Interviews

Karen Whelan, Chief Executive of Surrey Heath Borough Council, shares her views on the development and on the council’s wider development agenda.

One of the key objectives for any local authority is to deliver new homes and amenities for the local community. The Mindenhurst development is obviously very significant for SHBC as it offers an opportunity to deliver 1,200 much-needed new homes. These homes are essential both in terms of serving the needs of the existing community and in terms of attracting new residents to the area.

A project of this scale offers a unique opportunity to deliver a real community – not just a housing estate – and our job as a local authority is to oversee that and to ensure a positive outcome for both the development and for the community as a whole.

Over the years, we have worked closely with both the military and civilian communities to bring them together, and to try and create a lasting legacy so that there isn’t a huge void when the military community eventually decants. We have undertaken initiatives such as a joint garden using both Community Covenant and SHBC funding at the Hampton Court Flower Show, where both communities working together have created a Deepcut Garden which the military will be able to take with them when they leave.

The military are very much part of the fabric of this community, which is why there is an extra onus both on us as a local authority and the developers to make sure that the new development is genuinely integrated with the existing community so that there is no void left. The military has made a huge contribution to local life at Deepcut and we are very keen to ensure that the community that replaces it is just as engaged and integrated.

If developers take time to understand the community then they have the opportunity to deliver something meaningful, which is genuinely different and which makes a genuine contribution to the existing community – and this is what I believe is being achieved here.

I remember when we first looked at the planning for the site, I was struck by the passion of the local people. They were all very engaged and had a lot to say about its future. As a local authority that is positive and very helpful rather than having disengaged residents. It makes it even more important that their views are heard and taken on board.

Our aim has been to take on local concerns and deliver a truly integrated and sustainable community with good standards of design and great public realm, to deliver on our promise to the community.

The locals have invested their time and effort in making their views heard and in engaging with the process. We have to repay that investment and deliver a development which reflects their views.

SHBC are in the process of updating their Local Plan, which includes a commitment to deliver new homes and community facilities. We are about to launch a call for development which will hopefully bring some more sites on stream to continue to support and encourage best-in-class development throughout the borough.