Winchfield Parish Council demolishes the new town idea in their response to the Local Plan Consultation

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

Winchfield Parish Council (WPC) have submitted their response and covering letter (see downloads below) to Hart Council’s Local Plan consultation and effectively demolished all of the arguments supporting Hart’s new town idea.  The response was pulled together with the help of professional planners at John Boyd Planning Associates.

There are four main planks to WPC’s argument:

  1. Lack of evidence to justify the need for a new settlement
  2. Winchfield is not a suitable location for a new settlement
  3. A new settlement is not a viable approach
  4. There should be more of a focus on alternatives such as brownfield development and dispersal

The lack of evidence is demonstrated by the fact that Hart has not yet consulted upon the issues recommended by Peter Village QC namely, employment, retail, transport, and infrastructure. Moreover, it is premature and illogical to be conducting the consultation now when the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) is being revised and we don’t know what the Objectively Assessed Need is going to be. They also note the work done by Alan Wenban-Smith that seriously challenged the numbers in the existing SHMA.

The challenge to the suitability of Winchfield as a location is demonstrated by the significant barriers to delivery outlined by Hart themselves such as education, transport and foul water drainage. They also point out that the main argument used in favour of a settlement at Winchfield, the presence of a railway station, is undermined by the suggestion that the station would have to be relocated to support the new town. There are also significant doubts about the capacity of the available sites to accommodate a new settlement of sufficient size to be viable, especially when one considers the environmental constraints such as SSSIs and SINCs as well as the space that will have to be found for SANGs, shops, car-parks, schools and recreational facilities. Not only that, but the disparate nature of the sites will make it very difficult to plan a coherent and compact nuclear settlement.

WPC also challenge the viability of a new settlement by pointing out the massive costs of infrastructure with no evidence being presented to indicate how these costs would be met.  The NPPF (para 47 & 173) calls for housing and infrastructure to be planned together, so if it cannot be demonstrated that the right infrastructure can be funded and built, then the whole new town idea could be rejected by an inspector and the Local Plan found unsound.

WPC’s submission welcomes Hart’s belated focus on brownfield development, but criticises them for ignoring an important study by Stonegate Homes, the further opportunities presented by the changes to permitted development rights and the results of Hart’s own findings of new “Zones of Brownfield Opportunity”.  They also point out that Hart’s ‘Economic Development Strategy’ (2015) identifies that the District Council must direct its resources to urban regeneration, and that focusing growth in and adjacent to Hart’s main settlements would
boost investment in infrastructure and regeneration in the locations where it is needed most and help close the £78m funding gap.

Finally, they say that it would be inappropriate to try and meet the housing needs of our ageing population through a new town option.

All in all, this is an eloquent and devastating attack on the whole idea of a new town and is very much in-line with what We Heart Hart has been saying for months.  We can only hope that the councillors will take heed of such an important report from professional planning consultants and get the Local Plan back on track to being found sound at inspection.

 

Cover letter:

Winchfield Parish Council Cover Letter

Full response:

Winchfield Parish Council Local Plan Consultation response

response  covering letter

Please respond to the Hart Local Plan consultation by 18 March 2016

Hurry up, time is running out to respond to the Hart Council consultation about the Local Plan.

The consultation has now closed

The deadline for submissions to Hart Council’s Local Plan consultation is tomorrow, Friday 18th March.  So, please do respond.

Here is a quick reminder of the key arguments to help you make up your mind on how to respond:

First, there is a brownfield solution to meet our remaining housing needs that will not require either a new town or new urban extensions. The proposed densities in the brownfield option are not at all demanding, with an average density on the SHLAA sites of around 25 dwellings per hectare.  The proposed densities on the vacant office blocks are no different to some developments that Hart has already permitted on Fleet Road, such as the new McCarthy and Stone development.  Our proposals do not include Pyestock (aka Hartland Park), which could deliver even more houses on brownfield sites into the future if Hart Council is successful in reallocating that site for housing.

Remember that Hart Council themselves said back in September that brownfield capacity was 1,800 units and now they have miraculously lost 75% of them.  Since then, more sites have been identified and Hart has started to work with Government to build a brownfield register.

Second, we need to take a strategic view of the future and recognise that continuing to concrete over green fields equivalent to 25 football pitches each year is not at all sustainable and our children and grandchildren would not thank us for doing that.

The advantages of a brownfield solution are:

  • It preserves the very countryside that makes Hart such a great place to live,
  • Produces a greener solution, making better use of existing infrastructure and more efficient housing,
  • Delivers more of the smaller, more affordable housing of the types that we need to meet the needs of our young people aspiring to gain a foothold on the housing ladder,
  • Delivers more specialist accommodation for the elderly in the right places for them as well as freeing up larger properties for growing families,
  • Delivers infrastructure funding to existing communities where there is currently a £78m funding deficit
  • Lower risk of delivery because it is spread across a large number of sites with multiple developers

Of course, the new town proposal that is in the consultation has been undergoing testing for over a year now, and has identified a number of significant barriers including education, transport and foul water drainage.  The evidence to date shows the new town is simply not viable because the costs of the infrastructure required for a new town are astronomical and would never be met by developer contributions. One of the main arguments used in favour of a settlement at Winchfield, the presence of a railway station, is undermined by the suggestion that the station would have to be relocated to support the new town. If Hart were to choose the new town option, it runs the risk of not passing inspection because infrastructure delivery could not be guaranteed.

Finally, whilst we hope that the new Strategic Housing Market Assessment, (SHMA) when it is eventually delivered in June will result in a lower housing target for Hart, Rushmoor and Surrey Heath. But until then, the threat of Hart having to build 3,000 for those districts is very real.  Support for a new town will create capacity to build these extra houses which will mean we will end up with the worst of all worlds, a new town, urban extensions and dispersal across the district.

