Ann Marie Sheehan, a resident of Mortlake & Barnes Common in SW London, explains how two major regeneration schemes are inspiring a new group of potential councillors
Why Newbies may shake Mortlake and Barnes Common
Last night Listen to Locals founded by Clare Delmar, invited candidates for the upcoming local election to set out their store to residents at The Tapestry, fittingly located opposite the site of the former Mortlake Stag Brewery.
There will be 10 runners on your ballot sheet on May 5th, including three local activists compelled to project themselves into the political arena, Independent Simon Danciger, Francine Bates for Labour and the Green’s Niki Crookdake.
Tory incumbent Paul Avon is joined by two new teammates Jennifer Powers and Sarah-Jane Sewell, while the Liberal Democrats are fielding Tony Patterson again, this time teamed with Anton McNulty Howard. Labour has two further candidates Deborah Genders and Matthew Woolston. The outcome in Mortlake and Barnes Common will be fascinating.
So why are Newbies getting involved in local politics in Mortlake and Barnes Common and why now? Might it be because there is so much at stake for this ward in an overwhelmingly Liberal Democrat run Council?
Over the next four years, Mortlake stands to be transformed in terms of population and development. Local residents care deeply about how this will shape the community they love, which is already buckling under tangled road infrastructure, constrained by the river and railway line, reduced train timetables, a closed Hammersmith Bridge and restricted access to Richmond Park at Sheen Gate.
Given the national political landscape, you’d imagine the result is a foregone conclusion with a barnstorming win for the Lib Dems. Lib Dem MP for Richmond Sarah Olney is showing her metal at Westminster with critically timed questions and tirelessly tacking local and national issues. For those who have not kept up to date with the local issues or questioned the candidates, the lazy option is to support your national choice. But given the issues at stake in our area, now is the time to put in some effort and engage.
While locals are energetically served by Sarah and her team in Mortlake, might the same be said for the incumbent Lib Dem Councillor in terms of effective engagement specifically on development challenges?
The answer unfortunately is no. Instead, locals have had to endure the desk-based opinions of the Lib Dem Council leader and the Head of Transport, the former, with regard to his judgement on the requirement for a secondary school on the Stag Brewery Site and the latter with regard to movement around Mortlake, Barnes Common and East Sheen.
Mortlake and East Sheen have suffered the Council’s experimental approach to tackling congestion resulting in fractious divided neighbourhoods and exacerbating groups now pitted against one another; cyclist v motorist v pedestrian and in Barnes, v coffee drinker! Bowing to pressure from Network Rail has directly created a speedy rat run on South Worple Way, the exact route school children are directed down, as a safer conduit to local schools than the stationery carpark that is the Upper Richmond Road. Ironically, the Head of Transport finally visited South Worple Way to see for himself, but only in the run up to this election, having scoffed on Zoom at locals’ descriptions of speeding on the only route to Barnes Hospital, yet another development site within this ward.
While the Lib Dem Council funded the Hart Bypass conceived and campaigned for by Paul Avon, it is uncelebrated as a bipartisan achievement by each party wishing to claim it solely for themselves. This Council also implemented the 20mph speed limit in areas of the ward; evidence is ambiguous as to the actual emissions difference between 20 and 30mph but certainly in places where pedestrians interact with traffic this measure may prove to be a life saver.
The Liberal Democrats overwhelming dominate LBRUT without an effective advocate in MBC as this community faces its greatest challenge. Could this be why this race has so many Newbies?
Simon Danziger has a proven track record across School Govenorship at East Sheen Primary and Richmond Park Academy. He is a leader in Barnes at the OSO, enhancing an already beautiful place. Simon is dynamic, passionate and an energetic public speaker.
Francine Bates is no stranger to anyone who has followed the progress of the Mortlake Brewery development and her call-to-action last night was clear, convincing and consummately informed, due to her tireless work as co-founder of the Mortlake Brewery Group.
Bringing the speeches to a close Simon thanked Paul Avon’s record on delivering for Mortlake, recognised Francine’s well-known credentials and offered up what might be the triple threat to the Liberal Democrats.
This result is about the future of Mortlake and Barnes Common for residents who stand to endure crippling levels of development over the term of this Council. Put a pin in Mortlake Burial Ground and drawing a circle of a 1mile radius, one might say this stands to rival Nine Elms for construction work over the next 10 years. Might the Council consider a moratorium on development in this ward and look to free up pockets for community greening projects to alleviate this over-dense development? The Council’s own Authority Monitoring Report (2019-2020) outlines in more detail how the Council has met housing requirements over the last three years and has land supply to address the next 5 years, which means it is under no significant pressure to deliver more housing. This goes against the relentless commentary to build on every brownfield site that becomes available. The decline of the local MOT garage seen on various streets in the ward offers up such sites. I’m sure the Green candidate Niki Crookdake would warm to the idea of greening these sites?
Newbies are not only putting themselves forward as candidates but are taking to the campaign trail to exercise their frustrations positively in supporting roles. With everything that is at stake for Mortlake and Barnes Common, this ward needs a strong advocate who lives the experiences of the community every day. This election is less about dog waste and bins and all about the spaces and streets in which we live and hope to thrive.
Ann Marie Sheehan
is a designer and residential renovator. She is a Community Representative for Barnes Hospital Neighbours, provider of a street donation point for Roehampton Community Box foodbank (run by charities Regenerate and Rackets Cubed) and creator of The Pupil Teaching Kitchen at East Sheen Primary School. She is a mum to two teenagers and resident of Mortlake for almost 20 years.