Vice Presidents, Members, guests, ladies and gentlemen. Another year, another twelve months have passed and so much has happened in this area and for the Association too. A year ago, I agreed to return again for a fourth term as Chairman, with the challenge of turning round this excellent organisation and making sure we had a team to take us forward into the new millennium. I am delighted to inform you that this mission, which at times seemed impossible, has been achieved, thanks to the positive responses from a number of you. But this did not happen overnight, and certainly these past months have given me considerable heartache. But in standing before you tonight to review the activities of the Association's start to this new millennium, I am delighted to be able to mention the many activities that have been carried out as we continue to strive to maintain the quality of life in these Wards, and also to introduce to you the new faces who will, with your blessing, make up our team for the future.
Let me first concentrate on the activities of the past year. We have taken a slightly different approach than in previous years, continuing to work closely with our local Councillors, but making sure they took responsibility for particular issues for which they were elected. This has enabled us to pass to them matters which they can handle directly, while allowing the Association to concentrate on the key issues affecting the quality of life in Raynes Park and West Barnes where the voice of independence is important. We have been fortunate to have a good working relationship with Councillors Ian Dysart, Margaret Brierly and Gilli Lewis-Lavender, and we thank them for making the time to attend our meetings regularly and particularly for taking responsibility for specific issues raised at these open, monthly discussions with members and residents. We add a special thank you to Gilli for her previous activities as Association Minutes Secretary and for the many other activities she has carried out on our behalf.
One particular item of pleasure is to record that during the year the Association have placed at the junction of Westway and Grand Drive a planter in memory of Rothsay Mackenzie, known to you all as Mac, who was at the centre of so many activities in this area. We thank Jill Truman for securing the planter and Jean and John Haslam for planting this memorial on our behalf.
We can summarise the business of the past year as a period where we have been wading through a flood of issues affecting our sportsgrounds and local amenities, as plans were advanced for more housing and irreversible alterations to our green areas which are Metropolitan Open Land, while the changing climate has produced regular rainstorms and created many local flooding problems. During the past year, there has been flooding in Southway, Westway, Greenway and Blenheim Road, the Cannon Hill Common is flooded in parts with streams of water flowing across Parkway, while our surrounding sports grounds have had so much surface water as to be unusable for many weeks. Streams under houses, unknown to residents, have suddenly become active. The flood plain of the Pyl Brook constitutes much of this area and must be taken into account by the Council for any future planning applications. We know that the changing climate will only make this matter worse, so the Association, together with the Environment Agency, has stressed to the Council that there cannot be any more building on any floodplain area in these Wards. We cannot sit back and adopt a Canute approach. Fortunately, the strength of feeling and the determination of local residents have resulted in continued positive and constructive responses channelled through the Association to the local authority to make a more reasoned response to the emerging plans. We have been very fortunate that Margaret Pye, David Freeman and Pamela Robinson have been available to help us, spending considerable amounts of time attending local and Council meetings, reading and often translating the vast planning briefs and then advising Association members of the actions to be taken. We are very grateful to all of them for their dedicated and professional assistance which has been so crucial to us during this past year.
The fundamental issues have been concerned with threats to the LESSA and Prince George's Playing Fields. A year ago, Andrew Barwick and his team were protesting vigorously to the London Playing Fields Association over the future of the Prince George's Playing Fields and their intended sale of this land. Sadly, this battle was lost in one form when the lease for the land was sold to Wimbledon FC and we were informed that it was to be used as a training ground. We are always concerned by the activities of any professional football club, since their interests are much greater than just playing football. They are commercial organisations. Those clubs listed on the stock exchange openly state that their activities comprise hotels, leisure and car parks as well as football, so we have kept a close watch on this land and the future intentions of Wimbledon FC. Residents have been concerned that their intentions may extend to developing a new stadium, on the site since the club are anxious to have their own ground in Merton. At our March meeting, Roger Casale MP assured us that as a result of a recent meeting of local supporters, Council representatives and members of the Wimbledon Civic Forum, this was not the case, although the club do wish to have facilities in or near to Merton. However, we still have concerns about the future use of this ground.
Andrew Barwick, David Freeman and their colleagues have worked with the local officials to provide valuable input into the planning brief developed by the Council for any future development of this site, and ensured that all the recommendations of residents were incorporated. We were very angered that when this matter was to be discussed by the Council, the item was removed from the agenda as a consequence of a telephone call from the new Chairman of Wimbledon FC, without any explanation or notification to our representatives who had made time to attend the meeting. We have made a formal protest to the Council. This action raises concerns on the management of Merton too. We are fortunate to have Andrew Barwick and his team available to continue to watch this space.
