Opinion & Analysis – Targeting the ‘brexit bull’ in Elmbridge

By ‘Sam Vete’ – 12 March 2018
How does brexit affect Elmbridge? And how can Elmbridge voters help to avoid the potentially disastrous outcome of the devious brexit strategy?
Elmbridge is heavily Tory but, despite the glib rhetoric of brexit’s chief standard bearer, local MP Dominic Raab, we voted strongly to remain in the EU. Pro-EU Elmbridge residents realised that what was caricatured as ‘Project Fear’ was well-founded caution. The Government went ahead and fired the Article 50 bullet regardless of the predictable collateral damage.
Contrary to Eurosceptic pre-referendum boasts, because the brextremists’ are fixated with leaving the single market and the customs union, many businesses have already announced intentions to relocate and remain within the EU.
City jobs, particularly in the financial and scientific sectors, are at risk and the impact will be significant. Elmbridge will be one of the suburban commuting areas affected. There are also the city’s support occupations to consider; transport, administration, event management, and hospitality will suffer a knock-on effect, with Elmbridge based foot-soldiers caught in the cross-fire.
Many Elmbridge families rely on domestic support staff. EU immigrants will no longer be the source of qualified applicants. The rate of applications has already fallen.
Qualified dental, medical and care staff similarly are moving back to EU member states, increasing the strain on the NHS as well as the cost of private services. This affects the centres of excellence in Elmbridge and peripheral areas Guildford and Kingston-upon-Thames on which the Elmbridge community depends.
Travel practices will be rolled back decades. With the high living standards in Elmbridge, the once familiar short break to Bruges, Paris, Prague, Tenerife or Dublin etc. will be a distant memory. With unpredictable queuing times at customs and passport control, one BBC report expects queues of up to 29 miles on Chunnel access routes. What an incentive for a ‘staycation’ in a traffic queue on the M25!
Biting the bullet?
What can Elmbridge residents do to potentially affect the rake’s progress of brexit. Well, to all politicians, votes matter; local votes on May 3rd will translate into national trends.
Labour pro-EU voters can give their hard-brexiter leadership a much-needed close shave by voting for a pro-EU party.
Pro-EU Tory voters need to show their metal and demonstrate strong disapproval by voting for a pro-EU candidate. The Tory Eurosceptic grandees will downplay any local losses but behind the scenes they will be panicking.
Raab’s seat is one of the safest in the country and he is brexit’s ‘Golden Boy’. A significant local protest vote will force Tory HQ to take notice. Every anti-brexit vote will contribute to the fog-of-war surrounding the brexit folly. Every vote counts, so let yours help to deflect the ‘brexit bullet’!

CIL Bids in Weybridge

When most new developments in Weybridge are built the developer has to pay a tax referred to as CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) to help fund any increased needs locally, as  a consequence of the building.

This infrastructure can be equipment for schools, health centres, community centres or safer or better designed streets.  CIL funds may only be used for new or enhanced facilities and not for staffing, repair or general maintenance of existing facilities.

Typically in Elmbridge, towns have an allocation and bids can be made by residents or groups in the town for funds for a project. See here your most frequently asked questions.

This year in Weybridge there are seven applications for CIL funding.

We are interested to hear your views on these. Do you support any of these projects? Or would you like to comment on them?  Click on each one for more details and click here for our survey.

We also include a scoring assessment of each project for applicability and desirability.  Some projects are uncosted, do not have permission of the landowner or do not necessarily enhance our infrastructure.  But what do you think?

These are the seven applications for CIL funding in Weybridge.

