Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Officer Team

At yesterday's group meeting the new officer team were elected. They will oversee the group in the run up to the 2012 London elections. Group Leader is James Cleverly, the member for Bexley and Bromley. James is a former army officer and chairman of the Mayor's recycling board. Group Deputy Leader is Dick Tracey, the member for Merton and Wandsworth. Dick is our transport spokesman and served as Minister for Sport in Margaret Thatcher's government. Group Whip is Victoria Borwick, a list member and councillor at Kensington & Chelsea. Victoria tells me she is going to get a real whip to add some bite to the role.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Two Is Company

For day 4 of the Capital Ring I was joined by Pauline, who plays an important role fund raising for the Mayor of Redbridge's charity appeal. The day was overcast and rain fell sporadically as we covered the four miles from Crystal Palace to Streatham. From Crystal Palace station, we crossed Anerley Hill and climbed steeply along roads lined with pleasant houses, to the top of the ridge where the A212 runs. Beyond the road the steep hill slopes down through Westow Park and we leave Bromley behind, entering the sprawling borough of Croydon. At the bottom of the hill is a wide bowl of land surrounded by built up ridges, with the South Norwood transmitter mast looming behind. The path crosses an open space before climbing up again - this stage contains lots of ups and downs as the walk navigates the high ground west of Crystal Palace. A lengthy walk along the A215 concludes with a steep descent at Biggin Hill - not the famous one - to some tennis courts which were fully occupied despite the changeable weather. Passing through a small wood and a calm suburban area, the walk comes to Norwood Grove, and it is time to climb once again, to the house on the hill. Norwood Grove seems to be a large enough mansion, but in fact it is only one wing of the original house, built for Arthur Anderson who founded P & O Shipping. He was obviously not short of a bob or two and was allegedly a supporter of Crystal Palace Football Club. In his spare time Arthur was an MP, representing the Shetland Islands - clearly living in the constituency wasn't such a big deal in the 1840s. The gardens here are well cared for and I paused to be photographed with some red roses. After more undulations the walk arrives at the top of Streatham Common, and a return to civilisation. We had arrived before the pubs opened so contented ourselves with a strong mug of coffee in the local caf. Four miles had passed very swiftly, and just as well because the rain had started to fall. Ahead lies Day Five, a longer walk through more built up terrain, but without any hills to speak of, concluding at Wimbledon Park.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Capital Ring Day 4 - Photographs

Pictures from Day 4 feature the Upper Norwood TV Mast, a misty view of North Croydon, Norwood Place and Streatham Common.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mayor's Questions - Cuts and More Cuts

A scrappy Mayor's Questions on Wednesday saw the Labour members highlighting government cuts. The strategy had half an eye on the budget, but appeared to be mainly focused on Saturday's TUC march.

Would the Mayor be joining him on the march, John Biggs wanted to know. Joanne McCartney told us that she would be going too - it wasn't clear if they were trying to drum up support or frighten people away. I asked if non marching Londoners as well as the physical property of our great city would be protected by the police, in case things get ugly. Boris promised that all appropriate measures were being taken and that we wouldn't witness the mob violence and vandalism that accompanied the recent student demonstrations - we shall have to wait and see...

Congestion Charge

Darren Johnson called for emergency measures to ensure we hit European air quality targets and avoid a fine of £3 million. Perhaps it would have been a good idea for Labour ministers not to have signed up to this agreement in the first place. Other countries secured opt outs for their cities but this never occurred to the short termist politicians in Blair's administration. It was focus on the press release and ignore the long term consequences - as in so many cases.

Richard Barnes asked Boris to rule out London Wide congestion charging - the most high profile policy of the Green's now confirmed mayoral candidate Jenny Jones. Boris assured us that it wouldn't happen on his watch, but I'm not so sure that Ken Livingstone wouldn't revive the plans he once had to extend the charge to places like Romford. We don't want it, and with the pollution problem confined to Central London, we don't need it either.

King George Hospital

Others have already raised this issue in written questions, but with the plan to close the A & E now referred to the independent reconfiguration panel for review, I decided to seek the Mayor's support. He stuck to his line that clinical outcomes were the most important yardstick - disappointing in a week when his Labour opponent launched a website objecting to the closure.

