Growing Black Hole at the Heart of Hart’s Finances

The Black Hole at the Heart of Hart's Finances

The Black Hole at the Heart of Hart’s Finances

More evidence has emerged of Hart’s Finance car crash. The black hole at the heart of Hart Council’s medium term finances is growing. They recently published their draft accounts for last financial year which updated the medium term financial plan (MTFP).

This shows that the expected deficit for FY22/23 has expanded to £1,175K and the deficit for FY23/24 will be £1,413K.

The Black Hole at the Heart of Hart's Finances

Hart Council Medium Term Financial Plan

This represents a massive deterioration compared the the forecast provided in last year’s accounts and to Cabinet as recently as December 2020. At that time they forecast zero deficit in both years.

Hart MTFS presented to Cabinet December 2020

Hart MTFS presented to Cabinet December 2020

They got closer to reality at the time of the budget in February 2021. However, the FY22/23 deficit has grown from the £1,018K estimated at that time.

Hart's Finances 2021/22 and 2022/23

Hart Council budget deficits 2021/22 and 2022/23

Even these horrifying numbers are optimistic. They assume £499K of as yet unidentified savings will be made in FY22/23 and £796K in FY23/24.

If they manage to make the savings, then the deficit will still be 10.7% of their budget in FY22/23 and 12.5% in FY23/24. If those savings don’t materialise then the deficits will be 15.1% and 19.6% respectively. These are huge numbers. Even more troubling is that there doesn’t appear to be any formal committee set up to deal with the issue. However, they have recently bought an office block in Basingstoke. The income they receive may help to close the gap.

Crumb of Good News in Hart’s Finances

The only crumb of comfort is that the estimated deficit for this financial year has fallen from £381K when the draft budget was signed off to £179K in the MTFP. This seems to reflect that they have received £270K of extra income for Shapley Heath (£130K) and Recycling Credits (£140K) not included in the draft budget. However, this extra income should have seen the deficit falling by £270K, not £202K.

Shapley Heath still burning money

It is galling to see that money is still being squandered on the entirely unnecessary Shapley Heath project when the overall financial position is so dire. The Council are fiddling while our money burns.

We have asked questions about these and other issues to be answered at Council on Thursday 29 July. They can be found here.

Shapley Heath Financial Shell Game

Shapley Heath Financial Shell Game

Shapley Heath Financial Shell Game

Hart’s lack of financial control has also infected the Garden Community project. Their accounting for Shapley Heath has descended into a shell game. They set a zero budget, then we have to guess where they have hidden the actual spending. Let’s go through it.

Shapley Heath Zero Budget

Hart recently published the final budget for the current financial year. This also included the budget for last year, FY20/21. The budget for the new settlement at Shapley Heath was set at zero as can be seen in the image below. Note that in public sector accounts, positive numbers are spending and negative numbers are income.

HASETT - Shapley Heath Final Budget FY21-22

HASETT – Shapley Heath Final Budget FY21-22

It was made up of ~£68K for employee costs and car allowances, offset by a somewhat implausible identical receipt from GL Code 44047 – Consultants Projects. It is not clear why they were expecting consultants to pay them money. In common with the other service areas, no overheads were allocated.

Shapley Heath Declared Spending

Yet, the transparency report shows spending of £63.7K on consultants in “New Settlement” for FY20/21:

Shapley Heath Financial Shell Game: New Settlement Transparency Report FY20-21

Shapley Heath Financial Shell Game: New Settlement Transparency Report FY20-21

It is not clear how they managed to authorise this spending against a zero budget. On the face of it, it’s contrary to the Constitution. Budget regulation 3 limits spending to within the approved budget:

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 3

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 3

Budget regulation 5 allows transfer between budgets.

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 5

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 5

But this is limited by Financial Regulation 12 to £10,000 without Cabinet approval or £50,000 with Cabinet approval. We can find no record of Cabinet approving a change in the budget for Shapley Heath. In any event they have spent more than the transfer limit.

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR12

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR12

In addition FR10 says that they cannot incur unbudgeted expenditure without approval of full Council.

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR10

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR10

So, even the spending of the £63.7K appears to be in breach of the Constitution.

