The need for Progressive Alliances & Proportional Representation

I hate living in Tory land. We have a Tory government, Tory local councils in Richmond and Kingston and up until Zac Goldsmith’s disastrous mayoral campaign, a Tory mayor. At least we can thank Zac for that – we now have a Labour mayor. Of course, I’d prefer a Green one, but better a left of centre one, than right-wing, anti-EU, pro-austerity Zac Goldsmith.

And, of course, I’d prefer to have Green MP in Richmond Park. I would have liked that to be me, but despite increasing our vote by 6% in 2015, we are not the party with the infrastructure or the funds to take Zac down. And, that’s what elections under our First Past the Post system are all about – who has the biggest backers and who has the biggest army. The Conservatives spent twice as much on the 2010 general election than Labour, that’s £12million to £6million. In the Witney by-election the LibDems gathered over 1,000 supporters to pound the streets for their candidate.

Currently, the Green Party can’t match the other parties for spending prowess or people power, but should this stop us from getting our message to the voter. I don’t think so. In the General Election I used to tell voters at hustings and on the door step to look at Voteforpolicies.org and see how their views matched the parties. The Green Party would routinely come out on top. When I talk to people about what we stand for they get it, when I speak at hustings people get us. People get the Green Party, but they just don’t get to vote for us in a meaningful way. When they do, you can see the results – our Mayoral candidate was placed third and as a party we came third. But we can’t even hope to replicate that result here in Richmond Park. Why, because here, under First Past the Post, it ends up being a race between the two front runners.

It has been like this for 15 years or more, in the Richmond Park constituency Labour and Green voters are disenfranchised. When I was pushing a Labour candidate on Friday last week not put themselves forward, they said: “but we must give our members someone to vote for”. Why? The reality for many people here is a choice between putting a cross next to what the commentators call the “holding your nose while you vote for someone you don’t believe in’ option to stop what I call the “please no, never in a million years” proposition.

So, if we’d stood, what would have happened. Chances are our vote would have been squeezed as people chose the supposedly independent Zac Goldsmith or the LibDem Sarah Olney. What impact would that have, minimal you might think. Well no, for our activists it would have been disheartening after the work we’d put in. To voters it would make us look like a party going nowhere. And looking towards the 2018 local council elections where we have greater chance of success, a poor result now would have had wider ramifications on the alliances we’ve already been working on.

And, that’s the crux of this matter for Greens in Richmond and Kingston. This election is not just about Heathrow, Brexit and a Conservative-UKIP candidate masquerading as an independent, it’s about our chance of winning council seats in 2018. We have already been talking with local parties in Richmond borough about how to end Tory domination of our council, so not standing a candidate now – which also gives all voters in this constituency a clearer path to getting rid of Zac – is part of those negotiations. And, when we spoke to the LibDems in Kingston about our decision to stand down, they immediately recognised the sacrifice we’d be making and offered to set up talks about ‘smart targeting’ for Kingston wards in 2018.

We have to do this to improve representation for residents. Our democracy shouldn’t be a binary choice. No one party truly reflects an individual’s views, and when the only way to get your voice heard it to pick between ‘worst and less worse’ or ‘best and next best’ (depending on your viewpoint) then we have an electoral system that’s failing its people.

And it seems to me that this failure is partly responsible for the referendum outcome. People voted against the EU in protest, people voted OUT because their voices hadn’t been heard for years, people voted to leave because they thought it didn’t matter how you voted for, things stayed the same. Yet, now, because of our ‘winner takes all democracy’ just over 1.2million votes have determined we leave the EU. Brexit, if it actually happens, is as close to a revolution as you can get. Fixing our country needs equally radical steps, and by not standing a candidate in Richmond Park, we are taking the first one.

We the Greens don’t want to consigned to being a protest party trapped by our unequal electoral system, we want to be on the right side of history and change our country for the better, for ourselves and for generations to come. I call on other parties across the country to follow our example and create progressive alliances across the country so that the day after the next General Election we still don’t wake up in Tory Land.

Labour, LibDems and the Greens, need to realise that no one opposition can win the next General Election. We need to co-operate, now, because the country is in a dire state – climate change, refugees, NHS, Brexit, Heathrow – and we need to fix it, not leave a divided, broken country for the next generation.

