Hilary Benn for leader?

Labour’s continuing leadership problems have made me think about who I would pick to succeed Blair. Hilary Benn would be my man. No enemies (that I know of) but more importantly a new sort of leader – one with a genuine manner and devoid of the Blair-style demeanour that is soooooo yesterday. That will be Cameron’s problem – he is emulating a past the country is getting fed up with. Benn could supply an ideal heritage transmuted to fit a modern agenda. Perhaps that way could lie Labour renewal. Perhaps it is not really for me to intrude on private grief – but it certainly is gripping.

More basic, four and a half hours yesterday of surgery, meeting residents individually about their particular issues. It always serves to remind me of the parade of problems and challenges that never seem to lessen. After which I had my regular meeting with Cllr George Meehan, leader of Haringey Council. I had a raft of issues to raise with him:

– an update on CPZs: there will now be a second phase of consultation, where they discount the roads that didn’t want a CPZ and go back and consult with those that did.

– Noel Park Recreation Ground delays – suffice to say that the poor children have had the summer without their play equipment replaced (it was taken away during building work of a new children’s’ centre and not replaced). I had categorical assurances from the Council about finish dates that were never met. Anyway – I now have the update which promises that the work will be finished by the end of the month.

– I raised the issue of the astronomical amounts of money paid in Housing Benefit for temporary accommodation. I have had two recent cases where the tenant has been placed in quite frankly unliveable one bedroom accommodation (with man, wife and child) at a cost of around £400 per week – and this in areas where normally even in the private market you wouldn’t pay more than £200 I reckon. I know there’s a premium because of the supposed short tenure – but inevitably a temporary placement for 20 days turns into months and sometimes year. Factor that up – and the costs are unbelievable. And it keeps the people who are meant to be helped with benefits in poverty as with that high price of rent they often can’t afford a job because they would then lose so much in housing benefits that they wouldn’t be able to afford to carry on paying the rent. There are some moves to make it possible to place tenants in the private sector – but I think this needs looking at. Some landlords are raking it – and it’s not as if they are taking a risk – as the rent is paid by the state!

– business recycling is next on my list. Businesses are largely untouched by recycling – so I have ‘called on’ George to look into it. In fact, as the Council has decided (controversially) to take back recycling under their own auspices – this is an ideal moment to push home the Lib Dem campaign to introduce business recycling into the borough. And while I was at it – I lobbied for bigger recycling boxes (again)!

– I also raised some issues about the Chocolate Factory with him – but more about that later.

– and last, but not least, I have offered (as the Council hasn’t used me yet) to lobby on behalf of the Council at Parliamentary level. As I had flagged this up on the agenda prior to our meeting, George had one ready for me – the cost of asylum seekers to this borough – or more accurately to get the Government to fund the deficit between spend and available government grant. Will do. In a borough like Haringey (and when I talk to colleagues from other parts of the country who rarely see an asylum case – you can see how uneven the destinations are) we happily have more than our share of the asylum seekers who come to London – but we should not have to bear those extra costs and pressures without full Government assistance.

Last meeting of the day is with Richard Sumray about Hornsey Hospital. Once again Richard stated his commitment to the project and the Primary Care Trust of which he is Chair is hosting a public meeting on 13th. I am stirring a campaign to coincide with this with the view to adding pressure and enthusiasm to support a bid for funding. A bid is being prepared – and I think we need to go for it big time. But we will hear the detail publicly next Wednesday.

Parking plans – and blog comments

No – I ‘m not quite ‘out of office’ yet – but on my way. Before I go, just thought I would give you the latest update on the ‘Stop & Shop’ and CPZ proposals and consultations. My colleague, Cllr Martin Newton who is the LibDem spokesperson for Traffic and Transport on the Council has put together this latest info:

Stop and Shop: The consultations for Muswell Hill and Crouch End finished on 27th July. The Council is currently analysing all the feedback for these proposals in order to decide the need for, and format of, any further consultation with the local community.

It is unclear at the moment if Pay and Display for Muswell Hill and Crouch End could still be imposed on the local community – despite an overwhelming call for a new proper consultation to take place following a street-by-street study to assess any existing parking problems.

We will be looking at the feedback from these initial consultations in September to keep a close watch on what Haringey Council intends to do.

CPZs: The consultations are due to finish on 8th August. Due to pressure from the Lib Dems and local community, a second stage of consultation is now being considered by the Council and this is likely to happen in September. We do not have any details at the moment of what the Council proposes for this further consultation, but will let you know as soon as we get further details.

