At Horsham District Council’s meeting on December 11, councillor Sheila Matthews (Ind, Henfield) said ‘...I assume the vast silent majority support the way Horsham District is evolving and becoming the place to be’, in response to the report that 1,861 responses were received to the recent consultation on housing and industrial/commercial development Preferred Strategy, almost all in opposition.
Councillor Matthews has no basis and no right to ‘assume’ the views of residents match her own and so claim ‘majority support’. I expect this claim will give many voters concern.
People have views whether they had a letter/form counted in the formal responses or not, and those views may be strongly opposed. A recent report concluded that it is difficult to persuade people to make a direct response in consultations and response rates have fallen significantly.
Their study involved pollsters actually contacting people individually - even with that level of interaction the response rate was only nine per cent in 2012, down from 36 per cent in 1997 (Pew Research ‘Assessing the representativeness of Public Opinion Surveys’ May 2012).
Comparing response rates to other councils’ consultations over their ‘Preferred’ or ‘Proposed Strategy’ shows that the level of responses in Horsham was not ‘low’:
Horsham – (population) 131,000, (individual responses) 1,861, (percentage) 1.42; Stroud – 113,000, 1,973, 1.74; Gateshead – 200,300, 1,098, 0.55; Chichester – 114,000, 4,968, 4.36; Waverley – 121,800, 2,012, 1.16.
These councils were randomly selected.
To interpret the comparison response rates have to be related to whether each council made a real effort to inform their residents through exhibitions, public meetings, drop-in centres etc.
Horsham District Council took virtually no action to communicate with voters during its consultation but even so the response from local residents was higher than in Waverley (near Guildford).
The leader councillor Dawe refused to hold a town meeting or even respond to a formal letter from residents inviting him to do so.
The council made minimum effort to hold exhibitions or set up drop-in centres with staff on hand. This was a stark contrast to the West of Horsham housing development when HDC put massive energy into public consultation – even stationing officers outside Tesco – yet responses were only about 3,000.
Primrose Copse, Horsham