Leatherhead AHEAD - A RECENT HISTORY OF LEATHERHEAD
Please let us know of any other ‘historical event’ we should add to this

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The 1980s

1980 SCC pedestrianised the High Street and started its re-routing policies preparatory to the new Swan Centre being built. They closed Bridge Street and North Street.

September 1981 MILITANT TOWN - SHOPKEEPERS UP IN ARMS The traders formed the Leatherhead Action Group ‘to force the Council to rethink its disastrous policies toward the town centre’. LAG held a public meeting on Monday 12th October 1981 in the Red Cross Hall near the Station.

1982 The Swan Centre was built on the very convenient open car park area which was used for the town and particularly for the High Street.
The car park for the High Street is now the multi-storey car park in the Swan Centre, which is less convenient.
Leatherhead High Street was pedestrianised
Crossroads were closed

Taylor’s store closed - article from the Leatherhead Advertiser
w/e August 13, 1982 Closure of store due to 'one-way'

Continued spirited campaign by the Traders to reverse decisions on closure of crossroads
Bridge Street and North Street were re-opened

7th January 1983 Editorial in Surrey Advertiser very critical of Surrey County Council (SCC)
THE COUNTY COUNCIL KNOWS BEST

the 1990s

1994 Another major campaign by the Traders to show SCC and Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) that they need to re-think their strategy for Leatherhead.
TRADERS POINT THE WAY TO THE REVIVAL OF THE TOWN CENTRE
A BUSINESSMAN'S VIEW OF THE SNAGS FACED BY SHOPPERS
BRING BACK SHOPPING TO 'FORTRESS'

1995 Petition by the Leatherhead & District Chamber of Commerce entitled Revitalisation of Leatherhead. People were invited to sign this petition to Surrey County Council to signify their agreement to remove the gyratory system, open up a link between Church Street and North Street, and open up the High Street between 4.30 p.m. and 10.30 a.m. It was signed, among others, by six local councillors.

January 1997 The Civic Trust produced their report which had been commissioned by MVDC as part of the Leatherhead Town Centre Regeneration Strategy and Action Plan. Out of 10 key projects in their Vision of the Future, the first 3 were

1. ATTACK FORTRESS LEATHERHEAD. Turning Leret Way into a shopfront for Leatherhead Town Centre
2. ATTACK FORTRESS LEATHERHEAD. Developing the Fairfield Site to create a new frontage to Leret Way
3. ATTACK FORTRESS LEATHERHEAD. Introducing new short stay customer parking spaces on Leret Way

Nothing has been done to attack Fortress Leatherhead

September 1997 Leatherhead Town Centre Survey among Local Residents prepared for The Leatherhead and District Chamber of Trade & Commerce, by Parker Tanner (Marketing Research Consultants).

Part of the summary said: In order to encourage people to shop in the Leatherhead Town centre, most residents felt that there should be:

more car parking spaces
lower parking charges
easier access to town centre

The need for easy access and good parking facilities was also highlighted by the fact that 84% of residents normally use their car when travelling from their home to the town centre.

April 1998 SCC/MVDC Leatherhead High Street Information pack Phase 1

1998 Phase I inflicted major disruption on the upper part of the High Street and was originally estimated to cost 500,000.

In the Leatherhead Society Newsletter 75 of January 1999 they say “Many people do not object to traffic per se but they do object to vehicles cluttering up footways. We have now received advice from the Police that vehicles can legally park anywhere in a Pedestrian Zone provided they do not cause ‘unnecessary obstruction’. As has become clear since re-paving was completed, vehicles will indeed park anywhere and everywhere.”

Leatherhead AHEAD agree with this view, and we have asked the Councils many times for the High Street pavements to be properly delineated for pedestrians and for the car spaces to be clearly marked for parking.

December 1998 The Inspector into the Local Plan looked at the proposed Church Street - North Street link road and advised that the link would endanger pedestrians without improving access. The scheme was therefore finally abandoned.
Did he look at other options?

