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May 1, 2013:  Hard to believe but true. There's now a crossing at the Lower Road recreation ground.

Throughout April, Surrey County Council contractors have been toiling to realign pavements, relocate drainage, installing lighting and do all the other tasks needed for what looks like the simple job of painting some broad stripes across the road.

It feels like a miracle that ordinary residents can change the minds of officialdom. It's actually the result of persistent nagging by a few people who just wouldn't let up.

Blind eye turned to local speeding Local residents have campaigned since 2002 to get a safe crossing of Lower Road installed as a link between the Middlemead estate and the recreation ground. Every child on the housing estate has to cross Lower Road to get to either school or their rec. And the elderly and others had to cross it to get to the medical centre or the village shops.

For years the police, the residents' association and councillors swore that neither this nor any other local road posed no abnormal danger. When the Bugle's editor went to the local police panel to complain about the danger, members of the Bookham Residents' Association jeered at his suggestion that local drivers often broke speed limits.

It seemed that neither the police, local authorities, nor local politicians had any interest in addressing the danger drivers posed on residential 'restricted' roads covered by the 30mph limit, particularly to children.

As we'll see, even when the highway authority had evidence of excessive—illegal—speeding in Bookham, they did not see the danger it posed as a matter the police need bother with.

Then something really odd happened. In September 2011 Surrey County Council (SCC) dealt what seemed to be yet another defeat for the latest effort to win a safe Lower Road crossing.

Exactly two years ago a child was injured while crossing Lower Road at the recreation ground. Following local pressure and a second petition from, among others, the Residents of Middlemead Estate (Rome), Mole Valley local committee had asked SCC as the highway authority to look again at the safety of Lower Road at the recreation ground. The local committee links Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) with SCC on matters like this over which MVDC has no control.

SCC engineers visited the site in July 2011. Their report listed five options, including the 'do nothing' strategy SCC had favoured to date.

Four had problems. A controlled, 'puffin' crossing would cost £100,000. The zebra crossing—now in place—was "not considered feasible at this location". Instead it put forward a fifth option: road markings, traffic signs and coloured surfacing.

The smoking gun What changed the debate, however, was the report's revelation in rejecting the zebra option that, on the section of Lower Road which goes past the recreation ground, "85th percentile speeds are in excess of 35mph." In other words, it now turned out that 85 per cent of drivers were going at 5mph above the speed limit where residents wanted the crossing.

Worse, the document went on to claim that: "There are no crime and disorder implications arising from this report." It is hard to think of any other crime and disorder issue where 85 per cent of those participating in a public activity were breaking the law, at threat to life, without 'crime and disorder implications'. 

The Rome committee made absolutely clear to local councillors that the continuing risks to local children, and the blind eye being turned to widescale, dangerous and unlawful activity, were not acceptable. Within days, two Bookham councillors—local committee chair Cllr Clare Curran (Con), who had previously been ambiguous about the need for or feasibility of the crossing, and new MVDC council member Phil Harris (LibDem)—swung behind the crossing campaign.

Postscript  Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story. Within a year, probably more, perhaps less, there will be an 'accident' at the the newly-installed crossing. That's because more residents, young and old, will change their habits to use it.

If official attitudes to enforcement don't change, however, drivers will behave just as they have always done. Someone will be injured or worse, and the crossing, not the driver, will be made the culprit.

Pay no attention. If you run over a child on a crossing, the fault is yours, nobody else's. Drivers have to learn to accept responsibility for what happens when they take the wheel. But it will be interesting to see who sides with the driver and who with the injured parties.

The Bugle has been campaigning for a Lower Road crossing since the site began in 2006.  See our coverage of local pedestrian-safety issues here. http://bookhambugle.2day.ws/bookhambugle/section/ExpectPolicecrackdownonantisocialdriving/

WE WON!

Surrey County Council may do something - if you're patient

'Do what's possible' on Middlemead crossing, Curran advises


July 9, 2009: Speed management is the alternative to a new crossing for Lower Road, says Surrey County Councillor Clare Curran.

Curran is a member of the local committee which rejected the local petition to give pedestrians a safer way of crossing the Lower Road between the Middlemead estate and the recreation ground.

She told the Bugle she agreed with the Middlemead and other residents that something had to be done for local pedestrians at that point. But local residents would not agree to a crossing if it meant flashing lights, high poles or audible crossing signals.

Curran's contribution to July 1's local committee debate had disappointed some of those at the debate who thought she might be more sympathetic to child-pedestrian issues than the male petrol-heads around her. "She poured cold water on it," said one, on the grounds, it was said, that a pedestrian crossing would cause conflicts with the traffic on the nearby cycle path. Some even thought she might be opposed to the crossing because the idea had been taken up by the local Labour party.

