Wednesday, March 14, 2007

NHS negligence kills baby

Even spinning like a top could not quite cover this one up

A newborn baby became the youngest victim of MRSA in Britain when he died in hospital after contracting the virulent superbug, a coroner ruled yesterday. Luke Day was only 36 hours old when he died, though he may have been saved if medical staff had followed procedures and given him special care, an inquest into his death was told. An attempt by doctors to resuscitate him failed after he was found lifeless in a cot beside his mother on the maternity ward at Ipswich Hospital in February 2005. An internal inquiry revealed that staff had failed to recognise signs that Luke could have been ill up to 16 hours before his death.

Specialists said they could not be sure MRSA was the cause of death, but Peter Dean, the Suffolk coroner, said that on the balance of probabilities Luke had died as a result of contracting it. Staff at the hospital were unable to find the source of the bug, despite carrying out extensive inquiries.

Luke’s mother, Glynis Day, now 19, a kitchen assistant from Woodbridge, Suffolk, attended the hearing with Luke’s father, Kevin Fenton, 26. They criticised the hospital’s failure to detect warning signs. “I think it is disgusting,” Ms Day said. Mr Fenton said that hearing the details of how Luke died “makes me sick”.

Marion Malone, who conducted a postmortem examination at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, which found MRSA in Luke’s lungs, heart and spleen, told the hearing that she believed his death had been caused by septicaemia due to bacterial infection.

The inquest heard how Luke should have been tested for possible infections after staff noticed that his temperature was low, that he had low blood-sugar levels and he appeared “lethargic and slightly floppy”. Tests later revealed that his blood contained MRSA — methicillin-re-sistant staphylococcus aureus — as well as a less dangerous form ofstaphylococcus.

Peter Wilson, a consultant microbiologist at University College Hospital, London, who analysed Luke’s blood samples, said the balance of probability was that Luke’s death was caused by the bacteria. But he added that he could not say for sure if the MRSA strain was responsible or whether death was caused by septicaemia or toxins in the blood caused by the bacteria.

The coroner asked him: “Are you saying that there were signs that should have triggered referral and it would appear these signs were not picked up so Luke therefore did not have the benefit of an infection screen? “Is it fair to say that his chances would have been better had protocol been followed? [That] we don’t know if the outcome would have been different, but [that] Luke would have had a better chance?” Dr Wilson replied: “Yes, that is correct. It all depends on whether the signs that were present should have been spotted.” He added that Luke could have been treated with antibiotics if infection was suspected, which could have saved him by preventing the septicaemia from spreading.

The inquest heard how Luke weighed a healthy 7lb 7oz when born naturally at 6.53am on February 2, 2005. Staff had no concerns about his condition, but then found he was “grunting”, had low glucose levels in his blood and a lower than normal temperature at 2.10am the next day. Jane Gosling, the senior midwife, was later attending to Ms Day when she noticed that Luke was cold. He was immediately transferred for resuscitation but was declared dead 30 minutes later. The internal hospital inquiry report said there were deviations from clinical guidelines and that a paediatrician should have been called to examine Luke because of his low temperature and blood-sugar levels. It added that some of the clinical guidelines were ambiguous, but that there was “no overarching coordination of Luke’s care”.


What a marvellous miracle! -- this baby survived

Healthy Baby Born After Prenatal Screening Falsely Showed he "Died". Baby boy miraculously survived womb-scraping procedure to remove its body

A prenatal screening test given to a UK woman in early pregnancy showed her baby had died, and the next day she underwent a procedure to remove the child's body from the womb. Three weeks later, however, she discovered her baby was alive and healthy, in a miraculous escape from failed technology. Jake Brown was born Feb. 24 at St. John's Hospital in Livingston, healthy and untouched by the trauma of his early development, The Telegraph reported March 7. His mother, Julie Brown, 29, said "The thought of them trying to get rid of a perfectly healthy baby makes me sick to the pit of my stomach, but I've got to move forward now."

