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.