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 fails to win share of Future High Streets Fund

Harlington Centre, Fleet Hampshire, could be a target for Future High Street Fund?

Harlington Centre – could have been target for Future High Streets Fund

The Government has announced the winners of the Future High Street fund. 50 areas have won support to develop plans to show how they can regenerate their high streets. Sadly, Hart is not among the winners. The objective of the fund is to “renew and reshape town centres and high streets in a way that improves experience, drives growth and ensures future sustainability.”

The Hart Local Plan acknowledged that the “challenge for Fleet specifically, will be to secure investment so that it can compete with the comparable towns in neighbouring districts”. (para 66)

Hart Council Cabinet resolved to consider making a bid back in February. It is unclear whether a bid was eventually made, but Hart didn’t win, even if they tried.

The winners can be found here.

Future High Streets Details

The scheme was launched back in December 2018. The deadline for expressions of interest as 22 March 2019.

It’s a real shame that Fleet did not win, because the key investment themes expected were:

  • Investment in physical infrastructure
  • Acquisition and assembly of land including to support new housing, workspaces and public realm
  • Improvements to transport access, traffic flow and circulation in the area
  • Supporting change of use including (where appropriate) housing delivery and densification
  • Supporting adaptation of the high street in response to changing technology

Most would agree that Fleet needs infrastructure investment and improvements in transport. Perhaps if the officers and councillors spent more effort on this bid, rather then focusing on the unsound new settlement, they might have been more successful.

History of Fleet regeneration

Over a period of years, Fleet Town Council has pursued a doomed proposal to replace the Harlington Centre by concerting over Gurkha Square car-park with taxpayers money. This has been rightly rejected by the people of Fleet.

Last Autumn, The Rural Hart Association put forward draft proposals for regenerating the Hart Shopping Centre as the first step to a broader regeneration of Fleet. This could have been achieved with private funding. So far, sadly, this has not been taken up by Hart Council.

Our local MP, Ranil Jayawardena has called for regeneration of our urban centres. He has raised a petition, but so far, it isn’t clear what progress has been made.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

In a quite astonishing development, Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart CCH have doubled down on their Winchfield new town bias.

In an update to their website since last night, they have added the following paragraph:

The pressure for new development never goes away and a new settlement is the most effective way to absorb these central government imposed demands while delivering much needed infrastructure. If we don’t start the process of planning for this now we will forever face the blight of urban extensions over and over again.

Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart CCH Doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

This comes despite the Inspector saying:

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.

Of course, the Inspector said that their infrastructure plans lacked substance. So, they couldn’t even demonstrate the benefits of their main reason for supporting a new town.

The work simply hasn’t been done to demonstrate that a new town at Winchfield is the most effective way of delivering additional housing growth or infrastructure beyond the plan period. Moreover, the Inspector says that even the additional work might not show the new town being found sound:

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.

We simply cannot trust CCH to be impartial on the matter if and when the additional work is carried out.

Alternatives to a new town

There is an alternative to both a new town and urban extensions. That is urban regeneration.

The Local Plan acknowledges that a big problem facing Hart is that it has not kept up with its neighbouring districts. Hart’s shops, restaurants and leisure services are losing out to the competition. This is openly acknowledged in the Local Plan:

  • The outflow of retail expenditure from the District…is relatively high and is likely to remain high in the future”: Local Plan para 65.

The main cause is that no effort has been made to invest in the re-generation of Fleet (where 40% of Hart’s population lives) or Blackwater, Hook or Yateley. This is also openly acknowledged in the Plan:

  • The main centres in Hart have not kept pace with other centres in the wider area. Other centres have strengthened and improved their offering through investment and development. Failure to invest in the centres will see them continue to fall in the rankings”. Retail, Leisure and Town Centre Study Part 1 para 2.15
  • The challenge for Fleet specifically will be to secure investment so that it can compete with the comparable towns in neighbouring districts. All the neighbouring towns are subject to regeneration or expansion projects”. Local Plan Para 66

It is to be welcomed that Hart Council are removing the new town from the Local Plan. Any plan for the future must include the option of regenerating our urban centres. This needs to be properly and impartially evaluated.

Fleet regeneration is feasible without taxpayer funding

Fleet Regeneration: Hart Shopping Centre Design Study

Fleet Regeneration: Hart Shopping Centre Design Study

We are delighted to announce the release of a study into Fleet regeneration undertaken on behalf the Rural Hart Association. This study shows that it is feasible and desirable to redevelop Hart Shopping Centre as a stepping stone to wider Fleet regeneration.

