Tuesday, 31 March 2015

And so it begins… the general election

The coming local and general elections on Thursday 7 May will be my first in Broxtowe and Beeston. I am not new to voting, having voted for the first time in 1966. In every general election I have voted Labour and will do so again. The same goes for local elections, except for one occasion in Harrow when, in the absence of a Labour candidate in a Greater London Council by-election, I joined some 5,000 others and voted Communist.

I have heard enough already to know that cynicism is rife and if this persists until election day, then UKIP, the cynics party, could garner enough votes to muddle the outcome both in Broxtowe and nationally. The Greens might even have a part to play as well, especially if ex-Liberal voters by-pass Labour. One thing is sure, at the end of it all there are going to be millions of dissatisfied voters, who will see their preferred party gain a decent percentage of the vote without the elected MPs they deserve.

This scenario could be turned on its head by a single event during the election campaign. I have no idea what, but just as Gordon Brown lost 2010 for Labour with a few choice words about one voter, it could happen again, or some last minute 'scandal' could toss millions of votes into the air.

Once general elections were much more clear cut, just two or three names on the ballot paper with no political description attached. Then you voted for the person, not the party (occasionally the former was true), and there were no official polling cards, just those delivered by the parties to their own supporters and collected in as voters left the polling stations. Now, the whole experience is marred. It is not just voters not trusting politicians, now many don't trust the system.

I will go on delivering for the Labour Party and helping on election day until the polling stations close at 10pm because I want Nick Palmer to win. My only other wish is that the Green Party candidate does not lose his deposit.

This is the first election in which I will be a deliberate tactical voter. Why? Simply, I want to see the Tory Party defeated and Nick Palmer promises not to be a party hack once he gets to Westminster and I want to believe him.

I suspect Nick will vote for continued austerity and yet more cuts, but I have never expected everything from any candidate I have voted for. I want Nick to be his own person first, as willing to confront voters in Broxtowe as well as Party whips in London.

I know one thing for sure, if enough non-Labour/Tory voters hold their nerve and vote for their first choice candidate, then they could distort a hundred outcomes across England in ways not even the cleverest pollsters will be able to predict.

My one message to Labour is hammer on about the damage two years of waiting for a European Union 'in-out' referendum in 2017 could do jobs across the country. Europe and immigration per se are not the enemy. It is the political elite and their corporate capitalist masters who seek to accrue as much power and wealth as they can at our expense, and we collude with them by voting for their political candidates and parties (which includes UKIP).

Without doubt this is toughest election to call since I first voted in 1966 and I suspect the result will change political attitudes forever. Mine included. England post-7 May will be a different country. The future is too important to be left to a bankrupt political class. The Greeks, the Spanish and the Scots understand this. So can the English.

Today's 'Guardian' has a article about the Spanish movement 'Podemos' (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/31/podemos-revolution-radical-academics-changed-european-politics). Read it. I have long held the view that scratch a Tory and a fascist bleeds; that Liberals are amoral and opportunists and that Labour has been betrayed by its leadership time and again and this has fed the cynicism which fuels UKIP. The Left badly needs a populist movement able to challenge the political elite and their corporate capitalist allies. Maybe the Green Party will become the catalyst for change we so badly need.

For now I wish Nick Palmer well and look forward to Labour getting an outright majority on Broxtowe Borough Council. Perhaps they will become part of the revolution we so badly need. I hope so.

I don't intend to say any more about the general election until it is over. I will come home at 10pm on 7 May and collapse in front of the television, where I am likely to stay until breakfast. This time it may be all day, as even the last two or three seats declaring on the Friday afternoon could decide which party gets to lead the next government.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Chilwell Creative Corner Writers' Group take a first step

Last night seven people met in the Fusion Café for the first time. It was the first meeting of the Chilwell Creative Corner Writers' Group. Only two knew one another before. The two hours passed quickly and ended with those present agreeing to go away and write a short story about 'an animal' before they meet again on Wednesday 29 April at 7pm in the Fusion Café.

Thanks to AJ, the owner of Fusion, the new group has free use of the café for its first three meetings. After that the Group will pay £30. With seven that works out at just over £4 each — which isn't costly when compared to other writing group charges.

