Literary events in Leicestershire for June 2018

June’s a busy month in Leicestershire:

7 June 1pm Loughborough University Arts Festival Dr Kerry Featherstone in Conversation with Kate Rhodes

7 June 5.30-7pm Mahsuda Snaith and Rob Palk read from and talk about their first novels at Room 0.01 Clephan Building De Montfort University. Free entry.

9 June 10.30am Poetanoster, Digital Reading Room David Wilson Library Leicester University. Free entry and free souvenier pamphlet of poems inspired by the former paternoster lifts in the Attenborough Tower read at the event.

11 June 6pm The Art of the Poem with Pam Thompson and Simon Perril Room 0.01 Clephan Building De Montfort University. Free entry.

12 June 1pm Poetry workshop at Loughborough University with Shruti Chauhan

12 June 6.30pm Carol Leeming and Richard Byrt Needle and Pin, The Rushes Loughborough. Open mic slots available – sign up on the night.

12 June 6.30pm Leicester Book Prize Readings at the Exchange Bar, Rutland Street, Leicester – part of the Leicester Writes Festival.

16 June 2pm South Leicestershire Poetry Stanza, Leicester Language Academy, New Walk, Leicester. Poetry workshop.

19 June 7.30pm Big Bookshop Bash, Kibworth Cricket Club New Ground. Quiz and supper hosted by the Bookshop as part of Feminist Book Fortnight.

20 June 12 noon De Montfort University hosts readings for Refugee Week in the DSU Atrium.

20 June 7pm Central Library, Bishop Street Leicester, LE1 6AA Leicester Writers’ Showcase features David Wilkinson launching his second science fiction novel set in the Anjelican series featuring Jaq Pilakin.

20 June 7-9pm Soundswrite Press and ArtBeat at Friends Meeting House, Queens Road, Leicester. The event is free and open to all women with an interest in reading and discussing poetry. You are welcome to bring along copies of poems to share or just turn up and enjoy.

21 June 7-9pm Carys Davies is at Leicester Writers’ Club, Phoenix Square, 4 Midland Street, Leicester, LE1 1TG. Talk, reading and question and answer sessions with award-winning short story writer now promoting her debut novel.

26 June 6.30pm The Hybrid Author – join The Writers’ Shed at the Exchange Bar, Rutland Street, Leicester for a discussion on hybrid publishing and how writers can benefit from both traditional and independent publishing. Part of the Leicester Writes festival.

28 June WORD! Attenborough Arts, Lancaster Street, Leicester moved from the first Tuesday of each month to the last Thursday clashing with both Leicester Writers’ Club and Soundswrite.

30 June from 10.30am Leicester Writes Short Story Festival at LCB Depot

In addition Soundswrite are looking for poetry submissions for their Take Three initiative. More details from Soundswrite Press.

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Pennbury “Eco Town”: is anyone saying Yes?

No to Pennbury Eco Town LeicestershireScraptoft Parish Poll – 98.5% voted No

Thurnby & Bushby Parish Poll – 98.8% voted No.

MPs Edward Garnier and Alan Duncan have spoken out against the “Eco Town”.

Leicestershire County Council – are against the “Eco Town”.  Equally local councils, Harborough District Council and Oadby and Wigston Borough Council have expressed huge concerns about costs, lack of infrastructure and frustrating lack of detail from the Co-operative Estates.

The Bishop of Leicester has raised concerns – completely ignored by the Co-operative Estates – about Pennbury becoming an “Eco ghetto”.

The Leicester Chamber of Commerce have said no and have raised concerns about Pennbury taking resources away from Leicester city’s current and planned regeneration.

The Co-operative Estates have still not said how many houses they plan to build (15,000 – 20,000), have still not confirmed what transport infrastructure they will put in place to serve Pennbury even though their own projections are that 70% of the working population in Pennbury will be working in Leicester and will gridlock the A47 and A46 to get there, and have consistently failed to give detailed plans or engage nearby communities who are going to have to live with the results of this disaster.

Is anyone saying “yes”?

