The will of the British people?

A common (but misleading and annoying) refrain, frequently repeated by Prime Minister Theresa May and other Brexit supporters, is that delivering Brexit is ‘the will of the British people’, respecting the vote of the June 2016 referendum. Delivery of Brexit and hang the consequences!

Will of the British people? Whatever does that mean? And who are the British?

Yes, the Leave campaign was supported by more voters, 52:48% and ‘won’ the referendum. However, only 37.4% of the electorate (of 46.5 million) actually voted Leave. Not even 50% or more. Had they supported Brexit to that level then it would be appropriate to make that claim. As it is, it’s just a ridiculous platitude that Theresa May repeats ad nauseam.

So voting to leave the EU was the will of the British people? Well, let’s see how they voted.

Blue: Leave; yellow: Remain (2016 referendum result)

Actually, voting to Leave was the will of a majority of the English and the Welsh, although listening to the antediluvian Democratic Unionists of Northern Ireland, you might be led to believe that the Province also voted overwhelmingly to Leave.

There is now strong evidence that voting preferences have changed (in favour of Remain) since the referendum as the potential impact of Brexit (especially a No Deal Brexit) has dawned on a naïve electorate.

L: the actual results of the 2016 referendum by local authority. R: voting intention in a Channel 4 survey in November 2018, by local authority. Yellow = Remain; Blue = Leave.

Naïve? Just listen to these British expats who live in or frequently visit Spain. I feel embarrassed (ashamed even) to be part of the same age demographic.

Immigration was a serious driver of the Leave result. I find it incredible that so many voters thought that ending free movement (under the Single Market, if they indeed ever understood what that was) only applied to those EU nationals coming into the UK. Not to the British moving around the EU! And, regrettably, ‘British’ is often perceived (especially by those on the Far Right of politics) simplistically as white English.

As I recently wrote, Brexit perspectives will be forensically dissected at some time in the future when the histories of this debacle come to be written.

If the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal, I believe (and fear) the United Kingdom will soon disintegrate. And this once proud, but increasingly impoverished nation, will descend to a state of insignificance on the world stage. Scotland will, in a second referendum, overwhelmingly vote for independence. And who could blame them? Northern Ireland will, within a decade, probably draw even closer to the Irish Republic. I’m not sure about Wales.

Brexiteers (predominantly Tory English MPs) continue to see a role and influence of the UK projecting ‘neo-colonialist’ power (‘lethality’ even) far beyond what this small island nation with a shrinking economy can hope, or should ever again aspire, to achieve. Just take the ludicrous comments of Gavin Williamson, MP for the South Staffordshire constituency and the miserably inadequate Secretary of State for Defence, just a few days ago.

And on the trade and diplomatic front, things aren’t going so well either.

What is also lamentable right now, is that the ‘will of the people’ appears to be cast in stone. Theresa May can bring her failing deal back to Parliament for multiple votes, yet hypocritically denies the electorate the opportunity of comment on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations through holding a second referendum or so-called People’s Vote.

With only 39 days left to Brexit, and nothing clearer appearing on the horizon, it’s about time to recognize that the will of the people has changed. Politics in the UK is broken. Party politics (and survival) have taken precedence over the well-being and future of the country.

I’m a citizen of the United Kingdom, British by nationality. I’m British from England, and I want my British voice and will to be heard and felt along with those from Brits from Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.

I feel and am European!

 

A stroll in the park

14 February 2019. Valentine’s Day. Bright and sunny, hardly a cloud in the sky. Just a gentle breeze. What a better day for a nice long walk in the Worcestershire countryside.

So Steph and I headed off to Hanbury Hall, just over 6 miles from home, the closest National Trust property¹ where we often enjoy the garden and parkland. This short video shows the last couple of miles of the trip, through Stoke Prior, past Hanbury Woods before turning right on to School Rd just outside Hanbury.


We completed the circular walk that we had part enjoyed last August, taking in the extra mile or so that we had omitted then.

This is the route we took, clockwise from the car park, and ending at the shop and plant sales.

In all, this walk was just over 3.6 miles and took us almost 1½ hours. From the car park, we headed round the south side of the hall and through the parterre, northwest across the fields (sown with soybeans, we think) before joining the Worcester and Birmingham Canal towpath at the Hanbury Park lock, then following the towpath north to the next lock at Astwood Lane.

