- Having been away for most of September, one of my top priorities was to check on progress with the Council’s development of 106 new council homes on the Surrey Lane estate. I was impressed that work had started, indeed was almost completed, on re-arranging the parking space so that none would be lost – and indeed the work proceeded apace and the car parks were re-surfaced. As always though, there is a problem that has not yet been resolved – and that is the number and positions of disability parking spaces – I have a blue badge owner making her views well-known to the council staff and me – I hope we are able to solve the problem. Meanwhile, other building work seem to be proceeding well.
- On 5th October I went to the Annual Meeting of the Katherine Low Settlement. In the picture the Director, Aaron Barbour, is looking on amused, it appears, by one member’s intervention. KLS and Aaron deserve a vote of thanks from many people living in the area. The Settlement has maintained most of its services during the pandemic. And indeed added a sizable, and very socially valuable, lunch club to its activities.
- On the 13th October, we went to Christine Eccles’ funeral and life celebration. Christine had been a long-time member of the Battersea Labour Party. As so often on these occasions, I wished I had known more of Christine. I am sure that I played a very insignificant role in her life, but there had been a time in the 1970s when I was Chair of Wandsworth’s Planning Committee when she was one of my severest critics, along with the late Brian Barnes and Ernest Rodker (Ernest was at the celebration). Christine was one of the guiding lights of a group that put together an “activist newspaper” called Pavement. It sold, as I remember it, for 2P a week. In those pre-PC days, its production standards were spectacularly high – not something I, and I think most LP members, thought about all of its editorial values. Why did a Labour Council, which by modern standards was quite ludicrously left-wing, get so panned from the further left? The answer, I guess, is that after a Labour victory, the expectations of some are unrealistically high.
- Christine’s main passion, however, was the stage, as a critic, an actor, and a director. She was clearly very good but, for whatever complex reasons, she did not have the success that she probably deserved and for which she certainly hoped. My main exposure to her talents was in December 2011, when she directed Battersea Labour Party’s Mid-Winter Revue at the Battersea Arts Centre. Battersea Labour Party had (and has) some big stage names, of whom the best known are Prunella Scales and Timothy West; they were all involved but so were many of us amateurs, such as Will Martindale, Labour’s 2015 General Election candidate, Simon Hogg, now Leader of the Council, and me, ex-Leader of the Council. We were, of course, dreadful and, no doubt, an embarrassment to the pros – but how we improved after a couple of rehearsals with Christine in charge. Finally, we put on a great show. In a nineteenth-century complimentary phrase, she was a woman “of parts”. Christine Eccles, RIP.
- You may recall that, last month, I said that the Planning Applications Committee was on October 18th. I cancelled it; there was only one application to consider. There was no work to do! Amazingly enough, it appeared that ex-Tory Leader Councillor Ravi Govindia was intent on criticising the still newish Labour Council for this apparent STOP to construction activity in the Borough. I must have mis-understood. After 12 years of Tory (mis-)rule in the country and the Borough, he surely can’t believe that Labour has been the cause of this building hiatus, if hiatus it is. A new PM every month, Home Secretaries falling faster than the autumn leaves – the country becoming an embarrassment to many of its best patriots – how long can this continue?
- His intervention does, however, give me the excuse to get back onto my favourite hobby-horse of the day! On Saturday, 22nd October, Penny and I went on the Re-join the EU march. I guess that I must describe myself as a veteran marcher. My first was an early Aldermaston March, which took place every Easter from Aldermaston, a nuclear research station, to Westminster. It was a kind of “Rites of passage” event for many youngsters of the 50s and 60s. It took all four days of Easter and included sleeping in massive marquees in public parks; lots of amateur Bob Dylans; and not a few sexual explorations. They were fun – serious fun – I had a Welsh friend, who went back to mid-Wales during the Cuban crisis, thinking that if the apparently inevitable nuclear war did take place then he had a fighting chance of survival in the mountains of Wales and no hopes at all in London.
- Then there were the Vietnam War demos, much shorter, much less fun than Aldermaston but also much larger; Penny and I were in Grosvenor 1968 when mounted police charged at us – I will always maintain that the police over-reacted – but, provocation or not, I can tell you that being charged by 4 or 5 mounted police is a very scary proposition – the noise as these heavy animals hit the ground was something else – you can get a feel for it standing by the rails at Tattenham Corner, except those are light-weight racehorses, not intent on scaring you! Fortunately, we kept our heads and simply stood behind the big trees – and horses, being sensible beasts, do not try to charge through large, mature trees.
