18 June 2007

Smart Bag recycling

Email to longlifesolutions.com, 26 March 2007:

Can a smart bag be put in with ordinary plastic bag recycling? What is the smart bag made of? What recycling number is it?

I strongly recommend that you put this information on your bags and on your web site.
No reply to the email or a posted letter

Memorials in the Lake District

Email to the Lake District National Park, 29 April 2007:

I am writing to ask what your policy is as regards plaques, crosses and other memorials in the hills. I assume that you are against them. But what about existing 'famous' memorial stones?
Last time I looked a while back, there was a cross tucked away near the head of Haweswater. Should I report it to you for removal? There is a prominent cross high up on the way to Stony Cove Pike.
And there is a memorial pillar above Buckbarrow crag, Longsleddale.
There is a (what I think is a) boundary stone on top of Harter Fell (Mardale) - are these OK?
I worked previously in another case to ensure that someone removed a new plaque in the Haweswater area.
As you probably know, the John Muir Trust has cleared lots of memorials from the summit of Ben Nevis. There are applying for permission to set up a memorial garden: http://www.jmt.org/news.asp?s=2&cat=Latest%20News&nid=JMT-N10158 I think the newsletter also said that they were thinking of making a memorials web site.
The crucial policy is to band and remove any new plaques which will spoil the very thing that the dead person (or dog etc) appreciated.
A search of your web site only found brief mention of memorials:

Reply: 22 May 2007:
We do not allow new memorials on the fells on land that we own and we discourage them elsewhere.
Do please report any new ones that you find to us. I have forwarded your email to the ranger for the area to look into the ones you mentioned.
We do not have a policy of removing existing famous memorial stones.
Memorials have not been a problem here on the scale of that at Ben Nevis, which ultimately promoted their removal. As you saw on our website, if somebody asks us we promote donations to the Landscape Fund rather than specific items in the landscape.

Shirley Muir
Northern Countryside Team Leader
Lake District National Park Authority

House price inflation measures

Email to the Office for National Statistics, 18 April 2007:

I understand that your standard RPI/CPI inflation measures do not include house prices although they do include the cost of mortgage payments. Do you have a paper that justifies this position, which surely gives a false indication of the real costs for many people.

A look at the house prices figures on your site indicates that they have generally risen by significantly more than the usual inflation figures. (How do house prices increases compare to average income increases?) While some of the cost of a house may be financed by other capital (such as money from parents), surely the typical
new mortgage cost has risen dramatically.

Do you increase your mortgage figure or weighting regularly? Have you done an analysis to determine what proportion of income is spent on mortgages by a range of

Using your house price figures, people with a 1986 £36k mortgage will have a relatively low mortgage repayment compared to say a £204k mortgage taken out in 2006. I doubt that income has risen by a similar amount.

Having an inflation figure that has a better allowance for house price inflation would seem to be in order.

Do you have a general view on whether house price inflation is good for the country?

Do you have any sort of assessment of how much recent mortgagees are susceptible to interest rate rises?


Reply 25 April 2007:

You ask about the inclusion (or lack of inclusion) of house prices in the
RPI and CPI.

RPI does include, as you state does include house prices indirectly through
mortgage interest payments.

It also includes house prices indirectly through other items including
depreciation and rental costs.

The details of the rational behind the method of inclusion of housing costs
is given in our Technical Manual section 7.4.4 (Treatment of Housing

The Technical Manual is accessible on the internet via the link:


The first 2 paragraphs of this subsection are:

The treatment of owner-occupied housing is one of the most difficult
issues faced by compilers of
consumer prices indices. A number of alternative conceptual treatments
exists, and the choice
between them can have a significant impact on the overall index,
affecting both weights and, at least,
short-term measures of price change. The absence of any firm consensus
concerning the appropriate
treatment of such costs, both in the UK and international contexts,
partly reflects the fact that national
consumer price indices like the RPI are often constructed to serve
several distinct purposes, from
monitoring the economy to adjustment of incomes or state benefits.
National housing market
structures and of course practical measurement issues are likewise
important considerations.

