Hart Council starts to take brownfield development more seriously

Derelict Offices in Fleet, Hampshire

Derelict Offices in Fleet, Hampshire

Hart District Council is due to consider a new paper designed to encourage development of brownfield land at the next meeting of the Cabinet on 3 September.

The paper contains some interesting proposals in preparation for the Local Plan including:

  • The Portfolio Holder for Planning be delegated authority to identify suitable “zones of residential opportunity areas” on sites or areas where there are vacant offices, including areas where planning permission has been granted for employment use but the development is not proceeding.  We presume this would include sites such as Bartley Wood, Sun Park, Ancells Farm and Pyestock.
  • Suspending policy RUR5, essentially lifting restrictions on converting agricultural buildings to residential use because the policy contravenes the NPPF.
  • Simplifying the administrative burden of converting offices to residential use.
  • Being more flexible on developer contributions whilst continuing to insist upon infrastructure funding and mitigation measures such as Suitable Alternative Natural Green Spaces (SANGs) when close to the Thames Valley Heath SPA.

We Heart Hart welcomes these proposals as a step in the right direction, however, when we submit our suggestions for appropriate responses to the petition, we will be suggesting some additional measures.

Of course, given Hart’s recent history of dismissing the brownfield development opportunities, we will have to satisfy ourselves that this paper is not simply paying lip-service to the Government agenda and ensure that real action follows.

Hart Council’s decision to drop controversial proposals covered in Get Hampshire

Hart District Council Offices

Hart District Council Offices

Hart Council’s decision to drop the controversial proposals to limit questions and restrict petitions, particularly about the Local Plan has been covered in Get Hampshire.

We are pleased to see that the local press is concerned about local democracy and again welcome Hart’s decision drop the  draconian limits on the questions it can be asked and restrict the petitions it will accept.

Do we really want to lose the harts from Winchfield, the heart of Hart?

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

Roe deer in the Heart of Hart, Winchfield

Take a look at the lovely picture above, taken yesterday of a roe deer in Winchfield.

Hart District Council should think very carefully before concreting over our green fields and destroying the environment of the beautiful animals that lend their name to our district.

Surely it would be better to re-double the efforts to find brownfield sites to meet our housing needs.

Hart District Council responds to criticisms

Hart District Council Offices

Hart District Council Offices

We Heart Hart understands from reports of the Standards Committee meeting yesterday, that Hart Council have agreed to modify the proposals to limit questions and restrict petitions.  In a piece of good news, they have decided to abandon the proposals to ban certain types of question, but will issue guidelines to limit the length of questions to 100 words.

In another piece of good news, we also understand that Hart DC is also going to make some changes to its approach to the Local Plan and reinstate additional consultation steps into the process: one on a revised Options paper, one on a Draft Plan, and one on the Revised Draft before submission.  This will improve the position compared to what it was before they changes the Local Development Schedule back in February 2015.

This should give a proper opportunity to examine the alternative approaches to delivering the housing target and hopefully get “Option 4” the proposal to build a new town dropped completely.

We Heart Hart Petition submitted to Hart District Council

We Heart Hart Campaign Logo

We Heart Hart Campaign Logo

Last Saturday, we submitted the We Heart Hart petition to Hart District Council.  We chose this time so that the petition would be considered before the new proposed restrictions on petitions were able to come into force.  They have now acknowledged receipt of the petition and Council Leader, Stephen Parker will consult we me in due course.

Council rules state that petitions with more than 1,000 signatories will trigger a debate of the full Council.  At the time the petition was submitted there were 2,130 signatories.  This is nearly four times the number of people who responded to Hart’s consultation and more than 10 times the number of people who expressed a preference for a new town.  According to the Council Petition Scheme, the petition may also be debated by Cabinet.

The aims of the petition that all signatories signed up for were:

  • Demand that the Council develops a vision and strategy for Hart that retains its role as a rural, green hinterland for NE Hampshire that respects the separate character and identity of Hart’s settlements and landscapes and preserves the green spaces as amenity space for the urban settlements.

