Breath taking hypocrisy from one of Yesterday’s Men.

Boris told such dreadful lies

It made one stare and stretch one’s eyes.

The (Right) Honourable Member for Uxbridge, who can occasionally be spotted sprawled in an entitled somnolent slump across several green benches in the House of Commons, like a haystack made of melting blubber*, is trying to restore his broken political fortunes by opposing clean air in Outer London. 

Even though 85% of cars in outer London already meet ULEZ standards, Johnson is trying to whip up a “they are coming for your cars” reaction among suburban drivers on a par with the NRA’s campaigns against gun controls. “You will take my steering wheel out of my cold dead hands…”

He says that the ULEZ expansion scheduled for the end of August is unnecessary because Outer London does not have a problem with polluted air.

There is a skill taught in Public Schools called “oiling”. Future masters of the universe are taught to speak complete self-serving BS with such insouciance and self confidence that, even if they’ve just made it up, most people will believe them. Johnson has been found out so many times that people now see though him for the most part; which is why those in the Conservative Party who think he would restore their fortunes if hoisted back into Downing Street are such desperate fantasists, but its a useful exercise to show just how wrong he is.

You can test this on the site on which Imperial College analyses air quality in each post code. Checking three postcodes at random in Johnson’s own Uxbridge constituency reveals one (UB8 1GW) at the 98th national percentile (only two points off being as bad as you can get) and breaching 3 WHO limits. Another (UB8 2DL) is in the 93rd percentile, another (UB10 9LD) is in the 91st, but both also breaching 3 WHO limits. Another (UB8 2DL) is in the 93rd percentile, also breaching 3 WHO limits.

The health consequences of breaching these limits are listed on the site as follows.

Pollutant one: PM2.5

At this address, the annual average of the pollutant PM2.5 is 12.73mcg/m3. The World Health Organization limit is 5mcg/m3.

This study shows 19.9% of strokes were attributed to exposure (for a year or more) of PM2.5 concentrations exceeding 10mcg/m3.

PM2.5 can also cause asthma, jeopardize lung functions and promote cancer.

Pollutant two: PM10

The reading for PM10 at this address is 20.59mcg/m3. The limit is 15mcg/m3.

Exposure (for a year or more) to 20mcg/m3 leads to increased risk of total, cardiovascular and diabetes mortality.

PM10 can cause wheezing, bronchitis and reduce lung development.

Pollutant three: NO2

The reading for N02 at this address is 39.88mcg/m3. The limit is 10mcg/m3.

Exposure (for a year or more) to 40mcg leads to a 11% increased risk of disease related mortality.

There is also strong evidence to suggest it leads to respiratory symptoms including irritation, coughing, shallow breathing and difficulty breathing.

A comparison with Inner London is instructive. NW1 3UD is on the Euston Road. It is in the 99th percentile, NW3 3RE is in the 94th and NW5 4LS in the 92nd; all in the same range as Uxbridge. All breaching the same three WHO limits and all with the same adverse health effects.

So, Outer London does have a polluted air problem and, if Johnson were serious about the need to support people hit by a cost of living crisis exacerbated by governments he has led or supported, and the difficulties faced by people forced to commute into London in old bangers because they have been driven out of the city by the soaring house prices and rents that he was content to let rip as Mayor, he should join Sadiq Khan in demanding that the government match fund the scrappage scheme to support them, in the way they have been prepared to do in Bristol, Bath, Birmingham and Sheffield.

But, I’m not holding my breath…

*If anyone finds this offensive, please be reassured that this is in the same post modernist jokey spirit as Boris Johnson’s Daily Telegraph columns and can’t possibly be taken seriously.

20 minute neighbourhoods – an “international socialist conspiracy”… by Sainsburys?

It takes a particular kind of weird right wing mind set to cast a need to drive long distances breathing in pollution from the exhaust pipes of the cars in front just to get to the shops, or a playground, or your kid’s school as a kind of “freedom”.

Cars have become the main form of travel in the UK in the last 60 years, which is now leading to serious problems.

Take London. London’s 2023 population is just over 9 million people, on a land area unchanged since it was 8.3 million back in 1950 and it is projected by the GLA to grow to 10.3 million by 2050 in a period in which London’s green space is due to expand from 40% to 50% of the metropolitan area. All those people have to live and work somewhere, and they have to get about, and they have to have ready access to all the things they need to make life bearable at least and enjoyable at best.

