Heatherside travellers ‘catalyst’ for planned residents’ association

Residents set up a meeting at Heatherside Recreation Ground to create the group after the traveller incursion at the site caused 'a lot of upheaval and upset.

Campaigners in Camberley’s Heatherside ward want to establish a residents’ association, partly in response to a recent traveller incursion.

An initial meeting of 13 residents was held on Tuesday last week (June, 23) at Heatherside Recreation Ground where, just a week earlier, a group of travellers in a convoy of 30 caravans departed after a four-day encampment, leaving the borough council with a £10,000 clean-up bill.

After notices on social media and a mail-drop in the neighbourhood, around 50 people attended a follow-up meeting at Heatherside’s Wheatsheaf pub on Tuesday night and voted unanimously in favour of setting up a residents’ association.

Organiser Kirsty North, a Heatherside resident for 10 years, said the idea emerged in February but the incursion acted as a "catalyst".

Mrs North added an association covering the whole ward, including Cheylesmore Park and Amber Hill, would give people a stronger voice in dealing with Surrey Heath Borough Council (SHBC) and keep them better-informed of developments.

She said it would tackle other issues such as the location of the play area on Heatherside Green, the maintenance of this play area and the one in Cheylesmore Park, and incidents of antisocial behaviour by young people.

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“The people at the meeting were really engaged and keen to set up a residents’ association,” Mrs North said.

“It would be a great step forward because we want to work with councillors to create a better community.

“There is not much wrong with Heatherside, just a few niggles. Rather than everyone whining and nothing getting done, an association would see residents come together to sort things out.

“People have been talking about changes, but it’s about having the guts to do it.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mrs North expressed an interest in becoming chairman of the association, and fellow Heatherside residents John Dolbear, Katherine Sergeant and Caroline Hibberd put their names forward for the roles of vice-chairman, secretary and treasurer.

An official vote will take place at the association’s first annual general meeting, provisionally scheduled for September 1.

In the meantime a website and Facebook page will be set up, and another public meeting arranged for Tuesday July 21.

“After another clean sweep for the Conservatives in the borough elections, residents are more willing to hold the council to account by asking what they are getting for their taxes,” Mrs North said.

“We don’t doubt that they are doing things for the local community, but we want to better understand what those things are.

“For example, how did they handle the traveller incursion and what steps would be taken if they come back?”

Surrey Heath borough councillor Ian Cullen, who represents Heatherside ward, was at Tuesday’s meeting and told the audience he would support a properly-formed residents’ association.

Speaking to the News & Mail, he said: “I think it’s a very good idea and I welcome it as long as they are all on the same side.

“Instead of lots of people thinking something should be done, an association can get together and come up with a firm idea of what they want to be done.

“It’s better to go that way than to just grumble, which doesn’t achieve anything and can often be inaccurate.

“It’s not difficult for people to communicate their thoughts and wishes to the council. All channels are open and those who contact us directly usually get the response they need.

“But if we don’t know about the problem, we can’t do anything about it.”

Mr Cullen accepted the travellers’ incursion had caused ‘a lot of upheaval and upset’ in Heatherside, but said the incident had been ‘very well handled’ by the council, adding that SHBC and Surrey Police ‘could not have done better’ in managing the situation.

“The council knows what the issues are in Heatherside and its officers are trying to find the necessary legal answers,” he said.

“I think Surrey Heath is well-served by the council, which is incredibly hard-working.”

The authority announced on Friday that it was increasing security at the recreation ground to prevent a repeat of the incursion.

The new measures include installing ‘dragon’s teeth’ barriers or ‘kissing gates’ to stop vehicles getting on to the green via footpaths; replacing some of the bollards with stronger versions; and adding extra bollards in the gap next to the toilet block.

A spokesman for SHBC, said: “The council is keen to stress that, even with these new measures in place, making the site completely incursion-proof without significantly compromising the park’s aesthetics and accessibility to the public is extremely difficult.

“However, these extra measure should go some way in discouraging any future incursion attempts.”

Graham Tapper, who set up an online petition calling for increased security for the green at petitions.surreyheath.gov.uk/Heatherside .

Rec said the council’s warning was ‘completely ludicrous’ and ‘shows how out of touch the council are with residents’.

Source: GetSurrey

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