Hart Terminates Shapley Heath Collaboration Agreement

Hart Terminates Shapley Heath Collaboration Agreement

Hart Terminates Shapley Heath Collaboration Agreement

Hart Council’s Cabinet last night voted unanimously to terminate the collaboration agreement it has had in place with developers since February of this year.

The vote was taken on an amendment to the published papers for the meeting. The original recommendations were as follows:

  1. A Local Plan review assessment is carried out once any ‘Planning Bill’ has passed through Parliament and the Government has issued any associated updated guidance.
  2. That the Shapley Heath Garden Community Project is concluded with immediate effect but that existing baseline studies and surveys proceed to completion and be published early in the new year.
  3. Cabinet agrees to the principle of seeking the commissioning of a ‘Settlement Capacity and Intensification Study’ to be funded through a drawn down from the Local Plan reserve.

At this stage we only have video evidence of the amendment to Recommendation 2 fom the meeting. We will update this post once the minutes have been published. The video below is edited to show just the amended recommendation and the eventual vote.

[Update:] Thematic Group Members Email [/Update]

Confirmation of Shapley Heath Termination

Confirmation of Shapley Heath Termination

Hart Terminates Shapley Heath Collaboration Agreement: Impact

The impact of this decision is very positive for the We Heart Hart Campaign. Not only have they stopped the Shapley Heath project, they have now also ended the agreement with developers.

They also voted to begin a process to review the Local Plan, in line with legislation. At this stage they are going to assess what might need to be done to the Local Plan in 2025. At the very least they will have to update the housing target numbers with the up to date numbers from the housing need methodology. This should reduce the annual requirement from 423dpa to 286 dpa. However, updated household projections, based on the 2021 census won’t be published until 2023. Each time new projections have been published, Hart’s housing target has been reduced. So, we can hope for even lower numbers.

The Cabinet also voted to undertake a “Settlement Capacity and Intensification Study”. This will look at how much of our additional housing could be built within the settlement boundaries of our existing urban centres. We have been calling for such a study for years, so welcome this about face from the Council.

However, it is clear that the Lib Dem/CCH coalition are carrying out these actions under duress. There was certainly no enthusiasm in their voices as they voted to end the project and terminate the collaboration agreement. They are still wedded to the idea of Shapley Heath.

No doubt the proposal will be back in the Local Plan review.

The video of the full item is shown below. Viewers may note the sometimes bad tempered exchanges as the Conservative Councillors observing the meeting tried to get to the bottom of how much Shapley Heath has cost. They also asked about when we are finally going to see the output.


Hart Faces Wave of Change

After seeing the many recent failures of Hart Council, it is inevitable that Hart will face a wave of change. The most pressing issue facing the council is the structural budget deficit. Even after the savings they have identified, a large deficit remains. This is clearly unsustainable for even a few years, so something radical needs to change, and quickly. The only question is, will Hart take the initiative and surf the wave of change. Or will it be overtaken by events and be destroyed by a tsunami beyond its control?

There are some potential ideas to consider:

  • Share resources with another Council
  • Be subsumed into a broader pan-Hampshire unitary authority

Hart Faces Wave of Change: Share Resources

By way of example, nearby Havant and East Hampshire councils have come to an arrangement to share resources. This has enabled them to make significant savings in for instance, the leadership team.

Hart currently has 2 full-time chief executives each costing over £122K per year in salaries, expenses and pension contributions. In addition, there is a full time S151/Head of Corporate Services Officer, a Head of Place, Head of Environmental and Technical Services and a Head of Community Services. Each of those roles costs nearly £100K on a full year basis. In total, the leadership team costs over £540K per year.

Hart Faces Wave of Change: Cost of Hart Council Leadership Team

Hart Faces Wave of Change: Cost of Hart Council Leadership Team

Between them, Havant and East Hampshire have a single chief executive, a director of Corporate Services/S151 and a Service Director of Regeneration and Place. In total the cost of the leadership team is £333K. This is shared between the two councils giving a cost for each of £166K.

