Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Saturday List #169 - My Top Ten Days Out!

I'm writing this blog on a Train somewhere north of Stafford. We are having a day out to celebrate our 23rd Wedding Anniversary on a Steam train to Carlisle and back having a slap up breakfast. It is very civilised! I thought that I'd lost my top ten days out, so that if you are trying to think of a great way to treat yourself, it may give you a few ideas. The only rule is it must be doable in a day and must be doable from Mill Hill.

1. Chiswick Fullers Brewery Tour.
If you like real ale, then this is a must. It is really interesting and you get to taste the ales!

2. The Great British Beer Festival at Olympia.
Another great day out if you like your beers. There are hundreds of beers, ciders and other drinks to try and a whole host of great food stalls. If you are not male, white or a beardy type you are also likely to be interviewed by one of the many telly crews that show up, as they like to show a good cross section of beer lovers.

3. Brighton via Thameslink.
 This is always fun. There are numerous restaurants, great shopping, the Pavillion is well worth a visit and the Pier is always a blast. If a bit of nudism is your thing, there's the nude beach (not recommended when the Beast From The East is blasting through). Personally, I love eating a few Whelks on the beach in the sun.

4. The Science Museum.
This is always a treat for a day out. The museum has great displays and is really interactive. Best viewed in school term if you are not taking the kids.

5. St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster. Cathedral via the South Bank.
This is a great way to spend a sunny day. Get the train to City Thameslink, visit St Paul's, which is fascinating. It really s worth dong a guided tour if you can. The cross the Thames, walk toGabriels Wharf of the South bank for lunch. There are several great places to eat, I particularlyWrstmin like the pie hut. Then walk up the South Bank and cross the Thames via Lambeth Bridge and walk to Westminster Cathedral. It is great to compare and contrast Londons two great Christian Cathedrals.

6. Kings Cross Canal Museum and canal walk to Camden Town.
Before roads and rail, canals were the countries arteries. The canal museum on York way is a great way to learn of this almost forgotten part of Londons heritage. A walk up the canal to Camden Town is a nice way to while away an hour. It is always a surprise to find such tranquility so close to the centre of our City.

7. River boat to Greenwich and the Royal observatory.
This is a lovely way to spend the day.the river boat is fun and a great way to see the city. The Royal observatory and the Meridian line is a splendid place to visit.

8. The Totteridge Valley pub crawl.
Returning to the theme of a few beers. This is a great way to spend the day. Start with a coffee or brunch at the Three Hammers. Then a quick stroll to the Adam and Eve for a pint of IPA. The burgers and chips are not bad either.then walk down Burtonhole Lane, there is a lovely tea shop at Finchley Nurseries if you are still thirsty and the lemon cake is lovely. From therea walk around Darland Nature Reserve, the Totteridge Valley and the Long Ponds, followed by a refreshing Ale at the Orange Tree. Finally a stroll along Totteridge lane for a sumptuous dinner at The Rising Sun, probably the best pub grub around. With all that walking, you can indulge guilt free!

9. St Albans.
A quick 15 minutes up the Thameslink line is St Albans. There is the Abbey, the Roman Amphitheatre, the oldest (allegedly) pub in England, the Cock, and many fine restaurants to boot. Highly recommended and not expensive.

10. The Epping and Ongar Railway.
At the Eastern End of the Central line, we have the Epping and Ongar Railway. This is a restored Steam Railway with a heritage centre. It is a fun way to spend the day and they often have special events. The next being an Easter Egg Hunt.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Barnet Eye Exclusive - The Barnet Tories cunning plan AKA Council Election Strategy revealed

We are sorry that we are not doing a Friday Joke today. We have something far more important to share with you. Following the events this week in the local Conservatives, where several long standing, well respected loyal councillors have been deselected, the Barnet Eye has covertly seen details of the Barnet Tories election strategy. In our role as a public information provider, we feel that it is our duty to share this with the good people of the London Borough of Barnet.

Last year, following the disastrous general election campaign, an inner cabal within the Barnet Conservatives held an emergency meeting to review what went wrong. Following some number crunching, it became clear that unless something radical was done, the Tories would lose the council in May 2018 and this would give the Labour party a springboard to take all three constituency seats in a general election. These three seats could well be the difference between a Tory or Labour administration. There were several issues identified. These were as follows :-

1. Falling membership - The Barnet Conservatives have seen a steady decline in membership as older members die off or move away. New blood has proven difficult to attract.

2. Poor social media presence. The Barnet Conservatives have not had a successful social media presence. Many see the Barnet bloggers as the most effective opposition and they have been forced to conclude that they are losing this battle. It was clear that they needed to revamp the way they managed social media and engaged with the local population. 

