Today we have a guest post, authored by Tristram Cary, chairman of the Rural Hart Association. In it, he explains why the proposed 5-10,000 new town in Winchfield and Hook, called Shapley Heath Garden Village (SHGV) is a mistake.
Shapley Heath Mistake
It seems that most of the discussion about SHGV is based on the mistaken idea that Hart has to meet a fixed housing target which reflects anticipated demand. This is not the case: Hart’s housing target is in fact a compromise between anticipated demand and Hart’s ability to fulfil that demand within the scope of its residents’ reasonable plans for development. SHGV is a great mistake because it is an unnecessary capitulation to the demand for housing at the expense of Hart’s Vision and Objectives. The result will be much higher housing numbers than would otherwise be the case. This is a very important and quite complex issue; I hope that the following notes will help to explain it more clearly.
a) Housing Demand: Hart’s housing demand is not fixed. In fact it is to all intents and purposes infinite because throughout the South of England there is a housing shortage, and anything that we can build in Hart will be immediately taken up, either by the growth of Hart’s current population or by people moving into Hart from outside the district. It’s vital to understand that building SHGV will do nothing to avert the demand for more housing growth in the district. On the contrary, by creating new capacity, SHGV will fuel higher housing targets for the future.
b) Housing Market Area: Hart shares a Housing Market Area (HMA) with Surrey Heath (Camberley) and Rushmoor (Farnborough and Aldershot). We have a Duty to Cooperate with Surrey Heath and Rushmoor which means that we are obliged to help them to meet their housing demand if necessary. Surrey Heath has asked for our help, and they feel justified in doing so because their population density is far higher than ours. Hart has a population of 96,000 in 215 sq km (447 people per sq km). Surrey Heath has a population of 89,000 in 95 sq km (934 people per sq km which is just over twice Hart’s population density). Rushmoor has a population of 96,000 in 39 sq km (or 2456 people per sq km which is five and a half times Hart’s population density). There is a perfectly valid argument that over a few decades Hart should accept a substantial portion of the housing demand from Surrey Heath and Rushmoor until our population density has caught up with theirs.
c) Vision and Objectives: However, in practice the housing target imposed on Hart in the Local Planning process (including the Duty to Cooperate with our neighbouring districts) is balanced by an acknowledgement that Hart has a history, a character and a right for its residents to have a say in its development. The Local Plan public consultations establish the residents’ wishes which are expressed as a Vision and Objectives for the District’s development (see paras 93 and 94 of the Local Plan). It is tempting to dismiss these paragraphs as unimportant ‘boiler-plate’. But in fact they are vital, and they arm the council with the ammunition to defend Hart against the erosion of its current state as a relatively sparsely-populated rural district which wants to maintain its countryside and the character of its towns and villages. Key statements from the Vision and Objectives which establish our desire to maintain our rural nature include the following:
- In 2032 the District will still be an attractive, largely rural area….
- Our countryside will be recognised for its importance to the quality of life, as the setting where people live and work, and for its contribution to biodiversity, leisure and recreation.
- The character, quality and diversity of our natural, built and heritage assets will have been preserved, and where possible enhanced
- To maintain the separate character and identity of settlements by avoiding development that would result in their physical or visual coalescence.
[Note: The Vision and Objectives did also include the creation of a new settlement which damaged our ability to defend against a higher-than-necessary housing target – but the Inspector ruled that this was unsound and it has now been removed from the Local Plan]
Hart’s position as a relatively rural district means that we are going to be engaged for the foreseeable future in a constant struggle to defend our rural character against the insatiable demand for housing in the South East of England and against the demands of our Duty to Cooperate with the far more densely-populated districts in our Housing Market Area. Our defence depends entirely on our insistence that we choose to be a rural district. We want to preserve our countryside; we want to preserve the character of our towns and villages; we want to avoid coalescence between our towns by preserving countryside between them.
Supporting the development of an unnecessary Shapley Heath Garden Village flies directly in the face of our Vision and Objectives and undermines our defences against urbanisation. SHGV is in effect an urban extension to Fleet, Hartley Wintney and Hook, and makes a nonsense of the Local Plan objective “To maintain the separate character and identity of settlements by avoiding development that would result in their physical or visual coalescence”. It is certain that Rushmoor and Surrey Heath as well as the SHGV developers will use SHGV as a target for future growth, as they explain on page 15 of the SHVG Vision document:
Technical studies undertaken to date suggest that 5,000 homes can be provided and could be delivered through the Local Plan and DPD process. The developers have identified that around 10,000 homes could be delivered at Shapley Heath. Being part of the Garden Community Programme will enable us to carry out further testing through the DPD process and any subsequent Local Plan review to meet the longer-term needs of the District.
In short, Hart District Council has scored a massive own goal by embarking on the SHGV project in the belief that it will take the pressure off developments elsewhere in the district. In fact, SHGV makes it abundantly clear that we are not serious about our Vision and Objectives, and that we are happy to build massive urban extensions which will forever destroy the character and identity of our biggest settlements.