The Bugle had not attended the local committee meeting so we asked her for her view. She did, indeed, say there was a difficulty with the cycle track. To make room for a crossing, you would have to make a cutting into the grass verge on the south side of the road and bank up the earth south of the crossing. That would impinge on the cycle track.

But she also pointed out that Lower Road's only other crossing, at the junction of Eastwick Road, had just about everything in its favour. It was an accident black spot. It's near two schools, the Bookham youth centre, often used for creches and pre-school meetings, the Anchor pub, the Keswick House care home, a doctors' surgery and much else. The rec site doesn't have any of these features.

Realistically a new 'rec' crossing has zero chance of rising up Surrey County Council's list of priorities. The highways budget is £50 per adult per year – she suggested at the latest Bookham Residents' Association committee meeting that this was less than some Bookhamites spend each week on gardening. Do you know anyone like that?

She's on firmer ground when she says her whole approach is to do what works. What might work in this instance, she said, is the combination of the promised slow-down signs and a well-marked road table at the crossing point.

Middlemead's schoolchildren, their parents, and the old and inform on the way to the village shops and doctors' surgery can only watch and wait.

BACKGROUND
Surrey County Council gave many reasons for rejecting a Lower Road crossing at the rec.
A crossing with lights and signals was not on because:
[] it would take land from nearby residential properties.
[] there was no footway on the north side of Lower Road.
[] The signals' lights and poles, and legal 'zigzag' markings "were very likely to be considered visually intrusive by local residents… One or two properties would have to have the equipment very close to their front windows."
[] The cost is very high.
[] Other crossings have an average of one injury accident a year. Unless there are more accidents than this, said Poole, "it is difficult to justify installation of this type of crossing."

Surrey would not install a central pedestrian island because:
[] The road would have to be widened on the rec side. Surrey would have to construct a length of full depth carriageway there, which would be too expensive.
[] The island "may have provided vehicular access problems" for residents.

Conditions had not changed since the 'hard standing' and textured pavement were provided there in 2003, the county's engineer summarised.

The problem with all this is that, as reported, the new petition presented to the local committee and taken up by the Labour Party says clearly that, "We do understand that a signalised crossing is not considered possible, and also a pedestrian island."

It could not be clearer. So why did the officer's response to the petition* confine itself to explaining why the petitioners couldn't have a signalised crossing or an island? It's not possible, is it, that County Hall either hadn't read the petition or chose to ignore what it said?

What the petition say was that, "There is an urgent need for a zebra crossing to be provided and if possible a 'slow down' sign…" Surrey Highways' east area principal engineer, Michelle Armstrong, a former Bookham resident, said a simple Belisha beacon type crossing could be provided but there was no money for it and the current highway engineer flavour of month is signalled crossings.

* You can download the officer response to the petition by going to this page and clicking on the petition document at the bottom of the list.

Comment

Let Down!


Two and a half years ago the Bugle suggested that the Middlemead crossing issue would be, "a test of how committed we really are to the safety of Bookham’s children." (See section six of this article). The results so far indicate "not very much". And that especially applies both to officialdom and to our community's leaders.

Surrey County Council hasn't covered itself in glory. As we reported last week, two years ago they undertook to do the very least they possibly could, which was improve the lighting and put signs up – we all know how well drivers respond to signs. They could do this without needing extra money, their letter told Middlemead residents.

Since then, nothing. Add that the council has lost the Middlemead estate's correspondence a few times, and stir in that Surrey circulated the wrong petition before the latest local meeting on June 24, and you can understand why local residents might think the highway authority is not taking this issue seriously. There is an explanation, a simple clerical error, for the mistake over the petition, but it doesn't help.

Our community's unofficial leaders, meanwhile, seemed just as keen to kick the scheme into the long grass. At the recent inaugural Bookham and Fetcham police forum, former SCC Councillor and Surrey Police Authority chairman big Jim Smith echoed the SCC viewpoint that pedestrian crossings increase the risk of accidents.

At the meeting The Bugle's editor was unable to restrain his view that, if pedestrian crossings are a threat to public safety, every one in the country should be removed at once.

But this issue is far from simple. Surrey says every crossing has at least one injury incident a year. If the would-be crossing is at a place that has fewer than one "injury collision" a year, a crossing will make things worse.

There are two obvious weaknesses in this argument. One is that, if a crossing becomes available, collisions happen there which might have happened elsewhere. If a pedestrian fears crossing the Lower Road at the rec, he or she will cross Lower Road somewhere else. The accidents will be widely distributed along Lower Road instead of being concentrated at a crossing.

