More evidence needed on Local Plan sites as EHDC calls for fairer housing targets

Tuesday, 28 September, 2021

East Hampshire District Council will continue to gather evidence on sites suitable for development – and will lobby the government for fairer housing targets.

At EHDC’s Full Council meeting, on Thursday 23 September, councillors agreed to continue assessing potential development sites set out in a document called the Spatial Strategy.

Meanwhile, the council has written an open letter* to Michael Gove MP, the new minister for local government, calling on him to address the housing squeeze on councils that contain large areas of national park.

Cllr Richard Millard, EHDC Leader, said: “We recognise the fundamental importance of evidence when allocating sites for housing.

“We are part of the way through that process and there is still a lot of work to do. Each site will be reviewed objectively using the data we will gather.

“We can’t make promises about which sites will be include in the Local Plan, but we can involve people through consultation and provide the evidence that will help people understand the decisions we take. If the evidence doesn’t support it, it won’t get in the plan.”

At the meeting, which saw significant cross-party collaboration, councillors agreed to amend the wording of the Spatial Strategy Preferred Option, removing the word ‘preferred’.

Cllr Millard also revealed the council has called on the government to consider the impact of high housing targets on districts dominated by national parks.

The Government expects East Hampshire to build 600 homes a year for the lifetime of its Local Plan. But with 57 per cent of East Hampshire inside the South Downs National Park, almost all that development must be located in the remining 43 per cent of the district.

Part of the letter reads: “It is extremely important that the flaws associated with the standard method for calculating local housing need are remedied now.

“As it stands, areas like East Hampshire cannot easily plan for its future development needs due to the unrealistic numbers associated with the presence of the National Park.

“Further guidance is needed on how such strategic policy making authorities can determine their housing needs. I urge you to address this as a matter of urgency to stop the unwarranted development of large swathes of greenfield land in rural districts such as East Hampshire.”

The meeting was attended by around 30 residents protesting about the inclusion of a 1,200 development at Chawton Park Farm, near Alton.

Cllr Millard and Simon Jenkins, EHDC’s Director of Regeneration, spoke to the residents before the meeting to hear their concerns.

Cllr Millard said: “It was our responsibility to go out and speak to the residents who had taken the trouble to come to the meeting and express their views, and it was the right thing to do.”

By the spring of 2022 the council expects to have a list of sites which it will seek to include in the Local Plan.

The Local Plan helps the council protect valuable landscape, encourage healthy lifestyles and combat climate change. It sets out what infrastructure is needed to support new homes and makes sure there are enough places for people to work and run businesses.

Without a Local Plan the district would face speculative applications from developers on land of their choosing. The developments would be less sustainable, more damaging to local communities and would provide little or no accompanying infrastructure.

Cllr Angela Glass, EHDC’s Portfolio Holder for Planning, said: “We don’t want to fall victim to speculative applications for developments that don’t have the supporting infrastructure. Developers will come forward if we don’t have a Local Plan in place.

“Our Spatial Strategy is not about finalising the Local Plan. More work is needed on the policies, sites and evidence to underpin the plan’s content, but it is a way of being open and showing the public reasonable alternatives at this moment in time.

“There has already been extensive consultation but now the Spatial Strategy has been approved we can move forward with community engagement and give residents more say on the proposals put forward by developers.”

*Letter to Michael Gove for fairer housing targets (pdf 114 kb)