Sunday, 31 July 2011

High Speed 2

I have provided links to two articles on the proposed High Speed 2 rail route to Birmingham and Leeds/Manchester.

I concur with the thrust of the two articles, namely the money should be invested in improving the existing rail system and re-opening some closed lines.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Too many eggs in too few baskets?

The government has announced that the railway lines between London and Bristol/Cardiff are to be electrified along with the route from Didcot to Oxford.  It is keen also to push on with the High Speed 2 rail route from London to the north via Birmingham.

The problem is that neither of these schemes will ameliorate the excessive overcrowding on many lines into cities, or indeed the lack of lines into cities. Consideration should be given to re-opening the Todmodern Spur which would slash journey times between Burnley and Manchester, developing the routes from Cardiff to the valleys and improved services in West Yorkshire. 

If we are serious about reducing the use of the car it is essential to reopen lines betweensome major centres of population.  A consequence of the decisions governments took after the Beeching Report is that it is impossible to make a journey within a reasonable time between population centres.  West Kent to Brighton, an hour in the car, two hours by train.  Peterborough to Northampton is via London!

There are a couple of time-bombs developing south of the Thames. The London-Brighton route is almost at full capacity as is the route between Orpington and Tonbridge.  The nettle has not been grasped, but it will have to be.  As passengers stand in grossly overcrowded trains it will be little comfort to know that High Speed 2 will be whizzing people  between Birmingham and London.

Kent County Council published a transport strategy recently.  No mention of the problems to come on the Orpington-Tonbridge route, nor of the woeful public transport services between West Kent and Brighton. Unfortunately Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, whose residents are in the firing line, has not come up with any proposals to pressure ministers.  My regular reader will recall that the Council commissioned a report which stated that Staplehurst was on the Hastings line!.Doesn't give one much confidence that the transport strategy is in safe hands.

High Speed 2: necessity or folly?

The opposing groups are limbering up for the battle.  The proposal is to build a high speed railway between London and Birmingham where the line will bifurcate, one limb going to Manchester, the other to Leeds.

Proponents of the scheme point to the slashed journey times between major cities, the increasing demand for rail travel and the problem of some existing routes being close to saturation.


Opponents point to the environmental damage the new line will cause, dispute the need for speed over capacity and argue that the funding would be better spent on improving existing routes and re-opening closed lines. See also:

Building new railways is a very slow process from initial planning to completion and it is vital that plans to deal with the capacity problems on the routes from London to Birmingham and Manchester are put in motion now.  The question though is: is the proposed solution the correct one?

The West Coast Main Line (WCML) is a very busy route serving, inter alia, London, Coventry, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Stockport, Manchester, Chester, Liverpool, Preston, Blackpool and Glasgow. The problem is that some stations along the line have a poor service in order to maximise capacity for trains between major cities.  Places such as Milton Keynes, Northampton, Rugby, Nuneaton, Tamworth, Litchfield and Stafford suffer.

There is an alternative route to Birmingham from London Marylebone via High Wycombe, Bicester and Leamington Spa.  This route has had significant upgrades in recent years and operates a half-hourly service between London and Birmingham.  It is slower, but cheaper, by this route.  It is difficult to see how capacity can be raised much more without a detrimental effect on the suburban traffic from London to High Wycombe and Aylesbury.

There are those who claim the answer is not to build a new high speed line but to enhance the capacity of the WCML.  It is difficult to see how this could be achieved.  It would be more expensive than building a new line and there would be untold disruption on the route for the third time in sixty years.

Is there anything else that can be done?  One suggestion is to re-open the Bedford-Northampton line to enable Thameslink trains to reach the latter town and thence to Birmingham or along the Trent valley to Stafford.

One of the major problems in the Manchester-London traffic.  At one time it was possible to reach four London termini from Manchester.  The only remaining route is that to Euston via Stafford.  Until the 1970s it was possible to travel via Derby to St Pancras, via Sheffield, Nottingham and Leicester to Maryleone and via Sheffield and Grantham to King's Cross.  I believe consideration should be given to re-opening at least one alternative route between Manchester and London.


Friday, 29 July 2011

Where do I live?

I live in the Borough of Tunbridge Wells. More specifically I lived until May of this year in Royal Tunbridge Wells which is the unparished part of the borough.  Now Rusthall has a parish council.  Does this mean that I no longer live in Royal Tunbridge Wells?

Wild Rusthall

A Rusthall resident has been handed a nine year sentence for robbing a post office van in a suburb of Tunbridge Wells

Another resident has been handed a ten month prison sentence suspended for two years for an unprovoked attack in a Rusthall  street on a young woman.

Think I'll order some body armour.

Rail Competition

Yesterday I watched a programme about the vital part the railways played in the Second World War.  By the end of the war the railway infrastructure was much weakened and the railways were nationalised by the Labour government.  The position was such that any government after the war would have had to nationalise to ensure investment in repairing the system. In those days there were no motorways and most goods and minerals were conveyed by rail.

The programme mentioned the role the railway played in the preparations leading up to D-Day and the fact that there were so many alternative routes that could be used.

Acting on the recommendations contained in the Beeching Report Conservative and Labour governments in the 1960s closed many competing railways and reduced capacity on lines that were retained.  Margaret Thatcher decided to privatise the railways  -the poll tax on wheels - as Nicholas Ridley MP described it.  What privatisation lacked was the introduction of competition, franchises deliver monopolies.

The history of the development of railways in the nineteenth century is one of competition and the avoidance of monopoly. Some of the competition resulted in ruination for the railway companies involved.  Some cities were served by by two or more competing companies, some by only one company.

The classic example of ruinous competition is that of the London Chatham & Dover Railway and the South Eastern Railway.  Where one company went,  the other was sure to follow. Eventually common sense prevailed and the two companies in effect merged to become the London and South Eastern Railway and operate an integrated service.

At one time it was possible to travel by train from Manchester to London Euston via Stafford and Rugby, to London St Pancras via Derby, to London Marylebone via Sheffield, Nottingham and Rugby and to London King's Cross via Sheffield.  Today the only route is that to London Euston.  The line is almost full to capacity and the franchise holder has a monopoly.  Such is progress.

An interest in railways

My home in my early years overlooked two railway lines, the former Great Central and London and North Eastern Railway line between London Marylebone and Sheffield and the Midland and London Midland and Scottish Railway between London St Pancras and Leeds.  From our house I could see Tapton Junction where the former Midland line to Sheffield and Rotherham diverted from the 'old road' direct to Rotherham.  George Stephenson had lived at Tapton House.

My father was interested in earlier transport links, turnpikes and canals, and was awarded a Ph.D. by Sheffield University for a thesis on turnpikes and canals in and around Sheffield and North Derbyshire. He encouraged me to take an interest in railways from an historical perspective and also the current railway scene. 

My knowledge of the geography of the United Kingdom was gained through looking at railway timetables and maps. I developed an understanding of  goods and mineral traffic flows and how they served industry.  Watching trains go by was of secondary interest and I never bothered to collect numbers.  However I was interested in why, where I lived, the former LMS line was always busy whilst trains  were few and far between on the former LNER line.  Why were two competing lines built between Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester and London? 

Often I played with friends by the side of the Chesterfield Canal close to the lines of the two railway companies which had been nationalised in 1947 and named 'British Railways'.  We would see the 'Devonian' heading for Birmingham, Bristol and Torquay, the 'Waverley Express' for Leeds, Carlisle and Edinburgh and the 'Thames-Clyde Express' also for Carlisle and thence to Glasgow.  In those days, before the advent of motorways, these far away places existed in our imagination. What were they like?  No Internet or Google maps to refer to.

The south and the 'electric' trains of the Southern Region were a foreign land to us and all we knew about them was encapsulated in the London to Brighton in Four Minutes film.

We lived in a more innocent age, didn't watch much television, no computer games to play, no fear of strangers. The pace of life was slower and we didn't have washing machines, cars, supermarkets and all the other boons to modern day living.  On the hand there was washing day drudgery, frequent visits to the shops, poor housing and many people worked in dangerous industries.

In my lifetime scientific knowledge and new technology has wrought hugely beneficial changes to our society, but I am thankful for the experiences of my childhood.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Royal Tunbridge Wells and nostalgia

As the regeneration saga in Royal Tunbridge Wells bumbles along one key group in the discussion has been the Aspic Brigade, hell bent on preserving the town in a time-warp.  The focus of attention has been the civic complex, which, as I have noted before, did not receive acclaim from Pevsener

An article in today's Daily Telegraph is critical of the decision to list a number of London Underground stations.

One paragraph from the article:

Nostalgia, of the kind to which the English are so prone, can be a debilitating condition. Is there any nation which spends so much time looking over its shoulder and so little time looking forward? The Underground may be a part of our cultural heritage, but it is also, and far more urgently, a problem crying out for a solution.

I enjoyed the following comment I received:

It's fine to be nostalgic. Take out some of the red tiles and build a partial copy somewhere as part of a museum of the Underground. Take a bunch of nice photographs of each of these architectural works, preserve some tiles, make some nice ...displays. Perhaps the displays can even go on tour. And then build modern, efficient Underground stations, because the purpose of the Underground is the utilitarian purpose of TRANSPORTATION.
The civic complex in Royal Tunbridge Wells includes a museum/art gallery which is too small, a library on need of modernisation and an inadequate theatre.
As my correspondent notes, a building should fulfill its utilitarian purpose.  Canterbury City Council has bitten the bullet and has demolished and rebuilt the Marlow Theatre. Kent County Council is providing funding for a new museum and library in the city.  In Ashford a new library has been built.
Time to stop looking over our shoulder in Tunbridge Wells  and look forward.

Surfing along: political parties

One of the joys of the Internet is the freedom it gives to study the views of political parties/ pressure groups and their members.

It is fascinating to a political anorak such as myself to explore the machinations of the minor parties of right and left.  Both left and right spend more time attacking organisations on their wing than attacking the opposing wing, or challenging the major parties.  In this regard nothing has changed over the years.  What has changed is the weaponry used to mount attacks.  Websites, fora and blogs have replaced the pamphlet.

The small parties of left and right engage in bitter internecine arguments of little interest to the vast majority of the population.  A flavour of the disputation may be found by following this link:

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

A wedding in Rugby

Many years ago I was invited to a wedding at Rugby Registry Office.  Nothing very special about that, but the day was enlivened by the arrival of a friend of mine and his wife.  The wife was carrying a cine-camera (that shows how long ago it was) and she said she hoped the marriage we were about to witness would last longer than the previous one.  The groom's previous marriage, also at Rugby Registry Office, had broken down before the camera toting lady had had the film developed.

Following the ceremony the wedding party set off for the matrimonial home.  The immediate problem we faced was getting past the geese into the bungalow.  Geese are not only noisy and aggressive, but very messy.  Once inside it was not a good idea to leave the safe haven and inspect the garden.

The journey home was trouble free.  The car radio was on and a reporter was commenting on the outbreak of a small fire under the stand at Bradford City Football Club.  Soon, the whole stand was aflame and many died.  A sombre end to the day.

Below is a link to the television report on the fire.

Having a Google

Having a few moments to spare I opened Google Maps and had a wander down Chatsworth Road, Chesterfield. Much was familiar, but in the twenty-five years since I moved from the town a number of landmarks have disappeared.

The Terminus Hotel, so named as it was at the end of the tram line from Whittington Moor, has been demolished and replaced by retirement flats. Not called Terminus Court I note.

The Terminus was a pub caught in a 1930s time warp.  Then it all changed and went 'posh'.  Some of the pub's characters adapted to the change very easily, they were oblivious to the up-market image the proprietors were keen to develop. One of the regulars was Harry Hall who had spent his life as a showman and ran Harry Hall's Amusements in Matlock Bath.   A larger-than-life figure Harry would regale us with stories.  Harry liked a Turkish bath and decided he would visit a local massage parlour.  Unfortunately Harry did not understand that such places were not for a good massage, but had a rather different purpose.  Harry was caustic in his criticism of the massage he had received.

Further down Chatsworth Road was Bradbury Hall owned by Robinson & Sons, a major company in the area.  The hall was used as the works' canteen and once a year was given over to the company based operatic society.  The performances were fun, but not of  a high standard.  One year the highlight for me was the appearance on stage of an individual who announced in a very broad Derbyshire accent that he was Captain Lopez of the Mexican police force.  Our small party applauded vigorously and by the end of the performance Captain Lopez was the undisputed star of the show. 

The hall was taken over of Mike Watterson and turned into an up-market snooker hall.  Mike had been the promoter of the World Snooker Championship at The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.

Further down Chatsworth Road was Brampton Brewery, then closed, now demolished.  I never had the pleasure of drinking Brampton Mild, but older boozers' eyes would glaze over in fond remembrance of the drink.

One establishment still open is The Star.  The former landlady, who had a passing resemblance to Hilda Baker, was a gem.  The highlight of the year was the visit of Charlie Drake who stayed at the pub.  The regulars would treat him as any other customer and would be rewarded with moments of comedy.  I was never impressed by Charlie as a performer on television, but in the flesh he was very funny.

Contrary to speculation.....

I do not spend all day on my blogs and social networking sites.

Yesterday was a case in point: board meeting of a charity in the morning, visit to a community centre to give advice at lunchtime and a political meeting in the evening.  Quite like old times.  In amongst this working on developing Communities Food Community Interest Company.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


The Work and Pensions Committee report published today makes for bleak reading.

The report in full is available at:

I declare an interest.  For a time I was the Campaign Co-ordinator for ACT NOW.  ACT NOW is concerned about the inappropriateness of the Atos assessment procedures as applied to people with autism. (It should be added that ACT NOW campaigns on other issues affecting children and adults with autism and their parents and carers.)

The campaign has been difficult.  The last Labour government introduced the assessments and so, in opposition, the Labour Party was not well-placed to criticise the Coalition for continuing with the policies it inherited.

However, there has been support from backbenchers in the Labour Party.  Jon Cruddas MP has been a strong supporter and indeed became the patron of ACT NOW.

The committee's report is but the start of the campaign to effect change in the procedures for assessing a person's ability to work.  I note the Department of Work and Pensions published its own report today in  a feeble attempt to take the sting out of the committee's report.

The BBC article (see link below) covers both the committee and the DWP reports.

As a bit of light relief I have posted a photograph of Anna Kennedy and Carole Rutherford, two of the core founder members of ACT NOW with John Cruddas earlier this year.  I managed to sneak in as did Terry Rutherford, a staunch ACT NOW supporter.

Peterborough leading the way?

Interesting article in today's Guardian (see link below) on the issue of civic engagement and participation.  It is not simply about providing capital or revenue resources, it is about empowering people to shape public services and have a say in their delivery

Above all, it is not just about producing strategies.  It is about delivering strategies. 

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Europe: where next for the United Kingdom?

We have a two tier European Union: countries which are part of the eurozone and them that are not.  Despite warnings at the time the eurozone was formed that it would end in disaster unless there was fiscal as well as monetary union, as well as adherence to the criteria for joining the euro, countries rushed lemming like to join.

Last Thursday eurozone leaders, together with the European Central Bank and the EU Commission, cobbled together a short-term palliative which might hold off the looming disaster until the autumn. But a heavy price has been paid.  Greece has defaulted despite all the fine words to the contrary, moves towards a transfer union and eventually a eurozone treasury have begun.  EU constitutional rules have been ignored.

The stakes are particularly high for Germany.  The risk for that nation is that it will finish up paying more to support failing countries for decades, which will make the reparations paid after the Great War look like loose change.  Will the German people stand for it? Shall we see a resurgence of German nationalism, something which the Common Market was meant to deflate?

We should be grateful that John Major and Gordon Brown kept us out of the euro.  Does the United Kingdom really want to be at the heart of Europe as a member of eurozone mark 2?   I think not, although Mr Clegg and the Liberal Democrats seem to want us in.

A dreadful economic and social cost has beset Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy.  The ability of the governments of sovereign nations to set economic, monetary and fiscal policy is at the heart of the democratic process.  All the aforementioned countries have lost sovereignty to the EU fist.  Would we wish to go down that road, to be controlled by an organisation beyond our ability to have any meaningful democratic control over it?  I doubt it.

Since I wrote this I have noted the pertinent article in the Daily Telegraph. See link below:

Also this article:,1518,776411,00.html

Friday, 22 July 2011

Getting our priorities right.

Until today two issues dominated the news: the News International telephone hacking and the travails of the Eurozone.   In order of importance the hacking story has been given greater prominence and disgusting as it is the damage it has done is minimal when set against what could have happened had a short-term palliative not been found to the debt contagion issue.

However both issues have been overtaken by the obscene events in Oslo today. It has been quiet of late, but the threat of a terrorist attack in Europe is ever-present.  In London in particular the risk will increase as the Olympic Games come ever closer.

Has our ability to counter terrorist attacks been damaged by the blood-letting at the top of the Metropolitan Police and the distraction to come of the inquiries the government has set up?

Regeneration: Tunbridge Wells style.

I commented recently (link) on the massive regeneration being undertaken in Canterbury - a new Marlowe Theatre, a new library and a new museum, mostly funded by the city council with some support from Kent County Council.   Forward looking, visionary,  brave: call it what you will, but at least it shows a sense of purpose, direction and determination to provide modern facilities to enhance the cultural, educational, social and economic life of Canterbury.

And then there is Royal Tunbridge Wells which is part of the Borough of Tunbridge Wells.  The contrast between the two councils is lamentable.  This was emphasised at the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) meeting earlier this week to consider a report on a public consultation undertaken for the Tunbridge Wells Regeneration Company of which the Council is a partner.   The Cranbrook nafia (sic) was out in force. It is clear that tensions within the Conservative Group continue despite the best efforts of the Leader, Councillor Bob Atwood to calm proceedings.

Unfortunately the pronouncements of Councillor Atwood do little to diminish concern that the cabinet is frozen by indecision, caught like a rabbit in the headlights, fearful of upsetting the Aspic  Brigade.

As Councillor Tracey Moore stated: no more delays.  Action this day: direction and determination to push on with regeneration is needed urgently.

YUK awards come round again

Yes reader, it is the time of year when the Directory of Social Change launches publicity for its annual awards:,GY87,N8PCP,1DSRQ,1

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Germany calling, Germany calling

Twice in the twentieth century Germany called.  Defeated after the Great War it took Germany only twenty years to mount a repeat fixture.  Never again was the cry after the Great War.  The Treaty of Versailles was a failure and after the Second World War a new strategy was needed to contain Germany.  The plan that emerged was for countries in western Europe to work together and the hope was that the mistrust of Germany and that country's predilection to wage war as an extension of diplomacy would be overcome by the benefits of closer collaboration and the suppression of nationalism.  Hence the formation of the European Economic Community (Common Market)  and later the European Union.

The partition of Europe after the Second World War helped allay concerns about Germany. Half the nation was behind the Iron Curtain and part of the Soviet bloc.

After the false dawns of the Hungarian Uprising and the Prague Spring, eventually the USSR empire crumbled, as do all empires..  Fear of the power of a reunited Germany accelerated the demand for closer integration and hence the drive towards monetary union, but not fiscal union. Now it is recognised that there cannot be a workable monetary union without fiscal union.

Despite the drag on its economy of the former East Germany, the unified Germany has become the economic powerhouse of Europe.  Like it or not, Germany is calling the shots in  resolving the current problems facing the eurozone.  Germany has come calling again.

The Brussels empire is as dismissive of the demands of the population under its fist as was the USSR of the people of its pliant states in eastern Europe.  There will be a day of reckoning.

NB: The link below is to an article in the Guardian published on 22 July.  Well worth a read.

As is this:

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Washing away the guilt.

The Labour Party, under the less than inspiring leadership of Ed Miliband, has formulated a policy to deal with its grievous failures in government.  Simple: after the general election all the party did is in the past.  What matters is the now.  The election defeat has cleansed the party of all guilt, of its economic mismanagement and the sordid relationship it had with News International.  It won't wash and when the inquiry looks into the relationship between Labour and News Corporation, the evangelical fervour with which little Ed is tearing into Cameron will be shown up as the rankest hypocrisy.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Crisis upon Crisis: More like FIFA every day

Quite apart from the crisis in the eurozone and the borrowing limit paralysis in the USA, we have our own fair share of crises to contend with.

Metropolitan Police in disarray, Crown Prosecution Service in disarray, a major media company in meltdown and concerns at the actions of the Prime Minister.  What next?

Add to that the MPs and peers expenses scandal and the money for honours issue.

This country is becoming more like FIFA as each day goes by.  Indeed FIFA is a paragon of  honesty and transparency when set against what is happening in the UK.

Rip-off merchants

Please look at the item below

It is a disgrace that it is legal to charge over 4,000% interest on loans. 

It is with some pride that I say that I played a small part in the formation of Essex Savers Credit Union and also Kent Savers Credit Union.  Credit unions are regulated and deposits with them are protected.  Interest rates on loans are fair. 

Go to the Association of British Credit Unions website for more information (link below)

What a shambles

The wheels are coming off!  What a shambles the hacking scandal has become.  Pity the gentlemen in my photograph below are not around to bring a modicum of common sense and sanity to the proceedings,

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The stench is overpowering

The British people are being taken for mugs by the political elite.

Last year we had the sordid spectacle of MPs and peers gorging in the trough of public money to fund their lifestyles.

We had to endure the distasteful episode during which manifesto promises were broken as the politicians grubbed around to gain power.

The latest revelations concerning hacking show the depths and lengths to which politicians would go to curry favour with the Murdoch empire.  Let there be no doubt, Labour sucked up to Murdoch in spades, so the self-righteous pontification  by Ed Miliband leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.

Recently Miliband stated that Rebekah  Brooks should resign as the wrongdoing had happened on her watch.  I agree, but when was the last time a government minister or local authority leader resigned for something that happened on their watch?  What we are told by the person overseeing a failure is that they are best placed to retrieve the position.  Pass the sick bag please.  More a case of politicians wishing to preserve their power and perks than take responsibility.

And politicians wonder why people are reluctant to vote!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Parish Jottings

Rusthall Parish Council has decided to embark on the production of a community led parish plan.  Excellent news. According to a report in the local newspaper the council may use the services of Action with Communities in Rural Kent (ACRK).   I declare an interest. ACRK is supporting Communities Food Community Interest Company and one of my fellow directors is employed by ARCK to work on community led parish plans.

It is reported in the press  that Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has made a grant of £10,000 to the parish council. Again, excellent news, but is it a grant and therefore not repayable?

The newspaper carried a short story that the parish council gave its consent to a proposal to put a phone mast....'.  Unless the law has changed the parish council cannot give consent  to or refuse a planning proposal.  It is invited to comment.

Anodyne Civic Complex motion.

I quote from the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's website:

On Wednesday 20 July at 6.30pm, there will be a Full Council meeting in Tunbridge Wells Town Hall which will consider, among other agenda items, the report from M&N Communications which gives feedback about the public consultation on the future of the civic complex in Royal Tunbridge Wells town centre.

The council will consider the following motion:

"That this Council notes the content of the M&N Consultation report, and thanks the many people who have contributed to it through questionnaires, workshops, drop-in sessions and focus groups. Furthermore, this Council undertakes to take account of the wide ranging and diverse views expressed in this Report together with the views expressed directly by members of the public, by Councillors, and in other relevant reports and documents, before taking any further decisions concerning the future of the Civic Complex."

The future of the civic complex is always a matter of great interest and therefore arrangements have been made for a live webcast of the meeting to be broadcast on the council’s website. The webcast will also be available to be viewed again on the website after the meeting."

Doubtless there will be the usual grandstanding questions from the aspic bridge and posturing from the more  excitable councillors.

What I  cannot fathom is why the motion is before the council as all it states is it will  note and take account of opinions expressed before taking any further decisions concerning the future of the civic complex.  Time for a big yawn.  Reads more like a PR exercise than anything else.  Methinks we should import a few councillors from Canterbury to put some dynamism into the Tunbridge Wells crawlers.

News: priorities

The past fortnight has witnessed a media frenzy attacking News International over the telephone hacking issue and the police for alleged incompetence in investigating the hacking.  Obviously these are important issues, but the danger is that restrictions on the media's freedom to investigate may be the eventual outcome of the inquiries set up to consider the issues.  In the UK we have a secretive system of government. Curtailing the investigative tools at the disposal of the media will be welcomed by the establishment.

One of the unedifying spectacles during recent days has been the attacks made by two-bit politicians on News International and the police. Now, don't misunderstand me, there is much to criticise.  However, the sight and sound of politicians  'bravely' speaking out leads me to ask why they were not so forthright  before.  The answer is simple:  the two major parties sucked up to Murdoch.  The police are being hammered in revenge for the investigation into the Honours scandal.  As a letter writer to the Daily Telegraph put it:

Given Keith Vaz’s past disgrace, it would be nice if the lead in the questioning of police was taken by someone of greater credibility. Such as Coco the Clown.

There has been very little media coverage of the deterioration of the stability of the eurozone and the financial crisis developing in the United States, issues which could have a profound effect on the United Kingdom.  The mere fact that there is even talk of returning to the Gold Standard should be sending out alarm signals.

Am I alone in thinking that the Westminster village and the media have got their priorities wrong?

Thursday, 14 July 2011

European Union and English Nationalism

My avid reader knows I am in favour of withdrawal from the European Union and that I long to see a resolution of the West Lothian Question.

Both issues have risen up the political agenda; Europe because of the problems in the eurozone and the likelihood that the EU will use the current travails to press for greater integration  and also proposals for the EU to have tax raising powers.  Resolution of the West Lothian Question becomes more pressing following the stunning victory of the Scottish Nationalists in the recent elections for the Scottish parliament.

Recent opinion polls suggest that a majority of voters for each of three largest political parties is in favour of withdrawal from the EU.  The parties though remain europhile.  None of the parties has addressed the West Lothian Question in any meaningful way, although some progress is being made.  See:

In England two political parties have a clear policy of withdrawal from the EU - the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the English Democrats (ED).

The parties differ on how to deal with the West Lothian Question.  UKIP's policy is for Westminster MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to be barred from voting on purely English legislation.

The ED policy is for a separate English legislature and English government which I consider to be preferable to the UKIP proposal.

What needs to be determined is should the governments of the four nations be part of a federal structure and if so, what would be the responsibilities of the federal and national governments?

Fascinating as constitutional issues are, it has to be recognised that the electorate votes in UK elections on a wide range of issues, although a US President was probably right when he said: 'It's the economy stupid' which determines how people vote.

UKIP do well at European Parliament elections, but have not had any success at Westminster elections and little success in local government elections.  The problem UKIP and the ED have is that what unites the membership are the constitutional issues.  Both parties have policies on a wider range of issues, but these are seldom debated.  To be successful both parties need to develop a supporter base which goes beyond constitutional issues.

Tunbridge Wells: a tourist destination

Royal Tunbridge Wells is in commuter land. In the morning and evening rush hours some trains run non-stop between High Brooms (a suburb of the town) and London.  Off-peak there are four trains an hour to London.  However, the town has retained a distinctiveness which sets it apart from other commuter land towns such as Guildford and Reading.

There are many attractions for tourists in the Borough of Tunbridge Wells as well as in Royal Tunbridge Wells.  The 'jewel in the crown' is the area known as the Pantiles  and it is a major tourist attraction. For many years the tourist information centre was located in the Pantiles.  However, the council decided, as a money saving measure, to re-locate the centre during the week to the Gateway.  The Gateway is a mile from the Pantiles.

The council was warned that the move would be a disaster and it has been.  Now the council is considering a recommendation to return the centre to full time operation in the Pantiles and abandon the presence in the Gateway.

Beggars belief  that the council was so out of touch with reality.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Royal Victoria Place goes down market

Yes, I have blogged on this topic before, but a recent visit to RVP has left me even more depressed.  When RVP  opened the spacious circulating area and open spaces were a delight.  But what has happened?  Decking has been added at first floor level, cafes squeezed into the circulating area and a plethora of mobile stands added.  More Lakeside than Bluewater.

The owners are sweating the assets and as a consequence the shopping experience has deteriorated.  The recently opened extension to the shopping centre at County Square, Ashford is reminiscent of what RVP used to be like.

A tale of two councils in Kent

Perusing the web, or 'surfing' if you prefer, this evening I came across an article to which I have provided the following link:

What an eye-opener!  A few quotes from the article to whet your appetite.

If the public sector does not invest in infrastructure, no one else is going to do so," said Colin Carmichael, the city council's chief executive. "To be honest, we would make the same decision to go ahead if we were taking it now. This says we've got confidence in this place, come and invest here."

When city councillors, from all parties, voted to press ahead with the project two years ago, they knew the recession was biting but decided to go forward anyway as a way of boosting visitors to the city centre in the evenings and revitalising tourism and business in east Kent as a whole.

John Gilbey, Tory leader of the city council, donned a hard hat and fluorescent jacket to look over the site where builders and decorators remain hard at work, said: "Fifty councillors from all parties stood up and were counted. This has been a long-term ambition and this is a long-term gesture. We have had our reductions in funding too, but we have rationalised our services. Nobody will be able to point their finger at us and say we are abolishing essential services to build this theatre."

Canterbury received a cut in central funding of £2.7m this year, with a further £1.4m to come next year, equivalent to a 20% reduction followed by a further 13%. It has made savings of £2m and is sharing services with other local authorities. Not only is there a theatre, but a new library and art museum are also rising in the city, a further £13m in public expenditure. The council put up £17m towards the theatre, the county council a further £2m and more than £5m has been raised from trusts, business and private donations, with only £600,000 left to raise. The calculation is that, whereas the old theatre brought revenues of £13m a year to the city, the new one will increase that to £22m.
I take my hat off to Canterbury City Council: a total of £38.6 million on regeneration in Canterbury.
Now, look at Tunbridge Wells.  The council has been scratching around for years and still we have no emerging picture of what it intends to do about town centre regeneration.  Where is the vision and dynamism to drive forward projects on even half the scale of Canterbury?
For too long the council has been paying homage to the aspic brigade.  Sadly the main opposition party in Tunbridge Wells, the Liberal Democrats, is even more reactionary than the Conservative majority.  Liberal Democrats are engaged in a tawdry vote-grubbing exercise with no regard to the long term economic welfare of Tunbridge Wells.
When plans for the regeneration of the civic complex are published for consultation let us hope the plans bear some resemblance in approach to that of the forward looking councillors in Canterbury.  I live in hope...................

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Michael Evans

We have known for a long time that Michael Evans was unwell, but news of his death at 59 still comes as a shock.

Michael was supportive of the work of Tunbridge Wells Churches' Social Responsibility Group and Kent Industrial Mision.

He was a keen Leeds United supporter and a photograph of the 1960s team had pride of place on the wall above his desk.


European Union and The Eurozone

I think the position currently is illustrated well by the photograph:

Community led parish plan

In a previous blog I noted that Rusthall Parish Council had an item on the agenda concerning a community led parish plan.  In the earlier blog are two links to websites which go into great detail about the value of such plans and also the process to produce them.

I support the development of a community led parish plan, so long as it is that, and not something which the parish council and/or the Village Association seek to control.  The worst scenario would be for a few siren voices to dominate the process.

A community led plan must not become the 'be all and end all' of community engagement.  One idea I like was suggested to me by the leader of a district council in Kent. He suggested that community meetings be held to discuss topics.  Statutory bodies would attend and would undertake to go away and consider the issues raised and report back within three months on progress (or otherwise) in dealing with residents' concerns.  This idea strikes me as being one which the parish council should take on board.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Weight watcher

Waiting in the doctor's surgery recently to have my ears syringed I noticed a chart which set out the 'healthy' weight of a person by height.  On examination of the chart I noted that my 'healthy' weight is 12 stone 10 pounds (none of the metric rubbish on my blog).

Last Friday I stepped onto the scales and was shocked to discover I weigh 15 stone 1 pound. 

Time for action!!

I am keeping a record of progress, or lack of it.

