Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea June, 2018, Newsletter (# 108)

  1. First things first. I was delighted Latchmere team 2018and honoured to be re-elected as one of your three Latchmere councillors at the Wandsworth Borough Election of May 3rd, along with my fellow Labour colleagues, Simon Hogg and Kate Stock – they are the kids in this picture of the three of us!

  2. The three of us got around and about 2,500 votes, compared to just under 1,000 for our main rivals, the Tory candidates. This represented a swing to Labour of just under 9%, which was very much in line with similar swings in Battersea. For those of you interested in elections, the impact of campaigning and other slightly nerdy electoral matters, look out for an entry I intend to make shortly on my blog at https://tonybelton.wordpress.com/. If you wish to see the Latchmere results, or indeed any Wandsworth results, in detail then you can at                                                                                                                                                http://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/info/200327/election_results/2327/2018_borough_council_election_results_-_3_may/9

     

  3. Immediately after the election councillors, are faced with seemingly endless inductions into being a councillor, the latest and most interesting one being the induction to our role as Corporate Parents, held on 30th You may well ask what that means and, as it is such a new role (under 10 years), I am not clear that there is an absolute definition. However, the Government decided that, in default of their own “positive” parents, children in Council care should be able to look to the Council, and councillors, as Corporate Parents.

  4. I have my doubts about this role. I have little doubt that in some ways, and in individual cases it works. Some councillors devote considerable time and effort to supporting so-called looked after children, many of whom appreciate it very gratefully. However, it is impossible to imagine MPs imposing a similar role on themselves for at least four reasons. First of all, they are not trained social workers and nor are we. Secondly, they would claim to be too busy – so what makes them different from councillors? After all many councillors already do a full-time job. Thirdly, it implies that we, councillors, are all part of one big happy family working as a team, when, clearly, we have very strong political differences about issues such as funding and housing, which have massive implications for so-called looked after children. Fourthly, it purports to give councillors a moral and legal responsibility, which they are in no way able to implement and which I doubt could ever be maintained in court. Actually, it is in danger of being a sham, another way of passing on the responsibilities of a state, not prepared to fund public services with decently higher levels of taxation. Of course, MPs would never think of imposing such an impossible burden on themselves: they are after all, a breed apart!

  5. On the 10th May, I spoke at David Lewis’s funeral inIMG_2487 St. Mary’s, Battersea. David was the Battersea Society’s foremost planning expert and he and I, as Labour’s lead on planning in the Council, had many interests in common. I first met him at secondary school in the fifties and I have lived near him in Battersea since the sixties. David lived his civic values. He was the most assiduous and industrious local champion of the environment both here and in North Wales. One early campaign of his (and his wife’s, Christine), I recall was to “save” Albert Bridge from possible demolition and replacement with a larger and stronger new bridge, capable no doubt of taking a motorway load of traffic up Albert Bridge Road. It’s a pleasure to say he won that campaign and that I played a very small part in that winning campaign! David, RIP.

  6. Two days later, another old friend invited meBluebell Line, East Grinstead and my partner for a day’s outing on the Bluebell Line from East Grinstead to Sheffield Park. I had never been there despite knowing Sussex pretty well. The steam train runs 12 miles through bluebell woods, which though perhaps a week past their best on 12th May were still spectacular. The line was constructed following the 1877 Act of Parliament and was “finally” closed after legal and parliamentary disputes in 1958. The Bluebell Railway Preservation Society was founded in 1959 and has been running the service ever since. Sheffield Park, at one end of the line is a country house and Arboretum – unfortunately it rained on 12th May but it was still an enjoyable trip.

  7. You may remember that last month I wrote about “the world premier of Winstanley Stories, a film made by Falconbrook Primary School’s pupils”. Well on 13th May I talked about the film and the making of it to a small group organised by “Sound Minds” at the Battersea Mission Sound Minds had an art photographer, who took this from outside the building and through the window! It was very enjoyable, with active participation form some of the younger members of the audience but I wish more people had been able to be there. Once again may I recommend that you have a look at this film about the Winstanley and York Road estates on YouTube http://www.winstanleystories.org.uk/film.html.

  8. On the 16th May we had the Annual Council Meeting, when the Mayor for the coming year is elected and also the Leader of the Council and membership of the Council’s various committees. The Mayor is Councillor Piers McCausland, not in my view a brilliant choice. That may not be a very politic thing to say but his, shall we say, eccentricity makes him an idiosyncratic selection by the majority Tory councillors. My friend and colleague, Simon Hogg, was re-elected Leader of the Labour councillors. Simon is NOT a pushy, boastful type of leader. He works hard encouraging all 26 of us councillors to take up very active roles. He operates in a quiet, restrained fashion, which gets some criticism but which, I think, gets increasingly appreciated over time.

  9. On 22nd May fellow councillor, Leonie Cooper, and also Greater London Council member held a reception at City Hall. It was good to have a chat with various new and old friends from all over London, and be reminded of the view from City Hall’s front door!

  10. The May meeting of the Planning Applications Committee was on the 24th, but, once again, there was little of note, at least, for Battersea. BUT several of you have asked me what is happening as regards the tower block “threatened” for the pocket site at the corner of Battersea Park Road and Culvert Road. Like some of you, I had noticed that all construction activity had stopped there. And, like you, I had hoped that some wiser heads just might have culvert-road-siteprevailed. So I made enquiries. However, the planning officer tells me that there is a requirement to sign a deed of covenant, which must be done by 23rd July and one party to the deal has not yet signed up. The contractual haggling that may or may not be happening behind the scenes is not a planning matter, even though you might think it should be. Hence all I can say is that there are, presumably, some kind of contractual negotiations going on behind the scenes, which could go on for another 7 weeks before preventing the current approved application from proceeding. Let’s hope that this over-development gets stopped by current market conditions!

  11. When I got back from David Lewis’s funeral, Renton, Tonysee para 5 above, I received an email telling me that one of my biggest college buddies had died that day. I attended Tony Renton’s funeral on 31st Apart from spending 3 years at college with Tony, I also shared my first two flats in London with him and a couple of others. He was a brilliant polemicist and a fantasist, a gambler, not with money perhaps but with life, which he certainly lived extravagantly and to the full. Pity about the waist-line though (, but who am I to talk?) – he used to be so thin but the twinkle in the eye and the extrovert personality are still there. Tony, RIP.

  12. Meanwhile, I did have some housekeeping to do. For my pains, I have had to finalise and get signed off all the statutorily required election expenses for all 21 of the Battersea Labour candidates at the election. That amounted to over 1,000 sheets of 16 statutory forms, many of them identical for candidate 1 to 21, all of which will probably disappear into a town hall vault, never to be seen again!

  13. And finally, I tried to maintain my sanity by, with my partner, completely revamping our back-garden – and that has been good.

My Programme for June

  1. On Saturday, 2nd June, I hope first to go to the Share Community’s Garden Centre, in the grounds of Springfield Hospital, both to buy plants for my garden but also to support the Share Community’s work on behalf of disabled people. And later I plan to go to York Gardens for the summer event there.
  2. On Sunday morning, 3rd June, I will be off to the National Gallery to see the Monet exhibition, which I expect to be a beautiful display of French Impressionist art.
  3. On 4th June at 6.30 I will be in Christ Church, on the corner of Candahar, Cabul and Battersea Park Roads, to hear an oral history of War Comes Home. This will be presented by Carol Rahn of the Battersea Society and will include the reminiscences of Battersea residents, who lived here during the Blitz. All are welcome – do go.
  4. Did you know that we have a Deliveroo processing centre here in Battersea? I must say that I didn’t. But councillors have been invited to visit and I am going on Tuesday, 5th June. I certainly want to question them on their employment practises and their safety records.
  5. The National Opera School in Wandsworth High Street is giving a free lunch-time concert on 6th June and I certainly hope to be there.
  6. On 8th June I am going to Wilton’s music hall to see Sancho: An Act of Remembrance – a play about an eighteenth-century African, who campaigned against the slave trade. If you have never been to Wilton’s, which is close by Tower Bridge, then you ought. It is a recently restored nineteenth-century music hall – very atmospheric!
  7. On 9th and 23rd June I have councillor’s surgery at Battersea Central Library.
  8. The North East Surrey Crematorium Board meets on 12th June and after 40+ years as a councillor, I get to go to my first ever meeting of it – the Crem as it is called – the whole of human life, as they say!
  9. I have a Community Services Committee on the 21st June and the Planning Applications Committee on the 26th.
  10. Finally, on 30th June, we have the Falcon Road Festival, which I expect to be great fun.

Do you know?

Last month I asked, “Who was Chesterton? And what was he to Battersea or Battersea to him? And what else in Battersea is named after him?

I was surprised that not one of you responded. It was pretty easy so Why? Has the format got stale? Should I do something else instead? Who votes to retain Do you Know?

Meanwhile G. K. Chesterton or Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was a prolific author of novels and detective stories, whose fame has declined a lot since the early twentieth century. Possibly because he was really an essayist, a commentator, an eccentric wit. Chesterton lived in 60 Overstrand Mansions, Prince of Wales Drive and in one amusing essay he compared a flooded North Battersea to “a vision of Venice”.   If he had lived a century later he would probably have been a TV journalist, or a Newsnight presenter.

My partner has written a brief essay on him in the Battersea Society’s “Battersea Matters”. I would be happy to copy to anyone interested.

Of course, Chesterton Primary School is named after him as indeed is Chesterton Close, just behind Wandsworth Police Station, Chesterton House in the York Road estate and the Old Chesterton Building in Battersea Park Road.

Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea August, 2018, Newsletter (# 110)

  1. To start with a serious point on building control. Once upon a time Building control regulations and their application were overseen by the state, or an arm of the state, in this case local authorities, with the result that most of us could live in peace and accept that any building works happening in our area were shall we say “kosher”. But in the last few months I have had a worrying increase of cases, where constituents have complained of damage consequential on neighbours’ building “improvements”. One constituent complained that not one room in his house was unaffected by the extensive works next door – walls were cracked, windows and doors open and close less easily than they did before, foundations damaged, etc. And in the last month another constituent has reported being seriously worried about the standard of workmanship in a neighbour’s back extension.

  2. It was Mrs Thatcher, in her dogmatic “escape” from the “Nanny State“, who removed the need for “independent”, state, building controls, when she allowed architects and contractors to employ their own building inspectors. It was in future to be self-regulation – the kind of system that we have seen fail in the City and everywhere else that the Tory party has rebelled against so-called “red tape”. Of course, the system did not collapse immediately after Thatcher introduced her so-called reform. But, with time, the temptation to cut costs has become too great for some.

  3. So, my current case, in a Victorian street, not a million miles from the Latchmere pub, concerns “Authorised inspectors” from a building control” company, who have withdrawn from the job, mainly I think because they did not have the clout to impose decent standards on the builders. They were only “authorised inspectors” in the sense that they were being paid to do the job and the company is a somewhat grandiosely entitled small company founded in 2006. I am sure that it probably does a good job and has good professional standards. It does not, however, have the enforcement powers that the local authority has. Hopefully Wandsworth Council will now step in and enforce decent standards, but not until after my constituents and their families have gone through agonies and quite possibly considerable expenditure.

  4. We are, collectively, paying a dreadful price for the anti-red tape ideological revolution that the Tories are unleashing on us. Most people will know of the destruction of the Probation Service, the chaos of the Benefit System, the mayhem in the education service, not to mention of course the Health Service, but my point is that it is rampant in even the most unconsidered corners – building regulations!

  5. The Council’s Building Control unit does occasionally have great successes. Here, for example, is a pub, which used to be called the Artichoke, on St. John’s Hill. It was almost completely demolished, without planning permission, when the Town Hall got working with its enforcement powers. I don’t know when it is due to be re-opened but it doesn’t now look too long into the future. The moral is: if you see some cowboy developments, complain to your local councillors. S/he can’t solve everything but there are still some building standards to be enforced.

  6. Enough of sermonising! July was, of course, spectacular for the heatwave and fortunately we did not have a heavy load of Council business, other than the “usual” business meetings, of which the Council Meeting on 11th July was outstanding. It was a big occasion for quite a few members as they were making maiden speeches. All of them were very good but I think my favourite was from the new Queenstown councillor, Maurice McLeod. I had never heard him speak before but he brought a distinctive and powerful voice to the debate, making the important point about lack of diversity amongst councillors.

  7. Two days later we went off for 10 days in Devon and Cornwall, with the kids, and then off to Shallowford Farm. The farm, pictured here, provided the farm animals you may have seen in Falcon Road, this summer and works with Providence House Youth Club. By which I mean, that up to 18 youngsters at a time visit the farm on Dartmoor and have a great time learning about a rural life, a million miles from Battersea; about feeding the animals, mucking out their sheds, etc. Providence House and Shallowford Farm do a great job, expanding the horizons of many Battersea kids. If you want to know more then consult: www.shallowfordfarm.co.uk.

  8. From Dartmoor, we went on to visit one cousin in Newquay and another in Polzeath. The weather was sensational – so sensational that I actually swam in British waters four times in 8 days. Quite something.

  9. I did, however, come back for the day on 19th July to attend the Planning Applications Committee. There were a couple of interesting applications affecting Battersea. One was in Gowrie Road, off Lavender Hill, which was an application to demolish the whole house, except for the façade of the house and build inside it a completely new house twice the size of the current one. The street scene will be unchanged and so there are few grounds to refuse the application, but inherently with such major works, there must be potential for cracked walls and complex party wall agreements – see earlier paragraphs.

  10. The second was an application for further development at the Royal College of Art campus, at the corner of Parkgate and Battersea Bridge Roads. This was an improvement on an already agreed development. It is a major educational establishment of London-wide importance but might turn out to be hugely controversial for some residents!

  11. The largest application related, however, to Springfield Hospital. It was for 829 properties, a new park, and a school, but it included the closure of the nine-hole golf course. It turned out to be fairly uncontroversial but opening up the grounds of the old Springfield Hospital for new housing and a new park could/should transform this part of the Borough.

  12. Residents of Clark Lawrence, Shaw and particularly Sendall Courts will be pleased to know that the Council has, at last, come up with a solution to the perennial flooding problems that hit the lifts during and after storms. Indeed, my last note from the Housing Department said, “The drainage works at Sendall Court are nearing completion so we will shortly be testing them to reassure ourselves that they will be effective before undertaking the same works at Clarke Lawrence Court and Shaw Court.”

Read More…

Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea July, 2018, Newsletter (# 109)

 

  1. First a couple of outstanding matters that I know will concern some of you. I have heard nothing further about the 14-storey development so many of us dread, at the corner of Culvert and Battersea Park Roads. As far as I know the building works still await the resolution of contractual matters.

  2. Secondly, I still haven’t heard of a definite resolution to the “flooding lift” problems that affect Clark Lawrence, Shaw and particularly Sendall Courts – hopefully they are all working satisfactorily now, but please let me know if they are not.

  3. The first June in the four-year cycle of any Council (this one being 2018-2022) is always an unusual time. We have had apparently endless induction meetings and annual meetings, and to cap it all we have new technology to cope with as the Council has supplied us all with new laptops. That may sound good to you all, but the main motivation is the Council’s desire to eliminate paper and get us all to work online, hence saving the Council money, particularly on postage. OK, even great, I can hear many of you say. However, in my case at least, this change does not complement my present way of working but merely duplicates and complicates it all. I can hear you say, even now, something about old dogs and new tricks!

  4. On Saturday, 2nd June, I visited the Share Centre’s Garden in the grounds of Springfield Hospital. The Centre, Share Community Gardenbased in Altenburg Gardens Battersea, is devoted to providing, in the words of its website “training and employment support for disabled people”. Gardening is of acknowledged therapeutic benefit and the Centre put on a good show much enjoyed by, from the left, Councillor Fleur Anderson, me, my partner Penny and Share Centre Director, Annie McDowell, pictured here.

  5. On 3rd June, we went to the National Waterloo Bridge, 1900Gallery to see the Monet & Architecture Exhibition. For art lovers I fully recommend a visit and for those, not so far interested, then this would be a great start. Monet’s painting of Waterloo Bridge and the South Bank as they appeared from the Savoy Hotel in 1900 gives just some idea of what industrial smog in London was like 120 years ago.

  6. The next day, 4th June, I was at Christ Church, at the junction of Cabul and Battersea Park Roads, to hear a presentation of the War Comes Home 3Battersea Society’s “War Comes Homeoral history by Carol Rahn. The Church Hall was packed with well over 100 people in the audience. The presentation was the culmination of work done by Carol, Jenny Sheridan and Sue Demont. Their research was based on interviews with residents, who had memories of life in Battersea during and immediately after war-time bombing. By definition most of those were over 80 years old and some of them were there on the 4th. It was a brilliant presentation and if anyone wants a copy of Demont’s associated booklet The Bombing of Battersea, then let me know. The picture shows Carol Rahn telling the story.

  7. On the 5th June, I visited Deliveroo’s Battersea kitchens. Hidden in industrial Battersea between all the rail-tracks, they were a fascinating example of new technology applied to an ancient trade – the restaurant business. The way it works is that there are half a dozen efficient, modern kitchens in one factory, serviced by one delivery network and one chain of suppliers but with, of course, different chefs and different cuisines. Like many people concerned about working conditions in the so-called “Gig Economy”, I asked questions about Deliveroo’s employment practises. Whilst I was not totally re-assured, it was good to hear that they now have a £10 million insurance scheme to provide some assistance in the event of their deliverers not being available for work or suffering industrial injuries – including from traffic accidents. Deliveroo demonstrated to me that it is beginning to respond to proper political pressures.

  8. One of the compensations for working at the IMG_2531Town Hall is that it is so very near the National Opera Studio, near the Southside shopping centre, Wandsworth. The Studio puts on lunch-time concerts at the conclusion of every academic year. This year’s concert was on 6th June. The stars are, of course, the students who come from all over the world to be trained in Wandsworth. Here are Bechara Moufarrej and Emyr Wyn Jones singing a duet from Bizet. They and all the others at the concert were fabulous and, as you can see, the concert is in a very “intimate” setting. It is well worth a visit to any music lover and especially for those who like to spot a future operatic star.

  9. On Friday 8th June, we went to Wilton’s Music Hall, Whitechapel. If you have not been and, like going to the theatre, this really is an unusual “must”. The only old fashioned nineteenth-century music hall left standing in London, it is an event in itself, but we went there to see Sancho, a monologue by Paterson Joseph. Sancho, Charles IgnatiusPaterson, a black British actor, wrote this work about Charles Ignatius Sancho. He was born in about 1729 in Columbia and died in 1780 in London. It was not known whether he was, at first, a slave but by the time of his death he had been painted by his friend, the famous artist Gainsborough and he counted famous actors and artists amongst his best friends. He was the first black man, that we know of, to vote in a British General Election. He voted for Charles James Fox, a famous abolitionist (of slavery) in a Westminster election. The play was witty, subtle and clever. It was acted in a one-man tour de force by Paterson, himself.

  10. And so, on 12th June to, of all things, the North East Surrey Crematorium Board. Way back before the merger of the old Battersea and Wandsworth Borough Councils into the modern Wandsworth Council, Battersea bought 120 odd acres of land in rural Morden. They recognised that there would be a shortage of land for burials and decided to buy some relatively cheap, out-of-town land. The Board, which has members from Wandsworth, Merton and Sutton Councils, meets at the Crematorium or, more usually, Sutton Council offices. It was a fascinating morning including a tour of the ovens and explanations of what happens to non-human body parts, such as artificial knees, heart pacemakers, etc., but perhaps not for the faintest of hearts!

  11. The following day, 13th June, I met people from Battersea Power Station. The main purpose was to get an update on current developments and to lobby for a re-instatement of the 250 affordable units that were cut from the development plans earlier this year – no movement yet. But as a by-product of the visit I happened to see one of the Peregrine Falcons that have nested in the Power Station for 18 years and have fledged 32 juveniles. In 2013 the Peregrines were encouraged from their nesting site on the Power Station to a tower crane in order that restoration works could commence.Peregrine Falcon juv Their most successful breeding seasons have been on the purpose-built tower. This year they have again been successful, fledging one juvenile, known on site as ‘ Solo’. A male, he is currently learning his trade from the adults. Black Redstarts are also again on site so two rare species grace the Power Station, a unique occurrence in London for both species and even more so with regeneration taking place. The picture of Solo is taken by the site ornithologist David Morrison, an outside expert and occasional consultant.

  12. On the 15th June, we went to the Vaudeville Theatre to see Oscar Wilde’s play The Ideal Husband. Witty and acerbic as ever, I discover that Wilde was far more of a feminist than I had previously realised, although given his sad story as a much-abused homosexual perhaps I should use a different word than feminist. But, in any event, this was great fun beautifully acted by, amongst others, Edward Fox (the Jackal in the Day of the Jackal) and Susan Hampshire.

  13. On Sunday, 17th June, as part of the IMG_2548Wandsworth Heritage Festival, I led a small group on my history walk from the Latchmere pub to Battersea Arts Centre, via the Park, the Latchmere and the Shaftesbury Estates. We passed this foundation stone, deeply hidden and unannounced in Grayshott Road. Does anyone know it? If not then keep an eye open for it if you are ever walking along Grayshott.

  14. The Community Services Committee was held on 21st June. Two items were of particular interest to some parts of Battersea; one was the declaration of Public Space Protection Orders with regards to the Falcon Road area and the Patmore and Carey Gardens estates. These orders give more powers to the Council and the police to control the public drinking of alcohol. The second was an item proposing that there should be NO change to the controlled parking zone in Little India. I know that the second decision is unpopular with some residents but it was based on a public consultation carried out by the Council, and the majority answered with a “no change” verdict.

  15. June’s Planning Applications Committee was on 26th. The largest and most interesting application concerned a large site in Tooting High Street, but there was also one small application for two 3-bed houses on the highly contentious garden site of the old Prince of Wales pub, on the corner of Battersea Bridge Road and Surrey Lane. The Prince of Wales pub is, I am afraid, lost for good.

  16. On the 28th June there was a Finance and Corporate Resources Committee. I am not a member of this committee and don’t usually report on it. But this meeting forecast that next year the Council is going to have to find savings of £12 million and the year after of another £22 million. The Government’s suicidal attacks on local government seem endless and endlessly self-defeating. Amongst many other costs bed-blocking in our hospitals is bound to rise as social care in the community, especially for the elderly, gets hammered!

  17. On the 29th June I attended two events, the first at the Arts Centre and then at the Friends’ Meeting House in Wandsworth High Street. The first was to mark the retirement of Phil Jew, Director of the Wandsworth’s Citizens Advice Bureau. Phil has been the Director for the last very tough five years at the Bureau. In these years of so-called austerity (I think it has been of unnecessary dogma imposed by the Tory party – but that’s another story), the Bureau has been dealing with large cuts to their funding base and increasing demands as Tory cuts bite.

  18. The second was the Annual Meeting of the IMG_2561Wandsworth Historical Society, where we heard a fascinating presentation about Edward Foster, a Wandsworth resident, who won a VC (Victoria Cross) in April, 1917, for his bravery in capturing a German machine gun emplacement during the First World War. This incident took place near the small French village of Villers-Plouich, where it is commemorated in a town square, called Place de Wandsworth! Ted Foster himself became quite a famous veteran. Standing at well over 6 feet he was known as the “Gentle Giant”.

  19. In early June commuters and passers-by were surprisedIMG_2536 and delighted by the visit of Shallowford Farm to Falcon Road. Farm animals, sheep, chicken, ducks, and tractors appeared in the Providence House car park. The chicken and ducks revisited on 30th June at the Falcon Festival, which this year was bigger and better than ever. The farm is on the eastern edge of Dartmoor and is a joint venture with Providence House. It will be well known to many Battersea residents as Providence House youth club runs many regular residential outings to the farm. The picture is of our M.P., Marsha de Cordova, on board one of the tractors.

  20. On the evening of 30th June, we took our niece and her husband to the Royal Opera House to see Puccini’s La Bohème. It was meant to be grand opera and grand it certainly was but it was also highly political, positioning the harsh conditions faced by the poor bohemian students against the opulence of bourgeois Paris. It was a suitable end to a month which began with a visit to Wandsworth’s Opera Studio and finished at Covent Garden.

  21. Finally, this may all sound like fun social events but, like every other month, I also had half a dozen other meetings about ward and party business, which were all necessary but hardly of great public interest – so I don’t report on them!

 

My Programme for July

July looks like a quiet month with only the Council Meeting on 11th July and the Planning Applications Committee on the 19th. JayCourt1I will have to come back from Devon for that as I have a week booked up in Devon in mid-July. And at present that is that for July.

Do you know?

You may remember that I asked last month whether I should stop this feature as I thought it might be getting a bit stale! But, by popular request, here it is back again!

Park South is the name of this privately-owned tower block on Battersea Park Road. But before it was sold by the Council it was known as what exactly? And who or what was that in memory of and why?

 

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Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea May, 2018, Newsletter (# 107)

 

  1. In the weeks before the May 3rd Borough Election, there was very little Council activity, except for preparing for and fighting the election itself, hence this is going to be a short newsletter! I could, of course, try to persuade you all to vote for me and my two Latchmere colleagues Simon Hogg and Kate Stock, but I won’t insult your intelligence by thinking I could change your vote in the last couple of days. Instead as usual I will continue with my normal monthly diary.

  2. On April 1st my partner and I went to Tate Modern to see the Modigliani Exhibition. The first thing that struck me was the speed and scale of change in Blackfriars. The Blavatnik extension to the Tate has been open nearly two years but this was the first time that I’ve had a close look at it! To say the least it’s striking – it also blends well with the old Bankside Power Station, which is now the Tate Modern.

  3. As for Modigliani, he was extremely popular fifty years ago but not so much today. Perhaps, at least to the casual observer, he appears a bit effete. Certainly, I am sorry to say, of his famous nudes that I thought “once, you’ve seen one then you’ve seen them all”. They were elegant, sensual, ample and well-proportioned but curiously passionless, empty vessels. Didn’t work for me.

  4. On the 6th we decided to visit two of the buildings that won some of the Wandsworth design awards, which I mentioned last month. The first was for dinner at the Earlsfield pub, built effectively into the wall of the station – we liked it – and then over the road to the Tara Arts Centre for an evening of Indian music, the Easter Ragas. The Tara Arts Centre is a small performance space, converted from a Victorian terrace, right alongside the mainline railway. I definitely recommend a visit.

  5. The “Indian” music was simply stunning – apparently a fusion of “Persian, Arabic, Turkish and Indian musical traditions”. It was, in the words of the MC, the music for whirling Dervishes – the “Whirling Dervishes” were a Turkish Sufi cult, who achieved notoriety in Victorian England. At the concert, the outstanding performer was Abi Sampa, her singing and the intensity of her presence and of her band bowled over the whole audience.

  6. The April meeting of the Planning Applications Committee was on the 18th, but, to be honest, there was little of note, at least, for Battersea.

  7. Last month, I said I would represent the Labour Party, on the 24th, at the Battersea Society’s election hustings meeting in York Gardens Library Hall. In fact, Wandsworth Labour Leader, and fellow Latchmere councillor, Simon Hogg, second from right, took the role. Thanks to the Society for staging the hustings but, I thought that the meeting, with an audience of only 40, was a bit flat. The fact is that it was a very polite, very quiet audience; nor was it very representative of much of the local Latchmere population. The evening could have done with a little more “edge”.

  8. To City Hall on 27th April, to a meeting of ACAN, the African Caribbean Alumni Network. As I said, last month, you might well be surprised at that (as indeed, I was when I received the invitation). But it follows from my contribution to a Black Lives Matter debate held last summer at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich.

  9. It was a meeting for about 200 black graduates (I was the only white person in the hall) and as such it was absolutely fascinating. These young graduates were a very impressive group, very angry about the current outrageous “Windrush scandal”, very ambitious for the future of themselves and their peers, very positive about how they were going to play a major part in British society. Good luck to them all. We will all benefit from their energy and their positive attitude.

  10. The following day, the 25th, off to the Battersea Arts Centre to see the world premier of Winstanley Stories, a film made by Falconbrook Primary School’s pupils with, I suspect, quite a lot of assistance from producer Matthew Rosenberg. I thought that he/they did a brilliant history film of both the Winstanley and York Road estates. It can be seen at  http://www.winstanleystories.org.uk/film.html, which I whole-heartedly recommend to anyone who has the technology.

  11. And now on to May 3rd, election day. However, I can’t let this “old” Council pass without saying a very fond farewell to Councillor Wendy Speck. Wendy has been a Latchmere councillor since May, 2010. Many of you will know her well because Wendy was and still is active in many ways. She was Chair of Governors of Chesterton School and a Governor of Ernest Bevin School, Tooting and a regular at most Big Local events.

  12. Wendy is chair of St Walter St John Educational Trust and intends to continue in that role. Wendy is also a trustee of Wand Youth Club and of Wandsworth Community Safety Trust. Before being a councillor, she was for 9 years a head of primary schools in Newcastle and Islington. One little known fact is that she has an Anglo-Byelorussian background and is still a mean Cossack dancer. I’ll miss her as a Council colleague.

My Programme for May

Well, the future disposition of Wandsworth Council is very much in your hands, you – the electorate. If Labour wins then, I will be very busy and will be happy to report on what it is like being in a majority party! But if we do not win, then my newsletter will be more of the same.

Do you know?

Last month I asked: Where and when was this photo taken? And do you know the current use of the church on the left-side of the road?

Easy, but I think the most knowledgeable and accurate answer came from Sue, who I will quote in full.

“It’s St. Paul’s Church, St John’s Hill, looking east towards the Junction and likely to be 1920s because of (the woman’s) cloche hat…Church became Louvaine Area Residents’ Association HQ (LARA) when made redundant  – and was used for Battersea LP meetings! – but is now apartments. St Paul’s started life as the daughter church to St John’s, Usk Rd but the latter struggled to sustain its congregation even before it was destroyed by a V2 in 1945 and, in any case, by the 1930s the parish had been reorganised and renamed St Paul’s. It was subsequently combined with St Peter’s, Plough Rd, which despite having had its building demolished twice, is now the only surviving Anglican congregation of the three – hopefully the new church in Plough Road will open soon for them.

And this month, my questions are inspired by Wendy Speck’s retirement and her governorship of Chesterton Primary School. They are simply:

          1. Who was Chesterton?
          2. What was he to Battersea or Battersea to him?
          3. What else in Battersea is named after him?

Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea April, 2018, Newsletter (# 106)

  1. On 7th March, Wandsworth’s Mayor Les McDonnell and I presented certificates to Mercy Foundation students of English. The Foundation is organised and very considerably financed by Victoria Rodney; she is the driving force behind the Foundation, which is in effect a one-woman voluntary organisation. Her main objective is to improve the life chances of many of the, frankly, poorer and less educated people of Battersea. Her clients come from all over the globe, with on this occasion, graduation certificates awarded to a couple from Portugal, a man from Afghanistan, a Bulgarian woman and a dozen others, largely from eastern Europe.

  2. However, Victoria surprised me by finishing the awards with a certificate for me(!) and my contributions to the Foundation’s efforts – very nice of her but apart from helping in a few simple English conversational classes and helping her to apply and win grants, I don’t think I have done that much to deserve a certificate.

  3. Later, the same day, we had the last Council Meeting before the Borough Election. It was the usual pre-election antics, but with one outrageous ploy played by the Tory majority, the like of which I haven’t seen in 40+ years of Council meetings. The Tories, without giving any notice or any apparent thought and certainly without due notice, moved a motion about spending an extra £10 million on Council services. This tactic was absolutely outside Council rules, but they avoided censure by using the weasel words, that they would “investigate” spending the money. In other words, the motion meant nothing. But it didn’t stop the Council producing a Council press release the next morning, giving the appearance of making £10 million available for local services – talk about playing politics on the rates! Although I suppose that this resolution does, at least, demonstrate that even the Tories recognise that austerity has gone too far.

  4. On March 9th, I went to the funeral of ex-Councillor Gordon Passmore. Gordon was a bit out of the ordinary as a councillor. He was elected as a councillor to the old Metropolitan Wandsworth Borough Council in 1960 and on nine occasions to the new London Borough of Wandsworth (1964, 68, 74, 78, 82, 86, 90, 98 and 2002). His long service as a councillor included leadership in a myriad of roles, most notably finance and planning. He and his wife, Shirley, were also for many years the driving force of the Wandsworth Society.

  5. However, the most extra-ordinary episode of his life was his war experience. He was called up to the Fleet Air Arm, aged 18, on December 7th 1941, the day Pearl Harbour was bombed. He was a gunner starting in a biplane. He flew over 230 sorties, about one in every four days, in the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and finally, in 1945, off Japan. On 6th June 1945, he was shot down in the Pacific and spent several hours “in the drink” until he was picked up by a Royal Navy destroyer. He was a hard-line Tory councillor, but polite and decent with it, and I suspect his wartime experiences gave him a broader outlook than some of his colleagues. Gordon Passmore was a quiet, mild-mannered man – very different from most of today’s Tory councillors.

  6. On 12th March, I went to Preston to hear a debate about the Preston Model, which has been much touted in the local government press as an exciting new way to organise services so at to avoid some of the enormous cuts being imposed on local authorities. I was not over-impressed, but largely because I doubt that the methods used in one medium-sized, essentially self-contained town of 114,000 people, would work for Wandsworth’s third of a million embedded in a vast metropolis. However, on a typically (for this March) cold and wet afternoon, I did have an hour to spare in Preston Town Centre and as ever, up North, was over-whelmed by the nineteenth-century grandeur of the centre, clear I hope even in this rainy picture of the court house.

  7. Earlier in the month, Harris Academy, in Battersea Park Road, asked our MP, Marsha de Cordova, and me to be two of the five-strong panel of judges for a fun competition being run for Year 8 students. The competition was held on 15th March, between six teams of kids. They had been asked to devise a presentation on behalf of a charity, local or national, with the prize of £1,000 being given to the successful charity. The teams were inventive. The presentations included songs, poems, rap and speeches. The winners were the group advocating Cancer Support. Marsha presented the winners’ cheque.

  8. On the 16th the Wandsworth Design Awards were presented at Roehampton University. The first prize went to the design team who created Roehampton University’s own Chadwick Hall students’ accommodation. I mentioned this in my February edition of this newsletter (#104), but here is a reminder of Chadwick Hall. The presentations were made in the “Portrait Room”, one of the University’s grandest rooms. As this part of the University had been a women’s college it was not surprising that most of the grand portraits were, indeed of women. But, nevertheless it was striking that these imposing nineteenth-century portraits were nearly all of women, and made me reflect on what an incredibly male dominated history tale we tell.

  9. On Monday, 19th March, I had the Passenger Transport Liaison Group. There were two items of real interest to Battersea. First, on the railways, it was reported that there have been more than 7,000 respondents to the consultation on the proposed new rail timetables. The new timetables are part of an ambitious expansion programme with longer trains and platforms, and increased capacity right across the system. However, to allow a greater number of services on the Reading lines out of Clapham Junction, there was a proposal to cut as many as half the trains stopping at Queenstown Road railway station. The reaction was antagonistic – so antagonistic that I feel certain the planners will re-consider! (PS I have heard today, 4/4/18, that these cuts have been postponed awaiting further consideration).

  10. There were also interesting developments on the bus front. Mayor Sadiq Khan announced that, by 2020, all London’s buses will be of the new, cleaner, non-polluting variety and secondly that two new Chariot bus services will be confirmed. One is the Battersea Bullet, from Battersea Park to Kennington station, and the other the Wandsworth Wanderer, from the Wandsworth river-front to Clapham Junction. The American Chariot pictured here is ordered online. I must confess that I haven’t even seen one, although the service was meant to have started by now. Have any readers tried the booking system or actually ridden on one?

  11. On Tuesday, 20th March, I had another meeting of Wandsworth’s Labour Shadow Cabinet. Again, we discussed our draft manifesto, which will be published in the next few days – see last month’s newsletter for my comments on the importance of manifestos in the political process.

  12. The March meeting of the Planning Applications Committee was on the 22nd. There were several planning applications of importance to Battersea. There was one from St. George, the Battersea Reach property development company. The application was designed both to cut some and privatise more of the underground parking spaces at the giant riverside development. It clearly would have affected the residents of Battersea Reach but it would also have increased the pressure on parking in Petergate and Eltringham Street. The Committee unanimously rejected the application.

  13. Another application was for a 10-storey tower block in Havelock Terrace, which would have light industrial uses on the first three floors and offices on the upper floors. The block would be hard up against the railway tracks and away from residential units; it also looked rather an attractive building – supported unanimously.

  14. But by far the most important application was the first of many relating to the Winstanley/York Road Regeneration Project. The application comprised of three separate buildings, from 6 to 20 storeys in height. One of the buildings is designed to house jointly a school and a chapel; another is for 46 council homes in a six-storey block at the junction of Grant and Plough Roads; the third is for 93 private residential units in a 20-storey block at the junction of Grant and Winstanley Roads.

  15. This application posed three problems for me, in particular. First, I am not happy with the proximity of the six-storey block to Time House. Secondly, I am opposed to the march of 20+-storey blocks across North Battersea, especially when all the units in this block will go to the private sector. However, I am committed to trying to improve the environment and the housing conditions of the people, who live on the York Road and Winstanley Estates. To do that, the Council needs to re-locate the Thames Christian College and the Battersea Chapel and to build council properties to allow relocation of residents. But in addition, income received from the private block is required to pay for the re-construction, and, if we are to have 20-storey blocks for sale then having one almost on top of Platform 1 of Clapham Junction station seems the best place to do it. I am sure that I will be coming back to this project on many occasions before it is completed.

  16. On the 26th March, I attended a meeting of Battersea United Charities (BUC), united because it is the marriage of several small charitable bequests and possibly best known for its Christmas Day dinner party for pensioners from all over the Borough. BUC makes small grants to individuals in training, to primary schools for holiday trips and to voluntary groups providing services for any number of Battersea people. On this particular occasion, we agreed to support, through a small grant, the visit of a Devon farm, with associated livestock, to Falcon Road – keep a look-out for sheep pens outside Providence House! If you have plans and needs of your own and feel a small grant would help, then let me know and we can discuss whether BUC might help.

My Programme for April

    1. The Planning Applications Committee will meet on the 18th April.
    2. On the 24th I will be representing the Labour Party at an election-hustings meeting organised by the Battersea Society in York Gardens Library.
    3. On 27th April, I have been invited to attend a meeting of ACAN, Afro-Caribean Nation councillors, at City Hall. You might well be surprised at that and I was when I received the invitation! I can only imagine that it is because last year I spoke at a Black Lives Matter debate at the East Anglia University in Norwich.
    4. Finally, on 28th April, I have the Council organised surgery to run at Battersea District Library. It will be curious to do that with only five days left before the Council Election on May 3rd.
    5. Preparing for that election will clearly take up much of the rest of April!

Do you know?

Last month, I used this picture and asked, “What was the connection between it and Britain’s greatest engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859), who built the Rotherhithe Thames Tunnel, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, most of the Great Western railway and the first iron ship?”

I also said that the connection might just have appeared right at the top of this picture. To my surprise, quite a few of you knew there was a connection, but disagreed about the exact nature of the connection. Actually, his father had a sawmill near to the current Battersea Bridge and a factory, where he made army boots used in the Napoleonic Wars. Isambard, who worked very closely with his father on many major projects, was a regular visitor. Congratulations to those that got that right.

Thanks to Christine Eccles and Battersea Memories for this one. Pretty easy, I know, but I like the picture: Where and when was this photo taken? And do you know the current use of the church on the left-side of the road?

Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea March, 2018, Newsletter (# 105)

  1. February was a short and quiet month, which will probably be best remembered for the brutal way it ended: with the coldest winter snap we’ve suffered in years. Still, it had the occasional compensations, such as my walk on Wandsworth Common near Bolingbroke Academy on the 28th.
  2. Back to the beginning, on 7th February we had the Council Meeting but, as I have said before, this does not have the civic significance that it had when I first became a councillor. Indeed, the only discussion of any interest was the technical background to the March decision on Council Tax, which essentially signalled that there are not going to be any really unpleasant surprises when the Council Tax bills come out later this month. If you are interested in my views on local taxation then go to https://tonybelton.wordpress.com/
  3. February 8th was the centenary of the reform which gave the vote to almost all British women over the age of 30. Wandsworth Labour produced an electronic leaflet to commemorate the occasion, starring women “we knew” personally, who won the right to vote and were directly involved. One was Nellie Florence Belton, my nan who is on the left, with baby Nen, my aunt, and grandfather, Ernest. The script tells of how Nellie gloried in taking a lift to the polling station in a white, open-top Rolls Royce, driven by the Tory MP. But, thanks to the secret ballot, she did not have to tell him that she had voted Labour.
  4. On Friday, 9th February, I had the pleasure of going to a small theatre in Barnes to see a farce, called Liberty Hall, which was written by an old Battersea friend of mine, Robin Miller. Robin is an actor, who has now turned to writing plays. This was her second, the first being a murder mystery called Murder on Cue. Appropriately for a farce, the plot was truly farcical but the characters were all credible and their reasons for coming on stage and leaving it were nearly always coherent. The script was funny and everyone ended up with the partner they deserved. I haven’t seen Murder on Cue but, on the basis of this play, I do hope Robin will write more plays and, perhaps, get them produced “up Town”.
  5. Two days later my partner and I went to the Clapham Picture House to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It is billed as a “black comedy”, but it is so searingly black, so piercingly bitter and so tough that it is difficult for me to think of it as a comedy in any sense at all. I thought it was brilliant but there is another view – see my blog. Go and see the film and let me know your views. It is coolly directed by an Englishman, Martin McDonagh, and brilliantly acted particularly by the lead, Frances McDormand.
  6. On Sunday 11th, we went off to the National Portrait Gallery to see the exhibition of Cézanne portraits. Picasso said of Paul Cézanne that he “was like the father of us all” and of course his most famous landscapes of Provence and the south east of France are major works in the Impressionist portfolio, but I must say his portraits did not grab me. I thought that this self-portrait was an exception to my rule that his portraits revealed very little about character. But it is never a waste of time going to the National Portrait Gallery because it has a restaurant with one of the best views of London, even if the food is not cheap. The Tudor room, next to the restaurant, is also a delight, especially with its paintings on wood of Tudor high society from Elizabeth l down – many by unknown painters.
  7. On the following Tuesday, I had another meeting of Wandsworth’s Labour Shadow Cabinet. We discussed how the election campaign is going and where and when to apply our resources. We assumed that the Tories will, in the build up to May 3rd, spend more money than we can afford, but that we will have far more canvassers. Then we had a presentation from our advisors before moving on to further discussions about the manifesto. I guess some will think that writing a manifesto is a simple, ten-minute job – not at all.
  8. The first use of a Manifesto in British political history is Sir Robert Peel’s 1834 Tamworth Manifesto. With the Tory Party, in a very poor position, Peel decided it was essential to make a statement about the party’s purpose and objectives. Ironically, he did not win the subsequent election, but he did set a standard, which every political party has felt it necessary to follow. The Manifesto is not just “a piece of paper”, but a statement of a party’s aims and objectives, against which the party can (and should) be judged – at least until the next election and the next manifesto. It is, therefore, far more important than the fact that very few of the public actually read manifestos. It is a work still in progress.
  9. On 20th February, the Grants Committee made various grant awards to voluntary organisations across the Borough. I am not a member of this committee and don’t know the detail but, between us, my colleagues, Simon Hogg, Wendy Speck and I, have nominated and supported the second highest number of successful grant applications in the Borough. The range of plans and suggestions are amazing. This round included grants to aid the teaching and learning of IT skills at the Mercy Foundation, Falcon Road; a food waste project, the brainchild of Providence House youth club and the Venue in Park Court; and, most excitingly, the teaching of circus skills!
  10. The February meeting of the Planning Applications Committee was on the 22nd and, unlike last month, it was a fairly low-key affair, with no application of anything other than very local significance. However, it was announced, at the same time, that Peabody Housing Association have gone into partnership with Battersea Power Station to provide 386 socially rented homes in Nine Elms. This is nowhere near the number of “affordable” houses that should be delivered on site but it is good news that such a reputable Association as Peabody has been selected to deliver the ones that do come.
  11. Twice during the month, I had meetings about the developments in the so-called Winstanley Regeneration project, the second being with the Design Review Panel on 23rd February. This was strictly about the project from a design and architectural point of view and I was simply an observer as the “independent” review panel quizzed the architects/designers. It was instructive to hear experts talking about designing and delivering a major new development. The other meeting was more generally about the shape and form of the plans as they develop and I am becoming a little concerned about it. There appears to be a kind of “mission creep” going on, with the towers on York Road getting higher and higher and the density in other parts of the estate rising but without sufficient social gain. After the May 3rd election, this project may need a thorough review.
  12. I was back to the Vaudeville theatre on the evening of 23rd to see Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan. It was typical Wilde, a brilliantly funny comedy about the English upper class; but, if you stop and think about his plays, he is also very much a feminist. His men are usually hopelessly feckless, rather silly, not exactly evil but more than a little irresponsible. His women know the score and understand the inevitable ironies and tragedies of life. I now realise that Wilde’s plays are rather more serious than I had thought.
  13. On 25th February I led a history walk from the Latchmere pub, round the Latchmere estate to Battersea Square and along the riverfront to Battersea Park. It was for my partner’s group of Japanese students in an Anglo-Japanese exchange visit. Here is a frozen group of students on the steps of St. Mary’s and, what I consider to be, a simply beautiful and brilliant picture of the church in the setting sun, from the Square
  14. On the 27th, I went to a memorial service for Mary Turner (1938-2017). She was born in Tipperary, Ireland; came to Britain as a young woman; worked her way up from being a “dinner lady” to being President of the GMB and, in 2004, appointed Chair of the Labour Party. I had had only a very brief acquaintanceship with Mary at the Party Conference, but her warmth and enthusiasm, which is obvious from this picture, was utterly charming.
  15. But let’s be honest, it was also a great opportunity to go to St. Paul’s and take in the grandeur of the surroundings, not as a tourist but as a participant in a service.
  16. Finally, on the 28th I was crazy enough to go to Wembley to see my team, Spurs, beat Rochdale 6:1. Of itself that is hardly worth a mention but for two things: first the game was played in a snow-storm (and that was why it was crazy) and secondly it involved the highly contentious use of the VAR (video assisted referee) system. For what it’s worth my own view is that VAR is here to stay, that it has to get better and faster than it was on Wednesday, but, also that soccer will lose something as a result: VAR depends upon review and re-consideration, when soccer is about pace and non-stop action. Rugby is well suited to VAR, but soccer, I am afraid, is not. I was obviously pleased with the result and look forward to further victories in 2018!

 

 

 

My Programme for March

  1. The Conservation Area Advisory Committee meets on 6th March. The applications being considered are not of wide significance but it is interesting to note that they include three Victorian pubs, all under threat. They are the Prince of Wales in Battersea Bridge Road, the Queen Arms in St. Philip Street and the Bedford, on Bedford Hill.
  2. On 7th March there is the Council Tax setting Council Meeting. It will also be the last Council meeting before the May 3rd Borough Election and hence there is bound to be much boisterous and largely juvenile party sledging – but it won’t do any harm and “boyz will be boyz” as they say.On the 8th there will be a Wandsworth Business Forum at the Grand in Clapham Junction.
  3. On the 9th there will be Gordon Passmore’s funeral at St. Ann’s Church, St. Ann’s Hill. Gordon was a Tory councillor, largely for Putney ward from 1964-1971 and for Northcote ward from 1974-2006. Unlike many Tory councillors, he was not a hard-line Thatcherite but from an older more community-based tradition. I will be going.
  4. On 15th Harris Academy, previously Battersea Park School, are holding a “First Give” award for students, where they are competing to win a prize for the best presentations in support of favourite charities. The school has asked me to be one of the panel of judges – sounds fun.
  5. On that evening there is also the police’s Special Neighbourhood Team. I have missed this panel recently, because of clashing commitments, and so must make a big effort to be there.
  6. The Planning Applications Committee will meet on the 22nd.

 

Do you know?

Last month, I used this picture and asked:

  1. Where? When? How?
  2. How many things can you name that are still there and what are they?
  3. And can you name what is there now?

Many of you replied – correctly. It was after all fairly easy but the answers are:-

  1. St. Mary’s Church is at the bottom and Battersea Church Road runs from the bottom to about 2 o’clock. I am not sure of the date but judging by the kind of traffic that one can see I would guess it was taken between 1945-1960 from a helicopter.
  2. Well, the church obviously but also the houseboats on the river. And, of course, the roads. It is also possible that a couple of the old houses on Battersea Church Road might be there above Bolingbroke Walk.
  3. And now there is the Montevetro building, the Morgan’s Walk development and in the bottom right the Somerset estate.

And this month’s question:

Britain’s greatest engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859), who built the Rotherhithe Thames Tunnel, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, most of the Great Western railway and the first iron ship, has a little-known connection with Battersea. As it happens, the connection might just have appeared right at the top of this picture. Does anyone know what the connection might be?

WHAT’S HAPPENING TO COUNCIL TAX? DON’T SWITCH OFF – IT’S IMPORTANT!

The UK’s system of funding for local government* is in a mess – and getting rapidly messier. Let me explain why. Take the current budget forecasts for Wandsworth Council. They have become byzantine. One line in the forecast for the financial year 2018-19 2018 shows that the Council has been allocated a £12.9 million grant known as the New Homes Bonus Funding (NHBF). Extraordinarily, ten years ago no one would have known what this acronym meant. Yet now it is closely matched by an estimated income of £11.9 million from the equally bizarrely named Improved Better Care Fund (IBCF). Each of those separate sources of income is almost as large as the traditional Revenue Support Grant; and from next year onwards, they are forecast to be larger.

The New Homes Bonus Funding was intended to incentivise local authorities to build homes. In Wandsworth it has been so successful that the Council has the second highest level of NHBF grant in the UK, after Tower Hamlet’s massive £20.7M. By contrast, Wandsworth’s linked* Borough of Richmond receives £2.2M from this fund; and Wandsworth’s neighbours Merton and Lambeth £2.4M and £9.7M respectively, approximately a tenth and less than half of Wandsworth’s.

Is there any real rhyme or reason about this state of affairs, other than it being a reflection of the amount of available building land? And does anyone think that the current explosion of development in either Wandsworth or Tower Hamlets is sustainable in the longer term?

If the new system has incentivised anything, it has incentivised local authorities to give planning permissions for larger, higher and more dense developments. Developments that are notorious not as homes but as ghost towers, safety deposit boxes for funds often of dubious origins and designed to gain speculative profits for their usually foreign owners. Developments, moreover, that are unpopular with most of the local residents who live nearby; and which are not doing anything to resolve London’s urgent need for low-cost accommodation.

Meanwhile, the Tory Government continues to reduce the Revenue Support Grant (RSG) each year, as indeed it said it would. Its ultimate aim is to end central government financial support for local government. However, the policy has already run into predictable problems. For example, financially-strapped Councils are struggling to carry out their statutory duties with disastrous consequences for the provision of social care. To compensate, the government has had to introduce and now increase grants from a new Improved Better Care Fund (IBCF).

This is, of course, a misnomer since the fund provides neither an improved nor a better service than the care system as it had already operated under the Revenue Support Grant. It is, however, specific, tied funding from central government, targeting one specific service. That outcome is precisely what local government had repeatedly said that it did not want, because it implies much more, and more specific, centralised control. Ear-marked funding means that there is no scope for sensible local adjustments to changing patterns of need – and no scope for local decision making. That’s a sorry state of affairs that – in theory – the Tory government says that it too does not want.

As part of setting local Councils ‘free’, the Tories now offer Councils control of the local Business Rates, the property tax paid on all commercial and industrial businesses within a Council’s boundaries. Yet the funds raised from such a source are wildly unequal across Britain. It therefore leaves Council income disastrously at the mercy of the rise and fall of business activity, which is almost totally defined by geography and geology, i.e. how near to London, or to North Sea oilfields, or to major commercial hubs each particular authority happens to be.

So the Tory government has introduced a Business Rates ‘top up’ scheme. In Wandsworth’s case, in 2018/19 the top-up of £35.650M is very slightly more than Business Rates themselves at £35.594M. So, what does this manoeuvre mean? It is actually a rate equalisation grant, designed to balance what would have been the massive inequalities of a few Councils in the midst of property booms having money to spend, whilst most Councils elsewhere are desperately short of funds – in practice Councils are no more “free” of central allocation than they ever were.

At the same time as all these muddling interventions from central government, the real local tax, the Council Tax, becomes less and less significant. Both major parties are absolutely aware that, at less than 10% of the budget, its impact on Council finances today is minimal. Both parties also know that the legal scope for raising Council Tax is very close to zero. In Wandsworth, that state of play won’t stop the majority Tory party from running scare stories about Labour’s alleged profligacy and the risk of Council Tax rises. However, such accusations will be shadow boxing, while Councils everywhere lose money, lose any semblance of local autonomy, and carry the can for failing services, which are actually failing for lack of either proper or reliable funding.

