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.”

Snarl-up over M-way funding

Progress on the 6,000-home Welborne development is at risk because the Tory Borough Council, County Council and Government cannot get their act together.

The three bodies are playing pass the buck over funding for the new Junction 10 on the M27 which is vital for the project to go ahead.

There was a report last summer saying the money needed to be guaranteed before Hampshire would do the work but it is has still not been sorted.

Now a report for decision on Tuesday (January 14) by the County’s transport chief makes this ominous recommendation: “That the Director of Economy, Transport, and Environment be authorised to make preparations for a potential suspension and termination of the County
Council’s role as scheme promoter to avoid abortive work or expenditure, pending resolution of the funding and delivery arrangements for the Scheme.”

The report calls on the Hampshire County Council(HCC) to seek “firm agreement with Highways England to ensure that there is clarity around their role in the delivery of the motorway elements of the Scheme”.

And it asks HCC to “support and work with Fareham Borough Council to secure Government funding for Welborne to ensure that the Junction 10 Scheme can be fully funded and delivered.”

With the Tory government making elaborate promises to its new-found voters in the North and Midlands, can we have any confidence it will cough up the necessary cash in the  South, where they assume they can take voters for granted?

You can see the full report here.

Welborne needs a rail link

Land has been earmarked alongside the Fareham-Eastleigh railway line for a station to serve the planned 6,000-home garden village at Welborne.
Fareham Lib Dems strongly support the idea – our Planning and Development spokesman Cllr Jim Forrest has convened meetings between Council officers and rail chiefs to advance the project.

Fareham Council has put the case for a Welborne station in its response to a consultation by Transport for the South East.
However, the Council quotes a cost of £68-78million, based on a study by Network Rail.
That figure assumes “maximum risk” for all aspects of the project, with provision of station buildings from the outset. The pressure group Railfuture estimates a basic station could be provided at much lower cost in the early stages of Welborne. See details here.

A single-platform station at Cranbrook, Devon, a similar development to Welborne, opened in 2015 at a cost of £5million.

Giving residents access to a rail link from the start would encourage rail travel rather than car use, building a customer base which would enable a more elaborate station to be developed as the village grows.

A simple station like Botley’s could serve Welborne in its early years