NEIGHBOURHOOD FORUM UPDATE 20
Well, at last we are off and running with the six week public consultation on our Neighbourhood Plan for the Hook Heath Neighbourhood Area (HHNA). Thanks to a great deal of effort by Forum steering group members, not forgetting our printers, Messrs Jaggerprint, copies of the full Plan and the abbreviated version were delivered ahead of schedule.
Sincere thanks to David Dare, who masterminded the logistics of delivery of the summary document, and to the dedicated distribution team who dodged the occasional shower to complete the delivery of documents to all 725 addresses by 18 October. The consultation runs between 20 October and 30 November.
Over to you
It is now over to residents, and those businesses within the HHNA, to feedback their comments on the Plan to the steering group. I hope that by now most people will have read through the summary document and formed a view on the policies being proposed.
You will have noticed that we have opted for a less is more approach. There are only six policies (with one ‘community aim’) being proposed which are based on the views we obtained from the questionnaires distributed in September last year, and collected at the drop-in event in March this year.
As I mentioned in my introductory letter to the summary document, this Plan is your Plan for the future development of Hook Heath and reflects the overwhelming view of residents to ensure that future development should reflect its unique character.
Local Green Spaces
You will have noted that we are proposing the creation of four Local Green Spaces within the Area (listed as Policy OS2 at pages 11-12 of the summary). The steering group is particularly keen to receive your comments on this proposal. A useful map for reference appears at page 13.
The quickest and easiest way of providing your feedback is to use the feedback facility on our website. Our webmaster, Neil Cryer, has created a user-friendly format which is very easy to follow and to navigate around. You can comment on as many, or as few, policies as you wish but your views - however brief - are important.
Visit: www.hhra.co.uk/hookheathforum to complete the feedback form.
Alternatively, if you would prefer to complete and return the feedback form which appears at the end of the abbreviated version of the Plan, please do so.
The full document
The full version of the Plan can be viewed online together with the supporting documents at www.hhra.co.uk/hookheathforum and a copy, with supporting documents, is also available to view at Woking Library.
We have been encouraged by the observations made by two experts who have had sight of the Plan. Stella Scrivener, a neighbourhood planning consultant, who has acted as our mentor through a Government-funded scheme, described it as: ‘… a really excellent Plan.’
As I mentioned in the September Newsletter, we invited Nigel McGurk, an extremely experienced town planning expert who has examined a number of other neighbourhood plans, to provide us with his guidance on our draft Plan. The version of the Plan distributed a week ago incorporates the recommendations made in his ‘Mock Examiner’s Report’ to the steering group. He wished us good luck with the progress of the Plan which he said was: ‘…. a very impressive Plan.’
While it would be foolish in the extreme to become complacent, their comments provide grounds for cautious optimism.
The neighbourhood planning movement is gathering momentum. According to the latest Government statistics, there are now more than 1200 communities nationwide engaged in the process of producing a neighbourhood plan. Some 130 have published their plan for consultation and 30 have secured support for their plans through a local referendum.
White Knight still sought
What a desolate and depressing sight The Star Inn on Wych Hill has become following the decision by owners, Punch Taverns, to close and board up the premises pending the outcome of a planning application for a change of use to a Co-op convenience store.
But there is some good news. The application has been withdrawn, with no reason being given for the about turn. However, Punch Taverns/the Co-op would have been aware that close on 100 objections were lodged by local residents, spearheaded by the Hook Heath Residents’ Association. Emmanuel Okorie, the owner of the Londis store on Wych Hill, lodged a petition containing more than 1000 signatories against the plan.
There was opposition too from Woking Borough Council’s (WBC) planning policy department which recommended that the application be rejected on the grounds that the application ran counter to five of the prime policy objectives of the Council’s own development plan for the Borough through to 2027.
The sad fact is that, according to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), pub closures are running at 31a week nationally with eight a week closing in London and the south-east.
Potentially, the saga of The Star could have been so different. Here is a building, listed by WBC as being of ‘townscape merit’, a local amenity and a community asset. These are all features which should have provided a basis for developing a formula for a successful operation. Instead, Punch Taverns and a succession of landlords/managers over many years, have failed miserably to realise that potential.
The bad news is that there is every prospect that Punch Taverns/the Co-op will submit a revised application for the changes which they wish to make to the building and the site generally. Watch this space.
Pickles and the Green Belt
Meanwhile, Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, has been busy this month seeking to placate large sections of the electorate who have become increasingly concerned by the disappearance of green belt land.
New guidance states explicitly for the first time that, ‘once established Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances.’ This overrides the previous planning guidance which stated that ‘inappropriate development’ on the Green Belt ‘should not be approved except in very special circumstances.’
In a further planning guidance amendment - relating to planning policy for waste recycling plants - he said: ‘I am crystal clear that the Green Belt must be protected from development, so it can continue to offer a strong defence against urban sprawl. These new rules strengthen protections further, and ensure whether it’s new homes, business premises or anything else, developers first look for suitable sites on brownfield land.’
Fine words and fine sentiments. No doubt WBC and its officers will have them very much in mind as they consider the contents of the public consultation document being prepared in the wake of the review of Woking’s Green Belt.
Anniversary and the AGM
This weekend marks the first anniversary of the establishment of the Neighbourhood Forum and formal designation of the Hook Heath Neighbourhood Area by WBC. How time flies.
As previously advised, the first AGM of the Forum is being held on Wednesday 19 November at De Vere Venues Gorse Hill, commencing at 7.30pm. The formal notice convening the meeting and the agenda is being circulated with this edition of NEIGHBOURHOOD UPDATE.
The Forum’s officers: David Dare, vice chairman; Heather Mustard, secretary; Gerald Griffiths, treasurer; and myself offer ourselves for re-election.
It has been an exceptionally busy and challenging year. I believe, however, we shall look back on the past twelve months with a real sense of satisfaction at the progress that we have made. I do hope that you will join us at the AGM.
Do please let us have your feedback on the six policies proposed in the Neighbourhood Plan. Remember, the quickest and easiest way is to visit the feedback facility on the website at: www.hhra.co.uk/hookheathforum.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of the Plan, come along to one of the three ‘talking about the Plan’ sessions where members of the steering group will be delighted to answer any questions that you may have.
The dates and venues are:
- Saturday 25 October: 11 am - 1 pm, Woking Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, Pine Road;
- Saturday 8 November: 1 pm - 3 pm, Woking Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, Pine Road;
- Thursday 20 November: 7 pm - 9 pm, De Vere Venues, Gorse Hill, Hook Heath Road.
Sincere thanks on behalf of the 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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