CROYDON COMMENTARY: The borough’s London Assembly Member, Steve O’Connell, is becoming a bit of a laughing stock, even among his Tory colleagues at City Hall. ANDREW PELLING reports on why Britain’s most overpaid local councillor must be feeling on the wrong track
Steve O’Connell was left to mope balefully at today’s Question Time at City Hall, moaning in front of the tousled Mayor that there would be nothing in London’s budget to April 2015 to deliver on Boris’s promised tram extension to Crystal Palace, nor indeed to fulfill O’Connell’s pipe dream (and hoped for election vote-winner) of a tram line to Sutton.
O’Connell, the part-time Croydon borough councillor and some-time London Assembly member for Croydon and Sutton, cut a sad sight, particularly after both Boris and a fellow Conservative Assembly Member cruelly mocked him for asking an especially fawning question of the Mayor.
Another local news blog, Londonist, characterised today’s events at City Hall as “mindboggling pathetic behaviour”. O’Connell – who seems to believe that Inside Croydon has got it in for him – came in for special attention from the critical Londonist:
“We’re particularly looking askance at Steve O’Connell, AM for Croydon and Sutton, whose ‘question’ about the Mayor’s ‘remarkable result’ in freezing the police precept prompted gales of laughter from all sides and even Boris took the piss. Whichever Tory AM made a derogatory aside of ‘oh, the sisterhood’ to Dee Doocey and Jenny Jones ought to be ashamed; and Boris shouting over Val Shawcross so she ran out of time was behaviour unworthy of his friendly bumbling image. We could go on, but we’re already quite depressed.”
Perhaps O’Connell, too, was feeling rather down after his overnight return from Cardiff and Crystal Palace’s unfortunate penalty shoot-out exit in the League Cup semi-final.
When he was elected as Mayor in 2008, Boris axed the preparatory work on the Tramlink extension to Upper Norwood which had been started by his predecessor, Ken Livingstone. Boris said there wasn’t the money to get the idea off the drawing board.
Four years on, and two U-turns and a couple of photo-ops later, nothing appears to have really changed as far as Boris and the Tramlink network in south London is concerned.
When Livingstone promised that he would revive the Crystal Palace extension if returned to power, Boris was quick to match Ken’s pledge. Boris had been given the keys to City Hall with strong support from outer London, especially Bromley, which would benefit from extra Tramlink stations. So Boris was not going to allow himself to be outflanked by canny Ken.
It was only last March that the blond one and O’Connell, reportedly on £118,000 per year for his elected jobs, according to the Daily Mail, were pictured in front of a tram at East Croydon station with a mock Crystal Palace destination board (all dutifully reported by the local press).
At the time, Johnson even complemented the former mortgage salesman O’Connell on his lobbying skills.
Suitably flattered, O’Connell gushed: “I am delighted that Boris has approved the extension. He has made the announcement and it is now up to people to get on with it.”
No equivocation, no doubt at all. The extension, according to O’Connell, was “approved”. It was now time, O’Connell said, “to get on with it”.
The truth, we now discover, is somewhat different. If Boris gets back in to City Hall in May, Upper Norwood residents will have to continue to use the tortuous 468 bus route.
It all looks like another broken Boris promise and another lobbying failure for Croydon’s Tories. The missing Tramlink follows on from Croydon’s Conservatives losing £71 million in local regeneration funding, dropping the ball with a valuable Enterprise Zone, being left empty-handed with the Mayor’s latest round of the Outer London Fund, waving goodbye to 1,000 Nestle jobs, and even MP Gavin Barwell admitting that he has failed to deliver on promised extra government jobs moving to the area.
There is money coming to the existing Croydon tram network: £16 million has been spent in the past few months on new rolling stock, and there will be another £10 million spent this year. But then only another £7 million to 2015. This money is dedicated to the buying of more trams and adapting the junctions and platforms to run with the new design of trams.
As for Steve O’Connell, he might just have to take the bus.
- Inside Croydon: brought to you from the heart of the borough, free of charge, an independent voice standing for freedom of speech for the people of Croydon
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- TfL to remove pedestrian crossing on Purley Way (insidecroydon.com)
- £115,000 man O’Connell refuses to support Living Wage (insidecroydon.com)