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.”

 

Support from the Planning Inspectorate!!

Former Cafe Rouge, Queens Road

At last a Planning Inspector has agreed with a decision of your local councillors with regard to off-street parking provision! 

As anyone who lives in Weybridge Riverside or in the triangle near Queen’s road knows, parking spaces for residents are at a premium. This acute pressure on both day and night time parking is known technically as ‘parking stress’.

Councillors Vicki Macleod and Ashley Tilling have long argued that planning permission should not be granted to developments which do not provide adequate off-street parking.  The development at the former Grotto pub is a case in point.  

More recently, fellow councillors on the committee have agreed with your local councillors and this has led to a number of proposals being turned down because of inadequate parking – for example one in Baker Street and another in South Road.  Both of these refusals were turned over by national Planning Inspectors and the developments went ahead, with inadequate parking or indeed in South Road, no parking for residents of the new builds. 

In August last year, the local planning committee refused permission on three applications for flats in the old Cafe Rouge building (2020/0265, 0473 and 1288) because of inadequate parking.  We were notified on Thursday 1st April that for the first time in our memory (and we don’t think this was an April Fool) the committee’s refusal on the grounds of inadequate parking provision was upheld by the Inspector.  In summing up his observations and reasoning, the Inspector said:

“I therefore find that the proposed development would be harmful to residential living conditions through increased parking pressures on nearby local roads. It would conflict with Policy DM7 b) of the Elmbridge Local Plan Development Management Plan April 2015 which seeks that the proposed parking provision should be appropriate to the development and not result in an increase in onstreet parking stress that would be detrimental to the amenities of local residents.

This is a major step forward for Weybridge as it now gives Inspectorate backing to our arguments on the need for adequate off-street parking provision to be made for new developments in and near our town centre.

This gives us hope that we may again get Inspector backing in the case of Clive House in Queen’s Road (2020/2438).  Here, the planning committee on Wednesday 30th April refused permission for an additional floor to be built on top of the existing building and one of the reasons given for refusal was lack of adequate off-street parking. The second reason for refusal was the harm to the character of the area because of the imposing mass that would be created by adding another floor.

 

The future of Weybridge Town Centre – Part 2

Introductory Overview: click here for Part 1

The text below is an extract from a project press release in December and gives more detail on the ambitions for the project as well as an update on NHS changes and the future of urgent care and walk-in services locally.

Among the agreed outcomes of the October stakeholder meeting:

  • High quality primary care as an integrated part of broad health and wellbeing offer
  • Priority to rehouse the GPs and health care facilities and related services
  • Key to bring together health, care, enhanced library, services from Churchfields centre, youth centre, cinema, as well as arts/culture/heritage to create an integrated coherent whole
  • Project fits with ambitious plans for the enhanced role of libraries of the future – taking on social, economic, cultural and educational aspects – ‘centres of community’
  • Two phase approach can be adopted so new health facilities can come first
  • Create integrated, flexible space, open to and involving all sectors of the community: statutory, community and private
  • Need to reach out to entrepreneurs and local organisations and find the key people who will use these services and contribute life and longevity to the buildings
  • Project is as much about change of culture as construction of new buildings – breaking down silo-type thinking so organisations and authorities and groups really work together as a local team
  • Business model must underpin project – not only provide public services but attract entrepreneurs, making spaces people want to go to/use, ensuring economic viability
  • High quality design, architecture/landscaping, maybe new town square/plaza
  • Project must be guided by environmental/health concerns, climate change and pandemic proofing

Next key step: finalising an outline business case for the health care elements of the project which will next be submitted to NHS England for approval.

Health Care: What Do We Know So Far?
The new health care component will offer a much wider range of services than was previously available, and the project has now determined what some of those will be. The list below is a minimum plan to offer:

  • GP services with increased support via online, telephone and video appointments and same day and face-to-face access for those who need it
  • Mental health services
  • Health hub for delivering community and outpatient services – e.g. counselling, podiatry, physiotherapy
  • Diagnostics including X-ray, ultrasound and phlebotomy
  • Women’s and children’s hub
  • Urgent care service (see below)
  • Wider wellbeing services to help people stay healthy and well

The Future of Urgent Care and Walk-in Centres
Key to determining future services in Weybridge is the NHS review of urgent care and walk-in facilities across North West Surrey. This is driven by new national standards for walk-in care, which means it is not possible to replace the former walk-in centre in Weybridge with like-for-like services.

