Analysis by The Alton Society of WYG’s and The Developers’ Report on Feedback to their Proposals for South Alton
The public exhibition was held on 18th & 19th May 2012. The Developers’ report on feedback, which we analyse here, was presented to Councillors early in July and, finally released into the public domain on 17th August, three months after the exhibition. As far as we know, those individuals who provided contact addresses at the exhibition have not directly received any of the feedback promised.
We will present our comments following the layout and paragraph numbering of the report.
Pre-exhibition advertising (para 1.3) was almost non-existent: no leafleting of all houses in the Parish, no posters around the town; merely a small article in the local paper, which of course does not get read by all the population. Indeed, some residents of the neighbouring Winchester road were never consulted, warned or leafleted.
The 400 attendees claimed represents a little over 2% of the population of Alton or 1% of households. These percentages should be halved to represent the catchment area of the Sports Centre, including neighbouring villages. This cannot be said to be a representative view of the population.
2.0 Responses to Questions
First, these were definitely ‘leading’ questions, not permitted under normal codes for public consultations. Second, they bundled four distinct issues together, namely the Sports Centre, the Butts Bridges, market housing and affordable housing. It was not possible therefore to give single meaningful answers to either of the questions; indeed we would have expected several more questions in order to provide analysable data. Luckily many respondents took considerable trouble to write their own comments, which are reported in Section 3 but not analysed. The only analysis refers to the inappropriately bundled questions and the conclusions drawn are questionable. It would have been instructive to know how many sheets were returned with simply answers and no comments.
Question 1 was “do you think that the four issues (Sports Centre, Butts bridges, market housing and affordable housing) need to be addressed?” Only 209 (52%) agreed unequivocally, not 81%. The remainder, nearly half, had reservations or disagreed (paras 2.3 & 2.5)
Question 2 was “do you approve of the solutions to the four issues?” Only 152 (40%) agreed unequivocally, not 70%. The rest, over half, had reservations or disagreed (paras 2.4 & 2.5).
Paras 2.6 & 2.7 which suggest overwhelming support, are incorrect and wishful thinking.
3 Summary of Comments Received
3.1 (1)Leisure Centre. The report claims that 166 respondents – without quoting them – recognised the need to address issues at the Sports Centre but only lists 75 suggesting improvement or disagreeing on 33 issues (para 3.12).
3.1 (2)Butts Bridge junction / highway improvements. The report claims 118 respondents welcoming the proposals put forward – without quoting them – but says that 113 raised 44 traffic and highway issues of which 20 (45%) are critical of the proposals (para 3.5).
3.1 (3) Market Housing and Affordable Housing. The report claims that 64 respondents – without quoting them – supported the proposals. However para 3.9 quotes 24 questions, of which 8 (33%) are critical of the proposals. Only two mentioned affordable housing – and then critically – perhaps indicative of the lack of appreciation of the need amongst the respondents.
3.2 claims some positive comments on employment but they are not listed or quantified elsewhere.
3.3 claims that the remainder of the report is devoted to understanding respondents’ reservations. In fact they are simply listed in paras 3.6, 3.7, 3.8, 3.10, 3.11, 3.13, 3.14, 13.15, & 13.16 without analysis.
Summary Comment by the Alton Society.
It has now become common knowledge that considerable plans for South Alton were being prepared over the last 5 – 10 years by the developers with the advice of ATC and EHDC. However all this was pursued in secret and the enormity (yet perhaps only the first stage) of the proposals has only been revealed at the Exhibition in May this year.
The questionnaire was framed so poorly – and particularly with leading questions – that it did not lead to meaningful conclusions, indeed those drawn are incorrect, misleading and wilfully wrong.
To be fair, these are only outline master plan proposals at this stage and would not be expected to provide all the answers in detail. However, the overwhelming impression was that the proposals did not show appreciation of many key issues – not least the importance of many policies of the Local Development Plan, Joint Core Strategy and Alton Town Design Statement.
It is appreciated that the report includes the measured responses by the Alton Society and the Chawton PCC. It is to be hoped that the next iteration of these proposals and the further advice given by ATC and EHDC will take account of the replies received from the public and the comments in those two letters.
It is now apparent that at least one alternative scheme has recently been placed in the public domain (see www.altonmatters.co.uk), and we hope that this – and any further options that might emerge – will be studied and compared with the developers’ scheme as exhibited in May so that there can be a full debate and the population of Alton can enjoy a proper opportunity to voice its preferences.
In that connection, we welcome the promise of the Leader of the Alton Town Council (reported in the Herald of 17 August) to support “a meaningful public consultation” and we will expect this to be better conducted than the one mounted in May. The Alton Society will also continue its campaign for the earliest possible preparation of a Neighbourhood Plan capable of giving the local community a more effective role in influencing a broad range of development issues over the longer term.
27th August 2012