A STRONG SHOWING BY THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS IN THE MAY LOCAL ELECTIONS – AND BY TRISH

Liberal Democrat candidates recorded some remarkable victories in the local elections held nationwide on 2 May 2024. Across England, Liberal Democrats won 521 Council seats, more than the Tories, with a net gain of 104 seats.
 
Trish stood as our candidate in the Greater London Authority constituency elections. Our constituency covered Croydon as well as Sutton so this was not a winnable seat for the Liberal Democrats. However, Trish performed remarkably well. She pushed our share of the vote up from 14.4% to 15.8%. We were one of only five constituencies where we beat both the Greens and Reform, taking third place in the constituency member vote.
 

Trish was our candidate for the Sutton and Croydon GLA constituency. Here she is with Richard and our Mayoral candidate, Rob Blackie, outside Sutton train station

 
In the Mayoral election our candidate, Rob Blackie, performed well and secured third place, ahead of the Greens and Reform. We note that Sadiq Khan won the Mayoralty despite the unpopularity locally of ULEZ, a policy we have opposed. Our views on ULEZ are set out in articles further down. Below is a photo of our visit to City Hall, the HQ of the Mayor of London, on 30 June 2023 to present the petition expressing opposition to ULEZ signed by over 10 000 Sutton residents.
 

Louise, Trish and Richard at City Hall to present to the Mayor of London the petition opposing ULEZ signed by over 10 000 Sutton residents

FURTHER MEETING OF THE POLICE CONSULTATIVE PANEL: NO THEFTS OF CATALYTIC CONVERTERS IN THE WARD FOR ALMOST A YEAR

Our police station in Carshalton Road

The police consultative panel for Sutton South Ward met again on the evening of 24 April, at Devonshire Avenue school. There are open, public meetings held quarterly at which the police discuss the policing of the Ward with local residents. We were addressed by our Ward Constable, Constable Robyn Skivens, who went through the crime statistics for the Ward. The meeting was, sadly, not as well attended as the previous meeting held in January at Overton Grange school.

There had been an increase in burglaries but a decline in the number of thefts of and from vehicles. While many of these burglaries were of sheds and garages, there is a need for residents to be vigilant and keep buildings locked. During the period from the turn of the year there had been 18 burglaries in the Ward. Many of these were the burglary of garden sheds and the many garages in the Ward, and some were burglaries from commercial premises in Brighton Road. There were 12 incidents involving motor vehicles – theft from or of vehicles. There had again been no thefts of catalytic converters. There were 10 other thefts – mainly parcel or phone thefts, or of pedal cycles. There were a small number of robberies around the train station. The police have continued to organise patrols around the station.

There had been 5 drug offences recorded. There had been 4 “dog incidents” – dogs being dangerously out of control or biting people. There were 3 incidents involving the harassment of women and girls, offences the police take very seriously.

There is important advice from the police is not to leave anything valuable in your car and be careful to check it is locked when you leave the car. The police always stress the need to report all crime, however trivial.

Constable Skivens commented on the number of “extractions” that occur, when she and her Sutton South colleagues are asked to leave Ward duties and assist in activities elsewhere. This reduces attention to Ward matters. Concern was expressed at the meeting on the level of police resources.

The meeting discussed the difficulties the police have in recruitment and the concerns we have about the mental welfare of police officers. The meeting thanked Constable Skivens for her dedication to our Ward over a number of years, now, and for her work.

Our police officers were again commended for attending the Sutton South Hello Christmas party on their day off (see photo below).

The next meeting was provisionally arranged for Wednesday June 26 at Devonshire Avenue school.

Louise, Trish and Richard with our Ward police officers at the Sutton South Hello Christmas party

NEW HOMES LOCALLY TO MEET THE HOUSING CRISIS

On 30 November Richard and Trish sat as members of the Council’s Planning Committee, with Richard chairing the meeting, to consider the fate of the B and Q site in central Sutton. This is just outside our Ward. B and Q plan to close the store next June. Richard commented that, though he is no do-it-yourself fanatic, he regretted the closure of the store, but B and Q say it no longer makes them money and they have decided to close.

