Diary of a Sutton Councillor

New events venue opens in Sutton town centre

grand hall 2

On Saturday I attended the official opening of a new large events space in central Sutton: SM1 The Grand Hall.

The Grand Hall is the conversion of the old Snooker Halls at 1A Throwley Way and now offers three large event spaces over three floors suitable for weddings, banquets, parties, meetings and formal events.

The opening was a grand affair with our Sutton MP Paul Burstow performing the official ribbon cutting and welcoming this new enterprise to Sutton town centre.

Guests were served with food and refreshments whilst being treated to a variety of music and performances.

The businessman behind this new venture is Anton Arulnesan who managed to bring his idea to fruition with the help of family and friends.

Sutton has great need of large event space so this venue is a very welcome addition to the town centre offer, especially with its central location. I wish Mr Arulnesan every success for the future.

Grand Hall 1

February 10, 2015 Posted by | Information | , , , | Leave a comment

Infrastructure Plan for London lacking in vision

I recently attended the Policy Forum for London‘s seminar on Infrastructure Planning in London. The future for London presented by representative’s of the Mayor’s Office was of an increasing concentration of business and economic growth in central London, with outer London seen as domiciliary boroughs housing the pool of people who will be employed by those businesses. The transport plan in particular sought only to address the increasing capacity pressures resulting from this daily commute.

This was challenged by myself and others who suggested that a move towards living and working in closer proximity could not only reduce the pressures on the transport network of commuting, but also improve people’s quality of life.

The response was that businesses always sought to cluster, and ensuring a wide employment pool necessitated commuting. The plan was just following the market.

To me this showed a disappointing lack of vision or leadership for the capital, nor did it fully appear to ring true.

I have seen businesses choosing to move out of central London and relocate in Sutton in an effort to improve the quality of life of their staff. Other businesses, such as Subsea 7, have chosen to expand their existing operations in our suburban borough because many of their staff live in the area and this maintained their quality of life. We also have businesses clustering outside of central London; again Subsea 7 noted this as a reason for remaining in the borough. We have a world class concentration of expertise in cancer diagnosis and treatment on a par with Oxford and Cambridge life science clusters with the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden, that have significant ambition, and importantly space, to grow. And in Beddington we have a Strategic Industrial Location that is noted in the Mayor’s London Plan. And that is just in Sutton. Croydon is at least registered as an area of opportunity for growth because of its established economic presence, and other outer London boroughs have their own clusters of businesses to build on.

As for commuting, that appears to be less of a choice than a necessity for many Londoners as housing and planning policy seems intent on pricing all but the uber-rich out of central London.

The problem with following market forces is that the market only seeks to serve itself. Surely the purpose of politicians and leaders is to have a vision to shape the country, or in this case the capital, to best serve all its citizens. Allowing market forces free rein sees London as nothing more than a cash cow to be exploited to drive economic growth at the expense of all else.

So if we allow this strategy to follow through what will be the London of the future? The centre will be a hive of commerce and activity, but its only other offer will be as a playground for the wealthy and for tourists. The soul will be lost from the heart of the city. The luxury flats only affordable for foreign investors or as second homes for the elite will be left empty for much of the time, and central London will be a glossy showpiece, not the living, organic, busy city we love. Employment land in outer London will be replaced with housing, serviced by bland retail parks and supermarkets because the district centres and small high streets will have been eroded by poor planning policies and the lack of daytime custom. Housing estates without a clustering around a key shopping area are not conducive to community cohesion or neighbourliness, and so the occupants will become insular and strangers to each other.

London has always been a vibrant metropolis, its charm and success built on the rich living side by side with the less well off; foreign settlers brushing shoulders with Cockney incumbents. Bustling street markets squeezed in between the imposing structures of banks and opulant state buildings. There have always been tourists providing a means to make a living for the industrious and entrepreneurial large or small, and clusters of businesses have always grown organically, often around the diversity of the people and the skills that they have brought to an area. London’s charm has always been its diversity, in its architecture as well as its people. Sometimes that may jar, but it also gives it its edge, its vibrancy and its innovation.

My fear is that the current direction of travel risks eroding all this, and will turn our thriving bustling capital into a bland, sterile showroom. It will be shiny and new, but lacking any soul.

Interestingly the vision and desire to forge new ways of thinking came from other speakers at the conference. The presentation about the Thames Tideway Tunnel was the first to show a real commitment to sustainability, and an understanding of how major infrastructure development can also be used as a force for improving the skills and ambitions of the next generation. The speaker from the London Waste and Recycling Board also gave a forward looking plan which involved shaping the way people deal with waste to achieve a more sustainable capital. Sandra Roebuck from Lambeth Council gave an excellent presentation demonstrating how they were fighting to ensure there remained a supply of affordable housing for people living in the capital, but highlighting the struggle to retain a local employment offer within the borough too. The presentation from BT Group was a good example of the opposite approach, with plans explained about how the company will give the public what they want, but apparently didn’t  need, and with no mention of any actual benefit to the consumer of this offer.

