Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Olympic Legacy

Today's Assembly questioned witnesses from the Olympic Park Legacy Company - Baroness Ford, the chair, formerly of English Partnerships, and chief executive Andrew Altman, formerly deputy mayor of Philadelphia. They are a class act but running the company that will take on responsibility for the site after 2010, they will need to be.

They identified two primary challenges facing their organisation. First, ensuring that the project continued to be a government priority even after the games are over and the excitement has faded. Second, managing land deals with competitive partners in an uncertain property market.

Baroness Ford confirmed that they have priced the post Olympic work at £450 million, including letting out a media centre that covers a larger area than Canary Wharf. Kit Malthouse warned that a not for profit venture should not become a we need more money project.

Olympic Stadium

Murad Qureshi told us that the Moscow Olympic Stadium had stood unused for 28 years after the games. The inclusion of an athletics track potentially made the facility unattractive for other users, particularly football clubs who want fans to be seated as close to the pitch as possible. The witnesses confirmed that following the games, 55,000 seats would be removed at a cost of £36 million, to create a smaller, more viable venue. The athletics element would remain however, as this was a commitment entered into when the games were awarded to London.


The witnesses said that they did not expect any additional debt to be transferred to their company. They would be applying for outline planning permission to develop the site in the coming twelve months, after which they would seek bids from development partners.


The entire site has been decontaminated to a depth of 31 inches. Much of the area was home to some pretty noxious industries so a lot of nasties were taken away. Jenny Jones wondered if the ground would be safe for growing vegetables. This is potentially a problem for fruit trees with deep roots but smaller plants will be safe. Radioactive carrots will not be bathing the stadium in a luminous glow - unless they grow longer than 31 inches...

Monday, March 08, 2010

Appreciation at Elm Park

Last night I attended a meeting of the Arise Metropolitan Assembly at the Elm Park assembly hall. They had gathered to thank their MP, James Brokenshire, for his work with the community in the area.

James was elected in 2005 to represent Hornchurch and he immediately went to work, building up a reputation as a strong advocate for constituents. His predecessors, Labour's John Cryer, and the Conservative Robin Squire, both had good links in the area, so they were not an easy act to follow. Nevertheless, James is highly thought of as this meeting demonstrated.

A year after his election, James was promoted to the front bench, becoming shadow minister for crime reduction. He also finds time to spend with Cathy, his wife, and their three children. James was one of a very few MPs who didn't claim second home expenses and chose instead to commute to work.

At the coming election the Hornchurch constituency is being abolished. The new boundary runs through the middle of Elm Park, splitting the community between Hornchurch & Upminster, which should be retained by Conservative MP Angela Watkinson, and Dagenham & Rainham, which is shaping up to be an interesting fight between Labour MP Jon Cruddas and energetic Conservative challenger, Simon Jones. Jon has let it be known that if he loses his seat he would like to be Labour's candidate for Mayor - we're hoping to make at least part of his dream come true...

James was left without a seat and had to tour the country looking for a new place to represent. Being a shadow minister made him look like an establishment choice, which didn't help his chances with independent minded party members at selection committees. After several rejections he was adopted by Old Bexley & Sidcup, Ted Heath's former seat. Our loss is their gain and we wish him well.

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...