STRATFORD District Council defended its choice of Gaydon and Lighthorne Heath as the location for a 4,800-home new town by saying it was the “least worst option” available.
The declaration was made on Monday by council chief executive Paul Lankester at a meeting in Lighthorne with representatives from local parish councils.
Proposals to build the new settlement have caused uproar in the locality, not least because residents only found out about it in July and were then told there was a mere six weeks’ consultation period.
The period for public consultation ended on 13th September, but the three parish councils of Lighthorne, Lighthorne Heath and Gaydon were given an extra two weeks to register their views.
One of the chief reasons for the anger is that the new town scheme—being proposed by the Bird Group of Stratford and the Commercial Estates Group—had been in preparation for two years but has only recently been made public.
Opponents of the project, who’ve formed themselves into a group called Forse (Friends of a Rural Sustainable Environment), have also questioned why the council changed its policy earlier this year to accommodate the new town.
Until spring of this year the council had been publicly backing the idea of meeting its housing target (now set at 9,500 in the period between 2008 and 2028) by spreading new development around the district.
On Monday Mr Lankester revealed that as recently as last year a new settlement was not regarded as a realistic policy option, and this became the subject of “heated debate at times” because of its political sensitivity.
In a statement yesterday (Wednes-day) Mr Lankester said the people at Monday’s meeting were told why the policy had changed.
He said that by February 2013 various factors, including decisions by the government and an assessment of the housing requirement and strategic housing land availability, made it obvious that the council’s evidence base showed there to be a greater housing need than was previously considered.
There was insufficient housing land available to meet the requirement up to 2028.
Officers advised councillors in February 2013 that the preferred approach alone (of dispersal) was unlikely to meet the “soundness test” within the core strategy.
Further work was required to either increase the level of dispersion of properties in main centres and/or local service villages or seek out potential new settlements.
Said Mr Lankester: “Advertisements were placed for developers to identify proposals for either a new settlement or major urban extension with an intention that housing units could be delivered during the plan period.
"The proposals received were then the subject of assessment through a number of further studies, which were released into the public domain in July 2013 following receipt of the studies by the council in June 2013.
"The studies had identified that the most sustainable policy option (in other words the least worst policy option for the district) was the proposed new settlement close to the M40.”
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