Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Wildern Mill: "Next" step leaves Lib Dems with a Dilemma

Derelict Mill Buildings
As predicted in this blog, Lib Dem Eastleigh Council has changed its mind again.  The Wildern Mill brown field site has been removed from the latest version of the Borough Local Plan.

Originally expecting 184 flats to be built on it in accordance with an existing planning consent, the Council then decided to redesignate the location as "employment" land in the second draft of the plan.

The local plan process has now been overtaken by events with developers starting their own consultation process for a mixed-use development  on the land currently occupied by the derelict mill and a furniture store.  They propose a "Next" superstore with access from Charles Watts Way and a scaled-down residential development consisting mainly of houses with access from Turnpike Way.

Families in the neighbouring residential areas were invited to exhibitions to explain the plans on Saturday 21st and Monday 23rd July, but if you live a bit further afield or couldn't make either of the exhibitions, there is a detailed and informative web site at www.wildernmill.com, which includes an opportunity to comment on the plans.  The consultation continues until 14th August.

The Saturday morning exhibition saw a steady procession of nearby residents taking advantage of the chance to quiz representatives of the landowners, consultants and Next.

The consensus among people I spoke to was generally positive, although there is some suspicion that the small block of flats (currently intended to be no more than 3-4 stories) shown on the plans might grow into something more significant when the final plans are submitted for planning permission.  After two applications for permission for high-rise flats at a density which would generate unacceptable increases in traffic on Turnpike Way, people are generally pleased to see that the new proposals are for about fifty houses in character with the neighbouring estates.  It is understandable, though, that some are reserving judgement until they see the final plans.

Some suggestions were made to improve the footpath and cycleway access to the new and existing stores in Charles Watts Way which seemed to have been positively received by the developers.  But the main sticking point for local residents is likely to be the access road to the new houses which is on a dangerous bend in Turnpike Way, opposite the existing access to the Turnpike Pavilion with its pre-school, playground, junior cricket, air cadets and other facilities for young and older people.

The dilemma facing our Lib Dem Borough Councillors when they consider the planning application (expected in September) is that the access road is already approved in the existing planning consent, and an expensive High Court battle has already been fought and lost on the issue of access over the land that the Council owns.   The Lib Dems are unlikely to have the stomach to re-open those debates, and Labour and Tories have criticised them for taking the battle as far as they did.

Alternative routes bring their own problems.  Access further west along Turnpike Way would damage the wooded strip of land which screens the residential development, and the Council has only just stated its intention to strengthen its protection by including it as part of a Priority Biodiversity Link in its new Biodiversity Action Plan.

Access to the North (via Charles Watts Way) is unlikely to be approved as it would mix residential and commercial traffic and bring its own issues of safety (as well as reducing the space available for the car park proposed for the new Next).

If the planning application is submitted in time, the next meeting of the Hedge End West End and Botley Local Area Committee is scheduled for 10th September.  Can the Lib Dems resolve their dilemma before then?

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Local Plan: Scrutinizing the Scrutineers

It's like reading War and Peace 
Four of Hedge End's seven Borough Councillors were present at Tuesday's hurriedly arranged special meeting of the Council's Policy and Performance Scrutiny Panel, convened to review the "Pre-Submission" Draft of the Local Plan , its background documentation and the consultation responses.

Cllr Jane Welsh is a member of the panel, Cllrs House and Bloom were present as cabinet members responsible for portfolios relevant to the agenda, and Cllr Pretty was in the public gallery along with thirteen other councillors.  

I was quite impressed by the number of off-duty councillors taking an interest in the committee until I learned that the Lib Dems were holding a private internal group meeting as soon as the scrutiny panel finished!  In fact some members of HEBAG and I were still discussing the outcome of the scrutiny panel when we were asked to leave the public gallery so the Lib Dems could get on with their meeting.)

