Lib Dems Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

Lib Dems Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

Lib Dems Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

It’s election time. As usual at this time of year I take a look at the election leaflets that come through my door. Yesterday’s effort is a “Focus” from the Liberal Democrats.

I was staggered that they were attempting to greenwash themselves with the proposed “green grid”. They made no mention at all of Shapley Heath, the new town  that will see up to 10,000 unnecessary houses dumped on our countryside.

Lib Dems Greenwashing Pamphlet

Lib Dem Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

Lib Dems Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

They say:

Enjoying our Countryside and helping it flourish…

Many people have enjoyed our wonderful countryside during the pandemic, getting out for walks or cycle rides for exercise and fresh air…

Liberal Democrats on Hart Council are keen to make sure that these benefits can continue to be enjoyed…

It’s laughable. They are planning to build up to 10,000 houses right on top of one of the best green spaces in the District. We have taken advantage of the footpaths, country roads and Basingstoke Canal for walking and cycling and would hate to see this destroyed by totally unnecessary development.

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

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

 

Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact - Damage to nature

Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact – Damage to nature

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

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

 

 

Hart back in bed with developers of Shapley Heath

Hart back in bed with Developers of Shapley Heath

Hart back in bed with the developers of Shapley Heath Garden Village

Hart Council has entered into a new agreement with the proposed developers of Shapley Heath Garden Village. They have signed a collaboration agreement with L&Q Estates (Gallaghers) and Lightwood Land. The full document can be found as Appendix 1 to one of the papers considered by Shapley Heath Opportunity Board, here.

The Council has effectively handed control of the project to the developers. Hart has committed to maintaining the agreement until the Shapley Heath prospectus and master plan are “adopted” by the Council. The project has already slipped from the timeline in the agreement. In addition, the developers are already reneging on the commitments they made only last month. Not only that, public consultation on their plans is going to be kept to the bare minimum.

Shapley Heath Collaboration Agreement

Shapley Heath Collaboration Agreement between Hart Council, L&Q Estates (Gallaghers) and Lightwood Land

Hart back in Bed with Developers: Shapley Heath Garden Village Agreement

The scope of the agreement is quite large. It covers the funding of a whole range of baseline studies and strategic reports over 14 areas. These are shown below:

Developer Funding of Shapley Heath Studies

Developer Funding of Shapley Heath Garden Community Studies

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

The agreement will remain in place until the prospectus and master plan have been finalised and adopted by the Council.

Hart Back in Bed with Developers: Collaboration in force until Shapley Heath Garden Village Prospectus Adopted by Hart Council

Hart Back in Bed with Developers: Collaboration in force until Shapley Heath Garden Village Prospectus Adopted by Hart Council

There is a 21-day break clause for the Council. However, it looks like the Council are committing to adopt the Garden Village when they  review the Local Plan. You may recall that the Inspector threw out the new town from the Local Plan. This was because of “fundamental concerns with regard to the soundness of Policy SS3″.  In addition he said that:

a significant level of further supporting work would be required for Policy SS3 to be found sound in its current form, which would need to include appropriate and proportionate area/site assessments, infrastructure considerations, viability testing, evidence in support of deliverability and further SA work, which would need to be done in an impartial manner with sufficient evidence to support its findings and comparisons with alternative options.

None of this comparison work is being carried out, so they are destined to fail again.

Shapley Heath Project Slipping

In February, the agreement with the developers envisaged that Phase 1 would be complete in December 2021. Phase 2 would be complete in February 2023.

Shapley Heath Collaboration Agreement Timeline

Shapley Heath Collaboration Agreement Timeline

But now in March, the completion of Phase 1 has slipped to February 2022. Phase 2 has slipped four months to June 2023.

Shapley Heath Garden Village Opportunity Board Timeline

Shapley Heath Garden Community Opportunity Board Timeline

It looks like more of our money is going to be wasted for even longer than before.

Developers Reneging on Commitments

As can be seen in the image above, the developers are committed to funding 14 different areas of study. Hart is spending 90% of its budget on internal resources and overheads. So, the developers are expected to spend most of the money. Among these studies were a topographical survey and a water cycle/management report. According to the update presented at the Opportunity Board, the developers are trying to wriggle out of the topographical study altogether and are reviewing the scope of the water cycle report.

