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.

Grants for business

Elmbridge borough has grants to aid businesses  via the Elmbridge Civic Improvement Fund.  Weybridge is the biggest claimer for funds in Elmbridge.  The aim is to support the growth of the local economy.  Funding can help you business with:

  • Shop fronts and signage
  • marketing and promotion
  • town centre events
  • streetscape improvements
  • learning, skills and training

Contact 01932 474 216, email business@elmbridge.gov.uk or click here.

Funding available for local community projects

This is a great opportunity for our local charities and voluntary groups which are now invited to apply for the Elmbridge borough’s annual grants fund.  Awards up to £4,000 to groups supporting people in need in the local community are available. Previous years’ initiatives have included carer respite programmes, family advocacy support, crime prevention schemes, and purchasing of equipment.

Liberal Democrat Councillor, Andrew Davis commented: “This is a great opportunity for voluntary organisations in and around Weybridge to support initiatives that directly benefit the vulnerable people in our community”.  This is your chance to apply.

A Voluntary Sector Forum will take place at 2.30 – 5.30pm, on Friday, 24 November at the Civic Centre in Esher, when advice will be given on how to apply for a grant.

For more information, or to request an application form, contact the borough’s voluntary sector support office on 01372 474543 or scampbell@elmbridge.gov.uk.  Forms can be downloaded here.

Late Night Licence Application – Weybridge

The premises,  previously Sullivan’s Wine Bar, is proposed as a restaurant/entertainment place selling alcohol.  It would be open past 11pm

There is a notice in the window asking for local objectors to write to:
Borough of Elmbridge
Civic Centre
1 High Street
ESHER
KT10 9SD

(email or phone is not sufficient – they will only take notice of written objections)

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.

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%.

 

9,450 new homes – what’s your view?

Elmbridge’s Green Belt is under threat from the national government.  It tells the public that it will protect the Green Belt, but privately Westminster puts pressure on local government saying that boroughs must, from 2018, release the Green Belt for housing development if their local plan is older than 2012.

Elmbridge’s local plan was published in 2011 so it cannot be used to protect the Green Belt after 2018 unless a new plan is produced. Also the national government has said that Elmbridge must build 9,450 houses by 2035.  The new plan must show where these new houses will be built, and if not, the national government will step in.

The borough has four basic options: do nothing and the national government will take over; object to the figure of 9,450 which Elmbridge is currently doing; allow developers to build up in certain places or locate areas of the Green Belt where specific development can take place. Building high is also a consideration.

Your opinion counts – give your option here and for background here

Protecting the Green Belt – Building more Homes

Why is Elmbridge Reviewing the Green Belt?

The answer is simple – the national government has changed planning law and Elmbridge has to respond to the various changes.

This costs money and effort which could otherwise be used to improve or extend services or reduce council tax for the people of Elmbridge but unlike like the British government, under our unwritten constitution, Elmbridge is not sovereign so we have to comply with the wishes of the unrepresentative Westminster government (supported by only 37% of the popular vote).  Ultimately, its army is bigger than ours.

New National Planning Laws
In 2012 the national government introduced a radical change in planning law called the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).  It replaced all previous laws, rules and regulations relating to planning in England.  This caused upset across the planning profession and local government too.  There was a distinct possibility that over sixty years of planning practice would be comprehensively trashed.  As problems with the NPPF were exposed, the national government introduced explanatory guidelines for local government to explain its thinking.  This process could not happen overnight.  In fact, it continues through to today and the national government has indicated that more changes are on the way.

How does that affect Elmbridge?
In 2012, it became possible that developers could apply for planning permission and if Elmbridge refused planning permission the developer could win on appeal because the national government’s planning inspectors would use the new NPPF as the basis of their decision not Elmbridge’ policies.