Havant and East Hants Senior Salaries

Havant and East Hants Senior Salaries

It is simply untenable for Hart to have two chief executives when Havant and East Hampshire get along with just one between them. On leadership team alone there is a potential saving of £378K per year if an agreement could be reached with another council. Probably more once additional ancillary costs are taken into account. No doubt additional savings could be made in the lower ranks too from combining the workforces. Additional savings could likely be made in contracts, premises and IT systems too. It is probably feasible to eliminate the remaining deficits in 22/23 (£494K) and 23/24 (£703K) from such a combination.

Interestingly, both councils are forecasting surpluses in the medium term, even though they are both of similar size to Hart.

Hart Council Combination Candidates


Having established that sharing resources between councils can work and deliver savings, it is time to look for potential candidates.

Perhaps the most obvious candidate would be neighbouring Rushmoor. However, their finances are an even bigger basket case than Hart’s. Rushmoor is forecasting a deficit of over £4m in FY23/24 and FY24/25. Moreover, they are also forecasting that their reserves will be totally depleted in FY23/24.

Rushmoor £4m deficit and depleted reserves

Rushmoor £4m deficit and depleted reserves

If you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, you certainly can’t make a silk purse from two sow’s ears.

Basingstoke and Deane

The other potential candidate is Basingstoke and Deane (B&D). B&D is about three times bigger than Hart, with an annual budget of around £32m. It is currently running a surplus, but is forecasting a deficit in FY23/24. Hart already shares the waste contract with B&D. Combining resources with B&D will no doubt lead to savings that could help both councils close the future funding gap.

Basingstoke and Deane MTFS

Basingstoke and Deane MTFS

Hart Faces Wave of Change: Pan-Hampshire Deal

Another development that we need to keep a lose eye on is the proposed “Pan-Hampshire Deal”. Hampshire County Council have produced a couple of documents about the proposals:

The idea is to seek a devolution deal from the Government covering the existing Hampshire County Council (HCC) area, plus the unitary authorities of Southampton, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. The idea is to seek more powers and responsibilities from Central Government along with extra funding.

This may well have a significant impact on the governance of the whole of Hampshire.  Two options are proposed:

  1. Maintenance of the present arrangements which will lead only to a possible County Deal for Hampshire County Council, with limited new powers and funding.
  2. Creation of a Pan-Hampshire Combined Authority involving the County Council, existing Unitary Authorities, Districts and Boroughs, to assume direct responsibility for new functions and to access new resources. This can
    be accompanied with collaborative structures around functions and areas through joint committees; direct business
    engagement and leadership on key economic priorities such as international trade & investment, innovation & skills; and wider engagement with public service providers.

Clearly, the second option to create a pan-Hampshire combined authority may well impact the structure of the existing authorities. There are almost certainly opportunities for significant cost savings. However, our fear is that such a move may create a local government leviathan that is too remote and unresponsive to the needs of a small district like Hart.

HCC are inviting views from partners and stakeholders. So we will have to see what transpires. But it may be that Hart gets subsumed into this bigger plan.

Hart Council Out Of Control

Hart Council Out of Control

Hart Council Out of Control

There’s a disturbing trend in Hart Council. Deadlines are being missed. Long standing meetings are being postponed. The finances are still not under control. These things all point to a Council that is out of control.  In summary:

  • Audit Committee Postponed
  • Medium Term finances still in deficit, despite savings being identified
  • Missing 5-year Land Supply
  • CIL proposal based on unpublished Infrastructure Plan
  • No progress on elements of the Local Development Scheme
  • Shapley Heath Deliverables Remain unpublished

Let’s look at the detail.

Audit Committee Postponed

An Audit Committee meeting was supposed to take place this week, but it has been postponed. This meeting was an important one; the purpose was to receive the audit letter and auditor’s report.

Hart Council Out of Control Audit Committee Postponed

Hart Council Out of Control Audit Committee Postponed

Medium Term finances still in deficit

The Council has been working to identify savings to close the black hole at the heart of their finances.  Some proposals were presented to O&S last week. However, the savings identified do not eliminate the deficit.

