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Cabinet greeted by 300 anti-homes protesters
7:00am Friday 27th December 2013 in News
PRESSURE is mounting on Test Valley Borough Council to scrap two highly contentious housing developments in its planning blueprint for the Romsey area.
Around 300 protesters, who had braved wet and windy conditions, greeted the borough’s cabinet when it met at the Crosfield Hall to discuss the draft Revised Local Plan.
The crowd was protesting against proposals for 1,300 new homes on farmland at Whitenap and another 300 at Hoe Lane, in North Baddesley.
Members of Romsave, a group fighting large-scale development in the area, brandished placards and banners with slogans declaring “Save Romsey from the planners” and “We say no to 1,300 homes in Romsey”.
Romsave were joined by protesters from Baddesley Against Development. who wore T-shirts bearing the slogan “BAD for Baddesley”.
Former Romsey mayor Mark Cooper warned the cabinet the local plan is in “danger of being found unsound” by an inspector at a public inquiry. He said the Government wanted councils to provide a variety of housing sites of different sizes and in different locations, but TVBC’s plan for the south of the borough rested on two large developments – Whitenap and Hoe Lane – both on land owned by Timothy Knatchbull’s Ashfield Estate.
“We are expecting the delivery of 1,600 dwellings from him, but he could on a whim, withhold, or at least control the rate of delivery – think Redbridge Lane and Strong’s Brewery site, but on a vastly larger scale. There is absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that he will deliver,” said Mr Cooper.
Romsey and District Society chairman, Chris Esplin-Jones, who also spoke for Romsave, echoed the eggs-in-one-basket objection.
He said 94 per cent of the future number of homes required in southern Test Valley were earmarked for land owned by Timothy Knatchbull.
“These objections have largely been ignored,” said Mr Esplin-Jones, adding: “The Revised Local Plan weakens the probability of increasing footfall in the town centre and therefore its vitality and it does not address sufficiently the option of a wider range of land supply. It also glosses over the infrastructure requirement stating that roads and water supplies designed during the last century can meet a 15 per cent increase in population and usage in 10 years time. “ Lib Dem, Peter Hurst, also hit out at the Whitenap proposals, which alone had received 1,100 objections in the latest round of consultations.
“To have such a large homogeneous estate as the Whitenap proposal right up against the town centre is anomalous and out of character.” he said.
“We owe it to the people of Romsey to work hard to stop their town being trashed and we need to start now.”
Mr Hurst called for more smaller developments spread around the villages.
North Baddesley ward member, Steve Cosier, called for the 330-home Hoe Lane scheme to be deleted from the plan.
“The size of development is disproportionate to the net loss of biodiversity in achieving net gains for housing numbers. It fails to add any improvement to the conditions in which people live, work and travel and take leisure,” he said.
Objectors, who packed the hall, cheered and applauded all three borough councillors and Mr Esplin-Jones as they addressed the cabinet. However, borough cabinet spokesman for planning, Martin Hatley, explained that “zero housing” was not an option, neither was a smaller number of homes.
“About 2,500 families in Test Valley urgently need housing,” he said.
Mr Hatley explained Whitenap and Hoe Lane were considered appropriate locations for development. Mr Hatley admitted that if Romsey’s shops were to survive, more “footfall” was needed in the town and building more homes would help.
He also said that as there were insufficient brownfield sites, greenfields had to be used instead.
Mr Hatley said the council had no control over the speed at which developers built new homes once permission was granted and delays could affect the council’s housing targets.
The cabinet voted in favour of the plan being published for public consultation and full council to make a decision on whether to adopt the revisions on January 8.
Chairman of Romsave, Simon Curtis, said the group was determined to get its message across that the proposed homes are not wanted.
He said: “Romsey, we are told, is the jewel in Test Valley’s crown and Romsonians passionately care about their town, a vote in favour of adoption of the Revised Local Plan by the full council on January 8, will ruin that very crown of which Test Valley is so proud.”
Romsave has sent letters to every borough councillor urging them to reject the plan.
This is an open letter to all 48 Test Valley Borough Councillors relatng to the Revised Local Plan upon which Council will be called to vote on in January 2014.