Benefits of Fleet Regeneration

The benefits of the proposed scheme are as follows:

  • 371 flats of 1, 2, 3 and 4 bedrooms, with 20-40% affordable, ideal for first time buyers. It is possible that some of the units would be attractive to the private rented sector.
  • Potential for some of the unit to be sheltered housing for our growing elderly population.
  • Extra customers for local Fleet businesses including retail, restaurants, bars, photographers, hairdressers, mobile phone shops etc, bringing an extra ~£3m per year of spending to the town centre.
  • Provision of a cinema for film lovers.
  • Provision of a community space for local cultural events.
  • Modern retail units for a supermarket and to attract High Street retailers, benefiting existing Fleet residents. Although there is an option to increase the number of homes and have less retail space if necessary.
  • Underground car-parking.
  • The scheme will no doubt make contributions to fund infrastructure in Fleet.
  • Supports Fleet Town Council’s objectives to bring cultural and entertainment facilities to Fleet Town Centre as outlined in the Fleet Neighbourhood Plan.
  • Help Hart Council address the challenge of bringing investment to Fleet, as outlined in the Hart Local Plan.
  • The scheme would be profitable in its own right and would not require any contribution from Fleet or Hart taxpayers.

The proposals respect the sight lines of the existing Hart Shopping Centre, so it shouldn’t be intrusive.

The savings for Fleet taxpayers would run into £10’s of millions as they would no longer be on the hook for the controversial Gurkha Square development. The savings for Hart taxpayers would include the £1.5m for planning the unnecessary new town, and of course they would retain the Gurkha Square parking revenue.

Background to Fleet Regeneration Proposals

The genesis of this idea came at the January Council meeting, where the Graham Cockarill, portfolio head of Planning said they were pressing ahead with the unnecessary new town, because the regeneration of Fleet was an “impossible pipedream”. These proposals should give Hart Council food for thought. We would strongly recommend that Hart takes these proposals seriously and get behind a plan to regenerate Fleet. Together we can make a vibrant town and help Hart remain one of the best places to live in the country.

Next steps for Fleet Regeneration

These proposals will be formally submitted to Hart Council and Fleet Town Council early this week. We are also seeking for these proposals to be discussed as part of the upcoming Local Plan examination.

We think these proposals could be viewed as the first project of a larger programme to regenerate Fleet. The next site on our own target list would be the whole Civic area including Hart’s Offices, the library and the Harlington. There should be no need to disturb either Gurkha Square car park, or Bakers. The Fleet neighbourhood plan also targets this area for improvement. It is time for Hampshire, Hart and Fleet councils to get round the table with sensible planners like Lambert Smith Hampton to come up sensible plans for the future.

This is a much better idea than to concrete over our green fields with an unnecessary new town.

Rural Hart Association email to supporters about Fleet Regeneration

Dear Supporters

The Rural Hart Association (RHA) has made very good progress over the summer and we are now fully prepared to play our part in opposing a New Town at the Examination in Public (EIP) which starts on 20 November.

You will remember that the RHA decided to concentrate its resources on the single issue of Fleet regeneration. We set out to demonstrate that it was feasible for Fleet Town Centre to be regenerated with a mixed-use development (residential, retail and leisure) which would provide housing as well as reviving the commercial viability of Fleet as Hart District’s largest town.

The issue of Fleet Regeneration is of vital importance because Hart District Council’s justification for a New Town rests on their assertion that it can’t be done. In a bit more detail the argument runs like this:

  • The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) requires that  Brownfield sites are used to their maximum potential before building on greenfield land
  • The NPPF also requires that councils regenerate their Town Centres. NPPF para 86 says “Planning policies and decisions should support the role that town centres play at the heart of local communities, by taking a positive approach to their growth, management and adaptation”
  • HDC admits that Hart District is failing commercially (because there is a growing net outflow of retail and leisure spend from the district)  and the Local Plan states (para 66) that “the challenge for Fleet will be to secure investment so that it can compete with the comparison towns in neighbouring districts”
  • But HDC has made no attempt to secure the investment needed to regenerate Fleet. When challenged on this at the January council meeting HDC stated that regeneration of Fleet was an “impossible pipedream”.