Here we turned east along Astwood Lane, heading towards Hanbury Church of St Mary the Virgin, before once again turning south on to National Trust land and back into the park and along an old oak avenue.

Along the way we enjoyed the stark magnificence of Hanbury’s parterre and its box hedges and cones, banks of snowdrops and emerging and soon-to-flower daffodils.

Along the canal there was hardly a breath if wind, so the reflections in the water were particularly strong.

We came across two badger carcasses, roadkill perhaps or maybe victims of TB? Near the church a fox came out of the undergrowth and trotted along the lane ahead of us. We think it had been inspecting one of the dead badgers, an easy meal in the middle of winter.

In a field attached to Webb House Farm we saw a flock of perhaps a hundred fieldfares (the largest of the thrushes that visits these shores in winter); and rabbits skipping along in the warm sunshine. Everywhere there were flocks of heavily pregnant ewes.

Male fieldfare

A full album of photos from our walk can be viewed here.

It was certainly a beautiful day to be outside. And remarkably, it was almost a year to the day that we visited The Firs (the birthplace of composer Sir Edward Elgar) near Worcester, and had enjoyed equally fine and warm weather.


¹ Actually, Rosedene is closer by two miles, but is open only on a few weekends each year.

 

 

 

When the history of Brexit comes to be written

23 June 2016 will forever be remembered as the date when the UK (or parts of it at least) collectively committed an act of great folly, by voting by a slim margin to leave the European Union (EU). No doubt there will be, in due course, a flurry of Brexit histories.

Historians will take the facts and interpret them through a prism of their Leave or Remain beliefs and opinions, prejudices even, and analyze the roles and motives of the dramatis personae.

Facts are facts (despite Donald Trump’s best efforts to disabuse us of this). They can be checked and verified, and nowadays, at the drop of a hat. But they can come back to bite you—as many politicians are finding to their cost during this whole Brexit debacle. Social media like Twitter and Facebook are being used to hold politicians to account.

Here’s just one example, recently resurrected, of Prime Minister Theresa May talking about the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic (when she was Home Secretary, and before the referendum), a position on which she has now backtracked to appease and gain the support of the hard Brexiteers on the right of her party.

So when the histories of Brexit come to be written, here’s one suggestion:

I have my own opinions and prejudices. So let me be clear, upfront. I voted to Remain in the EU. I never wanted to leave, and am having a hard time trying to understand why any government would deliberately try and impoverish the nation.

Brexiteers are optimistic about the future; Remainers, like me, are pessimistic. I fear what a No Deal Brexit will mean. And given the appalling use and misuse of facts during and after the 2016 Referendum, I’m not surprised that a small percentage of the electorate actually believe that No Deal means staying in the EU. They have an unwelcome surprise in store should this come to pass.

I think what has depressed me most about the whole Brexit process is the sheer level of ignorance of many who support Leave (many of my generation, 65 and over, who look back through rose-tinted spectacles to a Britain that never was), the mendacity and the documented illegality of the Leave campaign, the dismissal of expert advice (and facts) as Project Fear, and the complete breakdown of commonsense in Parliament as party tribalism reared its ugly head. Party before country!

I can’t help feeling that the ending to the 1991 film Thelma and Louise is a great allegory for Brexit and how Theresa May seems to be leading us to a No Deal Brexit, hang the consequences.

Over the months, I have posted various opinions about Brexit, so I’m not going to go over those points again in any detail.


I’ve consistently argued that the UK should have been, from when it joined in 1973, an enthusiastic member of the EEC/EU, helping to push forward its common agenda, and iron out the idiosyncrasies that inevitably emerge when 28 nations are working on a ‘common’ agenda. The UK should have contributed its well-known (and appreciated) pragmatism to the (often) difficult issues that face the EU. But perhaps UK membership has always been ambivalent. Let Sir Humphrey explain:

We have squandered opportunities, and consistently hectored and whined from the sidelines, even while securing special status for the country in several respects (like the annual rebate, non-membership of Schengen or the Euro, just to mention three). The EU has wasted a considerable amount of time on the ‘British question’. I’m surprised the other EU members didn’t already ask the UK to leave. But no, they loyally stuck with us. And now that we are leaving, many on the Leave side can’t or won’t understand the EU position of the remaining 27 members. They consistently view the EU position as bullying the UK. But any difficulties we brought on ourselves. Well, some of us did. We are leaving of our own volition, not being pushed. We started this sorry state of affairs. The consequences must be laid at our door. No one else’s.


I voted Remain, proud to have done so, and deeply regret the situation the country now finds itself in, with a Parliament in stalemate, and an electorate that is thoroughly disillusioned with politics and the whole Brexit fiasco. And equally, for many, confused about what Brexit really means.

11 pm GMT on Friday 29 March 2019 is fast approaching. Just 49 days. That is the time and date when the UK will leave the EU, withdrawal deal or no deal, unless some miracle happens during the intervening period. And the country is not prepared in any shape or form. Just read this article from today’s The Guardian.

Recently, former Prime Minister David Cameron was asked—just after the House of Commons had soundly rejected Theresa May’s negotiated Brexit deal—whether he had any regrets about holding the 2016 referendum. Given that he resigned immediately after defeat in that referendum, after he’d committed himself to a lame Remain campaign (because I do believe that no-one, not even Leavers, expected that the electorate would support Leave), he took no responsibility for the genie he’d released from the Brexit bottle and its consequences. This is what he said.

It seems that David Cameron never expected to hold a referendum, because he never thought the Conservatives would win the 2015 election outright, and would have to go into coalition again with the Lib Dems who, he thought, would oppose a referendum. Having secured a majority for the Conservatives in that General Election, Cameron was a hostage to fortune to his own party. He was committed to a referendum.

Thus holding a referendum and delivering Brexit has little to do with the future well-being of the nation. It had much to do with internal Conservative Party politics and coherence.

The referendum took place. Just a binary question: Leave the EU or Remain. With no thought given it seems, to how Brexit might be delivered and what its consequences might be. I believe that everyone, on both sides of the argument, thought that the referendum result would be to Remain. Just look at Boris Johnson and Michael Gove (key players on the Leave side) the following morning, hardly believing what had happened. As Michael Gove’s wife Sarah Vine supposedly said after the referendum: You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!

The morning after . . .

No wonder a frustrated Donald Tusk (President of the European Council) commented just a couple of days ago:Well, cartoonist Matt (in The Daily Telegraph) responded appropriately*:

I often argued that the referendum (if indeed it had to be held at all) should have been a two stage process.The first would be to gauge what the nation favored: IN or OUT? Then, after any deal had been reached to leave the EU and we had a better idea of its consequences, we should have been given the opportunity (in a second vote) to agree with any deal, Leave the EU with No Deal, or Remain a member.

I also strongly believe that, given the constitutional, economic, social, and political implications of leaving the EU, then the first referendum should have met certain thresholds: more than a certain percentage of the electorate had to cast a vote, and an absolute majority had to vote to Leave. As it is, although the turnout was more than 70% in June 2016, Leave won the referendum by a margin of 52:48%, representing only approximately only 37% of the electorate. So it’s disingenuous for Theresa May to claim it’s the will of the British people.

For so long this has been the Leavers’ mantra, but what does it mean?

There’s more immigration from countries outside the EU than under free movement from EU countries. The UK net contribution to the EU is between £8 and £9 billion annually (less than £140 per person, or <2% of government spending, and less than the ‘annual subvention to Northern Ireland‘), after the rebate and other funds that come back to us (such as regional funds that have supported, in particular, less favored parts of the country).

Data (probably 2016) from Business Insider/HMRC (article published in 2017)

And in terms of laws, I haven’t seen Parliament slacking in passing new legislation. But the Brexiteers don’t like the role of the European Court of Justice or the ‘imposition’ of regulations that facilitate industry and business.

So many lies!


So what will the forthcoming histories of Brexit focus on? There are so many perspectives to explore, but I’m not qualified to do so. I can only draw your attention to some of them.

Will it be Theresa May’s pathetic leadership, running from meeting to meeting in recent days like a headless chicken, listening to no-one. Here’s a cartoon by Peter Brookes in today’s The Times that sums up the situation we now find ourselves in:

Or the duplicitous Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour Party into the electoral wilderness through his tacit support of Brexit. He’s certainly anti-EU as this speech in 2009 (at the time of the second Irish referendum) shows.

