9,450 new homes – what’s your view?

Elmbridge’s Green Belt is under threat from the national government.  It tells the public that it will protect the Green Belt, but privately Westminster puts pressure on local government saying that boroughs must, from 2018, release the Green Belt for housing development if their local plan is older than 2012.

Elmbridge’s local plan was published in 2011 so it cannot be used to protect the Green Belt after 2018 unless a new plan is produced. Also the national government has said that Elmbridge must build 9,450 houses by 2035.  The new plan must show where these new houses will be built, and if not, the national government will step in.

The borough has four basic options: do nothing and the national government will take over; object to the figure of 9,450 which Elmbridge is currently doing; allow developers to build up in certain places or locate areas of the Green Belt where specific development can take place. Building high is also a consideration.

Your opinion counts – give your option here and for background here

Protecting the Green Belt – Building more Homes

Why is Elmbridge Reviewing the Green Belt?

The answer is simple – the national government has changed planning law and Elmbridge has to respond to the various changes.

This costs money and effort which could otherwise be used to improve or extend services or reduce council tax for the people of Elmbridge but unlike like the British government, under our unwritten constitution, Elmbridge is not sovereign so we have to comply with the wishes of the unrepresentative Westminster parliament (37% of the popular vote).  Ultimately, its army is bigger than ours.

New National Planning Laws
In 2012 the national government introduced a radical change in planning law called the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).  It replaced all previous laws, rules and regulations relating to planning in England.  This caused upset across the planning profession and local government too.  There was a distinct possibility that over sixty years of planning practice would be comprehensively trashed.  As problems with the NPPF were exposed, the national government introduced explanatory guidelines for local government to explain its thinking.  This process could not happen overnight.  In fact, it continues through to today and the national government has indicated that more changes are on the way.

How does that affect Elmbridge?
In 2012, it became possible that developers could apply for planning permission and if Elmbridge refused planning permission the developer could win on appeal because the national government’s planning inspectors would use the new NPPF as the basis of their decision not Elmbridge’ policies.

Elmbridge Responds
As the dust settled, Elmbridge quickly reviewed all of its own adopted planning policies and associated documents to ensure that they complied with the new laws.  Some of Elmbridge’s planning policies only came into force a few months before the publication of the NPPF and were considered compliant with the new NPPF.  Where there was doubt about whether Elmbridge policies were complaint with the NPPF the process of change was put in place.  For the moment, Elmbridge’s Green Belt policy was considered safe.  Despite this, all Elmbridge policies adopted before the NPPF were reviewed on a regular basis to check their compliance.  Not least because the national government was continually introducing new guidances and rules.

Elmbridge’s Housing Requirements
There are many things that the British government requires Elmbridge to do before the borough can set its own plan for Elmbridge.  One of these is an assessment of the need for housing in Elmbridge – both in terms of the number of new houses (or flats) and their size.  In requiring Elmbridge to assess its housing need, the national government did not say how it should be done or what should be considered but it did require that Elmbridge was objective in its assessing housing need (OAN).  Nevertheless, Elmbridge must produce a figure for the number of new homes required by 2035.  Elmbridge has published its Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) and the independently derived figure is 9,450 new homes – about the same number of households currently in Weybridge.  This new figure is over twice the number produced by Elmbridge’s previous SHMA.  The borough’s current local plan does not cater for such a large increase in houses in Elmbridge – a new local plan is required.

More housing changes ahead
Although originally the national government allowed local government to provide their objectively assessed housing need using their own methodology, it now states that there must be one nationally set method for assessing need.  When the national government introduces this new method sometime in the future (date unknown) Elmbridge will have to undertake a new OAN.  This could mean that our current figure of 9,450 new households could be substantially increased (or it could fall but that is less likely).

What would happen if the borough did nothing?
It is very likely that many, if not all, of Elmbridge’s planning decisions will be overturned by the national government.  For example, the recent planning application 2016/2217 for a development of over 1,000 houses, known as Drake Park, between Walton and Molesey, on a large area of green belt.  This was robustly refused by the borough at a meeting on 21 November 2016.  It is likely that the developers will take this to appeal, and one of the main reasons the borough’s decision might be upheld is because we are preparing a revised local plan.

If we do nothing, the national government will declare Elmbridge’s current local plan policies non-compliant with the NPPF and take over planning decisions, which would mean a free-for-all for developers.  As a result (and this has already happened in some areas of the country), all refusals by Elmbridge borough of planning permission, when taken to appeal, would almost inevitably be allowed by the national government’s planning inspectorate.

