Beware! Lib Dem Fake News

Lib Dem Fake News claims to have saved Winchfield

Lib Dem Fake News claims to have saved Winchfield

Quite astonishingly, the local Lib Dems have issued a Fake News leaflet claiming credit for the Winchfield New Town being removed from the Hart Local Plan.

In their leaflet, they say that County Councillor David Simpson and local campaigner Howard Kitto welcome the decision to remove the new town. To be fair, David Simpson has been a long-standing opponent of the new town.

However, the Lib Dem fake news leaflet fails to mention:

  • The Lib Dems were part of the administration that put forward the new town in the Local Plan. Indeed Lib Dem Councillor Graham Cockarill was and is the Portfolio head of Planning. In addition, David Neighbour is the Leader of the council who oversaw the policy.
  •  Every single Lib Dem Hart Councillor has voted in favour of the new town at every opportunity.
  • On the same night they made the announcement that the Inspector had found the new town unsound, they voted to keep £785,990 in next year’s budget for further work on the new town.
  • At the Cabinet that decided to withdraw the new town, Councillor Cockarill described the removal as “a bit of a defeat”

It is only after the Inspector found their plans unsound that they reluctantly removed the new town from the Local Plan. Look at the body language when they made the announcement, they were clearly sad to see it removed.

It will be interesting to see if they are delivering the same messages in Yateley and Fleet.

No wonder people have lost faith in politicians when they issue such blatant fake news.

Their full leaflet can be found on the links below:

Lib Dem Fake News 1

 

Lib Dem Fake News 2

Winchfield New Town Died at Cabinet

Winchfield New Town dead parrot

Winchfield New Town died at Cabinet

Winchfield New Town died at Cabinet on Thursday. Policy SS3 will be removed from the Local Plan in the modifications to be sent back to the Inspector. This is consistent with the meeting summons we reported on here.

So, we can finally say that the new town is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet its maker! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! It’s pushing up the daisies! The new town’s metabolic processes are now history! It’s off the twig! It’s kicked the bucket, Winchfield new town has shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! This is an ex-new town.

We understand that joint-CEO Daryl Phillips warned that it was imperative that the Council avoided any predetermination of the outcomes for the longer term. He declared that the Council should look at all options objectively and independently as instructed by the Inspector and that they should push back firmly on Surrey Heath to come to a final conclusion on their housing needs.

However, CCH councillors insisted that the new town is merely resting. Clearly they are pining for it to be reconsidered at a later point. We understand that CCH councillors collectively expressed their disappointment with the loss of Policy SS3 and that it should not be kicked into the long grass. They believe the Council should continue to evaluate it in the longer term.

We understand that at a meeting of Blackwater Valley Transport Advisory Committee a few days ago, CCH Councillor, Alan Oliver said:

The death of the new settlement has been exaggerated so Network Rail should carry on looking at expanding Winchfield Station

We also understand that the leader of the Conservatives suggested that Autumn 2019 would be the best time to start discussing the next steps and whether to extend the area of search or consider any other options. [Update: He meant options other than the new settlement as per a motion he placed on 4 January 2018 at Council]

Clearly, there are people who are deeply wedded to the new town idea. We need to work hard to demonstrate that the best long term future for Hart is urban regeneration. This will revitalise our town centres and protect our greenfields as amenity space for leisure and recreation.

Finally, we understand that the understatement of the night came from councillor Cockarill. He described the climb down by Hart Council as “a bit of a defeat”.

CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

In a quite astonishing development, Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart CCH have doubled down on their Winchfield new town bias.

In an update to their website since last night, they have added the following paragraph:

The pressure for new development never goes away and a new settlement is the most effective way to absorb these central government imposed demands while delivering much needed infrastructure. If we don’t start the process of planning for this now we will forever face the blight of urban extensions over and over again.

Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart CCH Doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

This comes despite the Inspector saying:

I am of the view that a significant level of further supporting work would be required for Policy SS3 to be found sound in its current form, which would need to include appropriate and proportionate area/site assessments, infrastructure considerations, viability testing, evidence in support of deliverability and further SA work, which would need to be done in an impartial manner with sufficient evidence to support its findings and comparisons with alternative options.

Of course, the Inspector said that their infrastructure plans lacked substance. So, they couldn’t even demonstrate the benefits of their main reason for supporting a new town.

The work simply hasn’t been done to demonstrate that a new town at Winchfield is the most effective way of delivering additional housing growth or infrastructure beyond the plan period. Moreover, the Inspector says that even the additional work might not show the new town being found sound:

I am also mindful that following further work, there can be no guarantee that the evidence would support it as the most appropriate long-term growth strategy or that Policy SS3 would be found sound.

