Agenda item

Questions from members of the public

The Leader, or his nominee, to answer any questions raised by members of the public in accordance with Standing Order 13.


The Mayor reported that, under Standing Order 14, 6 questions had been received from members of the public.


1.    Question from Nigel Rowe:


“Surrey 2050 has a long history. It seems clear from reading the documentation, the Surrey Interim Local Strategic Statement and Minutes of meetings of the EM3 Joint Leaders Board that decisions and commitments on the future development of Staines were made a very long time ago, based on proposals by or with the acquiescence of Spelthorne Borough Council to the Surrey Joint Leaders Board and Surrey Future Steering Board. The then Leader of SBC (Cllr Ian Harvey) was a member of the Surrey Joint Leaders board at the time. SBC’s Chief Executive was and still is a member of the Surrey Future Steering Board. The Council’s apparent long-standing commitment to EM3, to Staines as a ‘Step Up’ town, and to the Longcross-Staines-Heathrow corridor has major implications for how the town will develop and the need for a significant increase in its population. When does the Council plan to explain all of this to residents of Staines? Surrey County Council Leader Cllr Tim Oliver says it is important Surrey 2050 is something done “with” and not “to” the affected communities. Spelthorne Borough Council has a constitutional requirement “to work in partnership with residents to make Spelthorne a place where people are fully engaged, and to encourage the active involvement of the community in the decisions that affect them”. The community is surely entitled to know what ‘vision’ the Council has committed to for the future development of the town; how this vision will impact on the town’s amenity, townscape, skyline and character; and how the Council intends to deal with the high demands of its infrastructure requirements (schools, medical services, utility supply, road access to the town, etc)? Network Rail is mounting a drop-in exhibition and consultation on its plans to rebuild the Iron Bridge and has invited residents across Staines and on the other side of the Thames. Given such an exercise for such a comparatively minor undertaking, does the Council agree that it should mount a major drop-in exhibition and consultation over a few days to inform the residents of Staines on the planned dramatic transformation of the town and, if so, when can we expect it to happen?”


Response from Councillor Beardsmore, Chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee


“There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding in your question, so I am going to have to go into some detail and history in order to try and make sense of what you ask.


‘Step Up Staines’ was announced in a document issued by EM3 in March 2014. It is described on page ‘v’ of the executive summary of the document thus...


The following interventions have been assembled into integrated Growth Packages that

offer targeted solutions at three broad spatial levels:


Step Up Staines is one of the ‘interventions’ in spatial level 2.


In the previous year EM3 had already clarified the role of LEPs as:


organisations leading on plans for local growth and who, as announced in the Budget in March 2013, will have funding devolved to them from government from 2015.


So, by the end of 2013 EM3 were in control of our strategic growth. In fact, by 2014 EM3 had secured funding of £428m !  An eye watering amount. It is no accident that the start of this process of giving huge amounts of money to LEPs mirrors the start of austerity and wholesale cuts in funding to local authorities. In effect, we helped subsidise the LEP with service cuts.


Please note that LEPs are not accountable or subject to scrutiny in any way.  We  understand that their current board does have five councillors on it, including the leader of Surrey County Council, the deputy leader of Hampshire County Council and the Leader of Runnymede  Four of the five councillors are from the same political party. One is well known for having very close links with a major developer who I believe is Inland Homes.


In your question you refer to Councillor Ian Harvey. He only became a councillor in 2013 and like most other councillors would have known nothing about any of this.


This was the first iteration of the development of Staines


Fast Forward to 2018, where an EM3 report decided that Step Up Towns should become corridors. The reason for this seems to be that the step up towns have collectively failed to match expectation.


This was the second iteration of the development of Staines


Surrey Future Draft 1 2019


This is a very light document, however it does define the Longrcross/Staines/Heathrow  corridor and has this to say about Staines:


‘Regeneration to deliver improved commercial, retail and residential opportunities to support the sub-regional role of Staines is a priority of Enterprise M3 LEP’.


So Staines has again been promoted by EM3.  Pity they don’t seem to have told us. 


