Although no longer part of my council brief (and of such importance that it was mainly the leader’s baby anyway) I’m still incredibly excited by the potential in Nine Elms.

While the Power Station and New Covent Market have been in the pipeline – sometimes seemingly stuck – for many years, the really exciting development recently was the decision by the US Embassy to relocate there.

The US press attaché, Philip Breedon, is delivering a talk tonight at Battersea Park library (at 7:30pm) about why they chose Nine Elms, as well as how the embassy design was chosen and how it will be constructed. I’m sure it will be a fascinating insight into a decision that was a real boost to Wandsworth and east Battersea.

I’ve spent a fair chunk of today at an inward investment event for Putney Town Centre. Although Nine Elms and Tooting have been getting a fair degree of attention recently, the council has continued to promote the rest of the borough as a destination to businesses, retailers and investors. Today’s event was aimed at attracting people to invest in Putney, highlighting both the opportunities for retailers and the consequent advantages for those seeking to establish offices in the area.

It is, of course, coming to the time in the cycle when a lot of the borough is talked down for political advantage. I recall Stuart King’s rather negative campaign as Labour leader four years ago that was little more than a litany of complaints and criticisms that – in fact – most people didn’t relate to (and may have contributed to him losing his own seat; if things were so bad, why hadn’t he done anything in his eight years as a councillor).

In fact there’s a lot to be positive about in Wandsworth and Putney. The high street has weathered the recession remarkably well and managed to attract new investment during it. And today, the area was still enough of a draw to attract 70 or 80 people from developers, retailers and businesses who might be the ones investing in SW15 in coming years.

The dates for the next public exhibition at New Covent Garden Market have been announced. The exhibition will run over three days starting on Thursday 25 February and finishing on 27 February – including some very early morning sessions (you can go at 5am on the Friday).

The market is a fascinating place, and a real hive of activity when most of us are asleep – by 8am most people there seem to have finished their working day – and worth a visit just to be generally nosy since most people never see in there. But it is also part of the wider Nine Elms regeneration area and the Market’s regeneration will be a key part of the London’s biggest opportunity.

The market authority’s website has details and a map. I cannot recommend a map highly enough, I can speak from experience it’s a big place to get lost in.

I seem to have stopped taking photos this year – so the cup of tea is getting a few outings – not that photos of meetings or a fairly damp and dreary London are any more exciting.

Councillor Awards
I started the week off acting as a judge for the Local Government Information Unit’s first national councillor awards. While I’ve judged a few things in Wandsworth (most recenty the SNT award) this is the first time I’ve been part of a national award’s judging panel.

It was certainly a fascinating, and humbling, experience – and a real privilege to be asked. Seeing what councillors and local government around the country are achieving was an inspiration.

While the winners aren’t announced for a few weeks (they all find out at a conference at the Emirates next month) I can, of course, start acting on that inspiration.

Wandsworth LSP
The Local Strategic Partnership is one of those bodies that exist in every local authority that no-one actually knows about.

The name gives away what it is (or should be) it’s a high level partnership of everyone involved in the local area – the council is an obvious member, but they are joined by the police, local health service, local businesses and charities to help set the overall direction of the area. The partnership in Wandsworth works remarkably well, and has certainly improved enormously since I first joined (that is a function of a change in the partners around the table, rather than my joining).

One interesting point that came up (I think from one of the health service representatives) was the amount of work we can create for local businesses when tendering contracts.

Until fairly recently it would have been illegal to consider bids on anything but price and quality, though this has relaxed recently, but is an issue that I’ve been looking at over the years. One thing I wouldn’t want to do is start putting a price on location. Is being Wandsworth based worth a £1,000 or £10,000? And what happens if a company moved mid-contract?

The key problem, though, is that Wandsworth is predominantly a small business economy and the public sector is forced to be quite restrictive. For example, we require significant financial guarantees and will look through a company’s accounts to ensure the public money we are spending is at as little risk as possible. These have certainly deterred businesses in the past and often a small company just won’t have been in existence long enough to meet these requirements.

But we can improve access for local businesses by advertising the opportunities and providing advice on how to bid and this is something we are starting to improve. We have long been accessible to local businesses (through things like the Wandsworth Business Forum, the next one being on Monday) and are always willing to advise and help a business compete for our contracts.

Nine Elms Opportunity Board
My last meeting of the week was the Nine Elms Opportunity Board. Now that the area is finally starting to develop this is becoming an exciting meeting again (for years its meetings seemed to be just to discuss what wasn’t happening).

The body was initially formed to try and maximise the benefits to local residents of the development of the Power Station site and the report from Job Centre Plus was interesting. Yesterday I highlighted the small drop in Wandsworth’s JSA claims, but apparently the movement in the market is considerably higher than this time last year. So while there were only a few job vacancies being reported at the beginning to 2009 there are plenty being reported and filled this year. Perhaps we can start being a little more confident about the end of the recession.

I posted about Jan Lloyd’s presentation on New Covent Garden Market to the Regeneration and Community Safety OSC the other day and have been picked up on my comment that their public exhibitions are over. It was sloppy writing by me.

The first round of public consultations are over, but a second round are starting towards the end of next month (which I knew, but wasn’t sure of the timings). Like the first, New Covent Garden Market will be running a consultation and holding a public exhibition on the site so you can see how the plans are developing and what that bit of the Opportunity Area will look like.

I’ll post something nearer the time, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for it. The Market is likely to be the first visible sign of the regeneration of the area but tends to miss out on publicity to the (admittedly more iconic) Power Station site to the west. However, the Market’s plans will take something that really has been at the heart of London life for hundreds of years – quietly putting the food on our plates and generally doing it while we all sleep – and start giving it a public face that will raise both its profile and the profile of Nine Elms and Wandsworth.

Last night was the first Regeneration and Community Safety OSC of the year and was kicked off by a presentation from Jan Lloyd on the proposed redevelopment of New Covent Garden Market.

It’s amazing when you look at the Market today, when it’s employing 2,500 people (a few hundred less than before the recession) and providing 40% of the food that’s on restaurant plates in London to think it was actually at Covent Garden until 35 years ago.

And browsing through their brochure brings home just how much ‘industrial’ land remains in Wandsworth – that corner of the borough is a major employment area and generates huge benefit for the borough and London as a whole, but remains tucked away and – despite its size – unseen by most people as they pass by the walls or flats surrounding them.

Although their public exhibitions are over it’s well worth having a look at the redevelopment section of their website, not just to see what they are planning, but also for some of the fascinating history of the market.

UPDATE, 14 January: I’ve been picked up on this post, there’s another public consultation and exhibition towards the end of February.

The winner? The iconic Power Station building in Nine Elms
The winner? The iconic Power Station building in Nine Elms

The council is starting its formal consultation on the Battersea Power Station planning application and, to coincide with this, Treasury Holdings are holding another public exhibition this Thursday (between noon and 8pm), Friday (from 10am to 6pm) and Saturday (from 10am until 5pm).

The Power Station is a key part of the regeneration of Nine Elms. There is no getting away from the number of false starts over the years, but this – hopefully – is the beginning of the formal process that will see the site brought into public use. If you have an interest in how Nine Elms is going to start to develop over the coming years it’ll be well worth going along.

It takes place on the site, which can be accessed from Kirtling Street just off Battersea Park Road.

The winner? The iconic Power Station building in Nine Elms
The winner? The iconic Power Station building in Nine Elms

This week was a story of two regenerations – with two very different results.

Recession kills off Roehampton regeneration
The bad news came for Roehampton. The Roehampton Regeneration had been moving slowly for several months while the planning application was developed and everyone was aware that the economic climate meant that rapid progress was unlikely. Unfortunately the recession has been record breaking – the longest this country has seen. And it is now apparent that even after the recession ends it will be some time until we would be able to find a developer who would make Roehampton a priority. It is a disappointing, but unavoidable, decision.

Nine Elms planning framework discussion starts
And as if to balance the bad news from Roehampton the other side of the borough saw the launch of the Mayor’s consultation on the Opportunity Area Planning Framework. It was a real boost for the area and represents huge ambition for Nine Elms. Perhaps best (and I failed to mention this in my original post) was the exemption of the area from the Crossrail level to enable investment in transport – especially a Northern Line extension.

Of course, as much of the work of the council will be about making sure the whole borough – including Roehampton – benefits from the good news in coming years.

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.

Simon Milton launched the Nine Elms Opportunity Area Planning Framework (OAPF) yesterday. Those that follow me on Twitter may well have been bored yesterday with my incessant tweeting using the #9elms hashtag.

The sell-out event at New London Architecture reflected the huge interest in the area. And the the OAPF reflected the size and potential of the area.

And it is an ambitious framework. Jeremy Castle from Treasure Holdings – developers of the Power Station – reflected that in just a few years the scale of development suggested by the Mayor has rocketed, for example five years ago they suggested 1,500 homes in the area, they are now suggesting 16,000 homes.

The OAPF has several key features for the area:

  • Creation of 16,000 homes and 20,000 – 25,000 jobs
  • A linear park connection Battersea Park to Lambeth Palace
  • Completion of the riverside walk
  • Green ‘fingers’ providing links for the existing housing to the river
  • A Northern line extension from Kennington to Battersea Power Station

The OAPF (which is available from the Mayor’s website) is out for consultation until next year – obviously the council and developers will be responding and the framework might change, but it’s enormously exciting that even in the midst of an incredibly long recession there is such ambition for Nine Elms.

I’d love to know your thoughts.