Thursday, January 25, 2007

Southampton's new gypsy site revealed after secret study

The entrance to the Kanes Hill site. Echo picture by Malcolm Nethersole

Resident's in the Swaythling area of Southampton are not happy and I can see why. The Council have finally come clean and revealed that they are to have a 'Transit Site' (Gypsy's encampment to you and I ), foisted upon them on land at Monks Brook, an area of grassland to the east of Stoneham Lane.
The site, which would be managed by the council, would provide basic amenities and services for travellers coming to the area. Anyone who thinks that this won't impact on local residents ought to go and visit the city's existing site in Southampton at Kane's Hill ; it is (and I do not exaggerate) like a war zone. If it were anything other than a transit site it would be closed down immediately on health & safety grounds alone.
Despite claiming to support open government, the Council have as usual acted with total secrecy before presenting the recommendation to open a new camp as a fait accompli. Shockingly, there has been no consultation on alternative sites. The existing site at Kane's Hill could easily be expanded but this proposal has been rejected out of hand. Although officers won't state this publicly, this is apparently because they think different travellers will fight with each other depending on their background and ethnic origin!
The cost of the new site is going to be considerable too, perhaps £2-3 millions for just 12 caravans. Worse, the roads in the area will need extensive changes and this will cost the Council Tax payers a further £1m to £1.6m, assuming that it comes out on budget).
Worse, the proposals to create a permanent site for travellers and gypsies in Southampton will not stop illegal encampments, a leading travellers' rights campaigner has said. To add insult to injury, today Basil Burton, chairman of the National Romany Rights Association, claimed the new site will not be able to accommodate enough travellers.
For concerned residents, a biased 'information sheet' produced by the council on the subject can be viewed here.

SEEDA - accountable to none.

'use the force Luke'

Over the last few years there has been a growing perception in certain quarters that Southampton as a city is losing its way. As its near rival Portsmouth has won new ship-building contracts at Southampton's expense, built the mast, spinnaker tower and developed Gunwharf Quays, Southampton has suffered from relative inertia. The perception of much of the local news media and political classes is that Southampton lack the 'WOW' factor.

The response from SEEDA, the ghastly unelected development quango which the Conservative's pledged to abolish at the last general election, is to fire lasers from the Civic centre clock tower.
Much has been made of the fact that Council Taxpayers won't have to pay for the scheme but of course cheerleaders for the project arn't too keen on mentioning that of course the scheme is being funded by public money. This project is being funded by SEEDA through the Southampton Partnership; the £249,000 funds are specifically to develop this iconic feature in the city centre and they emphasise that the money cannot be spent on other local government services. Actually I'm not so sure. A memorial to the Titanic, indeed a maritime heritage centre, a tribute to the Spitfire and the man that built it R J Mitchell or Ted Bates MBE would certainly be more popular. Come to think of it, even, a tribute to former Southampton residents Benny Hill or even Danny La Rue or Ken Russell would be more popular !
With virtually no consultation, they propose four lasers will be installed in the Clock Tower of the Civic Centre. They will emanate a 2.7mm diameter beam of light in an east-west and north-south orientation and be visible up to fifteen miles away. It is expected that the lasers will run from dusk to midnight, providing what SEEDA describes as a visual ‘welcome to Southampton’ for miles around. Leaving aside all the issues of the set up and running costs, light pollution, safety issues and whether it will even be attractive, I find it amazing that these sums of public money can be appropriated by bureaucrats in Guildford with zero input from residents in Southampton. As Simon Jenkin's once provocatively observed, they are 'accountable to none'...
The final decision to go ahead with the scheme will be taken at the city council's next Cabinet meeting on Monday, January 22.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Coalition government and the Southampton connection.

The grocer flanked by 'that bloody woman!' and the man with three names in 1975.

As has been widely commented, the Conservatives face an electoral mountain to climb if they are to win the next general election. The general perception is that they need to poll at least 42% of the vote and 10% more than Labour to win the narrowest of majorities. While it can be done (Labour achieved huge swings in 1992 and 1945 of course) and the pundits can be confounded (as they were by Health in 1970 and Major in 1992), the current opinion polls would seem to point to the possibility of a coalition government.
It is a situation the Conservative Party has not had to consider since the 1970s.
On Friday 9th October 1974, Margaret Thatcher was on the campaign trail as a shadow minister in Southampton appearing on the BBC radio programme ‘Any Questions’.
What few listeners knew was that the previous evening she had been asked to see Ted Heath at his home in Wilton Street. She had been called in to have Heath tell her that he was now prepared to call for a ‘Government of National Unity’ which was what he thought ‘the people’ wanted. Thatcher was apparently furious. After all Heath had advocated making pledges and a manifesto that was as specific as possible but now many of these were to be jettisoned because that seemed to offer Ted a better prospect of returning to Downing Street. An interesting debate on this can be found in G. R. Searle’s book 'Party before Country' (1995).
It is perhaps surprising that Ted thought that he himself would become the leader of such a government for he was as the excellent Conservative historian John Charmley writes, as ‘abrasive and aloof as ever’.
Meanwhile, in Southampton, Margaret Thatcher just about managed to hold the line saying that if there was no clear majority, a coalition would probably be necessary but that she herself could never serve in a government with left wingers like Michael Foot or Tony Benn. As she notes in second volume of her memoirs, the chances of figures like her and Keith Joseph serving in such a coalition of the great and the good was tiny- ‘hardly greater in fact than Ted himself leading it’.

In the event Labour won 319 seats, the Conservatives 277. Heath had reached the end of the road and on the 4th February 1975, Heath was deposed as leader of the Conservative Party.

Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs

From my influenza-ridden deathbed, I watched Blair's speech on Friday from HMS Albion moored in Plymouth.

Despite mounting in his highly personal speech, an unrepentant defence of what he sees as enlightened interventionism, nonetheless, Blair called for a 'real debate' on both the future of foreign and defence spending.

Anyone interested in the subject could read could read Lewis Page's excellent book 'Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs' which details the massive waste and blundering in our armed forces, especially in the field of defence procurement. I bought the book over Christmas and found it to be very readable. As he attacks virtually the entire British military establishment — apart from the benighted minority of men and women who actually do the fighting, I certainly did not agree with everything he had to say but the attacks he makes on MoD Defence Procurement and BAe systems certainly had legitimacy, while the standard of kit issued to our troops has long been a cause of concern to everyone apart from seemingly our New Labour government.

At the end of the book Mr Page asks his readers to contact their local MP; I sent a copy of the book to John Denham. I hope he reads it.

I'm back !

Apologies for the lack of posts lately.

After the Christmas period, I had the misfortune to get flu and then just as I was recovering, get food poisoning from a restaurant in Southampton.

Anyway I'm fit now and a belated Happy New Year to my readers!