Shapley Heath Controversy Erupts at Hustings

Shapley Heath controversy: where each NE Hampshire candidate stands

Shapley Heath controversy: where each NE Hampshire candidate stands

The Shapley Heath controversy erupted at the recent North East Hampshire hustings. The Basingstoke Gazette covered the story here. In summary, Conservative candidate Ranil Jayawardena opposes the Shapley Heath proposal. He believes that our future housing needs can be met by redeveloping brownfield land and revitalising our urban centres. Liberal Democrat candidate, Graham Cockarill supports the proposal. Indeed in his role as Cabinet member for Place on Hart Council he is the sponsor of the programme. Labour’s Barry Jones admitted he knew little about the proposals but would reluctantly support the plan.

Three candidates were not invited to the hustings. The local Green party confirmed on Twitter that their candidate Culann Walsh opposes the scheme. Independent candidate Tony Durrant opposes the plan. Monster Raving Loony, Screaming Laud Hope has not yet responded to our question. We have summarised the positions of the candidates in the graphic above.

Shapley Heath Controversy – Details of the hustings

Apparently, candidate Cockarill challenged the notion of Shapley Heath being up to 10,000 houses. We were told that Mr Jayawardena brandished the vision document clearly showing the 10,000 ambition in the Vision Document.

Shapley Heath: Vision Document 10000 houses.

Shapley Heath Controversy: Vision Document 10,000 houses

We understand from others at the hustings that candidate Cockarill stated brownfield development was desirable. However, he thought landowners in Fleet aren’t interesting in selling. We know from the work carried out by the Rural Hart Association that the owners of the Hart Shopping Centre are interested in redevelopment. Indeed, they supported the Future High Streets bid (see final letter in the appendices) to regenerate Fleet. Moreover, some of the other prime regeneration sites are owned by either Hart District Council or Hampshire County Council. For instance, much of the Civic Quarter, including the Harlington Centre, plus Victoria Road car park and Church Road car park are in public ownership.

Creative thinking in three dimensions could preserve parking space; deliver better leisure and cultural facilities; housing that people can afford and infrastructure spending. It does seem odd that our local councils prefer to concrete over our green fields, rather than provide better facilities for their residents.

Of course, planning is a local rather than a national matter. However, our MP can ‘set the tone’ for the area; lobby Government to cut off further funding to Shapley Heath; call on Government to provide regeneration investment and vote more generally for brownfield first policies. Many people will of course be more concerned about national matters. Please bear Shapley Heath in mind when casting your vote on December 12th.

Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact

Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact

Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact

In the light of the focus on the environment in the General Election campaign, we thought it would be a good idea to look at the Shapley Heath Climate Change impact.

Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact: Summary

  • 1,000,000 tonnes of CO2 emitted from construction
  • 312,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum from the occupants
  • Loss of pasture carbon sink
  • Damage to SSSIs, Ancient Woodland and heritage

Yet, Hart has agreed the “serious impact of climate change globally” and recognises “the need for urgent action”.  Councillor Graham Cockarill is standing in the General Election as a Liberal Democrat candidate. They say “the UK should be leading the world on tackling the environment crisis”.

Why are they pursuing an unnecessary new town that goes against their own climate change policies?

Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact: CO2 emissions

According to this article in the Guardian, construction of an average 2-bed cottage emits around 80 tonnes of CO2.  The average size of Shapley Heath dwellings is likely to be larger, so let’s assume 100 tonnes of CO2 per dwelling.  The vision and bid documents both suggested the eventual size of Shapley Heath will be 10,000 houses. So, building 10,000 houses will emit around 1,000,000 tonnes of CO2. There will of course be additional emissions from building new roads, supermarkets and office blocks.

These 10,000 houses will house around 24,000 people, and each of them will emit on average ~13 tonnes of CO2 per annum each. So, there will be 312,000 tonnes of CO2 emitted by the occupants of the houses.

Moreover, the existing pasture acts as a carbon sink, so this benefit will be lost too.

Remember, the Hart Local Plan, the Inspector’s report and even the bid document said that Shapley Heath isn’t required to meet our housing targets, so all of these emissions are entirely avoidable.

Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact: Damage to Nature

The area of search contains or borders many important natural sites. These include:

  • Odiham Common SSSI
  • Basingstoke Canal SSSI
  • Numerous ancient woodland sites that are also Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation
Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact - Damage to nature

Shapley Heath Climate Change Impact – Damage to nature

Hart District Council and Lib Dem Climate Change Policies

Back in September, Hart Cabinet decided the following in respect of climate change (our emphasis):

  1. Recognises the serious impact of climate change globally and agrees that there is a need for urgent action; and

  2. Agrees that a cross party Climate Change Member Working Group be established and that the Terms of Reference for that Group as set out in Appendix 1 be agreed in principle; and

  3. That a Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan led by the Member Working  Group be prepared by January 2020 based on Hart District Council becoming a net zero carbon emitter by 2040 at the latest.

Councillor Graham Cockarill is standing in the General Election as a Liberal Democrat candidate. They say:

The UK should be leading the world on tackling the environment crisis. Our planet is on the brink of being irreparably damaged and we are responsible for that damage.

Why are they pursuing an unnecessary new town that goes against their own climate change policies?

CCH defy QC opinion and pass Shapley Heath plan

Lib Dem & CCH cabinet pass Shapley Heath Plan

The CCH members of cabinet defied a QC’s opinion voted to pass the Shapley Heath plan at Cabinet on 7 November. Despite strong opposition from members of the public, NE Hants CPRE and some councillors, the plan was passed unanimously by all members of Cabinet in attendance. Sponsor of the plan, Lib Dem Cabinet member for Place, Graham Cockarill wasn’t there as he is now standing for election to Parliament. The plan proposes to spend the £150K grant from the Government and looks to allocate up to a further £500K from reserves in the next financial year as part of the budget process.

Regular readers may recall CCH had written a letter to Ranil stating that 5,000 houses had been “secured for the next planning period”. The QC’s opinion that said that because this statement was manifestly untrue, that it demonstrated CCH councillors had closed their minds to a proper consideration of Shapley Heath and alternatives. In Andrew Tabachnik QC’s opinion, this amounted to predetermination.

The QC Opinion can be downloaded using the button below:

QC Opinion: CCH Predetermination of Shapley Heath

The Shapley Heath section of the meeting was quite long and stormy at times. The complete videos of the item can be found at the bottom of this article. The key points as we see them with video excerpts are set out below.

Argument about Shapley Heath QC Opinion

The first part of the public engagement started with a statement from the Rural Hart Association (RHA). The full statement is reproduced below:

For some years the Rural Hart Association has been frustrated by what we see as the bias of the Council in pushing for a new settlement near Winchfield without properly analysing the scope for alternative strategies, including urban regeneration.

Our frustration led us last month to commission an opinion from leading counsel about a letter sent to our MP by eleven CCH councillors in July. This letter asserts that “… 5000 more homes [have been] secured for the next planning period through Shapley Heath”. The opinion has been delivered to the Council with this statement, but in summary the QC concludes that:

  1. CCH’s assertion is totally misleading
  2. All CCH councillors must publicly retract their statement and must ensure that their future conduct demonstrates a genuine willingness to consider matters with an open mind
  3. Councillors who are unwilling to retract their statement must recuse themselves from decision-making relating to Shapley Heath

We therefore request that the councillors concerned recuse themselves from discussion and voting on Item 11.

In addition, we expect CCH councillors to take the following steps to comply with the QC’s opinion that they must in future demonstrate a genuine willingness to act with an open mind:

  1. Abandon the current plans which focus exclusively on Shapley Heath

  2. Implement an alternative work plan to examine objectively and impartially all reasonable alternative options to Shapley Heath, in line with the Planning Inspector’s recommendations. This should include brownfield development and urban regeneration.

  3. Undertake in depth work to build a more robust policy to regenerate our urban centres in Fleet, Blackwater, Hook and Yateley.  This work should in particular address policy ED5 (Fleet town centre) to tackle the growing outflow of retail and leisure expenditure from the district caused by under-investment in Fleet. It is essential to develop a new and comprehensive strategy for Fleet along the lines of neighbouring towns like Camberley and Farnham.

  4. Undertake thorough master-planning for the main towns in Hart without which no proper assessment can be made of the true scope of town centre mixed-use regeneration

  5. Meet the two developers who expressed interest in regenerating the Hart Shopping Centre to explore their proposals

  6. Refrain from allocating Hart’s reserve funds to Shapley Heath unless and until it is reinstated into the Local Plan as the result of the necessary comparative assessment work called for by the Inspector.

