The CCH members of cabinet defied a QC’s opinion voted to pass the Shapley Heath plan at Cabinet on 7 November. Despite strong opposition from members of the public, NE Hants CPRE and some councillors, the plan was passed unanimously by all members of Cabinet in attendance. Sponsor of the plan, Lib Dem Cabinet member for Place, Graham Cockarill wasn’t there as he is now standing for election to Parliament. The plan proposes to spend the £150K grant from the Government and looks to allocate up to a further £500K from reserves in the next financial year as part of the budget process.
Regular readers may recall CCH had written a letter to Ranil stating that 5,000 houses had been “secured for the next planning period”. The QC’s opinion that said that because this statement was manifestly untrue, that it demonstrated CCH councillors had closed their minds to a proper consideration of Shapley Heath and alternatives. In Andrew Tabachnik QC’s opinion, this amounted to predetermination.
The QC Opinion can be downloaded using the button below:
The Shapley Heath section of the meeting was quite long and stormy at times. The complete videos of the item can be found at the bottom of this article. The key points as we see them with video excerpts are set out below.
Argument about Shapley Heath QC Opinion
The first part of the public engagement started with a statement from the Rural Hart Association (RHA). The full statement is reproduced below:
For some years the Rural Hart Association has been frustrated by what we see as the bias of the Council in pushing for a new settlement near Winchfield without properly analysing the scope for alternative strategies, including urban regeneration.
Our frustration led us last month to commission an opinion from leading counsel about a letter sent to our MP by eleven CCH councillors in July. This letter asserts that “… 5000 more homes [have been] secured for the next planning period through Shapley Heath”. The opinion has been delivered to the Council with this statement, but in summary the QC concludes that:
- CCH’s assertion is totally misleading
- All CCH councillors must publicly retract their statement and must ensure that their future conduct demonstrates a genuine willingness to consider matters with an open mind
- Councillors who are unwilling to retract their statement must recuse themselves from decision-making relating to Shapley Heath
We therefore request that the councillors concerned recuse themselves from discussion and voting on Item 11.
In addition, we expect CCH councillors to take the following steps to comply with the QC’s opinion that they must in future demonstrate a genuine willingness to act with an open mind:
Abandon the current plans which focus exclusively on Shapley Heath
Implement an alternative work plan to examine objectively and impartially all reasonable alternative options to Shapley Heath, in line with the Planning Inspector’s recommendations. This should include brownfield development and urban regeneration.
Undertake in depth work to build a more robust policy to regenerate our urban centres in Fleet, Blackwater, Hook and Yateley. This work should in particular address policy ED5 (Fleet town centre) to tackle the growing outflow of retail and leisure expenditure from the district caused by under-investment in Fleet. It is essential to develop a new and comprehensive strategy for Fleet along the lines of neighbouring towns like Camberley and Farnham.
Undertake thorough master-planning for the main towns in Hart without which no proper assessment can be made of the true scope of town centre mixed-use regeneration
Meet the two developers who expressed interest in regenerating the Hart Shopping Centre to explore their proposals
Refrain from allocating Hart’s reserve funds to Shapley Heath unless and until it is reinstated into the Local Plan as the result of the necessary comparative assessment work called for by the Inspector.
Here is a video of the statement:
This led to a response to the QC’s opinion from CCH’s James Radley. Astonishingly, he stated that the letter to Ranil was just political rhetoric and implied it shouldn’t be taken at face value. How do we know when he’s just spouting rhetoric and when he really means what he says?
This then led to a row about the validity of the RHA QC’s opinion. The joint chief executive said that HDC had taken legal advice and were convinced that CCH’s actions did not amount to pre-determination. However, HDC’s advice did not address the key point that CCH had made untrue statements in their letter to Ranil. That was the key point that showed a “closed mind” and hence predetermination. In the end the Cabinet chose to ignore the QC’s opinion and the CCH councillors continued to participate in the debate and voted on the Shapley Heath Plan. According to the QC they should have either retracted or recused themselves. They did neither.
Substantive debate on Shapley Heath Plan
The meat of the public arguments against pursuing this plan now were made by RHA and CPRE NE Hants. RHA made further points setting out clearly that HDC should at least look at the option of urban regeneration.
And CPRE challenged the logic of looking at a new village that would deliver housing over and above what we need to build. Their initial statement can be found here, and their powerful supplementary statement can be seen on the video below:
Sadly, these arguments were ignored by Cabinet and they pressed on regardless. On the plus side, this builds the case that they have closed minds on the matter.
CCH inconsistencies on the Shapley Heath Plan
During the meeting CCH made a series of statements that contradicted what they had previously said. For instance, during the Cabinet meeting, Councillor James “it’s only rhetoric” Radley emphasised that this Shapley Heath plan was very different to the new town presented in the Local Plan.
But in the Shapley Heath Q&A on their Facebook page, they say that the two things are the same. So, which is it?
Q3. Is Shapley Heath the same as the New Settlement that was previously included in Hart’s Local Plan?
A3. Yes, they are the same. Whilst the Local Plan Inspector suggested HDC remove the New Settlement from our LP, this was not because he thought it an inappropriate solution to our future housing needs. Hart were keen to get the LP in place ASAP to avoid anymore developer led applications being successful at appeal. The Inspector recommended removal of the New Settlement to enable the LP to be adopted quickly. The New Settlement, evaluated together with other options for future housing, needed more detailed work and would have delayed the LP, leaving doors open for developers.
Secondly, Councillor Radley said that the Shapley Heath proposal won’t go forward if it is found that it isn’t viable.
However, the Inspector found (in para 33):
In addition, to my above concerns, there is little evidence to demonstrate that a site can actually be delivered in terms of infrastructure, viability and landownership within the identified AoS.
Winchfield Parish Council’s representations to the Inspector showed there were big issues on land ownership and other significant planning constraints. Moreover, in 2016, the Tory administration had dropped plans for the Winchfield new town due to concerns about flooding and infrastructure costs. Similar plans for a new town were dropped in 2012 after concerns about viability. How many times do they need to look at it and how much of our money do they need to spend before they listen?
It also appears as though CCH can’t make their mind up about the importance of rail infrastructure. Councillor James “it’s only rhetoric” Radley didn’t mention rail as part of his infrastructure shopping list. But then made great play of there being a railway station at Winchfield.
He seemed to be blissfully unaware of the parking chaos at Winchfield station on Thursday. This was exceptional, but it is by no means unusual for the car park to be full before 8am. Of course prior studies have shown that the railway station may well need to be moved to Murrell Green accommodate a further 5-10,000 houses.
Version Control Shenanigans
At the beginning of the meeting there was considerable confusion about the version of the document they were supposed to be reviewing. The joint Chief Executive insisted that the version they were reviewing had been in the public domain for the requisite 28 days on the “key decision” part of the website. But we downloaded it this morning and found that the document was created in the early afternoon on Thursday, so could not have been available to the public for the required amount of time. In fact, it seems as though multiple versions were available and it isn’t clear how we are supposed to know which one to review. This is just another example of Hart’s incompetence.
This is the video of the exchange:
The full videos of the Shapley Heath discussion can be found on the links below. Thanks to Councillor Steve Forster for making them available on his Facebook page.