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.
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 ho decided simplify of a British church. But I also did not warm to kissing the very spot where Jesus was born – partly because the person wwhere 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!
1. I had a Strategic Planning & Transportation Committee and a Housing Committee on 12th and 14th November, and also the Planning Applications Committee on the 20th. However, to be honest there was not really much to report and no very significant planning permissions this month - except, that is, for the dire likely consequences of the so-called welfare reforms and just some of these were considered by the Housing Committee.
I know, of course, that welfare spending is not currently very popular with the public at large but I hope that here in Latchmere we know some of the real consequences of these cuts. What is clear from reports to Council is that the Town Hall officers expect an increase in the number of families made homeless because of the impact of housing allowance cuts as well as penalties for those, who “under-occupy” their council flats. They expect that some families will have to be re-housed well outside of the London area and indeed I already know of one single mother who has been placed in Loughton in Essex, despite the fact that her sons attend a primary school in Tooting!
2. I went to the opening of 39 new Council-built flats on the Doddington and Rollo estate on the 22nd November. You may have seen them being built alongside the railway track between CJ and Queenstown Road station. Here is a picture of them close up. They are the first purpose built council flats in Wandsworth since the early 80s and although a very small gesture towards the housing crisis, I must say they appeared very well designed and built.
3. I am afraid that I did not get to the Women of Wandsworth AGM or the London Summit but I did attend a couple of important Battersea Park School governor meetings. The school is struggling with its “failure” to achieve Academy status this year and is now faced with a period of uncertainty as it appears as though the only way to be certain of its future is for its results to get worse, in which case it would automatically become an Academy. NO, you didn’t read that incorrectly. Under the perverse incentives that the Government has imposed on schools there is an advantage, if you think it is an advantage of course, for your school to do badly in exam results in order to become an Academy! You couldn’t make it up, could you!
4. Last month, I reported that nearly 6,000 of the Council’s 18,000 odd leasehold properties are not lived in by the actual leaseholder, or to be absolutely precise they have their management mail from the Council sent to different addresses. I said that one leaseholder owns over 90 ex-Council properties, and whilst he is in a “class” of his own, 17 others own more than 10 each.Well, I have been doing some work on the information that I have got and it is clear that there are networks of private landlords operating on Council estates, with some flats “owned” by husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and City holding companies. Frankly I find this an astonishing racket with hundreds of “landlords” making profit rents from Council-built and subsidised dwellings!
My Programme for December
1. 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 has started festively!
2. There is a Council Meeting on Wednesday 5th, where the main subject of discussion will be the benefit cuts, the housing crisis and the Chancellor’s autumn statement and its impact on Wandsworth’s budget.
3. On the 10th I intend to go to the opening run of the new rail service from Clapham Junction through south and east London to Highbury and Islington. This will complete London’s orbital rail line, which was first talked about in the late nineteenth century following the success of the Metropolitan and Circle tube lines. Well, here it is well over a century later and the orbital route has arrived! The best description of it, I have found is at http://www.therailengineer.com/2012/11/02/london-orbital-rail-network-complete/.
4. Apart from these events there are as you may imagine lots of festive drinks and fetes that councillors get invited to run by resident organisations, school groups and others. I look forward to seeing some of you at some of these occasions!
About “Movember”, the November prostate cancer awareness campaign, the idea for which came out of an Australian pub about 5 years back and now has millions of men supporting it by growing moustaches and beards in the month of November.
Well I decided to join in despite protests from some quarters and this is how it looked on December 1st and whilst for me it is not an original look – there is quite an amusing picture of me in the archives with long hair, moustache and beard from way back – it was a bit of a shock for some.
It has now gone – to be repeated next year? We will have to wait and see but in any event I raised some small amount of money for the Prostate Cancer Awareness Campaign.
