Labour motion defeated despite Societies’ backing

Authors: Cyril Richert with Julia Matcham and Jaqui Bowers for the impressions from the gallery

In the Council chamber speaking in the debate on Planning. Credit: Cllr Peter Carpenter ‏@RoehamptonCllr

In the Council chamber speaking in the debate on Planning. Credit: Cllr Peter Carpenter ‏@RoehamptonCllr

At the initiative of the Labour Group, a motion citing the public opposition to tall buildings and excessive development (as expressed so often by the Wandsworth Society, the Battersea Society and the Putney Society) was defeated by the Tory Councillors in Wednesday (5th February 2014) full Council meeting.

The motion, called “Planning for People not Profits“, was presented on the Friday before by Labour Councillors Carpenter and Belton. It said:

(a) This Council notes:-

(i) the public’s opposition to the excessive growth of high rise blocks as expressed by the Wandsworth Society, the Battersea Society and the Putney Society;

(ii) the need for an increasing not a decreasing proportion of affordable housing in new developments;

(iii) the need to avoid excessive development on sites and to ensure the provision of community facilities within new developments; and

(iv) that the Council has adopted planning policies to safeguard against these excesses and deficiencies

(b) This Council therefore resolves to ask the Planning Applications Committee not to approve planning applications which they deem, following due consideration of the planning merits of each application, to be in material breach of Wandsworth Council’s adopted planning policies .

The motion (drafted by the Labour Group, independently of the Societies’ knowledge) asked the Council to note certain things such as the general disapproval of so much high rise as commented on by Putney, Battersea, and Wandsworth Societies in the recent years; seek the increase in affordable housing rather than a decrease; ask the Planning Application Committee not to approve applications that go against council policies.

It was introduced as a non-contentious motion intended to achieve consensus irrespective of party allegiance. Indeed it is difficult to see how it could be considered objectionable, apart from the implied criticism of the Planning Applications Committee that they had been approving applications that were in breach of the Council’s adopted planning policies.

However, the motion was defeated, voting was on party lines: 35 against, 13 in favour.

Impressions from the Gallery

There is something quite medieval about the scene. The lady Mayor in  her golden necklace in the centre of the stage and the tall chairs occupied by important people in a row each side of her looks like something out of an ancient painting. This impression is made the more so by anachronistically starting the event with a Prayer.

The public are in the Gallery overlooking the whole scene although the sight lines necessitate a large screen upon which is projected the current speaker. Due to the poor acoustics, it is incredibly hard to hear some of the Councillors (it is also an issue in the Planning Committee room).

As might be expected from a Council which is predominantly Tory and therefore always gets its own way, all the exchanges were mostly of the Ya Boo variety: “When you were in power“….etc.! It wouldn’t have mattered how rationally those on the left put their cases, they were trampled underfoot. Councillor Nick Cuff was reading a newspaper which drew a strident comment from the Gallery about what we paid them to do! A brief moment of entertainment!

When we got to our Item 18 ‘Planning for people not profits’ the title was immediately sneered at by Councillor Knowles who argued for the sanctity of profits and how it was laughable for people to ignore that. He added that due to immigration, it was necessary to build high. Councillor Nick Cuff (who is chairing the planning committee every month) said that, in a recent survey [1], residents of Wandsworth were not interested in Planning; they were indeed much more interested in refuse collections. [yet why is it that Wandsworth Planning meetings have a greater number of the public attending than any other?]. The Tory Councillors told us about how they had beaten their own targets for affordable housing over the last 5 years and gave a lot of figures about the number of people living in our borough and how they all needed houses and going up was the only way to fit them in.

It was pointed out in response that the housing wasn’t going to people from our borough but very frequently bought as an investment and left empty. It was also reminded to the Tory Councillors that they were only being asked that the Council should not be in ‘material breach of Wandsworth Council’s adopted planning policies’.

The argument about tall buildings not being what people wanted was supported by several Labour Councillors, including Councillor Tony Belton who pointed out that 70% of the Battersea Wharf area was buy-to-let, and Councillor Rex Osborn who asked Councillors to allow resident representation at Planning meetings in line with many other local authority’ planning meeting.

Needless to say the Motion’ wasn’t supported.

The video of the meeting should be available at some point HERE.

[1] From the Report by the Chief Executive and Director of Administration on results of the 2013 survey of Wandsworth residents and presented to the Finance and Corporate Resources overview and scrutiny Committee 20th Nov 2013. The range of other services/issues was cited by fewer than 10% of responses. Perhaps surprisingly, Council Tax was mentioned by only 1%, less than 0.5% mentioned Education/schools, policing or parking and just 2 people cited Planning as having a big impact on their views of the Council.

PS: another motion asking the Council for a consultation to introduce a 20mph default speed limit on our residential urban streets, borough-wide, instead of considering petitions for a specific street one by one, has been refused by the Tory majority A sad night for Wandsworth residents!

In today’s press release the Council is only consulting local people in two wards (Bedford in Balham and Furzedown in Tooting). Not really “saying to people across the borough ‘do you want a 20mph limit in your neighbourhood’” as stated by Cabinet member Cllr Russell King.

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