October 1999 Exhibition on Phase II was held in an empty unit in the Swan Centre. It ran for 20 hours (4 days, 5 hours a day) and showed an artist’s impression of a multi-screen cinema, better entrance and access from Leret Way, more shops, and a model of some ramps with a water feature. SCC reported that 56 out of 77 people voted in favour.

click for full screen front page click for full screen page 2 click for full screen p3 click for full screen p4

please click on thumbails for a readable image

2000/2001

End of 2001 The Councils announced that Phase II would start at the end of March, would cost 650,000 and would take six months. It would involve re-paving the lower end of the High Street including the crossroads area, and building ramps with a water feature to give better access for the disabled and those with pushchairs.

This was all that was left of the scheme exhibited in 1999. The other developments had all been abandoned.

January 2002 Planning permission given for development of the Cornhill site with an hotel and apartments behind.

January 2002 Several residents of Leatherhead independently realised that the real problems of the town were lack of access and parking, and that this Phase II scheme would do nothing to help solve any of these problems. Indeed, the Phase II scheme would be another obstruction in the heart of the town and would remove vital options which could have greatly improved the access to the town.

February 2002 Having unsuccessfully tried to get the support of councillors and the local MP, these residents formed Leatherhead AHEAD to speak up for the town and help stop its decline and realise its potential.


14th March 2002
Leatherhead AHEAD demonstrate at the crossroads

14th March 2002 Letter to Mr Paul Coen (CEO of Surrey County Council) asking for an urgent meeting to hear why the Phase II works would be to Leatherhead’s benefit and to explain Leatherhead AHEAD’s position.

16th-17th March 2002 In the centre of town 1170 signatures were collected on our petition:

Stop the water feature!
Spend the money on re-opening Leatherhead!
Restore our crossroads!
GIVE US BACK OUR TOWN!

18th March 2002 Petition was given to Mr Bob McKinley, Surrey County Councillor for Leatherhead and Fetcham East, asking him to present the petition to Mr Paul Coen (CEO of Surrey County Council)

about 17 March 2002 Leatherhead Advertiser Countdown to 'death of the town'

18th March 2002 Leatherhead AHEAD produced their first Press Release.

20th March 2002 Reply from Mr Paul Coen (CEO of Surrey County Council) stating that he was “aware that Mr Jim Smith, Executive member of our council, whom you have also written to, is hoping to have a meeting with your organization. In these circumstances I doubt that a meeting with me would add value. The issues do need to be handled at local level by the Transportation Committee with the help of Jim Smith.”

28th March 2002 WORK STARTED ON PHASE II

Spring 2002 By the beginning of April, 3,000 increasingly angry people had signed our petition asking for Phase II to be halted and the whole situation to be re-appraised.

10th April 2002 Meeting of the PATC (Partnership Area Transportation Committee) at Pippbrook, Dorking.

We presented the petition and they agreed that they would arrange a public meeting to discuss Phase II and the future of Leatherhead.

But they did not stop the work on the Phase II works.


presentation of petition 10 April 2002: source via Leatherhead AHEAD

29th April 2002 Leatherhead AHEAD held a public meeting in The Theatre in Leatherhead. 550 people attended and the Theatre was packed. They voted overwhelmingly (only 6 abstained and 9 voted against) in favour of a resolution that SCC and MVDC should not proceed with the Phase II works as currently envisaged. MVDC produced a document giving the Council’s version of events, which they handed out at the end of the meeting.

15th May 2002 The Mole Valley Local Transportation Committee (successor to PATC) held an additional meeting to respond to this resolution. Leatherhead AHEAD was invited to give a 5-minute presentation, but we were told by a Councillor before the meeting that the vote would be to continue with Phase II ! And so it was.

19th June 2002 SCC held their public meeting called Improving Access to Leatherhead Town Centre. It was chaired by Professor John Whitelegg, who was claimed to be independent but who had in the past been a candidate for the Green Party and who goes round the world with the message that ‘motorised transport is eating our time, space and future’.

