Delays, cancellations and anger with Southern

Like many commuters, I’ve been getting increasingly fed up with the delays and cancellations from Southern Railways, and the lack of information when things go wrong.

train-cancelled

So I wrote to the company asking what on earth was going on:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to complain about the standard of your service in recent months. I use your services on a fairly regular basis between Crystal Palace and London Bridge, and other services to get connections from Clapham Junction. It seems that trains are late, delayed or cancelled on a daily basis, causing myself and many other commuters inconvenience and frustration.

It is not just the unreliability of the service, but the information provided. Services are often shown to be on time long after the train was due. This can then change to show the current time, and then that changes again, until it switches to the useless ‘delayed’, and then finally ‘cancelled’ when frustrated passengers are told the driver didn’t turn up. While waiting, people often miss other possible connecting services.

I’d echo one comment on a local Facebook group: “It has been a hellish month on our trains.”

This story from another commuter shows the impact that a consistently poor service has on people’s lives: “It’s only Monday and I’ve already spent almost an hour waiting for Southern Trains this week. I’d quite like their Chief Exec to come along to my work in the morning and attend the meetings I am missing whilst I wait for a train. Then in the evening he/she could arrange for my son to be collected on time from nursery and for someone to spend some quality time with him, whilst I am standing on a platform somewhere waiting for a train. It’s getting beyond a joke at the moment.”

I understand that rebuilding London Bridge station creates challenges for your company. But I cannot understand why there is so much disruption caused by problems with signals, rolling stock and staff shortages.

Can you please explain why the service has been so poor, and what you are doing to improve it in the new year?

Yours faithfully,

Tom Chance
Green Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Lewisham West & Penge

Since I wrote that letter, I’ve seen services get steadily worse. Last night I was on a train that got about 500m out of London Bridge station only to be held due to a points failure, then to slowly rumble back into the station defeated. After I eventually found another train that was running, I got home a full hour later than usual.

Yesterday Southern got back to me with a fairly thorough response:

Dear Tom,

Thank you for contacting us on 9th December 2014 regarding our service. Please accept my apologies for the delay in our response.

I am sorry to hear about your dissatisfaction with our service over the past few months. I understand if you are frustrated. In terms of the ongoing delays and disruptions you’ve been experiencing, unfortunately this is mostly down to problems we’re experiencing at London Bridge, related to the Thameslink works.

We are aware that there have been a number of delays to services and we apologise for the inconvenience this has caused.

As I’m sure you’re aware, by 2018, the £6.5bn government-sponsored Thameslink Programme will deliver major benefits for passengers with new, longer trains, more frequent services and upgraded stations. However, until the programme is complete, short term changes to the infrastructure will have a significant impact on our services.

Currently, by far and away the biggest impact on performance has been delays emanating from London Bridge itself, particularly following the August blockade where we’ve seen a number of issues with the new infrastructure.

The revised track, signalling and platform layout required us to reduce the number of trains into London Bridge in the morning (and we physically cannot fit any more trains in). But even that doesn’t seem to have given enough flexibility to enable us to cope with any delay; so even a minute’s delay on one train can unfortunately have quite a knock on effect on other trains.

Added to this, even where those issues arise elsewhere on our network, we are seeing a rapid snowballing of delay at London Bridge, which quickly affects all service groups.

Therefore your experience does absolutely reflect the fact that we’re finding it very tough to get trains into London Bridge on time at the moment and we do accept that performance has been below par.

However, this does show the trade-off between running as many trains as we can for capacity and the impacts on performance. Our network is more restricted than ever and we are working very hard to come up with fresh approaches to overcome the issues this presents.

Our Managing Director has been spending time with our Head of Train Planning and Head of Current Operations, looking at our current plans again and investigating options for improvement.

As a result, Southern made some minor changes to our train services at the end of September 2014 to improve the performance of trains at London Bridge. We hope these changes will make our train plan more resilient and give us greater flexibility to cope with delays and tackle the snowballing effect that one delay can have on other services.

