When I did my presentation for BATCA (which I’ve embedded again below) last week I commented that I felt one of the best things to come out of it was the the time-banded waste collection – a remarkably simple idea that has had a huge impact on the cleanliness of the streets.

The idea is mind-numbingly simple – it’s effectively waste collection by appointment. Businesses can only leave waste out during specific time bands during the day, one during the day and one during the night. While this might seem a small thing, it means waste isn’t littering the streets waiting to be collected. Aside from the detriment to the look of an area, having waste out, however tidily bagged, tends to attract other waste – you’ll often find small piles of litter placed their by pedestrians who assume that it will be collected along with the rest (sadly, it usually isn’t, because the waste is collected by a business contractor, not the council).

I’m not the only one who admires the idea for its simplicity, it was highly commended for innovation by Keep Britain Tidy last week. The idea has already been replicated in Balham, and is being rolled out in Clapham Junction this summer. Congratulations to everyone in the council’s waste department who worked on making it a success, it may be a simple thing, but it will make a huge difference in the town centres as it is spread across the borough.

The Balham and Tooting Community Association (BATCA) held another open forum last night and invited the council along to talk about Tooting Together. This had been something of an on and off affair, since it was running a little close to the council’s formal election embargo (when it stops pretty much all publicity and events in case they are seen as political) and our attendance nearly cancelled when Sadiq Khan wanted to attend and address the meeting. To Sadiq’s credit, he immediately agreed to stay away when it was explained that would put the council in a tricky position so close to an election.

And, as ever for BATCA, it was an overwhelmingly positive affair, focused on the good of Tooting rather than politics.

I’ve embedded a slideshare of my presentation above, which is largely images. But it concentrated on a few key themes.

First was litter; where there was a perception that Tooting was dirty, despite being (along with Clapham Junction) the most cleaned area of Wandsworth, getting 12 cleans a day. A number of measures have improved this. We’ve put more bins in, and adapted other bins with receptacles for cigarette butts. Along with the police we’ve introduced stricter enforcement, issuing fixed penalty notices to offenders. We’ve cleaned out a lot of the private alleyways (even though they are private land). But I think the biggest difference has come from time-banded waste collection, which has meant that rubbish from retailers and businesses clutters the streets for as short a time as possible. It has been so successful it is being rolled out across the borough.

Second was clutter; on the narrow and busy pavements there’s a real problem with shops spilling out of their premises, especially when there’s extra obstructions from sign-posts and bus-stops. We’ve worked, where possible, to minimise the obstructions from street furniture (as the signs and fixtures are called), but the biggest success has come from the trial organised with TfL that allowed the council to enforce restrictions. This meant for the first time the council could stop traders spreading over the pavement where they didn’t have the right.

Next was police; thanks and congratulations here are due to Wandsworth Police, and particularly the borough Commander Stewart Low, who have created a dedicated town centre team. The council have been asking for something similar for a number of years – so it was great when Stewart made it happen. The team have had a number of successes in their short time there.

Finally are better shops; this is something the council, and most others have little control over. We have long been trying to encourage retailers to Tooting, but with little success. In part this is down to the nature of town centre, the retail units are generally small, and not attractive to many large retail chains. It’s also down to the success of the town centre, even during the recession there were relatively few vacancies, and those there were ended up being filled quickly. My worst fears of a high street of empty shops didn’t come close to fruition. But one thing we can do is encourage improvement among existing retailers – the Good Neighbour Scheme is one way we are doing it, accrediting shops that meet minimum standards and encouraging them to share tips with their neighbours.

To me though, the most important point of the whole exercise is the ‘Together’ element of it, simply because it is together that the problems are solved. At it’s most basic, it’s a shared responsibility to keep basic standards in our town centres (the council were not littering the streets, for example), but it’s also a shared opportunity for everyone to play a part in the improvement. Whether it’s TfL delegating their enforcement powers, the police actively patrolling the town centre, retailers striving to make their shops as good as possible or shoppers boosting the local economy we all can play a small part that makes a big difference.

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.