There were no councillors or council officers on the platform to take part in the advertised discussions or answer questions. The audience voted overwhelmingly to reject the water feature and the rest of Phase II.

26th June 2002 Professor Whitelegg produced his report. Whitelegg Report

4th August 2002 Leatherhead AHEAD replied to Professor Whitelegg

August 2002 In a poll arranged by BBC Radio 4 and CABE (The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, Leatherhead was named the 5th Worst High Street in the U.K.

September 2002 An application was made for a drinks licence for a proposed Litten Tree Pub to be in the centre of the town next to the ramps and water feature. If granted, the pub would then apply for a public entertainment licence. Leatherhead AHEAD joined forces with the Leatherhead Community Association and the Leatherhead Society to fight the proposal and they managed to delay the application hearing by raising objections. By that time the Litten Tree Pub owners apparently had major financial problems and the drinks licence application for the premises was withdrawn.

October 2002 SCC wrote to the traders notifying them that the Phase II works would stop for the Christmas period and that work would start again in January 2003. They were invited to The Theatre on 24th October to see how the new arrangements would work.

13th November 2002 A joint letter was written to the Chief Executives of SCC and MVDC and signed by the following groups;
The Leatherhead & District Chamber of Commerce
Disability Action Group
Leatherhead AHEAD
Leatherhead Community Association
Leatherhead & District Countryside Protection Society

asking that the construction of the water feature be abandoned, the area paved over, and the opportunity taken to agree the best way forward.

11th December 2002 Meeting of the Mole Valley Local Committee to choose one of these options for the Phase II Water Feature:

1. The works continue as planned
2. Construction of the water feature is abandoned and the area is paved over
3. Construction of the zig zag ramps without the associated water features and retaining walls

The Lib-Dems proposed that the Phase II works be abandoned until consultation with local stakeholder groups had taken place but this was refused. The Conservatives and an Independent member of the Committee agreed to abandon the water feature and go ahead with the ramps alone, without knowing the cost, the finish date or the design. (See Appendix 1 of Phase II Review)

The Committee’s decision had come about as a result of unforeseen delays and complications with the Phase II enhancement scheme, due to problems with the positioning and amount of pipes, cables and other infrastructure lying under the tarmac that became exposed once the diggers got to work.

17th December 2002 Exhibition of revised plans for the ramps without the water feature, attended by invited representatives of various groups. Leatherhead AHEAD and others expressed doubts that anybody would use the ramps because there was so far to travel for such little gain.

February 2003 Mrs Heather Kerswell (Chief Executive MVDC) admitted in the Leatherhead Advertiser that MVDC hadn’t communicated very well.

24th February 2003 Pixham Lane Dorking closed for 18 months. The MVDC Local Committee were intending to look again at the situation before the 18 months was up, but the closure caused massive traffic problems in the Dorking area. There was huge uproar from users and traders in Dorking. Also campaigns to ‘FREE PIXHAM LANE’ and ‘UNJAM DORKING’.

14th March 2003 First AGM of Leatherhead AHEAD in the Parish Church Hall 1st AGM, chairman's report

March 2003 BBC1 showed a programme “UK’s Worst - High Streets”. There were three judges on the panel and they were unanimous in voting for Leatherhead as THE UK’s WORST HIGH STREET. One of the judges, Mr Jon Rouse, Head of CABE said on the programme “One thing you cannot legislate against is bad taste, and this local authority has bad taste in droves. Who would invest in blue plastic lighting? Leatherhead High Street could be substantially improved if there is a will from the local authority, but at the moment it is the worst high street in Britain.”

2nd April 2003 Reply from The Auditor (Mr Andrew Bostock of KPMG) to Mr Andy Cole, a member of our committee. Andy Cole had written a detailed complaint that SCC, in managing the Phase II works to Leatherhead High Street, had not delivered value for money in the use of public funds in managing the works, and had acted without appropriate consultation with key stakeholders with regard to future plans to complete the works.

