The Leader began by advising that the Chief Executive, a number of Officers and himself had held a series of public meetings across the Borough. It was noted that the attendance levels had varied across those meetings but all of them had been informative and interactive. It was clear from those meetings that residents took the responsibilities of the Council seriously and whilst it was inevitable that there were some challenges to respond to, the majority view was that the Council was delivering on its promises to provide the best services it could do at all times.
Thanks were extended to Officers involved in the meetings, for their hard work and support that they had provided.
There were four particular areas that the Leader wish to highlight to the Council on this occasion.
The first of these related to planning matters, where there had been mixed views on the need for additional housing across the Borough and there had been some strong views expressed on the density of units on any particular site. Many people said that they did not wish to see their neighbourhoods changing beyond all recognition, though they acknowledged the need to build more houses that young people and key workers could afford to live in. Meeting those aspirations would be a key challenge as the Council worked through the preparation of the next iteration of the Local Plan.
The Leader commented that he believed that the Council would provide a sensible balance between over-development & increasing density and retaining the identity of neighbourhoods. This was all the more challenging where there was a commitment to protect the Green Belt.
Secondly, issues had been raised regarding the significant disruption to residents this summer caused by the large number of traveller encampments experienced across the Borough and the size of some of the encampments which, on occasion, exceeded 50 caravans. The Council had been successful in extending the Injunction preventing encampments across the Borough for 3 years. It was disappointing to have had to have taken that step, but with nearly 30 encampments at a cost of some £200,000 to residents, the Council had no alternative. The Council would continue to work with other Surrey Districts & Boroughs and with Surrey County Council to identify a suitable transit site and whilst it was acknowledged that this would not be a complete solution, it would enable the Police to use their powers more effectively. Elmbridge along with everyone else, wished to see a long-term solution.
Thirdly, the Leader acknowledged that the Council could improve upon the way in which it communicated with residents. Whilst a large proportion of residents accessed relevant information via the Council’s website and through the local newspaper, and others valued the Elmbridge Review which was delivered to every household three times a year, not everybody considered that they were able to have their voice heard. This was why the public meetings had been arranged and the Leader indicated that he hoped that they would become a regular feature for every Administration in the future.
The last main topic to be raised had been parking. It continued to be a major issue for residents, workers, shoppers and employers, with there not being enough on-street parking to meet the demands in the Borough’s towns. The Council recognised that position and would continue to look at ways in which additional off-street parking could be created. It was noted that later in the meeting the Council would be reviewing parking charges, but as a result of feedback received from residents since the Council Agenda had been published, the Leader advised that there was no intention to introduce charges on Sundays or in the evenings as there was a wish to encourage as many people as possible to use the night-time economy across the Borough. Furthermore, in the light of feedback received, the Portfolio Holder for Environment and Transport would be proposing some amendments to the recommendations from Cabinet which it was hoped would help address people's concerns. It was proposed that a cross-party Working Group would also be established to review all of the car parks and it was hoped that the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee would take that aspect forward. The Council nevertheless had to raise income to fund this services that the residents valued and if it wasn't increasing fees and charges then inevitably it would result in an increase in Council Tax. Over the past 10 years or so the Council has saved in excess of £5m pounds through efficiencies and savings. Conversely, the chargers use of the Council's tennis courts had been removed because of the intention to encourage as much physical activity as possible for the Borough’s children and young adults, as it was incumbent upon the Council to encourage people to engage in sport and providing free access was a small contribution that the Council could make to improving health outcomes for local residents.
Finally, as set out later on the agenda, the Council would be invited to consider investing in a portfolio of commercial and residential properties. This portfolio achieved two aims, to support commercial retailers on the High Street and secondly to provide a significant number of residential units available for social renting. The Leader acknowledged that all of the elected Members for Elmbridge Borough Council had the same wishes at heart, namely to do the best for local residents. It was noted that on occasions there could be disagreement as to the most effective way to do that but it was hoped that as the Council debated the matters before them that evening, that Members would remember that they were there to deliver services and wherever possible improved outcomes for local residents and it was hoped that that mandate would transcend party politics.