Wednesday, 27 July 2011

A serious bit of economic bother for George Osborne

The latest serious bit of economic bother for George Osborne is variously put down to an over-warm April, the royal wedding and the Japanese tsunami.

Is it possible that some of our problems stem from Mr Osborne's own obstinacy?

Anyway, Peter Brookes, of The Times, has produced yet another great cartoon, this one portraying Bullingdon Boy George 'pole-vaulting' the pretty minimal 0.2% growth bar. Well done, that Chancellor.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The County Council and the National Trust - They've done it again - We've all been 'done' - Again and again

The following letter has been sent off to local media:

"Dear Editor(s),

The County Council and the National Trust have done it again: they have done another farmland deal in private to the disbenefit of Cambridgeshire's public purse and to the benefit of the National Trust.

The details of the latest deal done in private have emerged in the last few days. The council has sold 24.23 acres of good quality farmland near Reach for £115,000. The price represents £4,746.18 per acre. The National Trust was the buyer. No farmer buyer got a look-in. This latest deal done in private follows another deal done in private and completed in 2008, when a whole farm of over 100 acres - Hurdle Hall, also near Reach - was sold to the National Trust for £300,000, substantially less than my estimate of its true value.

I believe that the latest deal done in private, like the earlier one, is a scandal. I say this because I have good reason to believe that the 24.23 acres are worth at least £7,000 per acre as food-growing farmland. By selling 24.23 acres of farmland at £4,746.18 per acre instead of £7,000 per acre, the County Council has effectively 'given' the National Trust the sum of £54,610 - possibly more.

When I was Chairman of the County Council's Finance Committee in the 1970s, I pleaded the poverty line on behalf of the County Council. I believed in the line that I took at that time. Others have pleaded the same line since. I now take the line that, if the County Council can afford to 'give' the National Trust £54,610, the Council's oft-pleaded poverty line is misleading and not to be believed.

Something must be done. If County Council farmland is to be sold, it must be sold more openly. This scandal must not be repeated.

Yours sincerely,

Geoffrey Woollard."

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

“At £1,000 per taxpayer, most of whom will see no benefit, HS2 is a massive redistribution of wealth to the rich people who will travel by the train” (The Times)

Amidst all of the excitement stemming from 'hacking,' the Murdochs and Mr Cameron's increasing discomfiture, people are missing other arguably more important matters.

Today's Times (a Murdoch-owned newspaper) publishes a piece on the so-called HS2 and, as The Times is a subscription newspaper not available to all, I have copied part of the piece which vindicates every word which I have said on the subject of HS2 before the 2010 election, during the 2010 election, and after the 2010 election.

Here we go:

"High-speed rail line ‘is next Millennium Dome’

Robert Lea Industrial Editor

A 225mph rail line from London to Birmingham and the North will be a £34 billion waste of money and the proposals are based on an “economic fairy story”, the Institute of Economic Affairs has concluded.

The free market think-tank’s report attacks the economic arguments of the proposed line, known as High Speed 2 or HS2, promoted by Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary.

The report, which has the backing of Conservative backbench MPs, describes HS2 as a white elephant in the making based on “weird” travel assumptions and with a cavalier approach to costings.

It is proposed that the line, due to be running by 2025, will cut through unspoilt parts of Warwickshire, Northamptonshire and the Chilterns and terminate on newly built tracks at London Euston. The debate has hitherto been marked by accusations of Nimbyism against vociferous local opposition. However, in its report High Speed 2: the next government project disaster? the institute argues that it is a vanity project, on a par with the Millennium Dome, whose economic case is flawed.

Richard Wellings, co-author of the report, said that HS2 will cost £34 billion, not taking into account extra billions needed at Euston to cope with the dispersal of thousands of additional passengers. “At £1,000 per taxpayer, most of whom will see no benefit, HS2 is a massive redistribution of wealth to the rich people who will travel by the train,” Dr Wellings said.

“The cavalier approach to costings has not taken into account the cost implications of running into Euston, which would need the construction of a new Tube line or diverting Crossrail [the new east-west London train line under construction] to cope.”

Dr Wellings said that the Department for Transport was guilty of “weird assumptions” about the economic benefits of HS2 that exaggerated the benefits in time savings of a high-speed line. He said that the line would need to be vastly subsidised to charge fares that would attract enough passengers. “If this were a commercial project it would be hugely loss-making,” he said."

Pretty damning, isn't it? 

Write to your MP about it if you feel as I do.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

A mosque in the City of Ely? - No, thanks very much!

There have been reports in the Cambridge News - about a protest march by the English Defence League in Cambridge and a counter-march by Unite Against Fascism - and in the Ely newspapers - about the possibility of muslims building a mosque in the Cathedral City of Ely.

