Wednesday, December 10, 2014

London news round-up

Petition to rescue Imperial War Museum library petition

THE CIVIL service union Prospect has launched a petition to save the library of the Imperial War Museum, which is under threat from cuts in Government spending.
The library, which acquired its first item in 1917, is part of the museum that reopened in July 2014 after a £40 million refurbishment.
At the champagne reception in July to unveil the new galleries, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “When I launched our plans for the First World War centenary, I said the renovated IWM London would be the centrepiece of our commemorations – and what a fitting centrepiece it is.
“This wonderful museum succeeds in making this war relevant 100 years on – a national focal point in which we can all take pride and which connects the past with the present to ensure we never forget those who lost their lives to secure our freedom.”
But members of Prospect claim a £4 million cut in annual funding from the Government has left the institution facing the closure of the library and the loss of between 60 and 80 jobs.

Northern Line action rock solid

MICK CASH, general secretary of the transport union RMT, last Monday commended his members employed on the London Underground Northern Line over victimisation of a union activist.
He said: "Our members are standing rock solid, shoulder to shoulder with their victimised colleague and as we have said all along the union is determined to secure a just and fair outcome to this dispute.
Once again the TFL advice to the public is contradictory and dangerous. On their website they are advising people to re-plan their journeys and yet media outlets like the BBC are recycling the propaganda that there is a normal service.
That is clearly nonsense as special bus services are being set up in a desperate bid to ease the pressure.
This kind of misleading spin simply sends people down into deep tube stations that are already dangerously overcrowded. It's time to stop the propaganda and restart serious and meaningful talks. "

London’s killer pollution

AROUND 60,000 people may be dying prematurely every year as a result of air pollution caused by "dirty diesel", according to a panel of scientific experts quoted in the [Sunday Times].
The Government's scientific advisory body, the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants obtained the shocking figures by analysing the impact of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is mainly emitted by diesel engines.
Some 29,000 people are believed to die prematurely as a result of air pollution in Britain, but this excludes deaths as a result of diesel emissions. If diesel-related deaths are taken into account, the percentage of early deaths as a result of air pollution would rise from between five per cent and 9 nine per cent to between 10 per cent and 18 per cent.
Professor of Environmental Health Frank Kelly, who heads the King's College-based research group, says worst affected by NO2 are those in the inner cities who suffer from health problems such as lung disease, asthma and heart problems.
"Since more than 60 per cent of the population live in urban areas, where pollution is the highest, and they are breathing polluted air over decades, the additional small risk accumulates to these distressing figures," said Kelly. London is the worst-affected of all areas in Britain.
In a recent report published on behalf of Mayor Boris Johnson, it was claimed NO2 kills around 2,600 people in the capital every year. Johnson was forced to make an embarrassing U-turn earlier this year when he disputed a presentation by the King's College team that London's Oxford Street was one of the most polluted streets in the world.
On reading the findings Johnson tweeted: "Bollocks: ludicrous urban myth. London air quality better than Paris and many other Euro cities- and go to Beijing or Mexico City."
But following an exchange of letters with the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) of MPs Johnson backtracked writing: "We are not disputing King's college data, but rather only asking only that in future more rigour will be applied to public statements."
Joan Walley, who chairs the Environmental audit committee, says if the findings on diesel are correct "the problem of air pollution could be on a par with smoking in terms of lives lost".
Campaign group Clean Air in London is calling for diesel to be banned from the busiest parts of cities in the same way coal was banned some 60 years ago as a result of the Great Smog of 1952, which is believed to have caused the death of between 4,000 and 12,000 people.

New Era tenants march to save their homes

HUNDREDS of tenants living on the New Era estate in Hackney, east London, last Monday rallied in Berkeley Square outside the London offices of the American-owned company that is threatening to evict them and then marched to Downing Street to demand
The estate was built in the 1930s by a philanthropist to provide affordable homes for London workers but the bubble in housing prices in Britain but especially in London has seen the value of their flats rocket.
The estate was sold last March by a consortium of charities and private investors to Westbrook Partners, based in New York, who want to raise rents to the “market value” – three times what the tenants currently pay and well over the threshold that would be covered by housing benefit.
Ninety-three families now face eviction because they will not be able to afford the new rents. Many have lived there all their lives and they include elderly people, disabled individuals, single parents and NHS workers. They have accused the investors of “social cleansing”.

"It's social cleansing," said Lindsey Garrett, a health care coordinator with the National Health Service. "It's forcing ordinary working-class people out of London. It's wrong."

Meanwhile Mark Donner, the managing principal of the London office of Westbrook partners, has just bought himself a 12-bedroom mansion in south-east England. The grade II-listed mansion has a lawn tennis court, swimming pool, sauna, gymnasium and butler’s quarters.
Westbrook has also registered its ownership of the estate offshore in the Channel Islands to avoid paying corporation tax in Britain.
Company records show that when Westbrook executives took control of the UK-registered firm which owns the estate, all the shares were transferred to a Jersey-registered firm, at the St Helier offices of Volaw, a firm specialising in structured finance vehicles in the tax haven. Further tax on dividends from the investment could also be avoided if they were taken by the Jersey entity.
Parents, children and grandparents travelled across the capital on buses to the Westbrook Partners HQ in Mayfair amid growing political support for their cause and a new agreement by the property company not to change tenancy agreements or increase rents before July 2015.
Russell Brand, the comedian and political activist, Diane Abbott MP and the leaders of the tenants’ group led the protest and the march to Downing Street to present a 280,000-signature petition to the Prime Minister.
The shadow minister for London, Sadiq Khan, called on Westbrook to scrap its plans to evict 93 families from the east London estate and instead sell the homes to a social landlord that can keep the community together.
Speaking ahead of the protest Sadiq Khan told the [Guardian]: “The shameful New Era saga embodies everything that is wrong with London’s broken housing market.”
The company has a long history of buying up working class estates and evicting low-paid tenants in New York. Last week, Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York – where Westbrook is based – spoke out against the firm.
“Congratulations. London is experiencing what New York City used to experience,” he told Russell Brand in an interview broadcast on the comedian’s Trews show on YouTube.
“Our city government found a huge number of violations of our law by Westbrook for unfair treatment of tenants and attempts to interfere with tenants who organised for their own rights. I can’t tell you that what you are experiencing is news to us … Sometimes it is fair to say there is a limit to the amount of profit you should make, because you shouldn’t want to dislocate people from their lives.”
In April, Eric Schneiderman, the state attorney general, ordered Westbrook and other private equity owners of series of housing complexes to pay back $1m (£650,000) in rent to 1,700 tenants and make urgent repairs.
It followed residents’ complaints about “dangerous” conditions at the blocks and allegations that the owners’ management company, Colonial Management, blocked tenants and housing activists from organising and used intimidation tactics to break up peaceful meetings.
Pressure is now growing on the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, to act to protect the New Era tenants.
Support for the campaign to defend New Era estate has been widening in recent days and backers include the children’s author Michael Rosen and the comedian Mark Thomas.

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