Town Centre Traffic – a radical approach

A Radical Approach to Town Centre Traffic and Regeneration

We often wonder what will help our High Street survive and thrive. In Weybridge, through traffic is a significant negative feature and we believe that removing this traffic, which simply goes through our town, would help our High Street flourish.

Why and how would we do this?
One of the many things we have learned through the Covid 19 crisis is the value and importance of our open spaces – Churchfields Park, The Cricket Green and, for the more adventurous, Desborough Island. These have proved invaluable and well-used. What we lack in Weybridge is town centre open spaces and we will need these to help re-establish the once thriving cafe culture of our town.

The questions are where to have open spaces and how will we create them?
We are talking here about pedestrian spaces in our town centre. And in Weybridge, this would mean stopping traffic driving through the town centre itself. Impossible? Too radical to even think of!!?

Well, let’s think about it for a moment before we dismiss the idea. And let’s think in terms of how could this benefit the town, its businesses and its residents? Let’s think also in terms of what town centre services local residents will want to be able to access by car, what habitual behaviours may we need to modify and what we already do differently because of the pandemic? How many of those working at home will continue to do so? Quite a few we believe. How many of us now walk or cycle to do our shopping? Do you remember in March and early April, amidst all our concerns about the virus and how we would cope in lockdown, the bliss of a quiet, traffic free High Street? We could have this again and permanently, or something close to this.

Through traffic or a piazza and performance space?
Much of our congestion in Weybridge is caused by people driving through our High Street to get somewhere else. This does not build a thriving town. This through traffic would cease and find other routes if we created a small piazza straddling the High Street between Lloyds Bank and Robert Dyas. This could be a space for enjoying an outdoor coffee and chat – rather like Singaporean food courts, where you can buy from anywhere.  Flexibly designed, it could be transformed into a performance space. There would, of course, have to be a route through for emergency vehicles, as we see so often in European towns with pedestrianised centres.

Which services do we absolutely need to get to by car?
Clearly some people need to use a car for all services, but all these would still be accessible, just sometimes with a slightly longer journey. With less traffic this need not be slower. For local people, access to medical services with parking will remain an important element, and of course will be possible with this plan, as access to Churchfields Car Park remains open.  Banks will continue to be accessible from Churchfields and, with quieter streets, it may even be possible to increase short stay on-street parking, especially for Blue Badge holders. Truly, the only downside is a slightly longer journey for some, and for most doing this there will be the benefit of quieter roads.

But  . . .  
By now you might be wondering who loses in this scenario and what will happen to local traffic wanting to access the other end of town? And won’t new rat runs be created?

For sure the whole town wins from a re-energised centre, cleaner air, a place for people to gather safely. There would still be access to Churchfields Car Park from Church Street and Balfour Road and to Baker Street from the High Street (though this might be managed so that there was only one lane and pavements in Baker Street were widened, creating a second open space).

The level of traffic would be very much lower and Baker Street would no longer be a rat run used by people in a hurry to get somewhere.

The people most likely to lose out are the households on and off Heath Road who will lose direct access to the supermarket end of the High Street. If they wanted to drive to shop there, they would have to travel via the Station roundabout and Hanger Hill and approach via Monument Hill. This would put two (?) miles on their round journey.

It’s also the case that residents on and off Baker Street would need to take a longer journey to exit Weybridge along the A 317 and to get to the medical centre by car.  But improved pavements could mean that some, who would prefer to walk there or use a mobility scooter, would be safer.

What about new rat runs?
For such a change to work, residential streets which could become alternative routes for through drivers will need to be protected. This can be done. Streets we have identified as needing protection are: Portmore Park Road, and streets off it, and Elgin Road. Can you think of others? The simplest form of protection for these would be barriers or ‘rising’ bollards which are controlled to allow residents, their carers and visitors to pass into the street. This can be done using number plate recognition.

Other issues?
Yes, this would be a bold move! Maybe there are other problems associated with this idea.  But isn’t it time we adjusted the balance in our town?

EBC Finance – Covid 19 Implications

Elmbridge Borough Council’s finances are facing a perfect storm caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. A report from the Deputy Chief Executive was reviewed by the Council Cabinet  at its meeting on Wednesday, 10th June. The situation was described as a “huge challenge for the current year as well as the medium and long-term finances.”

The pandemic has resulted in the Council having to spend more than it planned and, at the same time, receiving less money than it expected. The recommendations in the report to Cabinet included a review of “all discretionary and non-essential spend” in the current financial year and of the current capital programme.

The Council does have money held in reserve for unexpected events but the recommendation to the Cabinet calls for the Council to “limit the draw on reserves to mitigate the deficit and have plans in place to replenish the reserves being used, over the medium term.”

