Thursday, January 11, 2007

Column, January 9, 2007

I DON’T think the Aston Hill has ever featured in postcards depicting the great landscapes of Wales .
As Welsh hills and mountains go it is way, way down on the list of those that have won our country’s reputation for wild, unspoilt beauty.
If you covered it in tarmac and put a motorway up it, no-one would really miss it. Hang on, that’s just what they want to do?
My own interest in this small unsung corner of Wales is the fact that if you look to the left while heading up that hill you might just catch a glimpse of the window of the bedroom formerly occupied by your truly.
I grew up within a stone’s throw of the Aston Hill and, sentimental as I am for my home town, even I would not claim the Aston Hill as some area of outstanding beauty that needs to be snapped up by the National Trust lest it be lost to the nation forever.
But I’m not entirely surprised that the plan to put what will be a seven-lane motorway through the place has attracted more than a few voices of opposition. In fact they face protests by not one, not two, but four action groups opposed to the plan.
What did the planners honestly expect? Did they think that it’s just such an anonymous stretch of mid-20th century housing that no-one would notice when they ran the M25 past their front doors, demolishing 50 homes in the process?
Did they kid themselves that a community that was used to the clouds produced by Shotton Steelworks and Connah’s Quay power station wouldn’t really notice the fumes from the millions of cars they would drive right past their gardens?
Perhaps they thought that ears deafened by years of traffic noise wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between four lanes and seven.
The planners have pointed out that the traffic on the Aston Hill is not local, so shutting off slip roads won’t do any harm, as most people on it want to get further into Wales anyway.
Marvellous, so the communities either side of it get all of the hazards in terms of noise and damage to health, and none of the benefits. And just who are these planners planning for pray tell? It sound to me like they’re more interested in shaving a few minutes of the journey time for the residents of Liverpool rather than looking after the best interests of the people of North Wales .
Because what happens when you run seven lanes up Aston Hill, eventually it comes to an end, and you get a bottleneck somewhere further down the A55. And then the planners there will have the bright idea of making it seven lanes wide, and so on and so on, until you’ve got seven lanes running all the way to Holyhead and straight onto the ferry for Ireland , no need to stop in Wales at all. Brilliant.
Because, utmost in all planners minds, is God forbid that anyone should be put off going in a car anywhere and the A55 must be a constant thorn in their side.
I’ve always said the A55 is the best advert for easyJet evermore. How many drivers must have sat in a traffic jam pondering the fact that the cost of the petrol they’ve wasted going nowhere could have bought an air ticket somewhere hot where the local don’t daub their road signs with slogans telling them the place isn’t for sale to the English.
But that doesn’t stop the planners mantra – more lanes, more lanes, more lanes.
Kids with asthma? Well, probably their parents fault for smoking. Accidents? Look, you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few heads, or eggs, or something like that.
Seven lanes is progress see? Well it is progress of sorts I suppose, the jams will start at Holywell now instead of Aston.
In 10 years time we will look back and wonder how they managed to turn North East Wales into a glorified motorway verge, though perhaps glorified is putting it a bit strong – just a motorway verge then.

SO that’s it then. Saddam dangling at the end of a noose and in scenes reminiscent of VE-Day a deliriously grateful Iraqi people drape garlands around the necks of the conquering Tommies and GI Joes who gave them their liberty.
What? Car bombings, suicide bombers, executions by death squads operating under the nose of the Iraqi government. Surely not.
Surely the Iraqi people will grasp liberty with open arms and we’ll be able to bring the boys (and girls nowadays) back home to Blighty.
Not a chance. It’s worse than ever and we might want to get out, but we’re going to leave an unholy mess behind if we do it as quickly as we’d like.
Which means more suicide bombs, more military funerals for more grieving families back here.
I didn’t think it was possible, but with Iraq descending into lawless chaos, people there will start missing the ‘good old days’ of their deposed and now dead, dictator.

PLAID, the mad woman in the attic of Welsh politics, has come screaming down from the loft with another pearl of a policy.
Free laptops for all high school pupils in Wales . More stunning thinking from the party that brought us the sonic logo – no, I don’t know what it’s for either, but hey, I’m not down with new technology like the kids at Plaid are, so what do I know daddy-o.
Never mind the fact that it will cost a bomb and not all children will need one – they’re having one.
The children will get to keep them for their school years. Presumably then Plaid wants them to be handed back, imagining that a laptop that has been kicking about in a school bag for five years will be use to man or beast.
Here’s another idea and Plaid can have it for free. What say we drop the laptops and buy them some books?

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