torsdag 30 november 2006

Sharpham Rainbow

Sharpham Rainbow
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
There was a massive downpour and then the sun came out again.

Sharpham and the River Dart

Sharpham and the River Dart
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
Met up with a group of old friends in Dawlish and we went to the Sharpham estate near Totnes and walked round. It is in a loop of the River Dart.

Ornamental Squash

Ornamental Squash
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
My friend grows these - they are mainly for decoration.

Effects of the buy-to-let craze - my neighbours at the back

My previous neighbours at the back had a nice garden and grew a lot of vegetables. Then they moved and the house was bought by a builder who destroyed the garden and paved it over. Then it was bought by somebody who has just let it and the tenants use it to store their rubbish, which there is a lot of. Which has not improved my view.

Buy-to-let has been a disaster for areas like this, as stable communities have been replaced by people who are on the move and don't care about where they live. The government has made matters worse by encouraging it. The effect has been to stoke up house prices beyond the reach of people who want to buy them to live in. This has helped to inflate the house-price-bubble.

Of course, it is not the price of houses that has risen, it is the price of the land upon which they stand. Like all bubbles, it will burst, the only question is when? Then the places will just stand empty and deteriorate.

måndag 20 november 2006

Full marks to a government department for once

I sent in my tax return using the on-line submission facility. This is a well thought-out system and easier than filling in the bundle of paper forms they send out. And it will do the calculation right up to the end of January deadline, instead of you having to send it in by 30 September.

Highly recommended. Give it a try instead of paying an accountant to do a job when you have to do most of the book-keeping work yourself anyway.

That said, there is no excuse for taxing people's labour. It is unnecessary, complicated, discourages people from working, is a cause of the problems resulting from having 85% of the population living in one-third of the land area of the country. One can go on and on. The reality is the tax is not paid by employees - that is just an illusion. It is in reality paid by employers.

To put some figures on this. A nominal wage of £25000 costs an employer £27560, and provides an employee with a real wage - the net value of what people can actually buy with their money - of £13800.

This is a huge incentive to get rid of labour, so jobs don't get done, or they get done by machines, often less well, or the work gets sent off to be done in places like Thailand. All of which helps to maintain our army of unemployed.

It also means that almost half of all government expenditure, for example, on the NHS, is actually tax which employees never see but is collected straight back, but not before a lot of time and money has been wasted in administration.

Not a clever system. What a pity that the energy that has gone into getting this bad system to run had not been put into devising a better one.

Train service disruption at Brighton last Saturday

Last Saturday, there was a minor derailment outside Brighton station at about 9 am. But trains were still not running at 7 pm, and the disruption continued next day.

A crane had to be brought from Derby to put the train back on the track. This did not arrive for several hours, apparently because it is "out of gauge" and special arrangments had to be made to give it the necessary clearance.

There always used to be breakdown train and crane kept at Brighton, just outside the station. In the early 1980s, a new one was provided, complete with modern emergency lighting for working at night. Why was it taken away?

Twenty years ago, trains would have been running within three or four hours after a minor incident of this kind, with a normal service next day.

Are we letting too many decisions be made by the bean counters?

onsdag 15 november 2006

Some positive images for a change

I have been back in Britain six weeks and it is starting to get to me. So here are some positive images. Balcombe Viaduct; Water meadows near Salisbury; Pavilion Gardens, Brighton; Oxford - Clarendon Building and Sheldonian Theatre - amongst the finest groups of buildings in Europe

Streets of Brighton

The council handed out these folding boxes for people to put their rubbish in to stop the seagulls breaking open the bags and spreading rubbish everywhere. But there are such a lot of people in the city centre who just stay a few months and move on that they don't know or don't care about taking the boxes off the street, so they are left lying about and are an eyesore in their own right.

And the council doesn't care either, or it would warn and then fine people who were leaving them out - at £50 a fine it has to be worth sending someone out to deal with the problem.

Streets of Brighton

A popular spot for our rough sleepers

Disgusting state of Brighton seafront

Outside the Swimming Club on the sea front

Disgusting state of the streets of Brighton

Somebody bought this with the idea of putting up a tiny house but there isn't enough room so it has been abandoned to the paint sprayers

söndag 12 november 2006

Seriously crap design by Brighton and Hove Council

Seriously crap design

You do not need two fence posts next to each other like this. There should be a single post with the horizontal bars fixed to the adjacent corners. To do what they have done is seriously incompetent as well as looking unsightly.

