Last Saturday saw Wandsworth’s 2009 firework display in Battersea Park. I understand the dry and clear (if somewhat cold) conditions resulted in a huge turnout and they shouldn’t have been disappointed by the fantastic display put on.

The iPhone video isn’t great quality and the sound of the fireworks somewhat drown out the music – a cover of ‘One Love’ – but does a pretty good job of giving a flavour of the climax of the display.

One of the beauties of Twitter is that you can get an instant reaction to events (for those who could access it, O2’s ever worsening network meant I had no connection during the event) and it was great to see comments like:

  • “Just watched an amazing fireworks display at Battersea Park, really impressed :)” jamiebarry
  • “Just back from Battersea Park fireworks – amazing show.” rossbalham
  • “bonefire day fireworks in battersea park were awesome. best fireworks show i’ve seen so far.” cezarneaga
  • “Battersea Park fireworks;best I’ve ever seen.Musically choreographed & stunning.Bonfire was a bit huge & scary
  • “Battersea Park fireworks last night were insanely good – best ever. were behind it, def check ’em out.” louisedoherty

I can only agree. A spectacular display, my congratulations to the team at Wandsworth and Pains Fireworks who put it all together.

Fairy cake and a cup of teaIt seems to have been an oddly quiet week.

Regeneration and Community Safety OSC (well, cycling)
I posted about the meeting the following day, so will not repeat the points. Except, rather smugly, to point out that I cycled to the meeting. I’m rather pleased that I’ve been managing to keep the cycling up – and am finding it an interesting experiment.

Last Monday was the first time I saw some really bad driving. Hitherto I’ve found other road users considerate, much to my surprise. There had been a few annoyances, but nothing major. However on Monday I found myself braking as a car turned left right in front of me and being nudged into the back of the bus by someone who didn’t want to give me any room. Perhaps worst was the driver who ostentatiously pulled into the oncoming lane to pass while pointedly accelerating then swerving rapidly to avoid a head-on collision with cars coming the other way.

My other cycling experiences have all been positive, and I’m going to carry on, but a salutary lesson that it isn’t all good!

Oxford Circus and Balham
It’s mischief and a little childish. But I really enjoyed the whole Oxford Circus and Balham episode. I think what made it sweeter, however, was that Westminster responded. As far as I’m aware the conversation was a few people with Balham connections tweeting about the crossings there. I don’t think anyone was really seriously suggesting Balham and Oxford Circus were the same.

The episode got picked up in a few places. I know the Municipal Journal ran it. The Guardian’s Dave Hill mentioned it and I understand the Local Government Chronicle have also featured my apology blogpost.

Alertbox in Northcote Road
This morning saw a formal launch for AlertBox in Northcote Road. AlertBox is a remarkably simple system that connects retailers and allows them to alert each other to potential problems – for example if they spotted a shoplifter – and to call for help if needed.

The system already runs in Southfields and Tooting where many shopkeepers rave about it.

The installation in Northcote Road was funded by the council and Battersea Crime Prevention Panel, with the technical support coming from the Community Safety Division.

Weekend events
This weekend see two major events. The first is the Battersea Park fireworks on Saturday. The display has always been one of London’s best and I hope the weather holds out to make it another successful year.

The second are the Remembrance Day services on Sunday. The two ‘civic’ services are at St Mary’s in Battersea and St Mary’s Putney. But there are other services taking place across the borough.

Battersea Park treeSo, for this week’s collection of odds and ends. This week’s photo doesn’t really have any artistic merit – composition and exposure could be better – but it is from Battersea Park where autumn is making itself known. The park really is beautiful at this time of year, and almost magical if you see the early morning mist, and that attracts me to the photo.

I’ve become an unlikely cycling enthusiast this week, surprising even myself by my desire to use the bike following last week’s training. It has, so far, been an interesting experience and one that really validates the purpose of the scheme – empathy is all well and good, but putting yourself in the position is much better. I intend to write a little about it as time progresses. But it also makes me think I need to look out for more opportunities to try new things for myself.