So, we urge all residents of Hart to reject a new town, reject urban extensions and get behind a brownfield solution and give Hart Council further encouragement to step up their efforts in this regard by responding to the consultation and putting support for a brownfield solution in the comments.

If you responded to the previous consultation and gave your email address, you should have been contacted by the council asking you whether you want to re-submit your response to the new consultation.  If you have received that e-mail, we recommend you re-submit your prior submission.  This can be done here.

If either you did not respond to the last consultation, want to modify your submission or you did not give your email address before, then you will need to submit a brand new response here. Please make sure all of your friends and family respond too.

We have created a dedicated consultation page and updated our two guides to responding to the consultation that are available on the downloads below. The comments are designed to be cut and pasted into the boxes provided. It will be very powerful if you could edit the comments into your own words. Please do find time to respond to the consultation and play your part in saving our countryside.

Full version:

Responses to Local Plan Consultation

2 Minute version:

Respond to Local Plan Consultation in 2 minutes

Response to Face IT article in Fleet News and Mail

 

Vacant Block at Ancells Farm, Fleet, Hampshire

FACE IT have been quoted in this week’s Fleet News & Mail, claiming that the “urban extension option may sound like a ‘brownfield’ solution but would actually mean an extra 2,173 homes being built on green fields in Fleet and Hook”.

It does appear that all of the efforts they have put into their campaign around the Hart Council’s Housing Option Consultation has exhausted them to such an extent that they now misunderstand the difference between types of development because nobody is arguing that urban extensions are somehow brownfield development in disguise.

They make spurious claims about school places, after making up their own estimate of how many extra school places might be required without doing a proper population projection.  Note that Hampshire County Council have not put in place any plans beyond 2018, are forecasting a surplus of secondary school places at that time and a reduction in the birth rate as well as admitting that Hart schools are educating many children from outside the district.

They also make some claims about the scale of development that has occurred in Fleet, Church Crookham and Hook and about how many houses would end up being built around Fleet and Hook under each of the options Hart has put forward. It is not clear where they get their numbers from, because they don’t tally with the figures we put together.

However, nobody would dispute that Hook in particular has seen a big rise in housing in both absolute and relative terms. But what we find difficult to understand is why Hook’s Neighbourhood Planning team and Parish Council are advocating the new town option as their first choice which would deliver more than 1,800 houses in Hook Parish and effectively coalesce Hartley Wintney, Winchfield and Hook into a giant conurbation that might be named Hartley Winchook. This is more houses than the urban extension they oppose (730 houses), more than the dispersal option put forward by Hart Council (204 houses) and more than the brownfield solution put forward by We Heart Hart (only 57 new dwellings to be permitted).

FACE IT rightly say that the combination of Fleet, Church Crookham, Elvetham Heath and Ewshot (greater Fleet) has seen a lot of new housing in absolute terms over recent years. However, this is only part of the story as all parts of the district have seen significant development. When you look at the amount of new housing in proportion to size, the percentage increase for greater Fleet over the planning period of 2011-2031 is forecast to be around 17% for the dispersal and urban extension options and 14% with the new town option. This is below the average for the whole district at 21%, 18% and 18% respectively for each option and well below the percentage increases for places like Hartley Wintney which is forecast to see 34%, 39% and 21% increases for each of the options put forward by Hart.

The brownfield option that We Heart Hart has put forward has the potential to meet all of the remaining housing need and results in a more balanced distribution across the district in proportion to the size of existing settlements.  Our solution would result in a 23% increase for the greater Fleet area, 22% for Hartley Wintney and 27% for the smaller parishes that include Winchfield.

The proposed densities in the brownfield option are not at all demanding, with an average density on the SHLAA sites of around 25 dwellings per hectare.  The proposed densities on the vacant office blocks are no different to some developments that Hart has already permitted on Fleet Road, such as the new McCarthy and Stone development.  Our proposals do not include Pyestock (aka Hartland Park), which could deliver even more houses on brownfield sites into the future if Hart Council is successful in reallocating that site for housing.

We do agree with FACE IT, that we need to take a strategic view of the future, but we disagree on what that strategic vision might be.  In our view, continuing to concrete over green fields equivalent to 25 football pitches each year is not at all sustainable and our children and grandchildren would not thank us for doing that.

The advantages of a brownfield solution are:

  • It preserves the very countryside that makes Hart such a great place to live,
  • Produces a greener solution, making better use of existing infrastructure and more efficient housing,
  • Delivers more of the smaller, more affordable housing of the types that we need to meet the needs of our young people aspiring to gain a foothold on the housing ladder,
  • Delivers more specialist accommodation for the elderly in the right places for them as well as freeing up larger properties for growing families,
  • Delivers infrastructure funding to existing communities where there is currently a £78m funding deficit
  • Lower risk of delivery because it is spread across a large number of sites with multiple developers

Of course, the new town proposal that is in the consultation has been undergoing testing for over a year now, and has identified a number of significant barriers including education, transport and foul water drainage.  The costs of the infrastructure required for a new town are astronomical and would never be met by developer contributions. If Hart were to choose the new town option, it runs the risk of not passing inspection because infrastructure delivery could not be guaranteed.

We hope that the new Strategic Housing Market Assessment, (SHMA) when it is eventually delivered in June will result in a lower housing target for Hart, Rushmoor and Surrey Heath. But until then, the threat of Hart having to build 3,000 for those districts is very real.  Support for a new town will create capacity to build these extra houses which will mean we will end up with the worst of all worlds, a new town, urban extensions and dispersal across the district.

