January 2010

Grit

I've just had an email from the Council to say that, unlike some, Kingston has not run out of grit for the roads. With heavy snow expected overnight this is good news.

The gritters will be out at 7pm this evening, and then again during the night. Priority is given to major roads, and also to approaches to schools and hospitals.

Also, the Council does want to make sure that refuse and recycling are picked up on the right day - which for Chessington and Hook is tomorrow (given the special arrangements over Christmas and the New Year). So this does means that many more roads will be gritted here tonight to allow the refuse lorries can get through.

Yesterday, someone pointed out to me that Devon Way and the lane to Lovelace School and the Devon Way Centre were not gritted in the last snowfall, even though they are on a school route. So I mentioned this in a meeting with our Neighbourhood officers today, and hopefully that will be put right this time.

Weather related information from the Council

You can see the latest weather related news on the Council website - it covers school closures, gritting and refuse collections.

Update on refuse collection in Chessington and Hook

Apparently the refuse collectors managed to get to most of the homes in the area that were due for collection yesterday, but the conditions defeated them in the end. The Council has issued this statement:

"We are sorry that all collections were not completed as scheduled yesterday due to the weather conditions. Please leave your waste out and it will be collected as soon as is possible. That may be later today, or later in the week. The collection could be as late as Sunday. If your garden waste collection was missed it will not be collected again until the next scheduled collection day.

If you have any queries please call the Customer Care number 8547 5929."

Friday's update on refuse collections

The refuse collectors have been out again today in Chessington and Hook, trying to complete the missed collections from Wednesday.

They have managed most roads but some side roads are still inaccessible. They hope to finish them all tomorrow, so if that applies to you do leave the bins out for one more day. If the roads are worse tomorrow then they can use Sunday instead.

There are real problems in Barwell Lane and Five Acre Farm, and they are simply going to try to access them if they can.

What to do with shredded paper

Many of us now shred confidential documents at home in order to protect ourselves from identity theft. But why can't we put the shredded paper in the recycling box?

That was a question asked at the last Neighbourhood Committee.

It seems that shredding breaks down the fibres in the paper in a way that means it cannot be used in the manufacture of new paper. So paper mills that accept normal paper for recycling refuse to take shredded paper.

If you have rabbits or other small pets then the paper can be used as bedding. Not helpful if you don't.

I put all our shredded paper in the compost bin. It layers up beautifully with the garden waste. I know it can't be put into the food waste bucket, because that goes through a different process from garden compost bins.

One other suggestion is to reduce the amount of shredded paper by only shredding the parts of documents that really are confidential and putting the rest into the recycling bins. I've stopped shredding documents simply because they have my name and address on them - after all, both are readily available on the Internet. But I do shred anything with bank or other personal details on them.

Getting started with blogging - a guide for Liberal Democrats

I've contributed to an e-book on blogging, which has just been published by LibDem Voice today.

You can read it below or click the download link.

Thousands of pensioners in 'affluent' Kingston are missing out on cold weather payments

When the temperature dips below freezing for more than a week, millions of pensioners become eligible for cold weather payments of £25 per week. KT9 residents have qualified for one week so far this winter.

Anyone who already receives pension credit is entitled to the cold weather payment, and it will arrive automatically.

The problem is that many people entitled to pension credit don't apply for it, so they miss out on the cold weather payments as well as the very useful pension credit cash. In fact, some research by the Department for Works and Pensions suggests that up to £1.7 million pensioners miss out on money they are entitled to.

The Government has set up a complicated system which inevitably means that some of the most vulnerable people won't know about it or won't have the persistence to complete an application for pension credit.

If you think you, or someone you know, might benefit then the pension credit scheme is explained in the Directgov website. They also provide a pension credit calculator so you can work out of you are eligible.

If you are, then you have to apply, either by phoning 0800 99 1234, or by completing a form that you can download.

The form is 23 pages long - yes, 23 pages.

And it has another 21 pages of notes about how to fill in the form.

As you might expect, you have to declare your life away - every scrap of income or savings has to be listed. No wonder so many people don't apply, even if, by some miracle, they have heard of it.

The Liberal Democrats have done an analysis of the figures, which show that up to 3,425 eligible pensioners in Kingston are not claiming pension credit, so won't be getting the cold weather payment either.

This is a scandal. It could be corrected by turning benefits on their head. If the state pension was raised to the current level of state pension + pension credit, then no-one would miss out. The excess could then be clawed back from the better off through taxation.

In the meantime, do spread the information about pension credit, especially to any pensioners you know.

Clayton Road Nursery - Planning Inspector says car sales must go

The long saga of the unlawful car sales from Clayton Road Nursery seems to be coming to an end.

Last March the Council issued an enforcement notice against the owner, requiring him to stop the car sales, remove the cladding from the polytunnels and remove all the scaffolding stored on the site within a month. The bungalow can only remain in place to support either a nursery or a livery stable.