Of course, we will be monitoring the situation very closely and I would like to assure you that we will do everything within our control to deliver better performance.

As always, you are entitled to claim Delay Repay where you have been delayed in reaching your destination by 30 minutes or more.

Kind regards

Syeda Gul
Southern Customer Services

Hopefully all this work on London Bridge station will make some of these problems worthwhile, in the end. I can accept that the incredibly complicated engineering works going on at that very busy station may lead to problems with our service.

But I find it hard to accept that those engineering works are to blame for staff shortages and broken down trains, which have been the cause of many problems in recent months.

It seems to me that Southern are hiding behind one valid excuse to avoid facing up to their own failures.

On the whole, I find TfL’s London Overground and tube services much more reliable. Is it coincidence that these are publicly owned? I don’t think so. Just as London’s buses are streets ahead of the failed patchwork of privatised nonsense that other parts of the country have to deal with, so our patchwork privatised railways are failing train passengers.

Bringing the railways back into public ownership could save more than £1 billion each year across the UK. That’s money which could be invested in more staff with better terms and conditions, and in better train carriage maintenance. It’s also money that could help bring fares down, instead of increasing them above inflation year after year with no improvement in service.

Govia, Southern’s parent company, are merging this service into a mega-franchise called Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, starting in July 2015. In the first year they expect to pull at least a £33 million profit out of passengers.

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, has been promoting a Bill in Parliament which would enable us to bring all rail franchises back into public ownership when they expire.

caroline-on-train

As your MP, I would campaign for the Southern and Southeastern franchises to be brought back into public ownership using this mechanism, bringing metro services into TfL.

Even if London Bridge works disrupt services, we could rest assured that the service is being run for the benefit of passengers, not profit.

Vote Dowd, Get Miliband?

One of the best things about Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, is her independence from party whips.

You can always be sure that she will vote in Parliament for her constituency, for her conscience, and for her Green principles of equality and ecology.

When the anti-Green attack unit set-up by Labour claim that a vote for the Green Party will land you with a Conservative government, it makes me wonder – so what will a vote for Labour get you?

In Lewisham West & Penge, it has delivered us Jim Dowd. He seems like a decent person, but according to the Public Whip web site he has voted loyally for his party line in 99% of the votes. So you can be fairly sure that a vote for Jim Dowd is a vote for whatever programme Ed Miliband leads the party on.

Caroline, pictured below, is a different story, and was named MP of the year for her work.

caroline-commons

Here are some examples of Jim Dowd’s votes on controversial issues, taken from They Work For You. Do you agree with him on these?

He voted for:

  • the Iraq war, and against investigating it
  • replacing the Trident nuclear missiles
  • foundation hospitals, further privatising the NHS
  • tuition fees and top-up fees
  • introducing ID cards and a national database

He voted against:

  • measures to reduce tax avoidance
  • higher duties on flights and petrol
  • reforms to the House of Lords

Lastly, he didn’t even turn up to debate and vote on protections for private tenants against revenge evictions!

Did you oppose the war in Iraq and tuition fees, and do you want serious action on climate change and tax avoidance? You may be tempted to vote for Jim Dowd because Labour are slightly better than the Conservatives on these issues. But will Jim Dowd know those were your reasons? No, he will assume you support his track record, that track record you disagree with? He can carry on voting against your beliefs happy in the knowledge that voters will back him.

If you agree with me that Tony Blair should be investigated for launching an illegal war in Iraq, that we need to reverse decades of privatisation in our NHS, and that private tenants need protection against revenge evictions, then vote for me and the Green Party. It’s the only intelligible choice. Even if Jim Dowd wins, he will at least know where you stand when he goes to vote in the next Parliament.

If everybody voted for policies, not parties, then this web site suggests I would become the first Green MP for Lewisham West and Penge, delivering the change you want for the area and the UK.

