Shapley Heath Mapgate: Council map hides the reality

Shapley Heath Mapgate - Coalescence

Shapley Heath Mapgate – Coalescence

They say a picture paints a thousand words. However, sometimes, what’s missing from a picture can tell you more than what’s in it. As you may know, Hart has published a survey about the proposed Shapley Heath Garden Community. There is a map associated with the survey that is published on the dedicated Garden Community website.

Shapley Heath #Mapgate - Heart Shaped Love It

Shapley Heath #Mapgate – Heart Shaped Love It

Note the soft boundaries, the warm orange dots and the attempt to make the boundary heart shaped, so you will subliminally love it. Of course the OS map on which it is based doesn’t include the Edenbrook development on the western Fleet boundary.

To combat this propaganda, Winchfield Parish Council has published some maps of its own, showing the impact of Shapley Heath should it ever go ahead. The first, at the top of this post, shows the potential coalescence with surrounding towns and villages. If they build in the NE zone, it will effectively join Fleet to Hartley Wintney. On the other hand, if they build in the NW, around Murrell Green, then it will coalesce Harley Wintney and Hook. If they build both sides, then effectively, Fleet, Hartley Wintney, Hook and the new town will become a single, large conurbation. We have previously termed this Hartley Winchook.

Shapley Heath Mapgate: Central Land Not Available

Shapley Heath #Mapgate - Central Land Not Available

Shapley Heath Mapgate – Central Land Not Available

The next map shows land ownership in the area of search. The areas in green are under the control of the developers. Land that is potentially available to the developers – presumably not yet under option – is shown in blue. The red zone is land that is not and never will be under the control of the developers. Areas of ancient woodland, shown in brown, cannot be developed either.

As can be seen, there’s vast swathes of land in the area of search that cannot be developed. This means they have to build either in the NW area, the NE area or both. But none of those options allows for a single coherent settlement. All three options lead to coalescence.

Shapley Heath Mapgate: Additional Constraints

Shapley Heath #Mapgate - Physical Constraints

Shapley Heath Mapgate – Additional Constraints

However, the constraints don’t stop there. When you add on the additional environmental items such as the Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), then the area becomes even more constrained. The physical constraints of the high-voltage electricity pylons, the high pressure gas main, the M3, railway line and the former landfill all add further restrictions on what is safe or sensible to develop.

Conclusion

If you display an anodyne map to the general population, they will form one view of the site under consideration. When faced with maps that actually convey real information, then perceptions can change markedly. We wonder why Hart Council aren’t taking more heed of the Inspector’s words when he examined plans for a new town in the same area as part of the Local Plan (our emphasis):

I have a number of fundamental concerns with regard to the soundness of Policy SS3.

There is little evidence to demonstrate that a site can actually be delivered in terms of infrastructure, viability and landownership within the identified AoS.

Policy SS3 is not required for the Plan to be sound and, in light of my comments above, I consider that the most appropriate course of action would be to remove it (along with any other necessary subsequent changes) from the Plan.

I am also mindful that following further work, there can be no guarantee that the evidence would support it as the most appropriate long-term growth strategy or that Policy SS3 would be found sound.

All of these issues are known, yet the Council is pressing on spending money they don’t have, on a project we don’t need and probably won’t work anyway.

Having read this article, you might like to respond to the Shapley Heath survey. This is your chance to make known your concerns about the proposals. We have produced a handy guide with suggestions as to how you might choose to answer the freeform questions. The guide can be found on the download below. The full survey can be found here.

Shapley Heath Survey with Suggested Responses

The Green Case Against Shapley Heath: Regeneration is the Solution

The Green Case Against Shapley Heath: Regeneration is the Solution

The Green Case Against Shapley Heath: Regeneration is the Solution

The purpose of this post is to illustrate the green case against Shapley Heath.  We will:

  • Examine Hart’s environmental and climate change commitments.
  • Show how Shapley Heath will deliver excess housing and up to 1m tonnes of excess CO2 emissions just from building it.
  • Demonstrate how concreting over 505 acres to deliver 5,300 houses will destroy habitat and damage biodiversity.
  • Look at how the talk of “renewable energy” might put our forests at risk and produce more CO2 and particulates then burning coal.
  • Show how urban regeneration would produce lower CO2 per capita and keep our vital green spaces.

