Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Happy Birthday to Us! Nine years old

The Barnet Eye is nine years old! This was our first blog  - Hello, Good Evening and Welcome - we published it on 11th October 2008. Yes, I confess, I completely forgot about our anniversary. I didn't think it would last nine weeks, let alone nine years! I didn't anticipate the huge scandals we'd uncover. I didn't anticipate that I'd be joined by a team of other Barnet bloggers, who would become friends and colleagues and would make Barnet a quite unique place in terms of political commentary. I am not going to dwell on the negatives. I believe the Barnet Eye has been a totally positive thing for myself, for the Borough of Barnet and for the global army of readers, who have viewed the blog over 2,100,000 times. It's not just the local politics, it has helped me and other people (who have written to thank me) deal with cancer and dyslexia. Our annual awards, have become a key part of the social calendar and we've had a ton of fun on the way. The good news is that we're pleased to announce that our annual awards are on the 10th December at The Chandos Arms in Colindale. We are delighted to be hosting them at the National Community Pub of the Year!

We will shortly be consulting on who we should be dishing out the gongs to this year! So if you know a charity, a person, a restaurant, a volunteer or anyone else who deserves recogniotion, please leave a comment and we'll get in touch!

Finally, thanks for all of your support over the past nine years. If no one read this blog, I wouldn't bother. This year we've seen our biggest ever story in terms of hits, so it is great to know we still matter!

As a little present to you, we've prepared a London Playlist of some of our favourite London tracks  in the sidebar. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Harvey Weinstein is not a sex addict

I suppose that a few people may be shocked by this statement. However it is a100% clear to me that Mr Weinstein is not really someone who has a love or addiction of and to sex. His addiction is to control and power. The description of the encounters I have read have nothing at all to with having sex. It is clear that what Mr Weinstein enjoys is being in a situation where he can behave appallingly and without consequences. I contend that rape is never really about sex. It is a serious  act of violence and should be treated as such. By classifying Weinstein as a sex addict implies that his violence and bullying is in some ways a forgivable compulsion. It isn't. It is merely the act of a despicable man who believed he could do as he pleased.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Join our campaign for a better cycle network in the London Borough of Barnet

The Barnet Eye has long been supportive of safer cycling provision in the London Borough of Barnet. To us it seems perverse that it is now safer to cycle in central London than in our leafy suburb. The reason for this is not rocket science. It is because the Mayor of London has been proactively installing segregated cycle lanes. The Barnet Eye currently has an office near New Bridge Street. We've been based their on and off since 1986. Over the last few years, the installation of proper cycle lanes has transformed the area from a cycle free zone to a mini Tour De France on a daily basis. We shot a short film one morning to illustrate the point.

You will see a scene like this any weekday rush hour morning. In Barnet, there has been minimal commitment to make cycling safe. Sadly as we see rising teenage obesity, we see less and less children in the cuburns cycling. This is for the perfectly good reason that it is dangerous.

Installing dedicated cycle lanes is expensive and disruptive to other forms of traffic, as anyone who has seen the massive infrastructure spending on the cycle superhighway project will know. It does however pay off. Cycles use far less road space, produce no pollution and require far less space for parking. In short, you get more road for your money.

So what can be done? What practical steps could be taken in the London Borough of Barnet? We've spoken to various campaigners. At a recent council meeting, one informed us that the council hadn't even understood the meaning of key facts in its own plan!

The Barnet Eye has some suggestions. We are not experts on cycling, however expert advice is what is needed. Our first suggestion is that Barnet should appoint a cycling Tsar.This should be someone who at the very least would be able to spot the errors in the council own plans.

The second thing should be to draw up a proper Barnet plan, in conjunction with local cycling groups. One key aspect is that all large developments should have a proper cycling plan. This does not mean a few bike parking spaces. It means proper safe routes. We believe that every rail and tube station, every school, every shopping centre and every large medical facility in the Borough should have a safe dedicated cycleway. This cannot be achieved overnight, but the first step is to identify the key sites that generate journeys, then work out some sort of schedule of priorities. We need to look for a few quick wins.

My suggestion would be to transform the old, disused Mill Hill the Hale to Edgware railway into a dedicated cycleway. This would provide a safe cycling route between Edgware Station/Shopping centre and Mill Hill Broadway. We believe it should also be possible to link the route to Edgware Hospital. This would make a statement that Barnet is serious about cycling. It would link two major transport hubs, a housing estate and a hospital. We'd also like to see a Boris Bike scheme rolled out for Mill Hill Broadway, The RAF Museum, Colindale Station, Hendon Station and Middlesex University. If this could be integrated with a rollout of safe cycle lanes, then even better.