The Auditor replied “Following our discussions with officers, and a review of the relevant documentation pertaining to both the consultation on, and decision making processes implemented in respect of the Phase II works to Leatherhead High Street, we have concluded that there are no grounds on which we are minded to take action with regard to your complaint. ……..”

25th April 2003 Andy Cole wrote to the Auditor again questioning the reliability of the information provided by the Council, and giving detailed examples.

May 2003 Exhibition re MVDC proposals for the Red House Grounds and the Bull Hill depot site(both sites owned by MVDC). Leatherhead AHEAD made clear that if the Councils were interested in the well-being of Leatherhead (as they say they are) they must not consider either of these areas in isolation. Leatherhead is desperately short of parking of all types and this is the last remaining opportunity near the town centre to provide vital parking.

June 2003 Phase II Works ‘substantially complete’. The area will be open to the public during the week beginning 23rd June. Concrete wall cladding and final snagging will be carried out at a later date.

July 2003 A letter was published in the Leatherhead Advertiser from Leatherhead AHEAD making the comparison between the Phase II fiasco in Leatherhead and the closure of Pixham Lane and saying: “It is undoubtedly a fact that in the private sector, the incompetence and mismanagement displayed on both these projects would have resulted in the personnel involved being severely censured, or more probably dismissed. No evidence has yet been offered by the Councils involved that any such action has been taken in these cases.”

July 2003 Pixham Lane Dorking re-opened

July 2003 Mr Peter Stait (the Town Centre Manager) issued a press release quoting Mr Jon Rouse of CABE as saying that the town centre was transformed from a year ago. “There used to be twenty seven empty properties down there, now there are just three. There are flowers everywhere, the lighting’s improved, the pavement’s improved… it’s a completely different place.”

In mvnews (the official magazine of MVDC) the Council used the same press release and stated “A recent Radio 4 interview reported that Leatherhead town centre has been completely transformed over the last year with improved lighting and pavements, a vastly reduced number of empty properties and attractive floral displays. It is certainly looking a lot more lively and this trend looks set to continue.”

However, as CABE have confirmed to us, this press release certainly did not tell the whole story. Leatherhead AHEAD checked with Mr Jon Rouse of CABE and he wrote back saying his comments had been heavily edited:

“Thanks for your letter of 21 July, following my comments on BBC1 and Radio 4.

A lesson of this particular episode is don’t believe everything you read in or hear on media. In both cases, my comments were heavily edited, so that they reflected extreme positions. The reality is that Leatherhead’s High Street was never the worst street in Britain; it was the worst of those that the BBC chose to show on that evening. Similarly, while it is true the High Street has improved significantly since last year, there is still an awful lot to be done. We have recently visited Leatherhead and have conveyed to the council all the different elements that we are still concerned about:

What I am certain of is that there is no point trading any more blows within the media. Any further progress will be achieved through partnership, and we therefore encourage LeatherheadAhead to work closely with the council to achieve further improvements as resources become available.

I think the best approach now is to adopt some individual projects, such as the area outside the theatre or the route from the station to the town centre and really work on some substantial improvements in the environment.”

See also BBC/CABE link on the left of your screen

October 2003 Phase II works “substantially complete” but snagging delayed until 2004 when the Christmas trading period was over.

December 2003 Leatherhead AHEAD Chairman Paula Sabine and Press Officer Wendy Reid met SCC Executive Councillor Helyn Clack (Transport) and SCC Councillor Bob McKinley to show them there were safety aspects of the ramps which needed attention. Document given that day to Cllrs Helyn Clack & Bob McKinley re safety aspects

December 2003 People are still signing our petition. We have 4,500 signatures.

January 2004 Phase II Works cladding and snagging finished
PROJECT TOOK TWENTY TWO MONTHS INSTEAD OF SIX

February 2004 As both Councils must be accountable for the way they spend our money, Leatherhead AHEAD has written two letters to the Chief Executives of Surrey County Council (Mr Paul Coen) and Mole Valley District Council (Mrs Heather Kerswell):

Letter 1 asks for the total breakdown of the cost of the Phase II works now that they are finished.

