Sunday, December 31, 2006

Goodbye 2006

The end of the year is upon us and for me it has certainly been a memorable year with many high and low points.

In terms of low points, one of them had to be losing Merton Council after sixteen years and finding ourselves in opposition. This is despite having one of the best election performances for Labour in the country and in my own ward increasing my own majority along with depriving the Tories of winning an overall majority in Merton. Still in politics setbacks will always occur, it is important to pick yourself and get on with winning the next election.

The other low point had to be the treatment of Tony Blair back in September, after all he had done for the party in winning three elections, his treatment by some in the party was pretty abysmal to say the least.

My other lower points of the year has to be the dismal performance's in sport by English teams. The World Cup was a disaster, the Ashes likewise and the rugby team results has gone into free-fall which does not bode well for the World Cup in 2007.

Turning to the high points, seeing the crumbling of the Republican hegemony in the States has to be one of the best moments of the year. With the Democrats now in control of Congress after twelve years and the Presidential election in less then two, 2007 should be very interesting.

In terms of sport, Liverpool winning the FA Cup was one of the best moments especially after being 2-0 down and then 3-2, like Istanbul in 2005 it was another great comeback.

Having the opportunity to visit Cuba and Dubai over the past year proved to be an eye-opener in the case of Cuba and amazement at seeing the development of Dubai. With both countries like to change rapidly in the next few years, it was a useful time to visit.

Finally, the development of Blogging4Merton had to be a high point, it started as bit of fun back in March and is still going at the end of the year(1000 hits a month from differnt sources) and will be continuing into 2007. Blogging has been an experience, especially the comments from across the globe and the range of different views. I also was invited to an E-Government Conference in Budapest through blogging which I never expected when I started this blog.

Anyway hope everyone has a good New Year and hears to 2007!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Saddam Hussein and his forthcoming execution

With the death sentence on Saddam Hussein likely to take place in the next 24 hours, I for one will not be mourning his demise or his passing.

Today, we've had the usual suspects bleating at the unfairness of his trial and that it was a farce from start to finish. Well it may not have not been up to the standards of a British trial, but it was significantly fairer then the treatment recieved by many of his victims who were summarily killed and tortured with any recourse to justice.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the war and huge mistakes have been made, it cannot be disputed that Saddam Hussein was a mass-murderer who killed thousands of people during his reign of terror in Iraq. A few years ago, I met a Kurd who detailed to me what acts his regime had committed against her family and the terrible suffering they had received from Saddam's henchmen. This visibly moved me, and it is one of the reasons that I have no sympathy for the his plight or suffering.

I'm not in favour of capital punishment and would have preferred him to be locked up for life, but his fate has been sealed and I only hope that it brings to a close a terrible chapter in Iraq's history.

The current situation in Iraq is difficult, but at least it is not in the hands of a mass-murderer. I just hope that 2007 is a better year in Iraq then 2006 and that we can get some stability into that troubled divided country. Despite what has happened, Iraq is a better place without Saddam.

Merton Council financial settlement press release

A press release has been issued by Merton Council, calling for a re-think from the Government over the grant settlement. This year Merton Council received a floor settlement of 2.7% which was the figure that most Outer London Boroughs received, though some got a higher settlement as it is a complex formula.

While we always hope for good settlement and in recent years we have usually been above the average for Outer London, the figure announced by the Government in November was in line what the Council was to receive provisionally for 07/08 in November 2005 as part of a two year budget settlement. At the time, the then Conservative opposition were not claiming it was an unfair settlement.

Merton Council officers had also budgeted for 2.7% settlement before the official announcement confirming the settlement. The outgoing Labour administration believed we could have budgeted in line with 2.7% increase and still had a Council tax rise of only 2.5% for 07/08 if we had still been the administration. I have full confidence we would have achieved the figure of a 2.5% Council tax rise for 07/08. We would also not be proposing to close Bond Road or cuts in the SEN Budget like the Tories are proposing which will hit the must vulnerable in the Borough.

The real reason why they are now looking for more money is due to their financial incompetence in office since taking over in May. In Merton, the strategy of the minority Conservative administration is quite clear, to put the Council Tax up by the highest figure they think the can get away without being capped by Government. The rise will then be blamed on the Labour Government and the previous Labour administration, anyone but them. If they do recieve extra money from Government, I can gurantee that it will not be spent on keeping the Council tax increase down this year. They would also still be claiming it was 'not enough'. The extra money would no doubt go into a treasure chest for 2010/11 (election year council tax) when miraculously it will be a zero per cent rise in Council Tax, that is if they survive until 2010.

Sadly the residents of Merton are likely to 'bear the brunt' of having a financially incompetent Tory administration running the show.

The Press release is below, all of the authorities below are Liberal Democrat controlled apart from Merton which is under no overall control.

A group of London boroughs have joined together to call on the government for an urgent rethink over the monies they are due to receive in the 2007 grant settlement and they have warned that, if the government does not act, residents in their part of London will face significant disadvantage in who pays for local services.

The four authorities from South West London, Merton, Sutton, Kingston upon Thames and Richmond upon Thames receive government grants which are significantly lower than other London Boroughs. Merton will receive a 2.7% increase in grant for 2007/2008, the minimum increase proposed by the Government.

The average increase for inner London boroughs is 3.6% and 3.2% for outer London boroughs.
Commenting on the recent finance settlement, Cllr Samantha George, Deputy Leader of Merton Council, said:

"The government's recent announcement on funding amounts to a slap in the face for the residents of South West London. Once again the people who live in our four boroughs have received a very raw deal indeed. The government must rethink its proposals and deliver a fairer settlement.

"In Merton we are hugely disappointed with the recent announcement and residents are set to bear the brunt once more. Be very clear here - we are not looking for handouts - simply a fair treatment for the people of Merton."

Call-in of Merton Council Land - Housing Decisions

The Merton Council Cabinet meeting decision of 18th December relating to Council Land - Housing Decisions has been called-in and will be considered by the Overview and Scrutiny Commission on Monday 15th January at 7.15pm.

The land at Merton Road and Ravensbury Garage had previously been set aside by Merton Council for sale to a Housing Association. The main reason given for the abandonment of the housing 'is that 12 new affordable housing homes represents too high a concentration of mono-tenure affordable social housing in this particular location.' The report also states that 12 affordable housing units is 'too high a concentration' when in many developments the figure would be many times higher.

Now it will be interesting to see what arises out of the particular documents that have been requested about the Cabinet decision, this includes the e-mail requests. The decision also goes against the Housing Strategy 2004-07 which is a policy framework document approved by Council and Cabinet decisions need to be in compliance with the policy framework. Although the minority Tory administration document many not agree with the document now, they did not oppose the document when passed by Council in February 2004. The Housing Strategy was not even mentioned in the report. Below is the decesion by Council in February 2004 which is still Council policy.

751 HOUSING STRATEGY 2004-2007 (Agenda item 11)
The recommendations in the submitted report were duly moved and seconded.
Following debate it was
RESOLVED: That the Housing Strategy 2004-2007 be approved, noting that
the Strategy has been declared “Fit for Purpose” by the Government Officer
for London.

The full reasoning for the Call-in is below, along with a link to the Cabinet agenda of 18th December. The decision made by Cabinet is quite a good indicator to the policies that the Conservative minority administration in Merton are pursuing at present. All the reasons for call-in have been accepted as valid by the Head of Legal.

