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Winchester council chiefs target more affordable homes
12:10pm Thursday 1st November 2012 in Winchester
Winchester council chiefs want to force firms to build more affordable homes as part of the district’s blueprint for 11,000 new dwellings over the next 20 years.
Planning bosses were accused of an “expansionist agenda”, and warned that the vast majority of people moving in to new homes would come from outside the area.
But head of strategic planning Steve Opacic defended the move to allow 4,000 new homes in Winchester city, including 2,000 at Barton Farm, and faced down critics by telling them there is a need for more affordable housing.
Under the plan, 551 new dwellings could be built each year between now and 2031 — up 12 per cent on the previous 10 years.
And the council wants to change the rules so 40 per cent of new housing schemes are affordable or housing association properties, compared to the current 30 per cent.
Opponents say Winchester’s District Local Plan — which has been six years in the making — does not provide enough protection for its “priceless asset” of green landscape setting and countryside.
Winchester Friends of the Earth has accused the council of an “expansionist agenda”.
However, developers claim there is not enough emphasis on economic growth and more houses will be needed — especially in market towns and villages.
Speaking at the start of a seven-day public inquiry at Winchester Guildhall on Tuesday, Mr Opacic said: “Planning in Winchester district is a very high-profile process about which people have strong and varied views. “Work on developing the plan has, therefore, been undertaken in the full public gaze and has been poked, prodded and scrutinised in great detail at each stage.”
He said the “silent majority” were satisfied with the plan, and the inspector’s examination held “no fears” for the council.
In addition to concreting over green fields at Barton Farm, the plan earmarks Bushfield Camp on the southern edge of the city as “an opportunity site”.
Half the 43-hectare site would still be out of bounds to builders, but “social, economic or environmental” development could be allowed on the rest.
Challenging the district plan, Robin Shepherd, of Barton Willmore planning consultants, said the district was one of the wealthiest in the UK, but the plan lacked vision for economic growth, including new jobs.
He said: “If this was a school report, it would end with ‘could do better’.”
Lynne Evans, of Southern Planning Practice, representing Persimmon Homes, said the target of 1,500 new homes in market towns and villages was “woefully inadequate”.
Meanwhile, Christopher Napier, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said there was widespread local concern about “urban sprawl” and the “seemingly unstoppable property development eating into green land”.
He went on: “It is a very rural district, renowned for its attractive countryside, much of which is of exceptionally high quality.
“Despite inevitable changes over recent years, a high quality environment and countryside remains one of the priceless assets of the district.”
Ian White, a Save Barton Farm campaigner, said an estimated 87 per cent of the new homes would be filled by in-migration from outside the district — a claim not disputed by officers.
Council chiefs say the new housing will reduce the number of people commuting to work in Winchester, for example from Eastleigh and Southampton, with more able to afford to live there.
They say the plan aims to balance the demands for more homes and employment with protecting its “green infrastructure” and special character.
Under the plan, 5,500 new homes will be built in major new developments north of Whiteley and west of Waterlooville, plus 4,000 in Winchester city.
The remaining 1,500 will be spread across market towns and villages.
Bishop’s Waltham and New Alresford have been earmarked for between 400 and 500 new homes while, Colden Common, Denmead, Kings Worthy, Swanmore, Waltham Chase and Wickham would each get between 150 and 250.
Some 40 per cent of Winchester district is within the boundary of the South Downs National Park, which will draw up its own local plan.