Prologue – high hopes and plenty of political optimism ahead of a public meeting to try and resolve the Streatham Hub project. Steady the buffers, old boy. I think you know that there is unlikely to be a happy ending here…
And so how do you solve a problem like the Streatham Hub?
We may be screwed for leisure in La La Lambeth Land, but at least we can still have a laugh. The refusal of Tesco to attend a public meeting on Wednesday to explain why a new ice rink and leisure facility still hasn’t been built by the supermarket giant, was met with the time honoured tradition of placing a big bag of lard on the empty seat.
Not just any old big bag of lard either – this was the finest lard procured from the shelves of the newly opened Morrisons in SW16. I think that’s what you call a double political whammy for the absent business partner for Labour led @lambeth_council.
The headline news (pay attention @streathamguardian) is that the multi-national will decide in March if it can be bothered to continue with the whole project. A high-powered board meeting will deliver the judgement on the Little People of Lambeth. I hope they have some decent sarnies to eat during their pow wow.
The Man from Tesco, he say YES! …we can hold the supermarket to account and make sure it delivers what it promised almost a decade ago.
The Man from Tesco, he say No! …
@lambeth_council we’re screwed. Our elected politicians will squirm out of the affair with continued claims of “commercial confidentiality,” before then going to erect a temporary gym at The Rookery on Streatham Common – SERIOUSLY.
You’ve heard of the Lambeth Lego Pool, but now a tent in the great outdoors with a few dumb bells (oh the irony) is actually being considered by @lambeth_council as a serious alternative, irrespective of Tesco continuing with the project.
The meeting was told that it would take “two to three years” to build the hub, and in the meantime, the tent / gym is a temporary option.
And what if Tesco walks away from SW16 after a wasted decade? No guarantees of a Plan B were given. Back to The Rookery it is then. The temporary becomes the future and a generation of lard arses, deprived of leisure in Lambeth, will eat their own weight in microwave chips. But not from Tesco. Obviously.
As the good @CllrMarkBennett tweeted in reflection after the meeting:
Cripes. It really was one of those seismic evenings. There was a sense that a turning point has been reached. The good folk of Streatham have long since lost all patience with the supermarket giant, and the issue now seems to have divided Labour in Lambeth.
@CllrMarkBennett wasn’t alone in breaking from the party line being spun so disastrously from the stage by Councillor Rachael Heywood and her cabinet colleague, Councillor Lib Peck. Nu Labour poster boy @ChukaUmunna later told me that he “doesn’t trust Tesco,” and that he “honestly doesn’t know” if @lambeth_council will be able to deliver on the Hub.
Time maybe for a bit of backtracking. With the Tesco owned Streatham Ice Rink being held together by a bit of gaffer tape, and the Leisure Centre next door not looking much better, @lambeth_council did the dirty with Tesco to build a brand new rink and leisure centre. In return, the multi-national gets to set up a rather large corner shop in SW16.
But this was all some seven years ago. By now and the Hub should be complete. Instead we have an ice rink that is unable to stage Redskins’ matches, and a leisure centre that has been shut because it is unsafe.
The public meeting on Tuesday evening called by the fine @streathamaction was supposed to be the opportunity for Tesco to come clean. You get an indication of the company’s commitment to Streatham by its absence on the night.
Instead we had the Cabinet Member for Culture and Communities, Councillor Heywood, and the Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration, Councillor Peck, left to
squirm explain away on the stage almost a decade of mismanagement.
I’m not the greatest flag waver for the failed Nu Labour privatisation project in the Rotten Borough (you don’t say…) but even I felt pity for the local politicians that have been left to hang out to dry by the corporate beast with all the economic and political muscle.
Ever danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight, and all that?
This was an angry political floor, with its constituents made up of beefed up hockey players, muscle-toned swimmers and mischievous bloggers that really have nothing better to do on a wet Wednesday evening in South London.
Actually, that’s not true. My
agenda concern is the lack of swimming in Lambeth. As a Clap’ham refugee I’ve been forced to dip my toe in the waters of Brixton. So have all the Streatham refugees, being bussed down Brixton Hill for the magical 7-9am only timeslot in SW9 each morning.
Apologies if I railroaded the start of the meeting with my Clap’ham interjections, but the good Councillor Heywood started off on the subject first.
