Wednesday, 10 March 2010

New Blog

On to pastures new. I;ve outgrown this blog and have a new one. Come and read, and see what I'm up to.


Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Road deaths.

Had a really good meeting about road deaths in Leicestershire yesterday. That sounds bad but I'll carry on.

I must admit that roads, well transport in general is a bit a passion of mine, not sure if it's because I am a boy, but things that councils do to make roads safer etc interests me.

Anyway, so met some experts at County Hall because their annual road casualty report is out, with all sorts of fascinating stats about how crashes happen, where, when, well everything you can think of really.

Now in the county casualties are reducing steadily every year, but the number of deaths remains around the same, at around 50, in fact it has risen slightly every year for five years.

Every year around half of those will be people under the age of 25, and those are the people in particular the council wants to target.

They are changing road layouts, speed limits, putting in bumps and the ever-unpopular speed cameras, which is making the difference but is not breaking through the ceiling. Education also plays a part, especially targeting those who have not even learned to drive yet.

They are also starting an innovative profiling scheme, where they look in detail at the circumstances of people who have died, so they can target areas and certain types of people and hopefully cut deaths.

What no-one could explain is why young people are often so fearless, even reckless when they drive a car. Often these traits are the reasons why people are killed. Speeding, losing control, not looking and taking drink are still the key causes of fatalities. Year after year.

When I was a younger man, I hope at 27 that I am still fairly young, passing my driving test (after four tries) was the most nerve-wracking thing I think I can remember, and going out on my own (I was a cub reporter in Northants driving to Corby to find a man with a samurai sword) frightened me to death, not the man with the sword. What I mean to say is that it was also the responsibility of driving that frightened me, not just the thought of dying.

After a while you gain confidence, you take more risks, this is normal I guess, but I still can't get into my head where people go from this to, well, putting their lives, and others' at risk. Why are they not scared of death? All the adverts of TV now show in a brutal way how people die on our roads, motorcyclists, people without seatbelts, children hit etc. But it is still happening.

But today it clicked, I've never met anyone who said they are a bad driver. So many of us are just too cocky when it comes to driving and that's why too many people die. Everyone knows everytime you get in a car you could die, everyone does, but the attitude is that "I'm too good at driving" for it to happen.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Bowstring Bridge and Pump and Tap.

At the bottom of this post is the opinion piece in today's Mercury, which sums up how many people feel about the city council's decision to try to push this through in private.

Now lets start from the beginning....All council agendas and related non-confidential reports always land on my desk a week before the meeting is held. So I looked through the agenda and papers. Now you will always have a good look at the confidential items, sadly councils will nearly always have them and often it can be something juicy.

For the meeting on Monday there are two confidential papers.

The first is called "LEICESTER'S NEW BUSINESS GATEWAY: NEW BUSINESS QUARTER PHASE 2". Without reading this report you can pretty much guess what this is about, it has been talked about for years. The clue is in the title and it is probably about the development of the Campbell Street Post Office to prepare for a new square outside Leicester Railway Station. I guess we'll find out later on.

Now the second is called: "SALE OF LAND AND VIADUCT AT DUNS LANE". Now I know what this is because I was given the report. Now you could also guess what this was about, maybe, but having read this report, this really is a creative use of a title. Cynical I know. But the second paragraph is the one which says that the council will agree to spend up to £472,000 to demolish the Bowstring bridge. What I am trying to say is that the sale of land is one of two main recommendations to be agreed on Monday. Why was this not included in the title? You can make up your own mind.

Anyway, so I received this report and rang Ross Willmott, because he was presenting the report. Instead Patrick Kitterick called me from Ireland. First thing he said was that the council was not being secretive. They had a press release to be sent out after the council meeting. That sticks in my throat. How is that open? No-one would have known anything until afterwards. (They then put out a press release out on Friday anyway.)

I really do not understand why this is being discussed in private. The deal is done, the costs agreed. What is different about other reports on the main agenda on Monday? For example, there is a report, being discussed in public, on the development of a science park around the National Space Centre.

The science park report says the cabinet will agree to: "Acquire the freehold of the site from Emda, likely at a peppercorn (subject to negotiation)".

So here they are openly saying they will agree to buy the freehold, in a bit, after negotiations. This is what De Montfort University and the council have done on Dun's Lane, a deal much further along the line as DMU have already agreed to pay a peppercorn rate plus other phased payments. It makes no sense.

The council will not change their mind and on Monday it sounds like some people will be at the Town Hall to vent their anger at the plan, and also the circumstances of how it is to be agreed.

The council think this deal is great news for Leicester, but they have handled it very badly indeed. They would have been happy to wax lyrical about this decision, afterwards, when no-one knew it had been happening. When thousands of people have protested against this very plan, that is wrong.

Here is the Mercury's opinion:

The future of Leicester's Bowstring Bridge has been one of the most talked about issues in this newspaper in recent times.

Furthermore, campaigners have set up websites to show their strength of feeling on the matter. Thousands of names have been added to petitions against the removal of this local landmark in the heart of Braunstone Gate.

It is somewhat strange then that a meeting which will decide the future of the bridge should be held in private.

In fact, most of the people who have battled for so long to save the bridge, and the popular pub The Pump and Tap - which will also be demolished as part of the plans - would not have found out about the deal to knock it down had they not bought yesterday's Leicester Mercury.

In turn, the Leicester Mercury would not have been able to publicise the fate of the area had someone with a conscience, or at least some sense of democracy within the city's corridors of power, not leaked to us the report which explains the deal struck between De Montfort University and the council.

Today we have learned that despite the details of the Bowstring Bridge's future now being available on every newsstand in the city, the meeting to discuss the deal between the parties will still be held in private, on Monday, as planned.

