Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Sun has got its hat on

Tuesday, 15th April 2014:  Every now and then I have to remind myself to take advantage of the long hours of daylight. In April the sunrise shifts from 6:35am to 5:32am and the sunset shifts from 7:33pm to 8:23pm.  Which means the hours of daylight increase from almost 13 hours (12h 58m 37s)  to almost 15 hours (14h 51m 36s).

The only snag is that the experts will tell you about the importance of establishing good sleep patterns and getting a good nights sleep. Also your boss will tell you about the importance of “putting the hours in”.  Personally I have always preferred to focus on getting the job done rather than being seen in the office.  When I was a regular commuter I liked to get into the office early as I am at my best then. The trouble is quite a lot of people would start later and then work later. (We were pretty flexible.)  As a result it is hard to not feel peer pressure to stay on.

I rather like the Spanish idea of a Siesta, although in my case not so much for sleep purposes as for cycling. Breaking up the day with a couple of hours exercise in the afternoon might be unconventional – but doing it has to be a good thing. If you are wondering, if I get a phone call I stop cycling to answer – although usually by the time I realise my phone is ring, stop, fish it out of my pocket, then take the phone out of its case it is too late.

I also find that cycling is great for thinking around a problem or issue or considering how best to shape a presentation. I also find myself thinking about the rather strange political situation here in the UK.  All of the parties annoy me – for my tastes they rely too much on sound-bites and squabbling and not enough on facts and consequences. I also feel that there is too much “do as I say” rather than “do as I do”.

I have been listening to Freakonomics podcasts and as a US show it tends to use US political examples – to an outsider they seem to be more polarized that here in the UK (and Europe) with the Republicans and the Democrats. You seem to sign up to a complete set of policies for good or bad. Whereas here in the UK the lines are blurred and change.

Take the issue of the need for housing here in the UK.  None of the parties really seem to have a good explanation of the underlying issues and what choices are faced by the nation. You just get, what seem like, random proposals. At one level it is a simple issue of supply and demand. The demand is high, in some parts of the UK, whilst the supply is constrained. So the price is high – which is what is happening here in Cambridge.

For instance there can be a significant variation in the price of the same type of house with the same land across the UK – because of supply and demand.  Such is the variation in living costs that higher salaries get paid under the London Weighting.   So what creates demand and why does it vary across the country. Well I guess much of it is driven by opportunity – which for many means where are the jobs – which leads to urbanisation.  Quite what level of urbanisation depends upon transport infrastructure (time and cost), amenities, cost of housing.

On the other hand you have the supply-side issues – the cost of land, planning constraints, Community Infrastructure Levy (constraints and affordable housing),  cost of service connection (utilities, roads), cost of materials, cost of labour.

Add into the mix the need for politicians to get votes and you have various other factors – Capital Gains Tax Relief on your home, Mortgage interest relief, Government Help for Home buyers, buy-to-let mortgages, stricter mortgage tests and grants for home improvements. To name but a few. (Pretty much all the subsidies do is fuel house price increases – which is really inflation.)

You also have the problem that for many people their house is their biggest asset which they don’t want to see devalued. In fact most people want it to increase in value. Given we humans are rather herd-like in our behaviour it makes us want to live in places where house prices are going up, just because house prices are going up. The trouble is those not on the housing ladder feel left behind and are left behind. With house prices rising faster than salaries the gap grows – but because there aren’t enough houses there is still sufficient (some would say too much) demand which stops houses dropping in value.

So it seem that the Government tries to increase the supply of houses without hitting the pricing by encouraging Councils to allow more houses to be built on land hitherto protected. There is political benefit in ensuring that the houses are built in places where the housing market is robust and prices are strong – because it implies that the area is one people want to live in and it will not hit house prices too much. Although this doesn’t really help those who can’t afford to get on the housing ladder – it just stops the gap from getting much larger.

Of course house prices do drop from time to time, people are left with negative equity. So if the government were to succeed in in creasing the supply cheaper housing  it could lead to misery for those just about hanging on to their rungs with large mortgages.

What would I do?  Well much as it pains me I can see why there is so much development around Cambridge – it has employment, the housing market is currently buoyant. However if I ran Government I reckon I would buy suitable farm land on the open market, at agricultural prices, then use the value uplift to provide the facilities, transport links and ensure that the settlement was built to an decent sustainable standard.

Would it work, I don’t know – I don’t really know who makes the profit on such land at the moment – is it a windfall for the current landowner. Whatever it seems that by feeding the value-uplift back into the system then it might help a better development. I reckon that all the Community Infrastructure Levy does is add to the price at which a builder is prepared to move forward. Even worse I am not sure that whoever gets to spend the money does so in a way that makes sense.

Still enough of that for a change I went around Low Fen Drove Way and then through Horningsea and then to Quy Fen (here is a history). I don’t do it too often because the Fen does not have a byway/bridleway through it – although there is a byway at both ends.

As I was cycling I saw the East Anglian Air Ambulance – it is a sobering thought that every time this helicopter flies there is someone in dire need of the medical attention if can bring.  Their website details the missions flown so on the 15th April the website shows three missions. Unfortunately it would appear that on this mission they were unable to save the gentlemen.

East Anglian Air Ambulance above Quy Fen

I rarely see many people around, although on a nice do there are usual some walkers in the area – the “Fen spans about 73 acres”. Apparently the pits were excavated in the 19th Century for coprolite.

Quy Fen – main pit

A ditch along one hedgerow was coming into flower.

Ditch In flower

Apparently the white flowers on leafless stalks are Water Violets (Hottonia palustris).

Water Violets - Quy Fen

I can’t resist taking pictures when the Oil Seed Rape is in full flower – especially if the skies are blue.

This picture is focused on the two trees. They seem to be coming into leave, despite a fair bit of dead wood.

Oil Seed Rape in full flower

This picture focuses on the Oil Seed Rape at my edge of the field.

Oil Seed Rape in full flower

And finally what it looks like without zooming in.

Oil Seed Rape in full flower

As I headed over to Lode I passed a cyclist – whether you are heading from Lode to Quy or from Lode to Horningsea this is by far the quietest route – although it is not so pleasant when wet and muddy.

Cyclist on the old Cambridge to Mildenhall Railway Line, behind Anglesey Abbey

Same general picture – no zoom or cyclist.

Old Cambridge to Mildenhall Railway Line, behind Anglesey Abbey

A Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io) on the track

The Balancing Pond – White Fen

Horse Rider – Headlake Drove

An Inconsiderate Parker – outskirts Bottisham

When I got home I also took a picture of the blossom on one of our trees.

Tree Blossom – White Double Cherry Blossom

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