6 September 2005

email: oldgrumpy.mike@virgin.net

 

Bluestone mythology

The Western Telegraph's letters' page continues to publish some rather ill-informed comments on the Council for National Parks' campaign to have the Bluestone planning consent quashed by way of judicial review.
Last week, under the heading "CNP action in blatant defiance of legal system", the paper published a letter from Mike Shaw of Solva in which he claimed: "It [CNP] is now acting in blatant defiance and abuse of our legal system."
This seems to demonstrate a profound ignorance of the judicial review process.
Firstly, it should be pointed out, no one has an automatic right to judicial review.
The first step in the process is to apply to the High Court for permission to proceed.
This application is in the form of a skeleton argument in order that a judge may determine whether the case has any merit.
In the case of Bluestone the matter was accepted by the court and was heard by Mr Justice Jacks who decided not to grant CNP the remedy they sought.
He also refused CNP leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal.
CNP, as is its right, applied directly to the Court of Appeal for leave and this was granted.
Again, this right of appeal was not automatic, but was granted because the Court of Appeal decided that there were points of law that needed to be addressed.
As it turned out, the Court of Appeal also found against CNP and refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords.
The CNP has now applied directly to the House of Lords.
Whether leave is granted will depend entirely on the Law Lords' views on the merits of the case and particularly whether they consider there are points of law of general public importance that need to be clarified.
How anyone can describe this as an abuse of the legal system is beyond me.
A couple of months ago I watched a very interesting programme about the rise of Hitler.
One particularly chilling clip showed him telling a rally at Nuremberg: "It is the duty of the German people to obey."
In democracies it is the duty of the people and Government, in all its forms, to obey the law.
That, essentially, is the difference between democracy under the rule of law and Mugabe's Zimbabwe or Putin's Russia.
Of course, the delay caused by these protracted legal battles is frustrating for Bluestone's promoters, but that's the price you have to pay for living in a free society.

 

 

Democratic deficit

 

Another myth promoted by these letters is that the National Park Committee is democratically elected.
Mr Shaw says the CNP's action "flies in the face" of local democracy while Mr Gordon Doughty refers to the "The democratically elected members of the Park committee".
The National Park committee is made up of 15 members, five appointed by the Welsh Assembly and ten by Pembrokeshire County Council (six by the Leader of the County Council and the other four by the minority parties).
Not one of them is directly elected to the National Park committee.
Another theme running through these letters is that public opinion is behind the Bluestone development: "All opinion polls have indicated [support for the scheme] (Mike Shaw) and "There has been a clear desire on the part of the people of Pembrokeshire that this project should go ahead" (Gordon Doughty).
I may have missed something, but I am not aware of any scientifically conducted polls that support these assertions.
Indeed, only last week the Mercury reported a poll conducted among National Park residents which showed a majority against the development.
In any case, public opinion has nothing to do with it.
The test for planning purposes is whether the proposed land use is consistent with the local plan and any other statutory provisions.
That is a matter of law, not opinion, which is why the issue is being fought through the courts.


Magic roundabout

A reader has reminded me of my promise a few weeks ago to explain how Cllr Brian Hall managed to claim £9,600 in travelling expenses; almost twice as much as the Leader of the council.
Indeed Cllr Hall accounted for some 25% of the total expenses claimed by all 60 elected members (See King of the road).
Looking at his expense claims it would appear that one of the main reasons for his extensive wanderings is just sheer lack of organisation.
For instance on 14 February 2005 he left his home in Pembroke Dock and travelled to County Hall for "Briefing P Bevan "APSE".
Suitably briefed it was back over the Cleddau Bridge to "Meeting T Davies relocation taxi business" and then back to County Hall for "Briefing R B-E spatial plan."
That was followed by another trip across the bridge to "Woodbine Terrace, Pembroke site meeting P Pearce" and then back to Haverfordwest to meet "Planning R Rogers." and finally home.
These three trips added up to 60 miles at 50p plus three bridge tolls amounting to £4.50 - £34.50 in all.
It will not have escaped the more mathematically minded among you that, with better organisation, the same result could have been achieved with a single bridge crossing and considerably fewer miles.
On 27 March, Cllr Hall popped into County Hall to see about Mr T Davies' taxi licence then back to Tenby for a meeting with the local member regarding the pedestrianisation scheme. After that it was back to County Hall to consult an officer about a grant for Pembroke Dock Bowling Club and across the bridge again to meet Mr Grunfelt of Pennar Park Developments and someone from Pembroke Design. Then it was back to County Hall to meet Carl Beddis and Francis John and finally home - 86 miles at 50p.
But perhaps the strangest bit of shuttling took place on 20 July 2004 when Cllr Hall travelled to Carmarthen (via Haverfordwest) for a Fire Authority working group.
He then returned to Haverfordwest for a meeting of something called the "Umbrella Group" before heading up to Builth Wells for the Royal Welsh Show - 238 miles (£118) in all.
And Old Grumpy believes that the £9,600 is not the end of Cllr Hall's mileage claims.
I notice that, in about September 2004, he ceased claiming the 80 miles for travelling to Fire Authority meetings in Carmarthen (the extra 20 miles is because has to go via Haverfordwest for "Briefing C Ex").
My enquiries reveal that at about that time the Fire Authority brought in its own travel expenses scheme (previously they were paid by the county council) so as much as £1,000 may have to be added to the original figure.
I have asked the Fire Authority to provide details and I will report in due course.


