Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Bangkok goes a bridge too far - or better UK and USA support?

Khun Sirinya Wattanasukchai in her article “Skywalk A Bridge too Far” as always makes some interesting points on Future Bangkok's and its bridges and infrastructure with four major projects cancelled.

Firstly, she cites problems around the Skybridge as potentially pointless overbuild over the Chaopraya - and rightly cites the problems around the Millennium Bridge or Wobbly Bridge over the Thames. The Wobbly Bridge not unreasonably linked the new Tate Modern arts gallery to St Paul's Cathedral.

But there was much consternation over the noticeable wobble that was eventually ironed out.

While the plans for the new Garden Bridge, from the era of Boris Johnson as London mayor are a much larger project and mired in tax-bloat and expenses:

Fortunately it's likely to be cancelled by both the new London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Margaret Hodge MP the very dynamic scourge of tax-waste as detailed in her new book Called to Account often urging investments in cyberwar protection rather than the vanity of aircraft carriers or submarines as well as too-prevalent UK corruption with UK tax havens etc:

It’s on my New Year reading list, with Royal Rebel by Princess Soma of Cambodia, perhaps USA’s most dynamic royal since George III:

Secondly the cancellation of the bricklaying machine seems a little unusual in the age of Robotics and Internet of Things. Certainly it's a concern for bricklayers with even Winston Churchill being a fan of the art of bricklaying with his work on renovating Chartwell House here in Kent.

Thirdly, the City Hall TV channel – and a subscription too(!)- is redolent of the low views for Kent TV a similar Government channel here in the Garden of England. I was asked to be on the Board but refused at the lack of viability of the project before it was closed.

Surely with the Paramount theme park and EKFOS East Kent Film Office and Studio, Kent should be more active in media?

And with closer cooperation with Thailand eg the Teacher TV channel or MOOC Open University courses and FTA exchanges with BBC and Thai channels? How can UK citizens learn more about Thailand, whether beaches or temples, without such activity? Chinese and Russian and French TV is broadcast in UK why not 2 or 3 Thai channels and together Sports Diplomacy links with football channels?

Fourthly, the riverfront improvements may not be much of an improvement in removing some of the buzz and style of Bangkok's riverfront. The renovation of Covent Garden, London's Thonglor or Asiatique if you will, is certainly something of an example in regeneration by turning London’s tatty fruit and veg market into rather swish shops and nightlife.

A glimpse of just how tatty and run-down the area was, compared to now, can be seen in Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy movie. But it's always a balancing act for such regeneration in preventing a rather antiseptic vibe or mere tourist trap.

This week for example the New European newspaper details the bridge towns of Arnhem and Nijmegen, as Dutch Limes forts up for UNESCO World Heritage status, as Liberation Route Europe not only launches its Polish activity, but also its work on the USA contribution to liberating Europe in WW2.

For the cultural links between nations are even stronger than concrete links.

In my politics campaign here in Kent for KCC Leader I'm urging financial reforms of its $3BN budget with cancelling Tobacco and Fossil Fuel investments, and reinstatement of the previous $20M aid to Cambodia, along with Project SUNrice (UN FAO SUN: Scaling Up Nutrition) activity on stimulating the Thai and Khmer rice industries and reducing malnutrition.

A walk around my local Thai supermarket has pallets of Hom Mali and Royal Umbrella rice - with a reduction in Thai restaurants from c.15,000 to c.12,000, and Project Chula to beef up the number of Thai university students in UK from c.8,000 to c.20,000, similar to Malaysia, the demand will certainly be there for Asian foods in UK even without ASEANRail speeding rice through to the hungry mouths of India or Africa or China.

Project Mahidol can build pharma links between Thai and Kent universities and pharma companies and Pfizer/Discovery Park - what was the largest USA investment in Europe. And King Chulalongkorn of course with his family studying in UK. The dangers of Pandemics such as bird flu or AMR require massive investment and effort for everybody's health and the new UK Industrial Strategy.

AMR is a very real danger beyond the Project Fear silliness of Brexit - even the Queen stumped as to what exactly the UK is doing with Brexit before no doubt it is cancelled.

Project True is the umbrella project to focus on the digital and mobile economy as well as Meiji and Benelux and ASEAN companies such as Panasonic or Philips innovations on a DNA/cancer bathroom mirror and smartphone satellites.

While innovative Thailand agri-programmes such as passionfruit for rubber or Superfoods have begun:

Such green programmes raise the wider issue of land use and Digital Farms - how much Thai land should be given over to the rice crop specifically (and the various permutations of rice that are unknown in UK or EU) and to other crops, or for building?

