Azara Blog: March 2007 archive complete

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Date published: 2007/03/31

Sydney makes a non-statement on climate change (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Lights have been turned off across Australia's largest city, Sydney, in a hour-long event aimed at raising awareness of global warming.

At 1930 (0930 GMT) the city's skyline dimmed and normally bright landmarks like the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge went dark.

The so-called Earth Hour is supported by the New South Wales government, environmental groups and businesses.

Sydney hopes the event will make a very big statement on climate change.

No, it makes a very small statement on climate change. Either these lights should be on (for whatever reason) or they should not. Just turning them off for one hour only says that marketing and spin has won out over common sense and integrity. It is gesture politics. Even worse:

Greg Bourne of environmental group WWF, one of the driving forces behind Earth Hour, said the big switch off took months to plan.

The WWF should sack Bourne for wasting so much time and instead give the money to scientists and engineers to do something useful with (e.g. the development of more efficient solar cells, wind turbines, etc.). The world would be a better place.

Gordon Brown allegedly ignored Treasury advice in 1997 (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The chancellor is facing calls from the Tories for an inquiry into the pensions gap after claims the Treasury ignored warnings of a funding shortfall.

Confidential Treasury papers have shown he was told in advance of scrapping dividend tax in July 1997 that it could wipe £75bn from pension fund values.

The Conservatives said Gordon Brown had shown contempt for pensioners.

But Treasury minister Ed Balls said Mr Brown had scrapped the credits on the "best advice" of civil servants.

What a non-story this is. Brown is not nearly half so clever as he and the media portray, but everybody knew full well that these tax changes would have a negative impact on pension funds, it's a no-brainer. The real question is whether or not these tax changes made sense (and there are arguments on both sides). Perhaps the Tories, instead of being silly, would let us know what they would do about the tax credit if and when they come to power.

Date published: 2007/03/30

GSK to produce vaccine aimed specifically at Africa (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

For the first time, Europe's largest drugs company, GSK, is starting the registration process for a vaccine from which it never expects to make money.

Globorix will only be used in Africa to prevent meningitis at prices that may never cover its research costs.

Experts say it is a sign big companies are changing their business practices, but some critics say it is not enough.

Millions of people in Africa are at risk from meningitis, which can kill a child in six hours.

The new vaccine, Globorix, cost more than $400 million (£204m) to develop, but will only be sold and used in Africa. It is aimed at meningitis A and C and will succeed an older vaccine called Titanrix - which covered hep B, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), diphtheria and haemophilus influenza.

The company does not expect to get its money back.

Seemingly a great development (although of course someone will ultimately pay for this, most likely the poor people of the rich world). Don't you love the do-nothing "critics" who have supposedly said "it is not enough". GSK is not a charity and would not be nearly so successful if it were. Unfortunately, most of the chattering class of Europe has a knee-jerk anti-commercial mentality.

Date published: 2007/03/29

UK carbon emissions on the increase (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The UK's carbon emissions rose by 1.25% last year, according to provisional government data, but Britain remains on course to meet its Kyoto Protocol goal.

The main reason was a move from gas to coal for electricity generation.

Emissions of all greenhouse gases in the Kyoto deal were up about 0.5%, but are still below the target of a 12.5% cut from 1990 by the period 2008-2012.

Environmental groups say the rise shows Britain is making little real progress on cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

And Environment Secretary David Miliband said it demonstrated the need for increased action on climate change.

The UK produced total greenhouse emissions of 658.10 million tonnes CO2 equivalent last year. This was down about 15% from the 1990 figure of 775.20 million tonnes.

Carbon dioxide output rose from 544.2 million tonnes in 2005 to 560.6 million tonnes in 2006, a significant rise compared to previous years.

The nation's CO2 output is now only 5.25% below the 1990 figure which is used as the baseline for the main Kyoto Protocol gases.

This is not that surprising, since oil has rocketed in price. And the UK population has been increasing, by around 0.5% per annum since 2001 (due mainly to immigration), and that by itself will increase emissions (perhaps not quite by the same percent). And these figures are all bogus in any case, since they ignore imports and exports of goods and services. (If China produces steel for the UK then it is the UK that should be held accountable for the emissions, not China.)

Running out of oil might be bad for the environment (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Many people think that running out of oil, or "peak oil", would be good for the climate. In his new book The Last Oil Shock, David Strahan begs to differ; he suggests it may bring catastrophe.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that global oil production will soon go into terminal decline, with potentially devastating economic consequences.

Although the idea of peak oil has traditionally been ridiculed by the industry, now even some of the world's most senior oilmen concede the case.
It is mathematically impossible that peak oil will solve climate change.

Although oil is the biggest single source of energy-related greenhouse gases, coal and gas combined are bigger still, and the expected growth in their emissions would overwhelm any reduction from oil.

As I demonstrate in The Last Oil Shock using the International Energy Agency's "business-as-usual" forecast, even if oil production peaks in 2010 and immediately starts to fall at 3% a year, total emissions would still rise by 25%, reaching 32 billion tonnes in 2030.
In fact peak oil could even make emissions worse if it drives us to exploit the wrong kinds of fuel.

Burning rainforest and peatlands to create palm oil plantations for biofuels releases vast amounts of CO2, and has already made Indonesia, according to some ways of calculating it, the world's third biggest emitter after the US and China.
Biofuels can be produced sustainably and with real CO2 reductions, but in the industrialised world there simply isn't the land.

In the developing world, however, there are vast swathes of land which could be put to sugar cane in a sustainable fashion; but the scale of the task of replacing crude oil would still be monumental.

I calculate that to substitute the fuel lost through a post-peak oil production annual decline of 3% would mean planting about 200,000 sq km - equivalent to the land area of Cuba, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea - every year.

Alternatively, if we decided to run Britain's road transport system, say, on cleanly produced hydrogen - electrolysing water using non-CO2-emitting forms of generation - our options would be:

When oil production starts to fall, the economic impacts could well be devastating.

Soaring crude prices could tip the world into a depression deeper than that of the 1930s, and collapsing stock markets cripple our ability to finance the expensive clean energy infrastructure we need."

All pretty obvious stuff. Less oil could well mean that more coal is being used, and coal is much worse than oil. On the other hand, predicting anything far into the future is a waste of time (unless you have a book to sell). In particular, claiming that it is "mathematically impossible" for such and such to happen is silly, because mathematics only kicks in once you have a model, and the model can easily be wrong.

Patients with dementia are allegedly being given inappropriate drugs (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Patients with dementia are dying early because they are being prescribed sedative drugs inappropriately in nursing homes, warn researchers.

A five-year investigation revealed the antipsychotic drugs were being used as a 'chemical cosh' to control patients, contrary to expert advice.

Patients prescribed these drugs were dying on average six months earlier, the Alzheimer's Research Trust found.

But GPs said the drugs were only used "as a last resort".

Guidelines say they can be given if the patient is severely agitated or violent.

But lead researcher Professor Clive Ballard says in the majority of cases the prescriptions are inappropriate and do more harm than good - doubling the risk of early death.

Estimates suggest that as many as 40% of nursing home residents with Alzheimer's disease - 150,000 people - are prescribed these drugs, known as neuroleptics.

How ridiculous can the Alzheimer's Research Trust get, speaking about the "risk of early death". Dementia is a living death, and not just for the patient but for the immediate family. Unfortunately there are far too many people in the world who believe that all that matters is quantity rather than quality of life.

Date published: 2007/03/28

UK peat bogs should be "conserved" to reduce carbon emissions (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The UK government should conserve peat bogs as a way of curbing climate change, the National Trust is urging.

British bogs store carbon equivalent to about 20 years' worth of national industrial emissions, the Trust says.

But two centuries of damage in some regions mean bogs are drying out, releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

The Trust wants the government to reward landowners for looking after peatlands, and allow carbon credits for good peat conservation.

"The way we manage our peat moorlands has a massive bearing on our ability to tackle climate change," said Director General Fiona Reynolds.

"But this area is almost completely neglected in terms of any coherent policy response. It is the forgotten climate change timebomb."

It is estimated that globally, peat stores twice as much carbon as forests, and the UK contains about 15% of the world's peatlands.
What evidence there is suggests that in Scotland, bogs are still absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, while those close to England's traditional industrial heartlands have been turned by centuries of sulphur and heavy metal pollution into net sources of CO2.

In the Trust's High Peak Estate in England's Peak District, scientists found that 1,350 hectares of degraded bog were releasing 37,000 tonnes of carbon per year - equivalent, it calculates, to the annual emissions of 18,000 cars.

This is a good example of how the usual figures for UK carbon emissions (or any other country in the world) use false accounting, since no impact of land use is included. Well, imported emissions and exported emissions are also not considered, and those probably provide a far bigger impact.

UK government allegedly not throwing enough money at nanotechnology risk analysis (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The UK government has failed to fund adequate research into potential risks posed by developing nanotechnology, a report by leading advisors has warned.

As well as not spotting possible harmful effects, the UK risked losing its world lead in nanoscience, it said.

The Council for Science and Technology (CST) review examined progress on government commitments made in 2005.
Governments and big business have high hopes for the tiny science. It is estimated that the industry could be worth $1 trillion (£500bn) by 2015.
Over the last five years, government has spent an average of just £600,000 per year on examining the impacts of nanoscience. In 2004 alone, it spent £90m on research and promoting commercialisation of nanoproducts.

"The safe development of a new technology should not depend on whether an academic wins a highly competitive research grant," said Sir John.

Professor Ann Dowling, chair of the working group that produced the original 2004 report, agreed.