In May we appointed Lambert Smith Hampton to undertake a Design Study to investigate the feasibility of a mixed-use regeneration of Fleet’s Hart Shopping Centre. This study is now complete and the main conclusions of the Study are:

  • Hart Shopping Centre can be regenerated to provide the same retail and parking space, as well as 950sqm of community space, a multi-screen cinema and 371 flats (of 1,2 and 3 bedrooms). The whole area would become modern and desirable, and the flats would provide a tremendous boost to the viability of the shopping centre.
  • The flats would be ideal for first time buyers and elderly people because they are close to the shops and the station – the Design Study has allowed for the full 40% affordability provision.
  • The return on investment for potential developers looks good.

In summary, we have demonstrated that Hart’s claim that Fleet cannot be regenerated is utterly wrong. Hart Council is dominated by CCH councillors whose agenda is to stop Fleet being regenerated at all costs. As a result the draft  Local Plan condemns Fleet in particular (and the whole Hart in general) to long-term economic decline.

We hope that on the basis of this Study, the Inspector will insist that the New Town is removed from the Local Plan and that a large-scale regeneration of Fleet is undertaken instead. Hart should be guiding the district towards a bright future in which Fleet becomes a modern, vibrant and highly successful town surrounded by beautiful countryside and rural villages.

LSH will submit the Design Study to Hart District Council, and will ask the Council to cooperate in its implementation. We will also submit the Design Study to Fleet District Council, whose Neighbourhood Plan supports mixed-use developments in the Town Centre. LSH will also submit the Design Study to the Inspector in preparation for the Inspector’s review of the Spatial Distribution of Housing (Matter 4) and Town Centre and Retail (Matter 10).

You can find the full study in David Turver’s excellent WeHeartHart website at www.wehearthart.co.uk. The We Heart Hart blog also provides a full commentary of the progress of the Local Plan and its well worth reading.

Thank you all for your generous contributions to the Design Study and to funding LSH to attend the Examination in November/December. I think that we have built a very strong case, and I believe that we have a good chance of preserving all of our green fields for many decades to come.

Tristram Cary
Chairman Rural Hart Association

Hartley Wintney Preservation Society criticise new town in Hart Local Plan

Hartley Wintney Preservation Society blast new town proposal in Hart Local Plan

Hartley Wintney Preservation Society blast new town proposal in Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 Consultation

Hartley Wintney Preservation Society have criticised the proposals for a new town contained in the draft Hart Local Plan. Their full comments can be found in the download below.

They are concerned about the threat to Hartley Wintney represented by Policy SS3 New Settlement at the Murrell Green/Winchfield. This could lead to 3,000 homes at Winchfield and 1,800 homes at Murrell Green.

A summary of their arguments follows:

  1. The prior consultations about the Hart Local Plan that resulted in a preference for a new town are invalid because they were predicated upon much higher housing numbers that we now don’t need to achieve
  2. The proposed housing numbers are far too high, containing arbitrary uplifts to the new Government figures that simply are not required
  3. Even using the inflated housing numbers in the draft Hart Local Plan, the new town simply is not required, and the plan itself makes that clear
  4. The alleged funding for infrastructure for the new town will not materialise and won’t be enough to cover the costs
  5. Significant parts of the area of search are not suitable for housing, such as Murrell Green (gas main) and Beggars Corner (former landfill and planning permission for a solar farm already turned down)
  6. Lead to inevitable coalescence of Hartley Wintney with Murrell Green, Hook and the three hamlets that make up Winchfield
  7.  The new town proposals will starve Fleet of much needed funding and focus on regeneration

Please use these words as guidance for your own response, but try to rephrase the comments.

We will be publishing our own objections to the Hart Local Plan in the coming days. Stay tuned.

The consultation runs from 9 February 2018 to 4pm on 26 March 2018. The whole suite of documents can be found here.

HWPS Reg 19 Guide

 

The Harlington project finances don’t add up

The Harlington Project - financial challenges could Save Gurkha Square in Fleet Hampshire

The Harlington Project – Financial challenges

We have uncovered some financial challenges to the Harlington Project to build a new facility on Gurkha Square in Fleet, Hampshire. Sadly, we have found that Fleet Town Council’s numbers don’t add up.

In summary, it is unlikely the project as currently constituted would meet Government lending criteria, without a significant precept increase. Moreover, Fleet taxpayers are on the hook for further increases in the precept if costs were to increase by even a modest amount.

