HBC Warblington Press Release – Greenwash at its worst!

An excellent letter from from Ann Buckley, co-ordinator of the Havant Borough Residents Alliance, to the Portsmouth News in response to the recent HBC press release .

“I write in response your recent article “Trailblazing move to help housebuilding’.

My first reaction to this was, if Havant Borough Council had listened a decade ago and acted upon a motion put to the council on housebuilding and pollution in the harbours it would have been trailblazing, but they did not take action. The borough would not have ended up in the situation when most of the building industry locally has been on hold for more than a year because of nitrate pollution in Langstone and Chichester harbours.

Havant Borough Residents Alliance (HBRA) brings together residents’ associations and conservation groups from across the borough and has carefully scrutinised the progress of the Local Plan to 2037 over the past four years.

The council’s press release for the launch of the Warblington Farm Mitigation Site which is part of the Local Plan, seems to HBRA to be misleading and inaccurate. The press release states that the council has purchased the farm. This is not correct. The council has owned the farm for decades and has simply changed or regeared the farmer’s lease.

In your article, a quote from the environment minister Rebecca Pow gives the impression that Havant is about to get a nature reserve a ‘green open space for them to enjoy’. In reality the current scheme is for a third of the council-owned farmland to be taken out of agricultural production and then looked after by the farmer without public access. HBRA was told by the council there would not be a nature reserve for at least a decade.

The council’s cartoon that accompanied the press release shows a cow with a suitcase. This seems to indicate the dairy herd will go and as you say in your News article ‘reduce cow waste’. This is not the case, the herd and the much-valued Warblington Castle Farm Dairy, which delivers milk in reusable glass bottles locally, will continue. The council also gives the impression that the land is intensively farmed but that is not true either and the farm already has a rich coastal ecology with hedgerows,wild flowers and wetland habitat for birds and other creatures.

HBRA is also concerned the well-respected Chichester Harbour Conservancy and the Langstone Harbour Board have not been included in discussions about the Warblington coastal mitigation site.

The whole process leading up to Havant Borough Council’s decision on the Warblington site was lacking in transparency with residents excluded from meetings and some reports. Even towards the end of the process residents were told there would be a planning application for ‘change of use’ from a farm to a nature reserve, where details could be scrutinised, but that also was not true and has now been dropped!

It seems likely there will be no nature reserve for now but plenty of housebuilding in the Havant borough is again possible. Perhaps those new developments should include signposts for the displaced wildlife to their new off-site habitat at Warblington Farm.

Greenwash at its worst!

Ann Buckley
Co-ordinator HBRA

Online public meetings

Over the past few months, many of us have become accustomed to holding meetings online using the various technologies available and it seems a common view that these meetings have been surprisingly productive.

If nothing else, this morning’s HCS Committee Zoom meeting served to reinforce our lack of diversity! (Expect to hear more of this in due course.)

One particular benefit noted is that these online meetings encourage active participation from a wider cross section of the community than might have been served by traditional on-site meetings. As such, we welcome last week’s HBC Cabinet meeting discussion on the use of online technology for forthcoming public meetings. So much so that we’ve written to HBC offering to help them with their testing of the technology with a public audience. Their stated plan to have ‘Cabinet and other public meetings’ opened online to the public by the mid-October is fairly aggressive, but is to be welcomed.

Nutrient neutrality and the HBC Warblington Farm ‘initiative’.

While we welcome a positive news story for Havant, we should put today’s press release from Havant Borough Council into a broader context and in doing so perhaps remove some of the political spin. (To read the original press release from DEFRA et al, from which most of the text of the HBC press release has clearly been taken, look here.)

The issue of nutrient neutrality has been around since pre-Covid times, first discussed here after a Havant Borough Council meeting which we attended in January and highlighted by discussions surrounding the Campdown development planning application.

Since we all went into lockdown in March, Havant Borough Council have been scurrying around behind the scenes (and mostly under the covers) trying to find a way around the safeguards of the EU Habitats Directive while fobbing us off with an endearingly patronising video to explain the issue:

If that didn’t make everything crystal clear and explain why Havant Borough Council are taking over the lease on Warblington Farm, let’s have another go. It really isn’t quite as simple as they’d have you believe.

