The HBC Elections – Why your vote counts

If you’re just here to find out how your choice of candidate could make a real difference, take this link to skip on down to our guide to ‘Reading those leaflets’.

Why your vote counts

Local elections should be about local issues, with a wide variety of local candidates reflecting the views of the residents in their wards. In recent years, public disinterest in politics has delivered an increasingly complacent Council which is, to all intents and purposes, a ‘single party state’, lacking in challenge, weak in debate and out of touch with the residents. It could do with refreshing and that’s where you come in.

Let’s take a look at last year’s election result and consider the two key messages from this chart:

Click on the image for a full breakdown by ward.

The first key message is that the majority of Havant voters didn’t bother turning out to vote last year.

The second key message is that, thanks to our ‘first past the post’ electoral system, last year’s election resulted in a council in which all but two of the 38 councillors came from the same party, which is never a good thing regardless of which colour rosette the majority party wears. Without the healthy debate and challenge that opposition parties bring to the Council, any analysis lacks depth and decisions are weak.

The numbers changed slightly during the year when three members of the majority party resigned to become ‘Independent Councillors’ and another decided to focus his efforts on dragging the Council through the courts rather than representing his constituents.

What we have been left with in the run-up to the May 5th election is a rather dysfunctional Council with a large number of elected representatives who didn’t even bother to turn up for a significant Council meeting in March of this year, apparently in protest against a demand being made by the Leader of the Council.

Havant Borough residents deserve better but the Borough will only pick itself up once we stop ‘voting out of party habit’ and start voting for candidates on the strength of their local experience, their community backgrounds, their energy and appetite for work, their ability to listen to residents and their courage to use those attributes to question and challenge the directions set by the leadership.

The challenges facing the incoming Council

The HCS website provides a comprehensive commentary on key topics, holding the Council to account in the interests of our members and contacts. The following sections summarise some of the bigger stories of the last year, and offer an outline of the main challenges that the new Council will have to face. There’s a lot of work to do and some radical rethinking by some fresh minds would be helpful.

The cost of living

The cost of living has risen rapidly to the top of the pile and, by the end of the year, will be unavoidable for all. It’s an issue which will affect all of the residents of the borough, with some inevitably finding that HBC social care and welfare services will have been stretched way beyond the resources of the current Council budget set at the beginning of the year.

The Council itself will not be immune to rising costs having started the year with significant costs due to its sudden exit from the partnership with East Hants District Council. Serious cuts will be needed in previously strategic programmes given the bleak economic outlook. Firm, and doubtless uncomfortable, decisions will have to be made based on the cost, deliverability and measurable benefit of some of the strategic programmes starting, we would suggest, with the Regeneration Programme in its current incarnation.

The Regeneration Strategy

In 2018, ‘The Regeneration Strategy’ was a well-intentioned initiative for the future. Four years and several million pounds later, it now seems to have become a directionless vanity project which has spent heavily on external consultancy but delivered little of tangible value, apart from the sale of Brockhampton West and the purchase of the Meridian Centre and the Bulbeck Road carpark.

The current Cabinet proposal for the sale of those two town centre sites for demolition and redevelopment risks becoming another ‘Potash Terrace’ fiasco, the site sold by HBC for £3.4M in 2006 to a developer who then sat on it for four years before selling it on for £20M. The general feeling around the town is that both sites should be retained by the Council, repurposed with an element of social housing and refurbished in line with accepted best practice for sustainability.

The Amazon New Lane planning applications

Two of the most significant planning applications in the town centre have been those associated with the former Pfizer site at 32 New Lane. While the Council still tries to hide behind ‘commercial confidentiality’, it’s an open secret that this will be the largest of the Amazon ‘New style delivery depots’ opened to date, with a large number of others now being pursued with similar secrecy through other local authorities across the country.

The traffic data supplied by the applicant was flawed and incomplete, neither matching the business operation proposed nor that actually intended. However, HBC Planning Services and Hampshire County Council provided no challenge whatsoever and under pressure from ‘the intended occupier’, caved in to a second planning application raised to remove the traffic control conditions which had been applied to the original permit.

Take this link for further reading, and expect an announcement from HBC once the election is over in which the Council Leader will trumpet this as being a prestige global business with hundreds of new jobs.

The reality is quite different; Havant’s unemployed deserve more than zero hours ‘gig economy’ jobs, and wasting a prime, sustainable town centre employment site on what should have been an ‘edge of town’ development is a short-sighted mistake.

The Freeport promise

We believe that Amazon’s first choice site for Havant was at Dunsbury Park, which would have been a far more appropriate development site. Unfortunately, HBC and Portsmouth City Council (PCC) have now effectively mothballed the Dunsbury Park site exclusively for future developments which might result from the Solent Freeport.

The Council are relying on the Freeport to magically generate hundreds of high-quality jobs, however the jury is still out on whether or not anything will materialise from what could be described as a post-Brexit UK Treasury vanity project. The freeport project schedule is already a year late and one of the more significant partners, DP World, has now pulled out.

Anybody who has driven down the M275 into Portsmouth over the past year will have noticed that PCC’s priority for the port is increasingly for cruise shipping rather than for expansion of the type of commercial freight which might benefit from freeport tax advantages.

