Joan Baez plays Paul Kelly

Baez & Dylan, March on Washington, 1963 (Wiki Commons)Sorry that this has displaced radical geography as the most recent posting, but last night Judy and I went out in Melbourne and saw Joan Baez play. She has not toured  Australia for 28 years. For me, everything came together when she played the Paul Kelly track, “From little things big things grow” about the Gurindji strike and Vincent Lingiari’s role in fighting for Indigenous Australian  land rights in Northern Australia. Now 72 and very much on form, Baez has her own repertoire of well known songs, and this was not usually one of them. But we had here a conjunction of conviction and  politics spanning the US and Australia (Baez supported Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights movement, played at the March on Washington in Aug 1963, went to Sarajevo in 93,  has been arrested many times for her convictions), social and economic justice in Australia, and the work of two great songwriters and performers. I was expecting Kelly to leap on stage (he is Melbourne’s best known contemporary singer-songwriter by far)  but sadly, no.

“That was the story of Vincent Lingiari

But this is the story of something much more

How power and privilege can not move a people

Who know where they stand and stand in the law

From little things big things grow….”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Who are the radical academics today?

Bill Bunge's Detroit Expedition map 1968 - radical cartography that had a big impact

(please cite it if you use this essay)

We can usefully redefine what radical scholarship is in the contemporary period where universities are financially challenged, and changing their roles considerably.

It is possible to hold to radical ideas of social and environmental justice as a scholar and academic, and to thrive within the university environment? Perhaps in the 1950s and 1960s, hard. The author of the map above, Bill Bunge, was such an example. Today, yes. But now there are multiple aspects of  being ‘radical’. These include vision and personal politics, adapting to a changing audience, to different media in the internet age, and working in a rapidly changing political economy.  I concentrate on three aspects particularly pertinent to scholarship. The third of these is relatively new in such debates.

I think we need to break down ‘radicalism’ in the university context into three areas. The first is  externally focussed research to promote and support justice. The ‘external’ mission (i.e. dealing with issues outside one’s immediate academic demands and  surroundings)  for a radical scholar, has evolved  since the 1960s. The period has seen the decline of state socialism and the rise of neoliberal regimes that seek the maximization of utility, rather than equality. The work of radical scholars, opposed to free market capitalism,  has anchors in several traditions of thought, particularly political economy. But in practice it includes supporting the vulnerable, environmental causes, justice in many forms, attacking corrupt regimes and institutions, and exposing hypocrisy particularly in capitalist regimes.  The  reaction to  the McCarthyism in the US in the early 1950s (the second Red Scare with accusations of communism in US life), the civil rights movement, anti-War protests, and the other liberative social movements of the 1960s aided the introduction and acceptance  of radical ideas towards the end of the decade. These included  Marxism and feminism, that have worked their way into the universities where they have stayed and enriched them (Casenave 1988). This tradition is ongoing, strong, and while perhaps too  concentrated in producing academic outputs (ideas in books, journals etc.) rather than in creating “spaces of hope” and better policy in society itself, it still has a great  importance. A generation of radical scholars have practiced what Paul Robbins calls “wielding the hatchet” – exposing the darker secrets of colonialism, capitalism, greed and inequality.

As Alastair Bonnett (2011)  says, since the last 1960s “radicalism has survived by becoming institutionalised. This has allowed academic radicalism to become culturally self-sufficient, with little need to seek popular approval.” One thinks of scholars like Noam Chomsky, Don Mitchell, Henry Giroux and David Harvey, the latter still an unrepentant Marxist and yet the most highly cited human geographer.  The strength of their messages about the arms race, the hypocrisy of western governments, capitalism and environmental violence is combined with erudite scholarship. Giroux and Harvey have – sometimes against criticism – offered visions of how the world could be, not just how it shouldn’t be. These messages and arguments, and the people who produce them, only endanger their careers if they hit too close to home -  attacking potential university funders, which can include industry and government. Otherwise, these and hundreds of other radical scholars tend to  pursue successful academic careers. Alistair Bonnet again (2011) : “Institutionalisation does not mean evisceration. But it does have consequences. One of these is having to dance to the tune of an increasingly managerial academic culture.”  In my own discipline (geography) this is most certainly the case. Radical geographers publish, obtain research grants (this is the dancing part!), and proceed up the academic hierarchies quite nicely. Many get serious accolades. Those mentioned above, and others like them, rarely had their careers blocked because of their beliefs or actions, and neither did they divert away for long periods into activism. This is because as Don Mitchell says, the academic metier is generally limited in its practical engagement, unless you choose to interpret it in radical ways as a few, like Jean Dreze have done (Mitchell 2008).*

The second dimension is about increased relevance and engagement(Stoddart 1975). Michael  Burawoy, the Berkeley sociologist, theorised that sociology can no longer restrict itself to the academic realm. He begins by noting “The dialectic of progress governs our individual careers as well as our collective discipline. The original passion for social justice, economic equality, human rights, sustainable environment, political freedom or simply a better world, that drew so many of us to sociology, is channeled into the pursuit of academic credentials.” (Burawoy 2004: 5). The same could be said of many disciplines.   “Public Sociology endeavors to bring sociology into dialogue with audiences beyond the academy, an open dialogue in which both sides deepen their understanding of public issues. Working with the public rather than studying them, liberates the academic discipline and provides new and progressive avenues for change. He includes students as partof the public constituency. ” Somewhat predictably, in the university “…advocacy of public sociology has generated much heat in many a cool place”. Indeed it has (Watts 2001 and Clive Barnett’s comments on ‘British critical geography’ 2013).  The debate about relevance and application of scholarly ideas is something I treat in a forthcoming book, but the gist of the argument is that, following Burawoy, it is perfectly possible to pursue classical scholarly work (“professional” in Burawoy’s terms) while doing much more – working with constituencies outside the university completely, designing initiatives together, and committing to practical rather than only to in-theory concepts of justice. This does not demean the academic profession, and indeed outside certain rather goal-oriented Departments, this can and does occur across the social sciences. But if engaged and public work does not result in referred outputs and lucrative grants, it again troubles the neoliberal university model where we use metrics to judge the faulty based  on research output. As Dick Peet said (AAG, 2013), frankly  a lack of research output can put a radical scholar in trouble with the university and emperil jobs. But a focus on engagement is quite radical in its own way, and its practitioners do not have to be formenting revolution to be deemed ‘radical’ .  This point is debated  (Castree 2000).

The third dimension of radicalism today is one that scholars are far less anxious to talk about. It is about ” the ethics by which and toward which knowledge is produced” (Michael Coughlear, EAnth listserv,  February 25, 2013). Scholars are nested within departments,within universities. Their practices in this space  can be radical, politically conservative, helpful to others, or selfish.  We are no longer in the situation where radical scholars feel constantly hounded, oppressed, marginalised, and attacked in the university (at least not in western countries, in those with relatively liberal employment regulations). We need to redefine what radical scholarship is in this context. A radical scholar is a term that now includes something more than a certain type of scholarship, I think.  It is also about  rejecting conformity with the  behavioral norms that neoliberal, cash-strapped universities have forced upon us. It is about solidarity with those in the university sector that are oppressed – e.g. low wage, those threatened with dismissal, and the thousands scraping a living on adjunct status. But it is more than that – it is also about doing what the neoliberal search for cash tends to marginalize – teaching, helping others, niceness/goodness, and selflessness (Cahn 2010, Martin 2011). I almost  never see these latter behaviours linked to radical scholarship – commentators on this blog (below) think this comes from a different tradition.

