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.

 

 

Refuse Collection in Elmbridge

Elmbridge Borough Council collects nearly a quarter of a million bins every fortnight: 63,000 refuse bins; 57,000 recycling bins; 106,000 food waste bins; and, 18,000 garden waste bins.

We take it for granted – and rightly so – because our bins are collected week in week out on the appointed day.  This has been the case for many years.  Okay the odd bin is missed – around 300 (1%) each day but they are almost always collected later that day or within 48 hours.  Last week the service was back to the standard we have been used to for years and this week it looks as if the new service will surpass the previous record of Veolia.  But what on earth happened in the last eight weeks?

Why did Elmbridge change the service provider?
In short, to improve quality and reduce costs.  The collection of waste is shared between Elmbridge borough and Surrey county.  We collect and Surrey disposes.  We could provide a better service at less cost if only one or other of us did the whole task but the national government does not allow us to do that. Elmbridge’s contract with Veolia was approaching its end as to a lesser extent were the contracts of the other members of what became the Joint Contract.

So we did the next best thing.  We joined with three other boroughs (Mole Valley, Surrey Heath and Woking) along with Surrey county, to provide a better service at a lower cost.  It has been planned for over four years with all eight political parties at Elmbridge being in agreement.  Joint Contract was advertised nationally and internationally.  After exhaustive testing Amey was chosen as the new provider.  It was chosen not because it was the cheapest (it wasn’t) but because it appeared to offer the best quality of service.

What went wrong?
The week before the new contract came into effect, the service level for waste collection was running at 99.6%.  At present the service is running at 99.5%.  Veolia’s contract ended on Friday, 2 June.  At midnight the contract passed to Amey.  All of the Veolia staff were able to transfer to Amey (under TUPE Regulations) and many agreed to do so.  However, under the law staff are not compelled to work for the new provider, even if they said they would.  Unfortunately, six drivers did not turn up on the Monday.  From the first day a quarter of the drivers were not available.  Of course, backup agency drivers were brought in immediately but they cannot match the productivity of the drivers who knew the rounds well.

Why did we let ourselves be the guinea pig for the new contract?
The four boroughs in the scheme are joining at different times to coincide with the ending of each borough’s existing contractual arrangements.  Elmbridge was first and Woking will follow in September.  Being first – if it all goes well – can be an advantage but what if mistakes are made in Elmbridge but any lessons learnt only benefit the other boroughs?  To avoid this, it was suggested that Elmbridge might extend its contract with Veolia another year but this is not possible under public service tendering rules.  Indeed Veolia did not bid for the current joint contract.  It is already clear that Amey will treat Woking differently given that lessons learnt in Elmbridge.

What happened to the food waste collection?
Veolia collected food waste along with the refuse and recycling using one vehicle.  One week it would be food and refuse together and the next week food and recycling together – using separate compartments in the vehicle.  Amey planned to separate food waste collection from the other collections.  The reasons that Amey proposed this change was so that for each type of collection, be it refuse or food waste, a specific vehicle could be used thus optimising effectiveness. With a hybrid waste vehicle, one which has two or more separate collection spaces to keep them separate, one collection space will fill up before the other does.  This increases the number of trips to the tips. In changing the food waste collection Amey under provided the number of food waste collection rounds needed and subsequently had to increase the number from 3 to 5.

There are 10,000 food waste bins to be collected each day in Elmbridge.  Amey calculated, using their experience in similar locations elsewhere, that there would need to be three vehicles and thus Elmbridge was divided into fifteen rounds (three rounds a day for a week).  Unfortunately, on the first day only 65% of the food waste was collected.  Could this be a resource problem or the lack of good knowledge of the local area?  After the first Monday, the judgment was that it would improve the next day.  On Monday night there had been a storm thus making Tuesday’s collection difficult.  It was decided to take a view after Wednesday.  Because the collection rate had averaged 65% for three days it was decided to increase the number of food waste vehicles in week two from two vehicles to four vehicles.

