Jealousy might be an ugly emotion. But it also can motivate.

When I saw there was a Putney tweet-up organised, I can’t deny that I was jealous (and also a little annoyed that it was on my wedding anniversary). Surely anything SW15 can do SW11 can do better?

So that’s what I’m hoping to do, organise an SW11 tweet-up.

I flagged up the idea on Twitter last night and got a positive response, including from people who don’t follow me, which is a great sign. It was also clear that there was enthusiasm for the idea from further afield – with people from Balham, Tooting and Wandsworth wanting to come.

So here’s the outline.

It’s an SW11plus tweet-up
I started with the idea of SW11 and am sticking with it, mainly because I don’t want to get over-ambitious. But having said that, anyone from Balham, Tooting, Wandsworth – or anywhere else for that matter – is welcome and encouraged to come: we love SW11 and want to share.

It’s simple
Again, I don’t want to be over-ambitious. I was thinking pub, drinks, chat. Any extras might come when we have an idea of numbers and venue, but the key is going to be getting people in the same place and drinking talking rather than tweeting.

It’s your event
I’m a novice at this – and while I know I’m happy with a decent boozer I’m aware that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. So I’d like ideas, tips and suggestions.

And that’s it.

The next steps are to choose a date and venue. The very point where a bright idea starts getting messy, because there’s no way we’ll be able to come up with a date that’s good for everyone – so

I’m going to throw Wednesday 5 August out there as a date. Can you make it? Any good for you? Let me know, either comment or tweet @jamescousins.

Another good discussion from last night’s committee was on crime in Tooting (which, for the police, includes Balham, Earlsfield and Furzedown). It was the first time the committee has had a geographically based crime paper, in the past it has concentrated on crime by type.

Let me start by setting the context that Wandsworth is the safest place in inner London, and is significantly safer than many outer London boroughs. Crime in Wandsworth is low and has been falling (although there is some evidence that fall may have bottomed out, and the recession is having an affect on patterns and volumes of crime).

Rather than try and precis the report, I’d suggest if you live in Tooting or are even interested in crime you take the time to have a read of Paper 09-472 Crime in Tooting. Yes, it’s a council report, and yes, that means it’s quite dry. But it is full interesting information.

For example, I think there has always been a perceived wisdom that Tooting suffers higher crime than the rest of the borough, when in fact the rate of crime is consistently lower than Wandsworth’s already low rate.

There are also a few maps illustrating how the occurrence of different crime types is spread (or not spread, in some cases) across Tooting. Unfortunately, Ordnance Survey’s restrictive copyright means I can’t reproduce them here.

And, importantly, it highlights some of the work the council, police and other partners are doing to reduce crime. Like I said, it’s well worth a read and I’d be interested in your reaction, thoughts and comments.

I’m posting weekly reports as an experiment to see how well received they are. You can read some of my thoughts about it in a blog-post I wrote before commencing the reports. My main concern is that these reports will, by necessity, have to omit so much routine council work they are not a good representation of my work.

Picking up from last week’s report, after posting I headed down to Tooting for the town centre police team launch publicity. While there I also took the opportunity to catch up with the Town Centre Manager and Town Centre Partnership Chairman.

Neighbourhood Watch
Saturday didn’t provide a break. The morning saw the Neighbourhood Watch Conference. Rather shamefully I have not posted about it. It was an incredibly successful event, organised by the council’s Community Safety team for Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinators. The session saw presentations on subjects ranging from art and antiques to dog control and bio-diversity. The conference was attended by representatives from the National Neighbourhood Watch Trust, and it was pleasing that they commented it was one of the best events they’d attended.

Devas Club
On Tuesday I visited, along with Peter Dawson in his capacity as chairman of the Children and Young People’s Service OSC, the Devas Club in Stormont Road. The visit took us from their commercial standard (and hit making, some number ones have been recorded there) music studios in the basement to the sub-standard basket-ball court on the roof (which has a spectacular view that my camera phone just couldn’t do justice).

The club does some great work in engaging youngsters in a building designed for a 1960s, rather than 21st century, youth club. And that shows. First, not all the facilities are what they should be for the users. Second, it means it causes problems for neighbours and coincidentally I’m also dealing with noise complaints from the club.

Wandsworth Business Forum
Last night was the Wandsworth Business Forum in Balham. I posted about it earlier today, so rather than write about it again, will refer you to that post.

Shaftesbury Park School
Finally, this morning, I went into Shaftesbury Park, the school I serve as a governor. For the second time to meet Peter Dawson, who was making an official visit along with David Walden. We spent time looking around the school and chatting about some of the challenges it face and successes it has had.