3. Ageing and out of touch councillors. The review concluded that whilst the local MP's (Freer, Offord and Villiers) were viewed as attractive and engaging to the public, local councillors were seen as elderly, distant, aloof and out of touch. It was concluded that these out of touch councillors were extremely damaging to the prospects of the local MP's. 

An action team was set up to address these issues. The Barnet Eye has labelled this Barnet Organisational Logistical Local Operational Committee (AKA BOLLOC) although we are not 100% sure if this name has been adopted. It was agreed that this team would have to operate covertley and ensure that the local party organisation was "ENHANCED" to ensure that the local party was brought into the twentieth century.

Each of these areas of weakness had an operational plan set up to address. The three main strands then had an operational strategy created to try and address the problems.

Falling Membership - The key to this is to get young people into the party and to convince them that once they are in, it is worth staying. They can then be used to recruit friends and grow the party. BOLLOC identified that many young people had joined, only to get disheartened and fed up by the ageing people that run the associations and seem set on thwarting every initiative. 

Poor Social Media presence - It was recognised that this needed an overhaul. More central control and a greater effort to ensure that the message was "got out there".  It was also agreed that where possible local bloggers would be targetted. Whilst this may have risks, if the credibility of the local blogs could be undermined, this would remove a massive thorn in the side of the Barnet Conservatives.

Ageing and out of touch councillors - Whilst there was a recognition that they couldn't simply deselect every "out of touch" councillor, it would be well worth the effort of culling as many as possible. The criteria for culling were as follows. 1. Must be in a Safe Ward. 2. Must not have a strong personal base within the party. 3.  No more than one per ward. 4. Must be loyal enough not to rock the boat after deselection. The last thing they wanted was defections after deselection, as this would lose the Conservatives control of the council. Getting rid of these would free up some seats to bring a few of the next generation through. It would also send out a strong message to the young bloods that there would be opportunities in the party. 

It seems that BOLLUC then set about their business with gusto. Deselecting councillors in a secret ballot is not the easiest thing to achieve. It was realised that for the strategy to work, the Reselection meetings had to be held as late as possible and those being lined up for the cull were not to be given a hint, so that they would not marshall their own supporters. Those involved in the scheming had to be loyalists and on side with the plan. 

The information that the Barnet Eye has seen shows just how ruthless the members of BOLLUC are. The degree of deception and two faced behaviour in regards to those lined up for the chop was quite breathtaking. When Councillor Joan Scannell was awarded the BEM, she was lauded by the full council. As she received a round of applause, it was quite interesting to observe the faces of her fellow councillors. As she received a round of applause, there were even some of her Hendon Tory colleagues who did not clap. I mentioned this to Joan at a Mill Hill Music Festival Committee meeting and her response was that some of her colleagues were jealous. It seems that what both Joan and I missed was that there was a little more than a few green eyed monsters with noses put out of joint.

What is interesting is that the four Conservative Councillors targetted were ones whittled down from a larger list. It seems that the reasons that a couple of other prime candidates for the chop escaped for the most, shall we say, interesting of reasons.  However the deselections are not the most interesting aspect of the plan. What is far more interesting is the "replacements" that are being lined up. Firstly, lets be 100% clear that they were all assured long ago that they would be standing. They are not hurriedly brushing up their CV's and doing a frantic round of door knocking to make a last minute impression on the committee. The Barnet Eye has seen a list of names, which we believe is very credible and a list of reasons why they are being put forward. 

In my own ward of Mill Hill, the name I've seen is very close to our MP and Councillor Val Duschinsky. The person is a very capable campaigner and is keen to raise their profile. They are seen as someone who will work far harder for the Conservatives locally and be onside with the policies of the administration. The person is also highly thought of by the small band of young activists locally. Sury Khatri was a vociferous critic withing the party of many of the Tories more extreme policies and this had rubbed up some colleagues the wrong way. As he'd been continually been cowed into voting for these disastrous policies, the members of BOLLUC assumed that he'd simply take it and not defect. His actions in resigning the Tory whip have come as a massive shock. 

It may seem that much of what I've written is a bit obtuse. What team BOLLUC don't seem to realise is that they are not the only Barnet Tories who can be a bit two faced. There are several councillors who BOLLUC think are onside with their policies who are quite definitely horrified by what has happened. Not only that, but they have realised that the BOLLUC strategy is likely to massively backfire. If the Tories lose the council and seats they thought were safe such as Mill Hill and High Barnet, then it could do lasting damage. These councillors are rather keen for the Barnet Eye to understand that they do not wish to be associated with what is going on. There is a tacit admission that it has all been "rather badly managed".  It is not unusual for this blog to have private chats with councillors of all parties. With a few notable exceptions, I get on well with most of them. The ones I've spoken to are horrified that their association has managed to score a spectacular own goal and that they are all covered in the debris of what just hit the fan. They are concerned that if the "strategy" that has been outlined is stuck to, it could absolutely ruin their personal reputation. 

