Monthly Archives: September 2015
At Full Council last week I highlighted concerns about the pressure on capacity during the South West Trains peak service from Woking to London Waterloo. Demand is expected to substantially increase on what is already an overcrowded route over the next few decades. With the council facing a requirement to build an additional 5,000 new homes, and most of this development expected to take place in the town centre, I sought to gain clarification on what discussions have taken place between Woking Borough Council, South West Trains, the Department for Transport and Network Rail on improving the quality, accessibility, frequency and affordability of the rali link between Woking and London.
I was told by the Leader of the Council, Cllr John Kingsbury, that the local authority was consulted as part of Network Rail’s recent Wessex Route Study, which sets out the strategic vision for the future of this part of the rail network. The council provided information from our Core Strategy to help Network Rail ascertain the likely scale of future demand. The council has also drawn up a separate rail strategy along with Surrey County Council and South West Trains in relation to local rail infrastructure.
I went on to ask whether the council had a position on proposals published by Surrey County Council which could see the Crossrail 2 service extended to serve Woking and Guildford. In response, Cllr Kingsbury said that he supported the principle of Crossrail 2 coming to Woking if that were possible and that he was keen to see a direct rali link between Woking and Heathrow airport. Cllr Kingsbury said that he was working with the County Council to do everything they could to help bring Crossrail 2 to Woking.
During the meeting of Full Council earlier this week I asked what estimate the council has made of the success of the various outdoor music and entertainment events that were held in Woking Park this summer. While most of the events that took place over the last few months have been small concerts involving local schools and community groups, positive feedback has been received about two larger events, Party in the Park and the Big Gig.
Party in the Park was run by council officers and had over 15,000 visitors throughout the course of the day, double the number of visitors in previous years. Satisfaction surveys were completed by visitors and the average score received for the event was 9 out of 10. The Big Gig was organised by the Phoenix Cultural Centre and they too had a great day with very enthusiastic feedback.
As a supplementary I also asked what steps the council takes to let residents in areas adjacent to the park know when such events are happening and what measures are put in place to ensure they are not overly disruptive. I was told the council does appreciate the high impact these events have on neighbouring residents and they try to use early notification and advertising so people know when they will be taking place.
The council tries to encourage the use of public transport for people getting events in the park as this helps to minimise disruption from traffic. For some events the council has people on site to monitor noise levels to ensure that they are not creating a nuisance.
Apart from the fireworks in November, most of the events hosted in the park take place during the day in the summer months, and such concerts are relatively rare, so I feel the right balance has been struck between getting the most out of this important amenity and public space and also making such that residents in Mount Hermon, who benefit from the park all year round, are not excessively disrupted.
At last night’s meeting of Full Council I asked a question to the Executive seeking assurances on the protection of personal information held about residents by Woking Borough Council. My question was motivated by recent high profile cases involving computer hacking or data leaks, as well as a report by the civil liberties think-tank Big Brother Watch which shows that local authorities in the UK have reported 4,236 data breaches over the last three years. I asked the council how many data breaches had been reported in Woking over a three year period, and what measures were in place to ensure that residents’ records are kept secure and only accessed by those authorised to do so.
I received a response from the portfolio holder, Cllr Gary Elson, who confirmed that there had been no reported breaches of data or personal information by the council over the last three years. Cllr Elson went on to explain that there were stringent controls in place to protect the data held digitally, and that these are assessed annually for compliance with the requirements of the Public Services Network. Safeguards include the use of complex passwords and two factor authentication for remote access; use of security software; the ability to remotely wipe devices; and restrictions on the use of removable storage devices. The council also uses security pass access control within the secure areas of the civic offices, provides training for new staff and also has policies in place providing guidance to staff dealing with sensitive information in order to protect the security of data held in a physical format.
I hope residents will be reassured by Cllr Elson’s answer that the council takes the protection of sensitive and personal information seriously, and hope it will keep this under constant review and continue its good record.
Following the statement from the Prime Minister last week that Britain will take in a greater number of Syrian refugees through the Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme, my Conservative colleagues have put together proposals to be debated at tomorrow’s Executive meeting which set out how Woking Borough Council intends to meet its responsibility to grant a safe haven for those fleeing the war-torn Middle East.
The war in Syria has by recent international standards been extraordinarily brutal, with ethnic cleansing, chemical and biological weapon attacks and the indiscriminate bombing and targeting of civilians, with entire cities being destroyed. While all sides in the conflict have engaged in human rights abuses, it has become clear over the past few years that the Assad regime is guilty of horrendous crimes. Although there is an understandable reluctance for the UK to enter into another Middle East conflict, there is nonetheless a clear moral imperative for the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to do everything it can to end the suffering.
The suggestion is that Woking could provide accommodation and support for 12 Syrian families a year over the next five years, with the scheme to be reviewed annually to check it is still appropriate. Those eligible for settlement will be identified and security checked by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and be brought to the country directly from camps in Syria, rather than those who have crossed into Europe illegally. Special priority will be given to the most vulnerable and deserving cases, such as victims of torture or unaccompanied women and children.
All local authorities have a duty to set out how they will contribute to the effort to support an increased number of refugees. In my view, the plans set out by the Executive strike the right balance between showing generosity and compassion while also ensuring that we do not put a strain on infrastructure or exacerbate waiting lists for housing and other local government services.
Many people have contacted the council to ask what they can do to be of assistance, such as offering a spare room or volunteering to foster orphans. I would urge anyone who wishes to host a refugee family to contact Surrey County Council as they will be able to provide more information about what can be done to help.