Azara Blog: April 2012 archive complete

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Date published: 2012/04/24

Castle and Victora Road Conservation Area (permanent blog link)

Apparently Cambridge City Council has an obligation to review Conservation Areas now and again. Surprise, the only outcome of such reviews is to extend the Conservation Areas further and further outwards from the city centre. The current algorithm seems to be that any neighbourhood that is, to a large extent, Victorian or Edwardian or older, is placed in a Conservation Area. It is good for the middle class bureaucrats with dubious aesthetic taste who like to determine what people can and cannot do with their property. It is not good for anyone else.

The latest Cambridge City Council proposal for a Conservation Area is for the Castle and Victoria Road area.

Of course it includes Victorian / Edwardian terraces. The boundary stops just at 1930s housing. There is no reason for this other than snobbery. Needless to say, over the next twenty years they will start forcing areas with 1930s housing into Conservation Areas.

There are a few oddities. As part of the general snobbery they say the following about the perfectly reasonable Peter Maitland Court at the corner of Victoria Road and Garden Walk: "the red brick, three-storey Peter Maitland Court detracts, its scale emphasised by the colour of the brick". Well, that's a convincing argument. In fact it was designed by Bland, Brown and Cole whose work is pretty good on the whole, including here.

On Benson Street there is a 2010 building containing two flats for Murray Edwards College, designed by AC Architects Cambridge. The report here says: "it is assertively modern and uses a cream brick, but it has lead sheet roof and its scale is modest - one and a half storey to the road - and it fits in well". But this is exactly the kind of building that could easily have trouble getting planning permission in future in such a Conservation Area. And presumably the only reason it is deemed good is because it is so new. Give it another twenty years (like Peter Maitland Court now) and no doubt the conservationists of the day will complain about it.

Of course industrial buildings also get slated, because we can't possibly have industrial buildings in Cambridge, e.g.: "Unfortunately the rear view of the Tyre Depot on Histon Road is unattractive."

Unbelievably they want to make the southern end of Histon Road part of the Conservation Area. And yet they themselves admit it is in effect a dump, and in particular the view up the road "detracts".

BBC publishes renewable energy propaganda (permanent blog link)

Richard Black in the BBC says:

More Britons than not regard subsidies for wind power development as a good deal, an opinion poll suggests.

Commissioned by trade body RenewableUK, the Ipsos-Mori poll found that 43% see the UK subsidy as good value for money against 18% who do not.

Another survey has also found a big majority in favour of renewable energy.

What a surprise, a survey carried out by a special interest pressure group with a direct financial interest in the outcome just happens to support the views of the special interest. It is unbelievable that the BBC could report this with a straight face.

And if that was not bad enough, Richard Black had a second article the very same day, again blindly promoting a related special interest pressure group:

The renewable energy industry supports 110,000 jobs in the UK and could support 400,000 by 2020, a report says.

The Renewable Energy Association (REA) and consultants Innovas conclude that the industry is worth £12.5bn per year to the UK economy.

So-called renewable energy gets a fairly large subsidy in the UK (especially the ridiculously large subsidies that private households get for pretending to generate electricity in a sensible way). There could well be a large number of people working in this industry, courtesy of these large subsidies. That does not mean it is a good idea. The question is whether it is good value for money, and sufficiently productive in competition with alternatives. Very non-productive industries tend to use large amounts of labour. This is not a victory for the British economy.

It is unfortunate that the BBC continually publishes what in effect amounts to press releases for organisations that it happens to deem worthy, for whatever obscure reason, without any worthwhile analysis.

Politicians fall over themselves to throw money at the cycling lobby (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Election candidates in Cambridge are being urged to spell out their views on improving facilities for the city's army of cyclists.

Members of Cambridge Cycling Campaign have drawn up a set of questions for the hopefuls vying for seats in the city council's 14 wards.

Nearly 60 candidates have put their names forward for the election on Thursday, May 3.

A spokesman for the cycling campaign said: "We have sent a shortlist of questions to each candidate to find out what they think about improving provision for cycling in Cambridge and nearby.

"Their responses can be seen on our website when we have received them. Voters can then take these views into account alongside other issues of concern to them."

