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Well done Plympton Gardeners’ Association!

Grateful thanks to Plympton Gardeners’ Association, who dress out Ridgeway’s six concrete tubs (they’ve even painted them white). City parks department could learn a thing or two from this dedicated group, who even do what parks never did… keep it going throughout winter. Parks abandoned their post in their ill-chosen efforts to scrimp, but you’ve stepped into the breech with great panache. Thanks!

Ridgeway Flowerpot

Must the axe fall on our flowers?

flowersOur five large council plant tubs on Plympton Ridgeway have remained undressed as late as 1st July. A few weeks ago they came and cleared the weeds and sprinkled pellets preparatory to their usual floral display, but bare earth remains and the season grows late. I rang the parks manager querying the lateness. “Ah,” says he, “it’s the cuts. It isn’t just Plympton, it’s all the suburbs.” I came away saddened, before anger took over.

Here we are, the fastest growing economy in the Western world, now at the end of a long recession during which we have kept up our spirits as well as the flowers which brighten our lives. But Joe Council comes along and says he must make cuts. I could have part understood it had he said this five years ago, when we knew we were going to have to tighten our belt. But now?

He will make the usual excuses. We’ve heard it all before. It will go something like this: He has spent these five years trimming in every direction until all that is left are the the flowers. What nonsense. Every one of us could identify areas in which there is disgraceful waste as well as inefficiency. I give you one tiny example. Each evening a man and his equally expensive van goes round the Hoe area locking up toilets. Doubtless they do this in other areas of the city too. Why don’t they slip a few bob to one of the householders living close by to do the job? That way the toilets could stay open longer. It is farcical that in the city’s prime tourist area they close at such a ridiculously early hour.

Is it not possible – with a bye-law or something – to make householders responsible for cutting the grass verges fronting their properties? In Germany they are fined if they do not clear the snow from the pavement fronting theirs. Think of the money this would save. I well remember, just a few years ago when they came along and concreted over a lovely flower bed that fronted where cars parked at West Hoe. Stupidly they had built a wall just high enough to block out the driver’s view of our splendid Plymouth Sound, but at least they compensated somewhat with a beautiful display of begonias. Then in the name of cuts they took even that away. Now you sit there staring at a wall (why they spent precious money building it in the first place is beyond me) when just beyond that wall is one of the most spectacular views in the world. First prize to the dunderhead who thought that one up.

I remember also what I wrote of at the time as ‘civic vandalism‘, when they demolished the Hoe diving boards which our kids for generations had such fun on – and safely on the whole, I might add. Our city fathers had spent a lot of money on that facility for youngsters. All they had to do was maintain them, but they couldn’t even be bothered to do that. What would those fathers have thought of their successors’ treatment of their legacy? No, the headsman’s axe was the easier option. Always, always it’s the soft, ill-thought-through option. So, how now do the kids have their fun – for they will, and indeed must have ways of getting rid of their youthful exuberance. They move a few yards up the road and go in for the highly dangerous ‘tombstoning’. As if to complete their killjoy vandalism, the department responsible then went on to concrete over a couple of pools which also the kids had fun in. As well as the kids letting off steam the promenading public also had the pleasure of watching the younger generation enjoying themselves and remembering their own childhood.

Doomed to mediocrity

As Zero Hour approaches with regard to Plymouth airport we have to ask ourselves some very important questions.

Are present communications by road and rail so good and secure that we can still thrive by relying on them alone?

Are we confident that Captains of Industry thinking of establishing great centres of work will not dismiss us instantly because they cannot access us in the shortest time possible; maybe even think that because we have no air link there is something odd about us?

Are we confident that in a rapidly changing world nobody in the future will step forward with a plan which will work?

Is the prospect of foreclosing on an option which can never be reversed something that we can live with?

In today’s world large numbers of tuppenny ha’penny places have airports. They are regarded almost as a mark of the community’s virility. For myself it is a resounding NO to every one of these questions and I will tell you why.

Plymouth is the only big city in a peninsula 200 miles long, which commands the Western Approaches and with the largest naval dockyard in Europe is an important regional centre.

Are we not peculiarly at risk by rail and by road? When the Victorians drove through their rail link they were anxious to make the journey (experience) a memorable one; quite rightly so.

In some places they did brave things, like when they challenged the ocean waves by running so perilously close to them as they did in places like Dawlish.

They could not be expected to know that man made emissions would alter the world’s climate so that extremes of weather would become a regular feature of life.

It is entirely possible that, as a result, that line may be broken if not washed away at some point in the future. What then do we do?

That marvel for its time, the almost 170 year old Brunel suspension rail bridge must surely be coming to the end of its life so that Cornwall becomes no longer accessible by rail.

May not the private operator, faced also with a storm lashed, perilous and collapsing Dawlish line, then decide to cut his losses and end the rail link at Exeter?

I remember well the storm of protest that met the decision to end the M5 at Exeter. Nothing would move them.

It was almost as though they’d got it in for Plymouth. They gave us a quite superior A 38 for the remaining 40 miles and tried to console us by calling it the Devon Expressway.

