Editor : David Kernek (kernekdavid@gmail.com)

Monthly Archive: January 2021

Bath’s security zone: more than meets the eye?

The closing date for the online public consultation on Bath Council’s proposals – based on work with the police – for a town centre counter-terrorist security zone is tomorrow (Sunday, January 31). It’s likely that much of the feedback will be negative. Many of the comments posted on Bath’s online forums – such as Your Say About The City of Bath, Born & Bred Or Live In The City Of Bath, and Bath & Proud – are from quite incensed residents who oppose the plan. They range from the terse ‘Loony’ to something with a little more thought: ‘I have no problem with a car free city centre, but to stop disabled people having access to disabled spaces and tradesmen having access to their customers is taking it way too far.’

The plan’s highlights are:

  • Strict vehicle access restrictions for delivery vehicles within the city centre’s most crowded streets
  • Access points operated 24/7 by the council’s CCTV control room
  • A parking ban across the zone, even for disabled drivers
  • Re-enforced static and sliding protective bollards

The objectors have a point; they actually several points, all of which are valid and should be taken seriously before the council goes ahead with this plan.

Here are some questions for the council and the police:

Why now? This country’s terror threat level (set by MI5) has been at severe or critical since 2006, since when it’s been obvious – based on crimes committed in Europe and North and East Africa – that tourist attractions and the tourists they attract are targets. What circumstances are in play now that haven’t been in the years since 2006? 

A reasonable answer to that could be the Islamic terrorist’s weapons of choice; until recently they have in the main been weaponized cars and vans, the risks with which could be reduced only by the drastic – and for residents and businesses profoundly disruptive – controls proposed by the council and the police. But murders in Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Belgium, Tunisia, and Kenya have been committed by knife- and gun-carrying killers moving on foot. The bollards, authorized-only access for vehicles, and parking bans – even for disabled residents – will not discourage the terrorist who walks or cycles into the security zone.

This is how Inspector Martin Rowland, who works in counter-terror, explains it: ‘You will have seen the horrendous attacks that happened in this country over the last few years … and have been happening in Europe recently, and that’s led to the increase [in the threat level]. This is Bath, not London, but the threat is still there and it is still real. An attack is highly likely and it would be remiss of us not to put some measures in like this particularly in a crowded place like Bath.’

If the council and the police believe their case holds water, why does the proposed counter-terrorist zone not include the Assembly Rooms, the Royal Crescent, and the train and bus stations – places that also in non-Covid times have high footfalls?

The grim reality is that there is a risk of a terror attack in each every public setting – in tourist spots and ordinary streets, by schools, churches and synagogues, and on seaside promenades.

Could there, perhaps, be quite another objective driving this counter-terror security zone plan. This comment posted on one of Bath’s online forums is by a resident with an interesting idea:

‘We’ve been at a ‘severe’ threat level for the last 16 years bar four brief periods, so I don’t think they can use that as a rationale for such a heavy- handed and discriminatory approach. They are hell-bent on making the city centre car free, and if they can use something as an excuse to justify their actions, they will!’

These are some of the other posted comments:

‘This is a joke surely? It’s ridiculous.’

‘Looks like I’ll be refusing any jobs in the zone, unless the council provide helpers to carry the carpets etc. to the resident’s house/ apartment.

‘Bollards didn’t stop bombers in the Middle East; they just started using scooters and bikes instead.’

‘All prospective bombers are guaranteed to use a car? Any terrorist doing basic research would know Bath is already impenetrable by car … a bomb would go off while they were stuck in traffic or being diverted around in circles.’

Remembrance ... Still fresh

Bath’s War Memorial, Royal Victoria Park

Picture by Geoffrey Breeze

High tide in town

Picture by Geoffrey Breeze

Well done, Don – Carry on spying!

Bath Telegraph readers are unlikely to be alone in being utterly disgusted, even if they are not of Tonbridge Wells, by the news that one of England’s leading private schools wants to honour with a Blue Plaque one of its less honourable alumnus – Donald Maclean, one of the Cold War’s Cambridge spy ring.

Gresham’s School – a piffling £36,030-a-year for boarders – in Norfolk wants to mount a series of plaques on its Old School House, a Grade II listed building. Maclean’s name is on the list, along with poet W H Auden (the poet), Sir James Dyson (the vacuum cleaner man), Sir Christopher Cockerell (the hovercraft chap), and Benjamin Britten (the bloke).

The school says it wants the plaques to commemorate ‘prominent’ Old Greshamians.

Maclean, a senior British diplomat, undoubtedly achieved prominence when his real job as a double-agent and traitor was revealed after his defection to the Soviet Union in 1951.