The second major issue is that few of these other injuries along Lower Road will be recorded. The Surrey/Smith argument ignores unreported incidents, even injuries, some of them serious. This was explored fully in a Bugle article almost three years ago. Based largely on research published in that senationalist rag, the British Medical Journal, it showed that, whatever police statistics say about falling road casualties, road casualty hospital admissions stay stubbornly constant.

The funding of Surrey Police, like that of every other force, depends on meeting government targets. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary measures each force (reference indicator SPI 9a) by the number of road traffic collisions resulting in death or serious injury per 100 million vehicle kilometres travelled, and by the number of road traffic collisions involving death or serious injury per 1,000 population.

Put it like this, if the funding follows a fall in fatalities, a fall in fatalities will follow. Either way, there are no reliable figures available for the safety or otherwise of any part of Lower Road.

At the same police forum meeting, Bookham Residents' Association chairman Peter Seaward suggested that the recreation-ground crossing issue had been going on for far too long. It should be decided one way or the other.

We could all agree that the crossing story is old hat. But this suggestion, though doubtless well-intentioned, doesn't bear scrutiny. It's difficult to imagine any forum which has the power to deem any decision about the Lower Road crossing 'final' – short, that is, of an indefinite restraining order on the entire population of the Middlemead estate. And on what grounds?: Exaggerated concern for their children's safety?

What is a local committee and what does it do?


Local committees discuss matters of shared concern between Surrey County Council and Surrey's 11 districts.

The Mole Valley Local Committee consists of 12 Mole Valley councillors, six each from the county and district councils.

The county councillors are Helyn Clack, Dorking Rural (Con); Stephen Cooksey, Dorking and the Holmwoods (Lib Dem); Clare Curran, Bookham & Fetcham West (Con); Tim Hall, Leatherhead and Fetcham East (Con); Christopher Townsend, Ashtead (Ind); and Hazel Watson, Dorking Hills (Lib Dem).

The district councillors are Valerie Holmwood, Beare Green (Lib Dem) ; Anne Howarth, Bookham South (Lib Dem); David Howell, Ashtead Common (Ind); Chris Hunt, Ashtead Village (Con); Jean Pearson, Capel, Leigh and Newdigate (Con, currently leader of MVDC); and David Sharland, Leatherhead South (Con).

Local residents' safety concerns put on the back burner

We don't want to know!


July 1, 2009: Surrey County Council's local committee for Mole Valley has rejected the petition for a crossing of Lower Road at the recreation ground.

As reported, an alley from Middlemead estate leads to the north side of Lower Road, opposite the recreation ground. But, where the alley meets the road, there is not even a pavement, never mind a crossing.

Local residents have been pressing for some form of crossing there for several years. The latest, 140-signature petition, started by the Residents of Middlemead Estate (Rome) committee, was taken up by Bookham Labour Party.

Middlemead resident Freddie Jenkins told the local committee, meeting on June 24, that she and fellow residents were concerned about the safety not just of children on the estate, who needed to cross Lower Road to get to local schools as well as to use the play area, but for older people who crossed at that point.

The local committee was voting on an 'officer response' to the petition from the local highways department manager, Derek Poole. His report summarised previous requests from residents for a safe crossing on Lower Road. It noted the reasons for the council's earlier rejections of either a crossing with signals or a central pedestrian island to allow pedestrians to cross the road in two stages, and pointed out that conditions had not changed enough to prompt the department to change its stance.

But Jenkins wasn't asking for such a change: "We do understand that a signalised crossing is not considered possible, and also a pedestrian island." Residents were pleased a 'hard standing' had been provided to at least allow pedestrians to keep their feet dry. However, "we still feel that there is an urgent need for a zebra crossing to be provided and if possible a 'slow down' sign, as traffic is sometimes very fast coming from both directions." Some young people have to wait 10 minutes to cross the road in the morning. Their impatience could be fatal.

Surrey Highways' east area principal engineer, Michelle Armstrong, a former Bookham resident, told the Bugle of other possible remedies than a signalled crossing or a central island. They included a zebra crossing with Belisha beacons or the provision of a 'buffer' or apron which would allow pedestrians to gather on the north side of Lower Road and have a clear view of the traffic.

But these solutions also look unlikely. There have been no recent installations of zebra crossings because official wisdom is that 'signalised' crossings are safer. And a pinch point like a pedestrian apron would be an unacceptable obstruction to the buses and large delivery lorries which use Lower Road. In any case, there is no money whatever available for such work.

Armstrong noted that drivers ought to be made more aware that pedestrians are crossing at that point. There are no signs telling them that there is an alley there. Surrey might provide signs asking drivers to take care, she said.

