- The Council Election on 5th May was a triumph for the Wandsworth Labour Party. After 44 years of Tory control, Labour has at last won back control of the Council. You may not know it, but I was the Leader of the Council when we lost the election in May 1978 and now my fellow ex-Latchmere, now Falconbrook, councillor Simon Hogg is the new Leader. (PS, thanks to those who voted for me!)
- I am the new Chair of the Planning Applications Committee (PAC) and Kate Stock (fellow ex-Latchmere and now Falconbrook councillor) is the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services.
- I intend to continue with this newsletter, hopefully in the same vein as in the past, but as Chair of the Planning Applications Committee, I may have to tread a more neutral path about new developments than I have done in the past. This is because of something called ‘pre-determination’: the point being that if I, or any member of PAC, declared our position on an application then, at appeal, the applicant could, and probably would, argue that we had a pre-determined view on their application before we had seen the officers’ recommendation or heard the debate. It is a good principle, which, as Chair of PAC, I will certainly uphold.
- Meanwhile, some of you have asked me to write a couple of lines about my fellow re-elected and newly elected Labour councillors – just so that the names mean something more than simply names. So: jumping in where angels fear to tread: here are short pen-portraits of my Battersea Labour colleagues, starting with my ward colleagues in Battersea Park, who are
- The Council Election on 5th May was a triumph for the Wandsworth Labour Party. After 44 years of Tory control, Labour has at last won back control of the Council. You may not know it, but I was the Leader of the Council when we lost the election in May 1978 and now my fellow ex-Latchmere, now Falconbrook, councillor Simon Hogg is the new Leader. (PS, thanks to those who voted for me!)
- I started this newsletter 13 years ago as a Latchmere Ward Newsletter. On Thursday, 5th May, thanks to the Boundary Commissioners, Latchmere disappears; not the pub of course nor the estate but the political entity, a political entity which dates back to the late nineteenth century, and the creation of the old Metropolitan Borough of Battersea. It also means for me the end of forty years, of representing the ward on the Council. But, I hope to continue on 6th May representing Battersea Park, which includes about 35% of the old Latchmere Ward. My Labour colleagues, in Battersea Park ward, are Juliana Annan and Maurice McLeod, whilst my old Latchmere colleagues Simon Hogg and Kate Stock are the Labour candidates for Falconbrook ward.
- Wandsworth Council has been in purdah during the last month before the Borough election. That means that Council politics stopped for the month and that the only significant meeting for councillors was 26th April’s Planning Applications Committee (PAC). There were, however, several major applications to be considered, with considerable implications for Battersea, namely Burridge Gardens, the Bridges Court site, Battersea Square and the British Lion site, Thessaly Road.
- Battersea residents will know that the old Peabody estate (“Burridge Gardens”), has been in a demi-world state of demolition and reconstruction for the last ten years. Hopefully, the application, which the Council approved last week, will be the start of the last chapter of the process! You will be interested to know that I and two other Labour members of the Committee voted against the proposal, not because we were against new homes but because the proportion of family-friendly and socially-rented homes was once again scaled back. George Peabody, the nineteenth-century American philanthropist, who spent many of his US dollars building the original Peabody Estates for the poor of London, would have been horrified.
- We were “merely” approving “detailed changes” to a previously approved application, at the Bridges Court site, at the junction of Lombard Road and York Road. The detailed changes included an extra 41 residential units! However, 35% of the 177 residential units are said to be affordable, which by the standard of many private sector applications is good. Nevertheless, I have serious environmental concerns about having a 25-storey block at this location. Aren’t we supposed to have a care for the wider urban environment?
- The Battersea Square site was an application for the expansion of Thomas School to make it a small/medium-sized independent school for approximately 440 pupils. The development will not change the general physical appearance of Battersea Square, but many local people are, and will continue to be, concerned about the traffic implications of expanding the school. We were assured by the officers that there would not be insurmountable problems, but I have my doubts!
- My fellow Labour Councillor Sheila Boswell raised the interesting issue of school spatial standards, by which she meant “Isn’t this a very small site to have 400+ adolescent boys running around? Are there not any standards that need to be applied?” She really didn’t get a straight answer to that question, so let me provide it. There were indeed guidelines but they were abandoned and ignored by Mrs Thatcher’s Government in the early 1980s, when the ToryParty was intent on increasing the provision of private education.
- And finally, there was a relatively small and uncontroversial application for a block of 17 flats on the British Lion site, Thessaly Road. This picture of the old pub, which then was known as Maloney’s is shown as a reminder that it has been an empty site for 15 years! I am sure that Carey Gardens residents will be more than pleased to get some new neighbours.
- Meanwhile, most councillors have been fully involved in election campaigning. For my part, I have met many new Battersea Park electors. One meeting was with Connaught Mansions residents. It was held in Salesian House, Surrey Lane, on 27th April, and facilitated by Battersea Communities. The residents resolved to establish themselves as a regular working group; I am pleased to report that the owners welcomed this development, claiming to look forward to resident involvement in the block’s planned regeneration. I have some experience of the issues that arise during regeneration on this scale though mainly in the public sector. I hope that I can bring that experience to bear in Connaught Mansions to advantage.
- Earlier in the month, I accompanied Penny to Rome, where she was holding business meetings with her academic colleagues. It’s a few years since I was last in Rome. During that time, further areas of the old city have been excavated and opened up to the public. The eternal city is as stunning as ever. Penny and I went by train and stopped overnight in Turin, which was a far more impressive city than I had expected. On the return journey, the star event was lunch at the station buffet in Gare de l’Est in Paris. The station buffet “Le Train Bleu” was built and opened in 1901. We stopped there for lunch between trains – a bit different from Clapham Junction station. I recommend it for anyone who has a couple of hours to spare between the Channel Tunnel train and any further train from Gare de L’Est! The food was excellent but not very expensive – and the total ambience very French.
- We also squeezed in a couple of days in the Forest of Dean, on the Welsh border. It was deliberately a very quiet break, with visits to Chepstow, Monmouth and the Wye Valley, which as you can see is spectacularly scenic!
My programme for May
Regular readers will know that I normally announce here what my plans are for the coming month. But on this occasion, almost everything depends upon the result of the election on Thursday, 5th May. The one thing that is certain is that the Council’s Annual Meeting is on 25th May.
Did you Know?
Last month, I asked, “Who was the man (trained by the celebrated architect John Nash) who shaped much of Battersea Park and is commemorated in the name of a Latchmere (Falconbrook) council block – soon to be demolished?”
The answer is Sir James Pennethorne (1801-71), who was born in Worcester, came to London to train as an architect under Nash and designed both Victoria and Battersea Parks, probably the largest public spaces created in Britain during Victorian times.
And this month?
In Battersea Park, there is something called the Ballast Wall. Do you know where it is and what it is? And why it is so different from any other structure in Battersea Park?
- After the enforced “social silence” of Covid, March 2022 marked a swing back to a high level of social activity. But, before we get onto that, I must return to the war in Ukraine. Last month I noted the determined President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s overnight rise to fame. I also speculated that NATO would rapidly increase its military strength; that the alliance would take urgent steps to lessen its dependence on US military might; and that it would become much more powerful than Putin’s worst fears. In addition, I argued that the UK’s decision to leave the EU would look not only economically but also strategically disastrous. A month later, these views look like pretty good predictions – all paid for at great cost by Ukraine and individual Ukrainians.
