Wandsworth has been under Conservative control since 1979 having been something of a Labour stronghold

in the past. It is now seen as something of a flagship borough in a metropolis

predominated by Labour local governance. It appears that political control has been

wrested from traditionally working class areas through right to buy (RTB) policies a

unique vacant sales policy (wherein void authority housing is sold off when vacant)

and the transfer of property into the hands of professionals who have shown an as yet

unsatisfied demand for property in the area as, see below. Wandsworth has had strong

associations with Westminster because of its political affiliation, as two islands of

blue in a local authority sea of red, and the fact that both boroughs have been the

subject of district auditors reports on the allocation of housing.

Although RTB has been highly successful in Wandsworth it is without doubt that

other factors have contributed to the gentrification of the area – the phenomenon is as

much a social as political evolution. The location of Wandsworth, on the Thames and

close to central London, has equally influenced the direction of housing changes over

the past thirty years. Its geography means that Wandsworth is well served by both

mainline and tube networks which make the central city easily accessible.

Areas like Battersea have been transformed from run-down working class and council

housed areas into one of the most sought-after locations, bar Clapham Common itself.

The London ‘Flat and House Hunter’s Guide’ (Ross and Ross, 1973) noted at that

time that its disadvantages included its heavy industries, its dereliction, the absence of

a tube stop and, notably, the many council housing projects. They also prophetically

note that the area was becoming an owner occupied area;

‘Battersea does not hold much for rent-a-flat families, except for the big blocks on

Prince of Wales Drive, and many of these may soon be for sale, rather than for

rent’ (Ross and Ross, 1973)

The transformation of Battersea was later evidenced by Munt (1987) who examined

the former Shuttleworth GIA (in Battersea) as a paradigmatic example of

gentrification.

 

 

 

The ‘natural’ attraction of Wandsworth, or, the birth of Cla’m and Battersea’er

 

Overheard at a cocktail party:

‘Where are you living now?’

‘Wimbledon’

‘Oh, on the common?’

‘Well, not right on it, but near it’

Silence (Ross and Ross, 1973:261)

Wandsworth has a number of geographical and ‘natural’ locational features which

make it a gentrifiers paradise – that is, the higher social groups have found themselves

taking on the role of gentrifier in buying property in many of the previously working

class and council owned areas. There has not been any monitoring of the resale of

RTB properties in the borough although it is more than likely that the boom in

property prices and the popularity of the area has meant that many new owners of

street properties ‘cashed in’ the enhanced equity in their property. Indeed, council

reports indicate that the stability of property prices in the areas due to its popularity

mean that levels of negative equity are much lower than other areas in London.

A wealth of information supporting the existence of gentrification in Wandsworth was

found from the rent officer. There are a number of relatively obvious ‘attractions’ to

living within the borough such as the large amounts of green space 1 , the river, the

transport links (District line, Northern Line, main line to Victoria and Waterloo, and

from there to the City on the one stop Waterloo and City line) and the architectural

merit of many of the areas (reflected in the emergence of 42 conservation areas) which

make it a logical choice for the better-off London worker.

In addition to these features a number of socio-political factors also contributed to the

timing and attraction of professionals to the area. The zero poll tax, now a low council

tax, has meant that moves to the area make sense in relation to other central boroughs

like Lambeth which have some of the highest rates in London. Interestingly this

particular factor means that the south of Clapham Common, which is actually in

‘Wandsworth has over 650 hectares of green space including Wandsworth Common, Tooting

Graveney and Tooting Bee Commons, Battersea Park and parts of Clapham Common

 

Lambeth, has seen far less extensive activity even though its location is almost

unrivalled. In the eighties estate agents, which became a staple industry in the area,

would advertise properties with ‘Wandsworth rates’. Similarly an officer in

Environmental Health noted that agents had also advertised the existence of attractive

levels of renovation grant aid for various properties at times when earlier legislation

made state aid more widely available.

The marketing of certain enclaves by agents in Wandsworth was also enabled by the

use of “created areas” such as ‘Wandsworth Village’, previously non-existent, in an

attempt to suggest a pastoral and homely feel, and often with great success in terms of

the upward social profile of those locations. In the eighties purchasing power entering

the borough resided with the relatively young. In consequence the area did not change

dramatically until the environment adapted to their lifestyle given that since their

recreation and work was often both in the central city and the City of London. Places

like Cafe Rouge, for example, effectively brought the market with them, thereby

creating an infrastructure enabling the gentriflcation of the area.

Wandsworth has also been influenced by popular and established areas north of the

river. A rent officer argued that Fulham Road market prices could be used as a good

barometer of prices in Putney, Battersea and Chelsea. Battersea has long been

associated with the overspill from Chelsea who found the latter too expensive or could

not enter the housing market there because of the high prices. In addition to the

popularity of those areas the fringes of Wandsworth, particularly areas such as Putney,

have a value related to the travelcard system in which a substantial amount of money

can be saved annually by crossing the river on foot in order to enter the London

Transport Zone 2.

It is the case that the gentriflcation of Wandsworth has been the subject of a number

of internal and external factors which have coincided and have, in the aggregate, given

rise to a significant restructuring and almost total transformation over the past twenty

years. Any continuation of the trend appears unlikely to proceed much further because

of the attainment of a saturation point in terms of the gentriflcation of almost all of the

 

 

property that would be considered to be suitable for such groups. Although there is

still a high demand for property in the area and prices remain buoyant patterns are less

remarkable than the late eighties.

 

The role of the borough

There are a number of factors that warrant scrutiny with regard to the borough’s

potential role – latent and manifest – in the gentrification of the area. While it was

never the aim to identify any intentionality on the part of the borough in the process of

gentrification, there are a number of central and local government initiatives which

warrant further consideration inspection and in relation to provision for housing need

in the area.

Of course, herein lies one of the critical dilemmas which results from contact with an

institution which has a political basis for its actions and dealing with a subject like

gentrification which has been given a distinctly political bent in recent years after the

Westminster scandal. To talk of ‘gentrification’, particularly in the post-Westminster

era, is a potentially misleading and negotiable concept open to misappropriation and

misinterpretation. It is also necessary to make a distinction between the authority as a

political entity guided by its members and that of an operational bureaucracy which

maintains and regulates a number of activities in an impartial capacity. It is not our

remit here to provide speculation as to the ‘black box’ workings of political

machinery behind the scenes.