Terrorism, CPZs and getting people back to work

Not a whole lot to report as largely confined to sick bed, with much time spent watching the news. I observed Hazel Blears, whom I shadow in Parliament – she was starting a round of visits to hard to reach Muslims (as opposed to the usual spokespersons) in towns across the country. Good idea – but why have we waited so long? So much air time has been given to the extremist views of groups that most Muslims have scant regard for. This emphasis has contributed to the fevered atmosphere and probably encouraged them even more. I get into trouble with our press office as I couldn’t go to do interviews on the weekend and missed calls to do the Today program – separated from my phone which unhelpfully was set on silent downstairs in the kitchen – where I wasn’t.

Terrorism on the TV news is interwoven with man floating around the heavens with DIY tools trying to repair a spaceship. I so wouldn’t like to be one of those astronauts. I would be convinced I was going to die on re-entry and even more shaky about making makeshift repairs on the hoof. I wish them well on their return. I know it’s expensive – but I love space exploration. It’s a frontier – and we don’t have that many – and it’s so good to lift your eyes above the daily grind – and the horrors of how to deal with terror in our midst.

Al Qaeda’s No 2 appears in a video broadcast by Al Jazeera saying basically that we in London are targets because Tony went to war in Iraq. Well – there are many reasons I believe Tony should go – and indeed Iraq is one of them. However, it cannot come at the behest of an enemy. And – he has just been re-elected to government by the people of this country (a democracy, however flawed the voting system). Opportunism by Al Qaeda is no way to decide our country’s governance.

I am more concerned by the proposals Tony came forward with yesterday – the new terror laws are draconian but more importantly may be unworkable. We British (and that includes everyone!) pride ourselves on our tolerance and fair play and many feel that our tolerance has spawned monsters – or allowed them to spawn.

And so we face one of the greatest challenges of our time – how can we tolerate the intolerant? We clearly feel our good nature has been abused – so the conundrum: how do we retain our essence of free speech and fair play when others don’t abide by the rules of that particular game?

I am not automatically against any new laws on terror – but I do feel we generally have enough laws.

On incitement to terrorism – define terrorism. On deportation – Charles Clarke to be the deciding factor? Arbiter of who stays and who goes? And let us assume we currently (for the most part and giving them the benefit of the doubt) have a benign government – but… And what are the criteria? And why should we ban those who are banned in the US? We are a different country and what the US finds unacceptable we should examine very carefully – not automatically jump to their tune.

And as for our ‘arrangements’ with countries where human rights are an issue – and so raising problems with us deporting people to those countries – who will monitor those ‘agreements’? Countries with poor records on human rights are not going to change because of a piece of paper.

One break from this issue – on Thursday evening I leapt from my sick-bed to go to a CPZ (controlled parking zone) meeting. This one came off the back of a petition from residents asking for one in three or four roads in the very west of Haringey, affected significantly by the introduction of a CPZ on the Barnet side of the border in East Finchley.

The Labour Executive member is there and the senior council officer. Everyone has their say. There are the usual rants about Haringey Council using CPZs as a milch cow. Not often I stand up for the council – but Haringey’s charges at GBP25 per annum for a resident permit are the cheapest in London. But overall the meeting is very positive – and the outcome is an agreement to proceed next year to a two-zone consultation.

There was a huge area consulted on in 2003 – and as with all large CPZ consultations, those few with the existing problem wanted one but the vast tract of people in the rest of the consultation who did not have a problem did not. Anyway – a successful meeting and we will see how that one proceeds.

One bloke raised the issue of roads where lots of people have off-street parking and therefore not needing to park would vote ‘no’ to a proposal and therefore unbalance the result unfairly. I used a – what I believe (!) – is a really good example of how they might approach such an issue.

I have just had the consultation on the proposed extension to the Highgate Village CPZ. Most of our road (including me) has off-street parking – and there are only very limited on-street parking available for those residents without anyway. One resident of the street called meeting to discuss the consultation. I couldn’t go – but he posted the minutes. Firstly – they agreed to get the council officer down to see if the on-street parking spaces could be increased by slightly altering the design etc – and that could happen. Secondly – those residents in the street who were desperate for the extension (because everyone parks in our road) made their case to us, their neighbours, to all vote for the CPZ as their lives would be impossible without a CPZ as they were not luck (as the rest of us were) to have off-street parking. As good neighbours – we all supported those in need. Good community spirit and lack of selfishness!

