Floating on the current

It is difficult to avoid the endless promotion of electric cars — but when will we ever see a similar transformation of boats?

The idea of swapping out a smelly diesel engine, gear box and fuel tank for a small electric motor and a larger battery pack seems a fair idea — we could surely use the extra space and enjoy the relative silence. But the design considerations (not least weight distribution) might suggest that electric boats will more likely be entirely new designs rather than conversions.

Looking at full marinas, it seems we don’t actually go to sea very often and, from an ecological viewpoint, the other saving grace of cruising is that when we do, we aim to use the engine as little as possible. Of course, we constantly check the fume-filled cooling water to reassure ourselves that the engine is not overheating. Then we drive home — and probably wonder whether our next car will be fully electric.

Logically, when environmentalists prioritise emissions reduction, surely their first target would be cruise ships and cargo vessels running their generators day and night whilst in dock — wafting their pollutants across great cities already fuming about car fumes.

Ferries — particularly for Greek island hoppers — are another obvious target for technology ventures like Artemis who have vast experience of hull design, wind/electric hybrids and autonomous yachts. Next up, surely, green campaigners will demand that fishing fleets deploy solar panels and wind energy to keep their winches winding at sea.

Occasional cruisers pottering in the Solent would seem a relatively minor issue compared, say, to the amount of untreated sewage and galley waste that we sailors dump overboard. When did you last moor in a marina with a pump out facility?

The Solent, that South coast haven for yachties, holds a murky dirty secret — Nitrate pollution. Partly, pollutants are run-off from fertilised fields and urban housing and partly from untreated drain-water and sewage. Out on the water, most of us try not to fall overboard but a fair few of us curse weed-tangled propellers. Some water-sports enthusiasts delight in closer contact with waves but are disgusted by sampling our outputs — and that’s before we take account of the plastic dumped in our waters. UK coastal waters are, reportedly, second only to the USA in terms of plastic pollution.

Long before we get around to electric boat building, or the rewiring of pontoons for heavier current consumption, there’s surely much to be done cleaning up our maritime mess.

Water pollution in the Solent

The water environment within the Solent region is one of the most important for wildlife in the United Kingdom. There are high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus input to this water environment causing algal blooms which suffocate much of the invertebrate life with knock on effects on other wildlife. Whilst the biggest contributor to the nitrate is agriculture, a bigger population also causes an increase in nitrogen discharges. 
Since a European court case in 2019, planning authorities have to ensure that any new housing development within 5.6k of the Solent EU protected sites does not add to the nitrates by applying mitigating options elsewhere. This has caused development to stall across the south coast including all of Fareham Borough. 
The Conservative Government is applying pressure on local planning authorities to “build,build,build” whilst another arm of the same Government, the Environment Agency, is insisting that the planning authorities first satisfy themselves that there will be no harm to the protected sites from further development.
Fareham Borough Council has been working with Natural England to find a solution to get building started again. These include:-

  • A £2.3m grant from the Government to provide mitigation
  • Delegating authority to one Officer for many of the stalled applications, thus removing democratic oversight
  • Signing a legal agreement with Hampshire Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) to use land they have bought and taken out of agriculture and using the reduced nitrates to sell offsetting ‘credits’ to developers to enable them to build

Planning decisions have re-started and the majority Conservative party are voting unanimously to approve. The Lib Dem (and Independent) Councillors have fought to stop these developments being approved until more robust mitigation is applied. They have also worked hard to delay a decision on signing the (HIWWT) legal agreement and voted against the delegated officer authority being extended. Unfortunately, it’s all about the numbers. More Lib Dem Councillors are needed for us to make a difference and stand a chance of winning these arguments to save our environment rather than putting more money into the pockets of developers. 

Cycle pathology

Local councils have put in temporary schemes to improve walking and cycling safety in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

They are bidding for funds for more projects.

In the longer term, we need high-quality permanent improvements to encourage a shift away from unnecessary, polluting car journeys to healthier walking and cycling.

The Government recently announced funds would be made available to encourage such projects.

But as this well-researched paper by Fareham Liberal Democrat and international tri-athlete David Abrams shows, none of Fareham’s current cycle routes would qualify for funding. On Your Bikes.

David is engaging with Council officers and the cycling charity Sustrans to seek better solutions.

