The prize winning pears

Lynne Featherstone MP and Cllr Bob Hare with his prize winning pearsStraight on to the Hornsey Horticultural Show at the Moravian Church. Well – what a show – and incredibly well attended. On this occasion I am just looking (no prizes for me to give out this time) so able to meander and admire.

What fantastic exhibits and what a lot of work goes into organising a show like this. Well done to the organisers and to my colleague Cllr Bob Hare (pictured, Liberal Democrat councillor for Highgate) who got a first prize for his golden pears!

Haringey Council tries to sideline residents over planning applications

Bad new on planning applications locally – Haringey Council are not letting residents come to site visits by the Planning Committee. This is ludicrous. What better way of understanding objections than to hear from people on site what their case is and why they are objecting? Now – of course residents mustn’t intimidate or bully, nor must the Planning Committee members be partisan in their comments – but for heavens sake let the people come!

As my colleague, Bob Hare (Highgate ward councillor) says, the gold standard for site visits is those conducted by Planning Inspectors at appeals. VERY tightly chaired with a strict protocol. The inspector makes sure everyone is clear on what is proposed, where buildings will come out to, how high etc. Both sides (developer and residents) have a chance to say something. Councillors can ask questions. There is no arguing between developer and residents.That’s the way to promote better planning decisions – not keeping the people most affected away.

Birthplace of TV at Alexandra Palace to be lost?

Another The future of the birthplace of regular TV at Alexandra Palace is under threatlocal issue that has blown up is the danger that the Ally Pally TV studios are in as the Ally Pally Board, headed by Haringey Labour councillor Charles Adje, has now confirmed that there is no long-term protection for the studios (the birth place of television) in the proposed sale of the Palace to the Firoka Group on a 125 year lease.

The television studios at Alexandra Palace were occupied in 1935 by the BBC, and in 1936 the first television broadcasts were made from the site. The lease that could be signed with the Firoka group only requires that the group provide a space for a museum somewhere within the building, not the maintenance of the original studios.

My Lib Dem councillor colleague, Bob Hare, who is Lib Dem Alexandra Palace spokesperson put it very well I thought – “This is the equivalent of losing Stonehenge and replacing it with a fibreglass replica. The television studios are of vast historical importance not just locally but nationally and internationally. It is a crying shame that in their rush to complete the deal with Firoka, there has been no thought given to their long-term survival. We must do everything we can to ensure that our children do not regret the hasty decisions that are being made about the future of Ally Pally.”

The Charity Commission will soon start a short, one-month public consultation on the proposals to sell the Palace – so here’s your chance to have a save and help save the TV studios by emailing the Charity Commission at

As always the emails that work best with this sort of lobbying are short, temperate but clear messages that include your full name and postal address. It would be handy if you could also copy your email to me at

(It would also help the campaign if you can mention this lobbying campaign, such as by linking to this blog posting, on any appropriate website or blog you have).

I am also tabling an Early Day Motion in Parliament – so if you don’t live in my constituency you can contact your MP asking them to sign this EDM when it comes up for signature.

UPDATE: You can read about the latest state of play here.

Haringey Council results

Well – it was very close! Massive Lib Dem gains, but not quite enough to take control of Haringey Council – Labour majority cut to just three (30-27 – no other parties have any councillors) with Lib Dems making 11 gains.

We also topped the vote across the borough – adding up the top votes in each ward – and actually now have councillors in a majority of the wards in Haringey. So – very close! Best every Lib Dem result, including our first councillors in Tottenham, many in Wood Green etc.

Lib Dem highlights:

Alexandra – 3 Lib Dem holds – Dave Beacham, Wayne Hoban and Susan Oatway re-elected

Bounds Green – 2 Lib Dem gains – Ali Demirci and John Oakes

Crouch End – 3 Lib Dem holds – Ron Aitken and David Winskill re-elected, joined by Lyn Weber

Fortis Green – 3 Lib Dem holds – Matt Davies and Martin Newton re-elected, joined by Sara Beynon

Harringay – 2 Lib Dem gains – Karen Alexander and Carolyn Baker

Highgate – 3 Lib Dem holds – Bob Hare and Neil Williams re-elected, joined by Justin Portess

Hornsey – 3 Lib Dem gains – Robert Gorrie, Errol Reid and Monica Whyte elected

Muswell Hill – 3 Lib Dem holds – Jonathan Bloch and Gail Engert re-elected, joined by Sheila Rainger (who has taken over my old council seat)

Noel Park – 2 Lib Dem gains – Catherine Harris and Fiyaz Mughal elected

Stroud Green – 1 Lib Dem hold and 2 Lib Dem gains – Laura Edge re-elected and Ed Butcher and Richard Wilson elected

Congratulations and commiseration to all candidates and helpers – both those who made it and those who didn’t, in all parties.

UPDATE: There are now further election result details on Haringey Council’s website.

Should estate agents share offices?

