Borough elections

ballot-boxThe borough recently asked the burghers of Elmbridge whether they would like to vote every four years or once a year “by thirds”.  The result was 52% in favour of voting by thirds and 48% in favour of voting every four years.

In its meeting today, the full council voted 29 to 22 in  favour of voting by thirds.  In any case, to make a change to voting every four years it would have required a vote in favour of that proposition of 34 councillors.

The next debate will be on the number of councillors and then the ward boundaries themselves.

Do you have any thoughts about how many councillors Elmbridge should have?  Currently there are sixty.

Flight path trials and aircraft noise

AirplaneA number of people have mentioned the recent increase in aircraft noise around Weybridge.  This is do with the need to review the flight paths around Britain.  Such a review has not happened for over forty years despite a rapid increase in air travel.  Each airport has been asked to examine possible new routes.

For more information click here

Heathside School

Heathside

Surrey is seeking planning permission to raise Heathside’s school numbers. Originally Heathside School was given permission for 920 pupils but by 1996 it had increased its number, without planning permission, to 1352. On being challenged for this discrepancy it sought retrospective planning permission from the borough to increase its number in 2005. This was refused, again on transport grounds. Surrey appealed to the national government and the government planning inspector agreed to a new maximum number of pupils (the actual number attending the school at that time) on condition that the travel plan be reviewed every six months. This is a very weak condition as most travel plans are often lax in the beginning and are often unenforceable in any case.

This new planning application is caused by the need for more school places in the borough. Elmbridge has a secondary school age population of 12,000 pupils and that number is growing. Births in Elmbridge increased by 30% between 2002 and 2010 and the
borough plan indicates that up to 3,375 new homes are to be built between 2011
and 2026.  Yet Elmbridge has only four secondary schools – in Ditton (Hinchley Wood), Esher, Hersham (Rydens) and Weybridge (Heathside). It needs ten more schools of 840 pupils each (four classes in each year from years seven to thirteen).

Because of the taxation arrangements in Britain – unique in the developed world – Surrey relies on the national government for revenues to fund new schools. Unfortunately, this revenue has been reduced significantly in recent times and Surrey simply does not significant revenues of its own to build the schools it needs. So Cobham, Molesey and Walton do not have their own schools – putting pressure on those towns like Weybridge that do.

The cheap option is to increase the size of the present schools.  Heathside, originally a large 940 pupil school that has grown to 1,352 is set, should the application be successful, to increase to 1,475 pupils.

Elmbridge’s remit is purely related to the planning aspects of the project not the merits or otherwise of increasing the size of a school that has already outgrown its buildings.  This particular application will be decided on highway matters alone.

Interestingly, Elmbridge is not the competent authority when it comes to highway planning matters.  Surrey is the highway authority as well as the education authority.

The planning application is originated from Surrey which has a duty to school all of the children of the county.  The application arrives at Elmbridge which in turn asks Surrey, as highway authority, what it thinks of the application.

This puts Surrey in a difficult position – it is both poacher and gamekeeper.  Its decision must not just be one based on integrity but must be seen to be so by those most affected by the increase in numbers.

Any parent who has been anxious about their child’s school place will understand the massive pressure that Surrey is under to deliver those classroom places.

The Elmbridge planning application number is 2014/3765 and details can be found here.

Churchfields Play Area

Churchfields Park Playground-wey-soc333Thank you for all your comments, emails, pictures and for completing the questionnaire.  Your message got through to Elmbridge and the portfolio holder, Mary Sheldon, came to visit the park to see for herself.  Now is the time to email directly to her (msheldon@elmbridge.gov.uk) and copy to the officers concerned (leisure@elmbridge.gov.uk) as to why Weybridge having a totally refurbished play area is so important to you and your children.

It is always better if such emails are written in your own words and are short and to the point.  At this stage it is a matter of getting the play area into the budget for next year, for about £150,000.  If the play area gets earmarked for next year’s budget then in the spring we can look more closely as to what equipment needs to be be there.  We do not need the details now.

I want to know if you have any particular rides in mind.  Please complete this questionnaire.

Please email me if you want to support the campaign to have Churchfields play area upgraded.

It would be great if you could forward this email to your friends and anyone you know who has children or grandchildren who play in the park.

£538,500 for pupils in Surrey catch-up

This week the national government has paid over half a million pounds to Surrey schools for children in year seven who didn’t reach the expected level in their reading, writing or arithmetic when they finished primary school.  This will fund catch-up classes and individual tuition.  Heathside will get £12,000 for the 24 children concerned.

National Government reduces Elmbridge funding

15 January.  As you might know, the burghers of Elmbridge, per person, are one of the highest contributors of tax to the national government.  Some of this tax is returned to Elmbridge but not much.  This is because, on average,  we are one of the richest people in England.

The national government has just announced that the 2013/14 return to Elmbridge will be  11.4 % cash reduction compared to our 12/13 settlement – so an even bigger reduction if inflation is taken into account. This is certainly not a good outcome for Elmbridge but we assumed the worst and we were only out by £23,000, which is a relief.  So for Elmbridge, whilst it’s not brilliant news – our predictions have been proved right.

The national government plans to reduce the 2014/15 return even further – another reduction of around 12%.  This is much worse than we expected. The provisional figures indicate that Elmbridge will have a £200,000 reduction compared to our forecast. This is bad news as we have to identify another £200,000 worth of savings in addition to the £1,000,000 that we have already identified 2014/15. This large reduction in the returning of our tax 2014/15 is because of:

a) The 6.5 % reduction announced in the national government’s spending review in 2010.

b) The 1% reduction in the return of our tax for 2014/15 announced in the national government’s autumn statement of 2011.

c) A further 2% reduction in the return of our tax for 2014/15 announced in the national government’s autumn statement of 2012.

d) A further planned £300,000,000 being taken for New Homes Bonus.

The national government’s freeze grant for council tax of 1% is only available for 2013/14 and 2014/15.  We have had confirmation that this freeze grant will only be included in the base for two years.

The outcome of the settlement  for 2013/14 shows our strategy of prudence against uncertainty is absolutely right. Gradual increases in council tax levels combined with other revenue sources beyond the national government’s return of our taxes is even more crucial in future and will help us become more financially resilient.