Havant Regeneration, another year goes by

In the last twelve months, HCS has had little or no productive engagement with the HBC Regeneration Team and general frustration with the programme is starting to turn to disillusionment. It seems barely a year since we posted this account of the Regeneration Update from November 2020. Listening again to the recordings in that post reminds us that nothing much happened in that year either.

It’s not for lack of trying. The residents’ groups have all been actively commenting on documents put out by the Council, making constructive deputations on various significant planning applications and raising important questions of both the Cabinet and the Council. As residential stakeholders, we feel almost disenfranchised by the lack of serious responses that we get.

With so many major planning applications being pursued on an almost ad-hoc basis, outside of the coherent structure that should have been provided by an adopted and current Local Plan and a viable Regeneration Strategy, it feels as if we’re spending far too much effort fighting battles we can’t win, against an unscrutinised Council that has no overarching vision for the borough.

Lack of timely public engagement by the HBC Regeneration Team goes right back to the publication of the ‘Opportunity Havant – Regeneration Strategy’ document in October 2018. Instead of getting together with the local resident and local business stakeholders to develop their visions for the Borough, the council outsourced the creation of those vital foundations to third party consultants, spending at least £276,798 for their services.

The ‘Phase 1 – Civic Plaza Carpark’ project which was to be the first deliverable project from that strategy struggled to get beyond the high level planning stage and the HBC Cabinet finally recommended its cancellation in February 2021. They cited ‘Covid 19 impact’ as the primary reason for the project’s demise but in truth it had never been a particularly healthy project, as we summarised in our post on the cancellation decision from February 2021.

Within a couple of months of February’s Cabinet Meeting, a renewed ‘Regeneration Strategy Refresh’ activity was effectively put on hold while the Regeneration Team spent time preparing a bid for a £12m slice of the central government’s ‘Levelling Up Fund’. Havant Civic Society had offered to work with the Regeneration Team on this in May 2021, but apart from being given a rough draft ‘engagement framework’ to review, had no further contact.

With plenty of deserving areas in the Borough, for example Waterlooville town centre, Leigh Park town centre and the old New Lane employment area, we believe that a carefully constructed bid for the Levelling Up Fund would have stood a reasonable chance of bringing in at least part of the funding applied for. However, when the outline of the HBC bid was made public in the Fabrik ‘master plan’ document, it was clear to many of us that a bid based on the schedule included with that fanciful town centre ‘master plan’ could never have met the stringent ‘deliverability’ criteria set by the UK Treasury in the ‘Levelling up Fund’ prospectus. The Planning Inspectors clearly drew similar conclusions in the critical report they issued in October following July’s public examination of the Havant Local Plan 2037. Around the same time, the failure of Havant’s Levelling up Fund bid became apparent. (Portsmouth’s bid, in comparison, raised a healthy £20 million.)

In early August, the Head of Regeneration and Economy for East Hants and Havant Borough Councils had asked us to look out for the latest Regeneration Team documents which were to be published for the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on 24 August. We read them with great interest and provided our detailed comments to both the Regeneration Team and the Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee ahead of the 24 August meeting.

When we received no response to our comments, we raised a specific question to the Cabinet Lead for Regeneration at the Cabinet Meeting on 8 September. Our peers on Hayling Island also raised questions at the same Cabinet Meeting and you can find out more in our account published on 13 September which contains recordings from that meeting.

The continued absence of written responses and the evasive answers given to questions raised at HBC meetings came to a head at the full Council meeting on 22 September following a particularly poor planning decision on the New Lane ‘Amazon (?) Distribution Centre‘ development application. At that Council meeting, Mr. Comlay asked a question on behalf of “the thousands of Council tax payers who take the time to read, analyse and comment on planning applications”. You will find no record on the official Council minutes of either the question or of the response given by Cllr Pike, but you can read a full transcript of the exchange here. Cllr Pike’s rather surprising response is examined in more detail here.

Our persistence in trying to set up a meaningful round table meeting with the Regeneration Team finally resulted in a late November meeting giving us an hour in the diaries of Clare Chester, the HBC/EHDC Head of Regeneration and Cllr Pike, Cabinet Lead for Regeneration.

On 17 November, members of a dozen organisations representing Havant residents met with the HBC Regeneration Team to offer input to the ongoing HBC Regeneration Strategy Refresh.

The presentation by the combined residents’ representatives can be viewed by taking this link or clicking on the image below.

The content is self explanatory and we doubt whether there’s much in there that Havant Borough residents wouldn’t agree with.

In response, Cllr Pike and Clare Chester reinforced the fact that they had no plans to involve us in their current Regeneration Strategy Refresh activity but would be happy to receive our comments once they publish their output in February 2022.

It felt a little like Groundhog Day.

But to end on a more positive note, we do like the guiding principles behind their new Stakeholder Engagement Framework. If you’ve not seen it, you can find out more in this post. If the council change their approach and start to adhere to those principles themselves and engage with us in a more timely manner, something of note might just be achieved.