"More targeted research to reduce the uncertainties around the health and environmental effects of nanomaterials must be funded - especially in light of the growing number of products on the market containing these manufactured ultra-small materials.

"This is a vital step to ensuring that nanotechnologies are well regulated and inspire the confidence of the public and investors."

Without them, the UK risked losing the competitive edge it currently had in nanoscience, said Professor Dowling.

"The UK is putting itself in a position where it will be unable to take part in international collaborations because very little research is being done on these issues at home."
FP7 [EU Seventh Framework Programme], which runs until 2013, will see more than 7bn euros (£4.6bn) per year handed to investigators to advance scientific knowledge in all areas. A pot of 3bn euros has been set aside for nanotechnology research, but none specifically for impact studies.

How much has any other country on the planet spent on investigating the risks rather than doing the fundamental research? Probably very little as well, so it is rather misleading to claim that somehow "the UK risked losing the competitive edge it currently had in nanoscience" if more money is not thrown at risk analysis. Given that none of the FP7 money is specifically targetted for this, it seems that the EU as a whole does not deem this to be a great issue. The only real reason these "impact studies" are being advocated is to try and placate the so-called environmentalists, who hate all modern technology, and in particular who managed to sink GM foods in Europe with their hysterical propaganda. The government and academics are just trying to buy them off. But it is far from clear that this kind of bribery will lead to the so-called environmentalists being placated. So it's just as well that most nanoscience money so far has indeed gone on research. And any new technology leads to problems. Nanotechnology will be the same. But the idea that anyone will be able to precisely identify the products that will cause problems before the products even exist is not credible.

Date published: 2007/03/27

Building houses on Marshall's airport will make traffic worse (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Houses should not be built on Marshall's airport until traffic problems have been sorted out, say Labour councillors.

Cambridge Labour Party has launched a campaign to Save Our Open Spaces and is petitioning Cambridge City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council demanding they sort out congestion and examine other sites before building homes on Marshall's airport.

At least 10,000 homes will be built in Cambridge East on the airport, land north of Newmarket Road and north of Cherry Hinton.

Transport bosses want 60 per cent of journeys to be on foot, bike or bus by 2021. A Cambridge East Transport Strategy has been drafted in a bid to get the development's 30,000 residents to leave their cars at home with 21 buses an hour going into the city centre.

But Labour councillors fear the scheme could make the gridlocked Newmarket Road even worse, and suggestions of a direct transport route across Coldham's Common have sparked concerns that green spaces are under threat.

Coun Ben Bradnack, city council Labour group deputy leader, said:

"The plans we have seen depend on a 60 per cent switch from private car to public transport use. So far as I know such a switch has never been achieved anywhere before."

Traffic problems will never be "sorted out". For one thing, pretty much everybody in any city on the planet complains about traffic, no matter how much or little there is of it. For another thing, the Cambridge ruling elite hate cars and actually want to make the traffic bad to justify yet more anti-car measures. The 60 per cent figure is just a random number made up by the Cambridge so-called planners in order to claim that their housing plans make some sense.

Of course the real issue in closing down the airport is not the traffic, it is that Cambridge is asking one of its biggest and best employers to get lost, and with the hundreds of jobs to be replaced not with other jobs but with houses. And where are the residents of these new houses going to work? There is plenty of effectively uneconomic land on the edge of Cambridge which can be used for housing (and indeed some of it will be), we don't need to close the aiport down.

Cambridge is already way too heavily dependent on the university for jobs and the situation is going to get worse, thanks to the Lib Dems who currently lord over Cambridge. They seem not to have a clue about urban planning or the economy. Have any of the Cambridge Lib Dems, including the city's MP, David Howarth, spent even a nanosecond trying to encourage any company of any note to move to Cambridge? Their only passion in life is to screw car drivers. (And more recently, airplane passengers. Heaven forbid that the peasants have the mobility the Lib Dem ruling elite has.)

More children are allegedly in poverty in the UK (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Figures showing a 200,000 rise in UK children living in relative poverty last year have been described as a "moral disgrace" by Barnardo's.

The children's charity said ministers were a long way from honouring a pledge to halve child poverty by 2010.

In 2005-6 3.8m children were in poverty - in homes on less than 60% of average income including housing costs.
In the previous year the number of children living in relative poverty with housing costs taken into account was 3.6m.

With housing costs not deducted from incomes the number of children living below the relative poverty line was 2.8m, up from 2.7m in the year before.

The increases are the first recorded in six years; since 1998/99, 600,000 children have been lifted out of relative poverty.
But to reach their stated targets, ministers must now help lift a further 1.1 million children above the poverty line by 2010 - or 1.6 million after housing costs are included.

The definition of poverty is relative to median income, not average income. The former is the income of an average person (or household), the latter is the income averaged over all people (or households), so is (usually) skewed by the long tail of the incomes of the rich. The only way to reduce relative poverty is to screw the average workers of Britain, since the definition is relative to their income, not the income of the rich. But it is the income of the rich, not the income of the average worker, which is responsible for the soar in real inequality in Britain over the last decade. This is the fundamental problem with the relative definition of poverty.

Date published: 2007/03/26

USA (and UK) observations (permanent blog link)

Heathrow airport is one of the worst airports in Europe. The Piccadilly line to Terminal 4 has an in-train electronic notification system which (sometimes? always?) tells passengers to get off at the stop before, Hatton Cross, since the current tube train allegedly only stops at Terminal 3. Well needless to say anybody who is paying attention and does not know any better gets off. There are no signs at Hatton Cross indicating which trains might stop at Terminal 4 and which might not. There is no official presence at Hatton Cross and nobody answers the intercom request for information. The next tube train pulls in and says Terminal 3 at the front but does not say if it stops at Terminal 4 and nobody risks getting on it. Finally a worker shows up and says that TfL (Transport for London) did not pay enough money for software and the original message was just plain wrong, all the trains stop at Terminal 4. Blaming software seems a bit lame but there is definitely incorrect information being given and nobody seems to be doing anything about it.

BA (British Airways) has a poor reputation and does not disappoint. All flights seem to be late allegedly because of some "systems failure". Recently BA has not even managed to deliver checked-in baggage to the correct location at the correct time, but at least that does not seem to be always the case. Coming back into Heathrow from the States, BA manages to spend more than 45 minutes between touchdown and getting everyone into the terminal building. And people complain about Ryanair. And the Tube takes 20% longer than claimed to get into London, even outside of rush hour. And somehow the bureaucrats have managed to make the King's Cross tube and "main line" interchange work worse now than it used to (perhaps when the St Pancras mess is finished things might get better again). Of course TfL is only any good at screwing car drivers and paying themselves whacking great salaries. They are not very good at transport.

The woeful British transport system is a good introduction to the US, which has some of the worst transport systems in the western world, in particular some of the worst airports. And the US used to have some of the best airlines in the world and now European airlines (e.g. Ryanair and Easyjet) are easily much better (and cheaper). And of course the US train network is relatively thin, except on the eastern seaboard. Amazingly, although the New York City subway and commuter rail network is not that great, it seems to be no worse than what you find in London. And they don't have perpetual non-working of the network on Sunday due to "engineering work" (perhaps because they never do any work on the network). The New York - Washington Amtrak service seems to be the best of class in the US, although the line is so poorly maintained it's amazing that trains don't regularly derail.

The US airports do not seem to be imposing the "one person one carry-on bag" rule that has now swept Europe (as part of the fallout from one of the recent bogus terrorist alerts). But flights between the UK and US seem to be getting special attention from the security services on both sides of the Atlantic, with extra manual checks of carry-on luggage (which must be expensive to carry out). One might view all this hassle as an attempt by the ruling elite to "save the world" by encouraging people not to fly, but more likely it is just an attempt by the ruling elite to scare the people and justify the disasterous "war on terrorism".

Some day perhaps Americans will learn to serve normal portions of food (e.g. in restaurants). Meanwhile Americans will continue to be fat.

American television is overwhelmingly mediocre. There are zillions of channels but the only thing worth watching is sport, especially if the volume is turned down so that you don't have to listen to the inane commentary. Something must be wrong when C-Span and C-Span2 provide the best non-sport viewing. UK television channels have long since succumbed to the irritating habit of advertising future programs over the trailers of the current program, but American television channels have gone one step further by running very noticeable trailers repeatedly during the current program. And of course in the US there has long been a seemless transition between the program and the adverts (and the latter are the highlight, as is often the case in the UK).

Bush is toast in America. Even many die-hard Republicans now accept that he has been an unmitigated disaster. And Fox News (a.k.a. the Republican News Network) and the other army of Republican apologists cannot do anything about it except to repeat the usual tired old propaganda.

RSPB claims some garden bird populations have crashed (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Fewer songbirds visited UK gardens this winter than last year - with the numbers for some species at a five-year low, a survey for the RSPB suggests.

The number of song thrushes spotted in gardens has fallen 65% in a year, while the number of blackbirds fell by 25%.

The RSPB blamed the mild European winter and a bumper countryside fruit crop, meaning the birds did not have to visit UK gardens for food as often.

Some 6.5m birds were counted in 236,000 gardens for the RSPB on 27-28 January.

More than 400,000 people took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch.
The RSPB's head of climate change policy Ruth Davis said birds will adapt their behaviour to suit changing conditions.

"A snapshot in winter gives only part of the picture, but the varying birds visiting our gardens is one example of the impact climate change is having on the natural world," she said.

"Although the mild winter seems to have provided more food for song thrushes in the countryside this year, as changes to our climate become more extreme many birds will struggle to cope with the altered weather patterns."

