Tag: journalism

The hot air highway

The flurry of news items and press releases on Friday referring to a ‘hydrogen highway’ were rather confusing. And that’s not just because the phrase is rather vague, meaning-light publicist-speak.

In the beginning, there was a trio of press releases: one from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills;

South Wales was named as leading centre in the UK for hydrogen energy with South West as a key partner and with £6.3m of funding through the University of Glamorgan…. Energy Minister Lord Hunt highlighted how the South Wales LCEA will build on the expertise in the area to develop hydrogen on a commercial basis. It would also be closely linked to end users based on the M4 corridor.

Another from the Department of Energy & Climate Change;

UK capabilities in hydrogen were further boosted today as the Government created the sixth Low Carbon Economic Area (LCEA). It will be focused in South Wales, with close cooperation extending as far as Swindon in the South West. As part of this, the University of Glamorgan announced that it is investing £6.3m to develop new processes, products and services as part of the CymruH2Wales project. It will create 23 new research staff over the next three years and a further 63 permanent jobs in hydrogen energy.

And yet another from the Technology Strategy Board that did little more than repeat the words from the other two, though with much of the content removed, leaving an empty carcass of jargon.

By providing capital funding towards the cost of demonstration, this important programme will enable British companies to collaborate to commercialise fuel cell and hydrogen technologies. Covering both the transport and stationary market applications, the funding will support and take forward already successful research, development and prototyping projects. We expect the technologies that will be developed and demonstrated to make real progress towards market adoption, providing significant global opportunities for the British companies involved.

Note that apart from it being the location of Johnson Matthey Fuel Cellsmanufacturing facility factory in Swindon, there’s little of substance about the south west in all of this. The focus is very much on south Wales, where the University of Glamorgan’s press release made clear the extent of any ‘hydrogen highway’.

The money will be used to build a new hydrogen, natural gas and biomethane vehicle refueling facility at the University’s Pontypridd campus as well as further developing the existing alternative refueling facilities at its Hydrogen Centre in Baglan. These facilities will not only support the hydrogen and alternative vehicle drive train research and development work of the University, but will be the initial steps for the creation of a broader alternative refuelling infrastructure along the M4 corridor in Wales.

Now, unless there’s been a rather major secret redrawing of the principality’s boundaries, Swindon is not in ‘the M4 corridor in Wales’.

But as the day progressed, the Welsh border seemed to creep ever eastwards. First there was a tweet from Brunel fm.

Swindon is to become a hub for hydrogen technology research after a government cash boost – the M4’s to become a ‘hydrogen highway’.

Which is correct, if a little misleading, as mention of the ‘hydrogen highway’ being restricted to Wales has gone. Next it was the turn of the government’s representative in south Swindon, Ms Snelgrove.

According to today’s announcement from the Government, in partnership with the South West Regional Development agency, the new Low Carbon Economic Area (LCEA) will stretch through South Wales and across the South West.

Err… no. The announcement of an LCEA for South West England was made on 15 July 2009. Nice to see that the old habit or reannouncing old news as new is alive and well in government circles. Finally came Swindonweb with a version of the story of which the politicians would be proud with the ‘hydrogen highway’ extending all the way to Swindon.

The M4 motorway from junction 15 to South Wales is to become Britain’s first ‘hydrogen highway’, with strategically placed refuelling points along the route for hydrogen fuelled and electric cars.

Someone refill that car with two gallons of electricity please! South Wales is nearer than we think….

Listening to the buses

Lightning is now rather chatty. Photo © komadori.

The recent announcement by Thamesdown Transport (which was regurgitated almost verbatim by Swindonweb) seems to have missed the wider uses for on-bus announcements of the next stop. One of the passengers that they have used in the press release, Mr Trevennen, is rather more aware.

It’s not just the visually impaired who benefit but passengers who are new to the town or are visiting.

