Impact of Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill on Hart

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill - RIP Shapley Heath

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – RIP Shapley Heath

Earlier this week, the Government launched the long awaited Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. The full Bill, all 338 pages of it, can be found here. A summary of the proposed measures can be found here. The interviews carried out by Michael Gove and the Bill itself had a number of potential impacts on Hart.

  • National Housing Target
  • Five-Year Land Supply
  • Neighbourhood Plans
  • Duty to Cooperate
  • Enhanced Environment Protection
  • Mandatory Infrastructure Contributions
  • Regeneration

On first examination, these look to be positive proposals for Hart, particularly in that they appear to weaken the case for Shapley Heath. The proposals also strengthen powers to drive regeneration of town centres, which should be good news for Fleet and its businesses.

Let’s go through the detail.

National Housing Target

Michael Gove gave a number of interviews about the new Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. On BBC Radio 4, he was repeatedly asked about whether the Government was sticking to the national housing target of 300,000 new dwellings per year. He refused to give a clear answer each time he was asked, saying he didn’t want to be “tied to a Procrustean bed”. Yes, we had to look that up too. Essentially, it means an arbitrary target. He also said that that while “arithmetic is important”, he was not “bound by one criterion alone”.

On the face of it, the Government is backing away from this target, which means that Hart’s housing target should fall from the current 286dpa.  However, the Telegraph reported that a Downing Street spokesman stressed the target remained – while saying it was important to build the right sort of houses.

So, this is not something we can bank on yet. However, the current Local Plan calls for 423dpa. We are currently building far more than that. It seems unlikely to us that the current target of 286dpa will rise, so the upcoming Local Plan review ought to relieve pressure into the future. This will make the claims that Shapley Heath is required even more difficult to sustain.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – Five-Year Land Supply

Related to the housing target, the new Bill proposes to scrap the requirement for Councils to maintain a five year land supply.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill - Five-Year Land Supply Requirement scrapped

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – Five-Year Land Supply Requirement scrapped

However, this is conditional upon the Local Plan being up to date. By this they mean adopted in the past five years. To benefit from this proposal Hart will have to have an updated Local Plan in place by April 2025. Our current Local Plan is front-loaded, with completions falling below target beyond around 2026/27. This proposal should help with that problem.

At the very least, this Bill should scupper CCH’s “suicidal” plans to build Shapley Heath at a rate of 500dpa.

Neighbourhood Plans

The summary of the proposals says that neighbourhood plans will be strengthened to have equal weight with other planning documents.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill - Neighbourhood Plans given equal weight

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – Neighbourhood Plans given equal weight

On the face of it, this is a positive development because is inconceivable that Winchfield Parish Council would include Shapley Heath in their Neighbourhood Plan. However, this must be tempered by statement in the full Bill that seems to prohibit Neighbourhood Plans reducing the amount of housing a Local Authority can deliver.

Neighbourhood Plans Cannot Cut Housing for the Authority

Neighbourhood Plans Cannot Cut Housing for the Authority

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – Duty to Cooperate

The current duty to cooperate requirement will be repealed and replaced with a more flexible alignment test.

Duty to Cooperate Repealed

Duty to Cooperate Repealed

This is a positive development, because the current Local Plan includes an allowance to build housing for Surrey Heath. This allowance was already under question because the housing target for both Surrey Heath and Rushmoor has been reduced. Rushmoor is building far more than it is now required to do and could easily take any unmet need from Surrey Heath. However, the requirement to build houses for neighbouring authorities appears to fall away. This is good news in that it reduces Hart’s housing target.

Enhanced Environment Protection

The Bill also seeks to enhance environmental protections.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill - Enhanced Environmental Protection

Enhanced Environmental Protection

We know that parts of the Shapley Heath contain significant areas that are at risk of flooding. On the face of it, these proposals will make it harder to build in such an area. Moreover, the area contains SSSIs, SINCs and other protected areas. Enhanced environmental protections ought to help fend off proposals for Shapley Heath.

Mandatory Infrastructure Contributions

The Bill proposes changes to infrastructure funding. A new mandatory infrastructure levy is proposed to replace S106 contributions and Community Infrastructure Levy.

New Mandatory Infrastructure Charge

New Mandatory Infrastructure Charge

On the face of it, this seems to close the loophole where developers converting office blocks under permitted development rights were able to avoid infrastructure contributions. This should help the council adopt a better attitude to brownfield development.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – Regeneration

New compulsory purchase powers are proposed in the Bill. These should help Councils rejuvenate town centres and regenerate brownfield land.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill - Strong Support for Urban Regeneration

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – Strong Support for Urban Regeneration

Taken together, these proposals should finally end the ridiculous proposals for a new town at Shapley Heath. There will no longer be any excuses for Hart not to come up with bold new plans to regenerate Fleet, Blackwater and Yateley. These urban centres should be the focus of the updated Local Plan so we can make Hart an even greater place to live.

CCH Commits “Political Suicide”

CCH Commits Political Suicide

CCH Commits Political Suicide

A CCH Councillor has said that it would be “political suicide” to impose more housing on Hart than is needed.

Political Suicide to Build More than Needed

Political Suicide to Build More than Needed

However, the same Councillor has also outlined her party’s plans for Shapley Heath that amount to the very same “political suicide” she mentions.

Katie Davies 5000 over 10 years

Katie Davies 5000 over 10 years

Let’s go through how CCH commits political suicide:

Shapley Heath Not Required

CCH as a party are still pushing the very same development that was removed from the Local Plan by the Inspector because it was not required to meet our housing targets out to 2032. In their bid for Government funding they even claimed they would deliver Shapley Heath “in addition to” the requirements of the Local Plan.

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

CCH Propose Faster Build Rate than Required

Moreover, Councillor Davies has proposed a far faster rollout for Shapley Heath than was proposed in the Council’s bid for funding. The plan they put forward then ran for 16 years from 2024 to 2040, with a steady state run rate of 360dpa.

Shapley Heath Housing Trajectory Sept 2020

Shapley Heath Housing Trajectory Sept 2020

CCH are now proposing the development takes place over 10 years. Simple arithmetic would indicate an average build rate of 500 dpa. The pace of this single proposed development is nearly twice the latest Government target of 286dpa.

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

New targets for Hart, Rushmoor and Surrey Heath

CCH Not Addressed Inspector Concerns

They have said that they will “explore all options”. However, they have spent over £700K on Shapley Heath since FY19/20 and delivered nothing of substance. They have not formally considered any other option.  This is in direct contravention of the Inspector’s findings:

I am of the view that a significant level of further supporting work would be required for Policy SS3 [Shapley Heath] 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

Summary

They are proposing to consult on the same proposal that:

  • Is not required to meet our housing needs
  • Was rejected by the Inspector
  • Will deliver housing at nearly twice the rate required

They will do all this without properly considering any other option. Political suicide indeed.

