Updated from original report of the meeting, February 4th
Updated , 19-2-2022, added final Conclusion
The ‘Amazon’ disclaimer
As the Planning Committee Meeting was reminded on February 3rd, there is still no official statement identifying the intended occupier for the 32 New Lane site. The two planning applications for that site have been considered “for what it is, a last mile distribution centre.”
While we understand that direction, the fact remains that regardless of the occupier’s identity, the operational model described in the original transport documentation demonstrated that the occupier’s activity was significantly broader than simply ‘local’ or ‘last mile’. Any use of this town centre site for a high volume ‘traffic generating’ business would, in our view, be unsound.
If, as our research would indicate, the occupier is revealed to be Amazon, then the way in which these planning applications have been handled will come into much sharper focus. As the global innovator in the field of logistics, Amazon are redefining last mile delivery given the ever expanding scope of their product offering and their relentless focus on volume growth and ‘near real-time’ delivery means that the daily traffic profile at that site will be subject to constant change in both vehicle type and number of trips generated.
The fact that Havant residents are clearly not the only community in the UK that are currently being subjected to Amazon’s skilful use of the local planning system is not lost on us. It does, however, appear to be lost on Officers and Councillors at both local and county level, who consider applications on their individual merits, setting aside the more troublesome matter of an application’s impact in the context of its surroundings. Since that wider impact is not viewed as a ‘material consideration’ in a planning decision, the whole subject of traffic generation doesn’t seem to get get the attention it deserves.
The Planning Committee of February 3rd 2022
The Planning Committee meeting ran predictably to form. Scheduled with what the cynical observer might consider undue haste, it cleared the way for what most except the local authorities now believe to be a ‘new style’ Amazon distribution depot on the former Pfizer site at 32 New Lane.
A copy of the broadcast of this Planning Committee meeting, along with a partial transcript of the broadcast, can be found at the foot of this post and those who’ve attended or spoken at previous Development Management Committee meetings will recognise the usual weakness of the process. More often than not, one member of the committee monopolises the airtime with the other members simply following the lead they set. In good years, this trait has been balanced by an effective chair, confident of the facts presented and remaining neutral until or unless the chair’s casting vote is needed. In good years, that chair will make sure that the quieter members of the panel are brought into the meeting and given sufficient air time.
This is not one of those years.
The application before the Committee on 3 February 2022 was unusual. Unusual in that a ‘Section 73′ application, which simply requests changes to planning conditions previously set, would normally be handled by delegated responsibility within planning services. In the case of the 32 New Lane development, however, the requested changes, if approved, would effectively remove the local authorities’ ability to monitor and manage the impact of traffic from the site in a timely manner. From the residents’ perspective, the risks exposed by the approval of the original planning application in September 2021 had been effectively mitigated by well-worded Conditions, applied by the Officers.
The approval of the Section 73 application has now taken away that mitigation, and given that interest in this decision will only grow once the site begins operation, it’s worth documenting just how that decision was made.
In this first extract from the transcript, Cllr. Gary Hughes is cross examining the HCS deputee with an unexpected but quite effective ‘trick’ question:
Hold onto that one for now, we’ll come back to it further down this post.
Moving on, Cllr. Hughes makes a point which is fundamental to understanding the real business operation that the Planning Conditions are intended to monitor, but note how the Chair shuts down the exchange.
In this next extract, Cllr. Hughes is cross examining the deputee speaking for Havant Property Investments Ltd., the developer. He’s picked up the applicant’s changes to the original wording for Condition 30 and is keen to ensure that the ‘Community Liaison Panel’ will be able to show some teeth.
With the bone firmly clenched between his teeth, Cllr. Hughes later pursues the wording of Condition 30 during the debate stage and gets it changed to his apparent satisfaction. Here’s another extract which shows the level of thinking he’s going to. The relevance of this was clear to us, but may have been lost on the rest of the Planning Committee.
The New Lane residents and Havant Civic Society will certainly participate in the Community Liaison Panel, however we’re only too aware that the horse has now already bolted, along with the data. The Planning Committee decision means that the site traffic data has now been given to the ‘independent third party’, the one already selected, recommended and appointed by the applicant.
With no direct and timely access to the traffic data, Havant Borough Council and Hampshire County Council will have no way of managing the inevitable growth of the site traffic and the Community Liaison Panel will always be on the back foot.
In this next extract, Cllr. Hughes questions the Applicant over the ‘rare and exceptional’ instances in which site traffic would take the route south down New Lane:
‘Flagged straight away’ Mr. Dix? Surely, you mean that it might be flagged a few months down the line when the limited traffic reports are generated?
(In a good year, the Committee chair would have picked up on that point.)
