Whilst of course my first preference for London Mayor would be Caroline Pigeon, I can offer a warm welcome to the new incumbent, Sadiq Khan. I can do that because Sadiq’s achievement is an embodiment of Liberal Democrat principles, which is that you should have an equal opportunity to succeed irrespective of your background, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, nor should you be enslaved by poverty. He has also worked as a human rights lawyer, and the Liberal Democrats have always been strong upholders of the principle of basic human rights for everyone. I therefore have confidence that Sadiq will be working hard in City Hall for all Londoners.
The only slight downside is that he is one of the candidates who didn’t make a firm commitment to bringing the tram to Sutton. However I can allow him that on the understanding that it would be presumptuous to make spending promises before he has had the opportunity to scrutinise TfL’s budgets and existing commitments as well as our economic case. Caroline of course has the benefit of eight years on the Assembly and a detailed briefing from us.
But most promising of all is Sadiq’s pledge to deliver the affordable housing that London so desperately needs. This is a pledge that Sutton fully supports and we look forward to working with the new mayor to help make that happen, so that young Londoners, overcrowded Londoners, low income and average income Londoners, elderly Londoners and disabled Londoners no longer feel priced out of the capital but are all able to find homes and communities within our wonderful and diverse city.
In advance of the Housing and Planning Bill coming back to be debated by MPs in the Commons I sent this letter to our two local MPs, Paul Scully & Tom Brake:
THE HOUSING AND PLANNING BILL
I am writing on behalf of the Sutton Liberal Democrat Group on Sutton Council and in my role as Chair of the Housing, Economy & Business Committee to express our significant concerns about the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill currently being considered in Parliament.
Whilst the aims of the bill to increase the delivery of housing and give greater protection to private sector tenants are to be welcomed, we are concerned that without significant amendment the bill will actually exacerbate the housing crisis, increase homelessness and push more people into poor living standards and poverty.
This situation is particularly a risk for London. We have soaring house prices where the average cost of a two bedroom house in London is now out of reach for more than 80% of people, and a rental sector in which too many people spend over half their income on rent or are victims of rogue landlords.
Right to Buy extension to housing associations
As more homes are sold off under ‘right to buy’ with no commitment to replacement, and council houses sold off to pay for this, there will be less affordable housing available overall, forcing more people into the private rented sector, and a rise in homelessness as more are added to the 1.6 million people already on waiting lists.
This policy also renders our Housing Revenue Account unviable in the medium term, which will in the first instance mean we have to curtail our council house building plans, and may eventually force us to consider selling off all our housing stock as we cannot afford to manage it.
We know that many housing associations are also reducing their building plans because of the potential impacts of this policy combined with the forced rent reduction.
Only those earning at least £90,000 per year will be able to afford the Government’s flagship Starter Homes in London, representing just 5% of renters, so the next generation of young people stand little chance of ever owning their own home.
Starter Homes will be more attractive to developers than affordable homes so this will further reduce the availability of homes that average working people can afford.
‘Pay to Stay’
Under ‘Pay to Stay’ and the end of lifetime tenancies, council tenants will face higher rents or eviction if they get a better job or if their partner starts work. This anti-aspirational policy penalises hard working people and locks many in poverty.
This means council tenants will be kept in limbo, potentially being forced to move away from family and friends and not knowing if their children will attend the same school from one term to the next, or if they can keep their jobs.
Nor will the council benefit from increased income as it must be paid to the Treasury, further undermining the council’s Housing Revenue Account viability.
More people dependant on a fiercely competitive private rented sector
The combination of these policies means that poverty and homelessness will increase as more people are forced into paying exorbitant private rents. More people will find themselves in debt and facing the fear of eviction.
This Bill will have a profound negative impact on the Council’s ability to deliver desperately needed affordable homes in Sutton, and reduce the availability of genuinely affordable homes overall. It will mean more people facing the threat of eviction from their homes, and more people pushed into poverty and debt as they have to pay more of their income in rent.
To mitigate the most negative impacts of the bill the Lords have recommended a significant number of amendments, and I urge you to vote to accept these amendments when it is debated in Parliament next Tuesday.
