Council consults on Clerkenwell Fire Station

Islington CouncP1000585mil has issued a “planning brief” for consultation on the future of Clerkenwell’s historic Fire Station, closed by Boris Johnson in January 2014.

The relevant web page is here.

There will also be “drop in” sessions at Holy Redeemer Church, Exmouth Market, on the following dates:

16 August 2014     11.00 – 2.00pm
21 August 2014     11.00 – 2.00pm
4 September 2014   5.00pm – 8.00pm

Comments have to be back by 14th September 2014.  The Council is proposing to approve the Brief on 23rd October.  On 26th November, the 6-month moratorium imposed by the listing of the building as a “community asset” will expire, allowing it to be sold on the open market.

The brief suggests that the future of the building should be to:

  • Ensure that Clerkenwell Fire Station continues to be an important community asset that is publicly accessible to the local community;
  • Refurbish the Grade II listed Fire Station building in a way that meets the Council’s policies and standards and also modernises it for a range of different uses;
  • Provide a museum in the Fire Station building or another publicly accessible social infrastructure use;
  • Deliver a range of new homes, including affordable homes, to better meet local housing needs in the neighbourhood;
  • Provide high quality open space, primarily for future residents, in the Fire Station’s yard; and
  • Ensure that any new buildings achieve a high standard of architectural design that improves the character and quality of the area.

The homelessness group Shelter from the Storm has expressed interest in bidding for the building.  It runs a free shelter service for homeless people, and its web site is here.

One of the many challenges of the building is that it is very narrow and most of its upstairs residential accommodation (long disused) is accessed from galleries at the rear of the building.

 

Exmouth Market resurfacing “starts in October”

Much-postponed work to resurface the characterful Exmouth Market is to take place in October/November, says Islington Council.

I asked the Council why work had not started – as was intended – early in 2014.  Previous explanations have included the need to fix non-functioning drainage.  Now the Council tells me it is trying to fit the work in between the busy summer period (when there is a lot of outside dining) and the Christmas period.

“We are currently on site carrying out trial holes to discover why the carriageway is deteriorating at a few locations. The information from these trial holes will enable us to produce the design for the re-construction / resurfacing of the road.”  So says the Council.

The surface is now dangerous – particularly outside Medcalf’s – and my only surprise is that there haven’t been more injuries.

My rather simpler explanation for why the carriageway is deteriorating is that (a) it was originally done in the 1980s, when neither Islington nor many other councils had much experience of pedestrianising streets; (b)  it just hasn’t had any proper maintenance ever since – just patching; and (c) the access-for-loading-only rules aren’t enforced and ever-larger lorries deliver there at all hours.

The Lib Dem administration running the Council until 2010 allocated a chunk of s. 106 money to refurbish the street, but, as always, good quality costs money and it needs more.

Let us hope this will be the last summer for Exmouth Market in its current condition.

Reducing the strength of Alcohol in Clerkenwell

Islington Council has become the 70th council in England to start an initiative to suppress the sale of high-strength beers and ciders. This is welcome, if long overdue. Earlier this year I successfully pressed the Council to extend this initiative to Clerkenwell and in March I toured local off-licences urging them to take part, accompanied by Council licensing staff.

The drinks include brands such as Tennant’s Extra-Strong, White Ace Cider and Kestrel Super Lager which are over 6.5% alcohol.  Some are 9%.

Though slightly more expensive than ordinary strength canned beer (typically 4%), they provide a much greater quantity of alcohol for the same volume and are thus the drinks of choice for local street drinkers and home-based alcoholics. Virtually no-one outside these groups buys them. A single 3-litre bottle of White Ace selling for just over £4 contains 22.5 units of alcohol – more than the entire recommended maximum alcohol intake for a man, for a week.

There is an acute problem in the Exmouth Market and Spa Fields Park area with street drinkers, while in Kings Cross Road the problem is the toxic proximity of a number of “wet” hostels for alcohol-dependent people, with off-licences and convenience stores.

The initiative started in 2010, and was taken up in Ipswich in 2012, which had major problems with street drinking, strongly-related to these drinks. The Police and local authority urged local retailers to drop these drinks from their range, and two-thirds did so. The result was reported to be a 50% reduction in calls to police about alcohol-related street incidents.

Let us hope the initiative will have the same success in Clerkenwell.

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!

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