Here is a video of the statement:

This led to a response to the QC’s opinion from CCH’s James Radley. Astonishingly, he stated that the letter to Ranil was just political rhetoric and implied it shouldn’t be taken at face value. How do we know when he’s just spouting rhetoric and when he really means what he says?

This then led to a row about the validity of the RHA QC’s opinion. The joint chief executive said that HDC had taken legal advice and were convinced that CCH’s actions did not amount to pre-determination.  However, HDC’s advice did not address the key point that CCH had made untrue statements in their letter to Ranil. That was the key point that showed a “closed mind” and hence predetermination. In the end the Cabinet chose to ignore the QC’s opinion and the CCH councillors continued to participate in the debate and voted on the Shapley Heath Plan. According to the QC they should have either retracted or recused themselves. They did neither.

Substantive debate on Shapley Heath Plan

The meat of the public arguments against pursuing this plan now were made by RHA and CPRE NE Hants. RHA made further points setting out clearly that HDC should at least look at the option of urban regeneration.

And CPRE challenged the logic of looking at a new village that would deliver housing over and above what we need to build. Their initial statement can be found here, and their powerful supplementary statement can be seen on the video below:

Sadly, these arguments were ignored by Cabinet and they pressed on regardless. On the plus side, this builds the case that they have closed minds on the matter.

CCH inconsistencies on the Shapley Heath Plan

During the meeting CCH made a series of statements that contradicted what they had previously said. For instance, during the Cabinet meeting, Councillor James “it’s only rhetoric” Radley emphasised that this Shapley Heath plan was very different to the new town presented in the Local Plan.

But in the Shapley Heath Q&A on their Facebook page, they say that the two things are the same. So, which is it?

Q3. Is Shapley Heath the same as the New Settlement that was previously included in Hart’s Local Plan?

A3. Yes, they are the same. Whilst the Local Plan Inspector suggested HDC remove the New Settlement from our LP, this was not because he thought it an inappropriate solution to our future housing needs. Hart were keen to get the LP in place ASAP to avoid anymore developer led applications being successful at appeal. The Inspector recommended removal of the New Settlement to enable the LP to be adopted quickly. The New Settlement, evaluated together with other options for future housing, needed more detailed work and would have delayed the LP, leaving doors open for developers.

Secondly, Councillor Radley said that the Shapley Heath proposal won’t go forward if it is found that it isn’t viable.

However, the Inspector found (in para 33):

In addition, to my above concerns, there is little evidence to demonstrate that a site can actually be delivered in terms of infrastructure, viability and landownership within the identified AoS.

Winchfield Parish Council’s representations to the Inspector showed there were big issues on land ownership and other significant planning constraints. Moreover, in 2016, the Tory administration had dropped plans for the Winchfield new town due to concerns about flooding and infrastructure costs. Similar plans for a new town were dropped in 2012 after concerns about viability. How many times do they need to look at it and how much of our money do they need to spend before they listen?

It also appears as though CCH can’t make their mind up about the importance of rail infrastructure. Councillor James “it’s only rhetoric” Radley didn’t mention rail as part of his infrastructure shopping list. But then made great play of there being a railway station at Winchfield.

He seemed to be blissfully unaware of the parking chaos at Winchfield station on Thursday.  This was exceptional, but it is by no means unusual for the car park to be full before 8am. Of course prior studies have shown that the railway station may well need to be moved to Murrell Green accommodate a further 5-10,000 houses.

Winchfield Station Parking Chaos

Version Control Shenanigans

At the beginning of the meeting there was considerable confusion about the version of the document they were supposed to be reviewing. The joint Chief Executive insisted that the version they were reviewing had been in the public domain for the requisite 28 days on the “key decision” part of the website. But we downloaded it this morning and found that the document was created in the early afternoon on Thursday, so could not have been available to the public for the required amount of time. In fact, it seems as though multiple versions were available and it isn’t clear how we are supposed to know which one to review. This is just another example of Hart’s incompetence.

This is the video of the exchange:

The full videos of the Shapley Heath discussion can be found on the links below. Thanks to Councillor Steve Forster for making them available on his Facebook page.

Part 1

Part 2.

