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London boroughs work together to buy more homes for the homeless

A group of London boroughs have begun buying property to accommodate homeless people through a not-for-profit company formed with financial support from national government.

Capital Letters, which is collectively owned by 13 of the capital’s 32 councils, was established in December 2018 and this week has purchased its first home, in Tower Hamlets.

The company intends to buy many more homes in the coming months under the leadership of newly-appointed chief executive Sue Coulson, who has long experience in the housing sector. It says a collaborative approach will enable more such homes to be bought more cost-effectively.

The 13 founding boroughs are Brent, Bexley, Barking & Dagenham, Croydon, Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham, Haringey, Lewisham, Redbridge, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Westminster.

The company is presently based at the offices of London Councils, the cross party body that represents all 33 London local authorities and and which co-ordinated its launch along with the London housing directors’ group.

Capital Letters aims to raise the quality and management of properties that temporarily accommodate homeless people in the capital and is one of a number of pan-London projects London Councils has pledged to make progress with over the next three years. The Minister of Housing has provided it with £38 million.

Company chair Mark Baigent described the venture as “a game changer in how we secure accommodation for those in housing need” and Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ executive member for housing and planning, described it as exemplifying “exactly the sort of bold, innovative thinking that’s needed”.

Last month, the London Assembly housing committee published a report which found that the number of London households living in temporary accommodation has risen to 56,560, representing a 50% increase in the past five years.

OnLondon.co.uk is dedicated to providing fair and thorough coverage of London’s politics, development and culture. The site depends on donations from readers and is also seeking support from suitable organisations. Read more about that here.

 

Categories: News

London will need nearly £5 billion a year to meet ‘affordable’ housing need, says City Hall

The capital will require nearly £50 billion from national government over a ten year period if its need for various kinds of new “affordable” housing by 2032 is to be met, according to calculations published by City Hall.

The figures, compiled by the Greater London Authority’s housing and land department in conjunction with boroughs, leading housing associations and other housing sector experts, model the funding support necessary to help supply an annual 32,500 new affordable homes comprising social rent level, “intermediate” rent and shared ownership dwellings from financial year 2022/23 – nearly half the overall 66,000 a year needed accorded to Sadiq Khan’s draft new London Plan.

Of the 32,500 total, 22,750 (70%) would be for rent at social rent levels, 3,250 (10%) at intermediate rent levels and 6,500 (20%) shared ownership dwellings. The funding would represent 48% of the estimated total cost of all the grant-funded new affordable homes and enable their supply to be in line with the Mayor’s aspiration to increase “genuinely affordable” supply to 50% of the total.

The scenario set out in the model envisages a large increase in financial support and delivery compared with the Mayor’s current affordable homes programme, which aims to see an average of just 16,600 “genuinely affordable” homes completed per year – barely half the target set in the draft new London Plan – with a greater emphasis on shared ownership, due to the terms set by national government.

The City Hall analysis defines a “subsidy gap” in the cost of building 32,500 affordable homes a year of around £7.5 billion a year.

It assumes that 9,600 affordable homes per year could be generated by private developers meeting conditions placed on planning consents (section 106 contributions), which would be the equivalent of a £2.3 billion financial contribution.

It also builds in the expectation that borough and housing associations can cross-subsidise affordable home construction to the tune of £0.3 billion a year, derived from building and selling 5,700 homes at full market prices each year.

This leaves a need for £4.9 billion a year from government to be distributed by London’s Mayor between 2022/23 and 2031/32 in order to meet the cost of 32,500 new affordable homes of the types required every year, or 325,000 over the ten-year period.

This level of grant funding would amount to around seven times what London presently receives, due to the larger size of the provisional programme, the far greater focus on social rent level homes and the expected impact of inflation, according to the analysis.

It concludes that its calculations support “the basic and inescapable economic logic of funding social rented homes in London” and that doing so requires a level of subsidy per home “far greater in cash terms than even a decades ago” due to cost inflation.

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Categories: News

Charles Wright: How would PM ‘Boris’ respond to Mayor Khan’s ten point challenge?

Whether it’s Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt moving into 10 Downing Street next month, they won’t be short of advice from interested parties, including Johnson’s successor as London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who last week issued a 10-point challenge to the next Prime Minister.