If you want to do something about this, please respond to the petition that can be found here.

Please also object to the planning application here (or search for application 18/00147/OUT on https://publicaccess.hart.gov.uk/ )

Here is detail of the facts as we understand them, that have led us to the conclusions.

First, just to remind you, Fleet Town Council (FTC), is currently proposing to borrow £10,424,200 over 46 years to fund the vast majority of the project cost. The current total cost is estimated at £11,024,200, including a 7.5% estimate of inflation and 5% contingency. They have committed to keeping the annual precept on Fleet residents at £412,000 per year.

The Harlington Project Financial challenges to build on Gurkha Square FTC precept commitment

The Harlington Project – Precept Commitment

Will the Government approve the loan for the Harlington Project?

FTC has stated that it will seek a loan from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) to finance the Harlington project to build a replacement building on Gurkha Square.   The PWLB does indeed make such loans, but each loan has to be approved by the Government. Not surprisingly, the Government has set guidelines on how much parish and town councils can borrow.

This leads us to the first challenge. The Government has said:

The amount that an individual council will be allowed to borrow is normally limited to £500,000 in any one financial year.

The Harlington Project Financial challenges to build on Gurkha Square Fleet Government borrowing limit

The Harlington Project – Government borrowing limit

In short, FTC is proposing to borrow more than 20 times the amount that is normally allowed. Therefore, there must be a doubt that the loan will ever be made.

However, there is another challenge. In the current consultation on the prudential framework for capital finance of Local Government, maximum asset lives have been set. Freehold land gets a life of 50 years. Other assets have a maximum asset life of 40 years.

The Harlington Project Financial challenges to build on Gurkha Square Fleet Maximum Asset Life

The Harlington Project – Maximum Asset Life

Eagle eyed readers will have spotted that the maximum term that the Government will allow for buildings is less than the loan term that FTC is proposing. It isn’t even clear that the Government would allow an asset life of 40 years for such a building. This must lead to FTC increasing the precept to finance the reduced loan term (see sensitivity analysis below). Therefore, before any further cost increases, FTC has already broken its commitment to local taxpayers – see below.

Sensitivity of the Harlington Project to Cost Increases

The current proposal from FTC of total project costs of ~£11m, with council needing to borrow £10.4m to fund the build. This project costs figure includes 7.5% provision for inflationary increases and a 5% contingency. Given that stage the project has reached, we think 5% contingency is very low.

Harlington Horror Show: costs escalate to £11m

The Harlington Project costs £11m

This is borne out by FTC’s discussions last year with a Design and Build contractor. This might have been a way of FTC off-loading the risk of cost increases to the private sector. Of course, they would have had to pay a premium to cover this risk. However, the cost estimate put forward by the contractor was ‘unacceptable’, so FTC have decided to go it alone with some support from Rushmoor Borough Council.

The Harlington Project Financial challenges to build on Gurkha Square risk of cost increases

The Harlington Project – risk of cost increases

So, a private company is not willing to risk its own money on there being no further cost increases. We therefore think further cost increases are a virtual certainty. A sensible contingency at this stage of design would be at least 20%. A sensitivity analysis of the costs shows:

The Harlington Project Financial challenges to build on Gurkha Square Sensitivity Analysis

The Harlington Project Financial – Sensitivity Analysis

  • To complete the project at the current cost estimate, with a maximum loan term of 40 years, would require a precept increase of 7.3%
  • If the total project costs increased by 10% (15% over the current baseline), then the precept would need to increase by 18.6%
  • A precept increase of 24.3% would be required if costs increased by 15% (20% over current baseline).

FTC is considering mitigation measures such as seeking a grant from the Arts Council. This would lead to them borrowing £8.5m. They would then have around £1.2m of headroom for cost increases before they would have to consider increasing the precept.

There is of course the risk that the fixed term interest rates that PWLB offer may rise between now and when the loan is offered.

Security of the Loan for the Harlington Project

It is worth pointing out that the loan from the PWLB is different to a mortgage.

With a mortgage, the bank takes security over the property. This means it takes the future value of the property seriously. The bank needs to ensure there will be value in the property if the borrower defaults on the loan.

