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.

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.