Diary of a Sutton Councillor

The Charles Cryer and that Tory Amendment to the Council Budget

The Conservative opposition led by Cllr Tim Crowley circulated an eleventh hour amendment to the Council’s budget at the last meeting of this term. It was only circulated after the meeting had already begun.

Essentially it called for a freeze on councillors’ allowances to be spent on subsidising the Charles Cryer Theatre. It was their only amendment to the budget.

Because of a historic decision to take the matter of setting and agreeing our own council allowances out of councillors hands, this was a proposal that the Tories knew we could not honour.

The decision had been taken and had cross-party agreement many years ago to take the politics out of councillors allowances and pin them to the national public sector pay settlements. So if public sector workers get a pay freeze, so do we. If they are given a pay rise, ours rise by the same amount. This takes the issue of voting on giving ourselves pay rises out of the equation and keeps this sort of politics out of the argument. However any change does have to be included as part of the annual budget and therefore agreed as part of that. Para 11.7 and 11.8 in the budget papers record this.

Council inviting bids to keep the Cryer in community use

The council & Lib Dem councillors are still working to ensure use of the Charles Cryer for community benefit and there has been significant interest with some really exciting ideas. It was agreed some time ago that in light of the financial pressures across all council budgets we could no longer afford to subsidise the theatres, especially considering that attendances were so low. We can’t justify subsidising such low visitor numbers to the tune of £500,000 a year when we are struggling to find funds to support our children with special needs, or adults needing meals on wheels and carers.

You have also got to ask the question, of all the things the Tories could have suggested a reduction goes to fund, why the Charles Cryer? They didn’t suggest putting the money towards children with special needs, helping the elderly or the homeless. They chose the Cryer because it is a popular issue of concern with residents, who may not realise the extent of the financial pressures councils across the country are under.

A political stunt

The proposal of reducing allowances to pay for the Cryer was therefore just a political stunt by the Tories so they can then put up posts about it on Facebook and in their literature.  The Tories know this, which is why they proposed this amendment, knowing we couldn’t honour it.

What the Conservatives did do in the debate was defend their government and claim that reductions in local services are due to council mismanagement rather than their government’s cuts to funding. That mismanagement is just their political narrative too, and without grounds, as in local government circles Sutton is held up as a bastion of sound financial management and innovative solutions. It’s current external Audit Statement on Value for Money states:
The Council have historically managed their finances well and have consistently achieved planned savings targets.

The Carshalton Central councillors have provided more information about the Charles Cryer and other heritage buildings in Carshalton on their website.

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March 22, 2018 Posted by | Committee Meeting, Information, Liberal Democrats, Opinion | , , | 1 Comment

Chair’s update on the work of the Housing, Economy and Business Committee

HEB Meeting held on Tuesday 13th February

Key items of business:

  • Local Plan adoption – agreed unanimously. The Plan was fully approved at Full Council
  • Local Development Scheme – programme of ongoing strategic planning work agreed
  • Locally Listed Buildings of Sutton document- excellent catalogue of listed buildings in the borough which we hope to publicise more widely.
  • Brownfield site register – new requirement for a list of sites available for development – taken from Local Plan
  • Economy Watchlatest economic statistics for the borough
  • Discretionary Rate Relief – Pub Scheme extended for another year

 

 Other Business since last meeting

Tram extension to Sutton

Myself, Cllr Whitehead and Cllr Dombey, along with senior officers and the Merton Council Leader met with the London Deputy Mayor for Transport and TfL to discuss progress on delivering the tram extension. TfL were extremely positive about the plans and appeared dedicated to making it happen. Some new options have been proposed to bridge the funding gap with external sources. This was followed up with a joint presentation by Merton & Sutton to the Mayor’s Good Growth Board on 28th February.

 

London Plan

The Mayor’s London Plan is currently out for consultation until 2nd March. It contains new worrying housing targets that are double those in our Local Plan and the Mayor expects these to be delivered on small sites i.e. backgarden land, house conversions and flats in the middle of suburbia. This flies against our Local Plan where we seek to preserve the historic and suburban character of our borough and direct housing to town and district centres, with regeneration providing both additional housing and improved environments for existing residents.