And Project BenTre part of the civil society stimulus programme for links between Kent and ASEAN.

Here in Kent with 90% of the fruit orchards lost to roads and housebuilding etc, yet Kent is still producing over 60% of the UK apple market and easily with the capacity for more though its agricultural advances. With diseases of affluence such as obesity and diabetes and HFSS foods (High Fat Sugar and Salt), UK is lagging far behind Canada and Japan with their 10 a day health programmes.

And the UK is only now amplifying its National Citizenship volunteer programme similar to the US Peace Corps work.

The UK's 5 a day programme (none in Thailand?) is a factor of persuading the public to eat some (or any) fruit rather than the required healthy amount. The Johnny Appleseed programme - along with Superfoods such as passionfruit - should ensure both healthy forests and healthy children in the future:

And if Bangkok and Kent may be mired in the trials and tribulations of bridges and tarmac or appleseeds and peace corps, then the US Embassy in Phnom Penh has turned up the volume on the lilting refrains of Battambang and 1960's Cambodian rock music:

It's an astonishing feat of music and film research and archive work echoing across the Pacific from Battambang to Bethesda, that's bound to gain a standing ovation and awards at the various film festivals, and flowing along with hot and authentic slices of Americana on the roster such as:

It's not The Beatles or even Great British Xmas Music such as Slade, the mellow vibes of Canterbury Cathedral choir, or even Morlam or Kundrum, but it's well worth listening to, cutting a rug on the dancefloor, or seeing at a cinema near you.

From Kent to Thailand and Cambodia and California have a very Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year and here’s to more bridges between UK and Asia and USA.

Time for Change


* Project Mahidol: pandemics and pharma
* Project SUNrice: rice and malnutrition
* Project Johnny Appleseed: agricultural activity ie reforestation, apples, DigiFarm and Superfoods
* Project BenTre: civil society activity ie National Citizen Scheme, women and girls equality
* Project True: digital and mobile economy

Friday, 16 December 2016

Bridge of Dreams for UK and Philippines?

The interesting article by Bobit S. Avila in The Philippines Star struck a chord with me, and it coming hard on the heels of a Great British View article on UK-Philippines activity by the UK’s dynamic Ambassador Asif Ahmad.

A bridge between Cebu and Bohol could surely kick into a higher gear the tourism industries in those islands, rather than Philippines relying on the same old faces of Boracay and Bataan?

The Chocolate Hills a tasty treat along with the taisirs that could extend Ceboom’s growth.

But wouldn't it form the structural support for wider UK-Pinoy cooperation on infrastructure? San Juanico is already leading the way across ASEAN for megaprojects.
7,107 islands shouldn't mean Bridges to Nowhere everywhere across the Philippines, certainly we've reached peak cement in the age of Climate Change, but UK and Philippines working together could leverage AIIB and ADB funding for further vital projects such as hispeed rail to knit together the islands and towns of the Philippines.

And that certainly should help loosen the traffic jams of Metro Manila.

My Meiji Kent campaign to “Stop the Pollution. Stop the Corruption. Stop the Construction” for Kent KCC leader in 2017 and MP in 2020 is focused on expanding trade and cultural links in ASEAN.

I'm a keen follower of the Red Cross Philippines - here in East Kent I'm urging Ramsgate as the UK's first Official Red Cross Town with DEC campaigns, First Aid training in schools, paramedic police etc - to help coordinate support and activity needed from Haiyan. And Resilience preparations for the next ASEAN disasters that happen almost like clockwork and can be relegated for the latest crisis such as Yemen.

And certainly greater Met Office cooperation with weather satellites etc could help limit such damaging events - the BBC's Rico Hizon reporting from a ruined building during Haiyan providing eloquent testimony to the dangers facing the islands of Philippines.

With 60% of Climate Change disasters in Asia-Pacific (and 60% of global casualties) the need is certainly there with typhoons and tsunamis, landslides, floods and earthquakes and volcanos reaping a bitter harvest with Philippines now a net importer of rice, after the technological great leap forward of Banaue's rice terraces.

And Climate Change is providing a visible recent reminder of its impact with five Solomon Islands disappearing below the waves in recent months.

While I don't subscribe to the dangerous idea of Philippines nurses and doctors propping up the UK NHS at the expense of the Philippines, there are 9% of NHS medical posts vacant, and there is broader potential as with CCU University here in Kent supporting DaNang University in Vietnam. The latter is the largest UK education investment in Asia.

And shouldn't the Pinoy nurses in the NHS be expanded not exploited, with say a specific 2 year training programme with Philippines, before returning home and cementing that learning into the healthcare systems of Bohol or Bicol?

