Tuesday, April 26, 2011

One benefit of A-V

I'd never heard of the A-V impulse system until today. I learned about it from leaflets familiarising me with what to expect from my consultant surgeon tomorrow when he goes to work with his knife. The A-V impulse system involves a pair of ImPads that wrap around your feet after surgery. They are attached by two hoses to the A-V impulse system controller. The Impads mimic the natural action of the soles of the feet, improving blood circulation while the patient is lying prostrate. At last I have found some useful purpose to A-V.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monk Parakeets to the Rescue?

This may sound ridiculous, but one way of scuppering National Grid's plans to destroy our landscapes with hideous pylons would be to park a car on top of every one of them. I'm sure you can see how this would work - even if you might enquire how we could get a car up there - 150' in the air. Well its not as far-fetched as it sounds. Mother nature often produces the answers. Enter the Monk Parakeet.

About 150 of these colourful raucous and very greedy parrot-like birds are on the rampage in the Home Counties, following escape from captivity in the 1990s. They are reported as being a problem for two reasons. Firstly they devour copious amounts of agricultural crops, and secondly they build nests the size of family cars on top of pylons. In the US, these nests on electricity pylons have caused serious damage. And there's the added bonus that the Monk Parakeet can develop a vocabulary of several hundred words to tell us what they think. They would need only two to convey to National Grid the thoughts and message on the lips of everyone in mid Wales.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Where does the blame for wind farm 'Madness' lie?

Rather like a wind turbine after several days calm, this blog comes back to life. I suppose Easter Sunday is an appropriate day. And its the mid Wales turbines, pylons etc. that feature in this post - and some of the confusion about responsibility for it all. During the last few weeks, I've spoken at several public meetings, and pinned the blame on the National Assembly Government - and explained why. But not everyone was there,

For many years, there's been a drive to promote renewable energy by governments across the world, including the UK Government. It was, and remains entirely sensible that the Welsh Assembly Government should play it's part, even if the largest projects (nuclear power, Severn Barrage etc) remain a matter for the UK Government. Personally I'd not objected hugely to the odd onshore wind farm in mid Wales, though I'd long thought their inconsistency and huge cost raised questions about viability. (The scales fell from my eyes in 2005). But none of the above justifies the stunning landscape of mid Wales being industrialised. The decision to do this was taken by the Assembly Government in 2005 when it published an updated version of it's planning guidance to Local Planning Authorities, Technical Advice Note 8 (TAN8). The decision was communicated to the public via a 'statement' to the Assembly by then Minister, Andrew Davies AM - and welcomed by all party representatives, except me. I was opposed to the new version of TAN8 for two reasons - firstly because it was all about onshore wind farms rather than renewable energy, and secondly because it meant the destruction of the mid Wales landscape. I knew that TAN8 meant that which has now become much more widely understood. What we are facing (in the next phase of industrialising the mid Wales uplands) is 700/800 new turbines, a 20 acre substation, and about 100 kms of new cables, including a 400kv cable from the Newtown area to mid Shropshire, carried on 150' high steel towers.

Permission for the 400kv cable, and for wind farms over 50mw will ultimately be the responsibility of the Minister for Energy and Climate Change at Westminster. Permission for the substation and wind farms under 50mw will be responsibility of the Local Planning Authority, ultimately the National Assembly for Wales. But all of the decisions will be decided against the planning policy backdrop provided by TAN8. It's only by changing TAN8 that we have any real chance of preventing this madness destroying what many of us hold dear. That's why I think those who object should demonstrate their anger in Cardiff Bay.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Immigration policy. Fuss over not much.

Call from one of Wales top journalists today asking for my take on the Prime Minister's comments on immigration. Since he went to the trouble of asking me, I shared my thoughts with him. Here's a flavour of what I said.

1) It's no surprise to me that David Cameron makes a speech describing his policy on immigration as being the same as it was before he was elected Prime Minister. He has consistently promised to reduce "net immigration back to the levels of the 1990s - tens of thousands a year, not hundreds of thousands." He also repeated his commitment to an 'annual limit'. I'd have been surprised if he had said anything else.

