I’ve been informed that there will be further diversions around Onslow Crescent, Shaftsbury Road and Pembroke Road for two weeks from Tuesday 11th August, so the County Council can take forward highway maintenance and resurfacing. The work will take place between the hours of 8:30am and 5:30pm and is not expected to take longer than two weeks.
As with the repairs on White Rose Lane, access will be maintained for residents and emergency services although any other vehicle found to be obstructing the highway will be moved to a suitable location after all reasonable efforts have been made to contact the owners.
While I appreciate this will cause some inconvenience, I am told that the work is necessary and residents will of course benefit from the resurfacing of parts of these roads, which is long overdue.
At last week’s meeting of Full Council, I asked a question about homelessness in Woking. The question was prompted by a number of representations from residents who have highlighted the increase in rough sleepers underneath the canopy on Albion Square and in the tunnel underneath the railway station. Some of the people camped out have been begging aggressively around the station and along Guildford Road, creating a nuisance and intimidating atmosphere for residents and commuters.
In my question, a copy of which can be found here, I asked whether vulnerable people in Woking were slipping through the cracks and not getting the help and support they needed to avoid being made homeless.
I received an answer from Cllr Colin Kemp, the Portfolio Holder for Housing, who explained that the council was working closely with the York Road Project, which receives funding to support those facing or experiencing homelessness in the borough. Cllr Kemp explained that the York Road Project engages in active outreach to ascertain the reasons why people are sleeping on the streets, so it can get them the assistance they require. He also confirmed that rough sleepers able to sustain a tenancy are eligible to go on the housing register and can receive financial help through a bond scheme to help them find a place to stay. Those who are not sleeping rough but are concerned they could become homeless as a result of personal circumstances can go to the council for short term support and if necessary can be placed in emergency accommodation.
As a supplementary question I asked how the council was dealing with the issue of aggressive begging. Cllr Kemp noted that the police will speak to those responsible when complaints are received. However, he said that the council had received intelligence that those responsible were often from outside the borough, with the fact Woking is quite prosperous meaning the town is seen as a magnet for professional beggars from London and elsewhere.
I am pleased that the Executive is taking this issue seriously and that those facing homelessness are not being left to slip through the cracks.
I’ve just received notice from Surrey County Council that White Rose Lane will be temporarily closed to traffic between the junction with Ashwood Road and Cleardown for five days, starting from this Wednesday 22nd July. The purpose of the closure is to enable the highways authority to carry out urgent repair works.
The restrictions will only operate when traffic signs are displayed, and access will be maintained for pedestrians, business and emergency vehicles and those living in the area. Access will instead be diverted via Ashwood Road, Heathfield Road, and through the Hockering, and so residents in these areas may notice more traffic than usual.
Should residents have any complaints about these works, they can contact Surrey Highways on 01483 517514.
I have today written to Woking Borough Council to express my opposition to the inclusion of the Oriental Road car park in the council’s Development Plan Document (DPD). This document, which can be read here, sets out how the council intends to meet its target of building another 4,964 homes in Woking between now and 2027. The council has suggested that the car park could be used to build a high density tower block with aroud 220 new flats to help meet Woking’s housing needs.
While I agree that, with the demand we have for new homes in Woking, we need to look at whether we can meet our needs through brownfield land and sites which are already developed, and I accept that the bulk of new houses and flats in the borough will be built in the town centre, I believe Oriental Road is not a suitable location for the kind of high rise flats which we have seen elsewhere on Guildford Road and around the station. The houses along Oriental Road are small and suburban in character and a big flatted development would be totally out of keeping with the surroundings. Should the council decide that the car park is fit for a large scale housing development, it would go against a previous promise that Oriental Road should retain its distinct and peaceful character with one or two storey family homes rather than high density buildings.
I am also concerned that removing capacity at Oriental Road car park and replacing it with further housing could exacerbate problems with traffic and parking around the station. Woking station is extremely busy and can be gridlocked in the mornings and afternoons. Removing the car park without first putting in alternative provision would be a recipe for chaos.
Although no planning application is expected to come forward for the site within the next 11 to 15 years, and the land is not currently available for residental development, it is important that residents in Oriental Road make their views known if we are to protect the character of the area in the future. I’d encourage everyone, not just in Oriental Road, but all over the borough, to engage with the consultation and have their say.
The deadline for responses to the consultation is 5pm on Friday 31 July and residents can view the draft DPD at www.woking2027.info.
Residents living near the old St Dunstan’s church off White Rose Lane will have received a letter from the council in the last few days advising them of a new planning application on the site. A plan has been submitted for landscaping and beautification changes to accompany the proposal for a residential development of 91 flats with retail units and amenity space, which was approved by the Planning Committee in 2012.
There is a long history of contentious planning applications on the St Dunstan’s site, which remains an under-used brownfield site that would benefit from some form of house building. I have always felt that any development at this location needs to be in keeping with the local area and similar to neighbouring properties on White Rose Lane and around from the post office on the corner of Oriental Road. My colleagues and I successfully defeated a proposal for a 23 storey building in 2010, and were able to negotiate with the developer over the height of the currently approved planning consent, securing a reduction from 17 storeys to a much more acceptable range of between 7 and 11 storeys.
