Archive for Doubtless of Interest to Few

Heroes of planning

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Tenuous Link of the Day with tags , , , on April 7, 2014 by awickerman

The Royal Town Planning Institute is celebrating, if that is indeed the correct word, it’s centenary and decided to hand out some honorary lifetime memberships. OK technically they did so at the start of the year and it’s taken me this long to get round to it, but to be honest if you want cutting edge analysis you are at the wrong blog.

Anyway, to the point. Given the lamentable level of house building and the ongoing existential question over the future of Britain’s high streets who did they pick? One of the pioneers of the New Towns perhaps or a prolific developer maybe. Surely it would be people who have really improved Britain’s towns and cities through innovative planning and developments.

Of course not, these are Britain’s planners. They picked a selection of tree huggers and unrelated wastrels. To quote the RTPI’s favourites;

Sir Malcolm Grant, Chairman of NHS England; The Lord Deben, Chair of the UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change and a former Secretary of State for the Environment; Professor Susan Owens OBE Professor of Environment and Policy, University of Cambridge and Naison Mutizwa-Mangiza, Chief of the Policy Analysis Branch of UN-HABITAT and Editor-in-Chief of the Global Report on Human Settlements.

Malcolm Grant is a lawyer who has served as UCL provost and at no point ever done any building or planning, The Lord Deben is better known as the notorious god-bothering, tree hugger John Gummer, Susan Owens does a great deal of work on Environmental Governance which just sounds awful while Naison Mutziwa-Mangiza may well do excellent work at UN-HABITAT, I just can’t find out what on earth UN-HABITAT does, beyond publish reports that no-one reads (apart from Professor Owens and her students. Maybe even they don’t bother, who can tell?)

This I think clearly demonstrates one of the key problems with the British planning system, the planners themselves. They admire environmentalists, lawyers and report writers, not people who actually get things planned and built. This I feel explains why so many of them view a scheme blocked as a bigger achievement than helping a scheme go ahead.

Perhaps They Just Chose… Poorly

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 29, 2013 by awickerman

Article in which various ‘top graduates’ complain about a lack of work and complain about a Tory MP for saying things they disagree with.

Whatever the merits of their case the author of the article didn’t exactly pick the strongest examples to prove their point. The three complaining graduates have ‘Classical Studies’, ‘Modern History’ and ‘Music’ degrees. All wonderful subjects no doubt, but maybe they are struggling to find a job as what they’ve learnt isn’t particularly relevant to the jobs they are applying for.

But then ‘Students who pick fluffy degrees struggle to find real jobs’ probably isn’t as good a story is it?

Great Units of Our Time

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 31, 2013 by awickerman

While I realise I may have just led a sheltered life I have never before come across a unit of measurement that combines two units from entirely different systems into one contradictory whole, until today. For today I came across the acre millimetre, which quite obviously is the volume required to fill a one acre area up to a depth of one millimetre.

There was, of course, the acre inch or the hectare millimetre available, but luckily the author spurned these options and instead chose to take the gloriously unconventional path. Truly it enlivened an otherwise deadly dull report, though admittedly at the cost of making me question every other number in the document.

This marvellous unit was topped when, while looking for similarly odd unit combinations, I can across a petition against the Jispa Dam quoting the dam’s capacity as 0.6 million hectare feet of water, which is a truly outstanding unit which will mean nothing to people who think in either system. Only those conversant in both will have a feel for it, and they are probably the people who’d most prefer it if the two weren’t mixed. Truly a triumph of number wrangling.

Agent Orange

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, Irregular Features, Tenuous Link of the Day with tags , , , on October 9, 2011 by awickerman

While out and about in town I came across a van bearing the legend Agent Orange Environmental. There are so many things that are inappropriately amusing when reading the website, however I particularly recommend the ‘Garden cleaning’ section for the line;

This allows us to tackle anything from light overgrowth right up to the thickest of jungles.

Yes, I suppose it would.

