603 bus

The bigwigs from Transport for London came to Parliament to meet with the London Lib Dem MPs to answer specific questions from them. Quite a line up! Tim O’Toole (tube), David Brown (surface transport), Ian Brown (overground) and the Commissioner for Transport – Peter Hendy.

Needless to say my constant refrain is ‘gissa bus’ – and specifically the extension to a full time route for the 603. What is like trying to get blood out of a stone is the cycle where I ask, I get told that a full time route is not financially viable – but then they won’t say what demand level will make it viable. However, today after pushing and pushing the point, David Brown has said that he will finally get back to me with some sort of figure. I could see scepticism in his eye – because he is convinced that the model TfL use to assess viability predicts demand accurately. I say bollocks to that. Anyway – I want to try and prove their model wrong. So – if they say 10 passengers per hour or 20 or whatever – I will find them!

Local news: play areas, 603 bus and Post Offices

Just been updating my website with news stories from the last week, and here are three highlights:

Brian Paddick on the campaign trail in Haringey

Lynne Featherstone, Brian Paddick and Monica Whyte promote a green alternative to plastic bagsBrian Paddick came to Hornsey & Wood Green and we visited a number of hotspots. The area is becoming a bit of a regular haunt of his – he was here during the Highgate by-election too. This time I showed him Wood Green cross – which is the area that local residents in the Wood Green area are most worried about crime wise. There stands a disused and vacant and deteriorating police box. Originally conceived and procured to ease peoples’ fears by having police on the spot – it never really opened for enough hours for anyone to have the slightest confidence that there would be a police person in the box. So it failed. Such a stupid waste for what was a good idea.

We went to Alexandra Park station (Oyster needed / on the way); Ally Pally – to show Brian the historic building which Labour Haringey first built up a debt (for which we locals had to pay) and then tried to sell on in a highly controversial deal – stopped at the moment by a local group taking Labour Haringey to court; then off to the 603 bus route in Muswell Hill where Brian pledged to extend the operating hours of this much loved route.

In Crouch End he promoted the Crouch End Traders ‘Bag for Life’ and posed in front of the Clock Tower whilst he did various interviews with the local press. He tried to squeeze in Weston Park Post Office – but in the end Monica Whyte (GLA candidate and local councillor) and David Winskill (local councillor) went there to meet a disabled lady whose life will be ruined if Labour’s proposed Post Office closures go ahead.

And I went to visit Bonnie – living with husband, two children and sister in two rooms in terrible state – but more of this story in a while. I am on the warpath for this one.

Future of the 603 bus is at stake

Once more the long fought for, hard won – but still inadequate – 603 Muswell Hill to Swiss Cottage bus route is in the frame! Having met with Peter Hendy, Commissioner of Transport a couple of weeks ago – and harangued him over having more operating hours for the 603 (as I always do) – post meeting it transpired that a review is in train (or in bus to be more accurate).

So I have written to Peter Hendy as below – and would encourage everyone who agrees that the 603 should firstly be retained, and secondly have its hours of operations expanded to either write to me at House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA or email me at featherstonel@parliament.uk and I will pass on all responses to Peter Hendy.

They consult with stakeholders (local authority etc) but if you ask me – it’s the people who use or need this route who are the real stakeholders – so make sure you have your say too!

Dear Peter

At our recent meeting when I raised the issue extending the hours of operation of the 603 (as I always do!) you said that the route would be coming up for review and that you would let me know more about it. So I thank you for following up on that discussion – but – the information subsequently passed to me by your office alarmed me.

Far from ‘coming up for review’ it would seem that the 603 is actually under review at the moment. The message I received says that views of stakeholders have been sought already.

Views of stakeholders like the Local Authority and other organizations (which I assume are the sort of stakeholders referred to) are undoubtedly important – but surely in this case – where the route is a response to local peoples’ need (only met to a small extent by a school hours bus) – Transport for London would want to know from those local people what demand is there for both the existing hours and extensions to those hours.

