Lib Dems fight Britton Street issues

P1000644aLib Dems are going into action on a wide range of issues affecting Clerkenwell’s historic  characterful Britton Street area.

It’s a characterful street- but narrow, with chaotic parking and loading, poor pavements, no exit for heavy vehicles and suffering from the curse of inconsiderate – and illegal – engine idling from vans and minicabs.

Read more about what we’re doing here.

Air Quality: European Union acts to enforce improvements

exhaustThe EU has initiated legal action against the UK for its long-running failure to implement measures to improve air quality.

The issue is nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas. The EU’s press release, here, explains:

“Nitrogen dioxide is the main pre-cursor for ground-level ozone causing major respiratory problems and leading to premature death. City-dwellers are particularly exposed, as most nitrogen dioxide originates in traffic fumes. European legislation sets limits on air pollution and the NOx limits should have been achieved by 1 January 2010 unless an extension was granted until 1 January 2015.”

This is a particular concern in Clerkenwell.  Figures released in 2010 by the Mayor of London showed that 5 Clerkenwell residents a year die prematurely because of the air quality we have here – virtually all of it due to traffic, and particularly the diesel engines in buses, vans – and, infamously, taxis.

The UK Supreme Court has already ruled that the UK is in breach of the relevant EU legislation, due to be implemented by 2015.  Reports suggest that it will take the UK until 2025 to comply.

In all, this is a timely reminder of how ineffective successive Governments, and in particular, Mayors of London, have been to get on with this.  And also, a reminder that it is to the EU that we must look to uphold our right to clean air.

Please Call in Mount Pleasant, Mr Pickles

mount-pleasant-viewI have today written to Eric Pickles, Secetary of State for Communities and Local Government, asking him to call-in the planning decisions on Mount Pleasant, so as to make the decision instead of Mayor Boris Johnson.

Mayor Johnson has already called in these decisions, so as to determine them himself under his statutory powers.  But he is not the only person with powers to call-in the decision: so has Eric Pickles.

The grounds on which I have made this request are that, first, the applications raise issues of national importance, notably the credibility of policies requiring social housing to be built at anything up to 50% of the total, and secondly, because Boris Johnson is so clearly biased in favour of the Royal Mail scheme that he has made himself incapable of making a decision in an impartial manner.

The first point is that the affordable housing provision – a reported 12% – is contemptible.  I believe it derives mostly from the vast over-provision of underground parking on the site – for postal vans and staff cars.  If so this is ridiculous and precisely the sort of issue that needs to be thrashed out in public.  What does Clerkenwell need more: housing or parking?

The second point arises from the obvious implications of the way he called in the decision in order to “speed it up”.  Given the likelihood of refusal by Islington and Camden, and a resulting appeal, the only way he could do this is by granting it.

Neither Islington Council nor Clerkenwell residents can have any confidence in his ability to take their concerns into proper consideration, after a perfunctory one hour hearing at City Hall, if he is so clearly minded to grant the application.

Clearly Eric Pickles isn’t a local planning authority either, but at least (a) he has not expressed views favouring the application and (b) he would hold a proper local hearing or public inquiry first before making his decision.

I urge everyone concerned to write to Mr Pickles in support of this application.  His email address is:  [email protected]

 

 

Boris calls in Mount Pleasant Decision

mount-pleasant-viewThe Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has called in the decision on  the controversial redevelopment of Mount Pleasant.  A press release he has issued is here.

I had learned of Royal Mail’s attempt to get a call-in a few days ago, and alerted the Lib Dem team at City Hall, led by Caroline Pidgeon, to this.

The decision means that Johnson, and not Camden or Islington Councils, will take the decision on whether the application will be granted.

The press release quotes Boris Johnson as saying:
“London is growing at an unprecedented rate and it is absolutely vital that we get on with the important work of building thousands of new homes as quickly as we can. By taking over this application it should be possible to speed up the decision making process. My team will be working closely with the local authorities and Royal Mail without further delay.”

This is a slap in the face for residents of both boroughs.  Camden and Islington were due to have Planning Committee meetings in February and March to decide on the parts of the scheme within their respective boundaries.  But it now seems that the application will be formally decided by the Mayor “in the summer”.  So much for avoiding “further delay.”

I had lobbied – successfully – for Islington to hold a proper Planning Committee meeting to decide its views on the application, rather than just allowing officers to refuse it under their delegated administrative powers.

I am now researching how the local community can best make its views known to Johnson.  Formal representations will be forwarded to him, but that of course is only one way the community can do this.

Johnson’s assertion that this decision will get on with the important work of building thousands of new homes gives a clear indication that he is disposed to grant the application, despite the negligible amount of social housing it provides and the likelihood that most of the market housing – estimates range up to 75% – will be bought off-plan by overseas purchasers as investments.

In a recent speech at the Mansion House, however, he said that new properties should be marketed to Londoners at the same time as foreign purchasers, and that such purchasers should either have to live in them or let them out.  I take the same view.

