Monday, 21 March 2016

Town Council "No Objection" to Care Home in Woodhouse Lane

Proposed site for care home looking towards Woodhouse Lane
All Hedge End planning applications are referred to the Town Council for comment before the Borough Council makes a decision to permit or refuse the application. This month the Town Council returned a "No Objection" to an application to build a three storey, 70 bed care home in Woodhouse Lane. Councillors did raise concerns about the 32 proposed parking spaces. This is understandable as any overflow parking is likely to end up in the Town Council's own car park serving the nearby bowling green and tennis courts. The council already has a problem with parking from the Botleigh Grange Business Park spreading into the leisure park.

It is sad to see another patch of green disappear, but there is going to be a need for more and more facilities for older people as the population ages. It is not that long since the Lib Dems refused permission for a residential home in West End. As they seem determined to have all the fields off Woodhouse Lane developed, this one might fit in better with their master plan for the area.

The Woodhouse Lane home is expected to bring 60 jobs to Hedge End - admittedly not terribly well paid ones. The current footpath across the field will be re-routed. The developer has committed to retaining most of the existing trees on the site. I just hope somebody told them the Lib Dems plan to make Woodhouse Lane the "Botley by-pass" with traffic from hundreds of new houses at Boorley Green racing past to get to the M27.

Other committees this month resolved to:

Carry out a survey to determine how many people use the public toilets in Lower Northam Road.

Obtain quotations to refurbish the Grade II listed old school building currently occupied by HEYCA.

Agree the use of the usual Town Council recreation grounds for the carnival (26 June to 5 July) and fun fair with fireworks (12 November).

Modernise, refurbish and extend the children's play area in Greta Park.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Town Councillor Slams "Boring" Meeting

Tree Warden, Mayor and Chair of TC
This week's meeting of Hedge End Town Council saw Tory member Jerry Hall laying into the majority Lib Dems for how they conducted themselves at the Annual Parish Assembly on Monday.

Town Council vice-chair Paul Carnell had already reported to the meeting that only 33 people had attended the earlier meeting, and most of those were councillors. The "serving the community award" had been presented to Hedge End's long serving tree warden, Andrew Jemmett.

However when it came to Borough Council Reports on the agenda, Cllr Hall criticised Lib Dem members for making speeches at the annual assembly that were too party-political. He described the event as "poorly attended" and "crushingly boring".

Lib Dem Cllr Cynthia Garton agreed, saying that apart from the first year of the "serving the community award" when there were several local folk nominated, it was always hard to encourage people to come along.

In fact, back in 2011, attendance was only 15 as I reported here: So perhaps 33 people this year was a good turnout after all.

Cllr Hall went on to claim that funding for the Botley by-pass had been secured in that day's budget. This assertion prompted one or two snorts of derision from amongst the Lib Dems. Cllr Pretty later pointed out that all that had been announced was a pot of money, some of which might or might not come Botley's way.

Cllr Hall's report concluded with the news that works had started to prevent further flooding in Hobb Lane, and the Borough's original budget of £19 million for the new Fleming Park was likely to be exceeded by some considerable margin.

In fact there were meetings in Eastleigh about the Fleming Park project the same evening, which probably explained why some of the more senior Lib Dem councillors were not at the Town Council meeting.

Earlier Cllr Margaret Allingham had reported on two planning applications considered at the last Local Area Committee which I have already described here:

Cllr Pretty also confirmed that although the Borough Council Tax was being frozen again, Hedge End folk would see the County precept rise by 3.9% and the Town Council share by 1%. He also requested support at a planning appeal. A developer wants to build on the fields near the crematorium in Bubb Lane. The council has rejected the application, and the developer's appeal is being heard on 12 April, 10am at the Rose Bowl.

Photo credit: Hedge End Town Council

Thursday, 10 March 2016

How Lib Dems spend your money

One of Hedge End's plant towers

As well as considering two planning applications, the HEWEB local area committee this week rubber stamped a number of spending commitments:
£10,600 for a "footway" at Moorgreen Road in West End
£10,500 for a shared pedestrian / cycleway at Barbe Baker Avenue in West End
£5,000 contribution to the TRAIN arts project
£6,000 for tree works in Grange Park Ward, Hedge End
£950 for tree works and a new fence in Tamarisk Road and Jasmine Road, Hedge End
£3,700 for the plant towers in the centres of Hedge End, West End and Botley
£104,000 for new play areas in Townhill Park and Carpathia Close, West End

I had not heard of the TRAIN arts project before. It was described in the officer's report as "a broad and ambitious new digital development programme which will enable young people in particular to tell a story across multiple platforms and formats including but not limited to games, books, events, theatre, media and festivals." It appears to be a collaboration between the Council, The Berry Theatre, the library service, The Sorting Office and Eastleigh Tech Hub.

Lib Dems Accused of Conflict of Interest

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the planning process, and whatever the need for more housing in the Borough, it was clear at this week's HEWEB local area committee that the Lib Dems cannot be trusted to look after public green space.