The system has been introduced on what the company calls ‘six key routes’: the 1 & 1A to West Swindon, 2 to Covingham, 13 & 14 to Eldene and Haydon Wick and 17 between Penhill and Park North. Except for the short hop between the railway station and the Outlet Centre these are probably not services used by many visitors to Swindon. Route 16 to the hospital might be a better choice, or some of the rural routes, such as the 47 to Lambourn with onward connection to Newbury, or the 48 & 48A to Marlborough. Or to benefit those new to the town, why not service 18 to Priory Vale or 11 to Wichelstowe?

Perhaps Thamesdown Transport should listen more to its passengers.

It’s all about… somewhere else

It’s all about… somewhere else.Since the demise of Central Outlook over a year ago, central Swindon’s been without a source of hyperlocal news. It may not have been the best quality journalism, but it was a space where truly local issues affecting the Victorian terraced areas of central Swindon were aired. So when this afternoon a new magazine titled “it’s all about central swindon” plopped through my letterbox, I was mildly interested. But not for long.

I suppose I should have been more sceptical given that it arrived buried amongst a load of junk leaflets. The fact that the most prominent place name on the front cover was ‘Highworth’ wasn’t promising either. The editorial told me that there are already editions for east and west Swindon. It also told me that the editorial team are based in Wootton Bassett. That’s even less local than the local newspaper. As for the remainder, there’s a few local (i.e. Swindon-related) reports, adverts, syndicated articles, adverts, advertorials, and adverts.

I almost gave the benefit of the doubt, wondering if the local content might increase significantly in later editions. Then I looked at the online editions for east and west Swindon on their website, apparently in their twelfth and sixth editions respectively. Apart from a piece by Covingham Parish Council in the east Swindon edition, they’re almost indistinguishable. Though the order of the articles is different in each, with very few exceptions the content is the same; and unrelated to the specific circulation area.

It’s not all about central Swindon, it’s all about somewhere else.

Hidden statistics

I’ve been waiting for a couple of days to comment on the recently reported complaint statistics for Wiltshire Police. The figures quoted by the Adver don’t seem to add up.

The number of people making complaints against police in the county rose to 284 in 2008/09 – up from 234 the year before…. However, allegations made against police in Swindon fell from 175 to 148 over the same period…. Out of the 483 complaints made against Wiltshire Police, just over half (53 per cent) were locally resolved, which is the third highest nationally.

So is that 284 complaints or 483? Unfortunately, the Police Complaints Commission report to which the Adver refers has gone missing from their website: the links on their statistics page go nowhere for the 2008/09 statistics. What I can see, from last year’s report, is that the Wiltshire police were then subject of 234 complaints and 433 allegations. So it appears that in reporting the latest statistics, the Adver’s Ms Hilley has got a little confused between allegations and complaints. That’s despite writing in her report

People who complained made 1.7 allegations each on average.

To be clear: one complaint can cover several allegations. But then one can hardly blame Ms Hilley for being a little confused, as the press release — a fairly bland bit of whitewash — does its best to blur the distinction too.

As in previous years most complaints are about ‘neglect of duty’ (24%) and ‘incivility’ (21%), essentially being rude and late. The proportion of all allegations that are substantiated is 10%.

There, in just two sentences, they heave a large dollop of mud into the already less than crystal clear statistical waters. With complaints nationally rising steadily in recent years, it’s no doubt something the government would rather not be that clear about.

Safety in numbers

Whatever happened to investigative journalism? According to the Adver’s editor, his journalists ‘give the news a dose of perspective.’ Not when they’re reporting police statistics they don’t. Yesterday, they reported a police survey of crime concerns in Pinehurst. It wasn’t the most comprehensive survey.

Officers surveyed people living in the Tree Courts area following a three month long crackdown on crime and antisocial behaviour. More than 50 questionnaires concerning crime issues were sent to homes in the area.

Tree Courts is just a small part of Pinehurst, but the Adver didn’t let that fact get in the way of the headline.