So, we urge all residents of Hart to reject a new town, reject urban extensions and get behind a brownfield solution and give Hart Council further encouragement to step up their efforts in this regard by responding to the consultation and putting support for a brownfield solution in the comments.

We have created a dedicated consultation page and updated our two guides to responding to the consultation that are available on the downloads below. The comments are designed to be cut and pasted into the boxes provided. It will be very powerful if you could edit the comments into your own words. Please do find time to respond to the consultation and play your part in saving our countryside.

Full version:

Responses to Local Plan Consultation

2 Minute version:

Respond to Local Plan Consultation in 2 minutes

Hart Council flying blind on meeting the needs of the young and the elderly

Hart Council Flying Blind on Housing Requirements

It has emerged that Hart Council have no effective way of monitoring how many dwellings of different types that have been built or permitted as part of the Local Plan. They have admitted that essentially they are flying blind and do not know how many 1 & 2-bed properties have been built or permitted and similarly do not know how many specialist units for the elderly are in the pipeline. This is despite the fact that the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) is very clear on how many homes of different types have to be built as part of the overall 7,534 requirement.

We asked questions at Council about this on 28 January and received short shrift, with the chairman refusing to allow the question about 1 & 2-bed homes to be put, and the question about accommodation for the elderly was not answered.  We followed up with FOI requests on both questions and have been told that the the information was available on Hart’s Planning portal.  It transpires that what they mean by this is that they expect members of the public to wade through hundreds of planning applications and hundreds of building control records to manually collate and report on the data, and even then, not all of the data required to answer the questions is available.

At first, we thought this was just obfuscation on the part of the council, but subsequent discussions with officers has revealed that Hart Officers would have to do exactly the same work to get at the answers.

What is particularly astonishing is that none of the councillors appear to have any interest at all in this and appear to be content to allow the council to fly blind. We don’t think this approach will stand up to scrutiny by an inspector, because the SHMA is very clear on the different types of housing that needs to be built.

To re-cap, according to the current Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA), Hart needs to build 7,534 dwellings in the plan period running from 2011-2032.

The SHMA is also very clear on the sizes and types of housing that needs to be built, including the number of affordable homes for the young and specialist housing for the elderly.

Hart Surrey Heath and Rushmoor SHMA Figure 9.8

Hart Surrey Heath and Rushmoor SHMA Figure 9.8

First, the quantity of houses that needs to be built by the number of bedrooms is covered in Figure 9.8, reproduced above. Working through the arithmetic reveals that we need to build around 3,800 1 & 2-bed dwellings, using Hart’s target of 40% affordable. Hart has built or permitted around 4,600 dwellings since 2011 and has no idea what the split is by number of bedrooms, and so has no idea how many more smaller, starter properties need to be built out of the remaining 2,934 to be permitted.

Hart Surrey Heath and Rushmoor SHMA Figure 10.15

Hart Surrey Heath and Rushmoor SHMA Figure 10.15

Second, the number of specialist units for the elderly is covered in Figure 10.15.  Between 2012 and 2030, Hart needs to provide 1,390 specialist units for the elderly and infirm. Extending this back to 2011, and out to 2032 at the 80 dwellings per annum rate identified in the report would give 1,650 units. To this must be added the further 940 registered care places in the graphic above. This gives a total of 2,590 additional units for the ageing population.  Hart has built or permitted around 4,600 dwellings since 2011 and has no idea how many specialist units for the elderly are in that 4,600. Consequently, Hart has no idea how many more of these specialist units need to be built out of the remaining 2,934 to be permitted.

Surely we cannot continue to go on with basic management tools missing from the Local Plan process and seemingly none of the councillors being at all concerned.

We live in hope that soon the council will be able to provide data on what has been built since 2011, but there doesn’t appear to be an easy way to get at the data for what has been permitted for the future.

If you would like to ask Hart to get a grip on the situation, and create a brownfield solution to meet the housing needs of the young and elderly in Hart, we urge you to respond to the Hart District Council consultation about the Local Plan and ask them to think again. We have created a dedicated consultation page, updated our two guides to responding to the consultation and they are available on the downloads below. The comments are designed to be cut and pasted into the boxes provided. It will be very powerful if you could edit the comments into your own words. Please do find time to respond to the consultation and play your part in saving our countryside.

Full version:

Responses to Local Plan Consultation

2 Minute version:

Respond to Local Plan Consultation in 2 minutes

Ideas to oppose the Watery Lane Development in Church Crookham

Some of the opponents of the proposed Watery Lane development in Church Crookham have criticised We Heart Hart for not joining them in opposing building a housing estate there.  We cannot get involved in each and every planning application, but the material below outlines what we believe would be useful material for Face IT and other groups to use as they see fit to add to their case.

1. We don’t need this development

Hart is being asked to build too many houses, because the SHMA is flawed.  It starts with the 2011-based population projections, whereas the 2012-based projections would reduce the starting point by 1,800 dwellings (SHMA appendices p75).  The jobs forecasts are too optimistic, calling for a near doubling of the job creation rate over the plan period.  See the links below for more detail:

http://wehearthart.co.uk/2015/06/hart-is-being-asked-to-build-too-many-houses/

http://wehearthart.co.uk/2015/11/independent-expert-says-we-are-being-asked-to-build-too-many-houses/

http://wehearthart.co.uk/2015/05/revised-submission-to-owens-farm-hop-garden-road-appeal/

As a result of the over-stated need in the SHMA, the current land supply statement understates the land-supply position, therefore the Watery Lane development is not needed now.

