31 Dec 2008
Russ cartoon: inspired by news that the Village Shop has a loo again and Randwick Village Hall are planning new loos for this summer
The band have already been out delivering leaflets in the area and it looks set to be a great local event - I am really hoping I will be well enough to go but current coughing and spluttering rules it out...
Meanwhile a quick date for diary - Thursday 8th Jan 4pm to 8pm there is the final consultation on Cashes Green Hospital site in Cashes Green Primary school. There is also an exhibition in the foyer of Ebley Mill from 9th to 14th January with feedback forms. I know we've been to these already many times - in fact has anything been so consulted on?? However it is important to get along to make views known...Wishing all you readers a great 2009. Cough, cough again. Snivel. Cough - no it's OK I wont bring my germs tonight...
28 Dec 2008
Anyhow it is now my turn to host the Carnival - the 160th edition - and I am in bed with a particularly nasty dose of flu...indeed all around seem to have the flu and even the entire green blogosphere maybe struck down or in some post-Christmas slump as uncharacteristically not a single Carnival email has arrived recommending a submission to this blog. Ah well it is all up to me and I hope to introduce a few new blogs of interest and apologise for missing the many great posts that I may well have included had I been feeling more well....
First up is a post of my own, here on Ruscombe Green: an appeal for more 'Nature Playgrounds' rather than the standardised sterile play equipment which is so regular and safe that some now claim it doesn't help children develop the skills they need. Maybe we can't restore the ‘free-range childhoods’ enjoyed by earlier generations, but we can at least push for more 'Nature Playgrounds' with mounds, ditches, logs, boulders and more - that perhaps unsurprisingly are also more popular with children.
Photos: local view from Ruscombe and below taken just before Christmas in Standish Woods
What next? Well I had thought there might be a few predictions for 2009 but we are perhaps a little early - however Casaubon's Book already has her predictions - all the more worrying reading as her analysis of her 2008 predictions shows she was pretty spot on. It looks like things will be getting harder - and for more insight into the Credit Crunch browse fellow Stroud blogger Gaian Economics for a much-needed and mostly easy to understand green fun look at economics. And while we are on this, if you are after part of the solution then read more on the Green New Deal which seems to have been covered on most green political blogs in recent months - Rupert's Read spells out the Green party position while more details can be found at the nef triple crunch blog.
Cartoon: one of my favorites from local artist Russ who has kindly submitted various topical cartoons throughout the last year - a big thanks!
The Greenpeace blog (which is alot more than just reports of what they get up to) has a piece about the direct action they have been taking in Indonesia to stop the palm oil companies burning the rainforests. While Barkingside 21 looks more at what is direct action - for me it is clear that peaceful direct actions when other routes are blocked are crucial - indeed even Al Gore has called for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and storage. But hey that carbon capture is a dangerous distraction - Governments and businesses need to reduce their emissions not search for excuses to keep burning coal.
Before finishing with a new years resolution here are a few more blogs I spotted:
Another Green World covers the death of the extraordinary Harold Pinter.
Details of the campaign in the US to Save Handmade Toys comes from Miss Malaprop.
And don't miss Eco Joe's look at the Thai temple made out of recycled glass bottles?
And Fake Plastic Fish visits the world's 'greenest museum'.
Gloucestershire blog My Zero Waste covers a families journey to cutting their waste - all the more topical at this time of year.
Mabingogiblog looks at the shocking events in Gaza.
My Tiny Plot has 10 jobs for the garden in December - none of which I've managed yet but hopefully if this sunny weather holds and my flu improves...
Update 8pm (GMT): some late submissions to the Carnival for this week just in:
- Veggie Revolution discusses the great conservation value of the world's annual Christmas Bird Count.
- The Digerati Life with their latest tips to live more frugally.
- Fake Plastic Fish is giving away Skoy cloths as a green alternative to other sponges, cloths, and paper towels.
So a New Years resolution? Well the blogs are pretty empty on this so here's one of my own...the challenges ahead are scary. Indeed, one could argue that if you don’t find them scary, you haven’t really understood them. Yet we cannot let fear paralyse or stop us from taking actions. We need to find room to digest the realities and also to see that despite the horrors there are signs of hope. Doom scenarios and scaring people will not bring about the changes we need. Let us share more of the optimism and enthusiasm for the many ways that are making a difference. We have already done very hard things - often the hardest part is to convince ourselves of the possibilities. As Barbara Kingsolver said: "If you run out of hope at the end of the day, rise in the morning and put it on again with your shoes."
