Archive for Olds

The North South Divide

Posted in Tenuous Link of the Day, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , on May 20, 2014 by awickerman

Two very large development plans have recently been announced, on in the North and one in the South;

Exhibit A – Liverpool announces a £1.5 billion regeneration plan to improve the area around Liverpool station and one of the docks.

Exhibit B – Oxford University confirms it will be spending £1.8 billion on increasing the size of it’s estate by another ~30%.

No real point to this beyond the fact I found it an interesting contrast. I suppose it also proves there is more to this North-South divide than just government spending all the money on the south and it’s going to take more than a high speed railway link to fix the problem.

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.

A shocking story

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Engineering, Even Stevie Wonder Saw That Coming, Tenuous Link of the Day, The Railways with tags , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2011 by awickerman

When I first read this story about sexual harassment in Network Rail I just couldn’t believe it was true. I didn’t know Network Rail even employed any women for management to harass, certainly you don’t see women on track or in the engineering departments.

Then it turned out the harassed woman in question was a “a former senior employee in the human resources department” and once again the world made sense.

If this story seems vaguely familiar that’s because it is, it was over two years ago it first came out. This is merely the ‘independent inquiry’ to confirm what everyone already knew. It also confirmed that it’s not just the RMT who have a loose attachment to the truth; the TSSA also make entirely unfounded claims for their own nefarious purposes. But then I suppose ‘Rail unions make up fictional accusations’ probably falls under things everyone already knew.

Shocking News!

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Even Stevie Wonder Saw That Coming, Rantings with tags , , , , , , on January 31, 2011 by awickerman

For those of you who are unaware of the gripping read that is Inside Housing, the premier social housing website, you are missing.. almost bugger all actually. I was unaware of it till this beauty came to my attention; The government has withdrawn funding from the pathfinder housing scheme. What is the pathfinder scheme? Well it’s;

These nine organisations were established by the Labour government in 2002 with a 10 to 15-year mission: to tackle what had become widely accepted as a signficant problem in housing markets and communities in traditional Labour heartlands.

So a Conservative-Lib Dem government has cut funding to a pet scheme of John Prescott that was designed purely to channel tax payers money to Labour voting heartlands. I am indeed shocked. Shocked it’s taken them so damned long to cut the funding.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do think large areas of Labour voting heartlands could do with being demolished. I just don’t think the people in the houses should be allowed to leave first. Anyone who genuinely looked at Gordon Brown and thought; “Yes, he should be allowed to continue as Prime Minister” and voted accordingly deserves to have their house demolished on top of them.

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.


Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Tunnels with tags , , , , , on October 19, 2010 by awickerman

One of the minor foibles of engineering is the insistence of many clients on using different calendars. This has recently been a quite hilarious issue on a job where a large water scheme must cross the railways.

Network Rail use a calendar where weeks start on the personal tax year, the 6th of April, while the Water companies have a ‘water year’ that runs September to September (that way their annual rain data will catch the whole of winter). Of course both organisations also have financial years  that run from the 1st of April, the dates they used when they were still state owned and occasionally throw in references to the actual calendar year.

All this is fine, until someone starts talking about ‘Week 40’ and you have absolutely no idea which of the various calendars they are using.

Fortunately Network Rail have a built-in system to protect from such mistakes; ludicrous delays giving everyone time to think things through carefully. On trying to book some time on track to put in some monitoring our liaison chap was told we could get access “Next August”. “August 2011?” he asked. “August 2012”  came the reply.

Italian Justice is Broken

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Almost Beyond Words, Tenuous Link of the Day with tags , , , , , , , on August 24, 2010 by awickerman

Slightly delayed, but no less barking due to the passage of time, I bring you this beauty;

Italian prosecutors are going after the scientific members of the ‘Major Risk Committee’ for failing to predict the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake. While this is obviously madness, it is still impossible to predict earthquakes, the particularly offensive part is that the politicians who failed to enforce the local building codes are getting off. Or to put it another way the scientists are threatened with prison for not doing the impossible while politicians ignore their own safety laws and so get people killed get away with it.

And the final sweet twist? Thanks to the wonders of the Italian legal system nothing on this case will happen till the Autumn (summer holidays are important!) at which point no decision will be made till next year at the earliest. If justice delayed is justice denied there is no justice in Italy….

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