Shapley Heath controversy: where each NE Hampshire candidate stands.
The Shapley Heath controversy erupted at the recent North East Hampshire hustings. The Basingstoke Gazette covered the story here. In summary, Conservative candidate Ranil Jayawardena opposes the Shapley Heath proposal. He believes that our future housing needs can be met by redeveloping brownfield land and revitalising our urban centres. Liberal Democrat candidate, Graham Cockarill supports the proposal. Indeed in his role as Cabinet member for Place on Hart Council he is the sponsor of the programme. Labour’s Barry Jones admitted he knew little about the proposals but would reluctantly support the plan.
Three candidates were not invited to the hustings. The local Green party confirmed on Twitter that their candidate Culann Walsh opposes the scheme. Independent candidate Tony Durrant also opposes the plan. Monster Raving Loony, Screaming Laud Hope has not yet responded to our question. We have summarised the positions of the candidates in the graphic above.
Shapley Heath Controversy – Details of the hustings
Apparently, candidate Cockarill challenged the notion of Shapley Heath being up to 10,000 houses. We were told that Mr Jayawardena brandished the vision document clearly showing the 10,000 ambition in the Vision Document.
We understand from others at the hustings that candidate Cockarill stated brownfield development was desirable. However, he thought landowners in Fleet aren’t interesting in selling. We know from the work carried out by the Rural Hart Association that the owners of the Hart Shopping Centre are interested in redevelopment. Indeed, they supported the Future High Streets bid (see final letter in the appendices) to regenerate Fleet. Moreover, some of the other prime regeneration sites are owned by either Hart District Council or Hampshire County Council. For instance, much of the Civic Quarter, including the Harlington Centre, plus Victoria Road car park and Church Road car park are in public ownership.
Creative thinking in three dimensions could preserve parking space; deliver better leisure and cultural facilities; housing that people can afford and infrastructure spending. It does seem odd that our local councils prefer to concrete over our green fields, rather than provide better facilities for their residents.
Of course, planning is a local rather than a national matter. However, our MP can ‘set the tone’ for the area; lobby Government to cut off further funding to Shapley Heath; call on Government to provide regeneration investment and vote more generally for brownfield first policies. Many people will of course be more concerned about national matters. Please bear Shapley Heath in mind when casting your vote on December 12th.
A local person has been in touch highlighting more Lib Dem Fake News. There are a number of issues with their latest General Election Leaflet:
Now supporting the Shapley Heath Garden Village, when they claimed credit for it being struck out of the Local Plan
Denying that there’s capacity for 10,000 houses at Shapley Heath
Getting Hart’s housing requirement, supply and timing of planning decisions wrong
Another Lib Dem fake bar chart
The full leaflet can be found here. Details of their fake news claims are shown below. If anybody finds fake news from other candidates please do get in touch.
Lib Dem Fake News: Shapley Heath
Regular readers will remember back in March, the Lib Dem district council candidates were claiming credit for saving Winchfield from the unnecessary new town.
Lib Dem Fake News claims to have saved Winchfield
Their latest leaflet for their candidate standing in the general election is trying to justify why we need the very same development.
Lib Dem Graham Cockarill justifying Shapley Heath Garden Village
This is quite a turnaround in just a few months. They don’t seem to be able to make their minds up.
Lib Dem Fake News: 10,000 houses
They are also claiming it is ridiculous to say Shapley Heath is going to be up to 10,000 houses.
Lib Dem Fake News: Fake 10,000 houses claim
The leaflet doesn’t mention that Graham Cockarill is in fact the Hart Cabinet member for Place (aka Planning). He oversaw the Council’s bid for Garden Community funding. The Vision Document that was part of the bid, clearly states the developers are looking to put 10,000 houses on the site.
Shapley Heath: Vision Document 10,000 houses
And the bid itself talked of a development up to 10,000 houses.
If a candidate denies what is in their own documents, we can’t see how they can be fit for office.
Hart Housing Requirement, Supply and Planning decisions
The leaflet claims Hart’s housing requirement up to 2032 is 388 dwellings per annum. In fact, after review by the Inspector, the requirement form 2014 to 2032 is 423 dpa. This is because Hart has agreed to take some of Surrey Heath’s requirement.
