Message from the Leader - October
It was with considerable regret that the Cabinet agreed on 24 September to defer the Local Plan for a further period. With a general election seeming almost certain in November or December we were aware that, in that event, the timetable that was then in place would put the whole consultation period in jeopardy, primarily because of purdah requirements over which we have no control.
Given the importance to the outcome of an extensive and comprehensive consultation, that was not a situation that we believed it was sensible to risk. A timetable for publication and consultation early in the New Year had been prepared.
On 31 July, Councillor Margaret Cooksey (the Cabinet Planning portfolio holder), senior planning officers and I met with senior civil servants at the Department of Housing and Local Government to put the Council's case for reducing the number of housing units that Government required us to provide for in the Local Plan. The Secretary of State and his Ministers were not available. The officers that we met listened carefully to our case but we left with the impression that the Government was not prepared to budge on its required housing demands unless a very sound case backed by public support could be argued. That is the extent of our task.
Surrey districts are all at different stages of Local Plan development which explains why there currently appears to be little appetite for a joint approach to Government to resist green belt development. However, we all face future potential incursions into Green Belt that will be opposed by residents. Last week I raised, at the meeting of Surrey Leaders, the issue of a joint approach to the new Government following the general election, and I will pursue that course of action as soon as that Government is in place.
The operation of the waste contract that we inherited from the previous administration continues to be a cause of serious concern. Through the continued efforts of our officers and Cabinet colleagues there have been improvements in operation, but that does not mask some very serious failings. A new plan to make the service more resilient has been shared with us and Councillor Claire Malcomson (the Cabinet Environment portfolio holder) and I met with senior officers from Joint Waste Solutions on Wednesday 9 October to discuss the way forward, and we are now seeking an urgent face-to-face meeting with the contractors, Amey. We are absolutely committed to provide service improvements for residents.
The County Council will make its final decision about the future of the Dorking tip later this month but, at the County Council meeting on 8 October, the Leader confirmed that all recycling centres would remain open. It is clear that pressure from this Council and from residents have played an important part in this policy reversal. Later this month, Councillor Malcomson and I will be undertaking further discussions with Councillor Goodman (the County Council's Cabinet member for Environment and Waste), about how Mole Valley and the County can co-operate on the climate change agenda - and we will be pressing for more facilities at our Recycling Centres as part of those discussions.
The work that began a few months ago to change our governance structure with a view to moving to a committee system is proceeding apace. There will be a seminar for all Councillors later this month to consider the options available this year ahead of the submission of formal proposals to Council.
The Cabinet Working Group on Car Parking is now meeting regularly and it is expected that recommendations will be coming forward for consideration towards the end of the year.
We have been working across the summer on amending the annual council plan that we inherited from the previous administration to incorporate new policies that we believe can be implemented before the end of the 2019-2020 Financial Year. These were considered by Scrutiny Committee on 9 October and will be put forward for Cabinet approval on 22 October. It is a challenging programme which includes a range of initiatives to develop our climate change strategy, continued priority for the Transform Leatherhead project and the launch of the promised 'Opportunity Dorking' initiative.
A couple of weeks ago the Council was informed about its successful award of a £50,000 Government grant to help tackle unauthorised development, particularly in the green belt. This is especially pleasing because the Council has been working very hard to improve its planning enforcement service. This grant will allow the Council to build on this progress even further by enhancing officers' prosecution skills and experience, in addition to establishing better processes with regard to how we carry out investigations in both the short and long-term.
And finally, I would like to celebrate a service which doesn't often feature in our reports, our benefits service. When residents need this service they inevitably require help as quickly as possible. Across the country the average time to process a new claim is 21 days - I'm really pleased to report that the average processing time in Mole Valley is 10.2 days and I would like to congratulate our officers on achieving this level of response.
Councillor Stephen Cooksey
Leader of the Council