NEIGHBOURHOOD FORUM UPDATE 19
Phew, it has been a more than usually busy month for members of the Forum’s steering group and especially for those individuals involved in producing the final drafts of the Neighbourhood Plan and supporting documents. More later on their work and on our progress against the tight timetable to which we are working. In the course of the past month, however, other issues have emerged to occupy us.
The Star seeks white knight
In the August Update, I indicated that there was a change of use in prospect for The Star Inn on Wych Hill. Sure enough, earlier this month, Woking Borough Council (WBC) notified some local residents that Punch Taverns, owners of The Star, had submitted an application to establish a small Co-op convenience store, complete with bakery, on the site.
There has been a hostelry of some description on this site for the best part of two centuries and it is listed by WBC as being a building of ‘townscape merit’. It is a local amenity - less patronised by residents perhaps than it should be - and, in every sense, a community asset.
The Hook Heath Residents’ Association (HHRA) spearheaded the campaign to encourage residents to submit objections to the application. By the end of last week almost 100 representations had been lodged. Thanks to everyone who responded. In addition, Emmanuel Okorie, who runs the Londis store on Wych Hill, gathered more than 1000 signatories for his petition against the application.
WBC’s own planning policy team fired a broadside at the application. In a paper, the planners stated that the application should be rejected. They argued that rather than contributing to the vitality and viability of the local urban area, the Co-op plan threatened the retention and functionality of other local shops. As such, the application ran counter to no less than five prime policy objectives of the Council’s Core Strategy for the Borough’s development through to 2027.
WBC’s Planning Committee is scheduled to consider and determine the application in the next few weeks. It is difficult to see on what grounds the Committee could support the Co-op plan, given the level of eloquently expressed opposition.
Nevertheless, the likely outcome will be that The Star will become the latest statistic in the accelerating decline of the nation’s pubs, now closing at a rate of eight a week in London and the south east. Pending the Planning Committee’s decision, Punch Taverns plan to close The Star on 3 October and the property will be boarded up.
The Star is located on the north-eastern boundary of the designated Hook Heath Neighbourhood Area. Several respondents to the Forum’s survey in March this year suggested that what the area really needed was a good quality gastro-pub. But instead of recognising the potential, Punch Taverns appear to have presided over the demise of a feature of the Borough’s heritage. Meanwhile, Raymond Blanc is busily refurbishing The Sun Inn in Chobham High Street.
Such is life.
Up to version eleven
At a well-attended seventh meeting of the Forum at Gorse Hill earlier this month, Dr Mike Cooke, who is leading the drafting of the Plan, gave a presentation on the latest - eleventh - version of the Plan and the ten policies which it now incorporates. Sincere thanks to Mike for his sterling work in pulling together the various strands to emerge from the Forum’s three working groups and also to our secretary, Heather Mustard and to Peter Speckley both of whom have made a significant contribution to the production of supporting documents.
Earlier this year, the Forum’s steering group decided that it would be wise and prudent to seek expert guidance and views on the Hook Heath Neighbourhood Plan from an experienced town planning expert before we embarked on the next stage of the consultation process. We made contact with Nigel McGurk, who has examined a number of neighbourhood plans in various parts of the country over the past two years. He kindly accepted our invitation to provide us with his opinion (for an appropriate fee within our budget) and any modifications he felt desirable. All being well we expect to receive his report early in October.
On 20 October, we will launch a six week long period of consultation on the Plan. This is a requirement of the neighbourhood planning legislation and provides everyone who lives, works or runs a business in the area with the opportunity to comment on the Plan and provide feedback on the policies which are being proposed.
All 725 addresses within the Hook Heath Neighbourhood Area will receive a summary of the Plan which we hope to deliver on or about 19 October. The full document, together with several supporting documents, will also be posted on the Forum website: www.hhra.co.uk/hookheathforum
The summary document includes a feedback form for completion BUT if you have access to the internet, it really would be much appreciated if you are able to provide your feedback and comments on-line. The on-line feedback facility will be clearly signposted and it will provide a quick and easy means of recording your views which are important to us. Remember to log on to: www.hhra.co.uk/hookheathforum.
Copies of the Plan will also be available to view at Woking Library and the summary document will also include details of three short ‘drop - in’ events which will be held in the course of the six weeks through to 30 November. Members of the steering group will be on hand at these sessions to answer any questions you may have.
Please read the summary carefully and let us have your feedback. Remember, this is your plan and your opportunity to help shape the future development of this unique and distinctive area of the Borough.
A year on
October marks the first anniversary of the formal establishment of the Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum. We have made terrific progress over the past twelve months and by mid-December we should be ready to lodge our Plan with WBC.
The regulations require that the Council undertakes a six week consultation period and it is also required to appoint an Examiner to scrutinise the Plan. Very provisionally, it is possible that an Examiner could complete his (or her) report by the end of April with a local referendum being held, perhaps in September 2015. It is a long and winding road but I am confident that it will be well worth the time and effort expended.
The HHRA will be holding its Annual General Meeting at Woking Golf Club, Pond Road on Monday 20 October commencing at 7.30pm, neatly timed to coincide with the start of the six week pre-submission consultation period on the Neighbourhood Plan. The agenda includes a short presentation on WBC’s review of the Borough’s Green Belt and the guest speaker will be Tim Harrold, chairman of the Guildford District, CPRE Surrey. The topic promises to prompt a lively discussion.
The first AGM of the Forum will be held on Wednesday 19 November commencing at 7.30pm at Gorse Hill, Hook Heath Road. I do hope you will be able to attend.
My thanks on behalf of the Forum’s steering group, for your interest and support.
Chairman, Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum
Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum
an initiative of the Hook Heath Residents' Association
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