The purpose of politicians is to be thought-leaders, not market followers. We need a vision for the capital, not a free rein for those that wish to exploit London for all they can suck out of it. London is home for many, a marketplace to others. It is a melting pot for ideas and creativity. It holds history and culture, attracts science and innovation. People visit to see, to learn, to do business and to play. We must nurture all aspects of this, and provide room for the capital to evolve. But we can also shape our future capital. We can have a sustainable city,  a vibrant city, and a beautiful city. But to do so needs a vision, and plans to support that vision.

What was presented instead was a fix of extrapolated existing problems, and the factory-farming of a bloated cash cow economy.

February 5, 2015 Posted by | Opinion | , , , | 2 Comments

Affordable Housing Motion to Full Council 19th January 2015

Monday’s Full Council saw me propose a motion to Council on the subject of Delivering Affordable Housing to Sutton Residents. The motion calls on Central Government to devolve more funding and powers to Local Authorities who show that they are willing to deliver the necessary housing growth. It also highlighted the work that Sutton is already doing to use its existing powers to deliver new homes. The full text of the motion can be read here.

The text of my speech is shown at the end of this post.

Cllr Richard Clifton seconded the motion and spoke powerfully about the increasing gap between rich and poor, the failure of the Conservative’s trickle down ideology, and the shame that in our Western world we are currently seeing reliance on food banks.

Other speakers also talked about the impacts of welfare reform, the basic right to a decent home and the health implications of poor housing. We heard powerful maiden speeches from Cllr Amy Haldane supporting the work to provide temporary accommodation in borough by converting Oakleigh, and from Cllr Manuel Abellan speaking about his experience as a member of ‘Generation Rent’.

I was pleased to hear both Cllrs Hanna Zuchowski and Graham Whitham highlight the failings of government initiatives as exemplified by the extended Permitted Development Rights: a particular bug-bear of mine.

Cllr Muhammad Sadiq provided more details of our ‘ask’ from central government.

I was very pleased to receive support for the motion and the principle from my opposition colleagues too, even if Cllr Crowley tried to divert the debate into being about the Life Centre! However I did understand their questions about a business case and was able to clarify that the new housing development company was in essence a vehicle to enable the council to take up opportunities that may arise and to work more flexibly in partnership with other housing providers, as well as provide housing directly itself. As each opportunity arises a full business case will be worked up which will be presented to the relevant committees for full scrutiny, including by the opposition.

I didn’t get chance in the debate but take the opportunity now to respond to the point about using our own sites before asking the Mayor to release land. The 140 new council houses we are building does just that. The sites are already identified and were noted in previous papers presented to the Strategy & Resources Committee. We also have a formal system to review all council sites that have the potential for disposal that balances the income potential against the benefits of alternative use such as for housing. Some of the sites identified for new council houses came about as a result of this process. Of course other needs and ambitions for the borough need to be taken into account such as maintaining or increasing employment land and stimulating the local economy. The development company also gives us the potential to purchase privately owned sites, should the business case stack up.

The formal questions submitted by Cllr Crowley for response during the debate gave me the opportunity to expand on the work that is embedded within council practices to engage positively with private sector landlords in Sutton to encourage them to offer affordable rents, and the ongoing work to bring empty properties back into use.

Of course it is all very well to talk about what we want to do, but the proof is in delivery, and that is my key concern. We are already on schedule to build around 140 new council homes in the next six years, and our current regeneration schemes are delivering 700 new or improved properties. The new development company gives us the power and the flexibility to seize on new opportunities, and the council is already being proactive in this, so I expect to see some exciting business cases to deliver new housing being prepared in the not too distant future.

My speech proposing the motion:

For many years housing hasn’t featured in any Governments’ manifesto. Whilst property prices were increasing steadily all was thought to be well with the world. Middle class people would sit at dinner parties discussing their increasing property values and houses were seen more as investments than homes. Owning property was a key aspiration and incentives such as right-to-buy encouraged this view.

But this blasé attitude when times were good is the reason we now face a housing crisis. When the bubble burst there was suddenly no incentive for private developers to build, but nor had public money been invested into providing new council housing.

Suddenly house prices are out of reach of the majority, our children look set to still be living with us well into their thirties, while unscrupulous private landlords are cashing in on the increased demand by hiking rents through the roof. The ridiculousness of this situation is that it adds to the budget deficit as more money has to be spent on housing benefit as even an average working family now needs help to pay their rent.

This is illustrated by the fact that 50% of the people on the waiting list for a council property are in work.

And now housing is on every party’s manifesto. Unfortunately the desperate measures taken to try to stimulate housebuilding have failed. They have failed because we have Conservative Ministers that believe that the private sector will provide the solution to everything. Reality shows that this is not the case. We need to have public investment in housing. And as central government is not prepared to do it, we as the local authority will.

This council is investing £30m in building around 140 new council homes over the next six years. We can do this thanks to the devolution of responsibility for managing the housing revenue account. A change that Liberal Democrats and tenants in this very borough campaigned for tirelessly. Ask Cllr Crossby about the Daylight Robbery campaign!

But we have gone further in our ambitions to address the imbalance in the housing market. We have seized on our new localism powers and are establishing a council owned development company. The aim of this company will be to provide new housing across all tenures – private for sale, private for rent and social housing, but all with the key principle that this housing will be at prices local people can afford!

