Archive for January 10, 2012

“The capital cost at 2011 prices of building the complete Y network is £32.7 billion. At present values, it will generate benefits of up to £47 billion and fare revenues of up to £34 billion over a 60-year period.”
Justine Greening, 10 January 2012

The background

The first phase of the “most significant transport infrastructure project since the building of the motorways” got the go-ahead today.

The Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, has given the green light to the London to Birmingham section of the High Speed Two (HS2) rail network, which could now be up and running by 2026.

By 2033, the “Y network” stretching further north to Manchester and Leeds ought to be in operation, potentially slashing the journey from London to Edinburgh to three-and-a-half hours.

The news has revived a long-running argument over the cost-effectiveness of the project. The government is sticking to optimistic projections of future economic benefits despite widespread scepticism from HS2′s many opponents.

The analysis

On the same day Ms Greening announced the launch of HS2, the Department for Transport (Dft) published a revised cost-benefit analysis setting out the government’s whole case for the supposed economic benefits of the project.

It’s a document central to the government’s case, so it’s disturbing to find that the numbers contained in it do not match the figures that the government are trumpeting.

In a written ministerial statement, Ms Greening said: “The capital cost at 2011 prices of building the complete Y network is £32.7 billion. At present values, it will generate benefits of up to £47bn and fare revenues of up to £34bn over a 60-year period.”

The first problem with this is that the minister is not comparing like with like. Comparing the 2011 cost with the 2012 benefit of course makes the gap seem wider, as last year’s prices are slightly lower than this year’s.

The next problem is that these aren’t all the costs of HS2. Ms Greening has included the presumed additional revenue from operating the new line without adding the operating costs, like paying the people who will collect the fares. These costs add another £21.7bn to the bill for the taxpayer.

So a more honest comparison would be between the total projected cost of building and running HS2 of £58.1 billion and overall benefits of £73.2bn to £80.9bn.

To these (supposedly) quantifiable benefits – based on fares and increased productivity due to quicker journey times for workers – the DfT adds “wider economic impacts”, such as the positive long-term effects of better transport links between firms in the same sector.

These benefits, the department says, are “harder to quantify to value”, but it has had a go anyway, coming up with a figure of £5.7bn to £12.3bn. If these notional benefits ever come to pass, it means the taxpayer will recoup between £1.80 and £2.50 for every £1 spent on HS2.

Without the “wider economic impacts”, the supposed benefit is a less impressive £1.60 to £1.90 for every £1 spent.

The last and biggest problem is that, even if we go with the 2011 capital cost, the figure given in the study is not the one Ms Greening quotes – £32.7bn – but £34.6bn. The updated figure for 2012 is £36.4bn, about £3.7bn more than the sum the minister mentions.

Not a vast difference in cash, perhaps (although it’s all relative – £3.7bn would employ more than 100,000 nurses) but a bit of a blow to the credibility of the cost/benefit analysis.

We asked the Department of Transport who had got it wrong: the minister or the number-crunchers?

A spokesman was not immediately able to offer a full explanation, but insisted the lower figure is the correct one.

Logically, that casts doubt over the robustness of the numbers quoted in the cost/benefit analysis, but we await a proper answer.

Even leaving these unanswered questions about the details of the government’s analysis aside, many HS2 critics have cast doubt on the whole methodology behind the study.

The Adam Smith Institute points out that passenger numbers have been over-forecasted in previous rail projects like the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

Another pro-free market think-tank, the Institute for Economic Affairs, says civil servants have failed to take into account “planning blight” – the effect on house prices and growth in the corridor of land along the route, the IEA says.

And the HS2 study assumes that cutting travel time is good for productivity because time spent on a train is wasted time for business travellers, whereas many people can in fact now happily beaver away using WiFi computers and mobiles during long commutes.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research, which claims  to be unbiased, says there is enough capacity in the existing rail network, and says the cost to the taxpayer has been underestimated. For every pound spent, the state will only get 50p back, the think-tank gloomily concludes.

The verdict

All critics agree that economic forecasts that stretch 60 years into the future are very unlikely to be accurate.

The government’s projections of the benefits are based on future ticket prices, demand, economic activity and how the railway line’s competitors are likely to respond. 

If any one of these variable changes significantly over the next few decades – and it seems inconceivable that none of them will – that will throw the assumptions completely out of whack.

