COUNCILLOR CLIFTON CALLS FOR NEW LEGAL CONTROLS ON LOAN SHARKS

At the Sutton Council meeting on 9 May Councillor Richard Clifton made an impassioned speech about the desperate plight of those who borrow money from loan sharks. He cited cases he had found of people being charged 1 737% for loans, on a day when the Bank of England Base Rate stood at 0.5%.

He called for legal controls on the maximum amount that could be charged for credit. Here is the full text of his speech, contributing to discussion of a motion welcoming the work of the Savers’ Credit Union:

“There are two themes to this motion. First, ensuring those who, for whatever reason, need access to affordable credit can obtain affordable credit, and the motion rightly commends to us the work of the Savers’ Credit Union in achieving this goal.

The second theme is the flip side. It is a much darker theme, and concerns protecting and helping vulnerable people who, perhaps because of the desperate circumstances they find themselves in, take out loans offered at crazy rates of interest by loan sharks, people who offer unsecured loans at high rates of interest to individuals, sometimes enforcing repayment by blackmail or threats of violence.

So can I draw Council’s attention, in particular, to the sentence in the motion:

“ This Council calls on the Government to introduce a cap on the total lending rate that can be charged for providing credit”

I know the problem is not just the level of the interest rate:

* it is sometimes a lack of clarity about the interest rate atall

* it is the way people are targeted, and

* the way re-payment is enforced.

But it is salutary that I looked last week at some websites, found by just typing “loans” into a few search engines. Websites are the top end of the market compared to what is sadly typical, a man touring our social housing estates with a bunch of used fivers in one pocket and a vaguely worded contract in the other.

The websites I found had top banners reading “GET THE CASH YOU NEED TODAY”, and “YOU COULD HAVE £1000 IN YOUR ACCOUNT TODAY”. But if you go on clicking you find the truth.

The first one I looked at had an APR of 51%.

The second had an APR of  1 737%. To make sure I had not mis-read this I checked the site again today, and the rate had gone down. It was only 1 734%.

The DirectGov website quotes examples of over 8 000 %, being charged to people who “GET THE CASH THEY NEED TODAY”  because they are already desperate, before they have to face the consequences of taking out these loans. Once they have have taken out loans at these rates of interest they never escape from the spiral of debt

I said “crazy” rates of interest. Why not criminal ? Why should it be lawful to offer vulnerable people loans at these rates of interest on a day when the Bank of England base rate is 0.5%. Some people do try to justify these rates of interest – saying there is a market, these are unsecured loans, the lender has to be protected against bad debts. But there is no justification for such staggering high rates of interest.

I see no reason why some upper limit could not be set by law and enforced.

That would require regulation – a dirty word in some quarters but it is the regulators who protect the vulnerable. And since financial regulation in the UK has such a poor track record it would be good to give the financial regulators a chance to retrieve their reputation.

The motion says “This Council calls on the Government to introduce a cap on the total lending rate that can be charged for providing credit”

I ask you to support the motion.”

COUNCILLOR CLIFTON GETS LISTED BUILDING STATUS FOR PAVILION IN OUR AREA OF SPECIAL LOCAL CHARACTER

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Councillor Clifton nominated the Edwardian tennis pavilion that sits on the triangle of land where The Ridgway joins Mayfield Road in our Ward for inclusion on the Sutton Local List. At the Sutton Council meeting on 9 May 2011 the pavilion was included in the list of buildings to be added to the Sutton Local List.

This is the only building in Sutton South Ward to be included on the Local List, though the Registry Office in Worcester Road is on the national list of Listed Buildings.

The building is the only one of the buildings put forward as additions during the consultation process to make it to the final list.  This was attributed to the fact that Councillor Clifton had put forward a carefully researched case, including adequate evidence.

The Sutton Local List is a list of buildings thought to be of importance to the comunity, though not of sufficient merit to be “Listed Buildings” for inclusion on the national list. The list thus includes local buildings of significance to the local community. Sutton Council has been consulting on additions to the Local List and, at a presentation to the Sutton South, Cheam and Belmont Local Committee on 27 January, it became evident that not one single building in Sutton South Ward was under consideration for inclusion on the local list. This led to Councillor Clifton proposing inclusion of the pavilion.

The inclusion of the pavilion on the list may be helpful in the preservation of the character of this area as an Area of Special Local Character (ASLC), and thus resisting any inappropriate development in the area, such as demolition of houses and erection of blocks of flats, which has been the trend in adjacent areas. At a Planning Appeal attended by Councillor Clifton last year he had to explain to the Inspector the importance of local people of the ASLC and why it should be taken into account in the planning decision.

