General News

LDA: Construction on over 750 new homes on a derelict site next to the Thames Barrier has moved a step closer, after the London Borough of Newham granted outline planning consent to the London Development Agency’s Thames Barrier East proposals.

The mixed-use development includes commercial & retail space, new public open space & play area – with over 370 affordable homes and over 130 three- and four-bedroom homes for families.  The development will be built to high environmental standards, with all homes reaching level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes.  A combined heat & power system will generate power on site – and cut CO2 emissions by a typical 20%.
Press release ~ Thames Barrier East proposals ~ Code for Sustainable Homes ~ LDA
 
TfL: With summer on its way and excellent weather being forecast Tube passengers will already have noticed their journeys getting warmer.  Some relief is on the horizon as, from next summer, Metropolitan Line passengers will be able to use air conditioned Tube trains, with new trains also eventually being rolled out on the Circle, Hammersmith & City (2011),and District lines (2013).
 
However much of the Tube is made up of deep & narrow tunnels built with insufficient space for air conditioning and finding cooling solutions is one of the many challenges being addressed by the Underground's Cooling the Tube project team.

The first phase of the ventilation shaft upgrade (that will double air-flow capacity) will be completed this year and preparation for the next phase of work has begun.  In addition, this summer will see the return of the industrial sized blue fans that help increase ventilation at 36 locations on the Tube network.

Bus passengers are also being helped to beat the heat.  All new double deck buses are now fitted with air cooling systems and all double deck buses in the capital’s fleet have been fitted with extra opening windows.  There are now 2,041 double deck buses with air cooling or forced air ventilation systems. In addition, all new buses must have heat reflective white painted roof panels, panel insulation and tinted glass.
Press release ~ TfL
 
OFT: The OFT is warning consumers not to be taken in by businesses claiming to help them become debt free by 'buying' or 'selling on' their debts. In fact the law does not allow the sale of debt without the lender's permission and so businesses that suggest otherwise are making clearly misleading claims.  
 
Consumers need to be aware that if they 'sell' their debts to one of these businesses, either directly or through a broker, they will still be liable for their original repayment obligations as well as losing the money they paid for this false service.  Consumers will also still be subject to any debt collection activity and negative credit scoring associated with the original debt.
Press release ~ Regulation of claims management businesses ~ The Consumer Credit Register and the Estate Agents Register ~ Directgov - advice on dealing with debt ~ Debt Managers Standards Association (DEMSA)
 
DSA: The Driving Standards Agency and The Caravan Club have joined forces to advise British motorists returning to caravanning to brush up on their driving & towing skills before taking to the roads this summer.  The Caravan Club offers both caravan and motorhome training courses for drivers who want to brush up on their skills before they set off on holiday.  
 
The credit crunch is encouraging holiday makers to return to caravanning as a more cost effective alternative to their usual summer breaks.  Figures released by The Caravan Club indicate bookings are up 40% this year.
Press release ~ Driving Standards Agency ~ What licence do you need? ~ The Caravan Club ~ Discover Touring ~ Towing a caravan – Legal Issues
 
ScotGov: 18 of Scotland's key organisations & agencies joined forces recently to demonstrate their support for people facing redundancy by signing the PACE Partnership Protocol, which is a statement of commitment to PACE from the Scottish Government & partner organisations. 
 
The Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) was established in March 2000 to ensure that local & national public sector agencies respond to potential & proposed redundancies as quickly & effectively and as consistently as possible.
Press release (includes words of Protocol) ~ Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) ~ Scottish Trade Union Congress ~ Scotland's Colleges ~ Skills Development Scotland ~ Scottish Government's Economic Recovery Programme ~ Help through the downturn
 
PCS: A strike ballot involving over 400 PCS members working across 100 heritage sites including Stonehenge, Hadrian's Wall and Dover Castle started last week in a dispute over new pay proposals that divides staff into two classes and could lead to cuts in pay.
 
