Jennette Arnold
London assembly member for North East London — fighting your corner at City Hall

Labour London Assembly Member Jennette Arnold OBE AM today raised serious concerns about the progress of Mayor Boris Johnson’s ‘Better Junctions’ programme after requests for an update on the project’s progress were refused. 

The Better Junctions programme was established to assess 500 of the worst junctions in the capital but was later ‘refocused’ by the Mayor to only tackle 33 of the worst performing junctions and gyratories across London, including Archway Gyratory, the Nag’s Head Gyratory and Highbury Corner in Islington; and Old Street Roundabout and the Apex Junction, key danger hotspots in Hackney.

Last month Val Shawcross, Labour Group transport spokesperson, asked the Mayor when he expected the work on each of the 33 dangerous junctions to be completed. Mayor’s recent evasive response that “this information will be released within the coming months” has prompted fears that after the programme could be scaled back further.

Labour London Assembly Member for Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest, Jennette Arnold OBE AM, said:

“London’s cyclists and road users will be deeply concerned that more than two years on from the Mayor promising to review these danger hot points very little seems to have been done.

“Despite originally promising to review the five hundred most dangerous junctions the Mayor has scaled this back to only thirty-three, and now he can’t, or won’t, even say what, if any, progress has been made on those including the infamous Archway Gyratory, Nag’s Head Gyratory, Highbury Corner junction, Old Street Roundabout and Apex Junction in my constituency. It is staggering that Boris Johnson has adopted such a secretive, snail-pace approach to this problem, especially given the number of cyclists killed and injured which prompted this review. As we head into winter and road conditions become more dangerous for cyclists people will want to know what is taking the Mayor so long.”

ENDS

Notes

Despite pledging to review 500 junctions the Mayor only published a list of 100 junctions to receive work, this list is available here the Mayor then ‘refocused’ the list down to just 33 junctions, details of these are available here.

 

Val Shawcross’ question on the Better Junctions programme and the Mayor’s response is below:

Dangerous Junctions

Question No: 2014/2549

Valerie Shawcross

When do you expect the work on each of the 33 dangerous junctions scheduled for works under the ‘Better Junctions’ Programme  and TfL Cycling Action Plan to be completed?  Please list the junctions, give dates on which the work commenced, or is expected to,  and the dates of expected completion  for each project.

Written response from the Mayor

This information will be released within the coming months

The Mayor of London has been accused of “hypocrisy” after he personally intervened to secure the future of a proposed free school in Hammersmith and Fulham. The Mayor previously claimed he did not have the power to intervene in disputes over the status of schools, but yesterday directly intervened to find sites for the proposed free school, in turn securing funding from the Department for Education and allowing it to open in September.

The Local Authority-controlled Sulivan Primary School was due to close, with Fulham Boys Free School set to replace it. However, the newly elected Council in Hammersmith and Fulham decided to review this decision, making the future of Fulham Boys uncertain and resulting in the Department for Education withdrawing its funding for the school.

When I asked him to intervene to save Sulivan Primary School at Mayor’s Question Time in October 2013, the Mayor refused to do so, stating: “I will not take responsibility because I do not have the statutory power to do so.” Yesterday however, the Mayor intervened to identify alternative future sites for Fulham Boys School, meaning that the Department for Education will again release funds so that the school can open as planned in September.

Yesterday’s intervention by the Mayor stinks of hypocrisy. Back in October, in front of the teachers and pupils of Sulivan School, who had come to City Hall to meet with the Mayor, he said he could not step in to save the school, but today he has directly intervened with Fulham Boys School.

The fact that he has only stepped in now also raises serious questions over the Mayor’s position on schools in our capital. He could have helped find an alternative site for Fulham Boys earlier, allowing Sulivan Primary to remain open, but it seems he was content to see Sulivan demolished so that a free school could replace it. While I welcome any move that provides security for parents and pupils of Fulham Boys School, I find it galling that the Mayor feels it is perfectly reasonable to get involved in this way when he wasn’t willing to work with me to save Sulivan Primary School last year.

At the end of last year, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, disgracefully equated vulnerable sections of society to ‘cornflakes’ in his infamous Margaret Thatcher speech.  He also went on to state that inequality is ‘natural’ and ‘essential’.  His oxymoronic cure for inequality (which in London equates to thousands using foodbanks and sleeping rough whilst the ‘super-rich’ thrive) is to cause further hardship for vulnerable groups because, he believes, it is healthy to foster a ‘spirit of envy’.

