Saturday, September 30, 2006

Launch of New Horizons Centre

Today seen the formal launch of the New Horizons Centre in Pollards Hill which has involved Pollards Hill Community Centre becoming part of the Commonside Development Trust. The Mayor of Merton Geraldine Stanford along with the local Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh attended the opening and the day was a huge success with many people taking part in a range of activities that had been laid on.

In terms of community trusts, this area has led the way in the transfer of community resources to trusts. In the last few years the day centre and now the community centre has become part of the trust and this is something I believe has a lot of potential in terms of the long development of community centre and reaching out to new people. As councillors we should not get hung up about this, the voluntary sector can sometimes deliver services better and take more account of local need. Trusts are also in a much better position in terms of attracting outside funding, as they are charitable bodies.

At the event today, we attracted many people who had never previously been to an event at the centre and by distributing publicity to a wider area then previously we have significantly increased the numbers wanting to get involved. The merger had been in the pipeline for a number of years and I'm glad that it has finally come to fruition.

West Coast Eagles win the flag!

Anyway, this morning I got up at 5-30 to watch the Australian Football League Grand Final from Melbourne and see my favourite team West Coast Eagles win the final by just one point. It was nail biting stuff right to the end, although they had a lead nearly throughout their opponents Sydney Swans had the score down to just one point at the end, the score being 12.13(84 pts) to 12.12(83 pts). Last year West Coast lost to Sydney Swans by just four points, so it was sweet revenge.

I know my aunt who lives in Perth (where the team is based) was at the match as she is an avid fan of the West Coast Eagles and had tickets for the match. This is the biggest sporting event each year in Australia and was in front of 97,000 people at the magnificent Melbourne Cricket ground (where the 4th Ashes test will be held). Until going to Australia four years ago for a holiday, I had never watched a match and that visit coupled with a visit to the MCG could me into the game.

A good start to the weekend! I have put a link on Australian Rules below in case you are baffled about the game.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Windmill Application update

The issue of the Windmill trading estate is still an on-going issue in my ward. In fact, I have now been dealing with the issue for the past three years. Tonight we had an open evening with the developers and over 30 attended during the time I was at the open evening. They are organising another session on Saturday morning between 10 and 2.

The general views of residents about the current proposal for the site is general opposition and I believe that many of the concerns are genuine especially give its location overlooking the Common and the proposal for five storey buildings. I also have concern with the number of units being proposed in the development give the nature of the site and the area that it is located within which does not have high levels of public transport accessibility and encourage car usage.

Currently the issue is going to appeal but I am having a public meeting on the matter at the Baptist Church in Pollards Hill along with my fellow two ward colleagues Zenia and Richard on 11th October at 7 pm to discuss the matter. Since the first application at the beginning of 2004, I've had regular meeting with local residents as the matter has generated a large number of responses from residents throughout the area including over 250 representations on the issue.

A public inquiry is due to commence in November though the latest application is clearly an attempt to avoid the inquiry. Having also had little consultation with the residents over the past few years the developers have suddenly started to communicate again locally having ignored residents for 2 ½ years. The developers have hired a PR company, but judging by tonight they would to need to do a a great deal better to sell this scheme to local residents.

Conference in Manchester

I have now been back a day and finally got round to writing about Conference and my four days in Manchester. The time like all party conferences went by in a flash and with the late night receptions they were very long days but productive in terms of meeting people.

This year was the 11th time I've been to Party Conference, in fact since 1995 the only one I missed was last year and that was mainly due to being called up for jury service around conference and the extremely hectic period I had around that time as the Chair of Licensing in Merton. Going to Labour Party Conference for me is still an experience and they are addictive, one you've been to one you want to go again. A time will probably come when I get bored of going but that time has not come yet.

The venue Manchester has to be the best venue I have attended yet for party conference with everything located together, I like Brighton as well but getting accommodation nearby is always a nightmare and for the past few, I commuted up and down the motorway. The one relief is that the party does no longer goes to Blackpool, which is an antiquated venue that has seen better days, the Winter Gardens just about sums up Blackpool for me.

In terms of the Conference itself, I detected a realisation from many that we need to unite as a party. Sure, there was talk of the leadership but that is natural, above all the party did recognise the huge debt of gratitude we owe to Tony Blair who has been a great leader of the party and has many achievements to his name. As a leader he recognised that we had to change otherwise we would continue to remain in opposition and that we needed to modernise as a party as the world had moved on and while many of our policies were well meaning they did not connect with the aspirations of the public. This was the right approach to adopt and has been the foundation to us winning three elections in a row all with comfortable majorities. The speech he made was moving, having been in the hall for ten of his thirteen speeches to Conference, along with hearing countless others this was his best performance in my view. He will be a very hard act to follow!

