Every year Sutton Council holds what is referred to as its “Annual Council Meeting” where it elects the Mayor and appoints Councillors to committees. This year it was held on 4 May and held by videoconference. Trish was re-elected Mayor. Richard was relieved of membership of the Audit and Governance Committee but appointed to the Housing, Economy and Business Committee, the Planning Committee, the Greater London Employment Forum (where he is the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Delegation) and the Council and Employees Joint Committee, which he chairs. He will be busy!
Planning issues have always been a major concern in Sutton South Ward, with numerous examples of poor quality developments we have seen off but others where local democracy has been overturned by the decisions of the remote Planning Inspectorate based in Bristol. The Queen’s Speech on 11 May, setting out the legislative plans of the Government, included proposals we hoped had been dropped to run a coach and horses through the local democracy elements of the planning system. Richard has denounced these as a charter for developers to make massive profits building slum housing, while ignoring and side-lining the views of the local community.
The proposals would mean that in certain areas developers would get automatic consent to planning applications without there being any process of consultation with local people.
These proposals are not new. At the meeting of Sutton Council on 23 November last year – the first Council meeting chaired by Trish as our Mayor – Council passed a motion expressing concern at the threat to democratic decision taking from the proposals the Government had set out to change the planning system.
Councillors noted that the proposals would lead to automatic approval of many developments with the voice and opinions of local people removed from the planning system. They noted that requirements for new developments to include affordable housing would be severely eroded and the housing target for new building in Sutton increased from 427 units to 1122 units. This latter figure is impossible to achieve without massive increases in the density of housing, undermining the pleasant, green, suburban feel of Sutton. The Government claims, falsely, that the planning system is an impediment to development, but we have to suspect that what this is really about is the right of developers to ignore local opinion when it gets in the way of what is profitable.
As local Councillors, we have always been active in looking at planning applications in our Ward and opposing those not good enough to meet our high standards in Sutton. In the recent past we have been active on proposals in Brighton Road, The Ridgway, Upland Road and Hillcroome Road. Some proposals that we thought objectionable have been turned down, including putting two stories on the top of Northumberland House. If you scan down the posts on this website you will find numerous examples of planning applications where we have joined with local residents to get improvements or oppose what developers are proposing.
The proposals of the Government are a major threat. These proposals to “reform” planning law are likely to, in many cases, remove the requirements for local consultation on planning proposals and act as a developers’ charter. We want to retain a system that, while it has defects, lets local people have a democratic say on what is built locally. It is too important a right for us to lose.
We are going to refurbish the small piece of play equipment in the Devonshire Avenue Nature Area, which has become very tatty over the ten years since it was installed. Here is Richard’s grandson, Ciaran, enjoying playing on the installation. You can see how tatty it has become.
The refurbishment of the play area will see the removal and recycling of this damaged timber play equipment, comprising of over two hundred sleepers in various sizes. It will see the installation of new sleepers, wooden kickboards and “play bark safety surfacing” surrounding the play area. This will encourage children to stay active and provide an invaluable communal focal point in keeping with the natural materials of the Devonshire Avenue Nature Area.
The “memorial” bench that has been placed in the nature area, incorporating commemorative images remembering those who died in war, is a moving addition to the area. Here is Trish at the new bench.
The nature area is the only open space in our Ward and, particularly as many families live in flats with no access to a garden for children to play in, the nature area is an important amenity. The nature area has, during lockdown, like most parkland, been much more extensively visited than is normal. This has led to some erosion of its value as a nature area. We would greatly welcome the ideas of residents for improving it.
While the Devonshire Avenue Nature Area is the only open space in our Ward, our residents make good use of Overton Park at the western end of the Ward and Warren Park at the eastern end. On 30 April Richard met with Council officers and other Councillors in Warren Park to discuss the vandalisation of the picket fence protecting the nature area in the park. We are anxious to preserve this chalk grassland nature site, which at certain times of year has a wonderful show of cowslips, ox-eye daisies and other wild plants, which will be lost if the area is trampled. Again, we would welcome views on how Warren Park might be improved.
We have a manifesto commitment to plant more trees, to improve air quality, combat global warming and promote the green, suburban feel of Sutton. We plan 50 more trees in the Ward. We are searching for historic tree pits, now unused, and reporting them to Council officers. The list is growing. This one is in Hillcroome Road. Let us know of others you see.
We were delighted when, in accordance with the commitment to plant more trees to combat global warming, two new trees were planted earlier this year in The Ridgway. The story concerning the tree outside number 23 is interesting. Many years ago there was a tree pit here and a tree. The tree died. Contractors tarmaced over the tree pit. The tarmac would periodically sag. Richard suggested restoring the tree pit and planting a tree. This was done. The photo was taken during the brief fall of snow on 24 January.
Dealing with parking problems and speeding vehicles has always been a problem. The Council has now concluded, for our Ward, the long-running consultation on parking and has introduced new measures on speeding. While the Council has, on legal advice, amended or withdrawn the six month trial low traffic neighbourhood schemes funded by Transport for London, we have studied resident reaction to these trial schemes and retained the aspects that were popular.
