Creating a Hersham Community Council

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The Hersham Residents Association are pressing ahead with their plans to look into the formation of a Community Council for Hersham and have arranged a launch event for the 29th of September at 19:30, see below for details:

robinredbreast-100“A launch event for the initiative to create a Community Council for Hersham will be taking place on Thursday 29th September at 7.30 in the WI Hall in Burhill Road.  The theme of the evening will be the benefits of a community council.  The Hersham Community Council Steering Group is inviting all Hersham residents – so do help spread the word and bring your friends and neighbours.  There will be a range of speakers, and updates will include: how it would work, how Elmbridge is involved, the next steps, information about the crucial petition and how you can be involved. There will also be an opportunity to ask questions.”

Some of you may be wondering what a Community Council actually is, Dr Peter Jepson kindly wrote this piece for us earlier in the year which should answer your questions..

Creating a ‘Hersham Community Council’

The electoral Boundary Commission review, requested by Elmbridge Borough Council, has resulted in Hersham being split up.  Indeed, significant parts of what was Hersham North and Hersham South, have been moved into nearby Esher or Weybridge. We are left with a smaller Hersham Village ward – but the identity and community of Hersham (as we know it now) is effectively being destroyed.

We can sit back and accept this loss of the identity of Hersham (as we know it), or we can seek to do something to protect the identity and community of Hersham for generations to come.

The ‘Hersham Residents Association’ (HRA) have been discussing a proposal for the creation of a ‘Hersham Community/Parish Council’ (in future I will refer to this as HCC).  It is my belief that such a proposal will expand democracy, while at the same time helping to set in stone the community of Hersham (as we know it). Obviously, for this to work the boundaries of the proposed HCC will need to reflect the boundaries of the Hersham (i,e, Hersham North and Hersham South).

The powers of a Hersham Community Council

Obviously, adding a new tier of local government may not appeal to everyone. Some will argue that keeping local taxes down must be a priority – thus we need less government. I would argue that democracy is not cheap – but it is a price worth paying. The alternative is a form of dictatorship where local views and opinions are replaced by single commissioners, mayors etc, – all of whom operate from one mind-set. Let’s think about a simple issue of where to put six new park benches.  Who is best placed to decide where these benches should be placed? One elected distant person, or a committee of local residents who represent their community? In my view, democracy is the best form of government and we should not settle for second best. This means that we should expand our local democracy and give local residents a real say about the needs of their community.

The powers of an HCC should include issues like the provision of community facilities. They could also be consulted by Surrey County Council, and/or Elmbridge Borough Council, over matters like car parking fees. An elected HCC would have statutory rights and powers in relation to planning matters. Who do you trust to consider/decide on whether houses should be built on Hersham Green – a local HCC made up of elected local residents, or a Councillor representing somewhere else in Elmbridge?

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For some ideas on how Claygate Parish Council operates you can view a copy of the Clayton Courier here

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I would also like to see Elmbridge Borough Council delegate its newfound powers over ‘Community Care’ to an HCC. I believe that the HCC could help identify needs within our community. We have elderly people living alone, many not seeing relatives or friends for weeks. An HCC could help identify those in need and work with visiting wardens to ensure care for people in need. An HCC could consider the development of a visiting scheme – encouraging people to look out for their neighbours. Instead of throwing food away, people could be encouraged to share it with lonely neighbours.

Clearly, the powers and responsibilities of an HCC are only limited by our vision and determination. An HCC should be allowed to develop at its own pace – listening to and responding to the demands and needs of local Hersham residents.

How could we establish a Hersham Community Council?

Firstly, we cannot expect our local Councillors to rush into supporting the creation of a HCC. Indeed, one reason for this is the different role that a local Councillor has compared to that of an HCC. A local Councillor (particularly one in a political party) will need to balance conflicting interests in making their decisions. For example, do we spend money on building a Sports Hub in Walton, should it be in Cobham, or in Hersham? In my view the decision should be decided on the basis of a ‘needs and costs’ analysis. The Councillor cannot be expected to put the needs of Hersham before the overall needs of the residents of Elmbridge. By comparison, a HCC exists solely to represent the interests of the residents of Hersham.

So, if local Councillors cannot be expected to support the creation of a HCC how could one be created? The previous Coalition Government, of David Cameron, laid down a procedure for dealing with such a dilemma. In effect, if 10% of Hersham residents were to sign a petition, in support of the creation of an HCC, then Elmbridge Borough Council would be required to consider the proposal. Indeed, this could ultimately result in the agreement of a proposed constitution and a referendum of local Hersham residents on the matter. If support is established, then elections (held every four years) could be held to establish Community Council members.

In my view, it is extremely important that local resident’s groups (like the Hersham Residents Association) engage in the creation of a constitution for the HCC. I also believe that this constitution should prohibit member candidates from seeking election to the HCC if they are part of (or representing) a party or group. We do not want political party hacks controlling the outcomes. We want local residents who will help look after the needs and wishes of their Hersham community.

Benefits of a Community Council

Obviously, a major benefit of a HCC is that it will expand democracy. That being said, they do have powers to levy a small rate precept that is collected though Elmbridge Council local taxes. That is a negative, but it is to cover the administrative costs associated with the benefit of running the HCC.

Possibly one of the strongest benefits is that it will help preserve the identity of Hersham. There has been much written (in the Sunday Times) about Hersham being one of the best places to live in the South East. Credit for that has been given to the work of Hersham-In-Bloom. Despite having such a good reputation as a community, it is disgustingly sad to see that the identity of Hersham is being destroyed by the Boundary Commission. In their report, it is made clear that Claygate was retained as a community – with no alteration to their electoral boundaries – because of the strong representations made by Claygate Parish Council.

Hersham needs a HCC so that it can protect, for generations to come, the identity and community of Hersham as we know it.

Dr Peter Jepson.

Labour Candidate for Hersham Village.
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