Mount Hermon East
After six fantastic years as a councillor, I narrowly missed out on being re-elected to Woking Borough Council last night by a margin of 13 votes. I’m naturally disappointed as I would have liked to continue and hoped that the hard work and commitment I’d shown during my time on the council would be rewarded with another term. However, on this occasion residents were looking for something different and decided to give the opportunity to someone else.
The boundary review meant that it was always going to be challenging for the Conservatives to hold onto three seats in Mount Hermon, while the absence of a Labour candidate disproportionately benefitted the Liberal Democrats. The opposition also ran a very focused and disciplined campaign, and were helped by the fact that their successful candidate Ian Johnson was a respected and long standing councillor as well as amiable and likeable. Many people decided to split their three votes between the two parties, and that threw up some unpredictable results.
It was a difficult election in general for the Conservatives in Woking, losing seats in Byfleet, Goldsworth Park, St John’s and Hoe Valley, and failing to make any gains in Canalside. Once the political neutrality of the mayor is taken into consideration, the Conservatives are left with an effective majority of one in the council chamber. We are likely to see changes in the way the business of the local authority is run, and it will be more difficult for the Executive to make decisions that are important for the future of the borough, such as whether to release land from the green belt to meet the need for more affordable housing.
While I had hoped for another term to see through some of the issues I had been working on, I’ve had some great experiences as a councillor. I’ve met some good friends and would like to think that I made a positive difference in Mount Hermon and across Woking. I was lucky to have had the chance to be involved in something that I enjoyed for so long.
I’m grateful to everyone who supported me on the campaign trail or came out and voted for me, and would like to congratulate those who did get elected in the ward. They represent a fascinating and diverse part of Woking – I hope they take good care of it.
After allowing the issue to languish without a solution for some time, it is likely that Woking Borough Council will now agree to help facilitate better footpath access along White Rose Lane from Toad Hall to the entrace to the Nature Reserve, as part of a wider flood alleviation scheme along the Hoe Stream. I first asked the council to incorporate accessibility along White Rose Lane within the flood relief work earlier this year, and have had a positive response from officers. A few weeks ago I took the council’s Portfolio Holder for Environment, Cllr Beryl Hunwicks on a site visit along with Katherine Waters, the council’s water engineer. Both seem enthusiastic about the prospect that better access could be incuded in the site through a raised boardwalk which will follow the route of White Rose Lane within the boundaries of the Nature Reserve.
Following our site visit, officers are carrying out wildlife surveys and checking some technical detail, and hope to meet White Rose Lane residents in a few weeks to give them the opportunity to comment. The council is very keen for residents to be actively involved in the project, which is an ambitious proposal to make better use of the green spaces along the Hoe Stream for walking and recreational purposes. The improvements will also help those householders in the middle section of White Rose Lane whose back gardens are liable to flood during times of heavy rainfall.
Residents on White Rose Lane have spent many years campaigning for a footpath and are understandably frustrated by local authority bureaucracy and inertia. Although we are still some years away from the work being carried out, I am pleased to have been able to play some role in pushing this forward, and will continue to champion the scheme if I am re-elected later this week.
I’m pleased to report that, in response to the clear need for better parking facilities near Woking town centre, the Executive has agreed to include within its investment programme a proposal to increase parking capacity at Heathside Crescent Car Park by at least 300 spaces, and hopefully more, subject to design and planning approval. This will undoubtedly help those residents in the Mount Hermon area who struggle to park on the streets where they live or find spaces for visitors, as well as providing additional capacity for those coming to work or shop in the town centre.
This is something my Conservative collegues and I have been pushing for some time so it’s great to see that it will now likely come to fruition. However, I was disappointed to see that, despite the clear demand for more parking spaces, Liberal Democrat councillors voted against the plans, suggesting they would rather see residents suffer than allow the Conservative administration to deliver much needed improvements.
There has been a great deal of disruption in the last few days following traffic signals being placed at the junction between White Rose Lane and Old Woking Road. This is due to the emergence of a sinkhole which was caused by a broken sewer connection. The repair work is expected to take about a week, and motorists driving along this route towards Byfleet or Old Woking should expect delays.
The problem with the sewers in this area are well known and I have spent some time trying to get the utility companies to address ongoing concerns, including recurring unpleasant odours and backed up drains. I will be meeting residents from the lower end of White Rose Lane next month to discuss proposed flood alleviation work and how this might assist in securing more accessible footpath access towards Hoe Bridge School, and it is likely that these issues will also be on the agenda.
