Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Thatcherite Environmentalism Anybody?

It is now 30 years since the rise of Margaret Thatcher, and the introduction of her policies that celebrated and accelerated conspicuous consumption and the wasteful energy use that came with it. Surprisingly however, it was also Thatcher who was amongst the first major politicians to recognise that Climate Change was a matter to be treated seriously.

Thatcher as eco-warrior might be stretching credibility too far – but, perhaps we can recycle some of her policies to reduce environmental damage –in particular, the effects of private car use in Bristol.

Thatcher’s success came because she redrew the political landscape in the UK – she decimated the Labour vote by the simple expedient of giving their traditional supporters self-interest in an expanding economy. Once these nouveau capitalists had a stake in economic and financial growth they realised that it was Tory policies that would increase the value of their stake. Voting Tory became a guilty secret and self-interest won elections. Political analysts wondered if Labour would ever win another election – and, in truth, they never did.

What does this have to do with car use in Bristol? Well, perhaps it is time for Bristol City Council to appeal to the self-interest of the motoring majority. Nobody, including car drivers, is happy with the level of traffic congestion in Bristol. The core problem, recognised by everybody, is the sheer number of cars travelling into the city centre during the rush hour, and the equally obvious solution is to introduce congestion charging to reduce the number of cars coming into the city centre. But, for congestion charging to be introduced it requires car drivers to vote for something that will require them to either change their preferred mode of travel or to pay for something that they currently get for nothing. Not a vote winning combination.

What car drivers want is congestion reduction that will cost them nothing and have no impact upon their own ability to drive to work whilst removing other car drivers, thus freeing up road space for them. In effect, they want something for nothing.

The city centre day time workforce consists of approximately 105,000 workers. This includes roughly 60,000 who travel to work by car, large enough to block any introduction of congestion charging…..unless they are given a Thatcher-like self-interest in congestion charging, convincing them to vote in favour of it not against. The only way to do that is by giving enough of them exactly what they want – something for nothing.

Of the 60,000 odd workers who travel to work in the city centre by car between 25% and 30% live outside the Bristol City Unitary Authority boundary. My proposal is simple; all car drivers who pay Bristol City Council Tax are exempt from congestion charging and the price of the congestion charge is set at a level that will discourage at least half of the car drivers from outside the city from paying it.

For example, if we assume that a congestion charge of £10 per day would discourage 50% of drivers from outside the city, than this would reduce overall car traffic travelling into the city centre by between 12-15% whilst providing £18-£23 million pound per year in congestion charging revenue - providing a considerable investment fund for public transport improvements that will encourage more car usage reductions inside the city. If a £15 per day charge discouraged 70% of drivers that would result in a 17-21% drop in car usage whilst still recovering £17-£20 million in revenues.

Maybe it is time for a bit of self-interest – this time used for the greater interest of all of us living in the City of Bristol.

Monday, 16 February 2009


As of today you can now, potentially be arrested for taking a photograph of a police officer.

Meanwhile the police cannot only take photographs of you exercising your democratic right to peaceful protest but can add your name to a list of subversive extremists.

The police effort to reduce crime and, of course, the "fight against terrorism" provide the justification for the government’s intention to introduce an identity card system, despite the fact that countries who already have ID cards have similar crime levels to ourselves and are just as vulnerable to terrorist attacks as ourselves. Those who carried out the Madrid bombings in 2004, for example, fulfilled their legal obligations of carrying ID cards, but the bombs still went off.

We are being asked to entrust our personal information to a scheme operated by a government that has repeatedly failed to keep the information it already has safe and secure (they have lost some 30 million pieces of information in the last two years), at the same time as decisions about whether we are honest citizens or subversive extremists are determined at the whim of under-trained and under-resourced police officers pressured to produce results.

A bit of local history; for centuries Bristolians who, either because of their political views, religious beliefs or simply because they had upset the Merchant Venturer oligarchy that ruled the city, had only one choice to escape the wrath of the local authorities – they could remove themselves “beyond the gate” (which had a similar meaning to the more modern “beyond the pale)”. The “gate” in question was Lawford’s Gate which used to be at the eastern end of Old Market Street and marked the boundary of the county and (later) city of Bristol – outside the gate you were relatively safe from the interference of the city fathers and their intrusion into your private thoughts and beliefs.

