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.

Beware! Lib Dem Fake News

Lib Dem Fake News claims to have saved Winchfield

Lib Dem Fake News claims to have saved Winchfield

Quite astonishingly, the local Lib Dems have issued a Fake News leaflet claiming credit for the Winchfield New Town being removed from the Hart Local Plan.

In their leaflet, they say that County Councillor David Simpson and local campaigner Howard Kitto welcome the decision to remove the new town. To be fair, David Simpson has been a long-standing opponent of the new town.

However, the Lib Dem fake news leaflet fails to mention:

  • The Lib Dems were part of the administration that put forward the new town in the Local Plan. Indeed Lib Dem Councillor Graham Cockarill was and is the Portfolio head of Planning. In addition, David Neighbour is the Leader of the council who oversaw the policy.
  •  Every single Lib Dem Hart Councillor has voted in favour of the new town at every opportunity.
  • On the same night they made the announcement that the Inspector had found the new town unsound, they voted to keep £785,990 in next year’s budget for further work on the new town.
  • At the Cabinet that decided to withdraw the new town, Councillor Cockarill described the removal as “a bit of a defeat”

It is only after the Inspector found their plans unsound that they reluctantly removed the new town from the Local Plan. Look at the body language when they made the announcement, they were clearly sad to see it removed.

It will be interesting to see if they are delivering the same messages in Yateley and Fleet.

No wonder people have lost faith in politicians when they issue such blatant fake news.

Their full leaflet can be found on the links below:

Lib Dem Fake News 1

 

Lib Dem Fake News 2

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”.

CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

In a quite astonishing development, Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart CCH have doubled down on their Winchfield new town bias.

In an update to their website since last night, they have added the following paragraph:

The pressure for new development never goes away and a new settlement is the most effective way to absorb these central government imposed demands while delivering much needed infrastructure. If we don’t start the process of planning for this now we will forever face the blight of urban extensions over and over again.

Community Campaign Completely Concrete Hart CCH Doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

CCH doubles down on Winchfield new town bias

This comes despite the Inspector saying:

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.

Of course, the Inspector said that their infrastructure plans lacked substance. So, they couldn’t even demonstrate the benefits of their main reason for supporting a new town.

The work simply hasn’t been done to demonstrate that a new town at Winchfield is the most effective way of delivering additional housing growth or infrastructure beyond the plan period. Moreover, the Inspector says that even the additional work might not show the new town being found sound:

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.

We simply cannot trust CCH to be impartial on the matter if and when the additional work is carried out.

Alternatives to a new town

There is an alternative to both a new town and urban extensions. That is urban regeneration.

The Local Plan acknowledges that a big problem facing Hart is that it has not kept up with its neighbouring districts. Hart’s shops, restaurants and leisure services are losing out to the competition. This is openly acknowledged in the Local Plan:

  • 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 main cause is that no effort has been made to invest in the re-generation of Fleet (where 40% of Hart’s population lives) or Blackwater, Hook or Yateley. This is also openly acknowledged in the Plan:

  • 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
  • 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

It is to be welcomed that Hart Council are removing the new town from the Local Plan. Any plan for the future must include the option of regenerating our urban centres. This needs to be properly and impartially evaluated.

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)

Winchfield floods yet again 4th Feb 2019

Winchfield Floods again. Bagwell Lane 4 February 2019

Winchfield Floods again. Bagwell Lane 4 February 2019

Winchfield floods again. Yet another 1 in 30 year event hit Winchfield again yesterday. The photo shows the bottom of Bagwell Lane near the junction with Station Road. I can confirm that the flooding on Taplins Farm Lane was even worse around 6.45pm last night. However, it was too dark for taking photos and too dangerous to stop.

[Update: we have now been sent a picture of the flooding on Taplins Farm Lane yesterday]

Winchfield Floods again. Taplins Farm Lane 4 February 2019.

Winchfield Floods again. Taplins Farm Lane 4 February 2019.

This comes despite the sustainability assessment claiming:

There was some evidence of wet ground at the far east of SHL183, but “no other obvious evidence of current or past flooding”.

Winchfield Strategic Assessment - Flood Risk 1

The detailed assessment also says there’s only a one in 30 year chance of surface water flooding.

Winchfield Strategic Assessment - Flood Risk 3

This is of course complete nonsense. The area of Taplins Farm Lane near the railway bridge flooded in April 2018 and three times in 2016 alone. Evidence documenting the 2016 flood events can be found here (4 Jan) , here (7 Jan)here (9 March on Station Road) and here (28 March due to #StormKatie).  These Winchfield floods are obviously more than one in 30 year events.

It appears as though this latest flood was caused by rain melting the snow on the already saturated ground. Surely, everybody can see this area is not suitable for new housing. Let’s hope the Planning Inspector sees sense in his assessment of the new town proposal in the Local Plan.