Weybridge and Oatlands Paddling Pools

The paddling pools at Oatlands and Churchfields Recreation Grounds are usually open for the school summer holidays. Your local councillors were rather surprised to be informed on the 21st May that the paddling pools in Churchfields and Oatlands Recreation Grounds would not be opening this summer as a result of the covid situation.

This was due to an operational decision taken by our officers (the Borough’s civil servants) at the Civic Centre in the middle of the second lockdown when they thought it unlikely that government restrictions would allow sufficient relaxation of social distancing rules to allow the pools to be opened safely.

At the request of councillors, a meeting with officers took place on Friday 28th May to review the position. Your councillors explained that the well-being of children was particularly important after more than a year of unusual and difficult circumstances for many families. It was therefore agreed that the position would be reviewed and that a schedule and cost for the necessary maintenance and water testing should be put in place to allow for the pools to open as usual.

 

Lib Dems and RAs continue in coalition

The Residents Associations and the Liberal Democrats have agreed to form the administration of Elmbridge Borough Council.

The elections on 6 May 2021 resulted in the Residents Associations and Liberal Democrats together holding a total of 26 seats. The Conservative Party holds 21 seats.

On 19 May the Council met for its Annual Meeting which made appointments to the Cabinet and the Committees for the Municipal Year 2021/22. The Cabinet will be:

Leader: Cllr Chris Sadler

Community and Corporate Development: Cllr Bruce McDonald (new Leader of the Lib Dem group)

Environment: Cllr Ashley Tilling (Lib Dem)

Housing: Cllr Neil Houston

Leisure and Culture: Cllr Janet Turner

Planning: Cllr Karen Randolph

Resources: Cllr Mike Rollings (new Deputy Leader of the Lib Dem group)

Social Affairs: Cllr Richard Williams

Transport: Cllr Peter Harman

New Mayor launches his Charity Appeal

Following his election as Mayor of Elmbridge at the Annual Meeting of the Council on Wednesday 19 May, Councillor Tony Popham held his charity launch via Zoom on Thursday 20 May. Councillor Tony Popham has chosen to support The Grace Dear Trust for his Mayoral term of office.

Judy Sarsby writes:

In a year like no other, when so many are struggling to stay positive, it was encouraging to hear that the new Mayor has chosen a charity that reflects the needs of the young people of the borough struggling with mental health. The Grace Dear Trust is a powerful and active mental health charity set up in the memory of a sister and daughter, Grace, lost to suicide in February 2017 aged just 27. Grace had been suffering with depression and anxiety from the age of 13. The aim of Grace’s father, Graham, and sister, Hope, is to help save the lives of other young people suffering with mental health issues. Mental health is still seriously underfunded and requires more effective approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Their slogan “it’s ok not to be ok” communicates the message that we can all have feelings of depression, but that we can reach out so that we do not have to suffer alone as there is help available. Many young people struggle to understand their own feelings and don’t know how to talk about them; this can lead to them suffering in silence without seeking the help they need. The charity supported by the Mayor, who lives in Hersham and has a teenage daughter, raises money to deliver presentations to schools and organisations on the importance of good mental health. The charity partners with local schools and clubs, providing mental health training courses and sets up strategies to support club members and pupils. They have embraced the pairing of sport with good mental health and also set up a young persons’ theatre project where they talk about their feelings through creative and performing arts. The Grace Dear Trust is certainly an appropriate cause in a year when showing empathy, listening and community spirit are of optimum importance to the young.

https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/mental-health/find-an-urgent-mental-health-helpline

Local Election Results May 2021

There were no seismic shifts in the political representation in Elmbridge, but a number of long-serving councillors stood down making way for some new faces. In the Weybridge area we welcome Judy Sarsby as the new councillor for Weybridge Riverside and Ananya Banerjee for the Oatlands & Burwood Park ward. Peter Harman was re-elected in Weybridge St George’s Hills.

