RICHARD’S BLOG

 

HERE ARE SOME OF THE THINGS I HAVE BEEN DOING IN THE MOST RECENT PAST AS YOUR COUNCILLOR. I REGARD THIS BLOG AS A WAY OF REPORTING BACK.

I am now into my fourteenth year as a local Councillor – where do the years go? I was first elected in 2010, having contested Sutton South Ward unsuccessfully in 2006. I was re-elected in 2014 and then again in 2018 and 2022. I take some pride in this. The fact that I lost in 2006 shows defeat is possible. Having an election every four years, if you are the sitting Ward Councillor, is like having a test where your residents can either say you are doing a good job or throw you out. So far I have passed the test each time.

I spend a significant proportion of every day dealing with some aspect of my responsibilities as a Councillor, in particular local casework. My principal contribution to Sutton’s civic administration, now, is that I chair the Planning Committee.

This is my latest responsibility. Over my years as a Councillor I have had a succession of jobs. For the two years to May 2016 I was Chair of the Planning Committee and lead member on human resources – which carried with it chairing the Council and Employees’ Joint Committee and the health and safety committee. I also sat on the important Strategy and Resources Committee. On 23 May 2016 I was elected Mayor and gave up these responsibilities to concentrate on Mayoral duties. I stood down as Mayor on 22 May 2017, a date etched on my memory as the following day my eldest daughter, Jane, was admitted to St Christopher’s hospice in Sydenham where she died shortly afterwards of a brain tumour.

Following my re-election in May 2018 I took up the post of Chair of the Audit and Governance Committee, a new committee formed by the merger of the audit committee and the standards committee. I was yet again appointed Chair of the Council and Employees Joint Committee and the Health and Safety committee. In May 2019 I stood down as Chair of the Audit and Governance Committee. I continued to chair the Council and Employees Joint Committee and represent the Council on the Greater London Employment Forum, which discusses employment matters in London with recognised trade unions. I was again appointed to the Planning Committee, which I used to chair, and the Housing, Economy and Business Committee, of which I was once vice-chair. After the election in 2022 I again took up the role as Chair of the Planning Committee, retaining my duties as chair of the Council and Employees Joint Committee (which has now absorbed the duties of the separate health and safety committee) and leader of the Liberal Democrat delegation to the Greater London Employment Forum.

In May 2023 there were further changes in committee membership and I am now, in addition to being Chair of Planning Committee, a member of the Licensing Committee and a member of the Housing, Economy and Business Committee. This takes important decisions on business regeneration and on housing policy.

Below are some highlights of my work, mixed in with a bit of personal information. But do have a look at the page “Who are we?” for some biographical information on who I am and what I stand for.

April 2024.  The 3rd of April was a busy day in relation to my responsibilities as chair of Planning Committee. In the morning I attended a public hearing on an appeal against a decision we took to turn down an application for a substantial development on Green Belt land, based on an argument that this was a care home. I dislike a system whereby the remote Planning Inspectorate in Bristol can overturn local democratic decisions. Our officers gave a good account of themselves. We await the outcome. That evening Planning Committee considered three interesting applications. The most significant decisions were to endorse a tree preservation order to protect a beautiful tree in Carshalton from being chopped down and to turn down an application to re-develop the pharmacy building in Carshalton. I thought the design of the proposed building unacceptable. The big event for me so far this month is that on 11 April I went to The Barbican to hear Alison Balsom play Wynton Marsalis’s trumpet concerto. Wynton was in the audience. It was fabulous – but I sometimes reflect that hearing these great musicians makes me consider giving up my own pathetic efforts to play the trumpet.

March 2024. The month began with the Council meeting on 4 March where we adopted the budget for the next year. With so many Councils going bust or in dire straits, we are surviving, but it is difficult and we are being driven back to asking what we can afford above the statutory minima. Trish and I both spoke – Trish on the audit and governance function (she chairs the Audit and Governance Committee) and I on homelessness. This is a particular interest due to the work history of my daughter Ellie, and because as chair of Planning Committee I have a role in increasing the supply of affordable housing.

