Tag Archives: business

Croatia puts on a Battersea fair

 

Gaz in the Brijuni archipelago off the south-west coat of Istria in Croatia. Photograph: Renco Korinozic/Croatian Tourist Board

Gaz in the Brijuni archipelago off the south-west coat of Istria in Croatia. Photograph: Renco Korinozic/Croatian Tourist Board

 

In a hall at Battersea Arts Centre, just round the corner from Clapham Junction, the European Union’s latest recruit was showing off its wares.

While Europe continues to divide the Conservative party and define Ukip by what it opposes, here were businesses keen to make deals in the single market.

Croatia was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and later part of Marshall Tito’s communist federation of Yugoslavia. It declared independence in 1991 and cleared occupying Serb armies by 1995. Now a member of Nato, Croatia signed the EU treaty of accession in 2011 and will become a member on 1 July.

Stalls at a trade fair organised by the British Croation Business Club were festooned with products that will be familiar to tourists who venture further south to Greece or Turkey – many the products of the olive tree. Olive oil, olive oil soap infused with medicinal herbs, olive tapenade.

Neb Chupin of Hermes International was promoting the Taste Dalmatia range of conserves. There were bitesize samples of tapenade, sour cherry or organic fig spread, the latter an explosion of flavour when married with a little cheese.

A British couple, Tim and Paula Batson-Jones, were explaining how they are involved at every stage of producing their 100% extra virgin olive oil. They help harvest the native Oblica olives from their own groves on Brač, near Split, oversee its pressing and bottling, then drive back to Bristol and sell mail order through their website, croatianimports.co.uk.

Gold medal

Sounds small scale. Yes, but they recently saw off 200 rivals to win a gold medal for the quality of their oil. That sounds like a recipe for success.

Tim sounds a little concerned for Croatia’s future in the EU. It’s perfect as it is, he reckons. Small, you feel, is beautiful for many of the stallholders. It’s explained to me that while much business is carried out in euros, the country will be retaining its own currency, the kuna. It means marten in Croatian and is based on the medieval use of pelts as units of trading value. There are 100 lipa (linden or lime trees) to the kuna.

Another British enthusiast for the country, Sarah Driver of Walk Croatia, can hardly wait to accompany the first group of the summer to go wine tasting along the Pelješac peninsula, north of Dubrovnik. It’s not just the wine or the walking, but the oysters of Mali Ston Bay, the only successful breeding ground of the European flat oyster, Ostrea edulis. The company offers island-hopping walking and sailing holidays in the Dubrovnik region.

 Empty beaches

You don’t have to go far to find historical sites, islands with empty beaches or rugged mountain scenery in a country where the climate is a mix of the Mediterranean and continental.

There were bigger companies represented, among them Croatia Airlines, patrt of the Star Alliance, and Valamar Hotels & Resorts with 39 properties along the Adriatic coast. They represent the modern face of Croatian corporate business, with glossy bilingual inflight magazines and brochures.

There was tradition too, in the cheeses of Paska Sirana, a company from the island of Pag. Layers of sea salt swept in by the winter winds cover the grasses and herbs of this rocky island. Paški Sir, the hard cheese made from the milk of sheep that graze this land, has protected geographical origin and a unique taste. Eat as an appetiser if young, and a dessert if old.

But I was most taken by the enthusiasm of Hrvoje Subat, a young committee member of the British Croatian Business Club who lives in London and energetically promotes his home country as a place to invest in property; of wine importer Mislav Kapetanovic, shepherding tastings of fresh, green appley Grasevina whites, a modern take on native grapes from the Danube valley bottled by vintner Vina Belje, alongside more traditional reds including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

It made for a heartening contrast to the blinkered British cynicism about Europe and all its works. And it made me add Croatia to my must-see list of countries.

The planners, HS2 and the bonfire of red tape

High speed Javelin train on the HS1 track above Rainham Marshes bird sanctuary in Essex

High speed Javelin train on the HS1 track above Rainham Marshes bird sanctuary in Essex. Photograph: Paul Nettleton

There must have been disappointment at the BBC2 when the first programme in its documentary series The Planners drew only 1.3 million viewers, some 5.5m fewer than would be expected for the peak time slot.

 

Days after the controversial announcement of the northern extension route for the HS2 railway, this portrayal of how developers, local authorities and the public are reacting to the government’s stripping away of planning controls  to encourage construction with the aim of kickstarting the economy is both timely and engaging.

 

Who cannot have felt sympathy with householders faced with losing their views of farmland on the edge of Winsford in Cheshire. They even pursued a fruitless hunt for great crested newts, a protected species, in their attempt to bock the building of 540 houses, with all that entails in disruption during construction work, additional traffic and the loss of an open aspect for which they’d doubtless paid a premium in house prices?