- Since then, there have been anti-Thatcher, pro-this and anti-that, marches, although the largest was the 2003 anti-Iraq war march. This one on 22nd October was different; this was about our lives; about our freedom to live, work and retire anywhere in a continent; about our standard of living and about our futures. It was big, maybe 50,000, of all ages, friendly, very peaceful – multi-national but unfortunately not as multi-ethnic as we need it to be.
- But I have passed mention of the full Council Meeting on the 19th When, following Covid, cameras were invited into Council Meetings, all councillors knew their behaviour would have to change; members have become very conscious of just how public their behaviour has become. Perhaps, even more significantly, councillors know that their most flippant or passing remarks are recorded for posterity. Hence Council Meetings, never the most entertaining evenings of the month, have become yet more staged, rehearsed and, for this veteran, dull. As it happens, on this occasion, I did think that we were more and better prepared than the Tory councillors were. But people are not any longer going to go to listen to a Council Meeting because they hope to influence the debate or because they want to listen to real-live, blood-and-guts debates. The whole process has become too homogenised for that.
- The next day, the red-letter day of 20th October, was time for the “cataract with complications” operation on Pen’s left eye. It was much feared but thank heavens it has gone brilliantly and now I am being told to clean up all kinds of dusty nooks and crannies around the house, that she hasn’t noticed for years.
- On the 7th October, I played chess (and lost) for Surrey versus Kent at St. Mary Cray – miles beyond Orpington! I thought I was doing quite well until my opponent’s fourteenth move but the most astounding thing about that afternoon was the rainbow over south-east London at about 5 pm. I took this picture from the train in Herne Hill. Then on 29th October, I played again for Surrey against Kent but on our home territory in Cheam. This time I won, in what I thought was a near perfect game. I came home really pleased with myself but then I sat down to analyse the two games on the computer. In the one I lost, I played too defensively. In the second, my opponent missed a winning move on the tenth! As football managers complain about VAR, computers are taking all the fun out of the game!
- On the 30th October, we went to another life celebration of another Battersea Labour Party member – Sue Twining. Sue had been living in Italy for many years; prior to retirement she had been the head teacher of a comprehensive school in Chelsea or Kensington; her husband, Richard, was a councillor for St. John ward in Battersea 1980-86. Inevitably most people there had been active in the local Battersea left scene, forty years ago, or from the world of teaching, or indeed from Italy. RIP Sue
- We went from the Sue event to hear Marc Wadsworth speaking at a Black History Month meeting in the Southside shopping centre. He was helping us to celebrate the centenary of the election of Shapurji Saklatvala as MP for Battersea North (MP 1922; 1924-29). “Comrade Sak” was a commanding orator, and a controversial figure. He was Britain’s first Asian MP and he was also a communist, albeit elected in Battersea with Labour Party endorsement. He was a rich Parsi – according to Wikipedia all Parsis are rich – don’t ask me why! When he lost the Labour Party’s support he was quickly ousted as Battersea North’s by Stephen Sanders, after whom a council block of flats in Salcott Road has been named.
- On the 31st October, I went at last to the new Battersea Power Station (BPS) It had been opened on the 12th or 14th October, depending whether you were a VIP or a member of the public. You may have seen that Wandsworth’s Labour councillors boycotted the occasion in a principled protest at the low level of affordable housing being provided in the whole of the BPS area – it was a controversial decision.
- I do not have a record of all the many, many votes that councillors have had on the future of BPS in both the full Council Meeting and in the Planning Applications Committee, but over the years I suspect that I have voted against the development more times than anyone else. That, however, does not mean much nowadays (remember that at one time the Tory Council was pressing for it to be the largest waste incinerator plant, probably in the world). And clearly, it was a triumphant day for the then Tory Leader Ravi Govindia when he could announce that Apple Inc was making the building its European Headquarters.
- But I must say, I am still not convinced. I appreciate that this high-end shopping mall does not have me in its potential target customers group. But on the Monday, when I went, the half-term crowds had gone; the sight-seers were gone, and I felt like a lonely pea rattling round in an enormous inhuman pod. I have a good sense of direction and I know the building well, having been round it scores of times, but I almost got disoriented. It reminded me of a large airport shopping mall where Mammon is only interested in getting you to part with your cash. I hope that I am wrong but let’s see on a wet November day in a year’s time just how bustling BPS really is.
My programme for November
- We have a meeting of the Labour Group of councillors on 1st.
- I have the Civic Awards Ceremony on the 2nd.
- I have the Transport Committee on the third.
- The public hearings on the Borough Plan open on the 15th and will last until 30th
- We have an “AwayDay” meeting of the Labour councillors on 12th The aim will be team building and policy development.
- Penny and I are going on our annual walk from Birling Gap to the top of Beachy Head, near Eastbourne, and back on the 13th.
