Minutes of the 12th Annual General Meeting held at the Crookham War Memorial Hall, Church Crookham, on Wednesday 20th January 2016, commencing at 7.30pm.
The executive committee members being present were:
Chairman James Radley JR
Vice Chairman Simon Ambler SA
Treasurer Chris Axam CA
Secretary Jenny Radley JRR
Membership Secretary Gill Butler GB
County Councillor John Bennison JB
There were 20 members present at the meeting, including district councillors: Tony Clarke (TC); Alan Oliver (AO) and Wendy Makepeace-Browne (WMB).
1. Introduction: The Chairman welcomed those present to the Annual General Meeting of CC(H). Thanking all for coming out on a cold, dark, winter evening. Next time he will plan to hold the meeting a little later in the year, when the evenings should be a bit brighter.
2. Apologies: Notices received from Barbara Notz, Maureen and Doug Andrews, Julia Ambler and Mary Barry.
3. Minutes of last meeting: The 8 pages of minutes of the previous AGM, held on 28th January 2015 were recorded as a true and accurate record. The motion to accept the draft minutes was proposed by Nick Hill, seconded by Pat Lowe, and were accepted by majority vote. There were no objections, although comment was made about the length of the minutes.
3.1 There was one question for matters arising, one that was not covered by the following agenda items:
Question 8 of the open floor session on page 8 of the minutes: Has the new policy from central government, where houses need to be built to replace the ones taken up by the right to buy scheme impinged on the Hart Local Development Plan?
Answer from Chairman: As we know Hart needs more affordable housing, especially rental properties. When people buy their rented homes this reduces the limited number of homes that are available to rent, and so more homes are needed. Hart has a policy to provide 40% affordable homes on new developments with a 65:35 percentage split between rental and shared equity properties. However, developers are pushing for more shared equity houses to be subsidised as starter homes, and some developers are claiming that it is not viable for them to provide as many rental properties and this is having the impact of reducing rental percentage to 50% of the affordable house provision in some cases. This effect also appears to be driving up the demand for more housing.
4. Topical Updates from the Chairman and Executive Members.
The Chairman felt it would be helpful to provide a re-cap on the past year.
Following significant cuts to the local bus services at the start of 2015, there has been persistent work by the campaign group ‘Buses in Fleet’ and there has been some success to restore a bus route to Aldershot. Local buses are now expected to run on a commercially viable basis, rather than rely on bus subsidies from HCC. Only the school and college routes are subsidised now. The Chairman let JRR explain that Hart District Council (HDC) were now holding regular meetings with Hampshire County Council (HCC) and Stagecoach, the local bus operator, along with representation from the campaign group to discuss opportunities for further improvements to bus and passenger transport services. It is clear that more passengers are necessary to enable the bus services to continue as they are and for there to be any real chance of further improvements.
The Managing Director of Stagecoach South will be the guest speaker at the next HDC Full Council meeting on the 28th January to explain the importance of local bus services.
Elections in May 2015 were a very close run thing. Unfortunately we lost JB as a district councillor in Fleet Central and there were very close margins for Chris Axam in Crookham East and Tony Clarke in Crookham West and Ewshot. It seems that the General Election, which was held at the same time as the district elections, brought about a large turnout. There are many new people who have come to this area and who are probably not so familiar with our group. We will be canvassing the area carefully in future to introduce ourselves to the new residents and re-connect to the established community. We have already started by delivering the last newsletter by hand and introducing ourselves to the new residents on the doorstep, in a positive way, and by listening to what they have to say. We will be doing more of this in the run up to the next district elections in May.
4.1 Local Development Plan:
The main issue that has occupied CCH councillors and many other people in the community during the past year is the new Hart Local Plan. The district council has been running a public consultation on the housing options. As you may be aware the recent housing option consultation was stopped last week, just before the deadline date. Unfortunately this consultation was stopped because there were discrepancies between the various versions of consultation papers, but it is due to be re-run shortly.
Just to explain that it is not the district council that determines the housing numbers that are required for the district. The district council is obliged to fulfil an objectively assessed housing need report. Despite some suggestions being put forward by various people and a particular campaign group, the quota of housing that has been allocated for Hart District simply can’t be fulfilled using brownfield sites. Many brownfield sites are simply not available. For example the Pyestock site, the controversial site which was given planning permission a few years ago for development as a large distribution warehouse, is still derelict. The developer was obliged to build a roundabout on Iveley Road as part of the agreement, which has already been installed, and the developer has demolished, removed some of the contaminated land and cleared the site, because this allows the developer to claim they have started the development and retain planning permission. The developer wants a return on the land in order to cover tax loses, costs, etc, but so far they have refused to engage in any further work to develop the site, or to consider it for housing. So, it shows that it is not possible to build on redundant brownfield sites, for as long as the owner is not interested.
