Friday 31 December 2010

Marian Langton

It was very sad to hear of the death of Marian Langton. She was a hard working Town Councillor and Mayor of Bracknell one year. I also worked with her as a governor at Garth Hill, where Marion's experience as a teacher was invaluable. Diane and myself would often see her in the Elms recreation ground, picking up bits of litter as she walked her dog. We remember one occasion when we rushed to the main road with her, only to see her "new" puppy hit by a car. The end we thought. The puppy picked itself up, shook itself and ran to Marion. Lesson learnt we thought! More in the  Bracknell Standard.We will miss Marion's wit and optimism.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Bird feeding

It was good to see a large flock of fieldfares feeding in the trees in the back garden. Pigeons have had a go at eating them before but usually end up falling out of the tree. We try to put out food for all the birds at this time of year, as it can get very difficult for them.
See the RSPB site.
Most years nothing appears to eat these berries, and I did wonder about pruning the trees back. Just a well that I saved energy and left them.

It is hard to see them in the video, as I did not want to frighten them by getting to close. I am also recovering from a nasty virus, and did NOT want to go out in the cold.
The shaking about of the branches that you can see is the birds jumping about and feeding. Sometimes they nearly fall off, just like the bigger birds,

I have blown up the picture here, but the bird is well camouflaged.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Excellent police work

10 out of 10 to the Bracknell police tonight, who managed to recover our stolen car while Diane was on the phone to them. Pretty good work!

Sunday 28 November 2010


Advent Sunday!
Now I feel that we are properly on the countdown to Christmas. (Some people tell me that it started at Easter).
As a child, a lot of events were tied to the church, but we now seem to live in a much more secular society.
Anyway, I can now start looking forward to Christmas, and feel less annoyed by the "adverts" for it.


It was very sad to hear of the death of Tom Agar. He could have had so much still to give. My wife Diane feels for the family (she knew them well) having lost her son when he was aged 29. Tom was a lot of what life and rugby is about, you give your all and enjoy it, and you will get there. Perhaps he has his rewards early?

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Bricks to clicks and town centres

I was looking back at a previous post about the changing shape of high street shopping.  "Bricks-and-clicks" integrates offline (bricks) and online (clicks) presences.
For example a store chain may allow a user to order products online, and the have the product ready pick up at a local store.
A store may have displays locally from which a customer can then order an item electronically for delivery to their home.
An article I read at the start of the month talked about how John Lewis could have spotted a gap in the retail market. Simon Russell, head of multi-channel sales for the partnership, thinks that improving the “click and collect” experience – that of customers who buy online but collect in-store – could be a big selling point for John Lewis, which has started to roll out collections to Waitrose stores and hopes to add further partners. Bracknell-based Waitrose is the food division of John Lewis.

Another retail website says that with 60% of phones sold today being smartphones, and more users likely to connect to the internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs within five years, retailers are rushing into m-commerce with alacrity. Apps have been big news.

One wonders whether Waitrose will be taking further advantage of these systems in Bracknell. 

Monday 1 November 2010

NAG and Garth Hill College

One of the subjects at the recent NAG in Priestwood was Garth hill College. The new entrance is providing some challenges.
Bracknell Forest Council is looking at this, and is coming up with some proposals to help alleviate the situation.
The Education Department are currently making arrangements for a School Crossing Patrol to operate here, and for road markings to highlight this.

Some parents are stopping their vehicles adjacent to the splitter island to drop their children off and then performing a ‘U’ turn around the island onto the Millennium Way. These stopped vehicles cause cars to queue on the Millennium Way. Altering the layout of the island, should stop people doing this.

Additional waiting restrictions could increase the number of vehicles using the Albert Road car park to safely drop their children off and decrease the congestion at the school entrance.

The next Neighbourhood Forum is on Wednesday 17 November 2010, 7.30pm, at the Priestwood Community Centre.

The November neighbourhood update for Priestwood from Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) Tony Mellish can be found HERE

One of his reports is that there will be patrols outside the local schools with parking wardens over the next month. This is because we are still getting problems with parents picking up their children up outside the school.

The latest College Bulletin contains a message to parents and pupils about road safety. It can be found HERE

26% Cuts or Opportunities?