If Hart Council want to save the planet, they should cancel Shapley Heath and focus on urban regeneration.

Having read the article, you might like to respond to the Shapley Heath survey and make known your concerns about the environment. We have produced a handy guide with suggestions as to how you might choose to answer the freeform questions. The guide can be found on the download below. The full survey can be found here.

Shapley Heath Survey with Suggested Responses

Hart Council’s environmental and climate change commitments

In April 2021, Hart Council joined many other public bodies in declaring a Climate Emergency. They unanimously agreed (our emphasis):

“Following the successful adoption of Hart’s Climate Change Action Plan, this Council now wishes to declare a climate emergency, which commits us to putting the reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere at the front and centre of all policies and formal decision making, particularly Planning.

They even proclaimed that climate change is their top priority on the front page of the latest edition of Hart News.

The Green Case Against Shapley Heath

Hart News Climate Change Top Priority June 2021

However, on the same page they talk about the new Shapley Heath survey, cunningly avoiding any discussion about the environmental impact.

Excess House Building Leads to Excess CO2 Emissions

The Local Plan was agreed at a build rate of 423 dwellings per annum (dpa). However, the latest Government target is 286dpa. The 286 represents Hart’s share of the Government’s overall 300,000 dpa target. According to ONS figures, this national target is far in excess of what is required to meet demographic changes.

Hart refuse to conduct an early review of the Local Plan to take advantage of this reduction. Moreover, their original bid for Shapley Heath funding committed to deliver the new town in addition to the Local Plan requirements.

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

So, Hart are proposing to continue building at a rate far higher than the Government target, which in itself is far more than required and to deliver Shapley Heath on top. We can pretty safely say that any houses delivered by Shapley Heath will be far in excess of requirements. So any CO2 emissions arising from construction will also be entirely unnecessary.

We calculated that a new town of 10,000 houses would emit around 1m tonnes of CO2. A new town of 5,000 would be half that amount.

Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact

The Green Case Against Shapley Heath: Up to 1m tonnes of CO2

We find it difficult to understand how building more houses than we need and emitting more CO2 than we need to is consistent with putting the reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere at the front and centre of all policies.

Green Case Against Shapley Heath: Biodiversity Impact

There’s plenty of academic evidence that urbanisation causes irreparable damage to biodiversity and habitat loss.

For example here,

The Green Case Against Shapley Heath: Urbanisation Habitat Loss and Biodiversity Decline

The Green Case Against Shapley Heath: Urbanisation Habitat Loss and Biodiversity Decline

and here:

The Green Case Against Shapley Heath: Impacts of Urbanisation on Biodiversity

The Green Case Against Shapley Heath: Impacts of Urbanisation on Biodiversity

The issues include replacement of species, habitat loss and biodiversity decline. The Shapley Heath survey emphasises the importance of green spaces, wildlife habitat and woodland. Yet, they somehow fail to mention that the Viability Study accompanying their bid for Government funding proposed concreting over 505 acres of the 1,047 acres of land under consideration.

Shapley Heath Development Acreage

Shapley Heath Development Acreage

The damage to the local eco-systems will be incalculable. And all for a development that isn’t required and is in addition to the Local Plan requirement.

The Renewable Energy Trap

The new Shapley Heath survey does ask for opinion about renewable energy. Initially, this sounds quite green and cuddly. Until you look at what they meant by renewable energy in prior studies into the Winchfield new town. The Sustainability Appraisal (p74) said:

It is fair to assume that a scheme of this scale (c.3,000 homes) [Ed: How times have changed, now 5-10,000] could enable combined heat and power generation (potentially even fuelled by biomass, which might even be locally sourced).

What they mean by biomass is explained in the North Hampshire Renewable Energy Opportunities Plan.

North Hampshire Biomass from Forest Management

North Hampshire Biomass from Forest Management

What they mean is chopping down trees in Bramshill Forest to fuel a wood-burning power plant. Burning wood produces more CO2 per unit of electricity produced than coal. And if Drax is anything to go by, more than twice the amount of noxious particulates.