On this latter point, I find some of my colleagues in the higher education sector (at research institutions) are so driven by publication and research (some of it radical, of course) that the other things that are required in our contracts – teaching and service, including reviewing the work of others, supporting younger scholars, etc., working in the community  – are avoided or certainly marginalised. This, of course,  leaves much of that work to other people prepared to step up (usually those with the shorter cvs and the nicer and more helpful dispositions), or to adjuncts. Every time a teaching/research faculty member gets a higher research percentage in their contract,  or refuses to do something that they are best placed to do, others have to cover the work (permanent people in some cases, poorer paid adjuncts in others). So, while teaching brings in far more money that research in almost all cases in the social sciences (despite being less prioritised or ‘prestigious’) and doing it is for the greater good and for that of the students, it sits in the second tier of responsibilities among many radical scholars.  This is not universally true, but my experience since 1995 has been in research universities, where it almost always is.  Teaching is one forum capable of imparting some radical and challenging ideas – e.g. a forensic analysis of corporate behaviour or the capitalist state. But ‘writing time’ is what faculty always  complain is lacking, not teaching time.

In addition, writing academic tracts that are narrowly read and often inaccessible behind paywalls  is part of the old publishing order that will hold back debate and marginalizes the social sciences (I develop this here – academic publishing decisions also have a social conscience).

‘Service’ is a North American term that encompasses  the glue that holds universities together. Some of this is best done by academics – from sitting on committees to recruiting students.  It also includes  refereeing  the work of others to enable publication, and generally assisting students and fellow faculty (despite these things being less prioritised for individual advancement). Avoiding these things is not comradely, but depends on your stage of career. The new managerial class in universities – those who are not coming through the academic ranks – are often annoying to radical scholars. But in order to require less of those people, the radicals actually have to do a fair bit of that work themselves. You will actually see some radicals in top university positions, and this is a good thing. “

Being oriented to helping is a counter to the usual self-interested preoccupation  with workloads, status and personal advancement, and is likely to contribute to a greater sense of satisfaction” (Martin 2011: 54)

The problem, to sum up this third point,  is that many full time research/teaching  academics like me are hired to do a multi-task job, but spent a lot of time preferring to escape from certain tasks to focus more on others (usually research – evidence of 20 years of conversations and observing). They are also set within a system that generally facilitates this, while actually asking for teaching as well, for financial and symbolic gain for the university, causing junior people to work very long hours on both. So a radical scholar that is good at both can go very far. The question raised above is whether they have to push anybody out of the way to do this.

Focusing on personal advancement in the university sector is not actually radical or helpful when it has negative effects on others. Inger Mewburn from ANU on her blog writes about the problem of academic “assholes”. These are the selfish people. You know who they are… is all about personal status maximization for these guys, and  “Some ambitious sorts work to cut out others, whom they see as competitors, from opportunity” she says. Since the neoliberal research university prioritizes research performance and grant income, above all else (followed by teaching) and if that is what you do, some find it tempting to act in a  cut-throat and non-collegial way to protect their research area or their time. And in most circumstances you get away with this, especially if your research  fame is established – basically you will not get fired to being rude and unpleasant. Especially if protected by tenure. Some people in university cultures are just guilt free and unpleasant in this way, as an article in the THES 2013 says.

There are other options too – think of  Ted Trainer in Australia as well as Jean Dreze in India, both of whom keep one foot in the university sector while pursuing radical and exemplary lives outside of it (see forthcoming book when out). As Ben Wisner pointed out to me (6/4/13), the  argument needs to recognise life stages – early career scholars have to scramble to an extent, while a middle career stage, perhaps with family, may necessarily involve less activism and more do-able research and teaching tasks. The need to do everything drops away at retirement.


Academic radicalism is now situated in an altered social context from the period of its formation. In the context of the mainstream neoliberal university today, assisting others in and outside  the sector and doing your share, is actually progressive, even radical.

While research and writing  is a vital part of what we do, and provides the evidence to support social change, it does not make you a progressive or radical scholar to behave unpleasantly while carving out the time and space to do it. If this hurts others, or leads you to ignore them or any sense of obligation to them. This  is the case even if your substantive research is ‘radical’ or progressive  in its content. If you are rude and selfish, drop the radical label. You don’t deserve it.

I have begun to think about where ‘radical and critical’ geography sits in all of this. Among people with secure teaching and research jobs, I actually think we should redefine it to include dimension two and three (radical internal) rather than just dimension one (radical external).  So I think doing your teaching and service commitments while fully employed, and engaging more widely as well is actually radical, in a neoliberal university. But there are very few examples. You can do ‘radical’ research as part of your job for sure, but the other side of this is retaining commitment in the workplace while you are actually doing that work. If personal radical research projects went slower because of  the publically engaged nature of scholarship or a lack of ‘writing/research time’,  I think this would illustrate a greater commitment to social justice.

To change the status quo, which discourages people from being nice and radical at the same time, we need better leadership and new norms. We need institutional recognition that working hard on other things is equally as valid as research and revenue-raising. This means redefining  the  criteria for academic promotion, for those who are in such positions (many are not).  Although I am not a great supporter of the tenure system in North America, because it is exclusionary, a fourth criteria  could be added to tenure criteria – some measure of  goodness or collegiality (the current three are research, teaching and service).   This is not unproblematic  (watch candidates for promotion, who have been told to do more service or to help others, suddenly step up, then drop off again once promoted!).** Outside the constraints of the 6 year-to-tenure model in America there is more freedom to redefine these criteria for advancement and to embed these as a process, not as a hurdle. We actually have a weak version of this at my own university, where there are multiple criteria of performance assessed annually including ‘engagement’, and a workload model in place.

This does not exhaust the discussion.  There is much more to say about radical teaching initiatives  for example (one of which I ran for 3.5 years) and ‘occupy’ campaigns. A fuller  assessment the role of the radical academic in mainstream western society  is not offered here.

I am happy to debate this ‘new radicalism’ idea or take any suggestions. In the meantime, avoid the assholes, radical or not (and they usually are not) if you can!

* Dick Peet suggested to me (AAG meetings, 2013) that when Dick Walker finally achieved tenure at Berkeley in 1982 was a moment at which time radical geography entered ‘the US academy’, if not  the mainstream, in a more obvious way. He is right – Walker himself said Leftists had never gotten tenure at Berkeley before my peer group, the 1968ers, came along. Michael Burawoy, Michael Reich, Ann Markusen and I were all up at the same time and we were the first to break that barrier” (Walker 2012).  But the shift from ‘outsider’ to ‘insider’ was for many people not so obvious  – I wonder if it was simply a transition aided by civil rights, the Vietnam war, and other global movements in which more radical positions moved more to the centre. (this was stressed by several people at the AAG meetings).

