Well, Helen and I (and Dave Hill and Chris Underwood and DavidM and, it seemed, half the remaining Liberal Democrats including Caroline Pidgeon) made it to Greenford on Wednesday night to hear Boris rabbit on, and we weren’t disappointed – as ever the quantity of rabbit far outweighed the quality and the sense that one was in the vicinity of a large blond aeroplane propellor was just as profound as on previous occasions such as State of London.  The 2008 stump speech is still noticeable – ‘North Korean propaganda’ made an appearance, but as Dave Hill reported, there was one new thing – the idea that the ‘village’ quality of London is something Boris wants to promote is new and, as far as I’m aware, ill-defined and unwelcome.  It strikes me as another manifestation of the Tory desire to anesthetise the city (which they don’t trust or even particularly like).  Cities are noisy, smelly and exciting.  Villages are quiet, peaceful and boring.  I know, I grew up in one.

Boris’s choice of panel was also interesting – first off the chair was Richard Barnes.  Now, as Boris’s statutory Deputy Mayor as well as a local AM might be thought to have a bit of a conflict of interest, and duly used his supposedly impartial position to electioneer against the Coalition’s plans to drive High Speed 2 through the area without going via Heathrow – this made it to the website of the local press before being removed.  I’ve no idea why it was removed, he really did say that ‘no one in Birmingham would buy a ticket to Old Oak Common’, which is as asinine as saying that no one in Surrey would buy a ticket to Clapham Junction.  Conservatives just aren’t wired to understand interchange and integrated transport.  More impressive on HS2 was the Head of Northolt High School, who pointed out that the route went through his music block and playing fields.  Northolt have been actually quite famous for their music education, having been the subject of a TV documentary.

Then we had Kulveer Ranger, whose job appears to be acting as a fluffer for the Boris Ego – ‘What the Mayor is trying to do…’, ‘We have been putting our case to the Secretary of State…’, ‘The Mayor did an excellent job…’ and didn’t as I recall talk about any transport issues in great detail at all.  Well, why would he, he’s interested in the *politics*, not the mechanics.

On the ‘extreme right’ (as Richard Barnes humorously noted) we had Julian Bell, Labour (now) Leader of Ealing Council, who was quiet and rather dignified, but not particularly forceful.  Keen on the Skyride, which prompted him to buy a bike.

Finally on the extreme left we had Liz Pilgrim, who was touted as an ‘entrepreneur’, apparently for running two shops catering to Yummy Mummies in Ealing and Chiswick.  Put it this way, I’ve lived in Chiswick most of the time since 1999 and I had to look up where it was (Devonshire Road, inevitably, the poshest shopping street in the area) – so I suspect I’m not the target market.  Still, flogging overpriced baby gear to the dim rich is fairly harmless, but doesn’t qualify you to talk about London’s transport issues, as she duly went on to prove.   I subsequently found out that she’s a rabid one-eyed Conservative, which is probably the explanation for her presence.

So, four Tories and one Labour.  What was most interesting, considering that this was outer London, is that the audience were not in the mood to lap up the Boris Act and ask patsy questions.  This is not surprising – Ealing is home to the world’s scariest NIMBYs and the Force was strong with them – the Big Society isn’t new to the borough that has more groups with obscure abbreviations than the British hard Left, albeit rather more successful*.  In some ways the out of the way nature of the venue for non-Ealing residents worked against Boris here – he didn’t get a lot of Westminster/Hammersmith types lauding his ‘Christmas present to West London’ scrapping of the WEZ, because most of West London doesn’t care – we worry about the A312, not the A3220, because we have no choice but to drive in large parts of the outer area while going into town you can take the train.  In fact, the major topic of the night was disabled access, to buses (repeating a question at the City Hall plenary earlier about buses leaving disabled travellers stranded, by driving off or having defective ramps) and to the Underground.

This was started by Chris’s question about the canned lift installation at Shepherd’s Bush Central Line, which despite having been built with lifts by the Edwardians cannot be equipped with lifts by the ‘neo-Victorians’, as Boris refers to the tube upgrade project he inherited, today.  TfL have always maintained that it’s expensive and there’s no money, which is probably true, not least because TfL wasted millions on preparatory works before canning a number of lift installations in a cull in October 2009.

