Thursday, December 22, 2011

Council Tax Freeze

Boris has published his proposals for the 2012-13 budget. In the forward he states:

I am delighted to announce that as part of my budget for 2012-13, I will again be able to freeze the GLA's Council Tax precept. This means that I have not increased the Council Tax throughout the whole of my first administration. After eight years of continuous rises amounting to an aggregate increase of over 150 percent under my predecessor, the GLA's Council Tax precept has been reduced in real terms by 12 percent under this administration.

Londoners are getting an early Christmas present from their mayor!

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Bendy End

Today sees the last of the bendy buses making their last drive through London. Route 207 from Hayes is the last to be 'debendified', with standard double deckers replacing the unpopular articulated vehicles. Reduced fare evasion on the former bendy routes is set to save TfL over £5 million per year.

Meanwhile the first of the new super clean Boris Buses is due to arrive in the capital. In the coming months eight prototype models will be tested on London's streets to see how they stand up to our stop-start traffic and heavy passenger volumes. With any problems identified and resolved this trial should pave the way for their arrival en masse after the Olympics.

Like buses, the delivered manifesto promises arrive in twos...

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Sponsoring London

This morning the budget committee took evidence from TfL deputy chairman Daniel Moylan. We were looking at the sponsorship deals for the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme and the Emirates Cable Car, as well as future options for exchanging private money for publicity or naming rights.

A Question of Taste

Daniel accepted that there were limits imposed by generally accepted considerations of good taste.

The McDonalds Buckingham Palace Experience would in his view be a step too far, and I'm inclined to agree.

Renaming Knightsbridge Station as Harrods would also be off the agenda - although I can't see why, given that many of the passengers travelling to Knightsbridge are heading for the upmarket department store, indeed a renaming in this case might actually help tourists to find their way. Naming a station after a football club would be considered, indeed Arsenal set the trend many years ago.

A proposal to temporarily rename Oxford Circus as Oxford Landing (after a brand of wine) had been turned down as failing just about every test that TfL applied to sponsorship.

And the Spearmint Rhino Cable Car, whilst never on offer would have been deemed inappropriate too - as well as distracting from the river crossing views...

And whilst having short term loanmakers sponsoring free travel on New Year's Eve was not seen as a mistake, it seemed pretty clear that there would be no repeat of this donation.

And the agreement cuts both ways, so if strikes or inefficiencies damage the services then the sponsors would be entitled to some of their money back. In the case of the cable car, TfL have to provide 97% reliability over 28 days or Emirates get a partial refund.

Future Deals

An agreement to sponsor free bottled water on the Tube during hot weather had been reached in the past and would be considered for the future.

Venezuelan support for public transport had been agreed in the past but would not be considered by the current administration.

I was keen that TfL explore options for smaller sponsors to contribute to smaller and lower profile schemes. For example, the abandoned project to install a lift at Newbury Park would only cost a couple of million and this could be sought in part from the large superstores near to the station. Or Romford Bus Station - currently a confusing and dirty maze for non locals - could be reorganised and cleaned up using contributions from local businesses in return for permanent publicity. The director from TfL said that options for lower level sponsorship were being considered.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Boris Visits Rainham

This morning Boris arrived in Rainham to see at first hand how the council is transforming this quiet corner of Havering. Joined by council leader Michael White, he visited Rainham Marshes to see a new walkway leading from the station to this nature reserve which provides a refuge for wild geese, voles and the sociable lapwing. We went on to help children plant bulbs in the gardens of historic Rainham Hall, a National Trust property. Then there was just time to squeeze in a tour of the village and observe the new shop fronts and the Christmas lights all funded by the Mayor's Outer London Fund.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Olympic Transport Update

This morning the transport committee took evidence from Deputy Mayor Isobel Dedring and Olympic transport bosses from LOCOG, TfL and the ODA.

We discussed the challenges faced at some of the stations on London Underground and the main line:

Stratford - of course, where the real challenge will be handling the peaks in traffic as the Olympic Park venues empty after events.

London Bridge - with conflicting flows, commuters coming into town at the same time as spectators leave on the trains to Greenwich and the Jubilee Line to Stratford.

Liverpool Street - also with conflicting traffic, commuters coming into town and spectators leaving for Stratford on the Central and main lines.

Waterloo - with heavy traffic on South West Trains and the Jubilee Line.

Kings Cross / St Pancras - a confusing environment above and below ground, with heavy volumes expected on Eurostar, main lines and the many Underground lines that converge here. The Javelin service direct to Stratford will be a key link, leaving St Pancras.

Green Park - with heavy traffic to see the big screen sites and of course the beach volleyball.

Walking and cycling to the games will be encouraged, however the Greenway south of the main stadium will be closed for the duration. This section along the top of the Northern Outfall Sewer forms the last section of the Capital Ring, which will be diverted through the Olympic Park.

We were assured that the Olympic Route Network will affect only 1% of the capital's roads and the Games Lanes, intended for exclusive use by Olympic traffic will only be a third of that. Nevertheless there will be pinch points and the committee particularly want to see details of the arrangements for the Blackwall Tunnel. London Councils are asking to be allowed to operate temporary car pounds for vehicles cleared from the ORN but whether this is a helpful offer of assistance or a bid to get a share of the money from fines is unclear...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Heckling At Hornchurch

Our own Queen's Theatre are currently staging Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and soon they will be hosting Cinderella as the festive season gets under way. On Monday night we sandwiched Peoples' Question Time into their busy schedule.

It's a long way out to Hornchurch on the District Line - over 40 stops from Richmond and I pay tribute to West London colleagues like Tony Arbour who made the trek. However only 14 of the Members turned up which was a bit disappointing - on the bright side, it did allow me to call every one of them to speak, and some got two bites of the cherry. I chaired what proved to be a raucous event.

Boris opened the meeting with one of his traditional barn storming speeches. For once I didn't take in much of the content as I was due to call Assembly Chair Jennette Arnold next and she hadn't arrived. If she didn't get there, who would give the Assembly update? Deputy Chair Dee Doocey wasn't there either, nor was previous Chair Darren Johnson. In fact none of the Members present had chaired the Assembly! What to do? Boris drew to a close and sat down to much applause..... The Jennette arrived, delays on the District Line we were told. She went straight into her speech, providing a useful update on Assembly activities.

Jennette was not the last to arrive - John Biggs slipped in, stage left, some time later. The DLR was playing up too...


We have a well rehearsed format for these occasions by now. The first item to be discussed was policing and crime.

A young man got to his feet to tell us that he had been attacked and knifed. His attacker was caught but got only two years inside, and he didn't feel this was long enough. Neither did the audience, judging by their reaction. Neither did Boris.

Someone asked what we were doing to tackle gangs and knife crime amongst young people. With Kit Malthouse away on paternity leave in Canada - he has had twins - I called James Cleverly to update the audience on the Time For Action strategy to beat youth crime.

A man from St Andrew's Church asked about metal thefts. This is a particularly topical question as thieves have been climbing onto the church roof to steal copper, with up to seven such incidents this year. The church - the Horned Church after which the town was named - is left with a leaking roof and volunteers sleeping inside, in an attempt to deter further thefts.

Aware of time constraints - always a challenge at PQT - I tried to call more questions but the guys at the front wanted their metal theft issue dealt with first. Boris chipped in on their behalf and I could see there was a danger - ever present - of him hijacking the chairing, so I let him carry on. He condemned the thieves who are targeting not only roofs but also BT cables, railway signals, war memorials and even drain covers, and he stated that these thefts should attract longer sentences. There should also be more controls over scrap metal dealers who accepted the stolen metal for cash in hand, no questions asked.

A woman from Haringey asked about crime in her area. I called Joanne McCartney who represents the borough, but Joanne had been equipped with statistics about crime in Havering by her diligent Labour researchers, so her response made us look like a hotbed of crime in comparison. I'd still prefer a night out in Hornchurch to a night out in Tottenham - and didn't we have to search the attendees for weapons when PQT went there a few years ago?


