‘Say something nice about Lambeth Council for a change’

proposed brixton hoarding

proposed brixton hoardingThat’s the challenge from a Vauxhall Society member, who says it’s ‘boring’ to read repeated criticisms of Lambeth’s property-development ambitions.

The short answer is ‘Boring to read? Try writing the stuff’.

The Vauxhall Society objects to few development proposals, perhaps less than one in 20, and even then it’s often at the behest of a TVS community-association member.

The problem is that Lambeth Council sees Vauxhall as a cash cow and will push through any planning horror hereabouts in order to splash out on more populous parts of the borough where the votes are.

A challenge, however, is a challenge.

Here’s a nice thing to say about Lambeth Council: they have just rejected an application to erect a vast Piccadilly Circus-style LED hoarding which would have masked a listed building in Brixton town centre, opposite the Ritzy Cinema.

Our local friends, The Brixton Society, successfully objected that the row of digital billboards would be an ‘absurd intrusion’ and bad for business.

That’s the kind of planning rejection TVS members would love to see more of in anything-goes Vauxhall.

Mind you, those shops in the Brixton Arches are still under threat…

The Brixton Society objection to LED hoarding

LED hoarding rejected

Information Commissioner orders Lambeth to come clean on secret Kennington Park, Kennington Green and Vauxhall developer deals

keybridge house (proposed)

keybridge-north-along-South-Lambeth-RoadThe Government’s Information Commissioners’ Office (ICO) has ruled against Lambeth Council’s refusal to divulge correspondence on the secret deals it does with property developers.

The ruling, logged on the Kennington Oval & Vauxhall Forum website, shows that ICO has thrown out Lambeth’s plea of commercial confidentiality and the ‘unreasonable’ cost of complying with a Freedom of Information Act request. ICO gave Lambeth 35 days to issue a fresh response or face High Court proceedings for contempt. The ICO findings do not nullify the secret Lambeth deals but increase the pressure on the Department of Communities and Local Government to investigate whether abuse of process is systematic in Lambeth.

The information requests, from the then-chairman of the Kennington Oval & Vauxhall Forum, concern two ‘confidential’ Lambeth Council deals. Lambeth struck one secret deal with British Telecom over the huge Keybridge House development on South Lambeth Road, Vauxhall, and what Lambeth viewed as the ‘insignificant’ issue of going back on its own policy of requiring that 4O% of new homes in any development be ‘affordable’.

ICO dismissed Lambeth’s case for secrecy and pointed out that the Keybridge House redevelopment was not ‘universally lauded’. The Vauxhall Society, ICO reported, ‘criticised’ Lambeth for going back on its professed duty to ‘develop and sustain stable neighbourhoods’ in allowing only 2.4% of Keybridge House homes to be ‘affordable’ instead of Lambeth’s own requirement of 40%.

A second secret deal the public authority struck was with another public authority, Transport for London, on the price for and conditions of handing over to TfL parts of Kennington Park and Kennington Green for the construction of the Northern Line Extension. NLE will run under Vauxhall between Kennington Tube Station and the Sainsbury property development at the Vauxhall end of the Wandsworth Road in Wandsworth.

See the full ICO ruling on the KOVF website

Your free February Guided History Walk: Vauxhall in the Railway Age

Nine Elms Station
Nine Elms Station

Nine Elms Station

Wednesday, 25 February, 12.30-1.30pm

Your guide: Sean Creighton.

Join publisher, blogger and historian of south London Sean Creighton for an expert’s account of the profound social and industrial changes, for good and ill, wrought by the railway when it reached Vauxhall (1838) on its way from Southampton to Waterloo.

Free, but places are limited, so please book and find meeting-place by emailing info@vauxhallone.co.uk

vauxhall one logoYour monthly guided walk is by courtesy of Vauxhall One, by arrangement with The Vauxhall Society.

You can buy Ross Davies’s chatty, easy-to-carry full-colour paperback Vauxhall: A Little History at LASSCO, 30 Wandsworth Road, Vauxhall, London SW8 2LG, and here on The Vauxhall Society website.

Next month’s guided walk: William Blake’s Lambeth, your guide David Tootill, founder-director Southbank Mosaics. Monday, 16 March, 12.30-1.30pm.

Coming soon: Lambeth Local History Forum’s leaflet of all member societies’ walks May–October 2015.

Judge Sycamore and the Friends of Durning Library’s hellish Tree of Heaven 

tree of heaven durning library
tree of heaven durning library

Photo from Tradescant Road and South Lambeth blog. Copyright unknown.

There hasn’t been such a to-do about trees around here since the national press caught on to the Friends of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens support of Lambeth Council’s chopping down  of mulberry trees on the historic  site to make way for £300,000-worth of black concrete columns. The tangled tale of the Friends of Durning Library and their logjam over a Tree of Heaven has nothing to do with such vandalism. As with all that black concrete, however it has everything to do with Lambeth’s wastefulness. 

Now it’s probably fair to say that to a man and woman, the Friends of Durning Library are also friends of trees, usually, that is. But not of the species Tree of Heaven, or at least the one that Lambeth Council says ‘is located in the grounds of Durning Library’.  That’s putting it mildly, for this particular Ailanthus altissima (a fast growing breed) is ‘located’ around, beneath and above the English Heritage-listed Victorian library building itself. ‘Woodperson, don’t spare that tree!’might sum up the Durning Friends’ position. The Durning tree already projects well above the rear of the building. Roots and suckers, already strongly established beneath and beyond the structure, are reaching for adjoining properties. To hear the Friends of Durning Library talk, their infernal Tree of Heaven could soon be coming up through the library floor.

Lambeth councillors might from time to time wish that Trees of Heaven would throttle all the borough’s public libraries, so saving the council money and even more bad Press. For all that, there’s an expensive council consultation under way, ending Monday 23 February. This Tree of Heaven should be sent to meet its maker forthwith, the Friends of the Durning say. A Chinese immigrant, Ailanthus altissima has yet to make it onto the banned invasive species list, the garden-centre industry being no less vigorous in defence of this fast-grower than the Tree of Heaven is in self-defence.

Lambeth Council is terrified that its insurers will no longer cover the Durning if the tree stays. There is already ‘trespass’ of branches and roots onto neighbouring properties and if someone’s badly hurt, Lambeth’s consultants say, the personal liability could go all the way up the Lambeth Council tree to the new Chief Executive, Sean Harriss. If the council’s lawyers are good enough, the claims might not also cite Harriss’s predecessor Derrick Anderson, who left at the end of 2014, or  the Council Leader, currently Lib Peck.

The question of lop-or-leave has been in out of court for two years and may soon be back there. When Lambeth decided to lop in 2012, it did so without doing its homework. There was protest from a local resident or residents, one of whom is reputed to have said that the tree does a valuable good job in blotting out the view towards nearby council homes.

In 2013, the opposition secured an injunction giving tree a stay of execution, followed by permission to put the council’s decision to judicial review. In June last year, the exquisitely-named Judge Phillip Sycamore quashed the council’s decision because it failed to take account of the tree’s being in a Conservation Area. On the other hand, the Durning tree ‘belongs’ to Lambeth Council (as does the library), and is not subject to a Tree Preservation Order.  Lambeth might be free to reach for the chainsaw if the council can show that the current consultation does cover the Conservation issues, and that the Tree of Heaven is doing more harm than good to the Kennington Conservation Area. That’s assuming there’s no fresh legal challenge to the tree’s removal. Meanwhile, around the Durning Library ‘a number’ of other Trees of Heaven are now reaching for the celestial sky.

Had Lambeth Council done its homework before having a go at this Tree of Heaven, it could have saved many thousands of pounds of public money. But at least the lawyers are happy.

‘Tree of Hell threatens native plants’: www.independent.co.uk

Official report: www.lambeth.gov.uk

The stay of execution:


Friends of Durning Library: www.durninglibraryfriends.org.uk

The Blob: Now it blobs up in Oval and Kennington

aerial view of development area oval gasometers

aerial view of development area oval gasometersYour well-known local property developer Lambeth Council is this August to ask itself for the go-ahead to redevelop the lucrative gasometer site next to the Kia Oval.

This Lambeth will do in cahoots with a private developer, Berkeley, that via deals with the likes of Lambeth, leapfrogs the normal planning system. Berkeley assumes some of the role of a public body such as its partner Lambeth in the acceptance or rejection of applications for planning permission from the likes of itself, ‘itself’ being Berkeley. Or maybe Lambeth. Or maybe both. Call it Lamberkeley?