The hospital had conducted a scan on Mrs. Brown at five and a half weeks gestation and could not find a heart beat or signs of growth. She was told the child had died and scheduled for a dilation and curettage procedure the next day. Somehow, her baby survived. ""The hospital has explained to me exactly what went wrong (with the diagnosis)," Mrs. Brown said. "The baby's sac hadn't changed size, but the baby had. The woman carrying out the scan didn't notice this and she thought I'd miscarried."

Errors in prenatal testing are far more common than many people realize. While more and more parents are depending on technology to identify potential health problems in their unborn children, many are not aware of the significant inaccuracy rates in prenatal screening. Abortion of the child is most often the result, even though in many cases scans are inconclusive or show only an increased possibility of health problems.

Down's syndrome is one of the most common pre-natal diagnoses to lead to abortion--but studies show screening tests for Down's are inaccurate up to 40 percent of the time. A recent Canadian study found more natural differences between the genetic code of individuals than previous researchers had thought existed, leading to greater difficulty in establishing a "normal" genetic code as a basis for evaluating pre-natal scans. Published in the journal Nature, the report suggested that prenatal screening may incorrectly diagnose genetic differences as "defects".

While the Browns don't intend to pursue legal action against the hospital, the couple said the mistake caused pain and trauma to the whole family. "They booked me in for an operation to remove the baby and we were all devastated,' Mrs. Brown said. "We then had to explain to my children Sarah and Leon that the baby had gone to heaven. My husband and the children were in floods of tears."


UK Tribunal: Christian Judges Must Award Homosexual Couples Adoptive Children or Resign

Yesterday, the Employee Tribunal in Sheffield of South Yorkshire county, Britain informed Andrew McClintock that, despite his religious beliefs, he may not refuse to preside over adoption cases that would place a child in a home with homosexual parents. The tribunal also ruled that McClintock had not suffered any religious discrimination, despite the fact that McClintock was forced to quit his job in order to uphold his Christian conscience.

In his case, McClintock argued that, not only did his orders compromise his Christian beliefs, but they would compel him to act against what he thought to be in the best welfare of the child. He argues that he had no choice but to resign.

The tribunal's ruling says, "If a judge personally has particular views on any subject, he or she must put those views to the back of his or her mind when applying the law of the land impartially."

After the Civil Partnerships Act was passed in 2005, McClintock requested that he be excused from cases involving adoption by homosexual couples because, not only did homosexual adoption contradict his religious beliefs, he thought that placing a child in such a home would be removing them from "one kind of harm only to face another hazard."

As previously reported by LifeSiteNews, McClintock resigned his job in 2005 after he was informed by his managers that he would not be permitted to excuse himself from specific cases. McClintock had served as a magistrate judge in Britain's Sheffield County for 18 years.

McClintock took legal action against the British Department for Constitutional Affairs suing them for religious discrimination. McClintock's attorneys argued that his request to be excused from certain specific cases should be permitted under Regulation 10 of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.

McClintock's attorneys also utilized expert witness testimony in the case which claimed that "there was little research into the effect of same-sex nurture on children's development, and that what had been established was worrying."

After hearing of the tribunal's verdict McClintock said, "More needy children will be fuelling this experiment in social science and suffering what the experts call mother-hunger or father-hunger. This ruling is going to make it harder for many conscientious people - whether they are [Justices of the Peace] in the family court, or otherwise involved with children, or maybe with different matters of conscience.

He continued, "Anyone who holds seriously to the traditional morals and family values of Jews, Christians or Muslims will think twice before taking on such a job."

A spokesman for the gay rights group Stonewall was quoted in a BBC article commenting on the recent ruling said, "We are not surprised at the outcome and the tribunal's decision made it clear that people in public service cannot pick and choose which laws they comply with. While not disrespecting anyone's private religious views, all public figures have to work within the legislation and in these cases in the best interests of the children involved."