So my resolution? Acknowledge the realities and fear but even more trust the possibilities for change - and spend more time in the garden.
23 Dec 2008
Update 29/12/08: I've now also had a reply from Officer at Stroud District who is also keen to see more natural playgrounds and will be pushing that also for the planned staffed destination play area for the County.
As regular blog readers will know this is a subject I've covered a few times but only in the last week have I come across this excellent blog about play grounds: http://playgrounddesigns.blogspot.com/
It pointed me to images and quotes from Helle Nebelong's website - some of which are enclosed below (and pic above taken from another blog entry):
Helle Nebelong writes: "...different surfaces, e.g. asphalt for cycling, roller-skating and other forms of self-transport, for ball games and as a king of block for drawing or hopscotch. There should also be sand, tiles, paths and steps and different uneven stones, soft forest floor, wood chips and gravel. Bridges would also be good, both bridges over canals and hanging bridges over ditches. For once the majority of employees could agree that they would like water in the playground. The general consensus is often otherwise, that water is far too dangerous because you can drown in it. In the ”perfect” playground, however, there should be water steps, paddling pools, canals and an outdoor shower spray, where the muddy children could be rinsed off.....The largest area of the playground is for the use of all the children, but it is possible to close off a little area for the nursery children."
"At the beginning there were many reservations about the playground. Parents said that the playground was dangerous with all the big stones. The employees of the institution said it was just too boring. The playground has now been in existence for almost ten years. The parents now say, that the children are happier now when they come home. The leader of the institution says that there are fewer conflicts in the playground. They are really happy with the playground, especially with the water. A constructive debate has arisen between parents and employees in the institution about how far one can protect a child and try to prevent him from coming to harm. "
Here are some more photos of Helle's work:
Landscape Architect Helle Nebelong worked together with four students from Denmark's design school. They designed six towers for the playground of which five were constructed. The towers are placed as precise points on the circular bridge. Each tower has its own theme: The light's tower, The wind's tower, The green tower, The bird tower and The tower of change. The ambition is that the playground should become a good alternative to the many commercial amusement parks, which are appearing everywhere.
Another good example from Helle is The Garden of Senses..."The Garden of Senses is designed like a maze with winding paths, leading the visitor past many different experiences: Several Wonder Spaces with Tangible Sculptures - one sculpture to each of our senses. Crossings, a Riverside Scenery with rocks and a Lake Scenery without water, a Lavender Island, a Maze of stakes. A Bamboo shrub, a small Garden of Fragrance with a fountain, prickly evergreens, shrubbery with old, crumbling sculptures, a Pavilion Garden, a grove of ginkgoes, a Butterfly Garden and a lot of other elements to discover. Ro und stones of granite are placed outside the garden and make a sort of connection between the garden and the park. The stones are also varied: rough and smooth; round and angular; small stones that rattle in your hand; big rocks for climbing."
Another interesting article that the playground blog pointed to was about the Geelsgaard School garden for special needs children. Indeed the blog is full of fascinating ideas from rock climbing up the side of walls to this company Plantware’s vision is to turn living trees into a new building material.
Anybody new to this topic should perhaps start with the work of Tim Gill at: http://www.rethinkingchildhood.com/
And his good article here which sets out the arguments and thoughts re natural play:
Let us hope that although there is little time the likes of the guy who contacted me will be able to help sway those making decisions and we will see that £1m planned for Gloucestershire spent more on natural playgrounds.
22 Dec 2008
Photo: Morning coffee while ploughing through various local planning applications, papers, emails etc
Sign petition here:
This is an issue I have long campaigned on - it seems extraordinary that the UKTI (UK Trade and Investment) is a government department that helps businesses sell their products worldwide. In 2008, it opened the Defence & Security Organisation to promote arms exports. Essentially, it now employs civil servants to help private companies sell arms. Not quite what I understand an ethical foreign policy to mean?!
