Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Opportunity Sutton ‘Quango’ brings £350 million new investment

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Conservative opposition councillor Tim Crowley has a letter in the Sutton Guardian repeating his claims at council that the Lib Dems’ Opportunity Sutton Economic Development strategy is just an empty sound bite from me.

However attracting more than £350 million in new investment into the borough in less than two years is no mean feat and did not suddenly happen of its own accord.

It is the result of the hard work of our Economic Renewal and Regeneration officers together with our Planning teams that the borough has seen the North Sutton gas holder site get planning permission – an investment worth £85 million on its own, and the biggest development the borough has seen; whilst Sutton Point, Victoria House, Subsea 7, the Burger King site, Sutton Super Bowl and the Energy from Waste facility all now also have approval to start development. These developments on their own expect to bring with them over 1,700 jobs.

In Hackbridge Felnex have put in development plans, and the Wandle Valley Trading Estate are having their application decided imminently, with the potential for yet more local jobs.

In terms of marketing Sutton and attracting new businesses we have seen Metro Bank, Uno Tapas and Patisserie Valerie open up branches in Sutton providing between them 65 new jobs.

The establishment of ‘Successful Sutton’, the town centre Business Improvement District means existing businesses investing an additional £2 million in Sutton.

Then we have the funding won through bids to the Mayor’s Outer London Fund and Transport For London amounting to over £4.5 million invested in improving Hackbridge, North Cheam & Worcester Park, and the Sutton Station Gateway Scheme.

Of the £1 million the council set aside to support the Opportunity Sutton programme of work, less than half has been spent, which means our £350 million is a fantastic return on our investment.

March 19, 2014 Posted by | Information | , , , | 4 Comments

People-Power sees off Wallington McDonalds

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Our Planning Department has been advised that McDonalds will not be seeking to appeal the refusal of planning permission for the two-storey drive through proposed for Stafford Road in Wallington.

Whilst we cannot completely relax until the deadline for the appeal of 22nd April has passed, we can acknowledge this victory for people-power. It felt like local residents were battling against the odds facing off a corporate giant and an officer recommendation for planning approval. However the hard work of local people and sheer determination to persuade the planning committee of the detrimental effect this oversized development would have both on those living close to it, and on Wallington itself, has paid off in buckets with the unanimous refusal of the application by councillors on the committee, and now with McDonalds showing no desire to appeal that decision.

Councillor Colin Hall and myself, and Tom Brake MP are very proud to have worked alongside residents helping them to achieve this success. The number of people who took round petitions and got them signed, designed leaflets and posters, posed for pictures, and most important of all attended the Development Control Committee meeting was inspiring. It was also fantastic to see a core group of  people, previously unknown to each other, who came together to work for this common cause and co-ordinate efforts, and I must particularly mention Alan Fitter, Andrea Rivers, Karin Jashapara, Robert Landeryou and Malcolm Flegg.

The other good news is that we understand that the landowners still want to develop the site, but possibly with a residential/retail mixed unit much more in keeping with the area and acceptable to local residents. Colin & I have asked for early talks with the land-owners so we can help them bring forward a development that will enhance Wallington, rather than blight it. We will also be encouraging the developers to talk to local people to get their backing for a good scheme on this site.

March 17, 2014 Posted by | Information | , , | 2 Comments

Sutton’s 28th Liberal Democrat Budget approved at Full Council

Last night Cllr Simon Wales, Sutton’s lead member for Resources, presented an historic 28th Liberal Democrat budget for approval by full council.

Even in difficult times we were able to present a balanced budget that focused on the key values of this council and its residents – being Safer, Fairer, Greener and Smarter.

Cllr Wales explained how we would achieve this by focusing on four key areas: prevention – protecting the most vulnerable before problems occur; supporting and growing the local economy through our Opportunity Sutton work; empowering residents to manage their own lives and reduce dependence on council services, and delivering those services at a more local level; and delivering changes to the council to find ways to reduce costs, manage demand for services, and get things right first time.

My speech aimed to explain how our Opportunity Sutton economic development work will help us continue to offer those services to residents that they most value, and also touched on the potential of our Life Sciences Cluster site:

Why is growing the local economy good for Sutton?

As our budget sets out, a key priority for this Liberal Democrat council, is to encourage economic growth and investment into the borough.

