Sunday, 3 November 2013

Citybus - Another P.C.C. failure.

                Image courtesy of the Plymouth City Transport Preservation Group.

I am not the worlds greatest mathematician and I can usually do basic sums yet something just doesn't add up for me when I read figures relating to the sale of Plymouth Citybus and the ensuing profits made by the now private company. For those of you who don't know what I am talking about let me explain.

Plymouth, like many cities in the UK, has been let down by it's council (P.C.C) for decades, whether Tory or Labour led there seems to be an agenda that doesn't involve what is best for the city or its inhabitants. The sell-off of Plymouth Citybus is yet another example of council failure. Plymouth Citybus was owned by the council and run at a profit providing both a good bus service for city people and providing an income for council coffers. So here are the figures which I just can't get my head around. The Tory led council spent £1 million valuing Citybus, how on earth does it cost £1 million to value a business and which accountants pocketed the cash on this nice little earner? After securing the valuation job the accountants then came up with a value of £19 million which the council accepted and proceeded to sell Citybus to a company based outside Plymouth ensuring that any profit would be taken outside the city.

After the sale of Citybus, Plymouth people start to notice a deterioration in service and started to see many local routes being cut with the elderly and school children being most badly affected. Obviously a private firm has to look at which routes are most profitable, this private firm have no interest in whether kids can get to school or whether the elderly can retain a level of independence or mobility they are led purely by profit as they have no loyalty or passion for Plymouth. 

So whilst the people of Plymouth continue to suffer from years of council errors Go Ahead, the company which owns Citybus,  announce profits of £100 million annually not a penny of which will be invested into our city (Source - Plymouth Herald and Go Ahead website. So the only people who have befitted from the sale of Citybus are the owners of Go Ahead and the accountants who took the valuation job. The losers are us. Thanks again P.C.C for putting the people you are meant to serve last.

After the disastrous Tory administration you would hope for an improvement from Labour but no such luck, we see the same pattern of party politics and pure greed taking precedence over the needs of the people.
Had the council kept Citybus perhaps some of the revenue could have been used to subsidise the airport. Still no support from the Labour led council on our much needed airport, they verbalise their support but refuse to follow up their words with actions, no action to stop the incinerator which is opposed by so many and uses outdated German engineering. With the incinerator going ahead you would assume that every effort would be taken to protect green spaces to help negate air pollution but instead the council sell off part of our green lung (Central Park) for a multi million pound development which will suck yet more money out of our city providing mainly low-skill, minimum wage jobs. At the same time as this ridiculous development is approved the council decide to put up parking in areas where there are lots of small independent traders, these traders are already battling a tough economy of for many of these businesses the increased parking charges could just be the final nail in the coffin.

I write this after updating my position on the electoral role and wondering what exactly is the point of me doing so? So few people turn put to vote now that one has to question whether there is much point going to the ballot box. The few that do turn up to vote mainly vote tactically and having stood as an independent a few years ago I saw first hand some of the tactics used by each party to scrape in a few extra votes. I fear that without major change to our government, local council and banking system the future looks bleak.

Stay Healthy (not likely with the proposed incinerator),

Sam x

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Why Plymouth Aiport is viable.

   Image above - an aerial view of Plymouth Aiport - courtesy of Cyber Heritage.

If you are a regular reader of my blog and/or are a citizen of Plymouth then the following writing is probably just preaching to the converted but I wanted to share my thoughts and feelings with you to respond to recent comments made by Plymouth City Council leader Tudor Evans. The comments I refer to were made partly on my personal facebook page.

Let's start with the thread on my facebook regarding the recent closure of Plymouth Airport, please read the thread so you can see what was said and by whom. It is strange that I haven't spoken to one non-council person who has supported the closure so it appears the only people who do support the closure are the council and Sutton Harbour Holdings (SHH), it seems bizarre that the former group would not want essential infrastructure for our 'Ocean City'? Obviously I understand why SHH would support the closure as they have a financial interest in developing the land and stand to make a sizeable amount of money from their proposed development, many new homes have already been built around the site and it seems that P.C.C have rather prematurely installed multiple car parking meters around the perimeter sealing the airports fate.