Hart Council Out of Control Medium Term Finances still in deficit

Hart Council Out of Control Medium Term Finances still in deficit

Hart Council Out of Control: Missing 5-year land supply

At O&S on 21 September, we were assured that the updated 5-year land supply was on track for delivery by the end of September. However, at last week’s O&S this had been pushed back to Christmas. It is very strange for something that was on track to be delivered within 9 days should suddenly suffer a three month delay. This is indicative of poor internal management and control.

5 year land supply on track end of September

5 year land supply on track end of September

5 year land supply pushed back to Christmas

5 year land supply pushed back to Christmas

CIL paper based on unpublished Infrastructure Delivery Plan

At last week’s O&S they discussed a proposed CIL charging schedule. The funding gap that the CIL is supposed to help close was based on an as yet unpublished Infrastructure Delivery Plan (IDP). This identifies a funding gap of £57.9m.

Hart Council Infrastructure Funding Gap of £58m

Hart Council Infrastructure Funding Gap of £58m

However, the latest published IDP came out around the time of the Local Plan. This showed a funding gap of £72.3m, but this did not include Social and Extra Care nor Countryside schemes. In fact many of the items on the IDP were un-costed and have no funding, to the real gap was even wider.

Hart Council Infrastructure Funding Gap of £72m

Hart Council Infrastructure Funding Gap of £72m

We should be able to scrutinise the new paper to see how the gap has miraculously fallen by ~£14m and whether the figures are realistic.

No Progress on Local Development Scheme

Back in 2019, the Council produced a Local Development Scheme. This sets out the timelines for delivery of all elements of the Local Plan and other development documents.

A DPD for Traveller sites was supposed to have been submitted to Government in June of this year.  Nothing has happened. There was supposed to be a Development Management DPD consultation in June of this year. Nothing has happened. Instead they carried out the survey about the totally unnecessary Shapley Heath project.

Local Development Scheme Deadlines Missed

Local Development Scheme Deadlines Missed

The simply cannot keep wasting time effort and our money on vanity project while they fail to produce key documents that are required.

Shapley Heath survey and baseline studies not yet published

Of course, the results of the Shapley Heath survey and Baseline Studies still haven’t been published. This is despite Councillor Cockarill promising that they would be published “very shortly” at the last Council meeting on 30th September. indeed he noted that if they hadn’t paused the project, the results would have been published to the Opportunity Board in September.

Some of the Baseline Studies were due to be published to the Opportunity Board originally scheduled for July 2021. They still haven’t been published. The current status is ambiguous, with some statements saying they will be “published promptly” and others saying we need to wait until the New Year.

Hart Council Out of Control

In addition, of course our green waste has not been collected for weeks on end. Overall, this paints an alarming picture of failure, obfuscation and secrecy. This cannot be allowed to continue.


CCH They Don’t Like It Up Em

Local political party, Completely Concrete Community Campaign Hart (CCH) have been sent into disarray after our local MP, Ranil Jayawardena took them to task over their lack of a regeneration strategy.

Origins of the CCH They Don’t Like it Up Em Saga

Back in the summer, CCH published a post on their Facebook page saying they had written to our MP to ask about Hart’s housing numbers. They promised to “post any response we receive in due course”.

CCH They Don't Like it Up Em - Post about letter to Ranil

CCH They Don’t Like it Up Em – Post about letter to Ranil

Months passed and CCH went very quiet. A number of people asked politely what had happened to the response. Eventually it came to light that Ranil had answered their letter but CCH was reneging on their promise to publish it. Apparently, Ranil had not answered their question in the way they wanted. Apparently, CCH can renege on promises if things don’t go their way.

Follow Up from Concerned Resident

We understand that a concerned resident contacted Ranil with what they thought were similar questions. Recently the, resident received a reply (shown in full below) that took CCH to task. Ranil felt CCH were “passing the buck” and not getting on with the job they were elected to do.  He also lamented their focus on buying up office buildings outside of the district. He was clearly disappointed that CCH are focused on the ill-fated Shapley Heath green field project to deliver more houses than are actually needed. He pointed out that CCH and the Lib Dems are not showing any leadership around regeneration of our urban centres.

The post related to this response from Ranil can be found here.

