Monday, September 28, 2009

Havering Business Awards

On Friday night I attended the Havering Business Awards dinner with guests from the Fire Authority. We had been nominated for one of the prizes but it was far from a done deal - two years ago we reached the final but did not win.

However this time the efforts of the team were rewarded. The Fire authority won the Sustainable Design and Construction Award for the new fire station currently under construction at Harold Hill. This is the first fire station to be built in London for twelve years, which is in itself a cause for celebration. The building is designed to minimise its carbon footprint, making efficient use of energy and water. It can also be adapted to house more fire engines if necessary or altered for other uses. So congratulations to Barbara Riddell and her LFEPA team.

But that wasn't the end as the contractor who is building the station, Lakehouse Contracts Ltd, walked away with the Business and Education Partnership Award for its work with the further education college. More of their projects can be seen at .They then topped off the evening by winning the overall Havering Business of the Year Award.

A great night for a great team...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Congestion Charge Extension Will Be Scrapped

Today the Evening Standard carries a story claiming that Boris will renege on his election promise to scrap the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge Zone. The piece looks to be based on rumours that have been circulating in the blogosphere for a few days and a rather selective take on a quote from Transport Advisor, Kulveer Ranger.

The phones and emails are buzzing over this, and Boris has issued the following statement:

You may have heard the scurrilous rumour that I have reneged on my promise to remove the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge Zone. I am writing now to tell you that is emphatically not true.

When I was elected, I promised to give Londoners the consultation they never got. Londoners expressed the overwhelming view that it should be removed, and I promised to honour that judgement. I maintain that promise today, and to make it absolutely crystal clear: we will be removing the Western Extension next year.

We have to jump through a number of tedious bureaucratic hoops before the axe can fall, but fall it will. The extended zone will be no more. It will be an ex-zone, the area formally known as. It will be a dead zone!

So there we have it, from the Mayor's own mouth and in his own - unique - words.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Zil Lanes Criticised

A memorable feature of the Soviet Union was the exclusive 'Zil Lane', reserved for communist VIPs to be swept past the traffic jams in their limousines. London will have its own version of Zil lanes in 2012 thanks to the Olympic Route Network, providing a fast link between the five star hotels of the West End and the main venues at Stratford and Greenwich. Roads which will have reserved lanes include the Embankment and the Blackwall Tunnel.

We have raised concerns about the proposed network of exclusive lanes in the past, but today news of more criticisms emerged - courtesy of the BBC. It appears that the police and the ambulance service have both expressed concerns about the effect on response times, indeed I recall the last time the proposal was discussed there was some doubt if even the emergency services will be allowed to use the reserved lanes.

The exclusive network was one of the conditions imposed on London before the games were awarded to us. Lanes will be available for competitors naturally and Olympic officials, but other VIPs and journalists will also benefit - no squeezing onto public transport for them...

The Olympics organisers are due to appear before the Assembly for questions in a few weeks and it's a sure bet that the Olympic Route Network will feature high on the agenda.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

London Isn't Burning

Yesterday the Fire Authority received a document reviewing the long term fire trends for Greater London. Bringing together data from the creation of Greater London in 1965 to the present day, the report paints a fascinating picture of how the capital has changed over almost half a century.


In 1966 Greater London's population was around 7.8 million, having declined from some 8.6 million in 1939, at the outbreak of the war. Numbers continued to decline, reaching 6.7 million in 1988 - a year after I moved here - but then started to climb, achieving 7.5 million in 2007. The idea that London is more populous than at any time in its history is therefore incorrect, however there are other social trends which arguably have a greater impact.

The number of households - unlike the population - has steadily increased over the same period from 2.2 million in 1966 to 3.1 million in 2008, driving the demand for development and urbanisation. Behind these figures are large numbers of single parent families and people who live alone. I have always thought there was scope for someone to lobby on behalf of single Londoners, and these figures demonstrate the growth of this important group.