I would welcome the opportunity to discuss our concerns in person and work together to ensure the best deal for Sutton residents.
Tom Brake sent this reply in response:
As you will know, the Liberal Democrats believe that for people to live fulfilled lives, they need a decent home at a cost they can afford. We believe that access to housing is fundamental to liberty, opportunity and hopes for the future. Due to successive government’s failures to build enough homes and manage the sector efficiently, millions of people suffer daily in poor conditions and are unable to afford their own home. Meanwhile, our housing market is overheating, with soaring prices and a rental sector in which many people spend over half their income on rent.
There is a need for Government, first, to show that they understand this housing crisis and then to show the ambition to make real change that improves people’s lives. However, the Housing and Planning Bill currently making its way through Parliament, is disappointing and unambitious even at its best. It doesn’t make a significant attempt to tackle the housing crisis – and in fact, will make it worse.
Tim Farron has described the Housing and Planning Bill as an all-out Government assault on social and affordable housing. Through the Bill, the Government will allow Housing Associations to sell their existing homes, without the requirement to replace them in the same area. This will have long-term consequences across the UK, breaking up and irreversibly damaging communities. Similarly, the Bill will allow developers off the hook from providing affordable homes by prioritising Starter Homes for the better off. It will also force councils to sell thousands of council houses with the proceeds going to central, rather than local, government.
What Britain really needs is more homes of all kinds. That’s why we’re pressing the Government to produce a long term plan that increases supply, gives security to the most vulnerable and creates homes that are genuinely affordable. My Parliamentary colleagues and I did that in the Commons today. We believe house building must increase to 300,000 new homes per year, with homes built in the right places and to a decent and sustainable standard.
Our vision includes the creation of at least 10 new garden cities and villages, empowering councils to get the funding they need for housebuilding by removing caps on borrowing, bringing more empty homes back into use, bringing back Zero Carbon Homes regulations and stimulating house building through the creation of a new Housing Investment Bank.
We believe Britain needs a radical, ambitious and compassionate housing policy like this; something that the Conservatives are not delivering. I can assure you that we will continue to fight this Bill in Parliament and outside and we will continue to push for more, better and greener housing across the country too.
Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington
I have yet to receive a response from Paul Scully, MP for Sutton & Cheam.
We are not the only ones expressing grave concerns about the negative impacts of this Bill.
Sir Bob Kerslake, a former Permanent Secretary at the DCLG, has accused the Government of launching an “attack” on England’s council homes, adding that middle-class buyers have been helped “at the expense of lower-income people in desperate need”. In addressing a section of the Housing Bill that will end lifelong secure tenancies for council tenants and replace them with five-year terms, Lord Kerslake described the move as “another attack on social rented housing” which “effectively removes the security that people need to build a new home and build a new life.” He added that despite having some “good bits,” the Bill has a lot that is “fundamentally wrong,” highlighting “the actions to diminish affordable housing” as those which concern him most.
Housing charity Shelter has branded the Government ‘reckless’ and claims that over 20,000 council homes could be lost across England in a year to pay for the extension of the Government’s right-to-buy policy. On Starter Homes Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “By building homes for people on middle to high incomes, the government is redistributing existing resources away from those on low incomes. This will have a massive impact on ordinary families being priced out of the dream of owning their own home, and millennials faced with expensive and unstable private renting, or living with their parents well into their 30s.”
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said that the Government’s manifesto pledge to allow housing association tenants to buy their own home at a discount has not been accurately costed, is open to abuse and may end up exacerbating the UK housing crisis. The PAC said the Government should provide “a full analysis showing how this policy is to be funded, provide a clear statement of where financial and other risks lie, and spell out its contingency plan if its policies prove not to be fiscally neutral. It added that the DCLG should publish detailed data on how it intended to ensure that every home sold off would be replaced with a like-for-like social property. “We share the committee’s concerns about the difficulty in assessing the impact of this in each local area, and have opposed proposals for it to be funded by forcing councils to sell much needed housing,” said Sharon Taylor, vice-chair of the LGA. “We are urging MPs to vote for a vital amendment that will mean councils retain sufficient funds to replace any higher-value home they are forced to sell to fund the policy one-for-one and with a tenure that best meets local need.”
