Monday, 23 February 2015

Reason For The Long Wait

Many people including me, have been wondering why the decision regarding the Mosque Application at 2-4 Green Lane has been taking such a long time.

So when I saw an email hit my inbox today, forwarded by Cllr Hookway from the council's planning department, with a subject that began with 'APP/P5870/A/13/2199244' and ended with '2-4 Green Lane, Worcester Park', I jumped on it with guarded expectation.

The nub of the email read:
"Unfortunately the Inspector’s decisions will not be ready to be issued by 9 March 2015 due to the Inspector experiencing a close bereavement. The decisions will now be issued on or before 13 May 2015."
I seems much more water needs to pass under the bridge before we find out whether we experience another surge in parking and traffic problems or not.

In the meanwhile my sympathies go out to the inspector who has necessarily become rather familiar with this little corner of the land and a group of us who have been trying to persuade him one way or the other on this issue. I'm sure we would all like to offer him our thoughts.


Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Operator?


Have you been having problems with your home telephone? Apparently quite a few people have reported faults from around The Avenue, Manor Drive and further down towards the A3 (or should that be up towards the A3 - being sort of Northish?)

Anyway, readers may have noticed the cabling operation going on over the last couple of days at the bottom of Central Road culminating with this little camp out on the corner of Central Road and Green Lane.

The gentleman is now in the process of changing over all the phone lines (around 1600 of them from one huge underground telephone cable - around 4-5 inches in diameter). The cable connects many home phones down in the areas mentioned with the telephone exchange just behind the old Post Office. If you live in that area you might lose your telephone for around 5 minutes sometime this evening or tonight. The chap said they would be there all night getting it done.

Apparently the is a water leak down there somewhere too because the phone cables and some of the manhole covered access points are all full of water - all adding to the fun of doing his job. It seems it was the water, soaking into the old paper insulation of the really old phone cable that started causing the problems in the first place with the 50 volt signal sparking and eventually shorting out the thin wires. However I am assured the new cables they are putting in are designed to cope much better with these things.


Monday, 16 February 2015

Give 'em A Grilling

Have you heard? There's an election coming up! Apparently it's only 79 days away (at the time of writing).

The time has come for you, dear readers and Worcester Parkers to put your own questions to the candidates (for the Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park constituency) and find out what the pretenders to the local throne actually have to offer and how the local outcome could affect the country.

The local hustings will be taking place this coming Thursday (19th February) evening at Christ Church with St Philip on the corner of Cheam Common Road and Ruskin Drive, KT4 8LG. The doors will open at 7:30 with debate raging from 8pm.

The last one of these, held at Sutton Sports Village, Rose Hill, in November (where these photos were taken) focused on the issue of health, and was well attended by over 80 people. (Labour's Bonnie Craven wrote all about it here.)

The theme of this coming Thursday's debate is issues surrounding the Economy.

Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park is a very important constituency given it was only won by 1,608 votes back in 2010 by the Lib Dem incumbent, Paul Burstow. Given that the Conservatives (represented here by Paul Scully) only need to win another 23 seats for a Conservative majority, voters in Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park could have a major say in who ends up in Downing Street in May.

The Lib Dems of course want to hold on to as many seats as they can, Labour's Emily Brothers has been carving out a strong niche for herself in the local area while Maeve Tomlinson (the Green party), Angus Dalgleish (Ukip) and Dave Ash (KOSHH - dedicated to saving St Helier Hospital) are all keen to make a big difference.

The hall has a capacity of 130 so seating will be on a first come, first serve (or first seat) basis. The debate is being chaired by Nick Hitchens, the Sutton Guardian editor (presumably stepping in for David Dimbleby who must be busy with a different debate elsewhere). Parking is fairly limited nearby so people are encouraged to explore public transport options - the 213 and 151 buses stop fairly nearby.

Come along and help shape the debate!


Sunday, 15 February 2015

Royal Mess


Anyone visiting the bottom end on Central Road today can't help but have noticed the larger than usual amount of rubbish strewn over the pavement. A quick inspection of the rubbish showed it had come from the Post Office.

According to a gentleman in the shop there, the previous night drunken youths had taken all the post office rubbish which was out for collection and emptied it leaving the wonderful creation for us all to enjoy.

