High speed denials, urinal tragedy, inheritocracy - Spy on Sunday, Jan 29, 2023
Your briefing on the week that was in London
It’s Sunday, so here’s everything we’ve spied in the past seven days:
🚝 Will they/won’t they drama over HS2 rounded off the week, after reports emerged that the line wouldn’t take passengers all the way into central London as originally planned. The Sun reported on Friday that ministers, spooked by the spiralling cost of the high speed rail project amid rampant inflation, were considering axing plans for the line to terminate in Euston. Instead commuters would be taken as far as Old Oak Common in Hammersmith and then would have to hop on the Elizabeth Line to continue on into the capital.
Backlash to the report was fast and fierce, with many questioning whether the flagship (and already massively over budget) project could ever delivery value for money if it didn’t actually link central London with the Midlands and the North. Others worried that the Elizabeth Line, already under fire this week for disappointing service, would buckle under the pressure of a further 300,000 daily passengers from places like Birmingham and Manchester.
Not to worry, as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt promptly rebutted the Sun’s report, and insisted the government is committed to bringing HS2 all the way to Euston — and presumably the Euston station refurb planned too. The reality of HS2’s spiralling costs hasn’t gone away, however — its original £33bn price tag has now jumped to over £100bn — so perhaps a different u-turn is still to come…
👮♂️ Another week of crisis for the Metropolitan Police ended with the revelation that David Carrick raped a serving officer. Speaking to The Times, the female officer said she was raped two decades ago by Carrick at his home but did not come forward for fear she wouldn’t be believed. Carrick, an officer since 2001, pleaded guilty to 80 sex offences earlier this month, prompting the Met to announce it was re-examining sexual offences and domestic abuse cases involving 1,000 of its staff. On Wednesday commissioner Sir Mark Rowley predicted this will mean two to three officers facing trial every week for years to come. The following day a Met constable appeared in court under allegations of sexually assaulting a woman in 2021 while off duty on a night out.
If the staff misconduct crisis wasn’t enough, this week an inquest jury found "inadequacies" in a Met investigation could have contributed to the death of a London woman found dead in Wales, while the High Court deemed a Met raid on an east London art gallery wrongly thought to be harbouring XR material as unlawful. Yikes — no wonder City Hall announced this week that its earmarking £14m as part of a plan to rebuild trust in the force.
💚 A minister has for the first time explicitly blamed government guidance for the Grenfell Tower fire, at least in part. While announcing a six-week deadline for developers to fix blocks that are still unsafe, housing secretary Michael Gove stated: “There was a system of regulation that was faulty. The government did not think hard enough, or police effectively enough, the whole system of building safety. Undoubtedly.” The inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed the lives of 72 people in 2017 in west London, held its final hearing in November last year, and is due to report back soon and portion out responsibility for the disaster.
💰 Who really owns London is becoming clearer thanks to a new register of oversea entities. The Guardian published an investigation this week based on the UK government’s new register of overseas entities, brought in to increase transparency and help the tax authorities by showing the ultimate owners of British property held offshore. It found that Lewis Hamilton, the BBC chair currently under fire for his relationship with Boris Johnson, Gulf royal families and Conservative donors are among those spending billions on flats and houses in London via offshore jurisdictions. Some extra Sunday reading on how broken London’s housing market is comes via this piece in the Financial Times, which charts the rise of 'inheritocracy’ in the capital.
💨 Friendly fire and possibly even gaslighting featured in the debate to expand London’s air pollution rules this week. Some Labour-controlled councils are now among those expressing their doubts over Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plans to expand ULEZ to the entire city this August. Whether they’ll be willing to go as far as some Conservative and Liberal Democrat councils, who have said they’ll refuse to install the automatic cameras needed to enforce the ULEZ, remains to be seen. Khan at least is unfazed — he says there is in fact “no public backlash” to the expansion, much to the irritation of the anti-ULEZ campaign.
🚨 Tragedy in central London on Friday after a workman was killed while repairing a telescopic urinal. The man was pronounced dead at the scene in the West End despite the efforts of emergency services. In response Westminster council has temporarily disabled another of its UriLifts — toilets that are kept underground during the day then pop up in the night. The loos were first installed as part of an effort to stop London’s revellers publicly urinating.
🏛 As the UK braces for further strikes this week, London faces an extra industrial dispute at the British Museum. Staff at the museum are striking over February half term in a dispute over jobs, pay and pensions.
⛪️ London lost one of its historic churches to fire this week — a disaster for worshippers and neighbours alike. Flames engulfed St Mark’s Church in St John’s Wood sometime in the evening of Thursday. By the next morning, little remained of the Victorian church, with its 170-year-old ornate roof having caved in, to the heartbreak of the local congregation and community. Investigation as to the cause is now underway.
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