Muswell Hill Library

Straight into surgery at Muswell Hill Library. There is still no disabled access to the upstairs – which means this isn’t an ideal venue for me to use to let members of the public come and meet me. But as I hold most of my surgeries in the more accessible Wood Green Library, I do sometimes also use venues like this one – which means I can get round to the various parts of the constituency, not all of which have a perfect venue.

But this morning one constituent reminded me (inadvertently) how pressing it is for buildings to be accessible. He had no legs – so had to walk up the stairs (almost impossible on the prosthetics) – but also carrying his seven-year old severely autistic and non-walking son. Of course, had he let us know in advance, I would have made special arrangements such as a home visit. He was more worried about going downstairs carrying his son after the appointment so I got a very kind guy from the library to help and carry the boy down the stairs.

The 'ramp' with steps at Muswell Hill LibraryI mention this incident because it is years now since Haringey Council first made promises and talked about restoring and renovating the building and making it properly accessible – but all words and no seeming action (other than the bizarre incident a few years ago where they put in a new ramp – but, as you can see from the photo, it had steps!).

So, I will again – as they say – make enquiries. Last time I went to a meeting about the library’s future the plans were big (bigger than needed) for a restaurant and an extension – and all-singing, all-dancing – but I haven’t heard anything since.

Muswell Hill Library

Went to the public meeting / consultation on the plans for Muswell Hill Library on Wednesday evening. If it all came off as described and local residents concerns can be addressed – then the library could be fantastic.

It is much in need of really expensive love and attention. Patching up won’t do any longer – and it is right to develop the library into a modern, vibrant social centre. So that’s the good news.

Of course, funding it requires the building of a few probably luxury dwellings and the leasing of a space within the new library development for a restaurant. There was some concern over a restaurant – smells, noise, suitability and some calls for something more like a coffee shop with evening readings, etc etc. For those living in Avenue Mews, the fly in the ointment and for them a serious fly, is the loss of the only available parking in the street bar about eight on street spaces if the extra development happens.

The issues I raised were really about concerns over the rather vague presentation of the business plan and costs. As it was – with no idea of what bit raised what finance – it was impossible to make any judgement as to whether there was a choice at all as to what the space within the library could be let for – is any alternative to a restaurant feasible? Commercial confidentiality was given as the reason – but I didn’t feel that the figures had been really tested to any degree. So I asked Lorna Reith if she would go back to Property Services and rigorously test the figures. At this point it seemed that Property had simply said we need to sell land for development and lease a space – and that that had been taken at face value.

I also asked that whether she could take back the issue of the problems of Avenue Mews residents re parking to see if there were any other little bits of land belonging to the Council that might be rented to them. Both of these things Lorna agreed to do.

There still was a lack of detail about the plans – and Cllr Gail Engert (Lib Dem, Muswell Hill) made a very good point in terms of having asked after the last meeting for that detail yet here we all were at a second meeting and the detail was still not available.

However, all in all, it was a pretty positive meeting. And as I said at the beginning – if it all works out it could be great. If…

Flowers, veg, library and hospital

Busy,At local allotment's Annual Show busy weekend. Saturday afternoon was the first of what is a very horticultural weekend with giving out the prizes at the Muswell Hill & District Horticultural Society Autumn Show. It was fantastic – such a lovely thing to go and do. A blaze of colour and fine blooms – and given the hottest July on record followed by the August downpours, I was amazed by the quality of the blooms. Not being an expert in these matters and certainly without a green finger to my name I can but be impressed as a spectator – those who tend to garden do us all a great service as we enjoy the fruits of others’ labour as we pass by.

Sunday afternoon was more fruits (literally) and vegetables at the Annual Show of the golf course allotments. So many contributions of fantastic veggies. I now know what makes a good green bean. The first time I looked at the various entries, they all looked much of a muchness to me – green and long. But having enquired what makes a green bean a winning green bean, I now know what details to look for. Having given out the prizes – many, many certificates and many cups and medals – I was given the most beautiful basked of produce from Gina’s allotment – absolutely gorgeous and will eat some tonight. She had even put fresh figs in!

The allotment association had applied for funding from the lottery just recently to get a pretty small amount to put up a new meeting room/shed. However, their bid failed because they were told that they needed to have planning permission (a formality in this case – as it is a replacement not a new building) in advance of their bid application. But Haringey Council hadn’t told them this. Apparently, one of the organisers told me, Haringey hasn’t given the allotments any money whatsoever in the last 15 years – and yet Haringey Council is raising the annual rental by 50% over two years. I have no doubt that the planning permission will be granted and I will certainly help them with their new application that will then follow.