It’s a blueprint to “reduce the impact of Brexit, tackle economic inequality and counter the growing anti-London sentiment across the country,” according to City Hall.

Khan has his own election to win next year and the first of his 10 points plays firmly to his voter constituency – protect jobs, growth and prosperity by “revoking Article 50 and giving the British public the final say on Brexit” –  while point 10 urges the new PM to “stand up for the open, inclusive, forward-looking nation Britain has always been – and not pander to the insurgent Right”.

But any Mayor of London also needs to work with national government and at present that still looks likely to be Mayor Khan’s Conservative predecessor. Johnson’s leadership campaign to date has focused on his mayoral record – “I want now to do for the whole country what we did in London” – so what clues are there to how Khan’s blueprint would be received?

It’s a comprehensive list – reversing police and council funding cuts, cash for affordable housing, more revenue for Transport for London, funding for major infrastructure including Crossrail 2, and the transfer of suburban rail services to London Overground control.

There are calls for action on climate change and air pollution in there too, plus – perhaps the key demand – for significant powers, including tax-raising powers, to be devolved to City Hall, and an immigration policy reflecting London’s needs, or allowing “London to decide for itself what best works for its businesses and growth”.

Johnson’s claims about his record as Mayor is predictably contested, including by factcheckers. The murder rate fell during his time at City Hall, but it was falling anyway; knife crime went up and then went down; police numbers broadly stayed the same.

And while Johnson’s eight year tenure did deliver 101,525 extra “affordable” homes, targets were reduced and definitions changed during that time, including with the introduction of the government’s Affordable Rent tenure. By the end of Johnson’s second term, no social rent homes, which are generally let at lower levels than AR, were being funded (see On London‘s guide to affordable homes in the capital here).

Traffic and air pollution are other disputed areas. Johnson won the 2008 mayoral election partly on a promise to scrap proposed vehicle charges based on CO2 emissions, and went on to scrap the western extension of the congestion charge zone. On the other hand, he later produced ultra low emission zone plans, albeit to a timetable which Khan accelerated. Johnson said he would “bear down” on public transport fares, but they went up year on year.

So would Johnson as PM prove more amenable to City Hall funding demands than the then tenants of Downing Street were when he was Mayor?

After the 2011 London riots, Mayor Johnson urged government not to “risk London’s safety with police cuts”, describing the case for reducing police budgets as “always pretty frail”. Like Khan to date, his pleas were not successful. More recently, alongside controversial comments on investigating historic child abuse, he has emphasised tactics, including stop and search – “it depends where you spend the money and where you deploy the officers”.

Nor is it clear that he would continue the current government’s support for social housing – a notable win for Khan, with funding earmarked for new council housebuilding. Speaking at last year’s Tory conference, in a paean to the virtues of home ownership, Johnson described “building and control of state-owned housing” as in “Labour’s political interests” but “diametrically opposed to the interests of most families”.

Would Johnson pursue a less dogmatic approach to immigration, as urged by the capital’s business grouping London First? “I have always been a believer in immigration and in allowing talented people to come to this country,” he told the Evening Standard last week, while reiterating at his leadership launch that “people were entirely reasonable in wanting national controls”, and previously arguing that “uncontrolled” migration had “held wages down”. Constructive ambiguity then.

It is perhaps in the areas of investment in infrastructure and devolution that London might expect the most sympathetic hearing. Johnson’s approach as Mayor was to argue hard for funding for capital projects, ranging from the Crossrail and the Northern Line extension, where he had some success, to the abortive “Boris Island” airport in the Thames estuary, rejected by Whitehall in 2014, and, of course, the failed Garden Bridge.

In 2008, newly elected as Mayor, he mused in his Telegraph column on the importance of capital investment, particularly in times of economic hardship. Recalling visiting Hoover Dam, which was built during the Great Depression, he called it “a colossal concrete cathedral to Keynesian economics”, prompting long-time London watcher Professor Tony Travers to comment somewhat bemusedly on the sight of “the most senior Conservative in office in Britain explicitly proposing a Keynesian solution to our economic problems”.

It’s a commitment he has maintained: “We need now to level up – not to neglect our capital – of course not, but to put in the infrastructure that will lift every region,” he said at his leadership launch, listing Northern powerhouse rail, transport connectivity in the west Midlands and metro rail for Leeds.

