Editor’s letter to Haslemere Herald re @SurreyCouncil LAC meeting

My letter to the Haslemere Herald

Last Thursday, residents gathered in Haslemere Hall, standing room only, to observe the workings of Surrey County Council’s Local Area Committee as they made parking decisions for our town. The meeting was peppered with comical moments, bizarre interjections from councillors, some reasonable logic and a triple attempt by the Committee Chairman to vote again, on the same item…

Before the meeting started, 25 residents stood up and asked questions, timed by Committee Chairman, Farnham Councillor, Pat Frost’s bright orange plastic timer indicating when their 3 minutes were up. Not that a timer was necessary. In 30 minutes, we got through 24 of the questions. 30 seconds after the allotted thirty minutes, our town mayor, Cyndy Lancaster, still had her hand up to ask the 25th question. Cllr Frost said time was up. Residents shouted out that it was our mayor who wanted to speak. The Chairman defensively claimed she did not know it was our mayor. She then proceeded to ask the mayor for her name which was met with cries of “appalling” and “outrageous” from Haslemere residents.

It was disheartening that only 9 of the 18 councillors who make up the full local committee took the time to turn up to hear residents’ questions. The questions highlighted so many different issues. One person said he didn’t support chevron parking. A Courts Hill Road resident supported ROPs. A lady from Bunch Lane asked when safety double yellows would be implemented in her road. A shopkeeper spoke about safety. The mayor offered her town council’s help. Those that spoke out against SCC’s proposals, cited a waste of taxpayer money, lack of data, lack of consultation, lack of commuter parking, lack of common sense to name but a few opinions…

A Farnham Councillor, Julia Potts, spoke up quite passionately for Beech Road and was very concerned. But, she didn’t get involved in discussions about any other roads. Did anyone else find that strange? Such was her concern about displacement for Beech Road residents that she seemed to have forgotten that, two minutes earlier, she and her fellow councillors had voted unanimously to remove the cause of the displacement by way of not agreeing to double yellows in neighbouring Tanners Lane, Derby Road and High Lane. And, there was the appearance of the letter from the League of Friends that got sent the day before. In spite of Cllr Frost’s confirmation earlier in the meeting that only correspondence that had been sent within the timescales of the statutory consultation period could be considered, only after the debate had  run its course did The Chairman declare that such a letter could not be considered as it was received outside the statutory consultation.

A member of the public was not given the same level of debate when he declared that he had received material developments relating to Three Gates Lane. And! Who was the man in the khaki anorak? He casually wandered up to Cllr Renshaw and had a private conversation about the proposals. It didn’t seem to bother The Chairman that he was lurking there.

There was confusion when Cllr Pat Frost attempted to take another vote after the Three Gates Lane double yellow lines had been voted down. The first attempt at a second vote was resisted by Cllr Munro (Farnham) who reminded her, “We’ve had a vote. That’s the end”. But Madam Chairman came back wanting another vote. Cllr Vorley (Cranleigh) spoke up and made the point that a vote had just been made. Undeterred, Cllr Pat Frost was adamant the committee needed to vote something else instead. Cllr Vorley came back and said the item had already been voted on. A member of the public shouted out that we live in a democracy and Cllr Vorley uttered, “We got there in the end.”

The displacement figures are worth a mention. St Christopher’s Green has been granted a residents’ permit scheme. When questioned about the displacement effect, “Displacement is low”, we heard, as “it is only residents who park here.” Kings Road (E) will have 22 residents’ bays plus 2 bays (limited 2 hour waiting) for the dental surgery. The officers stated this will only displace ten cars. Really?

As is evidenced by the Beech Road discussion, several councillors showed they simply have no idea how our town works. They did not understand how a decision in one road then actually fundamentally changed the arguments for the road next to it. They showed their lack of knowledge by agreeing 17 residents’ bays in Courts Hill Road (West) when according to the officers report, no households other than Haughton House (who expressly are mentioned as not wanting ROPs) are even eligible to use them. Why did the councillors not understand that? I know I was not permitted to point this out, but I had to shout out and ask if they realised no-one would be eligible. A majority of households in Courts Hill Road (West) voted against ROPs. Now begins a turf war, where three residents with ample off street parking have successfully petitioned to clear their road of all day parking without a care for neighbours a stone’s throw away who cannot now park near their own homes. In the ultimate twist of irony, the three residents involved, will have all day parking available in front of their houses. It’s just their neighbours down the road who will be impacted.

The Local Committee’s performance was better in that some members did engage this time round and they voted on each item. But will there be consistent engagement and voting? When Cllr Pat Frost moved onto the next item on the agenda last Thursday, Local Committee Budgets, it was all hastily rubber stamped with very little councillor engagement and no voting.

No lessons have been learned here.

I believe the best solutions will come from residents and other stakeholder groups in the town, because they know their community better than anyone. It was David Hodge, the Leader of Surrey County Council, who said that.