It was standing room only as people packed into the Gill Nethercott Centre to hear some suggestions for future housing in Whitchurch. Local Borough Councillors for the town, Keith Watts and Eric Dunlop, were presenting their ideas for housing on the area south of Testbourne.

Chaired by local vicar Kelvin Inglis, the meeting opened with a request to “Generate light rather than heat” in recognition of the potential for controversy over the subject.

Keith Watts explains the suggestions.

Background and local need
Keith ran through the planning background of what has led to the need for development, explaining that taking the local Housing Needs Register* into account showed 25 homes per year were necessary – a total of 350 over 14 years.
Of these 150 were already planned for the Bloswood Lane sites, and that he and Eric believed the best location for the remaining 200 needed over the period 2019 – 2027 was to the south of Testbourne.
A copy of his presentation with plans can be downloaded below**.

There were many questions to the Councillors.

Probing questions
As the meeting progressed, ably controlled by Kelvin, there were many probing questions from the floor, the answers to which helped clarify the main points.
Unsurprisingly in a straw poll, most of the audience were from ‘south of the river’ and it was also apparent that there were few ‘young’ people present, those most likely to be in need of housing in the future. Their input should surely count. However there was some earlier bemusement at the attendance of a Tadley Town Councillor, taking an interest in Whitchurch issues.

The fields south of Testbourne. The football pitch lights can be seen to the left.

Housing to the north?
As expected several questioned the choice of site, with some suggesting that north of the town was more appropriate, as the railway station was a prime facility for travel to other employment locations. However, Keith argued that area was better for industrial/business use with a potential link road from the old A34 into Ardglen.

Traffic through the town was of major concern to many, with claims of increased congestion as vehicles would head north through the centre, although similar could occur if housing were to the north, as traffic could head south. Potential use of the Knowlings for a Recreation and Sports Centre, traffic congestion in Micheldever Road, and provision of local services and infrastructure were also raised.

Other options
It was stressed that the plans from the Borough Councillors were simply suggestions, and that further consultations and detailed planning permissions would still be necessary. There could also be other options and Keith and Eric said they would work for the best for the whole town, especially in provision of housing for local needs.

Councillor Watts calls for more local involvement.

Neighbourhood Plan
Those present were urged to help develop a clear local planning policy through creation of a Neighbourhood Plan as without such a Plan development would be out of local people’s hands.

Following the meeting, Borough Councillor Keith Watts said:
“I was encouraged to see how many people came to hear our case for housing development and provision of sports fields in the south of Whitchurch. We had a frank exchange of opinions and Eric and I were given some serious points to think about.”
and
“I hope that people from all over Whitchurch will be just as keen to take part in the neighbourhood planning activity that the Town Council will soon lead.”

A deep interest in housing issues
Overall, although some strong views were expressed, it was a well-attended positive meeting that showed local people have a deep interest in housing issues and the effects that development can have on the environment and quality of life in a community. It was also encouraging to hear that our local Councillors are open to further discussion and will be looking at all options.
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REFERENCES

* HOUSING NEEDS REGISTER (Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council)

* * PRESENTATION BY Cllr WATTS (Download pdf file)
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Comments are encouraged below!
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Comments (8)

  • Mike Stead

    25 homes a year means that inside of 40 years, Whitchurch will more than double in size.

    The question should not be ‘How much development is needed?’ but rather ‘Is any development acceptable?’

    If more development is agreed, then Whitchurch effectively does two things: Signs its own death warrant as a small town with a small-town feel, and also passes the buck to generations yet-unborn to deal with the issues that a doubling in size will inevitably bring. Maybe that’s OK. Maybe the current residents are happy with the idea that their grand-children will grow up in a much larger town. I don’t see that question being asked though.

    While I and many others sympathise with those on the Housing Needs Register who desperately want quality, affordable housing, this is no solution (Blame Thatcher and the Conservatives for selling off the Council Housing stock for that). Forcing developers to assign a small percentage of houses to be ‘affordable’ just does not scale. There will *always* be those who cannot afford market rents, but want to live here – ‘local’ or newcomer. There will *always* be a Housing Needs Register.

    The HNR should not be used to justify irrevocably changing the town’s character whilst lining developer’s pockets. Yes, it’s a damn hard choice, and I’m glad I’m not the one having to make it. But approving further development now is like going on a diet by loosening your belt. We all need to understand that fact.

  • Peter D

    Mike, you state “Forcing developers to assign a small percentage of houses to be ‘affordable’ just does not scale”.
    But even this is not the case and seems bizarre in an age when we are talking ‘affordable’.

    I refer to the past article Silk Mill replica proposed at Railway Inn site and “As the development is under 15 units, there is no requirement for the provision of any affordable housing, the developer stated.”

