The contentious planning application to build a block of flats in Hadrian Way is still being pursued. As an affront to local democracy, this saga takes some beating. Please get along to the Crosfield Hall in Romsey at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 17th December to do what you can to protect the character of Chilworth. As has been pointed out at length at two previous meetings, this application is the thin end of a very nasty wedge that would see Chilworth unpleasantly transformed.
The owner of Silver Leys in Hadrian Way intends to demolish his purchase – which is a perfectly good residence – and to erect a block of eight flats. He, of course, will not be living anywhere nearby to see the consequences unfold (extensive street parking, serried ranks of dumpsters and wheelie bins, more blocks of flats once the floodgates were open, etc). This would be absolutely contrary to the Local Plan, which identifies Chilworth as an Area of Special Character. The Local Plan was expensively produced only a few years ago and subsequently endorsed and adopted by Test Valley Borough Council, so one could be forgiven for thinking that the application would be dismissed out of hand. Not a bit of it.
The Planning Officer, and his superiors, have displayed an unaccountable affection for this application, voicing one specious argument after another in its defence, in the face of vociferous but reasoned objections from across the community. Even a casual observer would wonder quite why it was that they should ally themselves so publicly with the developer, but we can only speculate about that.
There have now been two meetings of TVBC’s Southern Area Planning Committee, taking about four hours in total, not counting all the preparation and follow-up work necessarily undertaken by council officials. Many of the 70 or so formal objectors have attended these meetings, but they have been gagged by the process that limits them to just three minutes at the microphone shared between them, and by the po-faced committee chairman who deplores even tutting from the public gallery. He of course can go home after these meetings and forget all about this issue, whereas the unfortunate residents of Chilworth are left with the worry of what is about to happen to their neighbourhood.
The first meeting of the planning committee failed to conclude after two hours because someone asked a technical question about the proposed design which could not be immediately answered. A month later, the whole circus was set up again and the same impassioned speeches were made on behalf of the Parish Council and the many residents that have raised objections. The Borough Councillors on the committee then debated the issues at length before voting almost unanimously against allowing the application.
Would this be the end of it this time? No way. The planners let it be known that they would fight this to the death, with the next step being to have the application considered by the Planning Control Committee. This body meets to consider exceptional cases where policy matters are involved. Unlike the Southern Area Planning Committee, the membership of which includes councillors local to the issue at hand, the Planning Control Committee comprises councillors drawn from across the borough, none of whom will have been present at the two earlier meetings. It is therefore of paramount importance that local residents turn out in numbers once again to let their feelings be known.
We really should question why the planners are so keen on this development. It disturbs them not at all that the would-be developer has allegedly already destroyed numerous trees that were subject to preservation orders (while making hollow-sounding promises about sparing other trees if his development goes ahead). They say it’s not their problem. Why does no one in authority care about this? The one thing the planners cling to is that this application, if allowed, will make a 0.01% contribution to the increase in housing stock that the government is demanding of the borough council. Yes, it’s important to provide housing for the increasing population of the South East but surely that should not mean that we have to rip up accepted local policy and ignore the wishes of local people?
If you care, then get to the meeting on Tuesday. Make your views known. We’re British, so we won’t make too much of a fuss. There will be no waving of placards, nor any need for heavy-handed security. At the very least though, if this planning application is railroaded through by the planners we should all be able to hold our heads up and say that we tutted very loudly!