**Note this very suggestion came up in a June 2013 report by US academics.


Alastair Bonnett. 2011. Are radical journals selling out? THES 3 November 2011

Michael Burawoy 2004  For public sociology. Address to the American Sociological Association (August 15, 2004)  AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW, 2005, VOL. 70

Castree N, 2000. Professionalisation, activism, and the university: whither ‘critical geography’? Environment and Planning A 32(6) 955 – 970.

Cazenave, Noël A..1988.From a committed achiever to a radical social scientist: The life course dialectics of a “Marginal” black american sociologist.The American Sociologist19, 4, pp 347-354

Martin B. 2011. On being a happy academicAustralian Universities’ Review, 53,  1, pp. 50-56

Mitchell D. 2008. Confessions of a Desk-Bound Radical. Antipode 40 (2008), 448-454.

Cahn SM. 2010. Saints and Scamps: Ethics in Academia. new edition. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Stoddart, D.  1975. Kropotkin, Reclus and ‘Relevant’ Geography. Area: 188-190.

Walker, R. 2012. From the Age of Dino-Sauers to the Anthropo-Scene: Reminiscences of life in Berkeley Geography, 1975-2012. Retirement talk, Department of Geography, University of California, Berkeley, April 25, 2012

Watts, M.J.  “1968 and all that…” Progress in Human Geography 25: 157-188.

(book mark – read this and this


Filed under academic relevance, engaged scholarship

Open access journal publishing – the change is coming

Updated 2014

This is about publishing academic articles, and where and how this should happen.

Working in a university with up to 40% of my time devoted to research, it is nice to publish work that people appreciate and read, and this is also necessary to retain your place in a research university. I’ve published in a few academic  journals that have quite high standards, as well as writing in books and online outlets. I never really considered the ethics of publishing until recently. Most of the main journals are still run by big publishers, like Springer, Elsevier. I sign the copyright to the article away to them on publication. They prepare then sell the journals, either singly or in bulk packages, to university libraries and other institutions. So if you are a member of the public you have no access to most articles of this type – but you can buy an individual article from them online, usually for $20-30 each. For example, in Geoforum, a note of appreciation for editor Hilary Backhouse, not even an article,  will cost you $19.95 to download! For university people, you have to hope your university has bought that journal from the publisher and stocks it online or in hard copy.

Some academics, particularly junior ones, feel they have to (or actually they need to) publish in the top journals that are owned by the major publishers and to assure their careers, and to get professional advancement. And sometimes, an article just ‘fits’ best with one of these journals.  In North America there is the specific hurdle of preparing a dossier for tenure after 6 years in the job,  for which you need a solid research portfolio before being considered for a permanent contract. Senior gatekeepers in disciplines often do not always appreciate that a brilliant piece of work can be published outside the top journals.

Thinking hard about publishing

George Monbiot’s populist comments in 2011 prompted me to think hard about academic journal publishing. He accuses the main publishers of making excessive profits and locking up research outputs. He does not spare his criticism – they are ripping off academics by charging for material that was produced by them, then selling it back to them at high cost, through their libraries. And as a believer in peer-reviewed literature, Monbiot points out that the public cannot even check his sources for his article because they can’t get behind a publisher’s paywall to do so!

The Open Access debate ramped up when a bunch of mathematicians pointed  out, around the same time,  that Elsevier, in particular, was worthy of a boycott until they made our work more available, more accessible, and cheaper.  The campaign (Cost of Knowledge)  has argued quite cogently that this company charged very high prices for journals (particularly in Maths), and these costs were locking up their work only to people who had access through their institutions (even if the work was publicly or taxpayer funded). The campaign, which has attracted over 13,000 signatures,  has been partially successful for maths with some journal price reductions later put in place and some more OA articles.

One great quote by  Roberto Alamino on the Cost of Knowledge:   “I wonder why the scientific community took so long to notice what was happening… we were supposed to be the smart guys…”  Quite. And in fact, over the decades and with the arrival of advanced computer software, publishers have less work to do and yet prices at the point of sale have increased. The movement that this campaign has inspired been dubbed the “Academic Spring“, a great turn of phrase. Mike Taylor has called publishing behind a paywall “immoral”, which has made people think. Nature, one of the hardest journals to get published in, launched an issue and a page devoted exclusively to the OA debate in March 2013. An entire Board just resigned. Scott Aaronson’s thoughts are priceless.

Furthermore, through 2011 and 2012 there were some high profile announcements from Harvard University, and the Russell Group in the UK, among others, about the crippling bills they were getting from the major publishers to stock their journals in their libraries (electronically or in paper copies). The large profit margins of the journals and Elsevier were again mentioned. Some publishers, including one I work with, do at least offer cheaper deals for subscriptions by developing country universities. There is some debate about this.

The Elsevier campaign has had some partial wins (eg in maths), but Elsevier have not responded by dramatically reducing their journal costs across-the-board, or by allowing authors to retain copyright for its ‘conventional’ journals.  They have responded in smaller ways – e.g. at Geoforum journal, they have offered some incentives and prizes to young authors, after the editors published an open letter asking exactly what value for money they were getting from using this publisher (see also Nick Blomley’s 2006 editorial). For comparison,  a Melbourne  presentation from Oct 2012 by an Elsevier staffer gave a company line – the various protests are not mentioned at all, nor the high charges made to convert an article to OA.  Fortunately, in the UK (the Finch report in mid 2012, and the aid agency DfID) and in the USA (White House report 2013 and NIH rules, and here), there is growing movement by western governments to  make publicly funded  research available in open access form, although governments are mostly unwilling to pay Gold open access fees to commercial publishers, which is upsetting universities worried that will have to fund some of these themselves. Implications for one academic field in the UK  summarised here by Lee Jones (Aug 2013). The Finch report may actually benefit publishers, if publishing fees are paid to their OA journals, as this article  argues.

The publishers are certainly not happy about all aspects of this, and Elsevier were widely condemned in the US in 2012 for resisting this and related measures (but had to withdraw this stance). In 2013, Taylor&Francis delayed publication of an article in Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation criticising commercial publishing models. Read it here. Publishers are concerned about more content being forced to appear online for free, but surely the move is inexorable, folks? The US will henceforth demand material from its US government grants become publicly available after one year (the initial discussion was suggesting only six months embargo, but anyway…). The same has happened in Canada for health research  (see comment below). There is an argument that only highly selective journals “filter” articles that are really important, but this is hard to prove and may be changing. A recent 2013 paper by Cook et al on climate science consensus  in the online Environmental Research Letters immediately reached an international audience – journalists and the public could access it.

My role

My role in all of this? I have made a few interventions online.

