Saturday, September 27, 2008

Olympic Flag Flies at City Hall

Fantastic weather yesterday morning for the official flag raising on the Potter's Field. The two Olympic flags and the Union Flag were raised by our successful athletes after introductory speeches from Seb Coe, Tessa Jowell and Boris.

The Mayor was particularly keen to emphasise the limited nature of the Olympic budget. Not a penny more than the £9.3 billion already earmarked for the project, would be spent. As the flags rose, so did Tower Bridge - a nice touch.

With me in the picture is my excellent deputy, James Cleverly AM. Interesting that we are the two Conservative AMs who blog regularly.

Friday, September 26, 2008

New Sub Surface Trains

This morning I viewed a mock up of the new rolling stock which will run on the Metropolitan Line from 2010. The trains have lower floors to improve wheelchair access and more space for expected passenger growth.

Coaches are equipped with CCTV as standard as well as large indicators to provide passenger information. These will be particularly useful on the Metropolitan and District lines where trains serve several different destinations - and as someone who went to Shenfield after boarding the wrong train from Liverpool Street yesterday, I feel you can't provide too much detail for passengers...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Conservative Group Officers at City Hall

Following today's group meeting, the new officer team are:

Leader: Roger Evans AM

Deputy Leader: James Cleverly AM

Whip: Dick Tracey AM

The group recorded its thanks to outgoing leader, Richard Barnes, who took us through the successful election in the Spring and has now moved on to devote his time to the duties of Deputy Mayor.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Freewheel 2008

Here is another example of how the tone of London government has changed for the better.

Today saw Freewheel 2008, the cycling festival, take to the streets of the capital. Under Ken the event was originally branded as 'Car Free Day' and its prime purpose seemed to be to bring disruption and discord to the streets. There was much anti motorist propaganda, as well as an anti globalisation 'reclaim the streets' undertone and no self respecting Conservative would be seen there.

Now it has morphed into a positive celebration of cycling. The Mall was full of all kinds of bikes being ridden by all kinds of people. Families enjoyed the sun and it looked like the best attended of these events so far. Like the recent Rise Festival, nobody seemed to be missing the left wing moralising that we came to expect.

I attended to show my support, along with prospective Church End councillor, Iseult Roche, pictured above with the bicycling Mayor.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mayors Visit Havering

Today the Mayor of Havering, Cllr John Clark, hosted a visit to the borough and tour for other civic dignitaries. The Mayor of Waltham Forest attended, as well as the Civic Ambassadors for Lewisham and Newham, and several Mayors from boroughs in Kent.

We often praise the attractions to be found in the centre of town, but it is good to be able to show off our own local gems, all of which were open to the public as part of London Open House weekend.

St Andrew's Church

Also known as the 'horned church', after a carved bull's head which adorns the gable, this was our first stop. Unusual features include a fine oak beamed roof and a stained glass window unveiled in 1991 to mark the 600th anniversary of the church. The window depicts modern icons including the Spitfire and the Ford Fiesta, which both have links with the area.

Queen's Theatre

Situated in the centre of Hornchurch, this was our next stop and the picture was taken at the front door. The theatre is supported by the local council. Backstage the preparations for this year's panto, Dick Wittington, were well under way.

Upminster Windmill

This is one of only three surviving windmills in Greater London, and the only one north of the river. The smock mill is being lovingly restored by the Friends of Upminster Windmill and the sails actually turn (they tell me). The four floors are well preserved although 'elf n' safety' is making an unwelcome intrusion.

Bedfords Park

The tour finished up with a visit to Bedfords Park, which has won a prestigious Green Flag award. Covering several hundred acres in the north of the borough, the park includes a deer enclosure with some very fine specimens.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fire Authority - Initial Budget Skirmishes

The Fire Authority met today. Together with the Mayor's two nominees, we are one short of a majority and - as everywhere - the other three parties have ganged up, although what they plan to do with their barely held power is not yet clear.

The Chairman, Brian Coleman, made it very clear that he will be seeking a 0% increase in the authority's budget next year. Given the financial pressures on Londoners, this has to be the correct approach, but it will involve making administrative cuts and some areas e.g. the Fire Brigade Museum at Southwark, are under threat. Interestingly the Lib Dems agreed that there should be savings, so Nick Clegg's message from the seaside is being heard loud and clear.

The main grumbles from the other groups were about lack of consultation, rather than concrete alternative proposals. A long budget setting process lies ahead.

Reversing Policy

The Brigade reported an increase in traffic accidents involving fire engines. The bumps and scrapes were happening not when racing to the scene of fires, as you might expect, but when reversing! It can't be easy, reversing a large vehicle in tight spaces, but a reversing policy is being introduced to ensure good practice is followed.

