This blog posting represents the views of the author, David Fosberry. Those opinions may change over time. They do not constitute an expert legal or financial opinion.

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How Did We End Up With So Many Weak Bridges?

Posted on 11th March 2017

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This BBC news story is a little worrying. It describes how there are thousand of road bridges in England which are not fit to carry the maximum weight (44 ton) lorries (trucks). The result is lots of bridges with weight restrictions, meaning extra cost, inconvenience and delay for lorries, and a huge backlog of repair bills.

I get the feeling that the author of the story, and the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) upon whose report the news story is based, are a little fuzzy about who is to blame for this. Normally local authorities are responsible for the upkeep of roads and bridges, and it seems that they have not been keeping up.

Then I remembered: the UK government decided to increase the maximum weight of lorries on the roads, without any additional funding being allocated to upgrade roads and bridges, and to maintain them thereafter. The initial increase (with restrictions) was reported here, by the Independent in 1993, with the change taking effect from 1994, and most restrictions (e.g. the road-train restriction) being removed in 2001. Here is a House Of Commons Library note about the current regulations, which contains some of the history. Both the Independent story and the House Of Commons Library note state that the change in maximum weights was made on the basis that the per-axle weight would be reduced, thus reducing the damage to roads and bridges. While this gross simplification may be largely true about road damage, it is patently not true about many road-bridges where, depending on the design (basically depending on the length of an unsupported span), the total weight on a span of the bridge (and thus the amount of damage or wear and tear) is dependent upon the total weight of the lorry, not the per-axle weight.

So to summarise, the UK government took an ill-thought-out decision, based on bad science (or more likely no science at all), which dramatically increased damage and wear and tear on road bridges, and not only did they provide no extra funding to local authorities for bridge upgrades and repairs, but during this period introduced budget cuts on local authority spending. I think it is perfectly clear who is responsible for the dreadful state of Britain's road-bridges.

UK Government, on Arctic Drilling: "... not our place ..."

Posted on 27th July 2013

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I read this BBC News story this morning. I was incensed when I read it; I still am now!

The UK government's official position is, it seems, that since the UK is not an Arctic state, it is not its place to tell Arctic states which resources they could extract.

How about a little analogy to make it clearer? Your neighbour is damaging your environment by constantly burning things upwind of your washing line and the patio where your family likes to sit on warm evenings. Now the neighbour has applied for planning permission to store hundreds of gallons of used engine oil on his property, and you are concerned about leaks impacting your property and health. Would you believe that you have some rights to limit your neighbour's behaviour, to protect your health, lifestyle, and the value of your property, and that of your family?

Actually no, strike that; this is not an analogy at all, it is exactly the same situation (except the scale of the impact, and the type of law at issue). So, the UK government believes that in such a situation, by extension, you have no rights to protect your health, lifestyle, and property.

The USA has frequently used the description of places being "in our own back yard" to justify military action; although this phrase has been often abused, in this case it is valid: the Arctic is our back yard. Europe lies next door to the Arctic; it controls our climate, provides much of our fisheries, and is vital to the lifestyle and health of Europe's population. The UK government, however, says that it believes it has no right to take action; Arctic states can do what they want, no matter what the impact on Britain and the rest of Europe.

Well, Mr. Cameron, if that is really your postilion, it is clearly time to give up Britain's armed forces and foreign policy. You have chosen to abdicate responsibility. So, hand over complete control of Britain's armed forces to NATO, and delegate all foreign policy to the EU, as you and your government are clearly not competent and willing to exercise that control yourselves.

If you are not willing to participate in saving the planet, and standing up for your own constituents, the least that you can do is to stand aside while someone else does those jobs for you.