NEIGHBOURHOOD FORUM UPDATE 18
The last Bank Holiday of the summer has come and gone. What a miserable, wet, depressing day Bank Holiday Monday turned out to be. Still, there are the holidays to look back upon and Christmas to look forward to (or not). The year is flying by - at least it is as far as I am concerned but that could just be a sign of advancing age.
Those of us involved in the development of the Hook Heath Neighbourhood Plan are conscious of the tight timetable that we have set ourselves. The pace has quickened and it will continue to do so through to the end of the year.
Shaping up for consultation
Over the past few weeks, excellent progress has been made in developing the draft of the Plan together with supporting documents in readiness for consultation with residents and businesses within the Neighbourhood Area. The Forum’s Steering Group will be meeting on 3 September to review and, hopefully, approve the suite of documents.
In addition to the Plan itself, there are five other supporting documents. These are: demographic data derived from the 2011 Census (see later), a Character Study of the area, a traffic survey, a Consultation Statement and, as required by the legislation, a document known as a Basic Conditions Statement, which demonstrates the Plan’s consistency with national and local planning guidelines.
The emerging draft Plan outlines eight policies covering the built environment, local infrastructure and open spaces within the Neighbourhood Area together with a number of projects. The policies stem from the issues raised in the neighbourhood surveys conducted in September 2013 and March this year.
In the July Update, I referred to the letter delivered to all 725 addresses that month in which I mentioned that it was our intention to provide each address with a copy of the complete draft Neighbourhood Plan later this year. On reflection and after some discussion, however, the Forum’s Management Committee has decided that it would be more sensible to provide everyone with a shorter document.
This abbreviated and illustrated version, which will probably extend to 16 sides (both sides of four pieces of A3 paper), will contain the key components from the draft Plan and will provide sufficient information to encourage residents to provide us with their feedback.
The full Plan documentation, however, will be posted on the Forum website - www.hhra.co.uk/hookheathforum - and can be accessed and downloaded. The site will also include an on-line feedback facility which will be available throughout the consultation period. Provisionally this will run between 20 October to 30 November 2014.
A few factoids
The Hook Heath Neighbourhood Area (HHNA)embraces a total of 233 hectares of which about 30 per cent is devoted to leisure activities (Woking Golf Club and Woking Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club); 60 per cent is accounted for by the built environment (roads, buildings, houses and gardens); and 10 percent by undeveloped green belt land and other open spaces.
With around 2021 people in 721 households, the HHNA represents 2% of Woking’s population and 3.6% of the borough’s area. Census figures show that 91% of households own their own properties.
Neighbourhood planning nationally
According to the Department for Communities and Local Government, there are now more than 1000 neighbourhood plans at various stages of development while 28 communities have held successful referendums to complete the final stage in the lengthy process.
Interestingly, across England the average neighbourhood plan referendum turnout has been 33% and the ‘yes’ vote has been 88%.
Once a neighbourhood plan has secured a majority vote in a local referendum, the local planning authority, in our case Woking Borough Council (WBC), is required to accord it legal force and it becomes part of the borough’s statutory development plan.
The policies set out in the Hook Heath Neighbourhood Plan, therefore, are designed to shape and secure the area’s future development. Support for the Plan and the votes cast in favour when the referendum is held, sometime next year, is critically important to realising that objective.
First hurdle crossed successfully
A requirement involved in the production of a neighbourhood plan is that the organisation producing it must obtain a ‘screening opinion’ from the local planning authority as to whether the policies being proposed are likely to trigger what is known as a Strategic Environmental Assessment. Yes, I know, more (but essential) bureaucratic jargon. The screening exercise must also determine whether the plan will also prompt an Environmental Impact Assessment and a Habitat Regulations Assessment.
The good news is that we learned earlier this month that the emerging plan for Hook Heath has received clearance from WBC to proceed without the need for these Assessments (subject to there being no significant change in the policies being proposed).
We appreciate and acknowledge the expert guidance we received from the WBC planning policy team who carried out the screening exercise. Details are contained on the Forum website under the ‘latest news’ menu bar at: www.hhra.co.uk/hookheathforum.
Green matters again
In the July Update I referred extensively to the publication earlier last month of the Green Belt Review which WBC had commissioned from a firm of planning consultants. This is available to view - there are five documents - on the WBC website. The consultants’ review considers all the sites that potentially could be released from the green belt to provide for future development.
The next stage will involve WBC identifying the specific sites which it considers will enable it to meet its housing and other developments needs beyond 2022. This ‘public consultation’ exercise is likely to begin before the end of this year but it will be early 2016 before all stages of the process are completed.
As I mentioned last month, several areas adjacent to the escarpment are among those threatened with the removal of green belt protection and could be opened up for large scale development.
These include land north of Saunders Lane and west of Egley Road. Another to emerge, and in which interest is being shown by a major national housebuilder, is 7.88 hectares of agricultural land to the east of Hook Hill Lane. Development of this site is seen as possibly providing an opportunity for significant affordable housing.
It was reassuring, therefore, to read in the 21 August edition of the Woking Informer, that Jonathan Lord, our local MP, has promised to put up a ‘robust defence’ of Woking’s green belt.
Word reaches me that The Star on Wych Hill may become the subject of an application for a change of use. I reflect that several residents who responded to our March questionnaire suggested that what the area badly needed was a quality gastro-pub. A missed opportunity perhaps?
The next meeting of the Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum will be on Wednesday 17 September at Gorse Hill commencing at 7.30 pm. The agenda will be circulated on 3 September. This will be a timely opportunity to hear how far the Neighbourhood Plan has progressed and to raise any questions you may have. I do hope that you will make an effort to attend.
Thank 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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