Hart Budget Smoke and Mirrors

Hart Budget Smoke and Mirrors

Hart Budget Smoke and Mirrors

This post is about the changes Hart keeps making to its reported budget and the way it changes the terminology to describe the budget.

Hart Values

Let’s start with their values. these include the two emboldened values shown below.

  • Behaving with integrity, demonstrating strong commitment to ethical values, and respecting the rule of law.
  • Ensuring openness and comprehensive stakeholder engagement.
  • Defining outcomes in terms of sustainable economic, social and environmental benefits.
  • Determining the interventions necessary to optimise the achievement of the intended outcomes.
  • Developing the entity’s capacity, including the capability of its leadership and the individuals within it.
  • Managing risks and performance through robust internal control and strong public financial management.
  • Implementing good practices in transparency, reporting, and audit, to deliver effective accountability.

Hart Original and Revised Budget for FY20/21

For completeness, let’s compare the original budget with the revised version agreed in October 2020. All looks fairly normal.

Hart FY20-21 Budget Changes Original to Revised

Hart FY20-21 Budget Changes Original to Revised So Far So Good

Hart Budget FY20/21 Variance Report to October 2020

Again it looks fairly innocuous. But note the subtle change in terminology from Cost of Services to Net Cost of Services and the addition of an additional “Total” line.

Hart FY20-21 Budget Changes Revised to Oct 20

Hart FY20-21 Budget Changes Revised to Oct 20

Hart Budget FY20/21 Variance Report to December 2020

At first, this looks OK. But note another change in terminology.

Hart FY20-21 Budget Changes Oct to Dec 20

Hart FY20-21 Budget Changes Oct to Dec 20

Closer inspection shows the terminology between the October revision and the December variance report has been reversed. What was “Cost of Service” is now “Net Cost of Service”. Net Expenditure has switched from the main total to a sub-total.

FY20-21 Hart Budget Smoke and Mirrors Revised to Dec 20

FY20-21 Hart Budget Smoke and Mirrors Revised to Dec 20

Hart Budget Smoke and Mirrors – Outturn Report

Things really start to go awry now. Part of the terminology of the December 2020 variance report is retained. But the numbers completely change. If you compare the “Net Cost of Service”, the budget for FY20/21 has apparently increased from £9.5m to £11.1m. However, if you compare the visually equivalent lines, the budget has been cut by £335K from £11.4m to £11.1m. What on earth is going on?

FY20-21 Budget Smoke and Mirrors Changes Dec 20 to Full Year Outturn

FY20-21 Budget Smoke and Mirrors Changes Dec 20 to Full Year Outturn

Hart Budget Fy20/21 Outturn to Accounts

Then when you look at the accounts, the numbers stay the same, but the terminology changes yet again.

Hart FY20-21 Budget Changes Outturn to Accounts

Hart FY20-21 Budget Changes Outturn to Accounts

It’s difficult to believe that even those producing the numbers know what is going on. It’s almost certian the employees working to these numbers are completely confused. I am sure that Councillors and certainly this attentive member of the public doesn’t have the first idea what they are doing. If anyone thinks this meets the standards of robust internal control, strong public financial management and transparency, then I have bridge to sell you.

 

Hart loses £1m down the back of the sofa

Hart Loses £1m down the back of the sofa

Hart Loses £1m down the back of the sofa

Sorry for another post highlighting Hart’s dire financial position. But the bad news keeps on coming. Not content with the budget car crash, playing the Shapley Heath shell game and disappearing into medium term black hole, they have now lost over £1m on the waste contract.

Yes, £1,088K has gone missing from the Waste Contract and nobody knows where it is. Perhaps it’s down the back of the sofa or maybe it’s been sucked into the black hole. Apparently this loss is being investigated by external consultants.  It seems highly irregular that nearly 10% of Hart’s entire budget should have gone missing. Indeed, if they still had the money, last year would have been in surplus, not in deficit to the tune of £784K.

We had previously thought that with the Covid disruptions, a deficit last year would have been entirely forgivable. But now it has transpired that the deficit last year was a spectacular own goal, revealing massive weaknesses in financial controls. The waste contract is supposed to be “passthrough” where expenditure is matched by income.

The missing money was reported to Overview and Scrutiny in June.

Hart Loses £1m down the back of the sofa

HAWBDC Basingstoke Waste Contract £1.121m un-invoiced at year end reported June 2021

It was also reported to Cabinet earlier this month. It isn’t clear how the variance managed to change from £1.121m to £1.088m between mid-June and early July. Nor how un-invoiced costs can morph into an overspend. But “fluid” reporting is becoming a hallmark of the Council. Indeed, if it were only “un-invoiced costs”, why not simply issue the invoices, rather than start an investigation?

