Sunday, 30 October 2011

ANY PORTAS IN A STORM

© Copyright Downing Street and licensed for reuse. This is not an endorsement of my post.
Mary Portas – Channel 4's Queen of Shops and the coalition government's retail champion – swung into town last month and was treated to something of a hero's welcome by shop owners in Margate's Old Town. Anyone who felt Mary Portas deserved being hailed as the saviour of our local High Street will be amply disappointed to discover that she has since admitted to KM Thanet Extra that the solution to Margate's empty shops could be to transform them into residential flats or business spaces. This begs me to ask the question: Did a visit by the Queen of Shops really do diddly squat for our local shops?

Leading a review into the future of the British High Street is one thing (which aims to 'bring back the bustle to our town centres' as her official website states), but to swan about calling herself a shopping guru while at the same time admitting that opening shops isn't her prerogative makes me feel as if her visit was little more than a shallow PR stunt. What exactly was the point of getting some consumer-friendly reality TV personality to spring this load of flannel on us? If he were alive today, they might as well have hired Fred Dibnah to do a tour of Margate only to tell us the solution is to raze the whole bloody lot to the ground. 

Of course, I don't agree with Dibnah's philosophy of demolition. I'd love to see Margate's High Street be completely regenerated, with new shops popping up by the dozen, but it seems to me that Mary Portas's comments only add to the suggestion that local shops have no real future ("many towns nowadays are over-retailed," she says). This taps into a sense of defeatism, the idea that Westwood Cross has won the war and that any shop which doesn't happen to be a chain store isn't worthy of our attention, so we might as well build ghettos of rented accomodation instead. To that, I say nonsense. As acute as the UK's housing needs may be, if the price we have to pay for more living spaces is the monotony of soulless shopping precincts, then I think we should disagree with Portas's comments.

I'm aware that Margate is still ranked as one of the UK's worst High Streets with 36% of its retail premises remaining shut, even though its reputation as a 'ghost town' has since been usurped by Leigh Park in Hampshire. But just look at Margate Old Town and see how fast those shops have flourished since the opening of the Turner Contemporary. What's to suggest that this won't create a domino effect towards the top-end of town that Mary Portas claims is "dying"? 

As far as regeneration goes, simply turning old shops into flats or offices for business hire seems to be the easier (and possibly most profitable) option in the short-term. But the real long-term challenge would be to lobby central government for the right to relieve business rates in the UK's most deprived high streets to encourage local entrepreneurs to set up independent shops, free from the tyranny of corporate multinationals. Would Mary Portas be willing to lend her name to that, I wonder? Or would she be too busy trying on frocks?

Monday, 17 October 2011

THAT'S RICHBOROUGH

© Copyright Andreas-photography and licensed for reuse. This is not an endorsement.
Plans to demolish Richborough Power Station's three cooling towers and chimney have been submitted to Thanet Council, according to the Thanet Gazette. In the report, it's stated that they "cannot be retained in any future scheme, because of their location, size and speciality of use" and they are "surplus to the requirements of the site." Needless to say, this should come as no surprise to many of us, but I for one will be devastated to see the towers go. As ugly as they might seem, they are without a doubt an East Kent landmark and they've had a big and important role to play in my life.

I originally grew up in Deal and it only took a stroll from across where I lived to see the Richborough cooling towers on the horizon. Those towers are something I remember being part of my growing up experience and I fondly remember staring at them on many walks along the coast adjacent to the Goodwin Sands near the Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club. Not only that, but my connection to them is familial. My grandfather Bernard Edwards worked at Richborough Power Station for nearly thirty years – from 1962 onwards – and had worked his way up to becoming a Unit Operator in the control room.

Eventually, my grandfather was moved onto Sellindge when I was just a child and the rest, as they say, is history. Richborough Power Station was eventually closed in 1996 and left a large cooling tower-shaped hole in my grandfather's life from then onwards. The fact that I was raised by my grandparents only added to the sense of importance those cooling towers had to our family. Subsequently, hearing that plans have been submitted to Thanet Council to have the towers demolished has had a disheartening effect on me.

Obviously, it's nothing I didn't see coming, and it may seem ridiculous to some people, but in my opinion Richborough Power Station's stature as a landmark – both physically and psychologically – was overwhelmingly profound. Not only did it have a vital role to play in my Grandad's working life, but it also loomed large on the horizon for most of my childhood years and well into my adolescence. It was always there. The thought of it not being there is saddening, even though I've since moved away from where I grew up.

I am, however, for the most part, unsure of what could be done to stop this from happening. The towers have been in a state of disuse for so long now that getting nostalgic about them forgets the fact that the amount of maintenance required could spell the end of them anyway. It looks as though we'll be getting a Green Energy Park on the site once the towers are demolished and apparently it'll become a "recycling plant for household, commercial and industrial waste, biomass and gasification plants – where waste is converted through heat rather than incineration into electricity."

I can see some saying that it's foolish to cling onto big lumps of concrete and calling them a 'landmark' when it serves no real purpose. But what's to say the site owners couldn't make use of them somehow, perhaps as a testament to Britian's industrious past in electricity generation? I imagine that'd go down rather nicely alongside a 21st century 'green energy' recycling plant.

In short, I don't mind admitting I'll be sad to see the cooling towers go. Had my Grandad been alive today, he probably would've been just as upset as I am at the news. Sure, I will miss driving past the cooling towers on my way to work. My grandmother will also be sad not to see them in the distance when she takes her dog for a walk. But what do you think? Should we resist the change, or should we say 'RIP Richborough Power Station. Step up, Richborough 2.0'?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

IS ROGER GALE A LUDDITE?

Goodness me, Roger Gale's foolhardy war on technology looks set to continue. Is the MP for North Thanet becoming a luddite or something? A luddite tends, after all, to be described as "one who opposes technical or technological change" and Gale's latest call to ban Twitter from the Commons has made him look as daft as a brush. It seems like this is becoming something of a habit. Last month, Gale criticised the government's use of online e-petitions to determine parliamentary debates and now he's having a pop at social media.

Back in August, Gale had a moan about Twitter and blathered on about how he felt it made a "contributory and probably significant factor in the co-ordination of the recent criminal riots" and called upon the government to grant the police powers to terminate "the use of transmitters servicing trouble spots." It amazes me how some Tories claim to oppose a 'police state' but seem quite happy to grant them powers to ensure that "the rights of society to protection" - as Gale puts it - "have to take precedence over the rights of individuals." Funny thing that.

And now, alongside fellow Tory MP James Gray, Roger Gale has called for all mobile phones and iPads to be banned from the Commons. In particular, it appears that Gale doesn't like the fact that some MPs tweet from the Chamber as he claims it 'disrupts debates.' What, and falling asleep on live TV doesn't disrupt debates too? What does Gale propose to do about that, eh? I'd much rather have an MP who is engaged with modern technology to keep constituents informed of what's being discussed via Twitter rather than have some old fart not paying attention and snoring his head off on the green benches.

As it happens, as of today, the majority of MPs have voted in favour of allowing the use of Twitter in the Commons. As for Roger Gale... well, the story of King Canute springs to mind. It clearly looks like he was fighting a losing battle in this instance. Gale's prehistoric views on the use of modern technology risk turning him into a political dinosaur. Maybe we should rename him Roger Gallimimus.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

NO INTERNET CONNECTION

© Copyright Ben Dalton and licensed for reuse. This is not an endorsement of my post.
You might have noticed I haven't done much blogging lately. Don't worry, I have a good excuse. I moved house last month and unfortunately still haven't got a Sky Broadband connection set up. For some reason, Murdoch's minions have been dragging their feet setting up a new phone line for me. At first, they told me my house didn't have one and I'd need to pay BT Openreach to come and do some engineering work. Then, all of a sudden, Sky discovered I actually did have one, and sent me a letter telling me they'd be activating it at some point this week.

Obviously, once I have a phone line, there'll be a longer delay waiting for online access so... I doubt I'll have a permanent internet connection set up until the end of this month. Since it's been a heck of a long time that I've been surfing the World Wide Web, it's got me thinking about a few things. For one thing, why do internet service providers take so bloody long to set things up? I seem to remember reading an article on Wired.com about how a U.N. report declared internet access a human right. Using that logic, wouldn't that mean that my human rights have been violated by Sky's dilly-dallying?

If internet access truly is a human right, surely that'd give all ISPs a real kick up the backside to set up internet connections more speedily? Speaking figuratively, if I were being petty, I could write Sky a strongly-worded letter and use the U.N. report to argue that not being able to use the internet for the past month could be considered a human rights violation. Then again, if Theresa May gets her way with scrapping the Human Rights Act it looks like my pleas would probably fall on deaf ears. I am, of course, only kidding, but it does get you thinking. I rely on the internet for so much more than blogging, so it has felt like I've been without a limb for a good few weeks. Still, I'll be back before you know it. I'll try and post whenever I can. Hang tight.