Keeping to the cycling theme I managed to cycle to two of my three trips to the Town Hall this week! The first was:

Local Strategic Partnership
The Local Strategic Partnership (LSP) is the partnership of partnerships in Wandsworth. It has members from the council, police, health service, business and voluntary sectors and it responsible for the high level direction Wandsworth takes.

I was first made a member in 2006 (after a short period as a deputy member) and will not deny that it was not my favourite meeting. However, shortly after I joined the membership was changed and the meetings became far more productive and far more harmonious. I hope that will show in the Corporate Area Assessment report when published.

Full council
The second cycling meeting. And not a terribly interesting one. Most of the evening was consensual. The only real debate was over aircraft noise and Heathrow expansion (something the council has long campaigned against). Even there the Labour Party agreed with us, but then somehow voted against. So they support campaigns against airport expansion, but don’t. I confess I don’t understand the logic, but as long as they can justify it to the electorate I suppose that’s what matters.

Nine Elms Opportunity Board
Tuesday saw the first meeting of the Nine Elms Opportunity Board (with the great acronym NEOB). Actually the body has existed for a long time under the name Power Station Opportunity Board but has recently been expanded to include more of the major developers from the Nine Elms area. NEOB’s role is to make sure we get all we can out of the area, not only in terms of development, but also in opportunities for local residents.

It is an incredibly exciting time for the area, which is central London’s largest opportunity zone and things are, hopefully, finally starting to move. The US Embassy’s decision may have been a major coup, but New Covent Garden Market are starting consulting on their redevelopment and the Power Station put in their planning application (which fill two large chests) last week. I can’t wait to see how things develop.

Maurice Heaster
And finally last night saw a celebration of Maurice Heaster’s forty years on Wandsworth Council. Although being a councillor, and especially a Cabinet Member, is increasingly becoming a ‘paid job’, for over thirty of those forty years Maurice was effectively a volunteer so it really is no mean achievement to have dedicated so much of one’s life to the council and community.

It was a really good celebration of everything he has done, both on the council and outside and a pleasure to attend. It was particularly pleasing to see both parties there (even if Tony Belton was, for many people, far too pointedly political in some of his comments) recognising that, despite differences, public service is still something to celebrate.

SW Literary Festival ProgrammeThe launch of the SW11 Literary Festival takes place tomorrow night, which made me think it’s probably a good time to highlight Battersea Poems again.

Taking the text directly from the literary festival programme:

Text in your poem and be part of creating a biography of SW11 written by you, the people who live, work and visit Battersea.

Start a text message with Battersea then a space, then your poem, in one text only, and send it to 07786 202 844.

Take the people, places, and history of Battersea as your inspiration, but your poem doesn’t have to be about SW11, so a poem inspired by Clapham Junction might be about a journey…

You can submit as many poems as you like. Your poem will be published instantly on:

The best Battersea Poems will then be selected by a panel led by Apples and Snakes to be published in a printed anthology.

Sending a poem only costs the same as sending a normal text to your friend’s phone. You will not be signed up for anything, ever.

Competition closes 31/10/09

There are already some great poems on there. One of my favourites is:

Summer in battersea park
picnics and cricket
and two names in bark.

I’m going to pretend I know what I’m talking about and say I like it because it’s short and simple – and paints a vivid picture with the cricket match on the wider scale but the two names (which begs further questions, whose, when, why?) adding a little element of human detail.

I probably shouldn’t have identified it as a one I liked because I’m part of the panel… but I’ll try and balance things by saying that, of course, my fondness for the imagery is exactly balanced by my concern that the poem may be glamorising vandalism to a Battersea Park tree.

This may just be an excuse to combine my politics, my geekery and love of Apple.  Perhaps it is, but the launch of the new iPhone 3GS and the subsequent reaction to O2’s upgrade policy set me thinking about the relationship we have with businesses and councils.

The hype, and anger, surrounding the launch of the new iPhone has been covered elsewhere, so I won’t go into it here, but one comment from O2 caught my eye – that iPhone owners were not ‘special’.  And to me, that missed the point, part of owning an iPhone (or any Apple product) is the form as well as the function which means it’s not just about ownership of a product, it’s also about the relationship with that product and brand.  It’s why people queued outside O2 stores to buy an iPhone – something they never did for a new Nokia or Blackberry.

