Welcome to the Heart of Battersea, Clapham Junction

Where is Clapham Junction?

Many years ago I was a judge in the first LGIU Cllr Awards, another judge commented that it was hard to judge between a councillor who achieved something by virtue of their position, as an executive member, perhaps, and those that achieved something because they were a terrier, focused on an issue or cause that they pursued relentlessly and doggedly while they slowly but surely persuaded others.

It’s a metaphor that has stuck with me, and one that gives me solace when it comes to some of my pet topics. Occasionally I think I make a difference, I remember being one of just two people in a meeting supporting open data, but now I think Wandsworth can claim to be one of the more open councils in the country (although most of the credit on that is down to the national policy climate). Most of the time I can only admire the tenacity of those who employ the terrier approach, and wonder what, if any, issues or causes I would have the patience to persistently champion when I return to the back-benches.

So I look at Philip Beddows determined campaigning for Battersea through the Love Battersea campaign, which he started as a councillor and has continued ever since he stood down, with huge admiration.

People leaving Clapham Junction station, Battersea

The sign greeting those leaving Clapham Junction station, Battersea.

His latest triumph was unveiled this morning: a sign welcoming those leaving Clapham Junction station to the heart of Battersea.

Although it was installed overnight, it was not an overnight decision, he can point to the very first time he raised the idea in February 2009. Ever since he has continued to remind, chivvy and encourage those involved to get to this stage. I can speak from experience—having been tangentially involved in the process—that the ins and outs of negotiations, legal agreements and just funding it, would have ground a lesser man down. I have no doubt that without him it would never have happened.

His battle against the Claphamisation of Battersea is one that he seems to be winning. Recently it feels like the tide has turned, with people and businesses increasingly getting their location right. This, hopefully, marks a turning point, since the station is the chief culprit for people’s mistaken impression that SW11 is Clapham: there’s now a sign, in the station itself, letting people know it’s in Battersea.

Battersea has a long and proud history, and a vibrant and exciting present. We should all be proud of the Battersea identity and, like Philip, do what we can to protect and champion it.

Chugging is unpopular shock

I don’t know if I could ever have been called a ‘campaigner’ against chugging, but for a short while a few years ago I did find myself occasionally commenting on one of the scourges of modern life. But having failed to make any real difference—the industry lobbying group relied on their right to be annoying and my attempts at lobbying ministers came to nothing—I retired from activism to return to being a mere disgruntled pedestrian like everyone else.

Despite that I do watch the news on chugging so found the nfpSynergy report, informatively headlined Doorstep and telephone fundraising very annoying for the public interesting even if it didn’t say anything I didn’t already know. Apparently over half of all people are annoyed at being disturbed at home, and over a third dislike being hassled on the street.

nfpSynergy, along with their non-traditional use of capital letters, have a “Driver of Ideas” who commented “fundraising must be to maximise the money raised and minimise the aggravation it causes. This data gives a good indication that we are not winning this battle.” However, the BBC News website’s coverage of the report suggested this lesson isn’t being learned, quoting a former call centre worker:

I had to phone people, give them a sob story, make them feel guilty and get their money. The company rule was that we had to hear them clearly say no three times before we should stop. If someone just hung up on us or was angry or upset, we were told to keep calling them back.

It’s obviously only one person, and I have no idea what his story is, but I have always suspected that the biggest problem (aside from the fact that very few formally complain, and therefore the industry thinks everything is hunky-dory) is that charities appoint agencies that are, effectively, charity mercenaries motivated far more by money than they are by the charity’s reputation.

Thirsty Camel’s on the wagon?

The Thirsty Camel off-licence on Lavender Hill

Thirsty Camel, otherwise known as Best One, on Lavender Hill. Picture from Google Street View

Best One on Lavender Hill, which trades as Thirsty Camel, has seen its shopkeeper lose his licence to sell alcohol. The review took place after the store was found to be selling counterfeit tobacco and had previously had a licence review after selling alcohol to underage customers which resulted in a temporary licence suspension.

The start of the council’s press release gives the impression it may have been a fairly open and shut case:

A Battersea shopkeeper has had his licence to sell alcohol revoked after thousands of pounds worth of counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes were found hidden in his storeroom.

Trading standards officers found nearly 700 packets of contraband tobacco when they searched the Best One store in Lavender Hill. Nearly a third of the packets were fake while the others could not be legally sold in the UK and were smuggled into the country.

