Bucks Council should ask Sadiq Khan how to reduce air pollution

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8 October 2020

 

Bucks Council (BC) launched a climate change and air pollution survey for residents on 25 September – or at least that’s what BC said. I doubt BC did much launching but merely issued a press release and hoped someone would notice.

However, I was sent the link and I duly filled it in as a conscientious citizen, letting BC know my views on what I thought was important to tackle climate change and air pollution. And I’m sure it will contribute to BC’s targets for 2050 or 2075, or whatever, and fed into one of BC’s innumerable strategy documents telling us how committed BC is to so many green things.

Or possibly not.

However, the survey didn’t provide any space for me to give general comments so here they are – and I will pass them on directly to the relevant BC Cabinet member.

Greta Thunberg has said repeatedly that we don’t need beautiful words and promises; what we need is action. And I’m with Greta Thunberg on this. I don’t want Bucks Council spending interminable hours setting targets for 30 years hence or carrying out surveys that no-one knows about – I want it to take action NOW.

Bucks Council doesn’t need to go far to find someone who is taking action – and very successfully. His name is Sadiq Khan and he is the Major of London.

For 8 years, when Boris Johnson was Mayor of London, he refused to acknowledge there was a problem with air pollution. When pressed, Boris Johnson said London had the cleanest air in the world – world beating in fact.

You won’t be surprised to learn this wasn’t true. In 2016, at the end of Boris Johnson’s time as Mayor, 2 million people in London lived with polluted air and it was the cause of 9000 people in London dying early. The levels of nitrogen dioxide were illegal.

In comparison, Sadiq Khan said tackling air pollution, particularly for children in London, was a priority. And when he was elected, he took action.

Since then, levels of air pollution have plummeted. The latest results were taken in early 2020 and do not include the further drop in pollution caused by the lockdown.

Nitrogen dioxide levels by roads in central London fell by 44% between early 2017 and early 2020. There was a 94% reduction in the number of people living in areas with illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide. The number of schools in such areas fell by 97%, (from 455 in 2016 to 14 in 2019).

How did Sadiq Khan do it? Well I suggest Bucks Council finds out and starts emulating Sadiq Khan.

P.S. If BC wants some idea about the actions Sadiq Khan is taking, it can read the article in the Guardian at the link below.

P.P.S. If you want to do the survey, the link is below but the closing date is tomorrow; for some reason, Bucks Council is only running it for 2 weeks.

https://www.buckinghamshire.gov.uk/news/buckinghamshire-council-launches-climate-change-and-air-quality-surveys/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/03/dramatic-plunge-in-london-air-pollution-since-2016-report-finds

Developers need to address the high risks of flooding in Wycombe

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25 February 2020

Nationally there is considerable concern about the number of homes being built on land which is at high risk of flooding (see https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/23/more-than-11000-homes-to-be-built-on-land-at-high-risk-of-flooding )

Last week I posted a letter from Widmer End Residents' Assoaciation about the proposed development at Terriers in Wycombe (see blog of 20 February 2020 on the Communities page).

One of the concerns set out in the letter is about flooding on this site. ​ I understand some residents raised these concerns with Persimmon, one of the developers, at a meeting between them and Hazlemere Parish Council. Persimmon said there was no problem.

The Environment Agency has some wonderful maps on its website showing the long term risks of flooding in the UK (see https://flood-warning-information.service.gov.uk/long-term-flood-risk).

You can for example find out from the maps the long term risk of flooding for your own home, separately from rivers and surface water.

The EA's maps show that part of the Terriers site is at high risk of flooding from surface water. So homes built on the site would be at risk.

Moreover, the maps shows that surface water from the site flows across the the A404 into King's Wood and, joined by other surface water streams, down into Micklefield and then to Wycombe Marsh where it joins the River Wye. The surface water adds to the already high risk of flooding from the river along the London Road.

So you can see, residents' concerns are justified - building on this site would not only put the homes there at risk but would also increase the speed and volume of the run-off down to Wycombe.

Residents need Persimmon to address this problem seriously.

It’s great – Paul Irwin, a Conservative Councillor, will push Martin Tett to adopt a carbon neutral target of 2030

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29 September 2019

I send my blogs to organisations and individuals who I mention to give them the opportunity to correct any factual errors and to comment. I then correct any errors and I normally blog any comments.

This is the response I received from Paul Irwin, Conservative Councillor for Stone and Waddesdon:-

“I read your blog and it’s about right, I personally feel that the evening was a triumphant night for democracy and I thought that the debate showed the power of debating until the best result for everyone archived.

I have the upmost respect for Robin Stuchbury and my amendment was just to put more bones on what he had asked for. Our only issue with the date was that we felt that we had no power or right to tell the new authority what it can or can’t do, Robin always knew from meeting with us that we would find the date bit very hard to agree.

However I have no issue with the date personally and in fact, I will personally push the new authority to be carbon neutral before 2030 if I am elected, but I will start now.

I am very conscious that we only have 6 months left as an authority and the proposals in my paper,that you failed to mention ? (But I am not surprised! )Outlines an achievable and positive start that we can make in the time that we have left and it is my hope that all parties can work positively together to start to save our County.

I am a man of action and will work tirelessly for the next 6 months to make a visible impact that everyone can see and feel.”

To which I responded:-

“Thank you for your response and the kind words about Robin Stuchbury.

I have now had a chance to see your amendment - and the motion for the County Council on climate change put down by Martin Tett.

I have to say I don't see your amendment as putting more flesh on the bones of what Robin said.

What Robin was asking for was a clear action by a specific date i.e. the council being carbon neutral by 2030. I'm no expert but I understand there are internationally recognised methodologies for achieving and auditing this objective which other local authorities are already using.

What your amendment asks for is the adoption of a complicated concept with no deadlines i.e. the county council continuing the legacy of AVDC's carbon reduction pathway.

So I think your amendment would have watered down Robin's motion and muddied the waters.

On Martin Tett's motion, there are no specific actions and the only deadline is to "support the net-zero 2050 UK target". It is all words and no action.

So I am absolutely delighted that you will push for the new authority to be carbon neutral by 2030 and that you will start pushing now. I look forward to the debate on Martin Tett's motion.”

