Mount Hermon West
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.
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.
While canvasing last week, I was disappointed to learn that some Liberal Democrat activists have been apparently been making unfounded claims about Woking Park in a bid to attract votes in Mount Hermon, such as falsely claiming that the Conservatives wish to promote house building in the park or sell parts of it off to developers. Needless to say, these claims are entirely unfounded and it is a shame that the opposition has seemingly had to resort to such scaremongering and dirty tricks to try and win an election, rather than standing on their record.
At the meeting of Full Council last week, I asked the Leader of the Council to set out what steps the Conservative administration has taken to protect and enhance Woking Park in recent years. He could point to an impressive list of improvements. The Hoe Valley flood defence work has meant that the old run down greenhouse area is now well laid out and landscape. The Hoe Valley community buildings also now allow a range of community groups to enjoy the park. There is the new grass and 3G football pitches, a new cricket pitch, the relocation and refurbishment of the bandstand, improved tennis courts, enhanced grounds maintenance, a dog-free area for bettr relaxation, new play facilities, and a modern, high quality fitness gym at the Leisure Centre.
It is clear that the Conservatives on the council have shown tremendous commitment to Woking Park and any suggestions to the contrary are entirely without foundation.
At tonight’s meeting of Full Council I asked what officers were doing to keep tidy the public area in front of the old Blockbuster video store on the junction between Guildford Road and Station Approach. This abandoned shop front is now an eyesore, with cars often parked inconsiderately across the pavement and rubbish left strewn outside the premises.
In response to my request, the council has said that it has been in touch with Curchod & Co, the estate agents who are marketing the premises, and asked that an effective management regime is put in place. There is some confidence that the store will be occupied again soon, which should resolve the issue more permanently. The council has also instructed Serco to assist with litter picking in the interim. I was also told that any vehicles parked across the public highway will receive enforcement action as part of the council’s normal parking patrols.
It has been announced that the Hoe Valley School is to remain in its current temporary location at Woking Park for a year longer than originally planned. Although Woking Borough Council and the Secretary of State have granted approval for a new school on Egley Road, delays in agreeing how the building will be funded has meant that the expected completion date of September 2017 has had to be pushed back, and it will therefore no longer be possible to remove the temporary until the end of 2018.
I apprciate that this will cause some frustration to residents living near the park, particularly in areas like Woodlands, Blackness Lane and Constitution Hill. However, the council is doing everything it can to to expedite the move to Egley Road as quickly as possible. It is also the case that fears about the impact of the school being housed temporarily in the park, such as increased noise disturbance and greater traffic flows, haven’t materialised to the extent that people thought they would. I have been impressed with the good work that is being done at the Hoe Valley School and by the governors’ willingness to proactively reach out to councillors and residents so they can address any problems before they arise.
The new Egley Road site will bring tremendous community benefits once it is complete, including an additional 840 places for pupils in south Woking as well as state of the art leisure facilities, a five-court sports hall and an eight-lane, all weather athletics track. We should all do what we can to press ahead with the project – even if that means keeping the temporary buildings in the park for the time being.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve received notification from Surrey County Council that they are to carry out roadworks to install drop kerbs at the junction with Guildford road and Constitution Hill for three days on the week of the 1st February. The work will be carried out from 7:30am until 5pm, but may be extended in the event of bad weather.
The work is part of the County Council’s Better Roads scheme and will be carried out by their contractors, Keir. I will monitor the situation carefully but if residents have any complaints then please do get in touch, or alternatively you can contact the highways authority directly on 0300 200 1003. More information can also be found on their website here.
I am pleased that following my comments and representations, the Planning Committee voted this week to reject an application for a 7 storey block of flats on York Road. While I strongly believe that we need to deliver more housing in Woking, and accept that Mount Hermon will have to take proportionately far more development than other parts of the borough given its proximately to the town centre, I felt this application was unsuitable for its location.
As I made clear in my comments to planning officers, I felt that the size of the building was out of keeping with other residential properties around York Road and Mount Hermon Road. Allowing this application would have created an unacceptable precedent that would have seen high rise development stretch further and further along these streets, while the suggested parking capacity was inappropriate for the number of units being delivered.
The owner of the site has used the local press to indicate that, regardless of whether approval was granted, he had no intention of going ahead with plans to develop the site. Whether this is the case, it is entirely possible that this location will see another planning application in the future. I will continue to listen to residents and ensure that their views are taken into consideration, and that the housing development which we do need is sustainable and appropriate for the area.