Hart Council Verdict: Nothing to see here

Angela Delaney - Move along nothing to see here. No case to answer

Hart Council – Move along nothing to see here

The monitoring officer of the council has been in touch in response to my complaint about the Councillor Angela Delaney’s declarations of interest.

In summary, the complaint is rejected because “a valid complaint not been made out but more importantly the matter subject to the complaint falls outside the proper arrangements for dealing with complaints”.

This is not satisfactory, and a detailed rebuttal has been sent to the monitoring officer that:

  • More precisely details the matters in the complaint and the paragraphs in the Code of Conduct that have allegedly been breached.
  • Rebuts each main point made by the monitoring officer
  • Points out that the Monitoring Officer’s position is constitutionally and practically unsound, and so he must pass the matter to the Standards Committee for adjudication.

What follows is the Monitoring Officer’s response to my original complaint and my detailed rebuttal.

Hart Council’s Monitoring Officer Response to the Complaint

I do not intend to action this matter as not only has a valid complaint not been made out but more importantly the matter subject to the complaint falls outside the proper arrangements for dealing with complaints.

It is for the individual Councillor to make a judgement as to whether a declared interest prevents them from taking part in any discussions or voting. They are in the best position to assess their personal circumstances and to judge how these circumstances affect their role as a councillor in regard to a particular matter. If you consider that they should not have participated and that their actions unfairly influenced any decision then that goes to the heart of the lawfulness of the decision made by the Overview & Scrutiny Committee – it is not a Code of Conduct matter.

In any event, other than through innuendo, you have not made out a complaint. The key question that you have not addressed is what makes you believe that Cllr Delaney could reasonably have known from the paper that was presented to the Overview & Scrutiny paper there was a direct link to an interest that she had declared?

The matter under consideration by Overview & Scrutiny Committee was solely about discussion on potential draft governance arrangements that the Council could put in place to deliver the first stage of the new settlement project. It was a very high level discussion. It included reference to a possible landowner forum which could comprise landowners and respective developers. There was no reference to a particular land owner or developer and there was certainly no intention to prejudge who in the future would comprise that forum. Therefore, your identification of a particular potential member of the forum is totally premature, speculative, and without foundation. It creates a speculative scenario in abstract from the matter that was under discussion.

Looking at this objectively Cllr Delaney had absolutely no reason to delve deeper into the Overview & Scrutiny Committee paper’s background. She had no reason to believe that her declared shareholding had any relevance to the matter under consideration – any link could only be described as so remote and insignificant that it need not be declared.

I will send a copy of this reply to Cllr Delaney.

Daryl Phillips

We Heart Hart Reply

Thank you for your prompt reply to my complaint. I note that you have not challenged any of the facts raised in my complaint.

You say that I have not made a valid complaint and that the subject matter complained about is not the proper subject of a complaint. However, you have only addressed one of the three matters raised in my complaint.

Detailed Matters in the Complaint

You say that I have not provided a proper complaint, other than innuendo. Quite the contrary, I have provided detailed evidence, sourced from Hart’s own website, Companies House and the website of councillor Delaney’s own company. I thought the nature of the complaint was self-explanatory. However, here is each matter in clear and unambiguous language.

  • Matter 1. Councillor Delaney has not properly declared her, or her husband’s joint ownership of St Swithins Construction Limited. They each own 50% of the company, the place of business is within Hart District and the net assets are over £50K, so each the value of each holding is over £25K.  These holdings should be properly declared on section 7 of the Declaration of Interests form. I believe this omission is contrary to paras 16 and 17 of the Code of Conduct which place an obligation on councillors to properly declare their interests and keep them up to date.
  • Matter 2. Councillor Delaney has not declared the client relationships of St Swithins Construction Ltd. Companies House defines the company as a micro-company. As such, the relationship between the directors of St Swithins and the clients is a quasi-employment relationship. I believe these relationships should be declared in section 1 of the Declaration of Interest form, especially as their work is in the sensitive area of construction and they have relationships with several large building companies. I believe failure to do this is contrary to section 7 of the Code of Conduct which says, “You must not place yourself in situations where your honesty and integrity may be questioned, must not behave improperly and must on all occasions avoid the appearance of such behaviour” and sections 16 and 17. If, as is now claimed by the chairman of the council, St Swithins construction has never had a client relationship with Barratts, then I believe this is also a breach of para 7 of the code, in that she has apparently misrepresented her company’s clients and has thus created a situation where her honesty and integrity is under question.

  • Matter 3. The O&S meeting in October. Councillor Delaney did not declare either her husband’s shareholding in Barratts, nor the client relationship of St Swithins Construction with Barratts at that meeting. The meeting did the following:
  1. Agreed in principle the governance arrangements for the new settlement project. This included the developer’s role as key stakeholders and their role in the various governance bodies. All developers in the project will benefit from this decision. It is well known that Barratts is one of the key players in this development as they have previously circulated a “vision document” and have made representations on the Local Plan, including Policy SS3.
  2. Discussed funding of nearly £1.5m over three years to be allocated to prepare for the new town. Clearly developers, including Barratts will benefit from this.
  3. Agreed that HDC would work with all the developers to secure funding under the Garden Communities Programme

I believe this failure to declare her interests and failure to recuse herself from the discussion is in contravention of sections 18 and 19 of the Code of Conduct which say:

Councillors must declare interests in meetings and not participate in discussion

Hart Code of Conduct. Councillors must declare interests in meetings and not participate in discussion

Further, I believe this is also in contravention of section 20 of the code of conduct which says “If you attend a meeting at which any item of business is to be considered and you are aware that you have a[sic] “other interest” in that item, you must make verbal declaration of the existence and nature of that interest at or before the consideration of the item of business or as soon as the interest becomes apparent”. Footnote 6 then goes on to say “However, you should not ignore the existence of interests which, from the point of view of a reasonable and objective observer, you should have been aware of.” Any reasonable and objective observer would expect a councillor who is an active advocate of the new settlement to be aware that Barratts is a key player. Even in the unlikely event that she was not aware, then given the shareholding in Barratts, it is reasonable to expect a councillor to make enquiries about the identity of the developers. The existence of the Barratts shareholding and client relationship is clearly a relevant interest.