We simply cannot trust CCH to be impartial on the matter if and when the additional work is carried out.

Alternatives to a new town

There is an alternative to both a new town and urban extensions. That is urban regeneration.

The Local Plan acknowledges that a big problem facing Hart is that it has not kept up with its neighbouring districts. Hart’s shops, restaurants and leisure services are losing out to the competition. This is openly acknowledged in the Local Plan:

  • The outflow of retail expenditure from the District…is relatively high and is likely to remain high in the future”: Local Plan para 65.

The main cause is that no effort has been made to invest in the re-generation of Fleet (where 40% of Hart’s population lives) or Blackwater, Hook or Yateley. This is also openly acknowledged in the Plan:

  • The main centres in Hart have not kept pace with other centres in the wider area. Other centres have strengthened and improved their offering through investment and development. Failure to invest in the centres will see them continue to fall in the rankings”. Retail, Leisure and Town Centre Study Part 1 para 2.15
  • The challenge for Fleet specifically will be to secure investment so that it can compete with the comparable towns in neighbouring districts. All the neighbouring towns are subject to regeneration or expansion projects”. Local Plan Para 66

It is to be welcomed that Hart Council are removing the new town from the Local Plan. Any plan for the future must include the option of regenerating our urban centres. This needs to be properly and impartially evaluated.

Council to remove Winchfield new town from Local Plan

Hart Council to Remove Winchfield New Town from Local Plan

Hart Council to Remove Winchfield New Town from Local Plan

Hart Council have called an emergency Cabinet Meeting for 14 March 2019 to remove Winchfield new town from the Local Plan.

The meeting has one main agenda item which is to consider the report of the Inspector into the Local Plan examination. The main recommendation is as follows:

Hart Cabinet remove Winchfield New Town from Local Plan

Hart Cabinet remove Winchfield New Town (Policy SS3) from Local Plan

The main paper for discussion can be found here.

Interestingly, the Council implicitly admit that the prior work into the new town was not carried out impartially. This is a quote from section 4.4.1 of the paper before Cabinet:

The Inspector is of the view that a significant level of further supporting work would be required for Policy SS3 to be found sound in its current form, which would need to include appropriate and proportionate area/site assessments, infrastructure considerations, viability testing, evidence in support of deliverability and further Sustainable Appraisal (SA) work, which would need to be done in an impartial manner with sufficient evidence to support its findings and comparisons with alternative options. Any further SA work would also need to include additional standalone consultation. This would all lead to a significant delay in the examination, whilst it was paused, to allow such work to be undertaken. Further hearing sessions would be needed. In the interim, there is a risk that Inspectors considering major planning appeals such as Pale Lane and Owen’s Farm might attach much less weight to the Plan notwithstanding the Inspector’s letter, because of the uncertainty the additional work would give rise to.

This is quite a stunning admission and backs up our demand for heads to roll over the way the previous assessment was carried out. It is simply unacceptable for the Sustainability Appraisal (SA) to have been biased by officers or councillors.

Meanwhile, there’s ructions in a bunker in deepest Church Crookham.

CCH can’t quite bring themselves to admit that the Inspector has asked for the new town to be removed from the Local Plan:

Hart’s Local Plan
​​
Following the Local Plan enquiry in the autumn of last year, the planning inspector has written to Hart to suggest that he will find our plan sound and acknowledges that we have sufficient housing supply – such that we no longer need to fear planning by appeal.

This is fantastic news for the people of Hart who have faced years of unconstrained planning blight because the previous administration failed to knuckle down and face up to the arduous task of getting a sound plan drafted, supported by sufficient evidence and compliant with national planning policies. Hart has not had a new Local Plan since 1996, which accounts for why we have struggled to defend many planning appeals in recent years.

It is disingenuous therefore for some politically motivated commentators to be painting this as if it is some kind of failing. It is a major strategic and meaningful win for the people of Hart. The inspector, despite some of the misinformation doing the rounds, has also identified that a new settlement is an appropriate option for Hart to consider pursuing. A new settlement would in future years deliver housing with the necessary infrastructure which has been so sadly lacking from most of the new bolt on urban extensions of recent years. No new secondary school and no increased capacity on our local roads being prime examples.

At long last Hart are on the cusp of adopting a sound local plan which will protect our environment and quality of life for years to come – don’t let any one try to detract from this critically important achievement.

http://www.cchart.org.uk/ (scroll down below the free parking u-turn)

Local Plan Examination: Heads Must Roll!

Hart Local Plan Examination is damning: Heads must roll

Hart Local Plan Examination is damning: Heads must roll

As regular readers will recall, the Council announced the preliminary results of the Hart Local Plan Examination a couple of days ago. We have now had time to read the detailed letter from the Inspector and form some conclusions.