The Harlington Project Financial challenges to build on Gurkha Square Fleet Security over local tax

The Harlington Project financial challenges – Security over local tax

However, the PWLB takes a charge directly over the taxes raised by the town council, so it has no need to worry about the future value of the building being constructed. This means that if the building were to deteriorate over say, a 30 year period, Fleet taxpayers would still be on the hook to repay the loan, even though the building might be useless by then.

Be careful what you wish for.

See earlier posts:

Save Gurkha Square

The Harlington Horror Show

 

The Harlington Horror Show – public sector value destruction

The Harlington Fleet Horror Show of a Deal to replace it with a new building on Gurkha Square

The Harlington Horror Show in Fleet, Hampshire

We have done more digging into the plans to replace the Harlington in Fleet by building a new facility on Gurkha Square. We have uncovered the Harlington Horror Show. We believe these plans represent a massive destruction of value for taxpayers.

  • Hart taxpayers lose around £140K per year, and lose at least £1.2m of value in Gurkha Square. They might get some of the Views in return, but have to fork out maybe up to £500K to replace the lost parking spaces.
  • Fleet taxpayers gain Gurkha Square and a brand new £9.9m £11m building, that will cost them at least £26.6m £34.3m over a 45 58 year repayment period and they lose part of The Views. They might also gain parking revenue from the remaining car park. ***Stop Press: Costs now escalated to £11m***
  • Everybody gains another decaying building in the form of the old Harlington blighting the town centre for years into the future, with no plan and no money to do anything about it
  • There are no plans for the much needed wider regeneration of Fleet, and there are no plans to raise any private money to back the scheme.

It is difficult to see how these arrangements pass any sensible application of Government Value for Money principles. This is truly the Harlington Horror Show.

If you want to do something about this, please respond to the petition that can be found here.

Please also object to the planning application here (or search for application 18/00147/OUT on https://publicaccess.hart.gov.uk/ )

Here is detail of the facts as we understand them, that have led us to the conclusions:

The Harlington Centre Consultation

In 2017, Fleet Town Council (FTC) consulted on 3 options for the Harlington Fleet. The options were Repair, Refurbish, or Replace. The Replace option mean building a new facility on Gurkha Square car park. Of the 1,481 people who responded to the survey, 86% or 1,274 were Fleet residents. Of those Fleet residents, 53% or 675 people chose the ‘Replace’ option. FTC has taken this as a mandate to spend approximately £10 million to be raised from Fleet Council Tax payers.

The main issue with the consultation is that at the time, FTC did not even have a lease to operate within the existing Harlington and nor does it own the Gurkha Square car park. So, it held a consultation about two options that were not within its gift to deliver. It might as well have had a consultation about how many fairies we would like at the bottom of the garden.

Current position of the Harlington, Fleet

Currently the Harlington generates an operating loss of around £180,000 per year and this is expected to continue with the new facility.

Operating loss of Harlington Centre Fleet £180,000 per year. Harlington Horror Show

It was resolved earlier this year that the Joint Chief Executive in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Services be authorised to enter into an interim short term ‘two year rolling’ lease for the Harlington with FTC. We don’t know the details of that lease.

HDC FTC short term rolling lease for Harlington Centre. Harlington Horror Show

Current position of Gurkha Square

It is understood that HDC own the freehold for Gurkha Square. Currently it generates between £108,000 and £130,000 of parking revenue. As an average, let’s assume £120,000 per annum.

Parking revenue for Gurkha Square. Harlington Horror Show

Back at the March 2017 Cabinet meeting the car park was worth between £750K and £1.3m.

March 2017 cabinet value of Gurkha Square £750K-£1.3m. Harlington Horror Show

More recently, at Overview and Scrutiny Committee the value was set at £575K. The reason for this mysterious loss of value hasn’t been explained.

New Gurkha Square value £575K. Harlington Horror Show

We think the valuation is on the low side. A continuing stream of parking income, which is likely to be rise in line with inflation each year, might be valued at a multiple of 16 or above. This would value the car park at nearly £2m.

An alternative approach might be to value it as development land with planning permission. The SHMA suggested development land in Hart is worth £4m per hectare. The site is approximately 0.3Ha. This would value the site at £1.2m. This might be considered conservative as it is a prime site in one of the most affluent towns in the UK.

We believe that Hart wants to replace the lost parking revenue. We understand that it has been proposed that there be a ‘land swap’ where HDC give Gurkha Square to FTC and in return, FTC give HDC part of The Views. Hart would then use that land to build new parking spaces. The Views are one of the last remaining green spaces in Fleet town centre. As green space, the land has essentially zero economic value, and probably comes with maintenance costs attached.

