Hart Council plans secret cuts as it accelerates Shapley Heath

Hart Council plans secret cuts as it accelerates Shapley Heath plans

It has emerged that Hart Council is planning secret cuts as it accelerates the plans for Shapley Heath Garden Community. They are spending money they don’t have on something we don’t need, whilst secretly planning cuts elsewhere.

Hart Council Plans Secret Cuts

The plans for cuts emerged in a budget paper considered by Overview and Scrutiny Committee. They are facing pressures from the Spending Review, changes to New Homes Bonus and Business Rates. In addition, their commercialisation plans don’t seem to be working. So, they have produced a confidential appendix discussing how and when they are going to make savings.

Hart Council plans secret cuts

Hart Council plans secret cuts

The context is that the council is forecasting that it will overspend by £972K in the current financial year. Reductions in revenue and increases in costs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have damaged their finances this year.

Hart Council Budget deficit 2020-21

Hart Council Budget deficit 2020-21

In addition, it is forecasting that spending will exceed revenue by £381K in 2021/22 and a further £1,081K in 2022/23. The pressures highlighted above will take their toll in the coming years.

Hart Council budget deficits 2021/22 and 2022/23

Hart Council budget deficits 2021/22 and 2022/23

This gives a total shortfall of £2.4m over three years.

Shapley Heath Garden Community Plans Accelerate

As they wrestle with the blackhole in council finances, they are pressing ahead, spending money they don’t have on the unnecessary Shapley Heath Garden Community.  The Stakeholder Forum was treated to a presentation by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor on January 14th. We understand that the Landowners Forum will receive a similar presentation on February 11th.

The “Thematic Groups” that form part of the Stakeholder Forum will meet later this month and probably into February.

Of course, it is well documented that Shapley Heath is totally unnecessary to meet our housing needs.

It does seem rather odd that they are spending money they don’t have on something we don’t need.  We do hope they don’t sacrifice core services on the altar of Shapley Heath Garden Community.

Hart to waste £406K on Shapley Heath Garden Village bid

Hart bid to waste another £406K on Shapley Heath Garden Village

Hart to waste another £406K on Shapley Heath Garden Village bid

Hart District Council have submitted a bid for an extra £406K to fund the unnecessary Shapley Heath Garden Village project. This comes hot on the heels of the £150K they won from the Government last year.

They want to spend the £406K as follows:

  • £151K on new staff that haven’t been recruited yet. These new members will be a Project Support Officer, a Community Engagement Officer and a Land Manager
  • £180K on “bespoke strategy reports”
  • £60K on Engagement and Communication
  • £15K on a high-level viability assessment

The bid document can be found here and ore details on their plans can be found here. They have decided not to publish the appendices to describe the upcoming milestones, housing trajectory and project plan. This means that we cannot see the timeline for what they are supposed to be delivering and therefore cannot hold them to account.

However, we can see that they haven’t achieved anything with the money they have received so far. Of the £150K they received, they have spent £46,637 on consultation and engagement. This appears to have been spent on a survey on the impact of Covid-19, branding advice and a presentation from Lord Taylor of Goss Moor. The rest of the money remains unspent. We know that Covid has been highly disruptive, but that only covers half the time since the money was awarded. The baseline studies that are being funded by the developers haven’t been delivered either.

In short, as Churchill might have said, never in the field of planning history has so little been achieved by so many with so much.

We can only hope that the Government sees through the track record of failure and decides to stop throwing good money after bad.

Shapley Heath Schedule

As a reminder, Hart received £150K of funding for Shapley Heath Garden Village back in July 2019. According to the schedule they submitted as part of their bid, by now they should have produced a development plan document for the new town by now and be preparing to adopt it:

Shapley Heath Garden Village Winchfield New Town Development Schedule

Shapley Heath Winchfield New Town Development Schedule

Council Adopts Hart Local Plan

Council Adopts Hart Local Plan

Council Adopts Hart Local Plan

It’s been a long time coming, but Hart Council has finally adopted the Hart Local Plan. This took place at their first virtual meeting that happened at 7pm on 30 April 2020.

