Post it, don’t pencil it

Everyone who wants to see an end to Tory domination in Fareham is urged to register for postal votes to help Lib Dems make major gains in Hampshire’s biggest – ever Local Elections on May 6.

And the need to vote is heightened by the Government’s announcement that electors voting in person will have to bring their own pen or pencil to the polling station – and the risk of voters being turned away if they forget to do so.

Of course preventing the sharing of objects we handle is vital in curbing the spread of Covid-19. But a much easier and cheaper way to make voting safe would be to hold all-postal elections – something the Government has stubbornly refused to do.

There have been big changes since the last local elections in May 2019, and with increasingly centralised control from Whitehall, the local Conservatives are in disarray.

Several former Conservative councillors from Fareham have already turned independent – no longer willing to toe their party line. Senior leadership has come under scrutiny, with a Fareham – based Tory County Council cabinet member resigning after being found to have broken council rules.

Fareham’s Liberal Democrats chairman Peter Davison said: “ Last year’s Local Elections were postponed and so there’s now a re al opportunity to make a difference.

“We will be contesting 15 Fareham Council seats and a further 7 for the County Council. The political shape of councils across Hampshire may soon look very different – especially if the turnout rises above the usual 40%.

Peter Davison says, “ We are finding that voters are very keen to have their say, but we sense that the ruling Conservatives are rather hoping that voter numbers will remain low , and would rather postpone the election yet again. ”

“By contrast, Fareham’s Lib Dem councillors and all our candidates are still working hard for their communities. Their everyday work of sorting local concerns is very important and voters now really appreciate the local Lib Dems’ attention to detail. ’

“Postal votes are far safer and easier, and anyone can apply for one. The Conservatives are just 12 weeks from their day of reckoning – make sure your vote brings them to account.’

Goodbye garden village?

A funding fiasco means that the 6,000-home Welborne estate will be less effective than promised in providing homes for people who really need them.

The developers, Buckland, will have to pay a bigger share of the cost of improving Junction 10 on the M27. Buckland has agreed to double its contribution from £20million to £40million. But they say this means they will have to reduce the proportion of affordable homes provided as part of the development.

A revised planning application for Welborne can be seen on the planning pages on Fareham Council’s website. The application number is P/17/0266/OA and residents have until January 25 to comment on it.

Bukland will also now be unable to provide Passivhaus buildings – homes and other buildings which need less energy for heating and cooling – or Life Time Homes, which are designed to be accessible and adaptable for everyone from young families to older and/or disabled people.

The shortfall comes because the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership has withdrawn £25million it had pledged for the £75million junction. Delays to the Welborne project meant the LEP’s contribution could not be spent before a government-imposed deadline. But Welborne cannot go ahead without guaranteed funding for the junction.

A Government contribution to the junction will have to be increased from £10million to £30million via Homes England.

Jim Forrest, Lib Dem spokesman on Planning and Development on the Council, said: “Reductions in affordable housing make a nonsense of the argument for developing on greenfield sites. And the loss of adaptable homes undermines efforts at all levels of government to fight the climate emergency.

“If Ministers are serious in their estimates of housing need, they should have enabled the LEP to stand by their commitment. Instead they are undermining the concept of a Garden Village, and running the risk of making Welborne yet another over-priced, soulless estate.”

This revised Viability Statement attached to the new application sets out Buckland’s arguments for the changes.

Your future is in the post

If you watched BBC News South Today last week you may have noticed that the show ran a segment about the local elections scheduled for next May – and whether they might be cancelled.

South Today was not alone. Media outlets, Press, TV and Radio, across the UK all had this topic injected into their editorial priorities. A quick Google News search shows a remarkable uniformity of timing and content.

Most of these reports sought to reassure people that a further delay would not happen. But this sudden media attention (and a question in Parliament) served to test the strength of the democratic barricades.

The editorial line taken by the BBC was that the May elections might possibly be further delayed, and the government has already decided against an all-Postal vote – apparently out of an NHS-like concern for the Royal Mail.

Some outlets dutifully included concerns about voter fraud despite all-postal trials showing the scope for a reduction of the already miniscule problem. So now we’ve all been forewarned – put on notice of potential cancellation.

There is a crazy logic behind all this that would certainly appeal to this government. They’ll have the cover of a ready-made health excuse and a certain enthusiasm to avoid voter judgement on Brexit outcomes or their management of pandemic responses.

Next November’s COP26 conference in Glasgow is being primed to present the UK’s global climate credentials – despite the fact that they failed last week to block the creation of a new coal mine in Cumbria.

