Lib Dems Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath
It’s election time. As usual at this time of year I take a look at the election leaflets that come through my door. Yesterday’s effort is a “Focus” from the Liberal Democrats.
I was staggered that they were attempting to greenwash themselves with the proposed “green grid”. They made no mention at all of Shapley Heath, the new town that will see up to 10,000 unnecessary houses dumped on our countryside.
Lib Dems Greenwashing Pamphlet
Lib Dems Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath
Enjoying our Countryside and helping it flourish…
Many people have enjoyed our wonderful countryside during the pandemic, getting out for walks or cycle rides for exercise and fresh air…
Liberal Democrats on Hart Council are keen to make sure that these benefits can continue to be enjoyed…
It’s laughable. They are planning to build up to 10,000 houses right on top of one of the best green spaces in the District. We have taken advantage of the footpaths, country roads and Basingstoke Canal for walking and cycling and would hate to see this destroyed by totally unnecessary development.
Hart back in bed with the developers of Shapley Heath Garden Village
Hart Council has entered into a new agreement with the proposed developers of Shapley Heath Garden Village. They have signed a collaboration agreement with L&Q Estates (Gallaghers) and Lightwood Land. The full document can be found as Appendix 1 to one of the papers considered by Shapley Heath Opportunity Board, here.
The Council has effectively handed control of the project to the developers. Hart has committed to maintaining the agreement until the Shapley Heath prospectus and master plan are “adopted” by the Council. The project has already slipped from the timeline in the agreement. In addition, the developers are already reneging on the commitments they made only last month. Not only that, public consultation on their plans is going to be kept to the bare minimum.
Shapley Heath Collaboration Agreement between Hart Council, L&Q Estates (Gallaghers) and Lightwood Land
Hart back in Bed with Developers: Shapley Heath Garden Village Agreement
The scope of the agreement is quite large. It covers the funding of a whole range of baseline studies and strategic reports over 14 areas. These are shown below:
Developer Funding of Shapley Heath Garden Community Studies
The agreement will remain in place until the prospectus and master plan have been finalised and adopted by the Council.
Hart Back in Bed with Developers: Collaboration in force until Shapley Heath Garden Village Prospectus Adopted by Hart Council
There is a 21-day break clause for the Council. However, it looks like the Council are committing to adopt the Garden Village when they review the Local Plan. You may recall that the Inspector threw out the new town from the Local Plan. This was because of “fundamental concerns with regard to the soundness of Policy SS3″. In addition he said that:
a significant level of further supporting work would be required for Policy SS3 to be found sound in its current form, which would need to include appropriate and proportionate area/site assessments, infrastructure considerations, viability testing, evidence in support of deliverability and further SA work, which would need to be done in an impartial manner with sufficient evidence to support its findings and comparisons with alternative options.
None of this comparison work is being carried out, so they are destined to fail again.
Shapley Heath Project Slipping
In February, the agreement with the developers envisaged that Phase 1 would be complete in December 2021. Phase 2 would be complete in February 2023.
Shapley Heath Collaboration Agreement Timeline
But now in March, the completion of Phase 1 has slipped to February 2022. Phase 2 has slipped four months to June 2023.
Shapley Heath Garden Community Opportunity Board Timeline
It looks like more of our money is going to be wasted for even longer than before.
Developers Reneging on Commitments
As can be seen in the image above, the developers are committed to funding 14 different areas of study. Hart is spending 90% of its budget on internal resources and overheads. So, the developers are expected to spend most of the money. Among these studies were a topographical survey and a water cycle/management report. According to the update presented at the Opportunity Board, the developers are trying to wriggle out of the topographical study altogether and are reviewing the scope of the water cycle report.
Developers reneging on commitments already
Hart Back in Bed with Developers: Limited Public Consultation
Putting all this together, it looks like there’s only going to be this high-level survey of residents. The Council will beaver away with the developers to produce a prospectus and masterplan. This will be adopted without any further significant involvement from the public.
Our first question asked about the proportion of internal staff and external consultants that will be used to deliver the myriad of studies that they have planned for the Shapley Heath project. The second asked about the anticipated level of spend on external consultants to deliver all of the required studies.
The short answer to both is that is they don’t have a clue. Or if they do, they aren’t telling us. They also don’t know what level of support they might get from the developers. They have been going for nearly two years and applied for two rounds of funding. It’s astonishing that they don’t know how much it’s going to cost or where the resources to deliver it are going to come from.
Grant Funding Update
Our third question asked for an update on the status of the application for additional grant funding from the Government.
The answer was quite longwinded, but we eventually got to the point. They are hoping for the Government to tell them in March.
Hart Council’s Mad Budget: Bloated Cost Structure sets them up to fail
We then asked them to justify the very top heavy budget with £128K internal staff costs and £122K of overhead supervising a spend of £25K on external consultants.
