Thursday, September 27, 2012

Police and Crime Committee

Today I attended my first meeting of the relatively new police and crime committee. Initially I had agreed to stand in for Victoria Borwick who was at a funeral but on Tuesday I had a surprise visit from the group leader - he asked me to take the committee place permanently as Conservative spokesman on policing, following Steve O'Connell's appointment as an advisor to the Deputy Mayor.

The committee has been fractious in the past, with confrontation between the members and Stephen Greenhalgh, the combative Deputy Mayor for Policing. Today Stephen was accompanied by Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey and the tone was more positive.

Management Reorganisation

With £500 million savings required from the budget, senior management was being reduced, also allowing more investment in the front line. The witnesses refused to rule out the possibility that some boroughs would be combined under single management and the borough commanders would have to share some of their back office functions. At present borough commanders hold the rank of chief superintendent (except in Lambeth and Westminster where they are full commanders), but in future this might not be the case.

I urged the Deputy Mayor to preserve geographical structures below the borough commanders rather than opt for functional 'silos' which would endanger the excellent partnership work being shared by councils and other public services at borough level. By all means we should seek to save money but take care to preserve the strengths which flow from local links.

Estates Strategy

The property review was expected to cut the MPS estate by around a third, saving at least £50 million and providing an opportunity to relocate services to better sites. However confused messages are raising fears in communities around the city.

I told the witnesses that the closure of Wanstead police station in 2001 had to be reversed because crime spiked by over 20%. Surely they wanted to avoid such costly reversals of decisions this time. They refused to comment on Wanstead in particular but the Deputy Mayor said that no front counters would be closed without his agreement - and he hadn't signed any off. The Estates Strategy would be published and would be subject to consultation, which should be very welcome news for campaigners.

The witnesses agreed with me that response times and the distance between front counters would be key criteria in the review - not just the number of people currently visiting. Counters which were closed would be replaced like for like - a key commitment which had been in some doubt. And the possibility of using volunteers to staff front counters would be considered, particularly in the light of the great volunteering spirit engendered by the 2012 Games.

As part of the review MOPAC HQ in Westminster will be closed with 65 staff transferring to City Hall and reporting to the Deputy Mayor.

Vetting and Supervision

The recent cases involving PC Simon Harwood who assaulted Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests, and an officer in the specialist Sapphire rape unit who had falsified police records, raised concerns about vetting of police officers and their supervision.

The Deputy Commissioner assured us that systems had been improved and lessons learned. An officer with Harwood's record of complaints of violence would now be spotted more swiftly with appropriate action taken. Management changes at Sapphire should reassure victims that their cases would be effectively investigated.

Jenny Jones raised the question of supervising undercover officers who often had to make tough decisions in life threatening circumstances. The witnesses said it would not be acceptable for an undercover officer to commit or participate in a crime. Also, they should seek permission before taking part in sexual relationships with suspects or others in their undercover role. Jenny wondered if children from such liaisons would become the police's responsibility - the Deputy Commissioner considered this highly unlikely.

Gang Strategy

The anti - gangs strategy had targeted 1,500 gang members, severely hampering their activity and reducing the number of stabbings and shootings. The witnesses appealed for more diversionary initiatives to steer young people away from gang culture along with better employment opportunities. Although out of the headlines recently, gangs remained a high priority for Scotland Yard.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wanstead Police Protest

On Friday evening I attended a special meeting of Redbridge Council's Area 1 Committee which covers the wards of Wanstead and Snaresbrook in the West part of the borough. Chaired by Cllr Chris Cummins, the meeting was called to discuss plans to close Wanstead Police Station which had featured on the front page of the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian.

The deputy borough police commander assured a packed room that no decisions had been taken, however with a £500 million gap in their budget the Met Police had to consider all options and amongst these was a review of their property requirements.

There was widespread local concern, not least because this is not the first threat to the police station. The building was closed in late 2001 but reopened in 2003 after a successful campaign led by local councillor Allan Burgess. During the closure period residents endured a 23% increase in crime in the area.