Pinehurst people feel safe – survey

That this was a small unrepresentative survey went uncommented upon by the Adver’s journalist, though not by their readers.

84% people who responded said they felt safe where they lived.

Looks impressive, except that only 38 of 55 surveys were returned, and no indication is given of how many answered each question. So, to put some of the Adver’s percentages into numbers of people, at most:

  • 32 people said they felt safe where they lived;
  • 18 people felt antisocial behaviour had decreased as a result of the police operation;
  • 24 people were happy with the multi games use area opened in July.

Presented like that, the survey results look much less impressive.

Fever pitched

Today, the Adver has published no less than thirteen articles on its website related to Swine ’flu, including one story from yesterday that it has published twice more. Only nine articles on other topics were published. Their desperation to put a porcine spin on any story they can is summed up by one headline.

Weather, not flu keeps town quiet

If a rainy day in Malmesbury isn’t enough of a non-story for you, how about one reporting business-as-usual for the ambulance service?

We are not being swamped with calls relating to swine flu. We are experiencing high calls but not relating to swine flu.

The rainy day story quotes one woman as saying.

There is certainly no panic

If the Adver gets its way, it won’t remain that way for much longer.

A week in surveys

This week seems to have been a week for Swindon to feature in surveys, some local, some national. As always with statistics, the publicity has been misleading.

First there were the May results of Swindon Strategic Economic Partnership’s business survey. This showed that 45% of those surveyed expect an increase in turnover during the next 3 months whilst 24% expect it to fall and 31% expect no change. The Adver translated that into a headline of ‘Business leaders optimistic about recovery’ whilst Swindon Business News managed a rather more restrainedLocal firms seeing some signs of easing’. With the survey also showing that 47% expect no change in ‘General Business’ — whatever that is — and 68% expecting no change in employment, it’s the headlines that are optimistic, not the business leaders.

The week also saw the publication of a report by the Centre for Cities on youth unemployment. The press seemed keen to portray the report as showing that youth unemployment in Swindon is high. For example, the Telegraph:

Students in Swindon are facing an uncertain future as the one-time boom town takes a beating at the school of hard knocks.

and the Adver:

According to research institute Centre For Cities, the number of unemployed youngsters in Swindon has rocketed from 2.39 per cent in February last year to 7.67 per cent last month – the highest increase in the country.

Now, it’s true that the number of people claiming unemployment benefits in Swindon is now above the national average and that youth unemployment and unemployment in general have risen more quickly in Swindon than elsewhere.

Since the beginning of the recession, Swindon’s claimant count has risen to 5.4 percent – passing the GB average for the first time in 30 years.

But as the report’s own figure 6 shows, youth unemployment is still below the UK average: it may have, in the Adver’s words, rocketed, but it is still below average.

Finally there was a story that people liked living in Swindon but dislike the council.

MOST people like living in Swindon but dislike the local council and feel they have little influence over official decisions. Those are the findings of a major new survey that questioned hundreds of people across the town about their local neighbourhoods and the extent to which they felt able to make their voices heard.

The Place Survey conducted by local councils for the Department of Communities and Local Government does indeed show that 80% of the Swindon population are ‘satisfied with their local area as a place to live’ whilst only 27% believe ‘they can influence decisions in their local area’ and 41% are ‘satisfied with how council runs things’. But the national averages for those are 80%, 29% and 45% respectively. For an example of an unpopular council, try Northampton (only 27% satisfied with the council), for a stubborn one try Gosport (only 20% think they can influence it). So, rather than Swindon Borough Council being singled out by its residents for disdain as the headline would have us believe, their attitude to it is actually rather average.

The wrong impression

Ski-Trac snow domeIt’s good that we now have some more details and the rather speculative proposal for an indoor ski slope on the site of the Oasis. It’s less good that the reporting of those details is at best regurgitating the sales talk of the promoters and at worst just wrong.

THIS is the image that could represent Swindon to the rest of the country, and the world.

