How Hart Council should respond to the We Heart Hart petition

Vacant brownfield Block at Ancells Farm, Fleet, Hart District, Hampshire

Vacant Office at Ancells Farm, Fleet, Hampshire

As we posted earlier, we have submitted the We  Hart petition to Hart District Council and the council have set out the process by which they will consider the petition.

We have drafted some suggestions as to how the council should respond  and sent them to Council leader, Stephen Parker and they are shown below.  We have a chance to put these ideas to Cabinet on 1 October at 7pm.  Please tell us if you are coming along to give us your support.

Please e-mail your councillors to ask them to support these proposals.

 

Dear Stephen,

Thank you very much for your email.

As you know the petition is from 2,130 signatories, nearly four times the number that responded to Hart Council’s consultation last year and more than ten times the number of people who expressed a first preference for a new town and is therefore a very significant expression of local opinion.

I welcome your approach to treat the petition seriously.  My understanding is that a petition of over 1,000 signatories would trigger an automatic debate at full council.  However, I do believe a debate at Cabinet is more likely to be more productive, so I support the approach you suggest.

As you might expect, I have my own suggestions as to what the appropriate responses to the petition should be and I set them out below for your consideration, interwoven with the petition objectives:

  1. To reduce the overall housing allocation for Hart District

 I think there are two broad approaches to this.  First, challenge the SHMA to reduce the overall housing allocation for the whole HMA.  If this is successful, then it will have a two-fold effect of reducing Hart’s own need and also reducing the risk of overflow from Surrey Heath and Rushmoor.  I believe the key arguments are around inward migration assumptions; average household size and in particular jobs growth assumptions which are at a rate nearly double what was achieved over the economic cycle from 1998-2012 and will result in unprecedented levels of participation in the labour market (rising from around 70% to around 86%) for those of employment age.  I gave more detail on these arguments at both the Hop Garden Road appeal and in my response to the Rushmoor Local Plan.  More detail can be found here. However, I do recognise it is difficult for the council to challenge its own document and I await Rushmoor’s response to my strong challenge, but I do understand that the SHMA may be re-visited and it would be helpful if the council would commit to challenging the assumptions set out above as part of that process.

Second, in conversation with a number of professionals in the planning sector, I have been told a number of times, that it is uncommon for councils to explore fully their “policy on” options with regard to environmental and other constraints.  One of the main attractions of Hart as a district is its rural environment with associated SPA, SSSI’s, SINCs, green space and wildlife.  May I suggest that a proper environmental study is carried out to set out the value of Hart’s environment and ecology to build an argument for not meeting the full requirement of the SHMA?  I know that WAG is working on some proposals in this area with some of the rural parishes and would be keen to discuss the matter with you and offer to share the costs of preparation. 

  1. Demand that the Council develops a vision and strategy for Hart that retains its role as a rural, green hinterland for NE Hampshire that respects the separate character and identity of Hart’s settlements and landscapes and preserves the green spaces as amenity space for the urban settlements.

You may recognise the words above as taken from the withdrawn 2013 Core Strategy.  This was, and remains a good vision.  I would ask that as a minimum, the forthcoming Regulation 18 consultation sets out at least one potential “vision” for the district, and that one of the “vision” options includes words to this effect.

  1. To require that the housing need is met by building on brownfield sites and increasing density in our existing urban areas

Last November, the council’s estimate of brownfield capacity over the entire plan period was around 750 units (taken from parts 1 and 3 of the SHLAA as per the FOI request I made) out of the then remaining 4,000 units to build (or grant permission for) up to 2032.  Since then considerable progress has been made in identifying and in some cases granting permission on additional brownfield sites:

LocationNumber of Dwellings
Guillemont Park Phase 1 (not included as brownfield site in SHLAA) 150
Guillemont Park Phase 2320
Ancells Farm, Fleet370
Bartley Wood, Hook200
Fleet Road, Fleet220
Bramshill House350
Fleet Police Station50
Extra dwellings at Landata House28
Total1,688

All of the dwellings above were not included as brownfield sites in the SHLAA.  Guillemont Park (Sun Park) was in the SHLAA but for a lower number of units, and in Part 2, which was not considered to include brownfield locations.  Since last November revised permission has been granted at Landata House for 28 more dwellings than were included in the 5 year land supply calculation.

