Labour blocks fossil fuel divestment

Labour Council bosses have refused to end financial support to the fossil fuel industry through Merton’s pension fund. 

At last night's full council meeting, Liberal Democrat councillors proposed that the Council’s pension fund committee be asked to divest from fossil fuel companies within the next 3 years. Instead Labour councillors backed the status quo: slow changes, only moving out of fossil fuels by 2050.

Cllr Simon McGrath said “Merton Council should stand by their Climate Emergency Declaration and divest their pensions from fossil fuels sooner rather than later, following the IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming with warnings of flooding and overheating. We need to act now and commit to a rapid exit from all fossil fuel investments”. 

Climate change champion Lib Dem Cllr Jenifer Gould added “pouring petrol on the flames of climate change needs to stop, the money invested now will affect the lives of generations to come and further decrease the chances of remaining below the 1.5 degree Celsius ambition of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The Council needs to invest in a cleaner, greener economy. 

“With the next annual UN climate change conference in November, the Government is lacking in climate leadership failing on its commitments to invest sustainably and refusing to ban new oil and gas exploration licences”. 

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What's been happening with recycling?

Merton Council recently admitted that up to 80% of recycling collected in public litter bins is actually sent to the Beddington Lane Energy Recovery Facility, rather than being recycled.

After investigating, Liberal Democrat councillors have confirmed that

  • The contractors who empty the bins are supposed look and decide whether on-street recycling bins are 'contaminated' by non-recyclable waste; and
  • Contaminated waste goes to Beddington Lane and is burned, whereas non-contaminated recycling is sent to the Garth Road Recycling Centre.  

Whilst seeking to confirm the processes, Cllr Anthony Fairclough was told:

"Uncontaminated recyclable waste should go to Garth Road and move onward to be recycled.

Other litter bin ‘landfill’ waste is sent to [Beddington Lane] plant. ...

It is worth bearing in mind that the litter bin waste in total amounts to circa 3% of waste."

He sought details of exactly how and when it was determined that recycling was uncontaminated:

"Many thanks for your correspondence and for sharing your concerns and observations regarding our ‘On Street Recycling’ litter bins.

One of the key challenges in recycling this material is the quality of the material along with the increasing issue of contamination which prevents this material from being directly recycled.

The waste collected from our on street recycling bins is segregated by the collections crews. The general waste is delivered into the  Beddington energy from waste facility and thermally treated. The recycling material is bulked and transported for further processing. An assessment of the load is undertaken by the processor and if the analysis indicates a contamination level above 5% the load is rejected.  

Independent analysis has suggested that this waste stream is contaminated by as much as 80% ..."

Separately, Cllr Jenifer Gould received an email stating:

"We ask Veolia's street cleansing crews to visually inspect the contents of recycling litter bins when they are emptied. They then make a judgement as to whether contamination levels are low enough for the load to be taken for additional sorting, or whether contamination is so high that the only option is to treat it as residual waste at the Beddington Energy Recovery Facility.

Despite the challenges they present, we feel that the benefit of reinforcing the behaviour associated with recycling and encouraging members of our community to think about what it is they are throwing away, justifies retaining the street recycling bins."

Lib Dem plan to clean up Merton's air

On Tuesday 8th December Merton Council are holding an emergency meeting to discuss Labour's proposed new parking charges. We don't think the current proposals are effective or fair. But, unlike the Tories, we have an alternative proposal that will clean up Merton's air, without unfairly penalising residents.

We believe that Merton Council should be using its powers to encourage residents to use cars less, and switch to less polluting vehicles where possible. But the current proposals will not do this - instead they seem designed to raise revenue, and unfairly target residents who don't have off-street parking, who can't afford to buy new cars, and who are living in Wimbledon and Raynes Park. 

The proposed scheme is incredibly complex. It includes different charges depending on where in the borough you live, how long parking restrictions are in place for, and how polluting your car is. Moreover, it penalises residents who own old cars they rarely use, and who can't afford to buy new vehicles. 

Merton Tories are simply opposing these plans without suggesting any alternative measures to improve air quality. But we are engaging constructively, and have suggested the following 4-point plan to improve these proposals:

  • Give people time to switch to less polluting vehicles. We agree that Merton Council has a role to play in encouraging residents to switch to less polluting vehicles. But residents who can't afford to buy new cars shouldn't be penalised. Any emissions based charges should initially only apply to new vehicles. Furthermore, Merton should introduce a scrappage scheme, to help people in switching to less polluting cars.
  • Bring in a low mileage discount. Parked cars don't cause air pollution. It's the driving, not the parking, that pollutes. That's why we want Merton Council to introduce a low mileage discount. This will actually encourage people to use public transport or active travel options instead of driving where possible.
  • Fair charges for visitors permits. The current proposals penalise residents based on how polluting their visitor's car is. There doesn't seem to be any logical mechanism by which this results in better air quality. We're asking the Council to review this. 
  • Any extra cash raised should be spent on improving air quality and fighting climate change. 

