The story begins in 1975, when Eagle Star bought the 10,000 acre Sutton Scotney Estate from the executors of the Lord Rank estate. Since then, a complex tale of growing aspirations and official rejection has unfolded.
No smoke without fire
British American Tobacco took over Eagle Star in 1984 and, six years later, the company announced proposals for a 5,000 home new town at Micheldever Station. In 1998 the financial services wing of BAT, including Eagle Star, was taken over by Zurich Financial Services.
Throughout all this, Micheldever Station has remained a small rural community in the Hampshire Downs with a population of about 200. Eagle Star realised from the beginning that a planning application would have no chance of success, since there was no provision in the County Structure Plan for large-scale development at Micheldever. Despite huge investment in consultants and public relations, the company has failed to persuade Hampshire’s planners of the merits of their proposals, which have also been omitted from two subsequent Structure Plans.
Despite these setbacks, Zurich/Eagle Star continues to press its case for development at Micheldever Station. In February 2001, the Dever Society wrote to Rolf Hüppi, the Swiss chairman of Zurich Financial Services. The letter was passed to the company’s UK office, and their reply made clear that the new town proposal “remain[ed] available for consideration”. The Society wrote again to Mr Hüppi a year later, pressing him for Zurich’s head office view of the proposal. In his reply, Mr Hüppi once again refused to comment and referred us to Zurich’s UK office.
The Eagle takes flight
Eagle Star’s original proposal was for a development of 5,000 new homes, together with a range of social and employment facilities for around 12,500 people. They amended their plans in 1994, following revised household projections for Hampshire; official research at this time also suggested that up to 10,000 dwellings would be needed to optimise investment in public transport and reduce the need for private car journeys.
As a consequence, Eagle Star revised its plans, proposing an enlarged town of 8,000 houses on an additional 250 acres of land. The company envisaged that the extra 3,000 dwellings would be built after 2011, bringing the population to 20,000. In 1998, Eagle Star’s planning consultants wrote to Winchester City Council describing a new town of 9,000 dwellings, but with no apparent increase in area.
By 2005, a glossy Eagle Star brochure showed that the new town had expanded to 12,500 homes and nearly 30,000 people – again with no increase in area. To put these proposals into context, the City of Winchester currently has around 18,000 dwellings and a population of about 42,000 people. Andover’s population of 39,000 occupies just over 16,000 homes.
Moving the goalposts
In May 2004, the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act transferred planning responsibilities from county councils to Regional Assemblies, and each assembly was required to prepare a Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS). The South East Regional Assembly submitted its draft RSS – the South East Plan – to the Government in March 2006, and an independent panel of inspectors completed its detailed review of the document a year later. The panel’s report, published in August 2007, roundly rejected the principle of a large new settlement at Micheldever.
Meanwhile, in July 2007, the Government announced a new initiative to build a total of ten new ‘eco-towns’ to help achieve a new housing target of three million new homes in England by 2020. Seizing the moment, Eagle Star quickly re-wrote its proposals and submitted its case for an eco-town at Micheldever Station.
The official view
Both Hampshire County Council and Winchester City Council, as the relevant planning authorities, have consistently rejected Eagle Star’s proposals. They continue to do so. The neighbouring local authorities – Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council and Test Valley Borough Council (which includes Andover) – also oppose the proposals. There is also cross-party opposition to the new town plans from all the local MPs and Parliamentary candidates for this part of Hampshire.