Proposed march on 29 November

Cllr Robert Humby, the Leader of Winchester City Council, said:

I am surprised that groups intending to stage a protest march in Winchester on 29 November claim that there has been a lack of public consultation on development and choose to focus on that issue.

The matters they have mentioned in their public statements are many and varied – Silver Hill, River Park Leisure Centre, Barton Farm, Station Approach, the Chesil Street surface car park.

One thing these diverse issues have in common is extensive public consultation. There have been public meetings, exhibitions and a whole variety of consultation over many months or even years on all of these schemes. Frequently that leads to significant changes and improvements to proposals – Silver Hill, River Park Leisure Centre and the Chesil surface car park are prime examples where consultation has led to change. The City Council has listened and continues to listen.

And we mustn’t forget that decisions are not taken in darkened rooms; they are taken in open, public meetings. Members of the public can and do speak to those meetings. Their comments are picked up in our debate. Hard choices are made by Members elected by local communities across the district. That’s how democracy works.

We cannot always do what every campaign group wants. We have to see the bigger picture, whether it’s the much-needed homes for vulnerable elderly we plan at Chesil or the improved town centre retail Silver Hill will offer. If the outcome is not what a lobby group might want, it doesn’t mean we’re not listening, it’s just that the democratic decision went against them.

“I reject the suggestion that there is a lack of transparency or proper consultation. We could, of course, always do better. But it is plain wrong to say we have closed minds or ears. Our democratic processes are working well and delivering proposals that improve as a result of public consultation and which will benefit Winchester. Those who suggest – quite wrongly - that the Council pays ‘lip service’ to consultation risk undermining the very process they claim to value by seeking to replace democratic debate with a ‘do as we say’ attitude.