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The sun has got his hat on!

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Finally, the Pennine weather has changed and the sunshine’s arrived after a day of almost continuous (if febrile) snow showers. It’s still bloody cold mind, the weather forecast is telling me that it’s minus 2 outside and there’s still snow on the high ground – as this picture from our bedroom window and looking over Sowerby Bridge shows.

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Even so, it’s time to get the bike out, wrap up warm and continue my training for my charity cycle rise in India next month. Oh, that reminds me – here’s a link to my fundraising page. Please, make a donation and help me to help The Railway Children charity care for those less fortunate than ourselves.

Hopefully I’ll have time to blog about today’s training route when I get back – if I haven’t frozen solid by then!*

*Sorry, the blog’s half-written but I’ve so much to put in it I’m holding it over until tomorrow (Thursday)…

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Mytholmroyd. A suitable case for treatment.

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Passengers speeding through Mytholmroyd on non-stop Calder Valley service might notice the abandoned and boarded up station building on the Leeds bound platform and be could be forgiven for mistaking it as a small building of little consequence. If they saw it from the street below they’d be left with an entirely different impression, because there’s another two floors below platform level!

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The view of the station building rail travellers see. What they don’t realise is there’s two more floors below!

The grade 2 listed building was constructed in 1874 but it’s been derelict since the BR era. It’s a lucky survivor as cost-cutting BR had a policy of flattening as many redundant station building as possible. The interior is original, but in a very poor state. Despite this, the station friends group has spent over a decade trying to get the building resurrected, to be used by the community. Finally, after many years, their efforts are beginning to bear fruit.

Last night Dawn and I attended a meeting in the church next to the station with the friends group, local residents and the local train company – Arriva Northern. The meeting was to discuss a consultants report on possible uses for the building and hear about progress on bringing it back to life. Earlier that day Network Rail had arrived to begin work on making the building safe before beginning restoration. It looks like it could be a long job!

The friends group have been keen to see that whoever commercial activities take place in the building, they don’t abstract trade from existing businesses in the village. The consultants work took this on board and the discussions they had with the wider community reflected it. Their report came up with three options and the one which seems to have the greatest support is for the building to become a ‘landscape hub’ To quote from the report:

” This would involve the development of a range of uses working in a mutually supportive way, drawing on key aspects of the landscape offer and brand in the area to make the building an inspiring facility for both local people and visitors”

So, what would this mean in practice? There would be a mixture of tenants and uses that would include a restaurant/café, art studios for rent and a cycle/walking hub and gallery. Northern are committed to providing a new waiting room on the station and are looking at using part (but not all) of the top floor.

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At the meeting the consultants provided us with a breakdown of their work and the favoured options.

Needless to say, it’s early days yet and plans always have a habit of changing!  What’s not in doubt is that these are exciting times as the building’s finally returning to life after lying dormant for so many years. Now money is being made available through Network Rail, Northern and a £110,000 grant from the Railway Heritage Trust.

I’ll keep you posted on progress.

You can learn a lot more about the project from the groups weblog, which can be found here.

Trying to make things Ad up!

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Regular visitors will notice that advertisements have appeared here today. Since I started blogging in 2015 I’ve kept the site free of them, which means that I’ve paid for the site myself. What I’d like to do now is make the site self-sufficient and – if at all possible, make a small return from my ramblings and pictures. I can’t imagine I’ll pose a threat to any media empires but hey! –  we all have to earn a living and doing so would encourage me to write more often. So, If I could crave your indulgence dear reader, please feel free to click on an ad occasionally.

Many thanks,

Paul

When we have politicians like this, is it any wonder we’re in a mess?

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There’s an old saying that people get the politicians they deserve. If true, one has to wonder what we’ve done to deserve our rabid Brexit supporters because, as another old saying goes – karma’s a bitch!

Take the impossibly coiffured and relentless self-publicist Michael Fabricant, the MP for Lichfield as an example. In the recent Hs2 phase 2a bill second reading he opposed Hs2 on several grounds, one of which was  that it “fails to connect via HS2 Phase 1 with HS1, the Channel Tunnel and the European continent”

Really? This piss-poor excuse from a self confessed “ferocious Brexiteer” and fan of blue passports simply doesn’t wash because Brexit will help to make such a line even more uneconomic than it is now! The business case is already weak because we’re outside the Schengen agreement area for free movement so anyone who travels on the existing Eurostar service from St Pancras already has to go through passport control (and potentially, customs checks). If trains to Europe ran from Manchester or Leeds and stopped en-route, how many places would need border security outposts and customs checks – especially now as his Government are insisting that we are leaving the customs union as well as the single market? The logistics and costs of such an operation are already difficult, after the ‘hard’ Brexit Fabricant backs they’d be far worse.