Does anyone believe that the number of song thrushes in the UK (not just in gardens that happen to have been observed in this survey) has fallen by 65% in one year? Or the number of blackbirds by 25%? Well, it's possible, since populations do crash now and again. Or is it just that this survey is of little scientific value since there is no quality control (in particular no accounting for the accuracy of observation or the size of the garden) and since it does not include birds that do not happen to be observed in one of the surveyed gardens on those two specific days? Last year 470,000 people took part, so it looks like the public interest in this exercise might be waning.

Date published: 2007/03/13

Government announces draft Climate Change Bill (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Britain could become the first country to set legally binding carbon reduction targets under plans unveiled by Environment Secretary David Miliband.

The draft Climate Change Bill calls for an independent panel to set ministers a "carbon budget" every five years, in a bid to cut emissions by 60% by 2050.

If they miss the figure, future governments could be taken to court.

The Tories and Lib Dems welcomed the proposals, but said carbon budgets should be set annually.

Mr Miliband has said annual targets would be too rigid to make allowances for climate variations.

He hailed the draft bill as "the first of its kind in any country", and said Britain was "leading by example".

The draft legislation will go to public and parliamentary consultation before becoming law next year, but environmental campaigners want to raise the 2050 target to 80% and set annual 3% cut targets to ensure compliance.

What a bunch of wimps those so-called environmentalists are. Why 80%? Let's be really virile and go for 90% (well, some of them do indeed advocate this). A few years ago they were saying 60%, but now that that concept is so passé they of course have to up the ante, otherwise they risk looking irrelevant (which they are). (Oh, and "the world has changed", blah, blah.)

And rather than look at it as 60%, 80% and 90% cuts from 1990, the more sensible way to look at it is to say these are 40%, 20% and 10% of the 1990 values. The difference between 60% and 80% seems small, but in fact what this represents, as is clear from the 40% and 20% figures, is a halving of the allowed carbon emissions. And similarly 10% would be another halving. This is non-trivial.

For once the government seems to have more-or-less gotten it right. Of course when the article says that "future governments could be taken to court" it is a bit meaningless. So one arm of the government sues another arm of the government, so what. It's irrelevant unless they are going to stick ministers in prison (and of course ministers in 2050 will claim it is all the fault of ministers in 2025, or whatever).

In 2050 this day will either be remembered as an important milestone, or more likely it will be completely forgotten because it proved to be so irrelevant.

Of course these emission figures use false accounting. The industries that will suffer from these proposals are the fossil-fuel intensive ones. Well, those industries might disappear from Britain, but many are just going to relocate abroad, and Britain will then import those goods, and everybody will pretend that we are not responsible for those emissions but that somebody else is. This is wrong. If Britain can successfully substitute services for goods then the reckoned emissions will fall but the actual emissions Britain is responsible for will increase. If Britain cannot successfully make this transition and if the emission cuts are enforced (somehow) then the British standard of living will have declined.

And interestingly enough, nobody ever says whether these emissions cuts are absolute or per capita. It is presumably the former. But the British population could easily decrease by 10% by 2050, or equally well increase by 10% by 2050. The per capita difference in carbon emissions between those two scenarios is of course around 20%, which is huge. Nobody ever seems to worry about that point, but it makes a big difference for each and every citizen of Britain. Well, it's all off in the distant future, so nobody cares.

Rice repository secures long-term funding (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Two leading food crop research groups have signed a deal to ensure the long-term survival of the world's largest repository of rice varieties.

The Genetic Resources Center, based in the Philippines, houses 100,000 rice samples in a disaster-proof facility.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) will provide the centre with $600,000 (£311,000) each year.

An estimated three billion people depend upon rice as their main food.

Some good news.

Date published: 2007/03/12

Tories publish "Greener skies" "consultation" document (permanent blog link)

The Tories have finally gotten around to publishing the "Greener skies" "consultation" document on their website, after trumpeting it all weekend in the media.

As it happens, the document does not add much to the chatter in the media, but at least it is now in black and white.

One of the important sections in the document has the heading "Distributional and social aspects of aviation":

1.18 Policies aimed at constraining rapid aviation growth are often characterised as being socially regressive by “pricing people off planes” and penalising those who cannot currently afford air travel. However, the picture that emerges from an analysis of aviation demand suggests that additional capacity will mainly be taken up by wealthier frequent flyers, predominantly to short-haul destinations in the UK and Europe.

1.19 Evidence in this area is not conclusive, and the EAC has criticised the government for failing to address the distributional impact of forecast demand growth: "whether, for example, that almost everyone will make at least one air journey a year by 2030, or that those who currently do travel by air will do so far more frequently".

1.20 However, evidence on the current mix of passengers supports the conclusion that a tax on aviation would not be regressive. For example, about half of the population do not fly in any one year, 80% of flights are taken by those in the top half of the income distribution, and the average income of leisure flyers is almost double the national average.

1.21 The British Social Attitudes survey showed that in 2003, over half of those in semi-routine or routine jobs had not flown in the previous year, while nearly half of those in higher managerial and professional jobs had flown three or more times.14 The Civil Aviation Authority concludes that "the wealthiest and most professional groups take a disproportionately large number of leisure trips abroad".
1.23 As a recent study by the Institute for Public Research (IPPR) concluded; "Leisure air travel remains highly skewed towards the better off... Any tax on aviation would be relatively progressive."

1.24 This conclusion is supported by analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies of the recent doubling in Air Passenger Duty. They predict that the tax increase will have a roughly equal negative impact across the income distribution as a percentage of income. In absolute terms the negative impact is predicted to be significantly larger on richer groups.

1.25 Of course this conclusion is based on an analysis of who flies at the moment. One of the positive developments of recent years has been the democratisation of air travel, with an increasing proportion of the population able to afford holidays abroad. There is a danger that a significant increase in the cost of flights in the future might put air travel out of the reach of those on low incomes. If the opportunity to explore the world and experience other cultures is to be available to everyone in future generations, we need to find a policy approach whose side-effect is not to make air travel the preserve of the better off. One potential approach is discussed later on in Section 4.

What a shock, rich people travel more than poor people, who would have thought it. But for anyone (in particularly the allegedly socialist IPPR) to promote the idea that aviation taxes would hurt the rich more than the poor is deluded. If you are right at the edge of being able to afford to fly, then any increase in taxes will make it less likely that you will fly. The drop from 1 flight per year to 0 flights per year for a poorer person is much more significant than a drop from (say) 5 flights to 4 flights for a richer person, even if the economists of the world would claim that the richer person is worse off because of having to pay more tax in absolute terms.

Leading on from this, the document concludes that "Any reforms to aviation taxation should ensure that the distributional impact is not regressive". In particular we have:

4.14 One potential policy that could address these concerns would be to introduce an annual 'Green Air Miles Allowance' so that people who flew more often were taxed at a higher rate. This allowance could be related to the number of miles flown, or to the number of flights taken. For example, everyone could be entitled to one short-haul return flight per year at the standard rate of tax, but additional flights would be charged at a higher rate.

This is the only "big idea" in the document, the rest is just rehashed proposals that others have made in the past. Of course it is completely arbitrary and rather patronising that the Tory ruling elite have decided that the peasants can have "one short-haul return flight per year" and nothing else. How many air miles have (the extremely rich) David Cameron and George Osborne done in the last year? At least they admit in this document that there is a cost associated with this idea:

4.17 It would clearly not be possible or desirable to implement such an innovative policy idea without extensive consultation. As explained in the next section, we welcome submissions on whether such a policy could be implemented in practice without imposing undue complexity and administrative costs.

In particular, there would need to be a central database. This database is bound to be extremely expensive to create and maintain. This belies another claim in the document, that "Any new environmental taxes should be replacement taxes, not additional taxes". There is no way this can be the case, because someone has to pay for the database. But at least the Tories have admitted there will be a cost associated with this proposal. Unfortunately nobody in the media has challenged the Tories about the actual cost of implementation.

Unfortunately the document contains no statement one way or the other whether business flights (or governmental flights) will be included. It makes no sense that they are included (they are the responsibility of your organisation, not you), but if they are not included then that will make it much easier for people to avoid the tax. For example, there are people who live in France and commute to England once a week by plane. In future they would just get their company to pay for the flights so that it becomes a business expense, and in turn they would have a cut in their official salary.

Non-EU science students in "profliferation-risk" subjects will need special approval (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Foreign science students could be deterred from studying in the UK by new checks aimed at stopping the spread of weapons technology, it is feared.

The Academic Technology Approval Scheme will require non-EU postgraduates who want to study "proliferation-risk" science subjects to apply for approval.

Currently the Foreign Office is alerted by universities voluntarily about applicants from "countries of concern".

It says it is not in anybody's interest to penalise bona fide students.

The registrar of the Royal Society of Chemists, Tony Ashmore, told his organisation's own publication Chemistry World that there was a security issue that needed to be addressed.

But he said the UK must remain "open to students and academics from around the world" and that they were extremely important to the country's international competitiveness.

He said: "It really depends on how the Foreign Office implements the new system.

"If the vetting is restricted to a small number of countries that attract relatively few students, then the impact might be quite small.

"But if the scheme catches large numbers of students indiscriminately it could put people off coming to this country."

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said the scheme would require all foreign postgraduates who needed a visa and wanted to study in "proliferation-sensitive" subjects to apply in advance for a "clearance certificate" online.

This would affect some fields of biological and physical science, engineering, maths and computer science.

In 2005-06 some 124,000 postgraduate students came to study in the UK, 22,630 of whom studied in the fields affected - but not all in "proliferation-sensitive" areas.

