More Lib Dem Maths – how many times does £28 million go into a £12 million Refurbishment?

“£28 million invested in St Helier thanks to Lib Dem Council” that’s what the headline says and, with the affection that our local hospital is held, it is a potential tick in the box – as long as you read below the headline and then look at the real background.

The London Cancer Hub is a great and creditable project and it was first used politically by the Liberal Democrat Council as a rationale for siting a new secondary school.  That the alternative site would be damaging to the electoral hopes of Ruth Dombey, Leader of the Lib Dems and that an Independent assessment questioned the adequacy of the site from a size perspective were outweighed by the grandeur and potential of the Cancer Hub.  So the London Borough of Sutton agreed to spend £8 million (+ costs) to acquire the proposed 1.6 acres of land.  Additional costs to the project were incurred because the school will open in September 2018 in temporary accommodation as the new buildings will not be ready until September 2019!

No mention or political capital was made of this acquisition but then with two more tranches of land purchased in 2017 and 2018, for a cumulative £28.1 million, the claim for credit starts – photo opportunities for Sir Vince Cable, Tom Brake, Ruth Dombey, Jayne McCoy together with the well paid Chief Executive of Sutton, Niall Bolger.  Quite why a “neutral” such as Mr Bolger was party to a Lib Dem promotion was never clarified nor how the cumulative borrowing of some £36 million by the good people of Sutton was cause for a political points scorer.

The latest tranche of land was acquired, according to Sutton’s own press release, “to host a series of state of the art academic and commercial buildings” – the same release goes on to say that “the £1 billion London Cancer Hub project will shortly be seeking commercial partners to begin developing buildings on the new land.” Once more, Sutton Council are taking commercial risks with our money!

But, to their credit we have a Lib Dem Council acquiring land from a supporting partner of the London Cancer Hub, Epsom St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust and insisting that they spend the money – all £28.1 million – on St Helier Hospital.  That is quite a merry-go-round of public money!

But we also have to be concerned that someone is being economical with the facts because there is a Press Release from the Epsom St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust dated 14 Jul 2017

https://www.epsom-sthelier.nhs.uk/news-and-events/st-helier-hospitals-12-million-facelift-begins–2069

When you next hear of a bit of bragging of how a politician has spent your money or intends to spend your money, stop and think – claiming credit for a £28.1 contribution to a £12 million project!?  Priceless.

 

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If you had to ask, and don’t live in Beddington North, do you really care?

Recently on Facebook, there was a piece about the latest delivery from Liberal Democrats on the west side of the Borough and one of the major party candidates, contesting Beddington North, observed that the same leaflets had been delivered to him in Wallington South.

It struck me at the time that of course he was concerned with what happened local to him, in the Ward where he lives, but was he as concerned about Beddington North?

Each of the major parties has two out of their three candidates for Beddington North recruited from outside the Ward – are they more passionate about where they live and the political perspective they promote than what happens to us in Beddington North?

This was brought home to me this morning by a message from Jillian Green who is standing as an Independent candidate on May 3rd.  Jillian is a long term resident on the High View estate and has been campaigning for local residents on the proposed Sheen Way Playing Fields development since the Council first put their plans in the public domain.

She tells me that both Labour and Conservative parties are now canvassing the estate with promises to stop the building on Sheen Way – are these are the same Conservatives who abstained on the vote for the Local Plan that included the Sheen Way development?

Last week, I was out canvassing myself and I saw local Liberal Democrat Councillor Nighat Piracha out with a young activist – nothing remarkable about that, except after Ms Piracha had spent 4 years “representing” the Ward, they were having to use a map to find the right roads/addresses of target voters.

We have the 18 – 30’s being cynically targeted by the Liberal Democrats on National issues, we have the Conservative and Labour Groups picking up on genuine local concerns and making promises which, like so many in the past, will fade even before June.

Come what may, we local Independents will still be living alongside you all after the election.

But on May 4th it will be a lot better if we are working for you as Councillors.

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What is Council Housing? Some clarity is required or are we being misled?

On 7th March, I wrote a blog http://sutton-independent-residents.london/unusual-priorities/ about the placement of an expensive Perspex sign on the hoardings around the Richmond Green development and questioned the priorities of the Council when the road/footpaths around the same development were being destroyed.

