FEWER EMPTY HOMES IN SUTTON

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With continuing pressure on housing in the Borough, it is a matter of concern if houses are left empty for long period.

Last year Sutton Council introduced a number of technical changes to Council tax collection arrangements that changed financial incentives to keep properties empty. Richard, in his role as vice-chair of the Housing, Economy and Business Commmittee, was closely involved in the design of these changes, which involved the removal of discounts on Council tax previously enjoyed by owners of second homes and owners of empty properties.

At the meeting of the Housing, Economy and Business Committee on 8 October Richard commented on figures the Committee discussed that showed a fall in the number of empty properties. However, while the figures are moving in the right direction there is clearly some way to go. They show that there are still 200 properties in Sutton empty for over two years (excluding those in probate), down from 210, and over 450 properties unoccupied and unfurnished (470 down from 573). 

Richard said “at a time of housing pressure these empty properties are a cause for concern. The policy the Council introduced last year to remove financial incentives to keep properties empty has been a success, in that the numbers have fallen, but there is still a way to go.”

SUTHERLAND HOUSE – PLANNING INSPECTORATE SUPPORTS VIEW THAT AFFORDABLE HOMES ARE REQUIRED

Sutherland House

The owners of Sutherland House will make sufficient profit when they re-develop Sutherland House as 160 luxury flats that they can and should include some “affordable homes” in the proposal.

This is the view of the Planning Inspector who has rejected the appeal by the owners of Sutherland House against the view taken by the Council and supported by Richard and Heather. The Inspector awarded the Council costs on the grounds of the unreasonable action of the developers.

Richard and Heather have appealed to the developers to now get on with the re-development of the site taking on board the Inspector’s views – that we need some affordable housing and a better design for the units in Cedar Road.

Richard spoke at the appeal hearing on 17 July.

The Council supported the re-development of Sutherland House as residential units but argued for some affordable housing and that the proposed development fronting on to Cedar Road included accommodation of a quality that was not acceptable. The Inspector supported the Council on both points. The Inspector accepted a financial analysis of the viability of the project that showed there was sufficient profit to make it possible to include some affordable housing.

Richard says “The views of the Inspector accord exactly with the case I put to the hearing. I feel vindicated, in saying this proposal was not good enough. The developer will make a lot of money from turning this building, close to the town centre and Sutton station, into luxury flats. The appraisal accepted by the Inspector showed there can be some affordable housing included without threatening the financial viability of the project. As a Councillor, I meet local families living in extremely overcrowded conditions and we desperately need more affordable housing. The building has been empty too long and I call on the developer to now get on with it and come up with a scheme that reflects the Inspector’s decision.”

OPENING THE SIDE ENTRANCE TO SUTTON STATION

side entrance

Ever since we were elected in2010 we have been pursuing an objective to get the side entrance to Sutton station opened as a second entrance.

There are several reasons for this, and it is a particular passion for Richard who for over 20 years of his life commuted from his home in The Ridgway to central London for work, running (as he was usually late for his train) past the shuttered and barricaded side entrance to the station to enter by the front, then in the evening shuffling (as the station is officially classified as overcrowded) to get out the front, when he could have left by the side. There are many residents of our Ward who commute to central London for work and approach the station from the Wellesley Road direction, so have the same experience every working day as Richard had. But opening the side entrance will also make The Quadrant and the bike rack more accessible.

Today, 25 July, is likely to be seen as the day we were able to be sure the side entrance will open next year.

Today there was the first meeting of the Sutton Gateway project board, of which Richard is a member. There were discussions involving the Council, Network Rail and Transport for London. It was confirmed that the firm intention, now, is to open the side entrance. The project is more complex than simply putting a row of entrance gates where the shutter closing the side entrance is currently situated. There will be some re-building of the side entrance, a canopy, gates and the very steep flight of stairs (too steep to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act) will be replaced by a flight at right angles to the current flight of stairs, at a more gradual gradient.

Richard said “This is exciting news for Sutton South residents. The campaign we started in 2010 has succeeded.”