Hart Loses £1m down the back of the sofa

HAWBDC Basingstoke Waste Contract £1.088m overspend reported Jul 2021

Hart Loses £1m: Audit Trail

However, the loss shouldn’t come as a total surprise. There is an audit trail of how Hart managed to lose £1m down the back of the sofa.

Let’s start with the passthrough budget.

HAWBDC Basingstoke Waste Contract Pass through budget from Budget book

HAWBDC Basingstoke Waste Contract Pass through budget from Budget book

This clearly shows a net overall cost of zero, where income exactly balances costs.

The first sign of something going awry came in the budget review to the end of July 2020, reported in October.

HAWBDC Basingstoke Waste Contract £896K variance as of July 2020

HAWBDC Basingstoke Waste Contract £896K variance as of July 2020

Costs of nearly £896K had remained un-invoiced due to officers shielding from Covid. Understandable perhaps, but a massive sum nonetheless.

By September 2020, reported in December, the situation had got worse.

HAWBDC Basingstoke Waste Contract £1.48m variance as of Sept 2020

£1,48m of invoices had still not been sent, but Cabinet and public were reassured that they would catch up in the coming months.

By December, reported in March 2021, over £1.5m of invoices remained unsent.

HAWBDC Basingstoke Waste Contract £1.52m variance as of Dec 2020

HAWBDC Basingstoke Waste Contract £1.52m variance as of Dec 2020

It took until June of this year to report to O&S that there was a significant problem and come clean that an investigation was required (see above).

The subject came up at Audit Committee this week. There is to be an internal audit of Waste and Street Cleaning.

Hart Loses £1m down the back of the sofa.

Waste Internal Audit not starting until September

However, we understand from the video of the meeting that this work isn’t due to start until September. So, the internal audit team won’t start to look at this until over a year has elapsed from problems first being apparent. That doesn’t seem urgent enough to find out what happened to nearly 10% of the entire budget.

Growing Black Hole at the Heart of Hart’s Finances

The Black Hole at the Heart of Hart's Finances

The Black Hole at the Heart of Hart’s Finances

More evidence has emerged of Hart’s Finance car crash. The black hole at the heart of Hart Council’s medium term finances is growing. They recently published their draft accounts for last financial year which updated the medium term financial plan (MTFP).

This shows that the expected deficit for FY22/23 has expanded to £1,175K and the deficit for FY23/24 will be £1,413K.

The Black Hole at the Heart of Hart's Finances

Hart Council Medium Term Financial Plan

This represents a massive deterioration compared the the forecast provided in last year’s accounts and to Cabinet as recently as December 2020. At that time they forecast zero deficit in both years.

Hart MTFS presented to Cabinet December 2020

Hart MTFS presented to Cabinet December 2020

They got closer to reality at the time of the budget in February 2021. However, the FY22/23 deficit has grown from the £1,018K estimated at that time.

Hart's Finances 2021/22 and 2022/23

Hart Council budget deficits 2021/22 and 2022/23

Even these horrifying numbers are optimistic. They assume £499K of as yet unidentified savings will be made in FY22/23 and £796K in FY23/24.

If they manage to make the savings, then the deficit will still be 10.7% of their budget in FY22/23 and 12.5% in FY23/24. If those savings don’t materialise then the deficits will be 15.1% and 19.6% respectively. These are huge numbers. Even more troubling is that there doesn’t appear to be any formal committee set up to deal with the issue. However, they have recently bought an office block in Basingstoke. The income they receive may help to close the gap.

Crumb of Good News in Hart’s Finances

The only crumb of comfort is that the estimated deficit for this financial year has fallen from £381K when the draft budget was signed off to £179K in the MTFP. This seems to reflect that they have received £270K of extra income for Shapley Heath (£130K) and Recycling Credits (£140K) not included in the draft budget. However, this extra income should have seen the deficit falling by £270K, not £202K.

Shapley Heath still burning money

It is galling to see that money is still being squandered on the entirely unnecessary Shapley Heath project when the overall financial position is so dire. The Council are fiddling while our money burns.

We have asked questions about these and other issues to be answered at Council on Thursday 29 July. They can be found here.

Shapley Heath Financial Shell Game

Shapley Heath Financial Shell Game

Shapley Heath Financial Shell Game

Hart’s lack of financial control has also infected the Garden Community project. Their accounting for Shapley Heath has descended into a shell game. They set a zero budget, then we have to guess where they have hidden the actual spending. Let’s go through it.

Shapley Heath Zero Budget

Hart recently published the final budget for the current financial year. This also included the budget for last year, FY20/21. The budget for the new settlement at Shapley Heath was set at zero as can be seen in the image below. Note that in public sector accounts, positive numbers are spending and negative numbers are income.

