9 August 2013
The Editor, Lymington Advertiser & Times, 62 Old Milton Road, New Milton BH25 6EH
Re: Greenbelt development
There’s been a lot of interest in your columns recently about the Council’s proposals to allocate greenbelt sites in Lymington and Pennington for development of around 150 additional homes. Similarly, there’s been considerable comment on the Milford-on-Sea initiative to develop a Neighbourhood Plan focusing on finding a number of smaller sites for 30 additional homes as an alternative to the Council’s proposal to allocate them all to a single site at School Lane. We’d like to bring your readers up to date on the status of these proposals and the Society’s view of the way forward.
Lymington Society’s view
We agree on the desperate need for affordable housing locally. The issue is how and where to deliver these affordable homes. We have resisted the NFDC’s proposal to allocate greenbelt sites at Alexandra Road, Lymington and the Pinetops site in Ramley Road Pennington. The Council justifies this green belt development on the grounds that a high proportion – around 70% – of the new homes would be available through local authority housing and housing associations, with a mix of shared ownership and rentals. They say they have selected these sites from a short-list of sites all of which they consider to be in ‘sustainable’ locations.
We feel this type of approach is in fact unsustainable as it leads to households in isolated developments without access to local facilities like shops and lacking reliable public transport for access to schools and hospitals. It’s not so very different from the kind of thinking that saw the development of poorly designed and located housing estates. It may have been a short-term solution to conditions in post-war Britain but in the twenty-first century our community deserves something better.
What we did
In March 2013 the Society wrote to the Lymington and Pennington Town Council asking them to consider taking advantage of the 2011 Localism Act to ask the NFDC for their agreement to undertake a Neighbourhood Plan and offering our enthusiastic support in its preparation. We suggested that rather like the initiative that was underway at the time in Milford-on-Sea, we wanted a neighbourhood plan for Lymington and Pennington that would have input from local people and could be adopted into the Local Plan. It would include a search for sites for the 150 additional homes as an alternative to the proposed Avenue Road and Pinetops sites.
On 23 Apr 2013, we took part in the meeting on greenbelt development in Lymington and Pennington at the hearing on the NFDC’s Sites and Development Management Plan. We put it to the Inspector that the plan was unsound as the Council had failed to provide evidence of having considered reasonable alternatives to the sites allocated and that the choice of locations locally might be better addressed through a Neighbourhood Plan. However, the Inspector said that he accepted NFDC’s proposition that the only sites where additional housing could be sited were within the green belt surrounding Lymington & Pennington. He said that the Inspector at the Core Strategy hearing had accepted this proposition and he was not going to disagree.
On 30th April, we attended a meeting with the Town Council on our request for a Neighbourhood Plan together with a number of local residents and members of the Pennington Residents Association, who had made a similar request to the Town Council in December 2012. We heard from Chris Elliott and David Groom of the NFDC that it was too late to embark on a neighbourhood plan that could be incorporated into the current Local Plan, as it was presently undergoing the final stage of its adoption. We heard that the need for affordable housing locally could only be met though greenbelt development. Town centre and brown-field site development was unlikely to provide an alternative because high land values meant lower margins in this type of development. The Council also had to achieve a balance of town centre uses e.g. in the longer term, a site like the Avenue Road Town Hall was more suitable for retail than housing e.g. a supermarket as it was near the town centre and had space for parking. Members of the Town Council that were present said that they could not contribute to a neighbourhood plan as they lacked the resources.
Where we are now
We now have the Inspector’s interim report; it does not question NFDC’s allocation at Pinetops and Alexandra Road; it only asks the Council to respond to a number of mainly technical questions. This will require a further round of public consultation. We will also have an opportunity to comment on planning applications that are made at these sites.
The way forward
This issue is not about to go away. There’s a shortage of homes now and growing demand. The government has told Local Planning Authorities to carry out a strategic review of their local plans under the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework), starting in 2015 and have indicated that they will not accept the greenbelt as a reason NOT to meet local housing needs. This means our current Local Plan will only be in effect for another 2 years. The new plan could push the target for additional homes built in Lymington and Pennington between now and 2026 from the present figure of around 260 homes up to 1,000.
We need a change in approach. We need some fresh thinking and a forward looking approach to planning. Rather than wait for development proposals to come forward from developers, the Council should become more pro-active and look for imaginative implementation of their own policies. It’s time to challenge the developers – and their architects – to find solutions that provide high quality homes and integrate affordable housing within the fabric of the community.
We have asked the Town Council to address the question of a Neighbourhood Plan again in preparation for the Strategic Review in 2014/15
It looks like we have ended up with yet another unfortunate decision – this time it’s the allocation for development on greenbelt sites at Alexandra Road and Pinetops. We are told that it is too late to undertake a Neighbourhood Plan that would influence the current allocation. It’s not too late to carry out a Neighbourhood Plan that allows local people to take part in addressing issues likely to arise from the 2015 strategic review.