R and H at side entrance

RESIDENTS SAY “NO” TO DEMOLITION PLANS

 richard sharples court petiton
Residents at Richard Sharples Court, a South Sutton block of sheltered housing for the elderly, are protesting at plans to knock down a long-established family house opposite their homes.
Richard and Heather called in on residents of Richard Sharples Court this week to collect the residents’ petition, which they presented to Sutton Council at its meeting on 22 July. The petition, signed by 47 residents, seeks reassurance about possible disruption caused by the demolition and building work in an area with several blocks of sheltered housing for the elderly, the possible disruption of bus services in the road, and the lack of sufficient car park spaces in the proposed block.
Heather said “”Many of the older residents in Cavendish Road already find it difficult to cross the road because of speeding traffic.  We will do all we can to keep the road safe and pleasant for them”.
Richard said “The demolition of family homes in our Ward and their replacement with blocks of small flats is leading to a shortage of larger family homes at a time that lots of people want to move to Sutton thanks to our excellent schools, low crime and green spaces. In an area of parking pressure we also need more parking spaces than the developer proposes here.”
The photograph shows Richard and Heather receiving the petition.
 

SUTHERLAND HOUSE PROPOSAL “THE UNACCEPTABLE FACE OF CAPITALISM”

 

Sutherland House

Sutherland House

Tonight, the Council’s Development Control Committee supported the call by Richard and Heather – who both spoke to the meeting – to oppose the current planning application for Sutherland House as it contains no provision for affordable housing. They both deplored the fact that the building has been empty and derelict for years, but said this should not drive us to accept a thoroughly objectionable proposal.

Richard quoted the phrase coined by a Conservative Prime Minister of the 1970’s, Edward Heath, no militant socialist, that a particular set of actions he dealt with was “the unacceptable face of capitalism.” He said “What the Committee has before it tonight is exactly that. It is a project that puts profit before people.”

The proposal of the developers is to take an existing large building which, for reasons still obscure, has been empty and derelict for years, and renovate it so there are 160 luxury, private, residential apartments. These will in due course be available to be sold or rented for sums of money most of us would find astonishing, but because Sutton remains a thriving area despite the recession (due to the good management of its affairs by its Council) there will be no shortage of demand.

But the developer claims that the whole project is so financially marginal that they cannot possibly include any affordable housing atall. This seems unlikely, and the Council’s independent study suggests there is £1.91 million of profit in the proposal over and above what one would regard as a normal and acceptable margin. Some affordable housing can be included without the project becoming unviable.

Heather and Richard deal with a lot of casework concerning housing in our Ward. They come across many families, often families with small children, that live in desperately overcrowded conditions. There is a massive need for affordable housing in the Britain of 2013. It is a national problem, it is a problem here in Sutton, and it is a problem in a seemingly affluent area like Sutton South Ward.

Richard said “I do not know why the developer has kept the site empty for so long, as, I am told, it did with the Root and Brown tower in Merton. I deplore the fact that it is an empty and derelict eyesore, a blot on the landscape. Perhaps the expectation was that eventually we would be so fed up with it we would accept anything to get it developed. I am almost at the stage where I would accept anything to get it developed and am at the stage where I would accept almost anything. But not this scheme.”

The Committee agreed to support the proposals of the officers to oppose this proposal at the forthcoming hearing by the Planning Inspectorate and seek some affordable housing provision.   

 

SUCCESS AGAINST OVERDEVELOPMENT IN OVERTON ROAD

54 Overton Road

54 Overton Road

We have won. The case we put to the Planning Inspectorate, in a carefully prepared written submission, has been successful, and the Inspector has almost used the words of our submission in rejecting the case for the development proposed in Overton Road. 

We objected to the appeal made to the Planning Inspectorate by the developers at 54-58 Overton Road, appealing against the sensible decision of Sutton’s Liberal Democrat Council to reject their planning application, which was to cram 50 dwellings onto the site while failing to offer adequate parking. This appeal followed the Council’s rejection of the scheme on 5 September, on the basis of objections we set out.