This should have been picked up and prevented at the design stage. If it slipped through at that point, planners ought to have noticed - this is in a Conservation Area. And if not then, the contractor or railing manufacturer should have picked it up. If it had got through the the designer and the planners, the job architect or engineer, or even the men on the job, ought to have realised the detail was wrong. It seems as if everyone involved had their brain switched off, but that is normal for Brighton and Hove Council.

Disgusting state of the streets where I live

How Brighton earns its title of "Skidrow-on-Sea"

1 - Rat-breeding area.
2, 3 - Rubbish boxes are never taken in and Brighton and Hove Council does nothing
4 - This one is persistent. I hope the kitchen is better managed. Strange that customers don't mind sitting right next to this.
5- Just what you need on a narrow pavement on a busy Saturday afternoon.

My heresy rating


You scored as Chalcedon compliant. You are Chalcedon compliant.
Congratulations, you're not a heretic.
You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man
and like us in every respect, apart from sin.
Officially approved in 451.

lördag 11 november 2006

They're back in force

Brighton rough sleepers

Here they are in front of the Swimming Club Arch, probably settled in for the season and more will be along later. Their stash of Tennant's is kept well-guarded.h

torsdag 9 november 2006

Outside Brighton Swimming Club this morning

Brighton Swimming Club committee has issued a new set of rules, exhorting people to keep the arch tidy and make new people and visitors welcome. It has been beautifully printed and mounted in a posh wooden frame screwed to the wall. It is nice to know our subscriptions are put to good use.

However, what we have to encounter regularly is not at all welcoming. The problem of undesirable people messing in front of the arch would be solved if we could take over the space in front, which we need because the arch is too small for the growing number of people who use it, but the club is not seriously interested in this. The officers in Brighton and Hove City Council responsible for the sea front are not interested either, and the police are not interested in enforcing the "no drinking" rule. In fact, they hardly ever patrol the Lower Promenade, so it is used for all kinds of nefarious activities. In fact, you could load an army of terrorists on Brighton beach and it is unlikely there would be anyone to stop them.

So we will no doubt have to continue to be wading through puke, piddle and poo when we go down for our swim in the morning.

Higher interest rates - bad decision

TODAY Interest rates have been raised to curb inflation.

The biggest inflation driver is high land prices which shows up as higher property and house prices.

Higher interest rates will hit marginal firms and businesses and even those borrowers who rent their properties and do not have mortgages.

The beneficiaries are those who are not producers but those who live on investments.

Instead of higher interst rates why does the Chancellor not tackle the problem at its source and introduce an Annual Land Value Tax on all land (LVT)?

This would reduce inflation, allow lower interest rates, dampen the property boom and provide the government with income for essential infrastructure and to enable it to reduce harmful taxes like VAT.

In addition, a useful side effect of LVT would be to encourage the use of brownfield sites which would reduce property prices, making homes and business premises more affordable, create more jobs and ease the pressure and costs of urban sprawl.

This was sent to me in an email by Dave Wetzel, Vice Chair, Transport for London

Brazil nuts nuttiness - British bonkers application of EU rules

It has become increasingly difficult to get Brazil nuts in their shells, and the ones without shells that I get from Infinity Foods are more often than not rancid or mouldy and I have to take them back, which they are OK about. The reason it seems is due to EU regulations which are meant to cut down on the risk of people consuming aflatoxin which causes cancer. The aflatoxin comes from a mould that grows on or in the nuts.

I had correspondence with my Euro MP, Caroline Lucas, and she followed it up. Eventually I was told that it comes down to the method of testing when the product comes into UK ports. They are ground up and tested, shell and all if they are shipped in their shells, even though nobody eats the shells. But the shells often have this contamination so nuts in shell nearly always fail the test, so they have stopped shipping them.

But if they are shelled and dehusked in South America before they are shipped, they start to deteriorate and often go rancid. Also, some contaminated nuts end up getting packed and then you get a whole sackful of mouldy nuts. And as only a few sacks get sampled, you are more likely to end up eating mouldy nuts than if they were shipped in their shells.

This stupidity has the hallmark of DEFRA stamped all over it.

tisdag 7 november 2006

A terrible decision by the EU Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of a property company, J A Pye, based in Oxford, when it appealed against a decision by the House of Lords to allow the occupant, a farmer, “squatters’ rights” - the ancient right in English law to claim ownership of land if it has been occupied without challenge for 12 years.