The New Year started with a massive jolt for us all, when we learnt suddenly of two planning applications from Barratt Homes for a massive development on the LESSA sportsground. We have always been concerned about the future of this land since the deregulation of the electricity industry and the subsequent purchase of London Electricity by a French Company whose focus would then be more on profit than the local community. Fortunately, the use of modern technology came to our aid, for within minutes of being aware of the potential plans which were sent to residents by the Council over the Christmas period by snail mail, electronic communications were being transmitted around the area and the Association's defences were springing into life. David Freeman, Margaret Pye and Pamela Robinson had again been watching for any planning application on this land, and from the information provided us with a very helpful brief of the approach to be taken, while Martin Mitchell, Bob Simpson and Terri Flynn co-ordinated the activities of the many residents of Westway, Greenway, Blenheim Close and Blenheim Road in making their responses. The Association co-ordinated matters at the January meeting with more than eighty residents, and as a consequence the Council have been inundated with letters of objection to these initial plans. We have been successful in stopping the first attack, but you can be sure that Barratts will respond again so we need to be imaginative in our use of the land. We are very grateful to Martin Mitchell and his team of local residents both for co-ordinating the Association's activities and also for collecting the photographic record from all our residents of the flooding problems over past years. This will be clear evidence of the problems of this area, which will now become more acute as the climate continues to change with more and more rain, and will show to the Council and other official organisations the dangers of considering any further building in this area.
We have, of course, yet another green area to watch, and while there has not yet been any action on the Sun Alliance ground, we have in the last few months formed a group under Jerry Cuthbert of Linkway to monitor this land carefully. However, the Association suggests there should be a more imaginative approach to this matter than just repelling planning applications, and we recommend an open discussion involving all interested parties, Council, schools, sports organisations, residents and developers so that a strategy may be developed for the most appropriate use of these sportsgrounds for the community as a whole, and not just by one greedy company and a few shareholders.
At every meeting of the Association, members continue to complain that this area can be described by one word : filthy. The roads do not seem to be cleaned regularly, the pavements rarely, while the gutters contain a wide range of weeds, as they are a forgotten territory too. The grass verges are attacked by vehicles better suited for cutting the grass on playing fields, while the resulting grass cuttings are blown over the pavement and roads as the people concerned are more interested in using inappropriate tools rather than an effective broom to leave the roads clean and tidy. Graffiti is everywhere and making this area look like a poor inner suburb. With our local beat officer, PC Gary Sexton, we have tried to make some progress with the graffiti problem, but it is an uphill task. While we are delighted by Gary Sexton's promotion to Sergeant, we are sorry to lose him from the area, and trust we can maintain the close relationship with his successor PC Alistair Tiddy. Neil Isaacs of the Council's Street Cleaning Department attended the February meeting, and he is now aware of all the issues and the actions we expect from the Council to clean up these Wards and the Borough as a whole. We expect some visible action.
Local traffic problems, commuter rat-runs and commuter parking have punctuated our discussions throughout the year. However, the major discussion topic, originating through the Raynes Park Centre Working Group, is the Council's plans for controlled parking in the area. David Freeman represents the Association at these meetings and has kept us informed. Residents are affronted at the Council's suggestion that they should have to pay for the privilege of parking both their own cars and those of their visitors on the road, without any guarantee of being able to park outside their own home. This is another form of stealth tax.
Commuters are a major cause of parking problems in our roads near to the station, while the users of the Old Wimbledonians sports ground cause serious difficulties for local residents in the Taunton, Camberley and Somerset Avenue areas. The latter issue is one which we have taken up with our Councillors directly, and requested that there should be adequate parking facilities at the ground for all users so that they do not clog up these residential roads. Parking around Raynes Park and the associated commuter problem is a bigger issue in which we are working with the other Associations in the area. It is certainly time the Council solved the commuter issue first. Consultation and communication between the Council and residents are key elements in this and other matters affecting the local community. We are opposed to these alleged consultation exercises that rely on cards delivered to individual houses or enclosed in local newspapers and requiring a response on behalf of a household. Firstly, there is no guarantee that the cards and notices will actually be received, especially as the local papers are not delivered to every road. Secondly, it is undemocratic to take notice of the response from a household. This is a ballot box matter, and there should be a proper system in which people on the electoral roll have an opportunity to express their opinion. We will not accept any other approach for this alleged "consultation" exercise which the Council are producing on an ever more frequent basis.
