Tackling the housing crisis

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.

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

Elmbridge borough wants to meet the needs of its people in terms of housing. Yet at every turn it comes up against the elephant in the room – the British government – which undermines local government at every turn.

The Liberal Democrats would empower localities to look after the needs of their own population and their own priorities, rather than being dictated to by central government.

A Lib Dem approach in Elmbridge

What would a Liberal Democrat Elmbridge do to solve the housing crisis if the national government got off our back?

Without restrictions from central government, Elmbridge could:

Borrow funds to build social housing

Elmbridge has the ability to service the loans, especially as interest rates are still at an historically low level. We would be investing in bricks and mortar which is always considered a very safe investment.  Elmbridge can’t though, because the national government heavily restricts our ability to do this.

Get money back when social housing is sold and reinvest this in more social housing

The national government forces local authorities and housing associations to sell houses at a discount of up to £80,000 under its ‘right to buy’ social housing programme, without any compensation to us, the owners. And then, prevents councils from using the revenue they do receive from the sales to build more social housing.

Improve the experience of renting

Elmbridge could ban letting fees for tenants, cap up-front deposits at a reasonable level, and increase minimum standards of repair and services in rented homes. We would Introduce longer tenancies, with an inflation-linked annual rent increase built in, to give tenants more security. Elmbridge cannot do this now because councils are prevented from doing this by the national government.  Our national government makes it impossible for Elmbridge to implement all the improvements we could offer to people renting in the borough.

Stop developers reneging on development payments to local councils

When Elmbridge gives permission for a developer to build a block of flats or a new street, this is on  condition that a certain proportion of the build is affordable housing. Alternatively, the developer may offer to pay a sum of money instead. The national government has made a law that allows developers to renege on paying this money once the development is built. This makes a complete mockery of the planning system.

Scrap stamp duty

The national government policy on stamp duty – a punishing 5% on homes over £250,000 across Britain – deters people from moving when they need more space. Instead of  buying a larger property and releasing a smaller one to the market, residents add extensions and loft conversions – making smaller houses bigger and reducing the number of smaller homes for first-time buyers and couples starting a family.

Our view

The national government and the media often blame NIMBYs and local planning for the lack of housing in our country. This is far from the truth. It is primarily the national government’s taxation and spending policy that stops local governments like Elmbridge planning for building the homes needed for healthy communities.

Making Our Taxis Safer

Taxis need to be licenced by local governments, this ensures some level of safety  for the customer.  At the moment each borough in Surrey sets their own rules for granting taxi licences. It is proposed to bring all Surrey boroughs in line with the aim of increasing the safety of the public.

Elmbridge borough is asking for your views on its plans to increase protection of  children and vulnerable persons when using licenced taxis.

The biggest change proposed is to make child sexual exploitation awareness training compulsory for all drivers. The other major change is that criminal convictions and general behavior of the driver be taken into account before a licence is granted. At the moment, a driver denied a licence in one borough of Surrey could reapply in a different borough. The proposed changes would prevent this.

Contact the council with your views before 4 December at here or contact us.  Changes agreed would be announced in early 2018.

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.

Amey Says Sorry to Residents For Missed Bins Misery

The borough’s waste collection contractor, Amey, has issued an unreserved apology for the inadequate service they provided to residents when they took over the contract from Veolia earlier this Summer.

Cllr Barry Fairbank, the Environment Portfolio Holder responsible for waste collection in Elmbridge says that “Amey’s initial response to the failings was simply not good enough”.  He reports that the borough is in final discussions about compensation for not fulfilling contractual agreements in the initial weeks which caused such widespread upset and anger, leading to a backlog of uncollected household, food and garden waste in some streets.

Cllr Fairbank added “For weeks, councillors in many wards in Elmbridge were getting large numbers of complaints from residents about missed bins or late collections. Councillors and officers were working round the clock to resolve the problems and ensure that Amey’s crews returned to the properties that were being missed.  My concern was how quickly I could ensure that Amey acknowledged the level of poor performance and what they would do to fix it as quickly as possible. Thanks to our concerted efforts Amey are now up to speed and we are pressing for further improvements”.

At a recent council Committee meeting Rob Edmondson, Managing Director of Amey, the contractor appointed on 3 June to collect Elmbridge’s rubbish agreed that the early performance was not good enough and he offered a sincere apology for the inconvenience to residents and the company’s failure to meet the terms of the contract.  Amey accepted full responsibility for the initial service failings and confirmed that these were operational matters that they have now put right.

Amey had promised the borough that the transition from the previous contractor, Veolia,would be ‘seamless’ and that the service would show an improvement in performance from day one. Acutely aware of their poor performance, Amey are now investing in additional vehicles and additional people, above and beyond the bid level in order to meet the full terms of the contract.

The contract with Amey involves four authorities in Surrey: Elmbridge, Woking, Mole Valley and Surrey Heath. Four years ago these authorities embarked on a procurement process for a joint waste collection contract – heralded as both more efficient and higher quality, saving taxpayers £2million a year overall. Elmbridge was the first authority to mobilise and Woking came on board with Amey two weeks ago.

Councillor Andrew Davis, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, explains that Elmbridge paid the price of being first. “Joint Waste Solutions which is the interface between Amey and all four authorities has worked hard to ensure that Amey sorts its operational problems while Elmbridge Officers and Councillors have worked tirelessly to help residents with their difficulties.”

As a result of this, and our insisting that Amey not only put its house in order but learns from its mistakes, the roll out in Woking has been successful and the 99.9% bin emptying rate has been achieved.

We were promised a better service, and that is what the people of Elmbridge are going to get. Our promise is that we will be holding Amey to account to deliver the service we all deserve.

Thames riverside enhancement and maintenance

Thursday 5th October 7.30 for 8.00
Small Hall St James Church Centre

Come and find out how the Thames Landscape Strategy is working to improve riverbank management and enhance the overall riverside environment along the stretch of the Thames from Weybridge to Kew.

Don’t know anything about the Thames Landscape Strategy? Take a look here

http://thames-landscape-strategy.org.uk/who-we-are/

Jason Debney, Co-ordinator Thames landscape Strategy, will give an overview of TLS projects with local impact, including an update on the proposals for the Weybridge Point car park, a TLS project that secured funding of £70k+ from Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funds in March this year.

Let’s be sure that proposals do actually enhance the riverside scene. Click on the PPDRA Newsletter below to see how things do not always work out for the best

Doors open at 7.30 pm, with the talk starting at 8.00 pm.

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.

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.