Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Monday 27th April 7pm

Full Council

The main debates at this meeting were around Council leisure provision with focus on Cheam Baths, and the Sutton Life Centre.

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The motion on Leisure Provision in the borough was moved by Cllr. Chris Dunlop who sadly and suddenly died a little while after this meeting and has prompted the Nonsuch by-election. Cllr. Dunlop spoke confidently and eloquently on the motion which stimulated an entertaining debate. It is perhaps a fitting tribute that he took a prominent role at one of his last public meetings on a matter that was relevant to his ward.

Whilst there was general agreement from the Liberal Democrats to the underlying sentiment of the motion, Cllr. Graham Tope had submitted an amendment to the motion to clarify the circumstances securing the future of Cheam Baths. The amendment set out an assurance that Cheam Baths will remain open and operating in its present building until 2015 at least. In the meantime plans will be prepared and consultation undertaken to replace Cheam Baths with a new leisure centre within the same catchment area in the west of the borough with a target opening date of 2015. The precise location will be subject to public debate.

 There was some back and forth banter with accusations of Tory scaremongering and their refusal to see what was being put in front of them.

 The Conservative’s position as stated at the meeting was that they wanted to see the Baths rebuilt on the existing site. What threw me about them taking this position is that that would be the route which would lead by necessity to Cheam Baths being closed for at least a year or so in order to undertake the rebuild. Our proposals mean that there would be no such disruption in service.

 Cllr Gleeson took the opportunity to explain that the existing site would not be large enough to erect the new facilities to the standards that we wish to provide.

Cllr. Jerome highlighted that the commitment not to remove Cheam Leisure facilities has been Sutton Council policy for ages. The guarantee that the opposition have been demanding since the Cheam by-election has been in front of them but they seem unwilling to accept it.

 Cllr. Leach made the point that the last administration to close leisure facilities in the borough was when the Conservatives were in control. This was in stark contrast to the opening of Sutton Arena and the Phoenix Centre which the Lib Dem run council had overseen.

 The debate around the Sutton Life Centre started with quibbling over the availability of information led by Conservative Cllr. Kennedy which seemed designed as obfuscation to put off the debate.

 Many of the arguments put forward by the Conservatives have been discussed before. In his speech responding to Tory claims that the Lib dems were ‘robbing social services’ Cllr. Tony Brett-Young stated that we should not attempt to confuse the public for political purposes by misusing the capital versus revenue debate, to which Tory Cllr. Crowley interjected loudly, “Why not?”

 There was difference of opinion within the Conservative lines over the value of the Life Centre. Cllr. Moira Butt stated that elements of the scheme were “Not without merit” but suggested the facilities were put into Sutton arena or the Sutton Tennis Centre instead. However Cllr. Carter demonstrated how out of touch he is with young people as he totally denigrated the value of the proposed youth facilities. He saw no value to providing young people with rooms to meet in or comfortable chairs to sit on.

 Cllr. Jenny Slark contrasted Sutton’s investment in library facilities in the borough to guidance circulating amongst Conservative policy makers that to save money library staff should be cut and the libraries turned into revenue-generating cafes.

 Cllr. Crowley launched an attack on local policing referring to the provision by the council of youth facilities as bailing out the police at taxpayers’ expense.

 Cllr Bailey pointed out that the Life Centre would be an asset to the borough in the form of an architecturally interesting building and would also provide employment for local people.

Cllr. Tope summarised the debate as a useful illustration of the divide between the two parties: the Liberal Democrats could be seen to be forward thinking and positive whereas the Conservatives were negative, proposing no solutions and with no imagination. He said that they exhibited classic Conservatism, knowing the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

 I didn’t have the opportunity to contribute to this debate so I amused myself by noting the number of times the Conservative members used the phrases ‘pet project’, ‘vanity project’ or referred to the Life Centre as ‘controversial’. Cllr Crowley kindly clarified the message they were trying to convey when he described the Life centre as being ‘a monument to Cllr. Tope, a mausoleum.’

 I left the meeting with the impression that it had been a bit of a ‘pick on Cllr. Tope night’. Fortunately Cllr. Tope is more than capable of taking it all on the chin.

 Hear the full debate for yourself on the Sutton Council website.

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June 19, 2009 - Posted by | Committee Meeting

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