Surrey Fire and Rescue Service Consultation

You may have seen advertised the consultation into fire services in Surrey. Not a Borough matter, however due to our close proximity to Heathlands and their tendency to catch fire, I do talk to SCC Councillor colleagues about the fire service and I was very pleased when dedicated heathlands fire fighting equipment was introduced to Woking Fire Station.

Both Guildford and Woking have had brand new, state of the art, Fire Stations built and opened in the past three years. Surrey Fire and Rescue was recently exempted from making financial savings, and was allocated an extra £900,000 for 2019 for new fire engines, recruitment of new staff and changing its services.

Over the past 10 years the number of fires in Surrey has reduced by 50%, but in the same period road traffic accidents (RTAs) have increased by 50%. And more people die by drowning in our rivers than in RTAs. So Surrey Fire and Rescue are looking to reconfigure their services to the demand with more emphasis on preventative work.

There is a current consultation on changes. A three month public consultation about Surrey’s fire and rescue service began in March and closes in late May 2019. Details below.

The three proposals for 2020-2023 are:

1) Spending more time on community and business safety to help prevent emergencies occurring in the first place. When firefighters and fire engines aren’t needed at 999 calls, Surrey Fire and Rescue will be undertaking more community safety work to prevent incidents occurring in the first place. Much of this is done during the day when people are at school, work, home and most active in the community, some of this would also be done during night shifts. For example , Surrey Fire and Rescue works very closely with Adult Social Care, to visit elderly and vulnerable residents.

2) Maintaining the number of fire stations in Surrey and changing how some of them are crewed. Independently verified risk analysis shows that Surrey needs 20 fire engines during the day and 16 at night to keep Surrey safe. The proposal would mean we have more fire engines than this – this additional capacity allows extra resilience for larger and longer emergencies as well as training and practice in the increasing variety of emergencies our firefighters now respond to. Changes are also proposed to widen the catchment for on-call firefighters in some areas to assist with recruitment.

3) Recovering costs from some non-emergencies to reinvest in SFRS. It’s being considered looking at charging for some 999 calls which are false reports of fire, and animal rescues, to reinvest into the service.

These proposals are based on a detailed analysis of the risks that exist in Surrey, including understanding where the most vulnerable people are, and ensuring that Surrey Fire and Rescue have the cover needed to keep Surrey safe.

Information about risks is used to decide how best to allocate fire and rescue staff, resources and equipment to prevent these risks from happening and plan how best to respond to them if they do; this enables Surrey Fire and Rescue to focus its prevention activities on the areas where they’re most needed and have the most impact. This is a key element of the plan which proposes a shift in focus from mainly responding to emergencies to being better at preventing them in the first place. Naturally, the service is still focussed on providing the best service that it can to all residents and continuing to prioritise responding quickly to emergencies.

There is a Community Risk Profile that also explains more about how SCC and the Fire Service assess and address the risks in Surrey. Not only are there fewer calls during the night, but the risk picture also changes. For example, there are fewer people driving so there is less risk from road traffic collisions.

The Service has also welcomed 24 new recruits to Fire and Rescue HQ this year, 12 from Surrey, eight from West Sussex and four from East Sussex as part of a joint training course.

The full plan, summary document, online survey and equality impact assessment are available to comment until 26 May 2019. Please give your views in the consultation. The consultation may be examined and responded to by following this link.

Thanks to Guildford Cllrs Elms, Paul and Witham for much of the copy written here.

Cheers.

Kevin

West Hill Cottages

I’ve seen a rumour circulating regarding the two properties facing Brookwood Crossroads suggesting that they are in a poor state of repair and will be knocked down. It’s untrue, so please don’t believe it.

The truth is very simple. Both properties have been acquired as a portion of the land will be used to improve the crossroads. This has been done on the basis of a willing seller (in both cases). To be clear, when agents of WBC contacted the owners of the properties to enquire as to whether they would be happy to sell to the Council, they confirmed they were and the deals have now been done.

