Monday, October 27, 2008

Derbyshire CC & Tameside MBC - Traffic Management fuckwits

Are there any people out there who seriously believe that both Derbyshire County Council and Tameside MBC  - 2 of the main sponsors of this planned bypass - have any credibility in terms of traffic management?

If there are such weird individuals, then please be my guest to take a stroll along the A57 tomorrow.

Essential work being undertaken by United Utilities in Hadfield and National Grid just over the border at Woolley Lane means that the A57 is effectively shut off for traffic coming from the Sheffield direction. Local traffic from Hadfield cannot similarly access the A57 to Hollingworth.

Tonight, I viewed traffic queuing all the way back from New Road, Tintwistle, along Waterside, down the length of Woolley Bridge Road, along Brookfield and into Glossop. 

What utter madness and bureaucratic idiocy has scheduled the closure of 2 roads along the same route at the same time? COULD YOU TRUST THESE TWO AUTHORITIES TO RUN A PISS UP IN THE PROVERBIAL BREWERY?

What's more, would you allow them to construct a pseudo-motorway on the basis of relieving 3 villages of traffic when that's clearly of no concern to them for the next 4-7 weeks in this neck of the woods? Wake up...

*UPDATE, 28th October 2008: we are reliably informed that the United Utilities work at Shaw Lane has been suspended, no doubt to ease the gridlock and filter some traffic through Hadfield towards Woodhead. Meanwhile, the work on Woolley Lane has not even started yet. is reporting that prior to this change, it was taking traffic 2 hours to get from Glossop to the top of Mottram Moor via the diversion in place. They have also pointed out that Local Authorities were given the power this year to co-ordinate roadworks to avoid such disruption.

It'll be interesting to see how many calls this creates for a bypass as soon as possible or similar twaddle. I'd like to ask anyone moaning in such a manner exactly what they think the disruption will be like once construction is underway? Do they also realise that the Highways Agency's evidence illustrates that the bypass will be full to capacity on the day of opening?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bill Johnson & Sean Parker-Perry - bogus environmentalists

You may have noticed that not much that occurs in the local press escapes our attention. So we've decided to chronicle a series of little 'spats' taking place in public between a couple of individuals over the past few months who like to portray themselves as in some way concerned with the environment

One of these we all know far too much about - Councillor Sean Parker-Perry. The other person - Bill Johnson - is not someone we've looked at in detail before, but he certainly deserves more attention. 

It's possible to view these spats as a bit of a 'turf war' for environmental credibility. We've done a lot to document the history of Councillor Parker-Perry's Active Longdendale, but Bill Johnson has his own environmental organisation - Longdendale Heritage Trust (LHT) - which seems to have a record that Cllr Parker-Perry can only dream about. Interestingly, the LHT has also attracted funding from 'Awards for All' - in this case £5,000 to rebuild a drystone wall, a tad more tangible than Cllr Parker-Perry's spending of his grant (about which, at the time of writing details are still not publicly available).

The first of the latest spats come about in May 2007, when TMBC set about felling trees that lined the sides of the deep cutting at Mottram, ostensibly to prevent root growth from destabilising the masonry. Johnson was annoyed, and ran to the Reporter/Chronicle, who duly provided an article

Parker-Perry then replied to Johnson in the last 5 paragraphs of a letter on various topics in a later letter to the Chronicle/Reporter. One of them makes clear his priorities:

"Any loss of trees such as this is always a shame, but our engineers must do what is best to maintain major engineering works"

And then Parker-Perry pulls out the classic Greenwash trick - an offer to plant trees elsewhere to mitigate the loss. But in a response to Parker-Perry's letter, Johnson points out the folly of removing trees which stabilise the sloped sides of the cutting and also that cracked masonry has still not been attended to.

All had then been quiet until a couple of weeks ago, when the spats erupted again. This time it was over a request for funding from the Friends of Etherow Lodge Park, in order to fund an orienteering course. The minutes of the District Assembly clearly don't do justice to the passionate feelings in evidence in the local press over the following couple of weeks, and Bill Johnson's subsequent letter to the press is a well-argued illustration of the sound reasons why pathways in the protected woodland have been historically minimised. But then he blows it by attacking and insulting the the 'friends' group in a rather snobbish and condescending manner. 

We've no doubt that Bill Johnson has credentials - but it's always galling to hear someone flout them vainly rather than offer an argument based on evidence and facts. And whilst we tend to sympathise perhaps a little more with him in this dispute, it's all the more puzzling why he has taken a wholly contradictory stance with regard to Swallow's Wood.