Councillor Clifton said:

“I am delighted with this outcome. One of our key objectives, as local Councillors, is to preserve the character of the Area of Special Local Character at the east end of Sutton South Ward. We must resist the trend to knock down houses and build small blocks of flats, which has led to a shortage of family homes in many parts of Sutton South Ward, and half the children living in accommodatin with no access to a garden. This recognition of the importance of buildings such as the Edwardian tennis club to the special character of the area may be helpful to us in pursuing that objective.”

In proposing the pavilion, Councillor Clifton wrote: 

“It is an Edwardian tennis pavilion, built in 1908 by the local architect Percy Vere Windebank, on the triangle of land at the junction of Mayfield Road and The Ridgway, in South Sutton Ward. It is a relatively unaltered example of a small, Edwardian tennis club pavilion, though the windows have been altered in an unsympathetic manner.

The history of the building is interesting. Up to 1906 this area was lavender fields. Between 1906 and 1914 Windebank laid out the Highfields Estate, building what is now The Ridgway, Mayfield Road , Chalgrove Road and Hillcroome Road . The concept was an estate of large, expensive houses with large gardens, grouped around or close to a triangle of land on which there would be a lawn tennis and croquet club, for the benefit of the residents. In 2008 the Highfields Residents’ Association published a history of the estate, “Highfields 100”, to mark the centenary. A copy of this history, to which Councillor Clifton is listed as a contributor, is obtainable from Mr Keith Percy at 63 The Ridgway, SM2 5JX. The houses are of some architectural merit, as indicated in the history.

We believe the pavilion was built by 1908, as the Highfield Lawns tennis club was in existence by that year. On 22 August 1908 an advertisement for the first of the newly-built houses on the estate was published in the Surrey County Herald newspapers, and mentioned the private tennis club on the estate. Highfield Lawns Ltd. was established as a company by 1913 with the sole objective of owning the land in order to allow the tennis and croquet club to operate. Those who bought one of Windebank’s houses could buy shares in Highfield Lawns. The Articles of Association of the company provide, to this day, that if you own a share in the company you can only vote on its affairs if you also own property in the Highfields Estate.

Over the years the large gardens have been sold off for infill housing, mostly of a good quality. The area is designated an Area of Special Local Character (ASLC) and the Edwardian tennis pavilion is central to the character of the area. Were it to be proposed to demolish and re-build the pavilion any replacement would need to be a building of a similar character (not a modern building or a concrete slab) due to the ASLC designation. If the Local List is a list of buildings of some local significance, the pavilion should be on the list. This is based on criteria 3, a building of significant local interest.”

 

Councillors Clifton and Honour would welcome information on any famous people who have lived in Sutton South Ward, for consideration as to whether there should be a plaque erected on the property where they lived.

 

This is a picture of the clubhouse taken from the triangle in The Ridgway. A photograph taken in 1913 shows an almost identical scene.

 

PARKING AT THE EAST END OF THE WARD

Councillors Clifton and Honour have asked for the agenda for the next meeting of the Sutton South, Belmont and Cheam Local Committee, to be held on 26 May at St. Dunstan’s school in Cheam, to include discussion of the progress of consultation on parking controls in Belmont Ward. The Committee’s membership comprises the Councillors for Cheam, Belmont and Sutton South Wards – three Liberal Democrats and nine Conservatives.

This study has a long history but has only been mentioned at meetings of the Local Committee, since we were elected, in a paper presented to the Committee in January, when it was described as a study of parking “in the Belmont station area and roads around/near to the Royal Mardsen Hospital.” It has consequently been handled by Belmont Ward Councillors. However the area to be covered by the consultation in fact extends to the borders of Sutton South Ward.

Most of Sutton South Ward is already covered by parking controls. Since we joined the local committee we have:

– supported a consultation with residents at Westmoreland Drive on yellow lining to achieve better access, following a fire and fatality in which access for emergency vehicles may have been an issue

– supported a number of changes to the designation of parking bays, for example to provide for more parking in Cavendish Road for the residents of and visitors to Fiske Court, a sheltered housing complex.

There are nine roads at the east end of the Ward not covered by controls – Mayfield Road, The Ridgway, Chalgrove Road, Farm Road, Upland Road, Downside Road, Kayemoor Road, Willis Avenue and Prior Avenue. If the results of consultation in Belmont Ward lead to new parking controls that could displace parking into our Ward, we will want the Local Committee to consider funding  a consultation exercise in the Ward to cover the roads at the east end.

