Due to a lull in Council activities, this is the first post for a few weeks but on Thursday we had the Surrey Heath Local Area Committee. This was the first meeting since the County elections in May and involved a number of new committee members.
This meeting is quite rare in Surrey Heath as we get quite a few members of the public attending and there is ample opportunity for them to have their say and tell local Borough and County councillors their views on important issues. This is really good in principle.
First up, we had a group from Deepcut who wanted to highlight their concerns about traffic implications for the upcoming planning application and seek the support of the Local Area Committee. Unfortunately, this was rather complicated by the fact that 8 of the 11 committee members (including me) were borough councillors who would be voting on this in 2 weeks time. As planning is quasi-judicial, the 8 of us couldn’t really discuss the matters being raised other than to listen. Whilst the Deepcut residents still made their points, it was still an obvious disappointment for them at a time when local sensitivities are already high.
A parish councillor then raised concern about local buses and sought reassurances – these were not forthcoming.
Another resident spoke at length about Kings Ride in Camberley complaining about what they felt had been a very poor response from County about their speeding and traffic concerns. It was clear that they felt let-down by certain comments and actions that had been made.
Later on, we had some residents wanting to raise concern about the DERA development and protecting the green belt. Despite CPRE being a clearly non-partisan group, it was disappointing that a jibe regarding the political persuasion of one speaker was made. Most of the public speakers at the meeting had a party political background but no such mention was made for anyone else and it was in any case, completely irrelevant.
It also became clear that the written answers to some written public questions were an exact copy of an earlier County meeting. Therefore, whilst we encourage the public to give a written question, we apparently couldn’t even be bothered to give residents a local individual response tailored for Surrey Heath -this is pretty poor customer service.
The agenda then went on to discuss some very important local issues such as highways improvements, road maintenance and youth provision. Unsurprisingly, most of the public had left by this point. If they had stayed, they would have witnessed a high quality discussion about the Toshiba roundabout in Frimley where real differences could be made to the quality of life in Surrey Heath.
However, this was then marred in a debate about road maintenance when they would have witnessed two members stating that they did not feel the public should have consulted as funding would go to “areas that shout the loudest.” Bizarrely, a year previously (before the elections), the whole committee had been very cross at the Ian Goodchild Centre when they had been told that there was a roadshow shortly planned in Camberley inviting comments from the public because they hadn’t been told about it. At that time, they rightly felt that people should have been told, the event publicised and it made a mockery of consultation! How times change….
Finally, the meeting ended with a discussion about future work programmes. At this point, Cllr Denis Fuller spoke about the A30 bus lane and wanted it to be put on a future agenda. He was quite right to do so – this is a subject that he has campaigned on and whilst on balance, I support the bus lane, the fact is that he won an election (against me) and this was one of his issues! Again, it was disappointing that some other members (of his own party) rolled their eyes, complained and decided that this was not apparently worthy of discussion due to some long-term Borough plans which may happen or not at some point in time.
The 6 County councillors missed a trick here. They have just been elected and now is exactly the time at the start of their 4 years to put forward their election pledges so that they are at least discussed by the committee. If not, what is the point of electing anyone? It would at least show local people that their vote counts and that the policies of successful candidates are debated locally, in public and where appropriate, changes made.
Over the last few days, two well known community activists who were also present at the meeting – one from Labour and one Conservative have both blogged their negative perceptions of the meeting. This is a real pity because they are exactly the sort of community activists that we should be encouraging to attend whether we agree with them or not. My perception is that most of the public would have left the meeting pretty disillusioned. I know my colleagues of all political persuasions genuinely want to engage the public but we really need to rethink the customer service here before we end up with no-one bothering to turn up.