For a site to be considered in the new Local Plan it must be ‘achievable and deliverable’, so there must be evidence to show that the relevant landowner agrees for his land to be used for development. If a landowner is not prepared to take up the opportunity to develop, the site simply cannot be considered in the Local Plan.
The Housing Option consultation has 3 options:
· Dispersal, with development spread out across all settlements in the district,
· Strategic Urban Extensions, with development focussed on the main settlement areas,
· and a New Settlement option, where a targeted area or cluster of sites would be developed to take much of the future development.
It should be noted that any available brownfield sites will be developed anyway, as this is seen as best use of the available land. HDC are constantly asking landowners to make their unused land available for future development.
Fleet and Church Crookham Society and Fleet Town Council have all selected the New Settlement option as their preferred choice, because they all agree that this will provide a far better return for necessary infrastructure.
During 2015 this whole area was defined by roadworks and road closures due to the highway improvements, mainly from the Crookham Park/QEB development agreements. There has been a slight change to the Sandy Lane/Aldershot Road junction, but it has not made much difference to the capacity of the roads. It is not possible to widen Reading Road South, for instance, so there are increasing levels of road congestion.
Wouldn’t it be better to start from scratch and plan for an expanding new development site? The New Settlement option could provide for a stronger new community well into the future.
Meanwhile, there will still be new development sites built around the main settlements, including Watery Lane, which was permitted at appeal. Many people were involved with challenging this application, including Julia Ambler, who represented Crookham Village Parish Council at the appeal inquiry.
As we know the HDC Housing Option consultation was cancelled just 2 days before the 6 week deadline. There were found to be some errors in the various versions and ways to respond. Crookham Village and Dogmersfield were left off from one of the lists for the settlement hierarchy tiers. Someone at HDC added them and posted the amended information on the web-site but used a previous draft version of the consultation document, so there was different wording. Due to such strong and active interest in this consultation this alteration was noticed by a member of the public. HDC had to seek legal advice and they followed the advice to cancel the consultation. The intention is to correct the documents and various media versions of the papers, and run the consultation once again for another 6 weeks.
HDC will contact all people who have responded to the original consultation and have provided their contact details. They will ask them if they agree to the changes in the document and still wish to re-submit their responses as before. Some people may think that this was a deliberate mistake, but that is simply not true. A genuine error was made and it is important to rectify the problem and start again and allow people to respond once more to this important consultation. If the changes make no difference to your response it should be possible to agree to re-submit the original response. If the changes do make a difference then people will need to respond to the consultation once again, but please make sure you do respond in order to have your say.
It should be noted that HDC have apologised and the mistake will not happen again.
4.2 County Matters
JB introduced himself as the county councillor for county division of Church Crookham and Ewshot.
He started his report with the issue of roadworks, and had a positive message to start with. Last year the Sandy Lane junction was a mess. It was due to be improved but everyone was kept waiting until the relevant utilities were able to install the necessary telecom and energy cables. As you know this junction improvement has now been finished.
This was part of the agreed S278 highway improvement works that were carried out by the contractors for the developer of Crookham Park. They have also adjusted the junction of Tweseldown Road with Beacon Hill Road and then made improvements to Crookham Crossroads last summer, when they also managed to resurface the road overnight to avoid any unnecessary delay for peak traffic. These works were not helped by the gas board, which started work to replace the gas main along Reading Road South at the very same time. In fact these gas works will be continued all along Reading Road South, up to and over the canal bridge, before going along Aldershot Road in Fleet.
Currently the contractors are doing the final part of these S278 works on the cycleway along Ewshot Lane, to link the Gurkha Path through Crookham Park to the Gables Road cycleway. These works are eighteen months behind schedule, but the contractors are now almost there. They should be finishing in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, some of the local parish councils have been helping HCC to provide local road improvements. Church Crookham Parish Council asked for gateway installations to help remind drivers to reduce speed at the settlement boundaries, as traffic comes through the area, and also to provide informal pedestrian crossings on the busy local roads. The gateways have now been installed on Aldershot Road at the settlement boundary towards the Foresters pub, and on Beacon Hill Road near the Vertu business site. The pedestrian crossings have been put in near the pet shop and gym on Aldershot Road, mainly to help people using the local bus service and dog-walkers using the military land opposite, and the other crossing is near the Haig Lane footway onto Beacon Hill Road, mainly to allow children to cross the road when they wish to use the Peter Driver recreation ground.
