If you were hoping to come to a meeting tonight at Arup’s offices to hear me speak about rail privatisation to the London Branch of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation, you will be disappointed. The meeting has been cancelled for reasons that reveal all too well why Highway engineers frequently create street environments that are cluttered, ugly and not fit for purpose. Unlike the implication in the email sent out by the organisers, the cancellation had nothing to do with me.
As I always do, I had asked if could bring a few books to sell to the audience. At first I was told ‘we don’t mind either way’ but then some committee members apparently thought that such activity would breach their charitable status because it was ‘commercial’. Quite apart from that being utter nonsense – I have sold books at dozens of meetings in village halls and for all kinds of organisations over the years and in any case they are offered at huge discounts – it demonstrates the kind of bureaucratic mind which appears incapable of seeing a large picture – for example, their audience would like the opportunity to browse and buy books from an author and I invariably get such requests if I fail to bring any. Moreover, the Charity Commissioners were hardly going to be at the door checking for ‘commercial activity’, even if it did breach their terms, which it does not. They said reluctantly I could bring books but not display them. When I said ‘don’t be daft’, they cancelled the meeting, much to the embarrassment of the main person who had organised it.
While on the subject of HEs, I will give one example of the results of treating the roadscape in a similar bureauratic way. There is a little cycle path running into the Caledonian Road from a side road, and despite being about 1.5 metres wide, it has two strips of ghastly double yellow lines to prevent anyone parking there – when there is not even room for half a car. The lines are ugly and unsightly, and presumably cost money to install. That is just a tiny example replicated around the country such as the famous sea of ‘cyclists dismount’ signs on a cycle route in Harlow, thankfully now removed.