Please comment on this post or on our Facebook page or Twitter feed with your ideas on what we should say at the consultation and for content of the motion to be debated at Council.

Hart District Council question and petition proposals covered in local press

We Heart Hart in Fleet News and Mail 20 August 2015

We Heart Hart in Fleet News and Mail 20 August 2015

We Heart Hart in Basingstoke Gazette 20 August 2015

We Heart Hart in Basingstoke Gazette 20 August 2015

We are delighted that both the Fleet News and Mail and the Basingstoke Gazette have run stories on Hart District Council’s proposals to restrict questions and limit petitions.  Hopefully, this will help persuade the Council to work with We Heart Hart and Winchfield Action Group instead of trying to silence our proposals to improve the Local Plan.

Full images of the articles can be found on the links below:

Coverage in Fleet News and Mail August 20 2015: Claim of council ‘silencing critics’

Coverage in Basingstoke Gazette August 20 2015: Council’s question limit hit by campaign

Call for Hart Council to work with Winchfield Action Group and We Heart Hart

Cooperation between Hart District Council and We Heart Hart and Winchfield Action Group

Call for Hart District Council to work with We Heart Hart and Winchfield Action Group

Tristram Cary, spokesperson for Winchfield Action Group (WAG) has called for Hart District Council to work with groups like We Heart Hart and WAG in the preparation of the Local Plan instead of refusing to meet and seeking to suppress questions.

Tristram’s call came in an excellent email to the Standards Committee of Hart District Council, asking them to reject the proposals that seek to restrict the questions that can be put and limiting the petitions that can be served upon the Council.  We Heart Hart fully endorse Tristram’s stance which is re-produced in full below:

I wish to register my very strong objection to the proposal to restrict questions and petitions which are to be debated at the Standards Committee on Thursday.

I can understand that it is tiresome for Hart to have to deal with so many questions from the public, and I can understand the view that the questions are being used as a platform to state opinions of groups such as WAG and WeHeartHart. But so what? Isn’t the point of public participation at Council Meetings to allow opinions to be heard, and questions to be asked? Surely an hour a month isn’t a big price to pay for public involvement in the debate?

I would also like to point out that Mr Parker has said in his proposal that “the proper way to deal with such matters [ie planning matters] is to participate in the consultation exercise”. But Hart has decided (illegally in the view of Peter Village QC) to remove the Public Consultation on the Local Plan from the planning process.

As well as objecting to the proposal to restrict questions, I would like to make a more general point.I think that Hart’s attitude to the work of WAG and WeHeartHart has been dismissive. For instance Hart refuses to have a meeting with us to discuss the legal opinion, and the answers given to our questions and suggestions have been on the whole incomplete and unhelpful. Hart’s message appears to be “we have decided what we want to do and we are going to ignore your views to the greatest extent possible”. I suggest that Hart would do well to regard WAG and WeHeartHart as allies in the attempt to arrive at the best possible Local Plan for Hart, backed up by the strongest possible evidence base. WAG and WeHeartHart have got access to funds and expertise, and I see no reason why these resources should not be used in collaboration with Hart DC to do work that is in the common interest of the whole community. I am thinking of work packages such as a study of Brownfield site capacity in Hart and Rushmoor and an ecological/environmental study of Hart to better understand the value of the countryside.

The NPPF (para 155) requires councils to “engage in early and meaningful engagement and collaboration with neighbourhoods, local organisations and businesses…A wide section of the community should be proactively engaged, so that Local Plans, as far as possible, reflect a collective vision and a set of agreed priorities for the sustainable development of the area, including those contained in any neighbourhood plans that have been made”. I think that Hart has so far failed dismally to live up to the spirit of the NPPF. Hart’s engagement with WAG and WeHeartHart has been the exact opposite of proactive, and I think that a change of attitude is long overdue.

I would welcome a meeting between Hart DC and WAG/WeHeartHart to discuss how we might engage together in a more productive way.

Let us hope that Hart Council respond positively to this suggestion and build on the work we did to support the council with the Hop Garden Road (Owens Farm) Hook, appeal and the response to the Rushmoor Local Plan.

Hart Council seek to restrict questions and limit petitions

Hart Council take their inspiration from Joseph Stalin

Hart Council take their inspiration from Joseph Stalin

It is astonishing that in the year of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, after censoring questions at the July Council meeting, Hart Council is seeking to impose draconian limits on the questions it can be asked and restrict the petitions it will accept.

It appears that Hart Council has decided that the questions it is being asked about the Local Plan by We Heart Hart and Winchfield Action Group are not appropriate and it is now seeking to simply rule those questions inadmissible. In addition, Hart Council is trying to stop petitions being put to it that it deems unacceptable by saying:

“The Council welcomes questions from the public but more recently it has become clear that the nature, number and length of the questions being put to Council are not appropriate for that forum”

Examples of questions it is now seeking to rule out include questions about:

  • the questioner’s own particular circumstances,
  • matters which are the subject of legal or enforcement proceedings or an appeal to a tribunal or to a Government Minister or an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman,
  • personal circumstances or conduct of any Officer and Councillor or conditions of service of employees
  • activities and aims of a political party or organisation,
  • any matter relating to a planning application/decision, including about a development plan document or the community infrastructure levy.

Examples of petitions it wishes to rule inadmissible are petitions about:

  • a matter that is already, or is proposed to be, subject to public consultation (statutory or otherwise) to be carried out by the Council,
  • activities and aims of a political party or organisation,
  • the personal circumstances or conduct of any Officer and Councillor or conditions of service of employees,
  • any matter relating to a planning application/decision, including about a development plan document or the community infrastructure levy.

The effect of these restrictions mean that any parish council or campaign group (likely to be deemed political organisations) could not submit questions or petitions about controversial planning applications (e.g. Hop Garden Road, Urnfield, Watery Lane or Grove Farm). Moreover, these limits effectively preclude questions about the Local Plan (as this is a development plan document). Finally, these proposals would also preclude questions being asked and petitions being submitted about suspected wrongdoing of a councillor or officer.

These proposals seem to go against Hart Council’s own 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.

Moreover, these proposals seem to go against the spirit of the legislation that introduced Petition Schemes to Local Government, which sets out the rationale for the legislation (emphasis mine):

7.1 The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 had as one of its aims the reinvigoration of local democracy, putting local authorities at the forefront of the drive to reconnect people with public and political decision-making.

7.2 While the Place Survey shows that 80 per cent of people are happy with the area they live in, satisfaction with the way their council runs things is low at 45 per cent. The perception in communities that people can influence decisions that affect their local area was found to be even lower. The duty to respond to petitions was conceived as one mechanism for addressing this. Signing a petition is one way for citizens to express their concerns and priorities to their local authority and the Citizenship Survey shows that petitions are the most popular and recognised form of civic action.

7.4 The Government’s view is that local people are more likely to participate in matters affecting their community if they are sure that their views will be listened to. In particular, they are more likely to organise or sign a petition if they are confident that it will be treated seriously, and that a response is guaranteed. Evidence from a systematic review of petitions reveals that petitions have the potential to empower individuals, to generate activity at the community level, and to impact on decision making. The extent to which petitions are able to realise this potential is largely dependent on the degree to which they are linked to a meaningful response mechanism.

It seems Hart Council only wants to respond to questions from people it agrees with and has no interest at all in accepting petitions that express a view it doesn’t agree with.  These proposals are a shameful subversion of local democracy and should be stopped.

The standards committee is due to debate these proposals on Thursday 20 August at Hart Offices at 4pm.  Please do go along if you can.  If you can’t go along in person, please email committeeservices@hart.gov.uk and the members of the Standards Committee:

Kenneth.Crookes@hart.gov.ukjohn.kennett@hart.gov.uksimon.ambler@hart.gov.ukjenny.radley@hart.gov.uk

to express your opposition to these proposals.

 

 

Support for urban development bigger than for a new town at Winchfield

Cows in Winchfield, Hart District, Hampshire

Do we want to lose our cows in Winchfield to concrete?

Hart Council is still saying that “many” people support a new town at Winchfield, but the evidence for this is paper thin.  However, many more people have supported our petition, calling for a brownfield strategy and even Hart’s own consultation showing many others support some form of urban development.