Positive aspects of the Mayor’s Plan are the highlighting of Sutton as an Opportunity Area in light of the London Cancer Hub potential, and inclusion of the Tram extension to Sutton.

More here.

The council has submitted a response to the consultation.

 

Employment and Skills Board Meeting on 5th March 

Agenda included:

  • A talk on the work of the Early Help Board
  • A presentation by Reed in Partnership, the organisation procured by the South London Partnership to deliver the Work and Health Programme (now Better Working Futures)
  • An update on the Sutton for Science strategy and Big Bang Festival of Science activities
  • Regular Partners Updates 

 

SHP

I have continued attending regular Fire Safety Meetings of SHP and the Council following the Grenfell Fire.

HEB Members Cllr Melican and Cllr Emmerson attend SHP board meetings and associated events as the council’s representatives on the SHP Board.

Steve Tucker, previously Interim CE of SHP has now been confirmed to the permanent post of Managing Director of SHP – a posting that has met with widespread approval by tenants, leaseholders, staff and the council as great improvements in approach and service have been noted since Steve took over from the previous CE.

 

Beddington Farmlands

A petition has been raised by the Wandle Forum for enforcement of the planning conditions requiring the restoration of the landfill site at Beddington Farmlands into a country park and wildlife reserve. Cllr Piracha and myself met with Planning and Biodiversity Officers for an update on the situation. It was confirmed that progress has been ongoing with restoring the site and there has been oversight by Planning Enforcement, but there has been no breach and therefore no fault on the council’s part, or Viridors. The only delay to the restoration was due to the Judicial Review brought by the Green Party PPC which meant all work has to be stopped until the JR was concluded.

Officers plan to meet with representatives of the Wandle Forum to explain the situation and talk about the next steps for the restoration.

 

Sutton Living Ltd

A planning application for the Wallington public hall site has been submitted.

Rather than selling the site to a private developer the council is using its new Housing Development Company, Sutton Living Ltd, to build new homes for local people on the site. The plans propose using the hall site and half of the associated car park to deliver 31 flats of mixed sizes in two blocks of three and four storeys with a commercial retail unit fronting Stafford Road.

The development will provide the maximum required number of affordable units, and under the terms of the council’s company all the residential units are required to be marketed to Sutton residents first, with special discretion for care-givers moving in to look after a Sutton resident, or ex-forces personnel. The layout also preserves the access to garages of properties in Onslow Gardens.

Other projects in train are listed in the papers for the last Sutton Shareholdings Board on 6th December.

 

Council housing new build

I took the council leader to view progress with the council house new build at Fellowes Road and Ludlow Lodge. Kind & Co, the build contractors are ahead of schedule so we hope to see people moving in this year.

 

 

SDEN 

I attended a Golden Shovel event with Cllr Whitehead and partners Viridor, Barratts and Eneteq to celebrating getting the first pipes in the ground for the decentralised energy network. We were also able to view the properties being developed by Barratts in Hackbridge on the old Felnex site.

The company is currently billing new residents who have moved into the New Mill Quarter properties. A temporary energy centre is on site to provide energy until the pipes are connected which is expected to be July next year.

 

Economic Development

An investor conference was held on 1st March at the newly refurbished Empire Cinema. This is part of the work to attract quality developers and investors to Sutton to enable us to deliver the best quality environment we can. It also launched the Sutton for Science programme which aims to encourage Sutton residents and young people to take up training opportunities so that they can take advantage of the new employment offer arising from the development of the London Cancer Hub. It is a programme that local schools have been keen to participate in.

Cllr Dombey and I accompanied Vince Cable and Tom Brake on a visit to the ICR for Vince to learn more about the Cancer Hub project, which later appeared on BBC London News.

Other

I attended a Sutton Chamber Business Networking event that featured Paul Scully MP invited to talk about ‘The Future of Sutton’.

I attended another LGA Grenfell Task & Finish Group overseeing the work of the LGA on the response to Grenfell, this time in conjunction with the FAMC and the new London Deputy Mayor for Fire Services.

