It will be a short on this week, for a few reasons.  First, a lot of my time has been spent on those routine meetings that take up a lot of time.  Second, I have managed to injure my back, which severely restricted my movement, especially at the beginning of the week. Please direct all sympathy via the comments (and even as I type that I know I’ll get none)!

Having said that there are a few parts of the week that really stand out.

Lessingham Avenue
Unfortunately this stuck out for all the wrong reasons and last night’s news that Maleha Masud has passed away  highlights the seriousness of the incident.  The police are leading on the investigation, but all the local partners are working hard not just to bring the perpetrators to justice, but also to provide reassurance to the local community although obviously, first and foremost, our thoughts and sympathies are with the Masud family.

Community Advice Day
I also popped along to the Community Advice Day the council hosted, mainly to thank those officers within my portfolio manning the stands, but I also took the time to have a look around. It was impressive to see so many stands, not only from the council, but also from our partners offering advice. They were certainly kept busy and there was a steady stream of visitors while I was there.

Regeneration and Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee
This was another big part of the week. I wrote a couple of blog posts about two of the issues that came up: Tooting crime and Wandsworth’s casino policy. Given that this gives me a chance to say a little more it was a fascinating meeting, and councillors on the committee did a fantastic job of scrutinising the items on the agenda – Wandsworth has some very talented and able councillors, at all levels and (much as I would like to pretend otherwise) on both sides of the political divide.

There’s plenty I missed. I’m really sorry I couldn’t get along to the unveiling of our first green plaque, for Clement Attlee, in Portinscale Road this morning. And will, unfortunately, be missing tomorrow’s commemoration of Armed Forces Day in Battersea Park tomorrow – have a great time if you go along.

It was a lengthy Regeneration and Community Safety OSC last night – the focus of most of the evening was on crime and disorder, but one paper towards the end of the evening generated a lengthy and interesting debate.

The paper was proposing that Wandsworth renews its ‘no casino’ policy. If you want to read it, the paper and appendices can be found on the council’s website – scroll down to item 18, it’s paper 09-485.

To give a potted summary since the Gambling Act 2005 a council has been able to adopt a no casino policy for up to three years in 2006 the council passed a resolution to that effect and it is now time to review that decision.

There were two key points to the discussion.

First, are casinos so ‘evil’ that we would oppose any in Wandsworth?

Second, isn’t it better to adopt a more flexible policy, since in 2012 circumstances might have changed and we might actually want a casino.

I found it a really interesting discussion. As a Conservative there’s a real conflict between the libertarian ideal – that we should impose as little regulation as possible – and any vision we might have that would be incompatible with casinos. Additionally, it’s not as if we don’t have gambling on every high street. Bookmakers are common, every pub has fruit-machines and every newsagent sells Lotto temptation that comes with even longer odds than any casino offers.

But they operate differently. Gambling is not the main trade of a pub or newsagent, and while it is for a bookmaker, they don’t offer ancillary facilities like a bar, food or entertainment that casinos often offer.

The flexibility argument is more compelling; the opposite of a no casino policy is not a will-open-casino policy. We would still have to consider applications and could reject them. But we wouldn’t have total control, a casino operator could appeal, and might win, a rejection, meaning we ended up with a casino we considered inappropriate. And even though we could add conditions to any licence, we’re still fairly limited, we couldn’t for example set ‘quality’ standards. In the eyes of the law a casino is a casino is a casino (likewise, in planning terms, there’s no difference between Poundstretcher and Fortnum and Mason, they are just retail outlets).

But for me the decision boils down to the type of Wandsworth we want. Wandsworth is a residential borough. Increasingly it’s a family borough. Proudly, it’s a business borough. And I just don’t see a casino fitting into that.

A casino would profoundly change an area. It would drive the night-time economy and would undoubtedly mean that shops, bars and restaurants in the area would change to reflect that. And I don’t think that’s what we want.

An anecdote I didn’t share with the committee goes back to 2006. I was at the Battersea Police Ball with my wife and friends (a huge event that raises funds for the Battersea Crime Prevention Panel) and as it came to an end one suggested we all go to the casino where he’s a member.

So we piled into a couple of cabs and headed up to St James. While I didn’t lose my house at roulette I did get a little more gregarious after a few shandies…

It took me weeks to pluck up the courage to look at the photos I insisted on having taken with every member of staff I spoke to. Even now I cringe thinking about it and couldn’t bring myself to use one to illustrate this post. And while no harm was done (all the staff posed for photos with great humour, as did a couple of other customers) I ask you this – do you really want people like me rolling into the borough late at night for a few hours of drinking and cards then getting a cab back to their quiet, residential borough?

I certainly don’t.

In London there are plenty of places with established night-time economies into which a casino would fit nicely. Wandsworth isn’t one of them.

The policy now has to go to the council’s Executive and full council (legally only the full council can make the decision) before going to a public consultation. Of course, you can have your say right here!