Considering the plan will inform Borough planning policy for the next quarter of a century, some members of the public were surprised to learn that this was the first time some of the documents were to be discussed in a formal council meeting.  The panel members were asked to indicate by a show of hands that they had all read the documents - which run to about 900 pages, and some of which have only been available for six days. 

Unfortunately the committee chair declined the invitation on their behalf.

The public gallery were left to draw their own conclusions based on the individual councillors' contribution to the scrutiny. 

Four of the panel members did not speak at all, not a single question, not a single comment on any of the 900 pages of papers.

Three members asked one or two questions relating to policies in their own patch.

One member asked three or four questions of a general nature, but only one - Eastleigh South's Paul Bicknell - asked a sufficient number of questions on more than one document to give the impression that he had thoroughly read the papers under discussion.

It may be, of course, that the quieter members had in fact read all the papers and were genuinely content with them, but if they don't say so when they are scrutinizing them in public, what do they expect their voters to think?

Most of the panel's comments and questions related to the 200 pages of the Local Plan draft itself, and one or two concerned the hundred-plus page Transport Assessment.

No-one mentioned the 168-page Sustainability Appraisal Report, the 135-page Habitat Regulations Assessment or the nearly two hundred pages of feedback from the public consultations.  As a lot of the representations were from Eastleigh electors, it was disappointing that none of the elected councillors seemed to be interested in what they had said.

In fact the whole experience was disappointing:  two hours of questions being deflected either by council officers or cabinet members resulting in two fairly trivial recommendations: one to remove mention of the renovation of a pond in Bursledon and one to allow local scouts to keep using a stretch of the River Hamble for training purposes.  By concentrating on the detail, the panel seemed to lose any vision or scrutiny of the planning strategy as a whole.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Local Lib Dems - Too Little Too Late

Local Plan Debate Kicked into the Long Grass 
Hedge End Lib Dems have finally succeeded in delaying any local debate about the Eastleigh Draft Local Plan until it is too late.  At last week's meeting of Hedge End Town Council, none of the sixteen Lib Dems present would second my motions to discuss the defence of wildlife at Bottom Copse against development or a more suitable location for a site for travelling show people.

The new chair of the Town Council has promised that a special meeting in September of the Highways and Planning Committee will discuss the Draft Local Plan and the Town Council's response to it.   But as a member of Eastleigh's cabinet, Cllr Bloom is well aware that this week's full meeting of Eastleigh Borough Council is voting on the version of the plan which will be submitted to the Government for approval, after which no major changes will be tolerated.  In fact the Lib Dem leadership is so keen to rush through the decisions this month, that they have had to bring forward a hurriedly-arranged special meeting of the Council's one remaining scrutiny panel to review the Plan before it goes to cabinet and full council on Thursday.

Chandlers Ford Parish Council, which has only been in existence for two years, has had the self-confidence and sense of duty to its local parishioners to stand up against the Borough's plans.  Yet Hedge End Town Council with over a hundred years of history and tradition has been choked and stifled by Lib Dem party discipline and the dominance of senior Lib Dem Borough Councillors who hold most of the positions of power in the Town Council.

Lib Dem Town Council "Trivial"

One of the many disappointed Hedge End residents who came to last Wednesday's meeting hoping to see some serious debate on issues of vital importance to local people has emailed me this response:

"Thanks for all your help and your efforts at the recent HETC - we were there and thought it was a sham.

It's not the first time we've thought this of a TC meeting and not surprised that few people come

along - the councillors seem more interested in talking about their own exploits and on 'trivial' matters than on critical decision impacting the community -  guess they don't want the conflict?

Where Have All the Lib Dems Gone?

Local Lib Dems certainly don't give the impression that they want to make informed decisions when they do finally consent to debating the Local Plan.

Eastleigh planning officers gave up their Monday evening this week for a seminar at the Civic Offices to explain the current status of the Local Plan and the next steps.  This seminar was open to all Borough and Town Councillors, but attendance by Hedge End Lib Dems was frankly pitiful. 

Only one of our seven Borough Councillors was there - Cllr Peter Hughes.

