Category Archives: News

“Coach & horses” through London

Cllr Maggie Carman hands her letter of concern over Royal Oak bus proposal to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan

The recent community concern over TfL investigating a move of . Victoria Coach Station to Royal Oak site highlights well how coach matters in London do not really have anyone on top of it all. This while there are critical for cheap long distance travelling in the country.

Cllr Maggie Carman (LAB) of Bayswater Ward said it well at the first public meeting on the issue in St Stephens Church over the threat of a coach station on the Royal Oak site and its impact on Bayswater

“People have been asking me why Transport for London want to move out of Victoria.  Well, my answer is that it is not Transport for London’s decision. TFL has no statutory responsibility for coaches. They are acting to manage a problem that would otherwise lead to coaches clogging up streets all over London.”

Which begs the question then who has the authority over coaches? Well we can only point the finger at the Department which has the least efficient Secretary of State known to British government at present, Chris Graylings MP at the Department of Transport.  So it would be tempting fate by asking him to decide this one. 

Now the Department does not show itself in a good light either in City of Westminster particularly those with a long memory, as it almost got closed Marylebone Railway Station into a coach station in the mid-1980’s. It is hard to believe the terminus station of today was threaten by a rail road conversion into a coach station similar in scale to Victoria Coach Station today. 

Thankfully Marylebone Rail station was not converted into a Coach station

And to this day we still have coach issues around the corner from the Railway station, just off Dorset Square. Along Gloucester Place, NW1 we have issues about the moving of coach stops irritating local residents as Baker Street has been converted into a two way street which has knock on effects to the surrounding neighbourhood on both sides of the Marylebone road. 

Coach stop moved up Gloucester Place and causing problems for residents

 

So maybe it makes sense to give TfL the powers to regulate coaches in Greater London away from the Department of Transport. There are critical for cheap long distance travelling in the country but given most of the trips will be coming and going through London, let us give someone charge over it all in the capital.  But of course this must be on condition that they should dropped there Royal Oak bus station proposal straight immediately. 

In the meantime, we need some answers from the Mayor. Why did TfL go along with the move out of Victoria which has served everybody well except the Duke of Westminster’s, Grosvenor Estate? Quite honestly the delays on Cross rail make the likelihood of Cross rail 2 and thus having to use the Victorian Coach station as a works site highly unlikely now for at least another Mayoral term. And even if the leases on the site are coming to end, like any business lease l know of these can normally be extended through negotiations.

So let us see some firm action by the Mayor of London, so as Victoria coach station continues its operational in Belgravia for the convenience of the travelling public and residents of Bayswater and Westbourne in the North of the City of Westminster.  

As it appears coaches in London fall between TfL and Department of Transport responsibilities and its a case of a “coach and horses” through London.  

Time for GLA blue plaques?

LCC Blue plaque in Marylebone

As a veteran of putting two blue plaques up in my neighbourhood – one for the second home of Lords and the other for Joe Strummer – it took a lot more time and energy than l anticipated. In both instances they were sponsored by local entities interested in retaining the local history of Marylebone particularly in the less wealth off parts of the old borough.  

So it is this experience this informs my contribution to the recent debate on getting more blue plaques put up for women. I am not sure that English Heritage is best placed to respond to putting up many more blue plaques for women given its neglect in the first place for not putting them up and l am not sure it has the resources to respond as well. 

Now we do have another alternative for making up for this huge gap in the contribution of women in the social history of London being identified on the streets of London. What is apparent certainly in Central London neighbourhoods like Marylebone and Paddington is that it is was not only English Heritage that put these unique blue plaques up. Indeed many where put up by the old Greater London Council (GLC) and London County Council (LCC) as well. In that light l can not see why the GLA through its own cultural programmes could not do the same, as the previous Greater London bodies had done. Indeed l suspect this could be very popular and the GLA more likely to be responsive to the demands of Londoners to have more blue plaques put up for women than others in the field. 

So in short, is it not time for a GLA blue plaque? After all the GLC and LCC had they own blue plaques. With only 132 for women of 944 English Heritage blue plaques in London according to London Assembly figures, this may well be the only way to catch up.  

 

 

The Shamima Begum saga – a contrast

While Bangladeshis around the world were spending time to commemorate Language Martyrs Day on the 21st of February, we saw the UK consumed with whether Shamima Begum should be permitted back into the UK or not. It is a day we pay homage to those who fought for the Bengali language in 1952 and onwards to be the state language for East Pakistan and since liberation of Bangladesh ( land of Bengali’s) has become a national holiday there and internationally recognised by UNESCO as International Mother Tongue Day. 

