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Yesterday’s Places Scrutiny Committee meeting began by reminding me a little of being on a United Airlines flight.
The crew (Councillors) had forgotten to reserve their seats (take their copy of the Agenda to the meeting) so instead commandeered the seats (Agendas) that had been allocated to passengers (members of the public). None of the five copies printed for members of the public were available to them and no Councillor would relinquish his copy despite the best efforts of the Committee Officer.
It must be borderline illegal as the law says that Agendas must be available to the public. Are we supposed to print out the 56 pages for ourselves before attending?
When an Agenda is available I am able to read it at the meeting and begin to plan this meeting report. Perhaps more importantly one can judge if the later items are likely to be uninformative and safely missed. i.e. Get home early!
The first item on the Agenda was a Motion against the proposal to cease the 150 year old tradition of running trains across Bexley into Waterloo East, Charing Cross and Victoria and to encourage residents to participate in the consultation and add their names to a petition.
It struck me as supreme irony. In the eight years I have followed Bexley Council’s antics closely they have never once taken any notice of any petition and they stood idly by when Victoria services were withdrawn from the North Kent line (†). Now that Cabinet members living to the south are personally affected they must be seen to join the protest movement. Consultations have fared better only rarely.
It must of course be accepted that this latest service reduction by the train operating companies will have a far greater impact than losing the North Kent to Victoria service quite a number of years ago. However both the Motion and the debate failed to mention that there are plans for Slade Green, Erith, Belvedere and Abbey Wood to be deprived of direct services to Blackheath and Lewisham which has been a hub for many Southeastern services.
As Councillor Colin Tandy (Conservative, St. Mary’s) pointed out it is also deeply ironic that Network Rail has spent hundreds of millions on replacing a tangle of track east of London Bridge with fly-overs and fly-unders. An investment intended to to improve services is in practice being used to dramatically cut services.
Cabinet Member Philip Read would probably label that a success for the privatisation of British Rail. Apologies for a reference to a Philip Read speech not yet reported.
Here’s the Motion
and this is what Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer had to say about it.
He was concerned about the loss of access to King’s College Hospital, something North Kent line users have had to put up with for years, however he was correct in saying that “we simply cannot get into central London or anywhere near it quickly by road”. He referred to the severe problems at Blackwall and there being no alternative: but whose fault is that?
Councillor Sawyer thought the Secretary of State was “grossly unfair and unacceptable” to accept that “stations such Gillingham, Dover and Tonbridge” should have better access to London termini than south east London.
It was also “totally unacceptable that our commuters should face a loss of service” after suffering years of disruption at London Bridge.
He found it “odd” that the petition website says that there is “no proposal to cut specific services” but the consultation is all about cutting services. Increased train reliability would be welcome but not at any cost and he had written to the Secretary of State and the Mayor of London to express his concerns.
Protest events would be organised at local railway stations where the Council’s A5 leaflet would be distributed. “It is appalling that a Conservative Secretary of State should have put forward such proposals.” He had also asked for railway "Road Shows" to be held in Bexley during commuter hours instead of at termini at lunchtime when no commuters are present.
As one might expect, Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) made a number of points about the increasing population, train lengths, the capacity of Victoria station and freight train paths through Lewisham all of which undermined Southeastern’s case.
Councillor Gareth Bacon (Conservative, Longlands) said he was a “daily victim” of Southeastern trains and was critical of the removal of seats when more 12 car trains is what is required. He called for all party opposition to the proposal by Councillors, GLA members and MPs.
Councillor Tandy said that some journeys, he cited Croydon, would become much more expensive when it was necessary to go via a London terminal rather than an intermediate station on a Victoria service.
The Motion was approved by a show of hands which was almost certainly unanimous.
† I was an Abbey Wood to London commuter from May 1987 until March 1992 and used the Victoria service if it looked like it might have an empty seat. I think it was almost certainly peak hours only and probably did not run throughout those five years.