NEIGHBOURHOOD FORUM UPDATE 23
Belated good wishes for the new year and welcome to this first issue of Update for 2015. As I explained in last year’s final issue, with our draft Plan submitted to Woking Borough Council (WBC) on schedule on 12 December, the pace of activity was likely to slacken and that future issues of Update would appear on alternate months. This issue reports on a number of topics which I hope that you will find of interest.
Responding to the public consultation
I cannot emphasise too strongly the need for residents and businesses within our designated Neighbourhood Area to respond positively to the six week-long public consultation now under way which is being administered by WBC. This began on Monday 2 February and will run through to 5.00 pm on Monday 16 March.
We are at the half way point. If you have not already done so, please take a few minutes to send your comments on the draft Plan to WBC. Many of you were very supportive when we undertook the pre-submission consultation last autumn. All the comments were carefully considered and, where appropriate, the draft Plan was amended. Thank you very much indeed. A brief and supportive response to the latest consultation would be welcomed.
This latest consultation - the so-called Regulation 16 consultation - is a necessary step in the neighbourhood planning process. The details were set out in the letter from WBC, together with a copy of the printed consultation response form, which Forum members delivered to all 725 addresses in Hook Heath earlier this month.
What do you need to do?
You can complete the form by hand and post it to the address shown on the final page of the form; alternatively, you can visit our website at www.hhra.co.uk/hookheathforum or the WBC site at www.woking.gov.uk and follow the on-screen instructions to download a copy of the response form, complete it on-line and send it to the address shown; or you can send an e-mail with your comments to: email@example.com with a copy to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you feel able to support all the six policies set out in the draft Plan - and I hope that you will - it would be helpful if you could make specific reference to your support for Policy OS1: Amenity Value. We are keen to maintain a clear separation between the southern boundary of the Neighbourhood Area and our neighbours in Mayford. This is an objective which is also supported by the Mayford Village Society. More on Green Belt matters later.
Your participation in this consultation is vitally important. The Neighbourhood Plan, after all, is your Plan which will help to shape the future development of Hook Heath.
Green Belt hiccoughs
In the December 2014 Update I referred to the debate over WBC’s interpretation of pronouncements which had been made by Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, concerning the National Planning Policy Guidelines and the Green Belt.
WBC stated that it had followed all the necessary guidance by using the local plan process to identify the principle of releasing land from the protection of Green Belt status.
One of the areas which could be released from the Green Belt is a large area adjacent to the Hook Heath escarpment (see earlier item). Two major house builders, Martin Grant Homes and Taylor Wimpey, are among those to have shown particular interest in developing this area.
Woking’s MP, Jonathan Lord, wrote to Mr Pickles on 2 December seeking clarification of WBC’s interpretation. In a reply dated 31 December, Pickles’ Ministerial colleague, Brandon Lewis, declined to offer comments on how a local authority interpreted or applied national policy or guidance.
However, he stated: “… the guidance says the local authorities should prepare a Strategic Housing Market Assessment to assess their full housing needs. That is just the first stage in developing a Local Plan.”
He continued that: “Once need has been assessed, the authority should prepare a Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment to establish realistic assumptions about the availability, suitability and the likely economic viability of land to meet the identified housing needs over the Plan period, and in so doing take account of any constraints, such as Green Belt, which indicates that development should be restricted and which may restrain the ability of an authority to meet its need.”
Make of that what you will, but it seems to me the key words are “realistic assumptions” and “any constraints”.
They may be among the factors which prompted WBC to re-schedule the public consultation of its keenly awaited Delivery Development Plan Document (DPD). This was all set to be published in mid-February. It is understood, however, that further technical work is required on the sustainability appraisal for the Green Belt Review which links to the associated Delivery DPD.
Latest best guesstimate is that this document will not now surface until after the 7 May General Election and local elections with June or July tipped as being the earliest likely date. Watch this space.
Meanwhile, we have an outline timetable for the next stages of our draft Neighbourhood Plan. All being well, the April WBC meeting will be invited to approve the submission of the Plan and the comments received during the public consultation to independent scrutiny.
With the unanimous support of the Forum’s management committee, WBC has appointed Mr Christopher Collison as Examiner of the draft Plan. His role will be to ensure that it is consistent with existing national and local planning guidelines and he may insist on modifications before approving it. Mr Collison is one of the country’s most experienced examiners and over the last year has produced health checks or examination reports on 10 neighbourhood plans. More details on his appointment will be found on the Forum website (www.hhra.co.uk/hookheathforum).
The number of people who have now registered their interest and support on the Forum database is approaching 350. I hope that our numbers will continue to grow as the year progresses. Issues relating to possible changes to the Green Belt boundary adjacent to the Hook Heath area may serve to generate further interest.
Heathlands ward confirmed
The Local Government Boundary Commission (LGBC) has confirmed the changes to the electoral wards in the borough which will take effect from the May 2016 local elections. The effect of the changes is to reduce the number of wards from 17 to 10 and the number of councillors from 36 to 30.
The large, new Heathlands ward will embrace Hook Heath, Mayford, Sutton Green and parts of Brookwood and Bridley.
The LGBC described the new ward as: “a large, predominantly rural ward to the south west of Woking, extending to the limits of the district boundary, and straddling the railway line to the west”.
But hang on … “predominantly rural”? Perhaps now, but what about the future?
WBC, in its submission to the Commission, noted that the new ward is expected to attract “well above average development”.
We have been warned.
At the time of writing, there is still no news on the outcome of the appeal lodged by Co-operative Food following WBC’s decision to reject the Co-op’s first application to establish a new convenience food store on the site of The Star Inn on Wych Hill. A second application was submitted by the Co-op and will be considered by members of WBC’s planning committee at its next meeting in March. Many residents and the Hook Heath Residents’ Association (HHRA) have lodged objections to this second application.
The boarded-up building is rapidly becoming an eyesore yet it remains a WBC locally listed building of townscape merit and a community and local asset. While it may be a long shot, the HHRA is seeking to have the building formally listed as an asset of community value. The Co-op argues that its occupation of the building does not require planning permission itself as it is classed as a “permitted development”.
Diary date reminder
Please make sure that you have entered the date of the next Forum meeting in your diary.
The meeting will take place on Thursday 23 April commencing at 7.30 pm at our usual venue of De Vere Venues Gorse Hill, Hook Heath Road. I do hope to see many of you at our first meeting of 2015. We should have much to report upon.
Please don’t forget to support the draft Hook Heath Neighbourhood Plan. The deadline for submissions to WBC is 5.00 pm on Monday 16 March. Don’t delay, do it today!
Send your e-mail to: email@example.com or for further details go to www.hhra.co.uk/hookheathforum or www.woking.gov.uk.
Very many thanks to you for your interest and support for the Forum and for your Neighbourhood Plan.
Chairman, Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum
Hook Heath Neighbourhood Forum
an initiative of the Hook Heath Residents' Association
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