The system will look at where the students come from, what they want to study and what they intend to do with the knowledge.

As usual, the devil is in the detail. What areas will be deemed "proliferation-sensitive" and what countries will be targetted and will this be open to challenge?

Date published: 2007/03/11

Tories propose bizarre flight taxes (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The Conservatives are planning a series of new environmental taxes on flights aimed at combating climate change.

The party will publish a consultation document on Sunday asking people for their views on various proposals.

The proposals include levying VAT or fuel duty on domestic flights and a green air miles scheme.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne said the tax proposals would be targeted at frequent fliers and not families taking their annual holiday.

Another measure under consideration in the Greener Skies consultation paper is scrapping air passenger duty and replacing it with a new "per flight" tax based on carbon emissions.
Mr Osborne said: "We're saying that taxes on aviation need to increase.

"That's because we think you need to take the tough long-term decisions to tackle climate change."

But he said the taxes needed to be designed so that they did not "hit people who only have one package holiday a year" and that they target "more dirty engines on aeroplanes".

"That way we have the maximum environmental effect and we also don't tax people out of their one foreign holiday a year," he said.

Sure, airplane fuel should be taxed. And if they have to start by imposing this on domestic flights then that just about makes sense (but see below). And if they wanted to replace the idiotic air passenger duty with a tax based on emissions then that is even better, that really does make more sense. Unfortunately everything else they propose is rather silly.

In particular, imposing VAT on domestic flights is not very bright. For one thing, businesses can reclaim VAT so this has no impact on business customers. For another thing (and this also applies to taxing fuel just for domestic flights), people who do not live near London often have to fly into Heathrow to catch a long-haul flight, so Mr Osborne evidently thinks people who do not live near London should pay a special tax to leave the country.

However the grand prize for silliness goes to the idea of a "green air miles scheme". It seems that the more you fly the higher the tax you will pay. But apparently the patrician Mr Osborne (presumably with the approval of the patrician David Cameron) believes that the peasants should be allowed "one foreign holiday a year". How kind of the ruling elite to drop a few crumbs of bread to the peasants.

And how would this scheme exactly work? How would the government know how many air miles you have done? Of course they would have to introduce a vast new bureaucracy, at huge expense, to keep track of this. (So this would not be a tax neutral proposal, since someone has to pay for this bureaucracy.) And would business trips count against your personal quota? It seems at first sight that yes, they would. How fair is that? And so if you take your annual holiday in Spain before you do your annual business trip to Germany, then you pay low tax and your company pays high tax, but if it is the other way around then the taxation is the other way around. How sane is that?

And will people in government have their work flights count against their quota? Or will Cameron and Osborne find a magical reason why they should be excused from this silly scheme?

Further, if you live in Cambridge and are planning a holiday to Japan then in future the smart thing to do will be to go down to Stansted, hop on a plane to Amsterdam (low tax because not many miles), and then fly to Tokyo from there (no tax because it is beyond the jurisdiction of Britain). Of course this will lead to an increase in global emissions (because you have doubled the number of takeoffs and landings). Well, the government will eventually get around this tax avoidance by getting the entire EU to adopt this silly scheme.

The comedy act of Osborne and Cameron will not be the people who suffer from this tax. The rich will always go about their business unimpeded. What they are really trying to do is to screw the ordinary people of Britain. The Tories are lucky that Labour is so unpopular, because all the Tory policy proposals so far are so crackpot that they would not have any chance of winning the next election otherwise.

UK government gives car drivers some patronising advice (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A campaign to get drivers to take easy steps to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions has been launched by the government.

The "Drive Smarter" campaign aims to get motorists to follow simple tips to reduce their impact on the environment.

If all drivers followed the advice, CO2 emissions each year could be reduced by 8% - or by more than 5.5m tonnes, the government says.

Advice includes cutting down on engine revving and monitoring tyre pressure.

The tips, to be accessed via a website and promoted in adverts, also include advice to clear clutter from cars to reduce vehicle weights.

The campaign website also has a savings calculator which allows motorists to work out how much money they could save if they acted on the tips.

Dear, oh dear. Will there ever be any government in the world which does not issue patronising advice to its citizens? On a more practical point, Radio 4 claimed this morning that a reduction of 8% equates to motorists "saving" 2 billion pounds a year. Only of course 75% of that 2 billion pounds is fuel duty, which means that the government would be left with a hole in its finances. And guess how they would plug that hole. Of course they would just increase fuel duty to make up the difference. So most of the "saving" is mythical. To do some quick sums, if there are 20 million motorists in the country then 2 billion pounds equates to 100 pounds per driver, so the actual saving, after the increase in fuel duty is taken into account, would be a mere 25 pounds a year for an "average" driver. Not many people are going to change their behaviour for that kind of sum.

Date published: 2007/03/10

Visa fee for foreign students attending UK universities goes up a bit (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

International students coming to the UK will have to pay more for their visas - but the increase is not as large as universities had been fearing.

The fee is rising from £85 to £99 on 1 April - rather than the proposed £129.

Visa extension fees, for postgraduates wishing to remain in the UK, are to rise from £250 to £295.

There had been concerns the increases would deter foreign students, who are a valuable source of income for UK universities in a competitive market.

Universities and student groups welcomed the changes, saying they would help to attract overseas students to the UK.

The student visa fee was last increased in 2005-06, and there was no rise in 2006-07.

A small piece of sanity from a government often lacking in common sense. The UK government is unfortunately the biggest proponent of "ripoff Britain" but in this case they fortunately backed down. And it is not just that foreign students keep UK universities afloat (even Oxbridge would be in trouble without them), it also provides the UK an opportunity to make connections with the future leaders of other countries.

New cyclist and pedestrian bridge soon to be built over the Cam (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Work is set to get underway on a £3 million bridge over the River Cam.

The cyclist and pedestrian bridge will be the first to be built over the river since the Elizabeth Way bridge was opened in 1971, and will span the water at the former Simoco site in Chesterton, crossing to Riverside. It will include features such as a low level walkway, a separate and slightly elevated cycleway and a number of sculpted seats on the northern approach from Chesterton across the floodplain.

A consultation has been carried out by the county council since 2003, and a design competition attracted entries from internationally renowned architects and designers.
Work is due to start on site in April, and the bridge is expected to be completed in April next year. Low-level lighting and CCTV will be included to make the bridge safer for people to use after dark.

This bridge is not really that needed, its main point seems to be to allow some people in Chesterton to more easily cycle or walk to the Tesco on Newmarket Road. It is also much more expensive than it needs to be (the council is playing with someone else's money so they don't care) and given its location it will mess up vehicular traffic on Riverside (but of course the Cambridge ruling elite hate cars, so for them that is a plus). At least it should be an interesting structure.

Date published: 2007/03/09

EU pledges to increase use of "renewable" energy (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

European Union leaders have agreed to adopt a binding target on the use of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, officials say.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Europe was now able to lead the way on climate change.

The 27 EU states will each decide how they contribute to meeting a 20% boost overall in renewable fuel use by 2020.

The measures could include a ban on filament light bulbs by 2010, forcing people to switch to fluorescent bulbs.

The bulbs last longer but more are more expensive to buy.

In another key measure, agreed on Thursday, EU leaders said they would cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2020.

BBC world affairs correspondent Nick Childs says there is an air of real achievement in Brussels.

But, he says, the compromises over each nation's share of the burden in reaching the targets have yet to be negotiated, meaning the hard decisions may still lie ahead.
The EU plan involves:

EU officials are working on a directive that would compel the use of modern low-energy fluorescent light bulbs. It could come into force as early as next year.

The Australian government announced similar plans to phase out old-style filament bulbs last month.

The statement on renewable energy sources allows flexibility in how each country contributes to the overall target for the EU.

Poorer Eastern European countries, which are more dependent on heavy industry and carbon-heavy coal, had argued they would struggle to make the investment in wind farms and solar power necessary to meet binding targets.

The final text allayed their fears by stating that "differentiated national overall targets" for renewables would be set, "with due regard to a fair and adequate allocation taking account of different national starting points".

In what is viewed as a concession to France, the text recognises the contribution of nuclear energy in "meeting the growing concerns about safety of energy supply and carbon dioxide emissions reductions".

However, it also highlights safety concerns, stating that "nuclear safety and security" should be "paramount in the decision-making process".

So far it's just talk, we'll have to see if anything real comes of it. And France indeed has a good track record on low-carbon energy sources because it generates so much of its electricity from nuclear power. So is nuclear power going to count as "renewable" energy or not?

Date published: 2007/03/08

EU to look at livestock cloning (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Europe's food watchdog is to assess whether meat and dairy products from cloned animals are safe to eat.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was asked by the European Commission to look into the future impacts of livestock cloning.

At present, there is no specific regulation on food products from cloned animals for consumption in the EU.

Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that products from cloned animals were safe.

It has put that draft ruling out for consultation, but it is widely expected that the FDA will give the go-ahead to the sale of food products made through animal cloning later this year.

In the light of this, the European Commission wrote to the EFSA, asking them "to advise on food safety, animal health, animal welfare and environmental implications of cloned animals... their offspring, and of products obtained from these animals".

It added: "According to experts, animal cloning... is on the verge of widespread commercial use and expected to spread within the global food chain before 2010.

"Food derived, in particular from traditionally produced offspring of cloned animals, might therefore be available to consumers in the future."

The EFSA has said its scientific committee will lead the research. The commission has asked for the watchdog to provide its scientific conclusions within the next six months.

It has also asked the European Group of Ethics to look into the ethics of cloning.

