A step back on step free access

A step back on step free access

Today the Department for Transport announced that it had turned down an application for funding to make Raynes Park and Motspur Park train stations accessible for all.

The decision follows a major campaign by the Merton Lib Dems calling for the installation of lifts or ramps and the two stations, and comes as a shock to the local community who were very supportive of the campaign.

Currently some platforms at Raynes Park station and both platforms at Motspur Park station can only be accessed via stairs, meaning people with prams, wheelchair users and those with mobility problems find it difficult to use the stations.

“We are incredibly disappointed that the Department for Transport has ultimately refused to fund step free access at Raynes Park and Motspur Park stations”, said Cllr Anthony Fairclough, Lib Dem councillor for Dundonald and one of the leaders of the campaign to make the stations step free.

“As a local parent myself I know full well the struggles people have to go through because of the lack of a lift or ramp at Raynes Park and Motspur Park sations. Yet, despite our compelling case for making the stations accessible, the Government have chosen to ignore the plight of local residents.”

“This is a real kick in the teeth for our community, which has had to put up with the lack of accessible stations for far too long”, added Cllr Eloise Bailey, Lib Dem councillor for West Barnes. “But this is not the end of the story. We will continue to lead the campaign for accessible access at Raynes Park, Motspur Park and all stations across the borough.”

Cllr Bailey and Cllr Fairclough have been working since summer 2018 to encourage the train company to apply for this funding, and to get Merton Council to agree to look at a financial contribution to help the application.

As a result of their campaign, South Western Railway applied for the monies to improve the stations and Merton Council agreed to provide a letter of support for these improvement works, indicating that they would consider supporting the projects financially should the applications be successful.

And in September 2018, Council bosses accepted a Lib Dem proposal to work to support access improvements at stations across the borough.


Budget decisions at Merton Council

On Wednesday, Merton Council held a meeting to decide its budget for the coming year. There have been severe cuts to local government funding in recent years. However, local Lib Dem councillors examined the proposed budget, and came up with a number of ways to reduce cuts to vital services, innovate in Council funding, and build stronger and safer communities.

You can see Cllr Anthony Fairclough, leader of Merton Liberal Democrat councillors, give his budget response speech here on YouTube.

2019 Budget briefing:

1) Council reject proposal for extra police in Merton

A funding proposal to put two more police officers on Merton’s streets for the next 3 years has been rejected by Labour councillors.

Lib Dem Cllr Paul Kohler said:

“Unlike Theresa May, we know there’s a link between crime and police numbers and we therefore wanted to replace some of the police officers that we are losing in Merton owing to cuts from the Mayor and central Government. It was very disappointing that Labour and Merton Park Residents Association councillors would not support our proposal, preferring to stick to a dogmatic position that flies in the face of residents’ concerns”.

You can watch Paul’s speech about the amendment here on  YouTube.

2) Merton Labour choose union officials over children’s care workers

Labour councillors voted to keep full time trade union officers - paid by Merton’s taxpayers - rather than two care workers who work with some of the most vulnerable children in the Borough.

Lib Dem deputy leader, Cllr Carl Quilliam said:

“The cuts the Conservative Government has imposed on Merton mean that difficult choices have to be made. We value the role of trade unions but don’t believe that they need 3 full time officials paid for from the Council’s funding. We wanted to cut that in half and use the savings to stop two care workers losing their jobs. It’s disappointing that Labour put the interests of their union paymasters ahead of vulnerable children - and striking that none of them even explained why they voted that way.”

Cllr Quilliam proposed two amendments: seeking to protect care workers, stop new charges for disabled people who need blue badges and a Welllbeing Innovation fund. This fund would promote social innovation by developing new approaches to help people improve their health and wellbeing; and reduce isolation through promoting independence.

You can watch Carl’s speech from the meeting here on YouTube.

3) Education fund rejected

Labour councillors lined up to block a new Education Innovation Fund, paid for by a voluntary Council tax donation like used by Westminster Council.

