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.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Dib, dib, dob...

Hand-turned wooden dibbers for your garden, available now at Two Doors Studio in nearby Alsager...

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Penkhull Wassail, January 2017

Penkhull Wassail and a processional Morris in January. Apple and fruit-tree wassailing is an ancient tradition, taking the form of a New Year procession. I was pleased to see it revived recently in Stoke-on-Trent, and it's happening again in January 2017. Traditionally, the apple and fruit trees of a district are each visited in turn. The men sing to them, toast their health in cider and the boys tap their trunks with whippy sticks in a sun-wise direction, in order to ‘wake up’ the trees and ‘turn them back toward life’.

Art by Steve Shaw.

2015 route map below. Given the 2017 start time and the same starting point, it looks like the arrival times at various points will be much the same in 2017.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Monday, 21 November 2016

Leave.EU coming to Stoke

Excellent. "Plan to oust out-of-touch Remoaner MPs from Brexit areas". The official Leave.EU Facebook page takes some finding via search, amid the fakes, but is here. Be warned that the Leave.EU website wants to 'fingerprint' your Web browser before you can even load up the site. Yuk! I suppose it's meant to stop the trolls, though.

Widgemas

This is so very 'Stoke'! :-)

A place to sit...

A new charity report on the importance of places for the public to sit down... "The decline of basic amenities such as street benches and sofas in shops is forcing millions of older people to think twice about venturing into shopping areas".

This is the first report to quantify the decline of older shoppers the high street due to lack of seating. Stoke is fairly well served in that regard, but more might be done. Local traders might have a standard sign made, that they could display in their shop window, indicating that they offer their elderly customers a seat inside. Given that 45% of Stoke-on-Trent households do not have access to a car, which means that many people have to walk to the shops, being able to rest before one starts shopping is especially important in the city.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

"The State of Staffordshire's Nature" report

"The State of Staffordshire's Nature" report has just been published (PDF). It's a useful and nicely formatted overview, but it's really difficult to find recent hard trends in it. A lot of the sections open with comments like "county-level data is not available" and "it is not possible to provide trends" for the county. Even something that seems clear at first glance, like the Staffordshire Mammals Table shown below, turns out to be based on "limited knowledge"...

That's not the Trust's fault, of course, it's just a by-product of the lack of funding.

Some of the Staffordshire-specific highlights I noticed...

* Only 2% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest, the most important and monitored sites in Staffordshire, are classed as "declining".

* Frogs and most types of newt are common, sometimes very common, contrary to popular belief in their rarity. Staffordshire's eels are also doing rather well, another species one might have assumed was rare.

* Otter numbers are increasing after being thought "absent" in the 1980s, despite the fact that "46% of waterbodies are classed as either in Poor of Bad overall status". ("Waterbodies" are not the same as "watercourses", of course).

* As a whole the county has very slightly more woodland cover (approx. 9%) than the average in England. Just under 15,000 acres in Staffordshire is registered as ancient woodland.

* It seems to be a mixed picture on habitats. Many new habitats are being created from scratch, albeit often rather small ones. Farm management is a lot better than it was in the 1970s and 80s, and leaving the straitjacket of the EU may open up new options to promote wildlife on farms. Lowland heath seems to be being much better managed than before. But management of large woodlands declined sharply in the 1990s and 2000s under Labour, and it seems that our woodlands are still recovering from that neglect.

* As is well known, a few flagship species are having major ongoing problems — such as: honey bees; hedgehogs; water voles; native crayfish.

* Anything that lives in a niche appears to be possibly at risk through habitat loss or degradation, while adaptable 'generalist' species are likely to thrive.

There's a useful two page summary at the end, outlining what needs to be done.


A few observations:

It would have been interesting to see a table listing the exact causes of decline for that 2% of SSSI sites. If only to get Staffordshire's farmers 'off the hook', since many among the public will casually assume that such SSSI sites get damaged or destroyed by grumpy farmers.

Big new long-term surveys seem to be desperately needed. I wonder if they've looked into a big rolling endowment fund, built up from bequests in wills?

The report's Invertebrates page is annoyingly vague at one point, stating "some species have increased in abundance and/or population size or have colonised the county" but not saying which species.

It seems a pity for the report to have lost a focus on "trees" — often much-loved by the public — by lumping them in with "woodlands". I would have had a separate page for free-standing, garden and park trees. There the ongoing impact of specific tree diseases could have been properly summarised, and the real impact of the various tree-planting schemes addressed.

I would also have had a separate "Invasive Species and Rats" page. Also a page on county trends in "Pollution and Litter", re: impacts on local wildlife. Invasive species and pollution must be especially well documented, and also major threats, surely? As such it seems they should have more prominence in the report.

Rather surprisingly, the authors commit climate heresy by saying that climate change "may benefit some species". One suspects that someone will be marched off to a climate re-education camp soon, to chant the dogma that: 'there are no benefits from increased CO2, there are no benefits from increased CO2...'

For the city of Stoke-on-Trent the report suggests there needs to be: dedicated wildlife corridors (especially important for the new Wolstanton-to-Festival Park flyover, I'd suggest); more ponds (of course); and we need to improve polluted streams (exemplified by the highly polluted Trent-bound Fowlea, which has silently shamed the Etruria Valley for decades now). [Update: I've been reminded that there is some low-key work quietly going on to make the Fowlea cleaner, so kudos to the people doing that...]