Pennbury “Eco Town”: the lie of the land

“We hope that if the eco-town is included in the short-list then local people will recognise the usefulness of influencing the proposals – so please look at the questions that follow as well, and let us know your views.” Wow, the Co-operative Estates want to know our views… but only because the public consultation period is open to the end of June.

So let’s look at their survey then. The questions are simple: rate the importance on a scale of unimportant to very important and themed around transport, community, etc. You are asking to rate the importance of questions such as “provision of infrastructure to address traffic problems in east Leicester by including measures such as park and ride on the A6 and A47” (I’ll ignore that that should be east Leicestershire), “homes designed to reduce energy and water use, and minimise associated household running costs”, “working with regeneration teams in Leicester and in the region, to attract a range of businesses to strengthen the local economy and not compete with opportunities elsewhere” (love to know how they’re actually going to do that one), “water on the site being managed to avoid flood risk in the immediate and wider area” (again, how are they going to do this?), “healthcare provision so as to meet the needs of the growing population as the phases are developed”, “support for a new academy for sustainable technology in the town as well as working with existing schools and education authorities”, “homes designed to provide opportunities for home working with broadband access” and “essential infrastructure, for instance waste recycling, delivered from the start to ensure long term sustainability of the eco-town”.

Just how do you say any of these are not important? And can’t you just see the Co-operative Estates arguing that “95% of responses to the survey rated provision of infrastructure as fairly or very important” (the other 5% weren’t sure, or spoilt their surveys in disgust).

So let’s look at another survey: the one the County Council did in response to the Co-operative Estate’s Pennbury plans. The County Council have concluded, the “eco town” will need £850 million of transport improvements. The “eco town” will need 8 primary and 2 secondary schools, costing £94 million. Health services would cost a further £37 million, a social care and community base would cost £2 million with running costs of £5.9 million a year. A waste site, fire services, library, parks, sport and leisure facilities would cost £5.4 million.

The Co-operative Estate’s response, “We’re interested in how the county council proposes to bring forward infrastructure without the support we can bring… We are the only people coming forward with solutions to these.”

So the Co-operative Estates want a slap on the back for “solving” a problem that wouldn’t exist if it were not going to build Pennbury? Without explaining how they’re actually going to solve their own problems without landing local taxpayers with additional bills. According to the Co-operative Estates 70% of Pennbury’s working population will work in Leicester. They’ve failed to answer the simple question: how are they going to get to work without gridlocking the A6 and A47 and causing major disruption to existing residents?

County Council Leader David Parsons is right, “The Pennbury proposals raise more questions than they answer.” It’s about time the Co-operative Estates started to answer them.  I understand the “usefulness of influencing” the proposals only too well, I don’t understand that the Co-operative Estates are listening.

The “Eco Town” that isn’t and its “transport plans”

The Co-operative Estates finally got round to publishing its transport plans for Pennbury, the proposed “Eco Town” (it’s an “eco town” again rather than a series of “eco villages”) in Leicestershire.

The Co-operative Estates state, “It is anticipated that 85% of journeys generated at the proposed ‘eco town’ will be going to destinations within the development itself or to nearby Leicester, where it is expected that up to 70% of the working population of the proposed ‘eco town’ will secure employment.”

So the Co-operative Estates admit that 70% of the working population of the “eco town” will actually be working in Leicester, not in the “eco town” itself.  Therefore the “eco town” will not generate or attract sufficient businesses and employers to employ more than 30% of the working population within Pennbury.  That wasn’t the original plan.

At least they finally admit that most people living at Pennbury “eco town” will be working in Leicester. Not sure about that future tense will though, since, in order to buy houses in Pennbury “eco town”, purchasers will have to be already working in order to secure mortgages. So how are they going to get to work?

The Co-operative Estates state, “The ‘eco town’ will make it easier for people to catch the bus by providing more convenient real time bus information.  At a basic level, this will be information on when the next bus will arrive available at the stop.  In addition, we are proposing ways to make this real time information available to people’s homes, to workplaces and to mobile phones meaning you always know when the next bus is due, making it as convenient as travelling by car.”

