August & September highlights (or was it lowlights?)
1. Funny that in August I should have written about the 65th birthday of the NHS, because for the last two months the NHS has been at the centre of my life! At the beginning of September I was in Holland just about to come home and write up my September newsletter when I got streptococcal poisoning! A month later having spent much of the time in St. George’s, I am on the path to recovery!
Streptococcus is a form of bacteria, which we all apparently have, usually lying around dormant in various parts of the body. Streptococcal infections are also fairly common and usually pass without much comment, especially in babies. However, when it gets infectious and rampant, as it did with me then the quacks (and me) get really worried. As soon as they diagnosed it, I was under the knife faster than you can say Jack Robinson.
In my case it was the left knee that was infected and, let me tell you, I can’t use the proper adjectives in a family newsletter to describe the pain! Anyway I am now on 6 painkillers, 3 anti-inflammatories and 6 antibiotics a day and will be for another month – I am also hobbling round on a pair of crutches!
How did it happen? I don’t know and the medics don’t seem to know either. It could be an external infection but there was no break in the skin or anything like that. It could have been a jolt – well I did jolt to a halt on one occasion. But it’s not true (contrary to some reports) that I was knocked off my bike or hit by a car or lorry.
Anyway that is my excuse for breaking my sequence of monthly newsletters and not producing one in September!
2. Oh, and the holiday? Well it was great and I attach a photograph of me cycling in Delft main square (and most of the time the weather was better than that day) but there was one other unfortunate incident! Two days before the streptococcal started my partner and I had our bicycles stolen in Amsterdam! OK, sounds like a holiday from hell, but it wasn’t really and if anyone fancies cycling in Holland it is terrific! There are miles of cycle routes along the coast, where you do not see cars at all. On roundabouts bicycles have priority and so you don’t have to stop peddling and losing all that energy and except in Amsterdam it appears largely theft and vandal free! I thoroughly recommend it for an active but not over-taxing holiday.
3. Meanwhile back to the day job! Battersea Park School, as you may have heard by now, had exceptionally good results this year. But neither Ofsted nor Gove’s people look like changing their mind and the odds on the school being made an Academy sponsored by Harris (the carpet people, owned by a personal friend and sponsor of both the Tory Party and David Cameron) are shortening. In my view Harris intend to take over the site from the Council and then make many millions (well over £10 million) by building flats on much of the site, and, to be fair, using some of the money to re-build a modern school.
It goes without saying that all parties in the debate claim to be doing what is best for the students. But some parties, and specifically the Tories, believe that means taking schools out of local democratic control and making them sponsored academies or free schools or whatever Mr. Gove’s fad this week happens to be. I, on the other hand, believe that local education authority run schools have served us pretty well since instituted in 1944. If Battersea Park is handed over to Harris carpets I rather doubt that they will have me as a governor!
4. There were two Planning Applications Committees on August 6th and September 10th. There were quite a number of interesting applications at these meetings although you will understand I was not at the second and would have been drugged to the eyeballs if I had been! Not that any were specific to Latchmere, but nearby the Committee gave approval for the redevelopment of Salesian College and the now nearly completed Caius youth club and residential development just across York Road behind Badric Court. There were also quite a few approvals related to the Battersea Power Station development, which looks very likely really to go ahead after goodness knows how many false starts.
5. At an important but much less grand scale I am told by friends and constituents that the bus-stop at the junction of Beechmore and Battersea Park Road, which I incorrectly trumpeted ahead of time is now, at last, really in place!
6. Meanwhile there has been the usual array of Committee meetings but as I missed them all and have not really caught up with them I won’t bore you with details EXCEPT to say that on October 3rd there was a special Finance Committee, where the Tories hacked several £millions out of the budget. The damage to services is now becoming so great that in this week’s South London Press, even high-ranking Tory Councillor Guy Senior is quoted attacking the Government for the severity of the cuts.
7. These cuts will be considered further at the 16th October Council meeting by which time I hope to be able to make a fuller contribution and report back next month.
8. On 5th October I looked in on the public consultation at York Gardens Library about the £100 million regeneration. I didn’t feel so good and didn’t stay long but I think we need many more before any real decisions can be taken about which blocks might be demolished, which refurbished, etc.
My Programme for October
1. Primarily I hope to get back to normal! That means as ever the Planning Applications Committee on the 8th, but also the Council Meeting on 16th and the usual round of other committees and visits – however, I have a sneaking feeling that I might miss rather more than usual. I hope you forgive me!
And what to do with the manure? It was a particular problem in North Battersea because of the scale of the Mansion blocks built round Battersea Park. There was a huge demand for horses both for pleasure (riding in the Park) and for work and they had to be kept somewhere. The answer was the development of Mews, hundreds of them all over London. And now only 100 years later there are almost none left.
Kersley Mews, pictured here and very little known but only 100 yards from the Latchmere pub, is the only traditional mews left in Battersea – at least to my knowledge. Do you know any others? There are a couple in Lambeth/Clapham off Cedar’s Road behind the large mansion flats on the edge of the Common but are there any others in Battersea?
Hope you all keep well, or at least better than me!
1. On the 5th July I attended my favourite Latchmere (or anywhere) street party, the Triangle Party (Poyntz, Shellwood and Knowsley Road Roads triangle). The triangle is a natural cul-de-sac and makes for the best of parties. Last year the weather was pretty miserable but this year it was fantastic and everyone seemed to be having a great time. I certainly did and what is more I won the prize lottery ticket. I know councillors are supposed to give those prizes back but having bought a few raffle tickets in my time I thought at last I was entitled to accept this one. As you can see there was dancing in the streets..
The next day Andy Murray won Wimbledon, England won the first two Tests, Chris Froome won the Tour de France and the month ended with Lewis Hamilton winning the Hungarian Grand Prix. 2013 looks like competing with 2012 as one of the UK’s greatest year of sporting triumph –we are a nation of winners after all!
2. Battersea Park School Governors met on 8th July to hear the bad news that the school had failed its June Ofsted inspection. As Governors we were shocked. Two years ago we passed with flying colours and in 2011 we also achieved good exam results, but we knew that the 2012 cohort of kids were going to do rather poorly. Not that it was the pupils fault, they included a very high number of kids whose first language is not English. Ironically we expect this year’s results to be as good or better than 2011’s.
Last year the school applied to be an independent Academy (like Graveney and others in Wandsworth) but we were turned down because the school was considered to be too good. After that shattering experience the Governors had resolved to continue to be a local authority school. But now we have been told that we have no alternative but to become a sponsored Academy, that is sponsored by people like Harris (the carpet company) or Oasis, whose website says “the work of Oasis Community Learning is motivated and inspired by the life, message and example of Christ”.
I would like to make three comments about this situation. First that it is odd to be forced into Academy status a mere couple of weeks before this year’s results are due – especially given that the school expects them to be good, and perhaps even very good. Second that the Ofsted Report was produced by an outsourced team of inspectors from an organisation called Tribal Inspections. It does not seem to be a very accountable organisation and those teachers and governors who were interviewed by them were not impressed by their methodology or their objectivity. Third, the refusal to accept our request to become an Academy last year and yet to force it upon us this year suggests a distinct uncertainty of purpose on the Government’s part! What will happen next? See this space but one thing I am fairly certain of, lots of money will be spent on the building – it needs it. The Government cannot afford to get its education policies wrong!
3. There were two Planning Applications Committees in July, one on the 3rd and the other on the 23rd. As far as Latchmere residents were concerned the most interesting application on the 3rd was the approval of the plan to demolish the current Crown pub in Battersea High Street and replace it with a pub and 9 flats. This was not a popular application with many local residents opposing it, and I voted against it. But in all honesty it was difficult to argue against an application to re-build a pub and add 9 flats above it – at least under present planning laws.
The 23rd Committee was dominated by the major application for the redevelopment Ram Brewery in Wandsworth Town Centre. It may not be in Latchmere but it will affect all Wandsworth. The previous application, which included two 42 storey tower blocks, was “called in” for decision by the then Labour Secretary of State as a result of a request from the then Battersea M.P., Martin Linton. This next application was, as all Committee members, Labour and Tory, agreed, very much better. It includes 661 residential units, a small brewery, plenty of shopping and entertainment uses, improved settings for the many historical elements of the old Brewery and a gym. But it also included a 36 storey tower block and this was very contentious. It is opposed by the Wandsworth and Battersea Societies and many local residents.
