Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Full Council Monday 3rd November 2014

There were two motions put to Full Council on Monday night, one from the Lib Dems calling for more devolution of powers to local areas, and a Tory motion calling for the reinstatement of formal crossings in Hackbridge.

There was an interesting parallel here, as the Heart of Hackbridge scheme is a prime example of power actively being devolved to local people to make the changes they want to their area. However, as sometimes happens, there is disagreement within that community about the safety of some of those changes.

The Tory motion on Hackbridge represented Conservative councillors taking the side of one group of residents, and seeking to override the decisions of other groups.

Our amendment to their motion proposed a more balanced and conciliatory approach. Cllr Whitehead offered the Council’s Highways expertise to seek solutions that would satisfy the concerns of one group, without riding roughshod over the aims and ambitions of the local people leading the scheme. The local councillors have already brought representatives of the two groups together, and the council is willing to step in to help work up solutions to the concerns raised with those groups.

We feel that it is important that having given powers to local people, as has been done with this Outer London Fund scheme, and with Neighbourhood Planning, it is wrong for the council to suddenly step in and impose a different agenda, thereby making a mockery of Localism.

Interestingly comments from the Conservative members speaking on the devolution motion underlined just this point – that you can’t just talk about devolving power and see that as job done, it has to be put into practice. Whereas their own motion on Hackbridge was just such a contradiction!

In contrast, when things get tricky, I believe that you can trust local people to work the solutions out between themselves, as long as they have the right support.

The full text of my speech supporting the amendment is below.

I am speaking in support of the amended motion.

First I would like to welcome the Opposition’s support for the key Liberal Democrat values of empowerment, diversity and accessibility that in Sutton we have enshrined in Council policy.

I also appreciate that my Conservative colleagues may wish to distance themselves from some of the less inclusive statements made by their Parliamentary representatives recently.

So starting on the issue of empowerment, here we are in agreement with the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, to put the power to change the local environment into the hands of local people.

For the Heart of Hackbridge scheme is one of the Mayor’s Outer London Fund projects, one of the few schemes bid for and led by a third party organisation – in this case BioRegional.

BioRegional are managing  the scheme, with the implementation  overseen by the Hackbridge OLF Delivery Board made up of representatives from BioRegional, the Hackbridge Neighbourhood Development Group, local businesses, council officers, and developers of the Felnex site, as well as a local councillor.

Now I will be the first to point out that, whilst fully supporting local people finding local solutions,  the experience for those involved is time consuming, and often difficult to achieve consensus across all issues. People engage at different times, and with different agendas, and often we are asking people to manage issues that professionals find difficult to navigate. That is not to say that we shouldn’t support locally-led schemes, just that the bodies devolving power in this way need to be aware that the people involved should be properly supported.

 The aims of the Heart of Hackbridge scheme extend well beyond the traffic scheme, and the Delivery Board has been very successful in delivering a significant uplift to the local economy in Hackbridge, in the form of new business, employment, apprenticeships, and business grants as well as reducing carbon emissions from shops. Unfortunately these achievements have been overshadowed by concerns over the safety of the new road scheme.

I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank BioRegional and the local people who sit on the delivery board both for taking on this task to improve their area and for those achievements that have received rather less publicity and criticism.

***

I would now like to turn to the issues of inclusivity and accessibility.

The traffic scheme was designed to address local residents’ existing concerns about safety at Hackbridge Junction particularly with regard to traffic speeds, and near misses at the zebra crossings. It is important to note here that these existing formal crossings were deemed so unsafe that many pedestrians didn’t use them and would weave in and out of stationary cars instead.

The scheme as it stands was designed by award winning architects and engineers following input from local residents and traders.  The scheme was also approved by the GLA’s design team and Transport for London.

The Hackbridge Delivery Board did consult with Guide Dogs for the Blind who confirmed that the scheme complied with national design guidance.

So we must accept that the Delivery Board felt that the scheme they were implementing satisfied disability issues given the guidance they had received from various sources including the Mayor’s own departments.

However, we are aware that campaigners for people with visual disabilities do not agree that the national design guidance is adequate in respect of shared space schemes.

Therefore, as we do seek to be an inclusive borough and as Cllr Whitehead has confirmed, the council will be working to help find a solution to ensure that people with visual impairments feel that there are safe places to cross at the Hackbridge junction.

Our amendment seeks to show that rather than riding roughshod over the decisions originally devolved to and agreed by local people, instead the council is offering its expertise to help find a way to reconcile the aims and concerns of those people with an interest in the area.

It is on this issue of inclusivity that I especially welcome Cllr Crowley’s belated U-turn to upholding the rights of the visually impaired. For previously in this very chamber he took a completely opposite stance when we wanted to enable visually impaired residents to be able to navigate the renovated Wallington town centre, instead supporting a businessman who expressed no consideration for the mobility needs of the blind.

In contrast the Liberal Democrat group has demonstrated a consistent and continued commitment to listening to and working with our disability groups to find solutions that work across many council projects.