I organised the meeting, encouraged by AJ and Gary from the Mish Mash Gallery next door and my aim was to have at least six of us after the final free meeting on Wednesday 20 May, so start from cold with seven was quite an achievement.

Those present came for a variety of reasons, one had yet to pen a word, but left hopefully inspired to begin. If the person writes as well as the way they engaged those listening, then we are all in for a treat. Perhaps the mood was best caught by the person who said 'I want to be comfortable but challenged'.

AJ was on hand to serve tea and coffee, soft drinks too.

The 'homework' is voluntary and set because some wanted to leave with a challenge and came from an account of short story on Radio 4 about a fox.

Opposite is my completed 'homework', written this morning. I attended my first ever creative writing class at Beeston WEA in January 2011 and attended until the end of 2013, then again in the autumn of 2014, but this is the first time I ever written about an animal, so I already have something to thank the new Chilwell Creative Corner Writers' Group for.

Called 'A mouse of letters' and 1,315 words long, I hope you enjoy. I have published it to encourage the others.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Will Beeston councillors be the architects of their own demise?

Just over two weeks ago (25 February 2015) I posted a blog about the distribution and location of council tax exempt properties in Broxtowe Borough Council area (http://beestonweek.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/council-tax-exempt-student-properties.html). At the same time I posted a separate page of tables showing the properties street by street across the Borough (which you can still see in the column to the right of this text).

I said that I would return to the topic. I have already said that local councillors and the Council are in danger of 'sleepwalking' into a situation whereby they wake up one morning and find that they have lost the majority of Beeston's housing stock to student housing.

Having lived in Lenton for thirty-five years (1979–2014) and been actively involved in the local community I have, right now, a real sense of déjà vu. Already, a few local councillors have said to me 'There isn't a problem' or 'There is nothing we can do about it'. To be fair, some councillors recognise that there is a potential problem, but are unsure of how to address the problem.

As at February 2015, there are 519 council tax exempt properties with Beeston addresses and 'To let' signs are becoming permanent fixtures around the town, as witnessed by the four signs I photographed on Broadgate this morning.

For now I just want to say a quick word about houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). Only 55 of the 519 council tax exempt properties in Beeston are HMOs, which seems a very low number. There is a myth in the minds of local councillors, seemingly given substance by council officers, that for a house to be a HMO it has to have at least five unrelated occupants and cover at least three floors. Not so. Nottingham requires all properties with three or more unrelated occupants to be registered as HMOs and Broxtowe Borough Council could do the same. It is a topic I intend to write about in a future post. Just click on the following link to learn more about HMOs in Nottingham.

There are now numerous studies about the student housing market in and around Nottingham, including Beeston. Here is a link to a UNIPOL report from 2008 at: www.unipol.leeds.ac.uk/nottingham/IFS/accomodation_choices.asp.

The uncontrolled growth of student properties in Lenton spawned the Nottingham Action Group, better known to many as 'NAG'. It was much more vocal and single-minded than the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum, which was founded in 1996 by local individuals and groups to try and address local concerns about a wide range of issues, including the growth of students lets. I was one of the founders and the Forum's first Chair, later doing a second stint. Our 'softly softly' approach, trying to reason with Nottingham City Council and Nottingham University did not work and with the arrival of NAG, who took a far tougher line, the city council was slowly beaten into submission. NAG's strident approach was not one I was happy with, but they were, eventually, successful, but by then it was too late. Lenton was as good as lost. A few of us hung on in the hope that things could be turned around. In the end, Susan and I made the painful decision to leave Lenton and find a smaller house in Beeston. It took thirteen months and was a traumatic experience.

If Beeston's councillors and Broxtowe Borough Council continue to be complacent about the impact student housing is having they will be the architects of their own demise.

It probably won't be an issue in this year's Borough election, but in 2019, in the absence of action to address the problem, it will be an issue. It might though be an issue in the 2017 Nottinghamshire County Councl election.

You may wonder why the photograph of the Humber Road street sign? The answer is that 43% of the properties on the road are already council tax exempt. Other roads are running it close, as you can discover for yourself from my street by street list opposite.

