Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s Speech in Parliament yesterday (10/05/2022) outlined the Government’s legislative programme. One item of interest for road users was the inclusion of a Public Order Bill to give the police new powers to tackle disruptive demonstrations.

It is likely to mean that “locking on” or gluing oneself to objects will become a specific criminal offence, as will Interfering with key national infrastructure. Police may gain greater powers to stop and search, in a bid to prevent disruptive protests. “Protest Asbos,” or “serious disruption prevention orders” will also become part of the Public Order Bill – imposing conditions on repeat offenders. Penalties for obstructive behaviour will increase also to deter those who repeatedly offend and who frequently take little notice of the current fines imposed.

These proposals brought the predictable complaints from groups such as Extinction Rebellion.

Comment: This legislation is long overdue. Peaceful protest to bring issues to the attention of the public should be protected. But behaviour that disrupts people’s lives, incurs large costs in transport delays and policing needs should not be accepted.

Let us hope that this legislation gets through Parliament quickly and is not diluted by obstructive behaviour in the House of Lords.

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Local Elections Postmortem

Now that most of the local council election results are in, it’s worth reviewing the results. Particularly in London where many local issues such as the impact of LTNs should have had an impact.

Overall the Conservatives lost hundreds of council seats in the country in what was seen as a complaint about the cost of living, the dislike of Boris Johnson as a result of “partygate” and other national issues. This was a particular problem in London. But there were very mixed results when the detail is examined.

In London Labour won Westminster, Wandsworth and Barnet from the Conservatives but they lost Harrow to the Conservatives. Also Labour lost the elected Mayor role in Tower Hamlets to Lutfur Rahman who had previously been banned from standing after an Election Court found him guilty of illegal and corrupt practices in 2015. LTNs were a significant issue in Tower Hamlets.

Croydon has a new Conservative directly elected Mayor in Jason Perry who won by a narrow majority after a recount. Let us hope that he introduces some reforms after the previous regime bankrupted the council. Postscript: The overall result in terms of other councillors was that Labour lost overall control of the Council with the Conservatives having the largest number of councillors.

In Bromley there was a minor upset in Chislehurst ward where newly formed party Chislehurst Matters won all three seats after running a very effective campaign using social media and focussing on a few local issues. But Conservatives still retained overall control of the council with 36 seats won. Former council leader Colin Smith was re-elected so presumably he will remain in post which is surely to be welcomed as Bromley has generally been a well-managed borough both financially and otherwise in recent years.

In Lewisham the Labour Party retained control – it will remain a one-party state. Mayor Damien Egan actually increased his vote slightly to 58% of all votes cast, although that still equates to only 20.3% of the electorate on a low turnout of 35%. In Lee Green, the ward where there was a lot of controversy over the LTN, Labour retained all three seats but with reduced voting percentages. Comment: there is clearly a lot of political apathy in Lewisham and campaigns by opposing parties seemed to be lacklustre.

In Lambeth, Labour retained control although the LibDems gained a few seats. The Conservatives were nowhere.  

In Islington, Labour won 45 of 48 seats to retain control with the Green Party winning the remaining three.

Labour retained control of Greenwich on a 34% turnout.

In Southwark Labour retained control and the opposition to the LTN in Dulwich seemed to have little impact although in that ward the Conservatives and LibDems effectively split the opposition vote.  

In Enfield where there was substantial controversy over LTNs the Conservatives reduced Labour’s overall majority on the council from 29 to 13.

In summary the dislike of LTNs had some impact on the results in some boroughs but the national image of the Conservatives did not help with Labour talking mainly about issues such as the economy (which local councillors have no influence over) and ignoring local issues.

The outcome also depended to a large extent on the campaigning effectiveness and expenditure in the local wards, with Chislehurst Matters showing how revolutions could overturn results even when there were no clear manifesto or policy commitments. Personal engagement can make a big difference.

Politics is also a long game and turning around the preferences of people to vote for individual candidates or platforms rather than a party as they should do is not easy.  

