Fear and Loathing in Hart District

Fear and Loathing In Hart District

Fear and Loathing In Hart District (with due acknowledgement to Hunter S. Thompson)

Since I set up We Heart Hart, I have travelled quite a lot across the district (fortunately not swigging tequila and popping pills like the author of the book that inspired the title of this post), met with a number of parish councils and of course I have spent, as one of the councillors put it on Thursday, more time in the Hart Council chamber than some of the members.

Over the past few days I have been accused of lying, misleading people and posting inaccurate numbers.  Last night I was harangued at a parish meeting I attended about the leaflet that is dropping through letterboxes now because it didn’t make clear that the author was from Winchfield.  It took a good five minutes before I could get a word in edgeways to explain, that in fact I was from Hartley Wintney, and I didn’t really see my place of residence as being in any way relevant to opposing a new settlement in Hart.

I have been reflecting on these events, and a number of other interactions I have had over the past year and I must admit it has come as a bit of a shock to me to find such a high level of despair, disdain, denial and dysfunction at the heart of the institutions involved in creating our local plan.  I intend no personal criticism of those involved, because I know many are committed people, who are doing their best as a labour of love.  But at the same time, we need to acknowledge there are some serious issues.

Despair from a lady who had spent over 20 years fighting off various development proposals she disagreed with, but clearly without as much success as she would like and despair from residents who feel as though they have no say over deciding the “needs” of our district.

Disdain from senior councillors who give at best perfunctory answers to perfectly reasonable questions. Disdain from council officers who do their best to avoid answering FOI questions and disdain from a number of councillors who according to one senior councillor will not engage in the Local Plan process unless it affects their own ward.

Denial from a council that sought to limit and censor questions that made them uncomfortable and denial from parish councils who either don’t want to engage in neighbourhood planning or from a parish councillor who wished to ignore 1,800 new houses just to the east of his town’s settlement boundary, even though they were in the parish he served.

And dysfunction from a parish council that spent 20 minutes clearly disagreeing about something, with one faction obviously not in agreement with the other, but neither party actually explaining what the point of disagreement was, and certainly no-one proposing a solution.  But the bigger dysfunction, is in parish councils who simply want to pass the development hot potato to another parish and at the district level, it is apparently bad form for a member to ask a question from the floor to hold the executive to account, even when the plan is running two years behind the schedule set out after the last local plan failed at inspection.

I find it astonishing that otherwise sensible and well educated people can behave in this way and despair as to how anyone could think that a good local plan could emerge from such a situation.

I guess I have been lucky, that for most of my adult life, I have had the privilege of joining teams that were already high performing, or played my part in creating and leading high performance teams. I have noticed several key things that mark out good teams from bad ones.  The first is to have a common objective, the second is honesty and respect in communications, third trust in each other and fourth, no matter how bad a situation may be, you need to accept the truth of it for what it is, and then work to fix it, rather than pretend the issue doesn’t exist.  But above all, leadership is required to join it all together and provide some inspiration.

The local Tory party are as split on the Local Plan as the Parliamentary Labour Party, with rural members totally at odds with urban councillors.  The local Lib Dems are split too, with the Lib Dem County Councillor denouncing the idea of a new town, the local candidates for Hartley Wintney ward similarly coming out against a new town, but the sitting members all voting in favour of a new town in Winchfield in November 2014.  The only party with a consistent position, albeit one that I disagree with, is CCH.  There is no common objective for the district, just a set of petty rivalries between parishes.

So, what do we do about this?  Well, there’s a great quote from the book referred to above: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro”.  Well the going has certainly got weird, so it’s time for someone to turn pro.

First, I would like to see the council reaching out more to the electorate and asking us what we think are the key issues in the district and asking us whether we feel we “need” another 7,500 houses.  I would also like to see a focus on the regeneration of our town centres in the major settlements, like Fleet, Hook, Blackwater and Yateley.  Many councillors talk a lot about “lack of infrastructure”, but none of them have put forward any ideas on how we improve the infrastructure in the existing settlements.

Second, I would like to see some change in the Local Plan Steering Group Team.  They have all been at it for some time, no doubt many of them were part of the team that put forward the plan that failed in 2013 which has left them with scars.  It is also an all male group, so it would be good to see some of our female councillors appointed to the LPSG to bring a different dynamic to the group.  I really do think some training and group work on conflict resolution and effective conversations will help them and the whole council.

We also need to see some of the councillors lifting themselves up above their own wards and thinking strategically about what is best for the whole district.  Surely it cannot be sensible or sustainable to concrete over green fields, equivalent to 17 football pitches each year to meet our so called housing needs? Many of the councillors complain about poor planning decisions in the district in the past, but are showing precious little sign of learning lessons and changing the process. It is time for some real leadership and some proper vision, and if they don’t have that amongst their number, then they need to bring in some people who do.

We the electorate also need to take some responsibility for the people we elect, and in the medium term, look to elect some new blood to change the perspective and bring new talents.