If the original 750 units were to be added to the 1,688 units identified above, then that amounts to a total of 2,438 potential units on brownfield.  If it were possible to increase the density (from 30dph to a still reasonable 80dph in urban areas) on the original 750 units, the total identified capacity would rise to some 3,688 units.

The remaining requirement of 4,000 has of course been reduced by the unfortunate decisions to allow development at Watery Lane (300 units) and Hawley Park Farm (126 units) leaving the remaining allocation at 3,574.

It is clear that with some creativity and energy, the gap between the remaining allocation of 3,574 and the currently identified brownfield capacity can be closed by working on a combination of reducing the overall allocation by reducing the SHMA or applying environmental “policy on” considerations, increasing density and finding more brownfield sites.

In the light of this, I welcome the paper that is to be put before Cabinet next week, signalling the more positive approach that the council proposes towards building housing on previously developed land.

I would ask though, that you consider some further steps:

  • Creating a new, formal “reasonable suitable alternative” option of meeting the remaining housing allocation solely through brownfield development.  This option should appear in the consultation paper.
  • Creating a complete database of all of the potential brownfield sites in the district, including those not in the October 2014 SHLAA and those not yet formally promoted to the council, including sites such as Bramshill House, Pyestock (aka Hartland Park), Sun Park, Ancells Farm, Bartley Wood, Fleet High St, Fleet Police Station and all of the run down town centres (e.g. Fleet, Yateley, Blackwater and Hook).
  • Inviting leading architects to compete to produce some visionary outline schemes of what a “brownfield solution” might look like for the district, taking into account changing demographics, changing shopping habits driven by the internet and achievable housing densities.
  • Organising a conference with the architects, land owners, developers and local community representatives with the objective of identifying the art of the possible for brownfield development amongst the competing solutions from the architects.
  • This could be done in conjunction with the neighbouring authorities of Surrey Heath and Rushmoor, particularly given the massive amount of current and forecast vacant employment land and Rushmoor seeking to protect 96 Ha.
  1. To request that future housing stock reflects the needs of the changing demographics of the district.

I set out in a question to council earlier this year that Hart will need to deliver around 2,500 housing units to meet the needs of the ageing population.  I contend that a new town will simply build the wrong type of accommodation in the wrong place to meet those needs.  It would be far better if these were built on brownfield sites in more urban areas, close to amenities such as doctors, post offices, shops and so on.  When the elderly move into these types of development, their well-being improves and of course, they free up conventional housing stock for families.  Could I therefore ask that the forthcoming consultation paper contains specific proposals on how the needs of the ageing population will be met?

  1. To demand the council and government do not plan for any new settlement in Hart that will act as a sink for the unmet housing need in neighbouring areas.

Addressing points 1, 2, 3 & 4 will render a new town unnecessary particularly when you consider the:

I do hope you find these suggestions helpful.  I would be grateful if you could circulate them to planning officers and Cabinet members for their consideration.

Hart District Council outlines the process for receiving the We Love Hart Petition

We Love Hart Ballot Box

As we posted earlier, we have submitted the We  Hart petition, containing 2,130 signatures, to Hart District Council.  The Council have now  set out the process by which they will respond to the petition.  An email from council leader, Stephen Parker, has said he will:

  • Notify the Local Plan Steering Group (LPSG) that the petition has been received (this has been done)
  • Seek input from all council members on how the council should respond
  • Ask the council planners for advice on how to respond
  • Prepare a draft response to be discussed at the LPSG at the end of September
  • Take the response to Cabinet at 7pm on 1 October, where we will be allowed to speak in the debate and the final decision will be made.

Of course other members of the public are allowed at Cabinet meetings, and would encourage as many people as possible to come. We have set up a Facebook invite on our Facebook page.

I have drafted my own suggestions as to how the council should respond and they will be the subject of another post.

Hart Council starts to take brownfield development more seriously

Derelict Offices in Fleet, Hampshire

Derelict Offices in Fleet, Hampshire

Hart District Council is due to consider a new paper designed to encourage development of brownfield land at the next meeting of the Cabinet on 3 September.