UKTI helps arms companies sell to countries involved in conflict and those arms exports facilitate and prolong the conflict. In modern warfare, the casualties are overwhelmingly civilian. It also helps arms companies export to repressive regimes, including to countries classified as ‘major countries of concern’ in the UK government’s own human rights report. BAE systems, one of the companies supported in 2008 had seven of its deals subject to corruption investigations.
This is a shocking use of taxpayers' money, and one for which there is no economic justification. Arms sales account for just 1.5% of UK exports – yet UKTI now devotes as many staff to arms sales as it does to every other industry sector combined.
The Burma Campaign recently launched their new edition of the “Dirty List” containing 170 companies that directly or indirectly fund Burma’s brutal regime. Thanks to campaigners emails over the past year many companies have pulled out of Burma, depriving the regime of hundreds of thousands of pounds....XL insurance, Cotton Traders, Arig insurance, Trailblazer Guides, Jet Gold Corp, CHC and Aquatic to name a few.
I know folk are pretty busy this time of year but maybe over the holiday break you could write to a few of these companies and tell them to stop bankrolling Burma’s generals: http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/dirty_list/dirty_list_details.html
Here is what the Burma Campaign write: "Every single day foreign companies give millions of dollars to the regime; allowing them to buy the bullets, guns and supplies for the army that keeps them in power. These companies are financing a regime that rapes five-year-old girls, shoots peaceful protestors and leaves storm victims to die. This is your chance to speak directly to the companies that fund the regime. Tell them why what they’re doing is wrong. Tell them why they must respect the wishes of Burma’s democracy movement and pull out of Burma now."
21 Dec 2008
Photos: taken of slides shown during the evening - apols for the angle but I ended up on the floor at the front as the room was so packed
Friedrick showed us slides of a number of paintings that pose some interesting questions - a lot of the discussion was based on the work of Rudolf Steiner - the 20th century Austrian scientist and philosopher whose thoughts are increasingly becoming more popular - particularly in this area where there are a number of Steiner schools and other institutions. His work arguing there were 2 Jesus children is based on consideration of gospels and other texts - and as you might imagine has been greeted in some quarters by derision and even anger.
Basically in the Matthew and Luke Nativity stories there are different births, different locations for the births, and two separate genealogies. Theologians over the centuries have struggled with these inconsistencies - while both gospels show the descent of Jesus from the House of David there are significant differences like:
MATTHEW GOSPEL LUKE GOSPEL
Solomon lineage Nathan lineage
Kingly roots Priestly roots
42 generations 77 generations Joseph's father is Jacob Joseph's father is Heli
The emphasis is on the masculine and Joseph Emphasis is on the feminine and the Madonna
Angel appears to Joseph Angel appears to Mary
Parents live in Bethlehem Parents live in Nazareth
Travel to Bethlehem Birth takes place in a stable Birth takes place in home of Joseph
Interestingly 38 years after Steiner's first spoke of there having been two Jesus children a surprising discovery was made in the birth place of Jesus. In the spring of 1947 in the area around Kirbet Qumran the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered - portions of a scroll were found that would later come to be known as the Damascus Document which speaks of a central dogma among the Essene community of the prophesy of two Messiahs - one, a Messiah of Aaron; and one, a Messiah of Israel; a priestly Messiah and a kingly Messiah, both coming out of the House of David to rule side by side.
Apparently many works of art have depicted what some see as the two Jesus children from the earliest centuries of Christianity. Does this mean there were two children? It surely cannot be known but it is fascinating to consider. In the discussions during the evening we were shown how to see John The Baptist and poss John the Evangelist? But in some of the pics you have to ask why is there another child and who is that child?
20 Dec 2008
Photo: Russ cartoon - not re airports but getting the blog in the mood for Christmas
Cllr Paul James, leader of the Council and chair of the Cabinet, explained that the 'green policy' being developed will initially cap CO2 emissions, and could provide a mechanism for reductions in the future. The current opening hours will also be maintained with not provision for extending them in the future. However already we have seen the proposal's for a 'green policy' make a mockery of the word 'green' - and indeed as I've shown here on the blog, year on year we have seen an increase in planes - more and bigger.
The matter is now likely to go to the next meeting of the full Council on the 15th Jan 2009. See press release I sent out today from lead Green Euro candidate Cllr Ricky Knight here.
