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Archive for November, 2011

Since blogging an hour ago that Ken Livingstone would this week make a statement on the Dow Chemical/Olympics/Bhopal issue, his team have sent me the following statement that he will issue tomorrow.

This ratchets it up a few notches. As Tower Hamlets Council is expected to vote this week to lodge a formal objection to Locog, the big question now must be, locally at least, is whether the other and main host borough, Newham, will follow suit. Does its mayor Sir Robin Wales want Dow advertising the main stadium in his borough? Let’s see…

Here is Ken’s statement:

I am opposed that Dow Chemicals being a signature sponsor of the Olympic Stadium. Water supplies in Bhopalare still contaminated as a result of their wholly owned subsidiary’s activities – meaning that children in affected areas are born damaged at a rate ten times higher than in other parts of India. Dow has a moral responsibility to act to clean up the mess that the Union Carbide disaster left.

Dealing with industrial contamination was the first necessary task to transform the Olympic Park from a derelict polluted wasteland into the largest urban park in Europe. It would undermine London 2012 to take money from a sponsor that refused to clean up its own subsidiary’s mess.

Last week’s announcement that the Indian Olympic Authority is voting on whether or not to boycott the London Games shows the strength of feeling that exists on this issue. It can go as far as creating a potential crisis of legitimacy for the Games.

Bearing this in mind, do we really need to accept £7 million from Dow Chemicals so that they can rehabilitate themselves and destroy London’s reputation in the process?  Our objective should be an Olympics that is good for London, not a them-and-us Games.

The soul of the London Games is worth much more than 0.08% of its budget.

It is not too late to prevent the damage. LOCOG and the Mayor should admit that they have made a mistake.

If they can’t find another private sponsor from the other bids that they had on the table, they should use a tiny fraction of the ODA’s under-spend to pay for the stadium wrap. It would be far better to do this than to allow Dow Chemicals to exploit an opportunity that has been paid for by people in London and across the whole country.

Our thoughts should be with the victims of the Bhopal Union Carbide disaster. The Mayor and LOCOG must pull back from the brink and not risk damaging the London Olympics’ reputation, or the success ofLondon’s Olympic Games, any further.

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Further to my last post, you’ll also see on that two-page spread on the Olympics in today’s Sunday Express, a couple of other pieces on the Dow Chemical issue. Regular readers will know that I was pretty much a lone obsessive voice covering this story since the deal with Locog was signed in August. In the last week or so, everyone’s covering it, which is fantastic.

Tessa Jowell is flying to India this week, and Lord Coe probably will as well to lobby the Indian Olympic Association before its vote on a possible boycott on December 5. That date is just two days after the 27th anniversary of the 1984 disaster. I’d like to see Coe’s mirror that day.

As today’s article makes clear, Britain’s Olympic bosses felt they were put in an impossible position by Dow’s position as a global partner of the International Olympic Committee. After all, how could Locog reject Dow’s offer to pay for the wrap?? What would they tell IOC chief Jaques Rogge – that Dow wasn’t suitable?

Well, yes, quite frankly. Coe showed balls as an athlete, but as a politician, for that’s what he is remember (with designs in running World Athletics), he’s a choker.

But the question of who should pay for the wrap just shouldn’t have arisen. As my commentary below suggests, there is something very coincidental about the timings. Why did Coe decide to drop the wrap? Yes, the Government was asking for £20million savings as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, but why did they choose the wrap when it was so obviously needed in their later view? They could have saved such a trifling some easily elsewhere, for a start in Paul Deighton’s annual bonuses.

No, the suspicion among many is that the wrap was a stitch-up, if you’ll pardon the pun. Dow had just paid the IOC a great deal of money and it wanted an involvement in 2012. So they got exclusive marketing rights to the stadium.

These, and more, are questions that politicians will continue to ask even if, as I suspect, the Indian Olympic Association, votes not to boycott and provides Coe with some much-needed tonic.