It is inevitable that the site will be developed as housing. There is no demand for new office space (more people work at home) or new shops (more people shop using the internet) but there is a housing crisis. On the day of the discussion 970 Sutton families were homeless and living in bed and breakfast accommodation, at the expense of the Council and thus our Council tax payers. More homes are desperately needed. The philosophy in the Sutton local plan is to meet our housing targets partly through a more intensive area of development close to the town centre and near the railway station. As public transport links are good in this area it is possible to envisage a car free or “car light” development – if you have to provide a parking space for every house many fewer homes can be built. This reduces development pressure on the borough’s suburban heartland and Green Belt areas. Planning Committee often considers proposals to build on the Green Belt which we resist, but the new homes must go somewhere. The more intensive development in the town centre will inevitably include some tall buildings, and there is a cluster close to the railway station.

Evidence was presented to the committee on action taken to deal with some of the consequences of this development, such as a need for places in local schools, demands on health services and additional strain on water and sewage systems. Richard commented that there were attractive features to the proposed development, 60% of which would be open space, including an area of public parkland, a water feature, an amphitheatre and terraced roof gardens. The most important aspect, though, was the plan for 337 “affordable” homes where Sutton Council can place the most deserving of the 2 600 families on the housing register. This will include families that are homeless or those we meet, in our Ward, who are living in dreadful housing circumstances – sometimes families with three or four children living together in tiny flats.

The planning application was approved. Initially all that local people will observe is the closure of the store, hoardings put up round the site and the store demolished. Then there will be building work but it will be several years before anyone moves in. Eventually, it will be an attractive, landscaped site. On the website

www.chalkgardens.co.uk

there is a video of a walk through a CGI representation of what the final product will look like.

OUR CAMPAIGN OPPOSING THE CLOSURE OF THE TICKET OFFICE AT SUTTON STATION IS SUCCESSFUL

As local Councillors, we responded to the consultation exercise on the closure of ticket offices in local train stations. The closure of the ticket office at Sutton station, which is in our Ward, was threatened. We responded to the consultation opposing this move.

We drew attention to instances where family members were able to get a cheaper deal on tickets than they could have got buying tickets over the internet by getting the advice of the staff at the ticket office. Having staffed ticket offices is essential to giving people advice on travel. People need advice on travel when they arrive at the station. Having these staff wandering around the station means you will not find them when you arrive at the station. There are particular difficulties for those who are partially sighted or disabled.

The consultation was, after an outcry over the limited nature of the consultation proposals, extended to 1 September. The decision has now been taken not to proceed with the closure plan but we will monitor the situation as effective closure of the ticket office by stealth, in particular the progreesive reduction of the hours of opening, is entirely possible.

NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR SUTTON: PLANNING APPLICATION IN MULGRAVE ROAD TURNED DOWN

The owner of Chelsea Court, 54 Mulgrave Road has had planning permission to extend the building – in effect adding two extra floors to the block of flats – refused by Sutton Council. This was the latest in a series of applications in our Ward where owners of blocks of flats have sought to extend the building upwards.

As local Councillors, we were concerned about these proposals. While there is a need for more accommodation, the changes to the building would in our view make it look incongruous, not good enough for Sutton. The block is an attractive architect-designed building (see photo), one of the more attractive blocks in Mulgrave Road, and the proposed changes would destroy the symmetry of the building. The Planning Department at Sutton Council agreed with our objections. The changes would also have involved building work that would greatly disturb the current residents of the block.

The owners used a mechanism called “prior approval” when submitting their planning application. This mechanism, in our view, was introduced by the Government to undermine the planning system. As a result, we could take the application to the Council’s Planning Committee, which Richard chairs, for decision by Councillors. We may still not be able to stop these changes taking place given the powers of the remote Planning Inspectorate based in Bristol to over-ride local decisions.