The LibDem council group elected a new leader, Bruce McDonald, newly elected in Claygate, and Deputy Leader, Mike Rollings. Read here about the new members of the administration for the Borough.

Tim Oliver continues to represent the Weybridge division in the County Council. However, you may have read about some crumbling of the ‘blue wall’ in the south east, part of which was the Lib Dems gaining 5 seats on Surrey County Council, resulting in the largest Lib Dem Group at County Hall since 1997. The Lib Dems now have 14 County Councillors in Surrey: 5 from Guildford, 4 from Waverley, 2 from Mole Valley, 2 from Woking and 1 from Tandridge. The party narrowly missed out on winning a further 5 seats by 173 votes or less. Read here about the Group’s new leader.

Overall, the Conservatives lost 14 seats in this Surrey County Council election, leaving them with 47 of the 81 seats on the Council.

Here are the Weybridge and Oatlands results in both Elmbridge Borough and Surrey County elections:

Oatlands Drive Crossing

Judy writes:

A friend with four boys at St James’ School expressed her concern about crossing with her children over Oatlands Drive when coming out of the path that runs from Grotto Road. Many parents with children have to cross this busy main road to reach the recreation ground or on their route to and from school. 

Grotto Road leads up the hill, from Thames Street, past St James’ School into an unusual traffic-free ‘green lane’ to Oatlands Drive. Unfortunately this lane is frequently overgrown and the path is narrow and obstructed by trees. Your ward councillors, Ashley and Vicki, asked Surrey County Council to draw up a scheme to install an improved and safer path for walkers and cyclists. Delayed by the pandemic, they have ensured it will come before the next council committee at which they hope it will secure funding approval.

Linking to this scheme, and to secure a much safer route to two of our schools (St James’ and St George’s Junior Schools), we are campaigning for a crossing on the busy stretch of Oatlands Drive close to where the ‘green lane’ meets the road.

Councillor Vicki McLeod recently took the opportunity to raise the issue with the leader of Surrey County Council. It has been confirmed that this will be considered as this area is under review, so hopefully we will be able to further enhance the safety of our Weybridge roads. We will continue to monitor the attention given to this issue by the council and trust that all families crossing at this point remain safe until a proper crossing is installed.  

 

Desborough Island

Our campaign to tidy up Desborough Island

As a keen rower with Weybridge Rowing Club, Weybridge Riverside candidate, Judy Sarsby, has noticed the increasing amount of rubbish being casually strewn around Desborough Island, some of it from fly-tippers. And so she set about forming an enthusiastic group of volunteers who meet every week to tidy up this lovely Weybridge open space. Everyone is welcome to join by getting in touch with Judy.

As summer begins and lockdown recedes, families, sports enthusiasts, walkers and picnickers venture onto the island to enjoy the peace and quiet, the fresh air and the flora and fauna. It appears that the example set by the litter-pickers has encouraged others to take their rubbish home, or at least to the bins at the entry to the island. On recent outings much less litter has been found on the green spaces, though there is still some fly-tipping.

Surrey County Council have recently announced that they will continue to help with funding of the Environment Agency’s scheme for a lower Thames flood relief channel from Staines to Shepperton. An exciting part of the plans include the formation of a wetland habitat on Desborough Island and improvements to access through forming an interconnected route along the channel for walkers and cyclists. 

We would welcome your ideas on the future of Desborough Island via our comments section below.

 

Helping our High Street

There has been a significant impact on local businesses over the last year due to closures imposed under covid-19 lockdown rules. This has accelerated an existing trend away from high street shopping to on-line purchasing (32.5% of sales are now on-line). Weybridge has 25 empty retail units and both Santander and Barclays banks have recently announced that they are closing their Weybridge branches.

Elmbridge Borough Council has been administering grants to businesses to cover the time they have been mandated to close. Discretionary grants have been paid to those not mandated to close but who have suffered a large downturn in trade and up to £9000 one-off payments were given in January to retail, leisure and hospitality businesses forced to close in the third lockdown. 

The government’s Budget continued both the furlough scheme and the reduced rate of VAT  for tourism and hospitality businesses until September, while extending the business rates holiday for three months.

As we emerge slowly from lockdown constraints, the Council will be looking to further support businesses from its own funds. £2000 per business will be available to improve shopfronts and signage and £1000 to support improved footfall or sustainability. Further support is available in the form of a grant of up to £2000 to bring shops that have been empty for over 3 months back into commercial use.

32 independent retailers in Elmbridge have already benefited from a grant of up to £1500 from the Elmbridge Digital High Street Fund to help them convert to selling on-line and 82 start-up awards have been made so far to provide £1000 to set up new businesses. 

Further discretionary grants are in the pipeline. Currently there is no detail on these but the following links can be used to check on progress of these grants.

Council Finances

Council Finances after a Challenging Year

The EBC Residents Group/Lib Dem Administration put forward for approval a detailed Budget for 2021/22 at the Council meeting on 24th February 2021. This sets out the challenging circumstances the council is facing and the share of this year’s council tax increase which will come to Elmbridge.

“The COVID–19 pandemic has hit all local councils’ budgets, and, contrary to earlier promises, central Government has only covered part of the extra costs and the lost income arising from the impact of restrictions on business activity this financial year. The estimated net cost to the Council in this financial year 2020/2021 is about £4 million.

During the pandemic the council has paid out over £30 million in direct support to businesses, awarded over 100 grants to help independent retailers adapt to social distancing, supported over 25 shops to sell on-line with the Digital High Streets grant and helped launch over 20 new businesses over the last year.

Fortunately, the Administration has been building reserves for day to day expenditures over recent years. As at 31 March 2020, the Council’s revenue reserves (including the General Fund, but excluding Statutory Reserves and CIL funds) stood at almost £23 million, compared to almost £19 million as at 31 March 2016 just before the RA/LD Administration took office.

The Budget for the coming year is a balanced Budget which incorporates over £2.3 million of savings, including a freeze on Councillor Allowances. In addition, like almost all the other Surrey Districts and Boroughs, the share of the overall Council Tax bill will be increased by £5 a year for a Band D property, which equates to an increase of 2.2%. £37.62 of the total increase in your (Band D) Council Tax bill, roughly two thirds of it, goes to Surrey County Council, a percentage increase of 2.5%. £15 of the increase (5.5% in percentage terms) goes to Surrey Police. Less than one tenth of the increase in your Council Tax bill is kept by Elmbridge Borough Council. 

The Administration believes that the Budget for 2021/22 is constructed on a prudent basis which recognises the uncertainties inherent in the current economic situation. While further use of revenue reserves is expected in the coming year, the central forecast is that revenue reserves will not fall below £12 million as at 31 March 2022.

 

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.”

 

Haines Bridge

 How can Haines Bridge be made safer for pedestrians?

It has been observed that Haines Bridge, which carries the Queen’s Road over the railway, puts pedestrians at risk since the bridge is so narrow. This leads to restricted width lanes for vehicles and thin strips of pavements. Queen’s Road is a busy main road and, if pedestrians coming from different directions have to cross on the pavements, it makes it very challenging for people to pass; this is particularly difficult for people with child buggies. 

A local resident also pointed out that the parapets are below regulation height. Ashley investigated and asked Network Rail to ensure that parapet alterations would be in the coming year’s budget. They have now informed us that they plan to install caging over the pavements. 

However, we have suggested that a longer-term solution of a new parallel pedestrian bridge should be investigated. While it is acknowledged that this would be expensive, this would make it safer for pedestrians and without widening the bridge itself. 

Here are a couple of examples that have been implemented elsewhere and could be used for inspiration.

1. A bridge in Florida: 
2. The Clifton Suspension Bridge: