A cross-party committee of councillors has blocked Labour’s plans to hike parking charges by up to 130% due to the Council’s failure to follow proper equalities procedures.
Wednesday evening’s special meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Commission was arranged after the Lib Dem and the Conservative groups each submitted separate motions to ‘call in’ the Council’s proposals to raise the costs of parking permits in Wimbledon and Raynes Park.
During the crunch meeting Cllr Anthony Fairclough, proposer of the Lib Dem call-in, challenged the plan for its failure to follow the Council’s set equality assessment process. The Council’s analysis of the plan identified potential disproportionate impacts on people with disabilities, pregnant women and women who’ve just given birth, as well as some people on low incomes.
In his submission, Cllr Fairclough showed that the Council had failed to consult people from the relevant groups appropriately over ways to minimise any negative impacts - contrary to the Council's published process. He also challenged the Council over the total lack of evidence to support claims that the charges would lead to a reduction in car ownership, and thereby improve air quality:
“When considering groups protected by our equality laws, the relevant principle is ‘no decision about us, without us’.
“That clearly did not happen here. I am pleased that councillors from all parties on the Commission were able to hold the Council to account for failing to follow its equality process.”
The Commission voted to refer the proposal back to the Council cabinet to carry out a proper equality assessment. The Liberal Democrat call-in can be seen on Youtube here.
The Merton Liberal Democrats have assembled a response to Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGCBE)’s 2019 review of the ward boundaries of Merton. We conducted a survey of our members, supporters and local residents, to seek your help in determining the local communities with which people identify and gather views on how the current boundaries might be improved.
Having analysed the results of this survey, we used these insights, alongside our own experience having lived, worked, and in several cases represented these wards, to formulate a complete scheme for the wards of the borough guided by the legally mandated criteria for ward boundaries which the commission is obliged to follow. You can see our submission in the document linked below.
Download the Merton Liberal Democrat response here
A formal challenge to Merton Labour’s plans to massively increase parking charges based on where people live has been lodged by Lib Dem councillors.
The Council Cabinet forced agreed the plan at its meeting on 15 July 2019, and in response, an application to “call in” the decision was made by the Liberal Democrat group on Saturday 20th July.
Lib Dem council group leader Anthony Fairclough said:
“The Labour administration says these new charges will reduce traffic and encourage people to give up their cars, but they’ve repeatedly failed to provide any evidence that suggests this is likely to happen1.
“The scheme looks like it’s purely to raise revenue, mainly targeted at people who live in areas that don’t elect Labour councillors – Wimbledon and Raynes Park – where the new charges will be highest. We hope that the ‘call-in’ will force them to look at their plans again.
"Instead we want them to look seriously at schemes where the worst polluting vehicles pay more, where support is given to help people change to greener vehicles, and where other positive action is also taken to improve air quality."
In addition, Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Wimbledon, Cllr Paul Kohler, is speaking to lawyers from the same firm who represented him in his legal action to save Wimbledon Police Station, about whether the measures are legal.
“Facts matter: how can Labour say that raising taxes on parked cars will improve air quality and health outcomes when council officers have confirmed that no such evidence has been provided?
“Furthermore, Council officers indicated that some older and disabled people, women who are pregnant or who have just given birth, and those with lower incomes could be badly affected by the policy2, and yet there doesn’t seem to have been any real consultation with those affected about how to reduce the negative impact. This is basic equality law.
“I am currently consulting my lawyers to see whether we can challenge this policy in the courts as discriminatory. I took the Mayor of London to court to reverse his unlawful decision to close Wimbledon Police Station and I’m quite willing to do the same with Merton Council if solicitors confirm we have a good case.”
“I hope sense will prevail, as I have no wish to embroil our Council in legal action. All I am asking is that they adopt a non-discriminatory approach to addressing the very real financial pressures caused by the Government’s failure to fund local government properly.
“The decision lacks: evidence that it will improve air quality; logic - they are increasing costs in those areas where air quality is best; principle - they are only applying it to areas that tend not to vote Labour; and buy-in - with over 3000 submissions to the consultation3 nearly all of whom opposed the measures.”
Merton Council has declared a climate emergency.
The declaration was seconded by newly elected Lib Dem councillor for Cannon Hill, Jenifer Gould, who used her maiden speech to urge the Council to take strong action against climate change.
Following the meeting Cllr Gould said:
“Our environment is one of our most precious assets, and protecting it for ourselves and for our children should be the first priority of any politician.