On Friday I did my surgery at Wood Green library until lunchtime as usual – and then went off to meet Haringey Alzheimer’s Society who wanted to introduce themselves to me. Strangely – Haringey Council and Haringey Primary Care Trust don’t fund them – whereas that is how most local branches are funded and needless to say they need funding after next year.

Then I meet Bob Cottingham of the Highgate and Muswell Hill pensioners group. I think Bob is fantastic and whilst he himself says that age is slowing him down (I was too polite to ask his!), his mind is still as sharp as a razor. Apart from discussing the new Pensioners’ Charter (which he will send to me) we have an intense discussion about the Middle East, Jenny Tonge and terrorism.

As ever with the Middle East – my view has always been right down the middle – a homeland for Palestine and security and safety for Israel. My views generally make me no friends with either lobby as both have strangely enough a kind of Bush approach – that you’re with ’em or against ’em. I will continue to listen to all arguments – but to date remain convinced that the rights and wrongs of history deliver us nowhere – and any solution will have to deliver enough of what each side wants to have a flying chance of success.

I then dash off to ‘Working Links’, an organisation involved in helping the long-term unemployed back into work. I have to say – fabulous organisation. This one is a private/public partnership – I know, wash my mouth out with soap given my past comments about other private/public partnerships. But if it works – use it. I am not ideologically committed to absolutes – except in the case of particular public services – but this seems a good place to bring in private expertise.

As you walk through the door – the environment sings optimism and enthusiasm – upbeat, modern, clean and bright. But as in all things (at least that’s my view) the success of such projects rests entirely with the staff. It’s people – it’s always people. And the young consultants’ who ran each section were all absolute stars. Their two directors were equally enthusiastic and had clearly been responsible for creating this beneficial atmosphere.

They basically take people from a number of sources and spend 26 weeks supporting a tailor made individual package to help them back to work. Hurrah! Ten out of ten to them. I cannot bear seeing people who hav
just become so dependent on the state to sort their life that they no longer even think of doing things for themselves or getting out of the forlorn situations that have become their lives.

Traffic calming

Wednesday morning – swelling and inflammation down – the osteopath bangs joint back into place and pain finally disappears as if by magic.

At my surgery at Muswell Hill Library that evening, hear a heartrending history of a family about to be evicted seemingly as result of long unresolved issues with Haringey. With children involved – hope they don’t have to resort to seeking a stable. Urgent action required

Then off to Wood Vale. Residents are setting up a residents’ association and have invited two of Haringey’s traffic officers (and me) to informal discussion about the knock-on from the Highgate Station CPZ and traffic calming. Constructive meeting – but as ever – not enough dead people in Wood Vale to fulfil criteria for traffic calming. Strangely enough they seem to find funds for Labour pet schemes regardless of traffic statistics – but the speed on Wood Vale (and Cranley Gardens for that matter) leaves them unmoved. They do, however, promise to draw better lines and signs etc.

Congestion charging and CPZs

Ross Lydall from the Evening Standard rings me on my mobile to ask what I think of Ken’s statement. What statement? That he is likely to raise the congestion charge to £6.00 or more. ‘No surprises there’ I say. Ken has a hole in his budget and therefore feels his usual sticky urge to put his hands in London’s pockets to get him out of poor budgeting and overspending.

In the evening, am chairing a meeting of Wood Vale residents who are concerned that they haven’t been consulted about a proposed CPZ around Highgate Station. It doesn’t include their road – but as the next road along, they may feel any knock-on effect.

The meeting has been co-organised by two residents of the road – one vehemently against CPZs and the other for them.

However, the majority of residents from Wood Vale seemed to have no great appetite to fight the current proposals which I suspect Haringey will implement on the back of a ‘yes’ to the consultation in most of the roads.

It was great to see so many residents wanting to work together constructively, regardless of the differences of opinion along the road. They decided to form a residents’ association to take this and other matters forward.