The chums have declared this plum development opportunity to be the ‘Oval and Kennington Development Area’. In a ‘Development Area’ whatever Lamberkeley wants to do it can and will.

Lamberkeley has engaged forty shillings, a PR firm that claims to be ‘opinion movers and opinion shakers’. This mover and shaker firm enables its clients to ‘take the essence of grassroots campaigning to build and execute bespoke campaigns that shift the agenda and get you results’.

The Oval and Kennington Development Area agenda is to be shifted between now and August when a ‘masterplan’ will go to Lambeth Council for ‘review’. Agenda-shifting kicks off with a six-week ‘public consultation’ in May-June.

Essential to ‘the masterplan process’ is ‘local input’. This ‘input’ will be put in via a ‘public feedback exhibition’ at the Kia Oval on Tuesday 24 February between 4pm and 8pm.

Lamberkeley have yet to say what they’re going to do to the gasometer site, but will give some idea at the exhibition, where Lamberkeley functionaries will be on hand to dodge such questions as ‘How is The Oval The Oval without a  gasometer?’ or  ‘Since Lamberkeley is judge and jury, what chance has “the public” got of making any changes Lamberkeley does not want?’.

What is ‘The Blob’?

Oval gasometers to go? (The Telegraph)

Oval and Kennington Development Area Masterplan exhibition material (from Wednesday 25 February)

The Blob: first it came for Vauxhall Bus Station, then it came for Vauxhall

the blob science fiction film 1958

the blob science fiction film 1958Well, dear resident of ‘Vauxhall’ did you know you no longer live in Vauxhall,?  Whatever you may think, you now apparently live in ‘Nine Elms on the South Bank’. Where? Never heard of it before? Well, according to ‘The Blob’, NESB ‘covers an area from the Albert Embankment at Lambeth Palace in the London Borough of Lambeth to Queenstown Road in the London Borough of Wandsworth’.

And ‘The Blob’?

Like ‘NESB’, ‘The Blob’ is another made-up word, this one borrowed from the 1958 and 1988 science-fiction films of that name. Back then, The Blob meant ‘an alien life-form, without soul or vertebrae, that consumes everything in its path as it grows and grows.’ Around here, it still does and as we see it in Vauxhall is presently composed of a faceless mass of local government functionaries and PR persons. Supercharged with money, public and private, and freed from local consent or regulation (such as a requirement that 40% of new homes should not be for the rich), The Blob slithers on and on.

Thus, you go to sleep in Vauxhall and wake up in NESB. Who says so? The Blob. Where did the Blob come from? Not from outer space, it seems, but from the office of the present and preceding Mayors of London, one Labour, one Tory, both of whom Think Big. So big that the thought became the deed, or at least The Blob. Around here, it began as ‘VNEB’ (for Vauxhall Nine Elms and Battersea). To this was tacked on ‘Opportunity Area’, so launching in the Middle and Far East a property gold rush along the Vauxhall bank of the Thames .

Blobbing along the riverbank little can grow in its wake except tall glass. It’s trying to do away with Vauxhall Bus Sation. Now The Blob apparently has engulfed and done away with ‘Vauxhall’ itself, a name dating back to the early 13th century. Vauxhall wasn’t consulted about being abolished in The Blob’s eyes, and there’s still a bit of Blob called the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership, but for how long the ‘Vauxhall’ bit will last, who can say? For box-ticking reasons, The Blob – through Richard Buckle, Head of Urban Design at the Mayor’s Transport for London – now seeks your thoughts on a ‘Public Realm Design Guide’. That’s the odd inch of green stuff between the swathes of ‘private realm’ or ‘all those absentee-owner flats and Chinese-owned hotels’.

Consultation (until 16 February):


What did The Blob ever do for you?


Save Vauxhall Bus Station online petition:

Sign the online petition

Read about the Save Vauxhall Bus Station campaign

Northern Line Extension: legal challenge withdrawn

northern line extension

northern line extensionLooks like it’s full speed ahead for the Northern Line Extension after the rapid-fire withdrawal of a High Court challenge to an Act of Parliament nodded through at Transport for London’s bidding.