I joined Cllr Gordon and Cllr Wales on the Sutton Shareholdings Board, a sub-committee of Strategy & Resources which has oversight of the council’s trading companies on 22nd February.

 

March 6, 2018 Posted by | Committee Meeting, Information, Liberal Democrats | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sutton’s Local Plan approved

Sutton’s Local Plan received approval at the Council meeting on Monday 26th February meaning that its stronger planning policies can start being applied to new planning applications from today.

This means stronger protection for Areas of Special Local Character and backgarden land, policies to stop our shopping areas being swamped with takeaways, limits to conversion of houses into flats and multiple occupation dwellings, and protection for pubs.

Development and intensification is directed towards town centres to protect the green and suburban character of the borough, and there are high standards of design and sustainability required for new development. We have set out a requirement for those developments to deliver affordable homes, and for delivery of homes for families.

My speech putting the Local Plan forward for approval is here:

INTRODUCING SUTTON’S NEW LOCAL PLAN
I am very pleased to be seeking council approval of our new Local Plan.

It is an ambitious plan.
It is ambitious for economic growth:
• To attract new business and investment as well as helping our existing businesses to flourish and grow
• To be proactive in the development of our life sciences centre of excellence that is the London Cancer Hub
• But it also wants that growth to directly benefit our residents, providing increased local employment opportunities and vibrant town and district centres.

It is ambitious to deliver the range of homes that are needed for our residents looking to move out of the family home, expand their families, or older people wishing to downsize. And we also want to be able to accommodate the predicted growth of our population here in Sutton.

But our plan also aims to retain all that is good in the borough, and improve on it.

Consultation
Underlying those ambitions to encourage prosperity and deliver housing is our fundamental understanding that the London Borough of Sutton does not belong to the council, or to the politicians, it belongs to its residents.
That is why we underwent extensive consultation on our plan. We made contact with every household in the borough asking them to contribute. We sought out people who would not normally be interested in strategic planning matters to engage them in the process. We put on numerous events in the community, and I am very proud of our planning officers who bravely put themselves at the coalface, interacting, talking and listening to residents about their area.

So what did our residents say is important to them?
Their feedback provided some key themes that we have used as the backbone to our plan:

We learnt how strongly our residents care about our parks and green spaces.
We therefore felt fully mandated by our residents to take a strong line in our local plan to protect and enhance our green spaces. We will not give up our greenbelt, parkland or open spaces to development under anything but the most exceptional of circumstances. And those exceptional circumstances have already been identified, tested and clarified through the groundwork we have done.

Our residents told us that they value the local heritage. We therefore feel obligated to continue to protect and cultivate the boroughs heritage, and we do not see this as a barrier to growth, but as supporting it. For this reason we are very pleased to have had part of our town centre acknowledged as a Heritage Action Zone.

Our third theme is Quality of design, and quality of place. Whilst there is much that is good and valued in our borough, there are also plenty of areas in need of significant improvement. We know that badly designed places can kill off town centres, fracture communities and be a barrier to future development.
I therefore make no apology for the high standards of design and placeshaping our plan demands.

We have also set the principle that regeneration schemes are to be designed with, and around the communities that live there. We have no desire to move people away from their areas, only to improve the space and better accommodate our growing numbers of residents. Therefore it needs to be a joint enterprise.

Our final key theme is sustainability. Sutton has a reputation as a borough that has led the way on environmental sustainability. Our continuing commitment to this comes from our residents’ drive to find ways to tread more lightly upon our planet, and use its resources sparingly.
That is why our plan requires high standards in terms of sustainable development, why we offer connection to a district energy network that the council itself will provide, why we seek to protect local habitats and wildlife, and seek climate change mitigation measures.

Our residents demand this of us, therefore it is embedded in our plan.

As a result of the feedback from the consultations we agreed to direct the majority of new housing development to our town and district centres, to better protect the remaining areas that are essentially suburban, or areas of special local character, or conservation areas, and which are the underpinning fabric of our outer London borough.