One of those politicians will be Ken Livingstone, who will join the campaign this week and make it an election issue against Boris Johnson, who hailed the Dow deal at the time of the Locog deal in August as “the final grand touch to the magnificent stadium”.

This will continue to run.

SURVIVORS of the Bhopal gas disaster are planning to burn symbols of the 2012 Olympics as a protest against Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of the stadium.

Thousands will march through the Indian city on Friday to mark the 27th anniversary of the world’s worst industrial accident in which thousands died.

They will burn symbols of Dow Chemical and of the 2012 Games amid fury that the US company has been awarded “exclusive marketing rights” by Lord Coe’s organising team.

Dow owns Union Carbide, which owned and ran the chemical plant in Bhopal, which campaigners say continues to pollute the city’s groundwater.

Although Dow only bought Union Carbide in 2001 and insists a “full and final” compensation deal for victims was agreed by the Indian government in 1989, there is outrage over the Olympics decision.

The Indian Olympic Association will vote on December 5 on whether to boycott the London Games.

Labour’s Ken Livingstone will join the campaign this week, heaping pressure on current London mayor Boris Johnson Johnson, who has proclaimed Dow’s wrap as “the final grand touch” to the stadium.

The Sunday Express was alone in reporting the controversy for three months after the deal was struck in August.

Britain’s Olympic bosses are “vigorously trying to find a solution”, sources said.

Privately, they feel Dow’s position puts Lord Coe’s organising committee in an “impossible position”.

They hope Dow will “gracefully withdraw”.

Organisers could also scrap the stadium’s fabric wrap, which Dow is paying for.

Another option would be for Dow to contribute up to £12.5million to a fund to help clean the pollution in Bhopal.

Dow denies any responsibility for the 1984 disaster.

 

COMMENTARY

UNTIL the deal with Dow, Lord Coe had played a public relations “blinder” so why did he risk it all with such an obvious own goal?

The answer probably lies in pressure exerted by the International Olympic Committee.

In July 2010, Dow became an IOC global partner, a privilege thought to cost up to £100million. For that it would have wanted some part in London 2012.

Four months later, the Government asked Lord Coe to come up with £20million of savings as part of the November spending review. Coe volunteered to drop the £7million wrap.

A month later, Coe revealed “commercial interest” in funding the wrap. In February this year, the wrap was put out to tender in return for “exclusive marketing rights”.

Six months later, Dow is announced as the winner.

Coe denies the IOC leaned on him, but campaigners ask whether he chose to drop the wrap knowing that Dow would pay for it to be reinstated.

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Annoyingly, I can’t get WordPress to align these two page images together (anyone out there who can help?), but here’s a piece on the Olympics, which I’ve written for today’s Sunday Express. I’ve also done a couple of other pieces on Dow, which I’ll blog about in another post.

FOUR years ago Prince Charles was handed a letter from a doughty heritage campaigner in London’s East End.

The campaigner, a retired geog­raphy teacher named Tom Ridge, was asking for support in his battle to save an architecturally respected Edwardian sweet factory that had the misfortune to be ensnared within boundaries of the emerging Olympic park.

King’s Yard, standing proudly by a canal and by then no longer home to Clarnico Creams but to artisans and furniture-makers, was a reminder of London’s past, a time when the Lower Lea Valley had powered the capital to industrial glory.

In his letter, Mr Ridge told the Prince that Lord Coe and his Olympic team wanted to flatten it. In its place, they wanted an eco-friendly, wood-chip burning biomass boiler that would provide “sustainable fuel” to the stadia and the athletes’ village.

Appalled, Mr Ridge had another idea: why not build the precious energy centre a little further away and save King’s Yard as a working industrial heritage centre? It would be a wonderful attraction for Olympic visitors, he said, juxtaposing the park’s modern buildings with London’s rich past.

Unusually, the Prince authorised his private secretary to say he was “passionate about heritage”, that he was “sympathetic” to Mr Ridge’s campaign and he “wished him every success”.