Shapley Heath Additional Work

Furthermore, the Shapley Heath Opportunity Board papers show that four Baseline Studies had reached the status of “Finalised” by 8 March. This is before the end of the financial year. These must have cost money, but do not show on the Transparency Report nor on the Contracts Register.

Shapley Heath Baseline Studies as of 8 March 2021

Shapley Heath Baseline Studies as of 8 March 2021

So, they have spent an unknown, but large amount of our money against a zero budget.

Shapley Heath Financial Shell Game: Transfer from Reserves

We can get an idea of how much they actually spent from the report recently presented to Cabinet. Buried on page 108 is an analysis of funds transferred from reserves.

Shapley Heath Financial Shell Game £283K Transfer from Reserves

Shapley Heath £283K Transfer from Reserves

This shows £283K was transferred from reserves for “funding 2020/2021 work on the New Settlement at Shapley Heath”. Note that the same report says that they incurred a deficit of £784K in the financial year (p103).

We will be asking questions at Council next week about how it was possible to spend £283K against a zero budget while running a massive deficit. Hart are fiddling while burning our money.

 

The questions can be found here.

Hart Finance Car Crash

Hart Finance Car Crash

Hart Finance Car Crash

We are becoming increasingly concerned that Hart’s finances are experiencing a slow motion car crash. This post will cover three significant issues we have identified from the current budget. Tomorrow, we will cover the Shapley Heath financial shell game. Later next week we’ll take a look at the growing black hole in the medium term finances. Plus, there’s the loss of £1m on the waste contract. Today’s three issues are:

  • Changes to the actual spend in FY18/19 and FY19/20
  • The budget doesn’t add up and so is not internally consistent and can’t be relied upon
  • Big changes to the approved draft budget in the final published version apparently in contravention of the Constitution

Hart Finance Car Crash: Changes to Actuals

Hart Finances Out of Control - Changes to Actuals

Hart Finances Out of Control – Changes to Actuals

As can be seen the actual total spend for 2018/19 has fallen from £5,387K to £5,020K between the two reports, a significant difference of £367K. Similarly, the spend for 19/20 has fallen from £11,241K to £10,877K, a difference of £364K. It isn’t clear whether this change in the management accounts will cause a restatement of the statutory accounts.

In the private sector, restatement of prior year accounts would be regarded as a profoundly serious matter. In Hart Council, it seems to have passed without comment.

Hart Finance Car Crash: Budget Does Not Add Up

Hart Finance Car Crash - Budget Does Not Add Up

Hart Finances Out of Control – Budget Does Not Add Up

We highlighted back in February in a letter to all councillors and an email to the JCX’s that the draft budget did not add up. Nobody cared at the time. Apparently, they still don’t care because the final budget doesn’t add up either. The sum of the spending in the service areas for GL Codes 10000 , 44069 and 90012 is not equal to the total for those GL Codes in the “Subjective” summary. In short, the budget does not add up. It appears as though HANEED (Housing Needs) is missing from the detailed service areas. This may account for the discrepancy. This service area is budgeting £813K of spending and nobody has noticed it’s missing. This is just sloppy work.

We have highlighted this anomaly to officers, but have yet to receive a reply. It’s difficult to see how it can be relied upon to be accurate.

[Update]: The budget has now been updated and the errors identified have been corrected [/Update]

Big Changes Between Draft and Final

Hart Finance Car Crash - Big changes between draft and final budget

Hart Finances Out of Control – Big changes between draft and final budget

In addition, there have been big swings in the budget for each service area between the draft and final versions. Total net spending has reduced by ~£37K, probably partially explained by extra grant income. However, total spending in Corporate Services and Community Services has been significantly reduced, largely offset by a big increase in Technical and Environmental Services and a smaller increase in Place.

These large variations appear to be in contravention of Hart’s Constitution. Once the budget has been agreed at a full council meeting, it is set in stone. It can only be varied in a limited way without further approval from Council.

Budget regulation 3 limits the officers to spending within the approved budget:

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 3

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 3

Budget regulation 5 allows virement (transfer) between budgets.

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 5

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 5

But this is limited by FR12 to £10,000 without Cabinet approval or £50,000 with Cabinet approval. These changes are larger than the transfer limit. Changes this large should have gone back to full Council for approval.

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR12

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR12

In addition, FR10 says that they cannot incur unbudgeted expenditure without the approval of full Council.