We’re not saying that HS2 is definitely a bad idea, but we are saying that assumptions made now about the UK economy and transport network 60 years from now are very unlikely to be accurate.

A more immediate problem is the fact that, on the day it announced the biggest infrastructure project for generations, the DfT released two different figures for how much it will cost, and is currently unable to offer an explanation why.

For that reason, Ms Greening’s assessment of economic pros and cons of HS2 are going to stay at the Fiction end of the FactCheck-ometer.

Two men have received suspended jail sentences for stealing lead from the roof of Redditch’s Winyates Centre.

Jon Taroni, aged 47, and Scott Harrison, aged 31, both of the Winyates Centre, admitted theft.

Taroni admitted one charge relating to the early hours of 9th December and was given an eight-week prison sentence suspended for 12 months, a 12-month supervision order, and ordered to attend an alcohol rehabilitation course.

Harrison admitted two charges, one relating to the early hours of 9th December and the other to another theft of lead from the Winyates Centre overnight between 26th and 27th November, and was given a 12 week sentence suspended for one year, a 12-month supervision order and ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work.

Both men were also given fines of £51.

The men were arrested after police, alerted by a call from a member of the public, caught them on the canopy roof of the centre at around 2am on 9th December.

Sergeant Neil Billingham said: “Thanks to a call from a member of the public, they were caught in the act of stripping lead flashing.

“With excellent partnership working between West Mercia Police and Redditch Borough Council’s Anti Social Behaviour Team, and the use of a new CCTV system which enabled us to identify the men, they were charged on the same day.

“Winyates is an area of high need and a lot of money has been spent on improving it. Both defendants are local residents and it is disappointing they have committed this crime on their own doorstep.”

PC Paul Kennedy added: “Winyates is identified as an area of need, and criminal behaviour will not be tolerated.”

Redditch Borough Council’s portfolio holder for Community Safety, Councillor Juliet Brunner, said: “These convictions are a clear signal that criminal and anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated in Winyates or anywhere else, with police and council teams working together to take action against offenders. Justice has also been brought here as a result of local residents having the confidence to report criminal behaviour, supported by new security systems.

“CCTV footage from systems designed and implemented last year by the borough council’s Community Safety Team was instrumental in achieving these convictions.  The systems were paid-for by Redditch Partnership ‘Winning Winyates’ project and the council’s Housing Capital fund.  Winyates residents can be reassured that local agencies are investing in the safety and security of their neighbourhood.”

“The council will now be taking appropriate action against the tenants involved.”

Orion stations become Free

Orion Media

Midlands-based radio company Orion Media has announced it is rebranding four of its stations under one name, Free Radio, a move that will see four long established radio call signs disappear from the airwaves – Mercia, Wyvern, Beacon and BRMB – the latter has been broadcasting in Birmingham since 1974, being the first commercial radio station in England to broadcast outside London.

Orion is not the first radio company to reposition local stations that traditionally operated with different names under one brand, Global Radio being most prolific in this domain renaming most of its regional FM stations either Capital FM or Heart (indeed had Global not been forced to sell BRMB to then start-up Orion to get regulator approval for its 2007 purchase of GCap, the Birmingham station would almost certainly have now been operating as a Capital station).

The logic of such a rebranding – even if it means axing 35 year old radio brands – is that, as internet radio takes off, and as many of the barriers to market entry that have traditionally protected FM radio stations from new competition slip away, and as previously local radio stations start to have national and even international reach, it arguably becomes impractical to manage and maintain numerous different brand names, in Global’s case over 40.

As many of the local FMs have long shared music and programming policies, and in many cases actual programmes, why not have one brand name across the network of stations? Or so Global, GMG Radio and now Orion have asked (Bauer Media, UTV Radio and UKRD are in the main still maintaining local station names at the moment).

Confirming the name changing at Orion, the firm’s CEO Phil Riley told reporters: “The decision to change the name of our stations after each one has been broadcasting in their areas under their original names for so long has not been easy or one that we have taken lightly”.

He continued: “We have given this a great deal of consideration and undertaken detailed research. The original on air names of each station means a lot to all of us at Orion, and we know and understand the deep affection many people have for those names. However, the radio market has changed dramatically recently and we have to adapt and respond”.

