Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Stafford plots

This might interest readers who know people in nearby Stafford. Chance to snap up an allotment in Stafford...

"There is normally a long wait to secure an allotment but plots on some of the 20 sites in and around the town have now become available. Anyone interested in snapping one of them up has been urged to act quickly. Plots of varying sizes are available and the annual rent – which is paid in March – is between just £40 and £60."

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election: top 10 likely issues

So what might be the main 'doorstep issues' in the coming Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election? Here are ten ideas, in very rough order of likely importance to the more thoughtful voter. I'm assuming voters will somewhat mix up national and local issues...

1. Jobs and job creation, also ways to keep local talent in the city and to attract the right types of skilled workers from abroad. This issue is tightly linked to housing and schools and transport in the city.

2. Education and the schools, especially in terms of attracting high-quality teachers and raising student aspirations (which is not the same as vapidly 'raising esteem', which has so damaged the 'millennials' generation) and levels of school discipline. There are also lingering problems around adult literacy, including digital literacy.

3. Getting a real and strong Brexit, one that works for a city like Stoke-on-Trent today and also works for the generations who are coming. That includes genuinely valuing the cultural pride that necessarily runs alongside Brexit and which will help make it a success.

4. Offering a roadmap on how we move toward a sustainable and nimble NHS. In the shorter term: cleaner hospitals; more midwives and matrons; and the need for shorter waits to get a doctor's appointment. Everyone knows that the headline problems at A&E have their root in the doctors' appointment system. For some voters the pressure on the doctor's surgery may be linked with immigration. The time available with a doctor may be linked to the city's mental health and loneliness issues, re: needing a longer and more discursive talk.

5. National measures to help sustain the survival of the pottery industry, especially lowering or doing away with the green taxes/regulations which can cause crippling energy costs for the factories. The city dodged a bullet on that when we voted for Brexit, but such taxes and regulations must not be allowed to creep back in again.

6. Transport, specifically the high levels of road traffic congestion in the city. Also our very high levels of roadside air pollution, re: invisible particulate dust breathed in from the air when walking or cycling along main roads. Then there's the generally poor and expensive bus services in the city, made worse by the congestion and also by the "you need to change buses in Hanley" thing that's required to get to many destinations.

7. Home electricity prices, since the high winter bills will be coming through the letter-box just before the election. This has a national/city dimension, in terms of the measures needed to help sustain the survival of the pottery industry. Especially scrapping the green taxes/regulations/red-tape which can lead to rising energy costs in the pottery factories.

8. Serious crime, of course, especially hard drugs. Although the local police consistently keep on top of hard drugs rather well, and reportedly keep out dealers and gangs from Birmingham and Manchester and Nottingham. Some voters will also probably link serious crime to the regular media reports about the inability to deport proven criminals, although such reporting seem to have become less frequent under the Conservatives.

9. The cost of renting a home, the quality and control of private landlords. Local house purchase prices, being low, are not so much of an issue for many first-time buyer couples as they are elsewhere in England.

10. Anti-social behaviour such as the shouty groups who persistently hang around and blight Hanley (the city centre). Litter and ugly graffiti will also be very noticeable in early March, as people walk to the polling station.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

More fake news from the left

London journalists and politicians are going to get in soooo much trouble because they have no clue about Stoke-on-Trent, or even where the city is (they've been mis-labelling us as a "town" in the "north" for decades now). I'm almost tempted to set up a fun-poking and fisking ElectionWatch blog for the coming by-election, but let's see who the candidates are first.

First up, with his foot in his big mouth, is the trades union baron Len McCluskey on BBC 5 Live. He just told the nation, on live radio...

"Stoke is a great city, great people but they’ve been decimated in terms of the policies of this government and previous governments, whether it be Michelin Tyres closing, the steel industry, the ceramics industry."

I'm sure that'll be news to all the people clocking on at Michelin in Stoke on Monday morning.

Friday, 13 January 2017

The Hunt is on...

So Tristram Hunt M.P. (Labour) is leaving politics, triggering a by-election here in Stoke-on-Trent Central. Nigel Farage has reportedly just announced he won't be standing. He would have won the seat, but now it looks like the small-c conservative vote will again be equally split between Ukip and the Conservatives, thus letting in another Labour M.P. by default. If the small-c conservative vote were to be combined, a conservative candidate would easily beat Labour.

The Conservatives could have laid the groundwork for this by-election by deploying a heavy-hitter candidate here in the last General Election, but they sent only a young low-key student politician from somewhere down south. Nor have they yet done much locally to engage with the city's huge Brexit vote, in order to bring former-Labour Brexit voters over to the Conservatives. There are a couple of excellent local councillors in the city who are Conservatives, and they have a prominent ongoing role in leading the Council — but that's nothing like a targeted and funded and locally-savvy campaign to actively bring Old Labour voters over to the Conservatives. But perhaps the by-election battle will now be that much-needed campaign, albeit very awkwardly entangled in national and Brexit issues.