Aylesbury Vale District Council declares a climate emergency – possibly......

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21 September 2019

Millions of people across the world protested yesterday about the lack of urgent action on climate change. Many of those protesters were young people, including school children. They were demanding action not words because it is their future which is under threat.

So what has been the response of those in power in Bucks?

Well not a lot so far.

However, last week, two Labour Councillors - Councillors Robin Stuchbury and Mark Bateman - put down a motion about climate change at Aylesbury District Council. The motion said:

“It is now clear that the world has less than 12 years to switch from fossil fuels to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Reducing use and switching to clean energy will also increase energy security, improve air quality, minimise fuel poverty, boost the local economy and provide employment/training opportunities.

This Council therefore declares a climate emergency and commits to asking the future Buckinghamshire Unitary Authority to become carbon neutral by 2030.”

Now you might think that no-one could object to such a motion. Wouldn’t you think, in view of the over-riding evidence on climate change, that the motion would just get voted through unanimously?

But no.

Councillor Paul Irwin and Ben Everitt proposed an amendment to the motion. I wasn’t clear what the amendment was as no-one read it out. However, I assume from what other Councillors said that the amendment watered down the motion and removed the deadline for the new Unitary Council to become carbon neutral.

The amendment was carried by 29 votes to 14. So at this stage, I think AVDC was happy to declare a climate emergency but not to take any meaningful action. So not really much of an emergency then.

Happily, Councillor Llew Monger put down an amendment to the amendment re-inserting the deadline of 2030. And eventually, over an hour later, I think ADVC essentially supported the original motion by 43 with none against.

Even then, three Councillors – Bill Chapple, Gary Powell and Michael Rand - abstained.

We are still left with questions: -

When is ADVC going to ask the new Unitary Authority to become carbon neutral by 2030?

- Will the new Council agree?

- If so, what will the new Council do to hit its deadline?

And we are still going round in circles in the face of a climate emergency.

BCC proposes to dump HS2's waste in Thorney Park

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24 May 2019

I said I was taking a break because I was stuck in Groundhog Day – things just don’t change in Bucks.

One of the things that doesn’t change is the hypocrisy and lack of transparency of Bucks County Council. So I thought I would just give a reminder of what BCC is like – and you can bet your shirt that the new unitary council will be just the same.

A few weeks ago, Bucks County Council unanimously opposed any further work on HS2 in the county until at least the end of this year. Conservative councillors reiterated the view that they were opposed to HS2 “on every level”.

On the other hand, Bucks County Council is in negotiations with HS2 to allow millions of tonnes of waste from HS2 works to be dumped in Thorney Park lake, a local beauty spot and nature reserve. In return BCC would get £6 million.

 

At the beginning of the year, John Chilvers, BCC's Cabinet member for resources, told the BBC that BCC “would not accept any proposal from HS2 to fill in the lake. The retention of the lake is absolutely guaranteed”.

On the other hand, Iver Parish Council has been told the project will – yes guess what – fill in the lake.

The relevant documents by Councillor Chilvers proposing to dump the waste are on BCC’s website. To add insult to injury, the dumping of the waste is called “The Restoration Scheme”.

BCC is currently refusing to answer questions on its negotiations with HS2.

The details are reported fully in the Buckingham and Winslow Advertiser as below. The Advertiser gently wonders how Councillor Chilver’s comment “correlates with the current proposals being considered by the same council”.

I’m afraid you don’t have to wonder at all.

BCC is desperate for money. It is opposing HS2 in principle in order to gain votes. It is then selling its principles for the sum of £6million in order to allow HS2 to ruin a nature reserve. It then tries to hide the truth from residents - and when it gets found out, it refuses to answer questions.

As I say, hypocrisy and lack of transparency are built into the genes of Bucks County Council.

https://www.buckinghamtoday.co.uk/news/is-council-about-to-take-money-from-hs2-to-allow-dumping-of-waste-in-thorney-park-lake-1-8926636 

 

Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Bucks - the Minister taking back control of subsidies for farmers

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28 January 2019

A few weeks ago, the Bucks Free Press published an article about the concerns of agricultural landlords and tenants. The landlords and tenants had joined forces to point out the dangers of a no-deal Brexit to farming and to ask MPs to remove a no-deal Brexit from the negotiating table.

Bucks is, of course, a rural county with large areas of land devoted to farming. The dangers to farming of a no-deal Brexit are important to Bucks.

Brexit will impact on farming in many ways but one will be the loss of the £ 3 billion/year EU subsidies to UK farmers. The subsidies have been criticized for many years as most of the subsidies go to large landowners; the top 10% of recipients get nearly 50% of the £3 billion.

The Government has promised two things:-

- that the subsidies currently paid by the EU will be paid instead by the UK Government after Brexit for at least 7 years and

- that it will introduce a new system to ensure future payments help to create “a cleaner and healthier environment”.

The Government proposes that, under the new system, farmers will be rewarded for “public goods”, for example better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.

The thrust of the proposals has been welcomed by organizations representing the farmers and environmental interests. However, the latter have asked questions about the way the system would work and about how much extra money would in practice be invested in the environment.

If the Government continues to pay the £3 billion a year for 7 years and pays additional subsidies for farmers who are successful under the new system, it will have to find more money for farming subsidies. But I can’t find any mention of how much extra will be needed or where it will come from. Perhaps the non-existent Brexit dividend?

There have also been warnings as to how these good intentions could be derailed by powerful farming interests in Parliament. The Agriculture Bill which will enact the Government’s proposals has been stuck in Parliament since November.

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, hails the Bill as a major post-Brexit policy for taking back control for the farmers. Not, you note, taking back control for the public for a better environment, but control for the farmers.

So it is worth noting that the Minister responsible for getting the Bill through Parliament is Lord Gardiner of Kimble, a Conservative life peer and member of the House of Lords.

Lord Gardiner is also a partner of the family farm at Kimble, Bucks. The farm received nearly £50k in EU subsidies in 2017. This interest has been declared in the House of Lords register of interests.

As to Lord Gardiner’s background, according to Wikipedia, he served as private secretary to five Chairmen of the Conservative Party between 1989 and 1995 and worked as Director of Political Affairs for the Countryside Alliance. He was raised to the peerage in 2010.

