The Haslemere Community Land Trust to Meet Haslemere TC

This evening, the Haslemere CLT will be addressing a special meeting of the Haslemere town councillors, on their plans.  Their website proclaims that

The Haslemere Community Land Trust is new
It is “not-for-profit”
It works to create affordable housing
It is run BY the community
It is run FOR the community
It works IN the community

I have been interested in the trust since I first read about it. In Haslemere, we are fortunate to live in an extremely desirable location, rich in history and natural beauty, but also in comfortable commuting distance to London – but that very desirability means that property prices are high, and so not always affordable for young people who have grown up here.

Our local Liberal Democrat team are committed to the importance of securing affordable housing – but that means genuinely affordable, particularly social rented housing, rather the legal governent definition, which simply meas a little less expensive than others in the neighbourhood. so not necessarily affordable at all, for those on average or low incomes. Formal housing studies agree: the “West Surrey Strategic Housing Assessment” study states the primary need is in the affordable/social market sector, especially for smaller homes suitable for young couples starting out, and for older people wanting to downsize. These are not the housing types that private developers are likely to prioritise: they are generally more likely to be more interested in larger, more expensive family homes.

My concerns are in general alignment with the aims of the Haslemere Community Land Trust.  The challenge will be to find ways to realise these aims. I look forward to this evening’s discussion, and will report back later.

 

Read more, from the Haslemere Community Land Trust:

Haslemere – an “Inclusive Town”

At the meeting of the town council “Finance & Governance” committee last month, one of the documents before us for perusal was our existing “equal opportunities policy”. On inspecting this, I noted that the words contained referred to “staff” – but no more. Our LibDem mayor, Cllr John Robini, suggested that this policy should also apply to councillors, and I responded that it should go even further: it needs to apply to all our residents, in everything that we do.

During the local election campaign, I noted publicly that although Haslemere is widely thought of as a comfortable, middle-class English town, and that is undeniably accurate in general, it certainly does not apply to all our residents. I am well aware from my work delivering medicines for our local pharmacy, that we have many elderly people in our community, some of whom have mobility problems, are lonely, or on limited incomes. We have others too, not only the elderly, who have problems with mobility or have other disabilities. We have young people who have grown up here, but cannot afford the high housing costs. We have a small but visible community of black and minority ethnic groups.  On Hindhead Road there is a significant community at an Islamic study centre, and my own immediate neighbours are a Syrian refugee family.  While campaigning for the local and EU elections, I also noticed a surprising number of Eastern European names on the electoral register. Inevitably, there is also a significant proportion of LGBGT people – just as there are, everywhere.

I do not suppose that any of our existing policies or practices deliberately discriminate against any of these groups, but in practice, it is all too easy to take decisions that benefit people “like us”, and inadvertently do not include others or take account of their unique needs. We need consciously to consider all members of our community in our deliberations. I was therefore pleased when my proposal was eagerly accepted by the Finance and Governance committee. The revised policy, submitted to the full town council for its meeting this week, now includes the statement:

It is the aim of the Council to ensure that no one with whom the Council interacts receives less favourable facilities or treatment (either directly or indirectly) on grounds of age, disability, gender / gender reassignment, marriage / civil partnership, pregnancy / maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation (the protected characteristics).

This was accepted unanimously, without need for discussion. Haslemere is now stated its clear intention to be a fully inclusive town.

As an openly gay man, it is LGBT inclusion that most directly affects me personally, but it was not this in particular that motivated my proposal. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that after Guildford raised the rainbow flag in June,  I made a passing suggestion on Twitter about possibly doing the same next year. Cllr Odell immediately replied that we are the “proud owners” of such a flag, and our town clerk soon after approached me to discuss this. We now have agreement that Haslemere will hoist the rainbow flag for Surrey Pride day this year, August 10th. No doubt, we will make further arrangements for 2020 and future years.

Rainbow flag, Guildford (image: Eagle News)

Facing the Climate & Environmental Crisis.

This past week, Haslemere, Godalming and Woking councils followed counterparts across the country, and dealt with motions to declare a climate emergency.  Godalming and Woking passed theirs. Haslemere did not, but accepted the principle, and left the detail to a working group, to be dealt with at our September meeting. Was this obviously disappointing – is there a possible silver lining?

 

Continue reading “Facing the Climate & Environmental Crisis.”

Council Diary – Week 1 (May 13th – 19th)

My first formal Council business was an induction meeting on Monday evening, with a presentation by a guest speaker from Waverley on the councillor’s code of conduct, some further information from our town clerk.

Thursday evening was the first real business meeting for the new council, We elected Liberal Democrat John Robini as our new mayor (with Jacqui Keen  as his mayoress), and Conservative Simon Dear as deputy mayor.  and the business of allocating councillors to the various council committees and working groups, and as council representatives on a range of outside local bodies.  I have agreed to serve on the planning and finance committees and the neighbourhood plan working group. I will also represent council on the  Charter Fair committee and Haslemere Health Group.

At the conclusion of the meeting, I (and the other incoming new councillors), was given a Haslemere tie, which I now wear when attending any meeting as a town councillor.

In between meetings, I had a reread of the proposed Haslemere Neighbourhood Plan. This is a document that has been six long years in the making, driven by Haslemere Vision – a local voluntary group. It was adopted by the outgoing council earlier this year, and must now go to a public consultation, followed by a referendum. If it passes the referendum, it becomes the formal Neighbourhood Plan, which must be taken into account by Waverley Borough for their planning decisions affecting Haslemere. If not – back to the drawing board.  Hence, the need for careful study. I have now gone through it twice, and will do so again. 

Also important for planning, is the controversial proposed new development in Scotland Lane, on the Red Court site – which the developers prefer to refer to as “Scotland Park”. For months, I’ve been aware of intense opposition from the local Haslemere South Residents Association, largely on the grounds that this is declared AONB land (“Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”) which they believe should not be developed. There are also concerns about the impact on traffic through Scotland Lane.  I’ve taken a first, cursory look at the glossy brochure given to me at the end of last week, but will need to give it much more careful study, and have a good look at the site, before I can reach any conclusion on this.

 

My Council Diary – Week 0 (May 6th – 12th)

This week was really just a prelude to formally taking office. The local elections had been  held on Thursday May 2nd, but ballots were not counted until Sunday 5th. Immediately after the declaration, the Haslemere depute town clerk presented me with a large purple folder of homework – documents to read, some forms to complete and sign.

By Wednesday, I had an email from our Haslemere Town Clerk, which among other things invited me to set up my formal Haslemere Town Council email address (terry.weldon@haslemeretc.org) , which should be used for any correspondence on Council business.

On Friday morning, I went down to the town hall to complete the paperwork, and at the same time took advantage of in invitation to meet the police commander for Waverley Borough, Inspector Gary Smith, who was in town to meet residents and hear our concerns. I spoke to him about the conspicuous lack of visible policing which we all know is due to draconian cuts in budget. What I did not know, was just how far-reaching those have been for neighbourhood policing specifically – but he assured me that he is fighting hard to improve ,matters, and has now had approval to double the budget for this: from two officers, to four.

Over the weekend, I answered a ring at the door, to be greeted by a lady from the Redwood property development company, with a large, glossy brochure about their proposed redevelopment of the Redcourt site on Scotland Lane (which they are choosing to call “Scotland Park”). This will require careful study and consideration.

On Sunday morning after Mass, I met with  our team of Liberal Democrat town councillors, together with Green Councillor Claire Matthis, for a discussion about our preferences for the key council posts.

My first formal council meetings will be next week, with an induction meeting on Monday, and the annual meeting to elect mayor and deputy mayor on Thursday.