Landlords and students like to cluster together and as they take over a street, so the families and older residents begin to sell up and move out, happy to sell to the next private landlord who wants a slice of the action.

My map starkly shows the streets in Beeston already lost or in the process of being taken over. The Beeston Fields Estate is prime territory for student housing. Many of the houses have large back gardens making it easy for houses to be extended and the number of rooms increased.

Students will impact on local shops and it is easy to imagine a '30 week economy' developing. For the best part of 20 weeks every year the houses stand empty and this change the nature of Beeston shops and shopping. Compared to what is happening to Beeston's housing stock right now, the tram only acts as a diversion.

I believe in 'balanced communities', made up of all kinds of folk. Too many councillors and the Borough Council mouth the phrase with little intent — they see it as something they have to say, but if old folk want to live in their own urban villages and the rich in gated communities, then so be it. If and when you adopt this attitude, it is easy to surrender streets to private landlords.

Again if you doubt me, walk up and down Beeston High Road looking in estate agents' windows and you will find plenty of properties for sale, described as a 'investment opportunity'.

For my part, I believe housing too important not to managed in the interests of local communities and I see no place for private landlords whatsoever. I am in favour of municipal housing, managed and controlled by local councils. The growth of housing associations can be linked with the demise of council housing across England and these 'not-for-profit' housing companies, often based many miles away, are a poor substitute.

I spent twenty-one years as a manager of charitable housing, first in the Midlands, then nationally. In truth, my work involved offering second-best solutions to very local problems, which local councils could have managed better had they not been stripped of their housing stocks and budgets by Thatcher and it is to Labour's shame they did nothing during their thirteen years in power to address the chronic housing shortage which has existed in England for decades.

Even when they had the opportunity to pour billions into housing after the 2008 crash (and saving jobs and empowering local authorities in the process), Brown and Darling chose to give the money to the banks instead.

What is happening in Beeston right now is part of the same mindset. The evidence is there for all to see.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Beeston transport connections direct and the disappearing bus routes

Earlier versions of the map below first appeared on my old parkviews blog in 2013 and it has always had its own page (see roundel in right-hand column).

More information about all the the places of interest I have marked on the map can easily be found on the web. If you know of any I have missed please tell me and I will add them. It has been designed so that it can be printed A4 landscape in mono or colour. To see a larger version simply click on the map.

It is the only map of its kind insomuch as it shows all bus services running to and from Beeston (there is one new County Council subsidised daytime service missing, which I will add later).

Promoting Beeston is a two-way street. It is a hub as well as a destination. From Beeston you can reach all manner of places and if you add Beeston railway station to the mix, then the list expands ten-fold. When I have the time I will add all the places served by train direct from Beeston.

Promoting Beeston is not helped when local bus services disappear from bus maps. This is the Beeston section of Nottingham City Transport's latest Journey Planner dated February 2015.

NCT presently operate the L10 and L11 'Local Link' services from Nottingham City Council…

…and here is an L10 climbing out of Beeston along Wollaton Road towards Derby Road on the north side of the town centre. Since moving to Beeston this has become a bus I use regularly to take me to Nottingham city centre. It runs every hour Monday–Saturday, except evenings.

Now look at the NCT map section above and notice that it shows no L10 or L11 (which runs along Wollaton Road and Dennis Avenue) even though the services are operated by NCT. The map has a information panel on the back headed 'What's New' which explains why all the NCT Local Link services have disappeared from the map. It reads:

Link Bus services are no longer shown on this map (because) of ticketing changes which prevent the use of any NCT tickets or Easyrider passes being used'.

Now the crazy thing is that Nottingham City Council own NCT and subsidise the operation of Local Link bus routes. In fact they actually have a second fleet of buses operated by Nottingham Community Transport which now operate many of the Local Link routes.


This problem has been with us since bus de-regulation by the Thatcher government in the id-1980s and the last Labour government (1997–2010) did nothing to change the situation. They just continued doing what Thatcher started.

So there you have it — Beeston bus routes which do not appear on a bus map published by the company which operates the services, which are subsidised by the council which own the bus company operating the services.