The Harlington Proposal

As we understand it, FTC is proposing to build the new facility on Ghurka Square car park at a cost of £9.9m. ***Stop Press: Costs now escalated to £11m***. There are no plans for what happens to the existing Harlington centre, and apparently no money either. It has to be presumed that Hart taxpayers will shoulder the costs of maintenance and security, meanwhile Hart residents gain another decaying building in Fleet.

Harlington Horror Show: costs escalate to £11m

Harlington costs escalate to £11m

It is envisaged they will take loan to cover the cost from the Public Works Loan Board. Under this arrangement, monthly payments would remain fixed, but the term of the loan might vary depending upon changes in interest rates or cost escalations. The current plan is that the repayment period would be 45 years. 58 years based on the new £11m cost. Would the building even last that long?

Harlington costs and repayment £9.9m and 45 years. Harlington Horror Show

FTC has committed not to increase the precept levied to fund this project above £412,000 per annum.

Harlington precept £412000 per year. Harlington Horror Show

It is not clear what will happen if costs or interest rates rise so that the monthly payments don’t cover the interest. A quick sensitivity analysis shows that if the interest rate increases to 4.3% or above, and/or costs escalate to £13.6m or above, then the precept will not be sufficient to repay the interest, let alone repay any of the principal. We know that interest rates are rising, and construction costs only go up between project idea and completion.

Harlington Gurkha Square Sensitivity Analysis. Harlington Horror Show

Taken together, FTC is commiting to spend the continuing operating loss of £180,000 per annum plus the loan repayments of at least £412,000 per annum for the next 45 58 years. This totals at least £26.6m £34.4m over the term, assuming no further cost overruns and no interest rate increases.

The Harlington Horror Show Deal

Putting this all together, we believe this proposal is a lose-lose deal for Hart and Fleet residents. Let’s take a look at the position of Hart and Fleet taxpayers.

Hart Taxpayers

On the revenue side, they lose approximately £120K in parking income each year from Gurkha Square. They also lose the costs of maintaining and securing the decaying Harlington building. This might amount to a total of around £140K per year.

On the capital side of the account they lose Gurkha Square at a value of at least £1.2m. However, they gain part of The Views, at an unknown value. Essentially, this has no economic value as greenspace, and will probably come with maintenance costs attached.

The revenue costs could be mitigated by building more parking spaces on The Views. It is unlikely that the costs, once additional roadworks and machines are included will give much change from £500K. The resulting spaces will then be in an inconvenient position and unlikely to generate much income.

Fleet Taxpayers

On the revenue side Fleet taxpayers commit to paying at least £412K per annum for at least 45 58 years, plus £180K per year subsidy, for a total cost of at least £26.6m £34.3m. They might also gain parking revenue from the remaining car park.

On the capital side, they gain Gurkha Square at a value of £1.2m. However, they lose part of The Views at unknown value. Of course they gain a brand new building at a value of £9.9m £11m.

Taken together, this is the Harlington Horror Show.

 

 

Save Gurkha Square

Save Gurkha Square in Fleet Hampshire

Save Gurkha Square

The purpose of this post is to alert you to the plans to build on the much-loved Gurkha Square car-park and support the petition calling for a referendum of Hart residents before planning permission is granted.

Save Gurkha Square Petition

The petition can be found here.

Gurkha Square proposal

Fleet Town Council has made a controversial planning application to build a new facility on Gurkha Square car-park. This can be found here (or search for application 18/00147/OUT on https://publicaccess.hart.gov.uk/ ). This new facility is currently expected to cost around £9.9m to build.

This is to replace the aging Harlington centre that currently costs £178,300 to support each year. It is envisaged that this support cost will continue for the new centre. Additionally, Fleet residents will be asked to continue paying the £412,000 Harlington precept for 45 years to repay the loan. This assumes there is no escalation in building costs and no increase in interest rates. Hardly sensible assumptions.

At the time of writing, there have been 12 comments on the planning application and all of them are opposed to the proposal. One Hart resident has written:

When I found out about this and how little others living in Fleet knew about it I wanted to ensure that as Fleet residents you were made aware & could have a say in the future

Why is the Gurkha Square proposal a bad idea?

