Monthly Archives: November 2015

Victoria Arch

 

I am often contacted by residents asking what the council intends to do about Victoria Arch and how we can create a more attractive entrance to the south of Woking. I first took up this issue back in 2005 when I was a local election candidate for the Mount Hermon West ward, and since being elected I’ve continued to press officers and my colleagues on the Executive on the need to find a solution.

 

A major obstacle has always been the unwillingness of Network Rail to work with the council and make a contribution to improving the railway arch. However, the council has recently received indications that Network Rail is willing to change its position. They have agreed to undertake a feasibility study for work which could potentially see a redesign of the arch, including increased road capacity, better pedestrian access, and a wider bridge. Such a scheme would also have the potential to support an increased number of rail services between Woking and London as part of broader changes planned for the station.

 

Even if the feasibility study shows that the project is viable, we are still a long way off work being commenced, with indications that the changes will not be delivered for at least another five years. Nonetheless, while progress is slow, residents should be assured that different options are being explored and the Conservatives on the council will not allow the investment that has been made in improving the borough to be undermined by what remains an ugly and unattractive gateway to the town centre.

 

Affordable Housing in Woking

 

One of the biggest issues facing residents in Mount Hermon is housing affordability. Property prices in Woking have increased substantially over the last few years and with the ongoing regeneration of the town centre, additional investment in rail capacity and our position as a commuter belt town within easy reach of London, this is unlikely to change unless there is a significant and sustained crash in the market. Woking has been highlighted in a recent study which suggests that the borough will be within the top ten parts of the country likely to see the greatest increases in house prices over the next 10 years.

 

I thought it would be helpful to set out some of the initiatives which have been taken forward by the council to deliver more affordable houses in the past few years. Recent initiatives by the Conservative administration include building 154 new homes as part of the Hoe Valley Scheme; bringing 250 street properties back into use with intermediate rent; and agreeing a strategy to put a further 880 empty homes onto the market.

 

The council agreed the Moor Lane Project in 2013, and work is underway to construct 371 new homes, with some of them coming onto the market earlier this year. We are also delivering 350 homes through Thamesway Housing; the conversion of an unused office block into 45 affordable apartments; and 34 low cast flats above the new fire station on Goldsworth road. The Sheerwater regeneration project – if approved – will provide a further 400 homes, while the Victoria Square development will see 392 new flats in the town centre.

 

Many of these new affordable homes have been bitterly opposed by the opposition on the council, with the Liberal Democrats coming out strongly against the Moor Lane project only at the last moment before an election in the area, and another Liberal Democrat councillor actively lobbying to remove any element of affordability from the Brookwood Farm development. It has been left to the Conservative administration to make mature and responsible decisions and to try and balance the conflicting interests of protecting the green belt while also making sure that we meet the housing needs of future generations.

 

While these developments are welcome, the fact that house price inflation is driven by national and global factors means they are unlikely to make much of an impact on affordability, and they instead represent an attempt by the council to keep up with demand. I have previously set out on this blog my view that the cost of accommodation is one of the greatest challenges for people in Woking, particularly those starting out in life or wishing to move away from their parents’ home and live independently. Even for those looking to rent, the costs can be prohibitive. It is not unusual to see one or two bedroom flats for rent in Mount Hermon for £1200 or £1300 per month. While this may be good for investors or those already well established on the property ladder, it is prohibitive for most people and breeds resentment and frustration.

 

The best thing the council can do is prioritise new housebuilding, particularly modest two and three bedroom houses as there is a gap in the market and very few options falling between studio and one bedroom town centre flats, and much larger four or five bedroom houses in our villages.

 

Interview in Public Affairs News

 

I was recently interviewed by Public Affairs News, the main publication for those working in the UK and EU lobbying industry. The feature was part of a series where the director of the Public Relations Consultants’ Association invites a senior communications professional to share their insights into politics and current affairs.

 

During my interview I argue that the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Opposition will make it extremely difficult for Labour to regain power in 2020; that the Liberal Democrats will continue to struggle for relevance; that the recent UKIP campaign was poorly executed and a wasted opportunity; and that Britain will vote to stay in the European Union in 2017.

 

You can read the interview here and, as always, I would be grateful for any comments or feedback.

 

Theft of Oriental Road bollards

 

As readers of this blog will know, I have been pressing Surrey County Council to take better care of the grass verges along Oriental Road. Residents have been complaining for some time about the state of the grass, which was dug up during roadworks back in 2013. While the grass was re-planted once the work was complete, it has not been able to grow back due to a small minority of motorists parking illegally and inconsiderately across the verges.

 

In response to these complaints, Surrey County Council planted trees at the top end of Oriental Road at the beginning of the year and also recently agreed to place two bollards on one particularly troublesome patch of grass to prevent it from being used to park vehicles.

 

I have now been told that both bollards were dug up and stolen over the weekend, less than a day after being installed. While I appreciate that some drivers will have become used to leaving their vehicles on the grass and paid little attention to reminders that this is public land which should not be used to park cars, I find it astonishing that someone would go to the trouble of digging up and removing council owned bollards. This shows a serious disregard for other people and public property. It is also a financial loss to the taxpayer as the bollards will need to be replaced and further work carried out to secure them and ensure they can’t be removed.

 

I am liaising with Surrey Highways to see what can be done and in the meantime I would encourage anyone who has information about the removal of the bollards to contact Surrey County Council directly.

 

Remembrance Sunday

 

Today I was honoured to take part in my sixth Remembrance Sunday civic ceremony since being elected as a councillor in 2010. During the First World War, over 760 people who lived in what is now the borough of Woking lost their lives in combat action, while around 800 Second World War deaths are recorded in the book of remembrance held at Woking library. Woking has strong links with the armed forces through the nearby Army Training Centre at Pirbright and the Brookwood Military Cemetery, which is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the country and contains 1,601 burials from the First World War and 3,476 from the Second World War.

 

I thought the service was particularly poingant at a time when we recently marked the centenary of the outbreak of hostilities last year and when there has been renewed interest in the causes of the war and experiences of those who answered the call to serve their country. I was pleased to see so many members of the public attend to pay their respects, and was impressed by the discipline and good behaviour shown by the younger members of local organisations such as the Woking Sea Cadets, the Scouts, Guides and Boys’ Brigade, and the St Johns Ambulance Cadets.

 

With threats and instability in places as far away as Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, it is right that we remember those who have fallen in past conflicts and their contribution to creating a safer world for us all, while also ensuring that we treat the prospect of renewed war or military intervention with the seriousness it deserves.