Heating at Heathrow

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Engineering, Tenuous Link of the Day, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , on December 21, 2010 by awickerman

As is painfully obvious Heathrow Airport doesn’t have heated runways, but then the excuse goes that back in the 1950s when they built them (and the 1970s when they rebuilt them for jets) how could they have known Global Warming Climate Change would cause so much snow?

It’s a good answer, only slightly undermined by the fact that 1968 saw the construction of the Heathrow Cargo Tunnel which, due to a fairly steep slope at one end, has an under road heating system to keep the approach roads ice free. A system they still keep in operation to this day and one which is working perfectly (Though sadly the surrounding roads are still buggered and the airport is frozen, but that’s not the point right now.)

Worth bearing in mind next time BAA put up a spokesman saying ‘It wasn’t worth money investing in equipment when we didn’t get heavy snow and bad winters’, because clearly the tunnellers they employed disagreed. Sadly the runway chaps, as always, just couldn’t match those high standards.

Old faithful returns

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Engineering, Irregular Features, Rantings, Tunnels, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2010 by awickerman

UK engineering is littered with jobs that have been repeatedly proposed for years but are never going to happen, CrossRail Glasgow for instance has been hawked about since at least the 1970s. Quite simply it is as bad an idea now as it was then, if for no other reason than it involves opening a new station in the Gorbals. One of the few benefits of the Beeching Axe was that it cut the Gorbals off the rail network, why on earth would you want to re-connect it? Fortunately common sense prevailed and the scheme didn’t make the recent Scottish infrastructure 20 year plan. And for those wondering why Scotland has a 20 year plan, it is because Alex Salmond is four times more communistical than Stalin. Fact.

Returning to the subject today the grandfather of all not-going-to-happen-but-keeps-being-announced schemes once more rose from it’s coffin; The Thames Gateway Bridge (or East London River Crossing or Gallions Reach Bridge or any one of it’s many names).

The earliest mention appears to be way back in 1903 when William Rees Jeffreys, “The man who numbered Britain’s roads”, made one of the first recorded denouncements of how awful London’s roads are;

Their encircling boulevards are the pride of many a continental city, and it is a crowning disgrace that, notwithstanding the absence of any great engineering difficulties, no road exists encircling the metropolis.

This is important to bear in mind next time someone blames government x for the awful state of the country’s roads, they have always been a ‘crowning disgrace’ and probably always will be. (Incidentally that is a phrase I intend to work into as many conversations as possible from now on.) To remedy their awfulness he proposed the following scheme;

Rees Jeffreys' Ring Roads, fresh from the wonderful chaps at CBRD. Note the crossing at Woolwich, the first sighting of the Thames Gateway Bridge.

Sadly the quite grand sounding Royal Commission on London Traffic ignored his ideas (not necessarily a totally bad thing, he did want the ring road to contain a pedestrian lane and one for traction engines) and instead proposed some madness about a grid of 140ft wide (40m+) ‘main avenues’ bisecting the city. As you may have noticed if you’ve been to London, that didn’t happen either. However they did achieve the setting up of the London Transport Board which first met a mere two decades later in 1924 and then promptly did very little.

The crossing, and Rees Jefferys’ ideas, lived on and emerged in the 1937 Highway Development Survey (written by, amongst others,the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens who had just finished designing Dehli. This was the start of the long British tradition of ensuring people with no practical skills or experience of roads were instrumental in transport policy.) Sadly a rather expensive effort at stopping Germany ruling Europe intervened and so the scheme disappeared for a few years, eventually surfacing in the 1944 Greater London Plan as ‘Ring C‘. Understandably the post-war reconstruction of London was focused on just getting housing rebuilt as fast as possible and it was only belatedly realised that it might have been a good idea to leave some space for roads and transport links, by which point everything had been rebuilt. Fortunately there wasn’t any money left (that had mostly been spent on fighting a war with Attlee spending the little left over on such wise investments as British Coal and British Railways) so it was somewhat academic.