 

 

 

Shapley Heath Proposal: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Shapley Heath Proposal good bad ugly

Shapley Heath Proposal: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Hart’s O&S committee met on Tuesday night and they recommended amendments to the flawed Shapley Heath Garden Village proposal. It was a long, tempestuous meeting. The discussion below about the recommendations relates to this paper. The main outcomes were:

Shapley Heath Proposal: The Good

Recommendation 4: That the Cabinet approve the Governance structure proposed. It was recommended that the Governance be amended to make reference to the “evaluation phase” only. This is not approving the actual delivery of the “garden community”.

Recommendation 7: That the previously budgeted £785,990 budgeted for the new settlement be returned to reserves. It was recommended to Cabinet that this recommendation continue.

Recommendation 8: That a £500K budget be allocated to the Joint Chief Executive to utilise in relation to the Shapley Heath Garden Village. This was amended to recommend that it is merely noted that an amount up to £500K might be required in the future to support the project.

Shapley Heath Proposal: The Bad

Recommendation 1: That Cabinet notes that HDC is now part of the Garden Communities Programme. This was accepted.

Recommendation 2: That Cabinet approves the exploration of the opportunity to deliver a Garden Community through a place making/place shaping approach. Even though nobody could explain what this meant, the recommendation was accepted.

Recommendation 3: That the Cabinet agrees to move forward with place making/place shaping the Garden Community based on the key principles. There were a number of questions about what this actually meant. But no coherent answers were forthcoming. Nevertheless this recommendation was passed. On the plus side, a new key principle was added to include Land Value capture. If the Garden Village is to go ahead, it will be necessary for the landowners to accept a lower price for their land. It is envisaged that the extra money available to developers will be invested in infrastructure.

Recommendation 5: That Cabinet grants delegated authority to the Garden Community Board to approve terms of reference for other governance tiers. This was amended to only for the initial phase. But it wasn’t clear that the champions of the project knew what the different phases might be, not what they were delivering.

Shapley Heath Proposal: The Ugly

Recommendation 6: That Cabinet approves in principle the initial £155K Garden Community spending plan.  Amazingly, this was passed. However, there is an expectation, that it will be amended to include a more specific plan to describe what is actually going to be delivered. However, it still includes a commitment to spend public money on “Land Value/Equalisation Issues”. This is essentially white-collar welfare for the developers who should be quite capable of working out how to share the spoils of the project without public funding.

During the meeting, the portfolio holder for planning, was adamant that this work on the Garden Community was going on outside of the normal Local Plan and planning process.

A statement was made by Winchfield Parish Council, on behalf of 9 Parish Councils explaining that they believed the Government funding had been made in error. They asked that the programme be suspended until issues they had raised with the Secretary of State had been resolved. Amazingly, there was no debate about this statement.

We made the statement set out below. We set out our view that pursuing the Shapley Heath Garden Village outside of the normal planning process and in contempt of the Inspector’s recommendations to look impartially at other options was unlawful. The Rural Hart Association has raised funds for a proper legal opinion on the matter. We asked that the project be postponed until such legal opinion had been published. Again, there was no debate about this serious matter. However, they did address some of the other points we made.

This is some encouragement from the meeting, but the proposal will still go forward to Cabinet.

A petition to stop the Shapley Heath proposal has been created. Please press the button below and sign and share the petition.

STOP Shapley Heath

Statement to Hart Overview and Scrutiny 17 September 2019 from RHA on the Shapley Heath Proposal

RHA believes that the Garden Community Programme paper represents a gross and deliberate distortion of the Planning Process and an attempt to avoid implementing the recommendations of the Planning Inspector. We do not accept the Council’s argument that SS3 and Shapley Heath Garden Village (SHGV) are two separate things, and we consider that such a view is fatally undermined by the assumption in the Council’s bid for MHCLG funding that SS3 would be approved by the Inspector and form an integral part of the Local Plan.

Furthermore, we are advised that the spending of public funds on the Shapley Heath proposal in defiance of the Inspector’s findings and the Local Plan could be unlawful. We have now secured funding for a legal opinion on this question. Given the serious nature of this matter we request that the O&S committee recommends a postponement of this paper until the legal opinion has been completed and presented to the council.

If you do not decide to make such a recommendation, then there are numerous other detailed points that you should consider as part of your deliberations. The first points relate to the financing of the project.

