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close this bookCrucibles of Hazard: Mega-Cities and Disasters in Transition (United Nations University, 1999, 544 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the document1. Introduction - James K. Mitchell
View the document2. Natural disasters in the context of mega-cities - James K. Mitchell
View the document3. Urbanization and disaster mitigation in Tokyo - Yoshio Kumagai and Yoshiteru Nojima
View the document4. Flood hazard in Seoul: A preliminary assessment - Kwi-Gon Kim
View the document5. Environmental hazards in Dhaka - Saleemul Huq
View the document6. Natural and anthropogenic hazards in the Sydney sprawl: Is the city sustainable? - John Handmer
View the document7. Disaster response in London: A case of learning constrained by history and experience - Dennis J. Parker
View the document8. Lima, Peru: Underdevelopment and vulnerability to hazards in the city of the kings - Anthony Oliver-Smith
View the document9. Social vulnerability to disasters in Mexico City: An assessment method - Sergio Puente
View the document10. Natural hazards of the San Francisco Bay mega-city: Trial by earthquake, wind, and fire - Rutherford H. Platt
View the document11. There are worse things than earthquakes: Hazard vulnerability and mitigation capacity in Greater Los Angeles - Ben Wisner
View the document12. Environmental hazards and interest group coalitions: Metropolitan Miami after hurricane Andrew - William D. Solecki
View the document13. Findings and conclusions - James K. Mitchell
View the documentPostscript: The role of hazards in urban policy at the millennium - James K. Mitchell
View the documentAppendices
View the documentContributors
View the documentOther titles of interest

7. Disaster response in London: A case of learning constrained by history and experience - Dennis J. Parker

Editor's introduction

London is the oldest of the contemporary mega-cities surveyed in this book. Its longevity affords a special perspective on urban hazard because events with very low recurrence intervals show up in the record of experience and because there are correspondingly more opportunities for social learning of adjustments to a wider range of environmental extremes. Age can impart a different flavour to the assessment and management of environmental risks. One example is heightened concern about safeguarding unique historical buildings and irreplaceable art objects that are part of a city's cultural heritage. Another is the adoption of a world-weary posture of metropolitan indifference to the vicissitudes of nature, something that is often on display in the editorial pages of serious newspapers in big cities. Yet we know little about the relevance of historic hazards to contemporary society, or about the process by which it is transmitted across the generations, or about the weight that is attached to lessons of long-gone experience. Dennis Parker's analysis of contemporary hazards in London opens windows onto all of these topics.

What experience and history teach is this - that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.

(Georg Wilhelm Hegel - 1770 - 1831)


London's history as a large urban centre stretches back at least 10 centuries to the year A.D. 1000 when it was home to an estimated population of 25,000. It is a palimpsest of many urban forms, whose development has sometimes been strongly influenced by major disasters such as the Black Death, the Plague, and the Great Fire (1661) as well as the Second World War blitz (1940 - 1941). Today, this city possesses an extensive suite of natural, technological, and social hazards but it is not as intensely hazard prone as other mega-cities such as Tokyo and Los Angeles.1

1 When "city" is used in the text it generally refers to Greater London. To Londoners, "The City" refers to the ancient core of London - a municipality known by its formal title as the City of London.

In view of London's long acquaintance with hazard, its residents might be expected to have developed many successful ways of adjusting. But environmental hazards have rarely been high on the public agenda; nor have adjustments been uniformly or consistently effective. In this city, the relationship between experience, learning, and response to hazard has been complex. A social matrix of cultural, institutional, and political-economic factors has often intervened to weaken the links between experience of hazard and protective actions (Parker and Handmer, 1992a, p. 262).

Evolution and contemporary urban issues

Location and physical setting

Broadly defined, the contemporary London mega-city includes a large rectangular tract of south-east England roughly demarcated by a line from Colchester in the north-east to Milton Keynes in the north-west and Southampton in the south-west (fig. 7.1).2 The natural hazards of this region are not very obvious to the casual observer. South-east England is more or less geologically stable. Though not unknown, slope instability is rarely troublesome because the terrain is gently undulating and relative relief is usually less than 100 m. This region enjoys a mild, cool temperate climate whose most common hazards are occasional mists and fogs. Consequently, London's climate has typically been perceived as rather benign by residents and outsiders alike. That image is only partly accurate because variability is southern England's dominant climate characteristic. The region occupies a battleground between ever-changing air-masses that originate in a wide range of latitudes from the poles to the tropics. Weather extremes occur, although they are infrequent.

2 This definition of London matches the so-called "Outer Metropolitan Area" identified by planners (fig. 7.1). However, the name London has been applied to many different areas (Hall, 1989). The ancient City of London consists of 1,690 hectares within a 15 km2 zone commonly termed "Central London." This area contains one of the largest concentrations of employment in the world. Central London is surrounded by "Inner London," a region of mainly older and denser housing corresponding roughly to the built-up area that existed in 1914. In turn, Inner London is contained by "Greater London" - the area occupied by 33 London boroughs. During the 1960s, London's planners also defined an "Outer Metropolitan Area." Continued outward growth led in the 1980s to the recognition of what Hall (1989, p. 2) terms "Roseland" (Rest of South East). This is an extension of London characterized by fast growth of population and urban forms. Finally, both Hall and Warnes (1991) recognize a further zone characterized by a complex set of commuting relationships, which Hall terms the Greater South East (fig. 7.1).

Older parts of London are located in the broad and originally marshy Thames Valley (fig. 7.2). Much of the city is close to the Thames estuary, and the river is tidal up to Teddington in west London. Many riverside areas are either just below or just above high-tide level, and tidal flooding is a serious threat. Early neighbourhoods developed on gravel hill-tops and terraces adjacent to the Thames and around the mouths of its tributaries. As the city expanded, it spilled into the lower and middle reaches of tributary valleys that later provided routes for roads, railways, and canals. Catchments became heavily urbanized, greatly modifying their hydrological characteristics. By medieval times London comprised two distinct centres - Westminster and the City - joined by the Strand thoroughfare. Today it retains these twin cores, although during the twentieth century other growth centres have been added, most notably at Heathrow Airport to the west and in the rejuvenated London Docklands to the east.

Fig. 7.1. The London mega-city

Although the London urban region now contains around 13 million people, it is no longer the world's largest city. Some projections indicate that it will rank thirteenth in size by the year 2000. The extent of the slippage in international rankings depends entirely upon how London is defined, and its implications are not self-evident because at least some of the central city's population losses were deliberately imposed. Unlike most of its rivals, London has experienced almost 50 years of effective land-use planning controls, which constrained population growth inside traditional metropolitan boundaries and brought into being a "dispersed metropolis" in the region beyond.

Fig. 7.2. Locational relationships between the historic cores of London and the River Thames tidal floodplain

The role of environmental hazards in urban growth: 1100 - 1945

Environmental hazards have played an important role in London's evolution, and throughout much of the city's existence the vulnerability of individuals has been differentiated by class and wealth. Affluent classes sought to reduce their exposure by moving out of places that were naturally or socially at risk. In the process they gradually created exclusive neighbourhoods, characterized by services and amenities that did not exist in lower-class districts. Compared with later periods, relatively little is known about the hazards of medieval London but they are widely believed to have been numerous. Clout and Wood (1986) portray a society whose residents were intimately acquainted with threats to survival. Densely packed wooden buildings frequently burned down, drinking water was badly polluted, epidemics abounded, and mortality rates were high (table 7.1). In 1212 at least 3,000 died in a fire that destroyed much of the city. Despite these problems, it was not until the latter part of the seventeenth century that a community-wide disaster was recorded in detail. Then, in successive years there occurred the city's two most celebrated disasters - the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666. Only the fire is examined here.

Table 7.1 Selected historic disasters in London or affecting London, prior to 1900





Air pollution





1692 "Panic" in central London

1349 Black Death, 50% of population died

1873 270-700 k

1666 Great Fire, 13,200 p,

600 p

1880 700-1,000 k

8 k, 200,000 h




1884 Colchester earthquake

1603 Black Death, 30,000 k


1867 Ice disaster, 40 k

22 k, £2 million (1703 prices)

1625 Black Death, 40,000 k


1878 Princess Alice sinking,

1636 Black Death, 10,400 k

1892 1,000 k

630 k

1665 Great Plague, 110,000 k

1898 Albion launching, 39 k


1832 Cholera, 7,000 k


1833 Cholera, 1,500 k


1849 Cholera, 18,000 k


1854 Cholera


1861 Typhoid




600 p




k = number killed
p = properties damaged
h = number of homeless
£ million = damage estimates

The Great Fire occurred after a long hot summer had desiccated timber throughout the city. Wooden buildings provided ample fuel and narrow streets allowed flames to spread easily. Fanned by a strong east wind, sparks ignited riverside cellars and warehouses where inflammable materials were stored. Buildings were destroyed in a 1 km wide zone that stretched for 2 km along the north bank of the Thames. This amounted to about 80 per cent of the walled city area. The fire was halted only by deliberate destruction of buildings to create fire-breaks, aided by a period of calm windless weather (Reddaway, 1940). Although there were few (if any) known deaths, St. Paul's cathedral, 86 churches, and about 13,200 dwellings were destroyed. The disaster was so great that it threatened to undermine London's position as a major trading centre, and there was an accompanying but temporary breakdown of law and order. This was fed by groundless rumours that the city was about to be invaded by Dutch and French forces; the resulting evacuation propelled over 200,000 Londoners into refugee camps.

Destruction caused by the Great Fire provided a major opportunity for the redesign of London. At least seven grand redevelopment schemes were proposed, but none was adopted because merchants feared that a loss of business would occur if they waited for the urban cadastre to be remapped and for formal rebuilding to be completed (Jones et al., 1984). Instead, Parliament enacted a number of smaller schemes. These included: minimum street widths of 14 feet; regulations governing the height of buildings in relation to street width; special fire courts to resolve disputes during the rebuilding; straightening of roads; and tax or compensation programmes for landowners who gained or lost from alterations that occurred in the wake of the fire. Most important of all, the London Rebuilding Act made (fire-proof) stone and brick compulsory construction materials. Thatched roofs were also replaced with tiled ones.

The fire helped to alter the city's social fabric. Many wealthy residents moved to new planned accommodation in what is now the West End. This was partly to escape the fire's devastation, but also to avoid the congestion and perceived social evils of the City and port areas in the East End (fig. 7.2). These migrations tended to segregate rich and poor. None the less, the entire urban area continued to expand, especially as new bridges linked the old city to neighbourhoods on the marshy south bank of the Thames (Clout and Wood, 1986). Other fires also affected much of London. Between 1666 and 1839 at least 57 multiple house fires are known to have occurred. Some parts of the city that were repeatedly and disproportionately affected include Wapping, Limehouse, Shadwell, and Stepney (Jones et al., 1984).

Fig. 7.3. London's population trends, 1500-1992 (Note: Estimated population within Greater London area)

By the time of the first official population census (1801), London's population had risen to 1,117,000 (fig. 7.3). The city's accelerating growth was tied to Britain's emergence as a colonial trading nation. Shipping of goods through London's port increased greatly in the late eighteenth century, thereby creating demands for new enclosed docks, which were subsequently built in the early 1800s (fig. 7.2). The docks - and the opportunities for casual labour that they provided - formed the basis for an East End society that was generally characterized by insecure employment, poverty, inadequate housing, and disease. Poor and persecuted Jewish, Huguenot, and Irish immigrants who arrived in search of employment added to the disaster vulnerability of East End neighbourhoods because they lacked either the material resources with which to cushion themselves against disaster or the political power with which to call upon leaders for supplemental relief.

At the height of the British Empire, Victorian London (1837 - 1901) was "the most commanding concentration of people, trade, industry and administration to be found anywhere on the globe," a "supreme assembly of wealth, fashion and political and economic power" (Clout and Wood, 1986). It was also the scene of many hardships; deprivation, poverty, pollution, and disease were critical problems for working-class Londoners. Cholera epidemics regularly killed thousands (table 7.1). An official inquiry in 1842 established links between squalor and disease, but there was little official response until the end of the 1850s, when Dr. John Snow demonstrated a correlation between cholera and polluted drinking water in the Soho district of London. After this date, a series of ultimately successful measures gathered momentum. Abstraction of water from tidal portions of the Thames was banned. Intercepting sewers were constructed to capture effluent that flowed into the river and its tributaries, diverting it to outfalls well downstream to the east of London.