And apart from three dual-hatted councillors, Botley's Cllr Rupert Kyrle, and West End Cllrs Bruce Tennent and Dan Clarke, I was the only Town Councillor there.

Only 20% of Hedge End's elected Lib Dems think the Draft Local Plan of sufficient importance to give up two hours on a Monday evening to inform themselves about it. 

Broken Promises

Perhaps they are too embarrassed by their broken election promises to stand up for our countryside and oppose more building and traffic in Botley and Hedge End.

Broken Election Promise 2011

Broken Election Promise 2012

Saturday, 21 July 2012

A Lifeline for Wildlife?

Hedge End's Priority Biodiversity Links   
Eastleigh's Lib Dem cabinet last week agreed a new draft biodiversity action plan for the Borough.  For the first time it recognises the importance of wildlife corridors in linking together high value biodiversity habitats.  In an era of climatic uncertainty it is vital that species have routes along which they can migrate to new habitats if forced out by climate change.

Unsurprisingly for an area that continues to be a Lib Dem target for large scale housing and commercial development, Hedge End does not have any "priority biodiversity areas" (PBA), but it does have three "priority biodiversity links" (PBL) which - according to the action plan - should be enhanced.

Hedge End's  PBLs are the motorway and railway corridors and a more meandering link named the "Wildern Priority Biodiversity Link".  Starting at the M27 Junction 7, it has one leg which follows the "heavily modified" urban stream through Hogsty Copse and along Turnpike Way, which it crosses via a culvert at the "superstore" footpath.  It continues through Wildern Nature Park, crossing Wildern Lane just south of the school.  It then follows the boundary of the school playing fields, crosses Grange Road, passes through the grounds of the hotel and into the Lib Dems' preferred strategic housing development area west of Woodhouse Lane where it joins up with the second leg which has taken a bendy course from the railway line through what is at the moment agricultural countryside, but is doomed to disappear under tarmac and concrete.  The BPL then continues through Bottom Copse, across Woodhouse Lane and on through Botley Parish where it connects with the upper reaches of the Hamble Estuary PBA.

The document acknowledges that the link is and will be constrained by development along much of its length, but it does give some recognition to local wildlife habitats including rivers, meadows and fen, floodplain grazing marsh, grass and rush pastures, hedgerows, and woodland, all of which - it says - have potential for restoration.

Watering Down

Sadly it coincides with a watering down of the Council's commitment to work to "protect, conserve and enhance networks of natural habitats and features, including watercourses and trees and hedgerows important to biodiversity and local character" in the Draft Local Plan.  The latest version merely requires the Council to "have regard to opportunities to protect and enhance the Priority Biodiversity Links set out in the Council's Biodiversity Action Plan".

A glance at the map shows that the Wildern PBL divides the area designated for housing West of Woodhouse Lane into two unequal parts (one looking west to the existing Grange Park estates, and one looking east towards Woodhouse Lane), which is going to make things more difficult for future developers.  It will be interesting to see if council planners and Borough councillors are capable of keeping their own wildlife links intact in the face of pressure from those developers.

The full Biodiversity Action Plan can be read on the Council's web site.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Standing Up For Our Wildlife

Threatened Fields Next to Bottom Copse 
Hedge End Town Council has a chance on Wednesday to stand up for our wildlife and fast-disappearing countryside.

The amended version of the Borough Council's Draft Local Plan includes a new site for an industrial or business estate right up to the edge of Bottom Copse in Woodhouse Lane.  I have already blogged about the presence of grass snakes in the fields that would disappear under tarmac and concrete under the Lib Dems' plans.

I have a motion for discussion at full council this week, calling on the Town Council to oppose the Borough's plans for one of the last bits of countryside in Hedge End.  The Town Council is the custodian of Bottom Copse, which is a designated Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC).

Combined with the plans for a huge housing estate to the north of the copse, an industrial estate to the south will inevitably change the nature of the SINC, making it less attractive as a habitat and wildlife corridor, especially to large mammals and birds of prey.

It will also be more at risk of disturbance, incursion and pollution.

The Draft Local Plan policy on biodiversity calls for the protection, conservation and enhancement  of areas subject to international, European, national, and local nature conservation designations.

It is hard to see how having an industrial estate on its doorstop will enhance this particular area.

Plans for Travelling Showpeople

Also on the agenda is my motion that the Borough's proposed site for travelling showpeople off Kanes Hill is not appropriate and would be better planned as part of the new housing and recreational development off Woodhouse Lane.

See also: Green Fields: Further Lib Dem Raids

Thursday, 12 July 2012

"Party in the Park" Cancelled

Greta Park after the Fun Fair Left 
Hedge End's first all day music festival, due to take place on 21st July has been cancelled, the Town Council has been informed.

The reason is not the damage caused to Greta Park by the last week's Carnival traffic, but - according to a letter from the organisers reported to last night's meeting of the Recreation and Amenities Committee - difficulties in obtaining the necessary temporary event license from the Borough Council.

The organisers are hoping to come back with another date for the Party in the Park, but the cancellation of the 21st July date is probably a good thing considering the condition of the waterlogged ground at the moment. 

Hedge End's carnival went ahead on 7th July as planned despite torrential rain, as other local events, including Southampton's Mela, were cancelled due to the weather and conditions underfoot.

The carnival procession did not drive on to Greta Park for the traditional end of its parade through the streets of Hedge End, but heavy vehicles associated with the Fun Fair and Gala Show were already on the grass, and it is as they have left that most of the damage seems to have been caused. 

The Town Council Stand Before the Rain Really Started
Hedge End Town Council had a stall at the Carnival for the first time, set up and crewed by Cllr Allingham and myself with assistance and moral support at various times from Cllrs Pretty, Houghton, Clarke, Welsh, Tennent and Kyrle.  Although weather conditions this year did not encourage those carnival-goers who ventured onto Greta Park for the Gala Show to stop and chat, we would like to make a Town Council presence at the Carnival, and possibly other events, a regular occurrence.  It's a great way to advertise what the Town Council is doing for the community and to get feedback and ideas from the people of Hedge End who ultimately pay for it.

Wildern Mill: Another U Turn in Prospect?

Derelict Mill Buildings 
As reported by Hedge End Blogger in May, Lib Dem Eastleigh Council appeared to have changed its mind about Hedge End's most eligible brown field site.  Originally assuming that the owners would go ahead with their existing planning consent for 184 flats, amendments to the Local Plan published for consultation in June re-designated the site for "employment" purposes, that is research and development, studios, high technology, laboratories, light industry, general industry, wholesale warehouses, distribution centres or repositories (but not retail).  As a consequence more green fields were to be sacrificed for housing between Hedge End and Bursledon.

New Proposals

The Lib Dem master plan has been thrown into confusion as households living near Wildern Mill have received a letter from a firm of planning consultants announcing "proposals for mixed-use retail and residential development".

It goes on to promise "a comprehensive scheme, delivering greater employment and more prestigious retail development as well as a vastly improved, lower density, primarily house-based residential offer", and invites local residents and businesses to a couple of public exhibitions to be held at the Turnpike Pavilion on Saturday 21st July (9:00am-12:00) and Monday 23rd July (4:30pm-8:00).

Town Councillors will be briefed on the exhibition next week, and the consultants are apparently already talking to Eastleigh Borough planning officers and councillors.

Pros and Cons

Although it is obvious that the best possible use should be made of this brown field location,  the proposals do not appear to be without possible controversy.

We have to assume that Eastleigh do not want any more retail development (otherwise they would have included retail in the permitted uses proposed in the Local Plan amendments).  There are already plenty of large retail warehouses and supermarkets in Hedge End, and smaller units would be setting themselves up in competition with existing shops in the village centre.

The existing plans for 184 flats were unpopular because they were out of character with the surrounding housing developments and squeezing that number of units into the available space would generate major problems with the existing infrastructure and roads.  A "lower density offer" sounds better, but I wonder what is meant by "primarily house-based"?