It was Johnson too who set up the London Finance Commission in 2013, chair by Travers, to marshal the arguments for comprehensive fiscal devolution. In 2015, he pushed for a City Hall takeover of suburban rail services and power over skills, criminal justice, transport and housing, plus control of business rates and housing related taxes – a call repeated in his current campaign.

Devolution was both “Tory in principle” and “a way to help councils…feeling the squeeze with the rising cost of services for the elderly,” he said in 2018.

Will Johnson’s words be matched by deeds, should he assume the UK premiership? Brexit will, of course, be the first concern of the new PM, but Johnson has made much of the need to settle the matter and then “concentrate on the Britain we can create for everyone”.

As for Johnson’s leadership rival Jeremy Hunt, though he remains the underdog, we shouldn’t forget that as health secretary he has agreed significant devolution of health services to London, in 2015 and 2017, as well overseeing the 2012 Olympics as culture secretary.

OnLondon.co.uk is dedicated to providing fair and thorough coverage of London’s politics, development and culture. The site depends on donations from readers and is also seeking support from suitable organisations. Read more about that here.

Categories: Analysis

Florence Eshalomi: London must keep improving its good accessible transport story

When it comes to accessible transport, London has a good story to tell. Despite having the world’s oldest metro system, huge progress has been made in opening up our Underground and trains to Londoners with limited mobility.

Every Docklands Light Railway station is step-free, as are 58 on the London Overground network and 78 on the Underground – the latter up from 66 three years ago. Soon enough, they will be joined by Crossrail’s 41 new or refurbished step-free stations, creating a myriad of new journey possibilities for people with physical disabilities.

On the buses too, London leads the way with the entire fleet low-floor and wheelchair accessible. All this progress has been made in the context of the government withdrawing its £700 million annual operating grant to Transport for London, leaving it as the only major transport network in the world without central government subsidy.

But the reality is that despite the considerable efforts of recent years, the capital’s transport system can still be a forbidding place for many disabled people. This is despite Sadiq Khan’s welcome commitment of an additional £200 million to help make the network more accessible. Though many more step-free stations – from Amersham to Wimbledon Park – are in the pipeline, even by 2022 just 40 per cent of Underground stations will be step-free.

When you consider that only 11 of the Central line’s 49 stations permit passage without steps from street level to platform, you begin to appreciate the scale of the challenge disabled Londoners face. It also brings into sharp focus the difference Crossrail will make, and how many journeys are at present simply off-limits without recourse to an expensive black cab.

While much of our focus on the issue of accessibility is rightly placed on expanding access to the system for those with impaired sight and mobility, it’s important also to consider the needs of people with other disabilities – many of which are hidden from view.

Londoners with a disability of some kind number 1.2 million, and there are a myriad of different needs to consider. How, for instance, do we present signage in a way that’s easy to read for dyslexics? How do we design buses so that they meet the needs not just of those in wheelchairs, but also those with buggies, assistance dogs or mobility walkers – and in such a way that they still accommodate the needs of travellers with luggage or shopping? And what more can be done to make our city more navigable – at street and on board – across the digital, physical, visual and aural channels available?

Plenty of examples of design-led accessibility innovation can be found aboard the new Class 710 trains, which are finally being rolled out on the Gospel Oak to Barking line (with the Overground’s West Anglia routes to follow later in the year). Wider doors allow easier boarding for all. Information is delivered not just through audio announcements, but through LCD screens which update in real time. And straps and rails for standing passengers have been located further from the seats than on the Class 378s (the predominant stock on Overground services), allowing people of different heights to stand more easily across a larger part of the train.

These new trains are a testament to how design can deliver significant accessibility improvements to passengers with diverse needs, even in the high-intensity environment in which London Overground operates.

In the context of all these big, and often costly changes being rolled out across our transport network, it’s important to remember too the difference that the small things can make.

The hugely successful Baby on Board badges have been followed up with the “please offer me a seat” scheme, in recognition of the fact that many physical disabilities are less visible. TfL’s long-established Dial-a-Ride service may not get much attention, but it continues to provide a lifeline to those Londoners who rely on it. Tactile paving, crossing countdowns and rotating cones help meet the needs of people with a variety of disabilities – and many of those without, too. And the Mayor’s commitment to making London a dementia-friendly city with a dementia-friendly transport network is truly something to be celebrated.