I pointed out in that piece that there was a web link on the sign referring people to sutton.gov.uk/newcouncilhousing and reflected that the previous September, Councillor Jayne McCoy, in Full Council, had been unable to indicate what proportion of the houses would be part owned and what proportion council rented.

Other Facebook users had said that similar signs were put up at the Fellowes Road site and the Ludlow site and had asked whether these were all Council Houses.  I said I didn’t know but would ask.  Today, I received the reply:

Dear Mr Foster

I acknowledge your request for information dated 9th March 2018 concerning Richmond Green.

Request: In reference to planning Application No: D2016/73695 – 23-50 Richmond Green – Demolition of 28 existing bungalows and construction of 21 new 2 and 3 bedroom dwelling houses, this build is currently in progress. Recently a large poster was put up on the hoarding surrounding the site that had stated “New Homes for Local People” and a website reference: sutton.gov.uk/newcouncilhousing.

Please can you confirm what proportion of the 21 houses will be council rented properties and what proportion will be marketed under joint ownership with, for example, a Housing Association?

Response:  I am unable to provide at this stage the tenure split on Richmond Green because this is still being determined.

This was from the Head of Housing Enabling and Development – I still cannot understand who would authorise a business plan that involved an expenditure of £7+ million and have no concept of the end game – but that is not the object of this piece.

Council housing and tenancy types are simply explained on the Government website https://www.gov.uk/council-housing/types-of-tenancy.

Whilst I have no doubt that a proportion of the housing built in these three developments will be Council Housing, to create the grandiose impression that they have with their headlines and expensive posters, the current administration is creating an illusion – a confusing one for those in need and an expensive one for Sutton Council Taxpayers.

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You know – they are all going to have to talk to us in future!

Well today Tom Brake announces that Sutton are re-thinking their strategy on the Charles Cryer Theatre – the sort of news that someone thinks will make up for all the previous nonsense that we have been fed about “Commercial Rents”.

What has happened is that the leadership has finally realised that a Civic Council is supposed to listen to the electorate – the people they are supposed to represent.  The recent apologist document about the Incinerator that has been widely shared on Facebook is another indicator of this dawning realisation that they have relied on their organisation, the election machinery and bombardment of the electorate with their own biased perspectives rather than talking to people on the ground.

And anyone wondering just how insidious that election machinery is, should read the small print on the bottom of a typical Focus leaflet.  The following came from Sutton North and a self-congratulatory editorial about the recent library improvements.

The Liberal Democrats and their elected representatives may use the information you’ve given to contact you. By providing your data to us, you are consenting to us making contact with you in the future by mail, email, telephone, text, website and apps, even though you may be registered with the Telephone Preference Service. You can always opt out of communications at any time by contacting us or visiting www.libdems.org.uk/optout. For more information go to www.libdems.org.uk/privacy.

Fortunately, forthcoming changes in Data Protection under GPDR  mean this assumptive consent will no longer be adequate – sadly for us, the new rules don’t come in until 25th May 2018 so you may still get an unwanted piece of literature.

From then on, you will have to positively consent to the use of your data and furthermore, if you do not consent, it will no longer be enough to delete you off their database, they can be required to effectively erase the history of contact.

I expect that the London Borough of Sutton has a complete implementation plan in place – yes, even if you are on the lists for Garden Waste, they will have to ask for your consent to write to you.

But at least when the next election comes round, if you once emailed Tom Brake about a constituency issue, you won’t have to read some piece of guff from his Lib Dem colleagues!

Politicians will all have to listen – that will make a change!

Promises, Promises

We have seen the publication of manifestos from both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party and it is worth understanding the definition of the word before everybody gets too excited!

A manifesto is defined as a public declaration of policy and aims, especially one issued before an election by a political party or candidate.

So, they are not promises, only aims – now read the line in the Labour document “However, we recognise that only the election of a Labour Government committed to the radical policies of its 2017 General Election Manifesto will enable s to fully deliver all the change that Sutton residents aspire to.”  That is one hell of a get out clause!

