The draft Local Plan for Hart secured full council approval in the new year by a large majority. What was a plan intended to run from 2011 to 2032 is now a plan realigned to the period 2016–2032.
The Plan is currently out for formal public consultation until Monday 26 March, and it is expected that the Plan will be determined at examination around September this year (2018).
Since the previous consultation there have been many twists and turns: the urban extension at Hartland Park has been approved for up to 1,500 dwellings and another urban extension at Grove Farm (west of Fleet) for 423 dwellings was approved at appeal.
Probably the most significant aspect affecting Hart’s future housing needs is that the Government is considering amending the method for calculating housing need, indicating that Hart will need to supply less housing than previously thought. Whilst very welcome, the Government proposals have recently been postponed and reportedly been put back ‘indefinitely’ meaning that there is very little clarity as to how much housing Hart Council will be asked to supply.
Running parallel with all this, it is likely that Hart will run out of secondary school places well before the end of the plan period. In the short term, the shortfall can be taken up by spare capacity at Yateley but this will mean transporting Fleet children to Yateley. Thereafter, the shortfall can only be filled by either a new secondary school or packing more children into existing schools in Fleet. The only proposals that have so far promised a new secondary school are New Settlement options in the Winchfield & Murrell Green area.
The difficulty is that with up to 1,500 new homes at Hartland Park and 423 at Grove Farm and relying on the lower housing numbers from the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) calculation method, Hart has sufficient housing provision to convince some that a new settlement is not needed.
In our opinion there are two fundamental problems with this. Firstly, without a new settlement, there is no possibility for a new secondary school within the plan period. Any excess will therefore need to be taken up by increasing pupil numbers within the existing schools or, in the short term, transporting children to schools elsewhere in the district or beyond.
Secondly, we are informed that the Government has postponed its planned publication of the new NPPF indefinitely. If the method of calculating the lower housing figures is aborted, Hart will need to revert to the original figures calculated from the Objectively Assessed Housing Needs.
Fortunately, the draft Local Plan, including a new settlement in the Winchfield/Murrell Green area, obtained cross-party support in January with 27 councillors in favour and only 5 against.
This decision is benefitting Fleet residents as it has already halted further urban extensions around Fleet including that of 700 dwellings proposed at Elvetham Chase (Pale Lane, west of Fleet). The refusal quotes that the proposal, “would compromise the effective operation of the plan-led system in Hart District Council’s area and undermine the spatial vision for the area and wider policy objectives contained within the emerging Local Plan Strategy and Sites document.” We consider that this means that the Elvetham Chase proposal would restrict options to provide a new settlement in the area of Winchfield and Murrell Green.
We therefore urge members to support the proposed local plan by responding to the current consultation that can be viewed here.
The feedback form is structured to receive and categorise objections to the Local Plan, but we urge respondents to positively support the draft plan and mention that the robustness of the plan mitigates against risk of the new housing calculation not being adopted, or other unanticipated demand that would threaten to derail the successful conclusion of a positive outcome of the Local Plan.