  • Keith Watts

    When I was first elected in Whitchurch five years ago there was a strong possibility of large numbers of houses to meet the needs of Basingstoke being “dispersed” to small communities such as Whitchurch.

    We now have a target derived “bottom up” from local needs and projections that is equivalent to how Whitchurch grew in the fifteen years before March 2010. On Thursday I only attempted to justify the number on local criteria. The Core Strategy consultation in February-March this year was the opportunity to question and debate those alternatives.

    But we will not be left alone to make these decisions. The government has dropped the South East Plan that dictated specific targets for localities but it still expects each district to plan for a supply of housing land over 5, 10 and 15 years that is compatible with aspirations for 100,000-plus new homes each year in England. If Basingstoke & Deane sets too low a target, Planning Inspectors will grant permission on appeal for developments that no-one locally supports. That is why I have supported a target, for the district and for Whitchurch, that is derived from “zero net migration” with an allowance in the early years to reduce the waiting time for affordable homes.

    Unfortunately, because of the sheer folly of the Conservative administration of BDBC, the High Court has quashed the draft Core Strategy and we currently have no Local Plan, leaving the whole district at risk of unwanted appeal decisions. If any of our local landowners were to take the appeal route, I want to be in a position to tell the Inspector that we in Whitchurch have a plan that meets the requirement for land supply to meet local needs. We need to keep calm and carry on while working on the Council to get a new draft Core Strategy as soon as possible.

  • Mike Stead

    Keith, I appreciate all that, and by the looks of it we/you are in a cleft stick. But let’s not kid ourselves, or people on the housing register: There are no guarantees at all of a house now or in the future. Developers will try to weasel their ways out of obligations to provide affordable housing. The lists will get worse as the economic crisis deepens.

    Maybe the only light in the tunnel is that in 10-15yrs time (or less) petrol/diesel will be so expensive the idea of commuting by car to a job will simply be beyond even middle-income families, so people will be forced to move to towns where the jobs are. This is already happening – we know families who have had to either move or change jobs because £1.50 a litre made the job uneconomical.

    I have no idea how you’d factor this into your plans, but the long-term structure of the UK employment market should be considered. Of course, with our new super-fast broadband, maybe more businesses will locate here. Who knows.

  • Philip Geddes

    Doubling in size in 40 years does not seem unreasonable, and allows plenty of time for people to be absorbed into the community and for services to develop to cope.
    One of the benefits of living in Whitchurch is the good transport links, both by rail and bus as well as by car. Therefore, any increase in fuel costs will make its attractions all the greater.
    I moved here almost ten years ago because of the train station, and the good service to Basingstoke and beyond.
    I would be in favour therefore of more development to the north of town near to the train station.
    On the other hand, if people cannot afford to commute we need to attract business into the town to maintain its vitality, otherwise it will die.
    It seems petty to me to deny others the opportunity to live in such a pleasant town.

    My one caveat is that any expansion needs an appropriate increase in capacity of services, eg Schools, GPs, dentists, playing fields, sports facilities, etc.

  • Harriet Titcomb

    Surely if Whitchurch expands to the north, ie beyond the railway, then that way lies the possibility of never ending houses in the decades to come creeping ever outwards and joining up with other towns.

    The fields are currently used in agriculture so what impact would that have?
    If developments are kept ‘in town’ we retain the community feel, but I do agree with Philip re the Services.

  • Claire Isbester

    I was very struck by the suggestion that industrial development should take place to the north of the town and not housing. It seems to me that it will be important, for all the reasons articulated by others above, to have jobs locally, so expanding local industry seems a must for employment of an increasing population. If the land to the north has been filled with houses, do we than have to put industrial development to the south of the town, or do we accept that our residents have to travel further away to work? It just goes to show that these things need thinking about in a joined up way.

  • Nick

    Mike Stead wrote:
    so people will be forced to move to towns where the jobs are

    I can only speak for my industry (IT) but some of the places where the jobs
    are are not nice places for people to live.

    I would prefer to travel to work via public transport but that is not practical
    to do with my current job.

    ________

    Philip Geddes says:
    I moved here almost ten years ago because of the train station, and the good service to Basingstoke; and beyond.

    Unfortunately SWT is in the process of downgrading Whitchurch train station. We have lost the Saturday ticket office and will probably soon lose it for the rest of the week. I wouldn’t be surprised if we will gradually start seeing a reduced train service over the next 10-20 years. Absolute madness with Whitchurch’s population due to increase over the next 15 years by 14%. Unfortunately none of main political parties at Westiminster are willing to reform the crazy railway system we have in the UK. *:(

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