How to push up house prices in London

The Chancellor has announced a cut in stamp duty for most people in yesterday’s autumn statement, claiming it will help first-time buyers. Labour’s shadow chancellor quickly supported him, adding that it will “help people on middle and low incomes who are moving homes”.

Given the extremely high prices in London, you sounds like great news! But it could actually make things worse. Let me explain with an example from Anerley.

forsale

Imagine you were a rich enough first-time buyer to go for the average two bed flat in SE20, which according to Nestoria costs £329,000! You’ll now have to pay just over £3,000 less in stamp duty to buy it, which will be welcome news.

But this means you, and every other buyer, now has £3,000 more to bid on the price for the home. The Government’s own economists – the Office for Budget Responsibility – say this will push up house prices. Using Shelter’s estimates as my guide, I’ve estimated that this could mean that two bed flat rising to £335,000, so the stamp duty cut will add another £6,000 to the price.

Now in the short run, this might make it slightly easier for you because stamp duty usually eats into the savings you need for a deposit, while that extra £6k on the house price can be spread over the lifetime of your mortgage.

But over time, all of these policies to “help” first-time buyers with tax cuts and subsidies just push prices up.

That could also make life harder for tenants, who are in the majority in the Lewisham West & Penge constituency and yet got nothing at all out of the autumn statement.

What if the Chancellor had spent his time in office trying to keep house prices stable?

se20-pricesUsing Nestoria’s figures again, you’d stand to pay less than £200,000 for a two bed flat if prices hadn’t risen since 2011.

You can see the incredible – appalling even – rise in house prices in SE20 in the chart on the right.

Under the old stamp duty rules you’d pay something like £2,000 in tax to buy that two bed flat, which is almost £5,000 less than you now have to pay with the new stamp duty rules on the much more expensive flat.

You’d also have to save a much smaller deposit, and pay smaller monthly costs!

We can stabilise prices

Rising house prices aren’t inevitable, they are a political choice that successive governments have made for decades.

House prices have been going up because of flawed policies like this change to stamp duty, and because we aren’t building enough homes, and because the ones we do build in London are mostly bought up by investors speculating on rising prices. I’ve been told by a number of estate agents around Crystal Palace that buy-to-let investors are quite willing to put in silly bids because they think prices will only rise. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, and property speculation from all over the world is keeping the London bubble inflated.

So instead of fiddling with stamp duty, the Green Party would replace it with a Land Value Tax, which would take out most of the profit from this speculation and so stop them even trying to buy, leaving people who actually want to live in the homes to bid at prices they can afford. It would make taxes on property – including council tax – much fairer, and focus our minds on housing as a home instead of an asset.

Instead of short-term gimmicks, it would help us to bear down on house prices in the long run.

This policy – along with others like rent controls and a big social housing programme – will be fully unveiled in the Green Party manifesto next year, laying the foundations to fix this housing crisis within a generation.

How private renters are filtered out of democracy

Campaign groups like Generation Rent have been doing a great job of pushing renters up the political agenda. They’re in the Independent today with a story showing that renters will outnumber homeowners in 107 Parliamentary constituencies by 2021.

But political parties will take figures like those with a pinch of salt. Private renters, in particular, are filtered out of the democratic process and so have much less clout than their sheer numbers might suggest.

The first filter is that almost half of private renters aren’t even registered to vote. According to the 2012-2013 English Housing Survey, only 56% of private renting households are registered, compared to 78% of social renters and 87% of homeowners.

This obviously means that political parties will be less interested in chasing their votes.

The second filter is that they won’t then be canvassed on the doorstep. Parties will use the electoral register for this, because it makes sense to prioritise your scarce time by talking to people who can actually vote.

So almost half of private renters are invisible to the party elections campaigns.

Campaigners would do well to follow the example of Waltham Forest Renters, encouraging more private tenants to register to vote. Doing this visibly at a local level may persuade local political parties to take private tenants’ concerns more seriously, and getting more people on the register will naturally mean more private tenants being spoken to by parties and potentially voting.