Developers reneging on commitments already

Developers reneging on commitments already

Hart Back in Bed with Developers: Limited Public Consultation

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

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Putting all this together, it looks like there’s only going to be this high-level survey of residents. The Council will beaver away with the developers to produce a prospectus and masterplan. This will be adopted without any further significant involvement from the public.

 

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

Hart Council Mad Mad Mad Mad Budget

Hart Council’s Mad Budget

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

If you want to stop this madness:

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

Stop Shapley Heath to Balance the Budget

Hart Council’s Mad Budget: Shapley Heath Costs Unknown

Our first question asked about the proportion of internal staff and external consultants that will be used to deliver the myriad of studies that they have planned for the Shapley Heath project.  The second asked about the anticipated level of spend on external consultants to deliver all of the required studies.

 

The short answer to both is that is they don’t have a clue. Or if they do, they aren’t telling us. They also don’t know what level of support they might get from the developers. They have been going for nearly two years and applied for two rounds of funding. It’s astonishing that they don’t know how much it’s going to cost or where the resources to deliver it are going to come from.

Grant Funding Update

Our third question asked for an update on the status of the application for additional grant funding from the Government.

The answer was quite longwinded, but we eventually got to the point. They are hoping for the Government to tell them in March.

Hart Council’s Mad Budget: Bloated Cost Structure sets them up to fail

We then asked them to justify the very top heavy budget with £128K internal staff costs and £122K of overhead supervising a spend of £25K on external consultants.

The most interesting part of the answer was that the overheads are essentially fixed. Therefore, if Shapley Heath were cancelled, most of the overhead costs would be incurred anyway. They could answer why they thought it was a good idea to spend £250K of internal resources supervise £25K of external spend.

We then asked them to justify this level of spend when they are budgeting for a deficit.

The answer was extraordinary. They seem to treat the budget like some sort of elaborate shell game. Apparently, because they budgeted £500K for this project last year, spending on it this year somehow doesn’t count towards the deficit. You might just hear us laughing in the background as this answer was given. They’re like the Millwall of political parties; they can’t add up and they don’t care.

We made the point that as they don’t know what support they are getting from the Government or the developers; they have no idea how much the project is going to cost and only £25K to spend on productive deliverables, they are set up to fail.

 

 

 

 

 

Hart’s Mad Mad Mad Mad Budget (Pt. 1)

Hart's Mad Budget

Hart’s Mad Budget

Last Thursday, Hart Council passed the budget. We have two reports on the proceedings. This is Part 1 that focuses on the absurd claims made during the debate. Part 2, tomorrow, will look at the answers to our questions about Shapley Heath.

It’s sad that we first have to set out some basic definitions:

  1. If Revenue exceeds Expenditure, there’s a surplus
  2. When Revenue is equal to Expenditure, the budget is balanced
  3. If Expenditure is more than Revenue, there’s a deficit.

When there’s a deficit, money maybe transferred from reserves to finance the deficit, but there’s still a deficit. If there’s a surplus, money maybe transferred to reserves to fund, for example, investment in social housing. We think these definitions are universally accepted by everyone, except Hart Cabinet.

Hart Council Officers say there’s a deficit

Now we have got everyone on the same page, it is important to show what the budget papers considered by Cabinet in January said:

Hart Council budget deficits 2021/22 and 2022/23

Hart Council budget deficits 2021/22 and 2022/23

A combination of reduced income and cost pressures have left the Council with an anticipated budget deficit for 2021/22 of £381K and in 2022/23 a further deficit of £1,081K. The deficit is both structural and significant…

So, it seems the Council Officers agree with our definition of a deficit and are concerned that it is both structural and significant.  These are their own words, not ours. This is why we are very concerned about what the Council just passed.

Hart Cabinet Members claim the budget is balanced

But it seems some very senior members of the Cabinet are completely deluded. Three of them claimed during the debate that the budget was balanced. See this short video of their words.