2) It seems wholly sensible that the Prime Minister should speak of immigration during the weeks before local council elections. During an election campaign is an entirely appropriate time to talk about policy. Its an issue which is of great concern to voters.

3) I'm not in the least surprised that Vince Cable expresses some mild unease with the Prime Minister's approach to immigration. Dr Vince has said the same sort of thing before. And anyway, the idea that every Liberal Democrat and Conservative Minister in the Coalition Government must hold identical thoughts is as daft as it is unrealistic. And Nick Clegg commented today that he is 'proud' of the work that he (and Mr Cable) had done for the Coalition's "sensible immigration policy".

The reality is that immigration has been too high for many years, the previous Labour Government had not much idea about how many people were entering Britain illegally, and that a great many people are extremely worried about it. We live in a world where accusations of antipathy towards immigrants are thrown around too casually. Its a serious issue, and if mainstream parties are not going to talk about it, there are plenty of others who will.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

TAN 8 is a monstrosity.

Been to another National Grid consultation meeting today, on their plans to build the necessary infrastucture to accommodate another 800-ish wind turbines in mid Wales - in the village of Arddleen. Not quite as many people turned up as I expected. Becoming used to 500+ everywhere. Probably about 250 today. Tried to get some grip on how the decision on the 400 kv cable will be made - and how to influence it.

Following their consultation, National Grid will decide on its preferred option, and submit an application to proceed with the Infrastructure Planning Committee (or as seems more likely, a successor body) - which will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change - currently the Liberal Democrat, Chris Huhne. Inevitable, the SoS will take the decision against the backdrop of the Assembly Government's TAN 8 policy statement (TAN 8 is a 'renewable energy technical advice note for Planning Authorities). Now lets imagine my dream scenario - a refusal to allow this desecration of the mid Wales countryside. The outrage that would explode in Cardiff Bay, assuming it's a Labour or Labour-led Government. There would be one hell of a row. Chris Huhne would be holing below the waterline the Assembly Government's policy of dumping another 20+ wind farms on Montgomeryshire. Can you just imagine the rumpus about not 'respecting' the National Assembly. On this issue, I'm all for creating a full scale rumpus.

Another issue on today's agenda was the process that would follow a refusal to answer the question on NG's form about where the sub station should go. My intention is to refuse to answer the question and write "Nowhere. We do not want any of this madness", and attaching a letter explaining why. Seems this will not be a 'void' response form. I accept that it could not influence the choice of site that NG take, but my opinion would be noted - and if thousands of us did the same thing, would have to be reported as part of the overall response. Seems as good a way as any of making Chris Huhne think twice.

Its all so awful. Like throwing a tin of pink paint over a Kyffin Williams oil painting. How can they sleep at night.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Salary increases for Powys Councillors.

My salary as an MP is about £65,000. Its always seemed to me to be a very good salary for a job which involves a strong element of public service. Though I'll always take what's offered, I'd have done the job for nothing. Done it differently of course, and of necessity only part-time - and not have been able to afford all those things that are 'expected' of an MP. When I was first elected to Montgomeryshire District Council, I elected not to take any payment at all for my time until I became Vice Chairman, which involved four days most weeks. I then took £16.50 per day. This is by way of a preamble to commenting on what its proposed that Powys County Council's new cabinet members are to be paid from next month.

At present the Council is 'led' by an Executive Management Board of 15 Cllrs. who are each paid £21,700 - with the Leader being paid £28,217. From next month the Council will be 'led' by a Cabinet of 10 (I think) who will each be paid £25,600 - with the Leader being paid £36,017. It is also proposed that there will be special responsibility payments for other individual duties. The increases are being recommended by an Independent Remuneration Panel. The report going to the full Council for approval goes under the authorship of Councillors Tony Thomas and Stephen Hayes.The Conservative Group does not agree with these increases, and its Group Leader will refuse to take the new responsibility allowance.