It is therefore perhaps fitting, that “beyond the gate” on the 28th February, NO2ID will be hosting the Modern Liberty conference as part of a nationwide debate to discuss the implications of this government’s attack on our fundamental rights and privileges. Details are available at

Friday, 13 February 2009


It is better to try to keep a bad thing from happening than it is to fix the bad thing once it has happened.

Go to any decent bookshop, find the section on history, and see how many books you can find about World War II – I am confident you will find a significant number. It was, after all, responsible for the deaths of some 60 million over the close to six years it lasted.

Now see if you can locate a book about the battle to eradicate smallpox; I will guess that you might find one, although it is more likely to be part of a more general book about medicine or, areference to our local hero Edward Jenner. Yet, smallpox killed between 300-500 million in the 20th century and by the 1950s was killing 50 million a year. But people don't buy books on preventing disease, they buy books about war.

There is a fascination with war and the machinery of war and this is at its highest with those who practice it. The Ministry of Defence mandarins and goldbraiders in Whitehall are obsessed with boys toys; aircraft carriers, nuclear missiles, tanks, multi-role combat aircraft. Unfortunately they are supposed to be responsible for the security of this country, not playing some high value game of Top Trumps with the French or Germans.

In 2008, the government published the “National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom”.
It concluded that “no state threatens the United Kingdom directly” and that the statement in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review that this situation will last “for the foreseeable future” still holds true. No state can combine “both the intent and the capability to threaten the United Kingdom militarily, either with nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction or with conventional forces” and there is a “very low risk of military attack”

The greatest threats to the United Kingdom, the report says, include terrorism (especially violent extremism), trans-national organised crime (particularly drugs), and civil emergencies (particularly a new outbreak of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic which the report estimates would cause 50,000 to 750,000 deaths in the UK alone). Tanks and nuclear subs are not very effective in countering these types of threats.

The report goes on to list the drivers that cause global insecurity and thus threaten the UK’s national security. Page 18 of the report begins “Climate change is potentially the greatest challenge to global stability and security, and therefore to national security. Tackling its causes, mitigating its risks and preparing for and dealing with its consequences are critical to our future security”

There is only one way to do that. Scrap the “boys toys” that are effectively useless for the defence of this country, reduce our military expenditure from the 2.5% of GDP it currently consume down to at least the 1.5% the Germans manage with, and better still down to the 0.8% the Japanese defend their islands with, concentrating the reduced military expenditure on better training and preparation of counter-terrorist, anti-drugs, and civil emergency measures. At Japanese levels of defence expenditure, that will free up about £20-25 billion a year that can be used to do what the report says is “the overarching national security objective”, which is to protect “the UK and its interests, enabling its people to go about their daily lives freely and with confidence, in a more secure and prosperous world”.

£20-25 billion a year invested in renewable energy freeing us from “competition for energy” with countries like India and China (highlighted in the report as another major driver of insecurity) and thus removing our need to get involved in wars and conflict that breed the extremist terrorism that explodes bombs in our cities is the best way to improve the future security of this country and all its people – not more boys toys.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Dear Gordon

Mr Gordon Brown
Managing Director
United Kingdom (UK) Ltd

Dear Gordon

As the managing director of a medium sized enterprise, your organisation will, like many other similar enterprises, be suffering in the current financial downturn. We understand that due to some particularly bad investments that your own organisation is suffering worse than most. We have been advised that you are expecting a 4% drop in revenues leading to a drop in income of some £50 billion.

