I want to start by agreeing with comments from East Hampshire District Council that it has been obvious for a long time the district is in exceptional circumstances and must calculate its own housing need, writes Councillor Steve Hunt, leader of East Hampshire District Council's opposition Lib Dem group.
With 57 per cent of the district inside the South Downs Planning Authority, it is clearly a special situation.
That is why I and my colleagues in the Liberal Democrat Group on the council challenged the central government ‘standard method’ from the outset of our inclusion in the plan making process.
East Hampshire’s current MP Damian Hinds will remember being approached by myself and Cllr Ginny Boxall about this three years ago, and it has been raised by me and others many times since then.
When the prospect of large-scale development sites was first raised, with vast swathes of land enclosed by red lines on a map, our question was: ‘Why so many?’
We looked deeply into the government’s calculation of our housing need, and found it flawed on multiple counts.
Not only does the central government’s method fail to reach a reasonable and deliverable number, but it will also not help affordability of renting or buying, whether inside or outside the national park.
Even the data used to calculate the number was inappropriate, and the path of large-scale developments of 600 to 1,200 houses has not gone away.
The recently-completed Local Plan consultation just gives officers data as to where they might site them – and we are still left with each potential area trying to defend itself.
Let’s remember the Local Plan process started in 2018, and we have not even cleared the public consultation stage yet.
The plan completion won’t happen now until after the local elections in May.
I do not want to over-criticise because there are many elements in the East Hampshire Local Plan that will make it the most environmental and climate-aware plan yet.
But the sheer length of time this has taken has left EHDC open to speculative development.
Recent proposals might help East Hampshire finish its Local Plan in an acceptable way.
For example, the government’s housing number is said to be ‘a guide’.
The duty to consider other planning areas’ housing placement is said to be going – but a new, as-yet undefined ‘alignment’ policy will replace it.
Win one, lose one.
East Hampshire will not be able to rely on having only four years’ land supply for housing rather than the current five, because it has failed to make sufficient progress with its Local Plan.
There is, however, an interesting proposal that planning authorities are encouraged, in special circumstances, to co-operate across planning authority borders.
So more than ever now is the time for East Hampshire and South Downs National Park to have serious talks about meeting their housing needs across the border.
Ever-increasing housing numbers, though, are not going to solve our housing issues.
We still need a better mix of properties across the whole district area.
Above all, we need to ensure new housing meets the highest energy standards and that they are built quickly, and not fed into the housing supply at a rate led by the developers’ drive to make more money.
We are told East Hampshire now has a stronger planning enforcement team. Now is the time to use it to get the best housing solutions for our district.