Woking

Building work on White Rose Lane

 

Following complaints from residents I have been round to look at the building work taking place at White Trees on White Rose Lane. It appears that the pavement has been damaged during the course of the work and, upon further inspection, planning enforcement officers have confirmed that the new access path and the building have been incorrectly located.

 

Planning officers have contacted the developer to arrange a site visit, and I have asked to be kept updated. Surrey Highways will also be carrying out an inspection of the damage to the pavement and the grass verge. I will report back to residents as soon as I have any further information.

 

Response to Development Plan Document

 

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.

 

Inconsiderate parking on York Road and Mount Hermon Road

 

While out delivering my last newsletter, I spoke with a number of residents on York Road and Mount Hermon Road who complained to me about Surrey County Council employees parking inappropriately while visiting Quadrant Court. The problem has been exacerbated by the small number of parking spaces available on York Road and the fact that many commuters use the street to park when travelling to the train station. I understand that residents have complained directly to the County Council and that a survey has been set up to see whether a consensus can be reached on a potential solution.

 

I have written to Surrey County Council asking them to be more considerate and reminding them of their responsibility to be good neighbours and not inconvenience those living nearby. I’m also aware that there is a proposal being discussed which could see residents only parking bays installed on York Road, which would mean that local homeowners get first priority during the times of peak demand when people are travelling to Quadrant Court, and would certainly support this initiative.

 

Lack of progress at the White Rose Lane Nature Reserve

 

At yesterday’s meeting of Full Council I requested an update on the scheduled improvements at the White Rose Lane Nature Reserve. Readers of this blog will remember that I first asked Woking Borough Council to carry out remedial work at the Nature Reserve in November last year. However, given the lack of progress in recent months, I questioned Cllr Beryl Hunwicks, Portfolio Holder for Environment and Sustainability, on when the work might be delivered, particularly the new signs, footpath and boardwalk, which were expected to be completed earlier this year.

 

In her response, Cllr Hunwicks said that shrub clearance and maintenance had taken place as planned, but further improvement works have been delayed while the council works with Surrey County Council, Surrey Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency to design and cost flood protection work which will cover the Hoe Stream and River Wey. Cllr Hunwicks said that if a larger flood protection scheme is taken forward in this area, then the current timetable for improvements may be aborted or incorporated into a wider project.

 

While these delays are disappointing, in the longer term it will be of greater benefit to residents if the work can be taken forward as part of a bigger package of flood prevention measures. The Nature Reserve is an under-used asset and I will continue to press the council to make better use of the site and do more to support the volunteers who maintain it.

 

The Executive is expected to consider an update on the potential for flood alleviation works next June and, if re-elected next year, I will certainly attend the meeting and do what I can to ensure that the Nature Reserve receives its fair share of attention and resources.

 

Victoria Arch

 

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.

 

Affordable Housing in Woking

 

One of the biggest issues facing residents in Mount Hermon is housing affordability. Property prices in Woking have increased substantially over the last few years and with the ongoing regeneration of the town centre, additional investment in rail capacity and our position as a commuter belt town within easy reach of London, this is unlikely to change unless there is a significant and sustained crash in the market. Woking has been highlighted in a recent study which suggests that the borough will be within the top ten parts of the country likely to see the greatest increases in house prices over the next 10 years.

 

I thought it would be helpful to set out some of the initiatives which have been taken forward by the council to deliver more affordable houses in the past few years. Recent initiatives by the Conservative administration include building 154 new homes as part of the Hoe Valley Scheme; bringing 250 street properties back into use with intermediate rent; and agreeing a strategy to put a further 880 empty homes onto the market.

 

The council agreed the Moor Lane Project in 2013, and work is underway to construct 371 new homes, with some of them coming onto the market earlier this year. We are also delivering 350 homes through Thamesway Housing; the conversion of an unused office block into 45 affordable apartments; and 34 low cast flats above the new fire station on Goldsworth road. The Sheerwater regeneration project – if approved – will provide a further 400 homes, while the Victoria Square development will see 392 new flats in the town centre.

 

Many of these new affordable homes have been bitterly opposed by the opposition on the council, with the Liberal Democrats coming out strongly against the Moor Lane project only at the last moment before an election in the area, and another Liberal Democrat councillor actively lobbying to remove any element of affordability from the Brookwood Farm development. It has been left to the Conservative administration to make mature and responsible decisions and to try and balance the conflicting interests of protecting the green belt while also making sure that we meet the housing needs of future generations.

 

While these developments are welcome, the fact that house price inflation is driven by national and global factors means they are unlikely to make much of an impact on affordability, and they instead represent an attempt by the council to keep up with demand. I have previously set out on this blog my view that the cost of accommodation is one of the greatest challenges for people in Woking, particularly those starting out in life or wishing to move away from their parents’ home and live independently. Even for those looking to rent, the costs can be prohibitive. It is not unusual to see one or two bedroom flats for rent in Mount Hermon for £1200 or £1300 per month. While this may be good for investors or those already well established on the property ladder, it is prohibitive for most people and breeds resentment and frustration.

 

The best thing the council can do is prioritise new housebuilding, particularly modest two and three bedroom houses as there is a gap in the market and very few options falling between studio and one bedroom town centre flats, and much larger four or five bedroom houses in our villages.

