Friday, 21 December 2012

Lightwater Congestion

Friday 21st December

For as long as I can remember, I've always picked up a cold in December. I can recall snivelling through Winter examinations at school when most of us used to carry around a toilet roll in our schoolbags to contend with the issue; and latterly, attending Christmas parties in a manner that would make the late Amy Winehouse blush, dosed up to the nines on a cocktail of Max Strength offerings from the various pharmaceutical companies.
This year is no different of course and with my 40th birthday rapidly approaching, I found this year's lurgy to be no less virulent than the one that kept me out of a grudge rugby match against KCS Wimbledon in 1987, with a mixture of razor blades in my throat and considerable nasal congestion.

Congestion apppears to be one of the subjects on everybody's mind at the moment and in this case, I'm referring to the spectre of the three main housing projects planned for this area in the forthcoming year.
Runnymede Borough Council's recent announcement that they intend to waive Green Belt status for the former DERA works in Longcross set the hares running. This announcement was on top of the long running Deepcut Barracks development saga here in Surrey Heath; and the confirmation that Cala Homes are pushing forward with the Brookwood Farm development in Woking, just south of Bisley. Conservative estimates at this stage suggest that these schemes will add somewhere in the region of 4000 new houses to this part of the world.

We do need more houses. We still build far too few new homes in this country to keep up with demand which is a lamentable position we have been in since the 1950's. There's a direct correlation with this under-supply, the introduction of the Town & Country Planning Act 1947 and subsequent revisions, and boom & bust property cycles, a subject I researched for my first degree dissertation back in the '90's and I'm generally in favour of measures that meet that chronic under-supply. But it has to be hand in hand with measures to accommodate the massive effect on existing infrasructure. I'm no 'NIMBY' (a development phrase that refers to people who accept appropriate development, but 'Not In My Back-Yard', as opposed to BANANA's, which refers to many prospective Councillors' election 'tickets' - Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone), but the combination of these three developments is going to have a devastating effect on the accessibility of this area. 4000 homes means up to 16,000 additional traffic movements PER DAY and it would appear that we are currently blindly marching towards a network gridlock in this area that would make negotiating the peak-hour South Circular seem like a Sunday afternoon cruise.

Lets be absolutely clear about this. This will only mean more traffic. And more traffic means more congestion on a network that is already at capacity, as evidenced by the recent Highways Agency announcement to make the Surrey Heath part of the M3 a managed motorway. If one extrapolates the accident numbers forward with the increased number of traffic movements, it can also only mean that we shall be looking at the probability of more traffic accidents. It is therefore absolutely clear that the road infrastructure will have to be considerably improved to sustain these additions and I am sad to say that I am losing faith in the ability of some of our local councils to assist in that delivery.

Seemingly, for example, up to 85% of the developer infrastructure payments for the Deepcut barracks are to ensure that there is a suitable SANGS (a Suitable Area of Natural Green Space). This is almost scandalous; but in this brave new world in which we are living it is deemed more important that we don't disturb a natural habitat on our mountain bikes than it is to ensure that we drop accident rates on some of Surrey's most dangerous roads.

So what can we do?
There is only so much any of us can do individually. Together though, we can put pressure on the decision makers to ensure that the appropriate steps are taken.
Write to me, Write to your councillors. Write to the leaders of the councils. Write to our MP, Michael Gove. Let us ensure that this explosion of proposed new building is managed properly at inception, and sufficiently & appropriately accommodated into this part of the world.

We have to act now, or we will certainly regret it.

Oh, by the way, Merry Christmas everybody.


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