Thursday, September 21, 2006

Merton full Council meeting

Last night we had a full Council in Merton, while not the most interesting of meetings it did provide us with an opportunity to scrutinise the minority Tory administration.

In terms of Labour group motions, the Tories successfully amended them all. The Merton Park Independents who hold the balance of power on the Council generally abstained and the Tories won the contested votes, most of the motions in general were non-contentious (apart from Mitcham) though the amendments of course contained attacks the record of the previous Labour administration.

The main issue on the agenda was Mitcham town centre and their regeneration plans. I proposed a motion criticising their proposals coupled with their lack of consultation on their proposals, this included the issue of party manifestos being material consideration for planning applications. When I mentioned this at the meeting and the points made by Cllr Marc Hanson at the July meeting he shot up with a bogus point of order, he was obviously rattled when I mentioned his comments at the July meeting of the Planning Committee (see entry of 17th Sep Planning in Merton). Judging by his comments it was quite clear he was trying to backtrack on what he said at the meeting. However, the issue was recorded in the planning minutes and I stand by my comments to Council, if it was wrong, it should have been corrected at the next meeting. Council passed an amendment but it was quite clear that the Cabinet member Diane Neil-Mills is not in favour of affordable housing (claims about out of borough residents getting a large share of the housing) and the evidential base to back up the proposed revisions seemed to be lacking. If the proposed ASDA for the town centre collapses, a large part of the blame will be down to her actions and with a developer having already pulled out, the situation is less hopeful then it was a few months ago.

On the issue of affordable housing, we do need to move away from the fact that all affordable housing means social housing and the hints from the Tories that it brings associated problems like crime and the wrong type of person. In Merton, we have a desperate need for affordable housing, especially intermediate housing which includes shared ownership and key worker housing. Merton is in the top third of London Boroughs for average house prices in London and to buy a place you would need to be one at least £35K a year to even get a one bed roomed flat(even more if you lived in Wimbledon). Despite reports from the Tories that we provide too much, we still underperform on the level of affordable housing provided for in the Borough. The Mayor of London want the figure of affordable housing in Merton raised and the Tories have sought legal advice on this matter. The London Plan does take precedence and if Merton decides not to play ball it will be made to comply.

In terms of the rest of the Council meeting, Tory Council LeaderDavid Williams provided us with some great entertainment in forgetting about the scheduling of the meeting and thinking we were half an hour ahead. It took his deputy Sam George to point out to him and the Mayor to advise him that he had been involved in drawing up the scheduling and that we were on time. The mistake can no doubt be attributed to boredom on his behalf but it was a lighthearted moment in an otherwise dull night.

The Council has agreed to change the format of the meeting and bring in a public question time (it had been in the constitution for years but never implemented) this will start at the next meeting. At the next Council meeting, it will also include Area Forum reports and motions passed by the forums. On changing the Council meeting and is hoped that this will allow more backbenchers to speak at Council. Over the last year the opportunities for backbenchers have decreased with the same old faces speaking (and I include myself in this), hardly any member elected in May has yet to make a maiden speech to Council. The leader David Williams was doing a survey on the issue during the meeting and pointed this out, he was for once correct in his viewpoint. When discussing the item we also had a bout of entertainment from jovial Conservative Chris Edge (who was making a maiden speech) about Council meetings, I think recognition exists on all side that despite the banter and ding-dong if a member of the public were to sit through our meeting it would be a major achievement.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Marc Hanson
Martin, I'm afraid my "bogus" point of order at last nights planning committee was not bogus at all. My question to the legal officer at the PAC in July was whether manifesto committments became a material consideration if they formed part of the manifesto of a new administration. I did not assert this to be the case (afteral I'm not a planning lawyer)but had been told it was. I beleive we are still waiting for an answer to my qestion. The reason I asked the question was because as a committee we were looking at what material considerations might need to be taken into account when looking at applications to convert small family homes to flats. I believe it was a Conservative Party manifesto committment to oppose the conversion of small houses to flats. Obviously as members of the PAC we make our decisions independently of political considerations but if there was a material consideration that we had to take heed of then we needed to know about it. I haven't checked the minutes of the PAC meeting in July but presume you have quoted them accurately in your blog. They don't reflect what was asked and I accept I had better pay a bit more attention to reading minutes in future. Whilst I appreciate that you can only go on what you read in the minutes (as you weren't there) if you had asked the Labour members of the committee they could (I hope) have told you of the context of my question. The issue of conversions is an important one and I'm glad that last night we had cross party agreement on the conversions motion.

Like your blog (and delighted to appear in it), hope its not just Tory cllrs in Merton who read it! Why can't you have a link from your Council website?

ps of course the most amusing thing about last nights meeting was your assertion that the "Council is getting better" - it certainly is and very sporting of you to have pointed that out...

4:52 pm  
Blogger Martin Whelton said...

Thank you Marc for clarification of your points, you do need to read the minutes in the future. Still we all make mistakes as a councillor. I would be very surprised if a manifesto was seen as a material variation and I have an understanding that no legal advice has been given to the contrary.

Well the Council has got better over the last year and it is shown in the resident survey, though it has to be remembered that most of that time was under a Labour administration and it is thanks to the measures we took that the Council had made significant improvement and the survey is mainly based on the time we were in power. I doubt very much it will last.

I may put up a link very shortly as I need to make certain and make links to other blogs. I hope some Tory councillors as well start blogging.

9:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Things can only get better" as the song goes..

I'd like to do a blog but am still trying to get the hang of the system. I think they are potentially an excellent means of letting constituents know what you've been doing. However I think they really do need to be linked with the council web page for ease of navigation. Other councils allow it so I don't see why Merton can't. Marc

1:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Martin, for keeping us informed. [I'm sure in time your blog will outsell Tony Benn's meticulously kept diaries!]

It's good to hear that Council meetings will open up to public. As a typically interested Joe Public, how may I go about it please?


Andy Ray
[Hillside Ward]

5:21 am  

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