Rise of the bed bugs
Plus: speech heckling, house prices and animal poo
Afternoon — just a roundup for you today, as we’ve been celebrating a birthday on the Spy team this week. Touch wood but so far no surprise parties in our beds from London’s newest arrivals: Parisian beg bugs. Everything you need to know about the pests and their spread in London starts off your Sunday briefing below.
Plus: a harrowing but perhaps preventable Tube accident, continued ULEZ camera vigilantism, and a new animal poo exhibition.
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What we’ve spied
🐜 Bed bug anxiety reached fever pitch in London this week once it looked inevitable we’d be importing the pests from Paris. The paranoia began when videos surfaced of the bugs crawling across seats on Paris’s buses and trains, alongside rising reports they’re popping up in the city’s cinemas, schools and hospitals. Paris’s mayor declared “no one is safe” and French authorities convened emergency meetings — and then Londoners realised we’re linked to Paris by just a two-hour train journey. The Eurostar has now introduced preventative cleaning measures and likewise, TfL has said it’s monitoring the situation across London’s transport network. Bed bugs really are no joke — one Londoner has shared the trauma of their recent infestation, which meant months of dreading going to bed each night and waking up itching. For a really gross inside look, Sky News also went to one London house with a particularly bad infestation. But there are mixed views from experts on how panicked we should really be right now. Dr Will Hentley, an academic with the University of Sheffield's school of biosciences, tells the BBC bedbugs are already "fairly prevalent" in the UK and the situation in Paris would be unlikely to have much additional impact. On the other hand microbiologist and founder of Bed Bugs Ltd David Cain tells Sky News he’s already traced a case of bed bugs arriving in London from Paris. Regardless, it definitely looks like there’s a wider trend of rising bed bugs in the UK — data published by Rentokil last month revealed a 65% increase in infestations between 2022 to 2023 — and blame is being put on growing chemical resistance, climate change and globalisation. As of Friday, TfL said it’s not detected any major outbreak on its network. But the Spy did spot this TikTok uploaded yesterday of what looks suspiciously like a bed bug crawling up a man’s leg on the Victoria line… We’ll leave proper identification to someone more qualified — but for tips on how to spot and avoid bed bugs yourself, there's a big beefy advice post on the London subreddit doing the rounds.
🚆 Just as it seemed HS2 really would be going all the way into central London, Euston’s high-speed link has been plunged into uncertainty yet again. Though prime minister Rishi Sunak announced he was scrapping HS2’s northern leg at the Conservative Party conference on Wednesday, he apparently confirmed that the line from Birmingham would indeed go all the way to Euston. HS2’s central London link had been in doubt following costs overrunning, and there’d been speculation the line would just stop at Old Oak Common, way out in London’s western suburbs. But it’s now turned out Sunak’s promise isn’t actually guaranteed, with No 10 sources subsequently revealing the Euston link will still be dependent on enough private funding being raised. It’s enough of a concern that mayor Sadiq Khan has written to Sunak asking for extra clarity. More generally, HS2 cancellation news has reopened some old wounds for those who lost land and property to the project — the family that owned the 112-year-old Bree Louise pub in Euston that was knocked down for HS2 have been speaking to the Telegraph about their ordeal. There was also a good feature in the Guardian on what Old Oak Common is actually like — a “left-behind pocket of London” that may still end up becoming a regular reminder of HS2 incompetence.
📣 Speaking of the Conservative conference — turns out the party member thrown out a main hall speech for heckling was none other than Andrew Boff, serial London mayoral hopeful. Boff, a London assembly member who’s openly gay, was filmed saying “There’s no such thing as gender ideology” while home secretary Suella Braverman was speaking at the conference in Manchester on Tuesday, before attendants then quickly ejected him from his seat. “The home secretary said some things which I found quite objectionable,” Boff later told Pink News. “I consider them bullying — I consider them bullying trans people and the LGBT community. She used those tropes of ‘gender ideology’ – which of course doesn’t exist — and I was brought up to believe that when you see a bully, you challenge them”. Boff has tried to be the Conservative candidate for London mayor six different times, most recently losing out to Susan Hall — who ended up getting a shoutout in Rishi Sunak’s main conference speech on Wednesday. “Our London mayoral candidate is doing a great job holding Sadiq Khan to account,” Sunak said. Just days earlier Hall had faced fierce criticism for suggesting Jewish people are scared of Khan during a Conservative Friends of Israel event.