The most interesting part of the answer was that the overheads are essentially fixed. Therefore, if Shapley Heath were cancelled, most of the overhead costs would be incurred anyway. They could answer why they thought it was a good idea to spend £250K of internal resources supervise £25K of external spend.
We then asked them to justify this level of spend when they are budgeting for a deficit.
The answer was extraordinary. They seem to treat the budget like some sort of elaborate shell game. Apparently, because they budgeted £500K for this project last year, spending on it this year somehow doesn’t count towards the deficit. You might just hear us laughing in the background as this answer was given. They’re like the Millwall of political parties; they can’t add up and they don’t care.
We made the point that as they don’t know what support they are getting from the Government or the developers; they have no idea how much the project is going to cost and only £25K to spend on productive deliverables, they are set up to fail.
Shapley Heath Burning Money as Homeless Budget Cut. We Heart Hart. We Love Hart.
Next week the Council will debate the budget for the next financial year. The draft budget for FY2021-22 has been published. It shows that they plan to burn £279K on the Shapley Heath project. Yet at the same time, they are cutting budgets for vital services:
The budget for Homelessness will be cut by over £100K compared to the current year
They are proposing to cut £600K from the grants given to voluntary organisations compared to pre-Covid spending. In prior years, these grants have typically gone to The Blue Lamp Trust and the YOU Trust that focus on Domestic Abuse, as well as Hart Voluntary Action.
The budget for Fleet Pond will be cut from £53K this year to £21K next. This compares to a budget of over £130K in FY19/20.
Meanwhile, the cost of the Leadership team rises from £578K this year (and £720K last year) to £830K next. Overall, they are forecasting a budget deficit of £381K. Moreover, we can find no budget line to cover regeneration of Fleet or other urban centres. Not even the Civic Quarter regeneration is mentioned.
We need to put a stop to this madness at the ballot box.
Please sign and share the petition you can access from the button below.
The detail is explained below, but you might be interested in this little 1 minute video.
Shapley Heath Burning Money 2021-22 Budget
The budget for Shapley Heath is buried on page 134 of the budget pack on the link above. It shows a total budget of £279,167.
Shapley Heath Burning Money: Budget 2021-22
This shows they plan to spend £128K on internal staff costs and a staggering £122K on internal recharges. These recharges include nearly £30K on IT, almost £26K on “Financial Services Recharges” and the best part of £24K on “Corporate Admin Support” charges. A further £18K will be spent on “Building Facilities”.
The Stakeholder Forum papers call for a myriad of studies and reports to be completed by October 2021. For instance, the Homes and Heritage Thematic Group needs to produce reports on Housing Type and Tenure, Urban Design, Heritage and Landscape/Gaps. The Sustainable Transport group has to commission reports on “Modal Shift” and “Transport Nodes”. However, less than 10% of the budget will be spent on external help to produce all of the reports and studies that will be required. When preparing the Local Plan, most of these types of reports were commissioned externally, as the Council can’t employ all of the specialist skills required. So, they are spending a massive £250K on internal resources to manage an external spend of £25K.
Interestingly, they are assuming that they will receive no further Government support grants for the project. Surely, without Government support the project is dead in the water, because it was struck out of the Local Plan as not required.
Cuts to Vital Services
Despite the largesse on Shapley Heath, they are proposing to cut over £100K from the Homelessness Budget compared to this year and over £600K from the Grants Budget compared to pre-Covid times.
Hart Cuts Budget for Homelessness and Grants for Volunteers
This year, and in previous years, the money has been granted to organisations such as The You Trust and the Blue Lamp Trust that focus on Domestic abuse. In addition, Hart Voluntary Action has been the recipient of significant grants. How can they justify cutting vital services whilst splurging cash on Shapley Heath.
In addition, revenue spending on the much-loved Fleet Pond is being cut. However, there is a significant capital programme planned, funded from S106 payments.
Fleet Pond Budget Reduction
This marks a long term decline in spending from over £169K in 2018/19 to just £21K in 2021/22.
Massive Increase in Leadership Team Costs
Against this backdrop, it’s surprising to see the cost of the Leadership Team rocketing. They are proposing to increase the budget from £578K this year to over £830K next. It might be argued that some of lower costs this year might be down to Covid. However, the budget has still increased by more than £100K over the level in 2019/20.
Hart Leadership Team Increased Spending
What great leadership. Spending more on yourselves, lots more on a project we don’t need while cutting vital services. We must put an end to this madness at the ballot box.
If you were wondering how Hart Council has spent the money it has received to progress the Shapley Heath Garden Village (SHGV) project, most of it has gone down the drain. A quick look at their transparency report shows that most of the money has gone on PR and consultants. The transparency report can be found here.