COUNCILLOR CLIFTON TAKES ON NEW RESPONSIBILITES

At the annual Council meeting on 23 May, the meeting at which the new Mayor is elected, the Council confirmed appointments to its committees for the next year.

Councillor Clifton, who is already a member of the Audit Committee and chairs the Sutton Joint Health and Safety Committee (which discusses health and safety at work issues with recognised trade unions), has taken on two important additional responsibilities, as a member of the Council’s Economic Development Advisory Group and its Planning Advisory Group.

He has transferred from the Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee (which Councillor Honour continues to be a member of) to the Sustainable Communities Scrutiny Committee, reflecting his strong interest in environmental matters.

He also represents the Council on a number of other committees, ranging from the Downlands Project Steering Group to the board of the Friends of Whitehall, appointments which are listed in the page on this site entitled “Richard’s Blog.”

Richard said “I hope these additional responsibilities are in recognition of a reputation I have gained during my first year as a Councillor for hard work, energy and a thoughtful approach to the many issues that confront us.”

UGLY COMPUTER BOXES – IS THERE ONE NEAR YOU ?

Residents have contacted us about the ugly computer boxes erected in our Ward, such as the one shown below. While there are many of these green computer boxes on our street corners, a new generation of much larger and more obtrusive boxes is now being installed.

A post elsewhere on this site deals with a specific problem of the box in Cedar Road.

We need these boxes to improve broadband speeds. But Openreach (a subsidiary of BT), who install them, do not need planning permission or to take any notice of the aesthetic and amenity aspects of the erection of the boxes. This is by Act of Parliament and the local Council is helpless.

We are collecting information. Is there a box near you ? Is it sensibly sited ? Let us know.

This box, in Cedar Road, is badly sited, right outside someone’s front window. A post elsewhere on this site deals with this particular problem.

You can see how this is right in front of the house.

This one in Cornwall Road (not in our Ward) has been placed in front of the house and right in the attractive hedgerow lovingly cultivated by the residents. It could as easily have been a few feet away round the corner and giving no offence.

Research by Councillor Clifton has shown that these are not isolated incidents and across London there is increasing concern at the lack of consultation and the poor decisions involved in siting these boxes. Further afield, there are examples of local campaigns in places as far apart as Brighton (see the Brighton Argus, 26 May) and Dundee (the Dundee Courier, April 14).

Openreach have “Permitted Development Rights” and, according to the Council’s Planning Department, “Permitted Development Rights” exist provided that the ground or base area does not exceed 1.5 square metres (with only a height restriction of being no more than 15 metres off the ground – if unattached to a building). This is set out under the Electronic Communications Code (Conditions and Restrictions) Regulations 2003 and Part 24 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development)(Amendment)(England) Order 2001. The only check by the Council is that there is no impediment such as buried cables and, if not, the Council has no power to stop the development.

Councillor Clifton said “Parliament, in granting these powers to bypass planning law, would have expected the company to behave responsibly in considering the impact on local residents.”

Openreach have disclosed to Councillor Clifton the full list of criteria used when siting boxes. This is printed below.

Councillor Clifton has told them that the criteria are defective in that nothing is said about not erecting boxes immediately outside a resident’s front door or window, and nothing is said about aesthetic considerations or fitting in to the streetscene and local ambience.

The criteria are:

“General Considerations

The following points serve as planning considerations when selecting a suitable location for the DSLAM cabinet.

  • The ideal position of the DSLAM cabinet is within 2m of Copper cabinet. Please ensure that there is 1m clearance either side of the DSLAM.
  • The maximum cable length from DSLAM cabinet to PCP is normally 50m (needed to maintain PCP CAL value).
  • The position of, and access to the DSLAM cabinet must accommodate installation by crane from a truck. It must also be feasible to make maintenance visits for an engineer (e.g. to check batteries), or change cards.
  • Situate in a safe and non-obstructive manner for the public, engineers and contractors.
  • Avoid kerbside locations if possible – reducing a traffic hazard.
  • Avoid places where restrictive waiting or working restrictions may apply.
  • Avoid causing obstruction or restricting road and pavement users’ line of sight.
  • Avoid locating where the cabinet can be used as an intermediate stepping-stone to someone wishing to climb over a high wall/fence.
  • Consider how to minimise the risk due to other services (e.g. overhead obstructions).
  • Proximity to schools, elderly, disabled and other vulnerable groups where a lifting operation would incur additional risk. .
  • Consider obstruction to maintenance of gardens and buildings, such as hedge cutting, fence preserving, etc. Please allow 100mm from cabinet to wall.
  • Safe dig prints and the use of Locator 9B can be used to avoid positioning of the cabinet above other services.
  • Health and Safety Guide (47) is a useful document
  • Where proposed DSLAM cabinets are located in flood plain areas, try to mitigate the risk of flooding where possible. The level of risk can be found on the Environment Agency website. Local, County councils and other utilities can be a useful source of info.
  • You need to take account of noise emissions and allow for this in quiet residential premises (aim for greater distances from bedrooms). Avoid locations where noise could reverberate or be directed towards premises (such as alleyways). Discuss individual cases if this cannot be achieved with the policy team. “