We will have to wait a few days to start to get the answers to these questions and concerns, but what is certain is that the Lib Dems' Local Plan will need to be rewritten yet again, if these proposals are to go ahead.  And that could be good if it means some of the threatened green fields could be saved.

MP Rejected by Hedge End Resigns from Government

2003 Town Council Election Result 
Conservative 'A-Lister' and Bournemouth MP Conor Burns - who has resigned from a junior post in the Government due to his opposition to the Coalition's plans to make the House of Lords (a little bit) more democratic - knows something about rejection by the electorate.

Elected to Southampton City Council in 1999, he stood in Eastleigh in the 2001 General Election but lost to David Chidgey.  He was rejected by the voters in Southampton's Basset Ward in 2002, failed to get elected to Hedge End Town Council in 2003 and then lost again in the 2005 General Election, this time to Chris Huhne.

His A-List status then got him the safe Tory seat of Bournemouth West, which has dutifully returned Conservatives for the last sixty years.  In fact his two predecessors were MPs for 29 years and 17 years respectively - a security of tenure that exceeds even the 15 year terms proposed by Nick Clegg for the reformed House of Lords.  Conor has yet to reach his 40th birthday, so has every chance of sitting on the back benches for a decade or two.

Point of Principle

He hardly needs the additional job security that a House of Lords by appointment provides for retired and defeated MPs, so he must have given up the post of PPS in the Northern Ireland Office because of a deeply held and genuine principle, and that is to be admired

It contrasts with Lib Dem MPs who have traded principle for power in their U-turns on student tuition fees, nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and dismantling the NHS and welfare state, and no longer have a moral leg to stand on when berating either their rebellious coalition colleagues or the Labour Party leadership (who are doing both what the opposition are there to do, and arguing for their own manifesto commitment - which was for a referendum on Lords reform).

In common with many of the Labour and Conservative rebel MPs who voted against the bill's second reading this week, Conor claims to be in favour of reforming the House of Lords, but against this particular reform - an argument that has held up progressive and democratic reform for decades, if not centuries.   His argument for keeping democracy out of the second chamber of our legislature is simply that it works.

Unfortunately (even if you believe the assertion that it works) it is not democratic, and that is the fundamental reason why it should be reformed.  The last two decades have seen movements for increased democracy in Eastern Europe, Egypt, and even Libya, but the cronies and fogies of the British establishment seem intent on blocking democratic reform in the UK.

A Step in the Right Direction

Nick Clegg's proposals are far from perfect.  15 years is far too long a term (although under the current system The 6th Baron Carrington has been a member of the House of Lords since 1945 without once being elected!).  The proposed system of election by party lists still puts too much power in the hands of the political party leaders and is likely to discourage genuinely independent candidates whose expertise is needed in parliament.  And why stop at 80% elected members?  If the principle of a democratically elected second chamber is accepted, why not 100%?

Imperfect and flawed as they are, the Lib Dem proposals are better, and more democratic than what we have at the moment.  Democratic reform can come suddenly or gradually.  Britain tends to prefer the gradual approach, and the current bill is a step in the right direction.

Five Questions to Ask Powerful People

Tony Benn regularly sums up what makes a democracy:

"If one meets a powerful person .. ask them five questions: 'What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?'  If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system."

Oh by the way, whatever happened to Nick Clegg's promised "right to recall" for constituents found guilty of serious wrongdoing?

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Residents: Lib Dem Consultation "Not Sufficient"

Not everyone is happy  
In the same week that a Botley Parish Councillor has expressed concerns about the Lib Dem Borough Council's latest consultation on its draft local plan,  a group of Hedge End and Bursledon residents have written to Hedge End Blogger with their own complaints.

This is what they have to say:

"A group of local residents have established the Hedge End and Bursledon Action Group (HEBAG) to campaign against Eastleigh Borough Council’s proposed plans for substantial levels of housing development in the local area. 

