Real Consultation or a Public Relations Exercise?

This morning, I in common with other residents of Mole Valley received a letter headed “Your chance to help decided where new homes should be built.”

This is all very well, and maybe the Council Officers will pay regard to public consultation.  But the final word rests with our elected councillors.  Not so long ago, without any similar prompting from the Council, more than three hundred people wrote to the Council with their views concerning an exclusive golf course and luxury hotel on the Cherkley estate.  Two thirds of those letters opposed the development.   The Council Officers no doubt took that into consideration when producing their report, praised by Justice Haddon-Cave, to reject Longshot’s proposals.

Did our elected representative take note of public opinion?   No; the majority ignored public representation and thought they knew better than their officers.   What guarantee is there that elected councillors will not disregard public opinion again?

One councillor recently said he would be listening to the public.  But the evidence so far is not encouraging.  Despite widespread opposition to the Council going to the Court of Appeal over the recent Cherkley decision, the councillors voted to do so.   When the LRA held a packed meeting on 2nd December at which we had presentations by Mr Rowland McKinney concerning the Green Belt and by the Save South Leatherhead and the Poors’ Allotment groups, our District Councillors were noticeable by their absence!  It is true, there were apologies received from two of them, but not the proverbial dicky bird from the others!

Besides, we poor members of the public do not have proper information. We read at the beginning of the second paragraph in the Council’s letter: “The main objective is to prevent inappropriate development in the Green Belt … .”

But, as I have pointed out before, the Secretary of State rejected the application for five traveller families having their temporary permission to occupy 4.7 hectares of Green Belt being made permanent because it would cause “substantial harm to the green belt.”   If this is so, then I completely fail to see how Mr Pickles could allow any residential development of the Green Belt.

  • We need to know by what criteria Mr Pickles deemed occupying 4.7 hectares of Green Belt would cause substantial damage.  
  • We need to know, therefore, by what criteria any of the Green Belt can be deemed appropriate for residential development.

As we’ve have seen both with the Cherkley Court application and with the Randalls Road travellers’ application, the elected councillors can override Officer’s recommendations; and with regard to the latter application, we , we saw that the Secretary of State can call an application in at the request of our local MP.   So I ask two further questions:

  • Why should those same councillors not similarly override whatever recommendations are produced as a result of this current consultation?
  • How can the Council retain control of where development takes place if, at the request of our MP, the Secretary of State can call an application in?

Cherkley Court Consultation Weekend

I understand that following the Consultation Weekend in July, Longshot Country Club Ltd is holding another presentation on Friday 14th October & Saturday 15th October at Cherkley Court from 10.00 am till 1.30 pm.

You are not expected to be there for 3½ hours. If you want to know the latest for Longshot’s plans for the house and gardens, do look in.

Your Buses, Your Say…Surrey Bus Review Phase 3

Surrey County Council will shortly be consulting on bus service changes in Epsom & Ewell, Mole Valley, Waverley and some services in Guildford. This will be phase 3 of the County Councils 3-year Bus Review Programme, which started in 2010.

We will run a three-month public consultation from 1 November 2011 to 31 January 2012 for your comments on the proposals that we put forward. Comments from the actual bus users form an important part of the process and will assist us in designing the revised network. We would therefore like to hear your comments and views.

Feedback from the consultation process and the costs of the revised services will then be included in a proposal that will be submitted to Surrey County Council’s cabinet, who will make the final decision. Changes to services will take effect in September 2012.

From 1st November 2011 details about the proposals to bus services, how to feed your comments in to the review and further information about the review process will be available at www.surreycc.gov.uk/busreview. This website will also have details on the consultation sessions that will be held locally to discuss the proposals and listen to your individual views and suggestions.

Mole Valley District Council and Social Media

Yesterday I received the following from Louise Bircher of Mole Valley District Council:
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I am hoping to canvass your and your residents’ views on how Mole Valley District Council uses social media please. By this I mean our website (www.molevalley.gov.uk), Twitter (@molevalleydc), Facebook (facebook.com/molevalleydc), YouTube and, more recently QR codes. We are wanting to engage with as wide range an audience as possible so, in addition to the traditional methods of magazine, leaflets, posters and information available over the telephone and face to face, we are also making use of these aforementioned social media engagement tools.

Our Twitter and YouTube accounts have been live for about six months and our followers are steadily growing. I would like to know whether or not you and your residents make use of these forms of communication and whether you find them useful? Are there other forms of social media you would like to see us using? Or could we use what we use now more effectively?

I would be most grateful if you could encourage your residents to consider this and let me have their views – perhaps through your newsletter if one is imminent or via your website or whatever means you consider appropriate…
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Louise would like to collate all responses by Friday 20th May. If you have any observations please add them as comments.

Thank you.