To state the obvious, the war has given context to the often trivial political arguments in London about, say, the Prime Minister’s bad behaviour. Incredibly, he can lower himself into almost any gutter and so it was no surprise to most people, including many Tories, when he made a crass comparison between the Ukrainian’s life-and-death struggle for independence and the political squabble over Brexit. It might sound far-fetched but it reminds me of the similar situation 40 years ago when, General Galtieri’s ill-judged attack on the Falklands was the making of Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher’s, premiership. Could Vladimir Putin be doing the same for Boris Johnson, as Galtieri did for Thatcher? Perish the thought!
- On March the 5th-6th, Penny and I spent a very enjoyable weekend in Mumbles, Swansea’s seaside resort. An old college friend was marking his 80th birthday (and the hoped-for end of Covid) by giving a party for family and friends, including a dozen college friends of 60 years back. For anyone who does not know Mumbles and the Gower Peninsula, let me recommend them – very beautiful beaches and scenery, all surprisingly close to Wales’s second city.
On the 8th March, I was at a meeting of the Wandsworth Conservation Area Advisory Committee (WCAAC), but I must confess that even the most ardent conservationist was unlikely to have been excited by the agenda – so no further comment!
The following evening the 9th of March we had the Council Tax Council Meeting, which sounds like an important occasion, but close readers of my newsletters will know that it is not. At least in Westminster, on the day of the national budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has the potential to surprise, even if nowadays most of his plans have been released to the press in advance. But, at council level, all the figures have been published in advance in various committees; the Leader of the Council has produced a press release and could have had, and occasionally does have, a press conference before any formal decision is taken. All this – and yet by statute we, councillors, all have to turn up and have our votes recorded. The Tony Blair reforms of local government had some peculiar effects and this rule, imposed by Government diktat, is one of the quirkiest and most pointless of them all.
The Council’s official opening of its celebrations for the Queen’s platinum jubilee took place on the 11th of March in Battersea Park. I am sure that there will be many more similar events, all building up to the anniversary weekend itself, June 3-5. At this opening ceremony, a sapling was planted by the mayor, with some assistance from me!
The Battersea Society’s AGM took place in St Mary’s Church on 17th March. The guest speaker dropped out, thanks to Covid, so Penny and I volunteered to do a quiz, we called “Secret Battersea”. We used a Powerpoint presentation to show pictures of “secret” facts about Battersea and challenged the audience to give us their answers. We had fun doing it and, judging by the reception, it was enjoyed by all. BTW, the Battersea Society remains in good health, thanks to a very active and enterprising set of officers.
On the 18th we went to an enjoyable Putney Labour Party fund-raising dinner held at Putney’s world-famous St. Mary’s Church – world famous you ask: a slight exaggeration perhaps but the church was the scene of the very radical Putney debates held there in 1647 by Cromwell’s army during the course of the English Civil War – debates which are at the very root of English, and the English-speaking world’s, concept of democracy. The guest speaker at the dinner was Shadow Foreign Secretary, David Lammy, MP for Tottenham and, like me, very much a Spurs supporter. He spoke passionately about Labour’s causes and his own youth on the Broadwater Farm estate. We left re-invigorated.
On 20th March, we were off to a pub in Islington called the Camden Head to enjoy an evening of stand-up comedy, starring Penny’s sister, who happens to be a Latchmere constituent. I don’t know about you, but the thought of standing in front of an audience of complete strangers, with the sole intention of making them laugh, would terrify me. But Lissi went to classes on “being a stand-up”. I do admire her for that. However, whilst I thought Lissi did very well, I don’t think I am going to make “Stand-Up” a regular part of my entertainment scene. The standard of comedy was very varied and often depended upon the gratuitous use of the “F” word.
On 24th March I had the Planning Applications Committee (PAC). There were several important items on the agenda, such as the Winstanley Regeneration Plan and Battersea Power Station but, as it happened, they were uncontentious matters of detail. Two items did, however, particularly interest me. They were: the roof extension on 220-222 Queenstown Road; and the advertising hoarding at Rosslyn Park Rugby Club. If you have never noticed 220-222, then look out for them. They are two rather characterful industrial, nineteenth-century constructions, where a developer is planning an interesting extension.
As for the advertising hoarding at Rosslyn Park, I think this is a completely different matter. Although a long way from Battersea, it is an example of a growing trend, which I think should be restrained. I can understand the motivation. The hoarding brings in significant income for a sports club with very strong community connections – but it distracts motorists and ruins the urban environment!
Some of you will have read my review of the late Brian Barnes’ work as a muralist. One of his Battersea murals is in Chesterton Primary School’s playground and is therefore quite difficult to access, so when an occasion occurred to pop into the playground, I did. I was not disappointed! The mural is colourful and lively and I am not at all surprised that the kids love it. It also stars local resident and shop owner John Archer as the Mayor of Battersea in 1913!
So to the end of the month, when once again political issues dominated! Nowhere near as serious as Ukraine, of course, nevertheless the staff management of P&O ferries is shocking in its own right. It would not have been possible, of course, if the UK was not running such an unequal, some would say immoral, gig economy. And sad to relate, Wandsworth Council has played a big part in the development of the UK’s gig economy. Fifty years ago, most Wandsworth Council services were run by Wandsworth’s directly employed staff, who were earning nationally agreed wages. The Council’s remorseless drive on costs has, however, over the years resulted in the relative pauperisation of the largely sub-contracted manual staff.
My programme for April
- This is my last full month representing Latchmere ward, after 40 years of so doing! I will be working in preparation for the May 5th Borough election, when I will be trying to win the Battersea Park ward.
- In early April, Penny and I will be in Rome for three days; she as President of the International Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies; I as her guide and companion! Well someone has to do it!
- I hope to go to the Women of Wandsworth Easter Party at the Wilditch Centre on the 9th April.
- The Planning Applications Committee is on the 26th April and all the indications are that it is going to be a massive agenda with many potential developments reaching the planning approval/ or rejection stage.
Did you Know?
Last month I asked where in North Battersea would you be if this was your walk to your very own front door? The answer is Albert Studios, a very small row of Victorian cottage/studios just off Albert Bridge Road.
And this month?
Who was the man (trained by the celebrated architect John Nash) who shaped much of Battersea Park and is commemorated in the name of a Latchmere (Falconbrook) council block – soon to be demolished?
- The February Council Meeting was held on February 2nd and I didn’t go! For the fifty years I have been a councillor, I could barely imagine writing that sentence. I have gone to Council Meetings because it is my job/duty as a councillor and because Council meetings are, or were, important – and, it must be said, I enjoy the cut-and-thrust of political debate. But now, the way that governments (Labour as well as Tory) have changed their relationship with local authorities, means that very, very few decisions need to go to the main Council meeting. Consequently Council Meetings, as part of the local government process, have been degraded, which makes them more and more of a show, a place to play at politics, a place where politics becomes part of the show and so much less important, and less interesting, than they used to be. So although my “excuse” for absence was the constraint of “social distancing”, I didn’t really mind!
- The February Planning Applications Committee (PAC) was on Tuesday, the 22 Ironically, I was unable to attend – ironically because after several months with little of general interest, this PAC had several very large applications of great significance to north Battersea, and of particular interest to me.
- The largest of these applications was for the corner site at Culvert and Battersea Park Roads. I know that many residents in Castlemaine and Culvert Road, in Brynmaer and Battersea Park Roads were strongly opposed to this application, as indeed was I, when it first came to committee in 2018. As far as I am concerned there were, and are, only two things to be said in favour of the application. The first is that the blight on the site will be removed and the second is that the school should at long last get its new sports hall. However, in my opinion the community will regret having a new 18 storey building – as pictured here, 56 metres/184 feet high, on Battersea Park Road. Most of the building will house 213 shared living units, which is now becoming quite a fashion amongst large development companies. I have no doubt that the 213 living units will bring some business to this part of Battersea Park Road but: will this be sufficient to justify the over-looking? I certainly was against the application and will continue to be so until it is built.
