Leatherhead AHEAD
Response to reply from Roger Archer-Reeves dated 29 March 2004

Page 2 Environmental Implications
Paul Coen says in his letter that he does not hold with our views that the “scheme fails to achieve any of its principal objectives”. It would interest us to know which of those objectives (as detailed by Mr Martyn Williams, District Engineer, in presenting Phase II to the PAT Committee on 16th February 2000) Surrey County Council feel have been achieved.

The attached letter from CABE states that “the feature at the bottom of the High Street, with or without water, doesn’t really work and contributes to the sense that the High Street is cut off form the key gateways to the town”, and “while the lighting has improved, the lights have not and generally the street furniture remain irrelevant to the context in which it sits." These comments contradict the quote that the ‘Environmental Enhancement Scheme …‘will significantly improve the physical environment’.

Also with regard to improving the physical environment, I quote from a recent email I received:

“Just to report that last Wednesday, when it rained quite hard, there was a steady flow of water down the “More” side of the ramps because the water from the High Street hits the top wall, which does not have any drainage and is directed down the side. At the top of this pavement, between the ramp structure and “More”, there is a drain cover with slits, which are very clogged up with silt, so the water simply flows straight over. Silt also accumulates at the top – pathetic design.”

Page 3 The Reality – Consultation: Argument 1
Mr Archer-Reeves refers to the exhibition in the Swan Centre which was the focus of the public consultation, and seems to have disregarded the facts as we stated them in our Report.

The “Background Information to Phase 2 Enhancement” paper (undated) put out by Surrey CC and MVDC, covering the public consultation, correctly states: “ A public exhibition held in the Swan Centre between 21st and 23rd October and on Saturday 30th October 1999….” i.e. on four days, as we reported. Mr Archer-Reeves states that the exhibition was open from 21 October to 30 October, which is a different scenario. Furthermore, as we have said, the two Saturdays were either side of the half-term week.

The paragraph in the paper continues: “An estimated 1000 people visited the exhibition. Of the 71 written responses received, 77% (of 71?) were in favour of the proposals”. Mr Archer-Reeves chooses to enhance this with “Over 1000 people…..” In actual fact, persons still living in the town and who visited the exhibition cast extreme doubt on even the figure of one thousand, given the size of the shop and the few people there at any one time.

During the public consultation the total plan for the town centre was exhibited, in which the artist’s drawing accompanying the model did show a multi-screen cinema, additional shops and an improved connection between Leret Way and the Swan Centre.

Compare the dubious outcome of the public consultation with the following :

When the plan was discussed with the PAT Committee, in April 2002, a petition with 2700 signatures was handed in, calling for a review of the plan before it was put into practice. In the Committee meeting that followed, the decision was taken to go ahead nonetheless. A public meeting in the town theatre then voted, by a majority of some 500 to 8 for a moratorium until the plans had been reviewed. With still no response from the Local Transportation Committee, petition forms were left in shops in the town centre. They were not ‘forced on people, and yet at least 4,500 people signed them.

Page 3 The Reality – Consultation: Argument 2
It is not unfair to say that after a 2 year gap, the public would not have realised that the project would go ahead – plans get amended and cancelled all the time. However, the point we are making is that before the work started there was wide spread opposition to the plans, which as this is a democratic society, should have been taken notice of.

Page 3 The Reality – Consultation: Argument 3
The Public meeting arranged by the council, which was chaired by Professor Whitelegg, was eventually held in response to the petition, and was after the Public meeting held by LeatherheadAhead. Professor Whitelegg did ‘undertake a series of consultations with a range of local interest groups and key stakeholders’. However, this was undertaken during the one-day that he was in Leatherhead, which was hardly enough time to assimilate all the information he received before he chaired the meeting on the same day. As we said in our report, overwhelming opposition to the proposed development was again expressed.

Mr Archer-Reeves then goes on to quote Professor Whitelegg’s comments on Leatherhead Ahead. We were gratified to note that the professor recognised that we had the interests of the town at heart. We are a group of professional people with a sole non-political motivation – to see our town restored to something of its former self. We would venture to say that we spend more time in our shops, talking with the shopkeepers, than most if not all the councillors. But as any retailer will know, shoppers individually spending more money is not a realistic solution to falling trade. The only long-term solution to increasing shopkeepers’ revenues is more footfall. With difficult access to the town, insufficient short-term parking and unrestricted access for pedestrians, would-be purchasers will continue to haemorrhage away to other more accessible centres. Traders have been imploring councillors for years to take action to remedy Leatherhead’s problems.