This company gives us the freedom to act independently of government handouts, and to work flexibly with private sector providers to deliver new housing. It has already proved a popular idea as we have been approached by a number of housing providers looking for innovative ways to work together to increase the amount of housing in Sutton. And if we use this company to invest in the private rented sector it means that we can offer longer term tenancies and provide the security that many renters lack.

And by being involved in the development of this housing the council has more control over design and standards, so that we get quality affordable homes for local people, not luxury apartments that only the rich can afford, or substandard boxes in poorly converted buildings.

Interestingly it was Planning Departments that were the first to be blamed for the slow down in housebuilding. Interesting then that for every 2.5 houses with planning permission, only one house has actually been built. That is not due to the planners.

I don’t have time here to talk about all the work this council is doing to ensure we can adequately house Sutton residents. But I do want to mention another way we are seeking to ensure that in Sutton the housing that is built is of a standard that anyone of us would be pleased to live in, and makes a positive contribution to our suburban borough.

We are doing this by working on a new Local Plan. This will ensure that our planning policies encourage new housebuilding, but also places strong requirements that they are of a high quality in terms of design and sustainability, and that new housing is accompanied by the transport, education and health infrastructure it will require. We want our residents to live in pleasant environments that enhance the treasured sense of community we have in Sutton, that allows space for parks and open land, whilst contributing to thriving neighbourhoods and district centres.

And all this is happening because as a local council we are taking matters into own hands, making the most of the devolved powers we have been given to meet the needs and deliver the aspirations of Sutton residents. Central government can only offer one-size fits all, top down solutions. We call for the powers to shape our own destiny, and can show that we can deliver more efficiently and effectively when we have that power.

January 21, 2015 Posted by | Committee Meeting | , , , , | Leave a comment

Action on Jubilee Gardens at last!

 

Jubilee gardens work

I was very pleased today to see that work has finally started on Jubilee Gardens in Wallington.Jubilee gardens focus

It looks like our pressure worked.

It is certainly time that local people were able to claim back this green space for public use. I hope that the finished result will be an improvement on what was originally there, as it will benefit patients at the health centre and Mint House as well as local residents.

 

January 15, 2015 Posted by | Information | , | 1 Comment

Lighting to the rear of Wallington Square

wallington-main

Whilst pleased to see work started on site to redevelop Wallington Square, residents have noted that since one building has been demolished the rear of the square is now very dark. This is especially problematic with it being the time of year when it gets dark very early and when people are travelling home from school and work.

In response to residents’ concerns we asked the Council’s planning department to contact the developers to ask them to rectify the problem.

I am pleased to advise that the contractors responded promptly saying that they will have battery powered lighting installed within the week. They noted that there is no power supply on site so the alternative would be a generator, however they were reluctant to use that as it may cause a noise nuisance.

It is very pleasing to have considerate and responsive contractors working in our borough.

We hope that this will make people feel a little safer as they use the square.

January 14, 2015 Posted by | Information | | 3 Comments

Byrnes Pie and Eel House Opens in Wallington

Byrnes Pie & Eel House

I was very pleased to visit and personally welcome a quirky new restaurant to Wallington: Byrnes Pie and Eel House.

This establishment, just opened in Ross Parade in Wallington town centre, is run by local couple Nick and Sally Byrne, who did their research and were convinced that there was a market for their traditional wares in Wallington.

Muhammad, Colin & I are very pleased they have chosen Wallington and wish them lots of success with their business.

For more information visit their Facebook page.

December 11, 2014 Posted by | Information | Leave a comment

Free weekend parking for Christmas in Wallington

santa parking

Parking your car in Wallington will cost nothing in the weekends leading up to Christmas.

From Saturday 13th December the car parks at Shotfield, Wallington Library, Melbourne Road and Wallington Public Hall will be free at the weekends however long you stay.

Once again Opportunity Sutton’s ‘Open for Business’ programme is offering this period of free parking to encourage shoppers to shop locally for Christmas bargains and support their local high streets.

There will also be an early start with free parking on Saturday 6th December in support of Small Business Saturday, a national campaign to encourage people to support their local businesses.

There will also be free parking places in Sutton town centre, Cheam and Carshalton. See the Sutton Council website for more details.

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

Shotfield zebra on its way

004Your ward councillors’ work to get a zebra crossing in Shotfield is nearly complete.

This week notices will be going up to formally consult on putting a zebra crossing in the road opposite the Jubilee Health Centre. You will be able to view the notice from 27th November on the council website under reference T30085 and can register your support or opposition to the scheme by emailing: traffic.postbook@sutton.gov.uk quoting reference T30085.

As the request for the crossing was put to us by a number of local residents who found it difficult to cross the road to access the Health Centre we hope that there will be plenty of support. Cllr Muhammad Sadiq, who took up the campaign from Monica when he joined the Wallington South team said, ‘I think it will be helpful for the large number of elderly people who live in this area and use the Health Centre regularly.’

 

November 24, 2014 Posted by | Information | , , | 24 Comments

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