 

Shapley Heath Survey Results – Bin this development

Shapley Heath Survey Results - Bin This Development

Shapley Heath Survey Results – Bin This Development

The results are in. Hart have finally published the answers to the Shapley Heath Garden Community Survey they ran over the summer. The results of the freeform comments are overwhelming: Hart residents do not want Shapley Heath to happen. In fact one comment urged the Council to bin the project. And that was one of the more polite comments.

The summary paper can be found here, and the full detailed results here.

The summary paper tries to put a brave face on things, claiming:

A sizeable number of respondents used template answers published by a local campaign group. Many of the template responses used similar wording throughout the survey. In many cases, these template responses did not answer the question being asked, but expressed a general objection to the project.

Do they mean us? Yes, we did publish a handy guide to the survey. However, what is most remarkable is the level of creativity in the freeform answers. Very few answers were verbatim copies of our guide. Some of the more entertaining responses are shown below, including the plea to “bin this development”. The summary report omits to mention the scale of Hart’s own promotional activity. There was an extensive Facebook ad campaign and they produced a number of promotional videos.

Most of the respondents came from Hartley Wintney parish. It is interesting that despite much higher populations, there were relatively few respondents from Fleet and Church Crookham. This indicates that CCH failed to mobilise their own supporters to respond to the survey. Virtually nobody from Yateley or Blackwater responded to the survey, indicating that nobody really cares about Shapley Heath in the Lib Dem strongholds.

Below is an image bringing together the significant comments from the summary report.

Shapley Heath Survey Responses

Shapley Heath Survey Responses

Shapley Heath Survey Results – Most Entertaining Comments

We have skimmed the results and picked out the results we found most entertaining.

Community Identity Section

The garden community will do nothing to enhance Hart’s local identity, and it should be cancelled now. The best place for an attractive and vibrant centre with public spaces can best be achieved through the regeneration of Fleet town centre.

The community of Hart does NOT want to see the rural parts of the district destroyed in order to facilitate the CCH/LibDem vanity project of Shapley Heath. The community identity will be best served by cancelling these
plans forthwith.

Please don’t build the Shapley Heath Garden Community.

Don’t build it, we live in villages, we don’t want urban sprawl.

Hart already has a clear identity. It has an historic countryside and green fields at it’s heart which would be destroyed by the Shapely Heath development. DO NOT BUILD IT. Hart does need urban regeneration to make Fleet in particular more attractive to live in and visit.

This is the first proper countryside one reaches on the trains departing from London. It is part of north Hampshire’s rural heritage. Is MUST NOT be built on.

I consider Shapely Heath development should be cancelled in order to preserve the existing rural character of the area and concentrate on the regeneration of Fleet which is badly needed.

WE DON’T NEED SHAPLEY HEATH. THIS IS A STUPID IDEA.

Yes, Hart does have a unique identity. Most of that unique identity derives from its mix of urban, semi-rural and rural areas dotted across the landscape as separate, unique, distinct communities. As your map shows, a new town in the Heart of Hart would effectively create a single conurbation, obliterating Winchfield and joining Fleet, Crookham Village, Dogmersfield, Hartley Wintney, Hook and Odiham together. This would destroy the main attraction of Hart and so the best way to preserve that identity would be to abandon the project altogether.

Yes and the current green spaces around Winchfield are a key part of that. It beggars belief that you would want to destroy that to build houses that aren’t even required to meet targets. No one wants this.

Sustainable Community Section

You have totally ignored the need to invest in road and rail infrastructure. Prior studies into a new settlement in this location discussed extending the car parks and platforms at the stations; potentially a new station;
improving the existing road network, building new roads and even the potential for a new motorway junction. The most sustainable option would be to retain the rural nature and green space in the area. So, the best way
of ensuring this project is “sustainable” is not to do it at all. Cancel it now.

The opening statement is beyond presumptive and directing the answers whilst perpetuating a myth that development can be dressed up with greenwashing – this question cannot be answered honestly.

Why are you asking me hypothetical questions – I am completely against turning any area of Hart into a Garden Community – unless you want to follow all the garden community principles properly instead of cherry picking the ones you might be able to achieve. Have you actually listened to Lord Taylor of Goss Moor? You’ve got him on the payroll and he talks a lot of good sense about the requirements for land value capture,
infrastructure first, room for growth. you wont stand up to the developers to get any of those, you will sacrifice Winchfield to coalesce with Hartley Wintney, Hook and Dogmersfield with no room for proper growth, no
centre to the community, no land bought at sensible rates. Never mind ‘future facilities’ – get the fundamental first principles right.

We don’t want a garden “village”!!

We do not need this development, this positive spin is crass.

Leaving the space as it is for environmental reasons and quality of life for people already living here and paying council tax.

Shapley Heath Survey Results: Community Connection Question

Yes. The open land and woods of the country side, most of which you intend to destroy. Cancel as soon as possible.

Yes, the green spaces that this development will destroy.

I strongly oppose SHGV and this survey is a farce.

Shapley Heath Survey Results: Governance Question

Cancel this project, stop wasting money on this crazy project.

Certainly not Hart District Council.

This is a very biased survey. It assumes the project will go ahead in the way the questions are asked. HDC’s management of planning and history suggest HDC should not be allowed anywhere near this project. Their
handling of this whole process over a number of years can only be described as pathetic.

I read the Lib Dem leaflet at the last election where it clearly stated that the Shapley Heath project was not going ahead and that the Tories were telling lies by stating that it is. Why therefore are you doing this survey
which is heavily slanted towards giving the green light to it. Who was telling the lies?????

Hart already has its building quota agreed by the Planning Inspector J Manning. This proposal is grotesque conceived by idiots having a pique over rejection of their fanciful plans for that known as “Winchook”. This is
simply another badly thought through scheme by an incompetent Lib DEM / CCH alliance.

There is no requirement for this development and I strongly object to it.

This is a ridiculous question. No one wants this settlement.

We already have open spaces and countryside! JUST CANCEL THE ENTIRE PROJECT!

Anyone except the HDC!

There is a CLIMATE EMERGENCY abandon this project.

Shapley Heath GV was removed from the Local Plan by the inspector in 2019 as he deemed it unnecessary. It is still unnecessary.

NOT HART COUNCIL. NOT FIT TO RUN A KEBAB VAN.

You ask me how you should proceed. Not if. This is wrong. The Hampshire majority believe, (1) SHGV is not needed. (2) SHGV should only be studied once it has been shown to be the best development option (3)
SHGV is an unnecessarily climate-damaging development (4) SHGV damages the possibility of Fleet development / redevelopment (5) There is no room for a Garden Village in the Winchfield area.

I really am not sure of the best answer to this question. However, based on the conduct of Hart D C in recent years they should not be let anywhere near it. If Hart D C listened to the majority opinion of sensible residents
THE PROJECT SHOULD BE CANCELLED NOW!

It’s tempting to say something about a blend of councillors, piano wire and lampposts, but I will refrain.

