Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Amnesty advert in today’s Times

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May 26, 2015 Posted by | Liberal Democrats, Opinion | , , | Leave a comment

Wallington booming and blooming

IMG_0284 (1)There are a few things that indicate when an area is on the rise: one is the presence of cranes overhead, the other is estate agents Barnard Marcus moving into town. We have both of these in Wallington as work on the redevelopment of Wallington Square continues, and Barnard Marcus has moved into one of the units at Canon House.

The owners of Wallington Square decided the time was right to invest in IMG_0301 (1)redevelopment following our own investment into improving Wallington town centre. This is part of a borough-wide initiative, Opportunity Sutton, the council’s programme of work aimed at growing and supporting the borough’s existing businesses and attracting new  investment. A key part of the programme is investing in key areas, like Wallington, to make them more attractive to shoppers and therefore boost local business.

IMG_0337 (2)One of the other things that make Wallington attractive is the hanging baskets and flower troughs that local people have championed and the council funded through its local committee public realm funding scheme.IMG_0328 (2)

As well as Barnard Marcus there have been other new businesses moving into Wallington including Byrnes Pie & Eel Shop, Paddy Power, a new florist in the Square, the Cactus Grill, Sue Ryder, Cox’s Pippin, a new cake shop in Stafford Road and the Wallington Arms which has taken over from the Jon Jackson. The pub is a particularly pleasing addition as it is a very welcoming community pub which also puts on live music and good food.

Since the town centre improvements local people have told us that they have returned to shop in Wallington, the parking is plentiful and the shopping area is particularly good for people with disabilities to navigate.

Richard Mark Menswear who are located in Wallington Square are keen to highlight that they are open for business as usual whilst the redevelopment work is ongoing and they will remain a key store in the square once it has been redeveloped.

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May 25, 2015 Posted by | Information, Liberal Democrats, Opinion | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Muhammad is the new Mayor!

Muhammad mayorWallington South ward has the honour of providing the First Citizen of the borough as our Cllr Muhammad Sadiq has been appointed as the new Mayor of Sutton for 15/16.

The official Mayor-Making took place at Civic Offices on 18th May and I was very proud to be Muhammad’s official proposer. This gave me the opportunity to talk about Muhammad’s work and commitment to the residents of the borough, but also the chance to crack a few jokes at his expense. Cllr Joyce Melican, Chair of the Beddington & Wallington Local Committee seconded Muhammad’s nomination, and was then asked to support him as his Deputy Mayor, a role Joyce has undertaken previously.

Muhammad’s Mayoress will be his wife Aasia, and he will be assisted by his son and daughter. I know that his family were very proud to see Muhammad duly elected as mayor.

The charities that Muhammad will be officially supporting and raising funds for during his term as Mayor are St Raphael’s Hospice in Cheam and The Change Foundation in Beddington.

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Information | , , , , | 1 Comment

Protect my human rights

universal-declaration-of-human-rights

Here is the full text of the open letter I submitted to the new Sutton and Cheam Conservative MP in the Sutton Guardian this week:

Dear Paul Scully MP

I believe that I have the right to liberty; the right not to be tortured; the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; the right to a fair trial, and the right to be free from slavery or forced labour.

All of these rights and eleven more were established in the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights led by the UK and set up with the Council of Europe. The purpose was to prevent any state abusing its citizens following World War II and the atrocities of the Holocaust. These rights were later enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998 to ensure that British courts could uphold them.

Page 60 of the Conservative Party Manifesto 2015 states ‘We will scrap the Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights.’

As these rights were set down to protect the citizen from the abuse of the state, a scrapping of the Act is the state withdrawing my rights and redefining them. The UK Government should not have the power to change or take away my fundamental rights. The Human Rights Act is the British Bill of Rights.

I ask you to promise to protect my human rights as enshrined in the Human Rights Act and not support the Conservative Government when it seeks to remove them.

Jayne McCoy, Liberal Democrat and supporter of human rights.

