IT WAS interesting – but worrying – to hear the current suggestion that Surrey should become a unitary authority.
The structure of local government has been debated many times in the past and I remember the days before Waverley became a middle tier in 1974, employing the current 470 staff and with 57 councillors who all receive allowances.
Everything seemed to work very well when we just had an urban district council in Haslemere and the county council in Surrey.
The UDC had many more powers and with clerks being lawyers, with a designated engineer for the town and dustcarts owned by each local council, problems were addressed far more quickly.
I can recall reporting a bad pothole at 9am as I took my daughter to nursery school and it was mended by midday when I collected her!
Nowadays you are lucky if things are done within months and Haslemere, being at the very edge of three counties, is particularly badly served.
There was even an occasion when one of our mayors rang Surrey to report something and was told she should be ringing West Sussex! It just shows Haslemere’s poor standing in the eyes of Surrey and it is not helped that County Hall is actually sited in London.
It was at the time groups of us were involved in trying to save the Royal Surrey from closure early in the 2000s that we became aware how Surrey itself is composed of two wholly different areas.
In the north there are many more towns and villages with urban housing and higher populations and roads are far more crowded. This area is completely alien to the rural countryside found south of Guildford.
The hospital authorities were trying to downgrade RSCH and make us travel to Frimley Park or St Peter’s, Chertsey, both around 24 miles away. Thank goodness common sense prevailed and we kept our hospital.
But we realised then that our part of Surrey is completely cut off from the populous north who barely know of our existence.
If Surrey became a unitary authority things would probably be even worse, particularly as it is very unlikely that, with such a move, Haslemere Town Council would be granted more devolved powers.
For some reason, despite being just within Haslemere’s boundary, I regularly receive a magazine produced by Chichester District Council and I am always very impressed with the way they consult their residents and seem to be far more efficient than other authorities.
You can tell the minute you exit Surrey and reach West Sussex since the road repairs, safety features and markings, plus verge cutting, are in a far better state than in Surrey.
I would therefore be very happy if the border to Haslemere were to be moved and we could join Fernhurst and Midhurst and the villages which have the same rural feel.
Another big advantage could be that, with great quotas of new housing currently threatening our town, that pressure would presumably be removed and we could be protected by the South Downs National Park.
Worth thinking about?
* By Fay Foster,
Lythe Hill Park, Haslemere