In 2012 he was appointed a Lord-in-waiting, and served in the Lords as a government whip. In 2015, he was promoted to be Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard and Deputy Chief Whip. In 2016, he moved to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

He was Chairman of the Kimblewick Hunt from 1992–2006 and President of the Buckinghamshire County Show 2007.

So you can see that the Minister put in charge of the Bill to take back control for the farmers is ….. well, you can read for yourself.

P.S. I have no idea what happens to the £3 billion of EU subsidies to UK farmers next year if we crash out on 29 March and there is no UK replacement scheme in place.

P.P.S. with thanks to the Guardian at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/27/revealed-the-mps-and-peers-receiving-millions-in-eu-farm-subsidies-cap

Why do we pay the German Government to run the railway and bus services in Bucks?

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6 January 2019

Regulated train fares go up by an average of 3.1% in England this month. The increase is restricted by the Government to the Retail Price Index.

Railway operators say the increase is needed for investment in infrastructure. Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, says the increase is due to rail unions demanding "higher pay rises than anyone else". The rail unions say much of the money disappears into the hands of shareholders and we have the highest rail fares in Europe.

Meanwhile passengers are protesting at paying more for a worse service. They have seen fares increase by over 33% since 2010 while earnings have gone up by 16%.

So I thought I would check the relevant facts for Chiltern Railways.

It’s not easy checking the facts for Chiltern Railways. Its website doesn’t even mention the annual fare increases let alone say what they are. Nothing in their press releases, nothing in their latest news and nothing in their search engine! So I have to assume the fare increases for Chiltern Railways are the same as the national average – 3.1%.

First, let’s see if the 3.1% increase is needed for investment in infrastructure on Chiltern Railways.

Well no, Chiltern Railway has apparently completed all the infrastructure investment it was required to do under the 20 year contract it agreed with the Government in 2002. If the Government wants any further investment, the Government pays Chiltern Railways to do it.

Second, let’s see if Chris Grayling is right. Is the 3.1% increase due to the rail unions demanding higher pay rises than anyone else?

Well no, Chiltern Railways’ annual report says “pay awards are largely linked to RPI” which is 3.2%. The national average pay increase for workers is 3.2%. So railway workers on Chiltern Railways, on average, are getting the same as the national pay rise – no better, no worse.

Third, are the rail unions right? Do the shareholders get large dividends? Well that depends on what you call large. According to Chiltern Railways’ latest annual report, Chiltern Railways had a turnover of £227 million in 2017, including £22 million in subsidies from the Government (i.e. the taxpayer). It made a net profit of £6 million.

So where did the £6 million profit go? Well Chiltern Railways is wholly owned by Arriva UK Trains; Arriva UK Trains is owned by Deutsche Bahn AG; and Deutsche Bahn AG is a German company owned by the German Government. It is reputedly the second largest transport company in the world.

So the £6 million profit from Chiltern Railways went to the German Government and therefore the German taxpayer.

Of course, if the UK Government ran the railways, that £6million could have gone to the UK Government and the UK taxpayer.

Deutsche Bahn AG also owns subsidiaries which operate services in the north of England where there have been widespread cancellations and delays. Chris Grayling set up an enquiry to find out whether this Deutsche Bahn subsidiary had breached its contractual agreement. If so, it could be banned from running railway services in the UK. The enquiry hasn’t reported yet.

On the other hand, Chilterns Railways’ performance in terms of reliability and punctuality is pretty good.

Incidentally, Deutsche Bahn AG also owns the Arriva bus service which operates throughout Bucks.

So you could say our bus and train services in Bucks have been re-nationalised. Only trouble is, they have been re-nationalised by the German Government – and the German taxpayer takes the profits.

So why do we pay the German Government to run our railways and our buses?

PS Their train services in Germany are much cheaper than ours!

BCC’s strategy on travel to school is a farce   

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22 September 2018

Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the ineptitude of Bucks County Council.       

In April last year, I blogged about BCC’s work (or lack of it) in encouraging pupils to walk or cycle to school.  BCC had carried out an inquiry into the issues and published a report making 7 recommendations.   

The report pointed out that BCC had 13 officers helping to plan school travel in 2009; in 2017 it had 1.  That officer had left and the post was offered as a six month contract.   The budget for planning school travel was £7,000 per year.  

Next Tuesday, BCC’s Select Committee on Transport, the Environment and Communities will consider progress on the recommendations.  

Recommendation 1a was to carry out a “return on investment analysis”.   This was done in July last year.  It found that there was “an extraordinarily high” return if BCC invested in measures that would increase the number of children walking to school, especially in Aylesbury and Wycombe areas.  The return would include benefits such as a reduction in pollution, traffic congestion and child obesity.   There was also a very high return if BCC invested in measures to increase children cycling to school in the Aylesbury area and a good return in the Wycombe area.

So far, so good.

Recommendation 1b was to publish BCC’s vision for sustainable school travel.  This was done in August 2017 in BCC’s “Getting to School Strategy”. 

Even better.    

Recommendation 1c was to adequately resource the achievement of its vision, including longer term contracts for officers and an increase in budget. 

And this is where things go pear-shaped:

·       The budget was not increased. 

·       The manager for the strategy was appointed on an interim basis. 

·       BCC was unable to recruit a suitably experienced school travel adviser.  So it appointed a graduate trainee instead in October last year. 

·       The graduate left in July this year and BCC are trying to recruit again. 

·       In the meantime, some of the work is being done on a temporary basis by “two School Crossing Patrol and Sustainable Travel Supervisors”.

It’s a farce.   

·       We now know that investing in this work provides enormous benefits to the health of the whole community, particularly our children, and to the Bucks economy.  But over the past nine years,

that investment has been reduced from 13 officers to two temporary “School Crossing Patrol and Sustainable Travel Supervisors” and a budget of £7000.

BCC spent resources carrying out the inquiry last year.   It spent resources carrying out the analysis and preparing a shiny new strategy. 

The Select Committee spends resources monitoring progress every 6 months.  Next week a dozen or so Councillors will sit round and discuss this report before nodding it through.