I would like your assurance that no decisions will be taken before I have had the chance to inform my constituents of the review – and given them the opportunity to feed in their views. And I would like an assurance from you that you will take their views on board.

As you know, I believe that this service is highly valuable and personally believe it should be extended through the day and evening.

I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Lynne Featherstone MP
Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Hornsey and Wood Green

Meeting Peter Hendy

Wednesday evening met with Peter Hendy, Commissioner of Transport for London. My three asks were: extending the 603 bus route to run all day and evening (as always); the transport issues around the new London Health Trust plans including the polyclinics (we need to ensure there are good public transport links for any such); and whether he would think about encouraging car clubs (where people share cars) via a congestion charge incentive.

So – number 1 – the 603 bus from Muswell Hill to Swiss Cottage. Well – the possibly good news is that it comes up for review next year. So our job is to make sure we feed into that review with thousands of requests to extend the operating hours from its current school run times only. People keep asking me about this – so we will have to ramp up our campaign again.

On number 2 – well it was interesting – because there are huge transport implications in the proposals to restructure health services. Firstly – the need to access in emergency for stroke, heart attack and major trauma the proposed super-specialist hospitals. Surely travel time trials from every part of London need to be done to establish the worst scenario time taken when traffic is bad and no air ambulance available? If we can’t get the victims to the right place in time – then this plan won’t work.

Secondly, the establishment of polyclinics – which are to serve up to 50,000 residents – may raise big transport issues. Will people be able to get to the polyclinics in reasonable time and at reasonable cost?

Peter was saying that this could be an issue and was going to arrange to meet with the Government to talk over the transport implications. Hurrah!

On number 3 – yes – Peter is considering how best to encourage the expansion of car clubs – so he agreed to look at the congestion charge in that regard – but I think any discount will be along the lines of discounts to people within the zone but not outside. Anyway – it is in and on his mind.

Update: you can read my article subsequent article about polyclinics here.

Abolition of Parliament

Day begins filming with Channel 4 a program about Sir Ian Blair’s first year in charge of London’s policing. Well – you’ll just have to watch when it comes out – but suffice to say in terms of honeymoon periods, I don’t think he had one.

Today is a mish-mash of meetings etc with the backdrop of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill – the Bill that has been nicknamed the Abolition of Parliament Bill as in its original form it gives sweeping ability to ministers to wipe out all previous legislation without proper Parliamentary debate. Today is the first day of two days of Report Stage. Judging from the avalanche of Government amendments – the penny has dropped and the Government have realised what a pig’s ear they have made out of this Bill. I don’t think anyone disagrees with the need to reform some of the processes to facilitate effective legislative reform. But this Bill was so flawed the Government should never have put it out in the original form.

In the evening meet Peter Hendy (Transport Commissioner for London) who I used to scrutinise when I was Chair of Transport at the London Assembly. I have a couple of issues to harangue him over – and business out the way – we discuss what we know about everyone we know. Peter is a good guy and I am glad he made it to Commissioner. London has some huge challenges ahead – not least Thames Gateway and the North London Line. I am optimistic that we will see a real change in the aspiration of overground rail with this addition to the TfL family. Peter is certainly very excited about its future.

Needless to say I bring up the North Circular – where an inadequate scheme to solve the problem is incessantly delayed. My plea is to get the funding in for the rat-running prevention now. I really don’t see why local residents should suffer endlessly because major schemes fall foul of one thing or another. In the latest case – if there is a public enquiry it could be years before anything goes ahead or not. We want our £4 million now. And just in case Peter was missing my campaigning – I asked him just exactly what I and local people need to do to make TfL extend the 603 bus route throughout the day and evening. What are the criteria? How can we prove we need it? What will persuade him to spend money on this route? I look forward to the answers in due course!