Coincidently perhaps - but unlikely - the Bond Aviation Group, which has a specialist helicopter operating division based at the Staverton site, has engaged in initial talks with key shareholders Cheltenham Borough and Gloucester City councils for a takeover of the Airport.
Gloucestershire Airport is valued at more than £20 million, but the value of it’s 400 acres of land is unknown - indeed is likely to be very considerable. Neil Marshall, a member of our Gloucestershire Airport Action Group, warned there must be safeguards against expansion regardless of the $ of the airport and land. Below is what he submitted on behalf of the residents group to the Cabinet meeting following an independent report they commissioned looking at the economics of the project:
I understand that the Cabinet will be discussing the Airport's 'Runway Safety Project' on Wednesday and would like to provide some additional information for your consideration.
1. The airport complies with CAA requirements - there is no threat to the airport's status
The 'Runway Safety Project' (RSP) is designed to address the Airport's concerns that some business could be lost if the CAA withdraws license variations that allow them to operate their main runway in its current configuration. In his report (RMD200818, section 14) the City Councils's Chief Executive has now clarified the position of the CAA. They have stated that they are "currently satisfied", "that in the absence of significant changes to the operations at, or any developments of, the airport, they are likely to remain satisfied" and that there is "no immediate time imperative" to remove the variations. Additionally, the other issues addressed by the RSP, such as the Instrument Landing System and extended Runway End Safety Areas (RESA), have never been the subject of license variations
The clarification by the CAA directly contradicts statements made by the Airport; The Airport business plan states that "the CAA will inevitably require the declared landing distance available to be reduced" without the variations (p.17 of 5-year plan dated 11/12/2006). The same document then goes on to justify the RSP by exploring the consequences of the reduction of the landing distances, concluding that the Airport would have to adapt to remain profitable.
In the light of the clarification from the CAA I believe that there is no longer a case for implementing the RSP on safety grounds. The conclusions of both the Mott MacDonald report and the JASWG would undoubtedly have been influenced had the likelihood of loss of the variation not been so exaggerated.
2. Reference to the 'airport cluster' is misleading, and no jobs are at risk
The report by the Chief executive explains that 3,600 people are employed by companies based at or near the Airport, but with no operational links to the Airport. The report also explains that an additional 340 jobs at the Airport are directly related to aviation. In total these 3,940 jobs contribute 1.9% of the Gloucestershire economy. This means that the aviation related jobs contribute (pro-rata) a far smaller 0.16% of the economy. However the report produces no evidence that any of these jobs would be threatened if the RSP is not implemented. Indeed, I would suggest that even if the runway length were to be reduced none of the 3,600 jobs and a tiny proportion of the 340 jobs would be threatened. For example the flying schools, helicopter companies and by far the majority of the other aviation related businesses would not be effected.
The airport 'cluster', and the 3600 non-aviation related jobs it contains, is of course significant to the Gloucestershire economy. However, those 3,600 jobs are not dependent the Airport, and cannot be effected by the lack of the RSP. Indeed, if securing additional jobs is a priority the money required for the RSP could be better invested in expanding the Airport trading estates where the non-aviation businesses already account for more than ten times the number of jobs provided by aviation related businesses.
3. The business case has not had full scrutiny - and could be badly exposed if it did
The business case for implementing the RSP may be flawed, especially in the current economic climate. Concerned residents Against Staverton Expansion (CASE), of whom I am a member, commissioned an analysis of the business plan from a Chartered Accountant. A copy of Mr Steve Riddick's report is attached to this email.
The key conclusions of the analysis were :
- The Airport has historically been a marginal investment to shareholders (low dividends, few other demonstrable benefits)
- Financial case for "expansion" is marginal at best and may in fact be value-destructive
- The risks and alternatives to the RSP are essentially ignored
Should you wish to discuss any of these points I would be happy to meet with you at a time to suit your schedule. Mr Riddick would also be prepared to attend and explain his findings in more detail.
19 Dec 2008
Photos: Nativity and below cheques being presented to local groups
It was a short meeting - an hour - a race through stuff including my bit as a District Councillor - a brief mention of the results re the bank along Church Road being saved and the latest re Puckshole...