The serious issue at hand is the state of health of the Solent, a large estuarine system internationally recognised for its marine habitats. With increasing flows of nutrients into the Solent, the balance of the organisms inhabiting the Solent is upset, with increased algal growth depleting dissolved oxygen and killing the marine life on which the wild bird population depends.

Several rivers flow directly into the Solent, notably the Medina, Yar and Newtown rivers on the Island side and the Lymington, Beaulieu and Meon on the mainland. Other rivers and streams flow indirectly into the Solent through the four harbours, including the Test and the Itchen. Between them these water courses drain a large land area around the Solent, carrying significant volumes of nutrients, including nitrates from farmland, treated waste water from housing and industrial development, and surface water runoff, some of which, for example from roads, carries additional pollutants.

In August, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) issued a ten page briefing document which gives a reasonably clear explanation of the issue and the need for mitigation. Take the link to open the document in a new tab in your browser and do take the time to study it.

The purchase by HIWWT of Little Duxmore Farm on the Isle of Wight as a project to take it out of ‘intensive’ agricultural use and return it to the wild, seems on the face of it to be a neat idea. By removing the farm’s use of nitrate fertilizer from the equation and selling ‘nitrate credits’ on to Fareham Borough Council’s developers, it’s a ‘win win’ situation for all.

Or is it? Certainly it is for HIWWT who, swallowing their principles, stand to gain sales of £2M worth of ‘nitrate credits’ from their £1M investment in the farm. Certainly for the housing developers who get to move ahead with their development projects and certainly for Fareham Borough Council who now have the ability to meet more of their central government imposed housing numbers.

So how does this relate to Havant? Havant Borough Council’s action in taking over the lease of Warblington Farm from Henry Young provides them with the same magic money tree. The nitrate credits theoretically released by rewilding Warblington farm will enable HBC to sell them on to the likes of Persimmon Homes who are desperately keen to get on with the Campdown development.

The big loser in this game, sadly, is the very wildlife around the Solent that the EU Habitats Directive and the ‘Dutch Case’ set out to protect. Why? Because the nitrates being released into the ground from agricultural land take years or decades to finally leach through into the watercourses. While the objective of ‘re-wilding’ farmland is admirable, the benefits certainly won’t be seen in our lifetime. What will be seen in our lifetime, however, is the impact of the additional housing development which will now move relentlessly ahead, unchecked. The problem for the Solent and its wildlife will get worse, not better, for the foreseeable future.

The Solent is a uniquely valuable waterway, not just for its wildlife but to the communities that live around its shores. To safeguard that value, in an ideal world, we need to move beyond nitrate neutrality and actively plan to decrease the nutrient load, appreciating that the Solent area is probably already overdeveloped and overpopulated.

Postscript – September 14th 2020.

We’ve put together a page with references to various external sources which may help with your understanding of the Nitrate Neutrality issue. To check this out, go to havantcivicsociety.uk/nitrates, or just click the link.

Warblington Farm – HBC flying under the radar

The Covid-19 situation seems to have given Havant Borough Council more excuse than usual to fly under the radar, with meetings held away from the public gaze and a distinct lack of scrutiny.

On the back of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s initiative’ on nitrate mitigation, it was obvious that Havant Borough Council were intent on looking for opportunities to play the same game. In common with many of the Solent district and borough councils, for example Eastleigh and Fareham, Havant Borough Council actually own much of the farmland on their patch, leasing it back to tenant farmers. Warblington Castle Farm has been the home of S.H.Young & Son Ltd, the dairy, for as long as many of us can remember, the old yellow electric milk float once a regular nocturnal sight on the town streets.

The heavily redacted documentation from the Council Meeting held on June 3rd didn’t do much to reinforce trust between HBC and local residents’ groups. The multiple references to ‘Warblington Farm’ which could be found by scanning its superficially blacked out pages proved suspicions that HBC were about to do a Little Duxley Farm job on our very own Warblington Castle Dairies.

