Monday, May 28, 2007

Woodcote Green Vandalised by Developer

My colleagues in Beddington South have highlighted a particularly cynical move by a developer in Wallington. This house was a landmark house on Woodcote Green opposite Wallington Girls' School. I was on the planning committee that turned down the application to extend the already large building to convert it into flats and another to build a bungalow in the back garden. The developer appealed succesfully against the refusal for the extension.

I was appalled to hear from Cllr Terry Faulds that the developer had demolished most of the building. As you will see from the photo, it is almost certainly beyond economic repair. Members of the planning committee were at pains to highlight the important position that this property held on the green, marking one of the forst sights that people have when driving into Wallington from the South. Now, the view will be unrecognisable, as well as an eyesore for the time that the house remains a beaten shell.

I suppose that since the permission won on appeal was for an extension, this will be null and void as there is little left to extend. This means that the developer will have to reapply. I can only hope that he reassesses his position, not least because he is based in nearby Hall Road and so will have to live with the consequences, albeit a little richer.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Rhythm of Life

Thursday evening saw the launch of Imagine, Sutton's Festival of Participatory Arts. This will run with a varied programme of events until 3rd June. The whole gamut of arts and heritage in the Borough has come together.

I'm pleased that the Council are looking at obtaining sponsorship and funding in future years. The Tories have been accused of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. It's a good line but one that is usually trotted out when the Council make a colossal mistake that they would prefer to forget such as the totem poles in St Helier.

It's important that Sutton enjoys good art and cultural facilities as these have an effect on our quality of life that is difficult to quantify. However, we ought to target our meagre resources wisely, not competing with the obvious attractions of Central London. Let's celebrate our unique points like the Water Tower in Carshalton and Whitehall in Cheam, but we ought to look to the Arts Council and private sponsorship to come to the aid of the local taxpayer.I'm glad that this is being investigated in this example.

Anyway, what of the picture? Meet Breis (pronouced "breeze"), a rap artist or as he describes himself, a hip hop renaissance man, Emcee, beat maker, writer, event organiser, workshop facilitator etc. Imagine the size of his business card. Anyone that has "etc." at the end of their job description needs to slow down a little. His was the first performance at the launch of the festival. Much as I don't like rap music (it's an age thing), he was brilliant, playing the audience, pushing positive messages and demonstrating a real poetic talent. Unfortunately his performance was somewhat marred by the fact that the front row consisted of Cllr Moira Butt, Lord Tope and me. Despite Moira's best effort, our participation was reminiscent of a dad's dancing at a family wedding. At least we got into the spirit and participated. Now it's over to you.

Equine Jewel in the Crown

Eric and I were lucky enough to visit the Diamond Riding Centre on Woodmansterne Road on Thursday. The trustees wanted to raise their concerns about the effects of an access road to the proposed rebuilt Stanley Park School on Orchard Hill and also discuss opportunities.

I've lived in Carshalton for eighteen years now and always considered the Diamond Centre a sign opposite Oaks Park. In fact it is a sizeable operation, being the largest specialist disabled riding centre in the UK and possibly the world. 30 horses and 250 volunteers help children and adults with every type of disability enjoy a degree of freedom and stimulus that is simply not available to them anywhere else. They also practice "hippotherapy" which uses the movement of the horse to apply physiotherapy to the rider, often with the most severe disability.

They feared that if an access road was constructed within the BIBRA site, they would have to reduce the number of horses by six as it would be too dangerous to access the grazing fields across the road. On the positive side, pupils attending the proposed mild autistic spectrum unit may be able to benefit from the Centre. They also train volunteers up to an accredited level where they can open their own centre. Techniques have been exported to countries such as Croatia where victims of landmines have benefited. The vocational nature of Stanley Park may have some synergy with this.

It was a lovely morning and so walking across the fields was pleasant enough, but seeing the combination of concentration and delight on the children's faces made it a truly wonderful experience.

Not another Takeaway

I sat on the Development Control Committee on Wednesday evening and helped to reject an application for a hot-food takeaway on the Parade on Beynon Road. There were two main concerns. Firstly there is already a Chinese takeaway and an Italian restaurant in what is by any measure a small shopping parade.

Secondly, and by far more importantly, the traffic and parking would be an absolute nightmare. Double red lines mean that the only parking is in Wilmot Road. Drivers leaving the restaurant that wanted to turn right, would have to negotiate a busy, blind corner and customers coming from the Windsor Castle junction would have to cross a busy lane of traffic approaching the lights, thus causing the traffic to back up behind. This is on a red route and the short statement from TfL saying that sufficient parking controls were in place, just wasn't good enough and perfectly illustrates the fact that they do not make any effort to get to know the area where they maintain our crucial arterial roads.

I received a call from a consituent whose rubbish hadn't been collected for five weeks in Wilmot Road. The question of waste did not come into the discussion on Wednesday but if there is another application, I'll expect rubbish collection to be fully addressed as well.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

In a Pickle over UKIP

Cllr David Pickles has resigned the Conservative whip to sit as a UKIP councillor for Belmont ward.

I've known David for five years and he has always had forthright views on the direction that the Conservatives should go and they didn't always coincide with mine.

I have no interest in stifling free speech, opinion or serious debate. However, I did feel that a recent letter in the local Guardian about housing and immigration was ill-informed and did not sit easily with a modern, changing party that seeks to represent all residents in Sutton.

That is not to say that these issues should not be discussed or that there are no problems. There quite obviously are many issues regarding our border controls and the total disarray in the Home Office, but it is vital that we discuss the situation rationally rather than risking tarring every immigrant with the same brush. Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking has just made the same mistake, referring to "her white families" who she feels should have priority over others for housing. This reference taken in isolation, would not look out of place on a BNP leaflet. What about black or Asian residents born in the UK? As the son of a Burmese immigrant, I want to tackle immigration head-on, but in a way that does not give way to hijacking by extremists.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Talking about Carshalton

When I was elected, I promised to "Make Carshalton Central". It's nice to know that there are others doing the same thing. I came across a new website, Sutton Forum, where people share their thoughts and concerns about Sutton and Carshalton.

Any way of discussing the issues can only be a good thing. I've added a permanent link on the sidebar.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Note on Grammar Schools

Many people will have been left scratching their head after the reporting of a speech by Conservative Shadow Education Spokesman, David Willetts MP. Sutton is one of the top performing Education Authorities in the country and is one of the few with a Grammar School system.

I am fortunate to have touched on all parts of the education system, having gone to an independent school myself, sent my children to both Comprehensive and Grammar Schools in Sutton and being a governor at a Primary and Secondary school in Carshalton.

We should be proud of our schools in the Borough, selective and non-selective alike. The Grammar Schools continue to achieve the very best results that stand up to comparison with any other. The non-selective schools perform admirably and continue to improve. Stanley Park High School is a case in point where their achievements would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. They were recognised as one of the most improved schools in the country this year. The rebuilding of the school is an opportunity to capitalise and build on this record.

I'll leave it to our Parliamentary candidates to consider the national education system, but locally, I retain my commitment to protect our Grammar Schools whilst seeking to give every child the tailored education that they require to have every opportunity in the future. The system works in Sutton, let's leave the decision to those who involve themselves directly in Sutton education not Whitehall.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Parliamo Politico? Part 2

Gordon Brown claims that he will reinstate the importance of Parliament. He has a job on his hands. The current PM has no appetite for debate when he can be off on a foreign jolly or quizzed gently on a television sofa. Today, Tony's representative on Earth, John Prescott drowned in word soup as he put on another embarrasing performance in his valedictory PMQs.

He seemed to know nothing of the problems with the online system for junior doctors' jobs and little about the problems with Home Information Packs.

When asked who would take responsibility for the latest chaos in the NHS, Prescott said "I'll tell you who is to blame... medical students." This was an interesting take on the situation and one that I don't think that Patricia Hewitt would be wise to continue with when trying to save her job.

The rest of the exchange with William Hague was Prescott blaming the Tories for the Dome, for losing the election in 2001 and the baggage retrieval situation at Heathrow. OK, I made the last one up but he knows what he needs to do if he wants the Conservative Leader to be the one answering the questions at PMQs. The Speaker was incredibly lenient allowing him to start on the Conservative position on Grammar Schools even though this was as far removed from the topic as Tony is from Parliament.

My rant is over: normal service will be resumed.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Rotherfield Rejected Again

The latest proposals to develop this site was decisively rejected by the committee tonight after my colleague Richard Butt explained that the 11.5% increase in the size of the proposed building was the equivalent floorspace of a 3 bed semi.

The planning report did not see the increase in size as a reason to reject the application but the stark reminder of what effect this would have on neighbouring properties concentrated the minds of committee members. The previous plan won on appeal can still be built by the developers but we kept a consistent line on our approach to this site and the outlook in Rotherfield Road.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Rotherfield Road returns to DC

Residents were pretty happy when this picture was taken. They're less so now. Wren Homes appealed against the refusal and won. They have submitted amended plans which will be determined on Wednesday 9th May at the Development Control Committee which starts at 7.30pm.

I sit on this committee and the role rightly calls for me to decide on the application with all of the information to hand, including representations made on the night so, as ever I go in with an open mind.

You are all welcome to come and make your feelings known. I have seen the many letters that have been sent to the Planning Department. If you want to see the officer's report recommending that permission can be given, you can see the agenda and download the report here. See you next week.


Here is the Report from the Planning Inspectorate allowing the appeal.

New Consultation for Stanley Park

I'm a governor at Stanley Park High School and have got very involved with the rebuilding of the school. The Council have rejected the allotment site and favour the Orchard Hill site, though have retained the possibility of rebuilding the school in its current position if feasibility studies show that relocation is not possible.

Part of the proposals are to increase the number of forms of entry by one and to provide a 56 place moderate autistic spectrum disorder base on the site in addition to the existing mild spectrum base. This would only be possible if Orchard Hill was the chosen site. The Council is currently consulting on this particular aspect of the proposal. Consultations about plans etc. will come further down the line.

In the meantime, if you are interested, there are two public meetings, both at the School Hall on Wednesday 9th May between 7pm and 9pm and Saturday 12th May between 10am and 12pm. Further details of the consultation can be found here.