Open Meeting – Monday, 5th July, in the Letherhead Institute at 7.30 pm

Agenda

1. Apologies for Absence

2. Minutes of meeting on 7th June.

3. Matters Arising from the Minutes (not dealt with on the agenda)

4. Police report

5. Andrew Bircher (Corporate Head of Service, Planning at MVDC) will discuss the future of Leatherhead and how we can achieve a meaningful consultation with the residents and traders of the Town.
(In the short term there is a significant sum of money which is available for Public Works of Art in the Town. The Council want you to be involved.)

6. Brief reports from sub Groups:
     a) Membership
     b) Planning
     c) Highways

7. Any Other Business

NEW DECISION MAKING ARRANGEMENTS AT MOLE VALLEY DISTRICT COUNCIL

You may have already seen the Council’s webpage and replied:
www.molevalley.gov.uk/index.cfm?articleid=8193

If you have not, I apologize for not posting this much sooner. It seems to have got overlooked in the holiday period and the bad weather. We have, however, kindly been allowed until 4th February to submit observations; you should email leaderormayor@molevalley.gov.uk.

Also this will be discussed at our meeting on Monday, 1st February, at 7.00 pm in the Letherhead Institute.

The position may be summarized thus:

The Council currently operates a Leader and Cabinet Executive, but according to the requirements of the Local Government Public Involvement in Health Act 2007), the Council will be required to change its Executive decision making process from May 2011.

The Council can opt for one of two models:

* Leader and Executive Cabinet

* Directly Elected Mayor and Cabinet

Under both models the Leader/Mayor would hold responsibility for all Executive functions and be elected or appointed for a 4 year term (subject to the end of their term of office). He/she would appoint Councillors to a Cabinet and have the option to delegate decision making powers to the Cabinet as a whole or individual Councillors and Officers. The Council would continue to approve the budget, Council policy and set Council Tax levels.

The key difference is how they are appointed and removed from office.

* The directly elected Mayor would not be a Councillor, but chosen in a separate election and would be elected for a four year term.

* The Leader would be a Councillor, elected in the regular local elections and appointed as Leader by the other Councillors (“the Council”). The Council would retain powers to remove the Leader from office in certain circumstances.

The arrangements for decision making in relation to regulatory functions (e.g. licensing, planning) are not Executive responsibilities and will remain unchanged.

The Council must opt for one of the above models by December 2010, for implementation after the next local elections in May 2011.

Currently the LRA Committee favours the directly elected Mayor model.

My impressions of the recent Leatherhead-Ashtead Forum

Last Thursday evening (15th October) we had another Ashtead-Leatherhead Forum. The first item was the Chairman’s: “Stop Smoking Campaign.” The speaker spoke to the converted, there being apparently no smokers present. We had the usual statistics and learnt that whereas in England (never a mention of the situation in Scotland or Wales) 23% of the population smokes, in Surrey it’s only 19.5%. We we told the targets for 2015, among which is one to reduce smoking to 4% for 11 to 15 year olds. I could not help remembering those far off days of my youth when the target was 0% for 11 to 15 year olds.”O tempora! O mores!”

We did learn that in Mole Valley, it is 17.2% of the population that smokes – yes, we’re far better than England as a whole & are even below the Surrey average. But here’s the rub: whereas it’s only 13.5% in leafy Leith Hill, it’s a whopping 27.9% in North Leatherhead (that’s above the average for England!). There was a bit of discussion afterwards about what to do in North Leatherhead – but, as far as I could make out, nothing about the underlying social problems that give rise to the problem in the first place.

Just over half an hour later, Allan Berridge updated us on Neighbour Watch and Sergeant Simon Cox gave police reports for North & South Leatherhead and for Ashtead.

By 8.44 we were ready to listen to the presentation: “Strong Leader/ Elected Mayor – which model?” Apparently, after introducing the current ‘Executive model’ in March 2008, the 2007 Act requires up to change this to either a “Strong Leader” or “Elected Mayor” model. Wait about! Didn’t 2007 come before 2008? So if it was already known that we’d need to change to one of these two models, why did we bother to introduce the Executive model in 2008? Why not leave things as they were while we decided the model to go for?

Also, as I read the title of the talk I could not help wondering why a directly elected mayor was not a strong leader. In fact the more I heard, the more I wondered about the “strong” leader; this leader would be elected from the Councillors by the Councillors – in effect, it means, unless we have a hung Council, from the ruling party by the ruling party. Doesn’t that make the “strong” leader a creature of the Council and probably of a political party as well? The powers and functions of both a directly elected mayor & of a Council elected “strong” leader would be much the same: “determine functions delegated to other Cabinet Members, committees of the Executive or officers; determine the size of the Executive; appoint/ remove Executive members.” So who, dear reader, will be more effective: a Council elected leader or one elected directly by the people of Mole Valley?

