Thursday, June 28, 2012

Send for the Strimmers

This afternoon I visited Gants Hill. The roundabout and central reservations are looking shoddy and overgrown - not a good background for the Olympic Torch which is due to pass through here in July, or for visitors from abroad. Luckily I have a question tabled for Boris at next week's Question Time about the general condition of the A12 during the Games. Meanwhile TfL need to get down here with their strimmers before lions and boa constrictors take up residence in the sprouting jungle...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Armed Forces Day

Yesterday we gathered outside City Hall for a ceremony to sign the Armed Forces Community Covenant and to raise the Armed Forces Day Flag. With music provided by the Band of the Lifeguards, the crowd was addressed by Jennette Arnold, Boris and Brigadier Matthew Lowe the Deputy Commander of London District.

The Covenant commits civil authorities to work with the armed forces to ensure that their members are not disadvantaged when it comes to accessing services. It was signed by the guests and by representatives of the MPS, LFB and TfL, as well as representatives from the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Transport Questions

This morning Boris and TfL Commissioner Peter Hendy, appeared before the whole Assembly in a plenary session which dealt with transport issues.


Caroline Pidgeon asked if Boris was concerned about London Underground's recent performance. He replied that new measures being taken to respond to breakdowns would hugely reduce delays. Most disruption was within London Underground's control but recently the Central Line was put out of action by a burst water main which flooded the tunnel near Stratford. He had met Thames Water and presented a bill for £250,000, this being the sum which was paid to compensate the passengers.

I asked about disruption around Upminster Depot. Work is under way to expand the site in preparation for new, longer trains but noise is disturbing residents. Peter Hendy agreed to arrange a meeting on site within a week.


Val Shawcross asked about Friday's planned strike over Olympic pay. Boris stated that it was a matter for negotiation between the unions and bus operators, however he was making £8.3 million available from the Olympic Development Authority underspend to make some reward possible. This sum would be withdrawn if strikes took place.

Boris felt that incessant strike ballots were damaging the reputation of the capital. Introducing a law to require greater member participation in strike ballots would eliminate much of the vexatious claims and he was in favour of government action to alter legislation accordingly. London's record was better than Paris, with 17 unions on the network, but worse than New York, where striking is outlawed.

Jennette urged Peter Hendy to get tough on sexual harassment on public transport. She wanted him to consider a public information campaign similar to that used in New York. If it was successful we should consider copying the initiative in London.

Cycling was discussed and Boris agreed that TfL should focus on the large tipper trucks and skip lorries that seemed to be involved in so many accidents - with cyclists coming off worst. He asked which of us cycled to work and got a very tepid response - understandably, as we don't all live in Islington and it's a long way from Romford on a bike.

Finally I asked Boris to intervene to reduce the tolls at the Dartford Crossing - specifically to introduce discounts for my residents to match those enjoyed in Thurrock and Dartford. He said he would raise the proposal at his next meeting with transport ministers...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ready for the Games

On Monday I joined a group of members for a tour of the Olympic Park. The venues are almost ready for what will be a Summer Like No Other in London. Pictures show the Stadium and inside the Aquatics Centre.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Budget Committee

Tuesday's budget committee considered the handling of compensation for the August riot victims and took evidence from TfL about future fares settlemtnts.


The star witness was Tottenham MP David Lammy. David was briefly a list member of the London Assembly, before taking advantage of his list status to go on to greater things without leaving a by election in his wake. He has evolved into a passionate and articulate advocate for his constituents who are some of the poorest in London.

David was joined by Sir William Castell who chairs the High Street Fund trustees and Moaz Nanjuwany from the Tottenham Traders Partnership. The Assembly Members included the representatives of hard hit Tottenham, Croydon and Clapham.

MPA witnesses explained the limitations of the Riot Damages Act, a piece of legislation dating from 1886 which does not include compensation for vehicles or loss of business.  Confusion over this role meant that many people applied for compensation when they had little chance of qualifying.

Insurance provided a wider degree of compensation but in Tottenham 25% of traders were not insured. Even those who had bought insurance sometimes found it was not adequate in the face of such terrible damage. Furthermore those who claimed were now facing an increase in premiums of up to 20%, making insurance unaffordable in many cases. We were told of cases where insurers had been unhelpful and lossadjusters had made unreasonable demands - for example asking for receipts from businesses which had been burned to the ground. David Lammy cited Zurich as an example of an insurer who was difficult to deal with - this struck a chord as Zurich were my insurers when I was burgled in 1999, and they were great, until their loss adjusters turned up...

Sir William's High Street Fund had stepped in to fill the gap. Run by private businesses, they had targeted small concerns with 12 or fewer employees. With 623 applicants, 575 had qualified for initial stop gap payments of up to £2,000. Further grants of up to £8,000 had been made later, bringing the total number of payments up to 911. Most beneficiaries were businesses in Tottenham and Croydon. Sir William was critical of working relationships with some local authorities but he praised the commitment and support of Boris and the GLA.

David Lammy warned that further unrest was likely because of high unemployment in his constituency. He urged the government to take more steps to provide opportunities in London, in the same way that the relocation of the DVLA and other government agencies had boosted depressed areas outside London.