Crookham Village Parish Council have also helped HCC to provide traffic calming improvements along Crondall Road by consulting with residents and planning a scheme with build-outs, signs and road markings, to help to reduce the speed of traffic, and extend the 30mph zone to include further properties along the road. There has also been a new section of footway installed to allow pedestrians to walk safely between the Exchequer pub and the Basingstoke Canal at Crookham Wharf.
There is also to be a 50mph speed limit along Aldershot Road between the settlement boundary (and new gateway installation) and Windy Gap. In fact the speed restriction sign has been put up already but there needs to be a traffic order to enable enforcement officers to take action against those drivers who do not keep to the new speed limit.
You may be aware of a recent serious event at the Windy Gap junction, where there was a life-changing vehicular accident. A person had to be taken to hospital by air ambulance. HCC had already done work to improve the junction but it had not worked and there has been a series of other road traffic accidents. The Accident Reduction Team at HCC have had to re-assess the junction and have decided to set up a ‘no right hand turn’ scheme from Aldershot Road onto the A323, much as was done during the last Farnborough Airshow. All traffic from Church Crookham will have to turn left at the Windy Gap junction and for those drivers who wish to travel to Aldershot they have to go all the way around the Norris Hill roundabout, over the canal, and back to get to where they want to go.This installation is intended to be set up for 18 months or so, to see how it works. The HCC team will monitor the junction and compare accident rates to see if this scheme should be made permanent. There will be a consultation for the public on the HCC web-site for people to make any comments.
There are some schemes for new cycleways in the pipeline. There has been a plan for a cycle route between Crookham Park and Calthorpe Park School for some time and of course this would also serve the new Hart Leisure Centre, nearby. There are a couple of routes to consider but basically the route would be along Gally Hill Road, Coxheath Road and through Netherhouse Moor, through Lea Park play area and link to the cycleway near Calthorpe Park School.
There are to be 2 speed tables installed on Sandy Lane to reduce traffic speed at the 2 pedestrian crossing sites. The HCC officers are also looking at a location for a new pedestrian crossing on Reading Road South, part way along the road to allow school children to cross at school run peak traffic times. There are to be speed limit changes with a reduction from 60mph to 40mph on Hitches Lane, between Crookham Village and Fleet.
JB added that he had been appointed to the Fire and Rescue Authority last year, and the main issue has been a review of the service for necessary changes due to serious cuts in their budget. There will be changes made to the fire service over the next 4 years and he will be happy to explain more during questions at the end of the meeting.
JB added that he has some bad news to report, hot off the press, which had been announced on the radio that very afternoon. This is all to do with the Council Tax and government spending review and budget cuts. In the autumn of 2015 the Government had announced their budget statement about how much money they were going to provide to the local authorities. HCC had been expecting some cuts to these grants, but the cuts were much worse than expected. The Revenue Support Grant has been cut from £129 million to £81 million. This is a £48 million reduction but HCC were only expecting a reduction of £19 million, so this is a major difficulty. It seems that the Government expect the authority to put up council tax to cover their costs instead. As you may know, if the authority wish to raise council tax above 2% they are required to hold a referendum, which in itself will cost about £1 million. So, HCC are currently considering raising their element of council tax by 1.99%. Just to add that Adult Social Services, which is provided by HCC, is in the process of a slow motion crash, in fact this is happening across the whole country, due to increasing costs of providing services to a growing older population. Councils are being allowed to change their council tax charge by a further 2% for adult services care, which takes up the largest part of the HCC budget already. Most councils are likely to take up this opportunity to raise these charges. So, this means that for a Band D household there will be about £40 more per year charged for their HCC element of their Council Tax.
The Fire and Rescue Authority are also expecting to raise their part of the council tax by 1.99% which will come to about £1.20 per year. But this is probably not just a change for this year, but it is likely to increase by this much each year, up to 2020, in order to help to pay for these important services.
A 1% tax increase for HCC means an extra £10 million. HCC do hold reserves of about £55 million, but if this were to be used this year to cover the shortfall it would use up all these reserves at once, leaving nothing for emergencies or for the future needs. There was a public consultation held last year when they knew they were expecting government grant cuts, and most people agreed to some increase in council tax to cover costs of services.
JR added that this has also had effect on the district council, where the Government cuts have reduced the amount provided to HDC by £200,000 per year. These ongoing cuts are a nightmare situation.
