Friday, 20 September 2019

A walking town?

Earlier this year our Scarborough Borough Council declared a Climate Emergency.  (Admittedly, at the very same meeting, they approved a  measure to subsidise local drivers using the town's car parks, but I'm sure they'll eventually grasp the implications and learn to avoid such inconsistencies.)

Because we live in a two tier local authority many of the services, such as Highways, Education and Social Care are dealt with by the much larger county Council. So, when it comes to taking real action against Climate Change, the Borough has limited scope for action. 

On it's own, it can reduce its operational emissions (from buildings, transport and land use), can sequester carbon by planting trees and can use its powers over planning to ensure that new developments are climate resilient. In addition, it can use its position in public life, and its control of public space, to encourage residents and visitors to reduce their climate impact as well.

Unfortunately, the last decade has seen a massive assault on local authority spending so the challenge is to see how we can make a little go a long way. My modest suggestion is that we set about trying to kill two birds, a public health crisis and climate change, with one stone. 

The public health crisis is one caused by low levels of physical activity (see "If it were a drug" and "The cost of sitting around in North Yorkshire"). Now, while many people associate physical activity with taking part in sport or going to the gym, it is now well established that the simplest way to address the problem is to make physical activity an integral part of everyday life. In short, this means walking or cycling for those short journeys where you might otherwise drive. 

The evidence is that the best way to encourage people to walk or cycle is to improve the quality of the places they walk or cycle so that it becomes a high value way of getting around rather than the last choice when all other options have been exhausted. 

Because the towns in the Borough (Whitby, Filey and Scarborough) are holiday destinations, we're lucky that we already have lots high quality public space. The challenge is to encourage us to make more use of them for everyday short journeys. 

I'm often surprised by how many people make short journeys by car. Of course some of these are made by people with mobility problems, but for many it's just a cultural habit. 

My simple suggestion to help break this habit is to publicly declare Filey, Whitby and Scarborough to be "Walking Towns". 

This wouldn't be particularly expensive but, by explicitly linking it to measures that encourage people to walk, some of which, like the provision of temporary toilets on the Marine Drive, are already in place, the Borough can, in this small way, be publicly seen to be responding to both the Climate Emergency and the public health crisis of physical inactivity (as well as reducing pollution from motor vehicles). All we'd need is a public declaration and a good logo to go with it.


Many of you will know that over the years I've taken a keen interest in improving the quality of the Cinder Track and the associated parks and play areas.  The recent announcement of a successful bid to the Department for Transport by Sustrans and the Borough means that by 2021 the urban sections of the Track should be much improved. These are just the places where people can use the Track for everyday journeys and it will be interesting to see how much latent demand is released once the work is done.

I can often be found walking or cycling around the town, finding different routes between places and taking pleasure in seeing other people enjoy them too. In particular, I love seeing families make their way along the Cinder Track, or down through Peasholm Park, chatting and exploring as they go without being disturbed by either the noise or fumes from traffic and with children able to roam free without fear of getting run over. Improving public space improves the life of everyone.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Cinder Track July 11th 2019

The Cinder Track is the name given to the old railway line between Scarborough and Whitby and every so often I give a brief update on the condition of the southern half between Scarborough and Ravenscar.

+ Now that the Borough Council has approved its new development plan for the Track, the Friends of the Old Railway are once again back in action. I've pastedthe minutes of the last meeting at the foot of this post.

Despite the fact that encroachment by vegetation has reduced the width of some sections to less than 1m there are some very positive stories. 

The North York Moors National Park have installed lots of signs in the rural areas to let users know about local facilities. 

Self explanatory National Park sign at Hayburn Wyke

Between Hayburn Wyke and Staintondale station there used to be a farm crossing made up of old sleepers. These were a well noted hazard and have now been removed.

Further North there was a section of Track that had been reduced to two narrow gulleys, one of which was so full of old bricks that it was unusable. This section has now been given a new surface that will drain properly into the original drains and water should no longer run straight down the Track.

Restored Surface with drain on the left

A little further north there's a section that runs along a steep sided embankment. A fence has been put up to reduce the risk of users going over the edge.

Safety fence above steep drop

Finally, we are well aware of possible conflicts of interest among different Track users. We know that problems are much reduced if the Track is wide enough for two people to walk companionably side by side while still leaving room to pass but I've spent quite a lot of time thinking about producing a suitable etiquette for different users that would enable everyone to enjoy the Track in harmony. Here's my suggestion.

People on bikes: Slow down or stop for horses and pedestrians

People on foot: Move left when being passed

People on horses: Be prepared to slow down or stop

People with dogs: Keep them under control

+ for your info 

Friends of the Old Railway
Minutes of meeting held 10/7/19
at 17 Alexandra Park

Attendance. John Ritchie (Chair), Andy Sharp, Dilys Cluer, Chris Goode, Neal Osborne, Dave Evans, Denise Sangster, Keith Sangster and Bob Marley

Apologies. Helen Percival and Tim Burkinshaw

Correspondence. Helen Percival had written to give apologies for herself and Tim Burkinshaw. Tim is organising a Cinders event for the beginning of September to do grassland management at Hawsker. He would like suggestions for work to be done at the Scarborough end. Helen noted that there was still £1500 of Section 106 money available to be spent on signage (see later discussion). She also invited us to use their new office facilities at Dean Road

Cinder Track Steering Group Report. Andy gave a run down of the participants in the new Cinder Track Steering Group, which replaces the former Management Committee, and it was agreed to work through the Group wherever possible. We noted the Sustrans success in obtaining significant Dept of Transport funding for the urban section leading into Whitby and of other possible funding opportunities.

Andy to check up on how the Sirius minerals programme of funding is developing.

Bob and Dave to ask the National Park about the Section 106 money they have received, or expect to receive from Sirius.

Likely Future developments. It was noted that the next stage of the High Mill Farm development is about to go through planning and that this is thought to include a bridge over the Scalby Cut and a connection to the Track. Dilys and others to check.

Signs. (see above). Andy suggested that the money for signs could go towards producing ones that would establish an etiquette for users of the Track (i.e establishing clear priorities for users and developing a sense of responsible shared use) Bob to look into the Park's evolving scheme “Care and Share”.

Aob. Andy to contact Tim Burkinshaw to find out what wildlife surveys have been conducted for the urban section in Scarborough.

Time/date of next meeting. Provisionally set for 6.30 pm , Wednesday 9th of October at the Council's Dean Road offices (subject to confirmation)

Andy Sharp 11/7/19

Thursday, 20 June 2019

A radio for my mother

My mother has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease and is now living in a specialist care home. The signs were there for some time, little or no short term memory, problems with her vision, general confusion and disorientation.

She was never really one to sit down and watch the telly or listen to the radio, instead she was either doing something or talking and spent the best part of her life as a carer, first for her many siblings when her own mother became ill and died, then for her children and later on as a social worker dealing with the families of children with a variety of learning difficulties. It's not been at all easy for her to become the person being cared for as opposed to the person doing the caring.

In the last few years she had got into the habit of sitting in a favourite chair and listening to CDs, though these were getting in a tremendous muddle and, to cope with her failing sight and loss of memory, often got covered in explanatory stickers which weren't always on the non working side of the discs. 

To try to deal with some of her distress we took the CD player and discs into the home only to find that the CD player was no longer working and so I purchased a cheap replacement. But the controls were fiddly and when the machine didn't work as expected she had no idea why. Often it was because she'd switched the socket off at the mains, sometimes it was in radio mode, sometimes she'd put the disc in upside down.

Last week this new CD player stopped working as well. We suspect it was because of the paper notes saying THE CD PLAYER DOESN'T WORK that had been stuffed into the mechanism.

Giving up on the idea of her ever being able to use a CD player again, the mechanical complexity is just too much, I began to think what sort of radio she might actually be able to use for herself. 

