As noted last week in my third and final post of 2018, there is a reason for the lack of posts. After attempting to post weekly in 2017 (I failed, but the longest gap was six weeks) and complaining frequently that I didn’t have time for everything (I always seem to have too many projects on the go) I was advised to stop blogging. The time spent writing didn’t seem worthwhile given that I have received very few genuine comments (lots of spam though) and I am not aware of viewer numbers. I initially intended to phase out the blog, completing the backlog of partly written posts (mostly holiday travel reports) and then bringing the whole thing to a stop. My general level of busyness however has ensured that the partly written posts have stayed that way.
Those posts might appear one day, and I have one or two ideas for new posts for this new year, but no promises. Either way, as far as this blog is concerned I think we have reached the beginning of the end. A further setback is that Flickr have decided to introduce a 1,000 photo limit on free accounts. I had over 1,120 photos hosted on the platform, some solely for the purpose of this blog, and have therefore been forced to start deleting some photos. Any new pictures for the blog will therefore have to be hosted elsewhere (I’m using old photos that I had already uploaded to Flickr at the moment).
But enough about me. As 2018 drew to a close I received two e-mails requesting that I contact the five Assembly Members representing my area in the National Assembly for Wales to ask them to vote against the proposals to build a second M4 around Newport. Apparently, the Assembly were expected to vote on the scheme by the end of that year. It soon became clear that the vote would not in fact take place until early 2019, but when it does I feel that the outcome will be profound. Sophie Howe, the Future Generations Commissioner For Wales, has spoken out against the project. The decision on whether or not to proceed could therefore have wider implications than decisions on previous road projects. For the first time a major road scheme could be shelved due, in large part, to the need to reduce car travel and greenhouse gas emissions; rather than purely on cost grounds or because of local environmental issues.
Cancellation of the second M4 could therefore, at long last, be the beginning of the end for the traditional ‘predict and provide’ car culture; and the start of a meaningful shift towards sustainable transport. It might even set an example to other nations that building infrastructure is not always compatible with the need to combat climate change. If it sets such a positive precedent, it might just save life on Earth. On the other hand, if the decision goes the other way and the new motorway is built it would suggest that all the well-meaning legislation that aims to protect nature and the climate are worthless. The Future Generations Act, heralded as ‘groundbreaking’ by its promoters, would suddenly appear toothless and pointless. A dangerous precedent could be set; with road building and traffic growth continuing to be a favoured policy in government as it has been since the era of Dr Richard Beeching’s infamous ‘axe’. Climate change would likely become unstoppable; it could be the beginning of the end for many species.
Apologies for ending on such a pessimistic note, but remember that is just one possible outcome. The plans for a second M4 could yet be abandoned; for all our sakes let us hope so. Either way, 2019 could be a crucial year; let’s do humanity proud.
It seems nothing is safe. Late last year (2016), the Welsh Government announced that they would be allowing scallop dredging across the Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation (SAC). How are we to know what untouched, natural seabed looks like if it is periodically ‘dug up’ by scallop dredging equipment? We can’t do so now, because beam trawling also disturbs the seabed and this, apparently, has been permitted throughout the area for some time. What is the point of giving something ‘protected status’ if destructive practices are allowed regardless?
This matter is not, you may think, on-topic for this blog; but Cardigan Bay isn’t the only example of ‘protected status’ not meaning much. Four Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), and the River Usk SAC, would be impacted by the second M4 motorway around Newport backed by the Welsh Government. It is not just the Welsh Government that is ignoring valuable wildlife habitats either, on the 3rd of February 2016 the Woodland Trust pointed out on the radio that HS2, as-planned, would destroy ancient woodland.
