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.

Government housing target climbdown destroys the case for Shapley Heath

Government Housing Target Climbdown

Government Housing Target Climbdown

The Government has climbed down after its proposed changes to the method of calculating housing need were strongly criticised. These proposals would have pushed up Hart’s annual housing target to 512 dwellings per annum, which would have made it very difficult to defend against building Shapley Heath. However, after the Government climbdown, Hart’s housing target will be cut to 282 dpa, much less than the 423 in the current Local Plan. This makes the case for Shapley Heath simply untenable.

Government Housing Target Climbdown

On 6 August 2020 the Government published a set of proposed changes to the Planning System and to the way in which housing need was to be calculated. We covered the proposals here. These proposals would have led to Hart’s housing target rising to 512 dpa. However, the responses to their consultation were overwhelmingly negative. The Government has therefore decided to stick with the “old” standard method, with a few minor tweaks.

Impact on Hart

Hart now has a Local Plan in place that calls for 423 dpa to be built out to 2032. However, the Government has published new housing targets for each local authority under their revised proposals.

Government Housing target climbdown: New targets Hart Rushmoor and Surrey Heath

Government Housing Target Climbdown: New targets for Hart, Rushmoor and Surrey Heath

Hart’s requirement under the new Government proposals falls to 286 dpa. The housing targets for neighbouring Rushmoor and Surrey Heath have also been cut. Rushmoor’s Local Plan (s 6.12) calls for 436dpa and their target has been cut to 260 dpa. Surrey Heath’s Draft Local Plan (s2.29) calls for 352 dpa and the target has been set at 328 dpa. Hart’s Local Plan includes a provision to build some excess for Surrey Heath. This reduced excess can now be more than met by the surplus housing in Rushmoor.

Readers will probably remember that Shapley Heath Garden Village was removed from the Hart Local Plan on the grounds that it wasn’t necessary to meet our housing needs and was unsound. To be clear, even if we need to build at 423dpa, Shapley Heath is not required. So, it’s definitely not needed at 286 dpa.

The ruling CCH/Lib Dem coalition has justified the decision to continue with Shapley Heath on the grounds that the Government were bound to increase our housing target. Now that it is clear that in fact our housing target has been cut, there can be no justification for continuing with the project. We have covered the multitude of other reasons why Shapley Heath is a bad idea here.

The leader of the CCH group has said that if the houses aren’t needed, then Shapley Heath won’t go ahead.  Will he keep his word?

 

Hart to waste £406K on Shapley Heath Garden Village bid

Hart bid to waste another £406K on Shapley Heath Garden Village

Hart to waste another £406K on Shapley Heath Garden Village bid

Hart District Council have submitted a bid for an extra £406K to fund the unnecessary Shapley Heath Garden Village project. This comes hot on the heels of the £150K they won from the Government last year.

They want to spend the £406K as follows:

  • £151K on new staff that haven’t been recruited yet. These new members will be a Project Support Officer, a Community Engagement Officer and a Land Manager
  • £180K on “bespoke strategy reports”
  • £60K on Engagement and Communication
  • £15K on a high-level viability assessment

The bid document can be found here and ore details on their plans can be found here. They have decided not to publish the appendices to describe the upcoming milestones, housing trajectory and project plan. This means that we cannot see the timeline for what they are supposed to be delivering and therefore cannot hold them to account.

However, we can see that they haven’t achieved anything with the money they have received so far. Of the £150K they received, they have spent £46,637 on consultation and engagement. This appears to have been spent on a survey on the impact of Covid-19, branding advice and a presentation from Lord Taylor of Goss Moor. The rest of the money remains unspent. We know that Covid has been highly disruptive, but that only covers half the time since the money was awarded. The baseline studies that are being funded by the developers haven’t been delivered either.

In short, as Churchill might have said, never in the field of planning history has so little been achieved by so many with so much.

We can only hope that the Government sees through the track record of failure and decides to stop throwing good money after bad.

Shapley Heath Schedule

As a reminder, Hart received £150K of funding for Shapley Heath Garden Village back in July 2019. According to the schedule they submitted as part of their bid, by now they should have produced a development plan document for the new town by now and be preparing to adopt it:

Shapley Heath Garden Village Winchfield New Town Development Schedule

Shapley Heath Winchfield New Town Development Schedule

Planning for the Future consultation resembles socialist central planning

Planning for the Future consultation resembles socialist central planning

Planning for the Future consultation resembles socialist central planning

The Government has launched a “Planning for the Future” consultation on planning reforms that would not look out of place in a socialist five-year plan. The proposals represent a massive centralisation of powers including:

  • An unjustified 300,000 national housing target,
  • Enforcing a new standard method that would see Hart’s housing target increasing to 512dpa,
  • Centralised development policies,
  • Nationally set Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) rates,
  • National design codes enforced by a new quango,
  • Replacing Local Plan documents with an online annotated map,
  • Stifling local concerns by introducing a word count limit on objections,
  • Replacing the existing soundness test with a general sustainable development test,
  • The potential to push through new towns with minimal scrutiny through central Development Consent Orders.