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR10

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR10

In other words, whoever runs Corporate and Community Services have been authorised to spend more money than they now have in their budget. The heads of Place and Technical Services are not authorised to spend all of the money in the final budget. It’s a complete mess.

Hart Council is fiddling while our money burns.

We have asked questions about these and other issues to be answered at Council on Thursday 29 July. They can be found here.

 

 

 

 

Two Faced Liberal Democrats

Two Faced Liberal Democrats

Two Faced Liberal Democrats – the difference between rhetoric and reality

Alarming gaps have emerged between what the local Lib Dems claim in their promotional literature and what they actually do in office. These gaps appear in their:

  • Shapley Heath Policy.
  • Environmental Policy.
  • Financial Policy.

Two-Faced Liberal Democrats: Shapley Heath

The leader of Hart Council and portfolio-holder for Place are both Liberal Democrats. All Lib Dem councillors have voted in favour of Shapley Heath (or its predecessor Winchfield New Town or Policy SS3) at every opportunity. The portfolio holder for Place is the Cabinet champi0n for the project.  He described removing Shapley Heath from the Local Plan as “a bit of a defeat”.

Yet, they have put out literature claiming they were instrumental in defeating the Winchfield proposals.

Lib Dem Fake News claims to have saved Winchfield

Lib Dem Fake News claims to have saved Winchfield

And at the last local election, one candidate claimed that the “Liberal Democrats are totally opposed to a 10,000-house new town AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN”. Perhaps he’s in favour of 9,999 houses.

Two-Faced Liberal Democrats: Leaflet opposing Shapley Heath

Lib Dem Leaflet opposing Shapley Heath

They also claimed the new town is “not extra housing”.

However, in the official bid for funding from the Government, they clearly showed the potential for “up to 10,000” houses. They also boasted about how they would deliver Shapley Heath in addition to the Local Plan requirement.

Shapley Heath: Vision Document 10000 houses.

Shapley Heath: Vision Document 10000 houses

Nightmare in Winchfield - capacity for 10,000 houses

Nightmare in Winchfield – Shapley Heath capacity for 10,000 houses

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

On Shapley Heath, they push it as hard as they possibly can when in office and claim the exact opposite in election literature.

Two-Faced Liberal Democrats: Environment

The Liberal Democrats have made a series of claims about their green credentials. First, Graham Cockarill, the Shapley Heath champion has said he is “the man with a plan to save our green fields”.

Two-Faced Liberal Democrats: Graham Cockarill Pants On Fire.

Hart Lib Dems: Pants On Fire

Quite how you can protect green fields by concreting over them is not explained. Another candidate greenwashed herself by claiming she would help our countryside flourish.

Lib Dem Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

Two-Faced Liberal Democrats Greenwashing

Yet, it’s the Lib Dems pushing Shapley Heath that plans to develop around 500 acres of the 1,046 acres in the area of search to deliver “up to 5,000” houses. More if the town grows to the 10,000 capacity. This is against their own climate change commitments and would put at risk dozens of red-list bird species as well as bats and hares. They say one thing, then do another.

Finance

Finally, two of their cabinet members claimed they were delivering a “balanced budget”.

Dave Neighbour, the Lib Dem Council Leader even claimed there wasn’t a deficit.

They did this even as the papers they were considering that night showed there was a deficit of £381K.

Hart Council budget deficits 2021/22 and 2022/23

Hart Council budget deficits 2021/22 and 2022/23

There is no plan to address the even wider deficit of over £1m next year.

The Liberal Democrats seem to have a problem with telling the truth. They are mendacious about Shapley Heath, making false claims on the environment and dissembling about the budget. They cannot be trusted.

 

 

 

CCH Embrace Cancel Culture and Run Away

CCH Embrace Cancel Culture and Run Away

CCH Embrace Cancel Culture and Run Away

Community Campaign Hart, the main proponent of the Shapley Heath project have embraced cancel culture. Like Monty Python, they have run away from debate and discussion.

They started by issuing a warning on their Facebook page:

CCH Embrace Censor Critics

CCH Embrace Censor Critics

Then, despite there being no “abuse” that we saw, comments were mysteriously cancelled from their posts.