Earlier today I went to see residents at Bylands, just off White Rose Lane, who have contacted me about a planning application to demolish one of the properties in the cul-de-sac and replace it with a much larger building. In particular, there are concerns that the bigger height of the proposed development will have an overbearing impact on both neighbouring houses, and that the increased footprint will have a detrimental impact on the street scene by bringing the property much closer to the front boundary than other homes in this area.
I have submitted a formal objection to the planning officers asking that they look again at this application and work with the developer to come up with an option which would be much more in keeping with the general surroundings of Bylands. Should officers be minded to recommend acceptance, I would be happy to call this to the planning committee for further discussion so my colleagues may test the weight of these objections against local and national planning guidelines.
I’m delighted to have been formally adopted to stand for re-election as the Conservative candidate for the combined ward of Mount Hermon at the Woking Borough Council elections to be held on Thursday 5th May. The election will be the first under the new boundaries, which have seen the separate seats of Mount Hermon East and Mount Hermon West abolished and replaced with a single three member ward. The boundary review was part of a plan by the Conservative administration to reduce the cost of local government and is expected to save taxpayers around £60,000 per year.
It’s been immensely rewarding to have represented Mount Hermon East for the last six years. Whether it’s been helping to secure better parking enforcement around the station, working with Surrey County Council to deliver traffic calming measures in areas like Park Road and Old Woking Road, working to protect the character of areas like White Rose Lane or the Hockering, or using my position as Chairman of the Licensing Committee to steer through a tougher stance on shops and licensed premises promoting anti-social behaviour, I feel I’ve made a positive impact during my time as a councillor. A particular highlight was successfully campaigning for Second World War veterans of the Arctic Convoys living in the borough to be presented with the prestigious Ushakov Medal in a special ceremony at the civic offices.
Looking ahead, there are a number of important decisions coming up and I would like to continue my good work ensuring that residents’ interests are well represented. I hope to be able to see through improvements and footpath access at the White Rose Lane Nature Reserve, an issue I have been campaigning on for some time. I have also pressed the council and Network Rail to smarten Victoria Arch and am pleased that after years of pressure there is now progress to report. There are further works in the pipeline to improve Woking town centre through the Victoria Square project, and a planned redesign of Woking station to facilitate more frequent commuter services in and out of London. There will also be contentious debates about the level of affordable housing we need in the borough, about how the new Hoe Valley School is to be funded, and whether to go ahead with the redevelopment of Sheerwater.
Under the Conservatives, Woking has been transformed, with new shops, restaurants, job opportunities and school provision. It would be an honour if Mount Hermon residents felt able to reward this record and my own hard work by allowing me the privilege of continuing to represent them on the council.
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.
Following complaints from residents I have been round to look at the building work taking place at White Trees on White Rose Lane. It appears that the pavement has been damaged during the course of the work and, upon further inspection, planning enforcement officers have confirmed that the new access path and the building have been incorrectly located.
Planning officers have contacted the developer to arrange a site visit, and I have asked to be kept updated. Surrey Highways will also be carrying out an inspection of the damage to the pavement and the grass verge. I will report back to residents as soon as I have any further information.
Woking Borough Council has published the responses it received to its consultation on the Development Plan Document (DPD). The DPD is perhaps the most important consultation exercise that the council has carried out in the last decade. It sets out the key sites where the council believes it can meet the future housing requirements of the borough and where development is likely to take place over the next 20 years.
The consultation has been contentious due to its proposal for a modest adjustment to the green belt in order to deliver more housing in areas such as Hook Heath, Pyrford and Mayford. However, the DPD has a wider significance beyond the debate about the green belt. It is essentially a manifesto for how the council would like to see Woking develop and what we want our community to look like between now and 2027. Sites for residential and commercial development have been identified in every ward in the borough and you can read the full set of proposals here. Inclusion within the DPD does not indicate that a planning application is likely to come forward in the near future, but rather gives an indication about what is likely to be proposed and what kind of development the council thinks is most appropriate for that site.
The consultation identifies several locations for housing development within Mount Hermon. Some of these are relatively straightforward, such as the flats and shops along Guildford Road and opposite New Central. Other locations, such as the Aggregates Yard and the old St Dunstan’s site, will cause debate and there will need to be some consideration about what housing is likely to be acceptable. There are also proposals contained within the DPD to which I have strongly objected, such as the suggestion that the White Rose Lane post office or the Oriental Road car park could host high rise residential developments.
You can browse the responses that the council has received to the consultation here, and you can read my own submission here. The next step will be for council officers to review the representations that have been made and then submit a revised document for discussion. There will then be the opportunity for further comment on the revised version before the DPD is submitted to the Secretary of State later in the summer.