Leatherhead
AHEAD

Moving our town forward together
P.O. Box 240, Leatherhead, Surrey KT22 8YQ Phone: 01372 378604
email: leatherheadahead@aol.com

Completion of Leatherhead Phase 2 works - Review - amended version 17 March 2004

Our comments are given at Part 2 ...
[click here for
Mr Coen's response to these and our further reply: click here to see our Conclusions quickly]

Part 1 MVDC

High Street/Church Street, Leatherhead
Phase 2 of Environmental Enhancement Scheme

We have carried out a post-completion review of the development work in Leatherhead High Street, recently completed, and are detailing our findings below.

THE PROPOSAL
At its meeting held at 2.00 pm on Wednesday, 16th February 2000 at Mole Valley DC Offices (Pippbrook) the Mole Valley Partnership Area Transportation Sub-Committee approved item No. 9 on the agenda, the proposed design for the above mentioned scheme. Those voting were:

Mrs Janet Marsh
Mr Derrick Burt
Mr Hubert Carr
Valerie J. Homewood
Mrs Shirley Lyon
Mrs Jean Pearson
Mr Peter Seabrook, OBE
Mr James E. Smith, OBE
Mr David Timms
Mrs Hazel V.A. Watson
Mr Peter Webb

Mr Hubert Carr voted against the decision.

The meeting felt that there had been sufficient consultation and stressed that there should be no unnecessary delay.
The design had previously been approved by Mole Valley District Council’s Planning Committee at its meeting on 19th January 2000.

BACKGROUND
The background to this decision was the paper submitted by Mr Martyn Williams, District Engineer, on 16th February 2000. This is summarised below.

CONSULTATION
Item 7 states that the exhibition (of the proposed design, scale model and plans) was visited by over 1000 people, during October 1999, and Item 8 states that some 77% of those visitors who commented were in favour of the proposed design.

THE SCHEME
Item 9 reads:
“The design concept …addresses the need to create a welcoming and unique focal point at the junction of the High Street, Church Street and North Street, which will allow easy access for everyone, and fit in with the broad mixture of surrounding architectural styles.”

Item 10 reads:
“The terraced slopes will allow much improved accessibility through this part of the town and increase the amount of seating for visitors to use.”

Item 11 reads:
“ Safe but attractive water features would be incorporated in low level retaining walls required for the terracing. A coloured lighting scheme will be incorporated. The use of high quality materials is proposed throughout.”

FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS
The estimated cost of the scheme was put at 650,000 to be funded as follows:

000
400 Developers contribution
100 MVDC capital contribution
050 SCC contribution from revenue
100 SCC capital contribution
650

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPLICATIONS

Item 16 reads “The implementation of the project is an integral part of the regeneration strategy for Leatherhead. It is the key in attracting both more visitors to the town centre and more inward investment opportunities.

2 THE REALITY - comments from Leatherhead AHEAD on the above

CONSULTATION
The public exhibition was held in a small shop in the Swan Centre in Leatherhead on four days in the period 21st to 30th October 1999 between the hours of 11 am and 4pm. It is noteworthy that two of these four days were Saturdays. These Saturdays were either side of the school half-term week when many people would have been away. It is understood that the number of people actually commenting on the proposal was 78 – of which the 77% quoted would have amounted to 60 persons.

The major components of the proposed development of the Phase II area, on which the public were consulted and for which these 60 persons voted, were:

terraced slopes (later referred to as “ramps”), a multiscreen cinema or a health centre, a water feature, more shops and a new entrance to the town from Leret Way.

In the event, a Travelodge hotel is being built at the location designated for the cinema or health centre, the water feature was abandoned as being not technically feasible, and the access from Leret Way, with the possible additional shops, has not materialised.

When, two years after this “consultation” had taken place, the wider public became aware of the proposed development, considerable opposition was expressed. This opposition was reflected in numerous letters of protest published in the local press, citing considerations of hygiene, requirement for frequent cleaning, etc. and most importantly a misuse of public money.
A number of writers of these letters formed a group, and Leatherhead AHEAD was born. A demonstration was then held at the crossroads at the beginning of March 2002.

