Monday 23 May 2011

What future for the High Street?

I had a previous couple of musings about the future of town centres and shopping.  There have been a couple of articles in the press recently about what will happen to high streets.
Alex Brummer in the Daily Mail poses the question “Will the internet monster eat the High Street” He reports that TV presenter Mary Portas, self-styled ‘Queen of Shops’, might have the answers. This week David Cameron appointed her to advise on how to rejuvenate Britain’s ailing High Streets.
The Sunday Times reports that what makes a perfect high street is now on the political agenda.
Hugh Ellis, chief planner of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) says that “We’ve engineered their decline; it’s as simple as that, if you approve a tremendous amount of edge and out-of-town retail space, you don’t have to be very smart to work out that has an impact on town centres.” 
Out-of-town shopping has increased by 36% in a decade and the internet, is now the marketplace or 9.3% of all retail sales.
The opinion in the Daily Mail is that the truth is that ministers seem reluctant to acknowledge that all-powerful, unregulated, monopolistic online enterprises such as Amazon and Google are among the causes of Britain’s lagging economic growth and the creation of a retail wilderness. It goes on to say however enjoyable an experience traditional shopping may be, it is no longer necessary to visit the High Street. Why browse in a book shop if we can download the book onto our computer or Kindle? No wonder Amazon announced yesterday that it is selling more ebooks in America than print books for the first time.

On the subject of books, what will struggling independent booksellers make of J Sainsbury winning the prize for “bookseller of the year?”

 For Portas, high-street shopping is more about pleasure than bargains. “Experiential shopping is about loving being in the shop — the smell, the light, the people — rather than saying, ‘I could have got that on Amazon £4 cheaper’.”  She imagines a high street that is “more social, with meeting spaces and diversity”. Portas would like supermarkets to sponsor retail entrepreneurs
George Pye, of thinkingplace, a company that helps towns to redefine themselves, says: “Consumers today have become more sophisticated; rather than simply finding the goods they are looking for, they have become conditioned to expect more — an experience.  “For town centres to thrive, they need to rediscover their points of difference, distinctiveness and character. Answer the questions, ‘What is this place for?’ and ‘Who is this place for?’, agree your story, develop the experience around that story and you have an opportunity to compete.” 
John Thompson, honorary president of The Academy of Urbanism would like high street developers to include affordable space for entrepreneurs; just as residential developers are required to make a proportion of the homes they build affordable housing.
Portas says she does not have the answer yet, but hopes she will in the next six months. She says it has to start with the government and local councils
Alex Brummer says that the pressure from cyberspace is increasing, and unless consumers and communities take matters into their own hands by supporting local, specialist businesses, the game will be up.

One interesting bit, after reading the potential doom and gloom in the articles, is that some High Streets are thriving. It seems that Bracknell High Street is at number five in the top ten.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Renewable Energy or a Perpetual Motion Machine?

Axel Kleidon of the Max Planck Institute has concluded that it is a mistake to assume that energy sources like wind and waves are truly renewable.
His analysis says that if you build enough wind farms to replace fossil fuels, we could seriously deplete the energy available in the atmosphere, with consequences as dire as severe climate change.
It appears that the idea that we can harvest unlimited amounts of renewable energy from our environment is as much of a fantasy as a perpetual motion machine.

Humans currently use energy at the rate of 47 terawatts. Axel calculates that this is roughly 5 to 10 per cent of the “free” energy available. About 17 TW comes from burning fossil fuels. So to replace this, we would need to build enough sustainable energy installations to generate at least 17 TW, but because no technology can ever be perfectly efficient, some of the free energy harnessed by wind and wave generators will be lost as heat.

Axel says "Large-scale exploitation of wind energy will inevitably leave an imprint in the atmosphere." "Because we use so much free energy, and more every year, we'll deplete the reservoir of energy." He says this would probably show up first in wind farms themselves, where the gains expected from massive facilities just won't pan out as the energy of the Earth system is depleted.

Axel says that we are going to need to think about fundamental principles much more clearly than we have in the past. He says "We have a hard time convincing engineers working on wind power that the ultimate limitation isn't how efficient an engine or wind farm is, but how much useful energy nature can generate."