As it happens, when Middlemead residents petitioned the local committee for a crossing over two years ago Surrey Highways wrote to say that signs could be provided and local lighting improved "within normal budgets". Since this letter, no action has been taken. It was signed by Michell Armstrong.

This is far from the end of the story. The local committee debate concluded with the suggestion that Poole and Curran get together and assess the situation. More anon.

What do you think? Tell the editor.

Middlemead Fun day 2009

One-sided 'health and safety' concerns push up the costs of play equipment


May 2, 2009: Saturday's fun day on the green in the heart of the Middlemead estate raised about £150 for the estate's campaign to provide local children with a rope assault course at the nearby Lower Road recreation ground.

The event was organised by the Residents of Middlemead Estate (ROME) committee. After a quiet start, a day of glorious sunshine saw kids of all ages enjoy a magician, face-painting, giant Connect-4, Tombola and other fund-raising games. Surrey Fire Brigade's finest brought out one of their big red machines to add to the fun of a memorable day.

The assault-course project, which local children have asked to be called the ROME Adventure Park (RAP), has hit several obstacles since its launch 18 months ago. The biggest hurdle is cost.

ROME has to find half the money, and the committee spent last year applying here, there and everywhere for grants for the other half. But it’s a steep price. At first the amount, a thousand pounds, seemed achievable. Then it turned out that this sum in the play-equipment catalogue was just the cost of the ropes, not the wooden frame or its construction.

Even a higher, multi-thousand pound price turned out to be the cost of a rope assault course built on the grass. Now Mole Valley insists, for the inevitable 'health and safety' reasons, that the equipment will have to be provided with a soft surface to provide safe landings for any children who fall off. More cost.

Skateboard park success

The total bill is now likely to be in the region of £25,000. With the help of the estate's landlords, Mole Valley Housing Association (MVHA), the committee is making an application for lottery funding. "With other funding we've identified, we think we're in with a chance of raising the money," says ROME committee chair Lin Hulford.

Mrs Hulford has already led one successful campaign to build a skateboard park in the recreation ground. Work started in 2005 after a three-year fundraising effort to meet the £28,000 bill. To get money for that project, said one estate newsletter, "We put out Father Christmas round Bookham at Christmas to get funds and went to shop keepers and businesses in Bookham. Radio Mercury gave us £500 to get the planning permission, SCC and Mole Valley gave us a grant but the main money came from Surrey Community Action." SCA's local network fund put in £7,000 and another £2,500 came as a Surrey County Council Local Grant. Mrs Hulford and her fellow-residents heroically raised much of the rest.

COMMENT

The Bugle should declare its interest; the editor is secretary of the Residents' of Middlemead Estate (ROME) committee. From that viewpoint he knows just how much hard work went into raising that £150. The money will be go towards mounting a bigger and better event on Mayday next year.

But it's a tiny reward for weeks of hard work by a lot of dedicated people. The Bookham Residents' Association AGM, on the other hand, revealed that the BRA had £8,000 in the bank even after handing over £13,000 to Bookham Vision. The BRA's annual income in 2008 exceeded £18,000, though after spending £9,000 on Christmas lights and £5,000 on other things, this diminished to £1,150.

The rope assault course won't just be an amenity for the use of the children of Middlemead estate. It will be available to all. Surely the BRA could at least offer to match any funds raised by Middlemead residents from its own fairly deep pockets?

If children are to gain full enjoyment not just from any new equipment but from the play area and the skateboard park that are already there, says Mrs Hulford, they have to be able to cross Lower Road safely to get at them.

For the full story about that, go to this article.

What do you think? Tell the editor.

Orlit housing

Possible new houses and flats for Middlemead tenants


January 25, 2008: The provision of new housing for rent or part ownership was always an ambition for Mole Valley Housing Association (MVHA). Everyone in Bookham knows how difficult it is for our young people to find accommodation of the standard they're entitled to expect. New social housing is essential to help meet the shortfall.

There are tentative, very early suggestions that Middlemead Estate might be ideally placed to lead MVHA's effort to build new houses in Mole Valley. MVHA's head of housing services, Glynis Gatenby, outlined some of the possibilities to ROME's committee at a meeting in November 2007 also attended by tenant participation (TP) officer Jumai Gukas.

This was the first time the plans had been discussed inside or outside Middlemead or the MVHA. At that time they were confidential until they could be either be fully developed or, if the majority of ROME residents wish, abandoned. Since then, the plans have been published in Mole Valley's Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA), which identifies potential housing sites, which "will be available for development within the next five years."