The proposals by English Heritage will lead to a two tier workforce and see support staff & workers in visitor operations forced to take drastic cuts in their pay. Under the plans, English Heritage is seeking to introduce two types of pay ranges called standard and premium. Those on the premium pay range in posts deemed ‘hard to recruit and retain’ will receive 10% more than those on the standard pay range in visitor operations.
 
Branding the plans as divisive & grossly unfair, the union also expressed anger over a move towards regional pay which could drive down the pay of those on the lowest salaries. Starting salaries in English Heritage are as little as £12,700 with the majority of staff affected by the plans working on part year contracts or reduced hours. 
Press release ~ PCS ~ English Heritage
 
MoD: The MoD is launching a study to assess proposals for a new centre of excellence in rehabilitation to ensure that the care of injured service personnel remains state-of-the-art for decades to come. A private benefactor has generously agreed to fund a year-long feasibility study to establish costs & implications for a National Rehabilitation Centre that might be built in the Midlands in approximately 10 years time.
 
The study will explore the possibility of creating a facility which can be a truly national centre for excellence for both military & civilian rehabilitation, with a defence capability at its heart.  Other Government Departments, the NHS and charities will all be consulted in the study process.
 
The Midlands have been identified as the preferred setting for a new centre, which - like Headley Court - would be located in a suitable setting for physical and psychological rehabilitation.  It would bring rehabilitation services closer to other key military medical facilities, such as the new military ward under construction at the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham - due to open in June 2010.
Press release ~ Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre Feasibility Study ~ Defence Military Rehabilitation Centre, Headley Court ~ Royal Centre of Defence Medicine ~ Defence Medical Services ~ Medical Support to Personnel Injured or Sick on Operations ~ Defence Medical Welfare Services
 
MoD: A ground-breaking new armour system and a fleet of new armoured vehicles that will provide better protection on the frontline in Afghanistan have been unveiled by the Ministry of Defence at the defence equipment event - DVD.
 
The revolutionary, textile-based TARIAN vehicle armour system will give lightweight protection against RPGs, in place of the current bar armour that is fitted to vehicles such as Mastiff and Ridgback. Around 20 sets of TARIAN have been ordered and are in use on operations in Afghanistan, with half of them fitted to the Heavy Equipment Transporters.
 
The armour has been developed with Dorset-based AMSAFE in Bridport and will mean the weight saved on armour can be applied elsewhere on the vehicle. DVD also sees the unveiling of the Wolfhound, Husky and Coyote Tactical Support Vehicles (TSV), the first time these newly-purchased trucks have been seen in public.

400+ of these brand new vehicles will be delivered to training units later this year and the new TSV fleet will be used to accompany frontline patrols and carry essential combat supplies such as water & ammunition.
Press release ~ DVD 2009Force Protection Cougar seriesWolfhound ~ Husky
 
WAG: New ways of diagnosing & treating patients with glaucoma will be piloted in 2 areas in Wales.  The ophthalmic diagnostic centre pilot will evaluate the feasibility of diagnosing & monitoring of glaucoma by optometrists working in the community, supported by hospital consultants.  Subject to the outcome of the pilot, plans will be developed to roll it out across Wales.
 
The pilot will begin at the Highlight Park GP surgery, Barry on 1 September 2009 and start at the optometry practice in Llandeilo a few weeks later and run for six months.  
Press release ~ WAG - Health and social care
 
MoD: British troops operating in the hot climates of Afghanistan are testing two innovative water filters to give them access to emergency drinking water in the heat of the battle:
* The Pure Hydration Expedition Field Pump System, allows the individual to draw water from  a contaminated source, purify it  by removing bacteria, waterborne pathogens, sediment & heavy metals and pump it back (decontaminated) into the service issue Camelback.
* The LIFESAVER Bottle is pumped manually to filter dirty water through a membrane.  The muddy water is then instantly decontaminated to remove bacteria, viruses, fungi and waterborne pathogens. 
 
