Unusual Priorities

 

Yesterday afternoon on the hoarding around the Richmond Green development, the moderately sized artist’s impression of the proposed houses was replaced by a huge Perspex poster with a similar image but boasting of “building new homes for local people” pointing to a web address of sutton.gov.uk/newcouncilhousing .

On 11th September at a Full Council Meeting, I asked Councillor Jayne McCoy, Chair of the Housing Economic & Business Committee:

“It has been stated that some of the properties will be for affordable rent and some may be intermediate housing which is defined as homes for rent or for sale at a cost below market levels, this can include shared ownership housing where the occupier only purchases up to 35% of the equity and pays rent on the remainder or where the occupier pays an intermediate rent which is less than a market rent.  All fall within the definition of affordable housing.

What proportion will be shared ownership and will land value be taken into account when calculating “market” levels?”

In spite of the £7+ million  cost of the development, Ms McCoy was unable to provide an answer to that question especially disappointing given that the development required the demolition of 28 fully rented council properties but they have clearly.

This poster clearly clarifies the position – but I will ask!

However, if it is the case, why the expenditure on an expensive, oversized poster to advertise the fact.  I could understand if this was a developer trying to market the houses but these aren’t for sale, are they?

In an environment where the London Borough of Sutton Planning Department has consistently declined to enforce planning conditions and we have a pleasant riverside meadow that local residents have seen turned into a quagmire and roadway   s/footpaths destroyed by heavy lorries.

Consider – every HGV that has chewed Richmond Green to pieces has travelled the length of Richmond Road and the damage will be mirrored on that carriageway.

The London Borough of Sutton cannot protect the environment for local residents but it can spend enormous amounts of money promoting itself – if there an election soon?

Residents near the Ludlow site and Fellowes Road can expect the same soon!

#LOCALANDVOCAL #INDEPENDENTSDAY3RDMAY

 

 

It seems that it’s all about the money!

Last weekend, I had a business trip to Lyon in France where I was meeting a Belgian businessman who had served as an MP for the Flemish Parliament.

We briefly touched on Brexit but what he said next resonated with me – “the big problem we have is that European MP’s are paid €6,000 net per month, with taxes and social security, it would cost an employer in Belgium €250,000 a year to deliver that pay.”  He continued “What happens is that politicians therefore have to protect their pay because nobody else could afford to pay them and they give up their principles to follow the party line.”

I then thought back to the Full Council meeting recently where I asked questions about the status of Richmond Green and noted that there was absolutely no contribution to discussions from the majority of Liberal Democrat Councillors – so much so that, with the only questions posed by Conservative and Independent Councillors, the meeting looked adversarial when actually all that was being discussed were the concerns of residents.

Why would you be quiet? Well 23 of the Councillors in attendance that evening received allowances in excess of £19,000 per annum for their part time “service” when a full time Healthcare Assistant at St Helier is paid £18,957 – is that fair? Is it value for money?

Per capita of population, our Councillors receive some of the highest remuneration – because that is what it is, taxable pay – of any of the local Boroughs and when, at a recent Full Council meeting, it was suggested the current allowances were frozen to put something back in the pot for the Charles Cryer Theatre, the idea was rejected.

We can change the political balance on May 3rd and I for one would encourage those serving the local residents to perhaps forgo a proportion of their allowances – after all, the Liberal Democrats generously give 10% of their allowances to………the Liberal Democrats, to pay for the leaflets that tumble through your letterbox. Perhaps there is a more deserving cause!

 

#INDEPENDENTSDAY3RDMAY

#LOCALANDVOCAL

Home Economics with Councillor McCoy

Jayne McCoy is a Liberal Democrat Councillor representing Wallington South and she Chairs the Housing Economic and Business Committee.

Councillor McCoy and her committee were confronted by the problem in June 2013 of what to do with Richmond Green – there were 28 brick built bungalows built by the Council in the 950’s that had served the elderly residents in pleasant surroundings. A flood in 2007 had rendered one of the blocks with four units uninhabitable and the rest of the bungalows had been neglected by the property managers, Sutton Housing Partnership(SHP).

Professional surveys had been carried out with reports in 2009 and 2012 the latter stating that there was remedial work needed totalling £2.5 million but conditions of the properties varied to the extent that 10 were considered to be good enough that remedial work could be carried out within the context of routine maintenance.

Dismissing these professional reports, Ms McCoy and her committee preferred the SHP routine audit, referred to in the HRA Business Plan, that claimed imminent collapse of the structures and recommended the immediate rehousing (eviction) of the tenants.  At the time it was stated that the bungalows would be replaced with 28 semi-detached houses.

Steamrolling residents’ concerns about building on a flood plain and the associated costs, planning permission for just 21 houses was granted by the London Borough of Sutton to itself – the reduction in numbers because their own rules on housing density would not allow the 28 houses originally stated. (one assumes that they were aware of PTAL ratings so why didn’t someone flag up that less houses could be built?)

So, in 2018 demolition of the bungalows (6 years after SHP said they were falling down!) was followed by the build – it is still ongoing and the approved construction cost is a shade over £7 million (this does not include the estimated £500,000 cost for repairing a mains electricity cable or the water pipe repairs x 2 that clumsy builders have managed so far!)

We could have had 28 serviceable bungalows for the elderly at £2.5 million but now we (will) have 21, 2/3 bedroomed houses for £7 million.  And now the London Borough of Sutton’s new acquisition arm reported to Councillor McCoy and her committee that acquisition costs for a total of 33 properties currently purchased or in pipeline will be £7.943 million proving that value in the housing market does not need to come at the expense of settled communities and the elderly.

Put another way, for the same total “investment” that Councillor McCoy is managing, she could have had 28 bungalows, 18 other properties and the 33 that have been bought, a total of 79 properties wholly owned by the London Borough of Sutton for the benefit of local residents of all ages.  Instead she has “acquired” a total of 54 properties, some of which appear to be heading the way of joint ownership.

And Ms McCoy is a member if the Institute of Chartered Accountants!

#INDEPENDENTSDAY3RDMAY #LOCALANDVOCAL

A Theatre of Distractions

Out of yesterday evening’s Full Council meeting, it was interesting to see the jousting of the major parties – the Labour Party, unrepresented in Council staking out the entrance with their placards, the Liberal Democrats papering over the cracks of their failed administration with the Local Plan and the Conservatives focussed on the opportunity of freezing Councillors’ allowances to subsidise the re-opening of the Charles Cryer theatre.

Some might observe that with the local Councillors enjoying the best return in the area per capita of electorate, that a reduction in allowances may have been more appropriate but actually, arguing over who gets the slice of cake with the cherry on top distracted from some more serious content of the agenda.

Mind you, with a main reports pack of 176 pages and multiple supplementary documents, Councillors would be hard pressed to absorb even a proportion of the meeting content and inevitably there are some hidden gems that should concern every voter.

Typical is a document with the exciting title “MINIMUM REVENUE PROVISION POLICY STATEMENT 2017/18 ONWARDS”.  On page two, this document reviews four areas of commercial involvement.

  • The establishment of two wholly owned companies which will be provided with loans on a commercial basis.
  • The acquisition of commercial property as part of a Property Investment Portfolio
  • The plan for the Council to acquire ex local authority and market stock properties to be used as temporary accommodation.
  • The Council’s purchase of land as part of the land holding for the development of the London Cancer Hub that is due to be sold on to property developers.

Why be concerned?

This is why, the use of the word “Prudent” – ….there is no need to set aside prudent provision to repay the debt liability….if the asset value significantly decreases, a prudent MRP policy will commence.

And that is in just one area – is this a reduction in asset value by percentage or by value and how do you measure significant? It is our money being played for in the Sutton Casino of Dreams and there needs to be some proper stewardship in place.

Rather than Independent and Qualified Non-Executive Directors guiding these commercial activities, they are overseen by the unqualified and politically dominated Strategy and Resource Committee together with their equally inept Sutton Shareholding Board.

It is time for change – not placard waving or political dogma but proper Independent representation of local opinion. #LOCALANDVOCAL