- A second application was for 12-20 storey blocks of student residential units and office and enterprise business at Palmerston Court and Flanagan’s pub, opposite the Dog’s Home. It will be part of the substantial change taking place in the Battersea environment, but in this case it fits well with the many railways running at about 5th floor level amd other recent high-level developments.
- A third application for an 8-13 storey development of self-storage units along with 131 residential units in Mendip Crescent at its junction with Battersea Park Road was recommended for approval by the planning officers but was rejected unanimously by the committee. The committee felt that the residential units did not provide a good mix of dwelling sizes and that the preponderance of self storage units did not allow for a sufficiently wide range of employment possibilities. It is by no means unique for the Committee to over-turn the officers’ recommendation but on large schemes like this it is certainly very unusual – it couldn’t be that the imminent election had any undue influence, could it?
- And yet another significant application was for the change of use of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, right next to the Heliport, to a 96 bedroom care home facility. Superficially, placing a care home right next to the Heliport does not look like an appropriate mix, but as I wasn’t actually there to hear the debate, I find it difficult to assess.
- On the 22nd February, we all woke up to the most shocking story of many people’s lifetime: the Putin attack upon Ukraine. The ramifications are currently unknowable, and of course unpredictable, but I think we can all agree: that the position of Russia in the world has changed for the worse: that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of the Ukraine has achieved unsought for world fame and achieved favourite’s status for the Nobel Peace Prize by showing admirable courage and consistency: that NATO will rapidly strengthen its military strength, will take urgent steps to wean itself off Americam dominance, and become much more powerful than Putin’s worst fears: that the UK’s decision to leave the EU looks not only economically but now also strategically disastrous: that life for Ukrainians has got threateningly worse, but that in the longer term Russians are likely to be the most damaged by Putin’s hubristic folly. And worst of all: his folly will only lessen humanity’s chance to overcome the climate crisis.
- News of Robert Molteno’s death was a profound shock to many. Robert was always so active and fit. And on 27th February upwards of 300 friends and relatives packed St. Mary’s Church to hear moving and often very funny tributes to a life well and truly lived. I didn’t know the half of it – no, the tenth of it! Brought up in South Africa, which he did not, unsurpringly, find congenial; then teaching in Zambia, where he ended up imprisoned for two months (solitary, apparently) because he was too outspoken about the regime; a career spent in publishing in London, mainly books about “third world” countries written by authors from the particular country, and then in his post-retirement Third Age, he became an inspiration and driving force behind the “Living Streets” movement. Robert had an exciting and varies life, well-lived. RIP, Robert Molteno.
My programme for March
- March 5th-6th a short week-end on the Mumbles, South Wales, for a college friend’s 80th!
- March 9th, the Annual Council Tax setting meeting.
- March 10th, North East Surrey Crematorium Board.
- March 11th, Wandsworth Councl’s very own launch of the Queen’s Jubilee Year.
- March 17th, Battersea Society Annual General Meeting.
- March 21st, Battersea United Charities.
- March 23rd, Planning Applications Committee.
Dd you Know?
Last month I asked if any of you recognised Leo and where and why he was living in Battersea. A couple of people did know and told me not only where Leo lives, but they also had an explanation for his arrival in Battersea.
Leo lives at 12 Macduff Road. Roy knew that; well done Roy. But I didn’t think your explanation for Leo’s presence in Macduff Road was as credible as someone else’s. BUT, unfortunately I seem to have lost that email. If you were the one, then please remind me and I will enlighten people next month!
And this month?
Where in North Battersea would you be if this was your walk to your very own front door?
- Maureen Larkin died on 4th January, aged 89. Amazingly she died in the very house, in Knowsley Road, where she was born on 10th October 1932. Her daughter, Terry, wrote to me, saying that her mother and I “did go back a long way together, and Mum was thrilled and honoured to receive her Civic Award in 2010 following your nomination”.
- When I first met Maureen she was part of the organising team for the legendary Poyntz Road Triangle summer street parties. She was the first to invite the Mayor and to arrange for the presence of police cars and s fire engine – all very popular with the local kids.
- The first of these parties was, Terry tells me, organised for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 and it continues to this day, 45 years later. The parties always had a barbecue, and plenty of party grub and they always ended with a disco.
- Maureen’s Battersea connection runs deep. Her mother, Lily, moved into the house in Knowsley Road during the First World War. She and her husband, a Battersea man of course, had two daughters, Monica and Maureen. Maureen was born upstairs in the front bedroom.
- Eighty-nine years later, Terry writes, “she died peacefully in her sleep where she always wanted to be, in the same house, with her daughter and granddaughter by her side”.
- Terry reminds me that the Poyntz Road Triangle, between the two bridges on Latchmere Road and the railway lines, was threatened with demolition for a time in the 1970s. She claims it was for slum clearance but in Sue Demont’s very informative article in the current issue of Battersea Matters, there is a very different version of the story, a version which accords with my memory. Sue’s very informative map shows that Abercrombie Street and Knowsley Road were absolutely on the line of the Government’s planned Ringway 1 – all part of the giant Motorway Box planned for London in the 60s. The road plans were the cause of many, many political arguments and campaigns until well into the 80s.
- Indeed, for everyone interested in anything to do with Battersea and its history this edition of Battersea Matters (Jan 2022) is spectacularly good: beg, borrow or steal a copy to read about: Battersea’s lesser-known parks; St Mary’s Cemetery on Bolingbroke Grove; the infamous 1907 Brown Dog Riots; my obituary of Brian Barnes; and many other titbits.
- On 14thJanuary, I had a guided tour of Battersea Power Station. It was the first time I’d been there for a detailed visit for about a year. Inside the Power Station itself, there are some spectacular sights, such as the two main turbine halls and the command room. We can expect a grand opening of the Power Station, for public access, later this year, when the expectation is that it will become, overnight, one of the Borough’s six town centres. There will be many, including me, who think it a tragedy that so little attempt was made to make the development more affordable for ordinary people; but I urge everyone to take a trip to the Power Station for the opening or soon thereafter.
- This newsletter is unusually focused on literary events and one I have to include is the publication of my partner’s book, The Georgians: The Deeds and Misdeeds of 18th Century Britain. I must say it has had spectacularly good reviews, the pithiest being in, of all places, the Daily Mail, where the age of the Georgians was said to have “Splendid houses…shame about the teeth: The Georgians had terrible hygiene, but beautiful architecture”. To be fair to the Georgians they had just discovered cheap and plentiful cane sugar … and more controversially were getting rich on African slavery – you can read more about all that and more in Penny’s book – blatant plug!
- The January edition of Private Eye also has a Wandsworth/Battersea story about the Council’s £60,000 cut in grant to Battersea Arts Centre. The Eye got at least some of the story from a speech, which I made in a Council meeting in December and the Eye concluded that the Council “tried to camouflage its decision with weasel words, claiming that this isn’t a funding cut but a ‘change in strategy”, and who am I to argue with the Eye? I must say that I admire the Eye’s capacity for information gathering. I did not report this small item of Council business but someone did.
- The Planning Applications Committee on 25th January really was a non-event as far as Battersea was concerned! There were, in fact, three Battersea applications – but only about varying the details on previously agreed applications. One was the large residential development on the site of the old gasometer next to the Dogs’ Home; another on the shop development where the Prince of Wales pub used to be; and the third about air conditioning units at the Chesterton Centre – a committee for the specialists!
