Laverstoke Gardens, one of the areas what would be improved in the council's regeneration

Laverstoke Gardens, one of the areas that would be improved in the council's regeneration

Last night’s Regeneration and Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee was something of a blast from the past, since the Labour Party spent a lot of time presenting a paper prepared by Stuart King.  Stuart was a councillor in Wandsworth from 1998 until 2006 when he lost his seat.  He was also the Labour group leader and served on a lot of the same committees as me before his defeat.

Stuart’s latest hobby has been representing the Labour party in Putney, and as part of this he has, as is his right, been campaigning against our plans to create employment, quality housing and businesses and a pleasant environment in Roehampton.

The Labour group brought one of his misleading surveys to the committee last night.  Despite admitting that the council had conducted extensive consultation in the area and that King’s report could be said to be biased they suggested the council should spend more money to ask people, for the fourth time, what they thought.

In fact, I think it represents a total failure of the Labour group to provide community leadership.  It’s the fourth different position they have taken in four meetings.  First of all they supported regeneration.  Then they weren’t sure.  Then they opposed it.  Now they want to ask people what they should think.

What leaves me most disappointed is Tony Belton’s stance, since it seems his group is now, rather than serving the Wandsworth community, just dancing to Stuart King’s tune.

Roehampton has the borough’s highest unemployment rate.  It has higher than average crime.  It has a disproportionately high take up of non-work related benefits like incapacity and lone parent benefits.  It is badly served by public transport, so people face difficult journeys to work or learn.  Hence the scheme, designed to create employment in a refreshed centre at Danebury Avenue and Roehampton Lane.

It is one of the few times I have really been saddened by Wandsworth politics.  The political groups will always have different solutions to problems, but this is one time when Labour have shown a poverty of ambition and, in doing so, seek to remove the hope of Roehampton and Alton Estate residents.

National Statistics have released the latest figures of Jobseekers Allowance claimants.  In Wandsworth there has been an increase of 422 claims over the year from November 2007 to November 2008 – from 3,874 to 4,296.  Most worrying is that more than half of that increase, 251, was in just the last month, between October and November 2008.

jsa-claimaints-to-nov-08It does illustrate the speed at which the recession is having an impact, and, of course, only represents those people that have registered as unemployed and claim Jobseekers Allowance.

However, the news is not all bad, the figure represents 2.1% of the Wandsworth working age population – this compares to figures for 3% for London and 2.8% for Great Britain.

Wandsworth doesn’t have immunity from recession, but we are better placed than many to weather it.

Marks and Spencer have announced that their Balham Simply Food store will be among those to close.  This is obviously not good news, either for Balham Town Centre or the employees who will be losing their jobs.

But it’s also a reminder that recession is not just about businesses going into administration and names disappearing totally, but employers cutting costs and jobs being lost.

Marks and Spencer will remain, for the time being, elsewhere in the Borough, but in Balham there is going to be a big hole in the high street.  I just hope at tonight’s Regeneration and Community Safety OSC meeting Labour don’t have the temerity to try blame the state of the pavements rather than their government’s economic failure.

Wandsworth Borough NewsIf not a total surprise, I was saddened to hear that Wandsworth’s local paper is no more.  Even more so that it passed with no-one noticing, the issue published just before Christmas, it was announced, was the last.  It has now been merged with the Wandsworth Guardian meaning, effectively, it is no more.

As I said, it was not a surprise, we all knew that its circulation was low and I suspect that it may well have been reliant on advertising revenue from all the ads the council are legally required to publish in their local press.  But it is worth remembering it was not always like that.

When I first got involved in Wandsworth politics it was viewed with the utmost importance.  As a council candidate I was encouraged to get letters published in it so I would have some name recognition, and I remember pushing press releases and photos (taken with old fashioned film and developed at Snappy Snaps) through the door of their offices on West Hill.  But while it might seem horribly naive, it really wasn’t that long ago that local newspapers were the main, if not the only, source of local news.

The rise of the internet
The internet wasn’t always the pervasive font of all knowledge it is now.  Many people simply did not have access, those that did were forced to endure tortuously long downloads on a dial-up connection that got cut off when someone used the phone in the other room.  Even when you were connected, there just weren’t trusted sources of local news or if there were, Google didn’t exist to help you find them.