Among the questions posed is whether the candidates, if elected, would seek to reinstate a full-time cycling officer post on the city council, axed as part of council cutbacks.

They have also been asked to say if they support plans for the Chisholm Trail - a cycling and walking route that would link Cambridge Science Park to Addenbrooke's.

Tim Haire, standing for the Conservatives in Abbey ward, said: "Conservatives support more and better dedicated cycle parking facilities around the city.

"We would consider converting existing car parking facilities where necessary, but not as an anti-car measure.

"We support the Chisholm Trail as a fantastic way to improve the transport infrastructure of the city."

Labour's leader on the council, Lewis Herbert, said: "Our manifesto includes detailed cycling plans and reverses the Lib Dems' crazy decision to cut the city's full-time cycling officer to half time, which is damaging delivery of badly needed secure cycle parking at the station and city centre, and allowing planning applications with inadequate cycling provision.

One of the problems with elections is that every Tom, Dick and Harry Special Interest Pressure Group, like the CCC, crawls out of the woodwork and manages to get politicians to promise ever increasing amounts of money be spent on their special interest. After all, what is a politician to do, say "get in the queue with every other special interest pressure group begging for money" and lose votes from that group (and in this case, the group is an extremely vocal community in Cambridge). Or should a politician just cave in and promise the earth and expect (generally correctly) that nobody will notice that in the end someone else will have to pay for it all.

The Tory candidate is hilarious. He says "We would consider converting existing car parking facilities where necessary, but not as an anti-car measure." Well, that is an anti-car measure. Just because he says it is not does not mean it is not. Obviously the reason he wants to say this is that the Tories are just about the only political party that has some pretense not to hate drivers, and he is trying not to piss them off, even though what he is promoting will piss them off.

The Labour person is not much better. The city's cycling officer is one of the typical "non jobs" that have practically bankrupted the country. There is no reason for the city to have such a job at all. The city does not have a car officer, even though in Cambridge (in spite of the perpetual campaign of vilification waged by the CCC) there are more drivers than cyclists. This kind of job is a complete and utter waste of taxpayers' money. But Labour is very good at wasting public money.

Of course both Tories and Labour are happy to plug the Chisholm Trail. What is there not to like about that. It doesn't really impact drivers so nobody could possibly be against it. Except that it will cost a lot of money, which taxpayers will have to provide. Unfortunately politicians never bother to worry about costs or about whether such projects represent good value for money. (The Chisholm Trail might very well represent good value for money.)

Another report against cars and airplanes (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Road pollution is more than twice as deadly as traffic accidents, according to a study of UK air quality.

The analysis appears in Environmental Science and Technology, carried out by Steve Yim and Steven Barrett, pollution experts from MIT in Massachusetts.

They estimate that combustion exhausts across the UK cause nearly 5,000 premature deaths each year.

The pair also estimate that exhaust gases from aeroplanes cause a further 2,000 deaths annually.

By comparison, 2010 saw, 1,850 deaths due to road accidents recorded.

Overall, the study's findings are in line with an earlier report by the government's Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP), which found that air pollution in 2008 was responsible for about 29,000 deaths in the UK.

The new study arrives at a slightly lower annual figure of 19,000, a difference the lead author of the COMEAP study, Fintan Hurley, attributes to differing methodology.
The analysis identifies key improvements that would help reduce the health burden of air pollution.

Practical measures include the reduction of black carbon emitted in car exhausts - especially from older cars that fail to burn their fuel completely.

Reductions in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions would also help, though perhaps at a cost of making vehicles less efficient.

Far more effective, experts say, would be to invest in public transport, taking cars off the road altogether.

Such improvements would come at a cost, but so does continuing with business as usual.

"We estimate the premature deaths are costing the UK at least £6 billion a year," says Steven Barrett, "and perhaps as much as £60 billion."

For comparison, Crossrail is projected to cost £14.8 billion to build and expected to remove 15,000 car journeys during the morning peak.

It is fairly safe to say that the authors of the report do not like the internal combustion engine. With any technology in life there are of course upsides and downsides. The authors only report the downsides. They do not report how many lives are saved and improved because of the existence of cars and airplanes (and so much other modern technology), allowing the modern economy to function.