Shapley Heath Survey Results: Exercise Questions

Local public footpaths, heaths, wildlife areas, streets and areas around my home in the countryside which you are planning to destroy. Cancel the project now.

Stupid question by a stupid council.

I walked miles around the canal and village as did many others – the area that you are planning to destroy.

The local countryside. Odd that isn’t an option! Or are you just massaging the survey to give you the answers you want?

Dogging hotspots.

Resilience Questions

Shapley Heath will damage the local environment and amenity, will not help with the economic future of the area, will harm the ability to absorb, recover and prepare for environmental changes – response to this survey
does NOT endorse Shapley Heath, now or later. I DO NOT SUPPORT SHAPLEY HEATH #STOP SHAPLEY HEATH.

You are planning to destroy important agricultural and leisure land in order to build thousands od dwellings that are not needed or wanted. Please consider the planet first and help to maintain the agricultural land and
green lungs that provide our food and fresh air. Please cease all work on this project.

The best way to protect our environment is to avoid unnecessary development of green areas. Cancel these plans now.

The best way to prepare for future environmental change is to keep our green spaces that can be used to produce food, act as a carbon sink and provide amenity space for residents of urban areas. Cancel the project
now.

The open countryside should be preserved. It is an asset for all and it contributes to a healthy environment.

None of the above, as we want to keep the local villages.

This survey is a poor use of tax payers money and time. There is no good evidence to support the creation of the SHGV and most local residents feel that it is being bulldozered through by local authorities. Using this
‘consultation’ as a means to paper over the cracks of the lack of logic or support for SHGV is poor.

The phrase “garden community “is an anathema. I would refer you to the inspector’s comments on the local plan – a new settlement is not necessary.

Building homes on brownfield sites and not greenfield. Not building on floodplains.

Natural and Historic Environment

This is where the kind and sensitive CCH supporters reared their heads:

No. Concrete the lot – just don’t build more bloody houses in Fleet and Church Crookham

But others has their say too:

In 2019 the Inspector ruled that SHGV could not be reintroduced into the Local Plan until it had been shown (with proper evidence and a public consultation) to be the best strategy when compared to alternative strategies (including other locations and urban regeneration). This work has not been done so SHGV is premature.

As long as CCH councillors and their developer partners make lots of money then that is the main thing.

The cancellation of this unnecessary proposed project would be the most important measure you could adopt to ensure that the natural and historic environment of the local area is reflected and respected.

Don’t build this unwanted village.

Yes, by not building on it in the first place. Cancel the project.

Just to repeat myself again please stop wasting precious public money which could be better spent in so many other ways in the district.

This whole survey is based on the assumption that the Shapley Heath Garden Community is desirable. It is not. And furthermore it is not necessary, it is merely being proposed so that the Fleet Councillors can avoid
improving Fleet.

Yes. Abandon this senseless charade. SHGV was removed from the local plan by the inspector. Your own declaration of a Climate Emergency means Shapley is unjustifiable, especially when regenerating Fleet Town is the common sense solution and would retain the green spaces between Hook, Odiham and Fleet. Persevering with this senseless Garden Village is putting off developers putting forward proposals for regenerating Fleet so wise up.

Transport Questions

There are already so many cyclists, runners, walkers, horseriders, etc. If you’re desperate tospend money on the area, why not introduce lots more safe cycle paths? Why does it have to be accompanied by a great big
new garden community?

Ensuring proper transport capacity should be the primary concern. Building new roads, enhancing existing roads and adding rail capacity to ensure that the extra traffic movements generated by any new development do not negatively impact existing residents and settlements.

The mainline to/from Waterloo does not have capacity for more trains, therefore the already overcrowded services (outside of pandemic), so how can a new community more than twice the size of Church Crookham be
accommodated?

None of this is relevant, since we do not need a new mini-town. It is misleading to call it a garden anything.

In April 2021 HDC declared a Climate Emergency and promised to ‘put the reduction of CO2 at the front and centre of all policies and formal decision-making’. The Local Plan has recognised that Fleet has fallen behind
as a town and that this has caused an ‘outflow of retail expenditure from the District…[which] is relatively high and is likely to remain high in the future” [Local Plan para 65]. This outflow equates to unnecessary travel which is highly carbon inefficient. Therefore, HDC should be investing in a plan to regenerate Fleet as the best way to reduce Hart carbon emissions.

The best option is not to introduce 10-20,000 people to the countryside at all. If we wanted to live in a town we would have bought a house in Fleet.

This is a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of a question. These are blue sky objectives that assume a garden project will be built. The best way to make the transport system more sustainable is to not build 5-10,000
unnecessary houses in addition to the Local Plan. Cancel the project.

Pandemic Travel Questions

This is totally irrelevant, because if this is ever built, the pandemic will be long gone. Plus, it tells you nothing about what the future residents might do. Cancel the project now.

How is this relevant to future plans… You can’t base future needs on the past year.

I worked at home and took breaks in the countryside you want to destroy.

Shapley Heath Survey Results: Pandemic Shopping Questions

An irrelevant question for this survey. Cancel Shapley Heath.

Why is this relevant? The pandemic will be long gone when and if this development actually takes place. My belief is that we don’t need it and it should be cancelled.

Cancel the project now.

Irrelevant question as pandemic will be over.

None of the above, I object to this project. The development is NOT required.

This is a waste of money.

School run questions

Where’s the option for kids to stay at home? Useless question, like a lot of the policies Hart council dreams up.

I keep an ostrich in the garage. We sat on it’s back and together, shot through the traffic no problem at all. Cancel the Shapley Heath project now.

MIND YOUR BUSINESS! This project has NOTHING to do with Covid. Cancel it now!

An irrelevant question for this survey. Cancel Shapley Heath.

Daft question. Cancel the project.

Quality of Life Questions

Please keep the existing countryside as it is to best help my mental health. The threat of this project is having a detrimental effect on my mental health. Please stop it now.

Keeping the existing fields, woodland and habitats will be the best thing to promote my health, wellbeing and quality of life. Cancel the project now.

Don’t build and you won’t ruin what’s already here.

More than happy with the existing fields and woodland, which you will destroy. Cancel the project now.

Leaving nature alone. This development is NOT NECESSARY.

I don’t like answering this as the whole project should be dropped.

Ecology and Biodiversity Questions

Building 2,000, 5,000 or up to 10,000 new houses in the countryside will irreparably damage the ecology and biodiversity. The only way to protect and enhance them is to cancel the project now.

You can’t build biodiversity, it takes thousands of years to develop. This housing development will create a wasteland for animals. Planting a tree after you cut down a ancient forest is tokenistic, the local community
already enjoys this wonderful environment.

The optimum improvement would be actively protecting green spaces, woodland and natural areas and improving them. Concreting over them, building houses on them, increasing traffic and pollution, is only harming what’s left of our beautiful countryside.

The existing countryside has worked for centuries. Don’t interfere with it.

Shapley Heath Survey Results: Future Proofing Questions

Re-purpose empty office buildings in a post covid working environment.

