Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum

NEIGHBOURHOOD FORUM UPDATE 22
December 2014

Well, we made it. The draft Hook Heath Neighbourhood Plan, together with several supporting documents, has been submitted to Woking Borough Council (WBC) for its consideration and onward processing in accordance with the relevant statutory requirements.

This is the first Neighbourhood Plan in the Borough to be submitted; more about what happens next elsewhere in this final Update for 2014.

Some reflections

A few days before last Christmas, a small group of residents who constituted the Forum Steering Group gathered at Gorse Hill for a policy writing workshop. It was a sobering experience in many ways, not least the recognition that we had only just begun to scratch the surface of this neighbourhood planning business. Not only that, we had a whole new vocabulary to learn with an emphasis on the importance of carefully nuanced policies that would be acceptable to a member of the Planning Inspectorate.

We pressed on. With the support of local residents, whose interests and wishes the Plan reflects, the group has produced an excellent Plan and a set of supporting documents which we trust will become part of the Borough’s planning armoury. It has certainly been a challenging journey at times, but stimulating too. Based on the experience of other Plans elsewhere in the country, however, it would not be surprising if further amendments were requested by either the local authority or by the independent Examiner. We will have to wait and see.

The changes made to the draft Plan on which we sought your feedback can be viewed on our website, together with the final version of the comprehensive Consultation Statement. Other supporting documents will be posted when all the amendments have been completed.

Jonathan Lord, MP commented: ‘It is great to see the Forum up and running and the Neighbourhood Plan nearing completion. Both the Forum and its Plan will be of real benefit in the years ahead and my sincere thanks to all those who have made these possible.’

Next steps

The draft Plan has been submitted but there is a way still to travel. Assuming that the Council is satisfied that the Plan meets the relevant requirements in the next few weeks, it should be possible for the February meeting of WBC to agree to the Plan being published. That decision will trigger a further six week-long consultation period.

It might well be early April before WBC is able to collate and summarise all the responses prior to submission to the Planning Inspectorate. A reasonable best guesstimate is that it is likely to be early June before an Examiner is in a position to begin scrutinising the Plan so the report produced following examination is unlikely to surface much before summer next year. The penultimate stage of the neighbourhood planning journey will involve a local referendum administered by WBC. Provided that more than 50% of those casting their votes support the Plan, WBC will be obliged to give it full legal status. Keep an eye on our website.

Pickles in the Green Belt

The debate over whether the National Planning Policy Framework guidelines were reshaped by Eric Pickles’ announcement regarding the Green Belt in early October continues.

The debate over whether the National Planning Policy Framework guidelines were reshaped by Eric Pickles’ announcement regarding the Green Belt in early October continues.

Make no mistake, this contentious issue is set to become a major topic over the coming months.

A large area of land adjacent to the Hook Heath escarpment is one of those identified for possible release from the protection of the Green Belt. Planning consultants retained by Martin Grant Homes and Taylor Wimpey were, not surprisingly, among those who submitted representations on the policies set out in the draft Neighbourhood Plan.

I have been in contact with Jonathan Lord on a regular basis on this issue. He confirmed that he has written to Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, to seek his opinion on whether WBC’s interpretation of his October announcement is indeed correct. Mr Pickles’ response is awaited.

Meanwhile, WBC is pressing ahead with refining its development planning document for public consultation early next year. The word from the Civic Offices is that the document is expected to be published in February 2015 and there will be a six week-long consultation. The Hook Heath Residents’ Association is retaining the services of an experienced planning consultant to provide expert advice and guidance.

An inconvenient convenience?

Co-operative Food - ‘here for you for life’ - launched its softening up PR campaign last week in a leaflet sent to most, if not all, residents of Hook Heath entitled ‘Introducing a new convenience food store at Wych Hill’.

This is, of course, what is known locally as The Star Inn, a locally listed building of townscape merit, a community and local asset - or rather it was until Punch Taverns negotiated the sale of a 15 year lease to Co-operative Food earlier this year.

Following the storm of objections to the original proposals, the Co-op withdrew its application. A revised application has been submitted and has been validated. The reference number is: PLAN/2014/1336. The Co-op has emphasised in correspondence that its occupation of the existing building does not require planning permission itself, as it is classed as a ‘permitted development’.

The Co-op states that it takes community engagement seriously and that talking and listening to people is a key aspect of its business. Keep an eye out for the formal notification of the latest planning application dropping through your letter box in the next few days or via the WBC website at: www.woking.gov.uk.

Statistically speaking

Among the very encouraging features of the Hook Heath neighbourhood planning experience has been the growth in numbers of people who have shown interest in and support for the Plan. In September last year we had 46 individuals registered on our database but by the time of the completion of the pre-submission consultation at the end of November, the total had increased to 335. An impressive graph illustrating the steep increase in numbers appears in the Consultation Statement posted on the Forum website.

Nationally, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government, there is growing interest in neighbourhood planning. There are now 1,258 communities across England who have begun the process of developing a neighbourhood plan covering more than 5.2 million people or almost 10% of the population.

Diary date

We have fixed Thursday 23 April 2015 as the date for the first meeting of the Forum next year, commencing at 7.30pm. The meeting will take place at De Vere Venues Gorse Hill so please make a note of the date in your new diary. I look forward to seeing you there.

Update frequency

This will be the final issue of the Forum Update for this year and also the final monthly bulletin. In anticipation of a less active period over the first half of 2015, the Update will appear on alternate months with the next issue scheduled for February. Of course, any significant developments regarding the Plan, the Green Belt or other issues relevant to the Hook Heath community will be posted on the Forum website or by e-mail.

And finally

Every good wish to everyone for an enjoyable Christmas and a prosperous New Year - despite the dire warnings of increased austerity in the months and years ahead. Sincere thanks to you for your interest and support for the Forum and for your Neighbourhood Plan.

Kind regards

Peter Hill
Chairman, Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum

 

Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum
an initiative of the Hook Heath Residents' Association

 

 

 

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