An Italian for Big Fat Panda?

Two planning applications have been made for 281 Lavender Hill, currently Big Fat Panda.

Earlier in the year the Grand Union pub chain had made a very unpopular pair of planning and licensing applications which met with robust opposition from local residents. I was pleased to be able to help them by voicing my opposition at the licensing committee meeting.

The new planning applications have been made by Valentina, an Italian restaurant and deli chain. The initial reaction I’ve had from residents has been positive, and I can see how it would be a welcome addition to Lavender Hill in a way that Grand Union most definitely was not. The application still has provision for use of the outside area so there is the risk of some local disturbance, but the proposed opening hours only extend to 11pm which is a far cry from the late night revelry there might have been.

The risk after the rejection of Grand Union was a succession of inappropriate applications and one finally getting through. This, however, might be an almost ideal outcome for those who did such a great job in opposing Grand Union.

You can comment on the applications on the council’s planning portal, applications 2015/5107 and 2015/5108.

Council delays Formula E decision

The council has withdrawn the intended paper on the future of Formula E in Battersea Park. The issue was originally to be discussed at the Community Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 22 September. However, the council has now withdrawn item from the agenda citing the need to properly analyse and consider the responses to the consultation.

I understand that the council has received around 3,000 comments from various sources. I have no idea how they balance between those supportive and those opposed to Formula E but this is a significant level of response for a council consultation and it doesn’t seem all that unlikely they were unable to complete a proper analysis in time for the committee.

I know many people were planning to attend the meeting to watch from the public gallery, and that many more were interested in the outcome. The decision will still have to be made at some stage. The question is when that will be. The next scheduled committee is 24 November, but this will be after the date by which the option to exercise a break clause will have passed.

Since it’s possible the decision may be referred to full council it does raise some interesting timing questions. We’re still not quite at the finish line for Formula E in Battersea Park.

Lavender Hill Farmers Market starts tomorrow

School poster ONE jpegShaftesbury Park School on Ashbury Road hosts the first Lavender Hill Farmers Market tomorrow.

I’m rather pleased to see it coming to the area. Wearing my pro-Lavender Hill hat, every little helps when it comes to increasing footfall in the area (even if it is a few minutes walk from Lavender Hill itself). But as a school governor at Shaftesbury Park it’s great to see the school being used and opening itself up outside of the normal school week.

Additionally the relationship has potential benefits for the school beyond merely, and I know the organisers have been talking with the school and the PTA about how the school can be involved.

The market is open from 10am until 2pm, and will be returning every week.

Why Wandsworth should make a token effort in the refugee crisis

The campaign for Wandsworth to accept ten refugees seems woefully inadequate in the light of the scale of the refugee crisis. Even despite that, there are plenty who are arguing against it both locally and nationally, saying we should look after our own people first, that the country is already full or that those finding their way to our shores are motivated by economics not personal safety.

There might be some merit to that first argument. I long ago lost count of the number of people who had approached me as a councillor about their housing application I found myself telling that, however difficult their circumstances, they would have a long wait until they were likely to be at the top of the list.

Equally, the council can argue that it has a tried and tested procedure for assessing the merits of housing applications and that circumventing that would create a dangerous precedent and be unfair to those who were previously on the list. In any case, such a small number is tokenism given the scale of the issue.

Sometimes, though, a symbolic gesture is exactly what is needed. The council may have efficient bureaucratic processes, but it can also show leadership: a gesture, perhaps, but also a strong signal that we don’t simply turn our backs when we can help. That as a borough and a country we are not selfish and we are not full. And that when it really matters we can rise above parochial self-interest and rule-bound processes that so often rail-road our decision-making; to prove that we are not just human, we are also humane.

The real impact of austerity

Reporting, again, a pothole on Kingsley Street for repair made me realise what austerity actually means for most people: and it’s not that much.

I’d previously reported it at the beginning of June, but three months later the pothole remains, not massive, but still needing repair. It’s a sharp contrast from the level of response I’d previously had; when a pothole could be fixed in a day.

Of course, there are lots of reasons why the comparison may be unfair and the response times different. The example in 2010 was just before the national and local elections when more effort was put in and I was still in the Conservative group (the post was even copied across to the party website) while in 2015 paperwork may have gone awry or it might just not be seen as big enough.

Fundamentally though, the council just doesn’t have as much money as it once did: 2010 is very different to 2015. It cannot afford the resources to respond rapidly or on the same level as it once did.

But is this that big an issue? Possibly not. It brought to mind the concept of hedonic adaptation, that whatever changes—good or bad—impact on a person, they soon return to about the same level of happiness they experienced before.

I wonder if that is what is happening in the UK: things aren’t as good as they were, but expectations are changing. People will occasionally vaguely recall that things used to be better, but doesn’t everyone believe that the past was a golden age?

Is it really the case that, other than those directly affected because of cuts in public services, the only ones that care or notice are people like me with an unhealthy obsession with reporting street defects? If so, historians and sociologists of the future may well find themselves studying how austerity in the twenty-first century led to little more than an increase in mild swearing when people tripped on uneven pavements.

Formula E Kremlinology

I’m just about old enough to vaguely remember pundits who made a living from Kremlinology and divining some meaning from the scraps of information that escaped Red Square. I was reminded of them watching the public utterances from Wandsworth on Formula E.

