Friday 30th May 2008.
The Leatherhead Residents Association responded to concerns brought by some of its members about the Riverside Walk development plans sponsored by Leatherhead Area Partnership (LAP) on lands owned by Mole Valley District Council. In response to these concerns, eight LRA members including three committee members met with MVDC Director Richard Burrows and three of his staff to present a number of objections to the present plan. Also in attendance was Simon Cowell from the Surrey Wild Life Aid and Heather Ward of the LAP. David Blackmore, newspaper reporter from the Leatherhead Advertiser, was not permitted to join the meeting. There was no formal minute or note taker, but the MVDC Director took notes.
Council Conservation Officer Rod Shaw and Heather Ward, who led the Conservation portion of the Leatherhead Tomorrow Health Check, have liased over many months on this MVDC scheme. The plan is to widen the existing path from Leatherhead Bridge across the meadow and through the nature reserve to Thorncroft Bridge to make it the width of many country lanes in the Mole Valley. The pathway will also connect to the football field / carpark. The plan is for 715 metres of pathway 2.5 metres (8 feet) wide to be constructed along the riverside. The path will require an aggregate base 20 centimetres deep for the laying of the Fibredec and bitumen topping.
As at the time of the meeting, the Director had not visited the site due to pressures of work. One of the Leatherhead Councillors has expressed the view that the location is too intimidating to even visit and examine the issues. Another councillor did not have
a schematic drawing at the time the plan was put before the River Access group.
A good discussion took place over a two and a quarter hours chaired by the Council Director. A number of related issues were discussed, particularly on the lack of effective communication by the Council with Leatherhead residents. In particular, the detailed plans were never highlighted at the Town Centre Forum nor the Leatherhead Area Partnership meeting, nor even on the LAP website.
Each LRA member spoke on their area of expertise or of their special concern. The meeting was opened by LRA member Barry Davies, river bailiff, who gave reasons why this 8-feet wide path should not be constructed through the narrowest and most sensitive part of a nature reserve, especially during wildlife breeding season.
The MVDC director stated that the works contract has already been signed. However, neither the contract nor the project budget or specifications were available at the meeting with the LRA or at an earlier Council meeting. The MVDC Director stated that the expected cost of the project is approximately £61,000, but various figures have been stated and the budget is not clear. The Fibredec and bitumen topping will cost an estimated £21,000. A version of the budget seen earlier by an LRA committee member did not seem to include the cost for the aggregate base.
The residents do not have major objections to the path as planned from Leatherhead Bridge (150 m) and turning right across the meadow to the football car park. LRA’s only reservation is about the wisdom of mixing young children with speeding bicycles on the path. This will be a matter for the Council to resolve if there are accidents.
The residents have more objections to the section of the planned pathway through the narrow and most sensitive part of the nature reserve. Objections raised by LRA members at the meeting may be summarised as follows: –
The construction process will be lengthy and noisy. Among other problems, the construction will seriously disrupt the wildlife summer breeding season, including the swans that have just returned to the area and the kingfishers.
The planned pathway through the most sensitive part of the nature reserve is inappropriately wide and out of keeping for the narrow setting.
The original purpose of the project was to enable families and people with disabilities to have greater access to enjoy the riverway. The pathway plans, however, will facilitate cyclists to travel at fast speeds on the path, with limited visibility around trees etc, putting pedestrians at risk.
A planned large metal “kissing gate” at the Thorncroft Bridge entrance would be needed as a barrier to motorcycles and cars. This unsightly barrier, along with other artificial constructions, are planned for the section of the riverway with the most natural beauty. Moreover, similar “kissing gates” are being removed from other areas around the country because they provide less accessibility for some disabled individuals!
A 40-square metre area of meadow (including flowers, etc) would be covered with Fibredec, like the pathway.
The existing litter, beer can and bottle problem will increase.
The pathway project will create even more of a haven for the homeless from the nearby Pitstop refuge and may increase the vandalism of public property (damage to benches, fires, etc).
The construction costs and method are not transparent.
The LRA committee members attending would like to acknowledge and thank all those who signed the petition in support of their fellow residents who have given of their time to try to preserve the last part of rural Leatherhead. Over 300 people played their part in local democracy by signing the petition. Petition signing took place on the pathway, at Corbetts Bookshop, at Martin’s Newsagents, and at other locations.
In conclusion the Leatherhead Residents Association would like to place on record its thanks to Council Director Richard Burrows for his courteous reception and his expertise in gathering information at the meeting on 30th May 2008.