PROMINENT members of the Farnham community and of Farnham and Waverley councils, including the Mayor of Farnham, John Ward, and leader of the town council, Carole Cockburn, met in the South Street council chamber on Friday, January 27, to set out a ‘manifesto for Farnham’.
They were there to listen to Debbie Sorkin, national director of systems leadership at the Leadership Centre, whose job involves bringing together groups and organisation all around the country to help them find ways to work collaboratively to solve local problems.
She is also chair of the Healthy Places Group of the Place Alliance, and had come to talk about how Farnham might benefit from policies set out in the Place Alliance’s Manifesto for Healthy Places.
The Place Alliance is a group of dedicated professionals in such areas as planning, the built environment, urban design, the development sector and health, who have come together to campaign for policies that could bring benefits to the lives of many people in our country.
Ms Sorkin had previous contacts with the Farnham Place Group, a group of local residents who support the work of the Place Alliance.
The objectives of the manifesto are to create healthy places to enable people to live longer, healthier and more active lives, to experience the best that places have to offer and have healthy places as part of their everyday experience, to improve psychological well-being by helping to reduce social isolation and loneliness, to reduce obesity in children and adults, reduce levels of pollution in our cities and towns, reduce the number of GP and hospital visits and to create better access to good food.
The manifesto is also there to promote awareness about designing healthy places and to promote healthy places via champions across the public, private and voluntary sectors.
The aim of the meeting on January 27 was to consider the policies set out in the Healthy Places Manifesto and look for steps to overcome some of the problems faced by Farnham as a small historic town expecting substantial new development in the near future.
Ms Sorkin’s advice for Farnham was to focus on goals everyone could agree on, for change that could bring good outcomes for everyone in the town and to identify the issues that matter most Farnham - where the town’s energy can be directed.
In a lively and positive discussion it became clear that air pollution in Farnham town centre was a major concern and here Ms Sorkin suggested advice be sought on promoting the ‘20’s Plenty’ Campaign, an initiative on speed limits, that has been taken up around the country with great success.
The Place Group had confirmation, before the meeting, direct from MP Jeremy Hunt that his pedestrianisation proposals for Farnham would take speed limits into consideration.
On new developments, there was enthusiastic support for collaborative working at Waverley Borough Council to bring together planning, public health and cultural aspects, and for the council, as the planning authority, to introduce Design Review Panels, allowing the community to contribute valuable local knowledge.
Mrs Cockburn told the meeting that there should be ways of adding this sort of detail to strategic policy approaches at stage two of the Local Plan.
The meeting also listened to very serious worries about the situation of the less well-off in Farnham who had no hope of owning or possibly renting a home in or near to the town, with a warning that Farnham could find itself in the same sad and unviable place as London, with those employed in the lower-paid services sector travelling considerable distances to do these jobs, an unhealthy and unstable situation for any community.
This might be seen as a national problem but should be recognised and mitigated wherever possible locally via policy objectives in the Neighbourhood and Local Plans.
Farnham’s mayor, John Ward expressed himself very strongly on his wishes for the town: on the need for less traffic, the reduction of the speed limit to 20 mph, to get HGVs off town centre roads, and bring in electric buses.
The town council has also been clear in its support for a Design Guide and Design Review Panel and felt past mistakes had resulted in the current crisis in housing.
Other points were made on the lack of accessible public transport leading to social isolation and loneliness in old age. There was also discussion of the need for green spaces in new developments, and for a better understanding at central government level of the development needs of communities like South West Surrey.
Councillor Andy Macleod suggested that the town council might organise a special event to bring the townspeople together to hear their views about actions to make Farnham the healthy place they would all wish to live in.
Debbie Sorkin told the meeting how impressed she was by the contributions to the meeting and by the passion participants obviously felt about their ambitions for Farnham to be a great place to live.
She later said: “I was delighted to see not only the commitment that people around the table have to Farnham but also the wealth of ideas for making it an even better place to live. In systems leadership, we always say ‘start anywhere and follow it everywhere’. I have no doubt that the Farnham group is more than ready to start.”