The case raises a huge number of points. One of which is that, however noble efforts to reduce smoking are, there are serious risks in plain packaging: which would make counterfeiting easier.

It also highlights the importance of regulation in some areas. I know some businesses feel the council’s various enforcement arms can be heavy handed—especially when most abide by all the necessary laws and regulations—but in cases like this there has to be protection for both the consumer but also competing businesses who, by virtue of abiding by the law, are disadvantaged by those who are not so upstanding when it comes to their business practice.

Construction jobs in Nine Elms

Various stages of construction work taking place in the developments at Nine Elms

Nine Elms, as viewed from a grubby window in Market Towers.

One of the privileges of being a councillor over the past few years has been the opportunity to be involved—however tangentially—in the council’s three regeneration projects in Battersea, Roehampton and Nine Elms. I’ve posted a few times about the Battersea and Roehampton regenerations, but sometimes feel I’ve not been that forthcoming about Nine Elms (although there have been a few posts on related topics.)

Nine Elms, of course, needs no help in promoting itself. Even before you consider the marketing budgets of the individual developers or the work of the Nine Elms team its central London location and iconic buildings, whether present or future, means my occasional musings can only be on the fringes of relevance.

However, one aspect I have been involved in is the employment aspect and this is somewhere the council is playing a big rôle. I’m hugely proud of the work of Wandsworth Work Match who are already getting jobs for local residents in Nine Elms (and elsewhere). If forced to think of highlights from being a councillor then getting the feedback from Work Match after I’ve referred people to them would easily be among them.

Much is made of the more than 20,000 jobs that Nine Elms will create when complete. Rightly so. It has to be the chief benefit of the development for local residents. However, when we push that we tend to overlook the construction jobs created while development takes place.

The Nine Elms Strategy Board last week had a presentation from Mace who have undertaken skills forecasting work for the board. The idea is to understand what sort of jobs would be required and when, so training providers can adapt their offer accordingly. The sheer scale of Nine Elms means that the skills that will be required do not exist in sufficient numbers in London: we either have to import workers from elsewhere, or train them.

The numbers required are huge. Without going into the detail of various skills or phasing there will be over 8,500 people working on construction sites at the peak in 2016 when there will be 25 separate projects. Between 2015 and 2021 the number of workers will never drop below 5,000 jobs, overall there’s anticipated to be at least ten years of construction at Nine Elms.

The challenge for the council is ensuring that a fair share (or maybe more than a fair share) of those jobs are taken by Wandsworth residents. If you, or someone you know, think you right for one of them then get in touch with Work Match.

Regenerating the Alton. And the barrier.

Introducing the Alton area masterplan to residents

Introducing the Alton area masterplan to residents

The Alton Area Masterplan was launched at a public meeting in Roehampton at the weekend. And there was, perhaps predictably, a little controversy in the meeting. But not, perhaps, as controversial as it might have been.

Indeed, the complaints seemed to focus on one issue: the Danebury Avenue barrier[1].

Quickly looking through my previous posts on regeneration topics I’m astounded that I’ve not written something about seemingly small and tangential issues taking on new importance during the process. We are consulting on a major regeneration project, demolishing and creating hundreds of homes, but during the public meeting part of the session the barrier became the hot topic.

And for some people it is a hot topic. For a start it has the advantage of being something that is easily understandable and relatable: if you have a belief about the effect of a traffic barrier, you know what that barrier does. And that is much easier for anyone to comprehend and far less abstract than trying to re-think how people relate to an area.

Large blocks, in large spaces. The initial vision for the Alton was remarkably good.

Large blocks, in large spaces. The initial vision for the Alton was remarkably good.

It is also something of a lesson for those, like me, who are involved in an area in which, however deep our involvement, we do not live (I did hear a few mutterings about ‘outsiders’). Almost by definition we look at an area with a degree of objectivity, since we aren’t as emotionally involved, but also with views coloured by our own experiences. Personally speaking, I live somewhere that is almost the physical opposite of the Alton: small houses with small gardens on a traditional road layout, compare to the Alton’s large blocks of flats set in expansive green spaces that (should) relate to Richmond Park.

