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Planning Policy

Planning Services

Elmbridge Borough Council

 

23 February 2017

 

Dear Sir/Madam,

Re: Strategic Options Consultation

Founded in 1934, the Thames Ditton and Weston Green Residents Association (TDWGRA) is a non-party-political organisation constituted to protect the amenities and furthering the interests of the inhabitants of the wards of Thames Ditton and Hinchley Wood and Weston Green. We have four councillors sitting on Elmbridge Borough Council, one Surrey County Councillor who additionally covers Long Ditton, and we hold regular public meetings to ensure that the voices of our constituents are heard. We have over 1,200 subscribing households representing some 2,760 members.

Summary

TDWGRA does not believe that the case has been made for allowing development in its Green Belt Areas and, in particular, the land described as area 58, which, it believes, represents an outstanding example of what Green Belt was designated for in terms of two of the five purposes set out in the NPPF – notably as follows:

The government attaches great importance to Green Belts. The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open; the essential characteristics of Green Belts are their openness and their permanence.

Green Belt serves five purposes:

  • to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas
  • to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another
  • to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
  • to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
  • to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land

TDWGRA contests the requirement to find space for 9,500 new dwellings in Elmbridge over the next 20 years. Since these numbers were prepared circumstances have changed. In particular, the Brexit vote is likely to have a considerable impact on housing demand. The infrastructure in Elmbridge and surrounding areas is already inadequate and, this alone, should require the Council to require that numbers be re-visited. Massive investment would be needed to cope with development on the scale envisaged, and there is no evidence that this would be forthcoming. Notwithstanding, we recognise that there is pressure to increase the number of dwellings in Elmbridge.

Infrastructure Issues

We wish to reiterate a number of concerns that have already been highlighted by the Hinchley Wood Residents Association. Elmbridge has already absorbed enormous development in recent years. The Borough’s population has grown from 112,400 in 1981 to 132,769 in 2014 – an increase of 18% in a period when the UK population has grown by 15%. In the last four years alone (2011 to 2015), the number of households has increased from 52,900 to 56,715, an increase of 7%.

The growth in housing has not been matched by investment in infrastructure. The Surrey infrastructure gap to 2030 is estimated at £161m, with no indication where funding for investment on this scale is going to come from. Residents have never been adequately compensated for past development and now are paying too much for past policy failures.

The pressures are particularly felt in the north-eastern part of the borough, which abuts London and which is more densely-populated. They affect:

  • Schools. Schools have been closed and buildings and playing fields sold for housing. Senior school places are over-subscribed: children living more than 1km away from Hinchley Wood senior school are denied places and have to travel to other parts of and outside the Borough, contributing to road congestion. Junior schools are bulging, and single form entry has had to increase to three forms. Across the Borough it has been estimated that three new junior schools and two senior schools would be needed to cater for the 9,500 extra dwellings envisaged. There appear to be no plans as to where these would be located.

  • Roads. The last strategic investment in the area's trunk roads was the building of the A3 Esher bypass (opened December 1976) and the Chertsey section of the M25 (opened December 1983). Walton Bridge opened in July 2013. There are 66% more cars on Surrey's roads than in the national average. Chronic under-investment in local roads and junctions means public transport is in a self-fulfilling, downward spiral as it cannot compete, thereby driving further car use. Road journey times are extended and growing, with congestion estimated to be costing the local economy £550m p.a. The knock-on effects of an M25 closure can, and do, impact large parts of the borough significantly, on a regular and increasing basis. Neighbouring areas are impacted negatively by the activities of Elmbridge residents passing through (mainly by car) and vice versa. Should the current proposed redevelopment of Kempton Park go ahead, this would lead to gridlock across Esher High Street and the Hampton Court Way on its own, even before any other development on Elmbridge green belt is considered.