Invest in our existing communities and protecting all countryside – abandon the focus on building a new town as it is ridiculous and would destroy hart. It’s only benefit is giving money to the council to bail it out due
to the mismanagement since CCH and LibDems took control.

I don’t want the garden community.

You can best future proof the area by cancelling the Shapley Heath Garden Community project.

Don’t ruin the already existing communities.

The best way to future-proof our district is to protect our green fields, protect the woodlands, SINCs, SSSI’s. They enhance well being and quality of life, provide food, habitat and carbon sinks. Cancel the project
now.

The best thing that can be done is to cancel the whole idea and protect our wonderful environment.

Technological Opportunities

Most of the items here are not in the gift of the council to deliver. We do not want a wood-burning
power plant or windmills and before even considering intelligent transport solutions, make sure you
put in the proper investment into road and rail capacity.Of course, the best thing you could do would be to leave this area alone and keep it as an area of peace and calm and a place to escape from technology. Cancel the project now.

Leave countryside alone – do not build huge, sprawling, soulless estates on natural countryside.

Yes. One where the voters of the community can be heard by CCH so that they stop Shapley Heath.

This is outside of the council’s gift to deliver, so any such proposals make your vanity project even more ridiculous. Cancel Shapley Heath now.

Bear in mind that futuristic forecasts seldom happen as envisaged so trying to second guess them is futile. They will come into use in different ways than you expect. Just make the best use of the developed land we
have and the new technology will be fitted into that as it has to be to serve all the existing residents. A whole new garden community requires so much infrastructure that you seem unlikely to be able to provide anyway
that second guessing seems entirely pointless. Why not spend the money you have been allocated to do the studies it is supposed to be funding and also spend money on eg the homeless instead of cutting the budget
for that. Please stop wasting taxpayers’ money in this way.

This is total pie in the sky, unrealistic How could this information be used in practice by Hart dealing with profit motivated developers intent on keeping costs low to maximise profit.

The countryside should be kept as it is because once lost it is lost forever. The emphasis should be placed on regeneration and improving built up areas of Hart. Please do not build Shapley Heath New Town.

Hart Massively Underestimates Infrastructure Funding Gap

Hart Massively Under-Estimates Infrastructure Funding Gap

Hart Massively Under-Estimates Infrastructure Funding Gap

Hart has recently launched a consultation about Community Infrastructure Levy or CIL. The consultation materials contain an updated Infrastructure Delivery Plan. Well, they call it a plan but as we shall see, that is something of an over-statement.

The “plan” indicates that there is an Infrastructure Funding Gap of £57.9m. This sounds a lot, but is actually an improvement on the £72.3m reported in 2017. We have summarised the funding gap shown in this paper from Hart in the image below:

Hart Infrastructure Plan 72% uncosted

Hart Infrastructure Plan 72% un-costed

The trouble is, the new figure is a massive under-estimate of the true picture. Why do we say this? As you can see from the image above, 116 of the 161 identified projects do not yet have confirmed costs. That’s right, they don’t even know the costs of nearly three quarters, or 72% of the projects they have identified. Of course, they don’t have any funding for those projects either, so the actual funding gap must be much wider than they claim.

There’s also a catalogue of errors and omissions throughout the Infrastructure Delivery Plan document:

  • Green Infrastructure Projects un-costed and unfunded
  • Healthcare projects un-costed and unfunded
  • S106 contributions over-allocated
  • Duplicated Projects

Green Infrastructure Projects Un-costed and Unfunded

None of the district wide green infrastructure projects have been costed. They are supposed to be funded by unspecified developer contributions and CIL that is already going to close the £57.9m gap. This is despite all of the projects being classified as “Immediate and Ongoing” and Hart being named as a lead agency on most of them. This plan doesn’t seem to even include the much promoted “green grid”.

Hart Green Infrastructure Plans uncosted

Hart Green Infrastructure Plans un-costed and unfunded

Healthcare Projects Un-costed and Unfunded

None of the healthcare projects has been costed. None have any funding allocated. The funding gap in unknown. To be fair to Hart, the funding should come from the NHS or central Government. However, this perhaps gives an indication why local GP surgeries are struggling.

Hart Healthcare projects uncosted and unfunded

Hart Healthcare projects un-costed and unfunded

Infrastructure Funding Gap – Over-allocated S106 contributions

By way of example, we searched for all the places the £1.42m S106 contribution for Netherhouse Copse (now Hareshill) was mentioned. It turns out that it is mentioned as a source of funding for projects with costs totalling £6.12m. Some of the Watery Lane (now Albany Park) money is also earmarked for some of the projects. Some of the projects the £1.42m is supposed to fund, don’t even have costs. So, the funding is over-allocated by a factor of at least 4.

Hart Infrastructure Funding Over Allocated

Hart Infrastructure Funding Over Allocated

Duplicated Projects

On some occasions, projects appear to have been duplicated. In this example, projects TR4 and TR21 appear to be cover the same improvements and have the same estimated costs.

Apparently duplicated Hart Infrastructure Projects

Apparently duplicated Hart Infrastructure Projects

 

Infrastructure Funding Gap Conclusions

It is clear that Hart has not got a grip on the Infrastructure Delivery Plan. It is simply not acceptable for 72% of the projects to remain un-costed at this stage. Remember the CCH leader promised “an infrastructure led Local Plan”. Yet, the plan they have shows a massive funding gap. They don’t have any idea about costs or funding sources for nearly three quarters of the promised projects. They have over-allocated large parts of the funding. It is clear the infrastructure plan is not going to be delivered.

If you still think Shapley Heath would deliver the promised infrastructure nirvana, I have an un-costed, unfunded and unbuilt bridge to sell you.

 

 

CCH Sponsors Shapley Heath Internal Audit

CCH Sponsors Shapley Heath Internal Audit

CCH Sponsors Shapley Heath Internal Audit

CCH has sponsored a paper recommending an internal audit of the Shapley Heath project finances. This comes despite increasingly vitriolic comments about We Heart Hart on their Facebook page.

The full paper can be found here. The title block shows what the paper is about and the Cabinet member responsible:

James Radley Sponsor of Shapley Heath Internal Audit

James Radley Sponsor of Shapley Heath Internal Audit

They are proposing quite a wide-ranging review of the project:

Shapley Heath internal Audit Scope

Shapley Heath Internal Audit Scope

We are concerned that such a wide ranging review might overlook the key issues, that we covered here and are summarised below:

  • How did they manage to spend nearly double the revised FY18/19 budget (£90K spend vs £50K approval) without  authorisation? As I understand it, this breaches the Constitution.
  • For FY20/21, why did the budget change so often?
  • Why did they need to transfer £283K from reserves to cover spending against what ended up being a zero budget?  Spending against a zero budget and/or spending over the original £167K budget without authorisation is surely also a breach of the Constitution.

We also ask whether it is appropriate a Cabinet member to sponsor an audit of a project that he himself was responsible for.