Response from CCH – They Don’t Like it Up Em

This has prompted a childish response from CCH, accusing We Heart Hart of being “Facebook collaborators”, whatever that means. We had no involvement in the letter to or response from Ranil.

CCH They Don't Like it Up Em - Accusations of Facebook Collaborator

CCH They Don’t Like it Up Em – Accusations of Facebook Collaborator

They gave a long diatribe about the Brownfield Register, which mostly contains sites that have planning permission, some of which have already been built. Indeed there’s 3,600-3,800 homes identified compared to the meagre 400 we were told were possible in 2015. It is clear the council systematically underestimates the brownfield capacity of the district.

The Civic Quarter is conspicuously missing from the Brownfield register. This site is in public ownership and Hart have been trying to pull together a plan for its regeneration for at least two years. Like with the Shapley Heath project, they have delivered nothing. If the Council can’t even be bothered to put its own land on the brownfield register, what hope is there to persuade developers that they are serious about regeneration?

They also stated that the Hart Shopping Centre was not available for regeneration. This is clearly nonsense. We helped publicise a potential scheme back in 2018. This could have delivered hundreds of new homes and cultural facilities, without a penny of public money. The reason the project has not moved forward is that nobody from Hart Council would meet with representatives of the owners. Again, if the Council won’t take the initiative when an opportunity is presented to them on a plate, then they won’t get anywhere.

It seems CCH want to blame everyone else and not take the initiative to get things done. They are an empty vessel that makes a lot of noise, but lacks any real substance.

CCH They Don’t Like it Up Em – Letter from Ranil

I do not believe that CCH’s ongoing public ‘to and fro’ is in the public interest. Rather, many residents have said that they believe it is an attempt by CCH to ‘pass the buck’ from getting on with the job that they have – for now – been elected to do. The interests of my constituents are not best served through seeking to distort the truth, nor making potentially slanderous comments in public meetings.

My views remain the same. I support my constituents when they tell me that they want to see the development and regeneration of brownfield land first. Planning decisions remain for local councils and it is for Hart District Council (HDC) – which is ruled by CCH and their Lib Dem collaborators – to actually take forward the work needed to assess and procure brownfield land.

CCH have contacted me to ask what brownfield land is available. This is a complete abdication of responsibility. My response to them is very clear – I have my own views, I have delivered regeneration elsewhere; I know that councils have all the powers they need to get on with the job, but this is about leadership. They control the council so, if they are serious about brownfield regeneration, it is important for them to be bold in identifying what brownfield land they would like to acquire for development, whether or not it is on the open market currently. That is why I continue to call for HDC to carry out this work, rather than asking me to do their job for them without the resources of a council behind me.

In seeking to be as helpful as possible, it is not always understood that councils are able to buy land and buildings that are not for sale, through Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs). This can and, in my opinion should, be a key part of a robust focus on brownfield regeneration in our area, to improve the look and feel of Fleet’s, Yateley’s and Hook’s retail centres. This way forward relies on the council demonstrating flexibility and ambition – they must be ready to buy today to regenerate tomorrow.

Extraordinarily, whilst local people want the council to invest in our local area – to deliver brownfield regeneration – I am given to understand the CCH/LibDem rulers of HDC are buying buildings in Basingstoke and in the south of Hampshire instead. Why, I do not know, and this is a great shame because this money could have been used locally to begin to turn our retail centres around.

Again, this is about leadership. Only a robust approach will protect the environment surrounding our communities and – whilst it is not for me, nor HM Government, to carry out these studies – many constituents have asked that I continue to urge HDC to do this work and to get them to get on with brownfield regeneration, rather than pursuing their current plans to concrete over a huge number of green fields to build inflated housing numbers.

For the avoidance of doubt, I refer to HDC building an inflated number of houses – despite what I can only conclude is an attempt at political posturing from CCH – because it is they who decided to include 423 new dwellings per year in their local plan. This is far more than was needed, evidence by HM Government’s indicative new homes target for Hart of just 286 per year – 137 new homes a year fewer than those in charge of HDC have decided to build.