On Wednesday, the speech by David Milliband on climate change brought home the stark message that we need to act now in saving the environment. This is an extremely important issue and we ignore it at our peril. The US President George Bush may not take it seriously (but then again he was from the oil industry and bankrolled by them) but it is time that the world face up to the issue; we cannot go on polluting the planet.

Bill Clinton address to Conference was one of the best moments of the week, I understand he spoke without a note for 40 minutes, so much so that the speech overrun but it did show what a great president and how much poorer the States is without him. The work is he is carrying out in the third world along with his understanding that we need to act on the environment shows his commitment to making the world a better place. The tragedy is that his successor George Bush has sent America backwards as a country and has been an unmitigated disaster on a range of issues.

From my experience of Conference, the Labour party is still strong, being a third term government is tough but we have many achievements to our name and this need to be re-iterated to a sometime sceptical public. The next year will see a leadership battle and I hope we do have a contest, as it will be good for the party. In terms of who shall succeed Tony Blair, I can honestly say that I have yet to make up mind (though I will not be voting John McDonnell in the unlikely event he did get on the ballot). In any battle it is important that the candidates for leader put forward their views, we have a vigorous debate and then after the election unite behind the elected leader and above all getting on with the task of beating David Cameron and winning a fourth term.

Mitcham Town Centre call-in

The recent decision on Mitcham Town Centre and the decision to review the planning brief(SPD) has been called in by members of the Labour group including myself. The Environment and Regeneration Panel will consider the call-in at its meeting on 9th October which will take place at the Merton Civic Centre in Morden. Now it will be interesting to see whether the documents requested are provided and whether the minority Tory administration try and withhold the documents from panel members. Anyway no doubt it will also allow us the opportunity to question the relevant people about their justification for changing the plans which had undergone extensive consulation previously and which has so far been lacking in any of the papers provided.

Title of decision
Mitcham Town Centre Development Brief Supplementary Planning Document – Review and Revision of Parts of the SPD, Agenda Item 23, Cabinet 18th September 2006.

Which principle(s) of the decision-making has not been followed?
(ii) Due consultation and the taking of professional advice from officers
(iii) Respect for human rights and equalities
(iv) a presumption in favour of openness

Reason for the call-in and desired outcome

Due Consultation - As the redevelopment of Mitcham Town Centre effects the residents of the three Mitcham wards of Figges Marsh, Lavender and Cricket Green, there should have been full consultation with all relevant Members as to any new proposals being put forward to the public which would change the existing agreed scheme. No such consultation has occurred.

Respect for Human Rights and Equalities (The legal officer has ruled that this is not a valid reason for call-in) The proposal in relation to community facilities that further work will also be required in order to better establish actual need as opposed to the general wishes of the community (Amendment Item 9) displays a lack of respect for the already expressed wishes of the local community as evidenced in the results of the consultation on the existing SPD.

A Presumption in Favour of Openness The economic justification for the review of the SPD (noted in Point 1.5 of the report) has not been shared with Members so that the basis of the decision to review the SPD is unclear.

Desired outcome:

That Cabinet reconsider their decision and consult with all Members representing the wards concerned as to the nature and necessity of any review of the SPD

That the report into the economic viability of the current Mitcham Town Centre SPD be shared with all Members to establish an evidence base to justify the current decision or to overturn or amend it

That the already expressed wishes of the residents of Merton, as expressed via the consultation on the current SPD, be taken into account in any decision to review or revise the SPD.

That greater transparency in the decision taken is achieved

Witnesses requested

Cabinet Member Diane Neil Mills and Michael Owens Head of Regeneration

Specific information/documents requested

CBRE Report into the economic viability of the Mitcham Town Centre SPD
Correspondence by letter or e.mail with developers in relation to economic viability and/or any proposed changes
Advice by officers in writing by letter or e.mail to the Cabinet members on economic viability and/or the proposed changes

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Back from Manchester

Well I'm back from Manchester after a four drive down the motorway, pretty exhausted but plenty to report on. Never got round to updating my blog at Conference it was so hectic and I'm too tired tonight to write a full report tonight(a task fro tommorrow). I will say though it was a great conference with what in my opinion was probably Tony Blair's greatest ever speech in his time as a leader.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Labour Party Conference Manchester

I've now been in Manchester for the past day and despite what is been said by people the atmosphere up here is pretty positive and at two receptions I attended last night Tony Blair had a tremendous reception.

