Friday, 29 April 2011

Do councillors or officers run town halls ?

I ask because I attended a Borough of Poole subcommittee last week - Transport Advisory Group (TAG). Turns out it was the last of any of the meetings before the May elections. I was the only member of the public present, and I had registered to speak. I actually wanted to contrast both of the items on their agenda, but spoke against their plans for a gyratory system approaching the new Poole Lifting Bridge - Twin Sails.

Incredibly, though they only have £150,000 identified for the scheme, and the cost will be over £1M, they waved it through for officers to design and advertise.

My objections were around the inconvenience to all users of the routes, the isolation and discontinuities in making journeys by foot or on bike, and that more forward thinking councils are taking gyratory systems out because they are such a barrier to access in the heart of the town.

I was listened to politely, then most of their debate was around the streetscape of a new link - Marston Link Road, where one councillor opined that she'd prefer Roses at the road-side rather than trees as in the design. I did get the opportunity to point out that in the face of climate change, generations to follow might well need the summertime shade. I also expressed great regret that they had ignored all my points on the wider scheme in favour of minutiae.

But when I relayed this to a friend he suggested perhaps that councillors were just unequipped to challenge the officers. As far as I could see, there should have been no point approving planning until a much higher proportion of the funding stream was secured in these straightened times. The officers want to start building in June, to complete as the new bridge becomes available. Rushing it through just before the election may have been a cynical move to get passed before more enquiring new Councillors challenge the fundamentals.

Which, if elected (as I am standing for Oakdale), I certainly will. And if not elected, I will object again, and regretfully reflect on the potentially unnecessary work undertaken in haste. But having raised problems with the bridge and its approaches a decade ago, no doubt I will still be ignored.

One has to try.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Dorchester - two gardens

In Poole, patches of land for growing food are a bit scarce, the garden has been going for 13 years, but several others are being considered.

20 miles to the west, a more rural location, Transition Town Dorchester have secured a decent parcel of land for a Community Farm, and asked for our help in erecting a Polytunnel on it. They came to us for some ideas, and reported that on their blog at  I haven't met up on site with them yet, but as I am sometimes working in Dorchester and Poundbury, I have been and taken a sneak preview of the site.

Two large ponds have been dug, fruit trees and soft fruit planted, a beehive was buzzing away, and 8 or so raised beds are being planted up. The post holes for the polytunnel are mostly dug. There is a hedge planted to shield the site from westerly winds (and to partly shield the new sheds being constructed beyond), There are established mature hedges on the Southern and Eastern boundaries. There is so much potential here, and the site is very much at the beginning.

And just up the path, behind the old Poundbury Middle Farm is an oval walled garden, laid out as incredibly neat, but small allotments. The grass was very clipped, and there was no sight of recycled contraptions to hold up the beans (and lots of imported bamboo rather than hazel beanpoles). But in the bright sunshine, it was a delightful spot to sit and eat my lunch and admire the many crops, which seemed very advanced in their cosy microclimate.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Tidal Power

Just how much extractable power is available off the Dorset coast, and how close are communities or companies to being able to exploit it ? A quick search seems to show that several are positioning themselves as having the technology, but not yet installed, and perhaps therefore some time away.

I know from sailing around here that the tidal heights are not enormous - the Solent/Isle of Wight and our mid-point in the Channel seems to conspire to create interesting flows, but a Department of Trade and Industry map shows the central section of the English Channel along with the Channel Islands, Anglesey, and a few other hotspots as quite favourite around our coast.  So this area is good is for peak flow and power rather than for height variation.
The image is on several websites (I'd copy it here but UK government is attrocious at allowing free use of publicaly funded data by citizens), but the following was interesting to cover the topic.

and I found the tidal atlas itself, after a bit of casting around, at

As for any development nowadays, there are various challenges to implement any scheme, creating hazards to navigation, issues around environmental or sealife impacts, and perhaps most fundamental, that the best power is not closest to areas of population and energy use.

Having seen various ancient tidal mills along our coastline, our forebears knew they could extract energy from the tide, without all the science or bother about impact on marine and bird life, but guess that is progress.

Definately one to watch.

Making Poole attractive to sailing visitors

As a kid it was a rare but special and somehow exotic thing to walk along Poole Quay, with the sailing boats 5 and 6 abreast bobbing alongside the wall. Looking for foreign flagged vessels, listenting into the conversations about weather and destinations. Sometimes bigger boats, often gaggles of small yachts.

But when the marina was built on the end of the Quay, any small craft were swept off the quay wall, and with them a lot of the character and unique visitor attraction for yachtsmen to Poole. Why does that matter ? Well, I had a conversation with someone from Swanwick on Southampton water. They moored next to us in Yarmouth, and were eating at the same restaraunt.

He said that Poole was no longer a 'draw', because it used to be an experience to be on the quay wall, but the secured marina could be anywhere. He said it was hard to feel welcome in Poole as a yachtsman. And when I look at the shops available to attract visitors in Poole near the Quay, the bottom of Poole high street could definately do with more provisions, art and diversity, which the extra passing trade could maybe bring. Surely the restaraunts, pubs, variety and interest of the quay would be reinvigorated just by returning the use to such visitors.

Is sailing sustainable ? Well, could certainly construct an argument for sailing (rather than motor) boats, but then I sail, so of course I would !

Wight outlook for local production

Travelling broadens the mind so they say. Just returning from a weekend sailing to Chichester and back, glorious weather. Woke early this morning for the return from Yarmouth, to the sounds of the first ferry of the day arriving from the mainland. Only traffic seemed to be 6 lorries, 3 big Sainsburys ones, and 3 smaller, 3663.

Yarmouth is a lovely little town, hardly unchanged in the 40 years I've known it since visiting as a small child, with a small grocers, an old fashioned newsagents, chandlers, several coffee shops, a deli and a couple of others. Yet the 'Sailors guide to Yarmouth' now had full page adverts on consecutive pages. One for Sainsburies, with 4 stores dotted across the Island, and the other for a Tescos Extra at Ryde, at the far end.

Of course the Isle of Wight has always depended on its links wth the mainland, and many goods have always been imported. It now seems though that the big supermarkets are muscling in even here, where the locally produced foods, the Isle of Wight garlic and other special local products may be even more subsumed by the megalithic traders.

The ferry of course makes this much more visible than the procession of lorries visiting every town across the land in the early morning, how are we to get locally self-resilient when such massive conveyor-belt technologies daily fill the supermarket shelves.

It must be extra-expensive for them to ship goods across the Solent, perhaps we just have to anticipate that the price of diesel, or taxes on the environmental costs per mile will eventually tip the balance in favour of local production. But will that be too late ?