Stop making our Postal Rail a tourist attraction and get back to it carrying mail!

The Royal Mail infrastructure of tunnels that connect East London Whitechapel with the Ventral London Mount Pleasant Postal Sorting Office and the West London Paddington Station and which was closed in 2003 will scandalously reopen in September 2017 as a Postal Museum tourist attraction called “Mail Ride” (see here).

The network once built by the taxpayers purse,  which was in operation for 76 years, between 1927 and 2003, was argued in 2003 to be too expensive to be continued to operate and repair. Royal Mail claimed it was five times more costly than transportation by trucks on roads. The Communications Union (CWU) countered at the time, however, that these costs were hyped up.

Royal Mail proceeded to move much of the post that went through the tunnels onto road based trucks which increased traffic on roads throughout the city.  A Greater London Authority (GLA) Study in 2013 noticed that this increase was equivalent to an extra 80 lorry journies per week on London roads, with a not insignificant environmental impact (dust particles and noise pollution)  See The Future of Rail Mail, GLA, April 2013.

At the time of the closure, Royal Mail faced losses of nearly 1/2 bn. Pounds (£484 Mio), which let, in the end, to the national service’s complete sale by the edict of thee Conservative government in 2015.

The closure of the Postal Rail was criticized however not only by the Communication Workers Union at the time but also by the Greater London Authority (GLA), the authority responsible for London’s main roads. The GLA opposed the closure, especially on the aforementioned environmental grounds.  They recommended that steps should be undertaken to make the line efficient again. Further, there was criticism by Steve Jones of the CWU that the line had been deliberately run down by Royal Mail and that

“We think we could very, very quickly move to a break even. If you start bringing new work into the business, you could probably make a profit.”

A secret investigation by a group calling itself the Consolidation Crew revealed in 2011 that the tracks and tunnels were all in relatively good shape. Whilst their exploration was from an urban sociological perspective, it suggested also that the network could easily be reopened if there was any will. See

In spite of intense discussions about the congestion on London’s roads and the pollution it caused, Royal Mail, now a private company, no longer felt it would be right to consider using the tunnel network and getting lorries off the road.

Instead, in an almost cynical move, part of the tunnels are now going to be used for museum tours,  costing £14.50 or £16.50 with a donation to normal paying adults, where visitors can have a ride on purpose-built trains along the old tracks. UK national media like the BBC and the Guardian have been invited for pre-opening tours, but their reports lacked any critique or awareness of the controversial history of the closure, focusing on but what the Postal Museum wanted to get out, namely “here is a history-themed “fun ride” ( See BBC Report and  Guardian Report).

The Kings Cross Community, which is part of the London population that had to tolerate the increase of 80 Royal Mail lorries per week alongside many other areas on already overloaded and congested roads, sees Royal Mail traffic through its roads as a problem. We have seen little signs of willingness or cooperation to change traffic from the Mount Pleasant Central sorting office to less polluting vehicles or electric vehicles for example or to offer any solutions to mitigate the environmental impact of their road-based transportation. They like to stay quiet and out of the discussions on this. Yet one partial solution was and continues to be right underneath the renovated postal office, an idea that worked, and was built by previous generations exactly at the time that London road congestion became an increasing problem.

It is rather hypocritical to state that the tunnels are not able to carry mail any longer, but are good enough for human transportation, in fact, that a purpose built locomotive and compartments that can carry people were ordered for the purpose, and that Royal Mail believes that it can advertise these rides, which can be pre-booked now for its opening in September 2017, without controversy or argument.  One poster doing so was seen at Kings Cross Underground station itself, an offence to all tube using local residents of Kings Cross when you consider that part of our mail could also take the tube, rather than the truck.

It is a scandal that it took this community blog to highlight the controversy and hypocrisy of the scheme and expose it for what it is: A shallow money-making enterprise on the backing of a proud and futuristic scheme erected once by the public purse by gone by generations for the greater good. In fact, it is a scheme that was way ahead of its time, and in the climate of trying to reduce congestion and polluting traffic it ought to be considered to be more than just the latest London tourist attraction to yield money from rides, but its operation restarted and in fact, the track network extended.

Post ed. Aug 2018. The revamped postal museum is doing well.  What would visitors and tourists care for? Above true expose has received but little attention, and now the museum is a finalist for the art fund as well. This is how it goes in the corporate world, where nobody is prepared to look too closely anymore! It is only Londoners who carry the impact of the added 80 lorries per week. One wonders if we were ever consulted on what we thought, nor does it seems were our elected representatives in the GLA, who at first had highlighted the issue, able to keep track of what happened.




