Council accused of squandering £1.6m on local plan

CIVIC chiefs have come under fire for “squandering” over £1.5 million of council taxpayers’ cash on a controversial planning blueprint which could be out of date before it even comes into force.

The Draft Revised Local Plan, due to be debated by the Test Valley’s cabinet on December 18, includes contentious plans to build 1,300 new homes on Romsey’s southern edge at Whitenap, plus 300 homes at Hoe Lane, in North Baddesley.

Full council will have the final say on the planning brief on January 8.

The Draft Revised Local Plan, which earmarks where preferred housing development and industrial sites should be built up to 2029, replaces the old Core Strategy rejected by a government planning inspector in 2009.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Romsave, a group set up to protect the town from over-development, has discovered that the borough has spent around £1.63m on producing the plan.

Romsave’s treasurer, Richard Buss said: “I am horrified that TVBC should be spending such large sums of money in an economic climate when we are all having to make massive savings in our personal lives and all this council can do is squander our council tax money on a plan that over 1,100 people have rejected.”

Some opponents of the plan are concerned it will be out of date before it comes into force, as during its period of redrafting developers have brought forward other substantial residential schemes.

Building has already started on 350 homes at Redbridge Lane, in Nursling, after the developers overturned TVBC objections.

Last month, CEG announced plans for 350 homes at Parkers Farm, Rownhams and Barratt and David Wilson Homes have plans for an undisclosed number at Ganger Farm, at Woodley, along with sports facilities.

Steve Lees, TVBC’s senior planning office, told Romsey Forum last week that these new developments could be counted as part of the overall housing need (3,500 homes) in the Local Plan.

Romsave calculate that there could be as many as 960 new homes built in and around Romsey, which were not anticipated by the local plan.

“This is organic development and calls into question the need for a vast new neighbourhood of 1,300 homes at Whitenap,” said Romsave’s chairman, Simon Curtis .

He said: “Romsave is asking Romsonians to turn out and show the council that by being there in numbers, they care about the future of Romsey.”

A TVBC spokesperson confirmed Romsave’s figure for producing the plan was correct and explained the cash was spent on staff costs and external consultants employed to update the plan since 2007.

However, he denied that being forced to redraft the plan had added greatly to the costs.

“The withdrawal of the Core Strategy in 2009 has simply required us to continue revising the plan in the light of new government guidance and data on housing need, incurring little additional costs. The work undertaken following the withdrawal would have been carried out in any event,” he added.

Approved housing development not included in the Local Plan will be taken into consideration by the council when totting up the allocations of homes required up to 2029, confirmed the spokesperson.

Cabinet spokesman for planning and transport, Martin Hatley, said: “The Revised Local Plan is a crucial document for Test Valley as we plan up to 2029. It is vital that the agreed plan recognises the development needs of the borough, if we continue to prosper and grow, Continued on page 2 while at the same time ensuring that we maintain the beautiful environment in which we live and enjoy. I believe that the time we have invested in developing the Revised Local Plan, to ensure we take account of a wide range of issues and comments, will result in a thorough outcome.”

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