However hard I try I cannot remove my housing experiences from my memory and that’s why it’s important to give the due weight to concerns about the possibility of removal of the Danebury Avenue barrier. My experiences of living on streets that have varying levels of traffic, and different methods of controlling volume and speed, have not been shared by long-term residents on the Alton estate, where Danebury Avenue has only been open or closed.

Generally, though, the session seemed positive. Listening to various people afterwards there were concerns, but not negativity. People are naturally anxious about their homes and their futures, but equally pessimism and cynicism are giving way to optimism and ambition for the area.

There will undoubtedly be difficult times ahead, and we will never persuade everyone that the final Masterplan is the best way forward for the Alton, but strolling through the estate after the meeting, and seeing how large parts of the estate already work remarkably well (although I concede a blue sky always improves a scene) it was easy to be upbeat about the future.

  1. I should caveat my record of this meeting by stating the acoustics were bad when people were speaking without a microphone, and standing at the back (it was a standing room only meeting) I struggled to hear a lot of the debate.  ↩

The future of the Alton Estate?

Looking towards tower blocks and Richmond Park from the balcony of Binley House on the Alton Estate, Roehampton

The Alton boasts a remarkable setting

This week saw the start of the next stage of consultation on the Alton Estate regeneration. I’ve not written as much about the work of the council in improving the Alton estate in Roehampton as I have about the Winstanley and York Road work, possibly because of my proximity to the latter, possibly because the Alton programme is, to my mind, more subtle.

It isn’t the first time the council has tried to tackle the Alton. Though it’s the first time in my memory that we seem to have the support to see it through. It was interesting after the last Roehampton Partnership meeting talking to members who suggested they had felt a change: the partnership felt more positive, more professional even, and progress was being made. Pride may come before a fall (and I recognise we’re approaching a rather febrile election season) but there are reasons to be optimistic.

But why are the plans for the Alton more subtle than for the Winstanley and York Road programme?

To answer, you have to look at the Alton estate’s conception. It’s easy to look at council estates and assume they are, somehow, automatically dysfunctional. The original plans for the Alton, however, came some way towards the post-war Utopian vision for social housing. Modern architecture in a park setting: the blocks looking and feeling very much like they in an extended Richmond Park. Viewing the original plans, and hearing the original architect’s vision, I found myself finally understanding why so many long-term residents could speak of the jealousy they encountered from those who were not allocated housing there. Indeed, I had some of that jealousy myself.

Unfortunately the subsequent development took most of the shine off the estate. Later additions were, frankly, done on the cheap. They re-used designs from elsewhere, and built what could fit, rather than what should fit.

The masterplan option on which we are about to consult moves us back towards that vision, at the junction of Danebury Avenue and Roehampton Lane there will be new buildings that properly frame the estate’s gateway, the area behind providing new, higher quality homes that face the right way rather than having gardens on the road, Portswood Place will be revitalised to create new centre and through it all a central park will provide an attractive link into Richmond Park, creating attractive views and pathways.

And the subtlety? A lot of the buildings remain exactly as they are. The road layout will be unchanged. This is not like the Winstanley and York Road scheme that proposes a lot of demolition in the York Road Estate. It cannot be seen as purely physical regeneration[1].

It cannot be viewed just as shiny new buildlings, though there are some, but instead should invite you to imagine a new relationship with the area: from a new park area to enjoy, new shops providing not only retail, but employment and vibrancy, and new facilities for services and recreation. Fundamentally, it recognises that a lot of the original estate is good, it just needs the setting to make it work.

The consultation is just another stage of an evolving process, but the master planning exercise is drawing to a close and reflects a lot of the feedback that has been received. I think they are incredibly exciting and promising, and hope those responding to the consultation think the same.

  1. The Winstanley and York Road regeneration should not be seen as purely physical regeneration either, but if you choose to view it in that way it can still make sense, providing better homes and facilities close to Clapham Junction. ↩

Wandsworth Enterprise Week

Presenting the cheque to launch the Business Loan Fund

Presenting the cheque to launch the Business Loan Fund

Wandsworth Enterprise Week has now been and gone and, I think, can be called a success. Over the course of the week hundred of businesses, and potential business owners, attended the various themed events that had been put on by the council’s fabulous economic development team.

