AGM 2017 Chairman’s Report

East St./Brightwells Development

My report last year was again dominated by the problem of the East St./ Brightwells development and I expressed a personal view that the final weapon left in the armoury was to call for a Judicial Review into the perceived unlawful actions of Waverley Borough Council. It was clear that to take this action would attract high legal costs and an educated guess taken at that time indicated that a minimum of £100.000 would be required. Little did I realise how quickly events would develop following our AGM.

At a full Waverley Council Meeting last May, further planning proposals were made, involving amendments to the Development Agreement with significant concessions to the developer, Crest Nicholson. Despite written warnings from Council Officers that the proposed action may be unlawful and could be challenged in the Courts, the proposals were approved.

In response a decision was made to launch an appeal for public funds to back an application for a Judicial Review and five individuals immediately volunteered to act as the Claimants. At this point I would like to acknowledge the public-spirited actions of David Wylde, Richard and Celia Sandars and Councillors Andy MacLeod and John Williamson. It should be appreciated that at the time of their decision it was uncertain whether sufficient funds would be raised to protect them against personal financial exposure. Their confidence in a positive public reaction was well founded when the original estimated figure was comfortably exceeded. This is also an opportune moment to thank all of you who so generously donated, and those individuals whose extensive efforts to raise the funds involved many hours of hard work, both in preparation for the appeal and its implementation.

The speed of developing events made it difficult to find an organisation prepared to act as financial controllers of the expected flow of cash from the public and in consequence The Farnham Society stepped into the breach to act as ‘bankers’ and financial controllers.

In August a High Court Judge agreed that there was a case to be made as the grounds were “plainly sufficiently arguable” , including a challenge to the legal standing of the five Claimants. To mitigate costs it was agreed that an initial one day hearing would be undertaken to address this specific challenge.

At that hearing in January the Judge’s decision that the Claimants did not have legal standing was totally unexpected, particularly because in the Silver Hill, Winchester case the sole Claimant was a Councillor and his status had been accepted.

Effectively the judgement restricts any action to other developers who must have a financial interest in the actions of a local authority. In effect, ratepayers and Councillors are debarred in these circumstances from initiating a Judicial Review.

This Judgement flies in the face of the Winchester case and the only possible counteraction would have been to appeal the decision. The cost associated and the uncertainty of success militated against taking that step.

This is a bitter pill to swallow as I have no doubt that a full Judicial Review would have rapidly proven the validity of the allegations that Waverley had acted in an unlawful manner. However, we have to accept the judgement and the consequences, but it does not mean that this Society will cease to resist this unwanted development. Crest Nicholson were granted planning permission a long time ago and have been free to commence construction at any time but have not proceeded. For many years the public have been told that the project is “shovel ready” and yet we all know that lack of commercial financial support is the real reason for the years of delay.

The political face-saving answer to this insoluble financial problem has been to resort to exposing more public funds by invoking support from Surrey County Council. In effect, one lot of politicians rescuing others to the continuing disadvantage of the ratepayer. It should be noted that ventures by SCC into property development has not been crowned with success. On 21March the BBC radio documentary series File On 4 uncovered the fact that current investments by Surrey County Council in property deals amounted to £150 million in the last financial year and had resulted in a loss of £315,000. Surrey Choices Ltd Is another venture into the commercial market and the last audited report shows a loss of £3.5 million. Before throwing another £30 million down the drain perhaps Surrey should listen to the wide-spread independent professional advice which states clearly that this development is unviable and heading for an economic and social disaster. Will common sense prevail over political dogma? I doubt it.

Your Committee

There are some known changes within the Committee, starting with David Berry’s retirement at the AGM from his role as Membership Secretary. We are all grateful for his hard work over the past years and wish him well for the future. We have been fortunate enough to attract the support of Ian Soden who has been co-opted onto the Committee and has taken over the responsibilities of Membership Secretary. His formal appointment to the Committee will be proposed at the AGM.

After many years organising the evening talks and coffee mornings, Gloria Dyche has decided to take a step back and not offer herself for re-election. Gloria has given unflagging and cheerful support to an innumerable number of past Chairmen and of course, to me. We will miss her self-deprecating manner and her rapid response to anyone seeking her help or advice. I am sure that Gloria will be unable to resist the temptation to continue giving support, but in a less prominent role.

We will need to find a replacement for Gloria and we are still seeking an Assistant Secretary to support the work of Janet Radley.

Overview

It has been a difficult year but I hold firm to the belief that the Society continues to strongly support the objectives identified by our predecessors when they produced the Society’s original Constitution in 1911. The prime objectives were to preserve the architectural heritage of Farnham, to encourage integrity in the construction of new buildings, sympathetic to their surroundings, and to maintain the quality of life for future generations.

We cannot win all battles but I would hate to have a nagging doubt that we could have done more to prevent developments which are totally against the spirit of our first Constitution. Recognising the events over the past year, I have no doubt that we have continued to make every possible effort to preserve the quality of life in Farnham. Whatever the outcome, your Committee will continue to fight to protect the special qualities of life in and around our town

Finally, I would offer my sincere thanks to all the Committee members who expend an enormous amount of unpaid effort to achieve our many targets. You will see from the following reports that we remain effective and energetic in all those areas which bring benefits to you as a member of the Society and indirectly to members of the general public.

Alan Gavaghan

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