However, we cannot achieve the aspirations of our local plan without the accompanying infrastructure improvements. The need for improved transport links, flooding mitigation works, green infrastructure, sewerage capacity, health and education provision, is all captured in our plan, and will not be deliverable without it. We have been very clear about that, and again it is something that was highlighted by our residents.

I therefore commend to you, our ambitious Local Plan that seeks to unlock the growth potential of our borough and ensure that Sutton continues to be a highly desirable, vibrant, healthy and sustainable place to live, work and raise a family for generations to come.

 

February 27, 2018 Posted by | Committee Meeting, Information | , , | 1 Comment

Report back from October 2017 Beddington and Wallington Local Committee

Councillor Muhammad Sadiq has provided below a summary of the Beddington & Wallington Local Committee meeting held on 10 October at Wallington County Grammar School attended by your Wallington South Councillors.

Various issues were discussed in this meeting and some ward related and general interest issues are listed below for your information.

Tackling Anti Social Behaviour in Beddington Park

Andrew Chandler, our Neighbourhood Manager presented a report. The main concerns which had been raised by the local Councillors, Community representatives and the local residents were discussed.

One of the main issues which was leading to Anti Social Behaviour was people using either fixed or disposable barbecues and the excessive use of alcohol. Disposable barbecues were also considered to be a major health and safety risk.

It was proposed that a temporary licence, at a small cost, should be introduced for people to be allowed to come into the park and use fixed barbecues. A similar system is being used in Epsom which appeared to be successful and has reduced Anti Social Behaviour considerably. Enforcement officers will be deployed to enforce this and the police will also be there to help if necessary.

Some new communal barbecue models were considered  – such as 2 metre x 2 metre barbecues fixed in the park which people could share.

The above was discussed in detail and the final proposals will be submitted to the Local Committee at the meeting in January 2018.

Waste and Recycling Service

The waste and recycling service was discussed and in general everyone at the meeting was in agreement that the service has improved considerably. Scott Edgell (General Manager Veolia) and Mark Dalzell, a Sutton Council Officer, were also in attendance to answer any waste related questions.

In general the feedback was positive that things were moving in the right direction.

Public Realm Projects and Neighbourhood Grants

New Public Realm projects for additional festive lighting, Royal British Legion ‘Silent Soldiers’ to commemorate Armistice Day, a zebra crossing in The Chase and  repairs to Mellows Park tennis courts and multi-use games area were considered and approved as appropriate.

There are still some funds available for Neighbourhood Grants and if you have any projects which might benefit the local community then please get in touch with us and we will put you in the right direction as to how to apply for this grant.

Highways Updates

The Senior Highways Engineer, Ian Price, (Kingston and Sutton shared services) provided an update on all ongoing and new projects including:

Clyde Road Traffic Survey

This survey had been conducted completed and the results showed that there was a need to address speeding and HGVs in this road. Mr Price assured us that the results will inform a scheme design to be presented and discussed with the local residents in due course.

Traffic Junction At Woodcote Road with Stafford Road and Stanley Park Road

Some improvements to the Traffic Junction at Woodcote Road with Stafford Road and Stanley Park Road are being discussed with Transport for London and the results will be shared with the local Councillors and residents before any work will be carried out.

Outstanding double yellow lines in Onslow Gardens and Cranley Gardens were also discussed and Mr Price promised to come back to your local Councillors with a further update.

Full papers and minutes of the meeting can be read online.

The next meeting of the Beddington & Wallington Local Committee will be held on 9th January 2017 7pm. Venue to be confirmed.

October 16, 2017 Posted by | Committee Meeting, Information | , , , , | Leave a comment

Chair’s Update on work of the Housing, Economy & Business Committee (HEB)

HEB Meeting held on 13th June key items of business:

Review of Planning Pre-application Service We agreed an amendment to the rate of charges to introduce an additional category to reduce the fees for smaller developments (1-4 units), formalised notification of councillors of major pre-app proposals, and asked officers to investigate whether we could publish the pre-app advice letter as part of the report to committee as standard practice.

