Wednesday, June 27, 2007

'Don't let her go Gordon!!!'

Where she belongs- in Southampton!!!

'Save the QE2 for Southampton!' ask the petitions on the Downing Street website - I'm sure that was the first thing Gordon was pouring over after being briefed on how to 'push the button' by Defence Chiefs! -Incidently, one of the petitions was instituted by Bedford Conservative Councillor and regular QE2 passanger Andrew McConnell
As The Telgraph reported, the plan was for the flagship of Britain's merchant marine to become a floating hotel off the coast of Dubai. However there is a bit of a backlash developing centred around Cunard's failure to consult and have any sort of bidding process or auction of the great liner. Further, it now seems that the ship will be sold as a going concern with the unique collection of art, models, silver and Cunard memorabilia being included in the sale.
It now seems that a collection of Hampshire businessmen want transform the ship into a major tourist attraction, conference centre and hotel on Southampton's waterfront. I wish them well but they are going to need a lot of expertise. Really I would of thought a partner with huge experience of running visitor attractions such as Tussaurds or an operator with huge hotel and banqueting experience such as Marriott or Radisons, (not to mention financial muscle) is required.
As usual the hapless John Denham got the wrong end of the stick when he tried to jump on the band waggon. He suggested the City Council, now run by the Conservatives for little over a month, had missed the trick by not securing the great liner. Well some back of the fag packet sums reveal that to raise £50million, council tax would have to increase by about 71% - that is £800 extra for a band C council taxpayer !!! Why he thinks this is an appropriate use of public money is beyond me, even if it was politically acceptable!!!
What the council can do however is be an enabler and a facilitator. The council does have expertise over a huge range of areas, contacts in the port and is able to provide practical advice or support.
All you CEOs and Private Equity Bosses who read my blog need to get in touch with the Council's Chief Exec!
You can here an interview I gave on the subject on Wave 105 HERE.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

You gotta have soul...or at least a brass neck!

Friends reunited...

"Labour must have soul", proclaimed Mr Brown. Maybe, but they certainly don't have must judgement when one considers they have picked the ghastly Harriet Harman to become Deputy Leader of the Party.I have always had a huge amount of time for her one-time deputy Frank Field . As his one-time boss, in post as Social Security Security, she argued with him incessantly. In fact, it wasn't Field who should have 'thought the unthinkable' but Blair-who should have sacked Harman and made Field Secretary of State.
Mr Blair felt compelled to 'resign her' as Private Eye might put it. Her performance as a minister and backbench anger over cuts to lone-parent benefits sounded her political death knell last time round.
However, given which side of the row Harman was on, I guess that Brown won't be too upset at her appointment. Her role as cheerleader for the family within Labour (actually one of the few things she has believed in consistently) mean she may even get to park a few tanks (or at least prams) on David Cameron's lawn.
In her acceptance speech she said called for an end to the "culture of spin". She will find it more difficult than most. I note that her website reports, " Harriet has been elected as the 16th Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, returned with 50.43% of the vote". Well she did if you add up all the second preferences of all the other candidates...

Out of my depth in Brum!


Having got back from the Tower trip at about 11.30 pm and worked through till nearly 2am, I was pretty knackered when I got up at 7am on Saturday. After cleaning up the pub, cashing up, doing a few odd jobs and then dragging myself down to the station, I then jumped on the train to Birmingham New Street. After catching up on a few zzzs on the train, I got off feeling like death warmed up to go to a Planning conference run by the RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute) or more specifically the Politicians in Planning section of the RTPI.
How was it?
My god! For someone who is not an expert in planning, it was incredibly heavy going and at parts very dry! It certainly wasn't pitched at new starters! Coupled with a mild hang-over and sleep depravation, I have to say I didn't get much out of the formal sessions. That said, I did find it useful talking to Councillors who sat on the planning panels of other authorities, especially when it came to asking how their relationships with officers were and also how they organised themselves within the council but more of that another time...
I must say that some of the regeneration work that has been going on at Birmingham within the city centre is quite impressive but as I walked from the station, I couldn't help thinking how hideous the station itself is. This 1960s concrete monstrosity replaced a truly grand 1854 station whose immense glass-covered roof drew comparisons with New York's Grand Central. When on earth are they going to pull down its replacement?