In summary, they are considering building a wood-fired power station, using locally sourced timber that will produce more CO2 and more particulates than burning coal. This will destroy our local forest in addition to concreting over 505 acres of land, all in the name of environmentalism.

Green Case Against Shapley Heath: Regeneration is the Solution

There is a simple alternative to Shapley Heath. It’s Urban Regeneration. The benefits of this approach would be:

  • Control the build rate to match the actual requirement
  • Reduce delivery risk by having a range of projects instead of relying on just one big development
  • Protect our green fields and ancient woodland to maintain habitats and biodiversity
  • Keep vital green infrastructure to enhance our quality of life, wellbeing and mental health
  • Maintain our agricultural capacity to produce food
  • Produce less CO2 per capita

There’s plenty of evidence that shows that gentle densification produces communities that are more sustainable from a CO2 emissions point of view.

CO2 emission per capita vs Population density

CO2 emissions per capita vs Population density

The reason for this is that more people can walk to work, walk to the station and walk to leisure facilities. They need fewer cars and do fewer journeys. And slightly denser building means that occupants need less heating.

So, if we want to save the planet, urban regeneration is the answer. Cancel Shapley Heath.

 

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

CCH seek opt out from housing targets

CCH seek opt out from housing targets

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

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

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

Already building more than Local Plan Requires

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

Hart District Annual Housing Completions to Mar 2020

Hart District Annual Housing Completions to Mar 2020

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

No Intention of Reviewing the Local Plan

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

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

Shapley Heath will Add to the Excess Building

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

Shapley Heath Housing Trajectory Sept 2020

Shapley Heath Housing Trajectory Sept 2020

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

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

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

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

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

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

Shapley Heath Survey

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

Shapley Heath Survey with Suggested Responses

 

Catch-22 at the heart of Shapley Heath project

Catch-22 at the Heart of Shapley Heath Project

Catch-22 at the Heart of Shapley Heath Project

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

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

Catch-22 at the heart of Shapley Heath

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

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

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

Shapley Heath Survey with Suggested Responses

Government Expectations

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

Shapley Heath: Vision Document 10000 houses.

Shapley Heath: Vision Document up to 10,000 houses

The actual bid document set the same expectations

Nightmare in Winchfield - capacity for 10,000 houses

Shapley Heath bid document: capacity for 10,000 houses

Viability Study

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

Shapley Heath Garden Village Viability Summary

Shapley Heath Garden Community Viability Summary

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

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

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

Current Testing

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

 

 

Shapley Heath survey launched by Hart Council

Hart Council launch Shapley Heath Garden Community Survey

Hart Council launch Shapley Heath survey

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

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

Shapley Heath: Vision Document 10000 houses.

Shapley Heath: Vision Document 10000 houses

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

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

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

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

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

Shapley Heath Survey with Suggested Responses

 

Lib Dems Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

Lib Dems Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

Lib Dems Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

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

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

Lib Dems Greenwashing Pamphlet

Lib Dem Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

Lib Dems Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

They say:

Enjoying our Countryside and helping it flourish…

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

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

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

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

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

 

Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact - Damage to nature

Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact – Damage to nature

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

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

 

 

Hart back in bed with developers of Shapley Heath

Hart back in bed with Developers of Shapley Heath

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

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

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

Shapley Heath Collaboration Agreement

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

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

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

Developer Funding of Shapley Heath Studies

Developer Funding of Shapley Heath Garden Community Studies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shapley Heath Project Slipping

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

Shapley Heath Collaboration Agreement Timeline

Shapley Heath Collaboration Agreement Timeline

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

Shapley Heath Garden Village Opportunity Board Timeline

Shapley Heath Garden Community Opportunity Board Timeline

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

Developers Reneging on Commitments

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

Developers reneging on commitments already

Developers reneging on commitments already

Hart Back in Bed with Developers: Limited Public Consultation

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

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

 

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

Hart Council Mad Mad Mad Mad Budget

Hart Council’s Mad Budget

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

If you want to stop this madness:

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

Stop Shapley Heath to Balance the Budget

Hart Council’s Mad Budget: Shapley Heath Costs Unknown

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

 

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

Grant Funding Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.