Delivering a Rainbow Crossing in Sutton

Since I was elected in 2018, as one of 33 Lib Dems on Sutton Council, I’ve been working with our local LGBTQ Forum to advocate for and promote the LGBTQ Community across our borough.

I’m extremely pleased of the close working we’ve been doing as local community champions on the Council to draw attention to and support minorities in our borough, from supporting our faith communities in the aftermath of the horrific attack in Christchurch and working with local Black Lives Matter groups to address racial inequality in Sutton to supporting organisations like the Sutton LGBTQ Forum.

Parts of this work have included attending their events, promoting their activities and most visibly, working with them to install two Pride crossings in the borough, with the first being installed in June 2020.

One, most recently installed in May 2021 is the UK’s first ever permanent trans pride crossing, unveiled to mark IDAHOBIT this year.

In both cases, the projects undoubtedly benefited from the fact Sutton has one of the longest-running Lib Dem council administrations in the UK: it didn’t take much convincing to get colleagues on board! I’m very grateful for the support the ideas have received from Cllr Manuel Abellan in his capacity as Chair of our Environment & Sustainable Transport Committee, and Cllr Steve Cook as the Arts lead for the Council. Together we brought officers – both from cultural services and Highways – and the community together to work on technical details to get these projects implemented. As ever, to get the ball rolling the first step was simply to ask!

In taking on the project, we were all extremely conscious of the strain places on council finances after a decade of austerity- so funding for the project could not come from existing allocated budgets, as that would mean less to spend on vital services. Instead, we found a small pot of funding within the Highways department earmarked for miscellaneous use meaning the project wouldn’t be taking away funding for other projects, or road repairs. While not enough to make these sorts of projects a regular occurrence, it was felt that this instance the small expenditure (accounting for 0.02% of our annual budget) was justified given the prominence of the location and importance of the message it sends.

While in Sutton getting the crossings installed was very much a case of pushing against an open door, that doesn’t mean that councillors elsewhere can’t push to get these really visible projects done.

Colleagues elsewhere like Cllr Huw James in North Somerset have used petitions and very public pressure to show just how wide public support there is for these projects to help convince officers to work on them. That kind of action can go quite far in showing that these visible statements of support for our minority communities aren’t simply there to placate groups but are widely supported schemes that can help to make clear just how open and welcoming the communities we serve actually are.

Our minority communities needs our open support, especially in the face of attacks and obfuscation from our Government around the Gender Recognition Act, hesitance around banning conversion therapy. While those of us elected to councils- and even those of us fortunate enough to be running those councils- can’t directly change those things, we can show our communities that regardless of this Government’s dithering, we are on their side.

* Jake Short has been a councillor in Sutton since 2018, and is serving as the Lib Dem Council's Lead Member for Preventing Hate Crime and Equalities as well as Chair of the Council's Licensing Committee.

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21 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 26th May '21 - 5:12pm

    ‘Hesitance around banning conversion therapy’
    I understand that the definition of ‘conversion therapy’ needs to be tightly defined so as not to catch people who may be providing prayer and/or counselling services to adults who request it.

  • Sorry to be negative, but I’m really dubious about this – it looks to me very much like virtue-signalling. I know you point out that the amount of money involved was very small, but nevertheless it doesn’t create a good impression to see a council put this kind of effort into something that essentially makes a political statement rather than actually improving local amenities. (I appreciate that it’s a well meaning political statement, and it’s great in principle to support minority communities that have faced discrimination in the past).

    Isn’t there also an issue that pedestrian crossings have a fairly standard design involving white lines for very good safety reasons – so that everyone can easily recognise them and therefore recognise when the special highway code rules around pedestrian crossings apply. It doesn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility that making up non-standard designs like this might eventually result in an accident because someone got confused by a crossing that doesn’t look like a crossing. If you are going to engage in this kind of virtue-signalling, wouldn’t it be better to do it with something that isn’t designed around an important safety function? (For example, paint part of a council building or something instead)

  • David Evershed 26th May '21 - 11:02pm

    Mixing road safety with political propaganda is a bad idea.