This time residents are better prepared and there are two petitions opposing the closure, each with over 1,000 signatures. Local councillors and MP John Cryer are united in their opposition and the future of police stations in the borough is due to be debated at a Redbridge Council meeting on 20th October. I have agreed to present the petitions to the Mayor who is ultimately responsible for any decision.

Because closure will lead to poorer response times, loss of public access and removal of a deterrent to crime in the area, I hope that local people and politicians of all parties will be able to speak with one voice against this ill judged plan.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Elm Park - The Future

This morning I dropped into the Town Hall to look at the plans to improve traffic flow in Elm Park. The Broadway north of the station is particularly prone to congestion caused by unloading retail goods and buses picking up passengers. A grant of £60,000 from TfL is to be used to eliminate these problems.

Most contentious will be the introduction of parking bays with pay and display machines. The pricing regime is designed to keep parking turning over and prevent commuters taking up the space. One hour's parking will be a very inexpensive 20p, but this will rise to £1.40 for up to ninety minutes and £2.00 for the maximum allowed time of two hours. The restrictions will be in force from 8:30am to 6:30pm Mondays to Saturday with free parking on a Sunday.

There will also be designated free loading spaces where no charge will apply in the first 20 minutes, as well as a 'kiss and ride' bay south of the station for drivers to drop off and collect rail passengers with very limited free waiting time.

Existing disc parking places outside 33 to 42 The Broadway will be removed.

Three or four new cycle parking racks will be added. The lay bys will be set further back from the road, reducing interference with the flow of traffic.

The plans are open to consultation and can be viewed at Mercury House in Romford with all representations requested before 12th October. Final decision will be made by the Highways Committee later in October.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

ESEL Launch

On Tuesday afternoon I attended the House of Commons for the launch of the East and South East London Transport Partnership. Providing a forum for London Boroughs and the business community, the group will agree priorities and lobby for transport funding in our area.

Parliament has more than its share of MPs who believe that London gets too much support and funding should be diverted to Scotland and The North, so the capital needs well informed people to make its case. This is made all the more necessary by the departure of London based ministers from the DfT with key transport infrastucture such as Crossrail 2 still not funded. With most of London's population growth expected in the East, investment in transport infrastructure is a priority for all political parties.

The launch was chaired by Lee Scott MP - newly promoted PPS to Chris Grayling at Justice - and speakers included Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick, Howard Dawber from the Canary Wharf Group and of course myself, representing the Mayor and Assembly.

Transport Committee

Yesterday saw the Transport Committee reconvene at City Hall after a summer which has seriously tested the city's transport network.


Peter Hendy updated us on performance during the Games. Many records for passenger numbers had been broken. On 7th August the Tube carried a record 4.57 million passengers. On 3rd August the DLR carried over 500,000 passengers for the first time. The Cable Car has now lifted more than a million people across the river, providing stunning views of London on the way.

In contrast, road traffic was down by 15% during the Games. 23,000 warning notices were issued to motorists who strayed into the Olympic Route Network lanes but they weren't fined, however fines were issued where direction signs and parking restrictions were deliberately flouted and there were 6,473 such cases.

3,000 IPADs had been issued to staff on station platforms to give them real time information when dealing with questions from passengers. At 16 stations portable ramps were in use to enable wheelchair access and these would be retained subject to the availability of staff to operate them.

Committee members congratulated Peter Hendy on TfL's gold medal performance.


With the expansion of Heathrow back on the table, the chair announced an Assembly led review of airport capacity which would be run by the transport committee with input from the environment and economy committees. Along with government and mayoral investigations, reviews are landing thick and fast...


The committee continued its investigation into cycling in London, taking some interesting evidence from Dutch and Swedish experts. Cycling rates are much higher in their cities and we are looking at solutions which can transfer easily to London's busier and narrower streets. The Freight Transport Association gave us their take on measures to improve HGV safety standards, including mirrors, detection devices and training for drivers.

Ben Plowden from TfL updated us on their latest ideas and I was pleased when he promised that Cycle Superhighway 2 would be extended from Stratford to Ilford in the coming 12 months, thus bringing safer cycle commuting to Ilford. Newham Council had opposed the extension because of interference with the Games, but with the Olympics out of the way their opposition will be dropped and nothing will stand in the way of CS2.

