Cabinet Update: Pressure on to deliver the Hart Local Plan

Hart District Council seeks to block brownfield development

Hart District Council under pressure to deliver the Local Plan

Unfortunately, we could not make it to the Cabinet meeting on Thursday 5 April. However, we have received feedback from the meeting about the Hart Local Plan item.

Respondents to the Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 Consultation

We understand there were around 300 respondents to the consultation. However, there are about 1,500 individual representations. The council has its work cut out to analyse the representation and provide a response to each one.

Key themes

The key themes emerging from the consultation include a number of contradictory elements:

  • Inadequate infrastructure
  • Housing numbers too high
  • Housing numbers too low (from developers)
  • Housing numbers not robust
  • Quality of life issues
  • Reliance on strategic sites
  • Revisit reg 18 for sites
  • Should have more sites to spread the load
  • New gaps / more gaps
  • No gaps at all (from developers)
  • Employment sites/  brownfield sites
  • Regeneration of town centres, particularly Fleet
  • No minimum internal size (floor space) specified

In addition, there is a need to focus on sustainability and decide if the approach of adding a new settlement is sound. Apparently, Basingstoke and Deane objected to the new town on the grounds of the extra traffic it would generate. [Obviously we believe it is not sound, but that is for the Inspector to decide].

Timetable to submission of the Hart Local Plan

There was discussion of the work required before the Hart Local will be ready for submission. This includes:

Feedback from the Independent Planning Consultant (Keith Holland, a former Inspector) is expected by late April.

In addition a topic paper has to be produced to explain how the housing number was arrived at and other options if different numbers were used (i.e. plan ‘b’ and plan ‘c’).

Then  a further series of tasks are required:

  • Update project plan
  • Format each representation, enter onto database including HDC response
  • Update consultation statement
  • Identify issues arising from consultation
  • Make minor modifications to plan
  • Provide statements of common ground (highways, neighbouring councils etc.)
  • Review and update topic papers (including the new one on housing numbers)
  • Infrastructure plan review
  • Soundness check list
  • Review reg 18 and how consultation was responded to

There might be another meeting of the Local Plan Steering Group (LPSG) before submission.

The project team consists of one full-time leader and three part-time team members. However, the leader has been off sick recently. They want to get the plan submitted as soon as possible to help fight off two anticipated appeals. [We don’t know which ones exactly, but we would hazard a guess at Elvetham Chase (Pale Lane) and West of Hook].

They hope to achieve submission by mid-to-late May. [Our view is that this sounds ambitious given the level of work and the apparently sparse resources allocated].

Questions from the floor

Apparently, a number of questions were asked relating to:

  • Which housing numbers to use. Should these be based on the old SHMA or the newer Government methodology. It appears as though this hasn’t been decided yet. [We would prefer if the new Government methodology was used, as it gives a lower number. However, the inflated numbers the council have used in the Local Plan are slightly higher than the SHMA, once they are adjusted for the building between 2011 and 2016. So, either scenario does not require a new town].
  • Membership of the LPSG. Apparently, Conservative members won’t be invited to the LPSG unless their particular expertise is required.
  • Resourcing for the Local Plan. Apparently this is a very sensitive subject that resulted in some argument. [We take it that the officers feel under pressure to deliver quickly and are struggling for resource].

Let’s see what happens.

 

 

Fleet Regeneration – Yes we can!

Candidate for Fleet Regeneration: Brownfield site at Ancells Farm, Fleet, Hampshire. Hart Council protecting from redevelopment.

We must deliver Fleet Regeneration

A guest post from Tristram Cary, chairman of the Rural Hart Association, setting out why we must and how we can deliver Fleet Regeneration.

Fleet Regeneration Report

40% of the population of Hart live in Fleet, and yet, in the Local Plan, Fleet is only taking only 21% of the housing development. This massive imbalance puts a huge strain on Hart’s countryside. It is extraordinary that Hart is preventing the regeneration of Fleet when you consider that:

Fleet housing density versus towns of similar size

Fleet housing density versus towns of similar size

  1. Fleet is the most sparsely populated town of its size in Britain (see above)
  2. Hart admits in para 236 of the Local Plan that, without regeneration, “it is unrealistic for Fleet to try to compete” for comparison shopping with neighbouring towns such as Camberley (which is the same size as Fleet)
  3. The new National Planning Policy Framework (para 86) requires districts to “take a positive approach to the development of Town Centres” and to “recognise that residential development often plays an important role in ensuring the vitality of Town Centres”

Hart’s extraordinary lack of ambition for Fleet is explained by Councillor Cockarill’s statement at the 4 January Council Meeting that any serious Fleet regeneration was “a pipedream”. Hart claims that Fleet is full, and that it would not be possible to raise any serious money for its regeneration.

The Rural Hart Association (RHA) commissioned a study from Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH), a leading Town Centre regeneration specialist, to analyse the potential for Fleet regeneration. This study was submitted to Hart in response to the Reg 19 Consultation, and the full document is available on the link above. The key findings of the study are that:

  1. Fleet has ample opportunities for re-generation if only Hart would consider mixed-use (residential and retail) developments
  2. It is hopeless for Fleet to resist the residential conversion of redundant office blocks – there is no realistic prospect of these ever being revived for business use.

It’s worth reading the following summaries provided by directors of LSH.

“As has been widely reported the growth of online retail sales is having a major impact on the retail landscape – online sales are currently circa 16% of all UK sales and growing annually. There is a fundamental structural change in our shopping habits which in turn is having a major impact on retailers and town centres. The retail centres that are thriving tend to be those regional locations offering a high quality experiential mix of retail and leisure or the smaller centres that are able to provide easily accessed, convenience retail facilities in an aesthetically pleasing environment.