It seems easy just to add an extra vehicle but Elmbridge had already been divided into fifteen rounds for food waste – now it had to be divided into twenty.  Each round taking as much time to collect from as any other round.  The staff now would have to deal with completely different rounds – even though effort was put into making them as similar to the previous week’s round as possible.  By the end of week two the food waste collection rate was up to 80%.  So another vehicle – making five vehicles – would be added for week three.  The rounds had to resized again because now there were twenty-four rounds across Elmbridge.

From week three the food waste collection level approached normal standards for nearly everyone but Elmbridge has a great number of hidden places – some not so hidden.  Whole streets in some cases remained undiscovered.  Marked out maps proved beneficial.  Despite this the missed bins operation was overwhelmed.

Why was my block of flats missed?
It is one thing to not to be able to locate places like “Hidden Cottage” and “Rogue’s Roost” but how could you miss a block of flats?  Or collect from three blocks but not the fourth?  Veolia used to collect waste from blocks of flats using dedicated vehicles.  Amey decided to integrate these locations in the normal rounds – they could be emptied by standard vehicles.  Although access to many blocks are relatively simple, some can be problematic, others have access restrictions.  If no-one was available to make access possible then they had to be missed until such time as access could be gained. These difficulties compounded the delays involved in the rounds.

What happened with collecting the missed bins?
Usually, the number of missed bins is very small and they can be collected on the day or the next working day.  Part of Amey’s proposed service was to introduce an integrated missed-bin collection service.  A resident would make a request for a missed bin to be collected online (or call customer services and it would be done on their behalf) and this information would pass directly to the cab driver.  Such a system was envisaged to allow for missed bins to be collected within hours rather than days.  Unfortunately, the system was not finished before the contract began and the old system had to used.  Combined with the large number of missed bins the usual collection system became overwhelmed.

Why did the catch-up take so long?
The necessity in the early days of the Joint Contract to catch up on a large number of missed bins and missed roads and the under resourcing of certain aspects of the collection teams placed enormous pressure on the daily collection system which has only reduced following the provision of additional resources.

Amey quickly began to increase overtime working later in the afternoon and on Saturdays.  However, the recent planning conditions place on the use of the depot meant that the usage of the refuse trucks could not be maximized.  A school has been built on the route to the depot and access to the depot is not allowed during school pick and drop-off times.  Whilst under normal working conditions this is this planning condition is an inconvenience.  However, in times of maximum catch-up it makes a big impact on the depot.

Why were garden waste bins left behind?
Amey collection teams were provided with information on had paid their subscriptions for garden waste collection but found it difficult to apply these at street level and ended up collecting all garden waste bins regardless of whether or not they were on the list of payers. This added more time to the completion of the rounds and in Amey collecting more garden waste than they were contracted for requiring additional trips to the tip.

The additional time spent on the rounds resulted in rounds not being completed and whole roads being missed.

What happened to communications?
Clearly Elmbridge borough should have the contact details of every household in Elmbridge easily available.  But until the last six months this has not been seen as important.  Had the borough had this information residents in particular streets or block of flats could have been kept up to date (for example by email) as the situation changed around them.  It is bad enough not having one’s waste bin collected but not knowing what is planned to make matters right can be even more frustrating.

What will be done about the level of service in June?
Clearly Elmbridge, through the Joint Waste Solutions (acting on our behalf) will be discussing with Amey the compensation that will be offered considering the poor service in June and the less than acceptable service in July.  Compensation will be agreed based on the 15 Key performance Indicators set out in the Joint Contract.

Where are Elmbridge now with collections?
As of 4 August 2017 the performance of the waste collection service in Elmbridge has significantly improved. Of the 120,776 bins that were due to be emptied last week, missed collection reports from residents indicate that 99.3% were emptied on time. Of the bins that were missed, the majority were returned to within 48 hours.

While this is a considerable step forward we know there is more to do to reach the 99.9% collection target and the teams at Elmbridge Council, at Joint Waste Solutions and Amey are continuing to work hard to achieve that. Any remaining gaps in knowledge and information about the routes and properties are being identified and addressed, so every day the crews are becoming more familiar and knowledgeable about their routes.

Next steps
The transition to the new contract has been more challenging than anticipated and the Council are very sorry for the inconvenience this has caused some of our residents and continue to be grateful for resident’s understanding while the issues are being addressed.