  • Trains. Despite investment, rush hour trains and stations continue to operate beyond capacity. Station entries at Surbiton (not the same as train passengers passing through) have doubled in the last twenty years, resulting in rush-hour entry restrictions, a situation which will only get worse if yet more pressure is added by more passengers travelling through the station to and from Elmbridge.
  • Drainage/flooding. Flood defences and drainage systems are regularly exposed as being inadequate, resulting in, for example, flooding in Thames Ditton in the winter of 2015 and at Hinchley Park in June 2016. Concreting over further large areas for housing and related infrastructure can only exacerbate the problem.
  • Health services. There are no general hospitals in Elmbridge, so residents have to travel to Chertsey (8.7 miles – at best 27 minutes by car), Epsom (7.2 miles – at best 20 minutes by car), or Kingston (5.5 miles – at best 21 minutes by car). At certain times of the day, a journey to any one of them from Esher could take an hour each way. The only route with a bus connection is Esher to Kingston (scheduled journey time 44 minutes). Healthcare facilities cannot support existing numbers of residents: GP surgeries are unable to take on new patients or see the ones they have, and dentists decline to provide services under the NHS.

Green Belt Issues

TDWGRA is opposed to building on Green Belt anywhere in Elmbridge. In addition, it believes that the designation of area 58 as ‘weakly performing’ is incorrect. In fact, quite the opposite, this area represents precisely what the Green Belt was envisaged for i.e.

-   to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas

-   to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another

In Elmbridge, the peripheral Green Belt is central to preventing the borough from merging into the Greater London conurbation. If the north-eastern corner of the borough becomes indistinguishable from its built-up neighbour, the distinctive character of the Borough would be irrevocably lost, and the quality of life for all concerned would be greatly diminished.

  • Strategically, area 58 sits alongside the principal road gateway into Elmbridge for travellers from Greater London. It provides a clear visual indication of the transition from the London conurbation to the more green and open environment of Elmbridge. Without it, Elmbridge would just merge imperceptibly into the sprawl of London. The fact that area 58 is bounded by development on three sides makes it all the more important not to allow it to be merged into a part of suburbia. The whole point is that its openness contrasts strongly with the built form surrounding it.
  • Area 58 is also a vital resource for the local community. This is already one of the most densely populated parts of the borough, and one which has among the fewest opportunities to access green space. Its loss would therefore have a disproportionate effect on our residents. They (and the occupants of any new housing built in area 58) would have that much further to travel to access green space, once again adding to the pressure on local infrastructure.
  • The area is well-used by the community:

•  The land owned by Elmbridge is very highly used: the hockey and cricket clubs plus the allotments contribute to a wide range of popular activities in this area

•  One Tree Hill is used daily by dog walkers and walking groups and the nature area is highly prized

•  Privately-owned enterprises such as the Kisimul School and Shinnyo-en UK are thriving

•  The Commons Management Team report that the area is performing well.

In short, area 58 provides an important setting contributing to the character and strong sense of place, particularly for entrants to and those leaving Elmbridge. It makes a unique contribution to the overall character of the area, as the first hint of what the Borough has to offer and the last taste of openness. It must not be needlessly destroyed.

Alternatives to Green Belt Development

Elmbridge should look again at its urban capacity. TDWGRA believes that it is not lack of development that has led to a greater perceived need for additional housing but the nature of much of the development that has taken place. Large parts of the Borough contain housing plots that could accommodate far greater densities than they do. Why should Green Belt land be sacrificed when half acre plots and larger are granted planning permission for single dwellings? These developments may afford developers vast profits, and provide a home for doubtful foreign investors’ cash but they do nothing to assist the housing need.

We would strongly challenge any proposals to utilise the, already insufficient, public car parks in the area and, feel that the proposal to build on the Scout Camp at Polyapes would be entirely unacceptable.

We would urge Elmbridge to revisit its proposals for the Local Plan in terms of allowing planning permission on low density housing aimed at the very wealthiest buyers, many of whom do not, and will never live in the Borough.

 

Yours faithfully,

Rhodri Richards

Chairman

Thames Ditton & Weston Green Residents' Association