Title of decision
Council Land – Housing Decisions Key Decision Reference Number: 402 Agenda Item 18

Cabinet 18th December 2006 Cabinet
Which principle(s) of the decision-making has not been followed?
(iii) Respect for equalities
(iv) A presumption in favour of openness
(v) Clarity of aims and desired outcomes
(vi) Consideration and evaluation of alternatives

Reason for the call-in and desired outcome
Reason for the Call-In:

1. Recommendations and Decisions C & D of this report fail to comply with the Housing Strategy for Merton 2004 – 2007 approved by Council 25th February 2004. ( This is a Council framework policy with which Cabinet decisions must comply. For a 24 page report dealing with housing decisions on HRA land, it is extraordinary that there is a failure to mention the Strategy even as a background document. The Strategy sets out the following priorities: Increasing the Supply of Affordable Housing; Supporting Vulnerable People and Preventing Homelessness; Improving Housing Conditions; Developing Sustainable Communities and Delivering Through Effective Partnerships. Recommendations C & D contradict each of those priorities. The fact that neither the Strategy nor its Priorities are mentioned in the Report is itself clear evidence that they were not taken into account in arriving at the decisions that were taken. Recommendations C & D are in breach of Principle (v) – little or no account is taken of the clear aims and outcomes set out in the Strategy; and of Principle (vi) that there was no consideration or evaluation of alternatives compliant with the Strategy.

2. Recommendations and Decisions C & D fail to comply with Principle (iii) equalities in that there is no consideration given to the well documented unmet housing needs of those in Merton and in the wider Sub-Region, nor of the fact that those in Housing Need are more likely to be vulnerable and/or from a minority ethnic background.

3. Recommendations C & D and the Report supporting them fail Principle (iv) the test of openness in that they purport to be the recommendations, advice and view of officers whereas in fact they are the recommendations, advice and view of the Cabinet Member, Cllr Diane Neil Mills. It is contended that Merton’s senior housing officers previously have drafted the aforementioned Housing Strategy for Merton 2004 – 2007 and the original Cabinet report of 15th November 2004 in favour of proposals to declare 165-169 Merton Road and garages on Ravensbury Estate surplus to requirements and disposed of to Wandle and Presentation Housing Associations for the purpose of building affordable housing units. This was the basis of the Cabinet decision of 15th November 2004. There is no reason to believe that the officer advice has changed in respect of these proposals. In this context, it is believed that paragraph 2.4.2 gives a misleading impression. It is accepted that: “Officers have advised the Cabinet member on the benefits and risks of not proceeding with the affordable housing scheme given the work that has been completed to date.” However, the next sentence reads: “It is now being recommended that this affordable housing scheme does not go ahead and further, that Cabinet makes a decision to sell the site on the open market with outline planning permission. The reasons for this is that it is now considered that 12 new affordable housing homes represents too high a concentration of mono-tenure affordable social housing in this particular location. …. The view is that the Council’s best interests would now be served by selling all of the site on the open market, but with outline planning permission, so that the Council’s wider interests in terms of eventual housing on that site can be fully considered.” (my underlining) The implication is that this report presents the recommendation, reasons and view of housing officers, in a true sense rather than, on a narrow definition, merely writing a report in accordance with what they believe to be the Cabinet Member’s views.

Desired outcome:

1. That the Cabinet be advised to retake their decisions on the basis of a report that refers to the Priorities contained in the Housing Strategy for Merton 2004 – 2007.

2. That the Recommendations and Decisions comply with the Housing Strategy for Merton 2004 – 2007.

3. That the Recommendations and Decisions comply with Equalities.

4. That there is openness and clarity about which is the advice and recommendations of officers and which of members.

Witnesses requested
Cabinet Member Diane Neil Mills, Peter Mulloy Head of Service, Simon Williams Director of Community and Housing
Specific information/documents requested
Housing Strategy for Merton 2004 – 2007.

Correspondence by letter or e.mail between officers and between the Cabinet member and officers in relation to the compilation of this report, including legal and constitutional advice given.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ashes whitewash beckons

Another disappointing test match ends in defeat, a tour that started with so much hope has now become very one-sided. While I hope England can turn it around and get a consolation last test victory, the Australians are now on such a high and with it being the final test match for both Warne and McGrath winning will be very much an uphill task.

With the one day matches and the Cricket World Cup coming and with our form being abysmal in one day match our fortune do not look like changing anytime soon.

The Ashes victory of 2005 seems so long ago and it all now seems like a false dawn for English cricket like has happened on so many other occasions.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fear of key worker flight over lack of cheap homes

I read in the news today that the Mayor of London has intervened in a planning application in Hammersmith and Fulham over affordable housing, and an attempt by the Conservative administration in that Borough to reduce the number of affordable housing.

The Mayor may also want to take a closer look at Merton Council, as the minority Conservative administration are pursuing similar policies and using the same arguments as their colleagues in Hammersmith and Fulham. With their decision to abandon two affordable housing schemes(which have been called-in by the Labour opposition), the policies are similar and the below article shows the real face of Toryism.

With Shirley Porter back in town, maybe Merton and Hammersmith will be hiring her as a consultant in the New Year.

Previous | Fear of key worker flight over lack of cheap homes
Wednesday, 27th December 2006, 08:34
Category: Lifestyle
Nurses, teachers, police officers and other low paid workers could be forced out of the capital if the policy of providing cheap homes is abandoned, Ken Livingstone warned.

Controversial Mayor of London said there was a "grave danger" councils across London could tear up statutory plans to provide at least a third of affordable homes in new developments

In rejecting a council approved scheme to reduce the number of low rent homes in a massive new development, he blasted the move as "scandalous" and likened the scheme to Dame Shirley Porter's gerrymandering policies of the 1980s.

The disgraced former leader of Westminster Council was surcharged £27 million for moving poorer tenants out of affluent areas in central London and then selling the flats off cheaply in the "homes for votes" scandal.

The Tesco heiress had pleaded poverty but after an eight year legal battle agreed to pay £12.3 million to settle the debt.

London borough Hammersmith and Fulham Council had wanted to cut the number of low rent housing association homes in a large new housing development in the borough by more than a third.

The Council claimed that the cut was justified because the ward in which the development was located had more social rented homes than the London average.

The development at the old Prestolite Factory site in East Acton originally saw an application to provide 148 affordable rented homes, a third of the total number of new homes.

But in the summer the council allowed developer Genesis Housing Group to cut this number to just 65. When the Housing Corporation refused to fund the scheme, the number of low cost homes was increased to 92 low rent homes.

Mr Livingstone rejected the application as it breached the Borough's own statutory plan which, like the London Plan, requires that 35 per cent of new housing should be affordable low rent homes to meet the huge need for such housing in London.

The Mayor said: "It is scandalous to cut new affordable rented homes and to justify this by saying that the area has enough cheap rented housing already.

"Hammersmith's actions have the stench of Shirley Porter’s regime at Westminster Council in the 1980s.

"It is completely unacceptable for any Council to turn down the offer of desperately needed affordable rented homes - especially when this contravenes planning policies.

"There is now a grave danger that all over London borough councils are tearing up previous affordable housing policies and driving down the supply of affordable new accommodation."

He said there were 2,000 homeless families in temporary accommodation in the borough alone this Christmas.

He added: "Over two thirds of London households who need new homes can only afford to do so through the social rented sector.

"That is why the London Plan - and indeed the Council's own statutory plan - requires that 35 per cent of new housing should be for low rent affordable homes, with 15 per cent for higher cost shared ownership.

"This is especially important in places like Hammersmith and Fulham where high house prices mean shared ownership is out of reach for people on lower incomes."

The Council's own figures showed that it was untrue that the ward in which the development was located had more social rented homes than the London average.

Local MP Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton & Shepherds Bush) said:

‘This is a blatant abuse of the planning process with the aim of limiting the amount of homes available to those in greatest need. The Council’s conduct is both improper and immoral and is a matter for the Standards Board for England which I shall be taking forward, but I am delighted the Mayor has taken decisive action on such a matter of strategic importance to both the borough and the whole of the capital.’