And in order to deliver this economic growth, we have set up an ambitious programme of work under the banner of Opportunity Sutton.

The name has now come to embrace all of the work undertaken by our Economic Renewal and Regeneration Unit, and for a short name, it actually represents a significant amount of work, and is already delivering millions of pounds worth of new investment, hundreds of jobs, improvements to our district centres, and a lot of excitement about the potential growth areas for our borough.

And I would like to talk briefly about one of those exciting potential growth areas, our Life Sciences Cluster.

In Sutton we have the unique co-location and partnership of two world class institutions: the Royal Marsden, and the Institute of Cancer Research. By working together these two cancer specialists have establishing an international reputation for excellence.

Our Opportunity Sutton Team, together with our Leader Ruth, has been working with these two organisations to understand their growth plans and ambitions. And as a result of that work we have all realised the potential to provide a cohesive, integrated world class life sciences cluster on this site.

Developing this vision has the potential to attract millions of pounds of investment, new homes and thousands of jobs. Not to mention the new cancer treatments that will significantly improve the lives of patients. An extended tram link could unlock that potential even further.

Thanks to the work of Opportunity Sutton this project has attracted the interest of the Treasury, and the London Mayor, and we have been encouraged to bid for LEP funding to unlock the potential of this world class vision.

We are also separately, but with an eye on this potential, making the case to the mayor to extend the Tram from Wimbledon to Sutton.

But it is all very well getting excited about the potential of these projects, and celebrating the successes Opportunity Sutton has already achieved – achievements like unlocking the North Sutton Gas Holder site; like the reinvigoration of North Cheam and Worcester Park district centres; like the investment secured to develop a decentralised Energy Network; like the establishment of the Successful Sutton Business Improvement District; and like our trend-bucking success in getting young people into employment or training.

And if Councillor Crowley can wait until the next Strategy & Resources Committee, he will hear more of the real and tangible achievements of Opportunity Sutton in the last year. Because his comment that Opportunity Sutton is just an empty phrase from me is an incredible insult to the enormous amount of work the small Opportunity Sutton Team have undertaken in the last eighteen months, and he owes those officers an apology.

But how does Opportunity Sutton benefit our residents, and why is it a priority for this council?

Well first of all bringing new businesses into the borough also brings new jobs. Growing our existing businesses also creates new jobs. That means more employment opportunities for our residents. And a key project under Opportunity Sutton is our Business-led Skills Match work, to ensure that local people have the skills necessary so that they can take advantage of those new jobs being created.

It will deliver additional housing, so that our children can afford to purchase their first home, so that overcrowded families can find a bigger house they can afford, so that there are the quality smaller homes available for people who want to downsize.

And new development also brings with it additional funding to invest in additional school places, improved parks and open spaces, and major highways schemes.

More housing also increases our council tax base, spreading the burden, but increasing revenues for the council.

Business growth brings an increase in business rates.

We have heard from Councillor Wales about the pressures our budget is under from the devastating cuts being imposed on us from central government. Growing our local economy will be a key source of future funding to mitigate those budget cuts and help us to continue to provide those universal services that our residents so value: well maintained highways and streets; beautiful parks and playgrounds; quality, resident-led public realm projects, as well as being reinvested into our preventative work to protect the most vulnerable members of our borough.

That is why we are being proactive and ambitious with our Opportunity Sutton programme, seizing control of our own future and funding, so that we can continue to be a borough that people want to live in, where people feel confident to bring up a family, and where all our residents can experience a high quality of life.

I ask you to support this responsible, and forward-looking budget.

March 4, 2014 Posted by | Committee Meeting, Liberal Democrats | , , , , | Leave a comment

Wandle Valley Mega Clean Up Day Sunday 9th March

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Help is wanted to clear up rubbish from points along the River Wandle so it is clear for the Big Green Fund capital works to go ahead. The idea came from a local resident at the Sutton Local Committee and has been turned into the Mega Clean Up Day.

Meeting point is KNK Stadium Car Park, Bishopsford Road, Mitcham SM4 6BF from 10.30 am for an 11am briefing.

The work will take place in teams to clear waste from Watermeads Nature Reserve, Poulter Park, Bennett’s Hole Nature Reserve, KNK Stadium, and from the river itself.

