Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Wallington South Councillors’ December Update

Christmas is upon us – where did the year go?

Before we find ourselves welcoming in 2019 it is time for the latest update from your ward councillors.

WARD NEWS

 

Elles House Crossing

In response to requests by residents your ward councillors have been working on getting a safer crossing point from Elles House across Shotfield . We are pleased that the council has now implemented a scheme to make it easier for residents with mobility issues cross the road at this point.

Leaf bags

Under the new contract with Veolia the leaves in tree-lined roads will have two special leaf-clearing visits over a ten-week period once most of the leaves have fallen. The leaf clearing was initiated in November so local streets should have had their first round of sweeping.

Leaf bags can also be provided to residents or groups who wish to clear leaves themselves from the pavement and public areas in their area. You will need to arrange for Veolia to collect the full bags. To receive the bags and arrange collection please call the council’s contact centre on 020 8770 5000 and ask for Neighbourhood

Services. Alternatively you can email Neighbourhoodservices@Sutton.gov.uk.

Park Hill Road replacement trees

Residents in Park Hill Road were upset to learn that a number of trees in their road were diseased and had to be felled. Unfortunately with the relentless cuts to local government funding the council is no longer able to afford to automatically replace felled trees. However Sutton Council does provide a small amount of capital funding to Local Committees for local residents to use for local schemes. At the request of residents we successfully bid for funding to replace the trees in Park Hill Road and are pleased that they have now been replaced by new ones.

Christmas Waste Collections

Recycling and waste collections will change during the weeks commencing 24 December 2018, 31 December 2018 and 7 January 2019. Please note collection changes for Wallington below:

Usual Collection Day Revised collection Day
Tuesday 25 December 201 Thursday 27 December 2018 2 days later
Saturday 29 December 2018 Sunday 30 December 2018 1 day later
Monday 31 December 2018 Wednesday 2 January 2019 2 days later 
Tuesday 1 January 2019 Thursday 3 January 2019 2 days later 
Saturday 5 January 2019 Sunday 6 January 2019 1 day later
Monday 7 January 2019 Tuesday 8 January 2019 1 day later
Tuesday 8 January 2019 Wednesday 9 January 2019 1 day later
Saturday 12 January 2019 Sunday 13 January 2019  1 day later

Collections return to normal from Monday 14 January 2019.

 

REAL CHRISTMAS TREE COLLECTIONS

Drop Off Points for trees
For Christmas 2018, Christmas tree drop off points are being piloted in the borough. This will provide more options for residents to dispose of their real Christmas tree.
From Saturday 5 January to Sunday 13 January, there will be three locations across the borough where you can drop off your real Christmas tree to be recycled.

The sites will be open from 9:30am-3:30pm:

  • The Mount, Clockhouse – on the green opposite the Jack & Jill pub, CR5 2QY
  • Roundshaw Park, Lindbergh Road, SM6 9HB
  • Kimpton Refuse and Recycling Centre, Kimpton Park Way, SM3 9QH

All decorations and tree pots must be removed prior to disposal.

Kerbside collections

From Monday 14 January to Saturday 26 January 2019, real Christmas trees will be collected free from houses on the standard kerbside collection service. All decorations and tree pots must be removed.  Trees will need to be placed out for collection by 6am on the day of the brown wheelie bin collection.

 

Assisted bin collections

There appear to be ongoing issues with assisted collections not being carried out by the Veolia bin crews. If you are meant to have an assisted collection but it is not being done on a reliable basis then please get in touch with us so we can make sure Veolia are aware and try to get the problem addressed.

Wallington Foodbank

The Foodbank is now open in St Michael and All Angels church in Milton Road, Wallington. Organised by the Roundshaw Community Network with funding from Metropolitan Housing and a grant from the Sutton Council  Beddington & Wallington Local Committee.

All the Foodbanks in Sutton work on a voucher referral system issued by local agencies. For more information visit the website.

Wallington Christmas Festival brought local cheer

The tree is up and it’s a whopper! The annual celebrations centred around the switching on of the festive lights in Wallington took place on Friday 30th November heralding the start of Christmas festivities.

Steve, Jayne and Muhammad were pleased to have contributed to the event in various ways: Steve putting up the tree and decorations, Muhammad stewarding , Jayne manning the Grotto as an Elf and all helping with the planning and organisation.

