Council Meetings: Real or Virtual?

Virtual Council Meetings to end on May 7th

The Local Government Association (LGA), a cross-party body, has responded to the government’s announcement that emergency legislation allowing virtual council meetings will not be extended beyond May 7th.

Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the LGA, said: 

“This decision is extremely disappointing. The Government’s own roadmap out of lockdown states that indoor gatherings or events – organised by a business, charity, public body or similar organisation – cannot be organised until May 17 at the earliest. Yet councils will be unable to hold remote meetings from May 7. MPs will retain the right to participate remotely until at least June 21 but the powers-that-be in the House of Commons will not make time available to legislate for councillors to do the same. 

“The case is clear for the ability for councils to continue to be able to hold meetings flexibly. We urge the Government to reverse this decision and not force councils to have to hold COVID-19 secure face-to-face council meetings until all restrictions are lifted. 

“This also risks damaging the gains seen in public participation in remote council meetings during the pandemic and our vital local democratic process.

“Left with no choice, Lawyers in Local Government, the Association of Democratic Services and Hertfordshire County Council have made an application to the Courts to declare that councils already have the powers needed to hold online meetings. The LGA will be providing support in these proceedings as the representative body for councils.”

 

The Missing Link

As soon as Cllr Ashley Tilling became involved in discussions about the Brooklands Accessibility Project a couple of years ago, it seemed to him that a key option for linking Brooklands to the town centre was missing.

The Accessibility Project has already brought a much safer route for people on foot or bike making journeys to or via the station; it provides a properly surfaced and illuminated track from Brooklands to the station, the shared path along Heath Road and the improvements to the town paths. However, it has a big limitation in that all users have a severe restriction at the railway bridge where cyclists will have to dismount in order to safely pass pedestrians on the narrow pavement over the bridge. 

With the renewed interest in cycling and walking that the pandemic has presented, as well as the additional encouragement to leave cars at home, it seemed that there was an opportunity to investigate a ‘missing link’ route. This would make use of the closed railway bridge which was built to connect Locke King House (now Brooklands College) to the Brooklands race track. The path would open up an additional traffic-free route for all those travelling to and from Brooklands and the Locke King housing area with Brooklands College, Heathside School and the town centre without having to negotiate the narrow pavement on the road bridge. 

Ashley contacted Network Rail last year to ask if there was a possibility for them to give permission to use the railway bridge. Their recent reply is very encouraging. They have now conducted a paper-work investigation and physical structural check of the state of the bridge in question. This is their response:

The bridge in question is currently in reasonable condition and, subject to the relevant processes, we would in principle be in a position to transfer it to the local authority if they wished to dedicate public rights over it. 

He will now pursue this scheme with Surrey and Elmbridge Councils but your support for this would be most welcome. Please tell us what you think of this idea and whether you might use this bridge (you can use our comments section).

 

Carton recycling now available

Good news! From Wednesday 17th February residents in the Weybridge and Walton areas will be able to recycle their food and drinks cartons (these are the ubiquitous Tetrapak, Elopak, etc. cartons for soup, fruit juice, non-dairy milk, etc.) and drinks cups.

Over the last year Cllr Ashley Tilling has been working with the recycling provider set up by the carton manufacturers (ACE UK) and with Elmbridge Borough Council to introduce recycling banks. Currently Elmbridge is the only borough in Surrey that does not provide carton recycling for its residents; 94% of all UK councils provide carton recycling.

Recycling reduces CO2 emissions in the supply chain and ensures our waste is recycled responsibly. Industry figures show that recycling food and drink cartons produces a net reduction in emissions of 452 kg CO2 per tonne. The new bring banks provide a great opportunity for residents in Weybridge and Walton to save food and drink cartons from going to landfill.

There will be recycling banks positioned in the station car parks in Weybridge and Walton. PLEASE Wash, Squash and Cap your cartons to maximise the numbers that can be collected. PLEASE do not put any other waste in the banks, such as paper, glass or cans. 

We are hoping this will be an initial trial; it would be much more convenient for banks to be placed in supermarket car parks, as they are in neighbouring Waitrose Woking and Waitrose West Byfleet, or town centre council car parks, as they are in Mole Valley. Please let EBC or your ward councillor know if you would like the council to extend the trial by providing banks in places that would give you greater opportunities to recycle your cartons.

Please pass on this email to friends so that they can add this to their other recycling efforts.

Laptop Appeal

I am writing to let you know about one aspect of the ongoing work of local Liberal Democrats in these challenging times. A major issue being faced by many local families at the moment is the lack of access to laptops. From my time as a teacher I am only too well aware of the detrimental effect that the government’s failure to plan for home schooling, compounded with their inability to provide sufficient resources, is having on the education of many children. To help alleviate this situation we recently launched The Elmbridge Laptop Appeal, reaching out to local residents and businesses, asking them if they have unused laptops that could be donated.

