With the funeral and memorial service to Maggie Mansell now over, the political parties will start the process of deciding who they will choose to stand as Councillor to replace ther. What sort of people would we like them to choose?
In the May election last year Labour’s Maggie Mansell and Shafi Khan both received over 1,900 votes, the Conservatives’ Calum Bardsley 644 and Mike Mogul 638, and the Greens’ Stephen Amor 299 and Cheryl Zimmerman 291.
Labour’s candidate will be a fresh one, while the two other parties may choose their previous candidates or new people. Apart from Mike Mogul the others do not seem to have been active in the ward since. This may be understandable as they may have been paper candidates, knowing that they would not be elected.
Council by-elections are notorious for having low turnouts, so the Labour vote may crash. The high turnover in population may mean a lot of voters have moved way and new residents have not yet got themselves on to the electoral register.
Despite Maggie and Shafi’s support for residents’ opposition on planning, many voters may be so angered by the decisions of the Labour controlled Council that they may not vote or if they voted Labour last May may vote for another Party in protest. The Conservatives will have to work hard if they are in hold up their vote, and it will take a volcanic change for them to win the seat.
So given this background what are the ideal criteria for candidates?
(1) live in the ward.
(2) have a track record of activity in Norbury’s community affairs.
(3) ensure they have a mastery of all the issues in Norbury.
(4) be committed to the ward until the next Council elections and promise not to stand for other elected offices such as Greater London Authority and Parliament meanwhile.
If they do not live in the ward they should:
(5) live in Croydon North so they live not too far away from Norbury and agree to (3) and (4) above.
Then there are a series of commitments related to how they will work as Councillors:
(6) never accept what Council officers say without questioning and if need be challenge what they are told.
(7) seek solutions to problems where officers are saying nothing can be done.
(8) be prepared to defy the party whip if a policy is not in the interests of Norbury.
(9) work as a team with the Councillors in Norbury Park ward for the wider interests of the Norbury area, especially on issues like buses, the railway station, the parks and open spaces, air pollution and greening our streets, and more resources to improve Norbury as the gateway into Croydon.
(10) work closely with all the community groups, including the Residents Associations and Love Norbury partnership.
(11) defend Norbury against planning decisions that are solely based on meeting housing numbers at the expense of all the aspects of the Croydon Local Plan, and to ensure that the cumulative effects of individual decisions are assessed.
Reliance on social media means few people know what is happening. Therefore it is important that the Councillors:
(12) ensure that a regular newsletter is posted through every door reporting on what they are doing, and special ones for small neighbourhoods when there is a particular issue affecting residents.
(13) continue the practice of attending Residents Associations meetings and giving a Councillors’ report.
(14) hold their own public meetings on local issues.
Given both major parties promised to review the Council’s governance structures (executive leader and Cabinet) they should:
(15) give a commitment to arguing that the proposed review is open to public discussion.
(16) support the re-introduction of a Committee structure in which ordinary Councillors take part in decision making.
Key issues to work on
The list below takes into account that there are limits to what even the best local Councillors can achieve, because so many things that residents do not like are outside the control of the Council .e.g. greedy commercial landlords driving up rents; owner occupiers selling their houses to buy-to-let landlords; the number of eateries, take-aways and betting shops; the number of shops that can sell alcohol; planning permitted development rights changing the look of houses and streets; people who litter; developers buying up property and sites and imposing what they want not what is needed. What local Councillors can do, however, is to continually press for the Council to lobby for changes to the planning rules laid down by Government and the Mayor of London which take precedence over the Local Plan. But they can:
(1) continue Maggie’s work with Love Norbury to renovate the upper floor of the Library, for community use, including installation of a lift.
(2) to press the Council to close down the illegal smoking in the shisha establishments.
(3) press for implementation of tree and planting along London Rd by TfL.
(4) champion improvements to the Norbury and Norbury Hall Parks, with the Friends groups, including for funding for the Environment Agency’s proposal to open up the Brook through Norbury Park.
(5) work with Love Norbury and people over the border in Streatham for improvements to the environment of the railway station.
(6) work with Love Norbury for improved bus services.
(7) have effective action taken to ensure alleyways are no longer used as dumping grounds.
(8) convene first meeting of the proposed Local Committee with local groups by end of May at the latest to finalise its rules and to start reviewing Norbury issues and Council actions.
(9) press for penalty fines against private contractors for non-performance of street and parks cleaning and waste collection.
(10) review 20 mile an hour zoning to ensure changes that will increase the possibility of detection of higher speeds and enforcement.
(11) review the two Local Heritage Areas (London Rd – Norbury and Beatrice Avenue to ensure planning decisions take account of their extra status.
(12) press for an increase in Council’s neighbourhood officers patrolling in Norbury to ensure speedy action is taken on problems, such as fly-tipping, new businesses having waste contracts.
With their Norbury Councillor colleagues they could use the mini-scrutiny review mechanism to undertake their own in –depth examination of such issues as the shishas, the Local Heritage area, and the railway station.
Finally, it will be difficult for anyone to replace Maggie as a passionate supporter of individuals with problems, helping them in ways above and beyond what most people can do. Whoever is elected needs to ensure that they learn how to be as effective as possible in their case work. As well as seeking advice of other Councillors, they could go on training courses in welfare rights, housing.
(1) The new Councillor will not be able to replace Maggie’ strong points, especially her ability to help people in need, and her commitment to health improvements. They will develop their own interests and bring new ways of looking at Norbury.
(2) Depending on whether they work and/or have family responsibilities, it is not unreasonable to expect backbench Councillors to spend one third of their time on Council matters. If they are retired then half their time would be reasonable. They are after all paid £11,000 a year in allowances.