2. Brownfield Solution

There is an alternative brownfield solution to meet the housing needs of the district. Our local MP also supports a brownfield solution:

http://wehearthart.co.uk/2015/11/there-is-a-brownfield-solution-to-harts-housing-needs/

http://wehearthart.co.uk/2015/10/ranil-says-no-to-winchfield-new-town-and-yes-to-brownfield/

3. Wrong type of Housing in the Wrong Place

A development such as Watery Lane would build the wrong type of housing in the wrong place to meet the needs of the district. Hart’s policy is to build 40% affordable and 60% market housing, or a split of about 3,014 affordable and 4,520 market to meet our overall need of 7,534. The SHMA (Figure 9.8) calls for 40.8% 1-bed and 33.2% 2-bed properties from our affordable housing target and 6.7% 1-bed and 28% 2-bed properties from our market housing target. This gives a total target of 1,532 1-bed and 2,266 2-bed properties.  No data has yet been forthcoming on how well or badly we are doing against these targets, but perhaps Face IT could join We Heart Hart in asking Hart to produce the information to allow us to know one way or the other.  More traditional housing estates in the countryside are likely to under-deliver on both affordable and smaller properties.

Similarly, the SHMA (Figure 10.15) calls for around 2,500 specialist units for the elderly, split into various categories to be built in Hart under the Local Plan.  We do not know how many have been built or permitted to date, but again it is self-evident that a housing estate in the country would not deliver specialist units for the elderly. Again, perhaps Face IT can join We Heart Hart in requesting that this information is released.

We do hope that the team opposing Watery Lane find this information helpful.

Hart Council fiddles while the budget burns

Bagpipes

Michael Deacon, the political sketch-writer for the Telegraph has recently bemoaned the fact that his role has become merely one of transcription as the quality of discourse in the House Of Commons has descended to such an extent all he needs to do is simply write down what is said, because the truth itself has become beyond parody.

It is with this in mind, that we ask you to read our account of part of the Hart Council meeting that took place on 25 February 2016.

There were a number of formalities about the minutes and questions from members of the public that we shall cover later in this post.

We then moved on the section of the meeting where the council signs off the minutes of meetings from committees.

The chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee raised what appeared to be a perfectly sensible point that members who are appointed to the O&S Committee of the newly formed Joint Procurement contract should also be members of Hart’s O&S Committee. We thought this would take about 30 seconds to resolve. How wrong we were.

After some back and forth discussion, the Leader proposed an ill-defined motion of amendment to agree with part of the suggestion, but leave unresolved some of the finer points of detail.

As he finished speaking, the room was filled by the sound of various moans and grunts, resembling the sound of a bagpiper tuning up, as a number of councillors inflated themselves into a state of maximum self-importance.  It is a pity that these inflation efforts were inversely matched by their vacuous contributions.

“How will we cope”, demanded one councillor, “if the meetings of this new committee are arranged for a time when Hart’s delegates might have an appointment at the hairdressers?”

At this point, there was a loud sucking noise as the life-force began to be drained from everyone in the room, as if a dementor had entered the building.

One can only speculate as to the motives of the councillors involved for indulging in such filibustering. Perhaps it was displacement activity, because the upcoming discussion on how to fix the forecast £1.16m budget deficit in 2017/18 was going to be “too technical” for them.

After the discussion about the finer points of the details of the process how to select two people to sit on the joint O&S Committee had continued for 20 minutes, I was overwhelmed by an insatiable desire to go home and watch some paint dry.

Now I will never know how they propose to fix the deficit, which is around 10% of spending, a bigger budget deficit than Greece. But no doubt they did work out how to resolve a diary clash.

 

The first item on the agenda was the minutes of the previous meeting.  We did point out that there was a factual inaccuracy in the minutes, in that the information the chairman said was available on the planning portal is not in fact available. I also informed him that the FOI request the minutes advised me to make to find out how many 1 & 2-bed homes we had built or permitted and how many specialist units for the elderly we had built had in fact been rejected.  The minutes were not amended, but were signed off.

It is striking that not a single councillor was endowed with enough curiosity to find out how well Hart had been meeting the housing needs of the District as expressed in the SHMA.

Last night we asked what we thought were three relatively innocuous questions, which we will cover in another post.

The first was a request to understand more about the remit and objectives of the Cabinet Member for Town and Village Regeneration.  We found it rather odd that the Leader of the council did not think his own cabinet member was capable of answering questions about his own role.  The answer we got was bland and did not include mention of a single objective, other than it had been deemed important that the role encompassed car-parking charges, because of the important link between car-parking and regeneration.

The second question was about the proposals in the corporate plan for the council to create a trading entity to build houses.  We got a reasonable response to this question, but it is clear that the idea is at a very early stage and nothing has yet been agreed.

Finally, we tried to ask a question whose answer was designed to provide evidence to combat developers who are insisting that Hart is not building enough houses.  This was inspired by the recent House of Lords report that showed that in recent years 100,000 fewer houses were built each year than were granted permission. Hart Council only has control over granting permission and cannot control the rate of building.  The question simply asked “for each of the past five years on how many houses have been permitted and how many built in Hart District.  This was ruled ‘too technical’ for council and will be referred to the FOI request process.

How to respond to the new consultation

How to respond to Hart District Council's (HDC) new consultation on the Local Plan

How to respond to the new consultation

Hart Council’s new consultation on the Local Plan is now live, is open until 18 March 2016 and can be found here.

If you responded to the previous consultation and gave your email address, you should have been contacted by the council asking you whether you want to re-submit your response to the new consultation.  If you have received that e-mail, we recommend you re-submit your prior submission.  This can be done here.

If either you did not respond to the last consultation, or you did not give your email address before, then you will need to submit a brand new response here. We have set out some guidance below, to help you make up your mind.

