Theresa May has now delivered the letter triggering Article 50. This country will formally leave the EU on 29th March 2019 and the next two years will be largely taken up with negotiating the terms of Britain’s exit. Nothing meaningful is likely to happen until after the French presidential elections in the Spring and the German federal elections in October. I have not been triumphalist about the referendum result as I voted to leave with a heavy heart and with some misgivings, but thus far I still believe it was the right decision to take.
Locally, I chaired the first meeting of Elmbridge BC’s new affordable housing working group last week. We have had a “members’ panel” devoted to affordable housing for some time, but this was a reactive organisation whereas the new Working Group is required to take an active role in housing delivery. I am delighted to undertake this new role, which dovetails nicely with the 6 years I spent as the Cabinet member for Housing. Our recently produced Strategic Housing Market Assessment has identified a need for 474 new units of housing per year between now and 2035, of which 70% should be affordable homes. And within the “affordable” umbrella, 80% of those should be available to rent at social rent levels – being 50-60% of the open market letting value. We now have a strong planning case for what we are trying to achieve.
We have County Council elections in May, and I am delighted that our excellent local councillor, Mary Lewis, has been re-adopted as the Conservative candidate. I enjoyed helping out on her stall at the Farmers’ Market in Cobham on Saturday. Mary has had a baptism of fire as a county councillor. The leadership of Surrey CC has been in the eye of a storm lately, having threatened to hold a referendum on a 15% council tax increase. This is due to national Government expecting County authorities to provide ever-increasing levels of social care to vulnerable adults whilst at the same time reducing the central funding available. Ultimately the sums could not be made to add up. David Hodge, the leader of Surrey’s ruling Conservative Group has been criticised for threatening such an increase but ultimately he had no alternative, other than to remove funding from non-mandatory services such as public libraries. His job was to stand up for Surrey and that is precisely what he has done. Although the details are not clear some arrangement has been arrived at which avoids the need for such a drastic hike, but if the Government is nor prepared to fund this service properly we may need to re-visit the referendum option in future years.