Winchfield New Town Died at Cabinet

Winchfield New Town dead parrot

Winchfield New Town died at Cabinet

Winchfield New Town died at Cabinet on Thursday. Policy SS3 will be removed from the Local Plan in the modifications to be sent back to the Inspector. This is consistent with the meeting summons we reported on here.

So, we can finally say that the new town is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet its maker! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! It’s pushing up the daisies! The new town’s metabolic processes are now history! It’s off the twig! It’s kicked the bucket, Winchfield new town has shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! This is an ex-new town.

We understand that joint-CEO Daryl Phillips warned that it was imperative that the Council avoided any predetermination of the outcomes for the longer term. He declared that the Council should look at all options objectively and independently as instructed by the Inspector and that they should push back firmly on Surrey Heath to come to a final conclusion on their housing needs.

However, CCH councillors insisted that the new town is merely resting. Clearly they are pining for it to be reconsidered at a later point. We understand that CCH councillors collectively expressed their disappointment with the loss of Policy SS3 and that it should not be kicked into the long grass. They believe the Council should continue to evaluate it in the longer term.

We understand that at a meeting of Blackwater Valley Transport Advisory Committee a few days ago, CCH Councillor, Alan Oliver said:

The death of the new settlement has been exaggerated so Network Rail should carry on looking at expanding Winchfield Station

We also understand that the leader of the Conservatives suggested that Autumn 2019 would be the best time to start discussing the next steps and whether to extend the area of search or consider any other options. [Update: He meant options other than the new settlement as per a motion he placed on 4 January 2018 at Council]

Clearly, there are people who are deeply wedded to the new town idea. We need to work hard to demonstrate that the best long term future for Hart is urban regeneration. This will revitalise our town centres and protect our greenfields as amenity space for leisure and recreation.

Finally, we understand that the understatement of the night came from councillor Cockarill. He described the climb down by Hart Council as “a bit of a defeat”.

Council to remove Winchfield new town from Local Plan

Hart Council to Remove Winchfield New Town from Local Plan

Hart Council to Remove Winchfield New Town from Local Plan

Hart Council have called an emergency Cabinet Meeting for 14 March 2019 to remove Winchfield new town from the Local Plan.

The meeting has one main agenda item which is to consider the report of the Inspector into the Local Plan examination. The main recommendation is as follows:

Hart Cabinet remove Winchfield New Town from Local Plan

Hart Cabinet remove Winchfield New Town (Policy SS3) from Local Plan

The main paper for discussion can be found here.

Interestingly, the Council implicitly admit that the prior work into the new town was not carried out impartially. This is a quote from section 4.4.1 of the paper before Cabinet:

The Inspector is 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 Sustainable Appraisal (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. This would all lead to a significant delay in the examination, whilst it was paused, to allow such work to be undertaken. Further hearing sessions would be needed. In the interim, there is a risk that Inspectors considering major planning appeals such as Pale Lane and Owen’s Farm might attach much less weight to the Plan notwithstanding the Inspector’s letter, because of the uncertainty the additional work would give rise to.

This is quite a stunning admission and backs up our demand for heads to roll over the way the previous assessment was carried out. It is simply unacceptable for the Sustainability Appraisal (SA) to have been biased by officers or councillors.

Meanwhile, there’s ructions in a bunker in deepest Church Crookham.

CCH can’t quite bring themselves to admit that the Inspector has asked for the new town to be removed from the Local Plan:

Hart’s Local Plan
​​
Following the Local Plan enquiry in the autumn of last year, the planning inspector has written to Hart to suggest that he will find our plan sound and acknowledges that we have sufficient housing supply – such that we no longer need to fear planning by appeal.

This is fantastic news for the people of Hart who have faced years of unconstrained planning blight because the previous administration failed to knuckle down and face up to the arduous task of getting a sound plan drafted, supported by sufficient evidence and compliant with national planning policies. Hart has not had a new Local Plan since 1996, which accounts for why we have struggled to defend many planning appeals in recent years.

It is disingenuous therefore for some politically motivated commentators to be painting this as if it is some kind of failing. It is a major strategic and meaningful win for the people of Hart. The inspector, despite some of the misinformation doing the rounds, has also identified that a new settlement is an appropriate option for Hart to consider pursuing. A new settlement would in future years deliver housing with the necessary infrastructure which has been so sadly lacking from most of the new bolt on urban extensions of recent years. No new secondary school and no increased capacity on our local roads being prime examples.

At long last Hart are on the cusp of adopting a sound local plan which will protect our environment and quality of life for years to come – don’t let any one try to detract from this critically important achievement.

http://www.cchart.org.uk/ (scroll down below the free parking u-turn)

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 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.