Then there is the terminology – “we demand more Borough school places for our children” – that is not a statement of policy, it is the strident tone of a placard waving protester.

They also seem to have referred to the David Cameron book of cock-ups – they are going to “negotiate an end to the incinerator contract and put a proposal to end the contract to residents via a referendum!

Wherever you look in the 30 pages – a 10% levy on developers is hardly going to make Sutton the go to borough for house builders – there are more holes than Granny’s colander!  There is a certain amount of cutting and pasting from their 2014 effort “With you, for you” but at just 16 pages, that one was at least an easier read.

As for the Liberal Democrat effort, it lurches from a profound sense of entitlement to what one can only hope is unintentional irony.

Constant reference to “our” in their plans – our Sutton Town Centre Masterplan, our new school in Belmont, our council-owned company – they won’t acknowledge that the only collective “we” are the residents. Councillors of whatever persuasion are there to serve the residents – that’s us.

The irony? Having granted retrospective Planning Permission for the destruction of trees and nesting habitats for the convenience of their SDEN pipelines, they are going to “Support tree-planting schemes with the aim of achieving over 2,000 new trees across the borough”. If that was not ironic enough for you they will “Deliver one of the largest London Parkland areas in Beddington”. Just don’t forget your gas masks when you visit!

For a party of Government, the Conservatives seem a bit slow off the mark with their agenda although they were first in with the voting bribe of £10 refund on your Council Tax if your bin isn’t collected – the fact that they have promised that Veolia will pay it, not them, and in knowledge that the reporting system that the incumbent Lib Dems has in place it not working,  tends to put this into “Promises, promises.”

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Are they deliberately making life difficult on Richmond Green?

When I stood up at the second planning meeting about Richmond Green, I thought that they may review the position as the London Borough of Sutton  had applied to themselves for Planning Permission using the incorrect documentation.

When I took the matter forward to the Local Government Ombudsman I brought their attention to the fact that the Flood Prevention Plan presented to the Committee was prefaced with the warning that the following report should not be used to support a planning application.

The London Borough of Sutton defended themselves against my deposition with a legal opinion that they expressly forbade the Ombudsman to share with me.  The Ombudsman found in favour of the London Borough of Sutton but in spite of Freedom of Information requests I am still not aware how they managed to wriggle out of their responsibilities.

But of course, there were conditions applied to the planning permission but those have been persistently ignored – for example condition 18 that specifically demands the protection of the verges on the green to the South side of Richmond Green.  When these were pointed out – there were platitudes about re-instatement.  No effort at protection and you can see from the photographs a typical delivery and the damage caused.

As if to rub the residents’ noses in it, next to the main site entrance a sign has been erected asking people not to drive on the verge and it isn’t even the one they are contracted to protect!  You see, everyone seems to forget that people live here – they walk their children to school – they walk their dogs.  The building site is supposed to be behind the hoardings but instead they are destroying the road – currently deemed a footpath – the verges and the lives of residents.

Within the last 10 days, I wrote an email to the Director responsible with copies to the Project Director of the contractors and the Chief Executive of the London Borough of Sutton.  At the time, I pointed out continuing contraventions of planning conditions as well as security factors which included the fact that one of the security bollards was broken meaning that vehicular access was possible to Richmond  Green.

That remains unrepaired and around 10 metres away is green heras fencing leaning unsecured against a hedge.  It still has the warning “Danger of Death” and given the collective weight of these panels and the Easter holidays with children playing – it is dangerously prophetic.

But the final irony is reserved for that Flood Prevention Plan – in spite of everything, before the London Borough of Sutton entered their defence to the Local Government Ombudsman, a new Plan was submitted.  This involved the creation of a “Balancing Pond” on the green south of Richmond Green to route surface water from the new development via a hydrobrake directly into the Wandle.  The problem is that what they have created is a flood creation plan – amply illustrated during its current construction phase where without any connection to the drainage of surface water from the site, after an averagely showery day in South London, she is filling up nicely.

Where the blame is apportioned, I have to leave to the local people – I know what I think and it is one of the reasons I have stuck my neck out to represent this ward because we residents do not have full representation.  One Councillor, however noisy, is hard pressed against the apathy of the others – three of us have a chance!

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