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.

Local Plan – Coronavirus update

Update on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Local Plan

The pandemic is having an impact on the current timetable (known as the Local Development Scheme – LDS) for producing the council’s Local Plan.  The council’s timetable was based on Officers being in a position to submit a draft local plan to Cabinet in June and to the full Council in July.  It included a final public consultation in September. Unfortunately, a number of external consultants and infrastructure providers have had to furlough or repurpose their staff in response to the pandemic.  As a result, they have not been able to submit their reports or inform the council when they will be able to submit them.  Due to the current uncertainty it is not clear how long their staff will be furloughed or repurposed and therefore, at present, the council is not in a position to set a revised timetable.

Although the full impact of the changed circumstances and the economic challenges from COVID-19 will not be known for many months, probably years, the council still has to produce a Local Plan if it is not to lose all control over future development in Elmbridge. However the government is maintaining that the current crisis cannot be used as a reason to delay the Local Plan.  We will be writing to the government with our concerns and seeking clarification about the present situation.

Our current experiences are highlighting the importance of, amongst other things, ensuring that new homes will be able to accommodate residents’ future needs.  Previous changes (the development of internet shopping, the financial crash of 2008, the decline of our high streets, the climate change agenda to name but a few) have all had, and continue to have, an impact on the built environment. The present challenges are expected to have an even greater impact. It is therefore essential that the new Local Plan allows for the development of innovative and imaginative solutions. For example, it will need to reflect changes in working patterns, and changes to commuting and its impact on traffic.

We have therefore asked the planning officers to review their work to date on the draft Local Plan in light of the pandemic.  We need to make sure that it will provide the council and the people of Elmbridge with a Plan capable of meeting the range of new challenges we are likely to be facing when this crisis eases, and the consequences are clearer.

Planning Application 2019/0657: Wessex, South Road

Earlier this year your local Area Planning Sub-Committee of councillors decided to refuse permission for a developer to demolish the existing house, Wessex, and build a block of nine flats in South Road, leading off Queen’s Road next to Tesco. An appeal was made by the developer against this decision and on 22 April the government’s Planning Inspectorate allowed the appeal, that is over-turned the decision of the Council committee.

Councillors had rejected the appeal because of the effect the proposed development would have on the narrow South Road, particularly in terms of safety, parking and access, and the implications for occupiers of nearby residential properties.

The Inspector commented that South Road is narrow in places and, due to the limited width and presence of yellow lines and on street parking, it only allows one car to pass at a time. But he considered:

‘that the parking restrictions in the area (including the CPZ) in combination with the accessibility of the location and the smaller dwelling types proposed, would serve to reduce the likelihood that many occupiers of the proposed development would choose to own a car. Highway pressure resulting from the vehicles of future occupants of the dwellings could therefore be adequately managed, subject to provision being made to exclude future occupants from benefiting from residents parking permits.’

Councillors also have to consider the effect of a development on the character of the area. The Inspector acknowledged that the proposed building would be larger than the existing dwelling, commenting that:

‘it would also have a more contemporary appearance, in particular due to the flat roof and window details. As this is a prominent site the development would change the appearance of the immediate locality. Notwithstanding this, the character of this part of South Road is derived from both the larger scale properties closer to Queens Road and the more modest buildings that are evident as you move away from it. In this regard, the character of the immediate area is mixed and a building off the scale and appearance proposed would not therefore be out of character.’

In terms of the impact on neighbouring properties, he evaluated: ‘I find this to be satisfactory in terms of preserving the privacy conditions of occupiers of South Lodge’ and ‘the east elevation of the proposed development would include windows/Juliet balconies facing towards the rear of properties on High Pine Close. Given the separation distances and other built forms nearby, it is considered that the proposed development would not impact on the privacy conditions of occupiers of these and other properties nearby.’

The appellant (the developer) is allowed to apply for costs to cover the amount they have spent to put the appeal case together. Interestingly, in this case the Inspector found that the Council did not act unreasonably in refusing the application. The application for an award of costs was therefore refused.

Vicki Macleod for Weybridge in the Surrey Elections 4th May 2017

On Thursday 4th May, you have a  chance to elect a new councillor to represent Weybridge on Surrey County Council.