On the way in to Conference today, I was accosted by a reporter from the BBC who of course was looking for a divisive story on the Conference(have they have not got anything better to do??) and my view on the motions that were ruled out of order about the leadership. I told him that it was right to rule out the motion calling for a leadership debate as it would have been divisive, and that the Prime Minister has personally made his position quite clear on the matter. The party does need to move on and talk about policy and not personalities. My contribution may or may not get reported, I suspect the latter though no doubt he will get others to oblige with what he wants to hear.

The venue of the conference Manchester has undergone a huge amount of regeneration over the past ten years and is a revitalization city. A huge amount of regeneration is ongoing and it is a really vibrant and happening city. Anyway that is all for now and hopefully I will get another opportunity to update the blog soon.

Ryder Cup

What a great win for the European golfers in the Ryder Cup, three in a row and a tremendous perfomance by Darren Clarke considering what he has been through recently with the loss of his golf. The European golfers put on a fantastic performance over the three days and the team ethic contributed greatly to their success, another one over the yanks!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Merton full Council meeting

Last night we had a full Council in Merton, while not the most interesting of meetings it did provide us with an opportunity to scrutinise the minority Tory administration.

In terms of Labour group motions, the Tories successfully amended them all. The Merton Park Independents who hold the balance of power on the Council generally abstained and the Tories won the contested votes, most of the motions in general were non-contentious (apart from Mitcham) though the amendments of course contained attacks the record of the previous Labour administration.

The main issue on the agenda was Mitcham town centre and their regeneration plans. I proposed a motion criticising their proposals coupled with their lack of consultation on their proposals, this included the issue of party manifestos being material consideration for planning applications. When I mentioned this at the meeting and the points made by Cllr Marc Hanson at the July meeting he shot up with a bogus point of order, he was obviously rattled when I mentioned his comments at the July meeting of the Planning Committee (see entry of 17th Sep Planning in Merton). Judging by his comments it was quite clear he was trying to backtrack on what he said at the meeting. However, the issue was recorded in the planning minutes and I stand by my comments to Council, if it was wrong, it should have been corrected at the next meeting. Council passed an amendment but it was quite clear that the Cabinet member Diane Neil-Mills is not in favour of affordable housing (claims about out of borough residents getting a large share of the housing) and the evidential base to back up the proposed revisions seemed to be lacking. If the proposed ASDA for the town centre collapses, a large part of the blame will be down to her actions and with a developer having already pulled out, the situation is less hopeful then it was a few months ago.

On the issue of affordable housing, we do need to move away from the fact that all affordable housing means social housing and the hints from the Tories that it brings associated problems like crime and the wrong type of person. In Merton, we have a desperate need for affordable housing, especially intermediate housing which includes shared ownership and key worker housing. Merton is in the top third of London Boroughs for average house prices in London and to buy a place you would need to be one at least £35K a year to even get a one bed roomed flat(even more if you lived in Wimbledon). Despite reports from the Tories that we provide too much, we still underperform on the level of affordable housing provided for in the Borough. The Mayor of London want the figure of affordable housing in Merton raised and the Tories have sought legal advice on this matter. The London Plan does take precedence and if Merton decides not to play ball it will be made to comply.

In terms of the rest of the Council meeting, Tory Council LeaderDavid Williams provided us with some great entertainment in forgetting about the scheduling of the meeting and thinking we were half an hour ahead. It took his deputy Sam George to point out to him and the Mayor to advise him that he had been involved in drawing up the scheduling and that we were on time. The mistake can no doubt be attributed to boredom on his behalf but it was a lighthearted moment in an otherwise dull night.

The Council has agreed to change the format of the meeting and bring in a public question time (it had been in the constitution for years but never implemented) this will start at the next meeting. At the next Council meeting, it will also include Area Forum reports and motions passed by the forums. On changing the Council meeting and is hoped that this will allow more backbenchers to speak at Council. Over the last year the opportunities for backbenchers have decreased with the same old faces speaking (and I include myself in this), hardly any member elected in May has yet to make a maiden speech to Council. The leader David Williams was doing a survey on the issue during the meeting and pointed this out, he was for once correct in his viewpoint. When discussing the item we also had a bout of entertainment from jovial Conservative Chris Edge (who was making a maiden speech) about Council meetings, I think recognition exists on all side that despite the banter and ding-dong if a member of the public were to sit through our meeting it would be a major achievement.

Xavi Alonso goal

Well what a goal Xabi Alonso scored for Liverpool, this has to be surely goal of the season. I hope this success continues after two losses on the trot we are back to winning ways at last.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Merton Cabinet meeting

The meeting of the Cabinet at Merton last night was generally pretty mundane (most items went through on the nod) but as usual a few issues did arise that have been noted.