If Corbyn claims that his views have changed since then, why will he not support a #PeoplesVote on whether to support Theresa May’s deal or Remain? There is good evidence to suggest that many Leavers have now become Remain supporters now that they can see what Brexit actually means.

Or will histories focus on the reasons why people voted to Leave the EU in 2016? Was it just a protest vote against an unpopular Conservative government that was seen to favor the southeast while imposing austerity on the rest of us? Listen to Cambridge economist Dr Victoria Bateman’s interview with John Humphrys on Radio 4’s Today this morning talking about the consequences of Brexit for an electorate that felt left behind and who voted Leave.

What about the anti-immigration issue, whipped up to a frenzy by the likes of Nigel Farage, but tacitly supported by Theresa May as her actions as Home Secretary and Prime Minister have shown?

Commentary must also focus on the illegality of the Leave campaign, and the financial support provided by the likes of Aaron Banks.

Or will historians analyze Project Fear and how the perspectives of experts (in all spheres of business, trade negotiations, economic prospects post-Brexit, and the like) were dismissed by Brexiteers as scaremongering. The odious Marc Francois (MP for  Rayleigh and Wickford) who made these totally unacceptable comments recently.

Then there’s the naivete of politicians like Liam Fox, responsible for international trade, claiming that the UK will strike the best trade deals in the fastest time. The reality is turning out rather differently.

While much debate has focused on the urgency with which Brexiteers want to leave the EU, strike trade deals around the world, and operate on WTO terms, the other advantages of EU membership are glossed over, like our membership in many agencies (at shared cost) that give structure to the way in which we live as a nation (such as air traffic safety, medicines, and the like) that we will have to replicate (at great cost) once we leave the EU.

Yet Brexiteers had no plan whatsoever for leaving the EU—thus Donald Tusk’s outburst a couple of days ago (which was roundly misquoted and condemned by Brexiteers like Peter Bone (but was applauded by many on the Remain side of the argument). Here’s Peter Bone complaining in the House of Commons:

How about the incompetence of David Davis and Dominic Raab, who led negotiations with the EU, but then threw their hands up and left their mess to others? And the likes of John Redwood and Jacob Rees-Mogg and their European Research Group (ERG) acolytes in the House of Commons.

Few politicians have come out of this Brexit mess with honor. But several Tory MPs have consistently opposed the government on Brexit, including Anna Soubry, Dominic Grieve, Justine Greening, and others. They have been vilified in the right-wing media? On the Opposition benches, MPs like Yvette Cooper, Chukka Umunna, and David Lammy have not been afraid to speak out against Brexit and their own front bench leadership (hopeless as it is), to mention just three. And we shouldn’t forget the outstanding Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas.

I hope any future Brexit history takes note of this speech by Labour David Lammy MP, speaking during the Brexit debate in the House of Commons on 10 January this year.

And then there are the heroes and heroines among the general public. Steve Bray (Mr Stop Brexit) is a rare coin dealer from Newport who has been protesting for weeks outside Westminster, day in and day out.

Steve Bray

Then there’s Madeleina Kay (EU Super Girl) who has protested Brexit all over the country and in many capitals among the other 27 EU members.

And the articulate Femi Oluwole.

Dr Mike Galsworthy, a geneticist at University College London and co-founder of Scientists for EU and Healthier IN the EU seems to have put his career on hold to fight Brexit.

Well done to him and the others.

So, there you have it. If you’ve got this far you will see that my comments have been presented through my ‘Remain prism’. And I’m not embarrassed to admit it. If Brexit does come to pass, I fear we will be a diminished nation, our Union will dissolve and Scotland will go its own way. How long before this insignificant nation is ousted from its seat on the Security Council of the United Nations? Its world standing will have decreased to such a level that it surely cannot continue as before. Oh, I forgot. Brexiteers look at life through rose-colored glasses. Put ‘Great’ back into Great Britain. Pathetic.


* For my non-UK/EU followers, Ode to Joy (from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony) is the EU’s anthem played on official occasions.