It is shameful that the Mayor of a city as diverse and wealthy as London can advocate such a view and get away with it.  Despite the reams of evidence that demonstrate the structural inequality across the capital, the Mayor keeps his fingers in his ears and lets the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  It is made even worse that this is due not only to his general incompetence, but also to his genuine, personal outlook on society – as demonstrated in his speech at the Margaret Thatcher lecture.

My cost of living report, Falling Further Behind, is a rebuttal to the Mayor’s dangerous ‘cornflake economics’ and underlines the structural inequality that exists in London and the actions that he can take to lower the barriers to success, which are outlined in the paragraphs that follow.

The evidence in my report shows that Londoners from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds face barriers to success due to low pay; employment discrimination; food poverty; lack of appropriate childcare provision; high public transport fares; and high rents.  A report by the Runnymede Trust for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community in 2012 found that 25% of the unemployment rate for Black and Asian men and women is a result of prejudice and direct discrimination.  The report also found that BAME women face discrimination ‘at every stage of the recruitment process.’  London’s Poverty Profile shows that half of all people in poverty in London are from BAME backgrounds.

Londoners with disabilities face barriers due to a smaller supply of suitable, accessible housing; cuts to disability allowances; food poverty; inaccessible public transport; lack of specialised childcare provision; and barriers to employment.  This in turn, has forced many to turn to food banks and risk their health by cutting back on heating so they can afford the bills.  According to the London Cost of Living Survey, 74% of disabled Londoners have cut back on heating their homes in order to afford their energy bills.

Women face various barriers due to a lack of affordable childcare; low pay and low pensions; insecure employment contracts; public transport safety concerns; and widespread sexual discrimination.  Once again, the Mayor falls short when addressing this inequality.  Indeed, in February 2014, the Mayor claimed women are not ‘anywhere near’ achieving equal employment opportunities in the labour market, but that his own pool of advisers, in which ‘almost half’ of the staff are women, was an example of how things could be done.  However, it turns out that only 4 of his 14 paid advisers are actually women (28%).

The inequality story for young and older Londoners can also not just be dismissed as a result of, what the Mayor, in his speech, put down to, ‘natural and God-given talent’.  Children and young people are facing barriers to success due to hunger impacting on their education; being forced to pay out high rents for accomodation; the cancellation of the education maintenance allowance; increased university tuition fees; and a lack of job opportunities.  Meanwhile, elder Londoners are facing hardship due to high energy bills; malnutrition; and rising costs of everyday necessities.  As highlighted in my report, it also appears that Londoners are retiring later than people in other parts of the UK with 11% of those aged 65 and over in work compared with the national average of 9.5%.  In the North East, this figure is 6% (Source: ONS Annual Population Survey).

The negative impact of the cost-of-living crisis extends to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, too.  Those who identify as LGBT face societal discrimination which feeds into employment opportunities and, notably, housing.  Due to a high risk of domestic abuse, LGBT Londoners who are victims of abuse also struggle from a lack of emergency accomodation in the city.  Studies have also shown that the vast majority of homelessness services work with people who identify as LGBT.

Whilst the Mayor takes economic advice from the back of his cereal box, my report suggests that Londoners across the city are suffering.  I urge the Mayor to take steps to address this inequality to help those groups protected under the Equality Act 2010.  I believe that action can be taken on these issues and that inequality is not inevitable.  It is certainly not ‘essential’ as the Mayor suggests.  Boris argues that vulnerable Londoners require inequality and envy to ‘shake’ them to the top, but it is he that needs to be shaken into action.  The evidence and recommendations outlined in my report show that the barriers facing vulnerable groups are not ‘natural’, but structural, and it is time for the Mayor to recognise this and work to make London a city of equal opportunity for all, instead of a city of inevitable and, as he argues, justifiable inequality for the majority.

Last month, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, decided to call in the planning application for the Mount Pleasant site that stretches across the London Boroughs of Islington and Camden. This means that he decided to circumvent both local Councils and, as a result, he alone will now act as the Planning Authority and make the decision alone whether or not to grant the Royal Mail Group (RMG) permission to go ahead with their plans for the site.

I and my colleague, Assembly Member Dismore, who represents the people of Camden, had previously written to the Mayor to ask him not to do so, but he failed to listen to our demands and called in the application nonetheless.