The meeting was broadcast on Hart’s live streaming page: https://www.facebook.com/HDCLiveStreaming/

However, these videos are often removed shortly after broadcast.  So we have downloaded it, and uploaded it to YouTube for posterity.

We can all sleep relatively easily now that we have a Local Plan. This plan has had Policy SS3 removed from it. However, we need to remain vigilant that the Council doesn’t seek to bring back the unnecessary Shapley Heath Garden Village at a later point.

 

Hart #Covid19 funding black hole shrinks to “only” £628K

Hart #Covid19 funding black hole shrinks to £628K

Hart #Covid19 funding black hole shrinks to £628K

The Government has awarded Hart more Covid19 funding that shrinks its expected deficit to from the pandemic to “only” £628K. This is welcome news as only last week the deficit stood at £1.6m.

However, £628K still represents about 6% of the council’s budget. We are left wondering which project could be cancelled to make good most of this shortfall? ?

Stop Shapley Heath

Stopping Shapley Heath could help close Hart’s Covid19 funding gap

Hart #Covid19 funding black hole details

The council have circulated their estimate of the loss of income and extra costs they are facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,

Hart Council covid19 funding hit

Hart Council Covid19 funding hit

This amounts to over £1.6m. The Government have announced they will provide £987K of Covid19 funding to Hart.

Hampshire Councils covid19 funding

Hampshire Councils #Covid19 funding

But this still leaves a £628K funding gap, on top of the “perfect storm” they faced in their finances even before the pandemic hit.

It will be interesting to see if this subject comes up at the “virtual” council meeting to adopt the Local Plan. The live stream can be found here.

Covid19 blows £1.6m hole in Hart finances

Covid19 blows £1.6m hole in Hart finances #Covid19

Covid19 blows £1.6m hole in Hart finances

We do hope everyone is staying safe from the coronavirus and coping well with the lockdown. Hopefully, the disease will be brought under control soon and we can start to get back to normal. However, Covid19 has blown a big hole in Hart’s finances.

Amongst other things, we understand that Covid19 has reduced Hart’s car parking revenue by around £240K. The Council expect to lose £140K of council tax and business rates. They also expect to lose £360K from planning income and £390K from the leisure centre. Of course, they still have to pay for the leisure centre loans. They have also incurred technology and staff costs of over £200K in providing the Hart response Hub.

So far, they have received £24K from the Government to cover these costs and expect more to come, but don’t expect that it will bridge the £1.6m funding gap. They expect to have to bridge any remaining gap from reserves.

There is some good news. So far, they have distributed £6.5m under the Government’s Small Business Grant Scheme. This means that 65% of all businesses that have applied for the grant have now been paid. They expect to pay the balance by the end of April. A number of businesses have not applied for the grant. If you, or any of your friends think you might be eligible, visit Hart’s website to check eligibility and apply: https://www.hart.gov.uk/covid-19-information-for-businesses.

With most construction sites being shutdown, and one might imagine that the housing market will be subdued for some time, they will probably lose some New Homes bonus too.

All this comes on top of the “perfect storm” facing Hart’s finances that we reported on back in January. We hesitate to be political at this difficult time, but surely they must reexamine whether they should be spending  £650K on Shapley Heath Garden Village at the moment. We have shown how the project is not required. Now more than ever, it is likely housing demand is going to fall as people have less money in their pockets. The Inspector said there’s no evidence it’s viable or deliverable. It will drive up the housing target and be made irrelevant by Grazeley. Not to mention the unnecessary 1m tonnes of CO2 that will be emitted during construction. This is a white elephant project that we cannot afford.

Stay well and keep healthy everyone.