The irony is, of course, that the historic system of Domestic Rates, levied on housing property values, which was the traditional way of raising money for local government, was beautifully designed to tackle a modern-day curse – under-occupation. That is, to raise reasonable (not outrageous) sums of money from people in very large properties who otherwise pay hardly anything in local rates. When under-occupation is detected in the state sector, it is brutally both controlled and penalised by forcing council tenants to pay the notorious Bedroom Tax. Introduced by the Tories in 2013, it was described as removing the ‘Spare Room Subsidy’ (i.e. ending the so-called subsidy from the state to tenants who had under-used rooms).

Yet, in the private sector, under-occupation is neither controlled nor penalised. The result is not just that half of the British population live in spacious luxury and vote for penalising the poor but also that Britons live in the country with the lowest taxes on private housing in the world, outside of mini-statelets like Monaco. Exactly, of course, the reason why in 1989-90 Thatcher abolished Domestic Rates in favour of the failed Community Charge (Poll Tax).

Remember that? Since then successive governments have struggled to find a reliable and fair basis for funding local government. This current Tory administration is lurching from expedient to expedient. The system is becoming ever more byzantine – and under-funded.

So, whilst the British people want and expect first-world standards and services, they have been simultaneously encouraged to expect third-world levels of taxation. The result is that Britain gets aircraft carriers without any aircraft; a health service once admired across the world but now financially on its knees; an education system collapsing under the weight of failing and corrupt out-sourced academies; a probation service run by unaccountable, monopolistic out-sourced companies who cannot even deliver basic security; a costly railway system heartily loathed by its customers; and a political system which holds out promises of services which it cannot deliver.

It’s a genuine tragedy that, amidst these massive challenges, local democracy is being threatened as never before. Local government finances, and therefore essentially local government itself, have been nationalised to within an inch of their life. But the resultant byzantine system simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for local Councils or for the central government – or for the voters.

Council finances need proper reform. The system needs to return to something like domestic rates – which need regular revaluing, to take account of changing property values – and a modest degree of rate equalisation between wealthy and poor regions. It’s not rocket science. It’s the lifeblood of local democracy.

∗  This the Text of a speech that was prepared for delivery at Wandsworth Borough Council Meeting on 7 February 2018 but not delivered.

∗  The administrative systems of Wandsworth and Richmond Borough Councils have been merged since 1 April 2017.

Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea February, 2018, Newsletter (# 104)

        1. On Twelfth Night, I went to an enjoyable dinner with members of the Battersea Society. The Society organises a myriad of local and London based events and campaigns about local amenity issues, such as planning and the state of our parks and public spaces. If you are interested in joining but don’t know how then do, please, let me know.

        2. On 12th January, we went to see The Darkest Hour, the film about the decisive month of May, 1940, when Churchill became Prime Minister. The film was shot in such a way that it emphasised how dark and claustrophobic the world must have appeared in Whitehall’s underground war room. I thought it was brilliant – personally I preferred it to Dunkirk, which I thought a bit sanitised. But there was a dud scene with Churchill, the PM, on the Tube between the Embankment and Westminster. It was excruciating. Intended, I suppose, to demonstrate how Churchill instinctively understood the British public rather better than did the other stuffed shirts in the Cabinet; it was like no tube journey you or I have ever experienced. Quiet enough for an in-depth debate, between 10-15 people, with frankly a token West Indian in a 1940 crowd.

        3. On Monday, 15th January, I met a newly appointed Council officer, selected by and paid for by the Home Office but working for Wandsworth and Richmond Councils. His job is to assist the Council and the Home Office to counter extremism in Wandsworth and Richmond. This is a Government initiative, but to be honest, I think the Government has perceived a problem and decided it had to act but doesn’t know what to do. Sure, we have known some civil disturbances; we have some crime issues; in the 80s there were a couple of IRA cells in Battersea (Do you remember the discovery of two IRA bomb factories near Clapham Common?), but if we have violent extremists, they haven’t exactly advertised themselves. Tough job, but hopefully not one that’s needed here.

        4. Wandsworth Labour’s Shadow Cabinet, of which I am a member by virtue of being the planning lead, met on 19th January. I don’t normally indulge in internal party business in this newsletter but, three months before May’s Borough Election, this was rather different. We were discussing our plans for changes in Council policies and, by implication, our manifesto for May. It is NOT yet ready for publication but it will be no surprise to anyone that housing provision will be high on the list.

        5. On the 22nd, I went to a book launch in an historic building in the City. This time it was the Skinners’ Hall, a stone’s throw from St. Paul’s and Cannon Street station. From the outside, Skinners’ Hall looks nothing special, but inside you discover a Grade 1 listed building, dating from the thirteenth century, although the whole building was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and the current one was built 1667-1683. Amazingly enough, like the cathedral, it was almost untouched by World War 2 bombing. I don’t suppose there are many real skinners (of animals largely for leather) left in the Worshipful Company, one of the richest and oldest in the city, but it demonstrates the historical importance of the trade! The book was Essays on Medieval London by Professor Caroline Barron, a family friend.

        6. The next morning it was back to the important, Rubbish bins Kambala Estate 180123even if mundane, business of joining with Council officers and some residents for a tour of the Kambala, Falcon and Wayford Road estates. On the whole, we thought they were in good nick but as always on the Kambala Estate, there were problems with rubbish! This picture is of conditions behind Haven Lodge. I trust that it got cleared soon after our visit – but it is a perennial problem.

        7. The January meeting of the Planning Applications Committee was on the 25th and it was packed with major applications, four of them in Battersea. First, the half-completed Peabody Estate development: Peabody had to stop the development, as planned, because it was becoming financially unviable. So, they came back asking for 52 more flats, half for sale on the open market and half for social renting. They suggested adding a couple of storeys here and a couple there. The Committee did not really have much choice but to agree: and we did. I suspect the change will hardly be noticed as the additional storeys are lower down St. John’s Hill than the blocks already completedI voted against two very large developments, which were, however, approved by the committeFirst, 13 blocks between 8 and 15 storeys with 517 residential units are planned for the Smugglers’ Way, B&Q site. 35% of these are described as affordable. There are things to be said in favour of the development. However, in my view it is just too big, with too many high blocks at too high a density. Secondly, a large 82-unit block rising to 14 storeys was approved on York Road, on the Chopper/@Battersea pub site. Again, I voted against on much the same grounds.Swandon Way East              Swandon Way westWhat do you think of these developments either side of Swandon Way?

        8. The fourth major Battersea development was an application to expand the Royal College of Art campus on Battersea Bridge Road. This had many objections from the immediate neighbourhood of Parkgate Road and, frankly, I can see why. This large university building looks as if it will dominate the area, but the Committee thought that the major benefit of having the University in North Battersea outweighed the disadvantages. On this occasion, I agreed.

        9. There was also an interesting application for 86 residential units with one, six storey block at Jaggard Way, which is behind Wandsworth Common station, just yards outside Battersea. The planners’ recommendation was to refuse it, which we did unanimously. However, I must confess that I had the ungenerous thought that the Committee was keen to vote against a quite small development in rich, posh Wandsworth Common when substantially larger, less pleasing developments in North Battersea were being approved.

        10. On 29th January, I had a fun meeting at the youth club, Providence House, in Falcon Road, where we made plans to bring Devon’s Shallowford Farm to Battersea, or more particularly some sheep, calves, pigs and a tractor from the Farm for four days in early June. The farm, which is twinned with Providence House, is visited by many youth club members and is an invaluable rural experience for hundreds of Battersea kids. Keep a look out for it!

        11. The next day I had discussions with planners at the Town Hall about a planning application for developments near both Time House and Sendall Court. At the moment this application seems unlikely to be considered in Committee before April. I am sure that it will be contentious and I am rather concerned that the Council is trying to get too large a development through on the coat-tails of the so-called Winstanley regeneration.

        12. Finally, Wandsworth’s Design Awards Panel met on 31st January. The panel of architects, amenity societies and two councillors, including me, had before it all the North Battersea “icon” buildings like the Lombard Road Tower and the Nine Elms Lane development. But actually, none of those got near to winning, the victor being the under-stated, cleanly designed Chadwick Hall students’ accommodation at Roehampton University.

My Programme for February

  1. On 7th February there is a special Council Meeting. There is actually nothing special about it as it happens every year and is largely a technical operation agreeing the record of expenditure during the year and the approximate shape of the budget the year 2018-19. There will however be ratification of a 1% rent increase for council tenants and decisions on next year’s budget leading to the Council Tax decision on March 7th. I think I can guarantee that in Election year there will not be any really unpleasant surprises!
  2. On 13th February, I have a meeting of the Central Housing Panel, a quarterly consultation meeting with council tenants in Latchmere and other parts of the Borough.
  3. There is the Community Services Committee on the 20th followed by the Planning Applications Committee on 22nd February.
  4. On 27th February, I am off to St. Paul’s Cathedral for a celebration of the life of Mary Turner, of whom more next month.