Rather foolishly the people of Plymouth listened to the Labour election campaign and listened to verbal rants suggesting that Labour would save the airport if voted in but this was merely election spin to gain votes and in reality many people were not voting Tudor in but were just voting Vivien Pengelly out.  The Labour manifesto did include the following "If the Plymouth Airport closes we will mitigate the loss through a vigorous campaign of lobbying government for better transport links to Plymouth, especially more and earlier 3 hour trains from London" This statement is very different from some of the verbal claims made by Labour candidates leading up to the 2012 election and we are still waiting for a better train service and 3 hour links to London. So, once again, Labour have failed us, not that I am suggesting that the Conservatives are offering us anything better, we simply remain with Hobson's Choice as we have done for many years.

Going back to SHH and PCC we are still waiting to to find out what happened to the huge sum of money given to SHH in relation to the airport but we are merely told there are commercial sensitivity agreements in place and therefore we can't be told even though it is our money as we are the taxpayers. 

The most interesting point for me is that Tudor and his party keep telling us that the Airport is not financially viable but I question that as even if the airport did run at a loss surely the benefit it would have to our city would outweigh that loss substantially. I have heard various figures and the most interesting came in the form of a recent article published by the BBC and the Plymouth City Airport Economic Study into Air Service presented to the cabinet on 23/08/11. Whilst Professor Begg may argue that the airport is not financially sustainable and that we should instead rely on rail links I pose the following question; The airport subsidy would stand at £1 million pounds a year so if we hadn't built the Life Centre, for example, then we could have supported the airport for at least another 50 years, the annual revenue raised by our bus lane cameras could also be used an an alternative means to fund the subsidy in fact there are many ways we could raise this money but none of these are being looked at by our council.

Aviation consultant Laurie Price agrees (comments taken from the BBC article "There is a strong case for reopening the airport. Plymouth is struggling as its port declines and it is going to be hard for it to find a new role with such poor transport links, he says. About 15 years ago there used to be an "extremely good" Plymouth-to-Heathrow service. The airline was profitable, the airport just about broke even, and taken together the service was viable, he says. But higher airport charges and competition from Newquay hit Plymouth hard. A fundamental part of a hub airport is that it connects with the regions, he says. "If we're putting funds into areas for regional development then why not subsidise an airport? They do it in Europe." I find Laurie's comments particularly encouraging as Newquay Airport is now reducing it services.

Even if the current location is not the right place for an airport, as we would ideally need a longer runway, we still need to campaign for our own air services as this is the best way to boost business and tourism in the area. If we are to be a real City of Culture and 'Britain's Ocean City' then lets allow people to reach us easily. Unfortunately the only way we are going to achieve this is with a different council and I don't think that either the Conservatives or Labour are capable of the task as their own agendas and politics always get in the way of what is best for the people of Plymouth and what is best for the long term future of Plymouth.

I will follow up this blog with a response to Tudor Evan's comment on the Home Park Developments.

Stay Healthy,

Sam x

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Inequality and discrimination against pole fitness.

I have been teaching pole dancing for over 9 years and I am still amazed at the
serious discrimination against pole dancing schools/instructors. During my time as a proprietor of the Art of dance pole dancing school in Plymouth and my time as joint administrator for the Pole Dance Community I have been prevented from attending public events, refused the right to advertise in publications and even received death threats from so called Christian groups. I have documented many of these experiences in my public blog that was originally written for a local newspaper but it is now written purely for my own agenda. Just this year alone I have been refused the right to perform at Lord Mayors day, Dance Dance Dance (a grant funded event to promote social inclusion and encourage multi-cultural diversity) and The Respect Festival to name but a few. I have also been refused the right to have my classes advertised by Plymouth Dance and told my website is a child protection risk. Once again Companies House have denied me Community Interest Status as they can't see how pole dancing can possibly be beneficial to ones physical and mental health, this is despite a 12 page supporting document that includes testimonials from the NHS and several women's groups supporting my application.

Here are just some of the articles written to express my concerns at the way I and others have been treated.