The intent has not changed in over two years which is why I’m surprised someone with absolutely no knowledge has made stories up. The plan has been for the work to be done, which will likely involve removing the tree and the hedge, widening the carriageway and then building a wall at the new boundary. The properties would then go back on the market so that someone else could enjoy these quirky dwellings.

WBC doesn’t want the properties, but it is easier to do the kind of work required here with full ownership of the land in place rather than trying to negotiate with residents and buying a small parcel of land.

If the Council Tax payer is lucky, once all the works are done and the wall built, the properties will be worth more than they are currently. The area will certainly look nicer without the hedge and we’ll be able to see those beautiful cottages once again.

As always, contact me if you have any concerns about the goings on in Heathlands and remember that stuff written on social media is often based on opinion rather than facts unless backed up with evidenced links.

Cheers.

Kevin

Brookwood Lye Development

I recently caught up with the project manager in Thameswey responsible for the development at Brookwood Lye. To recap, Thameswey is WBC’s housing delivery company and currently owns most of the site and will select a builder to build out the site once planning has been approved.

I’m wary of giving dates, because so far all dates I’ve provided have been woefully optimistic and as far as I’m concerned we’re about one year behind where I wanted to be.

A previous application was submitted in October 2017 and a number of issues were raised by me, the Environment Agency, WBC’s drainage engineer and the Local Planning Authority. It is the concerns raised at this time that have caused the delay. My primary issue was one of the blocks of flats that was close to the Brookwood Lye Road. It was too close and was out of character for the street scene. This has been changed, as has, the large block of flats abutting the railway line which has now been split into three buildings.

The total number of dwellings has stayed the same at 126, and I’ve received no indication that the mix will change, i.e. 50 sell at market value, 50 affordable rent and 26 sell at an affordable level. All the affordable dwellings will have a local first policy for a short period before being opened up to the rest of the borough residents.

I will have a stab at timescales. The new planning application was due to be submitted before May. If that runs through the process smoothly, we can expect it to be at Committee in September. It is unlikely to be presented to Committee unless the chances of it being granted are high, so assuming it is granted permission in September, the current view is that clearing the site will begin over the winter period and building would start in the spring 2020. Take this paragraph with a pinch of salt because I’ve been wrong every time so far!

I think the cross road improvements will come along during the development although I’m not currently up to speed on the latest proposals. They are still making their way through the SCC/WBC Joint Committee.

As ever, happy to answer any questions on this if you have any, and once I have more information, I will publish it here.

Cheers.

Kevin

Voter ID

In the forthcoming election on 2nd May, Woking Borough Council is once again taking part in the Voter ID trial. Like last time, I support this initiative and personally believe it strange that one can vote without showing ID in something as important as local and national elections that drive the lives of millions of people, yet need to provide ID to do very basic tasks elsewhere in life.

Nobody is disenfranchised by this as WBC will accept a wide variety of IDs, and if someone does not have any acceptable ID, they can apply for a Local Elector’s Card. WBC will even assist with the required photograph if necessary.

Please see the following website for details: https://www.woking.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/voter-id

Cheers.

Kevin

Brookwood Cemetery

I’ve not had much to write about recently, but have planned a couple of posts on Brookwood Cemetery and the Brookwood Lye Development. I’m still waiting for some info regarding the Lye, but will cover the Cemetery now.

WBC acquired Brookwood Cemetery a few years ago with the goal of saving our heritage and then improving the cemetery and returning it to its Victorian roots as a Victorian park area. Since then, an enormous amount of work has gone on and last year won an award for the best large cemetery in the country. I asked the person responsible for the cemetery for an update.