We always seek to ensure in such cases that a number of conditions are stipulated in any planning permission, if one is ever granted, to try to protect the peace and quiet of the building during construction work. These include that access to the roof should be via an external hoist with all materials for work on the roof transported to the roof by an external hoist and not brought up via the well of the building. The interior of the building should not be a storage area or building site. There should be a construction management plan to minimize disruption to existing residents and ensure there are controls on dust and noise, and on hours of work. The contractors should join the Considerate Contractors’ Scheme. There should be a liaison officer that residents can contact if they observe poor behaviour. If scaffolding is erected outside residents’ windows it should only be erected when needed and removed as soon as it is not needed.

We have successfully opposed this development but wait to see if the developer will appeal to the Planning Inspectorate against the decision of the Council.

A VISIT TO CITY HALL TO PRESENT SUTTON’S PETITION OPPOSING THE EXTENSION OF ULEZ

Louise, Richard and Trish travelled to City Hall, the HQ of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, on 30 June to join other Sutton Liberal Democrat Councillors in presenting a petition to the Mayor. The petition, signed by over 10 000 Sutton residents, expressed our opposition to the extension of the ULEZ zone to outer London boroughs. Our views on why we opposed the extension of ULEZ can be found in posts further down this site.

Despite our opposition, ULEZ has now been extended by the London Mayor to outer London.

FURTHER PROPOSALS FOR NORTHUMBERLAND HOUSE

Northumberland House viewed from Brighton Road

We are again involved in arguments over proposals to add extra storeys the top of Northumberland House.

Northumberland House is the tower block at the corner of Brighton Road and Wellesley Road, about 200 yards along Brighton Road if you turn left when coming out of Sutton station.

Criterion Capital, the owners of Northumberland House, are again seeking planning permission to add two storeys to the top of the building. The owners are again seeking to extend the building, creating a further 29 flats by adding two extra storeys on the top of the ten storey part of the building and an extra storey on the lower part, with some additional flats in the “undercroft” above the parking area. Some of the current parking spaces would be lost.

An earlier similar application was not supported by Sutton Council on the basis of design of the proposed tower extension and issues about the alignment of the windows. Planning law allows developers to seek to over-ride the decisions of local Councillors by appealing to the remote Bristol-based Planning Inspectorate, whose decision is final. The developers went to appeal, to the Planning Inspectorate, and on 5 October Richard and Louise attended and spoke on behalf of residents at a hearing organised by the Planning Inspectorate.

We had noted that there would be some positives, such as the creation of a community amenity and play space on the tarmaced area at ground floor level. However, while there is a shortage of accommodation in London and more housing is needed, we were concerned that the building work had the potential to be extremely disruptive to the lives of current residents. And an extra two storeys on the top of the building looks incongruous and out of keeping with the design of the rest of the building. Richard told the Inspector the design “looked like a couple of portacabins had been dumped on the top of the building.” At the hearing we told the Planning Inspector that residents of Northumberland House are concerned about the likely disruption involved in this proposed work, and have long standing concerns about frequent lift breakdowns in the building and the general standard of housekeeping, particularly in the bin area. We pressed the Inspector to impose conditions, if he were to agree to the scheme, to protect the interests of residents, and include these conditions in any planning permission they eventually obtained. We asked that access to the roof areas would be only by external hoists, and that the peace and quiet of the interior of the building would not be disturbed or the interior turned into a storage area, or building site. We sought controls on scaffolding to ensure any scaffolding that is required is removed as soon as the requirement has passed. We insisted there must be a construction management plan to control hours of work and control noise and dust nuisance. We asked that the contractor joins the “Considerate Contractors Scheme”, which provides a route for residents to raise concerns if they observe poor behaviour. We were pleased that the developers indicated they would accept all these conditions.

The Inspector supported our views and commented that the proposed building looks “incongruous” – the exact wording Richard had used at the hearing. He turned down the application and also refused the application for costs.

The owners have now submitted a further, similar application. Residents can see the proposals via the Council’s website (go to the section on planning and follow leads to get to comment on planning applications). It is application DM2023/00796. We are keen to learn of the views of residents on this matter, particularly those who live in Northumberland House. Do contact us at the email addresses given in the first post on this site.