- On Friday 28th Penny and I finally decided to break our Covid-induced lockdown and went to the Clapham Picturehouse to see Kenneth Branagh’s film Belfast. I had read one review, which described it as a nostalgic trip down memory lane, in tribute to the city he loved. I was particularly interested as I have a mild acquaintance with Belfast and Ulster and we have friends who live there. I must say, though that the reviewer cannot have seen the film we saw. It was dark, even the cinematography was dark (it was in black and white). I am not sure that the sun came out at any time during the film; more significantly it explored a brutal gang culture but not about drug money or gambling or prostitution, but between two distortions of Catholicism and Protestantism, or in the local jargon between the Micks and the Prods. It is a great film but not exactly fun and thrills for a Friday night. If you have seen it, what do you think?
- On Saturday, 29thJanuary, Wandsworth LabourLeader, Simon Hogg, launched Labour’s Borough Election Campaign, 2022. The launch took place in King George’s Park and was attended by about 100 people. The picture shows London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, with the Borough MPs, Tooting’s Rosena Allin-Khan and Putney’s Fleur Anderson clearly amused by the point Battersea’s Marsha de Cordova is making. It was a good session – energising for all our candidates.
- The following day Penny and I went to Ham Land, on the Thames Bank between Kingston and Richmond. I have lived in this area of London for most of my life but had never before been there! This small column marks the inner boundary of the Port of London Authority’s territory: the sea boundary is at Leigh-on-Sea. Because Ham Land is cut off by the bend of the river and Richmond Park – and because there is no bridge across the river, except the pedestrian crossing at Teddington Lock – Ham Land is, for London, quiet, deserted, and attractive. I recommend it for anyone who wants to avoid the crowds in Richmond Park!
- Finally, it was a shock to hear of the death of Robert Molteno on 31stJanuary, especially given his relative youth and his apparent good health. Many will know of Robert’s work in making our streets safer; about his campaigning on behalf of better public transport, and more consideration for pedestrians and cyclists. Robert was always so concerned and involved in Battersea life; he was also courteous, determined and optimistic; he will be much missed.
My Programme for February
- There is a Council Meeting on 2nd February, of which a little more next month.
- I hope to be at a Battersea Society presentation on Whistler on 9th Whistler was an American painter (1834-1903), who spent most of his life in the UK. He was, I suppose, an impressionist. He spent much of his time in Chelsea, from where he painted many Thames-scapes and pictures of Battersea Bridge, like this one. It should be fascinating.
- There is a Labour Shadow Cabinet on 10th February, which will be interesting given the proximity of the Borough Election on May 5th.
- The Planning Applications Committee will be on 22nd.
- The Strategic Planning and Transportation Committee is on 24th February, which will be good for me as it will be the first time, I have been on one of the main working committees of the council for a few years.
Did you Know?
Last month I asked, what do you think was the first thing we did immediately on taking control of Wandsworth Council to defy the then Education Secretary, “Margaret Thatcher Milk-Snatcher”? Actually quite a few of you did know that, along with a sizable group of other Labour local authorities, we decided to provide free school milk out of the Council’s own resources. Given the very tight central government controls on local spending, it would be much more difficult to do that today!
And this month?
How many of you recognise this lion and can place him in Battersea? I don’t know what he is doing there or indeed why? He is at about hip level and he is in a very normal, even average, Battersea terrace street. Can you name the street and house number, where Leo lives? And better still does anyone know how and when he got there? I don’t know that.
- Happy New Year. I hope that you hada great Xmas though I wouldn’t mind betting that it was one of the quietest that you have ever had. Mine certainly was! Penny and I watched old film favourites like Some like it Hot and had some nice walks in the park and on the common: this is Wandsworth Common after the inevitable and remorseless rain.
- On 2nd December I went up to town for the first time since forever, to have a Xmas get-together with my old soccer mates. We played in the 60s and 70s. I was what we then called an inside right. I relied on pace, over 10 yards, stamina and a good reading of the game. I can only recall two goals I ever scored from outside the goal area, and, believe it or not, one of those was a header! There were about 15 of us – a party of septuagenerians and octogenerians – really wild.
- I had a meeting of the North-East Surrey Crematorium Board on 7th December at Sutton Town Hall. You will not be surprised to hear that in this Covid year the income from cremations is higher than had been estimated. However, the extra income has enabled the Board to invest in two air purifiers for the two ovens – perhaps an extreme version of just how clouds can have silver linings. The Crem will be one of the first in the UK to be so equipped – though, of course, they are standard in Sweden; a further example of how Scandinavian eco-standards are so much higher than ours.
- You may recall from last month’s newsletter that Labour won the Bedford by-election by just one vote. Consequently, it was no surprise that the Wandsworth Labour Party was in turbulent mood. What, however, was surprising is the speed and decisive nature of the councillors’ response. We, Labour councillors, quickly concluded that it was too much to expect one person to be both the Leader of Labour members on the Greater London Assembly and the Leader of Labour councillors on Wandsworth Council. And, so on 12th December, we elected Simon Hogg as Leader of Wandsworth’s Labour councillors.
- I had two major regrets in December, and they were missing the party/celebrations of Robert Musgrave’s retirement from Providence House and Donna Barham’s from the Kambala Residents Association. Robert has been the inspiration and lynchpin of Providence House, surely the largest and most successful youth club in Battersea; whilst Donna (second from left in this Kambala party) has created the Residents Association and the Kambala Cares catering group. Unfortunately, both events took place in mid-December, just as the latest phase of Covid struck, and by then I had decided to be super-cautious.
I did, however, venture out very cautiously to play chess for Surrey County against Essex – it may sound grand but it was at a fairly low grade. My grade is much lower than when I was at school but then I was in practice, which I am not now. So I was pretty pleased when I recovered from a poor opening (a pawn down) to offer my opponent a draw, which he accepted. However, when later reviewing the game, I realised that I had manoeuvred myself into a winning position – how really annoying! Especially as Surrey lost by one point and it could have been a draw!
- The full Council Meeting was held on 15th I made a speech about the Council cutting its funding of the Battersea Arts Centre by £60,000. It was the first speech I’d made in Council since the Borough Election 3.5 years ago! That sounds as though I have not been doing my job as a councillor, but that has been pretty well inevitable given the reduction in the number and length of Council Meetings and the restrictions brought in because of Covid. There really is a democratic deficit opening up in local government!
- On 16th December I was at the December Planning Applications Committee. It was strange being at a meeting, with the participants separated from each other by plastic barriers – rather like the way we are all separated from the bus driver. (Why won’t the Government allow us to run these meetings online? We have the technology and the public health case is made by all, including the Government). The agenda was also strange. It marked the inexorable march of giant blocks from Vauxhall into Battersea – this time a 21 storey block in Yelverton Road, more or less where the Chopper pub used to be 10 years ago. I seem to be the only councillor consistently voting against tower blocks at a time when I know many (most?) of the public dislike them. The picture is of the Vauxhall (east end) of the Wandsworth Road, by the Nine Elms Sainsbury’s.
- I spent some of today (31/12/21) reviewing the last year and some of the stories I have covered in this newsletter this year. They included Trump’s assault on American democracy; the notorious Sky Pool pictured here and visible from Nine Elms Lane (if you look closely you can just make out a swimmer a quarter across from the right); me being stuck in a lift in Sporle Court; the new homes built in the Winstanley Regeneration; and the XR protests about it; Zoom meetings; and growing concerns about the climate crisis; and of course COVID. Quite a year.
