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:

M25 / A3 Junction – consultation on proposed changes

Dates and times for the Highways Agency Exhibition:
Friday, 3 February – 12 noon to 8pm, Saturday 4 February – 10am to 3pm

Closing date for feedback on the proposals:
Monday, 6 February.

Proposals for M25/A3 junction
The Highways Agency has put forward two proposals for improving safety and traffic flow around the M25/A3 junction (known as the M25/A3 Wisley interchange) and are inviting views from the public.  The two proposed alterations are known as Option 9 and Option 14.

Option 9 – a new flyover to link right-turning movements from the A3 onto the M25

Option 14 – enlarging the existing roundabout, to add more capacity

Information on the proposals and a link to giving electronic feedback can be found here.

If you prefer to respond in writing, you can pick up a hard copy of the questionnaire from one of the two February scheme exhibition events and send it back to the Highways Agency via Freepost.

Exhibitions and consultation

There are two opportunities, on Friday, 3rd and Saturday, 4th February, for local people to see the proposals at a public exhibition at the Cobham Hilton (KT11 1EW), hosted by the Highways Agency. The exhibition gives local residents an opportunity to get more information about the schemes and to ask questions about the proposals.

A point of view
As well as improving safety and traffic flow, the proposed changes claim to be responsive to the following:

  • supporting sustainable travel routes promoted by Surrey County Council and developers
  • supporting economic growth and ensuring the junction can accommodate extra traffic
  • mitigating environmental impacts wherever possible

What a shame then, that the proposals do not take any account of the highly likely knock-on effect of the improvements – such as the bottlenecks that will be increased at the Seven Hills Road / A245 junction, which local workers and residents who travel in rush hour already know only too well.

Other thoughts are:

As part of this scheme, the Highways Agency are also looking at the A3 between Ockham and Painshill. Improvements could include widening parts of the A3 to four lanes, creating an extra lane for vehicles turning left onto the A245 at the Painshill roundabout, and changing local accesses to make these safer and cause fewer delays on the A3.

Green Belt Threat

Green Belt CountrysideThe national government has asked all local governments to review their green belts with a view to opening them up for development – Elmbridge is no exception.  Half the borough is designated as green belt (not to be confused with rural landscapes as above) and so its defence will have to be argued robustly.  We will be doing so with vigour.

The new administration of Liberal Democrats and its coalition allies is already building a coherent justification of our green belt and will ensure that is purpose of preventing urban coalescence is maintained.  A definitive Elmbridge policy on Green Belt in relation to local housing needs must be in place by the end of 2018.  That might seems far away but there is much work to do.

Elmbridge has to define why it needs it green belt.  It cannot just see “because”.  There has to be a reason in planning terms.  We can protect countryside for a number of reasons regardless of whether it is in the green belt or not.  It could be a site of special scientific interest, a defined view, an ancient woodland, a common or land owned by the National Trust.

The National Planning Policy Framework determines, in paragraph eighty, that the Green Belt serves five purposes:

  1. to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
  2. to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;
  3. to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
  4. to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
  5. to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

In Elmbridge we cannot use points four and five because they do not apply but clearly one can use the first three.  Regarding point one – how much of a gap do you think there should be between London and the towns in Elmbridge?  Presently there is no gap between Ditton and Surbiton; none between Molesey and Ditton; but there is a gap between Molesey and Walton and Ditton and Esher.  Weybridge already coalesces with Walton but the gap between Weybridge and Hersham is only about 100m wide.

In Weybridge our countryside is often further protected because the land is in the flood plain, owned by the National Trust or common land.

Bins

Bins Overfull Desborough webIf you have gone for a walk in Weybridge you can’t go far before you find a bit of mess around a bin.   Indeed, you can find litter strewn around even if there is no bin. The new Churchfield Meadow has litter hidden in the long grass as does Desborourgh Island (shown here) and Weybridge Point for example.  I have contacted the cleansing department on a number of occasions and the stock reply is that the Conservative borough administration has decided on a limit to the number of bins.  That limit is now reached.  The same applies to dog bins.  The only way that extra bins may be placed in Weybridge is if bins in other places are removed. As no other bin is deemed underutilized there is no prospect under this administration to increase the number of bins.