You might want to wait until we have received the results of our FOI requests related to the number of 1 & 2-bed properties we need to build and the amount of specialist accommodation we need to build for the elderly before responding.

The consultation is split into three parts:

The first asks about our attitudes to meeting the needs of specialist groups such as those needing affordable and starter homes; specialist housing for older people and sites for the travelling community.  It then goes on to ask if we are happy with the settlement hierarchy and the main questions about how we would prioritise the different approaches they put forward to meeting our housing need.  Hart DC have not included an approach to meet our remaining needs from brownfield sites alone, which we believe is achievable.  Neither a new town nor an urban extension are needed and there is a brownfield solution.  It is invidious to force people to rank approaches that simply are not needed.  However, we have to respond to the questions put in front of us, so for Question 4, we urge you to put Approach 1 – Dispersal as your first preference, Approach 2 – Urban extensions as your second preference and Approach 3 – new settlement as your last preference. You might wish to add in the comments that you want to see a stronger focus on brownfield development and that you would like to see the council meet the needs of the young by building more affordable 1 and 2-bed properties (around 3,800) and build the full allocation of specialist accommodation for the elderly (around 2,500 units).

For Question 5, we suggest you rank the approaches as follows: Approach 4: 1, Approach 5: 4, Approach 6: 3, Approach 7: 2.

The second part shows a number of selected sites for each parish and asks us to rank them according to preference and make comments. Unbelievably, you have to rank a site even if you don’t want it to be developed and the site list presented misses out those sites the council has for unknown reasons discounted and inexplicably misses out other (some brownfield) sites from the SHLAA.  We have set out the brownfield sites you may wish to suggest are developed instead or alongside those presented and some comments about what this consultation is not covering.

The third part asks us about the key issues we see across the district, Hart Council’s proposed vision and key objectives.  Again this doesn’t cover redevelopment of the massive surplus of employment land on brownfield sites adequately and glosses over the massive infrastructure issues we face.  We have set out some comments you might like to make about the issues, the vision and the objectives.

We have updated our two guides to responding to the consultation that are available on the downloads below. The comments are designed to be cut and pasted into the boxes provided.  It will be very powerful if you could edit the comments into your own words. Please do find time to respond to the consultation and play your part in saving our countryside. Please respond to the consultation and ask your friends and family to join in too.

Quick guide for those with not much time:

Respond to Local Plan Consultation in 2 minutes

Full guide for a more complete response to all questions:

Responses to Local Plan Consultation

Hart Council: Keep Calm and Hide the Facts

Hart District Council (HDC) Keep Calm and Hide the Facts 2

Hart Council Keep Calm and Hide the Facts

Readers will recall that at the Hart Council Meeting last week, senior councillors refused to answer some questions and gave vague and unsatisfactory answers to those questions.  The council has now published the full exchange on their website.  We give our view on what they really meant below.  We ask readers to bear in mind Hart’s 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

Here is the full set of questions and answers, abridged and with our interpretation below in blue:

Question 1: Given that a) in October 2013, you were quoted as saying we would submit a new version of the Local Plan to the Inspector in Autumn 2014 and b) in each subsequent year this has slipped by a further year, with the current LDS indicating a local plan ready for submission in Winter 2016, will you now publish the detailed project plan to support this target, so we can be assured that project management processes have improved?

Answer: It was our intention to proceed with a revised Core Strategy after the withdrawal of the 2013 version. However, as many will well know, the Government changed the nature of Local Plans and we also had to address the issue of a new SHMA to overcome the defects blah….blah….blah…

Blah…blah..blah…The Local Development Scheme is the council’s three-year project plan that identifies which local development documents will be produced, in what order, and when. We do not propose to publish more background information on internal workings because that offers no practical advantage to anyone. There is already proper scrutiny of the Local Plan progress with all members of the Council having the opportunity to be actively engaged.

We also last summer enlisted the support of Chris Dorn to lend project management support. His work has been invaluable and he gave positive and independent feedback to the Hart District Association of Parish and Town Councils.

Finally, we have now full project management arrangements from our neighbours at East Hampshire District Council, who have recent and relevant experience of bringing a local plan through Examination to adoption.

What they really meant: Here’s some blather and vague implausible excuses why we haven’t been able to publish a Local Plan when 82% of Local Councils have managed to do it. There’s no way that we are going to publish the project plan, because we don’t want to be held accountable for any future slippage.

Question 2: Given that in January 2015, HDC commissioned work to test the proposed new settlement and urban extensions with the objectives to test the “deliverability of a new settlement and/or urban extension (ie [sic] suitability, availability and achievability)”, including a land use budget; provide “indicative costing of the major infrastructure items needed”; and consider viability including the “infrastructure requirements of sites to identify likely infrastructure impacts, subsequent costs and potential funding sources”, can you explain if these objectives have been met, and say when the results will be published?

Answer: The current position on testing is set out in the Refined Housing Options Paper. It specifically highlights and comments on where we have got to with the issue of testing. As paragraph 12 we say:

“The testing we decided to undertake is still ongoing as is the testing of all other options. The testing will go on in some form or other right up until we finalise the submission Local Plan. There is still much work to be done, but we have reached a point where we can now ask you if we are on the right track”.

We then go on to summarise on pages 9 and 10 what outcomes have been received from the testing that we have carried out so far.

The outcome of the testing will therefore, inform both the draft Local Plan and will inform the submitted Local Plan in that it will comprise part of the evidence base. All these documents will be published at the appropriate time and everyone will have the right to comment upon them when the Local Plan is independently examined by an Inspector appropriated by the Secretary of State.

