Lavender Grocers and Best One licensing reviews

Shaftesbury has become something of a hot-bed of licensing activity recently. While the ongoing issues with Thirsty Camel seem to be over (the licensing sub-committee on 5 August granted the licence after the applicant assured them he had no personal or business relationship with the Kapoors, the previous managers of the business), two other licensed premises in the ward are having their licences reviews.

The first is Best One on Eversleigh Road. Trading Standard have requested the review following the sale of products to underage customers in test purchases. In February 2013 a test purchase resulted in the sale of tobacco to a 15-year old girl and the business owner was cautioned. This May a subsequent test purchase took place when another 15-year old girl was able to buy alcohol. Trading Standards are requesting a three month suspension of the licence in this case.

Lavender Grocers on Lavender Hill are the subject of the other review. In this case a 15-year old girl (I have no idea if this is the same 15-year old, it seems like a rather Victorian approach to child labour if it is the same girl all the time) was able to buy tobacco. Trading Standards are requesting conditions be added to the licence in order to prevent a recurrence.

As ever, if you wish to make observations on either of these reviews they must be made by 1 September 2014 and they must relate to the four licensing objectives:

  • The prevention of crime and disorder
  • The prevention of public nuisance
  • Public safety
  • The protection of children from harm

The council’s licensing pages provide more information.

If you wish to make an observation you can do so by writing to:
Head of Licensing
Licensing Section
London Borough of Wandsworth
PO Box 47095
SW18 9AQ

or by emailing

Lavender Hill road works

If you are travelling on Lavender Hill for the next few evenings you might want to allow a few extra minutes for road works taking place.

The works are overnight, to minimise disruption, but affect a significant part of the hill: between Lavender Walk (basically the library) and Town Hall Road (next to Battersea Arts Centre). Four way traffic signals will be in place while resurfacing work takes place, currently scheduled from tonight until Friday morning.

Lavender Gardens, between Dorothy Road and Asda Clapham Junction

Lavender Gardens clean-up

If you use the Lavender Gardens playground, the small park between Asda and Dorothy Road, I hope that you’ve noticed it’s been looking a bit cleaner.

It has been a lesson for me that familiarity might not breed contempt, but it certainly breeds complacency. I’m a fairly regular user of the park with my children, but it was only after a complaint from a resident—and a bit of pushing—that the park got a thorough clean and I realised that I’d just got used to a fairly tatty park. Frankly, I don’t think the contractors had been quite as thorough as they should. (I noticed a discarded paper from the World Cup there some two weeks after the tournament had finished.)

In the contractor’s defence, I suspect it might have just been familiarity on their part. I’m sure we’ve all been aware of problems and little defects that we overlook simply because we see them everyday at home, work or on the street.

A further result of the complaint has been that the recent resurfacing was found not to be of a high enough standard, so the path—used by so many as a short-cut—will be re-laid soon.

I’m going to keep a closer eye on the park, but if you spot any problems there (or anywhere else in the ward) let me know so I can get them fixed.

Big Society Fund opens for bids again

Wandsworth’s Big Society Fund opens for another round of bids (although at the time of writing the web page doesn’t reflect this) on Monday.

The Big Society Fund exists to give small grants to smaller community based projects, so does not have hugely restrictive requirements on being a formally constituted body or requiring years of accounts in an overly formal bidding process. The sums are not huge, the biggest grant is £5,000, but are the sorts of money that make a difference to a grassroots project.

The types of organisations that can bid include residents’ associations, sports clubs or parent and teacher associations. Bids over £1,000 are usually expected so be able to show some other form of contribution, either monetary or in time, to match any council grant.

Bids need the support of a Wandsworth councillor so if you are in the area, or perhaps have a project with which I have a particular affinity, I’d be more than happy to consider giving my backing.

The council’s website has all the forms or feel free to contact me if I can help.

More pro-Milibandism

Ed Miliband is getting lots of stick for his speech, suggesting he’s damning photo ops despite being a culprit. Having read his speech I don’t think that’s what he is doing at all, and even if he were, would he ever have got to his position were he not guilty of an occasional photo opportunity?

