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The chairman of the planning subcommittee of the Bookham Residents' Association (BRA) has vetoed a proposal for greater openness on planning and other matters. Brian Granger told tonight's meeting of the BRA's main committee that he strongly opposed any move to make the BRA's planning process more transparent.

Granger said BRA chairman Peter Seaward had asked the subcommitee to consider using its website to publish lists of the applications it proposed to discuss and any letters it planned to send to the planning authority about them. Granger said Seaward made the suggestion after a meeting with Bugle editor John Dwyer.

'I am totally against this,' said Granger. 'It would be making us an aunt sally for all the malcontents in the area, of whom John Dwyer is clearly one. I am not prepared to have letters exposed to abuse from John Dwyer and such like... This man Dwyer is a pain in the neck.'

Granger agreed that the letters sent to Mole Valley were already in the public domain. They were open to inspection by anyone who went to the council offices at Pippbrook, Dorking. 'If people want to look at them they will have to do that. I am not prepared to have my letters on the website, no.' He added that the rest of the subcommittee agreed with him.

Granger and BRA vice-chairman David Wood, chairing the meeting in Seaward's absence, agreed that the BRA had no planning powers. It was up to councillors and officers to make the final decision. 'We can just make comments,' said Wood.

Committee member John Allen then pointed out to Granger that Dwyer was in the room, and reminded Wood that an earlier meeting had agreed no members of the public could attend BRA meetings. Dwyer agreed to leave after his request to reply to Granger's remarks had been refused.

The Bugle attended tonight's meeting, at the pastoral centre near St Nicholas's church, because Surrey Police invites villagers to attend its neighbourhood panel meeting every two months to suggest policing priorities. The Bugle's editor was unaware that the police meeting was held as the preliminary to a BRA committee session. Surrey Police's community support officer, PCSO Marion Hawkins, left when the police business had been dealt with ' See separate report.

At that point, before Granger spoke, the Bugle's editor asked Wood if he could stay for the rest of the meeting and was told he could if he agreed not to speak.

The Bugle believes all BRA meetings, especially planning, should be open to all. The BRA refuses to allow open meetings. So giving villagers easy access, in advance, to its views about the planning proposals that affect them is the only protection they have against carelessless or partiality.

If the BRA wants to act like a parish council, it must accept the same conditions: all meeting agendas and minutes widely published, and all meetings open to, and taking questions from, the public. In a 21st century democracy, the people who make these decisions have to accept that they are answerable to the whole village.

Instead Sir Brian behaves as though he were governor of Bookham and its villagers the inhabitants of his 19th century colony. He and his group of self-appointed nabobs have the brass neck to sift through planning local applications, pick the ones they like and the ones they don't, and write to the planning authority to say this is what we villagers think about the proposals, even though we know nothing about these people, their background or their vested interests.

They could easily publish all the information we need about them and their work on the BRA website. Instead they expect us to drive to Dorking to beg for what crumbs on information we can find there instead of where we live. Of course, we could always send our servants out for it.

This cannot go on.

The only light in the gloom is the demeanour of BRA chairman Peter Seaward. The Bugle's July meeting with Seaward ended on a rancorous note, so we did not to hear anything more of our proposal for greater openness. It is to Seaward's great credit that, despite our differences, the proposal was put the the planning subcommittee exactly as proposed.

Revised September 9, 2006

11 November 2006: In the following article, published in the latest issue of the BRA’s quarterly Broadsheet, the BRA answers critics of its planning process. We publish it here without alteration or comment.

The BRA Planning Committee and its System

The Planning Committee is comprised of nine people elected at the AGM by the membership of the Association and deals with individual planning applications. Brian Granger is Chairman and John Pagella is responsible for planning policy issues.

The Chairman is notified by MVDC of their Weekly Running List of applications for the entire district from which Bookham applications are extracted. BRA members have been instructed via the Broadsheet that if they have any concerns over any particular application they should advise the Planning Committee Chairman either by telephone (453965) or email bcgranger@yahoo.com. During is discussions the Committee will take the concerns thus expressed into consideration.

Meetings are held on the last Thursday of each month. The Chairman and another Committee member have previously identified and inspected those applications, which they believe will be of concern, and the Chairman drafts a letter to MVDC on each case. Where no concerns from interested parties have been expressed, the Committee seeks to anticipate the impact on immediate neighbours and on the residents of Bookham generally.

An agenda for the meeting is circulated to the members together with a list of all applications for the period, and a copy of the drafts which have been prepared. Copies of the Weekly Running Lists are available on the table for inspection by the Committee.

After discussion, amendments to one or more of the drafts may be necessary and representations on other applications may be required.

The Chairman reports to the Committee the outcome of all planning and appeal decisions for those applications which have been of concern. A brief minute of the meeting together with copies of any additional letters required as well as the drafts as amended are then circulated to members.

All the letters are then submitted to Clive Smith, the Head of Planning at MVDC, with copies to Bookham Councillors on the MVDC Development Control Committee. These letters are also available for inspection at MVDC offices during normal working hours.

The Chairman reports to the full BRA Committee at their monthly meetings or if unable to attend he submits a written report.

The Committee considers that this is an open and comprehensive process and that its meetings would not be enhanced or indeed would it be practical that they should be open for attendance by non members of the Committee. Lists of applications are published in the local newspaper, on the MVDC website and on public notice boards. Anybody concerned to know what the BRA has said about an application can see this at the Council offices and having read the letter or letters would receive a considered response to any issue raised.

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