This was the third iteration of the development of Staines

So to our current situation.  The Surrey Place Ambition 2050 Draft Implementation Framework is a document that is merely pulling together existing/emerging strategies and local plans into one document across the County (effectively just collating in one place what is already known and in place or being worked on by all the districts and boroughs and others). As a footnote, EM3 have to date invested at least £10m into strategic infrastructure for Staines.


The amount of future development in Staines (and the associated infrastructure) is for the Staines Development Framework (SDF) to determine. The Surrey vision is simply stating that this document needs to be developed (it is not setting out any parameters in terms of what is expected). That decision sits solely with Spelthorne, and ultimately the Councillors who will approve the Local Plan and the draft Development Framework for submission to the Planning Inspectorate (known as Reg 19).


There is nothing new in this draft document that has not either been in the public domain for a number of years (Spelthorne Borough Council’s desire for a Southern Light Rail access from Staines-upon-Thames to Heathrow, and Staines as an EM3 Step Up Town), or is not being developed by Spelthorne Council and therefore in the public domain since work first started on the document (e.g. Staines Development Framework).


There will be a public consultation on the draft Staines Development Framework once the SDF Task Group are satisfied that the draft is ready to be formally considered by the Local Plan Task Group and Environment and Sustainability (E&S) Committee. A consultation programme will be laid out when those documents are considered by the E&S committee. However, officers can confirm now that the intention is (COVID variants permitting) that these will be in-person events with Staines to ensure residents visitors and businesses have the opportunity to understand what that proposal is, and for them to feed in their thoughts.


We welcome this change and apparent opening up of the strategic process, because for the first time in 8 years we actually get a say in our future.


In terms of a public meeting, I absolutely agree that these are hugely important, but logically they need to be done at the start of the process where they can have a real influence. Spelthorne did just this. The statutory consultation to launch a Reg 18 draft Preferred Options Consultation on a Local Plan is six weeks. Spelthorne’s was eleven ! (Between 5 November 2019 and 11 January 2020). More importantly within that there were NINE public meetings open to any resident in the Borough. 511 residents and RA reps attended those meetings. They could submit prepared questions or ask any question they liked on the night. Other consultation included a special edition of the Borough Bulletin with an 8 page pull out, a dedicated consultation page with a purpose built on line portal for responses, presentation to councillors and Residents Associations plus over 1,200 emails and around 240 letters to stakeholders on our consultation database.


All this input played a major role in shaping our policy. The one thing Spelthorne can say with confidence is that our emerging plan has gone far beyond statutory requirements in obtaining and incorporating the views of our residents.”


2.    Question from Nigel Rowe:


“As we understand it, there are two routes to securing a lower housing ‘target’ for the borough. One would be for Spelthorne to present the Planning Inspectorate with a Local Plan supported by a compelling case that justifies a departure from the national standard methodology. The other is to persuade the relevant government department to make an exception for Spelthorne and apply a different methodology to this borough. Does the Council believe the case it has put to Kwasi Kwarteng MP in response to his offer last summer to assist the Council in its endeavours to secure a lower number is compelling and persuasive, and, if it does, why has it steadfastly refused to pursue the first option via its Local Plan and instead opted to rely on the government making an exception for Spelthorne?”


Response from the Councillor Beardsmore, Chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee


It is a question of the rules we have to operate under. It is cheap and easy for a minister to claim our housing number is not mandatory. He simply leaves out key pieces of information.   Firstly, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is absolutely clear that all councils must always try to meet their housing need figure. Following on from that, all councils must make maximum use of any brownfield sites they have available.  Because of the proposed zoning in Staines, Spelthorne would fail this test. As such we would have no grounds to seek a lower housing number.  Until these rules change, we are stuck in terms of sound process.


In terms of the housing need figure the Council has made several representations to Mr Kwarteng and to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities concerning the high level of housing need for the Borough. The most recent letter from the Leader of the Council was sent in November 2021 and sets out clearly residents’ concerns over the high housing number and the impacts on Green Belt and the character of the Borough with high rise development. 


This letter also sets out that the continued use of 2014-household projections as a basis for the standard methodology is unsound, given the projected slowdown in population growth from the latest figures. The standard methodology uses a formula to identify the minimum number of homes expected to be planned for, as a means of addressing projected household growth and historic under-supply. These projections, in conjunction with the amount of Green Belt and waterbodies in the Borough, remain robust reasons for reducing the Borough’s housing requirement. 