But nobody was fooled. At the end of the day it remained at best a dual carriage way. When accidents, resurfacing and other repairs happen we are doomed to single lane traffic. Imagine your Captain of Industry who on being told he could not fly then asking for a first Class rail ticket only to be told that isn’t possible either.

He then takes to the road and ends up in nose to tail single lane traffic. Nice one Plymouth City! This may all sound bizarre and it is. But it entirely within the bounds of possibility. These thoughts and other should be pressing on the minds of those who are charged with looking to the future of our city.

No one blames Sutton Harbour Development Company for seeking to coin a buck – millions of them by off-loading non profitable airport land to make themselves a fortune – with all sorts of other developments. Their duty is to their shareholders not the people of Plymouth.

I do blame a desperate city, though, for granting them such a preposterous lease as 150 years. They may as well have sold it to them freehold, but perhaps as well they didn’t, they might have let it go for silly money.

So strongly do I believe many people view this issue that it would not surprise me in the least to see protesters sitting on the runway on the day the bulldozers were told to move in.

Our city seems obsessed with short term considerations. Of course it is right not to burden itself with loss making operations, but its priorities seem very skewed when it rushes off to build theatres, Pavilions, Domes, Life Centres and even Aquariums.

Some may say this is all very wonderful while others might to say it is self indulgent.

All I know is that Plymouth must keep its lungs and arteries open while being ready at the same time to receive the world. Business should trump all other considerations. From that comes the wherewithal to do all these other no doubt commendable things.

It is not, even now, too late to hold back from an irrevocable decision. While it is impossible to predict what the future holds, what seems foolhardy in the extreme is to do this thing; like close down the argument forever.

Who would want to be the man or council who very possibly doomed this city to permanent mediocrity? What a sad epitaph to have to say that it happened on my watch.

We’ve bin let down by our council

It has always upset me that our people are considered the litterbugs of Europe and that our streets are disfigured in the way they are.

Long ago Mrs Thatcher displayed what many of us at the time considered the eccentric trait of picking up rubbish strewn along her line of walk and disposing of it. She recommended that more of us should do the same to make Britain a tidier place. I have to confess that I share that eccentric habit.

Walking with my son the other day our local Tesco Express – a distance of three quarters of a mile – we commented on how litter was lying around, even in one of Plymouth’s more affluent districts. But then it hit me whose fault it principally was: it was the local authority’s.

In all that distance there was not a single bin. What right, we both asked ourselves, have the powers that be to criticise people when they themselves fail in such a basic function as providing receptacles? Do they seriously expect young people – the principal offenders – to carry their rubbish for untold distances? They even have the effrontery to believe they have the right to punish the miscreants when they have failed in their own duty. It is ludicrous and completely unreasonable.

I have a suggestion for Plymouth City Council; indeed, it might make it the cleanest, tidiest council in the Kingdom. Give us the bins and then you can consider yourselves entitled to go after us if we do not use them. In fact, it is a suggestion which might usefully be taken up at government level. Were it to legislate that every council in the land put out bins commensurate with the size of its population (X number of bins for Y number of people) we might, at last, move away from that less than flattering sobriquet, ‘Europe’s Litterbugs’.

While we are on the subject of councils failing in their duty, why is that they are so inconsiderate in the hours that public loos are open? It is nothing short of scandalous that an entire city centre is devoid of them during much of the 24-hour day. The same could be said of our world famous Plymouth Hoe.

Before the former Derry’s Cross filling station and car park was sold off to coin a buck, there was a 24/7 facility there. My own suburb of Plympton, with a population of 35,000, has its one and only loo locked up from three in the afternoon.

Such callous disregard for people in distress – particularly older people with bladder problems – is quite unfathomable. Would they win a case were they to prosecute a person caught peeing in a public place? I think not. Particularly when they themselves had transgressed in such an important Human Right – a truly genuine one for once. Cherie Blair, in her chambers, would love to fight their corner.

Having said all this, it is only fair to give credit where it is due: well done Plymouth City Council for its recent ‘Best Run Council’ award. It is clearly doing some things right, like collecting rubbish once weekly.

On a less critical theme, the afterglow of the Olympics will stay with us for some time I hope. And let’s not forget that we still have the Paralympics to look forward to. Around the world, disabled people have a hard time and none more so than in the Third World. When we look at someone afflicted with a physical – or mental – disability we should all say silently to ourselves, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ and act accordingly.

It is heart-warming that even in a country like China, wherefrom time immemorial the state felt no obligation to intervene, things are changing. Having had charge of the previous Olympics – with its now obligatory Paralympics – has brought home to them what is the right and noble thing to do.

That afterglow of which I spoke should encourage us in the harsh years that lie ahead. Projects don’t come bigger than the Olympics, and even if we say so ourselves: we made a thundering great success of it. All the world was impressed, even enthralled.

In my entire life (73 years) no single feat of organisational brilliance of ours has come anywhere near it for scope, efficiency and aplomb.

Those blues that have dogged us through all the years of the rundown of Empire and beyond have finally been laid to rest; now, at last, we know that we still have what it takes and can compete with the best – even beat them. So now let’s apply that spirit of ‘can do’ to get out of the hole we’re in and fashion a bright new future for ourselves.

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