Any injured Brits whether in Manchester or Manila could appreciate such skills, or closer Pandemic prevention programmes such as the Stanford swab metro activity in New York.

It's an outrageous failure of the NHS that it lacks formal exchange programmes with countries in the Commonwealth, or work such as Operation Smile for cleft palate surgery in ASEAN, as well as nations such as Philippines who support the smooth-running of the service.

The 55,000 NHS workers, out of the 1.2M staff in the UK’s largest employer, aren't the only ones threatened with uncertainty from the Brexit silliness. That daughter of the Philippines and UK, Myleene Klass has spoken movingly for BBCTV of her mum's work in the Norfolk NHS recently.

In Kent, the latest breast cancer treatments, cyberknife keyhole surgery and TB and AMR research at Discovery Park – one of the latest pharma science parks in UK and Europe - are being developed. Why shouldn't Philippines develop common ground with UK on those and other projects? It may be more fun in the Philippines but it wouldn’t it be even more fun working with UK for a healthier and wealthier population?

And with the Magellan Anniversaries from 2019-21 wouldn't UK and Philippines cooperation be pushing against an open church door? Archbishop of Dover, Trevor Willmott gave up part of his Easter message to Anglicans this year to call for greater cooperation with Buddhism and Canterbury Cathedral, the Baclayon of East Kent if you will.

And isn’t Xmas ideal for that hand of friendship from the Church of England to extend across the water to the Catholic churches of Philippines beyond 2021?

Surely every support is needed not just on bridges of dreams but preventing a sea of heartbreak in the South China Sea given the weaponisation of all the Spratlys Islands (named by UK in the distant past) now – Chinese bombers just a few miles from Puerto Princesa and Manila, an repeated Russian overflights of Guam , and the North Sea.

The schools and universities of Bohol need no lessons in helping the next generation improve their English or STEM work, or protect against TB and HIV. And UK could learn much from the Philippines’ momentum in developing the UNSDG30 goals - the UK still with no formal public sector programmes.

And the Philippines schoolkids of tomorrow could even lose their American English accent and take up Shakespeare rather than Big Macs with the help of UK Education and the British Council cultural work? Already in advance of the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN next year, the UK has stepped forward and tripled ASEAN Chevening scholarships in ASEAN and Philippines.

And as with the UK's 24-7 Economy programmes with Moneypenny call centres in NZ, shouldn't the Philippines Digital Economy fast forward faster with UK as well as USA input?

Surely these cultural and economic points are no bridge of dreams, just stepping stones to a greater 21st century for UK and Philippines.

Tim Garbutt is director of Sincerity Advertising and PR, Founder of Surin School Charity building schools in ASEAN: the first school built in Thailand and standing for East Kent MP in 2020 for better links with ASEAN.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Thailand's and East Kent's fun of the fair - and pick of the organic crop

What an interesting time Khun Anchalee Kongrut must have had at the Kasesart Fair in her “Organic Life” article for the Bangkok Post:

The range of flowers and fruit and vegetables sound a feast for the senses along with the Courageous Bangkok and Lemon Tree programmes. And from my experience, Kasetsart hides its light under a bushel as not just one of the leading agricultural universities but a very dynamic hub for international students.

If the range of orchids is extensive then it's only outclassed by the numerous and involving links with universities in ASEAN and Taiwan and Japan – and the importance orchids – to Kent featuring in 007’s Moonraker, as well as Thailand - featuring in today’s Independent newspaper although the article isn’t online as yet it’s by one of the world’s experts and part of an ecosystem of such features:

In my Kent politics role I hope those international links will be deepened and hopefully Kasetsart will link in with the work of Hadlow College here in East Kent, affiliated to Imperial College in London, and one of only half a dozen specialist agricultural colleges in UK.

And why not too deeper links with Danang Univeristy in Vietnam the largest UK educational investment in ASEAN?

Kent’s universities are already pulling on their wellington boots and striding out across the fields with CCU University in Canterbury working with DaNang on nursing courses and Kent University linking in with Hiroshima and Tokyo universities.

Kasesart or Mahidol could well be the first Thai universities linked in to Meiji Kent. Why should Chula or Thammasat always get first pick of the crop?

It's interesting the point Khun Anchalee makes in not just repurposing her chemical spray container and hose as a supersoaker for Songkran, but the growth of organic food in Thailand. Clearly only 1% organic is a massive opportunity for Thailand’s farmers: UK organic sales are a little higher but dwarfed by USA at 5%$ and Denmark nearly 8%:

Here in UK organic food has moved from specialist shops - and the socks and sandals types - to the mainstream supermarkets such as Tesco (and Tesco Lotus in Thailand). As well as more broadly-based organic food shops such as Planet Organic and farmers markets and popup markets.