  1. Surrey county for improvements to footpath  linking Broadwater path to Walton Lane. CIL funding of £8,981 has been requested to create a wider all-weather route.
  2. St James School to refurbish the Lodge to create additional teaching and community space. CIL funding of £60,000 has been requested. A quotation has been provided that is consistent with the amount requested.
  3. The Weybridge Society for improvement to lighting around the war memorial and restoration of the surroundings. CIL funding of £32,500 has been requested for the works.
  4. PA Housing for bollards to prevent parking on adopted highways land in Brooklands Road. CIL funding of £3,500 has been requested for the works.
  5. Weybridge Cricket Club for roof replacement and addition of girl’s changing facilities. CIL funding of £50,000 is requested.
  6. Walton Firs Foundation for new accommodation pods to provide additional capacity. CIL funding of £24,560 is requested. Three quotations have been provided, the lowest of which is consistent with the amount requested.
  7. St Mary’s Church Oatlands to create additional office space. CIL funding of £20,000 is requested.

The general report is here.

Give Us your Views

As the Liberal Democrat/Residents’ administration in Elmbridge, we want to be more informed about your priorities.   One of the current methods of consultation involves a residents panel; although often additional consultations take place.  However, the mix of responses do not match the population as a whole.

Recent consultations have shown that the older the person, the more likely they are going to give their views.  For example, there were no responses from people under 25 and even people aged 26-44 years old were half as likely than the general population to state their preferences. Retired people are five times as likely to make their views plain than the average person: that’s 600% higher.  Older people are ten times as likely to speak up than younger people. This gap is likely to affect policy outcomes.

Age Population Responses Propensity to respond
 <25 29% 0% 0
26-44 36% 15% 0.4
45-64 25% 34% 1.4
65-74 8% 36% 5
>75 8% 14% 2

To get your view heard more clearly register for the borough’s residents’ panel here.  There are 136,000 people living in Elmbridge but only 1,240 are members of the panel.

You can also register to get information from the borough on a regular basis, see your accounts, be notified of palling applications in your area and automatic notice of changes to your refuse collection.

More services will be added later.

CIL – your FAQs

It sounds like there is CIL money every year.  Does it have to be spent in that year?
No.  The CIL is like a bank account.  Before a development may begin the CIL is paid into the account.  From this account, projects are paid for.  Spend less one year and their is more to spend in future.

Does every council ask local organisations to bid for CIL funds for projects?
Some boroughs have decided to develop their own strategy for spending the CIL.  They would allocate the fund between their key objectives: say, health, safety or social housing.

What is meant by the term infrastructure – what is ‘in’ and what is not?
As more houses, offices and shops are built we need more clinics, schools, ways of dealing with traffic and more leisure facilities.  This is the infrastructure.  The CIL enables boroughs to pay for it.  Otherwise boroughs would have to use Council Tax.

Why don’t you use CIL to mend the potholes?
The CIL is designed to fund new infrastructure: new facilities for schools, new zebra crossings, extra health provision, traffic calming etc. Pot holes occur when the roads have not been maintained properly.

Who decides if any project is an acceptable project? 
In Elmbridge the CIL is broken into three parts: The “Reserve pot”, for big projects that might become necessary over the medium term; the “Strategic pot”, for projects that could only be justified on an Elmbridge-wide basis; and, local pot, for projects relating to each of the nine towns in the borough.  Decision relating to the “Reserve pot” are decided on by the cabinet; those relating to the “Strategic pot” are decided by the chairs of the planning committees across the Borough; and, the local pot is decided by the councillors in that town. For CIL proposes Weybridge consists of three wards Weybridge Riverside, Weybridge St George’s Hill and Oatlands.

Are there criteria for selecting and approving bids?
Any organisation may go online and complete an application form for a CIL grant.  Currently all applications are presented to the relevant body for decision.  This can mean that many applications are totally unsuited for CIL. The criteria used for local CIL bids are:

  1. Does the project address impacts created by new development?
  2. Does the project provide wider community benefit: beyond just the benefits to the organisation submitting the application?
  3. Can the applicant deliver the project?  Does it have planning permission?  Is the landowner on board?  Are the costing realistic?
  4. Evidence of additional resources (people or money) available from partners to complement funding.

Are projects ever excluded?
Not at present.  The problem is that some projects are put forward without the permission of the landowner, without sufficient detail for plans, or without suitable quotes and costing. However a grant should not be given if the project is too small – for example for a kettle.  There are other borough grants for such projects.

