Statement by Cllr Philip Goldenberg, Woking's Portfolio Holder for Housing and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Woking Borough Council
Made at 3.45pm on Friday 16 March 2007 at the start of the Barnsbury Consultation Weekend
"I am here, as Woking Borough Council's Portfolio Holder for Housing, to welcome you to the start of this Consultation Weekend. This is YOUR weekend, and I very much hope that out of it will come what YOU want for the future of Barnsbury. My principal job is to listen, and I shall spend as much time here as family commitments allow.
But I thought it would help if I started the proceedings with a formal statement; copies will be available when I have finished speaking.
As the Portfolio Holder for Housing, my job is to implement the housing policies adopted by the Council as a whole.
The PFI Project for affordable family housing on a number of sites, including Barnsbury, was put forward by the Conservative Executive which ran Woking Borough Council until May 2006. It was supported by all three political groups -Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour. Affordable family housing remains a top priority for all three political groups, and for the Council as a whole.
As part of the bid to the Government for PFI funding, the relevant sites were taken through planning approval without full consultation with local residents; this was instigated by the Conservative Executive and, as an Opposition Councillor, I was very unhappy with that process.
The Liberal Democrats took over the Council's Executive in May 2006. At the first meeting which discussed the PFI Project, after a pretty miserable meeting of the Planning Committee which approved the relevant applications, and speaking as the new kid on the block, I said:
`Local residents, who are happily unfamiliar with the strange world of local authority procedures, have understandably regarded the grant of Outline Planning Approval as meaning that the Council will proceed willy-nilly. I sat through the meeting of the Planning Committee, and saw the pain - of both residents and Councillors. But, where the Council itself will be involved with the submission of the full detailed planning applications in due course, nothing is pre-judged and nothing is pre-empted.'
Specifically in relation to Barnsbury, I added:
`In addition, there is the particular case of Barnsbury. There will be a full programme of engagement with the local community there. I know that at present many Barnsbury residents see the proposals as a threat; I want the outcome of the engagement process to be proposals which are seen as an opportunity to upgrade the quality of life for the whole community on that estate, which is badly in need of improved facilities.'
"Since then, I have listened to the views of a number of Barnsbury residents, both through the Action Group, individuals I know personally, and my local political colleagues, Derek McCrum and Paul Owen.
I have also listened to the advice of Charles Campion of John Thompson & Partners, whom the Executive of Woking Borough Council appointed as independent consultants to run this consultation process, and to produce a proposal on the basis of the views voiced by local residents. With his professional expertise in this field, Charles has expressed to me a number of reservations about the Council's existing proposals, particularly in relation to design and access.
I said earlier that, as the Portfolio Holder for Housing, my job is to implement the housing policies adopted by the Council as a whole. And I cannot therefore, in that capacity, change the Council's policies by myself.
But I can say this on behalf of the Council. As the Chief Executive of the Council made clear at the start of this present consultation, its whole objective is to find out what residents want for Barnsbury. What improvements do you want to see? If these improvements can only be funded by some extra building on Barnsbury, do residents want this to happen or not? And, once the Council receives the outcome of the consultation, it will consider its own views in the light of what residents say. I cannot promise, on behalf of the Council, that we will automatically accept what local residents want; but I do promise that the Council will listen hard to those proposals, and enter into an honest and positive dialogue with those proposals as a basis.
And I can, on behalf of the present Executive of the Council, add this. We recognise that it would be better if the present consultation were not blighted by the Council's existing proposals for Barnsbury. Accordingly, so far as my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I are concerned, I now announce that we will not be supporting those proposals.
I hope that what I have said will give a much more positive tone to the present consultation; and I urge all local residents to participate positively in it, so that YOUR views are heard."
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