CCH U-Turn on Shapley Heath Internal Audit

This is a significant U-turn from CCH because previously they have dismissed concerns about the financial controls surrounding the project.

Most recently, Councillor Radley dismissed our question as “disingenuous”, even as he described continued spending on a project that is supposedly cancelled. Spending was reported as £81K at the end of September. Now it’s up to £92.5K, and is expected to rise to over £135K by the end of March.

Questions about Shapley Heath Financial Controls are Disingenuous

Questions about Shapley Heath Financial Controls are Disingenuous

It does seem odd that they should spend nearly all of the budget when they terminated the project in October. This is only around  half way through the financial year. He even got his statement wrong. The latest version of the budget shows New Settlement spending is set at £149K.

HASETT - Shapley Heath Final Budget FY21-22

HASETT – Shapley Heath Final Budget FY21-22

Councillor Axam, CCH Chair of the Audit Committee said he didn’t recognise some of our figures when we asked him a question about them at the September meeting.

 

We raised concerns about the budgeting and financial controls surrounding the Shapley Heath project as part of the objection we raised against the accounts. Previously, Mr Radley has described the objection to the accounts as ill-founded.

 

CCH They Don’t Like It Up Em

CCH They Dont Like It Up Em

CCH They Don’t Like It Up Em

Local political party, Completely Concrete Community Campaign Hart (CCH) have been sent into disarray after our local MP, Ranil Jayawardena took them to task over their lack of a regeneration strategy.

Origins of the CCH They Don’t Like it Up Em Saga

Back in the summer, CCH published a post on their Facebook page saying they had written to our MP to ask about Hart’s housing numbers. They promised to “post any response we receive in due course”.

CCH They Don't Like it Up Em - Post about letter to Ranil

CCH They Don’t Like it Up Em – Post about letter to Ranil

Months passed and CCH went very quiet. A number of people asked politely what had happened to the response. Eventually it came to light that Ranil had answered their letter but CCH was reneging on their promise to publish it. Apparently, Ranil had not answered their question in the way they wanted. Apparently, CCH can renege on promises if things don’t go their way.

Follow Up from Concerned Resident

We understand that a concerned resident contacted Ranil with what they thought were similar questions. Recently the, resident received a reply (shown in full below) that took CCH to task. Ranil felt CCH were “passing the buck” and not getting on with the job they were elected to do.  He also lamented their focus on buying up office buildings outside of the district. He was clearly disappointed that CCH are focused on the ill-fated Shapley Heath green field project to deliver more houses than are actually needed. He pointed out that CCH and the Lib Dems are not showing any leadership around regeneration of our urban centres.

The post related to this response from Ranil can be found here.

Response from CCH – They Don’t Like it Up Em

This has prompted a childish response from CCH, accusing We Heart Hart of being “Facebook collaborators”, whatever that means. We had no involvement in the letter to or response from Ranil.

CCH They Don't Like it Up Em - Accusations of Facebook Collaborator

CCH They Don’t Like it Up Em – Accusations of Facebook Collaborator

They gave a long diatribe about the Brownfield Register, which mostly contains sites that have planning permission, some of which have already been built. Indeed there’s 3,600-3,800 homes identified compared to the meagre 400 we were told were possible in 2015. It is clear the council systematically underestimates the brownfield capacity of the district.

The Civic Quarter is conspicuously missing from the Brownfield register. This site is in public ownership and Hart have been trying to pull together a plan for its regeneration for at least two years. Like with the Shapley Heath project, they have delivered nothing. If the Council can’t even be bothered to put its own land on the brownfield register, what hope is there to persuade developers that they are serious about regeneration?

They also stated that the Hart Shopping Centre was not available for regeneration. This is clearly nonsense. We helped publicise a potential scheme back in 2018. This could have delivered hundreds of new homes and cultural facilities, without a penny of public money. The reason the project has not moved forward is that nobody from Hart Council would meet with representatives of the owners. Again, if the Council won’t take the initiative when an opportunity is presented to them on a plate, then they won’t get anywhere.

It seems CCH want to blame everyone else and not take the initiative to get things done. They are an empty vessel that makes a lot of noise, but lacks any real substance.

CCH They Don’t Like it Up Em – Letter from Ranil

I do not believe that CCH’s ongoing public ‘to and fro’ is in the public interest. Rather, many residents have said that they believe it is an attempt by CCH to ‘pass the buck’ from getting on with the job that they have – for now – been elected to do. The interests of my constituents are not best served through seeking to distort the truth, nor making potentially slanderous comments in public meetings.

My views remain the same. I support my constituents when they tell me that they want to see the development and regeneration of brownfield land first. Planning decisions remain for local councils and it is for Hart District Council (HDC) – which is ruled by CCH and their Lib Dem collaborators – to actually take forward the work needed to assess and procure brownfield land.

CCH have contacted me to ask what brownfield land is available. This is a complete abdication of responsibility. My response to them is very clear – I have my own views, I have delivered regeneration elsewhere; I know that councils have all the powers they need to get on with the job, but this is about leadership. They control the council so, if they are serious about brownfield regeneration, it is important for them to be bold in identifying what brownfield land they would like to acquire for development, whether or not it is on the open market currently. That is why I continue to call for HDC to carry out this work, rather than asking me to do their job for them without the resources of a council behind me.

In seeking to be as helpful as possible, it is not always understood that councils are able to buy land and buildings that are not for sale, through Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs). This can and, in my opinion should, be a key part of a robust focus on brownfield regeneration in our area, to improve the look and feel of Fleet’s, Yateley’s and Hook’s retail centres. This way forward relies on the council demonstrating flexibility and ambition – they must be ready to buy today to regenerate tomorrow.

Extraordinarily, whilst local people want the council to invest in our local area – to deliver brownfield regeneration – I am given to understand the CCH/LibDem rulers of HDC are buying buildings in Basingstoke and in the south of Hampshire instead. Why, I do not know, and this is a great shame because this money could have been used locally to begin to turn our retail centres around.

Again, this is about leadership. Only a robust approach will protect the environment surrounding our communities and – whilst it is not for me, nor HM Government, to carry out these studies – many constituents have asked that I continue to urge HDC to do this work and to get them to get on with brownfield regeneration, rather than pursuing their current plans to concrete over a huge number of green fields to build inflated housing numbers.

For the avoidance of doubt, I refer to HDC building an inflated number of houses – despite what I can only conclude is an attempt at political posturing from CCH – because it is they who decided to include 423 new dwellings per year in their local plan. This is far more than was needed, evidence by HM Government’s indicative new homes target for Hart of just 286 per year – 137 new homes a year fewer than those in charge of HDC have decided to build.

I will always champion the best interests of North East Hampshire and I am pleased that the Prime Minister agrees with the approach I have long set out – most recently in in my Constituency Conservation Charter at: ranil.uk/charter – as he recently confirmed that there should not be major developments on green fields. Instead he wants the focus to be on brownfield sites. On 6th October he said:

“You can… see how much room there is to build the homes that young families need in this country… not on green fields, not just jammed in the South East, but beautiful homes on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense.”