While I often joke that my rôle is merely to take the credit for the hard work of others, I think I can take some credit for starting the process a year ago when stood at the back of the 2013 Wandsworth Business Forum and deciding that the format of a stand-alone forum had become a little stale (although feedback for the event had always been positive). But a conversation on the fringes of an event is nothing compared to the inspiration and hard work of the economic development staff and town centre managers who put last week’s programme together. I’ve made a point of telling anyone (and there have been many) who complimented the events that the credit does not belong to me.

What is particularly pleasing are the comments from those businesses operating in several boroughs that Wandsworth has ‘got it’ and really is a business borough. We cannot do everything, and I know we don’t always get it right for businesses. Inevitably a council has to have a focus on residents, that is our statutory responsibility. But that doesn’t mean we can’t help businesses.

We are about to start offering business rate relief for small businesses that are either retailers, service providers or sell food or drink. The council estimates about 3,000 businesses will be eligible for the relief over the next two years and they will be invited to apply later this year.

It was also a pleasure to formally launch, in conjunction with GLE, the Business Loan Fund. And not just because it gave me a chance to hand over a novelty sized cheque. The fund, which will be £800,000 in total, will offer finance to those businesses that struggle to approvals for loans from traditional sources. More details are available from GLE Business Loans or by emailing wandsworthloans@gle.co.uk.

How will the Winstanley and York Road estates look?

The preferred option for the Winstanley Estate and neighbouring York Road Estate is taking shape

The preferred option for the Winstanley Estate and neighbouring York Road Estate is taking shape

The preferred option exhibition for the Winstanley and York Road estate regeneration starts this weekend at York Gardens Library (taking place this Saturday from noon–3pm, then Monday 5–8pm and Wednesday 10am–1pm).

Throughout the process so far I’ve been surprised at the appetite for change. There was undoubtedly a consensus that improvements were desperately needed, and a significant majority of people recognised that—for whatever reason—the estates don’t ‘work’. I have my own views on why they don’t work, although re-reading them I’m struck that I didn’t explicitly mention the loss of a traditional street pattern which has to be one of the biggest problems (and hardest to address because it means removing buildings).

Despite that appetite, I remain surprised at how strong that appetite for change has been. I perhaps blithely assumed people would plump for the middle option, but when I’ve been there and talking to residents I’ve seen demand for radical change, some even wanting to go further than the council’s options.

Of course, not everyone shares that desire. The fact I’ve met so many people keen on change owes much to chance, because there are those who prefer other options, including the minimal refurbishment, and those who prefer hybrid schemes, taking elements from different options.

The whole process is evolutionary, and while the suggested designs are becoming more detailed, feedback from this stage will be incorporated as the plans and delivery are more fully worked up. So if you are affected it’s worth attending one of the sessions.

More details are on the council’s website.

Fitness First has always been the enemy

If Fitness First is the new frontline, where is the frontline?

If Fitness First is the new frontline, where is the frontline? Photo by Kate Meacock

I have, at times, banged on about the Claphamisation of Battersea, with new arrivals and Yorkshire based supermarkets showing no consideration of the area’s history or geography.

In my idler moments I’ve also wondered whether the excellent Love Battersea is perhaps just a little too mainstream and, just maybe, whether there should be a more radical splinter group—a Battersea People’s Front[1]—for those who are more vocal in their demands for Battersea’s place on the map.

Fitness First in Battersea, thinking they are in Clapham Hill in Kent.

Anyone know where Clapham Hill is?

Seeing pictures like the above taken outside the Fitness First on Falcon Road leave me more convinced than ever that the BPF has a place. That this is a year after they put up their ridiculous Clapham Hill hoarding and had the error pointed out to them leaves a rather bitter taste. Apparently, they think “a play on ‘Clapham and Lavender Hill’ is nice!”

Not only are they mistakenly placing themselves in Clapham, they then compound their sin by making up a new place they think is in Clapham (but is actually in Kent) and defend it with a hubris that only Sainsbury’s could match with their ‘Clapham St John’s’ near Wandsworth

I was thinking that we should have a two minutes hate[2] directed at Fitness First (and feel free to tweet them) would be a good starting point. But would two minutes be anything like long enough?

  1. Such naming would, of course, leave the People’s Front of Battersea name available for those who feel the BPF is too tame.  ↩
  2. I recognise that the title of this blogpost should have been ‘we have always been at war with Fitness First’ to keep the 1984 theme, but even I felt war was a little strong.  ↩

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