CCH seek opt out from housing target as they build more than required

CCH seek opt out from housing targets

CCH seek opt out from housing targets

In a desperate move, CCH has launched a campaign for Hart District to opt out of the Government housing targets. The say:

We are therefore asking all residents who like us, want no more forced housing in Hart, to support us on a call to central government, via our MP Ranil Jayawardena, to remove Hart from any future government housing allocation.

Many of us have thought for some time that CCH displayed quite authoritarian tendencies. But this is virtually a declaration of independence on housing policy. Something tells us that Ranil won’t be receiving many emails.

Already building more than Local Plan Requires

The irony in their position is that they are in power when we are building far more than required. In each of the past five years, Hart has built far more than Local Plan requirement of 423 dpa.

Hart District Annual Housing Completions to Mar 2020

Hart District Annual Housing Completions to Mar 2020

Of course, they may argue that this is because many planning permissions were granted when Hart did not have a Local Plan.

No Intention of Reviewing the Local Plan

But looking forward, the most recently published housing target for Hart is 286dpa. Yet, despite being asked, they have no intention of reviewing the Local Plan to take advantage of this new, lower figure.

So, we are building more than is required by both the Local Plan and more than the Government housing target.

Shapley Heath will Add to the Excess Building

Yet, they are still planning Shapley Heath. The most recent housing trajectory for this project has housing delivery starting in 2024. The steady state housing trajectory is 360 dpa. Even on its own, Shapley Heath delivers far more than the Government housing target.

Shapley Heath Housing Trajectory Sept 2020

Shapley Heath Housing Trajectory Sept 2020

All of the housing delivered by Shapley Heath will be in addition to the Local Plan.

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

Adding it all up, over the period that Shapley Heath will be built, it will deliver about 2,400 houses in excess of requirements.

CCH seek opt out from housing target as they plan to build even more

CCH seek opt out from housing targets as they plan Shapley Heath to build more than Local Plan requirement

Perhaps it would be better for CCH to spend their time getting their own house in order instead of indulging in ridiculous grandstanding.

Shapley Heath Survey

You might like to respond to the Shapley Heath survey. We have produced a handy guide with suggestions as to how you might choose to answer the freeform questions. It can be found on the link below. The full survey can be found here.

Shapley Heath Survey with Suggested Responses

 

Catch-22 at the heart of Shapley Heath project

Catch-22 at the Heart of Shapley Heath Project

Catch-22 at the Heart of Shapley Heath Project

It has emerged that there is a strategic flaw at the heart of the Shapley Heath project. There is a significant mismatch between the expectations they set to Government, the viability study accompanying the funding bid and the testing now being carried out.

The bid documentation clearly set the expectation of up to 10,000 houses.  The accompanying viability study showed that Shapley Heath was only viable with 5,300 houses or above. And even that was being generous because significant infrastructure was missing from their calculations. Now the testing being carried out for transport infrastructure is for “up to 5,000” houses.

Catch-22 at the heart of Shapley Heath

The Catch-22 at the heart of Shapley Heath is that if they build less than 5,000, then it’s not viable. It could only be made viable by cutting infrastructure spending or paying less for the land. Yet, the ruling CCH/Lib Dem cabal insist the main reasons for building Shapley Heath is to deliver infrastructure. The only way to make it viable and deliver more infrastructure is to build even more houses. The extra houses will then require even more infrastructure and so on. And yet they continue to insist up to 10,000 houses is just scaremongering.

The real risk here is that they produce an infrastructure plan for 5,000 houses. They then go on to build far more than 5,000 houses to generate more funds to deliver that infrastructure. These extra houses will will then overload the infrastructure. They will have then destroyed the countryside and left us with even more congested roads and more pollution.

You might like to respond to the Shapley Heath survey. We have produced a handy guide with suggestions as to how you might choose to answer the freeform questions. It can be found on the link below. The full survey can be found here.

Shapley Heath Survey with Suggested Responses

Government Expectations

Regular readers may remember that the bid for  Government funding for the project clearly said that Shapley Heath Garden Community could grow to 10,000 houses. Here is the statement in the Vision document.

Shapley Heath: Vision Document 10000 houses.

Shapley Heath: Vision Document up to 10,000 houses

The actual bid document set the same expectations

Nightmare in Winchfield - capacity for 10,000 houses

Shapley Heath bid document: capacity for 10,000 houses

Viability Study

The viability study that accompanied the bid was carried out on the basis that 5,300 new houses would be delivered.

Shapley Heath Garden Village Viability Summary

Shapley Heath Garden Community Viability Summary

This showed a surplus at the end of the project of £32.1m, from a gross development value of nearly £1.7bn. So, the surplus is essentially a rounding error in the grand scheme of things. Reducing the open market housing by 320 units would render the project unviable. This is  assuming an average selling price of £500K and a 20% margin (£100K). This means the “up to 5,000” houses is a pipedream.

This study allowed for £164m of infrastructure funding. But this missed out key commitments from the funding bid of one primary school and a health centre. The study was ambiguous about whether it had included an allowance to re-route the high-pressure gas main and electricity transmission pylons. It was also unclear whether proper allowance had been made to improve or replace the railway station. The scale of the road improvements planned is also unknown. Certainly, no mention was made of improvements to the M3 at  Junction 5. We covered the flaws in the viability study in more detail here.