I voted against. I am not happy with a tower block almost twice as high as any other building in Wandsworth, except those giants going up in Vauxhall. But I have to accept that most of the application looked quite good. My hope was that we could negotiate something even better but the application went through. As a result, I suspect that the long-overdue redevelopment of Wandsworth Town Centre will start soon and much of it I think will be rather good.
4. On the 10th July we had the final Council meeting before the summer break. The main debate was about education and the Council’s now desperate search for more school places. You may remember that the Council sold and/or demolished 10 schools in the 1990’s and the early years of this century. Joseph Tritton school in Latchmere was one, but were many others elsewhere. But now the Council is having to build class-rooms in playgrounds and build new schools. It’s been a very expensive mistake and many parents are worried about exactly where their children will find a school place.
5. On 11th July I attended a briefing about the £100 million regeneration plan for Latchmere, covering the Winstanley and York Road estates. There is nothing definite to report yet but the planning consultants, engaged by the Council, to come up with a “grand plan” gave us an indication of their first, very outline thoughts. They intend to produce a plan for consultation in early 2014. Later that same evening I went to the Battersea Society Annual summer party at St. Mary’s Church
6. Sadly, I missed the Big Local party in York Gardens on 18th July but I am told that everyone had a good time and that it went very well. The York Gardens area does not always enjoy the greatest reputation outside the immediate area but there are real signs of a much improved community spirit developing here.
7. On Saturday, 20th July, Battersea Labour Party took over the York Gardens Library to hear from our candidates to oppose Jane Ellison at the 2015 General Election. We heard from former Latchmere Cllr Sam Heath, Cllr Sheila Boswell, Dr Sundar Thavapalasundaram and Martin Linton’s election organiser in 2005, Will Martindale. We were pleased with the qualities and abilities displayed by all candidates but Will Martindale won by a clear and handsome majority. He therefore becomes, in the jargon, our PPC or Prospective Parliamentary Candidate – Will is pictured here after the selection.
Will currently works for Oxfam, engaging the financial sector on their responsibilities to the developing world. He used to work in finance for JPMorgan in London and New York. Given the economy will dominate the next election, and that many Battersea residents work in the financial service industries, he is an excellent choice for Battersea. Will also volunteered for Rwanda Aid, a charity based on the Rwanda Congo border, where he worked with the families of genocide victims to rebuild homes and schools.
8. On the 3rd July I had the pleasure of taking about 30 kids to meet Wandsworth’s Mayor, visit the Council Chamber and talk with the Chief Executive. They were under the leadership of Victoria Rodney of the Mercy Foundation, which is in Falcon Road just behind the Prince’s Head. It was a great couple of hours and the kids really enjoyed themselves. Here is a picture of them all on the steps in the so-called marble hall at the Town Hall. I am the mature one in the back row! And the Mercy Foundation organiser, Victoria Rodney, is on the Mayor’s left.
9. The latest update on Grant Road exit from Clapham Junction station and the temporary bus-stop opposite Battersea Park School is that:-
“South West Trains say that the Grant Road entrance is officially open until 1am, although it is thought that in practice it stays open until after the last train at 01.20. The original opening times are shown on the wall of Falcon Road railway bridge” and
“TfL say that they are obtaining a traffic management order for a new bus stop for Beechmore Road, and the road markings should be installed by 10th August”, implying that the stop will be reopened around this time. We will see!
My Programme for August
1. Is not a lot – it is after all August but as ever the Planning Applications Committee takes place on the 6th.
2. My fellow councillors and I are considering what we can do to safeguard the future of Wandsworth’s pubs. This is because the Wheatsheaf at Tooting Bec is under threat as is also the Trafalgar. Meanwhile here in Latchmere apart from the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Tavern that I wrote about last month, we have recently lost the Havelock Arms on the corner of Dagnall Street. Indeed I was talking to an old-timer (well sorry Ted but you lived in Culvert Road during the war, so I guess you qualify) and he tells me that what with the two on the corner of Battersea Park Road there were then 5 in Culvert Road alone! Indeed can I ask readers with a long memory in Battersea to help me start a list of the lost pubs of Battersea! There’s also the British Flag, of course!
3. And later in the month my partner and I depart for a, wait for it, cycling trip round Holland! Yes, I know it’s mad but there it is. One thing I plan to do is drop into Schiedam, a working class suburb of Rotterdam, which is incredibly twinned with Wandsworth. But it is far too Labour, well Social Democrat in Dutch terms, for Wandsworth ever to note, but as a Labour councillor I thought I would drop in and visit it!
Did you know that last month was the NHS’s 65th birthday?
This piece is about one of its founders – Caroline Ganley. It is a re-print from the September, 2009 newsletter but as it is about a hero of mine and the NHS’s birthday I thought it worth another outing.
Modest Ganley Court, immediately behind Sporle Court, was named after equally modest Caroline Selina Blumfield. Caroline was born in 1879 in Devon and died in 1966. She was an only child and her father died before she was born. Her mother, who was in service, put Caroline into an orphanage. In 1901 Caroline met and married James Ganley, a tailor cutter. They had a daughter and two sons and the family lived in lodgings in Meath Street, near Battersea Park station. Like most places in Battersea then, there was no bathroom, and so they moved to 5 Thirsk Road in 1910, where she lived for the rest of her life.
Caroline used to listen to speakers on Clapham Common, when it had its own Speakers’ Corner. She decided to join the Social Democratic Federation, a league of London Working Men’s Clubs and also became a member of Battersea Women’s Socialist Circle. In 1909 Caroline was catapulted into speaking publicly for the first time, when as the only member and chair at a meeting where Charlotte Despard was the invited speaker, Caroline found herself replying to questions when Despard had to leave. One Sunday a few years later James returned from Trafalgar Square to tell her that he had volunteered her as the only women speaker on the platform at a demonstration against the visit of the Czar!
During the war Caroline wrote a strong letter to the Sunday Chronicle proposing that Servicemen’s wives allowance should be paid through the Post Office and thanks to her this was duly accepted and became the practice. By 1918 Caroline had become a member of the Labour Party. In 1919 Caroline Ganley, along with Mrs. Duval and Mrs. Hockley, was elected as one of the very first female councillors in Battersea. As chair of the Health and Child Welfare Committee she was instrumental in getting a Maternity Home established in Bolingbroke Grove. It was her proudest legacy.
She was among the first 131 women appointed as JPs (Justice of the Peace or a magistrate) in 1920. She was elected to represent north Battersea on the London County Council which Labour came to control in 1934. After 8 years as the prospective parliamentary candidate in Battersea South she won the seat in 1945 aged 65 alongside Douglas Jay in North Battersea. She was one of the 24 women elected, 21 of whom were Labour. She and James were the first couple to celebrate their Golden Jubilee in the House of Commons in 1951 not long before she lost the seat by 494 votes.
She was elected on to Battersea Council after an absence of 28 years in 1953, and re-elected in 56, 59, and 62 and was awarded a CBE. When Battersea was incorporated with Wandsworth she wrote a poem lamenting the passing of Battersea as a Borough. When Clem Attlee died she paid a moving tribute to him at an election meeting in support of Ernie Perry who became her successor in Battersea South. She was then 85 – a formidable woman. When she died in 1966 one tribute to her in the South Western Star remarked ‘Her mind was very acute and her ability to draw together the threads of the most rambling discussion was legendary. She was a great pioneer – the most outstanding woman the co-op has produced at a time when few women took part in public life.’
1. The latest update on Grant Road exit from Clapham Junction station and the temporary bus-stop opposite Battersea Park School is that:-
“South West Trains say that the Grant Road entrance is officially open until 1am, although it is thought that in practice it stays open until after the last train at 01.20. The original opening times are shown on the wall of Falcon Road railway bridge” and
“TfL say that they are obtaining a traffic management order for a new bus stop for Beechmore Road, and the road markings should be installed by 10th August, implying that the stop will be reopened around this time.
I may be away around 10th August but it would helpful if any reader of this email affected by this bus stop issue would let me know when it is up and running again. But how long does it take to get something, anything done!
