Thursday, 31 January 2013

We are in Mali now

Had the state of Israel not come into being in 1948, could fundamentalist Islam ever have gained all the traction it has to undertake the things done in its name these last few decades? Today's news sees British forces committed to Mali. Israel is also reported to have bombed Syria. Here then is my position over Israel. It is a hard one but I emphasize I am not anti Semetic. I do not deny the Holocaust. What happened then was utterly appalling and so were other pogroms in history. To treat the Jews as "God's Killers" is a terrible sin.

My view however is pretty simplistic. Two wrongs do not make a right. I believe there is only one true basis for Jews to have land in Israel/Palestine. That is on the basis of universally accepted legal title. Anything else will not do. I believe  that the way the state of modern Israel came into being has fed the distrust of the Arab world towards the West and all else that has followed from that. I contend that the modern state of Israel was founded on terrorism and that thereby it cannot claim to be blessed by a God. Here is the evidence. British troops killed there and elsewhere. The leaders of that terrorist organisation became the leaders of the new state. It was the British government which labelled the Irgun a terrorist organisation.

Under Hitler the Jews were persecuted for about 14 years. Under the 1948 state, Israel has oppressed Palestinians for 65 years. The problem shows no sign of easing. The West's preferred solution is to persuade the two groups to split the land and live in harmony. Great if it can be achieved, no sign of that happening. I have another solution. Three of the world's major religions claim the soul of Jerusalem. If they lived up to their claims of peace you might have thought they could have shared the land harmoniously. Funnily enough that does not seem to have happened. Instead most of the Arabic world sees Israel as an American colony repeating what happened in Crusader times.

So here is the solution: Israel/Palestine is returned to what would now be a UN mandate. It becomes an international state, not a sovereign state. All those living there have to pool their sovereignty. The issue of land ownership is sorted out by an International Tribunal on the basis of proper judgements of land title. If this were achieved, would the terror of Fundamentalist Islam lose a lot of its appeal?

Monday, 21 January 2013

Prudhoe: an election year vision

                                Prudhoe:  a personal vision
Myself and Fiona have lived in Prudhoe since 1990. We have been active in church life here and in neighbouring parishes most of the time. Fiona ran Brownies, now Guides, in Stocksfield. We are both self employed, it is no sinecure and we are not 100% healthy. I have run a personal blog robertatforsythe and from that:  engagement with a Facebook page Take Pride in Prudhoe has developed since June 2012. The moment when I started blogging about Prudhoe was specific

Prudhoe’s town centre project, coupled also to my interest in transport, are the two factors that have led me to consider wider issues of public life in the town. Along the way, the blogging and participation in the Prudhoe Community Partnership Transport Working Group have introduced us to the cast involved in Prudhoe’s decision making.

Now it is January 2013, Northumberland County and Prudhoe Town Council elections will be held in May. Northumberland County has to produce a Local Development Plan and the content of that does connect to the election. I try my best not to be a political party person, despite which some people say “you will achieve nothing as a commentator or writer, you will only be heard if you have office”. Will I be persuaded by that argument in 2013?

If I had to explain my own political philosophy, I would say it derives first and foremost from my Christian faith. It could be summarised in about two clauses: enterprise and fairness. Christianity is not a socialist or communist faith. Judaism is full of wealth generation. Christ is often talking about landowners, the rich men. BUT with riches come responsibility. His vision of the landlord is that of the steward under God. In short if capitalism comes without ethics and a personal sense of responsibility it will quickly become sinful. Capitalism needs business people who enjoy creating jobs. The businesses we have must be celebrated. We might though also look at Hexham and compare and contrast what Egger puts into its community? Are we doing better or worse? We have big business in Prudhoe and we have great small businesses. We make a point of putting business to Balls, Threadgolds, the Windsor Bakery, Spend & Save.

It also follows from this notion of responsibility that people take both personal responsibility but also corporate. It is the origin of the long and evolving notion of “fair-mindedness” which certainly inspires what has been called Christian Socialism and is what underpins the growth of Britain’s liberal democracy.

My interest in Prudhoe’s civic life was considerably piqued by the Town Centre. Prudhoe does need a new town centre. There is one area of open land adjacent to the centre owned by our feudal landlord the Duke of Northumberland. This should have been a good news story. However as my blog reveals and other threads like, this has become a farce worthy of Clochemerle. It involves a lot of sewage.