This session began with a question about ongoing closures of the District Line - a hot topic judging by the audience reaction, not to mention my own frustrations on far too many weekends. Boris replied that the weekend closures were not 'some random act of sadism' but were necessary to upgrade the line, and we would have longer and more frequent trains as a result. I hope things really do improve, and that there is an end to the disruptive closure programme.

A lady asked why there weren't more buses in her area. Boris asked his transport advisers to take a note and find out. He also told her that up to date information on bus times is now available by text, just a mobile phone click away.

A woman in a wheelchair asked why more disabled ramps on buses were not working. Boris reassured her that no bus is allowed to leave the depot without a working ramp. However my own postbag tells a different story and this is clearly becoming more of a problem - either the ramps aren't working or the drivers are avoiding using them.

A large man had a go about the Low Emission Zone, another hot topic in Hornchurch. Delaying the unpopular third phase two years ago was absolutely right, but introducing it a couple of months before the election may be a strategic political error. Boris stated that he had been prepared for this question - 'surely not!' I interjected, we weren't given notice of ANY of the questions - there was much hooting from the audience. Mike Tuffrey plugged his idea for a higher cost Central London zone, which looks attractive as it targets the problem and leaves Outer London alone.

An Asian man raised the question of access to Chadwell Heath Station where some very steep temporary steps are currently in place. Hopefully some proper ramps and lifts should be provided as part of the Crossrail upgrade in the next few years.

Another man asked for a progress upgrade on the cable car. Boris gave an enthusiastic response. John Biggs, in his seat by now, gave a more grumpy one and championed Ken Livingstone's support for the Thames Gateway Bridge. The bridge was cheered but Ken was booed.


As I opened this session a dozen young protesters stood up at the back and started chanting. They were out of synch with each other and several were Germans, so it was difficult to tell what they were saying, but I could tell the verse would take some time to complete. I asked them to stop and was ignored. Asked them to leave, ignored again. Asked security to clear the row, which they did, throwing around a dozen people out. There was a pause as order was restored.

Someone shouted 'Get a Job!', drawing loud applause. I warned that anyone else pulling stunts would also be asked to leave, as they were taking time from the public who had come to ask their questions. Most people clapped but a few sat looking sullen. There were no more interruptions...

A woman asked a technical question about recycling. Luckily James Cleverly chairs the London Waste and Recycling Board, so I called him to give a suitably technical response.

Someone asked about Boris Island airport proposals and the Mayor gave a stirring defence of his plans, which are looking more plausible with the government decision not to expand Heathrow.


An older man stood to read out his question, which ran to several pages, some stuck together. Alarmed, I sought to cut him short but he wasn't having it and the audience wanted him to continue. He wondered why Londoners had been landed with the lion's share of the bill for what was a national event - a view shared by many others in the hall. Boris stated - correctly - that this was part of the deal done by his predecessor and the Labour government.

As was the plan for an extensive Olympic Route Network of restricted lanes during the Games. Boris had worked to reduce the size of this network and its times of operation.

Jennette Arnold said we should applaud Ken Livingstone for bringing the Olympics to London. Two people clapped - or perhaps it was one person and an echo...

The unfair allocation of tickets was raised. Boris informed the audience that another tranche of tickets would go on sale in the Spring. I told them that Olympic bosses had assured us that unsuccessful applicants from the first ballot would have priority for this tranche.

Other Business

The final session returned to the St Paul's protesters - referred to as 'crusties' by the Mayor earlier. Several people got up to defend the right to protest and to attack the evils of capitalism. One man acknowledged that the protests seemed incoherent but they were no less passionate for all that and he felt their demands would become clearer as their numbers swelled. I'm not so sure - crowds follow strong ideas, but ideas don't follow crowds.

An electrician asked why more locals hadn't been employed building the Olympic site. He got the standard response that most of the workers had an East London address - but they are hardly likely to commute from Eastern Europe, and I think he has a point.


Boris was mobbed by an adoring crowd as proceedings came to an end. I headed to the bar for a stiff one and ended up chatting to a couple of the more vociferous questioners - friendly people with genuine concerns.

My Labour opponent was in the bar too so I took the opportunity to introduce myself. Mandy is a youth worker from Hackney and still keen to do the job after sitting through the two hour Question Time.

All in all, a good session with a lot of meaningful questions and quite detailed answers. A good turnout on a cold autumn evening, by the audience if not by Members...

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Budget Committee

Yesterday's budget committee took evidence from the Metropolitan Police about Olympic security and responding to the riots.

Olympic Security

Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison is the national Olympic security coordinator. He has a budget of £600 million to guarantee public safety outside the Olympic venues - inside, the security is the responsibility of LOCOG. He refused to predict the total security costs because a wide range of variables are still in play.

However the initial policing operation had achieved an underspend. Recruitment to the Olympic Security Directorate had been lower than expected, with experienced officers proving reluctant to leave their secure jobs for a short term project in uncertain times. At the end of August they were therefore under strength by 59 staff, 18% of the establishment. Mr Allison was confident that all these posts would be filled by April 2012.

Capital spending had also been lower than expected , coming in around £6 million under budget in the first quarter. Mr Allison put this down to good project management, but I pointed out that one man's good project management is another man's over budgeting. He assured us that the budget was likely to be fully committed by the end of the year because other projects were proving to be more costly, an example being the provision of police radio coverage in the Olympic Village.

Mr Allison was also keen to assure us that the level of abstraction of police from their home boroughs to supplement security was not going to be any higher than the routine experiences of covering football matches and other large events in the capital.

The Riots

The committee explored the extent of liabilities resulting from claims under the Riot Damages Act. Bob Atkins, Treasurer of the MPA, told us that they had received 3844 applications for compensation under the Act. The smallest of these were for sums around £50k but the largest was for £100 million. Total costs were still being assessed but he expected the Home Office to meet a large part of the bill.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Boris Is Coming Hornchurch.

Yes, it's Peoples' Question Time again, two hours of live questions and - hopefully - answers at the well appointed Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch - with Yours Truly chairing! The event takes place in the evening on Monday 7th November. It is free but demand for places means that you have to register to attend, and you can do this at .

It promises to be a lively evening and we are expecting a good crowd.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hospital Disappointment

Yesterday was D-Day for the future of health services in Havering and Redbridge. The morning saw the publication of the Care Quality Commission report into failings in the maternity unit at Queens Hospital. The report was so damning that it led the evening news bulletins and was even covered on Channel 4.

Hot on its heels came the long awaited report from the Independent Review Group looking at the proposal to move maternity and A & E Services out of King Georges Hospital into the much criticised Queens. This is an interesting and detailed report which certainly acknowledges the failings of both services at Queens. My submission which covered future demand and the challenges of transport to Queens has clearly been taken into account. So has the widespread fear - not too strong a word - expressed by patients and their local representatives, at the prospect of being forced into an already overloaded and failing site.

Unfortunately the evidence from local hospital managers and GP groups seems to have won the day, with the IRP concluding that concentrating services at Queens is the only way to improve them - a seemingly perverse proposition in current conditions. The hospital management have plans to improve both maternity and A & E and these plans include work to enlarge the buildings housing the units. The IRP agreed that services should move to Queens but only after the performance of this hospital had been improved.

The Secretary of State has agreed with the IRP conclusions.

So the campaign to save services at King Georges needs to consider its next move. We have to go through both reports in detail, questioning some of the assumptions made and the weight placed on evidence from service users as opposed to service providers. The decision could still be challenged and I believe we will find good grounds to do so.

And we also need to ask how much services at Queens need to improve before the move goes ahead. This must involve the completion of the physical enlargement of both units, but we also need to know how service improvement - particularly patients' experiences - will be measured and how confidence will be restored. How will we know if the services have improved sufficiently and what happens if they fail to achieve the target?