There has been much speculation in the press recently about the amount of money to be available for council services next year.
The second paragraph of the latest Conservative In Touch reads:
"There's a lot of talk about cuts. The cold hard facts are that Labour has let us all down and we will all have to take some of the pain to put the country right. All political parties agree there has to be cuts, the only thing in doubt is where Labour and the local Lib Dems would start first."
It is not all bad news though.This could be a chance to redefine what local services should look like and where they should be targeted, as the government is promising local councils much greater powers to decide what is needed locally.

There is a response form with the In Touch newsletter that can be mailed to the Conservatives, of filled in on-line.
The In Touch newsletter will be delivered to all households in Bracknell Forest by a team of Conservative volunteers.
Look out for yours, or visit the website.

Bracknell Conservatives are looking forward to collating the results of the survey, so that the know what people are thinking.

Please read the newsletter and communicate your opinions.

Thursday 28 October 2010

The Internet is worth £100bn to the UK economy, more than 7% of national income, according to a report.
British consumers' willingness to shop online is powering the Internet's expansion, and has the biggest e-commerce market in the world when measured by the amount spent per capita.

The report also highlights the success of small firms in using the Internet to boost global sales. Online businesses have become so skilled at selling overseas that the UK now exports goods and services worth £2.80 for every £1 it imports. 

This is perhaps good news for the the economy, but one wonders about the knock on effect to the high street.
As I mused in 

Recent articles in the press have been about slow broadband speeds.
In the above article , I wonder how much time opening Outlook is down to the computer, and what is actually the broadband speed. For a lot of applications even half a Meg works well. For downloads and YouTube type things you ant something quicker. I have noticed that a lot of peoples internet homepages are full of junk. much better to have a blank page or set to something like google classic. Very often people on BT lines forget to put filters on other phone sockets, hobble their broadband speed, and get cut off when the phone rings.
But I do understand that people in rural areas do have problems with the distance from the exchange.

When I started the "Ask Alvin" business 5 years ago, almost everyone was on dial-up, and just moving on to Windows XP. Now most people are on broadband. A lot of people are sill using XP, but recently everyone appears to be moving to Windows 7, having skipped Vista.

Sunday 17 October 2010

New Garth Hill College

I was invited to a preview of the excellent new Garth hill College.
The central movement area is huge.

The IT classrooms are well equipped.

And there are some "Dual Purpose" rooms.

Linking corridors allow staff to monitor.

I will just let the pictures say the rest for the time being. 

Saturday 2 October 2010

Ale and Cider

I see that there is an article in the Bracknell News about Berkshire Pubs week. 

Branches of Camra are getting together to highlight the role that pubs play. The Berkshire South East Branch of Camra will hold an open evening from in the Priest’s Room at The Old Manor in Grenville Place, Bracknell.
This is all very good, but I am tying to cut down on this kind of stuff. (from a waist and monetary point of view  The price of beer has gone sky high. It is only places like the Old Manor that are generally affordable. There are other places that are reasonable, but let's hope that the current government sees that places where alcohol is regulated by licence are better for us all.
ANYWAY - Don't  miss the Steam fair at the 'Bottle. It has been going on for years-on-end. I used to Morris dance there more years ago that I care to remember.

I am hoping that with extend dog walking and more Gym  stuff that I will start to feel, and be fitter. The first session in the gym might have been a bit too easy. (Don't tell my trainer that) I think that we will start to up the excercice very quickly.

Great new today that the town Council got a Gold award in Bracknell in Bloom!

Oh dear - At least I had a good rest today - Tomorrow I think will be hectic.

Must try and blog more! Must try and get as fit as I was in the photo.

Thursday 30 September 2010

Blogging and stuff

I have been browsing other people blogs, and wondering how people have the time, energy, and that kind of stuff to be able to post every day. Perhaps I should try harder?

Today was taken up by some free computer help in the morning, a dash off to the council offices to sit on a committee for a licence hearing, a visit to the barbers, a run down to get some proper trainers for tomorrows gym, and then off to a customer in the evening. Lunch was a quick snack, and I was rather glad to get a pint in at The New Leathern Bottle (NLB) at about 8.45pm. Barney came with me in the car in the afternoon, and I also had to see that he got walked around a bit.