  • Andrew Tampion 27th May '21 - 7:13am

    As others have pointed out this is potentially dangerous. Pedestrian crossings have standards designs so that road users can recognise them If a vehicle driver fails to identify a crossing because it has a non standatd design then that is clearly a risk both to pedestrians who may be injured and to drivers who may unintentionally injure or even kill someone attempting to cross the road. Although it is also true that drivers have a general obligation to keep a proper look out for pedestrians.
    Also the design of pedestrian crossings in set out by Statutory Instrument: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1997/2400/contents/made
    If a crossing doesn’t comply with the regulations then technically it’s not a pedestrian crossing.

  • John Marriott 27th May '21 - 8:06am

    All the problems of the world and some Council – a Lib Dem Council – prefers to politicise pedestrian crossings! As someone who advocates MORE power to local councils, it’s antics like this that make me wonder whether that is really such a good idea!

  • “If a crossing doesn’t comply with the regulations then technically it’s not a pedestrian crossing”

    Indeed.

    I would also suggest that in the event of any accident, then those who authorised this should find themselves held responsible financially for any damages and hospital costs. Remember that treatment for road traffic accidents isn’t paid for by the NHS but rather by the insurance companies. Why would an insurance company pay out themselves when they can force somebody else to pay?

  • Rainbow politics and minority communities ?

    Talking about the needs of minorities, what happened with the Cognus Company, Sutton Council’s outsourced company responsible for delivering SEND (Special educational needs and disabilities service) ?

    Cognus plans to cut provision and therapies to 200 families across Sutton borough this year in order to balance the corporate books after making a £700,000 loss ?

    Surely this is a more important priority than a paint job (in, to quote Simon R’s words, of ‘virtue signalling’) which looks like something done by a group of travelling West Ham or Aston Villa supporters ?

    No wonder 90% plus of the electorate can’t take this party seriously anymore. Why should they when it’s lost in its own little world of identity politics ?

  • Andrew Melmoth 27th May '21 - 1:11pm

    Excellent initiative. Road safety campaigners can rest assured. Although it is not obvious from the photo if you spend 20 seconds googling the story you’ll find there is a set of traffic lights at the crossing.

  • Andrew Tampion 27th May '21 - 2:21pm

    Martin. There is nothing against being supportive provided that it is safe. In his article Jake mentions working with the LGBTQ forum; but did the Council also work with other road users or at least seek their views. I am not partially sighted, however I can imagine that some people with restricted or limited vision might have difficult identify a crossing with non-standard markings. Maybe groups representing the blind and partially sighted were consulted and Jake just didn’t mention it. If so that’s fine. If not why not?
    Andrew Melmoth. Light controlled crossings still have to have the prescribed road markings. The lights are an additional safeguard not a substitute.

  • Michael James 27th May '21 - 2:44pm

    David Raw – Cognus is not planning to cut provision and therapies to 200 families

  • David Evans 27th May '21 - 3:48pm

    Ask yourself – What good does it do for Sutton’s LGBTQ community?

    The only valid conclusion can be none whatsoever.

    Quite simply it is a ridiculous idea. Virtue signalling at its worst.

    No real benefit to any minority group, just a gesture at taxpayers expense.

    I agree with David Raw, the money could well have been better spent on Special Educational Needs, or on *real* support for Sutton’s LGBTQ community.

  • Andrew Melmoth 27th May '21 - 3:59pm

    – Andrew Tampion
    For the blind and partially sighted blister paving is clearly visible in the photo.

  • Andrew Tampion 27th May '21 - 4:43pm

    Andrew Melmoth.
    First tactile paving is a addition feature to help blind and partially sighted people. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the other feaures such as road markings can be disregarded just because tactile paving is there. For example is it possible that using non standard road markings might make it more difficult for blind or partially sighted people to stay within the confines of a crossing? Perhaps someone who is partially sighted could comment?
    Second even if the non standard crossing doesn’t cause problems to partially sighted people where they consulted? That is my main point.