What projects have received CiL funding in the past five years?
Around £2m of facilities for school across the borough, a walking bridge in Molesey. Manby Lodge Infant School quickly installed additional surfacing for all weather outdoor play space. Heathside Secondary School has installed much needed additional cycle parking. The Broadwater Path was completed over the summer of 2017. The Thames Landscape Strategy works at Weybridge Point – the car park at the end of Thames street – should be delivered in May 2018.  Significant preparatory work has been carried out on the Weybridge Streetscene project – outside Waitrose and up to the corner with Elmgrove Road..

Who makes the decision to fund or not to fund a project?
Councillors.  In Elmbridge the CIL is broken into three parts: The “Reserve pot”, for big projects that might become necessary over the medium term; the “Strategic pot”, for projects that could only be justified on an Elmbridge-wide basis; and, local pot, for projects relating to each of the nine towns in the borough.  Decisions relating to the “Reserve pot” are decided on by the cabinet; those relating to the “Strategic pot” are decided by the chairs of the planning committee and the leader; and, the local pot is decided by the councillors in that town. For CIL proposes Weybridge consists of three wards Riverside, Oatlands and  Burwood Park and St George’s Hill.

How are these people held to account for their decisions?
The local CIL meetings are in public and their recommendations are passed to cabinet, which is also meets in public. The decisions relating to the “Reserve pot” and “Strategic pot” are taken in private but their recommendations are passed to cabinet, which meets in public.  It is rare for cabinet to overturn a decision by the CIL committees.  If a councillor wishes they may ask that a cabinet decision is reconsidered by the full council.

When is the next local CIL meeting for Weybridge?

The meeting – called the Local Planning Board meeting – is at 7.00 on Thursday, 15th March, that is this coming Thursday. It is a public meeting.

If you have other questions do contact us.

Be informed

As you know, the Liberal Democrats are very keen to present people with information that they want, when they want it, and in the form that they want it – text, email or app.  To that end, since forming the coalition in the borough we have given communications a boost of the borough’s priorities.  We already have “My neighborhood” on the website but now we have “My account” for emails – register now.

“My Account”
You can also register to get information from the borough on a regular basis, see your accounts, be notified of planning applications in your area and automatic notice of changes to your refuse collection.  More services will be added as soon as we can.

Local Information in “My neighbourhood”
Currently you have to go the borough’s website for this information but it is worth it. As we develop the “My account” residents’ portal you will be able to select the notifications that you want.

Opinion & Analysis – The Entertaining Mr. Raab – “streamlining the planning laws”?

By ‘Sam Vete’ – 25 February 2018
It is always entertaining to speculate on what politicians mean when they borrow a word from engineering as a euphemism for their ambiguous pronouncements.
‘Robust’ in engineering or in your garden means well-built, sturdy. When politicians meet, it means they were diplomatically ‘tooth and claw’ at odds with each other. An ‘echo chamber’ is a room designed to measure sound clarity, but in politics it is a weapon for bombarding an audience with propaganda from all directions or a platform where people are just not listening to the other side.
So, what does Mr. Raab mean by ‘streamlining’? He said: “You certainly want to make sure that your green belt spaces are protected and preserved but at the same time we want to make sure the planning application process is more streamlined and effective …”! Hang on? If we protect and preserve green belt, then planning would not be relevant to existing green spaces; sacrosanct. Two completely disconnected objectives are dubiously and suspiciously connected by him.
‘Streamlining’, in engineering, involves rounding-off corners and removing air flow obstructions, converting power to speed more efficiently. In politics it is usually a method of removing transparency rather than making a process more efficient. Dominic’s juxtaposing these in one breath makes one wonder whether ‘streamlining’ will challenge (euphemism) the protection and preservation of green belt instead of providing a sturdy, robust defence.
The public deserve the right to proactively protect their environment. If ‘streamling’ the process by which developers and planners convert authority into action removes accountability and due diligence, well that would be a euphemistic solution too far, Mr. Raab!
Dominic’s words are an entertaining aspirational rhetoric but empty. Flesh it out, but let’s have something a little less vacuous than “streamlining means streamlining” … please!

