Elmbridge Council Local Plan Consultation: MRA Response

MOLESEY RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION  

RESPONSE TO ELMBRIDGE COUNCIL LOCAL PLAN CONSULTATION

Overview

Our response to the consultation consists of two parts: our observations on the five options presented by the Council; and our specific comments on what we consider are some of the priorities for Molesey and its current and future residents.

We have listened to the views of our residents and the comments and observations made by those who attended the Council’s presentation on the Local Plan. In summary we do not believe that any of the five options in the consultation document achieves an acceptable solution on their own, and that and a modified version of Option 2 would be a preferable way forward.

Consultation Options

We recognise that there is a need for more housing in the Borough, in particular more one, two and three-bedroomed homes. However, we do not accept the Government’s assumption that simply concreting over large parts of the Borough will in itself reduce the affordability gap. It may simply suck more people into the area.

Elmbridge has unique characteristics and we would want to ensure that any new measures preserve and enhance its character. At first sight the easy option might be to support Option 4, which would not involve any loss of Green Belt land. However, it would be wrong to assume that this option would have no unintended consequences. The Government has made it clear that 9345 new homes must be built somewhere in the Borough over the next 15 years, and Option 4 would therefore result in more building in urban areas. We continue to believe, however, that the Government’s target is too high, and should continue to be challenged by the Council.

Although we do not like the idea of allowing any building on the Green Belt, the alternative which would result from Option 4 would be to accept more intensive development in the Borough’s more urban areas, including Molesey, Hersham and Walton, which have already absorbed more than their fair share of development over the last few years. This would involve higher density developments per site, more flats and higher buildings in these areas to achieve anywhere near the Government’s target. This would also apply to other urban areas in the Borough which are currently encompassed by Green Belt, as development would need to be spread across Elmbridge.

We believe that a more pragmatic approach should be taken, with new development being spread across the whole Borough. This would be fairer for the residents of Elmbridge as a whole, but it would inevitably mean allowing some limited development in areas which are currently within the Green Belt. We believe the principle, along the lines of Option 2, (though not necessarily with the designated areas outlined in Option 2) would be a better way forward, even though some small, carefully selected areas would need to be released from the Green Belt.

We recognise that this is “Hobson’s choice”, and that it is not an ideal outcome, but doing nothing is not an option, and this approach would help to provide more of the smaller sized homes that are desperately needed. Releasing just 3% of the Borough’s Green Belt, whilst clearly not something we want, would at least enable the remaining 97% of the Borough’s Green Belt to be more robustly defended against future development. We would also expect the Council to ensure that mixed housing, including an appropriate proportion of Social and Affordable housing, would be a priority when considering any building on the Green Belt.

We also believe it is vital to ensure that developers will be required to make a significant contribution to the additional infrastructure which would be needed to accompany new development. This should be a pre-requisite before a developer can build on any Green Belt land. A major concern, however, is that is that other agencies which have the responsibility for providing the infrastructure to support new development (such as the Government, utility companies, the NHS and Surrey County Council) appear to have no long-term plans in place to provide it, and insufficient funding to provide the extra services which will be essential to maintain and improve the quality of life for our residents.

Impact on Molesey

The review of the Local Plan does at least provide an opportunity for the Council to amend the classification of some areas in Molesey in order to protect them from the threat of development in the future. The Council can now designate areas as “Local Green Spaces” if certain conditions are satisfied. This is a new categorisation which can offer a high degree of protection against development to areas of importance to local communities. The MRA is pressing for a number of areas in Molesey to be included in this category, including Hurst Meadows, Hurst Park, Cigarette Island, our recreation grounds, Molesey Heath, Nielsons Field and the Wilderness. We also believe that the former Molesey Sewage Farm site, which the Council currently manages as a nature conservation area, should be incorporated into the Green Belt, so that it has the same status as Molesey Heath, which it adjoins.

Policies should also be put in place to protect and improve the air quality in Molesey, as more development will inevitably lead to increased road traffic.

If we are to sustain new development then infrastructure, in its broadest sense, must be improved. We need better bus services to encourage people to use public transport instead of cars. The Hampton Court train service needs to be improved. There are only two trains an hour, and these will be insufficient to cater for increased commuter usage, and the extra demand, particularly in the Summer, by visitors to Hampton Court Palace and events such as the annual Flower Festival. Another issue is that many commuters drive to Hampton Court station because it is within the Oyster & Travelcard Zones, increasing the problems caused by commuter parking in local streets.  If the Zone could be extended to include Esher Station that would relieve some of the pressure on Hampton Court station.

In terms of the provision of NHS Services, there are still issues surrounding the capacity of the current clinical services to provide all the necessary support required by the community. The MRA fought hard to prevent the closure of Molesey Hospital, and we support plans to redevelop it in the future as a modern clinical hub. The NHS should be asked to speed up its plans to bring forward and deliver the improved services that have been promised.

It is difficult to be prescriptive about what should be the maximum height of any new buildings, because with so many different individual settlement areas there must be flexibility in any planning policies to take account of where the new buildings are proposed. Excessive height, however, should generally be restricted in residential areas, and only considered in areas where they would not have a negative impact. The buildings currently under construction in Hansler Grove, for example, are effectively four storeys high, including accommodation in the roof space, and this requires additional height and depth. We would like to see a lower overall profile in future developments, particularly in residential areas.

For many years there has been more development in Molesey, including high density development, than other areas of the Borough. It is inevitable that opposing any release of some small areas of the Green Belt will result in more intensive development in Molesey, and this is why we would support a modified version of Option 2.

Yours Sincerely

Nigel Cooper

Molesey Residents Association