Woking Borough Council
I’m delighted to announce that Marta Andreasen MEP will be the guest speaker at the South Woking Conservatives’ annual winter lunch party on Saturday 7th December at Pin Mill on Heathside Road.
Marta has been an MEP since 2009 and was formerly chief accountant to the European Commission, where she raised concerns about flaws in the EU’s accounting system that left it vulnerable to fraud. She defected from UKIP to the Conservatives earlier this year and is ranked fourth on the Conservative list of candidates for South East England in the 2014 European Parliament elections.
The South Woking winter lunch parties are always a highlight of our association’s calendar of events and Marta will undoubtedly be a fascinating speaker. Tickets are likely to sell out quickly so make sure you book your place on the Woking Conservatives’ website.
On Monday evening members of the Licensing Committee met to consider a request by De Vere Venues for an extension of alcohol hours at the Gorse Hill hotel and conference centre on Hook Heath Road. At present the hotel is licensed to serve alcohol up to 11pm. De Vere submitted an application to increase this to 2am on every night of the week. Permission was also sought to remove some of the conditions attached to the license, which limits Gorse Hill to providing refreshments only to guests and those attending a conference or event at the venue.
The application was quite contentious with around forty letters of objection received from members of the public. Most representations centred on what was believed to be an ongoing problem with public nuisance arising from patrons leaving the premises shortly before midnight. Residents complained about general bad behaviour by De Vere guests including urinating in driveways near the hotel, minor damage being caused to parked cars, the theft of signs and dustbins from neighbouring front gardens, and loud talking and arguing on the street for several hours after closing time. The situation was complicated by the fact that many of these issues have not historically been reported to the police or the council’s environmental health team, making it difficult to judge the scale of the problem.
The committee was mindful of arguments on both sides, and it was felt that keeping the existing conditions to the license would reassure those who feared that the nature of Gorse Hill would change from a conference venue area to a pub which would admit all comers late into the night. However, we also believed that for a venue offering weddings and overnight events, the current limit 10pm limit on alcohol was too restrictive. Given the real concerns about noise and disruption, the committee felt that 2am was unreasonable for a venue in a quiet residential area such as Hook Heath. It was therefore agreed that the alcohol hours be extended from 11pm to midnight, but only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
In making this decision, I recommended to members of the Hook Heath Residents’ Association, many of whom were in attendance at the meeting, that they should reach out and build dialogue with De Vere so that future problems can be addressed amicably. Serious cases of disorder or anti-social behaviour should be reported to the police since this will inform any future review of the venue’s licensing hours.
Woking Conservatives announce borough council election candidates for Mount Hermon East and Mount Hermon West
Last night I was formally adopted by the Woking Conservative Association to stand for re-election as the councillor for Mount Hermon East in next year’s local elections.
I’ve had a fantastic three and a half years on the council and have been pleased to be able to stand up for residents’ interests by helping to establish the East Hill Residents’ Association; campaigning against inappropriate development proposals on the old St Dunstan’s church site; working with Cllr Liz Bowes to persuade the county council to introduce traffic calming measures along Park Road; and making representations at the planning committee to protect the special status and character of the Hockering.
I’m also proud to have played a role in the shaping of Woking town centre and the redevelopment of our community by supporting measures such as the Hoe Valley scheme; the Moor Lane PFI project; the revitalisation of the town square, and the exciting changes taking place in Commercial Way and Victoria Square.
My priorities if re-elected next May will be to continue working with colleagues to transform Woking town centre into a high quality retail, commercial and entertainment destination; to protect our green spaces by campaigning against over-development in our residential areas; and to support the Executive as it continues to reduce wasteful and unnecessary expenditure and find innovative ways of delivering improved services and better value for money for residents.
I would also like to congratulate my friend Colin Scott, who has been selected to stand for the Conservatives in Mount Hermon West. Colin stood in the ward at the 2012 local elections and came very close to winning the seat. I know he will do a formidable job and be a strong voice in representing the interests of his residents.