Wildlife protections are not the only ones being overridden either. The Museum Of Science and Industry (formerly abbreviated as MOSI and now as MSI) in Manchester incorporates two grade 1 listed buildings. One of these is Manchester Liverpool Road station, the original terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester railway (the world’s first locomotive-hauled passenger line between two cities). While the old station is no longer used by service trains, until recently it was still connected to the national network allowing occasional visits by present day rolling stock, and the museum ran demonstration rides around their site hauled by a steam engine. However, as part of the Ordsall chord project the connection to the national network was cut off, which also restricts the available track for the museum’s internal trains. Admittedly, the project does not actually destroy the listed building and the impact on the museum’s services was probably unavoidable in order to deliver improved national rail services. However, I feel the Ordsall chord should have been designed with a flat crossing to allow trains from the national network to run into Liverpool Road station occasionally.
While my views on the Ordsall chord could be considered a ‘minor quibble’, since trains wouldn’t use the link into the museum very often, there are listed buildings elsewhere that appear to be treated as though they had no such protection. A case in point is Cardiff Central. The station was listed as the most complete major city GWR station of its time, and currently looks well looked after. However, the plans for its future suggest otherwise.
Listed building consent has already been granted for electrification at Cardiff Central. While I am in favour of electrification, I do think the Overhead Line Equipment (OHLE) designs Network Rail are using on the Great Western scheme are far more visually obtrusive than necessary. On sections where speeds may reach 125mph the heavy-duty structures are perhaps justified, but surely structures of that scale aren’t necessary in and around Cardiff Central, where speeds are much lower. It appears from the listed building consent application that most of the OHLE structures Network Rail are planning to install are a standard XL TTC design with chunky masts of square cross-section. I think that means Extra Large Twin Track Cantilevers, but there are enormous portal structures spanning many tracks at the ends of the platforms too. It is all very square in modern-industrial style with I-beam sections etc. completely out of keeping with the existing cylindrical columns holding up the classic platform canopies. Elsewhere on the GW, Network Rail have come up with a more-subtle design of OHLE especially for Bath’s Sydney Gardens. It isn’t perfect, and I’m not sure they’ve finalised the design, but with elegantly-arching tube-section masts it is a least a good effort; whereas in Cardiff they’ve gone for the standard brutish monstrosities. So far, the only successful consideration of the listed building I’ve found in the plans for Cardiff is that a small degree of care has gone into choosing sites for the outrageous masts (avoiding placing one directly in front of the station name). Because of that, Network Rail’s ‘school report’ from me would be ‘should try harder, shame on Cardiff council for not pressing them to do so’.
Architects ‘Powell Dobson’ fare much worse. If the headmaster was strict, they would be expelled (or sent back to elementary school). Surely, the obvious thing with a listed building is that you do not demolish it, yet that is exactly what their plans for a major refurbishment of Cardiff Central seem to involve. Although it is obvious at first glance that the current northern frontage is retained, a closer inspection reveals that vast swathes of the current station would disappear. Even northern concourse building would have a large hole knocked through one side of it in the plans and the structure on the other side (currently home to M&S) is gone completely, along with the station clock it appears. The platform buildings, all of them, and canopies could also go; there would be little left. Again, although a planning application has not yet been submitted, the council seem to be complicit in this blatant disregard for the station’s listed status. Far from criticising the poor design, the powers-that-be appear to be busy pressing for the project to happen as soon as possible.
You could say that the version of Cardiff Central which ‘Powell Dobson’ have designed is still on the drawing board and may never happen. Granted, there is (I hope) time to stop the destruction, but just look at Fishguard & Goodwick station. Although it is not listed, it is within a conservation area which apparently was deliberately designed to include the station. Despite this, the characterful station building there was demolished in its entirety. Yes; it was falling down anyway and yes a replacement building was constructed but this failed to capture any of the character of the original. The materials used in the new build are all wrong, the chimney stack is missing and the shape of the canopies isn’t quite right. The replacement building doesn’t do the original justice; not one little bit.
If something is given special protection it should be protected, end of. This isn’t happening currently, something needs to be done or more treasures will be lost. This post is timed, almost by-chance, to coincide with WWF’s Earth Hour 2017 (25th March, 20:30), so I will end with the following: If we don’t protect the climate, one of those treasures might be life itself (at the very least, some species would go extinct as a result of climate change).
