Looking for Verdun Oaks

In my role as Sutton’s Councillor Tree Champion for the Woodland Trust I have received a request to help find some historic trees that might still exist within the London Borough of Sutton.

The request is for Sutton’s help in tracking down the “Verdun Oaks”. The Battle of Verdun was the longest single battle of the First World War, claiming the lives of more than 400,000 men. Although the British never fought at Verdun, unlikely reminders of the conflict adorn our towns. Acorns collected from the devastated battlefields were shipped to Britain, where this smallest of gestures created the grandest of tributes – mighty oaks growing tall and proud as a lasting memorial to those who fought and died on the Western Front.

Now, a century on, the Woodland Trust is searching for these Verdun Oaks so they can collect their acorns and grow a second generation of Verdun Oaks in their four First World War Centenary Woods. They have already discovered some of these living memorials, still growing strong, in Herefordshire, London, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Surrey and the West Midlands. More details of the oaks they have identified can be found at woodlandtrust.org.uk/fww.

I would really appreciate your help tracking down any Verdun Oaks in Sutton and your support in the collection of acorns from any verified trees this autumn.

You can get in touch with me at richard.marston@sutton.gov.uk or the Woodland Trust at atverdunoak@woodlandtrust.org.uk if you are aware of any Verdun oaks or related stories in our area.

Recycle your Christmas cards into trees

The Marks & Spencer Christmas Card Recycling Scheme is now in its fifth year, and the UK is 32,000 trees richer thanks to the public’s efforts in dropping cards in to store each January, rather than distributing in kerbside recycling bins. Each year the Woodland Trust and M&S set an ambitious target to collect and recycle more than six million cards and each year the scheme sees backing by a celebrity. In previous years, X Factor’s Dermot O’Leary and comedienne Jo Brand have endorsed the scheme and this year TV presenter Julia Bradbury has supported it. It is the longest running scheme of its type in the country.

Last year 6,255,833 cards were collected through the M&S Christmas Card Recycling Scheme, enabling The Woodland Trust to plant 6,256 trees throughout the UK. The popularity of the scheme means it will run again this year. Special card collection bins will be in M&S stores from 2 January to 31 January 2016.
To start recycling your christmas cards simply pop into your local M&S store and drop your cards into the collection boxes.

Find out more about the Woodland Trust’s partnership with M&S and the Christmas Card Recycling at http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blogs/woodland-trust/2015/11/recycling-christmas-cards/

Traffic congestion in Worcester Park

The traffic along Central Road in Worcester Park (A2043) has long been a subject for discussion and in recent years the consequent pollution has also crept into conversations. As the subject has cropped up a few times lately, in conversation and on the internet, I thought it was worth posting an expanded version of a recent reply I gave.

I’ve lived within sight of Central Road for around 30 years and the amount of traffic has always been a problem with no simple solution. The problem has been there regardless of the colour of the councils responsible for the area and regardless of who is at the helm of the Greater London Authority or UK Government.

Everyone has their own views on the cause of the traffic, with Green Lane seeming the most popular target. Green Lane definitely adds to the volume of traffic heading towards the A3 but I regularly check traffic flows when Central Road is particularly congested and get the impression the worst problems are caused by a tailback from issues on the A3 and/or in the area of The Fountain roundabout in New Malden.

In recent years the traffic lights in Worcester Park have been linked using a system called ‘Scoot’ which synchronises the phases across multiple sets. This helps to keep the traffic moving by reducing unnecessary delay at traffic lights but can’t solve the problem of too many vehicles.

A couple of weeks ago I met with Sutton Council officers and councillors from Worcester Park and Nonsuch wards and walked along Central Road while we observed issues and discussed possible improvements. Some changes are being considered and we hope to arrange joint discussions with Kingston Council to allow us to look at the whole North Cheam to New Malden corridor more holistically. In reality current options are only going to help a little, not solve the problem.

