Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea February 2021, Newsletter (# 140)
1. The strangeness of the times continues to bemuse. The year began with what looked like an attempted coup in the United States, organised by the President himself and yet everybody (?) expects him to get away with a not-guilty verdict in the Senate. We used to lock up people in the Tower before beheading them for lesser crimes than plotting to bring down the state! What is more, the very same President is generally recognised to have been a tool of the KGB and he is still not going to get beheaded, unlike Charles I, shown here. And the ex-President, is the man that our very own Prime Minister wanted so much to befriend both for trade deals and reflected glory. (Not, you understand, that I am arguing for the return of capital punishment, but merely wishing to emphasise the gravity of the charges).
2. And then, of course, Brexit really started to get underway with all the ironies that encompassed. The appearance of a virtual trade barrier in the middle of the Irish Sea, despite PM Johnson declaring only months beforehand that no UK Prime Minister could ever agree to that. The ironies continued with fishing interests, previously one of the most vocal pro-Brexit groupings in the country, complaining that they have been betrayed. And then there were all the stories of just how much red tape was involved with Brexit when the story had been that we would be getting rid of annoying EU red tape. And now it is slowly dawning that many of us will need visas and green cards, and special health insurance and, no doubt, other red tape for any trips that we might make to the mainland!
3. Meanwhile back here in “dear old Blighty” global warming appears to place England in danger of becoming completely water-logged – there are more than just scenic advantages to Scottish and Welsh mountains! What with the Thames barrier and raised river walls one would guess that we, in Battersea, are largely safe but there must be hundreds of flooded basements. I usually do my daily exercise on Clapham Common and, to put it mildly, I think the Common is under stress from both the constant downpours and from the very heavy traffic of walkers, joggers and cyclists. Will the grass and the two small woods ever recover? Probably, but how long before they recover properly?
4. At the same time, the UK registers over 100,000 deaths from Covid with general expectation that we might register 150,000 in three months time. Given the general reaction, when at least in theory we understand about disease, it is easy to imagine the fear that the Black Death struck in the medieval world. Then, the population loss was as much as 30% – the equivalent today of about 18 million! Interestingly enough, the mythical golden years of “Merrie England” followed the Black Death, at a time when England’s growing wealth was shared amongst a much smaller population.
5. But at last some relief, at least for me and mine. We both had our vaccinations, first phase in mid-January. Just in case there are any cynics reading this, which of course there aren’t, we are both genuinely in the priority groups and the appointments came completely out of the blue! The experience was great: so many older people all showing delight to have got through to a vaccination; very helpful volunteers shepherding us through the process in such a friendly fashion; so punctual, so social and so efficient. Well done NHS and thank goodness this process was not out-sourced, like “Test and Trace”, to a Tory Party crony.
6. Back at the Town Hall, things seem to have slowed down. The only formal meeting I had all month was the Planning Applications Committee (PAC) on 27th January. Even that had a relatively light agenda, by recent standards, which might explain why only 46 residents logged in to view the discussion on-line. In recent months the audience has averaged over 100. Interestingly enough, the two most significant applications were to change the “mix” of recently approved applications – the mix, that is, of permitted uses. Developers were looking to scale down the amount of retail space in their applications; and also to change the balance of residential to slightly more family-sized units (3 and 4 bedroom flats) and fewer single-person units. I rather suspect that this is not the last time that we will see the impact of Covid on developers and new developments.
7. Could it be that the frantic pace of development in the Nine Elms Lane area will come to, perhaps not a halt, but a slowdown? Could this mark the end of the growth of high-rise London? I hope so, as despite some of the obvious advantages, I don’t come across very many residents who actually want to live high in the sky – especially families with kids.
8. There were other informal Council-centred meetings such as:-
9. So, it has been a quiet month for most of the councillors, at least in formal political terms but many of the younger members are volunteering at the vaccination centres, or working to get IT facilities out to schools, or helping voluntary groups to deliver food to the more vulnerable residents. The Town Hall, itself, is a very curious place right now. I have been there a few times but it is like the Mary, or if you prefer Marie, Celeste (an American sloop found, in 1872, in mid-Atlantic in perfect working order but with no crew). So just as on the Celeste some things are operating normally but, with most staff working from home, telephone contact can be difficult where communications problems have not been resolved.
10. On 6th January, I attended (Zoom, of course) a Battersea Society Twelfth Night Poetry meeting, starring poems written and read by Hilaire. I found some of the poems very moving and the whole evening very innovative. And on 21st the Society organised a talk, by Jeanne Rathbone on the Battersea industrial riverside. As ever, Jeanne had researched every site and every nook and cranny of each site’s history. She included lots of pictures and material, which were new to me. I hope that Battersea Society will support efforts to get more notices and photographs along the river of both its historical and industrial past, such as this picture of Price’s Candle Factory.
11. Simon Hogg, Kate Stock and I also attended a few meetings to discuss the plans for the Regeneration of the Winstanley/York Road estates. All was going well until on the 29th January we were warned that the Council’s partner in the Joint Venture project, Taylor Wimpey, is having difficulties raising the necessary finance. As a result, there will need to be a quick review of the project and of the timing of fundamental phases of the building work. The Covid crisis has struck again. Fortunately, I understand that the Council’s element of the project, including the delivery of new council houses and other types of affordable housing, look to be unaffected. I will update on the position next month.
My Programme for February
Did you Know:
Many of you knew the answer to this one though one reply made me think it was a great piece of inspired detective work. The plaque says “Fossilized remains of a tree trunk from the lower Purbeck Bed, Portland. Moved from Bedford Hill Park by the Balham Antiquarian and Natural History Society and placed here by the permission of London County Council.” The trunk itself is not spectacularly attractive or striking but at an age of 145 million years, I guess it deserves our appreciation.
And for this month’s question: the great eighteenth-century evangelist, John Wesley’s, bust adorns the front of a not very distinguished house in an otherwise unremarkable terrace in South Battersea. Do you know where he is and whose statues is on the neighbouring house?