Last night saw the Wandsworth Business Forum at Balham (with huge thanks to The Bedford for hosting us). And I came away feeling very upbeat about Wandsworth, and business in Wandsworth.

The council’s Economic Development Office run the meetings, rotating around locations in the borough at various business friendly times. The basic concept is to have some speakers on business related topics, followed by a networking session.

I was one of the speakers and was live-tweeted by Ian Fenn, something both flattering and scary – because it makes you realise how much of what you do can be public and instantly accessible. I’ve included his Tweets at the end of the post.

My spot was a real gallop through two topics. The first was what Wandsworth is doing to help fight the recession – the easiest thing to do is point you to The second was to highlight the positive signs that are coming from the recession.

It’s easy to be negative in a recession, and I’m probably as guilty as any for that, but there are some good reasons to be postive in Wandsworth.

We monitor a wide range of indicators, like unemployment and benefit take-up to vacancies on our high streets, to watch how the recession is affecting Wandsworth. I won’t pretend we’ve not been hit, but we seem to be suffering much less than other places. So unemployment remains below the London and national averages and our vacancy rates are still remarkably low.

That’s not to say there aren’t problems around the corner. It might be unemployment is low because people are living off redundancy payments rather than signing-on, but so far we seem to weathering the storm well.

And there’s a lot to be positive about. Wandsworth is incredibly well placed to recover rapidly when the recession ends. We have a real vote of confidence in Nine Elms from the US Embassy. We have a highly skilled and flexble workforce. We have a prime, inner London, location.

But the main reason I came away upbeat was not because of what I know from the statistics, but from talking to businesses afterwards. No-one I spoke to pretended they weren’t having to tighten their belts, but there was a confidence and desire to succeed beyond that. We’ve always prided ourselves on being a business friendly borough – but when you meet the businesses here, it’s hard not to be business friendly.

Ian Fenn’s Tweets are below. The ‘From…’ is a link to the original Tweet on the Twitter website.

From @ifenn
Heading to the Wandsworth Business Forum and my ‘showdown’ with @jamescousins 🙂

From @ifenn
@jamescousins I don’t think you have too much to worry about. 🙂

From @ifenn
I now know I am at the Wandsworth Business Forum but for a moment there I thought I was at some bizarre fan club for deep-fried party food.

From @ifenn
.@jamescousins is speaking. Started tweeting it but Twitter gave me an error. Grr…

From @ifenn
.@jamescousins: Wandsworth Council is also trying to speed up it’s processes. They aim to pay suppliers, for example, quicker.

From @ifenn
.@jamescousins: a variety of business loans are available from the council through central goverment and London mayoral initiatives…

From @ifenn
.@jamescousins Wandsworth Council is now more relaxed about allowing businesses to advertise on pavements…

From @ifenn
.@jamescousins: we have a good location, the lowest level of inner London crime, and five great town centres.

From @ifenn
.@jamescousins: Being positive, we have evidence Wandsworth is doing well in the face of the recession. We are in a good position.

From @ifenn
Had a short but good chat with @jamescousins then walked home, breaking my Fitbug step target for the day. Phew!

An, as yet, unfilled audience for the Open Forum
An, as yet, unfilled audience for the Open Forum

Last night’s Open Forum organised by the Balham and Tooting Community Association was an interesting and, I think, useful event.  It was fairly well attending (I’m hopeless at judging numbers, but I’m guessing at least 50 or 60 people) and there were some good questions and useful points made.

Perhaps unsurprisingly a lot of the discussion was about young people and crime, but even then the main thrust did not seem to be about a lack of facilities.  You will commonly hear the complaint that ‘there aren’t enough youth clubs’ when actually there’s one just around the corner and the problem is that it isn’t being used by the perceived problem youths.  Instead, the complaint was about the type and quality of provision.  One comment made a few times was that kids have XBoxes, Wiis and PS3s at home; putting them in youth clubs isn’t that constructive!

A valid point, but I know that council officers would contend that without them, people just don’t attend youth clubs and they serve the purpose of ‘bait’ which gets young people into the youth club so they can try and engage them more creatively and constructively.

A second point was the cleanliness of Tooting.  Again, however, it seemed incredibly constructive and was directed more towards how everyone can work together to improve Tooting.  Indeed, when one person tried to blame the council they got very little support and I seemed to be speaking to nodding heads when I explained that Tooting currently gets more cleaning than any other town centre and at some point we have to look at how rubbish is getting on the streets and who is putting it there.

