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.
Paul Kohler selected as Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Wimbledon
The man who led the successful legal challenge against the proposed closure of Wimbledon Police Station has been selected by the Lib Dems as their candidate to be the next MP for Wimbledon.
Cllr Paul Kohler, the Lib Dem councillor for Trinity Ward, hit the headlines last year when he took the Mayor of London to court over the decision to close Wimbledon Police Station. Cllr Kohler’s case was successful and the closure was halted, pending reconsideration by the Mayor.
The police station campaign helped Cllr Kohler win election in May 2018 as a councillor for Trinity ward in Wimbledon – an election which saw the Lib Dems surge from fourth place to first, almost tripling their vote share.
“It is a privilege to have been selected to contest the next general election as the Lib Dem candidate for Wimbledon”, said Cllr Kohler. “My wife and I have lived in this constituency, where we raised our four daughters, for almost 30 years. I want to give something back to the community that has been so supportive to us.
“People in Wimbledon deserve better than the current Conservative MP, who has repeatedly broken his election promise to oppose a hard Brexit by failing to vote to rule out a No Deal Brexit. Meanwhile Labour’s candidate is a Jeremy Corbyn cheerleader who shares his hostility to the EU.
“There is huge appetite for change amongst the voters of Wimbledon who have had enough of both Tory mismanagement in government and Labour mismanagement on the council. I will stand up for our public services where our current Tory MP has failed to do so; I will fight to stop Brexit and keep Britain in the EU; and I will strive to give a voice to Wimbledon residents who demand better from their government and their MP.”
Following last year’s local elections the Lib Dems are now the second party in Wimbledon, and Cllr Kohler issued a rallying cry to voters who want a fresh start for their area. “If I get the same swing in the next general election as I achieved in winning my council ward last year, the Lib Dems will win Wimbledon”, he said. “If you share my vision for a fair, free and tolerant Wimbledon then I urge you join my campaign. Together we can win in Wimbledon.”
Want to help Paul Kohler win in Wimbledon? Join his campaign today.
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.
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 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).
Last 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!"
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.”
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.