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.
This week Woking Borough Council gave approval for the establishment of a Neighbourhood Forum in Pyrford. Under the Localism Act, communities have been given the power to have a greater say in the planning process by preparing a Neighbourhood Plan and specifying what kind of development they would like to see in their area. Once a Neighbourhood Plan has been adopted, it becomes part of the statutory development process and must be referred to and taken into account in all planning decisions taken within that community.
The first step in drawing up a Neighbourhood Plan is the establishment of a Neighbourhood Forum. An application for a Pyrford Neighbourhood Forum was submitted to the council in November. Following a public consultation and engagement with residents, the application was approved by councillors on Thursday after minimal debate and no objections. A Neighbourhood Forum was also approved for Byfleet at the same meeting.
This is a great opportunity for Pyrford residents to have a much bigger say in the planing decisions that affect their lives, and recognition must be given to the organisers and officers of the Neighbourhood Forum which is one of the first in the country to take advantage of the new powers devolved down to communities through the Localism Act. Special acknowledgement should also be given to Cllr Ashley Bowes, the council’s planning portfolio holder and ward councillor for Pyrford, who expertly took the proposal through Full Council and whose legal expertise and in depth knowledge of the minutiae of planning policy will no doubt be of immense value to the Neighbourhood Forum in drawing up their plan.
Once a Neighbourhood Plan has been drawn up by the forum it will be subjected to an examination to ensure that it complies with national planning policy as well as the development plan for the borough set out in the Core Strategy, before residents are given the final say in a referendum.