Most importantly we need to maintain the political unity that has seen figures as diverse as Andrew Rosindell and Margaret Hodge come together to defend our hospitals and constituents.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Olympic Questions

This morning saw the latest appearance of Olympic officials before the Assembly. With less than a year to go members were keen to ensure that concerns around transport and ticketing were allayed.


First in front of the meeting were Seb Coe and Paul Deighton of LOCOG, the games organisers.

With plans for another sale of tickets in April 2012, they stated that lessons had been learned from the first tranche of sales, where some people had obtained all the tickets they applied for but around one million were left unsatisfied.

The April ticket sale would avoid the use of a ballot and would be an on line first come first served exercise. Priority would be given to the million unsuccessful applicants from the first tranche and the number of tickets per person would be tightly limited to ensure wider availability. All the events and venues would be available, but precise numbers were not yet known because plans for seating at some events were not finalised. In particular, the opening ceremony was dependent on lighting, TV sight lines and space for the show so the number of tickets on sale was not finalised. I hoped that the majority of seats would be filled by member of the public rather than sponsors, VIPs and Olympic officials.


Yesterday was not good at Liverpool Street. Overnight storms brought down the power lines, leaving only three platforms in operation, and the severe disruption lasted all day. The problems were compounded by a lack of information for commuters about alternative routes - a situation that would be much worse should an incident occur during the games with crowds of non English speaking visitors milling about in confusion.

Witnesses from TfL and the ODA assured me that the new control centre at their Pallestra HQ would make managing such situations much easier. I have toured the centre with colleagues and it is certainly most impressive - but I didn't see much evidence of cooperation with Network Rail and the operators. Let's hope we won't face the ultimate test.

TfL were castigated for their plans to close 51 pedestrian crossings to smooth the flow of traffic in Games Lanes. There was also concern about Greenwich Council's plans to fine drivers £500 for parking illegally on their streets during 'Games Time'. The line between deterrent and cash cow is a fine one in this case.

Monday, October 17, 2011

MQT - Two Bridges Too Far

Two issues involving bridges featured in Wednesday's Questions to The Mayor.

The first of these was the long running saga of the Central Line bridge over Forest Road next to Fairlop Station. This bridge has a sorry history of being struck by over height vehicles. The lorries come out of the Hainault trading estate or the nearby gravel pits and are directed towards the bridge by their satnav systems. Because the drivers are foreign they cannot read the various warning signs. Satnavs are available for over height vehicles but unfortunately the hauliers penny pinch and use systems for ordinary cars.

Raising the bridge would involve raising the embankment and the station, so is prohibitively expensive. Lowering the road - a solution used elsewhere - is impossible because of cables and pipes running beneath the surface. Concrete beams are in place to protect the bridge in case of a strike but this does nothing to safeguard vehicles and pedestrians on the road, and local residents fear there will be a fatality if the accidents continue.

I suggested restricting the road width - as TfL have done for Network Rail's weak bridge in Romford - thus prohibiting large vehicles completely. Boris promised to consider this option and I am sure Redbridge Council will want to help.

The second bridge under discussion actually doesn't exist any more. There was a pedestrian bridge over the A12 near its junction with Mawney Road in Romford, but some years ago now it was struck by another over height vehicle and had to be removed. Residents were effectively cut off from Romford Town Centre and the local councillors organised a petition calling for a replacement bridge. I presented this to the Mayor and TfL at an Assembly meeting.

The response from Ken Livingstone - yes it was that long ago - was that disability laws required a long ramp and that there was insufficient space at the location for a larger bridge. TfL would therefore create a crossing at road level with pedestrian lights.

After much delay the crossing was opened in the Summer - then closed again because of the danger posed by U-turning vehicles. Those of us who use the A12 know that U-turning is a common feature at all the cross roads leading up to Gallows Corner, but that fact appears to have passed TfL by. Boris assured me that the crossing would be reopened following the introduction of extra safety measures.

This has been a fiasco, highlighting the way that well meaning equality and health & safety regulations can actually strangle progress and make things worse for the community. The failure to plan for the U-turns is particularly unforgiveable.

Labour saw this MQT as an opportunity to criticise fare increases, but they are themselves saddled with Ken's unrealistic pledge to cut fares by 5% - whilst going around town promising expensive transport projects for which there is no money even with fares going up. In the circumstances they pressed their attack without much enthusiasm.

They had a bit more luck with Len Duvall's questions about proposals for a new floating park along the north side of the Thames. The Sunday Times questioned the finances behind the project - and it is difficult to see how it can make its money back - whilst high profile riverside residents and the City Corporation are unimpressed by the concept. This scheme looks unlikely to float.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Recognition for Heroes of August

Thursday evening saw a reception at City Hall to thank the volunteers and council staff who went the extra mile during the August riots and the subsequent clean up. Firefighters, police and the broom wielders of Battersea were all congratulated by Assembly chair Jennette Arnold. A contingent from Redbridge included CCTV operators, youth workers and public protection officers who made a fantastic contribution, clearing up the debris, mitigating the damage and reassuring the community.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Transport Committee

This morning Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy made his first appearance in front of our committee for some time. Unsurprisingly, the debate was wide ranging.


Preparation for the 2012 games is foremost in the minds of TfL managers at this time. They assured us that all the capital works - London Overground, Javelin Link, Jubilee Line and DLR Extension - were completed. Efforts would now be focused on the most affected parts of Central and East London, with employers being helped to brief their staff. Tube upgrades on the Jubilee and Victoria Line would be finished and bedded in by July.

With 3,000 buses and coaches expected to converge on London the Olympic Lanes would be full. Expected crowding at Greenwich had led TfL to ask LOCOG not to issue any more tickets for the equestrian events based in Greenwich Park.

Cable thefts had affected the surface lines more than London Underground where there had only been three incidents, one on the Jubilee and two attempted thefts at the east end of the Central Line.

The committee moved on, promising to undertake a more detailed review in the run up to the games.


With 20% of the UK's bus fleet based in London, members had plenty of questions for Peter Hendy.

The challenging financial situation required a delicate balancing of subsidy, demand and km travelled. In Central London the growth in cycling had freed up spaces on the buses as passengers took to two wheels. Some services had seen their frequency reduced but so far the experience of passengers had not been affected.

The exciting new Boris Bus would be launched at Christmas with a fleet of eight prototypes being tested live on London's streets for six months, before further orders were placed.

Countdown information systems would be rolled out over six months, replacing all the current bus stop indicators and seeing an addition of 2,500 new signs at new locations.

Mr Hendy was unenthusiastic about the prospect of a 5% cut in fares at a difficult time. He declined to discuss the consequences for the bus network but would not be recommending the Mayor made such a cut, as promised by Labour candidate Ken Livingstone.


The cycle hire scheme had experienced IT problems but the operators, SERCO, had pulled out the stops and improved performance. Bike hire and Cycle Superhighways had encouraged a growth in cycling with brand new riders taking to the saddle.

Barclays had taken something of a risk, investing two tranches of £25 million each in a scheme which had not been trialled elsewhere. Mr Hendy felt that the reward of being associated with the scheme was not disproportionate considering the balance of risks.

We briefly talked about walking. Jenny Jones urged Mr Hendy to give walking higher priority as it offered the least costly way of getting people off public transport and freeing up space for passengers.

Disabled Access

We talked about Dial a Ride, which had attracted complaints following the introduction of a new IT system. TfL were working to improve the service. I have received more complaints about ramps on buses failing to work recently. Mr Hendy reaffirmed his commitment to ensure all ramps were working before buses left the depot.

Borough Funding

The boroughs welcomed the relaxation of TfL rules on spending the money provided for Local Improvement Plans. However this is a contentious area. Jenny Jones fears that without TfL control the boroughs will ignore environmental priorities, whereas Croydon member Steve O'Connell stated that TfL should walk away entirely and leave the councils to be judged by their residents at the ballot box.