As there was no response from the councils, a petition was then taken up among users of Leatherhead town centre. Following a demonstration outside the council offices, this petition, with 2700 signatures was presented to the Local Committee for Mole Valley at their meeting on 10 April 2002. In spite of this, the majority of the Local Committee members voted to continue with the project. In the weeks that followed, further signatures objecting to the proposal were added to the petition, bringing the total to over 4,500.

With no reaction from the councils, Leatherhead AHEAD then organised a public meeting in the Leatherhead Theatre on 29 April 2002. This was attended by some 508 persons – more than the maximum capacity of the theatre – and, following a presentation of the implications of the proposed development, 500 persons voted against it. This was not a political issue. Rather was it a matter of common sense.

The Councils then organised their own public meeting on 19 June, where major opposition to the proposed development was again expressed.

Despite all of this, the project went ahead.

THE SCHEME
(Item 11) It was stated, at the inception of the Phase II project in April 2002, that its completion would require approximately six months. A large part of the Phase II area was then excavated to a considerable depth and remained so for some eight months. During much of that time there were almost daily changes to the footpath layout. No assistance whatever was provided to help the elderly and disabled, cope with the ever-changing obstructions, which even the able-bodied had problems negotiating. These at one stage included a narrow, unprotected plank bridge across a trench, into the Abbey National building, and similar ‘bridges’ accessed other premises. This was an even greater problem for the many visually-impaired persons from SEEABILITY, living in the area.

An important point to note is that when the old surface was taken up, down to the original road, it was possible to see that the original slope at the crossroads was a continuation of the rest of the high street.  In other words, the reason for the ramp was to correct a slope the steepness of which had been man-made in the first place.  Putting back the original slope might well have solved the problem and a ramp would not have been necessary at all.

Then, at a meeting of the Local Committee, on 11th December 2002, it was announced that the water feature had been found to be not technically feasible and had been abandoned. It was stated that a new design would be drawn up and work on a revised project would commence early in the New Year. Given this fundamental change in the project, a motion was put from the floor that the revised proposal should be submitted for further public consultation. This was voted down and the proposal to proceed with a revised project was approved, despite the fact that designs and costing for it had still to be produced, and thus in ignorance of whether or not the final cost would fall within budget. An extract from the minutes of that meeting, recording the motion and its rejection, is attached as Appendix 1. It is questioned whether, in doing so, those councillors making this decision were, in fact, not acting outside the limits of their authority.

It must here be said that the conclusion cannot be avoided that the management of the whole project has been abysmally deficient in, amongst other things, not recognising months earlier that the water feature was technically unfeasible and now, at this late date, that it would be necessary to dig a trench across the newly-paved area of the High Street for the laying of cables to the new Travelodge hotel – something which good practice would surely have foreseen from the outset of that project.

“The use of high quality materials is proposed throughout”, does not seem to apply to the paving, as several cracked slabs have already had to be replaced.

(Items 9 and 10) There is no disputing the fact that the final development constitutes a unique (=only one of a kind: without equal”) focal point, a declared objective of Phase II. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine there could be another such construction, anywhere, which falls so far short of “allowing easy access for everyone.”
Beyond that it must be said that, rather than being “welcoming and allowing easy access”, the magnitude and solidity of the ramps and walls, in fact, give the impression of a fortification, impeding and discouraging the approach to the High Street from the west.
As will be seen from the minutes in Appendix 1, the Local Transportation Manager (LTM) “clarified for the Committee that, with the removal of the water elements from the design, any features above ground would be aesthetic rather than structural and there was no requirement for a wall.”

Later, when the plans were ‘shown’ to specific residents, the revised design, in spite of this “clarification”, was shown to include a number of walls. Residents questioned whether these would not largely obscure the view of the High Street from points below (west of) the area. The LTM then gave an assurance that the height of the walls would be “very little above ground level” so that “this view would be only slightly reduced.” In the event, the upper part of the High Street beyond the Phase II area is now largely obscured by the walls, which are far higher and more solid than those proposed. Indeed, the massive concrete foundations for these walls were taken to a depth of one metre or more .… for aesthetic purposes only?

In a letter sent to the chief executives of both councils in November 2002 by LeatherheadAhead, the Disability Action Group and other Leatherhead town stakeholders, the councils were requested to ‘take the opportunity provided by the cessation of work in the town centre (when the water feature was abandoned) to consult with stakeholder groups and agree the best way forward….’ Again, this was disregarded.