Thinking of the NLB, I have been meaning to blog about the excellent cider server there, and having found the list form the Castle Inn to add in my thoughts about the cider I tasted there. Tonight was a pint of Mild, as I had the car. Some of the cider is way too potent for driving after.

I mentioned the gym. The diabetic nurse thought that it might do me good to exercise a little more. I could only agree really. I used to feel much better when I was much fitter. The trouble is it is not easy to get fit when you don't feel fit

There was an interesting seminar given to councillors on Tuesday about the town centre. Lots of boring type stuff has still been going on in the background, but things are still inching ahead. We could be told nothing concrete, due to commercial confidentiality, but we were informed that there could be a major announcement in November, perhaps followed the month after by some cranes on the skyline of Bracknell. Still, at least the planning permission extension passed through the planning committee with no problem last week.

Tomorrow looks busy – Gym – sort car(s) out – customer – customer – Bracknell small business meeting. Barney will need walking as well. I think Diane has the day off, so perhaps she could do that.

Phew – At last I got some blogging done!

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Bracknell Business Club

The Bracknell Business Club is meeting at The Bull in Bracknell on Tuesday, August 17, at 6pm.
It is an opportunity to meet other small businesses, exchange ideas and network.
The people who attend make the meeting useful, but there is also much support from the Bracknell Forest Standard and Business in Berkshire. The idea was first brought to life by Richard Knight, vice-chairman of the East Berkshire Branch of the Federation of Small Businesses.

The event is held every 6 weeks and alternates between a Tuesday and a Thursday to allow more businesses to attend.

Local businesses are also local people - Consumers, and potential users of each others services.  Previous meetings have been attended by local small business champion Bob Wade, and Bracknell MP Dr Phillip Lee.
The club wants to encourage all parts of our community to work closer together – the council, BRP, businesses and the local people.

Sunday 1 August 2010

Nags, Police and Forums

The Local Neighbourhood Updates for August 2010 are available on the website.
Find it it

There is also information available from the council at: .

The the August neighbourhood update for Priestwood and Garth from Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) Wendy Wiley is available Here.

The next meeting of the Priestwood & Garth Neighbourhood Action Group will be held on Wednesday 20 October 2010, 6pm at Priestwood Community Centre. The Priestwood and Garth Neighbourhood Forum had been scheduled for Wednesday 17 November 2010 at 7.30pm at Priestwood Youth Centre.

Following are some notes on the latest Priestwood and Garth NAG meeting.

The subject of Police visibility was discussed. It was reported that Priestwood and Garth had a high number of police officers and that police presence in the area was good. Officers including; NSOs, PCSOs and Special Constables parole the neighbourhood on a daily basis. The Residents present at the NAG felt that the police visibility in the area was excellent and any feeling that it was inadequate must be perceived rather than real. It was therefore agreed that police visibility would no longer be a top priority action for the Priestwood and Garth NAG.

TVP have undertaken speed enforcement at various times and in various places. The last places targeted were the Binfield Road between 7am and 8am and the Wokingham Road between 8am  and 9am On the Binfield Road there were no vehicles exceeding the speed limit. On The Wokingham Road one vehicle was exceeding the limit by 5mph , and the driver  given road side education.
Due to the low level of recorded incidents of speeding the Thames Valley Roads Safety Partnership would not support any further speed enforcement in the area. It was agreed that there would always be individuals who exceeded the speed limit; however there was not a significant speeding issue in the neighbourhood. The NAG agreed that speeding would no longer be a top priority action for the Priestwood and Garth NAG.

It  as noted that the SID (Speed indicator Device) could still be used with volunteers in the community to promote speed awareness and alter residents perception of speed.

PCSOs have been attending the schools at pick up and drop off times to raise awareness of obstructive parking. Parking offences had been decriminalised which meant that TVP could only issue penalty tickets for cars which were parked obstructively. In order for TVP to issue a penalty notice obstruction needed to be sufficiently proved. Cars needed to allow enough room on the pavement for the use of a pushchair. TVP had been in contact with the organisation enforcing improper parking in car parks and on yellow lines in the area so that the issue of parking could be worked on in partnership.

There was a discussion about the new Garth Hill College development. The NAG were concerned that when the College opens in September that the number of students using the site will increase. It was agreed that the situation would need to be closely monitored to ensure that any parking/ drop off and pick up problems that did arise were addressed. The new waiting restrictions in Folders lane were discussed.

There was a report that vehicles are parking in Anders Corner very close the Wokingham Road junction which created a potential road safety hazard. It was suggested that they could park in the now unused section of Pollardrow Avenue.

In general the number of complaints about parking seems to have decreased.

There are still issues over the ownership of the Merryhill Road garages. Letters had been sent to all garage owners from BFH asking them if they would be willing to sell. It has been an aspiration of BFC / BFH to develop the site as a parking area since 2008. It was agreed that progress would be followed up and reported back to the NAG.

It was NSO Amy Tapping’s last NAG meeting as she was moving on from Thames Valley Police.
PCSO Wendy Wiley is changing roles with Warfield’s PCSO, Michelle Noone, from 2 August 2010.

It was reported that residents were parking inconsiderately in Agar Crescent. It was agreed that the situation would be referred to the PCSOs to monitor and issue penalty notices if vehicles were causing an obstruction. It was suggested that the green in Agar Crescent could be converted in to parking. However, it was felt that residents were unlikely to agree to the reduction of green space. It was agreed that this would be suggested to the highways team at BFC.

In line with a general expansion in primary school places in North Bracknell to accommodate population growth, an additional classroom is to be built in the grounds of Meadow Vale Primary School to facilitate a rise from 2 to 3 form entry. The expansion of the school was to be phased with a second storey being added to the senior block in the future.

It was agreed that the NAG Priority Action Plan would be filled out and circulated
to the Group.

(My) Computing History

I was on a while back about visiting The National Museum of Computing at  Bletchley Park   

Wrapping up RSS and smashing atoms

Today we finally got there!
Elliott 905.
This was one of the first computers I worked on at Marconi Space and Defence systems. The control panel includes buttons that allow you to single step through your program. These is also a "Cycle Stop" switch that shows you the internal operations of the computer.
The software was loaded from paper tape. The reader is on top of the control panel. The paper tape punch is to the left of the control panel. The doors house the 19 Inch rack mounting units for the power supply and rack of processor boards, core store unit, and probably an Autonomous Transfer Unit. The ATU was an early Direct Memory Access interface (DMA).
A sample program can be found here.

IBM 1130.
I programmed one of these at College. The program was run from punched cards.
More detail cam be found here.

PDP 11/34.

This computer I used at CCL/Travicom. There were several computers in the 11 range. More stuff cam be found here.
I worked on various PDP computer in on different operating systems and languages. 
RT-11 was a singe user system.CCL used TSX on top of RT11 to make it multi-user. The RSX-11 operating system was a lot cleverer. Dave Cutler the project leader on that system at DEC, later went on to lead the development of Windows NT.

I also worked on PDP 11 computers at Racal. Following on from contraction at Racal I moved on to the DEC-VAX and the VMS operating system at Northern Telecom.
After Northern Telecom at Travicom that had taken over CCL, computing was now mainly on IBM PC clones.

I had a look around to see if I could spot any disks that I had worked with. I remember the RL01 and RL02,
The RL01 had 5 Megabytes of storage, and the RL02 a massive 10 Megabytes of storage.

We spent quite some time in the computer section, and also had a look at the rebuilt Colossus computer. Colossus was world's first large-scale, electronic programmable computer. It was created to crack the codes used to conceal the messages that Hitler's generals were sending to each other. More here.

As our tickets are valid for 12 months we will have to visit again, and explore more in depth. We did not have much time to look over the rest of the place. We did have time to look at the rebuilt Bombe as well. The Bombe was an electromechanical device used by cryptologists to help decrypt German Enigma-machine-encrypted signals. There is some interesting stuff about Alan Turing here

Andrew Hodges says on his website that "But I would say that in 1945 Alan Turing alone grasped everything that was to change computing completely after that date: above all he understood the universality inherent in the stored-program computer. He knew there could be just one machine for all tasks. He did not do so as an isolated dreamer, but as someone who knew about the practicability of large-scale electronics, with hands-on experience. From experience in codebreaking and mathematics he was also vividly aware of the scope of programs that could be run." 