Air pollution was a persistent London hazard from the thirteenth century onwards. Pollution episodes were closely linked to trends in urban and industrial development as well as to variations in climate. Attempts to alleviate the problem met with varying degrees of success and it remained a major contributory cause of death and disease amongst Londoners, especially in the nineteenth century (tables 7.1 and 7.2). Aerial bombardment during the Second World War was the most recent large disaster to affect London. Damage was sustained during two periods: the blitz, which occurred mainly between September 1940 and the summer of 1941, and the flying bomb (V-1 and V-2) attacks, which reached a climax towards the end of the war. The impact on London was profound and comparable to that of a great earthquake. About 30,000 residents were killed and a further 50,000 were seriously injured. Most attacks concentrated on the City of London, where about 40 ha of buildings were almost completely destroyed, and upon the commercial port areas. Working-class residents of tightly packed housing near the East End docks were particularly affected and far more bombs struck there than elsewhere in London (fig. 7.4). The docks never really recovered from this damage and their extinction was sealed by technological changes in shipping that began during the 1960s. Thereafter, the use of bigger ships and containerization shifted port activities downstream away from the immediate vicinity of London.

Urbanization and hazards since the Second World War

Since the end of the Second World War, the hazard potential of London has been strongly - if indirectly - affected by public policies that were aimed at limiting the city's size, controlling the distribution of industry, and revitalizing decayed inner areas.

Limiting growth by means of a green belt

After 1940, the containment of London within a green belt of statutorily protected open-space land became a major public goal. The susceptibility of London's massed population to aerial bombardment during wartime provided a special stimulus to a broad-based clamour for restrictions on the city's growth. In addition, official pronouncements emphasized the declining quality of urban life in a sprawling city without adequate services and the difficulties of preserving rapidly disappearing countryside. London was portrayed as choking on traffic and suffering the "waste" of daily commuting, while many Londoners continued to live in cramped and aged housing. These arguments became the basis for creating the influential Royal Commission on the Geographical Distribution of the Industrial Population in 1940 (Wise, 1962).

Table 7.2 Notable hazard events in the London region, after 1900

Tidal flood

Non-tidal flood




Air pollution

Terrorist/terrorist related


1928a 14,000



1987 10 k, £1.5 billion

1931 North Sea epicentre

1948 300 k

1973-94 41 k

1908 Woolwich explosion, 16 k

ev, 14 k

1947 Lea and Thames


1952 4,000 k

1991 Stock Exchange

1953 13,000 ev, c. 100 k


1990 20 k

1956 480 k

1917 Silvertown explosion, 82 k

1968 Mole, Wey, Lea 15,000 p


1957 340-700 k

1991 Downing Street


1986 Chernobyl

1940-45 Blitz, 30,000 k

1975 Hampstead, £1 million


1994 155 k

1991 Liverpool Street, 6,700 ev

1975 Moorgate Underground, 31 k

1977 NW London

1992 St Mary Axe/Baltic Exchange, £1.5 billion

1980 Fire/explosion at chemical works, Barking, 10,000 ev



1987 Waltham Abbey

1981 Brixton riot

1993 Bishopsgate

1985 Tottenham riot

1992 Silk Stream

1987 King's Cross Underground fire, 31 k

1992 Lewisham

1993 Thornwood

1989 Rail crash, Clapham, 35 k

1989 Marchioness sinking, 56 k

1992 Power failure on Underground, 100,000 ev

1992 West End riot, £3 million

a. Also a non-tidal flood.
k = number killed
ev = evacuated
p = properties damaged
£1 million/billion = damage estimate

Fig. 7.4. The distribution of houses demolished in the blitz in Greater London, 1939-1945

Immediate temporary measures were taken throughout the Second World War to evacuate large numbers of Londoners to outlying towns. This expedient served to break established patterns of urban life and opened the way for post-war voluntary migrations to the outer suburbs (Wise, 1962). Between 1942 and 1944, Sir Patrick Abercrombie's plan for London's post-war development was prepared. This envisaged a mass regrouping of population in a surrounding ring of new or enlarged towns, each with their own workplaces. Inner areas that lost population to these towns would be redeveloped and enhanced. Vulnerability to external attack would be reduced by dispersing population over a wider area.

In 1947 the Town and Country Planning Act in effect nationalized development rights and placed them in the hands of County Planning Authorities, which were empowered to stop development. A "green belt" was established around London to halt the city's growth (fig. 7.1). New and enlarged towns were created (fig. 7.5). Many Londoners relocated to towns beyond the green belt, allowing blitzed and blighted areas in London to be progressively redeveloped.

Fig. 7.5. New towns and growth zones in post-1940 London region

These and other actions taken in support of the Abercrombie plan effectively halted London's physical sprawl but they failed to halt the growth of employment in London. In the 1950s much of the nation's population growth occurred in a ring of communities about 25 - 55 km from the centre of London, beyond the green belt. Like their wealthy ancestors, and aided by greater mobility, middle-class Londoners found that they could escape urban congestion and live in satellite towns or in the countryside. By the 1960s the highest rates of housing and population growth were 55 - 110 km from the city centre. A decade later, the fringes of the expanding mega-city were already pushing out of the traditional London region into parts of East Anglia, the south central coast, and the Midlands.

The London green belt's effect on quality of life and exposure to hazards has been complex. The city's centripetal growth, itself hastened by green belt policy, has partly alleviated the build-up of further environmental hazards in the metropolis by reducing concentrations of people and investments at risk. Conversely, and at the same time, there has been an intensification of environmental problems beyond the green belt, including encroachment of development onto exurban floodplains. In other words, many of the outer suburban environmental problems of the 1990s have been exacerbated by the process of London's decentralization. Traffic congestion, loss of open space, poor air quality, and flood hazards are now significant issues in the zone 55 - 110 km out of central London.

Since 1961 the population of Greater London (i.e. the central city and its inner suburbs) has stopped growing and gone into decline. The population of Greater London declined from 7.8 million in 1966 to 7.0 million in 1991, whereas the population of the Outer Metropolitan Area rose from 5.1 million to 7.4 million over the same period (Hall, 1989, p. 43). Recently there have been signs of population revival in the city's central precincts (Champion, 1987). It was recognized that the overall population of the South-East and the London mega-city would continue to grow, while the population of Greater London was expected to stabilize. In a move that had profound consequences for the London region, the 1970 Strategic Plan for the South East sought to channel investment and population into five major growth areas and seven smaller ones. The intent was to replace a unicentric region focused on London with a polycentric one that includes many other urban nodes. During the 1980s and 1990s population growth was largest in the outer fringes of the mega-city. London now resembles a fragmented urban region similar to that de scribed by Gottmann (1961). Places such as Crawley - Gatwick and the "Western Corridor" to Reading are functionally, if not administratively, a part of London (fig. 7.5), and other UK metropolitan areas are interconnected with London in a progressively more complex web of interdependence.

London and regional balance

London's growth has been affected by Britain's industrial location policy. In the early 1940s it was believed that the London region drained away jobs and industries that might otherwise have supported strong urban centres elsewhere in the country. At the same time, North-East England and other declining industrial regions were losing population and investment. This analysis led to the creation of a system of national control over the location of manufacturing industry. Since then, policies for diverting employment to other regions have waxed and waned. Labour Party governments (which have drawn support disproportionately from old industrial communities in the North of England) have typically called for the rejuvenation of lagging peripheral regions, whereas Conservative Party governments have tended to accept or welcome the dominance of London. In any event, most industrial location policies appear to have been ineffectual. For example, Hall (1989) notes that firms that were given development certificates to relocate outside of London were not required to invest in the lagging industrial regions. As a result, many "high-tech" electronics companies merely set up shop in the so-called "Western Crescent" just beyond London's green belt (fig. 7.5).

A new departure in industrial location policy occurred in the 1990s when the UK government designated the middle Lea valley of north London as an area that will receive selective funding for employment and training initiatives (Government Office for London, 1994). For the first time, the London area's severe structural problems of industrial decline and high unemployment were recognized. More recently, the European Union has designated the lower and middle Lea valley, and adjacent parts of the East End and Docklands, as areas eligible to receive funds for purposes of economic regeneration. As argued herein, there is a relationship between industrial redevelopment policy and the growth of hazard potential, but rarely, in modern Britain, is the relationship explored or taken into consideration. This is well illustrated by the case of the Docklands redevelopment scheme.

Urban regeneration and Docklands redevelopment

Planned decentralization left behind many of the working-class poor in old and decaying residential and industrial areas of central London. During the 1960s the problems of these areas attracted growing attention. The Inner Urban Areas Act of 1978 set up special partnership authorities for deprived areas such as Hackney, Islington, and Docklands. Participants included borough councils, various central government ministries, and agencies responsible for employment training. The aim was to foster economic regeneration and to coordinate policies for transport, housing, education, community, health, and environmental improvements. During Margaret Thatcher's Conservative political revolution (1979 - 1990) the concept of strategic planning was abandoned and in 1986 the Greater London Council, the mega-city's governing body since 1965, was abolished. Henceforth the forces of commercial enterprise were free to shape London's future. Urban enterprise zones were created and urban development corporations were set up to make the necessary public investments that would bring private capital to inner-city areas.

The redevelopment of an important part of London's derelict inner docks is the most spectacular example of free market urban regeneration in London (fig. 7.2). The project was begun by the Conservative government soon after the election of 1979. A London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was created to slice through bureaucracy and create a separate "city" within London. Using unprecedented powers, the LDDC welcomed private developers to the Docklands enterprise zone. By mid-1986, £279 million of public funds had been invested to attract six times that amount in private capital, much of it for the construction of office space. Some 400 new companies and over 8,000 new jobs appeared in the area, together with sites for thousands of new homes (Hall, 1993). The Docklands initiative has generated fierce controversy. One debate concerns the way in which existing working-class communities were bulldozed and replaced by "Yuppie" neighbourhoods whose housing was unaffordable and whose jobs were unobtainable by the original inhabitants (Coupland, 1992). Another controversy surrounds the style of development, which has been criticized as lacking variety and a human scale (Hall, 1989). The enormous Canary Wharf tower in the heart of Docklands attracted much criticism because of both its visibility and its chequered investment history. Construction began in the mid-1980s during a period of rapid economic growth and prosperity, when there was an acute shortage of office space in London's central business district. By the early 1990s demand for office space had slumped, little of the 4.4 million sq. feet of floor space had been leased, and the original investors went into bankruptcy. Taken over by its banking creditors, the project languished for several years and has only recently been re acquired by private investors (New York Times, 3 October 1995).

Docklands is one reflection of a private property boom that occurred throughout much of London during the second half of the 1980s. This was aided by the deregulation of British financial services in 1986 and has been coupled with an unexpected recovery of population growth in central London (Champion, 1987). Yet there has been no strategic planning for any of this redevelopment that would, for example, consider the impacts of new construction on traffic congestion and pollution or the potential for increased exposure to other environmental hazards such as flooding.

Vulnerability and resilience in a premier global banking and finance centre

London is the premier global centre for international banking and financial services. About 800,000 people are employed in these services throughout the metropolitan area, 300,000 of them in the City (the financial business district). London leads all other places in foreign exchange turnover, the issuance and trading of international bonds, and the trading of overseas equities. Over 43 per cent of the world's currency trading is centred in the mega-city. It is also where the world gold price is fixed daily. In all matters of financial transactions London competes for the supreme world leadership position with New York and Tokyo. Herein the city's position at the hub of a global air transportation system is an undoubted advantage.

London's accession to a high position in the world's economic system has changed the mix and magnitude of environmental hazards to which it is exposed. On the one hand, the financial businesses located in London are to a large degree insulated from fluctuations in an often volatile domestic British economy; risks of labour unrest, government regulatory pressures, and the consequences of business failures are now diluted because investments are spread across many countries. On the other hand, London is a major insurance and reinsurance centre, and insurance investors are now exposed to risks of natural disasters and other crises elsewhere in the world. By itself this is not necessarily a disadvantage if insurance risks are correctly assessed and internalized in the system of premiums that policy holders pay for coverage. But the rising scale of disaster insurance losses during the past decade suggests that these risks are not accurately assessed. For example, the losses of the 1980s were three times higher than those in the 1960s (Downing et al., 1993). Recent research indicates that perceptions of natural risks in London vary widely among insurance firms and that - for some perils - premiums bear little relation to the physical risks (Doornkamp, 1995). Worse may yet be in store. During the 1980s the world's business community was startled by predictions that a large earthquake in Tokyo could precipitate a collapse of the global economic system (Lewis, 1989). This would have particularly grave repercussions for London.

Finally, London's dominant position in global banking and finance may perversely increase the possibility of intentionally created disasters. For example, financial institutions and the transportation system that serves their workers have become targets for groups that seek to attract the attention of the mass media and force changes in public policy. During the 1990s the Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a number of major bombings that devastated parts of the City (see below). The IRA is only one of a number of terrorist organizations that are known to have targeted London. One effect of terrorist bombings on the City has been a dramatic increase in local property insurance premiums - a further component of rising disaster losses.