Unless London is to break through the greenbelt and sprawl across the Home Counties like a Northern European version of LA, that means higher density populations living closer to the amenities they need, cutting down on the need to make unnecessary journeys and public transport hubs so that longer distance travel is facilitated without car use. That does not imply, far right conspiracy theorists please note, people being walled into neighbourhoods or forbidden to travel out of them. it means facilitating it so they don’t have to: thereby reducing personal costs and stress as well as pollution amongst other things. If those extra million and a half people all had cars, as about half of Londoners currently do, there would be nowhere to put them and no prospect of them being able to get from A-B, let alone Z. We should note that LA itself, the model city for low density urban sprawl slung together by freeways – which, right wing conspiracy theorists please take note, acted as barriers slicing communities into fragments that were hard to get out of, especially without a car, leading to all sorts of other malign effects – had to start investing in its now very popular and extensive metro system because the morning gridlock in the early 1990s was beginning to merge with the evening gridlock.

There are a lot of examples of this in North West London. There has been a huge development of solid looking new flats on the site of the old Hendon Police College. Over 1600 of them with a school in the middle; which no one needs to drive to to drop their kids off. There are some parking bays, but this whole new town has not been built on the assumption that everyone will own a car or have to use one to get out to work. This is because there is one road alongside of the site – and no option for another – this would simply clog up if everyone tried to travel by car during rush hour. On the other hand, the Northern Line is within walking distance; as it is to a comparable number of new flats that have been built around Colindale Station, complete with amenities, shops, cafes, restaurants etc.

There are similar developments all alongside the Edgware Road. If everyone living in all these new flats owned and used a car, even the mighty A5 would just get clogged in a stationary stream of fuming metal. No one would be able to get anywhere in rush hour, and the already grim levels of pollution would be even more character building than they currently are.

One of the most striking of these is the local Sainsbury Megastore. Built about 20 years ago as a classic suburban big box supermarket with a car park for 462 vehicles – on the presumption that a lot of shoppers would drive in and load up for a big weekly shop – this is now being redeveloped so that the car park will shrink by over half, and most of its space will be occupied by flats. 1300 of them. Car parking space will only be available for around a quarter of these. The Hendon Thameslink station is within a five minute walk and the Northern Line within ten minutes by bus. About a quarter of residents are projected to use the tube, others may work locally or from home or use the bus or cycle. Improvements for pedestrian and cycle access to the Thameslink station are part of the planning with input from TFL The loss of car parking space for the supermarket will be more than compensated for by having 1300 homes alongside or, in some cases, literally on top of the store. It obviously won’t be compulsory for residents to use it, and other supermarkets are available for anyone who wants to head up the Edgware Road because they really like Asda or Morrisons, but most people will probably just pop down to the nearest.

This is one aspect of a 20 minute neighbourhood. If this is an “international socialist conspiracy” it has a fairly hard nosed capitalist instigator.

One caveat we should note is that the initial plans by the developers had a somewhat higher number of car parking spaces both for residents and supermarket, on the presumption that the better off people who will buy the posher flats will assume they will be entitled to a car, so providing spaces is a way of maximising the returns they get on sales. This had to be pushed back by the GLA and Barnet Council as the level of traffic generated would be outside the limits set by the London Plan to allow what traffic there is to keep flowing. The usual conflict between private gain and social needs playing out here.

We’re not building Thunderbirds…

There’s a little old lady, but not from Pasadena, who lives down the hill and owns a powder blue Morris Minor that’s almost as old as she is. Whenever she takes it out for a spin, she has a look of intense concentration bordering on manic glee that makes every trip seem an adventure as she pootles past. The throaty purr of the glorified lawnmower engine that drives it drowns out the whispering hum of the sleeker, more anonymous vehicles that back up behind her; sounding like a V8 by contrast. As the Beach Boys would have it, “Go Granny! Go Granny! Go Granny! Go!”

Much as people form relationships with their cars – we had an old split window Morris in the 60s that we called “Ada” and had to will up hills – there is a lot less romanticism about them here than in the USA. You can’t imagine a local equivalent of Bruce Springsteen singing, “We were building Austin Metros”, or “We were building Ford Escorts”.

Thunderbirds – quite a name in itself- are redolent of cruising across endless prairies on a “freeway” (and what a loaded word that is) at 100mph or burning rubber in strip races at Ventura Beach and Jack Kerouac proclaiming that “the only word I had was Wow”. The only local equivalent of “Get your kicks on Route 66” is satire, Billy Bragg’s “A13, trunk road to the sea”.

 If you ever have to go to Shoeburyness

Take the A road,

the okay road that’s the best

Go motorin’ on the A13

Even the opening line has a sense of compulsion about it. If you ever have to go to Shoeburyness…not so much an exploration as a chore, especially as you also have to go “rather near Basildon”. Somebody has to.