We will be keeping up the pressure on the Council, and it is important to know that the Council views CPZs and Pay and Display regimes as totally different proposals.

And very lastly – following up on the debate as to whether I should have comments on this blog: due to public demand as they say – I will be experimenting with this come September.

CPZ success

Sometimes you win! And although it’s not over – for the time being local residents and Lib Dem councillors (and I) have won a real victory in our efforts to extend the consultation process on CPZs (controlled parking zones / residents’ parking schemes) proposed with breathtaking arrogance and flagrant disregard for all who live here by the Labour administration in Haringey.

At the big meeting on this put together by Martin Brophy (now seasoned campaigner) a few weeks ago, the responsible Labour executive member would not attend and officers of the council refused to come. But this week the Labour man – Cllr Brian Haley (who has caused a lot of controversy) – did turn up to the meeting in Crouch End.

Labour haven’t covered themselves in glory on this issue – refusing to come to previous big public meeting; keeping the CPZ proposals a secret and off the agenda of the last Muswell Hill Area Assembly; keeping them a secret from the relevant local councillors and, unbelievably, refusing to let local people bringing deputations to Full Council to even speak.

Labour never learn – the more they try and steamroller things through without proper democratic processes the more trouble they get themselves into. Anyway – Councillor Haley explained at the packed public meeting in Crouch End (at the Holy Innocents Church) that the Council’s timetable for taking a final decision on the CPZ schemes has been pushed back from September to November – to allow a new stage of ‘communication’ to take place.

Hurrah for both people power and Lib Dem campaigning! Labour’s demonstrable contempt for the people in the west of this borough has been thwarted by this twin pressure. CPZs are highly contentious at the best of times, and the only way forward is to work with the people – not against them.

Meeting George Meehan

In the afternoon I have my first meeting with George Meehan since his reincarnation as Leader of the Council. We have an agreed agenda – and quite quickly get into a real abuse of power that is going on in Haringey. There are three areas where Haringey Council is moving ahead on absolutely vital local issues – and not even consulting with the local councillors at all. I know Labour are angry and scared about their losses at the local elections – but the Lib Dems are democratically elected and it is not only not appropriate to leave them out of things happening in their wards – but it is also unethical.

I put the CPZ travesty directly to George. There are four CPZ areas in the borough up for review to add streets (Wood Green, Bounds Green, Seven Sisters and Highgate) which George has suspended and delayed because the local councillors had not been consulted with.

But there is another bunch of CPZ proposals in the west of the borough, (Fortis Green, Muswell Hill, Hornsey etc) where there are new proposals for great huge new CPZs where the local councillors (Lib Dem) have not been consulted – but hey ho – they have gone out and are going ahead anyway! I asked him to suspend ALL the schemes pending both consultation with the relevant local councillors and also in the light of the imminent new guidance coming down from government about CPZs and the processes around them.

George said that this was not right, that it shouldn’t have happened and that from now on it wouldn’t. I pointed out that ‘from now on’ was meaningless as such great swathes of the west would be progressed anyway under these proposals. George has agreed to discuss suspending the schemes with Brian Haley – Labour Executive member for Environmental issues. We’ll see what happens!

We discussed a number of other issues, including the planning enquiry on the Lordship Lane twin towers proposals. It banished the tower block but has allowed the eight-storey block to go ahead. Not a victory in my view. Also on planning – there’s the concrete factory. George says the council committed to the enforcing of the forty-three conditions that the Planning Inspector put on his granting of the appeal by London Concrete.

I also ask him about the council permits for parking that were issued to residents in a new block that had got planning permission on the basis of being ‘car free’. This is a great worry for local residents as parking stress is severe in their area.

George says that “only2 seven permits were granted – and when they run out they will not be re-issued. I point out that it is told to me that the developers advertised the flats as being with permits. George says if that is so it is illegal. So if anyone has hard evidence, please let me know.

We then discuss Fortismere School. Haringey Council is sending out a letter to all parents to lay out some of the facts. I am glad as I have been calling for the facts to be given straight so that the parents can make an informed choice and then, hopefully if they answer my call, vote in a parental ballot!

On to Hornsey Town Hall – an exhibition goes up today in the Town Hall and in September the development plan from the Community Partnership Board will go to the Labour executive.


