Surgery all morning at Wood Green library followed by meeting with the council officers involved in the Wood Green Master Plan.
Master Plan is a bit of a misnomer – as this is really a Wood Green Planning and Business Improvement document. It’s early stages – but as far as I could glean this was a bit of strategic assessment of what might improve the regeneration and status of the area. There are a number of big sites that will be developed in the relatively near future – like Heartlands and the old Civic Centre site. The issues of jobs in an area of high unemployment, planning, sustainability and so on need to be handled sensibly to bring in the sort of retail that will provide more trade and attract more people – whilst taking into account in the needs of local residents whose services – such as transport, schools and health facilities – will need to cope with any growth. And the confidence of residents is dented when ghastly looking buildings from lowest common denominator developers get built.
However, that having been said, I am heartened by the fact that strategic thinking is going on – so long as it is followed by strategic consultation before it gets to a stage where we all feel we have no effect on outcome. I was delighted to learn that the new Haringey Chief Exec – Ita O’Donovan – has been having a go about design quality of the built environment. In my first meeting with her, I made it clear that I felt Wood Green was being damaged by ugly buildings that people then had to live with for years. In fact my first speech in Parliament talked about this – as it is always those in areas of deprivation who get the most badly stuffed by this sort of crappy design and materials.
I also lobbied at the meeting for improvement to Wood Green station – which can barely cope with the numbers already using it. It is not just a lick of paint that is needed but a redevelopment and expansion of capacity. And my last thrust was on sustainability – this is an opportunity to bring some real meaning to sustainability and also to be innovative. Why not bring some real green-ness to Wood Green High Street – water, trees, landscaping, planting street furniture of a real high standard – would all make such a difference! And the front of the library … need I say more?
Last issue of the day is the tragic knifing of schoolboy Kiyan Prince in Edgware. Carrying a knife in a public place should carry the same sentence as that for firearms. If you are murdered by a gun or murdered by knife, the outcome is the same – you are dead. In the Violent Crime Reduction Bill going through Parliament the Lib Dems did put an amendment at Report Stage asking for this. Labour voted against increasing the sentence. The Bill will raise the age at which you can buy a knife from 16 to 18 – which we supported (despite Labour’s attacks on us to the contrary) – but wanted Labour to put in what types of knives were prohibited. As it stands the new legislation means you will be able to get married at 16 but not buy your cutlery from John Lewis until you are 18!
The 7-year tariff for carrying a gun has reduced gun crime. Knives should be the same. I don’t take the view that we should automatically have scanners in every school – that is not the answer to knife crime. I heartily approve of teachers being given the powers to search those kids they suspect of carrying – but don’t believe we should treat all children as criminals. Even more importantly, as knife-carrying is epidemic, is to work on the why and the causes to change behaviour. The culture means that kids believe it is cool to carry a knife – a fashion accessory to gain status. Supporting teachers, the school police person, acceptable behaviour contracts (ABCs) which target behaviour improvement – we need a long sustained and well-resourced emphasis on working on children to turn this around. Punishment, strong sentencing and enforcement all play an important part – but they are not enough on their own to counter the ills of society.