The most important issue decided was Mitcham Town Centre and the revisions to the planning policy. Despite the previous Labour administration having undertaken a comprehensive consultation about regenerating Mitcham, the Conservatives since taking office have decided to completely review the scheme and come up with their own revised proposals. While developing the town centre policy will be an on-going process, they have now come up with revisions that have the potential to undermine the whole scheme. Indeed in the report to cabinet, information has been witheld on the viability of their plans for Mitcham, the evidential base was certainly lacking in their proposals. Since the election one of the key developers has withdrawn from the scheme and consultation has of course been limited, though this is not surprising given their lack of elected representatives in Mitcham. A further brief on Mitcham is being brought to the Cabinet in December and a motion is being discussed at tomorrow’s night Council meeting which I will be proposing.

The new Merton Local Development Framework (planning policy) will be delayed for four months. A hastily worded amendment was put forward by Cabinet Member Diane Neil-Mills on the matter. As a result Merton stands to lose potentially part of its Planning Delivery Grant from the Government Office of London. The leader David Williams even admitted that "they may hit us over the head". The whole item is being proposed for withdrawal from the Council agenda tomorrow. While more consultation was needed, it could have been done within the existing timetable. The Tories have also stated that they are bringing in "new planning policies", this basically means the whole document is being hastily re-written. The document will no doubt also include a cut in affordable housing and it is also understood that the Tories are seeking legal advice to reduce the level of affordable housing that should be built in the Borough under the London Plan. Along with the recent number of refusals at Planning many of which are likely to result in appeals, planning is likely to continue to be a big issue within the Council.

The Budget overspend in Adult and Social Services was brought up and of course all the blame was being directed towards the previous Labour administration. The current overspend in Adult Social Services of £4.7 million, is an issue in nearly all London Boroughs many of which have similar overspends. This has been due in part to the rise in residential and domiciliary care costs coupled with under-forecasting (it is a notoriously difficult area to make exact forecast as demand can vary from year to year), costs have also been rising in this area and are well above inflation (around 7% a year). While management action has brought the savings required down to £3.8 Million (vacancy freeze and placement criteria), further savings will need to be made and a paper is being brought back to cabinet next month about addressing the situation. In order to make the savings the eligibility criteria is likely to be addressed and changed (no doubt affecting the most vulnerable). They have also commissioned an external review by consultants (questions will be asked on cost) on the whole issue, this has a remit of looking at different ways of delivering the service.

At the meeting the Leader David Williams also stated "that it has significantly blown the budget for 07/08". What has been noticeable is that the plans they had earlier in the year to re-cast the budget by putting extra resources into environmental services in this financial year, now seemed to have been abandoned. On this item, I also had the opportunity of addressing the panel and the Cabinet accepted the recommendations of the panel. The Way We Work will be reviewing the issue in November along with their proposed measures for addressing the situation.

The one positive part of the night is that Pollards Hill has been made a Neighbourhood Plan Area; this is of course welcome though the cynic in me wonders whether any extra resources will follow. The area has undergone massive regeneration under Labour, I cannot seem the Tories quite having the same commitment to the area, and indeed most Tories have no idea where Pollards Hill even is in the Borough.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The week ahead

Well the week ahead for me is likely to be very busy with the Merton cabinet meeting tomorrow night (with some interesting issues on the agenda that I will no doubt comment further on). On Wednesday, a full Council meeting takes place in Merton, which will no doubt provide another blog entry along with the latest antics of the minority Tory administration.

The other two nights is taken up with Neighbourhood Governance taskforce meetings. This week we are meeting Leader of the Council David Williams and Labour Group leader Andrew Judge. This is an on-going review looking into neighbourhood governance issues in the Borough, their current effectiveness and how they could be improved taking into account the Government agenda on neighbourhood governance that is likely to feature heavily in the forthcoming white paper. On the taskforce is Merton Park Resident Councillor Peter Southgate who is Chairing and Conservative Councillor Henry Nelless. The taskforce will be going to all the area forums in November and we will be consulting with relevant organisations across the Borough over the next few weeks. The taskforce has already met on a number of occasions and the meetings have been constructive and interesting, it is hoped that interim recommendations will be produced by the end of November.

At the end of the week I am off to Labour Party Conference in Manchester, this year should be a lively occasion with it being Tony Blair’s last Conference as leader. Having missed Conference last year for the first time in years (a combination of jury service and licensing committee commitments) it should be a lively event. Contrary to media reports in certain sectors of the media, I believe the Conference will be constructive and not the bloodbath that is being portrayed by some. I hope that I’ll also get the opportunity of blogging Conference as well.