Draft Character Appraisal of the Burton Estates Area of Special Local Character (ASLC) (produced by the Belmont & South Cheam Neighbourhood forum) This was agreed and we would encourage other Resident Associations to undertake their own Character Appraisals of ASLCs to strengthen their influence when determining planning applications.

Management of Housing Stock Review This considered whether we continue with Sutton Housing Partnership (SHP) as our Arms Length Management Organisation, bring the service in-house, or form a shared service with Kingston. On evidence gathered and external consultants’ report we agreed the option to progress with SHP as an improved ALMO. It was noted that this option could deliver the required savings.

Estate Regeneration Resident Engagement Proposals This set out the principles of engagement and transparency the council will adopt with residents in estates with potential for regeneration. The aim is for residents themselves to shape how their areas could be improved and intensified to make better use of space and provide improved communities and housing. It is noted that decisions to proceed with regeneration can only be made when the viability of proposals incorporating the needs and desires of residents has been assessed and shown to be feasible.

Annual Review of the Council Tax Reduction Scheme No changes proposed whilst new income band scheme beds in as it was only introduced from April 2017.

Discretionary Hardship Relief scheme for businesses re rate review Task & Finish Group set up to propose a scheme. This has met and a consultation has been undertaken recommending relief for small businesses (< £200,000 rateable value) facing increases greater than 12.5% of 100% in first year, 50% relief in second year , with businesses in CR4 getting 100% in both years to reflect the disproportionate increase in rateable value in that area. Final decision will be made in light of the results of the consultation at the 26th September Housing, Economy & Business Committee Meeting.

Ongoing business since last HEB meeting

Local Plan The Independent Examination-in-Public is to be held on 12-15th September 2017.

SDEN The agreement has now been signed with Barratts. Contractors have been procured to commence work delivering the pipes and installing them.

Tramlink Transport for London have allocated funding of £70m from the Mayor’s Growth Fund for the Sutton Tramlink, but this still leaves a significant funding gap. However it very much feels like it is back on the table with TfL keen to find ways to plug the gap either by saving costs or finding alternative funding mechanisms.

Sutton Economic Support Taskgroup (SEST) Quarterly meeting with Council post-14 Education Services, local colleges and training providers, JobCentre plus, and business representatives to discuss employment and training in the borough. Agreed to refresh aims for coming year and focus on engagement with businesses.

Meeting arranged with Children, Families and Education Directorate staff in August to discuss joined-up working across SEST & the Post 14 Progression and Employability Board.

Sutton Town Centre Masterplan Delivery Oversight and work with ward councillors continues in respect of delivery of the STC Masterplan. Includes North Sutton Gateway Scheme and estate regeneration work.

Jayne gave a presentation in July to open an Investor Tour event for investors and businesses expressing an interest in Sutton. Officers also gave presentations on the opportunities and sites in the town centre and at the London Cancer Hub and took them to visit the actual sites.

Open for Business Board Chaired by Cllr Wales this board is under the remit of Opportunity Sutton seeking to support local businesses. Last meeting looked at future of the Pop-up Sutton programme and will be seeking ways to build on its success.

Beddington Programme Consultation now out on various transport improvements along Beddington Lane in respect of the £7m awarded by TfL as a Major Scheme. https://www.opportunitysutton.org/beddington-gets-moving/

Sutton Housing Partnership Since the HEB agreement to continue with SHP as its ALMO in improved form Jayne has continued to meet with officers and SFTRA reps. Recent discussions focussed on governance improvements and oversight of the changes to sheltered housing support.

Business Improvement Districts (BIDS) Jayne was invited to provide an update on the Town Centre Masterplan at an event to celebrate the successful Sutton Town Centre BID renewal vote.

Work is also ongoing with traders to establish a BID in Worcester Park.

Sutton Living Ltd New plans are being drafted for the first of the company’s developments on the site of the old Wallington Public Hall.

Grenfell Tower fire local implications Jayne has been attending regular Fire Safety Briefings with Sutton Housing Partnership and Sutton Council senior officers and the local London Fire Service team to ensure that all council-owned residential properties in the borough have adequate fire safety measures in place and to respond to the latest advice and information following the Grenfell Tower fire.

Council Housing new build Work has commenced on the first council house new build, previously the Ludlow Lodge site. HEB members and ward councillors attended a ceremonial ground-breaking event at the Ludlow Lodge site and met with the building contractors Kind & Co a smaller construction company who impressed us with their commitment to award-winning build quality and consideration for neighbours.

August 18, 2017 Posted by | Committee Meeting, Information | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Report back from July Beddington & Wallington Local Committee

Cllr Steve Cook has provided the following summary of the July Beddington & Wallington Local Committee meeting attended by your ward councillors:

The meeting started with Public Question Time which majored on the current situation with Veolia, collection of waste, street cleaning and re-cycling.

Scott Edgell (local area manager from Veolia) and Mark Dalzell (Sutton Council Head of Waste Services) were in attendance to answer questions on this area. Many questions were put by local residents and councillors alike, wanting updates and answers on the new service which began in early April this year. It has been a lack lustre start-up which has received countless complaints and queries on to the council web-site. However, the answers received from both Scott and Mark were most helpful and we finally felt the tide was turning in resident’s favour. Scott said in closing “We (Veolia) will not rest until the service is better than it was previously” which gave us all cause for encouragement, as the prior service provided by Sutton Council directly, was of the highest quality

A petition was then heard from Mr Bernard Rofe of Elles House, Shotfield in Wallington. He was requesting the highways department look into creating a central refuge to help pedestrians crossing Shotfield outside Elles House. This was approved in principal and the department concerned will look at the options available for this proposed scheme. The immediate difficulty was the current positioning of the bus stop between the entrance and exit of the library car park, which obstructs the view of pedestrians crossing at this point.

Another petition was heard, this time from Mr Peter Coughlan, who expressed concern about the random and illegal pavement parking that takes place outside his bakery shop and the impact on his business on Stafford Road and the corner of The Chase. He is seeking a Controlled Free Parking Zone and this will be explored by the councils Chief Parking Officer.

Sgt O’Brien on behalf of the Safer Neighbourhood Teams delivered an up-date which covered all the Beddington and Wallington wards and gave an in-depth view of the current policing plans and a report of recent local activity in fighting crime and dealing with anti-social behaviour.

A presentation was then given by Mandar Puranik and his colleague Holly on the exciting plans for the improvements to Beddington Village and the new traffic scheme.

Following this, Christine Lindsay gave an interesting and rewarding talk about the Wallington Wellbeing Group and their calendar of activities for the up-coming summer. Health and Wellbeing amongst our community is at the forefront of all our concerns and these events are of particular interest to the retired and more elderly residents in our borough, especially those who may feel isolated.

All the new Public Realm Projects and Neighbourhood Grant applications were unanimously approved.

Finally we received a Highways up-date from Sutton Principal Engineer Ian Price.

Full papers and minutes of the meeting can be read online.

The next meeting of the B&W Local Committee will be held on 10th October 2017 at 7pm.

The venue is yet to be confirmed.

We hope you will be able to attend and join in.

July 24, 2017 Posted by | Committee Meeting, Information | , | Leave a comment

Sutton Council Budget Debate 2017

Monday saw the 31st council budget from a Liberal/Lib Dem administration in Sutton.

The budget was presented by Cllr Simon Wales, Deputy Leader and Lead Member for Resources, stating that, “Producing a budget is a team effort and I am grateful to all those who have played a part in getting us to this stage.”

To demonstrate this we had a total of 12 of our councillors contributing to the debate on the night. In contrast, and in these times of severe and significant pressure on council’s budgets affecting social care, schools and homelessness, the Conservative opposition had only two of their eight councillors with anything at all to say on the matter.

Even the two independent councillors felt the budget was important enough for them to contribute to the debate, even if Cllr Mattey’s fantastical ramblings took us off to La La Land.

My Lib Dem colleagues talked passionately about what the Government’s cuts meant for the services the council provides, and the innovative ways we have tried to mitigate the damage through shared services, new service delivery vehicles and targeted solutions. In particular Cllr Crossby welcomed the £1.25m that will be spent to transform Sutton’s performance in tackling domestic violence and abuse.