In it you can hear the following:

  • James Radley (Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance): “…today I am presenting to this Council a balanced budget”
  • Stuart Bailey (Community): “It is a balanced budget”
  • David Neighbour (Council Leader): “….it’s balanced and it’s not a deficit”

If this is the extent of their financial acumen, they need to consider whether they are fit to hold such positions of power. According to their definition, there wouldn’t be a deficit unless they spent all of the reserves.

Response to Criticism

The Leader criticised We Heart Hart for pointing out that spending on Homelessness and Grants is budgeted to fall next year.

Budget reductions Grants and Homelessness

Budget reductions Grants and Homelessness

These spending reductions are clearly identifiable in the budget pack as can be seen in the image above. After their explanation, we acknowledge that these budget items represent money from the Government and are spent by Hart Council.

However, we would also note that if they chose not to spend on Shapley Heath and other areas such as the Leadership budget, they could choose not to cut these areas. They might even be able to properly balance the budget too.

Social Media Justification for Hart’s Mad Budget

After the meeting, the CCH councillors were active on social media, again claiming the budget was balanced:

Hart's Mad Budget: CCH Balanced Budget Claim

CCH Balanced Budget Claim

The Lib Dem councillors couldn’t quite agree with their leaders and acknowledged they were transferring money from reserves.

Hart's Mad Budget: Lib Dems Using Reserves

Lib Dems Acknowledge Use of Reserves

However, their claim of using a “small proportion” of reserves is somewhat dubious. The forecast is for £500-600K to be used from reserves this year. We agree that it was appropriate to utilise reserves this year to help the Covid response. In addition, there’s the budgeted £381K deficit next year and a forecast of £1,018K the year after. That’s a total of nearly a third of reserves over three years. There’s no plan for corrective action. Indeed they made a virtue of sitting on their hands and doing nothing.

Hopefully, the difference in tone on social media reflects tension inside the coalition.

If you want to stop this madness:

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

Stop Shapley Heath to Balance the Budget

 

Hart Budget Letter to Councillors

Hart Budget - Letter to Councillors, Balance the Budget

Hart Budget Letter to Councillors: Balance the Budget

Please find below the text of a letter sent to all councillors this morning. The letter points our various flaws in the budget and  urges them to reject the proposed budget and ask for a balanced budget instead.

If you want to stop this budget shenanigans:

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

Stop Shapley Heath to Balance the Budget

You may wish to write to your own ward councillors. Their email addresses can be found from this link. The budget discussion will be livestreamed on YouTube at 7pm tonight from this link.

Hart Budget Letter to Councillors

You Must Not Knowingly Budget for a Deficit

Dear Councillor,

Tonight, you are being asked to sign off on a budget with a deficit. Not only that, the Council is forecasting an even bigger deficit the following year. They even admit there is a structural problem with the finances.

Hart Council budget deficits 2021/22 and 2022/23

Hart Council budget deficits 2021/22 and 2022/23

The budget paper section 15.5 says that you “are under an obligation to produce a balanced budget and must not knowingly budget for a deficit”. This is reason enough to vote against it.

However, buried in the detail of the budget papers one can see that the budget for Homelessness is being cut from ~£166K this year, to £65K next, a cut of over £100K. Moreover, the Grants to voluntary organisations are being cut from £1,234K in FY19/20 to £628K next year.  By contrast, the cost of the “Leadership” team is soaring.

In addition, the Council is proposing to spend £279K on the unnecessary Shapley Heath project. Of this, over £250K is internal resources supervising a spend of £25K on external consultants. Even if you think some spending on Shapley Heath is warranted, such a bloated cost structure is completely indefensible.

The timing of the release of this budget, conveniently the day after it could have been examined by Overview and Scrutiny, piqued my curiosity about what secrets might be buried in the detail. I have found two anomalies which the Council has refused to answer before tonight’s meeting, so I urge you to seek proper answers from the Officers.

The first relates to the mysterious disappearance of employment costs from open-space related service areas.

Mysterious disappearance of employment costs

Mysterious disappearance of employment costs

These service areas also have substantial capital budgets associated with them. My suspicion is that either the Rangers are going to be made redundant (unlikely) or their employment costs are now going to be capitalised. In the past, as the budget clearly shows, they were expensed to the revenue account. You might ask officers to explain this to you. The Government certainly frowns upon such “creative” accounting.

