Protecting and enhancing the Brixton economy: Thinkers and doers needed….

In the face of rising rents, Osborne’s winner take all society and the removal of crucial planning powers from Local Authorities, we need to do something radical to protect Brixton and its economy. Brixton Works is designed to intervene in the market to shape the economy not for highest profit but for greater social outcomes.

The Brixton we want to see is one where every business is part of the community, based here not simply because of the money it can make but because it wants to be part of Brixton. Every community should be given opportunities that reflect their needs and abilities to pay, so that Brixton looks, feels and serves Brixton. That will require controls over commercial space and some clear social principles about allocation of space – Brixton Works is the vehicle we intend to create to deliver on that promise.

By coordinating and shaping the commerical and economic space across the town centre, Brixton Works will be able to ensure that those needing a helping hand will get it, whether that is the chance to start a business or the opportunity to grow one. Making best use of space, encouraging the sharing of space, facilities and experience will generate better economic and social outcomes. Realising and growing space for business will allow us to support the growth of SME’s and start ups which will give opportunities to new entrants from people who were previously shut out, helping to tap into the huge talent and aspiration of our community. Lots is written about how to protect local economies but this is about doing something.

The Brixton economy is an interdependent system - we need to join up that system to function for all of Brixton
The Brixton economy is an interdependent system – we need to join up that system to function for all of Brixton

The Brixton Works intervention in the market is necessary to achieve this and sharing the value across the town centre will ensure it works. And by reinvesting surplus back into the economy of Brixton we can safeguard the elements which existing communities value, as well as generating further economic opportunities outside of the town centre. Whether that profit goes back into supporting existing businesses, start ups or is used to expanding the control of economic space, we can drive a different type of economy which is more long term and more social, where opportunity is extended and risk shared.

We share deeply held concerns about the future economic and social vitality of Brixton. Land values and private rents are rising too rapidly, and an extension of permitted development rights is seeing space for jobs lost to homes. These factors show no sign of abating, and along with demographic shifts, the continued squeeze is pushing the town centre to become one which works for large brands and an unbalanced economy tilted toward the night time economy. Protection against such homogenisation is needed both to ensure that start ups can enter the market, that the economy works all day long and that the economy of Brixton reflects its existing as well as its future communities.

We have established a small steering group of local businesses, the Brixton Business Improvement District, private and voluntary sector hub managers and the GLA to work through these problems and develop the model to go live next year. With early experience of cross subsidy between business and developing a positive commercial mix from POP Brixton, as well as conversations ongoing about the future of the Brixton economy and what different communities need I am confident that we can create something real which will proactively take a lead in shaping the market from within.

The Council has secured funding to undertake a feasibility study to explore options to establish Brixton Works, a vehicle to manage commercial floorspace in the town centre, to deliver affordable and flexible space and support social and economic value drivers. If your organisation is interested in supporting the development and establishment of this intervention to create a better economy then please follow the link here:

If you have comments that you want considered or want to know more then please get in touch. Once the working group is up and running we will come out and host a session for interested business or community members to broaden and deepen our thinking.

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Vibrant town centres need workers as well as residents – Will the Government listen?

A healthy town centre needs activity throughout the day and the evening. Purely residential means shops cannot survive and an evening economy ends up just being bars and restaurants. The Government need to take heed and reverse the removal of office and employment space in central London. 

Recently, the government announced that it would be permanently allowing offices to change to residential accommodation without the need for planning permission. Originally, these conversion rights were to end in May 2016.

The government has also decided to remove the central London exemption areas which some boroughs have, now allowing office to residential conversions in these locations as well.  Lambeth’s Central Activities Zone (CAZ) exemption areas include the South Bank, Waterloo and Vauxhall, where the majority of the boroughs offices are located.  This exemption will go in May 2019.

Removing our planning powers means Local Government cannot protect employment space, vital for a healthy borough
Removing our planning powers means Local Government cannot protect employment space, vital for a healthy borough

This has been disastrous for Lambeth’s business base. Our latest monitoring data shows that since the introduction of permitted development rights for office to residential conversions, we will be losing 45,012 sqm of office floorspace which is 100’s upon 100’s of jobs and a massive loss of trade for local town centres. Couple that with the reduction in public sector workers as a result of the Government cuts to the NHS, Local Government, the Police and the JobCentre and the picture for Lambeth businesses looks grim.

The CAZ in Lambeth accounts for 28% of all existing B1a office floorspace in the borough, which equates to over 13,300 jobs.  Waterloo alone contains over half of Lambeth’s current jobs and is a major office location. Much of the forecast growth in jobs in the borough will also be in sectors that require B1a office floorspace. Vauxhall is part of the Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area and is the largest area of redevelopment in Central London, expected to deliver some 22,000 new jobs overall.  Most of these will be office-based jobs at risk under the loss of the CAZ exemption.

We are very concerned about these latest government announcements as they take away more of our planning power meaning that we have less control over the development that is occurring in our borough. Even more worrying are the types of homes which are built as a result of these rights, often not meeting London Plan floorspace requirements and devoid of any affordable housing which our borough is in great need of.

To ensure that offices in the South Bank, Waterloo and Vauxhall do not become vulnerable to residential conversions, the council is committed to putting in place an ‘Article 4 direction’ which will reinstate the need for planning permission, thereby returning planning control back to the council.  Other inner London boroughs are having to do the same to protect their parts of the CAZ. Unfortunately, preparing an Article 4 direction is time consuming and costly, and comes at a time when councils all over London are required to make more and more savings.

We recognise though, how important our office space is for employment in the borough and we are committed to protecting it. We have also decided to look at other areas in the borough which we also think need protection.

Areas which we think are at risk from these conversions include our key industrial and business areas (KIBAs) as well as some of our town centres such as Brixton and Clapham, where there are a lot of creative and artistic businesses.  We are carefully identifying the KIBAs we think need this protection, recognising that it is unlikely that the council will be successful in applying this approach to all of its KIBAs or to its town centres for that matter. We have already seen economic losses rights across the Borough in our town centres – the Piano House in Brixton has been home to over a dozen businesses for the past 15 years but they are all now being evicted as the buildings owner seeks to cash in for expensive residential housing, with nothing the Council can do to stop them.

The new Mayor of London as well as the Government of the day need to think again about this relaxation of planning powers and let local authorities balance the demand for housing and economic space. Left to the market the highest price wins and we could be left with a dormitory borough devoid of space for exciting entrepreneurs and start ups, the basic shopping offer residents need and the lunchtime and after work pound which employees bring in their droves.

Let’s save the RVT, and make the case that value is not simply measured in profit

The Royal Vauxhall Tavern is now officially too important to be considered simply as an asset to be sweated. The fight is now on to show that the free market should not always be totally free, and that there are more important measures of success than simply profit.

Last week we heard the fantastic news that the Royal Vauxhall Tavern has been listed by Historic England after a strong campaign by RVT future, supported by the local Labour Party, the Local Councillors, Lambeth Council and a broad community right across London, as well as right here in Vauxhall.

Amazingly the RVT is the first building to have ever been listed for its cultural significance for the LGBT community. EVER! And this shows how far the movement has come. It also shows a remarkable shift that the Tory Government didn’t bat an eyelid in listing it (no rumours of trying to oppose it came through via any channels to be me) so credit where it is due.

However its future is by no means secure and the fight to retain this iconic establishment as a living, breathing and working temple of fun will continue. As we have seen from various venues across London, there are simply not enough safeguards to protect sites against developers wishing to make huge profits at the expense of everything else. The Black Cap has huge ‘development potential as a residential site’ and the owners need only mothball the venue for a year to demonstrate it is ‘economically unviable as a business’ in order to change its use in planning terms and thereby give themselves a free run at building flats for sale at exorbitant prices. Residential development is now so profitable in part because the Tory Government have enshrined the right for housing developers to make 20% profit before things like affordable housing have to be considered. 

 

The Royal Vauxhall Tavern: how much is it worth?
 
Things for the RVT are slightly different but we are still at the mercy of the free (and becoming freer under the Tories) market. The Council owns the land around the RVT and thus it would need their consent for a large residential block to be developed. I’m pretty confident that for as long as Labour runs Lambeth, this will never be granted. The Council have also made the RVT an ‘asset of community value’ which means that should the site go up for sale, a community group must be allowed the time to fundraiser and bid. It also means that developers can’t simply open a wine bar or turn it into a Tesco metro, as the RVT is recognised as a leading cabaret venue. Sadly however the legislation remains a bit of a fig leaf, as there is no requirement to actually sell to the community group even if they do manage to raise the money. As with so much Tory policy, it’s a nice headline but the power and rights still remain with big business and big money.

The actual running of the RVT is also at issue and reading this recent interview in Boyz with the current RVT management who are working with the Austrian developers, the same management who sold the building to developers, you can see that the pressure is now coming to demonstrate that the RVT is not economically viable. Whether this is really the case, or whether this is the early ‘evidencing’ in order to change use, change planning and build flats regardless is anyone’s guess and the more cynical amongst us see quite clearly the tactics being displayed. Local campaigners are now lobbying Boyz to get the other side of the story in order to provide some balance. 

There is lots of talk at the moment about where the Labour Party sits on the political spectrum, but this principle is above party politics, beyond left and right. Some things are too important to be left to the free market, and the pursuit of profit should not be overwhelming in all cases. If the developers and the management do not feel they can make enough margin from redevelopment, or enough money running the RVT which remains closed much of the week, then they should sell back to the community and let them see whether they can run it as a community asset with a new business model not based on profit. Youth clubs and community centres generally do not run at a profit but that doesn’t mean they have no value. The RVT is more than just a business as Historic England have now formally recognised. Its value is social as well as economic. There must be a balance between the two.

There is also a lesson here for Councils such as Lambeth, who sold the property years ago for an absolute song. The ownership of land and buildings are the ‘means of production’ these days, certainly here in central London right by the Thames. Therefore the things communities value must be protected and enshrined so however the world or society changes, those commitments and protections remain. Once something is built and sold that’s it, and the RVT as an anchor in Vauxhall for the LGBT community, as well as its importance for the LBGT business community is too important to lose. We must fight, because once the RVT goes then the scene could go with it.

Cashing in on POP Brixton’s success and reinvesting it back into the Community

Raising our game also raises the value of the Borough. But at POP Brixton we are making sure that the value gets reinvested back into the parts of the community where it’s needed.

Last month Adidas came down and offered a great footballing experience to some promising Lambeth footballers. 100s of Lambeth’s young people got to test their skills out against some of the Premiership’s finest. Mahamed, 15, said it was “the best day of my life”. Loads of young people also walked away with new boots and kit, not mention a little bit of inspiration.

 But the giveback doesn’t stop there – Adidas will be awarding a total of £5,000 to local sports clubs Afewee, Streetleague and St Matthews and a total of £10,000 to schools in Brixton. The ethos behind POP has always been a business hub at the heart of a community. So the opportunity to get hundreds of young people into a place they may not feel is ‘for them’, and then benefitting afterwards, is one we have, and will continue to, fight hard for. The sponsorship has also meant that POP has been able to raise some much-needed funding to cover the costs of the build and balance the books for the affordable business space.

We all know that the success of Lambeth and improvements we have seen over the last few years have meant Lambeth is a more attractive location, and this in turn has been partly responsible for rising rents for both businesses and residents. However, what POP and the partnership with Adidas has shown, is that you can capture that value and make sure it is reinvested back into the community, rather than whisked away by those looking to make a quick buck. More of that please!

A Voice (and some skillz) for young Lambeth people

The latest tenant at POP Brixton is giving voice to Young People right across Lambeth with Reprezent Radio offering 100’s of young people the opportunity to get skilled, get a job and tell the whole of London about it!

Now that the commercial elements of POP are in, it’s time for the community organisations and start ups to arrive. This weekend Reprezent radio move in as part of this phase with their rent being subisized by the more commercial units in return for training and personal development opportunities for 100’s of young people from Lambeth. I’m sure they’ll have some fun too.

Reprezent 107.3FM is a social enterprise broadcasting which has been running since 2011 and is the only radio station run by under 25’s. Apart from run a radio station, Repezent train young people to improve their communication and interview skills, support with target setting, CV writing, sourcing and applying for jobs. The jobs will be across a range of industries, and vary according to the aims of each young people, and positions available.

Their commitments include work experience positions, internships, free advertising for youth focused organisations, playlist support for local artists, chances for Brixton residents to volunteer at the station, chances for young people to attend networking events and meet industry experts. Have a look here at what they do and sign up if you are interested.

