The case for a brownfield solution to Hart’s housing needs

Which would you rather preserve - derelict eyesore or our wildlife?

Which would you rather preserve – derelict eyesore or our wildlife?

As you know, Hart Council has begun a new consultation asking us where we would prefer to build the remaining 2,500 houses we are being asked to build as part of the Local Plan. This has generated some lively debate with some councillors and community groups favouring a new town. Whilst We Hart has a lot of sympathy with the residents of Fleet and Church Crookham, who have suffered from some poor planning decisions over the past years, we aim to show why it would be wrong to consider a new town or urban extension now and make a bad situation even worse.

We have to deliver over 370 houses per year up to 2032.  If these were to be built on green field sites it would mean we would be concreting over the equivalent of 25 football pitches each and every year for 20 years.  This is simply not sustainable, and it is clear something needs to change.

Eminent architects such as Richard Rogers, academics such as Professor Dieter Helm and journalists such as Simon Jenkins have called for our green spaces to be protected and for more building on brownfield land.  The Government is also actively encouraging brownfield development.

The benefits are clear, in that less infrastructure investment is required to support this type of development, urban living makes better use of scarce resources, so is kinder to the environment and town and city dwellers use their cars less and so don’t cause as much congestion.

So, having established the general case for brownfield over green field development, what about the specifics of the proposals before us in Hart?

First, it can be done. We have gone through Hart Council’s data and shown that there are sufficient sites to meet our remaining needs on brownfield site alone, and if we can bring Pyestock into play and Hart are successful in their quest to find even more sites, we will have a surplus of brownfield sites.

Supporters of a new town point to the supposed infrastructure benefits, but we believe this argument is flawed.  There is no doubt that there is a need for more infrastructure investment in our existing towns and villages, as is shown by the current £78m funding deficit.  Even Hart Council acknowledge that new schools would cost £80-100m, but then when you add up the costs of new and improved roads, roundabouts, bridges, sewage works, and railway station, it is clear that a new town will require over £300m of infrastructure spending before you even get to providing new sports and community facilities. But a reasonable expectation of developer contributions is only around £50m.  So, it is clear that a new town, or indeed an urban extension, could not get the infrastructure it needs and more importantly, would not do anything to address the problems in our existing communities .

By contrast, properly designed brownfield redevelopments (not office conversions) would generate developer contributions for local communities and if Hart Council followed Ranil Jayawardena’s advice, they could use compulsory purchase powers to buy up some of these sites and use the profits from development to fund even more local infrastructure.

When you look at travel to work patterns of Hart residents, it is clear that many people work in Fleet, Surrey Heath, Rushmoor and Waverley.  So, residents of a new town will need to travel through Fleet, Church Crookham and Hartley Wintney adding to congestion.  Other workers will travel through Hook to get to work in places like Basingstoke.  Dispersal throughout the district will ease the congestion problem, and brownfield development to the east of Fleet will place workers closer to their jobs and offer greener transport alternatives.

Our housing needs assessment calls for 60-70% of new build properties to be 1 or 2-bedroomed and also calls for over 2,000 units of specialist accommodation for the elderly to be built up to 2031.  A new town or urban extension is likely to continue to build predominantly larger properties at prices of over £500,000 which will no doubt be attractive to those who want to move from London, but will be out of reach of middle income households in Hart and so do nothing for local people.  Well planned development of smaller properties on brownfield sites will do more to help our young people to get on the housing ladder and help older people when they want to down-size to free up their larger properties for growing families.

Of course planning for a new town or urban extension would also open us up to building 3,000 houses for Rushmoor and Surrey Heath.  Whereas a vision and strategy to protect our green lungs in the heart of Hart would offer us some protection.

We also have to challenge the viability of the new town and urban extension plans.  The new town would coalesce our villages into a massive urban sprawl that would effectively become Hartley Winchook.  The proposed urban extensions would add further unwelcome development outside existing settlement boundaries. The professionals who have looked at the new town proposal have said “it would be challenging to plan a compact nuclear settlement on this site”, and of course there are other significant constraints such as lack of mains gas or sewage, flood risk and environmental damage.  All of the new town and urban extension sites have been classed as “not currently developable” by Hart Council.

It is time to make a break from the past mistakes and change to a more sustainable strategy, with a planning horizon of 50 years ahead and realise that more and more housing estates in the countryside are simply not sustainable.  We need to go for dispersal of our housing needs on brownfield sites across the district to build more affordable homes for our young people, create better specialist accommodation for the elderly and generate much needed infrastructure funding for local communities.

We have created a dedicated consultation page and two guides to responding to the consultation that are available on the downloads below. The comments are designed to be cut and pasted into the boxes provided.  It will be very powerful if you could edit the comments into your own words. Please do find time to respond to the consultation and play your part in saving our countryside.

