Kevin Davis, leader, Royal Borough of Kingston Council
Notes from a presentation and discussion which followed the CQRA Annual General Meeting held at the Richard Mayo Hall, Eden Street, Kingston upon Thames, on Saturday 11 July 2015
Charter Quay constituted an important part of the centre of Kingston, and Councillor Davis acknowledged the work that CQRA did to ensure that the site worked well.
The talk would focus on the three key challenges facing the Council: the budget, growth and engagement with people.
The budget for the Royal Borough of Kingston (RBK) would have decreased by 45% between 2010 and 2018. Responding to reductions on this scale would require more than the salami slicing of services – this approach would simply result in all services being rated poor and underperforming.
Instead, it would be necessary to stop doing some things and to work differently. It was necessary to develop a long-term vision now in order to guide the changes that were necessary.
London was growing fast and the current population of 8.6 million people was the highest since the late 1930s. It was expected that the total population in London would increase to 11 million by 2050, including an increase of 34% in Kingston.
The demographics of residents were changing. There would be a growing proportion of older people moving to town centres where they had access to transport, facilities and services, including health care. In Kingston’s case, this would also help to ensure the longer-term success of the Rose Theatre.
How should the Council respond?
RBK owned little land; most was controlled by owners and developers. Building developments would require infrastructure and it was important that the Council engaged with owners.
Local planning was affected both by national policies set by government, and by London policy determined by the Mayor. There was also a determination by government to speed up planning processes.
It was likely that there was sufficient land to accommodate Kingston’s growth, but the borough was a long way behind. Affordable housing was a particular challenge: the average house price in Kingston was seven or eight times the median income in the borough.
There were 75,000 homes in the borough now; a further 25,000 were needed. The town centre could accommodate another 1,000 homes, and further expansion was likely to take place in Malden, Tolworth, and Chessington and Hook between the A3 and the M25.
How should the Council work better with other people? How should residents engage with the Council, and with other organisations, such as the police and the health service?
The Council’s approach could be regarded as paternalistic. It was necessary to engage with residents, even if this meant disagreements on occasions. A start would be made on this work over the summer and autumn.
Questions and discussion
Why was Kingston council tax the highest in London when it had one of the largest shopping centres in the capital which generated a high income from business rates?
The council tax was high (and Councillor Davis would not want to see it any higher) partly as a result of reductions in the grant from central government (20% less in 2013/14). The Council only retained 30% of the income from business rates.
Councillor Davis was making the argument to government for more financial independence for local authorities: reducing the level of the central government grant in return for being able to retain a larger share of business rates. On current plans, the Council would need to generate savings of £27 million over the next three years. Adopting this new approach would reduce the savings target to £10 million.
Would closing down all the nightclubs in Kingston save costs?
The expectations of the town centre were changing. Charter Quay had been the first major residential development, then Royal Quarter. People living in the town preferred quiet drinking.
Two nightclubs would close in time. The Viper Rooms (formerly McCluskey’s) would go when their lease expired and the next stage of development on that site would incorporate more restaurants. The owners of the site where the Hippodrome was located would develop retail and housing.
The Viper Rooms (McClusky’s) had applied to extend their late-night licence to all nights of the week.
The Council was reviewing its licensing policy for the town centre. A new vision was required to set out what night life should look like.
How could the quality of buildings in Kingston be improved?
The town suffered from a poor history of planning, and there were a number of (large concrete) buildings in the town centre which many would regard as candidates for the bulldozer!
The Old Post Office site was particularly controversial. In Councillor Davis’s personal view, height could be an element of a successful design, providing the quality was right. Clearly, a tall building that might be appropriate for Vauxhall might not work in Kingston. However, the developer had been pressed to deliver a design to ensure that the building was the best that it could be; however, as the proposals had been modified, confidence in the integrity of the design had been undermined.
Should 14 storeys be the maximum height for a building in Kingston?
A height restriction would produce a townscape with little variation. It was also likely that a developer would win an appeal if a uniform height restriction was in place. Given the pressure on land in London, the alternatives were for developments to go either up or out. Any proposal for the Kingston site which was less than ten storeys high would lose money. Also, once the Council lost a planning appeal, it also lost control of the buildings and the opportunity to work with the developers.
How could residents become more involved in the proposals for the Eden Walk development?
The recent exhibition about the proposals, which had been held in a vacant retail unit at the shopping centre, had not attracted much interest. British Land, the developers, had also arranged events in other parts of the borough.
These activities fulfilled the legal requirement that planning applications had to include a report on the consultation which has been carried out. Once the application had been received, the Council would be required to consult, although the scope of the consultation was prescribed by law and was quite limited.
The Eden Walk scheme was a high value development since it included functioning businesses. The shopping centre was tired, and, given the move to online retailing, most of the shops were larger than they needed to be. The plans envisaged smaller units with high-end shops and restaurants. It was expected that most of the larger stores would move out, with the exceptions of Boots, and Marks and Spencer (which occupied a freehold site).
Would the cycleway above the river be built?
The personal view of Councillor Davis was that cycling should be encouraged. One of the benefits would be an improvement in air quality, which was a particular concern near Kingston station.
The projects to upgrade cycling provision in Kingston were funded by the Mayor of London. It was noted that the cost of the Portsmouth Road cycleway had increased from £1.5 million to £3 million.
There were a number of difficulties with the proposal to build a cycleway above the river and Councillor Davis, on a personal level, was not convinced that this was the best, or most cost-effective, solution. It would be necessary to explore other options.
What could be done to deal with dangerous cycling?
This was being considered as part of the review of the cycling plans.
The Council had taken steps to improve environmental enforcement measures. A fines regime had been developed for spitting, littering, dog fouling, dropping chewing gum and cycling offences. This needed to be enforced: the Council had appointed a small number of officers dedicated to this work and had also co-funded additional police officers (as part of the Metropolitan Police initiative – buy one, get one free! – where the costs were shared with local councils).
GB/28 July 2015