Proposal for £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund

Proposal for £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund

Proposal for £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund

A paper will be put to Overview and Scrutiny next week, asking for a multi-year £500K Shapley Heath slush fund. It is clear that Hart Council are intending to press ahead with the Shapley Heath/Winchfield new town despite removing it from the Local Plan. This builds upon the £150K of funding recently allocated by the Government.

There are a number of issues with this proposal:

  1. Goes against the recommendations of the Inspector
  2. Trojan horse approach
  3. Flawed Governance
  4. Lax financial control

These points are explored below. The full report to O&S can be found here and more details about the meeting can be found here.

 Shapley Heath Slush Fund goes against the Inspector recommendations

The O&S paper clearly doesn’t follow all of the recommendations of the Planning Inspector. The paper only partially acknowledges the findings of the Inspector.

No mention of Inspector request for more SA work

It doesn’t include mention of one of the key recommendations that said:

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

The council are clearly not carrying out the wide ranging site assessments, viability testing and SA work and they explicitly rule out considering alternative locations.

No intention to look at alternative locations to Shapley Heath/Winchfield

In addition, the council acknowledges that what they are doing falls outside the normal planning process:

Shapley Heath work outside of planning process

This is simply riding roughshod over the planning process and the Local Plan Examination findings. It is not acceptable.

Shapley Heath Trojan Horse

It is clear that this proposal is a Trojan Horse to be used to push through the unnecessary new town. In the main body of the report they use soft words like “test the Garden Community opportunity as a possible future growth option”. However, the detail of the Terms of Reference for the Garden Community Board shows that they are intending to deliver the Shapley Heath new town.

Shapley Heath Garden Community Board TOR 1 of 2

Shapley Heath Garden Community Board Terms of Reference 2 of 2.

Here are some examples:

  • The Garden Community Board (the Board) will have overall responsibility for steering the delivery of the Garden Community project
  • The Board will champion the Garden Community project and its delivery
  • To champion the Garden Community and its delivery
  • To facilitate and promote joined-up delivery

Flawed Governance

The Garden Community Board is made up of a vast number of people.

Shapley Heath Garden Community Board members

This includes the Cabinet members for “Place” (aka Planning) and Housing; the group leaders of each political party; the joint Chief executive and the chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny. This is substantially all of the senior member of the council and officers. Their role is to “champion the Garden Community and its delivery”.  Apparently nobody has a role to review and challenge what is going on. Somebody should be checking ongoing compliance with the Planning Inspector’s recommendations, planning law and good governance.  This is a recipe for the project to become a self-serving law unto itself, effectively accountable to nobody, because everyone is tasked with “championing delivery”.

Shapley Heath Slush Fund: Lax Financial Control

On the plus side, the paper returns the previously allocated £786K of funding to reserves.  However, the paper calls for “a £500K budget [to be] allocated to the Joint Chief Executive to utilise for expertise and resources to help the Council make informed choices associated with the Garden Community”. In addition, this money is expected to be spent over a number of years.

Multi-year £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund

Multi-year £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund

In other words, a multi-year slush fund.  This is particularly egregious in that the paper only identifies £155K of spending requirement at the moment.

Only £155K of the Multi-year £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund is required.

Only £155K of the Multi-year £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund is required.

Surely it would be better for money to be allocated when required to produce a specific deliverables. It is far too lax to grant discretionary powers to spend such a large amount of money over many years without knowing what they are going to get for the money.

Return of the New Town: Winchfield fights back

Return of the New Town - Winchfield fights back

Return of the New Town – Winchfield fights back

We Heart Hart and Winchfield Parish Council (WPC) are fighting back against the decision to award funding for the  new town.

WPC has written to the Secretary of State demanding that the decision to award £150,000 of capacity funding to support the delivery of the Hartley Winchook/ Shapley Heath garden community new town be reversed.   In addition, We Heart Hart has written to MHCLG making a similar request, using slightly different arguments. We understand that the Rural Hart Association will also be making representations to MHCLG.

A summary of the WPC letter is shown below, together with links to the full text. The full text of the WHH letter follows.

Winchfield fights back: WPC Letter

The letter has the support of Hartley Wintney, Dogmersfield, Crondall, Greywell and Long Sutton & Well Parish Councils. The Parish Councils of Eversley, Odiham and South Warnborough have made known to WPC their concerns about the proposed development and will consider adding their full support to the letter when they next meet. WPC’s letter highlights the following concerns:

  1. The Inspector’s findings following the independent examination of the Local Plan rejected the SHGV proposal, which followed HDC’s Garden Village Application in November 2018.
  2. HDC’s ongoing promotion of SHGV is not supported by the Inspector’s findings on the submitted Local Plan and he is quite clear that other options need to be considered in an impartial manner.
  3. The absence of sound justification for bringing forward SHGV (as it is not needed to meet identified housing needs) and the lack of evidence to demonstrate that the proposal is deliverable and sustainable was confirmed by the Inspector’s findings on the submitted Plan.
  4. The numerous shortcomings with HDC’s bid when considered against the Garden Communities prospectus lead us to question how it has been successful.
  5. HDC pre-determined the plan-making process, and failed to provide the evidence to the Inspector to demonstrate that it had impartially assessed reasonable alternatives. If HDC proceed with a Local Plan review as indicated based on SHGV as its chosen long term growth strategy, it will irresponsibly overlook the Inspector’s criticisms of the current Plan’s failure to impartially assess reasonable alternatives, and continue to ignore local opinion. HDC’s bid to be included in the Gardens Community Programme is a further demonstration of their continuation of pre-determine the planning process.
  6. HDC’s ongoing promotion of SHGV is not supported by the local communities directly impacted by this large scale proposal.

