CCH defy QC opinion and pass Shapley Heath plan

Lib Dem & CCH cabinet pass Shapley Heath Plan

The CCH members of cabinet defied a QC’s opinion voted to pass the Shapley Heath plan at Cabinet on 7 November. Despite strong opposition from members of the public, NE Hants CPRE and some councillors, the plan was passed unanimously by all members of Cabinet in attendance. Sponsor of the plan, Lib Dem Cabinet member for Place, Graham Cockarill wasn’t there as he is now standing for election to Parliament. The plan proposes to spend the £150K grant from the Government and looks to allocate up to a further £500K from reserves in the next financial year as part of the budget process.

Regular readers may recall CCH had written a letter to Ranil stating that 5,000 houses had been “secured for the next planning period”. The QC’s opinion that said that because this statement was manifestly untrue, that it demonstrated CCH councillors had closed their minds to a proper consideration of Shapley Heath and alternatives. In Andrew Tabachnik QC’s opinion, this amounted to predetermination.

The QC Opinion can be downloaded using the button below:

QC Opinion: CCH Predetermination of Shapley Heath

The Shapley Heath section of the meeting was quite long and stormy at times. The complete videos of the item can be found at the bottom of this article. The key points as we see them with video excerpts are set out below.

Argument about Shapley Heath QC Opinion

The first part of the public engagement started with a statement from the Rural Hart Association (RHA). The full statement is reproduced below:

For some years the Rural Hart Association has been frustrated by what we see as the bias of the Council in pushing for a new settlement near Winchfield without properly analysing the scope for alternative strategies, including urban regeneration.

Our frustration led us last month to commission an opinion from leading counsel about a letter sent to our MP by eleven CCH councillors in July. This letter asserts that “… 5000 more homes [have been] secured for the next planning period through Shapley Heath”. The opinion has been delivered to the Council with this statement, but in summary the QC concludes that:

  1. CCH’s assertion is totally misleading
  2. All CCH councillors must publicly retract their statement and must ensure that their future conduct demonstrates a genuine willingness to consider matters with an open mind
  3. Councillors who are unwilling to retract their statement must recuse themselves from decision-making relating to Shapley Heath

We therefore request that the councillors concerned recuse themselves from discussion and voting on Item 11.

In addition, we expect CCH councillors to take the following steps to comply with the QC’s opinion that they must in future demonstrate a genuine willingness to act with an open mind:

  1. Abandon the current plans which focus exclusively on Shapley Heath

  2. Implement an alternative work plan to examine objectively and impartially all reasonable alternative options to Shapley Heath, in line with the Planning Inspector’s recommendations. This should include brownfield development and urban regeneration.

  3. Undertake in depth work to build a more robust policy to regenerate our urban centres in Fleet, Blackwater, Hook and Yateley.  This work should in particular address policy ED5 (Fleet town centre) to tackle the growing outflow of retail and leisure expenditure from the district caused by under-investment in Fleet. It is essential to develop a new and comprehensive strategy for Fleet along the lines of neighbouring towns like Camberley and Farnham.

  4. Undertake thorough master-planning for the main towns in Hart without which no proper assessment can be made of the true scope of town centre mixed-use regeneration

  5. Meet the two developers who expressed interest in regenerating the Hart Shopping Centre to explore their proposals

  6. Refrain from allocating Hart’s reserve funds to Shapley Heath unless and until it is reinstated into the Local Plan as the result of the necessary comparative assessment work called for by the Inspector.

Here is a video of the statement:

This led to a response to the QC’s opinion from CCH’s James Radley. Astonishingly, he stated that the letter to Ranil was just political rhetoric and implied it shouldn’t be taken at face value. How do we know when he’s just spouting rhetoric and when he really means what he says?

This then led to a row about the validity of the RHA QC’s opinion. The joint chief executive said that HDC had taken legal advice and were convinced that CCH’s actions did not amount to pre-determination.  However, HDC’s advice did not address the key point that CCH had made untrue statements in their letter to Ranil. That was the key point that showed a “closed mind” and hence predetermination. In the end the Cabinet chose to ignore the QC’s opinion and the CCH councillors continued to participate in the debate and voted on the Shapley Heath Plan. According to the QC they should have either retracted or recused themselves. They did neither.

Substantive debate on Shapley Heath Plan

The meat of the public arguments against pursuing this plan now were made by RHA and CPRE NE Hants. RHA made further points setting out clearly that HDC should at least look at the option of urban regeneration.

And CPRE challenged the logic of looking at a new village that would deliver housing over and above what we need to build. Their initial statement can be found here, and their powerful supplementary statement can be seen on the video below:

Sadly, these arguments were ignored by Cabinet and they pressed on regardless. On the plus side, this builds the case that they have closed minds on the matter.

CCH inconsistencies on the Shapley Heath Plan

During the meeting CCH made a series of statements that contradicted what they had previously said. For instance, during the Cabinet meeting, Councillor James “it’s only rhetoric” Radley emphasised that this Shapley Heath plan was very different to the new town presented in the Local Plan.

But in the Shapley Heath Q&A on their Facebook page, they say that the two things are the same. So, which is it?

Q3. Is Shapley Heath the same as the New Settlement that was previously included in Hart’s Local Plan?

A3. Yes, they are the same. Whilst the Local Plan Inspector suggested HDC remove the New Settlement from our LP, this was not because he thought it an inappropriate solution to our future housing needs. Hart were keen to get the LP in place ASAP to avoid anymore developer led applications being successful at appeal. The Inspector recommended removal of the New Settlement to enable the LP to be adopted quickly. The New Settlement, evaluated together with other options for future housing, needed more detailed work and would have delayed the LP, leaving doors open for developers.

Secondly, Councillor Radley said that the Shapley Heath proposal won’t go forward if it is found that it isn’t viable.

However, the Inspector found (in para 33):

In addition, to my above concerns, there is little evidence to demonstrate that a site can actually be delivered in terms of infrastructure, viability and landownership within the identified AoS.