2 As stated last month I did lead a Battersea (at least 50% in Latchmere) history walk on 1st June as part of the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. It went very well and was appreciated by all who went on it. My mention of it in the newsletter meant two of you asked about the next one. Well I need interest from just a few more people but I would be willing to do another, if you are interested, probably in October. It costs £10 per head, kids free, takes about 2 hours at a gentle stroll, and I guarantee that I will teach you something about the neighbourhood that you don’t know. Kids are welcome and, of course, free. We start on the corner of Albert Bridge Road and Battersea Park Road right opposite the Latchmere pub. If you are interested then please email me.
3 I mentioned that we, three councillors, were going to hold a councillors’ surgery in the Falcon Road mosque. We did on Friday, 7th June. It brought us into contact with many “hard cases” who perhaps we wouldn’t normally see at the standard surgeries. One major problem was/is language; particularly for one very elderly couple I had a great deal of difficulty understanding. Their children had got them out of civil war and horrendous barbarism in Mogadishu, Somalia, but they were clearly far too old to adjust to a completely different climate, culture and life. But for most, the problems were just like everyone else’s – mainly about housing.
4 Again there was not a lot to talk about in June’sPlanning Applications Committee on June 6th, though one application was interesting and especially perhaps for Latchmere residents and the area to the north of us. There was an application to build a bicycle and footbridge across the Thames from Lombard Road to Chelsea Harbour. This would run parallel and 50 yards upstream of the railway bridge (the Cremorne Bridge pictured here) and certainly be a fun route to Stamford Bridge! The real problem is though that it might cost £20 million and no one has promised any funding. But the applicants are quite bullish about getting some – watch this space.
5 On Tuesday 12th Wendy Speck and I had a coffee morning with theresidents of Holmleigh Court in Plough Road and on the 20th the residents of the Carey Gardens Pensioners’ Centre. On each occasion we spent a pleasant couple of hours discussing everything under the sun, including the refurbishment of Holmleigh Court’s windows, which are currently being worked on as you can see from this photograph.
6 On 16th June Battersea Labour Party members were at a barbecue to meet the 17 potential candidates to take on Jane Ellison at the next General Election. As you know I don’t talk political party matters in this newsletter but I thought it would be of general interest to everyone, including Jane who I know reads my words with keen interest (Hello Jane), to know that Battersea Labour Party will be making its choice in July. Candidates that many of you will know include Sheila Boswell, currently a Tooting councillor, Sam Heath, formerly a Latchmere councillor and GLA member, and Will Martindale, Martin Linton’s agent in the 2005 General Election.
7 The Housing Committee on the 19th June was packed with long and rather technical papers, which were largely of interest to those who love the minutiae of Committee life. But there were a couple of interesting changes. First the Council is trying to redress the balance in the housing waiting list between “need” and length of time on the list. This is not a simple question – ask yourself whether you think length of time on the waiting list is more important than needing a ground floor flat, say, because you can’t manage the stairs and there is no lift in your block. Well, for good or ill, we decided to give slightly more points than we have done previously for time on the list.
Secondly the Council is looking to increase the supply of private rented accommodation by helping to fund housing associations to build and provide properties to rent. Not sure exactly what I think about that. Before Mrs Thatcher more or less put a stop to building council houses it would have been unthinkable for Councils to pay others to do it instead of doing it themselves. However, “the times they are a-changing” and this long overdue initiative is better than doing nothing.
8 The main items of interest on the Strategic Planning and Transportation Committee on the 24th were:-
the adoption of a 20 mph speed zone in West Putney, which I suspect is going to lead to similar zones in the rest of the Borough with Little India being a prime candidate;
further added momentum to the now certain development of the Northern Line to Battersea Park – but not yet to Clapham Junction; and
the planned Crossrail2 plans to link Clapham Junction through to North East London via a high gauge underground rail-line – but that will only come in 2030!
9 I was chastised last month for not mentioning the one o’clock clubs, for which apologies. I should point out, however, that I am writing “my” monthly diary as a Latchmere councillor, in which Council events feature highly but I am not writing a complete authorised news coverage of the Council. However, I am sure that you will be pleased to hear that, thanks to the campaigning of many parents, mainly mums of course, with some little support from Labour councillors, much of the one o’clock club service has been saved – but unfortunately not the one in Battersea Park.
10 And finally I went to a friend’s garden party and thought I’d just put in this picture of me and my “grand-daughter” Scarlett.
My Programme for July
1. The Planning Applications Committee on the 3rd July has some interesting items on the agenda but that’s for next month.
2. I have an important Battersea Park School Governors meeting on the 8th of which again much more next month.
3. On the 10th July we have the final Council meeting before the summer break..
4. On 20th July Battersea Labour Party members will be at the York Gardens Library to choose our champion (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate or PCC as they are called in the trade) to oppose Jane Ellison in May, 2015. Do we need a female candidate to oppose a female MP? Or is it actually better to have a man? Or is this old fashioned gender politics and it doesn’t matter just as long as we have the best candidate – that is my position. Well by the end of the month we will know what the local Labour party has decided – Oh, and by the way, just in case you are captivated by the news stories about Falkirk let me assure you that it will be our members and not some outside party (trade union) who will decide.
5. Oh, and I might be away on hols by the end of the month!.
Have you heard of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Tavern?
This pub was popularly believed to have the longest pub name in Britain and it was here in Latchmere ward until quite recently. This picture of shows it as it is today, simply 43 Cabul Road, opposite the back entrance to the Sacred Heart Primary School. But it was a pub well into the 1970s and maybe much later than that.
You may well ask how did we get a pub with a name like that. Well as the expansion of the railways grew apace around about the middle of the nineteenth century, the towns of north and east Kent, places like Ramsgate and Margate, between Chatham and Dover, were concerned that they were being left out of the rail revolution that was linking Brighton, Eastbourne, Folkestone and Hastings to London. They got Parliamentary approval to start building in the late 50s, the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) company became a public entity in 1858, the link to Victoria came in 1860 and Wandsworth Town station was opened in 1861.
Why all the railways bound for the south west should terminate at Waterloo, in south east London, and all the trains for eastern Kent come into Victoria in the south west (though some do go to London Bridge) is I am sure a fascinating study. But in summary, many private railway companies competed for access to London and instead of the tracks being part of a nation-wide plan, they were a random chance of land deals and the availability of sites. The end result was known as the “Battersea Tangle”, a nineteenth century version of our modern Spaghetti Junction on the motorway system, just north of Birmingham.
Although not originally planned, it became necessary to build a junction at the heart of the “Battersea Tangle” and hence we have Battersea Junction, incorrectly known as Clapham Junction, the biggest junction railway station in Europe (it used to be the biggest and busiest in the world but I suspect some Tokyo stations now rival it).
Unsurprisingly Battersea became very much a railway town. Indeed the Chatham, as the LCDR was known, not only ran through Battersea but later developed their major engineering works at Longhedge, near the current Stewart’s Lane Depot. Most of the railway workers lived very close to their jobs and hence it was perhaps not surprising that when a new pub was opened in the late nineteenth century it called itself the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Tavern.
1. You will recall that last month I wrote about Grant Road exit from Clapham Junction station being kept open and the installation of a temporary bus-stop opposite Battersea Park School. Well I am afraid that one reader tells me that the Grant Road exit has been open until 1 am for years and TfL have completely failed to install the temporary bus-stop. So much for boasting of achievements before they are delivered! But more seriously TfL is extremely unresponsive to us the public and our demands. I must continue to chase them up.
2. I did not mention it last month because it would have been tempting fate but on May 11th the Labour Party selected its candidates for next year’s Council election. I hope that you are as pleased as I am that we three, Simon Hogg, Wendy Speck and I were re-selected and will be standing as your Labour candidates next May 22nd. Here we are outside Fowler Court in May, 2010.
3. Do you know the Mercy Foundation? It is a newish charity, maybe two years old, established by and paid for by Victoria Rodney. It is situated behind the Prince’s Head on Falcon Road. It was established to provide IT classes for local people, who have not had the benefit of further and higher education. But it has also become a kind of drop-in centre for plenty of “difficult to reach” locals. Well on the last few Tuesday mornings I have been there and taught English to a class of largely Somali women. And last Tuesday two more volunteers dropped in. There are far worse things to do if you have any spare time!
