The Leader of the Council provided the following update to Members:
‘Members, as we come to the end of a turbulent year for the country and of course for our residents and businesses, I wanted to reflect on some of the things we have dealt with over the last 12 months and highlight some of our new initiatives.
In a year when we will have had 3 elections (Borough, EU and Parliamentary) and two attempts to exit the EU, life in Elmbridge has been no less certain.
While our day to day services continue apace and resident expectations around consistency and speed of delivery increase (not least in the waste collection contract), we have also attempted to address the thorny issues associated with pressures for additional housing through the Local Plan.
At the same time we have started to deal with the local implications of wider and more radical changes in our environment.
Local Plan - During the year we had a further consultation under “Regulation 18” on options for housing delivery as part of the Local Plan. Happily, some of the more angry exchanges we encountered in previous consultations had diminished, but nevertheless we received more than 6,500 responses and we understand the concerns and passions that underpin them all. Next year we will see the publication of a draft Local Plan which will be informed by all these views and by the expectations of our residents.
I would also like to say how important it is for all Members to keep up to date with what is happening across the country with Local Plans and to keep an eye on what Inspectors are saying about the current batch of local plans.
Last month the Strategic Director and the Head of Planning presented a very informative development session which gave an insight to the current position. It was attended by 20 Members but, in my view, it was essential for all of us to hear. I have therefore asked Kim and her colleagues to re-run the session on 28th January and I would urge all of those who were not there for the original to sign up for this second chance. Please put it in your diaries now.
Climate Change - In July the Council declared a climate emergency and we committed our organisation to become carbon neutral by 2030. I trust that many in this Chamber tonight will be here in ten years time when we will account for the actions we will have taken on behalf of our residents and the community leadership we will have shown in encouraging behaviour change through our own example.
The actions we will take in response to the carbon audit early in 2020 will determine how we, as an authority, and as a community, move towards more sustainable lifestyles. This will resonate for generations to come and will set us on a path that we must see through.
The Elmbridge Single-use Plastics Action Plan was adopted in 2018, spearheaded by the Overview and Scrutiny Energy and Sustainability Working Group. This included initiatives at the heart of the Resident’s Group pledge on the environment to take action to make Elmbridge a greener more sustainable borough, supporting schemes to refill water bottles and reduce waste from packaging, while promoting recycling for a more circular economy.
The Cabinet at the time committed to paying for a member of staff to roll-out the refill campaign but the Energy and Sustainability Working Group said this was unnecessary. Councillors and volunteers could be appointed as local refill champions and sign up local businesses as refill stations – resulting in a saving to the Council.
Refill Elmbridge has proved very successful and there are now over 120 refill stations in the Borough.
The Boomerang Bag project, which replaces single-use plastic bags with bags made from donated material is now thriving in Thames Ditton, Claygate, Hersham and Molesey, with Weybridge launching soon. The fabric bags are made by volunteer crafters and offered free to shops and businesses to give out free to customers instead of plastic bags.
In Thames Ditton alone, where the Boomerang Bag project started, it is estimated that over 2 million plastic bags have been replaced by this initiative.
Crime and Community Safety - Members, Cllr Mrs Elmer and I recently met with the Borough Commander, Bert Dean, to review the current position on local crime and ASB in the Borough.
Drugs - In a wide ranging discussion we covered the insidious impact of drug dealing and substance misuse on our streets, with its links to modern slavery, organised crime, child exploitation and “county lines” drugs running. Sadly it is a harsh reality in Surrey. Drug gangs from the city are expanding their operations to smaller towns, often using violence to drive out local dealers and exploiting children and vulnerable people to sell drugs. Notably, in October, Surrey Police shut down a county line in Walton. As new intelligence is received Surrey Police continue to intercept and disrupt any newly emerging lines in the Borough.
We also heard about the drug links to domestic burglary in order to fund drug habits, the related impact of drug use that leads to chaotic lifestyles for families and children and the associated ASB that disrupts many local communities.
