Thursday 26 November 2015

Osborne's political handbook -- Chapter 1 -- Smoke & Mirrors

After managing to win an election following 5 years of ripping off the poor to enrich the already wealthy George Gideon Oliver Osborne was approached by a publisher with a book deal that he just could not refuse. They asked him:

 "How have you managed to get people to vote for you when you've been systematically emptying their wallets, making a really bad fist of the economy and ruining the lives of young and old alike?"

"It's simple",  Osborne replied, and then proceeded to write this political tome, the fruit of his summer hols spent touring in his campervan. 

Calais refugee campsite - now knee deep in mud.
This is the reality of living out of doors.
"My daughter's choice last year, the Peak District in Derbyshire, was so relaxing so we went one better in 2015, the Speke District in Liverpool. There was plenty of time in the evenings to knock off a few chapters after enjoying the bonhomie of the communal campfire, a centerpiece of the themed campsite ....... this year a very realistic recreation of the colourful refugee camp in Calais" ........... he mused.

So ........ onto the book. The first chapter contains the meat of the book ........... well that's what your reviewer thought as he never got started on chapter 2, the will to live thankfully kicking in before the awfulness of Osborne's worldview could do irreparable damage. Chapter 1, Smoke & Mirrors said it all. Osborne has found that the gullible Tory voter will cheer him to the rafters as long as he says the right things. They don't look at what he is doing, preferring instead to be comforted by his words. This man can truly do no wrong as is evident in that loose assemblage of sheets of paper that goes by the name of The Sun:

BRITAIN’S struggling workers were saved from a £1,300-a-year income hit yesterday as George Osborne pulled a U-turn on his tax credit cuts.

Yes good old George, he has saved those struggling British workers from .......... what he threatened to do to them up to last Wednesday lunchtime. But has he really? Are struggling British workers safe from the tax credit cutting scourge that was dreamt up by Osborne, probably whilst relaxing with a warm can of Vimto as he enjoyed the balmy evening air;  the sunset burnishing the refinery smokestacks on the opposite bank of the Mersey from the Speke campsite, the grim chimneys becoming thought provoking symbols of what Britain might become if he should decide to call a halt to the alternative energy industry and turn back to fossil fuels (but that's the subject of another chapter). So did he save those struggling workers?

No .............. it's all smoke and mirrors

Once again we are indebted to the Institute of Fiscal Studies for blowing away the smoke and leading us gently by the hand from Osborne's hall of mirrors IFS Autumn Tax credit update.

Source: Resolution think tank (from IFS)
See how closely the effect of the so called u-turn of tax credit cuts have hardly changed anything because tax credits will gradually wither and die as recipients are moved across to Universal Credits. This is what has been cooked up between the DWP and the treasury, ODS and Osborne. A look back at the BelperStuff post following Osborne's Summer statement - Let no man steal your thyme  shows that not a lot has changed:

It is obvious that the debate has not ended with the Lord's rejection of tax credit cuts despite pressure groups applauding themselves for doing such a good job. For those of a more cynical persuasion (BelperStuff), you can never trust a Tory, especially the crowd now inhabiting Westminster. The fight has only just begun.

Smoke & Mirrors

Forgive me but the words of this song fit so well:

Saturday 21 November 2015

Local Tories branded as hypocrites

BelperStuff never takes any statement at face value so always delves and checks background facts before posting. It does not matter who has made the statement, Labour, Tory or some other .......... BelperStuff always checks the facts. Yesterday, hearing about a press statement just issued by Amber Valley Tories led by Clr. Alan Cox the first instinct was to question both the Tory claim and Labour's response. This post contains the evidence that was uncovered. The item in question was this:

Link to Tory lies and hypocrisy article , the stop press piece on the Amber Valley Labour Group website. Clicking on the link you will find:

Following last night's  Full  Council meeting ,at which the  proposal to support Whole Council elections was rejected. the Tory group issued a press release  criticising the Labour group for not supporting the proposal by saying it will result in the loss of £250,000 of savings between 2019-2023.

It goes on:

The sheer hypocrisy of Cllr Alan Cox's comment about saving money is laughable. Cllr Alan Cox and his group voted against  a similar proposal  put forward by Labour, when we were in control of the Council, on 2nd March 2015 which would have saved £235,000 from May 2016-2019 and the additional £250,000 between 2019-2023 a total of £475,000. The Conservative proposal would only have become effective from 2019 and saved £250,000. I think the question for Cllr Alan Cox is why did he voted against making saving of £475,000 only 10 months ago.

BelperStuff contacted the leader of the Labour group, Cllr Paul Jones and asked him for details. He suggested that a careful reading of the minutes of the Special Full Council Meeting held on Wednesday, 2 March 2015 at the Council Chamber in Ripley would be enlightening (this is the link). Contained in those minutes is a fulsome report on the issue of changing the election process of the AVBC which would have taken effect from 2016. There are also details of the vote that was taken and it is plain to see that 20 Tories voted against the proposal (including Alan Cox). Obviously if Cox and his party decided to oppose the change in March but in November choose to vote for that change to be effective from 2019 it would seem that they have foregone the chance to save £235,000; money that would have been available to offset at least a small portion of the cuts to the borough finances that are being inflicted by Westminster Tories.

But why did the Labour group vote for the change in March but in November voted against? Delving more deeply into this we find that following ongoing consultation with local voters and organisations it emerged that there was a 69% majority to maintain the status quo. The Labour group, having debated this internally informed Cox that they would not be supporting the change in the November vote and it would have been prudent to cancel or postpone the meeting. Even with the knowledge that there would not be a two thirds majority (the rule for constitutional matters) in favour of the electoral change the Tories still pressed ahead with the meeting and the inevitable vote against. Their press statement followed immediately after, blaming Labour. 

BelperStuff is reminded of the statement to the press that Cox made just before the May election regarding the Council car park in Ripley (link to Alan Cox car park post). BelperStuff subsequently found out that the original decision to put the Town Hall car park up for sale was made over 4 years ago by the then Tory controlled Council. BelperStuff just does not have the time nor the inclination to subject every local Tory press statement to in depth scrutiny .......... life is too short. What we need from our councillors is wisdom and a willingness to search for what is best for the people who live in the borough and not this petty pint scoring (freudian slip - forgot the "o" in point) nonsense. Of course councillors should be free to comment on the actions of their political opponents but we have the right to expect that those comments are honest and reliable. Selectivity of facts is not a new phenomenon in Tory circles:

 In 1796 Edmund Burke wrote:
"Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatsoever: But, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an economy of truth."

 Edmund Burke is regarded by many Tories as one of the founding fathers of Conservatism and it would seem that Burke would find kindred spirits in Amber Valley Tories. 

Thursday 19 November 2015

A paper presented to the Belper Labour branch meeting ............ Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015-16

A discussion paper was presented at the last Belper & Duffield Labour Party branch meeting by Vickie, Nell and Cath which detailed the background and status of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill that is currently grinding its way through both houses of parliament. This is the bill that the Lords so famously voted against on the 26th October ........ voting for a delay so that the effects of these contentious measures can be fully understood.

The submitted paper was rigorously debated at the branch meeting but it was brought to my attention that in our desire to debate the meat of the matter we failed to allow the authors to highlight what it is that we can do to oppose the bill. I have therefore decided to post their report in full. The section that was not addressed is "What can you do" towards the end of the report.

The report mentions the second reading which took place 2 days ago so, after reading the report and exploring the embedded links you might like to cursor back up to here to read the: Hansard report on the second reading in the Lords 17/11/2015.

Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015-16 - report to branch 

Welfare policymakers in the UK have been grappling with the problem of balancing depressed wages for low-income workers against conditionality in the welfare benefits system since the mid-1980s. After 1997 Labour attempted to tackle the work-welfare bargain [that being in work should always make one better off than welfare] through the extension of tax credits which supplemented low incomes, contained discretionary elements to meet the additional costs of childcare and caring for a disabled child, and which continued to be paid during brief periods of unemployment.

After the Coalition Government came to power they designed and legislated for a radical overhaul of the work-welfare bargain which will eventually involve the abolition of the current system of in-work benefits and their replacement with a Universal Credit. Universal Credit is intended to address the problem that entering and leaving employment is much riskier for people on low incomes in receipt of multiple benefits by coordinating housing, council and income benefits (such as jobseeker’s allowance or employment and support allowance) into a single payment which can simply be modified depending on level of earned income. In this way ramps into and out of employment should be smoother, with fewer perverse incentives to remain on welfare. However, there remain substantial concerns about the administration of Universal Credit and whether the rate at which benefits are tapered after someone returns to work will really leave low-income families better off in-work.

After the Conservative Government was elected in May 2015 they had to honour a manifesto commitment to make a further £12 billion cuts to the welfare budget on top of £17 billion achieved in the last parliament. The Welfare Reform and Work Bill represents an attempt to achieve this which, depending on perspective, will either accelerate the timetable for implementing Universal Credit or derail the project entirely.

The Welfare Reform and Work Bill contains proposed amendments to much existing welfare legislation, most notably the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and its provisions, once enacted, are intended to achieve several policy goals.

1. Until last week, the bill contained a provision to reduce eligibility for in-work tax credits from around 3 million households in the UK from April 2016. The controversy surrounding the removal of tax credits was not the fact that it was occurring but that it was happening so swiftly, leaving many low-income working households with little time to adjust. The House of Lords voted to delay the implementation of this proposal by a further year, but it is not certain yet what amendments to the Bill the Government will table at 2nd reading on 17th November to ensure it achieves the same cost savings.

2. The legislative changes necessary to implement Universal Credit were enacted in 2012 but the bill will remove some additional payments available to disabled people who have ‘limited capability for work’.

3. s.96 Welfare Reform Act 2012 created a benefits cap, whereby no household in receipt of out-of-work benefits can receive an annual income greater than the then median household income of £26,000pa. The object of the cap was to ensure that the government could ensure that ‘in-work households’ were consistently better off than ‘out-of-work households’ but it has also been severely criticised for having a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable households including single parent families, families affected by disability and families affected by domestic violence. The new bill will reduce the cap further to £23,000pa from April 2016. This will be achieved either through reducing what a household can receive in housing and council tax benefit or Universal Credit in those areas where this has already been implemented.

4. The bill will have a significant impact on low-income families with more than two children as it restricts entitlement to child benefit and child tax credits to the first two children only. It also repeals almost all of the Child Poverty Act 2010 which placed an obligation upon the government to reduce child poverty as defined by four different measures by 2020. Instead the Secretary of State will have new duties to monitor social mobility, life chances and educational attainment of children in low income families.

What you can do?

All of the major unions are running campaigns related to aspects of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. Unison which represents many low-paid workers who will be affected by the removal of tax credits is campaigning against the abolition of tax credits. The National Union of Teachers is concerned about the impact the bill will have on child poverty. Research the campaigns your union is undertaking to oppose the bill and what action they suggest members take.

In addition many major charities are running campaigns around the bill. The Child Poverty Action Group has produced some excellent (though currently not very up-to-date) briefings on the impact of the bill on children and it may be worth following them on social media.

Macmillan has been very concerned about the cuts to Employment and Support Allowance and the impact this could have on the cost of living for people diagnosed with acute illnesses such as cancer. They have produced excellent briefing materials and organised social media campaigns around the bill.

Major disability charities representing people with continuous disability have a more complex relationship with the changes to the law. They broadly welcome legislative commitment to support into employment for disabled people but they remain concerned about meeting the extra costs of disability in or out of work. A useful summary is provided in Scope’s evidence to the House of Commons

The major disability charities have collectively lobbied parliament around the bill under the umbrella of the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) and in the past achieved significant success in seeing earlier Welfare bills amended. If you are a disabled person who has received benefits you can support the work of the DBC by sharing your experiences with them.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Belper Tories don't believe that there is poverty in our town.

In the last post (An evening with Super Kitchen) we explored the response of Derbyshire County Council to the rising tide of food poverty. It is not wrong that there are those amongst us whose response to this would be, "but how much poverty is there?". Well not an unreasonable question for someone who never reads a newspaper or watches television but it is astonishing that such a question should be asked by members of Belper Town Council. Yes, at the town council meeting last Tuesday evening there was a debate questioning the existence of hunger in Belper. Our correspondent reported:

The Deputy Mayor asked if there really were Belper people going hungry, he asked this question more than once. Another councilor did not believe there were hungry families in Belper but she liked the Street Angels. Deputy Mayor again, ‘How many people are genuinely hungry in our society, it sounds 3rd worldly to me but is it real?’

Belper Town Councilors should be better informed than this. For a start they should read The Good Councillors Guide produced by the National Association of Local Councils (NALC). Within that guide they will find this:

Councillors need to know:

• the population of the parish and how the population is made up 
• how much an average household pays in council tax to the local council

This data would give them an idea of local poverty. Some of the town councillors have also been elected to the Amber Valley Borough Council (AVBC) and they should be aware of the the four yearly study produced by the council:

AVBC Area Profile Belper which contains details of income for Belper households. This is a very informative document which brings together a wealth of information that is invaluable for any councilor wishing to represent every element of the community.

The section on household incomes is very informative and I have copied the relevant data:

Number of households Income below £192 per week
Belper South 2,528 334 = 13.21%
Belper Central 2,403 315 = 13.11%
Belper North 2,147 260 = 12.11%
Belper East 2,402 216 = 8.99%
Total 9,480 1,125 = 11.86%

So 11.86% of Belper households have to exist on less than £192 per week. Perhaps that might not mean much for an out of touch Tory but so-called affordable rents in Belper can be well over £110 per week for a two bedroom dwelling ......... not much left to pay all your other bills plus feed yourself and your family. A privately let 3 bedroom home can set you back over £160 per week. A bleak prospect for those homes where the main income is via insecure zero hour contract jobs.

If you compare the household income data for 2008 and 2013 we find that poverty in belper has increased by 64% .......... see below:

BelperStuff using source data from AVBC
There was a huge rise in poverty in just 4 years.We have to remember that this data spans the years that were impacted by the effects of the credit crunch and only when the next Area Profile is produced will we have easily accessible information to assess the current poverty in the town. That will be (hopefully) in 2017 and I fear that the numbers suffering poverty will only have increased by then.

What we should also remember is that the internationally recognised definition of poverty is 60% of the mean household income which at the moment is around £206 per week. Of course the Tory government has abolished this as a measure of poverty in the UK but I find the Joseph Rowntree Trust Definition of Poverty to be most instructive. If we use this measure we find that a shade under 14% of Belper households were below the poverty line in 2013 ............ that's 1,280 homes ............ the doubting deputy mayor should be aware that up to 300 homes in his ward, Belper North, are having to struggle below he poverty line.

Why has poverty increased so much?

That graph is truly shocking for one such as myself who grew up with the security of the Welfare State .......... the safety net. With this concern in mind I delved into the Belper specific data held by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and what I found has caused me much head scratching.

Belper families receiving tax credits
Year Families In work
2008 2230 1960
2009 2230 1925
2010 2195 1895
2011 1780 1515

The data relating to the number of Belper families in receipt of tax credits is confusing. I have not complicated this basic table with any division involving Child Tax Credits and if I had the data would have been impenetrable. What is disturbing is the fall in numbers between 2010 and 2011, the first year that can be attributed to the ConDem government. I have no idea why 415 families stopped receiving tax credits (around 20%); or the steady fall of those in work receiving tax credits (around 30 to 35 decrease per year) should suddenly become a fall of 380 (again 20%).  Unfortunately there is no more current data readily available but for 20% of those relying on tax credits to boost their inadequate incomes to have lost that help in 2011 we have to assume (pending other evidence) that this had a massive effect on poverty in the town. Have the numbers receiving those credits deteriorated between 2011 and 2015 ............. and what would be the effect of George Osborne's tax credit cuts on Belper families (those cuts have only been delayed by the Lord's digging their heels in).

Tax credits ...... basic facts

In 2008 there were 3,600 children in Belper being supported by tax credits .......... this had decreased to 2,725 by 2011. Obviously for an accurate assessment we need to chart the number of children in the relevant years but ............. in 2011 the number of children aged between 0 and 17 was 4,450 ........ so 60% of Belper children were then supported by child tax credits. Can you image what the effect of child tax credit cuts will be on Belper children and families. To forecast this you would need access to data that is held by government departments but it would be safe to make a basic, conservative assumption that the percentage of Belper families living below the poverty line would rise to at least 25%, with the eventual figure possibly well above that.

We should not be surprised that our local Tories have no idea of the plight of many Belper folk who daily have to struggle to pay their bills, juggle heating or eating, put a roof over their heads, find bus fares to go to work and school, clothe their kids .........basically exist. They should know about this and then they would be able to make a proper judgement on an application for a grant such as last week when they refused to help the food bank.

This is why there is a need for food banks and ideas like Super Kitchen. There is real poverty in Belper and if Tories at national and local level are blind to it then we must rely on cash strapped Labour controlled councils to stem the tide (Derbyshire County Council) and then, ultimately, take action ourselves.

Monday 16 November 2015

An evening with Super Kitchen

Last Friday evening a small group of us from the Belper branch of the Labour Party visited the opening of the first Super Kitchen in Derbyshire, to be exact in Clay Cross. I will get around to explaining more about the Super Kitchen movement and why we are interested in it later in this post but first, to set the scene:

Back in July Derbyshire County Council released a press statement about food poverty in the county; an astonishing expose of the underlying need that they were anxious to address. Given that Westminster government cuts to local authority finances are expected to bite ever deeper in the coming years the DCC are looking for ways to promote sustainable methods of feeding the impoverished so, up to May 2017 are investing in start up schemes which they hope will become self supporting. It's better to read the council's well written statement than a re-iteration of the content so have a look here:  We tackle food poverty to support vulnerable residents. After reading this press release a couple of meetings were convened with the DCC to explore what could be done in Belper. Attending those meetings were the Belper Community Gardens project, Transition Belper, Hope for Belper (the food bank) and the Super Kitchen organisation.

To be honest we were bowled over by the enthusiasm of Super Kitchen and were delighted to see the commitment of DCC councilors and officers, led by Councilor Dave Allen in their desire to alleviate the ravages of poverty. Perhaps now is the best time to introduce you to Super Kitchen and their charismatic founder and leader Marsha, here seen on  BBC TV talking about what has been achieved in Nottinghamshire: (this is the link for postal subscribers )

This is the link to the Super Kitchen website where everything is explained in a much better way than I could do it.

The DCC have contracted with Super Kitchen to promote the idea of such ventures being started up throughout Derbyshire. They are also putting startup money into a Fairshare Hub distribution centre to service food banks and Super Kitchens. The Super Kitchen opening up in Clay Cross is the first fruit of this initiative.

Holmgate Evangelical Church near Clay Cross
We were made really welcome at the Holmgate Evangelical Church. A lively evening of Super Kitchen presentations,  a great meal and a demonstration of what "social eating" is all about. We learnt that eating together is a great leveller, rich or poor, living alone or with family or even if you have no roof over your head ............ at that dinner we ate and talked, we were just people. The accompanying photo does not do the building justice as the ambience was terrific and I was impressed by the fact that the church was constructed solely by money raised by church members. On the drive home our small team from Belper discussed how we can make a Super kitchen a reality in our town. To this end we are now in the process of recruiting members, searching out venues and identifying the need. We are well aware that there are Belper organisations active in this area already but our idea is to provide meals, perhaps initially once a week, between 5pm and 8pm so that we can offer the chance for families with children to attend, as well as those who live alone of whatever age group. Doesn't matter if you have no money or if you have a bulging wallet, all would be welcome. The principal is that you pay what you can afford but a 3 course meal will never be more expensive than £2:50 ............ and for those who  are hard up it's free. Marsha explains it all so much better than me so here, yet another link to her speaking but more like her normal, witty self (when not being interviewed on the telly):  (more than just wonky parsnips). No this is not a Marsha Smith fan club blog but she does seem to have the knack of whipping up enthusiasm to actually go out there and do something. I get fed up just pointing out the negatives in society so it's probably good for me on a personal level to find something that I can do which could make a lot of difference. I may even break the habit of a lifetime and volunteer to do the washing up!!!!!!

There is no use asking for help from the town council

The Belper Town Councillors, at the last council meeting doubted if there was any poverty in the town; comments to this effect being made whilst tuning down a grant application from Hope for Belper Food Bank because it was run by a christian organisation (apparently the comment was, "if we give to one religion they'll all be asking for money). BelperStuff will be reporting on poverty in Belper in the next few days but, if town councillors cannot wait to find out I can assure them that there is real poverty in this town with at least 14% of Belper households being below the poverty line.