A RPI Advisory Committee last considered the various options for the
treatment of owner-occupier
costs in 1992-94 (Cmd 2717). The Committee concluded that mortgage
interest payments, first
introduced into the RPI in 1975 replacing an equivalent rents approach,
should continue to represent
the current cost to home-owning index households of occupying the
dwelling and so acquiring housing
shelter services (alongside a rents component for tenants). Repayments
of mortgage capital are
excluded so as to preserve the distinction between consumption and
investment expenditure. The
Committee also recommended that a new 'depreciation' component for
shelter costs should be
introduced to represent the ongoing costs homeowners face in maintaining
the standard of their

I hope the above together with the explanations in the rest of 7.4.4 may
answer many of your questions.

On the questions:

Do you increase your mortgage figure or weighting regularly ?

The answer to this is 'yes'. The average house price used in this
calculation is updated monthly and the weighting updated annually.

Have you done an analysis to determine what proportion of income is spent
on mortgages by a range of people?

The answer to this is 'yes' as is explained in our weights article
accessible via the link:


The relevant section of the above article is:

Weights for the costs of owner-occupation, comprising mortgage interest
payments and
depreciation, are not based on EFS expenditures. The weight for
depreciation is calculated
using National Accounts data to estimate a rate of depreciation for
household sector
dwellings, which is applied to the average house price, excluding land,
to give a notional
annual cost of depreciation. The weight for mortgage interest payments
is based on a
modelled mortgage incorporating both repayment and endowment components
over an
average 23 year term. Each of these is updated annually and expressed in
terms of average
weekly expenditure.

On your last 2 questions:

Do you have a general view on whether house price inflation is good for
the country?

Do you have any sort of assessment of how much recent mortgagees are
susceptible to interest rate rises?

I have to say that the above 2 questions lie outside the scope of our work;
in the ONS we are concerned only with the methodology for and the
calculation of the various indices.

I hope the above has been of some help, but if anything here is not clear
or you have any other questions, please feel free to contact us further,

Best regards,
John Bailey

Sale of Li, Knoydart

29 April 2007:
Hello John Muir Trust

I saw in the Annual Report that Li in Knoydart was sold to the tenant. I may have missed an explanation of this in previous publications - if so, sorry.

To me this sounds like an inadvisable course because it goes against the principle of holding land for conservation - and potentially sets a dangerous precedent.

The JMT holds land so that it can be preserved for the conservation purposes while being used and appreciated by people. Working with community bodies rather than individuals should probably be the way to consider land holding, as the JMT has done in helping fund community buy outs.

I am most concerned that this sets a precedent that could lead to a fragmentation of our holdings making it much harder to achieve our goals.

PS I think that your memorial clearance policy for Ben Nevis is definitely a good idea - there seem to be more memorials popping up here in the Lake District so I am writing to the National Park to recommend their removal.

Reply 16 May 2007:
Dear Chris

Your e-mail regarding the sale of land at Li on Knoydart has been passed to me for my attention.

The sale of Li (approx 7acres of land which incorporates the house and garden grounds) was to the tenants of the house. They had taken on the tenancy of the house, which was completely derelict, over 30 years ago and were the tenants when the JMT took over ownership in 1887.

The tenants had expressed a desire to purchase the property mainly to give them security into the future but also due to the fact that they wished to upgrade the property to a reasonable living standard and with the lease they had they would not be eligible for compensation for any permanent improvements to the property nor could they raise the necessary capital to undertake the works as they did not own the property they wished to raise finance against.

There are many positive examples of how home ownership is being promoted in the context of rural (and urban) Scotland today e.g the Crofters’ Right to buy (which is a common occurrence on JMT crofted estates), the rights of agricultural tenants, the community right to buy under the Land Reform Act as well as other policies on public housing. Most public sector tenants have both the right to buy and the right to compensation for permanent improvements. Furthermore, the housing policy of the Knoydart Foundation (KF), of which the JMT is a member, actively encourages freehold ownership. At least six other Knoydart tenants who had similar leases to that at Li have now bought their properties.

Given the all above the JMT Trustees agreed to sell with various conservation burdens attached to the sale, including a right of pre-emption. The sale was also agreed by the National Heritage Memorial Fund who gave a grant towards the purchase of Li & Coire Dhorrcail.

The JMT see this as an exceptional case and infact was the only tenant of this type we had, other than crofting tenants who have a statutory right to buy their crofts, and therefore do not see it as setting a precedent for the future.