1. In June it became official that the British economy was in what is known as a “double-dip recession”. This was, and is, really bad news for everyone in the country and for many of us locally. For instance, it should be noted that unemployment in Latchmere rose yet again in May to 575, which at 7.9% is the highest in the Borough (it is 7.8% in Roehampton). This compares with the average of 5.5% in England & Wales. As for the double-dip recession, I don’t particularly want to claim credit for it, but I have been virtually alone in forecasting this in the Council for the best part of a year. The real calamity is that in these hard times the Council, admittedly hard pushed by the Government, is cutting jobs and services at an increasing rate of knots. Just when is the Government going to make a U-turn on this just as it has with so many other issues recently. It really is time for a Plan B, a plan for economic growth.
2. I went to see the river pageant to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in Battersea Park but I am afraid it was not, for me, a wild success. As you know it rained and it was almost impossible to see anything. Unfortunately the weather took the gloss off most of the street parties as well – great shame but couldn’t be helped. Did you have better luck or did you go out of London and get away from it all? Here is a picture of many of the audience trying to get a view from atop the mobile loos!
3. For the first time in ears I was not one of the Labour members on the Finance & Corporate Resources, where the major item under discussion was Elliott School, Putney, where I know a number of Latchmere youngsters have gone. I wouldn’t mention it except for this crucial discussion about Elliott School, where the argument was whether the Council should pay for the very considerable and expensive refurbishment required for the school out of its own reserves or from the receipts for selling much of the school playing fields. The final decision on this matter is to be made, probably in August, but the Council is likely to sell some 40% of the playing fields. Here is a picture of the so-called Ark Academy closing the door on LEA secondary schools in the Borough!
4. The June 14th Big Local meeting in York Gardens was a great success and facilitator, Helen Garforth, will have found it useful in helping to frame a vision for Latchmere before the Big Lottery starts releasing the £1 million it is making available to Latchmere over the next ten years.
5. The 21st July Planning Applications Committee had no Latchmere applications but did have 3 very large and important developments for Battersea. The one of most direct interest to Latchmere was an application for 116 residential units, plus ancillary shopping and some industrial units, rising to some six storeys on York Road. The development would be almost opposite the York Gardens Library, where currently there is a car-show room and a fair amount of parking. (The site is pictured here at the corner of Lombard and York Roads).The Committee unanimously refused the application as being too high and out of scale for the site. However, my own view is that the Tory councillors, who represent the other side of York Road, are being pressurised by local residents into voting against the application but that the Council’s planning policies incline towards it : the end result of such a mess could be that the Secretary of State will grant permission after appeal.
The other two massive applications were for the reconstruction of Covent Garden Market and of the adjacent but now unconnected Market Towers at the end of Nine Elms. These are two really gigantic applications, both of which were approved.
Covent Garden Market will be completely demolished and re-constructed but more intensively. The redevelopment will include, or so it is planned, 2,500 residential units, a 500 bed hotel, a gymnasium and a 2,000 square metre (that’s very large) food super-store. Covent Garden Market is probably the third largest employer in the Borough (after the Council and the NHS) and therefore its future is very important to the Council. So, it was perhaps not surprising that it got support from all councillors and hopefully the end result will be good for us all. But I have a couple of reservations, one about the limited amount of “affordable” housing that will be built there and the other about the size of the retail unit. And it’s not because of my dislike of shopping but because at the same time the very large Sainsbury’s in Wandsworth Road is also being re-developed and I just can’t see that the area needs two megastores right next door to each other. PS Government definitions of affordable housing at least in Battersea require people to have something like £60,000 take-home pay so you can see it is affordable only to people earning more than twice the national average wage!
Market Towers, or as the developers want to call it One Nine Elms Lane is, to my mind, a very different proposition. Here the proposal is to build two giant towers; one of them up to 200 metres high, that is higher than the giant tower currently being built on the other side of Nine Elms Lane and the other slightly lower. These towers would have nearly 500 flats, a hotel and no doubt ancillary shops plus some offices. I voted against this application because there is very little “affordable” housing and that in my view these developments will make no contribution to the housing problems of most Battersea residents.