“Capitalisation runs counter to the principles of prudent financial management. It can never permanently solve financial difficulties, but simply postpones the need to deal with them.”

You may recall that inappropriate capitalisation of expenses is what led to the downfall of Worldcom. If I am right, you might well ask why this change has been obscured and why you have not been asked to approve such a change to policy.

The second anomaly is that some elements of the budget do not add up.

For many of the GL Codes, the total in the summary page matches the sum of the detailed build-up of the costs in the service areas (e.g. 45010 – Purchase of Hardware). However, for other GL Codes (notably 10000 – Basic Salary and 44069 – Homelessness Costs), the summary total and the sum of the details do not match. For Basic Salary, the summary total is £4,591,233, yet the sum of the details is only £4,299,929, a difference of ~£291K. Similarly, the summary total of Homelessness is £65K, but the sum of the details is £0, a difference of the whole £65K. You might like to get to the bottom of this and ask that all of the GL Codes are checked for consistency.

It is controversial enough that councillors are being asked to sign off on a budget with a structural deficit. It would be completely untenable to sign off on a budget that did not even meet the most fundamental of acceptance criteria, namely that it was internally consistent and added up.

You might also note that, at the time of writing, over 850 people have signed a petition with the following demands:

The budget should not be approved until the following conditions are met:

    • The overall budget is balanced and doesn’t require £381K from reserves.
    • Spending on unnecessary projects is stopped immediately, including Shapley Heath, which will save at least £279K of the projected deficit.
    • The budget for the “Leadership Team” is cut so that together with other savings, the budget at least balances.
    • Further savings are identified in other non-core areas so that the planned cuts to the Homelessness (GL Code: 44069) and Grants (GL Code: 47010) budgets can at least in part be mitigated.
    • A cross-party committee is established to examine the long-term structural financial deficit and recommend long term solutions. This should be established prior to the start of the new financial year and report by 30 June 2021.

I urge you to reject this budget and request that a balanced budget be produced that properly adds up. Either that or seek some independent advice on the sanctions that can be placed on councillors who knowingly approve a budget with a widening structural deficit with no recovery plan. This letter will be published on the We Heart Hart website.

Shapley Heath Burning Money as Vital Services Cut

Hart Council Burning Money as Homeless Budget Cut.

Shapley Heath Burning Money as Homeless Budget Cut. We Heart Hart. We Love Hart.

Next week the Council will debate the budget for the next financial year. The draft budget for FY2021-22 has been published. It shows that they plan to burn £279K on the Shapley Heath project. Yet at the same time, they are cutting budgets for vital services:

  • The budget for Homelessness will be cut by over £100K compared to the current year
  • They are proposing to cut £600K from the grants given to voluntary organisations compared to pre-Covid spending. In prior years, these grants have typically gone to The Blue Lamp Trust and the YOU Trust that focus on Domestic Abuse, as well as Hart Voluntary Action.
  • The budget for Fleet Pond will be cut from £53K this year to £21K next. This compares to a budget of over £130K in FY19/20.

Meanwhile, the cost of the Leadership team rises from £578K this year (and £720K last year) to £830K next. Overall, they are forecasting a budget deficit of £381K.  Moreover, we can find no budget line to cover regeneration of Fleet or other urban centres. Not even the Civic Quarter regeneration is mentioned.

We need to put a stop to this madness at the ballot box.

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

Stop Shapley Heath to Balance the Budget

The detail is explained below, but you might be interested in this little 1 minute video.

Shapley Heath Burning Money 2021-22 Budget

The budget for Shapley Heath is buried on page 134 of the budget pack on the link above. It shows a total budget of £279,167.

Shapley Heath Burning Money: Budget 2021-22

Shapley Heath Burning Money: Budget 2021-22

This shows they plan to spend £128K on internal staff costs and a staggering £122K on internal recharges. These recharges include nearly £30K on IT, almost £26K on “Financial Services Recharges” and the best part of £24K on “Corporate Admin Support” charges. A further £18K will be spent on “Building Facilities”.

