Statement from David Lewis, Elmbridge Borough Council Conservative Candidate – Oxshott & Stoke d’Abernon Ward
I welcome the opportunity to communicate directly with the residents of Oxshott, Cobham Fairmile and Stoke d’Abernon through your forum. I would ask that I be included on your distribution list so that I am able to read all the responses that you will be circulating.
I was pleased to meet so many of the Bevendean and Fairmile residents at the recent public meetings, just as I have listened to the public for many years at other residents and conservation and heritage meetings. Last year, I participated in the Elmbridge “Your Voice Matters” Meetings in Oxshott and Cobham. I have also communicated with residents through local publications and have articles published in both the recent editions of the FEDORA magazine and Stoke d’Abernon Residents’ Association newsletter.
As a local resident of over thirty years standing, I can both understand and empathise with feelings of unease about the changing face of our area. Indeed, in the past, I held a campaigning role on planning issues as a member of the Stoke d’Abernon Residents’ Association committee. However, as I am sure that you appreciate, there is a distinct difference in our system of local government between the campaigning role of unelected persons and the quasi-judicial role of elected councillors on a Planning Committee.
Since being elected by 72% of voters in the by-election last year, I have gone out of my way to engage with residents in the ward. My contact details are freely available and I have been active in the community. Much of the work of a councillor goes unnoticed by most of the electorate but I have handled a wide range of issues on behalf of constituents, many relating to planning concerns, and I believe that a good outcome has been achieved in most cases. I have served as a member of the South Area Planning, Audit & Standards and the Licensing Committees.
At the current time, Elmbridge Borough Council (EBC) does not have an up to date Local Plan. A new Local Plan is in the process of being produced. Residents and local organisations will be fully consulted on the draft Local Plan with the public consultation currently scheduled to take place from mid-August to end September 2019. However, the production of a new Local Plan is a lengthy process – the draft Plan will be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in March 2020 with an examination in public taking place towards the end of 2020. Even if everything goes according to plan, we are unlikely to have a new Local Plan in place much before 2021.
The 2016 Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) has identified that the need within Elmbridge is for smaller 1, 2 and 3 bedroom housing units. We have built sufficient large 4+ bedroom houses across the borough and we should now focus on building smaller properties. The situation in the Oxshott & Stoke d’Abernon ward is no different from the rest of the borough in this respect.
I support the statement made by the Elmbridge Conservative Group in its 2019 manifesto which states “Residents successfully fought the outrageous proposals consulted on when the Liberal Democrats and Residents pollical parties ran the council to build on our Green Belt. Our new Local Plan will focus on non-Green Belt sites providing homes without sacrificing our local environment”.
Density and Character
I accept that in order to protect the Green Belt and meet our housing targets, it is necessary for us to increase the density of our housing developments. I believe that this has to be done in a strategic manner and must maintain the character of the area in which the development is proposed. For this reason, I opposed the proposed development at 110 Fairmile Lane when it was considered by the South Area Planning Sub Committee. Ultimately, planning decisions are taken by Councillors representing all political parties on the Area Planning Sub Committees and the full Planning Committee. When I consider a planning proposal to be inappropriate and failing to adhere to planning policies, I will use the power of argument in an attempt to persuade my fellow committee members to refuse permission for it to proceed.
I deplore the fact that Elmbridge Borough Council has failed to provide enough affordable housing in recent years. In principle, I welcome the plans by PA Housing to redevelop the properties in Waverley Road and Webster Close, Oxshott to provide new and additional affordable homes although it is essential that adequate parking provision is provided for the development.
I believe that I speak for all councillors when I say that we are hugely frustrated that so many of the proposed developments in the borough fail to meet the viability criteria for affordable homes. These criteria are imposed upon EBC by government. EBC also uses independent valuers to check the calculations provided by applicants. More recently the Council has sought to impose conditions on applicants, so that contributions to affordable housing can be recovered retrospectively should the economic viability of a development change during its construction and sale.
I am unable to comment on specific planning applications due to the requirement that Planning Committee members do not pre-determine the outcome of an application before the details have been fully presented to, and considered by, the Planning Committee.
However, as previously stated, I do believe that all developments should be based on an understanding of local character and should preserve or enhance the character of the area.
Public Service Infrastructure
As a local resident, I too suffer from the pressures on our infrastructure.
There are no plans to reduce the budgets of the Fire & Rescue Service in Surrey. The Cobham fire station is not under threat. There are proposals, which are currently being consulted upon, which will change its hours of operation to reflect the changing pattern of house fires. Such changes will enable resources to be further directed towards fire prevention.
It is untrue that the public parking availability in Cobham has been significantly reduced although some private parking places, such as those which previously existed behind the McCarthy & Stone development, are no longer available. However, this was a private car park which the owners were
at liberty to shut down at any time. I am pleased that EBC has recently applied for permission for an additional 24 car parking places in the Hollyhedge Road car park.
I am frustrated by the levels of traffic congestion across the borough.
Roads and highways are the responsibility of Surrey County Council and Highways England. SCC is disadvantaged by the formula used by central government for calculating the grant that it provides for road repairs and maintenance. This formula is based upon “miles of road” rather than “road usage”, so does not reflect the very heavy traffic levels that we experience in Elmbridge. I supported the recent petition which a group of Surrey residents raised asking the government to review the funding formula.
As far as new developments are concerned, Elmbridge has guidelines on the number of parking places that need to be provided and the Council ensures that planning applications that are approved meet these guidelines. There is, however, a presumption in favour of sustainable development contained in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and there are a number of examples of applications in town centres which have been turned down by the Local Planning Committee on the basis of insufficient parking places, only to be overturned by the Planning Inspector.
It is, however, worth mentioning that Councillors do recognise that there are pockets of severe parking stress across the borough and work is underway to identify these and to develop a methodology for Elmbridge which will enable this to be quantified.
I am delighted to learn that Danes Hill School has agreed to appoint a Community Liaison Officer – this is a positive step forward. In all my dealings with the school, I have emphasised the importance of working with the local community and the need to ensure that the school communicates frequently and effectively with residents.
Cobham has needed a state funded secondary school for many years and I supported the establishment of the Cobham Free School. The decision to locate the school at Munro House was taken by the Education Funding Agency not by Elmbridge Borough Council or Surrey County Council. I believe that the location of the school is sufficiently central to encourage pupils to walk and cycle to school although I recognise that there will inevitably be an increase in traffic levels. If additional parking restrictions are needed in the vicinity of the school, my fellow borough councillors and I will work with Surrey County Council which is responsible for their introduction.
Elmbridge Borough Council Conservative Candidate – Oxshott & Stoke d’Abernon Ward
Promoted by Peter Szanto on behalf of David Lewis both of EWCA, 3 Bridle Close, Kingston upon Thames, KT1 2JW.