The answer may lie in direct solar energy, but
 to be sustainable, it will probably have to be based on cheaper and more readily available materials such as zinc and copper. Unfortunately many of the most efficient of today's thin-film solar cells require rare elements such as indium and tellurium, whose global supplies could be depleted within decades. The trouble is that current systems convert only a small fraction of the light that hits them to power, and absorb most of the rest, passing heat into the environment.

New Scientist - Wind and wave farms could affect Earth's energy balance

As with everything there must be a balance somewhere. But this type of article does make one stop and think.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Making Voting Easy

I have come across an interesting article and blog in Computer Weekly about voting.
Programmers have decided to take FPTP AV and PR a stage further.

First Past the Post is simple and understandable; as one works though the other systems it gets ever more complex. So the Programmers have decided to eliminate any complication by inventing a system that will vote for you the way that you would want.

Wireless devices placed on streets throughout the UK would sense when someone walk near them. The software could analyse them and decide which party they would be better off with and record their vote. Using a DNA reader the system could ensure voters are only recoded once.

The clever part is that the people don't actually get to vote, but the computer would make the decision for them using complicated algorithms. The success of such software in the share trading sector, where computers buy shares automatically, has convinced politicians that it could be a way forward.

The software expert in charge of the project says the scanner will quickly be able to tell which party the voter will be most suited to by analysing characteristics such as clothing, gait and even the type of dogs being walked.

There was a short story by Isaac Asimov written in August 1955.
It goes even further than the above.

Thank You for Your Vote.

To everyone that voted for me on the 5th of May.

Thank you for your confidence in me.
I will do my best for the Wards of Priestwood and Garth.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Bracknell Forest Fires

Members of the public are being urged to stay away from the area to allow for emergency services personnel to continue working together to tackle the fires. People must not impede firefighters in their work and should be aware that the travel of both fire and smoke can change unexpectedly.

The fires are not at a stage where the fire authority are confident that matters are under control.
There are 16 fire tenders still on site out of 22 available to them. Fire crews have come in from Surrey, London and Hampshire.
They also provide the backfill cover for the appliances in use so the fire risk to the general public is not being compromised.
Even so, the situation continues to be serious.
The wind direction puts Crowthorne downwind and at greatest risk.
The houses in Brookers Row were evacuated last night due to fire risk and seem likely to remain so tonight.
There is limited access for residents to return to get possessions etc.

The fire authority asked for the schools in Crowthorne to be closed today.
They were closed because of the high level of smoke around this morning as well as concerns about road traffic and the problems that would have been caused if an evacuation was needed during the day.

The Look Out was closed because it provides the point of access to the woods and was at risk if the wind had turned.
Coral Reef was closed for much the same reason.
With Coral Reef the thinking is that access might be possible there is way to control access to the car park for users only.
The council is looking at this as a possibility.

The situation is now being managed by the Fire Authority from their Silver Command by the Golden Retriever pub on Nine Mile Ride.
There are problems with the public going on site generally and messages are being put out via comms asking people to stay away.
Despite this, there are still joggers going into the woods for example.

Decisions as to whether or not the schools should open tomorrow can't be taken yet.
The schools will be informed that they may have to be closed again and the message will need to go out as we do closures due to the snow.
The low temperatures forecast tonight could mean that there will be a temperature inversion and the smoke will hang around unless the wind keeps blowing.

The Councils Adult Social Care have made checks on the vulnerable residents in the community who might be affected and we are in liaison with the HPA.

The main roads (Foresters Way and Nine Mile Ride) need to stay closed to facilitate access for the emergency services and to enable them to pump water around using hoses along the roads.
There have been some problems with the public ignoring the closures.
There are additional barriers in place and the main points have Police in attendance.
At the moment it seems that the roads will need to stay closed for at least another 24 hours, perhaps longer.

This afternoon the forestry commission are bringing in plant to construct more fire breaks across the woods to reduce the risk of fire spread.

Council Website News

See also:
BBC News

There is a map at:
Courtesy of