Hopefully it will be swept away by tomorrow...


Travellers At Vic House

Victoria House, the stain on the local landscape we just can't get rid of is now playing host to a caravan of Irish travellers (yes apparently that is the collective noun) - although there are around seven actual vans and caravans parked on the site.

It seems this is not the same group of people who moved in behind the old Worcester Park Tavern and then later tried their luck in Manor Park. One of the group told the blog that he had never been in the area before. When asked how long they planned to stay he said they would be gone by Monday and that they would be heading down to Brighton (sic). When asked how they had got in he said they had found the site open (again - sic).

This photo I took of the back gate a few months ago clearly shows the gate padlocked shut. Do any readers remember seeing this gate unlocked recently?

As well as the vehicles at ground level, they have also parked a van up on the car park level. After all the deterioration, hopefully the structure is still strong enough to hold it.

Several people (including the local MP - according to a tweet he sent out) reported the travellers to both the police and the council. Apparently the police turned up quite quickly and then left again just as quickly. No doubt they are relatively powerless as the travellers will be using some legal loophole which means they can't be quickly and easily dislodged.

Alan Plant, chair of the nearly Chapra Residents' Association and also of the Nonsuch Police Neighbourhood Watch has stated:
"I believe the residents have been badly let down by Home Group. Firstly we report that the secondary security fence is down and they say it is not necessary. Then when we repeatedly report that the site is being compromised by intruders they do not care, do nothing and refuse to put in an intruder alarm in the open areas with the excuse that there is no electricity on site. Have they never heard of battery backup and sensors that only activate on movement and a mobile phone connection to alert security. Then they refuse by their lack of action to increase the run of Razor wire."
"I believe Home Group were not even aware that their site had been invaded by travellers until [Cllr] Sam [Bourne] reported it to them. - So much for any security they told us they had. You have to believe it was like the Emperor’s new clothes in Hans Christian Andersen`s book - Non-existent."
"By Home Group's negligence we now have our own travellers site. With children moving around inside the complex in danger. Are Home group going to continue avoiding their responsibility to the Detriment of the London Borough of Sutton and North Cheam? Is the Council charging/fining Home Group for allowing improper and unauthorised use of the site by their negligence."
My Plant reiterated to the blog that Home Group have been continually told of break ins, grafitti and other antisocial behaviour carrying on at Victoria House and have simply refused to take the necessary secuity precautions to prevent it.

Another local resident spoke to the travellers and was told by them:
"We look for places like this that we can get into. If it wasn't like this we wouldn't be here."
Victoria House was sold to Home Group in May last year by Stonegate Homes who had secured planning permission for a fairly popular residential and retail development. The building was supposed to have been demolished last August. It now looks as if we will have to wait until summer at the earliest. See this piece by Paul Scully for more details.


Update (after lunch)

A few readers may remember a similar situation occurring with Perrings who had a derelict warehouse near the station. A 12 year old boy was lucky to be alive after falling through the roof of this derelict building which hadn't been secured properly. According to this report (below) from the Surry Comet in September 1996, the family were considering legal action. Is a similar situation what it will take for Home Group to step up and take responsibility for their property?



*Additional photos courtesy of @NorthCheam, Richard Johnson and David Rymill via Elizabeth Bennett.


Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Ross Amendment

Ross, Paul Scully and Business Minister Matthew Hancock MP
Ross, Paul Scully and Business Minister, Matthew Hancock MP
When Ross from Ross's Fruiterers received an unexpected guest last Saturday, he hadn't expected to be helping shape Government policy.

However a visit from Business Minister, Matthew Hancock on his '100 businesses in 100 days' campaign sparked a conversation which yielded a point which the minister has promised to take a closer look at.

The Minister who visited several businesses in Central Road accompanied by local Conservative Candidate, Paul Scully asked Ross what red tape the government can cut to make his work easier. His first response was "Get rid of the parking inspectors". More seriously he said 
"All I want is for people to have 10 minutes to stop outside so they can maybe pop in a card, get some groceries, get everything they need and go." 
Business Minister Matthew Hancock MP with Colin from Regwell Sewing Machines and Paul Scully
Paul Scully and Business Minister Matthew Hancock MP
with Colin at Redgwell Sewing Machines
According to Mr Hancock, the Conservatives in Government had already proposed a ten minute grace period to avoid parking tickets but this was vetoed by coalition Lib Dem ministers. 

