THE borough council has admitted that “it has taken too long” for building work to begin on a major new housing development in Basingstoke.

At a meeting to hear updates on the Manydown development, which will see 3,500 new homes built, borough councillors heard that building work should have started at least three years ago.

Cllr Gavin James highlighted a timescale published in a document from 2015 stating that building work would begin in 2017/18, with 1,490 homes built by 2022.

He said: “Right now, we should be 850 homes into the development. We are zero homes into the development and we are saying we’re not really going to seize the land until 2022 which is the point at which we should be at 1,490 homes for desperate families in Basingstoke. That’s not Covid. Something else has gone seriously wrong.”

Also speaking at the meeting, member of the public Alex Lee said he felt “deflated” when reading the council’s recent report on Manydown, saying: “All I see in front of me is a document that tells me we are going to do a hell of a lot more planning with no timelines around when that planning is going to take place.

“There are three tiers with no structure around them. A reminder that we’re 462 days since passing outline planning permission and we don’t seem to have any clear vision as to when we’re going to start putting shovels into the ground, diggers into the ground, no clear concept of ownership.”

Responding to the concerns, cabinet member for finance and major projects, Cllr John Izett, said: “I’m as frustrated and impatient about this as anyone and it’s taking too long.”

He blamed Covid for the delay saying: “I think Covid genuinely had an impact on the process, but the process takes too long. There are too many people that need to be involved, too many consultations.”

However, Cllr James pointed out that Covid had nothing to do with the delay to building work due to start in 2017/18.

Cllr Izett admitted it had taken too long, saying: “It has taken too long, I’m not going to suggest otherwise. There are too many processes that have been involved, too many parties that have been involved, the complications particularly on highways caused a great deal of delay, and there are a whole series of reasons why it’s taken longer than it should have done.

“I can’t give you anything other than to say it’s disappointing that it’s taken this long but that we are getting there and we have got a first-class partner on board with us and we are working very well with Hampshire County Council.

“I’m optimistic that what has been done will pay dividends because it will be a very well planned development and avoid a lot of the problems that have impacted some of the other developments that have gone up more quickly in and around Basingstoke, which are less desirable and have all sorts of problems associated with the houses that have been built. We have set ourselves a very high standard.”

He added: “I hope as a result of all this work that’s gone into it looking at the highways, looking at education, all the ecology, that we will end up with an absolutely first-class development at the end of it and it will be worth the wait. It had better be.”

Miranda Chubb, a member of the public, raised concerns about the environmental impact of the development, saying: “I’m very concerned that Manydown will be built to outdated standards which will result in increased carbon emissions in our borough now and for the life of these buildings which are likely to be around for hundreds of years.”

She added: “We are in a climate emergency please can I ask for assurance that any new homes built at Manydown will be built to net-zero standards and ideally to carbon positive standards.”

Cllr Izett responded: “I think it’s a bit premature to say we’ll adopt outdated standards. Any new development will give rise to carbon emissions and the objective is to minimise those.”

Cllr James shared concerns over the environmental impact, saying: “ I think if we come out of the Manydown development with a tasty return but we are leaking CO2, that we don’t achieve either positivity or certainly net zero carbon for that development, then I think we have failed.

“I want to reaffirm that we are not in this to make money, we are in this to make great places to live not just in Manydown but in the borough supporting it.”

Cllr Izett said: “The objective should be to achieve both, that’s good returns and also a sustainable development.

“I think it’s important that we do look to retain a return because it’s always been part of the philosophy with Manydown that we would look to reinvest some of the returns and that gives us the opportunity to invest in services for our residents including those in Winklebury. I don’t think we should lose sight of that and it should be possible to do both.”

Richard Coppell, group development director of Urban&Civic, which has formed a partnership with the council to deliver the £1.2 billion project, said they are looking to start building the new homes by spring next year.

He said: “We are very driven to get to the stage where we can start delivering. There’s no incentive for us to drag our heels. We are full speed ahead.”

He described the 250-acre country park planned for the site as a “defining feature”, with plans for it will be there to be enjoyed by the the first residents who move in.

Mr Coppell said the aim is for the development to be net-zero.