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Local Plan consultation LRLocal Plan Consultation - TDWGRA's response to Elmbridge Borough Council 

After careful review and discussion with our members, TD & WG Residents' Association submitted it's response (below) to the Consultation, following the structure of the online questionnaire.

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1.  Have you read the Options Consultation document?

 

     Yes Tick LR       No      

 

2.  Which area do you live in? 

Please note we are not referring to the electoral wards or boundaries.

 

Claygate Cobham Esher

Hinchley
Wood

Hersham

   MoleseyTick LR   Oxshott  

Stoke 
D'Abernon

The DittonsTick LR Walton  Weybridge 

      Other:Tick LR
Weston Green

 

I am the chairman of the Thames Ditton and Weston Green Residents’ Association ("TDWGRA"), one of the strongest and longest-established Residents' Associations in England, and I am submitting this response to the Local Plan Consultation on behalf of the Association. The TDWGRA acts for all who live or work in the Elmbridge borough ward of Thames Ditton (including parts of East Molesey) and the Weston Green part of the Elmbridge borough ward of Hinchley Wood & Weston Green, and is represented by four Elmbridge Borough councillors and one Surrey County councillor. We take communication with residents very seriously and have consulted residents regarding the Local Plan Consultation in a public meeting, via our quarterly magazine "Thames Ditton Today", which is distributed to all households in our area, and through other channels.

 

3.  Place-making and the continued success of well designed, well- functioning places is fundamental to developing a growth strategy for the borough.

3a.  What are the key characteristics that make your area a great place to live? 

Thames Ditton, Weston Green and East Molesey are attractive places to live, with excellent facilities as well as green spaces.

Our area has a unique identity benefiting from its close proximity to London with excellent transport links with access to the A3, M3 and M25, easy access to both Heathrow and Gatwick Airports and several South Western Railway train lines into London Waterloo, whilst keeping its village character with great cultural heritage. A network of green spaces, commons, parks and rivers contribute to the vibrancy that make Thames Ditton, Weston Green and East Molesey special places to live, work in or visit.

Overall, the character of Thames Ditton, Weston Green and East Molesey is generally "suburban with a village atmosphere". Many residents use the excellent transport links to commute into London, but the area is also home to a variety of smaller and mid-sized businesses which is attractive to residents who wish to live close to their workplace. The area has lower density residential housing compared to the neighbouring Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. Thames Ditton, Weston Green and East Molesey are characterised by a mix of (larger) detached properties, semi-detached houses and terraces. These are generally a mix of inter-war, Victorian and Edwardian homes often on larger plots including front and rear gardens.

We are lucky enough to have three rivers flowing through our communities, the Thames, the Ember and the River Mole. All rivers offer a great deal to residents, from boat trips, and rowing, to walks along the rivers-edge and nearby countryside.

The surrounding green spaces and commons provide rich havens for wildlife and places for residents to explore for walking or on horse-back and for other outdoor activities. The green spaces, including the places designated as part of the Green Belt, are major green assets which give our part of Elmbridge an exceptional character. The Thames Path touches on the Northern fringes of East Molesey before crossing Hampton Court Bridge and following the tow path on the North Bank of the Thames opposite Thames Ditton. Other footpaths provide residents with easy access to the green spaces, and as a result of this, the open spaces are frequently used by residents.

Thames Ditton, Weston Green and East Molesey are also attractive places to live on account of its outstanding local schools. There is considerable pressure on our local secondary school in Hinchley Wood as a result of this. I will come back to this in more detail in this questionnaire.

Residents are keen to maintain the attractiveness of our local High Streets, for example the High Street in Thames Ditton and Bridge Road in East Molesey. Thames Ditton has established a vibrant farmers' market which takes place on a monthly basis.

The area is also home to a variety of long-established sport clubs which make use of sports fields, recreation grounds, Ditton Common and Giggs Hill Green common in Thames Ditton.

Overall, residents enjoy our unique communities because they provide them with a sense of space and neighbourhood safety. Many residents live in our villages over decades and are keen to preserve the character of the area that they have bonded with.

 3b. What changes would you like to see in the borough over the next 15 years? 

Elmbridge is known to provide a very high quality of life. The TDWGRA supports sensible development in a way that preserves the unique character of our area, continues to provide an abundance of high quality green spaces, and retains the area's position of providing an easy commuting link to Central London. The TDWGRA however resists developments which could ultimately result in changing the character of the area to something which is more akin to the suburban settlements of neighbouring Kingston-upon-Thames with high density residential housing. The TDWGRA believes that our objectives could be best achieved by:-

  • Retaining the high quality of life experienced by residents;
  • Protecting the unique character of Thames Ditton, Weston Green and East Molesey;
  • Promoting high quality housing with designs that enhance the character of the area and enhance the residents' sense of safety and security;
  • Protecting the current boundaries of the Green Belt, in order to prevent the coalescence of the Elmbridge’s towns and villages and to retain the distinctiveness of our local area;
  • Enhancing the spaces within the Green Belt, providing easy access and improving the area's air quality;
  • Providing sufficient housing to give residents, particularly families with children, an affordable place to live in the most sustainable locations in our area;
  • Supporting the supply of homes that address local housing needs, whilst resisting an unsustainable housing target number called for by Central Government without taking local characteristics into consideration;
  • Meeting the needs of an increasingly ageing population by providing lifetime homes, specialist accommodation and local care and support services;
  • Supporting the distinctive roles of our local High Streets;
    Improving public transport by providing local bus links between the communities;
  • Providing sufficient school places where they are needed and which avoids transporting children to other parts of the Borough;
  • Improve the local infrastructure (transport, education, healthcare); and
  • Supporting measures that improve air quality, reduce pollution and minimise flood risks.