“I am proud that my first act as a councillor for Cannon Hill has been to second this important motion to declare a climate emergency here in Merton, and to kick-start the urgent action needed to eliminate carbon emissions in the borough.
“This is why I wanted to become a councillor - to take real action to address the issues that really concern local people. This is only the beginning, and I look forward to continuing to make a difference for residents in Cannon Hill and across Merton.”
You can watch Cllr Gould's speech here, and Lib Dem deputy leader Cllr Carl Quilliam's speech here.
Liberal Democrat council group leader Anthony Fairclough added:
"I am pleased to have been able to work with the Cabinet Member to develop this Climate Change Emergency declaration for Merton.
"We pushed for the emissions of contractors like Veolia be considered part of the Council’s target to become carbon neutral by 2030. This is because we fear that the Merton’s achievements so far in reducing emissions from the 2012 base level are largely on the basis of excluding Veolia and IDVerde operations from the calculation.
"We were also keen to create a framework that gives the new working group space to come up with innovative ways support residents and businesses reduce emissions – and yet one that shows real public leadership. Accepting the Labour party's proposal of a date of 2050 to make the borough carbon neutral is a compromise. It’s in line with both national targets and Council fears about cost and ability to meet targets - but with the caveat that we want to see as much active support as possible for people to cut their carbon emissions, with the aim that carbon neutrality is reached as soon as possible and before 2050.
Merton Liberal Democrats were delighted by the results of the Cannon Hill by-election last Thursday, where we increased our share of the vote by 24% to win the seat. Newly elected Cllr Jenifer Gould takes the Liberal Democrat group on Merton Council up to 7 - the highest it's ever been!
We would like to thank everyone in Cannon Hill who gave their support to Jenifer.
Speaking after the results, Jenifer said:
“I am absolutely overwhelmed by the support I have received from the local community. I would like to thank everyone who put their faith in me, and I look forward to repaying that faith by becoming a councillor they can trust to work hard for them.
“This incredible victory shows clearly that the Lib Dems are now the most popular party in Wimbledon, and the party local people can trust to be on their side. Just as they did at the European elections in May, Merton residents are backing us ahead over both Labour and the Conservatives because we are the party fighting nationally to stop Brexit and locally to secure a fresh start for Merton.
“The real work starts now. I am ready to start working with my Lib Dem colleagues on Merton Council right away to give our area the fresh start it deserves.”
Merton Liberal Democrats have warned that plans to start charging people for using local tennis courts will price residents out of the sport, and threaten Wimbledon’s status as the home of tennis.
Council bosses have confirmed that users of four public tennis courts in Wimbledon,* where historically charges have not been applied, will now have to pay to access the courts through an online system.
The maintenance of the tennis courts has been contracted out by Merton Council to a private company, Idverde. Under the terms of the contract Idverde will charge court users, with all money raised up to a certain amount kept by the company.
The Labour council's ongoing ‘commercialisation strategy’ has already seen pitch charges introduced for the first time ever at the Sir Joseph Hood Memorial Playing Fields, threatening the future of Raynes Park Little League. Merton Conservatives have also previously proposed raising charges for Council services.
Merton Liberal Democrats led the campaign to save the local Raynes Park Little League, and have warned that the decision to start charging for the use of tennis courts could have a similarly unfair impact on local people.
“Our local parks and sports facilities are cherished by our communities,” said Cllr Carl Quilliam, Deputy Leader of the Merton Liberal Democrats, “but Merton Labour’s decision to bring in charges without consultation or consideration will end up pricing people out.
“This is sadly symptomatic of a Council which too often treats Wimbledon residents as a cash cow.”
“Wimbledon is the home of tennis,” said Jenifer Gould, the Lib Dem candidate for the Cannon Hill by-election, “but it will never be home to a future Wimbledon champion if the Council prices local people out.
“Merton Lib Dems will lead the campaign to keep our tennis courts free. And, if I am elected on 20 June, I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues will continue to lead the opposition to Labour’s attempts to squeeze ever more money out of Wimbledon’s residents when they should be investing in our health and our future.”
Lib Dem candidate for the Cannon Hill by-election is fighting to stop the charges. Join her campaign today.
*The courts, all in Wimbledon, at which charging will be introduced are:
- John Innes Park
- Wimbledon Park
- Joseph Hood Rec
- Dundonald Rec
Local residents are bracing themselves for a crucial by-election in Cannon Hill, where voters are expected to give their verdict on the performance of Merton’s Labour-run council.
