It was standing room only at the Dever Society’s hustings2 when over a hundred people came to hear Winchester’s three main General Election candidates3 set out their views on planning and the countryside.
Before opening up the debate to questions from the floor, the BBC’s Deputy Political Editor James Landale4 invited each of the candidates to outline their Party’s policies for rural development. Despite their fundamental differences on many issues, all three candidates affirmed their long-standing opposition to major development at Micheldever Station.
Liberal Democrats, said Martin Tod, would devolve planning policy to local communities, who are best placed to assess local housing needs and take account of environmental constraints such as water resources.
For the Conservatives, Steve Brine supported a radical decentralisation of power. The Party would abolish regional planning guidance and the newly-established Infrastructure Planning Commission, whilst protecting the most productive farmland from development.
Martin Tod and Steve Brine both argued strongly against the Government’s ‘top down’ approach to housebuilding targets.
Meanwhile, Labour’s Patrick Davies drew on his experience as a City councillor to mount a strong defence of the planning system. He believed that the Conservatives’ alternative proposals would unleash a flood of applications in the transitional period before their new legislation came into force.
The Society’s President, Khalid Aziz, emphasised how well-funded companies like Eagle Star drain the resources of local opposition groups by continually re-submitting development proposals. He questioned whether the candidates would support a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ approach to address the essential unfairness of the current system?
Steve Brine agreed, whilst Martin Tod explained how the value of development land is created by society but creamed off by developers. For his part, Patrick Davies pointed out that Eagle Star had never actually submitted a planning application for its new town proposals at Micheldever. In cases like this, a ‘three strikes’ system would not protect the countryside from every threat of development.
Moving the debate to wider issues, the Society’s Chairman Douglas Paterson asked the candidates for their views on badgers and bovine tuberculosis. Patrick Davies and Martin Tod both admitted that they had little personal knowledge of the issues, but would support a scientific approach to the problem. Steve Brine took a similar line, adding that the Tories would introduce measures to control badgers in areas at the highest risk of TB.
Other questions ranged across topics as diverse as hunting; support for sustainable rural communities; inadequate rural transport; and the impact of British Summer Time.
Notes for Editors
- The Dever Society is an amenity society for the Hampshire Downs and the Dever Valley, and is a registered charity affiliated to the Campaign to Protect Rural England. The Society’s principal objective is to conserve, protect and celebrate the countryside in this part of Hampshire. In particular, it is concerned with the conservation and enhancement of the Hampshire Downs, which comprise the county’s rural heartland. The Downs provide a unique and valued resource for those who visit and enjoy the countryside, as well as forming an essential feature of the county’s agricultural and tourist economy.The Society has a membership of 6,300, drawn not only from those who live in the Dever Valley, but also from a wide area of Hampshire and elsewhere in Britain.
- The public debate Planning and the countryside was organised by the Dever Society. The event took place at 8:00pm on Monday 04 March 2010, immediately after the Society’s formal Annual General Meeting.
- The candidates are:· Martin Tod (Liberal Democrat)
· Steve Brine (Conservative)
· Patrick Davies (Labour)
Winchester is currently represented by Mark Oaten MP (Liberal Democrat) with a majority of 7,473
- James Landale studied politics at the University of Bristol and spent ten years as a reporter on The Times. He joined the BBC in 2003 and is now the Corporation’s Deputy Political Editor
For further details about the meeting or to request a recording or photos from the meeting please contact James Drewer: t: 07801 151523 e: firstname.lastname@example.org