Archive for August, 2012

There are children here somewhere. I can smell them.


Flown on holiday from the UK this Summer? On your return in Arrivals there were a number of people, quite often in polo shirts, maybe with something round their neck on a lanyard, holding up clipboards with strange names on? What’s that all about?

The one in the picture is Village Camps, but they’re not the only one. Having done my fair share, or more accurately more than my fair share, of standing in Arrivals at different airports and train stations this Summer I can reveal that what it is about is a more advanced version of the Child Catcher from the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.(Pictured below) Unlike the film, where the role was to remove children from the sight of a ruler who could not stand them, our role is to ensnare young people from different corners of the world and deliver them to the delights of English classes, activities and outing to delightful museums like the The Canterbury Tales Visitor Attraction.(When they would much rather all be spending their parents’ heard-earned cash in Abercrombie & Fitch all buying identical clothes.)

On Sundays through July and August teachers and activity staff leave Summer Schools at anything from 2:30 in the morning in fleets of taxis and minibuses to head off to airports and stations with a list of planes and trains to meet and the new students to greet. The list on the left shows the size of the undertaking with six members of staff working just one terminal at just one London airport. The highlighted are the one’s I was in Gatwick to collect and return to the south coast with.

The logistics often mean that the first students collected have to wait around until a large enough posse has been got together to make paying for a taxi or using a minibus worthwhile. The picture shows the luggage of those spending the start of their educational holiday encamped in Heathrow Arrivals. So next time you see people in polo shirts waiting at arrivals with clipboards you know that they’re staff from summer schools there to collect children arriving in the Uk for an educational and cultural delight.

In parenthesis, whilst waiting at Heathrow in the weekend before the games a man from a couple got talking to me at it turned out he had worked at the first summer school run by the organisation I worked for this year. He went on to tell me that they were undercover cops from elsewhere in the UK there to make sure everything was OK for the run-up to the Olympics and talked about how the rota they worked to changed daily. It seems to have gone off all right for them

On the rails


Back in Strasbourg, trying to survive the canicule, after a few weeks working on the south-coast of England, there’ll probably be more about that later, and listening to the last day of the last test match of the series against the South Africans.

Staying at my parents in Twyford before and after the work I travelled through Reading a few times using the railway. It was interesting to see the progress on the redevelopment of Reading railway station. The first picture shows the new footbridge, being built over the railway to the west of the current footbridge, taken from the existing footbridge.

I am particularly interested in developments at this site as I have a personal interest in the redevelopment of the station as I played a part in starting it off when I was a councillor on Reading Borough Council, in particular as the Chair of the Transport committee. At the time I started Reading was a District Council with no power to do anything much for transport in the town. Two years later the County Council was abolished and Reading had more power on transport for the town, but not to do with the railway. However, at the start of my work in the role I had three main ambitions for the railway:

  • the redevelopment of Reading station,
  • work to Cow Lane bridges to remove a bottleneck there, and
  • Crossrail to happen with Reading as the Western terminus.

The second picture shows the new northern end of the station and the third the inside of the waiting room between what was platforms 5 and 8. From the first meeting of the Transport Committee I pushed forward on the three items. Not too long before I left the council in 1999 they were successful with a large bid to rebuild the M4 junction south of Reading, largely because the slip-roads to the motorway had become unstable and had to be rebuilt, and I was afraid that such a large amount of money being spent by the Government on the town would result in the massive amount of money necessary for the station and the bridges not to become available. Well I was wrong and the Gordon Brown government gave the go-ahead for the project and the coalition government confirmed it would happen. The project to rebuild the station that was approved included the work on the Cow Lane bridges to remove the bottleneck. In the 1990’s when I was pushing for this work to happen never in my wildest dreams did I think that the £850million work would happen so every time I travel through the station I look with great interest, and not a little pride at having played a part in it coming to pass, at the work taking place to improve the station for travellers and to remove a bad bottleneck on the rail network.

In the last decade Crossrail was given the go-ahead providing an east-west link under London giving extra capacity for people wishing to travel in those directions, whether as a whole journey or as part of it. On journey’s into London it has pleased me to see work on the scheme going ahead, whether the tunnel opening at Paddington or at different sites around London. The good news was tempered because the western end was to be Maidenhead and stop short of Reading.

From the 1990’s when the dying Major government cancelled the project Reading Borough Council’s official position was to campaign for the scheme to happen. With the encouragement of the then leader of the Council, David Sutton, as Chair of the Transport Committee I worked with the City of London to campaign for the scheme. So, in the middle of the last decade, when the then Labour Government announced consultation on the scheme I was overjoyed. However, the Leader who had been so supportive to me in campaigning for the scheme the decade before now went along with my successor, John Howarth, in his weak support for the proposal as part of Howarth’s work to undermine and deselect the Reading East MP, who was such a strong public supporter of the scheme. This lack of support and campaigning for the scheme from the Reading Council played an important part in the decision to stop short of Reading. It is a crying shame that the pathetic small town politics, of two people elected by the people of Reading to do their best for the people of Reading, has resulted in Reading missing out on what would be a bonus for them. Shame on Sutton and Howarth.

The last picture shows work taking place on new state-of-the-art train sheds between Scours Lane and Reading West junction on the west of Reading station. In the background, but perhaps not visible, are the stages and other preparations for Reading Festival.

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