The last WAG update was in mid-July when we reported that Hart was doing its best to ignore our case against Option 4 (a New Town) and was pushing ahead regardless with its plans for a New Town centered on Winchfield.
Since then there have been several important developments:
- First, Hart has issued a revised timetable for the Local Plan. This revised plan shows a major slip, with the Local Plan being submitted to the Inspector in the Winter of 2016/17 (as opposed to the Winter of 2015/16 which had been the plan in February), and the Development Management policies related to the Local Plan being submitted to the Inspector in the Spring of 2018 (as opposed to the Summer of 2017 which had been the plan in February). This is good news for WAG because it allows us more time to make the case against a New Town, and for alternative strategies (in particular the potential for developing brownfield sites) to be fully explored.
- Second, Hart has added two new Public Consultations to the Local Plan timetable. The first is a Public Consultation on the Refined Housing Options Paper which is due to take place in this winter, and the second is a Public Consultation on the Draft Local Plan in the Summer of 2016, before it is submitted for Inspection in the Winter of 2016/17. Both these Public Consultations are vitally important for WAG because they give us the chance to make our case against Option 4, and to persuade people across the whole of Hart that a new town is not in the best interests of the district. Note that the need for a Public Consultation was one of the key findings of the legal opinion which we commissioned in May and which Hart dismissed out of hand – it is encouraging to know that we are influencing Hart’s policy even though the council pretends otherwise.
- Third, the petition against Option 4 organised by celine bags online shop collected over 2000 signatures, which triggered a debate at the Hart Cabinet Meeting on 1 October. True to form, Hart Council did its best to brush aside the points raised in the petition. But based on Hart’s climb-down over the Public Consultations, we have good reason to think that our work is having a greater impact than Hart is letting on.
- Fourth, our MP, Ranil Jayawardena, has weighed into the debate with a where to buy celine handbags opposing Option 4. He says
I’ve always been clear that I support CPRE’s ‘Brownfield First’ campaign, as I believe unused and redundant commercial buildings should be brought forward for regeneration before any more greenfield sites are allocated anywhere in North East Hampshire. That includes Grove Farm, Hop Garden, Winchfield, the Urnfield – and any other greenfield site for that matter – unless a locally-led Neighbourhood Plan wants to build homes to meet local needs. I’ll go further. I’m against these developments – indeed, this sort of large-scale top-down volume-led development generally – as I do not believe they are necessary to deliver the housing we need in our area. Looking at Hart District specifically for a moment, I believe that the local housing demand can be met on brownfield sites. This has the massive advantage of, often, improving an area; instead of vacant office buildings on Fleet Road, for instance, why not have modern apartments for young professionals who can’t otherwise buy a home in our area?”.
We think that this support by Ranil will be very important in encouraging stakeholders and the public not to abandon their desire to protect Hart’s countryside and the character of all its villages, and to work together to insist that Hart’s Vision is not dictated by Hart Council ‘after the event’ to suit their plan to protect Fleet by building a New Town. Ranil is also sponsoring a celine handbag guide to support and promote brownfield regeneration over greenfield development. We would encourage you to read and sign.
The forthcoming consultation on the Refined Housing Options Paper has given us a clear focus for our activities over the next few months. Our task is to make sure that as many people as possible (both individuals and stakeholder organisations such as WAG, WeHeartHart, Parish Councils and the Basingstoke Canal Society) respond to the paper and make it clear that they want to preserve the rural character of the district and all its villages. We must also make sure that Hart does not manipulate the survey to produce statistically unsound conclusions as they did in 2014 – for instance by incorrectly inferring that most people voted for a New Town when in fact 64% of the respondents voted against. We will take professional advice in formulating our response and we will encourage as many people as possible to respond to the consultation. We may also commission a Market Research company to conduct its own opinion poll on the Refined Housing Options Paper to ensure that we have access to statistically significant findings which we can use, if necessary, to challenge Hart’s conclusions.
In our July update we reported that we were investigating an Ecological Survey of Hart to make sure that we understand the ecological, environmental, amenity and heritage impacts of developing a New Town anywhere in the district. We have now had a proposal from Environment Systems and Reading University and we are working with Winchfield Parish Council to evaluate and refine the proposal, and to pull together a group of stakeholder organisations to support the work (both financially and in terms of providing information for the study). Now that the timescales for the Local Plan have slipped by a year, there is no immediate urgency to undertake this work. However if Hart persists in pursuing its New Town policy then it will be vital in 2016 to be able to provide hard evidence of the negative impacts of a new town. This will allow us to counter the idea that building in the countryside is a ‘cheap’ option which adversely affects the fewest number of people. We want to be able to demonstrate that the reverse is true – Hart’s countryside is the chief attraction of the whole district and adds considerably to the quality of life of all Hart’s people. We must aim for a future in which Hart’s towns and villages grow in proportion to their current sizes and remain surrounded by beautiful countryside which can be enjoyed by everyone.
Thanks as always for your support
Winchfield Action Group