TfL's Stephen Critchley made his last appearance before his impending retirement. He confirmed that the business plan predicted a fares rise of RPI plus 2%, although this was subject to Mayoral approval and compared favourably with National Rail rises of RPI plus 3%.

Stephen Knight suggested borrowing to hold fares down. TfL replied that borrowing was limited by government agreement and was also subject to changes in their credit rating. Excessive borrowing would harm a good rating, leading to increased borrowing costs as well as reputational damage, higher supplier bills and harm to the pension fund - not much leeway there...

A better idea was to seek other income streams to subsidise fares. These included advertising, sponsorship, property, retail and technology - a new source of income manifested in the recent wifi deals. One possibility was to enlarge station car parks to generate more parking income and to facilitate more 'park and ride' opportunities.

I suggested that retail should be built into more stations, allowing for income generation as well as creating a buzz inside stations. Travelling on the Jubilee and East London line extensions reveals a preference for blank concrete walls over retail units. The cavernous ticket hall at Canary Wharf must surely provide for some retail income - certainly the privately run underground shopping complexes on either side of the hall are thriving. And Crossrail plans for new stations at Ilford and Romford have sacrificed commercial space in favour of blank walls and offices for station staff - don't get me started on that...

Mayor's Question Time

Wednesday's Question Time followed hard on the heels of May's rather scrappy and political episode. Labour asked Boris to provide an update on the 'Close Protection' operation which saw Diamond Jubilee volunteers allegedly sleeping under a bridge in damp and cold conditions. John Biggs stated this was unacceptable, whilst accepting himself that further investigation was required and we shouldn't jump to conclusions based on media coverage. Boris agreed that the situation needed to be properly understood and any necessary lessons learned before the Games which will see much more volunteering.

Jenny Jones asked for GLA policies on the employment of volunteers and appeared to be suggesting a minimum wage. When Boris pointed out that this was effectively a ban on unpaid work she backed off a bit. Ensuring volunteers are well treated is vital but thoughtless bureaucracy must be avoided.

Kit Malthouse told us that the company involved was run by a woman and condemned some of the media coverage for its misogynism.

The Conservatives asked Boris to state his position on High Speed 2. The Mayor felt that the business case needed to improve and that protection for West London was essential. The rebuilding of Euston Station to provide for the larger passenger volume highlighted the need for Crossrail 2 which should be a condition of HS2 going ahead.


Lib Dem Stephen Knight asked about air quality during the Games and Boris replied that the TfL projections and an independent report showed that it was likely to improve. Knight then broadened the scope of the question, demanding more restrictions on black cab emissions and complaining that Boris had delayed the third phase of the Low Emission Zone. These measures may well clean the air in Central London but they penalise residents in Outer London and it is no surprise that the Lib Dem candidate came ninth in the Havering element of the Assembly election with policies like that.


Darren Johnson asked a broad question about 'housing scandals' in London. Boris used the opportunity to highlight his good record of building new social housing.

Supplementaries about 'housing scandals' can go almost anywhere and Darren chose to raise 'beds in sheds', effectively hijacking a Labour question from further down the agenda. The Chair initially disallowed the question, then decided to bring the Labour question forward. Labour objected and some off stage discussion took place, with ALL the Labour housing questions eventually brought forward to this section - in effect returning to the 'theming' of questions which was an unsuccessful feature of the 2000 - 2004 Assembly before it was knocked into shape by Brian Coleman.

'Beds in Sheds' are a problem in several London boroughs including Redbridge. Householders use their sheds, garages and outhouses to accommodate paying tenants often in sub standard conditions. Tony Arbour referred to a garage in his constituency which included a washing machine and kitchen, neither strictly necessary to its purpose. He stated that the length of the planning enforcement process made this abuse a profitable proposition for unscrupulous landlords. Boris agreed and pledged to focus the attention of the London Fire Brigade on the issue - closing down overcrowded and dangerous accommodation.

I asked about measures to tacle squatting - also a problem in Redbridge. Boris said that he supported government measures to speed up eviction processes and impose tougher sanctions on squatters, who he described as 'a blight and a curse'.


I raised my long awaited question about illegal U turns at Newbury Park. A couple of weeks ago I visited the junction with local councillors and witnessed some very dangerous behaviour by drivers (and pedestrians). Boris stated that TfL would be altering the junction to prevent illegal manoeuvres and that the changes would be made in October 2013. Meanwhile I called for tougher enforcement by the police and TfL not just at Newbury Park but all along the A12 where U turns are a problem.


Andrew Boff returned to the subject of Olympic copyrights. LOCOG are allegedly cracking down on people who upload pictures and videos to social media sites. Boris stated that he takes a much more relaxed view and he urged LOCOG to relax their activities - though how much effect this urging will have remains to be seen, with LOCOG very much a law unto themselves as the Games approach.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

A Jubilee Greeting

Several people have sent me this today - it seems quite appropriate:

On this Jubilee Sunday may we offer our thoughts, prayers and gratitude to Her Royal Majesty Elizabeth II for 60 years of service that she has offered our nation as well as every nation that she leads. I hope that you will join me in saying "God Save The Queen". I hope that your Jubilee Weekend is full of happiness.

The picture is of the largest Union Jack ever, in pride of place at the top of Romford Market.