Although as the plan has been around for several years, attracting opposition from all parties locally, it is surprising that John Healey and Ken Livingstone didn't launch their website twelve months ago. In those days it was a Labour Government plan and Healey was a Labour minister - so perhaps it isn't surprising, just shamelessly opportunistic. Our campaign has attracted respect precisely because it reaches across all parties and non aligned groups. Livingstone's attempts to politicise it for electoral purposes are not welcomed in Redbridge...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Boris in Loxford

This morning I joined Boris and HRH the Duchess of Cornwall for a visit to the East London Rape Crisis Centre at Loxford. This was the first time I had met the Duchess and I was very impressed by her down to earth attitude.
We met volunteers from the Hackney based Nia Project and local Victim Support. The East London centre is unusual in that provides support for male victims of sexual violence as well as for women. I also spoke to DI Tim Wilkinson and DC Sadie Juncal who work for the Met's Project Sapphire in Havering and Redbridge - they also live in my constituency so they have a detailed knowledge of the area.
After visiting the centre we walked back to Ilford Station, accompanied by Cllr Michelle Dunn, the newly elected deputy leader of Redbridge Council Conservative Group and her colleague Cllr Matthew Chaudhry who represents Cranbrook Ward.
Ilford Lane is a very diverse shopping area and Boris visited butchers, sweet sellers, fashion boutiques, jewellers and the local pharmacist. Boris is hugely popular on these occasions and we were accompanied every step of the way by a photographer from local newspaper The Nation.
At Ilford Station Boris got a first hand view of the poor facilities which are supposed to be upgraded as part of the Crossrail project. Recent rumours are that Network Rail are cutting back on the overground elements of their part of Crossrail, but improvements to accessibility and security at Ilford Station are essential.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Striding Around South East London

It's been a sunny weekend but not too hot - ideal for walking, so I decided to cover a large chunk of ground. After all we never know when it will snow again...

Day Two - Falconwood to Grove Park

This relatively short section - just over 4 miles - is also mostly along level ground. A leisurely saunter, beginning at Falconwood Station.

A concrete bridge takes the path over the railway and the A2 in its deep cutting. The path leads onward through Eltham Park South before following a track past the training ground for Eltham Football Club and a venue - the Butterfly Club - which no doubt sees some action in the evenings.

A long road walk bypasses the centre of Eltham, concluding at the impressive Eltham Palace, the country seat of royalty until Henry VIIIth decided to move his household to Greenwich. The place was sacked by Cromwell's Roundheads who had no respect for history and remained in ruins until the Courtauld family bought it and reconstructed the building in its current stylish form.

Beyond the palace, King John's Walk follows a ridge affording great views of Canary Wharf and the City. Horses are much in evidence here, a clear case of 'bringing the village to the city' as Boris would say.

Down the hill, we cross a railway bridge and scurry over the busy A20 - a pedestrian crossing has been provided since I was last here, so thank you TfL. Entering Mottingham, there is a brief encounter with the borough of Bromley and James Cleverly's constituency. It is very pleasant here, no wonder he got over 100,000 votes!

The village is an odd mix of very old houses and some unattractive blocks of flats, the whole scene dominated by Eltham College where Mervyn Peake was a pupil before he went on to write the Gormenghast trilogy, which I plan to read some time.

Behind the college is a path leading eventually to Grove Park Station, following the Quaggy River - made famous when Boris fell in whilst helping to clear out road cones and shopping trolleys. Of course Ken would never have fallen in the Quaggy River, because it isn't in Zone 1...

Day Three - Grove Park to Crystal Palace

The longest stage of the walk is, at 8.6 miles, a considerable undertaking for us desk bound types. Of course back in the North East we would have knocked it off before breakfast, but things have changed since then...

A long footbridge crosses the main line at Hither Green, affording a view of the train depot and the site of the 1967 derailment in which 49 people died. We tend to think of railway tragedies as a modern phenomenon but a study of history provides a clearer perspective.

In Downham, the path passes the fire station - a far flung outpost of Brian Coleman's empire - before entering the Downham Woodland Walk. This follows a narrow band of trees - miraculously preserved during the development of the area, for over a mile. Lewisham Council had provided some unusual and attractive artwork when I first came this way, but over the years it has deteriorated and become overgrown. Wooden sculptures are half concealed amongst the bushes, so you need to look for them now.