Parking and New Developments

Granting planning permissions to applications with insufficient parking has become a big issue in recent years.  The picture above shows office parking which could soon become gardens for four-bedroomed houses – leaving little space for parking cars.

Although I have campaigned on this since becoming a borough councillor, it has taken me a while to persuade my Conservative party colleagues that has the power to stop such developments if it chooses to do so.

The convention was that as Surrey county is the highway authority for Elmbridge if county decides that a planning application has no significant impact on transport and if that was the only reason for refusal then the borough would have to permit the development.

My contention is that Surrey county only considers two aspects: highway safety; and, impact on congestion.  The third aspect: parking is considered by county to be a borough concern.

Yet my committee often voted to permit planning applications that clearly had significant, if not severe, impact on the availability to park locally.

Recently two planning applications have come before the borough’s south area planning sub-committee (which serves Weybridge) which, if permitted, could create further demand for on-street parking in areas of particular parking stress.  The first application was for a reduction in off-street parking for the conversion offices into four proposed four-bedroomed houses in Thames Street; and the second was, again, the conversion of offices into flats in Baker Street.  In both cases I proposed that the applications be refused on parking grounds and fortunately my colleagues agreed.

Borough Plan

Every five years the borough reviews its local plan and, subject to the agreement of full council, our new vision is as follows:

  • Character and Environment – We will make Elmbridge a sustainable and attractive place.
  • Quality Services – We will work in partnership to ensure services are efficient, effective and offer value for money.
  • Economic Development – We will facilitate economic growth, including improved infrastructure and housing.
  • Community Wellbeing – We will listen to all of our residents and support communities to become healthier, empowered and safe

Within this each year the borough develops its plan for the municipal year.  You can see the plan here. On page twelve you will see more detailed items.  Naturally, this is not the full scope as most activity is developed at a department level.

There has been consultation on this plan throughout its various stages.  Do you have any comments or questions?

Planning Compliance

One of the items on the Liberal Democrat/Residents administration’s to do list was to deal with the number of cases of planning infringement.  We launched the planning compliance team with new resources to ensure greater planning complaince

In the last calendar year 336 planning compliance investigations where closed.  Of these investigations:

  • 167 were found not to be a breach of planning control
  • 62 had the breach resolved due to borough intervention
  • 43 were matters referred on to county, building control, Environment Agency, Environmental Health/Care etc.
  • 40 resulted in grants of planning permission
  • 14 were found to be duplicates of existing cases due to variation of address description
  • 10 were closed on expediency grounds

In the same period:

  • 4 Enforcement Notices were served,
  • 4 Planning Contravention Notices issued,
  • 2 Breach of Condition Notices served,
  • 1 Temporary Stop Notice issued,
  • 2 High Court Injunctions granted.

If you want to have a matter deal with by the planning compliance team please complete this form online as it helps reduce potential duplication of cases.  For more background information click here.

Giving People a Home

Housing is one of the biggest issues locally yet until now the borough has not used all the powers at its disposal to be a positive force in finding solutions. The new Liberal Democrat administration set out its of list priorities:
• to provide for the homeless more effectively
• to begin to build social housing
• to develop a more robust framework to provide affordable homes • to ensure a more appropriate mix of housing throughout Elmbridge
• to enforce higher standards in the private rented sector.

For the first time this century Elmbridge is back in the business of building homes for the people of Elmbridge. The number of homeless families in Elmbridge has been growing steadily over the last ten years and, in the past, they have been offered bed and breakfast facilities as far away as Slough and Hounslow. Few, if any were offered places in Elmbridge itself mainly because the cost of bed and breakfast in Elmbridge is very high.

One of the first new social homes projects is here in Weybridge town centre and is currently passing through the planning process. But there are a number of other projects across Elmbridge in the pipeline. These will reduce and eventually eliminate the number of homeless families put into bed and breakfast far away. This will not only be a welcome improvement in their condition – being close to work, friends and relations, but it will also reduce our costs.