- I have written an appreciation (see https://tonybelton.wordpress.com/) of Brian Barnes (20/8/44-28/11/21), the painter, for the Battersea Society magazine Battersea Matters. One reader said that I was generous and that “Tony and Brian didn’t always see eye to eye (putting it mildly!)” We certainly did not see eye to eye, nor were his political achievements anything other than minimal. But he certainly did create some great street art with much community engagement.
My Programme for January
- Given omicron, it is probably rash to predict any future appointments, beyond a couple of days, but I think I can guarantee that the January Planning Applications Committee will be on 25th.
- It is also pretty safe to say that we councillors will be gearing up for the Council’s election on 5th May – now a mere four months and a few days away.
- 22nd January is the publication day for Penny’s great book on The Georgians (or very roughly eighteenth-century Britain, including Ireland, Scotland and Wales and not just England). It is being published by Yale University Press and it certainly looks impressive.
Did you Know?
Last month I asked, whether any of you knew what was on the site of Foxton’s, next to the Battersea Arts Centre, in the 1940s. A few of you knew that it was the magnificently impressive Shakespeare Theatre. This picture is from approximately 1920.
And this month?
When I was first elected in May 1971, what do you think was the first thing we did immediately on taking control of Wandsworth Council to defy the then Education Secretary, “Margaret Thatcher Milk-Snatcher”?
by Tony Belton
The Western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” had a title that so appealed to Brian Barnes that he used it for his first and largest mural, which he painted on an insignificant but very long wall facing onto Battersea Bridge Road. The mural was recorded as being 276 feet long and 18 feet high. It was Brian’s signature mural and it was the only mural, as I remember it, that hit the front pages of The Sunday Times and The Observer and maybe even The Sunday Telegraph, when both wall and mural were demolished in 1977.
I was Wandsworth’s Chair of Planning at the time and appeared as a bit part, along with the Planning Director and several notorious local Tories, in what Brian considered to be the Ugly, and less effective part of the mural – the modern, chaotic present. The Bad was, of course, the magnificent depiction of the old, noxious, nineteenth-century industries being swept away by a massive broom. The Good is inevitably the new rosy future for Battersea, as he sees it: smiling mothers and children playing in a colourful park, adorned with daffodils.
Brian later called his art ‘realistic’ and ‘naturalistic’; he claimed to be influenced by Renaissance painters. Certainly, this great mural had similarities to Hieronymus Bosch’s interpretation of Heaven and Hell [The Garden of Earthly Delights, painted between 1490 and 1500]. Yet, whilst I have the impression that Bosch rather enjoyed painting the evils of hell and found heaven boring, Brian revelled in the bold, bright, colours and shapes of a rather simple heaven/future. He was, what I might call a Naïve Futurist.
The day the wall was demolished, the demolition crews started their work at 3.00am, so that when Brian arrived there was not much left. But he climbed on top of the remnants, where he screamed and hollered his protest, like a mother defending her child – it had, after all, been his baby for over a year of work. Traffic was held up for 13 hours that day.
Thankfully, there are other Barnes murals to be seen and admired. My favourite is called Battersea in Perspective and is in Dagnall Street on the wall of what used to be the Haberdashers’ Arms. It is a prime example of Brian’s vision of public murals. It is a very large and bold, colourful and political, historical and highly referenced, visual tour of Battersea. The nine portraits at the bottom of the picture (sorry about the car) are important Battersea MPs: John Burns, Sapurji Saklatvala, Caroline Ganley, Douglas Jay and Alf Dubs; other significant Battersea politicians John Archer and Charlotte Despard; plus aeronautical pioneers: Hilda Hewlett and A(lliott) V(erdon) Roe. Battersea Park and the Peace Pagoda make a bold focal point, bordered by Albert and Chelsea Bridges. The Power Station and the Carey Gardens estate, where Brian lived, also appear.
And in a reference to the Renaissance paintings, that Brian admired, we can see not only one of the early planes, built in some of Battersea’s railway arches and a hot air balloon; but also the motif from an Iron Age shield, found in the Thames off Battersea Bridge in 1857 and now to be seen in the British Museum.
|Photo and © Tony Belton; resized by Tomos Jones|
There are other major Barnes murals in south London: all of them notable for their sheer size, colour, boldness, political content and community involvement. Some of the most notable are Brixton’s (Coldharbour Lane) Nuclear Dawn; Stockwell tube station’s War Memorial; and Battersea’s (Carey Gardens) A Brief History of Time and Thessaly Road’s A Day at the Seaside.
Brian Barnes constantly involved school kids, local people and local personalities in the design and execution of his murals. He lived for his art and I remember that he told me once of his plan to go to Bahia Blanca, a city on the east coast of Argentina, to an international festival of murals. The plan was that this otherwise undistinguished city would allocate one wall each to 50 international artists, invited to decorate the city. It was a wonderful plan, which anyone who knew Brian would know that he’d have loved. It would also have expanded his artistic experience and range. But, as so often, the problem was money. Neither Brian nor Bahia were rich and the artists had to be self-funded!
There was another side to Brian and that was his life as a political activist. In 1983 he became the inspirational genius behind the Battersea Power Station Action Group (BPAG). BPAG, he told me some 10 years ago, met weekly for over 30 years with Brian creating the agenda, writing the minutes and basically running the show – all that takes some doing. He was also a long-term executive member of the Doddington and Rollo Community Association (DRCA) and an active participant in many local campaigns and issues. He was frequently enthusiastically articulate about his very particular viewpoint. However, as the chair of several of these sessions, particularly at the DRCA, I’d have to say that Brian was not always very concerned with achieving consensus. The vehemence of his passion did not make for practical success in everyday politics, nor on occasions for civilised debate. But it made great street art.
RIP Brian Barnes, committed community activist and great muralist.
- Living through, what is hopefully the nearest thing to the Plague we will ever know, is certainly an experience – even if, one we would have wished to miss. But it is almost unfathomably personal, depending upon family life, age, life situation, wealth, location, occupation, etc., etc. I am talking from one tiny segment of the population. The comfortably off, owner-occupying, socially established, mature population. Though, even here the range of reactions are massive. My partner, Penny is putting nose to the grindstone, churning out books – actually enjoying not going to the cinema or to the noisy restaurant. Me? I am kind of reducing risk factors to a degree; going out a bit but happy to have an excuse not to. Many of my peer group have hardly stuck their heads out of the door and yet others, within Government restrictions, are flying the world almost regardless of the climate crisis and COP26.
- Lots of past generations, of course, have had their trials. My parents, for example, spent most of their twenties separated by war, and their parents, my grandparents, suffered the more deadly 1914-18 War AND the deadliest of modern pandemics, the 1918 so-called flu epidemic. My peer group appears to me to be uniquely lucky to have been born into Welfare State Britain and now, many of us, comfortably off as we enter a Climate Crisis through a Pandemic. And yet we can be so complacent and mean about it, when we should be generous and open about our good fortune. (One or two caveats, even for my generation: it is so important to be busy and, hopefully, not unhappily lonely).
- November started with me being pinged and self-isolating, so I missed Wandsworth’s Civic Awards and a couple of social events. However, I was clear for a grand Labour Party event at the Park Plaza Hotel, Waterloo. I, and a dozen other Labour councillors, were the guests of Cllr Peter Carpenter at a celebration of Labour and its associated SME (Small and Medium-sized enterprises) members. SME business is not generally thought of us as a home base for Labour, which is more frequently associated with Trade Unions and large, smoke-stack or nationalised businesses. SME4Labour is however a vibrant new part of the Labour Party, very much inspired by first-generation Brits, who have made good. A high point of the evening was Leonie Cooper’s award as Greater London Member of the Year. Congratulations to Leonie, who as many of you will recall, was a Latchmere councillor before moving to Tooting in 2010.