The full text of their letter can be found here. And the appendix can be found here.

Winchfield Fights Back: We Heart Hart letter

The full text of our letter is set out below:

Dear Ministers,

 Re: Hart District Shapley Heath Garden Community Funding Award

My name is David Turver. I run a campaign in Hart District called We Heart Hart. We have taken an active role in the Hart Local Plan, and I was invited to speak at the examination hearing. We have successfully campaigned against the new settlement proposal. We believe that urban regeneration and brownfield development is a much more sustainable and better way to deliver Hart’s longer term development needs.

I note that you have recently awarded £150,000 of capacity funding to Hart District Council to support the delivery of the Shapley Heath so-called Garden Village in Winchfield/Murrell Green.

I would like to share with you some extra facts which may cause you to reconsider your decision. The main letter sets out the main points, backed up with links and references in the Appendices. I have copied my local MP, the leader of the Conservatives on Hart Council and your garden communities email address so you can obtain a soft copy of this letter and follow the embedded links if required.

New Settlement Policy SS3 not required and not sound

Hart’s Garden Community bid in November 2018 relied on Policy SS3 being found sound in their Local Plan examination. Policy SS3 proposed a new settlement in the same area of search as the proposed Shapley Heath development. The Local Plan itself acknowledges that the new settlement is not required to meet Hart’s housing needs. The Planning Inspector, Jonathan Manning, found that he had “a number of fundamental concerns with regard to the soundness of Policy SS3”. As a result, Hart Council has removed policy SS3 from the Local Plan to make the plan sound. See Appendix A for more details.

More work required to make new settlement sound leading to a delay of up to five years

The Inspector has said that much more work was required to make the new settlement sound:

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

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

There are several alternative options, including alternative sites and alternative strategies such as urban regeneration. So, it is clear that a new SA would be a considerable undertaking in its own right. In the risk assessment accompanying Hart’s bid they anticipated this outcome. Their mitigation was to press-on regardless with the new settlement DPD, independent of the Local Plan. I am not at all convinced that creating a DPD outside of the Local Plan process is in line with the planning regulations.

However, the Inspector makes clear that significant SA work and a standalone consultation ought to precede a new DPD.  Moreover, in Hart’s latest consultation into the modifications required to make the Local Plan sound, they have completely changed their tune. The Sustainability Appraisal Addendum says that “the AoS/DPD process will effectively be replaced by a different process, most likely a new Local Plan” (see Appendix B). The impact of this is that:

  1. The further SA work may conclude that there are better alternatives to delivering longer term growth. I know there are many in the District who support our local MP’s call for urban regeneration.
  2. Even if it is decided that a new settlement is the best long term growth option, the timescales for a new Local Plan process indicate that work on a new DPD will not start for a considerable time; maybe up to five years.

No plans to meet commitments in the Garden Community bid

In their bid, Hart committed to producing a New Settlement DPD in December 2019 if they received the Garden Community funding (see Appendix C). Yet, in response to recent questions at council, they confirmed that they have no current plans to start the additional SA work required by the Inspector; no plans to produce the New Settlement DPD and have not allocated any of the £786K budget set aside for the New Settlement in FY19/20. It might be expected that the wide scope SA work would take at least six months, plus a further 2-3 months for a consultation. It is therefore difficult to see how work can start on a new DPD this financial year. Therefore, it is difficult to see how the Garden Communities grant money can be spent effectively during this financial year.

Deceptive Communications

In addition, I am sorry to report that the Lib Dem/Community Campaign Hart led Hart Council has not been as open and transparent as one would hope in its communications on this matter.  Recently, the council was asked who had been informed that Policy SS3 had been found unsound and removed from the Local Plan. Their answers stated that both Homes England and MHCLG had been kept informed prior to the funding announcement. However, a subsequent release of correspondence shows that the removal of Policy SS3 was a passing comment to an official in Homes England in an email about a different subject. There is no record of MHCLG being contacted directly. I am therefore concerned that MHCLG may not have been aware that the new settlement had been found unsound between Hart Council’s bid and the award of funding in June 2019. It would be a shame if the Government awarded money to fund an unnecessary and unsound white elephant project.

Alternative options

Quite separately, Hart made a recent bid for funds under the Future High Streets scheme and was turned down. Our local MP, Ranil Jayawardena is running a campaign to support urban regeneration within Hart.

The catalyst for this could be the publicly owned civic quarter containing the Hart Council offices and the Harlington Centre. The area is ripe for mixed-use redevelopment including offices, homes, social and retail. If all levels of Government got behind this, it would spark interest in redeveloping the rest of the High Street, including the Hart Shopping Centre.

Conclusions

In conclusion, it is clear that the facts have changed since the bid was submitted.

  • Policy SS3 covering the Shapley Heath new settlement has been found to be unnecessary and unsound and removed from the Hart Local Plan.
  • There are no plans to conduct the wide ranging SA work required that might bring the new settlement back on to the agenda.
  • There is no guarantee that such work will conclude that a new settlement is the best option for long term growth.
  • It is inconceivable that such work could be completed during this financial year, meaning that work on a new settlement DPD could not even start before FY20/21, so the funds you have awarded could be wasted.