We should expect a Conservative government to ‘conserve’ the countryside. Not create a blueprint for concreting over our precious green fields. The Tories are supposed to be committed to “devolving power to people and places across the UK”. But these proposals concentrate power at the centre.

The proposals are not all bad. The ideas about standardising the data related to planning and improving data quality are to be welcomed. Moreover, the proposals for enhancing the beauty and quality of developments also have merit.

However, if these proposals are adopted they would be disastrous for Hart. The housing target would nearly double from the current standard method to 512 dpa. Under the streamlined planning rules Shapley Heath Garden Village (SHGV) could be pushed through with little scrutiny.

Before we explore these concerns in more detail, you can see the details of the consultations on the download below:

Overall consultation on planning reforms:

Government consultation on planning reforms

Detailed consultation on changes to the standard method for calculating housing need:

Government consultation on standard method

If you share our concerns about these proposals, please respond to the consultation here and/or contact your local MP:

Hart District lies mainly in NE Hampshire, and the MP is Ranil Jayawardena: ranil.jayawardena.mp@parliament.uk

Leo Docherty is the MP for the Aldershot constituency which contaims the Blackwater area of Hart: leo.docherty.mp@parliament.uk

New 300,000 housing target

The Planning for the Future consultation has set a 300,000 annual house-building target. However, we are not asked to comment upon this target as part of the consultation. It is a “given” even though it’s not based on any evidence.  To illustrate its absurdity, we can calculate the housing target  using the Government’s own methodology:

Planning for the future consultation: England Standard Method for Housing Need

All England Standard Method for Housing Need

The starting point based on household projections actually falls with the new method to ~160K, a little more than half the new 300K target.  The Government’s new methodology then inflates the projections by adding a spurious new affordability adjustment that would take the target to ~256K. Despite this, they have set the target at an arbitrary 300K.

The justification is that household projections don’t take into account suppressed household formation. This is basically young people renting in a house-share or still living with their parents. It is likely that those renting could afford to service a mortgage, but lack the funds for a deposit. Building more houses won’t help these people, they need help with a deposit. Moreover, they are already living somewhere, so no new houses need to be built for them. Those living with their parents can’t afford market rents, so wouldn’t be able to afford a mortgage either. These people require subsidised social rents. Yet, the Government’s proposals on affordable housing will likely cut the number new social rent units (see here para 52).

The Government seems to misunderstand the reason for high house-prices. The main cause of high house prices is low interest rates and Quantitative Easing (QE). Because the flow of new dwellings is tiny compared to overall housing stock, building more doesn’t affect prices. Their own data shows that despite building far more new houses than new households forming, house prices have still risen.

England Households Dwellings and house prices

England Households Dwellings and house prices

If they really want to reduce house prices they should stop QE and raise interest rates. But that’s not going to happen because it will cause a recession. If they really want to deal with housing market problems, they should invest more in social rented housing stock. They shouldn’t be destroying our countryside with houses we don’t need.

Impact on Hart District

The overall impact on Hart would be disastrous:

  1. Increase in housing target to 512dpa, resulting in ~2,500 extra houses over the plan period.
  2. Risk that SHGV will be pushed through with automatic outline permission for the principle of development and a Central Government approved Development Consent Order giving full permssion.

The explanation is as follows. Under the current standard method, Hart’s housing target is 282dpa. Our Local Plan calls for 423dpa. The higher figure being an unfortunate feature of how the Local Plan was examined. However, the new standard method would result in a requirement of 512dpa, an increase of 89dpa, or more than an extra 1,000 houses out to 2032. However, our Local Plan is front-loaded, meaning that we are over-delivering in the early years. This means we are planning to deliver an average of “only” 263dpa from 2022-2032. The Housing Delivery Test would require that the Local Plan be revised to meet the new target of 512dpa. This would result in an extra ~2,500 extra houses out to 2032.