How does an MP who insists we ‘take back control’ of our borders propose this will work? Of course the simple answer is – he hasn’t got a clue. Like most Brexit supporters he’s never stopped to think beyond the rhetoric and this, my friends is why this country is deeply, deeply screwed. The ideologues are in charge now and they don’t do detail – or common-sense. But they do a fantastic line in hypocrisy and delusion.

Hs2 to Crewe and Manchester. Where’s the opposition?

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It’s now the best part of a week since the Hs2 Phase 2a Hybrid Bill sailed past its 2nd reading in the House of Commons by 295 votes to 12. I’ve been crunching the numbers on the latest Stophs2 petition so I thought I’d take a look to see if this has galvanised opposition to Hs2 along the Manchester route. The answer is – anything but. Here’s a spreadsheet examining signatures to the petition allocated by constituency.  I’ve data going back to November but this snapshot goes back to a few days before the bill had its 2nd reading – along with totals for December and January.

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The first five constituencies on the list are on the Phase 2 a route and the numbers are lousy, the ‘best’ (Lichfield) has only just managed to get over a third of one percent. It’s slightly behind the overall best which is Tatton with a measly 0.35% of constituents. The petition’s doomed of course, but it does provide an interesting snapshot of feelings along the route and provides an indicator of where the ‘active’ Stophs2 action groups are. They’re few and far between – and nothing in the Greater Manchester area at all.

Here’s what passes for an active group – Mid Cheshire against Hs2 (link). Don’t bother clicking on the ‘events’ section of their website ‘cos there’s nothing there! It’s the same with their Facebook page. Googling them doesn’t reveal any activity either other than moaning to newspapers!

Meanwhile, what of the MPs along the route? Well, of the five phase 2a MPs, only two (Bill Cash & Michael Fabricant) voted against the Phase 2a bill, two abstained and one – Tamworth’s Christopher Pincher voted yes. The 13 MPs on the rest of the route abstained!

I’ll be monitoring the petition result to the bitter end in order to mine the data and judge the strength of the opposition to Hs2 but on current results it’s fair to say it’s ineffectual. The next data of interest will be the number of petitions posted on phase 2a. Unlike on phase 1 there’s no groups trying to canvas petitions or issuing templates for people to follow, so the results are likely to be very different. Of course, the template petitions were a waste of time as they were grouped together!

Now that the national anti Hs2 campaign’s collapsed, the local groups are increasingly isolated. Their ability to lobby MPs is both limited and ineffective as Hs2 continues to enjoy cross-party support and has the backing of most regional political and business leaders, especially in the metropolitan areas. I expect that support to grow as more and more Hs2 construction contracts are let and firms recruit staff and place orders for equipment.

2018 is going to be a very interesting year for Hs2 – if not for its opponents!

February blues

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Is it my imagination or has this been an unusually wet start to the year? I’m not a very good judge of this as, normally I’m never in the country in January! It’s the month Dawn and I take off to head to sunnier shores, but for a whole host of reasons we’ve stayed in the UK this time, which means I’m experiencing weather I wouldn’t normally see. Admittedly, living in the Pennines doesn’t exactly help as it’s not known for being the driest part of the country. It has its own microclimate where it can be pissing down here in the Calder valley but dry as a bone in the Colne valley only a few miles next door. Today’s a typical example. After a rare day of beautiful, invigorating sunshine I opened the bedroom blind to be confronted with low leaden clouds obscuring the valley tops opposite whilst isolated wispy puffs sit, sluggishly, over Sowerby Bridge below. It’s a monotone view that’s not helped by the last of Wednesdays snow clinging to the valley sides. Oh, for a palm-fringed beach right now!

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Not exactly the skies that inspired Turner – or Ashley Jackson!

I shouldn’t complain too much. In a month’s time I’ll be in India and dreary weather like this is a good excuse to stay in and catch up on all those chores that’ve been piling up. But first, coffee (and breakfast in bed for the missus)…

No bregrets?

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As the shambles that is Brexit stumbles on from one train crash to another, more and more evidence is emerging that the British people are starting to wake up to the fact that the promised Brexit unicorns don’t actually exist – and never will.

The latest evidence may come from the result of a local council election in Sunderland’s Pallion ward yesterday, where the Liberal Democrats took the seat from Labour with a very sizeable swing.

