Those who use Southside or Garratt Lane might have noticed that work has started on the next phase of the Southside redevelopment.

I can’t help feeling a little smug satisfaction to see work commence following my annoyance at the London Data Company’s inaccurate representation of the town centre a little under a month ago.

The phase that has just started will add three shops and three restaurants (much needed, in my view, the post cinema choice in Southside isn’t the greatest) and will also improve the exterior, which on Garratt Lane has still to shake off the grim brutalist look.

And it is a big win for Wandsworth town centre; it marks the developer’s continued confidence and will create new employment, as well as new leisure opportunities, for local people.

Partly empty for redevelopment: the Southside shopping centre.

The Local Data Company (LDC) have named Wandsworth as the third-worst town centre for shop vacancies. It has become a depressingly regular story from them and a matter we’ve raised with them several times before.

Their argument is that shops are empty and, therefore, they are reflecting the actual position.

However, this ignores the wider context. In the case of Wandsworth, as we have pointed out to them several times, the large numbers of vacant units are largely a result of a planned redevelopment of the Southside shopping centre.

The shops are not closed because Wandsworth is in “a spiral of decline” as their report might imply, but in preparation for a multi-million pound investment.

Sadly, LDC have chosen not to include this sort of information with their data; so their product is less than accurate and a successful town centre is unfairly tainted.

Of course, we aren’t the only ones to suffer this. A quick Google reveals that Stockport, named as the worst ‘large centre’ felt the LDC report was “at best confusing and at worst inaccurate”.

The second worst large centre, Nottingham is in the same position as Wandsworth, with units empty ahead of redevelopment.

I’m sure there are many more who feel unfairly treated.

You might choose to blame the media for sensationalising the facts. However, when the originator of the data fails to provide the context despite being fully aware of it (when I first contacted them they suggested he would “commit to work much closer with” us… if we were a client) then it’s not that surprising that headlines like “spiral of decline”, “dying high streets” or “future looks bleak” are associated with town centres that have a bright future.

Worse still is the timing. Wandsworth is unfairly tarred as a failing centre just before redevelopment, exactly when people should feel encouraged to invest in Wandsworth with confidence.

Clearly there are some town centres that are declining, that is the nature of retail business and shopping habits. However it’s disappointing when a those with a bright future are lumped in with those that are failing.

Unfortunately, for us and the other centres in a similar position, it seems the Local Data Company aren’t that interested in applying local knowledge to their products.

Not the most exciting image from last week's Wandsworth Business Forum.

There are over 12,000 businesses in Wandsworth, employing (if my sums are right) over 70,000 people, but for some reason business lacks a voice in Wandsworth.

That’s not to say business is ignored; we do plenty to communicate with businesses, each town centre has a council employed Town Centre Manager, working with the local town centre partnership. We have links with the major business and trading associations. We regularly communicate and consult with businesses.

But there hadn’t been a strategic voice for business until recently.

We held the Wandsworth Business Forum last week (another ‘service’ we give businesses, an information and networking event) and formally launched the Wandsworth Business Partnership. Last night the Partnership held its third meeting and elected its first chairman from the private sector (I had acted as chairman while it was established).

Why is it important? Well, the borough’s business has never had a strategic voice with the council.

But arguably business is a key part of what makes the borough great. Most people form an opinion of an area not on the neighbours, or the quality of the housing, but the nearby retail offer. If you have ‘nice’ shops, you think it’s a nice area. If the nearest parade can only offer cut-price drink, gambling and kebabs you might draw a different opinion.

Business brings people and money into the local economy. Without it Wandsworth would be a dormitory, where people slept when they weren’t working elsewhere.

And the irony is that businesses, arguably, are the biggest funders of the council. While localisation of business rates is still a year away, and technically business rates are paid – ultimately – to HM Treasury the fact remains that the amount the Treasury pay to councils (which massively outweighs the money councils raise themselves) comes from somewhere and is remarkably close to the amount businesses pay in rates. Businesses find themselves paying a lot in taxation, but getting little representation.

This article on O2, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea’s plan to introduce free wifi is mainly focused on residents, but highlights the importance of a strong business voice.

It is exactly the sort of project that could help Wandsworth’s emergent creative sector to thrive by giving it a competitive edge, but hitherto we haven’t had a body that could either call for, or support, strategic projects like that.

It will be fascinating to see how the Wandsworth Business Partnership develops and works. (I sometimes wonder if we are just going through a corporatist cycle of government, and couldn’t help think of the Neddys.) I know it won’t always see eye-to-eye with the council – if only because it has chosen parking policy as one of its initial priorities – but on the other areas, like attracting investment to the borough or the creation of employment space we would hopefully be of one voice and seeing some exciting times together.