Furthermore, in those circumstances the costs will almost inevitably have to be borne by Elmbridge local tax payers by means of higher council tax and/or reduced services.  Such applications would be judged only against the NPPF without any reference to any local planning policies or guidelines.  If the borough develops a revised local plan there will be particular local policies which would have to be applied in addition to those in the NPPF.  That is what the current Strategic Options Local Plan consultation is all about.

What is Green Belt?
Many people think that the Green Belt is countryside and the countryside is Green Belt.  Nationally, most of the countryside is not designated Green Belt and in Elmbridge we have many buildings in the Green Belt: offices, houses, schools, colleges, oil depots, sport halls, shops, stations, hotels and more.  Much of the Green Belt is private and the average person may not walk in it or even see it at a distance.

Much of Elmbridge’s countryside is already protected by planning law: sites of special scientific interest, sites of nature conservation importance, conservation areas, local nature reserves, strategic views, ancient woodlands, flood plains, areas of special historic interest and Whiteley protection among other protections.  Often these create greater protection than Green Belt.

But for Elmbridge Green Belt is very important.  Its main function is to stop the coalescence of our towns.  In this regard, it has mainly succeeded.  There are fourteen possible coalescence corridors within Elmbridge – the perceived experience of leaving a town entering the countryside and entering the neighbouring town:  five are well protected, six are reasonably protected (but could be better) and three have no countryside between them (Weybridge-Walton, Walton-Hersham and Ditton-Molesey).  Externally, Ditton has no countryside between it and Surbiton.

In the south of the borough the Green Belt has another role: that of giving a sense of open country – although this is not specifically mentioned in the NPPF.

How do we plan for this number of new houses?
More than half of Elmbridge is covered by Green Belt and as we know, most of the rest of the area has been increasingly urbanised, many would say to capacity.  About 3,500 houses could be probably be built on sites which are known about or allowed for (that is, sites which have been identified by developers and interested parties, allowance for ‘windfall’ sites, backland development etc).  That leaves a shortfall of around 6,000 (the same number incidentally as the ‘affordable’ or social housing which is needed within the borough).  Where are we going to find the space for all these houses?

If we leave the Green Belt entirely untouched we will have to consider more intensive development in existing urban areas, for example, replicating what is going to happen in Kingston and other parts of London, and building upwards.  Are we happy to have multi-storey blocks of flats in our towns, thus altering the character of our area while we leave land designated Green Belt (some of which may not be particularly attractive) untouched?  The additional houses will have to go somewhere.  The borough is required by the national government to review and consider the Green Belt when updating the local plan to take account of the increased assessed housing need.

On the other hand, we could cater for the extra 6,000 households until 2035 by building sixteen town centre housing developments similar in size to the Heart in Walton: two in each of the borough’s towns and one each in Claygate and Oxshott.  In this case, no Green Belt will be touched and, physically, 95% of the borough would remain no different but there will be infrastructure consequences whatever we do.

Elmbridge’s Green Belt Consultation
The national government’s view on housing assessments.
National Policy on the Green Belt

Liberal Democrats say NO to 15% increase

Liberal Democrat County Councillors strongly oppose the proposal to increase the county council element of the council tax by 15% and have launched a petition against it, which has already been signed by hundreds of Surrey residents.

The petition will send a message to the county hall and national government that the tax is unfair, unaffordable and an incorrect way of addressing the crisis of adult social care.

If approved this unprecedented increase would trigger a county-wide referendum.  A yes vote will increase the cost of council tax considerably but still not avoid savage cuts to essential services.   A no vote would result in even more cuts, with the elderly and those on fixed incomes hit hardest.

Irrespective of the outcome it will still mean substantial increases in charges and cuts to services  even including the closing of the county’s alzheimer centres, now needed more than ever.

The urgent need to fund adult social care needs a long term solution from national government in close co-operation with the NHS, not this suggested temporary sticking plaster.

The Conservatives at both national and county levels have clearly failed Surrey residents and a better answer needs to be provided.

Please sign the petition now at: https://signme.org.uk/1304

Also ask family and friends to support this initiative.   Thank you.

Posted in Tax

New benefits for Elmbridge car parks

Car parking in Elmbridge is amongst the most contentious issues the Council has to deal with. Until now all car parks have been treated in the same manner across the borough regardless of their circumstances.

Now, thanks to an in-depth study, led by Liberal Democrat Councillor Andrew Davis, portfolio holder for Highways and Transport, a more thoughtful approach is being taken to the benefit of car park users and local business.

The study found that all cars parks are not equal.  Some are heavily used and others not, a number even declining in custom.   A major finding indicated that car parks should be treated as an integral part of the local community infrastructure.  This has led to a revised and more sympathetic charging policy to encourage users to spend more time in the area to help local trade. As a result car parks in the Dittons, Molesey and Hersham will enjoy free short stay parking on a Saturday to help increase shopping in those areas. In addition all town and village car parks in the borough will be free for the four Saturdays before Christmas for the same reason. The policy will be reviewed after nine months and adjusted as necessary.

For the particular benefit of residents and other users, monthly season tickets, contactless payment facilities and pay-on-exit schemes will be introduced.

It is estimated that the cost for free parking around the year in the nominated car parks will be £14-16,000 for 2017.  This is seen as an acceptable investment to help both Elmbridge residents and traders.

Money has also been agreed for the improved up keep of car parks and to provide temporary arrangements to offset restricted parking while repairs are undertaken in Drewitts Court car park in Walton.

Aren’t we lucky living in a representative democracy

Of course, I am referring to the European Union not Britain.  Unlike the European parliament, the British parliament is clearly unrepresentative.  If we had had a representative government in Britain we would not have had the referendum.  Even though UKIP would have gained around 85 seats and even if they worked directly with the Conservative Party they would not have had the majority necessary to to introduce one.

Campaign with us

Our three top campaigns are

No to a hard Brexit

Elmbridge, Surrey and South East England all voted to remain in Europe.  The other options offered by the Brexiteers are proving to be figments of their imagination.  Join us in protecting Britain from the unthinking slow decline that the Brexiteers offer.

No to Heathrow Expansion

No other country in the development world has decided to built or expand an airport to the west of a major city.  Heathrow is in the wrong place and the proposals fail to address the  problems of pollution that it already causes nor is the sufficient plans infrastructure to make make the expansion work.

Strengthen health and social care

We need a combined heath and social care programme sustainable funded.

Could Richmond Park be repeated in Elmbridge?

sarah-olneyZac Goldsmith resigned as MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston because of his opposition to the planned third runway at Heathrow. But he was ultimately ousted in the by-election by the largely ‘remain’ electorate for his uncompromising stance as a ‘hard Brexiter’. The Lib Dem candidate Sarah Olney won the seat having gained support not just from Lib Dem voters, but also from a large number of pro-Europe Tories and Labour supporters in the constituency.
Could the same happen in Elmbridge? Disappointingly our MP Dominic Raab does not represent our views on Europe, after all 60% of us in the constituency are pro remain. Add to that his staunchly pro-Heathrow expansion stand and he is even less ‘our man’ in Parliament.
There are interesting indications of growing unhappiness in Elmbridge about this state of affairs. People are perturbed by the indifference Mr Raab is showing toward the majority’s views whilst promoting visions of ‘a paradise’ outside the EU. His widely publicised opposition to Parliamentary scrutiny is also puzzling for any democrat.
As the local Liberal Democrat party we have seen increasing numbers of now ex Tory (and Labour) supporters approach us with the question ‘can we not come together as a progressive force to ensure that our views are more fairly represented?’ It is heartening to note that pro-European citizens have not been silenced by the mis-representations and intimidation that emanate from the hard-Brexit camp. So our response is ‘yes, let’s work together’.

Affordable Housing for Elmbridge

monopoly_housesElmbridge’s new Liberal Democrat led administration is developing plans to increase the number of affordable and social homes across the borough.  There is much planning to do before significant results can be seen.  However, the borough hopes to bring forward a scheme for 38 new affordable homes, subject to the agreement of the borough’s council on Wednesday, 7 December.

Should Dominic Raab MP resign?

european-union-flag-1024x7681Last Thursday (27 October) Dominic Raab MP held a meeting for local residents in Claygate. With 60% of his constituents having voted ‘remain’ in the June referendum the audience was keen to hear whether Mr Raab would have a reassuring message to offer. This was not the case and one audience member asked Mr Raab if it was a matter of honour for him to resign as he does not represent his constituents’ views fairly. Here are some audience reactions after the event:

  • Mr Raab, you made rather light of the roughly 20% drop in the pound. While this has some compensations in making British industry more competitive, if as seems likely it persists, it will have the inevitable result of boosting inflation probably into the 3-4% area for several years, which will erode British living standards. These things tend not to strike home right away, but over time a drop in the value of the currency gets reflected in the purchasing power of ordinary people.
  • You do not believe the British parliament will be able to veto the Article 50 submission, scrutinise yes, but no veto. This leaves the future of our country in a very narrow set of hands from within parliament!
  • You were keenly focussed on today’s data…. GDP (better than expected), the FTSE (highs), inflation (just 1%). But made no recognition of the future… inflation is clearly on the rise, hiring intentions are falling, and the FTSE is so high because the international earnings are translating into more pounds.
  • Mr Raab, your dismissive attitude to people who oppose you, your ideological fanaticism focusing on ‘deals’ and increasing tendency to play the man not the ball have stiffened my resolve to continue the fight. I was encouraged by the lack of substantive contributions made by your ‘fan club’…just a series of braying noises on cue when an opponent dared to challenge their hero, which sadly led you to go on repeating ‘the truth is..!
  • I was uncomfortable with the way you slyly used your supporters against your critics. You were  happy to mock people opposed to your views and used emotive language when talking about refugees – on the one hand using numbers of Syrian children into this country to show some mock humanitarian gesture – you in fact voted AGAINST the children coming here.
  • You just did not take seriously any of the ordinary mothers’ concerns about the future opportunities for their children after Brexit. Neither did you for that matter consider it worth while to consider what is already happening in small and medium sized business – layoffs throughout the supply chain.
  • On the day when the Banking Association told us that some banks are planning to re-locate as early as December you were cock-sure they would not have any place in Europe to go to.
  • You also stated that a good deal was likely because it would be in the economic interest of both Britain and EU countries to have one. I suggest that you are being naïve in the extreme. The western world these is days is riddled with anti-trade, anti-globalisation, protectionist sentiment. These elements are essentially irrational and unable to properly assess such self-interest and are likely to have their way irrespective of the economic self-interest that perhaps more reasonable people might perceive.
  • By the same token the ‘spite’ that you referred to could also easily prevail. History suggests that human being very often take decisions for reasons such as national pride, religious allegiance and many others that have nothing to do with economics. In my view the decision made in the recent Brexit referendum is itself an example of just such a tendency.
  • You also glossed over the potential challenges of the UK joining the WTO. Although Roberto Azevêdo the current director general does not see a problem with it does not alter the fact unanimous approval is required may delay matters and the UK may need to jump through hoops and make messy compromises in order to eventually achieve membership.
  • Could you possibly avoid repeating “the truth is…”, when it is not a truth.
  • May I suggest you should tone down your remarks about the strength of the economy. I predict yesterday’s growth figures will be revised downwards in due course and we will remind you of your optimism if this is the case. You brushed off a 20% devaluation, which in earlier generations would have seen a government fall.
  • You mentioned Glaxo’s increase in profits as evidence. They are of course higher as its revenues are in foreign currency and the pound goes down 20%. That does not show a strong economy; it just demonstrates that Glaxo is a good hedge against sterling.
  • You also brushed off questions about what you would do, if the government fails to achieve the optimistic Brexit you outlined. You should seriously consider what interim arrangements could be put in place once the two-year article 50 time is up to cover Britain until permanent arrangements can be agreed.
  • You talked up worse case scenario being WTO rules and the EU external tariff as “not that bad and potentially more advantageous than we have now”. You are completely blind to the rhetoric coming from EU leaders, such as Francois Holland, saying that Britain will need to pay the price for leaving the EU. How do you think that means we’ll have a better trading relationship with the EU than we do now?
  • You repeated the Brexit line that the EU needs trade with us more than we need trade with them (German cars.. etc) but that has widely been dismissed in Europe as nonsense. We represent about 9% of German car exports so yes they will feel pain over Brexit, but they aren’t going to sacrifice the four EU principles over that. The EU takes something like 45% of our total exports so they hold all the cards in this negotiation.
  • Please don’t forget that people in Elmbridge did not vote for Brexit and the country did not vote to become poorer. Whenever you mention trade, also mention services. That is how Elmbridge mainly earns its living.

Fighting hate crime

Mary MarshallProposed by Liberal Democrat councillor Mary Marshall, Elmbridge Borough Council passed the motion below at its meeting on 20 July 2016:

“We are proud to live in a diverse and tolerant society. Racism, xenophobia and hate crimes have no place in our country. We, Elmbridge Borough Council, condemn racism, xenophobia and hate crimes unequivocally. We will not allow hate to become acceptable.

“Elmbridge Borough Council will work to ensure local bodies and programmes have the support and resources needed to fight and prevent racism and xenophobia. We reassure all people living in Elmbridge that they are valued members of our community.”

Elmbridge has a long established history of promoting and developing a robust Equality and Diversity agenda. It was the first Borough in Surrey to set up a borough-based Equality and Diversity Forum in 2007, which comprises representatives from statutory, voluntary, community and faith sector organisations as well as individuals with an interest in equality and diversity issues in Elmbridge.

The forum remit covers all areas where inequality and discrimination may exist and includes older people, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, sexual orientation and transgender identity, as well as other broader equality issues. Its mission statement is “to promote equality, celebrate diversity and support good relations in Elmbridge”.