There are all sorts of other improvements that have been made in central London, with changes to traffic light configurations and timings. One of the biggest risks to cyclists are motorists opening doors in front of them. It has been suggested that part of the Highway code and driving test should be to always open the drivers door with the wrong hand (in the UK the left hand). This may sound strange but it forces you to look around.

We find it rather strange that recently we had the sad case of a cyclist hitting a pedestrian and all manner of calls for legislation. I've lost count of the number of cyclist killed or maimed by HGV's but there is never any call for changes to the law. I believe that technology is available to massively reduce the risks to cyclists of HGV's but the road transport lobby have done a wonderful job of closing down such debates.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 15/10/2017

Here we are again, our most popular weekly feature! What have our local twits been up to?

1. We'll start with what I think is a lovely picture from the Nepali community Diwali celebrations in Burnt Oak.

2.And another slightly older Burnt Oak institution was also celebrating this week.

3. 2nD Edgware Scouts out on their first ever hike! Lets give all the group leaders, helpers and volunteers a big shout out for organising such great community activities

4.Nice shot of the Phoenix from Finchley Mums

5. Good work from Barnet Police volunteer specials

6. Mr Reasonable thinks this sign at Chipping Library needs some TLC, we agree!

7. We rather like this tweet!

8. We always like a great historic Tweet and this one fits the bill

9.Bee Keepers never sleep! Great Tweet from Finchley Horticultural society

10. And lest hear it for a special volunteer at Stephens House

That's all folks!

Saturday, 14 October 2017

The Saturday List #150 - My Top Ten Saturday Lists!

Today is a big day for Saturday Lists! It is the 150th Edition! I never thought the series would make it to 150. I didn't realise that there were so many things that I could make a list about. To celebrate reaching 99 lists, I made a complete list of my lists, so if you want to pick and choose your top ten from the first 99, it's quite easy.

The Saturday List #99 - The complete list of Saturday Lists

I always enjoy putting the lists together (well not always true, sometimes if I have a hangover I'd rather not bother).

I was pondering what my top ten lists were for this edition. Here is my pick, in no particular order.

1 - The Saturday list #83 - My ten favourite tasty snacks in London

A good list makes the reader think and ask the question "what would mine be". I think this one works really well on that level.

2 - The Saturday List #39 - Ten Great Protest Songs

It's always good to put a list of great songs together. This is a good one. I love a good protest song.

3 - The Saturday List #12 - Ten shops win Mill Hill Broadway which I really miss

Always good to have a bit of nostalgia!

4 - The Saturday List #22 - How I will spend my lottery winnings

We've all made this one!

This one attracted a few comments from friends!

This one always makes me chuckle

This one was fun and got a few comments

I love  a bit of pontification!

The secret of my success!

Friday, 13 October 2017

The Friday Joke 13/10/2017

A group of Barnet politicians recently attended a session on sexual health and wellbeing. The rather charismatic course leader said 
"The first thing we always do is a little icebreaker, to try and work out what the group is like and what their interests in the subject are. So we will start with a little question for all of you.  According to a survey we just completed, ninety percent of all people masturbate in the shower. Interestingly, the ten percent  that don't sing a particular song by The Beatles"
The group sat back in thought. 
The therapist shook her head course leader then said "So can any of Barnet's finest tell me what song they sing?"
The group all scratched their heads and one by one exclaimed "No."
The course leader then said, "I didn't think so."

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Can someone explain to Matthew Offord MP what an MP's job is supposed to be

There is a marvellous website where you can find out all about your MP. I have just used it to look up my MP -

All you need to do is put in your postcode and you can find out who your representative in Parliament is.  MP's are elected to represent you. There is all sorts of interesting information on this site, such as who has been giving donations to local MP's and their local parties. Sometimes it is quite interesting. Sometimes it is banal, here are some recent examples of donations to Mr Offord and his party. I am sure a few local residents will find some of these mildly interesting.