What they really meant: No, we haven’t met the objectives.  If we actually finished the testing, it would likely show that a new town in Winchfield is not viable and we wouldn’t want to be transparent about that would we?

Supplementary Question: All of the sites identified to make up the new town and urban extensions are listed in the SHLAA as “Not currently developable”, we have no costing of roads, bridges, railway improvements, sewage, sports or community facilities and we have no land use budget that includes SANG, so why are you consulting on a new town that is not deliverable, as well as excluding brownfield sites for the same reason?

Answer: This is part of the consultation. Brownfield sites are only deliverable if the landowner puts them forward for development. Brownfield sites may not be deliverable for other reasons, but once they are put forward as a SHLAA site they can be considered. [Note:  Although not recorded in the minutes Cllr Parker did go on to say words to the effect that many of the green field sites put forward were not currently developable because to do develop them would be contrary to current policies and they would look to change their policies as part of the Local Plan]

What they really meant: How dare you ask me for facts? Of course, we will change our policies to get a new town at all costs, just like we changed the questions in the consultation.

Question 3: Given that an FOI request to elicit the evidence to support the assertion made at cabinet (Paper E 5.2) in September 2015, and in Hart news (p2), that brownfield capacity for the district was 1,800 units has failed, are we to conclude that the council and public were misled in September, or will you now produce the evidence and ensure that any new consultation includes a proper stand-alone option for brownfield sites?

Answer: Nobody was misled by this council. The FOI request did not fail.

The Freedom of Information requests were dealt with blah…blah.blah…

Blah..blah..One key point that seems to be missed in the question is that there can be no standalone option for “brownfield sites” because the evidence suggests that there is not enough deliverable ‘brownfield land’ available to meet all our need for new homes because too few suitable sites are being promoted as being available by developers or landowners. Blah…blah…

[Note: Here is the answer given to the FOI request: “With regards to the first request, we do not hold that information.” and also note that none of the other options put forward were able to meet the remaining needs on their own either.]

What they really meant: Of course, it was a mistake to publish the real brownfield capacity, but we’re not going to publish how we arrived at the figure. We are doing our best to erase that from history and push on for a new town. 

Question 4: You will recall that I wrote to you on 20 November 2015, highlighting discrepancies between the consultation materials and SHLAA, the most important point being point 4 (and appendix) showing the very different site capacities in the New Homes Booklet compared to the official evidence base, the SHLAA; can you now give an explanation of those discrepancies and will they be corrected before any new consultation is carried out?

Answer: I understand from the Council’s Planning Policy Manager that you have already received
an explanation about the differences between the SHLAA and the New Homes Sites Booklet regarding site capacities (email from the Planning Policy Manager sent on 23rd December 2015).

That response explained that:

“In preparing the consultation papers we drew on not only the SHLAA but also more recent information where it was available. Such information includes the high level site assessments prepared by Adams Hendry and the shortlisting exercise work (available at http://www.hart.gov.uk/Evidence-base ), pre-application plans, recent planning permissions, and any recent changes to site boundaries. These can all influence the sites that are shown in the documents. The SHLAA itself will be updated next year.”

The plan is to publish an updated SHLAA in the summer of 2016 to reflect the best information available at that time including data on annual completions which becomes available around June each year. [Note:  I did point out that I had written back to them on 12 January making clear that Point 4, amongst others, had not been answered].

What they really meant: We deliberately make it all very confusing, and who cares if the material we send out to the electorate doesn’t match the official evidence we spent loads of your money to produce and published at the same time as the consultation.

Question 5: Given that the SHMA (section 9.33) calls for 60-70% of our 7,534 housing need (or around 4,900) to be met from 1 & 2-bed properties, can you give a breakdown by number of bedrooms, of the 4,500 or so dwellings built or permitted since 2011 and tell us how many more 1 & 2 bed homes need to be built out of the remaining ~3,000 to be permitted to meet the need expressed in the SHMA? [Note: is has subsequently emerged that the preamble to this question did contain a mistake, and the need for 1 & 2-bed properties is ~3,800 units, but that doesn’t take away the need for Hart Council to measure how well it is meeting the need, nor does it stop the question being answered].

Answer by Chairman: This is a technical research question and does not form part of any current Council workstream. This is not the proper forum to be used to elicit the use of Council resources in pursuit of your own personal research. I say this because the information that you seek is already published.

You can obtain the information by accessing all the planning application details of applications submitted and determined which is published on the online Public Access system.

I would also point out that section 9.33 of the SHMA relates to affordable housing and not general housing mix. It may be you have missed out a few words which fundamentally alters the meaning of your question. [Note: I asked by email immediately after the meeting where this information can be found and have received no response].

What they really meant: You just don’t get it do you?  This isn’t about facts or meeting the needs of Hart residents it’s about getting a new town. Of course we’re not going to tell you how well or badly we are meeting the needs of local residents nor information that might suggest that a new town is not the right answer.  Where would we be if we were transparent?

Question 6: Given that the SHMA (Figure 10.15) calls for around 2,500 specialist units for the elderly, split into various categories to be built in Hart under the Local Plan, can you tell us how many of these units have been built or permitted since 2011, how many remain to be permitted and what you consider to be the best types of location for these types of accommodation?

Answer: The part of the question seeking statistics is appropriate to an FOI request and thus specifically outside the scope of a question at council. I have therefore asked that this request is handled under FOI rules. You will thus receive a formal response under that protocol. Blah…blah…

Blah…blah…This approach is exactly in accordance with government policy as set out in Paragraph: 003 Reference ID: 12-003-20140306 of the updated September 2015 National Planning Policy Guidance.

