I was at my petty worst when I received a copy of Battersea MP Jane Ellison’s reporting back leaflet talking about her Shine a Light campaign and featuring a photo of her by the newly installed light in Dorothy Gardens. Falling into that very 21st century frailty of passive aggressively tweeting in haste and repenting, or ruminating, at leisure.

Of course, the bigger part of me knows that I should consider my fondness for the (attributed) Truman quote: “It’s amazing what you can achieve when you don’t care who takes credit.” The petty part wasn’t listening.

Ten years of struggle

I struggled with this one. I’d been trying, on and off, to get a light installed there for over ten years. The most recent attempt, which was ultimately successful, was prompted by yet another resident contacting me about it. Together, and later joined by another nearby resident, we spent dark winter evenings collecting petition signatures from local residents and people using the passageway.

The call for a light was rejected by Cllr Jonathan Cook when it went to his council committee, despite the report not being entirely accurate. But another opportunity was on the horizon and I submitted a bid to the Wandsworth Local Fund to get a light installed. This gained the support of Tony Belton, Simon Hogg (Labour councillors from the neighbouring Latchmere ward) and, somewhat ironically, Jonathan Cook and was successful in getting funding. Hence the light that is there today.

It was surprisingly easy in the end. Almost disappointingly so. After ten years it almost felt like the end should have been harder than filling out a relatively short form. But equally, it took ten years (that I spent most of them on the council’s Leader’s Group speaks either to my staggering incompetence or just how very hard it is to get the council to say ‘yes’ to something) and it was a project to which I had become attached.

All the other lights

Why Jane Ellison chose to feature the site so prominently on her leaflet did puzzle me though. My first instinct was, uncharitably, that perhaps there were no lights that had been installed as a consequence of her Shine a Light campaign. I then wondered if it was just a useful proxy, a photogenic and recognisable location that would represent the issue, since other places might be less than pleasant alleys and tunnels.

So I contacted Jane Ellison asking for details of her other successes. Below I present a complete list of all the lights installed as a result of her campaign.

Full list of lights installed:

— End of list —

To be fair, she just didn’t bother responding. And frankly, why should she? She’s an MP and minister and has better things to do than respond to the tantrums of a slightly petulant independent councillor, however politely written those tantrums may be.

Justifying my petulance

Of course, I know my attitude is deeply unappealing. It’s exactly the sort of behaviour I know I wouldn’t want my children to see and certainly not to exhibit. (Although I suppose I do like them taking pride in their own work and wouldn’t want them seeking credit for the work of others.) In this case, though, I’ll live with my hypocrisy.

I was upset that Jane was pushing a leaflet through doors effectively taking credit for the light I felt I had been responsible for delivering: it may not be much, but it’s one of the few things I feel I have to my name. While I’ve had more than enough exposure to politics and politicians to have realistically low expectations of them, that still doesn’t stop me feeling aggrieved.

Perhaps worst of all, though, is the sense of disappointment I felt. Elsewhere in the leaflet, as she always does, Jane listed the important meetings and events she had attended. And she is, as I’ve noted, the local MP and a government minister. She has clout—a lot of clout—with the council, with public services and private companies in the constituency. That she is using her leaflet to take credit for something a non-entity councillor took ten years to deliver was a disappointment. Instead it should be full of what she’s done to make Battersea better.

Lavender Gardens, between Dorothy Road and Asda Clapham Junction
Lavender Gardens when it’s not dark
After (at least) ten years of trying I think I’ve finally got to the stage that lights will be installed in the path by by the Lavender Gardens playground.

Those using the path today may wonder why it’s an issue, but anyone who has used the path in the dark (and for commuters using it, in winter it’s dark before they’ve even left work) will realise it doesn’t always feel the safest place, despite only being a few yards from the lights of Dorothy Road or Asda.