I would urge any local resident who has not yet signed my Constituency Conservation Charter to do so urgently, in order that I will have a stronger evidence base to use in making the case for this to HDC.

And that is the truth: whatever I or the Prime Minister think, whatever we would like to see, we create the national policy; we do not decide planning applications nor do we set the Local Plan. The clue is in the name of the latter. Local democracy means that it is for our local council to now get on with it, to provide leadership and to deliver what local people and I are calling for. CCH and the Lib Dems no longer have any excuse.

I hope this provides a helpful update on my position.

Boris Puts Another Nail in Shapley Heath Coffin

Boris puts another nail in Shapley Heath Coffin

Boris puts another nail in Shapley Heath Coffin

Boris Johnson put another nail in the Shapley Heath coffin in his Conservative Party conference speech yesterday.  The key passage in the full speech reported on the the Conservative Party website was:

You can also see how much room there is to build the homes that young families need in this country.

Not on green fields.

Not just jammed in the south east.

But beautiful homes on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense.

Press Coverage

The same message has been reported in the Telegraph (subscription maybe required):

Boris Promises no homes on green fields

Boris Promises no homes on green fields

Boris Johnson on Wednesday said houses should not be built on “green fields” as ministers abandoned proposals for a vast overhaul of planning rules.

In a clear signal to Tory heartlands that he had heard their concerns, Mr Johnson used his Conservative Party conference speech to acknowledge fears that the countryside would be “desecrated by ugly new homes”.

The Prime Minister’s comments reveal a change in strategy after a Tory voter backlash over planning reforms saw the party lose the safe seat of Chesham and Amersham in a June by-election.

The Telegraph understands that the most controversial aspects of biggest overhaul of the planning system in 70 years have effectively been ditched, with ministers looking for changes that will be less radical but more palatable to Tory MPs.

The new focus will be on boosting construction on brownfield sites, which have been previously developed and are less controversial locations for housebuilding.

There are even discussions about abandoning the 300,000 per year overall target.

There are even discussions within the Cabinet about whether the Tories should alter their manifesto target to build 300,000 homes a year.

This would make sense as the target is far higher than that required by demographic change. The 300K target is too high, even after taking account of the “affordability uplift”. As we discussed here.

On the face of it, this is good news. However, we have to be cautious as there is often a wide gap between rhetoric and reality.

Muffled screams of anguish could be heard through the thick concrete walls of the CCH bunker last night.

CCH Rhetoric Awards 2021

CCH Rhetoric Awards

CCH Rhetoric Awards

We asked a series of questions about Hart’s finances in general and Shapley Heath in particular at the Council meeting held on 29 July. Normally, we would report on the answers to these questions within a few days of the meeting. We are still waiting for some of the written answers to be provided, so we thought we should provide an update.

Regular readers may recall that CCH’s leader famously described his untrue statements about Shapley Heath in a letter to our MP Ranil Jayawardena as “rhetoric”. Unfortunately, the answers to our questions are riddled with inaccuracies and inconsistencies. It seems the CCH Rhetoric Machine has been fired up again. So, we have instituted the satirical CCH Rhetoric Awards. Read on to find out which answers we awarded the prestigious Golden Cowpat.

CCH Rhetoric Awards – Summary

  • Q1 Changes to Actuals for prior years: Wooden spoon for falling at the last hurdle after first giving a convincing answer.
  • Q2 Big Sings in the Budget: Partially correct answer, but a Silver Cowpat for the answer clearly not being the whole truth.
  • Q3 Budget does not add up: Partially correct answer, but a Silver Cowpat for the answer clearly not being the whole truth.
  • Q3 Supp – Waste Contract: Temporary Silver Cowpat award, but we reserve the right to upgrade to a Golden Cowpat if the external consultants don’t find the missing £1.1m.
  • Q4 Shapley Heath Budgets: Coveted Golden Cowpat for the level of rhetoric.
  • Q4 Supp Shapley Heath Spending: The “Not Me Guv” Sloping Shoulder Award and the Artful Dodger Prize for avoiding the question.
  • Q5 Shapley Heath Baseline Studies: Special Sword of Truth award for this answer that revealed developers are funding the independent studies.
  • Q6 £283K Transfer from Reserves: Another Golden Cowpat and the Greensill Award for Financial Transparency
  • Q6 Supp How much of £500K Shapley Heath Reserves remain: Awarded the special Paul Daniels “Not a Lot” Award for not providing an answer at all. [Update] Award now rescinded because answer now provided [/Update]
  • Q7 Shapley Heath Spending FY20/21: Another Golden Cowpat and the Enron Lifetime Achievement Award for Accounting Excellence.
  • Q7 Supp Shapley Heath Overspend: Lord Lucan Award for the missing answer. [Update] Award now rescinded because answer now provided. Golden Cowpat awarded instead [/Update]

Let’s go through the detailed questions and answers one by one.  The original question (and supplementaries) are shown in bold black. The answers are shown in blue and our commentary on the answers are shown in red.

Question 1: Changes in Actuals for Prior Years

Q1. Why have the actuals for FY18/19 and FY19/20 changed between the publication of the draft budget in February 2021 and the final budget published this month [Note the actuals in the draft didn’t match the Final V2 budget either]? Is there any impact on the published statutory accounts for those years?

Hart Finances Out of Control - Changes to Actuals

Hart Finances Out of Control – Changes to Actuals

A1. Before I answer any of the detail I would just like to let everyone know that we will be publishing these questions and answers, because the questions relate to tables and data whilst I will provide verbal responses I think the response will be most understandable in written format.

In the first table you refer to i.e. the draft budget published February 2021, interest on investments for 2018/19 and 2019/20 was excluded from the summary by service and instead included as part of below the line adjustments.  For transparency and accountability this was placed above the line for reporting in the latest version of the budget book to ensure that it forms part of the detailed monthly budget monitoring process.

This has no affect on the statutory accounts which reports income and expenditure in a different format according to the CIPFA SORP.

The tables below shows the detail of these line adjustments.

CCH Rhetoric Awards Q1 Written Answer

CCH Rhetoric Awards Q1 Written Answer

Our Response: On the face of it, the verbal answer given at the meeting was a reasonable explanation. However, it has been spoiled somewhat by the tables provided in the written answer which don’t match the figures for FY19/20 in the original draft budget and of course, the end balance is not zero after accounting adjustments.  This opens up even more questions about control over the budgets. We shall award this answer the Wooden Spoon for falling at the last hurdle.

Question 2: Big Swings in Budget between Service Areas

Q2. There are big differences between the budgets agreed for the Service Areas in March and final budget published this month. What governance processes were used and who authorised such massive swings in the budget and are they in accordance with the constitutional budget procedures 3 and 5 as well as financial regulations FR10 and FR12 which limit changes unless approved by full council?