We are confident that the service is now on the right track. Elmbridge Council will continue to work together with Joint Waste Solutions and Amey to reach the target and deliver a high performing collection service.

If your bin is missed please report it via the website or call us and Elmbridge Council will make sure that it is emptied as quickly as possible.

Automatic Payment Parking comes to Weybridge

Work begins in September for a ticketless payment system for Churchfields car park. There will be several options but most locals will probably choose to simply drive in – drive out and pay on account.

No longer will you have to guess you length of your stay.  If you bump into a friend whilst shopping you can can have a coffee or lunch without going to fill the meter.  No need for coins either.

Convenience

Unlike many car parks elsewhere you will not even have to pay on exit via a pay-station. You simply drive out.

Of course, non-locals will have to use a pay station – unless they choose to register their vehicle on account.

Costs

Although the new car park should be a great benefit to users it will cost the borough a loss in revenue of around £30,000 a year.  This is currently what is collected from parking fines.  With barriered pay on exit parking penalties will reduce almost to nothing.

Some might say that the borough should have increased the parking charges to cover the cost of the proposals.  However, the Liberal Democrat led Elmbridge administration decided to recommend the full council agree this proposal without changing the charges in any way.

The main reason is that people might develop different parking habits from before and we felt it would be prudent to see what changes, if any, might be required.

Charge by the minute not the hour

So charges will remain at current levels.  After a few months we will be able to assess the new usage pattern and new, more flexible, charging arrangements could be introduced – possible pay only for the minutes used rather than the mainly current hourly system.  As ever, there will be consultations before any payment charge proposal are introduced.

We have reasonable confidence that once the barriers are installed the level of parking charge evasion will decrease to almost zero and therefore the revenue will increase by between 10% to 30%.  We’ll see.  As we get closer to the launch date we will be sending out more detailed information.

Tennis Courts Refurbishment

 

Concern has been raised regarding the newly introduced system for booking and charging for use of the borough’s tennis courts. See here for the full report.

However, we had reached a point where the borough needed to make a decision about how to secure the long-term future of park tennis courts and how to encourage more and different people to take exercise through playing tennis.

For over fifteen years, the courts have been allowed to deteriorate. The estimated cost of bringing the 12 most popular courts up to standard is £134,000 with a yearly refurbishment cost of £1,200 per court.  The cost of bringing all the courts up to standard, would be significantly greater and the yearly refurbishment cost would be £34,800.

The borough’s choice was:

  • do nothing and allow the courts to deteriorate even more
  • pay all upgrading costs from council tax and maintain free access to the courts at all times (and take away funds from other much needed projects)
  • raise the level of council tax for all residents
  • charge for use – with concessions for those in receipt of means-tested benefit

The borough charges for all sports: for example, badminton, swimming, football and squash. It would be difficult to single out tennis as the only sport that was free.

Different charging regimes will produce different effects, so the borough has to be clear about what it wants to achieve and charge accordingly.  The choices include:

  • maximize usage from whatever source;
  • steer particular types of user (old or young, frequent or casual);
  • maximize borough revenue; or
  • or any of the above in combination.

Your councillors unanimously, drawing on public health evidence, have chosen a charging and booking package which has worked successfully in other boroughs and which is designed to widen the range of people using the public tennis courts. This includes both annual membership at £36 a year for a family of five for frequent users and a pay as you go system for casual users. We do not yet have differentiation in charge levels to reflect the variability of demand at different times of the day, or the week, or of the year. With the current system it could be possible to have very low charges at off peak times. This would be part of any review undertaken following the experience in use.

Apart from revenue, one of the advantages of the new system is that people may book a court in advance and therefore know they have a court for when they arrive. They will also know, one assumes, that anyone already using the court has overstayed their booking.  The changeover would be rather similar to what occurs currently at the Xcel centre for those playing squash or badminton

If you want to read the report that was drafted by the borough staff for consideration by the cabinet and that was recommended by the cabinet for the approval by the full council – it is here.  If you want to read the full consultation report taking views from 196 respondents to the council’s on-line survey – it is here.

If you want to see the webcast of the short debate around the introduction of tennis court charges it is here – from 48 minutes.  You will see that there were no objections to the proposals.

Previous blog on tennis courts.

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.