|Labour talk to Putney & Roehampton|
Entirely coincidentally, the Putney Society and Putney Labour campaigners have both highlighted the very obvious decline in the state of Putney High Street.
Anyone who lives, works or shops in Putney has surely noticed the growth of cut-price shops and vacant premises; the uneven, cracked, greasy and grimy pavements; the clutter that makes the pavements an obstacle course and the increasing blandness of a once diverse, interesting and purposeful town centre.
In recent months, Putney has lost Iceland, Virgin Records, Thornton’s, Benetton, Pizza Hut and Domat Toys – even one of the High Street’s coffee bars has gone. Of course they’re being replaced, but by what? The trend is for yet more food or drink outlets or poorer quality shops – not the diverse mix of local retailers and major names that make a High Street vibrant.
The council can’t do everything: it can’t regulate commercial rents nor can it oblige shoppers to give an unpopular business trade. But there’s so much it could do if our ruling Tory councillors – and the Tories hold all 18 Putney council seats - were even slightly less indolent.
So Labour published a ten point plan to revitalise Putney High Street: suggestions the Council should already have implemented and is now scrabbling to steal, piecemeal, from us. That’s fine – we want action, not partisan posturing – but isn’t it legitimate to ask: if the Tories go round denying the problem, claiming everything’s peachy, can we have any confidence that they understand how to turn things around?
Here’s an example. Labour’s top priority – now the Council’s, apparently – is to repave the High Street. But what’s the point in spending thousands repaving it if the council’s not going to clean it properly? So, while the Tories recently said no to investing in a street washer to scrub the grease and grime from the pavements, we in Labour would have said yes.
And we’d also return the gum removers sacked by the Tories. And introduce town centre patrollers to enforce zero tolerance of gum droppers, fly-posters, pick-pockets, car-thieves and aggressive beggars. Before the Tories sacked town centre patrollers in Clapham Junction, they cut street crime there by a third.
Kensington & Chelsea has won awards for clearing away clutter from their pavements. Let’s do the same: scrap the railings, move phone boxes, utility control boxes and bike stands to street corners where there’s more space – and let’s make sure everything’s coated to prevent fly-posting.
Since the Tories closed them four years ago, our public conveniences have been derelict. I’m not sure why the Council wants shoppers to wet themselves, but given that they haven’t turned the toilets into another trendy wine bar, what about re-opening them?
And while we’re on the subject, isn’t Putney Station an eye-sore? Let’s get Network Rail to tidy it up and install better facilities – including a lift for pensioners, the disabled and parents with pushchairs.
That just leaves the traffic that so blights Putney. There are no easy answers here. But we can still do something.
We’d work with Transport for London to relocate Putney Garage over the longer term. We’d hold a public enquiry so that every idea, no matter how apparently whacky, can be aired. It is surely not beyond our collective wit to reduce traffic through our town centre: plenty of other boroughs – Labour and Tory alike - have done so, after all.
Putney doesn’t have to be condemned to “clone high street” status - it never used to be one. To back or read more about our campaign to Save Putney High Street, visit www.labourwandsworth.org.uk/sos where you can complete a survey and contribute your ideas.
November 24, 2005