  • Phil Steinberg and I have disagreed about whether to donate free or cheap labour to the big journals – I am prepared to give it a miss until the issues are resolved, but he will stick with it. (see the bottom of the page) None of us like overcharging by publishers. What constitutes overcharging is another debate. Read on.
  • Here is a discussion in the Times Higher and on crit-geog-forum
  • And at the LH Martin Institute
  • and in the Sydney Morning Herald  (paywall imminent)

But also I am a managing editor of the Journal of Political Ecology, one of the oldest online journal in the social sciences, started by former colleagues at the University of Arizona. I got the job when at the University of Arizona in 2003, and have continued it in Australia. Since we charge authors nothing and the readers nothing either, and the website is kindly hosted by the University of Arizona, we are a “Gold” Open Access journal that places no restrictions on readership.  I have been asked what it costs to post up an article on the Journal website – the answer is about $200 if I do it in the working week, and sometimes more if I edit the grammar and English (you could factor in the writing time of the author as well I suppose). All the work is done on a 13 inch laptop, often at the weekend.  Casey Walsh, the other editor handling manuscripts, is I am sure little different. Referees kindly work for free. My costing is on Ed Carr’s website.

In Feb 2013 I was at a seminar on open access publishing organised by John Wiley publishers in Melbourne. Many journal editors were there and I met some nice people. It is clear (to me) that the writing is on the wall for major publishers sticking to the “reader pays and we retain copyright” model. The public, especially the internet savvy public, will not bear it much longer and dissent in the ranks of researchers and academics is also growing, concerned with copyright allocation and high costs. The wide dissemination of copyrighted material from journals is also growing, because you can’t police the internet to stop that. Try Google Scholar and search for something you are after, and see the PDF copies that often crop up. Governments realise this too as they demand open  publishing of funded papers, government reports and some datasets.

Some at the Melbourne meeting thought that publishing companies are  going to have to shift over to “author pays” (commercial open access) rather than “readers pay” (the current model). But currently publishers are charging ridiculous amounts for the former -  if you want your article in a conventional journal to be made open access on the journal’s website.  For making an article open access in an otherwise closed-access journal – something up to $3,000 (up to 1700 pounds) per paper. This is insane, as Ed Carr points out. Fortunately some new journals are waiving such costs, which are subsidised from elsewhere – see Asia & Pacific Policy Studies published by Wiley which is a good deal. And in March 2013, Elsevier launched two new OA Gold climate journals with no costs for one year here.

Currently the Journal of Political Ecology undercuts almost everybody, because it is produced not to make money but just to put stuff out that the journal team thinks is important and well presented.  Goodness knows where we are in any rankings, but we do quality control just like everybody else. Other journals have a similar ethos, ACME included. We are not chasing a quick buck. The content of the journals is the stuff that we do and believe in.

For the moment all my work goes on to my website (another way to insure open access), as it has since 1995. I still work with conventional journals and sit on editorial boards, and the best in most disciplines are unfortunately still published that way, but I can’t see the current system holding out for much longer than 5-10 years.

The OA caution

The possibility of making money by running online journals is not confined to major publishers. Now we have the internet, anybody can do it – set up a website, choose a journal name, and off you go. For the list of journals that are bringing a bad name to Open Access publishing,  by seeing it just as a commercial opportunity, see  Jeffrey Beall’s list – and . These are companies or individuals who have realised they can offer rapid publication for academics, by charging them for publishing a paper in some newly established journal.  These are not serious efforts in most cases and some will not last long. Others may survive, but check carefully.

Those on Beall’s list (Beall now has an article about his work in Nature!) are sometimes flagrant moneymakers and poor quality, and he says may be 5–10% of the total OA offering, but the standard publishing model that locks your stuff up behind a pay wall and holds the copyright isn’t all that sustainable either, even if the quality control is better. As governments are cottoning on to this lark and telling academics they have to make their work open access if it is a  study funded by taxpayers, we are set for a major upset in the publishing world.

What to do?

If you are reading this and are desperate to get hold of an article that is locked behind a paywall, please just write directly to the author. They are allowed to mail you back the PDF copy if there is one. Academics used to operate this system by sending authors  little postcards asking for reprints, up until a few years ago…now we have email. It works. If you are an author, “Green OA” is where you just post up a preprint copy online  (the version of a paper that is sent off to the publisher) often on a university eprints site. That version is always your intellectual property. And many publishers will let you post some version or other on a personal webpage. An article posted on the internet for free gets more hits and usually more citations (according to a big Southampton University study), especially if picked up by Google Scholar.

So, there is an adverse political economy of open access operating, and it is slowly working itself out. The present system is all about money, and to a certain extent about power and control as well (a debate in Political Geography, now unfree). The big changes to modes of publishing have already happened with music. Think about that story. Now stuff circulates freely via MP3,  and the cat is out of the bag. You hardly need a music  label  if you have the money to record on your own. It’s bad that copyright is frequently ignored, but music gets heard, and there are some benefits to artists  that way. I don’t download music (or videos) myself, but I have witnessed the complete downfall of the major record labels and CD shops (bad) over 10 years, and the establishment of file servers and online outlets for ITunes etc. allowing more music to circulate easily (good). The quality of music has not suffered but the labels have, because so many artists can now just do their own thing.

Transpose this to academic journal publishing? Hopefully a more controlled and regulated change will emerge for articles and journals. In the same way as for music, the quality of a written article will not suffer if it becomes more accessible.  Of course, Beer (2012) notes the parallels to music and reminds us that algorithms may help determine what pops up for us to ‘like’  when searching for material, and this is not really ‘democratic’ so we should be careful with open access. Viral-marketing academics could rise to the top of a greasy pole run by automated search engines. What we need:

  • Gatekeepers in universities (tenure committees, promotions committees, research committee chairs, Heads) need to realise that open access journal publishing is as good, if not better, than the present mainstream alternatives. Please read the work on its merit, rather than looking at the journal title. Also a  book reviewed for an open access publisher by several top academics can be just as good as one that went through the same process with a major University Press.
  • Gatekeepers in universities need to recognise that working on journals is part of our jobs. It takes time, brings prestige, and is part of service and research activity. Not all employers acknowledge this work or count it towards increments or promotion. If greater recognition were to happen, publishing and refereeing would be so much easier. The loop between production, distribution, and consumption would be closed.
  • Publish where you think it is best (or quickest, or most ethical) to publish. Not where peer pressure asserts it is in your interest. We are not there yet – few are able or willing to do this.
  • Get commercial publishers to have OA publication options for authors in existing journals (if you need to publish in them) in the $100-500 range, per paper. Enough to provide for page layups and checking, and server space and management, and low enough that an average academic could actually afford to pay.
  • Support the OA sector in working out its pricing. Variation is currently wide, for reasons that are unclear. Solomon and Björk calculate an average fee of US$906 (with an upper of almost $4,000!)  fee to author, which is too much in my view. van Noorden in Nature (2013) has some good price data. The prices at Sage Open are good ($99, social science startup journal); at PLOS Currents: Disasters and ACME they are free; at Ecology & Society  and ERLhope somebody else is paying (US$975 and $1600, but they are at least  linked to professional societies).  Journals in the $1500-$3000 range, forget it for most people unless you have grants (costs are a live issue with research funders). See Roger Clarke’s paper on costings and another on 6 month embargo costs*.
  • Realise that university libraries are solid places to host electronic journals in perpetuity, as part of their expanded mission in the internet age.  They can bypass the commercial publishers. Failing that, good editors can keep an archive going of their journals, and backed up. It is not that hard.