Given the split in the vote it would be nice to see one or other of the conservative parties putting the people of Stoke-on-Trent first by stepping aside, or together backing a combined 'independent right / pro-Brexit' local candidate. But now that Farage is out of the running, it seems we're more likely to end up saddled with a Corbyn-approved extreme-left Labour candidate as the final winner — albeit probably winning because presented as a 'wolf-in-sheep's clothing' and as someone who doesn't say much about all the national Labour policies that would badly damage our city. Even an extreme socialist would probably be elected by a narrow margin, due to the ingrained habitual Labour vote, if Ukip and the Conservatives are engaged in a pointless vote-splitting battle with each other on the sidelines. But the bravery needed to jointly back an independent, and thus put the long-suffering people of Stoke-on-Trent first, seems lacking.

Of course, the turnout level will matter. Until now it's always been low here (sub 60%) because the result has been a foregone conclusion — Labour wins both at the M.P. level and the local council level. The same was true of the situation before the Brexit vote, when for months the entire establishment media had been saying that Leave would loose heavily. In such circumstances, "why bother going out to vote?" has been many people's default position. But given a cheery early-spring day in mid March, and a roster of strong close-run local candidates, the turnout level could be rather different. But every episode of a silly punch-up between the Conservatives and Ukip will lessen the turnout by 5%, because people will look at it and say: "the conservative vote is going to split down the middle, and that'll let Labour in again".

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Birds in the Great Frost in early 1895

Here is a memory of old Stoke, when Boothen was still meadows. Describing local birdlife during the bitter cold of a two week Great Frost in early 1895...

"Stoke Churchyard in front of my house was the rendezvous of a large number of sparrows, a good many rooks, a few starlings and chaffinches, and a robin or two. We fed them daily and derived great pleasure from observing their movements. Since the adjacent rookery was destroyed rooks only visit the Churchyard in severe weather. My brother noted a jackdaw early one morning, and this record is interesting as I have hitherto never observed this species in the Churchyard except during the breeding season. About half-adozen years ago a small colony came to the Church Tower and nested for several seasons in succession. For two or three years back, however, none have been seen. One sunny day at noon, towards the middle of January, a golden plover flew over the Churchyard at a very low altitude, uttering its beautiful soft clear whistle. It circled round as if about to alight, but at last flew off towards Boothen meadows."

"During the week of open weather about the middle of January, I observed two swans on the canal by the Stoke sewage farm." (the implication of the mention is that they were then a great rarity in Stoke)... "On the 7th of February my brother saw a blue tit in Shelton — quite [remarkable for being seen] in the heart of the Potteries." ... "By far the most interesting of our feathered visitors was the snow bunting, a specimen of which was shot on January 22nd at Cliffe Ville, close to Stoke, whilst feeding in company with some larks." ... "On the 21st January a kittiwake gull was picked up in an exhausted condition in Stoke meadows, and died soon afterwards. On [an] excessively severe [cold] morning, early in February, I observed five rooks at Trentham, each perched on a sheep's back. ... close association with sheep was a marked habit with them throughout the cold weather." ... "Mr Holdcroft's son found a rook with its wings frozen to its body. It was not dead, and he carried it home."

North Staffordshire Naturalists' Field Club, Annual Report and Transactions, 1895.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Ukip plans a win in Stoke-on-Trent Central

Though I don't have any special affection for conservative vote-splitters like Ukip, this is interesting. "Ukip targets trophy seats" (The Times, 9th Dec 2016, $ paywall) because they can probably win the seat with someone like Nigel Farage...

The party will look to oust “trophy” targets such as Tristram Hunt, who is viewed by Ukip insiders as a figurehead of the metropolitan liberal elite ... the party is ready to scrap the “scattergun” approach [to focus] on a far smaller number of seats ... Ukip came second last year in his [Hunt's] staunchly Eurosceptic seat, Stoke-on-Trent Central, where 65 per cent voted Leave in June.

The city as a whole voted for Brexit by 69.4%, with Newcastle-under-Lyme at 63%...

Incidentally, there's a debunking of Hunt's claim — made a few days ago at Stoke Minster — that here in the Midlands we built the Industrial Revolution with the profits of the slave trade.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Labour wasn't walking

There are actually around twice as many footpaths in Stoke-on-Trent, compared to what Labour had mapped...

From a Staffordshire Ramblers report for April 2016.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Hartshill twinkles

Hartshill twinkles, and not only because all the Stoke MP's have seen sense at long last and have just voted for Brexit...