Therefore, I would be grateful if you could review your decision in the light of new facts. There are many residents of Hart who would be pleased if the Garden Communities funds were redirected towards regeneration of our decaying urban centres instead of concreting over the very green fields that make Hart such a great place to live.

Thank you for your kind consideration of these points. I understand Hart Council representatives are meeting with Homes England this month, so I hope you have time to re-consider the funding decision before that meeting. I look forward to your prompt reply.

Yours faithfully,

 

David Turver

cc:           Ranil Jayawardena MP (by email)

gardencommunities@communities.gov.uk (by email so the embedded links work)

Anne Crampton, leader of Conservative group on Hart Council (by email)

 

Appendix A: – Hart’s Assumptions and Inspector’s Report into Hart Local Plan

Here is Hart’s bid assumption that Policy SS3 would need to be found sound in the Local Plan:

Winchfield Fights Back - Shapley Heath funding assumes Policy SS3 remains in Hart Local Plan

Shapley Heath funding assumes Policy SS3 remains in Hart Local Plan

The Inspector’s post-hearing letter about the examination of the Hart Local Plan can be found here.

May I draw particular attention to paras 17-39. A summary of his findings with respect to the Sustainability Appraisal and the New Settlement are shown below:

  • The ranking of Option 1b (the new settlement) “as the best performing under heritage is not justified”.
  • For land and other resources, the ranking of Option 1b “is also therefore not, in my view, robust”.
  • The Inspector decided that “the decision not to rank the options in terms of flood risk to be very questionable”.
  • On landscape issues the Inspector concluded:

Option 1b was ranked joint highest with Option 1a. However, it is unclear why this is the case, given that the proposed new settlement would result in the development of large areas of open countryside and Option 1a already benefits from planning permission and is largely previously developed land. Further, the post submission SA notes that Pale Lane is ‘relatively unconstrained’, but despite this and it being a smaller site / potential development, Option 3a is ranked lower than Option 1b.

  • The Inspector has this to say on the climate change ranking:

Option 1b has been ranked the highest under the category climate change. This is as a result of the potential for the proposed new settlement to deliver a district heating system. However, there is little evidence to suggest that this is a feasible or realistic option that is being actively pursued by the site promoters. I consider this raises doubt about the appropriateness of such a ranking.

  • The ranking for the impact on water was also criticised by the Inspector.

In conclusion on the SA the Inspector said:

In my judgement the scoring of Option 1b above or equal to other options is not justified by the evidence. As a result, I consider that Policy SS3 and its supporting text are not justified, as, on the currently available evidence, it cannot be determined that it represents the most appropriate long-term growth strategy.

I consider that the post submission SA is therefore not robust and should not be relied upon in support of the Plan.

In addition, the Inspector clearly states:

Given my earlier findings in terms of the housing requirement, Policy SS3 is not required for the Plan to be sound and, in light of my comments above, I consider that the most appropriate course of action would be to remove it (along with any other necessary subsequent changes) from the Plan through Main Modifications (MMs). This would allow the Plan to progress towards adoption without any significant delay to the examination process…

I consider that it would not be unsound for the Plan to retain the Council’s aspirations to plan for long-term needs beyond the Plan period, which could include the delivery of a new settlement. But, the Plan should clearly state that this, as a growth option, would need to be fully considered and evidenced in a future (potentially early or immediate) review of the Plan or a subsequent DPD…

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

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

 

 

Appendix B: Local Plan Modifications and Sustainability Appraisal Addendum

The main modification related to removing Policy SS3, New Settlement from the Hart Local Plan can be found below. The full consultation can be found here.

Winchfield Fights Back - Shapley Heath Policy SS3 removed from Hart Local Plan

Winchfield Fights Back – Shapley Heath Policy SS3 removed from Hart Local Plan

The Sustainability Appraisal Addendum accompanying the consultation into the Main Modifications to the Local Plan can be found here.

I draw your attention to page 2:

Winchfield Fights Back: SA Addendum impact on Winchfield New Town Area of Search

Winchfield Fights Back: SA Addendum impact on Winchfield New Town Area of Search

 

Appendix C: Bid Commitments and Lack of Current Plans

No doubt you already have a copy of their bid commitment. Here is the commitment to produce a New Settlement DPD for consultation by December 2019.

Winchfield Fights Back: Shapley Heath New Town Bid Timeline for DPD

New Settlement Bid Timeline for DPD

The draft minutes from the Hart Council meeting held on 25 July 2019 can be found here. I refer you to Q&A in Appendix A.

Here is the response that shows no plans to carry out the additional SA work required by the Inspector:

Winchfield fights back: No plan for SA work

Winchfield fights back: No plan for SA work

No plans to allocate budget:

Hart Council has no idea how it will spend £786K winchfield new town money

Hart Council Knows Nothing: No idea how much of £786K will be spent or when

No plans for a New Settlement DPD.

Hart Council has no plan for Winchfield New Town proposals

Hart Council Knows Nothing: No plan for New Settlement DPD

 

Appendix D – Deceptive Communications

Statement at Hart Cabinet in July that both Homes England and MHCLG were informed:

Winchfield fights back: Chairman Announcement MHCLG kept informed

Winchfield fights back: Chairman Announcement MHCLG kept informed

Question asking how MHCLG and Homes England were kept informed of the changing status of the New Settlement in Policy SS3 in the Hart Local Plan.