Income inequality and social polarization

Since the 1970s London has experienced a marked growth of income inequality and social polarization. Not only have the better-off grown more wealthy but the worse-off have grown poorer. The lowest-income groups suffered a drop in levels of living during the 1980s that was even more marked than similar trends in New York and other developed mega-cities (Logan et al., 1992, pp. 131 - 132). Racial and ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected by these trends because they are heavily concentrated in London, particularly in the inner city. In 1982, Greater London was home to 49 per cent of Britain's West Indians and 34 per cent of its Asians (including 66 per cent of Bangladeshis). In 1987, unemployment amongst Greater London's ethnic minorities was 16 per cent, compared with 9 per cent for the majority population. Because the value of state unemployment benefits and other social support programmes has declined relative to income during recent years, higher unemployment rates almost certainly translate into worsening relative deprivation. Female-headed households have been particularly disadvantaged.

Socio-economic disadvantage is concentrated in three adjacent inner-city boroughs: Islington, Hackney, and Tower Hamlets. These areas have high levels of overcrowding, predominantly rental housing, lack of access to cars, and severe unemployment. They are all experiencing gentrification, which sharpens income gaps between rich and poor. Other boroughs such as Lambeth/Brixton and Newham (which coincides with the East End) also have high levels of deprivation (fig. 7.2). The re-emergence of beggars and large numbers of homeless people, many of them the young unemployed, is the most obvious sign of spreading destitution in London. There are about 3,000 officially designated "street homeless" and a further 30,000 unofficial homeless households that are none the less provided some public support. In addition, about 70,000 single people, childless couples, and others who are functionally homeless are not re cognized or served by local authorities (Brownhill and Sharp, 1992).

Housing is a particular problem. Poor tenants become trapped in public housing and unable to afford private sector alternatives. The concentration in London of multinational financial corporations has led to an increase in demand for luxury housing and large-scale investment in "up-market" homes. New clusters of offices and high-income housing occupy sites adjacent to working-class neighbourhoods characterized by high-rise, high-density public housing (Harloe et al., 1992). Income inequality and social polarization are inextricably linked to London's changing market for labour. The metropolitan area has experienced a major shift from jobs in manufacturing and goods-handling to jobs in finance and producer services. This has benefited educationally qualified white workers of both sexes at the expense of men from established working-class communities (Gordon and Sassen, 1992). However, there has also been a growth of low-wage service jobs requiring few qualifications linked to an increase in flexible jobs within a growing informal sector.

Hazards and urbanization: A summary overview

In London over the past 50 years the process of urbanization has been subtly but significantly bound up with the creation and alleviation of environmental hazards. These links were especially clear during the 1940s, when hazard reduction was an explicit element of policies mainly intended to dilute a high-density city. Since then, the locus of hazard potential has moved progressively outwards, with intense growth of hazard potential along certain axes, notably the "Western Corridor." Today, the mega-city as a whole is probably more resilient to environmental risks and hazards, but many inner neighbourhoods and other areas are significantly more vulnerable to loss.

Urban issues - Outlook for the future

It is clear that a number of factors are likely to play important roles in shaping twenty-first-century London. These include: London's role in the global economy; the nature of metropolitan government; the choice of public management philosophies that guide government actions; strategies to resolve a continuing transportation crisis; and the success of measures that may be adopted to cope with burgeoning crises in the city's health-care delivery system, rising crime rates, and declining environmental quality.

London's position as a leading international city

Britain's role in an increasingly interconnected global economy will have a major influence on London's future, including propensities toward increased environmental hazards. The need for maintaining international competitiveness is continuously debated by leaders of government and industry. Although London's share of international banking has declined and Tokyo's has increased, the UK government and the Corporation of London remain committed to ensuring that London retains legal and institutional arrangements that are highly favourable to international financial dealings. These should lead to a continuation of existing pressures for urban expansion.

Britain's role in Europe will also affect London's development. To the extent that the United Kingdom plays a leading role in pan-European economic and political initiatives, London will attract additional investments from mainland countries. A Conservative Party government took Britain into the European Economic Community, but recent Conservative governments have been hesitant to embrace further initiatives, such as the European Monetary Union and the Maastricht Treaty, that would integrate Britain's economy and society more closely with those of its continental neighbours. Both of Britain's leading political parties have repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to European integration, but strong Eurosceptic groups continue to exist within Britain. Since the accession to power of the Labour Party government in 1997, prospects for a strong commitment in support of European union have probably increased.

London's government

The question of how best to govern the London mega-city has been raised in various guises during the past century. London was the first large city to create an integrated metropolitan government. It did so in 1889 when the London County Council (LCC) assumed responsibility for governing what is now termed Inner London (Bennett, 1991). As the city grew, this body was succeeded by the larger Greater London Council, which continued in place until its abolition in 1986. With the end of metropolitan-wide government, London temporarily lost one opportunity for implementing broad policies for hazard reduction. However, the central (UK) government has had to re-create institutions that oversee at least some of the functions of metropolitan government. During 1993, the work of four departments of state was merged into a single regional office for London supervised by a Cabinet committee and run by a civil servant of deputy secretary rank. Significant numbers of civil servants within this new Government Office for London and the associated Department of the Environment are now involved in metropolitan-wide issues. A debate about whether to resuscitate a formal metropolitan government continues at least in academic circles (Bennett, 1991; Hebbert, 1992) and may re-emerge on the political stage in the future.

Public management philosophy

Margaret Thatcher's governmental reforms initiated a series of fundamental institutional and economic changes that have affected London's vulnerability to disaster. Successive Conservative governments have pursued monetarist economic policies that have focused on controlling inflation and "returning" state-run businesses to the private sector. Hood and Jackson (1992) refer to a "new public management" era, which is characterized by strong emphasis on cost-cutting and financial discipline rather than public investment. In the process, London's public services (transport, sewers, housing stock) have been run down. The consequences of poor maintenance and underinvestment were highlighted during a public inquiry that followed the November 1987 fire in King's Cross underground station, which killed 30 people and injured 50 (Department of Transport, 1988). A trend towards establishing "profit-making" units within public sector agencies such as the National Rivers Authority (NRA), the Home Office, and the Metropolitan Police Service is particularly worrying for hazards researchers because these units have important responsibilities for safety and hazard management. Privatization often causes breakdowns of existing cooperative relations among public agencies. There is also a strong preference for public policies that encourage deregulation, "light" regulation, and self-regulation. Some analysts argue that, as a result, the capacities of regulating and inspecting agencies have failed to keep pace with the growth of vulnerability to the full range of hazards (Horlick-Jones, 1990). In other words, it is argued that new public management initiatives may well have increased London's vulnerability to disasters, especially those of a hybrid type.

London's transport crisis

The most widely experienced public crisis that faces London today - and the one that may continue to head the list in the foreseeable future - is inadequate transportation. There is a high propensity for congestion, shut-down, and large-scale accidents. There are also strong causal linkages between London's growing dependence upon motor vehicles and its worsening air pollution hazard, including the risks of global climate change. Much of Greater London is unsuited to motor vehicles because - unlike Los Angeles and other recently established fast-growing cities - it was constructed in an era of horse-drawn transportation. London's overground and underground rail systems were also developed at a time when it made sense that most lines should converge on the central city. They are not now well suited to the contemporary decentralized mega-city. A large part of the transport system is old and prone to breakdown. Additional problems include: major gaps in the rail and highway networks, poor integration among different kinds of transportation, very high fares, and underinvestment in capital facilities and rolling stock. Much of the entire transportation system operates at or above capacity for relatively long periods. This makes London more vulnerable to disruption from accidents and bad weather. The annual costs to workers and businesses of road traffic congestion in South-East England probably exceed £10 billion. There are about 38,000 road accident victims in London per annum, including over 500 killed (1991 figures). During the 1980s, public inquiries were held into a series of transportation-related disasters, including train accidents and fires in underground stations. Environmental costs are also substantial. Congestion encourages many drivers to leave the highways and take short cuts through residential streets that are ill suited to that use. Although levels of lead in the atmosphere have been reduced, other forms of air pollution and traffic noise have been increasing.

Transportation remains a major public issue, although improvements have been made and more are contemplated. For example, there are proposals to curb the use of private cars, possibly by levying charges for road use. The city can also look forward to continuing calls for greater investment in public transport and the adoption of bicycle-friendly and pedestrian-friendly urban policies. Shifts in central government policy on transport are now detectable. These are apparently driven by the beginnings of recognition that there is a link between road traffic generation and air-quality hazards as well as other forms of environmental damage. During 1994, central government issued policy guidance advising local planning authorities to reduce vehicle trips by means of development controls.

An inner-city health crisis?

There is substantial concern about the future of London's hospitals and ambulance system. These problems are worst in central London, where population has been declining and its composition has been changing. The previous national (Conservative Party) government maintained that there are too many hospitals in the inner city and it restricted hospital operating budgets, postponed capital investments, and sought to close some emergency departments (e.g. St. Bartholomew's). These measures have affected the ability of hospitals to respond to medical emergencies in the central city and may have affected general standards of health in central neighbourhoods. London's emergency services are also hampered by poor labour relations between staff and administrators and by inadequate communications and control systems. For example, ambulance emergency response times are slow: only about 65 per cent of London's ambulances arrive to pick up passengers within the targeted 10 minute response period.

Livability and crime

Many residents express growing disillusionment with the quality of life in London, especially inner areas. This is reflected in a host of problems, including: old infrastructure, visible congestion, poor public transport, noise and pollution, inadequate local authority maintenance of dwellings, and high costs of living. Social polarization and the growth of an urban "underclass" add to this gloomy picture. Street begging, homelessness, and race riots (in 1981 and 1985) are also on the increase. Because of the perceived deterioration in the quality of life, 50 per cent of Londoners have considered moving out of the capital; others have already left, thereby contributing to inner-city decline (Appleyard, 1993). Recorded crime is on the rise in London. Areas of highest risk generally coincide with the most economically and socially deprived parts of inner London, notably the boroughs of Hackney, Newham, Lambeth, and Southwark. In parts of inner London, women are particularly severely affected by the threat of street violence and are in effect under curfew.

One of the central questions that will face London policy makers during the next two decades is whether levels of public disenchantment can be reduced. If disenchantment grows, investments may shift to other regions of Britain. There is now growing interest in the subject of designing defensible spaces for purposes of crime reduction (Coleman, 1985). If implemented, defensible space policies might herald a return to traditional kinds of street design and other urban forms from an earlier London.

Urban sustainability

The concept of urban sustainability implies that city leaders and city residents are committed to long-term planning horizons. London has a long history of pioneering urban design, including the Garden City ideas of Ebenezer Howard, that found practical expression in the city's green belt. By this means urban form was modified, countryside was safeguarded and low-density urban development was encouraged. The main negative features of these policies have been increased hazard potential in outer London neighbourhoods and the energy inefficiencies of large-scale commuting. Today the city is decentralized - a settlement pattern that is not currently favoured by the European Commission, which prefers high-density, mixed-use, compact urban centres (Breheny and Rookwood, 1993).

An eastward shift in the locus of hazard potential

The spatial context of London is likely to change markedly over the next two decades in relation to the rest of Europe and the rest of the United Kingdom. This may well shift the locus of hazard potential in London from the west to the east and south-east. With the opening of a submarine rail tunnel between England and France in 1995, Britain ceased to be an island, and the accessibility of London was dramatically changed. Rail service now brings the centres of London, Paris, and Brussels within two and a half hours of each other. Despite fierce competition from shipping and air services, the Channel Tunnel rail link is likely to become the main gateway for Britons seeking to do business in Western Europe, and communities along the route from London to the Kent coast are likely to receive additional investments from British-based companies that hope to penetrate the continental market and from mainland-based companies that hope to increase trade with the United Kingdom. As a result there will probably be an increase in exposure to environmental hazards on the southern and eastern fringes of London as new developments flow into this region. The magnitude of the shift depends upon how successfully London will be able to compete with other cities as the economic heart of Europe is dragged eastwards towards Germany and the emerging economies of Eastern Europe. It also depends upon precisely where new peri-London developments will be permitted to locate.

Accelerating development of the East Thames Corridor (fig. 7.5) may be one important outcome of these pressures. The lower Thames, with its extensive docks, used to be the economic powerhouse of London. It lost that position during the post-war years, when new industries were increasingly drawn west of the city along the middle Thames Valley (fig. 7.5). Now these districts are experiencing serious problems, such as overloaded transportation systems and encroachment of building into environmentally sensitive areas - including the Thames floodplain. At the same time, depressed communities on the east side of London cry out for regeneration.

