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: 

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.

 

Bizarre spate of tree vandalism

This week, Weybridge has been subjected to a bizarre form of vandalism – cutting down small trees situated on public land.

Councillor Vicki Macleod was alerted to the first in-town instance – on the green in Thames Street – last Wednesday 31st March by a local resident.  She spoke with households in Thames Street and posted on the local Facebook group.  She also reported the incident to an Elmbridge Officer in the Green Spaces team and was given the crime reference so she could get through to the police directly.  

Later on Wednesday another local resident told Vicki he had seen someone leave the green, get in a red car and drive away.  It was only on seeing Vicki’s post that he put two and two together.  Vicki passed this information on to the local police – Elmbridge Beat – via Facebook Messenger.

Then at 10.40 that evening Vicki was contacted by one of the people she had spoken with earlier who heard sawing, looked out of the window and spotted an individual who got into a car and sped off.  He had come back to cut his tree into three pieces!

Sadly, the following day, Friday, reports came in of another tree that had been cut down outside Manor Court.  Then on Saturday there was a report of another tree cut down off the Queen’s Road, by the cricket ground and Manby Lodge School and one in Pantile Road near the Oatlands Recreation ground.  Police were called to the cricket ground where there was also a noisy gathering. Unfortunately they did not find the perpetrator.  

A red car was spotted near the site of tree vandalism on more than one occasion.

It is not certain whether these incidents are linked to the recent felling of trees at Cowey Sale, along the Desborough Cut and in Walton-on-Thames. If you have seen or heard anything suspicious, please contact Elmbridge Beat and state the crime number 45210028887.

 

The Missing Link

As soon as Cllr Ashley Tilling became involved in discussions about the Brooklands Accessibility Project a couple of years ago, it seemed to him that a key option for linking Brooklands to the town centre was missing.

The Accessibility Project has already brought a much safer route for people on foot or bike making journeys to or via the station; it provides a properly surfaced and illuminated track from Brooklands to the station, the shared path along Heath Road and the improvements to the town paths. However, it has a big limitation in that all users have a severe restriction at the railway bridge where cyclists will have to dismount in order to safely pass pedestrians on the narrow pavement over the bridge. 

With the renewed interest in cycling and walking that the pandemic has presented, as well as the additional encouragement to leave cars at home, it seemed that there was an opportunity to investigate a ‘missing link’ route. This would make use of the closed railway bridge which was built to connect Locke King House (now Brooklands College) to the Brooklands race track. The path would open up an additional traffic-free route for all those travelling to and from Brooklands and the Locke King housing area with Brooklands College, Heathside School and the town centre without having to negotiate the narrow pavement on the road bridge. 

Ashley contacted Network Rail last year to ask if there was a possibility for them to give permission to use the railway bridge. Their recent reply is very encouraging. They have now conducted a paper-work investigation and physical structural check of the state of the bridge in question. This is their response:

The bridge in question is currently in reasonable condition and, subject to the relevant processes, we would in principle be in a position to transfer it to the local authority if they wished to dedicate public rights over it. 

He will now pursue this scheme with Surrey and Elmbridge Councils but your support for this would be most welcome. Please tell us what you think of this idea and whether you might use this bridge (you can use our comments section).

 

Carton recycling now available

Good news! From Wednesday 17th February residents in the Weybridge and Walton areas will be able to recycle their food and drinks cartons (these are the ubiquitous Tetrapak, Elopak, etc. cartons for soup, fruit juice, non-dairy milk, etc.) and drinks cups.

Over the last year Cllr Ashley Tilling has been working with the recycling provider set up by the carton manufacturers (ACE UK) and with Elmbridge Borough Council to introduce recycling banks. Currently Elmbridge is the only borough in Surrey that does not provide carton recycling for its residents; 94% of all UK councils provide carton recycling.

Recycling reduces CO2 emissions in the supply chain and ensures our waste is recycled responsibly. Industry figures show that recycling food and drink cartons produces a net reduction in emissions of 452 kg CO2 per tonne. The new bring banks provide a great opportunity for residents in Weybridge and Walton to save food and drink cartons from going to landfill.

There will be recycling banks positioned in the station car parks in Weybridge and Walton. PLEASE Wash, Squash and Cap your cartons to maximise the numbers that can be collected. PLEASE do not put any other waste in the banks, such as paper, glass or cans. 

We are hoping this will be an initial trial; it would be much more convenient for banks to be placed in supermarket car parks, as they are in neighbouring Waitrose Woking and Waitrose West Byfleet, or town centre council car parks, as they are in Mole Valley. Please let EBC or your ward councillor know if you would like the council to extend the trial by providing banks in places that would give you greater opportunities to recycle your cartons.

Please pass on this email to friends so that they can add this to their other recycling efforts.

Laptop Appeal

I am writing to let you know about one aspect of the ongoing work of local Liberal Democrats in these challenging times. A major issue being faced by many local families at the moment is the lack of access to laptops. From my time as a teacher I am only too well aware of the detrimental effect that the government’s failure to plan for home schooling, compounded with their inability to provide sufficient resources, is having on the education of many children. To help alleviate this situation we recently launched The Elmbridge Laptop Appeal, reaching out to local residents and businesses, asking them if they have unused laptops that could be donated.

Thanks to the very generous responses we’ve received already there have been 10 laptops donated to an Elmbridge secondary school. And more laptops are on their way ready to go out to other local schoolchildren across Elmbridge. We have been overwhelmed by the support of local people and local businesses to this appeal, so quickly pledging computers or making generous financial donations.

We have had a wonderful response so far, but we would like to do more: if you or your business have laptops, or wish to donate to the campaign, please do get in touch. The cost of a brand new, relevant specification machine is around £500, but we have managed to secure a limited number of refurbished units for £260 each. If you can donate an old laptop, or if you would like to donate money towards the campaign to buy either refurbished or new laptops, please see our website (elmbridgelibdems.org.uk) for more information on the Elmbridge Laptop Appeal. All donations from this campaign will go directly to buying laptops for school children. Your generosity will provide reliable access to education for children at home during this lockdown who don’t have the necessary equipment.

Thank you for your support.
Best wishes,
Ashley

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.