Thanks to the very generous responses we’ve received already there have been 10 laptops donated to an Elmbridge secondary school. And more laptops are on their way ready to go out to other local schoolchildren across Elmbridge. We have been overwhelmed by the support of local people and local businesses to this appeal, so quickly pledging computers or making generous financial donations.

We have had a wonderful response so far, but we would like to do more: if you or your business have laptops, or wish to donate to the campaign, please do get in touch. The cost of a brand new, relevant specification machine is around £500, but we have managed to secure a limited number of refurbished units for £260 each. If you can donate an old laptop, or if you would like to donate money towards the campaign to buy either refurbished or new laptops, please see our website (elmbridgelibdems.org.uk) for more information on the Elmbridge Laptop Appeal. All donations from this campaign will go directly to buying laptops for school children. Your generosity will provide reliable access to education for children at home during this lockdown who don’t have the necessary equipment.

Thank you for your support.
Best wishes,
Ashley

Councillor Andrew Davis 1956-2021

We are sorry to bring you the sad news of Andrew Davis’s death on Sunday 10th January in Princess Alice Hospice.

Andrew had been a Liberal/Liberal Democrat for over 42 years and councillor for Weybridge on Elmbridge Borough for eight years, first for Weybridge North and then, when ward boundaries were re-drawn, for Weybridge Riverside. He also served in the Council as a Cabinet member, the Leader of the Liberal Democrat group and as the Deputy Leader of the Council.

Many of Andrew’s political activities were inspired by his life-long passion for the environment. This resulted in a number of pioneering initiatives such as Green Transport Week, National Car Free Day, Walk to School Day and 20’s Plenty, several of which gained national and even international recognition.

Gill Smith, one of the Weybridge Focus team and Chair of Elmbridge Liberal Democrats said: “We all remember Andrew as a phenomenal campaigner and an utterly dedicated Liberal Democrat, as well as awesomely energetic and an altogether fascinating human being. We are deeply grateful for his massive contribution to our party’s work in Elmbridge and particularly in Weybridge. We have lost a much loved member of our Liberal Democrat family and he will be greatly missed. May he rest in peace.”

  

Volunteering during the lockdowns

An interview with Cllr Ashley Tilling 

Focus: How did you get involved with volunteering during the Covid-19 pandemic?  

When the national call for NHS Volunteers was broadcast in April I put my name forward. But for a couple of weeks I heard nothing. I then​ bumped into a neighbour who was involved in the Surrey First Responder volunteer scheme – organising the collection and delivery of medicines to people who were shielding, isolating or too ill to go out. He was very happy for me to join his small team.

Focus: How does the scheme work? 

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I received a list of prescriptions requiring to be picked up from pharmacies and to whom they were to be delivered. Some of these were marked urgent, so needed to be collected that afternoon, while others could wait until the following morning. 

Focus: Typically how many people were on your list?

Usually between four and six scattered around Elmbridge. I decided to use the scheme to try to keep fit and so dusted off my road bike. A typical route would be from Weybridge to Hersham, Esher, Claygate, Thames Ditton, Molesey and back via Walton on Thames, collecting and delivering along the way. Between April and July, I had made well over 80 deliveries all over Elmbridge. I was also recently called up again and helped during ‘Lockdown 2’. 

Focus: Have there been any challenges?   

Sometimes I would turn up at a pharmacy to find that they had not received the prescription on my list – it then took some persuasion and co-operation from the pharmacist to sort this out with the issuing GP practices. Finding the location for a delivery could also be a headache – a lucky encounter with a passing postman once helped!

A regular Weybridge recipient comments:

“We are so grateful for our prescriptions being delivered. Both my husband and I have multiple prescriptions, all cheerfully delivered. We have shielded since before the first lockdown and are so looking forward to the vaccination. Thank you to all those who have worked delivering our medicines”.

 

Changes to Baker Street

The planned Active Travel Measures in Baker Street have now “gone live”.  You can read all about the background in the earlier article by Councillor Andrew Davis here.
Surrey County Council closed Baker Street to through traffic (except cycles) from 8am on Friday 16th October.  Don’t forget that Comments can be sent to Surrey County Council via email highways@surreycc.gov.uk or by phone on 0300 200 1003. And of course you are always welcome to comment on this website using the “Leave a Reply” section at the bottom of the page.

Local Boundary Posts

If you’ve seen one of these on Desborough Island or close to Cowey Sale, you may wonder what they are for. They actually date back to the Victorian era and mark the Coal Tax boundary. So anyone bringing coal into the Metropolitan Police District (plus the City of London) would have to pay Coal Tax. The purpose of the posts was to give notice of where the boundary ran so that no-one could claim ignorance of liability to pay the duties.