Shapley Heath Spending Breakdown
You may recall that the council won a £150K grant from Government to pursue Shapley Heath. A total of £37,561.30 of this has been spent externally to date. Of this, £27,161.30, or over 70% has gone to Chelgate Limited. This is a PR company who describe themselves as:
Chelgate is an independent, international strategic PR agency, headquartered in London, with branches in Brussels and Bucharest, and a network of associates around the globe.
Chelgate combines great strength in traditional PR, public affairs, crisis management and media relations with an exceptional understanding of social media, digital PR and international PR.
The firm has also built an outstanding reputation for its work in acute issues and crisis management, often dealing with exceptionally sensitive and challenging issues.
We’ve yet to notice the “exceptional” social media output. Perhaps they have focused on crisis management?
I have recently left employment in local government, after 29 years, and set up my own consultancy – Mike Allgrove Planning Ltd. I am available for contract roles dealing local and strategic planning policy, interim management or major site implementation. I am currently engaged as a consultant for the Partnership for South Hampshire. I will be managing the collation of the evidence base to facilitate a new Joint Strategy under a statement of common ground that has been agreed by the constituent local authorities.
I have also recently completed short term commissions for a consortium of North Hampshire authorities and the Chichester Harbour Conservancy.
Taylor & Garner is the company owned and run by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor. Lord Taylor has been giving presentations to councillors and to the Stakeholder and Landowner forums.
In short, nothing tangible has been produced with this money. No schematic designs, no viability studies, no infrastructure reports and no sustainability assessment. It’s all just PR fluff.
Shapley Heath Staff diverted to Covid Response
It is difficult to see why they needed to spend thousands on PR for Shapley Heath when next to no work was being carried out on the project. The grant money has also been used to hire staff to work on the project. However, it was confirmed at O&S on 16 February that the staff hired to work on Shapley Heath were diverted to the Covid response.
Perhaps they took their eye off the ball and didn’t properly control costs. The Shapley Heath grant money is going down the drain.
Hart Council Takes Over Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum
In an astonishing move, Hart Council is attempting to take over the Stakeholder Forum (SHSF) it has set up to seek advice from the community about the Shapley Heath project. The Council hosted the kick-off meeting and then tightly controlled each of the Thematic Group meetings. The end result is that 4 out of the 10 places on the Stakeholder Forum Steering Committee are now held by Hart Council Officers. In addition, the Hart Project Manager, team members and the joint Chief Executive attend the meetings, giving Hart overall control.
Hart Council takes four of the 10 places on the Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum Steering Committee
Hart Breaks its Own Rules
In doing this, Hart has effectively broken its own rules governing the Stakeholder Forum. The Terms of Reference (ToR) list the core functions of the Stakeholder Forum.
Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum Core Functions
These make clear that it is supposed to be a space for community representatives to feedback to the Council, not for the Council to effectively represent itself. We don’t have accurate figures to hand, but some of the Thematic Groups have many Hart Officers as members. This effectively drowns out the very voices from the local community that the Forum was supposed to listen to. The ToR then goes on to list the groups that will be invited to be members of the SHSF. As one might expect, Hart District Council is notable by its absence, except for the Project Manager.
Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum Membership
The membership section then states that organisations may only be represented by one person each:
Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum Membership Rules
So, to summarise, Hart Officers shouldn’t be there in the first place. Even if they were allowed as members, there should be only one officer in the whole Forum. It’s almost as if they’re afraid of local community opinion, especially as Hart’s finances are in trouble.
Paper Thin Justification
As you might expect, a number of people and groups have expressed their concern at this development. To our knowledge, nobody has received a proper answer. They have been referred to a new FAQ on the website that says:
Why are Council Officers participating in the Stakeholders Forum Thematic Groups and the Steering Group?
The Garden Community project is a council run project and therefore it is entirely appropriate that council officers sit on the Thematic Groups and the Steering Group as key stakeholders and technical experts. The Council operates within multiple disciplines and employs experts within these disciplines accordingly, many of whom have significant experience. To exclude these experts from the Thematic Groups and the Steering Group would be perverse and seriously limit the collective expertise of these groups. As the Council does and will continue to work within its community, its presence as stakeholders accords with the spirit of the project. As the Cabinet are the ultimate decision-making bodies for this project, no conflict of interest arises. The Stakeholder Forum Terms of Reference confirms that “The Stakeholder Forum, (Steering Committee and Thematic Groups), will be supported by members of the Garden Community Project Team as appropriate.“
Many people have suggested that Hart Officers would be welcomed as subject matter experts when invited by the Chair of each Thematic Group. That would be an appropriate role. We will keep readers posted on further developments.
Hart Council to spend £406K on Shapley Heath White Elephant in FY21/22
In questions put to them at their meeting on 28 January, Hart Council admitted it planned to spend £406K on the Shapley Heath white elephant in FY21/22. This comes at a time they are secretly planning cuts elsewhere. The question is as follows:
What is the anticipated level of spend on SHGV over each of the next 2 financial years?
