Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 - a year in photoshops

We all too often spend more time on our images to accompany posts than we do actually writing the text. This is partly because the writing bit comes fairly easy, but also because dreaming up an image to accompany it - with all the appropriate political & cultural associations, plus the humour too - is challenging.

As the year draws to a close, we thought we'd present a slide show of our 'photoshops' - including one or two of the more amusing banners - from 2008. There are 47 images - nearly one for every week of last year. If you want to view the images in more details, click on the slideshow or go here.

Review of 2008

In many respects, it only seems a short time since we published our review of 2007 post for this blog - in other ways, it seems an age. It's much like life itself. 

So to our second annual review. We hope you enjoy it - it has taken us a fair while to compile and write this. We'd like to say 'here's to another year of the blog', although as we've said before it can only logically exist for as long as the plans for a bypass through Longdendale do, that isn't strictly true - more like 'here's to the end of this blog, and plans for the bypass alike'. Hear, hear!

January started with our predictions for the coming year - a separate post about how far we were right and wrong along with our predictions for 2009 will appear here shortly.

We opened the year with revelations about the plans of Tameside MBC to bring Tesco to Mottram & Hattersley. Our sources told us that the machinations surrounding this planned venture were the reasons why the Public Inquiry (PI) has been halted - we were told that an application for planning permission would only be forthcoming once the PI had re-started, and this was because traffic flows created by the store had to be factored-in. Though it's somewhat ironic that Roy Oldham was in the press this month decrying the PI delays saying they were 'holding back business' - no doubt alluding to the Tesco at Mottram. Twelve months later, the PI has been suspended again - more than once - and there's still no planning application. 

This was also the month that Tom Levitt MP tried to make predictions for 2008, and in amongst them was that the PI would conclude in favour of the damned road. Someone should tell Levitt that this road is as doomed as his career will be after the next election, along with his utterly crap predictions. Not doubt he'll parrot the same bilge again in a few days time.

January also saw excellent Freedom of Information  releases about the cost of the Bypass so far£13,782,505.24 back then (a figure which has increased by more than £2 million over the space of the following 12 months), and we also covered leading Objector John Hall's route to procuring this information a few days later. To mark the revelations, we hoisted our counter which has been steadily counting up the cost ever since. Though it was based on the workings of the cost accruals to date, it has shot ahead of later cost revelations, but we have decided not to re-set it until more fuller information is released about costs.

And we also had a quick look at High Peak Councillor Ivan Bell's comments on the blog, as well his views about the hated Rossington Park.

This month also saw the closure of the Longdendale Siege Committee's public petition on with a wholly unconvincing 198 signatures.

Near the end of the month, we reported on Stephen Greenhalgh's dismissal from heading the Bypass project, whilst an article by John Hall sought to enlighten us as to the extent of connection between government departments, local authorities and private companies - all advancing private and personal agendas to build the road.

We rounded off January with an article about the severe flooding at Woolley Bridge, where the Glossop Spur roundabout to the A57 is planned.

February brought a slip of the tongue from the MEN, unless they have secret knowledge about Doozers starting construction of the Bypass - if it's the latter, progress is slow down at Fraggle Rock.

We also reported that the (now departed) Transport Secretary of State Ruth Kelly was reviewing the viability of road schemes given 'cost escalation' - we're still unaware about the outcome of this review to date, but the longer the delays continue, the more likely it may be that the Bypass scheme could be nixed.

Sinking without trace was a plan to open a Travelodge near to the A57 in Hadfield - this was a plan which fully indicated the clandestine long-term strategic plans for the area, these hotels only being found near to Motorways.

And after Stephen Greenhalgh's departure, we were keen to welcome the newly appointed  Highways Agency Bypass Project chief Alex Bywaters - a spot of detective work confirmed he was the leader of a Morris Dancing troupe that paid homage to Luddites - the irony could not have been more apposite.

Mid-month we reported on James Purnell's sacking of one of his staff for writing to the local newspapers and not admitting who he was and giving a false address - our slant was that other staff members Barbara Charlesworth and John Bibby had also taken it upon themselves to write in to papers supporting the bypass. The blog post went on to draw a significant amount of Internet traffic after Iain Dale's blog latched on to it.

And costs were again an issue this month - this time those accrued by the Glossop Spur - a rather suspect £800,000 (a figure that had been projected to be reached by February 2007).

Very little time usually goes by without Roy Oldham opening his mouth and spewing venom, and this month was no exception - he attacked an MEN journalist at February's Full Council meeting, accusing Brian Lashley of bias regarding the Bypass and suggesting he would seek to interfere with the press to shut him up.

Near the end of the month, we had the pleasure of revealing to the world the semi-secret project that Tameside MBC had sponsored - the North European Trade Axis (NETA) - a plan to connect businesses across Europe via a Trans-European transport network,and how the project was headed by a particularly vocal Hollingworth resident, David Moore. Mysteriously, the website is no longer accessible, but facsimiles still reside in the Internet Archive, and the domain is still registered to Tameside MBC.

The penultimate day of the month saw a long article in support of Town & Village Green applications, the use of which had proved to be a lifesaver for many green spaces under threat from developers, and all because Tom Levitt MP in collusion with High Peak Borough Council had chosen to campaign to change the law as to their use.

We kicked off March with a short article about Longdendale's quiet Councillor Jonathan 'Jonny' Reynolds who - like his fellow Councillors - is content to write to the newspapers supporting the bypass, but not to stand up at the PI and stand up to scrutiny. John Hall later wrote an article for us about the duplicity of Politicians in this project.

The Public Inquiry was set back again - this time to October 2008. Later in the month, the Inspector John Watson had to remind the Highways Agency that they'd missed a deadline he set for them to outline how they planned to proceed.

And Longdendale Siege updated their website again with some rather dodgy figures about pollution locally - which contradicted evidence given at the Inquiry and did not provide any sources or evidence for their claims. And they're clearly not willing to produce this information at the PI. 

Later in the month, we reported on how Tameside MBC have made much of an application by the Trail Rider's Fellowship to use a local byway as a 'Byway Open to All Traffic' (BOAT) for motorcycles - but that their own incompetence had led to this scenario.

At the last day of March saw a report on developments surrounding Active Longdendale - the once 'Eco Clean-Up' volunteer brainchild of Councillor Sean Parker-Perry, now morphing into a Tool-Hire Business

We started April with an April Fool, played upon the Longdendale Siege Committee. They took it badly, and the Glossop Chronicle made a meal out of it, as did we.