Posted in Bad Gyrations KX Campaign, New, Noise, railwayslands, Transport | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Hillview Festival

Hillview Love my Neighbour Festival 2017 poster.

Hillview Love my Neighbour Festival
Saturday 5th August 2017
2pm to 10pm

Live Music

Orquestra Estelar
Ash Walker
Bitter & Twisted
The Harmonic Cats
Nick & Jon from Midhope
Gwang Djembe Drummers


Escuela de Baile – flamenco
Ankhile Putt Punjab De – bangra

Children & Family

The October Gallery – art fun
Crescendo – music workshop
The British Library
Punch & Judy
Bouncy castle & circus skills

& so much more!

A fabulous day out for all the family.

Organised by Hillview Residents Association, with thanks to our volunteers & neighbourhood friends, our funders, Camden Council & The Frabcis Crick Institute.


Hillview Estate, Whidbourne Street, King’s Cross, WC1H 8HH.

Posted in Arts and Entertainment, Community groups, Community stuff, Food and Drink, Music, New, Noticeboard, Things to do | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Cally Road – Islington’s new water feature, courtesy of Thames Water


Yet another water leak in the area, this time at Pentonville Prison jogged memories of other leaks along the Cally and nearby.  The leaks below are all within 500 metres of each other along the same road.  The February leaks are uncannily close to the site of this week’s major incident.  Water pipes burst all year round – in hot weather it can be due to the ground shrinking causing movement (same as subsidence in your house – note the rows of mature trees on each side of the road here) or due to the pipe itself swelling in the heat, causing a crack.  Some hot cities in the USA have terrible problems, Houston for instance. Islington seems cursed by huge water main leaks and the council has set up a review under the policy and scrutiny committee.

Thames Water commissioned a forensic independent report by engineer Paul Cuttill into trunk main leakages which makes for a fascinating read.  Islington Council heard evidence from the author of the forensic review (Minutes).  As a former bureaucrat myself, reading between the lines, it simply sounds like Thames are not sufficiently incentivised by the regulator and the courts to plan for and deal with major leaks properly.  The situation described by Cuttill would likely be criminal in gas and electricity.

In this example Cuttill appears to say in fine management speak that Thames Water operational staff can’t find the off switches (valves) reliably despite their perceived location having been (expensively) recorded on an electronic geographic information system:

‘Valve information is held on GIS, providing details on location, valve position, and automation. Having reviewed the documentation and the deep dives it is clear that valve information, including location and position, is available for use to operations staff. There are documented instances where the information is not reflective of the reality on the ground. This misalignment of information can prevent maintenance teams completing their roles effectively.’

Report 24th March 2017 Page 16, 4.52

In my opinion, as people are very rarely killed by a water leak and the damage is economic there is only a light sanctions regime in place for Thames Water.  The existence of this regime makes a class action unlikely.  And so, facing a colossal bill for repairing and replacing the elderly mains it is rational for Thames to dawdle along.

Thames Water is producing its own broader review of trunk mains that will report ‘this summer’ with an action plan, according to the then Secretary of State.

(Letter from Secretary of State to Chair of Select Committee)

This week, a massive chunk of the Cally is closed to through traffic and buses are diverted – here’s a few memories of previous leaks.

June 12 2017 – Copenhagen Street – second leak there within a few days.

Photo - Paul Convery

February 2017 – outside prison:

July 2013:

20 January 2017:

April 2013:


March 2012:

I asked Thames Water’s press office for comment, but they did not get back to me at the time of writing – they would be welcome to add to the comments.

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Kings Cross remains a Race Track against promises to change it!

In spite of not one, or two, but three expensive consultations since the 1990s on changing the gyratory system at Kings Cross, the roads remain race tracks, where cars and motorbikes regularly rev and speed up. Against the real evidence of speed related accidents on Swinton Street, Caledonian Road and now Acton Street, no significant changes have still been implemented.

Residents were let to believe to expect traffic calming, counter traffic cycle lanes, ways to reduce speed, but the Kings Cross gyratory remains largely unchanged.  Even tiny Swinton Place is remaining a rat race track for whenever Swinton Street gets jammed up, and Britannia Street is used by motorists to try and short cut into Pentonville Road via Weston Rise, or consider the short cut between Penton Rise, Weston Rise and Wicklow Street. If it was not for me, there would not even be a pedestrian push button traffic light at the beginning of Swinton Street, something I persuaded TFL to install, after yet another high-speed accident at that corner, some ten years ago.