Lib Dem Cllr Hina Bokhari said “This is was a no-brainer. It would have potentially helped thousands of children in Merton, by looking at new ways to support educational groups like Merton Music Foundation develop new services in the borough”.

This was part of a series of innovative ways proposed by Merton Liberal Democrats at the Council budget meeting to look at longer-term solutions and learn from other councils: a Strategic Roads Fund like Stockport's to fix our roads now, and cut costs on patching potholes later; a landlord licensing scheme – like in Newham – to back local renters, and keeping local parks free for the Little League football charities, to support kids' health.

Unfortunately Labour councillors voted against each of our amendments, demonstrating again their aversion to working collaboratively with other parties on the council to get the best deal for Merton residents.

You can watch Hina’s speech here on YouTube.

The Council’s budget press release is here.


Merton Lib Dem Budget Amendments

Merton Liberal Democrats realise that the cuts to local government funding are significant and it is clear as a result that difficult decisions need to be made. These cuts go beyond what can reasonably be expected to be delivered through efficiency savings and we join others in calling on the government to think again on the proposed cuts.

The proposed budget can be found on Merton Council's website.

Whilst we do not agree with a significant number of the proposed savings it is clear that the constraints of the budget don’t offer significant opportunities. Therefore in our budget amendment we have focussed on three things:

  • Opportunities to mitigate or delay cuts to services where we believe it is both possible and necessary.
  • Innovation in Council finances and opportunities to grow the Council’s revenue in new and sustainable ways
  • Building stronger and safer communities by stepping in to support community policing

With this in mind, we have proposed four amendments to the Council budget (the full text of our amendments can be found on the Merton Council website): 

1) Health and Care amendment

We believe that the charges for blue badges are both unnecessary and unfair. Many people need blue badges to get around, and those in need of them have already been targeted with cuts to their mobility support through the welfare budget. This can be mitigated through a small use of reserves this year and should be reviewed again next year to find a further saving or funding source.

We also believe that through cutting an oversupply of central council trade union support, we could restore two care workers at Bond Road Family Centre Family Support & Outreach Centre for the foreseeable future.

2) Wellbeing Innovation Fund amendment

We are proposing that the council introduce a new £1.1m Merton Wellbeing Innovation Fund. The fund would be used to promote social innovation by developing new approaches to help people improve their health and wellbeing; and reduce isolation through promoting independence.

3) Innovating in council finances and promoting longer-term decision making

We are calling on Merton Council to support a number of amendments relating to innovating in growing the Council’s revenue; and in promoting longer-term decision making.

For example, there are several roads in Merton that have not been resurfaced in years. We want a project to look at proactively borrowing against the revenue cost of road repairs, to spend now and save larger costs later – along Stockport Council’s model.

Further, the Council could look at an additional voluntary contribution scheme from high value properties, based on the models used by Westminster Council and Kensington & Chelsea LBCs. The money raised could be used to establish an Education Innovation Fund.

We would also ensure funding to allow Merton’s Little Leagues to use local parks for free for another year, introduce a Landlord Licensing system to improve the situation for renters, and restore a senior scrutiny officer to help improve decision-making on the Council.

4) Police amendment

We are also proposing that the council should step in to help maintain our community police presence for a further 3 years. This is required to mitigate the cuts planned by the Mayor as a result of his centralisation plans, and funding cuts from the government. In particular we are calling for Merton Council to pay for 2 Police Constables for 3 years (as part of the Met’s new PartnershipPlus scheme).


Don't let Veolia mess with Merton

AF__JTC__Oxford_Ave_2018.jpgLast night (6 Feb) there was an extraordinary meeting of Merton Council to discuss the Council's waste contractor, Veolia. 

The Liberal Democrat group opposed a Conservative proposal to wait until 2024 and then just swap to another contractor. Liberal Democrat councillors instead put forward an amendment demanding that Merton Council, together with the South London Waste Partnership, immediately review its processes in managing and monitoring waste management services - so that lessons could be learned.

