Is Question Time Intentionally Biased?

Many people complain about the political mix on the BBC’s panel shows; Question Time and Any Questions.  Indeed, it is difficult to understand the basis upon which the panelists are chosen.  I think it would serve the BBC to be open in relation to its selection methodology.

The BBC not only fails to convince that its mix between parties is fair but, in my view, it falls into the trap of being Westminster centric.  This failure over the decades has been a contributing factor in the Brexit result.  The reason is that they both overwhelmingly concentrate on one level of government.  We have four levels of government in this country (I’ll put parishes to one side because they are usually considered non-party political): Europe; Britain; upper local tier; and, lower local tier.  Each week AQ and QT should have one person from each of these tiers.  As QT has five members on its panel it can have a wild card as well.

One might think that by having a specific formula for the panelists the vigour would go out of the debate.  Far from it.  I think that reverse would be true.  There would be a welcome injection of fresh perspectives.  There are around 30,000 politicians in Britain and for each place in the panel there would be a variety of people to chose from.  The methodology below would simply provide a group of people for each panelist chair from which the producers could still choose a specific range of people to add sparkle and energy to the debate.  However, the overall mix would reflect the realty of politics today.

Instead of Westminster politicians having the virtual monopoly to lambaste Europe or local government, representatives from the European parliament and local government could counter these often monochrome arguments.

For many people, the outcome of the Brexit vote was caused by Westminster MPs blaming Europe when an informed Martian knows that most of the problems that concerned leave and remain voters alike (NHS, school places, housing, jobs, immigration) were caused by the British government and not by the Scottish parliament, the European parliament or local government.  Yet for decades AQ and QT has not challenged the Westminster monopoly.

My method of choosing panelists would be as follows.

Politicians.  All panelists on QT and AQ should be politicians.  Pundits are interesting but they have not been elected.  They have not been in the position of having to make difficult – sometimes nigh-impossible – choices between options.  Often with little time and insufficient information.

Gender.  Always two women and two men.  In extenuating times the balance could be different but then it should corrected as soon as possible.

Heritage.  The panel should reflect the self-styled make-up of the country.  How people describe themselves ethnically.  Preferably avoiding the catchall word “British” if possible in the categorization.  According to the latest ONS figures, out of every hundred guests: 73 would be English; 7 Scottish; 4 Welsh; 2 Northern Irish (split); 2 Indian; 2 Pakistani; 2 African; 4 other European; and, 4 other world and mixed.

First Panelist – Europe.  This person should be a member of the European parliament and should be selected in proportion to the votes cast in the last election.  Out of every hundred guests for this seat in the panel: 32 should come from the Peoples Party; 27 from the Labour party;  10 from the Conservative party; 10 from the Liberal Democrat party; 8 from the Left party; 8 from the Green party; and, 7 from UKIP.   The interesting aspect of this particular member of the panel is that although the People’s party is the most numerous party in the European Parliament it does not have a single MEP in Britain.  They could provide a very interesting perspective in upcoming debates.

Second Panelist – Britain.  This person should be a member of the British parliament (either house) and should be selected in proportion to the votes cast in the last election. Out of every hundred guests for this seat in the panel: 37 should come from the Conservative Party; 30 from the Labour party; 13 from UKIP; 8 from the Liberal Democrat party; 5 from the SNP; 4 from the Green party; and, 3 from others.

Third Panelist – upper local tier.  This chair of the panel would be chosen from the Scottish parliament, Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies and English counties.  I do not have the resources to work out what the party political proportion would be for this tier but I suspect there would be fewer UKIPers and more Liberal Democrats and independents.

Fourth Panelist – lower local tier.  This chair of the panel would be chosen from the districts and unitaries across Britain.  Again, I do not have the resources to work out what the party political proportion would be for this tier but I suspect it would be similar to the upper tier with proportionally more independents.

Other characterizations.  It is possible to extend these descriptors to cater for age, orientation, faith and disability etc.

Allocation. You might think that with 30,000 politicians in the pool for the two shows the job of allocation would be difficult.  Getting the data into the system is relatively easy. Writing the computer programme to suggest members for each chair would be a simple task for most programmers.  The programme would automatically suggest, say, twenty people for each chair and the producer would select those that would make for the best programme.

I think that rating for the programmes would increase – at the very least, I would begin to watch QT again.

Refuse bins change colour

This takes me back.  My first job after full time education was to be a binman (actually a road-sweep but I got promotion).  Back then one had to hold a skip consisting of two bin-loads on the shoulder – very tough job – only the strongest survived.  Today the heavy lifting is by the bin-lorry itself – but the smell remains the same.

To reduce our refuse collection costs and save £millions in the process, Elmbridge has combined its refuse collection service with three other boroughs.

The first change is that all new non-recycling bins will be grey across all four boroughs to reduce purchase costs.

The current charges for refuse collection varies from borough to borough therefore there will be a transition while we all adopt a standard set of charges.  These will begin in June 2017 when Elmbridge enters the new agreement.

Wheelie bin charges.  The new standard charges for new and replacement wheellie bins is £25 for a 180 litre refuse bin; £30 for a 240 litre bin; and £60 for a 360 litre bin.

Garden Waste Collection Service.  For new subscribers the charges will be £45 for the first wheeled bin and £30 per additional wheeled bin.  For existing customers, it was recommended that the Council set the annual subscription charge at £40.   A concessionary subscriptions would apply.