Rubbish Crushing Bins WebBins in certain parts of the town are collected daily but some bins are used seasonally – either across the year or across the week.  One resident told me of a bin they saw around Wimbledon.  This bin compacts the rubbish so they have a very large capacity and they can also notify staff when they are becoming full. They only need to be emptied when full so require far less maintenance then ordinary bins.  This could be a cost-effective remedy.

If you know of any bins that are often overflowing or if you know of a bin which seems never to be used then please get in contact.

I have also been asking about the food waste bins which appear not to be fox proof.  I have asked for the number of bins in the borough, where they are located and how much they cost to install and maintain.

I know that people should take their litter home but unless we can stop people dropping litter we have to provide facilities for them – otherwise our environment will be scarred.

Broadwater Path

Boroadwater East End with Paths-01I have contacted Surrey countryside access team.  They tell me that they have met up with the health club which is the main landowner, and a plan has been agreed.  Surrey intend to clear the path alongside Broadwater, which will then help the health club establish which route they are agreeing to dedicate. Once all the legal dedication agreements have been put in place we can start with the surfacing. It is likely to take about six to twelve months.

I have asked for a plan of the route at the eastern end to ensure all path route are protected (black to Oatlands Drive – red to Thames Path and Green to Cowey Sale).  If you want to be part of a team to register all the bridleways and footpath in the town then please contact me.

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 in the Green Belt?

Suburban spreadThe national government has changed its policy in relation to providing new housing and planning law (for England only – the other parts of Britain have their own policies). This has meant that Elmbridge has had to reconsider its approach to housing development.

Why is Elmbridge in this position?
Since  Elmbridge adopted its core planning strategy in 2011, the national government has made significant changes to the way local governments have to plan for new housing through the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2012.  A number of decisions by planning inspectors and the High Court in 2014 have called into question plans that were adopted before the publication of the NPPF.

What are these significant changes that the national government has made?
The NPPF now requires all local governments to assess, and try to meet in full, the need
for new homes in their area including looking at the potential to accommodate them in the Green Belt.

Why does Elmbridge have to reconsider its approach?
Elmbridge’s core Strategy and evidence that supports it were produced before the NPPF and so are considered to be out of date. Specifically, the approach to housing development and the housing target are based on the assumption that the Green Belt
is ‘off limits’.

How will Elmbridge reconsider its approach?
The borough will have to: find out how many more homes are needed; identify where these new homes can and can’t go including looking at the Green Belt; work with other local authorities, particularly the boroughs bordering Elmbridge over the border in London, to identify and meet the need for new homes in our area.

What is happening to current work in progress?
Work on settlement investment and development plans is halted until work on the evidence review is completed.

What will be the benefit of Elmbridge reconsidering its approach to housing
development?
This work is vital to ensure that Elmbridge has a robust and defendable local plan, and one that is in accordance with the NPPF. Specifically it will: ensure that decisions on where housing goes are made locally and not by the national government; support us in working with other local governments to ensure they provide their fair share of new homes; send a clear message that we are looking seriously at options for meeting housing need; help us to defend planning applications for new development within the Green Belt ensuring that we get to choose where and when development happens; and, enable us to plan for the infrastructure needed to support new development.

What will happen if we don’t do this work?
If the borough doesn’t do this work it would face the following risks: other local governemnts and developers are likely to challenge our plans; future plans, such as settlement ID plans, are likely to be found unsound resulting in significant and unnecessary costs to the borough; developers will start to make applications for development within the Green Belt and these will become increasingly difficult to defend; and, without an up to date plan, the borough will lose the ability to choose where housing
goes and will not be able to plan for infrastructure.

Are all the boroughs in England going to be affected in this way, or is it just
Elmbridge?
Yes, those boroughs with plans adopted before the publication of the new national government policy in 2012 will need to reconsider their approach. This applies to
boroughs with and without green belt.

What will the work tell us?
Once the work is completed it will enable us to determine either: that the housing target in Elmbridge’s core strategy, evidence base and strategy for locating development are okay and provide an appropriate basis on which to continue preparing future plans, such as Settlement ID Plans; that the housing target in the core strategy, evidence base and strategy for locating development need reviewing and a new local plan needs to be prepared.

Does this mean that development will take place on the Green Belt?
No. The evidence base will determine whether or not we need to locate development
within the Green Belt. A Green Belt boundary review would be in accordance with the
NPPF, having regard to the intended permanence of the Green Belt in the long term, enduring beyond the plan period.  When looking at the potential to accommodate new development within the Green Belt we will need to ensure that it continues to meet its key aim – preventing the spread of the London conurbation.

