Local Plan – Councillors Listening to Residents at Last?

Without a Local Plan in place there is little defence against large speculative planning applications around the edge of Hook. The Hop Garden Road development was an exception with the developer’s appeal being defeated, but more recent appeals across the district have gone the way of developers. A Local Plan would set the locations for development, but the timetable for having one continues to slip month on month. But just as much a danger as no Local Plan is a Local Plan that actually demands extensions around Hook. As most of you know, Hart residents in their thousands objected to “urban extensions” at the recent consultation.

Hart accepted early last year that they needed outside help in preparing a Local Plan and sub-contracted the work to East Hampshire’s planning officers. The justification was that this would bring additional staffing and recent experience of delivering a Local Plan, albeit at additional and ongoing cost to Hart’s council tax payers. There has been no public visibility of the work being carried out by East Hants, but council Leader and Cabinet Member for Planning, Cllr Stephen Parker, gave assurances that East Hants officers were working under guidance from Hart and that their work was being closely monitored. Hart had issued direct guidance to the planners in November to deliver a proposal with a settlement having a site for a new secondary school. In early December East Hants delivered a critical part of this work – the proposals for a Spatial Strategy. This document is critical because the “Spatial Strategy” is literally the proposal for the location of major housing development in Hart district for the next 15 years.

Although the proposals in question have not been published, Hart’s Local Plan Steering Group considered the provided options in a December meeting and it did not go smoothly. The LPSG is not a committee open to the public so we only have second and third hand information about this meeting. It seems that despite “urban extensions” being the least preferred option from Hart residents’ consultation responses and the direct guidance given to planners, the top proposal was for more urban extensions. The word from the meeting is that councillors from Fleet, Yateley and Hook demanded that the result of the consultation be respected and urban extensions be rejected.

In official communications about the meeting, LPSG meeting minutes and a letter to Parish Councils this week from council Joint Chief Executive Daryl Phillips, it has been confirmed that the recommended option was rejected by councillors who demanded the plans be revised and a new proposal without the need for urban extensions be brought forward for consideration.

We are pleased to hear that councillors are listening to residents and have overruled officers intent on ignoring the results of the public consultation. Of course it is not good that the Local Plan is further delayed, especially with government planning severe financial penalties against those councils that fail to produce one, and it is always possible that further political wrangling will take place to force through unwanted urban extensions at Fleet and Hook. But we will continue to put the case for Hook to be allowed to absorb the huge expansion already approved, without yet more forced upon us before the approved developments even commence construction. District Councillors are right to listen to residents’ wishes and not let local party political considerations divert them from this stance.

The latest “Objectively Assessed Housing Need” – the number of dwellings required to be built in the district – has just been published as part of the updated Strategic Housing Market Assessment and shows minimal change from previous issued figures, but there are new requirements from government that could yet increase the target number.