Around the world in 40 years . . . Part 22: Iberian capitals

As Director for Program Planning and Communications (DPPC, from 2001 until my retirement in 2010) at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), I managed the institute’s portfolio of research projects, reporting back to donor agencies on progress and outcomes, such as the UK’s DFID, USAID in the USA, or the SDC in Switzerland, to mention just three. And working with them to ensure continued financial support to the institute each year.

On a rolling basis, I tried to meet officials from these agencies on their home turf, so to speak, and would coordinate several meetings in a single trip. I often scheduled meetings with European donor agencies when I was back on leave in the UK each year. And this was the case in early July 2003 when I visited Portugal (Lisbon) and Spain (Madrid).


At that time, one of my IRRI colleagues, Dr Swapan Datta, had a joint research project with Professor M. Margarida Oliveira of the Instituto de Tecnologia Química e Biológica António Xavier (ITQB), a scientific research and advanced training institute of the Universidade NOVA de Lisboa in Portugal. One of her students, Marta Vasconcelos, worked on rice biofortification with ferritin in Datta’s lab. Another, Sónia Negrão, worked with IRRI’s plant breeders for part of her PhD study, and held a post-doctoral fellowship at IRRI as well.

On the beach at Oeiras close to ITQB, with Margarida, Marta, and Sonia (in the left image) and Sonia and Marta (right).

Prof. Oliveira and I visited the Portuguese overseas aid agency to seek funding for joint rice projects. Portugal, at that time, provided only a small amount of funding (if any—I don’t remember the details) to IRRI. I also got to see some rice growing at the ITQB experiment station.

During the visit to ITQB, I gave a seminar about the genetic resources of rice and, with the donor visit, most of my second day in Lisbon was quite full. But, as was often the case in visits to donor capitals, there also was an opportunity for some sight-seeing.

I had arrived to Lisbon the day before, in the early afternoon. After settling into the Hotel Lutécia in the Areeiro district (map), north of the city center, I decided to see what Lisbon had to offer and took the metro to the city center, about a 20 minute ride from the Roma-Areeiro station to the Baixa-Chiado station.

Lisbon is a lovely maze of narrow streets, and large open plazas. One thing that immediately struck me, especially from the heights of the Castelo de S. Jorge, were the orange tile roofs of all the houses spread over the surrounding hills, and the views over the Tagus River, and west to the expanses of the Atlantic Ocean.

Anyway, I made my way from the metro, south along Rua Agustina (mostly traffic free) full of designer shops and cafes and restaurants towards the Praça de Comércio.

And although I’d intended to carry on walking around the city, I did something I’d never done before. Seeing a line of double-decker open top buses to one side of the plaza, I decided to take a city tour. Having only a short time in Lisbon I realized this would be the best way of seeing much of the city.

The tour lasted about two hours, and I certainly saw many of the important sites, some of which I went back to explore on foot afterwards.

The tour took in: Praça da Figueira; Praça D. Pedro IV; Praça da Restauradores; Av. da Liberdade; Praça do Marquês de Pombal; the view down to the coast from the Alameda Cardeal Cerejeira; west to the Torre de Belém; and back to the city center via the Praça do Império and the magnificent Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, passing under the impressive  Ponte 25 de Abril over the Tagus.

Although it was getting on in the afternoon, I decided to walk up to the Castelo de S. Jorge and enjoy the views over the city.

Castelo de S. Jorge from Praça da Figueira (L) and the plaza from the castle (R).

Then, it was back down to enjoy a beer or three and a dish of bacalhau (a typical dish of cod), before heading back to my hotel.

On the second evening I decided to stay near my hotel, write up my notes, and get ready for a mid-morning departure to Madrid the following day.


I had just a couple of nights in Madrid. I’d been through the city’s airport in 1981 on my way to the Canary Islands. That was in June, and I remember stepping outside the airport terminal building to experience the heat. It was over 40ºC. Now, I’d lived in the tropics for over eight years up till then, but I’d never experienced heat like that.

In July 2003 it was pretty hot as well. I arrived mid-afternoon on my flight from Lisbon. I was booked into a boutique hotel near Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. By the time I was settled into my hotel, it was late afternoon, and fortunatley it was cooling down. So I took the metro to the Puerta del Sol plaza.