CCH Embrace Cancel Culture

CCH Embrace Cancel Culture

Now, despite Facebook showing that there are 26 comments on one of their more controversial posts, only 4 replies are visible to users. It seems they have deleted comments from people that disagree with them. Now, only their acolytes can comment on their posts. Many people thought they were deaf to criticism before, but now they have cancelled anyone who has the temerity to disagree with them.

It’s not the first time they have been caught censoring people. Back in 2017, they banned questions they didn’t like from being asked at Council. But remember:

Words can be deleted but the facts cannot be deleted with them

Words can be deleted but the facts cannot be deleted with them – Ai Weiwei

The facts are the Inspector rejected the new town; their own papers say it is unnecessary. Running away like cowards is not a particularly endearing trait. We can but hope that this attitude is punished at the ballot box next May.

Hart produces word salad Shapley Heath contract specs

Shapley Heath Word Salad Contract

Word Salad Shapley Heath Contract Specs

Hart has opened up the bidding on a contract to provide 8 reports for the Shapley Heath Garden Community (SHGC). The trouble is some of them are simply word salad and have no meaning. As an aside, have you noticed that they have subtly changed it from a Garden Village to a Garden Community. We think that means it gets bigger, and “community” sounds nicer than “town”.

Back to the point. The 8 reports are:

  1. Strategy Report – HNA and HIA [Health Needs Assessment and Health Impact Assessment]
  2. Strategy Report – GI, Sports and Leisure [Green Infrastructure]
  3. Strategy Report – Economy and Employment
  4. Evidence for Need for Housing for Older People
  5. Evidence for Need for housing for supported housing
  6. Evidence for Need for housing for younger people and first-time buyers
  7. Garden Community Technical Report – Accessible Housing
  8. Garden Community Technical Report – Keyworker Housing
Hart Contract Invitation 7 July 2021

Hart Contract Invitation 7 July 2021

They expect the contract to be worth around £56K in total, or approximately £7K per report. Although £56K is a lot of money, it doesn’t look like they are going to get a lot of in-depth, quality analysis for £7K per report. Moreover, the budgeted £56K is more than double the £25K total budget for consultants for the whole year.

Shapley Heath Burning Money: Budget 2021-22

Shapley Heath Burning Money: Budget 2021-22

Of course they must have already spent most of that £25K on the Shapley Heath website, the recent survey and advertising. They have received £130K from the Government that wasn’t in the budget, so maybe they are using that money to fund these reports.

Word Salad Shapley Heath contract specs

It gets worse when you start to look at the detail of the scope documents. In places they are virtually impossible to decipher. You can’t even work out what you think they are meant to say. They’re just word salad. So, heaven knows what the potential bidders are going to make of it.

First, take the GI Sports and Leisure report as an example. Section 2.6.6 sets out a specification for the final report including the following word for word quote:

e. To look at locally derived open space, recreation, sports and leisure standards for quantity, quality and accessibility including potential thresholds above which should be required and where available, financial information to be supplied….

g. Propose options for the long-term financial management, malignance of the facilities and open spaces which make best use of the resources and outline any commercial opportunities. This will include consideration for the placement of destination leisure facilities and commercial ventures.

We have no idea how any supplier is going to come up with options for malignance of the facilities.

It gets even worse. The Health report contains no mention at all assessing the number or size of GP practices required. It doesn’t even ask to look at local hospital capacity. There isn’t even a requirement to liaise with the local NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups and doesn’t even include the word “healthcare”.

However, we are sure readers will be reassured that it does include the requirement to ensure the report is “compatible with the councils [sic] 2040 target of district being net carbon neutral”. The consultants producing the report also have to “work with the Renewable Energy consultant and provide relevant information and data for the Renewable Energy consultant strategy report”.

As long as the report is carbon neutral and they’ve spoken to the Renewable Energy consultants, there’s no need to talk to the local NHS CCG, specify the size and shape of GP requirements or decide whether we’ll need extra hospital beds.

What a waste. Perhaps they should launch a contract to teach them plain English.

 

Not Another One – Winchfield Floods Again 6 July 2021

Not another one - Winchfield Floods Again 6 July 2021

Not another one – Winchfield Floods Again

Not another one – Winchfield floods again! Yet another 1 in 30 year event hit Winchfield again yesterday. The photo shows the railway bridge over Taplins Farm Lane.