Moreover, we remain opposed to the changes last year which led to residents living in Wimbledon & Raynes Park being charged more for parking than residents living in the East of the borough - our response to those changes is available here.

If you agree that Merton Council must take action to tackle poor air quality, but that any scheme needs to be fair and effective then please contact your councillors and ask them to back our proposals on 8th December. Find out who your councillors are here.

The Coronavirus pandemic means that our usual ways of staying in touch with people are difficult. So if you'd like to receive our monthly email newsletters, or for someone to call you to chat about local issues, please let us know by filling in this form.

Road re-surfacing and pavement repairs

Many residents mention the state of Merton’s pavement and roads, and there’s a lack of information about how the Council decides which roads and pavements to resurface and repair each year - and also how to complain about problem areas that will result in action.

At a meeting of a Council committee to scrutinise the work of the highways department on 19 January, Cllr Anthony Fairclough got backing for an information ‘hub’ to be added to the Council’s website that gives much more information on how the Council makes these decisions, how residents can influence them and setting out when repairs are undertaken following complaints.

Action on problem HGVs

Residents have called on Labour-run Merton Council not to ignore problems caused by HGVs driving through residential areas. Speaking at a meeting of councillors looking into the problem on 19 January, representatives from residents associations across Wimbledon called for action.  

Councillors called for less complacency and action to reduce the number of heavy goods vehicles driving through the borough. Lib Dem councillor Anthony Fairclough got backing for a webpage to be set up to help people direct complaints about HGVs appropriately.

He said “There’s all sorts of problems caused by HGVs - from noise, to speeding to breach of planning conditions, to pollution. The real issue is reducing the number that drive through the borough, but in the interim we need to support people making their complaints in the most effective way possible”.

This is an area that Lib Dem Parliamentary spokesman Cllr Paul Kohler has been working on for several months

New parking charges slammed as undermining climate emergency response

Making a last ditch attempt to stop new parking charges targeted at residents in Wimbledon and Raynes Park, Lib Dem lead councillor Anthony Fairclough called on Labour Council bosses to improve their scheme.

Speaking at the Cabinet meeting on 18 January, he called for: full transparency in what the extra cash from charges would be used for; a focus on pollution - not where vehicles are parked; and a re-think of how the charges apply to visitor permits. 

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Fairclough said:

“There needs to be a sense that this is part of a joined-up plan, that action is being taken to cut pollution from through traffic and that the extra cash raised from these new parking charges will be spent on climate change and air pollution measures.” 

He added,

The principle should be ‘polluter pays’ - not ‘postcode pays’. So the targeting of Wimbledon and Raynes Park with higher fees should be stopped, and Council bosses should look at things like a low mileage discount and a longer lead-in time to allow people to switch to more environmentally friendly vehicles if they can.”

“Charging residents differently depending on the vehicle their visitors turn up in is nonsense, and needs to be completely re-thought,” he added, “it’s also risks being in breach of equality laws as no one has looked into whether some older people or people with disabilities are more likely to use the scratch card-style visitor permits, that the highest charges will be applied to, or more likely to need visitors generally”.

“Taken together, these flaws in the scheme reduce public acceptance and trust and make it look like a revenue raising policy. This undermines public support for the whole climate emergency response”

More info on local Lib Dem plans to improve the charges here:

Lib Dems challenge Merton Council on car parking charges

Merton Liberal Democrats challenged Labour on the fairness and the effectiveness of the new parking charges policy at improving air quality. 

The move comes after an emergency meeting on Tuesday 8th December to examine new charges proposed for April 2021. Parking charges in Wimbledon and Raynes Park have already been increased by over 130% in January - whilst charges in other parts of the borough have remained lower.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat group Cllr Anthony Fairclough stated:

 “We opposed the January 2020 location-based charges, on grounds that they were unlikely to improve air quality. The new scheme retains those higher charges for Wimbledon and Raynes Park, and also applies to visitors permits, so residents would pay more or less depending on the type of car their visitor or tradesman drives. We have real concerns about whether this new scheme will work to achieve its supposed aims.

Councillor Fairclough and the Liberal Democrats proposed FOUR new solutions to make the plan fairer:

  1. Time to switch to less polluting vehicles. Merton Council has a role to play in encouraging residents to switch to less polluting vehicles – but it has to support people to do so. Pushing the scheme back to a January 2022 start date would give those who can afford to buy new vehicles fair warning to change.
  2. A low mileage discount or rebate. It's driving, not parking, that pollutes. This would encourage people to drive less to get the discount.
  3. Fair charges for visitors permits. The proposals charge residents based on the vehicles their visitors drive. There doesn't seem to be any logical way that this will result in better air quality. 
  4. Extra cash raised should be spent on improving air quality and fighting climate change. Residents need to know that their money will contribute to cutting carbon emissions, developing sustainable travel measures and improving air quality. There should greater transparency about what the money raised from these new charges is spent on.

All four ideas were knocked back by Labour party councillors. 

However the decision is not finalised yet. Join us and our campaign continuing to fight for changes by volunteering here.