HASETT - Shapley Heath Final Budget FY21-22

HASETT – Shapley Heath Final Budget FY21-22

It was made up of ~£68K for employee costs and car allowances, offset by a somewhat implausible identical receipt from GL Code 44047 – Consultants Projects. It is not clear why they were expecting consultants to pay them money. In common with the other service areas, no overheads were allocated.

Shapley Heath Declared Spending

Yet, the transparency report shows spending of £63.7K on consultants in “New Settlement” for FY20/21:

Shapley Heath Financial Shell Game: New Settlement Transparency Report FY20-21

Shapley Heath Financial Shell Game: New Settlement Transparency Report FY20-21

It is not clear how they managed to authorise this spending against a zero budget. On the face of it, it’s contrary to the Constitution. Budget regulation 3 limits spending to within the approved budget:

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 3

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 3

Budget regulation 5 allows transfer between budgets.

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 5

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 5

But this is limited by Financial Regulation 12 to £10,000 without Cabinet approval or £50,000 with Cabinet approval. We can find no record of Cabinet approving a change in the budget for Shapley Heath. In any event they have spent more than the transfer limit.

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR12

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR12

In addition FR10 says that they cannot incur unbudgeted expenditure without approval of full Council.

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR10

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR10

So, even the spending of the £63.7K appears to be in breach of the Constitution.

Shapley Heath Additional Work

Furthermore, the Shapley Heath Opportunity Board papers show that four Baseline Studies had reached the status of “Finalised” by 8 March. This is before the end of the financial year. These must have cost money, but do not show on the Transparency Report nor on the Contracts Register.

Shapley Heath Baseline Studies as of 8 March 2021

Shapley Heath Baseline Studies as of 8 March 2021

So, they have spent an unknown, but large amount of our money against a zero budget.

Shapley Heath Financial Shell Game: Transfer from Reserves

We can get an idea of how much they actually spent from the report recently presented to Cabinet. Buried on page 108 is an analysis of funds transferred from reserves.

Shapley Heath Financial Shell Game £283K Transfer from Reserves

Shapley Heath £283K Transfer from Reserves

This shows £283K was transferred from reserves for “funding 2020/2021 work on the New Settlement at Shapley Heath”. Note that the same report says that they incurred a deficit of £784K in the financial year (p103).

We will be asking questions at Council next week about how it was possible to spend £283K against a zero budget while running a massive deficit. Hart are fiddling while burning our money.

 

The questions can be found here.

Hart Finance Car Crash

Hart Finance Car Crash

Hart Finance Car Crash

We are becoming increasingly concerned that Hart’s finances are experiencing a slow motion car crash. This post will cover three significant issues we have identified from the current budget. Tomorrow, we will cover the Shapley Heath financial shell game. Later next week we’ll take a look at the growing black hole in the medium term finances. Plus, there’s the loss of £1m on the waste contract. Today’s three issues are:

  • Changes to the actual spend in FY18/19 and FY19/20
  • The budget doesn’t add up and so is not internally consistent and can’t be relied upon
  • Big changes to the approved draft budget in the final published version apparently in contravention of the Constitution

Hart Finance Car Crash: Changes to Actuals

Hart Finances Out of Control - Changes to Actuals

Hart Finances Out of Control – Changes to Actuals

As can be seen the actual total spend for 2018/19 has fallen from £5,387K to £5,020K between the two reports, a significant difference of £367K. Similarly, the spend for 19/20 has fallen from £11,241K to £10,877K, a difference of £364K. It isn’t clear whether this change in the management accounts will cause a restatement of the statutory accounts.

In the private sector, restatement of prior year accounts would be regarded as a profoundly serious matter. In Hart Council, it seems to have passed without comment.

Hart Finance Car Crash: Budget Does Not Add Up

Hart Finance Car Crash - Budget Does Not Add Up

Hart Finances Out of Control – Budget Does Not Add Up

We highlighted back in February in a letter to all councillors and an email to the JCX’s that the draft budget did not add up. Nobody cared at the time. Apparently, they still don’t care because the final budget doesn’t add up either. The sum of the spending in the service areas for GL Codes 10000 , 44069 and 90012 is not equal to the total for those GL Codes in the “Subjective” summary. In short, the budget does not add up. It appears as though HANEED (Housing Needs) is missing from the detailed service areas. This may account for the discrepancy. This service area is budgeting £813K of spending and nobody has noticed it’s missing. This is just sloppy work.

We have highlighted this anomaly to officers, but have yet to receive a reply. It’s difficult to see how it can be relied upon to be accurate.