4. I went to a guest lecture from the poet laureate at Roehampton University on 1st May. It was a wonderful evening in this terrible spring and the lecture was in a grand eighteenth century mansion, called Parkstead House, with a simply beautiful view over Richmond Park, even if the lecture was not quite my cup of tea. But what I did not know was that Parkstead House, pictured right, was where Gerard Manley Hopkins, the nineteenth century poet worked and studied.
5. To be honest there was not a lot to talk about in May indeed even May’s Planning Applications Committee on May 8th was low key. There were no Latchmere applications and indeed very few of anything other than very local significance.
My Programme for June
1. I am leading a history walk on 1st June at 11pm (not 2 pm as stated last month) as part of the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. It costs £10 per head and I guarantee that I will teach you something about the neighbourhood that you don’t know. Kids are welcome and, of course, free. We start on the corner of Albert Bridge Road and Battersea Park Road right opposite the Latchmere pub. If you are thinking of coming then please email me – nice to know the numbers to expect.
2. There is a Planning Applications Committee on the 6th June, which unfortunately is the same evening as the Police’s SNT (Special Neighbourhood Team) – so I will have to miss that.
3. We are going to try and hold a councillors’ surgery in the mosque next Friday or Saturday.
4. The Big Local Group is meeting on 10th June at the Wilditch.
5. I have the Housing Committee on the 19th June and Strategic Planning and Transportation Committee on the 24th.
Did you know?
About Elizabeth Braund, who died on 20th May at East Shallowford Farm. I didn’t know much about her either but I know a bit more now. In this picture Elizabeth is welcoming a visiting group of Battersea boys.
In May I paid a hurried visit to the Providence House prize winning. Providence House Youth Club is right next to the busy Falcon Road/Este Road bus-stop. It was started by Elizabeth in the early sixties at the time when the old north Battersea was being demolished and replaced by the many tall blocks so well known to us in Latchmere today.
Elizabeth knew that the wholesale demolition of communities, as well as old, bombed out slums, was likely to be very disruptive to society. This is why she put so much effort into developing the Club. Then she bought East Shallowford Farm on the edge of Dartmoor as a place to take Battersea kids down on the farm. It had to be Dartmoor because the Home Counties were she thought too tame and the youngsters needed just a bit of adventure and Dartmoor was the nearest wild place to London. In this rather indistinct picture she is welcoming some of the youth club members on a visit to the farm. You can read about it by looking up her name, or the farm’s, on the web.
Robert Musgrave of Providence House writes: “It is the end of an era for Providence House. Around 1960, Elizabeth Braund first started the youth work in the old Providence Chapel before today’s housing estates were built.
In 1970 she opened the present building on Falcon Road to consolidate the work with young people and families. In 1975 the new adventure to Dartmoor began, with the opening of East Shallowford Farm in 1976.
On Monday 20th May 2013, Elizabeth passed away at her home, East Shallowford, just 3 weeks short of 92 years. Her legacy is in the lives of countless Battersea and Wandsworth families.
It is the end of an era. A new era begins.”
1. Have you noticed that the Grant Road exit from Clapham Junction station has been kept open until 1 a.m. It used to be closed at any time after 10 pm but I raised the matter in January at a Passengers’ Liaison Committee with the representatives of Network Rail and they announced at the Committee on the 8th April that they have decided to keep the gate opened in future. Big success for local lobbying power 1.
2. Meanwhile I hope to have persuaded the Council and Transport for London to install a temporary bus-stop opposite Battersea Park School. The main stop had been closed because of the development on the old Labour Exchange, meaning that there was a very long gap between the Latchmere Pub and Alexandra Road. I had complaints from a couple of pensioners and a temporary stop should be in place shortly. Thanks to local residents for raising the issue and big success for local lobbying power 2.
3. The main item of interest at the Planning Applications Committee on 11th April was, unusually, a Latchmere item – the expansion or otherwise of the Falcon Road Mosque. I have sent out quite a few emails on this matter to many of the local residents most concerned and so I won’t repeat them all here, but I will make a quick reference to the consultation.
I have been through all the consultation comments and categorised them as best I could – I took no notice of anonymous support or opposition. Of the 215 responses in favour of the application, 53 came from within Latchmere ward and another 98 came from other parts of the Borough. 65 came from outside the Borough. Most of these responses were simple statements of support for the mosque, with many mentioning lack of facilities.
Those opposing the plans numbered 106, of which 105 gave addresses in the Borough (the one outsider says he is a landlord of property very near to the mosque), 90 of whom were within Latchmere and the vast majority of these were from Little India, Fownes/Este Roads and the immediate area on the other side of Falcon Road. In the nature of “opposing”, these responses were much more detailed and largely centred on the traffic and parking implications of an expanded mosque. Many of these “opposition” responses said very positive things about having a mosque in the neighbourhood, with some clearly coming from “traditional” British style names expressing pride in being part of a mixed, multi-ethnic community with a mosque in it. The second largest voice of criticism, after the traffic, was aimed at what people thought of as over-development of the site. There was only one opponent, who got anywhere near to saying that the mosque shouldn’t even be there.
Clearly opinion was very divided but those living closest to the mosque were the least happy about the application and also felt more strongly about the application than those supporting it. Most encouragingly the debate was held in a very civilised fashion, which might not have been the case. In the event, the application was refused.
4. On 8th April Mrs. Thatcher died and divided the country in death as much as she had done in life. As it happens I was due to attend a meeting of the Labour Heritage Society on the Saturday the 13th, when the main presentation was about Mr. Clement Attlee, born in Putney as it happened and the Labour Prime minister, who ruled for the six years between Churchill’s great wartime administration and Churchill’s rather less successful second peacetime administration. It was difficult to come away from the presentation by Francis Beckett without believing that Attlee was by head and shoulders the greatest peacetime prime minister of the twentieth century.
Now I don’t expect to persuade my Tory colleagues of this argument and certainly not in this newsletter but if you would like to read my thoughts on Mrs. T then I have quite a long piece in my blog at http://tonybelton.wordpress.com/. Take a dip.
5. On Sunday, 14th April, I attended a fascinating meeting of the Church of St. Mary of Debre Tsion and of the Ethiopian Community in London. You may have seen the congregation, the ladies all dressed in white, in Queenstown Road of a Sunday morning – but not recently. They have been locked out of St. Philips Church, which the Ethiopian Orthodox bought off the Anglicans for, apparently, £2 million, by their own clergy. The meeting was conducted in the Ethiopian language of Amharic and with some translation I gathered it was a “constitutional coup” with the congregation turning out the clergy – not often that a councillor gets to see a peaceful revolution in the making!
6. On 16h April, I went to the Battersea Library to hear a presentation on the centenary of John Archer’s installation as the first black mayor of Battersea – strangely there had been a man of Indian descendant as Mayor of, of all places, little rural Thetford in Norfolk, otherwise Archer would have been the first in the UK. Archer was a Latchmere councillor and hence one of my predecessors. He lived in Brynmaer Road, then a much more down-market street, and ran a photographer’s shop in Battersea Park Road – have you seen the blue plaque? – look out for it. The presentation was given by Kwaku, an “history consultant” clearly intent on raising the black profile in British history.
7. The Harling Court Residents Association met on 17th April. Residents there expressed reasonable concerns about the development built alongside them on the old Travis Perkins site but one good thing has come from that development and that is the recent installation at Harling Court of security doors.
8. On the 23rd, 24th and 25th I had the Planning and Transport, Finance and Corporate Resources, and Housing Committees. That might sound dull to you but on the whole they were duller than even that sounds! So a quick mention of the interesting bits from Planning. Further analysis of the 2011 census shows:-
• that the Borough’s car population is in decline, with 54.7% of us owning one, as opposed to 59.3% in 2001 – there are of course more of us!