I am not alone in my concern about this Conservative Government’s attack on universal human rights, see:

The British Institute of Human Rights: After the Election: The Human Rights Act, Protect what protects us all

Amnesty International UK: Save the Human Rights Act

38 Degrees: Save Our Human Rights

Equality and Human Rights Commission: Commission warns against ‘regressive’ change to human rights law

Liberty: Save our Human Rights Act

Counsel Magazine: The Case for the Human Rights Act

Fawcett Society: Threats to the Human Rights Act 1998

Liberal Democrats

May 15, 2015 Posted by | Liberal Democrats, Opinion | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wallington South By-Election called for 11th June 2015

The new team

The new team

Following the sad death of our highly respected colleague Colin Hall, the process has to begin to elect a new councillor to take his place in Wallington South.

Our Liberal Democrat candidate is Steve Cook. Steve has lived in Wallington for 35 years, ran a prestigious sound and post production business in the film industry based in London and also Los Angeles, and has been an active member of the Wallington community for many years, as well as more widely in Sutton.

Steve is used to championing the residents of Wallington as chairman of a local residents association and being its official representative on the Beddington & Wallington Local Committee.

We have been used to working with Steve for some time in this role as he was part of the Wallington Integrated
Transport Package Steering Group which delivered the successful Wallington town centre improvements; he pSpot Steve on the left in hi-vislayed a key part in the campaign to see off the proposed McDonalds Drive-thru, and he helped organise the Festive Light Switch-On last Christmas.

Being such a proactive and involved resident Steve was the obvious person to join the Wallington South Lib Dem team. He has been working with Muhammad and myself to help out since we lost Colin, and we have been impressed by his energy and commitment. Steve will be the perfect addition to the team.

May 11, 2015 Posted by | Information, Liberal Democrats | , , , | Leave a comment

Colin Hall

imageColin Hall has represented Wallington South since he was first elected to Sutton Council in 1998. We have been colleagues working together on behalf on the residents of the ward since I became a councillor in 2006.

His illness and untimely death has been a shock to me and to the very many people who knew Colin.

I also regularly worked alongside Colin on a number of committees and projects, and I find it difficult to take in that he won’t be there anymore.

Colin had a wide ranging knowledge and experience, but his chief interests were environmental matters and sustainability. Colin was the driving force ensuring that sustainable living was at the heart of everything the council does, and encapsulated this by ensuring the borough took on the principle of One Planet Living.

It has been a privilege to work alongside Colin and to learn from him. He was totally dedicated to his work as a councillor, giving up so much of his time to carry out his duties.

Colin was a gentle, kind man. He wanted to convince through discussion and information, and together with our other colleagues we spent many times discussing issues and finding solutions together. We didn’t always agree and Colin’s strength was that he didn’t always need his to get his own way but was willing to see the other side of the argument. A trait I hold in high regard!

He brought humour and goodwill to his work, and was always willing to share his knowledge and understanding with new or less experienced colleagues. For this reason he was well known, liked and respected by all his council colleagues.

Colin will be greatly missed, by the council, by colleagues, by me. Of course the biggest loss is for his family, and my thoughts are with them all, as they come to terms with the sad loss of a good man.

April 3, 2015 Posted by | Opinion | , , , | 3 Comments

A fond farewell to Wallington Public Hall

wallington-public-hall - oldWallington public hall

Wallington Public Hall will close its doors for the final time on 31st March. Built in 1934 with Art Deco features, the venue has hosted a wide range of events.

A potted history

It was originally a cinema, but soon evolved into a theatre hosting a range of productions and performances, including musical theatre and classical concerts. In the 1960s and 70s bands toured a large range of local venues such as Wallington, and in that period nearly every nationally known group appeared. Famous names who appeared here include: Jeff Beck (who was born in Wallington), Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Manfred Mann, Joe Brown, Billy Fury, Status Quo, The Kinks, David Bowie, and the Rolling Stones.

Since the late 70s when bands started to perform at larger concert venues and arenas the usage of the hall changed and more recently it hosted Short Mat Bowling, the Evangelical Church, exercise and dance classes, Antiques Fairs, wedding celebrations and the beer festival.  The Hall was also a location for the Blood Transfusion Service and the base for Meals on Wheels.

