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.
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.