The purpose of this post is to summarise the Inspector’s preliminary findings and suggest our own next steps for the Local Plan. In short, the Inspector’s report is damning and heads must roll.

Summary of Local Plan Examination Preliminary findings

First, the Council’s characterisation of “a couple of issues in relation to the Local Plan” understates the ferocity of the Inspector’s criticisms by quite some margin. The Inspector’s full report can be found here.

His criticisms of Policy SS3 and the area of search for the new settlement are deep and comprehensive. He says:

I have a number of fundamental concerns with regard to the soundness of Policy SS3.

He lays out concerns about infrastructure, saying the plans lack substance. He also points out there’s a large tract of land in the middle of the Area of Search is not and will not be available. But he reserves his most scathing attack for the Sustainability Appraisal (SA). Even though there were concerns raised about the legal compliance of the document, these don’t matter, because the document itself was so bad.

Far from being a “couple of issues”, these criticisms explode a cruise missile right at the heart of the Council’s flagship policy.

The criticism of the SA is damning. Hart submitted two sustainability appraisals, one before submission and one after.  Of the first, the Inspector says:

I am not of the view that the pre-submission SA, in its own right, appropriately or robustly considers reasonable alternatives to a new settlement as a long-term growth strategy

The second SA did test reasonable alternatives, but inappropriately. The Inspector cites several examples:

  • The ranking of Option 1b (the new settlement) “as the best performing under heritage is not justified”.
  • For land and other resources, the ranking of Option 1b “is also therefore not, in my view, robust”.
  • The Inspector decided that “the decision not to rank the options in terms of flood risk to be very questionable”.
  • On landscape issues the Inspector concluded:

Option 1b was ranked joint highest with Option 1a. However, it is unclear why this is the case, given that the proposed new settlement would result in the development of large areas of open countryside and Option 1a already benefits from planning permission and is largely previously developed land. Further, the post submission SA notes that Pale Lane is ‘relatively unconstrained’, but despite this and it being a smaller site / potential development, Option 3a is ranked lower than Option 1b.

  • The Inspector has this to say on the climate change ranking:

Option 1b has been ranked the highest under the category climate change. This is as a result of the potential for the proposed new settlement to deliver a district heating system. However, there is little evidence to suggest that this is a feasible or realistic option that is being actively pursued by the site promoters. I consider this raises doubt about the appropriateness of such a ranking.

  • The ranking for the impact on water was also criticised by the Inspector.
  • In conclusion on the SA the Inspector said:

In my judgement the scoring of Option 1b above or equal to other options is not justified by the evidence. As a result, I consider that Policy SS3 and its supporting text are not justified, as, on the currently available evidence, it cannot be determined that it represents the most appropriate long-term growth strategy.

I consider that the post submission SA is therefore not robust and should not be relied upon in support of the Plan.

In addition, the Inspector clearly states:

Given my earlier findings in terms of the housing requirement, Policy SS3 is not required for the Plan to be sound and, in light of my comments above, I consider that the most appropriate course of action would be to remove it (along with any other necessary subsequent changes) from the Plan through Main Modifications (MMs). This would allow the Plan to progress towards adoption without any significant delay to the examination process.

Substantially all of these points were made by We Heart Hart and Winchfield Parish Council during the consultation process. So, all the issues were known to Hart Council before submitting the plan for examination, yet they chose to press on with the doomed policy. In effect, the Council has been caught red-handed trying to gerrymander the SA in what looks to us like a clear case of policy-based evidence making.

It is true that the Inspector has left open the door for the new town to return in future. But this is conditional upon the new town being considered properly alongside all other options for long term growth beyond 2032.

I consider that it would not be unsound for the Plan to retain the Council’s aspirations to plan for long-term needs beyond the Plan period, which could include the delivery of a new settlement. But, the Plan should clearly state that this, as a growth option, would need to be fully considered and evidenced in a future (potentially early or immediate) review of the Plan or a subsequent DPD.

I am of the view that a significant level of further supporting work would be required for Policy SS3 to be found sound in its current form, which would need to include appropriate and proportionate area/site assessments, infrastructure considerations, viability testing, evidence in support of deliverability and further SA work, which would need to be done in an impartial manner with sufficient evidence to support its findings and comparisons with alternative options.

[Update 5/3/2018] But there is a significant caveat from the Inspector:

I am also mindful that following further work, there can be no guarantee that the evidence would support it as the most appropriate long-term growth strategy or that Policy SS3 would be found sound.