Elmbridge Responds
As the dust settled, Elmbridge quickly reviewed all of its own adopted planning policies and associated documents to ensure that they complied with the new laws.  Some of Elmbridge’s planning policies only came into force a few months before the publication of the NPPF and were considered compliant with the new NPPF.  Where there was doubt about whether Elmbridge policies were complaint with the NPPF the process of change was put in place.  For the moment, Elmbridge’s Green Belt policy was considered safe.  Despite this, all Elmbridge policies adopted before the NPPF were reviewed on a regular basis to check their compliance.  Not least because the national government was continually introducing new guidances and rules.

Elmbridge’s Housing Requirements
There are many things that the British government requires Elmbridge to do before the borough can set its own plan for Elmbridge.  One of these is an assessment of the need for housing in Elmbridge – both in terms of the number of new houses (or flats) and their size.  In requiring Elmbridge to assess its housing need, the national government did not say how it should be done or what should be considered but it did require that Elmbridge was objective in its assessing housing need (OAN).  Nevertheless, Elmbridge must produce a figure for the number of new homes required by 2035.  Elmbridge has published its Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) and the independently derived figure is 9,450 new homes – about the same number of households currently in Weybridge.  This new figure is over twice the number produced by Elmbridge’s previous SHMA.  The borough’s current local plan does not cater for such a large increase in houses in Elmbridge – a new local plan is required.

More housing changes ahead
Although originally the national government allowed local government to provide their objectively assessed housing need using their own methodology, it now states that there must be one nationally set method for assessing need.  When the national government introduces this new method sometime in the future (date unknown) Elmbridge will have to undertake a new OAN.  This could mean that our current figure of 9,450 new households could be substantially increased (or it could fall but that is less likely).

What would happen if the borough did nothing?
It is very likely that many, if not all, of Elmbridge’s planning decisions will be overturned by the national government.  For example, the recent planning application 2016/2217 for a development of over 1,000 houses, known as Drake Park, between Walton and Molesey, on a large area of green belt.  This was robustly refused by the borough at a meeting on 21 November 2016.  It is likely that the developers will take this to appeal, and one of the main reasons the borough’s decision might be upheld is because we are preparing a revised local plan.

If we do nothing, the national government will declare Elmbridge’s current local plan policies non-compliant with the NPPF and take over planning decisions, which would mean a free-for-all for developers.  As a result (and this has already happened in some areas of the country), all refusals by Elmbridge borough of planning permission, when taken to appeal, would almost inevitably be allowed by the national government’s planning inspectorate.

Furthermore, in those circumstances the costs will almost inevitably have to be borne by Elmbridge local tax payers by means of higher council tax and/or reduced services.  Such applications would be judged only against the NPPF without any reference to any local planning policies or guidelines.  If the borough develops a revised local plan there will be particular local policies which would have to be applied in addition to those in the NPPF.  That is what the current Strategic Options Local Plan consultation is all about.

What is Green Belt?
Many people think that the Green Belt is countryside and the countryside is Green Belt.  Nationally, most of the countryside is not designated Green Belt and in Elmbridge we have many buildings in the Green Belt: offices, houses, schools, colleges, oil depots, sport halls, shops, stations, hotels and more.  Much of the Green Belt is private and the average person may not walk in it or even see it at a distance.

Much of Elmbridge’s countryside is already protected by planning law: sites of special scientific interest, sites of nature conservation importance, conservation areas, local nature reserves, strategic views, ancient woodlands, flood plains, areas of special historic interest and Whiteley protection among other protections.  Often these create greater protection than Green Belt.

But for Elmbridge Green Belt is very important.  Its main function is to stop the coalescence of our towns.  In this regard, it has mainly succeeded.  There are fourteen possible coalescence corridors within Elmbridge – the perceived experience of leaving a town entering the countryside and entering the neighbouring town:  five are well protected, six are reasonably protected (but could be better) and three have no countryside between them (Weybridge-Walton, Walton-Hersham and Ditton-Molesey).  Externally, Ditton has no countryside between it and Surbiton.

In the south of the borough the Green Belt has another role: that of giving a sense of open country – although this is not specifically mentioned in the NPPF.