The first time I recalled it was seeing a council press release and thinking there must be something to the timings (it was published the day after a Conservative group meeting, but that was five days after Formula E and it described an event that took place a week before). Of course, it’s always preferable to trust the cock-up theory and not the conspiracy theory, but it was fun to speculate on the reasons for that specific timing.

Watching further it’s easy to see how pundits can make a living. I found the following couple of quotes interesting. In an interview with Alejandro Agag contains the following:

Formula E has four more years left to run on its contract to use Battersea Park as the venue for the British round, though it does contain an opt-out clause for either party.

Agag expects the venue to remain the same, though it is understood final confirmation will not come until Battersea completes due diligence on last season’s round.

“We’re definitely not executing it [the opt-out clause] and we don’t think they will either,” he said. “We hope they won’t.

“There is a small minority of people who were unhappy and we’re trying to make them happy.”

Meanwhile speculates that Formula E’s desire to change the dates may prove to be an insurmountable problem.

Deputy leader of Wandsworth Council, Jonathan Cook, said: “If we continue (with Formula E) it would have to be the same weekend, as we have so many other events happening in the park, notably the Chase Corporate Challenge, a big running race which goes on immediately afterwards. We wouldn’t be able move that and nor would we want to.

“We have something like 600 events going on in the park throughout the year,” continued Cook. “They are not all on the scale of the Formula E event, but the ePrix has to fit in to the schedule of the other events, many of which have been going on for years.

So, are they quotes revealing that next year is not a certainty? Or quotes that are simply some public posturing ahead of contract negotiations? I don’t know. But what I did find interesting is that it was Formula E who referred to residents, whereas for the council the issue is not public opposition, but the competing demands of the park’s corporate users.

You can give the council your views on Formula E at their consultation site until 6 September, and if you are not a Formula E fan, you might like to visit the Save Battersea Park campaign site.

Contact management

For the first time ever I got a performance report on councillor correspondence.

I had been emailed—I suspected with lots of others—by a business looking for a trading location. It was a fairly simple email to deal with, I replied, unable to immediately think of anywhere suitable but also forwarded their enquiry to the council’s economic development team (they have also followed up with the business).

Today the business emailed again with a thank-you for the response and the fascinating information that they had emailed 227 councillors and had 33 responses (a 14½% response rate). I have no idea who the 227 or the 33 were, and since the time between the two emails was fairly short I’m sure more would have subsequently replied.

But it set me wondering what people think are acceptable standards for councillors responses. Most public (and private) bodies will have targets for responding to enquiries and even as a councillor, rather than dealing with the relevant officers, I have to channel most enquiries through a central team who issue me with a reference number and a target date for a response. This type of behaviour must set an expectation of standards of service from public servants.

I certainly try to acknowledge emails within a few days but actually answering can take longer if I need to investigate something. The zeitgeist suggests councillors do pretty well at responding (considering they would be the only category on the list who don’t have dedicated staff to handle correspondence coming 2% behind MPs is good going). But I can’t help wondering if members of the public would agree 53% is good.

Gastronhome: a great restaurant on Lavender Hill

Gastronhome: a superb addition to Lavender Hill's food offer
Gastronhome: a superb addition to Lavender Hill’s food offer
I finally managed to try Gastronhome, which has been on Lavender Hill for a few months now. I’ve tried for a while to be a bit more active in supporting Lavender Hill’s restaurants (which in practice means when I can, since the family are of an age that means I don’t go out as much as I once did—and hope to again one day).

Several people had recommended it to me, and I was not disappointed. The food is immaculately presented and smelled and tasted delicious, even to a palette like mine which has paid the price of years of abuse. Small and intimate, it has all the hallmarks of a great local restaurant: and a great anchor for a stretch of Lavender Hill that has struggled but could be a real destination.

I’m not a food blogger, so won’t even try to describe the meal, but if you like good restaurants and great food and have even the smallest desire to support Lavender Hill’s struggling local economy then go there. You won’t be disappointed.

Coffee with a copper

Google is frankly useless in providing an image for coffee with a copper
Google is frankly useless in providing an image for coffee with a copper
Battersea sector police (which covers Shaftesbury ward, among many others) are hosting one of their ‘coffee with a copper’ events at McDonald’s on St John’s Road today.

If you want to let them know about your views on local policing or find out what the priority crimes in the area (as well as get crime prevention advice from them) they will be in McDonald’s from noon until 4.00pm.

Community v council leadership

The FT are running a series on how austerity is affecting local councils. I rather enjoyed this article about Oldham, detailing a scheme in which the council helped residents transform a bit of open space, showing that even when times are hard it needn’t all be bad.

Oldham 'hidden' garden“You can’t leave everything to the council as far as keeping places tidy. You’ve got to take responsibility for your own little patch, really,” adds another member of the secret garden team, Dave Owens.

Such sentiments are music to the ears of Jim McMahon, Oldham’s Labour council leader.

The council previously enjoyed the sense that it was “big and important, because we ran the place and it was all ours”, Mr McMahon says. “The measure of success used to be ‘how big’s your budget and how many staff do you employ?’ ”

I think Jim McMahon is one of the country’s better council leaders, in part because he appears to recognise the importance of leading and area and a community rather than just a council.