The Festival is brought to you by local residents and businesses  forming the voluntary group AllinWallington. Special thanks to Carpenters & Co for their generous sponsorship, Sutton Council for Neighbourhood Grant funding, Your Move for the fabulous tree. The Woodcote Flying Club are always generous with their contribution in terms of a meeting venue and food and drink stall, Sutton College organised the indoor market at the Old Town Hall and Ginger Frog lent us Phil Deguara as our excellent MC.

Small Dog Area Petition

After an horrific attack by a large dog on her small Jackapoo, Brody that resulted in immediate euthanasia by the vet, local resident  Gaye Fisher is calling for better protection for small dogs. Gaye is working with MPs to see legislation changed to make such attacks a criminal offence. After learning of an increasing number of attacks locally Gaye also wants to see a designated area for small dogs in Beddington Park where owners can feel able to let their small dogs run off the leash safely. There is an online petition to demonstrate your support for this scheme.

 

PLANNING NEWS

 

DM2018/01282 40 Wallington Square Wallington SM6 8RG Permission has been granted for change of use of the cab office to become an ice cream parlour.

DM2018/01097 11 Hall Road Wallington SM6 0RT Change of Use from a Care Home to a House in Multiple Occupation  Refused

New Applications:

DM2018/01835 25-27 Beddington Gardens And 18 Holmwood Gardens Wallington SM6 0JG                     Outline planning application to determine access, layout and scale for the demolition of existing houses and the erection of a part 4 storey building and basement comprising a total of thirty seven self-contained flats, with associated hard and soft landscaping, refuse and cycle storage and thirty nine off street parking spaces

DM2018/01976 34 Heathdene Road Wallington SM6 0TB Demolition of existing dwelling and the erection of a two storey building with roof accommodation comprising 7 self-contained flats with 5 parking spaces, cycle store, re-cycling store, terraces leading to the rear garden and new front boundary wall and railings. Please note that the current elderly owners of this property intend to still be residing in this property in one of the new flats.

 

BEDDINGTON AND WALLINGTON LOCAL COMMITTEE NEWS

The Beddington & Wallington Local Committee took place on 30th October at Wallington Boys Grammar School. Items of interest to our ward were:

Implementation of outstanding Double Yellow Lines

Officers confirmed that outstanding schemes for Cranley Gardens, Stanley Gardens and Mulberry Mews  were going ahead and we expect to see them implemented soon.

Capital funding for local schemes

Projects approved for funding included new gates for the rear terrace area of the old town hall to enable performances to take place; replacement trees for Woodcote Green and Park Hill Road and a pedestrian improvement scheme for Woodcote Road.

The next meeting of the Beddington & Wallington Local Committee will be on 22nd January at 7pm at the Croygas Sports Club, 48 Mollinson Drive.

 

BOROUGH NEWS

 

Tramlink Consultation

Transport for London (TfL) are consulting on options for a new transport link for Sutton. This is your chance to have your say on whether you want to see a Tramlink connecting to Morden or Wimbledon or the alternative of a Rapid Bus Transit. Details of the routes and options are available on the consultation site: tfl.gov.uk/sutton-link. Consultation runs until 6th January.

 

Air Quality Action Plan Consultation

The council is seeking resident input into its draft Air Quality Action Plan.  You can read the plan and give your views here: https://sutton.citizenspace.com/environment/draft-air-quality-action-plan-consultation. The consultation runs until 6th February.

 

So that is it from us for now. We wish you all a lovely Christmas and happy New Year.

 

Jayne, Steve and Muhammad

 

 

 

 

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December 25, 2018 Posted by | Information, Liberal Democrats | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Liberal Democrat approach to Planning

I am shamelessly plugging a publication produced by Wera Hobhouse MP and Councillor Adele Morris the Lib Dem Lead for Planning at the LGA that compiles articles by a variety of Lib Dem colleagues on the subject of town planning.

It includes an article written by me about how we developed our  Local Plan to incorporate the views and aspirations of our residents.

Getting the Balance Right 

 

 

September 28, 2018 Posted by | Information, Liberal Democrats | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sutton’s response to the Consultation on the Draft National Planning Policy Framework

10 May 2018

The Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP
Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government

Dear Secretary of State,

Consultation on the Draft National Planning Policy Framework

The current focus on addressing the housing crisis is to be welcomed. However many of the policies and ideas put forward will either be ineffective in addressing the crisis, undeliverable or will produce negative consequences.