Lib Dem Fake News: Fake housing numbers claim
As part of their justification for continuing with Shapley Heath, the say Hart needs a 5 year land supply. It is true that local authorities need to maintain a 5-year land supply. But Hart currently has around 9 years supply. They also imply that Grove Farm was granted planning permission during the Conservative administration. In fact, the appeal was granted in October 2017, when the Lib Dem/CCH coalition were in power and Mr Cockarill was Cabinet member for Planning.
Lib Dem Fake News Bar Chart
Of course no Lib Dem leaflet would be complete without a misleading bar chart. This one is no exception. The leaflet says that NE Hampshire is a two-horse race and the Lib Dems are snapping at the heels of the Tories to win the seat.
Graham Cockarill Lib Dem Fake Bar Chart
They don’t mention their council coalition partners Community Campaign Hart in the bar chart. If they did, it would show that the Lib Dems are in fact in third place in terms of seats on Hart District Council. They also came a distant third, behind Labour, in the 2017 General Election with only 12.3% of the vote. Here is what their bar chart should have looked like.
In the light of the focus on the environment in the General Election campaign, we thought it would be a good idea to look at the Shapley Heath Climate Change impact.
Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact: Summary
1,000,000 tonnes of CO2 emitted from construction
312,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum from the occupants
Loss of pasture carbon sink
Damage to SSSIs, Ancient Woodland and heritage
Yet, Hart has agreed the “serious impact of climate change globally” and recognises “the need for urgent action”. Councillor Graham Cockarill is standing in the General Election as a Liberal Democrat candidate. They say “the UK should be leading the world on tackling the environment crisis”.
Why are they pursuing an unnecessary new town that goes against their own climate change policies?
Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact: CO2 emissions
According to this article in the Guardian, construction of an average 2-bed cottage emits around 80 tonnes of CO2. The average size of Shapley Heath dwellings is likely to be larger, so let’s assume 100 tonnes of CO2 per dwelling. The vision and bid documents both suggested the eventual size of Shapley Heath will be 10,000 houses. So, building 10,000 houses will emit around 1,000,000 tonnes of CO2. There will of course be additional emissions from building new roads, supermarkets and office blocks.
These 10,000 houses will house around 24,000 people, and each of them will emit on average ~13 tonnes of CO2 per annum each. So, there will be 312,000 tonnes of CO2 emitted by the occupants of the houses.
Moreover, the existing pasture acts as a carbon sink, so this benefit will be lost too.
Remember, the Hart Local Plan, the Inspector’s report and even the bid document said that Shapley Heath isn’t required to meet our housing targets, so all of these emissions are entirely avoidable.
Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact: Damage to Nature
The area of search contains or borders many important natural sites. These include:
Odiham Common SSSI
Basingstoke Canal SSSI
Numerous ancient woodland sites that are also Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation
Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact – Damage to nature
Hart District Council and Lib Dem Climate Change Policies
The CCH Rhetoric Machine went into overdrive at Thursday’s Cabinet. After claiming their untrue statements about Shapley Heath were just rhetoric, they went on to make more spurious claims in the Cabinet meeting (report here). We have produced a short video to tackle the main claims:
Since then , they have produced a defence of their position on Facebook. Below is their post, together with the RHA response in red.
CCH rhetoric machine goes into overdrive
This post is in response to accusations made against CCH Councillors on certain fb pages.
Do they mean us? Surely not.
If you would like to see for yourself what was said and how it was said, please see the link below for HDC’s live streaming of last night’s cabinet meeting and, Paper H relating to the Garden Community that was to be discussed.
Please take the video to 37 minutes to begin at the start of the Garden Community debate.
Alternatively, you can read our post, with edited highlights from the meeting here.
CCH have been accused of:
– being rude to members of the public.
Not by us. There are many words we could use to describe CCH’s attitude, but on the night they weren’t particularly rude to anybody.
– being prejudicial towards a new settlement.
Not true. Prejudicial has no meaning in this context. The accusation in the QC opinion is of CCH being of ‘closed mind’ and thus having a predetermined attitude to matters relating to Shapley Heath.
– wanting to build houses Hart doesn’t need.
Well, this is true. Their own Local Plan said that the new town wasn’t required. The inspector agreed and threw out Policy SS3. The Garden Village bid document said the same thing. Yet, they still bid for Government money for an unnecessary Garden Village. Now they have agreed to spend up to £650K to flesh out the plans for it having committed to Government that it would deliver 5,000 homes above local requirements with an indication that there is capacity “…for a development of 10,000 homes…”.
– wanting to build 10,000 new homes.