Interestingly, we have started to witness retail assets (shopping centres and retail parks) particularly in the South East being acquired or redeveloped for their residential potential.  In some instances, we are seeing retail being proposed above shopping centres and in other instances the complete redevelopment for residential – examples include Forbury Park in Reading which has consent for 765 homes and Whitley’s Shopping Centre in Bayswater which is to be redeveloped for a mixed retail and residential scheme. This trend is likely to continue especially in areas where residential values are high and the retail assets are stagnating.

The Hart Shopping Centre could offer such potential in the future – retaining strong convenience retail facilities at ground floor level with retailers such as Waitrose but with residential accommodation on the upper parts.

What is clear, is that on a national basis we have too many shops and alternative uses, in particular residential, is a desirable way of regenerating our town centres”.

Sean Prigmore, Retail Director, Lambert Smith Hampton

And,

“I have been actively involved in the Fleet office market for more than 30 years.

The office market in Fleet has been in decline for a number of years as larger corporates have vacated to consolidate occupation in larger centers and locations benefitting from more amenity – such as Farnborough Business Park. Key Business centres such as Reading and Basingstoke have prospered whilst the smaller satellite office location such as Fleet are finding it harder to prove their relevance as office locations. M3 HQ, 70,000 sq ft on ABP, has been vacant for many years and is unlikely to be occupied as offices again. There is the potential to enable redevelopment of larger unwanted office stock for residential and to focus B1 provision in locations better served by public transport and amenity and in buildings which will allow business space for the SME sector where what demand there is lies.”

Paul Dowson , Director, Lambert Smith Hampton

Fleet Regeneration Sites

Fleet Regeneration Sites

The Lambert Smith Hampton report identifies eight sites in Fleet Town centre which between them could provide 990 homes in mixed-use developments, and LSH is confident that these sites would attract developer investment. [Personally, I would add the entire civic quarter – ed]. It is shocking that Hart has turned its back on mixed use developments in Fleet without even investigating their potential. We hope that Hart Council will restructure its Local Plan to take account of the LSH report before submitting it for Inspection.

[Note that this is exactly in line with Ranil’s call for regeneration of our urban centres – ed]

Stop Elvetham Chase go Completely Concrete

Stop Elvetham Chase go full completely concrete Hart

Hypocritical Stop Elvetham Chase go Completely Concrete

The Stop Elvetham Chase group have decided to put up a candidate in the Local Elections standing for Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart.

This smacks to us of hypocrisy as they are rightly vehemently opposed to the Elvetham Chase (Pale Lane) development. However, they now strongly support a new town in Winchfield, part of which is very close to the area where they oppose development. This is shown in the graphic above.

Their candidate, Angela Delaney is fighting the Fleet West ward. Richard Woods, who defected from the Tories in late 2016, currently holds this seat. It appears that Richard is standing down because he isn’t mentioned as a candidate on CCH’s website.

Stop Elvetham Chase’s statement has been placed on their Facebook page. Interestingly, comments have been disabled, so it is clear they are only interested in one-way communication. Not a good start for a budding politician. It is reproduced below with our comments in red.

This group was set up to fight the Elvetham Chase development. Hart council’s strong endorsement of the local plan on the 4th January and subsequent refusal of Wates’ proposal has, for now, protected Pale Lane. We thank all the members of this group for supporting the campaign and objecting so strongly to the development. Stop Elvetham Chase did start with laudable intentions.

However this is only a stay of execution. We know Wates have every intention of appealing the decision. The local plan, in its current state, with the new settlement option, gives Hart Council a strong chance of successfully refusing the appeal.  This is because approval of Pale Lane would jeopardise the new settlement – which would ultimately deliver more affordable housing for Hart. The presence or otherwise of the new town in the draft Local Plan will have no bearing on the Pale Lane Appeal. This is because even the council have said the new town is unnecessary, without Pale Lane. The Conservatives will tell you that we don’t need the higher housing targets – they support a local plan with the new settlement removed. We believe this is naive in the extreme, given the housing crisis this country is facing. It’s not just the Conservatives that say this. It was in the Council’s own communication to members (see below) and stated at the January 4th meeting by Councillor Cockarill. The housing numbers in the Local Plan will deliver ~1,500 more houses than the Government mandated figure. The Government figure already includes an affordability uplift.

Pale Lane aside, we believe it is absolutely right to plan for a new settlement that will deliver the infrastructure that Hart desperately needs. CCH were asked at council before Christmas to show their workings on the infrastructure funding gap. They didn’t even allow the question to be asked, let alone answer it. The reason is that they know, the new settlement will increase the funding gap and starve Fleet and Church Crookham of much needed investmentWithout a new settlement we will soon return to a ‘planning by appeal’ situation which has been so disastrous for Hart (ref: Grove Farm and Watery Lane). A sound Local Plan, without a new town and without Pale Lane, will stop this situation. With no long term plan for secondary school places (to meet demand from the 2000 houses at Hartland and Grove Farm), surgery waiting times lengthening and our roads more congested than ever we think this is unacceptable for Hart.  Hampshire County Council have not said we need a new school. The Local Plan contains no proposals for a new school, doesn’t address healthcare and does nothing for roads. A new town will only make things worse. A local plan with the new settlement option removed will also pave the way for Wates to successfully appeal Pale Lane. No it won’t. The Local Plan will be sound without the new town. Indeed, it may even be unsound with the new town.