Between January and March 2020, the NHS ran a series of events to test a shortlist of options for how to provide walk-in type services in the future with local people. This included whether or not to house an Urgent Treatment Centre (UTC) in Weybridge. UTCs are GP-led (rather than nurse-led), open for a minimum of 12 hours a day – from 8 am-8 pm, able to provide diagnostics (such as X-ray, blood and urine tests) and able to provide some bookable appointments from NHS 111.

The NHS is able to progress plans for the wider range of services to be available from the new Weybridge facility whether a UTC is part of the final site plan or not. Flexibility is key for the new site in any case, and a shortlist of options is now being reviewed in light of changes in how patients access care and revised guidance from NHS England. Should this result in a proposal to materially change the provisioned walk-in centre services across North West Surrey, a full public consultation would follow.

The COVID-19 pandemic has of course accelerated a pre-existing shift towards use of digital services. In the long term the NHS anticipates this will continue, as it also plans safe services that limit the volume of people gathering in surgeries, clinics and hospitals.

 

Planning refusals: 85 Queens Road (former Café Rouge)

85 Queens Road: four applications 2020/0265, 0473, 1288 and 1333

At the South Area Planning Sub-Committee held on Thursday 20th August four applications for changes to the former Café Rouge building were considered. Three of these were for more residential accommodation on the site and one was for extending restaurant seating space. The planning procedure allows a developer to make multiple applications for the same site but requires that each application has to be taken on its own merits. In this case there were two very similar applications, one to provide five flats on the site, the other to add three flats. The planning committee could have permitted both and it would then be up to the developer to choose which one to implement.

The application to convert the first and second floors into four flats and add a flat in a rear extension whilst retaining a smaller restaurant (2020/0265) was refused. Councillors believed there would be a significant increase to the parking stress already experienced in this location, particularly in Princes Road and South Road. This was in light of an application for nine flats on the Wessex site in South Road, recently permitted on appeal, and concerns over the cumulative effect this could have on demand for parking spaces. 

The developer had also applied to build a mansard roof with dormer windows (2020/0473) for a two-bedroom flat. Councillors raised concerns about the increase to perceived overlooking of gardens and properties on South Road. However, it was deemed there were insufficient technical grounds to support this reason to refuse. The argument was that, as there were already windows on the second floor, windows in the mansard roof would not add to overlooking. Additionally, the separation distance was greater than the 22 metres recommended as a minimum separation distance between facades. Despite the building not being a locally listed building, i.e. a heritage asset, the majority of councillors supported refusal due to the effect the roof would have on the character of this unusual art deco building and on the overall impact to the local street scene. 

A further application for three additional flats (2020/1288) was rejected for the same reason – parking stress – as that for the five flats. 

Finally, the application for an extension to the restaurant (2020/1333) was approved given that, under the current Covid-19 circumstances, additional space in the restaurant could be of significant benefit to the long-term success of the business.

 

 

Planning refusal: Clive House, Queens Road

Clive House, 12-18 Queens Road: applications 2018/2252 and 2019/2286

Clive House is a two storey, flat roofed construction set back from Queens Road so that it doesn’t dominate the street scene. The proposals put forward from Pegasus Life were to demolish the existing office building and replace it with 31 or 30 ‘age restricted’ apartments.

Councillors on the South Area Planning Sub-Committee refused the applications on the grounds that the proposed buildings would be in conflict with the Council’s design policies in that they would be predominantly three storey buildings with steeply pitched roof spaces which would appear oversized in the street scene. They would also harm the character and appearance of the surrounding area particularly with regard to the neighbouring Salisbury House.

The developer appealed and a few weeks ago the result of that appeal was received from the government’s Planning Inspectorate.

The Inspector dismissed the appeals. She agreed with the councillors’ reasons to reject the applications and made particular reference to the effect on the adjacent Salisbury House. This is not a heritage asset of the highest significance, but it was deemed that the proposed developments afforded it significant harm as it is of local historic value and an irreplaceable resource.

 

 

Planning appeal upheld: St Catherine’s, Thames Street/Beales Lane

St Catherine’s, Thames Street: application 2019/0386

PA Housing, who administer the majority of social housing in Elmbridge, made an application last year to demolish the two storey, brick built St Catherine’s House on the corner of Beales Lane and Thames Street and replace it with a part two and part three-storey building for 28 residential dwellings: 9 x 1 bed, 13 x 2 bed and 6 x 3 bed units.

