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.

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.