First there is the focus on delivering units of housing. This is reducing the very human requirement of needing a place to reside down to the basics of simply a place of shelter, a roof over their head. This ignores the social impacts of poor quality housing and overcrowding.

Space standards are allowed to be reduced to squeeze in more units, and place-shaping, infrastructure and community-building are all inconveniences subsumed to the demand for greater housing numbers. The result will be social malaise, poor health both mental and physical, and a reduction in the attractiveness of our towns and cities.

Design appears to have been relegated to an afterthought, only seen as a function to be able to deliver more houses in ever smaller spaces.

People do not want units or boxes, they want quality homes with local schools, accessible transport and access to green and open spaces.

The second failure of the focus on units is that development is encouraged that does not meet the underlying need.

Why are we filling all available space in our towns and cities with accommodation that the vast majority cannot afford?

Developers will require a minimum 65% luxury apartments to subsidise the 35% affordable element. So we are getting yet more units of unaffordable housing that no one wants or needs squeezed in just to deliver a few affordable units that are desperately in demand.

This failure in previous housing delivery policy is now expected to be addressed by removing all sense of character and place in the drive to now provide housing units. Top-down targets imposed on local areas allow for no sensitivity to heritage, character and place, and may end up largely undeliverable as sites are already at a premium.

As ever the Planning System is being wrongly blamed for the crisis, and then held accountable for delivery that is outside of its influence.

The response to policy papers by tweaking the NPPF will not resolve the underlying causes of the housing crisis but will instead erode the quality and offer of our towns and cities making the UK a less attractive place to live, and may result in social tensions and disharmony similar to the previous impacts resulting in ghettos and sink estates that previous flawed attempts to address housing issues created.

We have responded to the questions put, but suggest that the thinking around addressing the housing crisis needs broadening  beyond planning policy.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Jayne McCoy
Chair of the Housing, Economy & Business Committee, London Borough of Sutton

June 9, 2018 Posted by | Information, Liberal Democrats, Opinion | , , , | 1 Comment

London Resi Conference: Who are we building homes for?

Bedzed_project_1

Yesterday I attended the London Resi Conference where housing developers, investors, land managers, the GLA and other industry professionals gathered to discuss how to deliver housing to address the shortfall of provision in London.

I gained some useful insights into the issues faced and forecasted growth areas.

However the ‘Bright Young Things’ ideas session left me with a heavy heart. We had the usual railing against the planning system and stories of local councillors playing politics because of their ‘nimby’ residents. The proposed solution was to take major planning decisions out of the hands of local authorities and have them all decided by the Mayor’s office. The belief that this would take the politics out of the equation and see speedier resolutions of applications was naive to say the least! The certainty is that there would be less transparency and democracy.

But most of all this debate made me want to shout, ‘Who do you think you are building these homes for?’ Those local people who often object to developments in their area are also the families who would like to be able to afford a larger home, the young adults looking to move out of the family home, or older couples looking to downsize. And often the reason they object is because of the poor offer these developments will make to their area.

We have the simple problem of trying to use a system that relies on the private sector to deliver the housing that is needed in the capital. That housing won’t be provided if there is not a profit to be made on the development. However the type of housing that local people want for their area, together with the investment in the infrastructure necessary to support that development, does not produce the dividends that drive investors. That is why we see the endless pressure to build as densely as possible, and battles over s106 contributions and affordable housing. Indeed one of the bright young things wanted the space standards relaxed so they could build even smaller homes. Are we really proposing to house the next generation in cupboard-sized apartments akin to some of the worst examples seen in Japan? And when those new homes are built, they are unaffordable for local people, so they are sold to better-off commuters who may well spend all day in central London and contribute little to the local economy.

All local councils, local planners and local people want is good quality development that works for their area. Felicie, one of the more progressive thinking Bright Young Things captured it well, suggesting that the offer needs to be quality spaces designed around people and their needs. She talked of flats that would be suitable for families if they were well thought out, and suitably located near the facilities that families require.

A couple of examples of the issues drawn from my area:

A large residential development specially designed for older people was proposed for a site. We thought that it was too large and overbearing for the site, especially compared to what it was replacing, and that there would be objections from the locals. In fact there was widespread support for it because, as lots of residents said, they aspired to live there once they retired. It was an attractive offer.