UPDATE - Ben Plowden has been in touch to say that CS2 will only be extended as far as Stratford this year. Looks like Redbridge will have to continue to wait...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Buster Challenge Quiz

On Friday I joined Romford Young Conservatives for their Buster Challenge Quiz Night. Named after Buster, Andrew Rosindell's dog and election mascot, the contest usually attracts stiff competition and this time was no exception.

I was the guest quiz master for the night, which included a two course meal, wine and as always, a raffle. The close race was won by the Terriers who narrowly beat the Chairman's Table. They are pictured with the trophy which they get to keep for a year, and YC chairman Josh Chapman.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Transport Reshuffle

On the whole I am pleased with the reshuffle so far. It is good to see talented individuals like Chris Grayling and Maria Miller rewarded with seats around the Cabinet table, however the news coming out of DfT is worrying - at least so far...

Boris has already seized upon the removal of Transport Secretary Justine Greening and her Minister of State Theresa Villiers as evidence that the government is about to U-turn on its commitment to oppose a third runway at Heathrow. They were both strongly opposed to the project as is the Mayor, but nobody in London can have missed the recent public lobbying in favour by business and the aviation industry. The new ministers represent seats outside London so their stance on Heathrow may be more flexible and less affected by constituency concerns. Boris is promising to make a robust stand against 'mad' plans to resurrect the Third Runway.

At Westminster transport is not seen as a big deal. Traditionally the Secretaries of State are young ministers on their way up and they don't expect to stay long - under Labour their tenures were also short. But in London government, transport is one of our greatest challenges, along with policing. Having ministers with constituencies in London gives the Mayor a great advantage, not just when dealing with Heathrow, but when arguing for any transport improvements. When Boris makes the case for Crossrail and the Tube renewal programme, he knows that he is making it to informed and receptive politicians with half an eye on their voters.

Some years ago I gave evidence to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee. We were talking about the collapse of Metronet, but it quickly became clear that some of the MPs from Scotland and The North were more keen on proving that London was getting more than its share of transport investment. There was clearly some prejudice against the Capital and I fear that it still persists in Parliament.

We have yet to see the most junior appointments to the Department for Transport and I hope that Londoners will be included at some point, otherwise fighting our corner could prove more difficult in future.

UPDATE: Whilst I was out at the gym Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon has been appointed to transport as a junior minister, so London still has a voice, albeit much reduced...

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Brooklands Action Day

September is with us and it's back to campaigning. On Saturday I joined Romford MP Andrew Rosindell and local activists for an action day delivering newsletters and meeting residents in Brooklands Ward. The weather was fine and people we met were positive, whilst understanding the difficulties facing the government and the necessity of unpopular decisions.

This was the first in a series of Romford campaign days which will cover the whole of the constituency, so a busy autumn lies ahead...

Return to the Forbidden Planet

On Thursday evening I joined a packed out audience for the opening night of Return to the Forbidden Planet at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch.

Written by artistic director Bob Carlton, Forbidden Planet presents an eighties take on the classic fifties sci-fi film. Now thirty years old, the play toured nationally in 1989 and was last at the Queen's in 2001. It features many well known - and some obscure - lines from Shakespeare, combined with sixties music hits including 'Teenager in Love' and 'Great Balls of Fire'. The audience joined in enthusiastically with many of the most famous hits.

this play really challenges its star performers, requiring them to play music as well as act. Thus the ship's cook - played by Queen's newcomer Mark Newnham - is transformed into a rock guitarist in one scene and everyone displays multiple talents as the show develops. Playing a saxophone is challenging enough but doing so whilst carrying an attractive young lady, balancing on roller skates and pretending to be a robot is well beyond standard expectations - so hats off to Frederick "Frido" Ruth who plays Ariel.

There is even an on screen appearance from Richard O'Brien who starred in Flash Gordon and fronted up the Crystal Maze TV show, although his dark glasses initially make him familiar but difficult to recognise.

It is well worth spending an evening with Captain Tempest and the crew of  the Intergalactic Starship Albatross. Tickets are available from .