Letter 2 (Completion of Leatherhead Phase 2 works - Review) points out that SCC and MVDC have achieved NONE of the aims they wanted to achieve with Phase II, i.e. better access to the High Street for everybody, improved access for the disabled in wheelchairs and people with pushchairs, and a focal point for the town. Instead we have a desolate structure which obscures the view of the High Street from the top of Bridge Street (and vice versa), a pavement on the More shop side much steeper than it was, and a set of ramps not used by anyone.

12th March 2004 Second AGM of Leatherhead AHEAD held in the Green Room of The Theatre. Lucy Hanson, the new Town Centre Manager, was the guest speaker. 2nd AGM, chairman's report

15th March 2004 As there had been no response from the Auditor (Mr Andrew Bostock of KPMG) to Andy Cole’s letter of 25th April 2003, or to his chaser letters of 20th September and 24th November 2003, the Chairman of Leatherhead AHEAD wrote to the Auditor, sending a copy of our Review of the Phase II works and asking for a thorough post-completion audit of the works to be carried out.

18th March 2004 SURREY COUNTY COUNCIL ADMITS THERE ARE SAFETY ISSUES AFFECTING THE LEATHERHEAD RAMPS
Although we continue to believe that the obstruction (the ramps) in the crossroads area serves no purpose for the town and solves none of the problems of lack of access and parking, we met SCC Councillors Helyn Clack (new Executive for Transport) and Bob McKinley to show them that there were safety concerns with the ramps that needed attention. We gave them a document showing the major issues, and we have now received a letter clarifying their position as follows:

Letter from SCC Councillor Bob McKinley dated 18th March 2004

…..The position now is that we accept the need to improve the ramps in a number of ways - many of which you have highlighted. In particular we must tackle the problem of steps that vary in their levels and the question of demarcation between pedestrians and vehicles outside the Abbey National (incidentally, thank you for your specific suggestion for dealing with this). Some other matters have been raised by you and in our discussions generally and we now need an overall assessment and suggested ways forward from our officials. This will then come before the Local Committee to authorise the necessary works.
(We) are concerned that work should go ahead just as soon as authority has been given for the precise steps needed. …..

29th March 2004 Reply to our Review from SCC Chief Executive Mr Paul Coen attaching a report by Mr Roger Archer-Reeves, Local Transportation Director, commenting on the items raised.

3rd May 2004 Reply sent to Paul Coen challenging the statements in his letter of 29th March,

4th May 2004 We have written again to the Auditor (Mr Andrew Bostock of KPMG) reminding him that we are still waiting for a reply to our letter dated 15 March. We also sent him a copy of our correspondence with Paul Coen.

22 June: Leatherhead Forum - Environmental Audit - print off the questionnaire and have your say by completing this survey received from MVDC and sending it back either via the Leatherhead Help Shop, 25-27 High Street, Leatherhead marked for the attention of Heather Ward, or by post to Rod Shaw, Mole Valley District Council, Pippbrook, Dorking, Surrey, RH4 1SJ. Deadline 19 July 2004.

29 June [added to website 15 Jul]: Reply from KPMG to our letter of 15 March in which we provided a copy of our Review of the Phase II works and asked for a thorough post-completion audit of the works to be carried out (reminder sent 4 May). It concludes [their punctuation]:
"We have, concluded on the basis of the evidence made available to us, that no further action is required of either the County Council, or ourselves, in respect of the matters you have raised with us.
Whilst I recognise that our findings may come as a disappointment to you, I would like to thank you for taking the time to bring these issues to our attention"

8th July A report in the 8 July edition of the Leatherhead Advertiser includes quotes from Leatherhead AHEAD on the parking problems being caused by some Travelodge customers. A meeting of interested parties is being held - report

9th July Paula Sabine provides notes of the points put to two top officers from Surrey County Council Transportation Department who accompanied her and Mike Lewis and John Howarth (President of Leatherhead Chamber of Commerce) on a two hour walkabout in Leatherhead town centre on 9th July.

last updated 15 Jul 2004