Reasons for closure

The building has been a poor state for some time.  In 1998 the Council reported:  ‘Hall is outdated, old fashioned and in need of refurbishment’.   Attempts were made to raise funding from the National Lottery.  The Council maintained the hall as best it can in recent years, with the lighting renewed, the kitchen refurbished, and  some redecoration, but its basic condition has been getting worse.  There are currently problems with water coming in, and damp, impacting on the structure.  The Council identified £1.25 million of works that would be needed to update the building.

The Council does not have the funds for the major refurbishment it needs, and without that refurbishment it will decline until it is no longer safe to use.  There is also the recognition that there is no longer a need for the kind of use for which the hall was built and for which it became renowned. Closing the hall will save the council the £75,000 a year it costs to maintain.

The decision was taken by the Environment & Neighbourhoods Committee on 4th September 2014 to close the Hall and this was agreed by Full Council on 3rd November 2014.

The future

The businesses occupying the units at the front of the Hall will be able to continue to trade from these premises until the site is either sold or redeveloped. The Meal on Wheels service will now be provided from the Sutton Inclusion Centre where the kitchens are being enlarged to accommodate it. The Blood Transfusion Service will be provided at the Phoenix Centre. Until demolished the premises are to be secured against illegal entry or occupation through the use of “Guardians” who will live in the building.

There are a range of potential future options for the site including market sale or redevelopment by the council. These are under review to determine the best outcomes for the borough.

The car park

The car park has been reviewed independently of the Hall itself to take account of any impact on Wallington town centre in respect of parking availability. A parking assessment study showed that whilst under-utilised as a short stay car park there was still some need for parking spaces to provide additional capacity for town centre parking at peak times and on Saturdays. It is therefore being proposed to close half of the car park. This will retain 40 spaces for current and future use, with the rest of the car park included with the Hall as a potential development site and will help make it more viable. This will also mean removal of the neighbourhood recycling centre currently in the car park. The final decision will be made at a future Environment & Neighbourhoods Committee meeting.

March 25, 2015 Posted by | Information | , , | 1 Comment

London Resi Conference: Who are we building homes for?

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Yesterday I attended the London Resi Conference where housing developers, investors, land managers, the GLA and other industry professionals gathered to discuss how to deliver housing to address the shortfall of provision in London.

I gained some useful insights into the issues faced and forecasted growth areas.

However the ‘Bright Young Things’ ideas session left me with a heavy heart. We had the usual railing against the planning system and stories of local councillors playing politics because of their ‘nimby’ residents. The proposed solution was to take major planning decisions out of the hands of local authorities and have them all decided by the Mayor’s office. The belief that this would take the politics out of the equation and see speedier resolutions of applications was naive to say the least! The certainty is that there would be less transparency and democracy.

But most of all this debate made me want to shout, ‘Who do you think you are building these homes for?’ Those local people who often object to developments in their area are also the families who would like to be able to afford a larger home, the young adults looking to move out of the family home, or older couples looking to downsize. And often the reason they object is because of the poor offer these developments will make to their area.

We have the simple problem of trying to use a system that relies on the private sector to deliver the housing that is needed in the capital. That housing won’t be provided if there is not a profit to be made on the development. However the type of housing that local people want for their area, together with the investment in the infrastructure necessary to support that development, does not produce the dividends that drive investors. That is why we see the endless pressure to build as densely as possible, and battles over s106 contributions and affordable housing. Indeed one of the bright young things wanted the space standards relaxed so they could build even smaller homes. Are we really proposing to house the next generation in cupboard-sized apartments akin to some of the worst examples seen in Japan? And when those new homes are built, they are unaffordable for local people, so they are sold to better-off commuters who may well spend all day in central London and contribute little to the local economy.

All local councils, local planners and local people want is good quality development that works for their area. Felicie, one of the more progressive thinking Bright Young Things captured it well, suggesting that the offer needs to be quality spaces designed around people and their needs. She talked of flats that would be suitable for families if they were well thought out, and suitably located near the facilities that families require.

