Last week, I submitted a letter to The Haslemere Herald which formed the basis of a front page story in the paper here. Here is my letter in full:
In their recent letter to the Haslemere Herald, former Conservative Town Councillors Fay Foster and Cyndy Lancaster questioned my endorsement of John Robini in the forthcoming elections. They stated that the process of the Neighbourhood Plan was apolitical and that Cllr. Robini’s record of leading the working party over the last two years should be kept out of the campaign trail.
They are correct that the Haslemere Vision team has managed the process with the utmost independence, objectivity and professionalism for many years prior to his leadership. However, Mrs Foster and Mrs Lancaster should not forget that the previous Town Council, the formal ‘sponsor’ of the Neighbourhood Plan did not uphold these same rigorous, non-political standards. As the only non-Conservative out of 18 Town Councillors between 2015 and 2019, and as a founder member of Haslemere Vision, the community group with a cross section of more than 80 volunteers that developed the draft Neighbourhood Plan, I had a ring-side seat. I witnessed the ‘old-guard’ Conservative Council actively work against Haslemere’s best interests, as clearly expressed by the community in the wide-ranging public consultations carried out by Haslemere Vision.
In Conservative run Town Council meetings I witnessed protected greenfield sites being promoted for large scale housing developments with no meaningful reference to public consultation or to the Neighbourhood Plan team. Haslemere Vision’s surveys, completed by many hundreds of residents demonstrated the community’s categoric desire not to permit development on the town’s highly valued green ring of countryside and its acknowledgement that the trade off to meet housing need numbers was a higher density of building within the settlement area of the town. Indeed 89% of the surveyed public voted against any large housing developments on that countryside.
I witnessed the Conservative Council’s same blatant disregard for the public’s views as Waverley Borough Council prepared the new Local Development Plan (LPP2), which sets the course for the town until 2032. With rare exceptions, Haslemere’s then Conservative Borough Councillors pushed for protected greenfield sites to be included in LPP2 in direct contradiction to the community’s stated priorities. The first version of LPP2 was indeed so flawed in relation to Haslemere that the Conservatives’ own Waverley leaders had to stop it going to final approval and send it back for more consultation.
Fast forward to May 2019 and I am no longer a lone voice on the Town Council because, following the elections, the previous working party of just two Conservative Councillors was replaced with a cross-party mix under John Robini’s leadership. Glaring questions were soon asked as to why the previous working party had only supported bringing forward the Neighbourhood Plan for its next stage of consultation by insisting on the settlement boundary being moved to eat into protected countryside. Why were they not concerned with reflecting the community’s wishes and why did the draft LPP2 not reflect those wishes either? These concerns were amplified in the context of a local declaration of a Climate Emergency with its implications for protecting our countryside and the environment.
Thankfully the new Council, under the leadership of Mayor Robini, provided more balanced support for the Neighbourhood Plan process. The working party was expanded and included councilors from all parties who worked closely with each other and with Haslemere Vision to genuinely listen to the community once again and finalize a draft Neighbourhood Plan that reflected residents wishes to the greatest extent.
I am at a total loss as to why certain Conservative Councillors would persist in actively working against their own community’s wishes and argue for large scale development on protected greenfield land and support both specific and general proposals that local residents vociferously reject. The arrogance can at times be astounding as we saw when 2 Conservative Councillors tried, at the 11th hour, to overturn the community endorsed Neighbourhood Plan to revert to their earlier version which included the development of our green fields.
If former Conservative Councillors Foster and Lancaster really want to understand why I am endorsing Councillor Robini for the County Council, they only have to look at the indefensible approach of the Conservative Council that has not respected the priorities of their own residents. I am not party political, nor a member of any political party but I can endorse John Robini as an individual who has listened to the community and who has acted with integrity to support the last stages in finalizing the Neighbourhood Plan and the principles of protecting our precious countryside against unacceptable development.
Cllr Nikki Barton