The previous instalment of this travel-report series concluded after leaving Oxford on Tuesday 22nd March 2016. This post brings the story of our ‘short holiday’ to its end with an account of the last day of the trip, Wednesday 23rd March.
In the morning, after my brother had been dropped off, the three of us (my mother and grandmother, plus myself) headed over to Woburn Abbey. While their safari park is a segregated tourist attraction, a public road runs through part of Woburn’s deer park. This had been an interesting feature of many of our journeys between our accommodation and the various places we had visited, and we drove through another part of it on route to the Woburn Abbey car park. Together we took a quick look around the Woburn gardens which, slightly unusually, featured a number of structures of oriental architecture (some of which I thought worked aesthetically). I then returned to the car and sat listening to music while my elders visited the house itself.
My brother wasn’t doing a full day, so our next move was to go and collect him, before heading into the centre of Milton Keynes for the first time. We didn’t like what we found; the place was all very grey and dreary. Long, straight, dual carriageways flanked by car parking with a slightly shabby shopping centre. The overall impression of the place was ‘post-apocalyptic’. I’m not kidding, something about it reminded me of the scenes set in Pripyat in the game “Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare”; Pripyat being the city that was abandoned due to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.
Being me, I blame the car. Milton Keynes appears to have been designed around it; the grid of roads (many being dual-carriageways), the acres of asphalt/concrete; all designed to support a population of motorists. At the time of writing, the Wikipedia article on Milton Keynes states that the central area was not designed as a traditional town centre. Instead, it is like out-of-town shopping centres (a “car-culture” idea, probably impractical to use on foot) but in the centre of town. Even ‘Milton Keynes Central’ railway station is on the edge of the central area, the wrong side of one of the dual carriageways, rather than dead-centre. Maybe there was a good reason for that; but I don’t know what that might be. Just like motorways, Milton Keynes itself (what we saw of it, at any rate) is characterless, uninspiring and depressing. Although there is some greenery, even this is standardised and fails to prevent the place looking artificial and near-lifeless (again, just like motorways and most dual-carriageways).
Almost needless to say, we didn’t stay long. But what was the best way home? I’m writing this some time after the event, so my memory is hazy, but I think I directed us along the A421 and A4421 to Bicester, then the A41 and M40 to avoid the Oxford ring road, then off the M40 at junction 8a onto the A40 briefly then the A329, B4015 and A415 to Abingdon where my plan unravelled. The traffic was terrible and it took us some time to get through the town. My mother, in the driver’s seat, was therefore rather displeased with my navigating (I think I may have had an alternative in mind, and may have even voiced it, but since that was using minor roads I doubt that would have gone down well either). Anyway, we eventually made it to the A34 and headed south towards the M4. On the way, I noticed that one of the minor roads alongside the A34 led to a place called “World’s End”, we drove right past it. This was the inspiration for the title of this post; very appropriate given that parts of our trip had been something of a culture-shock. I’m opposed to the proposed second M4 around Newport, and various other bypass projects, on the grounds that creating more space for more cars encourages even more car use, leading to increased pollution and congestion (leading to more tarmac and so on in a vicious circle). But having seen Milton Keynes, I wondered if it is already too late; have we already spiralled beyond the point where the car addiction is fatal to life on this good Earth?
Returning to the journey, having joined the M4 at Newbury and travelled some distance along it, we had to turn off the motorway for fuel (at junction 18, I think), having just missed a service station. The road to Pennsylvania was “chock-a-block” with traffic so we headed in the opposite direction, hoping that the petrol station I could see on the map would be open; it was. It was on this little detour off the motorway that Mum cheered, having seen some cows in a field (she was suffering from ‘withdrawal symptoms’ caused by all the concrete and arable farming). Once back on the motorway, we made our familiar drive home along the motorway and A48 to Carmarthen and then on into the land of the living and home. What a relief; these few days were a real eye-opener for me.
So, if you want to escape the post-apocalyptic concrete wasteland of southern England on your next holiday come to the west of Wales; but leave your car at home, we don’t want our country ruined in the same way. Use our ‘delightful’ bus services.