 

You might have wondered why a human resources company boss could not have a dropped kerb to facilitate parking in the front garden of her Regency house in Pittville, Cheltenham, “just like her neighbours”, instead of having to manoeuvre round the back as if her car was a horse being led to stables?

 

Solar panels

 

At least Basil and Rachel Thompson, retired GPs nurturing a beautiful garden in a grade two listed house in the shade of Chester’s historic city walls, were allowed to put 17 solar panels on the slate roof of their garage.

 

Conservation officer John Healey objected to concealing wall walking tourists’ views of the slates with large modular reflective panels. Basil pointed out that the office block looming above the far side of the wall looked “just like a panel”.

 

Indeed, redbrick Centurion House, boasted slate grey window frames and acres of glass arranged as if to resemble a fortress – lacking only Roman soldiers peering over the top.

 

Healey said he could not “answer for the sins of those who were here in the 70s”. This failed to answer the Thompsons’ point that solar panels are a response to 21st century needs for sustainable energy.

 

After the elected councillors voted through the installation, Healey was interviewed while looking down from the walls, oblivious to the blooms most tourists would have admired and with his back to the office block monstrosity rising behind him. It even had me jumping from my seat and prodding at the screen in astonishment.

 

Appeal costs

 

Still, even as the nimbys brief their lawyers in attempts to derail HS2 that are likely to delay its construction for years – not in my leafy acreage, please – you have to wonder if the balance has swung too far in favour of private developers.

 

Planning officers and councillors alike must now calculate the likely costs of losing an appeal to the planning inspectors if they reject any application. That’s not treating an application on its merits.

 

Developers who secure outline permission can return time and again, asking for more blocks and more flats. They can build closer to the neighbours than agreed drawings showed, yet not be forced to tear down the timber frames and start again. Both are examples close to my home in South Woodford, north-east London.

 

And while the predicted benefits of HS2 for the North and Midlands are now being questioned by academics and rail experts, such as Christian Wolmar, it is becoming all but impossible to stop a railway or a Thames bridge or a housing estate on a flood plain, all in the name of economic recovery.

 

Dither over HS2

 

The Chinese, we are told to wonder as we were once told to work more like the Japanese, will have built thousands of miles of high speed railway while we dither over HS2. But in the bonfire of red tape, so beloved of Tory politicians at their annual conference, are we ignoring the growing clamour in China for controls to avoid preventable deaths in the breakneck race for growth?

 

Would we accept the pollution-laden air of Beijing, where CNN last month reported an air quality index reading of 700? The World Health Organization regards 25 micrograms as healthy.

 

There’s a telling quote in a People’s Daily Online article after fire killed 53 people in a 28-storey building in Shanghai in 2010. It raised concerns at the lack of fire safety measures and facilities in China’s biggest metropolises. “The drive for modernisation should also include the quest for a greater peace of mind,” the article said.

 

It’s a lesson lost on British politicians engaged in dismantling protections for the public won at Westminster over many years, or seeking in Brussels to negotiate away workers’ rights in some à la carte European Union.

 

The Planners is on BBC2 at 8pm on Tuesday

 

HMV and the lost chords

I can remember when Richard Branson swept away the cushions and headphones and put security guards on the doors at the Virgin store in Manchester in the early 80s to stop the shrinkage.

It was the end of of any illusions that a national chain of record shops could be a flagship for youth culture, a place where you could discover Phaedra by Tangerine Dream or Gong’s Camembert Electrique among the chart mainstream.

HMV was always more corporate – a retail outpost of EMI, the first label that couldn’t handle the Sex Pistols – and marched across the land in tandem with the other store chains that turned our high streets into clone streets.

It long ago afforded DVDs and console games equal shelf space with CDs and token specialist vinyl. Only on Oxford Street in London has there been space for the widest range of music and staff with thorough knowledge of jazz or blues or folk or opera or heavy metal to support the genres and share their enthusiasm with potential buyers.

On the high street and even in the bigger malls – Bluewater or Westfield – the choice has been little better than in a Boots or WH Smith of the mid-70s. That is, execrable.

The latest attempt to turn round HMV’s fortunes – by shoehorning in tablets and other “technology” at higher prices than Currys PC World ­– reduced even further the choice of music. It was hardly a strategy to lure people away from the download sites.

So the news that HMV is about to go into administration – the morning after they sent out emails announcing a Blue Cross sale with 25% reductions – will be mourned by me more for the likely loss of jobs than for the threat to the last record store chain. See the Guardian’s story here.

Does this mean there’ll be an opening for a latterday Rob Gordon to turn in a decent profit from his enthusiasm for the music, ­­without having to satisfy shareholders or get the branding just so, let alone discounting to compete with the fake top 40 that the supermarket down the road never quite keeps fully stocked and where the staff can never introduce you to the next big thing.

It may even be that a sensible landlord or two will take the long view and offer up some floorspace at an affordable rents for a small business to do more than limp along before closing. High Fidelity? High hopes.