Our letter to the Mayor, which asked him not to call in the application was based on the following:

1) there was a significant and almost universal voice in the local community on both the Camden and Islington sides for him not to act alone and to leave it to the local Councils to resolve;

2) it cannot be right for one man alone, with only limited local accountability, to have the final say on such an important planning application for the area. Local Councillors not only know the locality far better than Boris, but they are much more accountable to their residents and will put local people’s considerations at the forefront of the decision-making process, rather than the Mayor who might be more easily swayed by the shareholders of the developers;

3) by calling in the planning application, he is undermining local democracy and is setting a worrying precedent whereby private developers that are not getting everything their own way will simply write to the Mayor to ask him to circumvent Councils, democratically-elected Councillors and the people that they represent; and

4) the plans for the site as they currently stand only have a pitiful 12% of the housing units listed as being affordable housing. Islington Council wanted the figure nearer a much better 50%, but RMG were having none of it and the Mayor clearly agrees. Boris has already hit Londoners by setting ‘affordable’ housing at 80% of the market value, and now he seems to think that having a mere 12% of housing units classified as affordable is acceptable. We’ll soon see a situation where inner London will see itself being hollowed out to be left as the playground of the rich.

In Mayor’s Question Time, I challenged Boris on this terrible decision to call in the Mount Pleasant planning application, a video of which you can see here.

Not only did he fail to offer any real explanation for why he has called in the application, and certainly gave no sign that he will change his mind, but he criticised me for standing up for the people I am elected to represent.

It leaves me wondering more everyday who the Mayor actually represents, and, to me, it gets clearer by the day that he only stands up for the wealthy majority, has little interest in proper democratic processes and is prepared to put money before people.

Rest assured, I will continue the fight to get him to reconsider this short-sighted and financially-driven decision, and urge all local residents to contribute to mine and Assembly Member Dismore’s public consultation, which can be accessed here.

Yesterday’s news that Boris has agreed to call in the Mount Pleasant application is a dreadful blow for local democracy. It is disappointing, if not surprising, that the now private developers – Royal Mail Group – tried to go above the heads of Islington and Camden Councils because they weren’t getting it all their own way; but it is disgraceful that Boris has decided to grant RMG their wish by calling in the application to City Hall.

The Mayor has said that his decision is based on trying to speed up the application to get on with building thousands of homes, but he fails to say that the reason for the ongoing discussions between RMG and Islington and Camden Councils was because the Councils were pushing RMG to increase the number of affordable housing units – which, in RMG’s latest plans, stands at an appalling 12% of the total number of units.

What is worrying is that the Mayor has shown bad form before about going above the heads of local councils with the Convoy’s Wharf development in Lewisham. If he repeats this with the Mount Pleasant development and grants RMG their planning permission after the hearing, he will, once again, demonstrate how apathetic he is about properly addressing the housing crisis that London is facing so that ordinary people can afford to live here. He is pushing us towards the situation where we’ll see a hollowing out of our great city, where houses in central London will simply become the playground of the rich and wealthy.

Rest assured, I will continue to fight on behalf of Islington Council and the residents who will be affected by this. The right to decide on this planning application must be handed back to local, elected officials and, more importantly, the residents of Islington and Camden that the Councillors are here to represent.

On Tuesday, I tried with my Labour Assembly Member colleagues to block the Mayor’s changes to the London Plan. Unfortunately, we could not secure the two-thirds majority we needed to do so.

The Mayor’s changes will now mean that new ‘affordable’ housing will be set at up to 80 per cent of the market rate in London. This will lead to many new properties in London meant for people on low and modest incomes becoming totally unaffordable.

Yesterday was an historic opportunity for the Assembly to reject a Mayoral strategy but a two-thirds majority could not be secured. This was the first time new powers granted to the Assembly under the Localism Act have been used.

In Hackney Borough, for example, where the household median income is £26,788, tenants would need to have a gross household income of £33,720 to afford a two-bed property at 80 per cent of market rent.

And, in Islington Borough, the median income is £31,560, but to afford a two-bed property at 80 per cent of market rent, a household would need to earn £67,600.

Yesterday’s vote is a hammer blow and signals the death of new truly affordable housing in London. It is a complete travesty that this has happened. Hackney and Islington Borough Councils are against the Mayor’s plan as well as other boroughs of all political persuasions.

The Mayor’s changes will make London’s housing crisis even worse. They will now push affordable housing out of the reach of many Londoners on low, and in some areas, modest incomes. This will also drive up rent, increase land prices and further distort London’s housing market. Boris should have accepted the recommendations of the Independent Planning Inspector, listened to local authorities and revised his London Plan.

Combined with the welfare reforms the Mayor’s changes will make huge swathes of inner London even more unaffordable than they already are. Yesterday’s vote will contribute to the ghettoization of our city and put intolerable strain on a range of already overburdened local services in outer London. This is effectively giving up on ordinary Londoners on modest incomes by making it harder for them to find a home that is affordable.