Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Sutton High Street Refurbishment

The town centre refurbishment is trying the patience of all our residents, including me.

After months of work we find that the contractors fitted a faulty locking mechanism to the log benches and rainwater penetrated an outside power supply resulting in the incidents of the market trader being electrocuted and the elderly lady falling off a log bench. I am angry because neither of these accidents should have occurred and I apologise to the trader and Mrs Rider for the injury they suffered. Now to my disbelief I find that bits of paving are being dug up to accommodate the lighting connections that should have taken place months earlier. Hardly surprising that the town centre has come in for criticism from the newspapers when they picked up the story.

I have made it quite clear that I expect everything to be completed in time for the Christmas Lights Switch-On, with the exception of the final pieces of the paving in front of the St Nicholas Centre and the green wall on Wilkinsons which will have to wait until January to avoid the work causing disruption over the Christmas period.

A controversial project

The town centre project started off well enough about four years ago as the result of a successful funding bid to Transport for London. The council contracted a firm of Architects: East to come up with something bold and original to fit with the ‘Mayor’s Great Spaces’ funding programme. The aim was a design to refresh the high street, make it a more open, community space with creative features for interest, opportunities for young people to perform and stages for events to take place. And they had to do it with a budget of £3.2m, which sounds a lot but is still dwarfed by the amounts some other boroughs received for similar projects.

The design was consulted on widely with residents and local businesses, but since work first started it is clear that everyone has their own opinion on it. The (nearly) finished result sticks very closely to the original design and whilst it is tempting to tweak with it I’m not sure that throwing more money at it is a good thing.

Investing in the future of Sutton

What most people do agree on is that the town centre needed some work. It looked drab and neglected. By showing a willingness to invest in Sutton, we proved to local businesses and new retailers looking to move to Sutton that we want them here, that we are ambitious for Sutton to grow economically so that we can provide jobs and opportunities for our residents, and expand the retail offer for both local people and visitors.

Refurbishing the town centre is just part of the action we are taking to do this. We will be making the most of the new space over the Christmas period and beyond by holding selected markets, and providing the special events and entertainments it was designed for, including the big Christmas Lights Switch On.

We have been building on the attraction of the area as a filming location with great success. There has been developer interest in the town centre for some time and our strategic planners have been working with them to realise this and bring new shops to the High Street. Also, encouraged by the council’s willingness to invest in the area the high street businesses are working on a Business Improvement District into which they will invest their own money to be used for the benefit of the town centre.

Of course there are lessons to be learned from this project, and I will be ensuring that this happens. I will be looking at everything from how the project was designed and consulted on, to the contractual arrangements and the governance of the implementation.

I know that residents have high expectations of their High Street, and we are building on the work that has already been done. This will be achieved by demonstrating how good Sutton is, what a great place it is to live and work, and showing that this council is willing to take the lead to ensure the borough’s future economic success.

 

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November 20, 2010 - Posted by | Opinion

5 Comments »

  1. While I understand that the contractors may be to blame for the electrocution and the rolling log, the council surely must take some responsibility for the poor
    supervision that allowed these accidents to happen.

    Although the town was, as you say “drab and neglected” I am not sure that replacing the 10-year old red and yellow paving with Tianenman grey was an improvement.

    I am happy that the town is more appealing to young people, but the expensive wooden animals are also pretty drab and I’m not sure that encouraging skateboarding in a shopping area is entirely safe.

    However my main criticism is that the town has been turned into a hostile environment for older people. There are now fewer seats, and the logs which may be suitable for younger people are not ideal for those who need higher seats with arms for helping them to stand up. The High Street is a long uphill slog if you are elderly; I hope that by the time you reach that age the town will have been more sympathetically refurbished.

    I will try not to mention the appalling and unnecessary waste of money, but don’t think we haven’t noticed.

    Comment by Viv | November 22, 2010 | Reply

    • There is more seating than there was previously, the majority of it traditional backed benches. SCILL, a charity representing the interests of people with disabilities, have been closely involved with the project and gave advice on matters to improve the environment for the less mobile. The additional seating along the length of the high street, reduced clutter and better lighting were all included to help address the issues they raised. Residents can choose whether they wish to sit on a log bench or a traditional bench. Interestingly people do gravitate to the log benches in Trinity Square and eat their lunch there.

      Comment by jaynemccoy | November 27, 2010 | Reply

  2. Jayne McEvoy is a disgrace. This eyesore of a project took place under her watch, and now she has the cheek to tell us “Of course there are lessons to be learned from this project, and I will be ensuring that this happens. I will be looking at everything from how the project was designed and consulted on, to the contractual arrangements and the governance of the implementation”. This is all elementary project management that should have taken place before and during the work, not when the public are injured and dismayed by the disgrace that their public servants have spent their money on creating. If Jayne has any decency she should offer her resignation.

    Comment by Sutton Resident | November 22, 2010 | Reply

  3. Wow! Have just seen your appearance on the Sutton Guardian website trying to explain the High St fiasco. Must say you gave a very good impression of a totally incompetent out-of-her-depth amateur. Have you any experience of managing major projects like this before?

    Comment by Viv | November 26, 2010 | Reply

    • You have highlighted a common misconception about the role of councillors. Councillors are not required to be project managers, traffic engineers, or legal experts. Nor are they required to have qualifications in IT, planning law, public finance, social work or a medical degree. Councillors are lay people elected by their peers to represent the interests of residents. When in the majority they also set the strategic direction and policies of the council. Having made the strategic decision to accept funding to invest in the town centre for the reasons I have outlined above, the council appointed external project managers Mayer Brown and contractors Skanska to implement the project.

      Comment by jaynemccoy | November 27, 2010 | Reply


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