This comes despite the sustainability assessment claiming:

There was some evidence of wet ground at the far east of SHL183, but “no other obvious evidence of current or past flooding”.

Winchfield Strategic Assessment - Flood Risk 1

The detailed assessment also says there’s only a one in 30 year chance of surface water flooding.

Winchfield Strategic Assessment - Flood Risk 3

This is of course complete nonsense. The area of Taplins Farm Lane near the railway bridge flooded in February 2019April 2018 and three times in 2016 alone. Evidence documenting the 2016 flood events can be found here (4 Jan) , here (7 Jan)here (9 March on Station Road) and here (28 March due to #StormKatie).  We are also informed that floods also occurred on 21 Dec 2019 (see below), February 2020 (see below) and 15 Nov 2020 but don’t have pictures to document that event. These Winchfield floods are obviously more than one in 30 year events.

Taplins Lane flood 21 Dec 2019

Taplins Farm Lane flood 21 Dec 2019

Queens head Pilcott Feb 2020

Queens head Pilcott Feb 2020

Queens head pilcott Feb 2020

Queens head pilcott Feb 2020

Dogmersfield floods

Dogmersfield floods

Dogmersfield floods 3

Dogmersfield floods 3

Dogmersfield floods 2

Dogmersfield floods 2

Surely, everybody can see this area is not suitable for new housing. Let’s hope the Baseline Studies the Council has commissioned for Shapley Heath pick up on the flood risk.

Shapley Heath Major Road Transport Issues

Shapley Heath Major Road Transport Issues: Eastbound travel perhaps requires new road

Shapley Heath Major Road Transport Issues: Eastbound travel perhaps requires new road

We first raised issues about the Shapley Heath sustainable transport goals here. That post focused on the minor roads within the area of search. This post examines the major road network surrounding the proposed new development and the gaps in the network. The Shapley Heath Survey has a number of questions about “sustainable transport”. Interestingly, there’s not even an option to request improvement to local roads or to rail services.  When many people think of sustainable transport they think of walking, running and cycling. This can be for fitness, leisure, work or even light shopping.  So, it is worth exploring whether the road network in and around the area of search is capable of delivering the basics such as pavements and cycle paths.

The conclusion for the major roads is that significant investment will be required to alleviate congestion and provide adequate pavements and cycle paths.  Here is the overall assessment, followed by an examination of each road one by one.

Shapley Heath Major Road Issues - Overall Assessment

Shapley Heath Major Road Issues – Overall Assessment

Having read the rest of 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. The survey closes on 5 July.

Shapley Heath Survey with Suggested Responses

Eastbound Travel

Starting with the those people who might want to travel to Crookham Village, Church Crookham, Fleet or further afield to Farnham, Farnborough or Guildford. We have already established that Chatter Alley, which is only single lane in places with no cycle path or pavement is totally unsuitable for a massive influx of new cars and people. Similarly, Pale Lane is too narrow. So, that raises the possibility of a new road from the eastern tip of the area of search to Hitches Lane. This would help access to Fleet and the Crookhams. This is shown on the image at the top of this post. It would need to be a proper 2-lane road with cycle paths and at least one pavement. Sadly, it would cut through part of the Edenbrook Country Park, but we can think of no other way of directing the extra traffic from 5-10,000 new houses eastbound.

Shapley Heath Major Road Transport Issues: A287

A287

Shapley Heath Major Road Transport Issues: A287

Moving clockwise, the next major road is the A287. The junction with the B3016 Odiham Road is already dangerous. So, there would need to be a new roundabout across the dual carriageway there. The rest of the road is suitable for busy 2-way traffic, but there’s no pavement or cycle path for much of the length of the road. That means this road would need to be widened to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. And the roundabouts to Odiham and North Warnborough would probably also need to be improved.

M3 Junction

M3 Junction

M3 Junction

Prior studies into a Winchfield new town have raised the possibility of a new motorway junction. This seems unlikely on cost grounds, which means that significant improvements to Junction 5 of the M3 will be required. There is a rudimentary pavement across the junction that can also be used by cyclists, but it is quite dangerous. The pavements on the approach roads are also poor with scant provision for cyclists.