CONGRATULATIONS TO WILLIAM AND CATHERINE ON YOUR WEDDING DAY

We both celebrated the Royal wedding at the lunchtime party organised by the Highfields Residents’ Association, in the grounds of the Highfields Lawn Tennis Club, adjacent to our road. It was an enjoyable party to celebrate a wonderful event. The Association considered holding a street party but rightly concluded that everyone could be accommodated on the lawn in front of the Edwardian tennis club pavilion. We are still waiting to hear if the pavilion, which dates from 1908, will be included, as a building of local interest, on the Sutton Local List. It was Councillor Clifton who nominated the pavilion for inclusion on the list, and who played a major role in organising the last street party in this locality, for the Golden Jubilee in 2002. 

GOING GREEN TO SAVE THE SMALL BLUE



Residents are being urged to use their green-fingered skills to help save a tiny endangered butterfly.

The Small Blue is one of the UK’s rarest butterflies and in London is only established in a few locations, including in an area of Sutton.

As its name suggests, it is Britain’s smallest resident butterfly with a wing span that can be as little as 16mm. But numbers have plummeted in recent years due to the loss of chalk grassland habitats.

Now householders in Sutton South are being encouraged to save the Small Blue by growing kidney vetch, one of the main plants on which the butterflies feed and breed.

Kidney vetch only flourishes on poor nutrient, alkaline soils.

Cllr Heather Honour, one of the local ward councillors on Sutton Council, said: “We want local people to get involved and help save this beautiful butterfly. They can grow kidney vetch in their gardens or allotments, and we hope local landlords and businesses will also plant it on their land.

“The response from residents so far has been excellent, with a large number of people, children from the local primary school and several local organisations saying they want to help. Together we can help the Small Blue to thrive.”

The call to help protect the butterfly came as plans were announced to build
a small climbing frame for young children in the Devonshire Avenue Local Nature Area.

Environmental campaigners feared the climbing frame could pose a risk to the Small Blue, whose habitat is in the area.

Cllr Honour said: “There are currently no playgrounds anywhere else in the ward, which is an area where 50 per cent of homes do not have a back garden. Hopefully this is a solution which will help both the butterflies and our young people to flourish.”

Hendryk Jurk, biodiversity manager at Sutton Council, said: “Kidney vetch is a reasonably easy plant to grow and can be cultivated in people’s back gardens, though it does need to be properly maintained.”

Residents will be able to learn more about the butterfly and growing kidney vetch at an event at the site on June 25.

To get involved contact Cllr Honour at heather.honour@sutton.gov.uk

Watch this website for details of the Sutton South Butterfly Watch Devonshire Avenue Nature Area  June 25th 12 noon



DEMOGRAPHIC TIMEBOMB

 

Current funding on social care will be under pressure as the older population of  Sutton increases.  This was the message last night, Monday 7th March, from Councillor Heather Honour speaking at the Council debate on the budget.

She said that it was good news that people were living longer.  But over the next 20 years the population of those over 65 years would grow by 50 per cent, that the number of people over 90 would treble and the number of people with learning disability of working age would grow by 30 per cent.

They would need support from the state and from their families in managing their personal care and everyday living, social care in other words.

“This is relevant to us today in our debate on a budget where Eric Pickles has reduced our formula grant by 13.3 per cent.  I have been told that were it not for the additional £2billion allocated by the government for social care across the country, the reduction in our grant would have been 17 per cent.  Set this against the research published by the Dilnot Commission on Future Funding of Care and Support that carers were willing to contribute an extra 13 per cent of their time to care for their loved ones but the need for care would grow by 55 per cent.”

