Dombey defeated as Sutton goes for zero carbon by 2030

Sutton Council last night voted for zero emissions in the borough by 2030 – at least 15 years before the £1bn contract with Viridor for the incinerator at Beddington is due to end. BELLE MONT crunches the numbers

Extinction Rebellion was claiming another local council victory last night, after a vote at Sutton Council to declare a climate emergency saw the ruling Liberal Democrats defeated, as five LibDem councillors defied their party whip.

Defeated: Ruth Dombey

Such was the shock and anger at the unexpected turn of events, Ruth Dombey, the LibDem council leader, “looked furious”, according to one member of the packed meeting, which was held in the hall of Wallington boys’ grammar school.

The LibDems have controlled Sutton since 1990, and it is thought that it is the first time this century that they have lost a council vote.

If, as President Lyndon Johnson once said, politics is all about the ability to add up, then Dombey needs to get herself a new abacus. The LibDems hold a 14-strong majority on Sutton’s 54-seat council, yet last night six of their councillors didn’t even bother to show up.

The climate emergency activists had presented a petition calling for Sutton to deliver zero carbon emissions by 2030 – a relatively modest target, and similar to that which Croydon and Bromley councils adopted last week.

Dombey and the LibDems, however, decided that this was not for them, and a council official’s report which accompanied the petition sought to change the target date to 2045.

Sutton has declared a climate emergency, with a Viridor incinerator in their backyard

Given the manner in which Liberal Democrats in Sutton, particularly local MP Tom Brake, are so keen to cloak themselves in green policies, the subject of carbon emissions is extraordinarily difficult for them. The £1billion elephant in the room last night was the Viridor incinerator on Beddington Lane, which is contracted by Sutton (as well as Croydon, Kingston and Merton) to spew out carbon emissions into the local atmosphere for 25 years – and therefore well beyond 2030.

The opposition Tories, aware of this difficulty in dates for the council, wanted to keep the 2030 zero carbon target. They were advised that they needed to put in an amendment of their own.

LibDem Rich Clare: voted against LibDems

After some worthy debating over this point of civic principle – whether it is right and proper for elected representatives even to attempt to alter a public petition – a vote was held, and despite the Tories also having a couple of absentee councillors, the Conservative amendment was carried by 22 votes to 21 (with the LibDem Mayor not voting).

Three Liberal Democrats voted for the Conservative amendment for a 2030 end to emissions.

They were Rich Clare (who represents Sutton Central ward), Amy Haldane (Carshalton South and Clockhouse) and Jake Short (Carshalton Central).

LibDem Amy Haldane: voted against LibDems

Another two LibDem councillors, Chris Williams and Jill Whitehead, both of whom represent Carshalton Central, chose to abstain.

The three Beddington North independent councillors, as might be expected, also voted for the Tory amendment.

What really hurt Dombey’s cause on the night, though, was having six of her councillors missing.

Given that Sutton’s LibDem councillors receive on average around £20,000 a year in allowances, Dombey might at least expect them to turn out for set-piece full council meetings, especially as there will not be another such gathering of all the borough’s councillors for nearly three months.

LibDem Jake Short: voted against LibDems

Dombey’s six absentees last night were Nali Patel and Colin Stears (who are both supposed to represent residents in The Wrythe), Dave Bartolucci (Sutton Central), Mo Saqib (Beddington South), Kevin Burke (Sutton West) and the frequently absent Ali Mirhashem (Sutton Central).

The recriminations are expected to begin today.

Where things became even more bizarre last night, though, was over the voting for a subsequent motion.

This motion, proposed by the LibDems, contradicted the Extinction Rebellion petition amendment, setting a zero emissions target of 2045. The LibDem councillors who had broken party ranks earlier now duly voted for a different date.

“All very confusing,” was the understatement offered by one council insider. “What were they thinking?”

The timing of such an embarrassing reverse could not be worse for Dombey’s leadership of the council.

As well as the colourful Extinction Rebellion campaigners, also in the school hall last night were dozens of anxious and angry parents protesting over Sutton’s continuing mishandling of services for some of the borough’s most vulnerable children, those with special educational needs and disability – SEND.

Last night’s Extinction Rebellion protest before the Sutton Council meeting. Things were about to get very heated

The dire situation, following a failed Ofsted inspection, has not improved markedly, and the parents’ campaign group insist that around 500 education and care plan assessments which were denied to SEND families need to be granted, urgently.

Amid accusations of tapes of meetings being wiped, the chair of one committee lying to a meeting and the council chief exec having to intervene to get the situation under something resembling control, councillors breaking her previous iron-grip on the council will pile yet more pressure on Dombey.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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