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‘Big business’ fear over £3bn Waterside investment plan

A watercolour of designs for the Fawley power station site
A watercolour of designs for the Fawley power station site

PLANS for attracting up to £3bn of investment to Totton and the Waterside have been attacked by opposition councillors as a “big business wish list”.

A “vision” of major improvements to the area was debated at a special meeting of New Forest District Council’s environment overview and scrutiny panel.

A report outlined how a bid for millions of pounds of government funding has been made by Hampshire County Council to fund an overhaul of major routes and public transport into the Waterside, and ways the area could capitalise on incoming major development.

Up to £3bn of investment could be attracted as well as 6,700 new jobs, said the report.

It was prepared following outline permission for 1,500 homes at Fawley power station, and approval of NFDC’s Local Plan, setting out delivery of more than 10,000 homes outside the national park by 2036.

However, Liberal Democrat district councillor Alex Wade was worried that the report had been drafted with input from Exxon Mobil, Associated British Ports, Barker Mill Estates and Fawley Waterside Ltd.

“I am concerned the vision acts for the benefit of organisations on the site and not for our communities,” Cllr Wade said. He pointed to ABP’s aspirations to develop the Waterside with port facilities.

Lib Dem group leader Cllr David Harrison added: “This is not a vision the people of the Waterside would buy into or have had any say on.”

Lib Dem Cllr Malcolm Wade described the document as a “big business wish list”, and said: “We need local jobs for local people.”

The report noted that Totton and the Waterside is the most urbanised, industrial and densely populated sub-area of the New Forest, but with levels of economic prosperity about a fifth below the national average.

It also has a low proportion of knowledge-intensive employment and a “skills gap” in terms of residents with degree or higher qualifications.

A CGI of the plans for Fawley
A CGI of the plans for Fawley

Panel chair Cllr Steve Rippon-Swayne, a member of NFDC’s Conservative ruling

group, defended the report and said: “The vision is in good hands.”

He rejected implications of an “old boys network” and said town and parish councils were free to make their views known, and that the document aligned with policies of the wider Local Plan.

On the whole, however, Waterside councillors welcomed the overall concept of the report and the possibility of a funding boost, stressing the area “badly needed” investment.

But they were keen to ensure the money was invested in solving long-term problems and benefitted those who already lived there.

One of the main points of contention is the A236. Merely “tweaking” the layout was not good enough, Cllr Harrison said.

Several members pointed out the transport aspirations did not go into detail, adding there was little on the much vaunted possibility of revamping the Waterside railway passenger line. Cllr Andrew Gossage floated the potential for local tidal power for an electric tram line.

But NFDC chief planning officer Claire Upton-Brown pointed out the outline document was “high level” and had already passed through one government scrutiny process and had a chance of winning funding.

It was being developed in conjunction with local companies because that was a requirement of the Local Plan to ensure future development was “deliverable and viable”, she added, including whether the Waterside rail line could use electric trains.

Members ultimately backed the document’s concept. Endorsing the vision, Cllr Rippon-Swayne said it was vital it was seen as a “starter for 10”.

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