The Area Planning Sub-Committee refused the application on the grounds that its height and mass would harm the character and appearance of the area as well as its adverse effect on traffic flow and increase to parking stress. There were also concerns on overlooking and loss of privacy to houses opposite on Beales Lane. The developer appealed and the Planning Inspector arranged a hearing at which all parties could express their views. The Inspector also visited the site and the surrounding area.

After quite a long wait, we were informed that the appeal was allowed and planning consent given.

 

 

Planning refusal in Weybridge

EE applied to build telecommunications equipment comprising a monopole that would stand 15m high with associated antennas and dishes as well as three adjacent cabinets. The structures were to be situated on an area of pavement located adjacent to the railway station and Heath Road South car park.

The Council refused planning permission and EE appealed. The application therefore goes to HMG’s Planning Inspectorate for their judgement. In this case the Inspector upheld the Council’s decision, ruling that:

  • The predominant development pattern on this side of the highway is one of built form, as well as street furniture, that is low in height. The monopole would be at-odds with this and the general topography of the area. It would be significantly taller than the adjacent boundary treatment, street furniture, railway building and even against the backdrop of nearby trees.
  • The appellant accepts that the monopole would be visible, but I do not accept the assertion that it would have very little impact over a wider area. The telecommunications equipment would be out of keeping with the street-scene and otherwise spatially open character of the area, having particular regard to the low height of development on this side of the highway. It would therefore be visually intrusive and prominent from numerous public vantage points, given its siting, and would increase visual clutter.

The future of Weybridge Town Centre

It is now nearly three years since Weybridge Health Centre was destroyed by fire.

In the intervening time there have been conversations involving local councillors, the Weybridge Society, the Weybridge Town Business Group and some local residents on the future of health facilities in Weybridge. The opportunity has been taken to look at how the Public Estate sites in Church Street in Weybridge town centre can be developed for the good of Weybridge. Public Estate sites are those sites owned by public bodies such as NHS Property Services, Surrey County Council, Elmbridge Borough Council.

NHS Provision
Discussions on what NHS services there will be in Weybridge town centre began at the same time as NHS England announced that Walk-In Centres were to be decommissioned.  For information, there were three Walk-In Centres run by the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG): one in Weybridge, one in Woking and one at Ashford Hospital. NHS England had made the decision that a better service would be provided through doctor-led Urgent Treatment Centres and enhanced GP availability and other services.

The discussions on whether there will be an Urgent Treatment Centre in Weybridge have been carried out by the North West Surrey CCG and have involved a Stakeholder Reference Group made up from councillors, resident representatives from a number of bodies and local representatives from Healthwatch England.  There have also been two rounds of public engagement events. A considerable amount of evidence has been collected and considered.

The latest public announcement on this set out the seven options for locating UTCs on the North West Surrey area – covering Woking, Chertsey, Weybridge, Walton and Staines and surrounding areas.

The NWSCCG has now merged with other Surrey CCGs and the new grouping is known as Surrey Heartlands CCG.  On their site they say:

Public feedback will be used to shape the clinical model for urgent care services and to reach a preferred option or options. If that leads to a substantial change to any services that are currently provided, a full public consultation would take place before any final decisions are made. This shortlist has been reached following a detailed process involving clinicians, health and social care organisations, voluntary and community sector organisations and members of the public. 

This work has been stalled by the Covid 19 pandemic

Town Centre Developments
The Weybridge Society’s most recently published newsletter, Winter 2020 gives a good account of the potential developments in the town centre involving the two Church Street sites.

“Embracing the Society’s WRAP (Weybridge Rebuild and Advance Project) idea, in 2019 SCC secured a £100,000 government grant from the One Public Estate project and is now using it to work out how to combine as many services as possible under one roof. This work includes options appraisal and master-planning to assess a comprehensive regeneration plan of a number of town-centre sites in multiple public sector ownership: Weybridge Health Centre, Surrey County Council Library, Surrey Youth Centre . . .”

Currently Elmbridge Borough Council property is not being considered in the plans being drawn up by Surrey. The EBC sites that were initially considered include the Centre for the Community site and the former EBC bowling green, more recently used for short tennis.

