Dombey in crisis as two more LibDem councillors quit

CARL SHILTON on troubling times for Sutton’s beleaguered leader

Off in a puff of steam: Manuel Abellan

To lose one senior councillor in the weeks before crucial local elections might be seen to be unfortunate. But to lose three of her closest supporters, including her deputy leader, in less than a month could be viewed as a gathering crisis for Sutton’s beleaguered LibDem leader Ruth Dombey.

The departure announced last month of “Bogus” Ben Andrew has been followed this week by the news that Manuel Abellan is handing in his key fobs to the Civic Centre with immediate effect. Abellan’s partner, councillor Hanna Zuchowska, is also not seeking re-election.

Abellan, Dombey’s environment lead who claimed that the smoke coming from the polluting Beddington incinerator’s twin stacks was only steam, had earlier this month pledged to fight against Viridor’s latest application for a vast increase in the volume of other boroughs’ rubbish that gets burnt in Sutton.

Abellan’s promises to act on behalf of the people he is supposed to represent now appear to be nothing but… well, hot air.

Viridor-friendly Sutton under Dombey’s Liberal Democrat council has overtaken Hillingdon, the home of Heathrow Airport, for the amount of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases being produced in a London borough. And that, in part, has been steered by Abellan as the borough’s lead on environmental issues.

Abellan and his pregnant partner, Zuchowska, a councillor for Wandle Valley, are setting up a family home, with him starting a new job (probably politically restricted) at the BEIS, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Off: councillor Hanna Zuchowska

Now a Civil Service job such as that is not set-up overnight, and some opposition figures in Sutton are claiming that the announcement of Abellan’s departure as a councillor was deliberately delayed to avoid the need for what could have been an awkward by-election in his Beddington South ward.

Councils don’t have to hold by-elections to replace absent councillors once they are within six months of the quadrennial Town Hall elections, which this year are being held on May 5.

Sutton Council’s chief exec, Helen Bailey, is refusing to say exactly when Abellan actually handed in his notice as a councillor. Draw your own conclusions.

Abellan’s departure leaves Beddington South’s 12,000-plus residents ill-served for the next three months, with only one full-time councillor to represent them. The three-seat ward has as one of its LibDem councillors Mo Saqib, who has admitted publicly that as he is paid £11,000 a year in allowances, he devotes less than two days a week to his council duties.

The sudden LibDem councillor exodus also leaves Sutton’s environment committee without its chair (Abellan) for the next three months, and strips the commissioning body, the South London Waste Partnership (which runs the Veolia and Viridor contracts across Kingston, Merton, Sutton and Croydon), of its current Sutton lead representative (Abellan).  Zuchowska is the substitute rep.

Possibly still reeling from her council’s 31st dishonourable mention in Private Eye’s widely-read Rotten Borough’s column, Dombey has decided that none of these influential positions will be filled before the local elections. Let’s hope nothing important crops up, eh, Ruthie?

Zuchowska’s imminent maternity leave and with Andrew in the departure lounge means that their ward, Wandle Valley, will have to get by with just a single councillor committed to handling casework.

Off: Ben Andrew

Though to be fair, Andrew won’t be much missed by the residents of New Mill Quarter.

The news that he is leaving to take up a new job came just before the 25th outage of hot water and heating in the space of two years at the Barratt’s-built housing development, which gets its unreliable and over-priced energy supplies from the council-owned SDEN, the Sutton Decentralised Energy Network.

SDEN is supposed to be powered with hot water from the polluting incinerator. In the four years since the incinerator’s furnaces were fired up, SDEN has not provided as much as a kettle’s-worth of hot water from the incinerator.

Andrew’s dogged defence of useless SDEN led to him being banned by the residents’ association from entering New Mill Quarter.

Andrew, who was a paid aide to LibDem MP Tom Brake until he lost his Carshalton and Wallington seat at the 2019 General Election, has quit Sutton Council to go off and work for an environmental think tank called UK100.

UK100’s corporate pledge is, “to lead the UK’s response to climate change”. What could Bogus Ben have claimed about the incinerator and SDEN on his job application?

You really couldn’t make it up…

Read more: Nearly two-thirds of Croydon waste is going to the incinerator
Read more: Heat network’s plan depends on 75 homes that don’t exist
Read more: Four London boroughs have no plans for waste reduction

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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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