Little Spinners - challenging ideas about the sexualisation of children in the media - Monday 3rd September 2012
Pole Dancing is an art form - Friday 23rd March 2012
Pole Dancing Prejudice - Sunday 4th March 2012
The debate continues - Wednesday 22nd February 2012
The problem with pole dancing - Thursday 16th June 2011
Pole dancing is good for you - Tuesday 15th February 2011
Sexual Encounter Establishments Consultation - Monday 31st January 2011
Dance and Health - Saturday 18th March 2010
Pole Dancing Controversy - Tuesday 15th June 2010
Pole Dance Related Rage - Thursday 15th April 2010
More Pole Dancing Controversy - Sunday 9th August 2009
Should Tom Daley wear a wetsuit - Thursday 9th July 2009
The debate continues - Sunday 15th March 2009
Aftermath - Friday 13th March 2009
More backlash - Friday 6th February 2009
The morning after - Friday 30th January 2009
Trouble at Mill - Thursday 29th January 2009
Trouble at Mill part 1 - Tuesday 20th January 2009
Videos from 'banned' performance - Friday 16th January 2009
I think the articles I have written demonstrate the extreme prejudice towards pole dancing/pole fitness for sport and recreation. I sincerely hope that pole dancing gets the recognition it deserves some time soon.

Stay Healthy.

Sam x

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Shame on First Great Western

I have had a few disastrous train journeys in the past but my recent trip to London made previous trips seem like a breathe of fresh air.  The following account may sound exaggerated but I can assure you that this is a factual account of my journey from London Paddington to Plymouth on Monday 22nd July (departing London 15:06) and how the journey went from bad to worse.

Let's start from the very beginning, I was travelling with my friend Heather and we had both booked a super off peak return to give us a little flexibility over our return journey. After a lovely bit of tourism in London we opted for the 15:06 train, we assumed that 15:06 would not be classed as a peak train but we were mistaken. We were travelling between Reading at Pewsey when our tickets were checked, we were informed that peak time was now any time after 2.30pm and if we wanted to use our tickets we would have to get off the train and wait in Pewsey station until after 7pm. As the temperature outside was about 35 degrees we didn't fancy sitting in a station for 4 hours so we asked if we could pay to stay on the train. As you can imagine we were both upset about the situation as we has no idea that this train would be considered as a peak time train. As it happens this would later become the least of our worries.

We were told we could either pay a £60 fine each (this is on top of the £89 each we had already paid for our tickets) or pay £20 each for a ticket that would be valid until Pewsey, I queried how this would help as we wouldn't have valid tickets from Pewsey to Plymouth but I was told that due to short staffing no one would check our tickets from Pewsey onwards, we unhappily settled for this option so we could stay on the train and avoid paying £120 total for the fine. I still can't believe that 2.30pm is now considered peak time and wonder who else would classify this as a peak time for train travel?

After Pewsey the journey started to worsen, bear in the mind that, at the time, this was the hottest day recorded in the last 7 years and the government had issued a level 3 health warning. Firstly there were no announcements, again due to short staff, so we weren't receiving any passenger updates about which station we were approaching next. 

We soon learned from other passengers that the air conditioning in Coach E hadn't been working since we left Paddington and there were several very small children starting to look rather unwell. One particular baby was very lethargic and a few of us started to worry that the baby was not looking too good, in the absence of staff and a massive queue of people trying to get cold drinks from the buffet car I set about finding spare seats in Coach C as this was the coolest place on the train, I asked a few people to move seats and eventually we got all the parents and children out of Coach E and into Coach C. This worked as a short term measure but then the air con stopped working in our coach (D) and Coach C as well as Coach E.

As you can imagine people were starting to get very stressed, the train was packed and the heat was overwhelming, all the fire exits and corridors were blocked with bags. I decided to venture to the buffet car to get more water as we were dehydrating fast and were extremely uncomfortable, I had to physically climb over peoples bags to get through the train, during my journey through the train I also established that every toilet was blocked and due to the heat you can imagine how awful this smelt. The pictures accompanying this article are taken at various stages of the journey but the corridors and fire exits were blocked pretty much throughout the journey, the train was so over booked that there was nowhere to put the excess luggage or the many prams on the train, if there had been an accident this would have been a death trap.