On September 9, during Prime Minister’s Questions, our incumbent MP asked his PM to  “join me in thanking the farmers in Havant for the contribution they make to our country and our prosperity.” We assume he was referring to the contribution that Henry Young has been persuaded to make, giving up his livelihood so that Havant Borough Council can reap the benefits of the nitrate credit harvest.

The trouble is, we’re not convinced that the maths stacks up. The cashflow analysis of the Warblington Farm Nutrient Mitigation Scheme has not yet been made public.

We’re not holding our breath.

HBC – ‘Shaping our Future’ initiative

“Havant Borough Council (HBC) needs to make financial savings of £12.1M over five years while realigning its resources to the current priorities as set out in the Council’s strategies. The direct costs and loss of income resulting from coronavirus, the resulting economic downturn and Brexit have added significant uncertainty to the challenge. The degree of uncertainty means the nature and impact of these are difficult to quantify but it is prudent to plan for these to be financially significant.”

The paragraph above is taken from a report entitled ‘Shaping our Future – Transformation programme‘ which was presented at a Havant Borough Council Cabinet meeting last week. The report, which was approved for subsequent presentation to the full Council before presentation to East Hants District Council, sets out the objectives and vision for what is effectively a merger of the two administrations. The document notes their vision to “leverage their positive partnership with EHDC for the benefit of both councils.”

In a departure from previous Cabinet documents, which have had passages redacted in rather transparent black ink, this one contains passages encoded in a form of ‘Consultant speak’ popular in the 1990s. In it we learn that HBC aspires to become “outcome focussed and provider agnostic” with an “agile and financially sustainable operating model that delivers their transformation vision by October 2022“. Their “performance management regime that evidences a demand led and early intervention approach to the delivery of services” should achieve that and enable them to adopt an “agile, flexible and resilient ‘can do’ culture.” You’ll be pleased to note that they plan to “embrace a digital first approach” to their services, confident in the knowledge that they will be “brilliant at the basics; flexible, agile and resilient.

For those unable to decode the language of the report, the authors helpfully provide a couple of simple charts, reproduced below:

(For future audiences, a well known and well loved strategy for staying awake and appearing attentive during such presentations can be found here.)

Shoebox living – A warning for Havant?

A Sunday Times article on September 6 highlighted the issue of ‘shoebox living’, illustrated by a plan of six ‘flats’ in Southampton in a conversion from a former gas showroom.

Retail unit converted to tiny flats in Shirley, Southampton.

Developers are exploiting planning laws to convert empty banks, takeaways and barbers into tiny flats, causing fears Britain’s high streets are becoming modern slum housing. Relaxed planning laws and the impact of the coronavirus on the high street have led to a flood of applications to convert shops into homes under so-called permitted development rights (PDRs), which until recently had mainly been used for office conversions.

Since 2013 ‘permitted development rights’ have let developers bypass the requirement to apply for planning permission when turning office blocks into flats. Developers may not transform the outside appearance but have automatic rights to change how the property is used. This was expanded to include shops, bookmakers and launderettes in 2016, before fast-food outlets were added last year. Government data suggests 60,399 homes have already been created in this way and with the ludicrous housing numbers set for Havant, and the empty retail units in the town centre, we could well be next.

The Sunday Times article set a useful reference point by stating that the average car parking space in Britain is about 12 square metres (m2). This caused us to start looking at the sizes of new flats which have already been approved by Havant Borough Council, starting with the flats which are already part sold at 40 North Street on the site of the former Trentham art gallery and workshop.

Taking the ground floor flats as an example, there are currently two compact one bedroom flats, each with a floor area of 30 m2.

40 North Street – One bed flats

It’s not hard to imagine that the two currently unoccupied retail spaces at the front of that building will at some point be turned into another two ‘spacious’ flats under ‘Permitted Development Rights’ (PDR).

40 North Street – ‘Retail’

Across the road from 40 North Street, the old North Street Arcade has also been in our sights. Of the 29 flats currently approved for construction there, the largest at 70m2 contrast with the smallest at 37m2.

Prince George Street – One bedroom flat
Prince George Street – Two bedroom flat

Meanwhile, ‘north of the tracks’ at the Wessex site in New Lane, construction has been motoring ahead during lockdown and the flats being built are close to completion. The smallest of these starts at a relatively spacious 50m2, while the largest units squeeze two double bedrooms and two bathrooms into 78m2.

