Pavement ‘explosions’ putting lives at risk

UK Power Networks, the company responsible for running and maintaining the power cables in London and the South East, must do more to ensure that old and unsafe cabling and equipment was replaced before it became dangerous, as new figures reveal almost 80 incidents in London in the last five years.

Figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal that between February 2010 and February 2015 there were 199 incidents where link boxes or cable pits failed – the prime cause of most pavement explosions. 77 of these incidents were deemed to be ‘disruptive’ which is described by the HSE as “involving fire, explosion and/or the involvement of the fire service.”

This is the equivalent of more than one disruptive incident every month over the five year period. Around half of the incidents occurred last year, with over 40 ‘disruptive’ incidents reported in 2014 alone. This comes despite HSE stating that they stepped up inspections in April last year.

The explosions are generally caused by electrical faults with underground electrical equipment (primarily link boxes or cable pits) due to poor maintenance of the network. UK Power Networks and South Eastern Power, who are responsible for the maintenance of electrical equipment, should be “doing everything possible to crack down” on dangerous equipment failures.

This is a company which made almost two hundred million pounds profit last year. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for them to invest a little of that in overhauling their aging electricity supply network and stepping up inspections.

ally caused by electrical faults with underground electrical sdsfor the maintenance of electrical equipment, should be “doing everything possible to crack down” on dangerous equipment failures.

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National Policy Forum Re-election Letter

Member: Unite, GMB, Co-op and Socialist Societies

Ballot papers included with those for Labour Leader, Deputy Leader and London Mayor. NB – on the reverse side

Dear Member

I am writing to ask you to consider voting for me as one of your four London CLP reps to the National Policy Forum.

After the election defeat, we are in uncharted territory.

Never before has the National Policy Forum faced a task so challenging. As Labour is deciding on its leadership nationally and for London we must rebuild voter confidence. We must start now.

Labour’s policy-making needs to inspire all of us to fight this pernicious Government and the Tory Mayor.

From congestion charging to genuinely affordable housing, I have been working to develop policies which will improve Londoners’ lives, especially the most vulnerable. As Ken Livingstone’s Deputy Mayor, I led on the London Plan and London’s response to climate change. I have played a major role in developing policies for children and women.

As a London-wide Assembly Member I am promoting the London Living Rent and pushing to raise the benefit cap. I am working hard to highlight the damage caused to our citizens’ health by London’s terrible air quality.

I am campaigning against the toxic mix of planning, housing and welfare policies of both the Government and the Mayor. They are segregating the city’s communities and creating a more unequal and unaffordable London. Labour must stand against this trend.

We need a clear vision of how we’re going to build a better Britain, one underpinned by a strong, inclusive economic strategy focusing on jobs and sustainable growth. And importantly, one which gives hope to the next generation of voters.

The NPF will play an important part in this process. And I know that party members must play an important part in the NPF.

I passionately believe that we will only arrive at an agenda that speaks to Britain by harnessing radical ideas based on your own knowledge and experience. With your backing I will undertake to promote your voice within the NPF so London is heard at a national level. We need change and I will work for it with you.

Please keep in touch



We should not be afraid of debate.

NPF Review

London prides itself on its openness and diverse communitites. These voices must be heard . Our issues of inequality and unaffordability are national ones too.  The upcoming Mayoral election means CLPs have to respond with  London-wide policy ideas.

The NPF is not perfect but this time it worked considerably better.  It was more open to debate in the policy process including annual conference. Now we can make a difference.

For the first time, CLP reps did have influence within policy commissions and at forum meetings. This meant that CLPs and individual members were able to feed into the process. Many of you sent us policy recommendations and amendments to the policy documents. Although we didn’t win them all, partly because of the very cautious atmosphere running up to the election, I was proud to argue for members’ and London CLPs’ proposals on a wide range of issues including setting councils free to build homes, ending the “ unaffordable” affordable rent, public health, community energy and the green economy.

About the NPF

The NPF is an opportunity for representatives from CLPs, unions, affiliated groups , local and european government and regional parties to meet with the shadow cabinet to shape and oversee policy development.

It meets as a whole forum three times a year to discuss in detail documents produced by the policy commissions.  I was on the Stronger, Safer Communities Commission covering a broad range of policies from local government to domestic violence.

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Earls Court demolition and residents’ health

As the demolition of the iconic Earls Court exhibition centre gets underway, residents remain in the dark despite their serious concerns about potential dangers to their health.

Despite requests, neither developer Capco nor the local authority have released to the Asbestos Survey and Risk Register to local residents. Residents require transparency in order to give them confidence that hazardous substances, such as asbestos in Earls Court One, are being dealt with safely.

Residents are also worried about the impact on air quality and on noise and vibration.

