Editor : David Kernek (kernekdavid@gmail.com)

Monthly Archive: March 2021

Greek leave for Charles and Camilla

Under one of the current Covid-19 travel bans, people attempting to leave these shores without good reason face a £5,000 fine for breaking the ‘stay at home’ rule. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall appear to have won an exemption from a decree that has the rest of us staring pensively our passports, phrase books, and travel bags.

They’re in Athens, Greece – their first foreign trip this year – poor dears – so some relief from LockIn at Clarence House, or Highgrove, or their places in Scotland and Wales.

What was the legally-defined ‘good reason’ for this foreign journey? Work, volunteering, education, medical, and attending weddings or funerals?

It was to represent Britain at celebrations marking the bicentenary of the revolt that led to Greece’s liberation from the Ottoman Empire.

In the strange lives lived by the Windsors – or most of them – this perhaps counts as work, though something quite a way short of hard labour. He’s had to wear a suit, walk past guards of honour, watch military parades, chat with Greek politicians and make a speech at a dinner. ‘My wife and I could not be more delighted to be back in Greece, which has long held the most special place in my heart’ And so say many of us!

But given even the most lenient interpretation, could this be described as essential work? Was the duchess’s attendance essential? Could Britain not have been represented by its ambassador in Athens?

Put out more flags … and more!

A ludicrous flag war between the UK and Scottish governments has broken out.

It started last week, when the Scottish National Party’s administration in Edinburgh said the Union flag should be flown from government buildings only once a year, and that any excuse for putting out European Union flags would suffice.

Whitehall has responded today: it wants the Union flag flown on all government buildings every day.

It’s possible that in this ludicrous flag spat, the interests of one of the UK’s four nations might be overlooked … the one known as England. We’ll fly the flag for it, but only now and then.

Green light for student bedsits in Newbridge

There’s understandable disappointment in town today after a planning inspector’s judgement in favour of the housing development proposal for the Hartwells site on Newbridge Road. The plan – which was opposed by the council, a vigorous neighbourhood campaign and 470 objectors – includes another 186 student bedsitters.

The inspector, Mr Nick Fagan, dismissed Bath and North East Somerset Council ’s claim that the student flatlets could prevent the provision of 104 apartments also planned for the site.

He did not accept that the former car showroom and garage site would be overdeveloped, adding that more diversity would benefit the residential area of Newbridge. A cycle path planned for the development would, he said, create ‘a vital and important recreational facility’, outweighing the lack of green space in the scheme.

The plan was rejected by the council last year because site was suitable for up to 100 homes – not student accommodation. It argued that what was proposed was inappropriate and failed to provide an appropriate mix of housing.

But in his ruling this week, the inspector had no time for claims that Bath now has sufficient student accommodation to meet the current and future needs of the town’s two universities. ‘It appears,’ he says, ‘there is still a need for additional student accommodation in the city.’ He did, however, ‘acknowledge the comments made by the councillors at the inquiry that there is a surplus of unlet student accommodation in the city at present and that attempts are being made to let it out for short-term holiday accommodation.’

His judgement, though, was that the purpose-built student accommodation part of the development would ‘contribute positively to the scheme’s housing mix’. He said the developer had maximized the use of the brownfield site, it was in a sustainable location, and would be attractive to students and young professionals.

The leader of the Say No to Hartwells Overdevelopment campaign, Mr Alan Champneys said: ‘Planning laws are stacked against communities in favour of rich developers who can afford very expensive barristers. The feelings of the neighbourhood don’t seem to count. There’s nothing being provided for older people or those on low incomes, only young professionals in rabbit hutches that aren’t suited to the suburbs.’

Watch out, Harry’s about to create … IMPACT!

Exciting news from California … Prince Harry has a job – or what’s described as a job –with a Silicon Valley start-up, where he intends to create ‘impact in people’s lives’. He has been named ‘chief impact officer’ of BetterUp Inc, a coaching and mental health company that runs a network of more than 2,000 coaches from its HQ in San Francisco.

He is expected to get involved with, it says here, product strategy decisions and charitable contributions as well as advising on topics related to mental health. He has already participated in a strategy meeting, advising on how to position a product in terms of resilience and overcoming adversity.

‘I intend to help create impact in people’s lives,’ he told the Wall Street Journal. ‘Pro-active coaching provides endless possibilities for personal development, increased awareness, and an all-round better life.’

Alexi Robichaux, BetterUp’s CEO said – most accurately – the duke came ‘from a very different background’ to other executives, since no other staff member could claim honestly to be a member of Britain’s royal family. ‘He’s synonymous with this approach of mental fitness and really investing in yourself. He will obviously have the whole organization sprinting to help him.’