Winchfield fights back: Cockarill MHCLG and civil servant kept informed

Winchfield fights back: Cockarill MHCLG and civil servant kept informed

 

The subsequent release of correspondence shows only one email to Kevin Bourner informing him in passing of the removal of Policy SS3. This can be found here.

Key passage:

Winchfield fights back: HDC email to Homes England

Winchfield fights back: HDC email to Homes England

The only correspondence with MHCLG prior to the announcement is asking for an update on the announcement timetable. This email is not addressed to Simon Ridley who made the award.

 

 

 

 

Hart fails to win share of Future High Streets Fund

Harlington Centre, Fleet Hampshire, could be a target for Future High Street Fund?

Harlington Centre – could have been target for Future High Streets Fund

The Government has announced the winners of the Future High Street fund. 50 areas have won support to develop plans to show how they can regenerate their high streets. Sadly, Hart is not among the winners. The objective of the fund is to “renew and reshape town centres and high streets in a way that improves experience, drives growth and ensures future sustainability.”

The Hart Local Plan acknowledged that the “challenge for Fleet specifically, will be to secure investment so that it can compete with the comparable towns in neighbouring districts”. (para 66)

Hart Council Cabinet resolved to consider making a bid back in February. It is unclear whether a bid was eventually made, but Hart didn’t win, even if they tried.

The winners can be found here.

Future High Streets Details

The scheme was launched back in December 2018. The deadline for expressions of interest as 22 March 2019.

It’s a real shame that Fleet did not win, because the key investment themes expected were:

  • Investment in physical infrastructure
  • Acquisition and assembly of land including to support new housing, workspaces and public realm
  • Improvements to transport access, traffic flow and circulation in the area
  • Supporting change of use including (where appropriate) housing delivery and densification
  • Supporting adaptation of the high street in response to changing technology

Most would agree that Fleet needs infrastructure investment and improvements in transport. Perhaps if the officers and councillors spent more effort on this bid, rather then focusing on the unsound new settlement, they might have been more successful.

History of Fleet regeneration

Over a period of years, Fleet Town Council has pursued a doomed proposal to replace the Harlington Centre by concerting over Gurkha Square car-park with taxpayers money. This has been rightly rejected by the people of Fleet.

Last Autumn, The Rural Hart Association put forward draft proposals for regenerating the Hart Shopping Centre as the first step to a broader regeneration of Fleet. This could have been achieved with private funding. So far, sadly, this has not been taken up by Hart Council.

Our local MP, Ranil Jayawardena has called for regeneration of our urban centres. He has raised a petition, but so far, it isn’t clear what progress has been made.

 

 

 

 

Hart Local Plan Modifications Consultation Launched

Hart Local Plan Modifications: Shapley Heath/ Winchfield New Town/ Policy SS3 Area of Search removed

Hart Local Plan Modifications: Shapley Heath/ Winchfield New Town/ Policy SS3 Area of Search removed

The Council has launched a Hart Local Plan Modifications consultation to gain agreement to the modifications it proposes. The Inspector requested that Policy SS3, the Winchfield new town (or Shapley Heath as it is now known), be removed because it was unsound. The consultation opened on 5 July and will be open until 19 August 2019.

The main modifications can be found here.

The full consultation page can be found here.

Impact of Hart Local Plan Modifications

On the face of it, this is good news as it appears that all mention of Policy SS3 has been expunged from the document.

Hart Local Plan Modifications: Shapley Heath/ WInchfield New Town/ Policy SS3 removed from the document

Hart Local Plan Modifications: Policy SS3 removed from the document

There are many consequential changes to the document to reflect that the new town has been removed from the document.

In addition, other changes relate to:

  • Altering the policy relating to gaps between settlements (MM82 & 83)
  • A new objective to encourage the use of previously developed (brownfield) land (MM16)
  • More encouragement for residential development within our town centres (MM 71 & 72)

These are all welcome developments.

Impact on Garden Communities Funding

It gets interesting when you start to consider the impact on the recently announced Garden Communities funding. We reported earlier that Hart had won £150K of funding from the Government to further develop its new town plans. Indeed, their bid document  set the expectation that they would be consulting on a draft development in December 2019.

Shapley Heath Winchfield New Town Development Schedule

Shapley Heath Winchfield New Town Development Schedule

However, the new Sustainability Appraisal Addendum says that a new development plan document (DPD) cannot simply start once the Local Plan is adopted. Indeed it suggests that any new process to develop the new town would effectively be an entirely new Local Plan. This new Local Plan must consider all reasonable alternatives, such as urban regeneration.

SA Addendum impact on Winchfield New Town Area of Search

SA Addendum impact on Winchfield New Town Area of Search

So, on the one hand, they have committed to the Government they will produce a DPD by December 2019, and on the other, they are saying they can only produce a new DPD as part of a new Local Plan. This of course raises the question of whether the Council have inadvertently obtained the £150K Government grant under false pretences. We think that Hart should be re-directing the £786K it budgeted towards the new town to properly evaluating regenerating our urban centres.

We will have to see how this plays out.

 

It’s Back – Nightmare in Winchfield Continues

.NIghtmare in Winchfield - Government Funding approved for Shapley Heath new town

The nightmare in Winchfield continues as Government funding is approved for more studies into the proposed new town.

