Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Town Council Update

August has been a quiet month for the town council, with only two committees meeting.  The interesting bit of Highways and Planning was the discussion of The Lib Dem plans to build on Hedge End's last area of unspoilt countryside which I have already tried to cover on this blog without contravening Cllr House's secrecy order. 

The other committee that has continued to meet is Recreation and Amenities (R&A) under the chairmanship of Cllr Jane Welsh.

We had a normal evening meeting on 10th and then, following concerns raised by people living near the Woodhouse Lane playing field, a number of us had a Saturday morning on site meeting with some residents and a fencing consultant to discuss ways of reducing the impact of noise likely to be generated by the new skateboard park currently under construction.

This project has been discussed at various meetings since last autumn and details are on the Town Council web site.

The Older People's Forum has requested that instructions be provided for the Sports Point exercise equipment in the Recreation Ground, and the council is negotiating with the supplier.

Tennis fans will be interested to know that an LTA competition organiser is looking at staging a competition at the Woodhouse Lane courts.

The committee is working with Hedge End Junior Cricket Club to improve the practice nets at Turnpike Way and is also looking at a suitable gate for the entrance to the field from Thistle Road.

We also considered a number of letters of complaint arising from the barriers and dugouts that have been installed by Hedge End Rangers FC at the Norman Rodaway field to bring the facilities up to Hampshire League standard. 

The official minutes of the meeting are on the Town Council web site.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Keeping Hedge End Tidy

A pile of garden waste was dumped on a grass verge in Parkwood Close at the beginning of summer.  Eastleigh Borough Council - who have been mowing the verge for as long as anyone can remember - started steering their mowers around the obstacle so that grass started growing up through the debris.

Local residents reported the fly-tipping to Eastleigh  but were amazed to learn that according to the official maps this verge did not belong to the Council, nor was it designated highway land.  The Council don't clear fly-tipping from private land even if they are happy to cut the grass there.

Asked by the neighbourhood watch co-ordinator if the Town Council could help, I spoke first to the Streetscene department at Eastleigh and had a long discussion about cuts, funding, redundancies, boundaries, and precedents.  Eventually it transpired that Streetscene management would agree to clear this fly-tipping if they could cross charge the work to the HEWEB(*) Local Area Committee.  The Local Area Coordinator agreed that maintaining the tidiness of the local environment is more important than squabbling over who owns the land and within a few days the rubbish was cleared.

So it's well done to the responsive HEWEB LAC, but a shame that we probably spent more time arguing over whether the work should be done than it took to drive a vehicle onto the verge and shovel the rubbish away.

(*) Hedge End, West End and Botley

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Housing - Plan B

A view of new housing development at Dowd's Farm
 "If we don't accept this plan, it will be a developers' free for all and no green field will be safe from development."  Such was part of the argument used by the local Lib Dem leadership in bulldozing through their housing plans to impose at least 2,400 and possibly up to 6,000 new houses on green fields in the Hedge End, West End and Botley local area.

But the Lib Dems are guilty of presenting a false dilemma.  The choice is not between their plan and no plan.  The choice is between a bad plan and a better plan.

What makes the current proposals a bad plan is the inexplicable u-turn executed by the Lib Dems in adopting a small number of large scale "strategic development options" when they have campaigned against Strategic Development Areas and Major Development Areas in the past.

The impact of new housing on the existing infrastructure (roads, services, schools etc.) would be less invasive if the the new developments were spread more evenly throughout the borough instead of being concentrated in three locations.  It would also give existing communities and settlements the chance to grow organically without fundamentally changing their character, a fate which is possibly awaiting Boorley Green.
Let us accept for the moment the Council's target of 9,400 new houses and their assessment that 4,700 of these will have to be built on countryside locations.

They could reach their target by assigning 1,200 of the green field houses to sites near the urban centre of Eastleigh Town and Chandlers Ford and then distributing the remainder evenly throughout the nine southern parishes at the rate of about 400 per parish.

They could then engage in a more meaningful consultation in each parish allowing the local people to rank the identified locations in order of preference.  People in Hedge End might still vote in favour of building on the farmland at Woodhouse Lane, or they might prefer one of the other sites identified by the planners.  If the first choice does not have sufficient capacity to accommodate the 400 target houses, then the second or third choice locations would be added to the list until the required capacity is reached.