Whilst we continue to push for a revised methodology, the most effective means of protecting the Borough from unplanned and speculative development is to have an up-to-date Local Plan in place. At present, no Local Planning Authority has been successful in having a Plan adopted where their housing figure is below that set out by the standard method, since transition arrangements ceased to apply. By delaying the Local Plan, Spelthorne is at risk of being subject to continued applications for unplanned development. This vulnerability is hugely damaging to the Borough as shown by the recent appeal decision for Elmsleigh Road by Inland Homes, where the Planning Inspector clearly set out that the Borough’s under delivery of housing and lack of five-year housing land supply were key factors in allowing the development and were given ‘significant’ weight. This argument was also successful at appeal when the Council’s decision on Bugle Nurseries in the Green Belt was overturned. An adopted Local Plan will ensure that the Borough has sufficient housing supply which can be delivered in a managed way to minimise impacts in Spelthorne.


It is a simple fact that despite many attempts, no-one using the 2017 methodology has been able to get their housing numbers reduced. We are already facing two examples of predatory development, and the longer we go without a draft plan the greater the risk of more such attempts being made.


3.    Question from Nigel Rowe:


“Why has the Council not yet published a summary (called for by the Environment & Sustainability Committee last October) of the findings of its public consultation last summer on the future development of Staines, what conclusions has the Council drawn from the findings of the consultation, and why has it not committed to take any account of these findings/conclusions in its development plans for the town? To simply state that the consultation will inform work on the Local plan means nothing if there is not clarity on the conclusions the Council has drawn from it and those aspects it accepts must be accommodated.”


Response from the Councillor Beardsmore, Chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee


“Two summaries of the Staines Development Framework (SDF) Objectives and Options report were produced: a summary produced by consultants David Lock Associates (DLA) at the request of Members and a comprehensive report produced by Officers, which contains tables of every response, sorted by frequency.  The SDF web page was updated between the 18 and 26 January 2022 and the report produced by DLA was mistakenly deleted from the web page. It was reinstated on 9 February 2022. The officer report has remained on the website from its publication in October. It is also on the website as an appendix to the Environment & Sustainability (E&S) Committee report from October 2021.


The comments from the consultation opposing high rise in Staines are noted and are being considered by Members of the Staines Development Task Group and DLA. The extent to which they will be committed to in the draft SDF depends on whether they can be incorporated into sound policy that will withstand scrutiny by an inspector at Examination in Public of this document and the Local Plan. We have already shown through consideration of zoning proposals for more sensitive areas of the town that we are trying to accommodate the reasonable wishes and expectations of our residents in a way that we believe will withstand that scrutiny in the face of national policy that seeks to optimise densities on brownfield land and in town centres. None of the contents in the draft SDF can be formally ‘accepted’ for inclusion until considered by the E&S Committee when it is asked to agree the draft for consultation as the Task Group is not a decision-making body.”


4.    Question from Nigel Rowe:


“A large proportion of flats in new high-rise tower blocks are often bought by buy-to-let investors or overseas buyers, some apparently happy to let them remain unoccupied while the value of their investment grows or simply as a depository for their funds. This is already happening in Staines, with flats in new apartment blocks being advertised worldwide. Does the Council agree it should insist that developers allocate a high/defined number of flats in any new tower block development for sale to owner-occupiers only and, if the answer to this is ‘yes’, will it seek urgently to overcome whatever obstacles there are to achieving this?”


Response from the Councillor Beardsmore, Chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee


“The issue of buy-to-let investors who are just looking to make a quick profit by growing the value of their funds through capital appreciation is, unfortunately, not just a problem being faced by Spelthorne; it has rippled out from London and will apply to a large number of areas within the south-east.


Some councillors and residents will be aware that Australia does have very strict rules. All foreign non-residents and holders of short-term visas have to apply to the Foreign Investment Review Board if they want to buy property. Its rules state that they can do so only if their investment leads to an increase in available dwellings.