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Pallion is on the South bank of the River Wear and used to be known for its shipbuilding but the last yard closed in 1988. There’s still one yard which carries out ship repairs, but that’s all. Nowadays the Pallion’s a mixture of industrial estates and residential, bounded by a road ironically named European Way. It’s known as a very deprived ward with high unemployment. You can learn more about the ward from the ‘Britain Elects’ website.

Of course nowaday’s Sunderland’s known for its Nissan car plant rather than shipbuilding.

In the Brexit referendum Sunderland voted to leave the EU by 61% to 39% remain. UKIP had a strong presence in the area, even if they had no Councillors. In the 2014 local elections UKIP made their first appearance, putting up candidates in almost every ward. The election results left them in 2nd place in the vote after the Labour party  – including in Pallion. UKIP played on Sunderland’s shipbuilding past, pretending that they could somehow recreate those days.

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UKIP also came second in 2015 and 2016. But that was then. This is now…

The fact that the ‘will of the people’ was swinging against Brexit was picked up by the local paper as long ago as December 2016 when they ran a poll that demonstrated people had changed their minds (link). Of course, newspaper polls are notorious for their inaccuracy, most are little better than clickbait. But that’s what makes the Pallion ward vote so interesting as it’s a genuine expression of the democratic vote.  Pallion had the same Labour member since 1997, so for the Lib-Dems to go from last in 2014 , leapfrogging UKIP to snatch the seat is amazing. That UKIP are a car-crash nowadays doesn’t account for the massive swing to the Lib-Dems, as Labour and the Tories have lost vote share too. Could a factor be Brexit? Why did both former UKIP and Tory voters switch to the Lib-Dems?

Is anyone in Conservative Central Office or Labour headquarters listening? Both parties are seemingly hell-bent on pursuing Brexit, whatever the cost, but they would be foolish in the extreme to ignore results like this. This is the Brexit heartlands remember, so where’s their support gone? To the one party that’s made it absolutely clear it opposes Brexit!

I wonder how many more results like this we’ll be seeing as the Brexit shambles continues and the consequences can no longer be ignored or denied?

 

 

Home again…

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After a really enjoyable few days working in London I’m back in West Yorkshire and looking forward to resuming with my cycle training as well as catching up with a whole range of work related projects. I can’t believe we’re already in February as January seemed to pass in a flash. I’ve heard it said that this is part of getting older, as a child the six weeks school summer holidays seemed to last forever. Now, six weeks feels like the blink of an eye!

I’m determined to keep up the momentum on blogging as well as my other projects, so expect a variety of topics to crop up – including regular training updates and appeals for sponsorship (like this one!). In all seriousness, please donate, the money really will help those less fortunate than ourselves…

One thing I won’t be blogging about as much is the anti Hs2 campaign. Mainly because it’s pretty much ceased to exist. There’s no organisation anymore and the disparate groups left have no political clout – as the vote in Parliament on Tuesday demonstrated in spades. Instead I’m looking forward to blogging about the construction of Hs2.

Right now I’ve got a huge amount of pictures to edit, so it’s time to swap pen for Photoshop. Se you later…

 

 

The stop Hs2 campaign’s as dead as a Dodo.

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As expected, yesterday’s vote on the 2nd reading of the Hs2 Hybrid bill for phase 2a from the West Midlands to Crewe was (to put it mildly) a walkover. The bill passed with a crushing result of 295 Ayes and just 12 Noes. 12! Remember that 41 MPs voted against phase 1 of Hs2, which shows how much the anti campaign’s collapsed. Many of the usual suspects (Chery Gillan and Michael Fabricant being the most prominent) voted no but some familiar names abstained, including Labour’s Kelvin Hopkins, Barry Sheerman, Dennis Skinner and Kier Starmer. This was despite Sheerman speaking during the debate and saying how much he opposed Hs2 – but not enough to vote against it, which makes him as much use as a chocolate fireguard! What’s interesting is how all the usual Labour antis abstained this time but Sir Kevin Barron, the MP for Rother Valley voted (for the first time) against Hs2. This suggests to me that the Labour Party hierarchy gave him a free pass as his is the only constituency on the phase 2 route to Leeds that has any real opposition to Hs2. When I crunched the numbers this morning 1382 constituents had signed the Stop Hs2 petition. That’s still only 1.46% of course, but the nearest to it is Bolsover with a measly 0.43%!