However, even that implied plea fell on deaf ears and the Olympic bulldozers flattened most of it. The demolition marked the last hope for those hoping the great 2012 project would include an element of what they called “soul”.

Last week Lord Moynihan, the boss of the British Olympic Association, warned that the promised sporting legacy for schools from the Games had been “squandered”.

As 2012 now looms, many wonder, especially those whose homes, allotments and football pitches have also been destroyed, whether Lord Coe will prove to be Britain’s most expensive con-artist. “What has Britain got for the bill of at least £10billion?” they ask.

Certainly many Olympic officials have become rich, corporate sponsors are delighted with their front-row ticket allocations and thousands of police officers are salivating at lucrative overtime payments. However, while the area has undoubtedly gained in many respects, much has been lost.

When Prince Charles’s sister, Princess Anne, stood in front of the International Olympic Committee in Singapore on July 6, 2005, she made reference to London’s Olympic bid document. That file had been prepared during the previous 24 months when “sustain­ability” had been the global buzzword. London 2012 was to be the “most sustainable Games ever” and “excellence without extravagance has become our mantra”, the bid boasted. Seven years on, the document, which said the budget for the Games would be £2.4billion, makes for fascinating reading.

It is a file of grand promises made and then kept at great expense, both in money and to people’s lives, and of others since broken – words that were clearly spun and never to be fulfilled.

In it, the Olympic visionaries boasted of a marathon route through the East End, thousands of jobs for locals, construction materials transported by canals, wind turbines, cheap hotels, a “London Olympic Institute” and even an ocean-going clipper known as the “Olympic Friend-ship” that would sail the world promoting Britain’s name.

None of this has really materialised.

A search for the “London Olympic Institute” on the London 2012 website returns no results; the Olympic Friend-ship, which had been due to sail with young volunteers and berth at the Cannes Film Festival, was ditched in 2007. Plans for the Olympic wind turbine, which was dubbed the Angel of Leyton, were dropped last year because there would not be enough wind and after £991,000 had been handed to energy giant EDF.

The promise that children born on December 20 (20/12) in 2004, the year the bid was submitted, would take part in the Opening Ceremony has also been broken. The organisers said 700 children were too many to accommodate. The historic East End, which had provided the 2005 delegation with its important “cultural diversity” backdrop, was also ditched this year when Lord Coe deemed the area too ugly and impractical for marathon athletes.

The bid document said three-star hotels in London averaged £74 a night, four-stars £136 and five-stars £251. A search through hotel-finder websites suggests prices are double those next year.

On jobs, Britain’s Olympic bosses have appeared uncomfortable. When questioned by a Commons select committee this month about the nationalities of workers on the Olympic site, 2012 chiefs admitted they had not been collating that information. Instead, Dennis Hone, the chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority, said: “About 25 per cent came from the local host boroughs.” But those who have been following the issue for the past few years were not hoodwinked: living in dormitories and temporary workers’ lodgings in local host boroughs is not the same as locals having the jobs.

The bid document also sheds light on other Olympic myths. Games supporters now boast the Westfield shopping mall, which opened next to the park in September, was a direct consequence of the successful 2012 bid. However, the bid document reveals the opposite is the case.

Lord Coe used the fact that Westfield and the associated Stratford City housing development was already to be built as a major attraction for the IOC. In fact, the entire Lower Lea Valley had already been earmarked for regeneration.

There are some who believe the Olympics has actually ruined that planned regeneration. By fixing a date for the 2012 Games, reasonable objections and potentially more considerate planning decisions were over-ruled. The remediation of the site’s heavily contaminated soil would likely have taken more time and there, perhaps, would have been no need for the plastic sheet which is now buried just below the surface of the entire park.

King’s Yard might well have survived, as might Manor Garden Allotments, built in 1900 by Churchill’s friend Major Arthur Villiers. That tranquil and fertile oasis for families was demolished for the Olympics, as was the Eastway Cycle Circuit.

A co-operative housing development and university accommodation for 1,000 were also demolished. The site is now the basketball arena and athletes’ village.