Hook Roundabouts

Hook Roundabouts

Hook Roundabouts

There is little provision for pedestrians on the B3349 from the M3 to Hook and no cycle lane. The roundabout already gets busy so would probably require improvement if Shapley Heath gets built. The other roundabout on Griffin Way South has poor provision for walkers and cyclists and would also need to be improved. Similarly, the roundabout with the A30 would need to be improved, especially as more houses are already being built near there.

Shapley Heath Major Road Transport Issues: A30 London Road

A30 London Road

A30 London Road

The A30 does have a pavement/cycle path between Holt Lane and the turning for Borough Court Road. However, elsewhere the pavement provision is poor. There is room for a cycle path on the dual carriageway part, but not elsewhere. Presumably a new access road will be built to access the Murrell Green part of the development, so a new roundabout across the dual carriageway will be needed.

Hartley Wintney Junctions

Hartley Wintney Junctions

Hartley Wintney Junctions

There are pavements at each of the junctions in Hartley Wintney, but no cycle lanes. However, main road through Hartley wintney gets very busy already, so significant improvements will need to be made at the following junctions:

  • A30/Dilly Lane & Thackham’s Lane
  • A30/B3011 Bracknell Lane
  • A30/A323 Fleet Road

It’s not at all clear if there is enough space to make significant improvements such as adding extra lanes.

Shapley Heath Major Road Transport Issues: A323 Fleet Road

A323 Fleet Road

A323 Fleet Road

It is already almost impossible to turn right out of Church Lane on to Fleet Road, so this junction would need to be improved, perhaps with a roundabout. The stretch of the A323 from Hartley Row Park to the M3 bridge would need widening and improving because it has no pavements and no cycle lane. The junction with Pale Lane would also need to be improved, probably with a roundabout.

 

Walk for Winchfield

Walk for Winchfield

Walk for Winchfield

The CPRE, the Countryside Charity, has organised a “Walk for Winchfield” on 25th July 2021 at 2.30pm. The route covers much of the area proposed for the Shapley Heath Garden Community. This is a chance to appreciate wildlife and countryside that might be lost if this project were to go ahead.

It starts at the Basingstoke Canal car park opposite the Barley Mow pub. The walk starts along the canal (see map and detailed instructions on the download below). It later passes the delightful St Mary’s Norman church, then along Bagwell Lane and beside Odiham Common. After crossing the B3016, the walk continues to Totters Lane, up to the old railway bridge high over Winchfield cutting, then down the bridleway towards Murrell Green. It turns off through fields and woodlands back to the B3016, then on to Winchfield Station. The route then completes by going down Station Road to the footpath up to Taplins Farm, then along Taplins Farm Lane to Winchfield Hurst to complete the circuit at the Barley Mow. Most of the route is on footpaths, but there are a few stretches on quiet roads without pavements.

With the wet summer, long trousers and stout footwear are recommended. There will be a competition for the best photograph of views or wildlife that might be lost.

There is Facebook Event set up for the walk. Please indicate your interest, so the organisers can keep track of how many people want to come along: https://www.facebook.com/events/343895127298516/

There is also a not-for-profit online shop where you can purchase merchandise to express your support: https://shop.spreadshirt.co.uk/say-no-to-shapley-heath/all

We hope to see you there on the day.

A map and detailed route instructions can be found on the on the download below:

Walk for Winchfield

 

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. The survey closes on 5 July.

Shapley Heath Survey with Suggested Responses

Guest Post: What is wrong with Shapley Heath

What is Wrong with Shapley Heath

What is Wrong with Shapley Heath

Today, we have a guest post from Tristram Cary, chairman of the Rural Hart Association. In this post, he sets out his reasons why the Shapley Heath Garden Community is a bad idea.

Having read the rest of 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. The survey closes on 5 July.

Shapley Heath Survey with Suggested Responses

Introduction

Hart District Council is exploring the potential to build a new community in the district of up to 5,000 new homes, with associated community facilities, to meet its long-term housing requirements.” This statement, from the introduction to SHGV Community Survey, sums up HDC’s motivation for embarking on a major publicly-funded project which includes a SHGV website, a sophisticated Communications and Engagement Strategy, a SHGV Stakeholder’s Forum with five Thematic Groups and the commissioning of 13 Baseline Surveys on things like Transport, Heritage, Landscape, Flooding and Utilities.

