Another evening, another local political hustings to attend.
The Lambeth Cyclists political call to arms wasn’t quite the Red Flag revolutionary radical hotbed of the Stop the War hustings from the night before. But bicyclists are passionate, and they tend to talk a lot of sense.
The #hyperlocal hometown patch of the Community Resource Centre at Sunny Stockwell was handy. My local @LambethLibDems Councillor thought the same. Sadly @janeinlondon / East Hampshire and the rest of the @LambethLabour local Oval candidates either don’t care about cycling, or perhaps they just got a little lost outside of East Hampshire.
But anyway. It was good to see @LambethLabour representation from the very decent Councillor Haselden, a fine local politician, and a passionate cyclist. Councillor Heather was representing @LambethLibDems, Councillor Whelan (female variety) the Tories and John Hare was speaking for Lambeth Greens.
As is the format with most hustings, each candidate was first given an opportunity to introduce their policies. Councillor Whelan proudly declared: “half of the Lambeth Conservative group are passionate cyclists.” I think she meant herself and the good husband.
Much was made of the Tory enthusiasm for bicycling, as promoted by Boris and Dave. I’ve actually got a bit of a *shhh* soft spot for the wet, ineffectual Lambeth Tories; but it was when Councillor Whelan brought the Bullingdon boys into the conversation that my love of the blue rinse receded.
Councillor Whelan explored the idea of building bicycle lanes on disused railway lines. A fine principle, but there ‘aint that many of these around Lambeth. The Lambeth Tory record of supporting an increase in bike racks and an increase in cycling routes was also mentioned.
The Tories locally are also on the record for calling for increased cycle training. Councillor Whelan raised the stakes further by calling for all car drivers to also undertake cycle training course.
So yeah, the Conservatives in Lambeth have genuine green credentials, albeit little political power. A fine opening.
Councillor Heather of the @LambethLibDems was then allowed his ten minutes to explain the opposition policy towards cycling.
“I am not a cyclist myself, but I do recognise that the Council has appointed an extremely good Cycle Programme Manager in Richard Ambler.”
With the @LambethLibDems pledging in their manifesto to cut down on council bureaucracy, I think our man Richard can rest easy at night, come May 7th.
Councillor Heather put forward the policy of introducing a 20mph speed limit around Lambeth. Given that central Brixton and Streatham High Road already operate a non law enforced go slow policy, this shouldn’t make too much of a difference if rolled out borough wide.
In a rare moment of a @LambethLibDems love in with @LambethLabour, Councillor Heather also praised the specialist training that Lambeth HGV drivers have to undertake. This is a crucial issue when you consider the increase in deaths of London bicyclists at the hands of HGV’s this year.
The Cycle Super Highway doesn’t have the support of @LambethLibDems:
“It forces cyclists on to routes that quite frankly, are rather undesirable.”
The Cycle Super Highway goes past my front door.
The political hot potato of potholes then surfaced. Or even re-surfaced, if you see what I mean. Councillor Heather was heavily critical of Labour’s record in reducing potholes.
As I keep saying – potholes: they are an election winner…
The right old mess of the bodged Herne Hill junction at Brockwell Park was next up on Councillor Heather’s radar. Quite right too. To give up green space with the aim of improving the traffic flow, only to find that a great big pavement has been plonked down instead, is one of the major environmental failures of @LambethLabour.
Councillor Heather continued this theme, pledging that @LambethLibDems would not build on any other green land in the borough, and in particular (and of great political significance) Streatham Common and the proposed temporary ice rink.
To defend @LambethLabour’s cycling and green credentials was Councillor Haselden – a very affable chap who is fantastic on the detail and finer points of town planning:
“We have a very good pedigree when it comes to cycling. Lambeth is the only borough in London that has two dedicated cycling officers. We want to raise the profile of cycling, and we have introduced a road reduction scheme.”
Councillor Haselden spoke of “addressing the dangers at source,” and “making cycling and walking more attractive.” This #hyperlocal approach is well used by Councillor Haselden. He understands the specific problems that various junctions around the borough present to bicyclists. The trick is of how best to solve them…
Green candidate John Hare then had his ten minutes to address the floor:
“Being the Green candidate, I have the easy gig. I have read the Lambeth Cyclists manifesto. I endorse it fully, although I don’t think it goes far enough.”
John confirmed his support for a borough wide 20mph speed limit, noting in particular how South Lambeth Road is now empty during the day. The congestion charge has seen to this, but it now gives boy racers the opportunity to put their foot down. As a former resident, I can confirm this to be the case.
“Political will makes things happen – not town planners or engineers.”
The second half of the hustings was put over to questions from the floor. With the council naming and shaming drug dealers in the borough, the idea was suggested that we should do the same with bad drivers. The consensus was no, demonstrating what the priorities and perceived threat is from a political point of view.
All candidates were then asked to commit to a policy of offering cycle training to 100% of primary school children in the borough. With cuts and books to balance for the next administration, this was a put up or shut up moment.
Yes was the Tory response, yes in theory from Labour (“although my hands aren’t on the purse strings.“) An “achievable aim” was the answer from the LibDems, adding: “staff are in posts that are not producing much.”
John Hare of the Greens was decent (and honest enough) to admit:
“We’re not going to be in power and so it’s not a decision we will have to make.”
A further question asked the candidates to rank the balance of power between car drivers and cyclists. In particular the example of the hellish crossover by Kennington Park into Brixton Road was cited, as well as the new junction heading up to Brixton Hill, right outside Lambeth Town Hall.
All panel members came up with anecdotes about Brixton Road, but Councillor Haselden was alone in his endorsement of the “improved” traffic flow around Windrush Square. The Brockwell Park Herne Junction then made a return, thanks to a hit and miss question posed by a young (ish) local blogger / bicyclist.
This was a detailed, and very lengthy meeting. Bicyclists are rather picky on the finer points of trying to find a safe and enjoyable way around town on two wheels.
Cheap political points weren’t there to be scored, and it was refreshing to see cross party support for cycling, and a more sustained form of transport in general throughout the borough.
Transport probably won’t play a key role in the local elections. All four main parties in Lambeth are broadly in agreement for the way ahead, come May 7th. Our role as the electorate is to ensure that this consensus is built upon and the next administration aims to keep cycling in Lambeth high up on the agenda.