There’s a third filter, created by private tenants moving around much more often than social tenants and homeowners. According to the English Housing Survey, every year one third of private renting households move, compared to just 4% of homeowners and 10% of social renters.

When local parties canvass door-to-door, they keep records on people they spoke to. They might use this for follow-up visits, targeted letters, or a knock on elections day encouraging you to vote if they think you might support them. But if you move every year, you’re unlikely to be tracked by the local political parties. The two thirds of private tenants who move within three years won’t be tracked between European and General Elections, and in many places between local elections.

So only around one third of private renters are stable enough for political parties to really engage with them.

There’s very little campaigners can do about this third problem, besides change the law so private tenants are more stable and secure in their homes, which makes it a ‘chicken and egg’ problem.

Thankfully, at least three parties in the UK look likely to go into the next General Election with policies to do that, to varying extents – the Green Party, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats.

So all tenants and campaigners can ask their local candidates about renting, putting the issue on the agenda in every local scrap for a Parliamentary seat.

You could also join one of the many fantastic local tenants campaigning organisations popping up around the UK, because while voting is vitally important if you want your interests to be heard, it’s not the only way of engaging with our democracy!

Bringing pedestrian maps to Crystal Palace

I’m leading a Transition Town project to bring Legible London to Crystal Palace. You’ll have noticed these signs around central London, conspicuously absent across most of the rest of the capital:

Bringing pedestrian maps to Crystal Palace

At the local Transition Town AGM, somebody suggested we should try to bring these to Crystal Palace.

But why wait on TfL? Using OpenStreetMap and TileMill, we can try to produce our own similar map style and stick them up ourselves!

Here is my prototype for the wide area map:

ll_low_zoom

You’ll notice dark blue lines along the edges of roads and though the park. Those are pavements and footpaths, and indicate where you can walk.

Here’s a prototype for the more detailed map of the local area, with local points of interest, pedestrian crossings and bus stops:

Bringing pedestrian maps to Crystal Palace

You’ll notice that some roads don’t show any pavements. Eagle-eyed locals may also spot missing cut-throughs and wonder about missing points of interest.

To that end, this Saturday I’m running a stall at the Crystal Palace Food Market on Haynes Lane from 10.30am-1.30pm where people can help us gather data for footpaths, pavements and other useful features for pedestrians.

I’ll also be getting feedback on the cartography. One idea I’m pondering is producing themed maps. For example, we could omit pavements where air pollution is over legal health limits, or we could draw on political boundaries and colour-shade the infamous five boroughs that meet in the area, or we could add blue plaques.

Any mapping and cartography enthusiasts are welcome! I will have printouts of the local area for people to scribble on and bring back to the stall, or to drop off in a local cafe where I can collect them later in the week.

UPDATE

Robert commented that he has seen Legible London outside of central London. It’s true, I said, they do go further afield to some major town centres. Well, courtesy of the latest evaluation report for the scheme here is a map of their extent:

Bringing pedestrian maps to Crystal Palace

Just imagine if that map could be absolutely covered with yellow dots, courtesy of a community-led, low-cost OpenStreetMap solution!

How the BBC cover their backs

Complaining is usually a frustrating experience. We hope it will be cathartic, perhaps even effective. The BBC is among those grand institutions that, when they respond at all, make clear that your views are wrong, irrelevant, and that you are so infinitesimally small a concern that one should be grateful for any response.

When the BBC first responded to my complaint about their coverage of the European Election results on the 25th May, they managed to ignore my every point. Going by responses to previous complaints, I wasn’t entirely surprised.

I wrote about their ignorance of the politics of the European Parliament, their focus on Westminster (yet again) despite the large public interest in recent European matters such as the ban on fishing discards (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s fish fight).

I wrote about their scant coverage of the Green Party, not interviewing a single spokesperson for the party until 2.30am, having constantly interviewed representatives from other parties in the preceding four hours.

