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?

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