Happy New Year (this post was scheduled to appear in the last minute of 2016, so by the time you read this it is probably 2017).
When trying to come up with a catchy title for this post, I toyed with several common sayings. “Drop in the ocean”, “reaping the whirlwind””, “tip of the iceberg” and “heads in the sand”; all seemed appropriate to the content of today’s post. Last night on radio 4 two news stories, or possibly three, caught my attention.
The first was that there has been severe flooding in the north of England, in and around Carlisle. I looked in vain through my Flickr uploads for a suitable image of flooding, but I digress. The cause apparently was a record-breaking amount of rainfall. While we cannot blame any particular severe whether event on climate change, the report stated that this is a record which has been broken several times over the past 15 years. What used to be 1-in-100-year events are now happening in a much shorter space of time. The good news is that nobody seems to be in denial anymore, climate change as a result of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is an accepted fact. Good, now can we please finally get on and take some serious action to deal with it, before it gets really bad? As we have come to expect following these events, the government has defended its investment in flood defence schemes and promised more. That’s all well and good, because greenhouse gas emissions have been high in recent decades and climate effects lag behind emissions (there’s the iceberg/ocean reference). But this is only treating the symptoms, it is high time we treated the cause. And, apparently, we are starting to: this morning I heard that greenhouse gas emissions actually decreased slightly this year compared to last year (largely thanks to China reducing coal consumption), but we need to cut emissions faster.
The second item of note last night, though I’m not sure if it is a separate story, was that the rain had caused a landslip which has closed the West Coast Main Line north of Carlisle, and the weather was so bad Virgin didn’t bother with rail-replacement buses. This morning, I read that lines in north Wales have also been closed due to the weather. The radio suggested passengers at Euston bound for Scotland go to Kings Cross and take the East Coast Main Line instead. At this point my Dad blurted out something about paraffin budgies (that’s what he likes to call aeroplanes, apparently). I said that would only make the problem worse (more planes = more greenhouse gas). Which brings me nicely to the other item of note on radio 4 last night. Apparently, there are rumours a decision on whether to build another runway at Heathrow is likely to be delayed by six months. I think something was said about an environmental review into the proposal. I got the impression that this would focus on local air quality and noise issues around the airport, but if the politicians observing the flooding had any sense they would see aviation for what it is, a huge contributor to the greenhouse gas problem, and rule out airport expansion once and for all. That would be a good first step in the programme of decisive action that we need to curb climate change. Dear Prime Minister, get your head out of the sand, show leadership and boldly stand up and say no to Heathrow expansion..
I don’t comment on the ISIS/Syria situation, the issues appear so complex I have decided it is beyond my comprehension, but George Monbiot (I like quoting him, don’t I) isn’t afraid to find examples from that debate. “During his statement on Syria, Mr Cameron told the House of Commons that “my first responsibility as Prime Minister … is to keep the British people safe”.” Mr Cameron, ISIS is not the only threat out there. We’re not safe while our power stations burn fossil fuels and biomass without carbon-capture technology, while aviation continues to expand, polluting as it goes, and while you’re government promote private motoring by building roads while you cut public transport. Climate change is a grave threat, but we know what we can do about it, it is time to start doing those things.
May 7th, 2015, a highly unpredictable general election. What colour of government will we have, and will they command a majority? Some of the Labour leader’s comments suggest a minority Labour government is a real possibility.
The media sometimes describes marginal constituencies as ‘key election battlegrounds’, but can UK general elections be accurately described as wars? Perhaps the media have a point since many of the main parties, while talking sense on other issues, have dangerous policies. Some could undermine the long-term future of life on earth.
Let’s start with Plaid Cymru. Their manifesto states that they oppose the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This is a sensible position since a component of TTIP is ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) which could allow companies to sue governments for impacting profits. For example, it may encourage privatisation of the NHS or allow tobacco firms to sue governments for banning smoking in public places. In fact, most of Plaid’s manifesto sounds positive at first reading. More worrying is what is missing. Most importantly, they are alarmingly vague about tackling climate change. They promise targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but fail to state those targets. As the biggest threat currently facing life on earth, climate change requires a more robust response. Sorry Plaid.