Their first response told me they had received a lot of complaints, and they were right to cover UKIP to the extent, and in the manner, which they did.

At least the irony of their first response made me laugh, managing not to mention the Green Party or European politics in response to a complaint that they did precisely that.

My follow-up complaint pointing this out got a proper reply.

Now there are three ways to respond to a complaint: humbly apologise, robustly defend, or distract and dissemble. You can judge which they opted for.

They first told me:

The amount of airtime the BBC gives to a party in the run up to an election is based on evidence of past and current levels of support. This can include the number of candidates a party is fielding, how it performed in the last equivalent election and other evidence of current electoral backing.

This calculation was informed by Ofcom’s decision in March to downgrade the Green Party to an also-ran, despite running a full slate, being part of the fourth largest grouping in the European Parliament, having substantial achievements under our belt, having coming third in the most recent London elections (in 2012). The decisions by Ofcom and the BBC wrote us out of the script, even as our polling picked up (as it always does) weeks away from the elections as we pulled up alongside and even went ahead of the Lib Dems.

They continue:

We showed the Greens as part of the permanent on screen tally from the first result of the night. We also took care to mention the Green share of the vote after every declaration – even where the party did not win a seat.

It is true that the Green result was always on the screen, but it was rarely on the lips of the presenters and guests. The usual refrain, “the Lib Dems have been pushed into fifth place”, made clear that we were an invisible nuisance to the Westminster party they were interested in. The constant interviews with Lib Dems about falling into fifth place only confirmed this.

So why weren’t Green Party people also being constantly interviewed about beating the Lib Dems, and even winning seats?

Natalie Bennett was interviewed towards the end of the results flow at 2.30 am. The reason for such a later interview was in part because we were waiting until the full picture for the Greens was known. Every extra seat matters for smaller parties and we wanted to know how close they would come to their prediction (made on our local election programme) of 6-7 seats. The other reason is simply that this was an election results programme and later interviews are not unusual.

By that logic, they would have waited until the night was over before interviewing any Lib Dems. Surely the story was, will they lose all of their seats or will they hold on in any region? What of UKIP? Why not wait until 2.30am before interviewing them about the “earthquake” the BBC kept on about?

The truth is that the BBC’s editorial team simply aren’t interested in the Green Party. We aren’t an attraction in their Westminster bubble. Nick Robinson admitted at one point that he had only ever been to Brussels once, to cover a Cameron trip there. Journalists who, if they ever leave the gossip in the Gothic halls of Westminster struggle to adjust to the notion of politics at a different level of government, inevitably see the Green Party as nary a threat to either of the Big Three. UKIP are not doted on so much for their support across the country, but for their ability to pull the Conservative Party every-which-way, even to panic the Labour leadership or dictate the tone and focus of the Liberal Democrat campaign.

Regional BBC journalists are quite different. In London, for instance, they fully understand that we are on a level pegging with the Lib Dems, that we have interesting contributions to make in debates on policing, housing and transport as well as the environment. But at a national level the BBC just don’t understand that, yet.

Thankfully the petition organised by Portia Cocks was handed in with almost 50,000 signatures, and the BBC was forced to respond to mine among 1,200 other complaints about their election coverage, prompting several discussions on TV and radio as to whether their coverage was appropriate.

This discussion with Nick Robinson shows them covering their backs.

Perhaps, over time, we will be able to persuade those editors and journalists that the Green Party does have some interesting contributions to make to their debates. I suspect that we will struggle, though, so long as the Beeb frames everything in terms of the narrow consensus of the Westminster bubble.

Super cycling in Peckham

In April 2012 I joined 10,000 soggy cyclists in the rain to call for a big change to our streets, so whoever won the imminent Mayoral elections would ensure our streets would be safe and pleasant for cycling.

In response to months of fantastic campaigning, and not wanting all the cycling votes going to the Green Party, Boris Johnson duly signed up, telling cyclists: “I am fully committed to meeting the three key tests of LCC’s ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ campaign”.