Of course there needs to be a balance between people parking to nip into a shop or two and blocking traffic with parked cars (also a big issue in Worcester Park). Obviously no stopping areas must remain clear at all times for the sake of safety but no parking and no waiting areas, where you can stop and sit in your car for however long you like or to load/unload (people and/or goods) respectively, should perhaps also allow people a 10 minute grace period to pop into a shop - it's not really that different and would benefit small businesses as well as local shoppers. Either way, the Minister will be looking at the idea again.

They also discussed the issue of fruit testing which in the past had hindered the supply of really fresh fruit to customers. Testing times for some fruit imports had been as much as six days, meaning the fruit would often already be a week old by the time it was put on the shelf. Mr Hancock highlighted that having cut this down to six hours, greengrocers like Ross now have fresher fruit on their shelves for customers. This also means less wastage.

The Minister said afterwards of the visit: 
"It was fantastic to see exactly what cutting red tape has done for businesses like Ross’s Fruiterers in Sutton. Ross spoke to me about the importance of tackling regulation, lessening his costs as an employer and allowing him to do more for his customers. But a future Conservative government wants to go further. We are committed to the ambitious goal of cutting £10 billion more red tape in the next parliament so our nation's employers can grow and create jobs. 
We are proud this has been the first government to reduce the burden on employers, but there is still more to do. Healthy businesses are the backbone of a strong economy and our plan for red tape will help create more jobs, secure more futures, and ensure Britain is better off."
Paul Scully added: 
"I know from running my own small business how much unnecessary bureaucracy eats into my time and productivity. Ross and his fruit shop are both integral parts of Worcester Park. Business rate relief has made running his shop cheaper, the reduction in national insurance has lessened the cost of employing his staff. Now we need to tackle the parking issue that I know is a major bugbear for Ross and other traders and part of my plan for Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park."
Hopefully the flow of Ministers through Worcester Park will continue and that come May, Mr Scully will be in a position to keep them to their word about the many issues important to the local area.


Friday, 13 February 2015

Changes At Costa

Local coffee drinkers may be interested to know that Costa Coffee will be closed from Monday next week for some renovations and reopening on Friday.

The store looked a little different with the pictures removed and plastered sections on the walls. One of the staff (should I call them 'baristas'?) told the blog they will be extending the bar and getting all new furniture. They couldn't tell where the old furniture would be going - hopefully to a good home and not to landfill.

The large photo prints that used to adorn the walls are apparently being auctioned although the manager didn't yet know when or where. She did say that they would be letting people know next week when they reopen.

I guess it was serendipitous that Joe at Checkers was closing up early as I popped my head in there and so had to visit Costa instead - else I wouldn't have known! And of course Joe (independent local trader - hint hint) will be open next week for your coffee needs!


Bowled Out?


A few days ago I received a message from blog reader Sylvia, concerned for the future of Cuddington Bowls and other local bowling clubs. She wrote:
"We have very recently heard from London Borough of Sutton who are the owners of Cuddington along with Sutton Common, Carshalton and Rose Hill bowls greens telling us that our annual subscription per person will be increased by 70%. Last season we paid £113 - this year it will be £193. Bearing in mind that the vast majority of bowlers are senior citizens finding another £80 will be difficult for many. 
It would seem that the Council are set to ensure that all public greens in LBS will close down in the next couple of years."
According to a press release on behalf of all four Sutton clubs:
"The clubs are alarmed not only about the amount of the increase but the timing of the bombshell - just three months before the start of the 2015 outdoor season."
In a letter from Surrey County Bowling Association secretary Derek Harvey to both Sutton's Lib Dem MP’s, asking them to urge the Council to give the bowling clubs more time to cope with the announcement, he stressed:
"Make no mistake, an increase of 70.7% will in all probability lead to the
closure of some if not all of the public clubs within the Borough of Sutton",
Mike Ridley, secretary of Cuddington Bowling Club added:
"We appreciate that the borough council is having to make big cuts in its services and in the amount by which it subsidises many arts, social and sports activities. What we are asking for is that the Council phase in such a massive fee increase whilst we explore ways of reducing the cost of green maintenance, raise additional club funds and increase membership.” 
Officers of the four bowling clubs are due to meet with Council representatives on 23rd February to plead for the decision to increase fees by over 70 per cent to be reviewed.