So it’s only a matter of time before Dunsbury Park will need to be taken out of the freeport plan but despite repeated requests, HBC have refused to acknowledge whether they have a contingency plan for this. Until then, serious development opportunities like Amazon’s will be turned away or sited on entirely unsuitable sites within the town centre.

The Havant Borough Local Plan

Thousands of hours of effort was wasted, including a great deal of input from community and residents’ groups across the borough, when the Draft Local Plan was rejected by the Planning Inspectors following their Examination in Public last July.

The Local Plan sets out the vision for future development in the borough with an outlook of fifteen years, setting out the way in which land across the area is allocated, for example, for housing, for employment and for recreation.

Local Plans are used to help decide on planning applications and other planning-related decisions. In effect, they are the local guide to what can be built where, shaping infrastructure investments and determining the future pattern of development in the borough. 

Local Plans need to be updated every five years to address changes in national policy and legislation. HBC wasted months trying to fight the Planning Inspectors’ decision, finally giving in to the inevitable at the end of February this year. Read more about this by taking this link to HCS posts on the subject.

Housing Development targets

Government policy on housebuilding has led to unachievable targets being set for many Councils across the country. To understand more, this government research briefing provides useful background reading. Back in 2019, the issue of nitrate neutrality put a temporary halt to housebuilding across the borough and the current position is that Havant has fallen badly behind in the delivery of new homes against the targets set by central government.

Across the south east of England other councils with stronger parliamentary representation have been pushing back on the centrally set housing supply targets, arguing that they have insufficient viable space for such unrealistic numbers of homes.

Rather than joining that fight, HBC have effectively caved in to the housing developers who are greedy for profit from any patch of green land that they can get their hands on. Without a current Local Plan, Havant now faces a free-for-all from developers who are seizing the opportunity to bring forward speculative housing developments, including several previously rejected or on hold. This post from last October covers three recent successful planning applications, ‘one good, one bad and one downright ugly’.

Housing quality

There is a clear and pressing need for social housing in Havant Borough. Portsmouth City Council prove this can be done in our region with projects like Cabbagefield Row, designed by a Havant based architect, but Havant Borough Council have yet to follow Portsmouth’s example.

If you’ve witnessed the horror of Barratt Homes’ Forty Acres development, you can’t help but question the quality of the construction technique. The factory-built, timber-framed developments rapidly assembled on site are compliant with current HBC Building Regulations, but those standards need an urgent refresh. With climate change now upon us and soaring energy costs, Barratt Homes’ reliance on old technology gas-fired heating systems and the absence of any photo-voltaic panels in the standard build design does not reflect a local authority which takes a serious view of Climate Change adaptation and net-zero development.

If housing developers are to be given free reign to build in contentious spaces, then the Council has a duty to set and enforce higher local standards for quality and sustainability of construction.

Employment and education

The new Council needs to develop a strategic vision for the local employment areas, rather than simply following the current default of building more ‘sheds’ in the hope that someone will eventually rent them.

Langstone Park and New Lane could, and should, provide sustainable, ‘green’ manufacturing employment with excellent public transport links and easy pedestrian and cycle access from across the Borough. Free bus services, subsidised by the occupants, could easily service both areas. There’s an opportunity to preserve and build on some of Havant’s proud manufacturing past before the imminent demolition of Langstone Technology Park, but it will need new Councillors with real vision to see the benefit.

Dunsbury Park, Hermitage Park, and Brockhampton West already provide the optimum sites for high volume HGV and LGV transport use while still being easily accessible for local employees. Unfortunately, unless something concrete comes of the involvement of Portsmouth in the Solent Freeport, Dunsbury Park is liable to be gathering tumbleweed for years to come.

With a visionary employment strategy in place, the local education establishments would have a foundation upon which to raise their standards to meet the new employment challenge. Without that vision, Havant’s school leavers and young unemployed will sadly find that zero-hours ‘gig economy’ driving jobs and short-contract 24/7 warehouse shift vacancies are the best that they can hope for.

The major development plans from Southern Water and Portsmouth Water

Once the election is over, Portsmouth Water and Southern Water will both be pushing forward with controversial developments to which Havant Borough Council’s elected representatives have provided no adequate challenge. The Portsmouth Water HQ application for Solent Road has exposed the complete inadequacy of the pre-planning ‘Development Consultation Forum‘ process, a previous well-intentioned initiative which is now seen as just another excuse for residents to get in the way.

Southern Water’s latest proposal to build an advanced Water Recycling Plant (WRP) near their sewage plant at Budds Farm will be pushed through under a Development Consent Order directly with UK Central Government, effectively bypassing the Havant Borough Council local authority planning process. This is the same process recently used by the controversial AQUIND project in Portsmouth. The only way to fight such a proposal is to follow Portsmouth’s example, combining forces with the local MPs and the neighbouring authorities, including Fareham, whose Peel Common processed sewage Havant will soon be importing.