The Middlemead Estate is a mix of traditional and non-traditional or so called 'Orlit' housing constructed of breeze block or concrete prefabrications. They are named after the construction company who built these and other types of buildings under government contract.

Middlemead's Orlit houses, most of which lie in a band across the centre of the estate either side of the green in Middlemead Road, were never intended as a permanent feature. The space they now occupy could be developed to accommodate new housing of a much higher standard.

BETTER USE OF AVAILABLE SPACE
New housing could be built to make much better use of available space, Glynis told the committee. One layout she and her colleague Martin Munnelly have drafted shows, for example, how
12 four-bedroom houses
27 three-bedroom houses
45 two-bedrooms houses and
18 one-bed flats,
102 units in all, could fit on the space the Orlits now occupy.

As they were shown in the draft, these different types of accommodation would be distributed throughout the development. So there would be no clusters comprising only single-occupier flats or other type of accommodation.

MVHA intends any new housing it builds to be rented and proposes that first call on their occupation would go to local families and others on the housing list, which currently has 3,000 names on it. However, this is a finance issue, so it may be necessary to allow some to go to shared ownership with the Housing Association.

The ROME committee was particularly impressed by Glynis's stress on the difficulty the estate faces in building these houses. Everyone wants more houses. But the obstacles are daunting. The biggest of these, persuading the planning authorities to accept the proposals, is only the start. Glynis said it was highly unlikely the planners would accept a plan for 102 units.

'MAJOR DISRUPTION'
"Don't under-estimate how much upheaval it may cause," said Glynis. "It's awful living next to a building site," she told us from her direct experience of the noise and disruption just one building site could cause.

What's more, there was no chance that all the new houses could be built at once. That meant Middlemead estate residents had to commit to a project carried out in several phases over many years.

An immediate problem at the beginning of any part of the project would be where to accommodate those whose houses would have to be demolished to make way for new buildings. Most of the Orlits are occupied by tenants, though some are owned privately.

Some elderly residents may now be in sole occupation of three-bedroom houses. They would not be eligible for similar-sized accommodation. Although the Orlits will include some elderly tenants who may prefer to move to sheltered accommodation than to being rehoused, some occupiers will certainly not wish to move.

CHOOSE NEW COLOUR SCHEMES
MVHA will set a target level of rent for the new build. Some Orlit tenants may now be paying well below that. The MVHA would have to decide whether they could pay an agreed amount below the target rent for being rehoused.

Glynis says occupiers can be gently persuaded to move. And a move would be as attractive for them as for other new tenants, who will be able to specify their own colour scheme, have their furniture moved.

Glynis noted that social housing has to meet higher space, sound proofing and other standards than private developments. New housing would also be much more energy efficient. Many residents already find their electricity bills a significant drain on their purses and wallets. New housing would be built to a much higher energy-efficient standard and some or all might even use solar panels or other environmentally-friendly forms of energy provision.

The pressure for new housing is intense. Glynis told the committee that MVHA gets something like 300 vacancies a year. There are seven applicants for every one. Most of the vacancies are one-bed flats and many of the applicants are families who need two, three or four bedroom houses.

ROME WILL SET THE AGENDA
Glynis told the committee that, if it chose to, ROME could help draw up a local lettings plan which would describe how housing should be allocated– its composition by type and who is considered a suitable candidate for tenancy. The plan would set a profile of age groups, employment status, family size and other features that encourage a varied mixture of people on the estate. There would be no warden for any of the new housing but MVHA would encourage ROME to meet and greet the new arrivals.

ROME is in a position to set the agenda for any new development. The decisions the estate and its tenants have to make range from large to small. Only the people of ROME can decide if any of these proposals become reality. ROME can decide whether it wants a local lettings plan, whether all or some of the houses should have solar panels, how many play areas there should be, where to put them, and how they fit into other local provision.

How much parking space should each unit should have? The draft envisages 143 spaces. If enough parking spaces are not provided drivers will use grass verges and other parts of the estate's open space.

MVHA's Community Development Officer Karen Walker shortly begins work with Middlemead in several roles. One is to smooth the transition for new tenants. Another is learning about and trying to meet the concerns of estate's young people.

The committee pointed out that providing new accommodation for families implies extra pressure on local schooling as well as on other local publicly provided services like sewerage and gas, electricity and water supplies. If necessary ROME might need to add its voice to the local clamour for new school places, perhaps petitioning the local council to build new schools.

July 18, 2009: Since this article was written, there have been rumblings of hostility from local grandees about the disruption it might cause and the pressure it would create on local infrastructure. These came to a head this month. See how the Middlemead controversy was nipped in the bud.

Article last amended 24 September 2012 to correct spelling errors in proper names. Apologies to those affected.

