“Madam Mayor, may I again congratulate you upon your appointment and wish you a very positive year. May I also thank the Council for continuing to support me as its Leader.
“Members will know that for me the result of the local election was a mixed blessing. It is good to welcome back those Members who sought re-election and to welcome three new Members: Gary Elson, Rob Leach and James Sanderson; all of whom are making a return to this Chamber. I hope all Members will make a positive contribution to our future deliberations.
“Unfortunately for those of us who are, and have remained Conservatives, we were faced in the local election with many challenges over the Members of Parliament inability to work together to deliver Brexit. Despite our efforts to distance the ‘national’ issue from the ‘local’ election, it was clear that residents were very unhappy about the performance of our Government; sadly a feeling I share. Looking across Surrey, we did however do better than most. I believe this reflects that many electors recognise the very positive things this Council has done under Conservative leadership in recent years.
“Madam Mayor, as I have said before that whilst we have led, it is only thanks to positive cross party working that we have been as successful as we have. Accordingly with the election result leaving the Conservative Party with 14 seats and the Liberal Democrat Party with 10 seats, I approached the Leader of the Liberal Democrat’s, Councillor Anne-Marie Barker, and suggested that we could, as we have done in the past, have a shared Executive. Our discussions were positive, but Councillor Barker decided not to take seats on the Executive, but to seek to take Chairmanships of all Committees except Standards. We will respect that decision and not oppose Liberal Democrat nominations tonight.
“Last year I said that as a Council we need to listen more and explain better. I believe we have been trying to do this but, as always, one can do better. Talking to residents on the doorsteps, apart from Brexit, there were a number of issues which people raised.
“One was infrastructure where people are genuinely concerned about the need to provide additional infrastructure to cope with the increase in population. I believe we in Woking have provided more new infrastructure than most other Surrey authorities, but we have failed to communicate what we have done. I have, therefore, asked officers to identify all the infrastructure we have delivered over the past 10 years, which we will publish so that residents can see what we have done and indeed what we are going to do in the future.
“Another area of concern was over the town centre development. Everybody I spoke to was negative about the disruption caused by road works and car park closures. I received some very positive comments about the town centre development itself and, of course, there were negative comments as well. I believe we have to be honest with residents.
“We need to deliver 292 homes every year until 2027. A target we are not currently reaching. As a Council faced with this choice we decided we would rather deliver a large part of this in the town centre, rather than either build on our green belt or indeed build to 10 storeys in our villages. I still believe our residents would prefer we built in our town centre rather than increase the density in our villages or build on the green belt.
“You only have to look at the results in Tandridge, Guildford or Waverley to see what happens if you do not have a robust plan and, as a consequence, you have to build in the green belt.
“I am sure there will be things about which we may disagree; hopefully only a few. However, I know that many of our policies and actions are supported widely across the Chamber. I will strive to deliver the policies and priorities we have agreed. I list some, but by no means all, and I hope, we can successfully deliver these together.
- Completion of Victoria Square
- Revitalisation of Woking town centre
- Redevelopment of Sheerwater
- New Housing Revenue Account homes for families on low income
- New low cost homes through Thameswey for families on low income
- Integration of children centres on behalf of Surrey County Council
- Integrated family and mid-wife services in the town centre library
- Increased support for those living alone
- A new special needs school by Surrey County Council at Brookwood Farm
- Green infrastructure and environmental projects
- Continued improvement of Brookwood Cemetery
- Economic vitality of the borough.
“Madam Mayor, as they say ‘we live in interesting times’. I hope all of us in this Chamber will do our utmost to make the conduct of our meetings both friendly and positive. We owe this to the people of Woking and we owe it to you.”
Councillor David Bittleston, 20 May 2019