During this month, we carried a series of posts about the duplicitous Longdendale Councillor Sean Parker-Perry. Our 'April is for Fools' series exposed his rather dodgy organisation Active Longdendale, plus his meddling with the Internet, as well as how his (now ex) employer, James Purnell MP was distancing himself from Sean. 

We also wrote a feature on the Government's response to the result of an anti-Longdendale Bypass petition on, which appeared to dash hopes for the re-use of the Woodhead Tunnel for rail. We also carried John Hall's response to this news, arguing that the promoters of the scheme are manipulating pollution data for Denton and Longdendale in order to get what they want. John Hall also wrote an article a couple of days later about his email to the Public Inquiry Inspector about the implications of the Government's response for the Public Inquiry itself.

April also saw a post about 'local demagogue' Ivan Bell and made a plea for 'clear analysis' rather than 'plain speaking' in relation to his calls for 'local development by local people'.

This month also saw revelations emerge about Bypass contractor Carillion's collusion to artificially inflate public sector contracts. John Hall posted his own thoughts, pointing the finger of suspicion firmly at Tameside Council leader Roy Oldham, and in another post 'joined the dots' between the individuals and firms involved in the scandal

At the end of the month, we looked at how the Highways Agency was dealing with people who had proposed alternatives to their Scheme through the Inquiry process. The case we highlighted can only be described as 'shabby', and this was someone who had advocated a similarly ambitious pro-road scheme.

Polticians were definitely the theme this month. We looked at our old friend Councillor Sean Parker-Perry's re-election, concluding that the best that he could say about the bypass was that 17% of people in Longdendale might be in favour of it. And we also looked at how Sean used the Reporter/Chronicle to respond to our concerns about Active Longdendale - without specifically mentioning who we were.

The other politician we looked at is the High Peak Borough Councillor Ivan Bell, and allegations about 'misconduct'. We concluded this due of posts by wondering if he might be more immune from such allegations if he became an MP, as he seems to be planning.

We broke more news about further increasing costs of the bypass (now at £15 million - money spent so far).

And we posted a trio of features about High Peak Borough Council's seeming love affair with Corporate Supermarket Giants in the Glossop area, with features on Tesco, Sainsburys and two about a possible (now actual) Lidl application (here and here).

Lastly, we looked at the strange withdrawal of some objections, as well as pressure that may be being applied to other to do so, given the abeyance in the Public Inquiry.

We started June by looking at the (hopefully) ill-fated Howard Town Mill development in Glossop, part and parcel of High Peak Borough Council's plans to 'transform' the area through 'regeneration', a plan that - if unchecked - will inevitably lead to more demand for road building. Later in the month, we returned to look at HPBC's contradictory behaviour with regard to other types of business.

We also wrote three posts this month about the game of chess that is the Public Inquiry - firstly about an increasingly pathetic looking John Watson having to remind the Highways Agency of a deadline he imposed, secondly their evasive reply, and thirdly the media's reaction

We also published an email from a pro-bypass reader - who had said we'd 'never publish it'. Although we did respond to the issues he raised, he never gave us the courtesy of a reply (a shame, this could have been a new series).

And at the end of the month, we revealed the proposed new home of Mottram Show - not in Longdendale & with no view of it's former home. 

The main theme of July was money. We featured no less than 3 posts on Bypass/Spur projected cost increases - 54% for the Glossop Spur and up to 70% for the bypass. At the end of the month, the media caught up and we wrote about the coverage.

We also contrasted Tom Levitt's backing for the Green (but insignificant) Hydro Electric Power scheme at the Torrs in New Mills and his backing for a dirty polluting bypass through the heart of Longdendale. 

During this month, we looked at the response of the State to activists both local and national: locally, the treatment at the hands of the police by the blogger Tameside Eye, and nationally, the police's action to virtually lockdown Climate Camp.

We also reported on the cancellation of Mottram Show, and the documentation of TMBC's website which shows how much has been paid for alternative site, and who the owners are.

One positive development in August was that against development - in this case, people in Stalybridge mobilising against Tesco's plans for expansion in the town.

This month also brought news from the Highways Agency about when they'd be ready to resume the Public Inquiry - May 2009, 2 years after it started. 

And in the last post of the month, we looked at how the press had reported the story, with the Tameside Advertiser both refusing to acknowedge their source (us) and deciding to use absurd and misleading images to go with the story.

We opened September with a post about further revelations about Public Inquiry delays, as revealed by the Glossop Chronicle. We questioned how it could be possible for the Highways Agency to hold further public exhibitions and consultations when the road scheme is already at a Public Inquiry. 

This was also another month which featured much about our favourite Councillor, Sean Parker-Perry. We noted how the deadline for the spending of a Lottery Grant for his Active Longdendale project had passed, yet the organisation seemed to be almost underground in terms of its public profile. We later broke news that he had been sacked by his employer James Purnell, and revealed that the catalyst for this may have been because he spoke out against the Congestion Charge at the Labour Party Conference.

Sean's was not the only political ruction this month - the Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly decided to resign this month. Our call for Crash Gordon to replace her with James Purnell didn't work - we're not that influential yet.

Not entirely unconnected was the news that the blogger, Tameside Eye, had had all charges laid against him by the police dropped this month.

And we also reported on Tameside MBC's plans to remove roadside memorials. Without a trace of taste, let alone irony, their mouthpiece for the press release was Councillor Peter Robinson, a former funeral director.

Our opening gambit this month was our response to Councillor Sean Parker-Perry's explanation for his 'leaving' his job with James Purnell - he wanted to learn sign language. It just gets better and better...

In another post, we looked at the writings of the former Transport Minister Tom Harris, who listed his hobbies to include hill walking, even though his department wanted to destroy one of ours. 

And as the latest global crisis of capitalism started to well and truly unfold, we asked how long could plans to spend £315 million on the Bypass survive in the current climate. Like local Tintwistle Parish Councillor Bill Clarke, we called for a lorry ban as a much cheaper alternative.

We also looked at the lack of care Tameside MBC take in maintaining their roads, which has resulted in at least one death person, and the casual brutality of Roy Oldham's remarks positing potholes as a 'traffic calming measure'.

Two of our posts this month focused on woodlands - one highlighted the work of the Woodland Trust who had reported that 50% of Ancient Woodland had been lost in the past century. Our other post looked at the war of words over Etherow Lodge Park in Longdendale between Bill Johnson and Councillor Sean Parker-Perry - both pseudo-environmentalists who are very concerned about this wood, but less vocal about Swallows Wood, which faces destruction from the Bypass.