Welcoming the 'Welcome to Battersea sign'
Balloons + sign = photo op
They pervade every level of politics. Even in local government, where I’ve found myself having my photo taken with a man in a nappy to posing with balloons and a sign (probably my last photo op ever, since I won’t be in any council ones any more and doubt I’ll be allowed in any party ones either).

He accepts that photo op and soundbite are pervasive. But also argue that there should be more to politics.

The middle of his speech contains the following passage:

so often the terms of trade of politics—the way it is discussed and rated— has become about the manufactured, the polished, the presentational.

Politics is played out as showbiz, a game, who is up and who is down.

Rather than the best chance a lot of people have to change their lives.

That last line, for me, is the killer. Do I think Ed Miliband has the right ideas or politics? No, not really. But do I agree with him on that point? Yes, absolutely.

The silly focus on how photogenic he is (or isn’t), doesn’t belittle him, it belittles politics, which should be about a battle of ideas and how they can be practically applied to improve people’s lives.

I’ve been guilty, I know, of finding fun in Miliband photos. But equally I’ve always believed that politics should be better, and more about ideas. I highlighted the speech by Cllr Jones at the last council meeting which continues to intrigue me, because—I think—it stuck out as a speech that was ultimately about how politics can affect people’s lives and, ultimately, invited disagreement and argument. Too often political speeches seem to be written as if they are the only logical viewpoint, negating the possibility that perfectly sensible people can have opposing opinions.

But politics, those opposing opinions, are why people sit in council chambers or in Parliament. It would be interesting to see if, when the current trolling of Ed Miliband with his past photo ops ends, we might be able to move on and discuss political ideas. I’m confident the nation is intelligent enough, if the media and politicians can rise to that level.

Far away from the action at a Wandsworth Council meeting.

Back seat councillor

I found myself, as I tweeted, at the back and on the left at my first proper council meeting on the back benches. It was an interesting experience, I’ve posted before that I often ask myself whose life is improved by various council meetings and recognised that the vast majority of people don’t care about full council meetings. Now my visits to the town hall are comparatively rare it brings those meetings I do attend into sharp focus: with the heavy focus on set-piece debates and whipped votes full council meetings do not add value to the democratic process. They are legally necessary and occasionally fun, but they don’t make the borough better. The meetings that make a difference happen elsewhere.

That’s not to say there aren’t interesting moments. The announcement that an article 4 direction1 would be granted to protect The Wheatsheaf in Tooting from change of use took many by surprise and even now I can’t help wondering if it wasn’t a slip of the tongue or some sort of mass mishearing given the lengthy resistance to article 4.

There were also some interesting speeches, especially the maiden speeches from newly elected councillors which indicate what is to come for the next four years. I was rather intrigued by the remarkably political contribution from Cllr Candida Jones. While it contained some bizarre claims (volunteers are all Labour supporters?) I’m actually a fan of politics, it helps frame arguments and give a clear sense of purpose and direction. Too often local government is too much about arguments over who would be the better managers rather than policy differences.

But I must be egotistical and highlight a question tabled about me. I didn’t realise it was tabled, since neither Peter Carpenter (the questioner) or the Leader (who answered) raised it with me beforehand.

(10) Shaftesbury Councillors: Question asked by Councillor Carpenter of the Leader of the Council –

Would the Leader respond to accusations by his former Cabinet Member, Councillor Cousins, that councillors in the Shaftesbury ward were not “the councillors they should have been over the past four years”? What steps will he be taking to ensure that all his councillors pull their weight over the next four years?


I am pleased to learn that Councillor Carpenter is making a quick recovery from his recent illness. Social media is certainly a learning curve, and many different styles of writing and approach can be found. I rather like the modest, even self-deprecating, approach taken by Councillor Cousins but have looked for inspiration at Councillor Carpenter’s own contributions on Twitter. He adopts a somewhat different style. Councillor Carpenter is strong on ‘selfies’ and expands our cultural horizons with updates on his visits to Glyndebourne and Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. Every councillor is right to adopt their own authentic style, and I rather think our residents might find Councillor Cousins’ approach refreshing and disarming.

Interesting for a few reasons. First because I’ve always assumed none of my colleagues read this (and still assume that’s the case, since the answer may well have been drafted by an officer). As far as I’ve ever been able to tell most people come here searching for ways to control or kill foxes.

