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This time it's different - here's why

May 15, 2008: We know little about the supermarket proposals for Lower Shott, and what we do know is contradictory. Some say the proposals are 'well advanced', others that they're at the early stages. But our first instinct is to fight it.

Why? Because even by the evidence of the consultants Roger Tym and Partners, whose report (link below) Mole Valley commissioned with our money, Bookham's shoppers are already well catered for. And the shopkeepers who provide for us do not need competition from Waitrose.

For now we can be certain that how this proposal proceeds will tell us a great deal about how this village is run, by whom, and in whose interests.

The first thing that has to happen is that the plans for Lower Shott – and the profits to be made from them – must be published in full right at the beginning of the process. Not a brick must move, not a square yard of land be bought or sold, not a tenant or householder must be approached, without our being told.

The second provision is that the whole village should have the final say on what is proposed. And 'the village' does not mean the Bookham Residents' Association (BRA), whose 'planning committee' is likely, on past form, to meet in secret and ignore any representations made to it that don't conform to the line from the Conservative party at Pippbrook.

We expect our councillors, of whatever party, to press for, and organise, this full consultation. Cllr Janette Purkiss, who holds Mole Valley's property portfolio, passed her first test by telling us, when asked, about Blueland and Waitrose. We have now asked her why MVDC apparently changed its mind about the Blueland proposal. We still await her reply.

Politicians and, more particularly, the officials who support them, whether in Pippbrook, Kingston or Whitehall, are pathologically reluctant, Freedom of Information Act or no, to tell us what they are doing. Secrecy makes them feel powerful, and that particularly applies when they're in cahoots with any commercial company.

It applies doubly in planning matters. The excuse they always use is "commercial confidentiality," the usual cloak for private skulduggery with public money.

There is another way. The rebuilding of parts of the Middlemead estate will, as we understand it, be solely concerned with the provision of new, high-standard social housing for rent. Any development that takes place – and that is far from certain – will be completely under the control of Middlemead's residents.

Since Mole Valley Housing Association (MVHA), to which Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) has passed its housing stock, is involved in both the Middlemead and Lower Shott projects, it seems entirely appropriate to apply the same rules to both.

MVHA, the site's current joint owner with MVDC, isn't always as open about its projects as it might be. Now is its chance to show us whose side it's really on. No partnership with any supermarket group - whatever the 'planning gain' in so-called affordable housing - is an acceptable excuse for hiding either the scale or detail of the project or the amount of revenue it is likely to generate.

It's our village, not the developers', the council's or MVHA's. We, not officialdom, say what happens to it. Given the amount of money everyone except ordinary voters is likely to make from the Waitrose project, what possible objection could they have to holding a properly-conducted village-wide ballot to decide the future of Lower Shott?

Only that it takes power out of their hands and places it where it belongs, in the hands of the people who live here.

You have less than four weeks to make make Mole Valley take your views into account in the Local Development Framework that will settle planning policy here for the next 18 years. (See the the Mole Valley website (click here)).

But the main document you need to read and comment on before June 20 is the Revised Preferred Option Consultation document. To download it (876kB), click here.

To download the Roger Tym report (4.8MB) click here

What do you think? Tell the editor.

AGM will decide whether meetings will be open to local residents

27 March 2007: Given the Bugle's loud opposition to much Bookham Residents’ Association (BRA) activity over the past year, it would be churlish not to acknowledge that organisation's willingness to listen.

So the Bugle pays an overdue tribute to the BRA committee's decision, by an overwhelming majority, to open its meetings to local people.

A well-attended December meeting of the BRA's main committee decided to endorse a motion put forward by secretary Iden Coleman that, if they identify themselves, any member of the residents association may attend a meeting as an observer. The vote was 12 in favour, one (Brian Granger) against. The proposal has to be agreed by the next AGM (details below).

Another welcome straw in the wind is that we know of this decision because the BRA has also chosen to publish the minutes of this meeting on its website – go to archived issues page and click on 'meeting report' for December.

A year ago such a development would have seemed incredible. And yet they've done it. There is hope.

