This letter appeared in The Haslemere Herald, 23rd March 2012
Friday’s SCC meeting at the Chichester Hall in Witley must have come as a rude awakening for many of the good and gentle folk of Haslemere who turned out to hear how democracy is played out in Surrey.
The meeting was a rare blend of high farce with deadly serious decisions being taken apparently on a whim by individuals many of whom clearly neither knew nor cared about the facts nor the place nor the consequences. Most were there as bystanders and took no part in the proceedings at all. The chairman, Councillor Pat Frost, the Surrey county councillor for Farnham, ran the meeting with a rude, intolerant and hectoring style, perhaps dazzled by the bright yellow shirts of the masses of disaffected residents dotted around the packed hall.
Questioners were allowed a three minute slot at the beginning, but Mrs Frost had her (non-parking issue) favourites who were given far longer. Some were even treated with obsequious and exaggerated courtesy. Answers from the committee were generally not forthcoming. This was a ritual intended to convey the idea that this was democracy, but few were convinced – to many it was more like a communist state.
Mrs Frost had opened the meeting by saying that there would be no photography, no filming and no recordings made. Hardly surprising, as any film would have been a runaway best seller in the genre of John Cleese management films of long ago, such as, ‘How Not To Run a Meeting’. Eventually there followed her announcement that all Pay and Display plans for Haslemere were cancelled. She clearly felt that this blast of 11th hour good sense should be enough to quieten the baying crowd. It was not. Why weren’t all the proposals shelved so there could be real and effective consultation? We never did get an answer to that.
The decisions about parking bays, Residents only Permits and miles of double yellow lines were dependent upon the numbers of objections and SCC (unlike the audience) clearly had only a vestigial idea of those. The numbers of objections had apparently been minimised, in some cases drastically, while any tiny support for the SCC plans carried the day. This blatant manipulation of data had been noted in advance by those who had observed the system at close quarters before. The Haslemere Society therefore ensured that circulated notices cascaded round the town by email. It also suggested that all objectors copied their letters to our town hall in order that an independent and honest record would be kept.
Bland assurances that there were, ‘No objections’ were greeted with shouts of protest, instantly followed by a threat from the chairman that she would close the meeting. The interests of the church were dismissed by a bland, ‘No objections’ from SCC’s Mr David Curl, head of parking policy. When a shout from the audience pointed out that the vicar had in fact written, a hasty, ‘Oh yes, that was a mistake’ from Mr Curl was acknowledgement enough to get that proposal partially deferred. Things looked bad for SCC.
The meeting was reminiscent of a something between Hogarth’s Gin Lane and the Mad Hatter’s tea party. There was one councillor endlessly stuffing enormous sandwiches into his mouth while another read a paper in a disinterested way. Another when asked to comment said, ‘Sorry chairman, I wasn’t listening’, while one councillor, could hardly conceal his disdain for the audience as he stared contemptuously at them after declaring an interest: he could not participate as he had children living in Haslemere. Surely that was just the point, it is meant to be a local committee with local people who know the place and perhaps, even care about it. Why was he there? Others obviously knew little and appeared to care even less but when one splendid WBC councillor, Mrs Carole Cockburn, made the eminently sensible suggestion that the whole thing should be deferred until the June meeting to give time for proper evaluation, she was swept aside without a moment’s consideration by the chairman, who had already lost the plot.
The function of the two Surrey firemen was never made clear. Were they there to deal with spontaneous combustion in the restless crowd or were they intended to resemble police, brought in to keep order? What powers were these that were being exercised? And upon whose authority? Who was the suit who courteously escorted them the two young female protesters off the premises?
Mrs Frost battled on, shouting, ‘Off With Her Head’ or similar whenever a protester sought accuracy in the figures that were produced almost inaudibly by our local councillor Renshaw or Mr Curl. The meeting appeared frequently to be out of control and the threats from Mrs Frost that everyone would be evicted and the whole matter sewn up behind closed doors was never quite invoked, although two individuals who protested at one stage, were evicted. When I protested that our residents association had sent a 23 named objection which was logged as just one, that was enough! Out! Meeting closed! Luckily a timely injection of reason by the Deputy Leader of SCC Councillor, Peter Martin, brought some justice and the frosty response, ‘We will look at the numbers again’. An appalling show of great bureaucratic incompetence ineptly masked by bullying, threatening unpleasantness and intimidation. A real eye-opener for those who hitherto had thought Surrey and its county council to be an example of civilisation.
It was a day to remember for the residents, but a day to forget as quickly as possible if you were on the side of those who had been trying to fob off the electorate with a chaotically daft scheme, badly prepared, poorly presented and utterly mis-managed.
We, the residents of this attractive town have much to be thankful for however. As Mrs Julianne Evans of the CoT said in her eloquent three minutes speech, the affair has united the town in a way that has not been seen since the days of the fight to save the Georgian Hotel. This time new characters of great ability and determination have emerged, worked well together and triumphed and for that we have much to be grateful.
Robert Serman (in a personal capacity)
To everyone who wrote, objected, attended and/or contributed in any way to the great debate on the SCC parking proposals, thank you.
The meeting on Friday 16th March 2012 will be etched in the memory for many who attended it. It was a revelation to many that SCC could show so much arrogance and so little competence in dealing appropriately with an important issue. This meeting was truly awful. However, eventually came the pronouncement that all Pay and Display proposals would be abandoned in Haslemere. Following this, parking permits and restrictions for a few roads were discussed briefly and decisions quickly made. The only two sensible suggestions made by two individual councillors were disregarded, but most schemes have now been deferred until June, the date of the next meeting, pending further scrutiny. In addition, no double yellow lines will be painted until June anywhere in the town.
From: RG & DC Serman [mailto: removed]
Sent: 23 March 2012 6:15 PM
Subject: FW: HH after the LAC 16th march