The environment has been largely neglected in the television coverage too. The sole ‘environment debate’, shown in the middle of the day on 20th April, on the BBC’s ‘Daily Politics’ program, was disappointing. The Liberal Democrat comments on their record in government were the most interesting part of the program. A significant increase in electricity generated from renewable sources was claimed, before they admitted that transport and heating were lagging behind in terms of emission reduction.
Which brings us to transport. I haven’t downloaded the Conservative party manifesto, but they are in favour of airport expansion and plan to spend £15bn on major road upgrades. Surely that is incentivising people to do the wrong thing; they clearly have their priorities wrong. Plaid Cymru are pressing for major road expansion too, but at least they don’t back the (Labour) Welsh Government’s plans to build a second M4 motorway around Newport.
Labour’s Westminster manifesto is not reassuring regarding transport (road and airport expansion look likely) but elsewhere they do claim to recognise the importance of tackling climate change. The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) have analysed non-transport aspects of several manifestos for sustainability, and the Conservative’s score was frighteningly poor. Labour does better, and the Liberal Democrats better still. Unfortunately the LibDems have not ruled out a ‘deal’ with the Conservatives, so votes for the LibDems could lead to a good outcome (eg. a LibDem-Labour coalition) or a mediocre one (another LibDem-Conservative coalition). Either would be hugely preferable to a Conservative majority.
The Tories are bad but, terrifyingly, an even worse option has emerged: UKIP. UKIP have made their stance plain on television: rather than accepting the challenge, they deny that climate change is human-influenced. Even if you think the scientists are wrong, surely it is better to take action to reduce emissions so that, on the off-chance that the scientists are right, we don’t suffer the consequences? And the consequences of getting it wrong will be dire. Maybe this really is war…
I’ve not researched the SNP’s policies but apparently they have not admitted defeat on the issue of independence. They talk about leaving the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island’, so are threatening to destroy Great Britain. People don’t describe themselves as UK-ish. We are Welsh, Scottish, English or British, or a combination such as Welsh-British. In Doctor Who, The Doctor (David Tennant) once said: “Only Britain’s Great”. Please Scotland, you can have all the devolution you like but stop trying to rip our great nation apart.
Perhaps now you see why this election is a minefield. Returning to climate change, you’d think the Green Party would be streets ahead; and they promise to end the national major roads programme so on that basis they are. They promise to stop airport expansion etc. and come closer than any other party to what is needed to tackle climate change, but are not bomb-proof. Their own manifesto quotes the Royal Society (scientists): “global population growth needs to be slowed and stabilised, but this should by no means be coercive” but apparently offers nothing that would curb population growth; instead they propose increasing child benefit. Would removing child benefit if a woman who already has more than one child gets pregnant again be ‘coercive’?
Today, April 15th 2015, Cardigan Castle will open to the public after alot of work preparing the site. GWR Castle Class steam locomotive 4087 ‘Cardigan Castle’ is on-hand on the ‘Cardi-Bach’ heritage railway across the river from it’s stone namesake.
OK, so the stuff about the steam loco and heritage railway isn’t true (well, it is April, even though I missed the 1st by some margin), but that’s what the image, which I’ve produced using Photoshop to mark the occasion, is meant to represent. The image is wrong for many reasons, which I won’t list here (feel free to have a go yourself, but you’d be better off commenting on the photo on Flickr as I’ve loads of spam comments to clear up on here), but in this case, do many wrongs make a right?
On a more-serious note, the local newspaper is stating a prediction of 33,000 visitors to the (stone) castle in its first year. I make that 90 per day on average, or getting on for 8x the population of Cardigan; alot of extra traffic on the roads if they come by car. If they come by bus, that’s equivelent to two full buses, with a few standees on each. There is, of course, not really a railway link to Cardigan anymore, so the train won’t be taking the strain in this case.