I hope this answers your query regarding the land at Li and please feel free to get back to me if you wish any further clarification.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Campbell
JMT Head of Land Management

17 June 2007

Getting over Scottish fences - mini-stile

We go to the west coast of Scotland and Hebrides quite often, eg Culkein north Assynt at Easter. There's no continuous coastal path there, though a lot is accessible. One persistent bugbear is the waist high fences, particularly on croft land I think. Getting over these is a pain. I assume that we are allowed climb over. My suggestion is to have lots of mini-stiles: a simple foot high stake banged in next to a larger fence post would let a nimble person hop over without damaging the fence or ripping their yarn - give it a go and see if it works... I think that there should be statutory provision of stiles every so often, particularly over larger fences.

Reply from Ramblers Association re fences:
"Re fences, yes you are allowed to climb over them, and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code actually gives advice for doing so responsibly, ie, climbing over near a post so as to do the least damage, or over a gate by the hinge (p95). As they are only waist-high there is no need for planning permission and it is difficult to make any comment on their construction. However, if the crofter/farmer constantly sees people climbing over the fence, it may well be an incentive to put in a stile to avoid damage to the fence from cumulative impacts!"

11 June 2007

Galloway coastal path

To Dumfries and Galloway Access Officers

My family and I spent (another) few days in Galloway over our school half term - it's great to visit - apparently like Cornwall was 30 years ago says my partner.

We were staying at Knock School near Monrieth, walked near St Ninians cave, and took a trip round to The Rhins, including Portpatrick, Port Logan and the Mull of Galloway. We have visited these places before on earlier visits. We had a good walk from St Ninians cave to Isle of Whithorn along the coast a year or two back.

Going south from Port Logan, we came across an "end of path" sign. We could not easily continue over the barbed wire and brambles.

A few years ago we walked south from Portpatrick and came to a dead end at a "private property" sign, on which someone had written "is theft":-)

Anyway, we would like to recommend strongly that you put together a full coastal path. Although there is a right of access to all land away from buildings, this does not make it easy to walk along the coast, which we, and I am sure others, wanted to do - your coastal scenery and flora/fauna are a spectacular asset. A full coastal path would help a lot - as far as I am concerned it doesn't have to be an official long distance footpath, as long as it is present on the ground. For the most part, a coast path would not lose much if any land for farmers, and indeed if new fences were put in, would actual stop animals falling off the edge! Having an uncultivated strip on the coast would help the flora/fauna. Where the coast is built up, I am sure that a route could be found on the beach or around any obstacles.



I agree with you that we have some spectacular coastal scenery in this
region. The council have, for some time been keen to create a coastal
path running the length of D&G and over the years we have been improving
and creating sections as and when we can. For example, over the past 2
years the path from Burrowhead to the Isle of Whithorn has been opened
up and has had new gates and signposts installed. The path continues
north along the coast to meet the exising path to Cruggleton Castle. It
then continues through Garlieston to Innerwell fishery. There are also
new paths at the Mull of Galloway and the route from Portpatrick to
Morroch bay is almost complete. See attached maps for details.

The intention is to continue to work on sections of coastal path where
time and funds allow. However, as you can appreciate, D&G is a very
large area so this will have to be done over time.

In addition to paths being implemented by the council, some landowners
and farmers are also now receiving funding for improving and maintaining
paths. The funding for this comes from SEERAD and is one of many
options farmers can choose from in the Land Management Contract Menu
Scheme. One of the requirements is for farmers to make sure the routes
are signposted and this probably accounts for some of the signs you have
come across. The reason some of these paths suddenly stop is that the
farmer can only claim for paths on his land and the neighbouring farmer
may not be in the scheme or may not have chosen the paths option.

I hope this helps clarify things for you and I hope you have a chance to
try out the new paths on your next trip!

7 June 2007

Freedom of financial information

Businesses often conceal information behind the veil of commercial confidentiality. According to economists, markets work best when consumers have full information about a product and its pricing. For large deals, there is no take-it-or-leave-it price list. Therefore it would be in the best interest of consumers if all large transactions had to be reported annually, eg on a company web site, along with a brief description of the transaction. The level could start high at £1m and reduce gradually over time.

As well as helping consumers, it would help satisfy the public that business deals were done ethically, and could expose alleged misdemeanours by such people of BAE, Lord Black and David Mills, as well as detail how public money is being spent, eg for PFI or out-sourcing contracts

Although those affected with moan loudly about the red tape involved, I see this as a reasonable price that they have to pay for the commercial freedom that they have. I see it as being on a par with the requirement for political parties to disclose their financiers. On the plus side, businesses would also have a better Social and Corporate Responsibility status.

