WEB HUSTINGS

The town website has forwarded a ‘top ten questions’ collected from residents and put them to the three election candidates who are standing to represent the Whitchurch ward on Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, Chloe Ashfield (Labour), Dave George (Conservative) and Steve Neilson (Liberal Democrats).

Election Candidates 2016

B&DBC Candidates (left to right): Chloe Ashfield (Labour), Dave George (Conservative) and Steve Neilson (Liberal Democrats).

They give their answers below.

Note that the town website is wholly non-political.

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ONE:
Q. Would you vote in favour or against the proposals for a Business Park and Station Car Park on the land north of the railway station?

Chloe ASHFIELD – Labour Party
A: I’d vote against, indeed I have already raised my objection. I’m concerned that it will have a detrimental effect on the traffic coming through the town which is already a major concern. I’m not convinced there is a need for a business park, particularly at the expense of an area of outstanding natural beauty.

The railway parking for me is a different issue and I would like to investigate alternative solutions.

David GEORGE – Conservative Party
A: Below are my personal views and not necessarily those of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Committee which I Chair.

The proposed Employment Area will provide local employment but is too large to accommodate the “organic growth of Whitchurch Industry plus a bit” which the Community shows preference for in the Neighbourhood Plan Consultations.
The development would generate significant additional traffic and HGVs which is the largest single concern of our Community. Whilst HGVs leaving the site can be enforceably directed away from the Town Centre, those travelling to the site cannot. We are therefore likely to see more HGVs in the Town under my current understanding of the proposals. The community did favour this site in the consultations however in my opinion were led to believe HGVs from the site would not go through the Town. This would be difficult to deliver in practice.
The site is also in the AONB and there is surplus Employment land and facilities available in Andover. There are other ways to provide for the growth of Whitchurch employment at a more appropriate scale and type to ensure Whitchurch Industry can grow to provide employment for the foreseeable future.
The Station Car Park has a separate allocation in the BDBC Local Plan and therefore whilst the proposal will deliver the car park, the rejection of the proposals will not necessarily mean we do not get a car park or the associated disabled access for London bound travellers. It is clear that those from the rural areas of the Ward have problems finding parking and parking on roads near the station is a problem. Cars going to the car parks are usually early in the morning so do not add to congestion at peak times. There are concerns that Whitchurch commuters will not get a seat on the trains at peak times if more parking is available. We will need to link capacity of the car park with seats available on the Trains. The car park is supported by the Neighbourhood Plan I will also lobby for increased capacity/frequency of the trains
For the reasons stated above I would object to the current proposals unless the issues can be resolved.

Steve NEILSON – Liberal Democrat
A: Against. To build on precious land like this would need an exceptional purpose. This land-hungry, high traffic, low employment development is not good for Whitchurch.

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TWO:
Q. The bus routes through town have been the subject to much local discussion in particular from those who do not want buses in either Newbury Street or Lynch Hill Park. What route do you think the 76 bus should take through Whitchurch?

Chloe ASHFIELD – Labour Party
A: There are two priorities here. Firstly it’s important that the residents in the North of the town continue to enjoy a bus service. Secondly we need to maintain the safety of the majority. Newbury Street and London Road are particularly narrow and congested and used by school children and cyclists.

On balance I think that the 76 bus should continue to use Lynch Hill Park. That said we need to see the public sharing of the traffic report which has been commissioned by the Borough Council. Apparently we need to wait as it’s politically sensitive?

David GEORGE – Conservative Party
A: My current understanding is that the bus operator, Stagecoach has conducted a detailed consultation with residents which has been ably facilitated by a neutral party Cllr John Buckley. This is now completed and a decision is awaited. As such this question is somewhat academic. I will however be examining their decisions carefully including the frequency and make representations if appropriate to make sure we have a good public transport service available and those vulnerable are represented.

Steve NEILSON – Liberal Democrat
A: Every suggestion and trial I’ve seen so far seems to have about equal numbers in favour and against. Whichever route is chosen someone will be angry. I do think a frequent bus service via Evingar is important.

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THREE:
Q. Whitchurch Primary School is due to increase in size. What proposals will you make to deal with the increase in traffic particularly with regard to the Winchester Road/Micheldever Road junction?

Chloe ASHFIELD – Labour Party
A: I know that school traffic is a nightmare but the only real way to see an improvement is to simply have fewer cars using the route.

I appreciate this might be easier said than done and I’m keen to speak to other schools in the Borough to find out how they encourage more children and parents to walk. I know there are schools that run walking buses which I’d like to find out more about.

