Friday, 13 October 2017

River Wandle Gateway Improvements in Earlsfield

Councillor Graham and I supported an application by the Wandle Valley Regional Park Trust for Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funding to improve one of the “Gateways” to the Wandle River on Trewint Street in Earlsfield.  The grant of £101,430 will be used to transform the public realm from a cluttered and un-attractive space to a green and welcoming environment in keeping with the aims of both the Regional Park and Wandsworth Borough.

The specific works proposed include:

  • Re-aligning and repaving the pedestrian crossings at the junction of Summerley and Trewint Streets to improve pedestrian and cycle safety; 
  • Re-paving the approach to the bridge on Trewint Street to tie in with improvements undertaken by Wandsworth Council on adjacent streets in 2015. 
  • Introducing planting within the new paved build outs and pedestrian refuge, to include new rain gardens and street trees. 
  • Introducing Wandle Valley Regional Park signage. 
  • Replacing the existing worn railings at the bridge entrance and across the bridge; 
  • Re-surface the road across the bridge to provide an even and consistent finish. 
  • Re-surface the riverside trail from the bridge to match the trail further along.
  • Improve the access point between the bridge and the Wandle Trail itself. 
  • Undertake improvements to the riverside vegetation; 
  • Undertake an art project to transform the bare concrete wall to one side of the trail; 
  • Upgrade the five lamp columns along the trail up to the borough boundary.

We are very pleased that this application was successful and another part of our ward can be improved.  The work will start in late October and is due to be completed in December.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Reflections on Chestnut Avenue

Now that the trees on Chestnut Avenue have been felled and replaced with a new avenue of small-leafed limes I want to explain why I think the outcome is the best possible for Tooting Common.  Green space is very important in our large city and we are lucky in Wandsworth to have so much of it on our doorstep.  Managing these spaces for current users and protecting it for future generations are important tasks for the Council.

The Avenue

Chestnut Avenue was a beautiful feature of Tooting Common which had been cherished by locals for over a hundred years.  It is generally accepted that some of these trees had succumbed to disease; some had already fallen down and it is likely that at the very least the others would need serious remedial work or felling in order to prevent danger to the public.  It is possible that not all of the trees would have been affected by the disease and could have survived as wonderful specimens for another generation.  It is equally possible that the disease could have spread.  Either way I think it is accepted that the character of the avenue was changing.

This process of caring for, clearing and replanting trees would lead eventually from a formal, uniform feature to a less formal, more random array of fewer but nevertheless fine trees.  Many who have commented on the Council’s actions have no doubt contemplated this outcome and would have been happy with a more naturalistic appearance in order to save those trees that might have been saved.  I respect this viewpoint and note the many contributions from notable tree experts who recommended this course of action.  I don’t want to dispute their views as I am not nearly as knowledgeable as them.  The point is that this course of action would not have maintained an avenue.

The Heritage Lottery Fund and the Council took the view that clearing all the trees in order to plant new, healthy trees that will form a uniform avenue, resistant to disease, would be the best way of preserving the feature for future generations.  Those who accept the naturalistic outcome will never agree that this was the right thing to do and I understand that.  However, I feel that making a sacrifice of our present enjoyment of a dwindling resource that was Chestnut Avenue in order to create a wonderful feature for the future was a worthwhile sacrifice to make.  It is so rare, nowadays, for truly long-term investments of this nature to be made.  The Victorians did this all the time knowing that what they planted would not fully be enjoyed in their lifetimes.  Chestnut Avenue itself is one such example.  They cleared away an Elizabethan avenue of oak trees which was no doubt in decline in order to create the avenue we have enjoyed.  We thank them for it and don’t recall any objections that may have been made at the time.  I strongly hope and believe that future locals will feel this way about the new avenue.

Why now?

There is an argument that replanting could have been deferred until the natural lives of all the trees on the avenue had passed.  That would only have been possible if the funding to plant a new avenue could be guaranteed at some unspecified time in the future.  Of course this isn’t possible.  We have been extremely lucky to have a grant available just when it was needed.  On that basis it was the sensible option to take the money and fix the problem now.  I make no apologies for supporting this prudent decision.  That is how Wandsworth Council gets best value for residents’ money.

The politics

I don’t wish to rake over the process by which we arrived at this point.  A lot of words have already been written about the petition; the disputed consultation; the switch from support to opposition by Labour councillors.  It was apparent to me that many felt the Council wasn’t listening but I and my colleagues must have read nearly every article and tweet on this very sensitive issue.  I do understand the fact that opponents were motivated more by the desire to preserve what we had than by the legacy we will now endow. 


Whilst we may have disagreed, I believe both sides were motivated by a wish for what is best for Tooting Common.  There are many other reasons that the Council took the decision it did but I hope I have explained adequately why I support the action taken.  I also hope that as the new avenue takes shape locals will come to love it.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Wimbledon Stadium

My submission to the Mayor of London's consultation:

Dear Sir,

I am writing as Wandsworth Borough Councillor for Earlsfield on behalf of my residents who have expressed concern over the planned development of the Stadium.  My ward abuts the area proposed for development and I believe will experience a greater impact as a result of the project than any part of Merton.

The prime concern surrounds transport.  I don't believe the traffic modelling that was carried out for the application was at all adequate.  Whilst it acknowledged that the surrounding roads already struggle to cope with often high volumes of traffic it did not accept that the development itself would add to the traffic burden.  In all the assumptions used only the most optimistic scenario was considered.  For example on match days it was assumed that no fans would drive to the venue and that in any case matches would not take place at peak traffic times.  This was predicated on the fact that no parking provision is proposed for fans and the assumption that surrounding areas would amend parking restrictions as a deterrent.  As such no mitigating provisions were deemed necessary.

In addition despite the assumption that all 20,000 fans would walk or take public transport to the stadium they again took the optimistic assumption that peak times would not be affected and fans would disperse widely and thereby avoid overcrowding at certain stations, roads or bus stops.  Regular users of Earlsfield Station, the closest overland station to the site, are surprised by that given the fact that peak times already causes severe overcrowding at the station.  Again as a result of optimistic assumptions no mitigation is proposed.

Locals are also aware of the flooding problems at the site and are surprised by the downgrading of the risk.  There are some design features to help deal with this but as a downgraded risk it may not be sufficient for the worst case scenario.

Finally local services.  Local schools, GP services and the local hospital will come under increased pressure after the development, most of which falls in my ward or nearby in my Borough.  Again the best case data was used to demonstrate these were not an issue and nothing is offered to help deal with it.  My residents are understandably not reassured.

As a result of the great impact this development may have on residents across the Borough boundary from Merton it was strongly felt that the Mayor of London should have the final decision in the interests of both Boroughs and London as a whole.  The previous Mayor agreed with this position and "called the plans in".  The new Mayor should take responsibility as he promised to during his election campaign so that the fears expressed above can be fairly dealt with.

I want to see the site developed and for it to enhance an otherwise shabby part of Merton.  However, the plan on offer is not one that my residents deserve.  They are not against AFC Wimbledon making a new home near to the old home of Wimbledon FC, but they do not want emotion to lead to acceptance of a new stadium at any cost.

I hope the Mayor takes this responsibility seriously so that a better plan can be drawn up for this area.


Cllr Charles A Lescott
Earlsfield Ward

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Brexit - Wandsworth Council Debate

Last week the Council debated the impact of the vote to leave the EU on the Borough.  It was very interesting but a lot of contributions strayed from what we have powers over in our capacity as councillors.  In my speech I tried to bring it back to what we do.  Here is the full transcript which I deviated from only slightly on the night:

I find it a little strange coming to this place to make a speech about political events way beyond its remit.  The temptation would be to expound grandly on matters of liberty, sovereignty, foreign policy and economics but our job is to serve our residents on local issues and that is what we should continue to do.Nevertheless, Brexit will have far reaching effects for Wandsworth and the rest of the country.  Most of these are best handled by Central Government and our colleagues in the House of Commons.  We welcome the smooth transfer of power that took place last week with Prime Minister May providing the unity, strength, stability and continuity that this country needs during its Brexit negotiations.  It is gratifying that two of Wandsworth’s MPs are members of that Government.   I know that our new MP for Tooting will want to hold that Government to account as part of a strong opposition…as soon as that emerges. 
Of course there are effects that may impact the Council and concern our residents.  Pessimists say the economy could suffer.  Any downturn will increase reliance on our services and could affect the resources we have available to provide them.  Residents should be reassured that the policy of this Council will continue to be to provide efficient services, manage our budget tightly and keep Council Tax low.  We understand the impact Council Tax bills can have on personal finances. 
The economy will inevitably affect the demand for housing of all tenures and the level of homelessness across the country.  Wandsworth Council will continue to work hard to attract investment in new, redeveloped and improved housing within the Borough for a mix of tenures and social needs.  We cannot solve national housing problems within our heavily built-up area but we shall continue our efforts to meet the housing needs of our residents. 
Wandsworth is part of London’s vibrant economy and the Council will continue to work with our new Mayor to support London’s businesses as it did with the last.  Many of our residents work in the City so the success of the financial sector is doubly important.  The new underground links with the Northern Line extension and Crossrail 2 are vital in that regard and as one project is well advanced the Council should be fighting hard for the second to bring vital benefits to our part of London. 
Wandsworth has a cultural mix which reflects the ethnic make-up of its residents.  For a long time the Borough has attracted people from all over the world and the Council does a lot of work to help assimilation.  One of the concerns outlined in this motion is the fear of a possible rise in intolerance towards residents from other countries.  It is reassuring to note that the police have reported no significant increase in reported incidents that might be related to the referendum.  Wandsworth does not have an immigration policy but whatever the basis on which the Government allows immigration after Brexit we will continue to welcome and assimilate people from all over the world. 
The Council therefore should carry on as normal.  We should continue to provide excellent services and low Council Tax for all our residents.  We should continue to deal with those day-to-day concerns from residents we meet on the doorstep and in our surgeries.  We should continue to fight for the improvements that our residents demand. 
But we should do more than this.  Brexit doesn’t simply present risks to Wandsworth that need managing.  Brexit presents a great many opportunities and the reason I support this motion is that it accepts the result and looks forward to the future success the country can enjoy outside the EU. 
It is true that more Wandsworth residents voted to Remain than voted to Leave so where does that leave us?  We should remember that Wandsworth is a part of the UK and not a metropolitan region of the continent.  Wandsworth cannot separate from the rest of the UK.  There is no campaign for Wanxit! 
We should not continue the arguments of the referendum campaign and let them affect what we do as a Council.  The referendum is over and we have a strong Government focussing on getting the best deal for the country which we should support.  The campaign to Remain should not now be used to create division or fear in our residents.    
We should be proud that this country has been able to settle an important constitutional matter peacefully and democratically when so many countries around the world are suffering violent upheaval.  
Our new Prime Minister in her first speech in Downing Street spoke of her commitment to Unionism.  I believe we should also serve Wandsworth with the same commitment.  We must strive to be united within Wandsworth and with the rest of the UK and remain open to the rest of the world.

See a video of my speech here.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Garratt Park Children's Centre

I have spoken to many concerned parents in Earlsfield about the Children's Centre and the service provided on the Henry Prince Estate.  Wandsworth Council recently finished a consultation on the way forward for these as well as Balham Nursery School.  Having contacted the Cabinet Member for Children's Services I am pleased that there is no intention to stop the stay & play at either centre, including the sessions at the Henry Prince, just some of the extra services that have occasionally used the centres.  Garratt Park has always been an outreach centre offering stay & play with occasional visits from other professionals.  These services for those families that need extra support are better offered in the main Children Centres.  This would be at Smallwood School for Earlsfield residents. 

The main change is that stay & play will now be available for a nominal charge rather than free.  I understand that those who can afford to pay a minimal fee per session are happy to do so for the provision to continue.  In addition Wandsworth Council will look into offering a free resident pass to those families who need it, including those living on the Henry Prince estate, and charging a minimal fee per session to other users. 

I understand how important the Garratt Park centre is for young families in Earlsfield as my own son went many times before starting nursery.  It is important families have access to all the services that they need as well as places to meet and engage with other new parents.  Wandsworth Council has never had any intention of closing Garratt Park or the Henry Prince provision.  However, the Council have to make savings and are looking at ways of maintaining a free service for those that need it, but charging a notional fee to those that can afford to pay and want to use the service, so that Council funds are targeted at those most in need.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Wimbledon Stadium

AFC Wimbledon took one step closer to promotion last night by reaching the League 2 play-off final.  Many locals will be delighted but for some residents of Earlsfield and Tooting the concern over the stadium development is still very real and should be an issue in the upcoming by-election.

Dan Watkins wrote a few weeks ago about the decision of the outgoing Mayor of London to call in the application here...

Dan has campaigned hard on this issue and I hope he is elected to continue his good work.  As Earlsfield councillor I will work hard with our new MP to make sure the new Mayor of London doesn't forget the interests of his former constituents when he comes to his decision.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Formula E - Speech to Full Council, 9 December 2015

For those who are interested in the speech I made during the debate on Formula E at the recent meeting of Wandsworth Borough Council here it is in full:

I hope Cllr Cousins and Cllr Jones are listening as they sometimes miss what I say… 
If so I’m pleased because at the meeting last month when we agreed that Formula E should return to Battersea Park we listened gratefully to Cllr Cousins as he praised the Council for its imagination and creativity in attracting events such as Formula E to the Borough, but also to the objections of the petitioners he represented. 
We listened carefully to the five deputations as they articulated their concerns. 
We listened to Professor Ekins agree with me that Formula E was about reducing future carbon emissions and couldn’t be carbon neutral itself.  We listened as he expressed support for Formula E, but not if it took place in his local park. 
We listened sympathetically to park users, including the old, infirm, vulnerable or blind, as they explained how disruption to the park affects their lives. 
We listened to Officers and Enable explain under questioning from both sides how disruption can be limited and difficulties can be mitigated. 
We listened as Officers set out the financial implications to the Borough of not continuing the event. 
We listened to the list of benefits the Park could enjoy with £200,000 a year of Formula E funding. 
We listened to Labour councillors explain their change of heart. 
We listened to protesters heckling. 
And finally we listened to people telling us we weren’t listening! 
But let’s be clear: Listening to something is not the same as agreeing with it.  But we did agree on so many things: 
We agreed that damage to the Park should be avoided or repaired quickly when unavoidable.  We agreed that closure of the Park should be minimised over the set up and clear up stages; that signage needs to be better; that health and safety is a priority; that noise should be reduced; and that helicopters shouldn’t be hovering around the neighbourhood on race weekend.
We also agreed that regrettably for some, hosting the event simply would never be acceptable. 
It is all a far cry from the decision over a year ago when Labour and Conservative councillors agreed to host Formula E.  Or is it?  What has changed? 
We all knew some local residents didn’t want it to take place.  They still don’t. 
We all knew that there may be problems with hosting the event.  There were problems and they need to be dealt with. 
We all knew the potential revenue for the Borough and the Park.  This has been realised and is set to continue. 
We all hoped that this would be a popular event, with an excellent atmosphere.  And so it proved with nearly 60,000 spectators, thousands from within the Borough. 
When the decision was made in 2014, right up to aftermath of the races, Labour Councillors tweeted enthusiastically about the event: 
Cllr Anderson said it was a great opportunity. 
Cllr Jones welcomed the advance of green technology. 
Cllr Carpenter encouraged locals to enter ballots for tickets. 
And Cllr McKinney celebrated the victory of a racer from Roehampton. 
At the meeting last month Cllr Speck spoke movingly about the residents she had spoken to who enjoyed it, who wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to attend a world class sporting event on their doorstep at such a low price.  She spoke of the fact that these people can’t organise into an effective lobby and their voices aren’t easily heard. 
Only one thing has changed since we agreed Formula E.  A significant protest has been mounted by angry residents and Councillors have faced a powerful campaign of very articulate objections. 
Conservative Councillors have withstood this barrage, whilst Labour has neatly stepped to one side. 
Was it cowardice or calculation? 
Labour Councillors described the report into Formula E as “Damning”.  However one of the deputations described it as “Biased”.  My view is that the report was thorough.  It covered every expressed objection, it quantified the problems and it offered solutions.  It cannot reasonably form the basis of Labour’s change of heart. 
Labour Councillors have also failed to address the consequences of a decision to pull out.  We all had the gold papers with the financial implications of not going ahead.  We all know that the Borough needs to make savings.  Labour Councillors didn’t even consider this.  They offered no suggestions how the Council can meet this shortfall.  They made no suggestions of where they would make the savings necessary without this revenue.  They didn’t seem to grasp that this wasn’t a revenue neutral decision. 
I’m sorry to make that partisan point.  This was not a partisan matter until Labour withdrew its support.  It would have been great if the positive manner in which the original decision was made had continued.  We would welcome Labour’s suggestions on addressing resident’s concerns.  The party of the community could have made suggestions such as arranging volunteers to take vulnerable people to one of our other parks on the days Battersea is closed.  Organising dog walkers to band together and find alternative routes.  Or offering to guide people to the parts of the Park that remain open, such as the blind gentleman who spoke to us. 
Formula E could be a great community event but Labour has chosen not to be involved.  Instead they are telling residents in other parts of the Borough that they wish to cut services important to them in order to subsidise Battersea Park and keep it clear for the lucky few who live nearby. 
I find that a terrible shame.

Update: Now available on YouTube here.