Finally, in what would become a long running feature over the rest of the year, we posted about the traffic disaster engineered by Derbyshire County Council and Tameside MBC in allowing two sets of roadworks along the A57. 

In November, we turned our focus upon the fact that the Longdendale Bypass Inquiry is now the longest-running Public Inquiry into a road scheme ever, with a series of articles about the Inquiry.

First off was the trials and tribulations experienced by John Hall in trying to obtain the minutes of a meeting between the Highways Agency and Statutory Objectors which we dubbed 'Watsongate'. 

We also looked closely at the progress of the Planning Reform Bill, a piece of legislation which seeks to remove any remaining semblence of openness and accountability for the planning process, and how this may relate to our Public Inquiry.

November also brought an update about the latest accrued costs of the Bypass - £16 million, or more than £1 million for each sitting day. The story was subsequently taken up by most of the regional newspapers. 

This month also found us writing a letter to - and getting published in - the Glossop Chronicle regarding the roadwork hell we had commented on the previous month. 

Finally, we looked at a meeting between the new Transport Secretary of State Geoff Hoon (or Geoff Who?) and various local politicians - an attempt to subvert and sideline the Public Inquiry which would feature heavily over the coming weeks under the title 'Hoongate'. 

One theme dominated December: posts about the 'Hoongate' meeting the previous month. Our first article compiled information from different sources about the meeting, with a second article looking at the 'official notes' which emerged later. Another post looked at TMBC's travel expenses, which a more humourous post introduced (hopefully) the first in a series of 'lolprats' (loosely modelled upon the lolcats of 

Long in the writing was a critical post about the Manchester Congestion Charge and TiF bid, appearing more or less 24 hours before the polls officially closed, we had no idea which way the vote would go, but this post was the view of one of us on why they considered it a white elephant.

We also continued with our traditional Oldham-bashing in a post about the blinkered and outmoded approach to traffic problems and transport policy espoused by this cretin. 

And we also contrasted Tameside MBC's contradictory espousal of mass tree planting when they plan to destroy the Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland of Swallow's Wood. 

December 18th saw the first anniversary of the last sitting day of the Public Inquiry, with the Inspector John Watson setting out his stall for the way he enivsaged things proceeding.

And the last month of the year also saw a (public) return to Direct Action as a response to road schemes - this time at the site of the Weymouth Relief Road in Dorset, where the County Council set about clearing Ancient Woodland. Protestors took to the trees and we carried a call for help.

Last but not least, we reminded people in the High Peak of Tom Levitt's wish for a 'Green Christmas'. The man has clearly had his irony removed.

And that's it for another year. We'd like to extend our thanks to John Hall and Tameside Eye for their help and inspiration this year, along with all the other persons unknown who contribute in their own way to making this blog what it is.  Thanks also go to Virtual Glossop for recognising the value of this blog to the political and cultural climate in Glossopdale and Longdendale by featuring us on their homepage from time to time. 

See you in 2009 - sometime tomorrow.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Tom Levitt's Xmas Wish

Admittedly a little late in coming from us, but we decided to record for posterity Tom Levitt's 'Christmas Wish' from a recent edition of the BBC Politics Show. 

Levitt calls for a 'Green Christmas', saying that people have opportunites to 'save the environment'. As a reminder, this individual advocates the construction of the most environmentally damaging project in his constituency for many years - if not ever. Given his power to effect environmental outcomes in this part of the world, should it go through he will be more responsible than any other individual in the High Peak for anti-environmental practices and outrages.

As a warning to viewers of a sensitive disposition, Levitt does sing at the end, which is almost as bad as his hilarious dancing (displayed below - hat tip to Anthony McKeown).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: The bill to TMBC taxpayers for Oldham's jaunt to London

Further revelations have emerged about the costs partially incurred for Roy Oldham's trip to London to lobby Geoff Who? last month.

In a Freedom of Information release, John Hall has discovered that the trip cost Tameside MBC's taxpayers £545.60 in train and taxi fares (although any associated costs have yet to be disclosed).

As well as himself, Oldham transported 4 other Councillors/Staff members including Councillor Wareing his - get this - Aide-de-Camp! Oldham clearly thinks he has to impress the former Defence Secretary Who?/Hoon with this pseudo-military posturing. Perhaps Wareing carries Oldham's Viagra?

Anyhow, what is interesting is that although Oldham took 4 other people with him, according to the official meeting notes only Mike Thompson ('Director of Operations and Performance') was allowed in. Perhaps the Aide-de-Camp was too busy setting up Oldham's field HQ? Either way, it's a waste of money, and hopefully a waste of time. 

Friday, December 26, 2008

Hoongate part 3: what was said to Geoff Who?

And now here's the news you needed to make you chuck up your Xmas dinner. We have some answers about what took place at the 'Hoongate' meeting last month. The implications for the future of this road scheme are massive.

Keen readers of the local press may have noticed a press release from Friends of the Peak District over the past week or so. Along with the Campaign for National Parks, they have demanded to know how alternatives have been rejected (as was the line from Tom Levitt) when the Public Inquiry has not yet had chance to examine them, and they also accuse Geoff Who? of breaking the Governments Ministerial Code by 'jumping the gun'.

But now leading Objector John Hall has passed to us notes from the Hoongate meeting, which can be viewed here. They reveal the 'official' version of events, which we'll now try to elucidate.

Firstly, it's clear from the text that Tom Levitt has shot his bolt by stating all the guff about the Glossop Spur. For the DfT officials, the Spur is clearly so unimportant that it's not even appeared in the notes. As usual, Levitt makes a complete fool of himself

The main complaint begins in paragraph 5, where Roy Oldham makes it clear that the big problem for the pro-road lobbyists is the cost escalation. Oldham believes the estimated costs are too high when compared with other schemes, although it was pointed out to him by Highways Agency officials present that the cheaper schemes he used as an example are not really comparable, which shows how ignorant he is. 

Hoon then offered to turn the Inquiry process on it's head - paragraph 6 says that he offered to detrunk the existing road - this demonstrates that he is clearly partial and implicated now in this whole mucky, cruddy business. The current proposals for the bypass envisage that detrunking - a shifting of responsibility for the road from the Highways Agency to the Local Authorities - would take place after the bypass had been built. The fact that the A628 and A57 are a Trunk road is also one of the principle reasons thrown up by the pro-road lobby as to why a lorry ban is not possible. 

So we can only assume that Hoon's offer to detrunk the road now means that a Lorry Ban is more possible now than it has ever been. If it's that easy to remove problems, then there's no excuse not to try it

The implication of Hoon's offer is that if the responsibility for the road is handed to local authorities, then they can also have the responsibility for funding and constructing a bypass. Whether or not this makes a bypass more or less likely is a point we'll surely return to if Hoon's offer is serious. 