So it is a pity Shamima Begum freely admits this does not know Bengali and that she has not visited Bangladesh. As she would have appreciated through such exchanges how the formation of Bangladesh 🇧🇩 in its war of liberation in 1971 was a rejection of the colonial “two nations” theory at 1947. That is the rejection of a religious state let alone a caliphate. She would have certainly had relatives like her grand parents who would have around in those momentous times leading up to the liberation.   

Jihadists should also appreciate that when coming back in itself is an admission that the war to end all wars and the last days has not and not going to happen. Such an public admission should be one of many conditions of coming back into UK.

And finally stripping of BRITISH citizenship don’t half help Sajid Javid leadership credentials to replace Theresa May as leader of Tories & PM. So watch this space as this runs and runs. 

Demo’s outside auction of Housing Association homes

The two protests outside Mayfair auction houses in the past week are throwing light on what Housing Associations (HAs) are doing to their housing stock in Central London when becoming empty, selling them off and reducing the amount of social housing available for our desperately needy communities.

Normally all the focus on the loss of social housing is on the impact of RTB’s on our Council housing stock but we should not forget what HAs have been up too as well on this front. According to the latest figures from Charted Institute of Housing (CIH) some 47,000 properties have been sold by HAs between 2012-2018 with Notting Hill Housing Group and Peabody Housing Trust dumping over 500 social rented homes each in that period via auctions. CIH anticipate that HA’s will shed another 71,000 social rented homes in the near future.

These demo’s will no doubt become regular occurrence till the HAs stop this unjustified practise.

Too big a win for stability

Please find link to my first column for Chatham House. 

https://www.chathamhouse.org/publications/twt/too-big-win-stability

Thankfully the first General Election in Pakistan held in December 1970 was considered fair and conducted well, gave us the democratic mandate for the liberation of Bangladesh. If it had not been, l can only imagine how much longer the liberation of Bangladesh would have been. 

TfL must tackle the noise

 

The screeching at Paddington enough to drive people on the platform away from the trains

From screeching along the platform and rattling residents living above and around tube lines with noise and vibrations, you can not get away from tube noise nuisance in Central London.

So l was glad to see that our local paper – Westminster Extra along with it sister papers – Camden New Journal & Islington Tribune – have taken up the issue of screeching tube noise on the platforms of the tube for both passengers and those working on the Tube on the Northern line as it reports tube noise levels just like being at a rock gig along the platforms of Camden tube stations like Tufnell Park, Kentish Town, Camden Town & Euston. Where perks of 109.5 decibels have been recorded. And daily commutes of around 30-45 minutes are sufficient to cause long-lasting and irreversible hearing loss.

But let us also not forget the screeching at Paddington Bakerloo Tube station. The Bakerloo line North of Paddington has been falling to pieces for a while and it starts with the screeching of the Bakerloo line trains going through Paddington. The piercing sound is enough to drive people on the platform away from the trains and not entering the carriages of the tube! It would be great if similar recordings of the noise can be made by experts like Dr Sollini and report back how it measures against the other lines already recorded. The Bakerloo line desperately needs an upgrade but let us at least get the  basics right while managing the line with issues like reducing the screeching. Do remember it was only a few years ago when the line had the worst seating on the tube!!!! And it was only repaired by TfL when it was highlighted to them by the general public on twitter.

Tube noise and vibrations has also been an issue for long suffering residents living above and around stations on tube lines something l first brought up at City Hall with the previous Mayor, Boris Johnson when the night tube proposal was first being investigated operationally. He famously said that he would not let the service begin if it is “….rattling residents tea cups at three o’clock in the morning” If the responses to media coverage, blogs l have written and day-to-day conversations in neighbourhoods like Marylebone are anything to go by, the number of cases has increased substantial across much of Inner London. As long suffering Londoners come out and tell their stories. It ranges from very loud announcements on the platforms to noises from the tracks in deep tube tunnels as it appears the speed and frequency of trains going through tunnels has gone up causing them sleepless nights and mental fatigue. So the first thing we could have from Transport for London (TfL) is a full acknowledgement of where the problems are with the latest update of all the complaints that have been received in the public domain.  Furthermore a study of the levels of noise across all the tube lines with some academic rigour to see if any patterns are emerging that can tell us what type of strategy is required to bring the levels of noise and vibration disturbance down. Something that was last done by the London South Bank, University Acoustic Group.

