Posts Tagged London

Boris promises Wi-Fi blanket for London

That’s the headline from ZDNet, reporting the Mayor’s promise of free wifi across London by the 2012 Olympics.

As the article goes on to point out, it does not say how this will be acheived, nor how it will be funded. So far, so Boris.

There is a happy precedent here in Islington. The ‘technology mile’ of free wifi along the Upper Street corridor is an initiative that I promoted for Islington – one of the first of its kind.

In an age before people could get online on their phones, we wanted people to be able to get online in the park or at the bus-stop, or in an independent cafe.

A similar scheme has since been introduced by Peabody on some of its estates around Whitecross Street in EC1.

I think this community wifi is a great idea. However, it’s exactly the kind of provision that’s under threat from the Digital Economy Act.

Having led the opposition to the Act within the Liberal Democrats, I was delighted we voted again to urge repeal of its worst provisions at our special conference on the coalition agreement last Sunday.

Now we need Boris to put similar pressure on his Tory colleagues in the coalition, if there is to be any comfort from his blanket.

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Inequality: bad for our health?

New figures from the Office of National Statistics report that London’s children are the most deprived in the UK.

One in four London children is growing up in poverty, and we already know that for Islington it’s nearer half all children.

The growing gap between rich and poor is not only a terrible failure by the Labour government; it makes society more stressed, less healthy, trusting and secure, than societies where wealth is more equitably distributed. Although it’s arguable that redistribution is the consequence, rather than the cause, of a happier society.

In the midst of this, an invitation arrives from the Rev Chris Brice in Gospel Oak (what a great name for a parish!):

Professor Richard Wilkinson acclaimed author of: “The Spirit Level – why more equal societies almost always do better”

Is speaking in London On: July 5th At: 6pm at St Martins Church Gospel Oak NW5 4NL

Followed by a Question and Answer Session after his talk


Come and hear about the pernicious consequences on millions of UK citizens of Britain being one of the most economically unequal countries amongst the 23 richest democracies.

Prof Wilkinson has carried out a number of studies on the effects on inequality on health, and the links between inequality and racism – highly topical given the rise of the BNP. It is, after all, just a short train ride from Gospel Oak to Barking.

Gross and growing inequality is certainly bad for society’s health. That’s not to say it’s avoidable. Like sugar or sunlight, it’s excess that’s bad for us. I don’t believe total equality is achievable – and certainly not by means that are acceptable to liberals (or Liberals).

Liberal Democrats are pledged to fight poverty, ignorance and conformity, not inequality per se. But the extremes of rich and poor, and the growing gap between rich and poor, both globally and within communities, undermine the conditions in which liberalism can flourish and breed intolerance. To quote Barack Obama, money is not the only answer, but it makes a difference.

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Best and worst cities

The Telegraph reports on a survey of the best and worst cities in the world to live in. No London, Paris, or New York here. No St David’s either.

The top ten veer more to the plush (Vancouver, Geneva) than the vibrant, with the exception of Sydney which sneaks in at number 10. The winner? Vienna: described as boasting “great economic, cultural and political strength, was the birthplace of Marie Antoinette and Sigmund Freud and has been sung about by Ultravox and Billy Joel.”

Billy Joel, eh? Strangely Saigon is not on the list.

The bottom ten include war-torn cities you may not have heard of, from Nouakchott in Mauritania to Ndjamena in Chad. And the worst? Baghdad: “Despite possessing a rich heritage, the city remains beset by problems…”.

The survey is carried out by Mercers and there are more details on their site. Surprise: London does scrape into the top cities for infrastructure. Mercers specialise in helping global players relocate, and their report is designed to help companies calculate ‘hardship allowances’ for transfers to cities worldwide.

This may explain their criteria – more about low crime than high culture. Who else would rate Madrid bottom in Europe?

And of course wealth. A telling footnote adds “NB: There are no Middle Eastern or African cities in the top 50”.

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Islington parks on Flickr

Some photos of Islington parks, among others in London, here.

I particularly like the glimpse of the fernery at Astey’s Row, part of the New River Walk.

There are also pics of Bunhill Fields, Caledonian Park, Barnsbury Square, Gillespie Park, and Barnard Park.

Also Canonbury Square just up the road from me, not only the former home of George Orwell, but so prettily planted I’ve seen it used recently for wedding photos.

It’s become a bit of a truism that Islington has less green space than any other borough. Certainly we don’t have the vast expanses of green, some with lakes, of the outer boroughs. But what Islington’s parks lack in acreage, they make up for in character.

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Repossessions at 12-year high

Depressing news for home-owners today, as repossessions hit a twelve-year high.

Twelve years ago, we’d recently moved to Barnsbury from Highbury, bit nervous about the size of the mortgage, but confident that the only way was up. It’s very different for new homeowners today. Can’t keep up the payments, and ‘Homes under the Hammer’ meets Hammer horror, as your home is repossessed and auctioned off.

Thankfully Islington seems to be escaping the worst of it – so far. The London areas worst hit at present seem to be buy-to-let hotspots, like Lewisham, Thamesmead and Surrey Quays.

I spoke to Holloway-based auctioneers Drivers & Norris on Friday. They are seeing repossessions at the rate of 4-5 a year, whereas at the height of the last recession, it was more like 4-5 a month. But they warn things could get worse in the coming year. At least one house they previously sold as a repossession has since been repossessed again.

Meanwhile Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg points out that the Government’s much-hyped Homeowner Mortage Support Scheme has not helped a single household so far.

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Will local government do training better than quangos?

Yes: according to Islington Council leader James Kempton in a new pamphlet, “Governing a world city“.

The booklet looks at the big issues for London government – crime, the Olympics, housing, child poverty – and James’ piece is on the latest changes proposed to the education and training of 16-19 year olds. Unusually for a Government so in love with quangos as new Labour, this time the change is back to local councils.

James rather optimistically writes that this “shows a real shift in government confidence over [local government’s] ability to deliver.” He points out that getting rid of the quangos “cuts out a layer of needless bureaucracy”, hooray for that, although the language of “light touch commissioning models” and “a regional commissioning plan to guarantee learner choice” suggests that bureaucracy isn’t entirely done for.

Best of all, he sets out some real examples of how this will benefit London teenagers, including giving young people who’ve left school access to courses as well as school students; sensible careers advice; and lots of new apprenticeships, including on projects such as Crossrail.

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Mapping crime in London

Worried about crime in your area?

Well, you can now access crime maps for the Met Police recorded crime figures for your area online.

Simply enter your postcode and you get an instant report: I tried my current postcode in a corner of St Peter’s ward where we’ve had real problems of street disorder over the last couple of years, the local shop has been attacked, we even had a murder.

Then my previous postcode in Barnsbury, where the street was quiet but we were burgled twice. Then the postcode before that where we had a completely crime-free time on a turning in Highbury.

All three came up as ‘crime rate: average’. So this might not be the most nuanced tool. Admittedly, it is interesting to see how many crimes have been reported in your neighbourhood, and how that varies from month to month. However there’s no distinction between say, domestic violence and a stolen car. So I’m not sure what the numbers tell us.

Interesting yes; but is it really useful?

I’m generally in favour of the more information the better. But I blogged on my scepticism over crime mapping last year. And I’d still rather Boris spent my council tax on reducing crime in my patch to ‘below average’ rather than telling me what we already have….

Although I’m sure that won’t stop me checking out all my friends’ postcodes in the meantime!

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