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Make Sure You Vote Tomorrow

The elections for Councillors in London are being held tomorrow (May the 5th). So please get off your backsides and vote!

Polling stations are open from 7.00 am to 10.00 pm so there is really no excuse (unless you have already submitted a postal vote). There is typically a low turnout in local elections so those elected can be unrepresentative of the views of the electorate unless you cast your votes.

These are elections for your local councillors (and Mayors in some boroughs) so vote for those who will best represent you – not necessarily on traditional party lines. This is not a referendum on your views of central Government but on how well your local borough has been managed.

Please make sure you vote!

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act is Now Law

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act is now law as it has received Royal Assent. This Act includes the strengthening of police powers to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect on the public or on access to Parliament. For example demonstrations by such groups as Extinction Rebellion have closed roads, delayed emergency services and incurred millions of pounds in costs to the police. They have also been exceedingly noisy in some cases thus creating disruption and annoyance over a wide area.

The new Act does not stop peaceful demonstrations but it will hamper the activities of extremist organisations who wish to grab attention to their cause by creating disruption. It is surely therefore a positive move to clarify and reinforce the law in this area.

There are many aspects of criminal law tidied up in this Act but one negative aspect is Clause 67 of the Bill which provides a statutory footing for the charging of fees for courses offered as an alternative to prosecution for fixed penalty offences. It gives the police discretion to offer an educational course to a motorist who has committed a low-level driving offence. This is as an alternative to a fixed penalty or prosecution and avoids liability to a criminal conviction, penalty points and higher fine.

As we have pointed out this for the first time makes it legal for the police to solicit a payment to waive prosecution and can be used by the police to raise funds – for example to generate more offences by financing more speed cameras. See https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/speed-awareness-courses.htm for more information.

The new Act also increases the maximum sentence for the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs to a life sentence. There is also the creation of a new offence of causing serious injury by careless, or inconsiderate, driving. The offence is committed if a person causes serious injury by driving a car or other mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other road users. But the drafting is ambiguous. What is meant by “serious injury” and it could mean that a simple driving error can result in someone being sentenced to a custodial sentence.

These changes are unprincipled in nature and should not have been made.

Government explanation of the Act: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/police-crime-sentencing-and-courts-bill-2021-factsheets/police-crime-sentencing-and-courts-bill-2021-protest-powers-factsheet

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How To Vote in the May Council Elections

The elections for Councillors in London are on May the 5th and I hope you will vote. There is typically a low turnout in local elections so those elected can be unrepresentative of the views of the electorate.

Another problem is that people often vote on national party lines when it is local councillors who make the decisions that affect you directly in your local borough. They also have a big influence on the level of Council Tax that you pay and there is a big variation between different boroughs in London depending on how well the local council manages their finances and the decisions taken by Councillors. It is therefore important that you select the best people to be Councillors.

Another issue to consider is whether Councillors will represent your views and actually respond when you raise an issue with them. A good example of what can go wrong is when Councillors stand for election because they want to save the world from global warming or wish to attack the national Government over its handling of the economy and the price of energy. Councillors have no influence over those matters.

The worst Councillors are those who ignore the views of the public and think they know best. One of the contentious issues in many London boroughs is that over Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). In several London boroughs where there has been strong opposition to LTNs, it is very clear from survey responses and consultations that most people oppose the LTNs. But Labour Councillors have frequently refused to listen.

Legal challenges to LTNs have been shown to be exceedingly difficult so the only way to get some changes is to vote out the Councillors who supported them!

Who to vote for instead? Only the Conservative Party have made a clear commitment to remove the LTNs in boroughs such as Lewisham and Lambeth. The Liberal Democrats stance is more nuanced and varies from borough to borough.

Labour might win the Council seats simply because the opposition votes are split between the other parties and the few independent candidates. So I would suggest some tactical voting is required, i.e. vote for the candidates that are most likely to gain election and who have policies that you generally agree with.