Professor Whitelegg says that “The answer to Leatherhead’s problems is very much in the hands of Leatherhead’s citizens” - Oh that it were! Leatherhead citizens have been and are still trying to get the councils to listen to their ideas and act on their suggestions!

Page 3 Onwards – The scheme: Argument 1
Mr Archer-Reeves states that “It would be absolutely wrong to imply that the site was at any time unsafe etc.” Did Mr Archer-Reeves ever see (or help) any of the many unsighted persons to whom we referred, endeavouring to negotiate the obstacle course that was Leatherhead town centre, yet he says that it would be absolutely wrong to imply that the site was at any time unsafe. And was he there on site during the many many days the stone blocks were being sawn to size and producing clouds of dust and horrific noise, with no attempt to protect the passers by or the shops?

A report from the ‘The Grapevine’, a magazine produced for disabled residents of the Mole Valley by students of St John’s school, dated Winter 2002, states:

“When I was down-town last I noticed a disabled man in a motorised wheelchair trying to get through the narrow paths, which are boarded by metal railings. He was trying in vain to get through a mass of people herded like cattle into a narrow space. Finally he was allowed to pass. These paths with such a concentration of people in them can be very hazardous for disabled and the elderly to get through the melee. I know that diggers and pneumatic drills are not exactly beautiful, but the site is like a miniature battlefield.”

The ramp is certainly unsafe now. The letter from Councillor Bob McKinley states that “Roger has made a close examination of the whole area accompanied by an acknowledged safety specialist”, and concludes with

“…..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.”

Page 3 Onwards – The scheme: Argument 2
As to “the gradient of the ramp”, we did not mention this, as Mr Archer-Reeves states. Instead, we said quite clearly :

“ …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.”

It will be seen, on site, that there is a pronounced increase in the gradient of the footpath before More’s and a reduction thereafter, which appears to have been introduced to accommodate the changed gradient of the ramps.

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.

Page 3 Onwards – The scheme: Argument 3
Mr Archer Reeves states that “it is again factually inaccurate to say that the water feature element of the ramp was abandoned because it was “not technically feasible”.

The Local Committee paper dated 11 December 2002 states: ”there have subsequently been delays to the contract for a number of valid engineering reasons, including …..Change in design details of the water feature to ease construction following the discovery of underground services that were unknown prior to commencement of the works … Concerns over the buildability of the water feature, given the changes now required”.

The paper later says “There is concern that the complex internal network of pipes will be difficult to maintain.

‘Not technically feasible’ is the phrase most people would use!

He also says that one of the reasons for the abandonment was that: “the water feature has not proved popular with some members of the public and traders in the town.” As we have described earlier, there were repeated calls for a rethink on the water feature before work had even started, and this opposition continued in mounting volume throughout the months that followed. What prompted a sudden change of heart after nine months, when the work was already three months past its scheduled completion date?

Page 3 Onwards – The scheme: Argument 4
Mr Archer-Reeves states that “it is again factually inaccurate to say simply that no consultation took place about the changes to the ramped feature”.

However, the minutes of The Local Committee meeting held on 11 December 2002 states the following:

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

……. 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 …. 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.

A meeting was held to ‘show’ the plans to specific interest groups, but there was no ‘consultation’ as such, as ‘consultation’ means that the views of others would be taken into account and this had been refused (see above).

It is significant that no comment has been made on our reference to the disregarded letter sent to the chief executives of both councils in November 2002 by LeatherheadAhead, the Disability Action Group and other Leatherhead town stakeholders, requesting that the councils ‘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….’.

Page 3 Onwards – The scheme: Argument 5
It is incorrect to say that “The only group at both meetings who voiced objections to the new proposals were LeatherheadAhead”.

The first meeting referred to was a meeting on 24 October 2002 at The Theatre, to which the traders were invited to “see how the new arrangements (over the Christmas trading period) will work and to discuss associated issues”. The traders were unlikely to be happy with the ramp (which at that point included the water feature), because in November 2002 the Chamber of Commerce had signed the joint letter, as mentioned above.

The second meeting on 17 December 2002, to which local stakeholders were invited, was the ‘show the plans’ meeting, as mentioned above. It is extremely unlikely that LeatherheadAhead were the only objectors to the plan, because of the Joint letter also mentioned above. However, we, and others, were assured that there would be very little above the ground – hardly a description of what has been put into place – so this may have made a difference to some of the stakeholders.

There are certainly widespread objections now. The Liberal Democrat Councillors in their Spring letter say: “The ramps in the Town Centre have become useless ramparts. No-one uses them, while the steep side aisles are congested. After wasting both council tax and developers contributions, the Administration tried to sell off part of the Red House grounds for speculative housing”.