Winchfield Parish Council’s representations to the Inspector showed there were big issues on land ownership and other significant planning constraints. Moreover, in 2016, the Tory administration had dropped plans for the Winchfield new town due to concerns about flooding and infrastructure costs. Similar plans for a new town were dropped in 2012 after concerns about viability. How many times do they need to look at it and how much of our money do they need to spend before they listen?

It also appears as though CCH can’t make their mind up about the importance of rail infrastructure. Councillor James “it’s only rhetoric” Radley didn’t mention rail as part of his infrastructure shopping list. But then made great play of there being a railway station at Winchfield.

He seemed to be blissfully unaware of the parking chaos at Winchfield station on Thursday.  This was exceptional, but it is by no means unusual for the car park to be full before 8am. Of course prior studies have shown that the railway station may well need to be moved to Murrell Green accommodate a further 5-10,000 houses.

Winchfield Station Parking Chaos

Version Control Shenanigans

At the beginning of the meeting there was considerable confusion about the version of the document they were supposed to be reviewing. The joint Chief Executive insisted that the version they were reviewing had been in the public domain for the requisite 28 days on the “key decision” part of the website. But we downloaded it this morning and found that the document was created in the early afternoon on Thursday, so could not have been available to the public for the required amount of time. In fact, it seems as though multiple versions were available and it isn’t clear how we are supposed to know which one to review. This is just another example of Hart’s incompetence.

This is the video of the exchange:

The full videos of the Shapley Heath discussion can be found on the links below. Thanks to Councillor Steve Forster for making them available on his Facebook page.

Part 1

Part 2.

 

 

 

Pale Lane Appeal Quashed

Wates Homes Elvetham Chase (Pale Lane) Development Proposal, near Elvetham Heath and Hartley Wintney, Hart District, Hampshire.

Elvetham Chase aka Pale Lane Appeal Quashed

Some great news emerged on Monday afternoon. The Pale Lane Appeal has been quashed by the Secretary of State. This means there won’t be any development in that location at least up until 2032. The complete decision document can be found here.

The Secretary of State examined a number of of issues in coming to his decision.

The issue that carried the strongest weight was the Hartley Wintney Neighbourhood Plan (HWNP). The Pale Lane site falls partially within the Hartley Wintney Parish. It was not allocated for development within the HWNP and this carried “significant weight”. So, we must thank Hartley Wintney Parish Council on their efforts that saw the Neightbourhood Plan “made” only last month.

Other issues considered included:

  • The emerging Hart Local Plan, which also does not allocate Pale Lane. However, despite being close to being approved only carried “moderate weight”.
  • He also considered that even if Pale Lane were refused, there would still be more than five years land supply.
  • The potential loss of Best and Most Versatile agricultural land was considered “moderate weight”.
  • Sadly, the highways, health, education and quality of life issues raised by the Stop Elvetham Chase group carried no weight.

The now infamous letter from CCH to Ranil wasn’t even mentioned in the report. So, it seems that the fight against Pale Lane was won irrespective of their efforts. However, the letter they wrote has caused them predetermination problems with their pet Shapley Heath project.

It seems the lesson here is to focus on the real planning issues and get Neighbourhood Plans in place if we want to combat further unnecessary and undesirable greenfield development.

Our local MP, Ranil Jayawardena has now come out unequivocally against large scale green field development. This  includes Shapley Heath, Rye Common and West of Hook. He has produced a constituency charter. We ask that you consider signing his charter that can be found here. This complements his call for bold regeneration plans.

 

QC Opinion: CCH Predetermination of Shapley Heath revealed in Ranil letter

QC Opinion: CCH predetermination revealed in letter to Ranil

QC Opinion: CCH predetermination revealed in letter to Ranil

The Rural Hart Association has obtained a QC’s Opinion that shows CCH’s predetermination of the Shapley Heath Garden Village proposal. Their predetermination was revealed in their letter to Ranil Jayawardena MP about Pale Lane/Elvetham Chase. It is ironic that on Bonfire Night, CCH’s own vanity has led to their plans for Shapley Heath going up in smoke.

Back in July all CCH Councillors wrote to Ranil, lobbying him about the upcoming Pale Lane/Elvetham Heath decision by the Secretary of State. In that letter they claimed that 5,000 houses had been “secured for the next planning period” at Shapley Heath.

Of course, this was a misleading statement, because in no sense have any houses been “secured” at Shapley Heath. For instance, the planning Inspector ripped apart their proposals in the Local Plan examination. The only sensible inference that can be made from their statement is that they have closed their minds to a proper consideration of Shapley Heath and alternatives. In Andrew Tabachnik QC’s opinion, this amounts to predetermination.

The consequences of this finding are that Community Campaign Hart Councillors must either:

  1. Recant their statement and demonstrate they have a genuinely open mind on the matter or,
  2. Recuse themselves from any further decisions about Shapley Heath.

In short, CCH have snookered themselves as far as Shapley Heath is concerned.  If they don’t recant then they should be excluded from discussion and voting about Shapley Heath at Overview & Scrutiny, Planning, Cabinet and Full Council. Indeed, their participation in the September O&S might be inappropriate.  We can keep an eye on all of their public statements and actions from now on in the light of this opinion. There is the option of further legal proceedings if they step out of line.

The Rural Hart Association will be making a statement at Thursday’s Cabinet and recommending actions that the CCH councillors should take to retract the sentiments in their letter and demonstrate an open mind about Shapley Heath.

The full QC’s Opinion can be downloaded from the button below:

QC Opinion: CCH Predetermination of Shapley Heath

The supporting detail that led to the opinion follows:

CCH Letter to Ranil

The full letter to Ranil was published on the Facebook page of some of the CCH councillors. It can be found on here (page 1) and here (page 2). The incriminating passage is shown in the image below:

CCH Predetermination: 5000 more houses secured at Shapley Heath

CCH Predetermination: 5000 more houses secured at Shapley Heath

Excerpts from QC Opinion that shows CCH Predetermination

4. I am asked to advise whether the above letter – and in particular the reference to “5000 more homes secured for the next planning period through Shapley Heath” – is relevant to the participation of the four Councillor signatories identified above in the Cabinet’s forthcoming decisions concerning Shapley Heath.

