Tuesday, 22 April 2014

EDC WINS CLEAN AIR IN LONDON AWARD: reposting 'NOlympic Legacy, Beware the Twinkling Shard'

To celebrate winning the Clean Air in London Award 2014, here I am with my certificate, and a repost of a very popular blog I wrote in October 2012.

Simon Birkett, Founder and Director of Clean Air in London, said:
“Kensington and Chelsea joins Westminster as the two most-polluted boroughs in the UK.  I witnessed the human side of this crisis when Emma showed me sports fields under some of London’s busiest elevated roads and described many other local policy failures.  Hearty congratulations therefore to Emma on winning the Clean Air in Cities Award after leading, over many years, calls for action to tackle air pollution.  We urgently need a fresh approach from the Council that puts air pollution at the top of the policy and political agendas in planning, road transport and public health.  Vote for Clean Air on 22 May.”


If you look out over London at night, that beautiful, classy, slutty, feisty, difficult city with its towering blocks and City spikes and other Pharaonic dreams, something puzzles.

There are steady lights, white, yellow and blue. Then there are the twinkling red lights of the Shard, Telecom Tower and other communication towers on the skyline. Something is strange. Seen with the naked eye the red lights twinkle. Seen through binoculars the red beam is constant. Some nights everything twinkles. What is going on here?

This is not a municipal statement of gorgeousness and romance, like the shimmering Eiffel Tower.

 It’s simple, and shocking. It is caused by particles of pollution, among which is PM2.5, that so tinily and easily wafts up your nose, into your lungs, and slithers silently like a hooded assassin, into your bloodstream. It is the carcinogenic poison of taxi and lorry diesel fuel that works invisibly and effectively, confusing the symbiotic balanced relationships between cells red and white, causing the physiological catastrophe of cancer that is often discovered too late to counteract. 

Or it could be the larger particles, the mucky sooty visible filth that sticks to walls and clogs up ducts, tunnels and filters.

'Let's Talk Dirty' Climate Rush reverse graffiti protest in Rotherhithe Tunnel

Our national government, ‘the greenest government ever’, is so committed that its Leader burnt unimaginable amounts of airline fuel flying to the Arctic Circle to hug a husky. Our capital’s government, whose Leader is so committed that he cycles whenever there is a convenient photographer to record the moment. Our local Council, which steadfastly refused to agree to a borough-wide Low Emission Zone, is now so behind in its carbon reduction programme that it has been fined this year, for the first time, nearly £200,000.

There is a sickening hypocrisy in the inaction of London’s Mayor and of our own Council, weeping crocodile tears at the estimated 75 early deaths due to air pollution in K&C, while refusing any mitigating measures, let alone leadership in reduction programmes that would actually produce cleaner air. The London Mayor has spent £100s of thousands sticking pollution to the road to reduce the measurements near monitoring stations. K&C Council imported solar panels from China to stick on the Town Hall roof in the ultimate act of greenwash, and is insistent in its denial that locating sports pitches from the site of the new Kensington Academy to another next to West Cross Route will have any effect whatever on the health of our children.

And yet the London Mayor and K&C Council, in a convenient road to Damascus conversion, are allegedly shocked and horrified to discover, in a specially commissioned report (who commissioned and paid for this?) that a third runway at Heathrow would cause more deaths than increased provision to the east of London (ie, estuary or Stansted).

While the politicians carefully choose their statistics to fit their current campaign, close their eyes to the facts one day, and the next, because the political climate has shifted, are ‘shocked and saddened’ by these same facts, people continue to suffer and to die horrible and lingering and ultimately avoidable deaths from the effects of air pollution.  

Political expediency does not save lives. Next time you wonder at the twinkling lights of London, remember that. 

Bad air day, K&C surrounded by '9's and '10's at Gypsy Corner,
Shepherd's Bush roundabout, and Marylebone flyover

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

SOS K&C - Save Our borough’s Soul, Sold to the highest bidder

Hundreds – if not thousands - of Kensington and Chelsea residents, many of whom have never been active politically or in their communities before, are rising up in fury in the run-up to the local elections.

Some are furious because, fairly or not, they see the Council as toothless and complacent in the battle of the basements. One Chelsea street has no less than eight subterranean basements being excavated at the same time. Is there really NOTHING that can be done, or is the Council playing victim so as not to upset wealthy property investors?