I was shocked to learn recently that over 100 businesses in Tooting did not have Trade Waste Agreements.  Legally a business should have an agreement with a refuse collection company to collect the waste they produce.  When council officers visited businesses in Tooting to explain the introduction of time-banded collections (refuse collections now take place at specific times, and refuse should not be left out for lengthy periods before) they discovered a huge number of businesses had simply not bothered making arrangements.

Effectively these 100 businesses were fly-tipping Tooting on a regular basis.  While I accept Wandsworth Council has a duty to clean our streets, I also believe that our residents and businesses have a duty not to litter them.  Having said all that when I left (at around 10pm) I took a quick stroll around Tooting as I’m rarely in the area that late at night, and was impressed at how clean it was.  The new time-banded collections have obviously made a real difference.

A number of other issues were raised, including the development plans for Springfield, open spaces in town centres, parking, traffic management and use of the markets.  I know I will have missed some.  The session lasted over two hours and I’m sure could have lasted another two without running out of steam or value.

I asked the organisers to let me have a copy of any notes they captured from the evening so I can arrange fuller responses and consideration by the relevant council departments.  I’ll report back on that here if appropriate.

I’m representing the council at the Balham and Tooting Community Association Open Forum tonight.

The meeting is being held at St Augustine’s Church Hall, Broadwater Road, SW17 0EF at 7.30pm and is scheduled to last for two hours.  It’s a large panel – along with me are Cheif Superintendant Stewart Low, the Wandsworth Borough Commander, Sadiq Khan the Labour MP for Tooting, Lucy Neal from Transition Town Tooting, Roger Reid from Street Pastors and Jabu Siphika a youth organiser.

As well as a Q&A I understand the session will involve some workshops, so you have the opportunity to feed back your concerns and ideas.

It’s always frustrating when credit is not given where it’s due.

The BBC are reporting on the works to take place at Oxford Circus this year and, along with Westminster, giving credit to Tokyo for the inspiration.

In fact, Balham has had a diagonal crossing for some time (as you can see from the Google Street View below – and the underground is marginally less crowded than Tokyo’s too.

View Larger Map

I’ve written several times about Balham on this blog, largely the negative news surrounding the closures of Woolworths and Marks and Spencers. This time I get to be a little more positive and flag up the council’s ‘Beat the Credit Crunch’ seminar taking place tomorrow (Wednesday 18th March).

The seminar is one in a series of events the council is hosting to help businesses cope in the recession.  The session is led by BIG, a business development company and will run from 12 noon for an hour at the Balham Bowls Club in Ramsden Road.  The event will cover topics like driving sales, forming strategic partnerships and networking.

The council is doing all it can to help small businesses through difficult times, for example by encouraging claims small business rate relief nearly 2,000 business in the area have benefited by over £1,100,000.  You can find out more on the council’s business support webpage and find out more about what the council is doing generally on the fighting the recession webpage.

Unfortunately I cannot make the Balham event as I have a prior engagement (which will almost definitely feature on the blog) but if you want to attend then get in touch with the Balham Town Centre Manager, Kim Bellringer, on 020 8767 4082 or email

Please RSVP to Kim Bellringer, Balham Town Centre Manager: 020 8767 4082 or

marks-and-spencer-logoMarks and Spencer have confirmed their decision to close their Balham Simply Food store.

The store, which has been open for nearly six years, will close on 19 March.  I know this is going to be a big disappointment to many Balham residents.  And is a big disappointment to me, Balham is a Town Centre on the up and leaving it seems an odd step.

Unfortunately, the council’s arguments did not persuade M&S who will now be talking with their 25 employees about their options.

The council and Town Centre Partnership will continue to promote Balham as a destination for retailers, but unfortunately we have little control over who moves into the vacant unit.

I wrote the other day (Why are M&S leaving Balham?) about why Balham should be on the up.  In one of those unfortunate ironies at least one business agrees Balham is a place to be.

The lease on the old Woolworths has been bought by a company called 99p Stores Ltd.  who will be opening this Thursday.  While there is part of me that is pleased that that a retailer has the confidence to move in and create jobs, I cannot deny a much bigger part of me would have preferred a more prestigious name.

Unfortunately, it is a side effect of recession that this type of store flourishes as people cut costs.  The company’s website even boasts about it in a job advert, “in the current economic downturn we are enjoying unrivalled growth and success.”

And even more unfortunately, even though the recession will pass (and even someone as bearish as me knows that) these shops will tend to remain. 99p Stores have bought a long lease on the site so they, presumably, are planning on staying put.

The council, particularly through the Economic Development Officer and Town Centre Manager do a lot of work to sell our town centres – not, I hasten to add, to recession stores – and promote investment in them but it is a hard slog and sometimes things aren’t going to develop how we would like.