5. In my view, for reasons explained below:

a. The relevant assertion to Mr Jayawardena MP is totally misleading. There is no sense of the word in which Shapley Heath has been “secured for the next planning period”. Quite the opposite, as matters currently stand. Nothing at all has been “secured” for the “next planning period”. Further, the Local Plan Inspector’s 26 February 2019 letter sends Shapley Heath back to the drawing-board, with clear findings that it has not been justified as sound on its own merits nor is there a robust assessment of its comparative qualities as against reasonable alternatives.

b. Regrettably, the only sensible inference is that the authors of the letter have shut their minds to a fair and proper consideration of the individual and comparative merits of Shapley Heath, and have pre-determined decisions in respect of Shapley Heath, which they regard as “secured” already.

c. Absent the clearest evidence going forward that the relevant Councillors recant the misleading and pre-determined approach to Shapley Heath as “secured for the next planning period”, their participation in future decision-making of the Council (including when Cabinet grapples with Paper D in early November 2019) would render such decisions susceptible to being quashed by way of application for judicial review.

d. In my view, the relevant Councillors must publicly acknowledge the misleading character of the words used in the letter and must publicly disassociate themselves from the sentiment in question (that Shapley Heath has been “secured for the next planning period”), and their future conduct in so far as they desire to have further involvement in relevant Council decision-making must (and not as mere “lip service”) positively demonstrate a genuine willingness to consider matters with an open mind. Where a relevant Councillor is unable or unwilling to adhere to the foregoing, the natural inference will be that the closed minds evident from the July 2019 letter have infected the decision in question.

e. A relevant Councillor who is unable or unwilling to take the foregoing steps, must recuse themselves from Council decision-making which is related, directly or indirectly, to Shapley Heath.

 

Andrew Tabachnik QC opinion

 

 

Ranil demands bold Hart Regeneration Plans

Ranil Jayawardena MP demands bold Hart regeneration plans

Ranil demands bold Hart regeneration plans

Our local MP, Ranil Jayawardena has written a column in Fleet News and Mail demanding that the local Council develop bold Hart regeneration plans.

Hos article sets out the excellent regeneration work happening in neighbouring Aldershot and Basingstoke. He might well have added Farnham and Wokingham that have attracted millions in development funding.

By contrast, the CCH/Lib Dem led Hart District Council are proposing to spend £650K of public money on the  Shapley Heath Garden Village proposal. They refuse to entertain any discussions about regeneration of Fleet, Hook and Blackwater and Yateley.

Ranil’s full artcle can be downloaded using the button below.

Ranil demands bold Hart regeneration plans

Why Shapley Heath is a Mistake

10,000 house new town at Shapley Heath garden village mistake

10,000 Shapley Heath Garden Village mistake

Today we have a guest post, authored by Tristram Cary, chairman of the Rural Hart Association. In it, he explains why the proposed 5-10,000 new town in Winchfield and Hook, called Shapley Heath Garden Village (SHGV) is a mistake.

Shapley Heath Mistake

It seems that most of the discussion about SHGV is based on the mistaken idea that Hart has to meet a fixed housing target which reflects anticipated demand. This is not the case: Hart’s housing target is in fact a compromise between anticipated demand and Hart’s ability to fulfil that demand within the scope of its residents’ reasonable plans for development. SHGV is a great mistake because it is an unnecessary capitulation to the demand for housing at the expense of Hart’s Vision and Objectives. The result will be much higher housing numbers than would otherwise be the case. This is a very important and quite complex issue; I hope that the following notes will help to explain it more clearly.

a) Housing Demand: Hart’s housing demand is not fixed. In fact it is to all intents and purposes infinite because throughout the South of England there is a housing shortage, and anything that we can build in Hart will be immediately taken up, either by the growth of Hart’s current population or by people moving into Hart from outside the district. It’s vital to understand that building SHGV will do nothing to avert the demand for more housing growth in the district. On the contrary, by creating new capacity, SHGV will fuel higher housing targets for the future.

b) Housing Market Area: Hart shares a Housing Market Area (HMA) with Surrey Heath (Camberley) and Rushmoor (Farnborough and Aldershot). We have a Duty to Cooperate with Surrey Heath and Rushmoor which means that we are obliged to help them to meet their housing demand if necessary. Surrey Heath has asked for our help, and they feel justified in doing so because their population density is far higher than ours. Hart has a population of 96,000 in 215 sq km (447 people per sq km). Surrey Heath has a population of 89,000 in 95 sq km (934 people per sq km which is just over twice Hart’s population density). Rushmoor has a population of 96,000 in 39 sq km (or 2456 people per sq km which is five and a half times Hart’s population density). There is a perfectly valid argument that over a few decades Hart should accept a substantial portion of the housing demand from Surrey Heath and Rushmoor until our population density has caught up with theirs.

c) Vision and Objectives: However, in practice the housing target imposed on Hart in the Local Planning process (including the Duty to Cooperate with our neighbouring districts) is balanced by an acknowledgement that Hart has a history, a character and a right for its residents to have a say in its development. The Local Plan public consultations establish the residents’ wishes which are expressed as a Vision and Objectives for the District’s development (see paras 93 and 94 of the Local Plan). It is tempting to dismiss these paragraphs as unimportant ‘boiler-plate’. But in fact they are vital, and they arm the council with the ammunition to defend Hart against the erosion of its current state as a relatively sparsely-populated rural district which wants to maintain its countryside and the character of its towns and villages. Key statements from the Vision and Objectives which establish our desire to maintain our rural nature include the following:

Vision:

  • In 2032 the District will still be an attractive, largely rural area….
  • Our countryside will be recognised for its importance to the quality of life, as the setting where people live and work, and for its contribution to biodiversity, leisure and recreation.
  • The character, quality and diversity of our natural, built and heritage assets will have been preserved, and where possible enhanced

Objectives:

  • To maintain the separate character and identity of settlements by avoiding development that would result in their physical or visual coalescence.