Thankfully the London Assembly has taken up the issues with affected residents being given the floor at Committee meetings to air their complaints at City Hall recently just before the Christmas break. This while the Mayor has a statutory responsibility for ambient noise in Greater London is hopefully covered within his all encompassing environmental strategy, as undoubtedly noise is the main environmental concern of Londoners when we remember this includes aircraft noise as well around London airports.

And finally, surely a public body like Transport for London should acknowledge its has a statutory responsibility for such public nuisance caused by the noise of the tubes it operates over WHO recommended levels. Causing its residential neighbours, employers and passenger much nuisance. It should not have to take a test case in the High Courts for them to accept their responsibilities to their London neighbours, passengers and staff before full mitigation works are undertaken to deal with such headaches for many Londoners going about their daily life.    

Finally this blog has kindly been published in the Westminster Extra (1st Feb 2019 edition)

 

 

 

The Mother of Parliaments – You must be kidding!

Sarawak Assembly delegation in London ask innocently what the hell is happening in the House of Commons?

With the continuing Brexit mess unfolding in the House of Commons, can people around the world see our parliament as the Mother of Parliaments ever again? 

Since the beginning of the year, the UK government has been held in contempt of parliament. It has also seen the biggest government lose on a piece of legislation. As the Prime Ministers Brexit deal, otherwise known as the Withdrawal Agreement was rejected by a whopping 230 votes.

So let us face it, the Mother of Parliaments looks a real mess over the Brexit issue. At the heart of it is the conflict between the sovereignty of the people vs sovereignty of the parliament. It does not help that we have an unwritten British constitution as it confers total sovereignty on parliament as the epitome of a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy. So it seats very uncomfortably with the notion of asking voters to make policy choices like it is done regularly in Switzerland. That is a representative democracy where we elect members to represent us on a host of issues not necessarily on a singular one like Brexit. 

Now the process and manner of our democracy may not matter to us much as we make it up as we go along but it does leave many visitors of our democracy in the Commons perplexed on how we actually go about undertaking it.  Indeed one member of Sarawak Assembly delegation who watched one of the Brexit sessions at the Commons from the public gallery said while we were entertaining them at the Chinese restaurant  “May you live in interesting times”. The well known Chinese proverb or curse seen very appropriate indeed. All l could say was that you have certainly come to our shores in very interesting times. 

So as and when this episode is eventually finished, the adoption of the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy and its practises by many countries around the world will be all the more unlikely. As many will look back over this period as a clear example of how not to run a democracy at all. 

No to anti-semitic chanting as well

In the FT Weekend (15/16th December ) column by Sunder Katwala he argued “English Football & Society have to dig deeper to root out racism” but we should not also forget older forms of racism on like anti-semitic chanting in our terraces of some grounds in the UK.

I was quite astonished to hear such anti-semitic chanting in a game l went to watch at Stamford Bridge ( Chelsea vs Blackburn ) from the Matthew Harding Stand as part of a delegation organised by Show Racism the Red Card in 2009 which prompted me to write to the club to do something about it.

So l am glad to see almost 10 years after the events Chelsea FC have since the beginning of 2018 started dealing with the issue with bans on fans found to have committed such chants. Though it still appears the club still has the problem at their away games both home and aboard. The last away game in Europe illustrated this well and could well land them a UEFA crowd ban at home and then we had the away game in Selhurst Park where an ex-Spurs player was abused. 

So lets not forget anti-semitic chanting as well.

Taxis ranks for new Oxford St district

With Crossrail indefinitely delayed it gives us an opportunity on making some improvements to Oxford St which have not really been taken on board, in response to the Council’s proposals . Ultimately its the hugh increase of visitors in the West End anticipated which will need dispersing, many of whom may well need a black cab or two to get them around for the next leg of their onward journey, which determines this need.  

Black cabbies operating in the West End feel the draft strategy and delivery plan for Oxford St by Westminster City Council, neglects one very important element for them – taxis ranks. After spending an afternoon having a few drinks with a old school friend who’s a regular cabbie in the West End over the Christmas break, he made the above observation. We then walked along Oxford St and he pointed out the best places for those taxis ranks near the two Cross rail stations, Bond St and Tottenham Court Rd. 