The latest news on developments is that the Library site is currently favoured as the site for locating new NHS provision, which will include GP practices, community health services, X-ray and other diagnostic services such as phlebotomy (blood tests). As no decision has yet been made on locating an Urgent Treatment Centre in Weybridge, design options have to include space for this.

One question now is what other services will be provided on the library site. Ideas include Library provision; community services – as currently delivered at the local Centre for the Community, including lunches for the elderly, meals on wheels preparation, stroke and dementia groups; youth provision; co-working space; a hireable community area for children’s playgroups, clubs, exercise groups and societies; and a public café.

And the old hospital site?  To quote again from the Weybridge Society’s Winter 2020 Newsletter:

“Combining these publicly owned sites into a shared building or hub (or other options) has the potential to release land for new housing, deliver new jobs, commercial space, efficiencies and wider economic development benefits to ensure the future vitality and viability of Weybridge’s town centre.”

The pressing need for extra-care accommodation for the frail elderly, and publicly funded care homes, as well as affordable smaller housing units will be all be factors in deciding what will be built on the old health centre site. And all proposals will have to fit with the EBC Planning framework a new version of which is currently being worked on by the EBC Planning team. This framework, known as the Local Plan, was due to be published in draft form during 2020.

As ever, we are interested to hear your views on how our town centre develops – including the benefits you see in this scheme and any problems you can foresee.  Whatever happens, this is a once in a generation opportunity to shape how a significant part of Weybridge will look and function in the next 30 to 50 years.

You can email us at weybridgelibdems@gmail.com or ask to join Weybridge Forum Facebook group to put your views and see those of others.

Council now knows its Carbon Footprint

Elmbridge Borough Council (EBC) has completed an important step on the journey to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 – it now knows its “Carbon Footprint”. Following a comprehensive audit, EBC now has a baseline data on the location and volume of carbon emissions across the council’s operations. The learning gained from the audit will be used to produce a Carbon Reduction Action Plan. In its first stage, the plan will focus on the Council’s own operations and those it has direct control over. This is to ensure the targets are realistic and can be met as soon as possible.

The audit was carried out by the Carbon Trust who are an expert partner for organisations around the world – supporting them in realising plans for a sustainable, low carbon future.  Included in the initial suggestions from the Carbon Trust are that the council should “Go Electric” by replacing diesel road vehicles and gas heating sources.

In 2019 Elmbridge Borough Council (EBC) declared a Climate Emergency following a motion by the Liberal Democrat/Residents Association Coalition. More Information can be found on the EBC website:-

Local Plan – Coronavirus update

Update on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Local Plan

The pandemic is having an impact on the current timetable (known as the Local Development Scheme – LDS) for producing the council’s Local Plan.  The council’s timetable was based on Officers being in a position to submit a draft local plan to Cabinet in June and to the full Council in July.  It included a final public consultation in September. Unfortunately, a number of external consultants and infrastructure providers have had to furlough or repurpose their staff in response to the pandemic.  As a result, they have not been able to submit their reports or inform the council when they will be able to submit them.  Due to the current uncertainty it is not clear how long their staff will be furloughed or repurposed and therefore, at present, the council is not in a position to set a revised timetable.

Although the full impact of the changed circumstances and the economic challenges from COVID-19 will not be known for many months, probably years, the council still has to produce a Local Plan if it is not to lose all control over future development in Elmbridge. However the government is maintaining that the current crisis cannot be used as a reason to delay the Local Plan.  We will be writing to the government with our concerns and seeking clarification about the present situation.

Our current experiences are highlighting the importance of, amongst other things, ensuring that new homes will be able to accommodate residents’ future needs.  Previous changes (the development of internet shopping, the financial crash of 2008, the decline of our high streets, the climate change agenda to name but a few) have all had, and continue to have, an impact on the built environment. The present challenges are expected to have an even greater impact. It is therefore essential that the new Local Plan allows for the development of innovative and imaginative solutions. For example, it will need to reflect changes in working patterns, and changes to commuting and its impact on traffic.

We have therefore asked the planning officers to review their work to date on the draft Local Plan in light of the pandemic.  We need to make sure that it will provide the council and the people of Elmbridge with a Plan capable of meeting the range of new challenges we are likely to be facing when this crisis eases, and the consequences are clearer.