8 July:  15st. 1lb,  9 July:  14st. 12lb,  10 July:  14st. 13lb,  11 July:  14st. 11lb,
12 July:  14st. 12lb,  13 July:  14st. 13lb, 14 July:  14st. 12lb, 15 July:  14st. 11lb, 16 July:  14st 12lb,
17 July:  14st. 12lb,  18 July:  14st. 12lb, 19 July:  14st. 12lb, 20 July:  14st 11lb, 21 July:   14st 12lb, 22 July:  14st. 11lb,  23 July: 14st 12lb,  24 July:  14st. 12lb, 25 July:  14st, 12lb, 26th July: 14st. 12lb,  27th July: 14st 12lb,  28th July: 14st 12lb, 29th July: 14st 12lb, 30th July: 14st 13lb, 31st  July: 14st. 12lb.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Rusthall Parish Council Meeting: 11 July

The next meeting of the parish council will be held on 11th July at the United Reformed Church commencing at 7.30PM.

An interesting item on the agenda is the development of a parish plan and public consultation regarding said plan.

Below is a link to a website devoted to community led plans.

The link below is devoted to community led plans.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Rusthall Fete: 16th July

The second Rusthall Fete is being held on Saturday 16th July from noon to 5.00PM at the Southwood Road Recreation Ground.

Last year's fete was a success and the organisers claim the forthcoming event will be even better. 

Habsburg Humour

Archduke Otto von Habsburg, who died on July 4 aged 98, began his public life as the infant Crown Prince of the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire, and ended it as Father of the multinational European Parliament.

When he was asked by an aide in the European Parliament if he was attending the next Austria-Hungary football match, he apparently replied: 'Who are we playing?'.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

My other Blog: Communities Food Community Interest Company

My avid reader will know I am involved with Communities Food Community Interest Company which is seeking to tackle the problem of food poverty in Kent.  You may visit my Blog by following this link:

Cessation of smoking

On Sunday evening I ran out of tobacco. This morning I decided not to go to the shop and buy new supplies.  It is over twenty-four hours since I had a smoke and now there is no opportunity for me to acquire tobacco before 7.00AM tomorrow morning.

Will I give up the habit?  I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Pedestrians beware!!

Dangerous place for pedestrians is Tunbridge Wells.  Here is my list of danger spots.

1.  Carr's Corner.

2. London Road/ Vale Road junction

3. Mount Ephraim Road (vehicles driving wrong way along one-way part of the road).

4. Roundabout by the Spa Hotel.

5. Grosvenor Road pedestrianised area. (Supposedly limited to buses and taxis between 10.00AM-4.00PM.)

6. Crossing A264 Langton Road  between Rusthall Road and Coach Road junctions

7. Rusthall Road at its junction with Langton Road.

8. Eridge Road/Nevill Terrace roundabout.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Borough Council Magazine: oops

My copy of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's magazine was delivered today.  On page 20 we are informed that the Mayor is Councillor Mrs Elizabeth Warren.  By page 21 the Mayor is identified correctly as Councillor Mrs Elizabeth Thomas!  Wonder why the name Warren was used?

When I retired from the Borough Council in 2000 I was somewhat surprised when, following the elections,  I looked at the mug-shots of councillors on the town hall noticeboard.  There was my photograph and name!  My successor, Bob Wratten was not happy: he had been omitted.

White Elephants or Community Assets?

In Southborough there is a community centre known as Cafe Bliss.  It was established by the Better Living in Southborough Society and has been a roaring success. Situated on the main road there is a heavy footfall which undoubtedly helps trade.  Location, location, location.  Local statutory and voluntary organisations hold surgeries at the premises and there is a thriving youth group. The success of Cafe Bliss owes much to the hard work and commitment of Elaine Lawrence.

In Showfields, Tunbridge Wells there is the Number One Community Centre. For various reasons the cafe has not been a success in recent years, the community does not engage with the centre and it has proved difficult to establish a vibrant community group.

The TN2 community centre in Sherwood is well located close to the shops and is quite busy.  Unfortunately the layout of the building is appalling and this acts as a severe limitation on the activities which can be undertaken. 

A problem common to Number One and TN2 is the degree of  'ownership' by the local communities.  The communities do not have control of the centres, although it is not for want of trying by the local authorities to develop community engagement and participation. 

One vibrant community in Tunbridge Wells has a thriving community group, the Rusthall Village Association.  Rusthall has a recently formed parish council, a lunch club for older people and the long-standing Rusthall Youth and Community Project.  The lunch club is held at one of the church halls and the youth project uses the local library outbuilding and a mobile hut it purchased and erected.
The two church halls and the Rusthall Club (a workingmens' club) are venues for community activities.  The church halls are used by a variety of organisations.

The local housing association has built sheltered accommodation in Rusthall which should be open this September. Part of the building is a 'community facility', including  a cafe.  It will be interesting to see which local voluntary organisations make use of the facilities and the extent of public usage. One can but hope it will be successful.  Given the nature of  of the Rusthall community it could do well.  My main concern is the effect it might have on the viability of other venues.