Thursday, March 04, 2010

Questions at Harrow

Last night Boris and the Assembly visited Harrow for the six monthly official Peoples' Question Time. The Assembly Hall at Harrow School is probably the poshest venue that we have visited in ten years - this was the twentieth of these events. Many of the audience were young and this group tends to respond more positively to the unique Boris mixture of humour, politics and celebrity, although they look a bit nonplussed to see the rest of us there. Even so, there was no remote voting this time, following the rather rowdy question time at Brixton where the voting pads were thrown at the stage.

Local Assembly Member Navin Shah struggled to control an exuberant audience at times, allowing more contributions than usual from members at the expense of the Mayor and public questions. Harrow MP and former Labour minister Tony McNulty was present in the audience allowing Boris to crack a joke about second homes.


A fixed format has developed over time, with policing questions dealt with first. There was still concern about knife crime although the number of deaths has halved since last year. Whether a stabbing results in a tragic death can depend on a lot of factors beyond police control - the weapon used, speed and quality of medical attention, stamina of the victim, luck - and some of the injured have to live with awful consequences, so in my opinion the total number of stabbings, fatal or otherwise, is the key statistic to focus on.

There was general welcome for the police teams working on public transport and the consequent reduction in the crimes they target, but one woman recounted her experience of having bottles thrown at her, so there are still too many incidents. As always the local borough commanders were present to take note of public experience. The new Police Authority chairman, Kit Malthouse, dealt with questions sympathetically and in detail - a good first outing for him.


This always produces a catalogue of complaints, and I suppose it always will. Top of the list was the decision to cancel the lift project at Harrow-On-The-Hill Station. This is one of six capital projects halted in mid progress - Newbury Park is another - and the decision continues to draw criticism. The need to control spending at TfL is making really tough decisions the order of the day and this may be a harbinger of national policies following the impending election.

There was justifiable anger about the fiasco of the Jubilee Line signal upgrade which has affected Harrow and Brent particularly badly. The blame lies squarely with Tubelines and the structure of Gordon Brown's PPP but that's not much consolation for residents. Boris even stated that some of the line closures had been completely unnecessary as no work was being done - a result of delays in producing the signalling software. Signals have been a problem on the Jubilee since the Extension opened in 1999, with incompatible systems operating on the two sections, leading to delays around Green Park where the old and new lines meet. The new system will cover the whole line and lead to a considerable increase in capacity - eventually...

Problems with Dial A Ride were also raised, with one user very critical of the new vehicles, which he stated were unable to negotiate width restrictions. The transport committee is reviewing the continuing poor performance and took evidence from users on Tuesday. I await their conclusions with interest.


Much of the concern was about planning issues, with opposition to more blocks of flats and development of the green belt. The new London Plan, restricting back garden development and stipulating larger sizes for flats, is a positive contribution, but it is taking time to get through the legal consultation hoops much beloved of this government.

In some cases residents worried that devolution of more power to local councils could lead to unpopular decisions. One lady was particularly vociferous in condemnation of development plans for Brent Cross which include dense development and waste disposal facilities.

Harrow Council have chosen to freeze their council tax this year - Havering have agreed a 0.5% cut - and Boris has frozen the precept for the second year running, but one brave woman wanted council tax to rise to pay for better services. This proposal did not attract much support from the audience, which perhaps indicates a change of priorities for voters in this very marginal area. The Evening Standard poll yesterday predicts that Labour will lose both the Parliamentary seats they hold in Harrow.


By this time some of the audience had drifted away and the usual concerns about value for money were rehearsed. Boris promised that the £9.3 billion budget would not be breached other than "over my dead body!" Young people were keen to be involved and the issue of free tickets reared its head again. Andrew Boff - who has been critical in the past - produced a ringing endorsement of the games, emphasising the benefits for East London and the knock on effects for the whole city. Harrow won't be losing out, as the Bangladeshi Team have decided to base themselves here...

