Monday, February 27, 2012

Safer Parks in Redbridge

Today saw the prize giving ceremony for the Mayor's Safer Parks Award at City Hall. Created to recognise parks and open spaces where community involvement and policing have driven out crime, the awards provide plaques for the winners to display at park entrances. This year Redbridge did particularly well with three bronze awards. Elmhurst Gardens, Ilford War Memorial Gardens - now dog free - and South Park all shared the honours.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Woodford Bridge

With just 68 days until London goes to the polls, I joined our team in Bridge Ward this morning, along with Lee Scott MP, Industry Minister Mark Prisk, and a horde of councillors and volunteers. The unseasonably warm weather brought people out into their gardens and we were able to discuss the election with quite a few voters. Our reception was as warm as the weather and we finished off with a coffee at the Crooked Billet pub on the green.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Crossrail Update

Terry Morgan and Andrew Wolstenholme from Crossrail appeared before yesterday's transport committee to provide an update on this vital project. Tunneling the central section between Liverpool Street and Paddington is due to begin next month. The first section to open to the public will be the branch running to Shenfield in 2017. In late 2018 the central section will be running and the whole line will be operational in 2019 including the branch to Heathrow.

Journey times to the airport will be cut to 40-50 minutes and the whole journey will be much easier without having to change trains in West London. The new stations between Liverpool Street and Paddington will all be much larger than the existing tube stations and they will have public toilets - except for Bond Street. The trains will not have toilet facilities, a decision made with the intention of giving over as much room as possible to commuter seating.

I was concerned to learn that plans for the stations on the Shenfield branch have been scaled down. In particular, the opportunity to redevelop Ilford and Romford stations will be missed because Network Rail do not have a large enough budget to do more than provide basic disabled access. This is much less than we were promised several years ago and is very disappointing, as the stations are looking tired and their immediate surroundings suffer from graffiti, begging and petty crime.

Crossrail aims to provide employment for local people and they have an agreement with Job Centre Plus who are looking for suitable candidates. There will be 400 apprentices and the new tunneling skills academy in Ilford will play a key role. The academy will also train workers for HS2, the Thames Tideway Tunnel and other utilities projects. I emphasised the need for jobs to go to local people, following a disappointing performance from the ODA whose contractors imported a lot of labour from outside London.

Rail Projects

TfL and Network Rail also gave evidence, telling us that surface rail in London has a bright future. The recession has not affected passenger numbers which continue to rise, with ridership on the trains expected to rise by over 40% in the next 20 years. Employment is only expected to grow by 14% over the same period in London, but most of the jobs will be created near to main line stations, so the effect on surface rail will be disproportionately large.

The London Overground lines have proved very popular and some parts are suffering from overcrowding. TfL will be providing longer trains to increase capacity and there are plans to electrify the Barking to Gospel Oak line.

Network Rail priorities will be to increase capacity on lines serving the Lea Valley and running South West from Waterloo. There will be longer trains for the C2C lines running out of Fenchurch Street.

High Speed 2 plans will create a need to enlarge Euston Station, otherwise overcrowding on the concourse will negate any time saved on the journey to Birmingham. Interestingly, Euston is the only underground station that can only be accessed through a main line station - not a lot of people know that!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Chill on The Hill

This morning we were campaigning in Harold Hill. Despite cold winds and falling temperatures the team are in good spirits with less than 80 days to the election. I was joined by Gooshays councillor Keith Wells, Assembly Member Andrew Boff, Assembly candidate Nadia Sharif and local activists.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Olympian Spirits

Today a group of members visited the Olympic Park to observe the progress of this giant project. The Aquatic Centre, Velodrome, Athletes' Village and other landmarks are now complete and finishing touches are being made to the landscaping. everything will be ready to welcome the world in just a few months. In the bowels of the huge stadium is a practice running track - Gareth Bacon, Victoria Borwick and I were 'on your marks' for the gruelling sprint ahead...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Pink Ball

Last night I attended the Pink Ball to help raise money for our own St Francis' Hospice in Havering. Also there were councillors Sandra Binion, Linda Trew, Rebecca Bennett and Robby Misir. The dinner was sold out, all in a very good cause. A fine meal was followed by dancing until the late hours - and I even won the raffle!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Action Day

The campaign team were out in force this morning in Ilford North. MP Lee Scott and local councillors joined volunteers to deliver leaflets in temperatures as low as -5c.

Romford Young Conservatives AGM

Last night I was the guest speaker along with MEP Syed Kamall, at the AGM of Romford Young Conservatives. It is difficult to get young people interested in politics, with so many different activities competing for their attention, so it was great to meet such an enthusiastic and thriving group.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Budget Approved

This morning the Assembly approved the fourth Boris Johnson budget, including a precept cut of 1%. This is the first time that the precept has been reduced in twelve years but another important record was also set:

Because the Labour members abstained, only five members opposed the budget allowing it to be passed by the ten Conservatives present. In the past the budget has always been agreed by a minority of members, albeit enough to reach the required target of one third of the Assembly. Today's budget motion was passed with a clear majority of five!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Baby It's Cold Outside

Just got back from City Hall - the town shivers under a white blanket.

Winter Wonderland

The view from my window has changed overnight. Last time it looked like this was in early 2009, I'm hoping that the transport system is going to cope better this time, particularly as I'm due to visit City Hall to pick up some papers for meetings tomorrow. Saddle up the huskies...

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Council Tax CUT

Last night I attended a fund raising event at Shoreditch Town Hall in aid of Assembly Candidates John Moss (City and East) and Naomi Newstead (London North East). there was a great turn out and a very up beat mood - there was also a rumour that Boris had found the efficiency savings to be able to cut the council tax precept.

This morning it is confirmed. There will be a reduction of 1% this year, on top of the freezes achieved in the previous three years. The average band D household will have saved £445.05 over the four years of the Conservative term of office. I'm particularly pleased as I have been urging Boris to cut the budget ever since our first meeting at City Hall, so my persistent lobbying has paid off for Londoners.

And what a contrast with Livingstone who thought he was doing Londoners a favour by limiting the increase to 7.5% in 2004, but usually inflicted much higher rises on the capital.