I have updated the summary section of the Complaint and reattach it for your consideration.

Validity of the Complaint

You say a valid complaint not been made out but more importantly the matter subject to the complaint falls outside the proper arrangements for dealing with complaints”. I have demonstrated above how each matter discussed in the complaint relates to specific sections of the Code of Conduct, so I reject your assertion. I believe this is a prima facie case of misconduct that should be investigated. If you still disagree, please explain to me how these matters can be addressed if not through the Complaints Procedure.

You then go on to say The key question that you have not addressed is what makes you believe that Cllr Delaney could reasonably have known from the paper that was presented to the Overview & Scrutiny paper there was a direct link to an interest that she had declared?”.

It is common knowledge that Barratts are a key player in the new town project. Councillor Delaney is active on social media opposing the Pale Lane development and advocating the new settlement. It is inconceivable that she did not know that Barratts are involved in that project. Even in the unlikely event that she was not aware, then given the shareholding in Barratts, it is reasonable to expect a councillor to make enquiries about the identity of the developers. The paper states that HDC is working with all the developers to secure funding under the Garden Communities Programme. Indeed, the council has produced a joint Statement of Common Ground with Barratts, Gallaghers and Lightwood. It is clear that Barratts and the other developers would benefit from the decisions taken. Therefore, there is a direct link between the subject matter and her declared and undeclared interests. Even if you don’t agree that this is a direct link, I don’t think it necessary to demonstrate a direct link to an interest:

  • First, section 7 of the code places an obligation on councillors not to put themselves in a position where their honesty or integrity can be questioned. Clearly, the existence of this complaint demonstrates this is not the case.
  • Second, the whole point is that her interests were apparently not properly declared on the Declaration of Interest form, nor at the meeting. The main issue is that it appears there were links to interests that she had not declared.
  • Third, the definition of pecuniary interest is “A pecuniary interest in a matter is one where there is a reasonable likelihood or expectation of appreciable financial loss or gain to the person”.  A reasonable likelihood or expectation does not require a direct link. I believe it is obvious that there is a reasonable likelihood or expectation that Councillor Delaney and her husband will benefit financially from their shareholding in Barratts if the new settlement is approved and/or from work arising from their client relationship. This should preclude participating in any matter relating to the new settlement.

You then suggest that my assertion that Barratts would be a member of those governance arrangements is premature, speculative, and without foundation”.  This is a totally untenable claim. Indeed, the Statement of Common Ground between HDC, Barratts, Gallaghers and Lightwood says All parties are also supportive of joint working through the governance arrangements associated with the New Settlement”. So, all parties, including Barratts, are going to be involved in the governance, contrary to your assertion.

Finally, you say Cllr Delaney had absolutely no reason to delve deeper into the Overview & Scrutiny Committee paper’s background. She had no reason to believe that her declared shareholding had any relevance to the matter under consideration – any link could only be described as so remote and insignificant that it need not be declared”. This is frankly ridiculous. Given the shareholding in Barratts, it is reasonable to expect a councillor to make enquiries about the identity of the developers. People on Overview and Scrutiny are supposed to delve deeper. That is their role. Both her declared and undeclared shareholdings and undeclared client relationships to Barratts are clearly relevant. Discussing anything to do with the new settlement is going to be an issue where Barratts is a well-known key player, especially when the council’s own documents show a close working relationship between HDC and all the developers.

In this situation, I think it is reasonable to think “what would I do in such a situation” or what would a reasonable person on the street expect to have happened. I think the answer is clear in both cases:

  • Fully and properly declare shareholdings and client relationships on the Declaration of Interests form
  • Disclose those interests at council meetings and recuse oneself from the meeting where those items are being discussed

Legal Issues

It was only after I submitted the complaint that I realised failure to properly disclose interests might be unlawful under the Localism Act as well as breaching the Code of Conduct.

I am not seeking the involvement of the police or courts in this matter. However, if you fail to properly address this complaint, you might leave me with no other choice. Please advise on the most appropriate way of raising these matters should you continue to maintain that it is not a matter for the Code of Conduct.

You have also raised the point that upholding this complaint “goes to the heart of the lawfulness of the decision made by the Overview & Scrutiny Committee”. I have made a prima facie case for breaches of the Code of Conduct. The potential further legal implications of the complaint should not be a criterion by which the validity of the complaint is judged. If you have any inkling at all that the decision made by O&S was unlawful, then you should separately seek legal advice and report the matter to the Standards Committee.

Objectivity of the Complaint Process

It has not escaped my attention that you wear many hats in the council. You are one of the joint Chief Executives, de facto head of Planning Policy and Monitoring Officer. In terms of the Constitution, you are fulfilling the posts of both the (joint) Head of Paid Service and Monitoring Officer. The constitution says that the post of Head of Paid Service and Monitoring Officer should not be the same person.  Constitutionally, you should not be Monitoring Officer and therefore you should not be assessing this complaint.

Moreover, Policy SS3 in the Local Plan is a flagship policy of the council and so you as de facto head of planning and joint CEO, have a vested interest in it proceeding smoothly. Moreover, you participated in the meeting that is the subject of one of the matters in the complaint. Practically speaking, you are therefore tainted by the process, and should take no part in deciding the merits of the complaint.

Moreover, the chairman of the council is from the same party as Councillor Delaney and has gone on social media, referring to her as a colleague and a friend, so cannot be objective either.

As you are constitutionally and practically conflicted and hamstrung on this complaint, I insist this matter is passed to the Standards Committee. They can look at this with fresh eyes and be seen to be objective. The Standards Committee should decide on whether this matter goes beyond the Code of Conduct and whether to involve the legal authorities.