For he has always shown much less concern about the fate of this Ancient Woodland. As recently as November last year, he was writing to the Glossop Chronicle to roll out the 'nature will recover' flannel we too often hear from Councillors and Siege, the fig leaf to cover their destructive urges. He even goes as far as to eulogise the M67 Roundabout at Mottram! Johnson's principles may be in short supply possibly because he lives on Ashworth Lane and the traffic queues outside his front door - but then we know he hasn't formally written in to support the bypass either. So where does he stand? 

We'd rather a little consistency was applied in Mr Johnson's concern for the environment, and given that Swallow's Wood is classified by the Woodland Trust as Ancient Semi Natural Woodland, we would have thought that fell under the remit of concern for the Longdendale Heritage Trust. And his eloquent argument against holding orienteering courses in Etherow Lodge Park must surely also apply to Swallow's Wood, where there are plays to destroy it for good. 

**UPDATE 28th October 2008: we are reliably informed that the same Mr Bill Johnson used to be very much against the Bypass - in the early 1990s, he participated in a fledgling (and now defunct) group called PATROL (People Against the Road Over Longdendale). We get the feeling he likes to monopolise concern for the environment if not personify it. But there's no hard feelings - there's room for all kinds of weird people and ego-tripping in this campaign, so come on Bill, get with the program!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Deforestation - this far and no further

A new report out today reveals that the UK is losing Ancient Woodland at a rate faster than the Amazon

The Woodland Trust defines 'Ancient Woodland' as any that is over 400 years old, and almost half of it has been lost in the past 80 years. A quote from the trust tells us all we should need to know:

"Ancient woodland, designated as over 400 years old in England, is the UK's equivalent of rainforest. It is irreplaceable ... It's our most valuable space for wildlife, and home to rare and threatened species. Once these woods have gone, they will never come back. They are historical treasure troves"

The Guardian article highlights Two Mile Coppice, which is threatened by the Weymouth Relief Road - a compulsory purchase order is due any day after the government approved the scheme recently. Needless to say, the group opposing it need all the support they can get.

Swallows Wood is highlighted in the report too - if you use the map on the Woodland Trust's Woodwatch website, you'll find it there. The Woodland Trust define it as 'Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland'. We'd like to remind readers that Longdendale's Village Idiot (aka Councillor Sean Parker-Perry) once set about trying to demolish the reputation of this Wood by editing Wikipedia, evidence of which can be found here

That the UK can lose almost 50% of it's Ancient Woodland in less than a century is chilling, but it's also outrageous that 243 Woods are threatened by road schemes. We need to be clear that this has to stop: in Longdendale, some people are prepared to defend our Woodland from attacks made against it. Deforestation has to stop, and we are prepared to do our bit.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tameside's "Traffic Calming" Deathtraps

There was a small snippet in last week's Tameside Advertiser that may have escaped widespread notice. It was about a campaign by Roseanne Kay of Stalybridge to highlight the death of her 16 year-old son, Callum, on Tameside's roads.

In December 2003, Callum was out on his moped for the first time when he hit a pothole, fell off and slid into the path of a lorry and was killed. The pothole was below the Council's own trigger point for repairs (depths greater than 50mm), and the Coroner criticised TMBC's road repair procedures heavily at the Inquest into Callum's death

Roseanne is now planning to present a petition to James Purnell MP calling for action on the state of the Roads in Tameside.

As we reported recently, Tameside already has a brutal approach to expressions of roadside grief. But the grim reaper himself in this morbid pantomime is played by none other than Roy Oldham. Just over a year after the inquest into Callum's death, the best he could offer by way of an explanation for potholes is that they were a "Traffic Calming Measure". You would expect a shape-shifting politician to be rather more mindful of the grief of Roseanne, but Oldham's trademark is his tendency to open his mouth and put his foot right in it. The message is clear - we don't give a shit about the safety of the public, be they pedestrian, cyclist, motorist or otherwise. Tameside MBC would rather spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on ridiculous flower arrangements, whilst banning floral tributes. It would rather spend millions of plugging a road that will increase deaths (the bypass), than  a few thousand filling in properly holes that will prevent them.

We wonder what reception Roseanne will get from the veritable smooth snake that is James Purnell? Fine words probably, but fuck all is our best guess. And if she lays flowers at the site where her son died, under their new directive the bureaucrats at Tameside will remove them in a month...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Lorry Ban Now!

It seems that our opposition are dividing themselves very nicely. Readers of last week's Glossop Chronicle may have noticed an article calling for a trial Lorry Ban to close the A628 Woodhead Road to HGVs - but the call was coming from a pro-bypass supporter, Tintwistle Parish Councillor Bill Clarke

And although Clarke states that he wants a Lorry Ban to make the wait for the Bypass easier, there's no doubt that if it's particularly successful, that it's going to change a lot of people's minds about the bypass. 