[/Update]

Budget Impact of New Town Planning

In addition to the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of pounds already spent, we should also note that in the same Council meeting, they agreed to spend £785,990 on the new settlement in the next financial year (Paper B Appendix 3). Residents might reflect on the other important services that might be delivered with this money, like free-parking in Fleet to boost retail footfall.

Hart Council 2019-20 budget for new settlement

Hart Council 2019-20 budget for new settlement

In summary, we have a Council that has botched its flagship policy, had it found unsound but is proposing to squander even more of our hard-earned council tax on the same failed policy.

Next Steps after the Local Plan Examination

The first and most obvious point is that we need to get the Local Plan over the line as soon as possible. This means that the Council should abandon Policy SS3 immediately and agree to take Surrey Heath’s unmet need. They should reply to the Inspector forthwith, agreeing to his demands and get on with changing the plan to make it sound.

This is necessary to protect Pale Lane and Owens Farm in Hook and any other planning appeals that might come along.

Before any further review of the plan to identify and evaluate properly the options for long term growth beyond the plan period, root and branch reform is required.

Root and Branch Reform – Heads Must Roll

Let’s take a look at what is required. First, let’s look at the members.

Liberal Democrats

Hart Local Plan Examination: Liberal Democrats David Dave Neighbour in the pocket of CCH James Radley

Liberal Democrats in the pocket of CCH

The Portfolio Head for Planning, Graham Cockarill and the Council Leader, David Neighbour have allowed themselves to be the puppets of Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart (CCH). They have preened themselves in positions of power whilst presiding over the car-crash that is Policy SS3. They have wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds, wasted precious time and put at risk more of our green fields. Trying to position the Inspector’s report as a success with only a couple of minor issues to resolve, simply will not wash.

They have lost all credibility and authority and should immediately resign their Cabinet positions and consider whether they should continue in their role as Councillors. Hopefully, their Yateley electors will see through their ineptitude and bring down the guillotine on their political careers.

Community Campaign Hart

Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart screwing up Hart Planning since 2004

Completely Concrete Hart screwing up Hart Planning since 2004

Then we have the puppeteers in CCH. The main protagonists are James Radley and Alan Oliver. Their track record is woeful. The then ruling Conservatives (who are far from blameless in this affair) had a draft Local Plan, without the new town, in late-2016. CCH scuppered that plan by insisting that a new option to include the new town be included. This was even though surprise, surprise, Winchfield had failed testing due to concerns about flooding and lack of infrastructure. This delayed the Local Plan, put Pale Lane and Bramshill at risk and wasted even more money.

They persisted with the lost cause appeal against Grove Farm/Netherhouse Copse, wasting probably over £100,000. Our questions to Council have been censored because they found them uncomfortable (see here and here). They have dismissed We Heart Hart’s concerns, that have now been proven to be right, as “Trump-like diatribes”, “misinformation and outright lies”. They said in Fleet News that they would deliver an “infrastructure-led” Local Plan, yet the plan contains only threadbare infrastructure proposals, with big gaps in costing and funding. Moreover, the Inspector has dismissed the new town partly on the grounds that infrastructure plans lacked substance.

CCH have obstructed brownfield development and won’t even consider urban regeneration seriously. Their pig-headed delusion has resulted in the new town plans being shredded in public by the Inspector. CCH have been revealed as an empty vessel that makes a lot of noise but has no substance. They should immediately resign their Cabinet positions and consider their positions as Councillors. Even Church Crookham electors might begin to recognise the pattern of failure and remove them at the ballot box.

Hart Council Officers

We cannot ignore the role of the officers in this fiasco. In 2012, they recognised that a new town at Winchfield would require new studies, more land, infrastructure assessment and testing. Seven years on, and all that work has either not been completed or failed. We should remember that their 2013 Local Plan failed at Inspection. They too have pursued inappropriate appeals that were doomed to failure. In 2015, they said that there was capacity for only 450 dwellings on brownfield land. Since then permission has been granted for thousands of homes at Hartland Park, Sun Park and many office conversions. Their estimate was out by a factor of at least 5.

They admitted at the Examination that they have been working with the developers on the new town plan for over four years. Now they have been caught out gerrymandering the SA. All this wasted time and money has resulted in their flagship policy ending in abject failure. One must question their judgement, independence and ability to offer sound advice to members and residents.

It is time for a complete replacement of the Planning Team, starting at the top with the joint-Chief Executive.

 

It is only after getting rid of the dysfunctional Cabinet and the failed Planning team that we can start to plan properly for the future beyond the plan period with fresh ideas.  This should include a proper assessment of the regeneration of our urban centres as a much more palatable option than unnecessarily concreting over more of our precious green fields.