But it gives me the opportunity to give my answer. Obviously I stand by my original comments. The fact is that this was a ward with three exec members, two of whom with incredibly important jobs on the council. When there are finite resources of time and energy then something has to give. If anyone is to blame it is me.

The fact is that Shaftesbury didn’t get the attention it deserves. The leader, remarkably astutely, recognised and solved this when he sacked me.

The question is, however, what I do to address that. I’ll be honest, it’s still something I’m mulling, drafting my list of projects I want to tackle and planning on making a start after summer. There are a few things on there, some relatively easy, some much harder. And I’ll be clear that my expectation is that most will falter and fail: it is not my intention to only take on things with guaranteed success. This, in part, is the reason I’m spending so long researching and thinking about them all.

Taking Lavender Hill, for example. I know the traders there are drawing up their wish list, so if I were to want to do something to help, I would want to take account of that. But even then, what would success look like? Where would my efforts be best directed?

Or my sense that there should be more ‘community’ in the ward. Clearly I’ve not done enough to cultivate that. Shaftesbury is the only ward in the borough that has not seen a Big Society Fund application. While this reflects, in part, a relatively low level of community groups, equally I’ve not been pro-active in promoting the fund to those groups that are there. But how does one promote community activity? Indeed, should I even bother, if the community itself had not already done so?

And with some, there’s just a bit of inertia. I’m planning on trying to get a Neighbourhood Watch set up in my road. I’ve spent too long researching best practice in setting up Watches elsewhere and my JFDI instincts are taking over on that one.

Above all, I’m keen to be something different. I’m tempted by the idea of being an ‘open councillor’, following examples like open policy making or open data. Possibly I overthink it, but it’s on its way — I haven’t forgotten the commitment I made to the ward.

  1. An article 4 direction basically requires a planning permission where it would otherwise not be needed. In this case from change of use from a pub to a shop. 

Why I’m finding Ed Miliband a bit more attractive

I can’t help but like Ed Miliband’s small piece in today’s Guardian on his promise to lead a localist Government. A lot of the article is, unsurprisingly, a mix of political and platitude. It’s difficult to see, without details, how some of the pledges are different from the status quo. However, what caught my eye was his pledge to set up local Public Accounts Committees:

Labour will introduce a statutory requirement for authorities to set up a public accounts committee (PAC) with powers to scrutinise value for money for all local services. The role played by Labour’s formidable chairman of the Commons PAC shows what can be done – and every town or city should have its own Margaret Hodge.

These committees, coupled with new requirements to publish performance data, would be led by councillors so they can challenge, hold to account and improve all public services in their area.

It’s an idea about which I wrote a brief post nearly a month ago having seen the Centre for Public Scrutiny’s somewhat older suggestions.

It is, perhaps, evidence that I’m optimistic (despite my usual demeanour), and over-estimate the volume of liquid in containers, to see this as positive. I recall I clung to the mistaken belief that Eric Pickles was a localist long after it was quite clear he was anything but. There is a tendency for oppositions—at whatever level—to be localist until they get power, at which point they realise that localism works best at exactly their level and no lower.

This is merely a trailer for a policy a potential Labour government would introduce, and I just can’t see Ed Miliband winning an election: whatever the polls say and whatever efficiency of the Labour vote under the first past the post system. However, it does look like a manifesto commitment from a major political party, which starts the debate.

Most public money in the area is spent with remarkably little public oversight and accountability. Even that spent by the council often isn’t directly scrutinised, but instead via the performance of a contract, and innovations like staff mutuals mean some of that gets another step further away from councillors. The Centre for Public Scrutiny’s (and now Ed Miliband’s) idea won’t shine a spotlight on every single penny spent, but councillor-led public accounts committees will bring into focus how public money is collectively spent and how effectively it is being used in achieving common aims.

It won’t be discussed in many living rooms and pubs tonight, but it’s a debate about the machinery of local government rather than merely whether councils collect bins weekly or fortnightly and regardless of who starts it, I’m glad someone has.