How do we plan for this number of new houses?
More than half of Elmbridge is covered by Green Belt and as we know, most of the rest of the area has been increasingly urbanised, many would say to capacity.  About 3,500 houses could be probably be built on sites which are known about or allowed for (that is, sites which have been identified by developers and interested parties, allowance for ‘windfall’ sites, backland development etc).  That leaves a shortfall of around 6,000 (the same number incidentally as the ‘affordable’ or social housing which is needed within the borough).  Where are we going to find the space for all these houses?

If we leave the Green Belt entirely untouched we will have to consider more intensive development in existing urban areas, for example, replicating what is going to happen in Kingston and other parts of London, and building upwards.  Are we happy to have multi-storey blocks of flats in our towns, thus altering the character of our area while we leave land designated Green Belt (some of which may not be particularly attractive) untouched?  The additional houses will have to go somewhere.  The borough is required by the national government to review and consider the Green Belt when updating the local plan to take account of the increased assessed housing need.

On the other hand, we could cater for the extra 6,000 households until 2035 by building sixteen town centre housing developments similar in size to the Heart in Walton: two in each of the borough’s towns and one each in Claygate and Oxshott.  In this case, no Green Belt will be touched and, physically, 95% of the borough would remain no different but there will be infrastructure consequences whatever we do.

Elmbridge’s Green Belt Consultation
The national government’s view on housing assessments.
National Policy on the Green Belt

Heathrow

heathrow_3_750Heathrow was a poor locational choice for a new major airport even when it opened in 1944 and replaced Croydon and Hendon airports.  Also the land for this new London Airport was forcibly purchased by the national government under special powers – the Defence of the Realm Act – without compensation to the landowners specifically to avoid public opposition.

A similar approach is happening today.  Notwithstanding, the impact of an enlarged airport on noise, air and ground pollution the proposed airport expansion does not make economic sense.  The assumptions used in the Davies report  – discount rates for investment, payback periods and PFI rates etc could be considered designed to ensure that the recommendation of the report  could only be Heathrow.

If it is considered that south-east England needs extra airport capacity then it should be in the Thames estuary if at all and while such an airport is being built then perhaps Gatwick could be expanded as a less dreadful choice than Heathrow.

At present Heathrow is running at too high a capacity – far higher than other airports. Heathrow should have the number of flights reduced so that it ordinarily runs at 80% capacity.  At such capacity the amount of stacking would be reduced, thus dramatically reducing air pollution and noise (saving fuel too) and also the airport would be able to cope better when the weather is not so favourable.

To do this the national government  – with one year’s notice  – should randomly withdraw six slots (flight movements in or out) a month (a week would be better but more unsettling for the industry).  The reason that withdrawn slots should be randomly chosen is to avoid any possibility that airlines could be seen to affect the choice of slot to be removed.  At the same time four of those slots would be leased by auction for, say, five years to the highest bidder.  The revenue would not go to the airport but to the state.  The revenues could be partly used to either compensate those who lived near the airport before it was built or to develop better landside connections to reduce air pollution from arriving road traffic or both.

Adverts on Roundabouts

Advert-01Are you keen on having advertisements on our roundabouts in Elmbridge because you you see no harm in them? Or are you dead against them because they impoverish our beautiful borough? A number of proposals have already been withdrawn.  You can see what is proposed by clicking on a roundabout near you.

Sainsburys, Portsmouth Road, Cobham2015/1898
Claygate Lane/Kingston By-Pass, Ditton2015/1905
Lynwood Road/Woodfield Road, Ditton2015/1900
Embercourt Road/Hampton Court Way, Ditton2015/1903
Burwood Road/Severn Hills Road, Hersham2015/1894
Queen’s Road/West Grove, Hersham2015/1892
Hurst Road/Sadler’s Ride, Molesey2015/1901
Ashley Road/Stompond Lane, Walton, 2015/1908
Brooklands Road/Parvis Road, Weybridge,  2015/1907
Brooklands Road/Wellington  Way, Weybridge,  2015/1906
Monument Hill /Monument Road, Weybridge2015/1899