New group to provide help and advice to all villagers

April 26, 2007: Bookham inhabitants of all ages are invited to join ‘ROME and villagers’, a new direction for the Residents of Middlemead Estate and far beyond. The initiative will be launched today, Thursday, at ROME’s open meeting at the the Harrison Room at the Barn Hall at 7 pm.

ROME stands for Residents – home owners, leaseholders and tenants – Of Middlemead Estate. Tonight's meeting marks residents’ wish to invite residents in Edenside, Proctor Gardens, Sole Farm, the Grove Estate, The Blackburn, Little Bookham Street and other parts of Bookham to join ROME to talk about their immediate concerns and do something about them.

The group, provisionally called ROME and the villagers (RAV), is not setting up in opposition to the Bookham Residents' Association (BRA), though it’s fair to say many of those who live on the roads and estates involved don’t feel the BRA represents them. ROME is represented on the BRA committee.

ROME’s chairperson, Lin Hulford, says ROME has built up quite a bit of problem-solving experience over its five years and can make this expertise available to other villagers: ‘If people in the Grove Estate have problems, for example, we know who to see and what to do.’ RAV seeks only an ‘advisory’ role, she says.

The latest ROME newsletter points out that ‘ROME was started as people on the estate were not pleased with the estate and a lot of vandalism was going on around it.’ It worked with Andrew Freeman from Bookham and Anthony Durno from SCC to get the Bookham’s youth club up and running again. Then it found that the SCC were trying again to close it for lack of funds.

The youth club can be saved but only if the community restarts a youth committee. ROME is appealing for children and young people to join a committee to keep the club going.

ROME’s flower planting programme is a major annual project to make the estate look attractive. ROME cleaned up the alley ways of weeds and nettles and provided dog bins to deal with dog fouling. It started a neighbourhood watch scheme for the estate and had rubbish bins put around the estate to keep the estate litter free. It had lighting put in the alley way to the Garstons.

And after three years’ wait, a coupl of years ago it finally had the skateboard park built in the Lower Road Recreation ground. To get money for the project, points out the newsletter, ‘We put out Father Christmas round Bookham at Christmas to get funds and went to shop keepers and business in Bookham. Radio Mercury gave us £500 to get the planning permission, SCC and Mole Valley gave us a grant but the main money came from Surrey Community Action. Later we put up a seat In Memory of Margaret Ogle and Graham Hughes for their help with this project over the years. We do hope the children are getting a lot of fun out of this.’

ROME has acted on what it thinks of as unwise planning too. The committee thought the building plans for eight houses on the Paws and Claws land in Little Bookham Street weren’t in keeping with the area. After its campaign the total was reduced to four. ‘We also keep an eye on Chrystie Recreation ground in the Dorking Road which was willed to the people of Bookham. We have stopped some building work going on that land as this was left for the children to play on.’

The council decided years ago that the garage area in Middlemead Close was to be used for housing. Elmbridge Housing Trust is now building eight flats – four two-bed and four single-beds – on the site. ‘This housing development is welcome as we have not had any new rented houses built in Bookham for many years and there is a great need for more rented accommodation.‘

Why not join them, have a hot drink and a biscuit and find out for yourself? – Harrison Room, Barn Hall, 7pm, Thursday May 3.

The Bugle's report of the latest Bookham Residents' Association AGM will be published as soon as the editor has finished it!

86 per cent backing for transfer plan

27 March, 2007: Mole Valley District Council's proposal to transfer all its homes to Mole Valley Housing Association (MVHA) received a strong endorsement from tenants in a ballot following a major consultation exercise. MVHA has been set up with Council assistance and will work in partnership with Circle Anglia, one of the UK's largest affordable housing providers.

The Electoral Reform Society, which conducted the vote, said over 3,000 of Mole Valley's 4,200 eligible tenants voted, giving a 72 per cent turnout. Just four ballot papers were spoiled.

The votes in favour of transfer: 2,587 (85.9% of the valid vote). Votes against transfer: 424 (14.1% of the valid vote).

In a statement David Searle, Director of Services at Mole Valley District Council, said the result 'clearly demonstrates that the proposal has strong support of Mole Valley tenants.' The tenants had given the transfer issue a great deal of thought, 'and on behalf of the Council I would like to thank them for voting in such large numbers. I would also like to thank the staff and tenant representatives who worked so hard to ensure that tenants knew the facts and understood the choice before them. This proposal has had support because people understand that under current Government rules MVHA will have much more money to spend on homes and services than the Council would.'