Some are furious because they cannot understand why the Council, despite ‘reviewing’ the decision five times, still came to the conclusion that the Isaac Newton Centre should be leased to Alpha Plus - allegedly for a new location for four of their schools - with no consideration whatever of the benefits of letting it to a local business, Notting Hill Prep, or of the potentially lethal effect of additional traffic on a quiet residential road. (FWIW, the K&C Labour Group has consistently, and in public, stated that the Centre should be kept in community use for professional development. Given that that is not on the table, we decided to support the ‘least worst’ option, Notting Hill Prep.)

Others are furious because their neighbourhood has been earmarked for demolition and development, and the landlord Affinity Sutton has forgotten their principles of housing ‘not affluent’ people near their place of work and have sold out to the Ritblat motto ‘Buy, monetise, sell’. With no apparent support or input from local Councillors there, the approved masterplan for the Sutton Estate clearly shows the existing social tenants shoved away in a dark corner of the estate; Wornington Green all over again.

Yet more are furious because the approved plans for Earl’s Court are so far away from the Supplementary Planning Document agreed, and even that was a million miles from the values of our Core Strategy. Twenty years of construction hell for Earl’s Court residents will bring no obvious benefits whatever.


Our Core Strategy or Local Plan is NOT a set of vague aspirations or a woolly manifesto, it is a rule-book. And yet developers and their CONsultants find a way around these rules. However do they do it? Here's a clue: 

This is a genuine advertisement

Our residents have, and are entitled to, modest requirements from their Council. Instead of satisfying them, the borough is subjected to wholesale pillaging by developers. Are residents to stand by and let this happen?

The Council has been judged by its residents and found lacking. Is the Council and its self-appointed Cabinet continually going to ignore the concerns of its electors?

Our Council knows the cost of everything, but the value of nothing. Communities and neighbourhoods are valued above all else. Just this morning I witnessed an elderly woman, with very swollen feet, offering to care for the cats of a neighbour who was going into hospital for a major operation: ‘We have to look after each other, don’t we?’ she said, looking wistfully at her feet. I assured her that one day, it would be her turn to be looked after, and a kind neighbour would be helping her.

Such is the value of a stable community, it is more valuable than gold and even more important, it cannot be bought. Neither can it be created, ‘re-visioned’ or ‘re-imagined’. I remember Terry Farrell 30 years back and still can’t believe what he’s doing now.  The idea that his plan for Earl’s Court is considered worthy of the name ‘village’, is beyond laughable. It is tragic.


To add to the sense of disentitlement and disenfranchisement that many residents are experiencing, we have just heard that the Chronicle local newspaper series in Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Kensington are to be discontinued – next week, just a month before the local elections.

How is the local voice to be heard? Where are we to have a balanced view of what is going on in the borough? Not everyone can go online and check half a dozen websites to get an overview. Many people rely on their local newspaper for local news and views.

Residents in the three boroughs are so disheartened by this, that an ugly and disgraceful rumour has been circulating. This rumour has it that the Triborough Councils, alarmed by the rise of popular democracy and dissent and afraid of major electoral losses, decided jointly to pull their advertising from the papers to force their closure. While this is clearly improbable and if true possibly illegal, it is a sign of the strength of residents’ feeling that they can even consider such an explanation.

Sunday, 23 March 2014


The most articulate reaction to the Labour Group’s alternative Budget at Full Council on 5 March, focussing on the finding that RBKC is the most unequal borough in Britain, was that of a stunned silence. We spoke of pensioners attending Food Banks – nothing. We described residents with mental health crises being hauled off to police cells due to a lack of appropriate support – nothing. We told them ten children had been sent to hospital with rickets – this was ‘minor’. Ten children with rickets - in Kensington and Chelsea!

Their silence spoke volumes; the richest borough in Europe had nothing to say. The Council has lost its voice.

The Council Leader has been in place for a year, but has yet to makes his mark. He wishes to appear approachable, but ignores residents’ pleas. Had he whipped the Cabinet to be quiet? Or were they shocked into silence? All the evidence and statistics are here [End of Term Report] to confirm, they are undeniable.

Inequality in our borough is appalling, and getting worse; it is gob-smackingly bad. In my speech I quoted a timely and well-written report of 2006 on the subject. The Councillor responsible for the report missed the point entirely; I was NOT complimenting the author of a report that has done nothing whatever to narrow inequalities in eight long years!

It is very clear to me that the ethos, values and education – in its broadest sense – of most of the Conservative majority at RBKC has been strict and disciplinarian. When young, they are taught to obey their elders. When older, they are taught to discipline their juniors; they are ‘prefects’ for life. They apply the judgmental/punitive approach to all who they deem to be lesser mortals; sadly they lack the intelligence to function in any other way.

