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.

On being an independent

 I’ve reflected on being an independent councillor quite a lot since the last council meeting. In many ways the council meeting highlighted and formalised the transition, before things had gone on much as before: people would contact me, I’d raise issues with the town hall, nothing really changed.

But the meeting was the point when being independent made a difference. My seat in the chamber moved from the irrelevant margins to a spot I assume was seen by the whip as slightly more marginal. The usual greetings were thin on the ground, although the leader did deign to make strange noises (possibly mocking, possibly intestinal problems) to greet me when I presented the Formula E petition. My votes seemed to attract far more attention than ever before.

I was particularly amused when my vote was the same as the Labour group’s that there were accusations of collusion. There was, perhaps, a misunderstanding of the meaning of independence, but I also assume that if your normality is a group, then you assume everyone’s normality is a group. The truth was we didn’t even coordinate votes as independents.

It did, however, bring home to me that I need to have some clear statement of what I believe and want to do as a councillor. If the main reason I left the majority group was the lack of vision, then it would be a meaningless gesture if I were not to have some clear vision of what I believe the council and I should be doing.

The difficulty is in creating a lucid definition: while the picture is clear in my head, putting it into words is harder. It has concepts of community and society, and perhaps especially enablement. It has degrees of innovation, but without the total control that seems to be required at present. Transparency is important, but perhaps goes further, and has a degree of almost open source government where people have the right and the power to see if they can change things.

I recognise I’m not in much of a position to effect change (although an example from another part of my life has reminded me that when you set challenging goals, you often surprise yourself by exceeding them) but I obviously have total control over how I work as a local councillor and that is a role in which I still know I can make a big difference: the first task is deciding how.

Going to full council. Independently

 

Wandsworth Council Chamber, from a councillor's view
In my new seat, 2,300 name petitition at the ready
 
Last night was my first full council meeting as an independent councillor, and in some ways one of the more interesting meetings I’ve attended, because I could attend and make up my own mind rather an having each of my votes pre-determined by the whip. It was remarkably refreshing, as a councillor, to be genuinely undecided and make a decision on my vote on the basis of the debate.

It is also, effectively, the only meeting at which independent councillors have any formal role, since the Conservative group flexed their majority to give us the most marginal of committee places. They even attempted to bury a question from Cllr Grimston about the proposed Richmond merger down the order, although the Mayor, to her credit, insisted it be put higher on the order.

One thing I thought I would try to do is record my votes. As a general rule votes aren’t recorded at the council although you could generally guess which way people voted based on the vote size (there had never been any real examples of people disobeying the party whip). The agenda is available on the council’s website, there were lots of votes taken—many uncontentious—so this isn’t comprehensive, but my thoughts and votes on those that had some debate or interest.

Shared arrangements with Richmond: I voted with Labour on their amendment. Then voted against the paragraph.

I was undecided going into the meeting, but I had reservations. Richmond is very different to Wandsworth, it doesn’t even run some of the big ticket services that Wandsworth runs. Above all the whole things seems to be be drawn up remarkably quickly, an opportunistic merger after Richmond’s talks with Kingston failed. It might be the right thing to do, but that would be luck rather than judgement: a decision of this magnitude needs to be taken with proper consideration, not when Richmond are on the rebound.

Political Groups and Committee Appointments: Mildly interesting. Essentially the Conservatives deciding on which committees the two independent councillors can serve, with the two of us suggesting something different. Unsurprisingly I voted for the independent proposal. Unsurprisingly it was defeated.

Motion on Airport Expansion: This was a rather dull debate of lots of people agreeing with each other. It seemed half the councillors left the chamber for the duration of it. We debate this subject again and again (I assume because it’s a big issue in key Conservative areas!) but I don’t think there’s ever been a different outcome other than unanimous support.

Motion on Private Renting in Wandsworth: I would have had no problem supporting the motion, but equally found myself having not having any problem with voting for the Conservative amendment which was pretty bland, so supported that and the amended motion. This was essentially about supporting private renters in the borough, a rapidly growing tenure and one that is often characterised by insecurity.