By now we should all have been rejoicing at an award winning 21st century development. Instead owing to the ineptitude of the Duke’s operation and his unwillingness to show personal leadership in the town, a project was bluttered through the planning process. It has attracted immense opposition and it promises to put something from the 1980s onto a beautiful hillside where it will be visible for miles. It will include what could easily become the most windswept and blighted multi storey car park in Britain.

Furthermore many of Prudhoe’s politicians must have assumed that come May 2013, this project would have ceased being an election issue. Far from it. For at the moment of victory in June 2012, the principle supermarket partner Sainsbury was in the process of walking away. For the neighbours of the project, intense planning blight is the result. For my money, now would be an excellent time to revisit the whole scheme.

Either the landlord should do this with enthusiasm in true partnership with the community, or the community should act to buy the land. A planning competition should then be organised to design a mixed use development around the watchwords of 21st century, green, sustainable, smart. If it is practical a supermarket will be included. The result should be of sufficient merit using its hillside location to help turn Prudhoe into a destination.

Prudhoe as a destination? That raises all sorts of question. They start with the idea that there is no signing to the town from either the A1 or the A69. This has to change! One explanation for this lack of signing is the planner’s desire to limit use of Ovingham Bridge. The county tell us it must last for 25 more years. Every politician in this town should be expected by the voters to say NO. The bridge was built in 1882 long before motor vehicles were known. The situation is completely ridiculous and is more than the bridge.

“The bridge” encompasses an out of date and decaying structure completely unfit for purpose. At the north end is a convoluted and obviously dangerous junction. Ovingham goes through hell thanks to that. South of the bridge is a level crossing which Network Rail wish to abolish or downgrade. Then there is the infamous sump which regularly floods.

The solution is not THAT difficult. Schemes have been generated before and no funding found. My favourite is to build a B road from the east end roundabout at Princess Way and take it across railway and river in a gap in the Spetchells and across fields to Horsley Interchange on the A69. About three miles and no property affected? What is SO difficult? MONEY. Prudhoe has active businesses and space for more along Princess Way. They deserve decent access to an adjacent dual carriageway instead of which they have to fight to reach Blaydon or Riding Mill. All along the A695 communities would be delighted if the “Prudhoe” traffic was given a swift access to the A69. 

Road development should not stop at this. Prudhoe has middling access east and west. It has poor access north over Ovingham Bridge and no access south to the Derwent Valley. Despite which the route south exists past Duke’s Hagg to Newlands (Ebchester). These roads which are entirely in Northumberland should also come into the B road project. All the recent development on the Prudhoe Hospital site lends weight to this.

In recent years, Prudhoe Station has been a success story with clear year on year growth. Station facilities need to be improved. The resolution in the last year of parking charge ambiguities at the Country Park is good news. Despite that the Interchange car park needs to expand onto the remaining empty plot. This could be done in various ways. It might embrace waiting facilities (even a ticket office?). 

What has not worked at Prudhoe Station has been Bus Meets Train. Car, bike and pedestrian do in serious numbers. Resolving the bus and train issue is really beyond Prudhoe’s politicians pay grade. I know valiant efforts have been made. It would need a transport planning structure like the NEXUS Quality Bus Contract to resolve the connectivity and ticketing issues. But that comes at a definite price and is unlikely to be popular in Northumberland. QBC is an ongoing issue at Nexus. It does effect Prudhoe, all the town’s bus routes would go into the scheme as would Ovingham’s. It should be a doorstep election issue. Do you want the QBC? Are you happy to pay for it?

When May arrives, further changes will have taken place to the Town’s bus network. The Service 10 consultation Go North East held was a shade symbolic in that the buses to operate the changes were ordered before the consultation! Broadly GNE do their best for Prudhoe. There will have been NEW buses in 2010 and 2013. The railway uses pre 1990 stock. Yet the truth is the changes see a clear loss of service west of the traffic lights. Northumberland could up their public transport game considerably. Connected Up Northumberland as a strap line should link the Tyne Valley Line to what is planned in South East Northumberland .Trains from Hexham through Prudhoe to Wansbeck Hospital (for instance) are easily achievable. Yes, easily. The scheme is being put through, but will we be connected to it?