Riley added that the name changes would not affect programming or music policies at the four stations, saying: “Although the names are changing, the commitment we have to provide the best mix of music and presenters along with local news, sport, weather and traffic remains our number one priority. Even when we are in network mode on Free Radio, we will be broadcasting from and ensuring the station serves only the needs of the region”.

‘Get on your bike’ and keep that new year resolution without breaking the bank

Worcestershire County Council is encouraging anyone with a ‘get fit’ promise for 2012 to get on their bikes to stick to their resolution all year round.

Cycling is an easy and convenient way to lose weight and keep healthy without the need to spend cash on gym fees or memberships. It can also be incorporated into routine daily life getting from A to B.

Residents don’t need to turn themselves into Mark Cavendish overnight to start to feel the benefits of taking to two wheels as just a regular cycling routine is enough to give people effective exercise to improve physical fitness. 

By getting on the bike and cycling at low intensities people of all ages can get a cardio workout without the body feeling strained afterwards. The body adapts quickly to the moderate exercise that cycling can provide and whilst cycling at a lower intensity exercise people burn a higher percentage of calories as body fat.

Hopping into the saddle is also ideal for anyone that doesn’t like running, jogging or walking as it’s much easier on joints.

The County Council’s dedicated website section at is packed with all the information new cyclists or those looking to jump on a bike and get pedaling again need to know.

Advice on journey planning – including downloadable route maps across Worcestershire, bike security and cycling with children can all be found online along with links to local shops, forums and the Bikeability scheme, which now includes one-to-one training for adults.

Ed Dursley, Worcestershire County Council’s Sustainable Schemes Manager, said: “Regular cycling is a brilliant way of helping regulate your weight and is also a very enjoyable way of travelling around. Walking is another great way of becoming more active and has always been popular here in Worcestershire with cycling becoming increasingly more popular.

Witches fear being driven out of Alcester following ‘hostility from Christians


The Pagan couple opened their shop The Whispering Witch in the quaint town of Alcester, Warwickshire, around 21months ago

It sounds like a horror story straight from medieval times.

Two witches descend on an ancient market town – only to be targeted by terrified Christians calling for them to be burned at the stake.

But for father-of-one Albion and his partner Raven, 39, this is no historical event – it is a modern nightmare.

Hostility: Witches Albion and Raven claim to have been subject to a hate campaign

The Pagan couple opened their shop the Whispering Witch in the quaint town of Alcester, Warwickshire, around 15 months ago and claim to have been subjected to a hate campaign ever since.

‘People shout ‘burn the witches’ as they go past and we’ve had others urinating up the window,’ said Albion, 51. 

‘I found a pile of wood stacked in front of the door one morning. 

‘We’ve also had letters quoting extracts from the Bible telling us not to ‘promote the work of darkness’ in ‘their town’. 

‘I can only assume this is the work of Christians. the handwriting looks as though it’s from an adult. It’s like living in the 16th century.’ 

The Pagan couple opened their shop the Whispering Witch in the quaint town of Alcester, Warwickshire, around 15 months ago

The pair, from Redditch, have been Pagans for years and no longer use their birth names, which they refuse to reveal.

‘Things have gotten so bad that Raven has been close to a nervous breakdown,’ Albion said.

‘When she walks down the street, people cross the road to avoid her.

‘She’s been to the doctor to get help, the stress is too much.

‘It does sound like the letters are from people attending the churches because of the references to the Bible. We’ve had four in total and each one has been in different handwriting. 

‘It seems their main aim is to oust us from the town because they disagree with our beliefs. there are references to the devil, but we don’t believe in that as it is a Christian concept.

‘It is pathetic and unbelievable. What we are suffering is racism from people with a 16th century mentality.

‘Paganism is a recognised religion and we are here to stay.’

As well as selling various items like cauldrons, crystals, herbs and wands in their spooky shop, the Pagan pair hold witchcraft courses, seances and ghost hunts.

Quaint Alcester: Albion said some people have shouted ‘burn the witches’ at them and people have even urinated up the window

‘People come and ask us for advice and sometimes they want to be put in touch with loved ones who have passed away,’ Albion said.

‘We can do that through our seances. sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t.’

The couple have even organised a Ghost Festival in September to try to boost tourism.

‘We want to support the town and make the festival a success,’ said Albion. ‘It’s something that could really put Alcester on the map.’