It might mean more work for the planners and a harder time for the developers, but it would be fairer and more democratic for the people of Hedge End.

New Job for Cllr Keith House

Congratulations to Hedge End Town Councillor, Bursledon Parish Councillor, Leader of Eastleigh Borough Council and Leader of the Lib Dem Group on Hampshire County Council, Keith House on landing another job.

The Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors announced on Monday that he has been elected Lead Lib Dem Member of the Local Government Association's Environment and Housing Programme Board.

I thought I'd have a browse of the LGA's web site to see what this new role entails:

Programme board members

  • To actively engage with councils and groupings of councils to secure the views and involvement of the wider membership to inform the board’s priorities and policy lines and act as an advocate for the LG Group and its work.
  • To attend and actively participate in programme board meetings
  • To attend conferences and other events initiated by the programme board.
  • To read and understand all board papers in advance of the meeting, and to keep abreast of all developments locally and nationally in relation to the areas covered by the programme board.
  • Where required, to take responsibility for a specified portfolio and act as spokesperson
Knowledge and Experience

Programme board members may be portfolio holders for that policy area in their home authorities or have experience/knowledge of, and commitment to, the policy area(s) covered by the programme board.

Travel and expenses

This role will require attendances at meetings in London and in other parts of the country.
Travel and subsistence costs incurred in attending programme boards meetings should be met by the member’s home authority.

Current programme board members’ allowance:   £2,593
Expected time commitment:      up to 0.5 days per week

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Lib Dems Keep Hedge End in the Dark

Lib Dems did not want members of the public at the Town Council meeting to discuss the new housing plans for Hedge End.  As I blogged on 1st August, the discussion was deemed to be exempt business under the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 after Council Leader Keith House decreed that any briefing by council officials had to be confidential, and that section of the meeting was not recorded in the official minutes.

It's a pity, because I thought I asked some pretty pertinent questions:
Q. It is clear that 1,000 houses at Woodhouse Lane and possibly 1,400 at Boorley Green will put unsustainable strain on the Maypole Roundabout and roads to the M27.   Will the planned housing bring in sufficient developers' contributions to improve those roads, or will Hedge End be asked to accept even more housing in order to generate funds for the increased road capacity?


Q. People moving into the new housing at Hedge End will need somewhere to work.  If 1,000 houses are built on our green fields, will Hedge End have to sacrifice even more countryside for employment purposes?


Q. In addition to the three major strategic sites, Eastleigh is looking to build 1,000 more houses across the whole borough on "small" green field sites.  In the interest of fairness, why should any of these 1,000 additional houses be targeted on the Hedge End, West End and Botley area, which is already going to take 2,400?


Q. In the Strategic Land Availability Assessment, all the sites in Hedge End which are close to the motorway are considered  inappropriate for housing.  Yet in neighbouring West End, the Council has permitted housing right up to the motorway with approprate noise mitigation.  Why do different standards apply?


Next time Lib Dem candidates come knocking on your door, see if you can get an answer from them. 

Monday, 15 August 2011

Hedge End Bursting its Boundaries

Beautiful countryside between Hedge End and Botley is threatened by the Lib Dems housing plans.

Eastleigh Council's map of "small greenfield sites" in Hedge End shows a number of locations to the east of Hedge End in the local gap between Hedge End and Botley (labelled HE6 to HE11) which have been designated possible development targets.

Although the Lib Dems voted in July to accept these as Hedge End locations, they are technically the other side of the administrative border between Hedge End and Botley parish.  Presumably the Council planners know where the boundary is, so why did they not categorise them as Botley locations?

The same thing has happened on the other side of Hedge End where green fields to the north and west of Hedge End which are technically in West End are in the Hedge End allocation.  (See previous blog entries here and here.)

And to the south, a number of green fields in the Bursledon parish area are counted as Hedge End sites.  

In fact, if I have done the calculations correctly, only thirteen of the 31 identified Hedge End sites are actually inside the  Hedge End administrative boundary, and only 34% (3799 out of  11185) of the potential housing slots assessed are formally in Hedge End.