So, after much consideration we have decided to support Community Campaign Hart (CCH), who we can trust to safeguard the local plan (which is already progressing well and is due for submission to a Govt inspector this month) and by extension, Pale Lane. CCH are committed to taking the politics out of local matters, focusing on putting residents’ needs first. Cough…only if you live in Church Crookham, and even then, the extra traffic from a new town will impact both Fleet and Church Crookham.

We are absolutely delighted to announce that Angela Delaney, one of our group and one of the original four who spearheaded the Stop Elvetham Chase Development campaign, is standing as CCH candidate for Fleet West. Angela has worked tirelessly over the last year to fight Pale Lane and protect Fleet West from the impact this development would have caused. But apparently she doesn’t care at all about the impact that a new town at Winchfield would cause. She’s passionate about supporting a local plan with a new settlement to protect our schools, health service and roads. In fact the Local Plan doesn’t promote a new school, doesn’t address healthcare and won’t fix the roads. In fact it will make matters worse for Fleet, because it will starve it of infrastructure, increase commuter traffic and probably reduce retail traffic. We hope her track record speaks for itself. Cough…not quite in the way she wants us to believe, but let’s wish that she is more successful than CCH have been with Edenbrook, Grove Farm and Watery Lane.

We hope you’ll support Angela but ultimately everyone must make their own decision at the ballot box. Well done for standing for election, which is more than Councillor Woods did when he defected. If you don’t support our position then we thank you for your support so far and understand if you wish to leave our group at this point. I will stay if you don’t mind, just to see what you are up to. You have lost a lot of support from Winchfield residents who also oppose Pale Lane. If you support Angela, we can guarantee that she will work with the same energy she fought Pale Lane, to represent local residents’ interests. Cough.

Why a new settlement debunked predetermination

Hart Housing Numbers

 

Hart Local Plan: Restore strategic gaps

Hart Regulation 18 Strategic gaps

Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation removes the Regulation 18 Strategic Gaps

This is the sixth and final part of our submission to the Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation. This article explains how Hart have removed the strategic gaps around Harley Wintney and Hook that were present in the last consultation. We believe they should restore them and policy NBe2 should be amended.  The process for making a submission is as follows:

  1. Go to the Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 Consultation page of the Council website
  2. From the Hart website, download and complete Response Form Part A (Personal Details). A copy can be downloaded here.
  3. Also download and complete the Response Form Part B (Your Representations), a separate Part B is required for each representation you wish to make. A copy can be downloaded here.
  4. Make sure you include words of this form in each representation. Policy [X] is not sound because it is not [positively prepared, justified, effective or consistent with national policy] (delete as appropriate).
  5. Once you have filled in Part A and Part B, please email them to planningpolicy@hart.gov.uk or post them to Planning Policy Team, Hart District Council, Harlington Way, Fleet, Hampshire, GU51 4AE.
Submissions have to be made before 4pm on 26 March 2018. If you are keen to get your submission completed, you can use the summary guide we have pulled together, or for the more adventurous, you can use our full submission. Please edit the text into your own words.

Restore the strategic gaps to the Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 Consultation

The Local Plan identifies strategic gaps between settlements.

Hart Local Plan Regulation 19: Hartley Winchook leads to no strategic gaps around Hartley Wintney nor to the east of Hook

Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 Consultation Strategic Gaps

However, no gaps are proposed to the east of Hook, to the north west of Fleet or anywhere around Hartley Wintney. This is contrary to the Regulation 18 consultation (see top), where strategic gaps were included to the east of Hook and the SW of Hartley Wintney. These should be restored and new ones added to give effective gaps between Winchfield and the west of Fleet/Elvetham Heath to avoid coalescence into a Hartley Winchook urban sprawl.

Remedy: This policy needs to be amended to include:

  1. A gap to the west of Hook from the east bank of the River Whitewater to at least the power line between Hook and Hartley Wintney
  2. A gap to the south and west of Hartley Wintney/Phoenix Green. This should be at both sides of the A30, from the existing end of development to the Murrell Green light-industrial estate and from St Mary’s Park to the motorway
  3. A gap from Elvetham Heath/A323 to the River Hart and from Edenbrook/Hitches Lane to the River Hart
  4. A gap from the east of Taplins Farm Lane/The Hurst to the River Hart.

 

Hart Local Plan: No plans for infrastructure

Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation: no proper plans for infrastructure

Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation: no proper plans for infrastructure

This is the fifth part of our submission to the Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation. This article explains how Hart haven’t properly planned for infrastructure. In addition, the plans they do have will starve the places that really need it of investment. Policy I1 needs to be changed and policy SS3 needs to be removed. The process for making a submission is as follows:

  1. Go to the Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 Consultation page of the Council website
  2. From the Hart website, download and complete Response Form Part A (Personal Details). A copy can be downloaded here.
  3. Also download and complete the Response Form Part B (Your Representations), a separate Part B is required for each representation you wish to make. A copy can be downloaded here.
  4. Make sure you include words of this form in each representation. Policy [X] is not sound because it is not [positively prepared, justified, effective or consistent with national policy] (delete as appropriate).
  5. Once you have filled in Part A and Part B, please email them to planningpolicy@hart.gov.uk or post them to Planning Policy Team, Hart District Council, Harlington Way, Fleet, Hampshire, GU51 4AE. 
Submissions have to be made before 4pm on 26 March 2018. If you are keen to get your submission completed, you can use the summary guide we have pulled together, or for the more adventurous, you can use our full submission. Please edit the text into your own words.
WHH Local Plan Reg 19 Guide
WHH Local Plan Reg 19 Entry

How the Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation needs to be changed to deal with infrastructure

One leading councillor has gone on the record, calling for an ‘infrastructure led’ Local Plan. Yet, they have not allowed questions to be put to them about infrastructure, let alone answer them.