• Wandsworth has the highest proportion of people in the UK aged 30-44
• We have the second highest proportion of non-related households, that is flat sharers
• 53.3% of us claim to be white British, but we had some of the highest counts of non-British whites from Irish to Polish to Oz
• 35% of us were not born in the UK
• With 54% of us having degrees or higher we are the second highest qualified population in the UK or 3rd if you count the miniscule population of the City of London
9. The Finance and Corporate Resources Committee had no immediately gripping matters under consideration but marked the next stage in the Government’s attack on local government services with large scale programmes of privatisation and out-sourcing. I feel strongly about all this and will have to get round to doing a blog on it some time trying to articulate my discomfort with it all – but not now – too big a subject.
10. The Housing Committee continues to tighten up the rules governing the allocation of council housing but, whilst I don’t like the changes, I realise that I am probably in a minority of one on the issue and in any case the changes are fairly minimal.
11. On the 30th many councillors attended a teach-in about Children Looked After. This very important group is, I guess, almost unknown to most constituents. It is about the 200 children in Wandsworth, there are 65,000 in the country, taken into care and for whom councillors have a personal and collective responsibility as in loco parentis – or in translation “in the place of parents”. Ever since the dreadful case of Baby P, when you may remember a small boy died through hopeless parenting and inadequate social service support, the Government has made it clear that in principle councillors are in loco parentis. What a responsibility!
My Programme for May
1. There is a Planning Applications Committee on the 8th May.
2. I said last month that I was going to a guest lecture from the poet laureate at Roehampton University. I got the date wrong! It is on 1st May!
3. The second week of May is traditionally the high point of the Municipal Year. On the 13th there is a reception for the outgoing Mayor, on the 15th the Annual Council Meeting and on the 16th the installation of the new Mayor. I must confess that I rather enjoy the week even if not many of my colleagues do!
4. There doesn’t seem to be much else on but here is advance notice of a history walk that I am leading on 1st June at 2pm as part of the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. It costs £10 per head and I guarantee that I will teach you something about the neighbourhood that you don’t know. We start on the corner of Albert Bridge Road and Battersea Park Road right opposite the Latchmere pub. If you are thinking of coming then please email me – nice to know the numbers to expect.
Did you know?
Born in about 1990 (he is 23 now), Darius went to Joseph Tritton school, now the Chillington Drive estate off Wynter Street, and Christchurch. When he was a kid he spent all his time in the York Gardens Adventure Playground (demolished last year by the Council!) and in the community centre, climbing on the apparatus and playing football – but also messing about on an outdoor table tennis table and on another inside the community centre.
He tells me that he spent hours playing round table, table tennis – that is where any number of kids play at the same time but after each shot the player has to go round the table and wait his turn until his turn comes round to play the next shot and you drop out one at a time when you miss until there are only two players left. They then play for the winning point. I can tell you from my own experience (Yes, I remember playing it), it is all action packed, fast and furious fun.
Anyway Darius turns out to be the best at this game and one day, yes the fairy story, he is spotted by a coach. A year or so later having dropped the soccer and the sprinting, he was a full-time student at a Table Tennis academy in Nottingham – quite a plucky decision for a youngster that age to take – up sticks and leave mum and home to be a boarder at a sporting academy in a distant town.
And then Darius starts a whirlwind sporting career, which included going to a Eurokids competition in Terni, Italy, the Portuguese Youth Open at aged 13, becoming Britain’s No 1 Under 15, being in the Under 21s European Final at the age of 18, winning gold in both the singles and the doubles of the Youth Olympics in Sydney, and winning a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010.
Of course, the big target was the London, 2012 Olympics, for which he had become a mega-star of the hoardings being one of the faces used by Coke- Cola for advertising both the Games and Coke. But the Coke deal seems to have caused a bit of friction and as it turns out Darius did not make the final pick despite being in the squad.
Now, I sense Darius is at a turning point in his career. He is keen to help get kids off the street and round the tennis tables in York Gardens or the Katherine Low Settlement – he is very honest (and charming) about training and table tennis straightening him out after a couple of primary school suspensions but before he was too old and exposed to really going off the rails. He plays professionally in tournaments in Europe and is based in Vienna so as to be close to the big Euro action, which seems to be in Northern Italy, Munich and round and about. He wants (and needs?) sponsorship style deals but he also wants to train and concentrate on the Rio Olympics in 2016.
And Battersea and other things? his mum lives on the Dodd, and his gran (and for a while he) lived in Este Road until she died fairly recently at the age of 102. He has a girlfriend called Jordan, no not that one, and enjoys himself listening to 50 Cent – no I hadn’t heard of him either but he is a rapper called Curtis James Jackson III, better known as 50 Cent.
1. There was a Council meeting on Wednesday, 6th March. The headline debate was on the Council Tax but I guess that most will know that there has been a small increase, an increase which Labour opposed. I think more important was a further debate about the next round of cuts, which look like causing mayhem with Council services. I am sorry to say that in my view we, Wandsworth Labour councillors, have been a bit supine in accepting the pressures on the Council. We all know that national government holds all the cards and that a Labour Council would have to be cutting almost as savagely as the Tories, but I do think we should be making a noise about it all.
David Cameron and George Osborne have got the economy seriously wrong and everyone, except those blinded by Tory publicity, is beginning to realise it. Wandsworth Tories have little alternative but to support their government but Labour should be shouting from the rooftops that these cuts are damaging the country and destroying the economy both nationally and locally. The bedroom tax alone will take £3million a year out of the Wandsworth economy.
2. I went to the Big Local meeting at Providence House on the 7th and a couple of Battersea Park School governor meetings but on the whole I have had a fairly quiet month a little handicapped not only by the appalling weather but also by a bit of poor health, happily now on the mend.
3. There was not much to excite at the Planning Applications Committee on 12th March, although we did see the first reaction to the invasion of Boris Bike docking stations. An application for a docking station in Lavender Gardens was due to be considered but I put a spoke in the wheels and got the application deferred. We will see in April just what the Committee decide to do but public opposition is mounting.
I realise that some of my cycling friends will be a little peeved with me for this but I have no regrets. I think that TfL are going very much OTT (over the top) on Boris bikes. We will see whether I am right or not but a large bike docking station every 300 yards might well be appropriate for central London but it seems a bit much here in Wandsworth.
4. On 4th March there was a small celebration of Clapham Junction’s 150th birthday as a major station. I know some constituents were keen to be there. My real regrets are that I was not feeling well enough to get there!
5. On 25th March I went to a small “arts theatre” in Camden to see a play called,“The Briefcase”. Here is a picture of it, why? Because it is mine and was centre stage! The play was written by Timothy Turner, who is the son of my fellow Labour councillor, Billi Randall from Tooting. I won’t fill this newsletter with the details but you can see a review of the play in my blog at http://tonybelton.wordpress.com/.
6. I noticed one day in late March that the mock Tudor gatehouse to the Peabody Estate had disappeared, that is the one at the corner of Boutflower Road and Strath Terrace. The demolition of the Peabody Estate had begun. I decided to visit that afternoon and take some photographs of the old estate before it was just a fading memory. I know it was not much to write home about but it is amazing how quickly memories fade and so here is a quick selection of photographs of the Peabody.
My Programme for April
1. There is a Planning Applications Committee on the 11th April, on the same day as the police Special Neighbourhood Team.
2. I am going to a guest lecture from the poet laureate at Roehampton University on the 12th.
3. On the 23rd I have the Strategic Planning and Transportation Committee followed on the 25th by the Housing Committee.
4. On the 30th all councillors are having a teach-in about Children Looked After. This very important session is, I guess, almost unknown to most constituents. It is about councillors personal and collective responsibility for children looked after by the Council. Ever since the dreadful case of Baby P, when you may remember a small boy died through hopeless parenting and inadequate social service support, the Government has made it clear that in principle councillors are in loco parentis, i.e. we are in the position of being parents and have their legal responsibilities. What a responsibility!
Do you know?
Senia Dedic? I first met Senia as Secretary of the Falcon Road estate residents association (FERA – the little known estate behind Falcon Road on the opposite side from Grant road). It was obvious that she was a special person with a very special history, so I decided to interview her for my newsletter.
Senia was born in Sarajevo, then in Sarajevo but now the capital of Bosnia. Do you recall the Yugoslav wars and the bombing of Sarajevo in the early 1990s? Well Senia was there. She tells me, “It was devastating to hear the Soviet built MIGs flying overhead. I remember being in a basement cellar hearing the bombs explode above us. In one night I counted 586, before I stopped counting. My fiancé (now husband) was in the newly formed Bosnian army and to my despair went to the front line.”