The Transport Works Act OK’ing the start of building work on NLE sailed through Parliament on 13 October 2014.

But then notes for Lambeth Councillors ahead of the 9 February meeting of the Lambeth Cabinet referred to a ‘legal challenge’. A Thomas Bartlett had on 15 January been granted an injunction that would ‘delay the start of the [NLE] project, even if the challenge is quashed.’

But not to worry. Lo and behold, on 9 February, the very day of the Lambeth ‘Cabinet’ meeting, the High Court announced that Thomas Bartlett had withdrawn his objection. No details were given. A deal, it would seem, has been done. At a time of austerity and great financial and market uncertainty, Transport for London is now free to splash out vast sums of public money on an uncosted project of dubious value.

Except of course to Wandsworth developers and to TfL, which will operate NLE. With nobody willing or able to say how much NLE will cost, and given the propensity for public projects costs to balloon, it is still not clear that NLE will ever be completed,

Lambeth Council regards itself as a partner in NLE and is even putting money into it. NLE involves digging up Vauxhall to drive a second Tube tunnel under Vauxhall homes, many of which already have the noise and vibration from the Victoria line.


Read previous Vauxhall Society posts on the Northern Line Extension

Children in the art of Vauxhall Gardens

joshua reynolds vauxhall gardens link boy

joshua reynolds vauxhall gardens link boyOne of The Vauxhall Society’s aims has been to rescue and preserve our 40-year-old local history archive. Now the archive is online for all to see, and we are adding fresh material. The first offering of 2015, but by no means the last, is Miriam Al Jamil’s comparison of how children are portrayed in the art of Vauxhall Gardens and in that of another and linked showcase for British art, the Foundling Hospital. A tiny Vauxhall Gardens copper ‘season ticket’ of 1737 like this one figures in her study. In 1737 Vauxhall Gardens was just on the way to national and international celebrity as a pleasure resort.

vauxhall gardens copper  token

Image © David Coke

There a big story behind such a tiny thing as this season ticket, and it’s a heartbreaker. The ticket in our picture has no name inscribed upon the back, and so was probably handed out to a Vauxhall Gardens employee, a waiter perhaps or a musician. But the Vauxhall Gardens season ticket in Miriam Al Jamil’s study does have a name on the back. Moreover, this season ticket can be seen in the collection of the Foundling Museum, the art collection that is all that remains of the ‘Hospital’, which took in illegitimate children. The mothers, many illiterate, left behind a ‘token’ – in this case the season ticket – to identify the child should she be able to reclaim him or her. There was to be no happy ending in this case: that’s why the season ticket is still there at the Foundling Museum, as David Coke explains in a companion article on the Foundling Hospital tokens. And as Miriam Al Jamil points out, for sad stories you did not have to go further than the gates of Vauxhall Gardens and the children who congregated around them.

Does the way Lambeth’s handling our libraries suit your book?

minet library lambeth archives

What the blue blazes are Lambeth councillors up to with our libraries? Lambeth people were asked to give their views by 26 January on where Lambeth Archives, presently crammed into Myatt’s Fields’ Minet Library, should be rehoused.  The Vauxhall Society’s response was to recommend Vauxhall Cross or Kennington. A second Lambeth consultation, on selling off the Minet and Waterloo libraries, was announced four days later, 30 January, seeking your views by midnight on Friday, 24 April. On 30 January, however, a Brixton blogger was saying that the Archives move was a done deal and that Archives are off to Brixton. The same blog also infers that the second consultation is a waste of your time and Council Tax money. Lambeth councillors, it is alleged, have already decided not only to flog off the Minet and the Waterloo – they’re going to stop funding Kennington’s Durning Library, the Upper Norwood and Herne Hill’s Carnegie as well. If true, so much for the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s 1906 bequest, half a century before Lambeth Borough Council was itself was spawned and became the library’s owner. Lambeth says the money it nets for the Minet and Waterloo libraries will go into a £10 million endowment fund for ‘culture and library services. That kind of money, Lambeth adds, ‘could’ be enough to fund ‘five town centre’ and four ‘community ‘libraries’. What the council doesn’t say whether that’s new libraries or the present lot, whose budgets Lambeth bleeds with heavy ‘management charges’. An interesting note in the Lambeth ‘culture’ announcement is that over the next ten years the council expects the  population of this 3 by 7-mile  borough to rise by ‘more than 30,000’ (nearly a tenth) from its present 266,000 or so.