It doesn't really matter what the scientists say (unless it is a complete thumbs down) because no doubt the so-called environmentalists will again hijack the public debate. The EU does not have a good track record on agricultural biotechnology.

Date published: 2007/03/07

One Planet Living (permanent blog link)

The fourth lecture in the Department of Engineering's Fifth Annual Lecture Series in Sustainable Development (2007) was given by Pooran Desai, from the "environmental" corporation / organisation / charity BioRegional. The most public project associated with BioRegional is perhaps the BedZED development in Beddington, just south of London. But Desai has also co-authored a little book called "One Planet Living", which was the title of his lecture. (First environmental tip: reduce waste, don't buy the book.)

Many organisations with aims similar to BioRegional are a bit crackpot, but Desai mostly spoke sense and seemed to have thought some things through. (But not others.) It is too early to know whether BedZED is really a success, and how much it could be replicated or whether it is just another example of housing mainly designed for the middle class. (For example, how well would BedZED cope with a hooligan teenager in their midst.) It seems that BioRegional has now set up its own property development company so will be involved with building more housing (but not just another BedZED, which was designed by one firm of architects, led by Bill Dunster, and the other projects are with lots of other architects and developers).

The lecture was indeed on the one planet concept. The basic premise behind this strap line is that there are around 12.6 billion hectares of "biologically active land" on the planet. Given that there are around 6 billion people, that means that each person should have around 2 hectares to produce their needs (food, energy, etc.). Any more and it means that we are running an "unsustainable" deficit. And we have the claim that the average British person (and indeed the average European) is currently sustained by around 6 hectares of land. This would mean that the average British person is using 3 times as much as their "fair" share and so if everyone on the planet did the same then we would need 3 planets worth of ecosystem to sustain our lifestyle. Of course we only have 1. Desai's selling point was to claim that with sufficient effort we could reduce the UK consumption to the "one planet" level (which apparently happens to be the level that China is currently at, although of course their consumption is rapidly increasing.)

This whole "one planet" philosophy is of course very attractive to the so-called environmentalists, who hate the so-called western lifestyle (where you can eat strawberries in winter and go on holidays abroad even if you are not middle class). But there are various problems with the concept. For one thing, we have several billion years of ecosystem in the bank (which is the source of our fossil fuels, for example). So it's quite possible we could run a deficit for quite some time.

There is also the question of how you arrive at the estimate of 6 hectares. Since the people doing the sums all hate the so-called western lifestyle, their estimates have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Further, there is a serious problem with saying that it is only "fair" that everyone gets the same share. The world currently has 6 billion people but is expected to have around 9 billion by 2050. Meanwhile the British population will probably remain more-or-less the same as today. If you take the "one planet" argument at face value, then you are saying that we in Britain have to reduce our consumption by 33% by 2050 even though we would have been (somewhat) responsible and not contributed billions of new people to the planet. Is this really fair? Someone asked about population during questions after the talk, but Desai completely fobbed it off (apparently this is "controversial"). Perhaps the fair thing to do is to say that for every child that someone has they lose a certain fraction of their "share". This would mean that people who are responsible are not penalised just because other people have decided to be irresponsible.

Desai gave the usual middle class view that the car is the greatest source of evil on the planet. (With cotton being deemed the most damaging crop on the planet.) Indeed he got his only cheers on the night (but there are rarely cheers during this lecture series) when he hammered this anti-car message home, saying their should be no more road building and no more airport expansion. The enthusiasm of the audience for this message was understandable, since the kind of people who attend these lectures are fully paid up members of the anti-car and anti-airplane religious cult. (Of course Desai has a car. But it is only for "fun" and was converted at no doubt great expense to run on fat oil, so that's ok then. It is only people who use their car for work or for shopping who should be hammered. How dare the peasants be independently mobile.) Desai even claimed that car use was responsible for the massive use of Prozac (a novel claim) and the alleged obesity problem (lots of the chattering classes claim this). (One would have thought that a more important factor contributing to Prozac use is that the medical industry profits from pushing drugs on people.)

Instead of claiming that the car is the greatest source of evil on the planet, you would be better placed to claim that having children is the greatest source of evil on the planet. (Well, religion is really the greatest source of evil on the planet, but that is another subject.) If instead of going up to 9 billion people by 2050 we reduced back down to 3 billion (the 1960 level) then the planet would definitely be better off. On this score, for example, the executive director of BioRegional has three children, and that really is totally irresponsible. There is no point going around claiming you can solve the world's environmental problems if you are going to have three (or more) children.

Like most of the middle class, Desai believes we should all source our food and other products "locally" (and as much as possible should be reused or recycled). He gave several examples of how this would lead to much lower CO2 emissions. But he only considered direct CO2 emissions and completely ignored indirect CO2 emissions due to things like land management, production subsidies and taxes and most importantly labour (every pound you pay a worker in turn gets spent on products that have CO2 emissions). So he was not considering the "whole system" sums.

He even went further away from the "whole system" approach when he talked about exports from South Africa. Here he gave figures for the so-called FEET index, which measures the Foreign Exchange Earned per Tonne of CO2 emitted in transporting the product to its market. Needless to say this does not even measure the direct CO2 emissions correctly (since it ignores the emissions of production), never mind the indirect ones. Why bother doing sums if they are misleading?

In spite of not liking cars, Desai was enthusiastic about car clubs, perhaps because he belongs to one. One good thing about car clubs is that they allow greater utilisation of each vehicle. But they lead to less driving, so are obviously not very convenient. Desai considered that to be a good thing. People would only drive the car when it was "necessary" (whatever that means). He also mentioned that he once took a train to Edinburgh and picked up a car club car to go to a business appointment. Well, that is hardly a novel thing to do. In non-middle class circles it's called a rental car.

Back onto his anti-car diatribe, he was enthusiastic about congestion. The more the better, since it would mean people would be encouraged not to use their car. He repeated the usual academic middle class view that there is no point in building new roads since the new roads would just fill up with cars. How dreadful, the government builds things that people use. Of course you can use exactly the same argument about trains (but these people never do). There is no point in adding yet more train capacity and subsidising train journeys ever more since it just means that London commuters will live further and further from work (because they have successfully externalised some of the cost of their journey).

On the UK CO2 emissions front, Desai at least took a better view than most people. The UK has around 12.5% lower CO2 emissions now compared with 1990 (the Kyoto baseline year). Much of this is due to the "dash to gas" (away from coal). But Desai correctly pointed out that much of it was also due to the UK exporting its CO2 emissions abroad. This is because if you buy a product from abroad, you should be deemed responsible for the CO2 emissions that went into making and transporting it, not the country of origin. (This is one of the fatal flaws of the Kyoto Treaty, it does not do the accounting correctly.) Desai estimated that the UK currently exports around 20% of its CO2 emissions (and that figure is growing).

The UK government is going to require all new homes built from 2016 to be "zero carbon". Only apparently it has not defined what it means to be "zero carbon". Well, whatever definition it uses, it will be more false accounting, since it will not consider the CO2 emitted in the building and maintenance of the housing. It seems that some in government want a house to be deemed "zero carbon" only if all its energy requirements are met by on-site (so-called) renewable energy sources. Desai was against this approach, because it was false accounting. Wind energy is one of the flavour-of-the-month renewable energy sources. B&Q sell some kit for around £1500. Well depending on how much wind you have where you install your turbine you might only save around £100 per year in electricity bills (or less). (Of course that also depends on how much normal electricity costs.) So that would be a 15 year payback time. But that completely ignores maintenance. Apparently this kit is supposed to have a service every 6 months at a cost of £400 (surely that must be wrong??). And on the biomass front, in BedZED, for example, apparently the CHP (Combined Heat and Power) plant was not doing as well as had been planned. The bottom line was that Desai believed that some energy in "zero carbon" homes must be produced off-site.

House of Commons votes for all-elected House of Lords (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

MPs have voted to reform the House of Lords by demanding all members are elected, rather than appointed.

There was a majority of 113 in favour of this proposal.

MPs, allowed more than one choice, also voted by a majority of 38 for 80% of members of a reformed second chamber being elected and the rest appointed.

The decisions will not pass into law but are expected to inform government plans. Commons leader Jack Straw called the votes "a historic step forward".

Mr Straw had put forward nine options, with the rest rejected by MPs.

He pledged to bring a cross-party group together to discuss the next stage of reform.

Prime Minister Tony Blair voted in favour of a 50/50 split between elected and appointed members - also Mr Straw's preferred choice - but not for any other proposal.
At the moment all peers are appointed, apart from the 92 hereditary peers who survived the first phase of Lords reform during Tony Blair's first term in office.

In another vote, MPs decided by a majority of 280 to remove the remaining hereditaries.

By accident more than by design, the Commons seems to have arrived at the correct decision. Of course the devil is in the detail. Will the government come up with a proposal for an all-elected Lords that makes sense? And will it be passed in the end?

Date published: 2007/03/06

RCEP produces non-report on the urban environment (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Tens of thousands of people are dying early because of where they live - and the government is not doing enough to address the problem, a report has said.

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution says obesity, air pollution and traffic accidents all contribute to lower life expectancy.

The report says these problems are worse in towns and cities - where 80% of the UK population now lives.

It calls for an "over-arching" strategy on urban environments and health.

Members of the commission visited 11 British cities and towns to conduct their research, including Edinburgh, Swansea and Belfast.

And they concluded that the stresses and strains of urban living contribute to tens of thousands of deaths each year.

They say in 1995-96 air pollution resulted in 24,000 people dying on average eight to 10 months earlier than they would have done.