The Stakeholder Forum papers call for a myriad of studies and reports to be completed by October 2021. For instance, the Homes and Heritage Thematic Group needs to produce reports on Housing Type and Tenure, Urban Design, Heritage and Landscape/Gaps. The Sustainable Transport group has to commission reports on “Modal Shift” and “Transport Nodes”.  However, less than 10% of the budget will be spent on external help to produce all of the reports and studies that will be required. When preparing the Local Plan, most of these types of reports were commissioned externally, as the Council can’t employ all of the specialist skills required. So, they are spending a massive £250K on internal resources to manage an external spend of £25K.

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

Interestingly, they are assuming that they will receive no further Government support grants for the project. Surely, without Government support the project is dead in the water, because it was struck out of the Local Plan as not required.

Cuts to Vital Services

Despite the largesse on Shapley Heath, they are proposing to cut over £100K from the Homelessness Budget compared to this year and over £600K from the Grants Budget compared to pre-Covid times.

Hart Cuts Budget for Homelessness and Grants for Volunteers

Hart Cuts Budget for Homelessness and Grants for Volunteers

This year, and in previous years, the money has been granted to organisations such as The You Trust and the Blue Lamp Trust that focus on Domestic abuse. In addition, Hart Voluntary Action has been the recipient of significant grants. How can they justify cutting vital services whilst splurging cash on Shapley Heath.

In addition, revenue spending on the much-loved Fleet Pond is being cut. However, there is a significant capital programme planned, funded from S106 payments.

Fleet Pond Budget Reduction

Fleet Pond Budget Reduction

This marks a long term decline in spending from over £169K in 2018/19 to just £21K in 2021/22.

Massive Increase in Leadership Team Costs

Against this backdrop, it’s surprising to see the cost of the Leadership Team rocketing. They are proposing to increase the budget from £578K this year to over £830K next. It might be argued that some of lower costs this year might be down to Covid. However, the budget has still increased by more than £100K over the level in 2019/20.

Hart Leadership Team Increased Spending

Hart Leadership Team Increased Spending

What great leadership. Spending more on yourselves, lots more on a project we don’t need while cutting vital services. We must put an end to this madness at the ballot box.

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Shapley Heath Grant Money Down the Drain

Shapley Heath Grant Money Down the Drain

Shapley Heath Grant Money Down the Drain

If you were wondering how Hart Council has spent the money it has received to progress the Shapley Heath Garden Village (SHGV) project, most of it has gone down the drain. A quick look at their transparency report shows that most of the money has gone on PR and consultants. The transparency report can be found here.

Shapley Heath Spending Breakdown

Shapley Heath Spending Breakdown

You may recall that the council won a £150K grant from Government to pursue Shapley Heath.  A total of £37,561.30 of this has been spent externally to date. Of this, £27,161.30, or over 70% has gone to Chelgate Limited. This is a PR company who describe themselves as:

Chelgate is an independent, international strategic PR agency, headquartered in London, with branches in Brussels and Bucharest, and a network of associates around the globe.

Chelgate combines great strength in traditional PR, public affairs, crisis management and media relations with an exceptional understanding of social media, digital PR and international PR.

The firm has also built an outstanding reputation for its work in acute issues and crisis management, often dealing with exceptionally sensitive and challenging issues.

We’ve yet to notice the “exceptional” social media output. Perhaps they have focused on crisis management?

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

I have recently left employment in local government, after 29 years, and set up my own consultancy – Mike Allgrove Planning Ltd. I am available for contract roles dealing local and strategic planning policy, interim management or major site implementation. I am currently engaged as a consultant for the Partnership for South Hampshire. I will be managing the collation of the evidence base to facilitate a new Joint Strategy under a statement of common ground that has been agreed by the constituent local authorities.

I have also recently completed short term commissions for a consortium of North Hampshire authorities and the Chichester Harbour Conservancy.

Taylor & Garner is the company owned and run by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor. Lord Taylor has been giving presentations to councillors and to the Stakeholder and Landowner forums.