I will always champion the best interests of North East Hampshire and I am pleased that the Prime Minister agrees with the approach I have long set out – most recently in in my Constituency Conservation Charter at: ranil.uk/charter – as he recently confirmed that there should not be major developments on green fields. Instead he wants the focus to be on brownfield sites. On 6th October he said:

“You can… see how much room there is to build the homes that young families need in this country… not on green fields, not just jammed in the South East, but beautiful homes on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense.”

I would urge any local resident who has not yet signed my Constituency Conservation Charter to do so urgently, in order that I will have a stronger evidence base to use in making the case for this to HDC.

And that is the truth: whatever I or the Prime Minister think, whatever we would like to see, we create the national policy; we do not decide planning applications nor do we set the Local Plan. The clue is in the name of the latter. Local democracy means that it is for our local council to now get on with it, to provide leadership and to deliver what local people and I are calling for. CCH and the Lib Dems no longer have any excuse.

I hope this provides a helpful update on my position.

Hart Sees the Light on Brownfield Development

Hot on the heels of the Prime Minister’s announcement last week, Hart Council seems to be taking brownfield options more seriously. A paper is going to be considered by Overview and Scrutiny next week about the Local Plan review. There are some interesting ideas in there:

  • Shapley Heath.
  • Regeneration and Brownfield Capacity.
  • Financial Implications.

Shapley Heath Project “Concluded”

The paper makes clear that the standalone Shapley Heath project has “concluded”. This does not mean they will stop consideration of a new settlement altogether, because they will consider it again in the Local Plan Review. But for now, work has ceased.

They have also committed to publish the survey results and baseline studies. The studies are:

  • Transport.
  • Landscape.
  • Agricultural land classification.
  • Heritage.
  • Flooding, Drainage, and Water Management.
  • Utilities.
  • Air Quality.
  • Noise.
  • Contamination.
  • Ecology and Biodiversity.
  • Woodland, trees, and Hedgerows.

However, the timeline is somewhat ambiguous. Section 4.11 says (our emphasis):

It is intended that these surveys and technical baseline assessments continue to completion and that they are all published promptly as and when they become available. This exercise should be complete early in the new year.

However, later in the document, section 5.2 says:

The project itself is concluded but existing baseline studies and surveys will proceed to completion and will be published early in the new year.

So, there is some ambiguity about the publication date. We know that a number of the studies were complete as early as March this year, and of course the survey was completed in July. The studies and survey were due to be considered by the Opportunity Board in the cancelled September meeting. We can see no reason why those documents should not be published immediately.

Hart Sees the Light: Regeneration and Brownfield Capacity Study

The section on the capacity study begins with:

The new housing and communities secretary has recently said that “urban regeneration” and building homes on “neglected brownfield sites” will be a priority for the government. This is a clear sign that the focus on future growth will be directed at seeking to prioritise the opportunity to deliver growth wherever reasonably possible within the settlement areas.

This is a clear echo of what this campaign has been suggesting for years. Finally, the Government is using similar language and Hart is following suit. Only time will tell if this is a genuine “Hart Sees the Light” moment or whether they are paying lip service to the prevailing political winds.

The scope of the study is very wide ranging:

The proposal, therefore, is that the Council should commission a far ranging and robust study that assesses the opportunity and capacity for the district’s settlements to deliver regeneration, brownfield renewal, and general development intensification.

Examples of capacity sources are:

  • Subdivision of existing housing.
  • Flats over shops.
  • Empty homes.
  • Previously developed vacant and derelict land and buildings (non-housing).
  • Intensification of development within existing areas.
  • Redevelopment of existing housing.
  • Redevelopment of car parks.
  • Conversion of commercial buildings.
  • Review of all existing land use allocations in plans.
  • Vacant land not previously developed.

The study is going to be carried out with “policy off”, meaning that they not apply existing policy designations to the initial assessment.

It seems the work will not commence until the new Planning Bill has been passed. It is expected they will start in FY22/23.

Financial Implications.

The paper says that there are no financial implications of the paper. This is odd, given that the budget for Shapley Heath was £279K this year (before grants), and as of the end of September, they had only spent £81K. We might have hoped for a saving to be made.