6. On 26th June, I was at the Housing Committee. Many years ago I was the Chair of the Housing Committee but this was the first I have attended for some time and very interesting, and worrying, it was too. There was masses of boring detail but two new Council policies I want to pick out in particular. The first is about Council-house rents. As from now all new tenancies will be let at 80% market rents and not on the traditional Council base. That means that new tenants will be expected to pay rents about 30-40% higher than their neighbours. Given that at the same time the Government is making draconian cuts to Housing Benefits I think we can see a concerted Conservative Party move to put an end to Council housing.
This slightly alarmist statement is supported by the other policy, which is to end the traditional policy of granting tenancies for “life”. As from now Council tenancies will be granted on a short-term basis, 5 years, and only renewed depending upon whether the tenant passes various tests. These include behaving well, not earning too much, doing what the Council expects you to do in terms of getting a job, etc. OK, so I put that case rather emotively but it is quite something coming from a Tory party that has complained about the “Nanny State” for so long! I just wonder how long it will be before this one becomes another U-turn.
7. On the very next day I was also at the Strategic Planning & Transportation Committee. Funnily enough I was also Chair of this Committee, many years ago, however, there was very little to report of interest unless one happens to live on the streets that were being discussed and as it happens none of these were in Latchmere.
My Programme for July
1. I will be attending the Passenger Transport Liaison on 2nd July. After my many years as a councillor this will be the first time I have ever attended this committee, where all kinds of public transport are discussed including even river passenger traffic.
2. On 7th July I will be attending the Poyntz Road/Knowsley Road Triangle Party from about 8pm on. This street party is, as far as I am concerned, the best in the Borough and I am really looking forward to it.
3. The Council Meeting is on 11th July; I have the Planning Applications Committee on the 18th, where a major application could be the plans for rebuilding Clapham Junction’s Peabody Estate; there is the Latchmere Report Back Meeting on 19th July at York Gardens Library, which is your chance to come and grill me and my fellow councillors, Wendy and Simon, and indeed the Leader of the Council, Ravi Govindia; and that is all followed by the Olympics, for which I was lucky and got quite a few tickets!
Did you know?
That the Falcons used to be Wandsworth Council’s Livingstone Estate. In the early 80s the Council discovered that the 1960s estate was built using a great deal of asbestos and considered spending millions to rip out the asbestos and then re-furbish the estate. But it decided that this was too expensive and so decided instead to sell the estate to private developers.
After getting rid of the blue asbestos and in the course of “re-branding” the private developers decided to name all the blocks on the estate after birds of prey, presumably because of the address on Falcon Road, and hence we have Hawk, Harrier, Peregrine, Eagle, Osprey, Kite, Lanner, Griffon and Kestrel Houses, Courts and Heights. Let’s just talk about one: Peregrine House. The Peregrine is the fastest animal of all reaching 200 mph in its hunting dive; the vast majority of its prey is smaller birds, though the peregrine itself is only the size of a crow. Typically it has lived in cliffs and mountains but in recent times they have moved into cities – there is a pair at Battersea Power Station. Life in high towers obviously seems to be similar enough to cliffs for the Peregrine.
But Peregrine House used to be called Burne-Jones Court, after the painter Edward Burne-Jones, 1833-98. Burne-Jones, who was born in Birmingham, was a major artist of the very British pre-Raphaelite movement along with William Morris, John Ruskin and Dante Rosetti amongst others. They “loved” the middle Ages and were very concerned with design, which is perhaps obvious from a quick glance at the painting on the right.
Why the Council named the Livingstone blocks after artists like Burne-Jones, will be the subject of a later Newsletter.
Good news for all those who use the Junction. We are told that the “new” Grant Road station entrance will be opened tomorrow, 11th July. At least one of my several constituents, who live with a ringside seat of CJ, in Sendall or Osprey or Eagle Heights, says that as he looks down on the station that he has his doubts, but we can only hope that the “authorities” know what they are talking about!
