Friday, 7 March 2014

Localism in Action

Localism in action - Chatham & Aylesford style.

In Tracey Crouch's constituency there is a village called Wouldham. I like Wouldham; it's a quiet, traditional former quarrying village with a mix of terraced and new housing, a successful and thriving primary school, a village store and post office, pubs and a charming church which provides the final resting place of Walter Burke - Admiral Nelson's purser on board HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, in whose arms Nelson died on 21 October 1805. In this painting "The Death of Nelson" Burke can be seen supporting the pillow (in a red waistcoat).

None of the above is relevant, but it is a good example of how we are fortunate to be surrounded by history, which we too often take for granted.

Months ago the local Parish Council let it be known that they were considering seeking planning consent for around 80 new homes on the local allotment site. This was to be done to raise sufficient funds via a Section 106 Agreement to finance the building of a new village hall / community centre, which many previous surveys had indicated that residents wanted.

It is not my intention to take sides or express a view - this is a matter for the villagers, though it is worth noting that the plot of land was not in the Local Development Framework (LDF) and the borough council was not seeking additional local land for development. 

Understandably there was local opposition. With 1,000 homes being built nearby in a long disused quarry, the local residents felt their area was already about to change without yet more new housing and new people. An action group was formed and public meetings were held. Those sympathetic to the development argued that although the 100 people at the meeting were overwhelmingly opposed, that left 900 people who didn't express a view and were therefore either in favour or neutral. Those opposed to the proposals argued that the meeting was a representative cross-section of opinion and most felt the same. It was stalemate and, as inevitably happens, battle lines hardened and the debate perhaps turned too personal. 

This was the point where Tracey Crouch got involved. Having attended one of the public meetings and met with the objectors, she decided to broker a meeting between all interested parties (the Village Committee, Parish and Borough Council) to address a host of concerns. It was also decided for a proper, impartial test of village opinion. Working with the local Conservative Borough Councillors, a letter outlining the position (impartially written) and a ballot paper was delivered to every voter on the electoral roll. I am pleased to have been able to assist with the printing, packing and delivery; all the costs were covered by Conservative funds at no charge to the taxpayers. We put together a team of volunteers and delivered the whole village in an hour. The local shop keeper agreed to host the ballot box on his counter - the ballot was open for a full week. 

For a copy of the letter see HERE

The ballot closed at 5pm tonight and the votes were counted. Independent scrutineers were asked to help - and the Wouldham Village Committee were invited to witness the count taking place.

I am pleased to report that the turnout was over 30% - higher than most recent parliamentary by-elections. No-one can therefore say the result lacked legitimacy. Also everyone on the electoral roll was given a ballot paper and they had a full week to vote.

The result, as Tracey Crouch had predicted, was to reject the plans overwhelmingly, with 243 against and 27 in support.  The second proposition, with the proposed access road through an already residential area, was rejected by 268 votes to 2 !

As soon as the result was known, the count organiser phoned the figures through to my office. Whilst Jon and I printed the leaflets announcing the result, a "runner" set off to collect them. Within 30 minutes the first leaflets were landing on the doormats. 

Well done to Tracey Crouch MP and local councillors Roger Dalton and Dave Davis for really giving people a say in a vitally important local issue. And congratulations to the people of Wouldham for participating in the vote and making their views known.  

Localism in action!  

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