What they really meant: Meeting the needs of the elderly is not our priority and you must be joking if you think we are going to publish any information that shows we’re not meeting their needs.  We want loads more detached houses in the countryside from a new town and urban extensions.

Supplementary: How can the young who need the affordable 1 & 2-bed dwellings and elderly have confidence in the Local Plan process when the leader doesn’t know what we need to build to meet their needs?

Answer: This will be dealt with under the FOI request.

What they really meant: How many more times do we have to explain, we don’t do facts? This isn’t about meeting the needs of local people.  It’s all about getting a new town at all costs.

Question 7: What are the risks that a second consultation “anticipated to be run again from late January”, will be a further waste of Hart residents’ money, when the revised SHMA is due “early in 2016” and a revised employment land review is also being prepared, thus meaning that the evidence base is likely to change significantly during the consultation, leading to a further consultation being required?

Answer: It would be premature to speculate on the outcome of the refresh of the SHMA. Data sets change all the time and all we are looking at is one single snap shot of a combination of changing data sets…blah…blah…

What they really meant: I don’t care about risks and I don’t care about your money, I want a new town. The new SHMA will likely show a big reduction in the housing need so we won’t need to build 3,000 houses for Surrey Heath and Rushmoor and we’ll be able to meet all Hart’s remaining needs from brownfield sites. If that were put to residents they wouldn’t vote for a new town or urban extensions and where would that leave us?

Question 8: Who instigated, who authorised and who will take responsibility for each decision to repeatedly change the materials in the recent consultation part way through?

Answer by Chairman: I am directing that this question is not to be answered. This is because, as Mr Turver knows, it forms the basis of a separate investigation by Overview and Scrutiny and indeed, Mr Turver has been party to representations made pursuant to that investigation. It would therefore be wholly inappropriate to enter into discussions in public without all the facts surrounding the events that resulted in the early curtailment of the Refined Housing Options consultation having first been investigated by Overview and Scrutiny Committee. [Note: Cllr Bailey did make the point that the O&S work is a review, not an investigation and he did not intend that review to act as block on members of the public asking questions].

What they really meant: How dare you ask us to be open, transparent and accountable for our actions? 

Supplementary: We’ve heard tonight that you have failed with the last consultation, haven’t got a grip on the timeline, project management or the quality and content of the outputs, isn’t it time that you and the rest of the Local Plan Steering Group did the decent thing and resigned?

Answer: I do intend to do the decent thing and deliver the local plan.

What they really meant: We can’t have someone in charge who might actually look at the evidence and try and meet the real needs of Hart residents can we?  

 

Questions to Hart Council 28 January 2016

Hart District Council Offices, We Heart Hart. We Love Hart

Hart District Council Offices in Fleet, Hampshire.

After the Local Plan consultation debacle, we have put a series of questions to Hart Council that will be answered at their meeting on 28 January 2016.  Please do come along if you can.

The full questions can be found on the download below, and cover whether Hart Council has a project plan we can believe in; the progress (or otherwise) made in testing the Winchfield new town proposals; what happened to the 1,800 dwellings that Hart said in September could be built on brownfield sites; discrepancies between the consultation documents and the official SHLAA; how well we are meeting the needs of the young and elderly; the risks of re-running the consultation now, given the housing target (SHMA) is about to change and of course, seeking clarity on who instigated and authorised the fateful changes to the consultation materials part way through.

Questions for Council 28 Jan 16

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We Heart Hart response to the decision to abandon the consultation

Protest at Hart Council's Offices about the omnishambles Consultation.

Protest at Hart Council’s Offices.

After a period of reflection, we have now had time to compose a response to Hart’s astonishing decision to abandon the Local Plan consultation and set out what we think should happen to bring the Local Plan back on track. This has been sent to all councillors.

Readers may wish to copy a link to this page and send it to their ward councillor and add their own ideas on what should be done.  A list of councillor contact details can be found here.

What should we think about Hart Council’s decision to call off the Local Plan consultation with only a day to go before it was due to close?  Well, to misquote Churchill, this consultation has been a farce in a fiasco inside an omnishambles.  Never has so little been achieved by so many with so much of our money.

This is but the latest entry in a catalogue of mismanagement and misjudgement.

Back in April 2015, Peter Village QC described Hart’s position as “hopeless” and precious little has changed since then.  This abandoned consultation has not even covered the areas that he said should have been covered, namely, employment, retail, transport and infrastructure.

Now, let’s look at the timeline:

  • In October, 2013, when the earlier version of the plan was rejected by the Planning Inspector, the council said:

“that while the council operates under the interim strategy, it is working on an updated Local Plan…. We expect to put this out for consultation early next year, and would look to submit it to an inspector next autumn [2014],”

  • In April 2014, the plan was to have a resubmission plan ready for consultation in October 2015.
  • In February 2015, the plan was to have a resubmission plan ready for Autumn 2015.
  • As late as April last year, the council was insisting that they were still on track to deliver a Resubmission Plan by Autumn 2015, despite our warnings that the project was slipping.
  • We are now in a position, according to the latest schedule, where the Resubmission plan is due in Autumn 2016, but this has to be in serious doubt given the failure of this consultation and the fact that the evidence base won’t be revised until Spring 2016 and Hart have to hold a Regulation 18 consultation on the draft Local Plan, and heaven knows why it is planned for the Summer, when many people will be on holiday.

It is difficult to come to a conclusion other than the project management is woeful.

We need also to look at the governance of the project.  Power on the Local Plan Steering Group (LPSG) is concentrated in the hands of urban councillors who have presided over this mess.