Those not seen sprinting to help will be asked, very possibly, to test their resilience and overcome adversity with other organizations.

BetterUp offers personalized coaching, content, and care designed to transform lives and careers. https://www.betterup.com

Très China …

What happened to all that talk about pulling manufacturing away from the Far East – and, especially, China – and bringing it back to the West? Nothing happened; it was mere talk.

The Bath Telegraph provides updates on stuff purchased via Amazon – as we remain Locked In – which provides no information for consumers as to a product’s provenance.

The list so far includes ink cartridges, handkerchiefs, and neat boxes in which German fountain pens are sold.

Here’s another … This attractive Willow pattern serving tray is sold by the Portmeirion Group, a British company selling ceramic tableware, cookware, glassware etc. from its HQ in Stoke-on-Trent. The guff on the company’s website talks of ‘diverse teams based in the UK, US, France, Germany, and China’. These diverse teams, which have a ‘diverse range of skills’, are based in either Stoke-on-Trent or the Lake District.  

Customers buying this £15.50 tray – from ‘Pimpernel on behalf of Portmeirion’ – thinking that they might be supporting manufacturing work in England will, though, be disappointed. Look at the back, there’s the sticker: Made in China.

The Willow pattern was inspired by original Chinese ceramics, but that’s no excuse.

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods & 999 services

News from Cowley, Oxfordshire, highlights another possible problem – in addition to safety risks for women (https://www.bathtelegraph.co.uk/2021/03/21/low-traffic-neighbourhoods-safety-risk) – that needs to be thought about by councils planning Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs).

Paramedics responding to a heart attack call were held up by a fixed bollard in a LTN.

An investigation has been started after the crew struggled to reach a dying pensioner because its route had been blocked by a bollard and two planters. It is one of three barricades in the area which paramedics cannot unlock or collapse to drive past. Emergency services have to depend on up-to-date satellite navigation systems to route them around the barriers.

The delay in this case did not contribute to the patient’s death, but his son has warned that others could die if entire roads are closed with fixed bollards.

‘It would be tragic if lessons were not learned.  I’m worried because of the elderly community here – such delays could mean the difference between life and death.’

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods … safety risks

Have local councils that are championing enthusiastically Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) considered the risks they might have for women’s safety?

It was one of the aspects brought up recently in a short BBC News report (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-56419277) about the pros and cons of LTNs. It includes a young woman who says taxis cannot now take her to her front door. They have to drop her at the end of the street, leaving her to walk in the dark to her home. 

Hers is not a lone voice. The problem was raised last week in the House of Commons by Rupa Huq (Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton), who told the Home Secretary that LTNs have left women feeling unsafe.

‘The death of Sarah Everard’ she wrote in the Daily Telegraph, ‘has rocked the nation … it’s also been a cathartic moment for many. For me, it brought back memories of a knife mugging in my 20s that left me with flesh wounds. Part of the problem is the way our towns and cities are designed … At the beginning of the pandemic, the government decided to start encouraging local councils to introduce so-called low-traffic neighbourhoods. It is a laudable idea. But by eliminating motor traffic from some roads, a form of “natural surveillance” has also been stopped. When I was stabbed, I was able to attract help because of passing traffic.

‘Since this experiment was hastily introduced – or should I say inflicted? – without an equality impact assessment … I have been e-mailed and stopped in the street by women saying that they now feel scared in the newly-quiet ghost streets after dark, and even by men saying that they feel penned in like animals. When I recounted them on social media, even reproducing examples, these genuinely-held perceptions were dismissed as rubbish.

‘I have been told that cab firms are no longer taking women to their front doors as they can’t negotiate their way through the paranoia-inducing mazes of blocked roads. The hassle of navigating the long way round also makes such journeys more expensive, creating an additional financial disincentive for women to take taxis home.

‘The man from the ministry and the council bureaucrat do not have a monopoly on wisdom. If we are going to have safer cities, we need the government and town halls to start listening to the views of women.’

AstraZenica and clots in France

IT …

1 Doesn’t work for over 65s

2 Should be reserved for over-55s only

3 Shouldn’t be used at all for fear of clotting

4 Is absolutely fine

Bath police station – the wait goes on

Readers can be forgiven for raising a skeptical eyebrow when they read this week that planning for a ‘proper’ Bath police station – to replace the part-time inquiry desk at the council’s One Stop centre Lewis House on Manvers Street – is now under way.

It was reported that Avon & Somerset Police and Bath & North East Somerset Council (B&NES) have reached an agreement on a refurbishment at Lewis House to provide a new police station.

