The Labour Party campaigns for housing to be available where people need and want to live, and to be truly affordable for all – whether rented or purchased. We also emphasise that new housing must respect the environment and contribute to the move to zero carbon – not just in construction but in its lifetime, for instance by providing excellent low-carbon transport links (walking, cycling, buses and trains) and using renewable energy for residents.

Council housing was one of the great achievements of Labour in the 20th century, bringing huge numbers of people in this country into decent truly affordable homes, when they had never before had a chance of this.

After the Tories forced councils to make a mass sell-off of council housing in the 1980’s and, perhaps worse, prevented councils from using the proceeds to replace them, this Tory Government has failed miserably for years to drive the production of enough housing, and has failed drastically against its own targets.

Instead, developers have hoarded land to increase their profits and share prices, at the expense of ordinary working people struggling to find suitable housing. This might be something to do with the finding that gifts to the Tories from companies directly linked to property development totalled just over £10m between January 2019 and July 2021 (The Independent, 30 July 2021).

In an effort to be seen to do something about housing, without upsetting the property developers, the government has passed the problem to local councils, by simply specifying the number of houses which should be allowed for in each local plan. For our area, it has stated that Hart must plan to permit an additional 5,000 homes over a ten year period. There is no way to avoid this – it is a directive that must be followed unless and until the government sees fit to change it, or the voters of this country change the government. Updated guidance on numbers is due from this government “later in 2022”.

There is currently work under way in HDC (Hart District Council) to plan for the housing which has been mandated by government. One of the several options being considered is to build a new settlement known as Shapley Heath, between Fleet and Winchfield, and extending north of the A30.

The issue of a new settlement has been used as a political football by the Conservatives in Hart for some time, in an effort to find an issue on which they can divide the electorate and claw back the control they lost of HDC a few years ago. Somewhat disingenuously, they imply that the local council should go against the policy and directives of the national Conservative party! There is much misinformation about these issues being spread on social media and in leaflets and “newsletters”, so below we set out the facts as we understand them, and our views.

The government requires HDC to review and refresh the local plan and to demonstrate a five-year housing supply to meet the government-set target. HDC created a plan and had it approved, but needs to refresh the plan for 2024.

If a council attempts to delay by not producing a plan, then developers can (and do) successfully appeal planning decisions, thereby building willy-nilly across the countryside and towns.

In making the housing plan, the choice is therefore between a number of options involving combinations of:

  • bolt-on estates on the edges of towns and villages
  • “intensifying” development in towns and villages
  • building on “brownfield” sites
  • a new settlement

However much anyone might want one, there is NOT an option to stop building, or even to limit it to a number less than the government mandate – currently 5,000 over the ten years.

While the full public consultation on the next five-year plan is yet to take place, we offer the following comments on the various options.

Bolt-on estates

On the doorstep we have heard from people in Crookham, Fleet, Hartley Wintney, Hook and Yateley that they want to see an end to the bolting on of new estates to established communities. This causes intolerable pressure on infrastructure such as schools, surgeries, and roads.

“Intensifying” development

This would appear to be by increasing housing density, e.g., replacing houses with apartment blocks, becoming taller and taller. Not a popular option!

Brownfield sites

Only sites identified on the council’s brownfield register can be included in the local plan. There are strict rules about what can be included.

The council (under CCH and the Liberal Democrats) has looked into this in detail in constructing their brownfield land register. They say there is only brownfield space in Hart to build 70-300 homes at most, as against the 5,000 required by central government.

It may seem like there is a lot of brownfield space but, as an example, the three substantial three-storey former office buildings on Fleet Road between the Tackle Up shop and Kings Road have been converted to housing. They occupy a notable proportion of land in central Fleet, but comprise only 49 flats between them. So a similar space would represent just 5 weeks’ worth of the ten-year requirements for Hart.

CCH also say that Hart District Council owns the civic quarter, including the council offices and the Harlington Centre, and intends to present a public consultation before the end of 2022. We have not seen what quantity of housing any redevelopment of this area might produce, but we will press the council to keep to their promise of considering all options.

The office blocks in Bartley Wood (Hook) and Ancells Farm (Fleet) are mostly too big to convert directly to homes – there is sufficient daylight for open-plan offices, but not for multiple decent flats – so they would have to be knocked down. The Ancells Farm blocks are also right next to the M3, so that the noise and air pollution would be health risks to residents. If any of these areas are proposed for housing, Labour would press hard for decent and truly affordable homes, with consideration for transport links, environment, green spaces, and all the other aspects of a good community.

A new settlement

HDC says that Shapley Heath, if needed at all to meet government targets, and if it passes the public consultation, will be a maximum of 5,000 homes (not 10,000) over a ten-year period. HDC says it will be built away from Fleet, and surrounded by protected greenspace (SANG), so it cannot join up with Fleet or Hartley Wintney. HDC says it will also deliver infrastructure such as primary school, secondary school, and doctor’s surgery.

If this settlement becomes necessary, we in Labour will be pressuring the councillors and council, and holding them to account, to make sure that their promises are kept, and that infrastructure such as road, rail and bus links as well as cycling and walking options are central to the plans. Further, that the council can and does hold the developers to account to meet these commitments.

Conclusion

There is no “silver bullet” solution to housing in Hart which will meet everyone’s wishes. It is unlikely that brownfield development will meet the mandatory target numbers set by the Tory government. Bolt-on estates and increased housing density in existing towns and villages increase pressure on infrastructure. A new settlement such as Shapley Heath would have its own challenges, which would need to be addressed and managed tightly by the council.

Further public consultation is due in 2022 to ascertain the needs and wishes of local residents, and how they can be accommodated. We in Labour will watch this closely and participate. We will continue to pressure the council, whether from outside or inside, to make sure that any housing development which is unavoidable meets our criteria of providing communities with truly affordable and appropriate homes, while respecting wildlife and the environment and contributing to our net zero carbon goals. As and when development proceeds we will be monitoring and holding HDC and the developers to account, to ensure that their commitments and promises are met. Every Labour councillor you elect can add to the effectiveness of our oversight.

This statement was last updated April 2022

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