Make no mistake – these local elections are hugely important. Registration for Postal Voting is picking up and your Council’s Democratic Services department is already thinking through how the process can be made safe.

It may be just a Local election. It may be that no more than the usual 40% might bother to vote. It may be that central government can see no harm in delay. It may be that they think that the ‘branch offices’ are a giant waste of money and get in the way of cosy deals with developers.

But this is also the first opportunity that our communities will have to demand better local governance as an antidote to overcentralisation. If not already registered for a Postal Vote, get your application in now – before it’s too late.

We need councillors, not cyphers

Fareham’s Local Plan could be derailed because of yet another change of mind by Whitehall, yet the Council committee which oversees planning strategy is not due to meet until after the May elections.

The Full Council meeting on December 17 was told that the Government had vetoed a reduction in the assessment of Fareham’s housing need. Numbers would be revised back upwards – just as consultation closed on the Publication Local Plan which had been based on the reduced figure.

The news came days after the Chairman of the Planning and Development Scrutiny Panel told members that its January meeting would be cancelled. No other meetings were scheduled in the current municipal year.

But even before the housing announcement, Panel members were unhappy at the cancellation.

Councillors Jim Forrest and Shaun Cunningham, the Lib Dem and Independent spokesmen on the Panel, had written to the chairman asking him to reconsider.

They cited a number of important and urgent issues which the Panel should be considering, including:

  • The future of the Welborne plan, which is overshadowed by doubts over funding for the motorway junction it depends on;
  • A progress report on schemes to solve the Nitrates issue, in particular clarification on how a proposal for rewilding the Strategic Gap between South Fareham and Stubbington could be funded;
  • The future of our shopping centres – district and local centres as well as the town centre. Threats to traditional shopping were apparent even before the impact of the pandemic.
  • Prospects for improving fibre-optic cabling in the borough to meet the growing demand for online access for work, shopping and leisure – again a trend accelerated by the pandemic.
  • Examination of the Partnership for South Hampshire’s Statement of Common Ground and its suggestion of Strategic Development Opportunity Areas.

Jim Forrest says: “The modern council structure, giving power to a six-member Executive has led to quicker decision-making. But it needs close scrutiny by specialist panels of councillors, to ensure decisions are well thought-out and reflect what residents want. Planning and Development isn’t the only panel being starved of business.

“Councillors are being reduced to cyphers, rubber-stamping the actions of an increasingly unaccountable elite. Fareham needs the support of all its councillors in fighting off Whitehall’s vision of an urban sprawl across the whole of South Hampshire.”

Changing the lightbulbs

Are Fareham’s communities thriving? And, if not, what can be done?

There are umpteen ways of gauging local communities. Do people want to live here? Is there work? Good schools? Full fibre? Are the natives friendly? Affordability? Clean air?

Positive answers to most of these questions are very much in the hands of the local council. How concerned are Councillors with Fareham’s 3000 households suffering fuel poverty or the families reliant on food banks to feed their children? What priority will they give to climate change actions?

It is far too easy to shift the blame for all our local woes onto central government – just as it was for them to shift the blame for their poor economic management onto ‘foreigners’. If you feel that your community is not thriving, it’s well worth asking why.

Within the patch managed by Fareham Borough Council we have many different communities and many different priorities – but how many of those standing for election next May really understand what’s going on?

Communities vary – some are tight-knit, cohesive and strictly law-abiding. Others might be looser, more individualistic and yearning for freedom. The balance between tight and loose will always be shifting. What matters more is how much support there is for stuff that really matters – our social foundations and the environment – and serious efforts to tackle our shortfalls.

But how much do we really know about our communities here in Fareham? Your Council has started to try and measure the air damage from its own operations but there is much more to discover – and no requirement (yet) for local businesses to do similar audits.

Similarly, we know a little about fuel poverty (affecting very nearly 3,000 local households) but we must surely focus on the details for all aspects of healthy living. It may be complex, but tools are available , and there is little excuse for ignoring deprivations.

Next May we will have no ordinary local election. Our Council seats come up for re-election every four years. But with the deferred elections from last May, half of all Council seats will need to be filled. Time to focus a spotlight on our communities’ priorities. How many Councillors do we need to change Fareham’s light bulb?

Should we be blooming wild?

With the longer nights very much here, after a difficult year for our community, it can sometimes feel somewhat bleak. However as with all things there is hope and we can all be inspired to make positive changes.

Something we found particularly uplifting this year was the seeming “bounce” our local wildlife enjoyed during the quiet of lockdown.

