A paper will be put to Overview and Scrutiny next week, asking for a multi-year £500K Shapley Heath slush fund. It is clear that Hart Council are intending to press ahead with the Shapley Heath/Winchfield new town despite removing it from the Local Plan. This builds upon the £150K of funding recently allocated by the Government.
There are a number of issues with this proposal:
- Goes against the recommendations of the Inspector
- Trojan horse approach
- Flawed Governance
- Lax financial control
Shapley Heath Slush Fund goes against the Inspector recommendations
The O&S paper clearly doesn’t follow all of the recommendations of the Planning Inspector. The paper only partially acknowledges the findings of the Inspector.
It doesn’t include mention of one of the key recommendations that said:
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.
The council are clearly not carrying out the wide ranging site assessments, viability testing and SA work and they explicitly rule out considering alternative locations.
In addition, the council acknowledges that what they are doing falls outside the normal planning process:
This is simply riding roughshod over the planning process and the Local Plan Examination findings. It is not acceptable.
Shapley Heath Trojan Horse
It is clear that this proposal is a Trojan Horse to be used to push through the unnecessary new town. In the main body of the report they use soft words like “test the Garden Community opportunity as a possible future growth option”. However, the detail of the Terms of Reference for the Garden Community Board shows that they are intending to deliver the Shapley Heath new town.
Here are some examples:
- The Garden Community Board (the Board) will have overall responsibility for steering the delivery of the Garden Community project
- The Board will champion the Garden Community project and its delivery
- To champion the Garden Community and its delivery
- To facilitate and promote joined-up delivery
The Garden Community Board is made up of a vast number of people.
This includes the Cabinet members for “Place” (aka Planning) and Housing; the group leaders of each political party; the joint Chief executive and the chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny. This is substantially all of the senior member of the council and officers. Their role is to “champion the Garden Community and its delivery”. Apparently nobody has a role to review and challenge what is going on. Somebody should be checking ongoing compliance with the Planning Inspector’s recommendations, planning law and good governance. This is a recipe for the project to become a self-serving law unto itself, effectively accountable to nobody, because everyone is tasked with “championing delivery”.
Shapley Heath Slush Fund: Lax Financial Control
On the plus side, the paper returns the previously allocated £786K of funding to reserves. However, the paper calls for “a £500K budget [to be] allocated to the Joint Chief Executive to utilise for expertise and resources to help the Council make informed choices associated with the Garden Community”. In addition, this money is expected to be spent over a number of years.
In other words, a multi-year slush fund. This is particularly egregious in that the paper only identifies £155K of spending requirement at the moment.
Surely it would be better for money to be allocated when required to produce a specific deliverables. It is far too lax to grant discretionary powers to spend such a large amount of money over many years without knowing what they are going to get for the money.