Brixton blog:


Lambeth’s ‘Consultation’: Cultural Services by 2020:

www.lambeth.gov.uk/culture2020consultation (and in all Lambeth libraries, while there still are some).

When Lambeth Archives wants to show what they’ve got, they have to telephone Morley College:


Kate Hoey: ‘You will now understand why the local community have been so clear that they did not trust TFL or Lambeth over the Vauxhall bus station plans. The community are usually proved right’

Vauxhall Bridgefoot TFL plans

Vauxhall Bridgefoot TFL plansWell, there you have it.

It’s as The Vauxhall Society has argued all along.

Transport for London is a property developer on the grand scale. Lambeth Council is TfL’s partner in Vauxhall, where travellers, buses and bus stations keep getting in the way.

And all the endless TfL/Lambeth ‘consultation/regeneration’ palaver about making the Vauxhall Gyratory two- rather than one-way? About the ‘need’ for doing away with Vauxhall Bus Station?

It’s all just that, palaver (OED: ‘talk intended to wheedle’). And wheedle? (‘to do a person out of thing by such action’). A smokescreen for property development.

TfL’s boss, Mayor Boris Johnson has announced that TfL is to become London’s largest commercial property developer.

No longer will TfL automatically sell ‘unwanted’ properties from its vast estate. Many will be retained to develop through commercial partnerships. Among the first of these ‘partnerships’? Why, Vauxhall Bus Station, of course.

Graeme Craig, TfL’s commercial development director, tells Property Week that his eye is on ‘development opportunities’ that include Vauxhall Bus Station, Kidbrooke Railway Station and Morden town centre.

In TfL’s book, one reason Vauxhall Bus Station has to go or be radically trimmed is to make way for shops. But The Vauxhall Society in the past has drawn attention to loose talk from a TFL employee about plans for a TfL skyscraper HQ on the bus station site.

If true, that would release for development another TfL site or sites in central London, or make TfL a big office landlord. The TfL announcement has prompted one man, Harvey Pettit, to investigate ‘rumours that TfL plans to build an HQ at the [Vauxhall] bridgefoot’.

Mr Pettit says that after looking closely at TfL drawings at a KOVF public meeting in December it became clear to him ‘that the reason for truncating the bus station was to release a tract of land at the bridgefoot’.

Mr Pettit backs up his contention with a TfL drawing of an oval space at the bridgefoot, adding ‘Curiously, the key does not indicate what this oval is meant to be!’.

He asks: ‘Do I detect [TfL] obfuscation as early as 2013?’ One of a number of TfL drawings he has annotated is one from January 2013. This reveals the ‘much reduced’ area to be occupied by the bus station if TfL and its partner, Lambeth Council, get their way.

The ground lopped off from the bus station, according to TfL, is being ‘released’ to make ‘a new public space and an opportunity for development’.

Observes Mr Pettit, ‘And so it seems that our bus station was planned as a sacrificial lamb all along’. He gives the last word to an artist, and rounds off his picture show with Evelyn de Morgan’s ‘The Worship of Mammon’.

The news that TfL has fessed up to playing the property game (‘to help bear down on fares’) has led Vauxhall Labour MP Kate Hoey to fire off a fizzer of an open letter to Val Shawcross, Labour’s transport spokesperson at the Greater London Assembly. It reads:

Dear Val
I presume that you will now understand why the local community have been so clear that they did not trust TFL or Lambeth over the Vauxhall bus station plans. The community are usually proved right. I take it you will be out defending the bus users and all who love the station rather than supporting a half sized bus station and a greatly reduced service for bus users who live and work and pass through Vauxhall.
Best wishes Kate

To which a clearly rattled Val Shawcross replied:

Dear Kate
I didn’t expect to see this – I had no warning from them at all. We will get all the details of what they are planning here, but my guess is that it is part of their programme to intensify their revenue income from stations by developing shops and cafés inside station facilities.

Valerie Shawcross AM
LONDON Assembly Member
Lambeth & Southwark
City Hall
The Queen’s Walk
London SE1 2AA
020 7983 4371

That Transport for London announcement

Sign the petition to retain the Bus Station