Stop and shop in Haringey

Busy day at surgery – and harrowing as usual. Followed by rushing up to Muswell Hill Broadway to receive a huge petition (3,450) against the Stop & Shop proposals from Labour-run Haringey Council. The petition was started by Andrew Rowan of 225 Jewellery Exchange with signatures that were collected during the summer by traders along Muswell Hill Broadway, between the roundabout and Colney Hatch Lane.

The People have overwhelming rejected Labour's Stop and Shop plans for both Muswell Hill and Crouch Endpetition calling for ‘FAIR PARKING’, and requested a few free short-term parking bays to match those provided along the other stretches of the Broadway. It also requested warning signs to be provided notifying people that parking enforcement by CCTV camera takes place in the area. I might add – a CCTV camera that was earning a fortune for Haringey Council – trained on a safe place to stop by a cash point. A nice little earner!

There have never been any calls by these traders for Pay and Display to be provided and they have been very angry that Pay and Display has been the only option that the Council seems to be prepared to consider. Good to see though that they are also proposing positive plans as well as opposing Labour’s unwanted ideas.

I say unwanted because the first stage of consultation on the Labour Council’s ‘Stop and Shop’ parking scheme in Muswell Hill shows that an overwhelming 98.8% (really!) of responses were for the scheme to be scrapped. Liberal Democrat councillors felt it was necessary to scrutinise the responses to the Council’s consultation, and found that of 724 responses to the consultation, just 9 were in favour of the proposals. Crouch End has also responded with a resounding ‘No’ – with 90% opposition to its pay and display scheme (out of 143 responses, 128 were against the plans).

Local councillor Martin Newton, Lib Dem spokesperson for Environment, Traffic and Highways has written to Cllr Brian Haley, Labour Executive Member for Environment, to ask for these schemes to be abandoned, as virtually no one wanted these pay and display schemes in Muswell Hill or Crouch End. Cllr Haley has often been quoted saying that the Council do not impose parking schemes on unwilling residents, so he has been asked to honour this, and to not go ahead with imposing these schemes against the wishes of the local community.

I am now going to wade in with a letter to the Council Leader George Meehan to honour the Council’s pledge that it listens to local people and doesn’t impose unwanted schemes on them.

Black History Month

Yesterday, With Mike Phillips at the launch of Black History Month. Photo: Henry JacobsI went to Bruce Castle to help launch Black History Month. Black History Month takes place in October each year and in Haringey offers the most incredible selection of events for local people to see, join in, visit. If you go to Haringey Council’s website – there is a program there of all the local events. There is a massive range – and it is an opportunity not only for members of the black community to ‘celebrate, learn and remember’ black history but also for all of us who are not black to share, learn, understand and enjoy that history. As I said at the event:

The speakers, the choice, the variety, the depth, the range and the role call of role models – absolutely incredible.

But that’s just it – this program simply mirrors the depth and extent of the contribution of our black community to the fabric of life in Haringey.

I may be, I am, a middle-aged white woman – but for anyone of any race – and we are all races in Haringey – black history is now part of our history too – and I thank the black community for the opportunity that Black History Month also provides for the all of us who are not black to appreciate, learn and understand and share the past and present of our black community and celebrate its achievements – and enjoy its cultural richness.

Congratulations to all who have worked and are working so hard to make this celebration so vibrant and so successful and to Dr Carter Woodson, whose mission and determination to bring black history into the mainstream public arena started so long ago in America but is here today, alive and well in Haringey.

As the month says: celebrate, learn and remember. That’s really says it all.

Mike Phillips (novelist and Curator of the Tate) was the Honoured Guest and gave a really good speech. I spoke briefly as did George Meehan – Haringey’s Leader. It was a lovely evening and a good opportunity to have a natter with all those who came.

Haringey Peace Week

Watched Gordon Brown being interviewed by Andrew Marr and trying to be nice and cuddly. Problem is, as William Hague put it, no one can possibly believe he has had nothing to do with the events of this last week. Most damning was his too long silence. But I guess when you have kept silent for a decade and let TB take all the knocks – you don’t really know how to step to the front. It was evident that he is so used to saying almost nothing when a controversial issue hits (remember his long silences over Iraq? tube privatisation? etc etc). So he reverted to tired phrases. But you can’t have tired phrases if you want to lead a Labour renewal.

Spent the later part of this afternoon at a church service to mark the start of Peace Week. Haringey is the cradle of Peace Week, courtesy of the charismatic Reverend, Nims Obunge. Now a London-wide movement, it is going from strength to strength. Much singing and praising – and I, David Lammy (MP for Tottenham), George Meehan (Leader Haringey Council) and others all addressed the congregation.

Part of the praying and the blessing was to bring strength and wisdom to the leaders of the community (including us the speakers). It is very nice to be prayed for. I am not religious – but that doesn’t mean you can’t feel the spiritual side of life in a way.

It was also very moving to hear prayers for community safety, for entrepreneurs to move into the area, for health and so on. It was very practical prayer. Peace and justice was the overall theme – and of course the point is you cannot have peace without justice.

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.

Scouts, hospital and interns

Off to the Scout Park again for photo op with local commander Simon O’Brian and Ken Ranson (of Scouting Association), two of the Safer Neighbourhood officers from Bounds Green ward and Cllr John Oakes – local councillor. We are there to meet local photographers from local papers to push hard for funding to build replacement buildings for the ones currently not ‘fit for purpose’. They are not only not fit but actually in such a state of disrepair that they can’t be used.

I am a big fan of this project. I’ve written the strongest supporting letters I know how to do to support the lottery and heritage bids. I want it for the Scouts – but I also want this amazing eight square hectares of open space in the middle of Bounds Green (that almost nobody even knows exists) to be opened up for all the local young people.

