Chris Grayling just blocked TfL's plan to take over London's railways

Chris Grayling does not want London to take back control. Image: Getty.

Wow. This isn't good.

From today's Evening Standard:

Sadiq Khan’s bid to take over London’s suburban railways was halted in its tracks today.

(...)

[Transport secretary Chris] Grayling formally rejected Mr Khan’s proposal to take over Southeastern services from 2018, which would have been the first step towards Transport for London taking charge of all services up to the capital’s boundaries.

(...)

“Right now I think the last thing our railways need in London is deckchair shifting without a clear sign that there is something better on the other side,” said the Transport Secretary.

Take a look at what you could have won:

That map was produced by TfL, on the mayor’s instructions. But it wasn’t some cynical lefty power grab: the administration of the last mayor, Boris Johnson – a Conservative – was plotting something similar.

Grayling says he's not ruling anything out for the future (hmmm). His argument seems to be that he doesn't see why Transport for London would inherently do a better job of running London's rail services than a private rail firm.

Perhaps this represents a distrust of the public sector (Tories gonna Tory). Or perhaps it’s a recognition of the fact that many of the problems facing London's suburban lines have nothing to do with who runs them, and everything to do with history and track lay out.

Or perhaps it's politics red in tooth and claw. Placing more lines in the hands of TfL means placing them in the hands of a Labour mayor. And...

Mr Grayling warned of a potential conflict between London’s needs and those of passengers from Kent and East Sussex, because long-distance and local trains share the same tracks.

“If you live in Guildford where’s the democratic accountability?” he asked. “Why should the Mayor of London be responsible for a train from Guildford or Dorking?”

...hmmm. Aren't those... Tory constituencies?

It's difficult to feel good about this. While there are some very good rail franchises out there, there are also some that give the distinct impression that they worry more about their shareholders than about getting commuters to work. Which, in their defence, they are legally required to do – hence, I'd rather have a body with London's interests at heart setting the terms of their contract.


But apparently we're not going to do that. I'm sure Chris Grayling has his reasons.

One thing that does slightly baffle me about this, though. At the moment, if the tube breaks, responsibility lies ultimately with London's mayor. When a rail franchise breaks, responsibility lies ultimately with the secretary of state for transport.

Grayling has just made it clear that he'd prefer to remain personally responsible for the running of Southern Rail.

Well, it's a position.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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Pembrokeshire's innovative new eco-hamlet is great. But it should be the size of a city

The eco hamlet. Image: Western Solar.

The opening in January 2017 of an “eco-hamlet” for council house tenants in West Wales is great news. I have nothing but praise for a development which builds houses with a low carbon footprint, using locally grown wood, to make homes which are well insulated and powered by solar energy. It was also quick to build, with large sections being made in a factory and then assembled on site. And it was relatively cheap – at around £70,000 to £100,000 per building, it is certainly comparable to the costs of more conventional builds.

These houses are an inspiration to the construction industry and an aspiration for the home owner. After all, who wouldn’t like to live in a house that had yearly utility bills of £200, rather than the national average of £1,500?

So the problem is not the six wonderful solar houses at Glanrhyd, Pembrokeshire, or the lucky people who will get to live in them (and enjoy shared use of an electric car). The problem is that we’ve seen all of this before – but nothing changes. What we really need is far, far more of them.

Pentre Solar in Pembrokeshire. Image: Western Solar.

I’ve been involved in sustainable construction for nearly 25 years and seen many inspirational developments like Glanrhyd. There’s Julian Marsh’s home in Nottingham, Susan Roaf’s Oxford Ecohouse and the Hockerton Housing Project, to name but a few. The list is long.


Yet while many individuals continue to build these innovative and inspirational structures, we have a construction industry which still responds to these buildings with disdain. One executive from a large well-known house building company told me recently: “This is a new, expensive and untested technology. We just can’t risk building something so new with all the risks to the consumer and at a higher cost.”

But the situation is even worse than the disdain from the mainstream construction industry. Rather than being welcomed, the latest versions of these sustainable buildings are challenged at every turn. The initial response to the Welsh eco-hamlet plans were concerns about the materials, the technology and the design. The houses at Glanrhyd then had more than 20 planning conditions placed upon them. The CEO of Western Solar, the company behing the hamlet, freely admits that nearly half of their research budget went on solving problems they encountered along the way.

Thinking and building big

So it seems this kind of development just isn’t celebrated enough. There is a general atmosphere of mistrust from construction professionals. It is seen as too complex, too expensive, too risky. Yet there are positive reactions, too. Welsh politician Lesley Griffiths had this to say about the new houses in Glanrhyd:

This scheme ticks so many boxes. We need more houses, we need more energy efficiency, we want to help people with fuel poverty. It’s been really good to hear how they have sourced local products. It’s great they’re using local people to build the houses.

Surely we need to take the eco-technology we have and start rolling it out on a much larger scale. To do so would be a massive step in meeting the significant housing shortage (an estimated 125,000 extra new houses are needed every year). It would also address the disrepair of our current housing stock, and help refit the millions of houses in good repair but requiring improved performance in order to achieve the government’s 2050 carbon reduction target.

We must not forget that the 2050 Climate Change target is not some arbitrary political policy, but one based on the environmental challenge facing all of us. We need to play our part in slowing down the speed of climate change and adapting to the changing natural, social and economic environment.

The solar houses in Pembrokeshire are wonderful. But until we start building huge numbers of buildings with similar credentials, we are just celebrating a cottage industry rather than restructuring our urban environment for an uncertain future.The Conversation

John Grant is senior lecturer in natural and built environment at Sheffield Hallam University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.