In real life the administrative boundaries between parishes are a fairly insignificant planning technicality.   So why has the Council misled people in this way?  

One possibility is that by exaggerating how many green fields there are in Hedge End it makes it look as if we can "afford" to accept a thousand houses at Woodhouse Lane because there is still plenty of green space left. 

But the fact is that under the developer-friendly Lib Dems the settlement of Hedge End has already expanded up to, and in some cases over, its administrative borders with neighbouring parishes and the Woodhouse Lane location is the last area of countryside inside Hedge End's borders.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Library to Charge Youngsters

Fining pre-school children is a bad idea according to local Hedge End councillor, and leader of the Lib Dem opposition at Hampshire County Council, Keith House.
Commenting on Hampshire Conservatives' plan to charge children for the late return of library books Cllr House revealed an alarming statistic.
“Charging late fees for children is a reading tax. This all covers up the more amazing fact that the county has lost 30,000 books in recent years.  The council should concentrate on tracking down these rather than discouraging children reading."
 Perhaps a well-publicised amnesty would encourage adults to return some of those 30,000 books rather than putting more pressure on families already struggling with reduced income and higher prices for everything from food to electricity.

Read the full story here.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Glorious Twelfth - Special Offer at The Berry

This Friday, 12th August, The Berry are showing "Cedar Rapids", and have announced a special price to celebrate the announcement of their new season.   So, while some might be trecking off to the grouse moors for the annual bird massacres, Hedge Enders can make a much shorter trip to our local theatre and see this recent comedy release for a mere £2.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Norman Rodaway Playing Fields Threat

Local Lib Dems have voted to make these popular playing fields a target for developers.

The Lib Dems nationally are in a developer-friendly coalition with the Conservatives which threatens our green spaces and countryside with more and more development.  The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England  is among many groups and organisations that have seen the truth behind the government’s planning consultation.

And the Lib Dems locally are going along with the national policy to put development ahead of the protection of the environment by designating just about every green space in and around Hedge End as a possible target for the developers.

Amazingly this includes not just farmland but our parks and recreation grounds too.

“Small green field site” HE12 (Land East of Heath House Lane and South of Kings Copse Avenue) is better known as the Norman Rodaway Playing Field.

Despite it being the home of local organisations including Hedge End Rangers FC, Smiles Pre-School and 31st Itchen Scouts, and a favourite place for informal exercise and dog walkers, the Council reckon that up to 180 houses and flats could be built there.  Or it could be developed for employment purposes.

The Lib Dems haven’t completed their master plan to concrete over Hedge End yet, but I am worried that one of their justifications for building at Woodhouse Lane (despite their election promises to fight against building on County Council land) is that they can get the developers to provide “new playing fields for the community”.

Does Cllr Keith House want to provide these new playing fields in the north-east of Hedge End so that he can then force the current users of Norman Rodaway to relocate and free up even more land for housing?  He must admit that the Council has previous form when it comes to evicting leisure users who have invested years in a much loved location – just ask the Eastleigh Allotment Association.

We might think that the Norman Rodaway is safe because it is owned and managed by Hedge End Town Council, but the national Lib Dems in coalition with the Conservatives are telling local councils to sell their leisure assets to “save money

If we put all these national and local policies together, things are not looking good for Norman Rodaway.

Things are looking even worse when we look more closely at the minutes of Hedge End Town Council in February.  The Recreation and Amenities Committee had resolved that Council should apply to preserve the Norman Rodaway Sports Field as a recreation ground in perpetuity under a covenant which would have seen it designated a Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Playing Field.  Decisions of committees can be referred to full council at the request of an individual councillor, which is what Cllr House did on this occasion.   At full council he talked his fellow Lib Dems out of protecting the Norman Rodaway field in this way and instead diverted the protection to the Dowd's Farm Park.