The Scouts will obviously use what they need first – but that leaves oodles of opportunities for our local youngsters. The two Safer Neighbourhood officers are running a scheme this summer for youngsters from Bounds Green between the ages of 13 and 18 to come and do outside activities. And I would like to see a mix it up program which takes kids from all the different schools – so they are not necessarily with their peer groups – and throw them together for a week of outdoors activities. The buildings and open spaces can be hired for meetings and events. There is so much that could be made of this space.

Back to the constituency office for a management meeting. I am trying to arrange a meeting with Richard Sumray – Chair of Haringey Primary Care Trust (PCT) – to push forward the Hornsey Hospital redevelopment. With the dosh now available from the government there is a possible opportunity of forcing the pace.

The hospital closed despite a massive local campaign – and the deal with the campaigners was that it would be redeveloped as a local community health facility with respite care beds etc. etc. It must be something like four or so years since we have been meeting about its future with the PCT – but nothing concrete (literally) yet.

I have decided to try and force the pace on this. The Health Trust insists it must sell off a large chunk of the land – but a) this isn’t fair and b) there is not guarantee the funds will go back into this particular site. Anyway – I spoke to Richard Sumray a couple of weeks ago and he promised me a public meeting in September. I believe Richard’s assurances that he is committed to pushing the new facility through – but I want to help him by applying as much pressure as I can. My diary organiser had phoned Richard to make the appointment but he is currently in some far flung part of the world. To be continued.

I want to know what the Council are doing about the Noel Park children’s play equipment. It made it into the press when I went over there to meet parents who are outraged that their children are facing a second summer without the promised replacement equipment. I wrote to Cllr George Meehan (Labour Leader of the Council) about it – no reply yet of course. The newspaper had a quote from the council saying they were sorry there had been a delay. But I am now going to write to Ita O’Donovan – who is the Chief Executive – as I expect she will be far more able to efficiently expedite matters than George.

Then it’s in to Parliament for the last official day of sitting – so I finish up odds and sods. I pop over with Nick Clegg (Shadow Home Secretary) for a photo op on DNA and then have dinner with my researcher and interns to thank them for their really hard work. The intern system is fantastic – hopefully for both sides. Young graduates mainly, although I have taken some school leavers and gap year students, work for expenses but get useful experience and a better of idea of what such a career might really involve – and also then get to put that they have worked for an MP on their CV. They come and go relatively quickly – but I have to say I have had some wonderful young people over the last year.

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.

CPZs

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.

Positive role models

Morning went to the start of an all day event / seminar by Friendship Global – titled ‘Peace, Friendship and the 2012 Olympics’. This is a group started in Haringey by the suggestion of two little girls who after 9/11 wanted to do something to stop such terrible things happening again. So their father started this peace group – where the basic idea is that through friendship we can stop wars.

From there I went straight to make a speech and give out awards at the Haringey African and Afro-Caribbean Awards for excellence. A huge hall full of children and their proud families thronging the Alexandra Palace. Now, as much as they all obviously loved me – I can’t help thinking that myself and George Meehan (Labour councillor) were not the main attractions. Kwame and Lemar (spelling of both iffy) were the main event. After my speech – Kwame and myself gave out the first batch of around 30 awards. I felt the kids would feel cheated if they came up on stage for their award and they just got it from me rather than him – so made sure they all got to shake hands and have a quick word with him.

I had to leave before Lemar did his bit – but the screams and clapping when he came in were pretty impressive. I thought the whole event was fantastic. So much negative stuff about black under-achievement – and so great to have an occasion celebrating the positive. I am absolutely committed to aspiration and inspiration. If you are treated like a failure – you will fail. It isn’t rocket science – and this was positivism in action.

The evening took me to Holborn & St Pancras where I was a panel guest on a Question Time format for the University of London with students from London’s universities come to grill us. Slightly to my surprise, they didn’t ask about ID cards or civil liberties. They did ask about taxation. They did ask about cannabis. They didn’t ask that much about the environment. They did ask about the Lid Dem leadership. They did ask about smoking bans. They did laugh when I told them that I once went barefoot and wore flowers in my hair! What’s so funny?! Anyway – I had good fun as I took a bit of license and went way off message. Well – a bit of blue skies thinking is always good for the soul.

Boxing night

Haringey Police and Community Boxing Club Charity Evening – a black tie dinner and boxing match. This is a club started by ex-Haringey Police Commander Stephen James which helps kids box – with the intention in part that it thereby also helps keep them out of trouble.

I arrive at the venue and am put in a little ante-room for the top table with others. Stephen James is there, as are the current top-cop in Haringey Stephen Bloomfield, Council Chief Executive David Warwick, Cllr Peacock (Labour), soon to be ex-leader George Meehan, David Lammy MP and Pastor Nims from Haringey Peace Alliance.

So a good crew. Stephen James introduced me as the next MP for Hornsey & Wood Green – which went down well as you can imagine with the Labour members there! I though Sheila Peacock might thump him.

Then we were announced one by one to go into the hall and to the table. The boxing ring itself is directly in front of the top table with other tables filling the hall to the right and the left. The dinner is served, there is an auction of various items to raise money and then the boxing itself.

I know it is probably not politically correct to enjoy boxing – but I thought it was fantastic. There is a basic instinct – a primeval pull – when two men (boys) fight each other – and boy did they fight. The last bout included Michael Grant who is one of the real successes of the boxing club. A black youngster from Tottenham who is now No 2 in England. It was a great fight and I take my hat off to Stephen James for what he has done.