Scrap #HS2 and “build the M75 and M100” – my views on @johnredwood’s blog – please share if you like them.

For those of you who don’t like roads – look away now – but if like me you think good roads are better than bad roads and the freedom that comes with them far outweighs the convenience of a late train, read on. The following (*mini-rant* warning), which I posted on John Redwood’s blog earlier today, picks up on points I’ve made in previous posts about the need to improve our cross-country road links, to boost the regional economies outside London and the South East.

Money for HS2 could be better spent on building an M75 motorway round 3/4 of London and the South East.

This would link Southampton with the Midlands by upgrading the A34 /A43 to Northampton and Kettering (with a spur heading on to the A1 – the not-so-great north road – at Stamford).

At Kettering the M75 would turn east and run along the line of an upgraded A14 (also called the new M6 extension linking Liverpool and Birmingham with Felixstowe/Harwich). This in turn would connect with an upgraded A12/A130 /A13 linking the Suffolk ports with the new DP World London Gateway port, Tilbury docks and the Port of London.

This would effectively create a modern road network linking four of our biggest ports – it would improve links between the regions (so boosting the wider economy) and take some pressure off the M25.

Any spare change (or new funds) should be used to build an M100 – linking Bournemouth with Bath (via the route of the A350) – Bath with Leicester (via A429/M69) – and Leicester with Kings Lynn, Great Yarmouth (and the East of England Energy Zone) via an upgraded A47 – which would link with the top of the (previously upgraded) A12 .

The Treasury could fund all this by issuing 100 year infrastructure bonds (pension funds would probably like these for matching to increased longevity risk) – so the generations to come, who will benefit most, will pay some of the cost.

Now that’s joined up, long term thinking.

@HuwSayer

Hedging beats fencing for wildlife and looks.

Fences (and, more so, walls) are expensive to build and maintain – and they are dead boring. It’s time we pushed the boundaries of garden design and encouraged gardeners to plant living hedges.

Hedges are greener than fences, and not just because of their leaves. They provide small birds, insects, reptiles and mammals with safe places to live and reliable sources of food. They reduce the demand for rain forest timber and so help prevent the destruction of valuable tropical habitats. And they absorb CO2 as they grow; whereas transporting the raw materials for fences (including the concrete for posts) increases CO2 emissions.

Hedges make effective windbreaks because, as the name suggests, they break up the wind – unlike fences and walls, which simply deflect the wind and can send it swirling round the garden like a mini-tornado, wreaking destruction on fragile plants. Hedges can also provide just as much privacy as a fence, yet are softer on the eye and so make housing developments look less brutally urban.

Hedges can be kept neat and low enough to talk over, yet high and wide enough for security (prickles also help). And they provide year-round interest, with their flowers and catkins in spring, the changing colours of their leaves through summer and autumn, and their nuts and berries in winter. You can also under-plant them with wild flowers such as Red CampionRamsons Garlic and native daffodils (the original Lent Lilly).

If you want an attractive hedge, I suggest you avoid large leaved shrubs like laurel and most conifer hedges because they are just too dull for words (with the exception of Yew, which is beautiful and resilient but very slow growing – however, don’t eat the berries because the seeds are deadly poisonous). Instead go for mixed beech (green and copper) and hornbeam. You could also consider hedging roses, hawthorn, firethorn, hazel, or even box (if you are patient). Failing that, poor old privet still has its place – not least because it plays host to the marvellous Privet Hawkmoth.

Happy gardening.

PS: If you want to make your garden secure for the family dog – simply double plant your hedge and sandwich a wire mesh fence down the middle (yes I know they aren’t environmentally friendly but sometimes compromise is necessary).

John Gordon’s ‘The giant under the snow’ – a short book review

I first read ‘The giant under the snow’ (which was published in 1968) when I was a child of about 7 and I loved it. I still have the battered paperback copy from my childhood (along with my copies of Snow Cloud, Stallion and Shane, which is the best Western ever).

Some 40 years later, over Christmas (the wintry theme makes it perfect for those dark days), I took a few hours to re-read it; and I came away thinking it must still be one of the best children’s books ever written. It’s almost a short story, tightly plotted, fast paced, deliciously scary, and with neatly crafted characters, particularly the wonderful Elizabeth Goodenough.

I know it is not a hugely complex plot and there’s very little back story (except for the giant) – but it is just so well woven that the writing itself seems magical, conjuring up dark swirling images in the mind with the barest of descriptions.

Mr Gordon, who worked as an editor for the Eastern Evening News and has a reporter’s eye for telling detail, is particularly good at recreating the bleakness of (what I imagine to be) 1960s Norwich and the Brecklands in winter. Having grown up in Norwich during the 70s, I find myself matching the city Mr Gordon describes with the one I knew, from the old City walls, the Cathedral, the Castle and the market, to King Street with the then derelict warehouses lying between it and the black River Wensum.

If you haven’t read this book, do yourself a favour and read it – if you have read it, treat yourself and re-read it. After that, lend it to your children.

Thank you Mr Gordon, wherever you may be.