I know that some families need to use a car and I’m sure more would use the Gill Nethercott Centre to park if it was safer to cross the road. I’d like to consider a zebra crossing from there to the rec alley.

Of course these measures on their own will not solve an issue which is only set to get worse. Housing increases in Whitchurch and Overton will also impact the capacity requirement for Testbourne. We need to understand and influence how developers contributions paid to Hampshire County Council will be spent and lobby housing developers to ensure that access and safety are given the highest priority.

David GEORGE – Conservative Party
A: The traffic surveys which were completed as part of the Neighbourhood Plan showed this junction to be the busiest at peak hours in term time. The NPSC negotiated a new school drop of point as part of the development for a reduced number of 100 homes East of Winchester Road. This will take some pressure off this junction however still more remains to be done. Whilst I have sympathy with parents dropping children off the answer is to find ways of reducing traffic by encouraging walking, for those that can, and improving footpaths and their condition to encourage this. The use of “Park and Stride” from car parks and other drop of points could be considered. Additional pedestrian crossings may be required. The schools have been active in developing travel plans in this regard and I would aim to support them to implement appropriate measures.

Steve NEILSON – Liberal Democrat
A: I’ve been talking to residents near the school asking for their thoughts. Suggestions from a one way system to more speed bumps, has been the response for dealing with traffic near the school.
As for the Winchester Road/ Micheldever Road junction, the recent decision to allow a drop-off point behind Testbourne School should ease peak time congestion.

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FOUR:
Q. Small businesses are a lifeblood of a community – what support will you provide for them?

Chloe ASHFIELD – Labour Party
A: I was really upset to hear from Philip Langley, our butcher, that he is closing this weekend. He explained to me that whilst trade is good on a Friday and Saturday, he cannot sustain the business for the rest of the week. I am concerned that, with the changes to business rate relief, we may see other local businesses under pressure.

I would like to increase the regularity of the community bus service and promote the service to the elderly and those with small children to come into Town from areas not served by the normal bus routes.

The town’s website is a real asset and whilst I don’t suggest flooding it with adverts I’m sure local businesses would welcome the opportunity to post videos and offers from time to time. This would help reach shoppers who work out of the town during the week. Perhaps running a monthly bulletin of news and offers from our shops and pubs would help both businesses and locals.

Town centre wide WiFi access, improvements to signage and navigation around the town and promoting the Town’s tourism credentials are others ideas I have to support small businesses.

There is a business network that meets monthly at the Silk Mill. Mutual support and working together is useful and I’d like to see greater involvement from the Basingstoke and Deane Economic Development Team.

David GEORGE – Conservative Party
A: I recall that we have over 200 small businesses in or around Whitchurch and they are incredibly important to our prosperity as well as the character of the Ward.
I will support policies and initiatives identified in the Neighbourhood Plan which I Chaired these include;

• To develop appropriate employment provision in Whitchurch.
• Promote the provision of “starter units” to enable small businesses to grow.
• Taking measures to improve internet connectivity in some areas of the Ward.
• Leverage our cultural heritage to encourage tourism to the Town to increase footfall. (The staff and volunteers at the Silk Mill have done a great job here, to be used as an example.)

The LEADER European funding programme has just been launched and aims to support rural economic development prioritising micro and small businesses, boosting rural tourism, increasing farm or forestry productivity, providing rural services or cultural and heritage activities. I would work with and support those who are looking for such funding.

Steve NEILSON – Liberal Democrat
A: I would liaise with local businesses to see what steps they would like to see taken to help them to thrive. I would then do my very best to help them achieve their aims within the powers of a Borough Councillor.

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FIVE:
Q. It is often claimed that younger people are both under-represented and not listened to by politicians. How will you ensure that the young people of Whitchurch are heard?

Chloe ASHFIELD – Labour Party
A: This isn’t just about social media and creating videos, anyone can do that. It’s about shifting attitudes and creating an openness which encourages young people to share their ideas and opinions.

We haven’t seen this to date and the campaign literature from the other candidates offers little prospect of change.

I’m really excited about the chance of becoming Borough councillor and changing the way things are done. I want all people in Whitchurch, young and old, to feel like they have a voice. My skills are in leadership and bringing people together, but without new ideas and energy from young people then we won’t be able to move forward.

David GEORGE – Conservative Party
A: I am really concerned that the legacy of this generation to our children and grandchildren is a mountain of debt and environmental problems for them to deal with when we are gone. We really need to consider impact on future generations in our decision making. The consultation process for the Neighbourhood Plan which I Chair made provision for, encouraged and welcomed the views of the younger people and involved the schools in the process. (even designed the Logo). I plan to continue to involve schools and give presentations on key topics where appropriate. My experience with my grandchildren is that younger people are far better with modern communication technology and we should encourage them to use these to express their views and we should improve the way we access such information. We should also perhaps consider introducing a youth liaison group into the Whitchurch Community Groups meeting to promote better interaction.

Steve NEILSON – Liberal Democrat
A: Lib Dem Councillors have done much in the town to ensure that the young people of Whitchurch are heard. From their advocacy for the popular QEII field skate park and BMX Track to their patient work in planning to obtain land for junior sports pitches, I hope to build on their achievements.

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SIX:
Q. Basingstoke & Deane recently revised the criteria for applicants to be listed on the Housing Register, resulting in a large drop in those eligible that has stalled the special housing scheme for local people at the Knowlings. How will you support the provision for housing for local people in need?

Chloe ASHFIELD – Labour Party
A: If the change in the waiting list criteria is the only reason for the halt on The Knowlings development then there is something seriously wrong with the system. The housing waiting list shouldn’t be the only measure of housing need. There are other ways to demonstrate housing need in an area other than just relying on the number of people who put their names on the council’s waiting list. As a Borough Councillor I would want to be personally known to each individual or family on the housing list. I’m also very keen to identify the many people who have been dropped from the housing list since the rule changes so that, if required, I can continue to represent them.

The biggest impact of the recent changes to the housing register has been to exclude households who have an income of £50,000 or more, I’d like to see this criteria reviewed annually in line with inflation and local house prices. The problem with this level of exclusion is often not enough to buy a flat or house in Whitchurch which is why I want to look at shared ownership schemes to give people with a local connection the opportunity to remain part of our community.

On the wider issue of affordable housing, the bottom line is that the council is not enabling or facilitating the building of affordable homes despite the significant local plan housing targets. House prices and rents are beyond the means of many and not one policy of the council is addressing this fundamental issue. I would want the council to thoroughly investigate all potential council and partner owned development sites to ensure that every opportunity can be considered for both directly funded Council and affordable house building programme.

David GEORGE – Conservative Party
A: I was very disappointed in the delay to this project. I support the Neighbourhood Plan and Local Plan policy that all significant housing schemes include 40% affordable housing which should provide a significant number of affordable homes over the coming years. Where development sites have significant associated infrastructure costs, for example, developers can attempt to reduce these numbers of affordable homes by the commissioning of a “viability assessment”. I will support the rigorous examination of “viability assessments” to ensure that we are getting the housing mix we need. I also support the “local connection” policy proposed for the Neighbourhood Plan which gives those with Local Connections priority for the allocation of this housing. It is also important to consider the type of homes. The Neighbourhood Plan supports the provision of older peoples housing and we are encouraging the construction of more bungalows as there is a strong demand.
Whitchurch is a rural Ward. I continue to support the building of housing under the “rural exception schemes” to provide housing for those who need it.

Steve NEILSON – Liberal Democrat
A: It was the Lib Dems that alerted the Town to the large drop in those listed on the Housing Register. It was the Lib Dems that voted consistently for 98 affordable houses for rent in Whitchurch. I will continue the Lib Dem track record of listening to local people’s housing problems and liaising with the Council’s Housing Officers on their behalf.

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SEVEN:
Q. Speeding traffic and HGVs in Whitchurch are often raised as a major issue to the safety of residents. What actions would you take to address these two issues?

Chloe ASHFIELD – Labour Party
A: I’m pretty sure we all agree that the traffic situation in Whitchurch is horrendous. There are a variety of proven traffic calming measures and these must be explored and implemented as soon as possible. Whitchurch urgently needs to see some of the measures, like flashing warning signs, random Police speed checks or more zebra crossings. I’d like to find out what other towns and villages in the Borough and the wider County are doing to tackle the same issue.

We certainly shouldn’t encourage more HGV’s into the town and as I’ve said before I think an increase in traffic would be inevitable if the business park development is to go ahead.