- I look forward to hearing the story of Battersea’s public baths from Su Demont on the 16th. Did you know, for example, that 100 years ago there was one of the largest indoor swimming pools in the country (50 yards long I believe) just where the new Battersea Park tube station stands?
- The Planning Applications Committee is on November 22nd.
- On the 24th Penny will be talking at the Battersea Society meeting about her new book, The Georgians.
Did you Know?
Last month, I said, that, there was another smash hit (at least in the UK) from the 1960s and that the film stars a true Brit mega-star as a lothario. I also said that it was incredibly dated and sexist by today’s standards. The film was absolutely loaded with London references including many in Battersea’s St. Mary’s ward. And here is Michael Caine on the steps of St. Mary’s Church in the film Alfie. Many of you knew the answer but most, I think, probably saw the film the first-time round! For the record: Alfie was directed by Lewis Gilbert and premiered in 1966.
And this month?
I am afraid that this picture is not very helpful, but how many can both place these three cottages and name them?
- As trailed last month, Penny and I went to Croatia on 30th August. We went by train, catamaran, bus and ferry, staying overnight in Munich and then Zagreb; and we returned through Graz in Austria, where Penny had a history conference. Travelling this way was our attempt to be “green” but, of course, it takes time and is more expensive than flying, with its highly subsidised fares – perhaps I should say low-taxed rather than subsidised. But terrestrial travel is certainly more interesting, more fun, and more ecologically defensible than flying.
- We have now been to the same small seaside village about 8 times. Consequently, the four restaurant owners and 2/300 locals know us quite well. One of the charms of the place is the quiet, accessible, easy swimming. Every day, we swam across the bay from these steps, in a straight line to the other side, which is about 300 metres. There and back, the swim takes us about an hour, including time, floating about and admiring the view! We are not strong swimmers, but the water is warm and what you see is about as rough as it gets in this secluded bay!
- Our next stop was Graz, in Austria, a lovely regional capital city with a population of 60,000 people (slightly smaller than Battersea). It is a delightful place to have a conference. The conference was largely for fledgling historians giving their first papers; and hence enjoyable for them and just a little challenging. The subject was “war and its impact” – a topic of perennial relevance. We had papers on meritocracy in the Spanish navy; Poland’s tragic history of victimhood; and elite women’s attitudes to war in revolutionary France; and more. The picture is of the city from the funicular railway that runs out of the city up to the old-time castle hill – the castle was demolished by Napoleon!
- On August 30th, we left an England, with some desert-like characteristics, under a Johnsonian PM and still in an Elizabethan Age. We got back and the grass is greener and healthier than ever, but the country is under a completely disastrous Truss administration in a new Carolean Age. All change! The French have a phrase “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” which translates as “the more everything changes, the more it stays the same” – we shall see.
- Much has been said about Queen Elizabeth, so I will simply add that it was very striking, in Croatia, just how many people of every nationality came up to us after her death and told us how they personally admired the Queen and how they wished us, and by implication GB, well. Now into a Carolean Age!
- Last month, I mentioned how the Tory Party had been entertaining us during its leadership campaign. Now surely all must agree that it is rather more serious than just entertainment. I can remember in the build-up to Harold Wilson’s first successful election in 1964, that Labour called the previous Tory years “13 wasted years”. Now surely the previous, so far, 12 years have been not just wasted but positively disastrous, and perhaps even dangerous. Truss and Kamikaze Kwarteng have set us on a path to financial crisis and have lost the Tories their undeserved reputation for prudent financial management. Just watch them try and shovel all the blame onto Putin – who deserves everything he gets but I don’t think his objective was simply to destroy Britain’s Tory Government!
- I had the Wandsworth Conservation Area Advisory Committee on the 27th September and the Planning Applications Committee on the 28th. To be honest, both agendas were very thin and were largely, and unusually, mainly of interest to Tooting and Putney residents, so I will say no more. But take this opportunity to show a picture of me chairing the committee with the Development Manager, Nick Calder on my left, and our independent legal adviser, Duncan Moors, on my right.
- On 29th September we had the Finance Committee. There were several very technical papers about investment strategies, and about progress to date on capital projects, but probably the most interesting paper was about supporting the community in the current cost of living crisis. The Labour Council was under some attack from the Tory councillors, who wanted the Council to be specific about why it was planning to make £5 million available to support the community. Given that this sum was made available as insurance against, say the foodbanks running out of food, or for emergency funding to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, or for funding for endless other potential disasters in this time of crisis, I thought £5 million was an absolute minimum!
