COUNCIL leader Sean Woodward has sparked fury by saying hundreds of anti-Welborne protest letters carry no great weight.
The controversial scheme to build 6,000 homes north of Fareham attracted 633 letters with only 21 in support.
But Cllr Woodward (pictured below) said that because most (82 per cent) were from the same template – that originated from the Funtley Village Society – they are not as important.
He said: ‘People have taken the trouble to send a letter but the vast majority of them did not take the time to write a letter. Sending is one thing but simply letter signing is another.’
Members of the Funtley Village Society said Cllr Woodward was being dismissive and claimed he was trying to discredit their work as he is shocked by the numbers.
Ruth Saunders, who put together the template letters, said: ‘It is ridiculous. It still shows that all those residents felt strongly enough to object. You can’t be that dismissive.’
Cllr Woodward said he always advises people the best way to object to any plan is to write an original letter, as these carry more weight.
He also said it was normal for people to write in objection, as people rarely write in support.
Funtley Village Society chairman Ed Morell rejected the claims, saying the letters showed how successful the society had been.
Mr Morell said: ‘The number of objections clearly demonstrates an overwhelming opposition to Welborne, that’s a fact.
‘The sheer number showed that our campaign to get people engaged worked because a significant number used our template.’
Society member Adrian Saunders said: ‘We put a lot of work of in. They [the council] are a little bit embarrassed by it, we do seem to have the people on our side.’
Mr Morell added: ‘The whole process was incredibly complicated and a vast majority of these people would not have responded purely because the council made it too complicated to do so.’
Funtley Village Society held a meeting in March to inform people of how to object and more than 100 people turned up.
The Welborne plan will be independently examined by a planning inspector this summer who will check it for soundness before saying whether the council can proceed. If the plan is found to be ‘sound’ it will be adopted by the council at the end of the year.
As part of the planning inspector’s report, he will be looking at letters sent to the council during its consultation period.
According to a Freedom of Information request, 633 letters were sent to be considered in the report – 21 in support, two with no observation and 610 objecting.