Wandsworth council is a property empire with a sideline in local government

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The most remarkable thing about this year’s Wandsworth Council budget was that – despite the spending reductions – £18m was actually put into reserves.

Wandsworth council continually sells off property and the resulting financial muscle helps to subsidise the day-to-day running costs of the council.

Property prices are sky-high, so Wandsworth sells land, banks the capital receipt and then deploys “capital solutions to revenue problems” in following years.

This strategy is possible due to the booming local housing market. In 2012/3 Wandsworth’s housing assets were worth £3.22bn. Then local average prices rose 17.6pc – so the council’s assets increased in value by more than £600m last year.

The land that the council sells off is most often in deprived areas such as Latchmere ward, which I represent. Last time I asked for the figures, the council made £11.6m from sell-offs in Latchmere and invested only £2.1m in the ward (capital income & expenditure over a three-year period).

Wandsworth’s interest in the property market has led it into unhealthy relationships with large property developers. The Putney Society, Wandsworth Society and Clapham Junction Action Group recently lay out in forensic detail how Wandsworth has “circumvented both its own and national policies” when dealing with high-profile planning applications.

Even as its property wealth grows, the council is shrinking.

The Tory leadership continues to reduce the range of services the council offers. They recently decided to cut council meetings from six a year to four. They refuse to build new homes despite a projected £1.8bn surplus on the Housing Revenue Account.

As the assets pile up and services for residents are scaled back, the council’s core mission becomes clear.

At heart, Wandsworth council is a property empire with a sideline in local government.

Meet Charles: 90-year-old veteran of WWII’s Forgotten Army

Charles is a 90-year-old veteran of the 14th Army in Burma in WWII. It was a privilege to meet him today on the Battersea Fields Estate.

He was keen to talk about the role of the ‘forgotten’ 14th Army in Burma where he served 70 years ago.

Battersea boy Charles says he was “bloody lucky” when he was shot in the arm in World War Two.

Listen to him explain how he had friends less fortunate:

 

Charles told me he’s the soldier leaping from the boat on the front cover of “Forgotten Voices of Burma”

Forgotten Voices of Burma

In the recording below he tells me he didn’t know the photographer was there and very nearly shot him!

 

It was extraordinary to meet Charles and hear his vivid memories of the things he went through when he was 19 & 20 years old. I will remember him.

Why was the Winstanley Estate built?

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I was excited to find this 1938 ‘Britain from Above‘ photograph – the first time I’ve seen the houses that Winstanley Estate replaced.

This is how the same Winstanley area looks today – not one building remains from 1938.

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Wandsworth council recently announced a regeneration plan that will demolish much of the estate over the next decade – including 700 homes built in the 1960s and 1970s.

When the above aerial photograph was taken in 1938, the Winstanley area was already earmarked for slum clearance. Then wartime bombing shattered thousands of Battersea homes. Continue reading

Winstanley regeneration is about building communities, not just homes

Wendy Speck on the Kambala Estate

Latchmere Labour councillor Wendy Speck

Guest post by councillor Wendy Speck

Regeneration to me is about building homes and a good, safe community people are proud to live in.

It is not that long since the riots in Clapham Junction, when the whole community was unsettled and we, as local councillors have worked hard in Latchmere and in the local community to see how we can make things better for our local residents.

We have worked to keep our local library and community hall open (which meant being active on the local Friends of York Gardens Library Committee) and the planning group for the Big Local Lottery funding, which covers some of the area, taking part in meetings and activities of many local groups and so on, so they were encouraged to see their area prosper.

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7 reasons why Wandsworth’s low council tax is right

Councillor Simon Hogg listens to ideas for regenerating the local area

Council tax is unfair to older people, renters and those on low incomes. Here are the reasons why I will be voting to freeze Wandsworth’s council tax this year:

1. Council Tax hits the poorest hardest

The multi-billionaire Warren Buffet once noted that while he paid 17.7 per cent of his income in taxes, his receptionist was unfairly asked to contribute 30 per cent.

Council tax has a similar ‘regressive’ impact. Wandsworth’s Band D council tax is almost 5 per cent of after-tax income for Peter, a security guard who lives in Latchmere, the ward I represent. For his near-neighbour Rakesh, a solicitor, it is much less than 1 per cent of his income. Hundreds of my constituents have told me that they enjoy Wandsworth’s low council tax. I know some who simply couldn’t afford to pay more.

2. Council tax only funds 5% of Wandsworth’s budget – so increasing it would not raise much money

In the financial year 2013/14, Wandsworth council budgeted to spend over £900 million. It raised only £45 million of this through council tax.

The maximum increase without a local referendum for Wandsworth in 2014/15 would be 2 per cent, or £900,000. If the council increased tax by the maximum allowed it would only raise enough money to cover 0.1pc of its annual budget. Or to put it another way, enough money to run the council for another 8 hours.

While Wandsworth raises £45m a year from council tax, parking charges raise £29 million.

The serious taxes still go to central government: last year Wandsworth residents paid an astonishing £121m in stamp duty (plus of course many hundreds of million in income taxes).

3. Council tax assumes that because you have a nice house you are rich

Many older people on low, fixed incomes have been unfairly caught in this trap. Helen lives in the family home near Wandsworth Common that she has occupied since the 1970s. A graphic designer, she has never earned more than £20,000 in a year, but now faces a council tax bill the same size as her multi-millionaire neighbours.

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Flood risks in north Battersea

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A Flood Alert has been issued by the Environment Agency for the River Wandle.

Flooding is possible for the River Wandle Catchment (which includes Wandsworth, Merton, Lambeth, Croydon and Sutton).

Low lying land and roads will be affected first.

River levels are expected to rise through this afternoon (Friday) in response to persistent and heavy rainfall through today. Between 20 and 30mm is forecast and further isolated showers are likely to continue through to Saturday.

Flooding of low lying land and roads is possible. Groundwater levels are high in the area and is maintaining a higher than normal base flows in the river. Property flooding is currently not expected.  Continue reading

Winstanley Estate regeneration: 10 problems – and how we can make it a success

(Speech to Wandsworth council, December 2013 – starts at 31.30mins)

I think this crucial regeneration project has begun well, thanks to hard work by staff and consultants, co-operation between political parties and, crucially, engagement from local people. Who have, so far, backed the most bold option put in front of them.

It is a mighty challenge now for the council to sell the benefits of potentially demolishing 700 homes and replacing them with around 2,000 new homes – perhaps a billion pounds of new housing – on that estate.

Continue reading