In paragraph 7, Purnell discounts alternative routes, after Hoon asked for views on them. This makes it clear that Hoon is asking the opinion of politicians before the case for alternatives have been put to the Inquiry, and before Hoon's agency - the Highways Agency - have rebutted any evidence put before them for alternative routes.

And in paragraph 8, Hoon is said to be 'awaiting formal advice from the relevant regional authorities before making a decision and when he had received that in the coming weeks he would be considering the best way forward'. 

With the release of this news, John Watson the Inquiry Inspector must wonder exactly what his role is. It's clear now for all to see that the key decisions are being made outside the Inquiry, and the politicians are completely brazen about it. Not only are the Highways Agency wasting the time and money of the public with their delaying tactics and not only is the Public Inquiry clearly a complete sham, but the politicians have no intention of even listening to the alternative point of view

That's fine - it confirms what we knew all along: they want a road, not alternatives.

But they need to be clear about the implications of making such aggressive moves. If Hoon wants to launch a war on the environment in Glossopdale and Longdendale in the same fashion as he launched the Iraq war - i.e without consultation, without listening to other points of view, in a pre-emptive manner - then he can expect a suitable response

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Geoff Who? & Purnell - lolprats

In homage to one of our favourite websites, the wonderful, we present our moderately amusing take on the phenomenon that are the lolcats

So here's a challenge. If you know lolcats and you think you can do better than our version above, then email us with suggestions for an alternate caption for this, and any other picture of the pro-bypass protagonists which we can build into a regular series. If you provide (or point us to) the picture and the caption, we will do the rest...

(the above is a picture of Geoff Who? meeting James Purnell at the 'Hoongate' meeting - from Purnell's abortion of a website)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

One year on, the Comedy of Errors continues...

That's right, it's 365 days since the Inquiry last sat. And John Watson has chosen this anniversary to seemingly set out his stall for the coming months with the issuing today of a new document (opens PDF).

What's more interesting is that Watson seems to be trying to answer some of the questions we posed back in September. You may remember that we'd pondered the following:

1/ How can a public consultation on new evidence take place in the midst of an Inquiry into the original proposals?

2/ How can any new expression of support or any new objections be 'duly made' when the deadline for the submission of such correspondence passed years ago?

3/ If there is a new consultation and deadline, then where does this leave existing objectors? Are their objections still 'duly made'?

In answer to our question 1, Watson clearly isn't particularly troubled as long as Geoff Who? is similarly unconcerned. In paragraph 3b, he states that:

"If any new Orders, Notices of Intention or similar are promoted, then there should be evidence that the Secretary of State is satisfied that the Inquiry should consider them, that the necessary statutory processes have been followed, and that all objections and representations received during the appropriate period are before the Inquiry"

But Watson seems to be making it pretty clear that anything new must go through the usual rigmarole, including any new Environmental Statement (para 4b). So that also seems to imply an answer to our question 2 - new evidence means new rigmarole, if not new Inquiry (as far as he's concerned). And Watson wants to be clear - in paragraph 3d, he asks for a list of all previously submitted evidence, with an indication of whether each item should remain or be withdrawn. One wonders what percentage of evidence will be withdrawn - and if it is above a certain percentage, how loudly will the official opposition call for the Inquiry to end?

But there also seems to be implications for our third question in there. How much is new and how much is revised will surely be a hot topic - because if it is substantially new, then all the existing objections will be invalid. 

In these circumstances, how can this Inquiry continue?

We'll leave that one hanging there ... in the meantime, it gets better. In paragraph 3f, Watson seeks a written undertaking from the Highways Agency that "(it) will not alter the evidence it has submitted". Or else?, you might be asking. Presumably, he'll then get very cross and give them another chance, as has been his usual pattern of behaviour.

What an interesting few months we had ahead of us then. Will the Highways Agency pay any attention to this apparently newly assertive Inspector? Has he subtly made it very difficult for them to move? And if they disobey, will he do the decent thing?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tameside 'needs more trees' - laugh? we nearly shat...

This one seems to have slipped under the radar (thought not others - hat tip: Tameside Eye). You really couldn't make it up, the irony is so beautiful. Anyway, rather than explain it all, here's the article in the Tameside Advertiser from 20th November:

Council branches out for Christmas

Tis the season to be green. Residents, schools and community groups are being given an early Christmas present next Sunday (30 November) in the form of 3,500 trees.

The giveaway, run by Tameside Council, hopes to give the borough’s tree coverage a much-needed boost.

Martin Watkins, the council’s environmental co-ordinator, said: “In relation to many other areas of the country and Greater Manchester, tree coverage in Tameside is poor. “We don’t have access to great big sweeps of land where we can go and plant woodland but if everyone puts one or two trees in their garden it’s the equivalent. It helps wildlife and it helps the planet as well.”

Residents have 10 domestic varieties to choose from - maple, hornbeam, alder, silver birch, hawthorn, bird cherry, wild cherry, crab apple, rowan and whitebeam.

The feathered whips, around 1.5m tall, are bare rooted and need to be planted as soon as possible after collection. Instructions for planting and fertiliser will also be handed out so all residents need to bring is a bin bag.

Well, well. What a classic line - "In relation to many other areas of the country and Greater Manchester, tree coverage in Tameside is poor". This is the same Council that wants to trash Swallows Wood for the Bypass - an Ancient Semi Natural Woodland and an important habitat for wildlife with thousands of trees. And this is ignored and instead, individuals are urged to plant trees in penny numbers here and there.

One is immediately reminded of Roy Oldham's comments during his 2006 State of the Area Address when he announced the eventual planting of 10,000 trees to 'compensate' for the loss of Swallows Wood and also to 'offset' the CO2 emissions increase caused by the bypass. Except his sums were wrong - one of our backroom pixies worked out that 6.7 million trees would be needed to accomplish this - they would cover 1600 hectares, an area roughly the size of Glossop!

But there's a seed of a good idea in there. How about we start planting and sowing - here there and everywhere? Without permission, without warning, we should take this plea literally... 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Out with the Oldham and in with the new

Readers may have noticed that our letter to the Glossop Chronicle eventually made it into the letters page a week last Thursday. Even better was that it was juxtaposed with a letter from Roy Oldham which managed to represent all of the things we'd criticised in our letter.