  1. There are no tangible deliverables associated with £155K funding request as part of Rec 6.
  2. Appendix 3 calls for hiring two extra people without quantifying the full-year impact on future year’s finances. This cannot be in-line with good practice.
  3. Appendix 3 calls for public funds to be used to resolve the private matters of ‘land value/equalisation issues’ between developers and landowners with deep pockets. This is an inappropriate use of public funds.
  4. There are no timescales, tasks, milestones or deliverables associated with the broader £500K request associated with Recommendation 8. It is inappropriate to effectively create a slush fund and grant such wide discretion over such a large sum when you don’t know what you are going to get for it.

We believe you should ask for Recommendations 6 & 8 to be removed or amended to be in line with best practice for use of public funds. The second set of points relates to the scope and objectives of the proposal.

  1. The paper does not mention one of the key Inspector recommendations:

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.

2. The work programme does not envisage any of the work recommended by the Inspector and Para 5.6 explicitly rules out looking at alternative locations. This puts the proposal in contempt of the Inspector’s recommendations and is effectively pre-determination.

3. The final sentence of Para 5.6 is gibberish.

We believe that you should ask for the paper to be amended so that the work programme reflects the recommendations of the Inspector. Finally, there are several issues with the proposed governance arrangements:

  1. It is inappropriate to have such a large and unwieldy governance structure for £155K of spend.
  2. It is inappropriate to have effectively all senior members and officers of the Council on the Board, with a role to “champion delivery”. This leaves no mechanism for effective review and challenge.
  3. The proposed governance structure doesn’t comply with Cabinet decision of Nov 2018 which decided to create a “Parish Stakeholder Advisory Group”.

We believe the governance and Rec 4 should be amended to address these points.

 

 

Proposal for £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund

Proposal for £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund

Proposal for £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund

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

There are a number of issues with this proposal:

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

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

 Shapley Heath Slush Fund goes against the Inspector recommendations

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

No mention of Inspector request for more SA work

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

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

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

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

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

Shapley Heath work outside of planning process

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

Shapley Heath Trojan Horse

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

Shapley Heath Garden Community Board TOR 1 of 2

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

Here are some examples:

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

Flawed Governance

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

Shapley Heath Garden Community Board members

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

Shapley Heath Slush Fund: Lax Financial Control

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

Multi-year £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund

Multi-year £500K Shapley Heath Slush Fund

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

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

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

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

CCH oversee Hart Finance Fiasco

 

CCH oversee Hart Finance fiasco

CCH oversee Hart Finance fiasco

Hart Council finances are in disarray. First, the auditor has been unable to complete their work on time, because Hart, and its service provider Capita has not met the deadlines to produce accurate figures. Second, Hart’s accounts have had to be published without an audit opinion, with 8 material issues and 6 significant issues outstanding. Finally, Hart’s own Overview and scrutiny committee has condemned the accounts as “incomprehensible”.

The audit was supposed to be complete by the end of July and will not now be completed until September with no specific date yet set.  CCH cabinet member and deputy leader, James Radley, is responsible for finance, so he must carry the can for this fiasco.

EY unable to audit accounts on time

Hart finance fiasco: EY cannot complete audit on time

EY unable to audit accounts by deadline

EY unable to audit accounts by deadline

In their progress report, EY identified 8 material issues to be resolved.

Hart Finance fiasco - 8 material issues

Hart Finance fiasco – 8 material issues

The scale of these issues makes it difficult to believe the accuracy of the unaudited reported accounts.

Overview and Scrutiny on the case of Hart Finance Fiasco

The Overview and Scrutiny Committee picked up on this in July. O&S criticised Hart’s revenue accounts saying that:

  • It was disappointed with the format,
  • The accounts were incomprehensible and
  • Without a clear and transparent auditable link from the appendix to the main report recommendations.
Overview and Scrutiny disappointed

Hart Finance Fiasco: Overview and Scrutiny disappointed

CCH cabinet member, James Radley in charge of Finance was quizzed about his role at the recent full Council meeting. Minutes can be found here.

Councillor Radley quizzed on his role in the Hart finance shambles

Councillor Radley quizzed on his role in the Hart finance shambles

Here is the header of the report:

Hart finance shambles report published in name of James Radley

Report published in name of James Radley

It does seem rather odd that Capita are not obliged to produce auditable accounts by the required deadline.

Joint CEO’s: Nothing to report

Quite remarkably, at last week’s council meeting, the joint-CEO’s had nothing substantive to report. Yes, that’s right, the accounts are incomprehensible, unaudited, not auditable and will have to be published without an audit opinion and they have nothing to say.