Andrea Williams of the Lawyers Christian Fellowship, on the other hand, condemned the ruling saying, "This case is a clear picture of how Christian faith is becoming privatized in society. It is yet another example of the repression of Christian conscience and signals the prevalence of a secular 'new morality' and the erosion of Christian values at the expense of our children's welfare."

Britain is rife with similar controversy as the British government prepares to introduce new guidelines and legislation to the already present Sexual Orientation Regulations of 2003. According to the website Christian Concern For Our Nation the new legislation, "will make it illegal for providers of goods, services, facilities, premises, education or public functions to discriminate against the recipients on the grounds of their sexual orientation i.e. whether they are homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual.

Among other things, the legislation would make it mandatory for schools to teach homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality. Private venues would not be allowed to refuse their services to groups promoting homosexuality. Adoption agencies, regardless of religious affiliation, would be mandated to facilitate homosexual adoption.

Archbishop Nichols of Birmingham delivered a harsh criticism of governmental entities in a recent sermon, "It is simply unacceptable to suggest that the resources of faith communities, whether in schools, adoption agencies, welfare programmes, halls and shelters can work in co-operation with public authorities only if the faith communities accept not simply a legal framework but also the moral standards at present being touted by the Government." Nichols has threatened that all Catholic adoption agencies will close down if the legislation is approved.


While Critics Blame Catholic Church for AIDS Deaths Stats Show Just the Opposite

Church's accusers have not done the homework or are deliberately misreporting the facts

The Catholic Church is killing "millions" because of its teaching on chastity and fidelity in marriage and needs to change its "policy" on banning condoms in the fight against HIV/AIDS, according to a popular and apparently perpetual theme in mainstream journalism.

Commentators, especially from Britain, regularly pronounce that the late Pope John Paul II, and his successor Benedict XVI, are personally responsible for the deaths of millions of people because of their opposition to contraception, particularly condoms.

The Guardian's Polly Toynbee, on the occasion of the death of John Paul II, called the Vatican, "a modern, potent force for cruelty and hypocrisy." Toynbee said with the "ban on condoms the church has caused the death of millions of Catholics and others in areas dominated by Catholic missionaries, in Africa and right across the world. In countries where 50% are infected, millions of very young Aids orphans are today's immediate victims of the curia."

Catholic readers of the mainstream press are familiar with the regular appearance of articles speculating on whether the Pope will "lift the ban" or approve the use of condoms to stop AIDS.

Last week the Times' religion correspondent, Ruth Gledhill, wrote on her weblog that she and Times colleague Richard Owen in Rome, were "inundated" with emails, calls "and other tips" wondering if the Pope intended to lift the "ban" on condoms in his Ash Wednesday homily that afternoon.

The rumour was entirely false, she said, but it was followed the next day with a letter speculating that Pope Benedict would lift the ban on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the publication of Donum Vitae, a document that reiterated the Catholic teaching on the sinfulness of artificial contraception, including barrier methods.

Gledhill quoted John Coventry of the aid organization, ActionAid, that promotes condom use for AIDS prevention. Translating Catholic teaching on chastity and fidelity in marriage as "anti-condom ideology" Coventry said it "has got in the way of pragmatic approaches to preventing the spread of the disease."

"For the Pope to relax Catholic attitudes to condoms would send a clear signal that it is not acceptable to prevent access to potentially life saving materials - in this case condoms - on grounds of religious belief," Coventry said.

Coventry's comments were mild compared to Toynbee in 2005 when she compared John Paul II to Vladimir Lenin: "they both put extreme ideology before human life and happiness, at unimaginable human cost."

Toynbee wrote, "Disgracefully, the European rich quietly ignore the church's outlandish teachings on contraception without rebelling on behalf of the helpless third-world poor who die for their misplaced faith. Those 'civilised' Catholics have as much blood on their hands as the Vatican they support."

