Looking to improve your business?

elmbridge-business-networkWhether you’re looking to start a new business, or aiming to improve your existing one, the boroughs business grant drop-in session can help. The sessions are an opportunity for local business owners to find out more about Elmbridge business grant schemes – the Elmbridge Civic Improvement Fund and the Elmbridge Start Up Fund – and get help with their applications. The borough will be hosting the next drop-in session on 21 October at the Civic Centre, Esher, from 12pm to 1pm.

The Elmbridge Civic Improvement Fund can provide businesses with free money towards a range of projects, including shop fronts and signage, new street furniture, promotions and marketing initiatives, as well as learning skills and training initiatives. Applications are welcome from any type of business – the grant isn’t just for high street shops!

The Elmbridge Civic Improvement Fund was established in 2009 with the aim of helping to boost the local economy and attract more people to use our local services and amenities. Since then, the scheme has allocated over £830,000 to over 230 local businesses.

If you’re looking to start up a new business, you can receive advice on applying to the Elmbridge Start Up Fund, which can offer up to £1,000 to new local businesses to help with setting up costs.

For more information, please visit elmbridge.gov.uk/ecif. More on the Elmbridge Start Up Fund can be found at elmbridge.gov.uk/startups

Baker Street Improvements

Baker Street websiteWithin its 2016-17 divisional highway programme, Surrey has agreed to undertake a public realm improvement feasibility study and public consultation for £8,000.  There is nothing programmed for taking it further next year so it’ll might be 2018 before any changes appear – if that.  In the recent “Vision for Weybridge” survey most people preferred Church Street to be closed to traffic rather than Baker Street but Surrey moves extraordinarily slowly.  That’s why a Weybridge Town Council would be such a good idea.

I will keep you posted as the project develops.

Cashless Parking

Elmbridge parking metersPaying for parking has been has always been a pain.  Does the machine work?  Have I got the correct coins?  Paying electronically with a card seemed a benefit but the transaction charge can be an extra 100% if your stay is short – 20p for a short stay and another twenty pence for the payment itself.

When Elmbridge withdrew the remote payment service over Christmas the problem got worse.  Everyone had to pay by cash and the machines filled up very quickly and stopped working.   Apparently, people were even fined for parking when the parking meters were full.  The online service was reinstated recently with another provider but it is still unacceptably expensive.

I called on the borough to use cashless payment when I first became a councillor and, not before time, Elmbridge is about to begin trials.  I understand that this new system will be semi contactless (proximate swiping) using ordinary credit and debit cards and there will be no charge to the user.  It is due to begin in the station car parks first and, if successful, it will move to the town car parks and on to the various other car parks in the borough.

I also suggested a more effective charging regime to maximise the usefulness of our car parking resources to promote the dynamism of our town centres and the borough transport infrastructure generally but that might require regime change at Elmbridge.

Gateways Signs Grant

Lamppost bannersAccording to the applicants the Weybridge Town Centre Signage project will help to improve the look and feel of the town centre, improve footfall and further embed the success of the business group working with the borough to create a positive outlook for the town. The project will erect twelve Welcome to Weybridge lamp column banners and two Welcome to Weybridge gateway signs that will help define the town centre and support the environmental improvements to encourage residents to shop locally and support Weybridge town centre shops.  The picture here is indicative there is no visual of the proposed lamppost designs or gateway signs in the application.

As far as I can see, this expenditure is discretionary in that there is no legal requirement to provide these facilities.  This grant is therefore not replacing mandatory funding from elsewhere.

For more information click here.  Give your view on our giving a £3,900 grant for this proposal here. Other projects seeking grants here.

Free business networking breakfast

Elmbridge business networkJoin the Elmbridge Business Network for a free breakfast networking event and Annual General Meeting on 9 March in Esher.

This free event provides an exciting networking opportunity with like-minded SMEs from across the borough to meet new contacts, suppliers and potential future business customers.

The business network is also pleased to welcome speaker Patrick Ebbs from ChangEnable who will deliver a business masterclass on: ‘Sales Pitches: Body Language Can Make The Difference.’

In addition you can find out more about the Business Network, share your ideas about how the network can support local businesses and get involved as a representative for your local area by joining the committee at the Annual General Meeting that will be held between 9:30 and 10am, after the event.

Date: 9 March 2016
Time: 08:00 – 09:30 (The Elmbridge Business Network Annual General Meeting will run post event from 09:30 to 10:00am for any delegate wishing to attend)
Location: Civic Centre, High Street, Esher KT10 9SD
To sign up for this free breakfast event please click here

A Vision for Weybridge

Town Square-01Many Weybridge residents have told me that they would like the town centre to have a focal point – what better than to pedestrianise the very centre of the town?  Give your comments.  it is just a very short strip between Baker Street and Churchfields Road but it would make a great difference to the look and feel of Baker Street, Church Street and the High Street. This would bring a whole series of benefits.