But try to speak to your local ward councillors (and to the Mayoral candidates in those boroughs who have a directly elected Mayor). Or of course look at their manifestos which you can usually find easily on the web. Particularly look at how interested they are in keeping the road network moving as opposed to spouting dogma about climate emergencies.

But do make sure you vote!

Roger Lawson

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Sadiq Khan Wants Your Views

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, wants your views on the future of London. He has issued a survey which is available on the Talk London platform which asks a number of questions and also allows you to post some general comments.

The survey starts out by asking you to pick your top three choices from the following changes you would like to see in the next ten years:

Safer streets for walking and cycling; Cleaner streets; “Improved parks and green spaces; More attractive outdoor public spaces; More trees and greenery outside of parks; More workplaces; Better public transport; More housing; More attractive high streets and town centres; More physically accessible public spaces; Don’t know”.

This list does not include my top choices at all which would be: “1) Better private transport (i.e. more road space and less congestion, with fewer closed roads, bus lanes and cycle lanes); 2) Fewer people and less encouragement to move into London to reduce the stress on housing provision and transport provision; and 3) Lower taxes such as the ULEZ, Congestion Charge and Mayor’s Council Tax Precept.

I might vote for more trees and greenery but more housing we do not want in an already congested city.

In other words, it’s a typical biased survey from the Mayor that asks both the wrong questions and asks leading questions.

Some of the later survey questions are more innocuous but miss the opportunity to really find out what Londoners want. It then takes you to a section where you can add general comments on a few issues.

This is a good opportunity to give your real feelings about what how you think London should be improved (and you could of course mention the removal of Sadiq Khan as a starter). So please do respond to this survey.

You’ll need to register for the Talk London platform first but that’s easy. Go here to start: https://www.london.gov.uk/talk-london/planning-londons-future?

Roger Lawson

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Petition re Road Safety in Chislehurst

In the London Borough of Bromley a new political party called “Chislehurst Matters” has been formed to fight the council elections in May. A few local activists seem dissatisfied with the efforts of their current Conservative councillors. Specifically they have concerns about actions on road safety and particularly the lack of a pedestrian phase at the Chislehurst War Memorial junction.

Tonight (28/2/2022) the council is considering a petition signed by more than 4,000 people and submitted by a group called “Safe Crossings for Chislehurst”. Who are they? Unlike the leaders of Chislehurst Matters they seem to prefer to remain anonymous although Chris Wells was promoting a previous petition on the same subject.

You can read the latest petition here: https://cds.bromley.gov.uk/documents/s50096598/Petitions.pdf and the council’s response which I consider eminently reasonable.  Councillor Huntington-Thresher has previously said this on this issue: ““Road Safety remains an ever present high priority, with this particular junction being carefully considered for a controlled crossing point over the years. The reality is that the installation of a pedestrian phase without a redesign of the junction would undoubtedly increase congestion, not just at the junction itself but also in the surrounding local roads, actually and ironically, causing an even bigger road safety issue”.

My recent comments to Chislehurst Matters were:

To Alison Stammers, et al

I welcome the formation of Chislehurst Matters to fight the forthcoming council elections as it’s always good to have more choices in whom one can vote for. But I have some concerns about some of the content of the platform you are adopting.

For example you highlight road safety and particularly the controversial issue of the War Memorial junction crossing.

You don’t seem to be aware that Bromley has an exemplary record on improving road safety and in general has been following rational policies since the Conservatives took over control of the Council many years ago. I recall what it was like before then and it was certainly greatly improved partly by not wasting money on political dogma but actually looking at the available evidence. I have been involved in road safety issues in many London boroughs, particularly Croydon and Lewisham for example, where the result of their policies has been a worse road safety record than Bromley.

I recently wrote this blog article on this subject which gives more information: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2021/12/13/bromley-road-safety-record-beats-most-others/  

As regards the War Memorial junction, my views on this issue were spelled out in another blog post in 2019 here: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2019/10/08/is-a-pelican-crossing-justified-at-the-war-memorial-junction-in-chislehurst/ . My views have not changed since, and there is no simple solution.

