Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea October, 2020, Newsletter (# 136)
- September was marked by the convergence of at least three crises, namely Covid, the UK’s economic troubles and London traffic chaos. Politicians, on the whole, did not come out of it well. The Prime Minister’s reputation has sunk to a new low with only his most purblind supporters not recognising it. But enough of him, this is a local newsletter and we are all equally affected by the general mis-handling of the crisis, with exhortations to go out and eat out followed by instructions to stay at home, to work from home if possible, to go back to work but go by car, then not to go to work but work from home if possible, to have eye tests in Barnard Castle and then not to leave your home.
- As for the traffic chaos, 1: the problems with Tower, Vauxhall and Hammersmith Bridges are being blamed by some on Sadiq Khan, Labour Mayor of London, and on Labour’s Hammersmith & Fulham Council. However, nearly all of London’s bridges are between 150 and 200 years old and it is unsurprising that they are running into maintenance problems. Actually the responsibility for maintenance of the bridges is shared out on a geographic basis between the boroughs – it is almost historical luck as to which are in the best and worst condition. Clearly London’s Thames crossings, tunnels as well as bridges, should all be under the one authority and not split between a dozen or so public bodies. That way there could and should be a properly co-ordinated programme of repair and maintenance.
- As for the traffic chaos, 2: Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) have been introduced all over London, including Wandsworth, in the time since Covid struck. The emergency gave authorities a great opportunity to introduce LTNs to coincide with a time of low traffic volumes, using considerable Government time=limited grants. Unfortunately, at the same time a series of major road works to Nine Elms Lane, Putney High Street and Bedford Hill were also timetabled. Consultation was limited and the end result disastrous. Again, the lesson is that changes need to be introduced with ample consultation.
- On the 2nd September I attended the Wandsworth Conservation Area Advisory Committee. The agenda was dominated by debate about the plans for the renovenation of the Arding & Hobbs building, at the heart of Clapham Junction. The developer’s architect/planner expressed pride and enthusiasm for his role in restoring the grandeur of the early twentieth-century building. The picture shows the building as planned with new roof extensions and without the rain canopy, currently between the first and ground floors. The developer hopes that it will work with retail on the ground floor and high-quality offices on the upper floors. Many Battersea people would like to see the whole building restored for retail use, but with the explosion of online shopping in the last five years, it is not surprising that the developer doubts that would work. The problem is, of course, that post-Covid it is equally not at all clear that there will be a demand for new offices either. My friend Cyril Richert has done an in-depth analysis of the project at https://cjag.org/2020/07/28/revealed-the-proposed-future-of-arding-hobbs-debenhams/. It is well worth the read if you are really interested in the future of the Arding & Hobbs building. The site is so central and important to Battersea that we have to get these plans right.
- On the morning of 3rd September, my fellow Labour councillor, Simon Hogg and I went for a tour of the three new buildings nearing completion on Grant Road. Mitchell House, on the corner of Grant and Plough Roads, is solely for council housing and was designed specifically for current council tenants of the Winstanley Estate. Duval House is the tall one, on the corner of Winstanley and Grant Roads, and will be sold for private occupation. Duval House is the “cash cow”, which enables the Council to proceed with the regeneration. The third building will house the combined Thames Christian College and Battersea Baptist Church, both now located in Pennethorne Square. We were both very impressed by the quality of the buildings and the high ecological standards to which they are being built. Here is Simon’s picture of me, taken from the “viewing” platform at the top of Duval House.
- That afternoon, I went to a webinar (a seminar conducted on the web), where the principal, but not sole, contributor was economist, author and one-time editor of The Observer, Will Hutton. He was not very optimistic about the future. He also argued that fundamental constitutional reform, protecting the rights of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, will be an essential pre-condition to the continued existence of the UK. However, I did not find the discussion overall very engaging. The format is remote and my main concern is to feel sympathy for this year’s university students: for whom learning online will be both the norm and very difficult.
- Special Neighbourhood Team (SNT police) meeting. The SNTs were originally an attempt by the Met Police to help the process of bringing the community and policing together. Personally, I don’t think that the SNT has worked particularly well, at least not in Latchmere (I am told that there are more successful models elsewhere). It has, of course, been a very difficult year for all kinds of organisations, not least the SNT. But we need to re-energise these consultations and we are now looking for drive and enthusiasm from more locals. So if you are interested in policing issues in the Borough, then please do let me know on email@example.com. The SNT does not meet very frequently but it is potentially a key sounding board for local issues relating to law and order.