“Then water, electricity, telephone and food ran out. Bread queues were bombed and thousands of hungry people were killed every day. I spent 4 months in the local communal basement with my parents and our neighbours and Mum and Dad were begging me to leave the city and the bloodshed. I left the city on the last available bus to the Croatian border. From there I had to hitchhike to Zagreb and get the train to Zurich where my sister lived. After further adventures I decided to come to London and settle in Battersea. These 20 years here are the longest, most stable period of my life”.
Five generations of her family lived under five regimes in Sarajevo, from old empires, to the Soviet Block, to today. The family history is a microcosm of the turbulence and warfare that swept through the Balkans in the 20th century.
WoW also formed a voluntary community organisation called SpaceMax to tackle overcrowding in Wandsworth by helping people make shelves, fold down desks and beds, help with de-cluttering homes, making partition walls, etc.
WoW runs an intergenerational project and a Kids project, which organises educational and residential trips for urban children to a working farm in Devon.
Senia is a Governor at Christ Church School, a Katherine Low Settlement Trustee; and a member of Battersea Rotary Club. She started the PTA and was a founder of Positive Parent Action, representing the voice of parents with disabled children. (One of her own children is a patient in Great Ormond Street, where Senia is a Member of the Hospital Trust).
Appropriate, I think, that Senia was awarded the Mayor’s Team Award for her outstanding contribution to improving London and the quality of life for Londoners.
1. On Friday 1st February I flew from Luton to Tel Aviv with a group of 30 people organised by Labour Friends of Palestine (LFP). We were on a fact-finding tour. LFP is organised by ex-Battersea MP, Martin Linton, and this trip had a very Battersea feel about it with other trippers being my colleagues Councillors Wendy Speck and Simon Hogg. (Here we are with a banner given to us by the Mayor of Hebron.) This was no ordinary trip however but a pretty tough, hard-working one. (Oh and before any cynics say otherwise, it was all paid for by us!)
We met the Palestinian Foreign Secretary and his number two, the Governor of Hebron Province and the Mayor of Hebron City. We met Meir Margalit, a Jewish, left-wing Jerusalem city councillor with the difficult portfolio of looking after Palestinian affairs in East Jerusalem. We had a discussion with the British Consul in Jerusalem and were given a talk by a senior UN representative with responsibility for Palestine. We had discussions with the relatives, mainly mothers of course, of Palestinian prisoners, mainly young men of course, in Israeli prisons.
- We visited a Palestinian refugee camp in Ramallah, a Bedouin encampment in the Judean desert, a Jewish settlement and several Palestinian villages surrounded by Jewish settlements – and all in four days! Oh and we also managed to fit in one or two of the major tourist sites such as the Church of the Sepulcre, the Wailing Wall and the Dome on the Mount (Christian, Jewish and Moslem sites) in Jerusalem, as well as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the tomb of Abraham and his family in Hebron. The picture is of a sunset scene in the Judean desert.
It was a busy trip, which of course I could write about for pages and pages but I will try and make just a few brief observations. First, and whilst I hadn’t expected Palestine to be at all hot in February I was not prepared for it being even colder than London was last month. Jerusalem is 3,800 feet or 1,000 metres up in the Judean Mountains and with clear nights the temperature really plummeted.
Secondly whatever the politics I was struck by the overwhelming physical ugliness of man’s inhumanity to man – the thirty foot high, 700 mile long wall that the Israeli Government is building round and in Palestine is as ugly as the picture suggests. Anyone who saw the Berlin Wall or the wall in West Belfast will know exactly what I mean.
But there are also a lot of half-demolished homes, where the Israeli authorities have decided to move Palestinians out, or half complete homes where the Palestinians in return have half built homes without planning permission (I longed for Britain’s planning systems). There are brand-new sparkling highways for Israelis built alongside litter-strewn, wreck-spattered, pot-holed roads for Palestinians (puts our pot holes into context!). Not even South Africa under Apartheid had segregated roads, did they?
On another note the religious sites, the churches, mosques and synagogues don’t really work for me partly because as they are shared between faiths they had neither the over-the-top garishness of say the Greek Orthodox Church nor the puritanical simplicity of a British church. But I also did not warm to kissing the very spot where Jesus was born – partly because the person, who decided where that spot should be lived 300 years after Christ and couldn’t have possibly known. And the old Xmas carol “Oh, little town of Bethlehem” will never feel quite the same now that I have seen the traffic, the mess and the commercialisation of religious tourism in modern Bethlehem. Though occasionally, as here, it has its amusing sides. But the real point of the trip was to look at Palestinian/Israeli relationships and what lies in the future for them.
The first thing to say is that life for the under-dog is always going to be rough and at the moment the Palestinians are the under-dogs all right. One doesn’t have to be anti-Israeli or pro-Palestinian to see that being bossed around by gun-toting 20 year old Israeli soldiers can be a demeaning experience for a middle aged Palestinian and an absolutely infuriating one for a 20 year old, unemployed, one. But more importantly experience on the ground tends to suggest that the much talked about two state solution just does not look a credible possibility. Palestine is just too small, and too broken up by ever-expanding Jewish settlements to be viable.
It may be pie-in-the-sky but a united non-sectarian, democratic state seems to me to the only possible future for the two peoples. But that can only happen if one, two or three other things take place. They are that the USA decides it can no longer afford, or no longer wants, to fund the Israeli state; that the rich Arab states decide between them that they are going to fund Palestine as generously as the USA does Israel; or finally that the people of the area get fed up with beating themselves up just as pretty much the whole of western Europe decided in the years after 1945 that two millennia of war was just about enough. Funnily enough, I think it may happen sooner than you think!
2. The day after we got back, 6th February, was the Council Meeting. One thing that certainly could be said for our trip was that it put the normal Labour:Tory badinage into context! There really was not a big debate but there was some discussion about paying all Council staff at least the London Living Wage of £8.55 per hour. Despite paying our top officers over £100,000 apparently we cannot afford to pay a minimum of £8.55!
3. The Planning Applications Committee on 11th February had few interesting applications but there were five for Boris bike docking stations. I have mentioned before that £2 million is being spent on this scheme in the Borough. None of these were in Latchmere, because none of those designed for Latchmere have been objected to, but I have a feeling people are not going to be pleased when they see the number of such docking stations planned. I also have my own suspicion that the scheme will not be quite so successful here as in the City and the West End, not least because out here it starts getting hilly and Latchmere Road Hill is pretty steep however young and fit you are.
4. The Strategic Planning and Transportation Committee had a paper about lobbying for a Heathrow/Clapham Junction link, which will be of interest to many in the ward. But perhaps more will be interested that the Council is looking into making parking enforcement the same on Council estates as it is everywhere else. You may know that car clamping, which the Council used to do on estate roads is no longer legal so the Council had to do something. It also obviously wants to save money by having the same traffic warden system everywhere in the Borough. I am not sure exactly how it is going to work but clearly the intention is to have one system that applies on both estate roads and public roads – and about time to, some would say.
5. On the 26th we had the Housing Committee and I really am struggling to think of anything interesting to say about that – so I won’t report anything.
6. On the 19th Jane Ellison organised a meeting at Providence House to discuss the plans for the extension of the Falcon Road Mosque. Representatives of the mosque presented their plans and Jane had asked me, as a member of the Planning Applications Committee, to outline the planning position and just some of the planning issues.
There were about 50 people present and local concerns were expressed. The major concern was clearly parking though there was mention of the proposed change in the building line and of the installation of a dome. At one point, the meeting threatened to get a little lively but I have to admit Jane handled it very well – ‘tis pity she is the wrong party!
7. I have an apology to make to everyone. On 8th February I had 10 solar panels fitted on my roof and became a member of the “oh so green brigade”. It is obviously the reason that we haven’t seen the sun since.
My Programme for March
1. There is a Council meeting on Wednesday, 6th March (OK, I know that’s passed but that will have to wait until next month!), with Planning Applications on the 12th.
2. The Falcon Road Estates Resident Association is on the 7th but there is also a Big Local meeting at Providence House on the same day. I will go to the Big Local meeting.