Death of Gerald Ford

While Gerald Ford will never be the most memorable of US Presidents and did not make a significant impact, he nevertheless took over at a time when the US was in turmoil following Watergate and the huge economic difficulties of the seventies.

In pardoning Richard Nixon for his actions over Watergate, he cast a shadow over his presidency and many held that against him. While I believe Richard Nixon should have been answerable for his actions, it did bring to a close the Watergate scandal and allowed Richard Nixon to eventually rehabilitate himself in public life.

Although he had come to the Presidency by accident, he was nearly re-elected in 1976 and came within a whisker of retaining the Presidency. If he had been a better campaigner and had not been overshadowed by Watergate, he may have beaten Jimmy Carter who was a disaster as President.

Gerald Ford was also the last of the old style Republicans before the arrival of Ronald Reagan and the subsequent take over of the Republicans by neo-conservatives. If he had won in 1976, the whole course of history would probably have changed and we would probably not have seen Ronald Reagan become president, still it is another what if and the course of history turned out that way.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Shane Warne reaches 700 wickets

Another dismal performance by the English cricketers in being bowled out for just 159 in the first innings,it looks like it we could be in for another difficult test match.

My congratulations are extended to Shane Warne on reaching the landmark of 700 test wickets and with another five wicket haul he is now at 704, he might be retiring soon but he is still getting those wickets.

Anyway I live in hope of an improved England performance!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Bizzare Christmas Day weather in Australia

Apparently parts of Australia suffered a white Christmas, I kid you not. In Melbourne scene of the fourth test they have just suffered the coldest Christmas Day in record. I enclose below the story from Reuters.

I just hope the current cold weather in Melbourne helps England in the cricket, though it is difficult to be optimistic about the England cricketers at the moment.

Christmas snow in Australia eases fire danger
Mon 25 Dec 2006 3:24 AM ET
SYDNEY, Dec 25 (Reuters) - Australian firefighters dreaming of a white Christmas had their wishes come true with snow falling on mountains blackened by weeks of bushfires.

Light dustings of snow were reported by the Bureau of Meteorology in the mountain regions of Tasmania and Victoria, the two eastern states worst affected by Christmas season fires.

The burst of wintry weather is in stark contrast to the blistering summer temperatures and high winds of the past few weeks that have driven the fires that have destroyed dozens of homes.

Up to 50 millimetres (two inches) of rain on Christmas Eve brought snow to mountain ski regions that have long been shut for the summer.

Blazes in December have burned out nearly 900,000 hectares (2.25 million acres) of forests in Victoria -- an area about the size of Cyprus.

More than 800 firefighters have been sent home for Christmas with 900 remaining on duty over the Christmas season, local media reported.

Pauline Fowler's demise

I've got to say I was a little bit disappointed at the way Pauline was killed off in EastEnders tonight. I was half expecting something on the Tiffany Mitchell or Dirty Den scale and I felt the ending of EastEnders was an anti-climax. It certainly has better endings and I feel this could've been better as well.

Anyway that now leaves only one original character left in EastEnders, Ian Beale. Wendy Richard has been one of the great chracters in EastEnders since it started in 1985, while in recent years her character has run out of steam, nevertheless she has put on some gripping performances over her time in EastEnders as Pauline Fowler. The soap has lost it's ultimate battleaxe with her demise.

Finally, is always seems to be a White Christmas in Walford, I've never once known a white Christmas in my lifetime in London yet ever year in Walford it seems to snow, it must have some kind of micro-climate has it never snows in this part of London!

Happy Christmas

I would wish all readers of this blog a very Happy Christmas.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Fairytale of New York

Has to be my favourite ever Christmas single, the lyrics are superb and everytime it comes on I still put the radio up. Great to hear and always reminds me of my Irish roots along with my many ancestors from past generations who emigrated to New York in search of a better life and the American dream. Shame it never made Christmas No1 and instead we get that X Factor trash at the top which is making a packet for Simon Cowell.

The one sad part is that Kirsty MacColl died so tragically six years ago at Christmas.

Anyway Happy Christmas to all.

Bono and the Honoury Knighthood

Seeing the front page of the Mail of Sunday about Bono was a typical Mail hatchet job to knock success and anyone this Government attempts to honour(unless it was a prominent tory). Despite doing a huge amount of humanitarian work across the world and raising the profile of third world debt, the article was the Mail of Sunday at it's very worst, nasty and mean-spirited with an anti-Irish tinge for good measure(I bet it was not front page on the Mail of Sunday Irish edition).

Like Bob Geldof before, I'm a great admirer of Bono and the work he has undertaken. Many people like to knock rock stars and question their motives but this is a genuine case of someone who has contributed a huge amount of time and effort in campaigning against in in-justice in the world and bringing the issue to the fore. This was demonstrated by the Live 8 concerts of 2005 and world leaders making commitments on third world debt.

Another individual who had a rent-a-quote in the article was Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester. From the time I lived in Colchester during the mid nineties when I was at University of Essex, I know what a deeply nasty unpleasant politician Bob Russell actually is who will stop at nothing to get publicity. The remarks criticising the award of the honoury knighthood was a typical Bob Russell cheap jibe which he is fond of making in Parliament and elsewhere. Bob used to be in the Labour party until he jumped ship and joined the SDP in the early eighties, the day he gets defeated in Colchester will be a good day for democracy.

Anyway congratulations Bono you deserve the Honoury Knighthood for all the work you've done and it is well deserved.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sam Hamman

I heard today that Sam Hamman has sold Cardiff and has now left the club. After selling Wimbledon to Norwegians for £22 million back in 97, he bought Cardiff shortly afterwards. During his period in charge at Wimbledon he never seriously looked for another ground despite the Council having given permission for a 20,000 stadium in Wandle Valley. Sam always blamed Merton Council for this, when it was mostly his failure. OK, in hindsight Merton Council may have been unwise to have lifted the covenant on Plough Lane(it was many years before I became a councillor) but it was on the understanding proceeds from the sale would be used to build another ground. The proceeds of the ground sale to the then Safeway group(about £8m) certainly did not go back into the club and Merton Council was used as a convenient scapegoat.

As a kid I supported Wimbledon, and effectively I lost my club when it became MK Dons and upped sticks to Milton Keynes. This is in part is due to Sam Hamman. Although a backer of AFC Wimbledon it very sad to see what has happened to a once great club that won the cup in 1988. Every time I pass Plough Lane in Wimbledon and see the cranes working on the huge residential development(which happened after Safeways was turned down) I feel what a great loss it is to the Borough and what the site could've been.

Cardiff should be glad to see the back of him, though I hope they are vary of Peter Ridsdale who sent Leeds to the point of bankruptcy through his financial dealings.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Donnelly Green lighting update

This morning I was e-mailed a further update on the lighting at Donnelly Green, it seems that some progress has taken place. I just hope it gets resolved in the early part of the New Year.

1. EDF reconnected the supply to the five columns behind the community centre but this resulted in an immediate cable failure and therefore it will be necessary to lay an extensive length of new ducting and cabling to restore a permanent supply to these columns. Because this work cannot be undertaken until the New Year the option of a temporary overhead supply was investigated but unfortunately the columns are only 5m high and this would have resulted in cable being strung between columns at approximately 4m height which would have made it vulnerable to vandalism and was not considered acceptable under health and safety regulations. We will arrange for the ducting and cabling work in the New year.

2. EDF visited the site yesterday and inspected again last night and have confirmed that the three columns on the footpath linking the Library/Community Centre to Recreation Way are now fully functioning. In addition Martin Nolan from the Corporate Services Facilities Section visited the library yesterday and has arranged for the car park lighting and the external lighting on both the Library and Community Centre buildings (all of which are controlled from inside the buildings) to be left on overnight, in an effort to improve the overall level of illumination in the area.