[Update]: The budget has now been updated and the errors identified have been corrected [/Update]

Big Changes Between Draft and Final

Hart Finance Car Crash - Big changes between draft and final budget

Hart Finances Out of Control – Big changes between draft and final budget

In addition, there have been big swings in the budget for each service area between the draft and final versions. Total net spending has reduced by ~£37K, probably partially explained by extra grant income. However, total spending in Corporate Services and Community Services has been significantly reduced, largely offset by a big increase in Technical and Environmental Services and a smaller increase in Place.

These large variations appear to be in contravention of Hart’s Constitution. Once the budget has been agreed at a full council meeting, it is set in stone. It can only be varied in a limited way without further approval from Council.

Budget regulation 3 limits the officers to spending within the approved budget:

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 3

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 3

Budget regulation 5 allows virement (transfer) between budgets.

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 5

Hart Council Constitution Budget Regulation 5

But this is limited by FR12 to £10,000 without Cabinet approval or £50,000 with Cabinet approval. These changes are larger than the transfer limit. Changes this large should have gone back to full Council for approval.

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR12

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR12

In addition, FR10 says that they cannot incur unbudgeted expenditure without the approval of full Council.

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR10

Hart Council Constitution Financial Regulation FR10

In other words, whoever runs Corporate and Community Services have been authorised to spend more money than they now have in their budget. The heads of Place and Technical Services are not authorised to spend all of the money in the final budget. It’s a complete mess.

Hart Council is fiddling while our money burns.

We have asked questions about these and other issues to be answered at Council on Thursday 29 July. They can be found here.

 

 

 

 

Two Faced Liberal Democrats

Two Faced Liberal Democrats

Two Faced Liberal Democrats – the difference between rhetoric and reality

Alarming gaps have emerged between what the local Lib Dems claim in their promotional literature and what they actually do in office. These gaps appear in their:

  • Shapley Heath Policy.
  • Environmental Policy.
  • Financial Policy.

Two-Faced Liberal Democrats: Shapley Heath

The leader of Hart Council and portfolio-holder for Place are both Liberal Democrats. All Lib Dem councillors have voted in favour of Shapley Heath (or its predecessor Winchfield New Town or Policy SS3) at every opportunity. The portfolio holder for Place is the Cabinet champi0n for the project.  He described removing Shapley Heath from the Local Plan as “a bit of a defeat”.

Yet, they have put out literature claiming they were instrumental in defeating the Winchfield proposals.

Lib Dem Fake News claims to have saved Winchfield

Lib Dem Fake News claims to have saved Winchfield

And at the last local election, one candidate claimed that the “Liberal Democrats are totally opposed to a 10,000-house new town AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN”. Perhaps he’s in favour of 9,999 houses.

Two-Faced Liberal Democrats: Leaflet opposing Shapley Heath

Lib Dem Leaflet opposing Shapley Heath

They also claimed the new town is “not extra housing”.

However, in the official bid for funding from the Government, they clearly showed the potential for “up to 10,000” houses. They also boasted about how they would deliver Shapley Heath in addition to the Local Plan requirement.

Shapley Heath: Vision Document 10000 houses.

Shapley Heath: Vision Document 10000 houses

Nightmare in Winchfield - capacity for 10,000 houses

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

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

Shapley Heath in addition to Local Plan

On Shapley Heath, they push it as hard as they possibly can when in office and claim the exact opposite in election literature.

Two-Faced Liberal Democrats: Environment

The Liberal Democrats have made a series of claims about their green credentials. First, Graham Cockarill, the Shapley Heath champion has said he is “the man with a plan to save our green fields”.

Two-Faced Liberal Democrats: Graham Cockarill Pants On Fire.

Hart Lib Dems: Pants On Fire

Quite how you can protect green fields by concreting over them is not explained. Another candidate greenwashed herself by claiming she would help our countryside flourish.

Lib Dem Greenwashing Themselves as they push Shapley Heath

Two-Faced Liberal Democrats Greenwashing

Yet, it’s the Lib Dems pushing Shapley Heath that plans to develop around 500 acres of the 1,046 acres in the area of search to deliver “up to 5,000” houses. More if the town grows to the 10,000 capacity. This is against their own climate change commitments and would put at risk dozens of red-list bird species as well as bats and hares. They say one thing, then do another.

Finance

Finally, two of their cabinet members claimed they were delivering a “balanced budget”.

Dave Neighbour, the Lib Dem Council Leader even claimed there wasn’t a deficit.

They did this even as the papers they were considering that night showed there was a deficit of £381K.

Hart Council budget deficits 2021/22 and 2022/23

Hart Council budget deficits 2021/22 and 2022/23

There is no plan to address the even wider deficit of over £1m next year.

The Liberal Democrats seem to have a problem with telling the truth. They are mendacious about Shapley Heath, making false claims on the environment and dissembling about the budget. They cannot be trusted.