- I came under attack – you may have seen a tweet from Tory councillors – for saying that £2 million expenditure on Northcote Road (to sustain the weekend closure scheme) was not one of our (Labour’s) top priorities. Very strange that! The Tories think that £5 million is not justifiably allocated for potential emergency expenditure in the Borough in this time of crisis, but they are prepared to criticise me for saying that support for one of the most successful of our town centres, in the heart of one of Battersea’s wealthiest areas (Northcote) is not a top priority. Oh well, it’s a good job that we do not all agree about everything!
My programme for October
- I have the Katherine Low Settlement’s annual meeting and associated annual party – always a fun occasion – on 5th October.
- A meeting of the Labour Group of councillors on 13th.
- Battersea Power Station’s public opening 14th.
- Planning Applications Committee is on October 18th and the full Council Meeting is on the next day, October 19th.
- On October 22nd, there will be a National Rejoin (the EU) March from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, which I intend to take part in. I, of course, realise that the Labour Party is not yet committed to that course of action and that it will be a bumpy ride, getting back into the EU from here. But the last opinion poll on the subject that I saw in August 2022, showed a 16% lead for those, who think that leaving was a serious mistake. I can only imagine that since that date the majority has increased, and I believe that for the good of the country we must maintain that momentum to re-join and ensure that the next government takes re-joining seriously.
Did you Know?
Last month, I said, “Pete and Polly have an affair; Polly is a rich girl slumming it; you might be forgiven for thinking that you were in Clapham but no, this is all set in Battersea (and Chelsea and Worthing). What’s the film?
Easy for those of a certain age but how many people aged under 50 know this one?” And it certainly turned out to be very easy for those of a certain age, who all knew that the film was Up the Junction, made in 1969 and directed by Peter Collison. The “Reelstreets” Google entry for Up the Junction has many pictures of the Clapham Junction area as it was in the 1960s, just before the bulldozers moved in. For anyone interested in the sights of Winstanley Road and many other areas of North Battersea this really is a must! My picture is of the old station approach.
And this month?
From the same era, a smash hit (at least in the UK) at the time, this film stars a true Brit mega-star as a lothario – incredibly dated and sexist by today’s standards – it is almost impossible to imagine how successful it was then. Absolutely loaded with London references including many in Battersea’s St. Mary’s ward, which film am I talking about?
- August was, of course, a holiday month for the Council and so, it was also quiet for this councillor. But on 6th August I borrowed a friend’s Spurs season ticket and saw “my team” romp home to a convincing 4-1 win over Southampton. Some of my constituents are surprised that I support Tottenham, when I represent a ward, for whom Chelsea is virtually a home team (at its closest Battersea Park ward is less than 2km from Stamford Bridge). But when I explain that, when I was 6-9 years old, I lived 500 metres from White Hart Lane, most understand! 4-1 was a good win but what lives in the memory is the simply stupendous stadium and the 60,000 crowd, bathed in sunlight. And the facilities! A free programme on arrival, a free lunch, a free drink at half-time and a free chocolate chippie post-match. Ok, so there is no such thing as a free lunch and the season ticket price needs justification, but it’s not a bad justification! It’s all a bit of a stretch from the old Lane, with its terraces and its heaving 60,000 crowds, and Tottenham’s then main men, Alf Ramsey and Bill Nicholson – later respectively Managers of England’s World Cup winners of 1966 and Spurs’ Double-winning team of 1961. For those who do not follow soccer, the picture is of today’s main men, Kane & Son.
- I got home that evening just in time to get to Carol and David’s for a great summer garden party, with lots of neighbours and friends. Exactly a week later, Penny and I went to Islington to a friend’s eightieth birthday. (Today’s 80 really is yesterday’s 50!). Penny had, years earlier, supervised the friend’s PhD on the “Spanish Main”. He became an expert on discovering the wrecks of Spanish galleons, sank in storms or after piracy, carrying gold and silver from the New World to the Old. He hardly needed to tell me that he was lucky, in his choice of subjects, which, ever since, has earned him a living helping salvage companies – what a life! But. as is so often said, someone has to do it.
- Meanwhile, the Tory Party has been entertaining (?) us all with its leadership campaign. The final debates between Sunak and Truss must be amongst the most depressing and trivial imaginable. Any stranger listening to the debate (?) would find it difficult to imagine that we are on the verge of a climate crisis, a fuel crisis, a food crisis, a war crisis, a poverty crisis, a labour shortage and surely a political crisis. And to think that most of us know that one simple tragic but reversible mistake is the cause and part of the solution for some of this chaos. Yes, Brexit has been part of this disaster and surely it is about time more of us said so. No serious commentator disagrees with the argument that Brexit has hit the British economy badly. And who can doubt that the loss of foreign labour has caused farmers problems with harvest gathering, and construction firms with building skills, and the hospitality industries with lack of bar-staff, hotel and restaurant staff.