Merton Council Budget and Cabinet meeting.

I attended the Merton Cabinet on Monday night, the main item was to have been the Budget but that has been deferred to a meeting on 11th January, hopefully the minority Tory administration will be re-considering their decision to close the Bond Road centre for children.

Although the meeting had a packed agenda, many of the items fitted in the relatively uncontentious category. However, the meeting did proceed with approving a stock transfer ballot which will now go to Full Council on 31st January, David Williams the Leader expressed regret that the ALMO option at the Cabinet meeting seems to have been closed to the Council. In last weeks local Guardian he also stated that the letter to tenants letter may have been handled better in hindsight(this is understatement), this is not surprising given that a motion at the last Council had condemned how the letter had been sent out along with the content.

Probably the most contentious part of the Cabinet meeting was the decision to overturn two affordable housing schemes approved by the previous Labour cabinet in November 2004 which had received funding from the Housing Corporation and sell the sites on the open market. One of the developments on Merton Road in Abbey ward and was a very small development of just 12 houses which apparently is too large a concentration of affordable housing. The site will now be sold on the open market and one thing you can guarantee is that no affordable housing will be in any development if it is sold to a property company. The leader David Williams stated that "alternative sites are being sought though none have been identified", I have my doubts whether any affordable housing sites will be provided given the Conservative minority administration attitude towards affordable housing in Merton. Both dropped affordable housing development also happen to be in the two of the most marginal wards in Merton (Abbey and Ravensbury)

I enclose information below

C). 165-169 Merton Road (Abbey Ward) - That Cabinet decides:
i) To cease work on proposals for a housing scheme of 12 homes for new affordable housing arising from a previous decision at Cabinet in November 2004.
ii) To agree that the Director of Community & Housing, in consultation with the Cabinet Member, decide on demolition of the building, taking into account ongoing safety and security costs as well as the repeated incidents of trespass and anti-social behaviour, and the fact that full recovery of the demolition costs may not be guaranteed. Cabinet to note that if the option to demolish is exercised that capital of approximately £100,000 for demolition and site clearance (subject to necessary consents) would need to be approved and the demolition option if chosen, to be progressed by Director of Environment & Regeneration under delegated authority.
iii) To place the property on open market for sale (subject to necessary consents) after having gained outline planning approval for housing. To be completed under the Scheme of Management by the Director of Environment & Regeneration.

Ravensbury Garages Site (Ravensbury Ward) – That Cabinet agrees to cease all negotiations for new affordable housing on this site as previously decided in a Cabinet report dated 15th November 2004, and that Cabinet approves the sale of this site on the open market, having sought outline planning permission – subject to necessary consents and to by the Director of Environment & Regeneration under the Scheme of Management.

Borat- Cultural Learnings of America

I finally saw the Borat film tonight and I have to say it was one of the funniest films I've seen in a long time. The film is pure comedy from start to finish and some of the scenes are hilarious especially the one with the American anthem and the toilet scene. Although it is a pretty short film, I never got bored with for one minute and Sacha Baron Cohen is fantastic in the film. Well worth seeing and the best comedy I've seen since the first American Pie and that was a few years ago.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Donnelly Green lighting

At the moment one of the issues that is provoking the most casework, is the lighting on Donnelly Green which is an open space in my Pollards Hill ward. This green has many public footpaths running across the green to the bus stop and also to the community facilities including the library and community centre. The footpaths have lighting and I managed to get some of the lighting replaced earlier this year(most of it was broken, dangerous) but shoprtly after lighting on the other part of the green became faulty

I was greeted with an e-mail yesterday that the relevant officer has gone on holiday till the New Year and that I will hear back then which I do not find particularly acceptable. The problem apparently has been with the energy supplier EDF, who carry out the work on behalf of the Council. However as the Council own the lighting and it is ultimately the responsibility of Merton Council to rectify the matter, in this instance Merton Council despite repeated letters and e-mails from local ward councillors over many months have failed to resolve the issue.

The latest information I have from Merton Council, is that the reason for the delay is that EDF have identified the power source for the lights adjacent to and behind the community centre. They have found that this supply has been disconnected, either deliberately or accidentally. EDF are carrying our further investigations to establish what needs to be done to restore the supply. If a cable has been damaged it might be a case of laying a new cable. I just hope that this does not a further few months for something to get done.

I’ve also been concerned as well about the safety implications of the lighting not working, with the long nights. With many residents using the footpath security issues exist for residents walking along the footpath. Likewise the CCTV camera on Donnelly Green behind the community center is limited due to the poor lighting. Having a safe area with adequate lighting is essential if a people are to feel safe.

Hopefully the issue will get rectified soon though I've no doubt if it had been on the Wimbledon side of the Borough it would have got fixed by now, still I live in hope and hopefully this gets resolved soon.

Local MP bids for free cash machine in Pollards Hill

I have put out a press release from Siobhain McDonagh about getting a cash machine into Pollards Hill. While we have a cash machine it charges local residents for use and in an area of high deprevation like Pollards Hill having access to a free cash machine is something I believe we should have and hopefully we will be a location for one of these free to use cash machines.

Local MP bids for free cash machine in Pollards Hill

Mitcham and Morden MP Siobhain McDonagh has called on the big banks to stop charging Pollards Hill residents for withdrawing cash. This follows an announcement that the industry will be increasing the number of free cashpoints in disadvantaged areas. Currently, residents have to pay at least £1.75 to obtain cash, even if they are withdrawing only £10.

Siobhain has written to Link, urging them to introduce a new ATM on South Lodge Avenue, in the heart of Pollards Hill. Local community group Commonside has also backed the campaign - in August, its Project Manager Naomi Martin wrote to the Royal Bank of Scotland asking it to consider installing a cashpoint at the local community centre.

Siobhain has told bank bosses many residents in Pollards Hill are more than a mile's walk from a free cash machine, even though the area is also one of the most income deprived neighbourhoods in the country. Siobhain said:

"People in Pollards Hill can ill afford to pay just for the privilege of getting their own money. Yet that is what the banks are forcing them to do. I'm pleased they've agreed to install more free machines, but I want them to make sure Pollards Hill gets one."

"In built up areas like Mitcham and Morden, you shouldn't have to walk far to find a free ATM, but I have been campaigning in Parliament for increased access to free cash machines, and I think it's terrible that people in Pollards Hill have to pay."

"Link says Pollards Hill has free ATMs nearby, but they ignored the fact you have to trudge across Mitcham Common in the mud and dark to get there. In reality, you need to walk 30 minutes to find one."

Siobhain's bid has been backed by the local Pollards Hill Labour Councillors. Cllr Zenia Jamison added:

"It's very surprising the banks haven't included us in their plans for free cashpoints. I can only assume they've made a mistake. The whole community will be working together with Siobhain to get them to change their minds."



Link has announced plans to install 600 free ATMs in low income areas, and has already identified a number of sites. These are in Super Output Areas (sub-sections of Council Wards - there are approximately 6 to 7 SOAs in each Council Ward) that are defined as Income Deprived using the Index of Multiple Deprivation produced by the ODPM in 2004. Link is targeting SOAs that are more than 1km from a free ATM as the crow flies. Road layouts and the natural barrier of Mitcham Common mean most residents actually have to walk between 1.5 to 2km.

Treasury Minister Ed Balls MP and the Chair of Parliament's Treasury select committee John McFall MP struck the agreement with the leading banks and cash machine operators to increase the number of free ATMs by 600. The new agreement is aimed at helping people on lower incomes to start up bank accounts and ensure that they can access those accounts as easily and cheaply as possible.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

December ICM Opinion Poll

OK, it is no the best opinion poll result to be eight points adrift of the Conservatives in the latest poll. However, the ICM poll tends to give the Labour party it's worst ratings, the methodology used varies considerably between polling companies with MORI polls tending to make the gap narrower.

