We've been caught up in a sort of merry go round – though not a particularly merry one – as we've tried to establish whether a procedural piece for our Neighbourhood Plan called a Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA) is necessary before we can pass our plan to Hart District Council.

A European Court ruling in the summer muddled the waters and there is still no clear government guidance on the way forward – a matter which I have brought to the attention of our MP Ranil Jaywardena and our District Councillors. As a result, our application for funding for this piece of work was turned down after several weeks of waiting. So, rather than wait any longer, we asked for the costs, some £4,000, to be met by the Parish Council. I'm pleased to say they have agreed, and the assessment has now been commissioned.

We are proceeding with the Parish Council’s approval, on the assumption that the flood risk applying to Pools Yard and Nero Brewery will be satisfactorily resolved ahead of formal submission of our Plan for examination.

Those of you who are familiar with the trials and tribulations we have faced getting to this stage, will not be surprised to learn that there is now another fly in the ointment. As a result of a recent EU court judgement, we are now required to carry out a Habitat Environmental Assessment despite having successfully by-passed it – legitimately of course – at the Regulation 14 consultation stage.

The light at the end of the tunnel has started to glimmer again and there is now a reasonable chance that the Plan, which we consulted on, can now go forward with the three sites and 23 dwellings.

 

Two events have caused this optimism. Firstly, a very helpful meeting with Daryl Phillips, Chief Executive at Hart, who has offered to have the plan informally examined to see if it would still be viable even if the three sites that they have been unable to support were withdrawn at examination. This would mean that at least we would have a plan in place, although it would not be as strong as one with sites included but would mean that the sterling work of the Steering Group to date would not have been in vain.

Just as we felt the Plan was gaining momentum - having completed the six-week Regulation 14 consultation - the light at the end of the tunnel was turned off!

Despite having had previous notice of the brownfield sites selected (Pools Yard, Nero Brewery & James Farm), at this late stage Hart District Council raised objections to all three of them. Pools Yard and Nero Brewery were challenged because of the potential risk of flooding based on mapping by the Environment Agency - which confounded those familiar with the history of the village.