Cllr David Hodge – leader of the Tories at the Local Government Association (LGA) – warns that elements of the bill could have the “unintended consequence of increasing homelessness and pushing more families into the more expensive private rented sector”.
And our own Peer and ex-council leader Lord Graham Tope has been working with the council to understand the likely impacts of the Bill and supporting relevant amendments put forward by the Lords to mitigate some of the worst effects of the bill.
Unfortunately the Minister responsible for the bill, Brandon Lewis, has called on MPs to vote down all the amendments.
You can add your name to those concerned about the impacts of this bill by signing our petition.
After the success of their Seniors Christmas Dinner our wonderful Wallington Arms Public House is now putting on a free Easter Lunch for senior Wallington residents.
With the excuse of the Clean for the Queen campaign the Wallington South ward councillors decided to enlist help in tackling some Wallington ‘Grot Spots’ that were outside of the Council’s jurisdiction.
We were pleased to be joined on Friday by local residents as we got to work on the rear of the shops beside Readers’ Walk in the town centre.
Armed with litter pickers and shovels, in about an hour we had filled a truck with black bags full of rubbish, some of which had clearly been around for quite some time. We also discovered double yellow lines along the rear, which had been obscured by the debris.
By the way – whilst the ‘after’ picture was being taken I was still working away picking litter round the corner at the back of Iceland – but my colleagues had forgotten all about me and nearly drove off leaving me there!
After ensuring that this area was much less of an eyesore some helperss went on to tackle litter in shrubbery on Woodcote Road, whilst Steve, Alan Fitter, our council cleaning operative & I headed off to the pathway that runs along the south side of Wallington train station. We had received complaints about the litter in this area but were having trouble getting it addressed as the council and Network Rail couldn’t agree who was responsible for the pathway. So we decided it was a mess that couldn’t wait. We did our best and cleared two areas nearest to the access to the station, but our backs gave out before we could finish the whole of the pathway. The shrubbery needs addressing so that the entangled litter can be dealt with. We have asked the local Safer Neighbourhood Team Sergeant if they could do a Community Payback Scheme here to finish the job. If not we will be back giving it another go – hopefully with more willing volunteers.
A huge thanks to the community-minded residents that came to give us a hand. You were real troupers and worked very hard.
Let’s hope the area stays litter-free for a few days at least!
Sutton Council is supporting the Government’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign and I must say that it is a campaign that very much chimes with me personally.
You see I have become a bit of an addict at seeking out recipes to use up leftovers and fresh produce before it goes off.
I have made it even more of a challenge as for many years I have had a regular organic veg box delivery. Whilst I love trying to use seasonable veg that hasn’t travelled for hundreds of miles, it has led to me encountering a much broader range of fruits and vegetables than I would have picked out at the supermarket. As a result I have had to learn how to prepare and cook them. Some vegetables I have come to know and love: squashes, aubergines, kale, spinach and leeks, but there are still one or two that I haven’t developed a taste for like celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes (although I did manage to smuggle Jerusalem artichokes into a recipe recently that the family actually liked!)
My failsafe is to make soup. There are so many soup recipes out there that I don’t believe there is a single vegetable that can’t be made into a warming and delicious soup (except perhaps celeriac!) Family favourites in my house are Leek & Potato, Pumpkin and Sweetcorn, and Chinese Noodle soup – which is especially good for using up small bits of whatever leftover meat and leafy veg you have.
My next favourite way of using vegetables or an excess of fruit is to use them in baking. Carrots, parsnips, potatoes and beetroot can all be used in cake recipes. I love to see the faces when I serve up my chocolate beetroot cake and people realise that it tastes really moist and chocolatey and nothing at all like beetroot. I have a special apple cake that is full of fruit and so good when you need to use up your apples as they start to wrinkle, and of course if you can make a crumble topping or pastry that is an easy way to use up most fruit in various combinations.