David GEORGE – Conservative Party
A: My understanding is that due to height restrictions under some bridges on the A34 and other considerations it is not possible to restrict HGVs going through the Town. I believe the time is right to challenge some of these assumptions and establish what can be done to restrict HGVs either totally or partially and what needs to be done to achieve this. In the meantime I am and will continue to resist developments that will increase HGV traffic in the Town in any significant way.
The 20 MPH speed limit is a contentious issue in the Town which is probably a bit of a distraction from the key concern as to what should be done which will improve the safety of our streets for traffic as well as pedestrian and cyclists. My understanding is that it is difficult to enforce the 20 mph limit and this is being widely disregarded which makes it pointless from a practical perspective.
Looking at other Towns and Villages where they have similar concerns community groups have “speedwatch” schemes which working with the Police and suitably equipped with portable radar are able to identify and send postal warnings to offending drivers. There have been commendable attempts by volunteers to initiate a similar scheme in Whitchurch but a few obstacles have arisen. I would try to help these volunteers to overcome these obstacles and make this happen if there is sufficient local support.
Management of HGV movements, addressed above, is another issue which would help road safety.
My understanding is that such issues are being addressed in a Whitchurch Traffic Infrastructure study which should be published soon. I will critically review this document once provided and promote solutions which are sensible and deliverable.

Steve NEILSON – Liberal Democrat
A: Speeding traffic. We need to work with the police to identify where and when the most dangerous situations are. Reductions to policing budgets mean a more targeted use of speed cameras is needed.
HGVs. What I can do is to minimise any extra HGVs by opposing developments such as the one proposed for north of the railway station. However, if we want the jobs then some extra commercial traffic is inevitable. Not a perfect solution I’m afraid.

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EIGHT:
Q. What will you do to ensure that a ring-fenced percentage of expenditure on highway needs is allocated towards sustainable transport solutions and in particular for safe walking and cycling?

Chloe ASHFIELD – Labour Party
A: As funding for highways including cycling is essentially the responsibility of the County Council my first action would be to lobby our County Councillor and the cabinet members at the County Council on the views of Whitchurch residents. We have to monitor much more closely where monies are being spent, firstly to make sure that we are getting our fair share of funding and secondly that it’s being spent on our priorities and not the County Councils. There are other organisations locally and nationally that I would want to talk to about funding for local cycle schemes some examples are the big Lottery Fund, Sport England, the national cycling associations and national government also have funds available for cycling and walking.

I have already discussed the shared interest of a safe footpath/cycleway between Overton and Whitchurch with the Borough Councillors in Overton. This is one of a number of issues where we can work with our neighbours to share ideas and explore common interests as rural wards of Basingstoke.

David GEORGE – Conservative Party
A: My understanding is that a Traffic Infrastructure Study for Whitchurch is currently reaching finalisation but yet to be available to the public. This work should address these problems and identify what needs to be done. I will critically review this document and once I am in a position of greater knowledge will be able to answer this more fully.
I am totally in favour of sustainable transport solutions (I have a bike myself) and will support the proposed Neighbourhood Plan Policies reading sustainable transport and connectivity of footpaths and cycle ways. All new developments will required under these to include such provisions and thus improve the networks we have. Footpaths and cycle paths along some of our trunk routes need to be improved and I aim to support plans such a new footpath between Whitchurch and Wells in the Field.

Steve NEILSON – Liberal Democrat
A: Ring-fenced expenditure is not within the powers of a Borough Councillor. Whitchurch’s streets weren’t designed for the mix of modern traffic we have. It would be ideal to have separate cycle lanes but we don’t have the room. However, having spoken with a knowledgeable cycling enthusiast I now know there are other things that can be done such as cycle friendly road junctions and signage.
I was disappointed to hear that the County Council will not be providing a cycle lane on the new Wells-in-the-Field footpath.

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NINE:
Q. Should politicians declare their tax returns for public scrutiny?

Chloe ASHFIELD – Labour Party
A: Absolutely. 100%

David GEORGE – Conservative Party
A: Why stop at politicians? I am not an expert on tax matters but singling out politicians may provide some “political footballs” to be kicked around but is a distraction and will not put significant money into the public coffers. I may be wrong, but surely it is the undeclared income which is at issue and will achieve the greatest yields for community.
Successive governments have failed to tackle this probably because it is “too difficult” or “too expensive” to address. My personal view is that those with money across many sections of society from footballers to corporates will often benefit from advice to evade erosion of their income or wealth and in some cases to avoid the consequences of the Law. We should close the loopholes, be clear what is “legal” and “illegal” and introduce and increase the scope overarching legislation such as the “unexplained wealth order” which has just been announced by Theresa May. This will target “unexplained” increases in wealth and take necessary action against the individuals or companies including recovery of tax due. Such legislation will make the job easier and cheaper. I do believe that international sentiment is moving in this direction and the time is right to do this.

