Thursday, 25 June 2009

Nonsuch Byelection - Meet The Candidates (Part 1)

Ahead of Thursday's council byelection in Nonsuch Ward, the Worcester Park Blog questions the main candidates about key issues affecting the area and asks how they would seek to improve the lives of local people.

First up, defending the seat for the Conservative Party is local businessman Georg Braun.

WPB: Tell us a bit about yourself and what motivated you to stand in the byelection.

GB: I live in Worcester Park in Hampton Road with my partner and 4 children. Over the last 5 years I have built up a retail company with one store in Surrey.

As a family we have sight of much of what our community experiences; from children growing up and struggling to find a school place, through to traffic issues on back roads (including mine) and Central Road and the challenges of what it takes to run a local business in Surrey in a recession.

My motivation to stand is in part a tribute to Chris Dunlop, our previous Conservative Councillor for Nonsuch, who demonstrated to me and our neighbours what difference a Councillor can make.

I stand to fill the sizeable hole left in our local representation as a result of Chris' untimely death. I am not a typical politician. I am a local guy who wants to make a positive difference because I live here too.

WPB: The dilapidated building at the Queen Victoria Crossroads is an eyesore that creates a terrible impression of North Cheam. What action would you take to ensure that something is done about this?

GB: This building scars our neighbourhood and gives visitors an appalling first impression as they come into the borough.

A number of actions are already being taken by my Conservative colleague in order to create different options, including speaking to the world’s largest property advisor to help generate new ideas and interest.

In the here and now the issue is very simple: planning permission was obtained for the development of the site into a landmark building, which will lapse later this year. Only a dialogue with the current owners can answer any question marks over why the redevelopment of the site is stalling.

That dialogue with the owners is what I will seek to have, together with my colleagues.

WPB: Traffic congestion is a real concern for anyone who lives in or around the Worcester Park area. What do you think the solution is, and what would you do, if elected, to ensure this problem is addressed?

GB: I was pleased to be able to have a meeting at City Hall with Mayor Boris Johnson, discussing our local issues.

This included the traffic lights in Central Road and their phasing, which are one contributing factor of the systemic traffic jams down the high street.

That is a practical starting point where we can make a difference. The wider issues as to the sheer traffic volume that already exists, local and travelling through, are less easily addressed.

On that wider issue and at the very least, any discussions concerning the further extension of the Hamptons need to deliver a realistic assessment and plan for the additional traffic it will generate; the lack of realistic planning during the approval for the previous development phases demonstrates the astonishing lack of common sense in the current Council administration.

Anyone driving to work down Central Road on a weekday morning suffers the consequence of what happens when the local government does not plan properly.

WPB: Do you share the feeling of many locals that North Cheam and Worcester Park are forgotten outposts of Sutton? If so what would you do to ensure that greater attention and priority is given to our local area at Council level?

GB: It is more a reality than a feeling: Investment and thinking are centred on Sutton. Our area is almost always at the back of the queue for help from the council. I think this wrong. We all pay the same amount of council tax, regardless of where we live.

Projects such as the controversial £8.5million Sutton Life Centre, a single investment in one location, bears witness as does the £3million Sutton High Street refurbishment programme. There are no complementary actions planned for North Cheam or Worcester Park.

Two things are required: Local Councillors rooted in their community and an effective local government that has a coherent plan for all areas it represents.

Our area needs fresh ideas. Sutton Council is ripe for a change in leadership.

WPB: Respect for politicians is at an all time low, as reflected in the dismal turnout for the recent Euro elections. Why does it matter that people vote in a council by-election?

GB: I’m angry with Westminster politicians too, but this election is not about expenses or sending a message to Westminster.

It is about getting someone who lives in the ward with the determination to get the attention that North Cheam and Worcester Park is crying out for.

If elected as a councillor, I’ll always be a resident first. Local elections matter, because what your local council decides on affects you every day: from traffic planning to waste collection, from youth provision to whether children currently attending primary school will still have access to a local swimming pool when they attend junior school.

It also affects what you have in your pocket: our positive plan to freeze the council tax is a pragmatic commitment to achieve more with less.

WPB: Local traders are having a really tough time, with many going out of business leaving an increasing number of vacant shop units in the area. What can be done to help local traders in these difficult times?

GB: In business myself, I know exactly how hard this recession is on those running their own shops and businesses.

After all, small to medium size businesses account for 99.3% of UK business – this is no different in Sutton.

Small businesses create half of our country’s wealth and form the backbone of our local community. The harsh reality is that the Council can do very few things that truly affect the next month or the next quarter of trading.

What the Council can do is to offer support now and help in the future: We need a plan for the Worcester Park, North Cheam and Cheam Village high streets to make parking easier, giving customers access and providing some guidance over how we want these centres to develop.

Where there are customers and a council environment that is supportive to enterprise, individuals can start to make a success of running their business.

WPB: Apart from the above issues, what are your top priorities, or the main issues that you want to tackle on behalf of local people?

GB: The above covers a lot. In addition to those points, my key priorities are:

A. Provisions for our young people growing up, from activities to schooling
B. Reducing the fear of crime and antisocial behaviour
C. Traffic management and widening the planning horizon of our Council out from Sutton to our community
D. Addressing what I call the "Problems without a Plan": Victoria House, Cheam Baths - existing issues that can be solved with a plan and dialogue.

Tomorrow: Liberal Democrat Candidate Gerry Jerome