The 24/25 VICT refers to the years of Queen Victoria’s reign in which the Act requiring the payment of the duty was passed (i.e. 1861-62 session). CAP 42 refers to the relevant chapter of the parliamentary Act. 

In the 1880s the City and the Metropolitan Board of Works wanted the duties to continue in the face of growing opposition from the public and national politicians, but when the MBW was replaced by the London County Council in 1889, the new council declined to support renewal. An act was passed in that year abolishing the duties, the last of which was collected in 1890. The abolition was opposed with some underhand tactics: a parliamentary select committee sitting in 1887 found that signatures on a petition in support of keeping the tax had been forged!

The posts thus represent the final phase of the duties in the face of growing opposition. They had been collected for over 300 years but within 30 years of the posts going up were abolished.

See how many you can spot! There were originally around 280 posts of which around 210 remain.

Proposed improvements to our town paths

The Brooklands Accessibility Project has been a major scheme to provide safer walking and cycling between Weybridge and Brooklands. So far this has provided the new path along Heath Road to the station, a wider path with a tarmacadam surface from Lonsdale Road to Seven Arches Bridge, and improvements to the path past Brooklands Museum, through the park and onto the A245.

Phase Four of the project was dependent on the cost of the first three phases but it was envisaged that some money would be available to improve the route into Weybridge town centre. This phase takes the route from the crossing on Heath Road, along Melrose Road and makes use of the paths around the allotments and Churchfields Park to finish in the town. These are a wonderful asset at the heart of the town and give a very pleasant option for residents away from the noise and risk of using the roads. To make these paths safer for all users, Phase Four proposes to widen the paths by clearing the earth alongside the fence sections around the allotments, cutting back any overhanging vegetation and laying macadam up to the fence edge.

I have proposed that a small section of allotment fencing near the skate park should be moved back in order to smooth out the rather dangerous right angled corner. 

I have also asked Surrey County Council’s Project Manager for the current cut-through track (see photo) to Churchfields car park be formally implemented as a better option for users going to the town centre than the path that goes to Church Lane and to the roundabout at the Church Street/Balfour Road junction. Furthermore, I am hoping that there will be enough money to pay for much-needed lighting of the path alongside the playground section.

 

The Future of Local Democracy

You may have recently received a leaflet through your letterbox from Surrey County Council headed “Summer 2020”. On the third page you will see that the Leader of the Council (our Conservative Weybridge County Councillor), Tim Oliver, is proposing a major reform of local democracy. 

There is no doubt that the proposed imposition of a single council for Surrey, a ‘unitary authority’, will have been discussed by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, and the leaders of Conservative-held counties. Indeed, Cllr Oliver caught even his own Conservatve councillors by surprise when he announced at Council in July that there would be a re-organisation of local government structures and that “this would be in line with the government agenda” and would require “working with government as it presses ahead with the devolution white paper”. 

While a unitary authority would undoubtedly bring some financial benefits by eliminating the eleven borough and district councils in Surrey that have seen their financial support from central government reduced significantly over the last ten years, the key question is how a monster council serving 1.2 million people would be able to serve the interests of local residents. The SCC leaflet supports the plan by stating that ‘We want a council that gives real power to local communities’.  The Leader, in his statement to the council envisages “A new model of local government, combined with increased powers devolved down to a much more local level” – one wonders how much community power could be asserted, given the size of a single Surrey authority.   

Are the government’s proposals in fact another manifestation of the Johnson/Cummings desire to centralise as much as possible – a trend started under Margaret Thatcher? Is it  a thinly-veiled attempt to eliminate those troublesome borough councils that are not Conservative controlled? If we get one unitary authority across the whole of Surrey it is likely that Surrey would forever be in the hands of a Tory majority. This proposal, however, is not the only way of rationalising the two tier system in Surrey.

Liberal Democrat councillors in Surrey support the development of single-tier authorities across Surrey as the most cost-effective and customer-centric way forward. They note that one county-wide council would be remote and unaccountable. They suggest instead that we should  explore dividing the existing Surrey boroughs into three or four authorities. So, for example, Spelthorne, Runnymede and Elmbridge councils could be combined into a single administrative area taking on all the responsibilities currently divided between the boroughs and the county. 

Full government proposals will be revealed in a ‘Recovery and Devolution’ White Paper on local democracy to be published in early autumn. It looks certain that there will be changes. Please let us know your views. Please also contact Tim Oliver and your local MP so they can gauge the response of residents to their proposals. 

You may also like to join #Residents Against Surrey Single Unitary (#RASSU). You can find out more information at: https://rassu.org.uk/ . You can sign their petition: http://petitions.surreycc.gov.uk/unitary/ and join the campaign:  https://rassu.org.uk/join-the-campaign