Havant’s traffic issues

The 32 New Lane – ‘Amazon distribution depot’ – planning debacle exposed significant inadequacies in traffic management across the Borough, with a general lack of engagement at the detail level by either HBC Planning Services or HCC Highways. Despite the fact that the applicant admitted that 95% of the traffic generated was destined for the Strategic Road Network, HBC Planning Services failed to engage with National Highways who should have been a mandatory consultee. The failure of all parties to appreciate the obvious impact of siting a schedule-critical delivery operation at a landlocked town centre site is worrying. Their subsequent decision to remove any control that Hampshire Highways might have had over the growth of traffic generated from expansion of the site was frankly astonishing. This decision will come back to bite.

With multiple planning applications regularly affecting the same routes and junctions on the local and strategic road networks, long term infrastructure planning and the impact of individual development applications are poorly handled across the two tiers of local government. The push to develop 2000 houses in the Southleigh gap before the long delayed Southleigh / A27 Link Road is developed is another example of the issue.

HBC trust and engagement

We’re all in this together, we all have to tighten our belts and the town needs a council that learns how to listen to its residents and businesses. We need a council which, when challenged in Council and Planning meetings, has the courtesy and the honesty to provide serious answers rather than glib and unsubstantiated sound bites.

Much more could be achieved if Havant had a Council which came out from behind its unnecessary smokescreens of ‘commercial confidentiality’ and engaged honestly and effectively with the town residents.

The support provided by our MPs

If the Council is serious about going head-to-head with central government over housing delivery numbers, a ‘Levelling-Up Fund’ bid for Waterlooville Town Centre and the Southern Water ‘Water Recycling Plant’ proposal, then it will need the active support of both of the Borough’s MPs.

The ‘elephant in the room’, however, is the question of how much influence those two MPs actually have. A constituency’s level of influence at central government level is proportional to the level of parliamentary visibility and credibility of its MPs and looking around at our neighbours, the strength of Havant Borough’s parliamentary representation is not high.

One way of drawing the comparison is to look at each MPs’ activity in tabling and responding to Parliamentary written questions. You can try that for yourself here or you can take our word for it below, the data is updated daily and at the time of writing, the figures for the MPs across our region are shown here:

Beneath the superficial cross-party sniping we often see reported in The News, Portsmouth has a vibrant, healthy Council which reflects and balances the communities across the city. In the ‘Levelling-up Fund’ stakes, Portsmouth’s success in winning £20M funding last year came from a professional bid by a strong, representative Council supported by two fully engaged and effective MPs. In comparison, Havant’s ill-thought out bid for £12.4m of the ‘Levelling-up Fund’ was a predictable failure.

In Stephen Morgan and Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth have two strong parliamentary representatives with national profiles. Gosport is well represented by Dame Caroline Dineage, while to the east of us, Chichester has strong parliamentary representation from Gillian Keegan.

Sadly, Havant and Waterlooville appear to play in a much lower league.

In addition to their success in helping Portsmouth win significant ‘Levelling-Up’ funding, Portsmouth’s cross-party team of MPs were also influential in helping PCC push back on the UK Government ministry over the AQUIND proposal.

With Southern Water attempting to sneak in a major Water Recycling Plant next to Budds Farm using the same ‘Development Consent Order’ / National Strategic Infrastructure Project approach, we should not place too much store on our MPs’ ability to fight hard on our behalf.

As Alan Mak reminds us in the automatic replies to each email he receives, “I am not a member of HBC or HCC and I have no role in, or responsibility for, their activities.”

How to read those leaflets

A few words about the leaflets that came through your door, and the other ones that probably didn’t.

Firstly, to maintain our apolitical stance, here’s where you can go to find the details of all four of the local main parties, listed “in alphabetical order of appearance”:

The Conservative Party
The Green Party
The Labour Party
The Liberal Democrat Party

Since all four of these parties will try and fight every seat, there’s a very high chance (some would say, a certainty) that they will all fight amongst themselves and end up splitting the opposition vote with the ‘Groundhog Day’ result that nothing ever changes.

So if you’re looking to refresh the Council, what might you do?

Well, the chances are that whatever ward you live in, you’ve only received election details from two of the parties on your ballot paper. Producing leaflets is an expensive business, and stuffing them through doors is probably a hard and thankless task. Most political parties are short of cash, but in a ward where a particular political party thinks their candidate might stand a chance of winning, they’ll distribute leaflets. Where they don’t, they’ll still try and put up a candidate since their party organisation will expect it.

If one of your candidates took the easy way out and paid for postage stamps to deliver their election leaflets, you might justifiably question their spending priorities and their level of personal commitment, both qualities needed of a good Councillor. The candidates who take the trouble to go door-to-door, distributing their leaflets and talking to residents are the ones demonstrating real commitment.

If you’ve only received details from two of the candidates, then think of the election as a two horse race and it gets more interesting. If you normally vote for one of those that you didn’t get a leaflet for, then perhaps think again.

At the local level, party politics shouldn’t count. You’re voting for a person, not a rosette, and Havant Borough Council could certainly do with some fresh faces and some healthy debate. Make the Council work better, vote for the person rather than the party. The right candidate could bring fresh ideas and new thinking to the real challenges facing Havant.

And if you’ve missed what those are, then go back here and read.