Outcomes

The outcomes I suggested in the original complaint were perhaps not properly thought through. I would now like to suggest the following, if the complaint is upheld:

  • Overall: Councillor Delaney makes a full, public apology for misleading Hart residents on the true extent of her shareholdings and relationships with Barratts and for not declaring her interests properly at O&S.
  • For Matter 1: Failure to declare the St Swithins Construction Limited shareholding. Section 7 of the Declaration of Interest form should be brought up to date.
  • For Matter 2: Failure to declare the client relationships of St Swithins Construction. Bring the Declaration of Interest form up to date with these client relationships. I believe the Council should also give guidance on the extent to which it is appropriate for Cllr Delaney to hold private meetings with developers, where those companies have a land-holding or are seeking planning permission or a contract within Hart District. I understand that a councillor was removed from office for inappropriate meetings with developers a few years ago, and it would be unfortunate if Councillor Delaney got herself into the same position.
  • For Matter 3: Failure to declare her interests at O&S. I think the remedy here would be temporary suspension from the committee for a period of 3-6 months. It should also be made clear that it is not appropriate for Councillor Delaney to participate in any matter related to the new settlement (or indeed any other proposal that may involve any other of her company’s client list). She should declare her interests at any meeting she attends and recuse herself from the discussion, decisions and votes on these matters.

I have updated the outcome section of the complaint accordingly.

I look forward to your response. I have been asked by the Chairman of the Council on social media to publish your reply to me. I will do so, together with this response. If I do not receive a satisfactory response from you, I will send details of the complaint direct to the Chairman of the Standards Committee.

Hart gets into bed with Winchfield new town developers

Hart District Council gets into bed with developers

Hart gets into bed with Winchfield new town developers

Hart Council seems to be developing an unhealthily close relationship with the developers seeking to build the proposed Winchfield new town. The evidence for this is as follows:

  • The council has confirmed it is seeking input from the developers in its bid for Government “Garden Communities” funding.
  • Hart is proposing to accept financial support or seconded personnel from developers to come up with its new town plan

Sadly, Hart Council isn’t even capable of adding up the budget properly. Heaven knows how it will manage to retain control and ownership of the project.

Developer support for Garden Communities funding bid

This revelation is contained in a written answer to a supplementary question asked at Council on 25 October. The question and answer are shown below (our emphasis):

Supplementary Q1: Is the Bid solely from HDC or is it a joint bid with one or both New Settlement developers or associates or any other private sector partner?

Answer: You asked who the Hart Garden Communities bid would be submitted from? It is my understanding that the bid will be submitted by Hart District Council but we will be liaising with the respective site promoters to ensure that they have an opportunity to help us inform the bid.

Developer resources seconded to Winchfield new town development plan

This was stated in the proposed Resourcing and Governance paper presented to Overview and Scrutiny and more recently to Cabinet:

Developers to provide resources for WInchfield new town planning

Developers to provide resources for Winchfield new town planning

Developers to fund technical studies for Winchfield new town

Developers to fund technical studies for Winchfield new town

There was also a supplementary question asked about this at council (our emphasis):

Supplementary Q3: The Joint CEO statement at the O&S meeting also said that HDC would expect and accept contributions from the New Settlement developers either in financial terms and/or staff augmentation for key roles in the project, so how will HDC in this instance continue to lead the NS project and also provide transparency to the public on the involvement of the developers?

Answer: In light of the Council agreeing to accept assistance from the site promoters you ask how they will continue to lead the new settlement project and also provide transparency to the public on the involvement of the developers?  Our position is as set out in both the report to Overview Committee and now paragraph 6.4 of the report to Cabinet.  The Council will look actively for external resources to support this project.  Sources for this will include Government, Enterprise M3 LEP and the site promoters.  It is expected that some of the technical evidence will be funded by site promoters within a scope agreed by the Council.  This will reduce the financial costs currently identified for the technical studies, but at this time the impact of this on the overall budget is difficult to predict. Any funding received from site promoters will then be audited through the normal budget management process by Cabinet with quarterly scrutiny by Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Eagle eyed readers will note that the answer given doesn’t actually address the question posed. The question was about how the Council will retain control and lead the project if it is reliant on both people and financial resources from the developers. The answer given doesn’t address that point, and para 6.4 reproduced in the image above doesn’t help either. We recall the maxim “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. It is clear the developers will be calling the shots.

Hart Council gets its Winchfield new town sums wrong

It is particularly worrying that the council can’t even add up the budget properly, so heaven knows how they will manage to keep control and ownership of a project of this size and complexity.

Supplementary Q2: Do the figures contained in Appendix 4 actually add up?

  • The total expenditure for 2019/20 is identified as £820,000, but the figures in the table only add up to £780,000.
  • The total expenditure for 2020/21 is identified as £612,000, but the figures in the table only add up to £575,000.
Hart Council to squander £1.5m on new town planning

Hart to spend £1.5m on new town planning

Can you explain these two discrepancies and what assurance can you provide that the HDC project team has the skill-set to manage what will be a major project with £multi-million budgets?

Answer: Thank you for highlighting the need to adjust the Cabinet report.  A corrected report has been circulated to all members and it is published here.

 

 

Fleet regeneration is feasible without taxpayer funding

Fleet Regeneration: Hart Shopping Centre Design Study

Fleet Regeneration: Hart Shopping Centre Design Study

We are delighted to announce the release of a study into Fleet regeneration undertaken on behalf the Rural Hart Association. This study shows that it is feasible and desirable to redevelop Hart Shopping Centre as a stepping stone to wider Fleet regeneration.

Benefits of Fleet Regeneration

The benefits of the proposed scheme are as follows:

  • 371 flats of 1, 2, 3 and 4 bedrooms, with 20-40% affordable, ideal for first time buyers. It is possible that some of the units would be attractive to the private rented sector.
  • Potential for some of the unit to be sheltered housing for our growing elderly population.
  • Extra customers for local Fleet businesses including retail, restaurants, bars, photographers, hairdressers, mobile phone shops etc, bringing an extra ~£3m per year of spending to the town centre.
  • Provision of a cinema for film lovers.
  • Provision of a community space for local cultural events.
  • Modern retail units for a supermarket and to attract High Street retailers, benefiting existing Fleet residents. Although there is an option to increase the number of homes and have less retail space if necessary.
  • Underground car-parking.
  • The scheme will no doubt make contributions to fund infrastructure in Fleet.
  • Supports Fleet Town Council’s objectives to bring cultural and entertainment facilities to Fleet Town Centre as outlined in the Fleet Neighbourhood Plan.
  • Help Hart Council address the challenge of bringing investment to Fleet, as outlined in the Hart Local Plan.
  • The scheme would be profitable in its own right and would not require any contribution from Fleet or Hart taxpayers.