Straight on after the postal services meeting to the anti-CPZ (Controlled Parking Zone) meeting organised in Muswell Hill against the ‘Stop and Shop’ proposals and the proposed CPZs in Muswell Hill – but also in a number of other areas in the West of the borough.

The local Liberal Democrat councillors were not even consulted about these proposals in their wards prior to the consultation being sent out. Labour are behaving incredibly anti-democratically, trying to get around the fact that these wards have actually elected Lib Dems and not Labour.

It’s quite a large meeting and conducted pretty constructively. I am given an opportunity to speak and whilst I am a supporter of traffic restrictions and regulations on parking when they are there to solve a problem – you have to think that such indecently rushed proposals which are so extensive, include great swathes of streets without any parking problem, and are not based on proper feasibility or parking stress studies, may be about revenue raising and not simply problem solving.

There are real problems, however, in some streets – and if Labour are going to put forward proposals they should be working with local people to identify first where those people are with problems, what times of day, etc, etc and then through public meetings and residents associations talk to the people and form the proposals together – not just dump them on them.

Ironically, the four CPZ review areas of Woodside, Bounds Green Highgate and Green Lanes have been delayed by Labour leader George Meehan. But six or so CPZ proposals have gone straight out to statutory consultation with no such lead up – and as I say, without even consulting the local councillors.

I am meeting George Meehan tomorrow and I tell the meeting that I will be asking him to suspend all consultations pending the new guidance about to come out from government, because proper procedures haven’t been followed and because there should first be a full program of local meetings AND a proper study of each area to identify accurately times and locations of severe parking stress.

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…

Who is Gordon Brown?

Have a meeting at the pub (my constituency office is in the rooms upstairs of the Three Compasses pub). Sometimes I hold small one-to-one meetings downstairs in the pub itself – particularly in the morning when it is quiet before the lunchtime rush. The atmosphere is fabulously relaxing and I buy coffee or whatever and we sit on comfy sofas or chairs – and you get a lot more out of people in that way.

This meeting was particularly useful as the previous Monday, Mark Oaten (who is LibDem Shadow Home Secretary) had added prisons to my brief and I was about to visit Holloway Prison this coming Wednesday. So Lucy Russell, Director of Smart Justice, had come to lobby me about women prisoner’ issues – which was very fortuitous.

What struck me was how desperately disproportionate the consequences of prison often are for women and their family. To elucidate – punishment has an important role to play in society not just to keep the public safe but to be the price paid for unlawful behaviour. However, the majority of women serve less than six months. Going to prison more often than not means children in care or at the very least disturbed from their home; quite often loss of home and so on. So when you look at the total impact of the sentence, it’s much more than just the sentence itself. That needs to be remembered and dealt with.

Muswell Hill and Highgate Area Assembly in the evening. Not particularly well-attended and I swear I know virtually everyone there. The problem remains how to get ‘real’ people in greater numbers – at times other than when there is a CPZ proposal on the agenda when there is no shortage of attendees.

Tonight it would have been very useful if the council had made more effort to publicize the meeting as it was the opportunity for local residents to choose projects to fund from the local assembly’s budget. All the nominations were up on the wall and each resident in attendance got six green dot stickers to stick up. But lots of really great small projects nominated by various locals – and not really enough of the local residents there to indicate their preferences from which the local councillors then decide.

The main topics however were the future of Park Road Pool and trees. Good news-ish on the pool – it does have a future. Over the next few years lots of improvements promised and the community will still be able to use a room for local activities. Sounds good, but this being Haringey – we’ll see. They had done no work whatsoever on public transport for the venue – simply indicated that they were trying to expand the car park. That is fine (to a degree) but you do need to be able to get there by bus and there is only a very limited service since they removed the W2. Also – they had had no talks with Hornsey Central Hospital – who are just along the road and following my questions on this, work is going ahead on the site in the New Year.

The other main event of the day was watching Gordon Brown deliver his succession speech at the Labour conference. I was under-whelmed. I don’t think it is going to happen soon and I don’t think it is going to do Labour much good in the long run if he does succeed. He doesn’t know which way to play it – New or Old! In reality he has been relentlessly New Labour – so no idea why the ‘left’ think he may be their saviour. Who signed the cheques for the Iraq war? Who forced through part-privatisation of the Tube? Who insisted on top-up fees for students? And on and on.

Therein is the problem – who really is Gordon Brown?