Tag Archives: Chuka Umunna

Demolition of Duke of Wellington pub, Acre Lane

A housing association, Genesis Housing, has apparently started work on demolishing the Edwardian Duke of Wellington pub on Acre Lane, despite 30 outstanding issues with Lambeth Council and residents which were to be resolved before work could begin. The Acre Lane Residents Association (ALRA) has stepped up their campaign to stop the work, which they claim is being carried out so aggressively that neighbours’ homes are being damaged in the process. In reaction to scaffolding being erected on the building earlier in the week, the words ‘No to Genesis demolition!’ were emblazoned across the building yesterday. 

The following summary was sent by the ALRA committee to Chuka Umunna MP on June 23:

  • Genesis Housing had received planning permission to build on the Fulham Timber Yard site and Edwardian building of the Prince of Wales pub on Acre Lane.
  • The decision was resolved pending 30 outstanding issues for their consultation with Lambeth Council and affected neighbours before work could begin.
  • These have been utterly ignored and aggressive demolition has begun in force this week.
  • This not only totally ignores the agreed arrangement between the council and the neighbours backing onto this issues, but importantly also breaks the law within party wall agreement.
  • This work is officially illegal
  • Neighbours are absolutely at the end of their tether; incredibly upset and angry. A corporation called Genesis, without any care or consideration whatsoever, is literally beginning to destroy their homes.
  • For example, just a couple of lines from residents on the Acre Lane residents website today:

Whilst I appreciate emails saying that various people are being informed YOU HAVE TAKEN NO ACTUAL ACTION TO PROTECT US.”

“I’ve just got home to find rubble in my back garden and the vines ripped of my back wall (see pictures attached).I was not notified that this work would be done”

 “I’m a Labour Party Member and a proud resident of Brixton and have been for 10 years plus yet I doubt I have been more ashamed than now. Co-operative Council? Only if you are Genesis Housing Corp”

  • Quote from Paul McGlone today;

“I spoke to Sue Foster less than an hour ago and she was clear Genesis had no right to begin demolition on the site. I know action is being taken as we speak to try and stop them.”

  • Quote from Diane Morris, Chair of Planning Committee today

“Given that the boundary treatment is the subject of a pre-commencement condition, I think that any demolition of the boundary walls themselves would also be a cause of concern.”

  • Despite numerous mails, Steve Reed has done nothing, said nothing, not a single reply to anyone.
Genesis Housing sent Brixton Blog the following statement today:
“Genesis received planning permission on the 25th August to build over 30 environmentally friendly homes, including affordable housing on Acre Lane. It would be a car-free development to minimise the impact of parking for local people and would include green spaces for the community to enjoy. When we received planning permission we carried out minor work to prepare the site for demolition. Due to very recent changes in case law we have ceased this minor work until after the pre-commencement conditions meeting with Lambeth Council at the end of July. Throughout the whole process we’ve consulted with the residents closely and will continue to do so.”

Photo: Charlotte Wiig


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The Weekend Ahead in Brixton

Now all the fuss is over and the Sarah Burton dress has been revealed, we can get on with the rest of the weekend. Here’s what’s in store:

Tonight: The Come Dine With Me Royal Wedding Special at 8pm tonight gets contestants to host themed street parties – one of them is Vincent from Brixton and he’s hosting a mock-Martinique wedding party ‘with his guests expected to cross dress’. The party was actually filmed some weeks ago of course.

If you fancy something a little more exciting, Plan B is holding their ‘Bump!’ club night with electro/Italo disco duo Heartbreak.

Saturday: Wim Wenders’ 3D film about the modern-dance choreographer Pina Bausch, ‘Pina’, is showing at The Ritzy at 15.20, 18.10 and 21.30. It looks GREAT.

Monday: The Brixton Windmill is re-opening – join the procession from Windrush Square at 2pm, processing up the hill to the Windmill itself for the opening ceremony with Chuka Umunna and a ‘guest celebrity’ at 3pm.

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2010 – the year in Brixton

Kaye Wiggins reports on 2010 in Brixton – a year of elections, closed leisure centres, happy lido days, rising market rents and a jerk chicken festival.


2010 has been a year of change for Brixton. It has said hello to Windrush Square, Starbucks, Chuka Umunna and the co-op council. Here’s a quick round-up of the bigger stories of the year.

The renamed and re-landscaped Windrush Square opened in February. Lambeth Council said it would “create a safe, high-quality public space reflecting our unique and diverse community.” But critics questioned whether an “expanse of concrete” could really reflect Brixton’s character.

Also in February, the council announced its plans to “go co-op”. It has spent much of the year trying to explain to residents what this means, and gather our thoughts about it, sometimes in unorthodox ways. Asking us to put coloured balls in different bucket and stickers on bits of paper was a memorable example.

