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From Pauline Surrey
Last night’s public meeting organised by Surrey County Council (SCC) at Holy Trinity Church, (March 9) was explosive stuff! I have attended many a public meeting in Guildford, but have never seen one like this.
The church was so packed, even the gallery had to be used. Latecomers had to stand. Feelings were running high right from the start, with a fair amount of heckling going on. The last time I experienced heckling like that was in the Sixties when I went to a Quentin Hogg hustings event.
We heard presentations from a SCC officer, then from the “play trail” designers. Mike Goodman, lead councillor for the project, spoke, as did Nigel Davenport, Chief Executive of Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT).
The independent chair, somewhat unusually, allowed questions as we went along, which allowed the venting of some angry emotions. However, many excellent questions and points were raised, including one from Sally Blake of the Save Newlands Corner campaign (www.savenewlandscorner.com), asking why no other options for raising the money needed to run Newlands were being considered.
Ms Blake told us that the Friends of the Hurtwood manage 3,500 acres and 15 car parks for £73,000 a year, whereas SCC/SWT manage 255 acres and one car park at Newlands Corner for £157,000 a year.
She asked whether SCC would be prepared to sit down with stakeholders and other members of the public to consider various other options, e.g. setting up a “Friends” scheme for Newlands, on the Hurtwood model. A positive response was received from SCC, and noted.
A further question related to an excellent previous article in the Guildford Dragon concerning traffic arrangements at Newlands, and the need for adjustments if traffic were to increase as a result of the changes SCC are proposing.
A positive response to this was given by County Cllr Mike Goodman, this was being discussed. No comments were received though about how this would increase the cost of the whole project!
Altogether there was time for 20-30 questions/points from members of the audience and very many excellent issues were raised, much love was expressed for Newlands.
We heard much about children and grandchildren who love scrambling through the trees, rolling down slopes, flying kites, discovering nature, running about, with no need of wooden play structures on a “trail”.
The interesting thing too was the age range of people present. Many of us older citizens kept quiet, as the younger members raised their points, asked their questions. I would say that the demographic at his meeting was quite different from at others I have attended.
It was an exchange of views. When a show of hands was requested as to who was in favour of these plans, one hand went up. When asked who was against, everyone else’s did.
We heard that SCC have been listening to the public both at the two (arranged at very short notice, and very badly publicised) afternoon “drop in” sessions in Albury and Merrow last month, and by reading letters and emails that have been coming in.
So instead of ten pieces of play equipment, the trail will now only have five, although the audience reaction was a loud: “We don’t need any!”
One member of the audience commented that this meeting too had been very badly publicised by SCC, just something on the council website.
The publicity for the SCC hosted meeting came largely from the Save Newlands Corner campaign itself and The Guildford Dragon NEWS, which had been alerted by some very concerned citizens who had been notifying the press and the residents’ associations, using social media, and even posting leaflets through doors in the good old-fashioned way.
So I think the order of the day is: watch this space! I think we have made, and can continue to make, our voices heard. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Council officers have undertaken to read and take into account all such individual responses. Keep in touch with the latest developments via the Save Newlands Corner website and, of course, here on our wonderful Guildford Dragon.
It was a great evening. I didn’t know the citizens of Guildford could be so vocal. Thanks to Mike Goodman and all who were there with him, and thanks to everyone who came out in the wet to put their point of view across.