- On 11th November, Penny and I flew to Copenhagen for the Annual Meeting of the Danish Eighteenth-Century History Society, where she was the keynote speaker. I wanted us to avoid air flights – if possible, but discovered that it was practically impossible. There used to be a ferry from Newcastle to Esbjerg on the Danish west coast, followed by a simple train ride to Copenhagen. But cheap airfares have undermined that ferry’s economic viability. And the only real alternative is a 36 hour trip by ferry to Rotterdam and a combination of rail journeys across Holland and Northern Germany and finally Denmark. How can we truly face up to the climate crisis when the Government not only continues to subsidise air travel, but actually increases its subsidies as Chancellor Sunak has just done to the detriment of rail and ferry services? Is this Government serious about anything?
- On the 12th we went for a long walk through central Copenhagen. It’s such a quiet, well-behaved city compared with noisy, rumbustious London. There are famous tourist spots like Nyhaven (Newhaven – pictured here), pedestrianised streets and thousands of cyclists. But the cyclists somehow belong to a different era from here in London. They are not Lycra-clad speedsters but sit-up-and-beg shoppers with shopping baskets. But before some of my cycle-loving colleagues get too envious of Denmark, I should point out that British pedestrians would never tolerate the inequities meted out to pedestrians in Copenhagen – no minimum width of pavements, no protection against parked cars or bikes, no control over obstructions. The pedestrian really is at the bottom of the pile.
- The lecture and the guest appearance of the International President, Penny, went well and so, I must say, did the delightful socialising on both of our evenings there. On the 14th before our return home, we went for a tour of the Fredericksburg Gardens, a Hyde Park equivalent attached to the Palace, pictured here. But the stars of the afternoon were in the elephant enclosure of the neighbouring zoo, which is clearly visible from the Gardens. We were entertained by two elephant teenagers, who were intent on pushing each other into a pond they shared with plenty of ducks, who sensibly kept their distance!
- We returned home on the 14th but what a hassle! On the way out, we had a saga of problems. And, as for returning, our efforts to complete the correct forms on strange computer keyboards, to satisfy the Covid inspectors and, and …… led us to conclude that foreign trips of less than at least two weeks are just off the agenda for the foreseeable… And, moreover, we got pinged again two days later, presumably because of someone we met/passed at Heathrow!
- On the 15th, the day before I went into self-isolation for a second time, I had a meeting of the Wandsworth Conservation Area Advisory Committee (WCAAC). I have mentioned this committee before but not discussed it much. It is a very worthy group of local amenity groups, who advise the Council on potential developments in Conservation Areas and who, unsurprisingly, usually have a conservative outlook on developments. On this occasion, the main discussion was about the proposed development of the All England Tennis Club into and over the area of what is now the Wimbledon Park Golf Club. Whilst that is of little direct interest to Battersea, I know many “Wimbledon” fans will be fascinated. In essence, the Championship is doubling in size; the qualifying tournament will be held on-site and not as now in Roehampton; it will provide many, many more practice courts (apparently compared to the other majors the lack of practice facilities is a “scandal”); it will also ease the obvious “wear and tear” pressures of playing on grass as opposed to hard courts. As a by-product, much of the current golf course will also become a genuine park rather than an effectively private open space. The proposals looked good, but, of course, the plans still need close scrutiny.
- Once again self-isolation meant that I did not attend November’s Planning Applications Committee on the 23rd, except in Zoom-mode. In every other respect, it was also like October’s PAC – there was nothing exciting on the agenda; it was mundane; it was ordinary; it was part of the bread-and-butter of local government and it was very well done with thought and care. I was again impressed by the quality of the councillors’ involvement and contribution.
- Some months ago the Battersea Park Rotary Club invited me to talk at their weekly lunch-time meeting on 25th My topic was “50 years of life as a councillor”. The lunch was at Wright’s, one of the new restaurants in the Battersea Power Station development. I thought the talk went quite well; the Rotarians said it did; but then they would, wouldn’t they? Here I am after the event with Rotarian President Senja Dedic.
- Whilst I was there, I was struck by the sight of the Power Station. Since I was last there it has taken on the looks of a completely new building, in sparkling condition and almost ready for its new life as a town centre, full of shops, living and work. It was, as you can see, a brilliant day: bright and very cold and the Power Station looked at its best. I got into a discussion with two friends, who work there and who are very committed to its success. I suspect I irritated, or annoyed, them with my scepticism about the plan for what is being called “a new town centre”. Personally, as yet I find the development a tad sterile; it’s certainly acquiring some of the patina of success, but there isn’t any authentic urban life there. I hope that I am wrong but ..?
- The 25th was also the day of a by-election in Wandsworth’s Bedford ward. Congratulations to Labour’s Sheila Boswell, who won by one vote! I suspect that both Tory and Labour parties were almost equally surprised by the result. Labour was certainly. And presumably, the Tories were a bit sickened, having got so close. It will have done no harm as long as the obvious lessons are learnt, starting with the very clear one that the electorate is not quite as keen on turning out for what will seem to many as meaningless by-elections even if we, active practitioners, think they are important. On the following Sunday, 60-70 Labour stalwarts zoomed their collective frustrations and irritations in a solemn post mortem.
- On the last day of the month, news broke that local artist and political campaigner, Brian Barnes had died. I first met Brian during the Battersea Society’s campaign “to save” Albert Bridge. It was under assault from modern traffic, which its nineteenth-century designers hadn’t anticipated. It was a story very familiar to modern Londoners in the form of similar arguments about Hammersmith Bridge. Demolition and reconstruction was, of course, the “rationalists’” answer but they had not allowed for campaigners, who commissioned the young, unknown Battersea artist, Brian Barnes, to design several beautiful posters in defence of the bridge. An agreed compromise was the largely unnoticed but successful buttress under the bridge’s central span. It has now been there for 50+ years.
- Way back then, I was Chair of Planning and later the Opposition lead on planning, when his most famous mural was designed, created and demolished. The mural, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, was a massive 150 feet long, 18 feet high (45 metre by 5.50 metre) political statement of how he, and some others of us, would have liked Battersea to become. A great broom was sweeping away all the noxious industries of nineteenth-century Battersea and replacing them with smiling children and nice new homes. But, like medieval paintings of heaven and hell, Brian had much more fun painting the ‘bad’ than he did the ‘good’ – after all, one set of smiling children in a flower garden doesn’t cover much of 150 feet. I am proud to claim a small role in the artwork, as Brian included me and Wandsworth’s then Director of Planning, Mike Tapsell, on the mural, being tossed about in what was a figurative tide of rampant capitalism. Four Tory councillors, led by Chris Chope (now Sir Christopher Chope, the notorious right-wing Tory MP) also starred in the painting. Unfortunately, the demolition men gave it short shrift when building today’s Morgan’s Walk.
- My favourite Barnes mural is called Battersea in Perspective and is in Dagnall Street on the wall of what used to be the Haberdashers’ Arms, now converted into flats. The mural is a visual tour of Battersea, from Roman jewellery found in the Thames to Battersea Park’s Peace Pagoda. It demands a detailed description, but, as this photo shows, it is also difficult to picture, whilst retaining the correct perspective.