But what the council claims is a worse-than-expected budget settlement from central government, announced in October, has brought a sense of urgency to the plans. They are due to come into force from spring 2011.

Sticking with politics, the general election in May saw Labour hold its Streatham, Vauxhall and Dulwich and West Norwood seats. Chuka Umunna replaced Keith Hill in Streatham, Kate Hoey kept her Vauxhall seat and Tessa Jowell held onto Dulwich and West Norwood.

In the local elections, there was a strong showing for Labour, which gained seven seats. The Lib Dems and the Tories each lost three seats.

A plan to temporarily move Streatham’s ice skating rink to the site of the Pope’s Road car park in Brixton caused unrest this year. In October, more than 100 demonstrators marched to Lambeth town hall to protest about it.

The plan also angered traders on Brixton market, who said using the closed car park as an ice rink, rather than reopening it for parking, could cause them to lose more trade. They had been arguing since February that the closure of the car park in December 2009 had affected their trade, and a Freedom of Information request in October added weight to their argument.

Market traders have had a difficult year, warning in September that rent rises could force more of their shops to close. But there was good news in April, when Brixton’s indoor markets were given listed status.

Shopping in Brixton changed a lot in 2010. Whilst several market stalls have closed down, and independent shops like Lori’s Frothy Coffee have struggled, big brands including StarbucksH&MT-Mobile and, most recently, Holland and Barrett, have arrived in the town centre.

But Brixton’s local businesses have had some causes for celebration. The Brixton Pound marked its first birthday in September. And who could forget Charles and Camilla’s surprise visit to the market in July?

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South London Democracy Club questions answered (only by some)

The Streatham page on TheyWorkForYou.com

All that time ago in February (remember the snow?), South London Democracy Club put ten questions to local candidates on issues ranging from stop and search to a South London tram network. The answers from candidates on these issues have now been uploaded onto TheyWorkForYou.com so that voters can hold MPs to their word after the election. Upsettingly only the Green candidate has completed it for Dulwich & West Norwood. Things are better in Streatham, although Labour candidate Chuka Umunna has not answered there. Why have some PPCs not answered, I wonder?  By collecting the data, the South London Democracy Club wants to ensure transparency in the future, but it can only work if the PPCs open themselves up to that scrutiny too.

Find out what your local candidates have answered (or if they have) here.

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Interview: Chris Nicholson

Chris Nicholson with Sarah Ludford MEP and a market trader (from right)

Chris Nicholson doesn’t live up to expectations. Or mine at least. The day before we meet, The Independent published accusations from Keith Hill that Nicholson, who is a partner at KPMG, had ‘bought his seat’. I had also heard a fantastic story put about by Labour about him mistakenly buying his house in Wandsworth instead of Streatham. Turns out it wasn’t so much a fantastic story as a fantasy. Instead of the business-like and rather clueless fat-cat I had expected, I got a softly spoken and articulate candidate sitting in a shabby suit and a messy campaign office. Serves me right.

Chris Nicholson is leading the Liberal Democrat bid to steal the Streatham seat from Labour.  This a Lib-Lab race. In the 2005 election, the Liberal Democrats managed to almost halve the Labour lead from 14,270 to just 7,466 votes.  Nicholson thinks it will come down to a thousand votes either way this time around. “We need less of a swing to take the seat than we got last time and we’ve been working very hard! It is eminently achievable.”

It is certainly true that Nicholson has been working hard. He may not be a lifelong resident like Chuka Umunna, but he speaks with clarity on local issues. “I grew up in Moss Side, Manchester, which was a similar sort of area to this. In that sense, this area feels like coming home.” He also feels that his life experience has enriched the way he approaches politics in the area. He was Head of Public Policy at KPMG and, long before that in the 1980s,  Liberal Democrat council leader in Kingston.  “People are cynical of the concept of a career politician. My experience outside of politics and of bringing up a family is something that we’re finding people respond to.”

Nicholson’s biggest bug bear is the way that Lambeth Labour have dealt with housing, especially the transfer of power to the outside organisation Lambeth Living. “The vote on Lambeth Living was something like 42% in favour and 41% against, yet that was taken as being a mandate for change. The new body didn’t have democratic accountability. Senior management had also taken their eye off the ball while trying to get tenants to vote in favour, so there were more empty properties. Rental income dropped and that meant that rents went up and there has been less money for repairs.” Nicholson is especially critical of the fact that Keith Hill MP is now chair of Lambeth Living, despite promises that it would be chaired by a tenant or leaseholder.