Register of Members’ Interests

Last updated: 11 Sep 2017.
2. (a) Support linked to an MP but received by a local party organisation or indirectly via a central party organisation
Name of donor: Mr Daniel Green
Address of donor: private
Amount of donation or nature and value if donation in kind: £5,000
Donor status: individual
(Registered 04 July 2017)

Name of donor: Mr Andrew Reid
Address of donor: private
Amount of donation or nature and value if donation in kind: £700
Donor status: individual
(Registered 04 July 2017)

2. (b) Any other support not included in Category 2(a)
Name of donor: Bestway Wholesale Ltd
Address of donor: 2 Abbey Road, Park Royal, London NW10 7BW
Amount of donation or nature and value if donation in kind: £2,000
Date received: 10 May 2017
Date accepted: 10 May 2017
Donor status: company, registration 01207120
(Registered 04 July 2017)

Name of donor: Mr Andrew Reid
Address of donor: private
Amount of donation or nature and value if donation in kind: £3,000
Date received: 11 May 2017
Date accepted: 2 June 2017
Donor status: individual
(Registered 04 July 2017)

I personally think it is rather touching that people think Mr Offord is doing a good job and feel inclined to donate cash towards the expenses he has incurred running his campaigns. There are more historical donations here -

Sadly for Mr Offord, not everyone in the Borough is quite so impressed with his efforts. I was alerted to one such person by none other than Brian Coleman, formerly a local Tory bigwig, until he rather blotted his copybook. Brian posted the following tweet yesterday.

I was intrigued. A few months ago, Local Mill Hill Councillor Val Duschinsky had told me that "there was a person with mental issues who had launched a malicious complaint against Mr Offord". I had sympathised with Val, as clearly people in public life and MP's especially are at risk, as the the tragic Jo Cox case demonstrated. In light of this I was intrigued and clicked through to the article.

What greeted me was not what I expected at all given the headline and quite interesting. The headline in Mr Coleman's tweet implied that Mr Offord had been cleared of all bad behaviour. On reading the article, the detail painted a slightly different picture. The commissioner had said that the complaint was outside their remit. This is a completely different to being cleared. I was intrigued. I looked up the name of the complainant and found they were on Twitter. Not only that, they were a University Lecturer. As a blogger, it struck me that there may be a story. So I pinged the person a message and asked if they would talk about it. In light of Vals comments, I was a tad surprised to find out that the reply I got was sane and rational. I enquired what she wanted to discuss with Offord in general terms. The reply "Some issues with our street, some issues about local business development, and his voting record - particularly related to welfare reductions."

 It all sounded very run of the mill, I couldn't for the life of me see why Offord and his staff had become so difficult. And how did the Times hear about the complaint? This is answered by the complainant in a comment. 
"I contacted the Times as I was hoping that as a local paper they would be interested in the refusal of Mr Offord to respond to requests for a meeting, or to give details about his surgery hours. I am university lecturer (having worked at Middlesex University for a long time), a mother of a small child how goes to School in the local area, and a long-time resident of Hendon. When I contacted Mr Offord's office I said that I did not want to share my concerns over email, but would rather meet personally. I was never told that this was the issue preventing Mr Offord from giving me details about this surgery hours - and I have emailed this morning (12.10.17) giving three specific reasons why I would like to meet with him. This should calm Mr Offord's fears about his personal safety. All Hendon residents should be concerned about the lack of communication from Mr Offord about a simple request for surgery hours. They should be more concerned that the parliamentary complaints commission CANNOT follow up on MPs who refuse to respond to or engage with their constituents. Finally, I will be contacting the IPSO if the title of the article is not changed - as to suggest Mr Offord is 'vindicated' is misleading."
So it seems that the matter was as simple as a constituent trying to contact an MP, not getting a satisfactory response and making a complaint in frustration. The Times clearly realised that the original text was misleading and changed the text & title, giving Dr Sanders-McDonagh her correct title and removing all reference to Mr Offord being vindicated.

I do hope that Matthew Offord now makes the effort to meet his constituent. The reason the information portal for finding info on MP's is called "TheyWorkForYou" because they do. It took me five minutes to find out that Dr Sanders-McDonagh is a well respected University lecturer. I would have thought this is just the type of person Mr Offord should be chatting to. Given his staff stated they had declined the request on the grounds she is dangerous, surely this is now not a sustainable argument.