Attendance at BRA meetings is still hedged about with restrictions. Ordinary resident members may be asked to leave if 'sensitive or personal matters' – to be decided by the chairman – come up for discussion.

But though that's probably a huge loophole, the change does mean that now any local BRA member may ask for a topic to be added to the agenda if they let the secretary know two weeks before the meeting. And if the chairman agrees they may even ask a question or speak at the meeting.

These developments can only act as an incentive for more local people to join the BRA and make their views about local matters known.

There is, of course, a great deal more to do. The planning committee is even more urgently in need of the same treatment, which is probably why 'Sir' Brian Granger voted against the proposal and may now resign from the BRA altogether.

And committee members do, occasionally, forget themselves, as when they try to set the agenda at local meetings of the police panel.

But all that aside, it does appear that Bookham's inhabitants may, after all, be represented by an organisation which can change if residents are determined enough to make it do so. That means it's now up to all of us to keep the BRA up to the mark. From now on, what happens in our community is, after all, in our own hands.

The BRA holds its 80th AGM at 7.30pm on Thursday 26th April 2007 in The Baptist Church Hall. Wine and Cheese at 9pm. Please come along to support these proposals for a new, open BRA.
February 1, 2007: The bi-monthly panel meeting Surrey Police hold at St Nicolas Pastoral centre, Church Road, is becoming a little untidy. In theory, our local police officers chair these meetings so that ordinary members of the community can go and say what’s on their mind about local policing.

In reality, it’s another opportunity for Bookham’s politburo, also known as the Bookham Residents’ Association (BRA), to dominate the agenda. Anyone who, like the Bugle’s editor, tries to say what they think about police priorities will be shouted down if the topic isn’t to the BRA’s liking.

At the January 8 meeting (as on so many other occasions), your editor didn’t cover himself in glory. But then he has a low threshold for complacent twaddle. Two months earlier, the Bugle had published a long, detailed rant about Surrey’s shocking road-safety record. To judge by the wrinkled noses the article produced among councillors and the police, anyone would think he was calling for laws to be broken, not more strongly enforced.

Then, two weeks after publication, Mole Valley revealed a 17 per cent increase in its annual road casualties. MV transportation manager Geoff Wallace’s reaction to this rise in misery was, ‘The overall casualty reduction performance in Mole Valley is on target’ (Leatherhead Advertiser November 23).

So your correspondent went to January’s panel meeting in a grim frame of mind. He got there to find that he had missed a previous meeting and that, whoever was in the chair, BRA chairman Peter Seaward was determined that this meeting would not stray from parking and graffiti. Mole Valley’s casualty reduction officer, PC Ken Wheeler, had given chapter and verse on Surrey Police’s road safety strategy at the previous meeting and, if you weren’t there, you weren’t entitled to raise it again.

The Bugle did try to raise it again but, when its editor justified this on the grounds that road safety, unlike graffiti, was a life and death matter, someone to his right shouted ‘rubbish!’

No wonder nobody goes.

In sheer frustration your correspondent turned to the three police officers present and asked the question posed in the Bugle’s article: In view of the slew of laws parliament has passed over the past 170 years to protect cyclists and pedestrians, did Surrey Police have any current plans to enforce any of them?

It was a brutal question, brutally put, and when the meeting’s chair, PC Caroline Zamir, her two colleagues and the Bugle had left, some of the BRA worthies said it was a personal attack on PC Zamir. That is completely untrue, and PC Zamir has made no complaint that the Bugle is aware of. However, for the record, if she did take the editor’s question as a personal criticism, then the Bugle regrets this wholeheartedly and here offers her a sincere and public apology for any misunderstanding the editor’s words may have given rise to.

Public bodies, including police services, rot like fish, from the head. Our local police work hard at a difficult job despite, not because of, the help they get from their most senior colleagues. The battle against anti-social drivers can only be won if those at the top of councils and police services are determined to engage in it. Currently they are not – whatever their press releases or (tonnes of) policy documents may say. If they were, Mole Valley’s refuse lorries wouldn’t be among the worst speeding offenders.

As a result, the killing and maiming of children and others goes on, and the rule of law is looking pretty battered too.

It could be argued that PC Zamir would do well at future panel meetings to start banging the table and laying down the law. She could remind all present that this is a police meeting, open to the public, which for administrative convenience just happens to be tacked on to the beginning of the politburo’s regular secret sessions.

But the greatest weakness of these meetings, dear reader, is not, by a long way, its chairmanship. It is that you weren’t there. If you feel that road safety shouldn’t be a priority, that the police should be out catching real criminals instead of harrying the poor defenceless motoring public, then you should turn up at the next meeting on March 4 and say so.

September 9, 2006: Why is the Bugle carrying out what some think of as its vicious and vindictive campaign against those nice people who run the Bookham Residents' Association (BRA)?

The Bugle’s editor often asks himself this question.

But then the BRA or its officials always do or say something so assinine that the doubt disappears.

They did it again last Monday. As the BRA nabobs got stuck into their meeting, planning panjandrum ‘Sir’ Brian Granger got stuck into the Bugle’s editor (See report inside). That doesn’t matter. More important is why we’ve upset him.

The BRA justifies its subscriptions because, unlike Effingham, Mickleham or many other surrounding villages, Bookham does not have a parish council. The people of Bookham need the BRA or something like it to convey their views to local and national government.

The Bugle says the BRA cannot convey villagers’ views because it never seeks them. It sees no need to. It relies instead on the instincts of a self-selecting group of, mainly, white, middle-aged, middle-class activists who identify closely with the local Conservative party.

This would not matter if the BRA confined its meddling to collecting litter or asking the council to pay for hanging baskets. The BRA is right to support the Youth Centre and the local community speeding partnership - commendably, last Monday it made tackling speeding through our village a police priority for the next two months.

But planning is more sensitive than any of the BRA’s other activities. It directly affects everyone’s quality of life. It offers the temptation of financial gain for those with inside knowledge. And it also opens those involved in planning discussions to undue influence, whether by threats or financial inducement.

There is no suggestion whatever that such gains have been made by any of the current participants in these meetings. But, while it is true that the BRA has no statutory planning role and can only make recommendations, it has undoubted influence with Mole Valley’s planners.

Its support can make the difference between a plan’s success or failure. BRA endorsement was undoubtedly a key factor in the National Trust’s recent planning success in moving its Polesden Lacey car park to a new site in the Green Belt. The Bugle will explain why in an article soon.

That being so, and in the absence of a parish council, the BRA should use its influence only if it has a legally respectable mandate and offers complete transparency.

It has neither.

The BRA has no mandate because:
[] One - The annual ‘election’ of the BRA committee is not an election that anyone who believes in the secret ballot would recognise. Voting for local or national government representatives on a show of hands was abolished in the 1872 Ballot Act.
[] Two - The BRA ‘electorate’ are the 2,500 households - around half Bookham’s total - who pay the BRA’s £1, shortly to be £2, subscription. No valid electorate can be confined to those willing to pay for the privilege of voting or being represented.

As our report of Monday’s meeting shows, the BRA holds Bookham residents in such contempt that it sees no need for transparency. The planning subcommittee, says the BRA website, ‘decide[s] on its course of action having regard for all of the information available to it.’ 'The BRA says this is how district and county councillors make their decisions at planning meetings.

Oh but it isn’t:
[] The people in the council chamber have been duly elected.
[] We know their political allegiances.
[] We can see their biographies on the MVDC website.
[] They have to record their business and other interests, and any gifts or hospitality they have received.
[] If there is any conflict with a planning proposal before them they have to declare it and leave the chamber.
[] The public can watch the debate from the gallery or, up to a month later, at home on the web.
[] Full records are kept of the proceedings.

Not one of these conditions applies to meetings of the BRA planning subcommittee.

Until they do or the subcommittee is disbanded, the campaign goes on.

Updated October 12, 2006. See Bugle Blunders, front page

Bugle beginnings

June 19, 2006: Giving the Village a Voice

A special welcome to those of you we met briefly on Village Day and who are visiting the Bugle for the first time.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the website is pretty busy-looking, but we hope you'll soon find your way around. The second, once you do dive in and find things, is that it needs more work. And you may even think that what you’d like to see here isn’t available. We have nothing, for example, about local sports teams. It’s a glaring gap we’re hoping you can help us fill.