A Possible Solution? (Warning - political opinion ahead)

Now this next bit might seem a tenuous connection but things like this are directly related to current financial problems in the borough (of Sutton). When so many local services are being cut and our council tax is about to go up, this is the most important time for scrutiny of how the council is making its financial decisions. Those who go gooey-eyed over the Lib Dems, or indeed those who feel any political opinion should remain hidden away should stop reading now.

When a group who happen to be the local Conservatives (the official opposition on Sutton council) are offering solutions to the problems that are being overseen or even caused by the incumbent Liberal Democrats, it is important for people to know there is an alternative and what that alternative is.

Tim Crowley, the Conservative leader on Sutton Council recently gave an interview on Radio Jackie where he described much of the wasteful council spending that should be cut that would allow the important front line services to remain. In addition he mentions £40million that the council has been overspending every year until recently, paid for by our council tax and also the near £1million spent by the council's communications department, much on what might be deemed as Lib Dem propaganda. Please listen to the interview here: http://www.radiojackie.com/redbutton/index.asp?singlepodcast=825 and decide for yourself.

At the same time this press release (from that very same council communications department) details an investment the council is currently making in property. It looks to be a good investment for someone with the money to spare, but for a council claiming to not have enough money to keep children's centres open, is cutting recycling and is threatening Sutton's bowling clubs (amongst other things), to find enough money sloshing around to invest in property seems like the wrong set of priorities to me. Investment is something you do with money you have left over, not money you should be spending on your responsibilities.

Whilst it is now clear all these cuts were being planned by the Lib Dems before last year's council election, they were very careful to avoid giving anyone any idea of what was coming in the lead up to it. They even talked about their recent record of not raising council tax (while not mentioning the 23 years of inflation busting rises before that.) Tory Councillor Tony Shields did try to warn people; in a letter to the Sutton Guardian in February last year he wrote:
"The public are in for a hammering - but only after the election. The writing is clearly on the wall for those who know how to read it."
I am writing this here because underneath I am rightfully angry that much of this could have been avoided. Regular readers will remember that I stood for council (as a Tory) in Worcester Park and lost by 75 votes. So it is understandable that I would take a pro-Conservative position. But it also means that I stood up for what I believed in and I tried to become part of the solution to the local problem.

However whatever my personal political views, I believe the evidence here speaks for itself. All is not lost though. There is still time to ask the local Lib Dem councillors to support some of the plans outlined by Tim Crowley above which would certainly alleviate, if not fix some of the financial difficulties we are facing in the LB of Sutton, including Worcester Park at the moment.

Rant over.


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Snack At St Raphael's


St Raphael's Hospice is opening a new cafe on the premises called 'The Orangery'.

The new eatery has been designed as a friendly, independent area where family of patients, patients if they are well enough, carers and the public can sit, relax and have a snack. It means that families have somewhere else they can go as opposed to just all squeezing around the bed in their loved-one's room.

The glass doors all open out into the courtyard where they will be putting comfortable black wicker furniture so people can sit out in the sun in the summer, which should do both patients and relatives a world of good.

It also solves another problem in that it gives people somewhere to get something to eat without having to go across to St Anthony's or further afield. This can be more important that is may first seem. When my Grandfather spent his final days here back in 1999, I volunteered to go and get a bottle of wine to share with the rest of my family who were with him at his bedside (He was in a coma but would have heartily approved which is why I offered to do so.) However there was trepidation at the thought he might go while I was gone as I didn't know how long it would take to get back. As it happened he held on for several more days (and I was back shortly having just caught the St Anthony's cafe as they were closing) but the worry was there that there was nowhere reliably close by to get refreshments.

It is also open to the public and indeed the public are encouraged to pop in and enjoy a snack - just go in through the front door, carry straight on and right into and through the courtyard.