In short, nothing tangible has been produced with this money. No schematic designs, no viability studies, no infrastructure reports and no sustainability assessment. It’s all just PR fluff.

Shapley Heath Staff diverted to Covid Response

It is difficult to see why they needed to spend thousands on PR for Shapley Heath when next to no work was being carried out on the project. The grant money has also been used to hire staff to work on the project. However, it was confirmed at O&S on 16 February that the staff hired to work on Shapley Heath were diverted to the Covid response.

Perhaps they took their eye off the ball and didn’t properly control costs. The Shapley Heath grant money is going down the drain.

 

 

 

Hart Council Takes Over Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum

Hart Takeover of Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum

Hart Council Takes Over Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum

In an astonishing move, Hart Council is attempting to take over the Stakeholder Forum (SHSF) it has set up to seek advice from the community about the Shapley Heath project. The Council hosted the kick-off meeting and then tightly controlled each of the Thematic Group meetings. The end result is that 4 out of the 10 places on the Stakeholder Forum Steering Committee are now held by Hart Council Officers. In addition, the Hart Project Manager, team members and the joint Chief Executive attend the meetings, giving Hart overall control.

Hart Council takes four of the 10 places on the Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum Steering Committee

Hart Council takes four of the 10 places on the Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum Steering Committee

Hart Breaks its Own Rules

In doing this, Hart has effectively broken its own rules governing the Stakeholder Forum. The Terms of Reference (ToR) list the core functions of the Stakeholder Forum.

Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum Core Functions

Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum Core Functions

These make clear that it is supposed to be a space for community representatives to feedback to the Council, not for the Council to effectively represent itself. We don’t have accurate figures to hand, but some of the Thematic Groups have many Hart Officers as members. This effectively drowns out the very voices from the local community that the Forum was supposed to listen to. The ToR then goes on to list the groups that will be invited to be members of the SHSF. As one might expect, Hart District Council is notable by its absence, except for the Project Manager.

Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum Membership

Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum Membership

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

Hart Council Takes Over Shapley Heath

Shapley Heath Stakeholder Forum Membership Rules

So, to summarise, Hart Officers shouldn’t be there in the first place. Even if they were allowed as members, there should be only one officer in the whole Forum. It’s almost as if they’re afraid of local community opinion, especially as Hart’s finances are in trouble.

Paper Thin Justification

As you might expect, a number of people and groups have expressed their concern at this development. To our knowledge, nobody has received a proper answer. They have been referred to a new FAQ on the website that says:

Why are Council Officers participating in the Stakeholders Forum Thematic Groups and the Steering Group?

The Garden Community project is a council run project and therefore it is entirely appropriate that council officers sit on the Thematic Groups and the Steering Group as key stakeholders and technical experts. The Council operates within multiple disciplines and employs experts within these disciplines accordingly, many of whom have significant experience. To exclude these experts from the Thematic Groups and the Steering Group would be perverse and seriously limit the collective expertise of these groups. As the Council does and will continue to work within its community, its presence as stakeholders accords with the spirit of the project. As the Cabinet are the ultimate decision-making bodies for this project, no conflict of interest arises. The Stakeholder Forum Terms of Reference confirms that “The Stakeholder Forum, (Steering Committee and Thematic Groups), will be supported by members of the Garden Community Project Team as appropriate.

Many people have suggested that Hart Officers would be welcomed as subject matter experts when invited by the Chair of each Thematic Group. That would be an appropriate role. We will keep readers posted on further developments.

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

Shapley Heath White Elephant

Hart Council to spend £406K on Shapley Heath White Elephant in FY21/22

In questions put to them at their meeting on 28 January, Hart Council admitted it planned to spend £406K on the Shapley Heath white elephant in FY21/22. This comes at a time they are secretly planning cuts elsewhere. The question is as follows:

What is the anticipated level of spend on SHGV over each of the next 2 financial years?

They don’t know how much they are going to spend in FY22/23. This comes at a time when the Council is considering a confidential paper about cuts to services because of forecast deficits. They forecast a deficit of £381K in FY21/22 and an eye-watering £1,081K in FY22/23.

No real plans for regeneration of our urban centres post-Covid

We also asked them to set out their plans and budget for regenerating our urban centres after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many of our local businesses have struggled during the pandemic and some have sadly had to close, leading to permanent change to our high streets. What is the action plan and budget over the next 2 financial years to help Fleet and other urban centres recover and regenerate post-Covid?

The answer was fairly vague and somewhat misleading. They have received £1.947m from Government for business support and recovery. Apparently £500K is for the recovery component. This money has to be spent by 31 March 2022. The only paper we can find about their recovery plans can be found here. Most of the actions are completed and include the over £100K spent on the ill-fated closure of Fleet Road. It appears as though most of the remaining money is going to be spent by the Council on itself. Projects include an employee assistance programme, replacing the telephony system and SharePoint training. Whilst these might be worthy projects, they fall far short of what is required.

Our town centres have been permanently changed by Covid-19, and will need very significant investment to re-establish themselves as thriving communities. We can see from this that the Council is prioritising a white elephant project we don’t need over our existing businesses and communities.

Justification for Shapley Heath White Elephant Spending

We did ask them about their justification for continuing to spend at such high level on a project we don’t need when cuts are being contemplated elsewhere:

The latest budget monitoring statement (s4.3) considered by Cabinet in early January, shows a forecast overspend of £972K in 2020/21. The draft budget (s.9.4) considered by O&S shows a deficit of £381K for 2021/22 and a further £1,081K deficit for 2022/23. How can you justify hiring full-time staff and continuing to spend vast sums on an unnecessary Garden Community when core services are at risk of being cut?

The initial answer was very defensive. It was only when pushed that Councillor Cockarill provided more detail.  The money they plan to spend on Shapley Heath is supposed to be coming from Central Government. However, they have set aside money from Reserves to fund Shapley Heath.  Councillor Cockarill did admit that they might have to “reassess the priority” of Shapley Heath if the Government grant doesn’t materialise.

Other Questions

We did ask other more technical questions:

  • Hart’s compliance with the Housing Delivery Test.
  • Whether they are considering an early review of the Local Plan to take advantage of the new lower Government targets.
  • If they will publish monthly project plans and status reports on the Shapley Heath projects.

The questions and answers can be found on the clips below.

Hart Council plans secret cuts as it accelerates Shapley Heath

Hart Council plans secret cuts as it accelerates Shapley Heath plans

It has emerged that Hart Council is planning secret cuts as it accelerates the plans for Shapley Heath Garden Community. They are spending money they don’t have on something we don’t need, whilst secretly planning cuts elsewhere.

Hart Council Plans Secret Cuts

The plans for cuts emerged in a budget paper considered by Overview and Scrutiny Committee. They are facing pressures from the Spending Review, changes to New Homes Bonus and Business Rates. In addition, their commercialisation plans don’t seem to be working. So, they have produced a confidential appendix discussing how and when they are going to make savings.

Hart Council plans secret cuts

Hart Council plans secret cuts

The context is that the council is forecasting that it will overspend by £972K in the current financial year. Reductions in revenue and increases in costs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have damaged their finances this year.

Hart Council Budget deficit 2020-21

Hart Council Budget deficit 2020-21

In addition, it is forecasting that spending will exceed revenue by £381K in 2021/22 and a further £1,081K in 2022/23. The pressures highlighted above will take their toll in the coming years.

Hart Council budget deficits 2021/22 and 2022/23

Hart Council budget deficits 2021/22 and 2022/23

This gives a total shortfall of £2.4m over three years.

Shapley Heath Garden Community Plans Accelerate

As they wrestle with the blackhole in council finances, they are pressing ahead, spending money they don’t have on the unnecessary Shapley Heath Garden Community.  The Stakeholder Forum was treated to a presentation by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor on January 14th. We understand that the Landowners Forum will receive a similar presentation on February 11th.

The “Thematic Groups” that form part of the Stakeholder Forum will meet later this month and probably into February.

Of course, it is well documented that Shapley Heath is totally unnecessary to meet our housing needs.

It does seem rather odd that they are spending money they don’t have on something we don’t need.  We do hope they don’t sacrifice core services on the altar of Shapley Heath Garden Community.