Back in October 2014, Hart Council produced an infrastructure delivery schedule that set out the current deficit, split by type and area.  This shows a deficit of £78m not including healthcare facilities. The breakdown is shown by type and area in the images below:

Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation: Hart District Estimated Infrastructure costs by type March 2013.

Hart District Estimated Infrastructure costs by type March 2013.

The breakdown of the costs by area showed the Fleet/Church Crookham and Hook areas had by far the largest deficits.

Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation: Estimated Infrastructure costs by area March 2013

Hart District Estimated Infrastructure costs by area March 2013

Key quotes from the document include:

“It is therefore reasonable to conclude that it is unlikely that there will be sufficient future funds, from both capital programmes and developer contributions, within the plan period, to deliver all of the projects listed in the HCC Transport Statement”

“Although developer contributions will continue to play an important role in helping to bridge the funding gap, it is also clear that the funds raised through developer contributions will only contribute a modest proportion of the total identified funding gap”

 “The South West Main Line (SWML) outer trains, which serve Hart, has significant forecasted future peak crowding, with a capacity shortfall of over 6,100 passengers in the high-peak hour, even if every main line train is at maximum length”

It should be noted also that SWR has recently put forward proposals to reduce services at Winchfield and Hook, exacerbating the rail capacity problem. The Local Plan doesn’t even mention improvements to the rail network in infrastructure policies.

A more recent estimate from Hampshire County Council has estimated the infrastructure funding gap for Hart as £72m.

Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation: Hart infrastructure funding gap £72m

Hart infrastructure funding gap £72m

Hart’s share of the gap is made up of:

  • Transport, £34m
  • Education: £38m.
  • Countryside: To be Determined.
  • Extra Care places: To be Determined.

No estimate has been made of the requirements or costs of additional healthcare provision.

The infrastructure policies in the Local Plan are insipid and fail to address the funding gap:

  • Policy I1: Infrastructure – weak policy simply requiring developers to deliver adequate infrastructure as part of their developments, when the studies above show that developer contributions won’t be adequate to bridge the gap
  • Policy I2: Green Infrastructure – feeble policy to supposedly protect green infrastructure. Yet they are proposing to build a new town that will destroy the best of our green infrastructure
  • Policy I3: Transport – inadequate policy simply to provide ‘maximum flexibility in the choice of travel modes’, nothing specific to improve road network or put pressure on SWR to improve rail
  • Policy I4: Open space, sport and recreation – policy to support development that improves sporting facilities, but no tangible plans for anything new
  • Policy I5: Community Facilities – a very vague policy to improve childcare facilities, healthcare, police stations, youth provision, libraries, community halls, local shops, meeting places, cultural buildings, public houses, places of worship, and public toilets. But crucially, no specific projects or proposals.

Yet, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is clear that infrastructure must be planned alongside new housing. Failure to adequately plan for infrastructure requirements and costs could lead to the Local Plan being found unsound. See references to paras 17 and 177 of the NPPF below.

plan to avoid infrastructure funding gap

NPPF Para 17: Avoid infrastructure funding gap

NPPF Para 17: Avoid infrastructure funding gap

It is clear from this post, that the proposals to build a new town will probably exacerbate the existing funding gap and not deliver any infrastructure in Fleet, Church Crookham and Hook, the very places where funding is most required.

Remedy: We therefore think the remedy to this issue should be that policy SS3 is removed in its entirety (with consequent changes to policy SS1 already outlined elsewhere). The infrastructure policies should be reworked to include as a minimum:

  • Acknowledgement of the existing £72m infrastructure funding gap
  • Quantification of the items missing from the Hampshire County Council assessment such as healthcare, extra-care housing for the elderly and green infrastructure
  • A set of prioritised, costed projects that are required to alleviate the worst of our infrastructure problems in Fleet/Church Crookham and Hook. This should include road improvements, particularly near Fleet station and the bridge over the railway near the end of Elvetham Heath Road. It should also include significant improvements to the cultural facilities, particularly in Fleet.
  • Plans to tackle Network Rail/SWR over rail capacity and services
  • Proposals for raising the necessary funds for delivering the required projects
  • Some external validation that the infrastructure plans in the draft Local Plan are ‘sound’ and will pass inspection

We believe that in preparation for the next review of the plan, a new policy should be created to regenerate our urban centres including attracting private capital so that we create a better place to live and address the existing infrastructure problems before even considering a new town that will only make matters worse.

Hart Local Plan: Missed opportunity to regenerate urban centres

Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation won't regenerate Old Police Station in Fleet, Hart District, Hampshire

Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation: Missed opportunity to regenerate urban centres

This is the fourth part of our submission to the Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation. This article explains how we are missing the opportunity to regenerate our urban centres and why Policies Policies ED4, 5 and 6 (and SS3) need to be removed for the time being until we come up with a proper regeneration strategy. The process for making a submission is as follows:

  1. Go to the Hart Local Plan Consultation page of the Council website
  2. From the Hart website, download and complete Response Form Part A (Personal Details). A copy can be downloaded here.
  3. Also download and complete the Response Form Part B (Your Representations), a separate Part B is required for each representation you wish to make. A copy can be downloaded here.
  4. Make sure you include words of this form in each representation. Policy [X] is not sound because it is not [positively prepared, justified, effective or consistent with national policy] (delete as appropriate).
  5. Once you have filled in Part A and Part B, please email them to planningpolicy@hart.gov.uk or post them to Planning Policy Team, Hart District Council, Harlington Way, Fleet, Hampshire, GU51 4AE.
Submissions have to be made before 4pm on 26 March 2018. If you are keen to get your submission completed, you can use the summary guide we have pulled together, or for the more adventurous, you can use our full submission. Please edit the text into your own words.
WHH Local Plan Reg 19 Guide
WHH Local Plan Reg 19 Entry

Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 Consultation: MIssed regeneration opportunity

Fleet is the lowest density town of its size in the country. The chart below shows that there is significant scope for increasing development density in Fleet.
Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation: Fleet housing density versus towns of similar size

Fleet housing density versus towns of similar size

The retail offer in Fleet is poor, the cultural facilities (e.g. Harlington Centre) are outdated and there is no proper cinema. We might as well employ botanists to identify the new species of tumbleweed appearing in the Hart Shopping Centre.

Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation: Fleet Health score versus benchmarks

Fleet Health score versus benchmarks

However, Fleet has the highest average earnings per person of comparative towns by quite a large margin (e.g.: 9% more than Camberley). High earnings should give Fleet a significant advantage over the comparison towns.

Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation: Fleet earnings versus competitors

Fleet earnings versus competitors

The Local Plan fails to take advantage of the opportunity to modernise Hart’s urban centres and protect Hart’s countryside.

We believe that the Local Plan should be centred on the proposition that Fleet and other urban centres will be re-generated. With Hart District Council’s full and active support, a plan based on urban regeneration would achieve the following benefits:

  1. An ambitious Hart Urban Re-generation Project (HURP) would attract private investment and thus be affordable
  2. Private investment would allow for Hart’s infrastructure to be upgraded in line with the urban re-generation
  3. Good urban design principles would achieve a higher population density in the urban centres while at the same time providing an improved ‘sense of place’ and making the urban centres more desirable places to live.

A similar approach could be adopted in Yateley to provide a proper retail-led centre and improvements could be made to Blackwater. The requirement for additional retail facilities in Hook, identified in the Reg 18 Local Plan could also be met.

Hart did have a plan to conduct a brownfield study (We Heart Hart helped to write the terms of reference) to evaluate the ‘art of the possible’ in our urban centres. This project has not delivered.

In addition, Yateley lacks a defined centre, Blackwater is indistinct and Hook lacks good quality restaurants and shopping facilities.

The council should be setting out a bold plan to improve the retail, cultural and recreational amenities in the district. We should also develop plans for a theatre and cinema in Fleet as part of an attractive mixed-use redevelopment. There will be significant cash available from developers to fund such an ambitious plan.

Instead of creating a proper masterplan,  Fleet Town Council are pursuing an ill-thought out plan for a new theatre that will leave the existing Harlington Centre to rot. This is not regeneration in any meaningful sense of the word.

Our local MP, Ranil Jaywardena, has launched a campaign to regenerate our urban centres. He said:

Looking to some of our local, district and town centres, however, it is clear to see that Fleet, Yateley and Hook are all in real need of revitalisation and regeneration. I’ve been spending time speaking to your local Councillors about this and taking a look at the work that needs to be done.

I am more convinced than ever that all three places have great potential – be that simply as shopping destinations or, with the right infrastructure improvements, as great places for our young people to get their foot on the housing ladder.

The trouble is that there is no ‘masterplan’ for any of these places. I will be raising this with Hart District Council personally – but I need your help. If you want smart new shops, some new flats for local young people to buy above them and better car parking, then act now.

The BBC has recently interviewed a number of people in Fleet about what it is like to live there. Everybody loves it, but they think there’s been too much housing and not enough infrastructure. The draft Local Plan won’t fix either of those issues, because they’re insisting on building too many houses and aren’t addressing infrastructure.

However, policies ED4, 5 and 6 effectively cast the existing centres in aspic and preclude significant redevelopment. I do not have the resources available to me to completely re-write these policies.

Remedy:  Policies ED4, 5 and 6 should be removed for the time being and a proper community team put together to work with our local councillors and MP to come up with a master plan to regenerate our town centres. Policy SS3 (together with the consequent changes to SS1 already outlined) should also be removed, so that time and energy can be freed up to address the fundamental problem of our urban centres.

The Harlington project finances don’t add up

The Harlington Project - financial challenges could Save Gurkha Square in Fleet Hampshire

The Harlington Project – Financial challenges

We have uncovered some financial challenges to the Harlington Project to build a new facility on Gurkha Square in Fleet, Hampshire. Sadly, we have found that Fleet Town Council’s numbers don’t add up.

In summary, it is unlikely the project as currently constituted would meet Government lending criteria, without a significant precept increase. Moreover, Fleet taxpayers are on the hook for further increases in the precept if costs were to increase by even a modest amount.

If you want to do something about this, please respond to the petition that can be found here.

Please also object to the planning application here (or search for application 18/00147/OUT on https://publicaccess.hart.gov.uk/ )

Here is detail of the facts as we understand them, that have led us to the conclusions.

First, just to remind you, Fleet Town Council (FTC), is currently proposing to borrow £10,424,200 over 46 years to fund the vast majority of the project cost. The current total cost is estimated at £11,024,200, including a 7.5% estimate of inflation and 5% contingency. They have committed to keeping the annual precept on Fleet residents at £412,000 per year.

The Harlington Project Financial challenges to build on Gurkha Square FTC precept commitment

The Harlington Project – Precept Commitment

Will the Government approve the loan for the Harlington Project?