You will need tough boots, waterproof clothing and strong gloves if you have them, and also your lunch. Bags, litter pickers etc. will be provided, as will refreshments.

For more information email: peter@thenextfield.co.uk

http://www.wandlevalleypark.co.uk/Projects/Mayors-­‐Big-­‐Green-­‐Fund

February 27, 2014 Posted by | Information | , , | Leave a comment

Evidence on welfare reform impacts at the London Assembly

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I had been invited to give evidence on the impact of the Welfare Reforms on London Boroughs to the London Assembly Housing Committee on 12th February. I attended as representative of a Liberal Democrat-run borough alongside my Labour counterpart from Hackney, Karen Alcock, and Conservative Dudley Mead from Croydon.

Private rents increasingly unaffordable

Despite our political divergence, it was clear that we were all experiencing similar effects as a result of welfare reform. We were all seeing increased demand for private rented accommodation, but increasing rent levels are putting inner London properties outside the affordability of the majority, and as a result outer London boroughs were seeing increased migration from inner London as people seek to take advantage of the lower rents here. However even in outer London the discrepancy between Local Housing Allowance rates and actual rents was proving too large and this means that tenants are being forced into overcrowding as they cannot afford the larger houses they need. In Sutton the difference between the Local Housing Allowance rate and actual rents averaged 14% – a gap that is just too wide for families to cover, or for the Local Authorities to plug. I concurred with Cllr Alcock’s description of the pressure on the private rented sector as ‘the Perfect Storm’.

It is also clear that working people are finding the rents as unaffordable as those totally dependent on benefits.

I was able to point out that Local Housing Allowance is meant to be set to cover private rents falling within the 30th percentile of local Broad Rental Market Areas (BRMA), however steeply rising rents meant that properties renting in the LHA range were becoming rarer than that. I also questioned the accuracy of the calculation of the BRMA rates on which the LHA rate is set. If the basic calculation is flawed, then the books don’t balance.

Children & disabled face biggest impact

Another undesirable effect of the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and transfer of the Council Tax Reduction scheme from central to local government is the disproportionate impact on households with a disabled member, and families with children, most particularly single parent families. In Sutton we have 350 families who are impacted by this double whammy to the tune of more than £25 per week.

Increased pressure on cash-strapped councils

The fallout as a result of these pressures is that we are seeing an increase in people struggling to pay their rent and council tax, and starting to fall into arrears, and an increased number of applications for Discretionary Housing Payment Support and to our local Crisis Loan and Grant scheme. In Sutton we are putting increased effort into helping to prevent tenants falling into arrears, and invested in a Welfare Reform  Outreach Officer to work with those people affected by the reforms and help them budget and adapt to the changes. However more and more work is needed to be put in to support those affected, whilst at the same time councils are facing cuts to the funding available for this work, as announced by Eric Pickles recently. The pressure on staff to administrate and mitigate these new burdens passed on from central government was echoed by my colleagues giving evidence. Then there is the increase in homelessness applications, and the additional work necessary to prevent homelessness and maintain our good relationships with private landlords by offering financial incentives. And all of this pressure is likely to increase with the introduction of Universal Credit.

Benefits of welfare reform hard to identify

One Assembly member asked what we thought were the benefits of welfare reform, and there was a long period of silence. Eventually I volunteered that we had seen an increase of people getting into employment in Sutton, however it would be hard to directly attribute this to welfare reforms because under our Opportunity Sutton Economic Programme we have been making a concerted effort to bring new jobs into the borough through inward investment, and to skill-up our residents to enable them to take advantage of those employment opportunities through our Skills Matching work.

Broken communities

I was keen to highlight the equally damaging, but less easily quantified social impacts of the reforms. The financial pressure on families to seek out cheaper accommodation is leading to the break up of communities and local support networks. Families are losing the informal childcare arrangements with family and neighbours, they are finding it harder to maintain school places, employment and health & social support. They may find themselves paying less rent, but have additional travelling costs to work or education. This is particularly the case for low paid workers, who are effectively being banished from inner London.