In 1976 the number of fires peaked at 63,524, declining to just 29,735 at the end of 2008 - the lowest total since 1965. The number of fires per year has fallen steadily since 2003. Fire deaths in 2008 (46) were less than a quarter of the numbers suffered in 1980 (196), which is very good news although of course the numbers don't yet include the recent Lakanal House tragedy.

In 1966 the London Fire Brigade responded to more than 10 chimney fires but by 2008 clean air legislation and the decline of coal as an energy source meant that only one such fire occurred every three to four days.

In 1966 50% of all the incidents attended by the Brigade were fires. In 2008 only 20% of callouts relate to fires. Much more time is spent responding to road accidents, flooding and people trapped in lifts.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Gants Hill Delays

Depressing news reaches me from TfL. During the work on the roundabout at Gants Hill, they have unearthed 'unidentified utilities', and this now means that the project is going to be delayed considerably. The pipes and cables need to be traced and then diverted to allow for the road works.

The original completion date of October 2010 has now been put back to April 2011 !! The carriageway will be returned to its previous capacity, with temporary traffic management measures in place.

TfL have undertaken to brief me regularly and to keep Redbridge Council and local stakeholders informed as the work progresses.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Choppy Water at MQT

Boris and the Conservative Group don't agree on everything - the mayor appealed beyond traditional party loyalties to secure his election so some dissent is to be expected. The other groups have commented on the somewhat independent approach of some Conservative members. "Ken would never have tolerated this from Labour." is a commonly expressed sentiment.

Past meetings have seen clashes over a proposed amnesty for illegal immigrants and the powers that TfL exercise in deciding the location of bus stops. Today things got rougher than usual.

With the coming year's budget in prospect, members lined up to make the case for a repeat of last year's precept freeze. Trenchant colleague Brian Coleman pushed a bit further, calling for significant cuts particularly in the Transport for London monolith. It probably got a bit more heated than envisaged but Boris was left in no doubt that we will be seeking to protect council tax payers during the budget consultation.

Andrew Boff then raised concerns about the LDA's funding of new academies. The worry - shared by other members - is that the mayor is extending his powers onto territory that is firmly under borough control. Andrew even suggested that the effect would be to recreate a smaller version of the ILEA, along with an 'Outer London Education Authority' - OLEA!

Some constructive criticism of the administration is, in my opinion, a good thing, and anyway it is our job. Visitors in the gallery told me how refreshing they find this after the toadying that is all too evident at Prime Minister's Questions. But perhaps things went too far this time...

I raised concerns - originally highlighted by Morris Hickey - about the standard of service on the 462 bus route, which often runs early at Fulwell Cross, 14 minutes early on one occasion documented by Morris. The Mayor promised further sanctions against Arriva if the service did not improve and told us that two drivers had been disciplined for failing to observe the timetable. Hopefully things will get better but I'm sure we will soon know if they don't.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Back to it...

Wednesday sees the first Mayor's Question Time of the autumn session.

My colleague Richard Tracey leads off the bowling with a question about the overflow of raw sewage into the Thames. It's the first chance to discuss the incident that occurred in July and with autumn storms in prospect it remains a live issue. Plans for a new storm sewer should ultimately prevent further discharges but the project remains many years and billions of pounds away.

The Greens and Labour are both raising the future of bus services, in the likely event that subsidies are cut by the government. Jenny Jones provides the more detailed question, offering a slew of potentially unpopular alternatives including fare increases and network cuts. Detail is likely to be sketchy as the government's intentions are unclear but the issue is likely to resurface in the coming months.

For the Lib Dems Caroline Pidgeon is asking a wider question about the coming annual fare package. Traditionally this is announced in September and implemented in the New Year. Will Boris use Caroline's question as an opportunity to make a statement?

Richard Barnbrook questions the Mayor's support for regularisation of London's illegal immigrants. Boris has stuck his neck out over this issue, disagreeing with national Conservative - and Labour - policy, and also with the views of our own group, so his current take on the situation will be interesting.

I have several guests attending from local accountancy firm Haslers ( ) and those who manage to sit through the full two and a half hours of questions will get a guided tour of City Hall from me as a reward for their dedication...