Diplomatic Congestion

17 08 2009

London Assembly Member Murad Qureshi has written to President Obama requesting a Presidential Decree to ensure the US Embassy in London pays its backlog of congestion charge fines. Transport for London have given up trying to recover parking and congestion charge fines from foreign embassies and have passed the problem to the Foreign Office to sort out. None of the embassies are entitled to exemptions from the congestion charges or parking fines although the American Embassy has consistently objected to the requirement.

Foreign Embassies now owe a total of £28 million in unpaid fines and the US Embassy is by far the worst offender, with over £3 million pounds owing in congestion charge fines alone. The Russian Embassy owes £2.6 million, the Japanese owe £2.3 million, and the Germans, £2.12 million.

Murad Qureshi said:

“At a time when Londoners are having to tighten their belts it is very unfair that foreign diplomats are simply refusing to pay their way.  Transport for London has a funding gap yet the US Embassy owes London millions in unpaid fines.” …  “Diplomats the world over are granted many special privileges in their host country, but these charges and fines are not covered under any such arrangement. The US Embassy should set an example by acting responsibly and coughing up like everyone else.”

Obama’s new Ambassador Louis Susman has refused to pay the fines. The previous Ambassador, Robert Tuttle got called a ‘chiselling little crook’ for a similar crime by Ken Livingstone. Rumours are circulating that in retaliation against the Americans Boris’ City Hall might refuse or complicate the US government’s planning application for a new £500 million ‘super embassy’ at Battersea as it doesn’t comply with ‘The London Plan’.

congestion charge - enough to make you want to move to Battersea

congestion charge - enough to make you want to move to Battersea


Budget London? Foodie London? Budget foodie London?

14 08 2009

London, famously expensive, is apparently getting cheaper …  a recent survey shows that relative to other world cities, it is slipping down the rip off stakes. In a Mercer survey measuring the comparative cost of over 200 items in 143 cities, London dropped 13 places to number 16 in the world, falling below Paris, Hong Kong and Geneva. The decline of rental prices in London, coupled with the fall in the value of the pound against the US dollar, have caused London to plummet in the ranking – its now cheaper than Caracas apparently! Here’s the World Cost of Living Survey explained.

The Guardian’s roving budget travel guru, Benji Lanyado claims that it has been like this for a while, if you know where to look. He provides a list of budget tips for eating, entertainment and accomodation.

On the guardian website today is a ‘cabbie’s guide to eating in London’, which takes in a variety of  eateries around London, many of which look great… and not too expensive either. A taxi driver takes the Guardian’s writer to the cabbie’s favorite greasy spoon cafes, Italian cafes, salt beef sandwich cafes, Turkish baklava shops and kebaberies… run by some of London’s diverse residents, while the two of them provide a slightly irritating mockney commentary.

If, despite all this cosmopolitan fare on offer, you are still a fan of the great British breakfast, you should have a look at the witty and informative London Review of Breakfasts.

London in the World Digital Library

10 08 2009
Smiths new Map of London 1860

Smiths new Map of London 1860

By 1800, the population of London had reached one million, making it the world’s largest city. By the end of the 1900s, its population was approaching five million. The rapid growth of cities such as London created new challenges for mapmakers, including confused street names, the constant appearance of new streets and buildings, and the problem of aligning the trigonometric measurement of streets with actual measurement. Growth also created new demand for maps — from businesses, insurance companies, government agencies, and tourists. This 1860 map by C. Smith & Son shows a London much expanded from its original core along the Thames River to encompass new boroughs in all directions. The different divisions of the city are color-coded. Charles Smith was a map and globe seller, established around 1800 at 172 Strand, who specialized in maps and atlases of England. Smith’s business later was taken over by his son, and continued until well into the 20th century.

Anthropologist About Town pointed me this week to UNESCO‘s World Digital Library, where you can access archival and modern pictures from around the world. The material is searchable by topic, type of item, institution or place. Each thumbnail photograph has crucial information on the history, creation and cultural context of the picture. It is an excellent resource for teaching history, anthropology, geography and other social sciences.

There are a few documents relevant to London, including the map above. The collection is not nearly as good as the one on the British Library London Maps Exhibition website, but its a good idea and the UNESCO library contains a lot of interesting documents from other parts of the world too. Stanfords in Covent Garden is the best map shop I know of nowadays.