Actually, the image I have reproduced here is what the facility might look like — if you’re gullible enough to believe artist’s impressions that is. The image illustrating the Adver’s story is of the building with its lid off.

The multi-million pound snow dome would play host to the longest ski-run in the world.

Aah, spot the journalist who’s swallowed the promoter’s hype at face value. The actual length of the ski slope is just 980 ft: hardly world-record breaking. As explained on the promoter’s website, the design incorporates a moving circular slope that continuously rotates. The claimed length of the ‘ski-run’ is the distance that someone could ski in one hour — about 12 miles or 19 miles, depending on which page page of their site you believe — with the run rotating at maximum speed. That’s rather a lot of snow and hardware rotating at just under one revolution per minute.

THE SKI-TRAC DOME houses a huge 175-metre (570 ft) diameter rotating snowfield…. Using new “Mag-lev” technology, the snow deck, with its 200 mm (8 in) snow cover will “float” on an electro-magnetic field without the need for wheels, thus ensuring frictionless, vibrationless, silent, and maintenance-free rotation.

And that’s a maintenance-free flying pig I can see coming in to land. Nothing as big and complex as this bit of machinery is going to be maintenance free.

The whole contraption, including other attractions, climate control and snow production, would consume enough power that it would need its own gas-powered turbines to provide electricity.

Though such a venue might be a great asset for Swindon, in both planning terms and technology this proposal seems to have a very long way to go before getting vaguely close to reality.

Locarno confusion

It is perhaps not entirely surprising that there is some confusion over what is happening to the Locarno and its developers. The developers are referred to as ‘Bach Homes’ and reported as in administration or in liquidation. Like many companies getting in financial difficulty, the holdings of Bach Homes (Holdings) Ltd were more numerous than would seem to befit a company of its small size. Nothing, mind, that a journalist couldn’t have sorted out with a little use of Google, the Companies House directory and the notices in the London Gazette. It seems though that our local journalists haven’t looked far beyond the moribund websites of the Locarno development and Bach Homes (Holdings) Ltd, neither of which seem to have been updated since late 2008. After ’phoning the company’s former head office and getting no reply, they say they did try a search.

An online search for the company threw up a page from newhomesforsale.co.uk saying that the Locarno homes development was closed. It read: “This development is closed and no longer available. This page is here for historical reference only.”

Well, yes, but how about looking a little further?

A quick search of the London Gazette notices reveals a winding up petition for Bach Homes (Holdings) Ltd in September last year, and that the same company was placed in administration in October, the administrator being Harrisons of Reading. So far, so simple.

A search in the Companies House directory for ‘Bach Homes’ reveals eight companies with similar names that are or were recently active. Of those, three are of immediate interest.

  • Bach Homes Holdings Limited: status ‘In Administration’; registered address the same as their administrator, Harrisons.
  • Bach Homes (Swindon) Limited: status ‘Active – proposal to strike off’; registered address in Uffcott at the former registered address of Bach Homes (Holdings) Limited.
  • Bach Homes (Locarno) Limited: status ‘Active’; registered address in Shutford near Banbury and the same as Malachi Limited.

Also of relevance is

  • Mozart Construction Ltd: status ‘Liquidation’, address also in Uffcott at the former registered address of Bach Homes (Holdings) Limited. The company was called ‘Bach Construction Ltd’ until 2006.

The Adver story correctly identifies Bach Homes (Swindon) Limited and Mozart Construction, which it links, as having ceased trading last year; but, as noted by Mr Mattock, it is the company associated with Malachi that now seems to own the development. According to the Adver,

Coun Mattock’s comments have caused more confusion.

The Adver’s journalists should consider doing rather more journalistic research before admitting their confusion in future. If one amateur can find all this information, why can’t a journalist with rather greater resources available to them?

What remains unclear is how capable are the developers — seemingly backed by a company new to property development — of starting the redevelopment of the Locarno in current economic conditions.