Planning in Merton

In the politically dead of month of August (and apart from this meeting it was pretty much the case), the Planning committee needed two meetings to complete its business (a rare occurrence). The first one ending at 11-45 at night with an adjournment and then re-convened two weeks later ending at 11-15, they've certainly been very time consuming of late and I am glad not to be a member of planning anymore.

Anyway what struck me was the number of refusals at the meeting, normally a few applications are refused at each meeting (averages about 2-3 from experience) but at the most recent meeting eight applications were refused and they all involved converting family houses into flats. On every application the officer recommendations had been to accept and they were overturned using the below reason to justify refusal. The text is below, I have also enclosed a link to the minutes of the meeting along with the UDP.

“The proposed flats by reason of their size, design and layout, would provide a cramped and unsatisfactory standard of residential accommodation which would fail to meet minimum size requirements specified in paragraph 5.1.3 of the 2001 Supplementary Planning Guidance : "Residential Extensions, Alterations & Conversions (November 2001)" and would lead to a shortage of small family dwellings locally whilst at the same time giving rise to increased demand for on street parking space that would adversely affect pedestrian and highway safety to the detriment of neighbouring residential amenity contrary to policies HP5 & PK3 of the Adopted Unitary Development Plan (October 2003)” (A very large document of 343 pages)

At the meeting, what was even more interesting was that all the votes were 5-5 with the Chair William Brierly using his casting vote on all the refusals. Another interesting point is that Conservative Councillor Angela Caldara voted the opposite way to all her colleagues(she has a reputation of being quite independent minded), it was only through Merton Park Resident councillor Peter Southgate voting with the Conservatives that resulted in a deadlocked vote. It will be interesting to see whether Angela Caldara continues to be on Planning and if the Conservative group removes her in the near future.

Subsequently on the agenda for the Council meeting this Wednesday is the following motion which has been signed by the Chair William Brierly, Cllr Marc Hanson and Cllr Peter Southgate this is the first time since been elected to the Council in 2002 that I've know a motion relating to planning policy to be on the agenda.

"This Council acknowledges the role played by conversion of houses into flats in providing additional homes. However, this Council wishes to avoid the loss of smaller units of family housing to achieve this objective. Furthermore, in acknowledging that the SPG on Residential Extensions, Alterations and Conversions (November 2001) is a valid document; it is proposed that this Council recognises the threshold set out in the SPG of 120 sq.m. below which conversions of houses to flats will not normally take place in all planning decisions with immediate effect."

This issue is a serious issue that does need careful consideration as it something faced by Council's in many urban areas. The loss of some family homes in Merton is a matter of some concern and does need further debate, but other issues do need to be considered and taking into account legal advice is essential. Having sat on a Planning Committee, applications have appeared during my time that I would like to have refused but I’ve have had insufficient reason to justify refusal. If the reasons we use to turn down applications are weak then we could potentially open ourselves up to a large legal bill if they are appealed and the Council loses.

However, what does concern me much more is the attitude of one Conservative Councillor Marc Hanson (at the July meeting of Planning) to planning policy who believes that a political manifesto(the Putting your first document) should be material consideration in refusing applications(that is despite failing to win a majority of seats on Merton Council). If this is the case, it would be very concerning, planning has always been a quasi-judicial committee(the whip does not apply), and indeed, I did on a few occasions vote mainly with Conservative members to turn down applications that I believed should be refused by the Council. At times, I’ve also been frustrated by some decisions made by my Labour colleagues on planning but recognise that each application needs to be considered on the relevant merits of the case using Planning Policy; if politics starts to be brought into planning the whole system is open to disrepute.

I enclose below the relevant minute of the July meeting is as follows in which Marc Hanson made comments about determining planning applications.

(NB (3) Manifesto Commitments and Planning Applications: During the discussions on above Applications 06/P0883 & 06/P0888, Councillor Marc Hanson put forward the view that if a political party made a commitment in its manifesto, and that party was subsequently elected, then that manifesto commitment became a material consideration when considering planning applications. The Legal Services representative advised that this was not the case and that she had already discussed the issue with the Head of Civic and Legal Services. Councillor Marc Hanson requested that Legal Services send him their advice in writing; and indicated that a leading planning barrister had given a contrary view. July 2006 Merton Council planning committee

Planning in Merton recently seems to have become that much more interesting. I would welcome any comments about planning issues in other areas especially the issue of converting houses to flats as clearly this is an issue in Merton at present.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

What has happened 'Putting you first'?

