Confessions of a Political Animal

September 9, 2008

What has Andrew Gilligan got against his own borough?

The Evening Standard’s star columnist isn’t happy. As a well-known expert on everything from policing to athletics and from Sinology to HR, Mr Gilligan was obviously quite entitled to expect that once his mate Boris was safely installed at City Hall that the Mayor would be taking his advice on a regular basis, but particularly on transport. He appears to be more than a little miffed that Mr Johnson for some unaccountable reason has chosen to listen to the advice of transport professionals, of all people, instead.

But four months in, marvels one senior TfL figure, “Boris’s arrival has made no difference whatever. It’s all going on exactly as before.” No programmes have (yet) been cancelled. No personnel changes have been made. Indeed, one senior TfL person has just been appointed, of all things, Boris’s environmental adviser.

An environmental adviser, of all things! The evil TfL bureaucrat in question, Isabel Dedring, had her qualifications scrutinised by the, er, Evening Standard, which found that:

Ms Dedring wrote the Climate Change Action Plan for the former mayor Ken Livingstone. She also took the lead on climate change at TfL, where plans included converting London’s bus fleet so all 8,000 vehicles would run on hybrid motors by 2012.

Obviously, having met Ken Livingstone qualifies Ms Dedring for instant dismissal in Gilligan’s slightly crazed world view, but to the rest of the world this seemed a sensible appointment.

To cut a long story short, Gilligan is in the process of transferring his obsession with Livingstone over to TfL, which he seems to see as Ken’s mole within Boris’ brave new world. Gilligan’s latest offering on this subject would be worth a thorough fisk from someone better qualified than I, but he doesn’t seem particularly interested in explaining how such an apparently badly run organisation achieves an AA credit rating (can anyone find what Associated Press’ is?), or how it managed to introduce complex schemes such as congestion charging or the Oyster card on time and on budget.

But I want to pick on one Gilligan obsession in particular. The Animal is fortunate enough to share a borough – Greenwich – with Mr Gilligan (I think I know where he lives, because there was only one house in West Greenwich ward with a Boris poster in the window in May). Greenwich as a borough has historically had very poor transport links, but is set to benefit (perhaps disproportionately) from the Livingstone-secured TfL investment programme, what with a DLR extension to Woolwich, the Crossrail branch with stations at Woolwich and Abbey Wood (for Thamesmead) and three-car trains on the DLR route through Greenwich itself. Nevertheless, the nature of the borough means that it there is always going to be a high level of bus dependency. Large centres of population, including heavily deprived Thamesmead, have no convenient rail-based links. TfL’s response to this was to develop the Greenwich Waterfront Transit proposal, using bus lanes, bus ways and priority measures linking NorthGreenwich (on the Jubilee Line) with Thamesmead via Woolwich, carrying around 6 million passengers per year.

Now, Mr Gilligan doesn’t like this – possibly because he’s never sat on a bus trying to edge its way through the congestion of Woolwich town centre, or simply because he doesn’t like spending money on public transport. In an article on 16th June, Gilligan urged Boris to scrap the scheme, along with its sister on the north bank in Barking, describing its cancellation as a ‘no-brainer budget cut’. Gilligan says:

Over the next two years alone, the Thames Gateway Transit is planned to cost London taxpayers £32 million.

That’s the two years of constructing it, by the way, so we’d expect escalated costs for that period. That’s £16m per year, or under 12% of the revenue lost by cancelling the western extension of the congestion charge. Of course, the western extension is going to be scrapped because allegedly local people don’t want it. The fact that local people might want the Transit (three detailed consutations have not thrown up any significant opposition) is apparently neither here nor there. Is it because we don’t vote for Boris?

Gilligan goes out of his way to deride the scope of the Transit, suggesting that as it is only partially on segregated routes that the investment is not worthwhile. But the evidence from elsewhere in the country suggests that incremental improvements to sections of routes lead to significant increases in bus use on the routes affected. A scheme near The Animal’s old stamping ground in Leeds comprised just 1.6km of segregated bus way, yet led to an average increase of bus use of 70% between 1995 and 2000 (see page 11), in an area where bus use was declining. Similar schemes have been constructed in Crawley, Bradford, Dartford and Edinburgh. Sure, it would be nicer to have a tram, but wouldn’t Mr Gilligan be having fun with the huge sums involved with that? What is important is that the infrastructure being built for the Transit will be convertable to tram use when the economics and funding situation allow for it.

So far as I can see, Andrew Gilligan has not come up with any alternative proposals for improving public transport on the crucial Greenwich-Woolwich-Thamesmead axis. With several new housing schemes in the pipeline, demand will only continue to grow and existing bus services will struggle. Network Rail’s Route Utilisation Strategy makes it very clear that there is little scope for increasing frequencies or train lengths on the parallel rail route, whilst the once-mooted North Greenwich-Thamesmead Jubilee branch has long since disappeared off anyone’s radar. Making suggestions to improve the slightly under-ambitious transit scheme is one thing, but describing it as a ‘vanity scheme’ is quite another.

So in response to my fellow Greenwich resident’s article, I very much hope that Boris Johnson continues to obtain his advice on transport from TfL professionals rather than the comment pages of the Standard. And I hope he keeps the Waterfront Transit on track, because the residents of Greenwich’s poorest and most isolated areas deserve better transport than they currently receive.

PS: Do see The Tory Troll for an interesting bit of self publicity from one of Mr Gilligan’s star sources…



  1. […] Waterfront and East London Transit Schemes (Cost: £40m) – we’ve discussed these here before. Rather than rehash all my previous arguments about why these schemes aren’t quite […]

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  2. […] Underground – or perhaps they know something we don’t? Is Boris cutting everyone elses’ transport schemes so that his loyal voters in Hammersmith & Fulham can be rewarded with an utterly […]

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  3. […] No news yet on the East London Transit, but I’m not […]

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  4. […] Tremble before the wrath of East Greenwich, Boris, tremble. Now if only there was a locally based ‘campaigning’ journalist I could […]

    Pingback by The Silvertown Link: the answer to no-one’s problems « Confessions of a Political Animal — November 10, 2008 @ 3:23 pm | Reply

  5. […] gawd, he’s at it again. There are any number of things that you might think a columnist would want to criticise Boris […]

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  6. […] a few schemes escaped the Johnson Axe, including stage 1 of the Greenwich Waterfront Transit, a partially-segregated bus route linking the Jubilee Line station at North Greenwich with Woolwich […]

    Pingback by Revealed: £2.75m down the River « Confessions of a Political Animal — May 1, 2009 @ 11:17 pm | Reply

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