3. The Big Local is having a couple of consultation meetings. One is at the Sports Centre in Hope Street and will be an opportunity for locals to give their views on what the area needs. The second, much larger event will be a fun day for all on Saturday 16th. In the morning this will be centred on the Chapel in Pennethorne Square and in the afternoon it will be centred on York Gardens and the Library and will include football coaching, bouncy castles, face painting, etc. You name it and it will be there.
Do you know?
Maureen Larkin? I can’t remember when I first met Maureen but it was at an election, when I was standing for the Labour Party. I guess it might have been 1982. I called on some chap and got talking to him and it turned out that he had lived in the same house since the fifties and as I expressed surprise he told me about Maureen who was a far more senior citizen. So I called on Maureen and she told me she was born in her house in 1932 and as you see she is still there in the same house 81 years later. Can anyone beat that? Let me know if you can.
Many of you will know Maureen, who is still today very active as the Membership Secretary and Events Organiser of the Battersea Society. She has in her time been the Secretary or organiser of the Triangle (Poyntz Road, Shellwood and Knowsley Roads) Neighbourhood Watch and the Residents Association. She organises the Triangle Annual street party (she says she doesn’t organise it nowadays but I bet she has her say), which by the way I can say from experience is by far the best in the Borough.
In 2010 Maureen was presented with a Civic Award by Wandsworth Council in recognition of her services to the community. I remember it as a splendid occasion where she was accompanied by her daughter, Terry Barber. When I went round and took the photograph we chatted about Battersea when each little terraced house like hers had a family living upstairs and another downstairs and when the shared loo was a brick out-house in the yard, when the bath was a tub under the sink and Battersea, then the major industrial centre in west London, was filthy with coal soot and industrial grime.
Maureen clearly loves her community but she is not such an old sentimentalist to believe that everything was so good in the good old days, indeed she very much looks forward to tomorrow’s event to be organised and insisted that I had the Triangle party date firmly in my diary.
1. I went to the Passenger Transport Liaison Group on 7th January. Sounds dull, I know, but actually it deals with quite a bit of important detail. I asked why the Grant Road exit from CJ station is closed before the other exits. This means that many of you, catching the late trains from Waterloo and Victoria, have to walk out of the main exit and all the way round under the Falcon Road bridge – not the pleasantest of walks! The Network Rail representative said that he would look into the issue and just maybe get it extended to 1 am.
I also asked the TfL representative about “forcing” passengers to get off the C3 and 295 in St. John’s Hill, when it would be more convenient and safer for them (you) to stay on the bus to the terminus at Grant Road. I am afraid that the TfL man was a right “jobsworth” and was more concerned about the safety issue of getting off the bus at such a free-stand as the terminus and less about walking under the bridge. Of course if anything did happen at the terminus then TfL would be liable, whilst if you simply get mugged under the bridge then one thing’s for certain: TfL won’t get it in the neck! A frankly pathetic response! However, perhaps the Council can include some re-structuring of that bus stand as part of its big investment in regenerating Latchmere!
2. At the Planning Applications Committee on 14th January we approved the demolition of the gas holders that stand behind Battersea Park Station. Though not exactly in Latchmere, they are almost as well known a landmark of Battersea as the Power Station. I guess it will be a couple of years at least before they disappear but here is a reminder of them as they look now. There was no significant application relating directly to Latchmere.
3. I was at the Strategic Planning and Transportation Committee (I hate that name) on the 21st. There was an awful lot about speed humps and parking controls but largely in streets in Tooting. The only matters which, I thought, were of wider interest and especially here in Latchmere were a paper about building a pedestrian and bicycle bridge across the Thames between Vicarage Crescent and Imperial Wharf, and the plan to expand the Mayor’s bike scheme.
The bridge would be on the upstream side of the Cremorne or Battersea Railway Bridge and would obviously be a great addition to life since as you know there is a big gap in bridges between Battersea and Wandsworth Bridges. However, the expected cost is £20 million and there is no known source of funding and so I am afraid it is merely a “bridge dream”.
The Mayor’s bike scheme is, however, going ahead and the cost in Battersea will be the best part of £2 million with cycle stands (docking stations) installed all over the place. A few of the 17 Latchmere sites are Grant Road, Sheepcote Lane and Plough Road. A full list can be seen at this link http://ww3.wandsworth.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s26267/13-61%20Appendix%201%20to%20Cycle%20Hire%20Report.pdf. I can see some arguments coming up when they go the Planning Applications Committee! But at £2 million for Battersea alone I really, and rather unfashionably, wonder whether just some of this money could be spent reversing other cuts, such as welfare benefits, adventure playgrounds and one o’clock clubs. What do you reckon?
4. On the 23rd we had the Housing Committee. There were a few technical matters but two main changes: one about the annual rent increase, which is more or less in line with inflation at a weekly average of £3.44, and secondly the impending change to housing and Council Tax benefits. The first thing to be said here is that the Government are cutting these drastically and that many people at the poorer end of the spectrum are going to find life really tough. There is already anecdotal evidence of quite a few children with free school meals “disappearing” from our primary schools. It seems that schools are picking up signs, before the housing department, that quite large numbers of people are being forced out of London. I think it is too early to say quite what level of disaster this is for some in the community, but we do know quite a bit about the impact of the so-called “bedroom” tax. I have a local and worrying case that you can read about on my blog site at http://tonybelton.wordpress.com/ under the title “State Snooper in the bedroom”
Highlights of 2012
1. My colleague, Simon Hogg, has produced his own blog of a few of our (Latchmere Labour councillor) achievements in 2012. You can see his account at http://simonhoggblogs.com/2012/12/31/9-things-your-local-labour-party-did-for-you-this-year/
2. I haven’t really kept a diary of my own “achievements” but am now making a resolution to do so in 2013, but my own personal highlight is fighting the Council’s policy to evict the families of those involved in the riots of August, 2011. As I have often said, it is not that I have much sympathy for the rioters but making them homeless, and more particularly their innocent mothers and younger siblings, seems like pointless revenge. The international interest was staggering and I was interviewed by press and TV from Russia, France, Spain and Canada. In the end the Council backed down!
My Programme for February
1. There is a Council meeting on Wednesday, 6th February, with Planning Applications on the 11th and Strategic Planning and Transportation on the 20th with the Housing Committee following on 27th.
2. The Finance Committee will decide on the 27th February next year’s Council Tax but essentially since that has been nationalised for some years now, we know that will be frozen or more or less so.
3. There is the Greater London Labour Conference on the week-end of 16th and 17th February, though by then some of us will be deep into the Six-Nations Rugby Championships!
4. There is the police Special Neighbourhood Team (SNT) on the 7th and numerous other smaller meetings.
Did you know?
Everything about the Latchmere Estate? I thought I knew quite a bit but this month my attention was drawn to a blog-site called Municipal Dreams. This is obviously the pride and joy of a real municipal historian and there is masses in there about the reconstruction of bomb blitzed Plymouth and about Poplar but if you scroll down to the 1st January entry there is a really interesting bit on the Latchmere Estate – a must for history buffs, the Battersea Society, etc.
- I went to the Doddington Estate Garden Xmas fete on Saturday 1st December and the Policeman’s Ball on the Saturday evening. Here I am photographed joining in the carol singing at the Fete, whilst much to my astonishment I won a painting of Battersea Power Station at the Policeman’s Ball and so December had started festively!
- There was a Council Meeting on Wednesday 5th, where the main subjects of discussion were the benefit cuts, the housing crisis and the Chancellor’s autumn statement and its impact on Wandsworth’s budget. I don’t think that we learnt anything much other than that the Conservative councillors, and the Conservative Party, have no Plan B. Apart from blaming Labour for the economic crisis (strange that given the crisis is affecting the whole of Europe), and cutting welfare benefits, they seem to have nothing to say.
- At the Planning Applications Committee on 13th December we approved yet another planning application for Battersea Power Station. I have been on the Committee a long time and seen many, many planning applications for the Power Station approved. None of them have ever amounted to much but this time there appears to be a real chance that work on the site will start late next year. I hesitate to say that because I have said it before but just maybe this time it will happen.
