PUBLIC OPINION TO BE IGNORED IN DEVELOPMENT PLANS
The battle to save Gurkha Square has been a long one with residents making their views on the councils plans to build a new Harlington centre on it very clear. With repeated attempts to persuade Fleet to support the development, ignoring a public petition, parish poll and even trying to downplay the results of their own council run consultation, Fleet Town Council appeared finally to admit defeat as they reassured everyone that they would not be building a new Harlington centre, which would have left the square too small for any other events.
To backup their assurances, we have even had the Chairman of Fleet Town Council, Cllr Bob Schofield, assuring the public that they wouldn’t build on Gurkha Square… (if you could all just vote their Fleet Neighbourhood plan through…pretty please!)…but then again, as we pointed out at the time, they don’t actually own it, so this was just yet another disingenuous statement from a council that appears to rely on apathy and misdirection rather than honesty and openness.
Below: Chairman of Fleet Town Council, Cllr Bob Schofield assuring the public that they wouldn’t build on Gurkha Square if you voted the Fleet Neighbourhood plan in.
Earlier this month though, we reported that the Cllr Bob Schofield, had backtracked on his assurances to the public and was indeed pursuing a new build Harlington (the one he said wouldn’t be built). Cllr Schofield remember, also stated (after members of the public had Gurkha Square declared an ‘Asset of Community Value‘ to try and protect it), that this wouldn’t stop it being built on (after previously saying it was safe from development)…still following?
Below: Fleet residents had Gurkha Square declared an Asset of Community Value to protect the square and show public opposition to it being built on. The Chairman of Fleet Town Council though made it clear this wouldn’t stop him.
Fleet Town Council don’t have a very good track record when it comes to this topic, with words chosen extra carefully and a total black out on any discussions of development. So if they aren’t going to build a new Harlington on Gurkha Square, does this mean they are going to build it elsewhere as part of their future plans…and build something else on Gurkha Square instead? It’s certainly looking more and more likely, especially after the rather brazen announcement in their latest newsletter.
Sadly the Fleet Neighbourhood Plan was voted in, from that point onwards there seemed little hope left. True to form, once the council had what they wanted, they soon dropped all pretence of avoiding development and have indeed been pursuing it without public knowledge
Below: The Fleet Neighbourhood plan that is the basis of development in the town.
In July this year, tenders were invited for potential development plans on the ‘Civic Campus’ but there was no public announcement of this, in fact it has all been kept very quiet indeed, no doubt due to the public anger they knew they would face if word got out.
We think you have a right to see these plans though, even if Fleet Town Council doesn’t. Will it set peoples minds to rest? Far from it I’m afraid.
FLEET TOWN COUNCILS PLANS
The invitation for the submission of detailed development plans for the Civic Quarter/Campus project (why did they change the name anyway, because of the increase in size?), described the layout of the area and the progression so far, from the formation of the Harlington Working Group, to the point of progressing and finalising development plans. The document requests that three possible scenarios are planned and tendered for, with descriptions being given for bronze, silver and gold level plans, with each level requiring a greater level of development.
Below: An ever increasing level of development formed the basis of tender requests.
Below: Many buildings could be demolished in the councils plans, including Flagship House, making a large area for development.
It seems any pretence about not developing the square is well and truly over and indeed stopped as soon as the controversial Fleet Neighbourhood Plan was voted through, leaving Fleet Town Council, in conjunction with Hart District Council, able to push through whatever development plans they see fit. They also have Cllr Alan Oliver who sits on both councils and supports development of the area…rather handy that…
So these are the choices that will be forced onto Fleet – development in sizes small, medium or large, all of which plan to incorporate Gurkha Square. As for the stated ‘community and public engagement’, well I think it’s pretty clear by now just how little your local council value your opinion.
Below: Proof – if you needed any more – that the local council(s) plan to develop Gurkha Square, no matter what you think. Even if it remains as a car park (who knows?!) it is likely to be too busy to use for future events.