- In my view, Labour made a bad mistake in not distancing itself from the Referendum and its result. Of course, friends said to me that a democratic vote had to be respected and, of course, it did have to be. But democracies do make mistakes. Indeed, after every election, a high proportion of the population thinks that the electorate had just made a mistake (regardless of who won) and immediately commits to reversing the decision. Re-joining the EU will not be easy. Frankly, we will not be quickly forgiven by all, even if we will be very much welcomed by the Irish, the Dutch and some others. We almost certainly will not be able to re-join on such good terms as we had. But, apart from any other gain, a positive attitude to the European Union would, at the very least, help the Union of the four nations of the UK.
- Keir Starmer is not currently getting a good press, even if he is ahead in the polls. But a positive attitude to the EU would do much to re-vitalise the Labour Party, especially here in inner south-west London. It was no accident that the three Wandsworth constituencies of Battersea, Putney and Tooting all had large Remain majorities, that the three constituencies all had healthy Labour gains in the disastrous 2019 General Election and that Putney was the only Labour gain in the UK. Can I suggest that you write to your MP, and press her (or him) to lobby Keir and start a campaign for the country to re-join the EU as soon as possible? If nothing else, it would give the Labour Party a real cause with which to fight the Tories. Otherwise, we will lose out to the Lib Dems and the Greens.
- On 22nd August, enabling works started on the new Surrey Lane development at Randall Close. The enabling works involve re-arranging car parking facilities in several places on the estate in order to free-up the car park in Randall Close and make it available for the new development. Work on the development itself will start at the end of September or early October and will take a couple of years to complete. Wandsworth Council will then have 106 new council homes available to rent. Making all of these properties available to those in the greatest need, as opposed to some being on the open market, was, you may recall amongst the first decisions made by the new Labour Council in May, this year.
- On 23rd August I had the Planning Applications Committee. I was concerned by public comments that developers, whether the neighbour creating an extension or a major company building 1,000 new homes, often took little notice of the rules and conditions imposed on them, when permissions were granted. So, I decided to place enforcement notices higher on the agenda. I wanted to publicise that Wandsworth Council does enforce its own rules. It was a success as on this occasion, there were three good examples on the agenda. One was enforcing BT, or their agents, to remove this piece of equipment they had installed without permission on and clearly – see picture – blocking the pavement in Old York Road; another was to remove a semi-permanent bar extension built out on the pavement in Balham High Road and the third was to remove an over-large, un-neighbourly front garden shed.
- The main item on the agenda, however, was an application to build a 24-storey block on the corner of York and Lombard Roads, largely for more than 500 single units of what is called shared accommodation. “Shared accommodation” is a new concept in the UK, although such schemes are well known in the USA. They are aimed at single-person family units and could be seen as like student halls. The rents are high, but they are all-inclusive and so tenants do not have to pay for the utilities, or Council Tax, or for the use of the communal kitchens, the sports facilities, the cinema, the karaoke bar. Interestingly the fastest growing “family” unit in London is single-person households. As well as well-paid youngish professionals, the tenants could include people who want a London-pad for some days a week, divorcees, bereaved partners – the list is endless. However, the application was refused by 7:1 because of the lack of “affordable” housing and because of its overall size.
My programme for September
- Penny and I are off to Croatia on 30th We are going by train, hover-ferry, bus and ferry, staying overnight in Munich and Zagreb; coming back through Graz in Austria, where Penny has a history conference. We get back on 23rd September.
- The Planning Applications Committee is on September 28th.
Did you Know?
Last month, I said, “The Duke was in London and got involved in a car chase up and down Elsley Road, on the Shaftesbury Estate, then under the bridge on Latchmere Road, down York Road and up Trinity Road, finishing on Tower Bridge. Who is the Duke? What is he doing here in Battersea? And when? And I don’t think I have ever had such a flood of correct answers!
Yes, the Duke was indeed, Hollywood star John Wayne, who was in a car chase, which started in the Shaftesbury Estate and finished on Tower Bridge. He was featured in a film called, Branigan (1975; dir. Douglas Hickox), as a Chicago cop of that name, bringing a slightly American style of policing to the streets of London.
And if you have the time let me recommend 20 minutes watching at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pArxm5sfsrk. This Youtube tube video has Steve Brazil narrating the story of how this chase film was shot in London in 1975. He claims that the chase was done through real traffic, which beggars belief as you see one of the cars hurtling past traffic on Latchmere Road and turning hard right into Sheepcote Lane. There are other entertaining chase sequences on top of a multi-storey carpark and finally on Tower Bridge and also of a pub brawl, with distinctly Western references. The Youtube sequence is part of a series produced by Reelstreets, a site which shows films and locations.