Watching the Ceremony of the Keys

Arrival of the keyholder...
locking up with escort
hats off...
taking the salute & last post.
After a few drinks at the Ship and The Seven Stars, not to mention a bite of lunch last Friday, I was privileged to have obtained tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. We first had a guided tour of the Tower by an off-duty Beefeater and I must say his presentation was fantastic- if perhaps a little theatrical! It was the historic Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula (St. Peter in Chains) that made the most impression on me. The oldest chapel royal in England is where most of those who died on Tower Hill and six of the seven executed on Tower Green, were laid to rest under flagstones without ceremony in shallow graves. As I contemplated the list of on the West Wall of those executed in the approaching dusk and marvelled at some of the tremendous monuments, one couldn't help marvelling at what a place of beauty and history it was but also of the evil and brutality that had taken place there.
Following a fish and chip supper in the Yeoman Warder's Club within the Tower's grounds (where I did not overcome my lifelong dislike of gin to sufficiently order a Beefeater from an off-duty Beefeater!). We then formed up to watch the Ceremony of the Keys itself.
The ceremony is described HERE but one has to experience it within the setting of the Tower itself to understand the emotion and sense of history it can generate.
I don't envy Southark's Planning Panel though- on Saturday I awoke and heard an article on how the Tower was under siege from new skyscraper like developments. As Red Ken is apparently all in favour, doubtless the gherkin will be joined by similar carbuncles.
Still, a fantastic day out. If you are lucky enough to blag access, it is not to be missed!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Melancholy at Monk's Brook...

Above & below; views of the informal paths that will be lost.
Red Deer are regularly seen in the field which is well used recreationally. Make the most of it...

Southampton City Council Planning & Rights of Way Panel convened a special meeting to consider the issue of a Transit site for Traveller and Gypsy at Monks Brook last night. For a reasonably accurate press report of the proceedings click HERE.
The plans themselves can be reviewed HERE.

I write this with a sense of melancholy as I was unable to persuade my colleagues from Labour & the Lib-Dems to vote against the scheme.

I think their decision was flawed in that it departs from the Planning and Open Spaces guidance PPG17 ' Planning for open space, sport and recreation' in a number of regards (e.g. the site is clearly not surplus to requirements, they have not convinced the local community of the need for development).

The site also conflicts against policy H15 (there must be no adverse impact on the amenities of existing residential or business uses), the Local Plan Review CLT4 (the site has recreational value and is a loss of amenity land). I am not satisfied that the Council's review of other sites was robust enough or that they presented their results in an unbiased and academically vigorous way. Contamination of the Monks Brook itself could have catastrophic consequences for the Salmon pool further downstream at Woodmill.

The worste point of all in the evening was about two hours into the meeting when Cllr Davis asked if there was going to be any provision for toilets on site. Based on that comment and given that most of the buildings on the site are toilet blocks, she clearly hadn't even looked at the plans...

All in all most depressing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Saved -for now...

Saved -for now...

Today the Planning & Rights of Way Panel sat in Southampton, on which I serve. The most controversial decision was to consider the destruction of a building built in about 1900 known as Harcourt Mansions and its replacement with a high rise block of flats.
I thought the new building was dire. No attempt at all was made for the proposal to blend in with the surrounding area- in fact as the developer freely admitted, he wanted it to stand out. It would have been the only four story development in the area, one with inadequate parking and represented a massive loss of visual amenity. The development would also have really changed the character of the area and have I was not even satisfied about the arrangements for collecting refuse and ensuring the privacy of neighbours. Most unsatisfactory.
I am glad to say all the panel supported me.
Over lunch, I bought a paper and saw the press write up HERE.
Given Bitterne Triangle's heritage, I hope it becomes a conservation area and I shall be pressing the administration to beef up its local plans to help stop these sort of developments- as a matter of urgency.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Heroes every one.

Veteran's march from Hollyrood Church through the Bargate to the Civic Centre last Sunday.

The 14th of June 1982 is a day of special significance for it was the day that Argentine forces surrendered and British forces took up positions in Stanley itself. Tonight a state banquet is being held at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich where all the 146 solders, sailors and airmen decorated for bravery are invited. Yesterday the carrier Ark Royal sailed up the Thames and the commemorations continue over a four day period. A copy of The Telegraph detailing today's events, 25 years ago can be read HERE.
The Falklands War itself was remarkable; had the Islands been invaded a year later, it is doubtful that with Hermes and Invincible paid off and the massive decline in our merchant marine that we could have fought the campaign at all. Caspar Weinberger's extraordinary offer to let the UK have American carriers with British planes on may have gone some way to alleviating this but could he (should he) have delivered? Had the war happened a year later, many of the military personnel would have retired too as Margret Thatcher records in her memoirs. She herself may not have been in office, given the opposition to some of her economic policies and the growing band of critics, both from the Conservative back benches and from within the Cabinet with figures such as Gilmour and Prior.
Rightly, the Islanders will be celebrating their liberation and freedom today but the human cost was immense. 255 British personnel perished during the conflict and many more Argentine. I worry if we do enough to look after the widows and families left behind and the veterans themselves. I worry too if we teach enough about the war in our schools and if we have shown our gratitude enough publically to veterans and their families.
They were heroes every one.
Those who wish to make a donation can click HERE or HERE.