9. To consider the following Resolution under Standing Order 34 (b)
Referred Cllr. Keith House
a) Recreation & Amenities 9 February 2011
Minute R55
That the Town Council make application for
the Queen Elizabeth II Fields Challenge
Deed of Declaration for the sites of Norman Rodaway
Sports Field and Turnpike Way Sports Field.
Cllr. Keith House introduced this Motion expressing his concern
and reservations that by applying covenant restrictions on the
lands in question will make it very difficult for the Town Council
in the future to manage the land to its own advantage and
believed that the Town Council should not defer control to third
parties. He felt that it was more appropriate to designate Dowd s
Farm as ultimately the Town Council will never own the land
freehold but under a lease agreement with the Salvation Army.
Cllr. Keith House Proposed an Amendment to the Resolution,
Seconded by Cllr. Peter Hughes to read:
That the Town Council make application for the Queen
Elizabeth II Fields Challenge
Non-Charitable Deed of
Declaration for the site of Dowd s Farm.
13 For, 2 Against, 1 Abstention. AMENDMENT CARRIED.

 Did Cllr House as far back as February have plans ultimately to sell the Norman Rodaway for development?

Marking Trafalgar Day in Hedge End

photo credit: Computerjoe

Celebrating our history, tradition and community spirit is the ethos behind the Hedge End St George Fest. 

The committee, with support from the Town and Borough Councils and individual County Councillors, has organised various events in Hedge End around St George's Day and Christmas for the last three years, and at last night's meeting it agreed to continue this autumn with a barn dance to celebrate Trafalgar Day.

There will be traditional music, grog and hard tack, and a prize for the best nautical costume.

Look out for more publicity as the nights draw in and 21st October approaches.

There will also be at least one concert of traditional music nearer Christmas.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Opinion Surveys - The Truth

TGR Worzel and Hedge End Blogger have both recently discussed the current opinion survey / consultation being undertaken by Eastleigh Borough Council.

TGR Worzel post here.

Hedge End Blogger post here.

Coincidentally the LibDem Voice blog recently provided a link to a Yes Minister clip on youtube which seems pertinent.

Yes Minister on Youtube

Surely we are not being manipulated by local government?

Secretive Lib Dems Threat to Hedge End Heritage

Botleigh Grange is a historical jewel in Hedge End's architectural crown, yet local Lib Dems voted in July to include the parkland (currently with grazing highland cattle) between the hotel and Grange Road as a possible location for development.
According to the Council, up to 135 houses or flats could be built on the last remnants of the historic deer park, completely obscuring the view of the historic house and destroying its character.  This, despite the parkland and the trees on the site being protected by existing legislation.
The Lib Dems say they need to find sites for a thousand more houses (in addition to those included in the current opinion survey) but have decreed that discussions about them be closed to the public and kept secret until they have decided which additional green fields will be sacrificed to development.
With the Conservative / Lib Dem coalition  deciding that "sustainable" development is more important than protecting the environment according to a recently published consultation, things look bad for our green fields.
There is a tradition that Oliver Cromwell stayed at Botleigh Grange in the seventeenth century.  Perhaps we need some of his spirit to save Hedge End's green spaces in the twenty-first!
These green fields are labelled HE5 on the Council's map of "small greenfield sites".

Thursday, 4 August 2011

More Green Fields Threatened in U-Turn by Secretive Lib Dems

Massive new development on green fields between Tollbar Way and Bubb Lane is being considered since local  Lib Dems voted to accept Eastleigh Borough Council's Strategic Land Availability Assessment in July.
Only four years ago, the Lib Dems said that the strategic gap between Hedge End and West End was so vital that they turned down the Wessex Vale Crematorium at Bubb Lane (it went on to be built because their decision was overturned on appeal).  Now they are willing to consider a massive expansion of the Berrywood Business Village and up to 700 houses on the countryside in the very same strategic gap.  And this would be in addition to the one thousand houses already planned for Woodhouse Lane.
All this is already in the public domain - Eastleigh have published all the threatened sites on their web site  and drawn attention to them in their  "Help shape the future of your borough Have your say!" leaflet.
Hedge End Blogger is bursting to tell you the latest thinking on how the Local Development Framework will affect Hedge End, but the Lib Dem leadership decreed that Wednesday's briefing for town councillors be held in secret as "exempt business".  Members of the public and press were excluded from the meeting and no minutes or report will be published.  As an independent member of Hedge End Town Council, I cannot abuse my privilege of attending the briefing, so I am in effect being censored by the party that claims to "involve people in decisions". 
If I understand Cllr House's diktat correctly we will be allowed to talk and blog about the content of this week's meeting once specific options have been presented to Eastleigh Borough Council (ie after the decision has effectively been made).

