majority of school children are known to cross busy roads whilst being in accordance with the ‘rules’ for highway safety. There certainly have been teething issues, such as the ‘intelligent’ pedestrian sensing system installed at Hampshire Highway’s request, which many find confusing with overly bright traffic lights.

While intrusive roundabouts are being put in on Sandy Lane, there are only minor junction upgrades planned for anywhere else. There is, however, a £3m pot of money from TW to be used for as yet ‘unspecified’ highways infrastructure. The Community Campaign will continue to argue that this money should be ring fenced to deal with the most significant impacts of the development as they emerge. Unfortunately, this creates a tension with others in Hart who would rather spend the money on unrelated projects.

The CCH will continue to have lengthy discussions with TW and their contractors about keeping open access to the established pathways through the ancient woodlands and open grounds in and around the site, over which people have enjoyed free access for decades. Kissing gates suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs have been agreed for the main thoroughfares, especially those which are used as routes to schools.

Schools: While everyone is delighted that there will be a new school on site at the QEB, there is still concern about the capacity of local schools both in the short term and the future. Most year groups in the local primary and secondary schools are full and often families moving into the area after the normal enrolment date can end up finding themselves with a child being bussed to distant schools. The expansion in capacity that comes from the new school site on the QEB does not appear to be sufficient to cope with the expected demand once the QEB is fully built and on top of all this, there are the new homes which will result from the implementation of the Local Development Plan. At a County (Local Education Authority) level and at a Hart District (planning) level, CCH councillors will continue to lobby to try to ensure that local children are not left short of local school places in the foreseeable future.

Farnborough Aerodrome: Despite getting an 85% increase in allowed flight numbers, the Public Safety Zone (PSZ) has hardly changed in size in response. The CCH are supporting those demanding that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is transparent in explaining how they have been able to bring about this apparent improvement in safety statistics. At the same time, we are also joining Farnborough Aerodrome Residents Association (FARA) in asking that TAG include ‘Royal & Diplomatic’ flights within their flight quota. Currently such flights fall outside of the provisions in the planning conditions which underpin operations at the aerodrome. The CCH can see no justifiable reason why a jet with a foreign dignitary on board should be deemed as incapable of disturbing residents on the ground.

Published by: Julia Ambler, 39 Du Maurier Close, Church Crookham, Hampshire, GU52 0YA