Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Merton Cabinet meeting

The meeting of the Cabinet at Merton last night was generally pretty mundane (most items went through on the nod) but as usual a few issues did arise that have been noted.

The most important issue decided was Mitcham Town Centre and the revisions to the planning policy. Despite the previous Labour administration having undertaken a comprehensive consultation about regenerating Mitcham, the Conservatives since taking office have decided to completely review the scheme and come up with their own revised proposals. While developing the town centre policy will be an on-going process, they have now come up with revisions that have the potential to undermine the whole scheme. Indeed in the report to cabinet, information has been witheld on the viability of their plans for Mitcham, the evidential base was certainly lacking in their proposals. Since the election one of the key developers has withdrawn from the scheme and consultation has of course been limited, though this is not surprising given their lack of elected representatives in Mitcham. A further brief on Mitcham is being brought to the Cabinet in December and a motion is being discussed at tomorrow’s night Council meeting which I will be proposing.

The new Merton Local Development Framework (planning policy) will be delayed for four months. A hastily worded amendment was put forward by Cabinet Member Diane Neil-Mills on the matter. As a result Merton stands to lose potentially part of its Planning Delivery Grant from the Government Office of London. The leader David Williams even admitted that "they may hit us over the head". The whole item is being proposed for withdrawal from the Council agenda tomorrow. While more consultation was needed, it could have been done within the existing timetable. The Tories have also stated that they are bringing in "new planning policies", this basically means the whole document is being hastily re-written. The document will no doubt also include a cut in affordable housing and it is also understood that the Tories are seeking legal advice to reduce the level of affordable housing that should be built in the Borough under the London Plan. Along with the recent number of refusals at Planning many of which are likely to result in appeals, planning is likely to continue to be a big issue within the Council.

The Budget overspend in Adult and Social Services was brought up and of course all the blame was being directed towards the previous Labour administration. The current overspend in Adult Social Services of £4.7 million, is an issue in nearly all London Boroughs many of which have similar overspends. This has been due in part to the rise in residential and domiciliary care costs coupled with under-forecasting (it is a notoriously difficult area to make exact forecast as demand can vary from year to year), costs have also been rising in this area and are well above inflation (around 7% a year). While management action has brought the savings required down to £3.8 Million (vacancy freeze and placement criteria), further savings will need to be made and a paper is being brought back to cabinet next month about addressing the situation. In order to make the savings the eligibility criteria is likely to be addressed and changed (no doubt affecting the most vulnerable). They have also commissioned an external review by consultants (questions will be asked on cost) on the whole issue, this has a remit of looking at different ways of delivering the service.

At the meeting the Leader David Williams also stated "that it has significantly blown the budget for 07/08". What has been noticeable is that the plans they had earlier in the year to re-cast the budget by putting extra resources into environmental services in this financial year, now seemed to have been abandoned. On this item, I also had the opportunity of addressing the panel and the Cabinet accepted the recommendations of the panel. The Way We Work will be reviewing the issue in November along with their proposed measures for addressing the situation.

The one positive part of the night is that Pollards Hill has been made a Neighbourhood Plan Area; this is of course welcome though the cynic in me wonders whether any extra resources will follow. The area has undergone massive regeneration under Labour, I cannot seem the Tories quite having the same commitment to the area, and indeed most Tories have no idea where Pollards Hill even is in the Borough.


Post a Comment

<< Home