The sad saga of the 686 and its bus stops and hail and ride have shown in the last few years the poor response by the County Council. Bus stops erected all along Princess Way only for the service to cease. Three bus stops in a 100 yards at the former West Wylam surgery. A request for a proper terminal for what was going to be an hourly town service including Castle Road finally became a very poorly executed and unpopular scheme whereby the level Castle Road lost its hail and ride, whilst Edgewell remains such.

If you live at Cheviot View what sort of access do you have to public transport? An innovation which the County have supported and is welcome is the presence of ADAPT in town. I always remain baffled about why such a hilly town is such a bus nightmare with large swathes of the town like Castlefield, Ferndene, Moor Road having no service at all.

How do I think this has come about? There is much disquiet that West Wylam lost their direct Newcastle bus service, the 604. But think about this, try regularly taking full size buses frequently through housing estates full of parked cars, covered in traffic calming obstacles and in winter weather generally lacking a clearance regime. The history of the exercise was such that the bus companies simply don’t want to do it. If that were to change it would have to be a county initiative and I doubt the will of the county to really wish to do it. Taxis, car sharing and ADAPT will be how most Prudhoe citizens without a car or a bike move within the town (or on their own two feet). I don’t think it is desirable but I think it is the realistic prospect. Personally I will be surprised if in five years, a bus service still comes down Castle Road. At best and it could be quite good, regular town services will re-appear but run by an ADAPT style operation with vehicles suited to the roads.

From Castle Road we can slide away into some other development issues. What was the logic in building Eltringham Court and insisting they had to use the old Hammerite access road uphill? Why was the connection not made direct into the end of Castle Road? Would anyone involved say “I insist those people have to use that horrific stretch of tarmac on a day like this”?

Hammerite itself is closing, regrettable that it is. There will be a considerable brownfield area there. What is to happen (and it could include the now demolished (bar one) rows of Eltringham Village)? Is this an attractive development site? Could it go to a supermarket and more houses? If it did and a roundabout was installed, would that be the chance to connect Eltringham Court properly to the outside world? Even more radically would the challenges of Castle Road be solved by making the spine of Castle Road one way to an outlet at this roundabout? Does that make the space outside Prudhoe Castle School safer?

Schools: such a subject and I am no expert. The new High School project is a very good thing for Prudhoe, not so good that there seems to be a delay?  If Prudhoe Castle School has an issue over road safety then Highfields/St Matthews certainly do to. And the solution is again in the hands of the county. They own all the necessary land to realign and improve the S bend outside these two schools. There is the space for improved drop off pick up areas (moving the highway slightly east). A relatively easy scheme with a clear pay off. Schools can slide discussion into arts and culture. The High School has a good reputation for this. The FUSE centre is effectively a world class resource in a small town. The town has every reason to be proud of it but in 2012 it was dogged by stories concerning funding. I am not well informed enough but that moves the debate from bricks and mortar to the virtual.

One of Prudhoe’s major challenges in my mind is communication. Find out how many of the movers and shakers blog, tweet and facebook. They are all the future but have actually become part of our past. Prudhoe as a body of citizenry needs to embrace all these opportunities. For years now I have asked where is the Second Life representation of the Town Centre plan? Where is the on line FAQ maintained in digestible language about the plan? It was one motivation in taking hold of the Take Pride in Prudhoe page. But this should not be private individuals. This should be the work of the Prudhoe Community Partnership, whose funding during the year that the flagship Spetchells Centre opened, fell. They lost business and publicity development skills and resource that they had.  Councillors should (yes should) actively engage with their electorate through new media. There are two good examples of people showing the way: Neil Bradbury and our MP Guy Opperman.

Schooling also puts Eastwoods School into view and then that reminds us how West Wylam as a whole has lost its bus service to Newcastle, its post office, its school, its community centre. There are good news stories there though. Do not laugh, the waste management facility is exemplary. There may during the life of this blog entry be really good news about the old surgery. Manors is a good news story and there is an active resident’s association.