The issue may largely be a fear of crime, one of the arguments against lighting I always met was that there was no crime or antisocial behaviour associated with the area. That is not necessary a good measure, as many told me—and I have experienced myself—you just don’t bother reporting it when you may have felt intimidated but nothing happened; you don’t think it makes any difference other than wasting everyone’s time.

We had come close to getting lights a few times. Asda had once offered to provide lighting from their buildings, but unfortunately this proved impossible to do from their structures without flood-lighting the back gardens and windows of neighbouring houses. I was hopeful a petition from local residents and users last year might resurrect the issue, but sadly the council returned the issue back to Asda and it was back to square one.

The difficulty was that it was council land, and therefore needed a council solution, but the council wouldn’t fund it.

However, the Wandsworth Local Fund, which allows for payments from developers to be used for local projects provided a possible solution. While a lighting project was just outside the remit, the council was bidding to itself for various projects including lighting and paving that were also just outside the remit so I was hopeful a tiny project like this would be successful. I submitted a bid which was kindly supported by one of my ward colleagues in Shaftesbury and two councillors from the neighbouring Latchmere ward and several months later it has been approved, getting the nod from last night’s council executive meeting.

There’s still lots more to do (I’m already assuming they won’t be done for this winter) and it’s been wrapped up in a bigger and longer term repaving project for Lavender Hill where it might run the risk of being lost so I’ll be checking up on progress regularly and hopefully we’ll soon be able to use a properly lit path.

The newly opened Four Thieves, 51 Lavender Gardens has applied to the council for some changes to its licence, mostly to tidy up—rather than change—the conditions attached to the licence, but also to allow them to open from 8am for breakfast.

The Four Thieves has not been open that long, but to me seems a good replacement for the Battersea Mess, operating as a community pub with some character. Talking to the manager on the opening night he seemed as passionate about the quality of coffee he could serve at breakfast as of the beer he serves in the evening (a passion I can share).

If you want to make a representation you have until 17 October. Representations must relate to the four licensing objectives:

  • The prevention of crime and disorder
  • The prevention of public nuisance
  • Public safety
  • The protection of children from harm

The council’s licensing pages provide more information.

If you wish to make an observation you can do so by writing to:
Head of Licensing
Licensing Section
London Borough of Wandsworth
PO Box 47095
SW18 9AQ

or by emailing licensing@wandsworth.gov.uk

Lavender Gardens, between Dorothy Road and Asda Clapham Junction

If you use the Lavender Gardens playground, the small park between Asda and Dorothy Road, I hope that you’ve noticed it’s been looking a bit cleaner.

It has been a lesson for me that familiarity might not breed contempt, but it certainly breeds complacency. I’m a fairly regular user of the park with my children, but it was only after a complaint from a resident—and a bit of pushing—that the park got a thorough clean and I realised that I’d just got used to a fairly tatty park. Frankly, I don’t think the contractors had been quite as thorough as they should. (I noticed a discarded paper from the World Cup there some two weeks after the tournament had finished.)

In the contractor’s defence, I suspect it might have just been familiarity on their part. I’m sure we’ve all been aware of problems and little defects that we overlook simply because we see them everyday at home, work or on the street.

A further result of the complaint has been that the recent resurfacing was found not to be of a high enough standard, so the path—used by so many as a short-cut—will be re-laid soon.

I’m going to keep a closer eye on the park, but if you spot any problems there (or anywhere else in the ward) let me know so I can get them fixed.

Battersea Mess and Music Hall
Battersea Mess and Music Hall: no longer Lavender Gardens’ local

The closure of Battersea Mess and Music was one of the sadder business closures I’ve seen in recent times. Businesses come and go, but there’s something about a pub that creates a little more attachment: perhaps because they so often are the location of happy memories. I’m not alone in that sadness either, with plenty of people asking me if I know anything about the closure, and perhaps more importantly, the future of the building.

I briefly considered what options the council might have in protecting the premises. Coincidentally I was in a meeting the day after it closed with Brandon Lewis in which he discussed the options local authorities have in protecting pubs, either making the pub and ‘asset of community value’ or an ‘article 4 direction’ although I’m not sure either would achieve the desired results in this case—it was already too late to make the premises an asset of community value, since they had already been sold, while an article 4 direction adds another planning hurdle, but offers no protection against, say, a return of a problematic Walkabout style venue on the road.

In any case, while I know little about the plans for the premises, what little I do know gives me some confidence the Mess will reincarnate in some form.

The premises have apparently been purchased by InnBrighton Ltd, who having a growing portfolio of London pubs including Battersea High Street’s Candlemaker, and looking at their pubs elsewhere, it looks like they have a similar style to that exhibited by Antic at the Mess. A blurb in Hospitality and Catering News covering the opening of The Candlemaker suggests:

InnBrighton believes that the successful 21st century pub is a real life social networking space that is original, inspirational, comfortable and memorable, and is proud of the cultural and ecological ethos that underpins all its commercial objectives.[1]

The question is what happens next. I understand they plan a major refurbishment, but do not know the details, nor their intentions for the various spaces in the pubs (although elsewhere they do have performance spaces). Although I’ve contacted them[2], I’ve had no response, although that might be simply because they’ve not fully worked up their plans.

However, the bottom line seems to be that a good, local pub will return to Lavender Gardens. The next challenge is making sure they don’t pretend they are in Clapham, but embrace being in Battersea.

  1. As someone who started drinking at, um, eighteen in the 20th century I thought a successful pub was about good beer, and the social networking naturally followed, more evidence that I’m well past my prime.  ↩
  2. And some two weeks after my attempts to contact them I’ve still not had a response, so assume none will be forthcoming.  ↩

Not Wandsworth, for a change

After a few days of Jubilee-related events I found myself bloated and lethargic: the consequence of a little too much cake, ice cream and alcohol.

Battersea Park: with facilities for the 90,000
My weekend managed a degree of diversity. Saturday was spent in Kent, at a fair organised in my wife’s home village. It was the very image of what I imagined a village fête to be including morris dancers and a Women’s Institute tea-room.

On Sunday, along with tens of thousands of others, I braved the chill and rain to see the jubilee flotilla from Battersea Park. I was surprised, and rather proud to be British, to see the park absolutely heaving with people and portaloos despite the weather. I have no idea how many people were put off, but when we were looking for a place in front of one of the big screens to set-up a picnic it didn’t look like many had stayed at home.

Lavender Gardens' penultimate sing-a-long
Finally, on Monday, I popped along to the Elspeth Road and Lavender Gardens street party. A superb event that encompassed the whole community. The organisers deserve huge congratulations for all their work; it certainly paid off.

And all the car owners deserve credit for their parking.

Like any job, being a councillor changes the way you look at things. And even with the jubilee I couldn’t help noticing the parking.

In that small Kentish village cars were absent. No-one parked in the village square, or the village hall car park, or on any of the roads used for the celebrations.

Not that big a deal, perhaps. While those spaces are usually full a nearby field was turned over to parking and only added a few minutes inconvenience to residents.

In Lavender Gardens, though, no such alternative was available. Residents had to take their luck finding a space elsewhere. And this in an area where parking has a premium, created by the cost of a parking permit and charge for a parking bay suspension. But compliance was near total. Just two cars acted as blemishes on the otherwise pedestrian-only southern half of Lavender Gardens.

Like I said, being a councillor changes the way you look at things, my correspondence often sees parking elevated to the status of human right, the space immediately outside a house becomes consecrated ground being plundered by infidel neighbours parking their cars there.

So having experienced fourteen years of parking rights extremism it was refreshing to see such widescale voluntary compliance. In Lavender Gardens, at least, I know Her Majesty is truly valued.

And as I’m in something of a licensing groove, or rut, I may as well update on the decision of the Battersea Mess licensing review, which has been published today.

In short: do nothing.

The resident who requested the review had moved and decided not to attend the hearing. After listening to the evidence of the Mess, the sub-committee decided no further action was needed and the licence was unaltered.

I’m not surprised, as I commented when highlighting the review “it is well managed and a welcome addition to the evening and cultural offer of Lavender Hill.” I’m pleased the process can recognise well-run pubs as well as tackling those with problems. Although it seems a shame that the legal framework requires a night of everyone’s time, as well as the preparation involved, to do that.

View Larger Map

A licensing review for Battersea Mess, on Lavender Gardens, has been requested by a local resident on the grounds the existing conditions have not upheld the prevention of public nuisance licensing objective. I understand they seek a restriction of hours and additional conditions.

As a (semi) regular of the Mess I can’t be objective about the review, especially since my experience of the bar is that it is well managed and a welcome addition to the evening and cultural offer of Lavender Hill.

Having said that, the premises have long been largely empty (for example in the out of date Google Street View image). With the, mercifully brief, exception of Walkabout I probably wouldn’t be exaggerating much to suggest it never had more than a dozen customers in at any one time. The difference between a little used pub and a successful pub, restaurant and venue is going to be fairly significant. Though I’m not sure licensing should be used to inhibit success.

If you want to make a representation you have until 8 May.

The council’s licensing pages provide more information.

If you wish to make an observation you can do so by writing to:
Head of Licensing
Licensing Section
London Borough of Wandsworth
PO Box 47095
SW18 9AQ

or by emailing licensing@wandsworth.gov.uk


Last night I met with a few of the residents affected by Walkabout in Lavender Gardens.

I have to confess that when it changed from Bar Risa I did wonder if it was a venue well-suited for a residential street. Of course, the brand above the door does not, necessarily, mean a venue is good or bad (even if I would prefer we had decent pubs with proper beer), but Walkabout have been pushing their alcohol promotions heavily – not, I would contend, a promising sign for their neighbours.

The council is responsible for licensing in the borough, but can only act on the evidence it has; we have remarkably little flexibility in who we do, and do not, allow as long as they run their premises responsibly.

We can review licences (just as any resident can request a review) if there is evidence that a review is needed. So have you had any problems because of Walkabout? Or do you think it’s a great addition to Lavender Hill’s nightlife? Let me know.

The results of the council’s consultation on traffic control in the Stormont Road area (which in reality is most of the roads between Clapham Common and Lavender Hill) were considered by the council’s transport committee last night.

They were, frankly, more an exercise in showing how consultation often doesn’t help anyone come to a conclusion! Of the 2,700+ consultation forms sent out only 457 were returned (around 1 in 6). And the opinion was not terribly conclusive.

One of the ideas was to ban right turns from Clapham Common Northside into the roads in the area. The purpose behind this is to prevent rat-running from people who want to head north but avoid the one way loop around part of Clapham Common that keeps them on roads better suited for higher traffic volumes. For this, 46% of respondents liked the idea… and 46% of people didn’t like the idea!

The other suggestion was to reverse the one-way flow of Lavender Gardens. While this wasn’t as evenly balanced, it was hardly a conclusive result, 33% opposed it, 23% supported it and 45% expressed no opinion (to be fair the result in Lavender Gardens itself was much more conclusive, with 68% against and 32% in support).

On the basis of the results the council will be progressing the introduction of 24 hour no right turns from Clapham Common Northside into the roads, but looking at alternative means of controlling the traffic in Lavender Gardens.

It is proof that the council does listen to consultations. But also evidence that it’s sometimes very hard to hear what they are saying – the voice of Lavender Gardens was clear, but the result on the right turns couldn’t have been closer, and guarantees that whatever the council does it would make half the people unhappy!

A cynic, however, might suggest that the clearest result of all is that 5 out of 6 people don’t care enough to spend a few minutes completing and sending off a pre-paid form.

The full paper and detailed results along with three appendices can be found on the council’s website.