Since the opening of the ramps, their use has been monitored on eight different days – both before and after addition of the cladding – at different daylight hours, by pairs of observers, for a total of 19 hours. Findings of this monitoring are attached in Appendix 2 to this letter. It will be seen that not one person, able or disabled, used the ramps during any of the monitoring periods. We believe that this was a representative sampling from which it must be concluded that the ramps are used, if ever, only on the rare occasion. We call upon the Council to verify this by appointing an independent agency to carry out its own monitoring and to publish its results.

It should be mentioned here that, in order to accommodate the ramps, the gradient of the slope of the footpath along the north (most used) side of the site appears to have been increased above the pre-Phase II configuration. This has resulted in an even steeper ascent from North Street to “More” (ex Martins) where the Post Office is located, and beyond. However, this is still the route taken to this area, in obvious preference to the ramps, by all users, including the many disabled and elderly people and those with push chairs. In passing, it is noted that a further by-product of the construction is that, in times of heavy rainfall, a considerable depth of water accumulates around the post box at the bottom of the slope.

Apparently, Seeability have written a letter to Surrey County Council regarding safety issues in the centre of Leatherhead. The Disability Action group have commissioned a report regarding safety which was sent to Surrey County Council back in August.

The original scheme stated that the design concept would “fit in with the broad mixture of architectural styles”. While this is a matter for personal, subjective appreciation, it must nonetheless be questioned whether the glazed-slate effect used can be said to fit in with the 18th-century style of the surrounding red-brick buildings or how the installation of tubular aluminium bicycle stands and notice board fits into this historical town.

The declared intention to “increase the amount of seating for visitors to use” can hardly be said to have been achieved by the installation of 10 stark, flat-topped, backless, solid “granite” columns, 50cms in diameter and in height, in place of the previous wooden benches accommodating some 14 or so persons. Some, at least, of these benches were almost always occupied; the granite monoliths seldom if ever are. Indeed, on the twice-weekly market days, the upper six of these columns are totally covered by the structure of the greengrocer’s stall, to nobody’s apparent inconvenience.


FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS
Particularly given the major time-overrun, we call upon the Council to disclose the auditable final cost of the project, broken down into detailed cost elements comparable with those in the original project - something which has consistently been withheld “until the project is completed”. It must here be emphasised that the completion of the Phase 2 works does not equate to completion of the original project, since the 650,000 budgeted cost of this included, amongst other things, the construction of the water feature, for which we believe a provision of 60,000 was made, but which was never completed.

The original cost was later amended to be 715,409 (including 100,000 from MVDC and 114,000 from SCC), and then 750,000.

We have been told repeatedly that the bulk of the monies employed on the Phase 2 works are Section 106 money (‘Developers’ contributions), which had to be spent on these works. However, at an Environment Committee meeting, Section 106 money was re-allocated for the use of Town Centre Management. Presumably, therefore the whole of the Phase 2 Section 106 money (at least 500,000), together with the money from MVDC and SCC, could have been redeployed to address the problems of access and parking.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPLICATIONS
It defies the imagination that the completed Phase II development could be regarded as “the key in attracting both more visitors to the town centre and more inward investment opportunities” as was claimed in justifying the original proposal. On the contrary, it is considered by a great many, in unsolicited comments by passers by, to be a major disincentive to the would-be visitor wishing to approach the centre from Bridge Street/North Street.

Attention is also drawn to the several accidents which have occurred in the Phase II area since its completion – some occasioned by the wedge-shaped steps at the bottom of the ramp, and the two small unexpected steps on the ‘More’ side of the ramp (dangerous for anyone in a wheelchair) – others by the unevenness of newly-laid paving slabs, and one, at least, requiring hospital treatment. Given this, it is recommended that a Safety Audit be carried out at an early opportunity, if only to avoid claims of negligence against the council.

At Christmas, the large Christmas Tree was positioned at the bottom of the ramp, blocking the sloping exit (intended for wheelchair users) and obliging everyone to use the steps!