Former resident Julian Cheyne, who campaigned against eviction, said the Olympic project was a “fantastic pack of lies” serving big corporations. He added: “The whole thing has been a disaster. They have lied about everything. The legacy they so often boasted about was going to be provided anyway. ”

A London 2012 spokesman said the allotments would return on two new sites, and added: “We are on track to deliver a spectacular Games and a meaningful legacy promised in the bid.”

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(photo copyright: Ted Jeory)

Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of the Olympic stadium, which I’ve been writing about pretty much alone in the UK press since the deal with Locog was done in August, is starting to enter serious political territory.

Here’s a summary of three latest developments on the controversial wrap, (pictured above, temporarily attached to the stadium last week):

1. Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes has today signed up to the cross-[arty campaign to force Locog to reconsider its decision. he has added his name to a letter that has been sent to Lord Coe, which I’ll detail below. Tory MP Priti Patel is also on board.

2. Shadow Olympics Minister (& Olympics Board member) Tessa Jowell has stepped up her own rhetoric, a) by writing to the Chair of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 to demand disclosure of important tender documents around the deal; and b) asking for a meeting with Dow themselves.

3. Locally, Olympic host borough Tower Hamlets Council is expected to lodge a formal objection with Locog about the deal after a vote next week.

Here is some more detail about the developments today:

1. Simon Hughes has added his name to the following letter to Lord Coe:

Dear Lord Coe,

We the undersigned call on the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games to review its decision in August 2011 to award the Olympic wrap tender to Dow Chemical Company in light of its appalling human rights record in regard to the victims of the 1984 Bhopal disaster.

The Union Carbide Corporation was responsible for the deadly gas leak which killed up to 25,000 people. In 2001 Dow Chemical Company bought Union Carbide, wholly owns the company and elects every single director to its board, yet they deny any liability for the original disaster. Union Carbide is resisting ‘polluter pays’ litigation arising from the tragedy by failing to appear to serious criminal charges in India, prompting the Indian Court to declare the company ‘a fugitive from justice’ by the court.

Dow also refuses to acknowledge that it has a legal and moral responsibility for the ongoing contamination resulting from Union Carbide’s factory in Bhopal which has led to high quantities of organochlorines and lead in local water supplies. In water contaminated areas, children are born damaged at a rate many times higher than in the rest of India, in some places ten times higher. How ironic it is that so much money has been spent on decontaminating the Olympic site, while so many people suffer from contaminated water as a direct responsibility of Dow.

When Dow accepted the award of the Olympic Wrap commission, Keith Wiggins, Dow UK’s Managing Director bragged about Dow’s “strong commitment to sustainability”. This makes a mockery of the word, and is a stain on the ambitions of the Olympics.

In no sense does Dow meet the high ‘environmental, social and ethical’ standards demanded by LOCOG’s own Sustainable Sourcing Code and we urge you to think again to protect the Olympic legacy for Britain.

Yours sincerely,

Signatories to letter

MPs – Barry Gardiner MP (Chair of Labour Friends of India), Simon Hughes MP (Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats), Rushanara Ali MP (Labour), Zac Goldsmith MP (Conservative), Keith Vaz MP(Labour), Graeme Stringer MP (Labour), Dan Byles MP (Conservative), Bob Blackman MP (Conservative), Andy Love MP (Labour), Priti Patel MP (Conservative), John Robertson MP (Labour), Duncan Hames MP (Liberal Democrat), Julian Huppert MP (Liberal Democrat), Bob Russell MP (Liberal Democrat), Theresa Pearce MP (Labour),Geraint Davies MP (Labour), John McDonnell MP (Labour), Heidi Alexander MP (Labour), Stephen Pound MP (Labour), Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour), Gareth Thomas MP (Labour), John Cryer MP (Labour), Jim Sheridan MP (Labour), Kate Hoey MP (Labour).