Stop Formula E public meeting

Battersea Park in seasonal racing attire
Battersea Park in seasonal racing attire
Battersea Park is almost back to normal, or at least the new normal with a lot more tarmac than there was before but many are still angry about it.

A number of local residents affected are organising a public meeting do discuss possible responses to Formula E this Friday.

The meeting takes place at Ethelburga Community Centre at 60 Worfield Street at 7pm on Friday 10 July.

While the complaints leading up to and during the event were certainly noticed by the council and I wondered if the town hall press office’s silence indicated a shift in opinion was coming (the press office is essentially part of the leader’s office, so a good indication of what’s going on) that silence was broken last Friday.

The timing of the press release is important. It was already out-of-date, detailing an event that was a week old, but was released the the day after the Conservative group meeting (a private meeting of Conservative councillors to which the party organiser and chief activists are also invited) which might imply the decision to try for another four years has been taken.
If the council is to reverse that decision, then public pressure has to be applied now, and not just when the park is disrupted in years to come. Friday’s meeting may be the start of that.

Battersea Park re-opens after Formula E

I took in Battersea Park on my morning run today. It is, again, open to mere mortals although a lot of evidence of Formula E remains. My route took me around the carriage drives, which were more or less fully open, although possibly more through oversight and perhaps not likely to remain that way all day, although there were no barriers, signs or security guards when I was there.

All around the park are collections of the fencing, concrete blocks and various bits and pieces of kit. Carriage Drive South was by far the worst, giving the impression that workers simply dropped everything where they stood yesterday ready to resume work this morning. The terracing and footbridge remain in place there.

Generally the concrete blocks have been removed from the course, although it looks like the barriers have still to be removed from the central road and the area around the junction with Carriage Drive East.

The only bit I couldn’t use was the new dual carriageway part of Carriage Drive West, where the amount of fencing and plant piled up meant I had to run on the tarmac where the boules area used to be.

So, you can get in and seem to be able to access most bits, but I suspect parts of the park will need to be closed off. A lot of freestanding fencing has been installed that I expect will be used to limit movement during work today. If nothing else there will be a lot vehicle movements there today, I spotted lots of forklifts and a couple of idling lorries.

Sadly, I must also report that I didn’t find the overnight tarmac job (which was impressive, when I report a pothole it takes three weeks for an acknowledgement!) on turn one made my run any faster at all.

Lighting Lavender Gardens

Lavender Gardens, between Dorothy Road and Asda Clapham Junction
Lavender Gardens when it’s not dark
After (at least) ten years of trying I think I’ve finally got to the stage that lights will be installed in the path by by the Lavender Gardens playground.

Those using the path today may wonder why it’s an issue, but anyone who has used the path in the dark (and for commuters using it, in winter it’s dark before they’ve even left work) will realise it doesn’t always feel the safest place, despite only being a few yards from the lights of Dorothy Road or Asda.

The issue may largely be a fear of crime, one of the arguments against lighting I always met was that there was no crime or antisocial behaviour associated with the area. That is not necessary a good measure, as many told me—and I have experienced myself—you just don’t bother reporting it when you may have felt intimidated but nothing happened; you don’t think it makes any difference other than wasting everyone’s time.

We had come close to getting lights a few times. Asda had once offered to provide lighting from their buildings, but unfortunately this proved impossible to do from their structures without flood-lighting the back gardens and windows of neighbouring houses. I was hopeful a petition from local residents and users last year might resurrect the issue, but sadly the council returned the issue back to Asda and it was back to square one.

The difficulty was that it was council land, and therefore needed a council solution, but the council wouldn’t fund it.

However, the Wandsworth Local Fund, which allows for payments from developers to be used for local projects provided a possible solution. While a lighting project was just outside the remit, the council was bidding to itself for various projects including lighting and paving that were also just outside the remit so I was hopeful a tiny project like this would be successful. I submitted a bid which was kindly supported by one of my ward colleagues in Shaftesbury and two councillors from the neighbouring Latchmere ward and several months later it has been approved, getting the nod from last night’s council executive meeting.