The other members of the spy ring were Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross, all of whom were recruited by the Soviet Union when they were undergraduates at Cambridge in the 1930s.

Let’s hope that they too won’t be overlooked when the next batch of Blue – or Red – plaques are handed out by clueless institutions.

Well done, Wunderfrau

The unseemly – indeed, squalid  – euro dispute about who first gets their hands on Covid-19 vaccine doses is a consequence of the mess the scleroticEuropean Union has made of its vaccination programme, not, of course, that Britain’s pandemic management since March last year has been faultless. The EU fiasco, however, will surprise few in Germany who will see all over the mess the fingerprints their former defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, the Wunderfrau who is now president of the EU Commission.

Her uncontested elevation to this quite important, €335,000 (£297,000) post was her reward for leaving the Bundeswehr in what one of her predecessors at the German defence department described as a ‘catastrophic’ condition.

A former European Parliament President, Martin Schulz, put it another way: She is our weakest minister. That’s apparently enough to become Commission president.’

Said Hans-Peter Bartels, a Social Democrat MP who monitors the Bundeswehr for parliament: ‘There was neither enough personnel nor material, and often one confronted shortage upon shortage. The troops were far from being fully equipped.’

A leading German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, dismissed her as ‘inappropriate’ for the top job in Brussels because her track record in the defence ministry was so dismal.  ‘She will be unable to cope with the commission presidency,’ it declared.

Her five-year stint at the ministry left Germany’s armed forces in a shambles, with grounded aircraft, non-operational submarines and chronic staff shortages.

Let’s hear for China … again

Need more face masks to stop the spread of the Wuhan virus? These are good, and inexpensive; they’re Made in China.

Order a fountain pen from a German manufacturer, and it’s sent in a neat black box. The pens are good, though expensive; the black box is Made in China.

When you look for it, it’s there … almost everywhere.

Bath’s World Heritage Security Zone

The grand plan tabled by Bath Council to protect the town centre from ‘hostile vehicles’ – that is, cars and vans driven by knife- and bomb-carrying terrorists – cannot fairly be described as a ring of steel, but its main features are moveable and static bollards, 24/7 controls on who can drive into the ‘secure’, and the removal of all parking, including bays for disabled drivers.

It has, justifiably, raised the ire of even the normally mild-mannered Federation of Bath Residents’ Associations, whose chairman, Mr Justin Draeger, says the ‘quite draconian’ and ‘deeply unfair’ measures could drive residents out of the town centre … at a time, it should be noted, when the council wants more people – post Covid-19 – to live in what otherwise be an empty centre.

‘We’re all concerned,’ he says, ‘that the measures seem quite draconian and don’t seem to have taken due account of the city centre residents who are going to be most affected. Residents need to hear why such measures are required. We’re talking about Bath. It isn’t a hotbed of terrorist activity. It’s a fairly sleepy town in Somerset. Perhaps the council needs to look at similar sized cities going through the same process and work out why their measures aren’t as draconian. This is deeply unfair to city centre residents. The residents keep up the beautiful buildings they live in. If they’re gone, who does that? It will end up looking tatty, like Venice.’

The planned restrictions on who can and cannot drive into the centre will create obstacles for disabled residents, taxi and delivery drivers, tradespeople, and removal companies.

A Q&A paper (file:///C:/Users/User/Desktop/City%20Centre%20Security%20FAQs_201116.pdf)-

published by Bath & NE Somerset Council makes no attempt to sugar the pill for town centre residents. Here are the helpful, albeit alarming, highlights:

Q – What type of access restriction will be in place and how will this be managed?

A – The restricted streets will be signed as ‘pedestrian and cycle zones’ with automated bollards in place to prevent vehicular access. Access to the city centre will only be allowed via an intercom on a communication pillar. Our CCTV Control Room staff will respond to the intercom and have the final say on who can gain access. It will only be granted to vehicles specified in the traffic regulation order.

 Q – I am disabled and need to park outside the shops. How can I do this if you are preventing access?

A – To maintain necessary levels of security inside the pedestrian zones, it will not be possible to park on-street, this includes blue-badge holders. There are a number of dedicated disabled bays available within the streets surrounding the access restrictions, including some temporary additional disabled parking in response to Covid-19.

Q – I am a resident living within one of the restricted streets. Will I still be able to receive my food delivery service, parcels, or other goods e.g. new washing machine during daytime hours?

A – Food delivery services will not have access, and will need to be trolleyed or carried in from outside the restricted zone. Smaller parcels will need to be dropped at a collection point e.g. Amazon Dropbox or Collect+ located around the city centre and surrounding areas. For larger goods … you will need to apply for a ‘one-time use’ access permit, which you can apply for on the council’s website.