And this month?
Pete and Polly have an affair; Polly is a rich girl slumming it; you might be forgiven for thinking that you were in Clapham but no, this is all set in Battersea (and Chelsea and Worthing). What is the film? Easy for those of a certain age but how many people aged under 50 know this one?
- July started well with an interesting trip around Arding & Hobbs. Every one must have noticed the scaffolding around the famous old building, and I was keen to tour it when invited by the new owner. He expects to provide retail units at ground floor level with high-class office facilities above. Although not known as a location for offices, he believes that the Junction, with its connections to the City and the West End, to Gatwick and Heathrow, is well-placed to become one. He has certainly invested a great deal of time and effort into the project. This view is from inside the famous old cupola atop the building. By the way, have you noticed the new top floor of the building? It is designed to stand back from the bulk of the building to reduce its impact on the building’s profile. I think it will work rather well.
- I had the first meeting of the Labour-controlled Finance Committee on the 7th July. This often rather bland and technical committee was very important in that it outlined many of the ambitions of the newly elected Labour leadership of the Council. Amongst the core themes was the Council’s commitment to pay all its workforce the London Living Wage as a bare minimum. I still remember to this day my shock when ex-councillor, now Lord, Lister declared in the 1980s that Tory Wandsworth did not care about the staff wage levels. When introducing the Tory policy of Compulsory Competitive Testing or CCT, he and his colleagues broke with nationally agreed wage levels and started the low wage culture that has left us with the UK’s failing “gig economy”. I am delighted to have been a party to bringing that to an end, at least as far as Wandsworth Council as an employer is concerned.
- Another crucial commitment made on that day was to increase the supply of council housing available to those in greatest need. The specific target of 1,000 new homes will be difficult to achieve but we have made a start by re-allocating some 50 new-builds on the Surrey Lane estate from market to council housing. There was also a decision to make £100,000 extra available for our hard-pressed voluntary sector, a resource that has been crucial for many during the Covid crisis. And another commitment was to convene a Citizen’s Assembly to focus on climate change and air quality issues.
- On the 8th July, I took part in the selection process for Wandsworth’s new Chief Executive. It is a very different process from the one I first took part in some 50 years ago. For a start, Wandsworth’s Chief Executive is now “shared” with Richmond, so the final selection is made by three councillors from each authority. I was part of a “Wandsworth team” of councillors, chosen as a selection of “stakeholders”, who had the task of interviewing the final short-list of candidates about their approach to managing the two authorities. I was very impressed by the final, very diverse, three candidates and look forward to the imminent arrival of Mike Jackson as the new Chief Executive after the summer break.
- Incidentally, this was the same day that Battersea Labour Party decided that Marsha de Cordova will continue to be our candidate for Parliament at the next General Election. Then, of course, many of us thought that would be in opposition to Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. Now less than a month later it appears likely that the PM will be Liz Truss. Just how many people would have guessed that as an outcome? After centuries as a successful campaigning party, the Tory Party seems to be having a collective Death Wish! I suspect that, unfortunately, it will recover with time but not before suffering some humiliating defeats.
- June and July are of course the months of garden parties and socials so on the 9th I went to Putney for a delightful garden party to mark my old friend, Annie Trevelyan’s, birthday. And on 14th to St. Mary’s for the Battersea Society’s ever-splendid annual summer party, where we were entertained by Junction Jazz. Unfortunately, the party was winding down by the time I took this picture!
- July 14th was the day of the Tooting Graveney by-election caused by Councillor Andy Gibbons’ untimely death. Rex Osborn was elected in Andy’s place. Coincidentally and most dramatically Rex played the major role in leading the “celebration of Andy’s life” the very next day, July 15th, at Putney Vale Crematorium The very large turn-out of old friends and colleagues was testament to the love and respect Andy got from so many of us. RIP, old comrade.
- Unfortunately, the ceremony and wake turned out to be a super-spreader event, with many of us, including me, going down with Covid 19 in the next few days. I should say that I was very lucky. So many people, of my age, have had really bad experiences but I had virtually zero symptoms though I did get a bit of what some people have described as brain fog – I don’t need the old joke about how could I tell? However, it took me twice as long, as usual, to do my Guardian Sudoku puzzle for a couple of weeks.
- The sad thing was that I missed our planned trip up to Alnwick for a wedding – a trip, which I was really looking forward to. I also had to miss the Battersea Chess Club Annual General Meeting; the first real full Council Meeting since Labour’s victory in May; and the Wandsworth Society’s summer dinner at Le Gothique.