[Note: The Vision and Objectives did also include the creation of a new settlement which damaged our ability to defend against a higher-than-necessary housing target – but the Inspector ruled that this was unsound and it has now been removed from the Local Plan]

Hart’s position as a relatively rural district means that we are going to be engaged for the foreseeable future in a constant struggle to defend our rural character against the insatiable demand for housing in the South East of England and against the demands of our Duty to Cooperate with the far more densely-populated districts in our Housing Market Area. Our defence depends entirely on our insistence that we choose to be a rural district. We want to preserve our countryside; we want to preserve the character of our towns and villages; we want to avoid coalescence between our towns by preserving countryside between them.

Supporting the development of an unnecessary Shapley Heath Garden Village flies directly in the face of our Vision and Objectives and undermines our defences against urbanisation. SHGV is in effect an urban extension to Fleet, Hartley Wintney and Hook, and makes a nonsense of the Local Plan objective “To maintain the separate character and identity of settlements by avoiding development that would result in their physical or visual coalescence”. It is certain that Rushmoor and Surrey Heath as well as the SHGV developers will use SHGV as a target for future growth, as they explain on page 15 of the SHVG Vision document:

Technical studies undertaken to date suggest that 5,000 homes can be provided and could be delivered through the Local Plan and DPD process. The developers have identified that around 10,000 homes could be delivered at Shapley Heath. Being part of the Garden Community Programme will enable us to carry out further testing through the DPD process and any subsequent Local Plan review to meet the longer-term needs of the District.

In short, Hart District Council has scored a massive own goal by embarking on the SHGV project in the belief that it will take the pressure off developments elsewhere in the district. In fact, SHGV makes it abundantly clear that we are not serious about our Vision and Objectives, and that we are happy to build massive urban extensions which will forever destroy the character and identity of our biggest settlements.

 

Shapley Heath Proposal: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Shapley Heath Proposal good bad ugly

Shapley Heath Proposal: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Hart’s O&S committee met on Tuesday night and they recommended amendments to the flawed Shapley Heath Garden Village proposal. It was a long, tempestuous meeting. The discussion below about the recommendations relates to this paper. The main outcomes were:

Shapley Heath Proposal: The Good

Recommendation 4: That the Cabinet approve the Governance structure proposed. It was recommended that the Governance be amended to make reference to the “evaluation phase” only. This is not approving the actual delivery of the “garden community”.

Recommendation 7: That the previously budgeted £785,990 budgeted for the new settlement be returned to reserves. It was recommended to Cabinet that this recommendation continue.

Recommendation 8: That a £500K budget be allocated to the Joint Chief Executive to utilise in relation to the Shapley Heath Garden Village. This was amended to recommend that it is merely noted that an amount up to £500K might be required in the future to support the project.

Shapley Heath Proposal: The Bad

Recommendation 1: That Cabinet notes that HDC is now part of the Garden Communities Programme. This was accepted.

Recommendation 2: That Cabinet approves the exploration of the opportunity to deliver a Garden Community through a place making/place shaping approach. Even though nobody could explain what this meant, the recommendation was accepted.

Recommendation 3: That the Cabinet agrees to move forward with place making/place shaping the Garden Community based on the key principles. There were a number of questions about what this actually meant. But no coherent answers were forthcoming. Nevertheless this recommendation was passed. On the plus side, a new key principle was added to include Land Value capture. If the Garden Village is to go ahead, it will be necessary for the landowners to accept a lower price for their land. It is envisaged that the extra money available to developers will be invested in infrastructure.

Recommendation 5: That Cabinet grants delegated authority to the Garden Community Board to approve terms of reference for other governance tiers. This was amended to only for the initial phase. But it wasn’t clear that the champions of the project knew what the different phases might be, not what they were delivering.

Shapley Heath Proposal: The Ugly

Recommendation 6: That Cabinet approves in principle the initial £155K Garden Community spending plan.  Amazingly, this was passed. However, there is an expectation, that it will be amended to include a more specific plan to describe what is actually going to be delivered. However, it still includes a commitment to spend public money on “Land Value/Equalisation Issues”. This is essentially white-collar welfare for the developers who should be quite capable of working out how to share the spoils of the project without public funding.

During the meeting, the portfolio holder for planning, was adamant that this work on the Garden Community was going on outside of the normal Local Plan and planning process.

A statement was made by Winchfield Parish Council, on behalf of 9 Parish Councils explaining that they believed the Government funding had been made in error. They asked that the programme be suspended until issues they had raised with the Secretary of State had been resolved. Amazingly, there was no debate about this statement.

We made the statement set out below. We set out our view that pursuing the Shapley Heath Garden Village outside of the normal planning process and in contempt of the Inspector’s recommendations to look impartially at other options was unlawful. The Rural Hart Association has raised funds for a proper legal opinion on the matter. We asked that the project be postponed until such legal opinion had been published. Again, there was no debate about this serious matter. However, they did address some of the other points we made.

This is some encouragement from the meeting, but the proposal will still go forward to Cabinet.

A petition to stop the Shapley Heath proposal has been created. Please press the button below and sign and share the petition.

STOP Shapley Heath

Statement to Hart Overview and Scrutiny 17 September 2019 from RHA on the Shapley Heath Proposal

RHA believes that the Garden Community Programme paper represents a gross and deliberate distortion of the Planning Process and an attempt to avoid implementing the recommendations of the Planning Inspector. We do not accept the Council’s argument that SS3 and Shapley Heath Garden Village (SHGV) are two separate things, and we consider that such a view is fatally undermined by the assumption in the Council’s bid for MHCLG funding that SS3 would be approved by the Inspector and form an integral part of the Local Plan.

