New Milton residents urged to vote on vision for town

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Neighbourhood Plan new milton
The 20-year document aspires to create a regenerated and diverse town centre by 2036

RESIDENTS are urged to cast their vote in an upcoming referendum on a proposed hyper-local vision for New Milton which could unlock thousands in extra funding.

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The town’s Neighbourhood Plan, which sets out policies for sites to develop or protect, design quality, and projects that could be paid for with extra cash, goes out for the public’s verdict on 6th May.

The 20-year document aspires to create a regenerated and diverse town centre by 2036, with a new cultural hub in place of the memorial centre, affordable housing for younger people, and electric vehicle charging stations.

It asks for developments of 100 homes or more to contain plots for self-builders, plus first-time buyers, renters, and downsizing homes for older people. About 250 homes could be added to the town centre, plus more business and health investment.

The document is not binding, but planning authorities and developers are required to pay regard to its policies and have good reasons for breaking them.

It has been in development for five years and, if approved, will entitle the area to 25% of Community Infrastructure Levy payments from developers gaining planning permission locally.

Speaking during Monday’s online full town council meeting, planning committee chair Cllr Steve Clarke said: “Essentially, this is a planning document that will enable some of the aspirations for the town, and it will go into the district council’s Local Plan.

Cllr Steve Clarke

“The initial focus should be on updating the communities. We must make sure this town knows of the referendum and is reminded of the aspirations of the town, which were brought about by a full and open consultation with the people of the town.”

Cllr Clarke pointed out a survey carried out prior to the pandemic found about 80% of respondents were in support of the plan.

If approved in the vote, which will be run by New Forest District Council, he argued a “strategic process” would have to be planned, including how the community would be involved in the future.

Town mayor Cllr Alvin Reid said: “This is a community document. It reflects what the community said it wanted in a number of sessions and in response to a leaflet drop.”

Although fully supporting the Neighbourhood Plan, Cllr John Ward joined Cllr David Hawkins in criticising funding of workshops training councillors to communicate better with residents in delivering it.

Both called the £3,500 already budgeted for the seven day-long sessions with an external consultant “a waste of money” and dismissed talk of it teaching “core values”, arguing these were already covered in the council’s standing orders.

Cllr Helen Wallis-Dowling defended the sessions, saying: “I think it’s a real shame because these could support the work towards the referendum in showing to residents what it is we believe and to assure them we are thinking of their best interests.”

Councillors agreed the primary focus should be on promoting the Neighbourhood Plan in the run-up to the referendum, including a leaflet drop.

They unanimously backed Cllr Geoffrey Blunden’s proposal that all efforts be concentrated on the referendum. All other elements, including the workshops, will be reviewed afterwards.

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