The current application does not represent a material change to the plans that were agreed a few years ago and so it will be dealt with under delegated powers rather than going to a full Planning Committee. However, residents are still able to make representations and can have their say through the council’s public access planning portal, or by contacting the planning department by post or email. The deadline for responses is Wednesday 22nd Juy and any comments received will help inform officers’ decision on whether to recommend that the application be granted and on what conditions to attach to the approval if it does go through.
Last weekend I went to see residents in Park Road who had an unusual complaint. Foxes have been dragging bin bags into their garden from a neighbouring property, ripping them open and scattering the contents across their gardens. Unfortunately, in this instance, the rubbish bags contain not just household waste, but medical or clinical waste such as used catheters, soiled items of clothing and blood or urine soaked cotton wool. This is obviously quite distressing for residents who have to clean up such materials as well as being extremely unhygienic.
I’ve taken the issue up with the council’s environmental health department, who are aware of the problem. We have agreed that the best way forward is to send a letter to all the neighbouring properties, outlining the situation and asking them to ensure that their rubbish is properly secured and that any clinical waste or soiled clothingis is disposed of appropriately and not simply left out in a black sack. This letter has gone out to over 40 properties and hopefully once the person responsible realises the impact of their actions, they will take steps to stop foxes from disturbing their bin bags.
If the council receives further complaints then we will look at doing some site visits to try and establish where the waste has come from. From looking at the council’s records, there are several properties around Park Road which have clinical waste collections, but it may be that some residents receive their supplies from hospitals or have been putting their waste into normal rubbish collections. If you live in the immediate area and have a similar problem, please do let me know.
I’ve just been sent a report by Surrey County Council which gives a breakdown of all the funding agreed by the Joint Committee in our respective areas. Each borough in Surrey has an allocated budget for expenditure such as highway maintenance, while county councillors have an allocation which they can use to fund projects or work such as traffic calming measures or vehicle activated road signs in their ward.
The report includes some of the improvements that my colleagues and I have delivered for Mount Hermon. It highlights the trees which were planted at my instigation along Oriental Road and across from Heathside Crescent. It also mentions the new traffic calming measures on Pembroke Road and the resurfacing of Onslow Crescent.
Over the next few months I intend to raise further items for consideration including the need for new streetlights, for old road signs to be replaced, and for further traffic calming measures where appropriate. If you are aware of any local causes or projects which need financing in Mount Hermon, please do let me know and I would be happy to discuss it with my County Council colleagues or raise it at the Joint Committee.
Shortly before the election I held a meeting with people who live in the properties at the bottom end of White Rose Lane towards the junction with Old Woking Road. Residents have been campaigning for additional measures to reduce the speed of traffic coming into Woking from the east of the borough. Although White Rose Lane already has a number of speed reduction features built in, the numerous blind curves, the narrowness of the road and the lack of a proper footpath beyond the Jack & Jill steps makes it a particularly treacherous route for pedestrians.
Earlier in the year residents submitted a petition to Surrey County Council calling for the introduction of a 20mph speed limit. Unfortunately, that proposal was not accepted on the grounds that very few roads in Woking have such a low limit.
My County Council colleague Liz Bowes and I are currently working with officers to explore what could be done to install a footpath which would run from Toad Hall in White Rose Lane to the corner of Old Woking Road. There are, however, a number of obstacles which need to be looked at carefully. There are uncertain land ownership issues, with part of the highway and pavement being owned by Woking Borough Council, other parts being owned by Surrey County Council, and others being privately owned by residents. There is also the lack of a consensus in favour of a footpath, with some residents being strongly opposed. The fact that this part of White Rose Lane is so narrow also presents logistical difficulties, and, even if a solution can be found, there are a lot of demands on the highways budget and the project will need to compete with other areas which are also looking for funding.
As a first step, Councillor Bowes and I have arranged a meeting between White Rose Lane residents Surrey County Council officers Alan Milne and Keith Patching, to take place on Tuesday 16th June. The purpose of this meeting will be to identify ownership of the land running along White Rose Lane and to discuss ways in which we can either reduce speeding along the road or make pedestrian access safer. Separately to this, I have also contacted Serco and asked them to carry out remedial work on the shrubbery between Toad Hall and the White Rose Lane Nature Reserve so the road can be made easier to navigate for those walking along this route.
Once this meeting with highway officers has been held we will be able to decide the next best steps. I will continue to keep residents updated and ensure they are a part of the discussion.
It was a long evening at the HG Wells Centre. The Conservatives increased their majority for the fourth year running, and now have 24 seats on the council. The Liberal Democrats lost further ground, failing to hold traditionally safe seats like Old Woking and Hermitage & Knaphill South and coming within 50 votes of seeing their leader deposed in Kingfield & Westfield. Labour gained a second councillor in Maybury & Sheerwater, while attempts by independent candidates to win seats failed to replicate John Bond’s success in Byfleet last year. UKIP’s share of the vote held up well, but under their current leadership they are incapable of articulating a positive vision for the borough.