I wandered along the Calle Mayor, taking in the Plaza Mayor and Plaza de la Villa on my left, on on towards the Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena and the Palacio Real.

Nearby there was a cafe where I could sit outside and enjoy a cold beer, before I headed back towards the Puerta del Sol plaza to choose a restaurant for my evening meal. Then it was back on the metro to my hotel.

I had meetings the next day, all day at the Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria (INIA) in the Moncloa-Aravaca district, northwest of the city center.

In the evening I chose a small restaurant close to the hotel. Excellent food!

Then, early the next day, it was off to the Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport, and an Iberia flight to Switzerland (Zurich), where I had a meeting in Bern at the SDC.

Before heading back to BHX, I visited old friends in The Hague, Gordon and Joan MacNeil. Gordon had been IRRI’s Deputy Director General for Finance, and left the institute in 2002.

All in all, an enjoyable trip, but not very fruitful donor-wise, unfortunately.

In 2012, Steph and I had a short holiday in Portugal, visiting my eldest brother Martin and his wife Pauline who live about 100 km north of Lisbon.


 

You can do better than this, Network Rail (updated 18 February)

I’ve got a bee in my bonnet, and it won’t go away. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Let me explain. Please bear with me.

My home town, Bromsgrove, lies at the foot of the Lickey Hills in north Worcestershire (map). The rail mainline from Birmingham to the southwest (through Worcester and Cheltenham, on to Bristol and the West Country) passes to the east of the town, having descended the Lickey Incline, ‘the steepest sustained main-line railway incline in Great Britain. The climb is a gradient of 1 in 37.7 (2.65% or 26.5‰ or 1.52°) for a continuous distance of two miles (3.2 km)’.

A new station was opened in 2016, and the line was subsequently electrified.

The new electric trains (operated by West Midlands Railways in their bright gold and silvery grey livery) came into service in July 2018 as part of the Cross City line connecting Bromsgrove with Lichfield to the north of Birmingham.

I wrote a blog post about the station in 2016, and updated it last November.

There are three bridges over the railway near the new station, one to the south (at a housing development known as Breme Park that had been built on the site of the former Garringtons Ltd or United Engineering Forgings), and two to the north (one over St Godwald’s Road, and the other over the B4184, Finstall Road), indicated by arrows on the map below. All three bridges are owned by Network Rail, which ‘own[s] and operate[s] the railway infrastructure in England, Wales and Scotland on behalf of the nation. That’s 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges and viaducts and thousands of tunnels, signals, level crossings and points’.

Until recently these bridges were great vantage points to watch rail traffic up and down the Lickey Incline. No longer. During the installation the overhead electrification it wasn’t necessary to raise any of the three bridges in Bromsgrove. However, as a safety feature to prevent anyone leaning over the parapets, steel cladding was erected on both sides of each bridge, as illustrated in this photo to the right. I didn’t manage to take any photos of the bridges with all this cladding, but you can now imagine what it must have looked like. Very unsightly.

Now the cladding has been replaced on all three bridges—for better or worse. That’s why a bee is busy buzzing. Let me show you, bridge by bridge.

To the south of the station, there is a steel and brick bridge that connects with public footpaths on the east side. It’s just a muddy track, but wide enough for a vehicle to cross. From here was the perfect spot to watch trains approaching, at speed, round the bend from the south. Almost all the steel cladding has gone, except at each end of the bridge on both sides. I cannot understand why Network Rail would leave the bridge with four sets of steel cladding, unless workmen will return at a later date to replace the remain panels. Click on each image to enlarge.

In the center and right below, can be seen the view, north and south from the bridge, from the ends of the bridge. On the left is the view south towards the bridge from the station platform.

Just north of the station (close to where the old station was sited until 2016), a concrete bridge crosses St Godwald’s Road. On the top of the parapet has been placed a single course of ‘plastic bricks’. Since the parapet itself is flat, Network Rail made a better job here. It wasn’t so complicated. Yet, on the rail side of the north parapet, there is much to be desired, as the ‘bricks’ don’t appear to be fully secured.

Then there is the bridge further north carrying the B4184 Finstall Road over the mainline. This is actually a concrete structure, but the parapets were faced with pink sandstone blocks that have weathered over the decades, and are in keeping with the surrounding area.