In the letter, Oldham goes to great lengths to explain all of the measures Tameside MBC put in place - which somehow still resulted in a traffic nightmare. Here's a priceless quote from Oldham (the lack of punctuation is his):

"Prior to works commencing the Council as the Local Highway Authority was involved in extensive consultation with the Gas Alliance and other affected Local Authorities (High Peak and Derbyshire) together with the Emergency Services and the public in order to minimise disruption and inconvenience"

...all of which failed completely spectacularly on 27th October! It's clear he arrogantly feels the problem is everybody else's perception but the final two paragraphs spell out what he thinks people should do - call for a bypass to end traffic problems.

With his views on this and other matters, Roy Oldham increasingly represents a take on the world that is archaic, outmoded and of the past. This letter should be his epitaph. Indeed, there's a certain irony that his letter was published on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Preston Bypass, Britain's first motorway, which eventually became the M6.

But can anyone but Oldham and the Longdendale Siege Committee really believe that it's possible and desirable to keep constructing motorways for another 50 years? Well, we've some bad news for them. Only yesterday, the International Energy Agency said that Oil production would most likely peak by 2020 - only last month, the same notoriously conservative organisation said it would be 2030. Others believe it will come about much earlier, such as 2013.

The effect of Peak Oil upon societies that are dependant upon it will be a rapid and steep decline that will have the most grievous effects where there is least preparation for it, such as ours. Many things we take for granted are dependent upon oil.

Whilst only the most vicious misanthropes would relish such a scenario, there are opportunities now to create a different kind of society that is not dependent upon oil and is radically different, and all but the misanthropic can involve themselves in bringing it about. But that society should not involve cars, the road industry or even capitalism itself. Nor should it include such people as Roy Oldham - like oil, he is peaking, his time is running out.

The flawed rhetoric and actions of these 'throwbacks' belong to a different age, not the new one that is potentially within our grasp.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Two Mile Coppice - a call for help

We're echoing a call for help at the site of the planned Weymouth Relief Road

The Government approved this scheme in October, despite the fact it will cut through an Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and an ancient woodland (Two Mile Coppice). 

After Dorset County Council begun moves to start work, last Friday 3 protesters scaled trees at Two Mile Coppice, a 400 year old woodland threatened by the site. One lone protester is holding out at the moment, and we'd urge everyone who can lend any kind of support to get down there.

More information about the local anti bypass campaign can be found on their website, their news page being here

It seems that Direct Action is making a return in the fight against road schemes, and it's not before time. The Youtube videos we have posted above and below the text show a local BBC news report about the protests, and a chilling virtual reality flythrough of the planned bypass.

In Longdendale, all we have so far is a VR version of the bypass. You can rest assured, we will have Direct Action as and when it is necessary.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On Congestion Charging & Demanding the Impossible

The Congestion Charge is probably one of those items you'd expect to see more of on this blog, and we have had small articles in the past (here and here), but with a day to go until voting ends I (Child of Lewin) thought I would offer my views. I identify myself because on this occasion, the opinions expressed are purely my own.

Look who votes No*

Indeed. Lots of diverse people for lots of diverse reasons. I dare say the same is true of 'Yes' campaigners. There's no denying that the loudest 'No' proponents can invariably be described as Clarkson-esque 'Mr Toad' numpties. But you would be equally wrong to equate those who are concerned about a more powerful European Union as being crypto-fascist, UKIP, Kilroy Silk-like shopkeepers. Such polarisation and lack of analysis is not excusable for those who are serious about such matters.

A Capitalist solution

The first thing we need to address is the origins of Congestion Charging itself. To some people, it may be a revelation to learn that it has less to do with reducing CO2 emissions and more to do with market economics.

The Keynesian economist William Vickrey was a theorist of 'Congestion Pricing' - best described as a way of regulating demand. The Keynesian tag is important - it means he's from a school of capitalist economists that favour direct intervention to mitigate the adverse effects of capitalism, such as recession, depression and boom - in opposition to the Monetarist approach which took particular prevalence in the 1980s. The advocates of the Keynesian approach (tagged 'socialism' or 'communism' by the extreme right or ignorant, but in actual fact anything but) are on the march again now, given that Capitalism in facing possibly it's greatest ever crisis. But the uncomfortable truth for many pro-congestion charge individuals and groups who purport to be on the left and in some way radical is that they are arguing in favour of capitalist device to regulate demand: Keynesianism is about improving stability in the private sector (hence the bailing out of private banks with public money).

In this way, at the public seminars they held, the primary concern the GMPTA reps were keen to emphasise was that congestion charging was first and foremost 'good for business'. This is important - environmental and the 'public good' angles were tellingly much lower down the list on the very first slide of the powerpoint presentation.

So as a tool, Congestion charging is meant to address 'failures of the market', primarily the failures to eliminate practices which are harmful to the environment (in the view of campaigners for it). To do this, it relies on coercion through taxation, primarily because underlying it is a pessimistic and thoroughly reactionary (and discredited) view of what is termed 'human nature' - i.e. that human beings are overwhelmingly selfish, and therefore the perceived common good has to be enforced etc. 'People' are the problem, and have to be forced to behave correctly, for their own good as well as others. A good example of this is the facebook group 'yes i DO want the congestion charge in manchester, bring it on' whose description/strapline is 'just get the train or a bus and leave your crap car in your stupid little village. we can hardly move from you twats, let alone breathe'- so it seems that the provision of public transport is all about morality twinned with a contempuous view of the 'masses'. The vaguely eco-left milieu that populate these groups should really know better than to associate themselves with such crass moralism and anti-analytical bullshit, but it seems to me that they are also part of the problem here. This section of the bourgeoisie are not really concerned with social change - they don't want to argue, rather instead they want people to be like them - to share the same diet, dress, lifestyle and music.

But the underlying flaw in the argument that a Congestion Charge (and therefore the associated TiF bid) is something to do with reducing car use is a classic contradiction - it acknowledges and recognises the dominant place the car has under capitalism, as the car will be the way to get revenue to repay a huge £1.2 bn loan in future.

Furthermore, the argument that the Congestion Charge is needed to combat CO2 emissions looks rather pathetic when one considers the promoters contend that the plan will only do so by 6%. This is also presumably the best it can do, and it's frankly not good enough. The 'Yes' proponents must know this and realise it compromises their efforts to be taken seriously in future on climate change.

Regressive Taxation

My primary objection to the Congestion Charge is the effect it will have on working people. It is a regressive tax - that is to say it will be a flat rate tax, like the hated poll tax - which will effect the less well off far more severely than the rich. £10 a day to drive in and out of the 2 zones during peak times may be merely inconvenient to the well off, but it's disastrous to the working person, at a time when wages are stagnant and food and fuel/energy prices are rising.

