Woking Borough Council
Last night I chaired a meeting of Woking Borough Council’s Licensing Committee. The main item on the agenda was a review of the council’s licensing policy framework, which regulates how the local authority handles applications for alcohol, hot food and premises licenses as well as requests for new nightclubs, adult entertainment venues and live music events. The review of the council’s policy in this area is a statutory requirement, and the rules agreed by the committee will stay in force for the next five years before being reviewed agan in 2021.
One issue the Licensing Committee was keen to address was that of underage drinking. Surrey Police carried out a number of test purchases earlier in the summer and found that several venues were selling alcohol to those under the legal age limit, including the Tesco Express on Guildford Road, Sanway Store in Byfleet, and Harry’s in Walton Road. Over the course of two test purchase operations, the first involving five premises and the second involving six, all but two of the shops inspected failed to follow the correct procedure.
The policy agreed yesterday commits the council to supporting the National Proof of Age Standards Scheme, which is endorsed by the British Retail Consortium and the Trading Standards Institute. It includes a requirement for councils to encourage the use of reliable proof of age measures such as holographic ID cards. Additionally, the Licensing Committee has agreed to write to Surrey Police to request that they increase the number and frequency of unannounced inspections and test purchases, to discourage those shops that continue to flout the rules and sell to underage customers.
The Conservatives have won another seat on Woking Borough Council and narrowly missed out on picking up a second following yesterday’s local council by-elections in Goldsworth Park. Chitra Rana won the usually safe Liberal Democrat seat of Goldsworth West by a margin of 18 votes, while Sonia Elbaraka came very close in Goldsworth East but fell 32 votes short of securing victory. Both seats were declared vacant earlier in the summer when the sitting Liberal Democrat councillors resigned and moved abroad after a period of questionable attendance at important meetings.
The results are a mixed bag for both parties. The Conservatives had hoped to win the third Goldsworth East seat given that this is a ward which already has two Tory councillors and has seen a significant change in voting behaviour over the last five years. Credit is due to the newly elected councillor James Sanderson who fought a tough and effective campaign. The Liberal Democrats will be pleased that they have stalled the Conservative advance in this seat and have continued a trend which has seen their vote hold up relatively well in council by-elections since the General Election. At the same time, they will be bitterly disappointed to have lost Goldsworth West which has long been one of their safest seats on the council. While they will be celebrating the fact that they held on to Goldsworth East, the reality is that the Liberal Democrats are a further seat down in Woking and have failed to arrest the terminal decline in their vote and support in the borough.
I would like to congratulate both of the newly elected councillors and hope that they will be effective champions for their communities. All eyes will be on the combined Goldsworth Park ward, which will be one of the most marginal seats in the borough once the changes to local government boundaries come into effect next year.
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.