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

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

A2. There is a net difference between the draft budget and final budget of £37K

This is due to changes in the assumptions in the value of recycling credits, grants and depreciation.

The draft budget, due to its timing made assumptions based on information known at that time. As final numbers became available, they were incorporated into the Final Budget.

In summary the following updates were made.

    • Grants – estimated numbers were used at the time of the Draft Budget. As final details were received these were incorporated into the final budget and categorised into the correct Service Area.
    • SANG allocation in Tech & Environmental – S106 reserves were released which fund the SANG cost centres. This allocation was not included in the Draft Budget.
    • Depreciation: Final asset valuation reports were not available at the time of the draft budget these numbers were updated for the final budget.
CCH Rhetoric Awards: Q2 Written Answer

Q2 Written Answer

Our Response. First, the swing of £37K overall is larger than the £10K that needs to be signed off by Cabinet. Moreover, the rest of the explanation given does not hold water. Swings of >£10K are apparent in some services. For example, the Waste Client Team net income budget has fallen £52K, more than the limit that needs to be signed off by Full Council. The budgets for Corporate Communications (+£19.5K) and Register of Electors (+£17K) have higher spending even though they are not affected by the explanation given. In effect, a different budget is now in operation to that which was signed off by Council.

This is another example of poor budgeting and inadequate oversight and governance. We give this a Silver Cowpat award. The answer had some merit, but is clearly not the whole truth.

Waste Client Team Budget Changes

Waste Client Team Budget Changes

Other Budget Changes

Other Budget Changes

Question 3: Budget Does Not Add Up

Q3. In the recently published final budget for FY21/22, the sum of the spending in the service areas for GL Codes 10000 – Basic Salary, 44069 – Homelessness and 90012 – Other Government Grants is not equal to the total for those GL Codes in the “Subjective” summary. In short, the budget apparently does not add up. It appears as though HANEED is missing from the service areas. What steps are being taken to make the budget internally consistent and what impact will correcting the errors have on the projected deficit?

Hart Finances Out of Control - Budget Does Not Add Up

Hart Finances Out of Control – Budget Does Not Add Up

A2: The HANEED cost centre detail page was missing from the scanned copy of the paper copy of the Draft budget book. The budgetary numbers were not missing from the overall numbers. This is a matter of presentation.

Additional checks will be incorporated into the process for future publications.

Our Response. Again, this is not a complete answer. First, it refers to the draft budget published in February. However, despite being pointed out by email at the time to all Councillors, the JCX’s and the S151 Officer, the draft budget was passed with the error. However, the same error persisted into the Final budget published in early July. The question related to the Final budget. This was corrected when it was drawn to the attention of officers. However, the error cannot simply be a “slip of the scanner”.

First, it seems unlikely that the scanner would miss exactly the same page five months apart. Secondly, other changes were made between the Final and Final V2 budgets. The total employee costs decreased £50K between Draft and Final, yet increased £211K between Final and Final V2. This is another example of the Council now working to a different budget to the one signed off in February. We give this answer another Silver Cowpat award. The answer had some merit, but is clearly not the whole truth.

CCH Rhetoric Awards Employment Cost Changes

CCH Rhetoric Awards Employment Cost Changes

Q3 Supplementary – Waste Contract

Q3 Supp: Have the ever-changing budgets and persistent errors impacted on the Waste Contract, where over one million pounds appears to have been lost down the back of the sofa?

A3 Supp: I can reassure you that that is not the case. Following the reconciliation of costs of the waste contract as part of the handover of the client management to Basingstoke costs of £1.1 million remained under a rechargeable cost code. It was agreed with Basingstoke that we would bring in independent specialists to review these costs, how they should be accounted for, and whether they should be rebilled. This work has started, and early indications are that this dates back to 2018 and investigations are continuing. This is an accountancy artifact which relates to the council cross charging. There is every expectation that these charges balance out with other charging which has flowed in the other direction. The net affect being zero. This is simply an accounting artifact.

Our Response. If this missing money is just an “accounting artifact” with a “net effect of zero”, why is it recorded as an unfavourable variance in papers to Overview and Scrutiny and to Cabinet? Both papers presented by none other than Councillor James Radley. The same overall variance has made its way into the statutory accounts due to be audited shortly. If the problem dates back to 2018, doesn’t this call into question the accuracy of the accounts from earlier years?

We give this a Silver Cowpat award, because there is an outside chance the external consultants find the money. But we reserve the right to upgrade to the coveted gold award.

Hart Loses £1m down the back of the sofa

HAWBDC Basingstoke Waste Contract £1.121m uninvoiced at year end reported June 2021

Hart Loses £1m down the back of the sofa

HAWBDC Basingstoke Waste Contract £1.088m overspend reported Jul 2021

CCH Rhetoric Awards Question 4: Shapley Heath Budgets

Q4. The recently released final budget for FY21/22 shows that the budget for HASETT – New Settlement in FY20/21 was zero. It consisted of ~£68K for employee costs and car allowances, offset by a somewhat implausible identical receipt from GL Code 44047 – Consultants Projects. In common with the other service areas, no overheads were allocated. Yet, the transparency report shows spending of £63.7K on consultants (not money received from) in “New Settlement” for FY20/21. What governance processes were used to authorise such a large spend against an overall zero budget, apparently in contravention of FR10 in the constitution?

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

Shapley Heath New Settlement Transparency Report FY20-21

A4: The New Settlement published budget for 20/21 did not reflect the release of reserves agreed by Cabinet in February 2020.

These reserves were drawn down at the end of the year on assumption of agreement made by full council on the 6 February 2020 and approved by Cabinet.

Our Response. We have scoured the document referred to. The only references we can find to Shapley Heath are:

    • It being described as a “pressure” requiring £500K of spending over 3 years
    • £167K of discretionary spending allocated in the FY20/21 budget

We do not believe that setting a budget is the same thing as releasing reserves. In any event, the budget should reflect the spending required, and a release of reserves is not “income”. As Councillor Radley has said himself, moving money from reserves is the equivalent of moving money from your savings account to your current account to cover an overdraft.

Oh, and the Council meeting to approve the budget took place on 27 February 2020, not 6 February. We give this answer the coveted Golden Cowpat for the level of “rhetoric”.

Q4 Supplementary FY21/22 Shapley Heath Spending

Q4 Supp: Hart recently advertised Garden Community contracts with an indicative value of £56K, against a FY21/22 budget of £25K, isn’t it time for some proper forensic accountants to get to the bottom of what’s going wrong with budgeting and financial controls?

Answer A4 Supp [On the Night]. I am not in a position to comment on how Place department operate, but we do maintain that our departments, at the end of the year have balanced their budgets and I am quite convinced they are working within those limits.

Answer A4 Supp [Written Answer]. The Council operates internal controls across the organisation. These include budget monitoring, budget virements and spend approval. The Shapley Heath project is subject to these same budgetary controls as all other projects/activities.