 The TDWGRA promotes effective planning which secures sensible development in the right places at the right sustainable scale. We also fully support measures that help preserve the environment and address the challenges of climate change.

 

4.  This options consultation document sets out 5 options for housing growth for the borough. These are: 

  Option 1-intensify urban area
  Option 2-optimise urban area and 3 area of Green Belt release
  Option 3-optimse urban area and large Green Belt release
  Option 4-optimise urban area
  Option 5-optimise urban area and small areas of Green Belt release 

4a.  Which option will best suit your area? 

Please select one option only.

 

   Option 1       Option 2       Option 3     Option 4Tick LR    Option 5   

 

The TDWGRA believes that the objectives set out in answer to question 3b above could only be achieved by adopting a Local Plan which is akin to the model described in Option 4.

I wish to reiterate that the TDWGRA is not against any development. The TDWGRA promotes effective planning which secures sensible development in the right places at the right sustainable scale. However, Options 1, 2, 3 and 5 fail to deliver on sustainable growth. Whilst some of these options may meet the housing number targets set by Central Government, they do not take local characteristics into consideration. In short, these options would open the gates to overdevelopment which would destroy the character of our local communities. The TDWGRA is concerned that the adoption of a Local Plan under Options 1, 2, 3 and 5 would have unacceptable consequences. Intensification would cause detrimental changes to the character of existing urban spaces, and releasing Green Belt would open the floodgates to the destruction of our green spaces in times of more and more concerning environmental issues.

We are aware that the target housing number is derived from the standard methodology, but we strongly contest that this is suitable for our local area. We note that Elmbridge has delivered on the number of new dwellings in the past and we accept that new housing is needed. However, the number at which the standard methodology arrives is, simply put, not achievable. Even if the housing numbers contemplated in options 1, 2, 3 and 5 were delivered over the next 15 years, it would not result in meeting the objective of the standard methodology, i.e. to bring house prices down to a more affordable level. Elmbridge is a highly desirable area, and prices will not come down simply because market demand will remain high irrespective of how many houses are built.

Development on this level is unsustainable not only because it changes the character of the local communities, but would also put additional strain on the already creaking infrastructure.

By way of example, the local secondary school in Hinchley Wood is already dramatically oversubscribed. In the last intake, the school received 350 first choice applications over 220 places. Even if Surrey County Council states that there are a sufficient number of secondary school places available in the Borough, they are not provided in the geographies where they are most needed. Our area suffers from an alarming shortage of secondary school places, and Hinchley Wood School has no more capacity to grow.

Traffic on local roads is increasing. Queues on Hampton Court Way, around the Scilly Isles and into Esher are a daily occurrence during rush hour. Additional housing will amplify the problem, and as a consequence, more traffic will flow through residential roads with all the problems on safety, air quality, etc that brings.

The TDWGRA also notes that Option 4 is the only realistic alternative which protects the current boundaries of the Green Belt. It is important to appreciate that protecting the Green Belt is not the only reason for the TDWGRA's support of Option 4. Other objectives set out in answer to question 3b above are of equal importance. The issue of the potential release of Green Belt outlined in Options 2, 3 and 5 is however of particular concern to residents, and because of this, I would like to explain these concerns in more detail.

The Green Belt aims to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open and undeveloped. Its original purpose was to halt the outward and uncontrolled spread of London following the 1920s-1930s building boom as a result of railway expansion, for example around neighbouring Kingston-upon-Thames. The Green Belt also prevents neighbouring towns merging into one another, assists in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment and protects the setting and character of local areas.

Elmbridge's Green Belt is a critical part of the borough. It has an important function and contributes to the borough’s character and appearance. Land designated as Green Belt can also provide a wide variety of publically accessible open spaces. The Green Belt policy has been highly successful; not only has it stopped uncontrolled urban sprawl it has also ensured the continuous regeneration and renewal of London.

The TDWGRA is opposed to building on Green Belt anywhere in Elmbridge. Options 2, 3 and 5 promote the release of three areas of Green Belt, including the so-called 'Area 58' at Long Ditton. We contest the finding that Area 58 forms a ‘poorly performing’ part of the Green Belt. 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.

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 Kingston-upon-Thames, 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.

Area 58 is well-used by the community: 

  • 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.

 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.

4b.  Please give details of any alternative way you think you could meet the governments ambitious housing target for Elmbridge of 623 new homes each year for the next 15 years. 

