Pollution solution? Don't hold your breath
Plus, we enter London's dead zones
We’re taking our summer break this week (yes, we’re off to Glastonbury, but we’re also going to take some time to do a bit of planning and commissioning).
There will still be an issue on Wednesday (see below for more details on that), but then we’ll be on a short hiatus until Saturday 2 July. Before that we’re taking a look at how London’s air is holding up and counting up all the unused and abandoned buildings that are just lying around doing nothing.
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I can feel it coming in the air tonight (oh lord)
Back in January (after a combination of high pollution levels, high pressure and unusually still weather meant we were all told we might be better off staying inside for the day) we published an issue asking if London was destined to repeat the ‘killer smog’ days of the 1950s:
Last Thursday was Clean Air Day (right in the middle of the hottest week of the year so far), so we thought it might be a good time to check in and see how things are going on the old pollution front.
Anything WHO can do…
Sadiq was at Great Ormond Street Hospital on Thursday where the eponymous road had been closed for the day and turned into ‘Play Street’. Like most of London, the air quality outside GOSH regularly goes above above WHO safe limits so this was the hospital hinting that the road should be permanently closed to traffic.
At the same time as visiting the hospital the mayor was also publicising his withering response to the air pollution targets the government set back in March (namely: reduce levels of PM2.5 to 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2040).
Sadiq is not having any of that.
In his words:
“A target set this far into the future consigns yet another generation of children to the lifelong health effects of early exposure to excess air pollution and embeds existing inequalities in exposure particularly for Black and ethnic minority Londoners and people on low incomes who are least likely to own a vehicle.”
This isn’t just another case of a Labour mayor taking potshots at a Tory government. The National Audit Office (an organisation no one could accuse of being political) said this week that there are “longstanding breaches” in exceeding the limits on this pollution, and Government isn’t making it easy enough for people to access key information about air pollution.
In an effort to light a fire under government’s arse, the mayor has teamed up with other “highly ambitious local government leaders” to form a group called UK100 (we would have gone for ‘The Airvengers’ but nobody asked us) to send a letter to the Environment Secretary, pledging to meet WHO’s targets by 2030 - a whole decade earlier than Johnson and co.
It’s not going to be an easy ride though…
New research released by Henley Business School this week showed that “external air pollution concentrations in play spaces” was not assessed in over half of London residential planning applications. Worse, 67% of the applications failed to consult children at all, and an ‘adult head height’ was being used to assess air quality.
Uber for Business put out some research this week that suggests that “more than three quarters of London workers are concerned about the impact of air pollution” and 56% would be more likely to come into their office rather than work from home if electric travel options were readily available (there’s a bit of an agenda there, obviously).
Even the Mail got in the act. They took a roaming air quality monitor around London (including a trip to a McDonald’s, a Wetherspoons, a Sainsbury’s and an Underground station) to see what the pollution levels were like. If you don’t fancy giving the Mail a page view then we can tell you that the main takeaway is don’t ever eat in the basement of McDonald’s on Piccadilly Circus.
And let’s not forget that just a few weeks ago the Prime Minister was urging Khan to scrap his plans to expand the ULEZ, calling it a “tax” on families and businesses.
If you want to check the level of air pollution in your area then you can put your postcode into addresspollution.org, although if you live in central London then don’t be surprised if you get a nasty result.
Coming up on Wednesday… 🥢
It’s a special, ‘guest contributor’ edition of LiB on Wednesday. An incredible love letter to a takeaway that’s been serving the residents of Hackney for the past 30 years.
You won’t want to miss this one.
The dead zone
Earlier this month the Green Party’s Sian Berry published a report exposing the “huge range of empty publicly owned buildings and facilities across London”.
You can read ‘London’s Dead Spaces - Bringing Them Back to Life’ here, but the TL;DR is that there are an average of 24 council-owned spaces “not in normal use” per borough. That adds up to roughly 781 ‘dead spaces’ across the whole of London that have been out of use for an average of four years. Only one in 12 of them are “being put to any other public service or community based” use in the meantime.
Berry is pushing for more help for councils and community groups to make better use of empty buildings, either from Government or the Mayor. She cites the various Library of Things that have sprung up in places like Crystal Palace, Hackney Wick, Finsbury Park and Woolwich as a good example of what can be done, along with the Restart Project’s fixing factories (as featured in this edition of LiB) and Notting Hill Police Station being saved from private housing developments.
On a similar vein, author Peter Watts took to Twitter last week to ask what central London’s “most prominent ruin” might be now that Battersea Power Station, St Pancras and Smithfield market have all been restored.
Londonist @LondonistBeyond London's glimmering skyscrapers and grand institutions, there is a twilight zone of burnt-out factories and decaying mansions... https://t.co/VasHmezsJI
5 little bits
Formal interviews for the new Met commissioner start this week and the mayor used a speech at City Hall on Friday to warn the candidates that “they must publicly admit the force’s systemic failings” if they want his support. Meanwhile the Streatham MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy has written to Priti Patel claiming that Sir Thomas Winsor (the man selected to lead the inquiry into Khan’s handling of Cressida Dick’s resignation) is not the right person for the job, because he has “a history of taking positions which are politically in favour of the government”.
Over in the (paywalled) Telegraph this weekend, Matthew Lynn has Three reasons London's economy is about to go into reverse. If you’re not a Telegraph subscriber we can tell you those three reasons are: 1) No more Russian oligarch money; 2) all the “whizzy start-ups in Shoreditch” having to lay people off; and 3) The City having to deal with financial markets crashing and rising interest rates. Still, as long as the weather stays nice eh?
Sadiq has thrown London’s hat into into the ring for hosting next year’s Eurovision now that Ukraine has officially been ruled out. He will have to go up against Manchester though (and Liverpool, and Leeds…)Londoners would welcome with open arms. We're ready to step up and support Ukraine by hosting a contest that pays tribute to and honours the Ukrainian people, and also celebrates the very best of Britain too.
Eurovision Song Contest @EurovisionThe @EBU_HQ has issued the statement below regarding the hosting of next year’s #Eurovision Song Contest. Find it online here ➡️ https://t.co/mAxSdReBj3 https://t.co/JYqy58eHqV
We like to try and forget that George Osborne is chairman of the British Museum, but that was made more difficult this week when he announced that “There’s a deal to be done” over the Parthenon Marbles, “where we can tell both stories in Athens and London”. Osborne also said that, “If either side says there’s no give at all, then there won’t be a deal” (which is traditionally how deals work).
The reviews are coming in for The Gunpowder Plot immersive experience. At Time Out Andrzej Lukowski seems to be channeling the whole historical vibe and calls the experience “a hoot” (four stars), and in the Times Rachel Campbell-Johnston calls the VR “mesmerising” and “entrancing” (the full five stars). It’s more “hit and miss” in the Guardian where Arifa Akbar enjoyed “capering through these dimly lit tunnels, with dripping taps, explosive sounds and smoky corridors” but is less impressed by the VR bits (three stars).