Van Gogh Walk, from the LGIU's 'People Shaped Places' report

Learning from Lambeth

On this side of the Wandsworth-Lambeth border there is a tendency to sneer at Lambeth. Some of this, I think, dates from the 80s and 90s when Lambeth represented ‘loony left’ councils while Wandsworth was a Tory flagship and sustained by a neighbourly rivalry. However, that overlooks huge improvement in both boroughs since the 80s: even the ever-present comparison of council tax belies the fact that, across London, Lambeth is well towards the bottom end of charges; Westminster and Wandsworth as unusually low outliers.

Wandsworth was a radical Conservative council in the 80s and the early 90s but has increasingly become something of an older statesmen of local authorities. Stable political control and strong financial management mean that it offers few surprises, even when I first joined the council in 1998 it was privately noted that while we had a reputation for innovation, we were rarely innovative. We were never first with any new policy, although we often managed to be the first to make a new policy work after others did the dangerous (and potentially expensive) experimentation.

Lambeth, of course, has not shared that history. It had its radicalism in the 80s and early 90s, but does not entirely share Wandsworth’s political stability. From 2002 until 2006 Labour lost control to a Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition. That lack of stability has an impact on the council’s membership, meaning a greater turnover of councillors and, therefore, an arguably richer pool of policy formation.

To get my heresy out of the way: I’ve got a bit of borough envy going on. And I have for a while.

The current source of my envy has been Lambeth’s ‘co-operative council’ work. This envy is driven by several factors, sheer novelty is a big factor: I’m interested in seeing how things could work differently (I recognise the council tax payer and voter does not share my enthusiasm for straying from the tried and tested). More fundamentally, I cannot help but think—pessimistically—that the end is near for traditional local government and, if we want to keep it in any meaningful way, we need to start looking at different ways of delivering services.

Lambeth’s policy was the subject of an LGIU report People Shaped Places. This report, in turn, was the subject of a blog post on Public Strategist, the author of which, coincidentally, lives by one of the projects featured in the LGIU report, Van Gogh Walk, has been a “modest beneficiary” of Lambeth’s Neighbourhood Enhancement Programme1.

Together they make fascinating reading.

The Van Gogh Walk project, put simply, took a backstreet and turned it into a community space. The process attempted to be resident-driven (although the two sources vary in their interpretation of what this actually meant in practice) meaning that residents made the proposals, not simply responded to council consultations.

From the LGIU’s report:

Speaking to George Wright, the project lead at Lambeth Council, he explained: “key to this project was that it was community-led and there was lots of momentum already”. The community already had a good idea as to their aspiration … this marks an important contrast and may explain why the project idea was bolder …
George also emphasised the importance of “Lambeth’s radical and open-minded leadership” in contrast to a risk-averse tendency found in some councils, which can serve as a barrier to new ideas or different ways of doing things … George pointed out the value of what can be achieved through taking these risks, highlighting the sense of community pride that Van Gogh Walk has created – evidenced by the fact there has been no vandalism. “People treat it better because they feel better”.

The Public Strategist blog seems a little more cynical (my interpretation) when describing how the process went in his area2:

The dialogue went something like this:

Council: Tell us what you would like.

Residents: We want to stop speeding and rat running. And have better communal bins. And some other stuff. And a pony.

Council: That’s too difficult. How about we just send the traffic on a more circuitous route round more narrow residential streets in the hope that people will give up and go away. And there’s nothing we can do about the bins. Or the pony.

Clearly there would always be a distance between resident ambition and administrative delivery. However, the project overall does give the impression of something that is better because of meaningful resident involvement.

Of course, you could argue that resident involvement is effectively possible at any stage in any council. People can comment on consultations, raise objections to planning and licensing applications, organise petitions or campaign for changes. They sometimes even email their councillors and, I guess, get a variety of responses.

In the longer term the way they do, or don’t, use services or areas will shape their future. Northcote Road has undoubtedly been shaped by local residents and their demographic (which then raises the question of what shaped that demographic, and there are all sorts of chickens and eggs there).

However, you do not often see something quite as ambitious as Lambeth. Even in programmes with a strong element of consultation, there’s usually an imbalance in favour the council, they have plans which can be shaped, rather than plans that are created in conjunction.