How is Surrey involved in all this?  transport, infrastructure, education etc?
Once Elmbridge has an initial idea of how many homes can be accommodated we will need to speak to Surrey to identify what infrastructure will be required. If there are problems that cannot be resolved through the provision of additional infrastructure then
this may mean we need to reduce the amount of new housing we can deliver.

Why do we have to work with others to do this?
The NPPF requires us to identify and meet housing need across a wider area – called
our housing market area. We will need to identify our housing market area and work
with boroughs within it to undertake this work.

When will the new work/review start?
Work reviewing the evidence will start immediately. The borough will start by identifying the housing market area and work on identifying and meeting the need for new homes,
working with local government partners. Further information and a detailed timetable is
set out within Elmbridge’s local development scheme.

How long will the work/review take?
Elmbridge will have completed most of the evidence base by summer 2015.

How is Elmbridge going to keep the burghers in touch with progress?
Elmbridge will continue to keep its burghers up to date with progress at key stages though letters, emails and community meetings. Specifically, when the work is complete and the outcome.

Where can I find more information about the review?
On Elmbridge’s website or by contacting the planning policy team via email: planningpolicy@elmbridge.gov.uk

Heathside School

Heathside

Surrey is seeking planning permission to raise Heathside’s school numbers. Originally Heathside School was given permission for 920 pupils but by 1996 it had increased its number, without planning permission, to 1352. On being challenged for this discrepancy it sought retrospective planning permission from the borough to increase its number in 2005. This was refused, again on transport grounds. Surrey appealed to the national government and the government planning inspector agreed to a new maximum number of pupils (the actual number attending the school at that time) on condition that the travel plan be reviewed every six months. This is a very weak condition as most travel plans are often lax in the beginning and are often unenforceable in any case.

This new planning application is caused by the need for more school places in the borough. Elmbridge has a secondary school age population of 12,000 pupils and that number is growing. Births in Elmbridge increased by 30% between 2002 and 2010 and the
borough plan indicates that up to 3,375 new homes are to be built between 2011
and 2026.  Yet Elmbridge has only four secondary schools – in Ditton (Hinchley Wood), Esher, Hersham (Rydens) and Weybridge (Heathside). It needs ten more schools of 840 pupils each (four classes in each year from years seven to thirteen).

Because of the taxation arrangements in Britain – unique in the developed world – Surrey relies on the national government for revenues to fund new schools. Unfortunately, this revenue has been reduced significantly in recent times and Surrey simply does not significant revenues of its own to build the schools it needs. So Cobham, Molesey and Walton do not have their own schools – putting pressure on those towns like Weybridge that do.

The cheap option is to increase the size of the present schools.  Heathside, originally a large 940 pupil school that has grown to 1,352 is set, should the application be successful, to increase to 1,475 pupils.

Elmbridge’s remit is purely related to the planning aspects of the project not the merits or otherwise of increasing the size of a school that has already outgrown its buildings.  This particular application will be decided on highway matters alone.

Interestingly, Elmbridge is not the competent authority when it comes to highway planning matters.  Surrey is the highway authority as well as the education authority.

The planning application is originated from Surrey which has a duty to school all of the children of the county.  The application arrives at Elmbridge which in turn asks Surrey, as highway authority, what it thinks of the application.

This puts Surrey in a difficult position – it is both poacher and gamekeeper.  Its decision must not just be one based on integrity but must be seen to be so by those most affected by the increase in numbers.

Any parent who has been anxious about their child’s school place will understand the massive pressure that Surrey is under to deliver those classroom places.

The Elmbridge planning application number is 2014/3765 and details can be found here.

Illustrated Talk – Brooklands through the Ages

An illustrated talk on ‘Brooklands through the Ages’ – from the Iron Age period right through to modern times will be held on Thursday, 23 January at 8pm in the large hall of the St James’ Church Parish Centre. It will offer insights about the Brooklands area covering its origins, history, people and other interesting facts.

Brooklands today is very much shaped by the legacy of the motor racing circuit built in 1907. The early history of the area, how the circuit came into being and its subsequent development all yield some fascinating insights about the life and times of people in Weybridge.

The speaker is Steve McCarthy, whose background is as a professional engineer.  His interest in cars and local history has led him to study Brooklands wider than just the well chronicled aspects of the racing circuit.

All are welcome, Weybridge Society Members are free and non-members £3.