Earlier this year Hart Council undertook to carry out “testing” with a view to determining which sites in the district might be suitable for major development or a New Town.
The minutes of the latest Cabinet meeting on July 9 contain hermes handbags birkin . It is the minutes from the Local Plan Steering Group of June 23.
This is the group which is tasked with determining the contents and creation of the Local Plan. It is chaired by Hart Council’s Leader and Portfolio Holder for Planning, Cllr Stephen Parker, who is an avid supporter of Winchfield as a New Town location. Our new ward councillor Andrew Renshaw, who is of course a staunch supporter of keeping Winchfield rural, attended this meeting although our other regular supporters, Cllrs Anne Crampton and Ken Crookes, were unavailable.
I would draw your attention to a number of items in the document.
Section 4 details the SHLAA shortlisting exercise. (SHLAA is the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment and it is a list of potential development sites submitted to the council.) This shortlisting exercise involved identifying SHLAA sites from the list that will be filtered out
Sites that have been filtered out will not be assessed further and will not be included in the draft local plan (Section 4.2)
Any sites that are not filtered out will still remain for potential inclusion in the local plan.
Reasons were provided as to why a site has been filtered out at this stage. These reasons were based on ‘high level’ site assessments and sustainability appraisals of each SHLAA site. Information submitted by developers was taken into account in reaching the officer recommendation to filter a site out (Section 4.4)
In other words the council is listening to developers about what sites they want to include in the SHLAA. Furthermore, Cllr Parker told the meeting that the sites that have been filtered out are the ‘bonkers’ ones. This includes the site next to Winchfield Hospital which Winchfield Parish Council and at one time a planning officer last year supported as being developable. Reasons for rejection include: “Heritage issues due to the presence of a number of listed buildings there including potentially an old mortuary (unlisted).” That statement, rather than the site, is “bonkers”. Other sites outside Winchfield have been filtered out on grounds that could equally apply to sites in Winchfield.
Section 5 concerns itself with Infrastructure.
As the minutes show, the meeting was attended by Peter Home from Adams Hendry who performed the initial ‘high-level’ site assessments. He spoke on infrastructure issues. Adams Hendry are the ‘independent’ advisers helping Hart Council with its Local Plan. The individual is also an adviser to the development of Welborne New Town of 6,000 houses in Fareham. A common factor between Welborne and Winchfield is that Barratt Homes are involved at both places. We challenge the independence of the individual in question.
“improvements to Winchfield Station can be made, or alternatively a potential new station to the west is provided that would ultimately replace the existing station”. (Section 5.2)
This is complete news to WAG. Despite having sight of the Network Rail strategy document covering the Wessex line improvements for the next 20+ years we have not heard of any plans to build a new station west of Winchfield. Certainly this is not on the timeline provided by Network Rail. So where is this coming from? Are Hart Council proposing to provide this? (Despite having a huge funding shortfall for infrastructure?). Will they make the developers provide this? It appears that this came up from a conversation between Hart Council and South West Trains who basically said that as Fleet Station had been developed, so too could Winchfield Station. Given that infrastructure upgrades are dealt with by Network Rail in conjunction with local major rail companies (such as South West Trains, who may not retain the franchise), this conversation was, effectively, worthless. Network Rail have no plans to improve Winchfield Station (where the car park is already full) or build a new station at Murrell Green.
Section 6 discusses Duty to cooperate and unmet housing needs. Hart appears to be concerned about a decision taken recently by the Planning Inspectorate to reject Warwick District Council’s Local Plan as being unsound.
The recent Warwick District Local Plan decision was discussed in which although Warwick did enough to pass the duty to cooperate, their plan failed the NPPF tests of soundness. (Section 6.1)
Hart must now be considering the information that WAG passed to them earlier this year where we provided a planning barrister’s legal opinion to them detailing certain facts about their local plan which might result in it, too, being found unsound. This would be the second time a Hart Local Plan has been rejected and would be disastrous for the current council leadership.
We would encourage everyone to spend five minutes looking through this document and the associated document detailing which sites have been filtered out. It should be noted that most of the sites that form the council’s proposed New Town in Winchfield remain in, whereas the other sites that were being tested are no longer in.
Hart’s planning officers have filtered out several sites using developer input as a reason (amongst others), it believes that Winchfield Station can be developed or that a new station west of Winchfield can be built, and it is concerned that other Local Plans have been rejected despite having been told several months ago that the Hart Local Plan fails to clear several of the NPPF hurdles. On top of that, they’ve removed non-Winchfield SHLAA sites from the potential New Town development sites. Furthermore, they are being advised by ‘independent’ assessors who are linked with the developers.
Does this seem right to anybody? It certainly concerns us here at WAG and we will be noting a lot of these factors for any judicial review of the local plan that may be needed.
Meanwhile, everyone is urged to respond by July 20 to Rushmoor’s draft plan. Rushmoor is planning to build a major urban extension to Aldershot at low density, and then argues it must offload 1,600 houses to Hart because it has no other available sites. As a result, Hart is planning to accommodate this overspill at Winchfield.