Furthermore, we are advised that the spending of public funds on the Shapley Heath proposal in defiance of the Inspector’s findings and the Local Plan could be unlawful. We have now secured funding for a legal opinion on this question. Given the serious nature of this matter we request that the O&S committee recommends a postponement of this paper until the legal opinion has been completed and presented to the council.

If you do not decide to make such a recommendation, then there are numerous other detailed points that you should consider as part of your deliberations. The first points relate to the financing of the project.

  1. There are no tangible deliverables associated with £155K funding request as part of Rec 6.
  2. Appendix 3 calls for hiring two extra people without quantifying the full-year impact on future year’s finances. This cannot be in-line with good practice.
  3. Appendix 3 calls for public funds to be used to resolve the private matters of ‘land value/equalisation issues’ between developers and landowners with deep pockets. This is an inappropriate use of public funds.
  4. There are no timescales, tasks, milestones or deliverables associated with the broader £500K request associated with Recommendation 8. It is inappropriate to effectively create a slush fund and grant such wide discretion over such a large sum when you don’t know what you are going to get for it.

We believe you should ask for Recommendations 6 & 8 to be removed or amended to be in line with best practice for use of public funds. The second set of points relates to the scope and objectives of the proposal.

  1. The paper does not mention one of the key Inspector recommendations:

I am of the view 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.

2. The work programme does not envisage any of the work recommended by the Inspector and Para 5.6 explicitly rules out looking at alternative locations. This puts the proposal in contempt of the Inspector’s recommendations and is effectively pre-determination.

3. The final sentence of Para 5.6 is gibberish.

We believe that you should ask for the paper to be amended so that the work programme reflects the recommendations of the Inspector. Finally, there are several issues with the proposed governance arrangements:

  1. It is inappropriate to have such a large and unwieldy governance structure for £155K of spend.
  2. It is inappropriate to have effectively all senior members and officers of the Council on the Board, with a role to “champion delivery”. This leaves no mechanism for effective review and challenge.
  3. The proposed governance structure doesn’t comply with Cabinet decision of Nov 2018 which decided to create a “Parish Stakeholder Advisory Group”.

We believe the governance and Rec 4 should be amended to address these points.

 

 

Proposal for £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund

Proposal for £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund

Proposal for £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund

A paper will be put to Overview and Scrutiny next week, asking for a multi-year £500K Shapley Heath slush fund. It is clear that Hart Council are intending to press ahead with the Shapley Heath/Winchfield new town despite removing it from the Local Plan. This builds upon the £150K of funding recently allocated by the Government.

There are a number of issues with this proposal:

  1. Goes against the recommendations of the Inspector
  2. Trojan horse approach
  3. Flawed Governance
  4. Lax financial control

These points are explored below. The full report to O&S can be found here and more details about the meeting can be found here.

 Shapley Heath Slush Fund goes against the Inspector recommendations

The O&S paper clearly doesn’t follow all of the recommendations of the Planning Inspector. The paper only partially acknowledges the findings of the Inspector.

No mention of Inspector request for more SA work

It doesn’t include mention of one of the key recommendations that said:

I am of the view 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.

The council are clearly not carrying out the wide ranging site assessments, viability testing and SA work and they explicitly rule out considering alternative locations.

No intention to look at alternative locations to Shapley Heath/Winchfield

In addition, the council acknowledges that what they are doing falls outside the normal planning process:

Shapley Heath work outside of planning process

This is simply riding roughshod over the planning process and the Local Plan Examination findings. It is not acceptable.

Shapley Heath Trojan Horse

It is clear that this proposal is a Trojan Horse to be used to push through the unnecessary new town. In the main body of the report they use soft words like “test the Garden Community opportunity as a possible future growth option”. However, the detail of the Terms of Reference for the Garden Community Board shows that they are intending to deliver the Shapley Heath new town.

Shapley Heath Garden Community Board TOR 1 of 2

Shapley Heath Garden Community Board Terms of Reference 2 of 2.

Here are some examples:

  • The Garden Community Board (the Board) will have overall responsibility for steering the delivery of the Garden Community project
  • The Board will champion the Garden Community project and its delivery
  • To champion the Garden Community and its delivery
  • To facilitate and promote joined-up delivery

Flawed Governance

The Garden Community Board is made up of a vast number of people.

Shapley Heath Garden Community Board members

This includes the Cabinet members for “Place” (aka Planning) and Housing; the group leaders of each political party; the joint Chief executive and the chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny. This is substantially all of the senior member of the council and officers. Their role is to “champion the Garden Community and its delivery”.  Apparently nobody has a role to review and challenge what is going on. Somebody should be checking ongoing compliance with the Planning Inspector’s recommendations, planning law and good governance.  This is a recipe for the project to become a self-serving law unto itself, effectively accountable to nobody, because everyone is tasked with “championing delivery”.

Shapley Heath Slush Fund: Lax Financial Control

On the plus side, the paper returns the previously allocated £786K of funding to reserves.  However, the paper calls for “a £500K budget [to be] allocated to the Joint Chief Executive to utilise for expertise and resources to help the Council make informed choices associated with the Garden Community”. In addition, this money is expected to be spent over a number of years.

Multi-year £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund

Multi-year £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund

In other words, a multi-year slush fund.  This is particularly egregious in that the paper only identifies £155K of spending requirement at the moment.

Only £155K of the Multi-year £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund is required.

Only £155K of the Multi-year £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund is required.

Surely it would be better for money to be allocated when required to produce a specific deliverables. It is far too lax to grant discretionary powers to spend such a large amount of money over many years without knowing what they are going to get for the money.

Return of the New Town: Winchfield fights back

Return of the New Town - Winchfield fights back

Return of the New Town – Winchfield fights back

We Heart Hart and Winchfield Parish Council (WPC) are fighting back against the decision to award funding for the  new town.

WPC has written to the Secretary of State demanding that the decision to award £150,000 of capacity funding to support the delivery of the Hartley Winchook/ Shapley Heath garden community new town be reversed.   In addition, We Heart Hart has written to MHCLG making a similar request, using slightly different arguments. We understand that the Rural Hart Association will also be making representations to MHCLG.

A summary of the WPC letter is shown below, together with links to the full text. The full text of the WHH letter follows.

Winchfield fights back: WPC Letter

The letter has the support of Hartley Wintney, Dogmersfield, Crondall, Greywell and Long Sutton & Well Parish Councils. The Parish Councils of Eversley, Odiham and South Warnborough have made known to WPC their concerns about the proposed development and will consider adding their full support to the letter when they next meet. WPC’s letter highlights the following concerns:

  1. The Inspector’s findings following the independent examination of the Local Plan rejected the SHGV proposal, which followed HDC’s Garden Village Application in November 2018.
  2. HDC’s ongoing promotion of SHGV is not supported by the Inspector’s findings on the submitted Local Plan and he is quite clear that other options need to be considered in an impartial manner.
  3. The absence of sound justification for bringing forward SHGV (as it is not needed to meet identified housing needs) and the lack of evidence to demonstrate that the proposal is deliverable and sustainable was confirmed by the Inspector’s findings on the submitted Plan.
  4. The numerous shortcomings with HDC’s bid when considered against the Garden Communities prospectus lead us to question how it has been successful.
  5. HDC pre-determined the plan-making process, and failed to provide the evidence to the Inspector to demonstrate that it had impartially assessed reasonable alternatives. If HDC proceed with a Local Plan review as indicated based on SHGV as its chosen long term growth strategy, it will irresponsibly overlook the Inspector’s criticisms of the current Plan’s failure to impartially assess reasonable alternatives, and continue to ignore local opinion. HDC’s bid to be included in the Gardens Community Programme is a further demonstration of their continuation of pre-determine the planning process.
  6. HDC’s ongoing promotion of SHGV is not supported by the local communities directly impacted by this large scale proposal.

The full text of their letter can be found here. And the appendix can be found here.

Winchfield Fights Back: We Heart Hart letter

The full text of our letter is set out below:

Dear Ministers,

 Re: Hart District Shapley Heath Garden Community Funding Award

My name is David Turver. I run a campaign in Hart District called We Heart Hart. We have taken an active role in the Hart Local Plan, and I was invited to speak at the examination hearing. We have successfully campaigned against the new settlement proposal. We believe that urban regeneration and brownfield development is a much more sustainable and better way to deliver Hart’s longer term development needs.

I note that you have recently awarded £150,000 of capacity funding to Hart District Council to support the delivery of the Shapley Heath so-called Garden Village in Winchfield/Murrell Green.

I would like to share with you some extra facts which may cause you to reconsider your decision. The main letter sets out the main points, backed up with links and references in the Appendices. I have copied my local MP, the leader of the Conservatives on Hart Council and your garden communities email address so you can obtain a soft copy of this letter and follow the embedded links if required.

New Settlement Policy SS3 not required and not sound

Hart’s Garden Community bid in November 2018 relied on Policy SS3 being found sound in their Local Plan examination. Policy SS3 proposed a new settlement in the same area of search as the proposed Shapley Heath development. The Local Plan itself acknowledges that the new settlement is not required to meet Hart’s housing needs. The Planning Inspector, Jonathan Manning, found that he had “a number of fundamental concerns with regard to the soundness of Policy SS3”. As a result, Hart Council has removed policy SS3 from the Local Plan to make the plan sound. See Appendix A for more details.

More work required to make new settlement sound leading to a delay of up to five years

The Inspector has said that much more work was required to make the new settlement sound:

I am of the view 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. Any further SA work would also need to include additional standalone consultation….

I am also mindful that following further work, there can be no guarantee that the evidence would support it as the most appropriate long-term growth strategy or that Policy SS3 would be found sound.

There are several alternative options, including alternative sites and alternative strategies such as urban regeneration. So, it is clear that a new SA would be a considerable undertaking in its own right. In the risk assessment accompanying Hart’s bid they anticipated this outcome. Their mitigation was to press-on regardless with the new settlement DPD, independent of the Local Plan. I am not at all convinced that creating a DPD outside of the Local Plan process is in line with the planning regulations.

However, the Inspector makes clear that significant SA work and a standalone consultation ought to precede a new DPD.  Moreover, in Hart’s latest consultation into the modifications required to make the Local Plan sound, they have completely changed their tune. The Sustainability Appraisal Addendum says that “the AoS/DPD process will effectively be replaced by a different process, most likely a new Local Plan” (see Appendix B). The impact of this is that:

  1. The further SA work may conclude that there are better alternatives to delivering longer term growth. I know there are many in the District who support our local MP’s call for urban regeneration.
  2. Even if it is decided that a new settlement is the best long term growth option, the timescales for a new Local Plan process indicate that work on a new DPD will not start for a considerable time; maybe up to five years.

No plans to meet commitments in the Garden Community bid

In their bid, Hart committed to producing a New Settlement DPD in December 2019 if they received the Garden Community funding (see Appendix C). Yet, in response to recent questions at council, they confirmed that they have no current plans to start the additional SA work required by the Inspector; no plans to produce the New Settlement DPD and have not allocated any of the £786K budget set aside for the New Settlement in FY19/20. It might be expected that the wide scope SA work would take at least six months, plus a further 2-3 months for a consultation. It is therefore difficult to see how work can start on a new DPD this financial year. Therefore, it is difficult to see how the Garden Communities grant money can be spent effectively during this financial year.