Admin Savings

Project Horizon, the TfL wide initiative to cut bureaucracy, was on course to save 20% from the budget. Mr Hendy felt this compared well with Hong Kong which was saving 15% and certainly with Paris where no savings were expected. KPMG had recently stated that TfL had adopted a culture of cost efficiency - a culture which it should always have had.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Redbridge Civic Service

This afternoon saw the Redbridge civic service hosted at Christ Church in Wanstead. Mayor Cllr Chris Cummins welcomed Mayors from neighbouring boroughs including Havering, Barking and Dagenham, Waltham Forest and Hillingdon. The service was followed by tea and cakes at the nearby school.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Elm Park Primary School

Today Boris came to Elm Park to open our new primary school. Constructed on the site of the old Ayloff Primary School, the new building assimilates both its predecessor and nearby Dunningford School where roles were - unusually for London - falling.

The new design is revolutionary, with two floors and plenty of open spaces for meetings and assemblies. Joint planning with the pupils led to toilets off individual classrooms, a bright and open school canteen, and plenty of technology, meaning that some children told the mayor that they no longer had to use handwriting - a development that Boris described as 'frightening'.

Consultation with pupils was even instrumental in the choice of purple for the school uniform.

Boris joined council leader Michael White and headteacher Mrs Knox, to address pupils and parents, from one of the wide steps that are used for assemblies. They went on to unveil a plaque and plant a tree at the school entrance.

Leaving the school, Boris visited the new Elm Park Library, where he admired the environmentally friendly green roof and spoke to local users. We then visited the town centre, taking the temperature of small businesses, before returning to town on the District Line.

The sun shone and this was a great opportunity to showcase the council's investment in Elm Park.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Open House on the River

This afternoon the Institute of Civil Engineers hosted a boat trip to highlight engineering wonders of the Thames Gateway. The weather held off and we enjoyed intimate views of our waste disposal facilities, shipping and flood defences.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Flying The Flag

Today I attended a ceremony to mark the award of a Green Flag to Ilford War Memorial Gardens. The award recognises community involvement, conservation and heritage , cleanliness and good maintenance. Only the best green spaces receive the award.

Mayor of Redbridge Chris Cummins, local councillors and MPs Lee Scott and Mike Gapes were present as the flag was raised over the gardens.

Open House Day also meant that the War Memorial Hall was open for public viewing. In the last decade the Friends of the War Memorial have overseen the restoration of this important monument and improvements to the gardens. The Green Flag award is a great tribute to their efforts.

Flags are in vogue right now. A Purple Flag - recognising high quality night life - is being sought for nearby Gants Hill.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

First Questions

Wednesday saw the first Mayor's Question Time of the new term. With the weeks now counting down to the 2012 Boris v Ken v Ex Deputy Assistant Commissioner Paddick rematch, there was plenty of political point making and the Mayor himself was not taking prisoners. Not surprisingly, the August riots attracted a lot of attention - and the public gallery was packed.

The Riot Act

Steve O'Connell led off by inviting the mayor to encourage police to act to prevent riots rather than just responding to the mayhem. Steve saw the consequences of the recent disorder in his own Croydon constituency and other members were keen to back him up. The mood is clearly in favour of tougher policing.

I made the point that long after most of us had worked out that these were criminal looters, the BBC were still referring to them as 'protestors' and trying to find a cause for what they saw as rebels. The Mayor replied diplomatically, that he hadn't seen much of the media coverage. I added that in future the police should treat vandalism, graffiti and intimidation of Londoners as criminal acts regardless of the causes espoused by those committing them. Making a point about tuition fees, cuts or climate change is no more valid an excuse than wanting a pair of trainers or a mobile phone.

Dee Doocey asked about the effects on London's economy. Boris replied that these were still being calculated. I stated that there needed to be a review of town centre planning to ensure the safety of the residents, with stronger defences, clear CCTV lines of sight and sprinklers in new buildings. With apartments over shops the stakes are not just economic - homes and lives are at risk too. I also asked for some clearer guidance about the force that could legally be used to defend property, a question that has been raised by small businesses in my constituency.

I asked for more public order training for police. In Ilford some of the officers who found themselves defending the High Road had not received riot training and in many places they did not have appropriate equipment. Boris replied that this was now a priority at the Met.

Most members pitched in on behalf of their constituents who felt real fear and uncertainty during the riots and in the uneasy days that followed. There wasn't much sympathy for the perpetrators. Green Mayoral candidate Jenny Jones remained silent for once - the current mood does not suit her previous stance which was critical of policing in earlier demonstrations.

TfL Grants to Boroughs

Brian Coleman was critical of the LIP process by which TfL provide funding to boroughs for highway schemes. He related an amusing tale of TfL asking his officers to write a longer report if they wanted the money - "twenty more pages of waffle" had allegedly been requested. I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case, the bureaucracy still needs to be trimmed.

Taxi Touts

I was pleased that Caroline Pidgeon raised the question of illegal mini cabs once again. This is an ongoing concern to many constituents who are law abiding licensed drivers and I often flag up these concerns with the Mayor.

Boris reported a 37% fall in sexual offences in illegal cabs which is very welcome news, but Caroline was concerned that CRB checks for drivers from other countries were of questionable value. She also mentioned that New York has many more enforcement officers than London's Public Carriage Office.

Since 2008 more than 600 licences have been revoked for illegal touting, but often the most prolific offenders return to the streets within a few days. I suggested that prosecutions should look for other matters - benefit fraud, driving without insurance, illegal immigration and unfit vehicles - which could be added to the charge sheet, ensuring longer detention and in some cases deportation for the worst cases.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Wave and Pay

This morning the transport committee took evidence from TfL for our investigation into the exciting future of ticketing on public transport. First, though, we had to approve the chair's actions taken over the summer break.

Olympic Test Event

Following the cycle race that took place in South West London and Surrey a couple of weeks ago, the committee chair, Caroline Pidgeon, had written to TfL expressing the concerns of local residents. Having been caught up in traffic around Putney and Richmond, I shared her concerns, as did my colleague Dick Tracey, who represents Merton & Wandsworth.

First, we felt that the road closures had been left in place for too long after the event was over. More than an hour after the last cyclists had passed, Putney was still gridlocked, with key roads closed to traffic.

Second, the route marshalls were unhelpful to the public, often because they were not being informed of the latest situation. Many of them came from outside the area and had little local knowledge which meant that they could not give adequate directions to drivers seeking an escape from the chaos.

Clearly this test event highlighted some serious problems which need to be ironed out before 2012. Just as well it wasn't the real thing...

Tickets To Ride

TfL's fares experts, Shashi Verma and Will Judge were present to explain developments in the ticketing strategy. Both have appeared before committees in the past so they gave a polished and informative performance - sometimes clashing with representatives of consumer group 'Which' and the ITSO national ticketing organisation.

The key initiative was the introduction of 'Wave and Pay' more properly known as Contactless Payment Cards. With the Oystercard PFI contract due to expire in 2015, TfL had been examining future options.

Banks are increasingly issuing contactless payment cards. These require no pin number for purchases under £15 and can already be used to buy coffee and newspapers. Pret A Manger, McDonalds and Boots are signed up to the scheme and Tesco is planning to offer the service, but the introduction of wave and pay for public transport would encourage a step change in the use of the almost 20 million cards that will be in circulation by Christmas.

In effect using bank cards as Oyster cards would be much easier for the passenger, eliminating the need to apply for a card or to top it up. It would also save TfL money, for 14% of the cost of a ticket is spent issuing and monitoring it. Between 2 and 9 percent of the cost of a ticket is paid as commission where tickets are purchased from high street retailers.

The project was set to cost £75 million but will realise savings of between £15 and £20 million per year, so the business case is sound.

But What About Passengers?

