Daniel Mouawad has been Chief Executive of Spelthorne Council for over a year now. We thought that, as he has now got his feet under the table and settled into family life in Shepperton, it was time for a coffee with him.
Daniel has a quiet and kindly air about him. As well as working in town planning and architecture, he spent half a decade in India. He saw both ends of the spectrum; first enjoying the privileged life of the very well off in Mumbai as a serving British diplomat, then volunteering for an educational charity, living the life of every day folk in rural India. His children grew up there and learned to make their own fun, without the distraction of TV and social media. Family values are important to Daniel.
So what do you want to know from the CEO? Does he understand the issues facing residents and can he help to make things in the borough better maybe?
Well, it seems that a lot has happened since he joined the council and there are many plans for improving life in the borough.
Spelthorne is seen as an innovative borough. You may have read about the investments in property and been a little confused by it. Why is Spelthorne buying property anyway, and why is it buying in surrounding counties? The truth of the matter is that local councils have to think smart. Funding pressures caused by Government cuts, rising demand for services, and the knock-on effect of cuts by Surrey County Council mean that councils need to find other ways to fund services.
In the case of Spelthorne, the property portfolio gives a secure income stream which is being used to maintain and enhance borough services which would otherwise be under threat. The more recent purchases are helping to progress a number of housing schemes to provide much needed housing for residents. The strategy has been successful because they now make more from their commercial property deals than the income they get from council tax.
Daniel explained that the council is working on the Local Plan which will detail how much development is needed in the borough over the next 15 years and where it should go. Meeting the need for housing is a challenge, particularly as two-thirds of the Borough is in green belt. The council is progressing a number of schemes to boost the housing stock including plans to convert a wing of the council offices at Knowle Green into affordable flats.
They are aware of infrastructure implications but can’t ignore the fact that there are currently far too many families in emergency B&B accommodation or that, for a growing number of local people, finding a home they can afford is becoming increasingly difficult.
On Heathrow, Daniel explained that the airport is seen as extremely important to the fortunes of the borough. There are plans afoot for a Southern Light Railway (SLR) linking Heathrow with Staines and for getting Spelthorne into Zone 6. However, it is very important that the impacts of Heathrow’s expansion are properly mitigated.
If you are worried about traffic impacts and poor air quality, then look out for the Heathrow Airport consultations in 2019. The need for increased aircraft capacity is clear and potential impacts include extending the hours of operation and additional flight paths. It is anticipated that the two current runways could be used for an extra 25,000 aircraft movements with or without airport expansion.
If you think we are safe because you are not currently under a flight path, then think again and get involved if you want your voice heard. Daniel’s advice was to not just sit back and be resigned to changes. Make your voice heard loud and clear.
CEO of Spelthorne Council and Shepperton resident, Daniel Mouawad understands the needs of the borough very well indeed.