OK, so its a slightly dated image but I like it!
1. The Mayoral Election took place on 3rd May. Congratulations are due to Boris Johnson and his local running mate DickTracey, But I doubt that any party was very pleased with the result, with Boris winning by a small margin against Ken, for whom it was undoubtedly one election too far. The Labour party did quite well across the country but perhaps not well enough to be complacent. Apart from Boris, it was a disastrous election for the Tories but not quite as bad as it was for the Lib/Dems. The picture is at the Committee Rooms in Falcon Road.
2. But we can’t let this occasion go by without saying a word about Ken Livingstone. It was an election too far – perhaps two elections too far, but let’s make no mistake he has been a giant of London politics for the best part of 40 years. It is difficult to remember now, just how popular he was for most of those years.
Apart from his roles both as a Lambeth councillor and an MP he has been the London city boss for 13 years, from 1981-86 as the Leader of the Greater London Council (GLC) and as Mayor from 2000-2008. He defeated the official Labour candidate, Frank Dobson, in 2000 (making him one of the most successful independent candidates ever in British electoral history) and massively outpolled Margaret Thatcher in all the London popularity polls in the late 80s.
But he also has a stream of achievements behind him, which would be the envy of many politicians. He almost invented today’s cosmopolitan London, with his emphasis on the Rainbow Coalition and a 24:7 city life-style. Certainly his espousal of equal opportunities, almost a joke at the beginning of the 80s, has made it standard practice in even the most conservative of establishments. Livingstone transformed London bus services and was the first and only person to reduce rather than enhance the dominance of cars on the London roads, both with lower fares and the congestion charge.
Even his “mistakes” usually had a positive outcome. Too far back for many to remember but he invited the IRA (Irish Republican Army) to talks at what was then County Hall. The right-wing press slaughtered him for talking to, and giving respectability, to terrorists. But Thatcher followed not long after and 10 years later Tony Blair brought a level of accommodation and peace to Northern Ireland – but Ken had blazed the trail. Perhaps his finest single moment was his speech immediately following the dreadful London 7/7 bombings, when he stood up for a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan London which would not be cowed by terrorism and blood.
His opening sentence on the day of the bombing was; “This city is the greatest in the world, because people live side-by-side in harmony – and Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. … We are here because people from around the world come to London; people live in London, to fulfil their dreams and to achieve their potential. They choose to come to London, as so many have come before, because they come to be free”.
If Boris achieves half as much he will be doing well – something I hope he remembers at the opening of the Olympics, which would not be coming to London without Ken’s participation – along with many others.
3. I attended one of the consultation meetings the Council had at York Gardens Library on 22nd and 23rd May, but frankly the Council really does not know how to do these consultations. Very few people attended and that was no great surprise as the Council seemed to think that consultation about a blank sheet of paper was what was required. It contrasted strangely with the Big Local meeting on 24th, which had 24 participants planning a June 14th meeting of which more below. But the real contrast was with the London Citizens South London Assembly held at BAC on 29th May. There were 300/400 people there at an almost evangelical public meeting. There were more Latchmere residents at this meeting than at any I have seen and there were promises of many start-up residents associations. It was also notable for a real grilling given to the Council Leader, Ravi Govindia. He did not come out of it well.
4. The 23rd May Planning Applications Committee had not one application from Latchmere but a couple of days before I went on a site visit to Covent Garden Market, pictured here in neighbouring Queenstown. This is yet another enormous site, currently pretty much ignored and out of mind as far as most Battersea residents are concerned, but where gi-normous planning applications are expected in the next few months. The market will be re-built but added into the mix will be several thousand new homes – exciting times coming in Nine Elms Lane.