As with the acres of plastic greenhouses in Almeria glinting in the sun and maximising every possible yield of food there is a certain limit to the Green revolution of previous years. East Kent’s mega-greenhouse s of Holland’s Thanet Earth brand is one route but it’s interesting that one of the best Xmas ads in UK at the moment is Lidl’s emphasis on free-range turkeys and apples:

It’s all the more unusual as Lidl was one of the Continental brands notoriously focused on discounting to the exclusion of any other brand promises but now actively waving the flag for organic and animal welfare – and the consumer urge driving that.

In a previous article Khun Anchalee mentioned the attention Thailand pays to soil health and the recent UN Year of the Soil which detailed the real nitty-gritty of potentially only a maximum 6 more harvests from topsoil.

Relevant to for Kent’s preservation of seedbanks and trees beyond pollution scandals such as Thor mercury in Margate, Kent’s Klity Creek, Cato Ridge and Flint Michigan rolled into one:

While one benefit of warmer summers and Climate Change is the return of champagne and sparkling wine to Kent, nestling next to the acres of hopfields, micropubs and barrels of Kentish - and Belgian - ale.

Surely in maximising crop yield, but with fewer if any harmful chemicals, or the unknown effect of genetically altered food is where Thailand and Kent could reap an abundant harvest?

AMR antibiotics in animals is the latest farming danger in the UK - the public's natural immune systems being reduced by overuse of antibiotics in animals again to maximise yield.

While King Bhumibol's Royal projects around the Sufficiency Economy should be as important here in UK, not just the rare Kent orchids, but also farm techniques around bees and hedgerow planting.

Rice paddies and other flooded soils have contributed to Climate Change with increases in methane-producing microbes as have the planet's 1.5BN cattle as methane has soared by 153% to 1,834 parts per billion since the 1800's.

And there’s a UK-Thai need especially pandemic alerts: Kent as of last week facing a mini version of the Hunger Winter that affected Netherlands and the Liberation Route Europe during WW2 with a bird flu attack on the Great British Xmas Turkey.

It's not that long as with the Netherlands Hunger Winter that German Uboat attacks meant oranges and bananas were rarities in England and non-existent in Russia, but now so commonplace as to be thrown away after being shipped halfway around the world.

If there's a shortage of Brussels sprouts or Jersey spuds from the Brexit silliness then UK might well need to tap in to Thailand's rice reserves for a balanced Xmas diet. And whatever the colour of your shirt, why shouldn't UK and Thailand cooperate on financing the redistribution of the Yingluck rice reserves around ASEAN and India and Europe for Thailand's farmers?

The UN has forecast ASEAN as the next hotspot for human or animal pandemics in the next decade, surely calling for closer cooperation with farmers and supermarkets and hospitals and universities?

Luckily the farm and media alerts have ensured most of the UK's Xmas turkeys have been prepared for the dinner table rather than affected by a quarantine as with similar types of Bird Flu.

And moving from Loam to Foam if you will with an integrated land and fisheries UK-Thai policy?

And even the Great British Fish and Chips could take on more of a Thai twist as Squid and Chips, with the North Sea becoming warmer resulting in an increase in squid and reduction in cod and haddock. Kent's Ukippers now almost extinct too.

CEFAS Fisheries College reported this week on squid increases of 300% while cod fell by 75% since 1971 to its lowest level of just 124,000 tonnes in 2004. While other warmwater fish such as red mullet, mackerel and sardines were also on the increase given much more of a Mediterranean climate based on 114 years of data.

Even the Surin Thai restaurant nestled by Ramsgate's gorgeous harbour occasionally has to comply with restrictions on sea bass (try it with lime juice!) each year. And Ramsgate as the largest fishing port and yacht marina on the South coast (Kent's Phuket if you will) still has an active fishing trade, and even the occasional beached whale searching for declining fish stocks.

Thailand's Royal Navy work with IUU fishing could well pave the way for a lifting of EU restrictions to maximise Thailand's role as the largest exporter of canned tuna and seafood.

Couldn't the UK's Royal Navy and fishing fleet and RNLI help chart a course to that end too? The HMS Kent warship is either tied up in port and rusting away for lack of anything to do or drifting around on aimless Ambre Solaire tours.

Why not exchange programmes with the Thai Royal Navy whether that's fishing patrols or tsunami resilience work or piracy patrols around Singapore? It’s perhaps fitting for the Magellan Anniversaries of the next few years and with Kent as the home of naturalist Charles Darwin.