Q – How will I move to or from a property within one of the pedestrian zones once the new security measures are in place?

A – You will need to apply for a ‘one-time use’ access permit, which you can apply for on the council’s website. Subject to approval, permitted vehicles will be required to show a copy of the approved permit to control room staff at the vehicle access point. Failure to present this document will prevent access.

Q – Will I still be able to pick up larger goods purchased in-store by car within the road closure area?

A – No, you will need to find suitable parking provision outside of the restricted area or make arrangements with the store to deliver to your place of residence.

Q – I live within one of the pedestrian zones. How will I receive medication through my chemist delivery service?

A – Pharmacies and medical delivery services will need to find suitable parking provision outside the pedestrian zones at all times.

Q – If I have a fault with one of my utility service providers and the road is closed how can they access my business or property to undertake repairs?

A – Utility service providers will be able to gain access to make necessary repairs, but will be required to provide a number of pieces of information to the Council’s CCTV Control Room before-hand before access is granted.

Q – I am due to have work undertaken to my property; will trades people, who require a vehicle, have access?

A – Between 10am and 6pm, a tradesperson will not be given access to any of the pedestrian zones and should park outside the restricted zone and carry or trolley in their required apparatus … If it is considered essential for the trader to have vehicular access, a one-time permit should be applied for via the council’s website by the resident/ business owner.

In the event of a burst water pipe in an apartment – possibly one damaging the property and that of neighbours – residents can be assured that plumbers will be on their way as speedily as possible, which might not be that quick.

The answer to the burst water pipe question is disquieting: ‘Access for emergency work on a property is permitted, but residents/ business owners will be required to provide one hour’s notice to the CCTV Control Room, in addition to details of the tradesperson who will be attending.’

Will cyclists be allowed in the zone? Here’s good news for cyclists. ‘Yes, where permitted and with caution.’ Encouraging news, then, for cautious terrorists on ‘hostile’ bikes.  

In response to an earlier Bath Telegraph post on this topic, a reader wondered, somewhat rhetorically, if Bath had a central control office with intelligence information readily available.  

Another reader had an answer: ‘We haven’t even got a police station anymore, so it’s unlikely we’ll have a dedicated intelligence unit!

A Bed in Bath - January 2021

Picture by Geoffrey Breeze

Cash ain’t dead … quite yet

The Co-op and Morrisons chains have asked customers to use cash as IT problems at their stores continue.

The ‘issues’ at the two supermarket chains come as the general shift towards contactless payments continues.

‘We’ve experienced some technical difficulties with our card payments and are working hard to resolve this as quickly as possible,’ said a Morrisons spokeswoman.

The online Census – What can possibly go wrong?

It’s Census Year, and the day will be March 21. When the local council tells us ‘this time around, it’s going to be a bit different’, it’s making a bid for the Understatement of the Year award. It’s going to be seriously different.

In the Orwellian guff from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), it’s stated that ‘we will be encouraging people to respond online if they can’, and there’s this: ‘This year is the first census run predominantly online.

Encouraging? Predominantly? What the ONS means that it will be run only online, with no paper option.

Every household will get a letter with a unique access code allowing them to complete the questionnaire on computers, phones, or tablets. What could possibly go wrong?

On what planet do the people who run the ONS live? It’s a planet on which everyone is web-savvy, everyone has a PC, smart phone, or tablet, and every household has a good internet connection. It’s also a planet on which websites never ever crash, and the information uploaded to them is always kept safe and sound beyond the reach of cyber hackers.

But fear not ye of very little faith in the online world. ‘If you need help,’ says the ONS, ‘we’ve got it covered.’ How so? ‘We will have an online help area on our website and offer help by phone, webchat, email, social media or text message. We’re also encouraging people to get help from friends and family to complete their census. If it’s safe and within government guidelines, we will also be opening Census Support Centres to help people fill in their online questionnaire.’

People who have not been able to complete a Census form online, can expect a Knock On The Door. ‘After Census Day, at the end of March and into April, our census field officers will be visiting households from which we’ve not received a completed census form. They will encourage people to complete the census and help you to access further help if you need it. Our field officers will never need to enter your house.

The penalty for not completing a census form – perhaps because you were unable to or had no family members or friends to do it for you – could be a maximum fine of £1,000 which, it’s to be assumed, can be paid online.

https://census.gov.uk

https://census.gov.uk/about-the-census/why-should-i-take-part

https://census.gov.uk/about-the-census/the-census-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic