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Open BRA meetings become the norm – for now

April 26, 2007: The Bookham Residents' Association (BRA) has entered a new phase with the decision at last month's AGM to launch a six-month trial of public committee meetings. As reported here on March 27, the BRA's executive committee had voted for the change by 12 to one. The AGM, held in the Baptist Hall on April 26, overwhelmingly endorsed the change.

The trial cannot start until the autumn, said BRA executive committee chairman Peter Seaward, and next year's AGM would ratify the change.

The motion proposed that, 'Any member is welcome to attend meetings of the executive committee as an observer. If any such member wishes to raise a question at a meeting of the Executive Committee then it must be put forward in writing to the Secretary, who shall receive it at least one week before the meeting is due to take place.'

But BRA members had better behave themselves. The motion goes on to propose that the chairman at any executive committee meeting can ask any member to leave if two thirds of those present vote that the member's 'continued presence… would, by reason of their conduct, be detrimental to the executive committee's ability to pursue the objects of the association.'

This departs from the original wording proposed, which suggested that a member may be asked to leave at the chairman's discretion 'if sensitive or personal matters are to be discussed.'

Seaward did not say how the trial would be judged successful or not. Neither did he say whether the committee or BRA members would make that judgement.

After SC21 had outlined the proposal one member asked from the floor why questions should be submitted in advance of meetings: 'If you hear something you may have questions about it. If you can't ask questions there's little point in attending.

BRA secretary Iden Coleman answered that each of these meetings is a formal committee meeting, 'and it has to be run to a strict time. If it became a free-for-all for discussion it would be totally unmanageable.' The change meant that members could now 'hear what we are talking about, they can read it on noticeboards, they can read about it in the broadsheets and on the website.'

Another member wondered whether the change would mean the meeting had to use larger premises at greater expense to the association. Seaward said the association would have to deal with that when it happened.

'Local infrastructure is threatened by infill' – BRA

The Bookham Residents' Association (BRA) is trying to get a discussion started about the local infrastructure. Seaward told the BRA's AGM on April 26: “A lot of infill development goes on,' but too little consideration is given to the resulting pressure this puts on schools, roads and so on.

The SCC's severe budget problems – the roads budget is £16m across the county – mean there is no money for roads over the next two years, which Seaward said made him 'rather depressed'.

The BRA meets Surrey highways every three months in Limbra [h] and the BRA has been using these meetings to try to get improvements. Bookham's east-west routes had been resurfaced over recent years and the north-south routes through the village, particularly Eastwick Road, now needed attention. Minor roads like Twelve Acre Close and Merrylands now needed repairs.

A few good things had happened, Seaward reported. Some work had been done in Dorking Road and there was hope of curing flooding at the bottom of East Street. The squareabout, however, was suffering because of a drainage problem.

The systems for reporting potholes and flooding had improved. There are now several ways to report potholes, said Seaward, and he encourage BRA members to ring the Surrey help line. [h] He added that he wasn't 'always satisfied that the results come through' in terms of getting the potholes filled in: 'There is a gap between the reports [of potholes] and when things happen, and I'm not sure it's happening as quickly as it could do.'

SCC has few people to do the inspections. One man does them for all Mole Valley's 500km of roads. But action is even less likely to be taken, Seaward pointed out, if people don't make the effort to report problems.

Planning group workload

The planning group of the Bookham Residents' Association (BRA) considered 30 applications in March and somewhere between 360 and 400 over the year, said Seaward.

'Some of these,' he told the BRA's annual general meeting, 'don't take any effort at all. Some are large and complex.' The final decision is made by the [Mole Valley District] council, but the 'seven or eight' members of the group 'have an input'.

The largest planning issue for the group this year had been the Photo-Me International (PMI) redevelopment. This had prompted many protests from residents (and absentee landlords, it must be said) in Bracken Close.

Protests by the BRA and others had led to a resubmission by PMI which had 'ameliorated slightly' those residents' concerns.

Youth club future still in the balance

The whole of Bookham is behind the effort to keep the village's youth centre open, reported Seaward. Not just the BRA but the Bookham Community Association and Churches Together are 'trying to keep the place open,' said Seaward.

'It was going well until last November,' he told the AGM. Bookham would try to get it run by a local management committee with Surrey County Council (SCC) taking over the infrastructure.

'We are still waiting for agreement from Surrey's estates department to get a document setting out the conditions under which we can run the place.'

Seaward added he was 'confident it would happen.'

Surrey's waste disposal strategy 'in legal limbo' - 'No alternative' to 'unpopular' thermal treatment

The progress of Surrey's overall disposal strategy 'is now in limbo', says the county.

A year ago David Munro of Surrey County Council (SCC) told Bookham residents of the serious problem waste disposal posed for the county. This year's AGM learnt:

[] SCC has recruited 35 extra staff for its 15 recycling centres. Their pay has been increased and they've been trained to give the centres' users advice and help;

[] At Randalls Road four staff have been available from April 1 to help offload items, and provide guidance on which of the disposal points should be used for each of the 22 items that the council is now able to accept.

In a statement to the BRA meeting SCC said, 'The overall aim is to raise the percentage of waste that is recycled from the current level of 40 per cent to… 60 per cent across Mole Valley District as a whole.'

The progress of SCC's overall disposal strategy 'is now in limbo while Surrey's Waste Disposal Strategy Plan is considered at an Examination in Public.' SCC says this is an essential legal and administrative step before the strategy can be formally adopted.

The Examination is now in recess at the moment and will resume later this month. 'On present forecasts,' says the statement, 'it is expected that the Inspector will report in the autumn.'

If the plan is adopted Surrey can start a series of projects to cut the amount of waste going to landfill. The most important of these will be to reduce the amount of waste generated across the County 'at source'.

But no matter how successfully Surrey achieves this, the document warns, 'there will always be items of waste that require disposal and which cannot be recycled.' If Surrey is to cut the volume of these that go to landfill, says SCC, there is no alternative to thermal treatment.

'The council is very aware that some of its proposals inevitably impact on local people who live close to locations where new facilities are to be provided. This causes uncertainty and blight which, in extreme cases, can lead to people finding that land and buildings are difficult if not impossible to sell.

'To address this problem the council has taken steps wherever possible to narrow options and remove some sites from safeguarding. In other instances projects are being progressed so that, if the outcome of the Examination in Public is to approve the strategy, the lead time to implementation will be kept to a minimum.'

The most obvious example is Capel, where a planning application for a thermal treatment plant will be made 'shortly'.

'Time is not on the council's side,' the document warns: 'Landfill Tax is already a significant burden, and it is set to increase. SCC is talking to the operators of an Energy from Waste facility under construction at Aylesford in Kent to see if it can offload some of Surrey's waste there.

But this is not a satisfactory long term solution, says the SCC, because it means 'moving large volumes of bulky material over long distances.'

The council has no option but 'to go down the unpopular route of locating thermal treatment plants somewhere within the immediate area. It is recognised that this may not please some, but it has to be preferred to moving large volumes of material around the country or shipping overseas as is already happening with some materials.

'Ultimately all waste has to go somewhere.' The preferred option is to recycle waste to produce a saleable residue, along with eliminating the need for waste at source by, for example, reducing the use of unnecessary and avoidable packaging.

That is a national issue in which government and retailers have to play a role. But 'Packaging will never be eliminated entirely', says SCC. Surrey's only hope, says the SCC, is that the amount of waste its residents produce has to spiral downwards, and that technology can be found to devise new ways to use the rest.

A long term solution depends on local people's cooperation, says the council: 'Waste disposal is one of the less attractive features of modern life. It is a problem we all face whether we like it or not, and we will only succeed in achieving an environmentally responsible solution if the process is managed by the whole community cooperating at every stage in the process. Looking back over recent years much has been achieved, but there is still some way to go.'

There's an apparent conflict of evidence about fortnightly collections. Seaward told the meeting that the 'stop the stink' campaign had gained a lot of attention, and that parts of Bookham will be involved in the food waste disposal trials. But he wasn't aware of a single complaint about fortnightly collections or their alleged maggotty effects since August last year.

The SCC's view is that collecting waste every two weeks – the responsibility of MVDC – did not please everyone, 'but it did raise awareness both of the amount of waste that we all produce and the proportion of that waste that can be recycled.'

The problems it brought, particularly for food waste during the summer, are being addressed. The council is looking at 'new composting techniques' and at more frequent food-waste collections using small, sealable containers.

Mole Valley's recycling rate had now reached 39 per cent, Seaward told the meeting, an eight per cent increase on last year. What's more the total amount of waste generated didn't rise, staying at 30,000 tonnes. Mole Valley doesn't use all its recycling capacity so can sell spare space to other councils. Some 7,000 residents joined the 'green waste only bins' scheme, producing produced 2,000 tonnes of compostable material.

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