Hersham Hall – a Lost Opportunity

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Hersham Hall has now been closed for several years following an independent condition survey which judged it to be dangerous due to a number of building related issues needing attention. It was also during this period deemed unfit for purpose as a sports hall and was underused.

£650,000 of taxpayers’ money spent on short term attempt

At full Council on Wednesday 2nd October, 31 councillors from the Residents Association, Conservative and Brexit parties on Elmbridge Borough Council voted to spend at least £650,000 of tax payers’ money in an attempt to extend the life of Hersham Hall by just five years!

Counter to the Council’s Climate Emergency Declaration

This controversial and expensive refurbishment decision was taken in the face of solid opposition from all 10 Liberal Democrat councillors and a small number of Residents Association councillors, who argued that the proposal to refurbish the ‘G’ rated EPC (energy performance certificate) Hersham Hall ran counter to the Council’s vote to declare a Climate Emergency.

The decision by the Council to declare a Climate Emergency had been taken at the previous Council meeting on 17th July 2019, witnessed by a full balcony of extremely supportive Elmbridge residents. That decision was welcomed by residents and businesses across the borough and puts Elmbridge at the forefront of progressive local government.

Additional running costs take it to £1m

Knowing that a proposal to rebuild Hersham Hall, which could have been combined with much needed affordable housing had already been dismissed by the local ward councillors and The Hersham Hall member reference group, your Lib Dem councillors proposed that the decision to spend such a large amount of money on what would be a short term fix with at best a ‘D’ rated EPC should be deferred. They further argued that the additional costs of running the hall would take expenditure in the short term to over £1 million.

Lib Dems suggest a 21st century community hub

The reasons for deferral was to give further consideration to the costs and benefits of refurbishment vs rebuilding. The LibDem councillors wanted a more thorough gathering of evidence for the potential to provide Hersham with a 21st century multi-purpose community hub fit for the future. This would give Elmbridge not only a hall to be proud of but also much needed affordable housing in a central village location. This viable proposal would also have brought in revenue to cover the cost of the rebuild, furthermore it would protect the risk of having to build on our precious Green Belt.  This  Liberal Democrat suggestion was outvoted.

Climate Emergency changes everything

The arguments given in favour of the £650,000 refurbishment were that the village had been deprived of its hall for several years, there had already been numerous different decisions made on the future of the hall, and the residents of Hersham had asked for and been promised a refurbishment by their local Councillors.

The Climate Emergency decision presents the Council with the opportunity of proving its commitment to taking real steps towards reducing the borough’s carbon footprint and increasing its affordable housing for key workers.

This is a missed opportunity

Regrettably the first chance for the Council to progress with this policy has now been missed and most unfortunately the LibDem group’s principled debate in favour of this as well as giving the community a state of the art building to be proud of was defeated in support of short-term political aims.

Elmbridge Liberal Democrat Group October 2019

This is the Liberal Democrat Manifesto for Elmbridge

Safer, Greener, Smarter

Environment
Climate Change is an existential threat to humankind.  We will put Elmbridge on a path to become carbon neutral and will adopt appropriate policies to this end. We will work with local businesses and residents to identify and implement smart and practical measures to achieve our goal. This work will bring tangible benefits to our neighbourhoods and to our personal well-being, too.

Traffic
We will begin to tackle traffic congestion and cut air pollution by installing 20mph in residential areas, improving public transport, discouraging engine idling near schools and elsewhere, and promoting walking and cycling options across Elmbridge.  We will install electric vehicle-charging points in our car parks, encourage them in any new developments and provide free parking for zero-emission cars. We will co-ordinate on and off-street parking, introduce smart parking charging and secure easy access to services.

Planning
We will defend the Green Belt and implement a “brownfield sites first” approach in the upcoming local plan.  We will campaign for infrastructure improvements to be in place for new developments. We will set targets for social housing and family starter homes to meet the needs of a younger generation.  We will encourage local forums to create neighbourhood plans. We will also promote the concentration of shops and services in town centres.

Crime
We will strengthen Neighbourhood Watch and anti-social behaviour teams, and work with Surrey Police to restore neighbourhood policing.  We will promote leisure, sport and social facilities for young people in all towns.

Democracy
We will ensure full transparency in both borough and county budget planning and spending, as well as in the conduct of planning applications – with full accountability to residents.  We support the introduction of an effective unitary authority by merging the county and borough levels into one authority in place of the current Surrey County Council and Surrey’s eleven boroughs.

Leisure                                                                                                                               We recognise the importance of leisure to both mental and physical wellbeing and also its economic benefits.  All leisure activities should be provided at affordable cost to participants, including free adult fitness equipment in every settlement. We will safeguard libraries and look to innovate their services.

Weybridge town meetings

In my May 2018 election literature I promised to run town meetings, if elected.

My ambition is to try and establish a kind of forum where residents and businesses in Weybridge can come together on a regular basis and talk about the kind of Weybridge we want for the future.

Why did I want to do this?

I am committed to trying to enable generative and creative conversations. Conversations which bring people in at the early stages of developing anything new in the town.

All we need is YOU!

We need your ideas, your input, your voice and your help.

  • Shape what happens to the town.
  • Influence and support ideas and plans.
  • Get support from the others and the council for for your own ideas and projects.

We will talk about:

  • The spaces we use.
  • How we get about.
  • How we support people and keep them safe.
  • Our local economy and business.

And we want to know from you:

  • What do we love that we want to protect?
  • What do we need to make better?
  • What would we rather do without?
  • What can you do and what help do you need from the council?

Let’s bring the community together and create a future for Weybridge that we all want.

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.

 

Housing

This is what it says in the Conservative manifesto:

Build Affordable Housing: recognise the need to build more affordable homes in Elmbridge. I pledge to work with my colleagues to identify sites where additional properties can be constructed without negatively impacting existing communities.

A pleasant sentiment but words butter no parsnips. This century Elmbridge borough did not build a single home.  So the Conservatives have had plenty of time to do something.

But once Lib Dems formed an administration the action began, three projects were begun in Cobham, Ditton and Weybridge.  Parallel work has been undertaken to set up a borough owned housing company.  As opportunities arise new social and affordable housing will be built to suit the needs of each community.

Although the national government says we have to allow more housing in Elmbridge.  The bigger problem is that Elmbridge has a skewed range of housing that is ill suited to the needs of its people.  We have a large number houses with six or more bedrooms but far to few one and two bedroom flats and smaller three bedroom houses.

Whilst some people might aspire to one day owning a six bedroomed house, very few people can consider a six bedroom house as a starter home.  People who are born in Oxshott, Fairmile and Stoke d’Abernon should have a reasonable chance to find a home locally to buy or rent and not have to emigrate out of Elmbridge to find a home of their own.

 

Housing in Oxshott

This is what it says in the Conservative manifesto:

Build Affordable Housing: recognise the need to build more affordable homes in Elmbridge. I pledge to work with my colleagues to identify sites where additional properties can be constructed without negatively impacting existing communities.

Sounds good but why are these places left to rot for decades?  This publicly owned land in Waverley Road has been a housing opportunity for decades for decades but the Conservatives have produced nothing.

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.

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

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

Giving People a Home

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

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

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

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.