A question that I've been asked is whether I really think that a "Corbynite Labour Council" would be good for people such as myself in Barnet. As I am standing for the Lib Dems, I pointed out that whatever happened, if such an outcome occurs it is nothing to do with me or our campaign. No one familiar with Barnet Labour believes that they are "Corbynite". If anything they would be far too Blairite for my tastes. The Lib Dems are running a strong campaign in Barnet, Mill Hill and Childs Hill. My advice to all Tories in Barnet, Mill Hill and Childs Hill would be to vote Lib Dem to ensure that the next council has to have a sensible coalition. The Tories really cannot win in Child Hill following the Cricklewood Aggregates fiasco. In Mill Hill, I've already spoken to dozens of residents who will not be voting Tory following the treatment of Sury Khatri. It seems likely that a similar thing will happen in High Barnet, where Councillor Bridget Perry has been deselected. Labour believes it can snatch High Barnet, as do the Lib Dems. As the ward had a Lib Dem presence until 2010, it would seem that Duncan MacDonald and the team up there suddenly have a real incentive to go for it. 

I've also noticed a change in what people are saying this week. Wheras last week, the biggest question was "Do you have a chance?", this week the question is "What are you going to do if you get elected?". People are starting to believe that the Lib Dems can win in Mill Hill. This is a direct result of the actions of BOLLUC. 

As we mentioned above, another strand of BOLLUC's activity is a determined attempt to attack the Barnet Bloggers. Sadly for BOLLUC, the latest example of this has also backfired spectacularly. For reasons that the Barnet Eye doesn't really understand, the Deputy Leader of the Barnet Tories, Councillor Daniel Thomas has disappeared off Twitter. A rather strange way to "Spread the Gospel", you may think. At the same time, the @BarnetTories account has become quite manically active. 

On Tuesday, they tried to have a Pop at us. This went badly wrong as we immediately exposed their hypocrisy in posting a highly misleading Tweet. Like many bullies, when they pick a fight with a big boy and get a black eye, they then try and pick on a Girl. Yesterday we saw an outrageous porkie published by them, claiming Barnet Blogger Mrs Angry wanted to close half of Barnet's libraries. 

As I believe that this is not only a disgusting slander, but clearly a made up porkie, I immediately tweeted a challenge to the @BarnetTories

I don''t think there is a soul in Barnet who would believe the Tories would pass up a chance to rub my nose in it if there was a shred of evidence to pack up their outrageous claim. It goes without saying that the £500 is safely still in my wallet. It is a measure of their stupidity that they hadn't noticed that Mrs Angry has not posted a blog since the 2nd of January. There are various good reasons for this, which I am not going to go into, but their vile actions have stung her into life. As own goals go, this is perhaps the most spectacular I've seen. I await their attacks on Mr Mustard and Mr Reasonable in anticipation. Let's hope that they are as effective as these.

The conversations I've had with friendly Tories are keen to emphasise that they are not behind any personal attacks coming my way and the way of my fellow bloggers. They were also keen that I was quite aware of who is. It is pretty clear to me that the more sensible Tories locally know who the people of Barnet will trust and who they will side with if there are lies and porkies slung at The Brnet Bloggers. People will draw their own conclusions. If I were a Tory locally, I'd suggest that this whole strategy is a complet BOLLOC up, but that will only really become clear on STARWARS DAY. I've a lousy record of making predictions in Barnet politics, so I'll keep my opinions to myself. Let's just say that if our campaign team needed any incentive to go for it, we've been handed a massive gift in Mill Hill. I am jsut sorry that Sury Khatri, who is a decent man, had to be knifed to provide it.

As to the Barnet Tories efforts to engage with Young people. This too has been wildly successful. I had a look at The "Barnet Young Conservatives" Facebook page. I was stunned to see that the local Young Conservatives have such a lively and active community. The latest activty was only just over a month ago, with this team of lovely looking youngsters hosting an "Action Day" in East Barnet.

There are rumours that in an effort to boost the membership of the Barnet Young Conservatives, they've raised the minimum age for membership from 75 to 60, although we don't believe a word of such gossip.

What many people don't realise about the Conservative Party is that in all associations there are three distinct groups that keep the show on the road. Firstly there are the mainly white middle class male, Rotary club type businessmen, they hang around for years, enjoy dressing up in Robes and attending civic services. They are the core of most councils and are generally sensible and pragmatic. The second group are the Young Turks. These are younger men generally, out of University, looking to build their CV's, believing that they know far more about everything than all the old fuddy duddies and that they can change the world. They believe that a complete lack of experience, expertise and grey hair is an asset if you need to get something done. They generally sign up, do a few years as a councillor, then get bored and move away. Tom Davey is the latest example, standing down in Hale.
The final group are the "Blue Rinse brigade". There are the ladies of a certain age, who organise coffee mornings, put leaflets in envelopes, answer phones and uncomplainingly get on with all of the boring stuff that needs to get done to make the organisation work. Talk to any of them and they will always mention the behind the scenes work that they do and often how the other two groups do not appreciate them. Councillors Braun, Scannell and Prentice are the vanguard in Barnet of this group.