This seems to me to be quite a strong story. In fact one journalist I spoke to described the increases as f***** outrageous - and she was a lady!!. Personally, I thought the public should know about this, so that they can inform Councillors of their opinion before they vote on these proposals on April 28th. When asked to comment by the BBC and Shropshire Star today, I just said that I thought such increases at this time of pay freezes and cuts are insensitive - and that I thought the public should know before the decision is taken. Some issues do not need hyping up.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Where now for the Welsh Assembly?

So where does the devolution process go now? Important question to which there is no obvious answer. I suppose there's no rush. It may well not go anywhere, anytime soon. The referendum result is in, and it could take a while for the National Assembly to get a confident handle on the substantial increase in it's law making capacity. In some ways its a big move forward for the Assembly, even if in my opinion, it's no more than what most Welsh people (except we anoraks) thought we were voting about in September 1997. And it irritates me a touch to hear so many people saying "the Assembly has now been given law making powers" - as if some great principle had been conceded. The principle of devolved law making power was granted to the Assembly in 2006. What happened in the Mar 3rd referendum was that the process of granting this law making power was greatly simplified and speeded up.

Reason I was thinking about this over the weekend is that Martin Shipton rang me for a chat about it. Don't know whether he's printed anything yet. The next step in the process, in my opinion, is the granting of some form of 'fiscal accountability' to the Assembly. Cannot be more precise than this, except to say I was impressed by Gerry Holtham's Report into the matter which was published last year. We've heard quite a bit of negativity from Cardiff Bay politicians about this, which really mystifies me. Even Berriew Community Council had 'fiscal responsibility' when I was its Chairman 30 years ago! So I reckon the next step is going to be a "Calman-like process" - Calman being he that led a major review of the granting of 'fiscal responsibility' to the Scottish Parliament. It will take a while to work though this though - several years probably.

Personally, I also reckon it will be a while until the range of policy areas that fall under the Assembly's wing is up for consideration - except for some tangential references during the 'Calman-like process'. The next big debate on transfer of policy responsibility, which is already being mentioned by some would probably be criminal justice. This is a mighty area, which would transform the National Assembly. I cannot see this debate firing up into something real for a long time. But then I could be wrong.

Supporting Craig Williams.

I travelled to South Wales yesterday (Saturday) to speak at a lunch in support of Conservative Assembly candidate for Cardiff West, Craig Williams. Craig is one of a Welshpool family, and began his political career working for and with me in my local office when I was a Member of the National Assembly for Wales. He then went on to work in Nick Bourne's office in Cardiff, and has settled down in the city. He is now hitched up with the lovely Claire, who works for a UK cancer charity. Craig is a Cardiff City Councillor and they live in the constituency.

I would like to support all of the Conservative Assembly candidates who have helped me in Montgomeryshire - but there are 7 of them. Hard to believe, but 7 of the Conservative candidates standing next month began their careers in Welsh politics in our office in Welshpool. There's Russ George, Suzy Davies, Simon Baynes, Aled Davies, Martyn Hughes, Ian Harrison as well as Craig. We produce candidates like Sidoli's produce apple tarts in its huge factory on the local industrial estate.

Its a big ask for Craig to win Cardiff West. But its not Rhodri Morgan standing as the incumbent this time. And the 13% needed is not impossible. Come to think of it, that was the percentage I needed in the General Election! So its "Come on Craig". You can do it.

Friday, April 01, 2011

AV on Dragon's Eye

Just watched Dragon's eye reporting on the Alternative Vote referendum. I'm biased. I really cannot see any case for AV at all. Guto Bebb (as always) made some very good points for the 'No' side. Could not see any sense at all in the 'Yes' case that Peter Hain was making. AV is more confusing to the voter, sometimes declares as the winner a person other than most voters first choice, and is a system that almost no country in the world uses. But why on earth did they have to link the item with the frivolous Eurovision Song Contest. The referendum is a serious issue and should be treated seriously.