TACKLING GRAFFITI IN SUTTON SOUTH WARD

This picture shows Louise and Trish cleaning off the graffiti we found in the area outside Northumberland House in Brighton Road. We want residents to report to us instances of graffiti, which is one of the scourges of our times, worldwide. In general, the Council has a good record in cleaning off graffiti quickly. A difficulty is when the graffiti is on private property and the owners of the property have responsibility.

Here is an example of graffiti we got cleaned off, on the bridge at Kings Lane.

NEW ELECTRIC VEHICLE CHARGING POINTS PLANNED FOR MULGRAVE ROAD

In support of our policies to combat global warming and reduce carbon emissions, the programme to fit electric vehicle charging points in lampposts in our Ward continues. A further consultation exercise is about to take place on the installation of two new electric vehicle charging points in Mulgrave Road, close to the junction with Worcester Road. A preliminary consultation found majority support but few residents responded.

There are now charging points at the following locations:

Opposite 49 The Ridgway

Opposite 26 Langley Park Road

Opposite Foxley Court in Christchurch Park

Opposite 10 Cumnor Road

In Cedar Gardens

Opposite Grange Court, Grange Road

Opposite Thomas House, Grange Road

Opposite 13 Stanley Road

Opposite Fairford Court, Stanley Road

We want to draw attention to the Sutton Citizen space survey where residents should log their suggestions for EV charge points. 

https://sutton.citizenspace.com/highways-environment-and-planning/ev-survey/

The photo shows the first vehicle that used the first charging point in the Ward, in The Ridgway. Given the policy to ultimately phase out petrol driven vehicles, a big and continuing expansion will be needed.

Sutton Council is working with Siemens to install Ubitricity lamp column electric vehicle charging points. Ubitricity lamp column charging points are compact and fit into the door of a lamp column.  
The aim of lamp column charging is to give residents the ability to easily charge electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles on the street where they live, especially if they do not have off-street parking or are unable to install their own home charging point. Installing residential charging points is important because a key barrier to people switching to electric vehicles is the concern around where they will be able to charge their vehicle. 

Not all lamp columns are suitable for lamp column charging points. The lamp columns need to be “electrically suitable”, be positioned near the kerb and have enough internal space to fit the charging point. They need to be sensibly located so that a vehicle could safely park and charge next to the lamp column. The lamp columns also need to be made of metal, not concrete. 

An “earth mat”, a small metal grid, is also installed in the footway next to the lamp column. This is to make the charging point “electrically safe” if there is a fault. There are signs to indicate that the lamp column has a charging point fitted, though this sign will not prevent non-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles from parking next to the lamp column. 

This is a major advance in our drive to promote electric vehicles and combat global warming.

OUR CLIMATE EMERGENCY RESPONSE PLAN

Sutton Council has declared that there is a climate emergency and at the Council meeting on 16 January we adopted a progress report entitled “Environment Strategy and Climate Emergency: Progress Report and Update.” In his speech on this important report Richard pointed out that far from being some vague affirmation of worthy sentiments the report was packed full of detailed, positive actions we had taken and could be proud of. He listed some of them

– ten new school streets

– 120 dockless ebikes (although we came quite late to the concept of ebike schemes compared to many London boroughs)

– double the number of new trees planted than our target

– seven parks received the green flag award for their biodiversity management with butterfly banks in the parks

– almost 7 000 teaching sessions on biodiversity, mostly to school age children

– the work of the Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers, the Community Environment Champions Network, the Green Enterprise partnership

– the Healthy Homes Advice and Support Service, providing assessment of homes for energy efficiency

– promoting green spaces, energy efficiency and electric vehicles through our planning policies and decisions

– LED street lighting and electric vehicle charging points in street lamps

– promoting re-cycling of waste

– the promotion of initiatives to support locations where items can be repaired and re-used

– action to deal with extreme weather events

– promoting the cycling network and cycle maintenance and safety workshops

– travel plans for our own staff to promote cycling and walking, and switching our own vehicles to electric.

The list goes on and on.

This is an important programme based on positive, practical steps we are taking to protect the environment.