As the local Tories have made it quite clear that this group are not appreciated, it will be quite interesting how the machine operates without all the coffee mornings, letter stuffings etc. I do wonder how all the young turks will cope when they find themselves in opposition, with no power and now plumb jobs as committee chair's.  Whilst the old guard will wait patiently for the next election or the one after that, I suspect that rather like the Spring Cuckoo, they will be off when the wind turns chill. 

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Barnet Conservatives lose control of Barnet Council as well liked Mill Hill Councillor quits party whip

Happier Times - Councillor Sury Khatri as Deputy Mayor
Following on from the news, first broken by the Barnet Eye, that several Conservative Councillors have been deselected, well respected Mill Hill Councillor Sury Khatri has quit the Conservtive Party whip in the Council chamber. This means that Barnet Council is now a No Overall Control Council.

 It seems rather odd to me that they are happy to reselect Councillors such as Reuben Thompstone, who has presided over Barnet failing an OFSTED inspection of childrens services under his administration, requiring assistance from Essex Council, whilst deselecting Sury who is well liked and who is generally recognised as having done a good job.

The whole situation is really quite unprecedented. Sury Khatri was Deputy Mayor in 2016-17 and most local people assumed that as he was both a well respected local figure and had served several important roles in the administration, that his reselection for the Mill Hill seat was a simple administrative matter. I had emailed Sury regarding the Federation for Small business manifesto last week and as an aside asked if he was standing, to which he replied "I am standing and hoping my application will be confirmed by the Selection Committee after  my interview this Sunday."

Following his deselection, I asked him for a comment on the Barnet Tories press release. Sadly his response was unprintable.

We have the situation where Councillors could call for an extraordinary general meeting of the Council and sack the leader, Richard Cornelius. This would also enable the Opposition Parties, to nominate new Committee chairs and start the work of unravelling the mess bequeathed by the current Conservative administration. If this were to happen, several senior Tories would lose their generous allowances, in the tens of thousands for some. I doubt that would do the plotters reputation much good and any disgruntled, deselected councillors may well have the opportunity to leave their ex colleagues a lovely parting present.

If, as the rumour mill would have it, the deselections are part of a plot to appoint a new leader of the

Barnet Conservative Councillor purge - Are the Barnet Tories the new Stalinists?

Yesterday we published a press release from three long standing Conservative Councillors who have been deselected by the local Hendon Conservative Association. Today the Barnet Tories have responded with a press release of their own. The Deputy Leader of the Barnet Conservatives made a rather chilling statement in the press release. To quote the press release

Councillor Dan Thomas, chairman of the association and deputy leader of the Council, said: “As per Conservative Party rules, all councillors must be reselected by their constituency association to stand for re-election. As this process is conducted by secret ballot, it is neither possible nor appropriate to speculate why applicants are not successful".
This is almost unprecedented in the recent history of the Barnet Tories. I had been informed early last week that Mill Hill Conservative Councillor Sury Khatri was not standing this time around. This was long before the meeting. I contacted Sury and he informed me that this was the "first he'd heard of it" and stated that there was a meeting on Sunday where he was hoping to be reconfirmed as a candidate in Mill Hill.

Reading Councillor Thomas press release, I am mystified. Why on earth does he think it is "not possible nor appropriate to speculate why applicants are not successful".  The Barnet twitter feeds are full of such speculation, despite Councillor Thomas stating that such speculation is not possible. What he means is that such speculation is rather embarrassing for him and his association.

There are two usual reasons why councillors are deselected. These are that the councillor does not do any work or that their behaviour is embarrassing to the group. The Barnet Tories make it 100% clear that no such reasons apply. in their press release

It seems that even Tory Stalwarts such as Brian Coleman are shocked and disgusted

It rather looks like the local Tories are using the dark arts of dodgy social media to try and justify their decision. Someone who is clearly close to the local Tory group left a rather unpleasant comment on the Hendon Times website
"Seems like a sensible move to me. Cant imagine these lot pulling their weight at election time or in between elections, and thats whats needed these days. Bet the members who got rid of them barely saw them on the streets or at events. Probably brought it on themselves, takes some doing to make risk averse people want change. Turning up at meetings and sitting around tables is bare minimum requirement. Got to get your face out to the masses not just cliques in certain circles. Probably good in their day but cant keep resting on what you did 10-15 years ago. Im over the border and similar thing happened here, freshened things up and the new people do 200% more. The shires and districts desperately need this."
It seems strange that someone who claims they are not in the local party know so much about the shenanigans. Whatever you may or may not think of Cllr's Scannell, Khatri and Braun, is it really a decent way to behave to stick the knife into them in this way.

