My campaign for better footpath access at White Rose Lane took a step forward last week as Woking Borough Council confirmed to me that they are now prepared to consider the feasibility of improving pedestrian access around the White Rose Lane Nature Reserve.
In response to a question I asked last week at Full Council about whether the council would be willing to include plans for better footpath access at White Rose Lane as part of the planned flood alleviation work for the Hoe Stream and River Wey, Cllr Beryl Hunwicks confirmed that the council would look at this as part of a package of broader improvements around the Nature Reserve. A report is due to be presented to the Executive next month, and should the further design work be supported then it may be possible to include a footpath as part of this work.
This is still all very uncertain, and nothing has been promised other than an agreement to look again at the matter. However, I was grateful for Cllr Hunwick’s kind offer to meet and talk through this issue in more detail, and I have been in touch with residents to arrange such a meeting. I will also continue to keep residents updated on my discussions through this website.
There have been several complaints about the parking situtaion at Woking station, both on the town centre side of the railway line where taxis frequently park across or block bus stops, and on the south side, which is frequently gridlocked and poorly designed, with insufficient space meaning that taxis often back out onto Oriental Road or Station Approach. This is confusing for motorists and creates a dangerous environment for pedestrians.
I raised this issue at last week’s meeting of Full Council, and asked what steps the council is taking to ensure the current parking restrictions are adhered to, and what consideration is being given to long term changes at Woking station so that the parking, taxi and public transport infrastructure is appropriate. In response, the Leader the Council said that evening patrols take place each week on one side of the station to deter and enforce against illegal parking.
Over the longer term, the area around the station is subject to a proposed £13m redevelopment bid, and, if approved, work could start as early as Autumn. As Chairman of the Licensing Committee, I have been active in questioning council officers about how the taxi facilities will operate, particularly given concerns about the overspill onto Oriental Road. There are also detailed, if still unconfirmed plans, to move the tax rank further down High Street towards the bottom end of Chertsey Road, while the aspiration set out in the Development Plan Document is for a complete redesign of Woking station. The council will consult on these plans in due course once they have something specific to take forward, and I will continue to take a close interest and be actively involved in these discussions.
At the meeting of Full Council on Thursday night, I questioned council officers on what costs Woking Borough Council had incurred as a result of the voter fraud in Maybury & Sheerwater, which saw a Liberal Democrat councillor disqualified from office in 2013 after it was revealed he had won his seat with the help of corrupt and illegal practices.
I have now discovered that this abuse has cost Woking taxpayers more than £202,000 over the last three years. In response to my question, the Leader of the Council disclosed that the council had to pay more than £175,000 in costs and staff time to deal with the election tribunal, while the Maybury & Sheerwater by-election to choose a replacement councillor cost taxpayers £27,000. Although the council has insurance cover which paid out £82,000 towards these costs, legal action is still underway to try and recoup the remainder of the expenses incurred in combating electoral fraud.
I am appalled that the disgraceful tactics used to elect a Liberal Democrat conucillor in Maybury & Sheerwater have left local taxpayers out of pocket by such a large amount. This is money that should have been used to fund essential services such as day care centres and helping to provide much needed housing in the borough. To put it into context, the figure of £202,000 is seven times the sum that the modest 2.2% increase in council tax will raise in 2016-17.
I am pleased that some of those responsible have now been held to account, and hope that everyone involved with such practices will question their conscious. The Conservative administration on the council has also taken steps to protect the integrity of the ballot in Woking, and introduced measures such as an increased police presence on polling day, a full mini-canvass for all properties in areas where electoral fraud is more likely, and a thorough analysis of all postal vote applications. This should help ensure that such an unethical and illegal way of engaging in local politics is not repeated in the future.
I can report that, thanks to the Conservative administration on the council, Woking Park is to benefit from greater CCTV coverage. There have been a number of distressing incidents in the park, most recently at the end of last year when a teenage girl was assaulted. While many people in south Woking use the park as cut through to get to and from the town centre or train station, the route can be intimidating and feel unsafe in the evening or late at night.
My colleague Cllr John Lawrence, the Conservative councillor for Old Woking, raised this at the meeting of Full Council last night. The council has agreed that CCTV coverage in the borough should be expanded. Starting from Easter, the area from Quarant Court on Guildford Road through to the Leisure Centre, including the car park, play area and skate facilities, will be monitored. The council has also said that, subject to a funding application, other parts of Mount Hermon could benefit from CCTV in the future, such as the concourse in front of Tesco and the New Central development where people have reported aggressive begging and other types of anti-social behaviour.
The new CCTV coverage should help people feel safer, while proposals are also being examined to improving lighting and visibility on the footpaths through the park. I think it’s encouraging that, on this point, the council has acted to address residents’ concerns.