There are clear signs that the economic core of London has started to shift eastwards. Some industries have already moved production into eastern locations. During the 1980s, for example, newspaper companies largely abandoned Fleet Street and moved printing and distribution functions east to more spacious quarters. Central government has also begun to encourage the development of the East Thames Corridor, and plans exist to establish a major new "Euro-city" at Ebbsfleet (fig. 7.6). East London has witnessed large new distribution and retail developments encouraged by the completion of the eastern sections of the M25 superhighway. The advent of jet air services at the newly expanded London City Airport has given east London a further boost. The government's vision is of a revitalized growth zone with a series of environmental enhancements that will pull London's centre of economic gravity south-east towards continental Europe (Department of the Environment, 1993a). Unfortunately, many of the prime development sites are in areas prone to tidal flooding, and an eastward movement of investment could well lead to significantly increased flood exposure, similar to that which occurred when London expanded west (fig. 7.6).

Fig. 7.6. Prime development sites in the East Thames corridor

Table 7.3 Three categories of hazard affecting the London mega-city





Air pollution



Hazardous waste






Nuclear accident




Public disorder

Rising sea levels

Industrial hazards

Child poverty



Global warming

Environmental hazards

A representative but incomplete list of London's major environmental hazards is provided in table 7.3. It includes a wide selection of extreme events or processes. Before considering these hazards in greater detail, it is important to take note of three factors that have broadly influenced the city's hazard-management system. First is a tendency toward public reticence about the existence or seriousness of environmental hazard. Second is the vulnerability of an increasingly complex urban infrastructure to short-term disruptions. Third is the difference in post-disaster recovery rates between rich and poor communities.

Factors influencing London's hazard-management system

Public information and attitudes about hazards

The tendency of many Britons to regard the ambient physical environment as benign has already been noted above. In combination with typical mass media reporting of disasters as "foreign news," this attitude has a dampening effect on levels of awareness and concern about domestic hazards. However, concern about different phenomena also varies widely as a consequence of information availability and information biases. Historically, British government agencies have not encouraged high levels of hazard awareness among the country's residents and have been wary of releasing public information about hazards.3 Several reasons explain this stance. Officials are sometimes concerned about the economic impacts of releasing inaccurate information; thus, the dimensions of flood-hazard zones are often not publicized because survey information is lacking or incomplete. Defensiveness about the limitations of public policy responses is also evident. One example is the reluctance of London officials to admit that the costly and much-touted Thames Tidal Flood Barrier does not eliminate all significant risks of catastrophic flooding. There is also a widespread perception among civil servants and other public officials that laypeople will be needlessly alarmed by information about risks and will call for unnecessary hazard-mitigation efforts. A highly politicized discourse about nuclear radiation risks is rife with governmental accusations about irresponsible behaviour on the part of environmental pressure groups. Industrial leaders and managers, too, are usually reluctant to disclose risks, and often cloak them with arguments about the need for confidentiality in respect to commercial secrets. Conversely, well-timed releases of information about risks have sometimes been used to further partisan agendas of government, industry, and environmental groups.

3 It remains very difficult for the public to obtain information about many types of hazard, especially nuclear radiation and on-site emergency plans for responding to industrial accidents. Gould (1990) relates how government agencies fought a stubborn rearguard action over more than 30 years to restrict information about radiation risks in one British community. The seriousness of an initial graphite reactor fire at Windscale in 1957 was not revealed for three days and additional details were not published until the late 1980s because the facts were considered to be too sensitive. Windscale was subsequently renamed Sellafield in an attempt to reduce the public visibility of the disaster.

When hazard information is available, the role of the mass media often becomes crucial. Sometimes, they have been a pivotal force for change, as in the case of London's smog-control legislation of the 1950s. Mounting media publicity provided much of the ammunition that was used by the National Society for Clean Air to force a reluctant government to investigate air pollution. Conversely, reporting of hazards and disasters in London may sometimes be misleading. During October 1994 the risk of disease being spread in London by visitors returning from plague-ravaged communities of India was much exaggerated in media reports. Usually, the level of reporting of hazard is mismatched with the seriousness of actual threats. Severe localized flooding occurs frequently throughout Greater London but receives remarkably little media attention; the aggregate social costs of the city's road accidents are also significantly underreported.

Despite a history of relative neglect by government and some distortion by the mass media, the role of public information about hazards is undergoing changes in contemporary London. One of these is a consequence of Britain's membership in the European Union (EU). In response to various experiences with unprecedented industrial disasters, the EU's so-called "Seveso Directive" requires governments to publicize information about certain industrial risks and hazards (De Marchi et al., 1996). The trend towards increased use of hazards information is also fed by growing use of detection and warning systems. Precautions taken in response to IRA bombing campaigns in London have been an obvious example. These are reinforced by police pronouncements about the need for public vigilance in a city that is increasingly concerned about rising rates of conventional crime. Public warnings about poor air quality, severe weather, and sunburn have also become more common in London. In summary, throughout the city and the United Kingdom, there is a growing belief that laypeople should be made more aware of environmental hazards.

Vulnerability of urban infrastructure

The degree of disruption caused by an extreme event depends among other things upon: its magnitude, timing, and location; types of activities affected; and the existence of feasible contingency plans. In a complex city such as London, the number of potential disruption scenarios is huge. However, it is possible to make several generalizations. Foremost among these is the fact that London's infrastructure is highly vulnerable to costly, short-term disruptions as a result of even mild environmental hazards such as light snowfalls and falling leaves, as well as more serious threats such as high winds and terrorist bombs. The city's various transportation systems are particularly susceptible to disruption. Although, in theory, they are characterized by a high degree of transferability (i.e. many alternative routes can be used if some are blocked), roads and railways tend to operate at capacity during commuting times, thereby reducing the availability of alternatives (Parker et al., 1987).

London's underground rail system is exposed to several types of risk. A major tidal flood could seriously affect many kilometres of track and about one-sixth of the city's underground stations. The probability of this is judged to be very low because it would require an extreme event that exceeded the design standard of London's tidal flood defences. Other types of underground disruption are more common. For example, during 1993 the Central underground line suffered several days of catastrophic electrical power failures that stemmed from a variety of different causes. These closed the entire system and many passengers were trapped in stalled trains with limited ventilation. Fortunately, the thousands of casualties that were expected failed to materialize.

Improved contingency planning does not necessarily prevent infrastructure disruption, but it has reduced the effects and improved the overall survivability of London's businesses during disasters. This was well illustrated by the impact of a terrorist bomb in the City's Bishopsgate district in 1993. Although a large part of the neighbourhood was devastated, damage to financial institutions was limited because contingency plans had been developed both before and after previous bombings. Firms were able to transfer many activities elsewhere and specialist disaster recovery firms were on hand immediately after the blast. The rise of disaster contingency planning in the private sector is now contributing substantially to reducing disaster-vulnerability. Also, memories of how Londoners coped during the Second World War blitz have provided models for coping that have been emulated by people caught up in today's disasters. This was evident in a "business-as-usual" approach among many Londoners in recent IRA bombings.

Differential rates of post-disaster recovery

The pace of post-disaster recovery is mainly a function of three factors: magnitude of damage; opportunities for change created by disaster; and recovery priorities. At the end of the Second World War, these factors conspired to slow the pace of recovery from bombing destruction. Many working-class communities had been so devastated that they never fully recovered. In addition, planners and city officials perceived an opportunity to reduce inner-city densities by regrouping population in other parts of the metropolitan region. Because so many homes had been destroyed, priority was given to rebuilding houses in satellite towns; public services received less investment. In the city centre, only one new public building had been constructed even six years after the war and it was not until the 1960s that new inner-city housing and services were once again being provided in significant numbers. The pace of business recovery was similarly slow. Although reconstruction was being discussed in 1941, a plan for replacing the City's financial institutions was not approved until July 1947. Currency trading ceased in the City during the war, and the foreign exchange markets were not reopened until 1951. Indeed, a boom in post-war reconstruction did not really develop until the 1980s and early 1990s. It was only then that the last prefabricated (temporary) house was consigned to the Imperial War Museum, the derelict docks were cleared away, and large-scale investments flooded into London's financial district.

Unlike the past, the pace of recovery from more recent disasters has been dictated by two major variables: the speed with which utility services have been restored; and the workings of the private insurance industry. After the record windstorm of 15 October 1987, London's economic and social recovery was comparatively rapid, although it will take many decades for damaged woodlands to grow back (Mitchell et al., 1989). There was widespread, mainly minor, damage to buildings but most were quickly repaired using funds from insurance reimbursements. Within 72 hours most roads blocked by fallen trees had been cleared. There was an orderly and rapid restoration of power to many areas within 9 hours, except where local distribution lines had been lost. Ten days after the storm, about 50,000 (mainly exurban) consumers in the London region were still without electricity.

The role of insurance is increasingly important. Because there is now a relatively high level of private disaster insurance in the South-East of England, post-disaster recovery tends to take place quite rapidly. Although temporary shortages of some building materials, and competition for repairers, slowed recovery from extensive flooding in the Thames Valley in January 1991, this relatively affluent area bounced back rapidly and completely. In less affluent areas of London it is clear that the pace of post-disaster recovery is affected by several income-related factors: a relative lack of insurance; limitations on insurance policies that prevent "new for old" replacement of damaged property; and the extent of victims' alternative financial reserves (Tunstall and Bossman-Aggrey, 1988). As a general rule, recovery tends to be slowest in low-income areas where victims are either underinsured or uninsured. To a significant extent the preceding generalizations hold for all parts of London and all hazards. However, the trends that are affecting different hazards and different components of the same hazard (i.e. risk, exposure, vulnerability, response) are complex and require further elaboration. They are first examined separately for each hazard and then summarized in totality.

Natural hazards

Tidal flooding

London is the chief European city at risk of tidal flooding, and this has long been the city's most serious natural or quasi-natural hazard. Key government buildings at Westminster, the seat of British government, are among many thousands of structures threatened with inundation. Exceptional tides have caused deaths and/or substantial damage throughout the centuries, most recently during 1928, 1947, and 1953. In February 1953, the Thames came within a few millimetres of overtopping the flood defences of the Houses of Parliament. On this occasion, much of east coast Britain was severely flooded, causing approximately £1,000 million (c. US$ 1.5 billion) property damage at 1993 prices. Over 300 people died, about 100 of them in the Thames estuary. This flood also caused major property damage in London, and 13,000 people were evacuated (Summers, 1978).

Fig. 7.7. Increasing high-water levels at London Bridge (Source: after Gilbert and Horner, 1984)

The risk of tidal flooding is increasing mainly because mean sea level is rising in this part of England. Here regional sea level is rising at about 0.36 m per century, but the rate of rise is much faster in some places (e.g. 0.8 m per century at London Bridge). High-water levels are rising even faster than sea level (fig. 7.7); twice in 1978 the Thames reached levels similar to those of the highly unusual catastrophic floods of 1928. Several factors are responsible for these trends. They include geological processes, global warming, and human modifications of the hydrological system. For example, south-east England is gradually sinking to compensate for the continuing isostatic rise of northern Britain that began with the departure of Pleistocene glaciers; subsidence is also occurring in areas of excessive groundwater extraction. In addition, sea levels are thought to be rising because global warming is slowly melting the Antarctic ice sheet. The cumulative effects of dredging, embanking of former marshlands, and encroachment of buildings onto floodplains around the Thames have also increased the tidal range.

The traditional response to London's tidal-flood hazard was piecemeal and incremental: flood embankments were raised by small amounts to keep pace with increasing threats. By mid-century the limits of this strategy were at hand and new approaches were deemed to be necessary. Because of the increased frequency of high-tide surge levels, in the early 1980s the Greater London Council mounted a major public flood-warning awareness campaign and a flood emergency plan for London was devised. The public information campaign comprised mass distribution of flood leaflets to households in vulnerable areas, posters in prominent places, and graphic television advertisements. Unfortunately, on the rare occasions when awareness of flood warnings was subsequently investigated, the results were not encouraging. Surveys revealed that after receiving a one-hour warning many Londoners planned to take inappropriate actions, such as seeking to use the underground system (Penning-Rowsell et al., 1983).

The flood-warning campaign was mainly viewed as a stop-gap measure that would buy time pending the construction of an ambitious flood barrier across the lower Thames. A fixed flood barrage was considered during the nineteenth century and again during the 1930s. In the latter case, there was no follow-up because it was feared that the port of London would be vulnerable to closure if the barrage's lock gates were put out of action by enemy bombing. This concern disappeared after the Second World War, and a tidal exclusion barrier was finally opened in the early 1980s.