- A local application that went through was for the demolition and re-construction of the Castle pub in Battersea High Street. The public gallery was full and the application was clearly not popular but in reality the committee had very little choice. There is little that the Committee can do to stop demolition of a building, unless it is listed for protection, and its replacement by another pub plus flats is totally consistent with the Council’s planning policies.
- On the 10th I went on opening run of the new rail service from Clapham Junction through south and east London to Highbury and Islington. This line completes London’s orbital rail line. I went on it from CJ to Wapping and back to Wandsworth Road station. The best description of it, I have found is at http://www.therailengineer.com/2012/11/02/london-orbital-rail-network-complete/. Here is a picture of the new rolling stock pulling into Wandsworth Road station. The line offers new ways of getting to the O2 stadium, Canary Wharf and Stratford. It is a good line opening up lots of new destinations from CJ but was it me or was it rather slow. I felt that in crossing so many other lines it had to be very carefully timetabled and perhaps came off second best at some junction points.
- On New Year’s Eve, I went to a Jazz Club in Streatham. Here is a picture of the band, Soul Street, who gave us an entertaining evening. I hope that you had a good time!
Highlights of 2012
- My colleague, Simon Hogg, has produced his own blog of a few of our achievements in 2012. You can see his account at http://simonhoggblogs.com/2012/12/31/9-things-your-local-labour-party-did-for-you-this-year/
- I haven’t really kept a diary of my own highlights but am now making a resolution to do so in 2013, but my own personal highlight is fighting the Council’s policy to evict the families of those involved in the riots of August, 2011. As I have often said, it is not that I have much sympathy for the rioters but making them homeless, and more particularly their innocent mothers and younger siblings, seems like pointless revenge. The international interest was staggering and I was interviewed by press and TV from Russia, France, Spain and Canada. In the end the Council backed down!
My Programme for January
- I am back into the Council swing on Monday, 7th January, with a meeting of the Transport Liaison Group, where councillors exchange views with Transport for London and the rail companies about the state of public transport in London. That might sound like just a talking shop but in the last few years I think that we have been just a little responsible for getting the lifts installed at CJ and seats at most of our bus-stops – just two examples of many items discussed over the years.
- There is a Big Local meetingon Wednesday 9th, and a Planning Applications Committee on the 14th. I intend to go to the Cancer Support AGM on the 16th in the Mission on the north side of York Road.
- I have the Strategic Planning and Transportation Committee on the 21st and the Housing Committee on the 23rd and a Battersea Park School Governors meeting on the 28th. And on the 30th I am attending a teach-in on the new Housing Benefit rules. Anyone, who has followed my comments very carefully will know that I think that these cuts are going to be an absolute disaster for many people on our housing estates. By the end of the month, I hope to be proved wrong but expect to be proved right!
Did you know?
Why the Katherine Low Settlement (or KLS) in Battersea High Street and pictured here has that name and who Katherine Low was? I attended my first Battersea political meetings there many years back and never knew, or if I did I have forgotten, why that name.
Well it turns out (thanks to Wikipedia) that KLS was named after Katherine Mackay Low, who was born in Georgia, USA, on July 9th 1855. Her parents were British, and when her mother died in 1863, her father, a prosperous merchant and banker, brought his family back to England and settled in Leamington. When he died, the family came to London, and Katherine devoted herself to the care of the less fortunate. When she died, on January 2nd, 1923, her many friends decided to create a memorial to her which would also further the kind of service to which she had devoted herself.
The small committee formed to achieve this purpose discovered that the area around Orville Road, Battersea was described as “irreclaimable”. They visited Battersea and found, right on Orville Road, a large empty house. Then called “The Cedars”, the house was owned by Christ’s College, Cambridge. The College agreed to lease the house at a nominal rent if money could be found to repair and redecorate it. Katherine Low’s friends raised the funds and on May 17th, 1924, HRH the Duchess of York (later Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) came to Battersea and declared open the Katherine Low Settlement.
Wandsworth Tories introduced an aggressive Right-to-buy (RTB) policy a year before Mrs Thatcher came to power and made it a national Tory plank. It was, of course, a barn stormer and won many votes for the Tory party – and lost many more for a Labour Party perplexed about exactly how to tackle a policy, which was so perfectly attuned to an 80s Loadsamoney philosophy and such an anathema to any collectivist dream.
Lost in the political firestorm were some quiet voices on the Labour side, me included, who said as loudly as we could that outright opposition to the RTB policy was pointless but that reasoned criticism was valid and should have been pursued relentlessly. I recall two particular threads to our criticism. One was that receipts from sales should be used to replace housing stock.
Now in the current crisis about the lack of affordable housing everyone, even the Cameron Government, is talking, however disingenuously, about council house sales being accompanied by a policy of like for like replacement. The fact that the Blair/Brown Governments did no more to replace like for like than the Major/Cameron Governments does not make it any easier!
But the second criticism we had was that RTB would in the end result in the loss of affordable housing and would not be a long-term gain to the goal of creating a “property owning democracy”. Perhaps it is a little difficult to recall just how much Mrs Thatcher made of the creation of a share-owning, property-owning democracy but it was a central plank of the Tory philosophy of the 1980s. Now, however, with the first analyses of the 2011 Census figures we discover that for the first time since the war the proportion of the population living in private sector rented accommodation is on the rise and the number of owner occupiers is actually declining. Just what has happened to the property owning democracy?
Well using Wandsworth as an example reveals some interesting trends. Since 1978, the Council has sold 16,000 leasehold properties out of a stock of approximately 40,000 (there have also been thousands of freehold sales, including sales of whole estates). Having done some research on these 16,000 it appears that 5,650, or 35%, are now in the hands of private landlords, who have developed private sector rented empires on many Wandsworth estates.
The Council admits that one landlord owns 93 leases, from where he runs a private rented empire, whose asset value, very conservatively estimated, is worth more than £10 million. These 93 flats are let out almost exclusively to students of Roehampton University.
Moreover the Council admits to the fact that a further 17 landlords own more than 10 properties and another 83 own more than 5. But having done my own research on the figures and talking to the Council about their methodology, I am fairly confident that they have under-estimated the situation. The Council’s own figures are done on a simple spreadsheet exercise against a file of leaseholder names. They have not been asked to look more closely at the data and they have not done so – but I have.
It is clear that there are networks of ownership between members of the same family and apparently independent companies, often sharing the same addresses. Hence there are several small rental empires on, for example, Battersea’s famous Doddington Estate. In these properties, the Council makes an estimate for housing benefit calculations of rents are about 250% higher than the Council equivalent for the neighbouring properties. So for example, a two-bed Council owned flat is let at £123 per week and the privately owned neighbouring flat has a base of £320 per week for benefit calculation – the actual rent might be much higher.
As of early December, 2012, 31 of these properties were leased back by the Council for housing homeless families, all of whom were in receipt of Housing Benefit or Local Housing Allowance. No doubt some of these families will be hit by the so-called Benefits Reform that some Tory councillors defend on the rather ironic grounds that it will force private landlords to lower their rents. What a trick! Essentially guilty of creating a rental market with highly inflated rents they now accuse those very same landlords, they created, of exploiting the benefits system.
What I find extraordinary about this situation is that the Council officers, and the Tories, find none of this surprising. As one officer said to me, “If you return the properties into the market place then you will see the market acting as it always does with tendencies towards monopolies and exploitation”. He was accepting the reality of the situation. The Tory response is, of course, to defend the market despite, or because of, its faults, and actively to work to destroy the collectivist response to a major human need, which was the original purpose of council housing.
They have the temerity to criticise council housing and many of the subsidies that they claim it was based on and yet do not bat an eyelid at those very same once public resources being used for personal profit and gain.
This is perhaps not surprising amongst Tory councillors, who in Wandsworth are distinguished by the rise of its very own rentier class. It is not necessarily easy to interpret from the members’ register of interests but it looks possible that up to 10 Tory councillors, 20% of the whole, rent out properties for an income. But what I do find fascinating is that some Labour members seem to accept the market-place’s role, the place of market rents as a standard and the inevitable supremacy of market forces. Curious, when council housing has for a hundred years been a collectivist and, despite the occasional disaster, a highly successful response to the major problem of housing the totality and not just the affluent in our population. Doubly curious given that the two oldest council estates in the country, the Totterdown estate, and the direct works built Latchmere estates, are both Wandsworth estates!