The proposals respect the sight lines of the existing Hart Shopping Centre, so it shouldn’t be intrusive.

The savings for Fleet taxpayers would run into £10’s of millions as they would no longer be on the hook for the controversial Gurkha Square development. The savings for Hart taxpayers would include the £1.5m for planning the unnecessary new town, and of course they would retain the Gurkha Square parking revenue.

Background to Fleet Regeneration Proposals

The genesis of this idea came at the January Council meeting, where the Graham Cockarill, portfolio head of Planning said they were pressing ahead with the unnecessary new town, because the regeneration of Fleet was an “impossible pipedream”. These proposals should give Hart Council food for thought. We would strongly recommend that Hart takes these proposals seriously and get behind a plan to regenerate Fleet. Together we can make a vibrant town and help Hart remain one of the best places to live in the country.

Next steps for Fleet Regeneration

These proposals will be formally submitted to Hart Council and Fleet Town Council early this week. We are also seeking for these proposals to be discussed as part of the upcoming Local Plan examination.

We think these proposals could be viewed as the first project of a larger programme to regenerate Fleet. The next site on our own target list would be the whole Civic area including Hart’s Offices, the library and the Harlington. There should be no need to disturb either Gurkha Square car park, or Bakers. The Fleet neighbourhood plan also targets this area for improvement. It is time for Hampshire, Hart and Fleet councils to get round the table with sensible planners like Lambert Smith Hampton to come up sensible plans for the future.

This is a much better idea than to concrete over our green fields with an unnecessary new town.

Rural Hart Association email to supporters about Fleet Regeneration

Dear Supporters

The Rural Hart Association (RHA) has made very good progress over the summer and we are now fully prepared to play our part in opposing a New Town at the Examination in Public (EIP) which starts on 20 November.

You will remember that the RHA decided to concentrate its resources on the single issue of Fleet regeneration. We set out to demonstrate that it was feasible for Fleet Town Centre to be regenerated with a mixed-use development (residential, retail and leisure) which would provide housing as well as reviving the commercial viability of Fleet as Hart District’s largest town.

The issue of Fleet Regeneration is of vital importance because Hart District Council’s justification for a New Town rests on their assertion that it can’t be done. In a bit more detail the argument runs like this:

  • The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) requires that  Brownfield sites are used to their maximum potential before building on greenfield land
  • The NPPF also requires that councils regenerate their Town Centres. NPPF para 86 says “Planning policies and decisions should support the role that town centres play at the heart of local communities, by taking a positive approach to their growth, management and adaptation”
  • HDC admits that Hart District is failing commercially (because there is a growing net outflow of retail and leisure spend from the district)  and the Local Plan states (para 66) that “the challenge for Fleet will be to secure investment so that it can compete with the comparison towns in neighbouring districts”
  • But HDC has made no attempt to secure the investment needed to regenerate Fleet. When challenged on this at the January council meeting HDC stated that regeneration of Fleet was an “impossible pipedream”.

In May we appointed Lambert Smith Hampton to undertake a Design Study to investigate the feasibility of a mixed-use regeneration of Fleet’s Hart Shopping Centre. This study is now complete and the main conclusions of the Study are:

  • Hart Shopping Centre can be regenerated to provide the same retail and parking space, as well as 950sqm of community space, a multi-screen cinema and 371 flats (of 1,2 and 3 bedrooms). The whole area would become modern and desirable, and the flats would provide a tremendous boost to the viability of the shopping centre.
  • The flats would be ideal for first time buyers and elderly people because they are close to the shops and the station – the Design Study has allowed for the full 40% affordability provision.
  • The return on investment for potential developers looks good.

In summary, we have demonstrated that Hart’s claim that Fleet cannot be regenerated is utterly wrong. Hart Council is dominated by CCH councillors whose agenda is to stop Fleet being regenerated at all costs. As a result the draft  Local Plan condemns Fleet in particular (and the whole Hart in general) to long-term economic decline.

We hope that on the basis of this Study, the Inspector will insist that the New Town is removed from the Local Plan and that a large-scale regeneration of Fleet is undertaken instead. Hart should be guiding the district towards a bright future in which Fleet becomes a modern, vibrant and highly successful town surrounded by beautiful countryside and rural villages.

LSH will submit the Design Study to Hart District Council, and will ask the Council to cooperate in its implementation. We will also submit the Design Study to Fleet District Council, whose Neighbourhood Plan supports mixed-use developments in the Town Centre. LSH will also submit the Design Study to the Inspector in preparation for the Inspector’s review of the Spatial Distribution of Housing (Matter 4) and Town Centre and Retail (Matter 10).

You can find the full study in David Turver’s excellent WeHeartHart website at www.wehearthart.co.uk. The We Heart Hart blog also provides a full commentary of the progress of the Local Plan and its well worth reading.

Thank you all for your generous contributions to the Design Study and to funding LSH to attend the Examination in November/December. I think that we have built a very strong case, and I believe that we have a good chance of preserving all of our green fields for many decades to come.

Tristram Cary
Chairman Rural Hart Association

Hart CEO breaches Government guidance on housing need

Hart CEO muddies the waters on housing need

Hart CEO persists with inflated housing requirement despite breaching Government guidance

In an email to councillors, the joint-CEO of Hart Council has made a desperate attempt to justify the Council’s inflated housing requirement in the Local Plan. This justification breaks Government guidance on when to build more than indicated by the standard method.

This comes after the release of ONS figures showing reduced household growth in Hart. By our calculations, we already have sufficient housing supply to 20141 and beyond without an unnecessary 5,000 house new town at Winchfield/Murrell Green.

In summary, he uses bluster, imaginary new ONS releases, unstarted Government consultations and dodgy logic to try to justify why the housing requirement will go up, when in fact the ONS figures show it is going down.

We are in the ridiculous position of the council arguing that we should keep an inflated housing requirement and build far more than we need to.

Inflated housing requirement breaches Government guidance

This is against Government guidance on when to plan for more housing than the standard method.