CONCLUSION
The final version of the Phase II development in the centre of Leatherhead fails to achieve any of its principal declared objectives. The water feature, a major part of the project, had to be abandoned as technically unworkable. The promised multiscreen cinema or health centre was abandoned and a hotel built in its place, and the ramps, held out as the solution to improved access to the centre, are unanimously forsaken by the able and disabled alike and result in pedestrian approach to the town from the west being more difficult than before the project was undertaken. They also severely restrict the view of the High Street.

The whole redeveloped area can be seen only as impeding the town’s regeneration, and is an example of inappropriate use of money.

Nothing short of demolishing the whole sorry construction and restoring the area to a wide, even slope with some simple seating is likely to achieve the ideals which were promised by the Phase II proposal.

At the same time, the entrance to the upper (north east) end of the Swan Centre, from Leret Way, where the majority of disabled persons reaching Leatherhead by transport arrive, should undergo a simple, low-cost modification to facilitate their access to the down ramp into the centre.

In the name of the people of Leatherhead we call upon Surrey County Council to show good reason why this restoration of our town as we now propose should not be undertaken at the earliest opportunity, after submitting this to proper public consultation.


LeatherheadAhead
6 March 2004
Revised 17 March 2004

Review of Phase 2 works - APPENDIX 1


Extract from the minutes of the Mole Valley Local Committee meeting dated 11 December 2002:

‘The Local Transportation Manager clarified for the Committee that, with the removal of the water elements from the design, any features above ground would be aesthetic rather than structural and there was no requirement for a wall.  He also advised that the design of the scheme without the water element would need to be reviewed as a whole and specifically in respect to the 1.2m strips where the walls were originally to be installed.

Hazel Watson, seconded by Michael Anderson, moved the following motion:

"The Committee notes:
- that the water feature cannot be built as originally designed because of recently discovered statutory undertakers' plant beneath the existing crossroads area
-  that January is likely to have freezing conditions which may hinder construction work
- that February being the wettest month of the year is also likely to be adverse in terms of weather conditions and limited daylight; and
- that the Whitelegg report recommended better consultation with the residents.

The committee agrees that the Phase 2 Leatherhead Town Centre works should be suspended until March, or such time as a full public consultation can be held on various options to meet the objectives set by the Civic Trust Regeneration Board and that until such time the area should be paved over and that no further construction work should be undertaken"

Following discussion the  motion was lost by 7 votes to 4

Michael Anderson, seconded by David Timms, moved an amendment to Recommendation 2 in the published report as follows:
"That the revised layout of the ramp and associated works be delegated to the Local Transport Manager, Local Committee Chairman and Local members in and following consultation with local stakeholder groups and the people they represent"

Following discussion the amendment was lost by 7 votes to 4.

The Chairman advised the Committee that Recommendation 2, as published, was not legal since powers could be delegated to the Local Transportation Manager, but no to the Local Committee Chairman or Members. He proposed an amendment as follows:

“That the revised layout of the ramp and associated works be delegated to the Local Transport Manager, in consultation with the Local Committee Chairman and Local Members.”

Both the original Recommendation 1, and Recommendation 2 with the Chairman’s amendment were then voted upon. Both were carried by 7 votes to 2. Hazel Watson requested that her opposition be noted.

The Local Transportation Manager advised members that the contractors would be back on site on 6 January and agreement on what replaces the water elements of the design would have to be reached by then.  Officers have been working on conceptual ideas and representatives of interest groups will be invited to discuss these as soon as possible

The committee agreed that:
i)  the ramp and associated works are pursued, with the exception of the water element;
ii)  the revised layout of the ramp and associated works be delegated to the Local Transport Manager, in consultation with the Local Committee Chairman and Local Members.’


These minutes were agreed as a true record and signed at the meeting of the Mole Valley Local Committee meeting held on 12 February 2003

Chairman: David Gollin (Surrey County Council Member)

Those voting were:

Surrey County Council Members
Helyn Clack – Vice-Chaiman (Con)
Bob McKinley (Con)
Jim Smith OBE (Con)
David Timms (LD)
Hazel Watson (LD)

Mole Valley District Council Members
Michael Anderson (LD)
Rosemary Dickson (Con)
Valerie Homewood (LD)
Janet Marsh (I)
Jean Pearson (Con)
Ben Tatham (Con)

GIVE US BACK OUR TOWN !

this page last updated 12 May 2004