Thursday, December 24, 2009

Roadworks in Croydon Road

I've just been informed by Steve O'Connell, our local Greater London Assembly member, that there will be emergency utility works on the A232 Croydon Road, commencing on 4th January for about 6 weeks. This is to repair an Extra High Voltage cable located beneath Croydon Road at the junction with Cedars Road.

Working hours will be 8am-8pm Monday to Friday with weekend working as required. The first few days of work will be noisy. Traffic Management utilising two way temporary traffic signals will be set up.

We all know how busy this road can be so the early warning is welcome. No doubt it'll affect the Beddington Lane junction at peak times so it might be advisable to stay clear as much as possible.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Council's Winter Cuts Add To Icy Chaos

Angry residents have been hitting the phones this week with complaints to the Council reaching levels last seen when a £35 per bag charge was slapped on green garden waste collections. When the first snow arrived this week, the main roads were navigable as the gritting teams had enough warning to cover the ground. Side roads were a mixed bag.

Tuesday saw rain which had cleared much of the snow, suddenly freeze after a rapid drop in temperature. This caused chaos across the Borough with the main east-west A232 at a total standstill. People reported 2 hour journeys to get from Cheam to Carshalton. Side roads were treacherous.

Now, no gritting effort is going to remove every flake of snow and trace of ice from the highways but people have got every right to be angry when the short-sighted LibDem administration slashed the winter road maintenance budget by £20,000 AFTER last February's snowfall which had a bigger effect than Copenhagen on people's driving habits, as shown in the photo. This cut was made as £16,000 of taxpayers' cash was spent on upgrading the air conditioning in the Council leader's office.

A mere ten months later, snow returns, everywhere grinds to a halt. The gritting team have been working hard throughout. Theirs is a thankless task, working around the clock to cope and keep us moving but there is more that we can do. There are plenty of residents who would be prepared to help grit their pavements. How many grit bins would £20,000 have paid for. Whether emergency bins are put out when the warnings come or permanent ones are opened ahead of the snowfall, I don't know. However if we are to trust people more rather than run everything from the warm and climate-controlled Council office, then we should help people to help themselves as well. Alternatively the LibDems could watch the roads freeze whilst they freeze the Council Tax just ahead of a difficult election campaign. Oh wait...!

Recycling Brown Jokes

People on Facebook are keeping themselves in good cheer by learning how to start each morning with a positive outlook:

  1. Open a new file on your computer.
  2. Name it 'Gordon Brown.'
  3. Send it to the Recycle Bin.
  4. Empty the Recycle Bin.
  5. Your PC will ask you 'Do you really want to get rid of Gordon Brown?'
  6. Firmly click Yes.
  7. Feel better.

Tomorrow, try Peter Mandleson. Mac users might need to make up their own fun.

Carshalton Street Lights To Be Replaced

A number of street lights in the following roads in the ward are to be replaced in January:

Sutton Grove, Carshalton Grove, Cross Road, Waterloo Road, Croft Road, Meadow Road, Corrib Drive, Byron Avenue, Florian Avenue, Orchard Way, Byron Avenue East, Cowper Avenue, Kingsley Avenue, Byron Gardens, Brookfield Avenue, Milton Avenue.

If you are affected, the contractor will be dropping a letter off to your home to let you have more details. I've reprinted the letter below for reference.

Dear Resident

Sutton has a rolling relighting programme to replace all the old and life-expired columns in the Borough and we replace some 300 columns each year to ensure that the street lighting stock is kept in good condition. The columns in your road are very old and have been identified as requiring replacement.

In most cases this work will involve removing all the existing columns in a street and replacing them with new steel columns, fitted with new lanterns. At the same time, we will upgrade the lighting to meet the current standards for the lighting of residential roads.

You may notice a few differences when the work is completed:

• The light itself will have a natural white glow rather than a yellow one, enabling objects and surroundings to be better seen.
• All new columns will be steel and their height will increase from five to six metres. The columns will be painted holly green, which is the standard Sutton colour.
• Wherever possible new columns will be placed alongside the old columns, but this may not always be possible due to lighting design requirements.