The proposals for growth areas and new towns are shown on p34 of the consultation:

Planning for the future consultation: Automatic permission in principle and development consent orders for new towns

Automatic permission in principle and development consent orders for new towns

Planning for the Future Consultation: Centralisation of Powers

The consultation also calls for a worrying centralisation of many planning powers. This is strikingly similar to socialist regimes producing five-year tractor production  plans. These include:

Enforcing the new standard method described above to meet an arbitrary and unnecessary overall housing target.

Centralised development policies.  Proposal 2 calls for development management policies to be established at national level, removing local control and accountability.

Proposal 3 replaces the existing soundness test with a general sustainable development test. This would remove the soundness principles of plans being justified and effective.

Replacing Local Plan documents with an online annotated map. It is proposed that “new-style Local Plan[s] would comprise an interactive web-based map of the administrative area where data and policies are easily searchable, with a key and accompanying text. Areas and sites would be annotated and colour-coded in line with their Growth, Renewal or Protected designation, with explanatory descriptions set out in the key and accompanying text, as appropriate to the category”. This means that there won’t be a single document that you can print out and read to get a proper overview of what is proposed for your area.

Stifling local concerns by introducing a word count limit on objections to Local Plans.

Nationally set CIL rates. This again removes local control and discretion, handing power to the centre. Hampshire and Hart already have massive infrastructure funding deficits. What happens if the national CIL rates aren’t enough to fund necessary infrastructure?

National design codes enforced by a new quango. Whilst we applaud the commitment to “build beautiful”, we are sceptical that a centralised national quango is the most effective way of achieving this. “We will explore the options for establishing a new expert body which can help authorities make effective use of design guidance and codes, as well as performing a wider monitoring and challenge role for the sector in building better places”.

Overall these proposals amount to a centralised power grab that will diminish local control and accountability. The very antithesis of what a Tory Government should be doing.

 

 

Council Adopts Hart Local Plan

Council Adopts Hart Local Plan

Council Adopts Hart Local Plan

It’s been a long time coming, but Hart Council has finally adopted the Hart Local Plan. This took place at their first virtual meeting that happened at 7pm on 30 April 2020.

The meeting was broadcast on Hart’s live streaming page: https://www.facebook.com/HDCLiveStreaming/

However, these videos are often removed shortly after broadcast.  So we have downloaded it, and uploaded it to YouTube for posterity.

We can all sleep relatively easily now that we have a Local Plan. This plan has had Policy SS3 removed from it. However, we need to remain vigilant that the Council doesn’t seek to bring back the unnecessary Shapley Heath Garden Village at a later point.

 

Hart #Covid19 funding black hole shrinks to “only” £628K

Hart #Covid19 funding black hole shrinks to £628K

Hart #Covid19 funding black hole shrinks to £628K

The Government has awarded Hart more Covid19 funding that shrinks its expected deficit to from the pandemic to “only” £628K. This is welcome news as only last week the deficit stood at £1.6m.

However, £628K still represents about 6% of the council’s budget. We are left wondering which project could be cancelled to make good most of this shortfall? ?

Stop Shapley Heath

Stopping Shapley Heath could help close Hart’s Covid19 funding gap

Hart #Covid19 funding black hole details

The council have circulated their estimate of the loss of income and extra costs they are facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,

Hart Council covid19 funding hit

Hart Council Covid19 funding hit

This amounts to over £1.6m. The Government have announced they will provide £987K of Covid19 funding to Hart.

Hampshire Councils covid19 funding

Hampshire Councils #Covid19 funding

But this still leaves a £628K funding gap, on top of the “perfect storm” they faced in their finances even before the pandemic hit.

It will be interesting to see if this subject comes up at the “virtual” council meeting to adopt the Local Plan. The live stream can be found here.

Covid19 blows £1.6m hole in Hart finances

Covid19 blows £1.6m hole in Hart finances #Covid19

Covid19 blows £1.6m hole in Hart finances

We do hope everyone is staying safe from the coronavirus and coping well with the lockdown. Hopefully, the disease will be brought under control soon and we can start to get back to normal. However, Covid19 has blown a big hole in Hart’s finances.

Amongst other things, we understand that Covid19 has reduced Hart’s car parking revenue by around £240K. The Council expect to lose £140K of council tax and business rates. They also expect to lose £360K from planning income and £390K from the leisure centre. Of course, they still have to pay for the leisure centre loans. They have also incurred technology and staff costs of over £200K in providing the Hart response Hub.

So far, they have received £24K from the Government to cover these costs and expect more to come, but don’t expect that it will bridge the £1.6m funding gap. They expect to have to bridge any remaining gap from reserves.