A short examination, however, of the HIV/AIDS rates of those African countries that have a large Catholic population shows that the Church's accusers have not done the homework or are deliberately misreporting the facts. The available statistics show that countries with a large Catholic percentage population, show significantly lower rates of HIV/AIDS infections than countries with mostly non-Catholic populations.

2003 statistics from the World Factbook of the US Central Intelligence Agency, shows Burundi at 62% Catholic with 6% AIDS infection rate. Angola's population is 38% Roman Catholic and has 3.9% AIDS rate. Ghana is 63% Christian, with in some regions as much as 33% Catholic and has 3.1% AIDS rate. Nigeria, divided almost evenly between the strongly Muslim north and Christian and "animist" south, has 5.4% AIDS rate.

Strongly Christian Uganda continues to frustrate condom-pushing NGO's by maintaining its abstinence and fidelity AIDS prevention programs and one of the lowest rates of AIDS in Africa, at 4.1%. Uganda's population is listed by the CIA Factbook as 33% Roman Catholic and 33% Protestant.

Of African countries with low Catholic populations, Botswana is typical with 37.3% AIDS, one of the highest in Africa, and 5% of the total population Catholic. In 2003, Swaziland was shown to have a 38.8% AIDS infection rate and only 20% Catholic population.



With a leadership change and an election on the horizon, British politics are getting frenetic -- with the environment a major taliking point. Below are three skeptical comments on the latest episodes. The first is from a Leftist newspaper, the second from a conservative newspaper and the third is from a regional newspaper:

It's just politics

Environmental expert PHILIP STOTT, Professor of Biogeography at the University of London, explains why we shouldn't panic - and why he believes global warming is just another political bandwagon

Every ambitious politician pays lip service to the daft idea that we can control climate, using "global warming" for their own political ends, from forcing you to wear hemp underpants to establishing a new generation of nuclear reactors. But look beyond the rising rhetoric ... what climate are these politicians hoping to produce? The biting cold of 1947, when the sea froze over? They have abandoned reason.

More worryingly, elitist green agendas, like carbon taxes and road pricing, have terrible repercussions for the poor.

Climate is chaos. It is the most complex system, driven by volcanoes, the oceans, clouds, a wobbly Earth, a pulsing sun, and cosmic rays from exploding stars. Dealing with one factor at the margins - human emissions of carbon dioxide - is utterly pointless. Climate is change. It has flipped between hot and cold, dry and wet for 4.5 billion years.

Unfortunately, our politicians have forgotten that a mammoth Ice Age ended only 12,000 years ago; that Medieval England was a balmy vineyard; that the Little Ice Age blasted Europe from the 14th Century onwards, producing the violent winds that sank the Spanish Armada. Samuel Johnson tells us of an Astronomer who claims that he can control climate: "...the sun has listened to my dictates, and passed from tropic to tropic by my direction ..." Unfortunately, the Astronomer was mad. And so are we if we give such nonsense credence.

Nobody, not even Mr Bush and Mr Blair, can fine tune climate to a degree Celsius. Yet, what about the future? The latest summary from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a possible rise in temperature of between 1.1 to 6.4 degC. Other groups say we shall enter a cooling phase, up to minus-two degC in 2012. That's a range of eight degrees - what's that supposed to tell us?

We should focus instead on bringing four billion people out of poverty, providing them with clean water and modern sources of energy. The richer one is, the better one can cope with change. Our "global warming" political agenda is dangerously misguided.


Green lobby must not stifle debate

The Tories are on about airfares yet again. This week, David Cameron and Gordon Brown will conduct a Dutch auction in how much to penalise you for environmental crimes.

There is something oddly familiar about all this. Perhaps I am sceptical about the climate change campaign because its exponents remind me so much of the people I knew years ago on the Marxist Left: repressive, self-righteous, and inherently totalitarian. Because of what they see as the indubitable rightness, and the absolute moral transcendence, of their cause, they can justify demonising anyone who criticises or dissents from it. Back then, the comrades used to shame those of us who blanched at their ideological ruthlessness with the epithet "wishy-washy liberal": the exploitation of the working classes was the all-encompassing evil that had to be fought with whatever weapon it took.