Brian Martin’s 2012 note on OA has another suitable list of recommendations.


Still we are sucked in, and I was for a decade, to the idea that there is little ethics for authors to consider when they are publishing, and getting a spot in a good journal is a legitimate aim without engaging your conscience at all. A radical position (perhaps denied early career scholars) is to leave behind some of the big publishers entirely, at least until they reduce their Gold open access fees, and don’t charge libraries as much. Or some will ignore publisher’s copyright to the material (which is of course how the world works these days, with Google Scholar, personal web pages, Twitter and the like) and get it out there via other means.”  SB, source highlighted

*The issue of journals supported by professional societies requires a whole other discussion.

Update June 2013

See here for publisher’s responses in the US to the Obama legislation authorising open access after 1 year for federally funded research. Their CHORUS proposal will direct searches to their own articles.

Oct 28 2013 At the LSE – high powered discussion about humanities and social science OA

Beer D. 2012. Open access and academic publishing: Some lessons from music culture. Political Geography 31(8)479-480.


December 7, 2012 · 8:19 am

Farewell to running our interdisciplinary Environmental Masters program, March 2012

Over the last 3.5 years I have been Director of the Office for Environmental Programs at the University of Melbourne, which offers the postgraduate Master of Environment degree. We had a team of five staff and just-on 350 students from all over the world, and decent employment rates (and PhD follow-ons) for these graduates. We also moved into some great refurbished office space on campus in 2011. In March 2012 I decided it was time to return to research and teaching and to hand over to somebody else as Director, but as you can see from this ‘farewell’ post below, it was hard to leave.

Universities are hard places to work and it is not often you get a real conjunction of great staff and students, enough time and revenues to make a change, and underpinned by a sense of purpose and (in this case) an interesting multidisciplinary philosophy of education. The distinguishing feature of the Masters is that it allows you to choose classes from all over the university, in 10 different faculties. Very few universities permit this. As you can imagine, a certain amount of work was involved to set up and maintain this arrangement. It has certainly ruffled feathers since establishment in 2002 – some Faculties  preferred those students to be based in degrees that they run themselves (through our Graduate Schools). This is the arrangement at most universities worldwide, since the arrival of Environmental Masters in the late 1960s/early 1970s in Australia, Canada  and the USA – degrees housed in a single Faculty or Department.   But the M Environment degree has survived numerous University restructurings marvellously well, and retained its interdisciplinary ethos throughout. It is a degree for students wanting the right to get a ‘broad’ education in the environmental field that they select themselves, with some help from the OEP, channelling their efforts to skills and classes that they themselves find relevant to their needs and well taught.  They report back that they like this model. A student may select classes from energy studies and development studies, if they want to work in renewable energy in developing countries. Or, forestry science, sustainability, and project management if heading for a natural resources/forestry career. Or philosophy of science and environmental history, plus a research thesis,  in order to prepare for a PhD in these fields, for example.  Quantitatively inclined students take an Environmental Science stream. There are of course more focused Masters degrees on campus for those wanting them. Have a read, and all power to the OEP students and staff team. I had a blast, and am still involved as a Deputy Director and stream coordinator.

Leave a comment

Filed under academic relevance, engaged scholarship, Uncategorized

Anti-racism, sustainability and conflict in Tucson, Arizona. Some thoughts.

I appreciated this article that came out this week about Tucson Arizona, USA,  a city I lived in for three years (2001-2004) when teaching at the University of Arizona.

Jenna M. Loyd 2012. Human Rights Zone: Building an antiracist city in Tucson, Arizona. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 11 (1): 133-144.

I generally liked the University, and the natural environment was extraordinary,  but was always a bit ambivalent about the state itself and the city (sorry, friends there). There were three reasons.

  1.  Tucson must be one of the most unsustainable cities in the US (despite being home to some good sustainability initiatives). Never heard this said, but I am sure it is up there in the rankings. Water supply is the persistent problem. With rainfall usually under 100mm per year, edible crops to satisfy 1m people cannot be grown without irrigation. Most of the local surface and ground water is overdrawn, so most food and water are brought from elsewhere (some local irrigated farming esp. to the west). Fresh food and staples  come mostly from the big Mexico irrigation schemes or from California, with very little local production.   The Santa Cruz River through the city now only has water in it during the summer monsoon. Loss of flow began early-  “By 1910, all of the water flowing in the Santa Cruz River near downtown Tucson was being diverted for agricultural or municipal uses“.  Groundwater abstraction during the growth of Tucson caused slumping,  as underground sediments dried out due to over-pumping. Much of the water supplying the city now comes from the CAP canal, bringing water across the desert from the Colorado River in an open culvert hundreds of miles long, and injecting it into groundwater west of the city to allow for Ph mixing and recharge.  Municipal consumption of water outweighed agriculture by the year 2000.   There are other big dryland cities in the world without local supplies of food and water of course,  but none quite like Tucson.  Tucsonans are good at saving water, and esp. since the Beat the Peak conservation campaigns in the 1970s, many having abandoned wasteful features like lawns and pools, but the growing population is often unaware how fragile their desert existence is, despite the work of many environmental organizations and the water supply boards.  Real estate developers, until the big recession of 2007 slowed them down, just keep on building large homes with no public transport, and high energy use, regardless.  Domestic water tanks are rare due to the low net rainfall. The Sustainable Tucson site admits the city cannot feed itself, and is reliant on ‘just in time’ warehoused fresh food, usually stockpiled enough for only three days ahead.  Despite all this, the local paper published a blog entry  in Feb 12 opposed to “sustainable development” as a principle and philosophy. Says it all – Tucson is a city of contradictions.
  2. The transport system and grid layout is car-centric.   Driving everywhere is normal. I have never driven to work more than one or twice a year in any of my jobs, and hopefully never will. I loved the BICAS bicycle re-cycle project in town but it was a drop in the ocean. The city was built such that the good residential views, and the cheap housing lots, require some form of transport to get to where stuff is – jobs, schools, shops.  4x4s infest all parts of the city, bumping into each other in car parks, mooring to drive-in windows, and collecting very small people from nearby schools.  Worst of all, left parked up with engine running, to maintain the air conditioning – something that should be outlawed.  The University itself has vast expanses of car parks and showed no sign of diminishing them, despite some enlightened transport planning efforts. The city bus service was not great, through it won an award in 2005. We never bought a car and travelled locally on bikes, although we did have a long-term loan of a famous yellow 1980s Toyota belonging to Prof Jan Monk. It was this car in which I took my wife to the hospital where my son was born, and in which we all returned home in scorching temperatures in May. [note: there is a short volunteer-run tram going to the University,  and they may extend it]
  3.  I took the political mood in Arizona to be heading in directions I did not like in the early 2000s, in view of my upbringing in suburban SE London under Margaret Thatcher and on a racial fault line. Like the prolific analyst Patrick Bond, who grew up in Belfast and Alabama, racial and ethnic divisions concern me quite a lot. I was in Tucson when 9-11 happened in 2001 – I was teaching just after, in fact. The University response was good. It hosted ‘witnessing’ hoardings where you could paint or write support for the families touched, and there were many outpourings of grief. We discussed the issues widely. But racist incidents and attacks on foreigners escalated in southern Arizona in late 2001 (although more in Phoenix than in Tucson) and I heard plenty of xenophobic comments in that period. A Vietnam Vet told me to “love the US or leave it”. Remaining, and being critical was clearly not an option he embraced. Leaving aside Native American politics for the moment, the immigration issue was ever-present, as it has been for decades, being 100km from the US-Mexico border. I went to places where the dangerous crossings of economic migrants from Mexico  took place, where I know in addition to the Border Patrol there were occasionally some so-called “patriot” American vigilantes stationed at night to “observe” the situation. With guns, which you are allowed to carry in AZ. I also met members of Los Samaritanos, on the other side of the political faultline, who leave water in the desert and assist desperate would-be immigrants abandoned by their ‘runners’. Deaths from dehydration  are frequent.  Not what I was used to from years spent rather less on the political edge in Massachusetts. Since we left Tucson for Australia, just before my final H1 visa was due to expire, Arizona politics has moved further to the right and Jenna Loyd below describes it as being on a dangerous “front line” in “struggles over security and belonging”.  For example there is official anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican sentiment. The teaching of Mexican American Studies has been banned in Tucson K12 public schools by the School Board. Why? I am not really sure. And various books in school have been banned by TUSD since Jan 12, since they somehow offended the political right, which some of my colleagues find extraordinary. Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed banned!! The last 3 months have seen continued opposition to this HB 2281 law. Also the statewide Arizona Senate Bill 1070 has been hugely controversial, ” the broadest and strictest anti-illegal immigration measure in recent U.S. history” allowing police officers to ask about the immigration status of those they stop, and to arrest those without papers. This  has made international headlines since 2011 because it is  a deliberate attempt to deter those without residence papers from remaining in Arizona -  thus a form of  ‘border deterrent’.  Some issues about Arizona’s immigration are raised here.

But the other thing Loyd points out is that cheap land and the existence of the border close by have made this a military town as well, with bases and defence contractors. And it sounds as if the residents are feeling that presence, alongside continuing poorly planned economic development and environmental pressures. The political and economic situation since 2001 has certainly done little to deter xenophobic reactions among a small part of the populace, or stopped some elected officials from implementing divisive policies. The article reminds us that Tucson has a fault line, as well as being on the front line of these issues. On one side of this line many, many residents and businesses oppose the excesses of the Republican state government and the actions of  the political right in southern Arizona education and other sectors, as she describes and champions. I went to many events and met many people who feel it is their duty and desire to oppose racism and to stay put and enjoy, rather than leave, this part of the US.   Good luck to all the positive initiatives in an extraordinary place.


Jenna M. Loyd 2012. Human Rights Zone: Building an antiracist city in Tucson, Arizona. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 11 (1): 133-144.
A good quote: “Tucson is a paradoxical place. Although 60 miles from the international boundary, it is a militarized border city. The infrastructures of war-making are prominent in the landscape and jets and police helicopters circulate in the desert skies above. It is a place living through an undeclared war that is invisible to many and applauded by some. It is a college town proud of its progressive commitments in a state whose politics are dominated by the right. It is also home to a wide range of organized opposition to government experiments in border security and migration regulation, many of which are implemented elsewhere. Tucson is not exceptional, but it does foster unique and enduring organizing that can inform political efforts elsewhere.”

1 Comment

Filed under AZ, Tucson

London riots and Eltham

Looking back on comments I made in 1999 about racism in Eltham…..

Reports of looting and riots in North London (UK)  in August 2011 came as no surprise to me. In July ’11 I had left a country that was economically in recession, with rising youth unemployment,  and led by a government that looked to be finding its way with Thatcherite and pro-business policies. Cutbacks to public services were severe and unemployment rising.

The scale of the ensuing looting and urban mayhem across England was shocking. It instantly made me think; when is trouble going to kick off in the flashpoint of  Eltham, on the other side of the Thames in South East London?  It did not take long. Between 9th-11th August, a motley assortment of football supporters and members of political groups (largely the nasty English Defence League) descended on Eltham, apparently to “protect” the town from looters. This led to a rather confusing scenario of police and citizens ostensibly trying to do the same job, but resulting in street clashes.  The media reported this widely, camera crews were sent, and there are many videos on the web of youths and middle aged men swearing at the police and at supporters of rival soccer clubs, and uttering racist epithets. Looting did not happen, although there has been some of that nearby.

There is not yet enough evidence to say whether the risk of looting was real and that these “vigilantes” were actually there for a genuine reason. To my knowledge Eltham High Street is in a pretty sorry state these days, decimated by falling retail trade and the closure of anchor chains like Woolworths and the department store. I am not sure what a loot would really yield. It seems, instead, as though the EDL was making a political point – this is a largely working class, largely white suburb, infamous for unfortunate reasons and bound to attract major media attention.

I grew up there from the 1960s until my parents sold up in the late 1990s. I knew generations of Elthamians. Early in the c20th my grandmother had survived diphtheria in a flat above a shop in the High Street, and a family house was bombed in WWII a mile away in Mottingham.   The town has some impressive historic buildings and a Palace, a few famous residents past and present (Jude Law, Kate Bush, Bob Hope, Boy George, Edith Nesbit) and a proud local society. Although it contains multi-million pound homes, much of Eltham is relatively poor, particularly to the north and west. It is home to many council estates (public housing), many built to re-house inner London residents, both sides of WWII. Not that this necessarily breeds racist views – but as I showed in 1999, these were quite prevalent. Don’t forget SE London hosted the British National Party hq in Welling as well, a short distance away.

Its recent notoriety came from the murder of Stephen Lawrence on 22 April 1993. He was a black teenager killed in the town by a gang of racist white youths, most from Eltham.  This followed a string of stabbings and altercations in and around Eltham in the preceding 2 years, some racially motivated. The official  Inquiry into the Lawrence murder made the accusation that the police suffered  ‘institutional racism’ because  they failed to to bring successful prosecution, and bungled evidence. This, plus the murder itself, gave Eltham a very bad name. The characters of the accused youths is discussed in the 1999 Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, specifically here. As of 2011 they are still not in jail but prosecution is again being made against two of the suspects. [in Jan 2012 they were found guilty and sentenced to 14 and 15 years]

Looking back, in 1999 I wrote a listserv posting on the Critical Geography Forum that described conditions in the town just after the publication of the Inquiry. A lot of comments were made on that text. I think many of the questions that I raised there about Eltham are still unanswered. Specifically – the geographical issue - why Eltham? It seemed likely that this town would somehow become involved in the rapid spread of rioting, because unemployment and disenfranchised younger people on the estates always made it a bit ‘edgy’, but I had not imagined instead seeing the EDL turning up, and a racist image dominating the media once again. I feel very sorry for those subjected to this once again – South East London has always had to work harder than the rest of the city to embrace multiculturalism and ‘connection’ to the rest of London. Some like it that way, while others (like me) regret it deeply.