Role Member
Cabinet Member for Planning (Chairman) Stephen Parker (Con Fleet East)
The Leader of Council Stephen Parker (Con Fleet East)
Cabinet Member for Housing Stephen Gorys (Con – Odiham)
Chairman of Planning Committee Simon Ambler (CCH – Crookham West and Ewshot)
Political Group Leaders David Neighbour (Lib Dem – Yateley East)

James Radley (CCH – Crookham East)

Stephen Parker (Con – Fleet East)

 

Not only that, the quality of the deliverables to date is poor.  By way of example, in January last year Hart commissioned a piece of work to test the new settlement and urban extension options.  The published results of this work have not met the objectives set at the outset.

I have had many people send me Facebook messages, tweets and emails saying what a farce the process has been a shambles and a waste of time and money.  One correspondent has even been moved to write a poem, saying they thought our leader has led us up the garden path and couldn’t even run a bath. In short the council is a laughing stock. Many people have also come to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that the reason the consultation has been called off is that the people were giving the ‘wrong answer’. There is no confidence in the council, the credibility of the whole Local Plan process is subterranean, with some complaining of “consultation fatigue”.

If the consultation is re-run at the end of January, it is extremely likely that parts of the new evidence base will be released during the consultation, thus meaning that the consultation will be run on the wrong evidence base, invalidating the results.

The Local Plan process is so far behind schedule that we are running the risk of Central Government stepping in and doing the Local Plan for us.  Moreover, the Government is currently consulting on plans to remove the New Homes Bonus from councils that do not have a Local Plan, so this further failure may result in a hit to services or increases in council tax. So, it is clear we need a good Local Plan and quickly.

But before we can move forwards it is imperative that we fix the management and governance failings that have led us to this unhappy place. It is simply untenable for the current incumbents to carry on as if nothing has happened.

The changes we need are:

  • Resignation of the entire LPSG from their positions to be replaced by a new group of senior councillors from a balance of rural and urban wards.
  • I’m sorry to say it, but the cabinet member for planning and leader’s position is untenable after presiding over such a comedy of errors.
  • Whoever authorised the change to the questions mid-way through the consultation within the “officer” side must at least be severely reprimanded.
  • Hart need to appoint an experienced project manager to run the Local Plan project who should immediately review it and put together a realistic scope, objectives, deliverables, resource requirements, costs and timelines, publish it, and offer it for scrutiny by a recognised project assurance organisation
  • Only when the revised evidence base (SHMA and Employment Land Review) has been published, should Hart run a new Regulation 18 consultation covering employment, retail, transport, infrastructure as well as housing distribution as per the advice from Peter Village QC. The consultation should be put together and run by a competent third party organisation.
  • A standalone brownfield approach, covering all current brownfield sites in the SHLAA, the Stonegate Report and any new zones of opportunity identified in the call for sites should be added to the consultation as per the request of the 2,130 signatories of the WHH petition. It is simply not credible to set a “deliverable” criterion for brownfield sites when almost all of the green field sites subject to consultation were “not currently developable”.  The council can’t have it one way for brownfield and another for greenfield sites. Many brownfield sites in the SHLAA/New Homes Booklet were “rejected” for apparently arbitrary reasons, they certainly did not appear to have more onerous constraints on them compared to those selected for consultation in Q6.
  • The differences between the site capacities shown in the New Homes Booklet compared to those in the official evidence base in the SHLAA (see point 4 in this letter to councillors, dated 20 November 2015 and Appendix) need to be rectified.
  • The process of the consultation needs to be simplified and improved, with the weighting system being resolved and published before the consultation starts.
  • The risks of a new town and urban extensions should be properly laid out (including creating capacity to take 3,000 houses from Rushmoor and Surrey Heath and the infrastructure costs).
  • All of the SHLAA sites should be offered for consultation in Q6, and the ranking approach changed to something more objective and able to be analysed across parishes such as “strongly oppose, oppose, support, strongly support”. It should be possible to pass comment without ranking sites that you don’t agree should be developed. It was particularly odd to see that the NHB rejected sites that had appeared in Neighbourhood plans.
  • You might do well to review my suggested 5-point plan that I tried to put to council in the Summer, but my question was censored.
  • The different infrastructure contribution regimes for different styles of development should be properly explained: a certain cabinet member was spreading misleading information about this during the recent consultation. My understanding is that only office conversions attract no S106/CIL whereas brownfield redevelopment is subject to the same contribution regime as green field development. It should also be explained that new homes in vacant office blocks attract council tax (and new homes bonus), which HDC retains, rather than business rates much of which is surrendered to the Government.
  • There also needs to be more robust processes for verifying the identity of all those participating in the consultation, and proper rules set on who can and cannot comment: theoretically the consultation just abandoned could have been answered by babes in arms in Aberdeen which is clearly ridiculous.

Only root and branch change of process and personnel will restore confidence and give enough credibility to create a sporting chance of getting a good Local Plan on time.

Press release is available for download below, together with a carousel of pictures of our shot demo outside Hart Offices.

Response to Hart’s decision to abandon the consultation

 

 

Protest at Hart Council's Offices about the consultation shambles

Protest at Hart Council’s Offices about the consultation shambles.

Protest at Hart Council's Offices about the omnishambles Consultation

Protest at Hart Council’s Offices about the omnishambles Consultation

Protest at Hart's Offices about the Consultation farce

Protest at Hart’s Offices about the Consultation farce

Protest at Hart Council's Offices about the consultation fiasco

Protest at Hart Council’s Offices about the consultation fiasco

Protest at Hart Council's Offices about the Consultation farce

Protest at Hart Council’s Offices about the omnishambles Consultation.

Protest at Hart Council's Offices about the Consultation shambles

Protest at Hart Council’s Offices about the omnishambles Consultation

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