It’s a busy, busy day. All days are busy – but this is ridiculous. At the Lib Dem Home Affairs Team meeting I give a presentation on police mergers. We have quite a lively discussion. The problem is that the Government is steaming ahead with this lousy, rushed, costly and inappropriate merger program.

Straight into Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions. John Prescott stumbled and bumbled his way through (as the boss is in Australia admitting he had made a mistake to pre-announce that he would go – but not when he would go. Gissa date Tony). I admire him in a way. He gave one good answer to the Tories – that he would rather get his words wrong than his policies – unlike them.

And then the ID card debate came back to the floor of the Commons from where it had pinged in the Lords. The Lords Amendment was rejected by the Commons – and was sent immediately back to the Lords. I could see the way this ping-pong was shaping up – that my tightly timed evening commitments were going to be out the window. I was to speak at Policy Exchange on Police Mergers and then rush to Highgate to the Highgate Society to be on a panel speaking on ways to solve the problems of Highgate Village where there are something like 17 estate agents and a Tescos – and our diverse village is in danger. Save our shops! I say.

Anyway – the way the timing goes I can make the Policy Exchange (because it is only two minutes walk from parliament – so can get back if vote is called) but have to pull out of Highgate as the ID cards debate will come back to the Commons around 9pm. I phone my apologies – but was quite annoyed as very much wanted to put in my two pennies worth. I heard from my sister who went that it was very well attended and that Cllr Bob Hare (councillor for Highgate and a LibDem colleague) had put forward lots of fresh ideas and had been very well received.

I had wanted to take on the estate agents. Seems to me that they all want to say they have an office in Highgate (for prestige). And indeed virtually everyone who lives in Highgate will have bought their house through one of them. At present, there is nothing in planning law that allows control of which types of usage (within a range) can be restricted. So there is work to do at the Parliamentary level to get the law changed. We have an EDM about Business Conservation Areas aimed at this type of thing – but I think we need to find another way.

Anyway – legislation takes forever – so whilst we put our thinking caps on about that – I think the estate agents should get together to share premises. I know – shock horror! But the truth is that most punters visit all the estate agents to register with them – so they wouldn’t care if they were all in one building (in fact it would make it easier). But even if it were only two to a shop – that would half the number of agents in the village. They could still refer to their ‘Highgate Office’ and they would half their running costs and overheads – not to mention rent! Of course they won’t want to even consider it – but they should. I may write to them to see whether they are willing to all come to a discussion about what can be done.

So – the Police Merger event at Policy Exchange went well – but we were all on the same side. Simon Jenkins was there – always good value. This is one that is going to really hit labour at the elections. It is such a dreadful proposal in its current form. Anyway – finish and run back to parliament for the last ID card debate as it comes back from the Lords once more.

This time the new amendment by the Tories suggests that up until December 2009 you will be able to opt out of having an ID card when you get your new passport. Labour in the Lords have agreed – and now if this passes in the Commons – the Tories having completely caved in, flip-flopped, whatever you want to call their disgraceful u-turn yet again on ID cards – that will be that.

And this is a dreadful amendment – no wonder Labour agreed. All it does is mean that when you get a new passport – until December 2009 – you will be able to opt out of the ID card. But you won’t be able to opt-out of the National Database Register – and that is where the real sinister part is; the card is nothing compared to the register.

And the date – December 2009, does not take you past the last possible date for the next general election. Yet the whole point of the new date being set is to take it beyond the next general election so that the parties can go to the country with their promises, clear in their manifestos, of their policy on ID cards.

So wrong date and the National Register now goes ahead. It really is Big Brother and then some.

Highgate, Ken and more Highgate

8am: meet key local campaigners over the Highgate Tube Control Centre. Tubelines want to improve the service on the Northern Line (good thing) but are doing this by putting a big ugly building in at the edge of Highgate Woods (bad thing).

We are meeting with Catherine McGuinness of the Corporation of London for a photo op and discussion. Tubelines has listened a bit to the campaign from residents living next to the site about their side of the site, but they have not taken, seemingly, a blind bit of notice of the damaging aspect towards the Highgate Woods side.

I assume this is because trees and squirrels can’t complain? However, Cllr Bob Hare (Lib Dem, Highgate ward), the Highgate Society, the Corporation of London and me are speaking out on behalf of all those who use the woods, the trees, the squirrels and indeed the bats.

We release a joint statement for the press.

Then at 10am my last Mayor’s Question Time at City Hall. I am sad to go – but as ever have a bit of a spat with Ken. Basically a skirmish over his failure since re-entering the Labour womb to deal effectively with the Tube PPP. The performance is abysmal and the private companies, in my view, unlikely to deliver even what was in their original bid. We are a Capital City – get us out of it! Ken has got to threaten more – and/or get us out of the contract at the Government’s cost. Spending too much time fixing for us to use mobile phones on the tube – and none on getting the infracos to deliver the basic services!

Anyway – still sad to be leaving. I have just so enjoyed it all.

A couple of hours later I pop up to see Ken because I have promised residents campaigning on another issue to raise the issue with him. Ken and I chat for a while – and then he says – have you come to say goodbye? And I say no. I have come to request a deputation on the Highgate Tube station fence issue.

