Thoughts from an active pensioner who is now somewhat past his Biblical "Use-by date"

"Why just be difficult, when with a little more effort you can be bloody impossible?"

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Stop HS2

We live about five miles or so from the planned route of HS2, and up to now it has always seemed that we would not be directly affected either by the construction or by the subsequent operation of the line. Nevertheless, I have always been firmly against the construction, as I believe that it will never serve its intended purpose and will have been superseded by other modes of travel by the time it is completed.
I have also been unconvinced by the government's financial case in favour of the construction in that, among other reasons, they have quantified as income the savings in time being made by the users of the railway. No public company would be able to do this, no auditors would accept time being saved as income, all they are interested in is money. Nor will the government be able to pay back its loans with "time saved", the creditors want cash! Neither, as an engineer, do I believe the construction costs which are, I suspect, simply a guess at what might be considered acceptable. If the money runs out part way through the project, we will be faced with the usual argument that "all the money we have spent will be totally wasted if we don't now spend what is required to finish the job". If they can't run a computer project to time and on budget, what hope do they stand with a major civil engineering project where there are far more unquantifiable contingencies.

I am pleased that today a Telegraph/ICM survey published today confirms that the majority of the public think the same with just 3% believing that the project will be delivered on budget and on time. Only 5% believes that it is "Essential for Britain" and more than two-thirds want to scrap the plan.

What I hadn't appreciated until now was the huge amount of damage that the construction will cause. Ancient woodlands will be destroyed, as will 310 miles of hedgerows. Seven major rivers are to be diverted and around 1,180 buildings will be demolished. Although I won't still be around, it seems that the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty will still be experiencing “moderate adverse effects” in 2086, 60 years after the line opens!
It now seems that we might be directly affected in that the more detailed “water resources assessments” raise deeper questions over the impact on drinking water supplies. For this area, HS2’s impact on water resources is described as “major”, the effect as “very large” and the duration as “permanent”. Finally, the sting in the tail. I quote from the Telegraph:
The Government is also quietly giving itself the power to allow massive building development, including on Green Belt land, bypassing normal planning controls. Ministers will be able to order the compulsory purchase of any land where they believe HS2 creates “an opportunity for regeneration or development”. 
So, at any location along the route of the line, or within a reasonable distance of it, the government is planning to compulsorily purchase land for development. This could of course be anything between a small industrial estate to a whole new town, but as usual with this sort of thing, one has to be highly suspicious of the unknown.

The official documents relating to the development now extend to some 55,000 pages and it will be a very conscientious MP who is able to spend time studying the documentation before a vote in Parliament. But perhaps that is the objective, to swamp the system with paperwork and to hope nobody notices some of the "nasties". What we really need is a genuine enquiry into possible alternatives, which are simply dismissed by the government as "We have assessed the alternatives; they simply don’t give the increase in capacity needed.” This assessment hasn't been published, so the public, and our MPs, have no idea as to what alternatives were considered. However one looks at it, it is difficult not to believe that if the same amount of money was spent improving our transport systems elsewhere, far more people would benefit and the "time saved" would be far, far greater.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

A Waste Disposal Site!

A friend of mine is negotiating to buy a house in Cornwall, and after viewing it and he and his wife had a good look around the area. They were therefore somewhat disturbed when their solicitor informed them that the searches had disclosed the fact that there was a "Waste Disposal Site" within 80 metres, as they had not seen anything untoward whilst walking around the area.
Further research using Google Earth showed that it was the Graveyard belonging to the local Parish Church!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Obama - Another Chamberlain?

The BBC News website reports that
"Iran agrees to curb nuclear activity"
Reading the detail one finds that:
"Iran has agreed to curb some of its nuclear activities in return for about £4.3bn ($7bn) in sanctions relief."
And in a statement, William Hague said that
"[The] Nuclear programme won't move forward for six months and parts [will be] rolled back"
Presumably the words in brackets were inserted by the BBC to clarify the statement, but why do they  assume that parts "will be rolled back" rather than "MIGHT be rolled back"?

The agreement was reached after John Kerry, presumably acting on Obama's  orders, joined the conference and somehow managed to placate the French who opposed the previous draft.
So Iran is going to stop enriching uranium for six months, and they might roll back some of their programme, although no details are give. In exchange the West is going to lift sanctions.

In that the other day Iran declared that it "has an inalienable right to enrich uranium", this doesn't seem to be a very good deal for the West. A six month's break in a project of this nature (even if it happens) is nothing and who knows what the lifting of sanctions will allow them to acquire. As far as I can see, there is no suggestion of any inspection scheme to confirm that the agreement is being kept, so it hardly seems to be worth the paper it's written on

Israel, quite rightly in my view, is angry. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet it was a "historic mistake" and that "Today the world became a much more dangerous place".

To me, it is very much like the Munich agreement with Hitler promising "Peace in our time" with Israel being in the position of Poland. All we need now is Kerry or Hague getting off their aircraft and waving a piece of paper to provide the full Chamberlain scenario.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

"Pakistanis in UK fuelling corruption"

Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General and my MP, has been interviewed by the Daily Telegraph, which in itself is a rather unusual event, as he normally seems to keep a low profile and is always very circumspect about what he says.
Suddenly, he has given an interview to the Telegraph in which he admits that the public has numerous concerns about the EU, the Human Rights Act, and, most explosively, corruption in the UK. The Telegraph says
'The problem is growing, he says, because some minority communities “come from backgrounds where corruption is endemic. We as politicians have to wake to up to it”. As if he was not being candid enough, he cites the South Asian communities, and the Pakistani community in particular.'

My first reaction to thsi interview was "Why?. As a lawyer he has always been very circumspect about what he says and I have never ever read that he has said anything controversial, and if asked I would have said that he would have been the very last person to make such a remark. He has one of the largest Tory majorities which has increased over the last three elections, and it would need a huge landslide for him to loose his seat. He is broadly respected, by most of his constituents, and from what I hear and have read, he never makes a decision or says anything without very careful thought, unlike far to many of out politicians including the Prime Minister.

He has also been in the news more frequently of late, appearing in person in various Courts here and in Europe, not in respect of dull legal matters, but appealing against decisions which have attracted public attention and been fully reported in the media.

So "Why?". Could it be that he has something in mind and is deliberately seeking to raise his public profile. But what? Surely he's not looking at the leadership of the Conservative Party, although someone who thinks before speaking would be a novelty. Something in Europe perhaps? One thing that I am aware of that is this is a sudden change and I feel that there's no smoke without fire!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Russia and Greenpeace

I must admit that I rather like Russia's approach to dealing with the Greenpeace "activists" that they arrested following an attempt to protest about Arcric oil drilling.

They have decided to release some of the activists on the equivalent of £38,000 bail each and have indicated that they are now free to leave the country pending their court hearing.
As far as the Russians are concerned, this kills two (or more) birds with one stone. If as seems likely, they skip bail, it will cost Greenpeace something over a million pounds for the lot, and at the same time, it will effectively prevent them from returning to Russia without being arrested both for the original offence and bail jumping. Russia will also avoid the problem of trials and any adverse publicity that such trials might bring. Russia now regains the high ground by following reasonably acceptable legal procedures, albeit that they are somewhat slower than they would perhaps be in this country.

I think that Russia is right in their actions; Greenpeace needs to learn that they can't go around physically protesting at what are perfectly legal activities,  and forcing other people to incur the costs of defending these activities against Greenpeace violence. Why should the general public have to pay, through taxation, for, say, the policing of anti-fracking protesters? I'm all for the right of peaceful protest, but neither trespassing or violence are peaceful protests. It's time that our authorities took a leaf out of the Russian book and at least recovered some of their costs from Greenpeace.

The Daily Telegraph report is here

Friday, 15 November 2013

GP care for over 75s

The media is reporting to day that
"Every person aged over 75 will be assigned a GP personally responsible for their care and Mr Hunt has promised telephone consultations for them day and night."

I just wonder how long it will be before us oldies will find it impossible to get a GP if they move home or their existing GP retires. Our GP only works part-time, will she only have part responsibility for our care?

Somehow I expect this will be another victory for the "Law of unexpected consequences"

Monday, 11 November 2013

Remembrance Sunday

As usual on Remembrance Sunday, we ring the Parish Church bells, half muffled  for about 15 minutes before the start of the Service at the War Memorial. Because the bells have been used for ringing, the striking mechanism of the church clock is disconnected, and the 11 strikes on the hour have to be rung by hand. After a minor fiasco a few years ago, we've invested all of £10 on a radio-controlled clock to ensure we get the time right!

The clergy and choir process from the church to the memorial which is on the green alongside the church and we aim to stop ringing as the choir form up at the memorial. As we can't see the memorial from the ringing room window, we have a ringer watching for a signal from a colleague outside who can. It all went very smoothly, with the hour being chimed at exactly the right time, immediately following the Last Post.

As a late arrival, having had to make my way down from the tower, I was only able to get a photo by standing on one of the tombs in the churchyard, and even there I had problems with an overhanging tree.
The memorial is sited in a small garden just outside the church, less than a hundred yards from the main A40 road. Last year, the police didn't follow their usual practice of stopping the traffic on the A40 for the two minutes silence for "legal reasons", but this year, the "legal reasons" seem to have been forgotten and it was stopped as usual, making the silence even more impressive.
Not as slick as some of the ceremonies one sees on television,  the two young scouts with the yellow flags failed to lower them at the appropriate time, but who cares? We no longer have a large military contingent from the now closed military School of Languages just down the road, but even so, the crowds seem to grow larger each year.