Notably, one of these installations was at Greenford, where Boris and Kulveer got off the Central Line (cue humorous anecdote about ‘Kulveer-wanted-to-get-a-cab-but-I-said-let’s-get-the-bus’ which I didn’t believe for a minute – after the famous cabs-for-all trip back from Hillingdon a couple of years ago there was no way they’d pull the same trick this time – this was a convenient way of showing off that he knew a single local bus route).  Greenford station is on a high embankment, high enough for, unusually, an up escalator to be provided (the last wooden one on the system, apparently).  This means it’s inaccessible to anyone not able to use an escalator or a lot of steps and, as a major railhead for a part of London without much public transport, has thus been on everyone’s list for a lift.  Years of pressure, according to Julian Bell, finally bore fruit only for TfL to cancel the works *while they were in progress*, causing a large amount of local annoyance:

He [Bell] said: “We’ve been promised step free access for as long as I can remember. Enough is enough, it’s got to be done.”

This, despite Kulveer attempting to smokescreen by talking about the October 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review, actually happened in October 2009 and as such is solely a product of Boris-era TfL – initially post-2008 TfL were all for it, as this PDF shows – even claiming the (also canned) Baker St. step-free project was ‘critical’ to the 2012 games.  Let’s have a look at what was being spent:

  • Q1 08/09 – £0.1m
  • Q2 08/09 – £0.2m
  • Q3 08/09 – £0.2m
  • Q4 08/09 – £0.9m

OK, so what happened in October 2009 to change this?

TfL has had to stop work at Osterley, Ladbroke Grove, Amersham, West Kensington, Newbury Park and Greenford. These are relatively quiet and some are already one or two stops away from existing step- free stations. Instead, at a time when funding is restricted, TfL has chosen to protect the schemes at Victoria, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, and the accessibility of the key 2012 Games stations at Green Park and Southfields.

It’s the Zone 1 Mayor again, isn’t it?  In point of fact, the official reason given by TfL for the 2009 cuts were the financial downturn allied to the collapse of Metronet, which makes it more than a trifle odd that Kulveer tried to pin the blame on George Osborne magically acting a year in advance of coming to office.  He’s not too bright, is he?

It was at this point that Liz Pilgrim made one of her three interjections, wondering why the great British engineering companies couldn’t put a ramp in.  Dear oh dear (off the top of my head: the height, the land costs, the fact that forcing people in wheelchairs to push themselves up a hundred metres of incline isn’t that much of an improvement).  It’s also of limited use at stations hemmed in by buildings such as West Kensington, never mind Shepherd’s Bush which is entirely underground.  Greenford has the added complication of being an island platform, which means the ramp would have to rise up through the middle of the embankment, taking out a lot of the existing platform in some way, and I strongly suspect for that reason the lift might actually work out cheaper.

In between other decent questions about the noisy Volvo buses (according to Fiona from Kensal Rise) and not-so-decent ones (like the chap who claimed that motorbikes are non-congesting and non-polluting, who got it in the neck from Boris over the Westminster bike parking protests congesting Trafalgar Square) there was a proper Ealing question from an EalingToday.co.uk forum regular called Arthur Breens which caused Boris and Liz Pilgrim to grab firm hold of the wrong end of the stick in a revealing way.

The backstory is the Lido Junction in West Ealing where Northfield Avenue meets Uxbridge Road, which I knew well when I first moved to London as I lived in Northfields and shopped at Waitrose in West Ealing (soon to be a Crossrail station, too), travelling by bus.  It’s not a nice junction for the pedestrian – there were plans to change it quite radically as part of the West London Tram project, but the NIMBYs (and the Tories, of course) sank that in 2007 since when TfL could be forgiven for moving onto other things, not least because they don’t run the roads round there, only having responsibility for the Uxbridge Road itself.

The essential takeaway here is that the locals are chiefly concerned about pedestrian safety at the junction, which is presumably why Boris took the introduction of the topic as an excuse to rehash an anecdote about being sent into a towering rage by Ealing’s traffic lights while driving his son to rugby practice (which prompted his only previous Mayoral interest in the area) and for Liz Pilgrim to make her third and final contribution a suggestion that a roundabout might be a good idea for a busy junction hemmed in by buildings on three corners where the major problem is that it’s unsafe for pedestrians.  What’s telling is the *assumption* that Decent Concerned Citizens are only interested in driving, and the total lack of any interest in ascertaining whether this assumption is true.  This, I contend, explains a lot.

Finally, note the letter from Councillor David Milligan in the previous link expressing admiration for Boris Johnson.  I wonder if he could be related to the Councillor David Millican who wrote the EalingToday write-up of the event:

The questioning opened, to my surprise, with a question I had submitted in advance myself about Crossrail..

Oh, really?  Any more where that came from?

My son Nathan jumped up and asked Boris how he could stop Bob Crow’s strike

There’s nothing like keeping it in the family, is there, David?

* One of my favourite things found on Google Books is this tome about shopping centre design, which has a section on Ealing’s

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