 

Theft of Oriental Road bollards

 

As readers of this blog will know, I have been pressing Surrey County Council to take better care of the grass verges along Oriental Road. Residents have been complaining for some time about the state of the grass, which was dug up during roadworks back in 2013. While the grass was re-planted once the work was complete, it has not been able to grow back due to a small minority of motorists parking illegally and inconsiderately across the verges.

 

In response to these complaints, Surrey County Council planted trees at the top end of Oriental Road at the beginning of the year and also recently agreed to place two bollards on one particularly troublesome patch of grass to prevent it from being used to park vehicles.

 

I have now been told that both bollards were dug up and stolen over the weekend, less than a day after being installed. While I appreciate that some drivers will have become used to leaving their vehicles on the grass and paid little attention to reminders that this is public land which should not be used to park cars, I find it astonishing that someone would go to the trouble of digging up and removing council owned bollards. This shows a serious disregard for other people and public property. It is also a financial loss to the taxpayer as the bollards will need to be replaced and further work carried out to secure them and ensure they can’t be removed.

 

I am liaising with Surrey Highways to see what can be done and in the meantime I would encourage anyone who has information about the removal of the bollards to contact Surrey County Council directly.

 

Remembrance Sunday

 

Today I was honoured to take part in my sixth Remembrance Sunday civic ceremony since being elected as a councillor in 2010. During the First World War, over 760 people who lived in what is now the borough of Woking lost their lives in combat action, while around 800 Second World War deaths are recorded in the book of remembrance held at Woking library. Woking has strong links with the armed forces through the nearby Army Training Centre at Pirbright and the Brookwood Military Cemetery, which is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the country and contains 1,601 burials from the First World War and 3,476 from the Second World War.

 

I thought the service was particularly poingant at a time when we recently marked the centenary of the outbreak of hostilities last year and when there has been renewed interest in the causes of the war and experiences of those who answered the call to serve their country. I was pleased to see so many members of the public attend to pay their respects, and was impressed by the discipline and good behaviour shown by the younger members of local organisations such as the Woking Sea Cadets, the Scouts, Guides and Boys’ Brigade, and the St Johns Ambulance Cadets.

 

With threats and instability in places as far away as Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, it is right that we remember those who have fallen in past conflicts and their contribution to creating a safer world for us all, while also ensuring that we treat the prospect of renewed war or military intervention with the seriousness it deserves.

 

Tackling Underage Drinking

 

Last night I chaired a meeting of Woking Borough Council’s Licensing Committee. The main item on the agenda was a review of the council’s licensing policy framework, which regulates how the local authority handles applications for alcohol, hot food and premises licenses as well as requests for new nightclubs, adult entertainment venues and live music events. The review of the council’s policy in this area is a statutory requirement, and the rules agreed by the committee will stay in force for the next five years before being reviewed agan in 2021.

 

One issue the Licensing Committee was keen to address was that of underage drinking. Surrey Police carried out a number of test purchases earlier in the summer and found that several venues were selling alcohol to those under the legal age limit, including the Tesco Express on Guildford Road, Sanway Store in Byfleet, and Harry’s in Walton Road. Over the course of two test purchase operations, the first involving five premises and the second involving six, all but two of the shops inspected failed to follow the correct procedure.

 

The policy agreed yesterday commits the council to supporting the National Proof of Age Standards Scheme, which is endorsed by the British Retail Consortium and the Trading Standards Institute. It includes a requirement for councils to encourage the use of reliable proof of age measures such as holographic ID cards. Additionally, the Licensing Committee has agreed to write to Surrey Police to request that they increase the number and frequency of unannounced inspections and test purchases, to discourage those shops that continue to flout the rules and sell to underage customers.

 

Woking Conservatives gain one seat in Goldsworth Park by-elections

 

The Conservatives have won another seat on Woking Borough Council and narrowly missed out on picking up a second following yesterday’s local council by-elections in Goldsworth Park. Chitra Rana won the usually safe Liberal Democrat seat of Goldsworth West by a margin of 18 votes, while Sonia Elbaraka came very close in Goldsworth East but fell 32 votes short of securing victory. Both seats were declared vacant earlier in the summer when the sitting Liberal Democrat councillors resigned and moved abroad after a period of questionable attendance at important meetings.

 

The results are a mixed bag for both parties. The Conservatives had hoped to win the third Goldsworth East seat given that this is a ward which already has two Tory councillors and has seen a significant change in voting behaviour over the last five years. Credit is due to the newly elected councillor James Sanderson who fought a tough and effective campaign. The Liberal Democrats will be pleased that they have stalled the Conservative advance in this seat and have continued a trend which has seen their vote hold up relatively well in council by-elections since the General Election. At the same time, they will be bitterly disappointed to have lost Goldsworth West which has long been one of their safest seats on the council. While they will be celebrating the fact that they held on to Goldsworth East, the reality is that the Liberal Democrats are a further seat down in Woking and have failed to arrest the terminal decline in their vote and support in the borough.

 

I would like to congratulate both of the newly elected councillors and hope that they will be effective champions for their communities. All eyes will be on the combined Goldsworth Park ward, which will be one of the most marginal seats in the borough once the changes to local government boundaries come into effect next year.