On the other hand we have a legacy of a large housing development of over 600 properties in a self-contained area in Worcester Park. This development has no inter-relationship with the surrounding buildings or community either physically or in design terms. It has placed considerable strain on the local transport network clogging up a key through route, and created discord and disharmony. This estate and its attendant problems are now a permanent part of the landscape, but the investors will no doubt be long gone having made their money and it is the local council and residents left to deal with the consequences, out of taxpayers’ funds.

To bridge the discordant priorities we need public investment. In Sutton we are showing our willingness to do this by setting up a council-owned housing development company which will allow the local authority to take advantage of preferential borrowing rates to invest in the housing market across all tenures. We will need to work with private partners but our stake will enable us to have more say over design and standards. And for our partners our investment will de-risk projects and provide the wriggle room to be more flexible about affordable housing and densities.

My top tips for developers are to seek early engagement with the council and residents, and be willing to flex their plans in line with feedback from all parties. People understandably object to having things ‘done’ to them. Allowing them to be involved in the process and shape the plans not only assuage the fear factor, it also leads to better developments. Think about place making, not just unit numbers. Resident engagement may be time-consuming, but if the result is a first time granting of planning permission it saves costs that might otherwise be incurred in redrafting and resubmitting plans and fighting an appeal, never mind the costs associated with delayed construction and twitchy investors.

I would also like to see a change of attitude towards CIL and s106 contributions. Both of these ‘taxes’ have the aim of ensuring investment in the local infrastructure to support a new development. That investment can be for education and health facilities, transport infrastructure or public realm improvements. All of which increase the attractiveness of the development to potential buyers/tenants. And a development that enhances an area ensures that local property values remain buoyant.

We have positive testimony from partners who have worked with us in this way: CNM Estates, Subsea 7, Affinity Sutton, Schroders.

And finally a defence of local planning officers who took a bit of a hit in the conference debates. These are professionally qualified, highly skilled people, who are under-resourced and underpaid. They work to nationally-set time scales for dealing with planning applications, and are only allowed to recover costs at rates also set nationally. Rates that do not actually cover the cost of the planning service. In their work they are pitted against highly rewarded asset managers, architects, planning lawyers and transport consultants whose job is to make money for their investment backers. Most planning officers want to see quality developments in their area as much as residents, and delays are frequently more about staff shortages or lack of resources than the obstructive mentality they are frequently portrayed as having.

In Sutton we have a pro-growth agenda, Opportunity Sutton. We welcome new development to deliver the housing and economic growth our borough needs. Our ask is for good quality, sustainable design that works with the local area, and reflects our residents’ needs and aspirations. To help we aim to work in a joined up way across services to facilitate progress through the planning process and are investing in improving our planning service offer. We are refreshing our Local Plan to make it simpler and clearer for developers to understand what our vision for the borough is, and what our expectations are, whilst leaving room for innovation and quality.

And in line with another issue raised at the conference, we have brought businesses together with training providers so there is an understanding of the skills gaps and as a result many more construction training courses are being provided by our local colleges, and school children are being encouraged to look at careers in the construction industry.

It was interesting to hear Tim Craine of Molior London talk about feeling the need to be a bit more ‘socially conscious’, in particular when negotiating affordable housing. This was refreshing, and perhaps another way of thinking about it is to understand that we are building the homes, and the London, both for ourselves, and for our children. If we want people to work in the city then we need to provide the housing for those people. And everyone wants to live in a nice home that meets their needs where they can feel part of a community and have access to the services they need. I don’t know of many people who aspire to rent a cupboard.

Sutton Point, CNM Estates

 

March 19, 2015 Posted by | Opinion | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sutton’s response to the Technical Consultation on Planning

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) issued a Technical Consultation on Planning in July this year.  The consultation seeks views on proposals to amend the process for Neighbourhood Planning, further extend Permitted Development Rights, changes to the way Planning Conditions are made, changes to engagement with Statutory Consultees,  raise the environmental impact assessment screening thresholds and amendments to Development Consent Orders.

I and my colleagues at Sutton have spoken out on a number of occasions against the extension of permitted development rights, both because it erodes the ability of local people to have their say on how development affects them, and because in practice it does not succeed in delivering its intended aspirations.

The letter accompanying our formal response to the consultation sets our position out clearly:
Date: 26 September 2014
The Rt Hon Mr Eric Pickles MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Department of Communities and Local Government

Dear Mr Pickles
RE: TECHNICAL CONSULTATION ON PLANNING (July-September 2014)
The London Borough of Sutton has submitted a schedule of responses to the above consultation from a technical standpoint but I would like to register the London Borough of Sutton’s and my disappointment at the overall policy direction of these proposed changes.

First, many of the proposed changes appear to run contrary to the Government’s own Core Planning Principles as set out in Paragraph 17 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). For example, the proposed changes to make prior approvals for larger extensions permanent and for larger arrays of solar panels will not “secure high quality design”, as stated in the fourth bullet point of Paragraph 17. The proposed permitted development rights for various commercial and retail uses to convert to residential uses will neither be “promoting the vitality of our main urban areas”, as stated in the fifth bullet point, nor will “promote mixed use development”, as stated in the ninth bullet point.

The London Borough of Sutton is concerned that these proposed changes to national planning policy, read in conjunction with the NPPF, are failing give a clear indication of the Government’s overall planning strategy. As a result, these mixed messages are producing uncertainty within the development industry and, consequently, hindering economic development.

Second, the council is concerned that the prior approval/permitted development right process is not producing the right sort of development for the borough and further prior approval/permitted development rights will have a similarly detrimental effect. In common with other south-western London boroughs, the permitted development right for offices to convert to residential uses is having a ruinous effect on the local economy. As of 1 August 2014, the council had granted prior approval for 52 conversions (a potential 64,096sq m loss of office floorspace) and 29 of the conversions were occupied or part-occupied offices.

Furthermore, approximately 70% of the housing units being created, many of which are sub-standard in terms of size and design, are one-bedroom market units when the greatest need locally is for one-bedroom affordable rented housing (starter houses) and 2-bed and 4-bed market housing. As I am sure our neighbouring boroughs (Richmond, Kingston, Merton and Croydon) will also attest, the policy may be suitable for some areas of the country but not for this part of outer London.

Third, the technical changes make no effort to deal with the housing affordability crisis. There are no incentives to provide affordable housing, which is so badly needed in London. Indeed, the proposed expansion of the prior approval/permitted development right regime will result in fewer affordable housing units being delivered than at present. Given the constraints of large existing housing estates and Green Belt, there is little available land in the borough for the Government to build its way out of the housing affordability crisis and so interventions in the housing market, rather than construction, are the most effective solutions.

However, the council does not wish to be totally negative and suggests that the Government could easily solve the issues outlined above with a greater devolution of powers to local authorities and allowing local issues to be solved at a local level. The council already has a pro-growth agenda but would like more powers to implement its agenda fully. Through the council’s economic renewal and regeneration programme, Opportunity Sutton, the council is providing an unambiguous signal that the borough is a place to start and grow businesses. The council’s Development Plan, adopted in 2009-2012, identifies the vacant offices as site allocations for mixed-use development and promotes the modernisation of other offices so that local companies can remain competitive and recruit staff. The council is also establishing a development company to provide affordable family housing – a product the free market seems unable to deliver. These actions show that local problems are better solved by local authorities and that local authorities, such as Sutton, could be more pro-active with even more powers.

Therefore, the council would like to suggest that the Government should stay true to its word regarding localism: stop issuing top-down diktats about planning minutiae, give local authorities the powers to address local issues and return powers to local residents so they have a say about how their area should develop. As we have seen with the office to residential conversion situation, what suits one part of the England may not suit another. What is suitable for Sunderland or Suffolk may not necessarily be successful in Sutton.
Yours sincerely,
Cllr Jayne McCoy
Chair of Housing, Economy and Business Committee

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Information, Opinion | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Government needs joined-up thinking on Housing

I was very cross to read statements from Housing Minister Mark Prisk that he intends to ‘get tough’ with Councils that place homeless households in bed & breakfast accommodation for longer than six weeks. What is so scurrilous about this statement is that no local authority chooses to place families in B&Bs: the negative social impact on the families involved is obvious, but it is also incredibly expensive. In these austere times why on earth would councils choose to use the most expensive temporary housing option? It leaves even less funds available to accommodate the increasing number of people presenting as homeless.

The reason that councils in London are increasingly having to rely on Bed & Breakfast accommodation is because there is nothing else available. And the current lack of alternative temporary or permanent accommodation in the capital is the direct result of Government policy. Policy meant to depress rents in the private sector has had exactly the opposite effect in London so there is less affordable private rental accommodation available overall. Any private sector accommodation that is affordable is fiercely fought for by councils desperately competing to find places for those households presenting as homeless. And the increase in people finding themselves homeless and thereby increasing demand for temporary and permanent accommodation is also the result of Government welfare policy.

But then to add insult to injury, the Planning Minister Nick Boles pulls the rug from under our feet and reduces the powers of local authorities to ensure affordable housing is built! By allowing offices to be converted to residential units under permitted development rights we lose all s106 funding that would have been negotiated when a planning application was required. And as, since the HCA grant has been significantly pared back, s106 obligations are now the main delivery vehicle for councils to secure affordable housing, it is the equivalent to having an arm cut off in our fight to increase the amount of social housing in London. Not to mention also losing s106 funding to ensure that the new residential units have the local infrastructure support to make them desirable places to live.

On behalf of Sutton Council I have written to both Ministers on these matters, and received unhelpful responses. But perhaps what they really should be doing is talking to each other.

June 10, 2013 Posted by | Opinion | , , | Leave a comment

Wallington McDonald’s drive-through application submitted

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A planning application has been submitted for a McDonald’s two storey restaurant and drive-through on the site of the old garage, and more recently car wash, on Stafford Road in Wallington.

The site backs onto gardens of residential properties in Blenheim Gardens, Charlotte Road and Hinton Road, with the entrance and exit to the site located on Stafford Road

Two other applications have been submitted alongside this for signage and the famous golden arches.

It is very important that you let us as your ward councillors know your views on this significant development, whether you are a Wallington resident or local business, so that we can consider the potential impact it will have on the area.

I would also strongly recommend that you submit your comments on the application, for or against, to our development control department. When considering an application of this size your views can help determine the progress and delivery of the proposals.

The full plans can be viewed on the Planning section of the council website and are listed under reference D2013/67396. Your comments can be submitted online through the council’s Online Planning Register, emailed to developmentcontrol@sutton.gov.uk, or posted to Development Services, Environment & Leisure, 24 Denmark Road Carshalton SM5 2JG. Do be sure to include the reference.

Update 24th May 2013

We have already been contacted by a large number of residents who are concerned about the impact of this application on them and the area. As a result Councillor Hall has dedelegated the application to be considered by a panel of councillors at a Development Control Committee on the following grounds:

• Impact of the building due to its bulk, location, purpose and hours of operation on neighbouring properties in what is primarily a residential area;

• Likely detrimental impact of customer and delivery vehicle movements on the highway – Stafford Road – which is already heavily congested at peak travel times each day;

• Increase in litter and anti social behaviour associated with the nature of the business and hours of operation;

• the number of takeaways and restaurants in the area which make the need for this additional one doubtful.

It remains important that you write in to the planning department with your views so that members of the Development Control Committee understand your concerns.

May 21, 2013 Posted by | Information | , , , | 14 Comments

Today’s key vote on Planning Reforms

Today MPs will vote on the proposals to relax planning rules to allow people to significantly extend their homes without need for planning permission. The effect of this will be to remove the opportunity for neighbours to object to extensions that impact on their light; that impinge on their privacy, or otherwise negatively affect their amenity.

Councils have been united in their opposition to these proposals. Councillors of all political colours have voiced their concerns about the potential for dispute between neighbours, and the lack of evidence that the proposals will do anything to benefit the construction industry as claimed by ministers.

In Sutton we were one of the first councils to speak out about the proposals, and I put the case against at the last Lib Dem Party Conference.

This united opposition of Local Authorities, expressed through the response of the Local Government Association (LGA), and the concerns of local councillors is significant, as they are the people and the authorities who deal with and implement planning policies on a day to day basis. They are the front line who experience and therefore understand what the impacts of these proposals will be.

This vote will be a test of whether our Ministers and politicians are willing to listen to their councillors, to take on board the knowledge and experience of the councils that have to implement Government policy. Our Parliamentarians are lobbied by big business, by special interest groups, by organisations with vested interested, but this only presents one side of the story, often quite a selfish side. There is always another angle, and local authorities are the other side of the story, with less of a vested interest, as their role is to act across a range of interests for the greater good of their residents. But local government is a body that is often the last one to be listened to by ministers. It is a good cash cow for cuts and scapegoat for the pain delivered by those cuts, but rarely is it seen as a source of good advice or feedback.

