Friday 5 July 2013

Why you might hug a lamp-post

The New Economics Foundation (nef) had their summer open day this week, and I had a long cool drink before speaking on the future of public services, only to discover I had swallowed something ferocious called 'Moscow Kick'.  Goodness knows what I said afterwards.

One of the old friends and colleagues I ran into there was the great Mayer Hillman, sometime scourge of the Department of Transport - the man who forced Whitehall to start counting journeys on foot as well as by car - who manages to combine being very good company with being very cross.

These days, he is mainly cross about global warming and believes catastrophic climate changes have already begun, and that all we can do for our children and grandchildren is slow it down.

This put something of a dampener on my evening.  Green think-tanks like nef are necessarily optimistic kind of places, and a dose of what may well be reality makes it tough to maintain quite the optimism one is supposed to.

As Mayer says, it is supremely ironic that mankind has been visited by an affliction that may prove to be fatal, and which can only be cured by putting aside differences and working together.

Meeting him again has made me particularly sensitive to the Re-arranging The Deckchairs phenomenon, so I was fascinated to see the news of the stand-off with police and Skanska contractors in Crystal Palace over the removal of Victorian iron lamp-posts.

It so happens that I've blogged before about this £79m PFI contract to put up lamp-posts in Croydon and Lewisham, which will mean council tax payers will be paying for this pointless exercise for the next quarter of a century.  My own lamp-posts were removed, from my street, a few weeks back.

The main justification for this huge operation, while libraries are being closed, is that the new lamps will be more energy efficient.  This is the kind of nonsense that would send Mayer Hillman almost insane with rage: the ice cap is already melting and Croydon and Lewisham are burning the carbon to achieve a sliver of a difference in energy efficiency, using the safest old technology they could find.

There might be a case for replacing the lamp-posts with new ones with solar cells, that generated their own energy - or at least pumped an equivalent amount onto the grid during the daytime that they would use at night.  But to go to this huge effort, and pay these huge sums so pointlessly to achieve so little really demonstrates to me how little local authorities have really risen to the challenge of austerity.

Or if the technology doesn't exist yet for this (it does), we should wait until it does before handing over £79m to Skanska.

It is high time we had a look at the contract.  Oh, no, I forgot.  It is commercially confidential.

No comments: