At Elmbridge Borough Council’s Planning Committee on Tuesday 5th December the application to redevelop the Brooklands College site was approved.
The application involves providing a total of 320 new homes in blocks of flats, town houses and the refurbishment of the listed Brooklands mansion into luxury apartments. The College put forward a development of such a significant scale on Greenbelt land largely to pay off £20m of a £25m debt it had incurred when contracting apprentice training to a company that subsequently went bust. The money is owed to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), an agency of the DofE.
The debate in the Planning Committee meeting involved discussions on whether paying off the debt was a legitimate use of the planning process and constituted the Very Special Circumstances (VSC) necessary for building houses and flats on Greenbelt land, whether the design, mass, bulk and height of the proposed buildings were acceptable and whether there would be undue additional pressure on our roads. Despite being advised that paying off the debt did not constitute VSC, and with a number of councillors expressing concern about the scale of the proposed buildings and the effect on our already congested roads, the application was approved by a majority.
Clearly there are advantages to the proposals, including:
Upgrading the College’s teaching facilities;
Increasing the provision on site for local students requiring a high level of Special Education Needs, supported with funds from Surrey County Council;
Delivering a new sports centre and community space for the use of the College and the wider local community;
Refurbishing the site’s listed mansion, returning it to its historic residential use and restoring its terraced gardens;
40% of properties will be affordable homes providing a mix of rented housing, shared ownership and discounted first homes;
Opening up 12 hectares of woodland for newly accessible public use;
Reopening pedestrian and cycling access across the railway bridge giving residents living south of the railway better access to Brooklands College, Heathside School and into Weybridge;
Remediating and building on areas that were former landfill sites.
Two years ago your local councillor team were pleased to see the work they had proposed to widen, resurface and install better lighting on the ‘green lane’ that connects Oatlands Drive to Grotto Road to make it a better shared walking and wheeling path. We then pressed SCC to install a crossing on Oatlands Drive to make it safer, particularly for children and parents going to and from St James Primary and St George’s Junior Schools. Good to see that this installation is now nearing completion.
2023 was the year of our new King and for Weybridge, a new festival. The week long programme started with a dinner catered and served by Brooklands College students and finished with the Community Fair on the 24th June. An exhibition by local artists, photographers and sculptors spanned the halls and walls of the library and Oatlands Park Hotel; concerts and plays, restaurant and cafe lunches and dinners, literary and art talks and a quiz, were enjoyed by many all over the town.
Over one hundred stalls, two stages hosting local choirs and soloists, a beer tent run by Weybridge Vandals and the best cream teas hosted by the Soroptimists and the local Ukrainian population in the Community Centre, all came together at the Community Fair based on Churchfields Recreation ground.
Councillor Judy Sarsby, who worked with the Weybridge Society to organise the Festival, said “an estimated 8000 attended these events and to see churches, schools, sports clubs and local organisations supporting each other was truly inspiring. We are very lucky to live in such a giving community.”
Esher Church School has been awarded a prize for winning a competition as part of a waste reduction schemeAs Cabinet member for the Environment, just before Christmas it was lovely to be able to award Esher Church School a prize of over £419 for winning a competition as part of a waste reduction scheme in Elmbridge. The school will use the prize money on a project that will lead to more recycling in the school, this includes enhancing its recycling area in front of the school and installing a cover with a wildflower green roof. The school’s aim is to have all its pupils confident in what they can and can’t recycle.
The competition was part of Rethink Waste, a trial scheme that I have been promoting for the last year which aims to reduce the amount of waste produced in Elmbridge. Residents who sign up carry out activities, watch video clips and make pledges to help them reduce waste and win points for doing so. The competition saw schools in Elmbridge compete for points to be donated to them.
Residents who subscribe to the Rethink Waste scheme donated over 90,000 points as part of the competition, 37,745 of which were donated to Esher Church School. Five schools (Esher Church School, Bell Farm Primary School, Cleves School, St James CofE Primary School and St Matthews Infant School) took part in the latest round of the competition and received a share of the £1,000 funding based on the number of points they received. Other projects that will be funded using prize money include ones to improve compost and food waste recycling facilities, buy gardening equipment for children to work on a school allotment and help forest school areas flourish.