The planning relaxation proposals went out to consultation. I know that very many councils and the LGA responded stating why the proposals would be harmful. In Sutton we submitted a very strong case as to why the proposals would not work and evidence of how they could escalate some of the existing difficulties faced by planning authorities. The fact that the Planning Minister Nick Boles is still pressing his own Conservative MPs to vote through his proposals in the face of backbenchers’ own concerns about them proves that the consultation was a sham, that Ministers will pick and choose who to listen to, and dismiss reams of good advice purely to save face and not be seen to do an about-turn.

Today will be a test of whether MPs really do understand the principle of localism they claim to have bestowed upon us. For the sake of Sutton’s residents I hope that practical common sense prevails amongst the MPs that vote today, and they vote for local decision-making over centralised dogma.

April 16, 2013 Posted by | Information | , , , , | Leave a comment

Relaxation of planning laws: Conference call to listen to the expertise of local government

Cllr Jayne McCoy

I made my debut at the Lib Dem conference on Wednesday to support the emergency motion calling for the withdrawal of the proposals to relax planning laws.

The arguments against the proposals are:

  • Councils already have discretion to negotiate the affordable housing part of s106 agreements, and will take account of any viability arguments from developers. But removing the requirement altogether flies in the face of commitments from Government to address the housing shortage and undermines our negotiating position.
  • What you can build without planning permission is already significant and can and does lead to falling out between neighbours who find it hard to understand why they have no powers of objection, and why the council has no powers to intervene despite the impact on their light and privacy.
  • Seeking planning permission for larger extensions is not onerous or expensive. In Sutton it costs £150 and you can expect a decision within eight weeks. Local councillors see hundreds of extensions built and approved in this way each year. Therefore it is not the planning process that is holding back growth.

However the thrust of my speech was that if the Government had consulted with local councils before they floated these proposals, this cross-party rebellion against them would have been averted, because it was obvious to local councillors what the flaws in the plans were. And this is a perfect example of how the communication between central and local government is one way – top down only, despite the lofty commitments to Localism.

The full text of my speech is included below.

The motion against the relaxation of the planning laws was overwhelmingly supported by members, and I was interested to hear that extracts from my speech had featured on ‘Today at Conference’ on BBC2 to illustrate grassroot concerns about the relationship between local and central government.

However most importantly was the statement by Don Foster MP that he was listening.

CALL FOR WITHDRAWAL OF PROPOSALS FOR RELAXATION OF PLANNING REGULATIONS

This Government talks about Localism, whilst in Local Government we put it into practice. Localism means devolving power to those closest to the impacts of decisions. This is what we are trying to do in Local Government, but it is against a constant giving of powers with one hand, and taking away with the other. The communication between central and local government is one way – top down only. As a result we councillors have been forced to implement poorly thought out policies, make ruthless cuts, and defend regulations that can’t be defended. We know that ministers are lobbied by groups with vested interests, and they take on board these groups concerns, as they should. However there are always two sides to every story, and local councils are in a very good place to give the other side of the tale. Local councils should also get a hearing. Councillors are at the coalface of the changes Government want to implement. We are the ones charged with delivering change and implementing policy. It would be nice if Government consulted with local councils for once. We have a huge amount of experience and expertise. These planning proposals are the perfect example of why central Government needs to consult with us. We know that it is not the planning system that is holding back growth. For local councillors it was obvious what the flaws in this plan were. We already have to deal with residents shocked by what their neighbours can build without planning permission, that impacts significantly on their quality of life. Permitted development rights are already very broad and have loopholes that are frequently exploited. Expanding the size of developments that can be erected without the neighbours having any say in the matter was never going to go down well with residents already feeling disempowered. And how are we to protect and help our high streets when businesses can expand significantly without care for the consequences that may have on traffic and parking, or on other businesses and development in the area? Fortunately these are just proposals, out for consultation. They are not yet a law that Eric Pickles can slam our faces in. So we say listen to the expertise of local government: these proposals will not help drive economic growth. It is working with businesses and residents to deliver good quality development that works well for an area that will deliver the employment opportunities we desperately need. Planning applications will not meet obstacles in the planning process if they are proposing well designed buildings that enhance not harm an area. Local councils understand this, and are already working hard to deliver jobs and business opportunities in this way. Please listen to our experiences. I ask that Conference supports the motion.

September 27, 2012 Posted by | Liberal Democrats, Opinion | , , , , | 2 Comments

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