Financial stress can manifest itself in domestic violence, relationship breakdown, debt and mental health issues. If the problem then has to be picked up by the NHS, the Police or social workers, then the reforms are a false economy and are just cost shunting onto other services. It can also unravel the complex multi-agency work being done under the Troubled Families schemes. We can also expect to see an increase in anti-social behaviour where communities are broken up and people feel less connection to an area.

The solution: more housing

When asked what the solutions were, all three boroughs agreed that increasing the supply of housing across all tenures was the key, as the issue was essentially affordability of housing. We also agreed that the way to assist in that was to devolve greater freedom and powers to Local Authorities by increasing our borrowing powers, and having less caveats on grants & borrowing. I disagreed with my Conservative colleague that the planning system was a blockage, as in Sutton we offer a facilititive approach with the aim of bringing forward development that works for the area, as well as for the developer. The Hackney member & I also agreed that councils could take over the work programme as we have shown in many areas that local government can implement these initiatives more efficiently and cost effectively than central government.

I additionally pointed out the disconnect between rent policy and housing policy which needed to be properly addressed to enable new measures to work effectively.

Our evidence was part of a piece of work being done by the London Assembly Housing Committee and a report will be forthcoming on completion.

February 17, 2014 Posted by | Meeting | , , | 1 Comment

Housing Minister’s Sutton criticism unfounded and contradictory

The Conservative Housing Minister Kris Hopkins made a visit to Sutton with Paul Scully, the ousted local Conservative council group leader, now with ambitions to be MP in Sutton; and spent his time criticising Lib Dem-run Sutton Council, as reported in the Sutton Guardian. However the minister proved to be ill-informed, and his criticisms unjustified. I have therefore written to him directly to advise him of Sutton’s excellent track record on delivering affordable housing, and pointing out how his colleague in Planning, Nick Boles, is making policy that undermines councils’ efforts to deliver affordable housing and jeopardises town centre viability. The content of my letter is reproduced below.

To add to my indignation is the fact that it was local Tory Cllr Shields who publicly called for the council to allow the Sutherland House development without asking for any affordable housing, and opposed the council’s stance at appeal.  So the only people not pushing hard for affordable housing in Sutton are Mr Scully’s own party colleagues. However nor do our local Tories appear to have a joined up approach as their much more rational colleagues, Cllr Malcolm Brown, and Cllr David Hicks, who sit on the Housing, Economy & Business Committee, were supportive of the council’s implementation of an Article 4 Direction.

Kris Hopkins MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
Department for Communities and Local Government, Eland House, Bressenden Place, London, SW1E 5DU
 
Re: Public criticism of Sutton Council’s approach to affordable housing

I was very disappointed to read the report in the Sutton Guardian 16th January edition about your recent visit to Sutton where you express criticism of Sutton Council, and in an overtly political way.

Not only is the criticism unfounded, it is also contradictory.

Sutton Council has been actively encouraging inward investment into the borough through its Opportunity Sutton Economic development programme which has attracted £322million of new investment just in the last 18 months. Much of this investment will result in new housing for the borough. Our track record on securing affordable housing exceeds the London mayors’ 50% target with 53% of all dwelling completions in the last four years being affordable.

During this recession all local planning authorities have had to consider claims of financial unviability from developers seeking to provide less than the required amount of affordable housing in new residential developments. In Sutton we consider each case on its merits and seek strong evidence to support financial viability claims. We recently challenged the developers of Sutherland House, a major scheme proposing to change derelict offices into residential units without offering any affordable housing units on the site. Our challenge was upheld by the Planning Inspectorate on appeal. A new application for this site which did include an element of affordable housing was recommended for approval by our planning officers, however the application was withdrawn by the developers at the very last minute. It is assumed that the developer now wants to make use of the Permitted Development changes allowing the change of use to go ahead without the requirement for planning permission, or affordable housing.

Which brings me to the contradictory element of your comments. You criticise the Council for challenging this Permitted Development ruling, however it is this ruling that enables developers to get out of any requirement to provide affordable housing in an office conversion to residential. It also prevents the council from negotiating any financial contribution from the developers to provide the local infrastructure necessary to support the increase in population or traffic resulting from the conversion.

The council’s challenge to this ruling through an Article 4 Direction does not presume refusal of office conversions to residential, it only requires that a full planning application be submitted so that consideration of the need to protect employment land in the town centre can be undertaken, and where permission is granted an element of affordable housing can be negotiated together with s106 contributions to mitigate the local impacts of the development.