Some possibilities of a taxis rank that we discussed include the new entrance to Bond St on the Northern side of Oxford St, opens up the use of the top end of Marylebone lane as a taxis rank for all those who came off at that particular Cross rail station.Great Chapel St on the Southern side of New Oxford St serviced by taxis through Soho by the side of the new entrance to Tottenham Court Rd Cross rail off New Oxford Street. And finally Denmark Place, WC1 (in Camden) on the Eastern side of Charing Cross Rd and served through the back of the Holborn gyratory.

The taxi rank additions to the future of Oxford St District above have been highlighted in locations which should make them easily incorporated to the proposal outlined by the Council. So l hope its not to late to consider where these taxis ranks can be added to the mix along with all the other considerations in the proposals. As long as the black cabs are not idling and increasingly we have cabbies using the electric version of the iconic black cab, then l don’t particularly have any problems with having taxi ranks near the new Crossrail stations.  

New Bond St Crossrail entrance, Marylebone lane

New Tottenham Court Rd entrance along Denmark Place, WC1

Soho entrance to Tottenham Court Rd Crossrail, Great Chapel St, W1

Colonial laws still rule after independence

The Indian Supreme court landmark ruling this year, legalising gay sex overturns an colonial-era law otherwise known as Section 377, illustrates well the pernicious impact still made by colonial laws in many independent states from British colonial rule. Making the Mughal’s before the British Raj & East India Company seen even more liberal now as they actually combined a number of pre-existing laws of the Delhi Sultanate into the Fatawa-e-Alamgiri. Furthermore 36 of the 53 countries in the Commonwealth continue to criminalise same-sex acts, primarily under laws imposed during the British Colonial era that were never repealed.

Very often it is the draconian powers left by the British in its former colonies which have been used after independence particularly during civil strife to stifle the opposition to the government in power. As regulations drawn up by past colonial administrators are still being used, till this day, to prosecute government opponents, detain them without trial, prohibit demonstrations and shut down newspapers. Yet the rule of law, Westminster-style democracy and strict standards in public life are often seen as among the important legacies of the British Empire.

In Bangladesh alleged attacks on Islamic society and religious feelings causing outrage amongst Muslim fundamentalism, has seen the government there charging people and organisations under a colonial-era law of “offending religious feelings”.

In Pakistan, the authorities have made virtually no changes to the administrative system set up by the British to deal with the wild tribes of the North- west frontier. Instead of attempting to impose an alien legal system on the tribesmen, the Raj gave local officials almost unlimited discretionary powers. These remain in force till this day. 

In Palestine, the system of administrative detentions created in the 1940s is still routinely used in Israel’s occupied territories. It is often said that Israel has two systems of law – one for Israelis and one for the Palestinians. The latter is based on the British emergency regulations and it is felt to lend it respectability.

Thus the rule of law, Westminster-style democracy and strict standards in public life are often seen as among the important legacies of the British Empire are largely a myth. As across the world regulations drawn up by past colonial administrators are still being used, sometimes decades after independence, to prosecute government opponents, detain them without trial, prohibit demonstrations and shut down newspapers.

Unfortunately independence constitutions nearly always preserved all existing laws and ordinances, no matter how arbitrarily they had come into existence. As a result of this historical role, Britain has been at a disadvantage when complaining about human rights abuses in many parts of the world. Indira Gandhi famously point out that the powers she used to declare emergency rule in India in 1975 dated from the Raj. This has even been the case when countries have been pushing “Asian values” as in Malaysia, yet it has had made extensive use of the more authoritarian side of their colonial legacy, again in the form of emergency powers. The activist & politician ( and soon to become PM ) Anwar Ibrahim was jailed by the same sodomy laws that the Indians recently repealed. 

Furthermore, it is often thought that former colonies were all given democracy and turned into dictatorship yet it was actually the colonial administrations which were very authoritarian, with no check on their powers apart from rather tenuous legislative supervision at home, if at all interested. In Zambia, a state of emergency was declared shortly before independence in 1964. It remained in force for another 27 years as Kaunda used his inherited colonial powers to suppress opposition. Not surprisingly when an election was finally held, he lost.
Quite honestly, once a former colony becomes independent it is up to the new state how much to preserve or not. It is not at all convincing to blame the former colonial power for such abuses afterwards. So even when the British lost the will to enforce authoritarian colonial laws, heralding the age of Empire coming to an end, unluckily for its former subjects, many of its successors seem determined to keep its worst aspects alive.