Meeting Ken Livingstone again

Ring Peter Hendy to congratulate him. He has been chosen as the one (out of the two applying) for the job as Transport Commissioner for London, taking over from wiley Kiley. Peter was bus supremo – and we have argued across the transport spectrum for years now. And I still want a full time service on the hard fought for 603! What I always really like about Peter is his hands-on approach.

Whenever I put out a press release that he didn’t like – be it about the ‘free’ bendy buses or the ‘bursting into flames’ bendy buses – or whatever – he would phone me on my mobile and give me hell. Despite our opposite positions – we always got on well and I think he will be a great Commissioner. Look forward to seeing his negotiating style with the government. And – on the occasions when he was wrong – eventually he would admit I was right.

My favourite was over AVL – the system of countdown which tells passenger when the bus will be along and is plotted on a computer. Terrible system – never worked properly. I always told Peter that it was pointless finishing implementing an outmoded useless system across the rest of London (it was half in). Have to say – gave me great pleasure the day he told me I had been right all along. Anyway – he is a good thing and I hope to see London improve under his stewardship.

Sonia from the LSE is shadowing me today as part of ‘LSE Women in Westminster’. She and Mette, my researcher, come to Home Affairs Team meeting. We always run through all the Home Affairs Bills with each of the team responsible for that Bill – both Lords and Commons. Mark Oaten (Shadow Home Secretary) heads the team. Updates on Religious Hatred Bill – coming back for another row I think to the Commons soon; ID cards in trouble for the Government – as may be the Terror Laws soon. The Government seem to be having a go at getting back to 60 days on detention without charge. I trust the Lords will stick to the 28 we conceded in the Commons.

Rush off to Prime Ministers’ Questions (PMQs) next. Will Ming pass the test? Well – his question was on the Soham murders – so the House fell silent. And he was absolutely fine – not that in my view PMQs should have any sway. It’s just a blood sport. I do wonder why jeering, leering and making rude gestures is rated so highly by the boys and the media!

I race to City Hall for a London Day event with my old sparring partner – Ken Livingstone. He gives me a double peck on the cheek and I observe that he is clearly missing me since I left. He denies this assertion and tells me what a terrible thing we have done to that nice Charles. And what’s wrong with a drink anyway? Well – this from the man who claims to get bored at parties and only drank three glasses of chardonnay! Hey, Ho.

The lunch was fine – and then Ken orated. He is a good speaker – something to do with nasal tones and trying to shock. I learned a lot from Ken during my five years as an Assembly Member (only the good bits) so have a lot to thank him for in as much as I learned to keep in mind when I speak the audience outside the room as well as those present. And to be direct!

Ken wittered on for some time about water and desalination – but his surprise announcement was his endorsement of Simon Hughes as LibDem leader. Not sure if that’s the kiss of death for Simon!

Hornsey Town Hall and public transport links

I make an informal, private visit to Red Gables. Red Gables is the wonderful, wonderful, family centre in Crouch End – organically evolved over years to provide what users want. And between the Labour Government and the Labour Council they want to close it and devolve its services to elsewhere. This comes on the back of Government funding for 18 new childrens’ centres across the borough. Sounds great – except the new centres can only be in ‘deprived’ areas – but there are lots of pockets of deprivation in the Crouch End area and it serves the whole area. ‘Deprived’ children come to this centre of absolute excellence. The services it provides are too many to list – but all manner of challenges are met and met well.

Given there are to be 18 ‘new’ centres – which in reality are not new but bits of other services cobbled together – you would think the logical answer would be to make Red Gables one of them, solving at a stroke the whole business.

Anyway – I meet the staff (who are obviously desperate for the place to stay open). They clearly love their work, the place and its achievements. There is a ‘consultation’ going on by Haringey Council with the users as a result of the huge protest and campaign to save Red Gables. The consultation is with users, and when completed next week we are told that the officers will analyse the data and then advise the Council Executive (all Labour) what to do.

I spend a little time with the children and mums just arriving for the drop in playgroup and then off I go.