But there aren’t the resources to actually do anything.  And BCC can’t keep a substitute trainee for more than 8 months.

BCC is broke.  Austerity is still with us and there are more cuts to come under this Government. 

So BCC is never going to get to grips with sustainable school travel.   And there is no use pretending otherwise.  With the failure of BCC to provide local school places for children, more and more children are forced to travel further to school, nearly all of them in cars.  So pollution, traffic congestion and child obesity will get worse - not better.       

 

 

Kimblewick Hunt, bovine tuberculosis and badgers.

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2 Sept 2018

On 31 July, the University of Edinburgh published a paper reporting on research it carried out in 2016/7.  The paper is called “An outbreak of tuberculosis due to Mycobacterium bovis infection in a pack of English Foxhounds (2016–2017)”.  The link is below.   Perhaps it sounds pretty boring?    

However, what the paper describes is an outbreak of TB amongst the foxhounds of the Kimblewick Hunt, which is near Aylesbury.   97 hounds out of 163 tested positive for bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and were destroyed.   bTB in dogs is rare.  Kimblewick Hunt suspended hunting last winter.

Hunting, bTB and badger culls are highly emotive subjects and I’m not an expert on any of these subjects.  So I’m just going to try my best to explain what the paper says.   

The causes of the outbreak of bTB at the Kimblewick Hunt are uncertain but the most likely causes are bitches bringing the disease back from other kennels where they are sent to breed or feeding infected carcasses to the hounds.   The spread of the disease was exacerbated by over-crowding of hounds in the kennels. 

The disease can spread to humans.  Eleven people who had been in contact with the hounds were therefore tested. One tested positive and has been diagnosed with latent TB.

An EU Regulation already prohibits the feeding of raw flesh to hounds where the dead animal was killed or died as a result of the presence, or suspected presence, of a disease communicable to humans or animals.  In the light of this outbreak of bTB, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has tightened up its restrictions; for example the feeding of offal from livestock to hounds in now banned.

The risk of infected hounds transmitting the disease to other hounds, cattle herds, local wildlife, their environment and their human keepers has been assessed as low, although this outbreak demonstrates “the risk is plausible and real.”

There you have it.  There has been little coverage of the outbreak – mainly in the Country Squire and Horse and Hound – so you may have missed it.  I can’t see anything about the outbreak on the website of the Kimblewick Hunt.

But it does leave me with one big question.  If badgers and foxhounds can spread the disease, why are foxhounds allowed to run across the county while badgers, who generally stay at home, are killed?  

 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/tbed.12969

 

 

What you should know about Thames Water if a hose pipe ban is imposed.

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26 July 2018

Like many people, I’ve been watering my garden with a hose pipe recently.  Not all of the garden – just those plants that will die without some water.   However, one of my friends asked me whether I shouldn’t feel guilty about using the hose pipe.

I said I didn’t feel a bit guilty – I feel resentful.  And here’s why.

Back in 1976, which was the last summer as hot and dry as this one, I had an allotment in Harrow.   I was pretty frugal with the watering but it was still time consuming and hard work keeping things going with a watering can (or two). 

However, I understood that water was a national resource and, if we all did our bit, we would help conserve supplies.   I understood that water was a scarce and limited resource that we had to use wisely.

On top of that, the water and the organisation that provided our water were owned by the state.  Or to put it another way, I had a part share in the ownership of the water along with 50 million or so other UK citizens; it was therefore in my own interests to save water and use the watering can, not the hose pipe. 

Then, in 1989, Margaret Thatcher privatised my water.  She sold my water to a private company called Thames Water and gave it a monopoly on supplying water, the one thing everyone has to have, to millions of people in the South East of England.     

Thames Water has made a lot of money.   It was taken over by a German company in 2001 and then in 2006 sold to an Australian-led consortium for £8 billion.   And I thought I used to own that water – and the organisation that supplied it.  I didn’t get a penny from the deal – and I still have to buy my water from Thames Water as it has a monopoly. 

Just to complete the picture the major shareholders in the Australian-led consortium were companies or pension funds in Canada, Britain, Abu Dhabi, China and Kuwait.    So five foreign companies now owned my water.    None of these companies were concerned about the water as a scarce resource – they were only concerned about the profits.  (Although China might have other interests as well). 

And very nice profits they made too.  The Australian company which led the consortium is called the Macquarie Group.  It has paid out huge dividends to its shareholders and huge salaries to its executives.

Then in 2017, the Macquarie Group downloaded £2 billion of debt onto Thames Water’s books and sold all its shares to the Canadian and Kuwaiti companies.

In the meantime, 25% of the water supplied by Thames Water is leaking from its pipes.  This is only slightly better than in 1989 when my water was privatised.   Thames Water was fined £120 million this year for failing to stop the leaks.

Thames Water was also fined £20 million for pollution last year.  The judge said there had been "inadequate investment, diabolical maintenance and poor management".

This is not to mention the slow response from Thames Water to problems of flooding around Wycombe a couple of years ago.

So I still am pretty frugal with the water in my garden as the water is still a scarce resource.  But I don’t feel guilty about it. 

What I feel is resentment that my water was sold off to companies, mostly abroad, who regard it as a commodity and have made huge profits from supplying it to me.   They have failed to stop the water leaking, have polluted the rivers, and have left Thames Water with huge debts. 

And I still have to buy my water from them.

If there is a hose pipe ban, I will not be happy.

 

 

 

 

Never heard of the OxCam Expressway? Then you might like to find out if it’s going past your door.

28 March 2018

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Last November, the National Infrastructure Commission published a report called ‘Partnering for Prosperity’.  The link is below. 

The report is about something called the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc.

Not many people will have heard about the report, let alone read it.  But it will affect tens of thousands of people in North Bucks and consultation on one of the most important issues – the route of the OxCam Expressway - ends on 12 April.   Yes, that’s in 2 weeks.  And the route of the Expressway will determine where thousands of new homes will be built. 

So, residents should know what’s happening and be given the chance to respond.  Shouldn’t they?

So let’s backtrack for a moment.  

The Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc is a crescent-shaped area of land that sweeps from Cambridge to Oxford via Milton Keynes and Bedford.    The Commission’s report says the arc contains some of the most productive and innovative places in England but has not reached its full economic potential.  In order to do that, it will need to double the rate of housing in the area delivering up to one million new homes by 2050.  Yes, that’s right - one million new homes within the Cambridge- Milton Keynes- Oxford arc.

For Bucks, this means an extra 75,000 new homes between 2030 and 2050 on top of the 46,000 new homes already planned from now until 2033.   

The Commission’s proposed development would mean new towns as well as the expansion of existing towns and villages. 

The report also says this massive new development requires national investment in a new east-west transport infrastructure i.e. investing in the East West Rail and in an Oxford – Cambridge Expressway.  (I can’t actually find a definition of an “Expressway” but would guess it is a fast dual-carriage road).

This “multi-modal transport spine” would expand the labour markets of key towns and cities and improve connections with international gateways such as Heathrow.  Crucially, this transport infrastructure would also “unlock major new development locations and enable transformational growth around existing towns and cities”.  

In other words, development would follow the route of the railway and Expressway. 

Much of the route is already fixed – the railway would follow the existing track and the Expressway would follow existing roads. 

Except – and here’s the thing - there’s a “missing link” between Milton Keynes and Oxford i.e. there is no obvious major road to follow. 

So Highways England was commissioned to work up options and it has published its report (link below).  There are three options for this missing link:  

-        Option A goes via Thame, Aylesbury and Leighton Buzzard

-        Option B follows the line of the East West Rail

-        Option C follows the A421 from Bicester to Milton Keynes via Buckingham     

Remember, major development will follow the route of the Expressway. 

Highway England has asked for written responses to its consultation by 12th April 2018.  It has asked which route consultees prefer and why, and which routes consultees do not support. 

I understand Bucks County Council favours Option A

I also understand Aylesbury Vale District Council will consider its response at Cabinet on 10 April.  I have no idea what it will say.  

I have no idea who else Highways England has consulted and no idea who those bodies have consulted in their turn.   But it seems residents have been completely left out of the loop. 

Not exactly democracy is it?  

I’m not sure whether the Secretary of State took these proposals into account when he said he was minded to unify all the district councils and Bucks County Council into one unitary council. 

But it does look odd when the north of the county will be looking to the Cambridge- Oxford arc as its driving force while the south of the county continues to look to London. 

It will look even odder when Councillors from the south of the county on the new unitary council (who will be in the majority) start taking major planning decisions for the north of the county.

Aylesbury Vale is already taking 29,000 of the 46,000 planned new homes; it will then have to take the majority of the additional 75,000 new homes. 

Doesn’t auger well. 

 

 https://www.nic.org.uk/publications/partnering-prosperity-new-deal-cambridge-milton-keynes-oxford-arc/

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/571353/oxford-to-cambridge-expressway-strategic-study-stage-3-report.pdf 

 

Buckinghamshire - one of the richest counties but its potholes are here to stay

21 February 2018   

Last January (see blog below), I suggested that we would have potholes forever in Bucks.    

It’s simple arithmetic.  According to Bucks County Council, the backlog of repairs to roads in Bucks would cost in the range £80M to £150M.  The cost of new damage to our roads each year is £10M to £15M, depending on the severity of winter.  Last year, BCC decided to reduce spend on road maintenance from £15M a year to £10 million a year.

So BCC would never catch up with the backlog.   

Now if there is one thing that gets Bucks residents going, it’s potholes.   Residents have made it very clear to Bucks County Council that they were not happy with the state of the roads.

So BCC announced an “increase in its investment in roads maintenance” to £15 million.  No mention of course that this was an increase to bring the “investment” back up to its previous (and inadequate) level. 

Meanwhile, Bucks has received the dubious accolade this month of being the seventh worst county for pothole repairs, according to a study by a cycling charity.  About 3000 potholes had been reported and only 12% fixed. 

You would think the issue of potholes would be scrutinised by the relevant committee of BCC i.e. the Transport, Environment and Communities Select Committee, chaired by Councillor Carroll. 

However, roads have not been on the Committee’s agenda since at least last May and are not in the Committee’s work programme for the coming year.

So that’s it folks – potholes are here to stay and no-one at BCC seems to care.

 

Looks as though Councillor Whyte got a poor financial deal on the EFW plant at Greatmoor – (and is anyone telling residents about emission levels? )

13 December 2017 

The annual report for the EfW plant in Greatmoor was published in October and gave us a first chance to see if Bucks County Council’s business plan stacks up. 

Under the business plan, FCCI (a Spanish-based company) and BCC shared the cost of building the plant (£181M for BCC, about £150M for FCCI).

FCCI will run it for 30 years and keeps all the ‘gate fees' from taking in waste and the proceeds from selling electricity it generates from burning the waste.

BCC gets a discount on the gate price for its waste, which it estimated would save about £5M/year as compared to the cost of landfill.

Labour Party members have challenged the figures in the business plan.  We estimated that, on a best case scenario, the council would be £35 million worse off at the end of the 30-year deal than at the beginning.

Now we know, from the annual report, that the plant is:

·         Taking in slightly less waste from BCC than planned

·         More than filling its capacity with waste from outside the county

·         Generating about 15% more electricity than planned.

This means that BCC is saving less than expected and FCCI making more money than expected.

We estimate FCCI is currently earning about £25M/year in gate receipts and about £9M/year from electricity generation. This makes the deal look very lop-sided in FCCI’s favour - BCC has all the risk (it owns the plant) and FCCI is making all the profit.

After some pressure, Councillor Warren Whyte (who was responsible for making the deal and now run’s Children’s Services) disclosed that BCC gets a ‘profit share’ on the extra electricity generated.  However, he has refused to disclose what this share is.  

Councillor Whyte has also said we have over-estimated borrowing costs.  However he has also refused to disclose what the borrowing costs were. 

So I think we are justified in continuing to say that the EfW plant looks set to cost us money, not save it.

In essence, the deal is the reverse of a typical PFI.   In a typical PFI, the private sector funds the construction of buildings in return for charging public sector clients enormous rents for long periods.  In this case, it’s we the taxpayer funding the construction in return for receiving a pittance.