New Control Centre

As part of the government's plan to modernise emergency control centres around the country, London is to get a new state of the art centre. Unfortunately the government haven't come up with the money - sounds familiar - so we need to find £10 million over the next four years. This is a serious challenge to an authority with a relatively small budget, particularly as the current control centre dates from 2003 and is not yet obsolete.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mayor's Answers

The answers to the written questions from last week are out today:

Gants Hill Station

Roger Evans: There are still major problems with flooding at Gants Hill Station. With reference to his answer to question 0885/2008, can the Mayor update the Assembly on what progress is being made by TfL in solving this long term problem?

Boris Johnson: TfL has been investigating this issue further as water has been observed running into the subway rather than backing up through the internal drainage system. Investigative works were undertaken and TfL will update you once the causes of the flooding are known and the timetable for resolution can be determined.

Meanwhile, TfL's contractor continues to check and clear the drainage channels within the subway monthly and emergency call out arrangements have been put in place.

A12 Footbridge

Roger Evans: Will the Mayor instruct TfL to re-examine the case for the replacement of the footbridge over the A12 as my constituents find the current situation completely unacceptable?

Boris Johnson: The Mawney Road footbridge over the A12 Eastern Avenue was removed in June 2006 following a vehicle strike. Providing a modern, compliant footbridge in the same location was considered.

However, a new structure that would be compliant with current accessibility legislation cannot be physically accommodated. The requirements of footbridges to meet the needs of the mobility impaired have changed since the construction of the original bridge and now require considerably more space for ramps. A new footbridge would require compulsory purchase orders to be served on a number of properties. The preferred solution remains to provide pedestrian and cycle crossing facilities on the eastern arm of the A12 / Mawney Road signalled junction.

The surface level crossing is currently scheduled for detailed design and implementation works commencing in 2009/10 with a likely completion in 2010/11, although works to deliver the 2012 Olympic Games may mean that these dates are subject to change.

372 Bus Route

Roger Evans: What call was there for TfL to re-route the 372 bus route down residential streets and streets with no history of regular heavy vehicle traffic?

Boris Johnson: TfL has proposed that the 372 be rerouted between Hornchurch and Elm Park. However no decisions have yet been made.

TfL is aware of the concerns that some people have raised about the 372 proposal. The next step is to undertake a full public consultation and TfL is discussing this with council officers.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mayor's Questions

First question session of the new term yesterday. I took the opportunity to raise some pressing local matters:

Gallows Corner

The Mayor undertook to ensure the fastest possible repair work on the temporary flyover, however this is not expected to be completed until Summer 2009 - an imprecise deadline, and too long in any case. I raised concerns about the inspection regime which had allowed the structure to deteriorate to such an extent, and the mayor stated that TfL are reviewing their procedures - let's hope so, as there are several other temporary flyovers elsewhere in London.

Local business organisations have recently suggested that tolls from the Dartford Crossing could be used to pay for a more robust viaduct, and the mayor was happy to support such a proposal, assuming the money could be used at Gallows Corner.

Gants Hill

During a session on climate change and over population, I took the opportunity to discuss flooding in the subways at Gants Hill - on the basis that climate change was partly responsible and would only aggravate matters. The mayor has promised to get TfL to sort out the drains - which in my opinion are a more immediate problem than climate change, and should be easier to put right (although so far that has not been the case).


I urged the mayor to focus the London plan on providing quality homes rather than high quantity, dense, blocks of tiny flats. In Havering and Redbridge we want buy to live, not buy to let.


I congratulated the mayor on his return from Beijing and urged him to keep the cost of 2012 under control. He pledged that the bill would not rise above the £9 billion (!) agreed by the previous mayor and the government.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Tram on the Edge

Transport committee considered the arguments around the proposed Cross River Tram this morning. The debate took the form of a seminar with invited guests, and an audience of around 80 people - no mean feat considering the committee meets during working hours and the holidays are over.

Amongst those present there was clearly support for the scheme, which would see Brixton and Peckham linked by separate lines to Waterloo Bridge, the tram then crossing the river and passing through Bloomsbury to Camden. However there was a vocal minority who opposed the tram, largely because of its effects on Somers Town and Bloomsbury.

Professor Stephen Glaister, lately of the TfL board, sounded a timely warning about funding the scheme in difficult times, pointing out the need to prioritise the many projects on TfL's drawing board. Going ahead with the tram means sacrificing something else, so TfL need to be clear about the costs and benefits. Considered against other projects, the tram is looking more like the sick wildebeest lagging at the back of the herd, as another London blogger recently commented.

