Elmbridge Tackles Tenancy Fraud

tenency fraudInvestigators have been successful in recovering three houses that were occupied by fraudsters.  This has saved Elmbridge tax payers an estimated £54,000.  Elmbridge is working in partnership with Surrey to put a stop to tenancy fraud with the launch of a new campaign to encourage greater reporting of suspected cases.

In launching a new poster campaign, “Don’t stop his family having a home!” the borough asks for the public’s help in reporting any suspicions they might have about fraudulent tenancy activity and allowing those in real need to occupy available homes.

Anyone with information or suspicions of tenancy fraud can call the borough’s confidential fraud hotline on 01372 474 291 or email fraud@elmbridge.gov.uk.

Housing and the Green Belt

Suburban spreadLast year I posted that Elmbridge planners were busily re-examining the borough policies with a view to protect ourselves from the national government’s changes in planning policy contained in the new NPPF.

Now new threats emerge with the demands for more housing.  One can easily see the need from a national perspective: people are living longer, having more babies, getting divorced – all cause greater household formation.  On top of that London – the premier city on earth – is a magnet for people throughout the world.  Is there a better place to learn globish than in London?

So our planners are revisiting our borough policies again to ensure we are protected against unwelcome developments and consequent planning appeals.  It has to be done thoroughly to avoid the accusations of nimbyism.  In area Weybridge is not much smaller than Hackney but Weybridge has less than a tenth of Hackney’s population.  It is only planning law that stops Weybridge having a much higher density.

Is reasonable for Elmbridge to maintain a low population when so many are in need of a place to call their own at a price they can afford?  Should we at least grow at the same rate as Britain as a whole?  We are already short of schools – where do we built the schools we need?

Housing advice – drop in sessions

Housing adviceAre you considering moving or perhaps thinking about adapting your home to better suit your needs? A Housing Options Officer for Older People (HOOPS) will be available over the next few months for advice and information.  There will not be advice surgeries in Weybridge but they will be available in the following centres as follows:

  • Cobham Centre at 10am-12 noon on Tuesday, 24 November
  • Walton Centre at 10am-12 noon on Friday, 27 November
  • Hersham Centre at 10am-12 noon on Friday, 29 January
  • Molesey Centre at 10am-12 noon on Tuesday, 9 February

Hospital to go?

Call me sentimental but another little bit of Weybridge’s history could be about to disappear under the demolisher’s wrecking ball.  We have lost our town hall (replaced by Lloyd’s Bank), the fire station (replaced by Nikki’s Café) and now our old hospital could be replaced by a retirement community.  Fortunately, we still have our original power station in Church Path.

Balfour road 2

Long before there was a national health service the people of Weybridge clubbed together to build our very own hospital.  Land off the newly laid-out Balfour Road was donated to the new hospital in 1889 by Hugh Locke-King.  The building stands today.  As the population of Weybridge increase a new hospital was built off the High Street in 1928 and that, in turn was replaced by the present walk in centre.  Although not a listed building, Locke-King House in Balfour Road is within the Weybridge conservation area.

The proposal is to demolish the old hospital and replace it with 18 double bedroom, retired-person flats with 22 underground car parking spaces.  See here for more details.

Balfour road floor plan

Apart from any other planning consideration – of which there are many, an important issue to consider is the narrow footway in front of the building.  Surrey County has often said that the reason that it cannot provide cycle paths is because along proposed routes there is insufficient width of carriageway.  Outside this property there is not even space for pedestrians.

Narrow railing balfour road

Centralisation rebuffed

Housing-AffordabilityLast year the Coalition national administration made changes to the planning process that adversely affected Elmbridge’s ability to support the provision of affordable housing.  It did this by introducing a vacant building credit and imposed threshold for affordable housing.  These measures reduced the powers of local government to determine its own policies on affordable housing.  Elmbridge is one of the most expensive places to live in the country and so the need for affordable housing is very great.

Holistically anyone born in Elmbridge should be able to afford to live here.  It is incumbent on the Elmbridge government to ensure that such housing is available, either as social or affordable housing.  Imagine if the English government said that if you cannot afford to live in England you must emigrate to Spain or Chad.

Recently the High Court effectively judged the planning policy changes made by the national administration through its Written Ministerial Statement to be unlawful.

Quite simply put, Elmbridge now needs to revert to using its previous policies but there are many planning applications passing through the system from pre application enquiries to decisions pending appeals to the national planning inspectorate.  The borough may not revisit decisions that have already been made under the recent regime changes.

There is a risk that the Conservative national administration will challenge the court’s decision, which would be expensive and time consuming, bearing in mind the robustness of that decision.  However, there is nothing stopping the national administration going through the process again taking care to take into account all of the court’s concerns, in which case we can expect to see version two of the changed policy in the near future.

Chancellor forces sell-offs

monopoly_housesNational governments often claim that they support local democracy.  However the evidence is otherwise.

The Conservative national administration is forcing boroughs to sell off their more expensive housing stock.  This will reduce the ability and thus rein wealthy areas to pay housing association to sell of their own social housing stock.

These measures will have little impact on providing more housing.  If we want more housing where it is needed than we need to look closely at:

  • Ensuring that all places have a duty to house their own in their area. A village would have to purchase or build houses to enable anyone born in the village to live there.
  • Replacing business rates and council tax with land tax. This would end the current tax on building improvements and focus the tax on the value of the land instead.  This would bring more brownfield sites on stream quickly.
  • Removing stamp duty on house purchases. Stamp duty is a significant factor in discouraging people to move.  Removing stamp duty would encourage people to move rather than extending and thus help those further down the housing ladder.  This move would reduce the national exchequer’s revenue but the loss of this source of income could easily be compensated by reducing the capital gains exemption for domestic properties.  This would have a double desired effect of damping down house prices and encouraging people to spread their investments more widely into industry, bonds and commerce.