Deceptive Communications

In addition, I am sorry to report that the Lib Dem/Community Campaign Hart led Hart Council has not been as open and transparent as one would hope in its communications on this matter.  Recently, the council was asked who had been informed that Policy SS3 had been found unsound and removed from the Local Plan. Their answers stated that both Homes England and MHCLG had been kept informed prior to the funding announcement. However, a subsequent release of correspondence shows that the removal of Policy SS3 was a passing comment to an official in Homes England in an email about a different subject. There is no record of MHCLG being contacted directly. I am therefore concerned that MHCLG may not have been aware that the new settlement had been found unsound between Hart Council’s bid and the award of funding in June 2019. It would be a shame if the Government awarded money to fund an unnecessary and unsound white elephant project.

Alternative options

Quite separately, Hart made a recent bid for funds under the Future High Streets scheme and was turned down. Our local MP, Ranil Jayawardena is running a campaign to support urban regeneration within Hart.

The catalyst for this could be the publicly owned civic quarter containing the Hart Council offices and the Harlington Centre. The area is ripe for mixed-use redevelopment including offices, homes, social and retail. If all levels of Government got behind this, it would spark interest in redeveloping the rest of the High Street, including the Hart Shopping Centre.

Conclusions

In conclusion, it is clear that the facts have changed since the bid was submitted.

  • Policy SS3 covering the Shapley Heath new settlement has been found to be unnecessary and unsound and removed from the Hart Local Plan.
  • There are no plans to conduct the wide ranging SA work required that might bring the new settlement back on to the agenda.
  • There is no guarantee that such work will conclude that a new settlement is the best option for long term growth.
  • It is inconceivable that such work could be completed during this financial year, meaning that work on a new settlement DPD could not even start before FY20/21, so the funds you have awarded could be wasted.

Therefore, I would be grateful if you could review your decision in the light of new facts. There are many residents of Hart who would be pleased if the Garden Communities funds were redirected towards regeneration of our decaying urban centres instead of concreting over the very green fields that make Hart such a great place to live.

Thank you for your kind consideration of these points. I understand Hart Council representatives are meeting with Homes England this month, so I hope you have time to re-consider the funding decision before that meeting. I look forward to your prompt reply.

Yours faithfully,

 

David Turver

cc:           Ranil Jayawardena MP (by email)

gardencommunities@communities.gov.uk (by email so the embedded links work)

Anne Crampton, leader of Conservative group on Hart Council (by email)

 

Appendix A: – Hart’s Assumptions and Inspector’s Report into Hart Local Plan

Here is Hart’s bid assumption that Policy SS3 would need to be found sound in the Local Plan:

Winchfield Fights Back - Shapley Heath funding assumes Policy SS3 remains in Hart Local Plan

Shapley Heath funding assumes Policy SS3 remains in Hart Local Plan

The Inspector’s post-hearing letter about the examination of the Hart Local Plan can be found here.

May I draw particular attention to paras 17-39. A summary of his findings with respect to the Sustainability Appraisal and the New Settlement are shown below:

  • The ranking of Option 1b (the new settlement) “as the best performing under heritage is not justified”.
  • For land and other resources, the ranking of Option 1b “is also therefore not, in my view, robust”.
  • The Inspector decided that “the decision not to rank the options in terms of flood risk to be very questionable”.
  • On landscape issues the Inspector concluded:

Option 1b was ranked joint highest with Option 1a. However, it is unclear why this is the case, given that the proposed new settlement would result in the development of large areas of open countryside and Option 1a already benefits from planning permission and is largely previously developed land. Further, the post submission SA notes that Pale Lane is ‘relatively unconstrained’, but despite this and it being a smaller site / potential development, Option 3a is ranked lower than Option 1b.

  • The Inspector has this to say on the climate change ranking:

Option 1b has been ranked the highest under the category climate change. This is as a result of the potential for the proposed new settlement to deliver a district heating system. However, there is little evidence to suggest that this is a feasible or realistic option that is being actively pursued by the site promoters. I consider this raises doubt about the appropriateness of such a ranking.

  • The ranking for the impact on water was also criticised by the Inspector.

In conclusion on the SA the Inspector said:

In my judgement the scoring of Option 1b above or equal to other options is not justified by the evidence. As a result, I consider that Policy SS3 and its supporting text are not justified, as, on the currently available evidence, it cannot be determined that it represents the most appropriate long-term growth strategy.

I consider that the post submission SA is therefore not robust and should not be relied upon in support of the Plan.

In addition, the Inspector clearly states:

Given my earlier findings in terms of the housing requirement, Policy SS3 is not required for the Plan to be sound and, in light of my comments above, I consider that the most appropriate course of action would be to remove it (along with any other necessary subsequent changes) from the Plan through Main Modifications (MMs). This would allow the Plan to progress towards adoption without any significant delay to the examination process…

I consider that it would not be unsound for the Plan to retain the Council’s aspirations to plan for long-term needs beyond the Plan period, which could include the delivery of a new settlement. But, the Plan should clearly state that this, as a growth option, would need to be fully considered and evidenced in a future (potentially early or immediate) review of the Plan or a subsequent DPD…

I am of the view 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…

I am also mindful that following further work, there can be no guarantee that the evidence would support it as the most appropriate long-term growth strategy or that Policy SS3 would be found sound.

 

 

Appendix B: Local Plan Modifications and Sustainability Appraisal Addendum

The main modification related to removing Policy SS3, New Settlement from the Hart Local Plan can be found below. The full consultation can be found here.

Winchfield Fights Back - Shapley Heath Policy SS3 removed from Hart Local Plan

Winchfield Fights Back – Shapley Heath Policy SS3 removed from Hart Local Plan

The Sustainability Appraisal Addendum accompanying the consultation into the Main Modifications to the Local Plan can be found here.

I draw your attention to page 2:

Winchfield Fights Back: SA Addendum impact on Winchfield New Town Area of Search

Winchfield Fights Back: SA Addendum impact on Winchfield New Town Area of Search

 

Appendix C: Bid Commitments and Lack of Current Plans

No doubt you already have a copy of their bid commitment. Here is the commitment to produce a New Settlement DPD for consultation by December 2019.