Hart Council has announced that it has won £150,000 of Government funding to finance more studies into the Winchfield new town. This comes on top of the £786K Hart has already budgeted for more work on the new town. They have subtly changed the name to Shapley Heath Garden Community. However, this is pretty much the same proposal that the Inspector asked to be removed.

Nightmare in Winchfield – up to 10,000 unnecessary houses

The formal bid has been made for round 5,000 houses. However, Hart indicate that there is capacity for a development of around 10,000 houses.

Nightmare in Winchfield - capacity for 10,000 houses

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

It should be noted that none of these houses are required up to 2032, and probably longer. But, the housing trajectory shows that with this Government funding, new houses could be delivered as early as 2023.

Nightmare in Winchfield - Shapley Heath Winchfield New Town Housing trajectory

Shapley Heath Winchfield New Town Housing trajectory

Key flaw in  Shapley Heath Proposals

The council’s bid is predicated on Policy SS3 remaining in the Local Plan.

Nightmare in Winchfield - Shapley Heath funding assumes Policy SS3 remains in Hart Local Plan

Shapley Heath funding assumes Policy SS3 remains in Hart Local Plan

It is difficult to understand why the Government has awarded the funding, despite Policy SS3 being removed. However, in their risk assessment, Hart Council seem to suggest that they will press ahead with the new town even though it has been found unsound.

Shapley Heath (aka Winchfield New Town) could go ahead even if not in Local Plan

Threadbare Shapley Heath Infrastructure plans

They emphasise the infrastructure to be provided by the new town, but do not provide the actual viability assessment. However, none of these plans were subject to detailed scrutiny at the Local Plan Examination. Indeed, the Inspector found that the infrastructure plans lacked substance.

Nightmare in Winchfield - Shapley Heath Infrastructure plans

Nightmare in Winchfield – Shapley Heath Infrastructure plans

We should also note that the Inspector said:

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

It is difficult to see how they can press ahead with this flawed plan without properly considering alternative options. Urban regeneration would be a much better way of delivering future housing needs without concreting over our precious green fields.

Beware! Lib Dem Fake News

Lib Dem Fake News claims to have saved Winchfield

Lib Dem Fake News claims to have saved Winchfield

Quite astonishingly, the local Lib Dems have issued a Fake News leaflet claiming credit for the Winchfield New Town being removed from the Hart Local Plan.

In their leaflet, they say that County Councillor David Simpson and local campaigner Howard Kitto welcome the decision to remove the new town. To be fair, David Simpson has been a long-standing opponent of the new town.

However, the Lib Dem fake news leaflet fails to mention:

  • The Lib Dems were part of the administration that put forward the new town in the Local Plan. Indeed Lib Dem Councillor Graham Cockarill was and is the Portfolio head of Planning. In addition, David Neighbour is the Leader of the council who oversaw the policy.
  •  Every single Lib Dem Hart Councillor has voted in favour of the new town at every opportunity.
  • On the same night they made the announcement that the Inspector had found the new town unsound, they voted to keep £785,990 in next year’s budget for further work on the new town.
  • At the Cabinet that decided to withdraw the new town, Councillor Cockarill described the removal as “a bit of a defeat”

It is only after the Inspector found their plans unsound that they reluctantly removed the new town from the Local Plan. Look at the body language when they made the announcement, they were clearly sad to see it removed.

It will be interesting to see if they are delivering the same messages in Yateley and Fleet.

No wonder people have lost faith in politicians when they issue such blatant fake news.

Their full leaflet can be found on the links below:

Lib Dem Fake News 1

 

Lib Dem Fake News 2

CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

In a quite astonishing development, Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart CCH have doubled down on their Winchfield new town bias.

In an update to their website since last night, they have added the following paragraph:

The pressure for new development never goes away and a new settlement is the most effective way to absorb these central government imposed demands while delivering much needed infrastructure. If we don’t start the process of planning for this now we will forever face the blight of urban extensions over and over again.

Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart CCH Doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

This comes despite the Inspector saying:

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

Of course, the Inspector said that their infrastructure plans lacked substance. So, they couldn’t even demonstrate the benefits of their main reason for supporting a new town.

The work simply hasn’t been done to demonstrate that a new town at Winchfield is the most effective way of delivering additional housing growth or infrastructure beyond the plan period. Moreover, the Inspector says that even the additional work might not show the new town being found sound:

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

We simply cannot trust CCH to be impartial on the matter if and when the additional work is carried out.

Alternatives to a new town

There is an alternative to both a new town and urban extensions. That is urban regeneration.

The Local Plan acknowledges that a big problem facing Hart is that it has not kept up with its neighbouring districts. Hart’s shops, restaurants and leisure services are losing out to the competition. This is openly acknowledged in the Local Plan:

  • 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 main cause is that no effort has been made to invest in the re-generation of Fleet (where 40% of Hart’s population lives) or Blackwater, Hook or Yateley. This is also openly acknowledged in the Plan:

  • 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
  • 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

It is to be welcomed that Hart Council are removing the new town from the Local Plan. Any plan for the future must include the option of regenerating our urban centres. This needs to be properly and impartially evaluated.

Local Plan Examination: Heads Must Roll!

Hart Local Plan Examination is damning: Heads must roll

Hart Local Plan Examination is damning: Heads must roll

As regular readers will recall, the Council announced the preliminary results of the Hart Local Plan Examination a couple of days ago. We have now had time to read the detailed letter from the Inspector and form some conclusions.