In relation to the poll, given the constant bad publicity we've had from the media over the past few months, to be only eight point adrift it not a bad score. The recent polls also show our support stable, indeed we are up on previous polls earlier in the year. When the Conservatives were last in power they were regularly behind by bigger margins and still went on to win the following General Election.

The Tory support is only at 40% which is barely over the winning line, indeed most polls are showing them at a lower figure. Some of their extra support has also come from the Liberal Democrats and given their dismal leader Ming Campbell this is not surprising(I'm minded to place a bet that he'll get dumped in 2007).

We are now ten years into a Labour Government and no sign exists yet that the Conservative are on the crest of re-gaining power at the next election. Indeed, looking at the polling data a great deal of their support seems to be pretty soft. Every government becomes unpopular, that it has taken so long four us to show this deficit is pretty good indication of how despised the Conservative party had become and pur success in office.

For 2007, the Labour Party needs to re-engage and re-new itself in office. I have no doubt given that we have a leadership election next year we will hopefully see a bounce on our poll ratings.

If Cameron set for power he would be leading by 15-20% in the polls which are figures that both Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher had when they were in opposition(even up to 30% in the lead). The Conservatives are no where near that figure and given the swing back to Governments that nearly always takes place from mid-term he would need to be producing these figure if the Conservatives are to have a chance of winning.

I'm still believer that we can win a fourth term in office with a majority and all is to play for in 2007.

Shane Warne's retirement from cricket

I've just heard that Shane Warne has announced his retirement from cricket after the 5th test match. Despite my disappointment at the loss of the Ashes, Shane Warne has been one of the most remarkable players ever to play the game of cricket and his wicket which haul which currently stands at 699(and will no doubt be over 700 by his retirement) is a record that is likely to stand for a very long time.The total wicket haul is over 300 wickets more then any English bowler has achieved in test match cricket(Ian Botham) and shows what an outstanding cricketer he has been.

Shane Warne has been one of the most remarkable players to have graced the game, though from an English perspective it may give us more of a chance any future Ashes series! Anyway enjoy your retirement and thanks for the memories.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Bleak Christmas for Bond Road Children

I have enclosed a press release from from my colleague Maxi Martin, when it comes to Bond Road it is certainly not the season of goodwill from Merton Tories, that is unless they change their mind on the closure this side of Christmas.

Labour Councillor Maxi Martin is continuing to champion the plight of children at the Bond Road Early Years Centre, to be closed as part of the Tories’ budget cuts. She has called on the Tories, in the spirit of Christmas, to remove this proposed cessation of service to some of the most vulnerable and needy children in Merton

At a meeting of the Council’s Scrutiny Committee in November, Officers and Tory Councillors stated categorically that five new children’s centres would be open by March 2007 and would be able to take the children from Bond Road. However, in a written response to a Council question, it has now been confirmed by Officers that only ONE new centre will be open in November 2007 – and there is no guarantee that it will be fully operational from the outset or will be able to offer the full range of services Bond Road provides.

Cllr Maxi Martin, Labour Spokesperson for Children, said: “We shouldn’t be playing with children’s lives like this. I don’t understand why we were told that 5 centres would be open by March 2007 when the Project Timetable indicates that only one is scheduled to be opened in November 2007– and we’ve no idea what services it will offer and from when. I call on the Tories to show some compassion this Christmas and to cancel any plans to close the Early Years Nursery provision at Bond Road. That would be a great Christmas present for these kids and their families.”

Friday, December 15, 2006

Marimba, South Wimbledon

Last night I chaired a Licensing Sub-Committee hearing into Marimba (formerly The Piano Lounge) in South Wimbledon, along with Cllr David Simpson and Cllr Judy Saunders. The hearing was a review of the licence borough by a local resident following a large amount of noise emanating from the premises over a long period. This was only the second licensing review hearing in Merton under the Licensing Act and the first that had been triggered by a local resident.

The hearing lasted over two hours and the end result was that Marimba had its Public Entertainment Licence removed as it has failed to comply with the original conditions as set out in the Operating Schedule. This had been agreed by Marimba back at the original licensing hearing in November 2005 when it was granted a licence by Merton Council to operate. This related to amplified music and insulation work (we received a letter on the day saying that the work had been completed that day) and the condition relating to a sound limiting system. By Maimba having its Public Entertainment Licence removed it will not longer be allowed to have live music, dj's, karaoke etc, only background music will be allowed as this is not a licensable activity.

In making a determination, it showed by Marimba not having complied with conditions in the licence, it had resulted in the removal of certain licensable activities i.e. public entertainment in this case. Any conditions that are imposed by licensing committee need to be adhered to by applicants and implemented.

While Marimba remains open and is allowed too serve alcohol and food, it will now have to make a new application for a Public Entertainment Licence to Merton Council and a Licensing Sub-Committee will hear this if objections are made. A right exists for them to appeal to the Magistrates Court, however it is likely that it would take a few months to be heard and I believe that Merton Council would have a very good case to defend if they take that path.

Ashes Test Day 3

Oh dear, it does not look too promising after the 3rd day of the test. My hope for a large score has been dashed.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Death of Diana

It is with a forlorn hope that we can now put aside the whole conspiracy theories behind the death of Diana. This was a tragic accident in the middle of Paris caused by a driver high on drink and drugs. I really do hope that we can move away from all these conspiracy theories and put the matter to rest.

Of course, the matter is not helped by Mohammad Al-Fayed who thinks it was all a conspiracy organised by the British security services and Prince Philip. It was unfortunate that Diana ever got caught up with the Al Fayed's given their track record. Although not the biggest fan of the Royal family, I do not think they would have organised the death of Diana to clear the way for Charles to marry Camilla.

With next year being the 10th anniversary of Diana's death, we will no doubt have the papers full of stories with no doubt more conspiracy theories, like the death of JFK it will probably never go away. The Daily Express which seems to have had an obsession with Diana will probably continue to pump out the latest far-fetched story on Diana and Paul Burrell will probably feel the need to try and cash in again on his relationship with Diana.

I hope that she can now be left to rest in peace and that people accept it as a tragic accident.

Monty Panesar

What a great bowling performance by Monty Panesar on the 1st day of the 3rd Ashes test in Perth and it shows what a mistake it was to leave Monty out for the first two Ashes tests. After Adelaide however, it is no good getting hopes up yet of a win, we have already lost two wickets in the England innings and given some of our batting performances so far we need to post a big score, 400+. Hopefully England will win the Test match, though after the last test match England need to perform over five days.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Morden Park Pool closure.

A statement has been issued by Merton Council (below) as an incident on Monday has closed Morden Park pool. Hopefully it is a short-term closure and the problem rectified though judging by the statement it could be a long-term closure and the repair bill could be very high. It was a miracle no one was injured.

Following an incident at Morden Park Pool on Monday 11 December, Merton Council and Greenwich Leisure Centre (GLL) have closed Morden Park Pool until further notice. This action was taken in response to a number of ceiling tiles falling into the main swimming pool. Approximately 12 to 15 tiles also landed 5 metres from the poolside.

Fortunately no one was injured during the course of the incident. As safety of the public is paramount to Merton Council, it was deemed appropriate to close the main pool. Our surveyors are visiting Morden Pool yesterday to try and establish the best short and long term solutions for the main swimming pool.

A recent survey of Morden Park Pool did not identify the area from where the ceiling tiles fell as an item of concern, but we have to consider the age of the site, which was originally opened in 1967.