Once the work has been completed I hope you will feel that the street environment has improved and is a safer place to walk, cycle or drive along.

Progress of the works

Our company Cartledge is the Council’s street lighting contractor and we will be organising the installation of the street lights. Work is due to commence on ******** and will start with the erection of the new columns and fitting the lanterns together with the associated wiring and painting. This will take place over a two week period and the old columns will remain working. The next phase will involve the local electricity company, EDF, who will provide electrical connections to the new and disconnections to the existing columns so that there will always be adequate lighting in the road. There may be gap of between 6 and 8 weeks before EDF start their element of the works. The final stage will involve our work crews removing all the old columns and ensuring that all pavement surfaces have been correctly reinstated.

May I ask you to help us make the works run smoothly:

1. Do not park along the road where the contractor is working,
2. Do not park where there are ‘No Waiting’ cones or signs and
3. Move your vehicle if requested.

Common questions from residents:

Question The new lighting column has been put in a place that makes it difficult for me to drive in and out of my property. Can you do something about this?

Answer In most cases we can move a column one to two metres without affecting the lighting design, although this may be more difficult if it is on a property boundary or near a road junction. However, in most cases we can make minor adjustments.

Question I am concerned that the new column will flood my bedroom with unwanted light. Can you prevent this?

Answer The new lighting units will be designed to direct light out and downwards so light pollution should not be a major problem. However, if there is a problem once the lighting is in full working order, we can fit a shield to help prevent any unwanted light spillage.

Please accept in advance my apologies for any inconvenience that this work causes you. Should you have any special access needs or if you require any more information please contact me at the numbers above.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Voluntary Sector Skills Conference

Last Wednesday, I hosted a conference for the voluntary sector alongside Philippa Stroud, parliamentary candidate for Sutton & Cheam and Director of the Centre for Social Justice. Our aim was to share the knowledge and experience of friends and colleagues of ours and to listen to the concerns and views of those people who give their time so freely to help those in our society with greatest need. A wide range of organisations were represented from Citizens' Advice Bureau through to the Cassandra Learning Centre, a family-run organisation which tackles domestic violence, established after the tragic death of the daughter of the founder.

The first session was about working with the media. Many organisations hide their light under a bushel, often because they are spending the vast amount of their time working providing services and support that promotion and awareness is the first to go. However, with funding ever harder to find, a degree of promotion is important to compete against the larger better organised operations. Attracting new volunteers is only possible if people know that you are there. As well as talking through the basics of press releases and media management, we discussed other possibilities such as groups sharing someone that can do the odd press release from home that may not be able or willing to get involved in any other way. Similarly I would encourage asking for help from bigger partners such as the Sutton Centre for the Voluntary Sector (SCVS) and the Council itself.

Following on from this, Jo Hillier, head of Social Action for the Conservative Party and formerly Saatchi's, talked about raising profiles and brand management. Drawing on examples of big companies such as British Airways and Marks and Spencers, Jo told us how to spend a few moments reconsidering what our brands are. The message was clear, you do not have to be a multinational to do this. A short time on this will help work out where your support may lie for funding and volunteering, how to improve applying for tenders from the Council and other bodies and how to attract service users to your organisation if applicable.

Finally Debbie Pippard and Shaun Walsh from the Big Lottery Fund came to talk about fundraising. It's not often that a big agency like this comes into town and says that they have funds and they want to give more cash to Sutton. They already fund organisations in Sutton including SCVS but their new "Awards for All" fund is open for direct bids and they encouraged the groups present to come forward with their bids.

Philippa Stroud brought her considerable experience to bear when she spoke about the challenges that the sector face including "mission creep" as the government and commissioning organisations like the Council and PCT move smaller partners towards the direction that they want and away from the core approach that the voluntary group was set up for. I hopefully got across the point that councillors from both parties in Sutton value the work that the voluntary sector do and that the Conservatives want to build on the strong partnership that exists, sharing more skills, resources and experiences to learn from each other.

The delegates had the floor for the second half of the afternoon. Breaking up into 4 groups they discussed their concerns and then shared them with me, Philippa and Baroness Warsi, Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action.I asked them three questions looking over the next few years and the feedback had a high degree of consistency across the four groups that they were split into:

1. What are your main challenges at the moment?
  • Raising Money
  • Moving from grants to commissioning causing uncertainty
  • The bureaucracy in applying for grants
  • The time that it takes for grant applications to be processed and the money to come through.

2. Where do you see your organisation and the voluntary sector in 5 years?

  • 5 years? We rarely have the time to look beyond 1!
  • A bigger profile
  • Using the room for growth - people and resources
  • Being more user led where appropriate

3. What can the Council and Government do to help?

  • Cut down on form-filling bureaucracy
  • More recognition for the skills of the sector and the value for money that it brings
  • Create a central directory of voluntary groups in London and what they do
  • Free up resources both financial and buildings
  • Recognition that faith groups are vital to community cohesion
  • 3 year funding commitments
  • More conferences and networking opportunities

The last point reflected the massively positive feedback that we had from the event. I was a little surprised to hear that this was the first time that many had had the benefit of such an event. The Council have good intentions towards the voluntary sector and clear channels to engage with their partners in this area but it is often too easy to rely solely on partnership boards and panels rather than chatting informally or engaging in a different way to get a true reflection of concerns. I was delighted to be able to offer something that people found genuinely interesting and useful and to meet such a dedicated bunch of people. Like them, I look forward to the next one.

When I have a chance to catch up, the paperwork and summaries from each of the presentations will be made available to all. I'll post them here as well.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Tackling Issues in Carshalton Village

I have received a list of action points from council officers who are looking into the points raised at our recent walk around Carshalton village.

  1. Loading Bay in the High Street. Whilst nipping to the shops. several people were parked in these bays illegally despite there being spaces in the free parking bays. Since the shops load in the morning, I can see no reason why these can't be mixed-use bays so people don't get caught out.

  2. Planting in the High Street. The Council used to look after the planters outside the shops in Beacon Grove. Transport for London took this over. If we take this back, we can be more responsive to ensure that it is maintained well, keeping the High Street looking attractive.

  3. Promoting Business in the Village. I've long been a proponent for taking a more active role in shaping the High Street by working out what type of businesses we want to see there and going out and looking for them. The Council spends much of its time on Sutton High Street, often to the detriment of Carshalton, Wallington and other smaller business areas.

  4. The Square Car Park. Better signage and cheaper short-term parking would make this a useful resource for increasing visitor numbers to local shops. At the moment, cheap all-day parking attracts commuters.

  5. Scawen Wall. The old listed wall that runs along the southern boundary of the car park in The Square and through to Wallace Crescent with breaks, is in need of repair. The Council have not done the work because of questions over ownership of the wall. Eric and I have asked the officers to clarify this so that it can be repaired.

  6. Blocked Drains. The one benefit of the lousy weather that day was that we could see which drains were blocked. We identified four within a small area all needing cleaning or repair.

  7. Replacement railings. TfL removed the railings from outside Barclays and the pub opposite. A shopkeeper pointed out to us that the railings that had been put back outside the Coach and Horses no longer matched.

  8. Lime trees in The Square. We pointed out the fact that the Limes in this road were massive and needed cutting back. Residents have raised this especially over the summer.

  9. Mill Lane. Officers are going to look at the "concrete jungle" effect that the short pebbled paving areas create. Greenery may help break this up.

  10. Cambridge Road, Oxford Road, Harrow Road. We've asked for the junctions of these roads with Carshalton Road to be looked at to move some of the parked cars further up, clearing the entry/exits of these junctions and helping the traffic move more smoothly.

  11. Meadow Road, Croft Road. Parking on these corners restrict traffic flow. We've asked officers to see if yellow lines are wanted and would help the situation.

As ever, when the answers start to come back, they will be available to see here first.