Last March you kindly printed my letter following the meeting at Witley which several people close to the parking cause refer to as ‘The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ meeting. I had hoped that this latest encounter with the Local Area Committee would bring a new dawn. Unfortunately our worst fears were confirmed: not a great deal has changed – although this time no one was thrown out, so some progress has been made.
The chairman, Councillor Pat Frost, the Surrey County Councillor for Farnham, ran the meeting in her legendary rude fashion. “You are behaving like naughty children,” came her inappropriate and unjustified reprimand . After hearing that our town mayor wished to speak, and at first shouting her down, Mrs Frost said she could not have known she was the mayor. Presumably she would have extended more courtesy to her had she known.
All the 18 councillors had been invited by Nikki Barton to attend a pre-meeting coffee at Darnley’s Café in the High Street. It was a kind and constructive thought. What a shame that only one person turned up, and only one other had the courtesy to reply. So much for taking an interest in the town they were here to talk about.
A Serious PR omission that, but worse was to follow. Many councillors did not feel it worthwhile either to attend the informal question and answer (I use the word ‘answer’ in a spirit of some generosity) session at 2.30 pm before the main meeting. If they do not even bother to be present to hear which issues residents are concerned about, what possible chance did they have of competently deciding matters a few minutes later which are of huge importance to the people who live and make a living here? No chance, as we saw.
The questions from the public showed once again that there are original ideas and a depth of understanding which is so lacking in the LAC process. Why is that not addressed and these suggestions used, or at least considered?
With the notable exception of Councillor Peter Martin, the Deputy Leader of SCC, who sought to inject sense into a number of woolly-minded proposals, the lack of knowledge of Haslemere was evident in many quarters. The idea that the Methodist Church is only used on Sundays ignores totally the numerous groups who meet there every week-day, plus of course the need for parking for funerals and for the nearby shops. The strange and totally ill-informed debate about Beech Road gave some new and strange insights. Waverley’s Councillor, Julia Potts, suddenly took a great interest in this road about which she knew so little, or about the hospital the workings of which she understood even less clearly. Why, one wonders, was this the one issue which awoke her hitherto dormant interest.
Parking decisions continued to provide the greatest astonishment. In Courts Hill Road West there are to be 17 residents’ spaces – but not one resident has entitlement to use them as they all have their own off-street parking (although much of it unusable in icy conditions) . The officers’ recommendations were completely ignored. Why? When a member of the public shouted out the absurdity of the decision she was silenced by Mrs Frost.
The LAC system needs a radical overhaul and a thorough reassessment of councillors’ involvement. Why do we have to suffer such an ill-thought out process? In part the solution is obvious: a sensible and real dialogue which includes the people who live here and the officers who have expertise in the various subjects. The idea of local councillors deciding local issues is fine in theory, but not if they either take no interest or allow political influence to take priority.
When David Hodge was first elected Leader of Surrey County Council he said (coincidentally on the subject of parking), “I believe we should be strong enough to recognise when we have got something wrong.” Perhaps now is the time for the Leader of Surrey County Council to admit that his Local Committee structure is a prime example of just what he was talking about. On present form it is certainly not fit for purpose.
From: Robert Serman [mailto: removed]
Sent: 30 January 2013 7:08 PM
Subject: FW: HH after Jan 2013 LAC mtg