Thinking back to the days after the AGM, there were moments when I wondered whether I would have anything to say in these columns. How wrong can you be ! Something is always bound to turn up. Some of these notes and articles will be rather technical now and again - this is difficult to avoid when dealing with planning issues. These bits are for the 'anoraks'. Most people do not want to be bothered with local government affairs provided the rubbish is collected on time, the streets are clean, the traffic moves smoothly and the buses run frequently, etc. But there's the rub ! In a perfect world, we would not need Residents' Associations. Need I say more ? We do hope you find something of interest in these pages each month. You will find below and later on some notes about Area Forums which the Council plan to set up. Sounds very boring, and a lot of it will be. These Forums could be just glorified talking shops of little or no value. Or - if the will is there - they could be a useful extension of the democratic process. We will try to steer them towards precisely the latter objective.
In the July "Guide", I reported on an initiative by the Council whereby the cleansing operation (the road sweepers) would follow on behind the refuse collectors on the same day. Sounds like a good idea, and it is, but sadly it did not work out as intended. Irfan Malik, Head of Amenity Services at the Council, tells me that with many roads congested with cars and traffic, the Council found that the road sweepers (who do not use a vehicle) were overtaking the refuse collectors (who use a very large vehicle). There must be a lesson to learn here somewhere. Clearly it would not make sense to sweep the roads before the refuse collectors appeared, so now the chaps with the brooms will do their stuff on the following day. Well, let us see how it works out. I understand that additional litter bins are being installed in Raynes Park and Wimbledon and elsewhere, and that they will be emptied more frequently. Thank you for keeping us informed, Mr Malik (yes - he does read the "Guide"). We will be monitoring progress.
You may have noticed that Merton Council is taking a two-page spread each week in the local Guardian newspaper. On 19th July, this 'advertising feature' gave brief details about Area Forums which the Council is planning to create. I think the idea is to encourage the public to 'engage' more with the Council and provide a mechanism for a two-way flow of ideas and information. The first meetings are due to start next November, and the Council has issued a consultation leaflet (available from the Civic Centre and any Merton Library). The leaflet seeks your views on the content and format of the meetings, to be held quarterly, and to be chaired by a local Councillor. Extracts from the leaflet and a map showing the boundaries of the four areas are set out in this month's "Guide". Comments are required by 14th September, so you will need to act quickly. The Association will be responding to this exercise, but any Merton resident can - and we hope some will - submit their own views. I know that the Council would like to see a greater response rate to these consultations, so here is your chance.
Some members of the Association have been attending meetings of the "Raynes Park and West Barnes Town Centre Working Party", which are also held quarterly. I have found these meetings useful particularly when a local issue of interest was on the agenda, such as the Raynes Park Library. The idea is that the Forums will replace the Working Party meetings. The first point to note is that only four Forums are planned for the whole of the Borough, and the one for our area will embrace four Council Wards as against two before. You will be able to get a feel for what this means from the map in the "Guide". My early reaction is that this will be too large an area to cover matters adequately if there are only four meetings each year. However, let us give the proposals a fair wind and see how they evolve. The Association will be responding, and we will keep you informed. If you have time, please do get hold of a leaflet and send in your own comments.
Some of our members have spoken to us about the 'electric' gates on the Burlington Road side of the Superstore being left open and used as a short cut for traffic off the A3 heading for Raynes Park. This can of course only be achieved when the large single 'swing' gate, alongside the store, is also open. I made enquiries and discovered that the 'electric' gates - which are also used by staff in the Unilever office building - have been broken for some weeks (as at late July). Hopefully, by the time you read this they will have been repaired. The general policy at Tesco is to keep both sets of gates closed, so as not to create a through route across the site and to prevent the public entering by car from Burlington Road. However, Iain Laslett at Tesco tells me that at peak trading time, e.g. on Saturdays, the car park can be close to full and vehicles tend to 'back-up' at the entrance, causing a hold-up of traffic on the slip road leading off the A298. To ease this problem, the management open both sets of gates for a limited period. The gates should be closed again when more parking space is available. Mr Laslett did warn me that they may see a need to leave the gates open more frequently during the period of works on the A3. The second section of these works - the part nearest to the store - is a short length of road north of Raynes Park Railway Bridge and was due to run for 16 weeks from 21st July. I can only suggest that - if possible - you try to avoid driving to the store at peak user times.
A new trolley (actually an adapted version) has been in operation since early July. The new trolley has one all-black wheel which locks up and - I am told - stays locked when the trolley reaches the perimeter of the site. It can only be unlocked with a special device which is NOT for sale inside the store ! There should be far fewer trolleys being taken away from the store in future. In fact Mr Laslett reckons that, with luck, the new system should be 95% successful. Let us hope so.
I had an uneasy feeling about adding this to the agenda in the first place - now it will never go away.
Councillor Linda Kirby, Chair of Merton's Environment and Safety Forum, called a public meeting on 25th July. The main focus of the meeting was to encourage people to join up and form Local Action Groups, headed by what are described as 'Champions', to clear up graffiti. Several 'Champions' present explained what they were doing, and some with marked success. A lot of the meeting was devoted to cleaning-up issues, but we were given some insight into the background of the type of youngsters who become 'graffers'.
It seems they are largely boys aged 12 to 16 and in many cases - so it is reported - would like to do their work in a more structured way and in a more socially acceptable setting if they had the opportunity. Many of these lads, we are told, are not in what most people would describe as - for want of a better phrase - settled family circumstances. I came away from the meeting feeling that this is a far more complex issue than it appears at first glance. The origins of it and the explanation for it seem to run very deep. Many people would be willing to admit that some of these young lads have artistic ability ; the problem is the way they exploit it. Is it perhaps the only way some of them feel they can express themselves and establish a measure of self-esteem ? I am not trying to condone this behaviour, only to understand it better. Certainly there is no easy solution to preventing graffiti and, since we are a non-party-political body, I had better not wander down this path any further. Short of being able to prevent graffiti happening, the second-best option is trying to clean it up - preferably as quickly as possible. There is one school of thought that suggests that if graffiti is painted over quickly, it serves as an effective deterrent. Through this Association, Councillor Lewis-Lavender is keen to build up a Local Action Group. She is starting to collect names of volunteers, so if you are willing and able, please contact her.
The revised Planning Application for the old Co-op in Coombe Lane was approved on 25th July. We do not have any details of the proposed 'food and drink' element on the ground floor. However, there will be strict rules about noise and hours of use so that, if it is a pub, adjoining properties and the residents above should not be inconvenienced. We also hope that the architecture of the building will blend into the shopping parade.
A group of our members are suffering from a gang involved in anti-social behaviour. I do not want to go into detail about this. It is difficult to do anything on this front unless crime is actually committed. We are working on this or, to be more accurate, Councillors Iain Dysart and Gilli Lewis-Lavender are. I would like the people affected to know that they have not been forgotten.
Sadly, we have to say farewell to Nikki Waid, our Minutes Secretary. She is off to Australia in the near future. Fortunately we have Jan Bailey, who has been helping considerably lately, waiting in the wings. Many thanks for all your efforts, Nikki, and the very best of luck 'down under'.David J. Freeman