There’s still lots more to do (I’m already assuming they won’t be done for this winter) and it’s been wrapped up in a bigger and longer term repaving project for Lavender Hill where it might run the risk of being lost so I’ll be checking up on progress regularly and hopefully we’ll soon be able to use a properly lit path.

Formula E in Battersea Park: never again?

Battersea Park's new racetrack taking shape. Good for Scalextric, not so good for park users
Battersea Park’s new racetrack taking shape. Good for Scalextric, not so good for park users.

When I found myself unable to support Formula E in Battersea Park I was perfectly content with being in a minority position. It was almost a habit in Wandsworth, something I considered a strength, both personal and policy-making.

I assumed that Formula E would come, and go, and a few people would be a bit put out, but it would soon be forgotten.

I certainly hadn’t anticipated the concrete and metal mess that Battersea Park has become.

It’s incredibly hard not to think a line has been crossed. I was concerned about the principle of selling the park being breached. Yes, bits of the park are available for private rent, but they are small portions of the park: even when they are closed off the park can still function as a park.

Now, it is impossible to consider Battersea Park as a meaningful green space, whatever carefully framed pictures the council tweet there are plenty more detailing the rest of the park

Instead we are faced with weeks of excessive disruption. (It has been months this time, but I assume that’s only due to the tarmac “enhancements” that won’t need repeating for the 2016–2019 races). I can’t describe how saddening it was when my daughter got excited about a nursery trip to Battersea Park, only to hear her slightly older brother who had been that day, lower her expectations: “Battersea Park isn’t a nice place to visit any more.”

The council has been remarkably quiet in answering criticism. I wonder if this is because they are preparing for a change of heart but want to keep that to themselves until after the race. I hope so, but also worry they are hoping to ride out the criticism.

But the mood seems to be changing. The Labour Party, having previously supported the event, have started changing their tone and throughout the debacle residents have been mobilising, organising a petition and a public meeting for shortly after the event.

It has long been my concern that the council lacks a vision of what is important to Wandsworth. Perhaps this will be one of those occasions when local residents are going to make sure they know what is important to Wandsworth.

Why I mounted a token rebellion. Twice.

I have been muted in my blogging, feeling it was diplomatic to simply keep my head down. And it probably still is.

My silence, along with the disappearance of a few blog posts and editing of a third, was stimulated by a colleague who pointed out that I made things difficult when I expressed different opinions to others in the group; a point of view I accepted at the time. But increasingly it grated. I’ve always been fond of George Patton’s line: “If everybody’s thinking alike then somebody isn’t thinking.”

The line was with me when I voted against the controlling group for the first time at the last meeting. I wrote in a draft blog post (which remains unpublished) at the time:

The first debate marked the first time I’ve voted against the group in council. Not something I did lightly, and not on a sexy subject: ward budgets for councillors. I suspect many would see it as being a grandiose councillor, but I have long thought there’s a strong argument that ward budgets (which would give councillors a small spending power for projects in their ward) would improve local democracy and accountability. If nothing else I can think of plenty of small projects in Shaftesbury, most recently the suggestion of lighting in the Lavender Gardens path by Asda, that would improve people’s lives with just a small investment. Additionally, I was not comfortable with over-turning the tradition that OSC decisions are respected.

I’m sure it hasn’t made me popular (I’ve already had one call to resign), but I felt it was the right thing to do.

During my re-selection process last year I highlighted my tendency to provide different thinking within the council, something the selection meeting seemed to welcome. Representing other points of view, bring new perspectives and thinking differently got me re-selected. Sullenly thinking what I’m told did not.

And so once again last night I felt it was the right thing to do when it came to supporting Formula E. Or not supporting it, as the case was. It won’t make me popular with colleagues, I’m sure, but I have already rehearsed my views on here, and while I have been quiet since, those views haven’t changed.

It is, of course, irrelevant to the final result. I was just one of three voting against (I was surprised to find Martin Johnson and Malcolm Grimston also taking the same view) with everyone else supporting the proposal. Being in a small minority isn’t necessarily a bad thing although it might be a strong indicator I’m totally wrong. It does, however, indicate that everyone is thinking, just that some are thinking differently. Above all, being in a minority doesn’t change my feeling that Battersea Park is something special and we risk that at our peril.