The councillors at the heart of this situation claim the information in the report could not have been publicised because it was deemed commercially sensitive.

Their point being that they did not want the amounts being paid for the land in the area around Duns Lane being revealed.

However, now the deal is in the public domain and the figures are out there. We think it is it now time for the council to rethink their plan to discuss the matter in private.

Surely the people of Leicester deserve to hear about the major things which are happening in their city.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Eco Town is not over.

It will be two weeks ago tomorrow that I was at Westminster to hear the announcement that Pennbury was not going to be included on the Government's eco-town shortlist.

Soon afterwards I was with protesters who were celebrating outside number 10 Downing Street, having completed one of the largest and most organised opposition campaigns I have ever seen, and I suspect ever seen in Leicestershire.

But their work is still not over. Having spoken to Kevin Feltham at a county council meeting this week, they, Cascet, are still desperate to undermine the Co-op and their proposals to build close to Leicester.

There's just one thing I cannot get over, and that has been the attitude of the city council in this. The tram I can understand was attractive, but the rest? After all that regeneration work they have done?

Eco-towns are a Labour policy, yes, some councillors are Co-op Labour members, but even the Labour Government did not think that much of the proposal, even from day one. The highest grade it ever got was a b/c I think. Keith Vaz and particularly Sir Peter Soulsby have been completely against it, and made that clear.

Now I was told very early on by a very senior councillor, who wouldn't make it up, that members of the city council cabinet were told by the party they had to support it. But I was always surprised at the extent they did. I remember on one occasion, Patrick Kitterick had a real go at Sir Peter Soulsby in the paper, called him something like a "maverick MP" for opposing it.

This has been the third time that the Co-op has tried to develop their farm land, and I suspect that it will not be the last time, in fact, it probably won't ever stop until they can get the result they want. Clearly they have decided that farming is not going to make enough money, or they need to raise some, or both, and housing is what they will try to do. The green plans are admirable, but in my humble opinion, almost impossible to deliver. Cynical I know, but money is the driving force and I just can't understand how they can make the money they want if they reach these standards.

I suspect that they will now try to apply for a smaller scale development, as a sustainable urban extension, using all the research and work they have done in the build up to their failed eco-town bid. No surprise there probably. And if they can sort a tram, then the city will probably back them again.

Clearly the Government's decision was a big blow to the Co-op, but it is clearly not over.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Back on board.

It's been a while....Been away from work on holidays with my mum, dad and brother who all live in Norway. Fully refreshed and ready for action.

All this stuff about the News of the World has really got my back up actually. I really may be being sensitive (it has been known!) but if it is true, the minority really are making things very difficult for everyone else.

Now journalists are not the most popular bunch nor the most trusted, we know that, but I do think that most are misunderstood.

Granted the Mercury does not have the financial clout of the NOTW, in fact we do not pay people for stories (apart from freelancers or agency copy), but we would never consider doing anything like this even if we could afford it. Several times a year people will approach me anonymously from organisations I cover and ask for money for information. I always say we don't do that and invariably they give the information anyway. It is a shame that other journalists will go to such lengths to get a story. It is not necessary. We are different.

The journalists I know and work with all enjoy different parts of the job, covering news, the arts, whatever, but they are driven by being fair and accurate. They realise the responsibilities we have to be accurate when we inform readers and also know we face the public embarrassment of being wrong, which inevitably leads to a correction/apology in the paper.

Take for example my recent story on parking bays being wrongly marked, that the city council said so vehemently was not true and would have you believe was reckless.

It was true and was far from reckless.

A week or so earlier than this another parking story broke about exemptions on a few city streets even though there were no signs advertising them. We spoke to several legal experts to discuss the implications of this, we were told that this meant you can park everywhere, but these national experts who had successfully appealed more than 100,000 tickets said strongly there was no case for this, that it would be wrong to say it. We didn't.

Later it became clear that some city parking bays were illegally marked. I had e-mails and phone calls from the public about this, even people from within the council e-mailed me. This story took me five days to research and write. We took tens of photographs of bays and sent them to independent experts. I spoke to experts on parking in other local authorities, some of whom were good enough to take time late into the evenings to give me guidance and professional views. I personally spent many hours measuring lines, bays, everything you can imagine. When we found what was wrong I went and remeasured and remeasured.

Finally, with all this evidence I went back to the legal experts who had advised us to leave the previous story alone. These same people were unequivocal in their response. These bays are illegal. You have a responsibility to the thousands of people who have parked in them to print what you have found, they said. So that's what we did.

Thank goodness that is out of my system.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Quick thoughts on recycling.

Isn't it time that people who cannot be bothered to recycle get a fine?

Today was the start of National Recycling Week and began with an event in Town Hall Square showing people what they can recycle, where to put it, and how it is disposed of.

This is not anti-city council, it is only right that people should be given the chance to get it right, but surely those who simply do not make the effort should be punished eventually? It is them who cost us taxpayers more to dispose of their waste after all because there is much more of it in their bins.

Now, is recycling really that difficult or new? Is the thought of putting glass or plastic boxes in a different place that alien to people? It makes me angry.

In the city around 40 per cent of waste is recycled and composted, and about 50 per cent out in the county. Not the figures of an area where many people do not understand recycling or are new to it.

Yes, people looking at the stalls outside the town hall today may have found out a few more things to dispose of or recycle. The councillor I spoke to today, Sarah Russell, said that the people who recycle are those who make an effort to (or something similar to this.) and she wanted to change the mindsets of those who don't. She is right, but it is how those mindsets are changed.

People quickly change their minds if they get hit in the pocket, so why not do that? The council has a team of city wardens to hand out fines in other circumstances, if you leave your bin out for example. I for one hope they start to use it when people are failing to recycle. They would probably have to check what people are throwing away, but that doesn't worry me at all.