Eight months later, TfL began to consult on the plans for Cycle Superhighway 5, from New Cross Gate to Victoria via Peckham, Camberwell and Oval. Here was a golden opportunity for Boris to “make sure all planned developments on are completed to Go Dutch standards, especially junctions”, one of those three key tests he signed up to.

Months of consultation and roadworks later, this is what we got:

Super cycling in Peckham

Does that look fun to you? Does Boris really think lots of people are going to rush to buy a bicycle to enjoy that?

This road has a 30mph speed limit. TfL refused requests from Southwark Cyclists and Southwark Living Streets to reduce it to 20mph, given how many homes, schools and shops front this busy road.

It’s gets worse, though. Here’s a before-and-after photo of a stretch of Peckham High Street:

Super cycling in Peckham

That’s right. TfL removed an advisory lane that ran the whole way across the junction, and replaced it with a couple of blocks to indicate cyclists might be expected.

It’s not as though Boris and TfL were unaware of problems with their designs. Last October, Jenny Jones, with whom I work, brought one example to the Mayor’s attention and asked him to look again:

In that exchange, if you can’t make it through, Boris promises to look at the plans again and to do his “level-headed best to make it as safe as [we] possibly can”.

Here are TfL’s plans for the relevant stretch of the Cycle Superhighway, with a big red arrow pointing to the junction Jenny was talking about . You can see how the route going each way along this stretch of Peckham Road changes from a mandatory lane (dark blue) to an advisory lane (mid blue) then no more than a bit of blue paint as you go past a junction:

going-super-3

Here is what that junction looks like now that the ‘super’ highway has been implemented:

going-super-4

On the left, there is finally some good news, with a nice wide mandatory cycle lane painted onto the road. Before that soggy day in April 2012 I would have described that as a very good bit of provision for cyclists. But the ‘Go Dutch’ campaign the Mayor signed up to raised the bar, and that lane no longer clears it. There is no segregation – no protection from the traffic – and no attempt to route cyclists around the back of the bus stop so they don’t get squashed or held up by buses.

In the middle and right-hand photos we can see the promised unbroken line of blue paint replaced with a couple of squares. There is absolutely no protection here for cyclists against motorists cutting across to head north on the rat-run Southampton Way. Nothing.

And there we have it, folks. Two years after our “cycling Mayor” signed up to “make sure all planned developments on are completed to Go Dutch standards, especially junctions”, we have more millions spent on another bungled Cycle Superhighway that would embarrass any qualified Dutch road engineer.

Traffic reduction in Crystal Palace and Anerley

One of my top priorities for the Crystal Palace and Anerley area would have to be traffic reduction. Every day on my way home from work, walking back from the station or cycling down the hill, this is what I see:

Traffic in Crystal Palace and Anerley

The crawling queues are similar around the Triangle and down the other main roads in the area. This is bad news, if only because it’s annoying to be stuck in traffic! Plus, it snarls up buses and makes them less reliable.

Here is another pair of pictures, this time showing air pollution in the area.

anerley-road-pollution

The map on the left shows the quantity of deadly nitrogen dioxide emitted by vehicles each day, and in case you’re wondering the dark blue along Crystal Palace Parade is about the same as the Strand in central London, while the pollution down Anerley Hill is similar to that on the roads leading north from Kings Cross and Euston. The map on the right shows the stretches of road that are predicted to still exceed legal health limits for nitrogen dioxide in 2020, and the bus stops near them.

The main cause of all this pollution is traffic, particularly vehicles idling in queues. We have to walk along these roads to catch a train, wait there to catch a bus, sit out next to it on a sunny day with a pint down the pub. It retards lung development in children, increases the chance of asthma and makes the symptoms worse, and can exacerbate heart conditions. After smoking, it’s the second biggest cause of premature death in London.

So less traffic would mean healthier, more pleasant streets with more reliable buses.