The Bugle is nothing if not a campaigning website, and one of its main concerns is the need for better provision for our young people. Some local sports fans say Bookham has poor training facilities. One dad we spoke to said his boy didn’t train with a Bookham team any more. The reason was the time-consuming business of setting up lights in the winter. East Horsley already has these facilities so he and his son do their training there.

Whether or not you’re a sports fan, however, this site is about giving Bookham’s people, especially its young people, a voice. And we don’t think the elderly and others with mobility problems are particularly well catered for either.

But if we’re going to make a difference we need two things.

One is for you to let us know whether the site is working properly ‘ whether it’s telling you what you need to know, and whether it contains gaps or wrong information.

The other is to tell us what you like or dislike about where you live. In Bookham, like everywhere else, things are being done in our name that we don’t know about. At the moment, for example, the Bookham Residents’ Association (BRA) is arranging for notice boards to take the place of notices pinned to the fence in the Somerfield car park, hanging baskets in the high street and a trust to take over the Youth Centre, not to mention the local planning applications it expresses a view to Mole Valley about on our behalf. The BRA website tells us a little about some of this but the BRA does most of its work, some worthy, some less so, by stealth. Its explanation, which seems reasonable, is that BRA volunteers don’t have the time or the resources to run opinion polls every five minutes.

Reasonable, perhaps, but still not good enough.

If the BRA wants to act in our name it has to have the authority to act. At the moment it has no such authority.

It must actively seek out information about local feelings. It chooses not to.

And above all it it must provide a full account of everything it does. Its officers are hostile to the very idea.

Without these things the BRA has no right to lift a finger, yet it continues to decide matters that affect all of us, not just its membership.

But unless villagers use the Bugle or some other bulletin board to make known what they think are the facts of Bookham life that really need attention, the BRA can plead ignorance of these concerns.

Some things, to be frank, won’t get an airing even here. If you want local speed limits abolished or a hypermarket on the Lower Road Recreation ground, for example, you’d better start a website of your own. But if you’re interested in preserving what’s best about Bookham and trying to do something about what’s worst, we’d really like to hear what you have to say.

Write to Editor.bookhambugle@2day.ws

May 16 2006: Bookham 500, Editor 6

After an uncertain start your Bugle is an undoubted success, if, that is, you measure success by the number of users. Some days up to 500 Bookhamites, though often it's fewer, log on to read the news and comment or access the other services the site provides. The founder of 2Day, Richard Searight, says 1,000 visitors a month is the threshold you have to cross. So far this month alone, barely half way through the month, the Bugle has notched up 2,500. We expect to do better, much better, as time goes on.

If you measure success by feedback, however, we haven’t done so well. Though it’s still very early days, your editor had hoped that, by now, we’d have something like a Bookham chat room going. The reality, if we’re truthful, is that we have received half a dozen emails through the site, though the number of background emails to the editor’s private address has been much higher.

This is not an easy admission, but it has to be made if the publication is to be as honest with Bookham folk as the Bugle insists in its occasionally pompous way that others should be.

But is the Bugle downcast? Not in the least. A main reason for the lack of emails is that, as yet, the site makes sending an email such a fiddle. We are exploring ways to make it possible to send quick messages at the touch of a button.

And the Bugle hasn’t done any marketing yet. For now, there are a thousand things going on in Bookham that we’re finding it difficult to keep track of. Please let us know what you’re up to. All info posted on the Bugle website is free. Make the most of it.


March 31 2006: Listen for the Bugle!

Get ready for The Bookham Bugle, Bookham's unique web newspaper and information source, all wrapped into one.

You'll see from this page a wealth of information already available for the Bookham area. More is being added day by day, and we'll do our best to tidy up some of the information you don't need. By mid-April we'll have added more news and comment pages.

We are still building the site. As time goes on it will show a balanced range of news, information and profiles of local characters as well as links to all the local and national information sites you need.