A few local Lib Dem stalwarts did turn up for the meeting.  Cllr Cynthia Garton, Cllr Margaret Allingham, Cllr Helen Corben, Cllr June Watson, Cllr Peter Hughes and Cllr Ray Worley were all there and asked some pertinent questions and made some telling points about local infrastructure and services being swamped by more housing.  
I don't want to criticise individual councillors because it is the start of the holiday season and anybody can have a reason for missing a particular meeting, but six out of twenty is a very small turnout.
It's doubly strange because in July all the Lib Dems voted to postpone discussion by the Town Council of the Borough's housing plans until after they had had the chance to hear this briefing, but then fourteen of them didn't even turn up to hear it.  
In May the Lib Dems said they would  "stand up against building and even more traffic in our area".  I just wonder when they are going to start.
The threatened fields are labelled HE2,HE3 and HE4 on the Council's map.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Lib Dem Housing Survey is Unfair and Undemocratic

A flawed opinion survey is being undertaken by Eastleigh Borough Council at a cost to the tax payer of £13,000.   A glossy leaflet "Help shape the future of your borough Have your say!" is being delivered to every household in the Borough.
The survey is unfair because it does not ask a fair question.  Both options (Allington Lane or Boorley Green) imply support for the Council's "preferred locations" at Woodhouse Lane Hedge End and to the south of Eastleigh. Surely it occurred to them that some people (most notably those who already live in Hedge End or south Eastleigh) might have something to say about the impact to their roads, infrastructure and other services of concentrating a thousand new houses in these green field locations.  Whether that was the intention or not, the result is what looks like a cynical exercise which will allow the Lib Dems to claim that x thousand Eastleigh residents voted in favour of building on the green fields at Woodhouse Lane.

The second problem is that voting for either option implies acceptance of two assumptions which underpin the Lib Dem plans.  One assumption is that nearly ten thousand new houses will be required in the Borough in the next ten to fifteen years.  The other is that the majority of the nearly five thousand new houses on green fields must be concentrated in three "strategic" locations.

The Council would have us believe that ten thousand houses are needed just to accommodate the projected growth in Eastleigh's current population.   But the population in Hedge End has not grown organically.  It has been development led.  Developers have built houses and people have moved here because of the communication links and the previously thriving economy in the south east.  The fact is if we build more houses we just encourage more people to move here from elsewhere.  (I will declare an interest here as we moved here from Southampton in 1984.)

The second assumption - that the majority of green field houses should be concentrated in three strategic locations - is presented with no evidence or justification.   The Council's own Strategic Land Availability Assessment shows that there is scope to distribute those houses more widely in the Borough.  A larger number of small to medium sites will also spread the infrastructure load.

Instead of 3,700 houses on three locations and the remaining 1,000 spread throughout the Borough, a workable distribution would be 1,200 in Eastleigh and 400 in each of the nine southern parishes.  These numbers can easily be accommodated in locations already identified by the Council.  This suggestion will also allow existing communities to grow in a more organic manner without the disproportionate impact of another Dowd's Farm development on Hedge End's few remaining green fields.

The survey is undemocratic because of problems with the mechanics of the survey process.  It is good that a reasonably eye-catching leaflet has been or will be delivered to every house in the Borough (unlike the consultation on an elected mayor for Eastleigh that was hidden in an obscure corner of the Council web site and hardly publicised at all).  Although there is no freepost facility for returning the form, the option is there to complete the survey online, or to take the paper leaflet to the Hedge End Town Council offices for collection.

But why has the democratic principle of one person one vote been abandoned in favour of one vote per household?  This is a lurch back to the dark days when only landowners had the right to vote.  This anachronism will tend to disenfranchise women and young people (we wouldn't want young people to express a view on the future of their Borough, would we?).  It also ignores the views of those who do not currently have a house (the Council figure is that there are 5000 families waiting for a house in Eastleigh).  
And why will anonymous returns be ignored?  The secret ballot is a cornerstone of our democracy, but this survey will only be valid with a name and address attached.   It seems that after the embarrassment of the AV "fairer votes" referendum, the Lib Dems are forgetting the very principles of democracy.