- On the 26th I chaired my second Planning Applications Committee, though not to my satisfaction. I think that perhaps I was suffering from Covid-induced brain fog! It was a little chaotic. I mis-placed notes and lost my way round the agenda. It was not a great performance, though I hope that no lasting damage was done!
My programme for August
- On August 6th, I had the pleasure of going to Spurs’ opening match of the season, of which more next month, followed by a great party given by close friends and neighbours Carol and David.
- I also have several internal “planning” meetings at the Town Hall – though in practice they are all on MS Teams (like Zoom).
- The Planning Applications Committee is on August 23rd.
- And then on 30th, we are off on our three-week trip to Croatia – I am not complaining as I get around a fair bit but it will be our first holiday since 2019 – and it feels like it!
Did you Know?
Last month, I asked, “Who was St. John Bosco? Did he come from Battersea and if not why does the relatively new Battersea school bear his name?”
That so many of you knew the answer just shows how ignorant I am about the history of Roman Catholicism and how ignorant I am about the strength of Roman Catholicism today. It certainly wasn’t like that when I was much younger! The steady march of organised, usually right-wing, religion, especially in the USA, worries me. One would hardly believe that the American constitution deliberately separates state and church!
But enough of me pontificating (note the irony of me even using a word with papal connections!) and back to Bosco. John Bosco was born in 1815 in Castelnuovo d’Asti, (now ludicrously renamed Castelnuovo don Bosco – it’s just like Petersburg becoming Leningrad and now St. Petersburg) a few kilometres east of Turin.
Bosco spent much of his life teaching and developing education and schools for the under-privileged boys of the Turin area and founded the Society of Saint Francis de Sales, later the Salesians of St John Bosco. Bosco was beatified in 1924, and unsurprisingly when a Catholic school was established in Battersea it was called Salesian College. St. John Bosco School is the latest manifestation of this history.
And this month?
The Duke was in London and got involved in a car chase up and down Elsley Road, on the Shaftesbury Estate, then under the bridge on Latchmere Road, down York Road and up Trinity Road, finishing on Tower Bridge. Who is the Duke? What is he doing here in Battersea? And when?
- After the excitements and pleasures of May’s election victory, it was a pleasure to have a peaceful, stay-at-home Platinum Jubilee But I did get to the Falcon Festival. Before the pandemic struck in 2020, the Festival had been located in Este Road as well as Providence House. That had the advantage that it allowed for sports and other rural-style events, for example, a falconry, in nearby Banana Park, as well as including the Fire Station in the festival. But condensing it, this year, to the immediate Providence House area did concentrate the occasion. The picture is of the Battersea Labour Party stall.
- On Friday 3rd my street, like many others, had a street party. What made ours special, however, were sisters Hannah and Alice (pictured here), violinist and cellist of quite exceptional talent, who provided us with a 30-minute concert of classical and classic musical melodies. Another great feature was the dog race – what a hilarious sight! Dachsunds and terriers, competing with poodles and retrievers – after the dogs got the hang of what they were doing, it was very funny with a surprisingly close finish!
- On 11th June, I went to look-in on the Doddington Estate Garden. I had been involved with the garden, when I was Vice-Chair of the Doddington and Rollo Community Association (DRCA) way back in the nineties, but this was the first time I had been there for years. It really is a transformation from when the DRCA was a vast, vandalised, under-ground carpark and the site of the garden simply its wind-swept barren roof. The picture is of me with some of the Garden’s organising committee set, of course, in one part of the garden.
- The month of the Jubilee was an appropriate time for me to join two special social get-togethers. One was of veterans of my old football team. We played together in the late sixties and early seventies for Witan, a team of GLC (The Greater London Council – the largest local authority in the country) employees. The second was a dinner with several college friends from Magdalen College, Oxford – strong in spirit but sadly declining in numbers!
- On Sunday, 12th June, I was off to Derby to play in the Semi-final of the national chess county championship – perhaps not quite as impressive as it sounds because it was the U1650 competition, or championship for players graded Under 1650 in national ratings. I was playing for Surrey against Lancashire in a 16-board match. I was playing at 16 against a player rated more than 200 points ahead of me. (Although I play too infrequently to maintain a credible rating) After 2.5 hours, my opponent and I settled on a draw. I was rather proud of that result, even though on subsequent analysis I could see that I was in a 100% winning position – what a pity, except that I was in such dire time straits, with only a couple of minutes left on the clock, that it was probably better and safer to offer the draw! Surrey won and went on to win the final against Warwickshire on 2nd July, but unfortunately, I was only the reserve for the final.