The meeting ended too soon for many people who wanted to ask questions and Navin faced some angry comments. Boris lingered to sign autographs and pose for pictures with an audience which was friendlier than those we encountered at Brixton and Bethnal Green. One young girl displayed her handwritten I Love You Boris poster - it was community politics meets Big Brother. Only Davina McCall was missing - perhaps we could persuade her to chair the next event...


morris hickey said...

You are not wholly correct about the Jubilee Line signalling fiasco.

This has its roots in the construction of the Jubbly Line Extension from Green Park to Stratford. It was way behind schedule and crucial to the government's plans for the millenium celebrations at the end of 1999, and transport links to Charlie Falconer's Dome. Consequently an outdated, sub-standard signalling system was put in quickly that severely restricted the line's operational capacity. This predates the PPP and the involvement of Tubelines, and is down solely to the incompetence of the former London Transport Executive and the government.

Of course - if some people in authority could have brought themselves to accept that 2000 years of the Christian era were not completed until 31.12.2000 then they would have had a whole year more to complete the job properly!

Rog T said...


Did you deliberately pick the worst possible picture you could find of Boris? He looks like a member of the security team eyeballing a disruptive oik in the crowd.

Ali H. said...

I was the lady - thanks for the compliment! - who objected so strongly to the so-called Brent Cross Regeneration. It isn't just the appalling dense housing that thousands of us oppose. It's the incinerator in a residential area, the disastrous traffic impact, the ruination of our communities and the total disregard by Barnet Council for our opinions. We've been treated with contempt by them, and their developer henchmen. We want a proper public enquiry and real regeneration, not wanton destruction. This isn't NIMBYism, we oppose the doubling of a shopping centre simply to suit City interests.

I'd contrast this with initiatives elsewhere in London. Housing on the North Circular is being refurbished to meet modern standards at a far lower human and monetary cost. In Harlesden, there is shortly to be a two day open workshop to ask local people how they want their area reinvigorated. Why wasn't this the approach taken at Brent Cross?

Thank you for publicising our fight.

Roger Evans said...

Morris - thank you for that snippet of useful info.

Rog - you're supposed to be looking at the sea of smiling faces, not the Mayor. I thought you wanted more crowd shots...

Ali - welcome to the blog, hope you return often. And may I wish you luck with your campaign (without fettering my legal decision making discretion in any way, of course). Do you have a campaign website to plug?

weggis said...

How about this one?

Wembley Matters

Rog T said...


I did a quick count, the "sea of smiling faces"? I counted two (the two girls), rather outnumbered by some rather worried looking boys.

Could it be testosterone charged Boris has a rather different effect on teenage girls (swoon) to boys (abject terror)?

I rather suspect, having seen this picture that if Boris obeyed Dave Camerons command to "hug a hoody" that would be the alst we'd see of any hoodies around London.

Anyway, thanks for posting the picture, it's one of my favourites.

Ali H. said...

Roger, if you'd like to join the Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood, we'd be delighted!

Here's our blog:

And thanks to weggis for posting the Wembley one, too.

Anonymous said...

It is great that that the Mayor's office is going out there to meet people and raise issues.
With the Brent Cross Cricklewood plan, I find some aspects barmy. They want to regenrate the area and improve it. So why are they building a freight depot in a residential area?. Are we going to see manufacturing in London?. Most of our goods come from shipping containers. Also, why blight the area with an incinerator?. How does this fit in with London's new waste strategy?

morris hickey said...

When it comes to transport why is Boris making such a prat of himself over station booking offices? Falling for yet another beartrap set by Hendy? He made an election pledge, now is the time to honour it and to stop playing with words.

Post submitted 18.32 on 17 March (your blog does not state dates).

Livi said...

Hi Roger! Thank-you for commenting on my blog-it was such a nice surprise that you remembered truly was a highlight for us 3 meeting you all on the tube, we were buzzing for days!
I understand Boris is busy..we are still planning on writing to him, so all fingers will be crossed that he can squeeze us in!
Thanks for the offer of the tour-we would really love to do that. How can we go about organizing that?