If he grants the application, Johnson has a perfect opportunity to put these sentiments into practice.

Note:  Late last year, Mayor Johnson  called in the application for a vast new development at City Forum, in the City Road.  A public hearing will take place at City Hall – but will be convened on about one week’s notice.  See the link here.

Anger as four hundred years of Clerkenwell Fire fighting ends

Fire1A sad chapter  in Clerkenwell’s history was written today as the Fire Station closed.

Demonstrators gathered in angry mood in Rosebery Avenue as the last Fire Fighters, some in tears, walked out at 9.30am.  Speeches condemned Boris Johnson’s single-minded pursuit of the closures and thanked all concerned in the campaign to stop them.

Attention will now turn to the future of the building itself.  Speculation is rife that it will be sold and converted to luxury flats.  I am now examining the options for having the building listed as a community asset under the Localism Act (as Myddelton Square Gardens now are).

The closure brings to an end more than four hundred years of fire-fighting in Clerkenwell.  Records from 1666 show that Clerkenwell’s parish fire engine – one of the best in London – was deployed to fight the Great Fire.   For the first time since then, no Clerkenwell fire engine will serve the people of London.

Crossrail says farewell to Phyllis

crossrail2Yesterday, I visited the westbound Crossrail tunnel 30 metres below Clerkenwell and said farewell to its unseen creator, Phyllis.

Crossrail’s Farringdon worksite is like no other I have ever seen.  It is like the set of  the film Alien, with a touch of Quatermass and the Pit.  But at its centre is Phyllis, one of the two tunnel-boring machines that has been working its way to Farringdon at the rate of 100m a week, creating the westbound tunnel of the route.

Her companion, Ada, is still some way back but will arrive at Farringdon in mid-December.  Both Ada and Phyllis will then be immured forever behind a wall, just behind the platforms of the new station, underneath the east end of Smithfield Market. Two other machines will then tunnel their way to Farringdon from the east, and will then be removed.

A time capsule was on show, ready to be immured with her.  Among its many artefacts was last week’s Economist and Private Eye.

Phyllis and Ada may soon have finished their work, but the disruption needed to ease their path at ground level continues until next June in St John Street, where water mains and sewers are undergoing strengthening until June 2014.

crossrail1Once the tunnels are complete, contractors will then widen the running tunnels into the platform spaces, while the running tracks, electrics and signalling systems are installed, and the Crossrail station itself takes shape, with all its lifts and escalators.

My main concern about the future of Crossrail is that it has been narrow-mindedly  designed as a metro-style operation for commuters who know where they are going – but will attract tourists and others, laden with luggage, who don’t.

Farringdon Station has been cheapskated and shoe-horned into a tiny box, without any of the amenities of the major railway interchange it will be.  In fact, its amenities will be barely more than those of a suburban overground station.  Then add the fact there will be no toilets in its rolling stock, and that it will become very popular among returning clubbers “in high spirits” at weekends…

It is not premature to celebrate Farringdon, however, as a major engineering achievement.  My only regret is that many more people, and notably school students contemplating their career plans, can’t get to see this before it all gets covered up ready for the 150,000 passengers a day who will pass through the station when it opens in 2018.

 

 

At Last, a way to exploit local energy resources

P1000456I welcome the news that 500 Islington households are to benefit from a £3.9M scheme to harvest waste heat from the Northern Line, currently being vented into an air shaft at the corner of Central Street and City Road.

In fact, I have been quietly nudging this scheme – and others – along for some years, and the story is worth re-telling now.

It has always struck me as scandalous that heat from the underground is vented to air at a point – the site of a now closed City Road underground station – just yards away from social housing where people are living in fuel poverty.

In 2006 I wrote to Council officers about this and they told me that some consultants pitching to them for work from the Council had previously done a report for London Underground Ltd (LUL) drawing attention to these possibilities, but LUL had apparently shown no interest.

I later passed this on to a student journalist, who approached LUL for comment – and even made a Freedom of Information request, to which LUL replied that they had no record of any report dealing with the issue.  Case closed!  I nevertheless encouraged officers to persevere, as it seems they have, to their great credit.  The part- explanation I received later was that LUL has been trying for years to get rid of the huge heat generated by its trains (and third-rail electricity supply which converts a lot of electricity, wastefully, to heat because they are made of steel rather than copper as on the DLR).  It’s just that the idea of doing anything useful with that heat really hadn’t occurred to them and in any case the project would belong to a different department.

Similarly, I identified several other sources of waste heat, some of them within a few hundred yards of the same street corner.  These were:

1.    the canal, which which is heated up by being used to cool a 25kV electricity cable running underneath the towpath;

2.    the huge EDF transformers along the City Road basin;

3.    a server farm – a huge repository of computers and communications equipment  – now occupying the former Gordon’s Gin distillery at the corner of Moreland St and Goswell Road, run by Level 3 Communications.   Its roofline is covered in heat exchangers wastefully blasting the heat generated by its operations over Peregrine House, a 20-storey block of council housing, only yards away;

4.    groundwater:  huge reserves of water sit in a chalk aquifer under Islington, which (at 12 degrees Centigrade) could be used for air conditioning (as practiced by Sadlers Wells and the Zetter Hotel in Clerkenwell) and thus save CO2 and heat emissions  in the area;

5.     abandoned underground tunnels of various sorts -eg MailRail, the former Royal Mail underground trains between Liverpool St and Paddington – disused since 2003.

