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Town Council is well placed to take on more responsibilities

What a summer we have just had. I hope you have managed to enjoy some form of break with families and friends despite the unusual circumstances we have all found ourselves in.

For the Town Council there has been no let up. COVID-19 has placed many demands on us, and alongside all that we have normal business to maintain and new demands from government that need our attention. So, here’s a summary to keep you all informed.

The most visible activity in the town centre has been the need to create wider pavements for social distancing. Most of you will know that this is a responsibility of the highways department in Surrey County Council. We were opposed to the unsightly barriers from the outset and argued for something more akin to what is there now. It took us a couple of months to achieve this improved outcome, with more changes to come. All along we were keen to encourage people to come to the town and to avoid negative impacts on the town centre retailers.

Our second major COVID activity has been the community support activities that we have set up in conjunction with Farnham Maltings. We have managed to help many people since March with food and medicine deliveries, financial assistance and a range of other services including social care for those who were isolated or disadvantaged in one way or another. This has been a huge community effort involving many local organisations and individuals, we thank them all. We have also been working with Farnham Hospital, our partner councils, and local GPs to help them provide the best possible medical support for the community. The hardship fund is continuing; for more information see our coronavirus-support-fund page.

Most of our usual community events have had to be curtailed over the summer unfortunately, but we did at least manage to put on six Music in the Meadow events that were all well-attended and hopefully returned a semblance of normality to the town. Amongst all the chaos, the council and our band of volunteers have continued to maintain our Farnham in Bloom activities, resulting in a number of national awards as reported in the Herald recently and on our farnham-in-bloom-wins-gold page.

Also, over the summer, the Town Council, again in conjunction with Farnham Maltings, has been planning events to support our World Craft Town programme. The month-long programme in October was included in the Herald and further copies are available from the Town Council. We would urge everyone to take part and visit the various displays and events. Farnham has been a major craft centre for centuries, unbeknown to many of us in the town. Our craft industries contribute to the economy, backed up, of course, by the highly rated University for the Creative Arts.

A significant project this year has been the launch of the Farnham Infrastructure Programme. Along with Surrey and Waverley we are building a project team to address the long-standing highways problems in both the town centre and the surrounding major roads. The breadth of this programme is huge, as you will see in the near future, so it is taking time to build it up and most of the work so far has had to be conducted by Zoom, the remote video conferencing facility. This is a major community-led programme that you will hear more about in the autumn. It is not just concerned with roads; it will be addressing many associated aspects that will be needed, to revitalise the town and its economy. Please take part in the initial survey of the programme priorities once this is publicised.

Last, and by no means least, all the local councils are having to devote a lot of time in responding to two major government initiatives. First is a proposed major change to planning policy, all about house building and land usage. From what we have seen to date, this would have significant extra housing imposed on Farnham if the current proposals go ahead. The second is a potential reorganisation of local government, wherein we might see a move to unitary councils, somehow merging the responsibilities of the county and the borough in our area. These are both big subjects that have been covered already in the Herald. We believe it is essential that there is continued democratic leadership at the local level, and that Farnham Town Council is well placed to take on more services, whatever the outcome. Expect to hear much more over the coming months.

By Councillor John Neale, Leader, Farnham Town Council Published in the Farnham Herald on 24 September 2020

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