The key to our success in the past year and the foundation for the future has been communication, communication and communication. We have made a significant step forward through embracing the new world of the Internet and the introduction of the Association's own web site. Tim Miles as the Webmaster has been magnificent in co-ordinating the activities of the Association and in setting up and managing our electronic window on the world. This has changed our way of working and provided a new way for residents, especially new ones, to contact us. Through the contact details on the web site I have had several communications from new residents wishing to learn more about the Association and to become involved too. It has enabled us to communicate details of our activities quickly and widely to anyone accessing the site anywhere in the world. The Chairman's notes are always on the Website as soon as they are written, and this annual report too will be available there as soon as it is approved. Thank you again, Tim, for your help and support in transporting the Association to the new cyber age.
The "Guide" will always remain the main means of communication to all our members, and this year we broke new records with the size of this monthly publication. Seventy years ago, the Association were considering whether they could provide enough information to warrant a monthly publication, which they thought would occasionally require twelve pages. This year, under the excellent editing of Wendy Hunt, we have published more pages of news, information and details of our subsections than ever before, and for two months the Guide was a bumper 28-page issue. Wendy has worked hard to make sure the Guide contained the latest information, and even managed to stop the print run of the March issue to get the "Stop Press" on the Prince George's Playing Fields inserted. This was possible as a consequence of the excellent working relationship between Wendy and our printer, Mark Leonard of Tremar Graphics, who takes a very great interest in the activities of the Association. We do appreciate the time and effort that Mark and his staff always take to produce the Guide in a timely fashion. It is always delivered to the distribution manager, Malcolm Day, by the last day of the month, for subsequent delivery to all our members though our network of Area Coordinators and Road Stewards. We thank them all for their untiring work during the past year.
John Cock, our faithful treasurer, has continued to manage the financial matters for the Association amid the many other activities he carries out in this area, and we are grateful to him for his continued excellent work.
Last year we were facing a crisis, as fewer and fewer people were involved in the running of the Association, which, paradoxically, local residents supported strongly. We had become an over-centralised organisation, so a few people were trying to carry out the activities previously supported by many members. Jill Truman, after completing her period as Chairman a year ago, has continued to help support the activities in many rôles, without which we would have been in serious difficulties at the start of this year. Betty Claircourt has taken on the onerous task of representing us on various committees of the Metropolitan Police and the Wimbledon Union of Residents Associations, and has reported her findings at the monthly meetings. We thank you, Betty, for keeping us informed of the greater scheme of things.
I have mentioned before that communication is a key element of a successful organisation. Also, for the Association to be able to work effectively, we must be a decentralised organisation, with the Chairman operating more as the conductor of an orchestra, than as a soloist with a small group of players. In taking on the challenge to develop a new team for the future, we have tried a "think tank" approach, questionnaires to all members, and discussions at the regular meetings, and we thank John Avis and Mabel and Edwin Cluer for their help. While these activities did raise many issues and some suggestions for the operation of the Association, they failed to answer the basic problem of how to involve members in the key activities which we required. I will admit to becoming very concerned as the months ticked by. But I never give up, and over several months, through the use of the Website and e-mails and many conversations particularly with new residents to the area, I have been able to build up a strong team for the future. We now have a team of young, active people anxious to ensure the preservation of the quality of life in this area and who are also able to make effective use of the modern methods of communications through e-mail which is fundamental to our operations today. Since February, we have been introducing them at the monthly meetings so they can understand the activities of this organisation. Debbie Coady has already been very busy as the acting Secretary, with Nikki Waide and Jan Bailey providing the minutes for our meetings and the secretarial support which we have been lacking for some time. Lizzie Lesnianski, a local businesswoman, has recently come forward and proffered many valuable ideas for the Association, and has agreed to stand as Vice Chairman for the next year. I am grateful to these ladies and all the new members of the team for coming forward to assist the Association.
It is also appropriate at this stage to say a special thank you at this time to Jenny Gregory, who although living outside our Wards has always been available to take the minutes at the AGM. This year it has not been necessary. However, we do thank you, Jenny, for always being available to help us in this way.
With the other new faces we will introduce formally later in the proceedings, the Association is now stronger than ever before. We have had a busy year and we can expect a similar situation in the future. The new consultative style of local government requires the views of the local community and the Association is an important focal point in this area. There is no doubt that we have the basis for continued growth of the Association, and I hope our aim is to continue to increase the memberships so that every resident will be a member. If we can also encourage the neighbouring Associations to strengthen their organisations too, then together we can all provide a stronger voice of independence in this Borough.
Finally I would like to thank everyone who has attended the regular monthly meetings and assisted the Association during this past year. Every contribution, however small, has been invaluable. I would particularly like to thank you for your faith and trust in me as Chairman for the past year and for the opportunity to take the Association forward and set up the organisation for the future. I believe this has been achieved.
As I now return to the backbenches, may I recommend the new team to you and wish them every success for the future as we start this new millennium, and in this cyber world, may the force of common sense be with you.
Garry E Hunt Chairman 2000-2001