I was particularly pleased to see my friend Melanie Whitehand re-elected in Knaphill with the largest majority in Woking. Somewhat dishearteningly, Melanie’s majority is greater than the entire number of votes cast to re-elect me in Mount Hermon East last year, and she secured more votes in a single council ward than I gained in the entire parliamentary constituency of Glasgow East when I stood as a candidate in 2005. Melanie has provided a fantastic service to her residents and has addressed some challenging issues over the last eight years. Completely selfless in her work, she is the epitome of what public service should be about. I was also happy to see Hilary Addison elected to another term as councillor for Goldsworth East. Like Melanie, Hilary has turned a former Liberal Democrat seat into one with a large Conservative vote thanks to her staunch advocacy of residents’ interests.
In Byfleet, our excellent candidate Harry Briggs will now represent residents in the east of the borough. Although independent candidate Amanda Boote came a good second, pushing the Liberal Democrats into third place, voters were no doubt aware of the poor performance of the area’s other independent councillor, who failed to turn up to a large number of important meetings last year. An independent candidate standing on a platform of opposition to the Sheerwater redevelopment also failed to muster significant support, suggesting that opposition to the project might not be as widespread as is often believed.
It was going to be a tall order for the Conservatives to win in Kingfield & Westfield this time round given the high profile of the incumbent councillor, but credit goes to Natalie Bourne who represented the Conservatives extremely well in the ward. She will undoubtedly have better success next time. Colin Scott also failed to win election in Maybury & Sheerwater despite expending considerable energy campaigning in every seat in the borough as well as constituencies as far flung as Southampton and Rochester & Strood.
Finally, congratulations to our new councillors, John Lawrence and Paul Smith, who will represent the traditionally Liberal Democrat seats of Old Woking and Hermitage & Knaphill South. Both men are hugely respected in their communities and bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the council. I’m sure they will both be effective champions for their areas.
The opinion polls got it wrong. Although I went out on a limb and predicted back in October that the Conservatives would win an overall majority, commentators could not agree on the most likely outcome, with some suggesting that Labour would emerge as the largest party and others predicting that the coalition would continue in its present form.
The election has thrown up some unusual outcomes. The first is the headline result. The fact that David Cameron secured an overall majority when most people believed it wasn’t possible is testament to a well run election campaign and also reflects public confidence in his decision to focus on economic growth and stability over the next few years. During the final days of the campaign it became clear that voters were looking at the marked improvements we have seen in the economy over the last few years and were coming to the decision that we had to stick the course.
However, it wasn’t just the national campaign that helped the Conservatives gain an impressive victory. In many of the constituencies where I campaigned, such as Eastleigh, Kingston & Surbiton, Sutton & Cheam and Portsmouth South, hardworking candidates built up grassroots organisations and active campaigns by focusing on local issues, often gain support by going door to door and street to street to find out what people were really thinking. They were aided by an enthusiastic and activist volunteer base. This was my third General Election campaign and it was by far the most organised I had ever seen in terms of the Conservatives’ ability to direct activists and resources to target seats.
In contrast, Ed Miliband was never able to shake off perceptions that he would be a Prime Minister like Gordon Brown and spend too much, borrow too much and waste too much. Too many people failed to see him as a credible Prime Minister and felt he was concentrating on core Labour issues rather than bread and butter concerns. Labour also suffered a disastrous night in Scotland, losing all but one their seats to the SNP. Much will be written about this phenomenon in the next few days, but the SNP have obviously capitalised on a new engagement with politics which emerged in Scotland as a result of the referendum campaign.
The Liberal Democrats were punished heavily by voters. Although the coalition was in the national interest and the party took on a great responsibility in helping get the country through a difficult period, the public felt the Lib Dems had betrayed their principles and even national figures like Vince Cable and Simon Hughes weren’t spared from voters’ wrath.While some of these figures should have been able to count on a strong personal showing and could have run a positive campaign to secure re-election, the Lib Dem campaigns on the ground were often sneering and negative, with some terrible character assassinations and outright falsehoods being peddled about their opponents. I am glad that this style of doing politics backfired and was shown the contempt it deserves.
Another big story was the failure of UKIP to pick up more than one seat, despite winning almost 4 million votes. Nonetheless, the eurosceptic party picked up some impressive second place finishes, mainly in Labour seats in the north of England. It will be interesting to see whether they can capitalise on this progress or whether disappointment at a poor parliamentary showing will see disillusionment and division set in within the party.
The votes for the local election will be counted later this afternoon at the HG Wells Centre and my colleagues and I are hopeful that our solid record of delivering record investment in the town centre, in new housing and in top class public services while making efficiency savings and reducing waste will be rewarded with a bigger majority.