This is your site. Please use it and criticise it. And if you want the Bugle to publish news about your local sports, theatre, rambling, conservation, political or any other group, please email editor.bookhambugle@2day.ws .

Meanwhile, the Bookham Bugle is a campaigning publication or it is nothing. So in the run-up to the local elections we believe it important to include more serious content. Please be patient. Future issues will show more of our fun side. The editor

TO ANYONE with a soul, with ears to hear or, better, a heart to listen, it has long been obvious that Bookham and its people have been poorly served.

Whether you look at the provision, or lack of it, for our youth, at transport, health care or, especially, planning, local people have been let down time and again.

They are failed by their elected representatives, by an unelected elite who claim, without any authority, to speak for them, by officialdom, and by the pusillanimous numbskulls who own and run local newspapers.

Even so, the Bugle had no idea quite how complacent and self-absorbed the local nabobs had become. That message only drove home when the no-longer-to-be-trusted National Trust chose to build an unnecessary car park a mile away, in a place that the large group of people who used it thought would always be a place of peace.

When this reveille did sound, some of us awoke to find that not only was our countryside at Downside and Polesden Lacey being needlessly destroyed but our Youth Centre was closing and our local hospitals being moved to twice their current distance away.

Enough. Perhaps one pompous website may make little difference. But it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. A website does at least hold the promise that the crowd pleasers who pretend to run things on our behalf might learn something.

The object is simple, to speak truth to power. Achieving it is less simple. The Bugle's editor is merely one resident. He makes no claim whatever to represent anyone but himself, and his 'truth' may not be someone else's. Though he will speedily correct mistakes, they will happen, as in any publishing effort that gleans its information from the street instead of from handouts written by the high, the mighty or those with large advertising budgets.

In the editor's favour is a strong sense of injustice and, after over 30 years in industrial reporting, a few journalistic skills. All the Bugle lacks is your willingness to say what you think is good and bad about what you see around you, and to let the Bugle publish it.
A word of warning before we start. Though much that goes wrong can be attributed to idle, negligent or partisan politicians and officials, they only do what we allow them to. A very few are bad and many are good. The rest, like dead fish, go with the flow. As of this moment, the Bugle has little idea who belongs in which category.

The weeks and months will tell, but this site is not about gossip. If your councillor sleeps around, don't bother to email. The other edge, of course, is that a blameless family life does not make up for sloppy habits in office.

For now, the Bugle predicts a rough ride. There are elements in our community, some of them influential, who hate free speech as an idea. There are others who believe in the idea, but loathe anyone who exercises it. There are those who believe in the idea and its exercise, as long as those who practise it say nothing worth hearing.

And there are those, some in quite high positions, who have consciences but are afraid to exercise them. For them the message is this. If free speech means anything at all, it means not just a right to say what's on your mind but, on important matters, a duty to say it. May they regain their courage. JD

John Dwyer has been in business journalism for over 30 years.

His work has been published in the Sunday Times and Financial Times, in the USA and Australia. And he knows a bit about newsletters. For five years he edited a Financial Times newsletter on industrial technology.

His investigations into a proposed London Underground ticketing system forced a debate in the old GLC. And as a young reporter he attracted unwelcome Home Office attention by publishing details of its proposed rearrangement of radio frequencies. The Home Office wanted to restrict access to the frequencies now freely available for mobile phones. Sorry everyone.

Now a freelance, he writes regularly for leading manufacturing journals and websites. He has also written for publications from the CBI, the Department of Trade and Industry and Cranfield School of Management. In May 2002 the Periodical Publishers' Association voted him Business and Professional Columnist of the Year. That year he was profiled in the UK Press Gazette.

He's a member of Bookham Camera Club - every Thursday at 8pm in the United Reform Church Hall, Eastwick Road, everyone - and secretary of the committee of the Residents of Middlemead Estate (ROME).

A proud member of the National Union of Journalists, he belongs to no political party but is inclined to vote Green.

Email to: Editor.bookhambugle@2day.ws

Notes on letters and emails
All communications with a verifiable name and street address will be published, no matter how rude to the editor.
All letters will have a name attached unless the reasons for withholding a name are exceptional.
Letters which contain swearing won't be published.

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