Although the main pool has been closed, the teaching pool, the diving pit and the fitness pool will remain open.
I would like to reiterate our commitment to working in partnership with GLL and to re-opening the pool as soon as it is safe again for public use. We are very sorry about any inconvenience this will cause Merton's residents, however Morden Park Pool members can use both Canons Leisure Centre in Mitcham and Wimbledon Leisure Centre whilst Morden Park Pool is closed.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Windmill Trading Estate reconvened inquiry date

I have been today advised that the Windmill Trading Estate inquiry will reconvene on 13th February following the inquiry overrunning the original four days it had scheduled. I understand that the first day will include a visit by the Planning Inspector to the Windmill Trading Estate site.

In terms of the inquiry, the developer’s evidence has been presented to the Planning Inspector; the Council will now be presenting their case when the inquiry reconvenes in February. The delay means that decision on the application by the Secretary of State following the inspector's report is unlikely to be determined until the autumn of next year, which will be four years after the start of the original development proposal.

Danny and Peggy Denningberg

A few days ago I was shocked to hear the news that Danny and Peggy Denningberg had been attacked in their home in Godalming during a burglary. I knew both from my time as a Parliamentary candidate in South West Surrey and at the time they were the only elected Labour party councillors in the area. During my time as a candidate both were of great assistance to me and helped me considerably in understanding the local area.

Anyone who knows Godalming will know how much of a contribution both have made to the town and they amount of charitable and voluntary work outside of politics that both have undertaken. Danny was until 2003 a councillor in Godalming on and off for fifty years and the Denningberg Centre for the elderly in the middle of Godalming was established through their hard work and dedication.

I'm praying that they make a full recovery and that the individuals who carried out this despicable act are caught and brought to justice.

I enclose the full story that appeared in the Surrey Advertiser.

An elderly couple well-known for their dedication to the community have been hospitalised following a break-in at their home.

Police believe intruders forced their way into the Ockford Ridge home of Danny and Peg Denningberg sometime between Saturday evening and the following morning, although they are still unsure how they sustained their injuries.

The couple, both former Godalming town councillors, are currently being treated at Guildford’s Royal Surrey County Hospital. Mr Denningberg, 83, has a broken collarbone, bruising to his chest, shoulder and face and a head injury. His 87-year-old wife is being kept under observation.

The police said they believe the intruders forced their way in through a window after gaining access to the rear garden.

It appears the couple’s daughter discovered her injured parents on Sunday afternoon and called for an ambulance but was unaware that the house had been broken into.

Surrey Police were alerted on Monday when their daughter discovered signs of a break-in and cash missing on returning to her parents’ house.

Detective Inspector Gary Summer said: “It is unclear at this stage the exact chain of events that led to this incident, so I would appeal to witnesses who saw anyone in the area acting suspiciously over the weekend, particularly on Saturday, to come forward.”

Waverley Borough Inspector Graham Weaver added: “Surrey is one of the safest places in the country to live and I would emphasise how unusual this type of incident is, if indeed the burglary and injuries received by the householders are linked.

“I would also underline the need for friends, relatives and neighbours to keep an eye out for the vulnerable at a time when we have seen a rise in the number of burglaries where elderly victims have been targeted.”

Residents in Ockford Ridge have been left stunned by what has happened. Keith Gatford, a neighbour, said: “This has shocked the community of Ockford Ridge. The Denningbergs are a lovely couple.”

Mr Gatford added that all residents in the area have been questioned by the police, particularly regarding their whereabouts at 8pm on Saturday.

Mr and Mrs Denningberg have worked tirelessly for the community for many years. Mr Denningberg, who was made an MBE in 1980, served as a town and borough councillor for 40 years and was nominated to be the town’s mayor on three occasions.

During his years of service he initiated two major projects – the building of the Ockford Ridge Scout and Guide headquarters and the Denningberg Centre for the elderly.

Mrs Denningberg, also a former town mayor, served on Godalming town and Waverley borough councils until 2003.

A spokesman for the town council said: “All town councillors and town council staff were concerned to hear that the Denningbergs were in hospital and wish them both a speedy recovery.

“Danny and Peg Denningberg are highly respected and valued members of our community. We urge anyone who can offer any helpful information to the police to do so.”

Contact Surrey Police at Guildford police station on 0845 125 2222.

The bubbles have burst for Pardew

Hard to believe that just seven months ago Alan Pardew was on the verge of winning the FA Cup, 2-0 up in the Cup Final and then 3-2 against my team Liverpool when Stevie Gerrard scored his amazing equaliser in the last minute of normal time and the rest as they say is history.

How fortunes change! from the brink of success to the sack, football is a ruthless business and with new Icelandic owners at West Ham, they did want to see their investment put at risk by playing Championship football next year. I think they would have escaped the drop and Pardew was a good boss. They had a run of bad form but any potential failure at this leve; will not be tolerated when so much is at stake.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Death of Pinochet

I Cannot say I'll be mourning the demise of Augusto Pinochet given the human rights abuses that took place under his regime in Chile and the brutal way he came to power in 1973 by deposing of the democratically elected government of Allende.

Thousands of opponents of his regime died and were tortured during the years he was in power and any opposition were brutally suppressed during his years in power.

The British Conservative Party especially Margaret Thatcher will no doubt be in deep mourning at his loss given her support for Pinochet during her time in power. When attempts were being made to extradite him to Spain in the late nineties for human right abuses, Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives were very vocal on the matter.
While Margaret Thatcher may have been quick to have condemned human right abuses in certain parts of the world, it seems she was always very supportive of the Chilean regime of Pinochet. No doubt if he had been some socialist or progressive politician it would've been a completely different story.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Merton KS2 Primary school results

Within the three primary schools in Pollards Hill, The Sherwood School, Garden and William Morris the results at Key Stage 2 have shown a very wide variance.

The Sherwood School was the top primary school in the whole of the Mitcham and Morden constituency and ranked eight overall in the Merton schools on aggregated score. This result is a tribute to the work of the Head teacher Ken Tyscak and his staff in ensuring that the school is a beacon of high performance in the local area.

In terms of the other two schools, Garden has shown an improvement in results this year, which is welcome, and hopefully the trend will continue in future years. The other school in my ward William Morris is located within one of the most deprived parts of the whole of Merton Borough and has one of the highest numbers of pupils with English as a second language out of any Merton school along with a high number of pupils wih special edcuational needs. As a local councillor, the school faces challenging circumstances and as a local councillor it is important to be supportive of the school and that Merton LEA gives any assistance that it needs.

The full Merton results are below.

Sort by name Sort by VA Sorted by AGG APS
Bishop Gilpin CofE Primary School 101.1 290 30.9
Merton Park Primary School 101.4 290 30.1
Dundonald Primary School 102.1 289 30.5
St John Fisher RC Primary School 100.4 288 29.1
St Matthew's CofE Primary School 99.5 286 30
Wimbledon Chase Primary School 100.8 284 30.1
Pelham Primary School 100.1 270 29.4
The Sherwood School 100.5 269 28.9<
St Mary's Catholic Primary School 101.0 268 29.5
Merton Abbey Primary School 99.8 265 28.3
Hatfeild Primary School 100.1 264 28.5
Malmesbury Primary School 100.3 264 28.1
Hollymount School 100.0 261 29.9
Stanford Primary School 102.1 260 27.5
Hillcross Primary School 100.5 258 28.9
Poplar Primary School 101.0 257 28.9
Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School 100.3 257 28.8
St Mark's Primary School 101.1 257 28
Aragon Primary School 99.3 256 28.5
The Priory CofE School 99.3 256 28.5
Joseph Hood Primary School 100.6 254 28.7
All Saints' CofE Primary School 100.0 253 28.3
SS Peter and Paul RC Primary School 99.3 252 28
Wimbledon Park Primary School 99.8 250 29.2
West Wimbledon Primary School 100.8 248 27.6
Holy Trinity CofE Primary School 99.0 247 29.4
Cranmer Primary School 100.6 247 27.7
Links Primary School 100.2 246 27.6
Garfield Primary School 99.4 244 28
Haslemere Primary School 99.1 239 27.2
St Teresa's Catholic Primary School 98.6 238 27
Abbotsbury Primary School 102.5 237 27.6
Beecholme Primary School 99.0 226 27.6
Bond Primary School 100.3 224 26.2
Liberty School 100.2 220 27.2
St Thomas of Canterbury Catholic Primary School 99.6 213 27.1
Morden Primary School 99.7 210 26.2
Lonesome Primary School 99.2 204 25.9
Gorringe Park Primary School 99.1 198 25.8
Garden Primary School 98.6 193 25.5
Singlegate Primary School 98.1 192 25.8
Benedict Primary School 99.2 185 24.7
William Morris Primary School 98.7 164 24.7