Posted in Hampshire, Hart District Council, Hart Housing Options Consultation, Hart Local Plan, Lack of Vision, We Heart Hart Campaign, We Love Hart Campaign and tagged , , , , , .


  1. On balance, I would prefer it if councillors do contribute to the debate, if that is within the rules. However, I would say the standard of discussion on here has taken a turn for the worse since a certain individual has joined the group. Can I ask that everyone tries to confine their comments to challenging ideas that they think are flawed rather than insulting individuals.

    The diagram shows the different ways in which to disagree, some more civilised than others.

  2. How will a new settlement deliver much needed new infrastructure for existing towns? Answer, it won’t. Problems in existing towns will just get worse.

    In fact it is not clear to me how the infrastructure required for a new town will be delivered as the costs are much higher than reasonable expectations of developer contributions.

    We need a new approach to the Local Plan to see how we can address this fundamental problem

  3. I think the infrastructure point made here is one of many excellent points you bring up, David. We have heard – for the least year at least – that a new town will provide the infrastructure we need and that’s why we should do it. But even if we discount the whole issue related to funding a new town infrastructure, I am at a loss to understand how this will help those parts of Hart that are suffering at the moment. Will new roads, roundabouts and a school in Hartley Winchook help people living in Yateley or Fleet to get to work quicker in the morning? Absolutely not. In fact several million additional car journeys per year from 5000 new houses, routing along the roads from a new settlement to Fleet (Via CCH territory), Hook and Yateley will exacerbate the situation even more. The impact on the A30, the Odiham Bypass and the A323 Fleet Road will be huge.

    As you quite rightly said: ‘Many councillors talk a lot about “lack of infrastructure”, but none of them have put forward any ideas on how we improve the infrastructure in the existing settlements’. Thinking that a new settlement will bring them this infrastructure is just plain wrong.

    • Any additional brownfield housing built in existing settlements does not come with funds for additional infrastructure. Additional urban extensions do not come with funding to improve existing infrastructure in the towns.

      A new settlement on the other hand would only be possible if it came with new infrastructure – for which there us potential funding from developers as well as county, LEP, central government etc.

    • Nail on the head, Steve Forster, that is the reason HDC are pushing for a greenfield site! Not a good reason. Follow Ranil Jawardena’s lead and press Central Government for more finance to develop brownfields FIRST!

    • ‘Don’t speak and vote on a proposal where you have fettered your discretion. You do not have to withdraw, but you may prefer to do so for the sake of appearances.’ I think Steve has very much fettered his discretion. This taken from the Hart DC constitution on Councillor behaviour. He will accuse me now of stifling debate. Though Councillor your views seem so set in stone you are completely unwilling to listen to any other opinion. At least supply the testing results so we can have an informed discussion.

    • Sorry Sue B what exactly is the proposal you’re referring to where a vote is currently proposed? There is an important public consultation and I have a concern that some of the WHH partisan propaganda is incorrect – so I’m putting forward the contrary views promoted by others including Fleet and Church Crookham Society, Hook parish council and many others that thinks your views would be detrimental to residents of Hart. I also voice my personal informed opinion taking into account reasoned input.

      I’m voicing my personal opinion to add to the debate – which is encouraged.

      Are you also suggesting any councillor supporters of your campaign should be quiet? They’re certainly not keeping quiet. Nor would I suggest they should do so, much as I feel their views might be wrong.

      I also make clear in debates that I do listen to opinion – even yours. I’m encouraging debate, and informing people. You appear to be trying to stifle debate and silence discussion because it disagrees with your view. You’re doing exactly what David Turver denounces by trying go silence opinion. This is a democracy that allows free speech.

      My advice remains to all residents to read the info, and then make an informed decision and to respond to the consultation.

      I have said this before and I’ll repeat it every time you once again raise the same point, in response to your posts. I wouldn’t need to do this if you stopped naming me or saying incorrect things.

      Many people have commented to me that they are bored with your continued posts and appreciate a contrary view to what they now have referred to as your spamming posts. I don’t agree with them that but can appreciate why people may think they are.

    • In the business world If I’d done a consultation before a feasability study and so not proved what I was proposing actually was attainable, I’d have been fired. Hart have not provided enough information to support a new town and hence the strong arguments. They are carrying out a consultation without knowing all the facts – how much it will cost, which land is suitable (no testing results), even the true number of houses required is liable to change in the new year, infrastructure costs/requirements, impact study on local area. Even the new liesure centre would be too small for the huge population increase. As David said it is not a good proposition for anyone at the moment ‘yours’ or ‘ours’ Even you say you don’t agree at all with the scheme Steve though I’m still at a loss as to what you are referring, Surely it worries you.

    • Just to follow on from that. This is what WeLove Heart are doing. They are spending alot of time and effort proving it cannot work, gathering creditable facts and collating information. In essence they are doing your feasability study for you (Hart DC). Until Hart come back with some sensible proven facts to say it can work then the consultation is a mockery of the process.

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