These days you are castigated for worrying about self-indulgent luxuries such as free speech and open debate when we are all about to fry - or drown, depending on where you happen to be on the stricken planet when the apocalypse arrives. I am not a scientist. I do not have the expertise or the qualifications to adjudicate on the conflicting arguments on offer in this issue. But one thing that is quite clear to me is that there are different authoritative views on the data, and on the extrapolations that are being made from the data, on global warming - particularly on the question of whether such warming as has been identified is caused by human activity.

Before I became a journalist, I was an academic and one of the things most rigorously impressed upon me during my years in academia was that intellectual progress can only come through argument and self-criticism. It is quite antithetical to scholarly endeavour, not to say the spirit of Western enlightenment, for researchers to seek to close down opposition to a theory or a thesis.

But greenery is no longer scholarship: it is politics. The discussion has been taken over by politically driven forces with little interest in the value of free intellectual enquiry. Some of the dissident voices on climate change were rounded up for last week's polemical Channel 4 documentary made by Martin Durkin, The Great Global Warming Swindle (repeated tonight on the digital channel More4).

Whether or not you were persuaded by their articulate doubts, you could not help being struck by the McCarthyite persecution (up to and including death threats) which their non-conformist opinions had attracted. Scientists with impeccable credentials, emeritus professors and acknowledged experts in the field being hounded and professionally discredited for their reservations about an established orthodoxy: not a pretty sight. Hundreds of years after Galileo, we are apparently still prepared to suppress inconvenient intellectual opposition once political interests have become entrenched.

Among those who attempted to prevent the film being shown at all was the Liberal Democrat spokesman on the environment, Chris Huhne, who, without having seen the programme, wrote to Channel 4 executives advising them in the gravest terms to reconsider their decision to broadcast it.

One respect in which the green lobby is significantly unlike the Trotskyist movement of my youth is that it seems not to give a stuff about the poor. Green taxes are regressive: they hit the lower paid, (who can actually be forced to cut back on their air travel and their heating) much harder than the affluent, who can simply absorb the extra costs and carry on living and flying as they always have. Mr Cameron and Mr Brown both profess themselves committed to the needs of families. Who would be hit harder by increases in the cost of home heating fuel and the use of water meters: young parents who bath their children every night and use their washing machine every day, or rich singles who eat out every night and take their laundry to the dry cleaners?

And, of course, the same logic applies to big business - which can easily absorb the added cost of green regulations - as opposed to small businesses, which cannot. Big corporations and retailing chains win all round: they can get political credit for going green while happily watching their small competitors driven out of business by the price of meeting environmental rules.

There is big money to be made now out of climate change, and not just by huge supermarket chains and manufacturers cashing in on the government grants and the contracting market which will be produced by eliminating smaller suppliers. Clever entrepreneurs have seen an opening: "carbon offsetting" is a completely unregulated growth industry that offers to take your money in return for cancelling out your contribution to global warming, by all sorts of dubious means such as planting forests, which may or may not survive. Rather like the medieval papacy selling indulgences, the offset people give absolution to the better-off in return for cash.

But the lower-paid in Europe will be less hard hit in the green scenario than the wretchedly poor of the developing world. One of the disturbing points in the Durkin documentary was that some of the most desperately backward areas of sub-Saharan Africa are being told that they must not exploit their oil reserves to create electricity because more use of fossil fuel would damage the planet. Without using oil to electrify the countryside, these African nations will be effectively prevented from bringing the benefits of modern life - safe water supplies, irrigation and lighting - to the mass of their peoples within a generation.