When to build more than the standard method

When to build more than the standard method

  1. There is no funding in place to promote growth. No part of Hart is identified by the M3 LEP as a growth area that will attract investment
  2. There are no strategic infrastructure improvements planned. In fact Hart has a massive infrastructure funding deficit. Extra houses will make this worse.
  3. Rushmoor is already planning for far more houses than it needs. The new ONS projections mean Surrey Heath can meet its own needs in full.

So, Hart meets none of the criteria to justify building more than the standard method says.

However, the council is breaking with this guidance and planning to build even more houses in the new town. They are proposing to spend £1.5m of public money to press on with it anyway.

Below we reproduce the email in full, together with our comments in red.

Hart CEO email to councillors

Dear Councillors, last night we received questions about the implications for the local plan and the assessment of Hart’s housing needs following the sharp fall in household projections as reflected in recently published Office of National Statistic (ONS) projections on 20th September 2018.  The household projection data is a key input into the new standard method of assessing housing need, and the new figures have prompted dramatic drops in many councils’ housing need figures when factored into the standard method.

Graham Cockarill pointed out that this was of concern to the Government and that the Government had delayed the use of the new methodology for calculating housing need because the revised projections undermined the Government’s objective to boost significantly the supply of new homes through building 300,000 new homes per annum.

The Government has issued guidance on how to calculate housing need in this period. This says that although the new standard method is not mandatory, any deviation will be closely scrutinised

Planning guidance use of standard method to calculate housing need

Planning guidance use of standard method to calculate housing need

But it has emerged today that the ONS plans to publish a different version of its figures on 3 December.

Yes, but this new version apparently just puts more detail on the figures released on 20 September 2018, by breaking out the household projections by housing type. There is no suggestion that the overall figures will change.

ONS Household type projections December 2018

ONS Household type projections December 2018

The ONS is also planning to publish a set of variant based household projections in which household formation rates for younger adults (those aged 25 to 44 years) are higher.

They may well be, but we can find no evidence of this in the ONS’ schedule of upcoming releases up to 31 December 2019. If this is going to arrive, then it is beyond the timing of the Local Plan examination and thus cannot be considered.

The ONS’s willingness to publish “variant” projections reflects its acknowledgement of concerns about the new approach taken to drawing up the 2016-based figures. Unlike the 2014-based projections, which drew on data from as far back as the 1971 census, the 2016-based figures were compiled with statistics that only go back to 2001. Critics have said that the new projections thus ‘bake in’ the adverse consequences for household formation of housing under-delivery  in this century.

“Experts” have been predicting that the average household size would continue to fall in line with the experience of earlier decades. However,  the 2011 census showed that this trend had come to an end.  Actual behaviour stubbornly refused to comply with expert opinion. The ONS’ own analysis of its new numbers still shows a reduction in average household size out to 2039. However, the rate of reduction in the newer 2016-based figures is slower than the 2014-based projections. We believe that part of this is down to social change – people are getting married later than in the 1960’s and 1970’s. THe increase in house prices may have played a part, but we already know from Ian Mulheirn’s analysis that building more won’t reduce prices. Prices are mostly driven by ultra-low interest rates.

ONS impact of 2016-based projections on household size

ONS impact of 2016-based projections on household size

In its methodology document, the ONS acknowledges those complaints. It says some respondents to its consultation on the new method thought that using data from only the 2001 and 2011 censuses would be “insufficient”. It says that: “There was a view that only using the 2001 and 2011 censuses would result in a downward trend in household formation for the younger age groups, which in turn would downplay the need for housing for younger people”.

OK. So what. It seems the ONS disagrees with this view, or it wouldn’t have continued with the method it has adopted.

The government has already said that it will consult on adjustments to the way housing need is calculated so it is consistent with delivering 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020s and that it will do this “as soon as possible”.

The Government may well have said that, but the consultation has not been launched. In effect, the Government has set a ‘top-down’ target of 300,000 houses per annum. Now the detailed bottom-up work has shown this to be far more than we need, it is trying to find a way of fudging the numbers to arrive back at the number it first thought of. It is inconceivable that such a consultation can be launched, completed and the results analysed before the Hart Local Plan is examined. This might be a risk to the housing target we eventually adopt. However, surely the way to mitigate this risk is to demonstrate flexibility of supply, rather than increase the target. We have already shown that Hart has sufficient supply out to 2041 and beyond, without the unnecessary new town.

In effect therefore, the Government is not running with the current 2016 household projections for use with the standard methodology and as Cllr Cockarill highlighted, the Government’s objective is to boost the supply of new homes and wants to put in a methodology that does exactly that.

This is, at best, a disingenuous statement. The current Government guidance says the national household projections should be used. It isn’t clear which version should be used, but surely it makes most sense to use the most up to date figures.

Planning guidance setting the baseline using national household growth projections

Planning guidance setting the baseline using national household growth projections

The worked examples in the Government guidance are a bit ambiguous. We believe that using the new Government standard method is either:

Hart Household change 2018-2028

Hart Household change 2018-2028

a) 212 * (1+0.4) = 297 dwellings per annum using the capped 40% affordability uplift, or worst case

b) 212 *(1+0.5) = 318 dwellings per annum

Hart Housing Numbers

This compares to the 388dpa used in the Local Plan.

I think we can safely read into this that it means that the overall number of homes to be built is likely to go up rather than down.

There is no justification for this statement. There is already at least 70dpa headroom (or over 1,120 houses in the plan period) between the Government standard method and the Hart Local Plan. And even this elevated housing target does not require the proposed new town to be built. In any event, the best mitigtion for this is to demonstrate flexibility in supply

That was exactly why we included a buffer in our housing needs and until we see what they new “variant”  projections look like it is not wise to make any assumptions about not having to meet our neighbour potential unmet housing need.

The new household projections mean that Surrey Heath can meet its own need. Rushmoor is already planning for far more houses than it needs to build.

We now have the ridiculous situation of the council arguing to keep an inflated housing requirement and build more houses than we need so it can somehow justify keeping the unnecessary new town in the Local Plan.