- The Planning Applications Committee (PAC) was on 15th September. This month there were several interesting and important applications. The first for Roehampton was a “Council Own” application to build 14 dwellings as part of the Roehampton Estate regeneration – perhaps not of direct significance to Battersea but an essential, small part of the Council’s estate regeneration plans. And there were several other Putney applications, one particularly important for Putney High Street. But there was also one major Battersea application. This applied to a potential Randall Close development on the Surrey Lane Estate. This application for 106 new housing units was contentious. Some argued that consultation with local residents had been truncated because of Covid and that assigning only 27 units as council houses was insufficient. No one objected to the basic design although some did not like the “gated” element of the development. Nevertheless, it was approved by the majority. This (not very good picture) has Whitgift House, the tall block, on the right.
- On 17th September, I went to the Housing and Regeneration OSC to talk about the Winstanley Estate Regeneration and broadly to sing its praises. Inevitability, there were criticisms of the regeneration and of its “failure” to gain more than some 150 bedrooms of social housing. However, much of our housing need is related to serious over-crowding, and I don’t think that a gain of 150 bedrooms (equivalent to about 75 new units) is insignificant. What I do care about is that the worst of our social housing, amongst which I include Pennethorne, Scholey and Holcroft Houses are at last really on their way out. And as a bonus, it now appears as though the Council might get an extra, unexpected bonus of 65 more new units of social housing.
- Penny and I went to the National Gallery on 18th September to see the Nicholaes Maes exhibition. We had a great day. First, the weather was perfect; the train was, of course, empty; the streets were nearly empty; London looked perfect from Hungerford Bridge; and Trafalgar Square looked terrific, as this picture of St. Martin’s Church demonstrates. Afterwards we had a nice Chinese meal in a peaceful Gerrard Street, and walked back to Victoria Station via the Mall and St. James’ Park. Our first trip “up West” since February. But the star of the day was the Nicholaes Maes Exhibition at the National Gallery. Maes was a Dutch wealthy man, having spent the last half of his life painting marketable portraits of rich sponsors and their families. Maes was a Dutch painter of the early seventeenth century, when Dutch wealth and influence was at their greatest, a contemporary of Jan Vermeer. He died a wealthy man, having spent the last half of his life painting marketable portraits of rich sponsors and their families. And in his youth, religious painting was the fashion which he followed, but his best paintings are very much in the domestic, Dutch style. Domestic scenes clearly often feature women and, hence unsurprisingly, so do his paintings. This image is a tender portrait of an elderly lace-maker, her bobbins carefully arranged on her lacework (front right).
- On 19th September, my partner and I had our flu jab. Why tell you that? Well as a reminder to you all not to put yours off any longer.
- On 22nd September I went to Ransome’s Dock, just off Parkgate Road, where I met Nicholas Symes and Dominic O’Riordan, who have the job of keeping the dock functional. They are concerned that some of the commercial interests around the dock would not mind too much if it ceased to function, freeing more of the site for further commercial development. Through contact with the Wandsworth Planning Department, I think I was able to re-assure them. However, the dock, judging by this picture, is not in a very healthy state. The weed is apparently a South American import, which has gone rampant in British conditions and is apparently very difficult to control! I hope that those interested in the health of the river and its docks can find a solution to the problem. The dock, by the way, is on the site of an old river creek and was excavated in 1884.
- On 23rd September I had an online meeting of the Battersea Labour Party when we were due to vote for membership of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee. I was very keen to support Keir Starmer’s leadership, but somehow, I managed to botch the connections and so was disenfranchised! Infuriating!
- Finally, I have just upgraded my computer and this is the first job of any size I have done on it. It looks like a great upgrade but everything is in the wrong place, and I can’t find files, and Oh, why do IT companies upgrade things so often?
My Programme for October
- On 8th October we have a meeting of Wandsworth Labour councillors.
- On 14th October, we will have our second Wandsworth Council Meeting of the Covid era. I must say that it is difficult to see how it can possibly provide a forum for real debate – worse than sport without the fans!
- I have another virtual Planning Applications Committee (PAC) on the 22nd October and little else. The prospect of a Covid Halloween, Bonfire Night and Christmas looms closer and closer!
- With so few official meetings since Covid, it might appear as though councillors have very little to do, but I do have plenty of other site meetings and discussions with officers as well as dealing with many constituent problems.
Last month I asked, “Can you place (and approximately date) this picture?”
Half a dozen of you got this right. (The first was Kimberley, so congratulations.) It is, of course, the Culvert Road underpass from the south-side. I guess the houses on the left confused people as they have now been replaced by corrugated iron and sheds. But I remember in the late 60s that there were terraced houses on both sides of the road, which can also be reached by a footbridge over the tracks from the Shaftesbury Estate. One can imagine, given the gloved appearance of these two lads, the presence of a referee, in a measured and drawn ring, and the attendant crowd, right just what a tight, little community it made. I would date the picture in the mid-fifties.
Almost everyone reading this newsletter has passed the impressive building picture here many times. Where and what is it?
PS Thanks to my Tory readership, who have reminded me that Edward Lister has decided to take the name Lord Wandsworth.