Tonight saw the launch of Wandsworth Town Centre Partnership’s Vision and Agenda for the next three years.

Wandworth Town Centre Vision and AgendaThe document sets out the Town Centre’s vision and aspirations to build on the huge improvements Wandsworth has seen over the past ten years.  And Wandsworth has changed enormously even in that short time, thanks in no small part to the leadership the Town Centre Partnership and council have given to the area.

It’s hard to be optimistic in the current climate (and many at the launch admitted the past few months had seen a huge decline in business) but this shows that we are constantly looking at how to minimise the effects of recession and are well-placed when the country comes out the other side.

The council is currently reviewing all the borough’s conservation areas and it’s now the turn of the Shaftesbury Park Estate Conservation Area which covers a large part of Shaftesbury ward.

I should declare an interest because I live on the Shaftesbury Park Estate, and what attracted me was the unique nature of the area – which is largely due to the conservation area.

If you live on the estate it’s well worth contributing your views to how the estate should develop in the future.  There’s a public meeting scheduled for Thursday 11 December (which I unfortunately can’t attend) at 7pm in Shaftesbury Park School or you can email your comments to Justine Page (jpage@wandsworth.gov.uk).

My personal bug bear are satellite dishes on the fronts of houses (rather than above the gutters or on the chimneys where they are much less obtrusive) which seem totally out of place on the front of Victorian terraces – although again I must declare an interest because I do have dish, even if it’s largely out of sight on the roof.

There’s more on the council’s website, which has a section dedicated to the conservation areas, and is well worth a read if only for the interesting history and background to the areas.

The new Waitrose store on St John's Road

The new Waitrose store on St John's Road

It was a good day for Clapham Junction with the opening of the new Waitrose store on St John’s Road.  It seemed to be doing a roaring trade from the outset, but most importantly it was a vote of confidence in Battersea and Wandsworth at a time when other high street names are closing.

It is very hard to be positive when the economic outlook is looking bleak, to say the least, but Waitrose will provide some stability (they replaced a Woolworth’s store) and will provide around 130 local jobs.  It would be irresponsible to suggest that Wandsworth won’t be hit by the recession – but there is some evidence, like Waitrose’s confidence, that the borough is well-placed to avoid the worst effects.

Deputy Mayor Peter Dawson switches on Northcote Road's Christmas lights
Deputy Mayor Peter Dawson switches on Northcote Road's Christmas lights

On a brighter note Northcote Road celebrated Christmas with the turning on of their Christmas lights tonight with a healthy crowd braving slightly damp weather to join the Deputy Mayor in the switch-on.  The whole of Northcote Road joined in with a late night shopping event with many stores offering one day sales.  If you went along I hope you managed to snap up a few bargains!

The Asda store on Lavender Hill re-opened today as ‘Asda Clapham Junction Battersea’ in response to the SW11tch campaign to make sure the area is properly named.

Celebrating the 'opening' of Asda Battersea
Celebrating the 'opening' of Asda Battersea

Asda was one of the biggest offenders (Wal-Mart is the world’s largest company).  So it’s a real coup for the campaigners to get them to recognise where they live.

A common question is ‘why is it important’?  I think there are two answers.

First, you need to know where you are!  When Waitrose announced they had bought some Woolworth’s stores and would be opening new shops there was a real buzz on a Clapham web-forum.  Until, that is, they realised that Waitrose had made a mistake, and were moving to Battersea, not Clapham High Street.

But the second issue is branding.  Wal-mart do not allow each Asda store to create their own brand, perhaps focusing on different products, or creating their own logo.  It is important to have a distinctive brand that people recognise and can trust, especially when times are hard.  And it’s no less important for Battersea to have it’s own brand, so people know where and what it is – a high quality, diverse and distinctive destination.

Last night I attended the celebration of volunteering the council held to say thank-you to the many people in the borough who give their time to help others.  It was an inspirational event not least because it powerfully illustrated that there is still a strong sense of community and selflessness in the borough.

volunteerawardsth There were 140 nominations for awards, which barely scrapes the surface of the amount of volunteering that takes place – apparently the volunteering ‘economy’ is worth over £20 million a year in Wandsworth, and that’s assuming a minimum wage payment to the volunteers we know about.

I found myself as a standing for the second time in a week, presenting the award of volunteer of the year to Kitty Gilbert.  I lost count of the number of places she volunteers, giving her time to help with reading.  It was a real delight to see her enthusiasm and joy at winning.

Congratulations must go to the council’s economic development office and Wandsworth Voluntary Sector Development Agency, (who can provide information on volunteering opportunities in the borough) for organising such a great night.  But the biggest congratulations and thanks have to be to all the people volunteering throughout Wandsworth.

A late cancellation and the fact that all other celebrities are in an Australian jungle led to me officially turning on the Clapham Junction lights tonight – despite being on a list that exists well beyond any alphabet known to man.

Clapham Junction were the first town centre to officially turn on their Christmas lights (although Tooting have had their Diwali lights for nearly a month) and this marks an important season in the retail calendar, especially as the news on the economy gets bleaker by the day.

Also officially opened today was the Lavender Hill skating rink with a demonstration from the Streatham Redskins ice hockey team.  Although organised by the Lavender Hill Traders Association (through the commitment and support of Anthony Laban and Clapham Junction Asda) the rink is at the Albert Bridge car park in Battersea Park.  The rink is already proving popular, particularly with local schools and with all proceeds supporting the Devas Club, a local youth club, it’s well worth a visit.  Tickets can be bought from www.QuayTickets.com or 0870 0666 844

While is hasn’t quite got the recognition of the red ribbon or the red poppy today was white ribbon day – when men are asked to wear a white ribbon as a symbol of their pledge not to cause, threaten or condone harm to women.

These hands are not for hurtingAlong with several other councillors I attended an awareness event organised by Wandsworth Victim Support to promote the day and highlight the problems that still exist with domestic violence.

Of course, domestic violence is not purely a problem of men harming women, but can exist within any home, with both men and women suffering as victims at the hands of partners and other family members.  Wandsworth has always had a comparatively low incidence of domestic violence, but that always carries the fear that there is under-reporting.

The council and Victim Support run a one stop shop every Monday at Battersea Arts Centre.  More information can be found via the council’s website at wandsworth.gov.uk/domesticviolence

Today Alistair Darling will announce that Labour have finally seen the benefits of low taxation.

Or has he?  The BBC is currently reporting an expected temporary reduction in VAT to 15%, along with the introduction of a new higher rate tax band and the postponement of various other changes.  In other words, we’re increasing taxes, not immediately, but it’s coming.

And it’s questionable who will benefit from the reduction in VAT.  Any reduction in tax is not to be scoffed at, but if you take a low income household and consider where their income goes, much of it is spent on VAT exempt goods.  The weekly food shop – mostly VAT free.  Children’s clothes – VAT free.  Fuel bills -already at a lower VAT rate.

Of course, they’ll save a few quid on their Christmas shopping, but I suspect that’s small consolation when the parents fear for their jobs as we head into recession.

Is there another way?  Well, there was a good article in today’s Telegraph that points out that Conservative controlled councils are about the only places you see efficient, well-run and affordable government nowadays.