8 September 2014

Kingston upon Thames Society Committee: September 2014

September's Kingston upon Thames Society Committee Meeting led me to one very significant insight (I think!) and we covered some other useful ground too.

Cycling

The topic of the proposed changes to cycling provision funded by the Mayor's Mini-Holland scheme continued to excite the Committee. A letter had been drafted to the Council calling for the emphasis to be put on safety measures like repairing pot-holes but this had not yet been sent because of internal procedural matters (e.g. holidays).

There had been a story in the Surrey Comet about a possible short-fall in funding, apparently RBK wanted to spend £41m having agreed a budget of £34m with TfL having originally bid for £30m. This increased the uncertainty over which of the suggested schemes would or would not, be included in the final proposals.

With nothing tangible to respond to we agreed to wait for RBK to announce what it was planning to do.

Public Toilets

This topic started with the refurbishment of the Market Place and had simmered at the Committee every since; having Matters Arising on the agenda can give small topics long lives. We regretted that Kingston did not follow Richmond in having a public toilet scheme, where some pubs, cafes and shops open the toilets to public use, but did not propose any specific action.

New Quaker House

The visit to the new Quaker House on Fairfield had gone well and had won over some doubters to the merits of the building. Actress Sheila Hancock was said to be the star of the day.

The committee

The Committee has somebody responsible for administering the membership, e.g. collecting subscriptions, but nobody was responsible for growing our membership or for making sure that they got the service that they wanted.

It was agreed that we would look to appoint somebody to this role when the new committee was formed after the AGM in January.

We also discussed the appointment of a new Chairman. Some nominations and suggestions had been made by members and these were still coming in. The next steps to be taken would depend on the number of viable candidates and one options, that I strongly favoured, was to ask the candidates to put their case to our membership at the AGM who would then make the decision.

The gathering storm

A number of large planning applications were due, or overdue, and the committee was expecting to be busy over the next few months. Plans were expected for The Old Post Office, Eden Walk, Tesco Tolworth, North Kingston secondary school, Tolworth Hospital, North Kingston development zone and Tolworth Girls' School.

The planning process

The prospect of a meeting with Councillor David Cunningham, scheduled for later that week, led to a long and useful debate on how we work with the Council, officers and members.

A range of views were expressed and there was no firm consensus on how we should proceed (other than to see how the meeting with Cllr Cunningham went) but some useful ideas were generated that could lead to something meaningful later on.

This is where I had my insight. I suddenly realised that we were the experts on how the planning system in Kingston works from the residents' perspective. This meant that we were best placed to suggest improvements to the process that would help us, and everybody else, to participate in the planning process.

A range of problems with the process had been raised previously that could all be covered in this approach. These included the difficulty in finding out about applications, the poor quality of information on the planning website (e.g. out of date statuses and drawings filed as lots of documents with meaningless names), the information gap between residents (experts on their locality) and councillors (usually novices), and the very limited opportunity for residents to participate in the decision making committees.

I think that there is a real opportunity for the Society to lead in the democratisation of the end-to-end planning process in Kingston.

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