'Divorced from reality'

It is not just Alan Whitehead who has got a monopoly for mad housing policies. Ming Campbell's Joseph Rowntree lecture is off the wall.

He proposes that green field sites would only be granted planning permission if the land was sold to the council, if necessary using compulsory purchase powers. The council would then secure planning permission and sell the plot on to developers, keeping the profit to pay for (undefined)local services. Campbell argues landowners would take part because they could still sell for more money than the land was worth without permission.

The potential for corruption is immense. Officers, Councillors, Farmers, Developers- they will all be in on the act. It seems crazy to me that on an everyday basis, councils will have the ability to approve, indeed initiate schemes that will make them vast sums of money. And is it right and proper that councils will be able to do things regarding the development of land that private individuals will be ineligible to do?

The Country Land and Business Association describe the proposals as "completely divorced from reality".


on the scrounge...

no one told them Friday was dress down day ...

Iain Dale is going to speak at Cambridge University Conservative Association tonight and is on the scrounge for jokes. Here is one that Alex sent him;

Council taxCouncil tax re-valuers want to charge us more if we live in a nice area.

That ought to mean discounts for those of us who live in rough areas.

We have a huge council house in our street. The extended family is run by a grumpy old woman with a pack of fierce dogs.Her car isn't taxed or insured, and doesn't even have a number plate, but the police still do not do anything.Her bad tempered old man is famous for upsetting foreigners with racist comments.A local shopkeeper blames him for ordering the murder of his son's girlfriend but nothing has been proved yet.All their kids have broken marriages except the youngest, who everyone thought was gay.Two grandsons are meant to be in the Army but are always seen out in nightclubs.The family's odd antics are always in the papers.They are out of control.

Who'd want to live near Windsor Castle?
Quite amusing I thought- and I'm a Royalist!

Illiberal, unjust and tantamount to regulatory blackmail.

the great communicator...

Alan Whitehead is stepping up his campaign to stop houses becoming 'Houses of Multiple Occupation'.* Actually what he is actually doing is running a campaign to stop family houses be bought by private buyers and then converted to student houses. His chosen instument to achieve this is to regulate the market by introducing a system of licensing as well as beefing up planning controls. In essence, private landlords will no longer be able to buy and let properties on the open market and people will no-longer be able to choose in which areas they rent.

How illiberal, unjust and tantamount to regulatory blackmail is that?

Interestingly enough, Mr Whitehead ought to attend some of Southampton's Planning & Rights of Way Panel meetings. The Labour members consistantly vote for the destruction of family housing and the erection of flats across the city. When they were in control, the Council's 'local plan' did nothing to protect such housing and the Lib-Dems chose not to change it when they assumed control. In fairness, now the Conservatives have taken power, we have started a review of the plan; I have to say the progress to date is almost glacial however.

(*In fact, as I understand it, the definition of an HMO is either a house that contains 6 rooms or more or a 3 story property or more. Mr Whitehead appears to include all rented property in his definition).

Labour diversify...

I laughed when I saw the web page
I wonder if Lord Levy knows about it?
Meanwhile, given his imminent departure from Downing Street, Mr Blair may well be interested in some cut price conveyancing...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Falklands 25th Anniversary Commemorative Service

Holyrood Church in 1980, prior to restoration

Dashing from the Common (see previous post), I headed up to Holyrood Church for the Falklands 25th Anniversary Commemorative service. This was part of a programme of low key events in Southampton to mark the conflict. (For more events, click HERE.)
Held in the open air, (the church was bombed out during the war and restored with lottery funding very successfully albeit expensively), the Church was full with veterans, civic dignatories, cadets and serving military personell. The Rev Ian Johnson a.k.a. the red Rector was on his best behavior (his pacisifist rant having been published on Friday in the Echo) although he fluffed the reading badly. The Bishop of Winchester gave a thoughtful address and a serviving Warrent Officer from the visiting HMS York read Chapter 5 v.1-16 from the Gospel of Matthew. The parade then marched through the Bargate to the Civic Centre. Veterans were then invited for tea with the mayor; it was good to see so many guys from the Southampton Branch of the British Legion there.

Blue skies thinking at the common

Southampton Common sans the 14,000 visitors...