Indian Olympians –  Aslam Sher Khan (1972, Hockey),Ali Sayeed (1964, Hockey), BP Govinda (1972, Hockey), Inam Ur-Rehman (1968, Hockey), Charles Cornelius (1972, Hockey), M.P. Ganesh (1972, Hockey), Mukhbain Singh (1972, Hockey), VJ Phillips (1972, 1976, Hockey), Ashok Kumar Dhyanchand (1972, 1976, Hockey), Syed Ali (1972, 1976, Hockey), Vasudevan Baskaran (1980, Hockey), Jalaluddin Rizvi (1984, Hockey), Hardeep Singh Grewal (1984, Hockey), Vineet Kumar (1984, Hockey), Balwinder Singh (1988, Hockey), Sujit Kumar (1988, Hockey), Jagbir Singh (1988, 1992, Hockey), Ashwini Nachapa (1988, Track and Field), Gavin Ferreira (1996, Hockey), Dhanraj Pillay (1996,2000, 2004, Hockey), Sameer Daad (2000, Hockey), A.B. Subbaiah (1992, 1996, Hockey).

2. In her letter to Shaun McCarthy, the chair of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, Tessa Jowell writes:

“In light of the public pressure opposing the decision to grant Dow Chemical the tender for the wrap, I wondered whether you might make publicly available the documents and representations you received to determine Dow’s commitment to sustainability in the Olympic Games in 2012?

As it is in everyone’s interest that the process of arriving at decisions about sustainability are transparent, I would also be grateful if you could let me know if Commissioners discussed Dow Chemical’s link to the human rights and environmental tragedy in Bhopal and whether any decision was taken in relation to that.

Finally, could you make public whether you received any representations which challenged the information provided by Dow about their commitment to sustainability? The Commission has recently stated that you would expect “any company that embraces the Olympic and Paralympic values” to be “an ambassador for these in all aspects of their business.” Will you be making a further statement as to whether Dow Chemical does indeed act as an ambassador in all aspects of their business according to Olympic and Paralympic values?”
   

She has also demanded a meeting with Dow to seek answers to the following questions:

1. The London Olympic Games is intended to be one of the most sustainable, environmentally friendly Games to date. Is Dow’s conduct since acquiring the Union Carbide Corporation in 2001 consistent with the Olympics’ sustainability aims?

2. LOCOG saw legal documents from Dow about their involvement with UCC and Bhopal. Did they seek advice from other groups to balance their judgement?

3. Even if Dow win their legal battles against Bhopal survivors and the Indian Government, is there a reputational risk to London 2012 in their sponsorship of the Olympic Stadium wrap?

As a final quote in her press release, she added

It’s better that we have an unwrapped Stadium, rather than a Stadium wrapped in the continuing controversy of Dow Chemical’s sponsorship.

3. And here’s the detail of the motion proposed by the majority Labour group on Tower Hamlets Council next week. Mayor Lutfir Rahman’s cabinet members have indicated support for the principle of it:

Motion on Dow Chemical and the Olympic Park

Proposed: Cllr Denise Jones

Seconded: Cllr Lesley Pavitt

This Council Notes:

  • That on the night of 2/3rd December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, India a chemical leak exposed thousands of people to toxic gas and other harmful materials.
  • That campaign groups estimate that as many as 25,000 people died as a result of the leak and many thousands more were injured.
  • That Dow Chemical purchased Union Carbide Corporation (of which UCIL was a subsidiary) in 2001 and there are ongoing unresolved court and civil cases against them over the disaster.
  • That international Groups such as Amnesty International have been campaigning for Dow to address the outstanding demands for compensation relating to the disaster and its impact, including contamination of water by chemical waste.
  • That this campaign remains ongoing, despite 27 years passing since the events took place.

This Council Further Notes:

  • That, in a £7m deal, Dow Chemical has been given a contract for ‘exclusive marketing rights’ to the Olympic Stadium for the London 2012 games and will be branding the ‘wrap’ that surrounds the stadium.
  • That this will guarantee Dow Chemical a prominent profile throughout the games period.
  • That both Shadow Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell MP and Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz as well as Amnesty International have expressed their concern over the contract being awarded to Dow whilst there are ongoing human rights and legal cases surrounding the Bhopal disaster.