FTC has stated that it will seek a loan from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) to finance the Harlington project to build a replacement building on Gurkha Square.   The PWLB does indeed make such loans, but each loan has to be approved by the Government. Not surprisingly, the Government has set guidelines on how much parish and town councils can borrow.

This leads us to the first challenge. The Government has said:

The amount that an individual council will be allowed to borrow is normally limited to £500,000 in any one financial year.

The Harlington Project Financial challenges to build on Gurkha Square Fleet Government borrowing limit

The Harlington Project – Government borrowing limit

In short, FTC is proposing to borrow more than 20 times the amount that is normally allowed. Therefore, there must be a doubt that the loan will ever be made.

However, there is another challenge. In the current consultation on the prudential framework for capital finance of Local Government, maximum asset lives have been set. Freehold land gets a life of 50 years. Other assets have a maximum asset life of 40 years.

The Harlington Project Financial challenges to build on Gurkha Square Fleet Maximum Asset Life

The Harlington Project – Maximum Asset Life

Eagle eyed readers will have spotted that the maximum term that the Government will allow for buildings is less than the loan term that FTC is proposing. It isn’t even clear that the Government would allow an asset life of 40 years for such a building. This must lead to FTC increasing the precept to finance the reduced loan term (see sensitivity analysis below). Therefore, before any further cost increases, FTC has already broken its commitment to local taxpayers – see below.

Sensitivity of the Harlington Project to Cost Increases

The current proposal from FTC of total project costs of ~£11m, with council needing to borrow £10.4m to fund the build. This project costs figure includes 7.5% provision for inflationary increases and a 5% contingency. Given that stage the project has reached, we think 5% contingency is very low.

Harlington Horror Show: costs escalate to £11m

The Harlington Project costs £11m

This is borne out by FTC’s discussions last year with a Design and Build contractor. This might have been a way of FTC off-loading the risk of cost increases to the private sector. Of course, they would have had to pay a premium to cover this risk. However, the cost estimate put forward by the contractor was ‘unacceptable’, so FTC have decided to go it alone with some support from Rushmoor Borough Council.

The Harlington Project Financial challenges to build on Gurkha Square risk of cost increases

The Harlington Project – risk of cost increases

So, a private company is not willing to risk its own money on there being no further cost increases. We therefore think further cost increases are a virtual certainty. A sensible contingency at this stage of design would be at least 20%. A sensitivity analysis of the costs shows:

The Harlington Project Financial challenges to build on Gurkha Square Sensitivity Analysis

The Harlington Project Financial – Sensitivity Analysis

  • To complete the project at the current cost estimate, with a maximum loan term of 40 years, would require a precept increase of 7.3%
  • If the total project costs increased by 10% (15% over the current baseline), then the precept would need to increase by 18.6%
  • A precept increase of 24.3% would be required if costs increased by 15% (20% over current baseline).

FTC is considering mitigation measures such as seeking a grant from the Arts Council. This would lead to them borrowing £8.5m. They would then have around £1.2m of headroom for cost increases before they would have to consider increasing the precept.

There is of course the risk that the fixed term interest rates that PWLB offer may rise between now and when the loan is offered.

Security of the Loan for the Harlington Project

It is worth pointing out that the loan from the PWLB is different to a mortgage.

With a mortgage, the bank takes security over the property. This means it takes the future value of the property seriously. The bank needs to ensure there will be value in the property if the borrower defaults on the loan.

The Harlington Project Financial challenges to build on Gurkha Square Fleet Security over local tax

The Harlington Project financial challenges – Security over local tax

However, the PWLB takes a charge directly over the taxes raised by the town council, so it has no need to worry about the future value of the building being constructed. This means that if the building were to deteriorate over say, a 30 year period, Fleet taxpayers would still be on the hook to repay the loan, even though the building might be useless by then.

Be careful what you wish for.

See earlier posts:

Save Gurkha Square

The Harlington Horror Show

 

The Harlington Horror Show – public sector value destruction

The Harlington Fleet Horror Show of a Deal to replace it with a new building on Gurkha Square

The Harlington Horror Show in Fleet, Hampshire

We have done more digging into the plans to replace the Harlington in Fleet by building a new facility on Gurkha Square. We have uncovered the Harlington Horror Show. We believe these plans represent a massive destruction of value for taxpayers.

  • Hart taxpayers lose around £140K per year, and lose at least £1.2m of value in Gurkha Square. They might get some of the Views in return, but have to fork out maybe up to £500K to replace the lost parking spaces.
  • Fleet taxpayers gain Gurkha Square and a brand new £9.9m £11m building, that will cost them at least £26.6m £34.3m over a 45 58 year repayment period and they lose part of The Views. They might also gain parking revenue from the remaining car park. ***Stop Press: Costs now escalated to £11m***
  • Everybody gains another decaying building in the form of the old Harlington blighting the town centre for years into the future, with no plan and no money to do anything about it
  • There are no plans for the much needed wider regeneration of Fleet, and there are no plans to raise any private money to back the scheme.

It is difficult to see how these arrangements pass any sensible application of Government Value for Money principles. This is truly the Harlington Horror Show.

If you want to do something about this, please respond to the petition that can be found here.