The report says: "Major issues include climate, obesity and mental health.

"Most of these problems are not unique to urban areas, but are important because of the high numbers of people living there and the aggravating impact of factors associated with urban areas, such as high levels of vehicle emissions, poor housing and a lack of good quality green space."

Members of the commission were "astonished" to find the government did not have an over-arching strategy to deal with the pollution impact of housing, transport and energy use in towns and cities.

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) is one of those dreadful quangos that has to constantly justify its existence by writing reports claiming the world is at an end. If you asked the people of Britain where environmental pollution figured on the list of the most important problems to face the country, it would barely rate a mention.

The members of the commission are all from the academic middle class. As such they reflect the usual views of that class. In particular, they make the usual claim that cars are allegely the source of all evil on the planet. They even use the obnoxious phrase "wicked problem" about cars, and have a cute graph showing how cars allegedly have only negative and no postive features. So a perfectly balanced report then. The non-workers of the world never have understood the point of cars.

On the housing front, the commission recommends that ordinary people should be forced to live in high density housing, since allegedly that is so much more "sustainable". This is the mentality that brought us the disasters of 1960s and 1970s housing. Of course they claim it will all be different this time around. If it is better this time around, it will be no thanks to the academic middle class.

On other issues they only report the usual things that have been reported over and over again (e.g. water is a problem in southern England, who would have thought it). There is not one novel idea in the report.

The UK wastes far too much money on these kind of vacuous reports and not enough money on science and engineering (including construction technology).

BBC produces dreadful four-part series on transport (permanent blog link)

John Ware says on the BBC:

Road pricing proposals have provoked a storm of protest but what is the alternative in easing congestion?

Downing Street's website may have melted under the 1.8 million petitioners opposed to the government's national road pricing scheme for dealing with congestion.

But how would the petitioners stop the UK from being the most extensively traffic congested country in Europe?

Many argue for the traditional "predict and provide" approach to traffic growth: more road building, more parking and removing bus lanes.

But are these credible alternatives to dealing with our insatiable desire to drive more vehicles more frequently to more places? Indeed, there is credible evidence that such measures only exacerbate congestion by inducing extra traffic.

This article was propaganda to advertise a four-part series by Ware called "Are We There Yet?", where of course the standard line is taken that cars are the source of all evil on the planet, and we need to throw billions more pounds at so-called public transport. (It is such a "sustainable" form of transport that it needs a whacking great subsidy in order to be sustained.) The BBC has never had a program about transport which is not blatantly anti-car, and this is just the latest in the line (from some chap who happily admits he doesn't like cars). So, most of the country understands how useful cars are, but the chattering classes in the BBC do not have a clue. The BBC is run by the middle class and so largely features the views of the middle class. They know best, and the 1.8 million people who signed the petition are just peasants to be patronised.

There are plenty of alternatives to road pricing, but they never, or rarely, get air time on the BBC. Option one is indeed to provide new roads (especially between towns, more so than in towns). Unfortunately the so-called environmentalists have managed to introduce the trite claim that building new roads just increases traffic. Well that is because the demand is not being met. Somehow these very same people always manage to argue that train journeys should be subsidised more and more. But of course subsidising train journeys just encourages more and more people who work in London (say) to live further and further from London. Thousands of people commute from Cambridge to London every day and if train fares were subsidised even more you can guarantee that thousands more of Londoners would move to Cambridge. The big difference between car users and train users is that the former pay way more into the tax system than they get out in return, and the latter do not even come close to paying enough for their journeys.

If Cambridge had fewer London commuters then more people who work in Cambridge could actually afford to live in Cambridge, and therefore not have to take their car to work.

Another way to reduce congestion is to stop encouraging parents to live further and further from the schools that their children attend. In Cambridge, whenever schools are not in session the traffic suddenly gets a lot better (of course some of that is down to people being away on holiday).

And the program does not even mention the serious negative consequences of road pricing. For one thing, it is bloody expensive to implement. For another, the government can permanently track your movements. For another, it is socially divisive, since it means that poor people are kicked off the roads for the benefit of the rich (as has happened in London). For another, it just introduces a perverse incentive in the government to make the roads worse and worse so that they can justify a higher and higher road pricing tax (this has already happened in London).

Somehow the best person the BBC could find to make a program on transport could not figure any of this out for himself. With junk programs like this, the BBC does not deserve its license fee.

Industrial pollution in Asia has an impact on the weather (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Industrial pollution coming from Asia is having a wider effect on global weather and climate than previously realised, research suggests.

The "Asian haze" of soot is boosting storms in the Pacific, scientists find.

It is also enhancing the growth of large clouds, which play a key role in regulating climate globally.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the researchers say impacts may be felt as far away as the Arctic.

"It's a complex picture," observed study leader Renyi Zhang from Texas A&M University in College Station, US.

"But the bottom line is that the aerosols actually enhance convection and increase precipitation over a large domain," he told the BBC News website

While clean air legislation has reduced production of industrial aerosols - fine particles of dust, soot and sulphur - in Europe and North America, the opposite trend is seen in Asia.

Is this supposed to be a surprise? Does anyone think that the Asian industrial pollution is good for the environment? One of the results of globalisation is that North America and Europe have successfully transferred much of their pollution to Asia.

Date published: 2007/03/05

David Miliband speaks in Cambridge (permanent blog link)

David Miliband, Minister at DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) gave the so-called S.T. Lee Public Policy Lecture at the Law Faculty late this afternoon, with title "The Transition Economy -- a future beyond oil?". Unbelievably Alison Richard herself (the vice-chancellor, i.e. real head, of the university) did the introduction. (And there were several flunkies in silly academic dress making sure everything was running smoothly.) Richard unfortunately used the occasion to tell us how great Cambridge University was (considering that pretty much everyone in the room was a Cambridge academic this hardly needed saying). She even claimed that Cambridge was ever so "green" (right).

Then she handed over to Miliband with the immortal phrase "he needs no introduction". That provided Miliband with his best line of the lecture. He said that when he was first appointed Schools Minister he had gone to visit some primary school in his constituency and the head teacher introduced him with the same words. The children had a blank look on their faces (how many adults would have known who he was, never mind kids). So the head teacher tried to remind them that they had rehearsed this all the day before. In desperation she said that Miliband would do lots of good for the school and did anyone know why. Finally some boy sticks his hand up and says "is he the man who is going to fix the electricity?"

Miliband is a real smooth speaker and does indeed look like a younger version of Blair (before the Iraq war destroyed his reputation). Miliband spoke from a paper document, not from a Powerpoint presentation, how quaint. He went through much of the usual litany of carbon emissions. Next week there is going to be an official UK Climate Change Bill, which will look at the situation out to 2050. But he wanted to talk not about how targets were arrived at but rather how the targets could be achieved (by the UK). He boiled it down to three things: demand reduction, decarbonisation and decentralisation.

By demand reduction he meant increasing energy efficiency, not reducing demand by abolishing certain activities (e.g. driving). By decarbonisation he meant increased use of so-called carbon-free energy production (solar, wind, wave, etc.). (Of course these energy sources are not carbon-free, since the kit has to be manufactured, installed and maintained.) By decentralisation he meant that pretty much every household would be generating a substantial fraction of its own energy requirement. That happens to be one of the current flavour-of-the-month ideas much promoted by the so-called environmentalists. It has yet to be proven to be a sensible idea, although by not thinking about it very carefully you can make it sound good. (Do people really want to be responsible for maintaining their own energy supply? You could equally ask do people really want to be responsible for growing their own food, and supplying their own water? Some academic middle class people do, most people do not.)

The three main sectors responsible for carbon emissions in the UK are power (i.e. electricity), heat and transport. Power is the easiest one to decarbonise, through use of the so-called renewable energies (Miliband included nuclear power in this category) and via carbon capture and storage.

Heat is much harder, with biomass and Combined Heat and Power (CHP) being two ideas floating around which might help a bit, but in which efficiency (e.g. house insulation) is the best way forward. Apparently the government building regulations are going to require that all new houses as of 2016 will be "zero carbon" (again, this is a misleading statement since a huge amount of carbon emissions occur when the house is built, via extraction and transformation of raw materials and via transport).

Transport is the big bugbear, as always. Miliband made the usual bland statement that aviation currently is responsible for around 6% of UK emissions but is the fastest growing contributor to emissions in the transport sector in the UK (so what, computers are one of the fastest growing contributors to emissions in the domestic sector, does that mean we should ban them, no it just means that more and more people can now afford to buy them, which is a good thing). But he concentrated on road transport, which is responsible for the vast bulk of transport emissions in the UK. Miliband gave the usual ways of reducing the emissions per car (more efficient engines, hybrids, biofuel).

To sum up, Miliband claimed that the problem was not technological but political (and was difficult because of the international dimension). He claimed that to be "pro environment" you had to be "pro market" (since the government was not going to come up with the technological advances) and "pro European" (since the EU as a bloc could make reduction commitments that individual countries would not be able to do unilaterally).

Miliband then took questions. He did so very cleverly, allowing four or five questions in one go before he answered them. This meant he could conveniently skip over the idiotic questions without anyone much noticing. Now being a typical academic middle class audience, you could guarantee that most of the audience believed the best way to deal with carbon emissions is to screw car drivers and airplane passengers, and the flip side being that of course lots more money should be thrown at so-called public transport (which for some reason includes trains but not airplanes). What is it about train users that they think the rest of society should subsidise their lifestyle (i.e. their energy consumption, i.e. their carbon emissions)? Car drivers pay a 300% carbon tax. Train users pay a negative carbon tax. So of course the academic middle class, with all its usual lack of common sense, says we need more of a carbon tax on cars and less on trains. Go figure.