So in light of what appears to be a mutual aspiration to ensure that all people are able to feel safe navigating the Heart of Hackbridge, I trust my opposition colleagues will be able to fully support the motion as amended.

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November 5, 2014 - Posted by | Committee Meeting | , , ,

7 Comments »

  1. Cllr McCoy you need to get your facts straight, Guide Dogs for the Blind were not consulted during the process. in fact NO disability groups were, all the architects did was follow the guidelines set out in the Manual for Streets. Guide Dogs for the Blind were only asked to comment after this was pointed out to the council and all they did was rubberstamp what was in place – even they do not agree with the Manual for Streets and would prefer Formal crossings such as a Pelican.

    Also how can you say that an informal crossing is safe on the A237, whilst you have installed a new roundabout and there is already an existing pelican crossing on the same road less than 2 miles away in Woodcote Green. So its okay for the Hackbridge residents to risk their lives but not those in the more affluent Woodcote Green – same goes with Malden Road.

    I challenge you to try and cross any of the informal crossings within Hackbridge whilst wearing the special glasses that mimic cataracts and see how the vulnerable residents feel everytime they have to cross the road.

    We do not want any resident or visitor of Hackbridge to become a statistic.

    Comment by Nikki S | November 5, 2014 | Reply

    • If there is feedback from the Guide Dogs for the Blind it means they were formally consulted. Also you need to read my post more carefully as I specifically point out that we are aware that Visual disability groups do not believe that formal disability guidance on this issue is adequate, nor do I state anywhere that ‘an informal crossing is safe on the A237’. You also fail to understand that it is in response to concerns about safety that the council is trying to help, particularly on the disability issue.

      Comment by jaynemccoy | November 5, 2014 | Reply

  2. Guide Dogs were consulted? Every time we asked LBS which disability groups were consulted prior to the scheme starting we were only ever told that SCILL were consulted…

    Comment by Tracey Collins | November 5, 2014 | Reply

    • If Guide Dogs for the Blind had been consulted early in the design stage then many of the current issues may have been avoided. Unfortunately it appears that they were only asked to comment on the final design, to which they could only say that it conformed to national guidance. Thanks to you and others raising the issue hopefully some solutions can now be found whilst retaining the positive aspects of the overall scheme.

      Comment by jaynemccoy | November 5, 2014 | Reply

  3. This article is seemingly suggesting that a minority of local residents are attempting to “ride roughshod” over the aims and ambitions of the local people who have been involved in the implementation of the scheme. This is simply not the case. There is a large and growing group of local people who are unhappy with some of the changes, which they feel pose a risk to all residents (drivers and pedestrians) but especially those with a disability. Some of these individuals did choose to get involved during the initial public consultation process, and the majority of them feel the concerns that were highlighted during those consultations, mainly surrounding the removal of the zebra crossings, were ignored.

    The scheme may well have been designed by award-winning Architects, but this does not automatically mean that they will always get it right first time, every time! I believe that this is the same Company that is responsible for the Tolworth Greenway project; and I recall reading recently that Kingston Council is due to implement changes, including the addition of light-controlled crossings.

    Before this scheme was introduced I had little or no knowledge in relation to the shared space concept. However, it does not require a great deal of knowledge or know-how to do a quick Google search to reveal the huge number of concerns up-and-down the Country raised by people in relation to the safety and/or accessibility of such schemes.

    With this in mind, maybe LBS can take one thing away from this – not to be taken in by a glossy portfolio, concept drawings and buzzwords spewed forth by a well-versed team of designers, who only have eyes for your wallet.

    Comment by Jackie I | November 5, 2014 | Reply

    • Hi Jackie, that is not what this article is suggesting. It is an understanding that there is disagreement within the local community and the council is seeking to mediate and resolve some of the concerns raised. You are right that you cannot always rely on ‘experts’ and national guidance, which is why local people with their local knowledge need to be involved in these projects. Also issues often do not come to light until a scheme is operational, which is why the safety audit process is essential.

      Comment by jaynemccoy | November 5, 2014 | Reply

  4. Not only are visually impaired vulnerable at these crossings, but so are the disabled, the elderly and children. Many parents will now not let children out to cross two busy roads busy it is too great a risk. If zebra crossings are so dangerous then remove them from Great Britain altogether. Also many elderly residents now fear crossing the roads at Hackbridge and will not use the local shops independently any longer. Drivers are also avoiding the area as they feel unsafe there. The lack of formal crossings has made the area less accessible to many groups of people, which goes against its original objective. I’m glad to hear that the roundle is to be replaced with a proper mini roundabout which means the council have rightly accepted that the original design does not work. I hope the council also see common sense and re-instate formal crossings on Hackbridge and London Road, whether it be zebra crossings or even better pelican/puffin crossings. Only then will the project will be complete.

    Comment by Riaz Hossenbux | November 5, 2014 | Reply


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