Windmill Trading Estate

The planning inquiry for Windmill has been adjourned till the New Year, after the inquiry failed to finish in the allotted four days. I have yet to be given the date when the inquiry in January will it reconvene as the planning officer has been away but I'll post it on this blog when I know the date.

Hopefully when the decision comes it will uphold the Council decision, the Windmill applicationhas been a major issue in my ward and hopefully the inspector has listened to the view of local residents. I also note in the below article that the devlopers "have listened carefully to comments and ideas from local residents and organisations over the past months", if they had then they would be not be proceeding with their plan as locally their is nearly universial local oppostion to the propsed developement.

I enclose the story in this week's Wimbledon Guardian below.

‘We don’t need another estate’
By Diana Pilkington
Angry residents opposing proposals for a £50million development will have to wait until next year to see if the "lunatic" plans are approved.

Controversial proposals to replace the run-down Windmill Trading Estate on the edge of Mitcham Common with 212 homes and additional employment units were the subject of a four-day planning inquiry last week, after the application was twice refused by Merton Council.

As the inquiry was not fully heard in the allotted time, it is set to recommence in late January.

Merton Council received more than 300 letters from residents slamming the plans when the proposals were first lodged more than 19 months ago.

Pat Gluska, 60, of Walton Way, said: "This is a lunatic development dumped in the middle of Mitcham Common.

"Mitcham needs to be regenerated by bringing employment into the area. Business is what regenerates, not building flats and dumping people in the middle of the common. This area has little or no work to offer residents already living here.

"The Windmill Trading Estate is historically employment land, not residential. There have been a lot of big housing developments planned for Mitcham - it doesn't need another one."

Martin Whelton, ward councillor for Pollards Hill, said: "The site overlooks an environmentally-sensitive area on Mitcham Common.

"With blocks of flats five storeys high, it is cramming far too many flats into one small area.

"This has been a long-running saga in my ward for the past three years and hopefully when the planning inspectorate delivers his report next year he will uphold the decision of the council in turning down this application."

Merton Council previously turned down the proposals on account of the job losses that would result from the new development, but the developers have since amended their plans.

Paul Kempe, of Industrial Holdings Fund, said: "We have listened carefully to comments and ideas from local residents and organisations over the past months and have reduced the size of the development.

"It will provide a balanced community of 212 much-needed homes and also create new jobs for local people. We envisage some residents will want to both live and work at Windmill Park, bringing a reduction in traffic, noise and pollution.

"At the moment Merton is behind its housing targets, set by the Greater London Authority. These homes will help meet this target."

Opening of Lidl on Rowan Road

On Thursday the new Lidl on Rowan Road was opened by Siobhain McDonagh MP and for the first time my ward Pollards Hill has a major supermarket that is nearby. Although the Lidl is in the neighbouring ward of Longthornton, it will be popular in the area and the supermarket offer a range of goods at reasonable cost.

While it took only six weeks to erect from start to finish(they work round the clock and it is German efficiency at it's best) the development took many years to happen due to a planning inquiry following the decision of the Government Office for London to call the application in as it varied from Merton Council's UDP. Prior to the development of the site, it was a local eyesore that had been derelict for many years, now the site has been transformed.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Merton Council Tax increase and the Tories

Seeing this week's front page in the Wimbledon News and Tory leader David Williams comments, it seems that the Tories are getting their excuses in early for raising the Council Tax.

For a party that a few months ago were promising to freeze Council Tax, they seem to have changed their views and are now planning a rise above inflation.

The excuse given by David Williams is a poor budget settlement from the Government, this is absolute baloney, they have known the settlement they will get for many months and the Council has budgeted in line with the expected settlement which was part of the two year settlement announced in November 2005.

Naturally the outgoing Labour administration has been blamed, when it has been mainly due to their own financial mismanagement since taking office in May. While a budget gap does exist in Adult Social service (in common with most other councils) it is not insurmountable and would have been addressed if we were still in power.

Instead, the position that we have is that they are trying to jack up the Council tax by over inflation, they have naturally gone for 3.7% figure when the Government's preferred figure of inflation is 2.6% and they will no doubt try and go above that figure. Merton residents could therefore be faced with a rise of over 4% or even 5%. Like the last Tory government, they are already breaking their pledges. At the same time they are busy cutting services like Bond Road, which affects vulnerable children, and are also busy cutting services like special needs statements along with proposing cuts that will affect the most vulnerable in adult social services.

However, they are also proposing an extra £30,000 to spend on a Tory group secretary and are looking at proposals to raise their councillor allowances, in some cases by over 100%.

In my role as Labour group finance spokesperson, I have no doubt if we had still be the administration we would have achieved only a 2.5% rise in Council Tax for 07/08 in line with our election pledge. Thanks to the mismanagement of Council spending by the Merton Tories since taking control, the likely increase is now likely to be much higher the figure we has promised in the Labour manifesto.

St Helier Hospital and the Merton Tories position

Going through my old e-mails on St Helier, I came across an old press release from Andrew Shellhorn former Parliamentary candidate for Mitcham and Morden along with being councillor up until the May local elections(he was defeated). Back in 2004, it seems they were quite keen to save St Helier and on offering support to save St Helier.

How things have changed!, they seem to have gone lukewarm on support for the hospital judging by a recent Stephen Hammond newsletter in Merton Park and a response from David Williams at the Council meeting last week. Indeed, they even criticised the decision to refer the matter to the Secretary of State when a decision was made to locate the critical care hospital at Sutton, this deceision was subsequently overturned following the referral by Merton Council.

I also checked out the Wimbledon Conservative website and the press release below has been removed even though it has an archive back to 2000. Now I wonder why????

Anyway I have posted the release below.

Seven Weeks to save St Helier
Author: Andrew Shellhorn
Date: Friday, April 30, 2004

On Wednesday night at the Merton Council meeting, the Conservative Group proposed a motion urging the Council to fight for the health of local people. This motion, although amended, was passed without any opposition. Importantly this motion urged the Council to do all that was necessary to save St Helier Hospital from the prospect of closure.

Sutton and Merton Primary Care Trust (PCT) has been undertaking a Clinical Services Review to determine what model of clinical services would best serve Surron and Merton. Whilst they are examining four possible options, the expected outcome is for six new Local Care Hospitals (LCH) and one new Critical Care Hospital (CCH). The PCT is asking local councils, amongst other groups, to suggest the criteria they should use to decide the siting of the LCHs and the CCH.

Cllr Stephen Hammond, Wimbledon Conservative Parliamentary spokesman said " This is vitally important for local people. The PCT are asking for input into the criteria which will decide where these new LCHs and CCH are sited. But it is all being rushed. They have set a deadline of April 30th for replies and then intend to announce their decision on June 17th. We have seven weeks to fight for Merton's health.

