Statement from Dorothy Ford, Liberal Democrat Local Election Candidate for Oxshott, Stoke d’Abernon and Cobham Fairmile
Thank you for this opportunity to respond to local residents’ concerns about our Community. As the Liberal Democrat Candidate in the 2 May local elections, I am working for a Safer, Greener Community and Fairer Government in these challenging times.
As an award-winning policy maker who worked for national government in Whitehall, and occasionally in Brussels and Strasbourg, I am conscious that the current national Conservative government imposes considerable restraints on our local government housing plans and implementation. I have lived for 36 years on the edge of the Green Belt behind Danes Hill School. As your prospective Councillor, I look forward to working to develop clearly needed smaller housing on brownfield sites as the first priority.
1. The Housing Required and the Related Issue of High Density
Some residents have told me they wish their children were able to buy homes here. Small housing, with a maximum of 3 bedrooms and a reasonable size garden which young families could afford, would be welcomed. But what is being proposed in some areas are high-density luxury flats. Proposals to build large single homes or large semi-detached homes are being refused by Council officials.
Why? Due to the new national government targeting system, the number of new homes to be built in Elmbridge rocketed from 225 in 2011 to 612 in 2018. Because Elmbridge met only 62% of this 612 housing target, it was obliged to adopt an even more ambitious plan.
In September 2018, Elmbridge Council published new Development Management Advice Notes stating “it is essential that development proposals make the most efficient use of land.” The notes also stated “any scheme should avoid inclusion of four-bedroom and above properties.” The national government planning system is severely limiting options available to our Council, residents, and homebuyers. This system now imposes several high-density luxury plans which offer no social, affordable housing – and prevents new large homes from being built. Rather than approve a gradual increase in semi-detached houses, Council officials are urging developers to build blocks of luxury flats often including 6-9 dwellings.
2. Is the Green Belt Sacrosanct? Green Belt vs High Density
Elmbridge’s 2015 housing plan was committed to preserving the Green Belt, except in exceptional circumstances. The 2016-17 public consultation document on the Green Belt and housing needs was agreed by all Councillors from all parties, including Conservatives, Residents’ Associations, and Liberal Democrats. Local residents’ strong wish to save the Green Belt during the consultation is being respected.
The next key public consultation will take place later in 2019. This is a key opportunity for residents to safeguard and influence their Community’s future.
3. If High Density – How High?
Because the current housing aims are based on the over-ambitious standardised national system, the semi-rural character of neighbourhoods is under threat. Roughly half of the country’s local Councils, including Elmbridge, have failed to meet the targets the new national system imposes. More power
needs to be devolved from national to local government and to residents to stop developers being obliged to build blocks of 6, 8, or 9 flats on the site of a former single dwelling. Residents and local government need more say on housing to make our Community’s environment and infrastructure sustainable.
Elmbridge published our Community’s detailed supplementary planning document in April 2012 for Cobham, Oxshott, Stoke d’Abernon and Downside. This defined the distinct characters of neighbourhoods and identified sites for increasing housing. This analysis should be implemented or updated, through a Neighbourhood Forum or public consultation.
4. Does Character Matter?
Our green, semi-rural Community contributes to our happiness and health. Preserving and enhancing our Community’s character, which is threatened by inappropriate high density housing, is a challenge. Improving public rail and bus transport, making our roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and enabling us to rely less on cars would help our Community evolve appropriately.
Necessary infrastructure changes should be implemented before any approved housing application is implemented. This should help preserve an area’s character for the future.
Consultation with neighbouring residents by developers as early as possible when designing their housing plans should help preserve character and environmental biodiversity. Residents’ suggestions to enhance the environment, reduce noise, increase privacy, and save biodiversity should be considered. Residents should be allowed to suggest alternatives to inappropriate developments during early consultations.
5. Affordable Housing
Our country needs more small housing and social housing. Because residents want our Community to be fair and to contribute affordable housing, smaller homes that are derelict and/or unoccupied should be redeveloped. Former Council housing sites in our Ward need to be redeveloped.
Affordable housing should be built quickly on the roughly 20 brownfield sites in Elmbridge as the top priority. The brownfield sites nearest to us are in Esher.
6. Commercial Development
Introducing commercial services would change the character of a quiet, green residential neighbourhood and impose demands on infrastructure. A good range of quality services is needed and valued in Cobham town centre and our local village centres – but not in our quiet, green, residential areas.
Adequate infrastructure for higher density areas should be implemented before approved dwellings are built. Although developers contribute to infrastructure costs, funding for infrastructure repair and update remains a challenge.
To address this, the local government tiered structure should be simplified. Local Councils should be combined with Surrey County Council into a single, unitary authority. Conservative led Surrey County Council’s big budget deficit is predicted to approach £100 million in coming years. A new vision is needed. Unification of the tiered system would reduce cost, bureaucracy and confusion, and avoid Surrey County Council plans to reduce public services. The Liberal Democrats will make local government more efficient, simpler and fairer.
8. Road Traffic, Road Surface, Road Pollution
To improve traffic management, use of cars could be reduced by improving road safety and design for cyclists and walkers. And Elmbridge should monitor air pollution in every busy High Street. Oxshott High Street’s air pollution is not monitored. Doing this will help strengthen the case for improving road traffic management, public transport, and road safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
The Liberal Democrats’ commitment to unify and simplify local government would pay for these improvements.
9. Community Relationship with Schools
We are fortunate to have high-quality schools in this Ward. Mutual understanding will help maintain a dialogue between Danes Hill School and neighbours. As the parent of a former Danes Hill pupil, who has lived for years on the edge of fields behind the school, I would use my experience of the school to help do this.
Road traffic and parking are responsibilities of Surrey County Council. I would work with them
to explore ways to reduce road traffic and pollution near Cobham Free School such as encouraging cycling, the use of buses, and the sharing of car journeys. Residents’ concerns about car parking by students, parents and faculty should be identified and considered. Making Fairmile Lane safer for students and faculty to cycle to and from Cobham Free School is worth exploring.
10. Residents’ Concerns – Let’s Demand Better
Residents’ interests need to be respected by those elected to represent them. Elmbridge Council’s forthcoming 2019 public consultation on local housing development will offer local residents a chance to oppose inappropriate plans in their neighbourhood. This is a chance for local groups to suggest an alternative.
Because the national government planning system reduced local authorities’ powers, we will not see a gradual increase in the number of semi-detached properties. Instead, blocks of luxury flats are due to be built. Recent efforts to challenge inappropriate plans have resulted in a success in Twinoaks Road. The Liberal Democrat Candidate for Cobham and Downside, David Bellchamber, leads on housing planning issues for the Cobham Conservation and Heritage Trust and has led this successful challenge.
As the Liberal Democrat Candidate in the 2 May local elections, I will work to
– avoid over-dense luxury housing that threatens a neighbourhood’s character
– build much-needed smaller housing on brownfield sites – not Green Belt
– implement residents’ requests for air quality monitoring and management and for better road traffic and road safety services
– unify local Councils with Surrey County Council to save money, reduce bureaucracy, and save essential services
Due to the national Conservative government’s Brexit chaos, changes needed to national legislation and policies, including how to address the housing crisis fairly and effectively, are being delayed.
Let’s Demand Better. Vote Liberal Democrat on 2 May.