At Hart Council meeting in July it was stated by the council leader that:

“For many people in Hart the Winchfield new settlement option is far preferable to continual growth of existing settlements”

Their evidence for this is the outcome of the consultation that took place between August and October 2014.  The outcome emphasised by the council is Table 1 which shows that by ranking first preferences only, Option 4 (Focused Growth – New Settlement) was the preferred option by only 202 people.  However, the obvious point is far more people voted for a solution other than a new town.

Hart Council Local Plan Consultation Ranking of Responses Table 1

Hart Council Local Plan Consultation Ranking of Responses Table 1

However, Hart Council also published a second table produced by giving a score to each rank ,with 1st rank choices getting 5 points, down to fifth rank choices getting 1 point.

Hart Council Local Plan Consultation Ranking with scoring system Table 2

Hart Council Local Plan Consultation Ranking with scoring system Table 2

As can be seen, this gives the top score to Option 1 (Settlement Focus), second place to Option 4 and a strong showing for Option 3 (Focussed Growth – Strategic Urban Extension).

Since then, of course, the We Heart Hart petition has generated over 2,100 signatures and calls for the vast bulk of our housing requirement to be built on brownfield sites.  However, it is worthwhile considering what Options 1-3 actually meant:

  • Option 1 was described as concentrating new housing development within the existing boundaries of the main settlements and larger villages within Hart. Opportunities would be sought for planned regeneration and change within the settlements, including the potential re-allocation of some employment and other land for residential redevelopment, where the land was no longer required or appropriate for the original purpose.
  • Option 2 would involve allocating new housing development adjacent to each settlement within tiers 1-4 of Hart’s settlement hierarchy. A starting point could be to try and enable growth in proportion to each settlement’s overall size, and could take into account factors such as the existing dwelling stock within those communities, their level of infrastructure capacity and their accessibility by different modes of transport.
  • Option 3 would involve a small number (perhaps one to four) locations being targeted for concentrated growth and development in the form of a major expansion of one or more existing settlements within Hart.

Careful analysis of these options shows that that what they really mean is development within existing urban areas or very close to them.  Taking the raw first preference choices would show that 295 people out of the 550 valid responses, a clear majority, would prefer development within urban areas or close to existing settlements and not a new settlement.

Yet, despite their own evidence from Table 2, the evidence from the We Heart Hart petition and the revised analysis of Table 1, Hart Council has set its course towards a new settlement at Winchfield, despite massive infrastructure issues and big environmental issues associated with the Thames Valley Heath Special Protection Area, several SSSI’s and SINCs.  Moreover, a new town leaves Hart open to becoming a sink for 3,100 houses from Surrey Heath and Rushmoor.

This seems to us to be the flimsiest of evidence on which to build a housing strategy and runs the risk of falling apart under inspection.

 

New houses near Winchfield station will increase congestion

New houses lead to traffic congestion in Hart District

Example of traffic congestion that could happen in Winchfield

A new study by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), has shown that adding houses near railway stations in country areas could see a massive increase in car journeys each week to create additional congestion and delays on roads that are already overloaded.  Of course there is a direct read across from the RTPI analysis to Hart Council’s proposals for a new town at Winchfield, that would inevitably impact Hartley Wintney, Hook, Odiham, Dogmersfield, Crookham Village, Church Crookham and Fleet.

We can estimate how many extra traffic movements there might be from a 5,000 house new town at Winchfield by looking at the Hampshire County Council transport contributions policy.  They estimate 7 trips per average dwelling per day, which would lead to an extra 7 x 5,000 = 35,000 trips per day or 12.8m extra trips per annum on both minor country roads and our already congested wider road network.

Janet Askew, President of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), said:

“Quite apart from other good reasons why building in the green belt on such a scale might be opposed, these figures demonstrate a fundamental flaw in the reasoning that there is a quick fix and a sustainable solution to the housing crisis by putting large numbers of new homes close to railway stations.”