  • ” it was felt that this instance the small expenditure (accounting for 0.02% of our annual budget) was justified”

    Well, there has been some deftness of hand here…
    Sutton’s 2019-20 total budget was circa £144m, so 0.02% is £28,800.

    However, the budgetary figure for a toucan/pelican cross is closer to £60,000. So I suggest the £28,800 is the additional cost (excluding time of councillors etc.) of painting the flag…

    Agreed not a lot, but an amount (plus the time of people involved) that could have been donated to the third sector for much greater effect…

  • I’m still waiting for Councillor Short to answer the point about his preference to apply cuts to the Special educational needs and disabilities service.

    If the figures quoted above are correct, then 25 less families would have been affected by the SEND cuts with a different choice. Instead Councillor Short and his chums preferred to spend the money on the amour propre of a far less needy group who, we are told, form ‘a community’.

    Please respond

  • John Marriott 27th May '21 - 9:07pm

    I could be flippant and argue that, true to his name, the good councillor appears to be around for the SHORT term rather than the LONG term! But I won’t.

  • Jayne mansfield 31st May '21 - 12:42pm

    @Andrew Tampion,
    As someone who has a sight problem, may I respond to your request. Not only do I have impaired vision, I am the motor for my husband’s wheelchair. He is now not only wheelchair dependent, but also profoundly visually impaired.

    Blister paving is not a good signifyer of a pedestrian crossing. I have to find blister paving to signify a dropped kerb. It is my understanding that what is important about colour is that there is a need for extreme contrast, hence the use of black and white, particularly useful when first introduced on black tar roads.

    There is also the issue of colour blindness where someone colour blind has problems distinguishing between blue and purple amongst other problems regarding particular colours.

    Crossing on a pedestrian crossing is already hazardous, particularly when one can’t draw back or move forward quickly to avoid thoughtless motorists who already ignore the rules.

    The question as to whether people with disabilities were consulted is a relevant one, although one has to be quite brave to offer an opinion that gesture politics helps no-one in any practical sense and taxpayers money could be better spent.

  • Unsurprisingly, still no response about the Special educational needs and disabilities service. Has it got the wrong sort of identity ?

  • Come on folks – I can’t believe this negativity!

    I guess do something positive and Lib Dems will find three million holes to pick in it – which still add up to a minute pinprick overall.

    As to the safety issues etc. around rainbow crossings. I am not qualified to comment but presumably professional highways staff at the council are. And a brief google search suggest that quite a number of rainbow crossing have been installed around the country so that’s an awful lot of highways professionals acting unprofessionally if they are not safe. And in general, of course, they have a legal duty to act under the Disability Discrimination Act (now I believe part of the Equalities Act), consult with disabilities groups etc.

    On SEND and education etc. There are firstly different pots of money for different things on a council. And crossings do actually need repainting from time to time. Now it may be that this one didn’t need repainting at this precise time – but it postpones the date when it will.

    Perhaps more importantly valuing and supporting trans people and LGBTQI+ in this way helps save money and lives. Suicides are more common among LGBTQI+ people . And if this helps stop bullying among trans people – particularly young trans people and stops suicides by showing that they are valued and not “invisible” that is surely good. But also a premature death, as well as being a tragedy in itself, cost a lot in lost earnings and that’s a lot of tax revenue….

    It does seem from afar that Sutton have made a small Horlicks of the SEND company but they seem to be correcting it. In general I believe Sutton has a good reputation on education. And you don’t run a council for over 30 years continuously without making a few mistakes. And as, @David Raw, never ceases to point out it has been tough times for Lib Dems electorally, so presumably the people of Sutton are satisfied with our spending priorities and the way we run services there. If not they can boot us out next year…

  • I’m sure this is top priority for the people of Sutton…

    As a gay man I don’t need my council to paint a zebra crossing in rainbow colours to “show its support” for me. The idea I am a weak and feeble thing and need the council to show support for me in any way is pretty patronising.

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