The couple have not yet reported the incidents to police, but Christians in the town say they are aware of the bad feeling.

Reverend Alistair Aird, from Alcester Baptist Church, condemned those behind the attacks but added: ‘My impression is that people in the town don’t feel that this is the kind of thing they want in Alcester.

‘The murmurings are what I have picked up whilst walking around town from mothers, who have talked to me in the street.

‘I have not had any dealings with the owners and the business is entitled to set up wherever they want to.’

When asked about people shouting ‘burn the witch’, he added: ‘I have never heard of any of those things. However, if it is happening then it is wrong.

‘It would be disappointing to believe that Christians were behaving that way.’

Councillor Chris Gough, a former Mayor of Alcester and deacon at Alcester Baptist Church, added: ‘I’m aware that they are being frowned upon. Instinctively, it is not the sort of thing we want to see in the town.

‘As a church-goer, I think we probably feel strongly about anyone who puts themselves forward as a witch in any form.’

Hypocrites open local Tesco

Batchley Support Group and Redditch MP Karen Lumley both spoke out about Tesco opening a new store in the Batchley area of Redditch.

So why would they turn up for the grand opening of the store that they didn’t agree with. Karen perhaps turned up to have her picture in the Local Papers but i find it strange that Batchley Support Group would except a £500 donation from Tesco when they claimed it would ruin local shops and may even cause them to close.

Batchley Support Group is run by members of Redditch Labour Party and gets grants from lots of organisations including Redditch Borough Council and the National Lottery.

The Group made headlines last year after it sent Prisoners to decorate the house of Jacqui Smith.

The Group at first denied any links with Jacqui or the Labour Party but it emerged Jacqui and Mrs Muckle were close friends and signed Nomination papers for Jacqui to stand for Parliament.

 A trustee of Batchley Support Group stands in Local elections in Redditch for Labour and in the past was a Councillor.

This is what they both said in the Redditch Standard in June

THE ARRIVAL of a third Tesco store in the town could be the final nail in the coffin for family-owned businesses in Batchley according to residents.
Members of Batchley Support Group voiced their concerns after the supermarket giant confirmed it had agreed a deal for the derelict Brock Hill Pub in Willow Way.
But the group claim the Express store planned for the site threatens the future of individual shops in the district, which currently boasts a greengrocer, butcher and pharmacist.
Speaking to The Standard, campaigner Maureen Muckle said the news came as a shock as no consultation had taken place and branded the situation as outrageous.
“We have got a nice little run of shops and we don’t want to lose them. We’re always hearing there’s a problem with there not being enough independent shops and we’ve actually got them down here.
“It’s a very sensitive area with Pitcheroak School, youngsters walking back and forth to Batchley First and Birchensale Middle Schools and St David’s and Queen’s Cottages sheltered housing and it’s very worrying that a huge amount of new traffic will be brought to the area.
“I just wonder why Tesco feel they’ve got to move in without any consultation. This is about a community, that is the main thing,” she added.
Redditch MP Karen Lumley said: “I’m extremely disappointed we are in a situation where the local community where I live and the shops I use are going to be placed under threat.
“I think it’s a situation we need to look at possibly as a Government that Tesco and other people are buying up disused pubs on a technicality.
We are losing the local community and that has got to be bad news for people in the area.”

But a few months later they have a change of heart and fall over themselves to appear in local papers even cutting the ribbon to open the store.

A NEW Redditch store has celebrated its launch with a donation to the Batchley Support Group.

Pattie Hill, group trustee, and Redditch MP Karen Lumley, were guests of honour when the new Tesco Express store on Willow Way recently opened.

As well as cutting a ribbon to declare the store officially open, store manager Roger Perry presented the group with £500.

Mrs Hill said: “I would like to thank Roger and his team for this generous donation, without funds like this we would struggle to provide vital services to the community.”

The Batchley Support Group aims to empower local people by helping them get involved in community activities, promoting regeneration and campaign on local issues.

Mr Perry said: “We are delighted to be able to support the group as it does fantastic work with the people in the Redditch community.

“We’re so pleased that Pattie and Karen could come to help us to celebrate the launch of our new store.”

He added: “My team and I are really enjoying welcoming our customers into the new store and we hope that Tesco will become a key part of the local community.”

It’s not known if the store has made any other donations