The Liberal Democrats swept back to power in Kingston in May, but their progress has been bumpier since, with the opposition Conservatives not alone in accusing them of making major U-turns since 3 May.
Newly-elected councillor Sharron Sumner has resigned from the Lib Dem group – though not from the party – claiming that there is “a lack of vision at the top of the administration” and that “manifesto and other commitments have been junked” during the first 100 days of the new regime.
Sumner has described herself as “particularly upset” over a decision taken in June to close a care home called Murray House on the grounds that the cost of refurbishment work it required or its conversion for dementia care could not be justified. Interviewed by local station Radio Jackie, she said she thought the closure, with winter approaching, badly timed and claimed that “the leadership had promised on numerous occasions that they would keep Murray House open for the elderly residents that were still there until the end of their natural lives”.
Meanwhile, Paul Wellman of Estates Gazette has drawn attention to a rather striking change of stance on proposals to redevelop a derelict site in Tolworth, near Surbiton, for housing. A year before the elections, local Lib Dems were lambasting the Tories for declining to challenge a decision by the planning inspectorate to overturn their refusal of an application to build homes on the site. Liberal Democrats would work with local residents to make up for this “Tory cave in” to the “overdevelopment” of the land, they declared.
But in July, the Lib Dem council trumpeted the granting of consent for a revised version of the scheme with a significantly higher density. They drew attention to the larger proportion of affordable homes they had secured from the developer, though at around 30% it’s not dazzling. A scheme they had derided as “a row of tower blocks” is now hailed as making good on a promise to deliver affordable homes.
Will Sumner be the last to leave the Lib Dem group? As already documented in Private Eye, one of its meetings last month at the Guildhall – Kingston’s local government HQ – became rather fraught due to disagreements over whether noted local activist Dan Falchikov, who is not a councillor, should be allowed to speak. He was eventually told to leave and discovered on departing that the entire rumpus had been audible outside the room because the in-house public address system was switched on. The Tory Group, which was conducting its own meeting at the same time, had had the pleasure of listening in on their rivals’ dust-up.
How deep divisions in Lib Dem councillor ranks run is hard to know – there are a number of personal issues involved in the group’s problems so far – and council leader Liz Green and her team have released an upbeat video of “five things we have done so far” (the Murray House closure decision and approving the Tolworth housing scheme are not included). But with Sumner now sitting as an Independent Lib Dem councillor, there is speculation that she won’t be on her own for long.
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