The long-time Conservative flagship council of Wandsworth is to freeze rents for its housing tenants for a year, attributing the move to efficient financial management amid concerns about the rising cost of living.
An existing freeze on fuel charges for some residents will be continued due to what council leader Ravi Govindia describes as the “prudent management of resources” enabling his administration to assist residents along with levying the lowest council tax in the country.
The rent freeze will come into effect from April, the month before borough elections which opinion polls suggest could see the Tories lose power to Labour for the first time since the 1970s. The council says the rent freeze will benefit around 17,000 residents and the fuel cost freeze will go on benefiting more than 3,000 who are served by communal heating and hot water systems.
Labour, whose group leader Simon Hogg has yet to respond to On London‘s invitation to comment on the rent freeze, gained seven seats at the last borough elections in 2018 and reduced the Conservative majority to six, raising hopes in the party that it might capture one of the country’s most famous Tory local government administrations this year. Labour also holds all three parliamentary seats in the borough.
However, the council Labour group has been divided of late – Hogg, who led Labour’s 2018 campaign, regained the leadership following a recent internal contest – and in November Labour’s candidate held a seat in a recent by-election in Bedford ward by a single vote amid expectations that it would win the contest with ease, as it had in 2018 and again by a slightly larger margin at a by-election last May. Hogg has also been asked to comment on unconfirmed claims that Labour’s London region has decided against making Wandsworth a top target for May’s elections.
Local Tories have been highlighting council services on Twitter, including provision of electric vehicle charging points, bin collection and bicycle parking stands along with the rent and fuel prices freezes and council tax rates while Labour activism has focused on the “partygate” scandal surrounding Boris Johnson along with neighbourhood issues such as traffic and fly tipping and a promise to give higher priority to funding to combat climate change.
Wandsworth was quick to suspend trial low traffic neighbourhood schemes introduced early in the pandemic under Sadiq Khan and Transport for London’s “streetspace” programme even though the initiative was backed by the Conservative national government after residents campaigned against them.
Labour councillors have been critical of the part of the Nine Elms development that falls into Wandsworth in the wake of media outrage over a swimming pool – the sky pool – suspended between two blocks of flats opposite the US Embassy which cannot be used by all residents of the scheme as part of a wider claim that Wandsworth Tories “put the interest of property developers ahead of local people”.
In contrast, the council has hailed the opening of two new London Underground stations in the area which the Nine Elms scheme helped pay for, and Battersea Conservatives have welcomed Govindia’s announcement that more people are to move in to homes in the adjacent Battersea Power Station dwellings, where more shops are set to open.
Wandsworth Tories have also drawn attention to higher levels of council tax in next-door Labour-run Lambeth – an echo of a contrast made by Conservatives at national level as far back as the 1980s, when Wandsworth’s radical outsourcing of services, along with high levels of right-to-buy council housing sales, made it a beacon for Tory local government.
Photograph: Wandsworth Town Hall
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