Back in 2008, I requested a meeting with my then MP, Andrew Dismore. I had decided to quit the Labour Party and I wanted to discuss the reasons with Mr Dismore. There were many issues, with him, with the constituency and with the Labour Party that had disillusioned me. I wrote to him, explained my issues and requested a meeting. It was a very difficult meeting for Dismore, at the end of which I informed him I was leaving the Labour Party. It is fair to say that we did not part on good terms. Despite all of that, I still respected him as he had made the time and bothered to listen. In short, he did his job and explained in detail his actions.

Mr Offord should learn from the example of Dismore, who has never ducked out of difficult meetings, hid behind staff or misused police guidance to avoid difficult conversations with clever academics. He should do his job and if someone who is much cleverer than he is, gives him a hard time, he should embrace the opportunity to learn something. After seven years it is sad that Mr Offord still doesn't seem to really understand what his job should be.

Thameslink update

Siemens 700 stock at Blackfriars
For many people in the Borough, the Thameslink Railway is a daily experience. The service is reaching the end of a massive programme of investment. This started in the early 1980's. Prior to 1988, trains on what was formerly called the BedPan line ran between Bedford and London (St Pancras and Moorgate). A disused link was opened between Farringdon and Blackfriars, allowing trains to cross through London. City Thameslink Station was opened in 1990, allowing the closure and redevelopment of Holborn Viaduct Station.  A new station was built under St Pancras, in 2007 replacing the old Kings Cross Thameslink Station. Both of these new stations were built to accommodate 12 car trains, and over the next few years, various other stations on the network were upgraded to accommodate 12 car trains as well. Only three stations on the route were not upgraded, two of these were in the London Borough of Barnet (Hendon and Cricklewood). Over the last year, the new trains have finally arrived. Over the last year, the 30 year old 319 stock has been replaced by the new Siemens 700 stock. The 700 series stock is formed of trains of 8 and 12 coaches. It is worth noting that if you board a train to Hendon, you have to be on the front 7 coaches to get off. For Cricklewood and Kentish Town, you need to be on the first 8 coaches. Sadly like many infrastructure projects in the UK, there are gaps that result in hassles and difficulties for passengers.

Local commuters are now familiar with these new trains. It is probably fair to say that for many, the jury is still out. The biggest immediate issue are the issues with air conditioning. This selection of tweets shows the ordeal being endured.

This has resulted in a Twitter account being set up called @ToastedbyThameslink dedicated to putting pressure on Thameslink to fix the problems. If you are affected, I suggest you follow this account. Their account profile says "The campaign to get to actually fix the not-fit-for-purpose air conditioning on Class 700 trains."

Then there is the issue of performance. This remains poor. Thameslink provide various stats on their website, including daily and monthly statistics. The latest daily statistics at time of writing showed that only 67% of trains were running on time (Tuesday 10th). There is also a link to more detailed monthly reports on this page.

Another issue is that the new trains, in 8 car formations have less seating than the old 319 stock. There is more space, but this is for standing passengers. The seats are also largely arranged in "airline style' arrangements, allowing far less leg room. The general view is also that the seating is less comfortable, being harder than the seats on the old 319 stock.

Next year, the program will finish, there will be a new timetable. You can check how it affects your journey. There will be more trains from Mill Hill to St Pancras, here is the morning rush hour peak.
Click for a more readable version
So it seems that things will improve, at least in terms of service frequency. We will continue to monitor the progress of Thameslink.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

North Finchley Regeneration Update - Consensus at the council

Oktoberfest at the Bohemia, North Finchley This Saturday
Last week, we generated a huge amount of interest about the proposed North Finchley regeneration project, which was up for discussion at Council last night. As previously mentioned, I put a series of five questions in and also requested to address the session. I was one of five members of the public who asked to address the meeting and there were also numerous questions. Also being discussed was Barnets transport strategy, but we won't cover that here. Two members of the public from local residents associations, along with Helen Michael, from the North Finchley Traders. The residents had a whole set of concerns about the impact of the plans on residents. Traffic, disruption, overcrowding and overdevelopment were key themes. Helen Michael was worried about the impact on local businesses of construction and loss of parking. Various councillors asked questions. It emerged that there was a cross party consensus that the previous attempt at North Finchley regeneration and the Town Team was seen as a failure that had failed to deliver real improvements, despite a huge grant from the Mayor of London. My address was to request that papers for such meetings are put on the Council website earlier. There was only three days between the publication of the papers and the closure date for questions. With so much in the reports, it is simply not feasable to read everything properly. Councillor Cornelius, council leader, agreed that this was something that could be looked at. I stated that I did not oppose the plans, I wanted the job done properly.