The RTPI press release went on to say:

“The view of the RTPI is that brownfield sites should be looked at as a priority for housing but not all brownfield sites will be suitable. The housing crisis is complex and will require a number of different policy solutions, such as increasing access to mortgage finance, improving transport and infrastructure, encouraging the house builders to build more homes, and a strong, delivery focussed planning system. Major proposals for new homes, whether they are in the green belt or on brownfield sites, must be preceded by adequate investment in schools, health, transport and other infrastructure, and planned in a strategic and holistic way, with up to date local plans being critical.”

Of course this is consistent with what We Heart Hart has been saying for many months, but Hart Council will not consider adding a brownfield development option into the Local Plan process; won’t look at our alternative 5-point plan and won’t even establish a register of brownfield sites.

The full text of the RTPI press release is shown below:

Using commuting data from  the 2011 Census the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), has today published analysis which finds that adding 1 million homes near railway stations in the Metropolitan London green belt area could see 3.9-7.5 million car journeys each week added to roads which are already struggling with congestion and delays. These findings – Building in the green belt? A report into commuting in the Metropolitan green belt challenge the assumption that building in the green belt around railway stations would see the majority of new residents using the train to get to jobs in London and could therefore be easily accommodated.

Over the past year various think tanks, academics and policy commentators have considered whether green belt boundaries around London should be relaxed in order to ease the housing crisis. These proposals often suggest the release of green belt land within easy walking or cycling distance of key railway stations, land which could provide space for figures upwards of 1 million homes. The assumption behind these proposals is that the majority of new residents will commute by rail to jobs in central London, enabling sustainable housing growth in the wider Metropolitan region without placing excessive strain on existing roads. However the implications of growth on commuting patterns is difficult to predict without looking at those already living in the green belt. Where are these residents travelling for work, and what methods of transport are they using to get there?

The RTPI examined commuting data for five medium-sized towns within the existing Metropolitan green belt, towns which are centred around railway stations and have direct connections to central London. We found that in these five towns, only 7.4% of commuters actually travel to inner London by train on a regular basis, despite living within easy walking or cycling distance of a station. The majority of commuters (72%) instead travel by private vehicle, mostly driving to jobs within their hometown and to other places not in London.

Janet Askew, President of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), said:
“If 1 million new homes were built in the green belt in this way, this is likely to result in a huge increase in the number of car journeys being made across the green belt to work, and between schools health facilities and stations”.
“Quite apart from other good reasons why building in the green belt on such a scale might be opposed, these figures demonstrate a fundamental flaw in the reasoning that there is a quick fix and a sustainable solution to the housing crisis by putting large numbers of new homes close to railway stations. While it is difficult to predict exactly future commuting patterns, the overwhelming evidence is that people will use their cars and this will result in vastly increased numbers of car journeys in and through the green belt.”

Trudi Elliott, Chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), said:
“The outcome of the analysis was surprising given the range of voices calling for housing around railway stations in the green belt. Our data shows, using one region of the green belt, just how complex the issue of commuting patterns is and how unpredictable they are likely to be in the future. The green belt is an important planning tool. Our findings demonstrate that it is vital to have an evidence base before you make major policy.”

The view of the RTPI is that brownfield sites should be looked at as a priority for housing but not all brownfield sites will be suitable. The housing crisis is complex and will require a number of different policy solutions, such as increasing access to mortgage finance, improving transport and infrastructure, encouraging the house builders to build more homes, and a strong, delivery focussed planning system. Major proposals for new homes, whether they are in the green belt or on brownfield sites, must be preceded by adequate investment in schools, health, transport and other infrastructure, and planned in a strategic and holistic way, with up to date local plans being critical. Any development in the green belt continues to need rigorous justification under the planning system and there are many checks and balances in place.

The five towns in the RTPI analysis were: Hemel Hempstead, High Wycombe, Watford, Maidenhead and Bracknell.

The RTPI is also publishing today a short YouTube film and a new public information note explaining the history, background and purpose of the green belt. A recent Ipsos Mori poll found 71% of all age groups knew just a little/ heard of but know nothing/never heard of green belt land. Among the under 34s this was 85% and among the under 24s the figure was 92%.