The Thames Barrier is the centrepiece of a £600 million, state-of-the-art, engineering flood-defence system that is intended to provide London with protection from extreme tidal surge events at least until the year 2030 (Gilbert and Horner, 1984). Normally, the barrier is open to permit shipping access to inner London. On receipt of a warning from the Storm Tide Warning System (established after the 1953 floods), gates can be raised off the bed of the river into a closed position. The barrier was designed not only to contain the currently estimated 1,000-year flood but to take account of a continuation in the upward trend of high-water levels plus an additional 1.5 m safety margin. The top of the barrier is 7.20 m above the present local mean sea level. Downstream, embankments along both sides of the Thames estuary have also been raised, and there are other smaller flood barriers on tributaries. One potential flaw in the system is its failure to take account of the possibility that global warming may accelerate the pace of sealevel rise. A faster rate of rise would reduce the effective useful life of the barrier. It is difficult to assess the added risk because of uncertainties about global warming. Several sealevel-rise scenarios have been considered by Turner et al. (1990). The "most likely case" assumes a net rise of 0.31 m between 1990 and 2100; whereas the "worst case" assumes a net rise of 1.1 m during the same period. Under some sealevel-rise scenarios, the probability of flooding may be 2 to 10 times more likely than at present.

Independent of any changes in flood risks, London's exposure to tidal flooding has increased dramatically. The Thames floodplain is the site of one of the greatest increases in flood loss potential in Europe. A serious flood would have major financial consequences for London (perhaps up to US$ 30 or 45 billion) and significant loss of life could occur. The flood-prone area includes the whole of London's docklands and riverside areas between the City (financial district) and Woolwich (fig. 7.2), both of which were the sites of major investment during the 1980s. Many of the existing riverside buildings, such as the Houses of Parliament, possess extensive basements and are susceptible to serious floods at street level. There has been a failure to prevent new building in the floodplain, although some recent structures have been elevated, thereby reducing their vulnerability. The area protected by the Thames Tidal Flood Barrier now contains approximately 1 million permanent residents; if daily commuters are included, the number rises to around 1.5 million.

The vulnerability of London's infrastructure to tidal flooding is high. Commuters in the exposed eastern part of the city are dependent on underground and surface rail lines. Electricity and telecommunication facilities are exposed and believed to be vulnerable, although the replacement of copper telecommunication cables with fibre-optic cables is reducing the flood-damage susceptibility of commercial linkages. The economic vulnerability of those living in the tidal-flood zone is highly variable, since it contains both high-income and low-income residents, the latter often composed of ethnic minorities. With the barrier in operation, London's tidal-flood hazard is considered to be a low-probability, high-consequence one. There exist various exceptional circumstances in which London might still be seriously flooded. Failure to close the barrier in advance of a major tidal surge through human error is one possibility. The tidal-flood defences that incorporate the barrier include 37 warning-dependent, moveable floodgates. Failure to close any floodgate could lead to serious tidal flooding in its immediate vicinity. Similarly, an exceptional tidal surge could cause the collapse of the north bank flood walls just downstream of the barrier, and this could lead to extensive flooding in Newham. Failure to synchronize the closing of the various subsidiary flood barriers along the Thames estuary could produce serious flooding, because closure of the barrier generates a reflected wave of water that could surge back downstream. Although it might be possible to warn of flooding caused by one of these failures, London's emergency planners are insufficiently aware of the areas at risk and by 1994 had been unable to test the effectiveness of the existing emergency response system to these kinds of threats.

During its existence, the barrier has been closed to prevent flooding on about 20 occasions and the frequency of closures is likely to increase. Its overall height can be raised by about 1 m, but this option is not available for many downstream flood defences because their foundations may not be able to bear additional loads. In summary, the future physical survival of a large part of London depends on a high-technology tidal-flood barrier that constitutes a fortress-like structural response to hazard. It involves very costly investment in a fixed line of defences that has a limited life-span. For most Londoners, the barrier has removed the perceived tidal-flood threat but, within a few decades at most, the structure must be replaced, perhaps by an even larger barrier on the outer estuary of the Thames. Meanwhile, a continuation of present land-use and development trends will progressively expose more and more of London to tidal flooding as the city's commercial centre migrates eastward (downstream) and the sealevel effects of probable global warming become more pronounced. Future tidal-flood problems will be even more difficult to resolve than those of the present.

Other types of flooding

Three other types of flooding are increasingly common in London: fluvial flooding, thunderstorm-related flooding, and sewer flooding. Fluvial flooding along the main stem of the Thames is a serious hazard independent of high tides or storm surges. There have been six major floods of this kind since 1894. They tend to occur after prolonged or heavy precipitation and mainly affect streamside areas from the river's tidal limit at Teddington westwards towards Reading. Localized flooding of tributaries such as the Lea, Brent, Crane, Wandle, and Ravensbourne (fig. 7.2) is also increasing. In central London, many tributaries were buried or canalized as the city grew and they now must carry increased volumes of runoff. Since the arrival of new housing and industrial estates there has been a threefold increase in flood peaks in the catchment of the Silk Stream, a tributary of the River Brent in north London (Hollis, 1986). Outdated weir and bridge structures, which were designed for smaller flood flows, also contribute to tributary flooding, as does construction of riverside buildings that constrict water movement.

Throughout London there has been a marked increase in sewer-overflow floods, usually associated with intense convective rainfall (e.g. thunderstorms). Over 10,000 properties are at risk from sewage flooding at least once every 10 years; 8,300 were actually flooded during 1982 - 1983. Examples include severe flooding of Hampstead Heath (1975) and along the River Pinn (1977). The 1975 flood is estimated to have had a return period of approximately 1,000 years and caused over £1 million damage (Perry, 1981, p. 16). On 13 October 1993, London again came close to flooding disaster. Most of the Thames tributaries were bank-full and the ground was saturated following many weeks of heavy rain, but approaching storms veered away without adding to the problem.

During the past 30 years there has been a major increase in exposure to fluvial flooding. Among the newly constructed properties at risk are high-value residential and commercial developments and a large embanked water-supply reservoir. These developments have both raised the total value of properties at risk and displaced floodwaters onto adjacent land that was formerly not threatened. For example, between 1974 and 1984, 500 new properties were added to floodplain lands in Datchet near Heathrow Airport (fig. 7.8). The growth of flood-damage potential has continued to the present, and the community remains undefended against floods.

Vulnerability to rainfall-driven flood hazards is highly variable. Throughout the London region, vulnerability of road transportation to flash-flooding has increased because traffic volumes have increased and because the effects of congestion spread rapidly and widely, thereby reducing the network's ability to accommodate vehicles on alternative routes. For example, flash-flooding of London's inner ring road (North Circular Road) often brings the entire north-western sector of London to a complete standstill. The ageing of London's transportation infrastructure also helps to increase the city's vulnerability. On 11 August 1994, when two thunderstorms passed over central London (fig. 7.9), 28 Underground stations were closed because the Victorian-era drainage systems and pumps could not cope with floodwater. Train services were shut down for at least five hours and about 60,000 passengers were stranded in stations.

The typical response to fluvial flooding throughout London has been a combination of channel clearance, channel maintenance, and structural channel improvements. In some cases (e.g. the Lea Valley), flood relief channels were constructed early in the twentieth century. Flood retention reservoirs have also been employed and automatic flood-warning devices are used in a few locations. In theory, land-use controls offer the possibility of preventing further construction in flood-plains, but they are rarely effective because pressures to develop floodplains are intense in the London region. Only where a floodplain lies within the statutory green belt has development been resisted. Non-structural approaches to flooding are needed, and the National Rivers Authority is now promoting open space river corridors as conservation and amenity resources (Tunstall et al., 1993). Recognition is also growing that London's storm drains have an inadequate capacity for today's runoff.

Fig. 7.8. Extent of floodplain development in Datchet since 1974

Fig. 7.9. London Underground stations closed by thunderstorm flooding, 11 August 1994 (Source: various newspapers)

Drought, land desiccation, and subsidence

The most notable recent drought in the London area occurred in 1976 and lasted for 165 days during the hottest summer since records began in 1727 (Parker and Penning-Rowsell, 1980). One consequence of anthropogenically accelerated climate change may be an increase in the risk of drought, but there is as yet no evidence that drought probabilities are changing in south-east England (Climate Change Impacts Review Group, 1991). Currently, water-resource planning is based upon the need to maintain reliable supplies to cope with a 1 in 50-year return period of low river flows and groundwater levels.

Exposure to drought and the incidence of drought-related subsidence through the drying out and cracking of clay soils have increased as London has grown. Following the 1976 drought there were over 20,000 claims in southern England for structural damage caused by subsidence. The main effect of drought on Londoners has been the transfer of drought risk to households through steeply rising subsidence insurance premiums and rising water charges. These have a disproportionate impact on people with low incomes. Per capita water consumption, and the population of the Thames catchment, have been growing steadily since 1945, and London's underground water resources were assessed as being fully exploited by the 1980s. Yet since 1970 reduced abstractions from aquifers have led to rising groundwater levels in central London, where underground structures and foundations are increasingly exposed to flooding. Outside of central London, surface water sources such as the River Lea are fully exploited and, until recent remedial action was taken, many rivers in porous limestone areas had virtually dried up. If water consumption is to continue growing, it will have to rely on further development of the River Thames as a supply source.

In the past, typical responses to drought included reduced water consumption during periods of shortage and longer-term extension of the water supply system. The fact that London has avoided severe drought problems since 1945 can be explained by a combination of factors such as improved efficiencies in the operational capability of the water industry, greater cooperation among water agencies, and the adoption (since 1974) of an integrated multifunctional river basin management approach. Taken together, these factors allow for flexible use of water resources and increased intra-basin transfers. The river basin management approach has significant untapped potential for further enhancing water supplies and reducing demand. For example, during the 1976 drought an intensive publicity campaign encouraged consumers to conserve water. Voluntary restrictions proved insufficient and unpopular mandatory hosepipe bans were introduced; these are now increasingly common in south-east England. During August 1976, Parliament introduced a Drought Act that extends the government's power to prohibit watering of parks, golf courses, and other facilities. A government minister was also appointed to coordinate responses to the drought.


Windstorm hazard is greatest on the west and south-west coasts of England, where the storm of record occurred in 1703 and killed about 8,000 (Perry, 1981, p. 24). Most windstorms are associated with intense depressions moving east or north-east off the Atlantic ocean. In autumn, intense depressions that were originally tropical storms or hurricanes sometimes reach the British Isles. The tornadoes that occasionally affect south-east England are not usually as intense and destructive as those of the United States. For example, tornadoes that affected Bexley on 25 January 1971 caused damage mainly to roofs and windows (Eaton, 1971). The possibility of increased storminess associated with climatic change cannot be ignored but, at present, there is no evidence of a worsening trend in the risk of windstorms for the London region.

Although London lies on the more sheltered east side of Britain, exposure to windstorm hazard is increasing as the city spreads over the confining hills on either side of the Thames valley and towards the coast. A particularly destructive storm characterized by high wind speeds affected south-east England on 15 October 1987 (table 7.2). This storm was the most severe event to strike the region since 1703, and Londoners were totally unprepared for its ferocity. Gusts of 94 mph were recorded in London and 100 mph in the Thames estuary. These gusts are estimated to have a return period of 120 years and more than 500 years, respectively (Mitchell et al., 1989). This storm produced insurance claims of £1.5 billion. The vulnerability of the London region to the 1987 storm was particularly high because nothing like it had occurred in living memory; people had not been prepared for such an event, and there was no public warning. As a result the region's infrastructure simply shut down. Deaths and injuries appear to have been distributed largely by chance. The most vulnerable people were those who had not heard early-morning news reports of the storm's developing effects, those who were standing beside walls or trees that collapsed or who were struck by flying debris, and those who were caught on journeys.

The Meteorological Office failed to forecast the storm and nationally televised weather forecasts neglected to convey the severity of the hazard. This subsequently led to severe criticisms of the Meteorological Office for failing to warn the public (Handmer and Parker, 1989). Controversy also surrounded an earlier decision to withdraw key weather ships from the area where the storm developed as part of a campaign to reduce public expenditures. A similar, but less intense, windstorm struck London and other parts of England in 1990. On this occasion the high winds were correctly forecast, but about 40 deaths occurred (some in London). Public knowledge about appropriate responses to severe weather warnings remains poor.

Wind-resistant building construction standards are the principal adjustment to windstorm hazard in Britain. Typically, buildings are designed and constructed to withstand wind loadings identified by the British Standards Institution code of practice. Unfortunately, enforcement of standards is uneven and sometimes lacking. Weather forecasting is the second most significant component of wind-hazard reduction strategy (Handmer and Parker, 1989). Improvements of forecasting and warning-dissemination systems have been implemented since 1987. For example, more attention is now devoted to explaining and displaying wind-speed information on the televised weather forecasts that most Britons rely on for information about wind hazards. Severe-weather warnings are now issued more frequently in London.