As we are already seeing commercial tenants being evicted to enable viable offices to be converted to residential, and developers deliberately circumventing planning procedures to avoid providing affordable housing, I fail to see how you can publicly state that the council is not doing enough to encourage affordable housing and then criticise the very measure we are introducing to seek to protect it.

Instead I would call on you in your position as housing minister to challenge the Permitted Development changes insofar that they undermine the ability of local planning authorities to require a proportion of affordable housing in office to residential conversions, and to support our Article 4 Direction for the Sutton Town Centre area.

It would also be helpful if you would encourage those landowners and developers who complained to you to get in touch with me. We consulted widely on the introduction of the Article 4 Direction and received no objections. We pride ourselves on our enabling approach that has proved successful in bringing forward development in a way which meets the Council’s objectives, as well as acknowledging the commercial drivers of developers and landowners. If your contacts do wish to take advantage of our ‘open for business’ approach, please do encourage them to get in touch with me and I will arrange for senior officers to make contact.

We would also like to see a challenge from your department to the changes to the New Homes Bonus you also referred to, which means that London boroughs’ incentive has been reduced by the top slicing of the Bonus to be pooled into a London pot, overseen by the Mayor, and which means we no longer get the full benefit of schemes we have worked to bring on, but instead have to see it distributed elsewhere at the Mayor’s discretion.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Jayne McCoy
Chair of the Housing, Economy & Business Committee, LBS

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Information, Opinion | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sutton wins funding for local heat network

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Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, paid a visit to Hackbridge today to announce that Sutton Council had been successful in securing Government funding for a feasibility study into creating a local heat network.

This funding is a fantastic boost for our plans to deliver sustainable and cheaper energy to local homes and businesses, and we are pleased to be working with our partners at BioRegional to develop a network using heat derived from the planned Energy from Waste Facility in nearby Beddington. This funding will also enable us to work towards addressing some of the fuel poverty residents in our borough are experiencing.

January 30, 2014 Posted by | Information | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grammar schools consult on admissions arrangements for September 2015 entrance

Local Grammar Schools Nonsuch High School for Girls, Sutton GrammarWallington County Grammar SchoolWallington High School for Girls and Wilsons School are currently consulting on changes to their admissions arrangements from September 2015.

Selective school Glenthorne High School is also consulting on proposed changes.

In essence the proposals are that year 6 pupils will need to sit and pass a common Selective Eligibility Test in order to be invited to sit the Second Stage Examinations for the individual schools.

You have to respond to each individual school on their proposals, and the deadlines for responses varies from school to school:

Wilsons responses deadline 12th February 2014

Wallington Boys deadline 6th February

Nonsuch Girls deadline 14th February

Wallington Girls deadline 28th February

Sutton Grammar School deadline 14th February

Glenthorne deadline 27th February

You can quickly access the individual consultations through the Sutton Council website except for the Sutton Grammar School on which can be accessed here.

The Council is also consulting on its admission arrangements for the borough’s community schools and this can be accessed on the same webpage.

January 27, 2014 Posted by | Information | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wet in Wallington

I was out and about delivering in Wallington yesterday and managed to get drenched in a downpour. However it proved a useful exercise in checking for blocked drains and gullies.

I identified some flooding in Wallington Square and have arranged for the drains here to be cleaned, and I had reported to me blocked drains in Avenue Road and Hall Road, which I have also asked to be investigated.

A good chunk of the money that was spent on Wallington town centre was for five large soakaways. These are a less evident part of the improvements but it is very pleasing to note that they are doing their job well and we have not had a recurrence of the major flooding under the railway bridge since they were installed.

ross paradeI also came across the signpost for Mulberry Mews pointing in the wrong direction, and flytipping in the alleyway in Ross Parade, both of which I have asked to be addressed by the council. The flytipping of rubbish in the Ross Parade alleyway is a continuing and pernicious problem and is causing great concern to the residents who use this public walkway to access their properties. Various measures have been undertaken but it is proving difficult to identify who is responsible. If anyone does have any information please do contact the council. This is unhygienic, unsightly and unfair to others who do dispose of their rubbish responsibly

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January 8, 2014 Posted by | Information | , , , , | 2 Comments

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