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.
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.
I’ve been informed by Surrey County Council that the area around Oriental Road, Heathside Crescent and Station Approach will be subject to temporary traffic closure on the evening of Monday 2nd May, from 9pm to 6am, to allow BT access to carry out repairs and install new customer connections. As is usually the case, access will be maintained for pedestrians, residents, and emergency services, while advanced warning signs will be displayed ahead of the work being carried out.
I hope that this work will not be too disruptive for people living near the station but if residents have any complaints then please do let me now and I will be happy to raise any issues with the utility company.
One of the most frequent issues that people raise with me is the number of potholes in Woking and the state of our roads, despite the fact that highway maintenance is not a responsibility of Woking Borough Council. Unfortunately there are many demands for pothole repairs and resurfacing in and around Woking, and it is always a fight to secure budget for any necessary work and to push certain roads up the list of priorities.
My colleagues on Surrey County Council have sought to put a stronger focus on the need to invest in our roads and highways. In 2013, the Conservative administration agreed ‘Project Horizon’, an ambitious five year programme with £200m of funding to address the root causes of road disrepair across Surrey. Alongside this, central government recently announced a further £50m in grant funding to local authorities to tackle potholes, with £1m of this allocated to Surrey.
Locally in Woking, our Conservative County Councillor Liz Bowes and I have been successful in securing the resurfacing of particularly troublesome roads in recent years, including East Hill, Pembroke Road and Onslow Crescent. My fellow ward councillor, Cllr David Bittleston and I are diligent and proactive in reporting potholes to the highways authority, but we need residents’ assistance to flag these up, since the council is unlikely to take any action if it doesn’t have the data or evidence to show that a particular road is causing problems.
I would therefore encourage anyone who is concerned with the state of their road to report any potholes online here, and to contact me directly, since the more representations I receive the easier it will be for me to make the case to Surrey County Council for remedial or repair work.
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.
At a meeting of the Joint Committee between Woking Borough Council and Surrey County Council last night, officers were asked by local resident Marianne Meinke whether it would be possible to carry out speed monitoring along Oriental Road.
There are some specific challenges regarding parking and speeding at Oriental Road, with the street being very congested both at the bottom end near Woking station, and at the top end by the entrance to the Shah Jahan mosque and the Lion Retail Park. Due to the large number of cars which park on the pavement near the mosque, pedestrians often have to walk on the road at this point, while the lack of a crossing or design features means that vehicles can travel quite fast along the middle stretch of road. This is particularly dangerous given how narrow the pavement is, and the fact that this route is used by schoolchildren and those walking into town.
Through the Joint Committee my Conservative colleagues and I have been able to deliver traffic calming measures in places like Park Road and Old Woking Road, and I successfully pressed for the County Council to commit to feasibility studies for speed restrictions on Mount Hermon Road, East Hill and Maybury Hill in the next financial year. Oriental Road is already being monitored through the council’s Speed Management Plan, while the Joint Committee’s work programme contains a proposal to try and alleviate problems with speeding traffic.
Should I be re-elected in May then I will continue to press both the county and borough authorities to commit resources and do more to tackle problem areas on roads leading into and out of the town centre.
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.