A dual carriageway is no place for a school

There really cannot be a more unsuitable spot for an infant school than London House, unless it’s actually in the middle of Manor Circus, the traffic-laden, fume-filled roundabout a mere stone’s throw away from it.

Siting a school called Deer Park just 10 metres back from the A316 seems like a twisted joke, with the joke being on the children who will go there. This dual carriageway is a trunk road that Department for Transport figures show 34,000 vehicles use each day. Every morning and afternoon cars, buses and lorries crawl along these four lanes spewing out noxious fumes. And, when they’re not stuck in jams, these vehicles are causing accidents.

The closest pedestrian crossing point over the A316 for this proposed school is at Manor Circus roundabout, next to a petrol station which any child going past will have to negotiate. In the three years to October 2013 there were a total of 15 collisions – three involving pedestrians, three with cyclists, and three involving motorcycles. TFL is already planning changes to this crossing to improve safety, which include shared cycle and pedestrian pavements right outside London house. But these improvements do not take into account the impact that 420 children, plus parents, carers and siblings and upwards of 50 staff attempting to get to school by car, foot, buggy, pram, bicycle, scooter, skateboard or motorcycle, will have. And, we all know that many won’t walk, just like they don’t at any other school, given that lots of parents drop their children off in cars on their way to work.  

What about deliveries of food and supplies, or coaches collecting pupils for school trips? The lorries will either have to turn off the A316 at the roundabout – I’m sure councillors will recall that a taxi firm at London house was refused planning permission previously as vehicles would have to turn on and off the A316 – or they will have to block Raleigh Road at the rear.  

Round the corner, the other main access road for pupils getting to Deer Park School, Sandycombe Road, is nearly as dangerous. It is currently undergoing consultation by the council to address the “numerous complaints” made by residents “over recent years with regards to vehicle speeds, congestion and reports of collisions”.

It makes you wonder, did the Educational Funding Agency actually visit the site before buying it? Did they do any research into the area at all? Either they did, and they don’t care about pupil safety, or they didn’t, because they don’t care where our children go to school. Which ever it was, councillors should and must care. You have a duty to safeguard the pupils in this borough, and if you approve a school knowingly sited in an accident black spot, then any accidents will be your responsibility.

Which leads me on to the second major problem with turning London House into a school for children aged four to eleven – fumes from all the traffic I’ve just talked about. Manor Circus is not just an accident black spot, it’s also a pollution hotspot. Nitrogen Dioxide and particulates in London’s air are way above permitted levels, killing tens of thousands each year with related illnesses. In Richmond alone, government figures suggest around 77 people a year are killed by air pollution.

More pertinently, two recent academic reports show particulates have a negative impact on children’s health and development. The Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona found that pupils at schools with polluted air showed an average improvement in a working memory 4 per cent lower than pupils at schools with clean air.

Columbia University has found that air pollution might be lowering children’s IQ. The researchers followed 276 New York City mums and children from the time the women were pregnant until the kids were seven. The study showed that pregnant mums who were exposed to high levels of airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – a dangerous compound found in car exhaust fumes – had children who scored significantly lower on tests of full scale IQ, perceptual reasoning, and working memory.

Our own MP, Zac Goldsmith, as part of the Environmental Audit Committee, in a report from December last year says: ‘The Government should… make it impossible to build new schools, care homes or health clinics near existing air pollution hotspots.” The chair of the committee, Joan Walley, MP, said: Children growing up near busy roads with high NO2 and particle emissions have stunted and impaired lung development. There is also emerging evidence that air pollution can increase infant mortality rates, prompt pre-term births and affect cognitive performance.”

And, finally, the last problem – space. London House does not meet the government’s own guidelines on site size for primary schools, begging the question, where does Bellevue plan to put a playground on the site? On the roof where children can breathe in more deadly fumes? Stirling University has found that children’s health, well-being and capacity to learn is improved by a 15-minute daily run round the playground.

Local residents fume over air pollution

Local residents fume over air pollution

I’ll leave you with the words of one resident, Diana Collins: “Where are the children going to run? Up and down the A316?”

