Yesterday saw the first MQT since the elections. Labour now dominate the Assembly with twelve members but the Conservative group remains a respectable size at nine - the election was far from the rout that some commentators expected. The real losers were the small parties who were once again squeezed between the two big players and there are only two Lib Dems now along with two Greens. The growth of the Labour Group has forced the remaining Libs around the horseshoe onto the Conservative side and they look distinctly uncomfortable - no coalitionism here.
Questions started where they left off, on cycle safety. Both the Libs and the Greens are pushing a campaign called 'Go Dutch' which seeks to replicate Holland in London with respect to cycle safety. It is a noble cause but fails to allow for the conditions in our capital city - one might as well promote a 'Go Vegas' campaign to increase tourism or a 'Go Littlehampton' campaign to cut crime and pollution. For the Greens in particular this is their way of opposing plans to smooth traffic flow and cut congestion, which they consider to be incompatible with cycle safety.
Boris assured us that he was working to improve safety at key junctions. Keen cyclist and new Conservative Group Leader Andrew Boff risked opprobrium by suggesting that if cyclists obeyed the Highway Code there would be many fewer accidents. On his ride to work he feels that he is the only cyclist to stop at the red lights. Some tougher enforcement action would improve safety and save lives.
Val Shawcross, who narrowly missed becoming Ken's Deputy Mayor, is back at transport and she asked a good open question about TfL's business plan. The good thing about open questions is that they allow supplementaries to range quite widely. I took advantage of the opportunity to seek a meeting with Boris to review Crossrail's plans in Havering & Redbridge.
During the promotional phase of Crossrail we were treated to artist's impressions of glittering new stations - a cornucopia of Tie Racks and Sock Shops. The reality is different, and a sad let down. At Romford disabled access is being improved but the new station looks very cramped, as Network Rail have increased the back office space at the expense of the ticket hall and existing retail units. At the start of the month passengers queue out of the entrance and down South Street to purchase tickets and whilst developments with Oyster will reduce demand for tickets to London, they will do nothing for travellers heading out of town who will still have to join the line.
Furthermore there are no plans to link the station to the nearby bus terminus on the south side of the station. Instead a new entrance will debouch on the north side into an alleyway known as The Battis, an area currently dominated by recycling bins and parked vans. An opportunity to regenerate this run down part of Romford is in danger of being lost because of Network Rail's penny pinching.
Boris agreed to a meeting, so that was 'mission accomplished' and we moved on.
I asked Boris about plans to roll out the new look 'Routemaster' and he stated that the budget exists to bring 600 of these fine vehicles into service. New technology will make this the cleanest bus yet, improving air quality and cutting CO2 emissions - air quality in London has been getting better, although you would never know it from the hot air that has been issuing from the Labour and Green Groups.
The bus would also save money by cutting fuel consumption and of course, reducing fare evasion. Boris couldn't confirm which route would be the first to run the new buses in my constituency, but they will be getting an enthusiastic reception when they arrive - unlike the defunct bendy bus who's fan club maintained a sullen silence across the horseshoe...
In a response to a question from Tony Arbour, Boris maintained his opposition to plans for a Third Runway at Heathrow. He was surprised to learn that the Lib Dems in Richmond have been claiming that we support such plans. Tony urged the Mayor to resist the temptation to 'Love Bomb' the Assembly Lib Dems - given their dwindling size precision bombing would be required...
New Member Andrew Dismore pressed the case for a memorial to the Israeli athletes and coaching staff who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists 40 years ago.
The cross party campaign for recognition of this tragic episode has involved Cllr Linda Kelly of Hackney who promoted a plaque to be unveiled in the borough in July. There will also be a commemoration hosted by The Guildhall. However the IOC - with characteristic small mindedness - have rejected the call for a minute's silence during the games themselves.
Andrew and I hope the IOC will change their minds and allow a commemoration of a tragedy that is uniquely a part of their history.
There are five new Members following the election. Andrew Dismore, Onkar Sahota, Tom Copley and Stephen Knight all asked their maiden questions at this meeting leaving only Labour's Fiona Twycross to make her mark. They all looked quite promising so it will be interesting to see how the new Assembly develops over its term of office.