Some other dishes I find helpful for using up leftovers are:
Macaroni cheese – use up those end bits of cheese and throw in any leftover veg – peas, onions, frozen mixed veg, chopped kale or spinach.
Kale or spinach are also lovely mixed in with a curry, and very good for you. Curry is also good for a variety of veg leftovers.
Meatloaf with courgette and herbs is a firm favourite in our house when I have a glut of courgettes.
Banana & cocoa muffins – perfect for using up overripe bananas.
Omelettes and frittatas are perfect for lunch and can use up lots of leftovers like bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, chorizo, cooked potatoes, peas and onions.
Leftover wine (it can happen occasionally) gets thrown into tomato sauces for pasta, and don’t throw away your stale bread (unless it is mouldy of course) as there are many recipes that need stale bread, or blitz them into breadcrumbs and make a savoury crumble topping (mix with grated cheese) or mix with melted chocolate and ground almonds for an indulgent chocolate cake.
Having given it a trial I have now swapped to the Sutton Community Farm for my regular veg bag delivery as I was very impressed with the quality. Even less food miles as it is based in Wallington and I know I am supporting a local enterprise too.
If anyone is interested in some of the recipes I have mentioned drop me a line as I am happy to share.
The Love Food Hate Waste website has lots more tips and recipes for anyone who wants to find out more, and Sutton Council is providing special activity sessions for local people in support of the campaign – for info contact email@example.com or on 020 8770 6389.
I was searching through some old files and came across this extract taken from ‘Greening the Concrete Jungle’ a Policy Brief produced by the Woodland Trust that I thought deserved a wider audience.
The importance of trees in urban spaces
The beauty of towns and cities arises from a mix of good architecture and design, and the landscape of public spaces. There is strong evidence that improving green infrastructure and the urban environment helps promote inward investment by creating a more attractive environment for businesses and their staff.
Trees are a vital element in providing structure and texture to green infrastructure, and yet this has been eroded in many places. Maintaining what we have, ensuring future generations of trees to replace those that are being lost, and imaginative creation of more places rich in trees is central to making towns and cities places people want to live in, visit and do business in.
Health and Wellbeing
Trees and woods are vital to health and wellbeing. There is a strong relationship between the quality of urban green space and people’s health and wellbeing.
Increasing tree cover mitigates some of the effects of a warming climate, reduces the impacts of poor air quality, and increases the opportunities for people to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Green space, and trees in particular, provide both direct shade and reduce the temperature through the cooling effect of evaporation from the soil and plant leaves. One mature tree transpires up to 450 litres of moisture a day – equivalent to five room-sized air conditioners left on for 19 hours.
Trees improve air quality by absorbing pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and ozone, intercepting harmful particulates from smoke, and dust and of course release oxygen through photosynthesis. This helps to alleviate the problems caused by chronic respiratory disease.
Each year, 24,000 people in the UK die prematurely from air pollution. Research by the British Lung Foundation suggests that one in every seven people in the UK is affected by lung disease, almost 8 million people. The UK also has one of the world’s highest rates of childhood asthma, with about 15 per cent of children affected and a higher prevalence in lower socio economic groups in urban areas.
There is evidence that trees not only provide physical benefits but can also be important to mental health.
Trees and woods can have a restorative and therapeutic effect on the mind. Studies have looked at the beneficial effects of natural surroundings on children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Trees have been found to enhance mood, improve self esteem and lower blood pressure. The quality of natural features and trees in the city helps reduce mental fatigue and stress, and has important benefits for child development.
Over 45 employers and training providers are lined up to talk to young people about their career ambitions at the annual LB Sutton Careers Fair.
If you are between 15 and 24 feel free to drop into the Pulse Centre at Carshalton College anytime between 1.30pm and 5.30pm on 3rd February to get advice and inspiration about the next stage in your career development.
There will be information on preparing your CV and interview performance, how to access apprenticeships, advice on applying to college or university, details of current local job vacancies, as well as an excellent opportunity to talk to local employers and businesses.
If you are an employer then there is still room for you to attend.
For more information contact: Sutton Education Business Partnership (SEBP) on 020 8770 6962