Monday, 9th October 2017

Dark Days, then the Treasure!

Dark Days, then the Treasure!

This has been a frustrating time of late but occasionally it is possible to find a clearing in the forest, a shaft of light in the dark.

I went to see the Leader of the County Council last week out of sheer frustration at the time it has taken for an analysis to be produced of how we could prevent so many homes being affected by serious flooding, as they were last year. 186 homes are at risk in a “one in a hundred year event”, but as we all know, one in a hundred is becoming one in ten.

WS Atkins are commissioned to provide the report and I was shown a draft, which needs more work.

£2m for a bund (small dam) in Queen’s Park. Works to form a pond downstream. No firm number yet as to total cost, or how many homes can be made safe. I will keep you informed.

There was a promise from the Leader of SCC that when the Dormers site is re-developed a proportion of the capital receipts will be spent on Caterham on the Hill flood relief. The rest will have to be sought from the Environment Agency. The case is good- more homes were affected here than in the recent Somerset floods, which were all over the news.

I have since learnt that the Leader is planning to form a joint venture company with a property firm to develop a number of sites the County owns. Astonishingly, the valuation on the Dormers site is £1.9m. Heaven knows what they plan to build there to justify that valuation. I will have to fight a strong campaign to defend the interests of nearby residents in Foxon Lane when the planning application comes forward. We want the site put to good use, but not “overdeveloped”.

We have to acknowledge the severe housing shortage in the South East. The issue is what we do about it. The government is concerned, rightly in my view, about the gap between local average earnings and the price of a house. I would prefer the government to look closely at the size of the deposit required for a purchase. The “Help to Buy” scheme does assist with this, but the scale of it is too small to make a real difference.

There is much concern about the Local Plan- a document on which the consultation is just closing as I write. TDC is obliged by the government to produce a Local Plan which will guarantee housing supply through till 2030. Consultants produced an “Objective Assessment of Need” a while ago which indicated that 9400 houses should be built in Tandridge- which is 94% Green Belt. In a way, that is not really the point. TDC must convince a Government Inspector (for those who have read Gogol- yes, there is an analogy)  that it is doing all it can to deliver the housing need, given the constraints of the Green Belt.

There is widespread concern over this number, but I can’t see it being delivered. On the contrary, TDC will be able to show in my view that it will struggle to deliver more than 7500. The proposed Garden Village could deliver 4000, current permissions and windfalls could deliver maybe 2000 and sites which are in the Green Belt but which do not meet the Green Belt purposes might deliver 1400. TDC will be able to demonstrate that if the government doesn’t change the rules on the Green Belt, it can’t build more than that number. This is my, relatively well informed, view, but I may well be wrong.

My support for the garden village option is partly predicated on this understanding and partly on the absolute requirement to deliver better infrastructure- like improvements to Junction 6 of the M25 and the widening of the A22. The real “line in the sand” is of course no more significant development in Caterham on the Hill.

There needs to be a grown up conversation about how our housing needs can be met without a quasi religious commitment to saving all the Green Belt. There are bits of it which contribute nothing and could be developed. Atavistic shibboleths do nothing to help form public policy. I will speak up to this effect at the Tandridge Council meeting on Thursday (12th October.)

As I write I am also preparing for the full Council meeting at Surrey (Tuesday 10th October.) In this case I will have to return to the issue of Housing Related Support funding- not because I believe the Council will change its mind- of course it won’t- but rather because the cut is a symptom of a fundamental weakness in the Council’s budget planning. As I pointed out to the Cabinet, a cut in funding which keeps vulnerable elderly people at home will produce a demand down the line- in say 18 months, for adult social care. That bill will be more than 50 times the saving in cutting HRS.

This approach to making the required budget savings is deeply flawed therefore and is symptomatic of a belief, somewhere in the corridors of County Hall, that the government will change its mind and bail out the County Council with a larger settlement before all these new cost pressures manifest themselves. It won’t. The County Council will go bust. It can predict what its income will be between now and 2020, and it can model, if it could be bothered, the potential call on its expenditure from children’s services (due to be inspected by Ofsted again soon), adult social care, and all the other demands made upon it. The funding gap should be shared with residents rather than consultations on piecemeal salami slicing of front line services.

I believe it should be absolutely transparent with Surrey residents and share that modelling. I believe it should look inside itself and ensure that its internal costs are cut to a minimum (why are we being asked to accept an increase in the allowance for Cabinet members of nearly £2000 to £24,402 in the current climate? That is truly shocking!)

When I see that modelling, and when I am convinced that its internal costs are properly under control, I will write to the Surrey MPs and make a case for a bail out. At the moment I can’t do that.

Sometimes things fall into place to remind you of why you wade through all this murky water. Some while ago I was concerned that there were inadequate counselling services locally for families, especially for those so badly affected by the floods and the trauma of being out of their homes.

I rambled on about this to a few people, including the Parish Council, and the senior partner, Dr Tony Clarke, at my local surgery. It occurred to me that the local Children’s Centre had staff trained to support mums, children and even dads, but I was not sure whether they had the capacity to provide a support service outside their Children’s Centre brief.

Well they do, and when I sat the wonderful Linda Smith, Children’s Centre manager, and Dr Clarke and Dr Newbon down with each other it was obvious that this was a potential partnership of immense significance.

So from the first week of November, doctors at Townhill surgery will be able to refer patients for support. Appointments will be available at the surgery on Fridays. Mums concerned about the very long waits for children’s mental health referrals or speech and language therapy will be able to see their children access support straight away from trained counsellors and adults struggling with managing a range of problems will have access to counselling. This will be a pilot project and if it works (which it will) we will find ways to roll it out to other surgeries.

Sometimes there is treasure to be found!