We already have real time bus information in Leicestershire, it’s a service called Traveline and the phone number is displayed at most bus stops (at least those bus stops that have signs).  It’s already available to anyone who can reach a phone whether they are at work, at home, visiting or standing at the bus stop using a mobile.  Some existing bus stops also have Startrak screens which (theoretically) state when the next bus will arrive.  However, knowing when the next bus is due won’t make bus travel “as convenient as travelling by car.”  A wait for half an hour or more will always be more inconvenient than getting in a car and starting a journey immediately.

The Co-operative Estates state, “To be attractive and make people want to use them, buses and bus stations need to be safe at all times of the day and night.  We’re proposing modern buses equipped with the latest security and safety measures (including CCTV).  We will also be looking to ensure buses run regularly into the evening and through the night, in line with demand.  We want people to be able to get into, out and around the ‘eco town’ safely, no matter what time of day or night.”

Trouble is, it’s not just buses and bus stations in the “eco town” that need to be safe and secure.  If someone is travelling back to the “eco town” from Leicester, then they won’t do so if the bus stops, buses and bus station in Leicester aren’t safe.

The vast majority of bus passengers want weather-proofing as a priority, ie bus stops that offer proper shelter from wind and rain.  But the Co-op don’t say anything about weather and public transport.  Clearly bus shelters are not part of their plans.

The Co-operative Estates state, “We are also proposing to make improvements to the main roads connecting the ‘eco town’ with Leicester city, including the A6 and A47.  In partnership with local authorities, we are proposing introducing alternative uses of new and existing roadspace to give public transport priority and to help make bus connections fast and reliable.”

So the Co-op is going to build new roads outside the “eco town”, then.  And where are these new roads going to be?  The Co-op aren’t saying.  Wonder why?  Lack of planning or because they know any new roads will be unpopular? 

There is no way that public transport can be given priority on the Gartree Road (the main route from the proposed “eco town” into Leicester).  Gartree Road is a single carriageway and too narrow to introduce a cycle track on it let alone a bus lane.  The A6 and A47 have existing bus and cycle lanes where they fit.  If the Co-op want to introduce further measures on either or both roads, they’d better come up with some solid proposals. 

The existing roads will not take 20,000 extra cars and the Co-op needs to do more than just make wishful noises about giving public transport priority.

The Co-operative Estates state, “As the proposed ‘eco town’ is 7.5 miles (over 15 minutes journey time) from the M1, it is unlikely to become a major commuter settlement serving towns away from Leicester.  An M1 link would not be consistent with our plans to reduce reliance on the car and therefore we are not seeking a specific response to questions around this option.”

Since when has an “over 15 minutes journey time” stopped East Leicestershire residents from getting to the M1.  Again, given that most Pennbury residents, 70% according to the Co-op’s own figures, will be working in Leicester, how does the Co-op know they won’t be working in Fosse Park, Grove Park Triangle shopping and business parks, the Leicestershire Constabulary’s Head Quarters at St John in Enderby, all near the M1 Junction?  So all those cars, around 20,000 of them, going to shopping, leisure and business facilities near the M1 Junction will be gridlocking the outer ring road.  Good to see the Co-op are as familiar with Leicester as they are with sky larks.

The Co-operative Estates state, “We will introduce a charge for people leaving the ‘eco town’ by car at peak times in order to disincentivise car use and to encourage people to reassess their travel choices.  We will also explore the possibility of making key routes within the ‘eco town’ car free at peak times, both in the morning and evening peaks.”

Taxing people for driving to work is going to get them on buses, is it?  Or are people going to take advantage of flexible working and drive at non peak times?  Meanwhile those non key routes within the “eco town” are going to become rat runs.  Just how attractive a proposal is this?

The Co-operative Estates state, “We are proposing Park & Ride facilities which we think will be genuinely attractive.  For example, we are proposing that these should be ‘dry in dry out facilities’ which provide fully covered parking, possibly on several levels.  Buses would collect and return people direct to the parking point so that, if it was raining, people could stay dry and under cover at all times.  We are also investigating the option to provide convenience services, such as shopping and dry cleaning, at the parking point so that people can manage day-to-day errands easily and while catching the bus.  We may also persuade major retailers from the city centre to deliver goods for pick-up at the Park & Ride.”