The idea that only LeatherheadAhead are unhappy with the outcome is fatuous – see Liberal Democrats above, ask the Chamber of Commerce or undertake a survey of people who live and work in Leatherhead! The best comment I have heard is “Why?”

Page 3 Onwards – The scheme: Argument 6
As a former Project Manager in the IT Industry, I find it hard to believe that the provision of energy cables could not have been foreseen. The developers were given planning permission for a hotel back in January 2002, with plans that showed what it would look like and how many bedrooms it would have. The plans also showed the apartments that would be built behind the hotel. Obviously it must have been possible for Surrey County Council not only to know that cables would be needed, to know that (to quote Mr Archer-Reeves’ letter “It is highly unlikely that any energy supplier (statutory undertaker) would be willing to lay services to a development that goes through another ….”, and therefore to know that the cables would have to go across the High Street. To say that Allied London did not know the precise energy level required for the development and where precisely in the building it would be required, seems ridiculous, given that all developments have plans that are drawn up and then worked to.

Items 9 and 10: Argument 1
The Civic Trust Regeneration Unit did indeed lay down a “vision for the future of the town. It stated that: “the crossroads of the High Street, Church Street, Bridge Street and North Street is one of the important historic places in Leatherhead …. it seems sensible to consider that it should be returned to its original significance as the recognised centre of the town ….. people come to the space from all directions”.

This focal point was also described as “a symbolic centre of the town”, and all three examples described as such, related to The Theatre. The examples also “make the pedestrian access into the High Street from North Street and Bridge Street more welcoming”.

Does Mr Archer-Reeves consider that the installation he has created there has achieved that? Can he really see civic occasions being celebrated there? Welcoming the queen on some future occasion, for example, or a visiting dignitary?

Furthermore, page 61 says “When the road was originally closed to traffic, it was sensible to place a physical barrier in the form of retaining walls and steps to deter drivers. ……From the commercial point of view, if the visual barrier was removed, people in cars driving past in Bridge Street would be able to see into the High Street more easily. The High Street would appear more accessible”.

Items 9 and 10: Argument 2
Mr Archer-Reeves’ only comment on the fact that nobody is using the ramps is to draw attention to the fact that no Surrey officers took part in the survey we carried out, and to question our methodology. What methodology does one need to count the number of people using the ramps? We did, in fact, towards the end of our letter to you, suggest that an independent survey of the use of the ramps be carried out.

Items 9 and 10: Argument 3
Mr Archer-Reeves states that “The Disability Group has not been in contact with the Local Transport Office over a report regarding safety”. However, at the Leatherhead Town Centre Forum meeting held on 17 September 2003, Kate Cameron, Secretary of the Mole Valley Access Group as well as Head of Community Services for Mole Valley, said that an Audit report on safety had been done regarding the Phase 2 works, and that Roger Archer-Reeves had had the report since August 2003. She has subsequently confirmed this in an email to me.

Financial Implications
Thank you for saying that “the figure that has been in the public domain for some time is 750,000 for the total contract cost”. We await the final cost figure, when the contractor and the Council have resolved their outstanding issues!

Environmental Implicatons: Argument 1
It seems strange to say that the “remarks in this section are largely comments based upon a personal view”. Just read the letters that have been in the papers and ask people in Leatherhead for their views!

The Leatherhead Society in a letter dated May 2002, stated that:
* The Phase 2 works will do little to make the town more attractive.
* The Water Feature is unnecessary and will not product any real benefit.
* SCC has just destroyed the last fine tree in the High Street to allow the Feature to be built, despite Public outcry.
* The Phase 2 work does not address the important Town Centre issues that need to be faced NOW.

Environmental Implicatons: Argument 2
It is irrelevant that the “original feature installed when the crossroads were closed to traffic, did have a history of accidents”. It is the ‘feature’ there now, that we are concerned with.

We recommended that a ‘Safety Audit be carried out, and I am glad to see that the Local Committee have at last accepted the need to improve the safety of the ramps. I am also glad to see that the question of demarcation between pedestrians and vehicles outside the Abbey National, which is something I have highlighted several times, is also going to be looked at.

The Phase 2 works:
1. are Unsafe;
2. Are not being used by the disabled, mothers/fathers with prams, nor the elderly;
3. Fail to achieve any of the stated principal objectives, (as detailed by Mr Martyn Williams, District Engineer, in presenting Phase II to the PAT Committee on 16th February 2000); and
4. Have created a barrier which makes access to and the visibility of the High Street even more restrictive.

Although we are advocating safety improvements to the ramps, we still believe the Phase II works to be a gross misuse of public money. Ideally we would like to see the whole structure removed.

Leatherhead AHEAD
3 May 2004