It’s as if they were saying, like a feudal overlord: ‘The estate will not be dictated to by the village’. One of the Cabinet is reputed to have actually said that in another forum; I cannot believe anyone would say that in all seriousness.

'We are Kensington'

In the Labour Opposition we are a broad church and representative of our community. We prefer to nurture, encourage, empathise, and hand responsibility over. Trust builds trustworthiness. Forthrightness is repaid with honesty. Our Council will engage on small matters, on trees, and planting and supporting photogenic local groups when it suits, but on more fundamental issues ‘will not be dictated to by the village’.  

Time to draw the line.

This narrow and self-serving world view supposes that residents will always vote for self-interest. Our annual Residents’ Survey proves precisely the opposite. This self-selecting group votes year on year and is clearly shifting towards a preference of paying more Council Tax, not less, to support the most vulnerable. Year on year, the Council proposes a freeze on Council Tax, assuming – wrongly – that the electorate thinks as selfishly as they do. This year they are giving a £100 bonus, or as the Telegraph called it ‘pre-election bribe’ to Council Tax payers; a classic example. It will cost the Council an insane £7.5m, that we were told was ‘spare money with no particular purpose’ - while they cut and slice essential services.

To counter the Council’s wilful ignoring of residents’ wishes, this year the Labour Group instigated ‘Ask Mrs Braithwaite’. Mrs B is an indomitable and forthright grandmother to half her community in North Ken, for whom she speaks eloquently and fairly and with huge wisdom – if at great length. She is the famed Mrs B of Bloomberg News, whose Council Tax rate for her three-bed Council home comes in at just £40/month less than the Sultan of Brunei, for his (mostly empty) 16 bed mansion in Kensington Palace Gardens [Bloomberg News].

Let’s say this now. There is a causal link between our huge Reserves and the shameful inequality in ‘Europe’s richest borough’. If the majority party cannot see the connection, we in the Labour Group will be forced to remind them, regularly.

Labour Group Leader Judith Blakeman said of the borough in her Budget speech ‘we want to be a global village, not the world’s piggy bank’. But while bleating dismay at the ill effects of the over-heating housing market, the Council is itself monetising every square inch of the borough, and welcoming others who wish to do likewise. The ill effects of foreign investment hollow out the borough and destroy communities like flesh-eating necrotising faciitis; still the Council does nothing.

But residents will have their say.

Now we see that the Labour Group are not alone in their concerns for the effects of an increasingly disconnected and uncaring Cabinet. At the time of writing two groups of residents, who feel ignored by the Council on various issues, have stated they will stand as Independents in the local elections in May. The growing goodwill for these groups, from all quarters of the social spectrum, should be a wake-up call for out-of-touch senior Tory Councillors.

Now here’s a prediction, though I hope I’m wrong. They will not listen, they will fight.

And the fight will be dirty and dishonourable.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Bullingdon Fodder, at 'the socialist Eton': the sorry tale of Holland Park Academy

Original design, from 'Metropolis', and school as built

Residents sometimes tell us ‘the Council is pouring our money down a black hole’. Well here above, ladies and gentlemen, is the picture we are supposed to admire, and here below is the very hole our money is being poured down, at the cc£100m Holland Park Academy.
A very expensive hole indeed 
Well, ok, that isn’t the actual hole eating your money, but it makes an eloquent metaphor. For this is the exploratory hole through which engineers and hydrologists and various other highly qualified and very expensive consultants are trying to ascertain the cause of one of the Great Mysteries of the Modern World: why does Holland Park Academy’s brand new swimming pool leak – inwards? In the words of the Head Teacher, it is in a ‘parlous condition’ and ‘we wish we had the answer’.

I had attended the Open Evening to which the governors had invited ‘everyone’, who in this case were mainly the well-heeled and curious long-term residents of Campden Hill with their perms and pearls, and retired banker husbands. I spoke to quite a few. Some had swallowed hook, line and sinker the ‘we spent £80m but it cost nothing’ story put about by the Council, whereas others could see that selling a public asset – a large if ill-maintained playground – and turning it into super-prime property whose empty-eyed penthouses like vultures will greedily overlook Holland Park, is hardly a cost of ‘nothing’.

Head Teacher addressing staff
Back to the pool. Mrs Perm didn’t really care, it was a detail that did not concern her. Mrs Pearl was disdainful of the whole project, and stated authoritatively that several of the new basements in the area have 24-hour pumps working to keep them dry; there are springs, that spring eternally.