Several residents have contacted me to complain about inconsiderate parking on the grass verges along Oriental Road. This has prevented the grass from growing back fully after the roadworks earlier in the summer. Residents have asked whether it would be possible for bollards to be installed along Oriental Road to prevent people from parking their cars on the verges.
I have raised this matter with both Woking Borough Council parking enforcement and with Surrey County Council, who are the responsible highways authority. The council has asked civil enforcement officers to step up patrols and issue warning notices to any cars parked on the grass verges. Normal enforcement action and patrols along Oriental Road will continue during the 8:30am to 6pm controlled period.
In terms of a longer term solution, the County Council is reluctant to agree to the installation of bollards or wooden posts at this stage as they are concerned that this could move problems with inconsiderate parking further down the street towards the Lion Retail Park. I have therefore agreed that the matter should be kept under review and that we see whether the increased patrols make any difference. Should further action be required, it is possible for our county councillor to take a request for bollards or another form of verge protection to the Local Committee, or alternatively to fund such a measure out of her local allocation allowance.
Following a complaint from residents opposite the Lion Retail Park, I also asked the council’s parking enforcement officers to make representations to Surrey County Council about their vehicles parking in Little Riding during the recent night works on Maybury Hill. I have received assurances that this was a one-off and should not happen again.
A meeting of Woking Borough Council’s Licensing Committee last week decided against introducing an additional charge on licensed premises in the borough which serve alcohol after midnight.
Under powers granted to local authorities under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, councils have the right to impose a charge, known as a late night levy, on pubs and nightclubs that operate into the early hours of the morning, with any money collected being split with the police and used to cover the costs associated with late night drinking.
The council also has the power to issue an Early Morning Restriction Order, which would apply retrospectively to all licensed premises and prohibit alcohol sales after a chosen hour.
The Licensing Committee has voted to recommend to the Executive that neither a late night levy nor an Early Morning Restriction Order are introduced in Woking at present. This is because of the relatively small number of establishments likely to be affected, and the fact that the sums raised would be small. Any money collected needs to be split with 70% going to Surrey Police and only 30% going to the council. Most councillors agreed that the imposition of a late night levy would be an extra tax on the pub trade at a time when it is already struggling in the current economic climate. Concerns were also raised that declaring an Early Morning Restriction Order would be arbitrary, suggest there is a problem with out of control binge drinking and anti-social behaviour in Woking, and drive patrons to neighbouring boroughs such as Guildford.
Out of more than three hundred councils in the country, only ten are considering a late night levy so it was agreed no action would be taken at present, and that it would be best to monitor the situation in the town centre and learn from the experience of other councils before revisiting the use of these powers in the future.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance has published an article I have written for their blog on how Woking Borough Council has taken steps to reduce waste and expenditure by cutting the cost of administration and embracing outsourcing and partnership working to provide more efficient public services and better value for money.
Although there is still much to be done, I believe the council can be proud of our achievements over the past few years in terms of rejuvenating Woking town centre and delivering major redevelopment projects such as the Hoe Valley scheme, while also reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and freezing council tax in three out of the last four years.
Last night Woking Borough Council’s Licensing Committee considered a report prepared by the Taxi Trade Working Group on the council’s emission standards and vehicle replacement policy for licensed taxis. The Licensing Committee appointed myself, Cllr Anne Murray and Cllr Ken Howard to the Task Group in June to investigate concerns raised by the taxi trade about the introduction of the Euro 5 emission standards and NCAP 5 safety rating for all licensed taxis from 6th January 2014.
The Task Group held a public consultation throughout September and met earlier this month to consider the representations it received, as well as a petition submitted to the council by Cllr Muzzafar Ali which requested a two year delay before the new requirements were introduced.