But now the Internet is everywhere, on our computers at work and at home, sitting in our pockets on our phones or waiting to be summoned, like a genie, from our low-cost netbook.  And with it comes an expectation that curiosity about news will be satisfied immediately, not when the local paper is published next Wednesday.

The regionalisation of news
Alongside came a change in the way we view ourselves.  It has always been there, to a degree, but I think we are far more Londoners now than we were.  Most people, if asked to name their local paper, would immediately answer the Evening Standard (and some might even suggest the Metro or thelondonpaper or London Lite).  After all, many people spend the daylight hours at work in the City or Westminster rather than at home in Wandsworth.

I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing: I have enormous pride in being a Londoner, and being a very small part of the greatest city the world will ever know.  But I don’t think that pride is incompatible with my pride in being a part of Wandsworth, or Battersea, or even a resident of the Shaftesbury Park Estate.  Each one brings with it a unique source of pride – whether it’s the joy of the Wandsworth diversity, living so close to Battersea Park or being a temporary resident in a fabulous Victorian housing project – that I just can’t get from living anywhere else.

Defending our communities
My sadness comes from the fact that a little symbol of one of those communities, Wandsworth, has now gone.  We don’t really have a local paper anymore, that you could nip to your newsagent once a week to get with some milk.  That does not mean we have lost the fight and are all part of a big homogenous London and nothing else.

The council has always defended our town centres, which provide distinct and vibrant hubs rather than giant anonymous shopping centres.  We have the amenity societies in Battersea, Putney and Wandsworth that stand up for what they believe is best about their patches.  In Battersea there is even the SW11tch campaign fighting hard against the dreadful Clapham-creep that estate agents seemed determined to impose on us good Battersea folk.

Communities will change.  That is inevitable.  Be it 100 years or 1,000 years some historian with a niche interest will look back on the communities I am passionate about with a mixture of bemusement and intellectual curiosity because the concepts and areas are as alien to him as the feudal system is to children in our schools.  But that does not mean we shouldn’t fight for the communities we love, and it does mean we should spare a moment to pay our respects to a fallen comrade:  The Wandsworth Borough News: 1885 – 2008.

Wedgewood's anti-slavery logoAs Wedgewood becomes another victim of the recession we should remember that this company has a substantial history. Coffee House, the Spectator’s blog, points out Wedgwood’s contribution to the anti-slavery movement.

It’s very easy to think that corporate social responsibility is a new thing, and that historically profit was the key motive. But over 200 years ago Josiah Wedgwood had his craftsman design a medallion for the abolitionist movement which helped bring the anti-slavery message into people’s day-to-day lives. He manufactured and distributed these at his own cost and they found themselves on hat-pins, broaches and could be inset onto other items.

By wearing or displaying it you showed your solidarity with the abolitionist cause in exactly the same way as wearing a poppy, ribbon or wrist-band now and the medallion helped increase public awareness of, and opposition to, slavery.

It is sad that Wedgwood has become another victim of the recession, and sadder still that we might lose one of the names that has played such a big role in the nation’s history.

The public meeting of the Shaftesbury Safer Neighbourhood Team meeting is tonight at 7pm at Asda on Lavender Hill.  Asda kindly lend their meeting room for this, and there will be someone from the police to point you in the right direction.

This meeting is open to any resident of Shaftesbury Ward (if you aren’t sure which ward you live in the council has a postcode checker) and gives you the chance to meet your local SNT, hear what they have been doing and raise any issues you want.  Unfortunately it’s like all three councillors will be unable to attend because of other commitments, but we work closely with the SNT to deal with any issues members of the public raise.

It you can make it along then it’s well worth attending – the meetings are well run and usually last no longer than an hour.

My attempt at crime mapping Tooting (which includes Earlsfield and Furzedown) is below. It is worth mentioning that this contains two weeks worth of data, so there is more than usual.
The map is hosted by Google, and occasionally will not load, or will not load the flags. If it does not display correctly, try refreshing the page or following the link directly under the map.

View Larger Map

  1. Yellow flags represent burglaries and red flags represent street crime reported between 16 and 30 December, 2008.
  2. The briefing only contains details of burglaries and robberies. Other crimes are not included.
  3. You can see more detail by following the link to the Google website.
  4. The flags are not placed precisely (it would be irresponsible to advertise victims of burglary) but instead are spaced roughly equally on the roads they took place. The idea is to give a visual representation of the spread and range of crime in Tooting, rather than pinpointing crime locations.
  5. This map is only for the Tooting parliamentary consitutuency – which is different to the police’s Putney sector.
  6. While I try to ensure the data is accurate it is reliant on the information I receive, and I’m only human, so it may be mistakes have crept in. Please let me know if you think you’ve spotted one.

While this blog may be disappointing for all sorts of reasons I was surprised that it was because of lack of Coronation Street content. However, I’ve found out that that I’m the fourth hit for a Google search on ‘Dignity by Dev Alahan’; coming above national newspapers, Coronation Street fansites and ITV’s own website.  And all because of an idle Tweet while watching Corrie.  I’ll be joining Adsense if the fragrance ever gets released.

Google results for 'Dignity by Dev Alahan' results for 'Dignity by Dev Alahan'


I’m number one!  Does this make me a search engine optimisation expert?

Dignity by Dev Alahan, I'm now number 1 in Google!
Dignity by Dev Alahan, I'm now number 1 in Google!

  • Working, but finding it hard to find the ‘it’s the Christmas and New Year holidays’ off-switch. #
  • As a rule I am not a fan of regulation – but there must be something that can stop so many channels showing Carry On films simultaneously. #
  • @dominiccampbell Isn’t the problem not trolling, but the online world just being another forum for local politics? I know I’m guilty. in reply to dominiccampbell #
  • @dominiccampbell I won’t take it personally! The problem lies in the troll:population ratio active online, and the trolls stop it improving. in reply to dominiccampbell #
  • Karate Kid III really was a sequel too far. Weak story, Ralph Macchio looking old and chunky, bad editing – thank God for Pat Morita. #
  • Wandsworth council is now officially twittering @wandbc #
  • Should I follow @andyburnhammp? If only the Internet had some sort of ratings system rather than forcing me to take personal responsibility. #
  • Just passed an empty, and sorry-looking, Woolies. It’s going to leave some big holes in a lot of high streets. #
  • @ingridk @davebriggs Thanks for follows and tweets. I am working on my colleagues, but the benefits of Twitter are hard to explain! in reply to ingridk #
  • I’m flattered by the mini-flurry of follows, but, God, now the pressure to write something interesting is just too much. #
  • An egotistical RT: Market focus for Northcote plan (via @wandbc) in reply to wandbc #
  • @liz_azyan Reading your article on twittering councils @wandbc is the official Wandsworth Twitter, don’t know who @wwcouncil is! in reply to liz_azyan #
  • @liz_azyan On a related note, have you tried linking in cllrs that Twitter with the councils? I’ll comment on your blog about it tomorrow. in reply to liz_azyan #
  • I’m struggling to get back into work, which is annoying since I was working over most of Christmas. #
  • Billing for work is strangely tedious – shouldn’t the prospect of payment excite me? #
  • I should stop auto-tweeting blog posts, a bad habit, especially as I don’t think any of my residents are among my followers. #
  • Isn’t it strange that Thomas Cook aren’t advertising their holidays, but that ‘your money is safe’ with them? Recession advertising starts. #
  • A depressingly large thud from my council mail delivery. Christmas is definitely over… #
  • Coronation Street is the best comedy on TV: “if I made an aftershave it would be called ‘Dignity by Dev Alahan'” #
  • I just can’t take anymore PowerPoint! #
  • I’m using Lakeside World Darts to distract from the pain of Windows applications. #
  • My latest attempt at mapping Battersea’s crime is at Putney & Tooting will follow in coming days. #
  • Donna Margherita on Lavender Hill in Battersea… Always fantastic pizza. #
  • @liz_azyan Will send an email containing a list of Twittering cllrs that might help with 2. Not many, but may help. in reply to liz_azyan #
  • 100,000 new jobs in “new technologies and green projects”. That’s going to be a lot of public sector web 2.0! #
  • Putney, Roehampton and Southfields crime maps now online – #