The GMPTA have countered this by saying that 'the poor' don't drive, or own cars. Again, the terminology is the key - for 'poor' read 'underclass' rather than the much broader 'working class'. For the pseudo-left proponents of the congestion charge, class analysis is abandoned altogether - the 'poor' get a (paltry 20%) discount, the rich can afford it (one thing they readily admit, because they have no intention of challenging the wealth & status of this small group) and the rest of us probably can anyway if we admit it. And anyway, it's for our own good.

Public Transport & the TiF bid

The flip side of the Charge 'stick' then becomes the 'Carrot' - an alleged 'Revolution' in the way people travel. But it's important to note that, at this stage, the TiF bid has 'proposals' rather than commitments - it's proponents know full well that subsidising the private sector invariably translates sooner or later into bottomless pit economics which will directly impact upon the investment and service provision that is envisaged now. It's therefore not possible to make anything other than vague promises.

Furthermore, the TiF deal for Greater Manchester has been the outcome of a competitive bidding process - with winners and losers on a national basis. 'Revolutionary' at the expense of other 'less deserving' Cities. Which sounds positively reactionary to me.

'Revolution' also implies something brand new - whereas many of the proposals are either leftovers from previous plans or existing initiatives that were always in the pipeline. The much vaunted Travel Smartcard for example, is a national initiative, already timetabled for introduction in the next 5 years. Wigan gets very little out of the TiF bid, but one of the cornerstones is the 'Leigh Guided Busway' - a scheme that has been on the books for nearly a
decade. Most of the 'new' Metrolink Trams were already ordered prior to the TiF bid.

You would expect a revolutionary plan to contain at least aspects of a radical approach - free transport, re-regulated and re-nationalised bus and train services. But that's not on the table. In fact, and on the contrary, the TiF scheme will see massive subsidies to the private sector, many of which have already begun to cynically cut back on services outside the Charging Area (perhaps in order to restore them so they look 'revolutionary' at a later stage), and also raise the prices of public transport massively. The main recipients of cash funding will be Stagecoach and First Group, who between them monopolise the bus and Metrolink services in and around the city. In addition, a massive £300 million will be paid to install the charging infrastructure, which is in itself a huge surveillance system with massive implications for civil liberties and freedom of movement.


Putting aside the abolition of capitalism and thereby assured death of the car industry for just a wee while, even a re-aligning of priorities would make a huge difference. Who amongst the more sincere 'Yes' proponents could object to moving the £6 bn annual spending on Road expansion into paying for free public transport?

And if they are not in favour of that, then how can they seriously convince anyone they want to 'revolutionise' anything? Hasselt in Belgium is an example of the possibilities of making public transport completely free - a 1319% increase in use of public transport over 10 years since the introduction - there's no surveillance nor crime because no documents are required (hint - it's FREE!).


Those who are for the Congestion Charge therefore need to accept the 'bitter pill' of the above outlined facts, alongside their vague, ill-defined, class ignorant, private-subsidy-jamboree of a scheme. The rather desperate line that 'it's either this or nothing' indicates a cowardly attitude to struggle and campaigning, alongside a willingness to swallow Capitalist doctrine seemingly at every given opportunity. If this really is the best we can expect to achieve, then they - more than anyone else - are in for a huge disappointment.

*I need to point out that, as an Anarchist, I don't 'vote' for anything or anyone on any occasion - the Militant Liberal 'Yes' voters who use 'Anarchist' as an indication of lifestyle and a flag of convenience would do well to remember that.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hoongate part 2 - who said what to Geoff Who?

Since our post last week about the Bypass Cartel's meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport Geoff Hoon, we now have three different sources of info about what was said. It's time to compare and contrast and form some conclusions.

Firstly, the article in the Advertiser, and a classic Oldhamism from Roy:

"Clearly he (Mr Hoon) can’t support it as he is the final arbitrator but I am hopeful that what we heard is that he understands what our problems and our needs are."

Arbiter Roy, that's the word you're after. Anyway, Levitt didn't get a look in on this article and for a change, Oldham is diplomatic, making it clear that Hoon is 'supposed' to be impartial. 

Then we have the article in the Glossop Chronicle, which also quotes Oldham at the Longdendale and Hattersley District Assembly, and Levitt's remarks on what was discussed. Leaving aside some of the more revealing and juicy quotes for future articles, the impression it gives is that the delegation 'made their case' to Hoon, but hinting that some kind of reassurance was given, Levitt is quoted thus:

"We left the meeting feeling far happier than when we went in"

Now set aside visions of a meeting along the lines of the ones Roy Oldham used to hold with his friends Tom Pendry and Owen Oyston and a bevvy of young women for one moment! This suggests Hoon gave them some kind of hope that the road will be built, come what may.

But the clincher is another source. Quoted by Virtual Glossop, it's from a newsletter sent by Levitt to Party supporters. We'll quote it in full:

Bypass Talks Win New Momentum

The new Transport Secretary, Geoff Hoon, met local MPs Tom Levitt and James Purnell with Tameside Council Leader Roy Oldham last week. The meeting was called to try to get the road plans for the A628 / A57 back on track after the public enquiry ran into technical problems.

“A number of ways forward were discussed,” said Tom, “and some were ruled out. For example, local politicians and the Highways Agency agreed that there was no credible alternative route for the road.” Tom said that Glossop’s economic development relied heavily on the bypass and the associated Glossop Spur being built together. Geoff Hoon, who was our Euro-MEP until 1994, knows the area. He said that officials would explore options to bring the plans back on course quickly.

Levitt likes to portray himself as having all kinds of access at all kinds of levels of government and no doubt this news is more than a little bit of self-aggrandisement. But then we have the mixed messages about 'ways forward' being 'ruled out'. Who is ruling what out? Is it Hoon (previously known as 'Geoff Who' by the press during the attack on Iraq)? If so, it's none of his business, as Roy Oldham was keen to make clear at the Longdendale DA. 

So is Levitt going out on a limb, out of desperation for his more than likely battering at the next General Election? Or did this very cosy meeting really agree a way forward? It should be clear that if objectors request to met him and are rebuffed, then he clearly showing favouritism and bias.

To try to get to the bottom of the matter, leading Objector John Hall sent a Freedom of Information request to Hoon on 26th November:

The press releases today 26th November 2008 indicate your meeting with a delegation of TMBC Councillors who seek your approval for the strongly contested ByPass scheme through the Peak District National Park.

To accept this lobbying by those concerned indicates your complicity in showing contempt for the Public Inquiry process and the protocols required under an appointed Public Inquiry Inspector.