Hurrying over the A21, the walk enters the large Beckenham Place Park, alive with dog walkers on a Sunday morning. There were relatively few unpleasant mastiffs in evidence although mauled branches and tree trunks show that people have been exercising their 'devil dogs'. Winding through woodland, climbing steep steps, you find yourself in the middle of a golf course. The facility is administered from the mansion itself, a grade II listed building constructed by John Cator, a timber merchant whose family name features heavily in these parts. The whole park is in public ownership having been acquired by the London County Council before the War.

Outside the park the route leaves Lewisham and returns to Bromley, and there is the first sighting of the Crystal Palace TV mast - the end of today's walk. It isn't as close as it looks, particularly as the walk winds about a fair bit. The mast will remain tantalisingly on the horizon for the next hour or so...

Crossing the valley of the Pool River seems to take forever. Much of the area is made up of playing fields that once formed recreation grounds for large public utilities and private companies. as costs were cut in the nineties many of these fell into disuse and the owners sought permission for development, which never came. Since I was last here things look to have improved, with new users taking a more active role, funded by modest partial development. I passed the grounds of Kent County Cricket Club, Crystal Palace Football Club and the HSBC Sports Club.

A winding route through parks and streets finally arrives at Penge East Station where it is tempting to drop into the newsagents and buy up anything edible. However I restrained myself, knowing that the dynamic centre of Penge was just around the corner. There is also a surprisingly good cafe just inside Crystal Palace Park.

Sunday is very busy here with huge numbers of small children. A cola lolly helped to restore my E levels to normal whilst I struggled with the map - because they have changed the route...

The new way turns left and leads up alongside the Dinosaur Ponds, definitely worth the detour. Next comes a view of the athletics stadium which is looking a bit rundown, and at long last a close encounter with the TV mast which has dominated the last few miles. Here also is the station and the conclusion of the walk.

Day 4 leaves South east London behind, threading its way north of Croydon whilst avoiding the more built up central areas. I'm looking forward to it.

Capital Ring Day 3 - Photographs

Pictures from Day three feature the railway at Hither Green, Beckenham Place, Penge and Crystal Palace TV mast.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Capital Ring Day 2 - Photographs

Pictures from day 2 show Eltham Park South, Eltham Palace, the superb view from King John's Walk and Mottingham Lane.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why I Decided to Stand Down

After two and a half years as Conservative Group Leader, I have decided not to seek election to the post this year. This has not been an easy decision, but several factors have weighed heavily in my choice:

First, I want to devote more time to my constituency. The Leader's role is exciting and rewarding but it does entail a lot of meetings and desk work. I prefer to get out and meet people and I will be doing a lot of that in the coming year.

Second, I want to involve myself in more non political campaigns. City Hall is a pretty relaxed place when it comes to party whips - particularly compared to Westminster - nevertheless if I promote issues whilst I am still Group Leader, they are bound to be viewed as Conservative party policy, at least to some extent. I have been speaking fairly freely recently and want to do more of it.

Third, I believe that this is a good time to make a change, as we enter the final year of the Mayoralty. The atmosphere is likely to be more combative in coming months and the Group need someone who will take the fight to the opposition and lead the election campaign.

Leading the Conservative Group is a real privilege. Not only is it the largest group ever elected to City Hall - with eleven members - I also believe that it is the most able and experienced group ever elected. I have enjoyed great support from my officer team: My Deputy James Cleverly, whose 'can do' attitude is really refreshing and valuable in politics. My Whip Richard Tracey, who has given me fantastic advice during some tense and tricky negotiations. My office manager Robert Rams, who effortlessy runs a big and complex department, producing vital briefings and supporting some demanding members.

Finally, I would like to place on record my gratitude to all our professional researchers and caseworkers who carry much of our daily load.

And I have enjoyed working with Boris - a unique and positive experience from which I have personally learned a great deal.

