The advice of a King’s Counsel has been sought by EHDC in a bid to reduce housing targets for East Hampshire.

The council has hired a top KC as pressure grows to build thousands of new homes around the likes of Alton over the next 15 years.

The government wants around 600 homes to be built every year in East Hampshire between now and 2040 to meet local housing need.

But 57 per of the district is within the South Downs National Park, where development is restricted, so the council is investigating whether the overlapping gives them “exceptional circumstances” for housing targets to be reduced.

The emerging EHDC Local Plan will confirm targets and where housing should be built once it’s deemed “sound” by a government inspector. But with so many homes earmarked for a condensed area, there are big concerns over the sensitivity of some possible allocation sites like Neatham Down and Windmill Hill fields in Alton.

Greenfield development could be reduced if more brownfield sites come forward with EHDC recently making a call for suggestions.

Chawton Park Farm protests
Plans to build 1,200 on Chawton Park Farm - suggested as a possible housing allocation site - haven't been welcomed. (Tindle)

But reducing the total target is another option, with EHDC ready to challenge the government’s figures, set by a national “standard method” which takes no account of local restrictions like the SDNP. 

The council has hired a KC to confirm whether there are “exceptional circumstances” and what risks there could be if EHDC makes that assumption in the Local Plan, only to see it rejected at examination.

The latter scenario means the council will not be able to control development and that sensitive sites could be developed with none of the possible infrastructure benefits. But if the KC’s answers are positive then EHDC can use the legal advice to challenge the government.

EHDC leader Cllr Richard Millard claims the risk could be worth taking – especially if it means hundreds of less homes.

He said: “I understand and recognise risk and I make decisions based on risk, but I also look at facts.

“The reality is these numbers we’ve been given are highly controversial and upsetting to a significant number of our residents.

“At the end of the day it might not make me popular with the government but I’ve been elected by the residents of East Hampshire and they’re the ones I’ve got to look after.

“It’s a highly complex process and I have to follow and listen to the experts, but I’m trying to get the housing numbers reduced because it’s unfair as the SNDP takes away a swathe of our area and scuppers us.”

EHDC deputy leader, Cllr Andy Tree, added: “It’s our duty to make sure we do what we can to fight for our residents to make sure the outcome is best as possible with the numbers that are imposed upon us.”

The authority has asked the KC four questions, ranging from clarification on the scope of “exceptional circumstances” on other forms of development to the severity of the risks the council may face.

The move has also been welcomed by East Hampshire Liberal Democrats, although they have claimed the challenge should have been made earlier.

“As the Liberal Democrat group, we have been asking the same questions of EHDC for some time,” said the group in a statement.

“Having received assurances that all avenues for challenging the Government’s housing numbers had already been explored, we are surprised that it is only now that a legal authority has been consulted.

“We eagerly await the publication of the KC’s opinion on whether it is wise to deviate from the Government’s standard method for calculating housing numbers in the Local Plan. 

Cllr Elaine Woodard, leader of the Liberal Democrats on EHDC, added: “This has gone on for far too long and should have been resolved much earlier in the Plan’s development long before it went out for public consultation.”