It was also noted that the Council elected “strong” leader with his or her executive Cabinet is not so very different from the Executive model introduced in 2008. One of those present asked if in fact after the period of consultation (to conclude early in 2010 (How early?), the Council need take any notice of the findings. Could they not opt for their chosen model irrespective of consultation? There was no clear answer given. ‘Um’, I thought, ‘why was the Executive model introduced in 2008?’

After this presentation the meeting was asked to vote on whether they wished to continue the present arrangement of electing a third of MVDC each time, as at present, or to have a singled election every four years to elect the whole Council in one go. Yes, folks, you’ve read aright! We were not asked for a straw poll on the “strong leader” ~ directly elected mayor business that we’d been discussing for nearly three quarters of an hour; we suddenly had sprung on us a straw poll on a different issue. It was pointed out by several members from the floor that we had not discussed the pros and cons of the present system vis-a-vis the one-off election, so what would be the validity of such a vote? What indeed!

By this time it was fast approaching 9.30, when we got to the next item: “Public Question Time.” Our LRA planning officer was allowed to ask a question about the recent decision to allow Nos. 52-56 Church Street change of use from retail premises to restaurant. But after this had been answered, it was deemed that we had run over time and no more public questions could be asked. So much for consultation with the public!

How much consultation was there about matters to do with Leatherhead (or, indeed, Ashtead)? We learnt that more people smoke in North Leatherhead then the national average. We heard police reports that are made, in any case, at police panels in North & South Leatherhead and in Ashtead and, if I am not misaken, at the Leatherhead & District Forum. We heard about the “strong leader” ~ directly elected mayor business, which will affect the whole of Mole Valley. Then we were allowed one question only.

Which is a more genuine forum for real consultation: a Council controlled ‘area Forum’, or the Leatherhead & District Forum which has evolved from grass roots level over many years? Yet our Council refuses to recognize the latter.

If MVDC really wants to save money, why not scrap the Leatherhead-Ashtead and Bookham-Fetcham area fora, which the Residents’ Associations never wanted in the first place, and have proper consultation at the Leaherhead & District Forum?

Chairman’s Diary October 2008

  • 10th World Mental Health Day Lhd Lsr.Centre Mental Health in the Workplace.
  • 11th Night Hostel Charity collection
  • 13th Leatherhead Festival committee
  • 14th AGM SAVI (Surrey Assoc. for Visually Impaired)
  • 16th & 18th LRA publicity barrow in the Swan Centre.
  • 21st Surrey 50+
  • 22nd NHS Co-design.
  • 23rd Surrey LINk – launch celebration in Woking HGWells centre.
  • 23rd Homeopathic Group (Christchurch URC)
  • 24th Leatherhead Chamber of Commerce ? Quiz Night in aid of Lhd Town Festivities.
  • 26th NHS co-design
  • 28th Help the Aged
  • 30th Surrey Coalition AGM Lhd Lsr. Centre
  • 31st Leatherhead Town Halloween Festival.

Reports when attendance is possible will be included in the newsletter.

Chairmans Diary – September 2008

The Chairman & Committee members will be involved in the following meetings and consultations over coming weeks. If there are any issues you would like the LRA to bring up at these meetings, please email the Chairman or add a comment to this post.

  • Mon.1st Leatherhead Festivities Committee
  • Mon.1st Residents’ Assoc. Open Meeting – EGM
  • Tues.2nd Homeopathic Committee
  • Tues.2nd Leatherhead Town Centre Forum (Unilever presentation)
  • Wed.3rd Mole Valley,Guildford & Woking Credit Union (planning)
  • Wed.3rd Residents’ Assoc.. CommitteeMeeting
  • Thurs.4th Garlands Lunch and Art Group
  • Thurs.4th. LCA Barn Dance
  • Sat.6th Capel Green Fair. 144 High Street Capel (12 midday)
  • Mon.8th Townswomen’s Guild People Empowering People (Park House)
  • Mon.8th Ashtead & Leatherhead Forum (focus on NHS & Gypsies) 7pm at Leatherhead Institute (all welcome)
  • Tues.9th Royal British Legion “Headley Court”
  • Wed.10th LINks (communications planning)
  • Thurs.11th Churches Together in Leatherhead (report on Night Hostel)
  • Sat. 13th Every Action Counts – Climate Change presentation at the Letherhead Institute 11 am – 3 pm.
  • Mon. 15th Visit to Pitstop Surrey Coalition – Park House
  • Tues. 16th Townswomen’s Guild – visit to Worthing.
  • Tues. 16th Mole Valley Credit Union Study Group
  • Sat. 20th Night Hostel – Open Day coffee morning
  • Thurs. 25th Leatherhead & Epsom Homeopathic Group. 8pm. Christchurch, Epsom Road.