Well, the green apologists say, even if our computer models are flawed, and our extrapolations prove unsound, isn't it better to "clean up the planet" anyway? Why not take the steps to reduce carbon emissions and pay the hard price just in case it is all true? I don't know about you, but before I can feel comfortable asking people in emerging economies such as India to forgo the benefits of economic growth and mass prosperity, before I can sentence some of the poorest people in the world to living indefinitely without modern technology, before I am even prepared to ask the lower-paid of this country to give up the improvements in their quality of life to which they have only just become accustomed - I want to hear any and every argument that is to be had about this theory.

And to the comrades in the green movement, I would say this: before you slam the lid on debate, and put your invasive restrictions into place to deny people freedoms and comforts that have transformed their condition, you had better be damned sure that you are right.


Frederick Forsyth says Britain in the grip of climate hysteria

AUTHOR Frederick Forsyth has claimed we are becoming hysterical about climate change - a phenomenon he believes could be purely natural. Mr Forsyth, who lives on a farm in East End Green, near Hertingfordbury, found himself in a minority as he spoke on BBC1's Question Time last Thursday night. David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, told the programme: "Just last Friday, we had 2,500 scientists from around the world saying this is much more urgent that politicians have recognised. "I'm 41. This is an issue for my lifetime, not just an issue for my grandchildren's lifetime."

But Mr Forsyth, the author of best-selling novels like The Odessa File and The Fourth Protocol, countered: "I'm very sceptical about some of the excesses that I regard the Milibands of this world are leading towards. When you think about it, it's all been incredibly rapid - a year, a year and a half. And it's not a concern: it's an obsession. It's something very close to hysteria.

"But there are a lot of questions about the whole business of climatology that I cannot secure answers to. Most scientists/climatologists admit that 90 per cent of the questions they pose to themselves they cannot answer: too many variables, too many unknowns. "Why, for example, could the Romans in 200AD grow grapes on Hadrian's Wall? "Is it true that the climate of the planet changes roughly every 500 years, warming and cooling, warming and cooling. If it is true, what percentage is down to man and what percentage is down to nature?"

Simon Hughes, the president of the Liberal Democrats, responded: "Frederick writes stories and I think this is a story that is valid historically but I prefer David's evidence-based answer." He called for an end to planes flying "half-empty", called on the Government to stop airport expansion and for incentives to encourage children to cycle to school.

Tory MP Ken Clarke, a former Chancellor, said: "I think Freddie is right in saying the temperature is back to what it was in the time of the Romans." But he felt it was "overwhelmingly probable" that human activity was contributing to global warming.


Do cities make us sick?

By Prof. James Woudhuysen

Next Wednesday's spiked seminar `Building for the Future: Housing Need and Sustainability', which I am speaking at, comes at a useful moment. To be held at the London headquarters of the Royal Institute of British Architects, it comes in the wake of the publication of the twenty-sixth report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP). Titled The Urban Environment, the report came out on 6 March (1). Weighing in at more than 200 pages, it is a remarkable document. It is the first official suggestion, in Britain, that cities, and especially new housebuilding in the South East of England, represent health problems. This medicalisation of cities and housing marks a new low in today's suspicion of mankind's works, and indeed of mankind.

After an opening paragraph eulogising cities as synonymous with civilsation, the tone swiftly changes. We learn in the third paragraph that cities can provide people with `a wide range of services with low personal transport requirements'. Ah, so cities are good because they obviate the human need to move around. We also learn that cities `have the potential to release land for nature': cities - especially `compact' cities - are apparently good because they allow us to preserve the 98 per cent of the world's land surface that is un-urbanised (p2). In other words, to the extent that cities should be cheered, it is only because they get people `off the land' and leave it for trees and plants and wildlife.

Next, and importantly, an obscure 1973 paper by one Professor Horst Rittel is cited to suggest that UK urban environmental management presents `a classic case' of a `wicked problem'. Defects in urban health - and of course `wellbeing' - cannot be solved definitively, we are told, `but rather must be managed for better or worse'. Indeed, `urban environmental issues owe much of their wickedness to the nature of towns and cities as complex systems' (p5).