Councillor Whyte made a very bad deal for the taxpayer.   

The annual report also gives environmental information which might be interesting to local residents.  For example, while the plant did not breach any of the specified Emission Limit Values, two substances – hydrogen chloride and nitrogen oxides – were up to 90% of the ELVs.  

I wonder if BCC tells local residents?

 

It’s good for children to walk to school – but BCC has (virtually) no resource to play its part

27 April 2017

Bucks County Council’s Cabinet on 24 April considered a report called ‘Sustainable School Travel in Bucks’.  Councillor David Carroll, the Chairman of the Select Committee covering transport, is the author.   It is about reducing problems caused by travelling to school by car and encouraging people to walk or cycle instead.    

We want children and parents to walk or cycle to school.  The exercise makes children and their parents healthier and fitter.  It cuts obesity and reduces costs to the NHS.   Healthy children also do better at school.

Leaving the car at home reduces pollution (and further improves health) and reduces traffic and parking problems.  It reduces the need for more roads and car parks.

So how can we help children and parents to walk or cycle to school?  And how does Tory- dominated BCC play its part?  

First, children need a place at a local school within walking or cycling distance.  Unfortunately, the only new schools this Tory Government will now fund are free schools so it is left to the private sector to decide where new schools go.   The Tory Government also decided that it is up to academies to determine how many places to offer.  So BCC cannot plan school places.  Children will have to go to school where the free market dictates.

The report said nothing about this.  

Second, children need walking and cycling routes.  The report said funding for these routes was “challenging”.

Third, children and parents need pavements and footpaths clear of overgrown hedges or grass, particularly as many parents have to take a younger child in a buggy.  The report said BCC had devolved hedge and grass-cutting to parish councils and it was now “not easy to identify who is responsible for vegetation clearance”.   The report didn’t mention that BCC had cut the budget for hedge and grass cutting in the process.

Finally, it needs a lot of people to work together at each school to plan what can be done – the school staff, Governors, parents, police, parish councils – and it needs BCC to support and co-ordinate this work. 

The report said 162 schools are engaged in promoting “active” travel but 101 schools are not; these 101 schools do not recognise a school role or responsibility for promotion of active travel.  

The report said BCC had 13 officers helping to plan school travel in 2009; this year it had 1.  That officer has left and the post is offered as a six month contract.   The budget for planning school travel is £7,000 per year. 

The report said “BCC no longer has the capacity to proactively work with the 101 disengaged schools.” 

The report’s conclusion is

“Inadequate resource for this work may prove short-sighted given the County's growth, growing number of school places, and the significant added benefits to individual health, the NHS, the environment, the transport system and the economy as a whole.”

There are 7 recommendations, not one of which addresses the immediate resource problem.  

So what did Cabinet members say about BCC’s failure to resource this investment in children’s health?  Well, they said Bucks is one of the best counties in the country, it’s all about culture change, the message is getting through and it comes down to the leadership of the head teacher.  No-one mentioned resources.

What did David Carroll say in response?  Well, he said there are some really great parents out there and people are willing to listen.  He added that there are some real positives and it’s all about talking to people. 

Finally, he said the “most important thing was that BCC needed an officer to co-ordinate this stuff; it needs to resource this”.  

Martin Tett, the Leader of the Tory Council, ignored him.  

This is the priority BCC gives to helping children walk or cycle to school - £7000 and an unfilled post, advertised on a six months contract.

BCC says it doesn’t need any more resources for flood planning – it’s all been done to its satisfaction

28 March 2017

I  think I have come to the end of the line in getting answers (or not) from Bucks County Council about flooding (see blogs below).  You can decide for yourselves if you think the answers provide reassurance to those at risk of flooding.

In January, Bucks County Council’s Select Committee on Transport, Environment and Communities considered a progress report on implementing recommendations from its inquiry into the 2013/4 floods.  

Three recommendations had not been implemented:-

a)      BCC to empower existing staff to help communities develop Flood Resilience Plans.  No community had yet completed a plan.  

b)      BCC to run a communications and media campaign to promote the development of Community Emergency Plans.   No campaign had taken place. 

c)      Local Area Forums to highlight flood risks, raise public awareness of who to contact in a flood event and most importantly, to encourage riparian owners to take their maintenance duties seriously.  Only Buckingham LAF had taken this recommendation forward.  

The progress report said the reason for the failure to implement these recommendations was lack of resources.

So I asked what resources it would take to implement these three recommendations.

The answer I received (2 months later) was

“At the Select Committee meeting the Members went through each of the recommendations and agreed that they were happy that all of them were completed to their satisfaction. As such no further funding is anticipated to cover the recommendations as they have been completed to the satisfaction of the Committee.”

So problem apparently solved.   No resources are needed because the Select Committee decided that the recommendations had been completed - even though they obviously hadn’t.   Residents might like to remember this next time it rains heavily.

I also asked what resource would be needed to progress flood prevention projects in Marlow, Hughenden Valley, Aylesbury, Amersham, Buckingham and Chesham.  None of these projects have the resources to carry out the business cases to enable work to get started on the ground until at least 2018/9.  I asked how much resource it would take to get the projects ready to start work next winter.

No answer to this one.  So I assume that nobody knows – or no-one wants to provide the answer.  But it is also reasonable to assume that whatever the resource required, it is too much.   BCC has simply decided not to put resource into the work.

As things stand at present, there is no money to get these projects started next winter – and perhaps not even the winter after that.

Will anything ever get done?

Posted by Linda Derrick.  Promoted by Martin Abel on behalf of Linda Derrick at 5 Spencer Road, Aylesbury HP21 7LR      

 

 

 

 

 

Still no answers from BCC on flood prevention projects.

20 March 2017

Back in January, the Transport, Environment and Communities Select Committee of Bucks County Council met and considered a progress report on the implementation of its enquiry into the floods of 2013/4, in particular in Marlow, Hughenden Valley and the Willows in Aylesbury.  

It was obvious from the report that very little work had been done to get local flood planning underway because of lack of money.   BCC says it welcomes questions from the public so before the meeting I e-mailed Councillor Carroll, who chairs the Select Committee, and asked  

How much money is required to implement all the recommendations of the inquiry effectively?”

