Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea December, 2020, Newsletter (# 138)
- Like everyone else, my partner and I are getting a tad bored with lockdowns and their implications, so on 1st November, we escaped for a beautiful walk in Richmond Park. As often before we headed for Pen Ponds but instead of our normal walks to the ponds, and then south or west we went north, where we came across my rather tragic tree of the month – majestic and doleful and rather appropriate for “Lockdown November”. We also discovered the Royal Ballet School and its beautiful home. It isn’t (I don’t think) the same building as in the film, Billy Elliott (2000), but it obviously inspired the set for the film.
- On the 3rd November, the Boundary Commissioners produced their latest and last report on the proposed ward boundaries from 2022, which will apply for the next 20 or 30 years. The report was published coincidentally and ironically on the day of the American Presidential election. In the Biden:Trump election, the distribution of the popular vote and the Electoral College vote was so different that Biden’s popular majority of over six million was by no means certain to deliver him victory in the Electoral College. The British Boundary Commissioners’ job is to distribute the vote between constituencies so as to ensure that confusion like that does not happen in the UK.
- On the whole, over the years, the Commission has been fairly successful in that aim BUT not always. (There have been two occasions since the Second World War, when the party that won the most votes lost the Election, once with the Tories losing out and once when Labour did.) Here, in Wandsworth, the Tories have won the last 12 Council elections but not always the popular vote. In both 1986 and 2018, Labour won more votes. The 1986 win gifted the Tories with control for the year of the Zero Council Tax, which created favourable conditions for them for several subsequent elections. It is arguable that their “accidental” victory in 1986 secured for the Tories control of Wandsworth for many years.
- On a day-to-day basis, the ward boundaries make little practical difference, but some old ward names will disappear (Latchmere, Fairfield) and some new ones will appear (Lavender, Battersea Park, Falconbrook). Some will be familiar but in a different format as in Mary’s and not St. Mary Park or the “combined” ward of Shaftesbury and Queenstown. But, from my experience, the worst feature of the review is the change from 20 wards with 3 councillors each making a total Council of 60 councillors to a mix of 14 three-councillor wards and 8 two-councillor wards, making a Council of 58. From my experience, when the Borough last had two-councillor wards prior to 2002, the smaller wards packed less clout than the larger wards and, when it came to the inevitable horse-trading of priorities and budgets, the smaller wards suffered. That problem was solved by making the wards a standard size.
- On 10th November, Battersea Labour Party had a Zoom meeting, where the major item under discussion was Jeremy Corbyn’s position in the party. The debate was calm and considered, which, given the feelings of some members, was in itself quite a good result. Nevertheless, honesty compels me to admit that I was disappointed in our failure to move on to the important issues facing the country as we draw nearer to Brexit, whilst struggling with the consequences of the pandemic!
- On 18th November the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced the good news that he has agreed to the Winstanley Regeneration plan. We can now get on with replacing the old, worn-out stock of Council homes, with super, high-quality new homes as well as adding some 150 extra bedrooms for all those families suffering over-crowding on the estate. But in addition, we will add hundreds of new homes, a new library and swimming pool and a re-designed York Gardens. These changes will, of course, take time but at least the decks are now clear. Some tenants will be moving into their new homes in the next couple of months and all will have the promise of better living conditions.
- The Planning Applications Committee (PAC) was on 25th November; on this occasion, it was watched live by 274 viewers, most of whom I guess were watching progress with the Arding & Hobbs I rather liked the design solution proposed by the architects; it retains the early twentieth century features of the original and adds a slightly Arabic, but restrained roof extension. The contentious element, however, is that the developer obviously does not think that the future of retail in the modern, online world is bright enough to utilise a building the size of the old department store. Instead, he has gone for small, quality office units, arguing essentially that in the post-Covid world, more offices will be located in significant hubs around the city centre – and what hub could be better situated for Gatwick and Heathrow and the UK’s rail system than Clapham Junction? Note that there is no longer a link with Debenham’s or a vulnerability to its bankruptcy.
- There were several other major applications of real interest to Battersea, most of which were approved. One was the development in Battersea Square of Thomas’s Preparatory School with a substantial secondary school addition. Thomas’s is likely to become one of the most expensive and exclusive public schools in Britain – with all that entails. Another was the development of three tower blocks, up to 16 storeys, on the Palmerston Court site, opposite the entrance to the Dogs’ Home. This complex is designed for more than 850 student residents, from King’s College London, along with a substantial volume of offices and a new pub to replace the current Flanagan’s. And a third development is for 50+ flats on the Patmore estate, attached to and very much in tune with Marsh House.
- The fourth application I would like to highlight is on a totally different scale but perhaps just as significant for residents of the Borough. It was an application to build a small bar, ancillary to what is now Clapham Common Westside’s Bowling Green. The intention is to provide a commercial refreshment facility to complement a new Putt in the Park complex in place of the bowling green. There are similar facilities in both Battersea and Wandsworth Parks. Incredibly, to me, there is no “statutory” protection for bowling greens (and I dare say neither crown bowling greens nor croquet lawns). There is protection for other sports pitches, such as soccer, hockey and rugby, which attract younger client groups. So the omission of greens seems discriminatory on both age and gender grounds. Bowls and croquet are energetic, inclusive games, which deserve support and not oblivion. I am pleased to say that the committee rejected this application! It would be such a shame to lose the quiet and gentle sight of the local bowling green on a summer’s afternoon.
- One other “minor” piece of news may have escaped your attention. Because of the state of Hammersmith Bridge (seen here in the distance), and NOT because of Covid, the decision has been taken to move The 2021 Boat Race from the Thames to Cambridge. Because there is no sign yet that Hammersmith Bridge will ever be repaired and best estimates are that it would take seven years anyway, one wonders whether this traditional race, now over 160 years old, will ever be seen again. There are all kinds of things that are anachronistic about it – it excludes hundreds of other colleges; it is an oddity, rather like the marathon only not even an Olympic event; it is not metric; it’s very long; it’s on the tideway when almost all other rowing events are on lakes. We may have seen our last ever Boat Race!
My Programme for December
- On 8th December we have a Zoom meeting of Battersea Labour Party members.
- On 10th December there is a virtual meeting of the Labour councillors, the first for what seems like months.
- The Council Meeting is on 16th December, but what exactly that will be like is difficult to say at the moment!
- That is followed the next day by the Planning Applications Committee.
Last month I asked, “Where is the Battersea Welsh Presbyterian Chapel?”
On this occasion, I was surprised at just how many people did know that the Chapel, pictured here, stands in Beauchamp Road on the right-hand corner halfway along the road. But readers also told me that David Lloyd George worshipped there, when he lived in Routh Road, and that Huw Edwards, the newscaster, is a key figure in the chapel’s life.
The Eglwys Bresbyteraidd Cymru Or the Presbyterian Church of Wales
And this month two easy questions and one notice:
Q1. In Paragraph 3 above I mentioned that, on two occasions since WWII, one party won the UK’s popular vote but lost the election. Can you date these occasions and name the two lucky men who subsequently walked into 10 Downing Street?
Q2. What is the hidden physical connection between Streatham Hill and Battersea Reach?
On December 2nd Clare Graham’s booklet Discovering Battersea’s Open Spaces goes on sale at Waterstones or via the Battersea Society website. The booklet takes you on six delightful walks across and around the old Battersea parish.