Mount Hermon West
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.
I am often contacted by residents asking what the council intends to do about Victoria Arch and how we can create a more attractive entrance to the south of Woking. I first took up this issue back in 2005 when I was a local election candidate for the Mount Hermon West ward, and since being elected I’ve continued to press officers and my colleagues on the Executive on the need to find a solution.
A major obstacle has always been the unwillingness of Network Rail to work with the council and make a contribution to improving the railway arch. However, the council has recently received indications that Network Rail is willing to change its position. They have agreed to undertake a feasibility study for work which could potentially see a redesign of the arch, including increased road capacity, better pedestrian access, and a wider bridge. Such a scheme would also have the potential to support an increased number of rail services between Woking and London as part of broader changes planned for the station.
Even if the feasibility study shows that the project is viable, we are still a long way off work being commenced, with indications that the changes will not be delivered for at least another five years. Nonetheless, while progress is slow, residents should be assured that different options are being explored and the Conservatives on the council will not allow the investment that has been made in improving the borough to be undermined by what remains an ugly and unattractive gateway to the town centre.
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.
Some residents have contacted me to express their opposition to an application to demolish the two storey house next to Consort Court on York Road and replace it with a large tower block with 47 flats and 30 parking spaces.
I have three concerns about this application. The first is that the size of the proposal is out of keeping with similar properties in York Road. Although the New Central flats are just around the corner, properties on York Road are smaller with more unique features and we generally do not have kind of larger developments such as those seen around the station at this location. I would like to see the distinct character of both York Road and Mount Hermon Road maintained and would not wish this application to set a precedent for more tower blocks on these streets in the future.
Secondly, there is an issue with loss of amenity due to such an overbearing development. Residents at Consort Court have stated that he new building comes very close to their boundary and wlil leave them feeling ‘hemmed in’. Ideally I would like to see the number of floors on the new building reduced so that it is consistent with other properties at the top end of York Road.
Finally, I believe that there is a lack of sufficient parking space for the number of dwellings proposed. The developer may anticipate that many of the new residents will use the train to commute to work and so will not require a car, and the council does wish to encourage people to use other means of transport, but realistically we have to accept that people own cars and will want to drive them. I am also concerned that the addition of so many additional homes at quite this narrow part of York Road will exacerbate problems with congestion and traffic flows.
I have made representations to council officers and let them know my views, and very much hope they will listen to residents’ concerns. I will also take a close interest in this matter when it comes before the Planning Committee later in the autumn.
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.
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.
Residents have expressed some concern about a planning application which has been submitted for nine houses on Blackness Road, off the junction at Guildford Road and Claremont Avenue. This comes on top of previous development at the bottom end of Constitution Hill and a recent successful application for four new properties at the old Peartree Lodge site.
I am opposed to this application on a number of grounds. Blackness Lane serves as a pedestrian entrance to Woking Park and is wholly inappropriate for use as an access road to the potential new houses. The junction onto Guildford Road is also a tricky one with a restricted line of sight and multiple attention points and so is not suitable for use as road access for the new development. More generally, I am concerned that this part of Woking, which is quite far south from the town centre where the bulk of the new houses and flats have been built, is not suitable for this kind of in-fill development.
Some fears have been raised by the Woodlands Community Group that additional development at this location could have land slippage impacts, and they have also drawn attention to a covenant which requires the council to keep the area as parkland. These fall outside the scope of material planning considerations and I would encourage anyone who wishes to object to focus their representations on the impact on traffic flows, loss of amenity and concerns about the suitability of the access road.
As I live in Constitution Hill it would not be appropriate for me to make representations or to speak on this application at committee. I have, however, had lengthy discussions with the Residents’ Association and I understand the other Mount Hermon councillors are aware of residents’ objections and are working to ensure that these issues are fully considered before any decision is taken.
After consultation with residents, Woking Borough Council will take forward refurbishment of the play area in Woking Park over the next few months. The work begins today and will likely last for several months. The improvements include extending and re-landscaping the play area, fencing off an additional area as a ‘dog free’ zone, and also landscaping the grass verges at the bottom of the ramp to the swimming pool in preparation for the installation of a refreshment kiosk.
Obviously the timing of this work is far from ideal as it coincides with the start of the summer holidays. However, I have been advised that the repairs need to be done during a period when the weather is dry and that delaying until after the summer break would have pushed the work back into the autumn and winter. There is also a safety element to the decision to proceed now, since the retaining structure on the bank of the stream has been off-limits for some time. I am told a large part of the project will involve re-landscaping and reinforcing this side of the riverbank to bring it back into use.
The work should be completed by the week commencing 22nd September and I will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure that this does not over-run and that residents are kept informed in the event of any delays or further disruption.
Thank you to everyone who turned out at the local elections in Mount Hermon East on Thursday and helped re-elect me as your councillor for a second term. I am grateful for the support that people gave me during the election and for all the kind messages I received both before and after polling day. I will do my best to continue to make sure that your views are well represented and to help resolve any problems whenever they occur.
Overall the Conservatives increased their position on the council, with my colleague Rizwan Shah winning the traditionally Liberal Democrat seat of Goldsworth East, Debbie Harlow taking the third Knaphill seat, and Colin Kemp beating the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Horsell West. They are joined by the extremely talented Ayesha Azad, who takes over from Simon Bellord in Mayford & Sutton Green.
While it was a great night for the Conservatives in Woking, who again bucked the national trend to increase our vote share and representation on the council, it was sad to see Dorothy Farrant lose out by a small margin in Byfleet. Dorothy was an assiduous local champion and I have no doubt she will return to the council when the Byfleet seat comes up for election again next year. It was disappointing to lose in Maybury & Sheerwater, although elections in that community are always unpredictable. My friend Colin Scott also spent a lot of time and effort working in Mount Hermon West and would have been a fantastic councillor, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to get him elected this time around.
On Thursday councillors will debate changes to the ward boundaries for local elections. The purpose of the boundary review is to make local elections more balanced by ensuring that all councillors represent a similar number of voters across the borough, and to reduce the number of councillors from 36 to 30, in line with recommendations set out by the Boundary Commission. The council undertook a public consultation on the proposed new wards earlier this year, with displays in the Peacock Centre and Mercia Walk. A total of 195 responses were received, the bulk of which were supportive of the changes.
During the consultation representations were received from Pyrford residents about the boundaries for the new Heath ward, which would have included Pyrford village, Mount Hermon East and parts of Maybury and Sheerwater. Residents were concerned that the new ward would split the historic community of Pyrford across two different seats. At a public meeting about the boundary review last month, some residents also expressed opposition to Pyrford being included in the same ward as Sheerwater – considered to be a very different community in terms of character and needs.
In response to these objections, a number of alternatives were considered which sought to ensure that Pyrford remained within one ward. The new ward will now contain the entire area within the current Pyrford division as well as the Maybury estate, but will exclude Sheerwater and Mount Hermon East. Mount Hermon East will instead merge with the bulk of what is currently Mount Hermon West to create a single Mount Hermon ward. The new seat will run from the Old Woking Road in the east, along White Rose Lane in the south and the railway line in the north, and will extend all the way along York Road and Mount Hermon Road.
I am glad that the new boundaries will retain Mount Hermon as a distinct community within Woking, as this would have been lost under the earlier proposals. The new wards will ensure we have the right number of councillors in the borough to represent residents’ interests. I look forward to supporting the changes when they are debated later this week.