For many years, the farmer had been using the land, near Newbury, Berks, for grazing. Originally, it had been leased from the company under a grazing agreement, but in 1984 the company refused to renew the lease as it intended to develop the site. The farmer continued to use it and in 1997, registered a claim with the Land Registry, claiming to have aquired title by unchallenged occupation.

Legal action followed, culminating in the Law Lords’ decision. The company then appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which ruled that the UK breached the human rights of the developers by not changing an ancient law sooner, to protect landowners. The government is appealing to the Grand Chamber of the European court of human rights and a decision is awaited later this week, but according to a report in the Guardian, if this fails, taxpayers could face a bill of millions of pounds for compensation to the property company.

This decision is disturbing for many reasons. In the first place, the company had acted incompetently in not protecting its title; had it continued to allow the farmer to use the land on licence, the situation would not have arisen. It is not good enough to blame English land law, since a property company should be perfectly well aware of the rules.

The second point is that English land law does not recognise absolute ownership of land; land ownership is a holding from the Sovereign, who holds it on behalf of the people as a whole. This is an excellent principle, since land was made by no man but is a Gift of Nature – or God, if you believe in such an entity. It is worrying that a European Court should be able to override this. The implications go beyond England; in Sweden, there is an ancient Right of Public Access to land which could equally come under threat if some landowner tries to make out that it is interfering with his human rights.

Related to this is a further question about an owner’s right to enjoy land. The property company in question was not enjoying the land. It wasn’t even collecting a peppercorn rent. All it was doing was holding it out of use while speculating on the likelihood of a future increase in value. To all intents and purposes, it had abandoned their land. Such speculation prevents anyone else from using it, and if we accept that land is held by the Sovereign on behalf of the people, then it is not unreasonable to expect some limit to the protection the state will give to a land holder who is just sitting on a piece of real estate whilst waiting for it to go up in value.

Furthermore, in this instance, the owner was not a human being but a corporate body, set up under legislation which gives such bodies certain privileges, and one wonders why the notion of human rights should apply at all. It sets a bad precedent.

There is a final twist to this story. Nobody would be much interested in the property if the site was merely grazing land. But with planning consent for residential development, the site is worth over £20 million. Whether the beneficiary is the property company which paid a fraction of this amount or the farmer who picked it up under squatters’ rights, there is a huge windfall waiting to be gained on the strength of a decision by a planning committee, and this cannot be right either.

To its credit, the government is aware of this latter issue and is proposing to charge for planning consents, either through something called a Planning Gain Supplement or a “Roof Tax”. Unfortunately, this is just a revival of legislation which has been tried and found wanting four times since 1945. The solution which would actually work – Land Value Taxation, remains off the agenda.

måndag 6 november 2006

Adam Smith and Free Markets

Adam Smith's portrait will soon be replacing that of Sir Edward Elgar on Britain's £20 notes, which has brought his ideas about free markets back to attention. Whilst staying at a friend's house a couple of weeks ago, I came across an article he had written, drawing attention to the limitations of free markets. It was written about 15 years ago, but it is as relevant as ever, and this is an edited extract of what it said.

One should perhaps not wonder after 120 years of Marxist/pseudo-scientific analysis of economics, to hear that people should have rights as consumers, but no mention of rights as producers. Such views are propagated in university economics courses and found in the writings of many independent philoso­phers. It suits the dogma of governments of both right and left complexions...

...following Adam Smith, the free-market economy was a Liberal concept. It was resisted by the Tories until quite recently. The aristocratic basis of land and capital ownership did not welcome competition, and certainly the growth of monopolies and cartels in the first half of the 20th century confirms this... However, the Liberal view was always that there is no better mechan­ism than the free market for distributing goods and services, but it implies prior equities. The success of the market - the achievement of a successful distribution through exchanges - requires that the participants came to it as equals -- with equal freedom to exercise a valuation and equal power to strike a bargain.

We must ask ourselves whether this requirement was met in the last 200 years. Clearly it has not been so. Take, for instance, the housing market; while there is a shortage of houses and there is speculation in land, and most people are poor or have little surplus wealth for anything, can there be fair bargaining in rents or prices of houses?

In the ‘labour market’, do an employer and a potential employee (who appar­ently has no choice other than to be someone’s ‘servant’) meet on equal terms? In the ‘money market’, do a moneylender and a borrower bargain as equals? Is it not true that the poorer you are (business or individual) the higher the interest rate you will be forced to pay?