Officers were a bit downbeat about using the tunnels and the air shafts rather than the stations themselves, but now, it seems, with some money from here and there, including the EU, the penny has finally dropped.  The EDF transformers are also in the frame.

In 2011 I wrote to the Chief Executive of Level 3 Communications about the prospect of re-using their waste heat – and received no reply.  I am therefore writing back to them to urge them to take an interest in this.

Other possibilities in Islington include the borough’s seven underground stations themselves and other shafts like the Victoria Line ventilation shaft in Gibson Square.  Even if this shaft is not near a heat grid, surely the heat could even be converted to electricity, for example via a Stirling engine.

So – a big pat on the back for Islington’s environment officers for persevering with something that once looked like a crackpot scheme that no-one could be bothered with.  I will now look around for more!

Islington consults on Late-Night Alcohol Levy

Islington Council has at last started a consultation on the introduction of the late night levy on premises selling alcohol in the early hours.   This brings to an end a long delay in implementing this much-needed move, to try to get the licensed trade to contribute to the costs it imposes on the community – notably crime and street cleansing.

The consultation runs until 31st January 2014 and there is a link to the Council’s web site for the consultation here.

Under Coalition Government legislation introduced in 2011, Councils can make a charge on all premises which sell alcohol after a nominated hour.  The Levy is related to the rateable value of the licensed premises, and the proceeds are paid over to the Police and the local authority.  At least 70% has to go to the Police.

The Levy is not a substantial amount by the standards of the licensed trade.  The biggest alcohol-centred premises such as Fabric night club in Charterhouse Street, licensed for 1,500 clubbers, would pay a paltry £4,440 a year – £85 a week.  The Council estimates the levy will raise a maximum of £450,000 a year, of which it would keep £115,000.  On any view, that doesn’t buy a great deal more street cleaning. These sums will be smaller if premises apply to vary their licensed hours to end before or after midnight.

It has taken Islington’s Labour Council a very long time to get this Levy going – far longer than many other councils.  Even now the Levy won’t be effective until mid-2014.

Granger Restaurant proposal approved

Islington’s Licensing Subcommittee B last night approved an application for an alcohol licence for a 90-seater restaurant at 49 Clerkenwell Green, which stands at the corner of the Green, Sekforde Street and Aylesbury Street.

The application had been bitterly contested by local residents and a previous application had been refused.  The applicant, Bill Granger, had made  changes to the proposed hours of operation and re-applied. The restaurant will now operate between 0800 and 2300 with slightly shorter times at weekends (0900-2300 Saturdays, 1000-1800 Sundays), with alcohol sales between 1100 and 2230 (or 1700 on Sundays).

The papers for the meeting are online at Islington Council’s web site here.

The Committee imposed further conditions, imposing a further reduction in the number of smokers allowed outside (from 10 to 5) and requiring door management staff at certain times.

The decision will come as a blow to local residents who fear that the restaurant will cause increased disturbance in what is a relatively quiet area some distance from the many other licensed premises in the area.  One of the major fears – people forming a along and noisy queue outside – is to be addressed by a requirement to prevent any queue forming, with the help of a waiting area inside.  Alcohol wil be served only with proper meals and may not be consumed outside the premises.

The application has underlined some serious unresolved issues, firstly, about the way the licensed trade still dominates the Clerkenwell Green area and its surroundings, and secondly, the way planning permissions are granted for a wide range of  commercial uses, thus meaning that  – as with Sainsbury’s in St John Street – the community has no right to express its views on what sort of commercial development then takes place. I will be pursuing this issue further with the planners.

The Licence condition requires Granger to hold meetings with local residents at least every six months.  If the Licence granted yesterday proves unequal to managing the problems that are foreseen, then there is always the opportunity for a licence review.

 

Amwell Street hit by multiple Burst Water Mains

AmwellStreet021013b Amwell Street in Clerkenwell has been closed by a series of water main bursts, at the junction with Inglebert Street.  One is a burst 24″ trunk main which has brought about a huge excavation in the road, causing widespread diversions.

The second- probably caused by the first – is in a 3″ main supplying local houses and shops.  Two separate teams of contractors have been summoned by Thames Water to deal with them.  At my request, a workman stemmed the flow down the pavement and diverted it back into the gutter.

The bursts come only a day or two after my post about the dire state of the mains in St John Street, where a 30″ main is undergoing major repair prior to Crossrail work.

A look at Thames Water’s web site (and typing in a local postcode) reveals further incidents in progress in Penton Rise, Acton Street and King’s Cross Road.

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