Against the Oddies

Talking of big beasts, the BBC is running a series of programmes on the dinosaurs fronted by Bill Oddie.
The first featured a rather fierce Tyrannosaurus Rex which, it was suggested, preyed on the herbivorous, heavily armoured, elephant-sized Triceratops.
Triceratops looked rather like the modern-day rhino except that it had two large sharp horns and was five-times as big.
The computer generated images of the battles between the two were brilliant and, with typical BBC balance, the final score was one all; Tricer winning its bout by skewering T Rex with its impressive twin-horns.
This was spectacular television, but rather poor science.
It is well known that predators always pick on something much smaller than themselves, not because they are bullies, but because that is the way to survive.
A T Rex with an average lifespan of 50 years and the need for one square meal a week will have 2,500 such encounters in its lifetime.
Before picking a fight with Tricers, T Rex would need far more attractive odds that were on offer from the BBC.
Otherwise much better to patiently wait for Tricer to keel over from natural causes and become a less than glamorous carrion feeder.

Safety in numbers

 

Surveying the wreckage of my savoys, I was reminded of Charles Darwin's observation that the caterpillar damage to the cabbages in his garden was always much more severe than that in the surrounding fields.
Safety in numbers is a theme that runs through the theory of evolution.
Bill Oddie's programme showed the mass crossing of a river by a herd of zebras some of which became ready-meals for the resident crocodiles.
However, because the crocodiles were engrossed in eating what they had already killed, the vast majority of the zebras made it safely to the opposite bank.
Imagine the carnage if the zebras had tried to cross, ten at a time, over the space of a couple of months.
Some years ago, David Attenborough did a programme about turtles, which all return to their breeding grounds to lay their eggs at more or less the same time.
The baby turtles all hatch within a few hours of each other and then have to make it down the beach to the relative safety of the open sea.
Waiting for them are the local gulls which exact a terrible toll, with a large proportion of the newly hatcheds perishing in their first few hours of life.
This all seems rather wasteful to the human mind but it is not as wasteful as the alternative.
The fact is that predator populations, like most other species, are governed by periods of famine, not feast.
By providing the crocodiles and gulls with a one-off banquet the zebras and turtles do nothing to swell their numbers when they next come to cross the river/make it down the beach.
It would all be different if the crocs and the gulls had mastered the art of food preservation or invented the deep freeze.
That, of course, is why humans are so dangerous.
Equally dangerous are the cats we keep which are sustained through periods of food-scarcity in unnaturally large numbers by a steady supply of Kat-o-Meat .
As Darwin also observed, predators are much less numerous than their prey because they require large territories over which to hunt..
In the natural state, I would suggest, a family of cats would need a range of 20-30 acres.
As there are about a dozen of these pampered killers within a stone's throw of my house, it is no surprise that the family of blackbirds that inhabits my garden have, for the third year in succession, failed to rear a single fledgling.

Mad about pussy

If you are not convinced by the ecological argument against cat ownership then could I suggest you type "cat flea" into Google, whereupon you might decide that, if the preservation of the local wildlife is not incentive enough, self-preservation is.
As its name suggests, the cat flea's favoured host is the domestic moggie but it is not above taking a snack on a dog, or a rat, or even a human being.
As my old chemistry master used to say, when trying to get across the idea that matter may be infinitely divisible:
Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
Little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum .

In the case of the cat flea, it is not lesser fleas but the menagerie of parasites that inhabit its gut and which, during the feeding process, are capable of being transported from one snack bar to another.
Most common among these is a tapeworm which can transfer to humans.
But by far the most fascinating of these sub-parasites is an organism called Toxoplasma Gondii which causes changes to the structure of the rat's brain.
Research has shown that infected rats are less wary of changes in their environment (neophobia) and so become easy prey for cats which, of course, benefits both the cat flea and Toxoplasma itself.
Judging by the way cat owners fawn over their pets, it would come as no surprise to find that humans are affected by some similar, hitherto undiscovered, mechanism.

Chinese wages

 

The EU and China have reached an uneasy compromise over the so-called "bra wars" - a storm in a B-cup as someone put it.
Now I know what the Boxer Rebellion was all about.
It is difficult to reconcile the rampant protectionism in some parts of Europe, particularly France, with the fact the it is almost 200 years since David Ricardo; the son of a Jewish refugee to England from the progroms in Spain, enunciated the theory of comparative advantage and proved, mathematically, that free trade benefits all.
Most people can grasp the idea that it is better to grow bananas in Jamaica and manufacture ball bearings in Birmingham and then trade the one for the other to satisfy each country's needs, but what Ricardo showed was that it would still pay to trade with Jamaica even if it was more efficient at producing both bananas and ball bearings.
And what holds for two commodities holds for many.
I won't bother you with the mathematics, but if you type "David Ricardo comparative advantage" into "Google" you will find no end of learned articles on the subject.
Of course, it is undoubtedly true that cheap textiles from China put textile workers in this country and elsewhere out of work.
But the fact is, over the past 10 years, cheap imports from the Far East have reduced the price of clothing and footwear in this country by a staggering 40%.
That means that British consumers have more money to spend on other things with positive results for job creation in those areas.
Another positive impact of cheap imports is that they keep down the rate of inflation.
And the rate of inflation impacts directly on the Bank of England's interest rate policy.
So, don't knock those industrious Chinese, beavering away in their factories for Chinese wages, because their efforts are helping to keep down your monthly mortgage payments.
And don't feel sorry for them, either, because the recent economic history of Japan, Taiwan and South Korea indicates that it won't be long before they're earning more than you are.

email: oldgrumpy.mike@virgin.net

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