In another twist, the antis favourite Tory leadership candidate (who was supposed to oppose Hs2), Jacob Rees Mogg actually voted for it! Not only Mogg did a volte face. So did seven other MPs from the 41 who’d voted against Phase 1. They were;

Steve Baker (High Wycombe)

Bob Blackman (Harrow Est)

Peter Bone (Wellingborough)

Chris Chope (Christchurch)

Mark Pawsey (Rugby)

Chris Pincher (Tamworth)

John Redwood (Wokingham)

What happened politically was the Labour party abstained, knowing full well the Tory’s had the numbers to carry the bill through with a large majority without them – although 13 Labour MPs (many of whom have held transport briefs) did support the bill. There were some interesting patterns too, all of the 13 MPs on the remaining Phase 2 route to Manchester abstained, as did 14 of the 22 on the phase 2 route to Leeds, whilst 6 voted yes and only 2 no.

Of course Stophs2 tried some desperate spin, whinging that over half of MPs were absent or abstained, but this ‘look over there’ tactic couldn’t hide the fact many of those abstaining were their suporters!

Worse was to come when it became evident that some MPs targeted by ‘action’ groups in Yorkshire & Derbyshire had voted to build the line. Broxtowe’s Anna Soubry and Erqewash’s Maggie Throup being examples! Whilst articulating their constituents concerns it was obvious neither MP was afraid of the tiny but noisy anti Hs2 ‘action’ groups in their constituencies. Both MPs know more constituents will benefit from the opportunities Hs2 will bring rather than suffer.

This leaves the Stop Hs2 campaign as dead as a dodo. Nationally, it’s disintegrated. Hs2 Action Alliance gave up years ago and the ‘Joe & Penny’ show (aka StopHs2) is a joke with Rukin increasingly absent. Essentially, it’s Penny whinging about Hs2 via the internet from her home in Bournemouth!

It’s obvious the local action groups attempts to frighten MPs into supporting them have either failed or backfired, which really does beg the question – what’s the point anymore?

Phase 2a is now a done deal. Nothing short of a miracle can stop its progress to Royal Assent despite the fantasy beliefs of of a few antis who don’t understand the Parliamentary process on Hybrid bills. What’s crystal clear is that cross party support for Hs2 is as stong as ever. Unless this breaks down…

The only lobbying of MPs is being done by the local ‘action’ groups but tactically they’re inept. In many cases ‘lobbying’ means trying to throw their non-existant weight around and blustering rather than admitting that they can’t stop Hs2 & focussing on discussing compensation and mitigation instead.

From some of the posturing and levels of denial I’ve seen on Twitter today it’s clear the penny hasn’t dropped with some antis yet. For some it never will. This presents the remaining ‘action’ groups with a problem. Either they ditch these people or the ship goes down with all hands. Will there now be an outbreak of common-sense on the phase 2 route to Leeds (the only one left with active groups)?

Whatever way, it’s obvious the national StopHs2 campaign exists in name only.

London calling…

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Despite having plenty to blog about the one thing I haven’t had is time. I’m 2/3 through my commission in private residential old people’s homes in North London and it’s absorbed nearly all my time, but here’s a quick update.

As expected, it’s been a fascinating couple of days. The staff at the two homes I’ve visited have been inspiring. The level of care and attention they give to residents (who all have different needs and levels of support) is bloody hard work. It’s not a job for the casual or the faint-hearted. I’ve also met some lovely residents and heard their stories. The whole experience has been uplifting  – if sometimes sad when you see the ravages of dementia on people who obviously shone before the onset of such a cruel disease.

I’ve also reacquainted myself with commuting across London by public transport. It’s not something have had to do for a long time. When I lived in North London but worked in the East my daily commute was by bicycle. It was the same when I did relief shifts on newspapers based at Canary Wharf. Once I turned to photography my commute was never normally to the same place more than two days in a row.

Since those days London’s population’s grown – as has the number of people commuting in. Today I was using Thameslink services from Herne Hill to Kentish Town & expecting that the new 8-car Siemens Class 700s might have provided a bit of breathing space compared to the Class 319s they’d replaced. Not a bit of it. The trains were rammed – despite all the extra space they provide. It was like being on the tube! It was the same with 12 car trains I saw passing through. Now, these trains are people movers. The 8 cars can carry 1146 and the 12’s take 1754 souls. If they’re already full it’s clear the full 24tph timetable through the Thameslink core can’t come soon enough…

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Despite the fact this thing’s a real people-mover and there’s several an hour, I had to flag the first two as I just couldn’t squeeze on. This was 3rd time lucky.