A community group has helped to brighten up a neighbourhood with Christmas lights after being awarded £10,000. Hartshill and Harpfields Occasions (HAHO) has strung up decorations on trees at the top of Hartshill Road towards Newcastle town centre to help bring some festive cheer to the area. It comes after members were given the money from the Big Lottery Fund – Celebrate England.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

"Penkhull in the 1960s" - free screening

"Penkhull in the 1960s" is a free screening at the Stoke Film Theatre, set for Wednesday 1st February 2017 (7.30pm for a 7.45pm start)...

"Penkhull is a picturesque village within our city. Fifty years ago it underwent great changes physically – caught on film by Alan Dodd. Historian Richard Talbot MBE comments on newly digitised films showing the old Penkhull, a period of brutal demolition and new building – and extracts from some of his own documentary videos."

Richard Talbot's full film is two hours long and documents in detail the wanton destruction of Penkhull in the 1960s by the City Council. A DVD...

"can be obtained from price £12.95 (£15.00 inc. P&P, overseas £20) by mailing richard.talbot88@btinternet.com "

Not sure if he takes PayPal via that address, or not. I'd imagine there may well be DVD copies on sale at the Film Theatre screening in February, but that's just my guess.

I'd say we need a similarly pinpoint and well-researched documentary on Brendan Nevin and the Labour City Council, in relation the destruction of Middleport and other parts of Stoke-on-Trent in the 2000s, if anyone is looking for a good topic for an investigative historical documentary...

Stationary Road

"Public consultation starts on University Quarter improvements". Oooh gosh, look at them pretty pictures of Stoke train station and the Leek Road...

Er... hang on a second. So, where did all the heavy traffic go in those pictures? The noise, the fumes, the roaring buses, frazzled taxi-drivers, the continual stream of cars? Are they planning to put it all into a tunnel or something? Er, no, it seems not. Actually the traffic seems to be set to get heavier and faster...

"Key elements include increasing capacity at Joiners Square roundabout and changes to the Leek Road/Station Road junction to reduce queuing ... [(implying increased speed and volume of traffic) and] widen Leek Road" (my emphases)

So they're effectively lying with those ridiculous pictures, by not showing the heavy traffic. Traffic that it seems is going to get even heavier than it is now. Who are they hoping to fool? Surely not the local Planning Committee, who must be savvy to such wool-pulling. Presumably it's the local residents who they think are gullible, and who they're worried are going to write letters of objection.

Kudos to the Council and the University for trying to do something with the area, I suppose, but certainly not for trying to fool the public into believing that the scheme will make the traffic vanish or the area safer or nicer for pedestrians. Such behaviour recalls the worst propaganda excesses of the Labour years in Stoke, and it should be firmly stamped on by the current Council as they try to take the city forward in an honest manner.

So, increased traffic. But at peak times Station Road and related bits are already a car-centric nightmare to walk, with a few concessions to pedestrians here and there (45% of Stoke households do not have access to a car: ONS). It's not a pleasant road for drivers, either. The journey times for a car to get down the short ⅓-mile stretch of Station Road are already long, with The Sentinel newspaper reporting in June that...

"It is horrendous. It can take you 20 minutes to get down Station Road."

This problem doesn't seem likely to be fixed by their plan to simply move the short-stay parking spaces from directly outside the station, down the same road to a spot barely thirty yards away... "next to the taxi rank and the rear car park" (that's a Sentinel-ism — the journalist should have written the "side" car park). It might make the first glimpse of the city very slightly prettier for the traveller leaving Stoke station, but over time increased traffic seems likely to eat up most of the time savings that arise from moving the short-stay parking spaces.

There probably will be a speed boost, resulting from moving the short-stay parking places and speeding up junctions. But it seems very likely to be a temporary boost — any effect will likely be swamped by the rise in overall vehicle traffic as the city's economy grows further...

"Stoke-on-Trent has seen the biggest increase in rush hour congestion, at 44%." [among UK cities, according to the 2015 Traffic Index from TomTom]

As well as growing congestion, the overall volume of traffic is also growing — the city's Local Transport Plan 2011-2026 forecast a total of 94,280 peak-time vehicle trips each morning in the city by 2026, compared to 68,684 in 2007. Those figures were factoring in the good work that is being done to try to manage this growth, most of which I agree with, but in the end it just comes down to: we need less cars on the road if we're not going to eventually gridlock.

As to the area around the train station, I'd also worry that the new uncomfortable and uncivilised backless seating opposite the station will, in fairly short order, mean the removal of the proper civilised benches that are currently there. The new seating also looks like it's too low and too near the road, re: fumes and particulates.