Complex they certainly are. In an early diagram (p7), containing no fewer than 33 arrows of causality, increased car ownership and use - familiar villains - are held responsible for flash flooding, property damage, loss of shade, and dodgy impacts on rivers, flora and fauna. But the Royal Commission's main concern is that cities `still appear to be missing from the sustainability agenda' (p10).

Perhaps the Commission's chairman, Professor Sir John Lawton, should get out a bit more. When a biologist at the University of York, it's true, his investigation of the insect fauna of bracken on Skipwith Common, near Selby, stood `as a model of sustained and intensive ecological research' (2). But if this complete non-specialist in urban matters had bothered to read the website of Ruth Kelly's Department of Communities and Local Government, he would find that the words `cities' and `housing' are rarely written nowadays in Whitehall without the adjective `sustainable' in front of each.

Indeed, the RCEP itself indulges in the same kind of monotony. Early on, it identified four `priority themes', these being `sustainable urban transport; sustainable urban management (Local Agenda 21, EMAS, indicators); sustainable urban construction (resource and energy efficiency, demolition waste, design issues); and sustainable urban design (land use-regeneration, brownfield sites, urban sprawl, land use densities)' (3).

I will leave it to the reader to find out more about Local Agenda 21 (a derivative of Agenda 21, the UN's Rio Declaration on Environment and Development) and EMAS (the EU's Eco-Management and Audit Scheme). But this much is clear: for the Commission, the UK's progress towards sustainability is hindered by `the current drive to create new urban areas', and in particular by proposals to build 3.3million new homes in England by 2016 (p15). Rough translation: the move towards being more green is hampered by plans to build more homes in order to house all those pesky people. This gives a telling insight into the priorities of the environmentally-minded.

Again, perhaps Commission members should listen less to Greenpeace, Ken Livingstone's deputy Nicky Gavron, the deep green environmentalist Herbert Girardet or London School of Economics professor Anne Power, who - with the architect Richard Rogers - believes that all new housing in Britain must be built to London densities. Perhaps, instead, they should take more seriously the affordability of UK housing, and the demographic trends that make it so essential that the UK builds more homes. The Commission, however, has not `sought to unpick the rationale behind' such issues, `beyond noting that the predict-and-provide approach has been found wanting in other areas of policy' (p27).

Commission worries

So. Predict a need for more housing, but do not provide for it. Why? Because new housing `is difficult to reconcile with the idea of respecting environmental limits' (p27). Forget about young people - let them live with their parents and grandparents. Rather, we should worry about air quality, despite the fact that, in the case of particulates, there was until 2000 a steady reduction in concentrations in UK cities (succeeded by circumstances in which `concentrations have at best plateaued') (p37). We should worry not so much about the 27,500 additional deaths in the UK caused by cold in 2005, but rather about hotter summers, the `urban heat island effect' and the 2,000 people who supposedly died of heat-related causes in 2003 (p41).

Our old friend, sick building syndrome, gets an outing, too. We are told that SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and avian flu `may pose a particular threat to city dwellers', and that there is strong evidence that, `in some circumstances', the urban environment `can lead to impaired mental health' (p44, mentioned 47 times), as well as that well-known scourge, obesity (p46). Indeed, in a lurid diagram on `the pathways that can link residential environments to cardiovascular risk', it is seriously proposed that cities lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, inflammation, heart rate variability and more besides (p49). All this despite the fact that the report concedes that `the nature of the relationship between health and place is poorly understood. It is difficult to establish whether and how the urban environment causes unfavourable health outcomes.' (p33)

Is there no malady for which cities are not culpable? And if cities are to blame for so much, why is life expectancy rising in the way that it is? The influx of millions and millions of people into cities over the past century and more has gone hand-in-hand with improvements in quality and longevity of life.