This article makes the case that:

  1. Hart District Council (HDC) has no business undertaking the SHGV project because:
    • It is a blatant attempt to pre-determine Hart’s future development by promoting its preferred strategy over viable alternatives
    • It is not in synchronisation with the Local Plan which should guide all HDC’s planning activities
  2. By failing to consider the trade-offs involved in developing SHGV over alternative development strategies, the results of the SHGV Project in general, and the Community Survey in particular, will be largely invalid.
  3. The SHGV Project is not merely an expensive and misguided attempt at pre-determination. It is also damaging the prospects for regenerating Fleet (and Hart’s other urban centres), which is an Objective of the Local Plan (unlike SHGV)
  4. SHGV is objectively a bad development strategy for Hart (when compared to the alternatives) in terms of sustainability, climate/carbon footprint, and green spaces.

Predetermination

The SHGV Project team explains that the SHGV project is not an attempt at pre-determination because it is subordinate to the Local Plan. The Project team explains that the SHGV conclusions and recommendations will only carry weight if and when the Local Plan is updated to include SHGV, at that therefore the SHGV project is neutral and unbiased.

This argument is wrong for the following reasons:

  • SHGV is in fact the chosen strategy of HDC. HDC is dominated by Community Campaign Hart (CCH) whose primary objective is to save Fleet/Church Crookham from over-development by building a new Settlement in the Winchfield area. This is made clear in many of CCH’s newsletters (available on the CCH website). Here is an extract from the Spring 2012 CCH Newsletter:

We either continue to grow Fleet & Church Crookham outwards (in which case what, realistically, do you do with the traffic?) or we look at a new settlement.  Winchfield is about the only sustainable location for such a new settlement in Hart District.”

  • The Communication and Engagement Strategy for SHGV is heavily biased in favour of SHGV and makes no attempt to present a balanced view of SHGV in comparison to the alternatives. To illustrate this here are some quotes (with my comments in blue):

Use Shapley Heath in communications where possible [to get the public used to the idea that it is going to happen];

Create awareness of what the alternatives might be (sequential development, developments on appeal) [these are bad alternatives – no mention has been made of good alternatives including regeneration of Fleet to make it more attractive and commercially successful];

We want our audience to know why we think it’s the right location to explore [a clear bias in favour of SHGV and against alternative locations such as Rye Common];

Highlight key benefits – a new community with a unique character, green spaces, employment opportunities, retail space, leisure facilities, economic development, new schools, and other critical infrastructure [no mention of Key Disadvantages such as loss of green space, coalescence of towns, lack of growth potential, damage to prospects of Fleet regeneration, increasing housing capacity which would be taken up by Rushmoor and Surrey Heath under the Duty to Cooperate etc];

Be clear about the limited brownfield opportunities in the district [biased in favour of SHGV and ignores the alternative strategies];

Use subject matter experts (like Lord Taylor of Goss Moor) to highlight the benefits of garden communities from experience elsewhere [stressing benefits without acknowledging the downsides].

Failure to Consider Trade-Offs as a part of the SHGV Project

The SHGV project’s stated aim is to conduct an assessment of the potential of SHGV as a means of satisfying Hart’s long-term housing needs. The SHGV project team insists that the project is unbiased and that all alternatives will be properly explored as required by the Local Plan Inspector. However, if that is true, why would the SHGV project not be open about the pros and cons of SHGV when compared to alternative strategies such as alternative sites for a Garden Village and re-generation of Hart’s urban centres? Every alternative strategy will have advantages and disadvantages, and to hide the disadvantages is clearly biased.

Failure to present SHGV in the context of the alternative strategies will invalidate the results of the Community Survey.

SHGV Project is already Damaging the Prospects for the Regeneration of Fleet and Hart’s other urban centres

The Local Plan identifies that Hart does not provide adequate retail and leisure outlets for its residents. As a result, “The outflow of retail expenditure from the District…is relatively high and is likely to remain high in the future”: [Local Plan para 65.]

The Local Plan goes on to identify the cause of this problem: “The main centres in Hart have not kept pace with other centres in the wider area. Other centres have strengthened and improved their offering through investment and development. Failure to invest in the centres will see them continue to fall in the rankings”: [Retail, Leisure and Town Centre Study Part 1 para 2.15].

