NEIGHBOURHOOD FORUM UPDATE 14
It has been a very busy few weeks since the extremely successful drop-in event at the Woking Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on 15 March. The feedback we received to the draft policies has been very useful in taking forward the work of producing a neighbourhood plan.
There is much more work to be done, of course, but thanks to the effort and enthusiasm of our three working groups, we are making good progress. Yes, we shall certainly face challenges in the weeks and months ahead. With the continued support of our near 300 Forum members, however, we will meet our objective of producing a neighbourhood plan for Hook Heath that will withstand independent scrutiny and secure majority support in a referendum.
Our Forum meeting on 10 April at Gorse Hill was the best attended meeting we have had to date. A real sense of engagement and understanding of the relevance and importance of working as a community to produce a plan emerged at the meeting. I felt that the meeting gave really strong impetus to move forward with refining the policies which will be at the heart of our plan.
The Built Environment, Local Infrastructure and the Open Spaces working groups have been able to study the feedback from the questionnaires and this has been of great assistance in helping them to refine their policies.
Green Belt issues
A key issue identified by the Open Spaces group is the prospect of future development of land on the Hook Heath escarpment or adjacent to it, as, when and if it is considered for release from the Green Belt. The topic was discussed at length at the 10 April meeting with useful and informative contributions from our two local ward Councillors, John Kingsbury and Graham Cundy.
The discussion was admirably summarised in the minutes of the 10 April meeting and the subject was also addressed in the recently circulated 2014 Newsletter of the Hook Heath Residents’ Association. There is no need, therefore, for repetition in this Update.
There is no doubt that the future of the Green Belt nationally - as well as on our own doorstep - is threatened as Government maintains pressure to construct 250,000 new homes annually well into the future.
As the former Poet Laureate, Sir Andrew Motion, observed in a recent interview in his role as president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England: “We need to be extraordinarily vigilant about this because when it is gone (the Green Belt) it is gone forever.”
Ultimately, it will be for our local councillors to determine where Woking will expand beyond 2022 (Woking Borough Council has sites and land in reserve to meet its annual housing target up to that point).
By then, the existing St Johns and Hook Heath electoral ward will have been absorbed into the much larger proposed Heathlands ward which has already been identified as expected to attract a higher level of development.
The Council is expected to publish the review of the Green Belt for consultation this summer although it is impossible to be more precise as to which month. The Forum’s Steering Group will be keeping a watchful eye on developments.
Talking of which
Local elections are being held in a number of wards, including the existing St Johns and Hook Heath ward, on 22 May, together with the election of Members of the European Parliament for the South East region.
Four candidates are contesting one of the present two ward councillor seats. They are the leader of the Council, John Kingsbury (Con) who is seeking re-election; Diana Landon (Lib Dem); David Roe (UKIP) and Tom Willis (Lab).
It is early days but it has been pretty quiet on the hustings. So far, at the time of writing, I have received campaign literature from only one of the candidates. I look forward, however, to hearing from the others before 22 May, especially if they choose to air their views regarding any development on, or adjacent to, the escarpment.
It is worth noting that the escarpment is designated by Woking Borough Council as ‘Rising Ground of Landscape Importance’. How long that will survive is a moot point. Until a couple of years ago, Hook Heath, together with several other areas of Woking, was categorised as an ‘Urban Area of Special Residential Character’. That designation was quietly dropped from the planners’ lexicon.
We shall follow Sir Andrew’s advice to the letter!
When we embarked on the long process of establishing a Neighbourhood Forum, and successfully sought grant funding from a Government-sponsored programme, we indicated that we hoped to complete an initial plan by June this year. Frankly, it was, at best, a guesstimate at the time but it was interpreted by the funding organisation as being the end date for our project. Any surplus funds were to be returned.
Thanks to skillful negotiation by our treasurer, Gerald Griffiths, our programme end date has been extended to the end of 2014, by which time I anticipate that we shall have deployed our entire grant funding in support of production of the neighbourhood plan.
In the next Update, I hope to be able to report on meetings I am attending in the first half of May, including a meeting of representatives of the Borough’s Residents’ Associations at WBC at which topics will include an update on the Woking Local Plan and neighbourhood planning.
Two of our neighbouring communities, St Johns and Mayford, have a busy month ahead with formal openings of their new village halls. Forum members and Hook Heath residents are encouraged to attend and lend their support.
On Sunday 11 May, the refurbished Mayford Village Hall in Saunders Lane, which was badly damaged by an arson attack in 2012, will be formally re-opened. The opening ceremony will be at 2.30 pm and the Hall will be open for viewing until 4.30 pm.
On Saturday 31 May, there will be celebrations throughout the day commencing at 2.00 pm to mark the opening of the fine new Memorial Hall on St Johns Lye. Attractions include a jazz band, a procession and a barn dance. Organisers are hopeful that the weather will be kind for what promises to be a memorable occasion.
The next meeting of the Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum will be on Wednesday 11 June at Gorse Hill commencing at 7.30 pm. I hope that at that meeting we shall be able to report on the excellent progress made by the working groups. I look forward to welcoming you on that occasion.
Meanwhile, my thanks to you for your continued interest and support.
Chairman, Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum
Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum
an initiative of the Hook Heath Residents' Association
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