Whilst many people now have contactless payment cards, the facility has not been widely publicised. 'Which' had surveyed passengers and found some resistance to this new payment method, with concerns expressed about the lack of control and the possibility of going overdrawn. Providing a statement of journeys made and costs incurred on a daily basis - and a facility to challenge them - would go some way to dealing with these worries.

The purchase limit of £15 per transaction - and £45 per day - would limit potential exposure, particularly if the card was stolen. It also meant that payment for longer journeys outside London would be impractical.

Far from complicating an already challenging fares structure, TfL believed that wave and pay would simplify fares and provide transparency. Shashi Verma pointed out the reduction of the number of ticket types from over 270 a few years ago to just 45 - still complex but nowhere near as byzantine as in the past.

Concessionary fares for old people, children etc, would remain but would not be included in the project - because no payment is required and the ticket is used as a proof of identity and entitlement in those cases.

And they assured us that all stations would be staffed even if there were changes to the ticket halls.

Phase 1 of the project, going live in March 2012, will see Wave and Pay go live for single bus journeys within London. It will then be progressively rolled out to cover other ticket types and modes of travel.

Work Programme

The transport committee work programme in the run up to the 2012 elections was agreed. In our coming meetings we plan to investigate Crossrail, major rail and tube projects, Olympics transport, river services and the effectiveness of London councils' local implementation plans.

An exciting year lies ahead!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Redbridge Response to the Riots

Since Monday evening things have calmed down in Romford and elsewhere. On Tuesday our businesses still closed earlier and I watched the owner of the camera shop downstairs packing his merchandise into his car to take it all home for the night. There were half a dozen police patrolling the car park and no sign of the looters. At around 11pm I went downstairs to thank them for their efforts and to offer them a mug of coffee.

Wednesday was even quieter with no sign of trouble. Last night was pretty much business as usual with pubs and clubs open and a large police presence which is not unusual here on busy nights. So is this the calm after the storm or the eye of the hurricane? A briefing at Ilford Town Hall summarised the current position.

In Redbridge the disorder on Monday was more serious. Around 200 rioters ran amock in the High Road after 5pm. Borough Commander, Chief Superintendent Sue Williams, deployed her entire officer contingent - already depleted by the transfer of officers to riots in Inner London - including detectives, to clear the crowd and the street was taken back with only a few shops attacked.

Some of the rioters struck again in Ilford Lane, attacking two jewellers and it took time for police to chase them away. Like Romford, it appears that criminals were avoiding conflict with the police, instead seeking to capitalise on the situation by stealing electronics, jewellery and fashion items.

As at Thursday evening we were told there had been 950 arrests and we know that this number passed 1,000 overnight. 44 arrests had been made in connection with the Redbridge incidents and 63% of these were local people. 57% were unemployed but some were also in good jobs, indicating that this had nothing to do with 'poverty'. 95% of those arrested were male but surprisingly only 3 people were under 16. With arrests continuing these figures are merely a snapshot of a changing position, but Sue declared that the police were going to track down these criminals and arrest every one of them.

And audience made up largely of charities, business groups and neighbourhood watch coordinators had many questions and concerns, but all were keen to work together to come through this crisis. There was considerable support for the police and refreshingly little enthusiasm for excusing the behaviour of looters.

Sue Williams reassured us that there were no plans to reduce police numbers in the borough, beyond the redeployment of some sergeants in the safer neighbourhood team review. Redbridge Council was funding 13 additional officers in an agreement which was set to run for several years.

Concerns were expressed that sentences would not reflect the gravity of the situation, particularly for young offenders who - with some justification - see the courts as powerless when it come to imposing meaningful punishments. In one case a man caught with two stolen T shirts had been fined just £100 then told he wouldn't have to pay it because he had spent a day in custody - you get more than that for parking illegally! I guess we shall just have to wait and see the sentences imposed by the Crown Courts.

There were worries about how 'reasonable force' is defined if you defend your own property. This has been a vexed question for a very long time and the riots will reopen the debate. Because people live in town centres this is about more than defending goods, it's about defending homes and livelihoods as well. The law needs clearing up to give unambiguous support to residents and business owners who choose to fight back, not least because it will always take the police time to respond to a call.

There were also some positive proposals. Parents should be leafleted to make them aware of the importance of keeping children under control. Redbridge youth service were texting young people to warn them to stay indoors and most were taking notice. There were also calls to ban hoodies in the town centre.

Many people were surprised by the high quality of the CCTV images from Monday night. TfL have been using high definition CCTV pictures to prosecute criminals on the bus network for some time and like TfL the police are now publishing pictures of suspects. It is worth everyone taking a look and the link is . Anyone who identifies a suspect or has other useful information can call the police on 020 8345 4142 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

"This is Great, Bruv - You Can Just Take Anything You Want!"

Those were the words of a hooded youngster who sauntered with his half dozen friends down the alleyway next to my flat in Romford town centre at around 2:30 this morning. He went on to encourage another boy to steal something for his girlfriend.

Living in town, you come to recognise when trouble is building up during the day. Yesterday afternoon the first sign that all was not well was the arrival of groups of boys on bikes, many very young, riding like posses of outlaws through the crowded streets, performing stunts and buzzing shoppers.

As five o'clock approached, businesses and venues pulled the shutters down and the streets started to clear. There would be no eating out, going to see a film or clubbing. The owner of the camera shop downstairs told me that the looters were coming to Romford and advised me to stay inside.

Shadows lengthened and little groups of youths began to appear. The alleyway was quickly identified as a good place to hide out and half a dozen people collected, muttering and looking lost - obviously not from the area. One had his mobile phone out and was texting away. They were a mixed group, four black and two white, for unlike the eighties this is not about race. And they were expensively dressed, for this is not about poverty either.

A police car drew up and four officers in stab vests approached the youths, taking their details and filming them with a hand held video camera. The youths slouched away but the police remained, patrolling the large car park and approaching groups as they gathered. At one point several would be rioters collected around the bottle bank - a possible source of missiles. Later on the window of a clothes shop was attacked but the masked looters fled as a police car arrived, its blue lights flashing.

In Romford that was the pattern for the night. The looters sought to avoid contact with the police, retreating into the dark and waiting for another chance. Targets were carefully chosen - JD Sports and Debenhams were attacked. This wasn't any sort of protest, it was opportunistic theft and vandalism, the sort of thing that we sometimes see when a power failure turns the street lights out.

We got off lightly, but in Ilford there was much more damage and looting around the town centre and of course other parts of London suffered greatly. Steve O'Connell who represents Croydon emailed me to say "my town centre is ablaze", a tragedy for the small businesses and residents who lost their homes. The emergency services, particularly fire crews showed great bravery and dedication to duty. Dick Tracey reported attacks in Clapham where police successfully deployed armoured vehicles to break up a crowd. Andrew Boff was out in Hackney, watching as gangs effectively took over the Pembury Estate for several hours.

And what can we expect tonight? Who knows, for London is in uncharted territory. With police reinforced to more than double last night's numbers, and with some 400 looters arrested and off the streets the trouble should be easier to contain but people are demanding a tougher response. I have had requests for water cannon and tear gas to be deployed and I urge police to consider such options.

Perhaps a curfew would help to clear the streets of the 'riot tourists' who have been in evidence in some places, allowing the police to focus on the criminals. With all the businesses and venues closed there is little to leave home for anyway.

We also need to see some swift justice handed down to those who have been arrested, preferably in the next couple of days. Theft and disorder are serious crimes and some exemplary prison sentences will deter copycat incidents. Conspiracy is also a serious charge which could lead to the social networkers doing a stretch.

For the longer term, if planners are to continue encouraging residential development in town centres - and I believe that they should - then they also need to plan for the security of those residents. Destruction of commercial property is sometimes seen as acceptable because the insurers will pay, but mixed developments mean that homes and lives are now at stake.