Southampton City Council, in conjunction with the BBC, ran its 'Springwatch' festival on the common today. The event appeared very successful with an estimated 14,000 people in attendance at some time during the course of the event. Attractions included a 'Discovery Trail' - guiding people to different zones around the Common, each with an 'environmental' theme including some live exhibits, storytelling, crafts and other activities. The 'Springwatch Trackers Trail' was run by the Hampshire Wildlife Trust which seemed popular with older visitors. There was live music and entertainment on the Festival Stage throughout the day, including 'Challenge the Expert' in a Nature Generation Game style show. Chaos reigned at the 'Kidsrome Farm', a city type farm that was very popular while the BBC organised a programme of talks and demonstrations from wildlife experts, including Chris Packham, in the 'Do One Thing' zone, where guests could have a go at being a wildlife presenter and using an autocue (more difficult than it looks!)
I had put in a bit of work myself as I was keen to make a good impression with some of the senior members of Natural England who were in attendance. This is the successor body to bits of English Nature, the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service and they are going to be very important to the future of the common over the next few years. Firstly, they are the body that regulates and ensures that the Council meets its statutory obligations regarding the preservation of the site. Natural England also offers fairly hands on conservation advice. They will be helping the Council write its next 'Southampton Common Management Plan'. Perhaps more importantly, they have money. The Council need to buy mowers and some other kit and we badly need to do some conservation work (and haven't got the readies) so we need to find some cash from somewhere. If this remedial work is not completed by 2010, the council risks prosecution. Personally, I am hopeful that in the long-run, Natural England may help us out and that the lottery may come up trumps too as the last bid we received in 2000 was perceived as a success.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Don't believe everything you read...

As all good smokers know, the first modern, nationwide tobacco ban was imposed by the Nazi Party in every German university, post office, military hospital and Nazi Party office, under the auspices of Dr Karl Astel's Institute for Tobacco Hazards Research, created in 1941 under direct orders from Adolf Hitler himself. Where Germany leads, England follows...

Personally, I think that in terms of pubs & clubs, it should have been left to the 'Personal License Holders' & 'Premises Supervisors' discretion but with the obligation that the exterior of the buildings were clearly signposted 'Smoking' or 'Non-smoking'. Anyway on a free vote of the House of Commons voted for an all out ban. Today, at considerable cost, not to mention general aggravation, work started on building the new smoking area at my pub.

I will post some pictures when (if) it is (ever) finished...

By the way, one very anti-social, hitherto unthought of affect of all this is the spread of those exterior patio heaters. As a heat source, they do more damage to the environment in terms of CO2 emissions than just about any other form of domestic heating...

Forthcoming Event!

A cartoon showing Robert Peel struggling with the problems posed by potatoes and corn. Note that like all good Tories, the image shows Peel surrounded on all sides by his political opponents!

The Conservative History Society is organising a talk on Sir Robert Peel and how he refashioned the Conservative Party on the 19th June at 6.30pm at a room to be arranged at the House of Commons on 19th June 2006.
The guest speaker is Lord Hurd who is publishing a book on Peel this month. For a review of the book by Simon Sebag Montefiore's (who himself has a pretty good book out on Stalin if you wish to balance your reading of heroes with villains!)click HERE.
I had the privilege of being at this year's Wellington Lecture which was entitled 'Wellington and Peel – from Tory to Conservative' at the Turner Sims Concert Hall. on that occasion, Hurd spoke about Wellington's relationship with Peel and how they impacted on politics & society together, focusing on the impact of the impact of the Reform Bill. Hurd gave a fascinating insight into how they worked together and yet by both temperament and background were so different. No doubt his lecture exclusively on Peel will be similarly informing and instructive.
Ticket details will be published in the next few days. For further information and tickets follow the link here.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Greatest Hampshire Britain?

"THE HAMPSHIRE TOP 100. Who do you think are the men and women who have made Hampshire famous around the world? "asks The Daily Echo at their website.

I'm plumping for Field Marshal Bernard Law 'Monty' Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG, GCB, DSO, PC (17 November 1887–24 March 1976), He successfully commanded Allied forces at the Battle of El Alamein (his finest moment?), itself a major turning point in World War II, and troops under his command were largely responsible for the expulsion of Axis forces from North Africa. He was later a prominent commander in Italy and North-West Europe, where he was in command of all Allied ground forces during Operation Overlord until after the Battle of Normandy.
He lived at Alton in where in retirement he wrote the sublime 'Concise History of Warfare' and is buried at Holy Cross Churchyard at Binstead in Hampshire.
Craig David, Shain Warne, Ken Russell and all the rest may all be tremondous talents but they would not be able to practise their craft if Montgomery had not defeated the facists 60 years ago.
Aparently, other contenders include; Will Champion, Lord Denning ,Colin Firth, Lord Nelson, Charles Dickens, Mark Knopfler, Craig David, Benny Hill, Matt Le Tissier, Jane Austin, Ellen MacArthur, King Alfred, Jack Hargreaves and R.J. Mitchell.

All in the best possibe taste...

all in the best possible taste...
pic courtesy Sky News.

I never thought that I would ever be able to top the sitting Sholing's councillors poster which proclaimed 'Vote Conservative Dick' before I got the printer to change them. It seems they have gone one better in the New Forest in a forthcoming by-election...