By the time there was some money knocking about in the 1960s there wasn’t any space left in London and planning looked like being a nightmare, fortunately the government had a plan; The Greater London Council. Nasty transport rumour has it that the entire point of the GLC was to get a new road network built in London (the alternative explanation is that it was a political plot to balance out Labour dominated inner London with Tory strongholds in outer London, certainly no-one believes it was actually a particularly good idea on it’s own merits). In any event the GLC churned out masses of road schemes, including the barking mad Ringway 1 which would have required re-homing 35,000+ people to build a £1 billion ‘motorway box’ around most of central London. And that’s £1 billion in 1969 pounds, push it through a share of GPD converter and you end up with something like £30 billion in today’s money, for comparison that is two CrossRails or enough to take High Speed rail all the way from London to Glasgow AND link up every major city on both sides of the Pennines. So really very pricey for essentially one orbital roadway, especially as they wanted to build four of the buggers.

For our purposes however it is Ringway 2 which is of most import it contains the Thamesmead Tunnel, a twin bore beauty crossing the Thames slap bang on the site of the Thames Gateway Bridge. Interestingly it was very vaguely referred to as the East London River Crossing as the planners wanted to retain the bridge option, just in case.

The Ringways died a death due to being mind-boggling expensive and requiring far too much demotion and re-homing. Ringway 1 was just outright killed, parts of the northern half of 2 happened under a different name (a string of upgrades to the North Circular) but the southern half just died while Ringways 3 and 4 were badly nailed together to form the M25. On which note always remember the M25 was a bodged solution that could only hope to provide a 1/4 of what 1960s planners thought would be needed for 1980s level traffic, which they had woefully under-estimated to start with. The wonder isn’t that the M25 is so bad, it’s that it works at all.

From the wreckage of the Ringways the East London River Crossing emerged and even got past two planning inquiries in the late 1970s and early 1990s, sadly each time emerging into the teeth of a recession and so being delayed till the money was available, by which time the planing had lapsed and the scheme had to be redesigned.

More recently the King of the Newts, former Mayor Ken Livingston, lost the last planning inquiry in 2007 and his successor Boris “Shagger” Johnson decided not to appeal that decision as there was a small £300 million shortfall in the £500 million budget. The most recent twist was a cunning name change to ‘Galleons Reach Bridge’ as Boris tried to use the £200 million in PFI Credits the last government had put up as a pre-election bribe to help Ken win the election investment in East London. The smart money is saying the consultants have reached the ‘correct’ conclusion that a new lower-capacity crossing can be nailed together for about £200 million, this should meet the planning objection that a high capacity crossing would bugger the local road network and solve the funding problem.

Naturally though there are a few problems; 1. The greens will be out in force to stop the scheme, if only because it’s a road. 2. If the capacity is low enough not to disrupt local traffic there’s no point building it whereas if it can carry a useful amount of traffic then it will disrupt the local area. 3. The PFI credits were only ever an election bribe (allegedly) so will the new government actually honour them. 4. Are they even applicable as sole finance? They were designed as a partial funding contribution with TfL paying most of the cost, BoJo is planning to use only PFI credits with no actual contribution from London. Good for London, bad for everyone else. Is that even an option in the age of austerity when were all in in together (*insert hypocritical and slightly sickening government slogan here*)

Taking it all together I can confidently predict the crossing wont happen anytime soon, a new vehicle ferry may emerge somewhere near Galleons Reach as they are dirt cheap (relatively speaking) but there will be no fixed link crossing on the Thames Gateway Bridge site. And thus concludes today’s lesson and prediction.

Return of the Nuke

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Even Stevie Wonder Saw That Coming, Tenuous Link of the Day with tags , , , , on July 15, 2010 by awickerman

After some probably ill-advised detours I think it’s time to return to something engineering related. So I bring you the news that the planning permission process for the next generation of nuclear plants is generally considered a pointless time wasting sham by all involved.

OK this may just be confirmation of something you previously suspected, but at least you can now l0ok at the pretty Hinkley Point C sub-contractor website. While there you may note the fact the preliminary works (which need no planning permission but have only purpose) are starting soon while the actual work on the power station has already been scheduled in for next year.

Barring a horrific nuclear incident this is going to happen and all the ‘inquiries’ into it have already been comprehensively fixed, which is very reassuring for those of us who like a reliable electricity supply.

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