And is it too much to hope that we will see less acceptance and even glorification of dumbed down, insolent 'street culture'?? There are too many examples - including advertising material promoted by the very sportswear and entertainment industries that have been targeted - but perhaps the most pervasive is that awful London 2012 logo that was designed to look like graffiti. Our city has many things to boast about but street culture is not one of them.

I have asked for an emergency meeting of the Conservative Assembly Members at City Hall, so that we can share our experiences, get briefed by the emergency services and debate ways to deal with this crisis and to make our city safer in future.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Building The Tube

This morning the Transport Committee met to take evidence from TfL. In the hot seats were board member Christopher Garnett, who chairs TfL's rail and underground panel and veteran engineer David James, brought in post PPP to run the new Independent Investment Programme Advisory Group or IIPAG for short.

IIPAG comprises eight experienced engineers and project managers from the rail industry. They are reviewing the projects carried out under PPP with the aim of saving over £1 billion and improving delivery. IIPAG reports, we were told, send tough messages about what needs to be done, messages that are respected because of the experience of the Group. We had to take their word on this as the IIPAG reviews are not public documents and we don't get to see them. The reports are considered by TfL's Finance Committee who are regarded as much tougher than previous boards - Christopher Garnett memorably described the boards that Ken Livingstone appointed as 'malleable'. Meanwhile, the results will be summarised in an annual report from IIPAG which will be a public document.

On the positive side, David James reported that PPP had created a comprehensive register of London Underground assets, documenting the state of each line - something which was not previously available. Current performance was also good, with the Northern Line unusually delivering its best results ever and the Piccadilly not far behind. Of course things aren't so good on the Jubilee and we would return to that later.

On the negative side, IIPAG had concluded that project management skills in TfL were not equal to delivering major upgrade work. Skilled people were available but TfL would have to recruit them and pay a competitive rate - including a bonus for successful completion of projects on time and within budget. IIPAG had recommended that TfL set up a central project management team with an overview of both railways and surface transport. Instead TfL planned to set up two teams, keeping these areas separate. This was a bone of contention with IIPAG claiming it would lead to extra costs and division across projects, when 80% of the work was being done in London Underground.

IIPAG was benchmarking the various lines against one another to identify best practice, but they did not see the value of benchmarking with other metros at this stage, because the London system is older and larger than most, with a greater number of deep level lines.

Victoria Line

A review of the work done on this project concluded that the work had gone well, particularly on the new signal system. The only problem had arisen because new train doors were over sensitive and the trains had not been sufficiently run in before they were introduced.

Jubilee Line

The Jubilee resignalling project had not gone well and there were lessons to be learned. IIPAG recommended that future line upgrades should be done in sections rather than across the whole line to reduce disruption. They also recommended testing of signalling and train IT off line before their introduction and earlier involvement of the drivers and signallers who would have to use the kit.

Surprisingly the specification for the Jubilee Line signalling had ruled out two directional working as an unnecessary refinement. This mistake would not be repeated.

Northern Line

An established signalling system would be used in the Northern Line upgrade, minimizing the risk of breakdown. This time the contract was between London Underground and the supplier, so LU's responsibilities were clear. The Northern Line project was due for completion before the complex sub surface line resignalling started.

Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan

Resignalling of the sub surface lines was the next big project. Composed of over 40 individual projects a high level of oversight was required. IIPAG had recommended the appointment of a leading industry figure, and they would be monitoring the progress of the project - including costs - carefully.

The new signalling system was the same as the one recently installed at Madrid with no weekend closures! Whilst closures could not be ruled out in London they would be kept to an absolute minimum, certainly fewer than experienced in other recent Tube upgrades.

Bakerloo, Central, Piccadilly

Upgrades on these lines were due to complete in 2017/18 but they had fallen back because of a shortage of funding. London Underground would be making the case to government for the funding of the last three PPP projects, thus completing a process that feels like it started a lifetime ago.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Stop The Press - It's Mayor's Questions

Yesterday saw the last Mayor's Question Time before the recess. This is traditionally a fairly rowdy affair as members let their hair down in anticipation of a long break and Wednesday morning was no exception.

A prepared list of questions largely went by the board in favour of a feeding frenzy around the News International scandal and the mayor's involvement.

News of The Screws

Ken Livingstone was in the public gallery for the initial exchanges. He was wearing his dark suit which only ever sees the daylight when he wants to be seen as serious, so he was clearly expecting to face some questions himself. Actually he had just come from the launch of Labour's London Assembly candidates, a diverse group that includes Tracey Ullman's daughter - might come in useful to have someone who knows the words of 'Break Away'....

Len Duvall led the Labour group's charges against Boris. These centred around the fact that the mayor himself had experienced News of The World phone hacking but had declined to be a witness in the prosecution of those responsible back in 2006. More seriously he was chairing the police authority in 2009 when AC John Yates had decided - after a review lasting eight hours - not to reopen the case, and he had subsequently made some dismissive comments at Question Time.

On the first charge I have some sympathy with Boris. At the time he was an MP and had no responsibility for the police, and understandably he had no wish to see his personal life dragged through the courts with all the consequent publicity. The police had told him that his cooperation was not necessary and indeed they did secure convictions against Mulcaire and Goodman without his help. Both men received significant prison sentences.

On the second charge, Yates had assured Boris that there was no public interest in pursuing further prosecutions given the other priorities that Scotland Yard faced. To have issued conflicting orders might have looked like a personal vendetta, given that the mayor had himself been a victim.

Ken came in for some stick as well, and he sat grim faced in the third row whilst Conservative members revealed his list of meetings and social contacts with Murdoch, Brooks and co. They also highlighted the many payments he received from News International for writing their newspaper columns.

It's a microcosm of the debate which was going on up the river at Westminster. For the last two decades politicians, police and the press have enjoyed a cosy relationship, largely dictated by the enormous power wielded by the editors and proprietors. One day the music was going to stop, leaving everyone looking tainted.

Not that I blame the politicians for currying favour. Kinnock (1992), Major (1997), Hague (2001), Duncan Smith (2003) and Brown (2008) were all heavily damaged by hostile news reporting and there was a view that you could not win an election in the UK without Murdoch's support. I think that view was exaggerated, it was less 'The Sun What Won It' and more 'The Sun What Predicted It and Joined the Winning Side', but even so it was never an advantage to have them working against you.

For police chiefs and people running other public organisations a positive press was essential to maintaining public confidence. They don't have PR departments for the fun of it.

And for those of us further down the political chain, backbench MPs, Assembly Members, Councillors, well we just kept our heads down and hoped they wouldn't notice us. To complain publicly about the press was akin to standing up to complain about snipers in a war zone. Only the foolhardy would do it once, only the lucky would do it twice.

And at the very end of the meeting, I posed an uncomfortable question that can't have been only on my mind. Had members of the Assembly been hacked? With a list of 4,000 victims less than 200 of whom have been informed, I believe this is a real possibility. And have members of the Metropolitan Police Authority been hacked?

There's a lot of blame being passed around at the moment. I'm just pleased that the music has stopped and there is the prospect of a new start. The End of The World leaves a gaping hole which may widen if other titles follow it, and we need to be very vigilant about how that gap is filled. The cross party motion in Parliament yesterday was a good start and it would be nice to see the same spirit prevail at City Hall.

Mini Cabs

In the shadow of the Murdoch furore, members did manage to raise some other important matters. I have received complaints about unlicensed mini cabs recently so I asked Boris about his plans to drive these cowboys off our streets.

The enforcement unit had been doubled in size to 68 police officers and a recent operation in Marylebone had resulted in 39 arrests. In the year up to May 2011 the number of reported sex attacks in mini cabs had fallen by 20%. Nevertheless there was still a lot to do and the fact that 79% of those arrested already had criminal records highlights a problem with repeat offending.

For passengers seeking a licensed vehicle there is the Cabwise service - text CABWISE to 60835 - which provides the details of three reputable carriers near to the desired location.