This is a complex issue but I don’t think Chislehurst councillors or Council staff have been thwarting safety improvements. If anyone is to blame it is the attitude of the Common Trustees who have blocked any changes to improve that junction and the Chislehurst Society has not been helpful either. And there is also the issue of where the required funding for any scheme would come from which is subject to the whims of TfL.

That also applies to the accidents that regularly take place at the white spot roundabout in the centre of Chislehurst Commons (on Centre Common Road) where a restructuring of the roads over the Common is the sole way of fixing the problem. But regrettably there is an attitude of opposition to any changes in the minds of many Chislehurst residents.

It might help to have more active councillors on other topics but when it comes to road safety issues I fear more anger and less science is not the solution.

Please pass my comments on to your colleagues.

Roger Lawson

Summary: It is most disappointing that this small group of activists are persisting with stirring up public concerns about this issue and putting forward simplistic solutions that might make overall road safety worse. They appear to know little about road safety and how best to examine and tackle the issues. In effect they are a bunch of amateurs with a bee in their bonnet about a single issue without looking at the wider environment.

I recommend that they be ignored as I find the Council’s response both rational and reasonable.

Roger Lawson

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Year End News Wrap Up

This article covers the news items that have appeared in the last couple of weeks that will be of interest to drivers:

Cycle Licensing. The Government has rejected a petition to introduce identification for cycle and e-scooter riders – in effect a licensing system. This was signed by over 10,000 people amid growing concerns about the behaviour or cyclists, particularly in major cities such as London, and the illegal use of e-scooters. The Government thinks it would be too expensive and licensing would deter cycling. See https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/585474?reveal_response=yes#response-threshold

Comment: This is an example of where more signatures might have been obtained, and a more positive response from the Government, if the petition had been more carefully worded. Other countries have introduced registration systems for cyclists in the past but often abandoned them subsequently because of the high costs of administration. But an on-line registration system might be very low cost. There should be no qualification or ability test system, but the ability to identify cyclists after involvement in an accident is important.

Bus Lanes in London.  Transport for London (TfL) have announced that the conversion of bus lanes to operate 24 hours per day has been made permanent. They say that this change that was introduced on some routes recently has improved bus journey times. For the announcement, see: https://tfl-newsroom.prgloo.com/news/tfl-press-release-24-hour-bus-lanes-trial-set-to-become-permanent-as-bus-journey-times-improve

Comment: Of course the recent reduction in bus journey times might have been down to overall traffic reduction as more people worked from home and avoided shopping during the epidemic. Bus lanes are discriminatory in that they favour one transport mode over another for no good reason and do not necessarily maximise the use of road space or the number of people carried. The photograph from the TfL Press Release above shows how underutilised are many bus lanes.

Driver Distraction. There is growing concern about the number of accidents caused by driver distraction. This is not just people using their mobile phones to call or send/receive text messages but using other in-car devices such as satnav systems. An extreme example is the ability of passengers to use touch-screen displays in Tesla vehicles for “gameplay” which is now being investigated by US safety body NHTSA – see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-59760366

Comment: As in-car electronic devices have proliferated and more control options have been provided, it’s become more complex over recent years and inexperienced drivers are the most easily distracted. This certainly requires some investigation because “failed to notice” is a big cause of accidents according to police reports. It may be worth considering whether satnav and infotainment systems should be controllable only when a vehicle is stationary.

ABD Ejected. The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has been thrown out of PACTS (the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety) apparently due to the issue of an injudicious tweet. The ABD claims this is down to pressure from “anonymous extreme cycling lobby trolls” but that is a typical unwise comment from ABD Directors and was one reason why I tried to get some changes made in the ABD and am no longer connected with them. PACTS may be an ineffective organisation in promoting transport safety with poor leadership but association with the extremists at the ABD is becoming something no responsible organisation wishes to be linked to.