Developer fox in charge of the Shapley Heath hen house

Developer fox in charge of Shapley Heath hen house

Developer fox in charge of Shapley Heath hen house

Hart Council has held the first meeting of the Shapley Heath “Opportunity” Board. It was a meeting that could be attended by the public, but they didn’t publicise it, so nobody turned up. But, the papers and the minutes have been published, so we can get a sense of what went on. Perhaps the most disturbing point is that the developers will procure and fund the production of all of the baseline studies.

As the promoters/developers with significant land interest, Lightwood Strategic and L&Q Estates, have confirmed that, subject to Board approval, they will procure and fund all of the baseline surveys.

This is putting the developer fox in charge of the Shapley Heath hen house. What could possibly go wrong? The list of baseline documents is as follows:

Developer fox in charge of Shapley Heath henhouse baseline evidence

Shapley Heath baseline evidence

Can we really trust the developers to produce objective, impartial assessments on these issues? What sort of documents are they going  too produce, when much of this work has been done already? And much of it persuaded the Inspector to throw Shapley Heath/Policy SS3 out of the Local Plan. Winchfield Parish Council produced a lot of this evidence for the Local Plan examination. Their evidence covered flood risk, heritage assets, ecology, green infrastructure and agricultural land. It also looked at the constraints from the M3, the railway electricity pylons and the high pressure gas main. The constraints were handily summarised in a single diagram.

Figure 6 Winchfield Summary of Key Findings

Figure 6 Winchfield Summary of Key Findings

 

The council has committed to fund a number of strategic reports:

Developer fox in charge of Shapley Heath henhouse - Shapley Heath strategy reports

Shapley Heath strategy reports

So far, they don’t appear to have pulled together a bottom-up estimate of the costs of these reports. But they are going to spend nearly two years producing them all.

Developer fox in charge of Shapley Heath henhouse - Shapley Heath Phases and Timeline

Shapley Heath Phases and Timeline

Sloppy Financial Control

But the problems don’t stop there. It is clear that the financial control over the project is sloppy at best. Previously, they had budgeted £70K for a “full time dedicated senior post” and a part time administrator.

 

£70K for 1 full time and 1 part time resource

But, now they have cut the budget to £65K and hope to hire three people. If you pay peanuts, you know what you can expect.

Developer fox in charge of Shapley Heath henhouse. Shapley Heath Sloppy Financial Control

Shapley Heath Sloppy Financial Control

They have now signed off funding for four people, when the original request was for 1.5 FTEs. Further, they are funding 3 of these full time positions from a one-off grant from Government. What happens to these people when the money runs out? We remind readers that Hart finances are facing a “perfect storm”. This is not a time to be creating unfunded liabilities. Similarly, they are paying for the project manager from part of the £500K being transferred from reserves, which again is a one-off source of funding.

This looks like a project that is out of control. The council are throwing our hard-earned money at a project that is not required, at a time when their finances are severely constrained.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hart Council holds Shapley Heath Secret Meeting with developers and Homes England

Stop Shapley Heath

Shapley Heath Secret Meeting

It has emerged that Hart Council officers have held a secret meeting about Shapley Heath with Homes England and the developers. The meeting was revealed in a late response to a question put to Graham Cockarill back in November. He didn’t turn up to the meeting, and the promised written answer has only been provided today.

No wonder he didn’t want to answer the question during the General Election campaign.

The question was put by head the head of the Conservative group on the council, Anne Crampton. The response is produced in full below.

Hart District Council holds Shapley Heath secret meeting with developers and Homes England

Hart holds Shapley Heath secret meeting with developers and Homes England

It is astonishing that meetings like this are not minuted. Even more astonishing is that the developers are more involved in the process than elected councillors.

We also asked a question at the same meeting. This was about the climate change impact of building up to 10,000 unnecessary houses. Sadly, the response didn’t really answer the question. But it is clear they are doubling down on investigating Shapley Heath Garden Village.

Cockarill doubles down on Shapley Heath Garden Village madness

Cockarill doubles down on Shapley Heath madness

The full minutes can be found here.