To provide Hart with adequate retail and leisure outlets the Local Plan states that “The challenge for Fleet specifically will be to secure investment so that it can compete with the comparable towns in neighbouring districts. All the neighbouring towns are subject to regeneration or expansion projects”: Local Plan Para 66

To attract major investment into Fleet an essential first step is to invest in a Masterplan for Fleet which would identify how the residential, employment, leisure, education, transport, and infrastructure needs could be developed in a coordinated way so that Fleet would become a better, greener, more prosperous and more commercially successful town. It is quite extraordinary that HDC has failed in its clear duty to invest in a Masterplan for Fleet (and note that HDC’s investigation into regeneration of the Civic Quarter is not sufficient)

But to make matters worse, by investing solely in the SHGV project, HDC is sending a further clear signal to developers that Fleet is not a priority. So HDC’s claim that the SHGV project is ‘neutral’ and can run in parallel with the Local Plan without damaging the Local Plan objectives is false. HDC has clearly nailed its colours to the SHGV mast, and by doing so it is already significantly damaging Fleet’s future prospects.

SHGV is Objectively a Poor Strategy

SHGV is objectively a poor strategy compared to the alternatives for the following reasons:

  1. It is a well-established fact that larger settlements are more sustainable than smaller ones (because larger settlements have more residential, employment, health and leisure facilities within easy reach of the residents than smaller ones). SHGV is therefore going to generate a larger carbon footprint than a strategy based on re-generating Hart’s existing towns and villages. This should be a critical issue now that HDC has declared a Climate Emergency and has undertaken to ‘put the reduction of CO2 at the front and centre of all policies and formal decision-making.’
  2. SHGV scores badly against several of the Guiding Principles of Garden Villages. In particular:
    • Green Space – Garden Communities should be surrounded by countryside. SHGV will not be
    • Sustainable Scale – This principle includes the ‘capacity for future growth to meet the evolving housing and economic needs of the local area’. SHGV will have very limited geographical scope for future growth
    • Future Proofed – This principle also includes the ‘capacity for future growth’ which SHGV will not have

Coalescence and Conurbation

What's wrong with Shapley Heath - Coalesence

What is wrong with Shapley Heath – Coalesence

This map shows the density of residential housing in the district (based on March 2017 residential address data in 1km squares). Areas which are not coloured in green are countryside (having less than one home per hectare).

Points to note are:

  1. The green areas of urban development clearly show how coalescence has already caused towns like Yateley, Camberley, Farnborough and Aldershot to be merged into a single conurbation
  2. This conurbation already spreads in a continuous thread from the centre of London westwards to the westerly edge of Fleet
  3. At present Fleet, Hartley Wintney, Hook and Odiham are all surrounded by countryside which adds significantly to their character and provides an important leisure amenity. This is what gives the district its rural character
  4. SHGV would merge Fleet, Hartley Wintney, Hook and Odiham a continuous conurbation, in defiance of the Garden Village principles and the Local Plan vision to maintain the rural character of the district

What is Wrong with Shapley Heath: Conclusions

  1. The SHGV Project is not an unbiased exploration of the potential of SHGV. It is an attempt at pre-determination.
  2. SHGV is causing real damage to the Local Plan aim of attracting investment for the re-regeneration of Fleet and other urban centres
  3. The results of the Community Survey will not be valid because no balanced context has been provided on the advantages/disadvantages of SHGV and alternative strategies
  4. SHGV is objectively a poor strategy which does not align with HDC’s Climate Emergency commitment to put the reduction of CO2 at the front and centre of all polices and decision-making
  5. SHGV will cause coalescence between Fleet, Harley Wintney, Hook and Odiham which will significantly damage their character as well as the rural nature of Hart District.

Recommendations

  1. HDC should abandon the SHGV Project and invest instead in a comprehensive Masterplan for Fleet which is an essential first step towards meeting the Local Plan objective to secure funding for Fleet regeneration
  2. Failing a), the SHGV project should provide clear information about the pros and cons of SHGV when compared to the alternative development strategies
  3. Respondents should be encouraged to object to the clear bias of the SHGV Community Survey