I thought they showed a very balanced approach on an issue which historically has divided communities and bred hatred. I remember during the Muswell Hill CPZ consultation getting a death threat because I wouldn’t condemn outright all CPZs – although I did condemn Haringey’s ill-researched and draconian proposals and dreadful consultation. CPZs are not intrinsically good or bad – it depends how bad the parking stress is, how good the design of the proposed scheme is and how much residents trust the council to do a good job. In Haringey – no one trusts the Council – and with good reason on their track record.

Archway Road

I leave the GLA at about 7pm to rush back to the inaugural meeting of the Archway Road Residents’ Association which is being set up tonight.

A good thing to come out of the controversies over the Highgate Tube station fence is that residents and businesses have decided to form a local group to ensure they have a voice on similar matters in future.

Their three main campaigns are to be on the fence, the local CPZ and hanging baskets on the Archway Road. It was a good meeting and I am sure it will make a difference in their representation in future over matters of local import.

Hornsey Town Hall

Meeting in All Bar One in Crouch End for a drink with a local group called Crouch End for People. They are a group who were born in a fight against a CPZ proposal by Haringey Council who held a huge public meeting.

Although that issue went away (rejected) they have maintained that they have a mandate to speak on anything concerning Crouch End, in this instance the future of Hornsey Town Hall. There is another group called ‘Friends of Hornsey Town Hall who are composed of cross-party local councillors and are also working on proposals for the Town Hall with the council and local people.

Although as far as I can see both the two groups both want the Town Hall to be developed as a community facility for arts and help – there is divergence about the car park, the possibility of a new school on the site and a few other issues on which they have not been able to resolve their differences to date.

I have offered both groups my expertise on transport issues – as whatever gets developed it is crucial to get the public transport, car access and travel planning right from the beginning.

It is a really good meeting and they are excellent people, who as far as I can see just want something really good to come out of this and who have been scared of anything Labour-run Haringey Council produces (rightly in my view).

I do explain, however, that when it comes to funding, no funding agency will fund a divided project and will not back a freelance ad-hoc group. So my advice is unequivocally for the groups to unite.

There is only one key point of difference which comes out in our talks really – and that is the development of the car park. I give them my view that the car park is not something either group should be focusing on anyway. The first priority is to work out what is to be provided on the site and that will dictate to a great extent the transport needs of that site. There may or may not be a need for some car parking – and if there is and there is room it should be provided. Equally, if the idea is to attract a 1,000 people on a night to a theatre or whatever, the site could not sustain a car access emphasis.

So I leave them with the advice to join forces and move forward together – that way I think Hornsey Town Hall could be developed as a fabulous resource both for the local community in Crouch End and the wider area.

Highgate CPZ

Last night was the Highgate CPZ (controlled parking zone) call-in by the Lib Dem councillors in Haringey.

The Labour executive had conducted a consultation on their proposed Highgate CPZ which got an 82% no response. But the Labour Exec decided that there were about 5 roads where the vote was close and decided to proceed with a statutory consultation on putting the CPZ in just those roads. Given the controversies over the consultation, the Lib Dems called in Labour’s decision for examination by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

There were some excellent speeches from deputations both for and against the CPZ and Cllr Neil Williams and Cllr Bob Hare (Lib Dem Highgate councillors) both spoke in a measured and balanced way about the deficiencies of Haringey Council in its process and its flawed reports.

As the Labour lead member, Cllr Ray Dodds insisted that in these 5 roads there was a ‘blurring’ and the result was something like 53% against and 47% for (although different accounts said differently). One of the deputations pointed out that if Labour had won an election by 53% to 47%, they wouldn’t be calling that a ‘blurred’ result – but a clear victory.

What was clear was that Labour were in a mess having proposed something, got an answer they didn’t like, and tried to railroad residents into a half-baked version of a mini-CPZ. Now CPZs can be good or CPZs can be bad – it really depends on the accurate analysis of the parking stress, the specific nature of the roads involved, the design of the scheme and so on.

Sadly, Haringey Labour’s track record on consultation and fine design is not good (understatement). And of course the real problem is nothing gets resolved properly.

Anyway – the upshot was that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee voted by a good majority to refer the decision back to the Executive, who now have 5 days to consider their next move. There certainly was a feeling that the new proposal was half-baked and that they should go back to the drawing board. We wait with baited breath …