Next steps

In the coming weeks we will be talking with existing organisations in the town, recruiting members and those interested in volunteering, finding a suitable venue (perhaps even venues ... plural). Probably the best next step is to host a public meeting so ............... send comments to BelperStuff and watch out for notification of that meeting.

Tuesday 10 November 2015

HS2 ... HS1 a hard act to follow ...... does the sequel do it for you?

Before I get stuck into this post I have to admit that I was an HS2 sceptic from the moment I heard about the scheme. I didn't pay much attention to the emerging debate in the mid noughties because I honestly felt that this was a scheme that was somewhat before its time, something that would perhaps emerge later in the century. It was therefore a real surprise when HS2 was first adopted by the Labour Government and then enthusiastically retained by the ConDem mob and now the Tories. I was also surprised by the enthusiasm of many of my railway colleagues .............................colleagues whose judgement I would normally trust. Why was I so out of step? Why was it that my instinctive reaction was that the HS2 was not the right way to go?

I realised why HS2 was attractive to railway people; they loved the leap in technology and thought of HS2 as the next logical step. I too could feel the pull of the future, the excitement of speed and the idea of minutes separating cities rather than hours. My problem was that I could not believe that there was an ever increasing number of Brummies and Mancunians, Notts/Derbyshire & Yorkshire folk who would wish to journey to London. The evidence for such an idea was just not there; in fact an independent study made in 2007 showed the opposite:

Looking at this we can see that 87% of journeys to London emanated from the Southeast and East Anglia plus the home counties with less than 10% of London travellers coming from the combined totals of the East/West Midlands and the North East/West. Given this information and the fact that over 50% of journeys were being made via a clapped out 3rd rail network south of the Thames that should have been modernised decades ago what do you think would have been the appropriate response? Should it have been "let's spend billions on 10% of the travellers"?

This was at the heart of my HS2 scepticism, that it did not address the real problems that Britain was facing. I think that the idea of HS2 gained ground because of the obvious success of the HS1 (well not economically but no complaints here), the sexy link to Paris and Brussels, sliding into the newly modernised St.Pancras with its Champagne bar, statues and wonderful Paxton roof. HS2 was sold on the back of this and for the first few years was even vaunted as a through route between Manchester and Paris, Newcastle and Cologne ......... something it would never be. What developed was a succession of reasons why we needed the HS2 ................ speed, capacity, regional growth, bangs for your buck (return on the investment) .......... now it's training ................ oh and I forgot ......... a brilliant way to travel between Leeds and Manchester (via Birmingham). All these reasons have been wheeled out to justify the investment of £21billion .......... then £32b ........ then £42b ....... oh and the cap of £50b placed on it by the Labour Party. There are some estimates that it will end up costing £90b but, in reality nobody knows. With this level of uncertainty you have to make sure that the decision to build or not to build is based upon demonstrably accurate data, indisputable facts vetted and vouchsafed by an independent body that is not connected with the decision making body. 

Unfortunately the debate has degenerated into interest groups arguing the toss, point and counterpoint, insult against insult ............. there has to be a better way. Why not try the following:

  1. Commission Steer Davis Gleeve to undertake a Rail Journeys to London 2015 study (as above) but broken down into flows of travellers from major towns and cities. What is the true capacity requirement.
  2. The study to go further, to assess the number of journeys that would be significantly improved if the HS2 was built; thus highlighting how many would not enjoy any enhancement or improvement.
  3. To carry out a socialist audit of government expenditure relating to the HS2 ...... the benefits to individual households defined by socio economic decile. Basically, is the HS2 the ultimate rich man's toy? (link to arch Tory Philip Hammond's comment when he was Transport Secretary).
  4. To look at alternatives to the HS2 ........... basically by improving the existing network and the trains that run on them (such a question has not been asked of the HS2 team or the DfT).
That last point has been hotly debated by the fore and agins but once again I look back at a study made at the outset of the HS2 story, Transport Capacity Research Paper - A comparison of the costs of different methods of increasing capacity in road & rail environments produced by the Invensys Rail Group in 2007 ............. and I quote from the executive summary:

Transport Capacity Research Paper key findings from the analysis are as follows: 

• Train lengthening and signalling upgrades offer the best economics over more infrastructure based methods e.g. widening and new build 

• Re-instatement is a more cost effective way of adding capacity than new build

I have to ask myself why successive Secretaries of Transport have not been informed that this document exists. Time and time again key studies have been ignored and I have no doubt that the latest growth figures for rail use will be touted as proof of the need for HS2 (4.7% increase first quarter 2014 to first quarter 2015) when a breakdown shows that the key driver is the growth of 6.5% in the Southeast, the rest of the country chipping in with regional operators showing 2.4% growth whilst long distance services (that would be the target for HS2) achieving 2.1% growth. On that evidence I would pump my money into the Southeast and commuter services in our major conurbations. It's cheap reliable local trains that are required.

There is a place for high speed railways

I am not in principle opposed to high speed railways. Because of my involvement with their use on mainland Europe for both passenger and freight services I can see where they are of great benefit. My experience of operating and planning trains running on high speed lines in Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, France and latterly the HS1 in the UK has enabled me to understand how best they can improve a railway network but also how they have a tendency to polarise what is on offer to the travelling public. Yes there are winner and losers ............. the loss of interregional services in Germany and France, the imposition of rigid timekeeping in Switzerland so that timeslots on high speed lines would be adhered to and the many towns across Europe that lost frequent InterCity services, demoted to feeders into the high speed railheads. For all that, it is obvious that high speed trains have been, on balance, of great benefit in Germany, Italy and France if you are travelling over a considerable distance, where the high speed rail element comprises the bulk of your journey ............. basically an alternative to flying.

I do not want to become embroiled in the endless mud-slinging between the pro and anti camps. What I would like to see is an independent commission made up of experts in a wide variety of relevant disciplines, evaluating the present and future passenger flows, a study that includes a search for cost alternatives, both social and economic. I suspect that the weight of evidence will point to a need for improved rail services but services that are much more localised. We need them now, not in 10 or 18 years time. That should be our prime objective.

Monday 2 November 2015

Neighbourhood Plan for Belper ................ November 2015

I thought it time to report on what progress is being made with the Neighbourhood Plan for Belper (NP4B). So far not that much visibility but there was an item in the Belper News last week : link to the article which suggests that the NP4B is a reaction to AVBC being unable to come up with a local plan. I get the impression that the NP4B is far more than that.

There is a now an NP4B website that has just gone live : link to Neighbourhood Plan for Belper website; as I say, early days for this  site but it does contain a couple of articles describing just what the NP4B is and I am reliably informed that there will be much more content added in the next few weeks. Most importantly there are contact details as suggestions and comments are eagerly sought link to the "contact us" page.

Speaking with those involved with the NP4B Steering Group (there are at present about a dozen) they have had a series of meetings over the past three months concentrating on the scope of the plan and the boring business of how best to organise themselves. I believe it will get much more interesting when they get to the stage of public meetings, apparently sometime in the new year. They have sorted out six distinct topics of interest:

  1. Community & Leisure
  2. Built Environment/ Design & Conservation
  3. Employment & Local Economy
  4. Culture, Heritage & Religion
  5. Infrastructure, Transport & Travel, Energy & Outlying Neighbourhoods
  6. Green Open Spaces
Each of these topics contains a plethora of sub components, far too many for me to list in this post but I am assured that full details will be available soon on the website. Each topic is "championed" by a facilitator who will be collating data, organising meetings and the gathering of opinions and ideas from  ......... well whoever is interested. Ideally special interest groups/clubs/organisations or individuals should contact NP4B indicating a desire to assist with one or more of the topics. It is hoped that the facilitators will cultivate networks that reach right into the community so no voice goes unheard, nobody is forgotten.

The Steering Group is currently grappling with the problem of getting an initial information sheet to each household in the Belper area, from Blackbrook to Bargate, Milford/Makeney to Far Laund; the parish of Belper comprising over 9,400 homes.

 All this activity will culminate with a Belper Plan being submitted to a government inspector and, once rubber stamped will be subject to a referendum planned to coincide with the county council elections in May 2017. BelperStuff will monitor progress and report .... as and when.