 

Hart to squander nearly £1.5m on new town planning

Hart set to spend nearly £1.5m on new town planning

Hart District Council set to squander nearly £1.5m on new town planning

Hart District Council has revealed that it is set to squander nearly £1.5m on planning for a new town. The figures are revealed in a paper that is going before Overview and Scrutiny Committee next week.

The figures are buried in Appendix 4 of the document.

Hart District Council to squander £1.5m on new town planning

Hart to squander nearly £1.5m on new town planning

The real level of spend will be higher, because the proposal does not include a cost allocation of existing staff on the payroll. The annual budget of Hart is in the region of £10m. So, this level of spend represents a very significant proportion of our taxes.

We feel it is entirely unreasonable to be committing such a high level of spending to planning for the new town, because the Local Plan has yet to be approved by the Inspector.

There is significant opposition to the new town, and even Hart admits the new town is not necessary to meet even their own inflated housing targets.

Why a new settlement debunked predetermination

SInce then the ONS have released new figures for household growth that are even lower. These new figures mean we have enough housing supply already to meet our needs out to 2041 and beyond without the new town.

In addition, we will soon reveal documents that show regeneration of Fleet is a viable and attractive alternative, that won’t need any council taxpayer funds.

 

 

Hart Council auditions for La La Land

Hart Council auditions for La La Land

Hart Council auditions for La La Land

Hart Council has made a quite extraordinary response to a question about the housing projections used in the Local Plan. This was made in answer to a question put to the Council Meeting held on 29 September 2018.

The council has contradicted its own chosen method for calculating housing need that was used in the submission version of the Local Plan. It has also contradicted its own Topic Paper on housing numbers published as recently as August 2018. It is suggesting we will be examined on the old ‘SHMA method’, rather than the new standard method for calculating housing need set out by the Government. Yet, Hart Council used the standard method to prepare the Local Plan and in its recent Topic Paper on housing numbers. It beggars belief that Hart Council doesn’t have a consistent position on such a key issue.

However, regardless of the method used to calculate housing need, the Winchfield New Town is not required.

Here is the question, the council’s answer and our response.

Question to Hart Council

For the first time, on 20 September, the Office for National Statistics produced household projections for England, a report previously compiled by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. These latest projections supersede the 2014-based household projections. The projected percentage change in the number of households for Hart, from 2016 to 2041 is 12.4%, a change of 4615 households. What impact will this projection have on the Local Plan at the Examination in November?

Hart Council Answer

Apologies for the style of English, but this is verbatim from the minutes.

The simple answer is it will have no effect at all for two separate reasons: Firstly, under the new NPPF transitional arrangements (para 214) we are primarily being examined under the old NPPF 2012 rules which in effect means that we are being examined under the 2016 Hart/Rushmoor/Surrey Heath SHMA (Strategic Housing Market Area Assessment) and not the Government’s new standard methodology. Taking the SHMA into account the new 2016 population figures, when considering employment uplifts (as recognised in the recent Rushmoor Local Plan examination) our objectively assessed housing need of 388 dwellings/annum is not materially changed.

Secondly, whilst we will be arguing that the Government’s new standard methodology is a material consideration, as everyone knows the Government has decided not at this time that it is not [we don’t know if this is an intentional double negative either -ed] to be used for Local Plan purposes. That is because the Government has realised that it does not significantly boost the supply of new homes as sought by para 59 of the new NPPF.

In the housing white paper the government was clear that reforms set out (which included the introduction of a standard method for assessing housing need) should lead to more homes being built. As the Government itself now realises, the revised 2016 projections are likely to result in the minimum need numbers generated by the method being subject to a significant reduction. That was not the Government’s intention.

In order to ensure that the outputs associated with the method are consistent with this, the Government is now considering adjusting the method so that it’s use is consistent in aggregate with the proposals in Planning for the right homes in the right places consultation and continues to be consistent with ensuring that 300,000 homes are built per year by the mid-2020s.

That means that any housing numbers generated by the use of the standard methodology must go up and given the implications of the reliance on the 2016 population projections the numbers must go up significantly. That’s is exactly why the Council has been prudent in building in a 30% buffer in its housing needs targets to give itself some insurance against these unforeseen changes.

Our response to Hart Council

First, it is wrong to say “we are primarily being examined under the old NPPF 2012 rules”.  This is borne out by the Inspector’s own assessment of the key issues.

Hart Local Plan Examination Matter 3 - Housing Need and Requirement

Hart Local Plan Examination Matter 3 – Housing Need and Requirement

This clearly states that one of the key issues is to decide the basis on which the Local Plan will be examined. That question has not yet been decided by the Inspector. Moreover, the Inspector is going to challenge the uplift the Council has made to the standard method.

Indeed, Hart decided to use the standard method to create the Local Plan in the first place. Notably, the council has also doubled down on this stance in its recent Topic Paper on Housing Numbers.

Hart Council Housing Numbers Topic Paper - Choosing the standard method

Hart Council Housing Numbers Topic Paper – Choosing the standard method

Hart Council has explicitly ruled out using the old SHMA method of calculating housing need after taking advice from experts IPe Intelligent Plans and Examinations. It is quite astonishing that the Council should effectively contradict itself on such an important matter.

It is worth making two additional points:

  1. The SHMA itself can be subject to challenge, not least because it makes a number of spurious assumptions to justify increasing the ‘need’ above the raw population increase.
  2.  The SHMA numbers are very similar (382 dwellings per annum) to the figures in the Local Plan. These numbers would fall slightly if the starting point was updated to take account of the new ONS household projections. The Winchfield new town would still not be required even if the Inspector decide to use the SHMA figures.

Fleet Parish Poll to Save Gurkha Square

Fleet Parish Poll to Save Gurkha Square

Fleet Parish Poll to Save Gurkha Square

Fleet Town Council (FTC) have reluctantly agreed to hold a Fleet Parish Poll to decide whether the new Harlington should be built on Gurkha Square.

We urge eligible voters to vote “No” to the question:

“Do you support the Fleet Town Council proposal to build a new Harlington complex on Gurkha Square?”