This scheme, backed by the developers of Brent Cross is a step change. There will be huge changes, including new building, a multi story car park in Lodge Lane, a new traffic layout, parking changes and lots of new residents. All parties agreed that North Finchley needs improving. No one stated that this scheme was bad. The questions were around the detail. Blogger Mr Reasonable asked where the social housing tenants of Barbara Langstone house would go. Councillor Cornelius admitted he didn't know. He suggested that it wasn't a nice place to live. Mr Reasonable stated that for the tenants it was the only choice and if it was going, the issue had to be addressed. There was discussion around the bus garage. Where would the buses live if the aspiration of closing the garage was achieved. Conservative Councillor Tony Finn suggested that the selection of shops in North Finchley was pretty good. There was much good humoured mirth at his comment that there was a very good "specialist shoe shop". His colleague Tom Davey suggested that the only way to improve town centres was either more parking or lots of rich residents. He worried that the scheme wasn't viable. His Boss, Councillor Cornelius "shot him down from the right" by saying that the developers knew what they were doing and wouldn't spend cash if there was no business case.

Labour Councillors, some of whom were ward councillors were generally supportive. They wanted more detail. It emerged that a transport survey had not been done. Cllr Houston suggested that this was vital to properly understand the scheme. This seemed to have been adopted. Cllr Houston also suggested that the six weeks consultation seemed short. There was some discussion and the reason was to complete it before a meeting in February. No one asked if the meeting could be moved back a month. It was agreed that six weeks would be initially set as the period, with a 'pragmatic' approach and an extension if local interest warranted it. Councillor Schneiderman was worried that existing traders would be forced out. It was suggested that the developer may wish to come up with some ideas to prevent this.

The committee unanimously agreed to take the proposal forward to the next stage. My overall view is that there is recognition that the area needs improvement. There is consensus that the concept of the scheme is good. It is at a very early stage and the detail is far from clear. We will follow this and when the consultation starts, will ensure that readers of this blog are kept fully informed.

One final comment. I must congratulate Cllr Cornelius on how he chaired the meeting. Public comment and questions went overtime by ten minutes. Unlike some committee chairs, he recognised that this was useful. He treated all of the questioners with due respect and courtesy. The committee also debated the issues with a far greater degree of common sense than many debates I've seen. I was pleased to hear that Cllr Finn had bothered to go and have a look around. Even some rather strange comments by Cllr Davey were treated with good humour and respect by the Labour Councillors. When he got too excited, Councillor Cornelius gently brought him back to reality. I am not sure whether it is the election looming or a more general recognition that the "Coleman era rudeness" to residents and taxpayers has been counter productive, but it very much seems to me that the regime in Barnet has adopted a far more sensible approach to such meetings of late. Lets hope that this conversion survives the next election, whoever wins.

Monday, 9 October 2017

There is no community without community spaces

I had a walk around the other side of Mill Hill at the weekend. I live just off Mill Hill Broadway, so I thought I'd have a mosey around Millbrook Park, the huge development on the site of the former Inglis Barracks. This was where the Royal Engineers were based. What struck me was the lack of infrastructure to support The community. In the Broadway, we have all manner of facilities. The scheme is building 2,200 new homes. On the Linden homes website, it lists local amenities (strangely showing an airport on Lawrence St). What is alarming is the total lack of amenities on the site. No shops, pubs, secondary schools, non faith schools, medical centres, restaurants, leisure facilities, or restaurants.

This has two big downsides. Firstly how will a local community ever develop? Without communal activity there can be no sense of belonging. Secondly everyone will need a car to do anything. Compare and contrast with The Watling Estate, built with 4032 homes in the 1930's. It came with shops, schools, youth centres, pubs, restaurants, churches with church halls, a new tube line, football fields. To compliment the main Watling shops, there were smaller parades such as Deanesbrook.

In short, the planners in 1920's understood the concept of community. How on earth can Barnet planners allow such a desert of cultural activity to have been built. The nearest pub, the railway engineer has been allowed to shut. The nearest tube station, Mill Hill East has had its direct service to London decimated. The one school on site is a CofE faith school.

There is a big problem for new residents. The roads are not adopted by the council. This means you pay Council tax, but they don't maintain your road. This is just not fair or equitable.