Monday, 25 January 2016

Terry Pratchett is Alive and Well and Living in Headington

For those who are still mourning the passing of Terry Pratchett, there may be some consolation in the ongoing farce over the construction of a heating pipe in Headington between two hospitals that are a mile apart. 

This scheme was suddenly revealed to the public on 31st October 2015 at a Headington Ward Focus Meeting. The idea is to build a large pipeline from the John Radcliffe Hospital in Headley Way all the way over to the Churchill Hospital in Old Road, passing under the main route from Oxford to London and beneath Sandfield Road, Latimer Road, All Saints Road, Old Road, and Stapleton Road, all quiet residential streets, or so their inhabitants used to imagine. All these streets in the Highfield area are now being dug up causing major disruption but only of human residents who don't of course matter. If they were wildlife, George Monbiot would be protesting in the Guardian.

Naive onlookers wondered what made it worth trundling heat, in the form of hot water, from one building to another a mile away. The explanation given, that the John Radcliffe Hospital system produces excessive heat, and the management wishes to bestow this, in a philanthropic way, on another hospital which is shivering in the cold, is the sort of explanation that only makes the whole scheme appear more bizarre. When your equipment is producing too much heat, you switch it down - don't you? Why would one hospital have a heating system that was superfluous to its needs, and be unable to modify, reduce or curtail the heat generated - all of which presumably costs money?
The residents of Headington were told that this eighteen-month construction programme would "greatly reduce their carbon footprints" and this was supposed to compensate for prolonged blockages of all the roads in question, creating difficulty in accessing the London Road, Sandfield Nursery, and all the amenities in central Headington.

The scheme was given the go-ahead a year earlier by Oxfordshire County Council., which asumed that it came into the category of "utilities" which don't need planning permission. They were wrong. After work started, the outcry from locals was such that the City Council rang up its lawyers and asked them. They said that the scheme is not just a "utility" so it did need planning permission, which can only be given by the City Council. So what is the Council going to do - refuse permission for a scheme that is already partly built? 

We are told that the earliest date possible for the application to be considered by the East Area Planning Committee is the 2nd March. By that time the barmy thing will be half completed.
The glaring fact is that a plan of such impact on the public was launched without any attempt at consultation with the public. The Highfield Road Residents Association wasn't even told about it. Green-obsessed bureaucrats behind the scenes decided that it would "offer both hospitals better resilience and less reliance on the national power grid in the high demand months of winter, reduce energy costs as well as reduce carbon emissions" so they went ahead with it and just assumed that they knew best and it didn't matter what anyone else thought. 

According to a BBC investigative report, the finished scheme will save the NHS Trust one million pounds a year. But it is costing nearly fifteen million to build (£14.8 million, met by the Government Energy Fund, which means you, me and anyone else who is not clever enough to wangle their way out of paying tax altogether). So that sounds as if it will take fifteen years before the scheme even pays for itself, let alone provides any savings.
Who is to say what will have changed at the end of fifteen years?

The size of the trench is substantial, because it turns out that they are actually laying TWO pipes, plus a whole lot of hig-voltage electrical and fibre-optic cable. The ongoing works are making the whole area look more like the battlefields of Flanders in 1916 than anything else. Some of the streets are being closed off for three weeks, others for three months. Yes, three months!

All Saints Road: 4 Jan–27 Jan 2016
Stapleton Road: 11 Jan–15 Mar 2016
Old Road: 23 Feb–13 Apr 2016
Sandfield Road: 1 Feb–22 Apr 2016
London Road: 9 Mar–14 Apr 2016
Latimer Road: 21 Mar–30 Jun 2016

The director of the project at OU Hospitals NHS Trust, apparently a Mr Mark Neal, offered an apology for not giving any prior notice, and said that it was not a "conspiracy - just a shambles." I would like to know how much he is paid for creating such a shambles, and why he does not lose the job. People who create a shambles in other more modest walks of life, affecting far fewer of their fellow-citizens, are usually sacked.
Everything is affected - public transport, commuting, parking, getting children to school, refuse collections, funerals at the church in Highfield Road, even ambulance routes. The main entrance to the John Radcliffe Hospital is being closed at one point. 

A Labour councillor, Mary Clarkson, commented, "This kind of fiasco is the kind of thing councillors dread. It makes us all look fools and incompetents and it comes not long after the Access to
Headington consultation disaster".
Well, you said it Mary, not me.

Please Terry Pratchett, return from beyond the Styx and write a fictional version of this entitled "In the Pipeline" about a gigantic pipe being laid across Ankh-Morpork. Just make it a little less far-fetched and absurd.

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