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.