Saturday 31 July 2010

OTS to Tackle IR35 - Tax stuff that is...

I see that the first task of the new Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) is to conduct the review into small business tax, specifically including alternative approaches to IR35. An initial report to the Chancellor should be produced in time for the 2011 Budget.

The Government has already indicated that reviewing IR35 legislation is a priority and that it will seek to replace it with simpler measures that prevent tax avoidance but do not place undue administrative burdens or uncertainty on the self-employed, or restrict labour market flexibility.

Welcoming the inclusion of IR35 in the review, Colin Ben-Nathan, Chairman of the CIOT’s Employment Taxes Sub-Committee, said:
“In a modern, flexible labour market, workers and engagers should be free to form the contractual relationships they choose, without having their arrangements second-guessed because the tax consequences of their choice differ from those of another possible arrangement.
“Rather than the tax system being used as an override to determine a worker’s status as an employee, we think their status should be based on their legal position in employment law and that the tax and NICs liability should flow from this.”

I hope that they really do get on to this. It has been a pain for many a small business trying to expand.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Ask Alvin joins Race Online 2012

Ask Alvin joins Race Online 2012 in bid to get everyone online by the London Olympics

Race Online 2012 is the landmark challenge led by the UK’s Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox which aims to get the UK 100% internet enabled by the London Olympics. 

More than 10 million adults across the UK have never used the internet, and worryingly 4 million of this group are also socially excluded.  All of them are missing out on the opportunities and cost efficiencies that the web has to offer. 

Of the 4 million adults offline who are socially and digitally excluded:

·         39% are over 65 years old
·         38% are unemployed
·         19% are in families with children

Independent Champion for Digital Inclusion, Martha Lane Fox said “When the UK is near 100% online the benefits to society and the economy will be significant and mark a step change for the country as a whole. Race Online 2012 aims to show there is both a moral and economic imperative for the wider business community to take the issue of digital inclusion much more seriously.”

Iain Duncan Smith, secretary of state for work and pensions, said: "Digital literacy is a great enabler of social mobility. It is a way for those who have had bad experiences of institutions to re-engage in learning, and it can break down feelings of social isolation. It is a powerful weapon in the fight against poverty." 

As an official Race Online 2012 partner, Ask Alvin  joins  BT, Google, Comet, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Skype, Moneysupermarket, Sky and Talk Talk whose remarkable vision and support has already resulted in a commitment to get a staggering 600,000 new users online.

The macro-economic environment makes the Race Online 2012 challenge an issue of urgency for all business, no matter what the size. Getting the UK near 100% online will create significant efficiency savings, attract investment, open opportunities and improve work force skills.

Why not become an official Race Online 2012 partner and be a part of this incredible cross-sector movement which will put an end to the digital divide forever?

Race Online 2012 wants any organisation of any size to get involved and help tackle the issue.  From encouraging business partners to sign up, to teaching friends and family to get online, or by donating old IT equipment locally - there are opportunities for all businesses to make a difference. It’s simple to sign up and it only takes five minutes to register

All Race Online 2012 partners are automatically entitled to access the Race Online 2012 partner toolkits which include a Race Online 2012 certificate, online media and communication materials to help promote their initiatives and spread the word, plus access to the Race Online 2012 news feed offering 24/7 digital inclusion news updates.

Please click on this link to become an official Race Online 2012 partner, where you can explain what your organisation is doing or can do to help make the UK one of the first countries in the world to establish a fully online, internet enabled society.

Further Information
·         To find out more about becoming a Race Online 2012 Partner visit
·         For people who are already online and know someone who is not visit
·         To find out more about getting online call 0800 77 1234 to find your nearest UK online centre where friendly staff are waiting to help you get started.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Cashless spending

Music festivals goers instead of using money could be forced to pay electronically for everything. Payments could be made via a wristband, which would also act as the event ticket, and be pre-loaded with money. The systems would use radio frequency identification (RFID) - which would see a microchip being embedded into something like a wristband or ticket.

People in London are already used to cashless transactions, with the Oyster card. A bit like supermarket loyalty cards these things can be used to tell what you have been up to, and what you might do next.
Iin a BBC article Barclaycard's Mr Mathieson said that information gathered from transactions could be valuable for future marketing. "For example if the system knows what time you went and bought a beer and at which bar, it can make a guess which band you were about to see," he said."Then the organizers could send you information about upcoming tours. The opportunities are exciting."

A recent article on TNW said that future generation iPhones will almost certainly contain Near Field Communications (NFC) technology, which will enable the phone to communicate with RFID tags or other NFC capable devices.

So far the average person has not had any way to interact with RFID tags, so they’ve mainly stayed in shipping and logistics and haven’t made it a noticeable impact on people’s lives. If we were to get NFC-enabled phones we would be able to. Some phone makers such as Nokia have already embarked on this.

TNW has the scenario where you walk out the door with your iPhone in your pocket.  You stop for a cup of coffee at the corner and just as you’re about to walk in, you iPhone pushes a notification to you. The notification tells you that you’ve just become the top visiting customer at that location (yes, it will check you in automatically) and asks you if you would like to share that info with your friends. If you hit yes, it sends you to an input screen and you share on Twitter, Facebook, wherever.

I did some speculation about the use of RFID tags in my book Cold Suspenders. Hint – Tig Tags. I also speculated about how a mobile phone can be located. With GPS systems in phones this has become even easier. Build in RFID to all the other applications on your phone, and allow something like Facebook access, and who knows what people could tell about you?

There has been a lot of discussion about Facebook privacy, but does anyone really know who is tracking what we do? Who would have guessed that the original mission was just to create a facebook for Harvard University? A BBC article tells us that there are now people who make their living advising companies on how to use Facebook and other social networking sites. Companies can use the site for advertising and marketing "based on the extremely exact demographic data volunteered by the individual".

This is a bit of a ramble on, but I wonder just how many people know what details they are already giving away, and just what might be coming?
Bracknell based company Webroot give some hints about protecting yourself in the following linked article.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Statutory duties and budgets

The Government has published details of the £1.166bn Local Government contribution to the £6.2bn cross government savings in 2010/11 needed to tackle the UK's record deficit in order to restore confidence in the economy and support the recovery.

In the light of the recent announcements of in year cuts to council spending, I tried to re-visit what it is that a council must do. What a good council should do, and what could be left out, if residents don’t want it.
The Council’s constitution gives some clues, but it is not all obvious. The fact that there are some Statutory Committees gives more clues.
Says that Unitary Authorities look after:
housing, waste management, waste collection, council tax collection, education, libraries, social services, transport, planning, consumer protection, licensing, cemeteries and crematoria

The Answer is not simple, and the best I can come up with is at the Conservative Home blog.
I hope here to paraphase what Glyn Gaskarth wrote there.

Councils are legally obliged to fulfil their statutory duties.
But what are the statutory duties they are required to fulfil?
New ones are added each year.
Old ones are rarely repealed.

There should be fewer legal obligations for councils.
We should know what they are.
Any new ones should be costed and funded.
A mistake in a council’s legal responsibility could result in wasting money by performing ‘duties’ they are not legally required to, or left open to penalties if they fail to perform duties that they must.

There are issues of translation of council documents. When Government
Quango’s charged with overseeing compliance seem to differ with Government Ministers on the scale of what local authorities are legally required to do. Nobody is completely sure.

Central Government dictates what local authorities must do.
If a Government is serious about giving local authorities more autonomy it needs to understand what they are currently legally required to do. It needs to audit all the statutory responsibilities of local authorities. All these statutory duties need to be listed in one place accessible to the citizen.
A simple search of “Statutory Duty” on the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) site yields 1,000 individual results. This is highly unscientific. However, we can draw three basic conclusions from this fact.
Firstly, there appear to be many statutory duties.
Secondly, we are unsure how many.
Thirdly that DCLG, the department responsible for managing local authority’s compliance does not appear to include a list of local authorities’ statutory duties on their website (none could be found in this search).
A simple list would give greater clarity and flexibility to local authorities.
They would be certain of what they had to do.
Perhaps residents could then be able to vote for a local authority that pledged to tax less because it was required to do less?
Councillors would act when they wanted to because they believed it necessary to act, not simply to comply with the will of Central Government.

The questions are:
What sort of things should your council be obliged to do?
How much do you want to pay for those things?