Alan Catterick, chairman of the Mole Valley Housing Association Shadow Board of Management, said: "On behalf of all of my colleagues on the Shadow Board, I would like to thank the tenants for the confidence they have placed in the new housing association. I can assure each and every tenant that we are determined to deliver the best possible housing service for the people of Mole Valley District. We now have a real opportunity to work together with tenants, our partners in Circle Anglia, and the Council, to create a better housing future."

Alan Townshend, who has worked in partnership with the Council, on behalf of Circle Anglia said, "The outcome of this tenant ballot is a great result for tenants, the Council, the new Housing Association and Circle Anglia. Gaining a positive ballot outcome means more services and improvements for tenants living in Mole Valley."

The Council must now formally consider the ballot result and then seek approval from the Secretary of State for the transfer to take place. It is expected that the formal transfer could take place by around November this year.

Mole Valley says the transfer will bring 'a major injection of funding for repairs, modernisations and improvements to homes and communities, with tenants at the heart of decision-making.'

Partnership has to be approved by council and tenants

8 June, 2006: Circle Anglia Group (CAG) has won the chance to join Mole Valley council tenants as owners of the district's housing stock. A meeting of the Housing Transfer Steering Group two weeks ago decided to reject bids from the other five contenders: A2 Housing Group; Elmbridge Housing Trust; Martlet Homes; Saxon Weald; and the Town and Country Housing Group.

CAG manages 33,000 houses on nine estates in the south east. It claims particular expertise in providing sheltered housing and has installed jacuzzis and wall-mounted flat screen TVs in some. It has also developed floor-sensor systems to send alarm messages if Alzheimer sufferers leave their houses without locking them.

The decision was the result of a play-off between CAG and Elmbridge. Mole Valley tenants will vote next March whether to accept the formal offer document that the partners will now draw up.

Mole Valley says the formal offer document will set out what tenants can expect from the new landlord in the way of services, home improvements, rents and a new tenancy agreement. The partnership will be independent of the council but provide enough money to replace old and build new social housing.

Mole Valley decided in July 2005 to transfer its 3,500 tenants to a Registered Social Landlord (RSL) subject to a tenants' ballot. A 12-member Housing Transfer Steering Group met every four weeks to decide what kind of RSL it wanted - it decided on a newly-formed standalone 'Mole Valley' RSL - and who its partner would be.

The steering group decision to form a partnership with CAG goes to a meeting of the MVDC's rejigged community council for agreement on June 13.

Looking forward to a change of ownership


April 27, 2006: One day two months ago a gang of kids collected outside Lin Hulford’s house in Middlemead. The previous October 40 estate volunteers had planted 3,000 daffodils around the green in Middlemead Road and in Middlemead Close. Then over the following week or so one family of children – among them Leah, Zarina, Samuel, Ryan, Giggsy and an 18 month old – had finished the job.

Now the children had gathered because a Mole Valley Council contractor, Burley’s of South Holmwood, had mowed and strimmed most of them. And they were turning to Lin, chairman of the Residents of Middlemead Estate (ROME), in a crisis.

Though this tale does have a happy ending (see below) it was a hiccup Lin could have done without. She has other tales to tell, about the street lighting that broke (above right) because the authority had not installed it properly, and about the sheer hard work of marking out parking spaces, clearing paths of tree roots, and what Lin, a keen animal-lover, calls getting ‘the dog-poo bins’: ‘People have no idea how many phone calls, letters, man-hours there are to getting a ‘no’ answer.’

She says of the skateboard park, now in use on Lower Road recreation ground, ‘It took three solid years.’ The residents won the money in 2004.

Then there’s the Youth Centre. After it closed a few years ago she organised a petition to reopen it. Until its most recent crisis, attendance had been rising. ‘We got it up to 200 people,’ Lin says. More about the Youth Centre on this site soon.

The big problem, she says, is to persuade the authorities that what ROME needs might also need doing in Cleeve Road, or Charlwood: ‘Then they can say ‘There’s a need in Mole Valley.’ If not it can’t go ahead.’

For now, Lin’s plate is full with the imminent transfer of Mole Valley’s council housing stock to a new partnership between the tenants and a yet-to-be-decided housing association (HA).

Tenancy

In a report at the end of last year, Mole Valley described the transfer of all its housing stock, including Middlemead, Edenside and other Bookham tenancies, as ‘probably the biggest project the Council has ever undertaken.’

The transfer arises from central government’s determination to move council housing off its books. The change, implemented in the 2004 Housing Act, dates back to 2001, when the government identified three ways of moving housing into the private sector: outright sale to an HA; private finance initiatives (PFIs); and Arms’ Length Management Organisations (ALMOs).

What’s an ALMO?