- On Saturday, 18th June I went to the Dedication of Battersea Chapel Church, on the Winstanley Estate. One Rev. Thomas Horrocks was issued a licence to preach in Battersea in 1672, and in 1797, a successor Joseph Hughes, applied to become the Minister of the new Baptist Church, or Battersea Chapel, shown here.
- The Chapel was badly damaged during World War 2 and replaced by the rather utilitarian building that still stands, for a few more weeks, in Pennethorne Square. When the Council decided in 2012 to “regenerate” the Winstanley Estate, planning started on rebuilding the Chapel at its new site on Grant Road. This picture shows our M.P.. Marsha de Cordova, formally opening the very modern, quite austere new church. The chapel itself, once inside, is an impressive, very open, “democratic” space.
- The following day, I went to Clapham Common Bandstand to listen to Junction Jazz. The band has a solid base of Battersea Labour Party members and regularly plays at BLP social functions. Unfortunately, the weather became “very British” on 16th June and the audience sat and shivered unless they had come in their anoraks. Well done to the band, who despite the cold played with gusto!
- I chaired my first Planning Applications Committee on 28th There was a large 650-page agenda but not many of the 14 applications were difficult, nor indeed will many of the applications result in major changes to the Borough. One, however, was for two very large hotels, next to the U,S. Embassy, but even that application was really only details relating to earlier decisions of the committee. There were four that were contentious to the immediate neighbours but of only local significance.
- I also had the Annual Meeting of the North-East Surrey Crematorium Board on 21st June and on 29th the Transport Committee. One item of major interest was an update on the maintenance work being done on Wandsworth Bridge. It turns out that the decay and rust affecting the structure were worse than at first thought and that, therefore, the current remedial works will continue for longer than planned, but hopefully will still be completed this calendar year.
- On 25th June Penny and I went to St. Luke’s Church to hear a Wandsworth Symphony Orchestra concert, featuring works by Brahms and Beethoven. If you didn’t know Wandsworth has a symphony orchestra and you are interested in classical music, even on only an occasional basis, like me to be frank, then going to one of their concerts is easy and approachable – they are also pretty good. One of the cellists, pictured here, is my fellow councillor Claire Gilbert, who somehow manages to fit in rehearsals and concerts with being an active councillor and full-time mother – miracle woman.
- On 29th June, I visited the newly built Springfield Hospital, which impressive as it is has two particularly outstanding features. The first is the grand nineteenth-century listed building at the heart of the old hospital, which will be converted into flats, and the second is the large, new public park, on Burntwood Lane, which replaces the old golf course, and is provided as part of the development. The park will be opened in the coming months and will be a fantastic addition to the Borough’s amenities. Oh, and by the way, there will also be 800 new homes in the development!
- Later that day I went to a reception, at the National Theatre, marking the end of tunnelling for the massive Tideway Tunnel. You may have noticed the road width restrictions that have been in place in York Road for the last couple of years. They have been there to cater for one of the access points to the tunnel. The tunnel itself is designed to ease the pressure on London’s essentially nineteenth-century sewerage and flood relief systems. It is 25 Km long (16 miles) and 7.2 metres (25 feet) wide and, astonishingly for a major civil engineering job during Covid, it is both on time and on budget! The guests included half a dozen direct descendants of Joseph Bazalgette himself (1819-1891), the pioneering civil engineer, who created most of London’s sewerage system. Oh, and the top of the National provides a great view of St. Paul’s and the City!
My programme for July
- The Wandsworth Conservation Area Advisory Committee is on July 2nd.
- I have the Finance Committee on 7th
- On the 15th July, there is the funeral service for my old friend and colleague, Councillor Andy Gibbons.
- On the 20th July, there will be the first business Council Meeting since May’s Borough election. This should be interesting as the new Labour-controlled Council reveals its new policies and we discover how the Tory councillors intend to oppose – constructively or destructively, belligerently or patiently?
- Off to Northumberland, lovely Alnwick to be precise, for the marriage of mutual friends over 23-24 weekend.
- The Planning Applications Committee is on July 26th.
Did you Know?
Last month, I asked, “What do you know about the long-gone Battersea Funfair? When was it opened and why? Where was it? And when and why did it close? How many visitors did it have?
Either no one knew or no one was interested. But for the record, it was opened for the Festival of Britain, 1951, as part of a nation-wide celebration of the end of war-time austerity. It closed in 1972 following the disastrous accident on the big dipper that resulted in the loss of five lives. In one year in the 1950’s it had some 2.5 million visitors. Just imagine what an impact that had on the park!
And this month?
Most of us know about St. John Bosco school, relatively newly opened in Surrey Lane. But who was St. John Bosco? Did he come from Battersea and if not, why does the school bear his name?
- 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.