I can’t help thinking about Lavender Hill. I’m certain people don’t want the steady decline, I’m confident they don’t want a widespread conversion of commercial space into residential space. The difficulty is in divining what residents do want. What are the sort of businesses and shops they would want to see, and most importantly use? I don’t think we’ve ever asked in any meaningful way. I have conversations with people (some sparked by posts on this blog), but there’s never been a consistent dialogue.

And what does that mean? Surely, without real dialogue between a municipality and its residents the council becomes little more than a service delivery vehicle, a contractor of waste collection, funder of schools, commissioner of public health. Functions that can be undertaken just as easily at a regional or even national level as they are by a local council.

You might argue that a four-yearly mandate means that isn’t the case, but I’m not sure an election which most people ignore is enough. If local government is to have meaning in the future then it needs to have meaning for residents, and Lambeth might be an example from which we should learn.

  1. I incorrectly assumed Stefan Czerniawski, the author of the Public Strategist blog, lived near Van Gogh Walk. But you know what they say about assuming. I’ve edited my post to make the changes clear, though I don’t think it affects my main point, which is about having a dialogue (and although not stated explicitly, that it needs to be honest and lead to mutual understanding and shared goals). 
  2. Another edit, the italicised words were added to avoid it appearing like the comments related to Van Gogh Walk. 

Why does the Government prefer chuggers to councils?

Birmingham had been the council to watch on chuggers: they were hoping to introduce a by-law that would enable them to ban chugging in the city centre. Unfortunately the government has refused them permission.

Councils are generally powerless when it comes to dealing with chuggers. When I was attempting to get a solution the response from the charities minister, requesting that he simply activate an already existing law that would allow councils to licence chugging was a flat no. Instead, he suggested, we should enter a voluntary agreement with the Public Fundraising Regulatory Assocation, the chugging trade body.

However, our contact with the PFRA revealed they thought a voluntary agreement meant they would volunteer to chug when and where they wanted, and the council would agree to it. I found that an impossible stance, when businesses here report chuggers’ aggressive tactics causing loss in trade, as they did in Birmingham, I was not prepared for the council to be put in the position of effectively sanctioning loss of trade in certain areas.

Birmingham found “96% per cent of visitors to Birmingham said they had suffered unsolicited approaches by ‘chuggers’ and 84% said this would put them off walking around the city centre.” I simply do not see how any council can pretend to support business or high streets allowing that to happen, and Birmingham deserve credit for finding a creative way to deal with it.

What is deeply disappointing that the local government minister, despite agreeing that “chugging techniques are deeply unpleasant” has decided that local government shouldn’t have the power to do anything about it. It makes you wonder what happened to localism.

A vintage Thirsty Camel

Return of the Thirsty Camel

I’ve said before how grateful I am to Thirsty Camel on Lavender Hill for so tirelessly helping me with content for this blog. However, even I’m finding it tiresome. Indeed, I’ve dug out an old photo to remind me how Thirsty Camel looked when (it feels like) it all started.

To do a brief recap: they had a temporary licence suspension a few years ago for selling booze to children, then they lost their licence for selling counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes. They appealed this decision, but in the meantime the owners wife, and a company director, applied for another licence. This was rejected. And now the story continues…

Thirsty Camel have applied for another alcohol licence. The application is for the sale of alcohol from 8am until midnight on Sunday to Thursday, and from 8am until 2am the following day on Fridays and Saturdays.

I believe (but have been unable to confirm) that this application is from another person associated with the current management, and therefore continue to have little confidence that the business’s operation will improve. I know several residents objected to the previous applications, but since this is a new application they would need to repeat that objection.

If you wish to make a representation you have until 17 July. Representations must relate to the four licensing objectives:

  • The prevention of crime and disorder
  • The prevention of public nuisance
  • Public safety
  • The protection of children from harm

Given the premises track record of selling counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes and underage sales I consider the first and last items on that list are relevant to this application, although the last application drew some complaints about anti-social behaviour associated with the shop, so they are getting close to objections on all four criteria.

The council’s licensing pages provide more information.

If you wish to make an observation you can do so by writing to:
Head of Licensing
Licensing Section
London Borough of Wandsworth
PO Box 47095
SW18 9AQ

or by emailing