The purpose of this post is to summarise the Inspector’s preliminary findings and suggest our own next steps for the Local Plan. In short, the Inspector’s report is damning and heads must roll.

Summary of Local Plan Examination Preliminary findings

First, the Council’s characterisation of “a couple of issues in relation to the Local Plan” understates the ferocity of the Inspector’s criticisms by quite some margin. The Inspector’s full report can be found here.

His criticisms of Policy SS3 and the area of search for the new settlement are deep and comprehensive. He says:

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

He lays out concerns about infrastructure, saying the plans lack substance. He also points out there’s a large tract of land in the middle of the Area of Search is not and will not be available. But he reserves his most scathing attack for the Sustainability Appraisal (SA). Even though there were concerns raised about the legal compliance of the document, these don’t matter, because the document itself was so bad.

Far from being a “couple of issues”, these criticisms explode a cruise missile right at the heart of the Council’s flagship policy.

The criticism of the SA is damning. Hart submitted two sustainability appraisals, one before submission and one after.  Of the first, the Inspector says:

I am not of the view that the pre-submission SA, in its own right, appropriately or robustly considers reasonable alternatives to a new settlement as a long-term growth strategy

The second SA did test reasonable alternatives, but inappropriately. The Inspector cites several examples:

  • The ranking of Option 1b (the new settlement) “as the best performing under heritage is not justified”.
  • For land and other resources, the ranking of Option 1b “is also therefore not, in my view, robust”.
  • The Inspector decided that “the decision not to rank the options in terms of flood risk to be very questionable”.
  • On landscape issues the Inspector concluded:

Option 1b was ranked joint highest with Option 1a. However, it is unclear why this is the case, given that the proposed new settlement would result in the development of large areas of open countryside and Option 1a already benefits from planning permission and is largely previously developed land. Further, the post submission SA notes that Pale Lane is ‘relatively unconstrained’, but despite this and it being a smaller site / potential development, Option 3a is ranked lower than Option 1b.

  • The Inspector has this to say on the climate change ranking:

Option 1b has been ranked the highest under the category climate change. This is as a result of the potential for the proposed new settlement to deliver a district heating system. However, there is little evidence to suggest that this is a feasible or realistic option that is being actively pursued by the site promoters. I consider this raises doubt about the appropriateness of such a ranking.

  • The ranking for the impact on water was also criticised by the Inspector.
  • In conclusion on the SA the Inspector said:

In my judgement the scoring of Option 1b above or equal to other options is not justified by the evidence. As a result, I consider that Policy SS3 and its supporting text are not justified, as, on the currently available evidence, it cannot be determined that it represents the most appropriate long-term growth strategy.

I consider that the post submission SA is therefore not robust and should not be relied upon in support of the Plan.

In addition, the Inspector clearly states:

Given my earlier findings in terms of the housing requirement, Policy SS3 is not required for the Plan to be sound and, in light of my comments above, I consider that the most appropriate course of action would be to remove it (along with any other necessary subsequent changes) from the Plan through Main Modifications (MMs). This would allow the Plan to progress towards adoption without any significant delay to the examination process.

Substantially all of these points were made by We Heart Hart and Winchfield Parish Council during the consultation process. So, all the issues were known to Hart Council before submitting the plan for examination, yet they chose to press on with the doomed policy. In effect, the Council has been caught red-handed trying to gerrymander the SA in what looks to us like a clear case of policy-based evidence making.

It is true that the Inspector has left open the door for the new town to return in future. But this is conditional upon the new town being considered properly alongside all other options for long term growth beyond 2032.

I consider that it would not be unsound for the Plan to retain the Council’s aspirations to plan for long-term needs beyond the Plan period, which could include the delivery of a new settlement. But, the Plan should clearly state that this, as a growth option, would need to be fully considered and evidenced in a future (potentially early or immediate) review of the Plan or a subsequent DPD.

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

[Update 5/3/2018] But there is a significant caveat from the Inspector:

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

[/Update]

Budget Impact of New Town Planning

In addition to the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of pounds already spent, we should also note that in the same Council meeting, they agreed to spend £785,990 on the new settlement in the next financial year (Paper B Appendix 3). Residents might reflect on the other important services that might be delivered with this money, like free-parking in Fleet to boost retail footfall.

Hart Council 2019-20 budget for new settlement

Hart Council 2019-20 budget for new settlement

In summary, we have a Council that has botched its flagship policy, had it found unsound but is proposing to squander even more of our hard-earned council tax on the same failed policy.

Next Steps after the Local Plan Examination

The first and most obvious point is that we need to get the Local Plan over the line as soon as possible. This means that the Council should abandon Policy SS3 immediately and agree to take Surrey Heath’s unmet need. They should reply to the Inspector forthwith, agreeing to his demands and get on with changing the plan to make it sound.

This is necessary to protect Pale Lane and Owens Farm in Hook and any other planning appeals that might come along.

Before any further review of the plan to identify and evaluate properly the options for long term growth beyond the plan period, root and branch reform is required.

Root and Branch Reform – Heads Must Roll

Let’s take a look at what is required. First, let’s look at the members.