Regular readers will be aware that we are broadly in favour of redeveloping Fleet. So, we had to think long and hard about this proposal. We came down against it because:

  1. This removes much needed parking spaces from the town centre.
  2. Puts at risk the market and other community events.
  3. It is a poorly thought through proposal that isn’t part of a proper master plan for Fleet regeneration
  4. There is no plan to do anything with the vacant, decaying Harlington building or the rest of the underutilised complex.
  5. There is a risk that part of the Views will be concreted over to replace the lost parking spaces.
  6. Disrespects the Gurkha community by reducing the space dedicated to their support and sacrifice for the UK.
  7. This proposal has all the hallmarks of a doomed political vanity project.

Opaque financial arrangements for Gurkha Square transfer

The Gurkha Square car-park is currently owned by Hart District Council. In essence it belongs to all Hart residents. The financial arrangements related to the transfer of the car-park to Fleet Town Council are shrouded in mystery. They were discussed at Overview and Scrutiny Committee, but the key debate about finance was conducted in private.

We don’t think it appropriate that the transfer of assets between two public bodies should be conducted in secret. What we do know is that the Cabinet received advice that the value of the car-park is £575,000. Although it is unclear how this figure was determined. The site is approximately 0.3Ha and development land with planning permission is worth around £4m per hectare. One might expect prime development land in the town centre to be worth more. This would equate to a value of at least £1.2m, far in excess of the stated value.

However, we don’t know the basis on which HDC has agreed to transfer the asset. Some people fear they have agreed a much lower capital value, in exchange for a continuing income. But it seems odd they would rely upon an income from a facility that Fleet Town Council say will continue to lose £180,000 per annum. Moreover, the decaying Harlington Centre will revert to HDC, which looks like it will be a liability rather than an asset.

We think Hart residents should be consulted before ‘their’ asset is transferred to Fleet. Moreover, the financial arrangements should be transparent. Indeed, the deal as proposed may well be in breach of the Value for Money rules governing public bodies.

Conclusion

Please respond to the petition that can be found here.

Please object to the planning application here (or search for application 18/00147/OUT on https://publicaccess.hart.gov.uk/ )

Download the leaflet here:

Save Gurkha Square leaflet

 

 

Affordable homes blocked by Hart’s restrictive brownfield policies

Affordable homes blocked at Zenith House, 3 Rye Close, Fleet, Hampshire by Hart's restrictive brownfield policies

Affordable homes blocked by Hart’s brownfield policies

The delivery of 36 affordable homes is being blocked by Hart’s restrictive brownfield policies. Magna Group is seeking to convert Zenith House on Rye Close on Ancell’s Farm in Fleet into 36 relatively affordable properties, designed to retail at £175,000 to £300,000. But they are being blocked by Hart’s restrictive SANG policy.

The council has given its prior approval to the development. However, Hart is effectively blocking the development by refusing to allocate any of its SANG.

redevelopment of Old Police Station,Crookham Road, Fleet, Hart District, Hampshire being blocked by restrictive brownfield policies

Proposals to redevelop Fleet Police station being blocked by restrictive brownfield policies

We understand the same developer owns the old Fleet Police station on Crookham Road in Fleet and plans to replace it with 14 new dwellings. However, we understand the council planning officers have been instructed to refuse planning permission for even compliant proposals.

This has the effect of:

  • Restricting the supply of housing that would be affordable for many young people trying to get on the housing ladder
  • Adding extra pressure to build on green field land
  • Stopping the market dealing with the problem of the over-supply of dilapidated office blocks in the district

This policy is also blocking Ranil’s ideas for regenerating Fleet. His petition can be found here.

It transpires that Hart’s SANG policy may well be illegal. We understand that legal representations have been made that cast doubt on Hart’s SANG policy:

First the policy is clearly intended to frustrate the delivery of housing rather than to facilitate development.  The policy confers on the head of the regulatory services absolute discretion to allocate SANG but makes clear that SANG will not be allocated to any development unless the Council considers it to be acceptable.

That means that if Planning Permission is granted on appeal the Council will nevertheless use its powers in relation to SANG to thwart that development.

The policy may result in the Council preventing people from exercising the rights they have been granted by Parliament through the permitted development process. In effect the Council is removing a property right from them in breach of the terms of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Furthermore the Council is in breach of its duty to make proper provision to facilitate the delivery of housing.

It certainly looks like the council is setting itself up for more expensive legal battles.