But what a botched job Network Rail has made of placing a course of ‘bricks’ on the top of each parapet. This a view of the bridge from the south (rail) side.

On the bridge itself, south and north sides, it’s hard to believe that anyone signed off on this as a completed job, well done. Just look at how they have placed the ‘bricks’. Let’s look at the south side first.

And on the north side, it’s almost as bad. And in the process, some of the stonework has been damaged.

On one of my walks a couple of weeks ago (on 21 January to be precise), I took a few photos on my mobile and sent a couple of tweets to Network Rail:

To their credit, Network Rail did reply within an hour, and through emails they have now referred this issue to a local team to investigate: Your service request has been assigned to our RAM Structures team to investigate further. They will report back shortly with their findings and your local contact and communities team will be in contact to confirm the next steps in due course. There’s even a job number, #190121-000205.

Nothing has happened yet, but I’ll keep monitoring the situation—and bugging Network Rail—until the buzzing has gone away*.

But why have I become so incensed about this situation? The casual use of resources is unacceptable in these difficult fiscal times. But maybe I’m just becoming a grumpy old fart.

I have no idea what budget was allocated to, firstly, install the steel cladding, and secondly, the replacement panels and ‘bricks’. Thousands of pounds, undoubtedly. How many person-days so far? And, for the bridge on the Finstall Road, because there is a pavement on only one side (the south) the road had to be partially closed (with traffic signals) for about three weeks, disrupting traffic for the local community.

But as I’ve already said, I can’t imagine how anyone could think that this workmanship was acceptable, up to standard. And that goes against my sensibilities of doing something right the first time!

These are the only views now possible from the bridge on St Godwald’s Road. The middle image below was taken from the car park of the old station, and shows a West Midlands Railways train departing from Platform 3, and then crossing over on to the up line. Diesel trains (shown here) to and from Hereford via Worcester stop at Bromsgrove.


* On 12 February, I received a further update from Network Rail, which I reproduce here in full:

Dear Mr Jackson,

Thank you for your recent communication to our National Helpline on the 21 January 2019.

As part of the scope of works of the Bromsgrove electrification, our project team have had to ensure that at all bridges over the railway a minimum of 1.8 metre high parapets have to be in place to protect users of the bridge from the presence of live electrification equipment below. From July 2018 this was permanently energised at 25,000 volts.
In some cases (such as the new Bromsgrove station footbridge and newly-reconstructed bridges in the Barnt Green and Blackwell areas), this height separation has been provided from new. At bridges which have not needed to be reconstructed, we have raised the heights of the parapets, there being three such structures in the Bromsgrove area.

The designs for parapet height extension have gone through a number of approval processes, which have taken some time. Temporary steel screening has been installed at the bridges – including Finstall Road – to provide the necessary separation in the interim between energisation of the electrification and the approval and delivery of the permanent works. Planning consent has been sought and received, with an inert colour incorporated into the material used (GRP).

Volker Rail is the contractor undertaking the works (under subcontract to MPB), and over a number of weekends has progressively installed the cladding and when able, removed the temporary steel cladding. As per the photos supplied by you the temporary gaps left between the GRP panels, some of which were filled in the interim with plywood panels, were of work still in progress whilst the GRP ones were being fabricated.

While I appreciate this may not be the answer that you were hoping for, and there may still be some work outstanding, the work to date is as per the design.

For the rest of your enquiry about the costs involved in this project, if you would like to pursue this information, we would kindly request for you to make a separate enquiry as this would require a Freedom of Information request.

Kind Regards
Community Relations

Now, there’s a couple of points I’d like to make. First, I have never questioned the necessity of meeting health and safety issues by installing raised parapets. I completely see the need for these, while feeling disappointed (along with many others, I’m sure) that the views up and down the Lickey Incline have now been reduced or lost. Second, the reply from Network Rail is ambiguous whether the job at the bridges is a ‘work in progress’ and yet to completed, or whether this is now the finished article, so to speak. If it’s a ‘work in progress’ I’m surprised that Network Rail did not agree with the contractor (Volker Rail) a more convenient start date when all the materials necessary for the job had been assembled. If the contractor has to return that will mean more expense and road closure inconvenience perhaps.