Boris’s traffic flow obsession "costing lives" says Brian Paddick

"Boris Johnson's obsession with traffic smoothing is costing lives," Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Brian Paddick has told the London SE1 website.

Brian Paddick
Brian Paddick campaigning on Waterloo Bridge during the 2008 election

The Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate made this bold statement less than a week after the death of Ellie Carey in Bermondsey and in the light of a spate of other high-profile collisions where cyclists have been killed.

With six months to go until the fourth mayoral election, Brian Paddick is in a 'listening phase' of his campaign before he publishes his manifesto in the new year. Although he's officially 'listening' rather than making policy pronouncements, he has plenty to say.

I meet him at the Liberal Democrats' headquarters in Westminster where we discuss a range of topics, including the Elephant & Castle where the next Mayor will have a key role in determining the future of the transport interchange and how the needs of motorists, bus passengers, tube passengers, pedestrians and cyclists are reconciled.

"I would have to say that there is a balance to be achieved because buses, for example, and delivery trucks still have to negotiate London roads," he says.

"But having said that, you cannot have a roads policy that puts people's lives at risk. We are seeing a significant increase in fatalities, particularly of cyclists."

Mr Paddick's claim is at odds with Transport for London statistics which show that cycling is getting safer.

"I visited some of the sites of where those fatalities have taken place – the Bow Roundabout, for example – and we were at Kings Cross yesterday looking at the junction where a student was killed recently.

"It's quite clear how those junctions at minimal cost can be modified in order to make them safer for cyclists and yet Transport for London will not change the layout because they said it will slow down traffic flow."

One of Boris Johnson's first acts at City Hall was to tear up the old road user hierarchy which placed the needs of those on foot or bike above those of motorists. Paddick is unambiguous about what his approach would be.

"What we have got to do is make London more civilised and that means giving priority to pedestrians and to cyclists. We need to look at all the major junctions and see how we can modify them in order to make it safe for cyclists."

Cycle superhighways and cycle hire

We talk about Boris Johnson's popular image as a cyclist and whether, in reality, his high-profile Barclays Cycle Superhighways and Barclays Cycle Hire schemes have matched the rhetoric.

On the Mayor's dedicated cycle routes, Paddick is sceptical: "Yes, he portrays himself as a keen cyclist but in terms of cycle superhighways, they are largely blue paint sprayed on the road.

"In fact if you look at a lot of so-called superhighways, they're also car parks and they're slightly more slippery when they're wet than if you didn't have any paint on the thing at all.

"The London Cycling Campaign says that it can lull cyclists into a false sense of security. They think it's a superhighway but then they get into a junction and that's where these accidents are happening.

"I think the Mayor has taken up Caroline Pidgeon's suggestion that any further development of the cycle superhighways should be put on hold until all these dangerous junctions have been reviewed."

Amusingly all three major parties seek to take credit for the cycle hire scheme. Labour supporters prefer to regard 'Boris bikes' as 'Kenny farthings', but Paddick claims that the scheme was a Lib Dem invention and attributes the idea to Lynne Featherstone who was a London Assembly member before entering Parliament.

"We know particularly from the extension of the Barclays Hire Scheme out to Stratford that Barclays have been given a bargain and Londoners have had to pay the rest," he says.

"Independent people in the advertising industry reckoned that the worth of the advertising that Barclays are getting from that extension to Stratford is worth at least twice what Barclays have actually paid for it.

"Boris Johnson promised that the cycle scheme would be at zero cost to Londoners, and in fact it's costing millions of pounds every year. And that is every Londoner including lots of Londoners either who are not capable or don't have the confidence to be able to get onto one of his bikes and those people in parts of London way beyond the reach of the cycle scheme."

Will he be squeezed out of a Ken v Boris contest (again)?

When we first sit down I ask Mr Paddick about the recent ComRes poll for LBC 97.3, London Tonight and the Evening Standard which showed that he was on course to receive just six per cent of first preference votes next May, down from the 10 per cent he achieved four years earlier. Doesn't he find this depressing?

"What the poll actually showed was that almost a third of Londoners haven't made up their mind," he replies. "They haven't made up their minds to vote for Ken or Boris.

"They either are going to vote for me, or for the Greens, or for another party, or they haven't made up their minds yet.

"And I think an increasing number of people are concerned about voting for either of the two major contenders because they've experienced them before, and they didn't like it, and now they're struggling to find someone else to vote for.

"So I think that's why almost a third of the people at the moment are saying that they aren't going to vote for either Ken or Boris."

It was apparent in 2008 that many Londoners do not understand the supplementary vote system that is used to elect the Mayor.

I remind Mr Paddick that he received widespread ridicule when, having refused to disclose during the campaign which candidate he would give his own second preference vote to, he revealed after polling day that he had backed the 'Left List' candidate Lindsey German, forfeiting his opportunity to make a choice between Ken and Boris.

"And then when I did say it, people didn't believe me," he interjects. "So what's the point?"

I ask him whether he feels a responsibility to help Londoners understand how the system works and how they can vote in such a way to ensure that their second preference will count for something in the final content.