After a lengthy discussion and having looked at all the evidence, the Task Group has recommended that the decision to bring in Euro 5 in January 2014 should stay in force, but said drivers who do need to change vehicles before the deadline should beneift from that purchase for longer. The Task Group has therefore suggested that the introduction of more stringent Euro 6 standards, originally scheduled for 2018, be pushed back to January 2022. The Task Group will also be recommending that the mandatory CO2 charge that drivers need to pay to fund green projects in the borough be scrapped and replaced with a voluntary levy.
The report received strong support from the Licensing Committee and from the Conservative portfolio holder and Liberal Democrat shadow portfolio holder. The committee approved the Task Group’s recommendation by eight votes, with two abstentions. Our report will now go to the Executive for final approval in November.
The Conservatives have won the Maybury & Sheerwater by-election, which was called following the disqualification of sitting Liberal Democrat councillor Mohammed Bashir for electoral fraud at the last local elections in 2012. Rashid Mohammed, the winning candidate, took a clear lead with 1,057 votes, fending off competition from the Labour candidate Stephen Tudhope who received 833 votes. The Liberal Democrat candidate Norman Johns came a poor fourth with 252 votes, a collapse in their previous support and putting them behind UKIP.
The poor showing by the Liberal Democrats was obviously the result of public disgust and outrage at revelations about the corrupt and illegal practices used to win the Maybury & Sheerwater ward in 2012, such as adding false names to the electoral register, falsely registering postal voters and forging the votes and signatures of others without their knowledge or consent. While Rashid Mohammed won a clear, decisive and fair victory last night, credit is also due to the Woking Labour Party, and in particular their previous Maybury & Sheerwater candidate Mohammed Ali, who uncovered the fraud and took a petition to the High Court to have the 2012 result overturned.
Rashid will be an excellent councillor and a strong advocate for his community. At the same time, voters in Woking will expect assurances that with a General Election just eighteen months away, the integrity of the electoral system in the borough is sound. This is an issue that I intend to look at in more detail, and I will be calling for this sorry incident to be examined in more detail by the Overview & Scrutiny Committee in due course.
Earlier today I went to see residents on Maybury Hill who have complained about the building works taking place at Noel Cottage. Having viewed the site for myself, I agree the state of the pavement and front driveway at this location is unacceptable, with rubble strewn everywhere and dust from the works covering cars and front gardens in neighbouring properties. I have also been told that the building work has been going on at weekends and through the night, despite conditions being put in place that state such activity should be restricted to the daytime and through the week.
I’ve been in touch with Environmental Health who tell me they have already been out to to see the premises and spoken to the builders regarding the times they are allowed to start working on site. I’m told that the council has also given the builders advice on how they can improve the situation with the dust, including using a hosepipe to dampen down materials. Residents have been given some diary sheets to record any further incidents. These will allow the council to gather evidence in relation to the noise and dust and will support any formal action that may be taken against the developer, and can also be used to demonstrate that the situation is ongoing.
If residents have any further complaints, they should record them on their diary sheets and return them to the council. If the council does not receive any written complaints, they will not be able to take action against the builders if the problems carry on. Should Environmental Health receive diary sheets back, the council will assess the complaints and determine whether there is anything further it can do, such as serving enforcement notices.
I recently met with the principal of the Harven School of English to discuss concerns about noise disturbance made by residents in Heathside Gardens, including complaints about children screaming and shouting while playing during breaktimes, loud conversations and heated arguments amongst older students, and footballs being kicked against neighbours’ fences. While residents accept that there will be a degree of noise from the school, it was felt that the situation has deteriorated in the past few weeks and was spoiling the tranquil and peaceful character of Heathside Gardens during the summer months.
Following my intervention, the school has agreed to move the sports equipment away from the boundaries of the neighbouring properties and to have a word with their older students about the need to be considerate of others during study breaks. I am now told that there has been a marked improvement, and that the principal has been in touch with neighbours to talk through any issues.
I am pleased this matter has been resolved constructively and that the school authorities are making a positive attempt to control the noise. Future issues could best be resolved by direct contact and communication between residents and the school, and a willingness to show tolerance and flexibility on both sides.