At times like this, it is of course, even more important that you ensure that monies owed to you are collected. Losing sales is bad enough but not collecting payments already owed will exacerbate the situation. Here is a link to some advice regarding this;

We are particularly concerned, in the case of your own organisation, that there is a considerable sum of owed monies in the form of income and corporate taxes that is simply not being paid by many of your biggest customers;

Apparently the figures involved are between £25 and £85 billion a year! It is a little disconcerting that, prior to your recent promotion, you were the very person who could have ensured the payment of those unpaid monies. However, you dismissed the idea of legislation to create a “tax avoidance rule” making the evasion of the payment of taxes illegal. But as you have said yourself in the House of Commons “Everyone should pay a fair rate of tax, and there should be no tax avoidance” Column 1149

The chief means by which your largest customers avoid paying their bills is by the use of “tax havens” but when many of the European Union proposed a Tax Harmonisation Law as a way towards removing tax havens you rejected the idea

So at the same time that your organisation is seeing a drop in revenues, billions of pounds of income tax are being hidden in offshore tax havens thanks to a lack of action on your part. I am afraid the question has to be asked – are you actually up to the job of being in charge? Why don’t we put it to the vote?

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Brunel and Planning

Isambard Kingdom Brunel is celebrated in Bristol as a visionary engineer, who did great things for the city. However, even his most ardent supporters admit that he had an enormous ego with a tendency to believe that he knew better than anyone else, and that this often led him to dismiss conflicting opinions as unimportant.

When Brunel became involved in the proposals for the Great Western Railway, he quickly identified the site that he felt was ideal for the railway station at the Bristol end of the line.

Bristol's great rival Liverpool already had a railway line - and in Liverpool the railway led from the Edge Hill station through the Wapping tunnel directly to the dockside for direct transfer shipboard. With this in mind, but with a limited knowledge of Bristol's history, he decided that College Green would be an ideal site for the new railway station.

Yes, that's College Green, an historic open green space with centuries old mature trees, the setting for the city's Cathedral and the Lord Mayor's chapel and with local associations dating back to pre-Norman times and perhaps even earlier.

Like many modern developers, Brunel found that the locals were loath to give up their sacred green spaces without a fight. Brunel tried to force a fait acompli by building the Royal Western Hotel for railway passenger on an adjacent site, but eventually the weight of local opinion forced the GWR to look elsewhere. Unfortunately they had been so focused on College Green that they were left with limited options.

In the end, and in some haste, they selected a green field site on the eastern edge of the city; Temple Meads. It was a site that suited nobody, it was away from the centre of the city and too far away from the docks. Unlike Liverpool and its direct access, goods arriving at Temple Meads for onward shipment from the docks had to transhipped by horse-drawn carriers - Bristol was the only city that saw the opening of a railway leading to an increase in horse-drawn transport.

The off-centre location of the station would have other drawbacks. When trams and buses began to operate in Bristol, they needed a central terminus - a natural focus would have been the train station but the combination of its location and the lack of crossing points from the northern side of the river negated against it - instead the trams concentrated on The Drawbridge in Colston Avenue. The Drawbridge became known as The Tramways Centre and later still simply the Centre. The Centre remains the focus for buses serving the city.

Later still the Blitz saw severe devastation in the city, and almost immediately, plans began to be drawn up to not just rebuild the city but also to replan it. One of the decisions required was where to build a new bus station to serve country buses and coaches. Large areas in the Victoria Street area had been devastated and a coach station could be accomodated close to the railway station, whilst the 1944 Reconstruction Plan highlighted a site in Lewins Mead close to the bottom of Christmas Steps and a short walk from the Centre. Both sites ended up as commercial offices. In the end a site for the bus station that was neither duck nor fowl was chosen in Marlborough Street.

The results still haunt us today - the lack of interconnection between road-based and rail-based public transport has serious implications for improving services and reducing dependency on the car.

Whatever your feelings about the merits of the bus-rapid transit scheme, the general consensus is that it needs to interconnect with the rail and bus links to create a transport interchange. The Plot6 site next to Temple Meads is ideal and may be the last chance that Bristol will ever get for a public transport interchange allowing direct connections. The BRT route needs to be extended into the site and the bus station should also be relocated there. Or will Bristol once again fail to use joined up planning to create better public services?

There is still a physical reminder of Brunel's vision of College Green as a railway station, the Royal Western Hotel. It is no longer an hotel of course, that didn't survive beyond 1855. College Green is also a shadow of its former self - in the 1930's another developer ignored local protests, lowered the green and cut down all the ancient trees so as not to ruin the view of its new offices. The developer? Bristol Corporation of course with its new Council House. The council has since expanded into adjacent buildings, including the Royal Western Hotel - it is now called Brunel House and is home to the City's Planning Department.

