Kings Pond has rightly dominated the headlines of the Herald recently as out-of-touch councillors seemingly forge ahead with proposals to replace the site with what was described on the letters page as “a smelly bog”, writes Anthony Furnival.

Those opposing the plans have become further enraged this week by the public consultation which many feel has deprived them of democratic equality, while others have berated the questionnaire both for what has been included and what has not.

A serious omission surrounds the indicative costings for the project which remain masked in the depths of the new management report with no meaningful explanation as to how the works will be funded.

There has been failure to consult the public on whether they believe the proposals represent good value for money, with some furious that over quarter of a million pounds may be spent without residents first being asked whether this vast expense is justifiable.

Further bemusement has been caused by the lack of questions and meaningful information available on the impact to wildlife.

This has resulted in residents being consulted without first having the resources to reach an informed judgement.

There can be no doubt the failure of the report writers to assess the impact to wildlife has rendered their plan unfit for purpose and to consult on such a document is a ludicrous and flawed undertaking.

The only wildlife question included seeks views on the population of geese. Cllr Suzie Burns has shown a relentless obsession with a goose cull and having had her plans blocked by fellow councillors at last November’s Open Spaces meeting, now seeks to justify them through uninformed public feedback.

With no context provided to the question or information offered on the difference between resident and migratory numbers, let alone flock characteristics of the birds, it is impossible for this question to be answered fairly.

For the avoidance of doubt, the “humane cull” proposed is anything but. The process is to wait until the geese moult their feathers – a time when the birds will feel vulnerable having lost the defence of flight.

They are then herded into a pen where they are left waiting in distress, as one by one they are picked out and have their necks broken or are shot. It is nothing short of barbaric.

There has been an over-reliance on the Bio Blitz results – a survey completed on a single day in the summer of 2021 which does not account for seasonal fluctuations and variations experienced at Kings Pond.

Further, having counted four swans at a time when there were only three, concerns have been raised over the accuracy of the remaining statistical data in this report and its value as a consultation document.

A common objection noted in my engagement with locals is the omission of questions relating to views on the pond as it is.

The failure of the council to understand what residents currently value or dislike at the pond will invariably mean the process has been unsuccessful in attempting to understand public feeling.

Where respondents oppose proposals, they are asked to order their preference for five alternative options. With insufficient explanations as to what each choice entails and how it will benefit the pond, some feel they are being consulted without fully understanding what they were being asked to rank.

Others stated that alternative options had not been included and suggested the system forced them to score activities which they morally opposed, such as feeding bans and a goose cull.

The final question on the consultation offered respondents the opportunity to be kept up to date with a proposed ranger-led volunteer group in exchange for entering an email address.

This has raised concerns that the anonymity normally associated with a consultation response has been compromised, while others suggest this leaves respondents susceptible to council coercion.

Criticism also surrounds the length of the consultation – which at six weeks is the shortest available under Local Government Association guidelines.

Given the scope and cost of the project, it has been suggested a longer consultation period should have been offered to ensure everyone affected would have a chance to respond.

With just three small and easily-missed posters at Kings Pond, Alton Town Council have been accused of failing to appropriately publicise the proposals and public consultation.

With a cost of more than £250,000 and the irreversible nature of the plans, some have asked whether the council should have conducted a leaflet drop to local addresses to ensure all residents have the chance to respond, rather than manufacturing an undemocratic path of least opposition.

While the council have produced a ‘frequently asked questions’ page, it has been labelled as biased. Many legitimate concerns have been dismissed as having “no evidence” to support them, despite the opposite being true.

Equally, comments which support the works, including suggestions it will be better for wildlife, have been portrayed as being unequivocally true, without merit for such claims.

Councils are duty bound to carry out their duties with integrity, but this simply isn’t happening and there is a genuine concern the ‘frequently asked questions’ page is deceptive and designed to quell opposition.

The posters have also come under scrutiny for their poor quality of information, as no location was noted for where the ‘interactive sessions’ would be held.

The sessions have been criticised for being just an hour in length, and three out of the four of them fall on weekdays during normal working hours, severely limiting the opportunity of many people to engage with councillors.

There has also been fury that separate members of households are being prohibited from having a say, as the programme used by Alton Town Council permits only one response per IP address, meaning that at a single residence, occupants who should all be entitled to a voice are being denied the fundamental freedoms of democracy expression.

While it is impossible to fathom how the current crop of councillors can bounce back from this latest act of faux democracy, it is clear the farcical public consultation process continues to drive the council and residents further apart.

With emotions ranging from anger to despair, there can be no doubt that many feel dissatisfied with the consultation process.

Despite its flaws, those who oppose the heinous plans for Kings Pond must still respond in order that voices are heard.

Anthony Furnival