Up to 10,000 houses is stated both in the bid and the accompanying Vision Document.
We say, we were assertive in demonstrating our reasoning, were reactive to correct misinformation and were defensive, when necessary, of ourselves and, the people we represent.
As you decide for yourself, we would like to draw your attention (see below) to just one member of the public’s statement as it has bearing on one of the accusations made against us (We believe this refers to the RHA statement):-
Rural Hart Association (RHA, made up of 3 predominately Winchfield groups),
Not true. WAG is based in Winchfield. We Heart Hart is based in Hartley Wintney and NE Hants Greens are district-wide. In addition, other Hart-wide groups support RHA.
state they want to regenerate Fleet Town Centre and, have ‘given developers the Hart Centre’.
True. RHA does want to regenerate Fleet and the other urban centres to keep up with neighbouring towns like Camberley, Aldershot, Farnham and Wokingham. RHA came up with several options for regeneration of Fleet. Hart Shopping Centre was put forward as one of these options to developers by RSH.
They then state that their developers will not carry out any work on this ‘regeneration’ scheme ‘unless HDC takes the Garden Village off the table’.
Not true. The developers won’t invest time and money in urban regeneration when the Council has such an obvious bias towards the new town and clearly no interest in looking at urban regeneration.
Is this prejudicial by residents of Winchfield wanting future development away from them and for it to continue in and around Fleet?
Again ‘prejudicial’ has no legal meaning. Residents aren’t the people who actually make planning decisions, so they can’t be predetermined. Of course, they can oppose proposals they disagree with. The Local Plan itself identifies the decline of Fleet as a key issue, yet the policies to address this are feeble. It is the interests of all Hart residents for the countryside to be preserved and for all of the urban centres of Fleet, Hook, Blackwater and Yateley to thrive. Private money is clearly available to support such schemes as evidenced by the regeneration of Camberley, Farnham, Aldershot and Wokingham.
If you live in Fleet, Church Crookham, Crookham Village, Elvetham Heath and Hook, you will know they’ve seen the majority of urban expansion over the last decade.
Compared to their size, Hartley Wintney and Odiham have also seen big new developments. In addition, Fleet has fallen behind its neighbours in terms of retail, leisure and public amenities.
Do you ‘really’ want more development tagged on, using existing infrastructure… roads, schools, doctors, station that already cannot cope?
No. A masterplan for all of our urban centres will address these issues and should also deliver infrastructure funding in the places that need it. Remember the infrastructure plans for the new settlement were described by the Inspector as “not of any great substance”. Plus, a new town won’t deliver any new infrastructure for existing settlements. At least urban regeneration would deliver funds for infrastructure in the areas that are already creaking under the strain.
Do you want to live in town where it’s centre is high rise apartment blocks offering no outdoor space for families?
The LSH proposal for the Hart Shopping Centre utilised existing sightlines and in no sense was it “high rise”. Additional regeneration opportunities such as the Civic Campus could also deliver outdoor spaces.
That’s what RHA are proposing for you.
More rhetoric that you shouldn’t take too seriously.
We will look at all options open to us but, CCH want to deliver our future housing needs in a way that is high quality, sustainable and right for the majority of Hart not, just for the few.
But you clearly aren’t looking at anything other than a new settlement. The Paper explicitly rules out looking at alternatives. There is nothing ‘high quality’ about any of the new town proposals delivered so far. For instance, three locations for a secondary school have been proposed. One was next to a mental health unit housing sex offenders, the second was directly on top of a high-pressure gas main and the third was under electricity pylons. And of course, the Inspector threw out the last proposal because he wasn’t convinced it was deliverable.
And, as we have said many times before, reiterated by Councillor “it’s only rhetoric” Radley last night, if we don’t ‘need’ to build more houses then we ‘won’t build any more houses.
The CCH Rhetoric machine is up and running again. The bid to Government committed you to building over and above the local requirement. The new town isn’t needed to meet requirements. So, why are you spending £650K of taxpayers money?
The CCH members of cabinet defied a QC’s opinion voted to pass the Shapley Heath plan at Cabinet on 7 November. Despite strong opposition from members of the public, NE Hants CPRE and some councillors, the plan was passed unanimously by all members of Cabinet in attendance. Sponsor of the plan, Lib Dem Cabinet member for Place, Graham Cockarill wasn’t there as he is now standing for election to Parliament. The plan proposes to spend the £150K grant from the Government and looks to allocate up to a further £500K from reserves in the next financial year as part of the budget process.