The claim is often made that the Lawrence murder was a random event, and could have occurred anywhere. But I am not so sure.

1 Comment

Filed under Eltham, Uncategorized

HS2 rail proposal is expensive and the wrong project

I was living back in the UK from Jan-June 2011, in the picturesque village of Wendover, Bucks. I have been going there for 17 years, since that is where my wife’s family lived for 50 years. On arrival, I discovered this normally rather conservative (and Conservative Party voting) community was up in arms with their own government’s proposals. The issue was the proposed High Speed Rail line that the government  wants to build from London to Birmingham (they inherited the project from Labour in 2010). Although the project is being sold to the British people as a fast alternative to existing transport modes, it does nothing for the communities along the route, looked to be very destructive of an AONB (area of outstanding natural beauty) in the Chilterns as well as urban locations, and does not seem to be the sort of project that a virtually bankrupt country should be undertaking at this stage. I also discovered that to save money, the route would pass right by the west side of Wendover without a tunnel, with trains thundering along every few minutes at 250mph.  I wondered if the local protest was of the ‘not in my backyard’ NIMBY variety. But  I concluded the route had not been thought through, nor the huge cost, the disruption, and the economic justification looked pretty weak. Turns out HS2 is really all about relieving capacity on the West Coast mainline passenger trains to Birmingham/Manchester/Scotland, which are pretty full it must be said, but surely there are other ways to do this? Sounded like we were trying to emulate  Europe and China, who have some success with High Speed Trains?

Here is my response to the public consultation, which ended in July, very lightly edited. There is not going to be a Public Inquiry on this - the government no longer offers many of those, which means it can push through large proposals more quickly and with less public consultation. But there is, and will be, massive protest I am sure, from all sorts of people, rural and urban residents, and political orientations.

In  January 2012, after I wrote all this, the construction of phase 1 between London and Birmingham was approved in Parliament with an indicated opening date of 2026. However by mid 2012 doubts have been raised about how, and when, the project will get off the ground as Britain struggles with other priorities. The Wendover area has been promised a deeper cutting to conceal train noise, and I visited the town again in June 2012 and found people fairly resigned to the project. Also an embarrassing report on HS1 in Kent has shown it to be struggling financially. In July 2013, next visit to the UK, the costs of the project have ballooned even before ground has broken, and one commentator thinks it is merely a government foil to say  that they are investing in Britain’s economy without actually tackling mass unemployment in de-industrialised towns where there is little hope of a job. Peter Mandelson from the Labour Party also thinks the project is too expensive, having previously supported it. Compensation for thousands of blighted properties near the route is clearly inadequate.  This an ideological battle and a locational one that will never die until it is replaced by another urgent infrastructure debate. 


HS2 consultation response         Tuesday, 26 July 2011

 Dr Simon Batterbury

 Disclaimer I am British but do not own property in the UK. I have been visiting Wendover for 17 years, living there Jan-June 2011. I had daily discussions about the project, attended an HS2 roadshow, and read most of the hundreds of pages of official HS2 reports and analyses.

 Question 1: Do you agree that there is a strong case for enhancing the capacity and performance of Britain’s intercity rail network to support economic growth over the coming decade?

 No, there is not a strong case. The economic case for the line has been overstated using speculative economic modelling, with insufficient attention to non-economic factors.[1]  Estimates of job generation from transport are by the consultants’ admission, difficult to model and only estimates exist.

But we know that HS2 will funnel more jobs into London, rather than spreading them more widely. This is basic spatial economics combined with gravity modelling. Nobody involved in the debate seriously believes a reverse flow of jobs to the Midlands, Scotland and the North of England will occur anytime soon after construction.

However the main issue is spending £34billion to Scotland (plus likely overruns) on a megaproject during a major recession when public services are being cut back. To allocate much of this sum to provide more train capacity and a quicker journey to and from Birmingham, really stretches credibility. Since there will be no commuter stops along the line, it is of no economic or social benefit to 90 percent of the people along its route.

There is a real risk of poorer services by the franchises running the existing lines since they will lose long distance business (85% of HS2 passengers are predicted to come from existing lines) and there will be echo effects on other lines.

Crucially the DoDs report published in June (pro HS2, business-backed) surveyed a panel that included  British transport professionals, and ranked their priorities.[2] They found ;

 “HS2 came behind the electrification and modernisation of existing rail lines (at the expense of High Speed), improving our national roads network and, in the case of transportation professionals, was even ranked as being less important than both an integrated freight network and the proliferation of light rail.”  (June 2011).

Moving more freight on the railways….there’s a thought! No mention in the HS2 documents. This is not encouraging. Leisure, tourism and long distance communing trips would of course be easier, but tickets are likely to be costly, as HS1 has shown, depending on franchise arrangements.

 Question 2: Do you agree that a national high speed rail network from London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester (the Y network) would provide the best value for money solution (best balance of costs and benefits) for enhancing rail capacity and performance?

 No. I echo the views of some campaigners here – although I am  not a member of their group. The question asks for views on the whole route between London, Manchester and Leeds without providing detailed information  on the whole route! I need to see other route options to Scotland to answer this question at all. What other options have been considered?

Others have analysed the business case in great detail. Here are the major flaws:

  • Many people do not need to be sitting at their office desk in London or Birmingham to conduct part of their business. I am one of these people.  Business travellers do work when sitting on our existing trains, often for one or two hours. You have not factored this in to your analysis. In other words, you have ignored teleworking, web based activity, and mobile communications.
  • Too much value is placed on small time-savings on each individual journey, which have been converted into ‘cash benefits’ to enhance the business case. There are cheaper alternatives which would address our needs in the future, for example longer trains on the West Coast Main Line, and some minor infrastructure enhancements. John Whitelegg has analysed these in detail.
  • It seems unlikely that we will see huge additional demand for rail travel, unless flying in the UK is banned or becomes uneconomic, or road use is rendered unfeasible for some reason. The point that flying would be avoided by building HS2 seems erroneous on the London to Birmingham stretch, since hardly anybody makes that journey by plane, but has some validity from  Scotland to London.
  • Other planned developments which will improve capacity over the coming years are not discussed e.g. Chiltern Railways Main Line project south of where I used to live.

Question 3: Do you agree with the Government’s proposals for the phased roll-out of a national high speed rail network, and for links to Heathrow Airport and the HS1 line to the Channel Tunnel?

  •  We already have a good high speed rail service between London and Birmingham. Links between the rest of the UK and London are already good, with cross London routes in place and another under construction.  How the links to Heathrow will be made, linking to a very fast train, are unclear to me. Access to Heathrow has already been significantly enhanced in the last decade.
  • Further options should be explored before any money is committed to a high speed network.

Question 4: Do you agree with the principles and specification used by HS2 Ltd to underpin its proposals for new high speed rail lines and the route selection process HS2 Ltd undertook?