The Thames valley has always been fog prone, particularly during calm winter weather, and the historic record of fogginess is a long one. Brimblecombe (1987) demonstrates that since the seventeenth century the number of foggy days in London has fluctuated markedly but peaked in the 1890s (fig. 7.10). It is ironic that, just as the London Fog Inquiry of 1902 - 1904 commenced, the number of fogs was decreasing! London fogs of the nineteenth century were closely related to levels of airborne particulate matter, especially fly ash derived from coal fires. A sharp decline in fogginess at the end of the nineteenth century has been attributed to actions promoted by the Coal Smoke Abatement Society, which was formed in 1899, but the possibility of climatic change cannot be ruled out. It is also possible that declining urban population densities, which accompanied the migration of London's population into expanding suburbs, may also have contributed to the trend by dispersing sources of pollution over wider areas.

Fig. 7.10. Three centuries of fog in London (Source: Brimblecombe, 1987)

Today, people living throughout the entire London region are exposed to fog hazards; damp low-lying areas are worst affected. Unfortunately, new high-speed roads such as the M25 have often been built through fog- risk areas, with predictable results in the form of major accidents. Vulnerability to fog hazards on the roads is also a function of journey times; early morning and late night travellers are most likely to experience fog. One of the most common responses to fog hazard is deferral of scheduled travel. Electronic fog-warning signs are installed on most high-speed roads, and fog warnings are a routine component of weather forecasts and severe-weather warnings. For air travellers, automated landing systems are also available at London's Heathrow Airport and elsewhere.


Earthquake risk in London has recently been assessed by the Department of the Environment (1993b). The annual probability of earthquakes with an MSK Intensity of V is 1:500 and for those of magnitude VII it is 1: 10,000.4 This means that London's seismic risk is small compared with places such as California, Japan, and Greece (Ambraseys and Jackson, 1985). None the less, significant earthquakes have occurred in the past (tables 7.1 and 7.2). For example, the following description of Londoners' reactions to a 1692 earthquake reveals a thoroughly disturbed population:

"All the People were possessed with a Panick Fear; some Swooning, others Aghast with Wonder and Amaze; the Houses were deserted, and the Streets thronged with such confused Multitudes, that there was no passing, nor could any Body give a true Relation of what had passed, for a considerable time.... so Great was the Confusion thereof (of the merchants), to the considerable Damage and Detriment of a great many Families.... for in houses in divers Parts, the Pewter and Brass were thrown from Shelves... several weavers, as they were at work, in Spittle-Fields, and various other Parts, had their work spoiled in their Looms; a House on Southwarkside, sunk several Foot into the Earth... many Persons were taken with Giddiness in their Heads, and swooning fits... these, and other Calamities, are occasioned by the Sins of this Nation." (Department of the Environment, 1993b, p. 6)

4 The MSK (Medvedev-Sponheuer-Karnik) scale is a Central European variant of the Modified Mercalli scale, which is widely used in the United States.

The Colchester earthquake of 1884 was the most severe for many centuries. Near its epicentre, on the edge of the contemporary London metropolitan region, brick buildings exhibited many cracks and chimneys collapsed; further away in east London and the lower Thames valley the earthquake merely rattled windows and doors.

Today, the entire population of the London metropolitan area is exposed to a small but significant earthquake risk. Few buildings have been constructed to take account of potential seismic loadings, but it is assumed that contemporary buildings are more robust than older ones. The Department of the Environment has used the 1989 earthquake that affected Newcastle, Australia, as a yardstick for estimating likely losses in a British quake. (There are many similarities of age and urban construction types between the two countries, although Newcastle's population densities are perhaps half those of London.) Assuming an earthquake of magnitude 5.5 Ms, with a focal depth of 10 km, the potential damage in Newcastle was estimated at between £1.2 and £1.7 billion. Adjusting for London's higher densities would double the economic losses and - given the very high value of many London buildings - this is still likely to be an underestimate of total losses. However, the annual probability of such an earthquake in London is about 1 in 50,000. Estimated fatalities for a Newcastle-type earthquake in the United Kingdom might be in the hundreds (Department of the Environment, 1993b).

Response to the seismic risk in London has so far been negligible. A government-funded research report on seismic hazards (Department of the Environment, 1993b) recommends that new building regulations should be considered, and that basic seismic requirements for conventional structures need to be developed. The national government is currently considering alternatives for introducing seismic building regulations. New buildings may be subjected to basic seismic checks, with buildings of national and historical importance subject to more stringent inspection. Seismic loading factors may also be incorporated into the design of potentially hazardous structures such as fuel and chemical storage installations, dams, and large sports arenas.

Technological hazards

Air pollution

Air pollution has been noted in London for 700 years. For example, problems associated with coal-burning prompted the creation of an investigatory commission in 1285. A subsequent ban on the use of "sea-coal" appears to have been largely ignored, although offenders were apparently tortured, hung, or decapitated - an early demonstration of the polluter-pays principle (Brimblecombe, 1987)! Use of "The Big Smoke" as a synonym for London has become part of folk history and few detective stories set in Victorian London would be complete without the backdrop of fog. During the nineteenth century, many Londoners became convinced about a connection between air pollution and worsening fogs. Fogs became thicker and darker coloured. The term "day darkness" was adopted to describe periods when the sun became totally obscured and lights had to be used. The number of polluted fogs in London climbed steeply and peaked in the 1890s. Subsequently they decreased in frequency and severity. There were also significant attempts to improve air quality. Smoke abatement acts were introduced. London's factory owners built taller chimneys and reduced black smoke emissions. Although the police were diligent in tracking down offenders, fines were not enough to discourage air pollution.

In the twentieth century, the mix of factors that contributed to London's air quality changed as the city became more dispersed and heating fuels became more diverse. Nevertheless, as recently as the decade after the Second World War domestic coal-burning was still the principal cause of air pollution. The 1950s and early 1960s witnessed a series of serious smog pollution episodes colloquially known as "pea-soupers." By far the worst occurred between 5 and 8 December 1952; in this one there were 4,000 extra deaths of mostly elderly and sick people. Large numbers had died in earlier London smogs (table 7.1), but the scale of the 1952 disaster finally triggered a major governmental response. This took the form of a Clean Air Act (1956), which granted local authorities the power to designate "smoke control areas" in which only smokeless fuels could be burned. Grants for heating appliance conversions were also provided. A subsequent act granted central government powers to force local authorities to take action. During the 1970s and 1980s millions of domestic and industrial properties were so regulated and this policy now forms part of broader European Union environmental controls. Continuing high concentrations of sulphur dioxide in London have prompted further legislation to prohibit the burning of high-sulphur fuels.

Smoke pollution in London has decreased dramatically since the 1950s. Legislation and regulation have had a hand in this, but other factors may have been just as important (Elsom, 1987). Beginning in the early twentieth century - and especially after the Second World War - an increasingly affluent society was already rejecting coal fires for more efficient heating systems that used cleaner-burning oil and gas. The history of air pollution episodes in London demonstrates the dynamism of risk. Smoke and sulphur dioxide concentrations have declined during the past 30 years but pollution from nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter has increased - largely because of a dramatic increase in road vehicles (fig. 7.11) (Quality of Urban Air Review Group, 1993a). Increased vehicle emissions combined with recent hot, sunny summers have led to rising concern about photochemical smogs. These are now regular features of the summer atmosphere in London and they appear to have contributed to a dramatic increase in hay fever and asthma during the past 20 years. Periodic high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide have also begun to occur in winter (e.g. 12 - 15 December 1991), usually in combination with low wind speeds, low temperatures, high humidity, and fog. An anticipated increase in summer temperatures associated with climate change, coupled with the nitrogen dioxide pollution trends, could significantly increase the risk of air pollution episodes in London (Lee, 1993). Rising numbers of diesel-fuelled cars may pose additional problems because they produce larger emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and black smoke than catalyst-equipped petrol cars.

Fig. 7.11. Changes in air pollutants in London (Note: different lines relate to different measurement methods and slightly varying locations)

All of London's 13 million people are exposed to some air pollution, but there are significant spatial variations in exposure. Central London is particularly at risk, as are areas near heavily travelled roads. Vulnerability is differentiated by age, sex, state of health, and other factors. For example, children who take daily kerbside walks to school are likely to suffer disproportionately. London's infrastructure is also vulnerable to smog. The exteriors of most of London's historic buildings have been damaged by air pollutants.

Responses to air pollution are many and varied. Clean-up and restoration programmes are in effect for many pollution-damaged public buildings in central London. Technological responses include, among others, automobile exhaust controls. These may be jeopardized by changes in public preferences. It is feared by some that the beneficial effects of catalytic converters on conventional (petrol-powered) car exhausts could easily be wiped out by increased use of diesel engines (Quality of Urban Air Review Group, 1993b). Other technological responses include fuel-shifting to less polluting alternatives such as compressed natural gas, but this is still at a development stage.

Radical solutions to London's air-quality problems were recommended by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Transport and Environment (1994). This observed that the city's central problem is lack of an integrated approach to land-use and transport planning. Well-conceived and well-executed plans could modify the demand for travel. Non-technological options now being considered include establishing tighter statutory air-quality standards, and reducing vehicle use through increased planning controls, road pricing, and higher fuel taxes. Further developments in European Union legislation are promised. Within the next few years, attention is likely to turn to fuel quality, in-use testing, and on-board vehicle diagnostic systems. However, the benefits of introducing catalytic converters will not be as great as hoped unless the projected increase in vehicle numbers between now and 2010 can be avoided. Overall, London has been slow to recognize and respond to the largely predictable transformations of its ambient air quality.

Nuclear radiation

Unlike most of the other hazards considered here, the history of nuclear radiation is brief, beginning with the invention of nuclear weapons during the Second World War and the subsequent development of commercial power reactors. There are no nuclear generating stations or other large nuclear facilities in the immediate vicinity of London, but this does not mean that the risks of radiation are negligible. Radionucleids can be transported in the atmosphere, so the entire population of London is exposed and vulnerable. Although risk-assessment data are rarely made public, the UK government insists that the probability of nuclear accidents and subsequent contamination is very low. Potential sources of radioactive contamination have increased markedly in the past 50 years. They include: nuclear weapons production establishments to the west of London; trucks that transport nuclear warheads through the London region; and trains that carry nuclear wastes across London to a reprocessing plant at Sellafield in Cumbria. Coastal nuclear reactors in the United Kingdom and in northern France are another source of risk. There are now 14 commercial nuclear reactors within 160 km of London.

Measures for protecting the public against nuclear hazards are heavily reliant on the various safety systems that are employed by the nuclear industry. Safety audits are an essential part of the regulatory process. Public confidence was particularly shaken by the UK government's failure to plan for the kind of contingency that occurred at Chernobyl in 1986 and the initial feeble response to that event (Marples, 1996). Although the accident in Ukraine occurred on 25 April and the main radioactive cloud passed over the United Kingdom on 2 and 3 May, a central government lead department for coordinating government response was not formally designated until 6 May. Since then the central government has overhauled its civil emergency response strategy. None the less, there is a significant opposition in Britain to the whole concept of nuclear technology and frequent calls for phasing it out as the only reliable method of controlling these hazards.

Other industrial hazards

A range of other hazardous industrial installations are located in the Greater London area. Among them are plants that manufacture or store chlorine gas, sulphuric acid, and natural gas. In the parlance of British legislation, 19 of these are classified as "top-tier" major industrial hazard sites (fig. 7.12). Two concentrations of sites are particularly noteworthy: one stretches downriver from east London and the other is at Canvey. Although statistics are not available, the exposed population of London is relatively large, because many of the sites are located close to residential areas or upwind of them. A majority of nearby populations are members of low- to middle-income groups. The concentration of risks on Canvey Island was considered sufficiently hazardous for the Health and Safety Executive to undertake a risk assessment in 1978 (Health and Safety Executive, 1978). This investigation revealed that the annual probability of a local resident being killed in a major accident was about 1 in 2,000. A number of recommendations made after this study were subsequently implemented (Health and Safety Executive, 1981).

Fig. 7.12. Location of the principal hazardous industrial installations in Greater London

Protective responses to industrial hazards mainly include safety audits and "fail-safe" technologies. Most of these are prescribed under the EU's Seveso Directive (1982) or the UK's Control of Major Industrial Hazards Regulations (CIMAH) of 1984. On-site and off-site emergency plans must be produced for installations above a certain size threshold, and local authority emergency response plans are rehearsed and publicized. Designated plants are regularly inspected by the Health and Safety Executive. Small plants are not designated and their on-site plans are confidential. CIMAH regulations are widely recognized as being innovative and comprehensive but their application remains controversial.