The following day I attended the first day of a public enquiry into a decision of the Planning Committee to reject an application for a major development on Green Belt at Woodcote Grove. I have taken a great dislike to these applicants and I hope the decision goes the right way. I learned later that the applicants, clearly recognising that they were losing the argument, tried to get the Inspector removed. The hearing was then suspended till September. What a farce!  The day after, 6 March, Planning Committee met.

On Friday 8th Gloria travelled to Armagh to visit the Observatory there with a group from the Scientific Instruments Society, an international society of which she is President. I stayed home to play (trumpet) in a concert at Redhill on the Saturday. On the 13th I attended a meeting of the Housing, Economy and Business Committee where we considered a report on the work of Sutton Housing Partnership, meeting their Board members. On the 20th I attended a meeting of the Mitcham Common Conservators.

The resignation of Ruth Dombey as Leader of the Council has been announced. She has been a very capable and inspiring leader. She has excellent judgement and a wonderful ability to put our policies into words all can understand. She will be missed. Councillor Lewis is an excellent successor and will grow into the job.

February 2024. A great start to the month with the “Safari Supper” organised by my local residents’ association. Twenty one couples took part. You cook one course and go to other people’s houses for the other courses. A great idea. On the 7th there was a meeting of Planning Committee, unusually and by accident a “themed” meeting in that both applications we considered related to educational facilities for children with special educational needs. We passed both applications. The following day our local committee met, by video. I do not think a video meeting is a good idea for this type of committee. On 10 February Gloria and I attended the London Mayors’ Association annual dinner, at the Royal Horseguards hotel in London. An excellent meal. But not a cheap event so we may not get there next year.

Gloria and myself at the LMA dinner

On 20 February the three Councillors attended a review meeting where architects “peer reviewed” proposals for the conversion of Quadrant House from being an office block to being flats. The logic is unassailable – there is a housing crisis but little demand for office space in an era when so many work from home. But I was not keen on some aspects of these proposals.

On 24 February Trish and I attended an event organised by the Ukranian community in our Ward to note with sadness the second anniversary of the Russian invasion. On the 25th I played cornet for the Crystal Palace Brass Band Progress Band in a music contest in Bromley, where we played well and won a cup. One piece we played was the famous Shostakovitch Waltz.

January 2024. A busy start to the year, though the monthly meeting of Planning Committee which is always on the first Wednesday of each month was cancelled due to lack of pressing business. The 17th was a busy day with a meeting at the Devonshire Avenue Nature Area with Council officers and a local resident to discuss the setting up of a “Friends of Devonshire Avenue Nature Area” group. That evening there was a meeting of the Housing, Economy and Business Committee which discussed important proposals to get some local projects back on track after they had been disrupted by the private sector contractors leading them going bust. We also discussed the rental charges for social housing in the borough. The following evening there was a meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee which I attended as a substitute for Councillor McCoy who is unwell. This discussed a disgraceful event where a Councillor (Councillor Mattey) had been found to have breached the Council’s Code of Conduct in relation to some comments regarding Holocaust Memorial Day events but he had refused to apologise for the breach.

On the 19th Gloria and I went swimming at the Westcroft baths, something we do every week to keep fit. As old age pensioners, both in our seventies, we have free swimming. I wonder how long this concession can be retained in the light of the financial problems that all local Councils are now having to cope with.

On the 19th I was part of a Licensing Sub-Committee considering a licence application for “FeastyFest” in Cheam next summer. We granted the licence. On 26 January I went to the Holocaust Memorial Day event in Sutton library – we remembered the Holocaust and reflected on later events that had led to refugees, including Ukraine, Afghanistan. Nothing was said about Gaza. On the 29th there was a full Council meeting at which, for once, I did not make a speech.

December 2023. A further meeting of Planning Committee, not as dramatic or important as the one we held last Thursday to discuss the future of the B and Q site. Council activities tend to ease off as it gets towards Christmas and my time is increasingly occupied with Christmas carol playing. I played second trumpet for the Phoenix Concert Band on 8 December, a free concert at Christchurch in Christchurch Park with a collection for the Mayor of Sutton’s charities. We collected £442, The following day six of us raised £300 for the charity appeal playing Christmas carols at the Straw cafe in Manor Park. On 13 December all three Councillors went to the Hello Christmas party at Christchurch. As ever, Trish led the dancing.

On 16 December I organised a group to play Christmas carols in the St Nicholas shopping Centre. A collection for the Mayor’s charity fund raised £230. Seventeen musicians turned up including trumpets, flutes, clarinets, saxophones, a bass clarinet, a tuba, an electric bass. I am fifth from the left in the photo. So my musician friends raised almost £1 000 for the Mayor’s charity appeal over the Christmas period.

November 2023. The month began with Planning Committee. Just two planning applications to consider, both in Wallington. Sensible decisions were reached but I was disappointed at the behaviour of a Conservative member and had to remind him that the committee treats those who come to speak to us on these applications with courtesy. On the 3rd I attended the tea for “retired folk” organised my local residents’ association – the Highfield Residents’ Association. Although I am 77 years old, am I really “retired” ? I am pretty busy, as readers of this blog will realise. On the 4th Gloria and I went to watch the firework display in Ruskin Park, Carshalton. It was very good. The following day I played cornet for the Crystal Palace Brass Band at a street market in Norwood next to South Norwood cemetery, combining it with a visit to the grave of my daughter Jane, who died of a brain tumour in 2017, in the cemetery. This is her tombstone.

On the 9th I travelled to Reading to have a medical examination by the UK Biobank. This is a research facility. The results of their medical examination go into their research data base. I get no feedback on the results unless I have a serious medical problem that is detected in which case they tell my doctor – not me. On the 12th I played trumpet as part of the Phoenix Concert Band at the Remembrance Day event in Belmont. This was a good event. On the 21st I attended the AGM of Highfield Lawns Ltd., the only company of which I am a Director. The aim of the company is to ensure the open space it owns opposite my house remains a tennis club. On the 28th. I attended a meeting of the Housing, Economy and Building Committee where the sobering news was that there is a big spike in homelessness with 970 Sutton families homeless and in bed and breakfast accommodation that night. This statistic was referred to (by me) two days later when Planning Committee met under my chairmanship and approved development plans for the soon to be redundant B and Q store site, which will provide 337 affordable homes where families from the housing register, in desperate circumstances, will be housed – but not before 2028.

October 2023. Since the pandemic started and family visiting became difficult my family (my two brothers, my sister and other family members) have had a family ZOOM meeting on the first Monday of every third month. We held this on 2 October and I found my niece Francis is in the process of moving from Switzerland to Scotland. Council business got underway on the 3rd with Planning Committee. Three very different applications – a new drive-through KFC in Beddington agreed with extra conditions, an unusual house in Carshalton refused, a block of flats in Mulgrave Road agreed. On the 4th and 5th I took part in the traffic survey my local residents’ association undertakes periodically to see if traffic in the area is increasing or decreasing. It seems it is increasing. On the 4th. the local committee met and some funding was agreed to restore the notice boards at the Devonshire Avenue Nature Area. On Sunday 8 September I played trumpet for the Allegra Concert Band on the lovely Victorian bandstand at Ruskin Park in Herne Hill. It was a very warm day for October. The programme included arrangements of pieces by Mozart, Bach, Shostakovitch, the Blues Brothers and Stevie Wonder. Plus the music from West Side Story and La La Land. What a pity we do not have a bandstand in Sutton. My eight year old grandson came to listen. He has just started learning the trombone.

