2022, The House of Lords, and THE BOOK


2022, The House of Lords, and THE BOOK

So, a new year full of promise. I really do hope that 2023 will see better times. 2022 was just plain horrible. Politically, we have had probably the worst year in modern history with the combined effects of Covid and Brexit made worse by a truly dysfunctional government. 

We have had three prime ministers in less than three months, one of which has the dubious distinction of becoming the shortest serving PM ever, serving for just 49 days. However, that was long enough for her to put a £30bn plus hole in the economy. Too many records, and all of them bad. Sooner or later, we shall have an election and based on current polling, the Tory party will be lucky to get into double figures for MPs.

It seems highly likely that, assuming that the Tories don’t lose another one, our next PM will be from the Labour party. Their current leader wants to change the House of Lords. Like the U.S., we have a two-chamber parliament but, unlike you, our second chamber is unelected. The House of Lords originally consisted of the senior members of the aristocracy, plus bishops and people “ennobled” for doing great things, like the Duke of Wellington who whopped Napoleon back when. 

Over time, the aristocracy has been eased out. They now elect a few of their number to represent them, but their place is increasingly taken by political appointees, with a Lordship given for service to party rather than country. It is no coincidence that just about every Tory party treasurer has been given a peerage and at least one Russian Oligarch now sits in the Lords. At present, the Lords is subservient to the elected commons; they offer a powerful check on the elected governments with ability to revise and modify legislation, but ultimately the Commons can overrule and set aside the Lord’s proposals.

The proposal is to replace the Lords with an elected house, which would replace an organization where many people owe allegiance to no party by one where, in order to be elected, they will have to sign up to a political creed. When we vote for a politician it’s usually a compromise: I like that he will make policemen wear pink tutus and that ice creams will be free from June to September, but not too keen on his plan to cull people with red hair. On the other hand, his opponent is an arse, even although he has a good point banning BMW from the road and subsidizing Jaguar sales. 

And that’s the rub, you have to take the package good and bad. With a cross bench Lord, they can vote and speak on each issue based on what they think is right, without fear or favor. 

I am not a religious person, but I like that senior women and men of faith who, if nothing else, should have a strong moral compass, get to have an input to where our country is going. By extension, I would like to see senior academics and philosophers, doctors, trades unionists and captains of industry also contributing. A house made up of thinkers, rather than political time servers does seem so much more attractive. It could actually do some good by formulating policy and law based on knowledge and rational thinking, rather than political dogma and self-interest. What a ridiculous idea.

After a long, long slog, THE BOOK is finally ready to hit the bookstalls. It has taken over two years and a lot of screaming, shouting and temper tantrums but Car Park Design – Guidance should have emerged into the light of day by the time that you read this. The Institution of Structural Engineers first published a book on the design of multi-story and underground car parks back in the 1970s. It has been updated three times with the last review in 2011. 

Now, with the passage of time, the institution decided that it was time for a new start, hence the current venture. Going forward, parking structures will be very different from what has gone before. Cars have been and continue to get bigger, to the point that many older structures are not going to be suitable for use much longer. But perhaps the biggest change that is expected is the wholesale shift to electric power. This potentially has two implications for future design. 

First, weight: on even an average car the vehicle weight will increase by about a ton. For larger vehicles, the weight increase is so great that the vehicles will exceed the permitted floor loadings in older car parks. Second, charging. At the moment, electric vehicle charging times are such that it seems logical to use time parked to charge, but this imposes further constraints on the structure as parking slots may have to include space and infrastructure for a charger. So, cars are getting bigger and heavier, meaning that bay sizes and structural element spans are getting longer. I don’t think that you need to be a structural engineer to realize that this will mean that all the old well-used assumptions about structural design have just gone out of the window. Sorry, guys, you are going to need a new piece of paper.

Now, this is assuming one possible future. At Temecula, Clyde Wilson and I had a very good discussion about just how likely this scenario is. Battery charge times are falling all the time and battery technology is advancing. It is entirely possible that in the next few years battery charge times will drop to the point where filling your car with electricity takes no longer than filling it with gas. At that point, the parking and charging acts can be separated again and there will be no reason to put chargers in car parks.

Interesting fact: The oldest known UK multi-story structure was bult in London in 1901 by the City & Suburban Electric Carriage Company. It had seven floors and could accommodate 100 electric vehicles.

JVH Comments: William F Buckley said that he would rather be governed by the first 500 people listed in the Boston Telephone Directory than the academics at Harvard. After all I see happening in universities, and in boardrooms across the fruited plane, can’t say I disagree. 

Not everyone knows everything about their job. They need support from their peers when they have problems. Let’s face it. It’s impossible to know everything.

When we hit the wall, what do we normally do? We wander down the hall and stick our head in Charlie’s office and say “Hey Charlie, got a minute? I need some help with the Jones account.” Happens every day. No wait. Charlie is no longer there. He is working from home.

So, do we set up a Zoom call (a pain), pick up the phone and call him, send an email and ruin his day, or punt?

I say, most of the time we punt. It wasn’t that important anyway. Charlie is an expert on the problem I have. But he’s also a very busy guy. For whatever reason, busy people always have time for you if you are standing in front of them, however, few like to be interrupted by Zoom, phone, or email.

If you take the Zoom et al approach, what could have been a two-minute quick discussion becomes an ongoing project. It takes on an air of unnecessary formality. A quick word from Charlie and you are off to the races. If you go to all the trouble to Zoom, or email, how long will that on line conversation last? I think we all know the answer.

I can see the in-person conversation with Charlie now. “Did you conside…”

You: “Oh yeah, got it.” And you are off to the races.

There is a reason offices exist. Humans feed off each other. We ask questions, get answers, and do a better job because of it. It may be more ‘fun’ and convenient to work from home. But does it give you all the tools you need to do the best job you can?

Article contributed by:
Peter Guest, Parking Tales from Big Ben
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