She said” As we go forward we will need to preserve and develop the services that keep us fit and healthy, prevention as it is called.  An example is the chair based exercise class organised by Age Concern at Granfers Hall.  This was a lifeline for my late mother giving her confidence to go out and the opportunity to meet people in a similar situation to her”.

The personalisation agenda, giving everyone receiving social care an individual budget, would be better value as individuals chose the services that suit them.  But the Council would need to make  sure that people had easy access to the information they needed.  What’s more the council would need to make sure that the services were out there in the community.  Sutton’s partnership approach would be invaluable whether it is with the voluntary sector or the private sector.

SUTTON TORIES ARE “NEW LUDDITES” CLAIMS COUNCILLOR CLIFTON

 Sutton’s Tories are “the new Luddites”, opposing new technology and innovation that will save Sutton residents millions of pounds. This was the charge made by Councillor Richard Clifton at the Sutton Council meeting on 7 March.

The Tories oppose a plan to close four offices the Council does not need, a reduction in office space achieved by moving staff to a more efficient way of working that involves “hot desking” and the use of new technology.

Councillor Clifton – who works for an organisation that that made this move and himself “hot desks” – claims that the new system of office organisation saves millions of pounds as it reduces the need for office space, enables you to close unwanted office buildings, and is a more efficient way of working. “Hot desking” involves using new technology (remote access email, mobile phones, Blackberries etc) so that people can work remotely, from home or while “out and about” on Council business, part of the time. They do not have their own desk in the office but use any desk that is free on the days they need to go to the office.

This innovation, which many businesses have implemented to cut costs, will enable the Council to close offices and save money. Some up-front costs are involved to invest in the technology and re-organise the office so people can “hot desk”. But Councillor Clifton argues that in the long run it saves millions of pounds, from reduced need for buildings and because it is a more efficient way of working.

An “Outline Business Case” showed a minimum saving of at least a quarter of a million pounds per year, but Councillor Clifton told the Council meeting that his own experience of more flexible ways of working suggests the savings are under-estimated and there are huge savings to be made in the long term.

Underlying this dispute is a more fundamental issue about social change in Britain. Councillor Clifton pointed out that new technology that enables people to work remotely is changing the way we work. The traditional model of office work, where all the work is done between 9 and 5 in a building that people commute for hours to reach, is disappearing. This is due to a combination of new technology and changing social attitudes as people seek the efficiencies and flexibility in work patterns that the new technology makes possible.

“The Tories in Sutton are totally out of touch with the realities of modern industrial organisation,”

said Councillor Clifton. “They would shackle us to a disappearing model of the organisation of work that would force us to keep open buildings we do not need, reduce staff efficiency, and cost us a packet of money. They are the new Luddites.”

[NOTE: the Conservative Councillors opposed further work on the project, even though the business case showed, at this point, savings. Later work suggested uncertainty about the figures and, in accordance with our commitment to evidence-based policies, the project was ultimately dropped. ]

ACTION BY LIBERAL DEMOCRAT COUNCILLORS TO GET NEW TREES PLANTED IN COPSE HILL

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[ Councillor Clifton examines the tree planted outside 22 Copse Hill ]

When we were first elected in May 2010, one of our first pieces of casework concerned residents in Copse Hill who pointed out to us that two street trees – outside numbers 6 and 22 – had been lost as a result of road traffic accidents. In each case a car had collided with the tree and this had led to the tree being lost. One could see the ugly patch of brown earth left in the grass verge, where the tree had once been. Further investigation revealed that there had been a similar incident in Effingham Close leading to the loss of a tree.

Councillor Clifton persuaded Sutton’s chief arborculturalist, Ben Morris, to visit Copse Hill with him. It has taken a little while but in January new trees were planted to replace those lost in Copse Hill, in the exact same places as the trees that were lost, while two new trees have been planted outside 18 and 34 Efingham Close.

Councillor Clifton has appealed to residents of the roads to ensure the young trees are watered in dry weather.

While assisting residents in Copse Hill, our attention was drawn to the potential problem of the flooding of the road in periods of very heavy rain, as the water flows down Effingham Close to the bottom of the hill. After discussion with engineers in the Highways Department, action was taken to install a new drain gully at the foot of the hill. We hope this has resolved the problem of the flow of water down the hill. There remains a more minor problem with the puddles outside numbers 2 to 10 Copse Hill. Gerry McLaughlin of the Highways Department is shown here marking out changes to the gulleys. There will be a programme of cleaning out the soakaways over the summer and it is hoped that this problem is resolved.

Councillor Clifton visits Copse Hill for a discussion with Gerry McLaughlin.