Solutions

So how do we reduce traffic?

The first solution is to give people a good alternative to driving. That’s one reason why I support the Space for Cycling campaign. Besides making the area safer and more pleasant for cyclists, and we could also remove pavement clutter and improve the streetscape to making walking nicer (as the Anerley Regeneration Project are doing). Bromley also needs to embrace car clubs – there are parking bays scattered across surrounding boroughs, but they disappear when you come into the wilds of Tory Bromley. Fewer people would need to own a car if there were more club cars.

A lot of the traffic isn’t even local, we’re just a through-route for people, so we also need TfL to get back to thinking about traffic reduction. Since he was elected, Boris Johnson has actually scrapped or reversed policies that were supposed to reduce traffic. From 2000 to 2012, traffic actually fell across Greater London despite the population growing by one million people and the economy (mostly) booming. Now TfL expect traffic to start rising again.

Finally, we need to block development that encourages even more vehicle traffic. That means stopping the crazy proposed hotel and conference centre in the park, making sure new flats are built with minimal car parking. Some people worry this will cause parking problems, but with the above policies it doesn’t need to. More than half the households in this area already don’t own a car.

Without a clear vision like this, we’ll just drift into ever increasing congestion and pollution.

Densifying London the wrong way

I’m a firm believer in “densification” – that we can make our towns and cities more dense. This can help us to avoid building on other species’ habitats, and to support more sustainable transport habits like public transport and cycling. I’ve written two blog posts looking at the scope for densifying outer London.

But yesterday, Eric Pickles re-announced his own densification programme, and I’m dead-set against it. The Communities Secretary wants to give Boris Johnson £150m to accelerate the demolition of council estates in London, building more dense housing on the land.

The official statement describes the estates as “London’s most deprived”; the Evening Standard helpfully spelled out what they meant by that, describing “run down” and “notorious” areas. It’s one of those easy stereotypes to trot out that actually have very little basis in fact – UKIP supporters are wealthy Tories, housing benefit claimants are unemployed scroungers, and council estates are crumbling and crime-ridden.

In a bizarre attempt to make this sound benign, the official statement mentions that 1.7 million more people lived in inner London in 1939 than are expected to live there in 2021, implying that it really isn’t all that dense at all. Compared to Tokyo, it isn’t, but compared to 1939? Back then inner London was seriously overcrowded, still blighted by slums; depopulation was a deliberate policy to improve quality of life, moving people to outer London or new towns.

You might wonder – why doesn’t Pickles want to regenerate the sprawling low density suburbs? The potential housing capacity there, as I demonstrated, is anywhere up to a trebling of our housing stock.

The answer is obvious. Council tenants in inner London are easy targets. Their councils lack the funds and imagination to protect and maintain their homes and so, reluctantly or otherwise, they go along with these redevelopments. This in spite a growing list of such schemes that have seen the net loss of social housing, the expensive new flats mostly sold to investors, the dislocation of settled communities, the worsening health of affected tenants, and the environmentally destructive loss of existing buildings.

For Pickles and these councils, the tenants have no right to stay put, certainly not equivalent to home owners. But why not? Think of this as a moral, not a legal question. These tenants have been offered a social contract, the assurance that they will be secure in their homes so long as they want to stay there and can pay their rent, equivalent to the social contract for home owners who can continue to pay off their mortgage. They thrive in lively communities, cope with poverty and social exclusion by relying on networks of neighbours, establish settled family lives and hold down jobs they can afford to commute to.

What is the difference between a compulsory purchase of a council estate, such as the Heygate with 1,200 homes on 9 hectares of land, and a compulsory purchase of some homes in Bromley or Havering, with typically 270 homes on an equivalent 9 hectares?