The draft version of Eastleigh Borough Council’s Local Plan for the period 2011-2029 proposed the construction of 40 dwellings on the land which lies between Heath House Lane and Pylands Lane in Bursledon (Policy BU3). Eastleigh Borough Council also plans to build a new road between Heath House Lane and Dodwell Lane to bypass the road junction at Sunday’s Hill (Policy BU5). Development is also planned for 100 dwellings in the Foord Road area of Hedge End (Policy HE3). The revised version of the Draft Local Plan indicates that the number of dwellings in Policy BU3 is to be increased to 250. This change is now far greater than the initial 40 dwellings contained in the first draft of the Local Plan. In light of these changes, HEBAG is concerned that, as before, there will not be sufficient consultation between the Council and local residents on their development plans.

The Public Consultation for the proposed changes to the Draft Local Plan is currently open until midday on the 13th July 2012. You can view the proposed changes and submit your comments via the Eastleigh Borough Council website (www.eastleigh.gov.uk/planning--building-control/consultations-and-latest-news.aspx), by email or by letter.

HEBAG recently sent out a survey to approx 600 local homes which sought to identify residents’ views on the proposed housing plans.  There was a great response which clearly demonstrates the real concerns local residents share. HEBAG are currently in the process of collating the results into a presentable format and the plan is to present the findings at forthcoming Council meetings to ensure that residents’ views are heard on this matter.

Please visit http://www.thehebag.moonfruit.com/ or www.facebook.com/THEHEBAG for information and updates on HEBAG campaign activities or contact the HEBAG team at: THEHEBAG@gmail.com / 07554 880 234 / 02380 407 992."
The Council wrote to every household in the Borough to notify them of the original consultation last year.  This time round they have not even written to those families who live close to the new and changed development locations, but are leaving it to local people like HEBAG to do their job for them.

See also:

Local Plan - New Consultation
More Countryside Lost to Lib Dem Housing Plans
Lib Dems - Why Can't They Be Honest?

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Councils Plan to Privatise Art and Culture

Bursledon Windmill's Future at Stake 
Museums and Art Galleries across Hampshire and Southampton could be run by a massive "charitable company" following a consultation which started on 22nd June and runs until the end of July.

In what looks like a privatisation, three councils' heritage, artistic and cultural sites would be taken out of democratic control and merged into a single organisation

Conservative Cllr Keith Chapman, Hampshire County Council Executive Member for Culture and Recreation, is gung-ho about the proposal, stating: "At a time when local government finances continue to face pressure, the merger could be an exciting longer term development to help safeguard the future of arts, museums and heritage services."  A position which could be decoded as "The County Council is still desperate to find ways to save money in the face of  massive Coalition cuts to funding from central government, and the arts and culture are a soft target".

Councillor Warwick Payne, Cabinet Member for Housing and Leisure Services in newly Labour Southampton describes it as one of "several proposals in Southampton in regards to arts and heritage" and "urges residents to have their say on this important issue because it is vital that we make the right decision."

Winchester's Conservative Cllr Patricia Stallard is even less enthusiastic:  "We first have to explore whether there is even a viable business case for a merger, and it's important that we ask the public for their views on the proposals as part of this process."

Bursledon Windmill, Eastleigh Museum (which is already being handed over to 1Community for day to day management) and Manor Farm would all be in line for privatisation under the scheme, as would Southampton's excellent art collection, much of which came from donations from benefactors who thought they were supporting a publicly-owned institution.  It would be tragic if the proposed "charitable company" proved to be a ruse to enable those works to be sold off.

There's not a lot of detail available at the moment about how the proposed company would be incorporated and funded, and how democratic accountability would be retained.  Privatisations of trains, buses, water and energy companies have proved disastrous for their customers and consumers while lining the pockets of private businessmen.  It would be understandable if people interested in our arts, culture and heritage, were suspicious of these proposals.

Details about the consultation are on Hampshire's web site.