5. On the same theme I and my councillor colleagues, Wendy Speck and Simon Hogg, were shown the developers plans for the Prince’s Head pub in Falcon Road. This pub has been a source of some controversy with many local residents for many years. A developer now wants to demolish it and build a block of 30/40 small affordable flats, known as pocket concept flats. Whilst in many ways it is sad to see yet another pub go, this particular pub will not be any big loss and on the whole I thought the development looked good. The developers are happy to discuss it with any local residents’ groups.
6. On 27th May, I took part in Wandsworth Heritage Festival by leading a History walk from the Latchmere pub, via the Park, the Latchmere Estate and the Shaftesbury Estate to Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) – there were 15 people – very enjoyable.
My Programme for June
1. The Jubilee, of course, on the 3rd June along with street parties and the like through-out the week.
2. On 14th June the Big Local is having a Vision Day at York Gardens Library, between 3 and 8pm.
3. The Planning Applications Committee is on 21st June and whilst I do not know for certainty what exactly is on the agenda, in the next few months will include applications for Covent Garden and the rebuilding of Clapham Junction’s Peabody Estate.
What do you know?
I am not putting myself on quite the same level as last month’s extract about the Duke of Wellington but I thought I should say that after years and years as the Labour lead on both Wandsworth’s Planning Applications and the Finance and Corporate Resources Committees, I have just become our lead both on the Housing and on the Strategic Planning and Transport Committees. I will continue to sit on the Planning Applications Committee.
- The biggest news of the month, the year, the decade, was the Council’s decision to “spend” £100 million on Latchmere and Roehampton wards. And at the same time the Big Lottery has also allocated a separate £1 million to Latchmere. Let me explain. At the 29th February Finance and Corporate Resources Committee the Council came forward with its response to the riots. It was not, of course, said to be a response to the riots, indeed it was claimed to be despite the riots but nevertheless it seems to me to be quite a coincidence that one of the largest ever investments in the Council’s housing stock should come just 6 months after the riots and the independent paper the Council commissioned to analyse them.
- You can read the paper in detail at http://ww3.wandsworth.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s23036/12-218%20-%20Aspirations.pdf but in summary the Council has decided to arrange its finances so that it creates the opportunity to borrow up to £100million on the refurbishment and regeneration of the most difficult estates in Latchmere and Roehampton. After discussing the paper with the Leader of the Council and the Chief Executive, it is clear that they expect about £60million to be spent in Latchmere and £40million in Roehampton. Whilst these are very large sums it should be remembered that the refurbishment of St. James Grove (Castlemaine) cost over £10million. Here it is before and after the refurbishment. There are as yet no specific plans, nor any commitment to timescales, but it is clear that the Council expects most of the investment to be centred on the York Road and Winstanley Estates. So using Castlemaine as a template, then if the same amount is spent on the large York Road blocks of Penge, Pennethorne, Chesterton, Inkster, Scholey and Holcroft and, say, Sporle Court, then there will not be much left for anything else. However, it is also clear that the Council want to do something substantial with the square at the foot of Pennethorne House and some of the open land around the other blocks.
- I did get a commitment from the Housing Director that the community, and your three councillors, will be very much involved in the process of developing plans and seeing through the process, which we all expect to take at least 10 years! So whilst I am sure things will start happening don’t let anyone imagine that it will all happen tomorrow because it won’t. By the way I was very involved in the consultation process at Castlemaine and it was pretty intensive and very successful.
- The same paper also expanded on the Big Lottery Trust’s decision to invest £1million over 10 years in community projects in the area covered by the York Road, Falcon Road, Kambala, Badric and Wayland Road estates. I have been in touch with the Big Lottery Trust and will meet with their contact in what they call confusingly the Clapham Junction/West Battersea area. The intention is that this fund should be used very much for community projects such as funding play schemes or youth clubs. I think that there will be a tremendous emphasis on well thought out, well led local projects and look forward to seeing what might come from, say, the Falconbrook parents or WOW (Women of Wandsworth) or the most active residents’ associations, such as Falcon Road. But it is also a great opportunity for York Road and Winstanley residents. We must all work to get the best outcome from this once in a lifetime opportunity!
