Monthly Archives: November 2013

Cobham Free School and the Green Belt

Any reader of this blog will know that I am a convinced supporter of the Free Schools movement and of the Cobham Free School in particular. There has been plenty of speculation around the town as to where the Free School would be looking to build its secondary school, and last night we were all able to look at the plans. The public consultation at the Gospel Hall was very well attended, and quite rightly so.

The location is Chippings Farm, on land owned by the Burhill Estate to the north-west of the Portsmouth Road. It is green belt land. At Elmbridge we are vigilant whenever an application comes in that affects green belt land and we rarely grant permission in such cases.

The Free School will be allowed to build their school on that land if – and only if – planning permission is granted for a development of what is at present up to 500 homes on the site. Not less than 40% of those homes would have to be affordable homes, and again readers will know that, as Cabinet Member for Housing I am well aware of the need for such properties in Elmbridge.

We are therefore faced with a hard choice between our commitment to protect the Green Belt, and the undoubted need for a secondary school serving the Cobham, Downside, Oxshott and Stoke d’Abernon area. It would of course be marvellous if we could have the school without sacrificing the Green Belt land but that cosy option simply is not open to us. We are going to have to make a tough decision. The issue was front page news in today’s Surrey Advertiser and the comments quoted there suggest that some people have already made up their minds.

As a Borough Councillor for the ward in which the School and the houses would be sited I would like to know what people who live in and around Cobham think. You may either leave a comment on this blog or else email me at jameswbrowne@btinternet.com. I will acknowledge all comments and will post a blog at some time in the future summarising the comments I have received. Any email addresses or names will be kept confidential.   

This is the most important decision facing Cobham in the time that I have lived here. Its importance for future generations cannot be underestimated. Please let me have your views.

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The end of austerity?

Last year I wrote a post entitled “Austerity”, suggesting that here in the UK there was no real austerity, and that a trip to Spain was necessary if you really wanted to see what austerity meant. Well, over the last couple of months I have visited 2 of the Club Med countries and here is a brief and wholly unscientific report back.

Italy. In September I was in the Lazio and Campania region of southern Italy, where the strictures of EU fiscal policy are said to be hitting the hardest. From what I saw however the dolce vita is still available. Although Naples was particularly dirty, with rubbish strewn around the streets I didn’t see many of the usual signs of recession. There were a few beggars but most of the shops were rented out and open for business. There weren’t many bargains to be had. Italy did not seem to me to be in poor shape.

Spain. Back in the Marbella region, where I went last year there are some small signs of recovery. Some of the empty shops which I saw last year have now been filled, not with fancy goods merchants but by hairdressers and estate agents. And although it is not difficult to find abandoned construction sites and half completed buildings, there are now new developments being progressed. We asked in the local branch of El Corte Ingles, the Spanish equivalent of John Lewis, how business was doing. “We are hopeful”, they said. “But we are very dependant on foreign visitors spending their money here.” In the La Canada shopping centre outside Marbella it was the same story. Most shops were advertising sales and all were very happy to see us. It seems that the growing confidence in the UK economy is rubbing off in Spain: if the English have money to spend they will come out here and buy on the new developments. The locals however are cautious, preferring to save rather than spend.

In the meantime however both countries are having their economic policy decided for them by the Germans (acting of course through the ECB). There is an obvious answer, and that is for Italy and Spain to leave the Euro, devalue their new currency and become competitive again. But I have to say I was unable to discover any local appetite for that solution.

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