Weybridge Hall

The Elmbridge Liberal Democrat coalition put forward a proposal for the conversion of the Weybridge Hall into a cinema with flats above.  This was agreed by the council on 19 April this year.

This would be a great addition to the evening economy with people typically adding a meal or drinks to the occasion.  Ample parking is directly opposite.  The intention is for the cinema to run throughout the day – running less mainstream movies for the young and old.

The specific tenure of the flats will change over time but they will be part of our programme to meet our social housing needs.  There will be five or six self-contained flats for the upper floors, to be either affordable units, temporary homeless accommodation or general needs affordable housing.

One of the key aspects of the design is to ensure that the acoustics are perfect not just for the cinema goers but for the residents above and the neighbours surrounding the development.

There are several steps still to go.  The operators of the cinema will need to be decided.  Planning permission too is required and, all being well, the construction will begin in the spring.

Weybridge Spine Cycleway

We have been promoting a cycleway through Weybridge for a number of years and despite many setbacks, practical steps are now being made.  The cycleway will link Byfleet to Weybridge and pass by M&S, Tescos, The Heights, The London and Brooklands Museum,  Brooklands College, Heathside School, St George’s School, the station and the town centre, The cycleway is in three parts:

  • The southern end meets the Byfleet cycleway at the Elmbridge/Woking border at Brooklands and passes through the park, past the Brooklands museum, alongside the railway to the station. It is proposed that the section from the Mercedes Benz world and the Heights to the station will be well lit.
  • The middle part will travel parallel to Heath Road and via an upgraded Springrose path and Springfield Lane to Monument Green
  • The northern part will link Monument Green with the Thames Pathway and Wey Navigation Path

The southern section is being developed first.  This and the middle section require access to common land and therefore, subject to public consultation which ends on 27 November, the permission of the Secretary of State.  The Elmbridge Countryside Consultative Group has already endorsed the scheme.

Alongside this various land permissions and cycle orders are required to accompany the business case the Elmbridge and Surrey have to make to unlock the allocated local enterprise partnership funding for the project.

The aim is to finalise the project’s business case in December 2017 in order to submit the application in January 2018 for opening in 2019/20.

Homes for the future

The housing crisis in Britain has become an emergency. For far too long Britain has built many fewer homes than we need; unless we build enough to meet demand, year after year, we will find that housing costs rise further out of reach.

The perverse position is that we already have enough bedrooms to house everyone.  Properties are left empty and others have more bedrooms than people.  The mix of housing is totally out of kilter.  We have to rebalance the supply of housing to reflect the needs of our people today and for the decades to come.

Just to catch up with what we need to today we have to build 300,000 homes a year – almost double the current level.  These new houses must be sustainably planned to ensure that excessive pressure is not placed on existing infrastructure.

On a national scale we would create at least ten new garden cities in providing tens of thousands of high-quality new zero carbon homes, with gardens and shared green space, jobs, schools and public transport.  Only when homes are built alongside transport, education and health facilities can communities develop robustly.

On a local scale the national government should stop undermining local government.   The Liberal Democrats would empower localities to look after the needs of their own population and their own priorities.

Such action would include:

  • The national government fully funding the right to buy social housing programme.  In other words, if the national government maintains the right to buy for tenants, the discount between the market price and the price offered to the tenant is paid for by the national government.  This sum could then be used to build more social housing.
  • Ending the national government’s restriction of local government borrowing for housing.  This would greatly increase the supply of social housing to meet local needs.
  • Requiring local plans to take into account at least 15 years of future housing need for the indigenous population – focusing on long-term development and community needs.
  • Improving renting by banning lettings fees for tenants, capping up-front deposits, and increasing minimum standards in rented homes.
  • Promoting longer tenancies of three years or more with an inflation-linked annual rent increase built in, to give tenants security and limit rent hikes.
  • Strengthening local government powers to enforce higher quality standards in private rented properties.
  • Improving protections against rogue landlords through mandatory licensing and allow access for tenants to the database of rogue landlords and letting agents.
  • Giving tenants first refusal to buy their rented home, if their landlord decides to sell during their tenancy, at the market rate.

In the longer term the provision of extra homes would be assisted by: gradually removing the capital gains tax exemption on domestic property; reforming and gradually eliminating stamp duty; and, introducing a land value tax.  These actions alone will begin to nudge people into considering their house as a home and not as their main investment opportunity.  Not only would this allow people to move more frequently to new homes that suit their needs but would help the economy by rebalancing our savings into investing into industry and commerce.

The national government and the media often blame nimbies and local planning for the lack of housing in our country but it is the national government’s taxation and spending policy that stops local governments like Elmbridge planning for building the homes needed for healthy communities.

They need us more than we need them – Yeah right

Apart from Britain, there are 27 states in the European Union.  Most of them have very little trade with us: we import only 2% of Croatian exports or 3% of Bulgarian exports.

These countries will have next to no downside in driving a very hard bargain indeed. Each of them have a veto on the final deal.  Every time you hear a commentator or a Brexiter talking about German industry or the Irish economy remember that they are only two votes out of 27.  Brexit is not even an issue in most countries of the union.  As far as they are concerned the British have lost touch with the real world.

No deal better than a bad deal?

