Various stages of construction work taking place in the developments at Nine Elms
Nine Elms, as viewed from a grubby window in Market Towers.

I represented Wandsworth on a tour of Nine Elms by Greater London Assembly regeneration committee members yesterday. Similar tours of the area are a fairly frequent event, reflecting the size of interest in what is central London’s last big development opportunity. However, diary clashes have meant I haven’t taken part in too many of them.

An upside to this is that I’m always slightly taken aback by the amount of work that has taken place behind the hoardings (although I run along Nine Elms Lane at least once a week, you don’t actually see that much from ground level). And every time I seem to be made aware of something I already knew, but hadn’t quite fully grasped for some reason.

This time it was how quickly this is all happening: I may have been filled with confidence by the Power Station ground breaking or news of sales on the developments but hadn’t fully realised that the first new residents of Nine Elms will be moving into Riverlight (the buildings in front of the Power Station in the poor quality snap above) about this time next year. Those residents will be joined by the first phase of Embassy Gardens and the completion of One St George Wharf1 next year.

Nine Elms is rapidly moving from an abstract vision to provider of homes, jobs and leisure.

  1. Be warned, this page automatically plays music that leaves you wondering what super-hero film trailer is playing. I will award a Mars bar to the best suggestion for a super-power that matches the music. 

Southside Wandsworth

Once again the Local Data Company are trying to make headlines with their regular report on the state of Britain’s high streets. This time, their story has been a little overwhelmed by the Cabinet reshuffle, Paralympics and the British Retail Consortium’s sales figures. And once again I feel the need to highlight that the Local Data Company could do with some local knowledge. (And I’m sure the process will repeat in six months time.)

Wandsworth is named as one of the ‘worst small centre performers’. For a start, I’d question the classification as ‘small’; Southside alone is over 500,000sq ft. But, most importantly, the LDC still fail to take account of what is happening in Wandsworth. As I mentioned last time:

the large numbers of vacant units are largely a result of a planned redevelopment of the Southside shopping centre.

The shops are not closed because Wandsworth is in “a spiral of decline” as their report might imply, but in preparation for a multi-million pound investment.

Anyone who has used the centre recently can see the work taking place. Most visibly at the moment on the first floor where new restaurants are being created, but work is also commencing on Garratt Lane where more retail space and restaurants is being built.

Fortunately most shoppers recognise the difference between a centre in decline and a centre being developed. If only the Local Development Company could recognise it too.

Those who use Southside or Garratt Lane might have noticed that work has started on the next phase of the Southside redevelopment.

I can’t help feeling a little smug satisfaction to see work commence following my annoyance at the London Data Company’s inaccurate representation of the town centre a little under a month ago.

The phase that has just started will add three shops and three restaurants (much needed, in my view, the post cinema choice in Southside isn’t the greatest) and will also improve the exterior, which on Garratt Lane has still to shake off the grim brutalist look.

And it is a big win for Wandsworth town centre; it marks the developer’s continued confidence and will create new employment, as well as new leisure opportunities, for local people.

No facelift: The recession has put paid to plans for improvement
No facelift: The recession has put paid to plans for improvement

The recession has finally put paid to hopes for a major regeneration project in Roehampton.

The scheme had been in development for a number of years and went through seemingly endless consultations with local residents, mixed feelings from the Labour Party (who couldn’t work out if they want to improve people’s quality of life or not) and an extensive period of work preparing for a planning application.

The plan would have seen improved social housing, a landscaped and usable ‘village green’ and overall lower building heights. Most important was the creation of employment in the area through the improvement of business units and provision of a supermarket.

Roehampton suffers a much higher rate of unemployment than the rest of the borough (in September the rate of JSA claims was 4.4% in Roehampton, against 3.2% in the borough as a whole). The picture is much worse when considering working age benefits; nearly one-in-five Roehampton residents are claiming a benefit (19.4%), almost twice the rate of the borough as a whole (10.9%).

But while supermarkets were keen – only Asda didn’t express an interest because of the proximity of an existing store – funding the overall regeneration has been looking less and less unlikely.

While Gordon Brown was promising we were well-placed to weather the recession we’ve suffered more than many comparable countries. And while he said we would be coming out of recession quickly our economy is still shrinking while other nations are back in growth.

We’ve just seen the sixth-successive quarter of decline in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and while the overall situation may be improving this isn’t the case for every industry – construction has been hit far harder than most. In the 18 months we’ve been in recession the overall drop in GDP has been 6.9%. In the construction sector that drop has been 15.6%.

So while the news in Nine Elms has been optimistic – fuelled by the location, investment by the US Embassy and relative ease with which the area can be developed – Roehampton, unfortunately, has none of those advantages and that, along with the high proportion of social housing included, meant that to interest a developer the council would have had to subsidise the scheme to a level that it just cannot afford.

Rather than have a scheme on ice waiting for a lengthy recovery to help we are now going to have to concentrate on the other elements of help we are providing Roehampton, like support for local businesses and targeted help to get people back in work. But it is frustrating to have got to this stage to see the plans be killed by factors outside of the council’s control.