- There was another side to Brian and that was his life as a political activist. In the early 80’s he was the inspirational genius behind the Battersea Power Station Action Group (BPAG). BPAG, he told me some 10 years ago, met weekly for over 20 years with Brian creating the agenda, writing the minutes and basically running the show – that takes some doing. He was also a long-term executive member of the Doddington and Rollo Community Association (DRCA). I was chair of the DRCA for some years around the turn of the century and I can vouch for the fact that Brian was a very idiosyncratic, and not always easy, member of the association – at least from the chair’s perspective! RIP Brian Barnes, committed community activist and great muralist.
- Finally, can I urge you all to get fully vaccinated – if not for yourself then for your friends and family, who deserve not to be infected by a disease that you might otherwise be carrying. To my mind, refusing to get vaccinated is not a display of sturdy individualism but rather an anti-social indulgence.
My Programme for December
- Omicron looks likely to destroy much of my Christmas, and I am afraid maybe yours as well. I very much hope that I am wrong but the sudden appearance in late November of this new strain of Coronavirus, and the threat of other variants to come suggests to me that there must be more lockdowns to come.
- That will leave me with a meeting of the North-East Surrey Crematorium Board on the 7th December, a Labour Councillors’ Group on the 9th, the Council Meeting on the 15th and the Planning Applications Committee on the 16th.
- As for the festivities themselves: I have the usual round of potential parties, but how many happen, or I go to I am not sure. Only one has been cancelled so far!
Did you Know?
Last month I asked, whether you knew this local horse trough, which I had noticed the previous month. The answer is that it stands on Trinity Road, outside the County Arms.
And this month?
Many of you will know this building: Foxtons, large, modern office block on the corner of Theatre Street and Lavender Hill. But do you know what was there before being severely bomb-damaged in the 1940s and demolished in the 1950s? You might find a bardic clue in the address.
- September was hectic; October was both quieter and yet more challenging! During years in politics, I have been “interviewed” at more than 40 selection meetings prior to standing for election. This kind of competition is not unique to politics; but it always means competing with close colleagues and friends. That is stressful and the track record shows I have a mixed record at it! For most of the rest of the month I went coughing and spluttering into voluntary self-isolation – and that is boring.
- Saturday, 9th October, was a tough day. I had two selection meetings; one successful and the other not. The first was in the new 2 member ward of Falconbrook, where my colleagues Kate Stock and Simon Hogg were triumphant. Congratulations to them and all the best for the real election next May. The second selection meeting that day was in the new Battersea Park ward, where I was successful along with my new colleagues Juliana Anaan and Maurice McLeod. I look forward to working, and hopefully winning, with them next May.
- Wandsworth’s Council Meeting was held on the 13th Sadly and inevitably, Covid 19 has put everything, including Council Meetings, into the shade. The pandemic, not to mention the climate crisis, has eclipsed the relatively minor issues of running the Council. However, it does remain important that we have a lively political forum, in which to debate how we run our society, when hopefully we can put Covid behind us. Meanwhile the Council Meeting was rather second tier!
- On 14th October, I went to my cousin’s funeral in Braintree, Essex. He and I were never very close, but immediately post-war, because he lived in Southend-on-Sea, my parents would send me off for a couple of weeks in the summer holidays from Tottenham to live with him, and my aunt and uncle. Penny and I made the 150 mile round journey (and stayed the night) to mark a family passing. It was good to see old family members again after so long. The “butter wouldn’t melt” picture is of David and me. David is the older of the two of us and the picture dates, I guess, from August, 1948.
- After the funeral on the next day, 15th October, Pen and I drove the short distance to Colchester, where amongst other things I got a penalty notice for driving into a bus-lane I frankly didn’t see – oh, well, the price of urban living! Why go to Colchester? To visit an old colleague and friend, Guy Wilson, who was elected as a Wandsworth councillor in 1968. The three of us were part of the 1971-78 Labour Council. We had a conversational ramble through the successes and disasters of that Council – and my word there were some great successes and one very large disaster, the implementation, or not, of the 1971 Housing Finance Act!The picture is of the three of us, Guy on the left, then Penny, and me, along with Margaret Morgan and Martin Linton, celebrating our 1971 victory at a recent 50 year celebration!
- On reflection, the funeral, especially the wake, was a super-spreader event. I haven’t heard of any consequential Covid 19, but I have had a nasty cough ever since and so on 16th October I put myself in self-isolation, despite a negative test – and self-isolation is very boring!
- Self-isolation meant that I did not attend the October Planning Applications Committee, except in Zoom-mode. Although there was nothing very exciting on the agenda, I was impressed by the high quality of councillor involvement and contribution. It was mundane. It was ordinary. It was not going to save the world from environmental disaster; but it was part of the bread-and-butter of local government and it was very well done with thought and care.
- On a quite different matter, one old friend of mine, who makes her living from graphic design, tells me that she likes my newsletters but hates the cross-page justification I have used in the first 3 paragraphs of this newsletter. She thinks it looks much better simply left-justified as in the last 5 paragraphs. Tell me, what is your view? What is the readers’ opinion?
My Programme for November
- On the 4th November, I was going to be at the Civic Awards ceremony at the Town Hall with my colleague Juliana Annan – but I am afraid self-isolation continues to rule that out.
- On the 7th November, Battersea Labour Party is having a Jazz Night at Clapham’s Bread and Roses That is usually an enjoyable occasion and I hope to be there!
- Some of you may remember that Penny was elected for a four-year term as President of the International Association for Eighteenth–Century Studies and we had plans for attending multiple international conferences. Of course, Covid has put a stop to all that. But now Denmark has taken the plunge and so from 10th-14th November we hope to be in Copenhagen – our first trip (holiday, well working holiday for her) in two years. No doubt many of you have not had a break either, so you will know how exciting that feels!
- The November Planning Applications Committee is on 23rd There will probably be a contentious planning application to convert the Clapham Common Bowling Green to a Pitch and Putt course, amongst other items – watch this space!
- Battersea Park Rotary Club invited me give a talk about my 50 years as a councillor and, no doubt, about what has or has not changed during that time. I get lunch in return on 25th I look forward to that but must think just a bit about what really has changed?
Did you Know?
Last month I asked, “Which ward will be abolished next May and, take with it, the proud record of being the only ward in Wandsworth never, ever to have been anything other than represented by Labour councillors?”
That was so easy/boring/inconsequential (delete to taste) that none of you bothered to tell me that it is, of course, Latchmere, the only ward permanently represented by Labour!
And for this month’s puzzler:
I thought I knew my local horse troughs but last month I noticed this one, for the first time, despite passing it a 1,000 times. It is a slight cheat as it is very marginally outside Battersea’s boundaries. Do you know it? And can you point me to a similar trough that is very definitely in Battersea?
If it helps, Yes – they are pub seats in the background.
- What a month! Two funerals, a death, a wedding and a “50 years as a councillor party” in the first fortnight; Council candidate selections amid confusion during the whole month; petrol queues and empty supermarket shelves at the end of the month; a new undergound station (or two) for all of us; a new baby for fellow Councillor Kate Stock; and entombment in a Sporle Court lift for me – and those are just the headlines! Oh, and a pro football games.
- 3rd September was the day of Kathy Tracey’s funeral. Kathy was a strong Tory councillor and therefore wicked – but actually not on every issue. She of course supported, what to me, were some fairly outrageous Tory policies, but, as boss of Wandsworth’s Children’s Services, she genuinely cared for “children looked after” (or “taken into care” in lay language). She was a passionate supporter of girls’ education and of sex education – perhaps particularly for boys! I well remember an epic battle she fought with some hard-right young Tory councillors on that particular issue. I suspect that she might well have become the Leader of the Council, if she had been a man. Here she is after the refurbishment of the Doddington Activity Centre. I certainly respected her.