At 4pm CNN come to my house to do an interview on terrorism and the Government’s continual curbing of our civil liberties are being raided. Now you can’t even say that Jack Straw is talking nonsense without being forcibly removed and then the police using Section 44 of the terrorism Act to stop you re-entering a building. Free speech – certainly not under Blair!

In the evening, there’s a Buffet, tour and presentation by the Community Partnership Board for the proposals (thus far) for the Hornsey Town Hall. It’s certainly moving in the right direction and the people involved in the panel are completely committed to the project’s success – but as ever – the proof of the pudding will come when we learn where the funding will come from (i.e. how much from development and how much from public funds) and whether the Council is willing at the end of this process for the whole caboodle to be handed over to an independent community trust – which is the Lib Dem position (along with that of many other people).

Sadly and ironically, I get to talk to people for an hour and then have to leave after only seeing a short bit of the actual presentation (I have the written version to take home) as I have a meeting with Peter Hendy (Director of Surface Transport at Transport for London) at which the top item on my agenda is transport for the Hornsey Town Hall site.

I am asking him to agree in principle to three main things. As nothing is agreed for the site as yet specifics are out of the question. However, the nagging is for: agreement in principle to supply extra public transport to serve the site; agreement in principle to a process of engagement by Transport for London with the Community Partnership Board on the transport issues for the site; and agreement in principle to look at free transport for those going to an event on the site on production of ticket to that event.

As we are also having dinner I get the business out the way at the front end. I have written out my longer list which includes bus links for Crouch End to both Highgate Tube (especially now that it has a CPZ and so more people need public transport to get there) and to the top of Highgate Village. I nag about the crossing for Archway Road opposite the tube entrance where the steps are where a woman got killed recently, the extension of the 603 Muswell Hill to Hampstead and Swiss Cottage bus route and various other issues. Peter thinks the Town Hall stuff will be fine and will respond to me in writing point by point down my list. So business over – time to eat and gossip…

Iraq, Iraq, Iraq

First panic of the day – the first batch of our election address needs to be bundled and got to Royal Mail. Neil (agent) phones around the ‘gang’ and we all flood in to finish off the last envelopes. All is well – except it takes Neil three and a half hours round trip to get it there.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (lot of western allusion today) I get my spurs on and go canvassing with Jonathan Marciano from the Ham & High. As ever, we are looking for Labour ‘switchers’ as I guess that will be the story of this seat. But it is hard to find anyone who is not out and out Lib Dem (of the very few people in that time of the morning).

In the end Jonathan decides he will have to make do with a photo of me on the doorstep of a Lib Dem supporter. So we talk on the step and as we are talking it turns out that he did indeed used to be a Labour supporter. It was the LibDem work locally that first brought us into the frame (cracked pavements and rubbish collection etc) – and combined with Iraq … If you can’t keep a street clean – how can you run the country – I always say!

We do bits of interviews as we go. My successful campaigns for the 603 bus route and the police front counter reopening at Muswell Hill police station are touched upon but the main issue coming up on the doorsteps is Iraq. Crime, education (particularly school places) and health also feature.

When people start talking about why they are voting and switching it is about the sort of world people want. It matters how you behave. It matters if you wage an illegal war. It matters if your civil liberties are taken away. It matters if what makes our society decent and caring is trashed.

Whew – glad to get that off my chest.

Rush home to try and get my emails done. It is absolute mayhem trying to deal with everything that is coming in. I am glad that the volume of stuff has exploded in size – I think. Rush back to HQ after a few hours of inbox control and to help get our next leaflet our to deliverers in Hornsey and then off canvassing again with Alexis.

Very good canvassing here and more posters. People are very interested in talking – which means I cover less ground – but it I feel an important part of the democratic process for candidates to have to meet and talk to the public.

Actually go home quite early at around 8pm to read the Liberal Democrat manifesto properly and start to think about the hustings the first one of which is to be Churches of Muswell Hill on Sunday afternoon.