The Inspector has described the proposed design as “unduly bulky and dominant” and “overly large and unremitting.” The only unsatisfactory aspect of the judgement is that he appears to consider that enough parking spaces were provided, something we dispute.

We will continue to campaign against the demolition of family homes in the area to make way for developments that cram in low quality accommodation. And we object to the remote Planning Inspectorate in Bristol having the power to overturn sensible local decisions by your Liberal Democrat Council.

RICHARD WINS PARTIAL SUCCESS ON OPPOSITION TO PROPOSALS TO WEAKEN PLANNING LAW

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The post immediately below this describes the efforts Richard has made, including successfully moving a motion at last November’s meeting of Sutton Council, to resist Government plans to make it possible to build larger extensions to houses without need of planning permission.

These efforts have been to some degree successful as on 19 April the Government introduced an amendment to their proposals that goes some way towards meeting the objections we raised. However, the statement is confused and we await sight of the Regulations to be made nder the Act to really understand what is now the position. The Minister indicated that, in respect of extensions that would otherwise require planning permission but these proposals wanted to exempt, the occupier would need to provide a written description and a plan of the proposed development and give it to the local planning authority. The owner or occupier of any land or property “adjoining” the property where the changes are to be made will be notified of the proposed development and of the period they have to object. The local planning authority will then consider whether it will have an unacceptable impact and if a planning application is needed.

The statement quoted figures of 6 metres and 4.5 metres and says these provisions will be repealed in April 2016. This is consistent with Government statements that the objective was to create work for builders as a temporary provision to increase economic activity. We have always disputed that it would have such an effect, and that any such effect would be at the expense of neighbour disputes and the erection of ugly buildings. We assume the current proposal involves a return to the status quo in April 2016

RICHARD CONDEMNS GOVERNMENT ACTION TO WEAKEN PLANNING LAW

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On the day when the House of Commons approved Government proposals to weaken planning law in respect of house extensions, Richard has drawn attention to the motion he successfully moved at the Sutton Council meeting last November, calling for this policy to be scrapped.

And he has congratulated our MP Paul Burstow on voting against the proposal.

The motion moved by Richard at the Council meeting on 5 November said:

“This Council opposes … the Secretary of State’s proposals for planning permission – currently required for extensions of more than three or four metres from the rear wall of any home – to only be needed for those reaching beyond 8m for detached homes and 6m for others.”

Richard says “Sutton Council passed my motion to call on the Government to change its mind. I am sorry it has not yet done so. This policy weakens planning law further and will lead to neighbour on neighbour disputes over ugly extensions. It is a recipe for neighbourhood disputes and the erection of ugly buildings that society does not want, and that we certainly do not want in Sutton.   ”

The motion pased on 5 November was also critical of the envisaged interference of the Planning Inspectorate in local decisions on planning applications, affordable housing and section 106 contributions.

This is the full text of Richard’s speech:

“It is right that the London Borough of Sutton, which has been at the intellectual vanguard of so many policies in local Government, should be at the forefront in leading a campaign against the proposals of the Government to weaken planning law.

The motion is a balanced motion in that we are complimenting the Government on aspects of the announcement made on 6 September that we support, but we are making clear what we oppose.

We support proposals concerning the funding of new affordable housing, the refurbishment of empty homes, support for the FirstBuy shared equity scheme and support for housing associations.

But we are critical of the extension of permitted development rights, and the envisaged interference of the Planning Inspectorate in local decisions on planning applications, affordable housing and section 106 contributions.

What we are saying tonight is entirely consistent with our actions and our words on planning issues.

It is consistent with our words in that we had an excellent debate on planning policy at the Council meeting on 17 October last year. I remember speaking in that debate and noting what we have achieved in Sutton in adopting and refining a planning policy that has secured the green, pleasant, suburban character of Sutton that we all treasure. But we noted in that debate threats and concerns that arose from national policy. We welcomed many aspects of the National Planning Policy Framework but saw four difficulties with the planning system that should be addressed – and for each of these I could cite specific examples in Sutton South Ward:

1. that what is permitted development is already quite permissive and is leading to people building large and intrusive structures that should be brought within planning controls

2. that the planning system is slow moving in dealing with developers who are recalcitrant and play the system

3. the decisions of the Planning Inspectorate are sometimes inconsistent and unhelpful

4. the Courts do not always seem to take breaches of planning law seriously.

These problems remain but, sadly, the Government has not taken our advice set out in the motion we passed. Indeed, it has moved in an opposite direction in what is now proposed.

What is proposed seems to abandon the National Planning Policy Framework, does not address any of the problems that concerned us, and loosens further permitted development law.

I do not believe for one second that the relaxation of requirements to seek planning permission for extensions to domestic properties is going to unleash an avalanche of building work, thus creating jobs. To the extent that this happens, it follows that this will be through the erection of buildings that would not be permitted under current arrangements. So this is a recipe for neighbourhood disputes and the erection of ugly buildings that society does not want, and that we certainly do not want in Sutton.   

I also particularly object to the way the package deals with affordable housing and section 106 contributions. Like most of you, I find that quite a lot of my casework as a Councillor involves families that are living in poor circumstances, often because they cannot find and afford accommodation that fits their needs. We desperately need more affordable housing. There are already “get out” clauses for developers who present financial analyses seemingly proving their development is unviable if they have to provide affordable housing. I am deeply suspicious of those processes and now there are to be further “get out” routes involving the Planning Inspectorate.

What we say in this motion is also consistent with our actions. We have adopted stringent controls on development to ensure it meets the local needs of Sutton, particularly on the development of major sites and on back garden development. We do not want these interfered with by remote bodies in Whitehall and Bristol.

We have worked hard to control development in Sutton in a way that meets what local people want. And so much flows from the way the character of the area is preserved by our planning policies, making it an attractive environment for businesses and families. I never tire of telling people of the virtues of Sutton – low crime, good schools, attractive leafy streets, good transport connections, voted the best place in London to bring up children, a local economy that is surviving the recession well. All these things, to my mind, hinge crucially on having an attractive local environment and street scene.

I hope these proposals will be re-thought.

I strongly believe, in the words of the motion, that it is local people, through democratically elected local authorities, who are the best judges of what development is acceptable in an area.

I commend this motion to Council.”

RICHARD AND HEATHER CONDEMN NEW DELAY ON SUTHERLAND HOUSE

Sutherland House

Sutherland House

Criterion Capital, the owners at Sutherland House, are further delaying  progress on the development of this almost derelict building.

 Having submitted a planning application to develop the building as residential units they have abruptly cut off further discussion with Sutton Council’s planners and, using one of the devices open to developers who wish to bypass local arrangements, got the application referred to the Planning Inspectorate. The route chosen means we are now faced with a lengthy delay and a set of formal hearings.

The building is an important feature of the “gateway to Sutton” from the South and Gatwick Airport.

After the Criterion Capital got agreement to plans for a hotel, flats and shops at Sutherland House some years ago, they changed their mind and opted for a development involving only  private flats.  This proposal did not include plans for any affordable housing, a usual requirement for large-scale residential development, to meet the current shortage of affordable homes. Richard and Heather would like to see some affordable housing offered in this proposal, and it was this issue that was still under discussion when the developers decided to involve the Planning Inspectorate.

These tactics mean that the residents of Sutton South are still confronted with a dilapidated building, with shops boarded up, that drags the whole area down, and we now have to await the outcome of a long-winded formal enquiry process.

Heather and Richard have been demanding action on the building since they were elected. 

Richard said,  ” The dilapidated building pulls down the whole area.  It is not fair that residents should be confronted with this eyesore. Developers know that they need to provide affordable housing in a residential development such as this, and I will be disappointed if no affordable housing is required.”

Heather further commented,” The location of Sutherland House is at the gateway to Sutton.  With Opportunity Sutton attracting new business to Sutton, this site needs to brought up to standard.”

In the past a cannabis factory has been found in the building by police.  Criterion Capital also were the developers of a site in Colliers Wood that remained empty for years.