What I say is this:

"Cambridge has a mosque. Cambridge is believed by many now to be a 'multi-cultural' city. I do not believe that Ely - a significant centre of Christianity and Englishness for many centuries - is in the same league. Therefore, I have reservations as to the desirability of a mosque in Ely.

I am not at all keen on such as the English Defence League. To whom else can I turn?"

The view above is of Ely Cathedral with parts of the surrounding City as seen from the Stuntney direction. Some of our splendid black Fen farm land is in the foreground.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Newmarket, Suffolk - and some costly Chinese balls

Sue and I live near Newmarket. Sue was born in Newmarket. We were married at All Saints' Church, Newmarket, nearly fifty years ago.

Above are the infamous Newmarket balls. They came from China and they cost a mint. They were intended to enhance and to improve the old Newmarket Jubilee Clock Tower traffic roundabout. Many people believe that they are an expensive eyesore, out of keeping with their surroundings. They are sited within the area of Newmarket controlled by Suffolk County Council, based in Ipswich, and Forest Heath District Council, based in Mildenhall. Some people - including me - say that the whole Town of Newmarket (where there is a Town Council which only looks after part - the Suffolk part - of the Town) would be better served by its being within the County of Cambridgeshire, the County town of which is nearby Cambridge, and the District of East Cambridgeshire.

East Cambridgeshire District Councillor, Mr Tom Kerby (pictured right), who lives in Newmarket, has raised again the vexed issue of the situation of Newmarket, split as it is between Cambridgeshire and Suffolk Counties and their respective County Councils and East Cambridgeshire and Forest Heath District Councils.

Mr Kerby raised the issue in the Newmarket Journal, our much-loved local newspaper.

I wrote to the Newmarket Journal and have had published today the following:

"Full marks to Cllr. Tom Kerby for his welcome opinions on the welfare of Newmarket.

I have lived near Newmarket, but in Cambridgeshire, all of my life. I have always looked to Newmarket for what I need. Indeed, I looked to Newmarket for a wife and married Sue (née Day), daughter of Fred and Peggy, at the former Cambridgeshire Church of All Saints nearly fifty years ago. In those days, the town was both busy and attractive. Sadly, it is less so now.

I believe that most of Newmarket and all of Exning have suffered from being so distant from their principal bases of local government - Mildenhall and Ipswich - and I believe that they would both benefit from closer connections with Cambridgeshire.

There is another factor, too. The villages that surround Newmarket are mostly in Cambridgeshire. The villagers in those villages have to turn to Ely for some services. How much better things were when there was a Newmarket Rural District Council and a Newmarket Urban District Council, both working from and in Newmarket.

It is high time for the odd historical quirk of the County boundary to be ironed out. There will be resistance from certain elements in Suffolk, as there was from the self-interested then MP Sir Eldon Griffiths in earlier days.

I wish Tom Kerby well. Many of us have worked on similar lines for many decades."

I am confident that this will run and run - and so it should until sense prevails.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Latest news - poisonous hemlock seen in Burwell Fen

I was alerted that hemlock, a poisonous plant, is particularly prevalent in Burwell Fen this year. So I went to have a look.

The National Trust controls much of Burwell Fen in further pursuance of its so-called 'Wicken Vision.' I went as far down Newnham Drove as I dared go. The sight (pictured above) was shocking. Not only was there a lot of hemlock but there was also the usual National Trust jungle of other weeds, too.

This is all on and near land that has grown good crops in the past. Whilst I have supported the original Wicken Fen Nature Reserve, there must be doubts about its being extended as far as the A14 and Cambridge. Thousands more acres of fine food-growing Fen peat land are set to become an unkempt jungle of weeds and waste.

Quite frankly, I'd prefer to see less hemlock and more beetroot, carrots, leeks, potatoes, sugar beet and wheat, all crops that grow well and look good in our Fens.

And I'd also prefer to see less ragwort around, too. Here is another of my pictures, this of ragwort flourishing on National Trust land near Reach. Ragwort is a toxic plant. Fortunately, the cattle in the background haven't yet touched the ragwort in the foreground.

Some of the old Fen 'boys' who cared for the Fen farms in earlier days would have a fit if they could see this and some of the younger Fen 'boys' who care for the fine Fen farms nowadays are having collective fits.
We're going to win this one sooner than some think, though. The ghosts of the old Fen 'boys' will rejoice and the hearts and minds of the younger Fen 'boys' will give thanks that they lived to see the day.
I have commented on the Farmers Guardian website (where the headline was 'UK importing 51pc of food consumed') as follows:
"To be in a position where we are dependent on overseas sources for half of our food needs is shocking. Equally shocking is the loss of arable Fen land to the jungle of water and weeds that is being effected by the National Trust at Wicken in South East Cambridgeshire, Mr Paice's constituency. We must be mad to permit it."