NEIGHBOURHOOD FORUM UPDATE 15
GREEN BELT AND BOROUGH COUNCIL ELECTION:
The local borough Council elections are upon us: Thursday 22 May is polling day. In and around Hook Heath, however, there is little to indicate that there is an election campaign underway but that, I suppose, is reflective of the times in which we now live. A few activists are about their business but for the vast majority of people, elections and politics seem to evoke more apathy than enthusiasm.
But there is an issue about which we, and our neighbours in Mayford & Sutton Green, ought to be exercised: the review of the borough’s Green Belt which was commissioned by Woking Borough Council last year. It had planned to carry out a review in 2016-17, but the Planning Inspector who examined the Council Core Strategy through to 2027, instructed that it be brought forward following pressure from the building industry.
The review by independent consultants has been completed but not yet published. Some might cynically observe that publication has been delayed until after the local elections. As yet, we have only the vaguest indications as to when this hugely important document will surface.
Ask when it might appear and the reply from Councillors and officers varies anywhere between ‘soon’ to ‘later this year’ to ‘in the summer’.
As I mentioned in the April Update, the Forum’s Open Spaces group identified as a key issue 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 survey of residents carried out at our drop-in event in March revealed overwhelming opposition to development.
Letter to the candidates
We thought that it would be helpful to the democratic process, therefore, to write to all four candidates contesting the St Johns and Hook Heath ward inviting their replies to the following request:
- One of our principal concerns is the outcome of the Green Belt review being undertaken by consultants commissioned by Woking Borough Council and, in particular, the possibility that a portion of the lower slopes of the Hook Heath escarpment, down to Saunders Lane and the railway lines, being removed from the Green Belt. The response to a recent questionnaire circulated to residents revealed their overwhelming opposition to any removal of Green Belt protection from Hook Heath and the entire escarpment.
- I trust that we would have your support for the aims and objectives of the Forum. Moreover, we would be grateful to receive your confirmation that, if elected, and such a proposal were to come before the Council for a vote, you would cast your vote against the removal of any portion of the Hook Heath escarpment from the Green Belt and encourage your fellow councillors to do likewise.
The four candidates standing for election are: Councillor John Kingsbury (Con), leader of the Council who is seeking re-election; Diana Landon (Lib Dem); David Roe (UKIP); and Tom Willis (Lab).
Cllr Kingsbury (Con) replied:
- I have sought the advice of the Council’s Monitoring Officer and Solicitor (Peter Bryant) on the effect of giving the confirmation sought by you would have on my ability to participate in the Council’s consideration of such matters in the future. He has advised that Councillors cannot participate in a decision-making process if they have pre-determined the issue under consideration. Councillors may be pre-disposed to a certain outcome, but no more than that. Mr Bryant advises that there is a risk that I would be regarded as having predetermined the matter if I indicated now how I would cast my vote. On that basis, it would not be appropriate for me to give the confirmation sought at this time. I can, however, pledge that, if I am re-elected, I will do all I can to oppose any attempt to remove any part of the Hook Heath escarpment from the Green Belt. (Cllr Kingsbury’s emphasis)
Diana Landon (Lib Dem) wrote:
In the event that I am elected to Woking Borough Council in May I would be pleased to meet you and discuss the issues regarding possible adverse action to the green belt in the Hook Heath Escarpment, and any appropriate action which could be taken.
David Roe (UKIP) replied:
- UKIP's national policy is to preserve the Green Belt.
- Unlike my Conservative opponent I have never voted for development - on the Green Belt or common land.
- I am seeking election to represent the views of the constituents of St. Johns and Hook Heath not for personal gain.
- UKIP's national policy is to prevent mass migration/immigration and thus reduce the need for the 2.5 million homes ordered to be built in the South of England by John Prescott MP (Lab) when he was Deputy Prime Minister, a policy many expected to be overturned by the Coalition Government as the Conservatives at the time opposed such developments. Since gaining control of Woking Borough Council the Conservative administration have remained committed to building approximately 350 homes a year for the next ten years in Woking as part of John Prescott's plan to socially engineer the South of England.
- UKIP's policy for Borough, County and Metropolitan councillors is for them to independently represent the views prevalent in their local communities.
- A UKIP councillor is permitted by the party to represent the views of local residents rather than follow party policy at a local level.
As a further point of information I am currently questioning the process used by the council in the plan to regenerate Sheerwater Estate. Why should this issue concern the residents of Hook Heath? The handling of the process is indicative of what the current councillors and administration will do when asked to vote on your issue.
Robert Shatwell (UKIP), chairman of the Woking branch of UKIP, who is contesting the neighbouring ward of Mayford & Sutton Green, also wrote. He is the election agent for David Roe
I can advise that the UKIP policy is to protect the green belt from unnecessary development. It is also my policy to uphold the party policy and to protect the green belt from development. I have personally indicated to the council several areas of brownfield that are suitable for development. All of these have been totally ignored by Woking council officers. Until there is no further brownfield available for development I will, if elected, defend such greenfield sites proposed for development.
[Space considerations have meant that I have been unable to include the full text of the replies of Messrs. Roe and Shatwell].
Tom Willis (Lab) - at the time of writing (16 May), I have received no reply or acknowledgement to my letter to all candidates dated 2 May.
I hope that members of the Forum will find the replies from the candidates helpful.
The Forum’s steering group will be meeting on Wednesday 21 May to try to finalise the policy drafts which our three working groups have taken forward following the feedback from our drop-in event in March. We will be helped by our two professional mentors provided by Locality under a Government-sponsored scheme.
The next meeting of the Forum will be on Wednesday 11 June at Gorse Hill commencing at 7.30pm. This will be an important meeting and I hope that we will have a good attendance. I look forward to seeing you there.
My thanks, as ever, for your interest and support for the Neighbourhood Forum.
Chairman, Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum
Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum
an initiative of the Hook Heath Residents' Association
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