Finally, it’s important to remember the role we, as passengers, can play. By looking out for our fellow Londoners, we can help make everyone’s journey – and our own – safer, happier and more accessible.

Florence Eshalomi is London Assembly Member for Lambeth & Southwark and chairs the Assembly’s transport committee. Follow her on Twitter.

OnLondon.co.uk is dedicated to providing fair and thorough coverage of London’s politics, development and culture. The site depends on donations from readers and is also seeking support from suitable organisations. Read more about that here.

Categories: Comment

Mayor Boris Johnson and his unusual history with the Metropolitan Police

Met police commissioner Cressida Dick has told LBC that the neighbours of Boris Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds were right to report the now infamous row between the pair to her officers and has remarked that recordings of incidents brought to police attention can be helpful if an investigation ensues. No such course of action has followed the “lovers’ tiff”. The episode has, though, triggered memories of Johnson’s sometimes unusual relationship with the Met when he was London Mayor.

One of the bigger surprises of his chaotic first months at City Hall following his election in May 2008 was to effectively sack the then Met commissioner Sir Ian Blair. Blair resigned after Johnson and his deputy mayor for policing Kim Malthouse – now an MP and creator of the so-called “Malthouse compromise” – informed him that they had lost confidence in him. Malthouse, who had been critical of Blair before Johnson became Mayor, is credited with being the true hatchet man, though Johnson probably benefited from the sudden public perception of him as a ruthless operator rather than a complete shambles.

Then, in November 2008, came the Damian Green affair. Green was the Conservatives’ immigration spokesman in the House of Commons (Labour were in power nationally back then) and suspected of being involved in leaks to the press from the Home Office. The unusual decision was taken by the Met, by then under the acting command of Blair’s eventual successor Sir Paul Stephenson, to raid the MP’s office at the House of Commons.

Green was arrested, but never charged with an offence. Johnson, who chaired the now defunct Metropolitan Police Authority, was suspected by some to have tried to tip Green off about the raid – claims he has denied. He has, however, acknowledged speaking to Green by phone two days after the arrest – an action later condemned by a Standards Board inquiry as “extraordinary and unwise”.

Johnson later gave evidence to the Commons home affairs select committee about the episode, infuriating its then chair, the Labour MP Keith Vaz, with incomplete and inconsistent accounts of what he’d told the leader of the opposition David Cameron on the actual day of Green’s arrest. Vaz sought clarification, resulting in a highly publicised F-word outburst by Johnson when speaking to Vaz on the phone. Cross Boris had not made such a public appearance before.

In 2010, Johnson stepped down as MPA chair and gave the job to Malthouse. His departure overlapped with the phone-hacking row of the period, in which Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World was accused of illegally accessing the private messages of celebrities – including Johnson himself – and the Met were accused of doing nothing about it. The Tory Mayor declined to criticise either the newspaper (since closed) or accept that the Met should be looking into allegations that he dismissed at a Mayor’s Question Time as a “politically motived put-up job by the Labour Party”.

Two years later, the BBC obtained details of phone conversations Johnson had later had with senior executives of Murdoch’s company. Johnson’s office denied that phone hacking was discussed. Shortly before this disclosure, Murdoch had been Johnson’s guest at the London Olympics.

All old news, of course, but perhaps worthy of fresh interest as “Boris” battles with Jeremy Hunt to take the keys to Number 10.

OnLondon.co.uk is dedicated to providing fair and thorough coverage of London’s politics, development and culture. The site depends on donations from readers and is also seeking support from suitable organisations. Read more about that here.

Categories: Analysis

Labour London Assembly constituency members secure re-selection

All six Labour constituency members of the London Assembly seeking re-election to the City Hall scrutiny body next year have been endorsed to fight their seats again, despite attempts by some Corbynite activists to force them to face challenges from other potential candidates.

Florence Eshalomi, the AM for Lambeth & Southwark, and Onkar Sahota, who represents Ealing & Hillingdon, came through crucial votes by members of local parliamentary constituency parties last week to ensure that they will automatically go forward to defend their City Hall seats next May, having previously lost individual CLP votes.

