Friday, August 11, 2006

Caversham - not so Green!

Today's message comes from near home, I'm afraid. It seems that I don't live in the leafy village idyll that I thought. Seriously, I am not surprised to read this in the local paper ("Reading Chronicle"), as each morning he entire area is gridlocked by cars, and mostly 4 x 4's (Hummers or our British equivalent of them). Where did they come from, I wonder, as they seem to be a recent phenomenon these "Chelsea Tractors", and were not previously seen other than in the countryside where they are actually needed, especially in winter, and other motorists are very grateful for them, with their ability to pull smaller 2 wheel drive cars out of ditches, when they slide in on the ice. I bring attention to this because it is not merely a local problem, but is a microcosm of a collective modern feature. The problem in Caversham is compounded by the fact that the south east of England has become highly built-up during the past few years, mainly because of the apparently inexorable will to locate (or relocate) commercial enterprises within the environs of London. It is made worse by the transport geography of this particular region, in that Caversham (and its environs) are predominantly residential, and it is necessary to cross the River Thames to reading in the south, where most of the local "industry" is; or to go thence further afield into London itself, hence the rising pressure of traffic on the only two bridges that permit such a river crossing to be made.
There are calls as ever, to build a "third bridge", which so far has been resisted on environmental grounds and due to a lack of ready investment in such a project. Meanwhile, the unacceptable levels of sir-pollution during the "school-run" especially, has created a number of black-spots, and I can confirm that walking along the banks of mostly immobile cars in the morning rush is not a pleasant experience. Fortunately since I have become self-employed, my office is right here, and my day no longer depends on a commuting distance further than making it down the stairs, and into my office at the rear of the house.
It is an interesting conundrum: if they do build the third bridge, allegedly in an effort to safety-valve the pressure of the morning traffic, this will encourage more residential occupation of the area this side of the river (which currently is resisted by the lack of road infrastructure), and in a few years we will be back to square one! A more sustainable solution would be to locate (relocate, perhaps?) businesses away from Greater London and its outreaches, say to the north of the country and Scotland, and as part of the plan to render such actions as locally-based as possible. Indeed, if we did that even given the present circumstances, the problem of pollution would be solved, since there would be no need for 90% of the traffic we now have to accommodate.
Once again, it is the cultural pressure of "more and more", draining oil, water and other natural resources into what will ultimately be a non-functioning urban wasteland.
Reading has, I am pleased to note, redeemed its reputation a little from being the worst CO2 emitter town in the U.K. ( per capita, because there is quite a lot of money down here and people don't worry about paying their fuel bills too much ) to the place of the eco "show house", which is constructed in terms of both environmental efficiency (less fuel, better insulation and collecting rain-water etc.) and renewable power generation, as fitted with solar panels and a small wind turbine. If it were built by the River Thames, I guess a small hydroelectric turbine might be added to complete the suite. It is claimed that the eco-house reduces the CO2 emissions of a "normal" house by 70%, and that can't be bad, either in terms of pollution or fuel bills.

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