Likewise with Councillor Lib Peck. It was a basic point of order, as she insisted that the Labour administration was in control of the timetable of closure in Clap’ham. Um, not true, my friend. If you had attended the User’s Forum to explain the closure of Clap’ham (actually if anyone from Lambeth Labour had attended the forum,) then you would have found out that the poor, sheepish folk at Greenwich Leisure Limited were told to shut up shop by the Cathedral Group on New Year’s Eve.
But anyway, I sat back, started a bit of @audiobooing and took in the debate.
@streathamaction did a fine job in trying to keep to the agenda of (i) leisure, (ii) ice rink and (iii) library (um, falling down as well.) But the passion and anger from the electorate on the floor made the meeting rather different to cabinet two nights previous (@cllrstevereed: “this is a cabinet meeting and you have no right to speak. Be silenced.”)
Too many political mistakes have been made in Streatham over the years. This has led to uncertainty in the different services provided by @lambeth_council, and consequently a confused agenda of different interest groups on the evening.
Questions were asked concerning what cost is involved to re-open Streatham leisure centre (“no costs have been carried out,”) does an ice rink still feature in the Hub plans (“probably” – major hooter HONK!!!! alert: this is a retraction from the previous cast-iron guarantee) and how can @lambeth_council hold Tesco to account?
There was no answer given to this question, likewise for a very articulate point raised by a young girl who must have been of primary school age:
“You said ten years ago that you would build a new ice rink. If we can’t believe you on that, what can we believe you on?”
Someone give that young girl an @audioboo account now. Fine work, madam.
The point was also made that Tesco is prepared to let the ice rink run down. The suggestion is that it will then be easy to close the old rink, and conveniently forget to build a new one. Even Streatham is experiencing gentrification, and the land is ripe for some poncey new flats.
The meeting then went slightly bonkers. There was some fine fighting talk calling for @lambeth_council to take back control of the project with a Compulsory Purchase Order. A public boycott of Tesco was suggested, which then somehow descended into a Shoplifters of the World Unite moment. Only in the Rotten Borough…
Representation from the Redskins was strong. One player spoke of how the rink is the “laughing stock” in hockey circles throughout the country. It’s a very real danger to both players and spectators.
Having already lost London’s only Elite Ice Hockey League team, the Racers, because of a dangerous rink, it would be shocking to also lose the proud name of the Redskins (point of order: I gave up watching the ‘Skins some years ago, partly to do with work commitments, partly because I really didn’t want to spend my Sunday evenings in a freezing old barn.)
“I’m not proud of the state of the rink,” interjected the good Councillor Heywood, before bumbling her line when heckled about when she last went there. “Um, oh, um, I think about four months ago.”
Which all leaves us back where we started some ten years ago. It’s difficult to judge who has been more culpable over the whole sorry Hub saga, @lambeth_council or Tesco?
Both organisations are intertwined with a total lack of credibility. The utter failure of the leisure policy by @lambeth_council is a direct consequence of Nu Labour being totally dependent on big business. We’ve seen it in Clap’ham with the Cathedral Group calling the shots, and now it seems that Tesco are about to show who really is in control in Streatham.
Ah, but events dear boy, events. Something wicked this way comes, and it’s called a ballot box.
As I remarked to @Chris4Streatham, the LibDem parliamentary candidate for Streatham in the @audioboo below, ultimately it is the good people of Streatham that may just be able to resolve the Hub farce; vote back in Lambeth Labour, and the cabinet is locked into some form of unexplainable commitment to sticking with big business to try and sort out Streatham.
Vote *elsewhere* and solutions are on offer to actually establish who is in control of Streatham – the democratically elected and accountable political party, or a multi-national big business that probably can’t even locate Lambeth on a map, let alone the mean streets of Streatham.
Yer man @ChukaUmunna was equally good company, and also very kindly agreed to an interview after I door stopped him. With preposterous expectations laid upon Chuka, leisure is clearly an incredibly prickly issue for him, come polling day.
Being aligned to the same political party that has closed the pool in his chosen constituency has led to some distance being put between the Labour parliamentary candidate, and the local party on the ground. Will the voters buy into it? Listen to yer man…
A final footnote – many thanks, as ever, to the server testing patience that is @markrock and @audioboo. The medium really is the message (well, apart from the other minor message of almost a decade of development being lost in SW16, thanks to a reliance and misguided belief in big business.)
The boos below are embedded in no particular order or priority. They are just a flavour of the feeling from the floor on the night.