There are ones on the market where the main controls (volume, tuning etc) are hidden behind a close-able flap and all that's left is a single on/off button. Now whilst this might satisfy a need for sound of some sort what it wouldn't satisfy for her is her need to fiddle and we think that having some sort of control over the device is actually more important for her than the sounds that come out. So, I began to think about what sort of controls a dementia friendly radio should have that she could safely fiddle with.

1) It needs a simple ON/OFF control with a light that goes on if it's on and off if it isn't.

2) It needs a volume control that doesn't quite go down to zero; if it goes to zero than you can't tell if the volume is right down or the radio isn't actually switched on.

3) It needs a single control to access pre-set radio stations; and some way of setting these pre-sets that it would be hard for her to fiddle with but easy for someone else.

4) It needs to look like the sort of radio she's familiar with from a time she can still remember.

So, the design I came up with is this

Dementia friendly radio

All of the controls are rotary. They follow the traditional pattern of of on/off, volume, tuning.

The control to do the pre-sets would be using a recesses rotary dial at the side. Just like setting a watch you'd pull it out to tune into a station then push it back in to set the selected pre-set to that station.

With a radio like this she could turn it on and off, she could make it loud or quiet and she could change the station.

A non exhaustive internet search has failed to come up with anything suitable so I'd be pleased to hear if such a thing does exist. 

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

A belated AGM

The Friends of the Old Railway (from Scarborough to Whitby) are getting back into business. We've been in hibernation for a few years waiting for the local Borough Council to finalise its plans (see Back on Track) and need to hold a belated Annual general Meeting to get everything, and everybody, back in place.

The meeting is scheduled for 6.30pm next Tuesday, 7th May 2019, at the Gallows Close Centre on Endcliffe Crescent in Scarborough.

Agenda for the AGM

1) Welcome, introduction and brief report on what we've been up to since the last AGM
2) Apologies
3) Minutes of last AGM (for approval, see photo)
4) Election of officers (Chair, Secretary, Treasurer)
5) Election of Committee (4 other people to help with day to day consultation)
6) Agreement on new signatories for our bank account.

The AGM will be followed by an ordinary meeting of The Friends with just one item on the Agenda. 

How do we help the Borough put its plans into practice?

This will be an open discussion about priorities and strategies.

Minutes of the last AGM

Improving the quality of public space so that more of us are inclined to walk and cycle can bring enormous benefits; not only to public health, through everyday physical activity and reduced congestion and pollution, but also to the global environment by reducing our dependency on fossil fuels.

If you wish to get involved, but can't make it on the night, please send your apologies to me (

Friday, 15 March 2019

Back on Track

It's been a while, but the draft Action Plan for the Cinder Track has now been adopted by the Borough Council. You'll see from the time line near the start of the plan that it's taken nearly 4 years to get this far, with a big pause largely caused by objections to what some saw as the potential urbanisation of the route in some of the rural areas, and during this time the Friends of the Old Railway (formed near the end of 2004) have effectively been in hibernation. Now that there are agreed plans to get our teeth into it's time to re-activate the Friends and see what we can do to turn the plans into reality.

We believe that the priority should be to improve the urban section in Scarborough. In the rural areas most of the use comes from dog walkers and tourists but in town it's also children going to school and older people using it for their everyday journeys. Currently, much of it is too narrow and too bumpy. Because it's too narrow, there isn't room for two people to walk companionably side by side and still leave room for someone else to go past. Because it's too bumpy, it's very uncomfortable for most people on bikes, in wheelchairs or in buggies and many are put off from using it at all.

Over the years I can't help noticing that it's often much easier to raise a storm of protest against something than it is to get people involved in a positive campaign to make good things happen. Now's the chance to restore the balance and build a positive campaign to make the Track a public asset we can all be proud of, so forgive me for putting forward a few well rehearsed reasons why improving this section should be a priority.

Improving public health. It's long been known that physical inactivity is a major cause of ill health and that encouraging people to become more active can bring enormous benefits. We also know that the best way to get people to become more active isn't to send them to the gym but to incorporate regular physical activity into their everyday lives. In short, the trick is to get people walking or cycling for short journeys that they might otherwise take by car, and the best way to do this is to raise the quality of public space so that walking and cycling are much more attractive. 