[You can watch the debate on Youtube here]

After debate, the Liberal Democrat amendment was ultimately supported by Conservative councillors. But despite this, it was blocked by Labour Council bosses who shockingly claimed there were no problems.

Speaking after the meeting, the leader of the Lib Dem group, Cllr Anthony Fairclough said:

"I was surprised that the Conservatives were willing to let the current situation continue for another 5 years, while we waited for an opportunity to try to end Veolia's contract and swap contractors.

"The Liberal Democrats on the Council want to see real action now. That's why we’re demanding an immediate review of how Merton could better manage waste and recycling contracts - whether the contractor is Veolia or another company in the future - to keep our borough clean and the bins emptied. 

"We need to look and learn what works - Merton must get better at being a Council that commissions services, rather than one that provides services directly.

"I'm pleased we won over the Conservatives to our way of thinking on this in the end. But it's frankly extraordinary that Labour councillors are unwilling to consider new ways of tackling the problem!"


Parking charges a “tax on not voting Labour”

Labour council bosses determined to press ahead with new parking scheme. 

At a meeting of Merton Council focusing on air quality, Liberal Democrats councillors called on the Council to scrap their plans to massively increase parking charges based on where you live, and instead move towards an emissions based scheme where the worst polluting vehicles pay more.

The plan was voted down by Labour councillors. [You can see the debate here on Youtube]

An analysis by Merton Lib Dems has shown that the proposed new charges for residents parking permits will mainly affect areas without Labour councillors. The increases will raise £1.4m a year, over £1m (70%) of which will be paid by people in Wimbledon, £172k from Raynes park but only £72k (5%) from the whole of Mitcham and Morden.

Lib Dem Cllr Simon McGrath said:

“Labour Council bosses have provided no evidence that their plan to increase parking charges will reduce traffic. The scheme looks like it’s purely to raise revenue, targeted at people who live in areas that don’t elect Labour councillors.”

Please sign our petition here: http://www.mertonlibdems.org.uk/parkingcharges

Lib Dem Cllr Eloise Bailey also proposed the appointment of a new Air quality Scrutiny Champion, to ensure a focus on effective action to cut air pollution. This was also blocked by Labour councillors. [You can see the debate here on Youtube]

Speaking after the meeting Cllr Bailey said:

“I'm so disappointed. Poor air quality is a huge health issue, and our idea was to try to get a real focus on air quality in the Council’s work, and get effective action.”

 

 


Local Plan 2020: Lib Dem response

Merton's "Local Plan" is the name for the new draft planning rules. These will provide the basis for planning decisions in the borough over the coming years.

As such, it is crucial that the Council get the plan right.

Merton Liberal Democrats have submitted a response to the Council's consultation on the Local Plan, and have suggested a number of improvements. In particular we would like to see a greater emphasis on the environment, community-led planning, and real action on affordable housing. We are also calling for a genuine debate on building heights and design, especially in Wimbledon town centre.

You can read our response in full here


Future Wimbledon Master Plan: Lib Dem response

The Future Wimbledon Masterplan has been prepared by Merton Council to guide a long-term vision for the development of Wimbledon town centre. A consultation was held on the plan (which closed on 6th January), to which Merton Liberal Democrats submitted a response.

While we welcome the establishment of a Masterplan, we have strong reservations about the current document. It is heavily dependent on the Government deciding to proceed with Crossrail 2, shows an unhealthy interest in over-developing office space and branded retail establishments. We are calling for a genuine debate on building heights and design - missing from the draft Masterplan. Additionally, we would like to see more in the plan about ways to tackle air pollution, build new housing, and develop Wimbledon's cultural centre and as a place for the creative industries.

Unfortunately, as currently conceived, the Masterplan represents a missed opportunity to develop a scheme that could have garnered real community support.

Our response to the consultation can be read in full here.

 


Support for rough sleepers in cold weathers - Severe Weather Emergency Protocol

The Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) is activated by the Mayor and Greater London Authority in case of temperatures forecast below freezing anywhere in London.