At this point, Cllr. Hughes manages to get in another important question, which Mr. Eaves answers with his trademark clarity. It’s a slightly odd question, since anybody reading the Applicant’s proposed change to Condition 4 would have known the answer. It is still a point worth reinforcing though:
There’s little point in asking whether anybody in the room had taken the time to read and digest the Revised Operational Management Plan and satisfy themselves that it matched the likely realistic profile of traffic. While the totals in Appendix A have existed, unchanged, since the original Transport Statement was published a year ago, it’s clear that nobody other than the residents have questioned the rather obvious discrepancies in the Vectos data.
The next extract shows the meeting moving to the ‘debate’ stage, with Cllr. Branson demonstrating her lack of familiarity with the technology involved.
The more worrying point is in the second highlighted paragraph, in which Cllr. Branson interprets Cllr. Hughes comment that ‘HCC have no live traffic data from any commercial site in Hampshire’ as meaning that the technology challenge would be beyond the County. (Read on, we address that a little further on)
Back to the debate. Next up, Councillor Weeks, whose first point seemed to reinforce that of her St Faith’s peer.
You can read her second point in the full transcript. In essence, it’s a sad lament for the kind of jobs for 16 year olds that those of us who worked in New Lane in the sixties well remember. Sadly, times have changed.
Meanwhile, back to that ‘traffic count’ point, raised again during debate by Cllr. Hughes.
Determined to prove to ourselves that Hampshire County Council Highways and their Traffic Database could not be quite as dumb as they were being painted, after the meeting we raised the appropriate questions of HCC via an Environmental Information Request. You can read their response, and the questions we posed, in this response from HCC.
So there you have it. HCC currently record 24/7 traffic data from 184 sites across the county, either directly fed daily or automatically dialled up daily. Not only is this basic technique clearly understood by the County Council, but it’s also proven to be reliable and is in constant use. (Note also, that HCC also use feeds of ANPR data to monitor that a specific access to a commercial site is within boundaries defined in a Planning consent. Sorry Cllr. Hughes, you just asked the wrong question.)
Given that there will be other similarly anonymised Amazon planning applications on the books of other local authorities within the HCC Highways and National Highways areas of responsibility, we actually think it would be extremely wise for both the County and National Highways to keep a close monitoring eye across them all.
At this point in the ‘debate’, Mr. Eaves utters the magic phrase ‘for the avoidance of doubt‘ and brings the meeting back to his recommendation, if ever there had ever been any doubt that it would be followed. Do watch for Cllr. Patrick’s observation though, since it holds the key to a critical flaw in the planning process here.
It may not be Amazon, but it’s certainly not simply a “last mile distribution centre where parcels are delivered via small vans to customers in the local area.” As the Transport Statement stated, only 5% of the deliveries are expected to be made to local Havant addresses.
From that point on, the ‘debate’ becomes a formality, the vote is taken, and the application is passed – unanimously.
The HBC Constitution offers clear advice to Planning Committee members:
HCS believes that the withholding of the intended occupier’s identity, together with omission of employment details on the original planning application and the lack of numerical justification for the ‘occupier traffic data’ on which the Highways and Environmental Health calculations were built, constituted ‘insufficient information’.
The decision puts the final nail into the coffin of what could have been a decent, sustainable, accessible town centre employment site, with quality jobs to inspire the local schools and colleges and help regenerate the town. Just imagine what might have happened if the the Council’s Economic Development Lead had tried opening discussions with the profitable part of the Amazon corporation? Sadly, the scale of vision and quality of decision making at HBC that brought IBM to Havant in the sixties is a distant memory. So a multi-storey van park, a traffic generator and a part-time gig-economy delivery opportunity for local car and van drivers is what we’ll have, along with traffic movements associated with its ill-defined and inadequately documented operational model.
We’ve published a transcript of the more interactive part of the meeting including the somewhat unconventional questioning of the two deputees after their presentations, the ‘debate’, including discussion of an important amendment, and the conclusion of the meeting with the inevitable vote.
To view the transcript, click the following image:
To watch the proceedings in full, click the ‘play’ arrow in the centre of the following image:
Those words may well come back to bite.
What can we conclude from this? Well one conclusion would be that the current modus operandi of the Planning Committee is not fit for purpose.
If we look at the composition of the Planning Committee for this meeting, it comprised the Chairman and five of the six named members. Of those six, one had forwarded apologies, one contributed nothing other than to say ‘I second’, while three other members present showed little or no understanding of the, admittedly complex, issues involved. That leaves Cllr. Hughes, who proved on this occasion to be the ‘One Man Planning Committee’.
There are four trained standing deputies: Cllr. Stone, Cllr. Payter, Cllr. Denton, Cllr. Linger. Cllr. Stone emailed HCS less than twenty minutes before the meeting started, to explain that he would not be attending as a Standing Deputy “as I live extremely close to the proposed site and it would be unwise for me to potentially jeapordise our neutrality on this application”. We’d like to point out that the residents of his Bondfields ward also live extremely close to the site and might like to have been represented. Cllr. Payter, judging by her outstanding email correspondence may still be away.
But that still leaves two standing deputies, trained in the process, who could have attended. Surely, with a Planning Application as important as this, the residents deserved better representation?