Liberal Democrats

Hart Local Plan Examination: Liberal Democrats David Dave Neighbour in the pocket of CCH James Radley

Liberal Democrats in the pocket of CCH

The Portfolio Head for Planning, Graham Cockarill and the Council Leader, David Neighbour have allowed themselves to be the puppets of Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart (CCH). They have preened themselves in positions of power whilst presiding over the car-crash that is Policy SS3. They have wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds, wasted precious time and put at risk more of our green fields. Trying to position the Inspector’s report as a success with only a couple of minor issues to resolve, simply will not wash.

They have lost all credibility and authority and should immediately resign their Cabinet positions and consider whether they should continue in their role as Councillors. Hopefully, their Yateley electors will see through their ineptitude and bring down the guillotine on their political careers.

Community Campaign Hart

Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart screwing up Hart Planning since 2004

Completely Concrete Hart screwing up Hart Planning since 2004

Then we have the puppeteers in CCH. The main protagonists are James Radley and Alan Oliver. Their track record is woeful. The then ruling Conservatives (who are far from blameless in this affair) had a draft Local Plan, without the new town, in late-2016. CCH scuppered that plan by insisting that a new option to include the new town be included. This was even though surprise, surprise, Winchfield had failed testing due to concerns about flooding and lack of infrastructure. This delayed the Local Plan, put Pale Lane and Bramshill at risk and wasted even more money.

They persisted with the lost cause appeal against Grove Farm/Netherhouse Copse, wasting probably over £100,000. Our questions to Council have been censored because they found them uncomfortable (see here and here). They have dismissed We Heart Hart’s concerns, that have now been proven to be right, as “Trump-like diatribes”, “misinformation and outright lies”. They said in Fleet News that they would deliver an “infrastructure-led” Local Plan, yet the plan contains only threadbare infrastructure proposals, with big gaps in costing and funding. Moreover, the Inspector has dismissed the new town partly on the grounds that infrastructure plans lacked substance.

CCH have obstructed brownfield development and won’t even consider urban regeneration seriously. Their pig-headed delusion has resulted in the new town plans being shredded in public by the Inspector. CCH have been revealed as an empty vessel that makes a lot of noise but has no substance. They should immediately resign their Cabinet positions and consider their positions as Councillors. Even Church Crookham electors might begin to recognise the pattern of failure and remove them at the ballot box.

Hart Council Officers

We cannot ignore the role of the officers in this fiasco. In 2012, they recognised that a new town at Winchfield would require new studies, more land, infrastructure assessment and testing. Seven years on, and all that work has either not been completed or failed. We should remember that their 2013 Local Plan failed at Inspection. They too have pursued inappropriate appeals that were doomed to failure. In 2015, they said that there was capacity for only 450 dwellings on brownfield land. Since then permission has been granted for thousands of homes at Hartland Park, Sun Park and many office conversions. Their estimate was out by a factor of at least 5.

They admitted at the Examination that they have been working with the developers on the new town plan for over four years. Now they have been caught out gerrymandering the SA. All this wasted time and money has resulted in their flagship policy ending in abject failure. One must question their judgement, independence and ability to offer sound advice to members and residents.

It is time for a complete replacement of the Planning Team, starting at the top with the joint-Chief Executive.

 

It is only after getting rid of the dysfunctional Cabinet and the failed Planning team that we can start to plan properly for the future beyond the plan period with fresh ideas.  This should include a proper assessment of the regeneration of our urban centres as a much more palatable option than unnecessarily concreting over more of our precious green fields.

Ding Dong! Winchfield new town is dead

Ding Dong the New Town is Dead - New town policy SS3 to be removed from the Hart Local Plan

Ding Dong! Winchfield New Town is Dead

[Update: Inspector’s Letter now published here. Analysis to follow at the weekend – now here]

Hart Council has received a letter from the Planning Inspector giving a provisional assessment of the Hart Local Plan. He has made two recommendations to make the plan sound.

  1. Remove Policy SS3, so we won’t be having a new town in Winchfield within the plan period, because the extra houses are not needed.
  2. We must take around 750 of Surrey Heath’s unmet need, which can be met with the current development plans.

The news was given at tonight’s council meeting by Graham Cockarill. This is obviously very good news for those of us who have been campaigning for this result for years. However, it is clear form Councillor Cockarill’s statement that there are still factions within the council that want to try and sneak the new town back in at a later point. Indeed the body language of the councillors is more of disappointment than jubilation that they are close to getting a sound Local Plan.

The full letter from the Inspector will be published here on Hart’s website tomorrow morning. We will provide updates once we have considered the detail.

A video of the councillor’s statement about the Hart Local Plan is shown below, together with our transcript of what he said (with our emphasis).

Impact of removing the Winchfield new town policy SS3 from the Hart Local Plan

It remains to be seen what the fallout might be form this news. First, the positives.

The Inspector’s view ought to scupper the Pale Lane/Elvetham Chase Appeal. It should also ensure the appeal for the land West of Hook around Owens Farm doesn’t succeed either.

Now on to the negative aspects. One has to think that this whole process would have gone much quicker and cost much less money if the Council had abandoned the unsound idea of the new town much earlier. I am sure that We Heart Hart will not be the only people holding our councillors and officers to account for this waste of our time and money.

Graham Cockarill Announcement about Hart Local Plan 28 February 2019

I have received a message a couple of days ago from the Inspector Jonathan Manning giving us provisional feedback on a couple of issues associated with the Local Plan. I must stress that this is not his final report, but it gives us a clear indication that subject to the council agreeing a couple of important modifications, we are close to having in place a sound Local Plan.