Merton must draw up a tree & biodiversity strategy

Since drawing up a cross-party climate emergency declaration last year, Merton Council has made some progress on climate issues. But there's still much more to do.

That's why Merton Liberal Democrats are calling on the Council to include a Tree & Biodiversity Strategy in their climate action plan. We also identified a possible funding stream to spend on new trees & their maintenance. 

Unfortunately, at November's council meeting, Merton Labour councillors voted against our suggestions. But we'll continue pushing for Merton to do more to tackle the climate emergency. 

The Coronavirus pandemic means that our usual ways of staying in touch with people are difficult. So if you'd like to receive our monthly email newsletters, or for someone to call you to chat about local issues, please let us know by filling in this form.

Our clean air plan

The Liberal Democrats have a plan to clean our air and make our streets safer for our young people.

Merton Council recently consulted on their plans to introduce emissions based parking charges. We would support proposals that encouraged residents to use greener transport options where possible. However, we do not believe that the current proposals from the Council will be effective in doing this.

Instead, the Council’s proposals seem designed to raise revenue and, following on from the changes in 2019/2020, the proposed system still penalises the parts of the borough that don’t vote for Labour councillors. 

While the Tories want no action and Labour’s plans will not solve the problem, the Liberal Democrats offer an alternative which will encourage more people to walk, cycle and use public transport where possible, while recognising that many people rely on cars for various reasons.

Liberal Democrats want to see the Council supporting residents in moving to less polluting vehicles where possible, alongside improved cycle lanes and bike parking, better public transport, and more electric vehicle charging infrastructure. 

Find out more about our response to the Council’s consultation here.

Hiking parking charges isn’t fair, liberal, or progressive. But neither is doing nothing.

The Coronavirus pandemic means that our usual ways of staying in touch with people are difficult. So if you'd like to receive our monthly email newsletters, or for someone to call you to chat about local issues, please let us know by filling in this form.

Reporting back on discussions with Reston Waste

I recently met with Andrew Reston of Reston Waste to discuss constituents' concerns regarding the operation of HGVs across Wimbledon. Andrew, and his daughter Harriett (Transport Manager), stressed their commitment to the community (as evidenced by their sponsorship of Wimbledon AFC) and how keen they are to address residents' legitimate concerns. As Gold accredited members of the Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS) they have also invested time and money in training their staff, improving their procedures and maintaining and improving their fleet and are keen to demonstrate their adherence to FORS operating requirements.

Our discussions centred on noise, routing and speeding/safety. 

NOISE: Residents are justifiably concerned about the noise from skip lorries and Andrew accepts this to be an issue. As every vehicle in his fleet is renewed within three years of purchase he has guaranteed that he will now only purchase skip lorries with chain sleeves. He will also retro fit every vehicle in his current fleet, which is not due to be renewed in the next 12 months, with similar device to stop the chains clanking around. In addition to the noise from chains he is also aware that the skips when empty tend to clang as they move in transit. He has previously invested in skip clamps to prevent this from happening but had to remove them as they were damaging the skips. In light of our discussion he has now committed to investigating how these might re-introduced. Under the FORS accreditation scheme Reston Waste are also required to appoint a Noise Champion who can be contacted on [email protected] if you have any particular concerns.

ROUTING: Although Reston Waste do endeavour to inform drivers regarding street restrictions etc there are currently two difficulties to overcome. Firstly the records maintained by Webfleet Solutions a Bridgestone company (from whom fleet operators get their information) are not up to date as there have been problems getting the requisite information. I have consequently committed to speaking with the Council to determine where the logjam is occurring. Secondly, even if the system was up to date, it is a manual one that is often not consulted when the driver is assigned a route. Andrew has consequently committed to investing in a Webfleet solutions  service that incorporates  the restrictions in the HGV's Sat Nav system. I also raised the need for HGVs to avoid school streets where possible and I have agreed to provide him with details of every school street so that Harriett can devise a routing system to minimise their use. 

SPEEDING/SAFETY: The company are rightly keen to address any issues of speeding and dangerous driving and each HGV is fitted with eight cameras which can be remotely accessed along with data on speed etc. If residents are concerned about an incident they should contact the office on 0208-944-1349 or by email [email protected] and provided them with as much information as possible i.e. vehicle registration, location, time and date for prompt communication and investigation.

I was impressed by Andrew and Harriett's desire to work with the community in improving relations and I'd like to publicly thank them for their commitment. They believe they are not infrequently blamed when the culprit is another firm and I hope the above processes will begin to address their concerns in this regard. To aid transparency Andrew has also agreed to include a page on his company website detailing complaints and how they were resolved which will give all of us an opportunity to see how things are progressing. 

I do hope we can all work constructively on this and I will be very happy to organise a meeting with Andrew and Harriett to discuss any continuing concerns once these measures have had time to bed in. Reston Waste plays an important role in the community, both in providing an essential service and in paying business rates and rent to the Council, and I am consequently keen to show how we can work together, before approaching other local operators. 

Best wishes,

Cllr Paul Kohler

Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Wimbledon