  • There would be a small piazza for people to relax in the quiet centre of town
  • Shopping throughout the town centre would be a more pleasant experience
  • Air pollution, which is current at or above legal limits, would be greatly reduced
  • More short-term parking would be available
  • Baker Street would no longer be a rat-run
  • Access to the town centre would be quicker as the through traffic would not be in the way
  • Buses would travel through the town centre unimpeded by cars.
  • The noise level would be so low that we could hear bird song rather than car engines.

It is likely that far more people could be sat across the new pavement between Cafe One and the Elmbridge Arms.  What a pleasant way to have a cup of tea or coffee in the sun.

This project would cost very little.   Many projects like this can takes years to put in place in England because of the way our governments are organised.  Responsibilities are spread between so many bodies that no-one takes the lead.

What about having a pilot first – just for next summer?  A temporary pilot would probably cost less than the consultation exercise required.  People would quickly experience the positive and negative aspects of the scheme.  Changes could be made as necessary through practical experience.  What is your view – take the survey.

Most people would consider that the biggest problem would be what happens to the traffic?  Clearly the through traffic will not be able to travel down the High Street.  Just like water, traffic always finds new ways through.  Surprisingly when changes like this are made a proportion of the traffic simply disappears but we would be wise to anticipate any problems and put in place appropriate mitigation measures.

This is simply a suggestion to set off your creative juices.  Another idea – much more expensive is here.

Town Centre Traffic

With Weybridge town centre pollution higher than safety standards and traffic often grid-locked – to such an extend that our High Street has the slowest traffic in all the shire counties – we need a to have a clear view of what we want for our town.

Option one – remove the traffic

Of course there is much too much traffic – no self-respecting town would accept a main road going through it.  Denmark has removed all main roads from all town centres and we can do the same.  Interesting and counter-intuitively traffic could flow faster through the town if there was only one main route. Much of the slowness of traffic is caused by the two mini-roundabouts at the junctions of Balfour/Church Street and Temple Market.

Option two – tame the traffic

I believe that we can make our town centre a pleasant place to be in despite the amount of traffic that flows through the town.  We can shorten travel time for motorists, increase trade for our shops, and make the roads safer for our children and the elderly.  Enable more people to cycle, which will itself also reduce congestion.  Allow people with disabilities and the infirm to navigate their way through the traffic and reduce their stress.  We can not only save but improve the heritage represented by our conservation areas in the Quadrant and Monument Green.

Conventional safety experts will tell you that we need traffic lights, roundabouts, tactile bubble paving and a vast array of signs but it is simply not true.

The following video shows what can be done with the will and the imagination.  If the main road is to be remodelled let us make sure that it is designed to the highest standards.  Don’t let the naysayers sell us short.

If Poynton can achieve these excellent results then surely Weybridge can do so too.  What are your views?

One of the advantages that Poynton had was that the highway authority and the planning authority were the same – Cheshire East Council.  Our planning authority – Elmbridge – and our highway authority – Surrey – are separate but that does not mean that they cannot work together to provide the outcomes we need.

The problems can occur when changes are proposed and there is no discussion between the relevant parties – at the same time.

Weybridge Shopping Increase

Baker StreetAccording to the Elmbridge retail study Weybridge centre has seen an increase in sales. In 2005 comparison spending was £8m and this year it is £38m.  These figures do not include Queens Road, Oatlands or Brooklands.

The majority of this, £27m, comes from  Weybridgeans.  Weybridgeans also spend 78% of their convenience shopping in Weybridge.  The rest leaks out to Walton, Kingston, Westminster and Woking.

Weybridge has a higher than national average percentage of comparison shops, services and cafes & restaurants.

The vacancy rate for October was 9.6% (16 empty units) compared to 11.7% nationally. Three units are about to come back into use. There are nine charity shops.

51% of people surveyed travel to the centre by car, 28% on foot, 10% travel by public transport and 2% cycle – although thsi does indicate the proportion of spend.

Cote Planning Application

Cote Brasserie-01Whilst few people would have an objection to a new restaurant run by Cote to be established in Weybridge I listened to the concerns of people living in the vicinity.  As with all planning decisions, the matter has to be determined under the planning guidelines and policies set out by the various levels of government: borough, county and state.

My sense of the debate was that although many burghers would believe that the application would cause an unacceptable impact on local on-street parking in the evening  – contrary to Elmbridge policy DM14; the fact that Surrey – the highway authority – thought otherwise killed such a case.

The argument is that if the committee had refused to permit the development on the grounds of parking stress or such a similar reason then the applicant could have appealed against the decision to the national government and would win because parking is a transport matter dealt with by Surrey.  On this basis Elmbridge may not gainsay Surrey. Elmbridge might even have to pay costs.