It's a crazy situation which has needed attention for years. I intend to use the coming general election as an opportunity to ask all the prospective candidates to explain why they support this state of affairs or to say what they intend to do about it if they become the next Member of Parliament for Broxtowe.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The coming transport war in Beeston

My title may be a little misleading. Perhaps the war between buses and the tram in Beeston has already begun. Within the next few weeks the first trams may be weaving their way through Beeston, albeit at night and with a police escort. Then they will appear during the day, until we reach the point where, all tests and safety checks completed, they are ready to carry their first passengers.

Then we will all clamber aboard and enjoy the thrill and comfort of gliding along Beeston streets and going into the city along a route which offers new vistas. I will be there with thousands of others and I, like many, am excited by the thought of that first ride into the city centre. There will be others, and at times it will be very convenient, especially if and when I have to visit the QMC Treatment Centre, but most of the time I will continue to use Beeston buses.

To use a phrase I first used in 2013, buses have 'more stops than the tram' and, assuming the Toton Lane park & ride car park is as successful as others along the line of the tram, seats will be few by the time it reaches Beeston and it will be the same in the opposite direction coming from the city centre. This fact alone will prompt many to stay with the buses.

We should remember that the tram has been running through Bulwell for over ten years and local bus routes to and from the city centre continue to run frequently every day of the week. The tram has not flattened the competition. I can even go to Hucknall on a Trent-Barton bus every day and, what's more, in drops me off in the town's Market Square.

By the time many of the first Beeston tram users add on the extra distance they will walk to reach a tram stop and then the extra distance they will walk when they get off, combined with the fact that they may have to stand all the way, they will return to travelling by bus.

The tram will take 20 minutes to travel between Beeston and Nottingham railway station and another 7 minutes to the Theatre Royal. Even on present bus timetables, a 36 or a Y36 will take about 23 minutes for the same journey — in other words the bus will remain just as quick and, if the Toton Lane car park is as successful as others, traffic along the Derby Road should reduce (for a while at least). In other words the bus will remain as convenient for many with the added bonus of having a seat.

Back in the days when the tram was first mooted I argued for a trolleybus network instead (for the same money we could have had a network four times as large), but the then Leader of the City Council, who was a great tram champion said 'Bob, trams are sexy' adding that all surveys showed that more motorists would give up their car to ride on a tram than a bus.

In the event, as much as I love trolleybuses, I was wrong. Trolleybuses are history. They have been overtaken by modern bus technology, not just electric battery buses, but induction systems and 'hybrid' buses using a mix of advanced power technologies.

On street trams in Nottingham will eventually go the same way as trolleybuses and earlier tram systems. Maintenance and replacement costs will be the reason why, along with changing transport technology. Add to this how the tram system is brought to a standstill every time there is an accident or a technical problem and the fact that it is the bus which comes to the rescue and you do not have to be clever to see what fate has in store for the tram. It might be twenty years away, but it will happen!

10-15 years from now we will have driverless cars and buses which can compete with the tram for smoothness of ride and comfort. In Poland, this is beginning to happen (see Buses magazine, March 2015) and the tram may actually make it easier to bring back 'bendy-buses' (remember them). Add to this improved road surfaces and we will soon have streets along which buses will glide as easily as any tram.

The tram and bus in Beeston will soon be at war because they are in commercial competition with one another. Of course the tram will take passengers and money away from the buses, at first, but there will be new opportunities. For the moment Nottingham City Transport and Your Bus are holding their fire and as for Trent-Barton we will have to see what strategy their parent company, Wellglade, have because they also own a stake in the tram.

For my part, I will continue to catch a little L10 on Wollaton Road to the Victoria Centre. It takes 8 minutes longer than a bus from Beeston Bus Station, but it is just a minute from my front door whilst it takes me 10 minutes to walk to the Bus Station.

Many other Beeston residents will be doing the same as me and, perhaps, just perhaps, we will soon have a bus along Wollaton Road and Dennis Avenue which goes along Derby Road to the QMC and city centre, just like the old NCT No.11 (which used to run onto St Anns). The increasing number of students living in the area may help (see my last post).

As for Beeston town centre, I think there has been a lot of hype to date and in a future post I will explain why.