Regular readers may recall CCH had written a letter to Ranil stating that 5,000 houses had been “secured for the next planning period”. The QC’s opinion that said that because this statement was manifestly untrue, that it demonstrated CCH councillors had closed their minds to a proper consideration of Shapley Heath and alternatives. In Andrew Tabachnik QC’s opinion, this amounted to predetermination.
The QC Opinion can be downloaded using the button below:
The Shapley Heath section of the meeting was quite long and stormy at times. The complete videos of the item can be found at the bottom of this article. The key points as we see them with video excerpts are set out below.
Argument about Shapley Heath QC Opinion
The first part of the public engagement started with a statement from the Rural Hart Association (RHA). The full statement is reproduced below:
For some years the Rural Hart Association has been frustrated by what we see as the bias of the Council in pushing for a new settlement near Winchfield without properly analysing the scope for alternative strategies, including urban regeneration.
Our frustration led us last month to commission an opinion from leading counsel about a letter sent to our MP by eleven CCH councillors in July. This letter asserts that “… 5000 more homes [have been] secured for the next planning period through Shapley Heath”. The opinion has been delivered to the Council with this statement, but in summary the QC concludes that:
CCH’s assertion is totally misleading
All CCH councillors must publicly retract their statement and must ensure that their future conduct demonstrates a genuine willingness to consider matters with an open mind
Councillors who are unwilling to retract their statement must recuse themselves from decision-making relating to Shapley Heath
We therefore request that the councillors concerned recuse themselves from discussion and voting on Item 11.
In addition, we expect CCH councillors to take the following steps to comply with the QC’s opinion that they must in future demonstrate a genuine willingness to act with an open mind:
Abandon the current plans which focus exclusively on Shapley Heath
Implement an alternative work plan to examine objectively and impartially all reasonable alternative options to Shapley Heath, in line with the Planning Inspector’s recommendations. This should include brownfield development and urban regeneration.
Undertake in depth work to build a more robust policy to regenerate our urban centres in Fleet, Blackwater, Hook and Yateley. This work should in particular address policy ED5 (Fleet town centre) to tackle the growing outflow of retail and leisure expenditure from the district caused by under-investment in Fleet. It is essential to develop a new and comprehensive strategy for Fleet along the lines of neighbouring towns like Camberley and Farnham.
Undertake thorough master-planning for the main towns in Hart without which no proper assessment can be made of the true scope of town centre mixed-use regeneration
Meet the two developers who expressed interest in regenerating the Hart Shopping Centre to explore their proposals
Refrain from allocating Hart’s reserve funds to Shapley Heath unless and until it is reinstated into the Local Plan as the result of the necessary comparative assessment work called for by the Inspector.
Here is a video of the statement:
This led to a response to the QC’s opinion from CCH’s James Radley. Astonishingly, he stated that the letter to Ranil was just political rhetoric and implied it shouldn’t be taken at face value. How do we know when he’s just spouting rhetoric and when he really means what he says?
This then led to a row about the validity of the RHA QC’s opinion. The joint chief executive said that HDC had taken legal advice and were convinced that CCH’s actions did not amount to pre-determination. However, HDC’s advice did not address the key point that CCH had made untrue statements in their letter to Ranil. That was the key point that showed a “closed mind” and hence predetermination. In the end the Cabinet chose to ignore the QC’s opinion and the CCH councillors continued to participate in the debate and voted on the Shapley Heath Plan. According to the QC they should have either retracted or recused themselves. They did neither.
Substantive debate on Shapley Heath Plan
The meat of the public arguments against pursuing this plan now were made by RHA and CPRE NE Hants. RHA made further points setting out clearly that HDC should at least look at the option of urban regeneration.
And CPRE challenged the logic of looking at a new village that would deliver housing over and above what we need to build. Their initial statement can be found here, and their powerful supplementary statement can be seen on the video below:
Sadly, these arguments were ignored by Cabinet and they pressed on regardless. On the plus side, this builds the case that they have closed minds on the matter.
CCH inconsistencies on the Shapley Heath Plan
During the meeting CCH made a series of statements that contradicted what they had previously said. For instance, during the Cabinet meeting, Councillor James “it’s only rhetoric” Radley emphasised that this Shapley Heath plan was very different to the new town presented in the Local Plan.
But in the Shapley Heath Q&A on their Facebook page, they say that the two things are the same. So, which is it?