Crime levels and Burglary - As far as overall offences are concerned, there have been decreases in crime such as anti-social behaviour, robbery and violence with injury. However, a 19% rise in domestic burglary between April and October compared with the same period in the previous year is a great concern. This equates to 65 more victims. Items such as cash and jewellery continue to be targeted and we need to encourage our residents to remain vigilant and target harden.
The Borough Commander has reassured me that resources are focussed on burglary. It remains a priority and they continue to target known subjects of interest, patrol key hotspot locations and provide prevention advice.
Domestic abuse - I was pleased to hear that we have a very effective cross-partner approach to domestic abuse. The work of the Elmbridge Community and Safety Partnership continues to champion these issues on our behalf, despite diminishing resources.
I also want to highlight that Elmbridge Borough Council has been recognised for its commitment to raising awareness of domestic abuse by the White Ribbon Charity. This includes a domestic abuse action plan, the development of a Domestic Abuse Workplace Policy, the appointment of volunteer ambassadors, and providing more opportunities for victims to come forward in our communities.
Unauthorised Traveller Encampments - Our residents have had a much better summer thanks to the 3-year Injunction which saw Elmbridge go from the highest number of unauthorised Traveller encampments in 2018 to one of the lowest in the County – literally overnight.
Police Resources - I was also keen to raise the issue of Police visibility on the streets of Elmbridge. I was reassured that the impact of Government and PCC pledges to increase Police numbers will be felt locally in 2020. I am told that Elmbridge will receive 2 additional officers. This would take the number of Safer Neighbourhood Officers to 4 and add an additional Youth Intervention Officer, resulting in 2 officers focusing on youth intervention.
Illegal Moorings - Elmbridge is working closely with Runnymede and Spelthorne Councils, Surrey Police and the Environment Agency to seek a long-term solution to the on-going issue of unauthorised mooring, and the impact that this has in some locations for our residents.
Elmbridge considered the responses to its consultation in September, with a report back to the Cabinet with any recommendations in due course.
In the meantime, Elmbridge introduced a 1-year pilot scheme in September to manage moorings on all of its land adjacent to the River Thames to prevent long term mooring. The arrangement encourages short stay (24hr) leisure mooring with all 3 sites currently clear of any overstaying boats. To date, 23 bookings have been registered, and 29 charges for overstaying have been issued.
In August the Planning Compliance Team issued 9 Enforcement Notices for a number of moorings located north west of Cherry Orchard Gardens and adjacent to the towpath. The council is in receipt of appeals against all the notices, the appeals are being consider by the Planning Inspectorate, on behalf of the Secretary of State.
A multi-agency visit was carried out this morning (Weds) by officers from the Enforcement team, Surrey Police and the Environment Agency in response to a number of reports of Anti-social behaviour along this stretch of the river from Walton Rowing Club to Molesey. Officers will continue to work with partners to tackle these issues, but I would encourage any incidents to be reported via the mooring web page, or to the police in the event of criminal behaviour.
We will shortly be inviting the Environment Agency to come in to discuss their long-term strategy for managing moorings on land that they are responsible for and how we can work more effectively to reassure our residents.
Prospects for 2020 - Looking to next year, there will of course be more of the same. It never seems to get any easier but the importance of what we deliver for our residents and businesses has never diminished. Our residents and businesses look for certainty in uncertain times and I know that as Members we are only too willing to provide that.
We know that our resources will continue to be under great pressure and we do not expect that the new Government will arrive to give us anything more to meet the widening gap in our funding. None of us should underestimate the budget challenge we face for next year.
We also know that those who work for the Council will continue to do their very best to protect our most vulnerable residents and we know that we have services that help to make growing up, thriving and ageing in Elmbridge the best it can possibly be.
So let’s prepare ourselves for the challenges we will face in 2020 and the balances we will have to strike between competing pressures as we continue to walk the difficult path between protecting the character of the borough and accommodating the growth we need to ensure that the investment in our infrastructure will enhance our quality of life.’
The Mayor thanked the Leader for his update to the Council.