Following the financial problems of Croydon Tramlink, involving the private sector in a finance deal is likely to prove difficult without paying them more to shoulder the risk.

Furthermore, raising the money from public sources would also be challenging. To borrow £1 billion for instance, would incur and interest payment of £140,000 per day. To raise £1 billion from fares would entail a fare increase of 10%, on top of the increases announced last week. And the £1 billion figure is no longer academic - because TfL predict the cost of Cross River Tram to be in the region of £1.3 billion, almost double what they predicted two years ago.

With the need to tighten belts and face the recession, Cross River Tram could be a goner.

Railway Overcrowding

The committee also undertook to carry out a review of overcrowding on main line railways in London. This is a hot topic and will prove interesting, particularly as the industry cannot even agree on a definition of overcrowding.

Dial A Ride

Complaints continue to pour in about the operation of dial a ride. There are plans to open a new depot and make changes to the system in October, so the committee agreed to carry out a review in March next year - a bit late in my opinion, but better late than not at all.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Budget Committee

The Mayor appeared before Thursday's budget committee and used the opportunity to announce his fares package for the coming year. This naturally overshadowed the rest of the business which covered budget plans for the Fire Authority and the London Development Agency.

Fares Package

Boris announced a fares increase of inflation plus 1% on average, although this will vary with some ticket types rising by less. He claims that this rise is needed to fix a 'black hole' left in the budget by the previous incumbent, although there were claims from other members that some of his new policies were adding the extra costs. I'm inclined to give the Mayor the benefit of the doubt for several reasons:

1. Changing this organisation is like turning a super tanker. Boris has only just started to bring in his policies so any costs incurred will be minimal. The TfL representative confirmed that new policies had not been considered when planning this fares package.

2. Livingstone had previous form. Four years ago he promised fare cuts before the election then put them up several months after he had won. History is repeating itself.

3. During the election correspondence from TfL emerged, showing that officials were concerned about the gap they had identified in the Livingstone's budget.

4. Livingstone in fact agreed the inflation plus 1% increase at a TfL board meeting which he chaired before the election. He then changed his decision as the election approached, causing consternation at TfL.

There are a lot of claims and counter claims being made, so I was pleased that the Mayor responded positively to my request that TfL's advice to his predecessor be released to committee members so we can see exactly who decided what, and when.

Meanwhile, there was good news on the 24 hour Freedom Pass, now due to go live with the new fares package in January. The cut price fares for claimants on income support have also been maintained, despite speculation that they would be abolished along with the Venezuela oil deal.

Fire Authority

Chairman Brian Coleman provided a typically assertive performance, telling the committee that he was aiming for zero growth in his budget. It will be challenging to turn around a settlement which has relied on raiding the reserves in recent years, but he had some interesting ideas, including the sharing of corporate functions with other GLA functional bodies - always possible since the creation of the GLA, but never before seen as a priority -, a review of training services, and plans to move the Fire Brigade Museum to a more accessible location.

Brian undertook to maintain the number of front line fire fighters and appliances, indeed there are plans to open a new fire station in Havering, the first new fire station in many years.

The authority will also fund resilience costs - equipping us to respond to terrorist attacks - if the government refuse to provide the money, as they have in the past.

London Development Agency

The previously troubled LDA quickly came under new management and chief executive, Peter Rogers, made his first appearance before the committee. He is rightly keen to establish new priorities with his board before speculating in a public forum, but he did indicate that future funding would be focused on larger projects where the returns would be more reliable and the burden of monitoring would be eased.

We were pleased to hear that board meetings would be held in public, and that a standing public item would allow discussion of the Mayor's directions to the authority. This level of transparency was one of the key recommendations from Patience Wheatcroft's forensic audit which followed the new Mayor's election.

So, a lot of ground was covered in a couple of hours. The committee plans to monitor future activities of the functional bodies and also plans to do some stand alone reviews, including an informative look at the true costs of transport policing. It promises to be a full and interesting year.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Western Extension Consultation Starts Today

This morning the mayor launches his consultation on the future of the congestion charge Western Extension. The extended zone has been controversial since it was introduced by the last mayor and has attracted opposition from local residents and traders groups. The zone was a contributory factor in Kit Malthouse's stunning London election victory.

I don't know what the result will be, but in my opinion Boris would do well to abolish the extension which has harmed local business, failed to raise much revenue and serves as a perverse incentive for all the residents who receive a discount to drive their cars more often.

There was always a sniff of class warfare in Livingstone's decision. The planned Eastern Extension (covering largely Labour supporting areas) was never progressed and the proposal for a charge at Heathrow never got off the drawing board.