Winchfield Fights Back: Shapley Heath New Town Bid Timeline for DPD

New Settlement Bid Timeline for DPD

The draft minutes from the Hart Council meeting held on 25 July 2019 can be found here. I refer you to Q&A in Appendix A.

Here is the response that shows no plans to carry out the additional SA work required by the Inspector:

Winchfield fights back: No plan for SA work

Winchfield fights back: No plan for SA work

No plans to allocate budget:

Hart Council has no idea how it will spend £786K winchfield new town money

Hart Council Knows Nothing: No idea how much of £786K will be spent or when

No plans for a New Settlement DPD.

Hart Council has no plan for Winchfield New Town proposals

Hart Council Knows Nothing: No plan for New Settlement DPD

 

Appendix D – Deceptive Communications

Statement at Hart Cabinet in July that both Homes England and MHCLG were informed:

Winchfield fights back: Chairman Announcement MHCLG kept informed

Winchfield fights back: Chairman Announcement MHCLG kept informed

Question asking how MHCLG and Homes England were kept informed of the changing status of the New Settlement in Policy SS3 in the Hart Local Plan.

Winchfield fights back: Cockarill MHCLG and civil servant kept informed

Winchfield fights back: Cockarill MHCLG and civil servant kept informed

 

The subsequent release of correspondence shows only one email to Kevin Bourner informing him in passing of the removal of Policy SS3. This can be found here.

Key passage:

Winchfield fights back: HDC email to Homes England

Winchfield fights back: HDC email to Homes England

The only correspondence with MHCLG prior to the announcement is asking for an update on the announcement timetable. This email is not addressed to Simon Ridley who made the award.

 

 

 

 

Hart Council Knows Nothing about New Town Plans

Hart Council Knows Nothing: Hart Council Knows Nothing about New Town Plans.

Hart Council Knows Nothing about New Town Plans

At last week’s full meeting, Hart Council admitted that it had no real plans for the new settlement centred on Winchfield/Shapley Heath. This is in direct contradiction to their funding bid for support under the Garden Communities programme. The minutes can be found here.

They were asked about how they plan to spend the £786K set aside for Winchfield new town planning. They admitted that they had taken no decisions on how to spend this money.

Hart Council has no idea how it will spend £786K winchfield new town money

Hart Council Knows Nothing: No idea how much of £786K will be spent or when

 

They were also asked about the additional Sustainability Appraisal work requested by the Inspector. They said it was premature to discuss next stages. In a subsequent question, they admitted they had no plans for a new settlement DPD.

Hart Council has no plan for Winchfield New Town proposals

Hart Council Knows Nothing: No plan for New Settlement DPD

This is in direct contradiction of their Garden Community bid that said they would bring forward a new settlement consultation in December 2019.

Winchfield New Town Bid Timeline for DPD

New Settlement Bid Timeline for DPD

They are claiming that there is no link between the Local Plan process and the Garden Communities programme.

Hart Council Knows Nothing: No link between Local Plan and Winchfield New Town

Hart Council Knows Nothing: No link between Local Plan and New Town

But their bid clearly did rely upon and indeed assumed that Policy SS3, the Winchfield/Shapley Heath new town, would remain in the Local Plan.

Nightmare in Winchfield - Shapley Heath funding assumes Policy SS3 remains in Hart Local Plan

Shapley Heath funding assumes Policy SS3 remains in Hart Local Plan

We wonder if Hart Council has inadvertently obtained the Garden Communities money under false pretences.

 

 

 

Hart Local Plan Modifications Consultation Launched

Hart Local Plan Modifications: Shapley Heath/ Winchfield New Town/ Policy SS3 Area of Search removed

Hart Local Plan Modifications: Shapley Heath/ Winchfield New Town/ Policy SS3 Area of Search removed

The Council has launched a Hart Local Plan Modifications consultation to gain agreement to the modifications it proposes. The Inspector requested that Policy SS3, the Winchfield new town (or Shapley Heath as it is now known), be removed because it was unsound. The consultation opened on 5 July and will be open until 19 August 2019.

The main modifications can be found here.

The full consultation page can be found here.

Impact of Hart Local Plan Modifications

On the face of it, this is good news as it appears that all mention of Policy SS3 has been expunged from the document.

Hart Local Plan Modifications: Shapley Heath/ WInchfield New Town/ Policy SS3 removed from the document

Hart Local Plan Modifications: Policy SS3 removed from the document

There are many consequential changes to the document to reflect that the new town has been removed from the document.

In addition, other changes relate to:

  • Altering the policy relating to gaps between settlements (MM82 & 83)
  • A new objective to encourage the use of previously developed (brownfield) land (MM16)
  • More encouragement for residential development within our town centres (MM 71 & 72)

These are all welcome developments.

Impact on Garden Communities Funding

It gets interesting when you start to consider the impact on the recently announced Garden Communities funding. We reported earlier that Hart had won £150K of funding from the Government to further develop its new town plans. Indeed, their bid document  set the expectation that they would be consulting on a draft development in December 2019.

Shapley Heath Winchfield New Town Development Schedule

Shapley Heath Winchfield New Town Development Schedule

However, the new Sustainability Appraisal Addendum says that a new development plan document (DPD) cannot simply start once the Local Plan is adopted. Indeed it suggests that any new process to develop the new town would effectively be an entirely new Local Plan. This new Local Plan must consider all reasonable alternatives, such as urban regeneration.

SA Addendum impact on Winchfield New Town Area of Search

SA Addendum impact on Winchfield New Town Area of Search

So, on the one hand, they have committed to the Government they will produce a DPD by December 2019, and on the other, they are saying they can only produce a new DPD as part of a new Local Plan. This of course raises the question of whether the Council have inadvertently obtained the £150K Government grant under false pretences. We think that Hart should be re-directing the £786K it budgeted towards the new town to properly evaluating regenerating our urban centres.

We will have to see how this plays out.