Will Botterill’s move mean the end of big-gesture politics?

So Stephen “fire’ ‘n’ brimstone” Greenhalgh has stepped down from being leader at LB Hammersmith and Fulham and takes up post as Boris’s deputy mayor, with responsibility for crime and policing. Congratulations to him. He’s a bloke who relishes a challenge, and he’s certainly got one now! I understand that Stuart Lipton is nearly ready to submit his report on the unrest in Tottenham last summer, and I can see the two of them forming a powerful axis and some hard-hitting proposals. New thinking is desperately and urgently needed in this area, of course.   


And hearty congratulations to Nick Botterill, Cllr Greenhalgh’s successor, who has been conclusively elected leader by his group (although it is subject to ratification of full council on 30 May) and who now takes up what has to be one of the most important jobs in local government in the UK. Cllr Botterill himself acknowledged this in a rather sweet quote at the weekend: “It is an honour and a privilege to be nominated to be leader of not only the best council in London but the best council in Britain.”  What an expression of hope!


It has been my own honour and privilege to have known Nick Botterill from back in the day when we were nippers in student politics (ahhhh) albeit from differing camps (and different universities! His was just a tiny tad better), and it certainly is the case that he’s a pukka geezer alright.  Cllr Botterill is a very bright and a very astute man with brilliant connections, built over a couple of decades’ experience in senior Conservative politics. And, rather more importantly, he has an impressive track record as a businessman in his own right; he built his own very successful business from scratch, which he later sold very well, and he has huge commercial acumen and a thorough understanding of the agendas around job creation and growth.  He works hard, and is a warm human being. He is funny. And he has impeccable manners. 

And he takes up the helm at a time when LBH&F would perhaps benefit from a reinvigorated and practical approach. A number of real estate opportunities could be revisited and refreshed, notably the White City Opportunity Area (always my hot favourite) and, but of course, the long-running saga of Earls Court (not quite as painful as Battersea Power Station in the adjoining borough, but pretty well nearly up there).  


Now, it is a slight understatement to say that CapCo’s Earls Court scheme has its critics (see blog 9 May 2011 and 10 June 2011).  What is less well understood is that its critics don’t only come from the communities of the two council estates affected – West Kensington and Gibbs Green – but also (admittedly somewhat more sotto voce) from hard-nosed market-facing types who, behind closed doors, express real scepticism on the quantums involved. But the community group are certainly the more vocal critic, even managing to get a clause into CapCo’s last Annual Report declaring their objection to the development as a business risk. And, moreover, under localism and S34A of the Housing Act, the residents can cogently argue they have government policy on their side…


Yes, it is fairly accepted wisdom among the cognoscenti that Earls Court is – er – a bit of a mess.


But, I am supremely optimistic. Something has to happen. Earls Court needs the energy and investment that the indefatigable Gary Yardley and CapCo could bring to it. It just needs a much more nuanced approach. It needs a grown up. Make no mistake, Nick Botterill is an experienced and sophisticated political operator, who has the consummate skill required to chart a course through the middle of all this mayhem for the common good. He is pragmatic and he is sensible.

I think you’ve seen the last of big-gesture politics and grandstanding at LBH&F for some time.  And I fervently believe things will be all the better for it.

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