Another aspect of this metaphor for our times is the Head Teacher’s desire to change entry criteria. If governors have their way, in future entry to HPA will be not be decided according to whether or not a student went to primary school in the borough, so their family would have contributed to the near £100m the school cost. In future it will be decided by how far you live from the school.

While the HT insists that the new building ‘hasn’t changed the ethos or aims of the school at all’, let’s consider some facts. The current student make-up comprises some 27.5% on free school dinners, many of whom come from the culturally diverse north of the borough. Pass down Campden Hill Road at the beginning and end of the day and you see a representative slice of a population that is ethnically rich. Look at the school website, however, and you see what may or may not be the school’s aspiration of almost entirely white students, and not a hijab between them. Given that some years have up to one third Muslim students, with a Kensington mix of black African, Afro-Caribbean, Asian and others, what is this telling us?

Whether this was deliberate or accidental, we can draw our own conclusions.

NOT the HPA prom pic, but could it be?
One of the photos shows two young men togged up, possibly for the sixth form dinner, which is held, we are told, in a fancy-pants restaurant. The cost of the dinner is £70. I wouldn’t wish to embarrass the poor lambs to slaughter (Bullingdon Club fodder?) further or invite outrage by reproducing the photo, but it is here for all to see: www.hollandparkschool.co.uk

The actual photo shown here is of cast members of the repellent ‘Made In Chelsea’, possibly a representation of what the school’s future students will look like.

What a terrible waste of human endeavour, and of our money.

We can only imagine that the aspiration of the near £100m school once called ‘the socialist Eton’, paid for by my Council Tax and yours, is to produce a future Conservative Prime Minister.

This is not an aspiration to be proud of.

A word on blame.

When building projects run over cost, it is often the architects who are held to account. Holland Park Academy cost the taxpayer more than double (some say treble) its original estimate. Architect friends find this funny. Let an architect have their head, and an open cheque-book, they tell me, and they will spend and spend. Tell an architect to produce a mind-bogglingly wonderful zero-carbon school for £24m, and they will do it with pride and gusto.

I have interviewed architects charged and found guilty of profligacy (Scottish Parliament, Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences) and they say ‘no one told me to stop’. So who – implicitly or explicitly – sets the agenda?  

The blame lies with those holding the purse-strings; politicians, in this case local politicians. And we all know who was in charge of this reckless and extravagant project. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Wornington Green: the 'regen fail' of 'Portobello Square'

When a resident of the brand new building in Bonchurch (renamed 'Badchurch') Road, Wornington Green (marketed 'Portobello Square', at the 'cheap end' of Portobello Road, North Ken) sent me this photo of a botch repair of his bathroom, I was surprised. The comment that the reason for his loo blockage was an instruction leaflet left in a pipe was dreadful but also sort of funny.

His ceiling had also sprung a leak, which was not entirely a surprise as I knew what was on the roof, having scoped this out from nearby Trellick Tower, and seeing that it was pretty much a lake with lots of construction material and junk on it.

Frustration had also been expressed about poor workmanship in other areas of his flat, so I asked for more. However I did not expect to see this:

- bad damp and peeling paintwork due to 'missing mastic' on the outside of the window-frame. Given that the resident had moved in barely three months previously, this was frankly appalling.

The following weekend it rained again, with the following result, a plague of boils on the ceiling 'like an alien', which finally burst:

Then I was sent the following, showing a 'living wall' in his neighbour's terrace, and some scary (and dangerous to health) mould in his bathroom:

- this building has been occupied for just three months. Most revealing of all is a small but very eloquent detail of finishing: 

Now I can't pretend to be good at DIY, but I do think I could do better than this with one eye and a glue gun. And I wouldn't repair my garden shed that badly.

This of course is the social housing; is it truly built by unskilled labour, as we are told? Right next door to it is the 'market housing', which looks the same from the outside, but you can't help but wonder if it is the same appalling low quality of workmanship on the inside. Very very soon I will get into a 'market flat', and find out if the reality matches the PR on which they sold the building, off plan, to wealthy investors in Hong Kong.


'a crime scene'.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Wornington Green; life in a sieve

STOP PRESS 6.2.14: 'Pic of how my toilet was repaired via tiled bathroom wall. The fault causing regular blockages was the fitting instructions which were left inside one of the components!' Tenant of brand new 'penthouse' flat in Bonchurch Road, 'Portobello Square'.

Once upon a time, many years ago, a mummy pigeon gave a sign; it was a dirty protest. Catalyst Housing found it unnecessarily provocative and weren't amused.