New lane – One bedroom flat
New Lane – Two bedroom flat

While en-suite shower rooms to the main bedroom in a two bed flat presumably attract higher market prices, it feels that a single family bathroom and more living space in a flat would make for a better living space. But then again, since we suspect that many of these flats will be ‘buy to let’ properties, the two bedroom / two bathroom ones could well morph into shared occupancy properties.

(Perhaps I’ve been watching too many episodes of ‘Homes under the Hammer’ during lockdown!)

Havant’s Repair Café -‘Dr. Bike’ Sessions in September

Havant’s Repair Café team members are hosting ‘Dr Bike’ sessions in Havant Park during September.

These sessions provide a golden opportunity to get your bike out of the shed, dust it off, and re-awaken your enjoyment of a healthy form of exercise and transport. Safety is the key here and these sessions, supported by Havant Borough Council and Cycling UK will provide the servicing you need, free of charge.

Take this link to find out more and book your bike in for a free service.

Portsmouth Water – site proposals

The first move by Portsmouth Water to redevelop their Havant premises has now broken cover with the publication by developers WYG of a briefing note concerning the first stage of an overall development programme.

The image below shows West Street at the top, including the entrance to the existing headquarters building, Brockhampton Road to the left and Solent Road running along the bottom. The Bosmere Medical Centre is clearly visible centred along the bottom of the image.

Portsmouth Water site aerial view [Source, Google Earth]

The report in today’s Portsmouth News highlights the broader picture, including as yet unpublished proposals for 135 new houses accessed from West Street. These would cover the land at the top of this image.

The first stage outlined this week proposes the development of a new headquarters office building to the south of the existing West Street site and immediately to the north of the Bosmere Medical Centre in Solent Road. Also included are three commercial units, with access to the new employment sites sharing the Solent Road entrance currently dedicated to the Bosmere Medical Centre.

Given the volume of traffic already using Solent Road at peak times, adding Portsmouth Water’s office traffic to the mix will surely make things worse. Peak traffic times also align with peak surgery access times and with the volume of patient traffic, both private car and taxi and with regular deliveries to Boots, the on-site chemist, wider use of the existing surgery access road need questioning.

The proposal will be the subject of a Development Consultation Forum on October 22nd at 6:00pm. Since this is likely to be of wider interest to our members, many of whom will be patients registered with the Bosmere Practice, you may wish to come along to that meeting.

Latest update on the Colt site

As you may have seen in today’s Portsmouth News, Southampton based Drew Smith Homes have been awarded funding by Homes England to construct 95 homes on the former Colt site in New Lane, half of which will be offered as ‘affordable homes’.

Colt Drew Smith Galliford Try

It’s difficult to make much sense of the illustration included on the press release, but rest assured we’ll bring you the detail of the planning application when the developer submits it.

We originally brought you news of the outline planning application back in May, and we expect the detailed plans to follow much the same approach. To recap, this is the overall Masterplan for the site:

Colt Site – Master plan from outline planning application
The proposed view south from Bartons Road.
AT the bottom of the hill on Bartons Road at the junction with New Lane.
Proposed light commercial works at the north end of New Lane.

A subterranean surprise at the Wessex site

Demolition at the Wessex site had been proceeding at a steady rate until the machinery struck thin air, exposing a large chamber about three metres deep on the site of the large workshop building on the New Lane side.

The surprise find has been tentatively identified as the site of a coke oven, a Victorian red brick arch briefly visible in the void before the machinery was put back to work. The brickwork can still be seen in the image below, behind the iron joist structure which has since been removed.

As a salvage worker on site remarked, this was “completely unexpected” before adding “you never know what you’re going to find until you break up the ground”.

To the south of the void, five large cast iron pipes are now exposed, presumably relics from the former town gas works.

A lost opportunity for a bit of industrial archaeology perhaps? For those interested, the developer’s original ‘Heritage Statement’ for the planning application can be found here.

Stop Press!

June 5th, the hole just gets keeps getting bigger.