Time for a pause

A promising local playwright and poet once wrote that “summer’s lease hath all too short a date” and that certainly seems to me to be the case this year (see footnote 1). The events that count down the progress of a British summer are rattling through – as I post Wimbledon is reaching the climax of its second week and the First Night of the Proms takes place this very evening – and I am only too aware that, in my own life calendar, summer has passed and I am well into autumn – I “celebrated” my sixty-ninth birthday this week.

For more than six years now (see footnote 2) I have managed, with very few exceptions, to stick to my self-imposed discipline of posting a new blog every four days, and once or twice have stepped up this posting rate when the urgency of the situation dictated. The automatic count of blogs on my WordPress administration page shows that I am within a handful of clicking over the six hundred mark, which must be somewhere in the region of half-a-million words.

Whilst I have never aimed at a mass audience I have a steady, if numerically unspectacular, readership and have, on a number of occasions, been surprised to learn that some notable environmentalists and politicians have read some of my output, or are at least aware of my efforts. And, it appears, my “fame” knows no geographical boundaries: the world map that WordPress provides to blog administrators tells me that I have a worldwide readership, although why someone on the other side of the world would be interested in the UK Government’s attempts to play catch-up with a technology that is already past its sell-by date is beyond me – perhaps these people are UK exiles or, more likely, are just cybersurfers who land on my site by pure serendipity.

The satisfaction that I have derived from all this graft has, however, nothing to do with crude numbers: it arises from my genuine belief that I have exposed, by rigorous and objective examination of the evidence that has been available to me, that the case that has been made for building HS2 is based upon suspect claims and exaggerated benefits. Most of all, I am proud to have highlighted the disregard that the Department for Transport and its liegeman HS2 Ltd have shown for the value of our natural environment, and the environmental law and government policies that are meant to protect that environment, and of the inadequacy of the proposals that have been made for new habitat creation in place of what will be destroyed. Most recent examples that have come under the objective lens of my microscope are the alleged failure to satisfy the requirements of the relevant EU Council directive, as interpreted by the European Court of Justice, in respect of affording protection to the Pasturefields Salt Marsh SAC (see footnote 3) and the failure to adopt the replacement ratios for ancient woodland that have been proposed by Natural England (see footnote 4).

Sifting through the evidence in an attempt to arrive at the truth has often not been easy. The sheer volume of documentation that has been published in connection with the project, much of it overstuffed with words, has meant that I have had to devote many hours of reading to distil the essential elements to present them to you, and each posting is a considerable labour of love. Paradoxically though, it is probably within some of the documents that have not been published, despite the best efforts of a group of campaigners to employ freedom of information legislation to tease them out of the Government’s firm grasp (see footnote 5), that the really juicy stuff might be found, and there are significant gaps in the evidence that is available, for example in the figures that support the passenger demand predictions that lie at the heart of the business case.

But there is one particular statistic that has become, above all others, foremost in my mind in recent months. This is the realisation that my own expectancy of years of active life is unlikely to be many more than I have fingers and, if I am unlucky, could be fewer than I can count on my digits. I really don’t want to spend a significant proportion of those precious years chained to a computer screen and keyboard.

I feel that now is the right time to reflect on this and begin to loose the bonds. After all our dear friends at Westminster are preparing in this coming week to return to their constituencies for the summer recess, and the HS2 project is effectively settling into a between-phases period. It is, of course, true that we have been promised that the Rubicon for Phase 1 will be crossed in the next week or two with the signing of the main design and build contracts, but the die has already been cast for this to be an inevitable rather than a significant event. Also, we cannot expect much action on Phase 2a until the hybrid Bill has been deposited in Parliament, which we are unlikely to see before the end of this year, if not later than that.

If I take the opportunity of a break that this hiatus appears to offer, perhaps I will be able to enjoy what is left of the summer and give some much needed attention to my wilderness of a garden, the desolation of which bears testament to the demands that the HS2 project has made on my time. I am sure that the current state of my plot is probably very beneficial to the environment, but an excursion into it makes me feel like the Knight in Burne-Jones’s set of paintings The Legend of the Briar Rose.

I have decided, therefore, that this will be the last regular blog that I will post on the four-day cycle, and that I will, hereafter, post irregularly and far less frequently, depending on when I feel the need.

Although shedding this burden is a relief, I do feel a little like Prospero seeking to quit his enchanted isle, but feeling the need to beg the “indulgence” of his audience to “set [him] free” (see footnote 6). I hope that you, my loyal readers, will feel similarly kindly disposed towards me in my desire to be released to resume my previous life.

Footnotes:

  1. See William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?.
  2. My first blog, Why am I doing this?, was posted on 10thMarch 2011.
  3. See my blog A stab in the dark, part 4 (posted 6 Jul 2017).
  4. See my blog Cutting out the old wood, part 4 (posted 22 Dec 2016).
  5. For a case in point see my blog Peering into the laundry basket (posted 19 May 2017).
  6. See the Epilogue to The Tempest, William Shakespeare.
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9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by LesF on July 14, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks for all the interesting and informative blogs Peter. While HS2 phase 1 seems to be a done deal, I’m not giving up hope that sense will overcome enthusiasm and self-interest, and HS2 will be scrapped in favour of something actually worth building. The forthcoming eruptions caused by Brexit mean that anything can happen. And I look forward to further blogs. You may wish to comment on the forthcoming meeting between John Marriott, whose knowledge enables him to ask incisive questions, and Professor Andrew McNaughton, the man who seems to be responsible for the route of HS2.

    Reply

    • Thanks for the kind words Les. I’m sure that I won’t be able to keep quiet for long! I agree that we have entered a period in politics where surprises can be expected, but feel that a change of heart on HS2 Phase 1 is unlikely to be one of those surprises and becomes less likely with each £ that is spent and each contract that is signed.
      I am aware of the valuable work that John Marriott is undertaking and have been in correspondence with him. I hope to feature this work, and possibly the Andrew McNaughton meeting, in future blogs (but perhaps not until I have sorted the garden).

      Reply

  2. Posted by John on July 14, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    Will miss your regular informative blog but totally understand your thinking.
    I still feel that phase1 is vulnerable but needs senior MPs from all parties to break ranks and think of the country for once.
    Wishful thinking perhaps but it seems to be dawning on some that there are far better ways to spend borrowed money in today’s climate

    Reply

    • Thanks for the good wishes, John. I agree that one or two parliamentarians have realised that the magic money tree that we have been told doesn‘t exist can’t be utilised to raise the cash for HS2 either, and that paying for it either means more borrowing, or higher taxation, or making sacrifices elsewhere. However, the Westminster crowd are, as a breed, remarkably slow on the uptake, and I fear that the realisation will not dawn in sufficient thick skulls in time to save us from Phase 1.

      Reply

  3. Peter, you have done such an important job, thanks so much for all your time and effort. Whatever else you have to add in future will be very valuable. Enjoy the garden. Thank you for your rigor.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Richard of Wendover on July 15, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    Thank you for making an unpalatable subject digestible and even amusing. We shall all need our sense of humour to remain intact as this abuse of our towns and countryside starts in earnest…

    Reply

  5. Posted by Paul Braithwaite on July 26, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    Your’s has been an incredibly sound, sanguine source of sage information and interpretation – for which I thank you. My Camden colleagues are better informed because of things I’ve learned here.
    I do hope you will be back because “nobody does it better!”

    Paul Braithwaite
    aka “AQcouncillor”

    Reply

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