JB continued to explain changes intended involving business rates. In Hampshire business rates are quite healthy, but the Government are skimming off the money being raised here to pay for works and projects in poorer parts of the country, such as Cumbria after the flooding events. So, this is an ongoing and very difficult situation.
4.3 Crookham Village Parish Councillor Report on Neighbourhood Plan
WMB introduced herself as one of the parish councillors at Crookham Village Parish Council. She is involved in the group who are working on their Neighbourhood Plan (NP). There are members of the local community and parish council who are primarily preparing the NPs to help to protect their area from inappropriate development.
There are quite a few parish councils in Hart who are preparing NPs: Hook, Hartley Wintney, Winchfield, Odiham, Dogmersfield, Rotherwick, Yateley, Blackwater and Fleet. The intention is to help control how development is planned for their areas, but these NPs must align with HDC’s Local Plan in order to be adopted. Some of the groups are struggling to encourage support and feedback from the local community. There needs to be a series of public consultations through the process to show clear evidence of support from the local community. Winchfield, Odiham and Rotherwick are forging ahead with their NPs, well ahead of of the HDC Local Plan, so they will need to figure out where they stand in relation to Hart’s Local Plan. These NPs are important for these local village areas, and hopefully residents will continue to help to support them. In our area Church Crookham is not doing a NP, but Fleet, Crookham Village and Dogmersfield are. She would like to take this opportunity to urge people to respond to the relevant NP consultations if they possibly can, to make sure that local people are supporting these important plans.
5. Annual Report and Statement of Accounts
CA, as Treasurer of the CC(H), presented his annual report and statement of accounts which are fairly straightforward. Please find the Treasurer Report and Annual Report and Statement of Accounts 1st Jan 2015- 31st Dec 2015 as attached as Appendix A.
The details of the accounts can be found on page 3 of the report.
He explained that membership fees are used to cover the costs of providing the CCH newsletters and the councillors themselves self-fund for the costs of the council elections. Expenditure was higher this last year due to the district council boundary changes and the group now having to cover a wider area and there are many more residents who need information for elections. There have also been changes with increased printing costs and electoral costs. The end result is that there is £711 in the bank, which is a positive balance.
The Treasurer was happy to answer any questions.
Membership report: The group membership has remained much the same since the end of December 2014 with one new member taking us up to 121 members as of December 2015.
The statement of accounts was put to the membership for acceptance. The motion was proposed by James Radley and seconded by Colin Hartley. The vote was taken and accepted. No objections.
6. Election of Officers:
All officers were happy to stand again for election.
Chairman: James Radley
Proposed by JB and seconded by WMB.
Vice Chairman: Simon Ambler
Proposed by JR and seconded by CA.
Secretary: Jenny Radley
Proposed by TC and seconded by Pat Lowe.
Treasurer: Chris Axam
Proposed by JR and seconded by GBr
Membership Secretary: Gill Butler
Proposed by JR and seconded by CA.
Election Agent: Julia Ambler
Proposed by JR and seconded by JB.
All Officers were elected by the majority vote as proposed, with no objections.
7. Open Floor session
The Chairman asked for any comments or questions.
Q1. NH asked a question:
As I understand it people who responded to the HDC Housing Options consultation will only get a letter about the renewed consultation if they provided their surname and postcode. Is it not illegal to contact people unless they provide an e-mail or full address?
Also he wishes to question the possibility of Hart having to take the 3,000 or so extra houses from Rushmoor and Surrey Heath. Surely there is a flaw in these figures?
Answer 1: provided by the Chairman:
Ideally every household in the district will be notified by letter of the need to re-consult. This is the approach we will be recommending to the HDC officers so that everyone has a fair chance to respond again.
Hart District Council, Rushmoor Borough Council and Surrey Heath Borough Council are all part of the same Strategic Housing Market Area (SHMA). The majority of the housing quota for each area will be provided within each district or borough, but there is a combined need to fulfil the overall housing quota. If one council is unable to provide the full quota for their own area, the other 2 councils in the SHMA are expected to take on any shortfall. As it happens, Rushmoor have a problem because both Farnborough and Aldershot are almost completely built up. They are regenerating areas as part of the Aldershot Urban Extension (Wellesley development) but this may not be able to provide for the latest increase in assessed need for housing. Surrey Heath has a large area of Green Belt land. The Government are allowing authorities to avoid developing on green belt land and Surrey Heath appear to be taking a view that they will indeed protect their green belt from development. However, they are taking their time to prepare their own local Plan and at present they have not asked Hart DC to take any of their shortfall. At present Hart District Council are expected to provide 7,500 new dwellings between 2011-2032, but they need to prepare for the possibility of finding 3,000 more homes, with the possibility of having to cover the approximate shortfall of 1600 from Rushmoor and about 1400 from Surrey Heath. At present HDC have not been officially told of this shortfall but if we wish to have our Local Plan accepted it is important to be prepared for this risk, which we have been made aware of. We cannot afford to have our Local Plan rejected because we ignored this possibility.