We have retained the 20 miles per hour speed limit area in the east of the Ward that was originally introduced as part of these schemes. Consultation with residents showed this was popular and we are discussing action to achieve more enforcement of the limits. The speed limit area covers Mayfield Road and the roads in the Ward to the east of it. This is the area where, following lengthy consultation, a new parking control area was introduced last November. This has cleared parking from these roads which has encouraged speeding, thus justifying the new controls on speeding. The Council’s consultation exercise on parking reached a successful conclusion last year with the Sutton South Permit Parking Area now introduced. An earlier proposal was thrown out by residents but this proposal achieved majority support, generally by overwhelming majorities, in the roads consulted. We regard this as evidence of the success of the approach of the Council, with successive rounds of careful consultation. The parking permit area will be subject to a review this summer. Do contact us if there are aspects of the scheme you want reviewed.
Having well maintained pavements, well lit at night, is important to all of us. Severe weather and footfall leads to the inevitable weathering of carriageways and pavements. The Council’s programme for re-surfacing roads and pavements has been under pressure over recent years due to austerity and the cuts in local authority funding. We are pleased that the programme for the coming year includes the re-surfacing of the footway and the replacement of concrete light columns in a number of roads in our Ward.
Trish and Richard report potholes and damage reported to us by residents or that we observe, to supplement the Council’s programme of inspection and maintenance of carriageways and footways. Please make sure you let us know of problems that need fixing. In the last few years the pavement in Mayfield Road has been resurfaced, and The Ridgway is in the programme for the coming year. The work has started in The Ridgway (see the photos below). The lighting column replacement programme for the next year will cover a number of local roads where the lighting needs to be upgraded, including Effingham Close, Grange Vale, Overton Road, Summers Close, Ventnor Road and Westmoreland Drive. Let us know of other candidates and any roads where there are “dark patches” with inadequate street lighting. And let us know immediately of street lights that have failed as we usually get these fixed quite quickly.
On 1 March Sutton Council debated and agreed its budget for the next financial year. This was the annual budget meeting where we agree the Council’s budget. It is a responsible and balanced budget with the emphasis on helping the disadvantaged as we come out of the pandemic and the recession. Sutton has enjoyed safe and careful stewardship of its financial resources under the Liberal Democrat administration, in contrast to neighbouring Croydon, which has gone bust. The Conservative Councillors tabled no alternative proposal but voted against our budget. The debate was ably chaired my Trish, as Mayor. This was Richard’s speech.
“When I spoke on the budget last year I said that ever since I studied economics at University in the 1960s I seem to have been having arguments with right wing economists and politicians who hold the view that there is virtue in:
less Government intervention in the economy,
reducing the size of the State
and cutting taxes.
Since then, the pandemic has proved how wrong these views are – and proved the need for strong and well resourced Government at national and local level.
In the local context this means being able to provide effective health services to care for the many thousands of Sutton residents made ill by the pandemic, and being able to provide welfare support for the almost 19 000 Sutton residents, at the last count, reduced to poverty and relying on Universal Credit. That is approaching one person in every four homes in the borough with – if the proposed £20 cut in Universal Credit happens – a major increase expected in the number of Sutton residents using Foodbanks. And if the moratorium on evictions is not extended, more homelessness.
The economic and welfare effects of the pandemic are significant and we need strong government at all levels to deal with these consequences.
What we are celebrating tonight is a well structured and responsible budget that will give help to those who most need it – the emphasis being on supporting the most vulnerable by building on work with the health and voluntary sector, increasing funding on adult and children’s social services, and on helping local businesses and employers to mitigate the impact of the recession in Sutton – which, I see research for the Sunday Times has found is the fifth happiest place to live in England.
I support this budget, but I would stress most of all tonight the need for Government to help our 19 000 residents living in acute poverty by scrapping the £20 cut in Universal Credit planned for the end of March. Surely we must all agree on that.”
IF YOU SEE AN ABANDONED CAR, LET US KNOW
Abandoned cars can be a problem and we discover abandoned cars from time to time in our Ward, or residents report them to us. This abandoned car was dumped in Langley Park Road. The Council will affix a letter to the windscreen and this gives the owner fifteen days to retrieve the car before it is removed and disposed of. This car was clearly abandoned, with the windows broken and number plates removed.
Trish and Richard have expressed their shock at the finding from the latest Government figures that almost 19,000 residents across Sutton are currently relying on Universal Credit – on average one person in every four homes in the borough.
This implies that up to 4,000 Sutton residents could end up being driven to Foodbanks if Ministers proceed with cutting Universal Credit by £20 per week. Richard estimates that possibly approaching a thousand residents in our Ward are relying on Universal Credit during the pandemic and perhaps 200 residents in our Ward will have to rely on Foodbanks if the current level of Universal Credit is cut.
Research by the Trussell Trust has shown that one in five people receiving the Universal Credit benefit said they are very likely to need to use a food bank if the benefit is cut. Almost one in five said they would be likely to fall behind on housing costs, such as mortgage payments or rent.
The Government has yet to say whether the temporary increase, introduced at the start of the pandemic and in place until the end of March, will be extended.
Richard says “We have no reason to believe that Sutton South Ward is much different from the rest of Sutton. While the Ward is sometimes regarded as more affluent, as local Councillors we know there are pockets of extreme poverty, not just on our social housing estates. The benefit system, though cut significantly in recent years, is a lifeline for struggling families, and has prevented many families in our Ward needing to turn to a food bank. We call on the Government to maintain Universal Credit at its current level.”
With the cold and snowy weather we experienced in early February, the yellow grit bins on street corners throughout our Ward have proved their worth.
Contact us if your nearest bin is now empty or needs replenishment.
Contact us if you think there is a location that ought to have a grit bin installed.