There is some good news. So far, they have distributed £6.5m under the Government’s Small Business Grant Scheme. This means that 65% of all businesses that have applied for the grant have now been paid. They expect to pay the balance by the end of April. A number of businesses have not applied for the grant. If you, or any of your friends think you might be eligible, visit Hart’s website to check eligibility and apply: https://www.hart.gov.uk/covid-19-information-for-businesses.

With most construction sites being shutdown, and one might imagine that the housing market will be subdued for some time, they will probably lose some New Homes bonus too.

All this comes on top of the “perfect storm” facing Hart’s finances that we reported on back in January. We hesitate to be political at this difficult time, but surely they must reexamine whether they should be spending  £650K on Shapley Heath Garden Village at the moment. We have shown how the project is not required. Now more than ever, it is likely housing demand is going to fall as people have less money in their pockets. The Inspector said there’s no evidence it’s viable or deliverable. It will drive up the housing target and be made irrelevant by Grazeley. Not to mention the unnecessary 1m tonnes of CO2 that will be emitted during construction. This is a white elephant project that we cannot afford.

Stay well and keep healthy everyone.

Developer fox in charge of the Shapley Heath hen house

Developer fox in charge of Shapley Heath hen house

Developer fox in charge of Shapley Heath hen house

Hart Council has held the first meeting of the Shapley Heath “Opportunity” Board. It was a meeting that could be attended by the public, but they didn’t publicise it, so nobody turned up. But, the papers and the minutes have been published, so we can get a sense of what went on. Perhaps the most disturbing point is that the developers will procure and fund the production of all of the baseline studies.

As the promoters/developers with significant land interest, Lightwood Strategic and L&Q Estates, have confirmed that, subject to Board approval, they will procure and fund all of the baseline surveys.

This is putting the developer fox in charge of the Shapley Heath hen house. What could possibly go wrong? The list of baseline documents is as follows:

Developer fox in charge of Shapley Heath henhouse baseline evidence

Shapley Heath baseline evidence

Can we really trust the developers to produce objective, impartial assessments on these issues? What sort of documents are they going  too produce, when much of this work has been done already? And much of it persuaded the Inspector to throw Shapley Heath/Policy SS3 out of the Local Plan. Winchfield Parish Council produced a lot of this evidence for the Local Plan examination. Their evidence covered flood risk, heritage assets, ecology, green infrastructure and agricultural land. It also looked at the constraints from the M3, the railway electricity pylons and the high pressure gas main. The constraints were handily summarised in a single diagram.

Figure 6 Winchfield Summary of Key Findings

Figure 6 Winchfield Summary of Key Findings

 

The council has committed to fund a number of strategic reports:

Developer fox in charge of Shapley Heath henhouse - Shapley Heath strategy reports

Shapley Heath strategy reports

So far, they don’t appear to have pulled together a bottom-up estimate of the costs of these reports. But they are going to spend nearly two years producing them all.

Developer fox in charge of Shapley Heath henhouse - Shapley Heath Phases and Timeline

Shapley Heath Phases and Timeline

Sloppy Financial Control

But the problems don’t stop there. It is clear that the financial control over the project is sloppy at best. Previously, they had budgeted £70K for a “full time dedicated senior post” and a part time administrator.

 

£70K for 1 full time and 1 part time resource

But, now they have cut the budget to £65K and hope to hire three people. If you pay peanuts, you know what you can expect.

Developer fox in charge of Shapley Heath henhouse. Shapley Heath Sloppy Financial Control

Shapley Heath Sloppy Financial Control

They have now signed off funding for four people, when the original request was for 1.5 FTEs. Further, they are funding 3 of these full time positions from a one-off grant from Government. What happens to these people when the money runs out? We remind readers that Hart finances are facing a “perfect storm”. This is not a time to be creating unfunded liabilities. Similarly, they are paying for the project manager from part of the £500K being transferred from reserves, which again is a one-off source of funding.

This looks like a project that is out of control. The council are throwing our hard-earned money at a project that is not required, at a time when their finances are severely constrained.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hart Urban Revitalisation is urgently required

Urban Revitalisation - Blackwater

Hart Urban revitalisation is required in Blackwater

We have already written extensively about why Shapley Heath is a bad idea. However we have to acknowledge that, even with the reduced housing requirement that could be delivered by an early review of the Hart Local Plan, we will need to build some extra housing between now and 2040. We strongly believe that much of this housing can be delivered by revitalising our urban centres in Fleet, Hook, Blackwater and Yateley. We support proportionate development in the other parishes.

There’s plenty of sites to consider:

Hook has already made a start. Its Neighbourhood Plan contains a master plan to revitalise the centre of the village. Overall, this will deliver a market square, better traffic management, much improved commercial premises and 8,916 sq m of residential accommodation, perhaps around 130-150 flats.

