Stephen Alambritis is to stand down as the leader of Merton Council.
Alambritis announced his decision two hours into last night’s annual meeting of the Labour-run council. No reason was given for his decision to stand down. He described his time in power as “a remarkable decade of achievement”.
A councillor for Ravensbury ward, Alambritis has been leader of the council since 2010, where there has been a Labour majority since 2014. His term in charge will end formally in November, and he is expected to continue to serve out his term as ward councillor.
First elected as a councillor in 2003, Alambritis became leader of the opposition on the council in 2007. He had previously been head of public affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses, and according to his official biography, he still runs a property business.
As leader of Merton Council, Alambritis earned a reputation for ruthlessness, demanding strict loyalty from Labour councillors and cabinet members. On taking up the job, he became an enthusiastic enabler, together with Tories in Croydon and LibDems in Sutton, of the Beddington incinerator, while in 2016 he was the subject of a formal investigation into his conduct following a number of complaints, including one from a fellow Labour councillor.
He is also credited with helping AFC Wimbledon return to the football club’s home on Plough Lane by supporting their scheme of developing flats and a stadium on the site of the old Wimbledon dog track.
Like Croydon, Merton is run under the “strong leader” model, where the council leader is selected from the ruling group, once the leader has doled out jobs and allowances to those about to choose the leader…
One resident, on hearing Alambritis’s announcement last night, described the Merton leader’s decade in charge as being characterised by “rubbish-strewn streets, the promise of retaining weekly bin collections reneged upon, parks farmed out to an independent contractor, Metropolitan Open Land built on, historic buildings razed to the ground, precious trees felled at an alarming rate and the ancient Mitcham Bridge allowed to collapse and left unrepaired…
“Alambritis is going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons”.
The 2016 investigation into Alambritis’s conduct revolved around a Council Tax “consultation” which used council funds which had to be reimbursed. He courted further controversy when he backed a candidate for councillor who was openly homophobic and who had boasted on Twitter that he had voted illegally in the past and was encouraging another to the do the same.
Alambritis was also blamed for the loss of Merton Hall, a locally listed public building in a conservation area which the council allowed to be demolished, rather than preserved and used for public use as a residents’ campaign had called for.
On planning issues, controversial applications have been passed, while Labour committee members who voted in favour of them maintained that they did not approve of the scheme.
The resident said, “Under Alambritis, the council has been run on the basis that the views of residents should not only be ignored, but openly mocked.”
Merton’s 60 councillors are split between Labour (34 elected in 2018), the Conservatives (who last held control of the council in 1989, and today have 17 councillors), plus six LibDems and three councillors from the Merton Park Residents’ Association.
By going now, Alambritis may consider that he will be providing his successor as Labour group leader with time to frame a new set of arguments ahead of the next local elections in 2022, though it seems unlikely that many Merton residents will forget Alambritis’s decade in charge quickly.
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