"What the voting system allows people to do – because they have two votes – is to vote for the person they really would want to vote for, whether they think they stand a chance of winning or not," he says.

"So they can go with their heart, and then they can vote second preference against the person that they don't want to be in City Hall. And if you look at the current poll, you can understand people thinking, well, it's going to be Ken or Boris, either I hate Ken, or I hate Boris, so I need to vote for the other candidate, even though I really like that Brian Paddick guy.

"If you vote Brian Paddick first preference, and then you vote against whoever you want to keep out, and I don't end up being in the top two, that second preference vote counts just as much as the first preference for me."

"So people can put us to one side, this idea, well, it's a wasted vote voting for Brian Paddick.

"Actually, if you really think I'm the best candidate and I don't manage to break the duopoly of Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, your second preference vote will count just as much as the first preference. So go with your heart, is what I would say to people."

Does Paddick understand City Hall?

This website takes a keener interest in the politics of London's government than many neighbourhood-level websites, partly because we have City Hall itself in our coverage area.

In 2008 it was apparent that Boris Johnson knew little about the working of City Hall, the relationship between the mayoralty and the London Assembly or the powers available to the Greater London Authority.

Ken Livingstone is often to be seen in the public gallery at City Hall. Has Brian Paddick taken the time to observe how things work for himself?

"You don't have to go there any more, because there is a very good quality webcast from the chamber. Whether it's Mayor's questions, whether it's the Metropolitan Police Authority, you can actually sit and watch what goes on.

"I am not some guy who's been parachuted in from some rural area. I am a Londoner born and bred.

"I am part of a team, together with Dee Doocey, Mike Tuffrey and Caroline Pidgeon. So I am very well-briefed on the operation of the Mayor and the Assembly.

"We will be putting forward a joint manifesto ... [and] we will be acutely aware of exactly what the Mayor and the Assembly are capable of doing."

I ask him how he feels about City Hall as a building. It is notable that, at a time when Parliament has made it easier for the public to visit the Palace of Westminster, City Hall now has less public access than before – and the public is now almost entirely excluded from London's Living Room and the balcony on the top floor. Paddick readily agrees to look again at the access arrangements should he become Mayor.

"It's probably the only living room in London that you're not allowed to go into," he says. "And the whole design of the building was supposed to be open and transparent to reflect what was happening inside, and yet it has become almost secretive.

"But the whole thing should be about transparency and openness and accountability. And excluding Londoners from even going in there to me says volumes about Boris Johnson and his accessibility, but also says he's not really in touch with Londoners."

Elephant & Castle regeneration

We talk about the Elephant & Castle where the ambitions of Southwark Council have not always been in line with the thinking from City Hall and Transport for London – and there have been different ideas about who should pick up the bill for the transport improvements that go
hand-in-hand with the construction of new homes and offices.

"What we have to do in every part of London is to make sure that every redevelopment is sustainable," he says.

"And what I mean by that is that the local transport systems can cope with the number of proposed new homes that are being built there. And something has to give.

"Either you go ahead with a massive housing development and you improve the capacity, say, of the local underground station, like we have at Elephant & Castle, or you limit the number of homes that are built in order for the existing infrastructure to cope with that. And there needs to be a decision made in terms of, how desperately do we need those homes?

"Elephant & Castle is a fantastic transport hub, and they're going to be improving the Thameslink to double the capacity there. You've got the Northern line and the Bakerloo line. You can get a bus to practically anywhere from Elephant & Castle.

"It's a great place to have a significant development in terms of housing because it's such a short distance from the city and all sorts of places. Therefore, I would have said that that was a very good argument for Transport for London to be investing in that particular underground station."

This is a view Paddick shares with Ken Livingstone, who told us in July that both TfL and central government should be putting up funds for transport plans at the Elephant.

As the plans for new housing on the Heygate Estate site move forward, there is a looming battle between Lend Lease and the council over how much parking space should be provided for new residents. Southwark's policy looks favourably on car-free development but Lend Lease sees things differently.

"Clearly we want to encourage as many people as possible to use public transport rather than to use private cars," says Paddick.

"Clearly there are going to be exceptions, for example, people with mobility issues where it would be of benefit for them to have it. But I have just moved into a new build property where there is no car parking space and where I am not allowed to apply for a residents' parking space. Now for me that's not an issue because I don't have a car, but I can see where a blanket ban on all parking can actually cause issues.

"So, I wouldn't want to be draconian as far as that's concerned. I'm a great pragmatist. I would want to do everything we possibly could to encourage people to use public transport but I wouldn't want to ban people from using private cars."

Planning ahead for transport improvements

During his two terms as Mayor Ken Livingstone understood the value of having several major infrastructure projects at the early stage of development which could be implemented when the time was right in political and economic terms.

I put it to Brian Paddick that George Osborne's recent autumn statement – and the flurry of public spending announcements it led to – demonstrated that Boris Johnson, by cancelling preparatory work on schemes like the Cross River Tram, didn't have much to offer when the Treasury was casting around for ideas.

"Absolutely," he answers. "And we've seen with things like Crossrail where even though we've been in the worst economic situation this country has been in for 30 years, that the money has still been found in order to keep that project going which shows that if you have a Mayor with vision, a Mayor with ambition, that whatever the economic circumstance is, central government is prepared to come in and step behind the mayor or to stand up for London and to pay for this sort of infrastructure.

"OK, we're going to get a two stop extension to the Northern line to Nine Elms and Battersea but that's a relatively minor infrastructure project in the overall scale of things.

"I think we need to have a vision particularly around trying to clear up London's air. Rather than spending millions of pounds on developing cleaner forms of transport we're going to be paying millions of pounds to the European Union in fines because London's air quality breaches EU rules because basically Boris Johnson has done nothing about it.""

Paddick as custodian of London's skyline

The Mayor wields important planning powers. This month Boris Johnson has 'taken over' a Southwark planning application for the first time. Through the London Plan the Mayor has the opportunity to shape the face of the city. What would Brian Paddick do if he were put in charge of those levers?

"You've got to look at what makes London unique, and what makes London unique isn't the skyscrapers," he says. "You can go to any city in the world and there'll be skyscrapers there. It is the historic buildings."

He laments the disappearance of St Paul's Cathedral from the view from his own home as a new tower is built, but takes a realistic approach.

"Now obviously, you can't decide on planning decisions on the basis of whether everybody can see every historic landmark.

"But it just shows you how important it is to make sure that the sort of uniqueness of London, including some of the views that tourists can have from key vantage points are not obscured, and there is a balance to be achieved.

"And I don't necessarily think that, for example, people want to live in towers.

"Whilst it may be a solution to the fact that there is a shortage of building land, you then get into these issues that we started off with around sustainability: can the roads cope around that new block that's going to house 300 families? Are the schools there? Is the medical profession there? Can the transport system cope?

"It is not simply the case that we have targets in terms of the number of new homes that we need to build. We have to do it in a way that when the people are actually living there that they have a life worth living."

Policing

As our meeting draws to an end I realise we have not discussed crime and policing, even though he is a former senior officer in the Metropolitan Police, including a stint in charge of policing in Lambeth.

The relationship between City Hall and New Scotland Yard will become even more important during 2012 as the Metropolitan Police Authority is abolished with its powers to taken over by the Mayor and its scrutiny function absorbed by the London Assembly.

"Clearly, I know how the Met works inside out, and I would therefore be able to far more effectively call the Commissioner to account and to influence the Commissioner than any other candidate," he says.

"Plus, I used to work with Bernard Hogan-Howe. We are on first-name terms. I have his mobile phone number, only to be used in emergency, of course. And 999 is usually quicker.

"But clearly, what I would want to do is to say to the Commissioner, it's your job, get on with it. But what you must do is deliver policing that local people want at borough level. One objective across London, and that is you deliver policing that Londoners want locally. And how do we measure that? Public confidence in the police locally should be the absolute measure of whether the police are doing a good job or not."

A hands-on Mayor?

The office of Mayor is only 11 and a half years old but there has been a clear difference in how the two incumbents to date have approached the role. The first Mayor, Ken Livingstone, revelled in the minutiae and took decisions himself. Boris Johnson, by contrast, has been happier to delegate the detailed work to others. Which model would Brian Paddick follow as Mayor?

He immediately promises to give the job "100 per cent of my time and effort for the time that I'm in office", but adds: "I don't think it's physically possible for the Mayor to take every decision that needs to be made in relation to London".

He will build a team of 'assistant mayors' but is clear that the buck stops with the Mayor himself.

"If they are making policy decisions, they will know very clearly from the protocol I give them as to which decisions they need to talk through with me first. And if they overstep the mark and make a decision that I do not agree with, I will reverse it.

"At the end of the day, the team that I gather around me to help me run London are not the people that Londoners vote for. Londoners are going to be voting for me as Mayor, and therefore I am the one who should be held to account for every decision that is made.

"And what I hope to do is, where there needs to be coordination, where there are too many bodies involved in making appropriate decisions for London...whether it's the redevelopment of Elephant & Castle, or King's Cross, or whatever, that's where I'm going to be hands-on and intervene on behalf of Londoners generally.

"But otherwise, I'm not going to be calling in local planning decisions within a borough because there is some objection to it. That's a matter for local people, and the local democratically elected councilors. I am not going to be a Mayor who draws power into the center.

"And we've seen in Southwark Council, when there was a Liberal Democrat council, they set up these local community councils so that people could make decisions about their local area, so decision making was made closer to the local people, because they are the best decisions that were made.

"And now we've got a Labour administration which is merging these community councils, drawing the power back into the centre again.

"Being Mayor should not be about being hands-on in terms of dictating to London what happens. It should be about making sure the voices of local people are heard. And where local people don't know who to talk to, because there are too many bodies involved, telling them to come and talk to the Mayor and let the Mayor sort it out."

• Read our interviews with Labour candidate Ken Livingstone from September 2010 and July 2011.

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