As with wonky fruit and veg initiative, and orchid policies, by Asda to reduce the 30% of food wasted at farms or in supermarket warehouses or shelves or at home, Kent's fishermen have been active in reducing the thrown catch.

And UK and Thailand could well take lessons from France in passing legislation on reducing food waste as well as healthier initiatives on a Sugar Tax and HFSS (High Fat Salt and Sugar) foods. Big HFSS reforms as critical to public health as was Big Tobacco?

Thailand's crop expertise could well be honed around healthy Superfoods, given the supersizing of USA with 72M adults now obese with a medical surcharge of $1,429 per person, such as coconut water or pineapple as well as more exotic crops to British palates such as dragonfruit or rambutan.

The example of avocados shows the potential for crop fashions: 193,700 metric tons supplied to USA in 1998, leaping to 713,900 tons in 2012 - a similar boom occuring now in UK.

The bee collapse is even more pronounced in USA as it relies on the European honeybee to pollinate 33% of its food supply: apples, peaches, cranberries, melons and blueberries. If nothing else that’s an opportunity for the cool uplands of Loei beyond just tourism.

So desperate is USA's honeybee problem for its crops that there are in effect bee-tourists being taken from California's plums and cherry fields in February, to Dakota's sunflowers in April, and then onto the watermelons of Texas, then Florida's blueberries and Massachusett's pumpkins and lettuces.

Their frequent flyer miles must be huge.

While southwest China is already having to resort to pollinating its apple and pear orchards by hand and using paintbrushes to apply pollen to flowers. Farming as an art as well as a science that would appeal to Ramsgate's resident artist Van Gogh and his sunflowers.

But rather than mere farming and seafoood expertise, couldn't Kent and Thailand dive into the 21st century with Digital Farms?

The advances in RFID transmitter sensors for soil quality along with robo-tractors and robo-rice-ploughs would not just efficiently maximise crop yield but take out some of the drudgery and backbreaking work from farming.

Whether that's under the hot sun of Thailand (and Kent) or the snow (just Kent).

It's a hot topic for UK with the vast majority of farmers now over the age of 65 and few governments would want to loosen national food security before the UNSDG30 are achieved.

I'm urging with Produced in Kent and Visit Kent Tourism, not just Farm to Fork traceability (even Tesco now ensuring DNA testing for animal produce), or a beefing up of press visits and food tastings, but also a Raspberries and Raspberry Pi digital approach.

Every Kent schoolchild shouldn't just be planting 1M trees each year - how absurd that the Garden of England should have lost 90% of its orchards in the last 70 years as business-parks and retail-parks encroach on park-parks.

But Kent's schoolchildren, as with the Surin School Charity and Ellington School, could be active in cooperating with Thai schools and universities on computer programming, MOOC courses as with the Open University, and STEM work.

Shocking figures this month show only 8% of UK girls taking science courses - in contrast to the prestigious Women in Science awards in Thailand, while programmes such as the Raspberry Pi computer or server farms and mobile phone apps with True or TAT for farm management would beef up Thailand 4.0.

Thailand and UK agricultural and fisheries cooperation on such as Digital Farms could ensure computer chips with everything (or at least Space Food research) - but to the benefit of everybody’s diet.


Monday, 12 December 2016

Wheels fall off - or pedal to the metal for UK and Thailand road safety?

Khun Ploenpote Atthakor raises some horrifying and interesting points in her Bangkok Post article on the Songkla bus crash with one death.
Horrifying that it's just one of 35 bus crashes this year and pssibly even looser regulation with the doubling of such mega-double-decker from 4,000 to 8,000 in a year.

If nothing that last point shows the appetite for bus travel in Thailand and through to Myanmar - both nations each the size of France and requiring excellent road-rail connections through to their rural hinterland as well as in Bangkok.

One doesn't have to strip down to their Union Jack underpants and stand on East Kent's nearby White Cliffs of Dover gesturing at the Continent, to be proud of the UK's bus expertise - whether the iconic London double decker bus or the National Express cross-country routes.

Stagecoach local buses, part of the Gloag and Infratil transport empire, are more problematic though given the Manston-Infratil scandal and missing pollution fines, yet the eco-buses and 15 minute routes and electronic timetables etc are superb.

It's a travel concern too with Wellington airport, the last site owned by Infratil and almost certainly Asia's most dangerous airport, give such an operating scandal, whether for British Airways or Thai Air crews and passengers, or any other airline.

Perhaps more astonishing is Khun Ploenpote receiving no information or guidance from the Thai bus press authorities. Surely they should be standing to attention if not falling over themselves to help if a Bangkok Post journalist, one of the world's great newspapers, calls on such a crucial issue?

It's as concerning as the BBC Thailand office being closed. Hopefully that's because the journalists are holed up in one of Bangkok's Great British Eire pubs, or FCCT, cooking up some interesting stories over a Guinness or ten.

Hopefully they won’t be driving home on a scooter without a helmet, on the wrong side of the road, at speed, clad only in Union Jack shorts and adding to the excessive toll of UK citizens flown home in a box.

A toll matched barely matched by missing seatbelts, suicides and spiked drinks.

Press freedom aside, the Great British taxpayer at the very least would be concerned at funding an empty office? If nothing it should be on the Dept of International Trade's (UKTI in old money) radar for Thai-UK investment and expansion?

As Khun Ploenpote points out such safety measures as a 30 degree tilt test and rear escape doors are factors engineered into UK buses - whether Dennis the largest manufacturer in UK also has companies in Asia.

As seriously, UK road safety is the best in the world - narrowly contested by Sweden with a smaller population but more severe winters. UK road deaths are only 1,700 each year - and that a massive 80% reduction since the peak of the 1940's with cars and buses contesting with German bombs and blackouts, and the subsequent huge post-war increase in road use.

Thailand's road safety is unfortunately nothing short of horrifying with at least 20,000 deaths a year, and the second worst in the world after Libya. The Xmas carnage is so severe particularly with the Bangkok-Isaan flow of traffic that it's often best not to travel which isn't ideal for Thai or UK tourists.
Libyans though might relish the comparatively safer roads.

I’ve less than happy memories of a panoramic view through a bus in Thailand as the lorry in front plunged into a sala and tamarind stall. Or the bloody trail to Kyaiktiyo with not one but three motorcyclist deaths on the road in one afternoon.

All the more reassuring then that the dynamic Tourism Minister Khun Kobkarn is highlighting with Richard Barrow (@richardbarrow), perhaps Thailand’s best Tourism and Education blog, the new Chiang Mai sleeper train and the rail safety advertising museum in Hualamphong (who knew - and looks as interesting as the Bangkok City Museum rail exhibits?).

The huge UK tourist market could well want to take advantage of avoiding another flight on heading North in comfort.

UK has the safest railways in Europe too, with deaths in single numbers from an occasional level crossing or tube platform death. And British Transport Police active with the rail companies on reducing those deaths even further - unfortunately Ramsgate station here in East Kent featured in their Xmas campaign for drunk passengers walking across the line etc.

A Xmas hazard even on London Underground, with a schoolchild walking across the electrified rails at Latimer Road last week - London Underground and Transport Police reassuringly swinging into action with extra travel safety lessons at the local school.

Surely then Thailand and UK should be forging a partnership not just in bus or metro engineering expertise - UK and Japan do it here in Meiji Kent with the excellent Hi-Speed 1 and Eurostar train routes to Europe and London through the Channel tunnel, and Hitachi this week launching its first UK-Japan built hispeed train in Newcastle.

The latter town just a stone's throw from what was the largest Thailand investment in UK at the SSI Redcar steelworks - a shame Thailand's investors and manufacturers didn't hold on longer, given the sterling efforts of the Thai Embassy in London, as UK steel is refloated at Port Talbot for the UK rail and car industry.
Such a foundation industry will certainly be eclipsed in the future by the graphene developments in UK. Surely Thailand should be in the driving seat in working with UK on new graphene production and auto parts - as well as road safety sharing.

I'm a keen follower of @ciphilvickers with its road safety tips by Chief Phil Vickers of Lincolnshire Police. Unfortunately Kent road deaths have increased slightly this year with c.54 KSI - Killed and Seriously Injured requiring a refocus on drinkdriving, mobiles and designing out road blackspots as well as 20mph zones.

The UK is rightly proud of its extensive investments in public safety campaigns, sadly neglected in recent years - Thai readers may not be familiar with Dave Prowse as the Green Cross Code road safety man, but may know him as Darth Vader in Star Wars.

I've also raised the urgent need, with the likes of EKFOS East Kent Film Office and Studio to preserve and digitally restore with the British Film Institute such public safety work as a global resource.

But also parliament is urging a tighter review of the Vauxhall Zafira and Ford Corsa car fires by the auto manufacturers and their supply chains - again it raises a red flag for auto safety and forward planning, with over 865,000 Zafira cars recalled in UK.