 

 

 

Hart produces word salad Shapley Heath contract specs

Shapley Heath Word Salad Contract

Word Salad Shapley Heath Contract Specs

Hart has opened up the bidding on a contract to provide 8 reports for the Shapley Heath Garden Community (SHGC). The trouble is some of them are simply word salad and have no meaning. As an aside, have you noticed that they have subtly changed it from a Garden Village to a Garden Community. We think that means it gets bigger, and “community” sounds nicer than “town”.

Back to the point. The 8 reports are:

  1. Strategy Report – HNA and HIA [Health Needs Assessment and Health Impact Assessment]
  2. Strategy Report – GI, Sports and Leisure [Green Infrastructure]
  3. Strategy Report – Economy and Employment
  4. Evidence for Need for Housing for Older People
  5. Evidence for Need for housing for supported housing
  6. Evidence for Need for housing for younger people and first-time buyers
  7. Garden Community Technical Report – Accessible Housing
  8. Garden Community Technical Report – Keyworker Housing
Hart Contract Invitation 7 July 2021

Hart Contract Invitation 7 July 2021

They expect the contract to be worth around £56K in total, or approximately £7K per report. Although £56K is a lot of money, it doesn’t look like they are going to get a lot of in-depth, quality analysis for £7K per report. Moreover, the budgeted £56K is more than double the £25K total budget for consultants for the whole year.

Shapley Heath Burning Money: Budget 2021-22

Shapley Heath Burning Money: Budget 2021-22

Of course they must have already spent most of that £25K on the Shapley Heath website, the recent survey and advertising. They have received £130K from the Government that wasn’t in the budget, so maybe they are using that money to fund these reports.

Word Salad Shapley Heath contract specs

It gets worse when you start to look at the detail of the scope documents. In places they are virtually impossible to decipher. You can’t even work out what you think they are meant to say. They’re just word salad. So, heaven knows what the potential bidders are going to make of it.

First, take the GI Sports and Leisure report as an example. Section 2.6.6 sets out a specification for the final report including the following word for word quote:

e. To look at locally derived open space, recreation, sports and leisure standards for quantity, quality and accessibility including potential thresholds above which should be required and where available, financial information to be supplied….

g. Propose options for the long-term financial management, malignance of the facilities and open spaces which make best use of the resources and outline any commercial opportunities. This will include consideration for the placement of destination leisure facilities and commercial ventures.

We have no idea how any supplier is going to come up with options for malignance of the facilities.

It gets even worse. The Health report contains no mention at all assessing the number or size of GP practices required. It doesn’t even ask to look at local hospital capacity. There isn’t even a requirement to liaise with the local NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups and doesn’t even include the word “healthcare”.

However, we are sure readers will be reassured that it does include the requirement to ensure the report is “compatible with the councils [sic] 2040 target of district being net carbon neutral”. The consultants producing the report also have to “work with the Renewable Energy consultant and provide relevant information and data for the Renewable Energy consultant strategy report”.

As long as the report is carbon neutral and they’ve spoken to the Renewable Energy consultants, there’s no need to talk to the local NHS CCG, specify the size and shape of GP requirements or decide whether we’ll need extra hospital beds.

What a waste. Perhaps they should launch a contract to teach them plain English.

 

Guest Post: What is wrong with Shapley Heath

What is Wrong with Shapley Heath

What is Wrong with Shapley Heath

Today, we have a guest post from Tristram Cary, chairman of the Rural Hart Association. In this post, he sets out his reasons why the Shapley Heath Garden Community is a bad idea.

Having read the rest of this article, you might like to respond to the Shapley Heath survey. This is your chance to make known your concerns about the proposals. We have produced a handy guide with suggestions as to how you might choose to answer the freeform questions. The guide can be found on the download below. The full survey can be found here. The survey closes on 5 July.

Shapley Heath Survey with Suggested Responses

Introduction

Hart District Council is exploring the potential to build a new community in the district of up to 5,000 new homes, with associated community facilities, to meet its long-term housing requirements.” This statement, from the introduction to SHGV Community Survey, sums up HDC’s motivation for embarking on a major publicly-funded project which includes a SHGV website, a sophisticated Communications and Engagement Strategy, a SHGV Stakeholder’s Forum with five Thematic Groups and the commissioning of 13 Baseline Surveys on things like Transport, Heritage, Landscape, Flooding and Utilities.