Some of my thoughts for consideration:

  • Central Road is an A road that feeds the major A3 red route and the shopping and business centres of Kingston.
  • Worcester Park has a high level of car ownership when compared with the rest of the London Borough of Sutton.
  • The GLA requires councils to build more residential properties. A lot of these new residents will have cars and will add to the problem.
  • The road space available through Worcester Park to the A3 and beyond is unlikely to increase.
  • Changes made over the years and currently being considered won’t stop Central Road being congested at peak times.
  • A lot of complaints about traffic are from drivers stuck in the queue. They don’t seem to consider they are part of the problem.
  • Buses through Worcester Park can be unreliable during the morning peak. As buses sit in the queue the problem for bus travellers is then made worse as buses are turned short at, typically, North Cheam or New Malden. Bus lanes would be good but there are few places where there is enough road width.
  • Unless we change our transport habits the number of vehicles trying to use Central Road will only increase. Consider walking or cycling for all or part of your journey, it can be quicker and if you keep off the main roads it will be healthier.
  • Some mornings there is almost no traffic in Central Road! Traffic levels are always lower during school holidays but sometimes it is strangely quiet during term times. Sadly these times are an exception.

Any suggestions you might have for improvements to the traffic flow and levels will be gratefully received.

Sutton Rail User Forum

I am writing this on my way back from this evening’s meeting of Sutton Rail User Forum which I have attended since becoming a councillor.

The forum has historically concentrated on trains operated by Southern and Thameslink but being a Worcester Park councillor I have encouraged more discussion of the South West Trains services used by those on the Kingston side of the London Borough of Sutton.

If you would like to discuss, and provide your views, on the railways serving the borough get in touch for more information about the group.

Twenty is plenty in Worcester Park ward

We are lucky that most roads in Worcester Park ward have the benefit of a 20 mph speed limit, with London Road and Cheam Common Road being the obvious exceptions. However, following comments from residents about speeding in the 20 zone, it was decided that council officers would carry out traffic surveys on roads within Worcester Park ward. This highlighted issues on some roads and lesser problems on others.

As a result, repeater ‘20’ signs have been added to lampposts and ‘20’ painted on the surface of roads to remind motorists of the speed limit. More recently work has been in progress to repair and re-profile speed humps, cushions and tables to bring them in line with current practice. To avoid disruption of the S3 bus some of this work was carried out on Sundays when the service doesn’t run.

Connected work in Green Lane to improve the crossing near the sports club was carried out as a separate project but due to the amount of work required it was necessary to divert the S3.

Our own informal survey of traffic passing the flashing 20 sign in Green Lane showed that most vehicles were still travelling too fast. Please make sure YOU drive within the 20 mph limit as this will make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists (especially our children) and will also restrict the speed of vehicles behind you! As an alternative you might also consider the healthier, pollution-free options of walking and cycling around Worcester Park.

Volunteering: good for your community, and good for you

Thinking about volunteering

The theme for the 2014/5 year in office of Sutton’s Mayor, Worcester Park ward’s Councillor Arthur Hookway, was “Volunteers and Volunteering in the Community”. This has prompted me to think again about the role of volunteering and consider the organisations in Worcester Park that depend on volunteers. The exercise has also made me stop and think why I chose to work on a voluntary basis and, a less obvious thought, what benefits I might have gained from doing it. I have also realised that at the time I was asked I just considered it as ‘helping out’ and hadn’t considered volunteering in general and its specific role in society.

An example of a volunteer

To try to work out what volunteers do, the skills involved and the potential benefits I decided to list some of my own pro bono activity. Thinking back over the years made me realise that I have been involved in quite a few organisations in a variety of roles, including:

  • Rugby club: coaching children’s rugby and bookkeeping
  • Scout group: fundraising
  • Libraries: teaching IT to over 50’s
  • Schools/National charity: facilitating the teaching of IT by children to the over 50’s
  • Community: running an historic annual street fair
  • International charity: the creation and facilitation of a children’s computer programming club

Skills

My list covers a variety of organisations and each role required a different mix of skills. Some of these skills I already had but there were many things that I needed to learn and many positions that didn’t come naturally to me and required a more fundamental change.

One of the important things I’ve learnt from this is that volunteering is not only a great way to share your professional and more general life skills with your community but also a way to gain new skills which can help with your personal development and, for some, can improve employment opportunities.