Which is why Longdendale Siege's Mike Flynn did the usual huffing and puffing stating "it won't work" (can any tech-heads out there build us a Mike Flynn Press Babble generator?). Even better was his brilliant grasp of mathematics with this classic quote:

"I have seen figures saying it will be £300m, yet not too long ago they were quoting £100m ... it will probably end up at around £150m" 

Yes, Mike still remembers his "Mean, Median and Mode" from his 11+ days many years ago. Well, almost...

He's afraid a Lorry Ban might work - which is why we'd like to support any calls for it, from wherever they come. We'll echo Bill Clarke's sentiments in the article - "Trial it for 12 months ... I am sure diverting HGVs will make a big difference" - amen to that.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Roadbuilding in a time of Global Economic Crisis

Although we've written before of the likely effects of the Credit Crunch on the Bypass, you may have noticed that that term has now (thankfully) become passé. The media has now started to use the much more realistic term 'Global Financial Crisis' (in our view soon to be a 'Global Economic Crisis'). The past 3 weeks has seen an incredible drama unfold around the world as the consequences of a dash for growth based largely upon credit start to hit home. 

These are fascinating times, which doubtless leave those that believed in the 'final victory' of Capitalism going back to the drawing board, if not question everything they have based their lives upon. But trying to make this blog relate in some way to the Longdendale Bypass, the future of this road is now surely even less certain than ever before, and we'd like you to ponder some of our thoughts at this time:

1) If the Car Industry and Road Building is as central to Capitalism as we believe, will keeping the construction projects going be the way to Economic recovery or do the huge amounts of public money being thrown at the banks and the money markets put an end to such Government spending for the foreseeable future?

2) Conversely, in the same context, what is the financial justification for continuing with the Longdendale Bypass and the Public Inquiry? If the costs have escalated to £315 million, and the Highways Agency costing model is based on the price of Oil being $20 a barrel, who is the Government kidding that it can continue with this project?

In the last 3 weeks, hundreds of billions of pounds of Taxpayer's money has been thrown at the Banks, and it doesn't seem to be working, the crash is continuing day by day.

For everyone concerned with what the future holds - and what it should hold - whether you work for the Highways Agency, whether you are in favour or against the Bypass - when will the penny drop?

The Castle at High Peak Council Offices

In a stroke of irony - to me at least - of almost Orwellian proportions this week beginning 6th October has been designated Customer Service Week at High Peak Borough Council. I am not sure what this entails other than a bit of glib PR and a visit from mainly absentee Council CEO Simon Baker who is part-time but for me it meant a particularly toxic dose of rudeness from their Customer Service Telephone Team.

Thus the call will start along the lines of a somewhat over- parroted "High Peak Borough Customer Services, how can I help you? which I personally find a bit chilling and off putting. Their staff probably go on highly costly courses to learn this mechanical routine when ultimately in view of their seeming unhelpful remit I think I would prefer the machine, so at least I knew where I was. I find such an unerring replication of a machine from a person a somewhat chilling introduction!

What I have found on previous occasions then occurs. You want to speak to a specific officer in a Team, say Planning. No chance really, they are always in a meeting. You call back in the afternoon, they are out on a site visit. Basically the deal is they call you when it suits them!
Assuming they are busy there are no other members of staff in the relevant Team to take your call. Also in a new development nowadays the Telephone Operator seem to think they have been empowered to deal with your enquiry complete, and will not offer you any access to a professional officer. The only way past is to move heaven and earth, and be prepared to engage in strenuous negotiation with the grim guard of the Reception Team.

This whole "bunker mentality" creates stress and aggravation in even reasonable people. I do not wholly blame the Customer Services Team because it is evident they are acting on the express instructions from above. It does lead them to be very curt however. It is a bit disconcerting to be asked roughly "Whats your name?", particularly in Customer Service Week. When I worked in Customer Service I never found it difficult to ask even in a slightly stressful situation "Could I have your name please?".

However ultimately if the Council is to be inaccessible to the public in this way I think it should
publish that fact. If it has empowered the Customer Service Team to deal wholly with Inquiries it should be clear at outset, and they should not pose as a Reception Service. Similarly if the Professional Officers in a team, or in their absence other team Officers are only available at their convenience, not yours, let it be known! We can surely have no complaint, for after all they are paying us are they not? At least I think it must be that way round - it surely cant be the case that the subsidy is ours, and they are supposed to perform at our behest?