This, of course, is obvious – if the definition “bad” is a deal that is so bad it is worse than no deal.  But for a deal to be worse than no deal it would have to be so cataclysmically bad that neither the British government or the European government would propose it.

Such a bad deal would have to be proposed by the Americans, Chinese or Russian governments who must be beside themselves with glee at the mess that a small group of extremists have managed to conjure up for the British people.

Local Plan – consultation results

The borough has published a preliminary report based on the responses it received to its local plan strategic option consultation. You’ll find the full report on the borough website.  There were 3,436 responses all in all from Elmbridge residents and the majority of those came from Cobham (1,800) and Ditton (1,299). Unsurprisingly, not many came from Weybridge.

GREEN BELT IS SACROSANCT

The vast majority of responses opposed any amendment to the Green Belt boundaries in order to meet housing needs. Green Belt was considered sacrosanct and respondents did not see any exceptional circumstance for tampering with its boundaries. A minority supported the borough’s view that there needed to be a balance between protecting Green Belt and meeting housing needs. A number of sites were put forward in both urban and Green Belt areas where development could take place. Many opponents of the release of Green Belt felt the borough had not done enough to identify opportunities for much higher densities in existing towns and centres. However, people living in densely developed areas opposed further development.

ASSESSMENT OF HOUSING NEED

A large number of respondents disagreed with the borough’s assessment of housing need and felt it did not take account of insufficient infrastructure and environmental constraints. Many also suggested that the impact of Brexit had to be considered.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Many recognised that housing in Elmbridge was unaffordable. But the majority did not consider this an exceptional circumstance for developing in the Green Belt. Significant
doubts were expressed about whether the borough had enough power to secure affordable housing and many felt it was not for the borough to intervene in the market in
high value areas.

INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENT

Many suggested that impact on infrastructure should be comprehensively assessed before any new homes are built. What’s more, a majority argued that improvements to existing infrastructures should be made regardless of possible development. The borough is grateful to residents for the many substantial and thoughtful responses received and the borough is now considering their impact on the local plan regarding housing in Elmbridge.

Public workers’ pay cap

We believe that the government should end immediately the public sector pay cap and allow public organisations to arrange their own pay structures. For example, Elmbridge borough does not follow national pay agreements simply because we could not recruit the staff we need if we kept pay within the British government’s guidelines. Since the recent dramatic fall in value of the pound the pressures on living standards have been even greater. The English health service is under strain as service demand increases and fellow Europeans begin to leave in anticipation of Brexit. Hospitals are put into the perverse position of having to hire agency nurses because so many full-time nurses are leaving. The British cabinet loves controlling everything. It has jettisoned Europe, it is now attempting to override parliament and it has long since emasculated local and provincial government. The health, fire, education and police services have their own
budgets so why not let them pay what they want and deliver in the way they want without being second guessed by Westminster.

Bored with Brexit?

We ain’t seen nothing yet!

Each week brings new problems to consider. Next week there will be more and this will continue for months if not years. We are nowhere near the end of this sorry saga, unleashed by David Cameron in a moment of madness. We are not even at the beginning of the end, nor sadly are we at the end of the beginning – we have barely started the process.

Despite the Conservative and Labour parties’ stated positions after the referendum and the subsequent national election, month by month, they are moving gently towards a near exit from Brexit. Britain will now likely enter a transition period for a few years, remaining in both the single market and the customs union. This is a long way from where they started. The only difference being that we will now no longer have any say in how either the single market or the customs union operates and will still have to follow EU rules. Rather than helping to make the rules, we’ll simply be following others’ rules. Completely the opposite of what the Brexiters promised.

All this to supposedly gain trade with the rest of the world. But we can trade with the rest of the world right now. Germany exports more to China than we do and Belgium exports more to India – despite all our historical and cultural ties. The EU was never in our way. As the ramifications of Brexit become clearer, more people will come to realise that the problems facing Britain are best solved inside the EU rather than outside.

Far From the Madding Crowd

Swans canoodling on the Broad Water.

If you want to explore a newly opened part of Weybridge, simply walk around the new Broad Water path circuit.  The walk is about three miles long and can be accessed in several places.  From the Thames Path at Cowey Sale car park, Shepperton and Thames Path opposite D’Oyly Carte Island bridge, Weybridge.  From Weybridge town centre at Grenside Road (turn right at the St Georges School barrier).  From Walton a couple of hundred metres beyond Walton Lodge, along Oatlands Drive.

The green line indicates the new public footpath alongside the Weybridge Broad Water.

It is not yet completely wheel chair friendly – which is the intention.  But you can cycle around it.  There is one bridge yet to be built but you can easily cycle across the temporary construction.  Two bridges over the Engine River still have steps but just dismount to cross. The western stretch from Grenside to Thames path has two kissing gates so a tandem will not get though.

Engine River Bridge

You have to cross Walton Lane at the western and the eastern end to complete the circuit but both crossings are in or near 20mph limited areas.

Its great for all the family and, for a while at least, it is a well kept secret.

The hidden entrance at the Walton end along Oatlands Drive.

If you have never seen Broad water field you will not be aware that it has goal posts – no jumpers for goal posts as in Churchfields Rec.