Please also object to the planning application here (or search for application 18/00147/OUT on https://publicaccess.hart.gov.uk/ )

Here is detail of the facts as we understand them, that have led us to the conclusions:

The Harlington Centre Consultation

In 2017, Fleet Town Council (FTC) consulted on 3 options for the Harlington Fleet. The options were Repair, Refurbish, or Replace. The Replace option mean building a new facility on Gurkha Square car park. Of the 1,481 people who responded to the survey, 86% or 1,274 were Fleet residents. Of those Fleet residents, 53% or 675 people chose the ‘Replace’ option. FTC has taken this as a mandate to spend approximately £10 million to be raised from Fleet Council Tax payers.

The main issue with the consultation is that at the time, FTC did not even have a lease to operate within the existing Harlington and nor does it own the Gurkha Square car park. So, it held a consultation about two options that were not within its gift to deliver. It might as well have had a consultation about how many fairies we would like at the bottom of the garden.

Current position of the Harlington, Fleet

Currently the Harlington generates an operating loss of around £180,000 per year and this is expected to continue with the new facility.

Operating loss of Harlington Centre Fleet £180,000 per year. Harlington Horror Show

It was resolved earlier this year that the Joint Chief Executive in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Services be authorised to enter into an interim short term ‘two year rolling’ lease for the Harlington with FTC. We don’t know the details of that lease.

HDC FTC short term rolling lease for Harlington Centre. Harlington Horror Show

Current position of Gurkha Square

It is understood that HDC own the freehold for Gurkha Square. Currently it generates between £108,000 and £130,000 of parking revenue. As an average, let’s assume £120,000 per annum.

Parking revenue for Gurkha Square. Harlington Horror Show

Back at the March 2017 Cabinet meeting the car park was worth between £750K and £1.3m.

March 2017 cabinet value of Gurkha Square £750K-£1.3m. Harlington Horror Show

More recently, at Overview and Scrutiny Committee the value was set at £575K. The reason for this mysterious loss of value hasn’t been explained.

New Gurkha Square value £575K. Harlington Horror Show

We think the valuation is on the low side. A continuing stream of parking income, which is likely to be rise in line with inflation each year, might be valued at a multiple of 16 or above. This would value the car park at nearly £2m.

An alternative approach might be to value it as development land with planning permission. The SHMA suggested development land in Hart is worth £4m per hectare. The site is approximately 0.3Ha. This would value the site at £1.2m. This might be considered conservative as it is a prime site in one of the most affluent towns in the UK.

We believe that Hart wants to replace the lost parking revenue. We understand that it has been proposed that there be a ‘land swap’ where HDC give Gurkha Square to FTC and in return, FTC give HDC part of The Views. Hart would then use that land to build new parking spaces. The Views are one of the last remaining green spaces in Fleet town centre. As green space, the land has essentially zero economic value, and probably comes with maintenance costs attached.

The Harlington Proposal

As we understand it, FTC is proposing to build the new facility on Ghurka Square car park at a cost of £9.9m. ***Stop Press: Costs now escalated to £11m***. There are no plans for what happens to the existing Harlington centre, and apparently no money either. It has to be presumed that Hart taxpayers will shoulder the costs of maintenance and security, meanwhile Hart residents gain another decaying building in Fleet.

Harlington Horror Show: costs escalate to £11m

Harlington costs escalate to £11m

It is envisaged they will take loan to cover the cost from the Public Works Loan Board. Under this arrangement, monthly payments would remain fixed, but the term of the loan might vary depending upon changes in interest rates or cost escalations. The current plan is that the repayment period would be 45 years. 58 years based on the new £11m cost. Would the building even last that long?

Harlington costs and repayment £9.9m and 45 years. Harlington Horror Show

FTC has committed not to increase the precept levied to fund this project above £412,000 per annum.

Harlington precept £412000 per year. Harlington Horror Show

It is not clear what will happen if costs or interest rates rise so that the monthly payments don’t cover the interest. A quick sensitivity analysis shows that if the interest rate increases to 4.3% or above, and/or costs escalate to £13.6m or above, then the precept will not be sufficient to repay the interest, let alone repay any of the principal. We know that interest rates are rising, and construction costs only go up between project idea and completion.

Harlington Gurkha Square Sensitivity Analysis. Harlington Horror Show

Taken together, FTC is commiting to spend the continuing operating loss of £180,000 per annum plus the loan repayments of at least £412,000 per annum for the next 45 58 years. This totals at least £26.6m £34.4m over the term, assuming no further cost overruns and no interest rate increases.

The Harlington Horror Show Deal

Putting this all together, we believe this proposal is a lose-lose deal for Hart and Fleet residents. Let’s take a look at the position of Hart and Fleet taxpayers.

Hart Taxpayers

On the revenue side, they lose approximately £120K in parking income each year from Gurkha Square. They also lose the costs of maintaining and securing the decaying Harlington building. This might amount to a total of around £140K per year.

On the capital side of the account they lose Gurkha Square at a value of at least £1.2m. However, they gain part of The Views, at an unknown value. Essentially, this has no economic value as greenspace, and will probably come with maintenance costs attached.

The revenue costs could be mitigated by building more parking spaces on The Views. It is unlikely that the costs, once additional roadworks and machines are included will give much change from £500K. The resulting spaces will then be in an inconvenient position and unlikely to generate much income.

Fleet Taxpayers

On the revenue side Fleet taxpayers commit to paying at least £412K per annum for at least 45 58 years, plus £180K per year subsidy, for a total cost of at least £26.6m £34.3m. They might also gain parking revenue from the remaining car park.

On the capital side, they gain Gurkha Square at a value of £1.2m. However, they lose part of The Views at unknown value. Of course they gain a brand new building at a value of £9.9m £11m.

Taken together, this is the Harlington Horror Show.