Those objecting to this road scheme have had to abide by the PI proceedings in presenting their evidence under the requirements of the Inquiry, and then being subjected to any cross examinations required by any Supporters of this ByPass.

The gates have been opened through your acceptance of this "organised delegation" who have been allowed to submit their support of the scheme directly to yourself, thereby showing contempt for the present Public Inquiry, the Inspector administrating the proceedings, and all the many objectors.

Because of these lobbying methods adopted through the stated meeting, those involved have avoided being cross examined in a Public Inquiry where their rhetoric and manipulated comments were directly made to yourself, with no recourse whatsoever to the substantial and error free evidence submitted by objectors.

To discriminate in such a flagrant manner Secretary of State, indicates and confirms an existing bias against those objecting through your acceptance of this recent lobbying meeting in London.

The PI Inspector concerned has now lost all credibility in his administrations because of these recent methods adopted by TMBC Councillors and MPs, which indicates a desperation in not being capable of substantiating their rhetoric in an Public Inquiry Open Forum.

I therefore now wish for the implementation of my FOI legislated request to yourself seeking the minutes, agenda, or any matters whatsoever discussed at your recent meeting because I believe extremely serious existing Public Inquiry protocols and procedures have been breached by the DfT whose impartiality has now been totally destroyed through its substantiated complicity with those supporting the ByPass.

We'll keep you informed of any responses as soon as we hear. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

First Watsongate, now Hoongate...

Today brings reports that the local politicians backing the Bypass - Tom Levitt MP, James Purnell MP and Tameside Council Leader Roy Oldham - have met with the new Transport Secretary of State Geoff Hoon to gain assurances about the status of the Longdendale Bypass.

Although the (as yet) unofficial press release from Levitt (originally published on Virtual Glossop - a snapsot of the original article can be viewed here) does not quote Hoon, according to Tom Levitt, there was agreement that "there is no credible alternative to the road" - at least amongst the Highways Agency and local politicians. As the Secretary of State, Hoon is effectively the head of the Highways Agency, so with this proclamation, the Secretary of State is commenting on a scheme that - if it were a Court case - would be sub judice. Breaching that would mean contempt of Court

Through their completely unfettered incompetence, Hoon's agency - the Highways Agency - have assured that the 'alternatives' have not even yet had a hearing at the Public Inquiry. What he should be saying is that 'at the Inquiry, the Highways Agency will contend that there are no alternatives, and the Inspector will make a decision based upon the evidence presented by ourselves and Objectors that argue the contrary'. But there's fat chance of such a reasonable pronouncement from this crowd of assorted cretins.

If, as is suggested, the Highways Agency has examined the case for alternatives, why is this information not available to the public at the Inquiry Library or on the website? Why are they not allowing their evidence to be examined prior to challenge by submitting their theories about alternatives now? After all, the alternatives do not form part of their scheme, and are independent of their work/cock-ups so far. Dos this mean the work has not been completed, or is there something else going on?

Despite his past warm words for the Save the Woodhead Tunnel campaign, Tom Levitt is 'speaking with forked tongue'. Because if, as he says, there are 'no credible alternatives' to the bypass, this means he's flashing the campaign a huge V sign. That this twit wants to have his cake and eat it has always been largely undisputed by those who have a realistic appraisal of snake-like politicians. 

And if they are so concerned and passionate about the Bypass, why did James Purnell, Tom Levitt and Roy Oldham fail to schedule their appearances to speak in favour of it at the Inquiry when it was running previously? Because they know full well that their rhetoric and propaganda would be tested to the fullest extent and that they would be exposed as a Cartel in hock to the Road Industry.

Lastly, we hear of reports that at a 'Community Empowerment' event last weekend, Tom Levitt proclaimed that supporters and objectors stood at 50/50 - THIS IS A LIE. For the umpteenth time, we'd like to remind this liar that of the 4239 responses logged by the Highways Agency (available on a list at the Public Inquiry Library), 1469 expressed support, but 2770 have objected. This is 65% against - or using a ratio, 2:1 against

We're sure we'll feature much more about this matter very soon...

Monday, November 24, 2008

If you love roadworks, the bypass is for you - a letter to the Glossop Chronicle

Over the past fortnight, readers of the Glossop Chronicle will have noticed a steady stream of correspondents linking the issue of the recent roadworks at Woolley Lane and abortive ones at Shaw Lane, Hadfield to their desire for a bypass. 

In our post about these roadworks and the disruption they caused, we predicted such simplistic arguments would emerge. What was also inevitable was that sooner or later, Mike Flynn of the Longdendale Siege Mentality would join in, and he didn't let us down with his comments in the Bypass cost increase article we initiated.

Today, we have written to the Chronicle responding to the pro-bypass opportunists, and the letter is reproduced below:

I note the conscious decision of various correspondents over the past 2 weeks - on and off your letters page - to link traffic problems caused by two Highways authorities to the alleged need for a bypass.

On the contrary, I would like to contend that the two are entirely separate matters.

In his comments on the increase in the bypass costs, Mr Mike Flynn of the Longdendale Siege Committee states that holdups will not occur with the bypass in place. Yet he would have us endure several months if not years of traffic disruption in order to ensure that it is built.

Furthermore, he assumes that the Inspector at the Public Inquiry will order that the Glossop Spur will be constructed alongside a bypass, an assumption which is ill-founded and far from certain. If the bypass is built without the Spur, traffic will still have to divert via Broadbottom or Tintwistle in the event of Woolley Lane being closed. Indeed, in the scenario that they wished to get onto the bypass from Tintwistle to go towards Manchester, they would have to queue at Townhead Farm along with traffic coming in the opposite direction, a situation surely worse than at present.

And of course Mr Flynn seems to be unable to envisage the traffic chaos that will be the result of any accident which closes the bypass.

Mr Flynn seems to contend that a lack of localised traffic planning means upwards of £315 million should be spent on a pseudo-motorway. Surely it would be far cheaper to employ someone who had an inkling about planning measures and traffic management. Looking at Derbyshire's website for instance would have alerted Tameside to the fact that the Shaw Lane works had been planned well ahead. Notices at the Flouch and beyond could have alerted motorists to avoid the A628 or expect delays etc. Similar notices could have been posted on the Tameside side. It's really not that difficult.

Or was the chaos meant to happen? Are the Highways authorities so stupid that they hadn't the foresight to do some of the basic ideas suggested above? Or is it one last desperate attempt from the promoters of this road amongst the two relevant authorities to put the traffic problems back on the Agenda big time, to act as a spur or a new impetus for the pro-bypass brigade as the Inquiry fragments and hopes fade? If the former then there should be some sackings. If the latter, it should be exposed. It's not an argument they can win.

