NEIGHBOURHOOD FORUM UPDATE 21
There are a few days left before the shutters come down on the six week-long pre-submission consultation on the draft Hook Heath Neighbourhood Plan. The consultation ends on Sunday 30 November. Many thanks to those residents who have provided comments. If you have yet to do so, the quickest and easiest method is to visit the Forum website at: www.hhra.co.uk/hookheathforum and follow the on-screen instructions.
Don’t forget, this is your opportunity to help shape the future development of Hook Heath and definitely not one to be missed.
We have been encouraged by the feedback that we have received on the six policies outlined in the Plan document and appreciative of the expressions of support for the work that has been undertaken. The proposed policies accurately reflect the key issues identified by residents in the survey undertaken towards the end of last year and raised at the drop-in session in March.
In a very real sense, however, the completion of the pre-submission consultation is just the end of the beginning. Once the comments have been assimilated and, where appropriate, factored into the documentation, the whole package will be submitted to Woking Borough Council (WBC) enabling the next stage of the long process towards hoped-for approval to commence. We hope that we shall be able to submit the documents to WBC’s planning policy team no later than the middle of next month. More on the likely timetable beyond the end of this year in a future issue of Update.
The Forum is one year old and its anniversary was marked by the first AGM held at De Vere Venues Gorse Hill on Wednesday 19 November. All four members of the Forum’s management committee offered themselves for re-election. Accordingly, David Dare, deputy chairman, Heather Mustard, secretary , Gerald Grififiths, treasurer and myself, chairman will serve a further year in those roles. It promises to be a somewhat less pressured twelve months. Our thanks for your interest and support.
The minutes of the AGM, together with the Forum’s financial statements for the period to the end of September, are being circulated together with the Update.
The Forum’s Steering Group is keen to build up a list of projects which might be considered for implementation in the future using funds generated from WBC’s Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). You will find a reference in the AGM minutes. Local planning authorities operating the CIL - which Woking will introduce next April - will transfer 25 per cent of money raised from development within a neighbourhood area to the community itself. WBC will hold the money but must agree with the local community on what it should be spent.
Ideas already on our list of possible projects include the creation of a viewing point on the footpath south of the escarpment with a view over the North Downs and the introduction of effective speed control measures along a number of roads within Hook Heath. If you have suggestions which can be added to our growing list, send them in an e-mail to:
Woking’s retort to Pickles
In last month’s Update I referred to announcements made by Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, concerning new guidance on development of land within the Green Belt. For the first time, the new guidance stated explicitly that, ‘once established Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances’.
Previous guidance had been that ‘inappropriate development’ on the Green Belt, ‘should not be approved except in very special circumstances’.
‘I am crystal clear,’ declared Mr Pickles, ‘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 its new homes, business premises or anything else, developers first look for suitable sites on brownfield land.’
Against the background of growing disquiet throughout the country about the loss of Green Belt land to help solve the housing crisis, Mr Pickles’ spin merchants were clearly having to work overtime to promote this apparently tough new stance.
WBC was quick to signal that the Pickles’ utterances would make not a blind bit of difference to the way in which it was approaching the planned removal of land from Woking’s Green Belt.
In a statement, WBC said: ‘The Council has strictly followed all necessary Government guidance by using the local plan process to identify the principle of releasing Green Belt land and to allocate Green Belt land for development. Furthermore, the Core Strategy (WBC’s major planning document through to 2027) has robust policies to ensure the continuous protection of the Green Belt.’
I understand, however, that Mr Pickles, or his Ministerial colleague, Brandon Lewis, are to be invited to opine on whether or not the interpretation ascribed by WBC’s principal officers is correct. Certainly an unequivocal clarification by Ministers - one way or the other - would be most welcome.
No twinkling Star
The shortening days have served only to deepen the gloom and desolation around the boarded up doors and windows of The Star Inn on Wych Hill which closed in early October. The Co-op has confirmed that a revised application for the building to be converted into a small convenience store is likely to be submitted next week. The initial application was withdrawn in the face of a flood of representations from residents and a comprehensive rejection by WBC’s in-house policy planning department.
At a meeting on Friday 21 November with local councillors, John Kingsbury and Graham Cundy, and officers of the HHRA and the Forum, the Co-op confirmed that it had acquired the premises on a 15 year lease, the freehold having been acquired from Punch Taverns by a private investor.
The grounds for rejection of the original application have not changed although the WBC Planning Committee will have to consider it anew. In the event of a further rejection, the Co-op could adopt one of three courses of action: it could lodge an appeal against the decision; it could proceed by converting the existing building into a smaller store; or it could seek to sub-let the premises to a suitable third party.
This is a prime site, with the building listed by WBC as having ‘townscape merit’ as well as being a local amenity and community asset. No prizes for guessing which of those would find favour with residents.
If, as anticipated, the pace of Hook Heath neighbourhood planning activity eases back a little in the New Year, the frequency of this Update will be reduced. Of course, if there are major developments - especially in respect of the Green Belt - Forum members will be notified as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, it is always worth keeping an eye on the website at www.hhra.co.uk/hookheathforum for news of interest to residents.
Visit the website to provide your feedback on the draft Plan. It really is very easy to follow the instructions on the site at www.hhra.co.uk/hookheathforum. Your views and comments on the policy proposals ARE important.
Thank you 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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