The paper contains some interesting proposals in preparation for the Local Plan including:

  • The Portfolio Holder for Planning be delegated authority to identify suitable “zones of residential opportunity areas” on sites or areas where there are vacant offices, including areas where planning permission has been granted for employment use but the development is not proceeding.  We presume this would include sites such as Bartley Wood, Sun Park, Ancells Farm and Pyestock.
  • Suspending policy RUR5, essentially lifting restrictions on converting agricultural buildings to residential use because the policy contravenes the NPPF.
  • Simplifying the administrative burden of converting offices to residential use.
  • Being more flexible on developer contributions whilst continuing to insist upon infrastructure funding and mitigation measures such as Suitable Alternative Natural Green Spaces (SANGs) when close to the Thames Valley Heath SPA.

We Heart Hart welcomes these proposals as a step in the right direction, however, when we submit our suggestions for appropriate responses to the petition, we will be suggesting some additional measures.

Of course, given Hart’s recent history of dismissing the brownfield development opportunities, we will have to satisfy ourselves that this paper is not simply paying lip-service to the Government agenda and ensure that real action follows.

Hart Council’s decision to drop controversial proposals covered in Get Hampshire

Hart District Council Offices

Hart District Council Offices

Hart Council’s decision to drop the controversial proposals to limit questions and restrict petitions, particularly about the Local Plan has been covered in Get Hampshire.

We are pleased to see that the local press is concerned about local democracy and again welcome Hart’s decision drop the  draconian limits on the questions it can be asked and restrict the petitions it will accept.

Do we really want to lose the harts from Winchfield, the heart of Hart?

Hart in Heart of Hart, Winchfield, Hart District, Hampshire

Roe deer in the Heart of Hart, Winchfield

Take a look at the lovely picture above, taken yesterday of a roe deer in Winchfield.

Hart District Council should think very carefully before concreting over our green fields and destroying the environment of the beautiful animals that lend their name to our district.

Surely it would be better to re-double the efforts to find brownfield sites to meet our housing needs.

Hart District Council responds to criticisms

Hart District Council Offices

Hart District Council Offices

We Heart Hart understands from reports of the Standards Committee meeting yesterday, that Hart Council have agreed to modify the proposals to limit questions and restrict petitions.  In a piece of good news, they have decided to abandon the proposals to ban certain types of question, but will issue guidelines to limit the length of questions to 100 words.

In another piece of good news, we also understand that Hart DC is also going to make some changes to its approach to the Local Plan and reinstate additional consultation steps into the process: one on a revised Options paper, one on a Draft Plan, and one on the Revised Draft before submission.  This will improve the position compared to what it was before they changes the Local Development Schedule back in February 2015.

This should give a proper opportunity to examine the alternative approaches to delivering the housing target and hopefully get “Option 4” the proposal to build a new town dropped completely.

We Heart Hart Petition submitted to Hart District Council

We Heart Hart Campaign Logo

We Heart Hart Campaign Logo

Last Saturday, we submitted the We Heart Hart petition to Hart District Council.  We chose this time so that the petition would be considered before the new proposed restrictions on petitions were able to come into force.  They have now acknowledged receipt of the petition and Council Leader, Stephen Parker will consult we me in due course.

Council rules state that petitions with more than 1,000 signatories will trigger a debate of the full Council.  At the time the petition was submitted there were 2,130 signatories.  This is nearly four times the number of people who responded to Hart’s consultation and more than 10 times the number of people who expressed a preference for a new town.  According to the Council Petition Scheme, the petition may also be debated by Cabinet.

The aims of the petition that all signatories signed up for were:

  • Demand that the Council develops a vision and strategy for Hart that retains its role as a rural, green hinterland for NE Hampshire that respects the separate character and identity of Hart’s settlements and landscapes and preserves the green spaces as amenity space for the urban settlements.

Please comment on this post or on our Facebook page or Twitter feed with your ideas on what we should say at the consultation and for content of the motion to be debated at Council.