Q2. A question about recent Devolution talks:
The Government have recently decided to allow regions across the country to set up their own devolved authorities. So, it appears that Portsmouth, Southampton, the Isle of Wight and parts of south Hampshire are considering becoming a devolved authority, which they are being led to believe by Government will help to bring in some financial benefit. The drawback is that the government are expecting such devolved authorities to deliver a further 20% extra new homes. If the whole of Hampshire decided to go that way we would expect there to be an increase in the housing quota.
Apparently some local campaign groups such as We Heart Hart are suggesting they expect the recent updated housing assessment quota for Hart DC to go down, but that is very unlikely. We all know there is a high demand for housing in this area. It is more likely that the quota will go up slightly. The local housing pressure will not go away.
HCC are doing work to assess the impact of devolution across the county. HCC are trying to get all districts and boroughs, the I of W and the 2 unitary authorities: Portsmouth and Southampton, to work together on a devolution scheme. It seems that there is real interest because it involves the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) who are positive about devolution. John said he would keep us informed.
Hampshire expect that they will get an offer from the Government, but there is some scepticism at present now that the deal involves an increase in housing. They are not sure they can trust the Government, who keep changing the rules. They were originally being offered the local business rates but the Government are now skimming off more of these rates to use elsewhere in the country. Apparently 1% of the business rates is about £5 million, so 2% is £10 million. The new Living Wage is £7.20 per hour, which is the rate for basic care staff which also will impact on the adult social service costs, so money will be tight for any authority, into the future.
Q3. Question from PL:
How will the new county division boundaries affect the area?
Firstly to reassure people in Church Crookham, there will be no county council boundary changes in this area. However, the Elvetham Heath area will be split between 2 county councillors, part will be within the Fleet area boundary and part will be in the Ancells, Blackwater and Yateley county area. There is no change to any parish council boundary this is just to do with county council divisions (wards). It is the Electoral Commission who set the boundary changes for districts and larger authorities to make sure there are balanced voting areas. So in areas like Hart, which is growing in population, there have been a few boundary changes recently.
The District Council set any changes to the parish council boundaries. If you remember there was the Sense of Place survey conducted by HDC, when Fleet and Church Crookham town and parish councils were set up, to help determine the boundary between them. There was a heated debate about where the boundary should be around Basingbourne Park, which was popular with many families from Church Crookham, but the Hart DC administration at the time decided to include this area within Fleet.
Pat had also just received a copy of a letter from Fleet Town Council to the Boundary Commission and was not quite sure what that was about.
Fleet Town Council (FTC) is split up into different wards and some wards have more town councillors representing them than others, so they are trying to make better sense of the distribution. They did not want to have split areas such as Courtmoor. FTC has 17 councillors, not 19, but there will be more information to come. He added to reassure people that it was not a plan to take over areas from other local parishes.
As for the new county council boundary changes as he understood that Elvetham Heath will actually have 3 county councillors representing them, from Fleet, Yateley and Hartley Wintney, which may not be so bad after all.
Q4. NH asked for some help to understand more about the Rate Support Grant reduction brought in by the Government. What percentage of grant income does that represent?
JB replied that he does not really know much about Revenue Support Grant. Local Income Tax has been discussed by some members at HCC for some time but he does not know much about it himself. Business rates are very much part of the discussion about devolution, once an authority takes over it can set their own business rates. In fact some authorities put the rates down to help encourage local businesses.
The Chairman added:
Local authorities will be hit hard. The Government wants to address their budget deficit, they need to pay for health, overseas aid, the MoD, education, etc, etc. They do not do much else. The deficit can only be addressed by cutting back on all the other services including grants to local authorities and other services. But they don’t seem to realise that cut backs in adult social care will have an impact on the NHS, so it would be false economy. Unfortunately the situation is likely to get worse.
There were no further questions.
The Chairman thanked everyone for all their valuable support. He added that the group really appreciated everyone coming out this evening and engaging with discussions. He promised that next year they would hold the meeting in February or March, not in January when it is so cold and dark and wet.
He added that anyone would be welcome to contact us for any further feedback.
There was no further business so he was happy to draw the meeting to a close.
We hope to see everyone again next year.
There was a vote of thanks from the audience.
The meeting was closed at 8.30 pm.