Last year (April 2021) the Government introduced a 2% surcharge on stamp duty land tax for non-UK buyers of UK residential property. This applies to existing homes, buildings under construction and off-plan purchases. The surcharge has been introduced to pay for more affordable housing for UK residents. As we understand it, the Government is not planning to change stamp duty in the short term. Locally, Spelthorne is now applying the unoccupied surcharge on wherever it can.

Government advice dating back as far as the now superseded Circular 11/95 has made it very clear that there is seldom good reason to restrict the occupancy of houses. The underlying government  principle is that undue restrictions would interfere too greatly in the rights of individual owners. The current Planning Policy Guidance advice is the “Planning permission usually runs with the land and it is rarely appropriate to provide otherwise. There may be exceptional occasions where development that would not normally be permitted may be justified on planning grounds because of who would benefit from the permission… A condition limiting the benefit of the permission to a company is inappropriate because its shares can be transferred to other persons without affecting the legal personality of the company”.

Despite numerous opportunities, no government of any political complexion has sought to change this.


It should be remembered that developments undertaken by Spelthorne Borough Council are intended to be directly let, ensuring full occupation.”


5.    Question from Nigel Rowe:


“The chair of the Environment & Sustainability Committee, who is also chair of the Local Plan Task Group, some time ago proposed a zoning approach for new developments in Staines. This would restrict the height of new developments to defined limits close to the river Thames and adjacent to existing residential areas. This was enthusiastically welcomed by residents and embraced by the Staines Development Framework Task Group. What is the current status of this proposal, and can we be assured it will be enshrined in the new Local Plan and strictly adhered to?”


Response from the Councillor Beardsmore, Chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee


“To expand on the answer to Question 3 already given, at the time of speaking the proposals for zoning certain areas of the town to limit heights and densities remain at the forefront of discussions with the Staines Development Task Group and we anticipate they will feature in the Staines Development Framework. As already stated, the Task Group is not a decision-making body and reports to the Environment & Sustainability Committee, which will be called upon to agree the draft for public consultation, together with the Local Plan. Our ability to include the zoning proposals is dependent on a strategy that meets our housing need in full, so that we are able to argue that we have a sound plan that, although not optimising densities in all areas of the town, still delivers overall on our housing needs for the Borough as a whole.”


6.    Question from Kath Sanders:


“Thank you very much to Cllr Beardsmore for the answer to my question in December about the 2021/22 Green Initiatives Fund and how much of the £747k had been allocated as of 30th September 2021. It was also good to see the information on the bidding process discussed at the Environment & Sustainability meeting on 18th January 2022 (Item 11/22).


Please would it now be possible for residents to get a further update as to how much of the £39k Green Better Neighbourhood Grant element has been allocated as of 31st December 2021 and what further progress has been made in terms of utilising the remaining funds this year (or whether agreement has been reached to rollover and potentially add to the Green Initiatives Fund in the next fiscal year)? Thank you.


Response from the Councillor Beardsmore, Chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee


Thank you for your question, Ms Sanders.  As you have outlined, we have allocated £39,000 from our Green Initiatives Fund for Green Better Neighbourhood Grants.  Councillors have been asked to submit their proposals for allocating these grants, with the closing date for responses being 28 February.  To date, we have received applications to the value of £11,252 and expect to receive more bids by the close of business next Monday. 


Alongside these projects, the Council has also received requests to utilise the Green Initiatives Fund for a range of other initiatives and the following proposals are being put forward to the Environment and Sustainability Committee for consideration at their meeting in March (as of 22 February 2022 these are): 


·         £20,000 towards Phase 1 of the Local Walking Cycling Infrastructure   Plan 

·         £49,000 (including on-costs) for a Climate Change Officer post 

·         £9,000 for an energy audit of the Council’s main buildings to identify opportunities for reducing energy and implementation of renewable energy schemes 

·         £2,000 for membership of Association for Public Service Excellence, which provides access to climate change best practice information and knowledge, and access to studies 

·         £3,000 for training staff to embed consideration of climate change in all aspects of the Council’s work 

·         £5,000 membership of Colne Valley Partnership to open up opportunities for accessing funding for projects along the River Colne 

·         £7,500 towards electric mopeds for the parking services team 


Carry over of any unused funds will be a matter for councillors as part of the forthcoming outturn process. 









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