Do you think they know the history of their building? And the lessons that can be learned from that history?

Friday, 6 February 2009


Or How I Learned To Love The Life Of A Corporate Executive

When I decided to start a blog, I also decided that I should be as honest as possible when writing. So hear my confession, for I have sinned.

Unlike the authors of other blogs that have a green viewpoint, I have no long-term history of supporting “green” issues – if anything, the opposite is true – for a long-time I was a fully paid up member of corporate globalisation complete with status-symbol company car, frequent flyer air miles and all the materialistic artefacts of conspicuous consumption. I can’t even use the excuse that I was unaware of environmental issues because, over 20 years ago I worked as the Computer Officer for the Avon Wildlife Trust surrounded by plenty of bright, intelligent individuals who educated me on many of the threats inherent in an unsustainable society. Earlier still, as a child, my parents (and especially my mother) made great efforts to instil in me an appreciation for the natural environment.

So, with this background, how did I become a petrol-guzzling, jet-plane-flying consumerist devotee of Western globalisation?

The answer is as easy as it is shameful – I saw the modern equivalents of “porticoes, baths and grand dinner parties” and thought they represented civilisation. Nobody had told me about Tacitus, and so I didn’t know they were the means of my enslavement to global consumerism

Or, rather, I CHOSE not to know. In the early-90s when I stepped onto the corporate ladder, there was plenty of information around to demonstrate that large petrol hungry cars, transatlantic flights and the like were environmentally unsound. So how did I reconcile the arguments put forward with my new lifestyle? The answer was easy, I ignored them. They were not what I wanted to hear, so I tuned them out. Conversely, whenever somebody came up with information that contradicted environmental arguments, I gave them undue weight so that one anti-environmental “fact” would be skewed to outweigh multiple pro-environmental facts.

Later this “tuning out” would extend to not putting myself in the position of being confronted with environmentalism – I read the Times not the Guardian, I watched Top Gear not Life on Earth, I listened to the views of my new friends in business whilst losing touch with old friends involved in environmental campaigns. I effectively closed my eyes and jammed my fingers in my ears whilst singing “la-la-la-la” loudly to drown out anything unpalatable for my new-found tastes in lifestyle.

I should hasten to add that much (but not all) of this took place at an almost subconscious level – Yes, I was aware that I was consciously trying to avoid “inconvenient truths” but it wasn’t until relatively recently, when I tried to analyse and fathom how I had managed to ignore the facts for so long, that I realised to what extent I had been doing this. For example, the more I ignored information from environmentally friendly sources, the less information those sources provided me with. This meant I had less environmentally friendly information coming in, which reinforced my decision to ignore it– after all, the level of environmentally friendly information was declining, wasn't it?. It was a positive feedback loop built on a foundation of irrationality.

It took me the best part of a decade to realise that I had been living a grotesque lie. Despite being surrounded by material possessions I'd barely dreamed of back in Hartcliffe, I suddenly realised that I was less happy than I had ever been.

The birth of our daughter had begun the process that had led to the separate realisation that there was more to life than new cars, designer outfits and overseas trips. The catalyst would be the death of my father. A honest, hard-working and intelligent man, he had felt strongly that decisions should be made based on all the information available – it was not acceptable to simply cherry-pick the facts that you wanted to believe, you had to listen without prejudice to all sides of the argument, and then draw your conclusions based on objective analysis. I had let him down by abandoning the core values he had passed on to me.

We have now moved back to the Bristol area and our families. We earn considerably less than we did, we do not own our house (we rent privately), we do not own a car, our last holiday was to Newquay rather than New York, and we are happy, so much happier than we were when we were living the life portrayed in glossy magazines. I won't get fooled again.

Now that confession is over.....

I do not know how often I will be writing in this blog, but it is likely that the comments will mainly be requests for more information and clarification. As I have said, I do not have the long-term experience or in-depth knowledge of environmental issues that others have, and so I will looking for answers rather than providing them. The other aspect of being new to environmentalism is that I do not hold a long-standing position on most green issues – therefore do not expect my viewpoint to be consistent, as I learn more and/or take on board comments I suspect my own position will change.

I am looking forward to it.