This is a question I had to ask as the minority Tory administration at Merton Council having adopted ‘Putting you first’ as a strapline at the beginning of August (it was the manifesto title of the Merton Tory manifesto) has yet to appear on any publication.

A letter in the recent My Merton October/November edition from the Chief Executive Ged Curran extolling the improvements at Merton Council did not have the so-called new strapline on the letter. This letter had clearly been printed on paper produced after the change as ‘Moving ahead’ has been removed as a strapline from the Council logo. While the intention had been to phase the change in, it is clear that it has yet to appear on any publication and I have yet to see the strapline on any poster or document produced by the Council since the start of August and indeed the website is still using the slogan 'A better place to live, work and learn'. Maybe they have cold feet over the matter and are busy devising another new strapline? Maybe they have suddenly has a bout of common sense and realised the potential problems of using a political slogan on Council publications.

In a way, it is a shame if the strapline has bitten the dust. We could have had great fun with this strapline as it certainly did not apply to the Mitcham side of the Borough.

Merton Police consultative committee chair

On Thursday night, Labour councillor Linda Kirby was re-elected Chair of the Police Consultative Committee over Conservative Cabinet member for Community Safety David Simpson. This is a post elected by community groups from across Merton and involved hustings were each candidate spoke for five minutes. Linda being re-elected to this post is testament to the work she has carried out in this area over the past few years along with the good relationship Merton Council has established with the Police over the past few years.

Opening of Community Police station in Pollards Hill

Yesterday saw the opening of a community police station by the Mayor of Merton Cllr Geraldine Stanford and the Merton Borough Commander Michael in the centre of Pollards Hill. This will allow a base for the Neighbourhood Policing team in Pollards Hill and the neighbouring ward of Longthornton.

The facilities in the new police station are impressive and it is great to see something like this is in my ward. This is the first one opened in Merton and the intention is for further community stations to be opened across Merton. The new community police station will also allow residents somewhere in Pollards Hill to visit the Police about any local issue instead of going the whole way into Mitcham.

Community policing has been an initiative of the Labour Mayor of London Ken Livingstone who has introduced a safer neighborhood team in each ward in London. Having a safer neighbourhood team in each ward is something that has been of great assistance to Pollards Hill and brought policing closer to the people. In terms of liaison with the Police, the relationship built up by councilors in Pollards Hill with the neighbourhood policing team has been of great assistance in tackling anti-social behaviour in the area.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Fare increase on the buses and tube

The Mayor of London Ken Livingstone yesterday announced that the cash fare paid in London for a bus ride would go up from £1.50 to £2 and a single fare on the tube from £3 to £4 in the New Year. In a city that already has the highest transport fares in the world, this is a large increase and given the rises of the past few years the fares will have doubled indeed just three years the outer London bus fare was 70p and the inner London bus fare £1, an increase of 100%.

Nevertheless, while it is large rise, London has seen a boom in pre-paid oyster cards where the fares are half the price of cash fares. Indeed I now observe very few on buses now paying cash so it is clear that Londoners have cottoned on to the benefits of pre-pay and given that many including myself are on travel cards the yearly increase will be a fraction of the amount.

The worry I have though is for the low paid and the persons that have difficulty understanding the system as their English may be limited. Bearing in mind that they have to pay £3 deposit to get an oyster card along with having a minimum £5 credit on the card you are looking at an entry fee of £8, of course, many will quickly make the savings, but I do have concerns about potential cost to people on low income.

However, benefits have arisen from pre-pay and a faster boarding time takes place on buses. This in turn helps speeds up the bus journey time as paying cash takes up time. In London we have a bus service that is the envy of the world(even if it might be a bit expensive) while I have come across better metro systems in the world I have yet to find another city that has a bus service to rival London's. In London we have benefited from having a regulated bus service unlike the rest of the UK, if buses had been de-regulated in London we would never have the system we have now. Also for years we have had free travel for the over 60's and more recently under 16's on buses.

Long-term transport has been improving in London and passenger numbers rising but I do fear that we may potentially be pricing people off public transport; it is something that Mayor needs to monitor closely.

Monday, September 11, 2006

911, five years on

The 11th September 2001 is a day I'll never forgot, hearing about the shocking events of that day is still today a vivid memory and trying to comprehend what had taken place was extremely difficult.

A few months before in 2001 I has stood as the Labour candidate in South West Surrey, the issue of terrrorism, Al-Queada was mentioned by no-one, indeed with the IRA on ceasefire it was threat that many including myself believed to be in abeyance and realistically no one really expected a major terrorist attack let alone anything on the scale of destruction that happened on 911.

