Council News

At Wednesday’s council meeting, it was confirmed that a coalition of the Liberal Democrat Group and the Residents Association (RA) Group will take on the administration of the council for the coming year. The Liberal Democrats number 10 and the RAs number 17, so together we have 27 seats compared to the Conservatives 21. This is a significant change from last year when the council was in no overall control at 24 each. In the elections on May 2nd, not only did we gain Ashley Tilling as our new Lib Dem councillor for Weybridge Riverside, but there were gains for Residents’ candidates in the St George’s Hill and Esher wards.

We have taken the decision to form a coalition administration because we believe that we are elected in order to effect change as well as safeguard what we cherish in our communities. These are far better achieved by being in control of both the agenda and the decision-making processes.

Whilst the Leader of the council will be from the RA group, our long-standing Weybridge Riverside councillor Andrew Davis will be the Deputy Leader. Lib Dem councillors will hold cabinet seats and so be responsible for portfolios on Highways, Community and Corporate Affairs, and Environment. It has also been agreed that we will provide the Chairmen of some of the most important committees.

Your Lib Dem group deliberated the move towards a coalition through a number of long meetings and we have not entered into it lightly. We presented a number of policies to the Residents which they have agreed to support as priorities for the coming year. These include, for example, our strong green agenda relating to the climate emergency. We are also mindful of the dynamic nature of government – events can, and do, appear out of nowhere; so we have processes in place to give an agreed approach to tackling such developments. We therefore feel that we are in a strong position to make a success of our time in administration.

Why aren’t we getting there? By train!

Monica Harding, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Liberal Democrats in Esher & Walton writes:  

South Western Railway has become a joke in our constituency. Failings in our transport network mean we can’t get to work on time, our children can’t get to school, and yet fares have increased again by 3.2% in the New Year. We’re being asked to pay more for less.

It is not good enough. It is unacceptable that we are not able to get to London on time – the world capital of finance in one of the largest economies in the world. This is having a negative impact on earnings which are lost, enforced time off work, childcare extras, appointments missed and so on.

While the national government fails to get a grip on poor performance, Liberal Democrat MPs are stepping up and holding the rail companies to account. They believe that passengers must come first, not the investors in South Western Railway. They are speaking up for their constituents and offering solutions and they are pressing the government to take action.

Our neighbouring Lib Dem MP, Vince Cable (Twickenham) brought an emergency debate to parliament in December on the subject of South Western Railway and Ed Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) has set up an All Party Parliamentary Group to hold the train companies to account. In December Ed published a report ‘ Passengers Must Come First’ which spells out what needs to happen.

LibDem MPs have a reputation as good constituency MPs, working hard for their constituents and standing up for their interests. As the Liberal Democrat PPC in Esher and Walton I will work with Ed and Vince in pushing the solutions for trains in our constituency.

Here’s what needs to happen:

  • The national government must either remove SWR’s franchise or impose a new performance related contract, without negotiation.
  • SWR must not be rewarded for its manifest failure. A new contract or operator must be incentivized to put the passenger first, before shareholders. Profits should only be made once stretching performance targets are met.
  • Performance targets on SWR must include the existing Public Performance Measures improving to at least 90% on all routes by the end of 2018/20.
  • SWR and Network Rail must urgently develop new capability and capacity to manage disruptions better.
  • The Government must support immediate additional funding for essential investment.
  • Network Rail must reform its structure and culture so that managers are held accountable for performance.
  • Network Rail must be given more time to access safely the infrastructure to allow for basic maintenance and repairs.
  • The Department for Transport’s role in holding the rail companies to account should be independently assessed.

Want to know more? Follow me on twitter @monicabeharding, Facebook or at monicaharding.org and get updates as we demand better for Esher and Walton.

Reshaping Weybridge Town Centre

A community hub in Weybridge

At the recent Portmore Park and District Residents Association meeting, Weybridge Surrey County Councillor, Tim Oliver spoke about ideas for developing Weybridge town centre. Surrey County and Elmbridge Borough officers and NHS property services have already met to talk about creating a Weybridge Hub on the Weybridge Hospital site.  .

Services on the site?