Unmesh Desai (City & East), Leonie Cooper (Merton & Wandsworth), Joanne McCartney (Enfield & Haringey) and Labour Group leader Len Duvall (Greenwich & Woolwich) were also re-selected, having completed a clean sweep of affirmative CLP nominations in so-called “trigger ballot” processes.

New rules for re-selecting sitting constituency AMs meant that if a third or more constituency memberships within the larger GLA constituency areas voted against their sitting AMs re-selection, that AM would be forced to win an ensuing selection race against other contenders to fight their seat.

Both Eshalomi and Sahota appeared at risk of potential deselection after losing CLP votes early on. However, Eshalomi was decisively affirmed by members of Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP last week, following a reverse at the hands of Camberwell & Peckham members.

She had previously lost among Streatham Labour members too, but a re-run of their ballot ordered by the party’s London Region never took place. This meant Eshalomi secured the “affirmative nomination” she sought from three of the four CLPs whose ballots counted, taking her past the one third or more threshold.

Sahota, whose Assembly constituency contains six CLPs, had failed by a wide margin to secure the backing of Ealing Central & Acton Labour members, meaning that one more CLP defeat would have seen him “triggered”. However, he was successful with the other five CLPs in Ealing & Hillingdon.

Sitting AMs can also be triggered if a third or more of Labour-affiliated organisations, primarily trade unions, wish it, but this did not occur.

Attention will now turn to the selection of Labour candidates for the other eight London Assembly constituency seats, three are currently held by Labour AMs who have decided to stand down next year. They are Barnet & Camden, Brent & Harrow and North East (comprising the boroughs of Islington, Hackney and Waltham Forest).

There is widespread expectation that Momentum, the activist group formed to support the leadership of Labour nationally by Jeremy Corbyn, will campaign hard to install candidates to their liking for these seats. All but one position on the London Region executive was won by a candidate favoured by the Left at elections held in March.

The political complexion of the future Labour Group on the Assembly will also be influenced by the order in which candidates for the 11 Londonwide Assembly seats are placed. Labour holds three of these seats, which are allocated under a form of proportional representation. Two of these sitting AMs are standing down, and the third, Tom Copley, is seeking re-election. The higher a candidates position on the list, the better his or her chances of being elected.

OnLondon.co.uk is dedicated to providing fair and thorough coverage of London’s politics, development and culture. The site depends on donations from readers and is also seeking support from suitable organisations. Read more about that here.

Categories: News

Wandsworth: Labour holds Furzedown ward, but swing to Lib Dems confirms trend

It is unusual for a Wandsworth election to play second fiddle to a Merton one, but that was the case for the two London wards that had by-elections on 20 June. The result in Cannon Hill in the latter borough was particularly important and interesting, with the Liberal Democrats taking a seat off Labour. But although the outcome in Wandsworth’s Furzedown ward was less florid, it still provided another indication of rising Lib Dem fortunes in south west London. 

Furzedown is in the south east corner of the borough, where Tooting shades into Streatham. It is a clearly-drawn ward, delineated on two sides by the boundary with Lambeth, on a third by Tooting Bec Common and on the fourth by a railway line. Mitcham Lane runs through the ward and leads to Streatham Common, which is where the nearest station for many residents is.

Its streets are an irregular grid of straight residential roads, mostly Victorian and Edwardian terraces with the occasional inter-war area. It is majority owner-occupied (53 per cent, nowhere near as much as Cannon Hill) and has a predominantly youthful (median age 33) and ethnically diverse (BAME 43 per cent) population.

When the present Wandsworth boundaries were established in 2002, Furzedown produced very close contests between the two main parties, with representation split between the Conservatives and Labour in the elections of 2002 and 2006. It was also split three times out of four in elections between 1986 and 1998. Furzedown was the ward where the blue line was at its thinnest in the first of those years – the Tories held Wandsworth with 31 councillors to 30 for Labour, and Labour were only 75 votes off getting that all-important Furzedown seat. But the ward swung decisively to Labour in 2010 and has now become the party’s strongest ward in the borough, with 64 per cent of voters giving the party their support in the 2018 elections.