The Council has needed to fund more activities as it responded to the pandemic for example more “meals on wheels” and housing for rough sleepers; increased costs are faced in order to carry out normal operations, e.g. PPE is required, additional cleaning necessary and equipment purchased to assist staff in working remotely. 

The council has three main types of funding. In 2018/2019 the contribution from each was:-

Income – from Charges & Rents                  £17.2m
Tax – Council Tax & Business Rates            £16.2m  
Other – Grants, Reserves, Bank Interest      £3.7m
Total                                                              £37.1m

In a normal year the largest part of the Council’s funding is income from charges, e.g. motorists pay to park in a council car park and businesses pay rent on Council-owned properties.  

The report forecasts that the Council will lose £6.7m of funding from income in the 2019/2020 financial year. That reduction in income is 18% of the funding and expenditure that the council had planned.  

The income reduction is caused by lockdown closures. For example there was no income from parking charges and the leisure centre was closed. Businesses in council owned properties also faced lockdown disruption and are unable to meet their full rent obligations. 

The government has provided the council with extra money to help meet the costs of pandemic related activity. But it is not clear that the government is going to assist the council in the important matter of its loss of income. The Deputy Chief Executive’s report notes that “The Secretary of State having initially given assurances that all financial strain of councils will be met by the Government, it is increasingly clear now that it is expected that Districts and Boroughs will have to manage/absorb their loss of income.”

The report also notes “that it is widely acknowledged that the impact of this pandemic is not going to be for just  3 months or until the lockdown is lifted but likely to go on for at least 6 months or even longer and it is unlikely to return to anywhere “normal”.  This will undoubtedly create a structural hole in our finances forever”.

The financial future for the council will depend on how quickly or how slowly the local economy recovers from the pandemic shock. The council faces financial uncertainty on many fronts. These include to what extent income from charges and rents recovers and how well the funding from council tax and business rates returns to normal compared with previous years.  

 

Planning refusal in Weybridge

EE applied to build telecommunications equipment comprising a monopole that would stand 15m high with associated antennas and dishes as well as three adjacent cabinets. The structures were to be situated on an area of pavement located adjacent to the railway station and Heath Road South car park.

The Council refused planning permission and EE appealed. The application therefore goes to HMG’s Planning Inspectorate for their judgement. In this case the Inspector upheld the Council’s decision, ruling that:

  • The predominant development pattern on this side of the highway is one of built form, as well as street furniture, that is low in height. The monopole would be at-odds with this and the general topography of the area. It would be significantly taller than the adjacent boundary treatment, street furniture, railway building and even against the backdrop of nearby trees.
  • The appellant accepts that the monopole would be visible, but I do not accept the assertion that it would have very little impact over a wider area. The telecommunications equipment would be out of keeping with the street-scene and otherwise spatially open character of the area, having particular regard to the low height of development on this side of the highway. It would therefore be visually intrusive and prominent from numerous public vantage points, given its siting, and would increase visual clutter.

How your local Foodbank has kept going during lockdown

People in Weybridge are sometimes perplexed that Foodbank donations from Weybridge shoppers go to the Runnymede Foodbank. They also ask where donations can be made and how the distribution service has been managed since it left St James’s Parish Church in March.

We are happy to report that, since lockdown, the Foodbank has continued to provide food parcels to local residents and throughout the parliamentary constituency of Runnymede and Weybridge. But some things have changed. To find out more, we turned to Runnymede Borough Council (RBC) colleagues for an update.

What we discovered was the major contribution RBC has made and how two of our Lib Dem colleagues on RBC have helped since lockdown. At a very early stage in lockdown, the manager of the Runnymede Foodbank highlighted to the RBC Community Services Committee his very serious concerns on how to maintain the service with rising levels of need, limited warehouse accommodation and some volunteers self-isolating.

RBC stepped in to help the Foodbank by providing warehouse accommodation and councillors volunteered to help keep the service going. The new warehouse facility near Egham became fully operational on the 6th April.  Initially RBC councillors managed the warehousing and distribution service on a 7 day a week basis, aided by local volunteers from across the borough. A substantial number of new volunteers have been working alongside established volunteers since this time.

Under pandemic conditions the Foodbank has run differently. All requested provisions are now delivered to households rather than being collected from the foodbank.  This was seen as essential to maintain social distancing for volunteers. This also meant there could be deliveries to those who were self-isolating.

The Chertsey Foodbank management team, who were unfortunately laid low with Covid-19 early on, have been progressively taking back the management responsibility from the RBC councillors. And the RBC councillors who kept the Foodbank going are now returning to other duties. While the RBC input drew on all parties, two Lyne Lib Dem councillors played a very significant part in keeping the operation going. These are Theresa Burton who organised volunteer staffing, developed the systems to support the operation and liaised with the Chertsey Foodbank charity team, and Don Whyte who has been managing the warehouse two days a week.

