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.

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.

Surrey Heartlands – the next five years of Health and Social Care in Elmbridge

What’s happening to health and social care in our area?

Quite a lot actually!

The NHS has launched a programme to improve joined up working across health and social care services and is seeking to improve community provision for vulnerable groups – especially the frail elederly.

The mechanism for achieving this is locally based Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs).

Citizens of Elmbridge come under the Surrey Heartlands STP, which includes Surrey County Council, the two CCGs covering Elmbridge, and other healthcare providers.

As Surrey Heartlands has a much larger than average older population, there is a focus in the plan on improving serrvices for this group. Just to paint the picture, over the next 10 years the number of people aged 85+ will go up by 36% and by 2025 more than 20% of the population in our area will be aged 65+.

Public Engagement is also a key feature of the partnership working that is central to the new approach. This is seen as a way to involve citizens in “defining the priorities and trade-offs that will be needed to achieve this service transformation, within the resources available locally.”

A further feature of the plan is to trial devolution of powers and budget to Surrey Heartlands (see p10 in the plan). This is designed to enable “full integration with Surrey County Council, integrating health and care delivery with the wider determinants of health in our population”

If anyone is interested in getting involved as a community stakeholder, there is a stakeholder reference group meeting on 18 October at Leatherhead Leisure Centre, Guildford Road, Leatherhead starting at 2 pm. There is also a Surrey Heartlands Newsletter.

The contact person for both of these is: glynis.mcdonald@nhs.net

The Surrey Heartlands Sustainability and Transormation Plan can be found at http://www.nwsurreyccg.nhs.uk/surreyheartlands/Documents/Surrey%20Heartlands%20STP%20October%202016.pdf

The Devolution Agreement document can be found at
http://www.nwsurreyccg.nhs.uk/surreyheartlands/PublishingImages/Pages/News/Devolution%20Agreement.pdf

40 Acre Field Claygate Planning!

It is with great trepidation that I write an article about 40 Acre Field as it is indeed a complicated and controversial subject for the residents of Claygate and the respectable owners or renters of this plot of Green Belt land.

This blog is to provide a clearer picture to the edited version that has been published in the Claygate Focus.

In 2013 after being elected for the first time, one of my earliest issues was the sale, division and consequent devastation of 40 Acre Field. This quiet backwater nestles between the A3, Bridleway 34, Common Lane and Holroyd Road. It is possibly one of the last pieces of green belt which separates the village of Claygate from the London suburb of Chessington! This once beautiful tranquil setting soon became a subject of immense concern to Claygate and especially the residents of Common Lane.

Little did I know what a long, difficult and emotional journey this would be!

These pictures are taken from the end of Common Lane at the junction with Bridleway 34

1.Pre 2013

2. March 2015

3. May 2015

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Local Green Spaces are protected from inappropriate development unless ‘VERY SPECIAL’ circumstances outweigh potential harm. Ref:  DM20

Since 1963 there has been a deed between Barwell and Elmbridge borough that does NOT give full right and liberty to the Landowner or his successors to pass and repass with or without vehicles down Common Lane.

Common Lane is a private road owned by Elmbridge Borough Council (EBC). The constant toing and froing of vehicles to the numerous plots on the field via this access point, that had previously been closed for many years, has inconvenienced other users and residents. Common Lane is little more than a dirt track directly adjacent to Claygate Common. Despite the efforts of EBC countryside officers to maintain the surface and keep it free of potholes and flooding, there has been considerably more damage to this lane in the last few years. This has substantially increased the financial maintenance costs to EBC.

Access alone is not the only issue, burnt out cars, fly-tipping and various forms of anti-social behaviour eventual led to the decision of EBC to close the small car park to the public in 2017. This decision is not related to the legitimate users of 40 Acre Field that own or rent plots to graze their horses. The perpetrators of these problems are simply exploiting this relatively quiet secluded backwater but also create further costs to EBC.

The individual purchase of the plots has seen, what many consider, a detrimental transformation of this field. Access remains difficult due to the poor drainage which for most part of the year leaves it almost impassable because of flooding, unless you have a four wheel drive vehicle which inevitably causes further damage to the land.

Two planning applications for plots 11 & 12 (2015/3788 & 2016/1567) were refused by East Area Planning sub-committee (EAPS) and have resulted in a costly High Court Judgement and a Judicial Review. As the applicants failed to appear at the latter on Tuesday 11th July 2017 it was decided that all the evidence would be taken into consideration and a final decision would be returned by early September 2017. The decision is that the appeal against EBC has been dismissed. The applicants now have to remove their caravans from their plot within the agreed allotted time. Costs were not awarded to either the applicants, the borough or Claygate Parish Council (CPC).

Application 2016/2062 which has 100 objections was discussed at EAPS on Monday 4th September and a personal permission was suggested by myself and CPC. This will now be decided at the next borough full planning meeting in October.

As things now stand we have what was once an open field divided into numerous plots by fences for the individual landowners. Although many consider this unsightly, there is not a simpler less intrusive method to divide this field. Multiple shelters were added (before any sale was made) and these are absolutely permissible as long as they are on skids that ensure they are easily moveable. Many trees were also removed from the field (before its sale) opening it up to increased noise from the A3 and making it vulnerable to strong winds blowing across the land as well as flooding which has always been a problem.

Routes have been cut across the field so owners can access their plots and their livestock. Original gateways have also been re-opened for the same reasons although there is some controversy over access rights. Local residents may not like the changes that have taken place but the owners do have a right to protect and graze their animals within their plots.

However a large barn like structure has been erected. A retrospective planning application 2016/2062 is under consideration and the plight of an ailing hose has been considered with much empathy.

Travellers in two caravans have been residing on their two plots and have undergone retrospective planning applications (2015/3788 & 2016/1567) Along with other distressing issues residents have been extremely concerned about this long term complicated situation. These issues have impacted not only on the local residents but also on the people who legitimately own or rent the land to graze their horses.

Change has inevitably occurred with the sale of these plots, fences have been erected, there are numerous shelters and inevitably more vehicles. Some changes must be accepted following the sale of this field but EBC have and will deal with any aspect that is not permissible.

There has however without doubt been a detrimental effect on the flora and fauna of this once much more beautiful and tranquil area.

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.

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%.

 

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

Our Kind of Claygate

Our kind of ClaygateMy kind of Claygate

Claygate’s three Liberal Democrat councillors Mary Marshall, Alex Coomes and Kim Cross are united in their commitment to greater empowerment of residents in decisions that impact the quality of their lives. They have adopted a campaign theme ‘Our Kind of Claygate’ to reflect the importance of citizen participation, coupled with more open, personal and service-minded local government. This principle applies as much to Surrey County Council as to Elmbridge Borough Council. Now the councillors are inviting Claygate residents to describe ‘My Kind of Claygate’ i.e. their vision for the development of Claygate. These responses will be noted and they will inform the councillors’ work going forward. Mary, Alex and Kim are standing again as Council candidates this May.

DSC09817