Allotments are just the most wonderful breathing space for those without gardens. True oases of peace and quiet. There are something like 16 allotment sites in Haringey and 1,600 plots. There is a very long waiting list – and happily I think even Haringey Council understands that these oases are sacrosanct.

This morning, reading the endless column inches of Blair-Brown bitching, I am actually horrified by the Labour party’s seeming desire to self-destruct. Blair has been the single reason they won three elections. He has said he will go. Cameron is not very special other than he is clearly a good PR practitioner – but the Labour party’s disarray allows him more leeway than he deserves. They are still the Nasty Party and it will take a lot more than hot air (or conversion to recognition of the threat of climate change) to convince me that the leopard has changed its spots.

Blair was wrong to go to war in Iraq illegally, and he is dangerously cavalier with civil liberties and human rights – but Labour MPs who think that getting rid of him and installing Gordon will help them in the next election are wrong.

On a more local tack – there are two important local meetings coming up on issues I’ve been working on with my councillor LibDem colleagues.

Firstly, there are plans on the table to update Muswell Hill Library. The library is a well-used and well-loved local library, at the centre of our community. Upstairs the busy Children’s Library jostles for space with the IT suite, connecting people who don’t own a home computer to all the opportunities of the internet. The Toy Library supports local families with toys, games, advice and support. And twice a month the library even hosts Lib Dem councillors’ surgeries!

Of course the building needs updating. A key priority is access for people with limited mobility. And, sadly, the wonderful Grade II listed features have been allowed to fall into disrepair.

But many people were shocked and surprised to learn that Haringey’s Labour Council want to replace the ground floor with a restaurant, and move the library facilities out into an extension. In order to fund this, the Council plans to sell off land at the rear of the library, which currently provides parking to hard-pressed residents of Avenue Mews. Some of the land will be used to create a Community Garden – but there is no indication of how big this might be.

The local Lib Dem councillors and I have been pressing the Council to release a full breakdown of the costs of this proposal, and to provide more detailed plans with better information about the size of key areas such as the adult library, the Toy Library and the IT facilities. This information has yet to be provided.

The next public meeting to discuss these plans will be held in the Library this coming Wednesday, 6 September at 7pm. I hope lots of people attend.

The following Wednesday (13th September) there is to be a public meeting on the “development of local health services at the Hornsey Central Hospital site” between 6pm and 8pm at the Middle Lane Methodist Church, Middle Lane, Crouch End. (See here for a map).

I have been campaigning along with local residents and the Friends of Hornsey Central Hospital since the hospital was closed in 2001 to ensure that local health services are re-provided on this site.

It is six years since we were promised that if we (local residents, the Friends of Hornsey Hospital and Lib Dem campaigners) stopped our campaign to save the hospital – then the Trust would work together on consultation with us to a create new health facility for the community. So we worked with the Trust. There were public meetings and plans and public meetings and working meetings and lots of commitment – even complete planning permission at one stage. But after six years – we are nowhere.

And that’s just for starters … so I really am back in the swing of things again!

Ming Campbell visits Haringey

Menzies Campbell MP launches Haringey local election campaign

Ming comes to launch our local election campaign in Haringey – where we have a real chance to take Haringey Council after 35 years of Labour rule. The Leader coming confirms this position!

I and Neil Williams (LibDem Council Group Leader) meet Ming at Harringay station. He arrives at 9.15am on the dot. I love people who are on time and organised. We go to the Tottenham side of the station – to Harringay ward – to photograph Ming with the Harringay candidates and then to the Hornsey & Wood Green side for photographs with the Stroud Green candidates. Both sides are to emphasize our campaign for CCTV on the scary entrances both sides of the bridge.

Ming (Sir Menzies Campbell to give him full title) is looking very dapper and smart. We proceed to the campaign HQ at The Three Compasses where Ming will launch our campaign, meet local members and activists (all stuffing envelopes – and boy there are a lot to stuff) and do one-to-one interviews with the journalists covering his visit.

One of the journos lets it be known that a hastily scrambled together ‘launch’ by Labour Minister Hazel Blears is now to take place at 11am same day having heard about Ming’s visit. I know Labour are terrified of losing the Council – but please!

If it’s true – then Hazel (who is my opposite number as I am her Shadow Minister) will do her duty and attack the LibDems and me as usual. It doesn’t matter which way we vote on anything – be it the police budget at the GLA or the Violent Crime Reduction Bill.

