Thursday, 2 October 2008

Thank you Mr Chairman

Make Public Opinion Count
I should begin by declaring three matters of personal interest, of which I have been reminded by various members of the public who have spoken this evening.

Firstly, that I am a member of the Farnham Theatre Association (FTA), which Mr Nicholls reminded me about. Secondly, that I drive a car, pertinent to the traffic issues that Mr Hyman brought to our attention. And thirdly, that I work for big oil, meaning that I am very aware of the energy challenges mentioned by Mr Lancaster when he spoke about the Farnham Transition Town initiative.

May I preface my main comments by quoting from today's blog by Daniel Hannan, a local MEP: "There is no dishounour in a politician reflecting public opinion. Eurocrats call it populism. I call it democracy." The challenge incumbent on all councillors as community representatives is to balance the responsibility to lead, with the accountability to represent.

I have seen this kind of development being successful eleswhere around the world. I could cope with working and shopping in this environment. But, presenting 'regeneration' as the reason that this application is right, is misleading. Indeed, including the word 'regeneration' in the name of the company can mislead also.

As an aside, pointing to rundown buildings as the reason for this regeneration is a bit like the government's policy towards Post Offices. Take all the business away from them so that they become unviable, and then say that need to be close because they are unviable!

Section 11.3(a) of tonight's report describes that the planning brief stipulates that the solution must "positively contribute". The key question is who measures this? I believe that we on behalf of our residents must measure this.

I am sure that potentially, if not already in reality, in some perspectives, this proposal could 'comply' with regulations in every aspect. However, compliant is not the same as right, not the same as aspired. I believe that Farnham residents have demonstrated that this plan is not their ambition. It may be the council's ambitions, but are these the same as the residents' ambitions? I cannot in good conscience claim that the slient majority thinks they are.

We should demonstrate responsible, accountable, and aspirational leadership.

Mr Chairman, if I were a member of the planning committee, I would vote to reject the recommendation to grant planning permission, and seek to create a formal group comprising of some councillors, key representatives of Crest Nicholson, and some of the Farnham residents represented here this evening, to work on a better solution.

Thank you.

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