Hart Finance Fiasco – CEOs nothing to report

Detail of Hart Finance Fiasco

We have looked at the detail of the reports examined by O&S. The main report suggests an underspend of £369K in the revenue accounts. But the supporting appendix shows an overspend of £713K, but miraculously, this changes to a surplus of £27K after adjustments. But this relies on the budget being adjusted to -£27K, with only £1 of actual expenditure. None of these figures can be reconciled to the reported £369K surplus.

Recommended underspend of £369K.

Recommended Underspend of £369K.

 

Hart recorded overspend of £713K adjusted to £27K surplus

Recorded overspend of £713K adjusted to £27K surplus.

The difference between the £713K deficit to the reported £369K surplus is more than £1m on an overall revenue budget of ~£6m. We struggle to see how our money is being effectively controlled.

This is clearly an embarrassment for service provider Capita. We also question the competence of CCH Deputy Leader James Radley who takes responsibility for Finance and the joint Chief Executives.

It remains to be seen how they sort out this mess. Apparently, Capita are presenting to Overview and Scrutiny on 20th August.

The O&S minutes can be found here.

The main report submitted to O&S can be found here and the Appendix can be found here.

 

 

Hart Council Knows Nothing about New Town Plans

Hart Council Knows Nothing: Hart Council Knows Nothing about New Town Plans.

Hart Council Knows Nothing about New Town Plans

At last week’s full meeting, Hart Council admitted that it had no real plans for the new settlement centred on Winchfield/Shapley Heath. This is in direct contradiction to their funding bid for support under the Garden Communities programme. The minutes can be found here.

They were asked about how they plan to spend the £786K set aside for Winchfield new town planning. They admitted that they had taken no decisions on how to spend this money.

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

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

 

They were also asked about the additional Sustainability Appraisal work requested by the Inspector. They said it was premature to discuss next stages. In a subsequent question, they admitted they had no plans for a new settlement DPD.

Hart Council has no plan for Winchfield New Town proposals

Hart Council Knows Nothing: No plan for New Settlement DPD

This is in direct contradiction of their Garden Community bid that said they would bring forward a new settlement consultation in December 2019.

Winchfield New Town Bid Timeline for DPD

New Settlement Bid Timeline for DPD

They are claiming that there is no link between the Local Plan process and the Garden Communities programme.

Hart Council Knows Nothing: No link between Local Plan and Winchfield New Town

Hart Council Knows Nothing: No link between Local Plan and New Town

But their bid clearly did rely upon and indeed assumed that Policy SS3, the Winchfield/Shapley Heath new town, would remain in the Local Plan.

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

Shapley Heath funding assumes Policy SS3 remains in Hart Local Plan

We wonder if Hart Council has inadvertently obtained the Garden Communities money under false pretences.

 

 

 

Hart fails to win share of Future High Streets Fund

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

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

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

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

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

The winners can be found here.

Future High Streets Details

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

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

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

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

History of Fleet regeneration

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Hart Local Plan Modifications Consultation Launched

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

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

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

The main modifications can be found here.

The full consultation page can be found here.

Impact of Hart Local Plan Modifications

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

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

Hart Local Plan Modifications: Policy SS3 removed from the document

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

In addition, other changes relate to:

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

These are all welcome developments.

Impact on Garden Communities Funding

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

Shapley Heath Winchfield New Town Development Schedule

Shapley Heath Winchfield New Town Development Schedule

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

SA Addendum impact on Winchfield New Town Area of Search

SA Addendum impact on Winchfield New Town Area of Search

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

We will have to see how this plays out.

 

It’s Back – Nightmare in Winchfield Continues

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

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

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

Nightmare in Winchfield – up to 10,000 unnecessary houses

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

Nightmare in Winchfield - capacity for 10,000 houses

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

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

Nightmare in Winchfield - Shapley Heath Winchfield New Town Housing trajectory

Shapley Heath Winchfield New Town Housing trajectory

Key flaw in  Shapley Heath Proposals

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

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

Shapley Heath funding assumes Policy SS3 remains in Hart Local Plan

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

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

Threadbare Shapley Heath Infrastructure plans

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

Nightmare in Winchfield - Shapley Heath Infrastructure plans

Nightmare in Winchfield – Shapley Heath Infrastructure plans

We should also note that the Inspector said:

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

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