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!