Steve Reed, Labour’s candidate for Thursday’s Croydon North by-election, wants to be judged on his record in Lambeth. SEAN CREIGHTON talks to community groups about the council leader’s job creation claims
A key claim in Steve Reed’s campaign to be elected as the Labour MP for Croydon North has been that he can help to bring regeneration and, most important of all, jobs to the area, all based on his experience while leader of Lambeth Council in creating 25,000 jobs.
Yet such claims only create concerns about whether Reed is on the usual politician’s ego trip, especially when you look behind the rhetoric.
Reed’s 25,000 jobs claim relates to a project centred on the long-disused Battersea Power Station site in what is snappily called the “Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area”.
In reality, Reed has no real power to influence the regeneration because what is happening there is powered by forces beyond his and Lambeth Council’s control: London’s Mayor backed by the government and commercial developers. The area of Lambeth, Vauxhall, is just a small part of the Opportunity Area, most of which is in Tory-controlled Wandsworth, an authority which loves the commercial developer solution.
Reed has signed up to letting developers impose their tower blocks, offices and hotels, without any real gains to the local communities that will be affected, and largely ignoring their opposition and concerns. Many of those jobs that will be created will be low-paid, possibly not even at the London Living Wage level.
Vauxhall people observe that “regeneration” in Vauxhall means the South Bank at nearby Waterloo gets all the concert halls and culture, while all Vauxhall gets is tower blocks for the rich. A journalist on the Evening Standard argued on Friday what is being created in Vauxhall is “a mini-Manhattan”.
“I don’t think that ‘London’s third city’, should be a ghetto for the rich,” Nick Curtis wrote. He reminds us that the St George’s tower block being built at Vauxhall was given the go-ahead by former Labour deputy PM John Prescott “against local objections”. He appeals to Nick Clegg “to insist that a proportion of this riverside district … stays affordable.”
Ross Davies, the chairman of the apolitical consultative group The Vauxhall Society, said, “The Vauxhall Society has members of many political persuasions and none. Few of them will be surprised that Mr Reed, a self-styled apostle of ‘regeneration’ in Lambeth, has chosen not to present himself at the General Election to the voters of Vauxhall on his regeneration record, or indeed at all, and has chosen instead to fight a by-election elsewhere at Croydon North.
“Behind the expensive, publicly funded hype, it is difficult to see that Lambeth Council under its leader Mr Reed has had any tangible influence on ‘regeneration’ in the Vauxhall section of the Vauxhall Nine Elms Partnership ‘Opportunity Area’. Lambeth Council (most of whose area is in the Vauxhall parliamentary constituency) woke up late in the day to the fact that first a Labour Mayor, Ken Livingstone, then his Tory successor, Boris Johnson, were determined to grant an ‘opportunity’ to property developers locally, namely great leeway to build skyscrapers of expensive flats and little else, hogging the riverside where Lambeth and Wandsworth meet,” Davies said.
“These skyscrapers could be taller and contain fewer ‘affordable homes’ than Lambeth’s own rules require, and much of the remainder, many assume, will be affordable only by infrequently resident tax-dodgers.
“Big money and therefore political influence now beckoned, so late in the day Labour Lambeth frantically ran after Tory Wandsworth crying ‘Me too! Me too!’,” Davies said.
“Wandsworth seized its chance to collar much of this development money, particularly as much of that development is in sparsely populated areas of Wandsworth that, however, adjoin the heavily populated and already congested and polluted area of Lambeth around Vauxhall Bridge.
“Much of the future traffic congestion, air pollution and wind turbulence that ‘regeneration’ will generate will therefore be in Vauxhall, not Wandsworth.
“Wandsworth gleefully assented to the demands of some developers for an extension of the Northern Line Tube because the Mayor’s Transport for London has imposed a route to be dug underneath Lambeth, to just over the Wandsworth border at Battersea Power Station.
“This Tube line will be dug and noisily run with the attendant mess yet without compensation under houses in Vauxhall, not Wandsworth. Worse still, in a move likely to cost Mr Reed’s party dear at the 2014 Lambeth council elections, Lambeth finds itself ordered to pay an unspecified amount of the as-yet unknown cost of a Tube line that Lambeth did not know it needed until Mr Johnson told Mr Reed so. Lambeth’s Council Tax freeze lasts until 2014.”
The Vauxhall Society official is unimpressed: “Lambeth under Mr Reed has fiddled around for years with plans for the ‘regeneration’ of Vauxhall and now it’s being done (after a fashion) for him and for Labour Lambeth by a Tory Mayor and Wandsworth, Lambeth’s neighbouring Tory borough. Some might say ‘Some record, some electioneering slogan’.”
As an opposition MP for a constituency in Tory-controlled Croydon, Reed will have very little influence on the emerging local economic development policy. Croydon Labour will need to think very carefully about what local economic development strategy should be offered the electors at the local council vote in 2014.
The statistic that 1 in 4 Croydon kids are in the poverty trap, taken alongside the collapsing local and the lack of action to support the business victims of last year’s riots, makes it increasingly urgent for the development of a strategy which addresses the real needs of the local people, and not the profits that developers think they may be able to make.
Poverty takes many forms. Low income is just one factor. Others include long-term health problems, as first identified by Professor Peter Townsend at the Child Poverty Action Group executive committee in the 1970s (“the inequalities of health”), at a time that the late Malcolm Wicks and I were both members. Croydon North needs an MP who will continue to work on the economic and anti-poverty challenge, continuing the real legacy of Malcolm Wicks, not just paying lip service to it.
- Sean Creighton has been a Norbury resident since July 2011
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