This article makes the case that:

  1. Hart District Council (HDC) has no business undertaking the SHGV project because:
    • It is a blatant attempt to pre-determine Hart’s future development by promoting its preferred strategy over viable alternatives
    • It is not in synchronisation with the Local Plan which should guide all HDC’s planning activities
  2. By failing to consider the trade-offs involved in developing SHGV over alternative development strategies, the results of the SHGV Project in general, and the Community Survey in particular, will be largely invalid.
  3. The SHGV Project is not merely an expensive and misguided attempt at pre-determination. It is also damaging the prospects for regenerating Fleet (and Hart’s other urban centres), which is an Objective of the Local Plan (unlike SHGV)
  4. SHGV is objectively a bad development strategy for Hart (when compared to the alternatives) in terms of sustainability, climate/carbon footprint, and green spaces.

Predetermination

The SHGV Project team explains that the SHGV project is not an attempt at pre-determination because it is subordinate to the Local Plan. The Project team explains that the SHGV conclusions and recommendations will only carry weight if and when the Local Plan is updated to include SHGV, at that therefore the SHGV project is neutral and unbiased.

This argument is wrong for the following reasons:

  • SHGV is in fact the chosen strategy of HDC. HDC is dominated by Community Campaign Hart (CCH) whose primary objective is to save Fleet/Church Crookham from over-development by building a new Settlement in the Winchfield area. This is made clear in many of CCH’s newsletters (available on the CCH website). Here is an extract from the Spring 2012 CCH Newsletter:

We either continue to grow Fleet & Church Crookham outwards (in which case what, realistically, do you do with the traffic?) or we look at a new settlement.  Winchfield is about the only sustainable location for such a new settlement in Hart District.”

  • The Communication and Engagement Strategy for SHGV is heavily biased in favour of SHGV and makes no attempt to present a balanced view of SHGV in comparison to the alternatives. To illustrate this here are some quotes (with my comments in blue):

Use Shapley Heath in communications where possible [to get the public used to the idea that it is going to happen];

Create awareness of what the alternatives might be (sequential development, developments on appeal) [these are bad alternatives – no mention has been made of good alternatives including regeneration of Fleet to make it more attractive and commercially successful];

We want our audience to know why we think it’s the right location to explore [a clear bias in favour of SHGV and against alternative locations such as Rye Common];

Highlight key benefits – a new community with a unique character, green spaces, employment opportunities, retail space, leisure facilities, economic development, new schools, and other critical infrastructure [no mention of Key Disadvantages such as loss of green space, coalescence of towns, lack of growth potential, damage to prospects of Fleet regeneration, increasing housing capacity which would be taken up by Rushmoor and Surrey Heath under the Duty to Cooperate etc];

Be clear about the limited brownfield opportunities in the district [biased in favour of SHGV and ignores the alternative strategies];

Use subject matter experts (like Lord Taylor of Goss Moor) to highlight the benefits of garden communities from experience elsewhere [stressing benefits without acknowledging the downsides].

Failure to Consider Trade-Offs as a part of the SHGV Project

The SHGV project’s stated aim is to conduct an assessment of the potential of SHGV as a means of satisfying Hart’s long-term housing needs. The SHGV project team insists that the project is unbiased and that all alternatives will be properly explored as required by the Local Plan Inspector. However, if that is true, why would the SHGV project not be open about the pros and cons of SHGV when compared to alternative strategies such as alternative sites for a Garden Village and re-generation of Hart’s urban centres? Every alternative strategy will have advantages and disadvantages, and to hide the disadvantages is clearly biased.

Failure to present SHGV in the context of the alternative strategies will invalidate the results of the Community Survey.

SHGV Project is already Damaging the Prospects for the Regeneration of Fleet and Hart’s other urban centres

The Local Plan identifies that Hart does not provide adequate retail and leisure outlets for its residents. As a result, “The outflow of retail expenditure from the District…is relatively high and is likely to remain high in the future”: [Local Plan para 65.]

The Local Plan goes on to identify the cause of this problem: “The main centres in Hart have not kept pace with other centres in the wider area. Other centres have strengthened and improved their offering through investment and development. Failure to invest in the centres will see them continue to fall in the rankings”: [Retail, Leisure and Town Centre Study Part 1 para 2.15].

To provide Hart with adequate retail and leisure outlets the Local Plan states that “The challenge for Fleet specifically will be to secure investment so that it can compete with the comparable towns in neighbouring districts. All the neighbouring towns are subject to regeneration or expansion projects”: Local Plan Para 66

To attract major investment into Fleet an essential first step is to invest in a Masterplan for Fleet which would identify how the residential, employment, leisure, education, transport, and infrastructure needs could be developed in a coordinated way so that Fleet would become a better, greener, more prosperous and more commercially successful town. It is quite extraordinary that HDC has failed in its clear duty to invest in a Masterplan for Fleet (and note that HDC’s investigation into regeneration of the Civic Quarter is not sufficient)

But to make matters worse, by investing solely in the SHGV project, HDC is sending a further clear signal to developers that Fleet is not a priority. So HDC’s claim that the SHGV project is ‘neutral’ and can run in parallel with the Local Plan without damaging the Local Plan objectives is false. HDC has clearly nailed its colours to the SHGV mast, and by doing so it is already significantly damaging Fleet’s future prospects.