Despite my misgivings I do hope that a large number of surveys are returned.  A poor turn out will make it easier for the Council to claim in future that consultations are not worth the money (this one is costing £13,000) and make decisions without input from the people.

Every household in Hedge End will have to decide how they respond to this exercise.  In case you are wondering, we had a little family meeting in the Hedge End Blogger household and have come up with a consensus as to how to respond.  We will vote for neither option A nor option B and will try to explain why in the pitifully small space for comments, but the bottom line is - we don't want to see huge tracts of green fields disappearing under more concrete and even more traffic on our already overcrowded roads.

In short, we agree with what the Lib Dems said they would do before the Borough elections in May, not with what they have done since being elected.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Chris Huhne - It's a Dog's Life

Our local MP turned up in his constituency at the end of last week for a photo opportunity at the Blue Cross Animal Adoption Centre on the outskirts of Hedge End, as reported on his own web site and by The Echo.

Now I think it is fair to say that Chris has a lot on his plate at the moment, so it was good to see that he found the time to publicise the very real problems that dog, and other animal, rehoming charities are facing.

Even before the Coalition started to grind the economy to a standstill, these rehoming centres were taking in more unwanted dogs than they could place in new homes.  It is a depressing and little publicised fact that thousands of healthy dogs are killed every year in the UK because there are simply not enough homes for them.  Meanwhile puppy farms and private breeders continue to try to make a buck from mugs who are willing to hand over ridiculous sums of money for the latest fashionable breed or cross.

So, respect to our MP for giving the problem some publicity.  It’s just a shame that the government appears to be going down the path of making life harder for all dog owners and is ignoring the issue of uncontrolled breeding which lies at the root of the problem.

It’s also a shame that the Lib Dems on Eastleigh Council voted in July to designate the Blue Cross site and the surrounding green fields a possible location for housing or industrial development.   It seems our councillors don't care too much about the 100-year history of the Blue Cross, or the 24 local jobs it provides, or the investment the charity has made in its facilities at Bubb Lane.  According to the Council's Strategic Land Availability Assessment , there is the potential for up to 1380 houses there.  Where will the unwanted dogs go then?

(Jack, in the photo, is an alumnus of the RSPCA Ark at Stubbington, but agreed to the picture being published to express his solidarity with all canine comrades looking for a new home.)

Link to Blue Cross

Link to Stubbington Ark

Monday, 1 August 2011

Lib Dems' Secret Consultation

More green fields are under threat in Hedge End as Lib Dems insist the public are to be excluded from a Town Council briefing by Eastleigh Borough Council.  This despite their election claim to "involve people in decisions" and "we value YOUR views".

After the bombshell that fields at Woodhouse Lane are going to be designated a "preferred location" for housing, despite the Lib Dems' specific promise to campaign against housing on County Council owned land in the area (reported here.), and their sham consultation, which does not allow people in Hedge End to express their views on the Woodhouse Lane plans (see the leaflet here.), there now comes the shock that the party that used to stand up for open democracy and against excessive secrecy is breaking a commitment made at the last Town Council to have the next stage of discussions at a normal meeting, open to the public.

I had a motion at that meeting which would have called on the Town Council to oppose the Woodhouse Lane proposals, and also to hold all future meetings on the subject in public.  As you can see from the minutes (here), the Lib Dems decided to postpone this discussion until September, after a briefing by Eastleigh to the Highways and Planning Committee in August.

When the agenda for this Wednesday's Highways and Planning Committee was first distributed the discussion on the Local Development Framework was, indeed, scheduled to take place at 6:30 as the first item of business (the council normally deals with items of public interest at the beginning of the agenda so that people do not have to sit through the boring bits of the meeting waiting for the juicy stuff).

Within hours, though, the Lib Dem leadership had bulldozed through the agenda and the amended version (published on the council web site here) puts the item as the last thing on the agenda, after a motion to exclude members of the public and press.

So much for open democracy, so much for involving local people in decisions.  It looks like all they want the public to do is rubber stamp decisions made by the Lib Dems behind closed doors.