The new team of officers will be elected by the Group on 29th March. I wish them well and undertake to give them my full support in the run up to the 2012 election and through Boris' second term.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Battering at Battersea

Last night's Question Time was hosted by the Battersea Arts Centre, a trust occupying the former Battersea Town Hall. The building is supposed to be one of the birthplaces of the Labour Party, but relaxing in the bar with Martin of Mayorwatch, it was hard to believe that such an aberration could have crawled from such a pleasant venue.

The audience were pleased to see Boris and they gave us an enthusiastic welcome, although this was tempered by the number of special interests demanding public cash - don't they realise the economic climate has changed. Local assembly member Richard Tracey chaired the event, opening the meeting with a short speech extolling the virtues of his constituency. He concluded by congratulating Wandsworth Council on their low council tax, to cheers from the audience, and a few hisses from isolated socialists.

Boris then wowed the crowd with his report, stating his intention to put the village back into the city with much needed environmental improvements. He congratulated Wandsworth on exporting TV aerials to China, and referred to the discovery of an iron age jewelled shield at Battersea Bridge - a civilisation that had collected the wealth of its residents and thrown it in the river, rather like Gordon Brown's government...

Assembly Chair Dee Doocey kept her comments brief and we were straight into the questions:


Richard rather generously selected the Labour Leader from Wandsworth to ask the first question and was rewarded with an accusation that police numbers were being cut. Boris begged to differ, stating that numbers would increase by 1,200 over his term in office. John Biggs accused him of lying, which did not play well with the audience. Kit Malthouse made an excellent contribution, dealing with the change in numbers and the planned redeployment of sergeants out of some neighbourhood teams.

Another questioner raised the possibility of 'insurrection' and asked if the police were ready to deal with more riots. The Mayor reassured him that the police were prepared to deal with all eventualities, including flood, epidemics and of course 'insurrection'.

A nice blonde lady congratulated Boris and the Assembly on our efforts to reduce knife crime and youth crime. Matthew from the UK Youth Parliament asked for more opportunities for police and young people to build positive relationships. Boris talked about joint sporting events, outreach programmes and police cadets.


The first complaint - that Boris had failed to extend the Tube to Croydon and Wandsworth - seemed a bit premature, only three years into his term.

A request to extend bike hire to Wandsworth attracted a more positive response. Cycle Superhighway 7 already runs to Wandsworth and Boris proudly declared that he had used it to get to the meeting.

A blind man complained that there were no staff to help him at Kings Cross, Victoria and Upton Park. This is inexcusable particularly at such busy stations and Boris promised to take the matter up with London Underground.

A lady from Age Concern complained about poor bus driving standards, cyclists using the pavement and excessive street furniture - all issues the Assembly has raised in the past, and it appears we will have to return to them in the future.

There was a brief discussion of airport capacity, with Boris stoutly defending his call for more flights to London, and his 'Boris Island' plan for a new airport in the Thames Estuary.


Residents raised their long running concerns about Thames Water's Super Sewer. Tony Arbour stated that Thames Water had failed to do their homework, relying on the easy option of building on available green spaces. He was pleased that the plan to use the Barn Elms site had been shelved.

A councillor from Northcote Ward complained that Labour Lambeth Council were going to allow a giant camp site on Clapham Common as part of the Royal Wedding celebrations. This would attract 10,000 people damaging the common and disturbing residents. Boris replied that this just showed how much Lefties loved the Royal Family...


The Mayor of Merton asked for reassurances about security and transport for the Olympic tennis venue at Wimbledon. Boris assured her that LOCOG were planning for every eventuality and extending Cycle Superhighways to Wimbledon would be considered.

There was a vexed discussion about ticket allocation, with Dee Doocey making much of the tickets allocated to London boroughs and government which would 'all go to politicians'. Of course the tickets will be charged and are more likely to be allocated to local charities and sporting groups. Nevertheless, this exchange highlighted a moral minefield and I'm pleased to say that in Havering and Redbridge we have decided to turn down the ticket offer and save ourselves the associated controversy.

Exclusive Olympic traffic lanes were mentioned and I decided to pitch in, noting that the privileged users included not only athletes, but foreign dignitaries and journalists. I added, to some applause that we should limit the lanes as far as possible, tightly controlling their use and removing them immediately after the games. Emboldened by colleagues behind me I added that perhaps we should hire some mini buses, to make more economic use of the road space and avoid the spectacle of limousines and cavalcades sweeping past frustrated Londoners. At this point Boris shouted "BOLLOCKS!" and I began to wonder if I had gone off message... There goes my career.