Your local Liberal Democrat candidate is long term Weybridge resident Vicki Macleod.

You may know Vicki from her work in our local community, perhaps from her five years chairing the Friends of The Weybridge Centre charity. or as a school governor.

Vicki‘s priority is to give Weybridge a stronger voice for better delivery of the services local people need, including:

  • Better maintained and safer local roads and pavements
  • Local school places for Weybridge children
  • Responsible budget management by Surrey County Council

Many people see Surrey County Council as remote and inefficient with its history of mismanagement. Vicki will work with other councillors to put pressure on the administration for more effective financial management and for budgets that reflect local needs.  Her longer term aim is to see some of the services currently run by Surrey brought into local Elmbridge control.

Read more at elmbridgelibdems.org.uk

 

Gerrymandering

This morning’s discussion at the Cafe One in Baker Street could not help but include the recent inauguration of the American President.

I was surprised, perhaps I should not have been, how unaware British people appear to be regarding the nature of American democracy.  Unlike in Europe, elections in America are often heavily manipulated.  In Europe, where most states have proportional representation, manipulation is almost impossible.  In England, unlike the rest of Britain, we almost exclusively use the first-past-the-post election method and so manipulation is possible but guarded against by the use of an arms-length boundary commission.   Not so in America. The lower house of the America parliament has constituencies and each one elects one member.  To protect the incumbent the political parties change the make-up of the electorate.  If a neighbourhood votes the “wrong” way it is excluded from the constituency and if it votes the “right” way it is included. Over time this produces constituencies with bizarre shapes. The example below. Illinois district 4, shows a constituency that almost entirely surrounds another one.

In some American states the situation is so bad that the state could not pass the basic democratic conditions required to join the European Union.  North Carolina below.

This gerrymandering does not affect the election of the America President.  However, other methods are used instead.  Collectively they are know as voter suppression.  The main types of voter suppression are:

  • Spurious removal of voters from the electoral role
  • Unequal spread of polling stations – poorer areas have fewer stations
  • Misinformation for postal voting – making voters miss deadlines
  • Unequal polling station opening times
  • Unequal voter identification techniques – requiring a driving licence
  • Banning convicted criminals for life
  • Arduous voting registration requirements

Elmbridge staff put a great effort in trying to get people on to the electoral role.  In America there are many organisations that help people to get registered.  However, some American organisations do their best to make sure people never get registered or once there try and remove them.

Some American academics have suggested that the total effect of voter suppression in the recent presidential election was sufficient to change the result in the electoral college.

Elmbridge New Local Plan Exhibition & Consultation

There are four further dates for the public exhibition outlining Elmbridge’s proposals for providing more affordable and social housing.  This is in response to the government’s call for local authorities to produce proposals for meeting housing needs in their areas.

Exhibition Dates
Thursday 18 January, 7-9 pm, at Hinchley Wood School, Claygate Lane, Ditton
Monday 23 January, 7-9 pm, at The Cecil Hepworth Playhouse, Walton
Thursday 26 January, 7-9 pm at Civic Centre, Esher
Saturday 4 February, 10 am – 2 pm at Civic Centre, Esher

Key documents will be available in hard copy and councillors and staff and will be there to talk with you about the proposals.  Key features for residents to consider are around what happens to existing Green Belt boundaries.

The public consultation on these proposals closes on 10th February.  Post  your views here…

With regard to developing in the Green Belt, he Council’s three options are:

Design a Flowerbed Competition – open till 27 January

Elmbridge Borough is holding a competition for local 7-11 year olds – one of the many activities being held nationwide to celebrate the UK-India Year of Culture in 2017. 

The challenge is to design a circular flowerbed based on the vibrant colours and some of the more simple designs found in India.

The winning design in Weybridge will be planted in the Churchfields park.

For more examples of designs like the one above which are drawn on pavements, often in front of houses in Tamil Nadu, see photos taken by  Vicki Macleod on her recent travels there on the Weybridge LibDems Facebook page.

Entries must be submitted to Elmbridge by Friday, 27 January and full information on entering the competition can be found on the Elmbridge website.