If it were the latter, and I offer this as a hypothetical reading - a situation where we pay them to rule - that would surely mean a kind of return to feudal times, and the bunker mentality of the middle ages, where the Manorial Lord resides in his castle, and the serfs outside work and pay for the privilege of having him and his Lady there. Small government structures are often worth monitoring for paradigms of political organisation and power relations and the trouble is that this disconcerting model does appear to be incipiently in operation, which is mainly why in a warning vein I have chosen to write about it here. Recently I wrote similarly for the same reason about about the Standards Committee and suggested similar sinister forces might be at work when they dealt with an alleged case of bullying.

During a particular grim period of history, in the between the war years of the last century, Franz Kafka wrote a prophetic book about the dynamic of political structures. I read "The Castle" as a veiled metaphor of just such a feudal paradigm, a study in medieval power relations which he saw being re-incarnated and reworked for modern times. So High Peak Borough Council, when I ring for its "assistance" often rings the Kafkaesque alarm bells for me, And especially during Customer Relations Week!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Another one bites the dust...

Fresh from the cabinet carnage that saw the back of one of the many Browns that swarm around Downing Street, tonight those with an interest in the great transport debate will note the demise of another familiar name, that of Tom Harris MP (the now sacked Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department for Transport).
I looked at his blog and he appears to be able to project a lifestyle such as most of us can only dream of, though presented in a self disparaging sort of way, "rubbing shoulders" with the mischievously coquettish Sarah Alexander at a "Soho club", which must represent something of the zenith of any politicians career. My first thought was therefore - "Way to go Ivan!".

However, the reason for this blog entry is just that we activists get to know the names of the top nobs at DfT and Tom Harris MP was one of these, and he represents a trend amongst Labour warlords that I find really irritating. At the same time that they refuse - in the face of all common sense - to knock silly road schemes on the head, they list their hobbies as "fell walking". It seems a really common hobby amongst the Labour elite, they are if you like "closet nature lovers". I seem to remember that the fondly departed like Robin Cook and John Smith had similar interests, and may even have died - quite enviably perhaps - out on the hills.

Quite probably having spent the larger part of their career in office arranging for the degradation of the spots they are secretly hankering to enjoy a walk on. As if the open moorland could just be taken for granted. Believe me in these parts, the celebrated Dark Peak, it can't - nowhere is sacred to the Highways Agency!

So how is it that when in office they are quite happy to leave the demanding work of defending beauty spots, and safeguarding some of the finest hillwalking in the countryside to local campaigners like us and will not lift a hand to help? I find this truly exasperating. I would say to all those MPs who have those secret hankerings to roam the open countryside; to taste its invigorating air and take in the magical and breathtaking views on offer; its suggestion of something more than the simply factual -  stop taking the countryside for granted! It is under threat, as never before, from inappropriate renewable energy projects that are just intended as Trojan Horses into the green belt and from ridiculous housing quotas, and from awful road proposals. So why not stand up to be counted?

By the time you choose to retire there may be nothing left, so give a bit more thought when campaigners write and ask you to help them, and their campaign to consider the natural environment. Its your environment too after all!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Sean Parker-Perry - 'I Quit my job to learn Sign Language'

One thing's for sure, Sean Parker-Perry has sure got a very 'active' imagination. A wonderful story in tonight's Advertiser has Sean issuing a press release about his departure from James Purnell's office, and we'll reprint it here for posterity:

A Tameside councillor has quit his post as James Purnell’s right hand man — for his love of sign language.

Councillor Sean Parker-Perry decided to seek a fresh challenge after several years working in Hyde town hall as parliamentary political operative for the Stalybridge and Hyde MP.

The Longdendale councillor is returning to college to complete his sign language qualifications.

But he has moved to quash rumours there was anything sinister behind his sudden move.
"Nothing could be further from the truth. I have not been sacked and the door is always open," he said. "I’ve been planning to leave for a while and I’ll be enrolling back at college to update my skills. It was purely my decision. Working for four years at that level in parliament is a long time. Most people take stock of their careers every few years and I’m no different. If it was 10 years ago, the obvious route would be to move to London and climb the ladder that way. But I’m 33 and have a young family so I have commitments here. That has to take priority. My first love is my job as a councillor and chairing the district assembly. That’s why I got into politics. It has been a juggling act. Now I can dedicate more time to concentrate on council business."

A spokesman in Mr Purnell’s office said: "We wish him every success for the future."

We have our own views about how truthful this latest twist is, and a prize of a limited edition 'No Mottram Bypass' badge (can't get them in the shops or anywhere else) goes to the first person to translate the above phrase, no doubt popular at Sean's BSL class. Answers in the comment to this post please!

Update, 6th October 2008: we forgot to note that the article was written by our favourite Advertiser journalist Adam Derbyshire. 'Nuff said...

Oh, and the Chronicle/Reporter have a run a similar article which, as Tameside Mafia have pointed out, has aspects which contradict the Advertiser article.