Q3. Is Shapley Heath the same as the New Settlement that was previously included in Hart’s Local Plan?
A3. Yes, they are the same. Whilst the Local Plan Inspector suggested HDC remove the New Settlement from our LP, this was not because he thought it an inappropriate solution to our future housing needs. Hart were keen to get the LP in place ASAP to avoid anymore developer led applications being successful at appeal. The Inspector recommended removal of the New Settlement to enable the LP to be adopted quickly. The New Settlement, evaluated together with other options for future housing, needed more detailed work and would have delayed the LP, leaving doors open for developers.
Secondly, Councillor Radley said that the Shapley Heath proposal won’t go forward if it is found that it isn’t viable.
However, the Inspector found (in para 33):
In addition, to my above concerns, there is little evidence to demonstrate that a site can actually be delivered in terms of infrastructure, viability and landownership within the identified AoS.
It also appears as though CCH can’t make their mind up about the importance of rail infrastructure. Councillor James “it’s only rhetoric” Radley didn’t mention rail as part of his infrastructure shopping list. But then made great play of there being a railway station at Winchfield.
He seemed to be blissfully unaware of the parking chaos at Winchfield station on Thursday. This was exceptional, but it is by no means unusual for the car park to be full before 8am. Of course prior studies have shown that the railway station may well need to be moved to Murrell Green accommodate a further 5-10,000 houses.
Winchfield Station Parking Chaos
Version Control Shenanigans
At the beginning of the meeting there was considerable confusion about the version of the document they were supposed to be reviewing. The joint Chief Executive insisted that the version they were reviewing had been in the public domain for the requisite 28 days on the “key decision” part of the website. But we downloaded it this morning and found that the document was created in the early afternoon on Thursday, so could not have been available to the public for the required amount of time. In fact, it seems as though multiple versions were available and it isn’t clear how we are supposed to know which one to review. This is just another example of Hart’s incompetence.
This is the video of the exchange:
The full videos of the Shapley Heath discussion can be found on the links below. Thanks to Councillor Steve Forster for making them available on his Facebook page.
Some great news emerged on Monday afternoon. The Pale Lane Appeal has been quashed by the Secretary of State. This means there won’t be any development in that location at least up until 2032. The complete decision document can be found here.
The Secretary of State examined a number of of issues in coming to his decision.
The issue that carried the strongest weight was the Hartley Wintney Neighbourhood Plan (HWNP). The Pale Lane site falls partially within the Hartley Wintney Parish. It was not allocated for development within the HWNP and this carried “significant weight”. So, we must thank Hartley Wintney Parish Council on their efforts that saw the Neightbourhood Plan “made” only last month.
Other issues considered included:
The emerging Hart Local Plan, which also does not allocate Pale Lane. However, despite being close to being approved only carried “moderate weight”.
He also considered that even if Pale Lane were refused, there would still be more than five years land supply.
The potential loss of Best and Most Versatile agricultural land was considered “moderate weight”.
Sadly, the highways, health, education and quality of life issues raised by the Stop Elvetham Chase group carried no weight.
It seems the lesson here is to focus on the real planning issues and get Neighbourhood Plans in place if we want to combat further unnecessary and undesirable greenfield development.
Our local MP, Ranil Jayawardena has now come out unequivocally against large scale green field development. This includes Shapley Heath, Rye Common and West of Hook. He has produced a constituency charter. We ask that you consider signing his charter that can be found here. This complements his call for bold regeneration plans.
QC Opinion: CCH predetermination revealed in letter to Ranil
The Rural Hart Association has obtained a QC’s Opinion that shows CCH’s predetermination of the Shapley Heath Garden Village proposal. Their predetermination was revealed in their letter to Ranil Jayawardena MP about Pale Lane/Elvetham Chase. It is ironic that on Bonfire Night, CCH’s own vanity has led to their plans for Shapley Heath going up in smoke.
Back in July all CCH Councillors wrote to Ranil, lobbying him about the upcoming Pale Lane/Elvetham Heath decision by the Secretary of State. In that letter they claimed that 5,000 houses had been “secured for the next planning period” at Shapley Heath.
Of course, this was a misleading statement, because in no sense have any houses been “secured” at Shapley Heath. For instance, the planning Inspector ripped apart their proposals in the Local Plan examination. The only sensible inference that can be made from their statement is that they have closed their minds to a proper consideration of Shapley Heath and alternatives. In Andrew Tabachnik QC’s opinion, this amounts to predetermination.