That’ll be the major retailers from the city centre who don’t want the “eco town” because it’ll take investment away from the city centre regeneration, that will have a miraculous change of heart and serve the “eco town” then. 

Note the Co-op will consider weather-proofing the Park & Ride facilities but not the ordinary bus stops.  Is this a deliberate attempt to encourage people to use Park & Ride or ignorance?

Areas the Co-op needs to research and fast:-

• its own studies into the land at the proposed site (remember the Co-op own it, they’ve got no excuse for not understanding it).
• sky larks (the ones that are ground nesting) and existing wildlife at the site.
• human nature (prefers cars to buses, will turn side roads into rat runs if blocked from using certain routes at certain times of the day and doesn’t want the hassle of being tied to an inconvenient public transport timetable, likes shopping and leisure facilities and will drive to them if they are not nearby).

This transport plan is nothing more than an aspirational wishlist.  Ignoring the M1 link is not sensible or practical.  If new roads are to be built, the Co-op should say where and give local people who will be affected by these new roads a proper chance to consider their impact.

The initial consultation period ends next month.  I’m still waiting for details from the Co-operative Estates that prove they’ve thought this plan, researched the area and know what they are doing.  All the evidence so far points to this being badly-researched, badly-planned and nothing more than a money-making exercise that will have a huge negative impact on the area.  It should be rejected.

The strange case of The Co-operative Estates’ woodland and hedgerow nesting sky lark

The Co-operative Estates have been drip-feeding more information about their plans for Pennbury, the “Eco Town”, sorry “Eco Villages”, being planned for development in Leicestershire.

Mr Ramsbottom, head of land development for the Co-operative Estates says they are “starting with a blank canvas.”

That might be news to the:-

  • 42 badger setts
  • great crested newts (protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981)
  • bats (protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981)
  • sparrow hawks
  • sky larks
  • grey partridge
  • red kites
  • barn owls (all birds protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981)
  • potentially common dormice (protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981)

already on-site. And still no word whatsoever from the Co-operative Estates about what they plan to do to protect the wildlife covered under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This lack of information makes that “blank canvas” remark a large cause for concern.

The Co-operative Estates apparently are going to encourage the growth of hedgerows and woodland.

That sounds greenly aspirational, what possibly could be the objection? Simply this: in the 1990s the Co-operative Group ran a farming trial on the land where Pennbury will be built. It was discovered that the soil was too challenging for horticultural crops. So those hedgerows and woodlands are not going to happen.

Let’s see what else Mr Ramsbottom says, “woodland and hedgerows… will encourage the population growth of species including sky larks.”

That must be an extremely rare and very special brand new species of sky larks (have the Co-operative Group been running genetically modified bird experiments on the quiet?) if they are going to be nesting in woodlands and hedgerows. Sky larks are ground nesting birds and need agricultural land.

The government stipulated that only well-researched and planned “eco town” schemes would be shortlisted. The Co-operative Estate’s proposals for Pennbury need a serious re-think.

If the Co-operative Estates do not understand the wildlife they are attempting to encourage us to believe they are trying to promote, if the Co-operative Estates do not even understand the land they are earmarking for Pennbury, this scheme should be rejected. It should not even have been shortlisted.

“Pennbury is not going to be an ‘Eco Town'” – official

Unfortunately, that’s not a cause for celebration.

Pennbury will not be an “Eco Town”. Instead it will be a series of small “eco villages”, all called Pennbury, and all with “green wedge” around them. Although there won’t be any green wedge left after 15,000 to 20,000 houses, shops, business, schools and possibily community facilities have been built. Yep, even though consultation started on 3 April, over a month ago, Co-operative Estates have still not said how many houses they are building or exactly how many of them will be “affordable” (and they haven’t defined affordable either). What they have said is:-

Lynda Shillaw, managing director of the Co-operative Estates, said: “At present, there is a huge gap between what the public perceive an eco-town to be and the community we know we can create. Our challenge is to make sure they understand how different the eco-town will be from any existing community and the significant benefits it will have not just for those living there but those living around it. Once people understand what it’s about, that it’s not just about dumping houses in the middle of the countryside, people start to get enthused,” she said. The Co-op will be suggesting alternatives to a concentrated development, which could be a range of settlements surrounded by green wedges. Ideas on how to solve the transport problems will also be put forward. Ms Shillaw said: “The solution around transport and traffic at the moment is bus-based, leading edge, with “smart” technology. It’s capable of being future-proofed so that at some point in the future it could take a tram.” The Co-op has not ruled out building new roads as part of the plans but, in its current proposed transport solution, is not planning to ask the Government or local authorities for any extra funding.

