Blackness Lane Planning Application

August 30th, 2014 by willforster
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Blackness Lane

I am very concerned to see that Woking Borough Council has received a planning application requesting permission to build 9 houses on the old greenhouse site off Blackness Lane in Woking Park.

I am really worried by and completely opposed to this application – the main reason being that the access to these potential homes would have to be along Blackness Lane, which is more like a pedestrian path to Woking Park than an proper road.  I also have serious concerns about the impact on the Blackness Lane and Guildford Road junction, so I have already highlighted these concerns to Surrey County Council as the highways authority.

Sadly, this application is not a one off – planning permission was granted just over a year ago for 4 large houses on the site of a house in Blackness Lane.

I really hope that local residents who are also opposed to these plans – whether they are worried by the completely inadequate access or about further urbanisation of Woking Park – will write to the Council and lodge their objections to PLAN/2014/0858 – via the Council’s planning website.

Sheerwater Public Meeting

August 29th, 2014 by willforster
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I am pleased to see that Woking Borough Council have finally confirmed the date and details of the public meeting about the Sheerwater Regeneration.

Following a petition and general concerns (that I’ve written about before) about failings in the consultation on a possible redevelopment of Sheerwater – the Borough Council agreed to organise a public meeting so local residents could ask questions and have their say on the plans.

This public meeting will be held at Bishop David Brown School on Tuesday 9th September, starting at 7.15 pm.  There will be a short introductory presentation on the project, afterwards the independent chair will then open the floor to questions that will be put to senior representatives from the Council and New Vision Homes.

Morrisons Withdraws Kingfield Store Plans

August 22nd, 2014 by willforster
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Kingfield Morrisons

Morrisons has confirmed that it will no longer be opening a new store in Kingfield.

Last year, the supermarket chain announced that it would open up a shop in Sherpa House on Kingfield Road – but the company has now backtracked and recently stated to me that it is unable to proceed with the original plans.

I know this will be great news to the neighbours of Sherpa House and those connected to Kingfield Primary School - as there were lots of concerns about the noise from delivery lorries, impact on nearby small businesses and fears about road safety if an extra supermarket opened in Kingfield.

Having two busy little supermarkets in Kingfield would have been too much activity for a small area to cope with safely.  Though I am relieved for those that would have been impacted by a supermarket opening up on Kingfield Road - the downside is that we will continue to be blighted by a derelict building in the centre of Kingfield.

However, we may not have heard the last of Morrisons – as I understand the supermarket company is still keen to come to the Kingfield and Old Woking area sometime in the future, whenever a sensible and suitable site can be found.

Sheerwater Regeneration

August 17th, 2014 by willforster
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In July 2013, Woking Borough Council announced that it and its housing management company, New Vision Homes were to explore the possibility of regenerating Sheerwater.

The initial idea was that the Council and New Vision Homes would join up with the social housing and regeneration company Pinnacle and construction company Balfour Beatty to demolish around 500 homes in the centre of Sheerwater, and rebuild 1,000 homes – which would result in a net increase of 500 homes, along with improved education, leisure and retail facilities.

The reasoning behind this is that Maybury and Sheerwater is not only the most deprived area in Woking, but in Surrey as well – the Dartmouth and Devonshire Avenue area of Sheerwater is within the 10% most deprived areas nationally. Much of the housing in Dartmouth and Devonshire Avenue is not in a good state and not fit for purpose (there’s an argument that they never were to be brutally honest) – most of the accommodation there are studio and one-bedroom flats.

As urban regeneration schemes like the one suggested for Sheerwater have previously turned around deprived communities, and as there was a promise of a comprehensive consultation with local residents – the Woking Lib Dem Group and I supported the original vision.

However, a year later the Council was petitioned by angry local residents saying they were not happy with the consultation and that the proposed regeneration was wrong. Almost 500 residents signed a petition calling for the plans to be put on hold until a proper consultation and a series of public meetings had taken place.

Following the presentation of the petition, I was the first Councillor to stand up to speak and I happily backed up the petitioners’ call for more consultation.  The Lib Dems and I might have supported the principle of regenerating Sheerwater, but if the regeneration is to be done at all it must be done with local residents – it cannot be forced on them or be seen to be forced on them.  It seems clear that the consultation up until now has not worked, otherwise residents would not have been forced to highlight their concerns through a petition.

I was delighted that following my call for more consultation, Conservative Councillors responsible agreed to undertake a further and wider consultation to ensure that Sheerwater residents have a chance to have their say.  I hope that the team behind the Sheerwater Regeneration project relaunches the consultation process – as from now on, the consultation needs to be wise, open and honest.

Westfield Surgery Extension

August 15th, 2014 by willforster
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Westfield Surgery

I am pleased that the Southview Medical Practice is trying to expand the Westfield Surgery in Holmes Close.

The practice is divided into two surgeries, the largest is Southview Surgery in Constitution Hill but their Westfield Surgery is also a well-used service.

With the New Central development now fully occupied and construction on the Kingsmoor Park and Willow Reach housing developments well underway – concerns have been raised about how the medical practice would cope with the potential influx of patients from these new properties.

As neither surgery has the space to host more services, the practice is seeking planning permission from Woking Borough Council for a single storey side extension to the western side of the surgery in Westfield.  This would allow for more doctors appointments to be made and for more services to be offered to residents.

Although I want to hear what the surgery’s neighbours have to say on the details of the planning application (PLAN/2014/0741) – I wholeheartedly welcome the idea of an expansion.

This extension seems to be both necessary – so people can see a local GP – and appropriate in planning terms, as the extension is small and faces away from the houses in Holmes Close.

Young Carers Forgotten by Conservatives

August 13th, 2014 by willforster
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At the last Full Surrey County Council meeting before the summer recess, I was very disappointed that the Conservative administration refused to support my call to widen the eligibility of Pupil Premium to include Young Carers.

I submitted a motion calling on the County Council to ensure that Young Carers receive more support to enable them to reach their full potential in life.  There are many Young Carers who support family members where either no support is available or instead of formal social service support – this all frees up our services and costs the taxpayer less.

Young Carers do an invaluable job, but that work has its consequences – many really struggle at school, Young Carers in their late teens are twice as likely to be ‘Not in Employment, Education or Training’ (NEET), 68% of Young Carers experience bullying at school and 39% said that nobody in their school was aware of their caring role.

My suggestion was to change the eligibility of Pupil Premium so extra support can be given to Young Carers, as we know education can be the silver bullet and the best way for people to improve their lives.

However, the Tories disagreed with my idea.  I was both saddened and angry that the Conservative Cabinet at County Hall refused to support my call for more support for Young Carers – this is despite numerous claims by the Tory Leader of the Council that young people come first in Surrey.

Clearly we – and more importantly Young Carers – were not meant to take those words literally.

White Rose Lane Closure

August 2nd, 2014 by willforster
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Motorists that use White Rose Lane will have to find an alternative route during late August – as Surrey County Council will be closing a section of White Rose Lane for utility works.

The road will be closed between Barrens Park and Wendella Close for two weeks from 18th August, to allow Affinity Water to replace its mains water pipework underneath the road.

Kingfield Post Office

July 23rd, 2014 by willforster
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Kingfield Post Office

I understand that the sub postmaster at Kingfield’s Post Office has indicated that they would like to leave that role.

However, I am very relieved to report that the national Post Office are committed to keeping this Post Office open and have already started advertising for a replacement.

I am pleased this Post Office will remain open –  way too many were closed under the previous Conservative and Labour Governments, something that is not happening under the Coalition Government.  Though, they do not seem to be getting any credit for keeping Post Offices open.

Woking Conservatives strangle and stifle scrutiny

July 22nd, 2014 by willforster
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My first month as Group Leader on Woking Borough Council was dominated by the Conservatives rewriting the Council’s constitution to remove the right of the opposition to chair scrutiny meetings.

Despite strong opposition from the Lib Dems, the Conservatives used their majority to push through the change and delete the requirement that the Chairman of the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee has to be elected from an opposition party – they then chose a Conservative Councillor to led scrutiny of their own Conservative Executive.

Councillors were scheduled to elect a Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee at its first meeting on Monday 9th June, however the Tories cancelled that meeting until it changed the Council’s rules on who can chair that committee.  At a hastily arranged Full Council meeting on 23rd June, the Conservatives made the constitutional change and elected one of their own as Chairman.

I was appalled and frustrated by this power grab – it seems clear that following the recent elections, the Tories felt entitled to every important position on the Council and this was the only one they did not have.  Sadly, this is what happens when the Conservatives have a decent majority on local authorities – they abuse their power and act like complete bullies.  On Surrey County Council they have used their large majority to give senior Tory County Councillors a massive pay rise, and now at Woking they have stopped all impartial scrutiny of their decisions.

It is accepted best practice in local government that the opposition should chair the Council’s scrutiny work to ensure there is an adequate check and balance to the ruling party’s power.  Scrutiny committees on Elmbridge, Mole Valley, Surrey and Reigate Councils are all chaired by opposition parties – appallingly, Conservatives in Woking (unlike their counterparts in those neighbouring authorities) do not want any independent check on their power.

With the Council about to make several important decisions that will impact the future of the Borough for generations to come – on the Green Belt Review, regeneration in Sheerwater and Town Centre developments – independent scrutiny is needed now more than ever.

However, all these arguments and more were completely lost on the Tories.  No doubt they were worried about their ability to handle challenging questions and proper scrutiny.  They have deliberately and cynically make it harder for the democratically elected opposition to do our job.

A traffic free Commercial Way

July 16th, 2014 by willforster
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Commercial Way

I am pleased to see that Woking Borough Council are finally proposing to ban traffic from Commercial Way.

With Commercial Way being repaved and redesigned at the moment, the Council are consulting on plans to fully pedestrianise area of Commercial Way – 24 hours, 7 days a week.  Currently, the section of Commercial Way in between Cawsey Way and Chapel Street is only vehicle free on between 10.30 am and 4 pm, Monday to Saturday.

To have your say on the plans, or for full details – please see the Council’s consultation here.

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Will Forster

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44 Old School Place
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Surrey
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South Woking Division

Will Forster

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