Hook Revitalisation Master Plan

Hart Urban Revitalisation in action in Hook

There is promising work starting to look at the civic quarter in Fleet. But CCH’s latest newsletter demonstrates that their heart isn’t in it. They claim Fleet isn’t that bad and offer no support for any sort of regeneration.

Hook Parish Council have done it. It’s time for the the other parish/town councils to follow their lead and shame Hart Council into action. Let’s look at the case for revitalising our town centres.

Rationale for Hart Urban Revitalisation

There are four main reasons to focus on urban revitalisation.

  • Enhance the built environment to enrich all of our lives
  • Address the infrastructure funding gaps
  • Hart in general and Fleet in particular is falling behind neighbouring areas
  • Fleet not valued by visitors and business confidence is low

Sensitive revitalisation, taking advice from companies like Create Streets can transform decaying urban centres into attractive places to live, work and play.

There are acknowledged infrastructure funding gaps in the district. These are concentrated in Hook, Fleet and Yateley and Blackwater.

Urban revitalisation Existing Hart Infrastructure Funding gaps

Existing Hart £78m Infrastructure Funding gap

Building a new town at Shapley Heath/ Winchfield won’t address these funding gaps. But, proper revitalisation will beging to address these issues.

Fleet is falling behind neighbouring towns. Farnham, Wokingham, Basingstoke, Aldershot and Farnborough are attracting hundreds of millions of pounds of investment. Hart Council’s curmudgeonly approach is delivering nothing for Fleet or the wider Hart community.

Urban revitalisation - Fleet falling behind neighbouring towns

Fleet falling behind neighbouring towns

And Hart’s own bid for Future High Streets funding found:

  • 88% say Fleet doesn’t meet their retail and leisure needs
  • 52% would not recommend a visit to the town centre
  • 67% think the poor retail offer reflects badly on the town
  • Lack of affordable housing
  • The confidence of local businesses is extremely low, with 44% reporting declining turnover
Urban revitalisation - Fleet not valued by residents and visitors

Fleet not valued by residents and visitors

If we are to address these issues, we must follow Hook’s lead and develop master plans for our other urban centres.

Benefits of Urban Revitalisation

The benefits of going ahead with these ideas would be large and far reaching:

  • Deliver infrastructure to the areas that need it. Budgets will be limited but we should aim for:
  • Improved Fleet station access and cycle paths connecting Fleet centre to the station and Hartland Park
  • Social facilities such as a multi-purpose venue including theatre/cinema and meeting space and an outdoor public event space
  • Improved Health facilities such as a drop-in health centre for physio, mental health and routine nursing
  • Improved leisure such as restaurants and bars to deliver a thriving night time economy
  • Open green spaces within the town centre
  • Commercial – better retail offer and modern offices
  • Housing that people can afford and social housing for those in need

This can be delivered by focusing on creating attractive places, with no more than 4 or 5 storey development.

 

Breaking News: Inspector approves Hart Local Plan

Breaking News: Planning Inspector approves Hart Local Plan

Inspector approves Hart Local Plan

The planning inspector has approved the Hart Local Plan.

The announcement has been made by Hart District Council and can be found here.

The Inspector has found the Local Plan to be sound and legally compliant, subject to some recommended changes. It will go before the Council for formal adoption in March.

The full Inspector report can be found here.  We will update this story as we digest what the Inspector has said.

The appendix containing the main modifications can be found here.

[Update 1]

  • Policy SS3 has been removed, so further confirmation of no new settlement in Shapley Heath/ Winchfield for the time being.
  • Reiteration in para 181 that future reviews of the Local Plan must look at all options including regeneration:

Nonetheless, the Council will need to ensure that all options for meeting future housing needs are considered fully in future reviews of the Plan, including the potential for regeneration.

  • Emphasis added to MM121 to make clear that all reasonable growth options should be considered and evidenced. This refers to the flawed SA that was submitted to the Examination to try and justify the new settlement:

All reasonable growth options, including the potential for a new settlement, would need to be fully considered and evidenced in a future review of the Plan or a subsequent DPD.

  • Changes to main modifications 70 and 71 to make clear that mixed residential and commercial use properties within town centres will be permitted. This will also help facilitate regeneration.  CCH should take note.
  • In light of recent events, it is also good to see that the vision has been updated to include a reference to flood risk:

New development will have been built to high environmental and design standards. It will have been designed and located so that it is safe from flooding and has not increased the risk of flooding elsewhere and includes measures to meet the challenges of climate change.

[/Update]