Avon & Somerset’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Sue Mountstevens, said: ‘We are delighted to be co-locating with our partners at B&NES in Lewis House, which will ensure the visibility of the neighbourhood police team and accessibility to the enquiry office.’

Lib Dem councillor Sue Craig joined in the cheering:Lib Dem councillors and Bath residents have been calling for the return of our police station for more than five years, so this is very welcome news. A police station is an important facility for a busy city with many visitors. We need that prominent presence, so people know where to go for help. Lib Dems have argued that a “proper” police station needs to be visible, central, and accessible to residents. This new facility fits the bill and we look forward to learning more details about opening hours and services in due course.’

But haven’t we been here before? Yes, we have; we were here in March 2019, when it was announced that plans for a larger police station in the centre of Bath had been agreed by the force and Bath Council. The police inquiry desk in the council-owned Lewis House in Manvers Street was to be expanded to accommodate the neighbourhood policing team. This is what Ms Mountstevens said then: ‘I’m pleased that we can increase the neighbourhood policing presence in the heart of the city.’

Like Coun. Craig, we look forward to learning more details about it opening hours and services in due course … and hope that it will be something more substantial than simply an expanded inquiry desk.

Bath’s ‘proper’, 24/7 police station, also on Manvers Street, was sold to the University of Bath for £7 million in 2015.

Traffic trouble … ‘Not everyone is fit enough to cycle and walk everywhere!’

The glut of implemented and proposed traffic changes in Bath – the Clean Air Charging Zone, ‘active travel’ schemes, bike lanes, reduced parking in suburban shopping centres, Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods, and the s0-called anti-terrorist plan that will see the centre car-free – has generated a torrent of critical comments on the town’s online forums. More than 480 have been posted onBorn & Bred Or Live In The City Of Bath, and an especially worrying aspect highlighted is the adverse impact of these changes for the elderly and disabled drivers.

Here’s an edited selection:

‘I had to drop my mother off at Specsavers this morning. As you can no longer drive down Cheap St into Westgate St – it’s for delivery vans only – I had to park on a single yellow line in Kingsmead Square, help her out of the car and across the road and point her in the right direction. When I returned to my car a minute or so later, there was a woman busy photographing my car and number plate, presumably with a view to reporting me! Bath is impossible for elderly folk, particularly those who are not very mobile and able to walk long distances. The council needs to wake up to the fact that not everyone is fit enough to cycle and walk everywhere!’

‘I live in Bath, but instead of taking my father to Specsavers in Bath, I took him to Keynsham instead. That was really easy, compared with Bath. Try that next time.’

‘I’ve given up on Bath. Dentist, hairdresser, optician – all elsewhere.’

‘I’m Bath born and bred and now in my 50s! I have a blue badge (long term mobility). It’s too hard for us to shop in town due to these restrictions, so we’re being forced to go out of town.’

‘Limited spaces for the disabled is a big problem. Closing roads means they are forced further and further away from shopping in the centre… Having a walking disability leaves people unable to walk very far at all … being elderly and frail means you couldn’t walk a whole street.’

‘I have a beauty clinic in Monmouth Street. The council has put black posts along the pavement, so my clients with disabilities can no longer get dropped off by taxis. Bath is becoming more inaccessible, and independent traders will suffer as a consequence.’

‘Very little disabled parking now, as parking in Milsom Street is not available, and the Charlotte Street car park is really too far away to get to the centre if you can’t walk more than 50 yards or so either because of limited mobility or age. It really is very discriminatory.’

‘Typical Bath Council … doing all it can to make life difficult for the less able and accessible only for the new wave bike brigade.’

‘These restrictions shut elderly and disabled people off from the world if they can’t park close to where you need to go. When my dad was refused a Blue Badge, my mother had to complain and appeal before finally getting one to enable them to have some sort of life in his final year. If people can’t even benefit from being able to park with a Blue Badge, as many complaints as possible need to be made to the council as it is soclearly very wrong. So much for the Disability and Discrimination Act!’

‘It’s a joke … the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods will force drivers to go through the Clean Air zone. Even school buses now are taking to side streets and causing more problems and pollution. I avoid Bath now at all costs; I’d rather order from Amazon, which doesn’t help local economy.’

‘The comments on this thread highlight how unacceptable the consultations on these changes were. Sadly the pro-measure lobbies will always be more organized and unified when it comes to an online survey than those opposed – and largely unaware – of what’s being proposed. It becomes the tyranny of the minority cloaked in the mask of the majority.’

‘We all know changes are needed; we all know things need to get better. But there are ways of doing this without irreparably damaging the city we love. This is what they say about consultation: build first, ask later!’