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...