Cllr Gareth Lyon is a councillor in Rushmoor and the Chairman of the Aldershot and North Hants Conservative Association.
It has been 80 years since Herbert Morrison allegedly talked about “building the Tories out of London” – and his plan to pile huge amounts of poor quality housing into Conservative constituencies, change the demographics, and cause a backlash against the sitting MPs.
Over recent decades, it has certainly become accepted wisdom that development equals unpopularity. This seems, on the face of it, to have been borne out by some of the recent local election results, including some in our neck of the woods – in Waverley and in Guildford – where opposition parties drummed up opposition to local plans to drive good Conservative administrations out of office.
But it does not have to be like this everywhere…
In Rushmoor Borough Council we too have been going through the local planning process – successfully passing through it a couple of months prior to the election. It was telling that when this was debated at full council, the Labour and Lib Dem opposition were reduced to a search for typos and pagination errors in their desperate search to have something to criticise.
This followed several years in which Rushmoor has been undergoing massive development across both of its towns (Aldershot and Farnborough) and in the surrounding areas, including one of the largest development projects in the South of England – Wellesley, with 4,500 new homes and accompanying infrastructure.
This latter project is a good illustration of many of the key themes of Rushmoor’s local plan which have helped contribute to, rather than mitigate against, our local electoral success as a party.
First the name – a clear reference to Aldershot’s proud and still felt military heritage. Rushmoor is unreservedly proud of its armed forces now and in the past and is determined to weave this heritage into its development. This identity is a major reason why people are proud of living here, is intended to become a significant draw for tourism, and is already helping to attract businesses in related sectors, from aviation to technology, from defence to logistics.
This pro-business slant to our development is very much embedded throughout Rushmoor. The Leader, Deputy Leader, and Chief Executive are all very pro-business (big and small) and see good development as a means to help attract the skilled workers, which the increasing number of businesses investing in the area are looking for. This also means investing well in the infrastructure which the families of these workers will use (we’ve got a great new school, new centres for health, new country parks and heritage trails, and a big programme of investment in improving roads in the town centres and to employment sites.) The council sees these employers as playing an important role in reviving the town centres, if they can become attractive places for workers to go, have lunch, or spend an evening.
Regenerating the town centres lies at the heart of Rushmoor’s regeneration strategy. The Council is playing a very active role in this, buying many of the key sites itself, ensuring that the quality of housing and retail that is delivered will be genuinely attractive and beneficial to the local community, and introducing a big focus on leisure and cultural facilities.
This local plan and the development which is underway in both towns and in Wellesley did not happen by accident. The council has listened to, learned from, and delivered for residents. This is widely recognised and understood and really has left the other parties with little to work with as they try to manufacture opposition to development.
The main measure of success for the council must be the delivery of good new homes to meet local demand. On this measure there is already considerable grounds for encouragement – with the council already outpacing the level of housing required of it in the local plan.
The secondary measure though – the politics, is, if anything, even more encouraging. Despite vicious rumour-mongering by opposition parties, the Conservatives kept a clear lead in town centre wards in both towns – and saw a massive swing in our favour in the ward which contains Wellesley (which just so happens to be the ward of the recently deposed local Labour leader).
With the right approach, listening to residents, thoughtfully integrating development, building good homes, and focussing on building from our local strengths, Rushmoor really is experiencing positive development.