Shapley Heath too expensive for Hart’s finances

Shapley Heath Garden Village too expensive for Hart District Council's finances

Shapley Heath too expensive for Hart’s finances

Hart Council has committed to spending the £150K Government funding it received on Shapley Heath. It has also said that it will seek a further £500K of funding from next years’ budget. By way of context, Hart’s annual spending budget is around £10m. So, this £500K represents about 5% of annual expenditure.

However, Hart’s finances are coming under increasing pressure.

First, they are forecasting an overspend for the current 2019-20 financial year.

Hart District Council FY19-20 129K deficit

Hart District Council FY19-20 129K deficit

Second, the medium term outlook is deteriorating. It was described in a recent Cabinet paper as a “perfect storm of detrimental changes to funding”.

Shapley Heath too expensive for Hart's finances

Hart District Council perfect Storm of detrimental changes to funding

This is caused by a number of issues such as the New Homes bonus being phased out and a reduction in business rates income. They are reliant upon risky and uncertain income from their commercial activities to balance the books from 2021/22.

This is illustrated in the following excerpt from the Cabinet paper:

Shapley Heath Garden Village too expensive for Hart's finances

Shapley Heath too expensive for Hart’s stretched finances

The medium term forecast is reliant upon making more than £500K profit in FY21/22 from commercial activities. This rises to over £1m in the following year.

Hart District Council reliant on commercial income from 2021

Hart District Council reliant on commercial income from 2021/22

Given this backdrop, it is unbelievable that they are planning to spend around £650K on Shapley Heath Garden Village. We have shown how the project is not required. The Inspector said there’s no evidence it’s viable or deliverable. It will drive up the housing target and be made irrelevant by Grazeley. Not to mention the unnecessary 1m tonnes of CO2 that will be emitted during construction. This is a white elephant project that we cannot afford. It must be stopped.

 

Grazeley Garden Town makes Shapley Heath irrelevant

Grazeley Garden Town Masterplan Scenario 1 - 15,000 homes

Grazeley Garden Town Masterplan – 15,000 homes

Amongst all of the noise about Shapley Heath it is easy to overlook the work going on in neighbouring areas. A consortium of West Berkshire and Wokingham councils have received £750,000 to explore the Grazeley Garden Town.

It is proposed to develop 15,000 new houses on land surrounding Grazeley village. This site lies just to the south of the M4 and west of the A33, adjacent to AWE Burghfield. The councils have already carried out a master-planning exercise. The plans include a new railway station, primary and secondary schools, employment buildings and outdoor space. Incidentally, this master-plan work looks far higher quality than anything so far produced for Winchfield New Town/Shapley Heath.

The press release from Wokingham Council says the development will require £750m of infrastructure spending for 15,000 houses. This equates to £50,000 per house. Interestingly, the master-plan evaluated 5,000, 10,000 and 15,000 house schemes. Only the 15,000 house scenario produced a viable outcome.  The viability assessment for Shapley Heath included only £164m of infrastructure funding for 5,300 houses or only £31,000 per house. Grazeley is proposing around 61% more spending per dwelling than Shapley Heath. It seems Hart Council’s claims of massive infrastructure spending for Shapley Heath are just a pipe-dream.

The Grazeley site is close to the northern boundary of Hart District. Of course the extra traffic from extra 15,000 houses on our doorstep will have a big impact on our district. But the bigger question is, why do we need Shapley Heath Garden Village, if there is to be a much bigger new town just a few miles away?

[Update] Consultation on Grazeley Garden Town planned for February as part of the Wokingham Local Plan [/Update]

Surely Grazeley makes Shapley Heath completely irrelevant?

The full Grazeley Garden Town master-plan document can be downloaded from the button below.

Grazeley Garden Town Masterplan

This is another of our posts showing:

  • What is Shapley Heath, explaining its location and scale?
  • All the reasons why Shapley Heath Garden Village is a bad idea
  • An outline of an alternative approach to long term planning in Hart

The master page containing all of these posts can be found here. A link is also provided in the navigation at the top of the page.  Please do keep an eye out for further updates and share them with your friends.