So what has this to do with Wandsworth?  Well, it started me wondering about the relationship we have with ‘legal personalities’.  If it is possible to feel an affinity for an inanimate object like a computer or phone and the company that makes those products, can you have feelings for a council?  And if you can, does the council do anything to stimulate (or even stifle) those feelings?  Do we foster pride in Wandsworth?

For example, I love living so close to Battersea Park.  In fact, I find it very difficult to imagine living anywhere away from it and wonder what I would do for a morning run or afternoon stroll if I did.  I also know that the council is responsible for its upkeep (and has done a fantastic job, particularly with the recent renovation), but I wonder how much credit the council would get for the park and how much people think it is “just there”.

To give another example, I also love Lavender Hill, which I think doesn’t get the credit it deserves.  There are some fantastic, bars and restaurants along it (and if you’ve not been to Donna Margherita then go, now).  Clearly much of that is down to the business owners and their staff.  But the council plays a role too.  A number of the businesses received Town Centre Improvement Scheme grants, and the council employs a Town Centre Manager to work with businesses to benefit the area.  In both cases I’m well aware of the support the council provides because it’s part of my council portfolio, but I suspect most people hadn’t even thought about it.

Naturally, as a politician you would also expect me to highlight the low tax and quality services.  And I won’t disappoint.  Both of them go towards the Wandsworth brand and are probably what Wandsworth is best known for.  It’s quite right for the council to be proud of its reputation for efficiency, but I sometimes wonder if that pride sometimes means people forget about some of the other services that we provide.

We’re not just about emptying bins; we provide schools, libraries, playgrounds and youth centres.  We provide advice for businesses, advice on crime prevention and advice on planning.  We make sure the borough’s roads are well maintained and the pavements are even and clean.  We ensure the elderly and vulnerable are safe and looked after, and scrutinise other agencies to make sure they are doing the same.  We licence bars and restaurants, and then make sure their customers and neighbours don’t suffer because of them.  We provide housing, and then provide the services our tenants need.

Not an exhaustive list, but together, the council’s services create the environment that make it the sort of place in which people want to live – being in Wandsworth frequently features as a positive attribute in an estate agent’s property description – and all those services are highly regarded by (most) users.

So while the council’s focus on low tax and quality services is absolutely right, especially when the economy is not all it could be, it can give the impression that the council is quite hard edged, when all it means is that efficiency is applied everywhere – you can be efficient in maintaining an award-winning park in exactly the same way you can be efficient tendering a refuse collection contract.

And this then poses this question: should people have pride in individual aspects of Wandsworth, or should they have pride in their council for providing for facilitating them?  Should we try for an Apple iPod type of halo effect, for example using our parks to encourage use of our libraries or leisure centres?  It seems to me that local authorities (not just Wandsworth) have a huge role to play in creating and maintaining that pride in an area in exactly the same way a business encourages customer loyalty.

And this is where  I risk the blog equivalent of tumbleweed rolling while a bell tolls or a lot of criticism of the council.  Are you proud to live in Wandsworth, or do you just take pride in individual parts of the borough?  And, if so,which and why?

A late cancellation and the fact that all other celebrities are in an Australian jungle led to me officially turning on the Clapham Junction lights tonight – despite being on a list that exists well beyond any alphabet known to man.

Clapham Junction were the first town centre to officially turn on their Christmas lights (although Tooting have had their Diwali lights for nearly a month) and this marks an important season in the retail calendar, especially as the news on the economy gets bleaker by the day.

Also officially opened today was the Lavender Hill skating rink with a demonstration from the Streatham Redskins ice hockey team.  Although organised by the Lavender Hill Traders Association (through the commitment and support of Anthony Laban and Clapham Junction Asda) the rink is at the Albert Bridge car park in Battersea Park.  The rink is already proving popular, particularly with local schools and with all proceeds supporting the Devas Club, a local youth club, it’s well worth a visit.  Tickets can be bought from or 0870 0666 844