🍺 Worrying news for London’s drinkers — a study has found 46 pubs closed in the capital during the first six months of 2023, the highest number of any area in England. But one silver lining to the data from real estate analysts Atlus Group is that the number of pub employees is increasing, suggesting the average London pub is actually getting bigger. Elsewhere in nightlife news: yesterday saw the opening night of Drumsheds, London’s newest superclub that’s housed in the former IKEA store in Tottenham. Also: the Las Vegas Sphere — a huge orb-shaped venue completely wrapped in LED screens — had its first concert this week featuring U2, reinvigorating campaigners who are trying to block a similar sphere coming to London in Stratford.
📸 Vigilantism against London’s ULEZ cameras took an unexpected turn this week when rightwing activist and now former GB News employee Laurence Fox was arrested. Footage shows Fox on his sofa while Met Police officers search his house — apparently because he had urged protestors to smash the cameras that are being used to enforce the capital’s ultra-low emissions zone. There’s been a spate of vigilantism since ULEZ expanded to all of Greater London at the end of August, led by a group known as the ‘Blade Runners’ — one vigilante tells the Standard he’s now destroyed more than 150 cameras and has no plans to stop. Fox has turned to subtler ways of backing the group on social media since his arrest. This week TfL issued the first £180 fines to those failing to pay the £12.50 ULEZ charge, though it’s not all been smooth going, as apparently 900 vehicles were wrongly caught out while driving through northwest London due to a dodgy camera. It’s all made for a rocky start for mayor Sadiq Khan’s air pollution efforts — and he’s not getting much support from his party leadership. Keir Starmer has refused to say if ULEZ expansion was right on the eve of the Labour conference.
🏠 House prices are still falling in London, but the decline is slowing, new data shows. Figures released this week by Nationwide show that house prices in London declined by 3.8% year-on-year in the third quarter of 2023, a more gentle decline than in the previous quarter, when prices were down 4.3%. This puts London on a different track to the rest of the UK, where declines have broadly been accelerating. The backdrop to all this is that mortgage rates are finally coming down from their 15-year highs, with the average five-year fixed deal now below 6%. Elsewhere in housing news, it turns out record mortgage rates have been forcing more London homeowners to take on lodgers, with stats showing bumper numbers of new landlords turning to Spareroom.
⚠️ A woman has shared an absolutely harrowing account of her experience of a Tube accident that saw her slip between the train and the platform edge. Public relations executive Sarah de Lagarde was able to escape with her life, but a detailed retelling of her accident by the Financial Times reveals several moments where her life-changing injuries might have been prevented. Amongst it all, the key question posed by Sarah is: “Why was there a gap wide enough for an adult woman to fall through?”. TfL’s own figures show there were 2,516 incidents of people falling between the train and the platform while getting on and off trains between 2006 and 2018, meaning Sarah’s experience was far from an isolated incident. The problem of gaps between the train and the platform is apparently particularly tricky to address in the Tube due to its age, but there are some possible – if quite expensive – solutions, such as “gap-fillers” and “platform-edge doors”. Sarah says she is determined to fight for change: “How many people need to die or be injured before changes are made?”
🔎 And finally, we leave you with:
A tiny shipping container home in east London that’s on the market for “just” £75,000
A clip from a surprise Fatboy Slim gig at a random community hall in Walthamstow
News the Millenium Bridge is being shut for being too wobbly, again
Tributes to classic London suburbia doc Metro-Land on its 50th anniversary
A slightly gross “emergent data viz” by a bench on a Lizzy line platform
The announcement that a Barbie exhibition is coming to the Design Museum in Kensington next year
A review of the new edition of the London Rail Atlas for train/map nerds
An animal poo exhibition that opened this weekend in southwest London
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