ALMOs are the government’s answer to a series of tenants’ ‘no’ votes in early ballots around the UK over straight transfers to HAs. ALMOs allow councils to retain ownership of their housing while the HAs or, as in Mole Valley’s case, a partnership between tenants and HAs, take over their day-to-day management.The incentive for councils is access to a £2.5 billion fund for housing improvements – part of a £20bn government pledge to ‘bring all council housing up to a decent standard' by 2010.

But councils only win any money if they are among what the government deems as ‘best performing’ councils. As for tenants, they have what Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee called ‘a gun to their head’. If they vote 'no' they get nothing – and a gradually deteriorating housing stock.

Mole Valley decided in July 2005 to transfer its 3,500 tenants to a Registered Social Landlord (RSL) subject to a tenants’ ballot. The next month it formed a 12-member Housing Transfer Steering Group to meet every four weeks and decide the type of RSL.

The options

The choices were:
• a newly formed standalone ‘Mole Valley’ RSL
• a newly formed ‘Mole Valley’ RSL as part of an RSL group
• a merger (takeover by an existing RSL).

The group decided early to reject option three, a merger. Tenants were ‘very clear’, says Mole Valley, that the RSL had to have a strong local identity.

So now the thinking has focussed on option two. ‘We have plumped for partnership.’ says Lin, ‘and we’re working on that. We’ll be independent of the council but we want someone to back us with money to help us build.’ For Lin, the transfer is a new start, golden opportunity to replace the estate’s run-down properties and add new ones.

The steering group began with a list of 23 partners and has narrowed it down to six: A2 Housing Group; Circle Anglia; Elmbridge Housing Trust; Martlet Homes; Saxon Weald; and the Town and Country Housing Group.

A few weeks ago the six met 250 of their possible future tenants, and a decision on the winner will be made at the end of May. Mole Valley says it and its tenants will develop the formal offer document setting out what tenants can expect from the new landlord in the way of services, home improvements, rents and a new tenancy agreement.

Uncertain future

The vote, originally set for November, will now take place next March. This allows time for the partnership to find premises and house the direct labour force transferred from Mole Valley, though it does mean an increase in costs, especially consultancy fees.

By January some £384,000 of the £680,000 budget for the project had been spent. That includes £92,000 of the £105,000 allocated to public relations consultants Broadgate Communications. Any delay is bound to mean the PR campaign has to be remounted before the vote.

Immediate costs apart, there is another concern. A joint report – ALMOs, a new future for council housing – a year ago by the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA), the CIH and Housemark (a standards body jointly owned by the CIH and the National Housing Federation) says ALMOs ‘are not necessarily here to stay’. Their temporary contracts with councils could be wound up once they have delivered the government’s ‘decent homes’ programme in 2010.

On the one hand, says the report, tenants, councils and the ALMOs can give their partnerships a secure future by putting local authority housing revenue accounts on a sounder financial footing. But on the other the report concludes that, ‘to prevent the early ALMOs being wound up... government needs to act now.’ In this as ineverything else, tenants’ fate is in the hands of HM Treasury.

Passionate for ‘yes’

As to the vote, it is true that there is a sizeable movement in favour of a ‘no’, the so-called ‘fourth option’. Defend Council Housing (DCH), a pro-‘no’ lobby group, says transferring council housing stock to PFIs, HAs or ALMOs will lead to higher rents, more evictions, and worse services.

However, the joint report (click here to download 150kb PDF)says ALMOs are ‘delivering a better services for tenants [and] tenant satisfaction levels are running much higher than for council housing generally.’

Middlemead’s Lin Hulford is passionate about the importance of a ‘yes’ vote. She fears what has happened to tenants in Kingston, who voted ‘no’ could happen to Middlemead: ‘That meant no money to put your house right. They can’t afford to do repairs.’ Tenants have metal sheets in their windows, she points out.

‘We need all the tenants to listen to what’s being said, get them to understand. If they don’t listen, if they don’t read what’s sent to them and put a vote in, we will go like Kingston.’

Meanwhile, the changes have already made a big difference to relationships between Mole Valley and its tenants, says Lin. ‘Eighteen months ago it was ‘she’s council, she’s a tenant’. Now we’re all working for the one challenge.’

And at least Lin doesn’t have to worry about the daffs any more. Mole Valley says the strimming was ‘a complete oversight’ about which Burley’s was ‘upset’.

The man who did the work was new to the job and Burley’s replaced the bulbs at its own expense.

Meanwhile, pleads a Mole Valley insider patiently, Middlemead residents could help by not picking the flowers for their own vases.

To find out if you are eligible to vote in the formal ballot contact the Housing Stock Transfer Group project team on 0800 634 9876.

For independent advice ring TPAS on freephone 0800731 1315.

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