Imagine if our local authority had authority

I remember the time, way back, when the school RI syllabus changed from (Christian) Bible Study to Comparative Religion – a far more interesting, more-inclusive, approach that opened our young minds to a world we would not have encountered.

Ever since, I’ve approached any challenging study by standing back and surveying the wider scene. The thorny topic of how we are, or perhaps could be, governed is a classic case. How often do we recall the theme tune of The Magic Roundabout, and Dougal, shaking his head sorrowfully and muttering, ‘ What a way to run a railway ’.

The governance question is particularly relevant at this Covid time. The downsides of a highly centralised regime are only too apparent. But alternatives are difficult to imagine. We have a complex mix of Metro, County and Local bodies, with competing tensions, widely different community needs, vested interests, and arcane budget formulae whose rationale seems lost in ancient history – as we call last year.

So I found myself listening to Bo Frank – not least because, back in 2010, I led a Scottish delegation to Sweden in search of Full Fibre futures. Bo was Mayor of a town we didn’t visit, but one that seems typical of the many places we explored.

Växjö’s overall population is comparable to Fareham, and similarly spread over several communities. Bo Frank was Mayor or deputy mayor from 1991-2016 and is now president of the council. The place also has a strong boating community – albeit an inland lake rather than the Solent or Portsmouth harbour. It was that lake, or rather its pollution, that in 1996 set the communities on a determined environmental mission to become fossil free by 2030 – and there the similarities end.

There is no substitute for listening to this 22-minute podcast via Spotify. Settle down and absorb the many differences between Fareham and Växjö. Then ask yourself what Fareham Borough Council would do if it had the same sense of responsibility and authority as Växjö. Suggestions welcome in the comments section below.

What car?

I’m in a bind. My car, a 1.6 diesel has done 216,000 miles and does 65 mpg. Great for CO2 and cost, but diesels have to go and surely mine will fail at some point. But what to replace it with?

I have just investigated the brand new Toyota Yaris self charging hybrid. Toyota claims an mpg between 59 and 65. Where is the climate emergency breakthrough?

When will the powers that be take the planet seriously? How is it that a brand new hybrid is no more fuel efficient than my 12 year old car?

In fact, the Yaris has an engine that is more powerful than mine – what for? The manufacturers know that for 80% of the time a car generally uses less than 20% of its engine’s power.

Surely the trick is to have as small an engine as possible (consistent with efficiency) that will allow the car to cruise at 70 mph and still be able to keep the batteries topped up. An 800cc twin cylinder engine would do the job nicely and be able to use the stored battery energy for acceleration when required.

When hydrogen technology is rolled out, the little petrol engine can be replaced with a fuel cell. All that is needed to make this happen is some government strategy and direction which is sadly lacking.

What if the government rules were that cars had to do 80 mpg (or electrical equivalent) by 2030 and 100mpg by 2040. This would rapidly reduce the fossil fuel use of transport until it can be CO2 free at some point.

Simply banning the sale of new diesel and petrol cars will have the effect of keeping lots of old cars on the road for longer. It puts the personal transport eggs in the one basket of battery cars, relying on some future magical technology breakthrough to make them workable.

China effectively controls the supply of lithium batteries. Does anyone think this is a good idea? Where do I look for a new car? By the way, I have no off street parking so charging an electric car at home is not possible. Open to suggestions.


Ruling The Waves?

A cold shower of reality. This is 2020. Few of us will be here in 2100, but this is not just because we don’t all expect to live for another 80 years.

Very few of us will be here in 2100 simply because large parts of here will be going, going, gone — along with many of the houses, roads, businesses and fields we know so well.

Rising sea levels may not seem to be an urgent problem — and, anyway, we are supposed to have a coastal defence plan. But our grandchildren are also likely to have a lesson in nature’s exponential arithmetic.

Sea walls at Hill Head need constant repairs

It seems increasingly unlikely that climate warming will be constrained to +2℃. The current Paris Agreement (+1.5℃ target) is already seen as inadequate and unlikely to be achieved. The plan assumes, of course, that every country will stick to their international agreements to limit global warming. How likely is that?

The latest observations suggest that the rate of sea-level rise may double every 20 years.

This year’s rise in sea level may not seem very much at all. But, as it rises faster, year on year, the cumulative effect is huge. 5mm a year in 2020 becomes an extra 1cm/p.a. in 2040 and, by 2100 the rate will be accelerating by +8cm every year.