Someone who’s not enthused is the Bishop of Leicester who is concerned that Pennbury “Eco Town” or “Eco Villages” will end up being an eco-ghetto. He has a point. In order to buy houses in Pennbury, purchasers will have to already have jobs in order to fund their house purchase. Those jobs will either be in Leicestershire or a commute away. Those jobs will not be transferable to Pennbury. The Co-operative Estates vaguely talk about wi-fi technology and people working from home (as if everyone can do this) or vaguely talking about buses, making a big assumption that buses will a) run to a timetable than enables everyone to get to work on time, including parents doing the school run and b) buses running to Pennbury will somehow be miraculously more efficient than buses serving nearby villages. Ours is a half hourly Monday to Saturday service that stops at 6 pm and both buses I caught today were running late.

Another party who are not enthused are the Leicester Chamber of Commerce. Yep, business people are not seeing Pennbury as an opportunity to develop new business outlets, to become employers within Pennbury itself or to develop expertise in eco-conveyancing services for the people the Co-operative Estates think are going to buy their houses. They see it as a huge distraction from regional business plans and current and future regeneration projects.

I’m not enthused. Pennbury will not be in my back yard. It will create gridlock on the A-road I rely on to get to work, to go shopping, to get in and out of Leicester. We will lose wildlife – Co-operative Estates still haven’t said what they’re going to do about that either. In my back yard is the former De Mortfort University Campus, currently a building site for new homes, some of which are affordable, social housing. I support that. I have not seen anything from Co-operative Estates to suggest that Pennbury is needed or that it will not simply be a ghetto where no one wants to live and no one wants to open a business in.

Publicity how not to do it, Part 2: Pennbury “Eco Town”

Previously I suggested four lessons learnt from failed publicity campaigns:-

1. Respect your contacts.

2. Tailor publicity for contacts.

3. If you do misfire, don’t be afraid to apologise. Passing the buck = you don’t care.

4. Never acknowledge that you have more important clients/publicity projects. No one likes to feel they’ve been pushed to the back of a queue.

Now I’m going to suggest how to publicise a large project with an illustration of how not to do it.

1. Find out if similar projects have been launched before. If the public was negative and strongly objected, you’re not going to have an easy ride.

2. Find out what potential objections (threats) lie ahead. List them. Explain how you’ve addressed these objections.

3. Be contactable. Not necessarily in person but at least via a website.

4. Give details. Don’t hide your project behind positive sounding buzz words. People are wary of secrecy.

Let’s take Pennbury, the “Eco Town” project that bafflingly made the government’s short list. The Co-operative Group knew this project was going to be unpopular. They had already applied to build 5,000 houses on the site, a proposal that had been rejected on the grounds of lack of intrastructure, lack of sustainability and damage to wildlife and loss of green wedge. The Co-operative Group, therefore, knew that building 15,000 houses plus businesses, shops, community facitilities, etc was going to raise strong objections.  They even knew what those objections were. Has the Co-operative Group even attempted to address those objections? The public consultation period is open now. Where are the details?

The Chief Executive of Harborough District Council took the unusual step of publically complaining that they hadn’t been given any details. The consultation period ends on 30 June. The Co-operative Group have used press releases to talk about “carbon neutral housing”, “restrictions on car use”, “restricting households to one car”, “park and ride schemes”, “new station at Great Glen” but details? Where are they? Not one objection has been addressed.  Not one public query answered.

Only the Co-operative Group themselves are guilty of shrouding Pennbury in such secrecy, that no one can support it. In the process they’ve built a classic example of how not to win public support.