 

 

Save Gurkha Square

Save Gurkha Square in Fleet Hampshire

Save Gurkha Square

The purpose of this post is to alert you to the plans to build on the much-loved Gurkha Square car-park and support the petition calling for a referendum of Hart residents before planning permission is granted.

Save Gurkha Square Petition

The petition can be found here.

Gurkha Square proposal

Fleet Town Council has made a controversial planning application to build a new facility on Gurkha Square car-park. This can be found here (or search for application 18/00147/OUT on https://publicaccess.hart.gov.uk/ ). This new facility is currently expected to cost around £9.9m to build.

This is to replace the aging Harlington centre that currently costs £178,300 to support each year. It is envisaged that this support cost will continue for the new centre. Additionally, Fleet residents will be asked to continue paying the £412,000 Harlington precept for 45 years to repay the loan. This assumes there is no escalation in building costs and no increase in interest rates. Hardly sensible assumptions.

At the time of writing, there have been 12 comments on the planning application and all of them are opposed to the proposal. One Hart resident has written:

When I found out about this and how little others living in Fleet knew about it I wanted to ensure that as Fleet residents you were made aware & could have a say in the future

Why is the Gurkha Square proposal a bad idea?

Regular readers will be aware that we are broadly in favour of redeveloping Fleet. So, we had to think long and hard about this proposal. We came down against it because:

  1. This removes much needed parking spaces from the town centre.
  2. Puts at risk the market and other community events.
  3. It is a poorly thought through proposal that isn’t part of a proper master plan for Fleet regeneration
  4. There is no plan to do anything with the vacant, decaying Harlington building or the rest of the underutilised complex.
  5. There is a risk that part of the Views will be concreted over to replace the lost parking spaces.
  6. Disrespects the Gurkha community by reducing the space dedicated to their support and sacrifice for the UK.
  7. This proposal has all the hallmarks of a doomed political vanity project.

Opaque financial arrangements for Gurkha Square transfer

The Gurkha Square car-park is currently owned by Hart District Council. In essence it belongs to all Hart residents. The financial arrangements related to the transfer of the car-park to Fleet Town Council are shrouded in mystery. They were discussed at Overview and Scrutiny Committee, but the key debate about finance was conducted in private.

We don’t think it appropriate that the transfer of assets between two public bodies should be conducted in secret. What we do know is that the Cabinet received advice that the value of the car-park is £575,000. Although it is unclear how this figure was determined. The site is approximately 0.3Ha and development land with planning permission is worth around £4m per hectare. One might expect prime development land in the town centre to be worth more. This would equate to a value of at least £1.2m, far in excess of the stated value.

However, we don’t know the basis on which HDC has agreed to transfer the asset. Some people fear they have agreed a much lower capital value, in exchange for a continuing income. But it seems odd they would rely upon an income from a facility that Fleet Town Council say will continue to lose £180,000 per annum. Moreover, the decaying Harlington Centre will revert to HDC, which looks like it will be a liability rather than an asset.

We think Hart residents should be consulted before ‘their’ asset is transferred to Fleet. Moreover, the financial arrangements should be transparent. Indeed, the deal as proposed may well be in breach of the Value for Money rules governing public bodies.

Conclusion

Please respond to the petition that can be found here.

Please object to the planning application here (or search for application 18/00147/OUT on https://publicaccess.hart.gov.uk/ )

Download the leaflet here:

Save Gurkha Square leaflet

 

 

Affordable homes blocked by Hart’s restrictive brownfield policies

Affordable homes blocked at Zenith House, 3 Rye Close, Fleet, Hampshire by Hart's restrictive brownfield policies

Affordable homes blocked by Hart’s brownfield policies

The delivery of 36 affordable homes is being blocked by Hart’s restrictive brownfield policies. Magna Group is seeking to convert Zenith House on Rye Close on Ancell’s Farm in Fleet into 36 relatively affordable properties, designed to retail at £175,000 to £300,000. But they are being blocked by Hart’s restrictive SANG policy.

The council has given its prior approval to the development. However, Hart is effectively blocking the development by refusing to allocate any of its SANG.

redevelopment of Old Police Station,Crookham Road, Fleet, Hart District, Hampshire being blocked by restrictive brownfield policies

Proposals to redevelop Fleet Police station being blocked by restrictive brownfield policies

We understand the same developer owns the old Fleet Police station on Crookham Road in Fleet and plans to replace it with 14 new dwellings. However, we understand the council planning officers have been instructed to refuse planning permission for even compliant proposals.

This has the effect of:

  • Restricting the supply of housing that would be affordable for many young people trying to get on the housing ladder
  • Adding extra pressure to build on green field land
  • Stopping the market dealing with the problem of the over-supply of dilapidated office blocks in the district

This policy is also blocking Ranil’s ideas for regenerating Fleet. His petition can be found here.

It transpires that Hart’s SANG policy may well be illegal. We understand that legal representations have been made that cast doubt on Hart’s SANG policy:

First the policy is clearly intended to frustrate the delivery of housing rather than to facilitate development.  The policy confers on the head of the regulatory services absolute discretion to allocate SANG but makes clear that SANG will not be allocated to any development unless the Council considers it to be acceptable.

That means that if Planning Permission is granted on appeal the Council will nevertheless use its powers in relation to SANG to thwart that development.

The policy may result in the Council preventing people from exercising the rights they have been granted by Parliament through the permitted development process. In effect the Council is removing a property right from them in breach of the terms of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Furthermore the Council is in breach of its duty to make proper provision to facilitate the delivery of housing.

It certainly looks like the council is setting itself up for more expensive legal battles.