However, I discussed Surrey’s transport planning remit with the very Surrey planning staff who deal with such applications.  They told me that some aspects of transport are indeed the concern of Surrey but not all of them.  Surrey’s three concerns are – as guided by the national government’s national planning policy framework: to reduce the need for major transport infrastructure; that safe and suitable access to the site can be achieved for all people; and, residual cumulative impacts of development are not severe.  They felt that Elmbridge could apply its own judgement especially DM14 – the policy on the evening economy.

I regret to say that I was unable to persuade my fellow councillors of the merits of such a course of action.  The vote to grant permission, as I recall, was as follows:

  • For: Cllr Gray, Cllr Grey, Cllr Knight, Cllr Samuels
  • Against: Cllr Davis
  • Abstained: Cllr Cheyne (chairman), Cllr Foale
  • Absent: Cllr L Brown, Cllr Fairclough, Cllr D Mitchell

There were several conditions placed on the development – here are the significant ones:

Condition four

NOISE AND VIBRATION – The extract system shall be installed and maintained so that noise or vibration cannot be heard or felt at or beyond the boundary of the nearest premises. If there are residential units within the same building then sound insuIation works must be carried out to ensure that noise and vibration cannot be heard or felt within the units.

Condition five

HOURS OF OPENING (RESTAURANTS ETC) – The use hereby permitted shall not be open to customers outside the following times 08:00-23:30 Monday to Saturday and 08:00-23:00 Sunday and Bank Holidays.

Condition six

USE OF FLAT ROOF AND OF EXTERNAL STAIRCASE – The flat roof and the external staircase hereby permitted shall not be used other than as a fire escape. Prior to the commencement of the development details including a “glass bolt” or similar suitable locking system .to the first floor external fire door shall be submitted to and approved in writing by the local planning authority. The approved details shall be implemented and maintained as such in perpetuity.

Condition seven

ODOUR CONTROL – The premises shall be designed, constructed and~ maintained so that no fumes or odours are detectable at or beyond the boundary of the nearest premises.  The duct must be designed, constructed and maintained in such a manner that its interior is capable of being cleaned.

Condition eight

BIN STORAGE – Prior to beginning the development, plans and elevations of bin stores required to accommodate refuse and recycling shall be submitted to and approved in writing by the local planning authority. The bin stores shall be implemented in accordance with the approved details and permanently maintained for use by the development hereby permitted.

Condition nine

OUTDOOR MUSIC – No music shall be provided outside the structure of the building.

Condition ten

DELIVERIES OF GOODS – Deliveries and collections from the premises shall only be carried out between the hours of 08.00 and 22.00

Condition eleven

HANDLING OF GOODS OR MATERIALS OR COLLECTION OF WASTE – Activities which are audible beyond the site boundary including disposal of refuse and in particular disposal of glass bottles in to the external bins shall only be carried out between the hours of 08.00 and 2200.

Condition twelve

NOISE CONTROL VIA WINDOWS AND DOORS – External windows and doors serving the licensed area shall be kept closed between the hours of 20:00 and 08:00 (inclusive) when regulated entertainment is being provided other than for normal access and egress.

Surrey will be expected to take account of the needs of residents in its Weybridge parking review that it plans to undertake in December.

I will ask for the the improvement, lighting and sign posting of Church Path to be included in the safe routes to school programme.

Third Runway at Heathrow

heathrow_3_750Heathrow was a poor locational choice for a new major airport even when it opened in 1944 and replaced Croydon and Hendon airports.  Also the land for this new London Airport was forcibly purchased by the national government under special powers – the Defence of the Realm Act – without compensation to the landowners specifically to avoid public opposition.

A similar approach is happening today.  Notwithstanding, the impact of an enlarged airport on noise, air and ground pollution the proposed airport expansion does not make economic sense.  The assumptions used in the Davies report  – discount rates for investment, payback periods and PFI rates etc could be considered designed to ensure that Heathrow would be the recommendation of the report.

If it is considered that south-east England needs extra airport capacity then it should be in the Thames estuary, if at all, and while such an airport is being built then perhaps Gatwick could be expanded as a less dreadful choice than Heathrow.

At present Heathrow is running at too high a capacity – far higher than other airports. Heathrow should have the number of flights reduced so that it ordinarily runs at 80% capacity.  At such capacity the amount of stacking would be reduced, thus dramatically reducing air pollution and noise (saving fuel too) and also the airport would be able to cope better when the weather is not so favourable.

In my view – and I am interested in other options – the best way to reduce capacity is the auction off the current landing and take-off slots.  To do this the national government  – with one year’s notice  – should randomly withdraw six slots (flight movements in or out) a month (a week would be better but more unsettling for the industry).  The reason that withdrawn slots should be chosen randomly is to avoid any possibility that airlines could be seen to affect the choice of slot to be removed.  At the same time, four of those slots would be leased by auction for, say, five years to the highest bidder.  The revenue would not go to the airport but to the state.  The revenues could be partly used to either compensate those who lived near the airport before it was built or to develop better landside connections to reduce air pollution from arriving road traffic or both.