"Land at Hatch Farm" was transferred to the Council in the 1980s as public open space. The "meadow-like" land was enjoyed by West End residents for informal recreation for a couple of decades. Then the Lib Dems started the process of changing its designation from "public open space" to "land allocated for housing". The next step was a "development brief" which invited housing on what was a green space. Unfortunately for the Lib Dems, their failure to present an adequate Local Plan means the Council's agreed policy for this land is still that it should be protected as public open space.

The planning application for a hundred houses was referred to the committee by officers because it was "contrary to the Development Plan" and the site was "within the ownership of the Borough Council". Large numbers of interested West End folk in the public gallery were presented with a rather unedifying spectacle of the Council being asked to give the Council permission to build houses on land owned by the Council. And all this had been given the OK by the Council's own legal team.

The residents association also pointed out that houses built on the site would be at risk of flooding, and the additional traffic would block already congested roads. They were also frustrated that the report included the private gardens of the new houses were counted when calculating how much public open space would remain after development.

West End Lib Dem Bruce Tennent agreed with the local residents and supported their objections on the grounds of traffic gridlock and flood risk. However, he was put in his place by Lib Dem leader Cllr Keith House. "We have already agreed housing here in principle", he said. Voters had to understand the difference between listening and agreeing. The Lib Dems had listened but they did not agree with the objectors. There would be less flooding risk after the houses were built , the remaining open space would be "improved", and Hampshire County Council did not agree that development here would make existing traffic problems worse. The Lib Dems had to sacrifice green space here to protect green space elsewhere in the Borough.

Lone Conservative member Cllr Hall accused Cllr House of "threatening" the committee. Cllr Hall was uncomfortable about the apparent conflict of interest, wanted to defend the principle of public open space, and agreed with Cllr Tennent that putting more green space under concrete and tarmac was likely to make flooding problems worse.

Planning permission was granted by eight votes to two.

Link to Is it Keith "Million Houses" House?

Photo from @CllrKeithHouse

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Lib Dem U-Turn Paves the Way for Small Care Home

After recent criticism from within his own ranks, Lib Dem leader Cllr Keith House was left isolated at this week's HEWEB local area committee meeting. Councillors considered an application to convert a house in Cllr House's ward to a care home for four girls aged 9-18 years. This was a change of use application, and the planning officer's recommendation was to permit the change of use.
Cllr House

In November 2014 the same applicant applied to extend the home with additional bedrooms. On that occasion, Cllr House channelled Clint Eastwood, challenging the applicant to, "Go on punk, make my day" as he led his Lib Dems to deny permission. Some councillors who spoke and voted against the application in 2014 changed their mind and voted in support of the applicant this week. Predictably, the applicant appealed the 2014 decision, and the planning inspector saw through Cllr House's grandstanding and overturned the refusal.

This week's decision was simply about the change of use. Planning officers had decided this application was "controversial" enough to qualify for consideration by the LAC. In technical terms this was a change of use
from C3 (Dwellinghouses) to C2 (Residential Institutions). This is strange because the government's planning portal states that category C3 includes homes for up to six people living together as a single household and receiving care e.g. supported housing schemes such as those for people with learning disabilities or mental health problems . It was not made clear at the meeting why this home for four people had to be subject to a change of use at all.

Neighbours raised a number of concerns, but were primarily worried about the additional car movements and parking that would result from the change of use. The home is not in a location where there is a lot of opportunity for on street parking. However the planning officer's report made clear that the home has a huge front garden which could easily accommodate six cars. The officer's judgement was that the impact of car parking would be no different from a large family with older children who drove and consequently not sufficient to deny the application on planning grounds.

The applicant made representations drawing on their own experience, the need for vulnerable young people to be cared for in a domestic environment close to their families, and their success stories enabling girls in their care in other homes to complete their education and realise their ambitions for the future.

The first committee member to speak was Cllr Emma Norman, the other representative of Wildern Ward.
Cllr Norman
Cllr Norman followed the tone set by the applicant, abandoned her prepared speech, and spoke from the heart in defence of the vulnerable girls who would be helped by the applicant, referring to her own professional and family experience.

At this point the neighbours felt they were being unfairly criticised and there followed a bit of direct discussion between them, the applicant and committee members. This prompted the vice-chair to urge the chair to regain control of the meeting.. This he did, and Cllr Norman apologised, saying she was "choked up" by the applicant's story.

Cllr House then took a more conciliatory position than he had in 2014, stating that both sides of the argument were "right". However he criticised the "emotional" content of the discussion - a comment presumably aimed at the applicant and his colleague Cllr Norman - and stated that he disagreed with the officer about the parking, and would be voting against the recommendation to permit the change of use.

Other councillors picked up his criticisms of the tone of debate, with Cllr Clarke agreeing that there had been too much "emotion" and lone Conservative Cllr Hall feeling the neighbours had been "bullied". However, both they and Cllr Welsh stated they would be supporting the applicant. When it came to the vote only Cllr House put his hand up against the officer's recommendation.

I got the impression the majority had made the right decision, but that the meeting had done nothing to address the neighbours' legitimate worries. The neighbours and the applicants all left the hall together and seemed to be having a huddle outside, so perhaps they were coming to an arrangement without the "assistance" of their elected representatives.

Photo credits: Hedge End Town Council