They don’t know how much they are going to spend in FY22/23. This comes at a time when the Council is considering a confidential paper about cuts to services because of forecast deficits. They forecast a deficit of £381K in FY21/22 and an eye-watering £1,081K in FY22/23.
No real plans for regeneration of our urban centres post-Covid
We also asked them to set out their plans and budget for regenerating our urban centres after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many of our local businesses have struggled during the pandemic and some have sadly had to close, leading to permanent change to our high streets. What is the action plan and budget over the next 2 financial years to help Fleet and other urban centres recover and regenerate post-Covid?
The answer was fairly vague and somewhat misleading. They have received £1.947m from Government for business support and recovery. Apparently £500K is for the recovery component. This money has to be spent by 31 March 2022. The only paper we can find about their recovery plans can be found here. Most of the actions are completed and include the over £100K spent on the ill-fated closure of Fleet Road. It appears as though most of the remaining money is going to be spent by the Council on itself. Projects include an employee assistance programme, replacing the telephony system and SharePoint training. Whilst these might be worthy projects, they fall far short of what is required.
Our town centres have been permanently changed by Covid-19, and will need very significant investment to re-establish themselves as thriving communities. We can see from this that the Council is prioritising a white elephant project we don’t need over our existing businesses and communities.
Justification for Shapley Heath White Elephant Spending
We did ask them about their justification for continuing to spend at such high level on a project we don’t need when cuts are being contemplated elsewhere:
The latest budget monitoring statement (s4.3) considered by Cabinet in early January, shows a forecast overspend of £972K in 2020/21. The draft budget (s.9.4) considered by O&S shows a deficit of £381K for 2021/22 and a further £1,081K deficit for 2022/23. How can you justify hiring full-time staff and continuing to spend vast sums on an unnecessary Garden Community when core services are at risk of being cut?
The initial answer was very defensive. It was only when pushed that Councillor Cockarill provided more detail. The money they plan to spend on Shapley Heath is supposed to be coming from Central Government. However, they have set aside money from Reserves to fund Shapley Heath. Councillor Cockarill did admit that they might have to “reassess the priority” of Shapley Heath if the Government grant doesn’t materialise.
We did ask other more technical questions:
Hart’s compliance with the Housing Delivery Test.
Whether they are considering an early review of the Local Plan to take advantage of the new lower Government targets.
If they will publish monthly project plans and status reports on the Shapley Heath projects.
The questions and answers can be found on the clips below.
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
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
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
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.
The Government has climbed down after its proposed changes to the method of calculating housing need were strongly criticised. These proposals would have pushed up Hart’s annual housing target to 512 dwellings per annum, which would have made it very difficult to defend against building Shapley Heath. However, after the Government climbdown, Hart’s housing target will be cut to 282 dpa, much less than the 423 in the current Local Plan. This makes the case for Shapley Heath simply untenable.
Government Housing Target Climbdown
On 6 August 2020 the Government published a set of proposed changes to the Planning System and to the way in which housing need was to be calculated. We covered the proposals here. These proposals would have led to Hart’s housing target rising to 512 dpa. However, the responses to their consultation were overwhelmingly negative. The Government has therefore decided to stick with the “old” standard method, with a few minor tweaks.
Impact on Hart
Hart now has a Local Plan in place that calls for 423 dpa to be built out to 2032. However, the Government has published new housing targets for each local authority under their revised proposals.
Government Housing Target Climbdown: New targets for Hart, Rushmoor and Surrey Heath
Hart’s requirement under the new Government proposals falls to 286 dpa. The housing targets for neighbouring Rushmoor and Surrey Heath have also been cut. Rushmoor’s Local Plan (s 6.12) calls for 436dpa and their target has been cut to 260 dpa. Surrey Heath’s Draft Local Plan (s2.29) calls for 352 dpa and the target has been set at 328 dpa. Hart’s Local Plan includes a provision to build some excess for Surrey Heath. This reduced excess can now be more than met by the surplus housing in Rushmoor.
Readers will probably remember that Shapley Heath Garden Village was removed from the Hart Local Plan on the grounds that it wasn’t necessary to meet our housing needs and was unsound. To be clear, even if we need to build at 423dpa, Shapley Heath is not required. So, it’s definitely not needed at 286 dpa.
The ruling CCH/Lib Dem coalition has justified the decision to continue with Shapley Heath on the grounds that the Government were bound to increase our housing target. Now that it is clear that in fact our housing target has been cut, there can be no justification for continuing with the project. We have covered the multitude of other reasons why Shapley Heath is a bad idea here.
The leader of the CCH group has said that if the houses aren’t needed, then Shapley Heath won’t go ahead. Will he keep his word?
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.