So far, we have no firm idea of what is meant by a hub on this site. Current thinking includes relocating Weybridge library and Weybridge Centre for the Community to the hospital site. Of course this will be alongside the redevelopment of the site for GP practices and community health services.

And then?

Some people are also in favour of creating more town centre parking spaces by paving over the old bowling green at the entrance to Churchfields Recreation Ground (Park).

So far, there has been no mention of where the much used and highly valued Children’s Centre fits into the ideas being discussed.

We will watch and report on developments.

Let us know what you think

We also invite people to let us know how they would like to see our town centre develop.  You can do this in person and hear others’ views at our next town meeting on Thursday 11th October, starting 7.30 pm, at the Centre for the Community, Churchfields Place.

What’s happening with the new Weybridge Cinema?

Much needed town centre development

Weybridge residents are looking forward to having a new independent cinema at the site of Weybridge Hall. This might be the first of several enhancements to the life of the town centre. However, people have expressed concern over the lack of any update and apparent delay in the development moving forward.

Why the delay?

Recently published council papers (Item 6) now show that there have been unanticipated costs which which will impact the overall budget needed. These arise from removal of asbestos and the proposed approach to effective sound proofing. The cabinet will be considering this on 4 July and will make recommendations to full council.

Culture and Affordable Housing

The plan for this development is to deliver a cinema with around 100 seats, plus affordable housing units above. These will comprise four one-bedroom and one two-bedroom units. These units will be affordable for rent properties.

Clearly residents and businesses in Weybridge are keen for this development to the evening economy to go ahead. We are keen to enhance the social and cultural life of the town which is great to live in.

Keeping you informed

We will provide an update once a decision has been taken.

 

Churchfield Allotments

The Lib Dems in Weybridge have inadvertently stirred up a brouhaha by mistakenly placing a Social Housing label close to Churchfield Allotments in our April Focus!

This raised a concern among people living in neighbouring roads, who approached the owners of the allotments, the Weybridge Charity, to find out if there were any plans to build social housing on the allotments.

The Charity says there are no plans to build social housing, but it may seek to sell a small section of land for development.

It has told residents that it is “under increasing pressure to meet the needs of Weybridge residents who face hardship” and needs to raise funds. “The Charity has come to the conclusion this can be achieved by developing and selling the ‘Molyneux Road triangle’ … a little over 5% of Churchfields allotments”. It adds that “any rumours of providing Council or Housing Association accommodation are unfounded”.

Neighbouring residents are concerned about the impact of development on the quality of life in the area, particularly as this is an area of acute parking stress. However, residents have also shown a considerable interest in the Charity itself and its work and some are seeking to find ways to become more involved with the work of the Charity.

The Charity’s case for the sale and development of 5-6% of the area of Churchfields allotments is that it needs to secure its long term access to income from invested funds rather than deplete them. It is the earnings from these invested sums, plus any monies donated to the Charity, which are used to carry out its charitable objective – ‘the relief of persons resident in the area of benefit (Weybridge KT13 postcode area) who are in need, hardship or distress.’

According to the Charity, “The action will also provide much needed funds for investment in the remainder of the allotments: bringing new areas under cultivation, allowing a proper toilet to be built, creating a communal area and improving facilities, so that, retaining its unique character, the whole site may be used more effectively and attract new, long-term [allotment] tenants.”

The Charity states on its website that “It is the declared intention of the Managing Trustees of Weybridge Charity to retain Churchfields allotments as allotment land. This maintains the history of green land in the centre of Weybridge, and open views from Churchfields Park across the allotments towards St James’ Church“.

If you have never visited the allotments, do go and take a look.  This is a wonderful green area in the heart of Weybridge.

For those of you who do not know of the Charity and who have friends of relatives who may be experiencing hardship, more information can be found on the Weybridge Charity’s website.  And even if not, it is interesting to read the history of the Charity.

Finally, anyone interested in having an allotment, it would appear that there are currently unused allotments and a thriving community of allotment holders.

Give Us your Views

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

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

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

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

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

More services will be added later.

Be informed

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

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

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

Borough Plan

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

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

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

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

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.