Government bans councils from meeting on-line

It was recently announced that:

 “Councils will not be able to hold virtual council meetings after 6th May after the Government refused to budge on changes to legislation.

“In a letter to council leaders late last night [25th March], local government minister Luke Hall said the Government had ‘concluded that it is not possible to bring forward emergency legislation on this issue at this time’.”

Two problems arise from this as far as our borough council is concerned.  Firstly, the council chamber ventilation is too limited to guarantee the safety of councillors during Full Council meetings, particularly if members of the public are also present.  Secondly, the chamber is not large enough for social distancing to be maintained on such occasions.

The council has therefore reviewed alternative ways of holding meetings after the 6th May ‘deadline’.

The most obvious option – using the theatre – has been ruled out.  Council meetings can continue late into the evening, and there is not enough time to sanitise the upholstered seats and remove empty crisp packets and discarded pop-corn afterwards, unless cleaning staff are paid extra to work late into the evening.

Several other possibilities have been considered, but they have also been rejected for a range of reasons. Finally, it was concluded that the council’s Main Square car park could be a satisfactory meeting venue. ALL council meetings will therefore be held on part of one of the car park’s upper floors, which will be kept vehicle-free in weekday evenings. The car park has more than sufficient air flow, and councillors can maintain effective social distancing by each one sitting in their own allocated parking space.  (The space will be provided with a chair and small table, of course.)

A bonus of making this a permanent arrangement is that the council chamber can be converted into a food bank for the increasing number of residents who are unable to pay their council tax.

In view of the poor acoustics of the car park, individual councillors will be unable to be heard by their colleagues.  This means that contributions ‘from the floor’ will become a thing of the past, shortening meetings considerably, and improving their efficiency as a result.

Eat, drink and dance in the High Street

Today’s photograph, taken just before the shutdown, shows the boarded-up shop that was formerly called Stacks. Or, to be more accurate, the photograph shows the facade of the former Stacks- everything behind the facade has been changed completely.

After years of slow progress, a planning application has now been submitted for the building. It proposes: Indoor live and recorded music, indoor dancing, indoor and outdoor provision of late night refreshment and sale of alcohol on and off the premises.

The application is in the name of ‘Troy Mediterranean’. We’ve Googled, but pretty much all we can find refers to US Greek restaurants of that name. As the applicant has what appears to be a Turkish surname, we just scratch our head and wonder.

Another food/drink retailer

A notice has appeared in the windows of the office on the corner of the High Street and the A30. It’s in the name of Fat Ox Prime, and it states that an application has been made for the supply of alcohol.

We say that Fat Ox Prime is a retailer of food as well as drink. That’s a deduction on our part. The application isn’t available on the council’s website (maybe it’ll appear at some point…), so we’ve had to do some digging. We’ve concluded that Fat Ox Prime is an Italian supplier of meat and meat products – but whether this implies a restaurant or ‘just’ a shop, we’re not sure.

We guess it’s early days; presumably there’ll have to be an application for a change of use, and we’ve not encountered one yet.

Will the borough council rethink? (repeat)

Our post today is an exact repeat of one that we published in July 2018.  We’ve not changed a word, and, sadly, we don’t see a need to change a word.

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Today’s pictures are familiar illustrations of the borough council’s intent for Camberley High Street.

Technically, they don’t illustrate a ‘shared space’ for traffic and pedestrians because the plans include kerbs.  But, given that the intention is to reduce the number of parking spaces and increase the width of the pavement, kerbs of “minimal height” won’t stop drivers from parking on the pavement when they visit one of the shops or take-aways.  If (when?) this happens, the road will become a de facto shared space  Preventing it will require constant – and expensive – patrolling by enforcement officers.

Now, the Department for Transport has just written: “We recommend that Local Authorities pause the development of shared space schemes which incorporate a level surface while we review and update guidance. Alongside this, we will temporarily withdraw Local Transport Note 1/11: Shared Space.'”