I still get plenty of emails about taxi touts both in central London and on my own patch so TfL and the Met Police cannot afford to rest on their laurels.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Evidence to the IRP

For much of June I have been laid low with a chest infection which has meant a visit to Queen's Hospital for a x-ray and a course of mega antibiotics. I have attended all the essential meetings, but non essential stuff has been postponed and campaigning has been on hold. I certainly haven't had the energy to blog about things.

However yesterday I gave evidence to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, the body which is reviewing plans to close services at King Georges Hospital. I found them sympathetic and genuinely open minded about the Health For North East London plans, and they asked some very thoughtful questions.

The panel have been asked to ensure the plans will provide a 'safe, sustainable and accessible' health service for residents. I concentrated on the sustainable and accessible elements, as I know that many other witnesses will focus on safety and the investigation into Queen's Hospital ordered yesterday by the Care Quality Commission will also obviously comment on safety.

I produced a short statement which is copied here:




I am the elected member of the London Assembly representing the constituency of Havering and Redbridge which covers both King George's Hospital and Queen's Hospital. I was elected in 2000 and I have lived in Romford town centre since 2002. Prior to that I lived in Leytonstone for fourteen years and used Whipps Cross Hospital on a number of occasions, so I am very familiar with the area affected by these proposals.

In 2006 I was elected to Havering Council, representing Elm Park Ward and I chaired the authority's Regulatory Services Committee, deciding on major planning applications from 2006 to 2009.

I am also a member of the board of the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation, a body which seeks to bring economic development to the lower Lea Valley and the north bank of the Thames in Newham, Barking, Dagenham and Havering.

I would like to focus on the sustainability and accessibility of the Health For North East London proposals as I feel these are inadequate for an area which is growing and changing at a very fast rate.


I have no personal criticism of the standards of care provided by Queen's Hospital, but it is all too obvious that this relatively new facility is already overloaded following the closure and amalgamation of Harold Wood and Oldchurch Hospitals, which it was intended to replace.

The Mayor's London Plan envisages the provision of more housing and a consequent growth in population in both Havering and Redbridge. The current draft plan for the period 2011-2021 sets targets of 7,600 new homes for Redbridge and 12,350 new homes for Havering. The total population of Havering and Redbridge is projected to grow by almost 35,000 over the next decade.

Recent approval on appeal of a large residential development at Dover's Corner in Rainham has also set a precedent for more such developments along the A13 corridor. There will also be considerable population growth in Barking and Dagenham with a major residential development at Barking Riverside creating 10,800 new homes.

Queen's is already the hospital with the highest number of deliveries in London and the maternity unit has experienced some highly publicised and tragic incidents, brought about by existing overstretch. Demand is projected to continue to grow with Health For North East London predicting a need for 12,000 deliveries in the area by 2016-17. Closing the maternity unit at King George's Hospital will place even more pressure on Queen's and it is difficult to see how they will cope with this. The greatest growth in demand is predicted for boroughs on the west and south sides of the area so it seems strange to propose concentrating maternity services in the north east.

Queen's accident and emergency unit is also overstretched with long waiting times. During Christmas and New Year 2010-11 ambulances were regularly diverted to King George's accident and emergency because Queen's was overloaded. An increase in population is going to result in increased demand in coming years. Havering also has a higher number of pensioners than any other London borough and older people are particularly in need of hospital services including accident and emergency.

The concentration of services at Queen's will leave the three large boroughs of Havering, Redbridge and Barking & Dagenham with only one accident and emergency unit to serve 750,000 residents, comparing unfavourably with Inner London boroughs which each have a unit serving some 250,000 residents.

I believe that the proposals fail to take account of projected population growth in and around my constituency and will stretch already overloaded services at Queen's to beyond breaking point.


Although a new facility, Queen's Hospital suffers from inadequate parking for the patients and visitors that it already serves. There is little room on the site to provide extra parking so the assumption must be that public transport will be used by visitors and patients.

Yet only four bus services currently enter the hospital site with two of these, the 193 and 499, terminating there and the 175 and 365 providing a through service. The only bus route linking to Redbridge is the 128 to Claybury Broadway but this is a long and tortuous route and it doesn't enter the hospital site. I regularly receive requests from constituents who would like to see existing bus services extended or rerouted to the hospital, or even the provision of new services.

However space at Queen's to accept new services is limited. Furthermore the current budgetary challenges faced by Transport for London rule out expansion of the bus network in the short and medium term. If anything, the current focus is on protecting the routes now in place.

For ambulances or private vehicles taking patients to Queen's from Redbridge the connections between the boroughs are not good. The only trunk road is the A12 which suffers from congestion at peak commuting times and throughout the day. Recent roadworks at Redbridge Roundabout, Gants Hill Roundabout and Gallows Corner have all caused very considerable delays and although Gants Hill is now much improved, these major junctions present bottlenecks with the potential to cause further delays when engineering works are required.

In my opinion the Health For North East London proposals will make it harder for patients and their visitors in Redbridge to access the maternity and accident and emergency services that they need. They should be reconsidered.

29 June 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bus Petition

On Wednesday morning I presented a petition to the London Assembly calling for better bus services in Havering and Barking & Dagenham. The wording of the petition, signed by 518 constituents is:

We the undersigned request consideration to be given to a new bus route from the Civic Centre in Dagenham to Hornchurch Town Centre and return to Dagenham via Tesco at Roneo Corner.

The lead petitioner was Brooklands Councillor Fred Osborne who attended to hand over the petition to me. He was accompanied by his wife Maria and local residents Margaret Gregory, Maureen Carter and Harry Gosling.

Deputy Mayors' Questions

There were two deputy mayors facing questions from the Assembly on Wednesday, with some useful exchanges before the meeting later descended into acrimony...


First up was Kit Malthouse, accompanied by Assistant Commissioner Tim Godwin. They began by confirming that the Met currently employs 32,222 police officers with another 5,000 specials in post. The Assembly recently produced a quite thoughtful report on police numbers, which sought to find better ways of measuring police effectiveness than just counting the establishment.

With £90 million savings required this year and the full details of the central government grant still not available, greater innovation and productivity were needed. The use of a video link to enable officers to give evidence in court from their base at Croydon police station was saving valuable time and reducing the need to travel. Of every 12 officers called to court only 3 actually take the stand, which seems like a shocking waste of time and money. Video links will reduce this cost and they are being rolled out across the Met.

Officers were also lobbying to be allowed to keep more money seized from criminals. The Proceeds of Crime Act allows for confiscation of ill gotten gains but the police only get to keep a sixth of the sum raised with the balance going to government. The practical effect is that the Met actually make a loss on POCA.

I asked about measures to control violence in Romford, particularly in the wake of the shooting outside Liquid & Envy last month. Tim Godwin talked about Operation Target which is focusing on known trouble makers and trouble spots. Stronger licensing powers for local authorities will allow for stricter control of entertainment premises including the levying of a charge to help with policing - welcome developments for night life hot spots like Romford, Kingston and Soho. Little did we know that Operation Target was springing into action at that very moment, with an alleged criminal waking up to find Boris and a horde of police in his bedroom...


Next came Edward Lister, who has replaced Sir Simon Milton as chief of staff and deputy mayor for planning. Edward has led Wandsworth Council for 19 years, holding down the council tax whilst delivering a four star rated service - even according to the last Labour government. With this in mind it was perhaps a mistake for the other parties to seek to find fault with his record. It all seemed to boil down to criticism of a lack of cheap housing and charging for use of the adventure playground in Battersea Park. Despite these criticisms Wandsworth was achieving a public satisfaction score of over 80%, which many London authorities would give their right arm for.

In his planning role, Eddie stated that he would be reintroducing stronger protection for London's strategic views, with tighter rules for tall buildings. He would also seek to reduce back garden development - which accounts for a stunning 25% of development in the city.