Just at the end of the period for compliance the owner appealed against this enforcement. The whole issue then transferred from the Council to the Planning Inspector. Against advice, the owner asked the Inspector for a formal hearing, which added further delay into the system. A date was set for the hearing in November, but the Inspector postponed that having been told by the owner that he had a hospital appointment.

Finally, the hearing was held on 5th January, and the Inspector has given his decision very quickly. He agrees with the enforcement notice, but has given the owner 3 months (instead of the 1 month that the Council wanted) to remove the cars and other unlawful uses.

You can read the Inspector's ruling by clicking the title of this post (or here) and downloading the attachment.

Update

Apologies that the pdf download was not working. That has now been corrected.

South of the Borough Neighbourhood, Wed 20th Jan

The next meeting of the South of the Borough Neighbourhood is on Wednesday 20th Jan at 7.30pm at the Hook Centre. As usual, you are all welcome to attend, and to join in the discussion (for most items).

On the agenda, the planning application that is likely to attract the most interest is the one for the White Hart site, where the Fircroft Trust wants to build a supported housing scheme. You can see the plans here. The committee will be determining this application on the night, so the quasi-legal rules about participation apply.

We are also hearing five planning consultations on additional accommodation for local schools - Tolworth Girls, Castle Hill, Lovelace, Southborough, plus the Moor Lane Centre for children with disabilities. As these have to go to Development Control Committee for decision we can have open discussions on them at Neighbourhood.

You may also be interested in some of the other items on the agenda: the Clayton Road traffic review, Library fines and charges, and the response to the petition about pavements in Gilders Road.

Finally, there is a major report on the funding allocated to Kingston from Transport for London for road improvements and related schemes. In South of the Borough this means that we can go ahead with new crossings in the Hook Road (north of Ace of Spades), and with pedestrian and cycling improvements to Bridge Road/Moor Lane. The Tolworth Broadway scheme will get ongoing funding as it develops.

Collapsed sewer

Just what I wanted to write about....

It seems that the sewer has collapsed today under Leatherhead Road opposite St Catherines Close, leaving an unsafe void. There are traffic lights around the emergency worksite, which explains the long queues on the Leatherhead and Hook Roads this afternoon - I got caught in them earlier.

Apparently the work will take two weeks, so we all need to find alternative routes. There are signs up saying the road will actually be closed tonight and tomorrow night.

High Tea for Haiti

No, not grim humour, but a local event organised by some friends to raise funds for disaster relief in Haiti.

It's this Saturday at The Rubicon bar at 97, Maple Road, Surbiton. You pay a £10 donation to get in and will be treated to cupcakes and a drink, then you can stay to enjoy the great atmosphere there.

You can also read the details on Facebook.

Can we stop £49 million of Kingston's Business Rates being siphoned off for other councils? Maybe we can!

Something rather unexpected has happened, and as a result Kingston may be a key player in changing Government regulations.

The story is this: Every year the businesses in the Borough pay a total of £79 million in Business Rates. The money is collected by the Council, so you would imagine that Kingston residents and businesses would reap the benefit.

But no, a whopping £49 million is taken from Kingston and redistributed to other boroughs.

Whilst I do understand the need to support economically deprived areas in the country, this really is out of all proportion. After all, the businesses in Kingston attract up to 500,000 visitors each week - and that puts considerable strain on the 160,000 residents who have to pay for the local services that visitors use or the problems they create (street cleaning, for example).

Worse than that, the thriving economy in Kingston is often used by Government to justify withholding other grants, and, in particular, to keep our annual grant at a minimal level. Although Kingston spends far less per head than other boroughs, its council tax is high because the Government gives us so little.

For many years the Liberal Democrats have been arguing that Kingston should be allowed to keep a higher proportion of Business Rates, so the money can be used to pay for local services.

And at last that may be about to happen.

A couple of years ago some backbenchers introduced the boringly-named Sustainable Communities Bill in Parliament, and to everyone's surprise it got Government backing and became law.

The Act empowers local authorities to claw powers away from central Government. I was very keen that Kingston should grasp this opportunity, so became closely involved in the next stage.

Last year, we went through an intense process of gathering ideas from all corners of the community. 37 proposals were eventually whittled down by the panel of residents to three. They were:

  • To overturn the Greenwich judgement - this is the ruling that means that schools like our two grammar schools are not allowed to restrict their intake to borough residents
  • To keep a proportion of Business Rates collected - the money would be "ring-fenced for investment in programmes that contribute to local economic, environmental and social sustainability in Kingston"
  • To give powers to Councils to license pet shops - this arose from concerns about puppy farming

We're delighted that, thanks to lobbying by MPs and others, the third issue has been taken up by Parliament. You can read more about our local campaign on puppy farming here.

Back to the main story.

The three proposals were sent off to the Local Government Association, who had the task of sifting through proposals from 120 councils. It seems a number of other councils shared our views on Business Rates.

At Full Council on Tuesday I asked the Leader of the Council for an update. He was able to announce that our Business Rate proposal had been shortlisted by the Local Government Association and was being discussed with Ministers.

The end ... no, of course it isn't. We still have to keep the pressure up to ensure that the change is made.

I will report back on progress.

Fircroft at The White Hart

Many local people will be very pleased to hear that the Neighbourhood Committee gave planning permission to the Fircroft Trust to build a carehome on the site of the White Hart.

We (ie the Committee) were all sorry to lose a pub, especially one with such a long history as this one. Sadly the police had closed it down a few years ago, and no-one has expressed an interest in reviving it as a pub or restaurant.

The earliest record of the White Hart is dated 1752, when the local ratepayers met there to elect the 'Constables and Headboroughs' for Hook. I found this information in 'The Story of Hook in Kingston' by Marion C Bone, although she does say that she was unable to discover how long the inn had been there before that date.

We did say that we did not want to lose the name or the history, so suggested that Fircroft might find some way of recognising it, perhaps by naming a communal room 'The White Hart'.

The plans themselves were widely liked. The development will have decent gardens and common areas - unlike some applications we have turned down recently. Some of the residents will live in a small care-home facility, others will live in supported independent homes on the site.

Save Kingston Hospital - A&E and Maternity threatened with closure

The news has just broken that NHS London are threatening to close the Accident & Emergency department, and the Maternity Unit at Kingston Hospital.

Not only would that be a complete disaster for residents in Kingston, but it could well lead to a withering of other departments in the hospital. In fact, the whole future of the hospital is in the balance.

Our two local MPs, Edward Davey and Susan Kramer, have just started the campaign to try to stop this happening.

Please sign the petition on www.savekingstonhospital.org.uk. The website also has more information about the threat.

You can also join the Facebook group - which seems to have attracted over 400 members in just a few hours.

Update on hospital campaign

Over 300 people have signed the petition in under 24 hours! (Later - that's 600 now)

And 700 people have joined the Facebook group. (Later - that's 800 now)

This is clearly a very important issue for local people.

1,688 signatures since yesterday - have you signed the petition yet?

The Save Kingston Hospital has taken off spectacularly - thank you to everyone who has signed or joined the Facebook group.

Go to www.savekingstonhospital.org.uk to sign the petition and read more about the campaign.

A Scattering

This is a personal story that is both sad and celebratory.

In December 2006, I was invited to the annual Marie Curie service in memory of cancer victims. I wrote about it then and said;

"I was particularly keen to attend this, as we had lost a family member to cancer just over a year ago and she had died in a Marie Curie Hospice. I was able to read a poem in memory of her."

What I didn't say was that the poem was by Christopher Reid, in memory of his wife, Lucinda Gane.

On Tuesday, Christopher won the Costa Book of the Year Award, with his collection titled "A Scattering", which contains the poem I read.

You can see him accepting the award here and read some extracts. The whole book tracks his responses from the moment they learnt Lucinda had terminal cancer, through to some months after her death.

In 2006 the book had not yet been published, but he had sent copies of the second section, which is about her death, to family and friends. It made me cry. But I asked his permission to read the poem in public, in memory of her. I didn't find it easy.

Christopher is Ian's cousin, and we meet up from time to time. In fact, every summer the Reids have a big family party and about 40 of us meet up - it's a wonderful tradition that goes back to Ian's childhood. Christopher and Lucinda were always there - Lucinda delighting my sons with her stories about Grange Hill, in which she played a rather drippy teacher.

In fact, in one of his earliest poetry collections there is a poem about these gatherings, and I quoted it here.

He has published a dozen or so collections, but is also well known in poetry circles as the former Poetry Editor at Faber and Faber, where he nurtured some of the best known modern poets.

The whole family is immensely proud of him, even though, as he says, this was a book he wished he hadn't needed to write.

Don't be put off by the morbid subject matter - the poems are very readable, funny and witty at times, and manage to capture those fleeting thoughts that we don't quite put into words.

Scams

Sally Hawkins, who runs the very useful Chessington Chat magazine, has sent out this advice about a couple of scams that have surfaced locally.

"I have recently been informed of a couple of advertising scams that appear to be operating in our area at the moment.

The first is a company call Medic Care who try to sell ‘too cheap to be true’ advertising space on the NHS Intranet site that is viewed by NHS staff up and down the country. They say they are connected to Kingston Hospital.

Their sales tactics are reportedly very, very pushy and victims often get bombarded with several quick succession phone calls asking if they are going to advertise.

Needless to say the advertising never appears and refunds are never given.

The second scam is less likely to make you suspicious as the company calls saying they are producing a publication/magazine/wallplanner etc in connection with the Emergency Services/Police/Brake Road care charity etc.

These calls have more of an emotional twist to them as they are supposedly in support of a good cause.

These sort of scams have been prevalent throughout the UK for some time but are obviously operating in the Kingston area at the moment.

Please be aware that two of my current advertisers have reported these scams to me over the last fortnight and so I thought it prudent to warn everyone.

Needless to say if you receive one of these calls and are given any contact details for the companies involved Trading Standards would be very grateful to hear from you."

Published by Mary Reid, 126 Clayton Road, Hook Chessington KT9 1NJ
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