 

WE CALL FOR RE-THINK ON WEAKENING PLANNING LAW

"Protect our green, pleasant, suburban character"

At Sutton Council’s “Bonfire night” meeting on 5 November, Richard moved a motion criticising the Government proposals annnounced on 5 September to weaken planning law. The Council agreed a motion directed to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government calling for a re-think. The motion criticised the proposed extension of permitted development rights and the envisaged interference of the Planning Inspectorate in local decisions on planning applications, affordable housing and section 106 contributions.

Here is the full text of Richard’s Speech:

“It is right that the London Borough of Sutton, which has been at the intellectual vanguard of so many policies in local Government, should be at the forefront in leading a campaign against the proposals of the Government to weaken planning law.

The motion is a balanced motion in that we are complimenting the Government on aspects of the announcement made on 6 September that we support, but we are making clear what we oppose.

We support proposals concerning the funding of new affordable housing, the refurbishment of empty homes, support for the FirstBuy shared equity scheme and support for housing associations.

But we are critical of the extension of permitted development rights, and the envisaged interference of the Planning Inspectorate in local decisions on planning applications, affordable housing and section 106 contributions.

What we are saying tonight is entirely consistent with our actions and our words on planning issues.

It is consistent with our words in that we had an excellent debate on planning policy at the Council meeting on 17 October last year. I remember speaking in that debate and noting what we have achieved in Sutton in adopting and refining a planning policy that has secured the green, pleasant, suburban character of Sutton that we all treasure. But we noted in that debate threats and concerns that arose from national policy. We welcomed many aspects of the National Planning Policy Framework but saw four difficulties with the planning system that should be addressed – and for each of these I could cite specific examples in Sutton South Ward:

1. that what is permitted development is already quite permissive and is leading to people building large and intrusive structures that should be brought within planning controls

2. that the planning system is slow moving in dealing with developers who are recalcitrant and play the system

3. the decisions of the Planning Inspectorate are sometimes inconsistent and unhelpful

4. the Courts do not always seem to take breaches of planning law seriously.

These problems remain but, sadly, the Government has not taken our advice set out in the motion we passed. Indeed, it has moved in an opposite direction in what is now proposed.

What is proposed seems to abandon the National Planning Policy Framework, does not address any of the problems that concerned us, and loosens further permitted development law.

I do not believe for one second that the relaxation of requirements to seek planning permission for extensions to domestic properties is going to unleash an avalanche of building work, thus creating jobs. To the extent that this happens, it follows that this will be through the erection of buildings that would not be permitted under current arrangements. So this is a recipe for neighbourhood disputes and the erection of ugly buildings that society does not want, and that we certainly do not want in Sutton.   

I also particularly object to the way the package deals with affordable housing and section 106 contributions. Like most of you, I find that quite a lot of my casework as a Councillor involves families that are living in poor circumstances, often because they cannot find and afford accommodation that fits their needs. We desperately need more affordable housing. There are already “get out” clauses for developers who present financial analyses seemingly proving their development is unviable if they have to provide affordable housing. I am deeply suspicious of those processes and now there are to be further “get out” routes involving the Planning Inspectorate.

What we say in this motion is also consistent with our actions. We have adopted stringent controls on development to ensure it meets the local needs of Sutton, particularly on the development of major sites and on back garden development. We do not want these interfered with by remote bodies in Whitehall and Bristol.

We have worked hard to control development in Sutton in a way that meets what local people want. And so much flows from the way the character of the area is preserved by our planning policies, making it an attractive environment for businesses and families. I never tire of telling people of the virtues of Sutton – low crime, good schools, attractive leafy streets, good transport connections, voted the best place in London to bring up children, a local economy that is surviving the recession well. All these things, to my mind, hinge crucially on having an attractive local environment and street scene.

I hope these proposals will be re-thought.

I strongly believe, in the words of the motion, that it is local people, through democratically elected local authorities, who are the best judges of what development is acceptable in an area.

I commend this motion to Council.”