Below: The Civic Quarter Regeneration Document, in all its glory.
Below: Who owns what…the Civic Quarter Ownership map.
FREE FOR ALL – EXCEPT YOU
Throughout this rather farcical situation, those in the parish of Fleet have been forced to stump up extra finances via their council taxes so that Fleet Town Council can build up a nice little nest egg to build the new Harlington. Public objections clearly proved of little importance to them as throughout the fake assurances and public deceptions, they continued taking money for a building they said would never be built.
One of the many issues with a new Harlington was just this…local residents in Church Crookham and Elvetham Heath were allowed no say on the build but were not forced to pay for it either, leaving Fleet to foot the bill alone, while everyone got to use the facilities. In section 4.1 of this development plan – for that’s what is really meant by ‘regeneration’ – it states “This is a fantastic opportunity to regenerate a key town centre site the vision for which is a multi-use hub providing a variety of modern uses for all Hart District residents to enjoy”. Ah if only all those Hart residents had actually paid their fair share eh? Or should we all expect a nice big refund?
Let’s go back in time for a moment and look at some snippets from this Fleet Town Council leaflet, letting Fleet know that their council tax was going to be increased to pay for a new Harlington:
Below: FTC 2016/17, The original position for a new Harlington to be built. You can also see the surrounding area that is now due for development too. This shows that only Fleet parish residents would be footing the bill and far from a refund, FTC were saying you might have to pay even more…will that still be the case? The term ‘necessary supporting facilities’ appears to be a meaningless term that can be shaped however the council decide.
When looking back at these early plans, it’s clear that despite all your objections, there have been no attempt to slow down or halt development. In fact our local councils have been carrying on with their plans all along…and have even increased the scale of them.
So if this new development is going to enhance the area so much, why the continual stream of misinformation, secrecy and some would say, outright lies? Surely this wonderful new development should be screamed from the rooftops, to the overriding joy of all local residents? Or are the plans meant to remain secret until it’s too late to object? That after all, does seem a favourite move with our local councils.
At the beginning of the ‘Civic Quarter’ discussions, it was feared that in reality, this would just be a money making exercise for Hart District Council in conjunction with Fleet Town Council and that fear hasn’t abated. In fact in amongst the mention of possible brand new shiny play parks, cafes and community spaces, it looks as though the area could well consist of offices, shops and…residential properties, that’s more housing to you and me. They have even requested that advice is given to them to advise on market demand, rent and sales information, just to maximise their profits.
We already know that the hotel opposite Gurkha Square was pushed through to offer accommodation for the crowds that would be flocking to the new Harlington build…yes really…but it seems that ‘supporting facilities’ can actually mean whatever the council wants it to mean. Are you fed up with their game playing yet? An awful lot of residents are.
Below: How many new flats can they squeeze onto the development and how will this enhance Fleet?!
AIN’T NO STOPPIN’ US NOW
So to skip to the end of this document, let’s take a look at the timeframes listed, as all this is rather old news now. You see, according to the information shown here, a contractor has already been chosen, a plan is now in place and work commenced on the project back in May, or was due to – to be fair Covid may have delayed this but how would we know? Fleet Town Council have kept all this hidden from public view – they don’t want you to know what they’re doing.
Below: The timeframes on the tender instructions.
So as we come to the end of this particular fairy story, maybe you’d like to ask your local councillors exactly what they are agreeing to on your behalf, because there is clearly no way that any of this information is going to be made public without a fight. Recently we spoke about an upcoming request for Fleet Town Council to show more transparency by doing what other councils are already doing and live streaming their meetings. They have previously rejected this idea though and continue to hide behind a wall of inaccuracies and secrecy – so there is little hope that these discussions will ever be anything except ‘for their eyes only’.
So where does that leave us? Back where we started? Who knows…we await some kind of comment from Fleet Town Council and just hope that we won’t soon be saying…goodbye to Gurkha Square.
You can contact your local Fleet Town Councillor here.
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