People spending more time walking, cycling and really reconnecting with our beautiful local area. Hopefully, this may be one thing that sticks, bearing in mind climate change and mental well-being.

Could we be achieving more locally to promote flora and fauna though, with some municipal greens and roundabouts being “rewilded” into flower meadows, which are so important to butterflies and other invertebrates?

I’d like to know if there is an appetite for more “community meadows” or even “public orchards” instead of grass monocultures. Do let me know if this is something you would support.

Fareham’s new realities

Gone are the days when the daily trek to Waterloo or wherever swallowed the early and late hours. Now employers question why their ventures spent so much on offices and why they ever needed physical meetings – and the scope for Fareham to be more than a sleepy dormitory town is so much greater.

Just a few months back the demise of local shopping was a real concern. With the collapse of some chain stores, and the ravages of Covid, it still is. But with the shift to online shopping for the boring essentials and much more working from home, the future scope for Fareham’s small ventures is tremendous – more potential daytime customers and less money drifting away every day on the train to town.

Are we caring enough for local small retailers? How do we ensure that the money stays longer within our local economy? Could the shopping centre’s landlords be persuaded to revive its half-empty malls by offering low-rent space to the niche small retailers of West Street?

As for the online revolution, what a pity, as a community, we never invested in a decent full fibre digital provider instead of those creaking copper merchants whose products daily demonstrate their stuttering distorted inadequacy on our screens.

When Covid kicked off everyone hoped that we’d soon get back to normal. Now, we are learning that many of us can live and work very differently. That old moribund economy has gone. Welcome to a very new normal – a Fareham of fresh opportunities.

Last chance to make it YOUR Plan

REMEMBER – Friday December 18 the deadline for the consultation on Fareham’s Local Plan, which will shape the Borough from now until 2037.

If you want to comment, go to the consultatation pages HERE on Fareham Council’s website which givse advice and links on how to view documents and maps, and how to make comments.

The material there is by no means the whole story. The draft text of the Publication Local Plan, approved at the Council meeting on October 22, runs to 300 pages, summing up literally thousands of pages of evidence and years of work by our council staff..

Some light reading…

You will be able to see the main document in the minutes of the October 22 Council meeting , and get a flavour of the discussion that took place.

Minutes of the Planning & Development Scrutiny Panel, which discussed the draft plan on October 8, have already been published. Those two meetings were marathons of almost five hours each, so your councillors have given the plan a thorough examination.

It’s not a simple process to make comments, but it’s worth making the effort if you care about our town’s future. Your comments will be read by a Government planning inspector who will rule on the plan.

But to carry weight with the inspector, they must be based on one of three grounds set out on pages 8-9 of Fareham TodayCompliance with planning laws, Soundness in meeting the needs of the area within national planning policies, and Co-operation with neighbouring councils and other public bodies.

Most public attention on planning focuses on house-building. But remember that there are other equally important factors, such as employment, shopping, transport, climate and the environment.

Urbanisation comes through roads, supermarkets and industrial units as well as streets and homes.

We all want to preserve the best features of our immediate surroundings as much as possible. But the quality of our home area depends on the health and prosperity of our wider community. As Liberal Democrats, we seek to ensure that Fareham’s Local Plan is the best it can be for all of Fareham’s people.

Councillor Jim Forrest

Lib Dem spokesman on Planning and Development.

Stop Whitehall’s power grab

Liberal Democrats have warned that the Government’s planning proposals will “disempower” local authorities like Fareham and allow developers to “run roughshod” over local communities’ wishes.

A motion accepted at the Party’s Autumn Conference, making it official party policy, lays bare the risks of the Government’s proposals, which the Party says amount to a Government “power grab” that will encourage more speculative development at the expense of the affordable housing urgently needed in Fareham and elsewhere.

Instead of going ahead with planning reforms, the party is calling on the Government to match the Lib Dem ambition to build 100,000 social homes for rent every year.

Cllr Jim Forrest, Fareham Lib Dem spokesman on Planning and Development says: “People living in areas like Fareham are the people best placed to make sure planning decisions shape our communities for the better.

“We know many local people and organisations are putting a lot of work and thought into the upcoming consultation on Fareham’s Local Plan, which will shape the development of the Borough through to 2037.

“But this Conservative Government’s planning reforms will strip away local people’s ability to shape those decisions and is a developer’s charter.”

“These proposals, which do nothing to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing, undermine our climate commitments and put our local heritage at risk.”

Liberal Democrat Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson Tim Farron MP said: “The Tories’ proposals serve the interests of wealthy developers, giving them carte blanche to run roughshod over local communities’ wishes.”