While Kent Police have a superb HGV patrol car to clamp down on the recent spate of HGV mobile phone deaths - often, as with the Songkla crash, exhausted or distracted, Polish and Romanian HGV drivers on the long route through to London unfortunately stoking the fires of the worst Farageland racist excesses (thankfully very rare and rapidly clamped down upon) of Kent.

And as an aside the recent Kent Police capture of an FBI Most Wanted paeodopile highlights the potential for closer UK-Thailand working on human trafficking as part of Spain's Operation Captura to reduce the Costa Del Crime aspects that can affect Phuket and Pattaya as well as Benidorm and Blackpool.
While Kent Fire and Rescue Brigade, usually first at the scene of road crashes, have changed the potentially deathly dull subject of road safety with the innovative Road Safety Experience museum.

It's a Kent tourist attraction in its own right to almost rival the new Paramount or Dreamland theme parks. The latter funfair one of the oldest in UK and capable of giving Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen a run for its money with its rare wooden rollercoaster.

While Paramount is under development and about to break ground as the largest tourist site in Europe outside Paris EuroDisney.

Tighter Thailand and UK cooperation would no doubt also reverberate through ASEAN and China and help speed up China's Silk Road and Belt. The Yiwa to Madrid express and new Gotthard Tunnel in Switzerland is already moving the China's commodities market of orchids and fruit and vegetables that much nearer to Europe. UK and Thailand should both be taking advantage of the proximity of those markets.

While lessons in hispeed rail and bus connections could well be learned from the excellent Spanish RENFE - and connections with the excellent Almeria Group of universities a key Meiji Kent policy.

Even British Rail has finally learned to assist its passengers to uncross their legs spend a penny at train stations by not charging a penny to use the toilets.

The Stanford Swab Campaign is a key feature of New York's metro and buses that UK and Thailand public health activity could well benefit from. As would Thai-UK hospitals etc cooperation on bird flu pandemics - indeed any pandemic given London is the TB capital of Europe.

The latest pandemic is yet again catching Britain by surprise and no doubt with a lack of vaccines to be flown in, eventually, at great expense.

Minor SRT tweaks such as the Missing Link or Makkasan site or Airport rail link disabled access, or bus shelters and telephone poles in the wrong place could fade into insignificance compared to fully integrated ASEAN transport links.

And UK could well learn much from Thai Police not just the 1155 Tourism hotline - how will any stranded Thai tourists cope in UK if their English language skills aren't that great?

As relevant is language learning for court translators, or yaba crackdown with Shan state, along with a mix of police and university exchanges - CCU University in Canterbury already the Hendon of the South for police studies.

The latter important for resisting the silo mentality of the public sector with the bloat of separate police colleges not taking advantage of existing universities and even MOOC courses and diffusing learning on road safety etc.

Thailand shouldn't be relegated to the back of the bus but in the driving seat for UK-Thailand cooperation on transport and road safety.


Saturday, 3 December 2016

Thailand's trains on track?

Khun Sirinya Wattanasukchai writes eloquently in the Bangkok Post article “Handout mentality” on the first 10 second-hand train carriages donated to Thailand and SRT from Japan.

And a further 14 trains, provided for free except for shipping costs, due by next March possibly for the Purple Line.

The Japanese provincial government in Fukuoka also provided free fire engines and that generosity cannot be faulted - but these trains are over 20 years old? Is that really a credible SRT and Thailand 4.0 policy given the glittering success of Bangkok's Skytrain and Metro?

Is Bangkok really going to have secondhand 20 year old trains rumbling along its train tracks - and for how long? Another 20 years?

Surely Thailand and SRT should be urging not just public and private sector investment through SCB or GSB, but also the ADB and AIIB investment banks to deliver a glittering success of the high-speed rail lines? And even sensible and sensitive redevelopment of its Makkasan site as Khun Sirinya wrote recently?

While the secondhand rail carriages could be more effectively used as part of the rail link through Aranyaprathet to Poipet - and the development of the new Cambodian railway. Already the rail link from Sihanoukville port to Phnom Penh is open after the destruction of the Khmer Rouge years.

The link from the Thai border through to Poipet opens the way to relay track to Battambang and Phnom Penh - and deliver a new link through to Ho Chin Minh City. Plus the new train stations and goods depots infrastructure that would need to be cemented in place.

And shouldn't SRT be leading the way in supporting Cambodian railways in opening hispeed links between the ASEAN capitals of Bangkok and Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City and Yangon?

It's absurd in the 21st century that ASEAN's capital cities and ports are still not connected by hispeed rail - or even doubletrack rail that will forever bottleneck the Singapore and KL rail route to Bangkok until it is rectified.