Next Meeting

The session concluded with a few questions about housing provision and planning. The Albert Bridge closure was also raised and Richard Tracey assured residents that the bridge would be reopened in September after being 'largely rebuilt'.

He then closed the meeting, adding that the next Boris Question Time would be on 7th June at Kingston's Rose Theatre.

And the next official Peoples' Question Time will take place on 7th November at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Redbridge Roundabout

On Sunday morning I paid a visit to Redbridge Roundabout with Cranbrook Ward Councillors Matthew Chaudhry and Ashok Kumar.

The major junction, where the North Circular and the A12 meet is maintained in part by TfL and in part by the council. Access across the roads is afforded by several concrete subways. These are not pleasant places but the proximity of Redbridge underground station means that they are quite busy during the mornings and evenings and this discourages crime. Not so for the rest of the day and night, unfortunately.

Graffiti has been cleared recently and the concrete walls are looking about as good as they ever will. However litter has started to collect again and the area could do with a good tidying up. More seriously the lights have failed in the subway linking to Studley Drive and this needs to be fixed urgently. So do the drains in the subway linking to Royston Gardens where water has backed up to submerge the grates - rain often leads to flooding in this subway, effectively making it impassable.

These faults will be reported to TfL for action.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Let's Go Round Again

It has been a few years since I last completed the Capital Ring, a 75 mile circumnavigation of London, so I have set out to do it again this year.

Saturday was cool but sunny as I set out on stage 1, a 7.1 mile walk through the green spaces of Greenwich, from Woolwich to Falconwood. There is a lot of climbing on this section which makes for quite a demanding start to the walk.

With the Woolwich Foot Tunnel closed, I started at Woolwich Arsenal DLR station. I haven't visited Woolwich since the 1990s and rebuilding works make the town centre confusing. Luckily I have a very good sense of direction and I set off from Starbucks filled with confidence - ten minutes later I was back at Starbucks having gone the wrong way...

The route proper begins at the Woolwich Ferry and a pleasant stretch along the river followed, with good views of the Thames Barrier. Just before the barrier the riverside path is forced away from the river and there are some close encounters with heavy traffic before entering the green oasis of Maryon Park.

At this point the walk climbs away from the river, ascending a long flight of steps and further gentle slopes through Maryon Wilson Park, passing an animal enclosure festooned with dire health and safety warnings.

Reaching the top of the hill the walk enters Charlton Park, a favourite venue for weekend footballers. Here also is the Jacobean mansion, Charlton House. It was originally built for Sir Adam Newton, tutor to King James I - they certainly knew how to reward teachers in those days - and now it houses a community centre and library. The picture in the earlier post shows the house in all its glory, but the ha ha is difficult to make out.

Onwards, through Hornfair Park and across the open expanse of Woolwich Common. Crossing the busy South Circular, the path enters woods and climbs steeply to the derelict Severndroog Castle. This unusual structure was built to commemorate Sir William James, who captured an Indian fortress of the same name. Severndroog also marks the highest point on the Capital Ring - it's all downhill from here.

On the descent I met some nice ladies from Lithuania who were admiring the view. It is so often the case that visitors value the unique aspects of our city more than those of us who live here. I paused for a quick photograph.

The next section threads its way through Oxleas Wood on a maze of paths, helpfully signposted by Capital Ring and Green Chain markers. A busy cafe at Oxleas Meadows provides refreshments - two bottles of water - and a great view. There are always lots of dog walkers here and the place echoes to the sound of barking and owners' shouts as they try to control their pooches. Nice to see that most of the dogs were family pets - very few status mastiffs were on show.

Descending through the woods, I encountered a group of volunteers clearing brush and cutting back the undergrowth. A couple of workers prepared tea and biscuits on a trestle table - a fine example of the Big Society in action.

The blasting of traffic in the deep A2 cutting signalled a return to 'civilisation', and it was a short walk to Falconwood station and the train back to town.