Details of these controls can be found within the published Hart Constitution – Financial Regulations and Contract Standing Orders. Hart Consitution [sic]

Our Response: First, Shapley Heath is a Corporate Services project, one of the areas that Councillor Radley is responsible for. The rest of the answer does not address the question posed. The “Not Me Guv” Sloping Shoulder Award and the Artful Dodger Prize for avoiding the question on this one.

CCH Rhetoric Awards Question 5: Shapley Heath Baseline Studies

Q5: In addition, the Shapley Heath Opportunity Board papers show that four Baseline Studies had reached the status of “Finalised” by 8 March, 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. How much was spent on Baseline Studies and Strategy Reports in FY20/21?

Shapley Heath Baseline Studies as of 8 March 2021

Shapley Heath Baseline Studies as of 8 March 2021

A5: The Shapley Heath Opportunity Board Papers clearly state that the Baseline Studies were funded by promoters. No money was spent by the Council on Baseline Studies or Strategic Reports in 2020/21.

Our Response: It does seem more than odd that Councillor Radley should proudly proclaim that none of the £283K transferred from reserves was spent on anything useful for the project. It’s looking like the HDC project team is little more than the PR department for the developers. And we are paying for it. If the Baseline Studies were funded entirely by developers, how can they be relied upon to be impartial? Are HDC really going to base their Shapley Heath strategy on documents funded and sourced from the developers? What ever happened to a council led project? We give this answer a special Sword of Truth award.

Question 6: Governance Arrangements for £283K Transfer from Reserves

Q6: The agenda pack for July Cabinet shows that £283K was transferred from reserves to fund Shapley Heath. How is it possible to spend £283K against a zero budget whilst running a deficit and what governance processes authorised this spend?

Shapley Heath Financial Shell Game £283K Transfer from Reserves

Shapley Heath £283K Transfer from Reserves

A6: Expenditure for Shapley Heath spend was presented to Cabinet on the following dates:

Shapley Heath is funded by Government Grants. Grants have been received over several years. With Cabinet’s consent, grant funding can be transferred to and from an ear-marked reserve between financial years. Members provided the approval for a £283K transfer from reserves at Cabinet on the 3rd July to fund 20/21 expenditure. This paper was subject to scrutiny by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Our Response. We covered the ever changing budget and spending for Shapley Heath here. During the year, the full year budget has fluctuated from £167K originally to £500K in July. It went back down to £68.6K (2 x half-YTD £34.3K budget) in October and then to zero. Spending miraculously fell from £65.5K in July to £47.7K in October. It seems they can set a budget, change it willy-nilly and then seek approval for unbudgeted expenditure after the money has been spent. In addition, Shapley Heath is not solely funded by Government grants – see below.

Oh, and by the way, the Cabinet meeting to approve the £283K transfer from reserves took place on 1 July 2021, not 3 July.  Another Golden Cowpat award for this one and the special Greensill Prize for Financial Transparency.

Q6 Supplementary: £500K Shapley Heath Reserves

Q6 Supp: How much of the £500K set aside in reserves for Shapley Heath remains unspent?

A6: Promised written answer has not yet arrived.

Our Response: Of course, if Shapley Heath really was funded by Government grants, then the answer to this question should be really simple. The whole £500K should be remaining to be spent. But so far he has claimed £167K was transferred from reserves in February 2020 and we know a further £283K has just been approved.

Let’s help Councillor Radley out here. By our calculations, based on Hart’s published figures, there will be ~£98K of the £500K reserves remaining at the end of this financial year. That’s assuming they don’t go over budget this year.  We suspect that they will have virtually nothing to show for this spending other than a botched survey and some biased studies from developers. How much more of our money is going to be wasted on this ridiculous white elephant? We award this the Paul Daniels “Not a Lot” Prize for not even bothering to answer the question.

Shapley Heath Reserves Remaining Update

Shapley Heath Reserves Remaining Update

[Update] Unfortunately, we will have to rescind the Paul Daniels “Not a Lot” Prize because an answer has now been provided. The answer given was:

The answer at the 31st March 2021 is that we held £367,051, no further reserve transfers have occurred since then.

This is consistent with HDC now accounting for the £130K grant received in June 2021 in FY20/21 (within £10K). So, our estimate of ~£98K remaining at the end of FY21/22 is if anything a bit high. Table above updated accordingly. In any event, this answer shows that the answer to the main Q6 is incorrect. It is clear that some of the £500K reserve has been used. Therefore, Shapley Heath is not funded just by Government grants. [/Update]

CCH Rhetoric Awards Question 7: Shapley Heath Spending FY20/21

Q7: How much was spent in total on Shapley Heath Garden Community in FY20/21 and can you provide a detailed breakdown of that spend (and receipts) please?

Answer [On the Night]:  As this question necessitates the provision of tables of data it will be answered as a Freedom of Information request to provide the detail. I can however tell you the totals in summary this evening by way of reading them out.

  • Staff costs £114,261
  • Supplies and Services of £72,102
  • Total controllable costs before recharges is £186,363
  • Income received for 2021 year from MHCLG was £130,000

Answer [FOI]. The FOI answer was substantially the same, with the addition of £7,500 cost recovery.

CCH Rhetoric Awards Q7 FOI Response

CCH Rhetoric Awards Q7 FOI Response

Our Response: We think there is some mistake here. Both responses show the £130K grant obtained from MHCLG as being accounted for in FY20/21.  This is rather odd because:

  • The same £130K also shows as a line item in the Final V2 FY21/22 budget (see image below). Clearly the same money should not be accounted for in two different financial years.
  • The grant was announced on 7 June 2021, and presumably received shortly afterwards. June 2021 is unambiguously part of FY21/22. No other announcement about Government funding has been made since the original grant award of £150K in 2019.
  • The FY20/21 full year outturn report contained an entry showing £283K transferred from reserves to covering “FY2020/21 work on the New Settlement at Shapley Heath” (see image above). It is highly unlikely that such a large transfer would be required if £130K had been received from Government in FY20/21
HASETT - Shapley Heath Final Budget FY21-22

HASETT – Shapley Heath Final Budget FY21-22

We give this answer the coveted Golden Cowpat along with the Enron Lifetime Achievement Award for Accounting Excellence.

Q7 Supplementary: How is it possible to overspend on employment cost budget?

Q7 Supp: From memory, the budget for employment costs was £68K and I think Cllr Radley said it was almost double that. How can we spend more than double [NB: should have said nearly double] the budget?

A7: No written answer has been forthcoming.

Our Response. My memory was right. £66.7K direct employment costs plus £1.4K for car allowances. This one gets the Lord Lucan Award for the missing answer. 

[Update] We will now have to rescind the Lord Lucan award because an answer has been provided.

The budget was set in advance of the year and only included gross salary costs for 20/21 excluding on costs. When on costs were added this increased the requirement for spend.

However, we can now award a new Golden Cowpat for the answer. The £68K budget above clearly includes normal on costs of employers NI, pension contributions and even car allowances. So, the overspend is not explained at all. [/Update]

 

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.

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