This Council Believes:

  • That Dow Chemical does not meet the LOCOG Sustainable Sourcing Code, which states that LOCOG “will place a high priority on environmental, social and ethical issues when procuring products and services for the Games

This Council Resolves:

  • To register our opposition to the involvement of Dow Chemical in the London 2012 Olympic Games.
  • To join the campaign to call for LOCOG to reverse it’s decision to award this marketing contract to Dow Chemical by writing to London 2012 Chairman, Lord Coe, Secretary of State for Culture, Jeremy Hunt MP and LOCOG Chief Executive Officer, Paul Deighton.
  • To work with cross party politicians, campaign groups and others to assist the campaign.
There will be further political developments by the end of the week: watch this space.

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Further to my post about Shah Yousuf last week, I’ve now spoken to the court authorities and here are some more details about his two appearances. He appeared last Monday at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court and again four days later on Friday.

On Monday he was charged with the following offences:

1. Making false or unauthorised [statements] or service declaration at election. Between the 15th October and the 21 October 2010, ShahYousuf, Editor of the London Bangla newspaper did publish a false statement before an election in relation to the personal character and conduct of Helal Abbas, the Candidate for the Tower Hamlets Mayoural Election, for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election.
CONTRARY TO SECTION 106(1) AND 169 REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE ACT 1983

2. Making false or unauthorised [statements] or service declaration at election. Between the 15th October and the 21 October 2010, Shah Yousuf, Editor of the London Bangla newspaper did publish material which could reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure the election of a candidate at an election (whether or not it can be so regarded as intended to achieve any onther purpose as well) being an advertisement contained in a newspaper the London Bangla, failed to imprint the relevant details, being name and address of the printer of the document.
CONTRARY TO SECTION 110(6) AND (9) REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE ACT 1983 

The reporter who attended the court last Monday filed the following copy on the wires for the Sunday Express and other newspapers, including locals:

A Bangladeshi newspaper editor accused of publishing false information about a politician ahead of an election has appeared in court.

Shah Yousuf, who ran the London Bangla newspaper, printed a story allegedly containing lies about Helal Abbas, who stood as a candidate in the Tower Hamlets Mayoral Election last year.

The article, published between October 15 and 21 last year – just days before the vote – is said to have blasted the personal character and conduct of Mr Abbas, who was representing the Labour party.

Mr Abbas lost out on the title to Lutfur Rahman, a former Tower Hamlets council leader who stood as an independent – winning the backing of London mayoral candidate, Ken Livingstone – after being dropped by Labour.

Yousuf, 33, of Pauline House, Old Montague Road, Tower Hamlets, is also accused of printing an advert to promote another election candidate, Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard. Smartly dressed in a grey suit and white shirt, he spoke only to confirm his name, age and address.

The District Judge was Simon Barron. Yousuf’s barrister is Nicola Margiotta, and the Crown Prosecutor was Rosemary Fernandes.

On Friday, Yousuf pleaded not guilty and a trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court was set for April 3 next year. Before that, there will be a case management hearing on December 8.

Here is the relevant section of the Representation of the People Act:

106 False statements as to candidates.

(1)A person who, or any director of any body or association corporate which—

(a)before or during an election,

(b)for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election,

makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct shall be guilty of an illegal practice, unless he can show that he had reasonable grounds for believing, and did believe, that statement to be true.

This case, which relates to this advert, has potentially extremely serious implications for both Tower Hamlets politics and also, by extension, Ken Livingstone given that the trial is due to take place a month before May’s London mayoral polls.

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Following on from this post about about the deaths of two cyclists on the so-called cycle superhighway at Bow Roundabout, London Assembly member John Biggs has now secured a commitment from Boris Johnson for an urgent safety review.

