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Forum gives people a voice

Row of shops in town centre.

A forum aimed at involving the public in shaping investment in Farnham’s infrastructure to resolve long-standing issues, cut congestion and improve air quality has been launched.

The inaugural meeting of the Local Liaison Forum, part of the new Farnham Infrastructure Programme, took place on Wednesday 5 August. The forum was held as a webinar so as to maximise the number of people who were able to take part during social distancing. 

The meeting was chaired by Councillor Andy MacLeod who is the joint chair of the Local Liaison Forum and he was joined by the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, the Mayor of Farnham Councillor Pat Evans and a panel of councillors and senior officers who make up the team that will drive forward the projects. 

Over 200 people registered to attend the webinar which began with an introduction to the nine board members of the cross-party Farnham Infrastructure Programme and their respective roles. Jeremy Hunt MP, Councillor Colin Kemp (Deputy Leader of Surrey County Council), Councillor John Ward (Leader of Waverley Borough Council) and Councillor John Neale (Leader of Farnham Town Council) each addressed the online audience to reiterate their commitment to making change happen. 

Jeremy Hunt took the opportunity to explain early in the meeting the background and why this new programme is different from previous initiatives. He said: “We’ve been talking about ways to resolve Farnham’s infrastructure problems for some time, but I do feel this is a unique moment. Firstly, we have a consensus which stretches through the three councils and key Farnham organisations. Secondly, there is support across the political spectrum which is important because we need to give people confidence that this project will survive political changes over the years. Thirdly, coronavirus has created a feeling in society that we want to do things differently. All these factors add up to there being a real desire to do something so that Farnham can live up to its potential.”

The participants heard about four projects which include implementing what were described as ‘quick wins’, improving the town centre transport infrastructure, making improvements on the bypass and at Hickley’s corner, and following through on the need for a Wrecclesham relief road. 

Councillor John Neale, Leader of Farnham Town Council said: “We will be taking a holistic view of all the road problems in and around Farnham, to ensure that we come up with a joined-up plan that addresses all our concerns and embraces the best of current day thinking about future town centres and all the pressing environmental concerns. We also want to make sure that everyone’s viewpoints are considered, so we will be making concerted efforts to reach all parts and age groups in our community.”

During the consultation event, the panel shared their initial ideas for a vision. This will be released soon to enable other people to share their views on it.  

Explaining in more detail about how the Local Liaison Forum will work, Councillor Wyatt Ramsdale said: “The Local Liaison Forum will be led by board members and local councillors and may co-opt additional people. Our aim is for it to be the conduit through which project developments and decisions will be reported. Anybody will be able to offer comments and views regarding design and local issues and this will be fed back into the process. 

“The forums will be held in public and meetings may be held to look at specific issues such as walking, cycling and driving in the town centre, the A31 or the younger generation’s requirements. “

Surrey County Council has already invested £400,000 in the Farnham Infrastructure Programme and has engaged a core team of experts. 

Councillor John Ward, Leader of Waverley Borough Council says: “This is an excellent example of what can be achieved by working together across council and political boundaries. The number of attendees and quality of the questions are a testament to the keen interest of the public in getting involved with planning the future of their town.”

Throughout the two-hour meeting, members of the public asked 150 questions. Over 95% were answered during the course of the meeting which is more than could have been answered in a traditional style public meeting. 

Summing up the forum, Councillor Pat Evans, Mayor of Farnham says: “Judging by the comments we have received, I think the webinar was a success as it gave more people the opportunity to get involved. There is a very real desire for change and a palpable energy to get things done. Going forward, I urge even more people to get involved in future Local Liaison Forums and to have their say on achieving outcomes for Farnham that work.”

The webinar and questions and answers can be viewed at www.farnham.gov.uk/LLF.

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