So what would the Lib Dems do differently? Nicholson cops out of a straight answer at first. “I know it’s easy to say we wouldn’t have got in that position to start with, but we genuinly wouldn’t have done.” That is easy to say. He goes on, however, to point to the success of resident management groups in Blenheim Gardens Estate and Roupell Park. Later, he emphasises that “as a Non-Conformist, I very much believe in bottom-up politics”. In his view, the Labour Party is inherently “very top-down, centralising and fairly authoritarian.” He applies the criticism to point out, correctly I believe, potential weaknesses in the John Lewis Council.  “In principle, it’s very good. However, the principle and the practice, particularly in Lambeth, would be rather different.  There’s a real problem that democractic accountability is just not seen as important.”

Of course, the Lib Dems when they led Lambeth council didn’t exactly have a good reputation either. They have been accused by many of being inexperienced and difficult to work with. As a parliamentary candidate in 2010, Nicholson can’t be held fully accountable for the Lib Dems’ actions as council leaders in 2006, when council tax rose by 40%, but he defends his colleagues. “There were clearly some things which didn’t go well. What we succeeded in doing was getting three departments out of special measures, getting Lambeth up to being a two star authority.”

For now, however, it is more constructive to focus on the future – if still with half an eye in the back of our heads to remind us of the past. The Lib Dems have launched their ‘four steps to fairness’. They would raise the personal tax allowance to £10,000 “removing four million people out of tax”; put more money into early years education and scrap tuition fees; support green jobs; and create a fairer voting system with an elected House of Lords.  All of this needs money, of which there will be little after the election. Nicholson’s approach to public spending cuts is half-good, half-unrealistic. When it comes to Streatham, he claims that no cuts should be made. We’d be fools to believe they won’t be. But Nicholson prefers to focus on cuts to national schemes – ID cards,  the Trident Nuclear Missiles system, Eurofighters, and Child Trust Funds.

If we strip away their party affiliations, it is difficult to find much of a difference between Chuka and Chris. Nationally, they are both for scrapping Trident, stopping tuition fees, and focusing on early years education. Locally, both promise a regeneration of Streatham High Rd, improved public transport links in Streatham and better leisure centres (arf arf).   “Chuka expresses a lot of views which are Liberal Democrat views, but I am in a party which supports those views and he is in a party which doesn’t.  He also says that he would vote for party policy and what was in the manifesto. To me, that must mean that he’s going to vote for some of those things which he disagrees with.” It is true that Chuka and the Compass group are not a majority voice in their party, although Umunna was adament when I interviewed him about his belief that MPs should not always toe the party line.  It is also true that the Lib Dems are much freer to talk about what they truly believe in as long as they remain the third party in Britain.

Perhaps it is because the election is so close between Umunna and Nicholson that the rumour mill has been racked up a notch. The house-buying story was published by the website Lambeth Liberal Democrat Watch – which I will not link to here – in 2008, but it is still in circulation now. It is, says Nicholson, a “complete fabrication”. “It was my partner’s house, which she’d bought years before, and I lived there for some time before we bought a house together in the constiuency. Of course I knew it was in Wandsworth and not Streatham, but it was where Trisha lived!”

The funding question is rather more complicated. Last week, Keith Hill stood up in parliament and accused Nicholson of buying his seat, because he has donated almost £300,000 to the party in the last three years, much of which has gone directly to his own campaign in Streatham. The figures are all correct – they have been declared in line with the law and are published on the Electoral Commission website. That does not, however, necessarily mean that he has ‘bought his seat’.  Nicholson denies that vehemently.  “It is outrageous that Hill sheltered behind parliamentary privilege to make those accusations. I’m sure that was done quite deliberately, because there were things in what he said which are completely untrue. The figures about my donations are correct, but he then also quoted what had been spent by our Streatham local party, implying that it was all on electioneering and comparing it with his communications allowance. In fact, a lot of the money spent by the Streatham party goes on premises and staff. If you compare how much the Streatham local party spent compared to how much Keith Hill spent, using public and union funds, we spent less. On top of that, the Council produces Lambeth Life every fortnight at huge cost. Chuka has until recently had office accomodation provided by the union UCATT. In fact, we are outspent by some margin by the Labor party.”

It is undoubtedly hard to square the huge amounts of money Nicholson has donated with his views on “bottom-up politics” and desire to reform the political system. Yet he readily gives his support for capping funding. “I would be the first to vote for changes in party funding rules. But we need to have a level playing field and the fact is that at the moment we don’t.” There is a strong, and I don’t think naive, case for arguing that Nicholson, as a rich man and in the knowledge that his party has much less money than its two competitors, has donated to a cause he believes in deeply.  It seems immensely hypocritical of Keith Hill, whose party received £4,962,886 in donations last quarter compared to the Lib Dem £1,055, 717. It is also another example of the unpleasant negative campaigning we have seen of late from Lambeth Labour, a tactic the Liberal Democrats do not seem to have engaged in to the same level.