The Natonal Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) clearly indicates that the essence of a local plan is that local people should decide how their communities develop. Romsey and Romsey Extra is represented by just eight Councillors, so most of you will be votng on housing allocatons in
Romsey which are not likely to affect you or your constituents directly. It is important that you know the feeling against the draft plan is very strong in the town, in par1cular with respect to the proposal to build some 1300 dwellings at Whitenap, on the southern approach to the town.
There is already a development of 800 dwellings under construc1on on the northern edge of the town at Abbotswood. Taking Abbotswood and Whitenap together will mean a 33% increase in the town's population and traffic in just a few years. No matter how the planners tinker with junctons,
such as Cupernham Lane, the roads around and through Romsey will increasingly become ever more congested. Increased congeston will inevitably drive away shoppers and customers from Romsey's Town Centre.
Both Romsey Town Council and Romsey Extra Parish Council have objected to the proposed Whitenap development, as have the Romsey and District Society and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. However, while the Government appears to be taking action to help local people protect the character of their area and empower councillors to stop
inappropriate developments, the voice of Romsey is not being heard. By virtue of decisions being taken at Borough level Romsey residents are in danger of being effectively disempowered.
However, the most serious issues from the point of view of the Council would appear to be the following:
1. Competion in the land market. The NPPF requires Councils “to ensure choice and competion in the market for land”. Given that Whitenap (Romsey) and Hoe Lane (North Baddesley), the two sites allocated for 94% of the housing requirements in Southern Test Valley up to 2029, are in the
hands of a single landowner, it is hard to see how the NPPF requirement for choice and competion in the market for land can be met and how therefore the proposal can stand the scrutiny of the Planning Inspectorate. Moreover, by restric1ng development to a monopoly landowner TVBC is putting all its eggs in one basket (the financial strategy of a single landowner/
developer) and compromising its ability to deliver the required number of dwellings. The Planning Inspectorate will want to ensure the Borough Local Plan is compliant with the NPPF.
2. Failure to adequately assess other sites. Some 230 Sites for possible development have been promoted and subsequently reduced to just 32 strategic sites, but it is clear that they have not been adequately assessed. Even a cursory examination shows that the uncertainties in weighing
the various criteria are large and could be made to fit a wide variety of outcomes. The Council claims that the Whitenap site ticks more boxes for sustainability and other criteria than other strategic sites. Take, for example, the Council's interpreta1on of the Test Valley Landscape
Character Sensitivity Assessment (2007) which characterises Landform, Habitats, Nature Designa1ons, Tree Cover, Historic Landscape, SeSlement PaSern, Movement PaSern, Enclosure, Tranquillity and Context of Whitenap all as “HIGH SENSITIVITY”. Only 'Land Use' (i.e. predominately
pastoral agricultural land) is characterised as Medium--‐High Sensitivity. The Council defines this as 'Mixed Performance' but the balance is very much on the 'High Sensitivity' scale. The Planning Inspector at the Examination in Public will focus on this issue.
3. Clear Allocation of Favoured Sites. TVBC has allocated the land at Whitenap over a number of successive versions of the Borough Local Plan. Consequently, the landowner has felt confident enough to invest in a number of Technical Studies to support his land alloca1on. Other Landowners have declined to produce any Technical Studies for their own land in the face of TVBC's consistent choice of the Ashfield land at Whitenap. Once again the Planning Inspectorate will focus heavily on this issue. In other words, by default, TVBC has excluded all other sites which
contradicts the requirements of the NPPF.
These three points alone will need careful considera1on before you approve the revised plan.
There is no doubt that a great many Romsey residents feel a sense of outrage that these 1300 extra dwellings are being allocated on such high quality landscape. The Council has, in its Sustainability Report, set out the objec1ve to “promote appropriate scale of development in settlements in keeping with their size, character and function” and has “identified a preference for the housing requirement to be spread between settlements in Southern Test Valley (not necessarily equally) rather than focus all development in one location”.
Why is it that TVBC has produced yet another version of a plan which does not match these ideals?
We would hope that Councillors will reject the current draft plan in light of just some of the concerns we have highlighted. The Borough Local Plan is seriously flawed, and we ask you to mandate a serious revision. The old 'Core Strategy' was withdrawn because the Planning Inspector would have found it unsound. Can you really afford for the Planning Inspectorate to find the local plan unsound a second time?
Test Valley's countryside is beautiful, irreplaceable and finite. The land allocated at Whitenap is some of the best landscape in Test Valley. Please help Romsonians protect the Jewel in Test Valley's Crown.
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