It is wrong to dismiss value of letters of objection

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It’s either a brave or foolhardy public figure who disregards a popular – in both senses of the word – protest because a letter has been photocopied.

But that is what Sean Woodward, the leader of Fareham Borough Council, has done in his apparent disregard for many of the 600-plus objections received to the proposed new town of Welborne.

Cllr Woodward’s view is that because many of these letters are from a template, they do not carry as much weight as if they had been handwritten. Unfortunately, this is both wrong and insulting.

We could understand if he was talking about the result of, say, a web poll, which could easily be manipulated by interest groups clicking away.

But as far as can be ascertained, these letters are all from people who genuinely have objections to the development. This letter was put together to express objections as clearly as possible – many may well have decided that it phrased things more succinctly than they could and have decided therefore to use the template..

And in any case, surely Cllr Woodward is not suggesting that a 633-signature petition would only represent one person’s view on a cause? The principle is untenable.

This is not about the rights and the wrongs of Welborne – a project which does have many aspects to recommend it – this is about how a much-vaunted consultation is carried out and to what extent residents’ voices are heard.

One of the main grievances put forward in the last couple of years about Welborne has been about the council-run consultations – there were gripes about the phrasing of questions and the length of time given to consultations, as for example one survey in 2012 was only run for a month during the summer, and another had no option to object to the scheme in its entirety.

While we accept that, as Cllr Woodward points out, objectors to developments tend to shout louder than those in favour, when faced with objectors who have genuinely-held fears that a process has not been accountable democratic, the answer is not to be less accountable and democratic. That is not only an unwise political decision but one that is incorrect.