But it was Cllr Abellan’s speech that I felt summed up the way things are done under a Liberal Democrat administration. It is so good that I have reproduced it in full:

We’ve heard many great speeches so far tonight and if there is one clear message that stands out it’s that we are delivering value for money, working hard for every resident and keeping our borough one of the best places to live, work and raise a family. 

But don’t just take my word for it. Our Ipsos Mori surveys continue to show remarkable levels of satisfaction with our services, our recent peer review demonstrated that we’re already one of the best Councils and if this wasn’t enough, last summer, Carshalton Central residents put their trust in us once again by electing Councillor Chris Williams.

Mr Mayor, this last year has seen another assault on local Government from this Tory Government but despite the challenges, we are proud to present a balanced budget this evening. 

And the challenges have been great but we have rolled up our sleeves, got on with the job and as we’ve heard tonight, found innovative ways to deliver good value for money for all our residents.  

Innovative by sharing services with other boroughs when necessary and by developing an approach that delivers the best outcomes for our residents. By finding millions of pounds of savings with a new waste contract that will help us to significantly increase our recycling rates. 

Transformative by improving our partnerships and leading on the Sutton Plan.  Or by investing money to deliver a world-leading hub for cancer research and treatment right here in Sutton. 

As Liberal Democrats we believe that no one should be left behind and that’s why despite these difficult financial times, our decision to spend over 1 million pounds to tackle domestic violence is something we are very proud of. 

Mr Mayor, what have we learned from the opposition this evening? 

We’ve learned that they continue to support damaging cuts from this Tory Government. 

We’ve learned that they still have no vision for Sutton, no credible policies, no costed plan, no alternative budget, no leadership. 

And as we’ve heard tonight from Cllr Crowley, they confirmed that they would only reveal their plans for Sutton the year of the election. So here is the Tory plan, we hibernate for 3 years and come out at election time.

How can Sutton residents trust them to spend their money wisely? 

Mr Mayor, in these times when politics is being used to divide us – middle class and working class, young and old, immigrant, EU citizens,  the values that unite this group of Cllrs are needed more than ever if we are to continue to keep a compassionate, tolerant and cohesive community here in Sutton. 

We are not career politicians. We believe that our communities are stronger when decisions are made as close to our residents as possible. That no one should be left behind. We are immersed in our communities in many different shapes and forms and our engagement did not start and does not end with our position as Cllrs. We see this is a strength that keeps us in touch with our residents, help us stay grounded, not lose sight of what matters to residents and to understand that behind every policy, every decision, there are thousands of lives. These values have helped us build a healthy and trustworthy relationship with Sutton residents over the years. 

So as we enter into the last year of this administration, let’s be proud of this budget, let’s congratulate the work of our officers and strengthen our partnerships but let’s continue to champion these values and not forget that we have a lot more work to do . I commend this budget. 

This heartfelt speech was followed by the Conservatives’ second and final contribution from Cllr Garratt. I summed it up in my own speech as “A presentation of alternative facts, and a plea for more funding for cycling and bridges.” It aptly demonstrated the Conservatives complete failure to understand how the budget pressures we face require fundamental and substantive changes in the way councils operate, not just salami slicing or shuffling money around. Over the last three years, under the leadership of Cllr Crowley, the opposition has failed to offer any solutions or ideas, and seek only to oppose, insinuate and undermine our efforts. They offer no policies, and have no principles.

Independent Councillor Graham Whitham correctly predicted the fence-sitting of the Conservatives in abstaining from voting either for or against the budget, and reminded them curtly that the reason they had been elected was to make decisions, but by abstaining in this and the many other decisions they have the opportunity to participate in, they were abdicating that responsibility.

As Cllr Wales highlighted, here was an opportunity for the opposition to support the voices of their colleagues in Conservative-run councils, for even they are calling on their government to cease this onslaught on council budgets. But no, they clearly supported their Government’s policies whilst accepting no responsibility for the harsh cuts being imposed on their residents as a result. Shameful.

March 8, 2017 Posted by | Committee Meeting, Liberal Democrats | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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