A couple of examples of the issues drawn from my area:

A large residential development specially designed for older people was proposed for a site. We thought that it was too large and overbearing for the site, especially compared to what it was replacing, and that there would be objections from the locals. In fact there was widespread support for it because, as lots of residents said, they aspired to live there once they retired. It was an attractive offer.

On the other hand we have a legacy of a large housing development of over 600 properties in a self-contained area in Worcester Park. This development has no inter-relationship with the surrounding buildings or community either physically or in design terms. It has placed considerable strain on the local transport network clogging up a key through route, and created discord and disharmony. This estate and its attendant problems are now a permanent part of the landscape, but the investors will no doubt be long gone having made their money and it is the local council and residents left to deal with the consequences, out of taxpayers’ funds.

To bridge the discordant priorities we need public investment. In Sutton we are showing our willingness to do this by setting up a council-owned housing development company which will allow the local authority to take advantage of preferential borrowing rates to invest in the housing market across all tenures. We will need to work with private partners but our stake will enable us to have more say over design and standards. And for our partners our investment will de-risk projects and provide the wriggle room to be more flexible about affordable housing and densities.

My top tips for developers are to seek early engagement with the council and residents, and be willing to flex their plans in line with feedback from all parties. People understandably object to having things ‘done’ to them. Allowing them to be involved in the process and shape the plans not only assuage the fear factor, it also leads to better developments. Think about place making, not just unit numbers. Resident engagement may be time-consuming, but if the result is a first time granting of planning permission it saves costs that might otherwise be incurred in redrafting and resubmitting plans and fighting an appeal, never mind the costs associated with delayed construction and twitchy investors.

I would also like to see a change of attitude towards CIL and s106 contributions. Both of these ‘taxes’ have the aim of ensuring investment in the local infrastructure to support a new development. That investment can be for education and health facilities, transport infrastructure or public realm improvements. All of which increase the attractiveness of the development to potential buyers/tenants. And a development that enhances an area ensures that local property values remain buoyant.

We have positive testimony from partners who have worked with us in this way: CNM Estates, Subsea 7, Affinity Sutton, Schroders.

And finally a defence of local planning officers who took a bit of a hit in the conference debates. These are professionally qualified, highly skilled people, who are under-resourced and underpaid. They work to nationally-set time scales for dealing with planning applications, and are only allowed to recover costs at rates also set nationally. Rates that do not actually cover the cost of the planning service. In their work they are pitted against highly rewarded asset managers, architects, planning lawyers and transport consultants whose job is to make money for their investment backers. Most planning officers want to see quality developments in their area as much as residents, and delays are frequently more about staff shortages or lack of resources than the obstructive mentality they are frequently portrayed as having.

In Sutton we have a pro-growth agenda, Opportunity Sutton. We welcome new development to deliver the housing and economic growth our borough needs. Our ask is for good quality, sustainable design that works with the local area, and reflects our residents’ needs and aspirations. To help we aim to work in a joined up way across services to facilitate progress through the planning process and are investing in improving our planning service offer. We are refreshing our Local Plan to make it simpler and clearer for developers to understand what our vision for the borough is, and what our expectations are, whilst leaving room for innovation and quality.

And in line with another issue raised at the conference, we have brought businesses together with training providers so there is an understanding of the skills gaps and as a result many more construction training courses are being provided by our local colleges, and school children are being encouraged to look at careers in the construction industry.

It was interesting to hear Tim Craine of Molior London talk about feeling the need to be a bit more ‘socially conscious’, in particular when negotiating affordable housing. This was refreshing, and perhaps another way of thinking about it is to understand that we are building the homes, and the London, both for ourselves, and for our children. If we want people to work in the city then we need to provide the housing for those people. And everyone want to live in a nice home that meets their needs where they can feel part of a community and have access to the services they need. I don’t know of many people who aspire to rent a cupboard.

Sutton Point, CNM Estates

 

March 19, 2015 Posted by | Opinion | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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