At the Overview & Scrutiny Committee meeting on Monday, councillors discussed the Sheerwater redevelopment project. This was a poorly organised and bad-tempered meeting which I feel did not do credit to the seriousness of the issues raised about the consultation process, nor did it do anything to reassure those residents who were in attendance and face having their homes compulsory purchased and demolished to make way for the new development.
In my contribution to the debate I set out my position, which is that I dislike the principle of compulsory purchase of people’s homes by local authorities. On the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, it seems most unfair that the state can force a private individual to sell their house, even if they do not wish to do so. Where compulsory purchase Is used on one or two properties to make way for essential infrastructure changes, there is an argument to be made on the balance of proportionality. Where it is proposed to use compulsory purchase on almost 100 properties to benefit a major project on which there is not yet a clear consensus, it is essential that there is full and proper consultation and people are appropriately reimbursed for the disruption to their lives and loss of a property in which they may have invested significant time and resources.
During the meeting I asked what assistance would be given to those who might not be able to afford a replacement home in the borough even after receiving the suggested uplift in the value of their existing property. I also sought a guarantee that anyone who wished to remain in Sheerwater would be able to do so. Given the oft-repeated comments by Sheerwater residents that the consultation thus far has been insufficient, I questioned officers on whether they believed the council was reaching out to the right people, and if they could provide an example of how the engagement process has helped shaped the plans in their current form.
Unfortunately I did not receive answers to my questions. However, I have been told that the details of these issues will be worked out as part of the current consultation exercise and examined in depth by the Sheerwater Oversight Panel. In the meantime, the best way forward is for officers, councillors and residents to work together constructively to find a way forward on all these tricky points. Some of the language that has been used has been emotive and unhelpful, and a calmer and more measured approach from residents will also assist in ensuring their concerns are given proper consideration.