Monthly Archives: January 2015
The temporary location for the new Hoe Valley School has been announced and agreed by the Executive. The plan is for the school to operate out of interim accommodation in an area adjoining Woking Park. The school will open to pupils from September and move to a permanent location in South Woking after two years.
The establishment of Hoe Valley School is a fantastic achievement by residents and parents who have put in a great deal of time, effort and their own resources to help meet the education needs of children in Woking. The borough is short of school places, particularly in South Woking where there has been a great deal of new housing development in the last few years. Particular credit is due to the head teacher Penny Alford and the project coordinator Claerwyn Hamilton-Wilkes. I wish them well in their endeavours and am confident the school will be a success.
There have been concerns raised by residents in the areas immediately around the park such as Constitution Hill and Poplar Grove that temporarily locating the school in the park will create noise disturbance and disruption to traffic flows, particularly on Kingfield Road. However, I am confident that every effort will be made to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum. I look forward to working with the school and residents and seeing both sides engage in dialogue to iron out any issues that may emerge.
At the Overview & Scrutiny Committee meeting on Monday, councillors discussed the Sheerwater redevelopment project. This was a poorly organised and bad-tempered meeting which I feel did not do credit to the seriousness of the issues raised about the consultation process, nor did it do anything to reassure those residents who were in attendance and face having their homes compulsory purchased and demolished to make way for the new development.
In my contribution to the debate I set out my position, which is that I dislike the principle of compulsory purchase of people’s homes by local authorities. On the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, it seems most unfair that the state can force a private individual to sell their house, even if they do not wish to do so. Where compulsory purchase Is used on one or two properties to make way for essential infrastructure changes, there is an argument to be made on the balance of proportionality. Where it is proposed to use compulsory purchase on almost 100 properties to benefit a major project on which there is not yet a clear consensus, it is essential that there is full and proper consultation and people are appropriately reimbursed for the disruption to their lives and loss of a property in which they may have invested significant time and resources.
During the meeting I asked what assistance would be given to those who might not be able to afford a replacement home in the borough even after receiving the suggested uplift in the value of their existing property. I also sought a guarantee that anyone who wished to remain in Sheerwater would be able to do so. Given the oft-repeated comments by Sheerwater residents that the consultation thus far has been insufficient, I questioned officers on whether they believed the council was reaching out to the right people, and if they could provide an example of how the engagement process has helped shaped the plans in their current form.
Unfortunately I did not receive answers to my questions. However, I have been told that the details of these issues will be worked out as part of the current consultation exercise and examined in depth by the Sheerwater Oversight Panel. In the meantime, the best way forward is for officers, councillors and residents to work together constructively to find a way forward on all these tricky points. Some of the language that has been used has been emotive and unhelpful, and a calmer and more measured approach from residents will also assist in ensuring their concerns are given proper consideration.
At last night’s meeting of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee I presented a short report on voter fraud in Woking. The background to this was the electoral petition in 2013 which revealed that the former Liberal Democrat councillor Mohammed Bashir won his Maybury & Sheerwater seat thanks to corrupt and fraudulent practices such as registering false voters, forging voters’ signatures and harvesting the votes of residents without their knowledge or consent.
People in Woking were rightly outraged at this blatant manipulation of the democratic process and sought reassurances that such abuse will never be allowed to happen again. The remit of my report was to consider whether the Overview & Scrutiny Committee should hold an inquiry session and examine the steps that the council has taken to safeguard the integrity of elections in the borough. It was also suggested that such a review would be a good opportunity to scrutinise the move towards the new ‘individual registration’ system which came into effect last year and will apply to voters registering for the General Election.
I met with the Chief Executive at the end of last year to discuss the issues raised in the scrutiny topic review. One aspect of our discussion was the timetable for publication of the report of the Elections and Electoral Registration Review Panel, which is independently chaired and produces an annual report into the conduct of the previous year’s elections. The Review Panel will be meeting this month and will submit its report to the next meeting of Full Council. This report will include details on work carried out in the lead up to the Borough and European elections in 2014, including the processes put in place after the electoral petition and court judgement on the conduct of Mr Bashir. As a result of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee’s request, the Review Panel will also examine the work carried out to introduce individual registration and the impact this should have on the conduct of future elections.
On the basis that Full Council will have the opportunity to review and debate the report of the Review Panel, I am satisfied that at this stage there was no need for the Overview & Scrutiny Committee to hold a separate session and call in officers or Executive members for a more formal hearing. However, the committee did take the opportunity to hold a short discussion on issues around voter fraud and electoral manipulation at last night’s meeting, which will help inform a broader debate when the subject comes before Full Council next month.
Surrey County Council plans to introduce a series of traffic calming measures to improve safety and reduce vehicle speeds along Pembroke Road, Onslow Crescent and Shaftesbury Road. This follows an ongoing campaign by myself and County Councillor Liz Bowes for more effective restrictions on speeding through this part of Woking, as well as the diligent efforts of local SpeedWatch volunteers.
Among the proposed features are speed cushions outside Beechwood and Ferndale, and at the junction with Onslow Crescent. A road table will also run along Pembroke Road from Woodside and Ringers Oak.
A copy of the plans showing the location of each speed hump and the road table can be examined at the civic offices in Gloucester Square, or at Quadrant Court on Guildford Road. If you have any comments or wish to object to the proposals, you should send your representations to the Traffic Regulation Orders Team, Rowan House, Merrow Lane, Guildford, Surrey, GU4 7BQ no later than the end of the month.