We supported the funding for the police and the Violent Crime Reduction Bill – but whatever we say or do – Labour’s mantra is always the same and always untrue. In politics, as opposed to pretty much every other walk of life, lying is just shrugged at and you are just meant to grin and put up with it – but I think that is why politics is in the state it is in – because people can’t be sure that what they read is the truth.

I know I digress – but there is an absurd letter going out in Stroud Green. It purports to be from a Bernard E who lives in Stapleton Hall Road (curiously there’s no-one with the first name Bernard on the electoral register in that road). It basically attacks me for supposedly being a known right winger and supporter of the Orange Book. (A think tank book of essays and ideas by LibDems – one of which was a ‘right-wing’ suggestion about funding in the NHS – thrown out robustly by the party at the following conference).

This would make the party laugh – as that is hardly my reputation or position in the political spectrum. Anyway – there are two versions – one with a Labour imprint and one without (although election law requires all leaflets to have an imprint) – and the writer says he is an old friend of one of the Labour candidates, though doesn’t mention that said person is already a councillor in another ward but was deselected by the Labour party there and so has had to find another ward to stand in.

I mention all this because – whilst we are standing at Harringay Station with Ming – a man comes up to Lib Dem Cllr Laura Edge and me and asks if we have seen this anonymous (in the sense there is no surname and no address) letter going out and how awful it is and how obviously a Labour smear letter. I am heartened by the public’s ability to see through this type of rubbish.

What is odd about the attacks on me is that I am not even a candidate in the local elections as I am stepping down after eight years as a local councillor and five as Leader of the Opposition. But I know that for Labour (and the defunct Tories who have no seats on the council at all) I am a symbol of all of their troubles and political losses.

So at the Three Compasses and into the working room where the stuffing tables are. A big cheer from quite a crowd gathered there and Ming delivers a rallying speech to encourage the troops – as does Neil. Ming clearly thinks we can do it – if we do the work between now and polling day.

Then the series of one-to-ones with reporters. Ming is in fine form – and truly a professional. Interviews over – a couple of members take him for a short tour and then off to Euston to get a train to Manchester for the next big launch. The cry is that we will make great gains across the board – more votes, more councillors and more councils!

Straight back down to earth and surgery at Jacksons Lane Community Centre. Run into Melanie – the Director – who is in happy mode as Haringey ‘found’ the funding to save the centre. I knew they would. Having made it explicit that I would turn this into an election issue if they didn’t I think that may have played a part in focusing their attention on resolving the matter quickly and before the election got under way – although they will undoubtedly claim that had nothing to do with it. That’s where politics works! A situation where Haringey has ignored or not responded on such an important matter – and suddenly with a political spotlight about to shine and me poking my nose in – then things happen.

I remember a similar thing when Labour Haringey wanting to close Muswell Hill library. But the library campaigners, local residents and the LibDems turned it around – with the fortuitous advent of a local ward by-election at that very moment.

In the evening I go to meet Linda Alliston who leads the Coldfall Woods Group. There have been huge problems with gangs of youths on motor bikes ‘buzzing’ dogs and walkers and then burning their no doubt stolen bikes. There is raw sewage (long term problem) being fed into the stream.

The solution to the bikes is to make the woods and football pitches secured by ‘kissing’ gates so that motorbikes can’t enter. For this they need to access the Section 106 money (£500k) from the Lynx Depot development. Cllr Martin Newton (Lib Dem, Fortis Green) comes with me and he has already secured a promise that they would have no problem with a bid for the gates – so they need to write in and I will support that bid. Also – Martin has got the new Safer Neighbourhood police team (which is just in place) to agree that they will come and look at how they can tackle the youth/bike problem.

In the meantime however, Haringey needs to deal with the perennial dumping – and to notify the allotment owners and houses (whether Haringey or Barnet) that back onto Muswell Hill playing field that throwing their BBQ waste over into the fields is not acceptable behaviour. Sadly, there’s an anti-social minority who do this. The good folk who love the fields and the woods have two major clear-ups a year.

Anyway – it was nice to meet the group who look after and love the fields and the woods – a wonderful local amenity – and Martin will pursue the issues and I will also be writing to support the case.

Go back to campaign HQ for a last hour of stuffing envelopes to sooth me down to sleep mode!

