Looking towards tower blocks and Richmond Park from the balcony of Binley House on the Alton Estate, Roehampton
The Alton boasts a remarkable setting

This week saw the start of the next stage of consultation on the Alton Estate regeneration. I’ve not written as much about the work of the council in improving the Alton estate in Roehampton as I have about the Winstanley and York Road work, possibly because of my proximity to the latter, possibly because the Alton programme is, to my mind, more subtle.

It isn’t the first time the council has tried to tackle the Alton. Though it’s the first time in my memory that we seem to have the support to see it through. It was interesting after the last Roehampton Partnership meeting talking to members who suggested they had felt a change: the partnership felt more positive, more professional even, and progress was being made. Pride may come before a fall (and I recognise we’re approaching a rather febrile election season) but there are reasons to be optimistic.

But why are the plans for the Alton more subtle than for the Winstanley and York Road programme?

To answer, you have to look at the Alton estate’s conception. It’s easy to look at council estates and assume they are, somehow, automatically dysfunctional. The original plans for the Alton, however, came some way towards the post-war Utopian vision for social housing. Modern architecture in a park setting: the blocks looking and feeling very much like they in an extended Richmond Park. Viewing the original plans, and hearing the original architect’s vision, I found myself finally understanding why so many long-term residents could speak of the jealousy they encountered from those who were not allocated housing there. Indeed, I had some of that jealousy myself.

Unfortunately the subsequent development took most of the shine off the estate. Later additions were, frankly, done on the cheap. They re-used designs from elsewhere, and built what could fit, rather than what should fit.

The masterplan option on which we are about to consult moves us back towards that vision, at the junction of Danebury Avenue and Roehampton Lane there will be new buildings that properly frame the estate’s gateway, the area behind providing new, higher quality homes that face the right way rather than having gardens on the road, Portswood Place will be revitalised to create new centre and through it all a central park will provide an attractive link into Richmond Park, creating attractive views and pathways.

And the subtlety? A lot of the buildings remain exactly as they are. The road layout will be unchanged. This is not like the Winstanley and York Road scheme that proposes a lot of demolition in the York Road Estate. It cannot be seen as purely physical regeneration[1].

It cannot be viewed just as shiny new buildlings, though there are some, but instead should invite you to imagine a new relationship with the area: from a new park area to enjoy, new shops providing not only retail, but employment and vibrancy, and new facilities for services and recreation. Fundamentally, it recognises that a lot of the original estate is good, it just needs the setting to make it work.

The consultation is just another stage of an evolving process, but the master planning exercise is drawing to a close and reflects a lot of the feedback that has been received. I think they are incredibly exciting and promising, and hope those responding to the consultation think the same.

  1. The Winstanley and York Road regeneration should not be seen as purely physical regeneration either, but if you choose to view it in that way it can still make sense, providing better homes and facilities close to Clapham Junction. ↩

Andrew Lansley in Roehampton for the public health white paper launch

Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health, came to Wandsworth to launch the public health white paper yesterday.

I’ve been very remiss in not posting much about health on here, despite the fact that it’s probably the most exciting area of local government at the moment and presents a huge opportunity for local councils and communities.

The main point of the white paper is that public health will soon be a council responsibility again (it was stripped from councils in 1974). It’s a sensible move: it’s commonly recognised that the NHS actually plays a small role in the health of the nation. We might all think of health and think about our GPs and hospitals, but in fact it’s largely a result of our lifestyles and behaviour; the cumulative impact of even small changes (a slightly healthier diet, a little more exercise) would make a huge positive difference to our collective health.

The challenge now is how we carry this out and made sure that the decisions the council takes all take account of the public health impact. And the real challenge for (much of) local government will be a new way of working, like any government publication the white paper has a couple of mentions of Big Society, but it also has references to things like nudge and the influence of networks and all three are quite alien to the traditional directive approach of councils.