At least one High Peak Borough Councillor - Anne Worrall - has publicly called for modern two-lane bridges to replace Besthill Bridge & Woolley Bridge - the latter currently has an abandoned, boarded-up, semi-refurbished building where a proper bridge and roundabout could be. Why isn't anyone calling for similar improvements to the existing highways that will cost a fraction of the bypass?

Living in the real world it seems that whilst all these authorities claim to be concerned for the valley's residents, when it comes down to it they do not care at all, as they have failed to try to minimise the impact - as was their duty. This has got nothing to do with a bypass, neither real nor - as is far more likely - imagined.


Friday, November 14, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: Public Inquiry costs now stand at £16 million

**UPDATE: the MEN, and both the Glossop & Tameside Advertiser as well as the Glossop Chronicle are now carrying this story**

We report on an interesting question raised in Parliament on Thursday. Robert Goodwill MP  - the Shadow Transport Minister - asked the following:

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when the Longdendale bypass public inquiry commenced; for how many days the inquiry has sat; and what the estimated cost is of the Longdendale bypass public inquiry process

The answer (from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Paul Clark MP PPS and not the DfT which seems odd, presumably Adonis has better things to do) told us the dates and times most of us anoraks know, but then tagged the costs of the Public Inquiry on the end - and they apparently now stand at £16 million. You may remember that we covered a similar line of questioning from Goodwill in Parliament in May with the total then standing at £15 million, and so it seems 6 months later, the PI (such as it exists and does anything useful) has eaten up another £1 million of taxpayer's money. That's £39,000 per week.

Now this has the unfortunate effect of putting our Bypass cost counter (which you'll find at the top of the left-hand column) more than a little ahead of the official information, but we still stand by our line that until we have a proper breakdown, it will remain unadjusted.

Either way, that's still a hell of a lot of money for absolutely bugger all. And it's only going to get ever more expensive...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Playing the long game - the Planning Reform Bill & The Longdendale Bypass

Over the past few months, we've increasingly been forming conclusions about possible reasons why this Public Inquiry (PI) is facing the massive delays that it is. We think it's likely that the Labour Government - in the midst of a 'managed decline' - simply does not want to be the party to make a decision about this road - or at least the wrong decision for the Labour Party in Tameside, and the Labour MPs James Purnell and Tom Levitt. Much better to leave any decision to the Tories, and it will suit the propaganda of the local politicians.

Isn't it funny that whilst the likes of Manchester Chamber of Commerce and the Longdendale Siege Committee mewl and puke over the slow progress of the PI, local MPs and politicians don't express their concerns in public, nor write to the Inspector or the Highways Agency to urge for progress in the way objectors do? Do they know something that we and the regional and local cannon fodder for their scheming don't?

Indeed, are there other reasons for the delays? Well, it seems to us that the quiet but sinister progress of a major piece of Planning legislation - the Planning Reform Bill - may shed some like on the surely tactical reasons for the delays in the resumption of the PI.

The Bill seeks to leave it to future Governments to declare 'National Policy Statements' which identify major developments that are in the 'National Interest'. A newly created 'Infrastructure Planning Commission' - unelected and unaccountable, natch - would make a final decision on these schemes, obviating the need for Public Inquiries. It's the stuff of the somewhat damp dreams of the otherwise impotent Longdendale Siege Committee.

Grey Gordon's Goons have trumpeted the Bill as being a way to cut cost and delays, and also as a way to push through 'Green' projects - Orwellian code words for Nuclear Power Stations and 'cosmetic energy projects' like (Pissing in the) Wind Farms.

And despite the fact that Bourgeois Reformists like Friends of the Earth have tried to persuade the Government otherwise, the Bill has now passed it's third reading in the House of Commons. Unless the Lords mangle it too much, it will become law by possibly next year. The failure of the reformist approach to this issue is writ large in FoE's 'hope' that another unelected and unaccountable lot - the House of Lords - will allow the great unwashed some 'climate change' sugar to coat the bitter 'planning' pill.

So what does this mean in the context of the Longdendale Bypass?

Firstly, although the PI has been dragged out by the State rather than the objectors (I make no apologies for delaying tactics!), we are already hearing a clamour about Red Tape, delays etc. To some, this PI entirely justifies the legislation.

It could also mean that another benefit of the 'long game' the Highways Agency are playing is that if the PI is somehow axed, then the Scheme will simply be resurrected under the new rules. Similarly, if a future Tory government drop the scheme and then decide to bring it back, a new planning environment will exist to speed it through. That really would be 'foul play'.

And the delays surely render the Inspector, John Watson, under suspicion. This is his first major PI, and he has served the system well by allowing the HA to ride it roughshod. Would it be cynical to suggest that he might be after a job in the future Infrastructure Planning Commission? If he is, then he's going about it the right way (excluding the objectors and the general public), albeit in the wrong fashion (slow, delays etc) - if you know what we mean.

We'll be keeping a watchful eye on the progress of the PRB, and we'll also be sure to contrast it with PI developments along the way.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Watsongate - the Highways Agency's secret meetings & John Watson's free time (at our expense)

We have an exclusive on the blog tonight. Leading Objector John Hall has contacted us owing to the frustrations he is experiencing getting information from the Highways Agency.

In August 2008 in this document (opens PDF), the Highways Agency revealed that they planned to meet with Statutory Objectors that month to discuss their new plans which they ominously called a 'compromise result'. 

John Hall then promptly wrote to the Highways Agency requesting copies of the minutes under a Freedom of Information request. Almost 3 months later and in contravention of the Statutory time limits, the minutes have still not materialised.

Excuses that have been given so far include:

- HA staff are on leave (including the Project Leader, Alex Bywaters)
- The person responsible for typing the minutes hasn't finished them yet!
- All those present have not agreed to the finalised minutes, which means they cannot be sent out

Whatever the truth is, there are no minutes being provided, despite John Hall's continued reminders. One certainly smells a rat, but of what kind is another matter. What was discussed? Would the release of info prejudice ongoing discussions? What have they got to hide?

In frustration, John tells us that he wrote to the PI Inspector, but was told that John Watson was not aware that any such meeting had taken place - this despite the fact that a document published by the Inquiry broke the news of the meeting in the first place! It seems that Watson does not read all the Inquiry documents, despite having ample time to do so - and these are delays that he himself has ordered & presided over.

Is it lies, or is it incompetence? Exactly who is fooling who? We'll keep you posted...