- On 4th September, fellow councillor Annamarie Crichard invited me to join her and her husband, Steve, at Wimbledon AFC’s new Plough Lane stadium for the league match against Oxford United. I had been to the old Plough Lane stadium, with my parents, in the 80s – but what a difference. The new ground is very neat and well organised and there is clearly space for the expansion required if the club were to be promoted (unlikely this year but they were in the Premiership equivalent forty years ago). One startling difference between new and old was the playing surface. It was like playing on a carpet as opposed to the mud that used to pass for a football pitch in the 80s. As for the game itsrlf, Oxford United started well and took a 1-0 lead into the second half. But then the Dons came good and ran out 3-1 victors.
- The 9th September was the day picked for the Celebration of my 50 Years as a Wandsworth councillor. It seemed to go well; and I am delighted to record again my thanks to all who put so much effort into its organisation. And to those of my fellow councillors who funded the event (no Council-paid-for junketing here!). I greatly appreciated the engraved beer tankard presented to https://www.msn.com/en-gb/feed me by the Mayor and which I am holding close to my heart in this picture.
- And then on 10th September I attended the Quaker funeral of an old friend, Ron Elam. Ron and I were “flat neighbours” in the 1960s and worked together in County Hall from then until the abolition of the Greater London Council in 1986. Away from County Hall, he became a very senior and experienced school governor, travelling the country inspecting and monitoring school governing bodies. Although a Labour Party member, he was frequently used by Tory Wandsworth Council to help and advise on the recovery of failing schools. The Quaker funeral service was very moving, very restrained and very comforting. In general, I’m not one for religious occasions and find some positively off-putting but I must say that the Quakers are in a different class! Plain speaking from the heart is hard to beat.
- To complete the week, on the Saturday, Penny and I were off to the delightful village of Aynho in Northamptonshire for the wedding of one of my colleagues from University – Yes, you read that properly – one of my colleagues from college in the 60s. Mind you it was his third wedding and a very cheerful, happy day it was – lots of dancing, including by me!
- The following day, Penny and I explored the village. It didn’t take long. It’s not very big but it is spectacular, with a magnificent seventeenth-century mansion (Aynho House), which is used for wedding parties, but not by our party. The most spectacular of the village sites is St. Michael’s Church. It was originally fourteenth-century, but it was destroyed by fire in 1723, except for the tower. Amazingly enough the church was rebuilt in the mid eighteenth-century to look like a country house of the period, but with the church tower standing rather incongruously at one end of it.
- It really was a turbulent fortnight.
- The Planning Applications Committee (PAC) on 16th September included one fascinating decision regarding yet another massive application in Nine Elms. To be honest, I didn’t quite understand it as we were asked both to defer making a decision and to delegate it to the officers. That procedure was very strange and I don’t recall a similar case in all my years’ experience. After all, if there was no urgency, which a decision to defer seemed to imply, then logically there would be enough time to come back to the Committee for due consideration and therefore no need to delegate. It looked frankly odd to me and to most of my Labour colleagues, but the resolution was passed by the Tory majority. I will certainly keep my eyes open to see what follows from their decision!
- One of the biggest events in Battersea in 2021 has to be the opening of the Battersea Park underground station. I didn’t go to the actual opening but I did travel from the station to the new Nine Elms station just a few days later. What is so noticeable is how clean, fresh and empty the station and the platforms are. It is a timid commuter’s delight but the impact on TfL’s finances is too dreadful to contemplate. Of course, the line needs to continue to Clapham Junction. That would transform the pattern of usage but the money just isn’t there (without government intervention), despite what some critics are claiming. As a result it does run the risk of becoming a massively under-used facility. One fascinating indicator of this is the lack of business at mid-day in the massive Sainsbury’s lower car park at Nine Elms and its usea as a training ground for these young in-line skaters!
- If you are not interested in the minutiae of politics, you should skip this paragraph because much of the rest of September was taken up by Labour councillors and newcomers competing to be the party’s candidates in next May’s Borough election. The process has been delayed by Covid, and complicated by the ward and boundary changes. So, to take an obvious and personal example, the old Latchmere ward will cease to exist in May 2022 and its three councillors, Simon Hogg, Kate Stock and myself, are competing with two newcomers for the two Falconbrook councillor positions. By definition we cannot all win. It’s a tense time in Battersea Park, Falconbrook and Shaftesbury & Queenstown wards but we will know our candidates by 10th October.
- Meanwhile, life continues! On 19th September, fellow Latchmere Councillor Kate Stock gave birth to a 10 lb 4 oz baby boy, named Jude. Congratulations to Kate and her husband, Tom. Kate doesn’t, by the way, believe in half measures. As well as coping with Jude, and his young sister Edie, and with ward reselections, she and Tom moved house on 30th September and became very near neighbours of ours.
- On September 23rd Kambala Cares, one of the two main volunteer groups helping to cook, shop and care for the vulnerable during the Covid lockdown, organised a party for its volunteers. I went as did Cllr Hogg and, most significantly, Mayor Richard Field. The party organised by Chair Donna Barham was well deserved by the many volunteers and very enjoyable for all.
- As a councillor, I make regular tours of Latchmere. On September 25th, I visited a constituent in Sporle Court (pictured here), the old high-rise, giant of north Battersea before all these new higher developments. As it happened, my constituent lived on the 19th I was alone in the lift, thank goodness, because as it started there was a great clunk, which worried me rather. The lift continued but, when it stopped, just inches short of the 19th floor platform, the door would not open! Have you ever been trapped in a lift, regardless of which floor it was on? An interesting experience! It was a warm day, so the first thing I did was take off my vest. It was getting hot in there. A few years back I had a bad attack of claustrophobia when in a long dark tunnel. It is essential to keep calm. So, it wasn’t great to be told by Penny, when I rang through to her, “Don’t panic!” She sounded like a government minister on speed!
- Actually the alarm system worked as it should and, after about 40 minutes, a team of 5 fire-fighters arrived and prised the doors open. Phew! I now have first hand experience of what many of our residents fear on a daily basis; and, whilst incidents like mine are not that frequent, minor lift malfunctions are. Is this the result of poor maintenance? Or a function of age and/or cheap original products. By the way I did visit my constituent!
- Talking about not panicking, What do you think about the Government’s performance during the petrol crisis, during the food delivery crisis, during the never-ending Covid crisis? Perhaps there is no need to panic about petrol, food or Covid but there certainly seems to be good reason to panic about our government and its competence levels!
My Programme for October
- Well, of course, Labour councillors in Battersea are pre-occupied with the tense, process of selecting candidates for the council election in May 2022. Thankfully the decision day is not now far off and then normal life can resume!
- In terms of regular, scheduled meetings I have the full Council on 12th October, and the Planning Applications Committee (PAC) on the 19th.
Did you Know?
Last month I asked, “where I was in Latchmere ward when I took this picture of more than 100 solar panels?”
Plenty of you had an answer to this and many were nearly, but not quite, correct – such as the response that I was on the train pulling into Wandsworth Town station. The actual answer was on the 10th floor of Oxborough House, which is the tallest of the new blocks on the “newish” development in Eltringham Street.
And this month a different teaser:
Which ward will be abolished next May and take with it the proud record of being the only ward in Wandsworth never, ever to have been anything other than represented by Labour councillors? And don’t say that is a difficult question!