(If you are a Wandsworth Business you might be interested in joining the Wandsworth Business Partnership group on LinkedIn.)

The power in Balham Town Centre failed again today, affecting a number of businesses and residents. I thought it worth a quick blog post to mention a recent meeting I had with UK Power Networks to discuss the situation.

The history
To give a brief history this is not the first time it has happened. Two years ago, around exactly the same time, Balham was hit by a series of power failures. Not an idea situation when many businesses are in their busiest trading period of the year. At that time I (well, the council’s Economic Development Office and Balham Town Centre Manager) organised a meeting with EDF, who were responsible for power supply.

It must rank among the most pointless meetings I’ve ever attended. The EDF representative hadn’t even bothered to brief herself on the situation, throughout most of the meeting she refused even to apologise, and when she finally did it felt like a non-apology. So when we organised another meeting I wasn’t confident – but, in fact, it was totally different.

The current situation.
UK Power Networks are now responsible for the supply, they turned up knowing the history, with maps of the supply network there and an idea of the problem. And they apologised up front, they recognise their job is to get power through their network and to people.

They believe the problem is cabling (that would ordinarily be expected to outlive me and most of the people reading this blog) damaged by the 2009-2010 transformer failures. Unfortunately they cannot confirm this until that cable is replaced. And replacing that cable is a major job, involving excavating virtually all the pavement.

A solution?
They are planning to replace the cabling early next year. Ordinarily they would need to give three months notice to the council, but will work with the council to organise timing that is as convenient as possible to businesses who have already been badly affected (the EDO is also talking to the relevant council department to see if we can get the notice period waived to increase the options).

They also expressed a willingness to be as open and helpful as possible to businesses if there are any problems, and certainly to do a better job than EDF did a few years ago.

If you are affected and want any more details please get in touch, either via the comments, email or speak to the Balham Town Centre Manager. I know it’s not an idea situation for anyone there, but I’m far more confident that a resolution is coming with UK Power Networks than I ever could be with EDF.

Not, at first sight, the greatest news for Nine Elms that the banks have called in the administrators at Battersea Power Station. My reaction on hearing the news yesterday was not one I would readily repeat. Could the site be cursed?

In fact, the outlook for Nine Elms remains good.

For a start, the Government is now backing the Northern Line Extension. This is a linchpin for development, making the ambitious targets of creating 16,000 homes and 25,000 jobs possible.

Even the bad news of Treasury being put into administration has some positives. The financial status of Treasury had increasingly become an issue, and this at least bring that to a head.

And, most importantly, Nine Elms is a different place to the last time something like this happened, and Treasury bought the power station site from Parkview. Preparatory work has begun at Battersea Power Station and the first phases of the development could be started quickly, even if later phases change.

Meanwhile, other parts of Nine Elms are already moving forward. Work has started at Riverlight, the US Embassy has committed to the area and other developers continue with their plans.

So, not great news for Treasury. But that doesn’t mean Nine Elms future is any less bright.

Neil Kinghan’s report in the looting at Clapham Junction (and elsewhere) was published today.

It is, by necessity, not an in-depth look into the riots, they causes and consequences, but instead a first look: trying to show what happened and draw out some key recommendations. And it is, by the nature of the process, a balanced report. Having undertaken similar sorts of work (although never into anything like August’s looting) I know exactly how hard it is to divine anything exhaustive or definitive when you are interviewing people on issues that will often are a matter of opinion and recollection and not hard fact.

Reading through the final report I can see where I probably complicated matters for Mr Kinghan, but, even so, other than small matters (for example, I recall seeing photos of a vandalised Starbucks fairly early on the evening of 8 August) there is nothing with which I particularly disagree and much with which I agree.

Communication comes across as one area that can be improved, in pretty much every direction. This even when Wandsworth, I think, has a pretty good track record in communication. The lesson, perhaps, is that it can always be improved.

One of the things that struck me soon after the 8 August, is how the public sector lagged far behind rioters and broom army when it came to communication. This is even despite similar tools already existing; I was Wandsworth’s sole Yammer (which is effectively a private Twitter) member for over two years until after the riots; since then membership has swollen to a mighty three users!

Business recovery is the area that most directly affects me, and we’re already looking at what we can do and the funds that are being made available. Here the trick is in successfully managing the transition from the immediate response – helping businesses recover from the aftermath – to a longer term plan that supports and develops local businesses.

It is very much a “watch this space” until plans are more fully developed.

The whole report is publicly available via the council’s website. It is not – and openly admits it isn’t – a conclusive or definitive report on the disorder, and many questions remain unanswered, but a fascinating first look at the issues around 8 August.