It is a very important milestone because we have never reached this stage before.

The Inspector has accepted our assessment of what is our Objectively Assessed Housing Need of around 388 dwellings per annum. And recognised our positive approach to meeting that need. It is for this reason that the Inspector recommends that we agree to meet Surrey Heath’s unmet need because he considers that it can be done within our projected targets without changing our plan or having to find other sites.

The Inspector’s other key recommendation is that we do not at this time pursue policy SS3. In his view, the new settlement approach is not sufficiently developed to be included in the plan, particularly as the numbers of new homes it may deliver are not necessary to meet the housing numbers within this plan [period].

The important point here is that the Inspector does not rule out a new settlement option in the future. He recognises our clear aspiration to deliver a settlement to meet our long-term housing needs. He accepts that it would be acceptable for the Plan to retain the Council’s aspirations to plan for long term needs beyond the plan period which could refer to the delivery of a new settlement through potentially either an early or immediate review of the Plan or a subsequent Development Plan Document (DPD).

He says that this would not change any timescales.

I intend later tonight, indeed before the end of this meeting, to circulate the Inspector’s letter and it will be published on our web page in the morning. I also intend to work with the respective group leaders and through the Local Plan Steering Group to agree the next steps. But it would seem to me that our best interests lie in getting a sound Local Plan swiftly in place in the form recommended by the Inspector.

This is great news for both the Council and its residents, because having a Local Plan in place gives us a sound basis to make future planning decisions and removes the threat of planning by appeal.

Question: Can you make sure all councillors get a summary of the Bramshill result once it has been studied?

Answer: Yes. An email has been sent by the joint-CEO a couple of weeks ago. I will ask for a more concise version to be circulated.

Question: Could you confirm the number of houses from Surrey Heath that will be accepted.

Answer: [Uncertain], but around 750 over the plan period.

 

Hart Planning Update

 

Keep Calm and Wait for news about the Hart Local Plan

Hart planning update early 2019

Belated Happy New Year and welcome to our Hart planning update. We haven’t published much recently, because there hasn’t been much to say. However, a few people have been in touch to ask how things are going. So, welcome to the New Year and to our update on the major planning issues affecting Hart.

Hart Planning Update: Local Plan

[Update 28 Feb 2019: Plan will be sound if Policy SS3 is removed and Hart takes ~750 of Surrey Heath’s unmet need]

First up is the Hart Local Plan. The examination took place in November and December last year. We Heart Hart participated in the discussion about Infrastructure on 5 December. We understand that the Inspector is due to deliver his opinion in early to mid-February. Until then, we can only speculate on the outcome.

The Inspector can decide one of three outcomes:

  • the submitted Plan is found sound
  • Local Plan is not sound but could be made sound by making modifications
  • the Local Plan is not sound and could not be made sound

The second outcome is the one we hope for. It is to be hoped Policy SS3 related to the Winchfield new town is removed as the main modification.

We understand that during the examination the Inspector asked for changes to the policies related to Local Gaps and SANG. However, he remained inscrutable on the other key issues which we believe are the:

  • Housing numbers
  • New settlement
  • Sustainability Appraisal (SA)

Given the reports we have received about some of the key discussions, we believe Hart is vulnerable on the new settlement and the sustainability appraisal. Hart attempted to present evidence about the new settlement that had been submitted after the deadline. This evidence was rejected. Strong arguments were presented on both sides of the argument. However, we believe a key exchange was when the Inspector got Hart (and we believe the developers) to agree that he could not approve the new settlement unless he found that it was deliverable.

We also understand the SA came in for sustained criticism.

We have to await the Inspector’s judgement. If major changes are required, then there may well be political implications at the council.

Hart Planning Update: Elvetham Chase/Pale Lane Appeal

The Elvetham Chase (aka Pale Lane) appeal took place earlier this month. We understand one of the council’s arguments was that the extra 700 houses were not required were not needed to meet the housing targets in the Local Plan. This is somewhat ironic as the Winchfield New Town is also not required to meet the targets. The proposed site for the new town is only a couple of hundred metres from the Pale Lane site. Yet the council is supporting the new town and opposing Pale Lane.

Of course, we hope the Pale Lane appeal fails.

We understand that the appeal hearing was adjourned, pending the results of the Local Plan examination. Apparently, both Wates and Hart Council will then be given a short period to  respond to the Pale Lane Planning Inspector.  The inspector will then make his recommendation to the Secretary of State who will decide whether to uphold or dismiss the appeal.

Quite a lot will rest on how much weight is given to the Local Plan by the Pale Lane inspector. We understand uncontentious elements will carry significant weight. Contested elements will carry no weight. So, we have to hope that the Local Plan inspector accepts the housing targets presented in the Local Plan (or lower). If he does, we can see no reason why Pale Lane should go ahead. However, if the Inspector accepts Hart’s own argument in the Local Plan that they need to plan for more houses than required, the appeal may succeed.

Hart Planning Update: Bramshill Appeal

We haven’t heard much about this, but believe some appeal hearings have been held. We have no further information on the timing of any decision.

Hart Planning Update: West of Hook Appeal

We understand the appeal will start on 19 March 2019 and will sit for up to 8 days.  More details can be found here.

Again, we hope this appeal fails. However, quite a lot depends upon the results of the Local Plan examination and the weight placed upon it at that time.

 

We will keep you up to date as more information emerges.