The competition follows the success of an earlier one as part of Rethink Waste that saw Grovelands Primary School in Walton-on-Thames win £846.88. Using the money, the school has prepared its outdoor area and ordered new classroom planters in preparation to grow fruit and vegetables. Councillor Tilling, Portfolio Holder for Environmental Services at Elmbridge Borough Council said: “This scheme is once more a huge success in the local community, encouraging children and parents to reduce waste. It’s great to see results in helping the the environment as well as supporting local schools with eco projects.”
Rethink Waste is being delivered by Greenredeem, funded by the Surrey Environment Partnership and supported by Elmbridge Borough Council. Rethink Waste is open to all residents in Elmbridge and is free to join. To find out more, head to Greenredeem.
Your local councillors are concerned at the cumulative impact on traffic and infrastructure (doctors, schools, nurseries) of the number of developments that are being submitted in and around the town, mostly in the Brooklands area. We recently attended a meeting with the Weybridge Society and our Weybridge SCC councillor to review the potential impact.
Some of these started as permitted development (PD) applications whereby an unused office block can be converted to flats without going through the full planning process. An example of this is the refurbishment of Clive House on Queen’s Road. But developers seem to always want more and they then put forward plans to build on adjoining land or to demolish and rebuild properties to maximise income from the sites. At the moment there are the following potential developments:
JTI building, Members Hill (photo right): 57 under PD, now 205 flats with two large, new blocks.
St George’s Gardens, offices on both sides of Locke King Road: South side 213 or more (photo above); North side 58 PD, maybe up to 100 if re-developed.
6, The Heights: 21 PD, up to 40 if re-developed.
Abbey House: 48 PD, 106 on re-development.
Brooklands College: a proposal for 87 houses and up to 263 flats.
The total number of dwellings involved is nearly 1,000; potentially adding some 2,500 residents and 1,500 vehicles and creating an unsustainable additional demand on already saturated local medical facilities, roads, and schools.
The meeting was unanimous in agreeing that such developments were unsustainable within the current Weybridge infrastructure and inconsistent with the local demand and environment.
As winter set in, the Council set up Warm Hubs around Elmbridge. These were up and running in early November at the seven Centres for the Community, including Weybridge. These offer our residents a hot drink and somewhere warm to be as the temperatures drop. The Centres teams are also supporting with advice and signposting when requested.
On the 16th November, the Cabinet agreed to dedicate £250K to support residents with cost-of-living expenses and this was approved at December’s Council Meeting. This will go towards food vouchers for approximately 1,500 families on benefits with children aged 16 years or younger. Some local businesses have also contributed to this fund, and we thank them for their commitment to the community.
Elmbridge Borough Council has been working with partners from around the borough to support residents at this difficult time:
We have administered the £150 energy rebate schemes for eligible taxpayers.
We have used the Household Support Fund to support Elmbridge pensioners and those on benefits.
We are working closely with the local Citizens Advice to offer payment plans for those struggling with council tax and other charges.
Our cost-of-living support hub is being kept up to date with all the latest information and support available.
We will work with our charity and voluntary sector partners to ensure this new funding quickly reaches the most vulnerable.
Every Tuesday morning between 1000 and 1200 a group of volunteers from Elmbridge CAN, our local refugee charity, hosts the Weybridge Ukrainian Hub at the Weybridge Centre for the Community. With over 400 Ukrainians in Elmbridge through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, this and other weekly hubs throughout the borough are proving to be a vital source of information as well as a place for fellow Ukrainians to meet over a coffee and homemade cake.
From finding out where to enrol for English classes, how to open a bank account or register with a GP or access school places and everything in between, including access to a Food Banks and other necessities that we take for granted, the hub has grown to provide support in CV writing and interview skills whilst also organising children’s activities. After several weeks, some of the Ukrainian visitors have also taken on support roles themselves as they have become more integrated into life in Weybridge.
