Sunday, 26 July 2009

Vision behind Durham Green Business Park

I have often been described as a creative thinker, a lateral thinker, unconventional and intuitive. To start with, I wanted to create employment for the North East and I was looking for the ideal solution. When I saw the site I suddenly began thinking at an optimum level and could visualise with the power of my imagination how this location could be developed into a rail port and Business Park. It has the unique advantage of being served by both the London-Edinburgh rail-line to the west of the site and the London-Edinburgh road to the east of the site. That is why I decided to develop the Durham Green Business Park. Initially I was taking a big risk because I realized that the land I needed for access had a long term covenant which took me several years to have removed. In the meanwhile the county council put a new road link in, from the proposed Business Park to areas of high unemployment within the neighbouring east Durham coalfield through the former pit villages. This means that local people will have ease of access to the Business Park and also to the A1, as the site is located at J61 on the A1.

The neighbouring area has the 2nd highest rate of 18-25 unemployment in the country and we hope to decrease these figures dramatically, by bringing thousands of jobs to Durham Green. This new road will also give those who live in the Sunderland area a direct link.

The North East is rapidly becoming a cosmopolitan hub. It has a fantastic infrastructure and a brilliant nightlife in Newcastle which is amongst the best in the country. As well as having a premiership football at Sunderland, we have first class cricket just up the road at Chester-Le-Street where Durham are champions. The North East has a beautiful coastline that goes up to the Scottish border at Berwick; as well as having the country’s largest out of town shopping mall at Metro centre in nearby Gateshead which is directly linked to the Business Park. A few miles further up the road, there is Newcastle international airport. I am not only passionate about the North East but also care about creating job opportunities here.

With this project I wasn’t looking for quick returns because I’ve been involved with this for a substantial number of years now. I was looking for a successful venture which would prove a solution to the long term unemployment level in this area which Margaret Thatcher created in the 1980's by sounding the death knell for the coal mining industry. With the Durham Green Business Park, I think I have found it.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Wanderings through Westminster Abbey

The London group of the council of Christians and Jews had their annual summer garden party recently in the grounds of Westminister Abbey – due to inclement weather we were treated to an enlightening visit to the library instead, which is not open to the general public. I learned a lot and fascinating historical information.

Some interesting detail about the Abbey: the monks of Westminster owned thousands of acres of land in central London stretching from the river at Westminster right up to Oxford Street. This started during the reign of King Edgar in 960 AD. Subsequently, some of this land was sold and the balance they had in reserves in 1868 was given over to the Church Commissioners.

I viewed some of the early documents – there were ancient bibles and Jewish books and other exhibits from the archives.
On display was a Hebrew bible from 1540 and it was exactly the same as the Jewish bible in use today. 13th century manuscripts of psalms in Latin and Hebrew were also available to see. Interestingly there were medieval documents in the muniments (archives) of the Abbey concerning business dealings between the King, Jewish merchants and the Exchequer dated 1220 to1280. The first printed bible in Welsh was on view, which was translated by William Morgan in 1588.

The books were mainly religious though they also have a scholars’ library there from 17th and 18th century. As well as religious books there were books of historical interest, classics, history of the Church, music and a small selection of science and maths. We were also shown some manuscripts that the Abbey choir sang from in the 17th century which are printed in Italian. When necessary, the books are removed to Lambeth Palace for repairs.

The building itself dates back to 1065. Its roof was restored after 1450 when one monk was responsible for bringing down the roof in a fire. Some of the shelves in the Abbey date back to 1623. The library is open to researchers but they must book well ahead, sometimes even as far as a year in advance.

Sometimes the rain can be a blessing in disguise as without it we would not have had such a magical evening to view this amazing treasure trove.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

My meeting with Russia’s Leader of the Opposition

I was invited to a small gathering from the Henry Jackson Society at Legatum Think Tank to meet Boris Nemtsov, who is the former Deputy Russian Prime Minister. He is currently the head of the Solidarity Party which is the united liberal opposition. Nemtsov was also the minister of Labour and Energy. His report of activities in Russia was very revealing. Vladimir Putin strength and weaknesses are not all known to the international community and Boris Yeltzin had placed Putin in his position as he trusted him due to his impeccable ex-KGB credentials and loyalties. Yet Nemtsov admitted that it is a dangerous position to be in the opposition, he recently had ammonia thrown at his face. Since the Litivenko affair, the British authorities are extremely cautious granting visas to those travelling from Russia. It took Nemtsov one month to receive a visa to travel to Britain.

The secret of Russian success is its gas and oil prices. In the current financial crisis, people have lost jobs in the private sector. Putin however has created 800,000 bureaucratic jobs. 20% of the population are Muslims which amounts to a figure of 30 million people. 200,000 of the wealthiest Russians are in London. In comparison to the EU where 67% of people are involved in small businesses, in Russia only 12% are involved in small businesses.

Nemtsov believes that there will not be a Western freedom and democracy to be in place in Russia until 2025. This would be a 40 years time span since Perestroika. The next elections will be in 2012 and the constitution cannot be changed for another 12 years. In my opinion, the EU should create a type of Barcelona process that promotes trade ties between EU states and Russia while offering incentives for Russia’s economy to liberalise. This will smooth Russia’s transition to becoming a vibrant democracy hopefully in the near future.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Rising unemployment in the UK

The rising unemployment situation in the UK is different from when it occurred in the 1980s under the Conservative government. During that period, the Thatcher government supported unemployment and ensured that there was a devastation of the coal mining and steel industries. The Tories supported the closures and wanted to break down society. The government wasn’t interested in advancing good economic conditions and its policy was to support unemployment. It was strange how in the coal mining and steel areas, the rush hour cars on the roads no longer existed. The areas were turning into ghost towns and it was frightening.

However the current unemployment level is caused by global economic conditions. The Labour government’s policy is to get people back to work, to invest in communities ensuring that jobs and an economic recovery will come at a faster rate.

An example of this is the planning permission I have received for the first phase of 75 acres Business Park at Durham Green. This will lead to an overall development of 500 acres, creating thousands of jobs in an area of high unemployment. This will also help to regenerate the former coal mining areas.

The current downturn hasn’t been as dramatic as in the ‘80s and most importantly, people still have faith in the leaders of the country, who they believe have the necessary skills to show them the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Meeting with Kenneth Kaunda, a true interfaith believer

I had the honor of meeting Kenneth Kaunda-former President of Zambia at a club in St. James's in London. Kenneth Kaunda is currently promoting the African continent and emphasized the need for Africa to reduce its levels of corruption through increased transparency. This should culminate throughout the continent of Africa and help it to shape its own destiny choosing its own destiny. Kaunda came from a Presbyterian background which has influenced his ethical outlook. Kaunda stressed the common link of Abrahamic faiths and an underlying religious principle that underpins all interfaith efforts are ‘Loving thy neighbour’ and 'Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto yourself’. True observance of these principles naturally promotes not only inter-communal tolerance, but appreciation too.

I found President Kaunda to be highly motivated, compassionate and intelligent with a great vision of the future, a good man in all respects.