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.

3 comments:

  1. Jenny Schwausch3 August 2011 at 15:16

    Hard not to think this is a cynical exercise by the Lib Dems. Apart from the skew mentioned by Keith above, at this, no doubt, deliberately chosen time, a lot of people will be on holiday and come home to a pile of junk mail of which this 'enlightening' leaflet will be a part. It doesn't stand out and will be unwittingly binned. This so called consultation leaves a lot to be desired. There is NOWHERE to vote on the proposed Woodhouse Lane development.

    The Schwausch household are going to reply by ticking A AND B with a brief comment to say if they build in both areas, already over-developed Hedge End can be left with a few green fields. I urge those interested to do the same.

    P.S. LIB DEMS - you know that there are many rented houses with multiple adult occupancy in the area (you know this from your own election leaflet distribution) - why aren't those people allowed a vote?

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  2. If you reply via the on-line form, you are not so restricted by the pitifully small space for comments....!

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  3. Thanks for the tip TGR. As an independent town councillor I get more opportunity to comment than most people. If people want to let me know what they think about the Lib Dem plans for our green fields, they are welcome to email hedgeendblogger@gmail.com

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