Wishing you all a very Happy New Year.
2023 is already off to an active start. Our priority to make Merton a great sporting borough has hit the ground running, with improvements to Wimbledon and Morden Leisure Centres, plus the launch of 23 in 2023 – a selection of fun activities to try during the year. Our aim is to get everyone more active, with all the physical and mental health benefits that this brings.
Those who prefer exercising outdoors, or who are planning more active travel on one of the HumanForest e-bikes which will be arriving in Merton shortly, will notice that we are significantly increasing our tree canopy, by planting 10,000 trees across the borough this year – making it one of our biggest tree planting years ever. While residents trying out the health and wellbeing zones in our seven award-winning libraries are among the 100% of library users who said they are satisfied with library services in a recent survey. A total of 96% of respondents rated library services very good or good – our highest every customer satisfaction rates.
Our libraries have become much needed warm spaces during the recent freezing temperatures, offering a warm welcome and a choice of activities and good books to anyone who is concerned about the cost of heating their home.
As one of the first councils to declare a cost of living emergency, last July, we will continue to do everything we can to support residents who are counting the cost of rising prices. Earlier this month, I announced plans to give the majority of residents, all those living in properties in council tax bands A-D, a 1% discount on their council tax bills in April. This is in addition to our £60 rebate for our lowest earning residents, and many more people who have been helped through our £2million Cost of Living Fund. You can find out more about what we are doing and the support available on our cost of living website page.
The council is committed to working in partnership with voluntary organisations to help residents through these tough times. Another of the ways that we are doing this is through our Civic Pride Fund. Almost £5million has been allocated, from the largest grant funding in many years, to 20 voluntary and community organisations which carry out vital work, in partnership with the council, to support the most vulnerable residents in our borough, through the cost of living emergency and beyond.
Nurturing civic pride and reducing inequalities, including poor health, is at the heart of all we do. This is why I was extremely disappointed that the regeneration of Morden town centre was unsuccessful in bidding for money from the Government’s Levelling Up Fund. I’m very concerned about how the money allocated to improve rail services to Belmont, the location of a proposed new hospital, will adversely impact on the future of St Helier Hospital, which remains at risk of being downgraded. We will continue to campaign strongly against the continued threat to close vital services at St Helier Hospital that our residents rely on, including the accident and emergency department and the consultant-led maternity care.