A report from 2014 estimated the UK music industry as providing a Gross Value Added (GVA) of about £3.8bn to the UK economy in 2013, generating £2.2bn of exports and supporting 110,000 jobs. This isn’t just what artists earn but the jobs around production, marketing, sound engineering, promotion and publicity. Giving young people an opportunity to get some experience in the industry and the chance to work out what area they might want to work in later, as well as the holy grail “something on your CV” to make employers pick you from the crowd could be life changing. Every industry is competitive but giving that competitive edge to our young people is exactly what this Labour administration has to achieve.

The POP ethos was of a business community sitting within the wider community, supporting each other with those able to pay more doing so to support those that are just starting out or giving back to the community in other ways. Reprezent are a welcome addition to Brixton and Lambeth, at a time when the Tory Government of the day is putting the future for young people in jeopardy, I’m absolutely convinced that something which helps them shout about their cause whilst at the same time getting skills and career opportunities in one of Britain’s most successful industries is something which will give Lambeth young people are better shot at a brighter future.

£1m investment in Brixton Market agreed

August is normally a slow month for traders but the stall-holders on Electric Avenue can look forward to nearly £1m of investment after proposals to spruce up the market were approved last week. 
  
Over the past six months we have been working with Brixton Market Traders Federation and asking shoppers what they thought worked and what they thought didn’t work about the market. As a result, a number of improvements will be made to the look and layout of Electric Avenue.

The most noticeable will be that stalls will be re-positioned, so that they are no longer squashed close to one side of the street. Instead they will occupy the middle of the road which we hope will make it easier for people to move around the market and make the stalls visible to shoppers on both sides of the road. Traders will get also get larger, modern pitches so they have more space and can display more goods. A recurring complaint about the current market is that there is too much rubbish, with big piles of cardboard boxes and bin bags left to mount up at the side of the road as the day goes on. To address this new hand held-electric carts will be introduced, allowing waste to be collected more frequently.  

A number of other small tweaks will be made too. For details, as well as pictures of the new-look market see: http://futurebrixton.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/20150727-design-proposals.pdf

It goes without saying that the street market and the traders who operate it are an integral part of Brixton’s character and identity. We hope this investment and the plans that we have worked up together will be good for traders, good for shoppers and help the market go from strength to strength.

Work is set to get underway in October and will be completed by March 2016.

New support for local businesses in Lambeth

Local businesses in uncertain times need a little extra support to compete – the Council is offering a long term sustainable helping hand in the form of business loans in partnership between Lambeth Council and Funding Circle. 

Our manifesto in 2014 contained the commitment to support the creation of 5,000 new jobs in the borough and a commitment to supporting local businesses. Most businesses in Lambeth are small and medium sized, employing on the whole local people and making sure that local economies have a regular customer base over and above residents. They keep our town centres balanced and functioning, help young people with work experience and offer opportunities for local people to work locally.

But when I speak to businesses they talk to me about how they are being squeezed – rising costs, less money in the system as well as challenges around premises and the unavailability of space.

Business owners and entrepreneurs also tell me that access to finance is still a real issue. Banks are reluctant to lend and as a result businesses are starved of the investment they need to expand. As London becomes more competitive, standing still is not an option but lack of funding makes it difficult to adapt and keep ahead of the curve.

Funding Circle is filling a gap by allowing real people and organisations around the UK to lend directly to the businesses they choose and I am delighted that Lambeth is one the first local authorities to offer this support. The Council is kick-starting this initiative with £100,000 to help local SMEs to grow and create jobs but we hope to see it grow over time, and for successful businesses and investors to keep a sharp eye out for Lambeth’s emerging talents.

Our priority will be to focus loans on the track record of businesses rather than their projected future plans and to offer support that is quicker and more flexible than that offered by the banks. Funding Circle have facilitated £209 million in loans to UK businesses since 2010 and have over 60,000 investors. 

To qualify, businesses must be based in Lambeth, have a minimum £100,000 turnover and have been around for at least two years. The application process has opened today and businesses can apply directly and check their eligibility at https://www.fundingcircle.com/uk/businesses/.

More information about Funding Circle can be found here.

With POP Brixton, Brixton Works and various other initiatives across the borough we are helping local businesses find the space to grow and develop. With Funding Circle they will have the finance they need, employing local people along the way and having a mechanism to give back to those following them on the path to success.