ISSUE: Putney Garden Centre
Tony Colman MP urges Council to reconsider Garden sale
I make no apology for restating the argument for retaining the Putney Garden Centre in Dryburgh Road.
On 6 December, at a full council meeting, the Conservative Group have the chance to overturn the decision of their colleagues on the planning committee to use the site for residential property development. The Labour Group opposed that decision, and the only reason why the full council has the chance to reverse that decision is because the Labour Group have put a stop on it. I hope this last chance will be taken by Eddie Lister and his cohorts to reverse the decision of his colleagues.
The Deputy Leader of the Council, Maurice Heaster, has argued that he and his colleagues are forced to sell the land for the highest price: by giving themselves planning permission for developing housing on the site, the councillors have quadrupled the value of the site, from £500,000, as a garden centre, to £2million as a site with permission to build housing already granted. Cllr Heaster claims that the Audit Commission requires the Council to do this as part of government policy.
In fact, the Audit Commission is an independent body, not a creature of government. Asset management is a function of local government, and is thus subject to Best Value legislation set out in the Local Government Acts 1999 and 2000. That legislation requires local government to take a strategic view of how assets are managed in the round - taking best value decisions in the wider context of community planning. A council needs to balance a number of competing interests and the well-being of the area. The Audit Commission expects local councils to have a clear auditable rationale for the option they choose - and 7,000 + signatures from local residents for keeping the garden centre designation is a clear, auditable rationale.
The decision is with the local authority - Wandsworth Council is accountable for the decisions it takes and they should not shift the blame elsewhere.
You might ask why I have written the above in this fashion; I contacted DETR, the Audit Commission and the Wandsworth District Auditor to get their views. While this article is only my opinion, it does synthesise the advice given.
Before 1997 I was Leader of the neighbouring borough of Merton, which had about the same council tax as Wandsworth on an equivalent central government grant. I was shocked to discover that the Wimbledon Park Golf Course, which was owned by the Council and leased to a private golf club, had, under a previous Tory administration, been designated for housing. I convinced my Labour colleagues that the only way to preserve the land as metropolitan open land was to sell it to a third party to ensure it was never built on. That decision was opposed by the Tory Group on the Council but the sale which preserved the open space, and commercial use of the site, went through. I know no future administration will be tempted to change the planning designation to, say, housing, because the Council will have no financial interest in doing so.
I seem to spend a great deal of my local time defending local well-loved landmarks from sale by Wandsworth Council against the wishes of local residents. The community in Putney needs these Council-owned landmarks - they define the community.
Come on, Eddie, change your mind, and that of the Conservative Group. And do not hide behind the Audit Commission or the District Auditor - the responsibility is solely yours and that of your Conservative colleagues on the Council.
What You Can Do:
1 sign the petition at Putney Garden Centre - but hurry!
2 email a message of support
send a letter of objection headed Putney Garden Centre
a copy of your letter to: Councillor Edward Lister Wandsworth
Town Hall - at the same address.