Thank you chair and as lead member on this project I want to address the committee tonight and more importantly speak directly to any residents that are listening.
This item was discussed at this committee meeting on 6th July and members approved, cross-party, the principles of delivering low-traffic areas and school streets to keep our children safe. Members also approved cross-party the specific schemes that we received funding for.
It’s interesting that on this agenda the Conservative Government, the Labour London Mayor and our Lib Dem Council share a common position. This is quite unique in today’s very polarised world.
And there is so much agreement on this because the potential benefits for our residents are very important.
During lockdown, many people across Sutton experienced better air quality and a safer environment with fewer cars on the road. The world is still very uncertain but many agree on the need to preserve these benefits.
The key question members should ask themselves is the following: What type of residential areas do you want for Sutton?
Are members happy to keep the status quo? In certain residential areas this means turning a blind eye to thousands of cars rat-running, trying to save time on their journey, and pumping toxic fumes directly into people’s bedrooms.
Every individual will look at their own circumstances but my role is to look at the bigger picture and at the interest of all local residents. I struggle to believe that it’s in our collective interest not to try and address issues in areas where residents have complained of speeding, excessive traffic, noise and poor air quality for far too long.
This funding gives us that opportunity to try and improve people’s lives.
In November last year, some of us visited another London Borough that has implemented low-traffic areas for many years and the benefits are clear.
Improved safety, with less traffic and speeding. Improved air-quality for thousands of residents in residential areas. Less noise and more pleasant, greener and more pleasant roads that allow those who can to walk and cycle, especially for those short journeys.
In normal times, we would have carried out an informal public consultation to gather initial views and then a statutory consultation. Listening and working with the community to deliver the best possible schemes for our area is central to how the Lib Dems operate in Sutton. That’s why, in comparison, residents are being consulted three times during our parking strategy program before anything is implemented.
However the Government and London Mayor decided that boroughs would not consult residents before any trials and that the 6-month experimental trials would be used as the public consultation.
In June, I had two choices. Recommend to my colleagues that we boycott the process because we don’t like it or engage, secure some funding and trial some schemes. I did not get elected to sit on the sidelines and I’m happy that the majority of my group agreed with my view.
My steer to officers, when they were putting together the bids, was to focus on areas where the Council has carried out public consultations on this issue before. That’s why a majority of our proposals are in and around Sutton town Centre. Where this was not possible, officers recommended areas with historical problems or where we had plans to consult in a near future.
Because this is a priority for the administration I also asked senior officers that enough resources were made available to give us the best possible chance of success. I was provided with those reassurances but over the Summer, it has become clear that there are still a number of operational issues that need to be addressed.
I am frustrated that communications with ward members have too often been poor. That key elements of the website are uploaded too late. This is making it difficult for us to explain the schemes to residents. That the implementation of some schemes have not entirely delivered the materials and signs that were promised and agreed. That when amendments to schemes have been agreed, it is taking too long to make the agreed changes. We also need more clarity about what will be monitored going forward.
Over the coming weeks I will be continuing to push for these issues to be resolved and have asked senior officers that this is investigated urgently. It’s important to acknowledge that officers put together a year’s worth of work in just a few weeks.
I know that there is a lot of anxiety from residents across the borough and many who are skeptical about schemes in their areas. I understand this anxiety. I look forward to hearing from some of those individuals on 1st October at E&N and will I continue to engage with those who write to me.
Given the potential benefits, I continue to welcome the trials. But I will be monitoring the situation and pushing for any adjustments when necessary, including lobbying for more money if needed. Ultimately, we should (and will) keep the option to remove schemes that do not work.
It may take time for some of these schemes to bed in before residents see the full benefits so I hope that you will all bear with us in the first month. I also encourage you to give us your views once you have seen the impact in your area.
Councillor Manuel Abellan, Deputy Leader and Chair of the Environment & Neighborhood Committee