When SWEP is "activated", the arrangements in Merton are:

  1. If you become aware of a potential rough sleeper, please make a referral, with as much detail as possible about the individual and their location to:

    - SPEAR Outreach Team, during office hours on 020 8404 1481 or 07827 237694;

    - Night Duty during out-of-hours on 020 8770 5000, who will, where appropriate, agree and arrange emergency accommodation.

  2. Rough sleepers can also be advised to attend the Merton Civic Centre, London Road, Morden SM4 5DX, during office hours until 4pm and ask to see a member of the Housing Options Team. Under the SWEP, the Council will source emergency accommodation for anyone verified by the SPEAR Outreach Team as a rough sleeper in the borough of Merton. We recognise however, that particularly outside of usual business hours, independent verification may not be possible and where this is the case, provision of the emergency accommodation will be at the discretion of the Emergency Duty Team officer.

  3. In the first instance, accommodation will be sought through the YMCA in Wimbledon (020 8542 9055) or the Winter Night Shelter, but if this is unavailable, then bed & breakfast accommodation will be arranged, although it may be difficult to arrange bed & breakfast at short notice. Rough sleepers placed out-of-hours should be advised to approach the Merton Housing Advice Service at the Civic Centre, London Road, Morden, SM4 5DX on the following business day, to discuss their options for alternative housing and to review their immediate accommodation needs in the light of the current weather conditions.

Renters' Rights Victory!

After years of fighting for renters' rights, Lib Dem peer Olly Grender succeeded in securing major concession from the government - and drastically cutting the fees that landlords can impose on tenants in England.

Lib Dems campaigned to:

  • significantly limit the fees that could be charged to a tenant by their landlord or lettings agent,
  • require a greater amount of transparency when deciding not to refund a holding deposit, and
  • limit the maximum security deposit a landlord can require to five weeks rent.

These changes will save tenants hundreds of pounds a year.

Baroness Olly Grender said:

"Many of the provisions in the Tenant Fees Bill were proposed in my Rights of Renters Private Members Bill in the last parliamentary session, and I am glad that the Government has been persuaded of the arguments in that bill." 

"It is the vulnerable in our society who are most affected by the extortionate fees imposed by unscrupulous landlords and lettings agencies. The inability to pay these fees upfront can even lead to terrible debts and at worst, homelessness."

"While I welcomed the Government bringing forward this Bill, there were a number of loopholes that could have had severe consequences for low income tenants or tenants on benefits in the private rented sector."

"There is still more work to be done to get tenants a fairer deal, but I am delighted that the Government have listened and  improved this Bill. The task now is to get this change for tenants through this dysfunctional Parliament as quickly as possible before it implodes altogether!"

"I am grateful for the support of Shelter, Citizens Advice and Generation Rent who have worked so hard to get this Bill in the right place."

"If you want to know more about the bill, Shelter has also covered the success here."


Dramatic drop in police response times following police merger

The Mayor of London has admitted that police response times have fallen dramatically across Merton following the merger of its police teams with those in neighbouring boroughs.

In figures supplied to Liberal Democrat Councillor Paul Kohler late last year, in the 4 months before the merger, response times across Merton for the most serious 999 calls averaged 9 minutes 30 seconds. In the four months after the merger this deteriorated by over 50% to an average of 15 minutes 15 seconds. Calls in this category require response within 15 minutes.

There was an even more dramatic decrease in response times for the second highest priority of 999 calls. In the four months before the merger, response times averaged 38 minutes 6 seconds. In the four months after the merger this more than tripled to an average of 1 hour 59 minutes. Calls in this category require a response within 1 hour.

Cllr Paul Kohler said:

"I am appalled by this dramatic fall in response times following the merger. The police officers who saved me arrived within 8 minutes, and I fear after seeing these figures I would be dead if the attack happened now."

"I am amazed that the Mayor is even considering closing Wimbledon police station after this news; let alone that he is planning to make his decision without even re-consulting despite the dramatic fall in response times that has occurred since the last consultation ended."

 


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