Regional conference

Do a Saturday surgery today at Muswell Hill library. Don’t use this venue too often as there is no disabled access. Lots of heart rending situations this morning. I sometimes despair of the Home Office and its decisions – such as when I have to sit with a woman who has been raped and tortured – and yet has had her final notice that her appeal to stay is rejected.

I will write to the Minister and beg on compassionate grounds – but Tony McNulty’s ears are usually hardened to such pleas. A statistic is one thing – a woman in absolute despair and fear is another.

After surgery I go to Guildford to address a Lib Dem regional conference on ‘How we won Hornsey & Wood Green’. As well as the motivational story – which Hornsey & Wood Green is – I refer to our difficulties. I talk about ‘recent sticky moments’. Yes – as a gale of laughter shook the room – I realised my choice of words was not (or was!) well chosen.

Laughter being the best medicine it was a very jolly rally and I have no doubt when our leadership contest is done and dusted – we will be just fine. Particularly if Chris Huhne wins. I think he will bring that fresh feel to the Lib Dems – and now we need that more than ever.

MPA meeting

It’s a Metropolitan Police Authority Away Day – and we are ‘away’ in a hotel in Piccadilly. Without boring you to death over the whole day’s proceedings – the basic thrust of the day was that we have to get smarter and tougher in calling the Met to account.

I have learned an awful lot in the nearly five years I have been on the Authority and think that considering we were only ‘born’ then, a tremendous amount of change for the better has come in that period.

I suggest that the ‘strap line’ for the MPA should be – ‘Making Police Accountable (to London)’.

In the evening, it’s my regular surgery for residents. It’s so full I cannot get through everyone in time before Muswell Hill Library closes. So many problems for residents of humungous proportions – it’s a sound reminder of why it is worth fighting for better services. You might not always be able to deliver the outcome someone wants – but you can treat people well at all times.

Then rush around dropping off leaflets to deliverers (and remember to return a DVD to the video store) before it’s our local branch executive meeting.

You can tell things are hotting up because the attendance is good, the people’s reports are more or less all there and everyone is on the ball. Fundraising is high on the agenda – and the new fundraising group has put together an Auction of Promises, which is where people give something (an example is use of a flat for a weekend during the Edinburgh Festival) and then we will have an auction of those ‘lots’.

The nitty gritty about printing schedules, policy working groups, council business etc takes most of the evening and I rush home to try and catch the late night broadcast of Desperate Housewives. Pure escapism.

Crime figures and taxi fares

Meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) committee that I sit on which monitors the Met performance. Bit of a barney over crime recording. The Met always try and have it both ways. When there is a bad stat – such as recently the rise of violent crime – we are told that the increase is not real – it is due to better recording and better reporting. On the other hand when the stat is good and crime rate is dropping – then of course the drop is real and the recording is totally accurate.

Afterwards, have my surgery at Muswell Hill library. Interesting case where a guy developing a site is going to appeal after his planning application was refused. I had backed residents in opposing the application as, from what I saw of the original drawings, the new house would be over dominant, over development etc. This chap not surprisingly disagreed! He disputed some of the pictures used previously. Am doing some research to try and find where the truth lies on this one.

Then off to the local branch meeting of the Liberal Democrats – but have to do a quick radio interview from the chair’s bedroom on arrival. I am attacking Mayor Ken for raising taxi fares.

Together with the tube and bus fare rises (above inflation and breaking his election promises) the cost of using public transport is rising fast in London. And this from the man who made his name on ‘fares fair’! And to add insult to injury, raising black cab fares can only serve to drive more people into unlicensed mini-cabs – which we are supposed to be trying to exterminate. Not clever! But Ken is short of cash. He’ll probably try and put a tax on walking next!

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.

Surgery nerves

Surgery at Muswell Hill Library. One of those scary experiences you have from time to time if you are in public service. As I arrived at the library, the librarian tells me that there is already someone in my room waiting. As I go in, I see he is booting up his laptop obviously to show me something.

Without going into details, it is very clear very soon that this person is suffering from a severe mental disorder. Over the years I have dealt with a great many people, some of whom are indeed strange and some of whom have been driven mad by Haringey Council. However, this was different and severe. I placed myself between him and the door and listened.

As it went on, I was wondering what to do next. So I excused myself for a moment and went out to the library and told the librarian what was going on and to keep an eye out for me. She, very sensibly, came to the door and told me (and him) that there were two other people waiting and that she had to close at 7pm. He said fine and packed up his laptop and went.

I made enquiries through the Chief Exec’s office the next day – and he was well known to them (as is often the case).