Full version:

Responses to Local Plan Consultation
Responses to Local Plan Consultation

2 Minute version:

Respond to Local Plan Consultation in 2 minutes
Respond to Local Plan Consultation in 2 minutes


Posted in Brownfield Sites, Hart District Council, Hart Housing Options Consultation, Hart Local Plan, Hartley Winchook, Infrastructure Costs, We Heart Hart Campaign, We Love Hart Campaign and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .


  1. Like I have said before there is a huge amount of empty properties right across the country and not just in the Hart area? Why therefore is Hart being asked to build so many when there is empty properties across the country that could be turned into suitable homes?

  2. THe reason I haven’t written the article in the way you suggest, is that I don’t believe what you have said to be true.

    There is some evidence to show that the minimum size of a viable new community is 10,000 houses. Winchfield will struggle to get to 5,000, as I demonstrated here. Plus I do think it is incorrect to suggest that any new settlement will deliver “affordable” homes. The experience to date, with say EH, is that it supported massive inward migration to the area, rather than meet the needs of the people already living here.

  3. Well argued, but let me suggest one alternative for each paragraph. By the way, my reason for doing this is not that I feel my arguments below are right and yours are wrong. All I’m trying to do is highlight that there is a different way of looking at this and make the point again, it is not as simple and straightforward as some might argue.

    P1: no comment

    P2: “concreting over” is quite emotive. How about, we will need to build considerate and people friendly new towns, with plenty of green space (gardens as well as communal space) to create vibrant new communities where people will want to live and bring up their families.

    P3: “eminent architects”. How about, a number of high profile people have offered their opinion and have called for our green spaces to be protected etc…

    P4: alternative: It is quite clear that by looking across our towns and cities that attempts to increase population density since WW2 have not delivered on the vision of the planners and developers. They inevitably cause more congestion and degrade peoples lives and in more recent developments can create expensive under occupied buy-to-let havens that further restrict people’s ability to have a home of their own.

    P5: Comment: As you can see from the above, it is straightforward to offer an alternative so I think the case is not established. That’s not to say the case can’t be, I just don’t think it is but the first few paragraphs.

    P6: “First, it can be done”. How about, First, it can be done. There is sufficient capacity at Winfield to create a vibrant new community to play its part of meeting the district’s overall need.

    P7: Alternative: It is quite clear that all options will require considerable infrastructure investment due to the obvious need to serve an increased population.

    P8: Alternative: Starting anew with a new community will have considerable advantages when compared to brownfield development. Creating a new community provides the space to create an infrastructure that works for that community. Shoehorning more people into an existing urban area that was not designed for this type of population density would quite obviously create more infrastructure issues to be solved both in terms of build and integration into the existing area.

    P9: Alternative: It is quite clear the transport links (rail and motorway) offered by the Winchfield site would allow many more options than Fleet which is already crowded, allowing people the flexibility to travel to other parts of the region for both work and leisure. There would also be considerable benefit to areas such as Fleet, with the potential of a population that can easily visit rather than Fleet having deal with the consequences of the people and traffic being based in its area.

    P10: Alternative: A well planned development in the Winchfield area would provide a high standard living for the residents compared to being densely packed into an existing urban area. This coupled with building smaller properties with more space will bring benefits to all age groups and family situation creating an affordable and desirable new community.

    P11: no comment

    P12: The type of development that could be built at Winchfield, has been successfully built in other parts of the country, most notably at Milton Keynes (albeit on a larger scale). Milton Keynes provides a well organised living space with foot and cycling ways that link the main settlement areas as well as many green and water spaces.

    P13: Alternative: It’s time to break away from the mistakes of the past of creating densely packed communities and create open spaced developments that will provide a legacy of lovely affordable communities that our children will thank us for.

    Again, I would urge you to join forces with the Fleet and Church Crookham Society and other pressure groups and offer a united view with real, viable, alternatives that everybody in the HDC area can stand behind.

    • How about the Fleet and Church Crookham Society joining forces with WAG and We Heart Hart to ensure that – amongst other things – we maintain our position as the most desirable place to live in the country? It is obvious to me that FCCS is basing its support for a new town at Winchfield not on the claims that it is the right solution for Hart, but on the fact that it puts development somewhere other than Fleet and Church Crookham. The acid test for this is very simple: If everything about the Hart proposal for a new town was the same but the location was, say Crookham village, would FCCS support it? If the answer is ‘no’ then none of your arguments stand up. WAG and Weheart Hart, on the other hand do not think that a new town anywhere in Hart is a good idea. We have put forward valid, data supported points to show the lack of a need for a new town. All FCCS can say (and I quote from their own web site) is ‘Since 2011, Hart has already built (or gained planning permission) for around 4,600 new dwellings (of which approximately 2,000 are within Fleet & Church Crookham alone and several hundred more built onto the edge of our towns)’. In other words ‘We’ve had enough. Build somewhere else’.

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