Do you know?

Last month I didn’t set a question and this month’s is ridiculously easy but I just couldn’t resist the picture – thanks to the Battersea Memories website as the source. And as for the questions then:-

  1. Where? When? How?
  2. How many things can you name that are still there and what are they?
  3. And can you name what is there now?

Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea January, 2018, Newsletter (# 103)

        1. On 1st December, I went to Theatre 503 to see The Dark Room, an Australian play by Angela Betzien. First a word about Theatre 503, it is based above the Latchmere pub. It is, as they say, intimate or, rather more plainly, very small, which puts you in really close contact with the action and the actors. It invariably hosts “experimental” theatre and as it’s above the pub, it gives one a great chance, after the show, to have a drink and chat with the cast and discuss the play, which I did with Alasdair Craig, one of the four actors.

        2. As for the show: The Dark Room was about one of Australia’s darkest subjects, the relationship between the indigenous population and the overwhelmingly white, European population of today. What starts off as a “scene” between a white, female social worker and a young aboriginal woman develops, with a confrontation between two white policemen over the death in police custody of an aboriginal boy. To complicate matters the social worker also has a dysfunctional relationship with one of the policemen. Interestingly directed and well-acted, the play poses difficult questions. If my experience is anything to go by Theatre 503 is always worth a visit.

        3. I had my Council Surgery on the morning of 2nd December, but it was not a very busy event. I only had one constituent visit. Looking through the log, it is very rare that more than two constituents turn up. I know that MPs always have far busier surgeries, which is understandable, but frequently misplaced as MP’s cases are often about essentially Council issues, such as housing. But actually, nowadays not many constituents come in person as most casework usually comes through email or the telephone.

        4. Talking of cases, one reader commented last month that my newsletters were all about social events and that he rather doubted that I did anything real or useful. For the record, I dealt with 81 separate housing cases in 2017, which was 6% of the cases dealt with by 59 councillors (N.B. honesty compels me to admit that one independent councillor dealt with just under 40% of the whole! He really is exceptional.) The system for monitoring queries other than housing is not so simple but these figures suggest to me that I dealt with above 200 cases in 2017.

        5. As for what these cases are all about then the housing ones are largely about rehousing, over-crowding, homelessness and repairs and maintenance. Unfortunately, actually succeeding in getting someone re-housed is a pretty rare triumph. Non-housing matters are most frequently about environmental issues such as planning disputes, pot-holes, fly-tipping and road sweeping, oh, and, of course, noisy neighbours!

        6. I also don’t make much of many other necessary activities, most notably Labour Party matters, which whilst not of great public interest are an essential part of being a councillor. Nor do I write about the boring stuff of reading agendas, preparing for meetings, writing letters, etc. But they all take time.

        7. On the 3rd, Battersea Labour Party ran its own jazz night, starring Rosena Allin-Khan, Tooting MP, on vocals and Martin Linton, ex-Battersea MP, on horn, with Battersea’s own Junction Jazz band. Rosena is a star in her own right and it’s stunning that, as an MP, a doctor and a mother, she manages also to perform as she does.

        8. I had the Passenger Transport Liaison Group on 4th December, which was principally concerned with the continuing engineering works on the mainline into Waterloo. Nothing really new was noted then but, talking of transport, I later had notice of roadworks on Battersea Park Road just to the west of the Latchmere pub on 8th-9th January. My advice is to avoid that stretch of the road if at all possible – for example, turning left from Latchmere Road into Battersea Park Road will not be allowed – even for cyclists.

        9. On 6th December we had the last full Council Meeting of the year. There was one set piece debate with half a dozen contributions from both sides. These debates don’t get any press coverage nowadays, but I really enjoyed making an off-the-cuff speech. If you are really, really interested then you can see and hear it at the following address, whenever the Council loads the video, which is not yet! http://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/info/200318/decision_making

        10. And on the 7th December, I appeared at the Licensing Committee arguing for tighter licensing controls on the Anchor pub, Hope Street.

          The Anchor

          This was a difficult matter in that neither I, nor the residents I was representing, wanted to close the Anchor – far from it. After all, it is one of the very few public facilities in that part of Battersea. However, pub use should not be allowed to disturb the peace of close neighbours beyond reasonable hours and I was persuaded that the nuisance caused by the Hope justified some restriction. The Committee agreed with me and the neighbours; but unfortunately, early indications (as of 4th January) are that the nuisance continues. Early days! But the festive season is hardly over and we shall see.


        11. The December meeting of the Planning Applications Committee was on the 14th. Many of the applications were “technical”, such as, for example, changes in obscure building conditions. But there were some interesting exceptions. One was the application for the new Battersea Power Tube station, which is being built right now, opposite the Duchess pub. In reality, of course, there was not much for us to decide. Clearly refusing permission was not an option, nor was changing fundamentals about layout but we could have expressed a view about the “finishing”; a bit like choosing the colour of the wallpaper. My view was that given the amount of time and effort put into the design of a really, modern, attractive station by good designers, it was absurd for us to disagree with their recommendations – we shall see whether the station is as good as I thought it looked!

        12. There was also notice of an application in Lambeth, which will affect nearly everyone, who travels up and down to town, and that was for the re-design of the Vauxhall bus terminus. Lambeth Council wants to change, as in get rid of, the massive Vauxhall one-way road system and were asking for our observations! I am not being totally flippant in saying, “Good luck to them on that one”, but I can’t imagine it will happen any time soon.

        13. And there was one other interesting set of 24 applications for advertising hoardings all over the Borough. The hoardings will replace telephone kiosks and will include information bulletins and mobile phone charging points as well as the illuminated ads. They will, however, need careful monitoring. The addition of brightly-lit billboards along many main roads in Wandsworth could confuse drivers, cause distractions, increase street clutter (contrary to recent trends in trying to simplify street scenes) and add further garish lighting just when the Council (wearing its environmental hat) is installing new street lights to reduce the amount of light needlessly beamed into the night skies. We must not worsen street design for the sake of advertising revenue – but rather improve street safety, efficiency and environmental friendliness for all.

        14. The rest of my December was full of Seasonal events, such as an Xmas lunch with the other Labour councillors and Xmas drinks with the Battersea Society; a couple of resident association Xmas drinks and three visits to the theatre. Two of these were to see plays by Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, A Woman of No Importance and Misalliance respectively. They were both very funny and clever and, appropriately for these days, very “feminista.”

        15. But the third theatre visit was the one that has made my friends very envious as it was a visit to the Victoria Palace Theatre to see the American blockbuster Hamilton. How I got the tickets is a long story but they are like gold-dust! I didn’t have high expectations. I didn’t really think that an American rap musical, played by a multi-ethnic cast, about an Independence war essentially between two groups of Brits (and a few French and German settlers) could work. I was wrong. The cast were great, the rap worked really well, the staging was great. The history wasn’t perfect; but nothing is perfect though Hamilton almost was.

        16. I spent both Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve quietly and very happily at home (from where I took this pic on the 25th!) and went to see the grandchildren on Boxing Day. PS do you like the lunar illusion over the sunset as seen from the bedroom?

        17. Finally, you might remember that last month I commented on the wretched condition of the old Vestry School, on Battersea Rise. Well, I am now delighted to note that there is scaffolding round the building and positive steps are being taken by the church authorities to safeguard the building and carry our essential repairs and maintenance before a final decision is taken on what use is to be made of this slice of Battersea’s heritage.

 

My Programme for January

  1. On 4th January I have a meeting of Wandsworth’s Design Panel. This is an advisory body relating to architectural design and the physical appearance of the Borough.
  2. This is followed by the Conservation Area Advisory Group on the 9th.
  3. And on 25th January, the Planning Applications Committee, followed by the Heliport Consultation Group on 30th January – a quiet month

Do you know?

 

In November, I asked “Who or what were Fawcett, Coppock, Hicks, McDermott and Wolftencroft – apart from being Battersea street names? Last month I gave the answer as regards John Bridgeford Coppock, so this month let’s try Fawcett Close.

Most people I know assume that Fawcett Close is named after Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929), who gave her name to the Fawcett Society, an organisation, which campaigned for women’s suffrage. However, I think it more likely that the Close is actually named after her daughter, Philippa Garrett Fawcett (1868 – 1948).

 

Philippa went to school in Clapham High School (now Thomas’s School in Broomwood Road). She was a brilliant mathematician and achieved the best Cambridge maths degree in 1890, at a time when women were not actually awarded degrees. She was subsequently unable to get an academic job, simply because she was a woman, but in 1905 she was appointed principal assistant to the Director of Education of the then newly-formed London County Council – surprisingly, at the same salary as a man would have received. She developed the south London teacher training colleges of Furzedown and Avery Hill. It is because she was a Battersea school-girl and died only 20 odd years before the Kambala Estate was built that makes me think that the Close was named after her and not her mother.