Certainly such links would improve Thailand’s infrastructure rather than more frivolous infrastructure developments such as Dawei, certainly compared to Mergui, or what’s now termed the Train to Nowhere through the Laotian Highlands to Southern China.

24 rail carriages would be a drop in the ocean for Bangkok's rail system but the backbone of the new Cambodian railway and extra support to the Isaan rail system - and the first long-delayed vital link through the ASEAN capitals.

While a Thai-Cambodian bid to ADB and AIIB - with Vietnam's support - would pump strategic funds into the rail network beyond just a few cheap carriages.
Indeed in my politics role here in East Kent shouldn't UK (and EU) and Japan be stepping forward to help with such a bid? As well, JICA and DFID and EU aid support would be a given for Thai and Cambodian railways development beyond just a few train carriages?

Hitachi is the leading Japanese rail company, and a huge success here in Meiji Kent with their HS1 (HiSpeed 1) and Eurostar rail link from their Ashford base which was readied for the 2012 Olympics. It’s a superb service. And Hitachi are on track for developing HS2 and HS3 in the North of England from their North East base just down the road from the Redcar steelworks previously owned by Thailand’s SSI Steel.

Such rail works and the Nissan factory are part of the Northern Powerhouse programme to help heal the North-South divide in UK - not dissimilar to Thailand's North and NorthEast and Deep South divides exposed after the Charter referendum.

Khun Sirinya also makes some interesting points on the fire engines in Bangkok in effect up on bricks and not being used – and being too large for sois - not dissimilar to the scandal of Boris water cannon bought from Germany second-hand and not even working now garaged by Kent Police and heading to the scrapyard to be made into frying pans or car wheel hubs and other auto-parts.

In my politics role I see no reason why Kent Fire Brigade or Kent Ambulance shouldn’t partner with Thailand or Cambodia - and Myanmar will no doubt gain UK and Commonwealth support too - on any spare or no longer needed fire trucks or ambulances?

The UK has tended in the past to provide excess public vehicles to Romania or Morocco but both those nations have secured separate EU infrastructure funding - Morocco already completing its own hispeed railway.

And with Germany and Sweden declaring the end of manufacturing petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, and this week Paris, Madrid and London declaring electric vehicle only zones by 2025, there is likely to be a one-off surge of available and reconditioned vehicles over the next few years that may be of practical use to Thailand rather than just cheap dumping.

In my Kent politics work I've already helped destroy the Richboro coal power station:

And urged faster closure of Dungeness nuclear power station, and Belgian and French Channel nuclear power stations - many leaking and of the same pricey design as Hinkley the first new UK nuclear power station, in 30 years.

And to sell off KCC tobacco and fossil fuel investments in public sector pensions. Plus develop Climate Change treeplanting and hedgerow programes in field and road and railway embankments etc.

Khun Sirinya touches on the Benz cars and submarines debate of military excess - similar points being made in UK at the moment with the long overdue closure of UK army bases in Germany with the end of the Cold War some 25 year ago, and scandals of just 6 $20BN(!)Voyager refuelling aircraft that can't refuel UK or NATO aircraft(!).

Or 600 amoured scout cars when UK has only 127 tanks and the largest UK tank battle since WW2 was just 25 tanks in the Iraq War. Such excess tends to be mere incompetence rather than the blatant corruption of Sangcom UK and Saudi arms deals or Ostend and Manston airport gunrunning - even the previous East Kent MP Jonathan Aitken was jailed for such activity and Saudi submarines.

While the $300M repair bill for Buckingham Palace, or the cost of a new Royal Yacht Britannia as well as Trident subs and nuclear missiles are ongoing waste that dwarf the fuss over the 7 Kings monument. But at least Thai tourists should be able to see more of Buckingham Palace and other royal palaces with extended opening hours at Windsor Castle and Balmoral and Sandringham.

Surely UK and Thailand could develop stronger ASEAN relationships on avoiding such bloat and excess while cooperating on say UN Peacekeeping and UN Police missions, Shan heroin and yaba manufacture by the United Wa Army in Myanmar or the Deep South cooperation with Malaysian and Commonwealth. The latter not that dissimilar to Northern Ireland's Troubles now over.

The SRT secondhand rail carriages could at the very least put en train fully coordinated ASEAN rail plans with say a Vinh and Vientiane link or Kanchanaburi and Yangon improvements.

Such plans will be crucial with the expansion of China's Silk Road and Belt port and rail plans - already trains are speeding along from Shanghai to Moscow and Paris and Madrid in just 10 days rather than 28 days by sea.

Thailand 4.0 should be full steam ahead to make sure it's as rapidly connected to that economic and logistics system as soon as possible.