On arrival at the buffet car I joined the large queue that went back some way into the previous coach. I queued for 20 minutes to get to the front of the queue only to meet a lady coming out of first class who pushed in front of me and placed her order, I was not happy and explained to her that I had been waiting for 20 minutes and did not appreciate being pushed in front of, she explained that she had paid for trolley service but due to the lack of staff there was no trolley service available, the staff confirmed that all first class passengers would be allowed to move to the front of the queue. I was not a happy bunny, and nor was anyone else in the queue behind me, whilst we appreciated that this lady was not getting the service she had paid for we were disappointed by her lack of respect for us and the staff's disregard for our concerns.
Finally I was served, I asked for mineral water but was told they had sold out, I was informed I could buy tea, coffee, wine, alcohol or coke, I explained that I was very dehydrated and just wanted some water and did not want to consume alcohol or caffeine. Bare in mind we stop at many stations on our journey surely someone would have thought that keeping stocked up on mineral water was a priority in a level 3 heatwave?  I asked if they could give me a cup of boiling water instead but was informed that they could not do this as they wouldn't have enough water left for people wanting teas and coffees. As I was about to leave the buffet car I noticed about 50 bottles of still mineral water in a trolley, I queried this and was told that the mineral water was for those in first class. Whilst I understand that those in first class pay for a superior service I still can't quite believe how those of in economy were treated on this day and I don't consider an £89 ticket to be particularly cheap so would expect a half decent service and not what we were given.

Finally we arrived in Plymouth, tired and dehydrated, and were pleased to leave the stinking, hot train, thinking our troubles were over we attempted to exit Plymouth Station but couldn't as we didn't have a valid ticket, we were on a peak train with only a valid ticket from Paddington to Pewsey. The gentleman at the gate was just about to ask us to purchase another ticket when I started to explain what had happened on the train, I also asked him to look at some of the faces of those who had also been on our train, he took one look at the tired, dehydrated, sweating passengers, smiled and let us through.

I will be sharing this blog with both First Great Western, the Health and Safety Executive and my local council. For those of you who live in, or travel to Plymouth, we have very limited transport links as our airport has been closed, our road links are poor and coaches take a long time to get to places like London. It seems that our rail links are getting increasingly worse and I am extremely disappointed with the service provided by First Great Western and will think twice before booking another train ticket.

I will keep you posted on the response I get from this blog I hope that First Great Western will not just find a scapegoat in the form of a lower paid easily expendable member of staff, instead I hope the more senior members of this company will take responsibility for delivering an appalling service. In the meantime please comment below about any problems you have experienced with train travel in the UK or transport problems you have faced when travelling in and out of Plymouth. The lesson surely is please save Plymouth Airport.

Stay Healthy,

Sam x

Monday, 8 July 2013

Stop the development of Central Park

I have just objected to the proposals for yet further development within central Park in Plymouth. You would think this would be a fairly easy process, just log onto the Plymouth City Council website click on planning (view and object) and type in part of the address but this is not the case. I tried putting in 'Home Park' and 'Outland Road' as search terms but nothing came up so I called P.C.C to find out more. Apparently the search terms hadn't been added although no reason was given for this. If you would like to submit a comment then here is the planning application number as without the planning number you won't be able to object - 13/00942/FUL

After finding the application things should be straightforward right? No, think again. When you submit your comment you need to scroll down the page and select the yes box otherwise it is automatically selected to 'no'? Who on earth developed this website and why on earth would anyone take the time to fill in the comments form and then want to click 'NO' I don't want to submit my comments. Is this merely another way to prevent people objecting? Anyway after jumping through these various hurdles I managed to submit my objection. These are the comments I submitted today:

I strongly object to any further commercial development at Home Park. My main objection is due to the fact that there is a restrictive covenant on the land to protect the park from development. We should not allow any more green space to be taken away from the people of Plymouth. My second objection is due to the type of development proposed as I believe these proposals will only bring low paid, part time job opportunities to Plymouth.

Since the development of the Life Centre (which I also objected to) we have seen an increase in traffic and noise problems for local residents and those travelling through this area. I do not believe we should be making this problem worse and I can't see, from the developers plans, that the situation will improve if this goes ahead.

I do not believe that an important need for this city is yet another cinema.

Currently the Argyle stadium is indicating a lack in attendance of supporters so I fail to understand why we need a bigger stadium?

To be honest I can't really find anything within the application that I support. Please leave our park alone it belongs to the people of Plymouth and should be protected for that reason alone.
You may also want to read further comments via my blog (link was added).