If you want to make your contribution to keeping this very valuable service going then there are many ways in which you can help.  You can donate items at Morrisons and Waitrose; you can make a financial contribution; you can organise a street collection and you can volunteer. Volunteering is done a flexible basis, so volunteers can chip in when they are free and do not have to make a firm commitment to being somewhere every week for a specific time.

If you plan to donate goods or run a street collection, please be aware that currently the most needed items are:

  • Laundry powder or liquid
  • Washing up liquid
  • Shampoo
  • Deodorant
  • Soap
  • Canned pasta – spaghetti, macaroni cheeses, etc
  • Sponge puddings
  • Rice

Please give generously: https://runnymede.foodbank.org.uk

 

The future of Weybridge Town Centre

It is now nearly three years since Weybridge Health Centre was destroyed by fire.

In the intervening time there have been conversations involving local councillors, the Weybridge Society, the Weybridge Town Business Group and some local residents on the future of health facilities in Weybridge. The opportunity has been taken to look at how the Public Estate sites in Church Street in Weybridge town centre can be developed for the good of Weybridge. Public Estate sites are those sites owned by public bodies such as NHS Property Services, Surrey County Council, Elmbridge Borough Council.

NHS Provision
Discussions on what NHS services there will be in Weybridge town centre began at the same time as NHS England announced that Walk-In Centres were to be decommissioned.  For information, there were three Walk-In Centres run by the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG): one in Weybridge, one in Woking and one at Ashford Hospital. NHS England had made the decision that a better service would be provided through doctor-led Urgent Treatment Centres and enhanced GP availability and other services.

The discussions on whether there will be an Urgent Treatment Centre in Weybridge have been carried out by the North West Surrey CCG and have involved a Stakeholder Reference Group made up from councillors, resident representatives from a number of bodies and local representatives from Healthwatch England.  There have also been two rounds of public engagement events. A considerable amount of evidence has been collected and considered.

The latest public announcement on this set out the seven options for locating UTCs on the North West Surrey area – covering Woking, Chertsey, Weybridge, Walton and Staines and surrounding areas.

The NWSCCG has now merged with other Surrey CCGs and the new grouping is known as Surrey Heartlands CCG.  On their site they say:

Public feedback will be used to shape the clinical model for urgent care services and to reach a preferred option or options. If that leads to a substantial change to any services that are currently provided, a full public consultation would take place before any final decisions are made. This shortlist has been reached following a detailed process involving clinicians, health and social care organisations, voluntary and community sector organisations and members of the public. 

This work has been stalled by the Covid 19 pandemic

Town Centre Developments
The Weybridge Society’s most recently published newsletter, Winter 2020 gives a good account of the potential developments in the town centre involving the two Church Street sites.

“Embracing the Society’s WRAP (Weybridge Rebuild and Advance Project) idea, in 2019 SCC secured a £100,000 government grant from the One Public Estate project and is now using it to work out how to combine as many services as possible under one roof. This work includes options appraisal and master-planning to assess a comprehensive regeneration plan of a number of town-centre sites in multiple public sector ownership: Weybridge Health Centre, Surrey County Council Library, Surrey Youth Centre . . .”

Currently Elmbridge Borough Council property is not being considered in the plans being drawn up by Surrey. The EBC sites that were initially considered include the Centre for the Community site and the former EBC bowling green, more recently used for short tennis.

The latest news on developments is that the Library site is currently favoured as the site for locating new NHS provision, which will include GP practices, community health services, X-ray and other diagnostic services such as phlebotomy (blood tests). As no decision has yet been made on locating an Urgent Treatment Centre in Weybridge, design options have to include space for this.

One question now is what other services will be provided on the library site. Ideas include Library provision; community services – as currently delivered at the local Centre for the Community, including lunches for the elderly, meals on wheels preparation, stroke and dementia groups; youth provision; co-working space; a hireable community area for children’s playgroups, clubs, exercise groups and societies; and a public café.

And the old hospital site?  To quote again from the Weybridge Society’s Winter 2020 Newsletter:

“Combining these publicly owned sites into a shared building or hub (or other options) has the potential to release land for new housing, deliver new jobs, commercial space, efficiencies and wider economic development benefits to ensure the future vitality and viability of Weybridge’s town centre.”

The pressing need for extra-care accommodation for the frail elderly, and publicly funded care homes, as well as affordable smaller housing units will be all be factors in deciding what will be built on the old health centre site. And all proposals will have to fit with the EBC Planning framework a new version of which is currently being worked on by the EBC Planning team. This framework, known as the Local Plan, was due to be published in draft form during 2020.

As ever, we are interested to hear your views on how our town centre develops – including the benefits you see in this scheme and any problems you can foresee.  Whatever happens, this is a once in a generation opportunity to shape how a significant part of Weybridge will look and function in the next 30 to 50 years.

You can email us at weybridgelibdems@gmail.com or ask to join Weybridge Forum Facebook group to put your views and see those of others.

Council now knows its Carbon Footprint

Elmbridge Borough Council (EBC) has completed an important step on the journey to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 – it now knows its “Carbon Footprint”. Following a comprehensive audit, EBC now has a baseline data on the location and volume of carbon emissions across the council’s operations. The learning gained from the audit will be used to produce a Carbon Reduction Action Plan. In its first stage, the plan will focus on the Council’s own operations and those it has direct control over. This is to ensure the targets are realistic and can be met as soon as possible.

The audit was carried out by the Carbon Trust who are an expert partner for organisations around the world – supporting them in realising plans for a sustainable, low carbon future.  Included in the initial suggestions from the Carbon Trust are that the council should “Go Electric” by replacing diesel road vehicles and gas heating sources.

In 2019 Elmbridge Borough Council (EBC) declared a Climate Emergency following a motion by the Liberal Democrat/Residents Association Coalition. More Information can be found on the EBC website:-

Eliminate the bad – retain the good

The coronavirus has had a significant impact on all of us and we are desperate to eradicate it. But despite all the negative impact, can we maintain the positives that we have seen?

The environment

Many cars have been idle in the driveway and people have started walking and cycling both for their daily shopping and for their daily exercise; this has a positive impact on both the health of the individual and on the climate. There are many stories of how people are enjoying the clearer skies, whilst others talk about how they enjoy hearing birdsong now that the noise from traffic and air travel has significantly reduced.

For many years Weybridge High Street has had particularly poor air quality due to traffic congestion. Last year it was selected as one of two places in Elmbridge (the other being Hampton Court) for continuous air quality monitoring and recent figures show that average levels of NO2 have fallen from previously high concentrations of up to 55 μg/m3 to approximately 24 μg/m3 by the end of April. (National policy is that nitrogen dioxide concentrations should not regularly exceed 40 μg/m3.)

Wouldn’t it be good if our renewed awareness of our environment was translated into long term action for sustainable improvements? Can we maintain the current air quality when the emergency measures start to be lifted? Should we introduce an Elmbridge low emissions zone? Can we plant more trees and hedges? Will Surrey County Council install more cycle lanes and change all buses to be electric or fuel-cell powered? Can we encourage more children to walk or cycle to school?

Elmbridge BC advice to businesses

Live webinar on tablet with headphones

Expert advice to help businesses prepare for recovery

Do you run a local business? Sign up to EBC’s free webinar on Friday 29 May at 11am to ensure your business is ready to move forward as we emerge from this crisis.

The online event will be led by Business Growth Specialist Sanjiv Dodhia who will share the top ten actions you can take to help your business get through this uncertain time.

Foodbank information

Runnymede & Weybridge Foodbank

Tel: 01932 838 383

Runnymede Borough Council is taking all calls for residents in Weybridge. They are operating a full doorstep delivery service to all foodbank clients. See the Runnymede Foodbank website

Foodbank Donations

Waitrose has a donation point for long life foodstuffs and there are volunteers around Weybridge who are acting as collection points.

Financial Donations

Foodbanks welcome assistance in the form of financial donations so that they can buy essential items such as nappies and sanitary products which are not normally donated. For Weybridge, a new donations page has been set up: Weybridge donations

Alternatively, a financial donation can be made to the Trussell Trust, who look after more than 1,200 food bank centres across the UK.  They provide a minimum of three days emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis.

  • Make a one-off donation to the Trussell Trust;  or
  • Text TRUSSELL then your amount (eg TRUSSELL 5 for a £5 donation) to 70085

PPE for Care Homes

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On the second Thursday of “clapping for carers” it was encouraging to see so many venture on to the street and cheer and clap near our local care home. The co-owner of Heath Lodge reached out and explained they had a confirmed case of Covid-19 within one of their homes and were seriously short of PPE. I’m not a medic or key worker, but this instantly reminded me I had a skill set to offer! I had retired from my sourcing and manufacturing company five years earlier but now could reopen the lines of communication and search for reliable makers and suppliers of masks and gowns. I contacted my old  colleagues and we set to work. Vicki Macleod, helped connect us with a government official who put us in touch directly with the NHS Procurement team.  We are now feeding through details and estimates for manufacturing and supplying PPE, including gowns. We’re also trying to help local hospitals, care homes and key workers through Surrey County Council.

The time difference makes for a long day and insomnia has never proved more welcome to working practice! NHS technical specifications, safety standards and test reports certainly maintain focus. We’re not there yet, there is a substantial need still to be met. But by doing something I know how to do well, that may ultimately bring protection to so many who give so much to others, is without question, a privilege.