Brookwood Cemetery are  part way through the rebuilding of some 350m (10%) of boundary wall which was identified as being structurally unsound. This has necessitated the use of peak hour traffic lights on the A322 and temporary lights on Cemetery Pales. The wall is being rebuilt to modern design standards with special coping bricks purpose made to match the existing. Unfortunately emergency works by UKPN meant the agreed programme of works with Surrey Highways on the A322 were delayed and as no works are allowed on the road during December the decision was taken to stop work entirely and recommence in the Spring when hopefully there will be less risk of adverse weather.

A contract for entirely cemetery new signage has recently been let and this will start to appear in the cemetery around Easter time. This is intended to create a single unified image and do away with the plethora of different signs. New notice boards, signposting and interpretation panels are all included as part of this project. Additional brown highways signs are being put up for those travelling from the Aldershot direction to better signpost drivers to the appropriate cemetery.

A contract for the restoration of the Colquhoun chapel within the cemetery has also been let to a specialist restoration company and will start in April.

Staff facilities have been improved and upgraded.

New digital cctv has been installed and is being commissioned.

A planning consultancy have been appointed and are producing a masterplan for the cemetery which should be complete by late Summer. This will help the cemetery in attracting further funding from groups such as the heritage lottery fund.

Cheers.

Kevin

Council Tax Survey

The Police and Crime Commissioner is seeking views from residents regarding a potential increase in his element of the Council Tax to directly fund additional police officers.

I have responded, and I would encourage everyone to fill in the survey. It took me three minutes and that included filling in text box with additional information.

The survey can be found here: http://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/CouncilTax201920/

The survey closes in two weeks’ time on 28 January.

Cheers.

Kevin

Brookwood Railway Station Update

Since my last post, there have been a couple of meetings in the background to understand what is being proposed.

Firstly, I’d like to say that what I write here is what I know about the proposals. It was disheartening to hear people state that access would be permanently blocked to the cemetery and then saying that the information had come from my blog. I had to go back and check what I’d written to make sure it was accurate. It was. The rumour mill had kicked it, Chinese whispers had distorted the truth and upset people needlessly.

At the end of October, senior representatives from WBC, the Cemetery, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), the American Battlements Monuments Commission (ABMC) and Southwestern Railway (SWR) met up to understand more.

SWR presented their data for determining the proposals and we argued that the data was flawed and that other possible options hadn’t been considered. It was agreed to meet at the station to look at it in more detail. That meeting happened on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, we had an opportunity to examine my preferred option which is to put a gate line (ticket barriers) at Platform Two and a gate line at Platform One. The principal idea was to open up the redundant rooms on Platform Two and use the space. SWR argued this wasn’t possible because of regulations concerning evacuating platforms in emergency situations and regulations concerning the number of people that could pass through the gate line and be funnelled down the stairs. They also argued that if this was to occur, the design on Platform One wouldn’t work currently and that also had issues with alternative proposals. Personally, I think the proposals can be accommodated if the will is there and that it’s 100% down to money as a second gate line will instantly add about £250k before any enabling works are done. The will isn’t there.

The discussions also covered the access proposals to the cemetery and the disabled access to Platform One to fully understand what is being proposed. The proposal is for magnetically locked doors that will be opened by an intercom / buzzer. Crucially, in an emergency or when there is no one operating the gate line, the doors will be open.

The existing foldaway gate at the cemetery entrance will stay in place and continue to operate as it does now.

I thought that even exposing the issue around the gate line not preventing people bunking the trains with people claiming to be going to the cemetery and then boarding a train would carry weight. It did not. We are dealing with a project team that has to implement a solution as per the agreement with the Department for Transport (DfT) when being awarded the franchise. It’s a box ticking exercise and whether it actually improves revenue collection is a secondary matter as far as I can see.

So, where are we then? Well, the reality is that access to the cemetery isn’t being blocked. Access to the cemetery is being controlled when the station is manned and is uncontrolled when the station isn’t manned.

There are no further meetings planned to discuss this. The other thing to note is that the timescales have slipped and it is now summertime next year when SWR are looking to do the work. They have promised to keep me in the loop.

Cheers.

Kevin