Kings Cross, I know I have said it often, is a residential area today, with lots of pedestrians and cyclists. Children go to school here, adults to work, there are hospitals, student residences and hotels. We are not willing to continue to take the pollution by cars that are forced through our streets, nor do we wish to accept their noise nor the dangers posed by continuously speeding vehicles.

Good that I have an email from Sadiq Khan, where his assistant promised to look into the traffic at King’s Cross, before he got elected, sent to me on 11/3/16:

“Mayor of London Sadiq will fight at every turn for better homes, better policing, better transport and an economy that works for business and for workers. Every Londoner should have the opportunities that so many of us take for granted but so many still do not receive.

Sadiq knows that many local people feel that King’s Cross traffic gyratory system desperately needs redesigning, with concerns around safety for all road users and pollution in the densely populated area.

Transport for London (TfL) has been consulting on a redesign since 2011 and that they intend to consult on a high level proposal shortly and on final details in 2017.  Sadiq understands there are frustrations around delays with the process and he will contact TfL to seek reassurances around the timetable and that local people are being properly consulted.”

Whilst parts of Kings Cross Road are now Zone 20,  much of Kings Cross is still waiting for the traffic calming promised. This morning 3rd of July, 2017, an Audi crashed right into the zebra crossing island and into a house on Acton Street, as can be seen on the photo. That this remains possible is only caused by the broad speed inviting one-way street system that is continuing to give drivers a totally false idea. How many more accidents until changes are going to be seen, if I may ask, Mr Khan?

Affected Streets:

  • Acton Street
  • Britannia Street
  • Caledonian Road
  • Euston Road
  • Grays Inn Road
  • Kings Cross Road
  • Penton Rise
  • Pentonville Road
  • Swinton Street
  • Wicklow Street
  • Weston Rise
  • Wharfdale Road
  • York Way

A side note to Camden on other vulnerabilities at Kings Cross on their roads: Seaford Street / Harrison Street remains a short-cut into Grays Inn Road for motorists trying to avoid the traffic lights, and Harrison Street is bizarrely used for intermittent speeding by young motorists, as it has no speed humps, unlike Cromer Street. Heathcote Street / Mecklenburgh Square remains a short-cut for motorcycles between Grays Inn Road and Guilford Street in spite of it being a route used by nursery children to Thomas Coram’s Nursery and children on their way to Coram’s Fields.

Posted in Bad Gyrations KX Campaign, Gyratory consultation 2016, New, Transport, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rainscreen cladding in Islington high rise blocks

The Council put out a statement yesterday reassuring people in the aftermath of the awful Grenfell fire:

‘Islington Council always follows the most up to date advice on all aspects of building safety. I am confident that we have good and robust management of our housing stock, including tower blocks. Since 2013 the council has spent £7 million on its fire risk assessment programme and associated fire safety works for all its council housing in the borough, and a further £38million of works is programmed. Any lessons emerging from Grenfell Tower will be acted upon swiftly and comprehensively, as happened following the tragic fire at Lakanal House, Camberwell, in 2009. Where necessary, we will also ensure specifications for future works include any amended advice following the Grenfell Tower fire.

“The Council has a robust Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) programme, with some blocks assessed annually and every block reassessed at least once every three years. Local Area Housing Office staff carry out regular inspections which include fire safety issues. The Council’s fire safety arrangements are also monitored by the Homes and Estates Safety Board, which meets on a quarterly basis and is attended by a member of LFB.’

The council has fire safety advice online for all buildings.  (It’s a little odd to me that the fire safety inspection don’t go into people’s flats given that individual behaviour such as installing downlighters without fire safe cones can lead to awful collective hazard.)

The emerging debate following the tragedy at Grenfell features in part the ‘rain screen cladding’ on the outside of the building.  Commentators and local people suggest that at Grenfell either cladding was combustible itself or the gap between the cladding and the insulation it protects from the rain acted as a flue to amplify and transmit the fire upwards outside the building.

Cladding is one way of insulating elderly concrete buildings with poor thermal performance.  Insulation (such as this)  is screwed to the building, the rainscreen cladding is applied on brackets to stand away from the insulation for drainage and/or condensation.  Intumescent strips are applied horizontally at intervals and around windows: when these get hot they expand and block the condensation gap preventing fire transmission for a period.  This is a similar principle used in fire doors.

Islington council describes the approach it has used:

‘Rainscreen cladding is a form of double-wall construction that uses an outer layer to keep out the rain and an inner layer to provide thermal insulation, prevent excessive air leakage and carry wind loading. The outer layer breathes like a skin while the inner layer reduces energy losses.’