The consequences of this finding are that Community Campaign Hart Councillors must either:
Recant their statement and demonstrate they have a genuinely open mind on the matter or,
Recuse themselves from any further decisions about Shapley Heath.
In short, CCH have snookered themselves as far as Shapley Heath is concerned. If they don’t recant then they should be excluded from discussion and voting about Shapley Heath at Overview & Scrutiny, Planning, Cabinet and Full Council. Indeed, their participation in the September O&S might be inappropriate. We can keep an eye on all of their public statements and actions from now on in the light of this opinion. There is the option of further legal proceedings if they step out of line.
The Rural Hart Association will be making a statement at Thursday’s Cabinet and recommending actions that the CCH councillors should take to retract the sentiments in their letter and demonstrate an open mind about Shapley Heath.
The full QC’s Opinion can be downloaded from the button below:
The supporting detail that led to the opinion follows:
CCH Letter to Ranil
The full letter to Ranil was published on the Facebook page of some of the CCH councillors. It can be found on here (page 1) and here (page 2). The incriminating passage is shown in the image below:
CCH Predetermination: 5000 more houses secured at Shapley Heath
Excerpts from QC Opinion that shows CCH Predetermination
4. I am asked to advise whether the above letter – and in particular the reference to “5000 more homes secured for the next planning period through Shapley Heath” – is relevant to the participation of the four Councillor signatories identified above in the Cabinet’s forthcoming decisions concerning Shapley Heath.
5. In my view, for reasons explained below:
a. The relevant assertion to Mr Jayawardena MP is totally misleading. There is no sense of the word in which Shapley Heath has been “secured for the next planning period”. Quite the opposite, as matters currently stand. Nothing at all has been “secured” for the “next planning period”. Further, the Local Plan Inspector’s 26 February 2019 letter sends Shapley Heath back to the drawing-board, with clear findings that it has not been justified as sound on its own merits nor is there a robust assessment of its comparative qualities as against reasonable alternatives.
b. Regrettably, the only sensible inference is that the authors of the letter have shut their minds to a fair and proper consideration of the individual and comparative merits of Shapley Heath, and have pre-determined decisions in respect of Shapley Heath, which they regard as “secured” already.
c. Absent the clearest evidence going forward that the relevant Councillors recant the misleading and pre-determined approach to Shapley Heath as “secured for the next planning period”, their participation in future decision-making of the Council (including when Cabinet grapples with Paper D in early November 2019) would render such decisions susceptible to being quashed by way of application for judicial review.
d. In my view, the relevant Councillors must publicly acknowledge the misleading character of the words used in the letter and must publicly disassociate themselves from the sentiment in question (that Shapley Heath has been “secured for the next planning period”), and their future conduct in so far as they desire to have further involvement in relevant Council decision-making must (and not as mere “lip service”) positively demonstrate a genuine willingness to consider matters with an open mind. Where a relevant Councillor is unable or unwilling to adhere to the foregoing, the natural inference will be that the closed minds evident from the July 2019 letter have infected the decision in question.
e. A relevant Councillor who is unable or unwilling to take the foregoing steps, must recuse themselves from Council decision-making which is related, directly or indirectly, to Shapley Heath.
Our local MP, Ranil Jayawardena has written a column in Fleet News and Mail demanding that the local Council develop bold Hart regeneration plans.
Hos article sets out the excellent regeneration work happening in neighbouring Aldershot and Basingstoke. He might well have added Farnham and Wokingham that have attracted millions in development funding.
By contrast, the CCH/Lib Dem led Hart District Council are proposing to spend £650K of public money on the Shapley Heath Garden Village proposal. They refuse to entertain any discussions about regeneration of Fleet, Hook and Blackwater and Yateley.
Ranil’s full artcle can be downloaded using the button below.
Today we have a guest post, authored by Tristram Cary, chairman of the Rural Hart Association. In it, he explains why the proposed 5-10,000 new town in Winchfield and Hook, called Shapley Heath Garden Village (SHGV) is a mistake.