Steve NEILSON – Liberal Democrat
A: They should only have to declare if their job means there may be a conflict of interest. For anyone that may be interested I had £6,073.60 income tax deducted at source in the tax year just ended.

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TEN:
Q. What do you feel is the greatest contribution that you have made for the benefit of Whitchurch?

Chloe ASHFIELD – Labour Party
A: In the last few weeks, since announcing my candidacy for this local election, I have added a long required, fresh perspective to the debate. I am actively challenging the status-quo and preventing local politics in Whitchurch from becoming even further entrenched, even less accessible and even more stagnant. So, without doubt, in this particular campaign, I have encouraged many people in the area to become more interested in local politics. No mean feat considering many local people feel it is a subject that has been kept out of their reach. The ‘same-old, same-old’ atmosphere that surrounds the subject has understandably led to a ‘why bother?’ attitude from many voters. However, I know for a fact that on the 5th of May, we will be seeing many new voters getting involved and having their say and that is something I personally feel extremely proud of.

It may have been suggested to you by my Tory counterpart that, working and having three children renders me unable to properly fulfil the role of Borough Councillor. On the contrary, my busy professional and family life provide me with a real understanding of the pressures on working people and how important it is that their elected officials genuinely represent a cross-section of the community. The experience of younger people who are still working and juggling responsibilities is, at present, under-represented in Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council and it is my hope that, come the 5th of May, with me as your new Borough Councillor, we will make some real changes in this regard.

Lastly, I truly believe that my greatest contribution is yet to come. It may be so that, as my Tory counterpart has also pointed out, at present I am not a ‘politician’. But, there’s a first time for everything and it’s my hope that the people of Whitchurch will put their faith in my honesty and integrity. Be assured that my candidacy in this election has been tendered for the right reasons. I want to make sure that Whitchurch is a town where everyone is represented and where everyone’s voice is heard. I come in to this campaign with no hidden agenda. I simply offer you a new option, a different option and a guarantee that, with me as your Borough Councillor, you will be fairly represented. It is my hope that, in the future when asked this question, I will be able to produce a long list of instances where I have had a hand in improving things in our town but, I need your vote to make that a reality. It is my sincere hope that, come May 5th, you will vote for me and together we can make sure that Whitchurch continues to thrive.

David GEORGE – Conservative Party
A: Most of all my greatest contribution is to serve the Town and Community I love.
Since I took early retirement nearly four years ago I have been privileged to serve the community in a number of roles. I have really enjoyed working with the Town Council and the talented Whitchurch Community volunteers who give their time to make things happen. During this period I have;
• Established the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Committee in 2013 and chaired this since. This has been one of the most demanding and rewarding roles. I have gained a good knowledge of the Town and the key concerns requirements of the Community during this and its associated consultation process. Progress has not been without its challenges but we are now close to the finalisation of the Plan.
• Been elected Town Councillor in 2013. I continue to support the Town Council through my role as Chair of the Neighbourhood Plan.
• Spent a considerable amount of time representing the NPSC and Town Council on a number of occasions responding to planning applications, giving evidence at Planning Enquiries and with regard to the BDBC Local Plan. I have been successfully resisting planning applications which do not meet the wishes of the community and negotiating with landowners and developers to get the best for the Town.
• Established a community group to address the Flood Risk for the Town. This will establish what can be done to reduce future flood risk rather than waiting for a flood to occur.
• Initiated and authored a sustainability appraisal of the Silk Mill with costed proposals for a number of projects to improve sustainability and reduce on going costs. There are plans for this is to be implemented which includes the possibility of a hydropower scheme which will generate power for the mill as well as being an educational attraction.

Steve NEILSON – Liberal Democrat
A: I’m not sure which to choose I get involved with many Whitchurch organisations.
• Whitchurch Neighbourcare, volunteer driving local residents to medical appointments 2 or 3 time per week.
• Friend of QEII Daniel Park, orchard planting, litter picking, meetings etc
• Whitchurch Association, events selling burgers, marshalling traffic and litter picking.
• Speaking at Basingstoke Borough Council in the successful Lib Dem fight to reject an extra 200 houses in 2013.
• Our Lib Dem Whitchurch Focus newsletter. Not just at election time.
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The Town Website team thanks the Candidates above for their contributions and hope the answers help residents in making their decisions for the election on May 5th.

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