Boris consults on new bike route – through a building site

IMG_0139Mayor Boris Johnson’s agency Transport for London is consulting on a new north-south cycle “superhighway” from Kings Cross to Elephant and Castle.  The consultation web site is here.

Parts of the scheme such as Blackfriars Road look attractive in the computer-generated image on the site.

Equally, it looks like a good idea to take cycle traffic from Kings Cross to Farringdon station, away from the dreadful Farringdon Road, through a mixture of quiet streets and existing cycle routes.

But wait! Part of the northbound route runs along Phoenix Place.   This is slap bang in the middle of the proposed Mount Pleasant mega-development site.  If Boris himself gives it planning permission (likely to be on 3rd October) this street, and many around it, will be filled with construction traffic, including the notorious cement mixer lorries, for up to 8 years.

Just the place you would want to route a “quiet”, safe, cycle superhighway, Boris?

Does your right hand know what your left hand is doing?



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.




Clerkenwell Liberal Democrats

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