Councillor Barry Lewis has been sworn in as the new leader of Sutton Council, replacing the long-serving Ruth Dombey.

Dombey, who served for 12 years, announced a cancer diagnosis led to her decision to step down.

After praising Dombey for her commitment to public service, Lewis used his maiden speech to outline his political ambitions for the Lib Dem-run Council.

However, he also stressed the importance of general good governance as a key priority.

Speaking at the annual Council meeting, Lewis said: “We have got ambitious plans for Sutton, but I want to be clear that in my new role of continuing to get the basics right.

"Making sure the bins are collected, the streets are kept clean, that our parks are vibrant and welcoming and that residents who are struggling and those in need get our support.”

Despite only being elected councillor for Wallington North in 2019, Lewis has become a leading figure in the Sutton Lib Dem group.

To many, he is considered to be the face behind the borough’s road safety measures and regularly takes questions on these issues during Council meetings.

While some have welcomed these measures, others consider him a controversial figure due to his association with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN).

LTNs have previously been rejected by some residents in the borough, who say that Sutton relies on its cars more than other London boroughs given its relatively patchy TfL provision.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, climate change and improved transportation across the borough featured heavily in his speech.

He told the Council: “The climate emergency, we need improved buildings and better public transport so we can bring out carbon emissions down.”

He went on to say: “The cost of living crisis is still with us. Local government all across the country is poorly financed and most all many of the services provided by the Council go towards those on the lowest income. 

“As a Council, we will continue to make difficult decisions to ensure a balanced budget but we will demand a better settlement for local government, one that recognises the iniquities in the system where outer London boroughs such as Sutton get a raw deal.

“New businesses are coming here because they see an exciting future and investment in Sutton is outpacing many other London boroughs. But Sutton and the other outer London boroughs must see the infrastructure investment, especially in public transport, that inner London gets as a matter of course.”

Lewis also ensured the Council his first act as leader would be to invite the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to come to the borough and see the London Cancer Hub at the Royal Marsden, so he could “see why it is so important that Sutton gets its fair share of city hall investment.”

The research centre was also trumpeted by Dombey, who praised its opening in 2021 as a highlight of her 12 years as leader.

This was of particular importance to her due the revelation of her own recent cancer diagnosis.

She said: “Suddenly the political becomes very, very personal. I myself have recently been diagnosed with cancer and had my first chemotherapy session last week.

“I have a long haul ahead of me but I’ve never been so proud to have been one of the first people to have recognised the potential of having a world-leading hospital and world-leading cancer research institute in our borough and to see how the Council could work with them in partnership to develop one of the most important cancer centres in the world.”

Dombey also used her parting speech to call for more funding and support for local government.

In particular, she pointed to her time spent at the helm of the Council during the COVID-19 pandemic as a case study for greater localism.

She said: “Now is not the time for the government to cut back on public services, now it is the time to invest in our public services just as we did during the pandemic when we knew that appropriate state intervention was key to protecting us in a crisis.

"This is a crisis, it’s a crisis that’s deepening and now is the time to invest in our communities.

“If you can’t get a GP appointment, can’t get the hospital operation you need, if a child has to wait a year for a mental health assessment or there isn’t a police officer to answer your call for help then where is the hope.

“What do we do, what is the response from local government. Again the Covid pandemic taught us so much about ourselves and how this country is governed.

“The decisions being made by central government were very difficult in the face of such a global disaster but how much better would our response have been if the knowledge, expertise and potential of local government had been recognised and valued.”

“When local government wrenched away the distribution of vital PPE from national centres the system worked better.

When local government engaged with local groups and champions to encourage the takeup of vaccines it was far more effective.”

During the meeting, the Tory opposition leader also paid tribute to Dombey’s commitment to public service and love for the borough. Dombey will continue to serve as councillor for Sutton North, which she has represented since 2002.

At the end of the meeting, Lib Dem councillor Sam Martin was elected as deputy leader while Colin Stears was re-elected to serve as Sutton’s civic mayor.