There have been uplifting stories but also harrowing ones and the volunteers have shown compassion and ingenuity to find ways to lessen the trauma of settling into a new life a long way from home. It is always a pleasure when the same faces come back to the hub regularly to share details of their progress.
If you would like to find out more about volunteering at these hubs or would like to host a Ukrainian visitor or family, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Your local councillors participated in one of the more pleasurable parts of the job in June and July, that of deciding how to allocate money to organisations that had applied for ‘CIL’ money. Every new development is liable to pay a small proportion of the costs as a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) to the council to mitigate the effects of the development on local infrastructure. The sums totalled over a year are allocated only to the local area, in our case Weybridge Riverside, St George’s Hill and Oatlands and Burwood Park wards via the Local Spending Board made up of all the ward councillors.
Councillors were pleased to be able to support the following projects in Weybridge:
St James’ Church ‘Access to All’ to finish installing a ramp, an automated new ramp and kitchenette;
Elmbridge Canoe Club for a balcony extension to provide an outdoor land-based training space;
Manby Lodge to refurbish and extend a garage on site to provide an additional activity space;
St James’ School to improve an under-used outdoor space as the first phase of a mindfulness garden;
Weybridge Town Business Group for installing three totems in key spots along the High Street;
Weybridge Vandals rugby, cricket and netball club to provide two female changing facilities.
Elmbridge Borough Council will soon be accepting applications for the annual local Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funding. The application period is Monday 21 February to Sunday 3 April 2022 at midnight,with the applications being reviewed in June and early July.
CIL allows Elmbridge Borough Council to raise funds from developments in the borough to help pay for the physical infrastructure needed to mitigate the impacts of new development. As part of the process, EBC annually allocates a portion of CIL funds to be spent locally on smaller infrastructure schemes that are required in the communities where development took place.
Seven settlement area committees, known as ‘Local Spending Boards’, have been formed to cover the whole of Elmbridge; these consist of Ward Councillors serving in each of the areas who meet to decide how their local CIL funds will be allocated. Successful local CIL applications have included projects such as improvements to state schools to better enable them to meet the needs of an increasing school population, improvements to community facilities, footpath works and countryside access improvements.
It is anticipated that by the time the bids come before our Local Spending Board (Oatlands & Burwood Park, Weybridge Riverside & Weybridge St George’s Hill) in June there will be around £250,000 of CIL money to be allocated.
Elmbridge Mayor Tony Popham’s chosen charity this year provided many Weybridge sports clubs with the opportunity to show support and solidarity for young people struggling with depression and mental health problems, following the two lockdowns.
Cllr Judy Sarsby had the idea to organise a sponsored “Row, Paddle, Run” event to raise money for the Grace Dear Charity. It was attended by Graham & Hope Dear, the father and sister who founded the charity after Grace tragically took her own life after a long struggle with mental health in 2017. Over a hundred local athletes, including members of rowing, kayaking, rugby, netball, cricket, tennis and running clubs participated in the event.
It raised over £6000 and has already enabled the running of two mental health first aid workshops to help educate coaches and welfare officers of local sports and social clubs. More are planned in 2022. These aim to aid recognition of the signs and symptoms of mental health illness, how to approach those struggling and provide them with support.
The first of these was held at Elmbridge Canoe Club and was attended by Lib Dem Councillors Judy Sarsby and Jez Langham of Long Ditton. Judy and Jez plan to run a series of these workshops to help create a web of mental health support across the Borough using sports and social clubs. “A young person struggling may not go to their parents or the school for help, but many have built relationships of trust and friendship with coaches”, says Judy who is also a club welfare officer; “We hope that by educating coaches on what to look for and how to ask the young if they are OK, we can find those who are struggling the most and offer support. We’re not health professional but do have access to a lot of support outlets. This pandemic has hit the young particularly. Many are struggling and not sure where to turn. We’re hoping these workshops will help and have already had done success .” The next workshop is planned for February. If you feel this could be beneficial to you in working with the young, to learn the signs and symptoms, please contact Judy at Jsarsby@elmbridge.gov.uk