Two items on which fellow local residents write to me regularly are the increasing crime in our community and the congestion charging that we face courtesy of Mayor Livingstone.
I campaigned last year to reverse Labour’s cut in police numbers (estimated to be in the order of 145 in the Cities of London and Westminster constituency over the previous four years); for increased use of police and local authority CCTV and an end of Labour’s early release scheme for convicted criminals as well as for the law to be rebalanced in favour of the victims of crime.
Police numbers have fallen locally primarily as a result of the failure to retain, rather than recruit, in central London but this also applies to all key local public sector employees, for whom most of our the scarce local authority/housing association accommodation needs to be earmarked.
However, I welcome the government’s initiative alongside Westminster City Council to deploy thirty Community Support Officers on Westminster’s streets. They may not be fully-fledged policemen and women (and defining their exact powers may prove problematic) but they will at least raise the public profile of law enforcement on our streets.
One achievement though this summer was the Notting Hill carnival. The slightly changed route has been dubbed a success by organisers, agencies and councils alike and we must hope that this will mean that the hare-brained proposal to bring the carnival through Bayswater into Hyde Park will be put back on the shelf for good.
Westminster City Council and Kensington & Chelsea Council have issued a joint report that clearly backs the current arrangements saying that residents and visitors had an easier time getting to the Carnival and enjoying it once they were there.
The police were also fairly happy with the reasonably trouble-free carnival but it is clear to me that the whole event has to be continually limited in the future. The policing cost alone is horrendous. Most residents now choose to barrack themselves behind closed doors and shuttered windows. The whole ethos of having a carnival in the centre of a residential district makes no long term sense and Hyde Park must not be allowed to become Mayor Livingstone’s alternative the Royal Parks are ever more involved in regular commercial activities as it is and we must keep our open green spaces as the great havens that they are here in central London.
But I am afraid that London’s Mayor wishes to make his mark on London’s life in more ways than just the carnival. As Kens personal crusade about congestion charging grows ever closer Westminster residents can only hang their heads in disbelief at the shambles that they face from London’s supposedly integrated transport policy. It is clear that his friends at Transport for London spend all day playing with traffic light timings and then go home on the underground happy in the knowledge that their boss will spend much more of our money to ensure the militant rail unions keep the trains running at whatever cost.
Major sufferers from the congestion charge will be the small businesses in the central zone (often sole traders or family concerns), who will find the 15-20% projected reduction in passing trade catastrophic on turnover and profits. But if only Livingstone could see my postbag and the number of old people who are frightened by the loss of visits of children and grandchildren with trips out to the shops and doctors and the like.
The congestion charge may have a place in the long-term future running of London but in its present form it is just nonsensical. The original pledge by Mayor Livingstone was that it would only be instituted after measurable improvements in public transport. Yet it is now accepted that the Tube requires a decade of investment before it is up to the mark, whilst the improvements in the bus network (welcome though they are) will not be able to accommodate more than a small fraction of the people who are intended to leave their cars behind.
Currently the central charging zone is too narrowly drawn at the very least I would wish to see the benefits of exemption passed on to all City of Westminster residents. I had hoped that the Mayor would not move ahead with the congestion charge as early as next February but his reckless spending caving into the demands of RMT boss, Bob Crow, for his union workers has made me think again. We all want to see an end to the crippling Tube strikes, but surely not at any price?