  •  On the Planning process used: the project is not subject to a full Planning Inquiry as other mega-projects like Heathrow T5  have been. The only chance to comment on the proposal is through a limited  written ‘public consultation’, with no other promises of public input. [3] This is not a best practice approach. The public still want to know and comment on alternatives to the whole scheme. Although denying this the government seems to have its mind made up already by limiting us to the chosen route and scheme.
  •  On the supporting case so far: The principles adopted by HS2 Ltd were flawed. There has been an overwhelming emphasis on speed and time saving in the documents.  The decision to design the line for 250mph trains means that the line of route has to be pretty straight, and there is no opportunity for it to bend and avoid sensitive environmental features and settlements including AONBs, SSSIs, endangered species habitat and monuments. We are not in competition with China to have the fastest trains. I am told you do not yet have signalling technology for 250mph trains. What is the timeline and cost of that?
  •  A new design should be commissioned for trains running at HS1 speeds – ie up to 186mph. There is no need to go faster. This should enable the line to follow an existing transport corridor. Slow it down and show us what could be delivered with a speed saving. Any new rail line should follow existing major transport routes e.g. the M1 or M40 corridors. The A413 is too minor .

 Question 5: Do you agree that the Government’s proposed route, including the approach proposed for mitigating its impacts, is the best option for a new high speed rail line between London and the West Midlands?

HS2  is really a motorway to London, without the lorries, with fewer exits. So – No.

The ‘preferred’ route through the Chilterns affects an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and, the Metropolitan Green Belt, and a range of other sites. Even if extensive  underground tunnelling takes place, which is currently only programmed for the affluent sections to the immediate west of London, there will still be new cuttings, noise, loss of ancient woodland, and closure of tracks and lanes (over 100). There are churches only 200m from the proposed route, and crucially, a colony of endangered Bechstein bats in north Buckinghamshire.

Clearly, avoiding Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, green belt, high-quality farm land, footpaths, ancient monuments and listed buildings was not given enough weight in the decision-making process. I would like to see the tunnel proposal for Wendover reinstated. If a decision is taken to proceed with the scheme, a tunnel right through the Chilterns AONB should be offered to mitigate the noise and visual impacts.

HS2 has failed to provide detailed noise impact data.  Noise demonstrations organised by HS2 in their recent Roadshows were unconvincing and thousands of homes will experience serious noise, some without compensation because they are just under a threshold.  There has been no real attempt to show how noise  impacts will be addressed.

 Question 6: Do you wish to comment on the Appraisal of Sustainability of the Government’s proposed route between London and the West Midlands that has been published to inform this consultation?

 Yes. I have read it in detail. There is no Environmental Impact Assessment or Strategic Environmental Assessment available for public consultation, only this  briefer ‘Appraisal of Sustainability’ that is sketchy on cultural preservation and focuses on economic ‘regeneration’ benefits. The lack of a full independent assessment for a project of this scale, prior to a decision to build or not to build, is telling.

On the Appraisal of Sustainability there are several main areas for concern:

  •  No psychological or cost-benefit assessments have been made of different routes and scenarios (at least these have not been released to us-there are rumours some have been conducted). No regard appears to have been taken for the landscape that the proposal will impact. I was taught landscape impact techniques when at University two decades ago – nothing has been used, not even geo-visualisation of alternative routes.
  • The information on jobs “created” is sketchy. It does not clearly identify them as transfers from elsewhere in the country (or indeed from other construction projects and rail operators).
  • Construction site compounds and construction traffic would blight the countryside for years. Property blight will, in my estimation and those of local estate agents in Buckinghamshire ( I talked with 4) ,  run into decades.   There is no information as to how noise, dust and vibrations would be controlled during the construction process.
  • Carbon emissions: normal high speed  trains produce 35% more emissions than equivalent car journeys, and HS2 even more – 50% more than Eurostar. [4] The project, as presently conceived, might just be carbon neutral but constructing the line will incur huge carbon emissions that are not sufficiently budgeted, unless you have redone the figures recently.
  • Estimates of flight and car use reductions that it would generate are optimistic, to say the least. The Transport Studies Unit at Oxford have pointed out that total journey time, and energy use (factoring in getting to and from the stations in the first place), is more important to survey than the much-touted  ’travel time reduction’, which  is the main  selling point for HS2.  Heavy car use is anticipated to reach the very few stations.  As Christian Wolmar says” To oppose HS2 is not to be anti-rail”[5]. We need more north-south train seats, for sure. But the ‘capacity increases’ from HS2 will only benefit those close enough to the stations, or able to access them easily (probably by car).
  • Noise: High noise levels will be inflicted on residents both during construction and operation of the line. We need to see detailed noise maps, better than the ones handed out at the HS2 roadshows. How will noise targets be policed and operators controlled if they exceed them?
  • Biodiversity and the ecosystem: It will cut through 23km of high grade farmland.  There will be huge visual impacts, especially with viaducts over flood plains.
  • Up to 2 million cubic metres of waste would arise from tunnel and cutting excavation, some passing through aquifers and chalk river systems still not fully understood, like the Misbourne.  The proposal also impacts national paths (e.g. The Ridgeway) and closes 79 rights of way in Bucks.

Sustainable transport policy should involve slower stopping trains, better use of existing cuttings and lines, affordable and regulated fares, and be based on whole-journey analysis. It should not involve the construction of a thundering non-stopper, scything through the British countryside and our towns and cities.  As John Whitelegg said in Feb 2011;

 “The proposed HS2 trains would burn 50% more energy mile-for-mile than the Eurostar. HS2 would produce more than twice the emissions of an intercity train. HS2 is a ‘rich person’s railway’ – the business case assumes that a third of passengers will be on incomes of £70,000 or more.”[6]

Question 7: Do you agree with the options set out to assist those whose properties lose a significant amount of value as a result of any new high speed line?

 It is unclear who has already benefited from compensation  and  how much has been given. Property blight is already significant in Wendover, having talked to agents over the last  6 months. The market is stagnant.

Detailed noise corridors are not fully researched, and thus the level of support that may be given in the unlikely event that the project proceeds, is still unclear.  Many other communities along the route are already suffering in the same way.

There is no apparent compensation for the construction process, which will be extremely unpleasant.

The political case: While the project is endorsed by Labour (who announced it in March 2010), it is quite odd that it has become a cornerstone of Coalition policy. But hundreds of thousands along the route and further afield now oppose it strongly, including those that vote Conservative. Politically it would be wise to consider their views, outside of a formal consultation. This is standard impact assessment practice. In addition the Major of London, Boris Johnson,  and the Greens are opposed to the current plan, as are the astute transport gurus Christian Wolmar and John Whitelegg.

[1] DoT 2011. ‘Economic Case for HS2: The Y Network and London – West Midlands’, Department for Transport, February

[2] Dods Transport and Infrastructure Dialogue 2011. The Role of Transport Infrastructure in Enabling Economic Growth. Progress Report 1.  DODS Transport and Infrastructure Dialogue

Leave a comment

Filed under Wendover