The next stage from Falconwood to Grove Park is much shorter and easier, but it has some great views and an encounter with Eltham Palace. I'm looking forward to it already...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Capital Ring Day 1 - Photographs

A lovely morning in South London. Pictures show the Woolwich Ferry, The Thames Flood Barrier, Charlton House, Severndroog Castle and Oxleas Meadows.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Campaign Progress - and Fund Raising Dinner

The campaign to save our accident & emergency unit continues. This afternoon a delegation from Redbridge visited the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) HQ in Buckingham Palace Road. The rather complex title belies the fact that these are the people who will give the thumbs up or down to the closure plans.

Arriving early, I took the opportunity to speak to the board secretary about our campaign and he assured me that the board would consider all submissions fairly.

I was joined by Redbridge councillors Andy Walker (Labour, and the driving force behind our objections) and Chris Cummins (Conservative chairman of the health scrutiny committee), and we handed in a letter drawing attention to the overloading of the services at Queen's Hospital and pointing out that they were in no condition to carry the extra demand which would be created by the KGH closure.

The next step will be a fund raising dinner on Friday evening in Chadwell Heath.

UPDATE: The dinner at the Tamarind in Chadwell Heath was a great success, raising several hundred £s for the campaign. Thanks to Cllr Andy Walker for organising the event. I'm adding a picture of the evening...

Friday, March 04, 2011

Alternative Funding

With funding cuts and government struggling to recover from Labour's financial mismanagement, the hunt is on for alternative methods of funding capital projects. The budget committee spent a couple of hours taking evidence from experts in TfL and the GLA yesterday morning.

Crossrail, Tube upgrades and Thameslink are all able to go ahead but other projects, notably the extension of the Northern Line to Battersea will need to be funded by innovative methods. Because transport projects usually generate an increase in property values along the route, some form of land value taxation could be considered. This was always a favourite with former TfL deputy chair Dave Wetzel, but unfortunately he was not around to offer his opinion.

Battersea Power Station has been an ill starred development site for a long time, with various proposals coming and going whilst the giant building - closed thirty years ago - falls into dereliction. The latest plans look like coming to fruition and as it is now just about the last bit of undeveloped river bank, they look to generate considerable profits. However as always there was a risk that land values would fail to rise and the revenue would not be created, or that the balance between residential and commercial uses would fail to maximise income, or that the amount raised would still cover only a fraction of the cost of the line extension - the experts differed on this, predicting that anything from a tenth to two thirds of the cost could be raised.

Of course some of us remember Ken's predictions that rising land values in the Lea Valley would pay for the Olympics, and that the house he bought for Bob Kiley would be sold at a profit...


Discussion turned to the community infrastructure levy (CIL) which will generate some £300 million for the Crossrail project. In effect this will be a 'planning gain' charge attached to developments within Greater London. Local authorities already raise money in this way, but its use is restricted to major developments. The CIL will apply to all non domestic planning applications.

The plan has raised major concerns amongst London's councils and Bromley have agreed to mount a legal challenge - not for the first time, for those who remember 'Fares Fair'.

The first problem is that the CIL will only apply within Greater London. The extra cost of development will tend to push businesses over the border into the Home Counties, particularly from outer London boroughs. There is also a reasonable argument that Crossrail is a project with national benefits, so the whole country should pay. A stretch to ask Scotland and Wales to cough up perhaps, but Crossrail will actually stop at Brentwood and Maidenhead, so it is only fair that they make some contribution. It feels like the London only Olympic levy all over gain.

Then there are concerns about the distribution of the charge within London. The legislation that enables the CIL does not allow the charge to be focused along the route where the benefits will be felt. The only variation that is allowed across London is based on existing property values and there are three charging bands. Luckily Havering is in the cheapest band and Redbridge is in the middle band - both get the benefits of access to the route and new stations, so far so good. However Richmond is in the top band and the line goes nowhere near them - needless to say they are not happy, and other north and south London boroughs share their concerns.

CIL only applies to Crossrail at present, but the witnesses accepted that it could be used to raise money for other transport projects, including a resurrected Cross River Tram. The legislation seems blunt and doesn't consider London's size and variation - not for the first time - so the witnesses did agree that the government should be pressed to make changes next time the matter came up for debate.