SHGV is Objectively a Poor Strategy

SHGV is objectively a poor strategy compared to the alternatives for the following reasons:

  1. It is a well-established fact that larger settlements are more sustainable than smaller ones (because larger settlements have more residential, employment, health and leisure facilities within easy reach of the residents than smaller ones). SHGV is therefore going to generate a larger carbon footprint than a strategy based on re-generating Hart’s existing towns and villages. This should be a critical issue now that HDC has declared a Climate Emergency and has undertaken to ‘put the reduction of CO2 at the front and centre of all policies and formal decision-making.’
  2. SHGV scores badly against several of the Guiding Principles of Garden Villages. In particular:
    • Green Space – Garden Communities should be surrounded by countryside. SHGV will not be
    • Sustainable Scale – This principle includes the ‘capacity for future growth to meet the evolving housing and economic needs of the local area’. SHGV will have very limited geographical scope for future growth
    • Future Proofed – This principle also includes the ‘capacity for future growth’ which SHGV will not have

Coalescence and Conurbation

What's wrong with Shapley Heath - Coalesence

What is wrong with Shapley Heath – Coalesence

This map shows the density of residential housing in the district (based on March 2017 residential address data in 1km squares). Areas which are not coloured in green are countryside (having less than one home per hectare).

Points to note are:

  1. The green areas of urban development clearly show how coalescence has already caused towns like Yateley, Camberley, Farnborough and Aldershot to be merged into a single conurbation
  2. This conurbation already spreads in a continuous thread from the centre of London westwards to the westerly edge of Fleet
  3. At present Fleet, Hartley Wintney, Hook and Odiham are all surrounded by countryside which adds significantly to their character and provides an important leisure amenity. This is what gives the district its rural character
  4. SHGV would merge Fleet, Hartley Wintney, Hook and Odiham a continuous conurbation, in defiance of the Garden Village principles and the Local Plan vision to maintain the rural character of the district

What is Wrong with Shapley Heath: Conclusions

  1. The SHGV Project is not an unbiased exploration of the potential of SHGV. It is an attempt at pre-determination.
  2. SHGV is causing real damage to the Local Plan aim of attracting investment for the re-regeneration of Fleet and other urban centres
  3. The results of the Community Survey will not be valid because no balanced context has been provided on the advantages/disadvantages of SHGV and alternative strategies
  4. SHGV is objectively a poor strategy which does not align with HDC’s Climate Emergency commitment to put the reduction of CO2 at the front and centre of all polices and decision-making
  5. SHGV will cause coalescence between Fleet, Harley Wintney, Hook and Odiham which will significantly damage their character as well as the rural nature of Hart District.

Recommendations

  1. HDC should abandon the SHGV Project and invest instead in a comprehensive Masterplan for Fleet which is an essential first step towards meeting the Local Plan objective to secure funding for Fleet regeneration
  2. Failing a), the SHGV project should provide clear information about the pros and cons of SHGV when compared to the alternative development strategies
  3. Respondents should be encouraged to object to the clear bias of the SHGV Community Survey

Shapley Heath Endangers Red List Birds

Shapley Heath Endangers Red List Birds

Shapley Heath Endangers Red List Birds

This article builds on our earlier post setting out the green case against Shapley Heath. We have been inspired by new research that shows the red list species that are found in Winchfield.  New analysis shows that 26 of the 67 bird species on the RSPB Red List have been spotted in Winchfield parish.

Clearly building 5-10,000 houses in the Shapley Heath area will endanger these important species. Hart Council’s survey about Shapley Heath focuses on biodiversity as a key issue. It is mentioned in questions 19, 20 and 21. However, they fail to mention the damage that a new community will do to the existing ecosystems and the threatened species found there.

This seems odd given that Hart has its own Biodiversity Action Plan. But it seems they haven’t kept up to date with their promised monitoring reports. The Council even has a page dedicated to biodiversity that promises to

[Set] targets for biodiversity achievement in planning, site management and monitoring and education and awareness

Having read the rest of this article, you might like to respond to the Shapley Heath survey. This is your chance to make known your concerns about the proposals. We have produced a handy guide with suggestions as to how you might choose to answer the freeform questions. The guide can be found on the download below. The full survey can be found here. The survey closes on 5 July.