In the media-obsessed world in which we live, it is hard to avoid the fact that Nicholson doesn’t have the cache or youth of Chuka Umunna. It might too have made the election excitingly scandalous if Nicholson really had been a fat cat parachuted into the constituency, but superficialities aside, we are lucky in this consituency to have two such strong candidates and the neck-and-neck race that will result from that is going to be just as intriguing.


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Interview: Chuka Umunna

Chuka Umunna on the campaign trail

Chuka Umunna arrives at Perfect Blend on Streatham High Street, slumps down in the chair and exclaims, “Oh God, I’m so tired!”  It is one of the only moments in the next 45 minutes when he reveals something more than just ‘Chuka , the up- and-coming new Labour candidate’.  He has just been at an estate in the Streatham constituency (which includes Brixton Hill ward) where he is hoping to become MP, meeting with residents and listening to their stories. As well as holding a part-time job as an employment lawyer at Rochman Landau, he attends tenants’ meetings, party strategy meetings, is a governor at Sunnyhill Primary School, sits on the boards of Sunnyhill Children’s Centre and Generation Next, twitters incessantly and, of course, goes doorstepping every week. He has a right to be tired.

Some politicians have a ‘line’ for the public; others are more honest  but subject to making life tricky for themselves by saying something out of ‘line’. Peter Mandelson might be said to emulate the first type; Ken Livingstone the second. Chuka Umunna is neither a Peter Mandelson nor a Ken Livingstone. “I don’t want to be one of those android politicians. I never have a ‘line’”, he says. Indeed, he is outspoken and, for many, even inspirational. But he is also a totally polished package. I’ve never met a smoother person. Even saying that he doesn’t want to be an ‘android’ – something he has repeated in other interviews – fits perfectly into the reputation he has built as a star of a new Labour generation offering something different in a climate of scandal and spin.

Chuka Umunna  grew up in Streatham and, if he is elected, he will be the first MP in the constituency to actually come from the constituency.  “I just love Streatham”, he enthuses.  It’s the second time he really breaks out of polished campaign mode and speaks with real gusto.  You can tell that he really cares about the people here – he has known many of them since childhood, he loves meeting new constituents and he embraces being out and about in his ‘patch’. What he loves most about Streatham, he says, is its diversity. “Not just the ethnic diversity, which is what everyone thinks of first, but the amount of different types of people from different backgrounds. Lots of people see Streatham Hill as just a road to go from A to B, but there is a lot going on here.”

Umunna is  taking over from Keith Hill, who retires this May after 18 years as Streatham MP. He and Hill come from very different Labour traditions. Hill’s voting record is overwhelmingly New Labour – he voted for the Iraq war, anti-terrorism laws and replacing Trident; he voted against an Iraq investigation. In an interview with the Guardian, Umunna claimed that 1997 was like a ‘birthday’. Now, 13 years later, he is vehemently anti-New Labour. “I’m just plain Labour”, he says.  How has he been able to stay Labour faithful at all? “There was a lot of soul-searching after the invasion of Iraq. I would never vote for an illegal war”. Yet he insists that Labour is not a one-trick pony and has members of many different persuasions. Umunna is part of what he calls the ‘soft’ left of Labour, a rising star in the leftwing pressure group Compass.

His policy ideas are certainly more progressive than we’ve come to expect from Brown and Co. He suggests that Trident should be the first to go in the round of public spending cuts to come after the general election, he is a fervent supporter of proportional representation and he has campaigned against higher student ‘top up’ fees. He cites flexible working times for parents of teenage children to encourage a more family-orientated community and prevent kids from areas like Lambeth finding a family-replacement in gang life.  For Chuka, we need to listen more to what young people say and he is critical of an approach – taking place under the Labour government of course – which has painted urban boys as hoodie-wearing thugs.

More specific to Streatham itself, Umunna has campaigned hard against Tesco’s provarications over the ‘Streatham Hub Project’. He is hazier about what exactly he has been doing in Brixton Hill, but cites his support for Philippe Castaing’s ‘Brixton Green’ project and the Q&A session on climate change he organised with Ed Miliband in Brixton Town Hall.

Is he worried about not being able to fulfil his promises to the Streatham voter? “No, not really. If I win, I am making a contract with the voter.” He stresses that even with a Conservative majority, he would work with his opponents as much as possible to get the things he has promised into law. He adds the obligatory qualification – “obviously I don’t think the Conservatives are going to do a good job”.

A week after the interview, I realise what has confused me about Chuka – he’s outspoken, he’s progressive, but he’s not angry. That’s why he can be so smooth. He’s wearing red-for-Labour tie and cufflinks, for goodness sake. For some people the fact that he’s a positive politician is a fantastic thing, but what if it is anger that ultimately creates real change?


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