Car Insurance Costs. One positive change in the New Year for car drivers is that insurers will no longer be able to charge a different rate for new customers to old ones. So renewals should not automatically rise as they have done in the past.

Comment: This should ensure that we do not have to waste time looking at alternative quotes to avoid being stiffed by insurers reliance on our apathy. However despite Willis Towers Watson claiming that insurance rates are at a six year low, my quote to renew insurance was increased by 7% this week. That’s despite my 22 years of no claims bonus and nothing of significance otherwise in recent years. I will be shopping around for an alternative quote. I expected my insurance to fall as I have been driving less in the last two years due to the pandemic and that is generally true of the wider population so accidents have fallen.

Postscript: I got an alternative insurance quotation and managed to cut the cost by £99 from the proposed renewal cost so switched to Saga who I have used in the past. A most efficient on-line quotation system. The moral is that it still pays to shop around.

Croydon Streetspace Schemes and Governance. The London Borough of Croydon is pushing ahead with its Streetspace schemes despite very strong local opposition – see https://news.croydon.gov.uk/next-phase-of-walking-and-cycling-schemes-approved/ . But Croydon residents have also voted to move to a directly elected Mayor which shows the dissatisfaction with the way the borough has been run recently.

Comment: I am not sure this will make a big difference. In Lewisham who have a directly elected Mayor we still see extreme and unwise policies being promoted by the Mayor.

Conclusion. What does the new year hold for private motorists? Probably more prejudice as extreme cyclists continue to dominate policy and the Government’s net zero policies prejudice all private transport. Irrationality continues to be rampant with no proper cost/benefit analysis of new policies or projects.

There is unfortunately a decline in moderation in all politics so we see rushed decisions being taken about responses to the pandemic including using it as an excuse to close roads. We all need to return to sanity and not let the extremists dominate debate.

The Freedom for Drivers Foundation is trying to promote rational and moderate policies so please support us in doing so.

Roger Lawson

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Deputy Transport Mayor Replaced

London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport, Heidi Alexander, has resigned. Her replacement is Seb Dance (photo above) who was formerly a Member of the European Parliament representing the Labour Party.

What experience or qualifications does he have to take on this job, such as previous knowledge or work in the transport sector? None so far as I can find although I have asked him (no response so far). So just as Heidi Alexander was appointed when she had no relevant experience, we have another Labour Party politician who is going to have to learn from scratch about the problems of TfL and London’s transport systems when the systems are in crisis.

I guess he did need another job but the Major should not be appointing his pals and political friends to responsible positions in this way. TfL have enough problems without amateurs getting involved.

Roger Lawson

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Making London Transport Sustainable

The battle over funding for London’s Transport goes on.  At the time of writing the government has granted a paltry 7-day extension of funds to TfL while demanding Mayor Sadiq Khan comes up with alternative proposals for how he will generate an extra £500m – £1bn a year to fund his apparently unsustainable transport system.  This while at the same time the Government is encouraging people to work from home again, significantly reducing public transport usage once more. In granting this 7-day extension it’s interesting to note the plans proposed by Khan, which the government rightly rejected.  These were:

•         A return of VED paid by London car owners to TfL

•         A Greater London Boundary Charge, charging motorists who come from outside London into it £3.50 a day.

•         A levy on deliveries made for online purchases, targeting delivery drivers.

Other ideas still on the table include raising the Congestion Charge and ULEZ tax rates.  The latter would be after the recently expanded zone failed to raise the income anticipated. Khan may speak of how it has reduced the number of polluting vehicles, but you do not introduce a new tax without planning on it raising substantially more revenue in the future.

What do all the above have in common? They are all targeting private motor vehicles – the car and delivery vans. Khan’s message is crystal clear: he wants to raise money from drivers rather than tackle the basic problem that public transport users in London do not pay for the cost of the services that are provided. It’s unsustainable.

Fundamental reform is needed to make transport in London more sustainable. Only then will Sadiq Khan need to stop asking the Government for more bail-outs.

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