That adds up to a lot of extra water — between 1 to 2 metres. It adds up to a lot less habitable land, more local islands, probably a growth in ferry services, no skiing holidays, many more beaches and houses built on stilts. And that doesn’t count inland flooding from extreme weather events, also triggered by climate change.

‘The last time our world was a couple of degrees warmer — during the Eemian interglacial 125,000 years ago — sea level was between six and nine metres higher than it is today.’ — Prof. William J McGuire, UCL

London is currently protected by the Thames Barrier. It was designed and built as an urgent response to the UK’s East Coast flood of 1953 — a catastrophic combination of high tides and poor weather. When completed in 1982 the barrier was expected to be needed perhaps twice a year. Last year the barrier was raised 9 times. It will be useless once the sea level has risen more than 2 metres. Some pundits may suggest that the Eemian is a poor guide to the future, arguing that there is little symmetry between the heating of the poles, but recent Antarctic observations provide little comfort.

Meanwhile, here on the UK’s South coast, the local plan to hold back the waves is, apparently, stalled while people argue about which latter-day Cnut might pay for it. There’s no sign yet of any plan to retreat from low-lying places around here, but, if we were interested, there’s a wealth of experience to be found in Asia and southern parts of the USA. Alternatively, we might, perhaps, gain some time if our governments realise that their aspirations to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 will achieve far too little, far too late.

Like glaciers, time is melting away. Governments and large organisations are rarely good at sustaining long term plans. Sustainability is an individual choice. Each of us must now choose the life we leave to our grandchildren.

Off yer bike: Barrie’s story

Like many people lucky enough to have a garden to use during the Coronavirus lockdown period, I accumulated much more garden waste (grass, weeds, etc) than usual. During this time the waste collection service was suspended and the recycling centre closed so when the service restarted I had plenty of garden waste to dispose of.

I have tried composting in the past but have not got sufficient/suitable space.

I looked at buying the green disposable garden waste bags from the council but considered the £40 charge for 25 bags or £10 for 5 bags a bit steep. However, even more off-putting, I am told by FBC that these bags are NOT made of a compostable material and the bags are not recyclable because there are no manufacturers that will recycle it.

Being green in colour does not make them compostable or bio-degradable and disposable means they are emptied of their contents, added to non-recyclable waste, and burned for energy recovery (how much energy can you get from a plastic bag?!).

Taking green garden waste to the recycling centre by car would be an unnecessary journey along with the associated air pollution.

 So I looked at cycling, carrying the garden waste in a small trailer, a mere 15 minute ride from Stubbington to the Grange Road recycling facility.

This time I am thwarted by HCC who state that ‘entering the recycling facility on a bicycle would be considered ‘pedestrian access’ and that this has always been ‘discouraged’ as HWRCs do not have pedestrian accesses. HCC also ask that customers use a vehicle to enter and exit sites safely to help ensure the safety of customers and staff and also to avoid accusations of queue jumping: not forgetting that I am ‘safe’ to cycle on the roads to the facility!

Considering council tax goes to support the recycling facilities, the costs of additional ‘green’ bags and the end product being sold back to us at a profit (no doubt) it seems as though we are being taken for a ride.

Barrie Webb

Covid: Knowing our place

We should all be thankful that here in Fareham we are one of the Local Authorities least affected by Covid-19.

Leicester’s latest local lockdown, however, raises key questions for all Local Authorities and their communities.

It is now abundantly clear that Leicester’s local management was not fully aware of its Covid-19 crisis. Central government had a rough idea that there was a problem but didn’t share the data or act on it quickly.

But would our Local Authority have managed any better? How well do we know our place? Fareham’s Borough Council is surely not a mere agency of the national Head Office – or at least we would hope not. For who can trust the current competence of Head Office?

Here in Fareham, we and all our residents and local employees need to know that our Local Authority is totally on top of the metrics. And the only way that we will know that is by openly publishing critical up-to-date information.

We should, at least, know the answers to seven basic questions:

  • Is our local population infection rate under control?
  • Is our local healthcare system capacity sufficient?
  • Do we have sufficient local testing and contact tracing, and is the system working effectively and efficiently?
  • How well are folk in Fareham complying with public health safety measures?
  • How well are we ensuring the protection and preparedness of essential workers?
  • Are we protecting and preparing places where people are gathered – like Care Homes?
  • What are we doing to ensure preparedness of businesses for reopening?