Road Safety

There has been talk in the press recently about road safety, and last month the BBC reported that the number of people killed on British roads last year reached a record low.
I took an interest in this, given that I was involved in a study of accidents in the Bracknell Forest Council area.  More about that later…

A bit over a year ago, the Guardian reported that “Road safety, cycling and bus priority schemes across England are under threat amid fears that the government is preparing to cut its £2.1bn local transport budget.”
This month the BBC reported that half of all fatal road crashes occur on one-tenth of Britain's roads. This article also reported that improved junctions and markings, along with resurfacing with high friction, anti-skid treatments, drastically reduced the number of serious accidents.

Just lately the LGA is suggesting that along with Housing, education, major transport projects and social cohesion programmes, road safety may have reduced funding.
It is probably just as well that Bracknell Forest has invested heavily in road safety in the past. Various schemes were implemented throughout the borough to bring down the number of accidents.
In the Working Group report that I contributed to, it is noted that “Further reductions in casualties are increasingly difficult to achieve, and it has to be recognised that there is an irreducible minimum number of casualties which no amount of investment could remedy.”

The Working Group noted that BFC had committed itself to further reduction over and above the targets set by Government. The working group concluded that the Council’s annual targets should not set a step reduction in any one year, but instead be based on a straight-line reduction to the ‘stretched’ targets.  (item 12)

Let us hope that there will not be a too drastic reduction in road safety spending. It seems that on-going education is needed in this area, even though the Council has already used many means to engineer-in road safety to our streets and roads

Friday 2 July 2010

Garden Grabbing

I noted that the Bracknell Standard picked up on my query to the planning officers about the issue of “Garden Grabbing”. One of the objectors to a recent application had cited the change in policy in this area by the new government.

The big headache with planning issues is that we are very much bound by law, the weight given to various government planning edicts, and policies contained in local plans. The local plans themselves although called local, are often constrained by Government policy.

I asked the question to clarify the position that we are now in. It appears that we are now in a much better position to write rules that will prevent future high density development in back gardens. The change in the regulations already gives us more room to manoeuvre.

The previous governments planning rules created a shortage of homes with parking and gardens. Whitehall regulations were pricing a whole generation of low and middle income earners out of buying a family home. As they pledged, the new government are now changing planning rules to encourage more new homes with bedrooms and gardens for families – in place of dense blocks of flats.

A letter that was recently sent to Planning Officers if available at

I am writing to confirm that the Government has amended Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing (PPS3) with the following changes:
 • private residential gardens are now excluded from the definition of previously developed land in Annex B
 • the national indicative minimum density of 30 dwellings per hectare is deleted from paragraph 47
 Together these changes emphasise that it is for local authorities and communities to take the decisions that are best for them, and decide for themselves the best locations and types of development in their areas.

In 2000, John Prescott introduced new national planning regulations for housing – which forced all new housing developments to pack in 12-18 new dwellings per acre. The flawed rules also classed gardens as ‘Brownfield’ land. As a result, blocks of flats were increasingly being crammed in the place of existing homes with gardens. This is also known as ‘garden grabbing’. Reports suggest that the price of a family house has risen at eight times the rate of a new flat since 2000, and there has been fall in the number of detached and semi-detached homes being built. There is now a relative over-supply of flats in many areas.

In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult for families across Bracknell Forest on modest incomes to buy a home suitable for children to grow up. But house prices don’t change in isolation from government policy. Labour’s national planning rules, laid down on high from Whitehall, have in many areas created a surplus of pokey flats and a shortage of family homes with parking spaces and gardens.

Recent government figures suggest the proportion of houses built on previously residential land, such as gardens, increased from one in 10 in 1997 to one in four in 2008.

Dr Simon Thornton Wood, director of science and learning at the Royal Horticultural Society, said gardens had medical as well as environmental benefits.
"Gardens, like parks, are the green lungs of cities, improving air quality, controlling air temperature and flood risk, and providing a haven for wildlife.
"Beyond these very practical benefits of gardens we know that gardening is great for physical and mental health.
"That's why we would like planning measures to go further than protecting existing gardens, to guarantee high-quality green space and gardening opportunities in all new building developments, wherever they are."

Now that the new government have scrapped the rigid density rules, let’s hope that it will now let the market build the homes that people want and need.