Monday 29 January 2018

New £5m Woodland Fund, Stoke eligible

The new HS2 railway, phase one...

"officially starts early this year with a huge woodland creation programme, stretching from London to the West Midlands. Around seven million new trees and shrubs are being planted during the construction of HS2. The first saplings have now been planted, and will be followed by over 100,000 more by the end of this winter. Trees are a mix of more than 40 native species such as Oak, Elm, Field Maple, Hornbeam and Wild Cherry."

"In addition to the new woodlands along the railway, a separate £5 million HS2 Woodland Fund has been established. It opened for applications this month, and will help landowners up to 25 miles away from the route create new woodlands too."

Right then... more new small woods planted in Newcastle-under-Lyme/Stoke, anyone?

Saturday 27 January 2018

'Seeing the wood for the trees...'

From the Yale School of Forestry Yale Environment 360 magazine...

"the American Forest and Paper Association, a trade association, concluded that most wood pellets produced in the U.S., both for domestic burning and for export to the U.K., were prepared from whole trees." (Dec 2017)

So the wood pellets that power our power stations are not quite made from the off-cuts and waste bits of timber that we'd been told about. It appears that "most" comes from whole and healthy hardwood trees, felled and shipped half way across the world to be burned for so-called 'green energy'. And don't forget that the UK domestic electricity bill payer is paying on average about £149 more on their bills each year, in order to fund the 'green subsidies' that pay for such mad schemes. This subsidy is expected to treble in cost to the domestic bill payer, over the next five years.

On the Mark

The new Labour Party candidate in the Stoke South constituency reportedly thinks that Stoke-on-Trent is a town, not a city....

"In Stoke people have moved away from Labour because the town council has been lost," McDonald said. (Labour List, 25th January 2018)

Oh dear, oh dear. We do trip up these incomers, don't we, with our pesky geography. Although you might have thought that, as a big-shot lawyer, he'd have have done his basic homework about Stoke before parachuting in. Or would have been briefed by his endorsers inside the far-left Momentum wing of the Labour Party. Just on the basics, like... that we're a city not a town.

Friday 26 January 2018

Thursday 18 January 2018

High Street UK 2020

Nearby Alsager and Congleton were two of the small towns studied by a recent project called High Street UK 2020 (HSUK2020). It's a very clunky name for an academic-led ESRC project, which started in early 2014, one of a string of projects which have aimed to identify ways to boost retail on the UK High Street. HSUK2020's final papers appear to have been published in an academic journal at the back end of 2017, but Google News searches for "High Street UK 2020" and "HSUK2020" suggest almost no publicity in the establishment media. Although I should add that's not so unusual, for many of these Research Council-funded academic projects.

Anyway, I've only just caught up with it. Sadly their attempt to tackle Alsager doesn't seem to have been very enlightening for the academics...

"In Alsager, stakeholders agreed that future research and analysis regarding footfall, the catchment area, centre users’ behaviour and shopping preferences and residents’ perceptions of the town centre can reinforce the place branding process by elucidating town centre challenges and what type(s) of action is needed."

Erm... indeed. I think that translates into plain English as "We need more consultants". Still, they did manage to discover that the locals, albeit the sort likely to go to consultation meetings, have a view that...

"Alsager is a big village rather than a small town"

Incisive stuff. So far as I can tell that's about as far as they got in Alsager. My Google searches suggest there was no special report on Alsager, no razzmatazz press-release about how specific measures had boosted the town's retail trade. But the town, along with nearby Congleton, did input into this useful PDF which asked the people at the grassroots about what the expensive consultants' reports miss out. It's the most impressive 'output' I found from the project. Amazingly, "Health" is one of the factors previously overlooked...

"We could not find anything in the published literature relating the health of the catchment [of shoppers] to High Street performance"

Wow. What an indictment of 'experts'. Not one of them ever considered health as a factor. Not even once.

While skimming the HSUK2020's final papers, published in an academic journal for planners, I noted just a few useful nuggets. Such as confirmation that around 87% of consumers significantly change their retail habits during a big recession, and that those habits tend to stay changed for many years. For instance, some people go to coffee and tea shops more and linger longer, because that's relatively cheap, and then they 'window shop' more than they used to. Which to me suggests the question: How can you reach them in the coffee shops? Can a local shop offer a "we deliver to your table" service, co-ordinated by mobile phone GPS? Pop in the cafe for a coffee, and while you're waiting for it to be served, your phone's app pings the shop and an apprentice pops in with a smile and personally hands you the book you purchased online yesterday. Or your dry cleaning that you dropped off last week. That kind of thing. Timing would be everything, but it might be done reliably.

In terms of the HSUK2020 factors and advice it all seems to boil down to some obvious basics. I'm rewording here, summarising and translating from academic-speak and council-speak:

* understand the current identity of the town, and how it's changing.

* identify the many local barriers that your consultants may overlook.

* have a firm grasp of exactly how the town really functions, at the practical level.

* find out what the actual experience of visiting the town is, at a variety of levels.

* find out what the actual experience of selling in the town is, at a variety of levels.

* work out how to survey 'the unreachable' users of the town, including those who've stopped visiting and traders who are 'too busy to talk'.

* work out what the needs of local people are, and how to serve them better. That includes people who spend very little.

* crunch the Big Data, including data on what shopkeepers used to call 'passing trade', for trends and opportunities.

* encourage people in the town to see the ongoing global changes in retail markets and technologies as opportunities.

* expand the range of independent shops and non-retail uses.

* consult local people on any town re-branding, and especially on extensions in opening hours or evening trading.

* avoid the "fast and easy solutions" - a shiny new town logo, a simplistic appeal to big spenders, a new mailing brochure with some coupons at the back.

* help to refresh the grass-roots organisations that can encourage change in the town.

* establish a range of new partnerships, especially among those who can help break bureaucratic and other log-jams.

To which I'd add:

* get better staff and management in High St. retail. Grumpy staff are a huge factor in the current unattractiveness of the High St., and in pushing people toward online shopping. So much so that you wonder if some retailers do it deliberately, because you're more profitable to them online.

* pair humdrum sub-regional shop managers with people based in other areas, areas where the shops have already adapted to the latest retail trends.

* shrink the High St. area by moving all the outskirts shops inward, so the town centre is not strung out across two or three miles of walking (that's pock-marked by empty shops and grot). Convert the outskirts roads back to housing.

* bring all the shops together within a single website and/or Facebook group. Non-spammy, properly curated kind-of like a magazine, and full of 'added value' rather than PR fluff.

* add lots of really nice benches to sit on for free. With proper backs to them. Cafes may hate it, the police may frown and fret about drunks/druggies congregating, but the pensioners will adore you. If drunks/druggies are a real problem after noon, then work out ways to have benches put out only at certain times of day.

* have someone sprightly and eager who is dedicated to constantly going round picking up every scrap of litter and bit of broken glass, including along all footpath and cycleway approaches to the town centre.

* totally ban all chuggers and similar, don't just restrict them to certain days.

* remove 'plastic and tat' type shop-fronts, replace them with restored authentic shop-fronts if possible.

* rediscover and revive old long-lost traditions in the town. Who knew, for instance, that Congleton used to have a tradition of "ringing the chains"? In which the local monks would race around the town with strings of huge bells on them, to "announce to the town the arrival of the ‘wake’, an August holiday fair". Surely that could be imaginatively adapted for modern times, and revived?

Wednesday 10 January 2018

On the Trail

New on the Hartshill Residents Association website, a collection of documents for the History of Hartshill, including scans old Heritage Trail leaflets.

Over the Edge

Run over by a newly elected council: plans for a £646,000 car park on allotments at Alderley Edge.

Wednesday 3 January 2018

Around the houses

I wonder if those rancid London journalists did Stoke's first-time buyers a favour in 2017, during the various elections? Because perhaps their relentless negativity caused the 4% city's house price dip? By the end of 2017:

"There was one decrease in the West Midlands – Stoke on Trent (-4.0%)."

Just one in the Midlands, in a slightly rising national housing market. That seems to imply that there must be something remarkable to have caused that, when all around was different (Staffordshire Moorlands at 9.1% growth, for instance). Especially as demand in the city saw a big increase:

"Rochdale (+56%) and Stoke-on-Trent (+53%) have seen the largest increase in demand over the course of the year"

Selling-time here is also very good:

"Other cities that saw houses flying off the market were Bristol (61 days), Stoke-on-Trent (70 days),"

So demand goes up, homes sell quickly, but... the average price goes down? Curious. The Council's new tranche of "£1 homes" in the city can't have caused the dip, as not enough were released to make much a difference to the overall average. So I have to wonder if the 4% fall was due to that relentless negative publicity about the city, putting off a small proportion of nervous buy-to-let investors and downshifting incomers from outside the city? It'll be interesting to see of there are any articles in The Sentinel in the next few days, explaining the 4% fall in prices.

Monday 1 January 2018

The Penkhull Wassail 2018

The Penkhull Wassail is happening again, on 13th January 2018 with the procession from 4pm-8pm. Starts at the village Hall in Penkhull, before visiting many of the pubs on a circular route. Should be at the Beehive Inn on the Honeywall, at about 6pm.

Hawfinch haul

I'd noticed small flocks of 50-or-so small birds, flittering around in mini 'murmurs' near sunset. Without reaching for binoculars (they were too quick) I wasn't sure what they were, but according to The Telegraph it appears they're likely to be hawfinches...

"The little birds largely bypass the UK in the winter, staying in central Europe, but poor harvests on the continent have sent them further north"

Apparently they're moving as far north as Scotland, where the "little" birds miraculously grow in size, according the link-bait headline of the Oban Times...

"Giant finches flock to overwinter in Scotland".