Sheer hell for regeneration project protestors

PLANS to regenerate Sheerwater are set to go ahead despite a packed public gallery calling for a delay in the project at a meeting of the council on Thursday.

Councillors voted in favour of a £250 million facelift for one of the borough’s most deprived areas last week, a move met with anger from frustrated residents.

The council say the scheme aims to make better use of the land and has the potential to provide about 300 new homes and replace around 600 existing homes in the area.

Leading the fight against what opposition are calling an ‘infringement of their human rights’ and ‘a form of social cleansing’ was Chairman of the Sheerwater Residents’ Committee, Amanda Mahoney.

Speaking at the meeting in the Civic Chambers, she said: “The Sheerwater community have pulled together as a reaction to their treatment by New Vision Homes – 478 signatures gathered across all demographics in just one week is a clear testament to this.

“As a community we do not feel we have been fairly treated by the machines that are Pinnacle and Balfour. We argue that we were not consulted, only informed.”

New Vision Homes, who will be developing a detailed masterplan of the area in preparation for an official planning application that is to be submitted later this year, held three public consultations earlier this year.

But Amanda argues that tactical play came into effect to massage resident satisfaction figures in the developers’ favour. She explained: “The community consultation forum was done with a ‘divide’ approach,  with closed questions not allowing for free opinions.

“Only 61 people attended the second meeting, and that is only 12.2 per cent of the people within the regeneration boundary. One of them was so distressed that she walked out halfway through.

“The third and final meeting was purely informative, with residents only being able to choose, out of three plans, which aspects they liked and which they most liked.

“Never were they asked if they disagreed with them. We demand that the process used be scrapped and the results made invalid.”

Amanda was greeted with applause from the public gallery as she tried to persuade councillors to postpone their plans. She added: “Information released from New Vision Homes has been unclear
and unco-ordinated, and staff have been unable to give firm, conclusive answers.

Residents have been left confused and frustrated that they have not been listened to.

“And while the total bill for the consultation has run up to £1.4 million, the residents themselves do not feel consulted.

“Their views have not been taken into account on an equal footing to that of the council.

“It could be argued that this ‘divide and rule’ during consultation is actually infringing on our human rights.

“We ask that Woking Borough Council listen to the residents they stand to serve, and postpone plans until we are recognised as a Neighbourhood Forum under the Localism Act, so we can work with them to deliver a more sympathetic approach that holds true value of a regeneration, and does not represent a form of social cleansing.”

But while Portfolio Holder for Strategic Development, Councillor David Bittleston, expressed desire to work closely with residents as the development progresses, the council rebuffed pleas for a delay for a forum to be approved as the timescale for its authorisation was simply too large.

Speaking about the decision, Cllr Bittleston said: “While the concerns of local residents and stakeholders were recognised, the fundamental question of whether we continue with our plans to regenerate and transform Sheerwater has been answered by elected members.

“This is not the final decision, but will enable New Vision Homes to draw up a detailed masterplan for the area using the outcomes of the public and stakeholder engagement to date.

“The views of local people will continue to be taken into account through an ongoing, comprehensive consultation process over the coming months before any planning application is submitted. The council and New Vision Homes continue to be committed to working closely with existing residents and businesses of Sheerwater as we bring forward these proposals.

“We recognise the public concerns raised at our meeting and I am determined to improve the communication further, including having a public meeting in the autumn where residents and stakeholders can debate the proposals prior to submission to council.

“Therefore, I would urge local people to continue to engage with us and New Vision Homes as the proposals develop.”

The project received extensive cross-party support.

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