The business case for the Local Plan is not included in the potential “Level 2 savings” in another paper put to the same meeting.  This is odd, because it was clearly billed as such by Councillor Radley at Cabinet last month.

Shapley Heath Paused

Garden Community Project Paused







Shapley Heath Deliverables Cupboard Bare

Shapley Heath Deliverables Cupboard is Bare

Shapley Heath Deliverables Cupboard is Bare

The latest full council meeting was held on Thursday 30th September. We were there to listen and ask questions. A number of interesting items came up. So, as an antidote to fuel shortages, here’s our report of proceedings.

  1. There is still no explanation of the £1.1m discrepancy in the Waste Contract
  2. They have spent £81K so far this year on Shapley Heath and over £500K since Fy18/19
  3. When asked what tangible deliverables have been produced, there was some embarrassed waffling, but no actual answer
  4. Councillor Cockarill committed to publishing the full results (subject to a GDPR review) of the Shapley Heath survey “shortly”
  5. There was a spat between Councillor Oliver (CCH) and Councillor Harward (Lib Dem) about apparently inconsistent planning decisions in Frogmore

Q1: Update on £1.1m Waste Contract Discrepancy

We asked for an update on the £1.1m discrepancy on the waste contract and our supplementary asked whether it should be officers or executive members who should do the decent thing and resign. Councillor Radley was clearly irritated at the question and insisted that “there are no hidden issues or matters of concern”. He regretted not being able to give a more complete answer. An “ill-founded” formal objection has been made against the accounts and this limited what he could say until that investigation has been completed.

We can confirm that it is us who have raised this formal objection. The EY partner has accepted the objection and is now conducting an investigation. The objection covered the lack of financial controls in the Waste Contract, inadequate budgeting and poor financial reporting. Many of these issues have been discussed on these pages over the summer.

Q2: Shapley Heath Deliverables Cupboard Bare

We then asked how much had been spent on Shapley Heath so far this year. Our supplementary question asked what tangible deliverables have been produced and which ones would Hart taxpayers be allowed to see. The answer to the first part is £81K. We assume this does not include overhead allocations. Overall, this means that more than £0.5m has been spent since FY18/19.

Sadly, the Shapley Heath Deliverables cupboard is bare. Councillor Radley tried to pass the buck to Councillor Cockarill. However, Shapley Heath is a Corporate Services project which is overseen by Councillor Radley, so he should be able to a response. He gave a vague and waffly answer on what had been produced and no answer at all on what we will be allowed to see.

In short, they have spent half a million and achieved nothing.

Q3: Shapley Heath Internal Audit

We asked Councillor Axam, chair of the Audit Committee whether he would reconsider and launch an internal audit into the budgeting and financial controls surrounding the Shapley Heath project.

He said that “he didn’t recognise some” of our numbers, but would ask the committee to look at it again next time it met. We took the opportunity to point out that the figures we quoted in our question were all taken from Council reports. None of our figures are made up. We have since emailed Councillor Axam and other members of the Committee with the full analysis, which was reported here.

Councillor Crampton Survey Question

The Tory leader asked when the Shapley Heath survey questions would be published. Councillor Cockarill confirmed that the full survey results will be published “shortly”. Interestingly, earlier in the day we received a response to our FOI request for the same information. This was refused. However, on the face of it, this is good news.

CCH – Lib Dem Spat

There followed a question form Councillor Harward about apparent inconsistencies in planning decisions at Frogmore Green. The response from Councillor Oliver was belittling and patronising and certainly not respectful of a fellow coalition councillor. We wonder if this is a sign that all is not well inside the CCH-Lib Dem coalition. Only time will tell.

In an ironic twist, there followed impassioned speeches from Councillor Butler and Councillor Radley. They were about the new Code of Conduct, that basically said that they all need to be nicer to each other.


BREAKING: Shapley Heath survey results postponed

Shapley Heath survey results postponed

Shapley Heath survey results postponed

Hart Council have just sent out an email to members of the Shapley Heath Thematic groups. It says (emphasis ours):

All activities on the Shapley Heath Garden Community Project will pause until the business case for the review of the Local Plan is brought back to November’s Cabinet meeting. You can read the full statement on the Hart District Council website.