Hart District Council question and petition proposals covered in local press

We Heart Hart in Fleet News and Mail 20 August 2015

We Heart Hart in Fleet News and Mail 20 August 2015

We Heart Hart in Basingstoke Gazette 20 August 2015

We Heart Hart in Basingstoke Gazette 20 August 2015

We are delighted that both the Fleet News and Mail and the Basingstoke Gazette have run stories on Hart District Council’s proposals to restrict questions and limit petitions.  Hopefully, this will help persuade the Council to work with We Heart Hart and Winchfield Action Group instead of trying to silence our proposals to improve the Local Plan.

Full images of the articles can be found on the links below:

Coverage in Fleet News and Mail August 20 2015: Claim of council ‘silencing critics’

Coverage in Basingstoke Gazette August 20 2015: Council’s question limit hit by campaign

Call for Hart Council to work with Winchfield Action Group and We Heart Hart

Cooperation between Hart District Council and We Heart Hart and Winchfield Action Group

Call for Hart District Council to work with We Heart Hart and Winchfield Action Group

Tristram Cary, spokesperson for Winchfield Action Group (WAG) has called for Hart District Council to work with groups like We Heart Hart and WAG in the preparation of the Local Plan instead of refusing to meet and seeking to suppress questions.

Tristram’s call came in an excellent email to the Standards Committee of Hart District Council, asking them to reject the proposals that seek to restrict the questions that can be put and limiting the petitions that can be served upon the Council.  We Heart Hart fully endorse Tristram’s stance which is re-produced in full below:

I wish to register my very strong objection to the proposal to restrict questions and petitions which are to be debated at the Standards Committee on Thursday.

I can understand that it is tiresome for Hart to have to deal with so many questions from the public, and I can understand the view that the questions are being used as a platform to state opinions of groups such as WAG and WeHeartHart. But so what? Isn’t the point of public participation at Council Meetings to allow opinions to be heard, and questions to be asked? Surely an hour a month isn’t a big price to pay for public involvement in the debate?

I would also like to point out that Mr Parker has said in his proposal that “the proper way to deal with such matters [ie planning matters] is to participate in the consultation exercise”. But Hart has decided (illegally in the view of Peter Village QC) to remove the Public Consultation on the Local Plan from the planning process.

As well as objecting to the proposal to restrict questions, I would like to make a more general point.I think that Hart’s attitude to the work of WAG and WeHeartHart has been dismissive. For instance Hart refuses to have a meeting with us to discuss the legal opinion, and the answers given to our questions and suggestions have been on the whole incomplete and unhelpful. Hart’s message appears to be “we have decided what we want to do and we are going to ignore your views to the greatest extent possible”. I suggest that Hart would do well to regard WAG and WeHeartHart as allies in the attempt to arrive at the best possible Local Plan for Hart, backed up by the strongest possible evidence base. WAG and WeHeartHart have got access to funds and expertise, and I see no reason why these resources should not be used in collaboration with Hart DC to do work that is in the common interest of the whole community. I am thinking of work packages such as a study of Brownfield site capacity in Hart and Rushmoor and an ecological/environmental study of Hart to better understand the value of the countryside.

The NPPF (para 155) requires councils to “engage in early and meaningful engagement and collaboration with neighbourhoods, local organisations and businesses…A wide section of the community should be proactively engaged, so that Local Plans, as far as possible, reflect a collective vision and a set of agreed priorities for the sustainable development of the area, including those contained in any neighbourhood plans that have been made”. I think that Hart has so far failed dismally to live up to the spirit of the NPPF. Hart’s engagement with WAG and WeHeartHart has been the exact opposite of proactive, and I think that a change of attitude is long overdue.

I would welcome a meeting between Hart DC and WAG/WeHeartHart to discuss how we might engage together in a more productive way.

Let us hope that Hart Council respond positively to this suggestion and build on the work we did to support the council with the Hop Garden Road (Owens Farm) Hook, appeal and the response to the Rushmoor Local Plan.

Hart Council seek to restrict questions and limit petitions

Hart Council take their inspiration from Joseph Stalin

Hart Council take their inspiration from Joseph Stalin

It is astonishing that in the year of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, after censoring questions at the July Council meeting, Hart Council is seeking to impose draconian limits on the questions it can be asked and restrict the petitions it will accept.