The reasons for this are twofold. One is the fading of the “Wandsworth effect” that gave the Conservatives an unusually strong vote on local issues because of the popularity of their council administration. This bonus had practically disappeared by 2018, and wards like Furzedown were voting much like similar areas in other boroughs. The other is that the southern half of Tooting has followed the general London demographic trend more closely than most of Wandsworth and gained more residents in Labour-voting groups over the years.

This year’s by-election was caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Candida Jones, formerly deputy leader of the Labour Group, who took up a politically restricted job. It was more of a headache for Labour than might have been expected due to the Lib Dem upsurge in this sort of area of London. The Lambeth ward of Thornton, where the Lib Dems nearly gained a Labour seat in April is, after all, separated from Furzedown only by Tooting Bec Common and a couple of railway lines.

The Lib Dems have next to no track record in Wandsworth – it has been even stonier ground than Merton – and out of 906 regular contests for council seats since 1964 the party has won precisely once (Earlsfield, 1982). But all that changed in the last month’s European Parliament election, when the party came from nowhere to top the poll in Wandsworth and quite possibly to “win” every single ward in the borough.

Labour campaigned hard in Furzedown – party membership is high in Wandsworth and at the Tooting end of the borough there is an experienced election-winning machine. They selected a candidate, Graham Loveland, who had strong environmental and pro-European views and a record of local volunteering. This enabled Labour to compete with the Lib Dems on that party’s strongest ground.

Labour’s efforts paid off, with Loveland winning the ward despite a slide in the party’s share of the vote from 64 per cent to 49 per cent (1,811 votes). Lib Dem Jon Irwin came a respectable but distant second (24 per cent, 887 votes). The swing was 17 per cent from Labour to Lib Dem, not much below what it was in Cannon Hill. Labour held Furzedown because the party started so far ahead, not because the Lib Dems were failing to pick up votes. The Conservatives came third, an unusual state of affairs in Wandsworth. Turnout was a reasonable 34 per cent.

We have now had three wards in south west London where the Lib Dems have challenged Labour in by-elections in the last few months. The swing was biggest in Lambeth Thornton, even though the Lib Dems fell just short; the gain of a seat where they had no prior strength makes Merton Cannon Hill particularly significant; Wandsworth Furzedown was Labour’s most resilient performance, but the swing was still large.

There is definitely a pattern here. The trend to the Lib Dems as the party of Remain, so apparent in the European Parliament elections, has started to bleed through into London local government elections in strong Labour seats and Lab-Con marginals alike.

OnLondon.co.uk is dedicated to providing fair and thorough coverage of London’s politics, development and culture. The site depends on donations from readers and is also seeking support from suitable organisations. Read more about that here.

 

Categories: News

Vic Keegan’s Lost London 96: The other Crystal Palace

Everyone knows about the Crystal Palace. It was erected for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park before being relocated to Sydenham. But hardly anyone knows about a second Crystal Palace, which started life in Dublin to help house the 1865 International Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures, only to be taken down a few years later, shipped to London, and re-erected next to Battersea Park.

Renamed the Albert Palace, its grand opening took place in 1885. It stood along what was then Prince of Wales Road and is now called Prince of Wales Drive. Augmented with stone from the old law courts at Westminster (which had been demolished two years earlier), a tea room and the Connaught Hall Concert Room, it reached an amazing 675 feet in length.

The project had plenty of attractions including a permanent orchestra, cat shows, bird shows, flower shows and an Indian village full of spinners, weavers and carpet makers. There was a diving bell, gymnastic displays and ballooning, though sadly these were not enough to make it viable for one simple reason: punters were reluctant to pay the admission charge when so much around them was free, namely Battersea Park itself.

The glass white elephant was permanently closed by 1888 and slowly decayed before being demolished by the end of the century. If you want to see a remnant of it, go to Fort Augustus Abbey in Scotland, where its huge organ was transported to. Otherwise, its memory lives on in the name of Albert Palace Mansions, which were built on the site in 1897.

Vic Keegan’s Lost London numbers 1-95 can be found here.

OnLondon.co.uk is dedicated to providing fair and thorough coverage of London’s politics, development and culture. The site depends on donations from readers and is also seeking support from suitable organisations. Read more about that here.

Categories: Culture, Lost London