A former local Tory activist told me of Sury in 2014

"Sury was the only one that any one ever openly spoke about being removed and even in 2014 I know he was spoken to dozens of times about his lack of campaigning and the ill will that was felt to him, it’s surprising that he’s shocked. 
Maureen also didn’t pull her wait last time around and I think we assumed she was running for the last time and she’d step down gracefully so planning for her replacements was already there three years ago. "
We have learned that Councillor Bridget Perry in High Barnet has also been booted out (via a tweet from our old friend Brian Coleman)

So why were these councillors put to the sword? There is a bit of a pattern. They are all of a certain age, three are female and one is Asian. In short they are not faces that really fit in with the Boys club elite chomping at the bit to run the local Tories. They are all in what the Tories perceive as safe seats. Whilst Barnet seems odds on to dump the Tories at the Council elections in May, some see this as a great opportunity to purge the party of the old guard and move things into the glorious new world. It will be interesting to see who is brought in to replace them. There are suggestions that this is the first step in a planned coup to remove Richard Cornelius as Tory group leader. The local Tories have form. A similar thing happened in 2006, when a string of deselections lead to Mike Freer replacing Brian Salinger as Tory group leader and Council leader immediately after the election.

I suspect that if the Tories loose the council, Cornelius will not be that interested in hanging around. I suspect that whoever takes over will be picking up a poison chalice. The likes of Dan Thomas have no experience of opposition politics. I'd personally have thought Joan Scannels experience of this would have been very useful if, as expected they lose.

Given that there is a battle royal being waged by Labour and The Lib Dems to eject the Tories, it seems a bit strange that they've started a civil war. Dan Thomas is a bit naive to think that there won't be speculation about the shenanigans. It may have escaped his attention but we are not (yet) living in a Stalinist republic in the Borough of Barnet. If you are going to shaft loyal colleagues to forward your own small clique (as so elequently put by ex Tory bigwig and convicted woman beater Brian Coleman) on Twitter, then you are likely to reap a whirlwind of speculation. The "nothing going on here, move along please" strategy simply won't wash.

Dan Thomas may not think sacking Sury Khatri for having a face that doesn't fit is something that will be of little concern. From what people have casually said to me in Mill Hill whilst walking the dog recently, I suspect that he's sadly mistaken. Many people like Sury and are actively talking about dumping the Tories. The question everyone asks me is "Why?".  As the Barnet Tories do not want to provide a sensible explanation, it is only right that people form their own, rather unflattering conclusions. Click here and have a look at the current crop of councillors.  The Tories have deselected one third of their female candidates. Of the ones remaining, one is the Leaders wife, who we assume has a pretty safe seat. Helena Hart is standing down. As I said, draw your own conclusions. Last month we wrote an article about misogyny in the local Tory group. What has happened has done nothing to dispel the concerns raised.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018


The Barnet Eye has this evening received the following Press release from three veteran Conservative Councillors deselected by Hendon Conservative Association. This is the text of the press release in its entirity, published without comment.





Press release ends ….

Barnet Conservatives caught out telling porkies about overdevelopment in Mill Hill

I don't know about you, but there is nothing I hate more than politicians telling porkies, especially in the run up to an election. This morning, we've seen one of the worst examples of this from the @BarnetTories Twitter account.

Rather strangely, we weren't actually referring to the National Institute for Medical Research, but the over development of Green Belt sites, such as Copthall and Pentavia Retail park. We are also concerned at other examples of lack of enforcement of planning on Green Belt sites in Mill Hill.

This highly misleading tweet implies that the @BarnetTories opposed the NIMR development due as they saw it as "Overdvelopment of the green belt".  If you actually look at the decision, you see a completely different story being told (below from the council papers).

It was moved by Councillor Sowerby and seconded by Councillor Braun that the application be REFUSED for the following reasons:

1) The proposed development, by reason of its appearance, specifically the modern residential design and use of flats roofs, is out of character with the Mill Hill Conservation Area and has a negative impact when viewed from the Green Belt land to the north, contrary to policies 7.8 and 7.16 of the London Plan (2016), policies CS5 and CS7 of the Local Plan Core Strategy DPD (adopted September 2012) and policies DM01, DM06 and DM15 of the Development Management Policies DPD (adopted September 2012).

2) The proposal will result in the loss of trees of special amenity value with associated loss of nature conservation value, contrary to policies 7.19 and 7.21 of the London Plan (2016), policies CS5 and CS7 of the Local Plan Core Strategy DPD (adopted September 2012) and policies DM01 and DM16 of the Development Management Policies DPD (adopted September 2012).

