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.