I searched Islington’s planning database for applications to put cladding on tall residential buildings.  This revealed the following three properties with plans for rainscreen cladding (there may be more):

UPDATE – whilst planning was granted these schemes have not yet been implemented – Cllr convery says – ‘We’ve now established that Ilex, Halliday and Gambier have not been clad at all.  Planning permission secured but the projects were not implemented. But there are 3 blocks on Harvist which need closer examination. Plus a couple of blocks which are semi – clad.’

Haliday House, Mildmay Street

‘Constructed in 1970, Haliday House is a 13 storey tower block comprising 73 flats.’

The design statement for the refurbishment and cladding is here.  Detailed pictures of the cladding design are here.  At Haliday Islington proposed using Eternit cladding

Ilex House  Holly Park Estate

‘Constructed in 1972, Ilex House is a 17 storey tower block comprising 97 flats in the Holly Park Estate, off Crouch Hill.’

The design statement contains similar cladding details Equitone is the proposed cladding.

Gambier House

‘Constructed in 1968, Gambier House is a 20 storey tower block comprising of 115 flats. The block is located on a triangular site facing Mora Street, EC1’

The design statement contains similar cladding details.  Equitone Tectiva is proposed cladding.

As far as I can make out the cladding itself has an A2 fire safety rating.

I shared this with Cllr Convery, he said:

‘This is really serious stuff. I’ve looked at the plans Will has identified and it seems we have installed a very similar “rainscreen” thermal cladding system to Grenfell. There’s a group of very similar blocks (Ilex, Harvist x 3 and Halliday). We’ve also put some similar cladding into Brunswick (parts) and Gambier House. I’ve asked the Leader and Diarmaid Ward (Exec member for housing) to very urgently re-assess the fire safety of these overcladded blocks. Whilst we have regular Fire Safety Assessments, I don’t know if these have been included in their methodology or risk assessment the flammability of external cladding which seems to be so clearly the factor at Grenfell. There are a couple of diagrams (pp6-7) of the Gambier design statement which shocked me (see Will’s link above) because they show a ventilation cavity in the sandwich of materials (an external panel, a weather barrier and insulation). The design explicitly excludes any compartmentalisation – because that would be a thermal break. I don’t want to be panicky or grandstand this but I am very worried all of a sudden.’

I am sure that Islington like all owners of tall residential buildings will be scrambling to reassess how residents are kept safe in the light of Grenfell. As will the regulatory authorities.  Once LB Islington has got over that, it would be in the public interest to publish all fire safety reports, to have a full list of Islington buildings that have had rainscreen cladding installed and to learn at what intervals intumescent strips are placed within the cladding to prevent fire transmission and how frequently the strips are inspected.


Posted in Architecture | Tagged | 1 Comment


I’m sure everyone in King’s Cross would want to stand in solidarity with the people of Manchester right now. The loss of a child is something no one ever recovers from. The future will be a hard one for so many in that wonderful city and beyond. Our thoughts are with you.

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Springtime for Kings Cross

Kings Cross is more famous for its intense urban-ness but on a lovely Spring day with the trees freshly in leaf the harsh urban edges are softened a little by the greenery.  Here’s a few pics from this morning.

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Camden council to be replaced by algorithm

In a radical efficiency move Camden Council is to be replaced entirely by software with public services delivered by cash machines, parking meters and street cleaning robots controlled by an ‘artificial brain’. We can reveal today that the brain, christened ‘Theo’ by council officers who are busily coding themselves out of existence will be constructed on a quantum facility in Kazakhstan as the council reaches out to new post Brexit markets.  

Asked why they had gone for a Kazakh supplier, council procurement officer Ron Abramavich said:

‘You can’t get broadband in Shoreditch and if you base it in Kings Cross what happens if it breaks when the underground is shut with overcrowding and no one can get there to turn it on and off again?. 

‘It started out cheaper buying from Kazakstahn but then we realised that we still had to follow EU procurement rules so it costs a lot more’

Asked if Councillors themselves would be replaced by the electronic brain Cllr Blackhole said: 

‘Elected representatives are impossible to simulate – computers are not very good at empathy and besides there is no way you could program them to do some of the crazy things my colleagues get up to.’

On Camden High Street Camden resident, Bob Vole said:

‘What about stairs? Robots always have problems with them – look at the daleks.’

In Hampstead, part time resident Camilla Otter said:

‘Will this make it easier to object to my neighbours planning application?’ 

The brain’s incept date is 1 April 2019. 

[Picture – Wikipedia, Shor’s Algorithm]

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