The difference is cost and political will. Councils own their land and can do with it as they wish; the only question is whether they will gain financially from the redevelopment. But to buy those homes in Bromley or Havering they might need to find the best part of £135m. An imaginative council might see an opportunity to fund that by building 1,200 homes and selling half of them on the open market, but councils aren’t encouraged to be imaginative and proactive in Britain. More importantly, most politicians treat the property rights of home owners as sacred while the rights of tenants are temporary and fungible, and few would countenance the idea of redeveloping swathes of suburbia in this way.

If Pickles wanted to densify areas of London to meet needs, he should look at all areas of low density housing and explore how clever use of compulsory purchase and land assembly can deliver his aims in a way that recognises homes are about people and communities, not bricks and mortar.

This so-called regeneration of council estates is densification through urban clearance, sweeping away the powerless and ignoring the impact on their lives in order to deliver numbers – new homes built, council tax revenues collected, stereotypes confirmed.

For an alternative vision for London, visit the Crumbs for London campaign.

Space4Cycling in Crystal Palace

I’m supporting the Space4Cycling campaign in the Crystal Palace ward, where I’m standing for the Green Party.

I often cycle up and down Anerley Hill on the way to work. It’s a steep bit of road, difficult for those of us who aren’t zipping up to Cadence every weekend on expensive road bikes. Cycling uphill without wavering a little is hard work, so providing some protected space at the expense of a little car parking makes perfect sense.

Of course some people who currently park their cars there will lose out. But I want to see streets in Crystal Palace, London, the whole of the UK transformed to serve the needs of people on foot, bike and public transport, and this can only happen at the expense of cars because we have limited road space.

The alternative is to leave almost 20,000 vehicles a day trundling along Anerley Hill, creating peak hour traffic jams. This level of traffic is responsible for illegal levels of air pollution, which will remain until at least 2020 if we don’t do something drastic. Find out more about this here. If you walk down to Anerley Road on a school day, you’ll see dozens of children buying fast food, but very few on bikes. Designing roads for cars at the expense of bikes is unhealthy and bad for the environment.

I would also like to introduce 20mph limits on far more roads in the area, particularly for rat runs like Thicket Road, introduce ‘filtered permeability’ to more roads to reduce traffic, and fix the various barriers, potholes and speed humps that make cycling through Crystal Palace Park confusing and unpleasant.

I want to make it easy, safe and pleasant for everyone to cycle in Crystal Palace, whether they’re an 8 year old going to school in the morning, or a fit 80 year old heading up the hill to the shops.

Some thoughts on the Space4Cycling campaign

I think this new campaign from the LCC and all the local cycling groups is brilliant. It is showing yet again that cyclists can be mobilised to make their voices heard in the democratic system, and I only hope it has a big an impact on local councillors as their lobbying of the London Assembly has had.

I also hope that councillors elected in May honour their promises. I do wonder at the Labour councillors signing up in Southwark, a borough I used to live in and cycle through every day. The council has spent four years doing next to nothing for cyclists, while scrapping the London Cycle Network from its Transport Plan and actually removing cycle lanes from busy roads.

As the Stop the Killing campaign found, many other councils are just as bad. Are all these candidates honestly going to push for the cyclists’ proposals having failed to do so in the past four years? One can only hope.

My one other reservation is that it is difficult for smaller parties and independent candidates to get onto the site. For those who have never fought an election, I can assure you that it’s a huge challenge for small parties dependent on volunteers with full-time jobs just to get all the paperwork in to the returning officer, let alone get a list of candidates out to anyone who asks and respond to lots of lobbying requests.

This campaign web site has been live for some time now, and while very well organised parties can get their candidate lists out nice and early, many others won’t have a final list until nominations close next week.

At the moment, the web site gives a very poor impression of the Green Party, for example, even though we have consistently been the most pro-bike party in the capital. That isn’t just my biased opinion, it was also the view of the Londoners on Bikes campaign in the 2012 elections.

So at the time of writing over 12,000 people will have contacted an incomplete set of candidates, and might think the missing candidates and parties have nothing to say about cycling. I hope you, dear reader, will bear that in mind and hold off sending your lobbying email for a couple of weeks.