Yesterday, a cross-party group of Assembly Members, including me, wrote to the Health and Safety Executive to ask that these matters of serious public health are investigated urgently. You can read the letter here: Earls Court demolition – letter from Darren Johnson Nicky Gavron and Stephen Knight

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Happy Birthday Green Belt

Green Belt policy turns 60 years old today.

London has enjoyed a formal Green Belt since 1938, but it was 3 August 1955 when Housing Minister Duncan Sandys rolled out the policy across England. You can see a copy of the original circular here.

In the past 60 years, the Green Belt has played an important role in helping to limit suburban sprawl and assisting urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land. The policy has become the planning envy of the world. It remains popular with the public; a new poll released today for the Campaign to Protect Rural England finds huge support and that only 17 per cent of respondents want to build on it.

See where Green Belt is near you on this interactive map.

Yet, in some circles, the tide is turning. There have been calls to build on Green Belt land, with some arguing that the housing crisis necessitates opening up new land to accommodate London’s rapidly growing population.

I don’t think we need to do this. London has around 4,000 hectares of brownfield land, enough for about a third of a million homes. Building on brownfield may be slightly more costly to developers, but it’s well worth it for society: it often regenerates areas and produces more sustainable development that is closer to existing infrastructure and established neighbourhoods. Those who advocate building on Green Belt rightly point out that this is not enough. But that misses the point: if Green Belt land lost its protection, developers wouldn’t build on both green and brownfield land simultaneously but would instead leapfrog over the more expensive brownfield and litter our Green Belt with unsustainable executive homes that do little to address the housing crisis.

Yet the debate continues. Green Belt policy may turn 60 years old today, but there is no guarantee that it will last another 60. That’s why I will remain a committed advocate of protecting this important planning tool, and will continue to argue for regenerating our existing urban areas before we even start to think about paving over the wonder of the planning world.


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Money laundering pushes up prices and makes many homes unaffordable

The Prime Minister has just given a speech promising to clamp down on foreign criminals laundering their money by buying property in the UK, much of which is in London. Last week the National Crime Agency had warned the multi-billion pound practice was pushing up house prices in the UK.

I went onto BBC London this past weekend to call on the Prime Minister and the Mayor to address the problem.

BBC London property money laundering

This is having an impact on all of us. There is a knock-on effect for ordinary Londoners, who are dealing with inflating rents and rising house prices. Already there is an overheated housing market, and this is exacerbating the situation. It has got to be stamped out.

In the past we’ve raised concerns about money laundering only to be brushed off by the Mayor. When my Labour colleague Murad Qureshi asked what actions he would take in response to a report by Transparency International, Corruption on Your Doorstep, which suggested that a flow of corrupt cash is driving up house prices in London, Boris curtly responded: “The report you mention did not state this. It asserted that it was ‘likely’ that that there was a link between ‘corrupt capital’, overseas investment and rising house prices but did not produce any evidence to suggest the nature and scale of any such relationship.”

I wonder if he’ll change his tune now that even the Prime Minister recognises there is a problem.

Publishing details of foreign companies investing in property is a good start but we also need to see increased efforts to identify and prosecute offenders as well as pressure put on estate agents to carry out more thorough checks when selling top-price homes.

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Almost 9,500 Londoners die prematurely due to toxic air new research shows

Almost 9,500 Londoners die prematurely each year as a result of air pollution in the capital new figures from Kings College London have shown. The research makes it imperative the Mayor finally get get serious”about tackling air pollution.

The Mayor needed to take tangible steps to improve London’s air quality including allowing London boroughs to opt into the new ultra-low emissions zone which will charge the worst polluting cars for entering central London from 2020.

This research demonstrates that air pollution is one of the most serious public health emergencies facing London. Despite almost 9,500 Londoners dying every year, the Mayor has dithered and delayed when it comes to tackling our toxic air.

It’s time for the Mayor to get serious about air quality, that means expanding the proposed ultra-low emissions zone and allowing London boroughs to opt in should they wish. It should be an indisputable right of Londoners to breathe clean air, not an optional extra as the Mayor is currently treating it.

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The vacant building credit just doesn’t work in London

Yesterday’s meeting of the Planning Committee heard that the vacant building credit won’t just result in less affordable housing for London but could actually make it more difficult to bring forward development.

The much-derided policy, introduced by the Government late last year, applies to any vacant building brought back into any lawful use, or demolished to be replaced by a new building. The developer is offered a financial ‘credit’ equivalent to the existing gross floor space of vacant buildings when the local planning authority calculates affordable housing contributions.

We heard that it could provide a perverse incentive for unscrupulous landlords and developers to evict existing tenants and could result in the loss of billions of pounds’ worth of affordable housing investment from developers. We were warned that the Mayor needs to stand up for London and work to get the policy cancelled.

Following the discussion I appeared on London Live to discuss the issue. You can watch it here:

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