Last night in Arundel around 200 people from the town and beyond came along to hear the developers speak for the first time in public.
Harold Hall did about half an hour, essentially reading out their website which they'd turned into a powerpoint presentation for the evening. John Penfold and Tony Dixon were silent for this part, as was the representative of the Vision Group - one of the landowners who answered one or two questions later. Gary Pleasants who will be leading the Developer's so-called consultation process was there too, but remained unintroduced to the public.
The audience were asked not to interrupt, but were allowed to laugh at some of the Ford Enterprise Hub's more hilarious claims. In particular their claim to want to consult and involve the local communities got a big laugh - presumably it was soon apparent that there was a huge majority in the Hall vehemently against their proposals. Mr Hall said that they would be announcing consultation dates "next week".
The CAFE Group then had their chance, and Terry Knott introduced Vicky, Derek and me - we spoke on Planning, Transport and Business/Employment issues respectively. I also helped Mr Hall's memory by revealing that their consultation dates were 19 - 21 June. Barely a week before the end of the Government's planning process, hardly demonstrating a genuine interest in what other people think.
The presentations were followed by questions from the public - no questions were asked critical of the CAFE campaign; highlights of the questions asked for me were:
From an engineer who is involved professionally with the development and provision of renewable energy sources, "How far have you progressed with the feasability studies for the energy sources you proposed?" The response from Mr Hall was to criticise the questioner's lack of 'vision' as a professional'. My personal understanding was that they have only got to the ideas stage, and have no idea what it would cost or how practical it might be.
From another member of the public, "How much profit do the Developers expect to make from this?" A good question which they might have simply declined to answer, but instead they simply said that they have not the faintest idea! They couldn't explain how, therefore, they were going to know if they could afford the infrastructure.
When the claim was made that we should build this town for the sake of future generations, one schoolboy spoke up to say that he preferred being able to walk out amongst the natural habitat' and said he didn't want it built on! I've seen a great photo he has taken of some lizards out on the site - so a naturalist of the future!
Other questions focussed on the impact of building in an area where water drainage was key; suspicions that the development would not stop at 5,000 houses; the destruction of valuable arable land; and the adverse impact on the local economy and redevelopment of Bognor and Littlehampton.
Susan did very well collecting contributions and petition signatures towards the cause - this will really help us get the message out, and we've got lots of posters on order now!
Bizarrely John Penfold contributed 50p to the CAFE fund on his way out - I asked if he was hedging his bets so that he could claim to have backed the winning side.
I asked Tony Dixon to sign the CAFE petition, but he declined. Perhaps he has forgotten his statement that 'the mind is like an umbrella, it works best when open'? I saw no sign that the fact that, apart from one or two lone voices who left early, the whole room thought that their ideas were wrong had sunk into the Ford Enterprise Hub team at all.