Shapley Heath Survey with Suggested Responses

Winchfield Notable and Protected Bird Species

The current Winchfield Neighbourhood Plan (WNP) shows on p47 the notable and protected species identified by the Hampshire Biodiversity Information Centre (HBIC).

Winchfield Notable and Protected Bird Species

Winchfield Notable and Protected Bird Species

This shows a total of 64 different species.

RSPB Red List

The RSPB helpfully produce a red list of UK birds. This contains 67 separate species.  To place a bird species on the Red List, the RSPB apply a set of strict criteria:

Shapley Heath Endangers Red List Birds

RSPB Red List Criteria

The criteria include population decline and contraction in breeding range. Clearly, building all over the Area of Search will contract the available space and may well kill-off the local population of these birds. The red list contains 67 different species.

Shapley Heath Endangers Red List Birds

By cross-referencing these lists, you can see the red list birds that make their home in Winchfield.

Shapley Heath Endangers Red List Birds

Red List Bird Species in Winchfield Neighbourhood Plan

This list contains 26 different species. So, nearly 39% of the species on the red list have been found in Winchfield parish. It would be an act of pure malice to destroy the habitat of these important birds.

Mammals Need Protecting Too

The WNP (p44) also says that Winchfield is home to five species of bats. All species of bats are protected in the UK.

Pipistrelle Bat found in Winchfield

Pipistrelle Bat found in Winchfield

Winchfield is also home to brown hares.

Brown Hare Found in Winchfield

Brown Hare Found in Winchfield

Hares are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. They are also a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. Surely a council committed to biodiversity wold not put these important creatures at risk.

 

Shapley Heath Mapgate: Council map hides the reality

Shapley Heath Mapgate - Coalescence

Shapley Heath Mapgate – Coalescence

They say a picture paints a thousand words. However, sometimes, what’s missing from a picture can tell you more than what’s in it. As you may know, Hart has published a survey about the proposed Shapley Heath Garden Community. There is a map associated with the survey that is published on the dedicated Garden Community website.

Shapley Heath #Mapgate - Heart Shaped Love It

Shapley Heath #Mapgate – Heart Shaped Love It

Note the soft boundaries, the warm orange dots and the attempt to make the boundary heart shaped, so you will subliminally love it. Of course the OS map on which it is based doesn’t include the Edenbrook development on the western Fleet boundary.

To combat this propaganda, Winchfield Parish Council has published some maps of its own, showing the impact of Shapley Heath should it ever go ahead. The first, at the top of this post, shows the potential coalescence with surrounding towns and villages. If they build in the NE zone, it will effectively join Fleet to Hartley Wintney. On the other hand, if they build in the NW, around Murrell Green, then it will coalesce Harley Wintney and Hook. If they build both sides, then effectively, Fleet, Hartley Wintney, Hook and the new town will become a single, large conurbation. We have previously termed this Hartley Winchook.

Shapley Heath Mapgate: Central Land Not Available

Shapley Heath #Mapgate - Central Land Not Available

Shapley Heath Mapgate – Central Land Not Available

The next map shows land ownership in the area of search. The areas in green are under the control of the developers. Land that is potentially available to the developers – presumably not yet under option – is shown in blue. The red zone is land that is not and never will be under the control of the developers. Areas of ancient woodland, shown in brown, cannot be developed either.

As can be seen, there’s vast swathes of land in the area of search that cannot be developed. This means they have to build either in the NW area, the NE area or both. But none of those options allows for a single coherent settlement. All three options lead to coalescence.

Shapley Heath Mapgate: Additional Constraints

Shapley Heath #Mapgate - Physical Constraints

Shapley Heath Mapgate – Additional Constraints

However, the constraints don’t stop there. When you add on the additional environmental items such as the Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), then the area becomes even more constrained. The physical constraints of the high-voltage electricity pylons, the high pressure gas main, the M3, railway line and the former landfill all add further restrictions on what is safe or sensible to develop.

Conclusion

If you display an anodyne map to the general population, they will form one view of the site under consideration. When faced with maps that actually convey real information, then perceptions can change markedly. We wonder why Hart Council aren’t taking more heed of the Inspector’s words when he examined plans for a new town in the same area as part of the Local Plan (our emphasis):

I have a number of fundamental concerns with regard to the soundness of Policy SS3.

There is little evidence to demonstrate that a site can actually be delivered in terms of infrastructure, viability and landownership within the identified AoS.

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.

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.

All of these issues are known, yet the Council is pressing on spending money they don’t have, on a project we don’t need and probably won’t work anyway.

Having read this article, you might like to respond to the Shapley Heath survey. This is your chance to make known your concerns about the proposals. We have produced a handy guide with suggestions as to how you might choose to answer the freeform questions. The guide can be found on the download below. The full survey can be found here.

Shapley Heath Survey with Suggested Responses