Here are a few links to other objectors: Janice Hunt's objection (Chair of Friends of Central Park)  Jon Mitchells' objection, Mrs J Kitching's objection,

Due to my complete lack of faith in both our current Labour and previous Conservative council I think that the proposals for Home Park will go ahead regardless of whether the people of Plymouth want it to go ahead or not. As usual commercial development that does not make our city better will be put before what the people of Plymouth actually want.  We won't get an improved bus station, we won't see HMS Plymouth return, we won't get an airport but we will get an IMAX cinema owned by people who live outside the city so we can watch more money get drained from our economy. Plymouth kids can look forward to taking one of the amazing new part time jobs selling popcorn and burgers, it's hardly a dream career.

Stay healthy,

Sam x

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Evolution of Pole and Pole in the Olympics

So here is a blog that is bound to cause controversy but that is not my intention. Pole Dance, Pole Sports or Pole Fitness (whatever you like to call it) has evolved so much since I started teaching back in 2004 and generally I have seen a big improvement in the industry with better teaching standards, better insurance, an improved syllabus, the use of risk assessments, limited numbers of students per pole etc. This is all great but it is where the industry goes from here that is starting to worry me.

I feel that Pole dancing is currently in a place where it is finally respected as a way to keep fit and have fun by the mainstream and that perhaps it is just the minority who assume that pole dancing has no skill involved. My concern is that as the industry moves forwards we may start to lose some of the fun that initally drew us, and our students, to this amazing art form. Whether you teach stripper style or pure pole fitness I am sure that the majority of instructors like to make their classes fun and this is the main reason why students keep coming back. If we make the environment too sterile then surely we lose the very thing that makes pole classes special. I have heard talks of schools in Russia and former Russian states requiring classes to be carried out in silence, whilst that may fit with the gymnastic model, for me, this goes against the very ethos of pole fitness for recreation, fitness and fun.

As you may know there is a move to get pole into the Olympics, the IPSF set up by PDC Pioneer KT Coates has done admirable work but is that where we want to see the industry going? Don't get me wrong the WPSC 2012 event was admirable and I was very proud to be involved but since then I have looked further into the world of gymnastics and Olympic standards and I am not sure I like what I see.

What I fear for our industry is that ultimately we could end up with a situation where pole becomes elitist and if you haven't started pole dancing from the age of 3 then many clubs won't be interested in training you. Most recently I watched some of the children performing in Miss Pole Dance Russia and their performances had me cringing, whilst the youngsters displayed amazing strengthand flexibility there was something false about their performances which reminded me of some of the more dodgy elements of freestyle dancing where young children are dressed up like beauty pageants, covered in fake tan and heavy make-up and told to force a smile throughout their routine.

For me one of the biggest joys of teaching is working with those who haven't done much exercise previously, those who may be overweight or have body confidence issues. I love watching those individuals exceed their own personal expectations, achieving their very first pole sit or invert. These students don't want to compete or necessarily partake in gradings but they love pole and I love teaching them pole.

The other worry about pole dancing becoming a gymnastic discipline is that we will lose our roots, pole dancing did evolve mainly from western (mainly Canadian and US strip clubs) and we have learned much from this exotic dance style. Rather than degrading women this dance style has allowed everyday women to feel more confident and more in control of their bodies. I hope we can continue to allow the different genres of pole dance to evolve allowing each individual, whether male or female, to choose to move their body in their own unique way without facing critiscism. Check out this amazing video from US Champion Pole Dance Michelle Stanek showcasing two very different styles. Both styles are equally beautiful in my humble opinion.  If you like this subject then check out the marvellous post "No funny businesss, Please, we're British" by the gorgeous Miss Glory Pearl.

My final concern for the industry is that if we become too gymnastic we risk becoming very competitive, we also risk going down a road where dancers over-train, over-bend and actually damage their bodies rather than enhancing them. I know this is rather a sweeping statement but I am already seeing the industry move towards this harsh training regime with dangerous diets, the use of steroids and damaging stretching/contortion techniques.

I want to hear your thoughts. What do you love about pole dancing and what do you hate? where do you want to see the industry going? Do you want to see pole in the Olympics? 

Please reply here and, if your comment is genuine and not some spam selling viagra,  then your comment will be posted within 24 hours :)

Stay Healthy

Sam x

Pictures courtesy of Leigh Drinkwater Photography (bottom left),  Ozzie Glover Photography (top right) and 360 Pole dancing (top left)

Saturday, 6 April 2013

A new political party for Plymouth?