- The Planning Applications Committee on 16th February had nothing of immediate significance to Latchmere ward but it did have a massive development in Nine Elms Lane, which had at least 1,500 flats let alone all the retail space, parking, and leisure space that goes along with that. You can read the details, if you really want to at http://ww3.wandsworth.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s22864/Paper%20No.%2012-134A.pdf although there is not an easy summary of this massive (200 page) paper. But here is an artist’s (one might say developers’ propaganda representation) impression of the development. As it happens I voted against it not because I was against it in principle. Indeed on the whole I think that what is beginning to happen in Nine Elms is very exciting, but because there is almost no provision for housing at prices that ordinary people will be able to afford. In the jargon the element of affordable housing is only 15% and not as Wandsworth itself wants 33% – and that leaves aside whether what is called “affordable” is something that ordinary people can afford as it is often geared to people earning £50,000+.
- On a personal note, I went to the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy on 7th February. If you can afford it and have any interest in art then let me thoroughly recommend it – a real gob-smacker. And here is one of the works, simply a scene of trees in North Yorkshire.
- And then on the 20th, I went to Oxford to hear Mary Jay give a talk on the diaries of Douglas Jay – who he? I hear you say. Well Douglas was the MP for what was then Battersea North from 1946-1983. As I have been a councillor since 1971, I knew him and, of course, Mary quite well.
- She is just in the process of getting his diaries published on the web. They are not, she says, strictly diaries but rather reminiscences of his time in the Harold Wilson Cabinet from 1964-67. I could write tons about it and him but suffice to say that Douglas was most famous for three things. First, his undying but unsuccessful opposition to British membership of what was then the Common Market, second, his successful opposition to the Motorway Box, which if it had proceeded would have left most of Battersea covered in a spaghetti junction of motorways. And third for being misquoted as saying, in the 1930s, that “the man in Whitehall knows best” – he actually said something rather different.
- The dinner after the lecture was fascinating as it included many of the major political figures of his day including Douglas’s son Peter and the BBC election guru David Butler, who for those of us of a certain age will remember doing TV coverage of elections for every year from 1959-2001 – he was credited with the invention of the swingometer!
- I also went to the “Ken Livingstone Manifesto” discussion on 11th but because I was doing a surgery at Battersea Library that same morning I missed most of it. But not as it happened Ken himself. I have heard Ken many times and he can veer from being pretty pedestrian to simply magnificent – who can forget his great speech after the 7/7 London bombings? Well this one wasn’t on that scale but it was pretty inspiring stuff and perhaps reflects his growing confidence about his chances at the Mayoral election on May 3rd. I am not saying that he looks exactly like a winner just yet but his position is much stronger than it was 6 months ago.
My Programme for March
- The Council meets on 7th March, when the Council Tax for next year will be rubber-stamped. If you don’t know, and I am sure that you do, it is frozen for the seventh year running, which given the impact of inflation over the years is equivalent to a 20% cut in Council Tax since 2005.
- The Falcon Road Residents Association AGM is on the 15th but I can’t make that because of the Planning Committee but I believe my ward colleague Simon Hogg will be there and maybe Wendy Speck later in the evening.
- There are two Planning Applications Committees this month on 5th March and 15th of which more next month..
What do you think?
- At the beginning of this newsletter I said that the Big Lottery was going to spend £1million over 10 years on funding community facilities in the central part of Latchmere, that is the bit nearest Clapham Junction station. That works out at £100,000 each year. We need good ideas for what to do with it. We could for example argue that £10,000 should go on funding York Gardens Library or £5,000 on landscaping near Chesterton House. But what the Big Lottery Trust wants is our ideas. Do send me your thoughts and let’s make sure we make the best possible use of this £1million.