The answers for Fareham may be comforting, but this is not rocket science*. These are very basic questions that sit on top of a host of finer detail – essential metrics that must be monitored locally to ensure your community management is in safe hands.

Since the crisis in Leicester, more data on infection rates in every Local Authority has become available but few places, if any, have a complete overview of the current situation in sufficient detail to enable rapid hyper-local responses to any new outbreak. Any lack of local insight illustrates dependency on over-centralised systems – an abdication of local authority.

Here in Fareham, we are truly fortunate to be among the least-affected, but questions of trust remain: How well do we know our place? What can we do locally to reduce the future risk of dependence on outsourced management?

*A full list of the main and subsidiary metrics was compiled by Johns Hopkins University together with a clear specification of the granularity required to identify ‘at risk’ sections of society. The list shown above is a local adaptation of an American text issued by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Fareham’s foreign policy

Don’t be daft. Whoever heard of ‘Fareham’ at the G20? Or the World Trade Organisation?

Why not? You may not have traveled much, but have you never thought you might be part of a bigger picture?

But hang on, surely isn’t that why we’ve got all those clever clogs at the Foreign Office?

Precisely. Clever clogs. Thousands of them, mostly caught up in the complex cogwheels of trade agreements and international affairs – all desperately leaning on giant levers in some superior signal box (Grade II listed) hoping to divert the next train crash.

So, your point is?

My point, Sir, is that them up there do far less than half the job, and the rest is down to us – not that they’d admit it. They do what they think is the hard stuff. But none of that works out if we don’t deliver the soft power.

Foreign Policy has two elements – hard and soft. They – that lot up in London – are the hard power merchants, all carrots and sticks, negotiating bribes and sanctions. But we, all of us, have the soft power – the WD40 willpower that eases the rust, bolsters the trust, and keeps the show on the road.

But what’s all that to do with Fareham? And how can anyone talk about refining something that isn’t very obvious? And, anyway, who gave us permission to do any of this?

Stop scratching your head. Go ask your children. Ask them what languages they’re learning at school. Ask them if they’ve seen any foreign films recently or played any games made in Japan or China or India. Ask if they have any mates in Sweden, or Scotland, or wherever. Ask them where on this planet they will choose to study. Ask if they’ve read any international best sellers written by authors from Portchester, or streamed music on their smartphones.

And ask yourself how many friends you know around the world, or where you went on holiday, or what sort of cookbooks are on your kitchen shelf, or where your car was made. Where are the boundaries of your worlds? The other side of Southampton or Portsmouth? Are there dragons over there? Does your Far North start at Winchester or Reading?

Soft Power is all the stuff that the central government doesn’t get. The value of trusted reputations and informal connections. The need to work with neighbours. The value of a critical (and trusted) BBC. Taking a tough line on tax evasion and offshore fiddling. The vital necessity of giving Covid-19 vaccines to impoverished countries not blessed with an NHS. The mind-stretching value of public libraries. The entire point of Overseas Aid. The need to be seen leading responses to the climate crisis – and not just by stopping pollution of the Solent. The value of cutting corruption and sharing our good fortune to help those less fortunate – not least asylum seekers.

So how do we invest in this extraordinary Soft Power of our communities?

It is not that unusual for UK Local Governments to have Foreign Policies. Anyone who has ever thought for a nanosecond about our local economy will know the massive importance of pan-European and wider global connections for inward investment. Some communities (for example, Bristol) have a dedicated senior director of international relations.

Here in Fareham we don’t fare too badly – we have biennial cultural exchanges with a distant part of Brittany, and a not-so-small small town in Germany, and very strong links through the maritime, aerospace and education sectors – but there is so much more that we could be doing, and (this is important) not just for ourselves.

And so much more we could be doing to help the central government with Foreign Policy priorities. Have they not thought about getting the G20 to sort out a global rescue plan to offset Covid-19 damage like the UK did for the 2008 banking bother? Do they not understand that the climate cannot be bribed or sanctioned?

In retrospect, those 1980s privatisations were not, perhaps, such a very good idea – and that’s something we can track and trace through the Covid-19 experience. But that market fad for demutualisation was even worse – particularly now the value of sticking together is blown and we urgently need to rebuild well-regulated cooperative relationships.

Suggestions for refining Fareham’s Foreign Policy are always welcome. Especially as most of our communities may not even realise we’ve ever had such a thing.

OK, I’ll think about it. Arrivederci.