If locals had to provide homes for their own, the number of houses on offer would begin to suit the local demographic without having to change the planning laws and/or the national administration poking its nose into areas where it is not wanted or needed.

Osborne centralises England again

Increased rentWhilst setting the national budget Chancellor Osborne announced that boroughs will have to charge higher rents to people on higher incomes.  Why does he think that he has a remit to decide what the level of social rents should be in Elmbridge?  Surely it is up to us, the people of Elmbridge, what we charge. What do you think?

Worse still the national government has the arrogance to demand that the social housing providers in Elmbridge must hand over to Westminster any extra revenue gained from the increase in rents.  If we did want to increase the rents in Elmbridge then the extra revenue is ours to keep to invest in more social housing (or anything else that we fancy).

Just imagine how Chancellor Osborne would protest if Brussels made such a rule on housing and demanded money from him!

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

More housing control from Westminster

Housing benefitsNational governments often claim that they support local democracy; however, the evidence is often otherwise.

Take housing benefit – part of the £12bn in welfare savings is to be made by the national government instructing boroughs to reduce their rents.  This will save the national government £1.4bn in housing benefit by reducing rents paid to social landlords.  The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that this will mean a loss of £2.5bn to boroughs which could be made available for new housing.  Overall government loses out but the centre gains and localities lose.

This measure will have the net effect of reducing the provision of housing.  If we want more housing where it is needed than we need to look closely at:

  • Ensuring that all places have a duty to house their own in their area. A village would have to build houses to enable anyone born in the village to live there – a town likewise.
  • Replacing business rates and council tax with land tax. This would end the tax on improvements and focus the tax on the value of the land instead.
  • Removing stamp duty on house purchases and fund this change by reducing the capital gains exemption for domestic properties. This would allow people to move house more frequently and encourage people to spread their investments to the betterment of the economy.

If locals had to provide homes for their own the number of houses would increase without having to change the planning laws and/or the national government poking its nose into areas where it is not wanted or needed.

Vicki Macleod for Weybridge North

Vicki Macleod

Vicki Macleod lives in Weybridge and cares deeply about our community and local quality of life. Vicki has a strong understanding of issues faced by education, health services, social care and businesses — and she has a great record of getting things done.  Many people locally will know her as a contributor to the activities of the Weybridge Centre, or as a school governor.  She was Chair of the Friends of Weybridge Centre charity for five years, and is a governor of Heathside School.

Vicki’s background: work in education

Vicki is very familiar with the issues in education and care for vulnerable young people. She is a qualified teacher, lecturer and coach. She taught in a comprehensive and in a residential school for disadvantaged and disruptive pupils. She also worked for 5 years with all special schools in Surrey and secondary schools across Surrey, providing advice and support on vocational education. Vicki is a former chairman of the SE Region Special Educational Needs Network. She became a governor of Heathside School in 2010.

Business skills and organisational accountability

Vicki Macleod is firmly in touch with the needs of businesses, through running a small business, and through helping leaders and managers improve their management and skills. At the University of Brighton she set up the MA in Learning in Organisations, and at Middlesex University designed and ran the MA in Education – Leadership and Management. In recent years she has coached leaders and managers in organisations of all sizes. Vicki brings expertise in organisational accountability and leadership. She is a director of Performance By Design Ltd.

Vicki MacleodHealth and social care

Vicki has a strong awareness of healthcare issues in Surrey, through working professionally with GP practices on improving their practice management, and through family links. Her brother and sister-in-law have been GPs in Surrey for over 25 years. She has first hand experience of services for the elderly and carers, through providing care to her late mother in her declining years, and continuing support to her father who lives in Weybridge. She has been very involved in the activities of the Weybridge Centre for the Community, and was Chair of the Friends of Weybridge Centre for five years.

Action on issues

Vicki believes in the value of communities taking action to bring about improvements in the quality of the environment – locally and globally, and in encouraging individuals to behave responsibly. She has been an active member of the Portmore Park and District Resident’s Association, supporting campaigns to influence Surrey County Council on issues affecting the local community, including the Walton Bridge scheme. She has a strong interest in local issues, and an excellent understanding of how things can be achieved locally (in part through being married to someone who served as an Elmbridge Councillor!).

Building for the future

Vicki Macleod is passionate about helping people achieve the best they can.  She moved to Weybridge in 1991 after taking up the role of curriculum leader for special schools with the Surrey Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI). Experience tells her it is possible to raise aspirations and achievement of children, young people and adults with appropriate support, guidance and opportunities.

Vicki is committed to acting in the interests of future generations, believing in stewardship of the environment, provision of stimulating and engaging education, encouragement of a healthy local economy, and careful planning of services to meet the needs of a growing ageing population.

You can rely on Vicki to work on behalf of the people of Weybridge.

Things to fix:

  • Safer streets, speed limits more visible, and better enforcement
  • Improved parking for Weybridge, off-street coordinated with on-street
  • More activities for young people
  • Better community facilities, to help give Weybridge a more vibrant heart
  • More focused help for older people, disabled people, vulnerable children and their carers
  • Safeguard parental choice over local schools
  • Protect the local environment, safeguard the Green Belt
  • Improve local roads and pavements
  • Improve public transport
  • Value for money, good quality services!

At a county level, Vicki is committed to help achieve the Lib Dem goal of making Surrey County Council competent and responsive.

To see what Lib Dems in Surrey can achieve, see the Surrey Lib Dem Record of Action and Success