Someone compared driving with smoking. The UK ruling elite are just now about to successfully smash smokers (you can for now smoke at home, but that is bound to change soon enough). So why not smash driving as well? Miliband is not keen on that idea (funnily enough he wants to win the next election). But of course the government could easily smash driving, if it really wanted to, since all major political parties are pretty much going that way now, so voters would have no choice. Forget the 300% carbon tax. Impose a 600% carbon tax.

The one issue that fortunately got a bit of a play was the issue of nuclear power. Blair is well known to be keen on nuclear power but he doesn't count any more. So it was interesting to see that Miliband played the same tune. Of course what really matters is what Gordon Brown thinks, and that's not totally clear yet. Miliband mentioned that opponents of nuclear power had two broad arguments, and that he could respect these views. One argument is religious, i.e. that nuclear power is just too terrible a technology to use. Another is pragmatic, that we should not use nuclear power because of waste, and because nuclear power will suck up all the government funding into so-called carbon free technologies. Miliband gave the usual Blair line that he could not see how we could meet our emission targets without nuclear power. (And although Miliband did not mention it, France, with much of its electricity generated by nuclear power, easily has the best emission per GDP ratio in the developed world.) Of course the academic middle class response to that one is that we need to reduce demand, i.e. hammer the ordinary people (how dare the peasants aspire to do things that the academic middle class has been doing for years).

Miliband did pretty well. The audience was academic middle class in mentality (being anti-technology, anti-corporate, anti-car, anti-airplane, anti-anything involving life in the 21st century). And Miliband managed to charm almost everyone.

Research councils complain about diversion of DTI funding (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The heads of the agencies responsible for funding British science have told BBC News that ring-fenced money for research should not be diverted to pay for failures at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Their comments follow an announcement by the DTI that it is taking back £68m from the Research Councils.

The department says it has had to reduce science spending for one year to pay for "exceptional" and ongoing costs resulting from the collapse of the Rover car company and the unexpected increase in support needed to cover British Energy's nuclear liabilities.

No-one likes having their budgets cut, but the heads of the research councils are concerned that the claw-back signals an alarming shift in the way in which government funds science.

According to Professor Julia Goodfellow, who heads up the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), said the DTI had raided money specifically protected and earmarked for investment in science to pay for departmental failures.

"There is a ring fence there for a reason," said Professor Goodfellow.

"Science innovation and research is about the medium to long term. If you start cutting it because of a short-term need then you have real problems."

At least the research councils have spoken out, not that it will do much good. The DTI would be a bit more plausible if anybody in the department was disciplined or sacked because of this mess, or if the DTI's own internal budget had been seriously cut back because of this mess. But you can guarantee that the one body unaffected by this mess is the DTI itself.

Date published: 2007/03/04

Damp housing allegedly causes some asthma (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Damp and mould-infested houses could be the cause of permanent asthma in children, researchers have said.

Poor housing conditions are already linked to the illness but there is debate whether they cause asthma, or simply trigger attacks.

Finnish researchers writing in the European Respiratory Journal say they have proved this after surveying the homes of more than 300 children.

However, UK asthma experts are still not convinced mould can cause asthma.

Asthma is now the most common chronic disease of school-age children, and rates have risen steadily in recent years in industrialised countries.

Dr Juha Pekkanen, from the National Public Health Institute in Kuopio, suggests that as many as one in five cases of child asthma may be caused by moisture and mould in the home.

His team found that the severity of asthma increased alongside the severity of the damp in living areas.

In all, the homes of 121 asthmatic children were compared to those of 241 non-asthmatic children.

As well as a detailed interview and allergy test to rule out specific asthma triggers in the environment, experienced civil engineers ranked all the houses in terms of the level of damp and presence of mould.
Dr Michael Burr, a researcher at Cardiff University whose work on mould and asthma is funded by the charity Asthma UK, said: "This study suggests that Finnish children with newly-diagnosed asthma are more likely than other children to have moisture damage and mould in their homes.

"Together with existing evidence, this suggests that mould probably triggers respiratory symptoms and may contribute to causing asthma.

"However, it is not possible to distinguish conclusively between the role of moisture damage and mould as a trigger factors and any causal link with childhood asthma based on the current evidence."

Yes, this could be a classic case of confusing correlation and causation. What they have found, which is no great surprise, is a link between poor housing and disease. But there is also a link between income and disease, and that is almost always more significant. The Finnish team just seems to have decided to focus on one thing and find a correlation. Presumably someone else could focus on some other aspect of the housing (e.g. if it is near a main road) and equally well find a correlation. It proves very little. Of course it could well be that the conclusion, even if it has not been proven, is correct. But why have the rates of asthma "risen steadily in recent years in industrialised countries"? It is hard to believe that the housing stock is that much worse than it used to be (which ought to be true if you believe damp in housing is a main factor in asthma).

Lib Dems arrogantly tell Gordon Brown what he should do (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell has paved the way for a potential deal with Labour as he set out five "tests" for a Gordon Brown-led government.

And in an apparent shift, proportional representation for general elections was not included in the list he gave at the party's spring conference.

There has been speculation the Lib Dems will seek a coalition in the event of a hung parliament.
Opinion polls point strongly towards a hung parliament at the next election, with the Liberal Democrats potentially holding the balance of power.

In his closing speech to his party's spring conference in Harrogate, Sir Menzies gave his first public hint that the party would turn to Labour rather than the Tories in such an event.

He challenged Gordon Brown, the man expected to take over from Tony Blair as the next prime minister, to have the "courage" to embrace liberal democratic values, and to prove he could change direction.

Sir Menzies said: "Britain needs a government that is prepared to reduce inequality and provide quality public services throughout the whole of Britain.

"To uphold the rule of law and to preserve our traditional freedoms, to take on the challenge of climate change and to restore Britain's international reputation.

"The question is - can Gordon Brown meet that challenge? Does he have the courage to take Britain in a new direction?"

He announced that he had devised five tests for the chancellor.

He called on Mr Brown to "end Labour's authoritarian attack on civil liberties" by scrapping ID cards.

He urged him to "grasp the challenge posed by climate change" and, thirdly, "break open the poverty trap".

His fourth test was to "trust the people" by devolving power to local people and the fifth was that "Britain's foreign policy should not be set in Washington".

If Mr Brown met these tests, "he will have changed direction and embraced liberal democracy," Sir Menzies told delegates.

If there is anything worse than the thought of the Tories having a landslide at the next election it is the thought of the Lib Dems holding the balance of power. Their main taxation proposals consist of vindictive taxes against minorities and a shift of even more money from the workers to the non-workers (and presumably this is what Campbell is referring to when he wants to "break open the poverty trap"). In fact they sound a lot like David Cameron and the Tories.

And one would hardly want Gordon Brown to "embrace liberal democratic values" but rather instead "labour values". Britain's foreign policy should indeed not be set in Washington (one of the reasons Blair will go down in infamy). On the other hand, the Lib Dems seem to have no real foreign policy.

And the people of Britain do not really need more power to be devolved to "local people". For one thing it would mean that we have a bigger postcode lottery when it comes to things like health and education. And for another thing, what Campbell means when he says "local people" is "Lib Dem councillors", like the ones who lord over Cambridge. The real local people (who do not live in one of the rich areas of town like Millington Road with its three Lib Dem councillors) have no power or influence. And although national government is incompetent, local government is super-incompetent.

Date published: 2007/03/03

Lib Dems propose another stupid tax (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

People owning homes worth £1m or more would face a new "wealth tax" under plans being considered by the Lib Dems.

Treasury spokesman Vince Cable wants to hit "obscenely large" property investments and believes an annual 1% levy could be the solution.

The estimated £1bn return would be used to cut inheritance tax and stamp duty bills for the less well off.

More stupidity from the Lib Dems. First of all, why £1m and not some other arbitrary figure? These households already pay council tax, which would be of order £2k or £3k depending on where the house is located. So the Lib Dems are saying that if your house is worth £999999 then you should pay around £2k to £3k in property tax per year. But if your house is worth one pound more, then your tax bill should suddenly multiply by anywhere from four to six, to the range of £12k to £13k. What sense does that make? (About as much sense as their similarly idiotic proposal on car tax, which has a similarly nasty multiplier at various band boundaries for similarly vindictive reasons.)

Secondly, is it deemed ok for one person to live in a house worth £900k but obscene (i.e. worthy of a special punitive tax) for two adults and three children to live in a house worth £1m? If a pensioner lives in a house worth £1m, are the Lib Dems still going to charge this extra tax? The Lib Dems constantly harp on about how unfair the council tax is to pensioners and how the council tax should be replaced with a local income tax, to better reflect ability to pay. Well this tax proposal makes a complete nonsense of that bleeding heart rhetoric. Or are the Lib Dems going to introduce another arbitrary boundary and say that it is obscene for a 64-year old to live in a million pound house but ok for a 65-year old to do so.

Thirdly, who is going to value the property? And what indexation will there be? Needless to say, many, even fairly ordinary, houses in or near London are already worth over £1m, while equivalent houses elsewhere in the country are worth less. So the Lib Dems are just trying to introduce yet another tax which will see the south of the country handing over money to the north. Any house valued at just over £1m will no doubt be subject to a challenge, and if unsuccessful perhaps the owner will just tear up the front garden (or whatever) to make the house worth less.

