Policing & Local crime rates & Planning Issues With Tileman House

Labour's man Stuart King writes to Putney

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One of the things that always concerns me when I publish the monthly area-by-area crime figures on my website is the worryingly higher crime rates in Thamesfield ward – that is the riverside part of Putney that includes the town centre.

The town centre is the reason that these figures are so high for an otherwise affluent area. But the fact that so much Police resource needs to go into the high street means that the rest of the Thamesfield ward must get less attention in comparison with other residential parts of Putney.

To put the problem into context, the crime figures I report break down offences into nine separate categories. In Thamesfield ward, the category of “theft & handling” alone is higher than all nine categories combined in each of East Putney, West Hill and West Putney wards. Crime in Thamesfield is one third higher than in Roehampton and almost two thirds higher than in West Hill.

That’s why I want to talk about two related issues in this report: one that would help tackle this crime problem in our town centre, and one that most certainly will harm it.

Almost four years ago, the Labour Government put up new money to fund town centre patrollers in Clapham Junction and Tooting. Their mission was simple: to clamp down on street crime, provide security for shoppers, and to help with questions or directions about their local area. The result? Street crime fell by a third in both those areas. The moment this “pump prime” Government funding ended and the Council was asked to step up and fund the teams the Conservatives instead chose to sack them. And street crime soared once more.

Since 2005 introducing town centre patrollers locally has been an important part of my plan for Putney. The High Street is struggling enough already because the Conservatives failed to act to improve it when times were good and it’s now suffering in our more challenging economic times. If we can help boost confidence in our town centre by cutting crime substantially then patrollers are a small price to pay.

The second, and profoundly damaging factor that will affect crime in Putney is the decision of London Mayor Boris Johnson to cut £472 million – almost half a billion pounds – from the Metropolitan Police. It’s taken a decade for Labour to just about get Wandsworth’s number of Police back to where they were in 1993 (688 Police and CSOs as of November, compared to 693 in 1993) after savage Tory cuts reduced our officers locally to a low of 568.

Already the Met has announced that instead of recruiting police to fill vacancies arising due to retirements, they’re going to try to find 900 unpaid special constables. But that alone won’t come close to saving half a billion pounds; and while the Tories come out with the usual spin that their massive cut won’t hit frontline policing, their failure to replace retiring officers already shows how hollow that claim is.

I have to add that it’s also beyond a joke for Conservative MPs (basic salary £70,000 a year) to be telling Police Officers (starting salary £21,000) a year that if elected they’ll ban them from taking second jobs when the MPs in question happen to have not just second jobs but third and fourth jobs outside Parliament too.

As you may have seen from the frontpage of this website, plans for Tileman House are out for consultation. We’ve already successfully seen off the Putney Place towers, but while the plans for Tileman are - aesthetically - nowhere near as ugly, at 15 storeys this would still be almost twice the height of the adjoining building and the highest in the area. There is no question that these plans are an improvement on the existing Tileman House, but the choice shouldn’t be between bad and less bad: it should be about what’s best for Putney.

Once the Council allows 15 storeys, a precedent will be set that provides grounds for 18 storeys, then 21 and eventually Putney will end up like central Wandsworth with the 42 storey monstrosity Conservative Councillors voted through at the end of last year. I know how many local people voted Tory in last year’s London elections precisely because you wanted to stop high-rise development and this is such a betrayal of the Conservative promises made then. In fact, you may want to read this article in the Evening Standard recently on this very subject.

I also send out a fortnightly e-mail news bulletin to subscribers about these and other issues: sign up here. And my website is updated at least daily with news and views from around Putney, Roehampton and Southfields: with over 3,500 unique visitors a month – and rising – if you want to know what’s going on, or to get in touch, do come and visit!

February 2, 2009