For years Plymouth City Council has been run by consecutive Tory and Labour led disasters and without a new party little seems about to change. Unfortunately there is a huge amount of apathy within the voting public and many people either don't vote at all or vote tactically i.e. they vote Conservative to kick out Labour and vice versa.

Unless you have an extremely poor memory then you will no doubt be aware of the years of bad decisions which have left Plymouth as a glorified dumping ground with poor infrastructure and no real opportunity for improvement. Anyway, here is a brief summary of what I believe to be some of the horrendous decisions made by Plymouth City Council over the past few decades:

The building of an incinerator in a heavily populated area using outdated German technology when far better alternatives were available.
The closure of Plymouth Airport and the accompanying wrangling between P.C.C and Sutton Harbour Holdings (there is still reported to be large amount of money that appears unaccounted for).
The construction of the Life Centre, a gigantic monstrousity that cost the people of Plymouth £46.5 million in a time of recession.
The general failure to promote Plymouth as a tourist destination and a general neglect of our amazing waterfront.
Bretonside Bus Station (need I say more).
Failure to promote and protect the legacy of some of Plymouth's great artists Robert Lenkiwicz and Beryl Cooke.
Highways, Highways, Highways - After P.C.C awarded a 25 year contract to Amey we have seen a continuing deterioration in the quality of our roads as well as an apparent war on motorists, The numerous installation of unnecessary traffic lights and signage that bring Plymouth's roads to a standstill despite a lack of traffic (wait for the comgestion charge to be introduced!), Gdynia Way (again need I say more), bus lane camera fines, camera cars, increased parking charges which have a detrimental effect on local businesses, over-selling of residential parking permits, the list just goes on and on and oh did I mention the potholes?
The closure of Welby Residential Unit which was a big mistake in my humble opinion and there is a huge lack of services for adult learning disabilities within the city.
A poor planning approach to the city centre which has resulted in the Mall killing trade in the west end and causing traffic chaos on the main roads coming into our city.
Failure to protect the Old Palace Theatre aka the Dance Academy.
Let's not forget Vivien Pengelly's tax payer funded trip to the South Africa World Cup either.

I could go on but I think you get the general impression and for most Plymouth people they are already more than aware of the problems our city faces.

It seems that PCC, much like national government and large businesses have forgotten about customer service or looking after the people who pay them; we have seen cut after cut to frontline services but no cuts for council leaders or senior executives.

You only have to pick up the Herald newpaper and read the your say pages to realise how unsatisfied the people of Plymouth really are, so what can we do?

In 2010 I took the decision to stand for council, I had no idea what I was doing but I waded in blindly anyway. I did not get many votes but it was nice to understand a little bit more about how the system works and it has helped me draw up some conclusions.

1. Standing as an Independent for a local election on the same day as a national election is not a wise idea, there is simply too much tactical voting going on for any independent to stand a chance.

2. Standing as an Independent is really hard. I did leaflet every single house that I could access but it is seemingly impossible to get your points and views across in 1 leaflet. The few people who did answer their doors were fairly receptive but most people did not want to chat and i don;t blame them, I hate it when strangers knock on my door.

As an Independent I had no help (apart from my lovely Mum) to help me canvas and generally people are just reluctant to vote for an Independent with no previous political history. Add to this the fact that I was bad-mouthed by several  canvassers from one of the main political parties who used, and twisted, the fact that I am a pole dancing instructor to somehow sway people into the belief that I was some kind of demonic lap dancing whore.

Having tried and failed as an Independent I still feel passionately about Plymouth and don't want to see another 10-20 years of failing tory/labour councils who will continue to turn Plymouth into a bin for Britain so I propose another option:

How about a Plymouth Party where local people can be truly represented by local candidates who put the needs of Plymouth residents first and leave aside party politics and EU nonsense. Surely it is a common sense approach, who knows maybe we could even end up with Plymouth as it's own Republic!! OK, so one step at a time.

I have set up a facebook group for those interested and have a separate blog page which I can adapt for this purpose as we get more interest. If you are interested in becoming part of a new non-political party for Plymouth either as a candidate or simply as a supporter just contact me direct or join the facebook group.

Stay Healthy,

Sam x