They are under the delusion that "investment in public transport" is somehow the golden saviour. It is not. It is very expensive and what that expense represents, when you look at the entire system and not just the small bit (the actual energy it takes to move the object in question) that public transport zealots like to focus on, is a huge consumption of energy, most of it indirect.

If you want to take their Crossrail numbers at face value, then they are saying they are willing to spend around one million pounds up front (14.8 billion divided by 15000) to remove one car journey during the rush hour. Of course that is not quite fair, since there are journeys not in the rush hour. And there are roads to build and maintain as well. Etc. But it is bizarre that they are willing to plug their favourite transport solution with such a poor illustration.

The comparison with deaths from road accidents is also misleading. People who die from accidents typically die long before they might otherwise have done. People who die from health problems are normally fairly old and even in an ideal world with zero pollution would not necessarily have many more years of life.

Date published: 2012/04/02

Yet more conservation areas in Cambridge (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

A conservation area in the centre of Cambridge could be extended.

More of the Castle and Victoria Road areas could be given increased protection from development if city council proposals are approved.

These would include the residential streets east of Huntingdon Road, the southern end of Histon Road, and Victoria Road south to Chesterton Lane.

Conservation area status means any new buildings must preserve or improve the environment.

It will soon be the case that any area of Cambridge that includes reasonable amounts of Victorian and Edwardian houses will be designated as a Conservation area. The city councillors always claim that the residents are the people clamouring for this designation. Apparently one result of Conservation area status is that (already ridiculous) house prices increase, presumably because there are plenty of people who like the idea that nothing can change in their neighbourhood without their say so. That is, until they decide that they themselves want to change something in their house, in which case they discover that allowing middle class busy bodies with little or no aesthetic taste to be able to determine what is and is not allowed is not a good idea.

The city council has a lengthy document (over 50 pages) about the proposed change. That document in itself probably cost a small fortune to produce, at the taxpayers' expense. The maps at the end are the most interesting aspect. You can see the snobbery writ large. For example, the conservation area on Garden Walk ends just where the 1930s housing starts. And the perfectly respectable Peter Maitland Court at the corner of Garden Walk and Victoria Road is deemed to be a building which "detracts", presumably because it is only twenty years old, and indeed the same negative opinion seems to be expressed about any significant post-war building.

Histon Road is a bit of a dump and yet the city wants to make the southern bit up to the cemetery part of the conservation area. But then they claim the view up the road "detracts", so evidently there is not much there that is really worth preserving at all cost. Many of the roads in the proposed conservation area are not much better.

Cambridge is allegedly a town with highly educated people. And yet ironically it is these highly educated, some would say overly educated, people who cannot seem to cope with change, and who therefore insist that everything in town be frozen in aspic. Cambridge could do with more people who have visions for the future and fewer people who have romanticised visions of the past.

Children are allegedly out of touch with Nature (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

UK children are losing contact with nature at a "dramatic" rate, and their health and education are suffering, a National Trust report says.

Traffic, the lure of video screens and parental anxieties are conspiring to keep children indoors, it says.

Evidence suggests the problem is worse in the UK than other parts of Europe, and may help explain poor UK rankings in childhood satisfaction surveys.

The trust is launching a consultation on tackling "nature deficit disorder".
The trust argues, as have other bodies in previous years, that the growing dissociation of children from the natural world and internment in the "cotton wool culture" of indoor parental guidance impairs their capacity to learn through experience.

It cites evidence showing that:

Yet British parents feel more pressure to provide gadgets for their children than in other European countries.

This article could have been written in 2002, 1992, 1982, 1972, 1962, etc., back to the beginning of human history. It is just old people in one generation looking back to an alleged golden age when kids were kids and life was perfect. The National Trust is run by and represents people who cannot cope with the 20th century, never mind the 21st, so it is not very surprising that they in particular publish this kind of rubbish. For example, with their "evidence", in the first two points you could substitute any other activity (music, learning to cook, etc.) and come to the same conclusion. It is not Nature that is helping, it is the extra attention. And the third point is just bizarre. So if you want to believe the National Trust, children are allegedly just dying to go outdoors but their parents are foisting video games onto them. The National Trust has no clue about children.

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