It’s our responsibility to keep Basingstoke a great place to live
We all have a responsibility to future generations to plan carefully how our community develops. But we know many communities across Britain have not built enough new homes in recent decades, leaving too many struggling to own or rent a home for themselves and their family. Basingstoke and Deane has not held back on building new homes, though finding the right accommodation can still be difficult. We have seen thousands of new homes built in our Borough in the past four decades, that’s why Basingstoke and Deane’s population has increased from 120 000 in 1980 to more than 180 000 in 2020. Since 1950 Basingstoke town has grown more than six times in size welcoming thousands more people to thousands of new homes. We have more than played our part in making sure new homes were built in the South East when many other Councils did not. Since I was elected I have made the case that new house building should be focussed on the needs of people in the Borough; that our local environment including the river and water supply, have to be able to cope with the impact of a rapid increase in population; and that new housing goes hand in hand with the expansion of local services. It is important that we have been successful in securing more than £150 million in recent years to reduce road congestion and increase school places to help keep Basingstoke and Deane a great place to live. We have to plan carefully again to ensure we keep Basingstoke special.
Now is a good time to consider where we want our community to go next. The Borough is not the same place and the country has changed too. It’s the new Local Plan for Basingstoke and Deane that will set out how our community develops, including house building. Nationally, Government provides a set of rules, to get every local council in the country to take seriously the housing shortage across the UK. But to make the Local Plan right for our community elected Councillors in Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council are responsible for drawing it up. They have to carefully consider what residents want as part of developing our Local Plan and I would urge everyone to get involved in the many consultations that will happen in comings months.
In deciding how many new homes we need Councillors can take into account of the restrictions that we face in North Hampshire, particularly crucial after four decades of high house building levels. The most challenging natural constraints are the water supply and capacity of our rivers: the Borough is located in an area of water stress-we have no reservoirs and rely solely on rainwater pumped from underground aquifers; and we are located at the heads of the River Loddon and Lyde, both are rare north flowing salmonoid chalk streams, creating a technological challenge for the Borough’s sewage treatment works which predominantly use the Loddon to deposit the sewage we create. Brown field sites are few in number because they have already been used for new homes and business. More than 90% of Basingstoke Borough is precious agricultural land, forest or woodland, all crucial to the health and food supply of our nation. We already have a major development area on prime agricultural land to the west of Basingstoke and most new housing has to be on ‘green field’ sites, with serious implications for the environment and green space. The Borough is dominated by important areas of rural landscape, including the chalk down land stretching around the town of Basingstoke and the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Beauty. All of these challenges have to be considered by Councillors before house building numbers can be agreed.
The new Local Plan will shape the future of our community for ever. We have to get it right. That’s why the standard method to calculate the number of new homes to be built which is set by Government is a start point which, based on evidence, can be shaped to take into account legitimate constraints. To be clear, given the housing crisis we face in our country, our Borough will still need to play its’ part but we also have to look at the evidence to establish what constraints Basingstoke and Deane faces too. I am pleased to see the Councillors leading the Local Plan process are taking on this tough challenge.
Our Local Plan has to reflect the fact that Basingstoke and Deane is unlike almost any other community in Britain: we have built thousands of new homes for more than four decades in an area where the environment is fragile. We need to make sure our Local Plan takes these special circumstances into account, to fulfil our commitment with the next generation and to keep Basingstoke a great place to live.