Let’s get Cassel Hospital turned into a Primary School

Richmond Council has been consulting residents about a number of sites in the borough that are up for development. One of them is Cassel Hospital on Ham Common.
cassel4
As a Governor of Latchmere School in North Kingston, which is already four-form entry and has to take a further ‘bulge’ class in 2014/5 to cope with the demand for school places in our two boroughs, I believe that North Kingston and Ham needs a whole new primary school. As well as the population growth that our area is having to cope with, there has been an influx of families seeking the excellent schools we have here. Plus, there’s all the new dwellings proposed for
Latchmere House, the flats already being built on the river in North Kingston, the impending developments on the gas storage site at Sury Basin, the conversion of the Regal Bingo building that will all bring more and more families into our neighbourhood. Additionally, Ham Close is up for development, one of the options being to knock down the existing blocks of flats and rebuild them with twice as more dwellings on the site, so increasing the local population.

There is a possibility that a new primary school will be built to accompany the flats on Sury Basin, but these will only ‘mop up’ the children in the immediate vicinity and not the roads from Kings Road up towards the Tudor Estate. And, the new primary school near Sury Basin is not even definite as the developer is pushing for student flats instead.

Without a new two/three-form entry school in North Kingston/Ham we will hear more and more about distressed families whose children have missed out on school places, or have to travel long distances across the borough to go to other schools. The alternative is that Latchmere School becomes five-form entry throughout all years, and other schools have to expand from two/three to three/four-form entry. All of which will put pressure on resources, building space and hard-pressed playgrounds.

The Cassel Hospital building was assessed when St Edwards were considering setting up a Kingston Church School Foundation free school in the area (KET got their bid approved by the DfE to set up Kingston Academy in the North Kingston Centre so St Edwards pulled) and it was deemed a suitable site for a school. It has 20 acres of land around ideal for sports grounds and additional buildings if required. Also, it is easily accessible by foot, bicycle, public transport and car – although too many vehicles would cause problems on this road.

So, if you do one thing today, email ldfconsultation@richmond.gov.uk and ask Richmond Council to set aside Cassel Hospital for community purposes, and more specifically a primary school.

Say no to Berkeley Homes forcing a choice between affordable housing and a new road at the council planning meeting 17th July

In 2011 the Home Office closed Latchmere House Remand Centre – one of the most successful rehabilitation prisons in Europe – to save money. It then sold off the site, in a leafy spot in a suburban neighbourhood that straddles both boroughs of Richmond and Kingston, for a vast sum of money to Berkeley Group to develop into housing.

After various public consultations from which a planning brief was drawn up, Berkeley put in two planning applications to develop the Latchmere House site, one larger than the other by 16 units that supposedly requires the opening up an access point for traffic via Latchmere Lane. Odd given that these dwellings are located close to the only existing access to the site via Church Road, a relatively quiet wide road with a wood down one side, and a handful of houses with deep verges and driveways in front of them on the other. These extra 16 units are the affordable housing option. This means you either vote for the ‘cheaper’ housing, which both Boroughs need and get the new road onto Latchmere Lane, or you vote against it to prevent the new opening onto a road that is mostly single-lane road due to the cars parked either side and traffic calming measures with bollards, speed bumps and a 20-mile-per-hour limit.

Traffic issues
Latchmere Lane struggles to cope traffic at peak times already as the road is used as a rat-run to avoid the congestion on nearby Richmond Road, and more so when Richmond Park closes early in the winter months. This often results in tension and arguments between drivers and the whole road grinding to a halt. Delivery vans, commercial vehicles and refuse vehicles have a very difficult time passing down this road without damaging parked vehicles and causing traffic jams. It is also dangerous for cyclists who can’t pass safely against the oncoming traffic, much of which ignore the speed limit, as well as for pedestrians trying to cross. Additionally, the number of vehicles parked on Latchmere Lane has increased in the last few months, since Richmond Council has demolished garages that used to serve homes on both Cowper Road and Beard Road (off roads from Latchmere Lane) to building more housing.

Landscaping/Nature conservation
The creation of a second road to the site is also a terrible prospect for local residents. An access at Latchmere Lane will involve the loss of some very attractive green space and greatly degrade the view of the House itself. Latchmere Lane is the worst possible choice for a second access and local residents objected to this strongly the last time it arose as a possibility, with over 130 residents signing a petition against it. This is a beautiful area with lots of wildlife, plants and trees. The development needs to be sensitive to this and therefore should only have one access road.

