Following my last interview with Cllr Matt Furniss (Cabinet Member for Highways) I caught up with Matt to discuss what he has been doing as part of Surrey County Council (SCC) in regard to the climate change agender initiatives such as Street lighting, Alternative fuels for transport and Hybrid working.
John: The county’s street lighting must consume a considerable about of energy, can you tell us what you have been doing with regard to reducing the energy costs to the street lighting?
Matt: What we’ve been doing is we’ve been upgrading all 89,000 street lights to LED and there are a number of reasons for doing this. Firstly, it saves on carbon emissions, which is fantastic, and it meets our climate change agender to become carbon-neutral as an authority by 2030 and by 2050 as an entire County. It also saves the taxpayer a significant amount of money as energy costs are only going up. However, LEDs actually leads to having fewer faults, so there’s less maintenance required too. In addition to that it does save a few million pounds a year, which is fantastic. This means we can put that into other services that are more in need. We are always looking for new technologies to reduce our carbon emissions and save money at the same time.
John: Do the lights look any different when compared to more traditional lighting?
Matt: With the LED it’s more directional, so it stays just on the highway and paths. You actually get less light spillage into peoples gardens. It’s also the same colour as the existing lighting, so you shouldn’t see any difference. We’ve had a trial going for about six months around our Depot in marrow and nobody noticed the difference between the lights. We took that as a positive result as there were no complaints, and it’s now actively rolling out across the County. There is an interactive map on the Surrey County Council website where you can track the progress and see the areas that have been done.
To report a fault with street lights visit https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/roads-and-transport/roadworks-and-maintenance/street-lights-traffic-signals-and-signs/street-lights/faults-and-repairs
Net Zero target
John: Speaking about your climate change agender. How is SCC supporting the government’s net zero target for electric vehicles by 2030. Either in regard to on-street charging or anything that can be done to help support these future charging requirements.
Matt: Yes, so we’re doing quite a lot, 46% of all carbon emissions in Surrey is from transport, which is quite significant. This includes not only commuters just travelling through, but what we use ourselves.
We’ve created a Rethinking Transport Program and this is all about walking, cycling, public transport and electric vehicles. Guildford, Woking, Waverley and Surrey Heath Borough Councils have partnered with us. We’ve put a bid into the local enterprise partnership for Electric Vehicle (EV) charging and this will provide 18 new EV charging points across the four Boroughs. We currently have gone through the first stage, and it’s all been approved. We should be seeing those starting to head into the more urban areas very soon than moving into the more suburban areas Ash and Tongham as well. We’re looking to target around parade shops with a view to install the 30-minute fast charging points. This would enable you to get a quick charge and carry on your journey, we will be targeting those out in quite rapid fashion. In addition to that, on all planning applications, we’re switching it from standard vehicle car parking spaces to EV charging car parking spaces only. That’s going to come through for all new developments.
With our public transport, we announced £49 million for electric or hydrogen buses. We are working with all the bus operators across the County on this, and what it will do is remove the third most polluting buses off our roads. Which will be fantastic. In the West where we are, Stagecoach is the largest operator, and they’re doing a number of range extended electric vehicles, particularly in Farnham, which will support Ash as well. In the East of Surrey this is mainly Metro bus, who are going down the hydrogen technology route. Their whole fleet will be replaced with hydrogen buses in the next few years, so there’s a real drive for this to be delivered.
Just on walking and cycling. We’re introducing what’s called Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans. They are called, “LCWIPs” for short. You can tell the government thought that name up, can’t you? What we’re doing is we’re going to have one of those for every district and borough in the next two years. Guilford’s already well ahead of that, and
that includes Ash and Tongham as well. This effectively creates the bidding work and the plans for all the improvements that are required going forward. The Christmas Pie Trail, which I see is very much up in the minds of local residents at the moment, is included on that for significant improvements.
Working Digital First
John: How have you found operating in this new world of Microsoft Teams and Zoom meetings with constituents and colleagues. I hear “Hybrid” working often mentioned as companies and perhaps Councils begin to think about using online services more to reduce the need to travel.
Matt: Well, I think because I work in sales for my day job, working from home has pretty much been the normal for me. So long as you have a phone and a computer it’s been OK. Interestingly, most of my case work comes through from Facebook. Rather than direct emails or anything else. So actually it’s been quite interesting to see the uptake for residents to get in touch just by Facebook, which is great because you get a proper conversation and engagement going. I would probably say council meetings are a little bit of a challenge. I mean, we’ve seen one Parish Councils made national headlines recently, but there have been a few sorts of instances where voting’s been rather challenging, and I think Guildford and Surrey, as in other areas have all found that.
We’re looking forward to getting back to more of a hybrid proposal where at least we can actually see a few of our colleagues in person and do the bigger meetings. It’s been great that everyone’s always been very easy to get in touch and as you mentioned earlier, we were doing a number of online surgeries now which are proving quite successful. As residents find it easier to attend online Parish Council meetings also. I’ve never seen so many members of the public at various Parish Council meetings. I think that the online element has made it easier for people to engage.
John: I certainly would agree its made the Council and Councillors more accessible. In terms of your online surgeries, do you have an agenda or is it open to what people bring up?
Matt: It is totally open, so if there is an issue that they would like to discuss, basically it can either be as a public forum, not unlike the first half hour of a Parish Councils meeting, or we can keep it extremely private, and it could just be a one on one session. That’s absolutely fine. Most residents have had one to ones, but that’s purely because they tend to get in touch with you direct if there’s an issue. These do not always especially require a one to one meeting, but it’s been good to engage.
I also like to attend the public Parish Council meetings to pick up any issues, and try to resolve them then and there.
County Council moved back into Surrey
John: During COVID-19 SCC has moved its base of operations as well?
Matt: Our leader, Tim Oliver, when he became leader a couple of years ago made a pledge that the Council is going to move county Hall back into Surrey. I think it was over 100 or so years It’s been at Kingston. We’ve now moved into Woodhatch in Reigate. It’s the old Canon headquarters, fantastic facility. Yes its just great to be back in Surrey in a more modern building, which I think will change the culture going forward to a more business like Council.
May 6th elections
John: The Surrey County Council elections are forthcoming, will you be standing for reelection?
Matt: Yes I’m standing again, I’m looking forward to representing Ash South in Tongham and the rest of the Shalford division. It covers 9 Parishes, which definitely keeps me on my toes, so I really enjoyed the past four years. I’ve worked hard, and we’ve delivered a lot, so I’m looking forward to the future challenges. Fingers crossed. Hopefully everyone can support me for the next four.
John: Cllr Furnace thank you for your time and I wish you well in your forthcoming election and I look forward to speaking with you again soon.
Matt: Thank you.