A further challenge will be measuring the impacts. While the white paper hints at how they are going to baseline public health (and offer reward funding for success) it is not specific, and it’s hard to imagine exactly how we are going to measure the impact on things like life expectancy which, by definition, won’t be felt for years.

But despite those challenges the collective reforms for health offer the biggest positive change for health and healthcare I’ve ever seen – moving decisions away from a centralised bureaucracy and as close as possible to patients and communities, which is exactly where they should be.

Roehampton University are (and have been for a while) offering a series of free courses for Wandsworth residents as part of a programme called ‘Creative Futures’.

The irony of it all is that Roehampton students are barred from taking part, so it’s open to anyone but them! The annoyance (and perhaps my criticism) is that the courses have been filling up remarkably quickly. To a degree I’m quite pleased, since I’m sure I would have felt guilty if I were to take someone else’s place on one of them!

There’s some interesting stuff on there, particularly if you are interested in careers in the creative sector and having been ‘interviewed’ a couple of times by students as part of events down there I can attest that it’s a professional set-up.

Last night I went to the awarding of the Safer Neighbourhood Team of the year award. I was a member of the judging panel and have to say it was a hard choice, with Roehampton just pipping Fairfield to the title. Building on their special award at last year’s Enterprising Roehampton awards.

Both teams received many nominations from every part of the communities they serve, and this, I think, shows the strength of SNTs lies very much in their ability to build relationships in their areas.

Some of the nominations reflect this:

  • “The SNT are visible, clued up, approachable and able to relate to the local community.” (Local resident)
  • “They are like family … watching over us making sure we don’t get hurt.” (11 year old resident)
  • They “successfully build bridges with the local community with their friendly but no nonsense attitude.” (local business)
  • “The most amazing thing is the follow up care. In this day and age people often forget the long term effects on a person of a crime but the Roehampton team provide over and above support.” (local GP surgery)
  • “Their ability to raise students’ awareness of personal safety issues and social responsibility within a vibrant and established community has had nothing but positive impacts in Roehampton.” (Roehampton Students Union)
  • “I like the police here you can always talk to them about anything without getting into trouble” (10 year old resident)

It’s been another week I’ve ended out of Wandsworth. This week the child in me has been excited by a trip on a sleeper train in which my knowledge of sleepers, derived entirely from Agatha Christie and Hart to Hart (a show surely due a remake) was confounded as no-one was murdered). If that wasn’t enough, it was topped by a tour around an airport – and not just the passenger side, but the driving around the runways side.

But, of course, Wandsworth is the purpose of my blog, and Wandsworth will be the purpose of the remainder of this post.

The YouTube of the Mastermind round on Wandsworth has to be the highlight of my week. Having felt a little saddened by my score, the honesty of others has made me feel a lot better about it. Indeed, one councillor, who shall remain nameless, confessed he only got four. Smugness isn’t pleasant, but I just can’t help it.

Regeneration and Community Safety
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday night was the major meeting I attended as a councillor this week. It wasn’t, if I’m honest, a meeting to set the world on fire. Unfortunately Tony Belton, the Labour leader couldn’t attend the meeting, and his absence brings home what an excellent opposition councillor he is – despite leading a small group, he makes sure we keep on our toes. Proof that size is not everything!

Much of the agenda was fairly uncontroversial, although some concerns were raised by the opposition councillor present, I think Labour voted with the Conservatives on all but one paper. The sole paper being on action taken to control street drinkers in Roehampton. The council has taken some very targeted action to help street drinkers where possible, but empowering the police to act where the drinkers aren’t responsive to the help offered.

This seems to have had the desired effect, although the situation needs to be monitored. However the Labour group wanted to call this an Alcohol Exclusion Zone (which it is not, since that has a strict legal definition) and therefore voted against. A slightly odd vote, I thought, since the problem has been tackled, but clearly image and spin still remain more important to Labour than substance.

Neighbourhood Watch
Much of the rest of my time has been taken up with various community safety meetings. One of the most pleasing with a researcher who was looking into how Neighbourhood Watch worked in various boroughs, and was examining Wandsworth as an exciting example of how it could be developed.

I’ve long held a deep respect for the Community Safety team (as well as all the other council officers!) for their dedication to their work, but it’s also good to see that work recognised elsewhere and be able to give credit to them to external bodies.

ERA 2009

Last night I attended the Enterprising Roehampton awards at Roehampton University.

During my comments at the beginning of the awards I reflected that it hasn’t been a good year. We are the longest recession on record and while Wandsworth may be escaping the very worst effects we’ve still see unemployment rise significantly. Most disappointing was that the planned regeneration scheme became unviable as the length and depth of the recession took its toll on partners. (Although one benefit has been the level of support the scheme has since received.)

However, dark clouds always have silver linings. And in the case of Roehampton many were at the ceremony to receive awards. It is the small businesses and individuals who create the jobs and ad opportunities that, collectively, will pull us out of recession and help towards the longer term regeneration of Roehampton, whatever form that takes.

This is the third year of the awards, which are nominated by the public and seek to give recognition to those people and businesses that make a difference to the area. Congratulations to all the recipients.

The winners were:

The award winners are moved into place for their photo
The award winners are moved into place for their photo

Best Customer Service

  • Carol Hale, Co-op Pharmacy
  • Heanens Butchers
  • Dave Lennon, The Angel


  • Sean Darvishi, The Right Plaice
  • Roehampton Village Cafe
  • Ginger & Garlic


  • Alan Housden, Chairman of Alton Playgroup
  • Hari & Marie Thakker, Roehampton Post Office
  • Geoffrey Bodker, Roehampton Business Forum


  • Andy Smith & Simon Gale, Regenerate
  • Mark Evans, Extended Schools, Roehampton and Putney
  • Sue Goble, Kairos Centre


  • Dr Jonathan Horner, Roehampton University
  • Tessa Willy, Roehampton University Eco-champion
  • Roehampton Village Cafe

Sport and Well-being

  • Emma Roberts & Fiona Riley, The Roehampton Rascals Cheerleaders
  • Dennis Booth, Roehampton Football Academy
  • Eddie Leroux, Doverhouse Lions

Young Entrepreneur

  • Craig Baxter, A3 Carpets
  • Wayne Baxter, Baxter’s Windows and Doors
  • Hayden Harbud, Heanens Butchers

Special Recognition

  • Richard Bleckman, Chairman of Roehampton Business Forum
  • Jim McKinney, Holy Trinity Church
  • Police Sergeant Mark McLeavery, PC Andy Voong, PC John Frame, PCSO Nicky Edwardes, PCSO Marco Serrano, PCSO Noel Perkins, PCSO Fuad Osman, PCSO Lisa Burke & PCSO Richard Ahronson, The Roehampton Safer Neighbourhood Team

Wandsworth council chamber, Mayor's chair and crestI attended the Regeneration and Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee as Executive Member last night. The meeting was largely focused on community safety matters, and was one of the longer ones for a while, perhaps because there were some interesting items on the agenda. You can see the full agenda on the council’s website. A few I’d pick out…

Fire Service presentation
When people think about ‘community safety’ they tend to immediately think of the police. Some will also think of the rôle the council plays. Relatively few, sadly, think of the work the Fire Service play. During my three years as executive member I’ve never ceased to be impressed at the energy and dedication the local fire service have brought to the partnership and it was great that the committee had the opportunity to hear and talk about it last night.

Battersea crime
This was the second report on the overall picture of crime by geographical area – a few months ago the committee had considered the Tooting area and makes for interesting reading. The distribution of crime is quite telling, but not that unsurprising, in its link to relative deprivation. Battersea also suffers as it appears to ‘import’ crime from Lambeth.

As I did with Tooting, I would recommend having a look through the report which gives a fairly full picture of the pattern of crime in Battersea. As before, Ordnance Survey copyright means I can’t reproduce the maps from it here.

Roehampton Regeneration
I’ve mentioned the decision to withdraw the regeneration scheme twice before on the blog. Last night saw the report that formally informed members. It generated a discussion for all the wrong reasons, with Labour saying that we shouldn’t have listened to Gordon Brown’s optimistic prognosis for the recession. Good to know that they are now disowning their leader in public meetings!

The fact is that I had always been bullish about the recession, and during internal discussions was invariably the most pessimistic participant. Despite that, I also knew that the recession was a temporary thing and would, eventually, end. But I never expected it to last 18 months (the longest on record). Nor did I imagine we would be the last industrial economy out of recession. And I certainly did not realise it would be so deep.

It was right that the council were ambitious for Roehampton, rather than giving up on it at the first sign of trouble (the Labour party’s line last night was that they supported regeneration, but we should have given up earlier), and a tragedy that circumstances outside the council’s control have put an end to it.

Safer Neighbourhood Team review
Finally, the committee decided to undertake a review of the way Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs) work in the borough, and particularly how they communicate with other agencies.

My personal experience of SNTs, both in Shaftesbury and across Wandsworth, has been positive. There are some dedicated officers doing some great work in their wards. However, this is often marred by poor communication between the panels and the council. And that’s not really a complaint, they are police officers rather than administrators or communication professionals. But it means that, for example, an SNT panel in the west of the borough might not be learning from an SNT panel in the east or the south. I think there’s potentially some very exciting work to be done in this area that will improve the way the council and the panels work with the SNTs and it will be interesting to see the outcomes.

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.

St John's Hill Festival - balloonsSt John’s Hill Festival
I’m cheating a bit with this week’s photo, since it’s not mine, but was taken by Emma Jane Clark at last Sunday’s St John’s Hill Festival. I’ve used it without permission but hope she doesn’t mind because I really like it.

And congratulations to everyone involved in putting the festival on. It was a great day and, like all the other festivals, carnivals and street parties being put on in our town centres this year really showed the strength of our businesses despite the recession. It’s also with a sense of shame that I have to admit to finally trying Fish Club. It’s one of those places (note how I resisted the ‘plaice’ pun) that is perhaps just a little too out of my way, but given my background – of coming from the fish and chip capital of the world – it’s criminal I’d not given them a go… and they weren’t found wanting. I had a superb haddock and chips with mushy peas, and for me to say that is saying something!

Roehampton Street Drinkers
I’ve been involved in discussions about these for some time, but these are now becoming public – especially since a public meeting held by the police on the issue last week. There has been a problem with street drinkers in the area for some time, which appears to be worsening. Stuart King, the Labour candidate, has picked up on this and is now calling for the council and police to move them on to another area (although he doesn’t specify exactly where he thinks they should be street-drinking).

The council is looking at a real, long term, solution, that doesn’t involve restricting everyone’s rights to enjoy the green spaces in the area and doesn’t just move the problems of addiction from one area to another. We have been using Equinox as outreach workers, with some success, in the area for some time, helping the drinkers conquer their alcohol addiction and are looking at what sort of enforcement we can take with individuals to ensure those less willing to face their problems.

We’re currently in talks with the police (who would be responsible for the enforcement side) to ensure the resources are there to make sure both elements of the carrot and stick approach work.

Gun crime and violence in Wandsworth
Of course, a lot of my time and attention has been taken up by the recent spate of violent crime in Wednesday, I wrote about this in a post on Wednesday and do not want to repeat myself. However, I do want to repeat the central point I made that Wandsworth has been, and remains, a relatively safe borough in London terms.

This is not to belittle the seriousness of the events and shouldn’t be taken to mean that they are not being taken seriously. However, if there is any solace to be taken from gang-related crime it is that it tends to remain inter- and intra-gang and, except in rare cases, members of the general public remain unaffected.

Like I say, this is not to say the council or the police do not take it seriously and are not working hard to arrest those responsible and prevent further incidents, but it does mean that headlines like the Wandsworth Guardian‘s ‘Carnage on the streets’ are very wide of the mark. There is no more reason to worry about going about your daily business this week than there was last week.