In terms of sustatinable integrated transport, the A477 St Clears to Red Roses Road ‘Improvement’ is anything but. I was aware of plans for the ‘A477 St. Clears to Red Roses’ road project, but not that work had started. I was therefore rather supprised a while ago when I learnt that the new road had been openned.
The result of the project was the divertion of a section of the A477 (St Clears to Pembroke Dock) onto a new route of over 4 miles between Llanddowror, near St. Clears, and Red Roses, bypassing both settlements. While motorists probably welcome road bypasses, they are bad news for public transport. To explain why, let me return breifly to the topic of TrawsCymru. The review published relatively recently recomended keeping the journey time down by avoiding detours to serve villages along the route. Local services, such as Cardigan to Aberystwyth via Aberporth and New Quay, are important but are much too slow to attract anyone who has a choice to use the service for an end-to-end journey. However, if the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen service was to ommit Lampeter there would be a significant loss of revenue from passengers making shorter journeys.
The ideal bus route therefore is one which follows the same road as the motorist, without any detours, but still passes through plenty of settlements that help fill up the bus with those doing shorter trips. Bypasses leave the bus providers with an impossible choice, use the bypass and lose the passengers from the town/village bypassed or divert through the settlement and lose the through traffic due to the extended journey time compared to the car. Modal shift in the wrong direction. In my interest of TrawsCymru and my knowledge that the Pembroke Dock rail branch is quite twisty, I have pondered a Pembroke – Carmarthen – Llandeilo – Llandovery TrawsCymru route. To my horror I discovered that, with the possible exception of Milton and Broadmoor, the bus wouldn’t have anywhere to stop and pick anyone up between Pembroke and Carmarthen (unless it made detours) now that the new St Clears – Red Roses section has been built since nearly everywhere has been bypassed.
So, not only has Pembrokeshire’s countryside been blighted by yet another ribbon of tarmac but the transport planners have put another nail in the coffin of sustainable transport. Will they ever learn? Apparently not, now they want to build a bypass for a bypass in the form of the M4 motorway round Newport (the big one in south-east Wales that is). We can only hope that does not go ahead.
The images used in this post are a little different from my normal practice. You can still click them to enlarge, but they are not mine. The photographs are taken from the official ‘St Clears Red Roses’, on Flickr and the map is from the Ordinance Survey, using their online OpenSpace API.
Two items on the BBC news last night (4th Feb 2014) about roads.
The first, on the national news, was talking about damage the weather is causing to roads and shortage of funds to repair them. The report even went as far as saying councils may end up having to close rural roads due to having no money to repair them.
After that, the local news (Wales Today) was reporting an accident on the M4 near Brynglas tunnels. Statements followed from users of the M4 calling for a relief road to be built urgently. The Welsh Government’s recently proposed second motorway round Newport was mentioned, with a price tag of around £1bn. In my opinion, that would be yet another inexcusable misuse of public money, encouraging use of modes of transport (car and lorry) which we are supposed to be moving away from in attempts to put a stop to climate change.
Meanwhile, one of the Welsh Government’s pet transport schemes, adding a fourth lane to parts of the heads of the valleys A-road to make it completely dual-carriageway (at a cost of at least £600m), is still going on. Elsewhere, there are plans to accelerate A-roads in Pembrokeshire, including building miles of brand new road from St. Clears to Red Roses on the route to Pembroke Dock. Paul Davies, AM for north Pembrokeshire, is even calling for converting the A40 from St. Clears to Haverfordwest to dual carriageway. Such schemes are just going to magnify the time advantage road has over rail in south-west Wales (more on that in a future post), encouraging more car use and less train travel.
Returning to that first news item, shortage of money is threatening closure of existing roads which the councils cannot afford to repair. If we don’t have enough money to maintain the existing road network, why are our elected leaders so keen on throwing money at new roads to encourage, and provide for, increased car use? Scrap the second M4 proposal, axe the heads of the valleys dualing project, forget the proposed new St. Clears – Red Roses route and don’t let Mr Davies get his A40 dualing proposal off the ground. Then, divert all that money (or some of it, with the rest used for public transport or moved away from transport altogether) to maintaining our existing road network.