Social hazards


Terrorism has been an intermittent but generally limited threat to the lives and livelihoods of Londoners. Various political protest groups have employed violent tactics in the past that have resulted in deaths and property destruction. In recent years, the latest phase of the long-running antagonism between members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British authorities erupted into a terror bombing campaign that continued - with the exception of a truce in 1995 - 96 - from 1973 until 1997 (fig. 7.13). The number killed or injured was highest during the mid-1970s, with a secondary peak during the 1990s. Economic targets were preferred by the bombers; their objectives are believed to have been to undermine London's position as the premier global banking and finance centre, and to gain international publicity.

Fig. 7.13. Number of terrorist incident in the London metropolitan area, 1973-1993 (Note: records exclude incidents which have not been publicly disclosed. Source: Metropolitan police Service, London)

Bomb damage inflicted on property increased dramatically during the 1990s as large vehicle bombs became more common. The destruction of the Baltic Exchange in April 1992 was unprecedented in scale, but it was soon followed by a devastating bomb in Bishopsgate, and other attempted bombings were foiled. Terrorist bombings and incidents have affected locations throughout the London region, not just central London. Exposure to the risk has been widespread. Vulnerability has not been particularly differentiated; people are often killed or injured because they happen to be passing a bomb when it explodes. Members of the armed forces and rail commuters have been slightly more vulnerable than others because the IRA has targeted them.

Responses to IRA terrorism in London have been multifaceted and include political arrangements that led to cease-fires and, at the time of writing (September 1997), the opening of talks among opposing parties. Apart from the gathering and use of intelligence, anti-terrorist operations and improved security systems, public assistance was also mobilized. At the height of concern on the London underground system, items of "lost property" became "suspect packages," and London Underground Ltd. responded to around 90 suspect packages or hoaxes per day, often resulting in the evacuation of trains and stations. Commuters and employers have developed contingency plans, such as alternative ways of working or alternative routes, to minimize terrorist disruption. A major effort was made to find alternative premises for bombed-out firms. Firms such as the Deutsches Bank have constructed bomb-proof facilities and have arranged for data-processing outside of London. Disaster contingency planning is now built into many firm's plans. Back-up emergency financial offices have been established, with new firms being created to provide disaster contingency and emergency services.

Faced with the threat of vehicle bombs and steeply rising property insurance premiums, the Corporation of London and the City Police have responded with a package of measures designed to minimize the problem of terrorist attacks. These include controls on traffic access to the "Square Mile" (the central part of the City). Some roads are now completely blocked, with the effect that others can be policed more intensively. Random vehicle searches, closed-circuit television, and paging communication systems are also being employed. These measures have had a number of advantageous and unanticipated side-effects. For example, air pollution and noise have been reduced in the controlled areas. As a result, these "emergency controls" may become permanent.


London's social hazards include crime, civil disturbance, and problems involving crowds. Those most vulnerable are non-whites. Recent responses to crime take many forms and are highly controversial. Government has been promoting neighbourhood watch schemes, citizen monitoring, and a tightening of criminal justice legislation. The proposed changes in legislation are partly a response to civil disturbances and riots; ironically, during October 1994, demonstrations against these proposals themselves generated a riot in central London.

Following major loss of life at soccer stadiums in Sheffield and Brussels during the 1980s, the risk of crowd-related disasters appears to be high. Police have been developing crowd-management strategies to cope with large events including the annual Notting Hill Carnival, the New Year's Eve celebrations in Trafalgar Square, and large open-air concerts.

Complex emergencies and unprecedented hazards

Complex emergencies involve combinations of natural, technological, and social risks. London presents numerous opportunities for such emergencies, although few have occurred. The city's electricity supply system is so tightly coupled to its industrial, commercial, and residential systems that power failures can quickly spin off other problems such as paralysis of underground transportation, shut-down of subsurface ventilation, and crowd control crises. Many hazardous industrial installations are in or close to flood zones (fig. 7.12). Sudden flooding of London's many underground tunnels could cause major problems. This could happen as a result of ships grounding on tunnels beneath the Thames as well as exceptional flood flows. A number of vessels have collided with the Thames Tidal Flood Barrier, and vessels colliding with other flood defences could cause a complex emergency. Terrorists have so far refrained from threatening trunk sewers and flood defences, but there have been repeated attempts to disable London's mass transit systems. London is also at risk from new and so far unexperienced hazards such as a spatially concentrated crash by a major aircraft into the central city or by the widespread scattering of debris from a high-level aircraft disintegration. Few of these scenarios would surprise London's emergency planning community, and responses are being developed. Most of them focus on the reduction of tight-coupling and the preparation of emergency plans for large-scale evacuations.

Summary assessment of London hazards

In contemporary London, risks from most historic environmental hazards are either stable or increasing (table 7.4). Moreover, old hazards are being transformed into new variants. This is clearly demonstrated by the changing salience of different air pollutants and by the tendency of what were previously separate risks (e.g. floods, chemical emergencies) to metamorphose into hybrid ones. The number of low-probability, high-consequence hazards has increased.

The most pervasive and uncertain of the changes in natural hazards affecting London stem from climate modifications and the enhanced greenhouse effect. Climatic change is potentially the driving force behind possible changes in many of the natural hazards affecting London, including flood, windstorm, drought, and subsidence. Recent research has made progress in assessing the impacts of changes in mean climate upon economic and social systems in Britain, although most research on global climate change ignores urban areas (Climate Change Impacts Review Group, 1991). London is likely to be vulnerable to both shifts in mean climate and the frequency and magnitude of weather extremes. Because climate modelling is currently insufficiently advanced, considerable uncertainty remains about the links between a slowly changing mean climate and changes in the frequency or intensity of rainfall, winds, and storminess. A warmer Britain could bring changes in storm patterns and windiness. Global warming could precipitate storms nearer to Europe in the eastern Atlantic and storms might then arrive in Britain in a far more powerful and dangerous state (Simons, 1992).

Table 7.4 Estimated changes in major hazard factors for hazards affecting London, 1945-2045

Increased exposure to risks is one of the most important trends in contemporary London. This is occurring in part because urbanization is spreading into previously unoccupied hazard zones, in part because of reinvestment in older hazardous areas, and in part because more and more people are dependent on a few easily disrupted infrastructure systems. The overall vulnerability of residents to environmental risks has declined and probably will continue to do so, mostly because levels of living have risen and appear likely to continue to improve. But a widening vulnerability gap has appeared between rich and poor groups during the past 20 years. The increased vulnerability of ageing urban infrastructure is also a major contributor to hazard potential.

Responses to hazard are highly variable. In some cases there have been major - often successful - efforts to suppress risks; in others much less has been attempted or achieved. Lessons from the past are slow to be learned, and the concept of peacetime disaster management has been slow to gain official acceptance or public support. Many of the disasters that occurred in London during the past 50 years had similar counterparts in the nineteenth century.

Intervention to reduce hazards: Limits and opportunities


Despite a long history of deliberate attempts to reduce environmental hazards, London's responses have often been ineffective. This suggests that opportunities for human intervention have been either lacking or unexploited and that the successful reduction of losses has occurred by chance or as a consequence of circumstances that are not directly connected with hazard. For example, comprehensive land-use planning controls have been in existence for almost 50 years, but floodplain development has not been prevented and flood losses continue to rise. Hazard reductions that have occurred were often the result of fortuitous changes in technologies and lifestyles. Thus a decline of fog and smog hazards after the 1890s probably stemmed more from the dispersal of population and industry in burgeoning suburbs than from special attempts to reduce air pollution by controls on the burning of fossil fuels. Even after smoke control laws became tougher in the 1950s, air-quality improvements owed still more to improved heating technologies.

Natural extremes have also failed to generate responsive public policies for other reasons. Some have been outranked by competing events. For example, Mitchell et al. (1989) demonstrate how a stock market crash that occurred four days after the storm of 15 October 1987 successfully diverted public attention away from the shortcomings of British policies for natural disaster response. London authorities made a delayed and confused response to the 1986 nuclear reactor fire in Chernobyl because they had judged that such an event was improbable and did not warrant planning for. This is still the dominate ethos among London's emergency managers with respect to earthquakes, accidental releases of nuclear radiation, and breaches of tidal-flood defences.

None the less, modest successes have been achieved by some deliberate actions - albeit often long delayed and adopted "just in time." Such actions have usually been taken in response to sudden high-intensity hazards rather than gradual low-intensity ones. For example, once it became appreciated that the Thames was lapping at the top of existing flood walls with distressing frequency, the political will to build a tidal flood barrier materialized. In retrospect it can be seen that the response was made not a moment too soon; since its creation the barrier has been closed on approximately 20 occasions! The rapid adoption of techniques for coping with large vehicle bombs provides another example of effective adjustment under the pressure of extreme events. On the other hand, responses have been less effective when hazards were perceived to be low-intensity events with difficult-to-identify impacts and diffuse costs. Repeated events that produce low to moderate losses have often spurred ineffective public responses. Despite considerable investment in physical measures for controlling riverine floods in London, such floods have intensified and are now widespread. Much of the problem is centred in the city's ageing and deteriorating infrastructure, which simply deepens vulnerability to flooding of all kinds. Failure to learn from previous hazards is strongly influenced by the "social matrix" in which hazards occur. Opportunities for improving hazard management in London have been constrained by a number of factors (Parker and Handmer, 1992b). A brief summary of these follows.

British hazard management has been buffeted and degraded by a series of apparently unconnected or loosely connected changes. Throughout London's history, prevailing doctrines of government have provided an important context for hazard management. Sometimes government policies favoured hazard-management initiatives such as the great nineteenth-century public hygiene reforms. At other times, such initiatives fell on barren ground; the persistent refusal of central government to give priority to peacetime emergency planning over wartime emergency planning during the 1980s is a trenchant example. In Britain, hazard management has often been assigned a low priority, partly because disasters are typically viewed as isolated non-recurring events. This leads to low levels of hazard awareness and the lack of a "safety culture" within organizations as well as governmental complacency. In the late 1980s, media coverage of post-disaster inquiries raised public awareness of London's disaster potential, but this impetus has not been sustained. Since then, media coverage of environmental disasters has rapidly given way to reports of economic events or political stories. For example, during early 1994, following successive moral scandals in the British government, news about serious flooding and landslides in Britain and Western Europe was trivialized by the media caricatures of a prime minister marooned by floods.

In most Western democracies, information about public issues is more or less freely available except in highly unusual circumstances when governmental restrictions are invoked. British governmental and industrial culture tends towards non-disclosure; officials and managers frequently limit information flow. For example, Spooner (1992) criticizes British industry for allowing information on known hazards to remain "buried in corporate files." This approach is in marked contrast to the "right to know" law of the United States. However, the recent success of programmes to increase public vigilance against terrorism now provides London with a public information and education model that can usefully be extended to other hazards. Though the United Kingdom is surely not alone in its preference for technological fixes to hazards, its heavy reliance on these measures has encouraged misconceptions about their effectiveness and about the availability of alternatives. The country has invested heavily in structural flood defences and flood forecasting technologies to the neglect of flood-warning dissemination and emergency response. Similarly blinkered responses are typical of other hazards.

A rapidly growing and diversifying mega-city such as London may require continuous changes of institutional and organizational arrangements if it is to keep pace with evolving public problems. In this kind of setting, information about hazards that reach crisis proportions only infrequently is apt to be lost in the absence of special measures to ensure continuity and visibility. Institutions such as the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution have played a valuable role by drawing government's attention to long-term trends in risk, exposure, and vulnerability, but they rely upon other agencies routinely to collect, store, and disseminate hazard data. Initiatives within the UK Environment Ministry, which include hazard assessments, creation of a Government Office for London, and policy shifts to improve the coordination of transport and land-use policy, currently offer the greatest promise for the future.

Opportunities for creative hazard management

Debate about hazards in London has tended to ignore opportunities for integrating hazard management into broader fields of urban policy-making and urban management (Fainstein et al., 1992; Hall, 1989; Hoggart and Green, 1991; Self, 1957; Simmie, 1994; Thornley, 1992). Some urban policy interest groups have addressed the topic of global warming, but these have generally been bodies that lack executive authority (e.g. the Association of London Authorities, the London Boroughs Association (1991), the London Planning Advisory Committee). Even if the main urban decision-making entities were cognizant of hazards issues, the scope for improved hazard management would be limited by the lack of a coherent urban management strategy (Robson, 1994).