That introduces a wider point about Prudhoe. The bottle half full or half empty. Prudhoe Castle exemplifies this. The oldest structure in town, in great condition, managed from York and not contributing much to civic life. Prudhoe does have many excellent and exciting aspects to it. The community street party and the torch relay and the Rememberance Day parade, those all show the best of Prudhoe in 2012. There is great community spirit but there is also frustration about being done unto , whether by the landlord, a railway company run from York,  or a rather remote local administration in Morpeth and pre-occupied by South East Northumberland (which is the other side of one or two more large authorities).

The community spirit is being shown in a campaign involving Dragon Tale ( for an arts centre which I wish well. It can be seen every day in Waterworld which is a great resource. It can be seen in the Friends of Prudhoe Woods and Prudhoe Pathforce. I hope that the latter secure the path beyond Mickley Level Crossing beside the river Tyne. How many of you know Marion Lewis? Actually an Ovingham resident. She quietly clears rubbish around Prudhoe on a regular basis. So do numerous other activists revolving around James Dobson. Our riverbanks and our wonderful country part benefit from their attentions.

The Woods are one of the great resources of Prudhoe. They have been closely studied (Hyons Wood). The Woodland Trust is here as is The Friends of Prudhoe Woods. Are we as a community going to make sure Hyons Wood does not become an opencast? See Whittonstall Action Group . In the woods are fantastic reminders of our past like 250 year old waggonways with stone structures and embankments. Have you seen them?

The woods shade into gardens and then you think of the Prudhoe Gardener’s Association and all the allotments around the town. Their presence is one reason why the town centre debate is energised: building on allotments by the owners of the Alnwick Gardens. It does not totally add up.

Good quality leisure, a good place to be is certainly part of a vision for Prudhoe. For my money it is a vital one. We still live surrounded by a green lung here. Our children can still make the link between animals, plants and food. When it snows, there are many places to play and sledge. For exercise there is an excellent swimming pool and innumerable walks from the front door. As Prudhoe changes and develops through another election cycle ask your potential politicians, what is their vision for retaining all the best we have whilst tackling the frustrations that are also present?

Sunday, 20 January 2013


No reputable business or agency should move to a paper free environment. How will you evidence what you told the tax office? If your phone company will only deal with you over the phone, how will you safeguard against the unpaid phone bill scam going on just now? It is impossible now not to transact some business over the phone or computer but my advice: limit it as much as you can. Nothing beats paper for an evidence trail. Our bank has tried to slip out of sending paper statements. We have just had "JFS" ringing up wanting to survey our banking practice. And we are on the Telephone Preference Service. What annoys me is the army of "help" line assistants doing this for a "job".

Saturday, 5 January 2013

A New Year and the Church returns to that important matter of gay Bishops

From my facebook today:

Any good reasons why I should disagree with this one?
@his_grace @gedrobinson on Twitter
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  • Robert Forsythe ex Twitter @RobertNForsythe @Chaplain_Tony @thechurchmouse @His_Grace We should all feel bound by Leviticus - otherwise what is faith in Christ about? I answered Nuts?
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  • Robert Forsythe Shall I translate? This is about sanity. A sane religion. What Rickard Hooker might have labelled Sweet Reasonableness. Cranmer is right, get your priorities right. I blogged about the Queen's five minute Xmas message. No mention of Leviticus, Paul or homosexuality. She said everything you needed to know about Christ and faith. She is after all Defender of the Faith. I reckon true Christianity is not a religion of the book, it is a religion of the Spirit. That is what according to the Bible Christ promised. People are sexual. That is creation. Therefore I ascribe it to God. Lying, bullying, non-consensual violence (sex is rough and wild), these are the real evils and not whether two men in a relationship which, God allows, gets the churches blessing enjoy oral sex, rubbersex on whatever. That is their affair. Called a private life. It is great the church is going to have gay bishops but asking them to be a celibate does seem foolish. As ever, as in so much of the 21st century, the broad debate is about modernisers v conservative, progressives v liberals. Yet if you follow me in detail you will realise I don't think it is about one side winning. It is about all people realising how they have to live with diverse views and still find a universal grace. The Queen knows that. After all she has much experience.

    BTW There is a simple test for where you stand on this: is the Genesis account of creation history or a myth (along with its blame of women)? I absolutely definitely and totally plump for myth. For history I shall trust science, geology and evolution. To me that is sanity. Once you do that then your stand elsewhere will slot into place.