Reducing congestion and pollution. If more people walked or cycled for short journeys, rather than drive, there's be less pollution and less congestion. The Track runs well away from most major roads and so pollution and noise levels are much lower than in many other parts of the town.

Mitigating Climate Change. This may have been taking its time to rise up the political agenda but no one can now doubt that its a really serious issue. As well as insulating our homes and switching to renewable sources of energy we can all reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by driving less. The Track offers a great alternative way to make short journeys.

Free range children. We know that children's lives are often much more restricted than they used to be and that the biggest single threat that they face is from traffic. There are 3 well established play spaces along this section of the Track as well as 3 primary schools on the Track and major secondary schools nearby. Improving the Track will make parents even more confident that their children can play out on their own while knowing that they're safe from traffic and in spaces where there is plenty of casual adult supervision.

 A place where people can meet and families can talk. If you go along the Track you'll notice that if people meet someone they know they're inclined to stop and talk and that  family groups chat as they make their way along. One of the the things the Friends have done in the past was to put in benches near access points so that these conversations can continue before people go their separate ways. 

Access to nature and the countryside. In town the Track is effectively a linear park with wildlife habitats along almost its entire length. In the past we've planted quite a few fruit trees and in recent autumns there's been a prodigious crop of blackberries. From Scalby, in the north, it's easy to get into the North York Moors National Park and improving the urban section of the Track will only encourage people to make it even further.

A better welcome to the town. Sustainable tourism is on the rise and more people are exploring the country under their own steam. Improving this section of the Track will give visitors a far better impression of the town and help promote sustainable tourism in the entire Borough.

To get things moving again, we're holding our first public meeting for some time at The Gallows Close Community Centre (which lies next to the Track at Endcliff Crescent) on Tuesday the 2nd of April 2019 at 6.30 pm. representatives from the Borough Council will be there to present the Plan and refreshments will be available. 

The information panel we installed at Safe Ways Park (Sainsbury's) during our hibernation

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Scare story ?

I've been going on about Climate Change for over 30 years. It's that long since a few fairly simple scientific facts persuaded me it was happening but not how quick the changes might be.*

Of course, when we live lives that are dependent on burning fossil fuels (the major source of increasing CO2) efforts to point out that this might cause problems have tended to go unheeded and, if they've been attended to at all, been dismissed as scare stories. Stories put about by people who just want to make us feel guilty or undermine our way of life.

As the meteorological evidence has piled up it's become clear that dealing with Climate Change is less about atmospheric physics than about how to bring about social, economic and political change in a world where the prevailing social norms are ones that encourage us to consume more stuff and use more and more energy; not only will the purchase of the next do-dah make us feel better, it will also be a visible demonstration of our social status. 

The extreme weather events of the last decade have made it very hard to dismiss warnings as just scare stories and acceptance of the reality of the change, if not of what needs to be done, is increasingly becoming the new social norm. 

Before the full impact of austerity was felt by local government many local authorities in the UK appointed a Sustainable Development officer. In Scarborough we had three (Tony, Daniel and James). They were all full of ideas but eventually left the job because they became frustrated with the lack of support from above. Their bosses, like most people who succeed in building establishment careers, were good at fitting in with prevailing social norms and the norm which prevailed at the time was, even if Climate Change was proven, that the impacts weren't immediate and priorities lay elsewhere.

A couple of weeks ago, a meeting of the Borough Council declared that we were in a state of Climate Emergency. I don't think they would have done this a decade ago and am hoping that this is just one piece of evidence that prevailing social norms are shifting. It's likely that someone will be appointed to a similar role to that previously held by Tony, Daniel and James, but it can no longer be considered enough just to appoint someone without backing this up with support from the highest levels in the Authority. The existing CEO has recently announced his intention to retire in June. In the search for his successor we need to make sure that she or he feels able to give this declaration the full support it deserves. 

Whatever we decide to do, we have to acknowledge that we are social animals, are acutely aware of how we're thought of by other people, and to get off the consumption treadmill will need to find other ways to demonstrate our status. Now there's a challenge for the 21st century.

The social norm represented here will have to change

*Incoming radiation from the Sun warms the Earth's surface and drives our weather systems. The Earth, like all warm bodies, also emits radiation (though mainly in the infra-red part of the spectrum). The surface reaches a steady temperature when the outgoing infra red radiation from the warm Earth precisely balances the incoming radiation from the Sun. Change this balance and the Earth's temperature will change.

Carbon Dioxide has long been known to be  a strong absorber, and then emitter, of infra red radiation. CO2 molecules in the atmosphere will absorb some of the radiation being emitted by the warm Earth and then re-emit it. But, crucially, they won't emit it in any particular direction and a proportion will be sent back where it came and rewarm the Earth's surface.

The simple end result is that putting more CO2 in the atmosphere will tend to make the Earth warmer.

The other simple scientific fact is that if you put more energy into the atmosphere then the weather is likely to get livelier.

That's it. Nothing about the scale of the changes, nothing about deciding whether warming is primarily the result of this effect or if there are other long term changes taking place, just that if you put more CO2 in the atmosphere the Earth will be warmer than it would have been and the weather will be livelier.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Neuroscience on Oliver's Mount

Your brain weighs about 3kg, probably less than 5% of your body's mass, yet it uses about 20% of your energy; literally to recharge your nerve cell batteries. So, if an animal has a big brain then it needs to use it; if only to get hold of the extra food it needs to keep the big brain going. 

Ever since people have had brain injuries, and recovered enough for us to see the effects, we've known that different parts of the brain do different things. These days, by using our collective intelligence to develop technologies that extend our senses, (e.g Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging FMRT ) we can make a good guess about which bits of the brain are active at any one time. Not by looking directly at the activity itself, but at the flow of blood that takes place in response. 

Using this technology, we now know that a part of the brain called the amygdala , which is responsible for our emotional responses, can be activated just by seeing an angry face  and, as a result, we feel the emotion of fear and the rest of our brain and body is primed for action.

Apropos of something, I was taking a daft route up Oliver's Mount to buy some potatoes when I met a speeding motor cyclist under the impression it was a race day. Coming very quickly towards me around a bend, I made a gesture of exasperation (hand held out palm up, eyes rolled towards the sky) . A little later, just as I'd started on the straight that looks out over The Mere, I heard the motorbike coming quickly down the hill behind. I pulled over to one side, stopped, and pointedly pointed at the 30 mph sign on the other side of the road.

He saw what I was doing and, rather than carry on at a reasonable speed decided to pull up alongside and ask what I was doing. Not happy with the suggestion that I thought he ought to be obeying the speed limit, he became quite agitated and, having suggested that I get a life (presumably one other than the one in which I get pleasure from pissing him off)  asked with a rhetorical flourish if I wanted to get punched. Not deeming this worth a reply I simply stood where I was while he hurled abuse in my face.

Strangely, despite the obvious anger, and at least the suggestion of intent, it was no trouble just to stand there and look straight back while he ranted. Eventually he restarted his bike and roared off. I simply made a mental note of his number KP 06 OMR

Because he was wearing a helmet with a completely dark visor I couldn't actually see his face. In particular, I couldn't see the look of anger that I presume must have been there.

It isn't that I wasn't concerned, just that, like dealing with an unknown dog, the best way to create doubt about whether you're worth taking on in a fight is to maintain eye contact and stand your ground.  (It also crossed my mind that if he did actually go for me there was a chance that his bike would get knocked over and he really wouldn't want that.) No, what was odd here, was that I didn't really feel any strong emotional response. Without the angry face to go with the cross words my amygdala didn't seem too fussed.

So, if you ever really want to frighten someone, to "light up" their amygdala, it's best to let them see your face.

Looking across to the Mere in early winter sunshine.