You may imagine that a landlord who allowed *this* pigeon protest to happen on a stairwell in daily use would be made to pay the price.

You may think that a landlord who allowed a rainwater hopper, within reach of a kitchen chair, to remain blocked for years and years, would be accountable for poor maintenance and management. Maybe it was a pigeon shower?

You may imagine that this is in a Third World country, an overflowing paladin so battered it's near collapse. So here is the daily bread for pigeons and other pests (rats and other creatures most people wouldn't wish to feed). 

That's kind, Catalyst Housing.

What kind of landlord would allow a cosy pigeon roost and give residents a special 'poo cover' when they park? A considerate one, silly.

Is this some poor woman's bathroom, where her children have to bathe?

Surely this can't be a child's bedroom? 

The books are wrinkling with damp. Getting a bit worried now.

Oh dear, the place is falling apart 


Now there's lovely!


And yet - oh dear, this doesn't look like good workmanship. Let's hope they patch that up quick.

And this lock-up door is completely different from the one beside it. Whatever is going on?

- and this won't do at all! Surely not the show house?

This terrace wall is actually crooked, not a good look.

It's ok they've hidden it from view, they are obviously going to fix it all now. Phew.

There is damp here but hey - they haven't fitted the coping stone on top of the brick facing yet, it'll be fine really, ARDMORE wouldn't let it leak.

Oh dear, the coping stone is in place now, but the damp has spread a metre down the wall.

Weird how the damp is spreading between the brick cladding sections, let's hope it isn't leaking inside eh?

I'm sure they'll fix that now it's been noticed. 'Teething problem', 'snagging' - surely? Nothing whatever to worry about.

If I didn't know ARDMORE are such wonderful builders, I'd say that was poor quality construction. But what do I know?

Very strange how the street level brick cladding is soaked here, definitely a one-off,  let's hope it isn't getting inside.


Oh dear, it looks like the nice tenant had a major leak from her brand new bathroom that ARDMORE fitted into her living room, bedroom and downstairs bathroom. 

The nice tenant says ARDMORE meant to fit the drainpipe in October. It's February now.
Oh well, they're probably quite busy.

I wonder if the drainpipe that ARDMORE forgot to fit is causing any problems?

Now that's not good, look, there's been a leak from the ROOF that ARDMORE built and it's come into the sitting room of this tenant.

You'd think maybe someone didn't use sealant on the plasterboard; the rain that has mysteriously leaked from the roof created a huuuge bubble behind the paint before it burst. POP! Into the sitting room.


Oh no, look, the £1m mews houses have puddles on the roof; it hadn't rained for two days! 

Can you believe it? This tenant says her ceiling collapsed on her bed. That can't be right. Now they aren't willing to pay compensation? Nah, that can't be right either.

Oh dear, another collapsed ceiling by the looks of it. This can't be right, it's a £1m mews house. Crikey!

Now don't tell me the lock-ups leak, after all that hard work patching up the 'lintels' - sorry that's too grand a word for this -


Now someone says their stock is ruined and ARDMORE is refusing to pay compensation. They say that has happened to other traders too.
I absolutely cannot believe that.

The weird thing is, Catalyst told us the old buildings weren't 'fit for purpose' as they were damp and leaked. 

Now the new buildings of so-called 'Portobello Square' are damp and leak. I'm so confused! 



They may also wish to consider the following 'teething problems' that I have been asked to help with in the new building on Wornington Road: 

a, poor tv reception, no mobile signal, no internet connection, kitchen tap broke, black dust (tenant has asthma)

b, cannot get post, postman confused by strange numbering of new building, black dust

c, rubbish chute on ground floor not functioning, had to take rubbish to paladins outside, boiler leaked twice, now mended

d, balcony floor not finished, could not use throughout last summer, heating not working, black dust, find V-Pro electricity system confusing

e, poor tv reception, sometimes cuts off, frequent power cuts (also happened while I was in the building), phone cuts out when power cuts out, so no way of contacting the outside world in emergency (as no mobile signal either), mail arrives late, once this caused late bill payment problems

f, leak into balcony from drainpipe from roof three times, once so bad balcony decking was ‘floating’, damp patch in kitchen ceiling, fixed twice, electricity ‘very expensive’

e, washing line above bath too high, bath too deep to get in and out safely

From tenants of traders’ lock-ups

f, trader of hot food stall has had stock ruined three times by flooding of lock-up. This has cost thousands of pounds and is threatening his business; state that Ardmore refuse to compensate

g, furniture shop has had lock-up flooded and stock drenched; state that Ardmore refuse to compensate