Finally, there are various mitigation strategies that people will take to get around this tax. You can split your property into multiple households, reducing the value of each one. A husband and wife living in a £1.5m property can end up each living in a property worth £750k. They would (presumably) have to pay 4% stamp duty on the transaction, which means it would take several years to break even on the transaction (more than four years because they would be liable for two council tax bills, although each would get a 25% discount). And no doubt even more imaginative tax dodges will be dreamt up, given this new tax.

The Lib Dems are unfit for office. Vince Cable in particular is a liability. If politicians spent as much time trying to make the country work properly as they spent trying to screw some constituency or other (rich people, unmarried people, smokers, drivers, take your pick) then the UK would be much better off.

Science Magazine advertises on bus shelter in Arbury (permanent blog link)

How bizarre. Science Magazine seems to be advertising the Cambridge Science Festival (which takes place this year from 12-25 March) on bus shelters in Cambridge. Even most scientists don't bother reading Science (except for the odd article of direct relevance to their own area of specialty), and certainly no ordinary member of the public would. And the bus shelter in the photo is on north Histon Road near Hazelwood Close, in the depths of Arbury, not normally considered to be one of the more academic (or salubrious) areas of the city (although that is changing, because of the extortionate price of houses in Cambridge). Unfortunately for the Science Festival, the crucial part of the ad is largely hidden from view by a bin placed strategically by Cambridge City Council just in front (unless you want to skewer yourself on a prickly hedge, just visible at the right in the photo).
Science Magazine and Cambridge Science Festival

Date published: 2007/03/02

English schools are allegedly "unwittingly" racist (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Black pupils are routinely punished more harshly, praised less and told off more often in English schools than other pupils, an official report says.

It says the staff in many schools are "unwittingly" racist, with black youngsters three times more likely than white to be expelled permanently.

It describes this as an "iconic issue" for black Caribbean communities.
The review considered two strands of thought.

One argument holds that "largely unwitting, but systematic, racial discrimination" means staff expect black pupils to behave worse.

The other argument is that black pupils, especially boys, are subject to outside influences and cultural stereotypes that cause them to behave more aggressively in school.

The report favours making schools the focus. It says they can be categorised broadly as those that "get it" and those that "don't get it".

The latest contribution by people who have nothing to add to the education debate. When you can't prove your thesis, i.e. that schools are allegedly racist, you fall back on the unfalsifiable proposition that schools are "unwittingly" or "institutionally" racist. And if the Department for Education and Skills is so insistent that racism is the problem, then will anybody in the department resign over this (since they have obviously not been doing their oversight work properly)?

These days boys (all boys, both black and non-black) do worse than girls on average in school. So let's just take the logic to its natural conclusion and say that schools are "unwittingly" sexist. If England spent less money on these useless consultants and more money on education we would all be better off.

Utrecht observations (permanent blog link)

Like Cambridge, Utrecht is flat and has dreary weather (well, the same is true of much of East Anglia from Cambridge up to the Wash, and of most of Holland).

Utrecht has over twice the population of Cambridge and so is larger in extent. Utrecht has much nicer buildings in the city centre, especially 19th century ones. Many of these buildings have been converted from commercial to residential use, whereas in Cambridge if anything these days the opposite happens.

Like the rest of Holland, Utrecht has a fantastic cycle network. They even seem to get priority over pedestrians. Indeed, in some places there is no alternative but for pedestrians to either cross the street or walk in a cycle lane and face getting run over by a cyclist. (The cyclists in Utrecht are just as lunatic as those in Cambridge.)

Utrecht University moved out to a new campus just beyond the edge of town in the 1970s. Around the same time Cambridge started to move some departments to the edge of town. But Utrecht University is on one site, whereas Cambridge has opted for two, West Cambridge and the Addenbrookes site, and most departments are still in the city proper. Utrecht and Cambridge both have a physics department in a dreary 1970s building clad in grey pebbledashing.

The railway station in Utrecht is in a sensible location, right next to the heart of the city. It has a thriving commercial area, a fairly typical mall, embedded right in the station. This is in stark contrast to the Cambridge railway station, which is not that near anything of interest, except housing for London commuters.

Holland seems to have a functioning train and road network. England seems to have neither. Of course no matter what country you are in, people will complain about the transport network, especially the train network, no matter how good it is. (What is it about train users that they think society should subsidise their lifestyle even more than it already does?)

Schipol airport is a marvel. You walk easily and seemlessly from the arrival terminal to the train station. Train fares from the airport are reasonable. The airport is well built and is clean. (The one really bad point about it is the almost complete lack of seating in the departure terminals.) The comparison with Heathrow could not be more black and white. (It will be a minor miracle if Terminal 5 works anywhere near as well as Schipol.)

Stansted is not too much worse than Schipol in terms of architecture, although of course it is much smaller so the comparison is not that fair. But Stansted is much worse than Schipol in practise ever since the bogus terrorism alerts started a year or two ago. At Stansted the security control freaks are really nasty about carry-on luggage. (One woman had two small A4-sized bags and they insisted she had to put one in the other to be allowed through.) And the queues on arrival at Stansted passport control are almost always overflowing. (The non-EU citizens normally have a better time of it these days because there are so many less of them.)

Date published: 2007/03/01

European Research Council is launched (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Europe has a new flagship agency to fund the brightest ideas in science.

The European Research Council (ERC) has been given a budget of 7.5bn euros (£5bn) to 2013, and will focus solely on fundamental, or "blue skies", study.

It is hoped the initiative can find the breakthrough thinking - and eventually new products and services - to keep the EU's economy globally competitive.
The Council is envisioned as an independent, quality-driven funding body run by the scientists themselves.

Its creators expect it to stoke competition, and, by extension, drive up the quality of all scientific endeavour within Europe.

"We have a collection of small scientific communities, and that means you have a tendency to select the best in small parts, rather than looking for what will survive in global competition," explains Professor Fotis Kafatos, the ERC's president.

"The ERC is about pooling our efforts so that all of Europe can be a big player. We want to be the best in the world, not just the best in the local neighbourhood."
And in what is seen as a bold move, the agency's Scientific Council has directed its first grant call not at established names but at emerging new talent.

In 2007, grants totalling 300m euros (£200m) will be handed to the most promising up-coming researchers. These are people who have not had a PhD longer than nine years.

For once a good idea from the EU. Of course only time will tell whether this will work in practise, in particular whether the selection process will be fair or corrupt. And of course only time will tell whether the ERC is good at picking enough winners versus losers.

Government scraps "good behaviour cards" for teenagers (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A plan to reward teenagers with "good behaviour cards" to spend on sport and leisure activities has been abandoned.

Under the scheme, young people in England were to have had credits of up to £25 a month to spend as they chose.

The Youth Opportunity Cards were launched by Chancellor Gordon Brown last March, as part of a plan to keep teenagers off the streets.

But ministers say a pilot scheme hit technological problems and revealed the costs would outweigh the benefits.

They spent £2m piloting the scheme with 10 local authorities but found it would not be cost-effective.

There was a need to develop new technology for it, which meant it would have been twice as expensive as planned.

How typical of the British government. The government blows a few million pounds on a scheme having done no proper cost analysis. We should only be thankful that they pulled the plug now rather than waste even more money trying to prove that their great idea was, well, great.

Lib Dems want to put a site for travellers in the poor parts of Cambridge (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Seven sites across Cambridge could house a controversial transit site for travellers.

Cambridge City Council officers have been investigating potential sites, most of which are within built-up residential areas.

The work follows an abandoned project in Cowley Road last year.

Proposals for a site where 10 caravans could stay for up to three months were opposed by several businesses and were eventually deemed unsuitable. The council is now searching for a new site.

Potential sites highlighted in the fresh study include land behind 24- 34 Whitehill Road, Abbey; land opposite 1-12 Headford Close, Abbey; a garage area in Hawkins Road, King's Hedges; garages adjacent to 30-36 Mortlock Avenue, East Chesterton; land between Malletts Road and Fulbourn Road, Cherry Hinton; garages off Fulbourn Road in Cherry Hinton and East Pit, Lime Kiln Hill, Cherry Hinton.
Coun Ian Nimmo-Smith, leader of Cambridge City Council, said:

"It is very likely that some of the sites will not progress beyond this stage as serious proposals for sites.

Indeed, it may be that none of the sites currently being looked at are considered suitable for further investigation.

"Inevitably we must consider sites in order to rule them out, and we are being open and honest about those we have had a preliminary look at so far.

"Identifying sites will always bring some degree of opposition.

We would want, therefore, to be very clear about which we want to investigate in more detail. We do not want to raise concerns about sites which we do not in the long run intend to bring forward.

"The need for a site is reinforced each year as the council and other landowners deal with unauthorised encampments in a wide variety of unsuitable sites, such as public open spaces, residential areas, park and ride sites and business parks.

"Finding a solution to the problems of illegal encampment caused by the lack of a site will therefore benefit everyone, not just gypsies and travellers, but the city as a whole."

Nimmo-Smith is either stupid or disingenuous. Using the royal "we", he says that "we do not want to raise concerns about sites which we do not in the long run intend to bring forward". But of course by announcing these seven potential sites he has already blighted the nearby areas and it would serve him right if the local residents sued him for loss of value. And it should also be noted that it is only the poor areas of Cambridge which are being suggested for these sites. Perhaps Nimmo-Smith should volunteer somewhere a bit closer to his house (on Chesterton Road). Even better, there is plenty of land in Newnham. Perhaps the rich people of Newnham, who make up most of the Cambridge ruling elite, should show some social solidarity and accept a big traveller site in their back yard. But the Lib Dems who lord over Cambridge are rich, and as ever they believe it is the ordinary people of Cambridge who should carry the can.

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