Special Collection Service. £30 for the first item with a charge of £10 for each additional item.  It was also recommended that a concessionary discounts would apply.

Maintaining your assets

The borough maintains 97 car parks across Elmbridge.  They ranging from our town centres through to our commons.

In becoming portfolio holder for transport in May 2016 Cllr Andrew Davis asked for a current valuation and maintenance programme for all the car parks.  Unfortunately, apart from Drewitt’s Court this had not been undertaken for many years.  Perhaps the previous Conservative administration thought the car parks could mend themselves.

A condition survey was undertaken in 2016 to identify the state of the borough’s car parks and the financial commitments for repairs over the next five years. The full cost to bring the car park up to standard is £13m.

The borough’s obligations relating to Drewitts Court in order to comply with the terms of the existing leases, require that a structural evaluation of the ramp be undertaken immediately and that the repairs be carried out as quickly as possible. It is likely that the full cost will be £1,500,000.

To catch up with the amount of maintenance required for the other car parks the borough plans to spend up to £6m over the next three years.

However, with the high need for social housing, the pressure to build over car parks is high. Not all car parks are suitable but those that are should not given comprehensive repairs until their housing status is known.

Naturally, the order of work and indeed what work will be done will be undertaken with full consultation with local councillors.  A full management programme will be produced for each car park for while they are being reconstructed.  Dewetts Court will take much longer so will have a special plan.  It is likely to begin in January so us not to clash with the Christmas season.

Planning Compliance

One of the four key goals for the new Liberal Democrat/Residents administration was the improvement in planning enforcement.

Two measures have already been put in place: to ensure a more communicative service; and, the redrafting of the Elmbridge’s Planning Enforcement Charter in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The borough is to rename the team as the Planning Compliance Team. This would put greater emphasis on ensuring people complied with plans, conditions and the law, with enforcement being the end result in only the minority of cases.

The new team will have access to a branded vehicle in order to remove incorrectly placed estate agents boards and other illegal advertisements, which they were currently unable to do as easily and regularly using staffs’ own vehicles. In addition, staff will also have their own uniform, in common with other borough staff carrying out compliance activities.

The new team will introduce regular ‘surgeries’ and/or participation in existing events such as Let’s Talk Elmbridge in order to provide a greater and more visible presence with the public.

To achieve this the number of compliance staff will be increased 33%.

 

Mole Valley Conservation

Over the years the Lower Mole Partnership (LMP) has built up a large and enthusiastic volunteer group which has carried out a wide range of tasks to implement improvements to the local countryside, four days a week, including weekends, throughout the year.

LMP has also developed a broad spread of skills for tackling specialist countryside management work including landscape enhancements, woodland management and pond restoration as well as access initiatives such as the Thames Down Link footpath.

In 2011/12, as part of the then Conservative administration budget savings exercise, the borough’s grant to the LMP was reduced by £15,000.  The Liberal Democrat/Residents administration has decided to increase the borough’s grant to LMP by £6,280.  This action not only supports the active engagement of many people into nature conservancy but save the borough in task that it would otherwise have to take on itself.

Anyone for Tennis?

There are 29 public tennis courts maintained by the borough at twelve sites  These are currently available free of charge.  There was charging until 2001 but the cost of collection began to outweigh the court fees.  Whilst the courts are generally in reasonable condition and used to some extent, the new Liberal Democrat/Residents administration believes that more could be done to ensure people take up the challenge to lead more healthy lives and part of that is to facilitate an increase in tennis participation across Elmbridge.

From May 2017 the borough will introduce an on-line booking system – supported by the borough’s call centre service for those without access to the internet.  The courts will be made secure and the booking system will allow people access once they have paid.

The plan is supported by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) which is providing funding, assisting with the tennis development plan, communications plan and high profile tennis campaign to promote activity at the public courts.

Charging

There will be two simple payment options, both of which will provide good value for money when compared with the cost of other sports activities.

Family membership.  At £36 (up to 5 people living at the same address) and could be transferred from one family member to another and renewed annually.  Once the annual payment had been made, all subsequent court bookings are free of charge.  Members will be able to book up to seven days in advance and play up to two hours every day across all borough venues.

Pay & Play.  For £5 (£2.50 per court per hour for concessions linked to the More card) customers will be able to book a court three days in advance.

There will also be preferred coaching scheme to deliver a high quality, inclusive tennis programme for all ages and abilities across the borough’s courts to encourage greater participation. The successful coaching providers would be appointed through a formal competitive procurement process and would be required to hold and maintain LTA accreditation for the duration of the licence period.

Social Housing

House building goes on apace in Elmbridge but most new homes are large and out of the reach of most people – even residents of Elmbridge. What we lack is suitable smaller affordable one or two bedroom homes, homes for rent and social housing.

The new Liberal Democrat/Residents administration has begun to put that right.  It sounds like a talking shop but the first stage is the setting up of the new Affordable and Social Housing Working Group reporting directly to cabinet.  Members are drawn from all parties. Its brief is to enhance the shaping of policy around social and affordable housing delivery whilst assisting the borough in meeting its strategic aims in this area.

A wide range of work is proceeding at the moment but non can be made public yet.  But when it can you will be the first to know.

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 government (supported by only 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.

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