I asked him if he would be freezing the council tax precept again next year, thus completing the mayor's four year term without raising the budget. He seemed quite positive and given his history at Wandsworth I wouldn't rule out a very timely council tax CUT in 2012!

Notwithstanding the good results achieved at Wandsworth some Labour members think that Eddie poses a threat to the city. The most notable of these is Ken himself - currently on his outer London tour, delivering inner London messages. Turning up at Bromley he recently condemned Eddie as 'the Ratko Mladic of local government' - a tasteless remark in the week when the real Mladic was indicted for war crimes at The Hague. Having visited the scene of this hideous mass murder at Srebrenica, and blogged about it in 2009, I can only say that such a comparison is bizzarre and offensive, particularly to the many who lost loved ones. The grief was still palpable when I visited some 15 years after the event.

So we asked the Assembly to dissociate itself from Ken's remarks, not a difficult thing to do, surely. The Lib Dems agreed with us, Labour made some poor excuses and voted against and the two Greens split with Jenny Jones supporting Labour.

Bus Petition

With the discord still ringing in our ears, we moved on to petitions. I presented a petition of 518 signatures calling for a bus service to run from Dagenham Civic Centre to Hornchurch via the large Tesco at Roneo Corner. Lead petitioner Cllr Fred Osborne and several constituents had waited patiently through the meeting for this moment. Three other petitions were presented by members from the other parties

Walk Out

With all the main business dealt with and a fewer that 13 of the other party members left in the chamber the Conservative Group staged a walk out in protest at our marginalisation at the hands of the other groups. This is an ongoing bone of contention that dates from the first meeting of the Assembly in 2008 when Labour, Lib Dem and Green members used their ultra slim one vote majority to deprive the larger Conservative Group of any major committee chairs.

When they did their little deal perhaps they failed to realise that they needed all 13 of their members present to maintain a working quorum at Assembly meetings. Of course they are always all there at the annual meeting when the jobs are handed out but at other meetings they are often short handed and therefore rely on us - the people they refuse to include - to prop up their business. Usually we comply but sometimes we don't, and this was one of those occasions.

Last year when I was Group Leader I made a speech to the Assembly about this - it is available on Youtube - in which I told the other groups that having taken so much upon themselves they should have the decency to actually turn up. I also offered to reopen the debate about the allocation of roles but this offer was thrown back in my face.

I understand that my successor James Cleverly has been rebuffed in a similar fashion so I would not be surprised if the group now starts to get a bit more combative. The style of the new leadership is clearly more robust than my own was...

As to the motions we didn't debate as a result, no doubt they will reappear on the next agenda and perhaps we can expect a full showing from the Labour, Lib Dem and Green members as well.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Havering Museum

On Wednesday it was the first birthday of the fledgling Havering Museum. This is conveniently located just downstairs from my apartment in the Romford Brewery redevelopment and I was delighted to be invited along.

With an award of nearly £1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund local volunteers have converted rooms on the ground floor of the old Ind-Coope brewery to house a collection of artifacts which tell the story of our borough. The Friends of Havering Museum were formed in 2000 and campaigned for nine years to get the funding they required. The collection includes Roman pottery, prehistoric tools, 19th century weights and measures and World War II mementos. There are also many interesting photographs charting the borough's growth to the present day.

In a textbook demonstration of Big Society activity, volunteers dressed up in historic costumes for the evening and read poems to celebrate. There was a buffet and a raffle and I became closely acquainted with the stocks...

Many happy returns to the Friends of Havering Museum! It is well worth a visit and details including opening times can be found at .

Monkhams Dinner

Last night I was the guest speaker at the annual garden party and dinner hosted by Conservatives in Monkhams and Church End wards. Local activists Rashid and Lillette gave up their garden, roofing in the whole lawn under a large marquee, and provided a very substantial high quality meal. Naturally there was a raffle and an auction, all to raise funds for the local party.

I joined local councillor Michael Stark, former mayor of Redbridge, Cllr Jim O'Shea and current mayor Cllr Chris Cummins and tied up the evening with a few remarks, thanking activists for their hard work in the No to AV campaign - Redbridge scored 65% against - and in advance for their work on the coming 2012 London election. The team are keen to get started and nobody wants to see Ken Livingstone returned to City Hall.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Beautiful South West

On Bank Holiday Monday I completed stage six of the Capital Ring. Almost eight miles in length, this section runs from Wimbledon Park to Richmond, passing through some of the most attractive and exclusive districts of Greater London.

Turning right out of the District Line station and right again, the route descends a flight of steps into Wimbledon Park. Despite the threatening showers the tennis courts were full of locals taking the opportunity afforded by the extra day off. The walk runs along the shore of the lake, with views across the water to the famous All England Tennis Club. After a short detour around the park's athletics stadium, the walk leaves the park and starts to climb once again.

This is the long pull up and out of the Wandle Valley, passing many fine houses with even the social housing and terraces looking very opulent. A look back over the valley affords a final view of the masts at Crystal Palace which dominated stages three and four. Across the busy A219, the route plunges into the dense woodlands of Wimbledon Common.

A straight path through the woods leads to the Wimbledon Windmill, a popular attraction on a sunny bank holiday. The windmill was built in1817 and is a unique example of the 'hollow post' design, with the whole mill able to rotate on a central post to face into the wind. The path encroaches upon the fairways of the London Scottish Golf Club and - keeping an eye out for flying balls - runs down a steep hill to Queen's Mere, said to be a favourite haunt of the Wombles.

There was no sign of Orinocho or Great Uncle Bulgaria, but I paused at this lovely spot to take some pictures of the lake. A family of swans including no fewer than nine cygnets approached and I grabbed a few shots. They were obviously camera shy and one of the parents honked and approached in a threatening fashion, so I packed up and left them to it.

The walk continues through the golf course and across open fields to the A3 which intrudes noisily on the scene. Here the only way to cross used to be the iron footbridge but TfL have recently installed a pelican crossing with a novel difference - there is also a crossing for horses, with the buttons placed at a convenient height for riders to reach them.

Across the road is Robin Hood's Gate, the entrance to Richmond Park. This is the largest of the Royal Parks and very soon you feel as if you are out in the country, with no sign of civilisation apart from the jumbo jets blasting overhead on their way to Heathrow.

The path climbs easily to the excitingly named Spankers Hill Wood, with herds of deer much in evidence. The park has a herd of around 650 and although they look placid, signs warn that they can be aggressive if approached. An embankment leads between the two charming Pen Ponds and the walk passes around Sidmouth Wood crossing a busy road with excellent views over the Thames to the airport and the Twickenham rugby stadium.

On the road I had a close encounter with a lycra clad cyclist who bore down on me soundlessly, cutting past only inches away and shouting something. At the speed he was going I couldn't hear what he was trying to say but I assumed it was a cheery greeting of some sort...

A short detour leads to King Henry VIII Mound from which there is a protected view through a hole in the vegetation and down and avenue of trees which frame the dome of St Paul's in the hazy distance. Popular history has it that the King stood here to observe the signal confirming that Anne Boleyn had been executed in the Tower. Anne was only his second wife and as anyone who has seen 'The Tudors' TV series will know, things did not get better for Henry or his subsequent partners.

A steep hill descends to lovely Petersham, nestling by the River Thames. The path follows the river downstream, amongst joggers and cyclists. Listening to the conversations, there seem to be a large number of bankers and city professionals in Richmond. There are also a large number of Liberal Democrats although the Conservatives captured the council last year.

I had a brief lunch sitting on the stern of a boat that houses the Thames Visitors Centre - chicken skewers and a vanilla milkshake, which were very welcome at the end of a long and hilly walk. The return to Richmond Station was another half mile or so and frustratingly the District Line was out of action for engineering works. A long and complex journey home awaited.

The next stage of the ring crosses the Thames, leaving South London behind, and introduces the charms of Ealing and Brentford - the county town of Middlesex as local Assembly Member Tony Arbour has told us. I can't wait...