As you can see, there is no mention at all of "overdevelopment" in the refusal. The grounds are that it will spoil the view from the North (presumably for the millionaire's properties on the other side of the Totteridge Valley) and the loss of trees.

The tweet from the @BarnetTories lays bare their hypocrisy. If the planning application as it stood resulted in the loss of trees, which was a reason for rejection, how could having 78 more car parking spaces on the site result in more trees? Whatever you may or may not think of the application, there can be no dispute that their plan for more car parking spaces would result in less trees, which was the grounds they cited for rejection. They really can't have it both ways.

Like all of the parties in Barnet and all of the stakeholders, The Barnet Eye recognised that the site had to be developed following the move of the Institute to the Crick centre. We also recognise the Mayor of London's requirement for more affordable and social housing on the site. We do not think that the current plan is ideal and takes no account of the geographical realities of the site, atop a hill that cyclists use whilst practising for the Tour De France. I've no idea how the Mayor expects residents to get to and from the nearest tube stations, on an already overloaded 240 bus and a gridlocked road, with sharp hills in all directions. I think the Mayor got this one wrong for Mill Hill. It is however total BS for the @BarnetTories to cite it as evidence that they oppose overdevelopment. Especially as the Conservative Council Leader Richard Cornelius recently used the occasion of giving the Freedom of the Borough of Barnet to Saracens to welcome even more development on the Green Belt.

In a rather hilarious follow up tweet, the @BarnetTories clearly think that transforming the Conservation area and Green Belt into a car park is "helping to prevent overdevelopment". I daresay that they'll be appointing Dracula to run the local blood bank next!

You really couldn't make it up, could you? You know what they say about people who tell porkies in small matters?

How to solve the housing crisis in one year (part 2)

Four years ago, I posted a blog entitled "How to fix the housing crisis in one year". Four years later, the housing crisis is worse than ever. What is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this is that the preferred solutions of many is to destroy the green belt and cover it in box flats and tarmac. Re-reading my previous blog, I realise that it was one of the worst blogs I have written. Full of waffle and taking three paragraphs to get to the point. The solution is still as valid as it was then, but as the Chancellor is making his economic statement today, I thought I'd give it another go. This time I'll lay out my program more concisely.

1. For a period of one year, cut the rate of Capital Gains tax on sale of second homes and investment properties from 40% to 10% for sales to occupiers, councils and housing associations (not investors).

2. Pass legislation that any capital receipts received by Councils for residential property sales must be ring fenced for provision of council homes and must be spent within two years, otherwise it will be transferred to a ring fenced treasury account for the same purpose.

3. Where there are clear cases of "land banking", allow councils to charge council tax to the developers at the rate that would be applicable if the properties had been built.

4. Pass legislation allowing schools, hospitals, police and fire services to pay a proportion of staff rents without paying income tax.

5. Give residents the right to ensure councils enforce planning law, with penalties for councils which fail to perform their statutory duties.

6. Charge Council tax at quadruple rates on empty properties after one year.

7.  Cash incentives for people in social housing to downsize or take lodgers, where there are spare rooms etc.

I contend that if these five measures were passed, then in one years time we'd have seen a large reduction in housing crisis. Let me explain why. Many people find themselves in a position where they own more than one property. For some this is due to seeing property as an investment, for others this is almost accidental. Many investors simply sit on properties, seeing values rise. It is perceived as a better and safe investment than the stock market. By cutting Capital gains tax for sales to occupiers, councils and housing associations, many investors will be tempted to cash in. With a 30% cut in tax, many investors will realise that they can charge less and still make more. The rules would not apply to sellers selling to other investors. There are many houses sitting empty, with 200,000 sitting empty and  over 10,000 empty for over ten years.  This is not good for anyone.  Getting these back in use should be the first priority as this is a quick win. I suspect that this would also give a huge one off tax bonus for the treasury 10% of something is a lot more money than 40% of nothing.

Forcing councils to reinvest all money from property sales back in social housing would at the very least stem the flow of social housing to private landlords. The "right to buy" legislation has created a terrible situation for young, working class people on low wages seeking to start families.

Land banking by developers has meant that houses that should have been built are not. Making this expensive for developers will ensure that they take the turn the taps on for the supply of housing. Commercial companies react to pressures on the bottom line.

Public services are suffering because they can't recruit people. It is simply too expensive for staff to live in places like London on low wages. It is a no brainer to allow such organisations to help staff, without having liabilities for tax etc.