Here is John’s press release:

Boris and TfL agree urgent safety review of Bow Roundabout

Local London Assembly Member John Biggs today secured a commitment from the mayor and TfL to conduct an urgent safety review of Bow Roundabout, where two cyclists were recently killed.

At an urgent meeting called by John Biggs, the mayor and his transport officials agreed to report back within a week on how they intend to improve safety at the junction. The new commitment comes after John Biggs’ two-year campaign to increase safety at the roundabout.

Concerns about safety at the junction have been raised repeatedly. John first raised questions about the junction’s safety in October 2009. At his meeting with the mayor on Thursday John raised several concerns including:

  • Pedestrian and cyclist safety at the junction
  • Cycling Super Highways giving cycists a false sense of security
  • The safety of existing and planned Cycling Super Highways across London.

After the meeting local London Assembly member, John Biggs said: “I welcome this commitment from the mayor and TfL. It is important that they look into this as a matter of urgency and the necessary steps are taken to make the Roundabout safe for cyclists. All parties need to work together to find a solution and do all we can to avoid any more tragedies on our roads.”

In addition to Thursday’s agreement to review Bow Roundabout TfL are also working to:

  • increase HGV driver education
  • assess the safety of the HGV industry and in particular the types of vehicle that appear to be most regularly involved in these incidents
  • review all other Cycling Super Highways.

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We’ve had two deaths on the A12 in the past three weeks: let’s try to avoid more. A bit further south of the tragic Bow roundabout, there is another fatal accident waiting to happen.

Anyone who drives that road regularly, particularly northbound from the Blackwall Tunnel will know what I’m talking about: the most illogical set of traffic lights in Britain. The A12 Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach is the one of the capital’s busiest and most accident-delayed roads. There are tailbacks every day in both directions near the tunnel entrance. The road is three lanes in both directions.

So the brains at TfL have come up with the ingenious idea of placing new traffic lights – the first ones you will see driving south from the Redbridge roundabout eight miles away – right by Lochnagar Street about half a mile from the tunnel.

Yes, that’s a set of traffic lights on what is essentially an urban motorway. Here’s the lights on red looking south:

These lights allow traffic to turn into Lochnagar Street in the east: left into that street if you’re going south, and right if you have been driving north. So what’s in Lochnagar Street? Well, this:

ie scrap yards and a no-through road that leads into a small housing development that can already be accessed from Newham. The lights have apparently been put there to allow future residents from Newham better access to the A12.

I stood there, as you do on a foggy Monday, watching the traffic flow. How often do you suppose those lights on the sometimes congested, sometimes fast-flowing A12 change to red?

Once. Every. Minute.

Yes, the flow of traffic on the A12 is stopped every minute to let, on most occasions, a single car either turn into or out of Lochnagar Street.

But that’s not the worst of it.

As you drive north from the tunnel or from the slip-road from East India Dock Road 300 yards away, there have always been three lanes of traffic. There still is. And as you’d expect, those in the fast lane tend to out their foot down.

But now the problem is this: just as they’re accelerating, they suddenly realise – because there is no prior warning anywhere – they are rapidly approaching a red light in what has now become a right-hand-turn only lane.

Since 99.99 per cent of those drivers do not want to visit a scrap yard, they brake very suddenly, indicate left and try to squeeze into the middle lane where there is fast-flowing traffic. I watched that happen time and time again today. One car swerved to avoid an accident. And that was in the space of just 20 minutes.

I also saw motorists realising they couldn’t get back into the middle lane and accept they’d have to turn right: they would wait for the green light, turn into Lochnagar Street, do a U-turn and then wait by the red light for the turn back onto the A12. Cursing all the while as they did so.

If a high speed accident hasn’t already happened at that junction, I’m fairly sure that without any change of plan by TfL there will be one soon.

London Assembly member John Biggs is also taking up this issue and has already met TfL. His warning was not heeded last time; let’s hope they now listen to any concerns.

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A few months ago Labour’s London Assembly member John Biggs warned Boris Johnson and Transport for London that there was “an accident waiting to happen” on his “cycle superhighway” at the Bow flyover roundabout where the A11 meets the A12.