 

Shapley Heath increases housing target

Stop Shapley Heath

Shapley Heath increases housing target

Building Shapley Heath will increases Hart’s housing target. This is quite a complex argument, but please bear with us. First let’s dispel some myths.

The CCH/Lib Dem coalition claim that Hart’s housing target is bound to increase, so we must plan for Shapley Heath. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The Hart Local Plan is being examined under the old SHMA method, plus we have been asked to build 731 extra houses for Surrey Heath. This results in an average 423 dwellings per annum (dpa) over the plan period to 2032 (see main modification 19). The SHMA is the Strategic Housing Market Assessment, where the councils concerned pay consultants to make up numbers about our housing need. If we had been assessed under the new standard method, the housing need for Hart would have been 282 dpa.

In various documents Hart has suggested it will pursue an early review of the Local Plan once adopted. This early review will be carried out using the standard method. According to the latest ONS projections, this will see our annual average requirement fall to around 251 dpa for the period 2020-2041.

Hart District Build Requirements under various scenarios

Hart District Build Requirements under various scenarios

Moreover, Surrey Heath will be examined under the standard method. They have already ‘promised’ to build 4,901 houses on their own patch in the plan period 2016-2032 (see Objective A on page 13) . Under the standard method, their requirement will fall to 3,720. They already have more than enough sites identified to meet this need. It is likely that there will be no need for Hart to take any extra for Surrey Heath.

In summary, all the evidence points to Hart’s housing need falling, not increasing. Having dispelled the Lib Dem/CCH myth, let’s have a look at the impact of their proposals. In fact, building Shapley Heath will bake in over-building for decades to come.

Shapley Heath Garden Village impact on housing need

In recent years, we have built at a faster rate than is required by the Local Plan. This is the result of ‘planning by appeal’, where we have had a number of large developments forced upon us. This is forecast to continue out to around 2023. The Shapley Heath housing trajectory submitted to the Government adds to the build rate, starting in 2023.

Nightmare in Winchfield - Shapley Heath Winchfield New Town Housing trajectory

Shapley Heath/Winchfield New Town Housing trajectory

However, under the standard method, our requirement falls to 251 dpa over the period 2020-2041. The steady-state build rate for Shapley Heath is 360 dpa, far higher than the requirement. If we add Shapley Heath (at only 5,000 total houses) to the existing Local Plan commitments, and compare it to the 2020-2041 requirement, then we will end up building 3,225 extra unnecessary houses out to 2039. If Shapley Heath expands to 10,000 houses, then this excess build rate will continue for many more years.

Shapley Heath Garden Village Excess Building

Shapley Heath Garden Village Excess Building

But it gets worse. The housing target is derived from population and household projections. The population projections are based upon trends from the previous ten years extrapolated forwards. If we continue to build more than we need to, this over-build is baked into our future housing targets, affecting us for decades to come. This will add extra pressure to build even more settlements or urban extensions such as Rye Common or West of Hook. So we must try and build at a steady rate to match no more than our annual housing target.

In conclusion, the rationale for investigating Shapley Heath is built on (at best) a misconception about future housing targets. Continuing to build this monstrosity will add even more pressure to build even more. It is a reckless policy that must be stopped.

Let’s hold our politicians to their word:

If the Government don’t force any more houses on us, this development is not needed, it will never go ahead.

If we don’t need the houses, then it won’t get done.

Well, we don’t need the houses, so it’s time to save £650K and  abandon the project now.

This is another of our posts showing:

  • What is Shapley Heath, explaining its location and scale?
  • All the reasons why Shapley Heath Garden Village is a bad idea
  • An outline of an alternative approach to long term planning in Hart

The master page containing all of these posts can be found here. A link is also provided in the navigation at the top of the page.  Please do keep an eye out for further updates and share them with your friends.