The walls of lawyers offices are lined with books on landlord and tenant, moneylender and borrower, employer and employee relations which testify to the past attempts to regulate them and to protect the weaker in the market, without actually solving the problem...

The Marxist and socialist view has been that these deficiencies in the market operation were due to the power and avarice of the sweatshop owners, the greedy landlords, the filthy capitalists, and the profiteering middlemen. The blame and the attack were personalised; free economies were considered corrupt. Only by having a central state power that controlled the market and replaced those selfish operators (often with faithful party nominees) could all be set right. As we now observe in those countries that took this philosophy on board, it did not solve any of the problems. It eliminated any direct action-reaction, any feedback that could bring balance. Millions of individual decisions and choices were replaced by determina­tions made by bureaucrats. It did not remove the basic poverty of the people, who still came to market disadvantaged, now even more so because the vendors and landlords became faceless and monolithic.

We still hear echoes of this socialist view, although highly attenuated because of the world failures of socialism and communism. Few of us would now concede that state control was the answer. Well, perhaps just a little welfareism? Is it that because we propose no alternatives, or do we want to perpetuate a democratised socialism or a socialised democratism?

The “market” is a secondary and dependent mechanism. Other powerful influences on it take place before the market operates. For example, before you can exchange things in a market, they have to be produced. It is at the point of production, not in the market, that the initial division of wealth takes place. Those who worked to produce the wealth usually take little of it, while those who claim ownership of the production process, or their landlords, or the taxman have the prior claim and take the larger shares. The market only confirms and reflects this inequitable division.

So if we observe that the in free markets there is ill-distribution, it is not that it has an imperfect mechanism that has to be remodelled, nor that is has basically selfish people who have to be controlled, but that the bargaining power of the purchaser and vendor must initially be more equitable. The poor must be freed of their poverty; the disadvantaged must have their handicap removed. This was basic Liberal philosophy, yet in recent years we have had many Liberals advocating a tinkering with the econo­mic mechanisms, rather than removing the root cause of the problem of our poverty.

It seems that we have all accepted the present economic structures and relationships as being benign and immutable? It is difficult to convince people they are poor, and that from their poverty follows their lack of choice, their dimi­nished power, and their fragile freedom. In all the discussions about liberty and its limitation, no voice was heard on the effect of our economic status on the extent of our freedom and power. Indeed, at one point many were putting the case for power of the individual as a con­sumer, but there was only an isolated plea for individual power as a producer. Linked to this basic issue, some used to promote the causes of partici­pation of workers in the workplace, co­ownership, co-operatives, and, from some of us, worker-ownership. This was not a tacked-on choice. It recognised the fact that we all have to win a living from Nature, and are not born as servants and masters. The economic forces and legal framework that cause us to become servants, employees, poor, borrowers, and mere consumers are aberrations. They are not the result of natural law, but of man-made ones. It does not have to be so.

More generally, beyond the mere participation that makes for efficient production and humane management, we must re-examine the economic needs and rights of the individual. We all need access to land and the means of production, but with­out the failed socialist methods of state ownership and control. This is the fundamental basis of economic free­dom. If we achieve that, we can then let market forces reign freely and effectively.

A favourite quotation of mine is "Aristotle thought that slaves were the ordination of Nature; the devil of it was, the slaves thought so too." Yes, even today we willingly accept a similar status with slightly better conditions. We must recognise our predicament and our need. We must be radical enough to allow the thought that there is a wider freedom and a more just society than we have now; or is that expecting too much?

Adapted from an article by Alex Godden.

fredag 3 november 2006

Yet another livery for Thameslink

First Capital Connect
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
This must be about the fifth livery for these trains since 1989. They came out in Network South-East red, white and blue. Then they painted them grey and called them the Belgranos. Then they were blue and yellow, and then a few of them have been back in another mostly-grey livery.

Now First group has taken the franchise from Govia and they have got up this psychedelic colour scheme. They have also given the service a new name, "First Capital Connect", which is completely meaningless. This is particularly stupid as Thameslink is the official name of the service and a well-known brand in the area it serves, as well as being a good description of the route. And what a mouthfull "First Capital Connect" is for station announcers.

Railway privatisation has been good for the firms that cook up colour schemes for trains. Pity, too, that they haven't done anything about the horrible seating layout in this type of stock.

Brexit row over brand protection

As part of the acrimonious Brexit negotiations, there is a row over protected product names such as Melton Mowbray pies and whiskies general...