Friendship

Another unexpected benefit has been from a more social and personal point of view. Over the years I have met numerous people via volunteering activity and looking around my current close friends and contacts in the local community I can trace both direct and indirect connections that have resulted from past, and current, activities.

Knock-on effects

The benefits from volunteering do not usually end within the organisation where you help or even the physical boundaries of your own community. You will make contacts outside of the group which in turn will lead to new organisations, new opportunities and new friends. In fact, my last job and my current role as a councillor both came about as a direct result of my volunteering activity.

Volunteering in Worcester Park

I am sure of some key facts about Worcester Park:

  1. There are many volunteer led organisations in Worcester Park
  2. Some organisations in Worcester Park need additional help
  3. There are many people in Worcester Park who have some spare time, would like to make new friends or would benefit from learning new skills

So, I know we have the volunteering oppotunities, I know we have people willing to help, but how can they find out about each other?

Getting involved

As a start I suggest that those looking for volunteers or those wanting to take advantage of the many opportunities of volunteering visit Do-it to advertise volunteering opportunities or look for those that are available. If you need help to make people aware of your opportunity or availability please feel free to contact me.

 

Victoria House update

The following update on the redevelopment of Victoria House at North Cheam has kindly been provided by Councillor Richard Broadbent (Lib Dem, Nonsuch ward, London Borough of Sutton):

There was a presentation by Home Group, the owners of Victoria House, to the Cheam North & Worcester Park Local Committee recently to update local residents on the latest with their proposals for redevelopment of the site and removal of the long-standing eyesore. Their architects presented the latest design, together with a lot of background. They felt this was better than the previous design given planning permission previously.

Home Group said they had enhanced security following incursions to the site including by travellers (and requests by Cllr Richard Broadbent on behalf of local residents). They are reviewing security to improve it further.

They apologised for missing targets from the last presentation in October. They are working to get a viable scheme, noting that construction costs have risen in recent months.

The architects explained the thinking behind their design, including that it was intended to increase sunlight at the back by having a gap in the middle. The new building would be mainly residential, along with mostly commercial on the ground floor. There would be a mixture of rental and for sale, including social and affordable housing.

They are discussing with council planning officers issues including the height/massing and transport/parking plus the environment in the area at the front, in order to come up with a good scheme to improve the area.

The hoped-for timescale set out at the meeting was as follows:

  • Design development – up to June
  • Public consultation – early May
  • Planning application – late June (decision end Sept)
  • Demolition Oct-Dec
  • Rebuild Jan-Mar

There is an ongoing problem with Ladbrokes, the only retail leaseholder left in Victoria House. They have refused to move out to allow complete demolition and rebuild, so alternative plans have been prepared to work round them if necessary. Negotiations are continuing.

Local ward councillors Richard Broadbent and Samantha Bourne have been keeping closely involved with Home Group (including raising concerns of residents about security etc) since May last year, when Home Group bought the site. Public consultation is planned next month including an exhibition nearby.

We look forward to the scheme progressing so that residents will no longer have to put up with this eyesore at the centre of North Cheam.

RB 7/4/15

Living without a car

A life of car ownership

As soon as I was 17 (many years ago!) I got a driving license, passed my driving test, and bought a car with some help from the ‘bank of mum and dad’.

Since then I have always had a car with its size changing in line with that of the family. In more recent years the children had largely flown the nest and my wife and I generally used a combination of walking, cycling and public transport to get around. We found this provided the exercise we needed and avoided the problem and cost of parking at our destination.

Decline of car use and ‘end of the affair’

Gradually we found we preferred this approach and used it both for local and long distance travel. The car was only straying from the drive when we had a lot to take with us or if the destination was difficult to get to using public transport.

Just over a year ago we added up what we were paying for insurance, road tax, breakdown cover, depreciation etc to get a more accurate view of what the car was costing us. This exercise confirmed our suspicions that we were paying a lot of money each year for an expensive asset which increasingly was just sitting on our drive.

We then decided to take the radical step of selling the car and trying to live without one for the first time in our adult lives.

Quid pro quo

The first decision we made after selling the car and banking the proceeds was that we would ‘recycle’ some of the saving and allow ourselves occasional travel treats to reward ourselves for doing without the car.