So, in summary, the project was only marginally viable at 5,300 units and it is doubtful whether all of the required infrastructure was even included in the costing.

Current Testing

The Council is at great pains to downplay the up to 10,000 mentioned in the funding bid. It now says that they are pursuing a project of “only” up to 5,000 houses. Members of the Sustainable Transport thematic group have not been allowed to see the scope document for the Transport baseline study. However, we have been told that the testing is for up to 5,000 houses. Apparently, the impact of 10,000 houses is not even being considered.

 

 

Shapley Heath survey launched by Hart Council

Hart Council launch Shapley Heath Garden Community Survey

Hart Council launch Shapley Heath survey

We are sure readers will be as delighted as we are that Hart have launched another survey about the proposed Shapley Heath Garden Village. The survey is exploring the potential to build a new garden community in the Winchfield and Murrell Green area, with the working title Shapley Heath. The survey runs from 26 May through to 5 July and is supported by a new project website – hartgarden.community.

Readers may remember that Policy SS3, the policy that paved the way for a new town in the Winchfield/Murrell Green area was thrown out of the Local Plan by the Inspector. Yet, Hart Council have resurrected the plans, outside of the Local Plan process. They applied for funding support from Government and received a £150K grant in 2019. That bid was clearly for a new town of up to 10,000 houses.

Shapley Heath: Vision Document 10000 houses.

Shapley Heath: Vision Document 10000 houses

The main bid document clearly stated that this development would be in addition to the requirements of the Local Plan.

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

However, the Council is now insisting that they are testing a new community of  “only” up to 5,000 houses.

They have couched the survey in terms of “exploring the opportunity”, so there aren’t many options to express the view that you do not want this development to go ahead. However, there are some freeform questions that allow you to express your actual opinion.

The survey is around 24 questions, so please allocate 20-30 minutes for your response. We have produced a handy guide with suggestions as to how you might choose to answer the freeform questions. It can be found on the link below. The full survey can be found here.

Shapley Heath Survey with Suggested Responses

 

Lib Dems Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

Lib Dems Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

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 Dem Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

Lib Dems Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

They say:

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.

We have previously estimated the environmental impact of Shapley Heath. The negative impacts include:

  • 1,000,000 tonnes of CO2 emitted from construction
  • 312,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum from the occupants
  • Loss of natural carbon sinks in pasture and woodland
  • Damage to Basingstoke Canal SSSI, Odiham Common SSSI, Ancient Woodland and heritage sites

 

Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact - Damage to nature

Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact – Damage to nature

Note that Lib Dem Cabinet Member Cockarill, in charge of Place, has just signed a cooperation agreement with the developers.

Consider your vote carefully and don’t believe all you read in the election leaflets.

 

 

Hart back in bed with developers of Shapley Heath

Hart back in bed with Developers of Shapley Heath

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

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 Studies

Developer Funding of Shapley Heath Garden Community Studies

The cost of these baseline studies will undoubtedly far exceed the £25K that Hart Council has set aside for external consultants next year. So, progress will be reliant on funding from the developers. Hart Council have effectively handed control of the project to the developers.

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

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

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 Village Opportunity Board Timeline

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

Developers reneging on commitments already

Hart Back in Bed with Developers: Limited Public Consultation

As part of the project, a survey of residents will take place in May, after the elections. However, the draft minutes of the Opportunity Board say that this survey will be “the main opportunity for residents across Hart to have their say on the project”. So, very little opportunity for further input. This comes on top of local community groups being side-lined in the Stakeholder Forum.

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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.

 

Hart Council’s Mad Budget (Pt. 2 – Shapley Heath Edition)

Hart Council Mad Mad Mad Mad Budget

Hart Council’s Mad Budget

Yesterday’s post covered the overall madness of budgeting for a deficit, and claiming the budget is balanced. Today’s post will focus on the answers to the questions we posed about Shapley Heath.

If you want to stop this madness:

Please sign and share the petition you can access from the button below.

Stop Shapley Heath to Balance the Budget

Hart Council’s Mad Budget: Shapley Heath Costs Unknown

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 Vital Services Cut

Hart Council Burning Money as Homeless Budget Cut.

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.

Stop Shapley Heath to Balance the Budget

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

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.

We have no idea how they managed to get consultants to pay them £68K this year, as they have already spent over £27K on PR.

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

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

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

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.

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Shapley Heath Grant Money Down the Drain

Shapley Heath Grant Money Down the Drain

Shapley Heath Grant Money Down the Drain

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

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?

The second highest payment went to Mike Allgrove Planning. Mike is an ex-local Government town planner, who describes himself on his LinkedIn page:

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

Hart Takeover of Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum

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 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

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

Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum Membership

The membership section then states that organisations may only be represented by one person each:

Hart Council Takes Over Shapley Heath

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.

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Hart Council to spend £406K on Shapley Heath White Elephant next year

Shapley Heath White Elephant

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.

Other Questions

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.