Giving residents the right to ensure that councils enforce planning law may seem like a perverse way to fix the housing crisis. It is quite the opposite. Unscrupulous landlords buy up properties, put sheds for rent in the garden, flout rules to cram in people  into unlicensed HMO's etc. This totally distorts the housing market, meaning that prices are pushed up beyond the reach of first time buyers. Areas end up blighted and all manner of social problems ensue. Once landlords are forced to abide by the law, then there will be an incentive to address housing issues properly. Before the minimum wage laws were passed, many Tory commentators claimed that we'd see a huge burden on the welfare system as people lost jobs. As it happened, the reverse happened. The taxpayer pays less in benefits as people are actually paid a decent wage. The same will happen in housing. If rogue Landlords are forced out of business, then the quality of property will rise and low quality, clapped out properties will be replaced with more appropriate new builds.

Finally, we need to address the issue where people live in houses with spare rooms, whilst others have nowhere to live. Of course in the  private sector, this is their business. In social housing, this is a different matter. There are two measures I'd like to see enacted. The first would be financial incentives to downsize. I believe that the "bedroom tax" is abhorrent.  I would prefer a system where a lump sum is given from a central fund for anyone who downsizes in social housing. Given the cost of building new homes, a payment of say £10,000 to downsize would be a sensible, economical measure. Another thing I'd like to see is incentives for tenants to take lodgers. In some cases, this is prohibited. I'd like to see a scheme where "little old ladies living alone in 4 bedroom houses" could let rooms to public service workers without sanction. This would provide an added bonus of company and someone around if there was an accident.

Monday, 12 March 2018

How the West London Orbital Railway could transform Public Transport options for Barnet

Let me start with a little aside. I live in Mill Hill. My brother lives in Bristol. As a special treat for Mrs T on our wedding anniversary last year, we took a train direct from Mill Hill Broadway to Bristol, had lunch with my brother in the Bristol docks and got a train back. It was marvellous, we had a champagne breakfast going and a three course meal coming back. It was a great day. There was meant to be a steam engine pulling the train but it had broken down the day before, but to be honest, we weren't too bothered. The diesel engine got us to Bristol an hour earlier, so more time with my brother, although it was sad to see the disappointed children at trackside expecting the Hogwarts Express.  As you can see from this video, this was a fully fledged main line train. What has this got to do with the West London Orbital Railway? Read on....

As someone who has spent years getting a train from Mill Hill Broadway to the City, I've paid little attention to the junction at Cricklewood, where there is a branch line to the West. However, our annivesary train took this route. I was quite fascinated by it. This blog has long supported the campaign for what was the "Brent Cross Railway" proposal, which has morphed into the "West London Orbital railway". When you read "proposals", they mean little. When you actually travel over the tracks and realise that there is a perfectly good, operational railway, that can take fully fledged main line trains, it is quite bonkers that it isn't already in use for this purpose. All that is needed is a few platforms installing, a signalling upgrade and some Oyster card readers (well I know it's more complicated than that in reality, but compared to HS2, where you need to buy land, do geological surveys etc, have public enquiries, upset half the country, you know what I mean).

The route we took was to jump on at Mill Hill, Turn right at Cricklewood, follow the route to Acton and then take the Great Western Mainline towards Bristol. We went past Heathrow Airport on the way. When you realise that there is no easy way to get from Cricklewood to Acton & beyond, yet there is a fully fledged main line railway, you realise just how bad the UK is at transport planning. 

The good news is that this is changing. Barnet Council are now supporting the West London Orbital Railway. Council Leader Richard Cornelius is committed to supporting the project. The Leader of Barnet Council, Councillor Richard Cornelius said: “This is a genuinely exciting proposal and one that Barnet Council and its neighbouring west London boroughs have been championing for quite some time. There is a real need for improving rail connectivity between Barnet and west London boroughs. This will create jobs for local people and complement the exciting regeneration that is set to take place at Brent Cross Cricklewood." 

The proposed route is as follows. 

West London Orbital Railway Routs

The proposal was initiated in March 2017 when the West London Alliance group of local authorities commissioned a study to assess the feasibility of the line so that a decision could be taken as to whether it merited pursuing further. This study found that:

- The route is technically feasible.
- The scheme represents a high Value for Money, with a “Benefit-Cost Ratio” (BCR) of 2.2:1.
- “Peak” three-hour demand at 3,000 passengers anti-clockwise and 2,500 passengers clockwise in 2031. This suggests that the level of passenger demand may be able to sustain a regular four-trains-per-hour or more service along the line.
- The line would enable significant new development to be undertaken along its length, supporting the creation of new homes and jobs.
- It would drastically improve orbital travel times around West London compared with the equivalent journey by car. For example a journey from Barnet to Park Royal (enabling a change on to Cross Rail or HS2 services) would take approximately 12.5 minutes. A trip from Acton to Cricklewood/Brent Cross would take approximately 16.5 minutes. A journey along the whole line from Barnet to Hounslow would take approximately 39 minutes (times the same for reverse journeys).
- Eight trains per hour in each direction would be achievable given existing traffic along the length of the route.
- It would connect town centres and regeneration areas, including the 45,000 new homes and 86,000 new jobs that will be created at Old Oak Common, Wembley and Brent Cross regeneration areas, putting a greater number of jobs and homes within easy reach of one another and supporting intensification in growth areas.
- It would remove a significant number of cars from the road, reducing congestion and improving journey times, particularly along the A406, as the population of London approaches 10 million over the next 20 years.
- It would allow passengers in outer London to access new services on Crossrail and High Speed Two via an interchange at Old Oak Common – Victoria Road.
- Potential to unlock significant amount of new housing.
- It would help to reduce passenger demand for central London Stations such as Kings Cross and Paddington for orbital journeys that currently require travellers to go into central London before then travelling back out to reach their destination.
- In June 2017 Transport for London published the draft Mayor’s Transport Strategy, which stated that London government would work with the relevant boroughs to explore the feasibility of the proposed service, what would become the West London Orbital. In March 2018 the Major's Transport Strategy was published, which includes a proposal for this 'orbital' connection to Old Oak between Hounslow and Brent Cross.