Our reasons are:

  • The costs are astronomical. The latest costs are estimated at over £11m, that will be paid back by Fleet residents for 45 years. Longer, if as is usual with projects like this and the costs overrun. We don’t think the finances add up, as described here.
  • Hart residents will lose valuable parking revenue from the existing car park. No alternative car parking arrangements have been agreed.
  • We don’t yet know what assets FTC will have to hand over to recompense Hart for loss of the car park.
  • There are better ways of spending taxpayers money to kick-start the regeneration of Fleet.
  • We also don’t like that fact that Hart residents are not being asked if they would like to give up the Gurkha Square asset, and don’t know what assets they will receive in return.

Fleet residents can vote between the hours of 16:00 to 21:00 on Thursday 13th September at the following polling stations:

  • Ancells Farm Community Center, 1 Falkners Close, Ancells Farm.
  • Church Crookham Baptist Church, 64 Basingbourne Road, Fleet
  • The Harlington Polling Station, Fleet Road
  • St. Philip & St. James Church Hall, Kings Road, Fleet
  • The Lismoyne Hotel, 45 Church Road, Fleet
  • Hart Leisure Centre, Emerald Avenue (off Hitches Lane).

Polling cards are not required.

Fleet Parish Poll resources

A helpful website about the Fleet Parish Poll has been created by concerned residents, and can be found here.

There’s also a leaflet about the  Fleet Parish Poll that can be downloaded below.

Save Gurkha Square in the Fleet Parish Poll

Please help us to save Gurkha Square.

 

 

 

Hart Local Plan Examination Update

Hart Local Plan Examination

Hart Local Plan Examination Update

It looks like quite a lot has been going on in relation to the Hart Local Plan examination. We have updates on:

  • Timing of the Hart Local Plan examination hearings
  • Early stage procedures for the Hart Local Plan examination
  • National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) applying to the examination
  • Impact on Pale Lane (aka Elvetham Chase) appeal

Timing of the Hart Local Plan Examination hearings

Back in June, Hart Council briefed the Parish Councils about the Hart Local Plan examination. The full briefing can be found on the download below. They set the expectation that the Local Plan examination would start in late September and last 2-3 weeks.

Hart Local Plan Examination Briefing 12 June 2018 - Hearing Sessions

Hart Local Plan Examination Briefing 12 June 2018 – Hearing Sessions

We have been in touch with the Programme Officer, a man called Ian Kemp, who can be contacted here. He tells us that he has:

Provisionally scheduled hearings during the weeks of 19/11 and 3/12.

So, the examination is going to be 2 months later than Hart’s estimate.

Early stage procedures for the Hart Local Plan examination

In the June briefing Hart said that the Planning Inspector would issue a note in mid-July explaining the role of the Programme Officer and the status of any modifications to the Local Plan. This note was also to cover the timetable for submitting additional material and how the hearing sessions would work.

Hart Local Plan Examination Briefing 12 June 2018 - Timetable

Hart Local Plan Examination Briefing 12 June 2018 – Timetable

Ian Kemp tells us that he is:

Required to contact all representors six weeks prior to the start of the Examination to relay the details and arrangements. For the moment, the Inspector is in the early stages of his preparation.

So, it looks like we won’t know more details about how the Examination will be conducted around the beginning of October.

NPPF Framework applying to the Hart Local Plan examination

The revised National Planning Policy Framework has been released recently. Fortunately, it contains clause 214 that says:

Policies in the previous Framework will apply for the purpose of examining plans, where those plans are submitted on or before 24 January 2019.

This means that the Hart Local plan will be examined under the old framework. This might be mixed news. On the plus side, they won’t be examined on policies they didn’t know about when they were preparing the plan. On the negative side, it may well mean that the housing numbers that will apply to the examination will be those in the SHMA (8,022 or 382 dwellings per annum or so over the period 2011-2032), rather than the new figures in the Government consultation.

As a reminder, the Government figures were for 292 dpa, which results in a total of 4,672 over the shorter planning period of 2016-2032. However, Hart decided to increase this to 388dpa over the same period. We suspect the housing numbers will become a big debating point in the examination.

Impact on Pale Lane (Elvetham Chase) Appeal

The Pale Lane (Elvetham Chase) appeal hearing has been scheduled to being on 8 January 2019. This date in contained in a new schedule published on the planning inspectorate website, that can also be found here.

Pale Lane Appeal details APP/N1730/W/18/3204011

Pale Lane Appeal details APP/N1730/W/18/3204011

On the face of it, this looks like good news as it seems most likely to us that the appeal will not be upheld. Assuming the Local Plan is found to be sound in December 2018, and Pale Lane is not on the list of approved sites, then we cannot see how the inspector can uphold the appeal. However, if the Hart Local Plan examination finds the plan unsound, then Pale Lane may go ahead.

 

Hart Local Plan Submission Briefing

Parish Council demolishes Winchfield new town plan

Figure 6 Winchfield New Town Summary of Key Findings

Winchfield new town area not suitable for large scale development

The Parish Council have demolished plans for the proposed Winchfield new town in their submission to the Hart Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation. The have produced a 690-page report that can be found here. Their main conclusions about Policy SS3 that calls for the new town to be built in the area of search are (our emphasis):

Our review of the available technical evidence, with STR005 released only through a FOI request, demonstrates the highly constrained nature of the AoS, and the significant environmental and infrastructure issues that need to be overcome. A Site Appraisal prepared by Michelle Bolger Expert Landscape Consultancy is provided and this demonstrates that the AoS is significantly constrained and concludes that little land exists within the AoS which could be considered suitable for large scale residential development. We flag up the complete failure of the Draft Plan to identify the key infrastructure necessary for the provision of a new settlement, or indicate how it will be provided, by whom and when. Given the complete lack of any detailed evidence demonstrating that a new settlement is either deliverable or viable, we do not see how provision can be made for it within the Draft Plan.

Winchfield New Town Expert Evidence

The expert evidence from Michelle Bolger is a joy to behold. Her much shorter report can be downloaded from the link below, together with the appendix that contains the wonderful graphics depicting all of the constraints on the area of search.

