What a show as Boris comes to Queen’s Theatre

�London Mayor Boris Johnson was unfazed when chanting protesters were ejected from a public question-and-answer session in Hornchurch this week.

Around 10 supporters of the St Paul’s camp, in central London, interrupted the Q&A between the audience and Mr Johnson and his London Assembly colleagues on Monday evening.

They shouted anti-capitalist slogans at the panel during the People’s Question Time at the Queen’s Theatre, in Billet Lane.

It brought brief disruption to the meeting, designed to give Londoners the chance to grill London leaders about their plans, priorities and policies for the capital.

The two-hour meeting was broken into strict 20-minute segments, covering policing and safety, transport, the environment, the London Olympic and Paralympic Games and other topics.


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Policing and safety

How to tackle the metal theft “epidemic” sweeping Havering and the rest of the country was one of many difficult questions put to the mayor.

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A parishioner from St Andrew’s Church, in Hornchurch High Street, asked what the mayor and the Metropolitan Police were doing to address the problem.

The church has been targeted nine times this year by thieves ripping copper from its roof, causing an estimated �100,000 worth of damage to the listed building.

Branding the crime “absolutely sick”, Mr Johnson said the criminals’ action should be treated as “aggravated trespass” to activate harsher penalties in the courts. He also said the police were targeting the scrap dealers and merchants providing the means of metal disposal.

“There is someone who is receiving those stolen goods,” he added, “we have to be looking at restrictions on cash-in-hand payments.”

A resident who was stabbed in the leg and had his nose broken by thugs in an unprovoked assault called for “serious crimes getting serious penalties”, complaining that his attacker had served little more than two years in jail.

Mr Johnson agreed, saying: “Violent crimes have to be taken seriously. Part of problem is young children find themselves much more criminalised ... and we need schemes that really help prevent violent crime from happening in the first place.”

But Assembly Member (AM) Jenny Jones (Green) said the borough had seen funding for such preventative schemes reduced from �165,000 to just �55,000.

Transport

The mayor defended the London Underground improvement works plaguing the District line for the past three years which have caused regular weekend disruption.

“This is being done for a purpose. It’s not a random act of sadism,” he said. “It is to give us capacity. We need more trains running more smoothly.”

But AM Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrat) said London should be looking at ways to improve upgrade work, while minimising impact.

“The costs are far too high compared to other [European] metro systems,” she said.

Mr Johnson urged residents to report unhelpful drivers and buses without wheelchair ramps to Transport for London to improve the service for those with disabilities.

“Every bus should have a fully functioning ramp. If there is a case where you are not getting the service you need, we want to know,” he told a young wheelchair-using questioner.

London could see a 24-hour Underground service – although not for some time – the mayor said.

“We would love to do it,” he insisted, “and it’s one of the reasons why we are modernising the network. We have to have a better, faster service and a more automated service which allows trains to run into the wee hours.”

The revelation followed a question from a woman who said she did not feel safe travelling on buses late at night.

Environment

The mayor defended his vision to create a new airport in the Thames Estuary – the so-called Boris Island.

A member of the public deemed the idea “crazy” in the light of effort to reduce London’s overall carbon footprint.

Mr Johnson said aviation was the only way to ensure London remained competitive in world markets.

He added: “If you look at the way aviation is heading, I believe it can be made cleaner and greener.”

But Ms Pidgeon argued a high-speed rail network in tandem with “smarter” air travel was a more environmentally friendly alterative.

AM Murad Quershi (Labour) said he was “praying for a mild winter” for the borough’s elderly in the face of rising fuel bills and higher cost of living.

“We have got to ask questions of energy companies,” he said. “I have put a motion forward.”

The mayor condemned the “huge profits” made by fuel giants, while some elderly and lower-income families in Havering and elsewhere face “heat or eat” dilemma in the coldest months.

The mayor advised residents to follow the Greater London Authority’s Know Your Rights campaign, and called on all those eligible for the winter fuel allowance to apply for it.

Olympic Games

Havering groups were encouraged to bid for a slice of a �32million fund designated to spruce up outer London in the run-up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“We want to feed urban redevelopment projects, encouraging people to shop in local high streets.”

One irate member of the public questioned the annual �20 Olympic tariff imposed on all London council tax payers to help bank roll the Games, arguing that a smaller national tax would have garnered more income – and less local resentment.

“London does benefit disproportionately [to the rest of the country]”, explained Mr Johnson. “If you look at the investment, it is in London, especially the east.”

Residents were urged not to give up hope of getting their hands on an elusive Olympic ticket.

There are several more rounds of allocation to come, in which those who have missed out will get priority.

“Don’t give up”, the mayor said. “There are still a huge number going for the Paralympic Games.”

An electrician was “disgusted” that “75 per cent” of Olympic site workers were from other European countries, with very few jobs going to English tradesmen.

But Mr Johnson said that all those involved had “London addresses” and many other jobs would be made available after the Games.

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