Current position
The London Mayor's Transport Strategy (MTS), published on 28th February 2018 and ratified by the London Assembly on 8th March 2018, includes plans for a West London Orbital railway line under Proposal 88. The mayor’s proposal for the service highlights that utilising new and existing orbital connections in west London could also improve public transport connections in the city centre. It reads: “Most Londoners want to move around London – rather than in and out of the centre – every day, and the London Overground supports this type of travel. London Overground train service improvements are therefore needed to support new jobs and housing throughout inner London and parts of outer London.”

The Barnet Eye says
Whilst we welcome the proposal, there are several comments we have. Firstly, we give some praise to Richard Cornelius, Leader of Barnet Council. Richard is a fierce advocate of the scheme, reversing a decade or so of antipathy within the Barnet Conservatives to all things public transport. If, as seems likely, the Conservatives lose the Council elections in May, I do hope that this is recognised as Richards positive legacy. 

I have spoken at length with Richard about the scheme. My view is that whilst the scheme is a positive first step, the current route is highly unambitious and from a Barnet perspective is a real missed opportunity. As a very minimum, we'd like to see the route terminate Northbound at The RAF museum. This would also be a great option for commuters from the massive Colindale development and even the new council offices. This would not require major changes, just a short spur and a platform. Our preference would be to see the route continue to Mill Hill Broadway.  The Brent Cross Railway Scheme also suggested linking with the disused railway from Mill Hill East to Copthall. Whether this is practically achievable is something I am not qualified to comment on, but it would effectively join up the two sides of the Borough, so would be highly desirable. When I discussed this with Richard, he advised that only the most conservative (small "C") scheme was likely to get approval. 

The current plan seems to envisage either diesel or battery powered trains. Again this seems a missed opportunity. The Midland Mainline is being upgraded for electric traction as far as Corby and Kettering. The line is currently used for freight services. It would seem a no brainer to electrify the line. There is enough pollution in London already, without more dirty diesel. Running freight services through on Electric traction would be another quality of life benefit. 

Another possible route that extension that has not been discussed at all is on the south bound leg. Currently the service will terminate at West Hampstead. The Midland Main Line has a little used connection to the Gospel Oak to Barking line at Kentish Town. I would suggest that the possibilities for an off peak service to Barking (or beyond), providing interchange with the Eastern side of London. The options for orbital travel in London are atrocious. For example, the fastest off peak journey from Neasden to Upper Holloway is currently 48 minutes

The same journey would take less than 20 mins should the West London Rail link be extended. A the route is there and fully in place, it really seems perverse that some consideration isn't given to using it. I understand that the peak time routes are full, however off peak there should be capacity.  Such links open up employment opportunities, open up options for mobility and cut car journeys.

Another concern has been reported by the Brent Cross Coalition blog. This reports that the station for Brent Cross would not be easily accessible.

It seems a shame that the opportunity for a proper interchange is being missed. Being able to easily "hop platforms" is something that should clearly be built into the design.

One observation I have, which is reinforced by the diagram of the proposed track layout is that passengers requirements are usually at the very end of the list of priorities when transport schemes and upgrades are planned. This "poor relation platform" is just the latest example. When Kings Cross Thameslink station was closed and traffic moved to St Pancras International, the connection time to the London Underground was nearly trebled and made far more hassle for people with suitcases. When the new Thameslink trains were introduced, the seats designed were awful, hard and with no leg room. The carriages are sweatboxes in rush hour and temperatures regularly result in passengers becoming unwell. I have no idea why passenger stakeholders are not consulted at the design stage.

I have no doubt that The West London Orbital Railway will be a fantastic success, just as Thameslink has been since it started operating through the disused Snow Hill Tunnel in Farringdon back in the 1980's. I just hope that, unlike Thameslink, it doesn't take another 30 years to reach its full potential, as Thameslink will do next year.