Accordingly, we recommend that the council changes its proposal for a ‘minimal kerb height’ to a ‘typical kerb height’, and that, in addition, it budgets for measures to deter parking on the pavement.  This is an urgent matter as the council has already awarded a contract “to deliver detailed design up to the construction stage”.

[The Eye has consistently argued against the council’s ‘fudge’ of restricting, but not preventing, through traffic and parking.  We know both sides of the argument, but turning the road into a pleasant place to walk – and not worry about traffic – is the better option for a town centre.]

Have we been adequately consulted?

Our photo today is part of a form that must be displayed if a business applies for a pavement licence (ie permission for a restaurant etc to operate on the pavement, usually in front of its premises). Several such forms have appeared in the town in the last month or so.

You’ll see that the form says that information that is submitted with the application will be available on the council’s website. So what is that information? It’s:

“a plan showing the location of the premises defined by a red line, so the application site can be clearly identified

“a plan clearly showing the proposed area covered by the pavement  licence in relation to the highway, if not to scale, with measurements clearly shown.  The plan must show the positions and number of the proposed tables and chairs, together with any other items that you  wish to place on the highway. The plan shall include clear measurements of, for example, pathway width/length, building width and any other fixed item in the proposed area.

“the proposed days of the week on which, and the times of day between which, it is proposed to put furniture on the highway,

“the proposed duration of the licence (for e.g. 3 months, 6 months, or a year);

“evidence of the right to occupy the premises (e.g. the lease);

“photos or brochures showing the proposed type of furniture and information on potential siting of it within the area applied;

“evidence that the applicant has met the requirement with regards to the Site Notice has been met (for example photographs of the notice outside the premises and of the notice itself);

“a copy of a current certificate of insurance that covers the activity for third party and public liability risks, to a minimum value of £5 million,

“any other evidence needed to demonstrate how the Council’s local conditions, and any national conditions will be satisfied.”

Now, clearly, some of the above information is of fairly academic interest to residents.  But details like the area of pavement involved, and what is to be placed within it, do matter.  A public consultation without this information would just be a sham.

So, how much of the above is actually available on the council website, via the link provided?  As far as we can tell, ABSOLUTELY NONE.

Now, this is far from academic.  According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government: “The local authority is REQUIRED to publish the application and any information or material which the applicant has submitted with it to meet the requirements of the authority, in such a manner as it considers appropriate, for example, on their website or via an online portal.”  Well, if it’s ‘REQUIRED’ then due process hasn’t been followed.  The consultations haven’t met the requirements.

Southwell Park Road ‘screening’

Jeremy sent us this photo of the screening that’s meant to disguise the relatively new electricity sub-station just inside the London Road Recreation Ground. He said “They took all the beautiful rhodedendrons out and put these ghastly green power sheds up and then screened with cheapest option possible?”

We have to say the installation was hardly a thing of beauty even before the screening started to collapse. It’s a pity that it couldn’t have been located a metre or so further from the boundary, so that it could have been concealed by some real greenery.

Arnold Walk – a new one on us

Until the other day, we’d never come across a thoroughfare in Camberley called Arnold Walk. Google the name and – if you’re like us – you’ll not find any reference to it. But, it’s mentioned, without any explanation, in the latest draft council Annual Plan.

After some head-scratching, we THINK it’s what retailers used to call ‘Sprinters Alley’ – the narrow walkway between Main Square car park and the former BHS. It earned its name from the fact that shop-lifters (remember shops?) in The Mall used to run along the walkway and onto the railway tracks, knowing that security personnel wouldn’t follow them for safety reasons.

Anyway, the target in the draft Annual Plan is: “Complete the public realm works at Arnold Walk and part of Pembroke Broadway to create a more welcoming entrance to the Town Centre from the Train Station.” But the target isn’t until April 2022 – more than a year away.

Do we really have to wait that long before welcoming visitors? We reckon that a pressure washer and a few cans of white masonry paint would work wonders on the outside of the car park. The brickwork could also be improved with a little public art. (OK, we simplify somewhat, but the council is encouraging us to use buses and trains. At least it could make so doing a pleasant experience.)