In amongst the excitement of the Planning Committee and the Pre-Application Consultation on the Sheen Way Playing Fields, I spent an hour with a Council appointed consultant who is conducting a review of the Council’s Constitution.
Concerned residents will already have come across the vagaries on this document whether attempting to address the Local Committee about Sheen Way or Full Council about the Parking Strategy. “Standing Orders” are quoted and open debate denied whereas the real objective of any Constitution should be to protect the integrity of the whole process of local government.
But where Moses needed just 10 Commandments – the London Borough of Sutton needs nearly 250 pages and then does not do the job properly.
For example, with the recent increases in Councillor Allowances – 5 leading members of the ruling Liberal Democrat group receive in excess of £30,000 per annum where the base allowance is just £11,164. Are there proper job descriptions in the Constitution, performance and attendance criteria? No, just some very loose guidelines.
And why bury the Nolan Principles of Public Life on the back pages – these should be the very foundation of our Constitution?
BUT I am pleased to say that communities are beginning to understand that they cannot leave things to chance. But beware of how the system can be turned back against that “people power”.
Up at St Helier, the hotbed of the movement established to counter the ill conceived and appallingly administered Parking Strategy. The residents, brilliantly lead by Sandra Ackland appear to have forced a rethink. I say appear, because the content of that “rethink” comes in the form of a Lib Dem Focus Leaflet together with emails from Cllr Abellan, Cllr Andrew and even Cllr Dombey.
They have even had Tom Brake out delivering the leaflet and it invites opinions from residents to be returned to the Lib Dems.
But please note – all of this is done in the name of the Lib Dems NOT the London Borough of Sutton.
When the Beddington North Focus Group emailed residents on the Highview Estate saying that they could only support the building of a SEN school if access came through Morrissons – I wrote to Cllr Dombey and asked if this reflected a new policy.
She stated that this was just the view of the local Liberal Democrat Group! But it did not stop Tom Brake MP repeating the claim to another resident via email!
And talking of Tom Brake, he was one of four senior Lib Dems to put in an appearance at Cricket for Change last Thursday for the presentation of outline plans for a new SEN school that they wish to impose on Highview Residents on the former Playing Fields at Sheen Way.
With Lib Dem Councillors from as far afield as Worcester Park, the local MP and the prospective Conservative candidate for Mr Brake’s seat – this is clearly not just another plan, it is a political hot potato.
When you consider that Orchard Hill run Carew Manor because of the appalling OFSTED report when the London Borough of Sutton ran it, that would flag a concern.
But add to that the 2018 report by OFSTED that found “significant areas of weaknesses” in the SEND services provided by the Council and now the ongoing battle about the EHCP process, it explained the attitude of some of the parents from Carew Manor School who felt that the Council just did not want to invest in SEN schooling.
“They will build new primary and secondary schools but we have to wait for the DoE to fund us.”
We believe that those involved from the Department of Education, the contractors Kier as well as those Councillors bussed in to support the plan were left in no doubt as to both the passion of the local residents and the irrational nature of a plan to construct a Special Needs School at the end of a narrow cul de sac, just 12 metres from a railway line and on a flood plain.
As for traffic – a quick calculation shows if the school becomes operational, twin daily peaks of over a half kilometre of traffic feeding in and out of the site.
When discussing the plan with the previous Chief Executive, he described the plan as “Bonkers” and even his bête noire, Cllr Mattey would surely have agreed with him!