We agreed we would:

  • travel First Class on long train journeys where a reasonable advance purchase ticket is available, and
  • allow ourselves the use of a taxi now and again where it made a journey easier.

The first year of being carless

There have been a few times a car would have been useful but we have managed to find an alternative without any problems. Over the year we have enjoyed quite a few First Class rail journeys but only found the need for a couple of taxi journeys. The most recent taxi journey was to a fundraising event organised by the Mayor of Sutton where a bus was possible but not ideal as it was a ‘posh frocks’ event. I decided to use this journey as a way of trying out the Uber web-based taxi app and found it was simple, quick and competitively priced for this journey. Conveniently the Mayor also lives in Worcester Park so he kindly offered us a lift home, avoiding the planned taxi back and providing us with some time to catch up on things.

The future

Our situation may change one day and a car might be useful but at the moment we find Worcester Park is adequately supplied with public transport to cover most needs. With spring in the air walking and cycling will probably be our main way of travelling around the borough on councillor and other journeys.

As I write this I am enjoying a ‘full grease’ with regular coffee on a Virgin Trains service from Euston. We have just travelled at high speed parallel to the M1  at Watford Gap and I can see the traffic crawling through road works. Would I rather be driving? I’ll leave you to guess!

Graffiti

I suspect you have noticed that a lot of graffiti has been appearing around the shops in Worcester Park and on our new footbridge at Worcester Park station. It is upsetting that while local groups are putting in lots of time and effort to make Worcester Park a better place there are others who choose to insult our community by defacing public and private properties.

Your councillors have been in regular contact with Sutton Council officers, South West Trains and our local Safer Neighbourhood Team from Sutton Police to agree the best way to deal with the mess and stop it recurring.

If you see anyone adding to the problem or you think you might know who is involved please dial 101 or 999 if urgent or contact one your councillors, Arthur, Paul or Richard, in confidence.

Overcrowding on the X26 bus

The X26 limited-stop bus service runs from Croydon to Heathrow Airport and the route includes Sutton, Kingston and of course Worcester Park. It is a very useful service for getting from the South West edges of London to Heathrow which is otherwise very poorly served by public transport links to London’s largest airport. The single journey fare, currently £1.50, is the same as all other London buses which I’m sure adds to its popularity.

I use the route whenever I need to travel from Heathrow and have noticed that I usually have to stand when boarding at Worcester Park station. It is not just a problem at peak times as I have also had to stand when travelling early on weekend mornings.

I logged the capacity problem via FixMyTransport.com back in 2011 before I was a councillor, in fact before I had even thought about becoming a councillor, and was told ‘Recent reviews of route X26 have shown that capacity is sufficient to meet passenger demand’. I had no way of knowing how they interpreted their data but their conclusion was not in line with my experience as a passenger.

As soon as I was elected as a councillor for Worcester Park ward in May 2014 I decided to try to tackle the problem again with the help of Caroline Pidgeon, Leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group and Chair of the London Assembly’s Transport Committee. Consequently the issue was raised in July 2014  at the Mayor of London’s question time (Frequency of X26 bus route) and the Mayor, Boris Johnson, stated ‘TfL has identified a crowding issue in the morning peak on route X26 and is investigating potential solutions’. It was encouraging to get it raised at this level but the answer was only partly accurate because, as I have mentioned, the overcrowding can occur at other times of the day.

During an event with our MP Paul Burstow someone mentioned a case where a family including elderly members was split when some got on at one stop then the remainder could not join them at a later stop as the bus was by then full, leaving the elderly members stranded.

More recently I attended the London Councils Summit 2014 at the City of London’s Guildhall and had the opportunity to discuss the issue with representatives of TfL. I was encouraged to receive a written reply from TfL advising that they would review the loadings for the service.

This week I attended Sutton Council’s Public Transport Liaison Group and I was pleased to see my question and their commitment to review loadings was included in TfL’s report to the Group.

I am eagerly awaiting the result of TfL’s review of the X26 loading data and am looking forward to seeing the solutions they offer.

Blog of Councillor Richard Marston of the Worcester Park Ward of the London Borough of Sutton