Road access
There is no need for a second access into the site. Statistics provided in the Traffic Assessment that was carried out for this development confirm that traffic from the new houses will result in no more vehicles to the site than under its former prison use. Church Road easily coped with the prison traffic for many years and is wide enough for cars to pass each other comfortably while Latchmere Lane is only single width unless parking restrictions are introduced, which would have serious consequences for the residents, whereas on roadside parking is not required in Church Road due to them already having off-street parking. Many of the houses on Latchmere Lane do not have useable driveways and to create additional parking would require paving over front gardens that would have a detrimental effect on the environment. Additionally, if you look at the housing on the old BAe site on Richmond Road, where there are two separate ‘estates’ with only one access point each – one on Richmond Road and the other on Dukes Avenue – these each cater to over 100 houses. Therefore, Church Road can easily cope with the planned 89 residences on the Latchmere House site.

Personally, I am happy to support the larger number of units on the site if some of it will be affordable housing, but whether the development contains 89 or 73 residences, there is absolutely no need to open up a road to the houses from Latchmere Lane.

If you do one thing today: email the Kington councillors (find their addresses here) before the planning meeting on 17th July 2014 and ask them to tell Berkeley Group to go back to the drawing board and offer a development that doesn’t require a choice between affordable housing and a new road or neither. They are holding us to ransom.

If you do two things today: go to the planning meeting at 7.30pm on 17th July 2014 and ask them to tell Berkeley Group that no new road is required. You will need to apply to speak by 15th July, email development.management@rbk.kingston.gov.uk.

If you do three things today: tweet the following – “#BerkeleyHomes force residents to choose between #AffordableHousing and an unnecessary road #LatchmereHouse #ShameOnThem” or “#BerkeleyHomes has no social media? So communities have no public forum to air their views? #NoRoadThroughHere #LatchmereHouse”

If you do one thing today: email your MP about a safer school run

I was saddened to read the following statistic from Sustrans this week: ‘In 2012, the number of children killed while walking or cycling on our roads was equivalent to over one primary school class, and the equivalent of over seven whole primary schools were seriously injured. Road danger is the biggest cause of preventable death and injury among children.’

No wonder, then, that despite most children living within walking or cycling distance of their school, less than half walk and far fewer cycle. This is having an impact on their health, as this lack of activity, could mean that this is the first generation of children who live shorter lives than their parents through inactivity.

Sustrans wants to change this by getting our children active and healthy – starting with the school run – with their Campaign for Safer Streets. They are putting pressure on MPs and local councils to get:
• Dedicated funding – provides the resources needed to transform routes and invest in walking and cycling at the local level.
• 20mph default speed limit across built up areas – makes everyone’s route safer;
• Stronger duties and incentives on Local Authorities to develop routes and promote walking and cycling.

In my local area of Ham, Richmond and North Kingston we are incredibly poorly served by bicycle lanes, safe or otherwise, roads are pot-holed and congestion creates poor air quality for cyclists and pedestrians alike. As a cyclist myself with two children, cycling around here is only made bearable by Richmond Park and the tow path along the Thames. However, the latter is in a shocking state and needs improving to provide a safer, more comfortable and appealing ride.

And, just imagine if cyclists were forced to cycle on Richmond Road in Petersham. How many accidents do you think there would be? The lack of public transport to Ham itself means this area is crying out for better cycling provision, and yet, where is it? Practically non-existent. A cycle lane along Ham Common and up to Ham Street towards Grey Court would be a start. Or even better, put cycle paths around the edges of Ham Common, so cyclists are kept apart from traffic altogether. These could then link with Ham Avenue so it’s easy to get to the tow path. A cycle lane from Kingston that doesn’t end at the crossroads of Tudor Drive and Richmond Road is essential, too. As is a cycle lane up Tudor Drive itself. Given the widths of the pavement along this road, couldn’t it be shared with pedestrians, like the one that is part way along Richmond Road just near the Hawker Centre.

For more information about the campaign go here: http://www.sustrans.org.uk/safetoschool, where it helps you to email your MP about their support. For information on local pressure groups go to Richmond Cycling Campaign and Kingston Cycling Campaign.