LONG AWAITED PUBLIC CONSULTATION AVOIDS HARLINGTON QUESTION

HDC Civic Quarter Regeneration Whitewash

by For Fleet's Sake
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PUBLIC QUESTIONNAIRE FAILS TO ASK MAJOR QUESTION

The civic quarter regeneration development has been one of the most controversial subjects in Fleet for many years now. The project, which covers the area of Gurkha Square and the council buildings behind it, initially involved tearing down the existing Harlington building and creating a replacement that would have covered the majority of Gurkha Square, leaving it unavailable for the myriad of events held on it.

This rightly led to public outrage as events from the Saturday weekly market, to the Christmas festivities and annual Remembrance events were put under threat. To go into the long saga of the battle to save the square here would take too long (click here to read more) but the short version is that the public showed their opposition to the plans time and time again with a public petition, a Parish Poll and even the council’s own consultation. However, shockingly Fleet Town Council Chair Bob Schofield made it clear that he did not accept public opinion and has since gone back on his assurances that the square wouldn’t be developed on.

Since then, a staggering amount of funds have been collected for the upcoming project from Fleet residents, while at the same time the council denied residents access to information about their plans for the area, stating that it was “against the public’s interest“.

Plans for a “public engagement” that were due to be held earlier this year, were quietly cancelled until after the local elections and the can was kicked down the road yet again with a series of delays and excuses. Today however, that ends…or does it?

 
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You may have recently received a free newspaper called “Hart News” and like many of the items shoved through your letterbox, you may have put it aside or even thrown it away. Tucked away inside the paper though, is a small section allowing you to fill in an online questionnaire on the development of the civic quarter, something that could easily be missed or overlooked.

Below: The newspaper article from Hart News, Summer 2022.

But was it worth the (very long) wait? Will residents have a chance to have their say on the development and what happens to Gurkha Square (again)? The simple answer is not really, as the sad excuse for an opinion gathering exercise merely presents people with options that are carefully worded and which avoid asking the simple question “Do you agree with Gurkha Square being developed on/built over”. So for those unaware that this is a possible outcome of the development, they will never know they have to object to it…something that is rather convenient for the council’s upcoming development plans.

You are allowed to tick a box which says you support “town centre parking” (while it does not state this would be in Gurkha Square), as well as an option which says you support “a dynamic town square for community activities”…without it actually saying this would involve an undeveloped area.  Frankly, there is an uncomfortable feeling about the whole thing.

It is also worth nothing that even though you give a postcode when filling in the form, there are no limitations to who is able to give their opinions, even though it is only residents of Fleet Town (not Church Crookham or Elvetham Heath) that are currently being forced to foot the bill for it alone.

Below: Do you want to see Gurkha Square being built on?

 
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If you’d like to fill in the questionnaire, any comments you have on the development would have to be added in the additional comments spaces, so make sure you don’t limit yourself to checking the frankly irrelevant options that are given to you on the page.

You are also offered the opportunity to visit the Hart council offices on a choice of three dates in June (see article above), to view an exhibition with “posters” and a chance to fill out the same form in person.

The feedback will close on 4th July, so if you’d like to have a say on whether or not you would like to see Gurkha Square built over, then do take the opportunity to fill in the form.

After a public campaign in 2019, Gurkha Square was given protected status by having it declared an Asset of Community Value. This runs out in 2024…perfect timing to start development.

Make sure you have your say on the future of Fleet and if you don’t want to see Gurkha Square lost for future generations, then please make sure you comment on the feedback form.

 
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