London is turning into an oversized private members’ club

For the millenial with no money, no umbrella and no hope of ever owning a house, it's time to look elsewhere.

“Boop.”

I’m on a bus. I’ve just scanned my Oyster Card and I’m getting the “insufficient funds” Red Dot Of Doom. Outside, great watery clumps are falling out of the sky.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” I say to both the driver and myself.

I don’t have any cash. I try giving the driver big, wounded puppy eyes. Nothing. He shrugs, I slump off the bus. I could’ve sworn I topped up my Oyster with a tenner about an hour ago. But London is like a sweaty magician in a snazzy waistcoat, who makes money disappear.

This isn’t fun anymore. With no money, no umbrella and no hope of ever owning a house, I wrestle my way through the rush hour on foot, back to my parents’. Maybe I’ll move out again one day, or maybe rent prices will continue to soar Shard-high.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve realised that, for so many millennials, living in London is a form of masochism. Last week, I saw a friend from Brighton wince as she paid four quid for a pint. Jaded by London prices, I looked on, dead-eyed and handed over an even heftier purse of monies for a G&T.

As the city I love turns into an oversized private members’ club, not a day goes by now where I don’t ask myself, “What am I doing here?”

The other day, I was paying some of the highest prices in Europe to be unceremoniously jammed into an armpit, on the tube, when it hit me: let’s all move to Londonderry.

According to a piece in the Telegraph, earlier this year, Londonderry is the most affordable city to live in, in the UK. Please note, I’m not referring to the Northern Irish city by its unionist name for any political reasons. I just like that I could live there and still claim that I live in London. Ish.

Within a couple of minutes of researching rental prices in Londonderry, I find a six bedroom mansion, with land (actual land), that’s on the market for £525 PCM. House-sharers, that’s £20 per person, per week. Even when I lived in Brighton, I was (at one point) paying £90 per week to live in a slightly upmarket squat.

In Londonderry, the budget mansion is only a very slight anomaly. I soon find non-methy, spacious terraced houses in central locations for around £30 PPPW. The average rental price in London is over £1,200 per month. To contextualise this even further, a grave plot and burial in the capital can now reach around £5,000. So, in the short term, it’s cheaper to be alive in Londonderry than dead in London.

Millennials, hear me out – in Londonderry, we would live like a slightly plumper Henry VIII. Gout-ridden and fat on roast swan, we’d slap our thighs and guffaw heartily over the years we spent paying hundreds of pounds a month for the pleasure of living in ungodly dirt shacks. And in Londonderry, there are cool things like this and this. And I’m pretty certain that this is in Bavaria, but it still came up when I Google-imaged “Londonderry”.

So, what’s shackling me to London? One of the obvious fetters is the gay scene – one of the most vibrant in the world. But, according to my research, it’s not as if Londonderry is completely devoid of rainbows and Lady Gaga. In 2010, the city had its first ever Gay Pride and I bet you pints don’t cost £4 in this gay bar. Plus, my fellow London-weary homos, if we all emigrated there at the same time, we could make Londonderry, like, really fucking gay. There’s always room in a socially conservative Catholic stronghold for a Jewish lesbian on a mission.

Living in London is a form of masochism. Photo: Getty

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.