Three weeks ago on October 24, he was sadly proved right when Brian Dorling, a 58 year old cost consultant at the Olympics site was killed as he cycled to work going east. Flowers left in tribute are still there.

At about the time I was talking to John about that and other matters last Friday, which I’ll come on to in another post, a 34 year old Ukrainian woman was killed cycling across the same roundabout but on the other side going west.

The brilliant blogger Diamond Geezer is the authority on this, but let me outline here John’s concerns. They were that there was and is a design fault, not only with the roundabout but also with the cycle lane itself.

Anyone who has driven around that roundabout in a car can testify how dangerous it is. It’s very busy and vehicles jostle, often without any road etiquette, for position in two lanes for their particular exits. You are looking in your mirrors the whole time; there are buses and trucks to deal with; and for trucks, there are sometimes idiotic cars. Yes, there are some idiotic cyclists as well.

As someone who loves cycling but who hates cycling on London’s roads, I would avoid that roundabout.

Yet some idiot in Transport for London, probably aided and abetted by some fools in Tower Hamlets council and the Olympics organising team, have routed their Cycle Superhighway 2 (CS2) right across it. It means that the cycle lane, travelling westbound, is one big thick blue line that comes down from Bow Road in a continuous paint-job without any breaks for traffic lights or Give Way signs.

If you’re a pedestrian walking back from Tesco, or for any other reason, trying to cross the slip roads which cross that roundabout really is dicing with death. I watched several mothers with prams try it today. There are traffic lights which stop the traffic on the slip roads leaving the A12 but no pedestrian crossings. Trying to cross those slip roads which enter the A12 is like a game of chicken.

As you can see from the first photograph above, there were officials monitoring something on the roundabout today. I thought they must have been TfL people, a sign that they realised the seriousness of the situation. Sadly, no: they were from Crossrail; they were reviewing the plans for that project.

As John Biggs has been saying for months and as others are now saying, that roundabout and the cycle superhighway needs an immediate redesign: it is madness to direct cyclists across such a dangerous junction – just for political expediency.

There are two other issues on the A12 in that area, which I’ll deal with in another post.

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The below has just appeared on the Court News UK website. I don’t have any more details yet. I had heard this was going to happen and it relates to this piece from last year.

November 14, 2011

YOUSUF: NEWSPAPER EDITOR IN COURT ACCUSED OF PRINTING LIES

WHITECHAPEL; 

A Bangladeshi newspaper editor accused of publishing false information about a politician ahead of an election has appeared in court.

Shah Yousuf, who runs the London Bangla newspaper, printed a story allegedly containing lies about Helal Abbas, who stood as a candidate in the Tower Hamlets Mayoral Election last year. 

Yousuf is on the right.

 

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A little break from Tower Hamlets politics for you.

A sunny Sunday stroll in November around Bow and Fish Island (er, sorry Hackney Wick and soon to be Sweetwater) can really warm the heart. There’s a growing artistic community in the area and here’s how the little things are making a bit of difference.

Taken from my flat in Bow:

And here’s a series of delightful mini-sculptures on the towpath by the Hackney Cut where it meets the River Lea, next to the Olympic Stadium. (If anyone knows the artist, please let me know.)

 

This is just by A12 bridge on Wick Lane by St Mark’s Gate in Victoria Park: one side of the road…

And on the other…

 

And here’s the first picture of the infamous fabric wrap that Dow Chemical are erecting on the Olympic Stadium, much to the outrage of people in Bhopal (expect this issue, which I first reported on in August and blogged recently on here, to receive serious TV/media attention on Tuesday…). Eight test panels seem to have been erected – with little Locog publicity, surprise, surprise. Notice The Orbit in the background.

And here’s something topical: an advert on the corner of Wansbeck Road and Monier Road in Fish Island. Given the growing problem of cable theft, cash payments for scrap metal will soon become a thing of the past.

This is our wonderful East End – the old and the new.

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