11 March 2007

Alternative to Wind Farms

Letter to our local paper, the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald:

I am sure that no one really wants wind farms, so why not find a way to do our bit without spoiling the landscape, etc. Let’s save more energy than a wind farm would generate.

I am told that good environmental gains can be achieved by reducing our energy consumption. So if you want to stop a wind farm, act now to reduce our ‘carbon footprint’ by saving energy at home, school, at work or when travelling. Global warming is a big problem that deserves this action anyway.

An energy consumption audit for the area would provide current figures. We can then determine target values that would justify a rejection of wind farms. Any targets would have to be better than those that the Government has already signed up for.

We all know the sort of things that are required, but do we do them? Let’s hear what you really have done. We recently got rid of our answering machine at home, relying on the service provided for free by BT. I switch off all my computer equipment at the plug when not in use, including the broadband router.

Like many others we will soon need a new TV to get digital reception. I understand that LCD TVs are better than standard TVs for power-consumption, and that plasma screens are worse. It is surprisingly hard to find an LCD TV that has a proper on/off switch to avoid wasting power on standby! Comet and Currys in Kendal don’t list any power consumption figures.

When I wrote to the Government in late 2005 to ask for mandatory low standby power levels for TVs, set top boxes and the like, the minister hoped for the best and said that the “specifications of televisions and set top boxes are a matter for manufacturers and the market”.

Is this just fiddling while the earth burns? Small decisions will add up, but we need to take bigger ones too. Unfortunately I think it will take some big shock such as the stopping of the already-diminished Gulf Stream to get us to act seriously. Even if we demonstrably do our bit locally, it may that we will need to have wind farms so that the rest of UK keeps its lights on.

Back in the here and now, perhaps saving our nice landscape and the planet can be done if we all pull together. I’m far from perfect, so what else should I do?

Cluster bombs

Part of letter to our MP, David Maclean:

Further to my previous letters: I understand from a recent Guardian article that the UK has called for a ban on cluster bombs to protect civilians – good news. I would be grateful if you could press the government to ensure that it covers all cluster bombs, including ‘smart’ and self-destruct sub-munitions. I agree with the quote from Handicap International that cluster munitions should be “moral[ly] unacceptabl[e] in the international community”.

House of Lords

Part of letter to our MP, David Maclean:

May I briefly congratulate the Commons for voting in favour of an elected House of Lords. Whatever its eventual name and remit, removing hereditary positions and people in power because of their religious positions is surely the correct decision for a modern fair society.

Don’t Renew Trident

Part of letter to our MP, David Maclean:

I am writing to urge you to vote against Trident renewal this week, primarily because it sends the wrong signal in a world where we have already lost moral authority. If we commit to renewing, then it will give the green light to other countries who don’t feel that they can trust the international community.

I see the West’s unfair handling of the Palestinian situation as the fatal flaw in our foreign policy. The crucial test is whether something is fair – all our dealings with the Arab world over the last 60 years have been unfair or hypocritical, ie supporting undemocratic oil kingdoms, and the unequivocal support of Israel in an attempt to make up for failing the Jews during the Second World War. Who can be surprised that the Arab world and many others do not trust us and take the wrong message from our tragic invasion of Iraq. We need to unravel our selfish foreign policy and what better way than to do the right thing as regards nuclear weapons.

Our nuclear deterrent is an expensive fig leaf, never to be used. I understand that we couldn’t use it without USA approval, so why not rely on the USA’s nuclear fig leaf? The cold war showed that Mutually Assured Destruction of an escalating arms race is a waste of time and money. We need to concentrate on the threat of Global Warming, not bicker amongst ourselves - we won’t fall apart if we don’t have an enemy to hate. The time is ripe to show that we can take the obvious sensible course - ridding the world of nuclear bombs. Building trust throughout the world can only be done by taking (very slight) risks such as this. True attempts to build trust throughout the world might eventually win people’s hearts and minds.

Many other important countries in the world don’t have nuclear weapons, yet they are at the top table. It could be said that having nuclear weapons makes us more of a target for disgruntled terrorists.

On a more prosaic level, I understand that Trident renewal would break the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is also very expensive. Our current predilection for interventionist wars would suggest that money is needed for conventional forces. Failing that, using the money to boost our aid budget might also win hearts and minds.

At the very least, put off the renewal decision for a few years. Or abstain?