Tristram Cary, spokesperson for Winchfield Action Group (WAG) has called for Hart District Council to work with groups like We Heart Hart and WAG in the preparation of the Local Plan instead of refusing to meet and seeking to suppress questions.
Tristram’s call came in an excellent email to the Standards Committee of Hart District Council, asking them to reject the proposals that seek to restrict the questions that can be put and limiting the petitions that can be served upon the Council. We Heart Hart fully endorse Tristram’s stance which is re-produced in full below:
I wish to register my very strong objection to the proposal to restrict questions and petitions which are to be debated at the Standards Committee on Thursday.
I can understand that it is tiresome for Hart to have to deal with so many questions from the public, and I can understand the view that the questions are being used as a platform to state opinions of groups such as WAG and WeHeartHart. But so what? Isn’t the point of public participation at Council Meetings to allow opinions to be heard, and questions to be asked? Surely an hour a month isn’t a big price to pay for public involvement in the debate?
I would also like to point out that Mr Parker has said in his proposal that “the proper way to deal with such matters [ie planning matters] is to participate in the consultation exercise”. But Hart has decided (illegally in the view of Peter Village QC) to remove the Public Consultation on the Local Plan from the planning process.
As well as objecting to the proposal to restrict questions, I would like to make a more general point.I think that Hart’s attitude to the work of WAG and WeHeartHart has been dismissive. For instance Hart refuses to have a meeting with us to discuss the legal opinion, and the answers given to our questions and suggestions have been on the whole incomplete and unhelpful. Hart’s message appears to be “we have decided what we want to do and we are going to ignore your views to the greatest extent possible”. I suggest that Hart would do well to regard WAG and WeHeartHart as allies in the attempt to arrive at the best possible Local Plan for Hart, backed up by the strongest possible evidence base. WAG and WeHeartHart have got access to funds and expertise, and I see no reason why these resources should not be used in collaboration with Hart DC to do work that is in the common interest of the whole community. I am thinking of work packages such as a study of Brownfield site capacity in Hart and Rushmoor and an ecological/environmental study of Hart to better understand the value of the countryside.
The NPPF (para 155) requires councils to “engage in early and meaningful engagement and collaboration with neighbourhoods, local organisations and businesses…A wide section of the community should be proactively engaged, so that Local Plans, as far as possible, reflect a collective vision and a set of agreed priorities for the sustainable development of the area, including those contained in any neighbourhood plans that have been made”. I think that Hart has so far failed dismally to live up to the spirit of the NPPF. Hart’s engagement with WAG and WeHeartHart has been the exact opposite of proactive, and I think that a change of attitude is long overdue.
I would welcome a meeting between Hart DC and WAG/WeHeartHart to discuss how we might engage together in a more productive way.
Let us hope that Hart Council respond positively to this suggestion and build on the work we did to support the council with the Hop Garden Road (Owens Farm) Hook, appeal and the response to the Rushmoor Local Plan.