The final summary is shown on the image above. This summarises the findings of the whole report in relation to the various sites that have been put forward, concluding (emphasis mine):

All of the sites are significantly constrained and the vast majority of the area of search (AoS) south of the M3/Railway is considered to be unsuitable for large scale development (i.e. it would cause severe landscape harm that would be difficult to remedy or mitigate)…

Land within the north-western parts of the AoS…are also significantly constrained. Development here could not occur without harm to the local countryside character and this would also impact upon the character and enjoyment of the Public Right of Way network. Development may also result in visual coalescence between Hartley Wintney and Hook.

Overall this appraisal finds that the AoS identifies a landscape that is highly unsuitable for large scale residential development. The new settlement envisaged by draft policy SS3 would result in significant landscape and visual harm and be at risk of harming components within the landscape which hold high landscape, amenity, ecological and heritage value.

The build up to the final conclusion starts with the area of search:

Figure 1 Winchfield New Town Area of Search and Context

Figure 1 Winchfield new town Area of Search and Context

It then goes on to show Hart’s own landscape capacity study which shows that most of the area has low or low/medium capacity. The only area with medium/high capacity is the proposed Elvetham Chase (Pale Lane) site and it’s westward extension towards Winchfield. The Murrell Green area is shown as Medium capacity. However, this was decided before the Major Accident Hazard gas pipeline was discovered by Hart Council.

Figure 2 Winchfield New Town Landscape Capacity Study

Figure 2 Winchfield Landscape Capacity Study

The paper then goes on to identify the constraints in the area of search, starting with areas designated as SSSI’s, SINCs, tree preservation orders, ancient woodland, and listed buildings.

Figure 3 Winchfield New Town Key Constraints Designations

Figure 3 Winchfield New Town Key Constraints Designations

Then other constraints such as visual sensitivity, flooding, footpaths, unavailable land, landfill, narrow bridges, high voltage transmission lines and the gas pipeline are added:

Figure 4 Winchfield New Town Key Constraints Assessment

Figure 4 Winchfield Key Constraints Assessment

Then all of the constraints are brought together on one diagram, showing just how little land exists within the AoS that could be considered suitable for large scale residential development.

Figure 5 Winchfield New Town Key Constraints Composite

Figure 5 Winchfield Key Constraints Composite

 

All of this report is drawn from pre-existing material. One wonders why Hart Council is continuing to promote such a daft idea. Certainly, £50K is not going to cover costs of putting together a robust Winchfield new town master-plan to fulfill all of their magical promises to turn horses into unicorns. We shall see what the inspector makes of this.

The report and appendix can be downloaded here:

Winchfield Site Appraisal
Winchfield Site Appraisal Appendix

 

Hart Council budgets only £50K for Winchfield new town plan

Hart District Council sets aside laughable budget for Winchfield new town plan

Hart District Council budgets only £50K for Winchfield new town plan

Questions put to Hart Council earlier this week have revealed they have set aside a budget of only £50,000 to create the detailed development plan for the Winchfield new town. Apparently, they are hoping for additional contributions from developers.

This is quite astonishing. There have been numerous statements made by councillors saying they want the plan to be council lead and not developer led. They’ve also made statements about the amount of infrastructure that will be delivered.

We suggest that the council has set aside barely a tenth of the money that will be required to:

  • Conduct sustainability assessments
  • Infrastructure studies
  • Habitat assessments
  • Flood assessments
  • Master-planning

This revelation shows the councillors were either lying through their teeth or were completely incompetent (or both). They are clearly going to rely on funding from developers so the developers are going to be in the driving seat.

Of course another interpretation of this pitiful budget is that they are anticipating the Winchfield new town being knocked out of the Hart Local Plan at examination.

In other news, it is now expected that the Hart Local Plan examination will start in mid-November and last 2-3 weeks.

The questions and contemporaneous account of the questions and answers are shown below:

Questions about Winchfield New Town

Q1: I understand the Local Plan has been submitted and Council “commits to planning for a new settlement at Murrel Green/Winchfield” to “provide a substantial contingency to any increase in the Government figures that could, in theory, result in an unmet need arising elsewhere in the HMA” (para 108).

Accepting that the requirement for the contingency for houses needed in Hart in excess of Government guidelines may or may not materialise, as evidenced by future plan revisions, could Council reassure Hart residents that, in the event it does not, planning permission will not be given for the new settlement?

Answer:  No.  The Government is keen to have houses in addition to the basic suggested figure and there is therefore a need to boost the numbers [But not apparently on brownfield sites!!]

Supplementary:

If, as the draft local plan suggests, all Hart’s housing needs are already provided for in the current plan period to 2032 without the need for a new settlement, should not the start of any construction of the new settlement be deferred until after 2032 at the earliest?

Answer:  No.  The lead time for a new settlement is long and the future requirement for housing uncertain – the start of building can’t be left to the last minute.

Q2. The Council committing to planning for a new settlement means Hart residents will be required to fund a substantial sum for the necessary consultants’ reports etc.  Can the Council please say 1)  How much is budgeted for this and 2) how much of this will be provided by the parties who will benefit financially from the building of the new settlement?

Answer:  £50,000 is the sum that has been initially set aside in the budget.  Contributions from developers will be welcome  [This number is laughable – a proper DPD will surely run into £000,000s]

Supplementary: The area of search for the new settlement includes Murrell Green (possible 2,990 houses) and Winchfield (possible 2,400 houses).  The proposals come from separate developers.  Is the intention to pursue one or the other development, or rather to combine the two?

Answer:  It was not possible to chose between the two originally.  Hence the “area of search” idea.  The DPD will determine the answer to the question. [Despite 3 years of testing!!]

Q3: The draft plan gives no indication of the size of the proposed new settlement, other than to say it must be “viable”.  What approximate size is considered viable, recognising that this will be further examined in the DPD

Answer:  The DPD will determine

Supplementary: I am not aware of any consultation with Winchfield residents about the possible shape, size and layout of the proposed new settlement, although Members were shown a four-page artist’s illustration dated August 2017 which I found in the Local Plan examination library.  When and how will the Winchfield community be consulted if the new settlement idea survives inspection

Answer:  There will be plenty of opportunity through the DPD and the usual consultation process which has already been followed.

Q4. What is the current status and expected number of Surrey Heath’s unmet housing need and what proportion of this unmet need would Hart be expected to meet?

Answer:  Currently not known, SH haven’t yet come up with numbers