The meetings for the Opportunities Board, Landowners Forum, and Stakeholder Forum (the thematic groups and steering group), and therefore the publication of the baseline studies and the summary report for the Communities’ Survey, will now be postponed until a decision is made regarding the business case for the Local Plan review…

We will remove the meetings scheduled in September and October, and we will endeavour to provide you with further information as soon as we can.

We were previously told that the survey results would be published in the Autumn. Might it just be possible that we didn’t give them the “right” answer in the Community Survey?

The baseline studies were supposed to have been published before the Opportunity Board meeting in July. That meeting was postponed until September and has nor been cancelled.  Might it just be that the developer funded baseline studies aren’t worth the paper they’re written on?

At the time of writing, there is no news item on the Garden Community website about these developments. However, this announcement does follow on from last week’s Cabinet.

Shapley Heath Paused – Hart Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

We have good news. At Cabinet on Thursday the Cabinet agreed to create a business case to review the Local Plan. An immediate consequence of this is that all work on the Shapley Heath Project will be paused. We should view this as minor victory as it is almost certain they will retain Shapley Heath as an option in the Local Plan review.

The announcement was confirmed on Facebook by the Council’s official account:

Shapley Heath Paused

Garden Community Project Paused

James Radley Announcement

It is clear that the announcement caused them some distress because Councillor Radley’s statement was virtually unintelligible. It included the words:

We should look to generate a business case for the cost benefit analysis of starting to commence the preparation for the next local plan review. A new settlement can continue to be investigated along with other options such as urban intensification as part of the LP.
If the Government sticks to its prior guidance on Planning Reform, a review of the Local Plan will be a mandatory requirement. So it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the Local Plan review will go ahead.
It was left to Councillor Cockarill at the meeting to make clear that the consequence of this decision will be to pause the existing Shapley Heath project. The full discussion at Cabinet can be seen on the video below:

Shapley Heath Paused: Campaign Impact

It is always difficult to know exactly what impact our campaign has on the Council. However, we will claim some credit for this outbreak of common sense.

We called for a review of the Local Plan back in January. It’s taken 8 months, but finally they have taken some notice.

We have of course highlighted the level of spending on Shapley Heath on many occasions recently.



Hart Financial Black Hole Gets Bigger

There’s good news, bad news and some downright ugly news in the latest Medium Term Financial Strategy reported to Overview and Scrutiny. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

Hart Financial Black Hole Gets Bigger - Updated Medium Term Financial Strategy

Hart Financial Black Hole Gets Bigger – Updated Medium Term Financial Strategy

The projected deficits have risen since last reported in July in the Statement of Accounts. The deficit for FY22/23 has risen from £1,175K to £1,214K. In FY23/24 the deficit is now projected at £1,569K, up from £1,413K.

Black Hole at the Heart of Hart's Finances

Hart Council MTFS Statement of Accounts July 2021

Analysis of the differences shows some worrying trends.

Hart Financial Black Hole Gets Bigger MTFS Comparison

Hart MTFS Comparison

Commercial income for each of those years has grown by over £700K. In addition, they are also forecasting higher New Homes Bonus receipts and more grants.  Income from Council Tax and Business Rates is virtually unchanged. However, the extra income is more than offset by ballooning costs.

Hart Financial Black Hole: Good News

The good news is that the Council are starting to get to grips with the problem and have started to identify savings. So far, they have identified two levels of saving. Level 1 is apparently relatively easy, and if they manage to implement all of their ideas they will save £335K per year. However, we don’t think spending saved grant money or capitalising expenditure are real savings.

Level One Savings

Level One Savings

If they manage to implement the Level 2 savings, they would achieve a further £467K of savings each year.

Level Two Savings

Level Two Savings

This is a welcome first step. However, even if they implement all of the identified savings, they total up to only £802K. This is much less than the deficits in each year. So, there’s still a very long way to go to balance the budget.

