Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Protection from Garden Grabs

My second speech at last night's council meeting was a successful attempt to strengthen our policies on development on back garden land. The picture shows the view from my bedroom window. My house is not extraordinary being located in the middle of Carshalton but it is tranquil.

I sit on the Development Committee that decides on planning applications and I always take each application on its merits. However from a policy point of view we need to take advantage of the fact that we are considering our latest overarching policy document for planning in the borough, the Local Development Framework. My amendment that was agreed at the meeting called upon the council to strengthen our policies for gardens in this paper.

Conservatives have taken a lead on this issue nationally over the last year. Newly elected MP, Greg Clark put forward a bill in Parliament to remove back gardens from the definition of brownfield sites. Yesterday David Cameron called for "fewer houses designed for young, single people and more designed for life." It is ridiculous that whole streets of houses are being demolished in the north whilst infrastructure is squeezed in the south. The Southeast of England has less rainfall per head of population than the Sudan. The day I see a rush to buy holiday homes in Khartoum is the day that I will accept such high housing targets without policies seeking to encourage people to relocate to other parts of the country.

What future for Westcroft?

I spoke twice at last night's Council meeting. The first was to raise the issue of the management of Sutton's Leisure Centres. The non-profit making organisation, SCL that manages the four sites have given notice that they intend to walk away from their contract as they cannot raise the funds necessary either through charging or Council funding. Though they are an organisation specifically created to manage, Westcroft, Cheam, Phoenix Centre and Sutton Arena they have also won the contract to manage a leisure facility in Reading. Negotiations are continuing.

We were given clear assurances that all four centres would remain open. Less assured was the response when asked if entrance fees would be increased or which budget would be raided to provide the money to fund the centres.

We must commit to sport. Many people cannot belong to private clubs. There is £35k budgeted to bring the tennis courts up to scratch in Carshalton Park. This has not been spent and so the summer has been missed. We are told that we are the most obese nation in Europe. When we tell our children that it is healthy to do something that makes them out of breath a few times a week, we mean more that smoking a pack of 20 fags.

Eric and Cllr John Kennedy will be monitoring the negotiations to ensure that we keep and maintain leisure facilities that we can be proud of.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Eric and I joined other councillors and our parliamentary candidate, Ken Andrew to collect signatures for a petition to be presented to Gordon Brown. It calls for him to stop his mismanagement of the NHS which has resulted in more than 18,000 jobs going and deficits approaching £1,277,000,000.

We see the net result in Sutton. The Primary Care Trust is in financial difficulties. Sutton Council are having to bear the financial burden of care for an ever increasing number of autistic children diagnosed by the PCT. There is doubt as to whether the new critical care hospital will be built at all rather than just the preferred location. In the ward (Council, not hospital), no-one is sure of the PCT's intentions for the War Memorial Hospital.

The petition attracted a lot of interest and support. You can sign the e-petition here. After such matters of State, I went to a fundraising coffee morning and then back home to remind myself what my family looked like.

Canon sent back to the drawing board

Conservatives on the Development Control Committee were instrumental in rejecting the application to convert Canon House into 174 flats. One Liberal Democrat councillor voted with the four Conservative members of the committee to turn the proposal down. By no coincidence, that councillor lives within a few yards of the development and commutes from Wallington Railway Station so would have to live with the consequences of any decision.

Several residents have opposed the scale of the application which proposed adding extra floors to an already dominant building. I am extremely concerned about the proliferation of back-garden development so this building presents an opportunity to meet the increasing housing needs of the area but it must surely be kept in a sensible proportion. Amenity space for the proposal was only around 25% of that required by the Council and the number of affordable housing units fell short. Both of these were to be partly offset with money paid to the council. I'm glad that the committee took their decision based on the development itself rather than allowing their minds being diverted to the short term benefits of this extra Section 106 money.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Eyes Have It

Today, a teaching assistant in Dewsbury lost her tribunal case having claimed religious discrimination. She was sacked for refusing to remove her veil during lessons. However she won £1100 for a separate 'victimisation' claim.

Several politicians have followed Jack Straw by wading into the debate on veils. Now my opinion is hardly as newsworthy as theirs but I do believe that there are obvious fundamental problems in trying to communicate with children whilst wearing a Niqab, the full-face veil. Of course there should be the freedom to wear what you want in your own time but such fundamental barriers need to be recognised and dealt with without the easy charge of religious discrimination being pushed, taking advantage of the current twin fears of Islamaphobia and compensation lawyers.

Dewsbury MP Shahid Malik has supported the suspension of the teacher as have other leading Muslims explaining that there is no requirement for a woman to cover up in front of pre-adolescent children.

Light at the end of the Tunnel?

Sorry it's a purple logo again. Maybe the Robins should consider a change of kit to fit in with my technological difficulties of putting the photo on the site.

Last night saw a long Development Committee meeting mainly due to the proposed Canon House development in Wallington. I spoke as Ward Councillor on the application to allow CAFC's floodlights to be kept on for an extended time after Cup matches.

There has been strained relations between the residents and the club for a number of years. Though I hope and believe that the club are trying to improve relations and reposition themself as a family club, some residents are still concerned with levels of noise etc.

The club have had permission for the extension of floodlighting requiring annual renewal. They sought the permanent right. I suggested a compromise of two year permission allowing the new ward councillors time to work with both parties. This was agreed by the committee. Eric has organised a meeting between representatives from the club and residents tomorrow night. Though the first meeting will be a fun one to chair, I hope that this is the start of a beautiful relationship with the beautiful game.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

It's raining cats and blogs

I started my blog, three weeks after I was elected in May as another way to communicate with residents and let them send me comments. We need to keep looking at fresh ways to have such a dialogue. As the comedian Armando Ianucci put it we are still doing gramaphone politics in an ipod age.

Since then, ex-Labour Councillor Charlie Mansell has started two blogs both of which are in my links list. Sutton Council Observer records Charlie's thoughts on a wide range of local issues, concentrating mainly on Council committees and local healthcare, an issue that I know he feels passionately about having represented the ward of St Helier for a number of years. His other blog, Policy4Sutton is Charlie's good attempt at a one man think tank. Though he is not from the same party, both blogs are welcome approaching the task as a concerned resident wanting the best for the Borough. We'll see how party political we all get when we get closer to an election.

More recently LibDem Deputy Leader, Colin Hall has made a stuttering start in the world of blog, not least because of the extra "blogspot" in the title - colinhalls.blogspot.blogspot.com. I did promise to leave him a comment but unfortunately there is no capability for doing so. I could make a cheap joke about lack of consultation etc. but I'll..OK, I just did.

Still any attempt to widen the political debate is welcome and I wish them well.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Red Rose not Redcoat

Update: Labour MP Siôn Simon has opted to concentrate on his Parliamentary career rather than taking his comedy satire to Channel 4 and/or the Edinburgh Fringe.

The Comedy Store's loss is...er... Tony Blair's loss.

Compare and contrast

Siôn Simon, Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington made a bit of a prat of himself in this video on You Tube and then later on Sky News. Whereas I thought David Cameron's WebCameron blog is a good attempt at bringing a fresh approach to communicating with electors (as are Labour MP Tom Watson's videos, also on You Tube ), Siôn Simon does not seem to have left student politics behind. Some Conservatives have got hot under the collar. David Cameron's website has reported a massive increase in traffic since the news story was reported.

Personally, I enjoy satire about any party including my own. I just prefer it to be funny.

Inside Prime Minister's Questions

This is an interesting insight into the weekly tribal ritual of PMQs. David Cameron reflects on events after Tony Blair refused to support Gordon Brown again and even threatened to deport Margaret Beckett in a slip of the tongue talking about deporting Foreign Secretaries instead of foreign prisoners. I can't imagine a Home Office caravan removing dangerous government ministers from the UK.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Politics for the New Age

10th October will see the launch of Britain’s first political Internet TV Channel.

18DoughtyStreet Talk TV will broadcast for four hours a night, Mondays to Thursdays, from studios in London’s Bloomsbury with a mix of live and pre-recorded programmes. It aims to break the mould of current affairs television with a mix of opinionated and controversial programming.

The channel’s founders, Iain Dale (Ian Dale's Diary) and Tim Montgomery (Conservative Home) believe that conventional political TV has let down its audience by dumbing down political debate to the lowest common denominator. It believes that no political party truly understands the electorate’s disappointment with the current state of politics. It aims to be an anti-establishment channel – championing rebel opinions in all of the mainstream parties and constantly questioning authority.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Home Office Ministers - 'Not Fit for Purpose'

The Home Office manage to dig a deeper and deeper hole. As revealed in the Yorkshire Post, in a parliamentary written answer given to Conservative MP Shailesh Vara, the Home Office have confirmed that they have arrested nearly 1000 people over the last 5 years under anti-terrorism legislation, released over half of them without charge and actually charged only 154 with terrorism-related offences.

They explained that they did not keep records of how long these people were detained. In the light of their attempt to introduce 90-day detention, this really is damning. Throughout the debate, the government insisted that current legislation was not effective despite already having the longest detention period in the western world. How on earth can you know what is or is not effective when you do not know what is happening at the moment?

Some may consider me too liberal, but let me ask you this. Would you trust John Reid or indeed any government minister with your personal freedom if you were wrongly imprisoned? When I see the mistakes that are made in the Home Office, I would trust Homer Simpson over them.

There's No Smoke Without Fire.

Most people have got used to a smoking ban at work. Many are getting ready for a ban in the pub. Sutton Council are now aiming at people's cars and homes.

A proposal came to a Council-Employee meeting last Monday (2nd Oct) banning smoking in and around council buildings, but going further to ban employees smoking when travelling to and from work in their uniforms. The piéce de resistance was the requirement that 'Employees making home visits must be provided with a smoke free environment.’

Essentially this means that if you are at home and have, say meal-on-wheels, the council employee is not allowed to help you whilst you are smoking in your own home. Conversely when the bailiffs come round, puffing cigar smoke through the letterbox seems a good defence.

A New Direction

The weather was foreboding, thousands of people were left stranded without a pass, but despite this most people left with a confident air. David Cameron's speech on Wednesday was a major landmark. It didn't reach the high benchmark that Blair had set the previous week for rhetoric but it resonated for a very different reason. Cameron received applause for saying things that you could never imagine a Conservative leader saying maybe even two or three years ago.

There is plenty more to do. The shakes of the head by some when he addressed civil partnerships show that not everyone is going in the same direction or at the same speed. However the NHS is the subject that stands out. For too long this has been the sole reserve of the Labour party. Remember "24 hours to save the NHS" in 1997. Cameron spoke of the man that he met that had worked in his job in the NHS for the past 12 years. In that time, there had been so many reforms and adjustments that he had to reapply for his job a ridiculous 7 times. Just one example of the waste in the Health Service. Yes, funding has increased but the amount going to frontline services has not gone up in anywhere near the same proportion.

Policies will come after the various commissions have reported back but it is important nationally as it is here in Sutton, that we show that we are ready to confront the challenges that we face today, not revisit those of twenty years ago.

Monday, October 02, 2006

And Now...Live from Bournemouth

I've joined the annual seaside jaunt that is the Conservative Party Conference. I'm currently sitting on "bloggers row" which is a new area for the party. We are giving advice for new bloggers, reflecting our thoughts on conference as it happens. More and more people appreciate the fact that the Internet can be a tool for real communication between politicians and constituents. Though I was the first in Sutton, I hope that I won't be the last.

Anyway, this week will be an interesting one. It is "One year on" for David Cameron. Delegates are debating how much progress we are making, what they think of the new party logo (which looks suspiciously like the Sutton Council tree.) and asking the question "Where's the beef?" in terms of policy.