"The PCT must take into account the ability of patients, visitors and staff to reach these sites. The London Plan suggests that preferred locations should be in town centres. The new sites must take into account not only patient numbers but also their needs. They must be able to deliver quality healthcare and link into the services provided by other local hospitals. I am extremely concerned that if the new CCH is sited in Sutton there might be an adverse impact on the quality of healthcare provided at St Georges and Kingston."

Whilst the Clinical Services Review is not due to be announced until June 17th, it has been rumoured that the PCT has already made up its mind on the siting of the new Critical Care Hospital.

Cllr Andrew Shellhorn, Mitcham and Morden Conservatives Parliamentary spokesman, told us " There is a belief that the PCT has already made up its mind and this site criteria exercise is just a case of making the evidence fit the verdict. The Conservatives want the PCT to keep St Helier it is an excellent hospital with first rate A&E provision and maternity care.

"Apart from some comments last November, the Labour MPs have been silent. I , together with Stephen Hammond, will be requesting a meeting with the PCT to put the case for St Helier. We have seven weeks to save St Helier."

Cllr Stephen Hammond concluded " The residents of Merton need two new Local Care Hospitals and one should be sited at the The Nelson. But the residents of Merton need St Helier and the Conservatives will be doing all they can to prevent the PCT closing it. Our Labour MPs are quiet on this subject. Perhaps that is because despite all their nonsense about Tory cuts, in Merton it will be Labour closing a much needed hospital. Local residents will not forgive a Labour Government or its MPs for closing St Helier."

Pre-Budget report response

The statement from Gordon Brown again shows what an excellent chancellor he has been over the last decade and the huge economic success this country has had over the last decade.

Thanks to the policies pursued we have enjoyed the longest ever period of economic success, interest rates of half the figure it was under the Tories and unemployment that is a fraction of the figure it was under the Tories. The continuing prosperity of the economy is a tribute to Gordon Brown, while the Tories talk and gloom on the economy (and George Osborne was pretty hopeless in his response) they cannot get away from the facts that Britain continues to prosper. The approach adopted of investment instead of tax cuts is the right approach.

Within the Pre-Budget report, I also welcome the publication of long-term Leitch report on skills and the Eddington report into transport. In any economy it is vital that we have long-term thinking and tackle the issues that need tackling, if we did not then we would not be doing our job in Government. The Government have done a great deal on tackling skills and training issues, but it clear further measures are needed to ensure our workforce are equipped to face the challenges of a global economy which is ever changing and addressing skills shortages that exist within parts of the country.

The other part of the budget that I welcome is the extra resources into our schools in direct payments, an extra £12,000 for primary schools and £50,000 for secondary schools. The transformation in our schools has been pretty remarkable in terms of resources available and also in terms of renewing school infrastructure and buildings which I see first hand in my own Council ward of Pollards Hill. This has had a huge effect in raising school standards and attainment, however we can have no let up in the drive the raise standards even further and improve results.

Finally, the other interesting matter from a local government perspective is the Barker review and the proposed setting up of an independent planning body to deal with strategic applications. The current planning appeal system does need to be improved, the appeal process is long drawn out, and I know from experience that reform is needed within the system to speed up the process. With an independent system of appeal, the decision will be taken away from the political environment at the national level and false accusations from our opponents’ that planning decisions have been made politically will be no more. What has to be crucial as well is that planning is determined initially locally and I believe that this should continue to remain the case.

Overall the last ten years has shown Gordon Brown to be the most successful chancellor ever and his record bears tantamount to that.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What a disaster

How could England lose the second test match after putting on such a huge first innings total? After putting on 551-6 in the first innings(the largest ever total where a team ended up losing) we still lost the test match to go 2-0 in the Ashes and with it any realistic hope of retaining the Ashes. The result will be a disaster for morale and makes a depressing wet day in London that much more depressing.

Samantha George will not be the next Maggie Thatcher

Apparently the Tory Deputy Leader of Merton Council Samantha George has been shortlisted as the Tory candidate in Maggie Thatcher's old stomping ground of Finchley. Could Samantha George soon be Finchley bound?

Anyway we will know later this week whether she has been successful or not and with Finchley being a key marginal, Merton will no doubt be seeing a lot less of her if she wins.

UPDATE 11/12/2006
Her quest to get selected in Finchley has ended in defeat, anyway better luck next time and it looks like she will not be the next Maggie Thatcher. Back to the grind of Merton!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Kevin Rudd, new leader Australian Labor Party

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) which is a sister party of the British Labour party today elected their fourth different leader in as many years in Kevin Rudd. If anyone thought that blood letting was bad in the British Labour party, it is calm in comparison to the ALP.

As a person who takes a slight interest in Australian politics, mainly because as an English-speaking nation the country has many similarities and knowing people through the union movement who have been involved in the ALP, it really is a pretty ruthless party in disposing of leaders. While it would be long drawn out process to remove a leader here, in the ALP when Kevin Rudd decided on Friday to challenge Kim Beazeley the previous leader the contest along with the Deputy leader contest was arranged for Monday. Everything seems to be very clear-cut Down under and it only involves the Parties elected members (called caucus) unlike here. Politics within the ALP is also very factionalised with left and right wings in the party with individual members aligning accordingly.I have enclosed a link below to the BBC story.

In 2007 John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister who has won four terms will be seeking his fifth term. Hopefully 2007 will see his demise, on 30th November 2006 it was the first anniversary if the implementation of union Laws that are amongst the strictest in the western world and leave trade unionists with few rights in the workplace. Over 300,000 turned out to demonstrate against the laws against the country, which shows the strength of feeling to the reforms. The laws are far more restrictive then any British employment law.

Hopefully the ALP will now unite behind their new leader Kevin Rudd and win the federal election due in Australia next year. Currently the ALP runs every state government in Australia and hopefully they will now go on and win the federal election. John Howard is one of the most obnoxious right-wingers in western democracies and Australia will be very well served by his demise. If the ALP is not united party, then John Howard re-election is inevitable. Australia is a very political country where people engage far more in politics then in this country, turnouts in elections always over 90%(it does have compulsory voting) along with compulsory preferential voting and parliaments are elected for only a maximum of three years. I will be watching developments closely.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Rowan Road development

I today visited the Rowan Road development exhibition which is near where I live and on the edge of my ward of Pollards Hill. The proposals is for a mixed development of mainly 2 and 3 bedroom houses with many being set aside for first time buyers. The contrast with the Windmill application in my own ward is stark, in this case the developers have thought through their plans much more comprehensively and have come up with a plan which fits into the area much better(more housing instead of flats). Within the development space will also be set aside for community usage and residents views are being sought on the matter, a use for scouts has been suggested.

The current site is an eyesore and while amendments will no doubt be made to the plans, I believe the development will be beneficial to the area. The site will also include so much need green space along with a lake.

Hopefully it will be approved by Planning and as a local resident, I believe the proposed plans will get rid of the local eyesore that is the former Rowan Road school and improve the locality in the process. Coupled with the Lidl supermarket which is being opened next week after a long running planning battle, along with the current development on the old UGI Smith Meters site(Mulberry Gardens) the area will be changed significantly by the ongoing and proposed developments.

Ashes 2nd Test, the first two days.

What a great two days it has been in the 2nd Test in Adelaide, a glorious double century by Paul Collingwood and the huge 4th wicket stand with Kevin Pietersen. The bowling figures of Glen McGrath and Shane Warne were truly awful, maybe it is the age catching up with them?

We have to press home out advantage. though it will be tough as the wicket is pretty benign and made for big score. Still it is a stark contrast to the performance in Brisbane last week, how fortunes can change so quickly and I'm already feeling a great deal more opitmisitc then when I did my first post on the Ashes after the dismal start in Brisbane.

Keep it up and lets hope the bowlers perform tonight!