The hospice is always fighting for money and donations so one of my first questions was how did they afford it? The answer was that after they drew up the plans in 2012 they applied for and received a small grant from the NHS (in 2013) after which they started the renovations. The work was mostly completed by July last year (2014) but there were problems with muddy ground and they postponed the opening.

They actually opened the doors for staff last Friday (6th February) and to the public on Monday (9th), however they are planning to have their official opening on 26th March. They are rather short staffed at the moment and want to build up slowly and get some experience (and hopefully some more volunteer staff) before they open officially. That said, they were quite happy for me to write this piece about them and did make me a very nice cappuccino.

What does St. Raphael's do?

Being a hospice I had been under the impression that they basically offered palliative care for people in the final days. However I found out it is much more that just that. For people who have been referred to them they offer four main services: Symptom Control - to relive pain and other symptoms of causes for which there is no cure, Respite Care, to give the family (or the patient) a break from the difficulties of being looked after at home, Terminal Care - Giving people the best possible last days, and they are just beginning a new service called 'Hospice At Home' - where they try to offer as much of this service as possible to people in their own homes.

There are many activities put on in the new Jubilee Centre in the Hospice (opened by Sir John Major in November 2012). They have people come to do art, yoga, live music (with both a classical musician and a guitarist) and even knitting with those patients who want to join in the various activities. There are of course regular visits from numerous therapists and they also put on lunches for patients, carers and even for the recently bereaved.

As well as their own specialist nursing staff they help coordinate Macmillan and district nurses. In addition they run a 'Hospice Neighbours Service' where volunteers go out and spend time with these people in the community and their own homes. It might just be helping walk their dog or taking them to the library and chatting about their favourite authors - just the sort of little things that can make a big difference. Gill Nunn, who is thier volunteer coordinator said:
"We try to match up the volunteers to the people they go to see. If a patient is from Yorkshire we see if we have a volunteer from that area to visit them. If they are musical we try to find someone who shares that passion."

There are a total of around 150 paid staff at the Hospice and 150 volunteers giving a few hours a week. When you add the volunteers at the various St Raphael's charity shops, the community support groups and up to 200 people who offer a bit of time for special events, there are around 500 people each year who help St Raphael's out by giving them some of their time. They are always in need of more though.

All the patient care is given freely and all this costs around £5 million per year. The NHS provides about a quarter of that so the Hospice must raise nearly £4 million per year. So please, if you can either spare some time (perhaps a couple of hours each week in the new cafe), or some money (or by helping with an event to raise some money), please contact Gill Nunn on gillnunn@straphaels.org.uk.

Hopefully for each of us we'll never need it but if we do, I'm sure we'll be glad it's there. Please help make sure it still is for everyone who does.


Sunday, 8 February 2015

Recycled Out Of Existence

Back in July readers may remember the recycling bins being removed from the 'island' where Central Road does a dogleg and becomes Cheam Common Road. 
After
Before















This was followed around six month later (about a month ago) by the public recycling bins being removed from Stone Place next to the library.
After
Before












For a council that years ago used to tell us how great they were at recycling (although apparently not in reality), this left many people scratching their heads as to why they would do this. Now this isn't just me having a pop at the council (although the evidence below does rather speak for itself). They did have their reasons however I still find myself wondering if this was the best decision.

On the positive side the 'island' at the top of the high street does look much nicer without the bins there and stone place has an extra 3 (or is it 4) parking spaces which is all good for the local area. However the obvious negative is that there is now less opportunity for people who want to recycle to actually do so.

There had been a debate ongoing about this for a while. Back in January last year at the CNWP (Cheam North and Worcester Park) Council Local Committee (which is responsible for the decision) a report was presented by Amy Harris, the Council Waste Strategy and Community Engagement Manager, which made the following points:

  • 31% of people use the recycling bins but not very often (they actually phrased as "69% of people didn't use it at all.")
  • 96% of people had recycling facilities at home anyway. (Meaning 1 home in 25 didn't have them.)
  • At the Central Road facility only 8 people used it during one 4 day period it was under observation (it was not stated if this observation was 24 hour.)
  • Stone Place is a much more popular recycling site.
  • At the Central Road facility the majority of people questioned want to keep the book and textiles bank but didn't feel the other facilities were really necessary.
  • People wanted the recycling at Stone Place to stay as it was.
  • Fly tipping and overflowing bins is a problem.
  • The council receive one complaint a month about the state of the Stone Place site.
  • Bins are quite often contaminated meaning the material inside can't be recycled.

The Lib Dem Chair (Cllr Kirsty Jerome) was clearly keen to remove all of the recycling facilities. She went as far as making the point that: "Most people are able to take it to the reuse and recycling centre." However the following points were raised by others:

  • Many flats don't have any recycling facilities and many others don't have adequate recycling facilities - Graham Jarvis.
  • They're overflowing means there's a demand for them - Cllr Eric Allen.
  • The proposed recycling bags for flats without proper facilities aren't very good for large items like cardboard boxes. - Cllr Stuart Gordon Bullock.
Cllr Roger Roberts tried to raise a similar point but was cut off by the chair (Kirsty Jerome). You can hear all of this for yourself in the 15 minute report and debate here. (For those interested you can hear recordings of all these meetings here.) It was decided at this meeting to put the decision on hold. 

The issue doesn't then appear on the agenda of any subsequent meeting until the 23rd October, long after the Central Road facilities have already been removed. (One can only assume the decision on the Central Road facility was taken behind closed doors.)

The meeting on the 23rd October only dealt with the Stone Place recycling centre (as the Central Road one had already gone) and consisted only of a report by Amy Harris. The report made the following points:
  • The bins attract fly-tipping.
  • Bins are often contaminated so can't be sent for recycling.
  • Businesses use them more than residents (termed 'abuse by businesses'.)
  • The council receive one complaint per month about the state of the bins.
  • Most residents only used them occasionally.
  • The borough had received £100,000 to help with recycling - which was used to provide reusable bags for recycling for flats (i.e. the same bags that Cllr Stuart Gordon Bullock said were inadequate back in January.)
  • A flats survey confirmed all flats now have recycling facilities. (See point above)
  • Residents now have a comprehensive kerbside recycling service - both in homes and in flats (see above two points).
  • Council should retain books and textiles recycling but find a different location for them, and remove the other recycling facilities.
There was no debate or discussion allowed after hearing the report (which was eerily similar to the report back in January). The committee then voted unanimously to accept the recommendations and remove the recycling facilities from Stone Place. This time there were no Tory flies in the Lib Dem ointment to raise a challenge as since last year's election there are no Conservative councillors in Worcester Park to ask difficult or embarrassing questions. Anyone in the audience who may have had an alternative view (like some did back in January) were given no opportunity to voice such concerns either. You can hear all of this for yourself here.

The council then invested quite a bit of money in public notices telling the local community that they had done what the community had asked, using the slogan "You Said - We did"). This large banner can't have been cheap. 

These notices appeared all over Worcester Park. This one on a lamp post was at the other end of Longfellow Road.

The only thing is... The claim that 'this is what people asked for' is completely untrue. In her report in January 2014, regarding the removal of recycling facilities at Stone Place, Amy Harris clearly makes the statement: 
"This does differ from what residents as a whole said they wanted."
You can hear it yourself in the January 2014 CNWP meeting (at 6:01) referred to above (find it also here).

Now just because the council may have spent a lot of money misrepresenting what was actually reported in order to make themselves look good, doesn't necessarily mean that the final outcome is bad for the community. I would like to ask readers what their thoughts are on the now missing recycling facilities.

In particular if you live in a flat and used to use the facilities, are the reusable bags adequate for your recycling needs? Are the extra car parking spaces in Stone Place a better use of the space than the recycling facilities? And has anyone actually seen where the book and textile recycling facilities have got to which were only supposed to be moved to somewhere else?

The council are of course trying to save a huge sum of money so it is fair that saving money on under-appreciated recycling facilities might make more sense than cutting other things. However does the local committee seem to be little more than a rubber stamping exercise? (I should point out that I sit on the local committee but only as a non voting member - and have been stopped from raising inconvenient points in the past.) What do you think dear reader...