Hart Financial Black Hole: Ugly News

The ugly news is that cutting the disastrous Shapley Heath project doesn’t even feature as a potential saving. That’s right, the Council finances are sinking into the abyss, but they still plan to carry on squandering more and more of our money on a totally unnecessary project.

The other ugly news is that they are now projecting a surplus for this financial year of £117K. If that sounds odd, read on. On the face of it, this is a big improvement on the £381K deficit assumed in the original budget. The surplus comes because they are now going to receive extra commercial income from the office block they recently purchased in Basingstoke. This is weird because the projection conveniently ignores the £776K adverse variance they (almost) reported in the Full Year forecast paper presented to the same meeting. They are dressing up a deteriorating deficit as a surplus. It seems they can show only good news in the MTFS and totally ignore the bad news. Another ugly, shambolic financial report.


Hart Budget Gaslighting Continues

Hart Budget Gaslighting

Hart Budget Gaslighting

The confusing reporting of Hart’s FY21/22 budget continues. The continued obfuscation, coupled with an insistence that nothing has changed can only be described as gaslighting. Papers covering the outturn for the first quarter of FY21/22 have recently been considered by Overview and Scrutiny.

The first thing that jumps out of the page is the inaccurate statement 4.2 which says, “The forecast position for expenditure as of 30th June 2021 was a variance to Budget of £2.7m”. The actuals for Q1 do show a favourable variance of £2.7m. However, the forecast full year outturn is an unfavourable variance of £776K, a fact not mentioned in the entire report.

You have to work hard to find that variance. In the table showing the comparison between budget and actual, they have omitted the total line. So, you have to add it up yourself. Below is the table as presented in the paper, together with our analysis that includes a total line. Most of the adverse variance is due to loss of income in the Leisure contract. The £470K positive variance in Community Services is unexplained. The smaller adverse variances in the other service areas are also unexplained.

Overview and Scrutiny Aug 21 Table 1.1

Overview and Scrutiny Aug 21 Table 1.1

Hart Budget Gaslighting: Q1 Full Year Forecast

Hart Budget Gaslighting: Q1 Full Year Forecast

The next thing that jumps out they have chosen to present the “Original” budget in a new way. This makes it impossible to compare it to prior versions like-for like. A new line called “Accounting Treatment”, amounting to over £1.5m has miraculously appeared. This is extra income, presumably from reserves, to offset the additional spending that was not included in the original version of the budget. Here are the changes in graphical form.

Hart Budget Gaslighting: FY21-22 Budget Changes Since February 2021

Hart Budget Gaslighting: FY21-22 Budget Changes Since February 2021

We’re Not Changing the Budget

However, Councillor James “Rhetoric” Radley insisted that nothing had changed in the budget:

However, he admitted at July questions that changes have been made to account for depreciation, SANG spending and additional Government grants. He failed to mention that the Waste Client Team net income budget has fallen £52K and the budgets for Corporate Communications (+£19.5K) and Register of Electors (+£17K) have higher spending even though they are not affected his explanation.

Hart Budget Gaslighting: Accounting Treatment

When you delve into the depths of “Accounting Treatment”, things get even murkier. The first item of note is that £667K of income from interest on investments and property rental income has been moved “above the line”.  Councillor Radley declared this in the actuals for FY18/19 and 19/20, but somehow forgot to disclose it for the current year.

Changes to HAZFEN

Changes to HAZFEN: Commercial Income

CCH Rhetoric Awards Q1 Written Answer

CCH Rhetoric Awards Q1 Written Answer

Then, there’s an extra £1m transferred from reserves, presumably to cover SANG expenditure. Plus nearly £0.5m more to cover depreciation charges. In addition, there’s a previously undisclosed £1m for pension contributions.

Changes to Accounting Treatment Items Pensions and Reserves

Changes to Accounting Treatment Items Pensions and Reserves

Of course, the total employment costs have changed in both directions across the different version so the budget too.

Hart Budget Gaslighting Employment Cost Changes

Hart Budget Gaslighting Employment Cost Changes

If they look like changes to the budget and smell like changes to the budget, they probably are changes to the budget. To forcefully deny that anything has changed is simply gaslighting the public.