Canvassing with Andrew Gilligan

Action day in Bounds Green ward (and a bit of Alexandra) dawns and I’m off to Susie Oatway’s house where I have emailed people to come to help canvass. Bounds Green is one of the only four wards (out of ten) in the constituency that doesn’t have any Lib Dem councillors. We’ve been campaigning there for several years – and the volume of casework I’m doing for residents keeps on growing – but it’s still fairly new territory for canvassing.

Andrew Gilligan (yes that one!) telephoned me last week to say that he (and the Evening Standard) wanted to follow Hornsey & Wood Green constituency during the election. He wants to interview me and follow me while canvassing. He also asked to talk to the group of disaffected Labour members and supporters who grilled me in Stroud Green a couple of weeks ago.

I am both pleased that there is key media interest and nervous – but decide that it must be a good thing. We will go to a part of Alexandra ward, which was Labour and went Lib Dem locally in 2002 – to see how the swing is going. I particularly want to test a ward that has already gone Lib Dem to see how much further it can go.

With that in mind – my briefing to the activists who came to help was not to just come back with lots of Lib Dems identified – but to find out what people voted last time. We are looking to see what is happening to both the Labour and other votes to see how soft it is.

I had put out an email to a list of people who say they want to come out helping – and it goes out on other party lists too – but much to my amazement nearly 40 people turn out. That is really good news because if activists will come out for us – we will be able to deliver the campaign as we have planned both in terms of leaflets and in terms of a high contact rate with constituents in person.

A photographer arrives – but no Andrew. Susie and I are busy getting people in, giving them their kit, briefing them and getting them out the door – quite a major operation. Susie (and Mike’s) baby son (aged about 8 months) watches proceedings happily. Whilst delighted my children are way past that stage – have to say no bad thing having a baby around to make us all go googly.

Activists all active – Susie and I and the photographer head off to knock on doors. Andrew will join us later – he has been held up. The first door a chap opens it and says he will vote Lib Dem. He was Labour but now it’s us. His partner joins him – she is still deliberating between Lib Dems and Labour. I ask if they mind having a photograph (the photographer has asked that I do this). They agree. So where is Andrew to witness this early sign of swing? We canvass until one o’clock with a variety of responses but mostly us or soft Labour – and go back for lunch.

It’s beautiful weather – absolutely gorgeous. Mike has provided a cold lunch for everyone – and I sit out in their garden chatting. Then Andrew Gilligan arrives and we go into the garden for an interview. I won’t cover the same ground here – let’s see what comes out in the Standard later this week.

Then off we go with Peter the photographer to canvass once more. Same story as the morning really. A good number of Lib Dems and the Labour vote very soft. Very few Tories at all of any description, even in the patch which (many years ago now!) used to vote Tory in local elections.

Then Andrew decides he wants to take me to where I was first elected a councillor – Muswell Hill – to walk around introducing myself to people. It’s not my normal approach – I am usually either petitioning, canvassing, campaigning or handing out leaflets. I have had to do so many different and new things since I went into politics – that whilst this wouldn’t be my chosen approach – I am happy to give it a go.

We head into Crocodile (a local eatery with an outside cafe) and get a drink. Andrew points at a couple and says ‘them’. I introduce myself and ask how they might vote when the General Election is called. Both Lib Dem – and both swinging from Labour – albeit Ben voted Lib Dem last time – so he swung even before the war. They agree to a photograph at Andrew’s request.

And so we go on. We meet one aspiring writer still going to vote Labour – well 80% sure he will still vote Labour. Many of the people we spoke to were not local residents at all – just shows how popular Muswell Hill is and why (as I keep pressing the point) public transport links are so important. Full service for the 603 I say!

We go back to base and say our goodbyes. Andrew is heading off to interview a representative from the Stroud Green Labour people who grilled me to presumably see why they are going to actively support the Lib Dems and I go off to the pub for one drink (yes only one) before heading home.