Merton Lib Dems are eyeing a victory in the contest on Thursday 20 June, and have announced local parent Jenifer Gould as their candidate.
The by-election was triggered following the resignation of a Labour councillor amidst rumours of divisions within the Labour administration. Ms Gould says that frustration at the job the Council is doing will be a key factor in the by-election.
"I have lived in this area for the past eight years," Ms Gould said, "and I have experienced the issues that local residents have to put up with: from mucky streets caused by a failing waste collection service, to a spate of burglaries that will only get worse if the closure of Wimbledon Police Station is allowed to go ahead."
Ms Gould already has a reputation as a determined local campaigner, having fought successfully for improved road safety schemes outside Hillcross Primary School. She says she is ready to bring her community spirit to the Council chamber as Cannon Hill’s next councillor.
"Labour have failed to address the issues that matter to us," she said, "and have taken Cannon Hill residents for granted for far too long. Cannon Hill is ready for a fresh start, and I am standing, backed by the Liberal Democrats, to give them that fresh start."
Ms Gould described how the Lib Dems’ people-focused approach contrasted with the indifference of Merton Labour, and declared that a Lib Dem victory on 20 June is a very real possibility.
"People are losing faith in the Labour Party nationally and locally here in Merton. I used to be a Labour member myself, but I cut up my membership card after seeing how Merton Labour ignores local people in order to serve the interests of party bosses.
"Instead I found a home in the Liberal Democrats, a party that stands up for local people’s values and fights to improve our local communities.
"The Lib Dems are now the biggest party in Wimbledon. We have more councillors here than Labour, and we won the most votes in the European elections, beating both Labour and the Conservatives. I’ve spoken to many former Conservative and Labour voters who are switching to us, and with their support we can win here in Cannon Hill."
Want to help Jenifer Gould win in Cannon Hill on 20 June? Join her campaign today.
Please find the response of Merton Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Democrat Council group on Merton Council below.
In addition, we would like to submit the (currently) 1092-strong petition stating “We, the undersigned, call on Merton to scrap its plan to double parking charges in Wimbledon and Raynes Park. Any replacement scheme should be based on clear evidence that it will improve air quality, and not unproven assertions” attached.
We believe Merton Council should scrap its plans to massively increase parking charges based on where people live. We believe it should instead bring forward proposals for parking charges based on emissions, testing and shaping these proposals using evidence from its planned review of the diesel levy and emissions based charges (expediting that review if necessary), and learning lessons from similar schemes adopted by other London Boroughs. For us, a key factor is providing real, practical help to enable residents to switch to greener transport options.
Please find our responses to the set questions below.
Merton Liberal Democrats succeeded in getting the Council to look at bringing in an additional voluntary Council tax donations for the most expensive properties.
This is estimated to raise an additional £130k to help mitigate some of the cuts in education spending.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Hina Bokhari said :
"As a teacher I know whats it like to teach with very limited resources - teachers cannot carry on bearing the burden of cuts. There is nothing wrong with asking some of the richest people in the borough to voluntarily pay a little more and I am confident that as in other parts of London they will respond generously.
"I am astonished that Conservative councillors spoke against this - even asking some of their supporters for a voluntary contribution seems to much for them"
Merton's Liberal Democrats have accused Labour-run Merton Council of hypocrisy for giving half its employees free parking while ordinary residents are hit with a 130% hike to parking permit charges.
Labour have claimed that their new parking charges will help to cut air pollution, but have provided no evidence for this. A Lib Dem proposal to scrap the charges and replace them with a fair emissions-based scheme was voted down by Labour councillors.
“Local residents are rightly concerned about the Council’s plans for a massive increase in parking charges”, said Simon McGrath, Lib Dem councillor for Dundonald.
“But it is a real kick in the teeth for people who live and work in the borough to find out that Merton Council is handing out free passes to their staff.
“If the Council really wanted to tackle air pollution they would have applied the new charges fairly to everyone in the borough, including linking them to emissions. Their inconsistent approach just proves what the Merton Lib Dems have been saying all along: the new parking charges have nothing to do with air quality - they are just a way for the Labour Council to squeeze money out of Wimbledon and Raynes Park residents."
The Council’s plans will see annual parking charges rise from £65 to £150 in central Wimbledon and £120 in Raynes Park.