Over 4,000 filters are being trialled with members of 19 Mechanised Brigade currently serving in Afghanistan and it is expected they will be completed later this year.  The MOD will then decide whether to purchase further kit for wider distribution on operations.
Press release ~ Pure Hydration Expedition Field Pump System ~ LIFESAVER Bottle ~ Service issue Camelback (scroll down)
 
ScotGov: Plans for a project that will see Scotland leading the rest of the world in predicting the eating quality of cuts of meat have been announced. Meat processors in Scotland will be offered technology that for the first time will allow them to accurately measure the different factors, such as tenderness, colour & fat levels, that add up to overall quality.
 
The project, run by Quality Meat Scotland, the Scottish red meat industry development body, and part-funded by the Scottish Government, will initially focus on beef, but the aim is to extend it to lamb and pork. Scotland's meat plants process around 8,500 prime beef carcases every week producing 2,900 tonnes of meat each week. The turnover of the beef processing industry in Scotland is worth £500m annually.
Press release ~ Quality Meat Scotland
 
MoD: A new personal armour system was unveiled at the MoD’s defence equipment show - DVD. Over 10,000 sets of the enhanced Mark 7 helmet and the Osprey Assault body armour have been ordered from companies across the UK, under initial contracts worth around £16m and will be delivered to troops deploying to Afghanistan Autumn 2009.
 
The new helmet has the same protection as the current MK 6A, but will improve the effectiveness of the soldier.  A new harness keeps the helmet more stable on the head when Night Vision equipment is fitted to it and it is better integrated with new weapon sights, making it easier to use weapons in a variety of fighting positions.
 
The new Osprey Assault body armour has all the stopping power of the current Osprey, but is closer fitting, less bulky and easier to move in.
Press release ~ BBC: Osprey Assault body armour - video ~ DVD 2009
 
PCS: The Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN) has launched an innovative new project, Climate Solidarity, funded by Defra's greener living fund aimed at mobilising the UK trade union movement on climate change. The project will see COIN working with 4 trade unions, including PCS, to build a sustainable society in which new low carbon workplaces thrive and provide green jobs for the future.
 
The project aims to create a wave of action across the trade union network by inspiring community action on transport (travel to work and the efficient use of cars), housing (cutting bills, switching to low carbon suppliers and fitting insulation) and food (ending waste & buying locally).
 
By working with the trade union movement, COIN and its partners hope to affect the biggest ever mobilisation effort on climate change in the UK, creating the basis for a more just and sustainable society for all – See also Defra item in ‘Charities / Voluntary Organisations / Third Sector’ section for more information.
Press release ~ COIN
 
NA: New files released by The National Archives cover subjects ranging from biological & chemical warfare in WW2 to drinking on trains and the Queen's Silver Jubilee. The latest Cabinet Secretary's notebook has also been released.  This is the 17th notebook to be released, covering a period from November 1957 to December 1958. The notebooks contain the handwritten notes made by the Cabinet Secretary – in this case Sir Norman Brook - at Cabinet meetings.
Press release ~ Cabinet Secretary's notebook ~ Links to other files
 
TfLArt on the on the Underground, London Underground’s art programme, has won global acclaim, beating 11 other countries including France, Germany, Portugal and Argentina to an international award for culture on a public transport system.
 
The aim of the award is to promote cultural best practice on public transport which helps make the travelling experience more interesting for passengers.  Art on the Underground impressed the judges with the outstanding quality of contemporary commissions which surprise & delight the three and a half to four million customers that use the London Tube every day. 
Press release ~ Art on the on the Underground ~ UITP’s Design and Culture Platform
 
MO: Although many parts of England and Wales could see highs of 30°C this week, a key factor will be the night time temperatures.  Lows in some areas may not fall below 18°C.
Press release ~ Met Office Heat-Health Watch ~ Department of Health’s Heatwave Plan
The State of the State