Ken has actually seen the fence and seems to totally agree and says he doesn’t need a deputation – let’s just deal with it. He drags me through to Redmond (right hand man’s) office and we run through it. Redmond says he will contact Tim O’Toole (Transport for London) and ask him to take down the fence and see what he says.

Glad I won’t be there to hear the expletives! – but this is Ken at his finest, actually standing up for what matters. I wait with baited breath.

In the evening, after my first three line whip vote in which melee I find myself next to Boris (my new best friend from Question Time) Johnson and ask him which is the ‘ayes’ and which is the ‘noes’ lobby? I clearly don’t want to go the wrong way. Boris claims not to know … Very charming – but I don’t believe a word.

Recycling in Haringey

Lots of residents have queried recently that they are seeing Haringey bin men mixing recyclable materials together and also putting them into normal rubbish trucks.

Not surprisingly, this has raised some questions about what is happening!

Some of the news is reassuring. Because of the successes of campaigns from local groups and Lib Dem councillors to improve recycling in the borough, a wider range of materials is now being collected in many parts of the borough.

This means new vehicles are being used. Several new ones look much like normal refuse collection trucks. And, just to add to the fun – at times some normal refuse collection trucks are also being pressed into service to collect (just) recyclable materials.

Also, for many recycling collections, materials are not sorted out before being placed in the van. Rather they are all put in together and then sorted out at the recycling depot.

If you get excited about machinery (!) the way the materials are sorted out is very clever, using magnets, optical sensors, air jets, trommels and more. (The things I’ve learnt in recent months about recycling …!) The idea is to make the sorting more efficient and accurate than the old way.

There are questions about just how well the machinery works and how much actually gets recycled. Also, much of the paper and cardboard is being shipped out to China, with transport impacts on the environment. Glass is left too contaminated to be used for new glass, and instead is crushed and used as road aggregate – a big loss of energy.

My colleague Bob Hare (Lib Dem Environment spokesman) has visited the sorting plant in Kent and is investigating just how well the sorting works, how much waste is left over, what is going to China etc.

One thing this does reinforce is the importance of using goods made from recycled material (e.g. recycled paper) as far as possible. The bigger the market is, the more effort will go into recycling and the more that will be recycled within the UK without the need for exporting waste.

In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about other aspects of recycling in the borough, I’ve recently updated the recycling factsheet on my website (pdf format).

Hornsey Town Hall

Settle down to write LibDem Christmas cards. Rather nice this year with a picture of Queens Wood in the snow taken by one of the Highgate councillors. It’s difficult to get the balance right between personal touch and making sure everyone is included.

Then, meet up with three of my Lib Dem colleagues on Haringey Council (Neil Williams, Dave Winskill and Bob Hare) to talk to some of the key movers in the Hornsey Town Hall Trust.

They are cross with the recommendations of Haringey Council’s Advisory Panel. The key questions to me are how to we ensure that the community’s needs – not those of developers – are put first and how do we get all the local groups working together.

We are looking to see how we might be able to influence this process. I want to see if we can bridge the gap between the Hornsey Town Hall Trust / Crouch End for People and the other local groups.

One think I would want though from whoever runs the Trust is firm guarantees about the future of the building if everything goes wrong – it cannot be flogged off by anyone to get out of trouble.

Highgate tube fence update

At Jacksons Lane Centre for the third meeting of the newly formed Archway Road Residents’ Association. At last we seem to be getting somewhere with the dispute over the fence outside Highgate Station. My colleague Cllr Bob Hare (Highgate) and the chair of the association have been discussing the options with the key protagonists from the three key groups who have a vibrant interest in the fence.

We now have a new option to consider which – whilst it won’t give everyone exactly what they want – might be acceptable enough to everyone to be a runner. It’s a specially absorbent acoustic fence that would be a metre high with the rest of the security needs met by green mesh.

So, everyone agrees to consult with the key protagonists to see if this would be acceptable. If it might be, a deputation will go to Tim O’Toole’s office to run through the option to check it is viable and to see if London Underground would be happy with it. And then will go and do a door to door consultation on the semi-agreed compromise option and the other options to see if there’s general public backing for it.

I agree to contact Tim O’Toole the next day to confirm this is alright – which I do.

Hopefully this iterative process will lead to a viable solution that everyone can live with.

Archway Road fence

Second meeting of Archway Road Residents’ Association. This meeting was exceptionally well attended – by politicians! One MP, two London Assembly members and a local councillor. The main discussion was about the Highgate Tube fence. There was a desire to see if there was room for any accommodation between the two polarised positions: the highest fence possible (from people living behind the Archway Road) or only a wire fence (from those living opposite the fence on the Archway Road).

My colleague Cllr Bob Hare will sound out the opposing views in the area over the next two weeks to see if there is a willingness to compromise around a reduced height fence with chicken wire on the higher part to retain the view. If there is – we will hold a public meeting to explore this further and see what we can do to make it happen.