What happened that day did dramatically bring home that the threats we faced were real, and that as a country we had to face up to the new realities of the global situation. In a way 911 brought to an end an age of innocence which had effectively been in effect from the end of the cold war in 1989 to 2001 in which we believed the world was a more secure place.

Subsequently, we have seen further acts of terrorism by Al-Queada, Bali in 2002, Madrid in 2004(exactly 2 1/2 years after 911) and of course London in 2005. It is clear that security and the fight against terrorism will continue for the foreseeable future.

Whatever the rights and wrongs about the War on Terrorism, let us remember all the victims of 911 and their families who lost loved ones on 11th September 2001, but let us also remember all those who've been victims of terrorism throughout the world since 911.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Progress Conference

Yesterday I attended the Progress Conference in London addressed by the Prime Minister Tony Blair. After the week he has had from various part of the Labour Party, he received a rapturous reception at the Conference and it was clear that this was genuine heartfelt thanks to him and for his achievements as party leader.

His speech set out challenges we faced as a party and how priorities had changed in the last ten years. In his speech, he raised issues like security, pensions, energy policy, anti-social behaviour and our need to tackle them and come up with solutions. It was a bold speech and it showed that we had not run out of ideas and is prepared to face the policy challenges that lye ahead.

Also at the Conference was Michael Portillo who gave an interesting insight into how David Cameron has changed the political landscape and the threat he is too Labour. While Portillo believes, it is unlikely that the Tories will win the next election he believes that Cameron will do enough to stay on as Tory leader. The speech he gave was stimulating and did provoke debate, while I do not agree with all of its contents, it was interesting to note that Portillo believe that the public are cynics about all new policy announcements and that Cameron has adopted the right approach. In terms of the Conservatives, Portillo believed that he was right to take on the right of his party and that no votes will be lost as a result.

I have to say it is amazing how Michael Portillo has shifted as a politician from being very right wing ten years ago to a politician that has completely changed his views. He clearly recognises that the Conservatives have to change, while with Cameron it is all a bit bogus(though good pr) Portillo does genuinely recognise that change is the only path they can adopt if they are get back in power again.

Overall, the whole event was stimulating and that the Labour party as a whole is not dead in the water contrary to the views of some in the media.

Michael Schumacher

The announcement today that Michael Schumacher is to retire brings to an end the career of one of the greatest ever sportsmen who has enjoyed unrivalled success and been the most successful ever formula one drive. To win ninety races along with winning along with seven driver championships (maybe eight if the wins this year) is a record that may never been beaten and despite making F1 pretty bring at times his success his unrivaled. Enjoy your retirement Michael you deserve it!

The late Jim Walker

I heard the other day about the sad passing of Jim Walker. Jim served on Croydon Council over a period of nearly fifty years since and until the recent May election was the oldest elected councillor in England at 92. His service on Croydon Council included being Mayor in 1991-92, and he went on to be a committee chair when Labour took control of Croydon for the first time in 1994.

Jim was quite a character with some interesting viewpoints and I remember a trip to the European Parliament in Brussels back in 1999 when Jim regaled us with us with many of his life stories including his time spent as a JP. My sympathy goes out to his family, as I knew his son Peter who is Chair of Wimbledon Labour Party and served as councillor in Croydon. Jim was a fine example of a dedicated public servant who served his Borough well and gave a huge contribution to public life and Croydon.

I enclose a link below.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Merseyside Derby

What an awful result today for Liverpool losing to our arch rival Everton 3-0 it but a dampener on the whole day. Things need to improve! Things need to improve!

Friday, September 08, 2006

England win one day match

Well it has taken ages but at last England have won a one day cricket match, keep it up!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Tony Blair's statement

The statement by Tony Blair has given a clearer indication that he will be leaving by next summer as Prime Minister, this is something I welcome. His statement today showed a great deal of humility, bearing in mind the events of the past few days and the disgraceful behaviour of some Labour MP's given what Tony Blair has achieved as Labour Party leader.

The party needs to be united otherwise we will inevitably suffer the consequences, of course following his statement some MP's will continue to call for his immediate departure, their behaviour can only play into the hands of David Cameron.

Basically the Labour party can go into self-destruct (which seems to be the choice of some) or we can get on with the business of running the country which we were re-elected to do only just over a year ago, I prefer the latter.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Tony Blair's future

The last two days have been pretty volatile and the resignations of Tom Watson along with seven ministerial aides from government has seen the calls for Tony Blair to go spread far wider then the likes of John Mc Donnell, Glenda Jackson etc. With the announcement in today's Sun about an alleged date of 31st May 2007 as the day he will announce his departure, it is clear this has not quelled the ranks of Laboour MP's calling for his departure.

I feel very sad about everything that has happened, disunity is deeply damaging to the party and the current situation is not helped by the behaviour of some, it is clear that some Labour MP's in calling for his departure have created a climate of instability. The current position cannot continue and the only ones that stand to benefit from this disunity will ultimately be the Tories. Given our previous history, it should be clear to all that disunity will only lead to us to being in opposition.

It has been clear in the last few months that Tony Blair was likely to depart next year after being Prime Minister for ten years along with being party leader for thirteen and I hope that this is still allowed to happen though the likelihood is diminishing by the hour. Tony Blair should’ve been treated with dignity and respect by some Labour MP’s given what he has achieved for the Labour party in the last ten years and in winning three elections. It is my view these matters will have to be resolved soon as the current situation cannot continue.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Taxis in Dublin

The taxi service in Dublin has to be one of the worst in the world; it took nearly two hours to get a cab last night and involved having to pay over the odds for the privilege. Makes me glad I live in London as I would hate to go out for another late night in Dublin and I warn you the taxi service here is pretty appalling and is not recommended. The night bus service is also pretty poor. Much as I like Dublin as a city, unless you are staying in the centre you are in for a long night if you have any distance to travel and need to get a taxi.

Cork are defeated

Well my flying to visit to Ireland is nearly over, unfortunately Cork lost by three points against Kilkenny so failed to make it three in a row in the All Ireland Hurling Championship. They did not perform well at all and their performance was a big disappointment. Put a dampener on the whole visit, still in sport like politics you win some and you lose some and we’ve had quite a few good years of late and hopefully many more to come in the future.

I now have an all night coach trip to long forward too from Dublin to London, not the best start to the week.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The future of Tony Blair

Michael Crick has again been up to mischief on Newsnight, this time in a bid to get Labour MP's views on the future of Tony Blair and when he should go.

For what it is worth, I believe Tony should go at a time of his choosing, he has been the most successful leader we have ever had winning three elections in a row a feat none of his predecessors achieved. He has long indicated that he is going well before the next election and we should accept that decision. We were only elected for a third term last year and are only just over a year into the third term.

Tony Blair as Prime Minister and the Labour government have achived a great deal over the past nine years, by MP's running around calling for immediate change does not help the situation one iota.

Jane Tomlinson

I have to congratulate Jane Tomlinson on completing her feat of travelling across America on a bike to raise money for cancer charities. This feat would be hard enough for an able bodied person, but for a person who is suffering from terminal cancer this is really is a magnificent achievement and took a great deal of perseverance given that many times she nearly through in the towel. Given what she has been through, her feat is pretty amazing given that she was given only six months to live back in 2000.

I enclose the link to the BBC website and also her appeal website.

A flying visit to Ireland

Tomorrow I'm off to Dublin to watch the All Ireland Hurling Final in Croke Park on Sunday. My team Cork are in the final and hopefully they will make it three championships in a row against their archrivals Kilkenny. I only found out yesterday that I had a ticket (it is 82000 sell out and they are like goldust) and had to hurriedly make travel arrangements to attend.

I am returning on Sunday night as I've got to be back at work on Monday morning. It promises to be a busy weekend ahead and hopefully Cork will triumph again otherwise I will return very despondent person.

Up the rebels!!!!

Merton Coucil budget update

After a month where the Council has been relatively quiet in terms of meetings, next week sees a number of meetings taking place within the Council.

The Panel that I Chair, The Way we Work (basically finance and corporate services issue in layperson terms) will be meeting next Thursday and has a number of issues on the agenda. One of the main items on the agenda will be the projected budget overspend for this financial year which is now at £4.7 Million, further savings have already been identified which will bring this down to £3.6 Million (though the projected savings will need to be scrutinized) but this still leaves a significant gap in the budget. The main reason for the overspend is relating to issues in Community and Housing including a large increase in people receiving social care and an increase in placements within learning disabilities.

Issues clearly exist that will need resolving, as a Council our reserves are only £5.7 million a figure that has increased over the past few years thanks to prudent financial management by the outgoing Labour administration. Our reserve level also has to be prudent and it will be clearly necessary for the minority Tory administration to state soon about how they will fund the shortfall. They had plans to re-cast £3 million in the budget this year but it looks like it will be £3 million pounds of savings that will need to be made as their options are limited.

Challenging times lie ahead and I will update further on this matter after the meeting next week.