It appears that Hart Council has decided that the questions it is being asked about the Local Plan by We Heart Hart and Winchfield Action Group are not appropriate and it is now seeking to simply rule those questions inadmissible. In addition, Hart Council is trying to stop petitions being put to it that it deems unacceptable by saying:

“The Council welcomes questions from the public but more recently it has become clear that the nature, number and length of the questions being put to Council are not appropriate for that forum”

Examples of questions it is now seeking to rule out include questions about:

  • the questioner’s own particular circumstances,
  • matters which are the subject of legal or enforcement proceedings or an appeal to a tribunal or to a Government Minister or an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman,
  • personal circumstances or conduct of any Officer and Councillor or conditions of service of employees
  • activities and aims of a political party or organisation,
  • any matter relating to a planning application/decision, including about a development plan document or the community infrastructure levy.

Examples of petitions it wishes to rule inadmissible are petitions about:

  • a matter that is already, or is proposed to be, subject to public consultation (statutory or otherwise) to be carried out by the Council,
  • activities and aims of a political party or organisation,
  • the personal circumstances or conduct of any Officer and Councillor or conditions of service of employees,
  • any matter relating to a planning application/decision, including about a development plan document or the community infrastructure levy.

The effect of these restrictions mean that any parish council or campaign group (likely to be deemed political organisations) could not submit questions or petitions about controversial planning applications (e.g. Hop Garden Road, Urnfield, Watery Lane or Grove Farm). Moreover, these limits effectively preclude questions about the Local Plan (as this is a development plan document). Finally, these proposals would also preclude questions being asked and petitions being submitted about suspected wrongdoing of a councillor or officer.

These proposals seem to go against Hart Council’s own Code of Corporate Governance which has as its four key principles:

  • Openness: openness is required to ensure stakeholders can have confidence in the decision making and management processes of the Council.
  • Inclusiveness: an inclusive approach ensures that all stakeholders and have the opportunity to engage effectively in the decision-making processes and actions of the Council.
  • Integrity: is based upon honesty, selflessness and objectivity, and high standards of propriety and probity in the stewardship of public funds and management of the Council’s affairs.
  • Accountability: accountability is the process whereby the Council, members and staff are responsible for their decisions and actions regarding all aspects of the Council’s work.

Moreover, these proposals seem to go against the spirit of the legislation that introduced Petition Schemes to Local Government, which sets out the rationale for the legislation (emphasis mine):

7.1 The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 had as one of its aims the reinvigoration of local democracy, putting local authorities at the forefront of the drive to reconnect people with public and political decision-making.

7.2 While the Place Survey shows that 80 per cent of people are happy with the area they live in, satisfaction with the way their council runs things is low at 45 per cent. The perception in communities that people can influence decisions that affect their local area was found to be even lower. The duty to respond to petitions was conceived as one mechanism for addressing this. Signing a petition is one way for citizens to express their concerns and priorities to their local authority and the Citizenship Survey shows that petitions are the most popular and recognised form of civic action.

7.4 The Government’s view is that local people are more likely to participate in matters affecting their community if they are sure that their views will be listened to. In particular, they are more likely to organise or sign a petition if they are confident that it will be treated seriously, and that a response is guaranteed. Evidence from a systematic review of petitions reveals that petitions have the potential to empower individuals, to generate activity at the community level, and to impact on decision making. The extent to which petitions are able to realise this potential is largely dependent on the degree to which they are linked to a meaningful response mechanism.

It seems Hart Council only wants to respond to questions from people it agrees with and has no interest at all in accepting petitions that express a view it doesn’t agree with.  These proposals are a shameful subversion of local democracy and should be stopped.

The standards committee is due to debate these proposals on Thursday 20 August at Hart Offices at 4pm.  Please do go along if you can.  If you can’t go along in person, please email committeeservices@hart.gov.uk and the members of the Standards Committee:

Kenneth.Crookes@hart.gov.ukjohn.kennett@hart.gov.uksimon.ambler@hart.gov.ukjenny.radley@hart.gov.uk

to express your opposition to these proposals.