However, the Royal Commission does not bother to ask itself difficult questions about the benefits of city life. It is so fearful of the possibility of 3.3million homes being built that it has not stopped to ask whether possibility will lead to actuality, and whether the `proposals' for new homes will result in new homes. Take the Thames Gateway housing development in East London. According to Stan Hornagold, senior partner at management consultants Hornagold & Hills, it will `require building a city the size of Leeds in the most populated part of the country'. But after surveying about 400 firms, local authorities and government officials connected with the Gateway, Hornagold found that almost nothing has actually been done over the past 12 months. About the `additional Leeds' factor, Hornagold stated: `We don't get any sense that is being planned for in some government departments.' (4)

The energy question

Few houses are being built. But those that the Royal Commission imagines are being built will apparently wreck our lives. The Commission completely underplays, too, the fact that, under Ruth Kelly's December 2006 Code for Sustainable Homes: A Step-Change in Sustainable Home Building Practice (two mentions of `sustainable' just in the title!), new houses will be subject to stringent rules on carbon emissions in a way that old houses will not. (5)

There is more. The likely meaning of the DCLG's enormously complex Code is that each new home should be in `balance', partly through supplying zero carbon (ZC) energy to the National Grid … la the David Cameron/B&Q rooftop windmill, partly from drawing Grid energy that is itself ZC. Moreover, some environmentalist zealots will say that ZC is not enough; that we need to generate more Grid-exportable ZC energy from the home than is consumed by it. Some will also argue that ZC energy generated on top of 100 kWh/m2 a year should be used to pay off embodied energy in construction, periodic upgrade, and eventual demolition, within the life of structures that could, perhaps, have lifetimes of just 60 years (6). Indeed, the DCLG is already thinking that it may want to provide some way of accounting for embodied energy. `A probable future development regarding the environmental impact of materials', it says, `is to reward resource efficiency, as well as the use of resources that are more sustainable, by developing "Ecopoints per m2" as a measure for this item' (7).

All the discussion on housing today is not about how many, or how large, but about the need for `zero carbon' homes. Not content with that, however, the Royal Commission wants the Code extended to all new buildings, not just residential ones (p100).

Altogether, it seems, houses are the bad guys. Indeed, if the political economy of UK land and the UK planning system - in its sixtieth year in 2007 - has acted to prevent new build in the past, it seems that official strictures around energy, and the Royal Commission's strictures on health, will join the land as barriers to housebuilding in the future. What is the solution, then? To leave people homeless? To force us all to live in overcrowded accommodation?

The Commission's insouciance is breathtaking. Might multiple generations of a family living together in a cramped setting just lead to mental health problems? Isn't it a problem, as the report notes, that `at current rates of turnover an average dwelling in the UK would have a lifetime of around 1,000 years' (p85)? And why refer to Bill Dunster's tawdry BedZED zero-energy development in East London, and the speculative refurbishments of hip property developers Urban Splash in Manchester and Birmingham? (pp99, 101) These examples of greenness are endlessly repeated in the construction trade. If they're so successful, why are there not more of them?

Like the DCLG, the Commission is exercised by the energy embodied in homes, not just that involved in operating them. But once again it ties itself in knots, trying to prevent new construction. After 60 years, it observes, `the total cumulative energy of the new-build home is significantly less than the total energy consumed in running the existing home. Therefore, the embodied energy in dwellings is no reason not to demolish.' (p104)

That sounds rational. But the report goes on to say, in the same sentence: `. but there may be other reasons why demolition is not appropriate, including social, community or heritage reasons.' (p104) So even if new homes are more energy efficient than old ones, we probably shouldn't have any.

It is impossible to read the next 100 pages of this report without laughing or crying. It provides a striking snapshot of officialdom's reluctance to prioritise people's housing needs, and our comfort, and to build the homes that young people, families, immigrants and everybody else requires. Next Wednesday's debate should allow us to interrogate these issues further, and hopefully to put forward an alternative.


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