The TDWGRA is emphatically not resistant to change. We do not want to be perceived as simply saying "Not in my back yard!". We are not opposed to the evolution of Thames Ditton, Weston Green and East Molesey; but we wish to see this done in keeping with the character and soul of the locality. The TDWGRA is in favour of high quality, tasteful and sensitive development or investment. We are however opposed to developments that put maximum profit above other considerations, the irreversible loss of the tangible and intangible assets that combine to make our area a wonderful place to live. The TDWGRA wishes to protect the precious remaining green spaces that contribute so much to a village atmosphere and to recreational enjoyments. We also want to protect the environment. We wish to retain the diversity of local shops and businesses, excellent and varied local health care facilities and provision for the elderly and for children. We want safe, clean streets, and drains that work properly. We want to ensure good value for our local money.

Having said all this, the TDWGRA does not believe that the housing target for Elmbridge of 623 new homes each year for the next 15 years set by Central Government can be satisfactorily aligned with the above objectives. Setting an, in our view, arbitrary number by Central Government does not take the local requirements into consideration. The TDWGRA will support Elmbridge Borough Council in establishing a strong case for sensible and sustainable development, even if that means that Officers are required to challenge Central Government in respect of the housing number target.

In short, we do not believe that there any credible and sustainable alternative ways of meeting the housing target number of 623 homes.

 

5. How do you think we should plan for the new homes we need in your area?

Please specify one or more of the following:

Higher
 densities 

 Green Belt 
release

A mixture of higher densities
and Green Belt release

   OtherTick LR

 

The TDWGRA promotes 'good growth' in Thames Ditton, Weston Green and East Molesey by making the best use of land, delivering affordable homes, increasing efficiency of local infrastructure assets and supporting climate change resilience. It is necessary to ensure that Elmbridge's future growth is pursued and planned in the most sustainable way through a set of overarching policy principles enshrined in the Local Plan. This includes maintaining a good balance between social, economic and environmental objectives, preserving liveable places for our residents to live, work and visit, as well as protecting green spaces to improve air quality in our area.

Land is a valuable resource. In providing for future needs it is necessary to make the best use of land as efficiently as possible. Providing a range of housing types is necessary to achieve the objectives set out in answer to question 3b above.

In accommodating growth, the TDWGRA supports creating tighter restrictions on developers. The area has already a sufficient number of larger detached houses. We support resisting new developments of 5 or above bedroom houses. Instead, planning powers should be used to encourage the developments of new homes that meet local needs. For example, we support large house-to-flats conversions which maintain the character of the local area, whilst providing space for residents, in particular young families with children, to live.

The challenge is to ensure that the “right forms” of optimisation occur at the “right locations”. The TDWGRA resists developments which would lead to the closure of local amenities such as libraries, community centres, sports fields and car parks. Optimisation must be aligned with the use of existing social facilities, services and amenities, such as libraries, community centres, recreation spaces and schools.

There are already considerable pressures on infrastructure assets in our area:-

  • Schools. Schools have been closed and buildings and playing fields sold for housing. Secondary 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 the Borough, contributing to road congestion. The junior school is bulging: a single form entry has had to increase to three forms.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

 Planning powers should be used to make the best use of existing infrastructure as well as to release significant investment for the provision of new and improved infrastructure.

 

6a. Are you aware of any planning issues that need to be addressed in our detailed day-to-day planning policies?

 

    YesTick LR     No     

 

6b.  If yes, please specify which planning issues.

 

      DensityTick LR

Design /
    CharacterTick LR

  Building  

Heights

  ParkingTick LR

Conservation
    AreasTick LR

Historic features
(eg. listed
buildings)

Sustainability / 
renewable
    energyTick LR

FloodingTick LR

Open 
   spacesTick LR

   OtherTick LR

 

I have already addressed a number of the issues highlighted in this answer in other parts of the questionnaire. This response therefore provides comments only in respect of a selection of these points.

Elmbridge Borough Council must ensure that as the borough develops, the communities benefit from high quality development. Good design is key to enhancing the quality of life for the residents and is core to shaping the places and spaces that people use every day. New development will need to be supported by excellence and innovation in design; building upon the distinctive character of the area whilst enhancing its overall quality.

Planning policies must maximize the valuable benefits of parks and open spaces as places which provide healthy recreational places to visit and experience nature. Such spaces create the setting for highly quality neighbourhoods, linking development and green space and increase the resilience of our environment to climate change and flooding.

The TDWGRA believes that addressing climate change is an important challenge facing the borough in delivering sustainable development. With significant pressure for growth, we must ensure that new development adds to the borough’s resilience in mitigating and adapting to any adverse climate change impacts. Air pollution has significant impacts on climate and human health. It is essential that exposure to atmospheric pollutants is minimised across the borough. The TDWGRA supports development that aims to improve upon air quality neutral standards.

Climate change is increasing the need to plan for heavy rainfall events and flooding. With a significant proportion of the area lying within flood zones 2 and 3, flooding will be an increasingly prominent threat. The TDWGRA supports relocation of vulnerable development away from high flood-risk areas.

 

7.  Do you have any other comments to make in relation to this Options Consultation?

               ---

 

8. Did you respond to the previous Local Plan Strategic Options Consultation in 2016?

 

    YesTick LR     No     

 

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