I didn’t get a response from Councillor Carroll but, after the meeting, the Secretary of the Select Committee gave me various links and asked me to come back to her if I felt my questions had not been answered. 

I e-mailed back on 23 January to say I would still like to know what resource would be needed to implement the three recommendations which had not been implemented.   

I also asked what resource would be needed to progress some projects mentioned by Councillor Whyte, the responsible cabinet member, during the Select Committee meeting.  These projects were in Marlow, Hughenden Valley, Aylesbury, Amersham, Buckingham and Chesham. 

One of Councillor Whyte’s Tory colleagues had established during the meeting that none of these projects would be “shovel-ready”, as she called it, by at least 2018/2019 because of lack of BCC money.  I asked what resource would be needed to progress the projects so they could be "shovel-ready" (say) by next winter.   

Under the Freedom of Information Act, information should be provided within 20 working days.  A few days before the deadline for my questions I reminded BCC that I was still waiting for answers. 

BCC then told me my questions did not “constitute a valid FOI request as a request needed to ‘stand alone’.  Presumably it was invalid as someone in BCC needed to read both my e-mails and know which recommendations and projects I was referring to.   I would have thought Councillor Whyte and the officials responsible for the report would have known what I was asking for but apparently not.  I was asked to clarify what I required.

I replied to say I would have been happy at any time to have clarified my questions if they could not be understood.  As no-one had got back to me in 4 weeks, I had assumed my questions were clear.  I added I was always happy to discuss the information I requested.

The Secretary of Select Committee then replied in a lengthy e-mail that “…  the Committee is unable to answer questions on behalf of Cabinet or the Council (in relation to resources etc.) as this is beyond the Committee’s remit.”   No-one mentioned this back in January.

I reminded BCC that, irrespective of the Committee’s remit, BCC had a statutory responsibility under the FoI Act to provide the information.  

At last, on 23 February BCC said it had “logged the matter as a FOIA request” and would “revert” to me with a response as soon as possible.

Surprise, surprise, I have heard nothing since.

At some time, BCC has taken a decision not to allocate sufficient money to get any flood prevention projects started on the ground before 2018/9.  I assume that when it made that decision, it knew how much money it would take to get the projects started.  

I would like that information too.  And I think residents threatened by floods would also like that information.

I will keep you posted.

P.S.  You might like to look at my general comments on openness on my Front Page.

 

BCC’s complete lack of transparency over EfW finances

 

2 March 2017

Bucks County Council prides itself on its financial management and its investment expertise.  So you would think it would be proud to explain what a good financial deal it is getting on the Energy for Waste plant at Greatmoor (see blog below).

 

But not a bit of it.   On 30 Jan, I asked BCC how much it had invested in the EfW plant and what the return would be.    BCC is required to provide this information under Freedom of Information legislation.  The answer I got was

 

“The contract is worth £275 million and will save Buckinghamshire taxpayers over £150 million over its 30-year life”

 

You will notice neither of the questions were answered.  Nor was I sent what I would have expected for a project of this size i.e. a comprehensive business case.

 

Apparently BCC prefers to leave it to the residents to work out the return themselves.  I’m not an investment advisor, but if that’s what Bucks residents have to do, let’s have a go.  

 

Here’s what we know. BCC has invested £181.5 million so far in the project, of which it has borrowed £131.5.*   BCC will save £5 million a year for 30 years when the contract with the private company ends.

 

First, we have to make some assumption about the value of the plant at the end of the 30 years.  Let’s do a best case scenario.  Let’s assume that at the end of the 30 years, the plant is worth what BCC invested i.e. £181.5 million.   

 

Let’s also assume that BCC has to pay 3% interest on its loan of £131.5 million.  So it has to repay £3.9 million every year.  This means its saving is reduced to £1.1million a year over 30 years.  At the end of the 30 years, BCC can realise the assets of the plant to pay back the debt. 

 

This best case scenario gives an annual return of 0.6%.  This is not a good financial investment for taxpayers’ money.  BCC would do better using the money to pay off some of its debts which, according to the latest data, are incurring an average interest rate of 5.8%.

 

But wait.  What if we looked at a worse scenario.  Say the value of the plant after 30 years is zero i.e. the plant has come to the end of its economic life.  This is not an unreasonable assumption and it might be even worse if BCC have to pay out for decommissioning the plant.   

 

Let’s spread the depreciation over the 30 years.  That means the plant depreciates by 6 million a year, the interest on the loan is £3.9 and the saving is £5 million.

 

 In this worse case scenario, BCC will lose £4.9 million every year on its investment.

 

To put it another way, BCC will get £33 million over the 30 years (savings minus interest) but will lose £181.5 million.  This is a loss of 82% on its investment over the 30 years and BCC will end up with no assets to pay off the loan.

 

On this basis, you don’t need to wonder why BCC are so reluctant to answer the questions – whichever way you look at it, this investment is bad news for the taxpayer.     

 

I’ll go back to BCC and ask again.  However, in the meantime I am very happy if anyone wants to comment. 

 

 

 

* A colleague of mine found this information despite BCC’s failure to provide it.  It is buried in Appendix 2 of BCC’s Treasury Management Strategy. 

 

The great white elephant – the EfW plant

30 January 2017  

In 2013, Bucks County Council signed a contract with FCC Environment (FCC), a Spanish owned company, to build and operate an incineration plant for 30 years.  The plant, called the Energy from Waste (EfW) plant, started operations in Oct 2016 at Greatmoor.

 

For such a massive public sector project there is surprisingly little information available about EfW’s finances.  However, this is what we have been able to piece together from our scrutiny of the papers.    

 

 The total value of the EfW plant appears to be £315 million.  BCC paid a capital payment of £181 million to the operator in June 2016 but it is not clear where the other £134 million came from. 

 

FCC makes money by charging companies for taking in their waste.  It then makes electricity from burning the waste and from selling the electricity to the national grid.  

 

 FCC expects 65% of the plant’s capacity to be used for waste from other counties and commercial sources.  Industry analysis for the sector predicts a surplus of incineration capacity by 2019, although this depends on whether the UK undertakes a hard or soft Brexit.  

 

 It is not clear what happens if FCC cannot get up to full capacity and risks making a loss.  BCC refers to the contract between it and FCC as a “PFI –type liability”.   PFI schemes normally have a get-out clause for the supplier but it is not clear what happens in this case.  Who takes the risk?  FCC or BCC?  

 

 In return for BCC’s investment, FCC gives BCC a discount on the gate price for the waste it takes from BCC.  BCC says this is a £5 million a year saving i.e. £150 million over 30 years.  It is not clear whether BCC could have achieved greater savings elsewhere; the savings are only on what EfW would have charged BCC.

 

 The financial return for BCC is poor. 

 

 On the the £181 million investment, £5M a year is an annual return of 2.78%. At least £90 million of the capital sum was borrowed and the best rate BCC gets for borrowing is the local government preferential rate of 3%. At the time the £181 million payment was made, the annual Treasury Report from BCC showed that total capital borrowing by BCC was £172 million at an average rate of interest of 5.8%.

 

The 2.7% return on the 3% cost of borrowing is therefore a loss.  Moreover, if we compare it with the opportunity cost of paying off some of the other debt instead, it looks irresponsible. 

 

 If the real figure paid out is £315M, then £5M is an even poorer annual return of 1.58%.

 

On top of all this, Bucks is now the dustbin for the region.

 

It’s not good for taxpayers to have to struggle to understand the financing of such a major public investment, so I will ask the responsible BCC cabinet Councillor if he can check our figures and fill in the blanks. 

 

 

 

 

 

Potholes will be with us forever

 22 January 2017

Some simple arithmetic     

·         Current repair backlog of Bucks roads is in the range £80M to £150M*.

 ·         New damage per year is £10M to £15M depending on severity of winter.

·         Spend on maintenance is £15M this year, reducing to £10M for next three years.

Conclusion - at £10M per year, BCC can never reduce the backlog and it will probably increase.

Anybody who drives outside the county can see how Buckinghamshire compares.   Residents keep asking why the roads in Bucks – one of the most prosperous counties in the country – are so poor.

Would it have anything to do with the financial incompetence of Bucks County Council?

*All figures from BCC. 

No shovel-ready projects ready on flooding until 2018/9

23 January 2017

Last Tuesday, BCC’s Select Committee on Transport, Environment and Communities, chaired by Councillor Carroll, met to scrutinise the progress report of an inquiry into the flooding in the winter of 2013/4. 

Three major recommendations of the inquiry on local flood planning had not been progressed because of lack of resource (see blog below).

You would think the Select Committee would scrutinise this lack of progress and ask about the lack of resources.  But no. 

Councillor Whyte, who is responsible for this work, was given 10 minutes to introduce the report and in that 10 minutes he managed not to mention the report at all. 

He said the Strategic Flood Management Team was “extremely busy” doing the “big picture stuff” and the “growth agenda at regional level”.   They were “very busy dealing with district councils which was time intensive”.  There were lots of “on-going” projects in Marlow, Hughenden Valley, Aylesury, Amersham, Buckingham and Chesham.  The Team had three new members of staff, needed because of the increase in “sustainable drainage applications”.  

The Select Committee then spent 40 minutes talking about a wide range of issues – bringing the river back to the centre of Wycombe, “integrated” flooding from HS2, whether a European Directive allows BCC to dredge rivers, but none of them asked about the lack of resources for local flood planning.  

Only one member did anything which could be described as scrutiny.  This was Councillor Clarke who by repeated questioning exposed the fact that Bucks had no “shovel-ready” projects and wouldn’t have any until at least 2018/19 because of, guess what, lack of resources.  Outline businesses case, perhaps.  But actual shovel-ready projects, no. 

It was a pity no-one on the Committee asked the obvious question – what resource would it take to get some of these projects shovel –ready.  But that of course meant talking about the lack of resources – and we can’t have that.  That might remind everyone that BCC is broke. 

And finally there was 10 minutes going through the recommendations. The Chairman asked if members of the Committee were happy about progress with the recommendations.  Yes, they were all happy. 

Well I wonder if residents are happy to know that there is lots of work going on but somehow nothing happening on the ground.

 

The impact of austerity on flood defences in Bucks

16 January 2017

Over 200 homes in Bucks were flooded in the winter of 2013/4.  It was the wettest winter on record.  Bucks County Council’s Select Committee on Transport, Environment and Communities carried out an inquiry into the floods and published its report in November 2015. 

Its inquiry concentrated on flooding in Marlow, Hughenden Valley and the Willows in Aylesbury.   There was further flooding of 20 homes in Amersham in March 2016.

The Select Committee will consider a progress report at its meeting on 17 Jan.   This is what it says about the 8 recommendations made by the Inquiry:-  

1.      BCC to take the lead for sharing intelligence about flooding – agreed.  

2.      BCC to lead on a policy for the supply and distribution of sandbags – done.  There is no statutory duty for BCC to supply and pay for sandbags but district councils have agreed to support communities where requested.

3.      All BCC Councillors to attend Emergency Planning training – all Councillors have been invited but no information as to how many have attended.

4.      BCC to empower existing staff to help communities develop Flood Resilience Plans -existing staff have done their best but without dedicated resource the work has not been effective; no community has yet completed a plan.

5.      BCC to run a communications and media campaign to promote Community Emergency Plans – staff have done their best but a campaign needs more resource to be effective.

6.      Local Area Forums to raise public awareness – done at Buckingham LAF but more resources required to take forward for other LAFs.

7.      BCC to log all flood events – done.

8.      BCC to ask local MPs to lobby Government for changes to the planning law to require developers who build on flood plains or by a water courses to provide flood defences etc – this recommendation is not mentioned in the progress report.

In sum then, very little work has been done to get local planning for floods underway or to raise awareness of who is responsible for what.  It is not for want of effort by staff but because of lack of money.    The Government’s austerity regime means BCC has been cut by £145 million since the Tories came to power with £30 million still to come.      

This is what austerity means to residents in Marlow, Hughenden Valley, Aylesbury, Amersham and elsewhere in Bucks.

Residents complained last time that, by the time they got hold of the right person to take action, the water was pouring through their houses.  Looks as though it will happen again.