On 11 October the police consultative panel met – I have posted a report on this on the main site and the page relating to the local police. On 18 October the three Councillors met officers in the Devonshire Avenue Nature Area to discuss improvements to the signage. On 19 October we attended a “Community Walkabout” at Sutton Court, and then one at Beauclere House, to discuss with residents action needed in relation to the maintenance of the building. On 20 October Trish and I attended a meeting of the Board of Sutton South Hello, now re-named the Hello Club. The organisation is thriving. On 30 October there was a meeting of the Council at which we passed a motion expressing concern at the housing crisis. There was a Conservative motion supposedly on “regeneration” that I did not care for as it was taking unfair pot shots at Council officers, and I was pleased with the reaction to my speech criticising it. It was defeated.

September 2023. Council business is clicking back into gear after the August break. On 6 September we had Planning Committee. I had to leave the committee for one of our discussions as I was not held to be able to approach it with an open mind. We did not complete our agenda, which is something I hate as it means people have been waiting all evening for the final item and it is not reached. On 12 September we had the Housing, Economy and Business Committee, where a major issue was our communications strategy on planning applications. On 14 September I paid my first visit for a long time to the “dump” – the recycling centre in the Kimpton estate. I thought the online system for booking a slot quite smooth. On 17 September I took part in the annual “inspection” of Mitcham Common with the Mayors and/or Deputy Mayors of Croydon, Sutton and Merton. The 18th of September is my birthday. Somehow being 77 seems a lot older than being 76. On 21 September I attended a “walkabout” at Kingslee Court and Thorn Court in Worcester Road organised by Sutton Housing Partnership (SHP). These events are organised to allow residents to raise issues and concerns with the senior management of SHP. The month ended on a high with the Sutton South LibDem team finishing third in the Mayor’s quiz on the final Saturday of the month.

August 2023. On 1 August Gloria and I hosted the monthly tea for “retired folk” organised by my local residents’ association. Eleven people came. The following day there was the monthly meeting of the Planning Committee. The meeting in July was cancelled due to lack of business. Tonight we had a very full agenda and it was a struggle to get through it. There were two applications relating to the renewal of buildings in local schools. On 6 August we held a family picnic at the memorial bench we have paid for, and which was recently installed, remembering our daughter Jane who died of a brain tumour. This is in Windmill Gardens in Brixton. Jane was a volunteer at the windmill. Here is a photo of my three grandchildren sitting on the memorial bench.

August is usually a quiet month for Council business with no committee meetings, except Planning Committee. I seem however, at the moment, to have a very full agenda of casework including some issues that are difficult and disturbing. The most difficult, now thankfully resolved, involved a young mother, a drug abuser, whose anti-social behaviour was deeply distressing to neighbours and local residents. Some of the situations you have to deal with as a Councillor can leave you distressed yourself, though I take satisfaction from the gratitude expressed by the neighbours when the problem was sorted.

July 2023. Unexpectedly, Planning Committee at the start of the month was cancelled due to lack of business. Instead we had a very good training session. I am worried that a wave of applications to consider is about to hit the committee. On the 7th we held a meeting of the Local Committee where I was able to raise suggestions about improvements to the Devonshire Avenue Nature Area such as introducing wood chip paths. This would require funding, however. On the 19th we held an interesting meeting with the police at the Friends’ Meeting House, our quarterly police panel. The crime statistics always give cause for concern but our Ward remains a low crime area by the standards of outer London.

I took a day off from Council business on 12 July when Gloria and I had tickets for Wimbledon. We had seats close to where the players enter and leave the court (number one court). Unfortunately I did not have a ball with me to get Medvedev to sign.

DUE TO SOME WEBSITE CAPACITY PROBLEMS I HAVE CURRENTLY LOST THE EARLIER MONTH BY MONTH RECORD OF MY ACTIVITIES – I THINK IT DOUBTFUL NOW THAT WE CAN FIX THE PROBLEM

Richard leads the throng in song at the Sutton South Hello party for the Queen, 15 June

Richard leads the throng in song at the Sutton South Hello party for the Queen, 15 June 2016

One thought on “RICHARD’S BLOG

  1. […] Sutton South Hello! Find out about a pioneering local initiative to combat loneliness in Sutton […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *