Friday, 28 November 2014

Labour's 'greenwash' in Tooting

It is with no little irony that as a constituent of Sadiq Khan I can't help but feel there is quite a bit of 'green wash' from Labour going on of late.

Waste your vote on the Green party - or choose a green Labour government
Sadiq Khan writes in the Independent

We're like you: Labour pitch for Green vote in bid to quell revolt on the left
The Guardian

Sadiq Khan appointed to lead Labour unit on Green party threat
New Statesman

My view is that actions speak louder than words. Given that in Sadiq Khan's own constituency there have been quite a few Labour councillors for a while now, a little bit of scrutiny of how they've acted is warranted.

We've also recently had the local elections, again, another opportunity to see how the party positions itself when elections are approaching, and how they act after the elections.

20s Plenty

As a policy, this is something that I'd like to see the council consult borough-wide on. The Labour group in the Furzedown ward campaigned on this some 7 years ago, and recently the consultation took place and will be implemented.

From multiple perspectives this policy is a no-brainer, and particularly from a green perspective. Safer streets make walking and cycling more attractive, increase physical activity, reduce air pollution as well as wear and tear on the roads. What's not to like?

If the Labour party locally felt so passionately about this measure, why if their team in Furzedown (including a co-chair of SERA, Labour's environmental group) were campaigning for 20mph, wasn't the rest of the local party on-board?

Before the local elections, Sadiq's position, and therefore the position of the local party was that they would support requests for 20mph where people asked for it, in effect the same position as the Conservative party locally.

Fortunately (local elections now out of the way) the Labour team are now happy to petition on 20mph (in Tooting ward at least). 7 years for ward by ward progress on a no-brainer type issue isn't exactly electric.

Space for Cycling

If you are a regular reader you'll be aware of this campaign. If you aren't, it was a call from London Cycling Campaign for a specific action in every ward. Only two parties in Wandsworth were signed up borough-wide before the local election, the Green party and the Lib Dems.

As things stand of the elected councillors only 18% of Wandsworth's councillors are currently supportive. If Sadiq's local Labour party and councillors can't sign up to 'Space for Cycling', I'm afraid I have difficulty seeing how they actually plan on delivering on green issues. Let's face it, cycling is a part of the solution to congestion, obesity, air pollution, boosting the local economy etc.

Local action - talk comes cheap

Few mainstream politicians will disagree that we need to take action to deal with climate change. However, that requires politicians of all levels to listen to the evidence and act accordingly.

There are 3 Mini Holland projects taking place in London at the moment, looking to implement new ways (for the UK) of street management, and make it safer and easier for people of all ages and abilities to be able to choose to cycle in their area. Examples of this mean dealing with rat-running, Waltham Forest ran a trial recently stopping through access for motor vehicles, except public transport, through certain streets.

In Tooting several years ago, following the 3rd consultation to deal with rat-running in and around Fishponds road, I felt a different approach was needed. I campaigned to gain support to run a trial along the same lines that Waltham Forest as part of their Mini-Holland have done. The consultation took place just before the local elections.

In light of the consultation, Labour, like the Tories, both have decided to do nothing (see more on this story here). The engineers believe that the proposed trial solution would work.

I'm sorry, but if we know there is a problem, how is doing nothing going to fix it? If the engineers believe that a proposed solution will work, why aren't we listening to them? Evidence based policy/decision making needs to come from national and local politicians.

Oh, and another point that Labour activists frequently point out to me at a local level, Labour doesn't run the council, therefore they can't do anything. We've almost had 5 years of a coalition government. Can't say that I've liked everything, I'm a Liberal and my party is the smaller part of a coalition.

If after the general election next year Labour happen to be the largest party, but don't have a majority in parliament, does that mean that they won't do anything? There are some real challenges that need politicians of all colours to work together and find real solutions.

I'm afraid given what I've seen of Labour in Tooting I have little confidence that they have the ideas or principles to deliver nationally.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Grim reminder of violence on our roads

Last night, cycling home from work, I passed the emergency services looking after a moped rider who was on the ground under a red blanket.

They were by the traffic light closest to us in the streetview image above.

Moments earlier, I'd been passed at speed (too close for my comfort), coming up Westwood Hill. I caught up with the driver at the lights (junction with Crystal Palace Park Road), and politely tapped on the passenger window to speak with him.

He put down his mobile phone, pressed the button to lower the window, I asked him to give me a bit more space. His response was I should have been wearing hi-viz.

Riding in this morning, I reflected on the fact that earlier this summer I had helped another cyclist who had been involved with a collision just 50m from the junction in the streetview image above.

The ripped up road surface, potholes, broken glass, smashed street furniture or debris from 'minor collisions' is all around us.

It's 'Road Safety Week' this week. Another reminder that our road system is so broken, that instead of designing in safety, and reducing the risk of collision by design, we ask road users to 'Look out for each other'.

We are starting to see the green shoots of change emerge. The proposed new Cycle Superhighways in London, the wider TfL Roads development programme, the Oxford Road scheme in Manchester, and a number of schemes in Bristol (amongst others). These schemes wouldn't be happening without the dedication of campaigners across the UK many of whom have worked tirelessly for years with little thanks, I for one am immensely grateful for all of their work.

My hope is that I won't be another statistic of a road collision, and that I, along with my family and my local community will be able to safely travel in and through our local area by bike in the near future thanks to changes to our street design.

This requires political leadership at a local level, as many of the changes that need to happen will be on council controlled roads.

In hope.

PS A little later after having written the above I saw my letter to the Wandsworth Guardian has been published today.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Wandsworth Town Centre - Gyratory removal consultation

Right, this is more of a local post than recent ones about the proposed new Cycle Superhighways, but not quite Tooting (yet)!

TfL are now consulting on proposed new traffic flows in Wandsworth Town Centre, with removal of the gyratory system that local groups have been calling to be taken out for decades. In fact, probably from as soon as it went in, but that is speculation.

The proposed traffic flows look good to me, and I would urge you to respond to support TfL in this phase of the consultation.

I have, however, flagged concerns that the artists impressions omit high quality cycle routes.

This is all the more galling given the great proposals that we've now seen that TfL are capable of with the North South, East West Cycle Superhighway proposals.

The detailed design work will be done following the hopefully positive outcome of this consultation, in a secondary consultation phase.

I think this is a significant step forward in TfL evolving how they engage with local stakeholders, rather than, as has been done in the past presenting a fait-a-complis which for all intensive purposes can't be amended however valid the comments and critiques may be from the consultation process.

Please add your views here.

If we don't engage with the bodies that are re-designing our streets, then we can't be surprised when our views aren't taken into account.

Deadline for responses is the 5th December.

PS If you live in/around Tooting, consultations are in the pipeline for us too (Balham High Road, Tooting High Street/A24).

Monday, 17 November 2014

Inspector reports following public enquiry

In the summer of 2013 Wandsworth Council consulted on removing the white lines along the cycle routes through Wandsworth and Tooting Commons. I blogged about it here.

It is fair to say that there were some strong views on both sides of the debate (excuse the pun). As a result we have had a public enquiry. Today, the inspector has published his findings, where he has recommended that the orders be confirmed without modification.

I'm delighted with the outcome. That said I don't think that the valid fears and concerns raised by the objectors should be dismissed out of hand as a result of this enquiry.

I believe that it is in the interests of all that once the works have been completed there should be on-going monitoring of the routes for at least 6 months to evaluate how the changes have impacted on the user experience.

You can view the letter from the inspector to the council here.

You can view the full report from the inspector here.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Safer, enabling, empowering streets

Often in talking about 'cyclists' there is quite a narrow image of the sort of person that people conjure up in their mind. Isabelle Clements director of Wheels for Wellbeing as part of 1000 Londoners, 1 story project (has been interviewed in this video).

It is a powerful, beautiful reminder that in creating safer streets we enable and empower more members of our community to more fully participate, explore and engage with the world around us. 

Do take a few moments to watch.

PS for those watching #24HrsAE last night, if you know someone who for one reason or another has a physical mobility issue do check out Wheels for Wellbeing. As Isabelle says, her wheels give her wings. 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Reasons why Labour are failing Tooting residents

Nothing is possible without total control

When I'm being critical of Labour whose councillors have been elected in Tooting (Graveney and Tooting wards since 2010), some people object and suggest that in order for the Labour team to effect change they need total control of the council.

The underlying premise is that without total control nothing can happen.

It's an absolutist approach, and one that resonates with the Tory/Labour members that hark back to a time (which never really existed) when there were only two parties in town. It fails to acknowledge that coalition has worked nationally, and that coalitions have been working for years in town halls up and down the country. To be clear by 'coalition working', from a Lib Dem perspective, the party has delivered a lot of our 2010 manifesto pledges. Granted not all, but we are the smaller party in the coalition, and there is an illiberal coalition of sorts between many in Labour and the Tories who would prefer to go back to the days when it was just a fight between the Red & Blue teams. Interesting to hear today that Labour are now claiming to support reform for the House of Lords whilst they abstained or voted against a bill that would have delivered substantial reform when they had the opportunity only a couple of years ago.

Back to Tooting

Flytipping, abandoned bikes, the pedestrian crossing next to Fircroft School (safer streets), and preventing 'shop stall creep' on Upper Tooting Road are the examples of why I think that Labour are failing local residents that I'll use in this post. I'm pretty sure that similar examples could be used against parties of other political colours, but in Tooting, of late we have Labour politicians.


Back in 2008 our Graveney ward councillor and our MP were 'campaigning' on the issue. To give credit where credit is due, the approach covered in the story by the Wandsworth Guardian is laudable.

Fast forward to 2014, and thanks to local resident Tom Quaye badgering our council the Wandsworth Guardian has run a new story flagging the issue again. Labour use the fact that they don't run the whole council as a reason for why this is still a problem.

As Tomma (maybe Tom Quaye) from the article highlights in the tweet above, where can the local Labour team point to proposals they have put forward to improve things? We have the same council officers managing the street cleaning contract for us in Tooting as in Putney. Officers will prioritise their efforts where issues have been flagged. If our councillors don't raise it then it is less of a priority.

Abandoned bikes:

Around Tooting Bec and Tooting Broadway tube there are a bunch of bikes that are locked to the stands that have been vandalised and parts stolen from them. For whatever reason their owners have left the rest of their bike attached to the stands.

Concerted action by local councillors could ensure that these are dealt with.

Can you imagine an abandoned, burnt out car being left in the town centre?

On an aside, cars/vans are being left to rust away on our residential streets as you can see in this post.

Pedestrian crossing next to Fircroft School:

Labour's failure to understand the process is the underlying reason why this call for action was rejected at the committee. You can view the decision on the committee papers (14 - 492) here.

If Labour were running the council they would need to change all the policies in place in order for their approach to be adopted. Instead of engaging with officers at the outset, or having a good understanding of process from their years of having elected councillors, the petition was drawn up, they gathered support and end result no action.

Compare and contrast what I did for the Fishponds campaign.

I checked in advance with officers what number of signatures would be needed, then went and gathered them all, and finally the consultation happened. Leaving aside the detailed points of the Fishponds scheme, if I, without being elected, can campaign and get a consultation to happen for street change it begs the question why are the Labour team unable to do so?

However, what is clear from Fishponds, is that neither Labour or the Conservatives are even prepared to try to fix an acknowledged problem. Little wonder problems last for years in Tooting as the consensus between the Red & Blue teams is to do nothing.

'Shop stall creep' on Upper Tooting Road:

In the local elections this was flagged as an issue, and I checked with the Town Centre Manager to see what had been done. She told me that a few years ago the issue had been raised. As the road is a TfL managed road the council had come to an agreement with TfL to pass over responsibility for a trial period to the council. Monitoring and enforcement was then carried out by the council contracted enforcement officers that work in the rest of the town centre.

Lo and behold this approach worked, result you may think. However, as our councillors didn't keep on top of it, when the trial period lapsed it wasn't renewed.

Fast forward a few years on and the same problem has returned. Another opportunity for another politician to be seeing to do something. Dan Watkins the conservative PPC to his credit has been out with officers. Again, if either the Red/Blue political representatives in Wandsworth were keen on really fixing problems then this one should have been in the bag years ago when the trial solution worked!

Empowerment & plurality of views

Being a Lib Dem my approach is one of empowerment, looking to fix problems so that where possible we don't need to re-visit the same ground time and time again.

I welcome plurality of views, and recognise that often in complex issues there is more than one solution and that within my party we don't always have the solution. But, as a party we are open to listening to experts, looking at the evidence, and want to fix issues so that we can move onto the next ones. We want to genuinely engage with people from across the community, not just 'our supporters'.

Engaging with people 'whatever your politics' is a hollow claim from our Labour councillors.

Regular followers of my blog will know that I petitioned for changes to Mitcham Lane last year. This has gone before the committee and officers are now working on proposals which is a real result that I'm immensely proud of.

At around the same time that I was petitioning, local Labour councillor Mark Thomas did a survey with businesses on the parade at the Thrale Road end of Mitcham Lane. At the notes from the last committee meeting Cllr Cooper passed comments from the people that her team had been in touch with to the committee. None of the councillors contacted me in advance of the committee meeting to seek my views, or represent me and the 550 people that had supported my petition.

The first time the paper went before the committee, the Labour councillors, whilst having invited a deputation from the people they had surveyed, instead of welcoming my views voted for me not to speak. Cllr Jones has informed me that it was because I didn't turn up with 3-4 other people and it was because of process.

Fortunately the Conservative majority on the committee didn't take that view.

I celebrate diversity in all guises, and try to understand differing points of view whilst not always agreeing with them. I think we should support people holding varying political affiliations working to better the community. It is sad that the local Labour team seem so partisan in their approach.

Any party unchallenged is at risk of complacency and 'listening to their own'. Labour dominate in terms of elected representatives in Tooting, and in my view our community is the poorer for it.