Shapley Heath Mistake
It seems that most of the discussion about SHGV is based on the mistaken idea that Hart has to meet a fixed housing target which reflects anticipated demand. This is not the case: Hart’s housing target is in fact a compromise between anticipated demand and Hart’s ability to fulfil that demand within the scope of its residents’ reasonable plans for development. SHGV is a great mistake because it is an unnecessary capitulation to the demand for housing at the expense of Hart’s Vision and Objectives. The result will be much higher housing numbers than would otherwise be the case. This is a very important and quite complex issue; I hope that the following notes will help to explain it more clearly.
a) Housing Demand: Hart’s housing demand is not fixed. In fact it is to all intents and purposes infinite because throughout the South of England there is a housing shortage, and anything that we can build in Hart will be immediately taken up, either by the growth of Hart’s current population or by people moving into Hart from outside the district. It’s vital to understand that building SHGV will do nothing to avert the demand for more housing growth in the district. On the contrary, by creating new capacity, SHGV will fuel higher housing targets for the future.
b) Housing Market Area: Hart shares a Housing Market Area (HMA) with Surrey Heath (Camberley) and Rushmoor (Farnborough and Aldershot). We have a Duty to Cooperate with Surrey Heath and Rushmoor which means that we are obliged to help them to meet their housing demand if necessary. Surrey Heath has asked for our help, and they feel justified in doing so because their population density is far higher than ours. Hart has a population of 96,000 in 215 sq km (447 people per sq km). Surrey Heath has a population of 89,000 in 95 sq km (934 people per sq km which is just over twice Hart’s population density). Rushmoor has a population of 96,000 in 39 sq km (or 2456 people per sq km which is five and a half times Hart’s population density). There is a perfectly valid argument that over a few decades Hart should accept a substantial portion of the housing demand from Surrey Heath and Rushmoor until our population density has caught up with theirs.
c) Vision and Objectives: However, in practice the housing target imposed on Hart in the Local Planning process (including the Duty to Cooperate with our neighbouring districts) is balanced by an acknowledgement that Hart has a history, a character and a right for its residents to have a say in its development. The Local Plan public consultations establish the residents’ wishes which are expressed as a Vision and Objectives for the District’s development (see paras 93 and 94 of the Local Plan). It is tempting to dismiss these paragraphs as unimportant ‘boiler-plate’. But in fact they are vital, and they arm the council with the ammunition to defend Hart against the erosion of its current state as a relatively sparsely-populated rural district which wants to maintain its countryside and the character of its towns and villages. Key statements from the Vision and Objectives which establish our desire to maintain our rural nature include the following:
In 2032 the District will still be an attractive, largely rural area….
Our countryside will be recognised for its importance to the quality of life, as the setting where people live and work, and for its contribution to biodiversity, leisure and recreation.
The character, quality and diversity of our natural, built and heritage assets will have been preserved, and where possible enhanced
To maintain the separate character and identity of settlements by avoiding development that would result in their physical or visual coalescence.
[Note: The Vision and Objectives did also include the creation of a new settlement which damaged our ability to defend against a higher-than-necessary housing target – but the Inspector ruled that this was unsound and it has now been removed from the Local Plan]
Hart’s position as a relatively rural district means that we are going to be engaged for the foreseeable future in a constant struggle to defend our rural character against the insatiable demand for housing in the South East of England and against the demands of our Duty to Cooperate with the far more densely-populated districts in our Housing Market Area. Our defence depends entirely on our insistence that we choose to be a rural district. We want to preserve our countryside; we want to preserve the character of our towns and villages; we want to avoid coalescence between our towns by preserving countryside between them.
Supporting the development of an unnecessary Shapley Heath Garden Village flies directly in the face of our Vision and Objectives and undermines our defences against urbanisation. SHGV is in effect an urban extension to Fleet, Hartley Wintney and Hook, and makes a nonsense of the Local Plan objective “To maintain the separate character and identity of settlements by avoiding development that would result in their physical or visual coalescence”. It is certain that Rushmoor and Surrey Heath as well as the SHGV developers will use SHGV as a target for future growth, as they explain on page 15 of the SHVG Vision document:
Technical studies undertaken to date suggest that 5,000 homes can be provided and could be delivered through the Local Plan and DPD process. The developers have identified that around 10,000 homes could be delivered at Shapley Heath. Being part of the Garden Community Programme will enable us to carry out further testing through the DPD process and any subsequent Local Plan review to meet the longer-term needs of the District.
In short, Hart District Council has scored a massive own goal by embarking on the SHGV project in the belief that it will take the pressure off developments elsewhere in the district. In fact, SHGV makes it abundantly clear that we are not serious about our Vision and Objectives, and that we are happy to build massive urban extensions which will forever destroy the character and identity of our biggest settlements.