Last Wednesday’s Regeneration and Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee was the first in the ‘new’ format in which the focus moves from each meeting to a different part of the portfolio. This time it was the turn of regeneration and, not surprisingly, the recession took up a large part of the meeting.

It is difficult to get the tone right when talking about the recession. While I don’t want to make the mistake same mistake as Gordon Brown of pretending that Britain would never have bad times I also don’t want to make the situation in Wandsworth seem worse than it is.

The simple fact is that Wandsworth is not immune and will be hurt by the recession, and while there’s good reason to believe we won’t be as hard-hit as other other areas, we need to take what measures we can to help residents and businesses.

At the meeting some specific measures were approved by the committee.

Employment Support for Young Black Men
Unemployment amongst you black men is disproportionately high, and we have appointed Talent to work with clients to overcome the most common difficulties they face in getting jobs. You can read more in the council’s press release or the report considered by the committee.

‘Best Buy’ Wandsworth
The council constantly promotes Wandsworth to businesses and potential investors – as a borough and a specific areas. I have great pride in seeing the sterling work undertaken by the Town Centre managers of Balham, Clapham Junction, Putney, Tooting and Wandsworth in developing and promoting their areas. The programme of promotion will continue to highlight the town centres as part of the ‘Best Buy’ but will also start promoting other areas in Wandsworth.

Nine Elms
The Nine Elms area represents the largest potential development area in inner London and it got a real boost with the announcement that the American Embassy will be moving there. The council will continue to promote the area to create more jobs and homes.

Roehampton suffers the borough’s highest rate of unemployment and is currently the focus of a major regeneration scheme. This is reliant on attracting a private sector partner, which will be hard in the current climate.

The Wandle Valley
The Wandle Valley covers several boroughs, and there is a scheme to create a Wandle Valley Regional Park and this will provide an opportunity to promote the business and investment opportunities along the river.

The scheme will have several elements (you can read more in the report) but the main purpose will be to sell Wandsworth as a destination for business and leisure. However hard the recession is, and however long it lasts, when people start thinking about investment again, we want Wandsworth to be top of their list.

Marks and Spencer have announced that their Balham Simply Food store will be among those to close.  This is obviously not good news, either for Balham Town Centre or the employees who will be losing their jobs.

But it’s also a reminder that recession is not just about businesses going into administration and names disappearing totally, but employers cutting costs and jobs being lost.

Marks and Spencer will remain, for the time being, elsewhere in the Borough, but in Balham there is going to be a big hole in the high street.  I just hope at tonight’s Regeneration and Community Safety OSC meeting Labour don’t have the temerity to try blame the state of the pavements rather than their government’s economic failure.

Northcote Road marketThe council’s plans for Northcote Road will be going before the Regeneration and Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee early next week.  They are the end of a process that was started before the recession started to bite, but now times are getting harder the recommendations will really help traders.

The basic thrust is to help local traders by working with them to increase footfall on the road.  One of the key thrusts will be the expansion of the current market and the introduction of specialist markets on Sundays.  Additionally the road will see more special events and the council will work at providing extra promotion of the street.

One innovation will the be introduction of business ‘succession’ planning.  It has been a major concern on Northcote Road that when independent shops close they are replaced by chains – so far the new shops have tended to be sympathetic to the nature of Northcote Road and a good fit for the local demographic, but there is no guarantee this will continue and we won’t see a blight of mobile phone shops there.  The idea is that independent traders who are starting to think about retirement can work with the council and possible successors in order to retain the shop as an independent rather than selling the unit or the lease and leaving succession to the luck of the draw.

The next step is getting funding for all these schemes – which is likely to be trickier in the recession since the calls on business support will be getting louder – but together the proposals represent a strong start in keeping Northcote Road one of London’s special places.

You can read more, and see what else the committee will be considering, on the from the agenda on the council’s website.

With the Christmas hangovers barely worn off today sees the start of Woolworths closure programme.  Wandsworth’s stores all close in the New Year, and will leave a big hole in the town centres they are leaving, and a bigger hole in the lives of the employees who are losing their jobs.

Shortly before Christmas Edward Lister, the council leader, announced the council’s programme to help the borough’s businesses and residents through the recession.  A lot of these schemes are within my portfolio, and quite a few see their first airing at the Regeneration and Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee early in the new year so I’ll highlight them here in the coming days.  However, it’s worth just flagging up one of the leader’s comments:

Wandsworth ‘s council tax is the lowest in the country. We are committed to keeping our bills affordable for local people. When household budgets are stretched, a low tax can make a real difference.

And this is key.  In Wandsworth the average band D council tax is £681 per year.  Nationally the average is £1,370 – this means you are nearly £700 a year better off just for living in Wandsworth.  When times are hard, that makes a lot of difference.