In London, opportunities for creative hazard management need to be explored in the context of both of the policy paradigms that have dominated Britain's political economy since 1945 (i.e. government-directed approaches; market-directed approaches). In the sphere of hazards, these policy paradigms are associated with contrasting, but not necessarily contradictory, values (table 7.5). Sometimes a lack of value consistency in the development or application of such policies produces confusion. For example, the practice of denying individuals risk information rests uncomfortably alongside an emphasis on encouraging self-reliance among hazard managers. Likewise, in heterogeneous late-twentieth-century democratic societies, market-based approaches may be possible only where the political power to enforce them is highly centralized. Successful hazard management will depend on adopting a consistent set of values and policies before looking for new ways of translating them into responses that reduce risk, exposure, and vulnerability.

Transportation planning and hazard management

There is a very large potential for hazard reduction in London's evolving transport system. Most observers have used terms such as "muddle," "failure," and "crisis" to characterize the existing system (Adams, 1986; Hall, 1989; Pharoah, 1991). Public policy has conspicuously failed to address important linkages between transport and land-use planning, safety, pollution, health, and climatic change.

Table 7.5 Contrasting values affecting hazard management in London

Values often associated with the market-based paradigm

Values often associated with the planning paradigm

Individuals should be self-reliant, responsible for their own actions; there is no such thing as "society".

The state should provide protection for the individual and society, and should act as a "collective memory" for extreme events.

Risk information is "confidential," risk communication is restricted, emphasis upon commercial interests.

Risk information should be publicly available and communicated. The public have a right to know.

The market can be used to deliver hazard reduction, and can be modified through taxation and subsidy to achieve hazard reduction.

Market failures make the market largely inappropriate for delivering effective hazard-reduction measures.

Hazard management should be delivered by both state and private sector, with the emphasis upon private solutions and hazard reduction as a private good.

Hazard management should be delivered by the state and the public sector with controlled employment of private sector. Hazard reduction is principally a public good.

Deregulation is necessary to encourage enterprise and economic growth; planning and zoning restrictions are relaxed or removed.

The regulatory approach is one of the principal responses to hazard creation and perpetuation; planning controls and zoning restrictions should be tighter.

Urban regeneration should be used to facilitate private sector development and growth, with the minimum of restrictions.

Urban planning should be used to control and guide development, with restrictions to control development of hazards.

Public services should be made more responsive to customers by target-setting and customer charters.

Public services can be made responsive to public need by placing them under local democratic control.

Disaggregated approach to public sector, separately managed units, rejection of metropolitan government.

Aggregated approach and enthusiasm for metropolitan government or strong coordinating metropolitan-wide agencies.

Weakening dependence on motor cars is the most important goal because it will reduce congestion, air pollution, and the dispersal of development that contributes to the invasion of hazardous areas. Higher fuel taxes, road rationing, road pricing, and reduced vehicle trips are needed. The scale of long-distance car commuting into London might be reduced by creating park-and-ride stations and other incentives for long-distance car commuters to transfer to mass transport. Hall (1989) proposes a Paris-style "Reseau Express Regional" for London, mainly using existing rail lines. Such changes might require institutional change, possibly through the revival of a planning authority for London. Increased sharing of experience with other countries would also be valuable. London was early to adopt traffic restraint measures, but it has been slow to learn about the benefits of Dutch or German traffic management. Pedestrianization has been limited, and attempts to encourage "soft" modes of travel (walking and cycling) could also be encouraged. Finally, the health benefits of reduced car use are likely to become more salient. Evidence is emerging in London about the possible links between urban air pollution and diseases such as asthma, and research on these issues is being stepped up. (In Britain, 1 in 5 schoolchildren are now asthma sufferers.)

Improving development planning and urban sustainability

Early intervention in the development planning process and adoption of an extended time-horizon for planning could make important contributions to hazard reduction and urban sustainability. Unfortunately, there is no statutory provision for regional planning in England and Wales, although advice about planning is currently prepared by several voluntary groupings of London and South-East planning authorities. Single-municipality plans are being encouraged by the UK government, and these offer opportunities to influence the plan-making process at an early stage. For example, at present the National Rivers Authority must devote significant resources to advising local planning authorities about applications for building in floodplains. By seeking to influence the development plan-making process in its formative stages, the Authority has an opportunity to reduce future workloads and flood losses. This requires the NRA to formulate catchment management plans that can interact with development plans to ensure long-term sustainability. By formulating model flood-hazard reduction policies and communicating them to developers and local planning authorities, the NRA can indirectly constrain the growth of exposure to flood hazards (Tunstall et al., 1993).

Standards of service and hazard management

Better hazard management could be encouraged by improving the standards of services that are delivered to the public. One way of doing this is to make services (including hazard protection) more responsive to customer needs. This may be done by establishing and publishing target standards, and then progressively improving them. One means that is currently being used by central government to raise standards for governmental services is the Citizen's Charter (Major, 1991). Under the Charter, public agencies are expected to publish explicit standards of performance as well as data on standards achieved. The Charter approach has now been applied to British Rail, London Underground Ltd., and the NRA. Safety and other aspects of hazard management currently have a low profile within existing Charters, but there is potential for setting and raising standards of hazard management. The NRA is developing standards of service for flood forecasting and warning-dissemination systems. Consideration is being given to improving standards for a range of parameters, including warning lead-times and the proportion of those subsequently flooded who receive prior warnings (Parker and Handmer, 1992b).

A standards-of-service approach could be used to deliver a range of hazard-management services to the public more effectively, by either the public or the private sector. These services could include information on risks, warning systems, self-protective measures, technical advice, and community responses. Some initiatives of this sort include the increased provision of information on air pollution levels in London via help lines. Preparedness and risk communication for natural disasters could be further enhanced by extending the model of the Seveso Directive (European Community, 1982), which addresses industrial hazards. The Seveso Directive is the most coherent and systematic civil emergency planning legislation originating from the European Union. The focus of the Directive is information about risks and safety measures. Information must flow from employers to employees, from industries to competent authorities, and from government to citizens.

Emergency planning and response

Within the London region, responsibilities for civil emergencies are now highly fragmented amongst central government ministries, the Metropolitan Police, the City of London Police, the British Transport Police, the London Fire Brigade, the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority, 33 London boroughs, county councils, the London Ambulance Service, health authorities, and other agencies such as the NRA. There are also numerous private emergency service groups. Coordination among all of these groups is voluntary and there is no comprehensive administrative organization. Every borough is authorized to undertake emergency planning, but there is no statutory obligation to plan for peacetime emergencies. Despite over 20 years of voluntary liaison between London's emergency planners and service providers, there is disagreement over roles. Statutory duties and powers for civil emergency planning and response are far from clear. A trend towards further fragmentation and the dismantling of central emergency planning is continuing, with unfortunate consequences. For example, in the Metropolitan Police, responsibilities for natural-disaster response are being devolved to 63 separate police divisions. Since there is a low annual probability that the territory within any single division will experience a natural disaster, the salience of emergency planning within the police force as a whole is likely to decrease. In the event of an emergency, these trends will leave much of the London region in a highly vulnerable position. London's predicament reflects a larger disaster planning and management problem that faces all of Britain. A fixation with "civil defence" (i.e. war planning) constipated the development of civil disaster planning in Britain for many years. Although more attention is now being given to civil emergency planning, funding remains limited (Handmer and Parker, 1991).

Institutional design and development

For London to respond more successfully to many of its hazards, mega-city-wide strategies and actions are required. This is because many of the natural and social processes that generate increased risk, exposure, and vulnerability in London do not stop at the city's boundaries. A mega-city government with strong powers to plan and implement a London-wide transportation strategy, and to link this to land-use planning, would clearly assist hazard management. However, this is an unpopular prescription in the Britain of the 1990s because large-scale regional planning during the 1960s and 1970s proved to be largely ineffective and was firmly rejected by recent UK governments. However, as Hall (1989, p. 180) points out, there may well be a return to regional strategic plans in the future as "planning by the roulette wheel" proves unsatisfactory.

Under the prevailing philosophy of centralized government, a parliamentary advisory Metropolitan Planning and Transport Commission for the London region is a feasible model (Hall, 1989). Such a Commission would have responsibility for producing a regional framework for sustainable development into which hazard management could be fitted. Other possibilities include extending the role of the national government's Health and Safety Executive to embrace natural and social hazards. This might enhance the overall disaster learning process because the Executive has taken a strong lead in addressing technological and industrial hazards.

There are also important opportunities to bring together "top - down" intervention and "bottom - up" strategies. Urban regeneration initiatives provide a basis for community-based hazard management. Community action groups have been successful in influencing the location of hazardous activities (Blowers, 1994). The partnership approach that is being developed and funded by central government offers opportunities for urban regeneration and job creation, as well as environmental improvement. It might be extended to include pollution controls and the reduction of dangers to property, health, and life. Already there are signs of movement in this direction. A new urban village in West Silvertown incorporates the concept of a pleasant and non-threatening environment; more explicit connections could be made to the goal of reducing various specific hazards.

The precarious position of London's civil emergency planning requires the creation of a new lead or coordinating authority. Proposals have been made for the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority to take charge of civil emergency planning powers, thereby assuming the leading role in disaster prevention and planning that was formerly taken by the GLC. An alternative is for the police authorities to be given these planning powers.

Reducing social vulnerability

In the next decade, urban regeneration programmes could make an important contribution to reducing the vulnerability of Londoners to hazards. Currently, in London there is little recognition of the fact that differential vulnerability to risk is an important factor that affects patterns of losses. This is partly because data on vulnerability are poorly developed but also because vulnerability reduction is rarely perceived by policy makers as a realistic response to hazards.

Developing alternatives to the technological fix

Finally, it should be noted that most of the opportunities for creating better hazard management involve non-technological alternatives. These are particularly compatible with the goal of sustainable development that the British government has officially embraced (Department of the Environment, 1990).


The record of successful responses to environmental hazards in London is a modest one. Failure to act on the lessons of its own history is probably the single most important characteristic of hazard management in this mega-city. Here the process of adjustment to environmental risk has typically been slow, troubled, and closely reflective of the city's complex and changing social matrix. Lack of scientific knowledge has hampered effective hazards policy-making to some degree (especially with regard to environmental health hazards during the pre-Victoria era), but it is rarely the crucial variable today. Institutional inertia and cultural, economic, and political factors that favour countervailing public policies are more important barriers to hazard reduction.

Failure to take a broad systems view of hazard - including its creation, perpetuation, and intensification - has also hampered effective policy-making, planning, and management. Public leaders and administrators have tended to ignore the complex linkages between national economic policy and urban management on the one hand and the forces that create hazards and disasters on the other. In other words, a wide range of public policies with indirect effects on hazard have been developed and implemented in a compartmentalized manner, without regard to their interactive or synergistic effects.

In London, improved responses to hazard typically followed a series of mounting losses that served as a continuing spur to action. Sudden, intense, episodic events (e.g. tidal floods) most often exhibited this pattern. Slow-developing, low-intensity hazards were usually ignored - even if they were widespread and repetitive - at least until an upward surge in losses occurred (e.g. air pollution). Yet, however faltering London's response to familiar hazards has been, the city's government and people have also shown that they are sometimes capable of rapid and robust action in the face of unprecedented "surprises" (e.g. large vehicle bombs).

Hazard responses in London have nearly always been imperfect - sometimes glaringly so. Attempts to control air pollution provide a number of salutary examples. The history of partial and uneven compliance with London's smoke control laws is well known and continues today. Technological fixes for air pollution have been no more effective. The recent introduction of super-unleaded petrol in London has proved to be an embarrassing failure because it is now recognized that the new fuel is no less harmful to health than the regular unleaded fuel that it replaced. Moreover, even as the city struggles to develop more effective ways of coping with hazards, the very nature of the problems that are faced changes. Like disease bacteria that produce new drug-resistant strains, the hazards themselves sometimes "bounce back" as new variants of their former selves. Thus, problems caused by airborne lead or hydrocarbons emerge as problems associated with particulate matter recede. The salience of different types of flood (e.g. tidal, riverine, and sewer flooding) exhibits comparable shifts.

As London's experiences clearly demonstrate, policies and programmes of urban hazard management require continuous readjustment. In the next decade the primary stimulus for readjustment will probably come, not so much from increased natural, technological, or social risks, but from increased exposure to risk and increasing differential vulnerability - particularly as this is manifest in widening gaps between white and non-white racial groups, between males and females, and between rich and poor. These trends will constitute potent challenges for London's urban hazards managers of the twenty-first century.


I wish to acknowledge the helpful comments on drafts of this chapter made by Ken Mitchell, Roger Leigh, and John Handmer. I am particularly grateful for the assistance of Sue Tapsell in obtaining information.


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