I've had various conversations over last weeks about proposals there - CCTV camera work shows the culvert a Acres Place is very blocked - we now need discussion re replacing grill, cleaning culvert or even building a new on - of course the more sustainable option would be to build attenuation ponds rather than a new culvert - ie slow storm waters down so they don't rush on down the river adding to problems elsewhere - but more work is still needed to assess what is best as the situation is confused by the Wheelers Walk outlet there which is eroding the bank and increasing flows....the good news is that the District Council are actively seeking solutions to these problems.....but more discussion needed.
Fund Raising project
Other items at the Council meeting included Randwick Village Halls request for grants each year so that they can use that to get a loan for the planned new toilet block - no decision made until more info - but at this pointy it is worth mentioning the Village Hall Fund Raising project - pay £10 a year for 8 draws a year with top prize possibly around £100 - to enter ring Morton Watkins on 751248. They are hoping to raise £500 a year to aid the wonderful hall.
Other items covered the latest moves to sort out the Guide Hut, 20 is Plenty, Committee structures for the Parish and more.
Cheques and wine
At 8pm the meeting was closed and the Parish cheques were presented to various representatives who attended.
You'll see the photos of Parish councillors dishing out the cheques to Chest Foundation, Randwick Revellers for a lighting rig for the hall, More Hall Convent for furniture, the school to repair some vandalism and the local Historical society to help with their latest book project.
After that it was time for wine and nibbles -great to chat to various folk - then home - it seemed darker than ever and I stumbled along the footpaths to get home.
18 Dec 2008
The FDA has previously adamantly denied any and all scientific evidence pointing to negative health impacts from mercury fillings, but have now posted the following to its website: "Dental amalgams contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous systems of developing children and fetuses...Pregnant women and persons who may have a health condition that makes them more sensitive to mercury exposure, including individuals with existing high levels of mercury bioburden, should not avoid seeking dental care, but should discuss options with their health practitioner."
Chart above: taken from Daily Mail earlier this year - see here.
As someone who has looked into this in some detail I welcome this move as a significant step towards banning mercury amalgam fillings and protecting children's health. I have for some time had serious doubts about putting this metal into our teeth and then used to chew food etc. Apparently in Britain we have about eight million mercury fillings a year - a million of which are in children and young adults. At present the Department of Health has been unmoved by the US news al;though acknowledges that there are now 15% fewer amalgam fillings since 2004/5.
Austria and Sweden already have a total ban, and in Germany mercury fillings carry a health warning against their use in children and pregnant women. Norway and Denmark have banned mercury from fillings earlier this year while Finland and Japan have severe restrictions - and in the UK some 500 practices refuse to offer mercury fillings.
As some of us, who seek to replace mercury fillings with other fillings as the situation arises, know the alternatives such as white fillings or glass resin composites cost more and some dentists claim they are not as strong. See report re FDA here.
Photos: Slide from John Large talk and John Large below
The two 'Magnox' reactors at Oldbury have been struggling along for the past six years with one or other of them closed down for safety reasons. Some will remember last year Independent Nuclear Scientist John Large spoke in Stroud regarding this and raised many very real concerns - see here. You can download his full presentation from his website here - check down for Oldbury in October 2007 - see here.
Oldbury is the oldest UK reactor - 'a dinosaur nuke' as I said to the press today, where age-related corrosion of the reactor core has meant that safety regulators have closed the reactors for long periods for inspections. One test by Manchester University showed the strength of the graphite bricks which constitute the reactor core would be just twelve percent of its original strength at 35 percent weight loss. We are also told that Reactor 1 reached the safety limit of 34.5 percent weight loss two years ago, while reactor 2 was expected to reach the threshold this year.
I am also concerned by reports that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, who run Oldbury for the Government, are known to be short of money to decommission Sellafield and old Magnox reactors - an estimated cost of £83.20billion. Has political influence played a role in trying to keep the 'nuclear flag flying' while plans to build new reactors at sites like Oldbury are developed? I hope not but certainly contact with other campaigners locally there is a real astonishment that this plant could be kept open when so much about the dangers are known...See what I sent to press here.
17 Dec 2008
Photo: Den making in Standish woods
Parmjit Dhanda in his 'view from Westminster' calls for thoughts about how to spend the £1m allocated for play areas in Gloucestershire up to 2010.
Interestingly studies suggest that our 'safe playgrounds' and safety-orientated society have led to children being less able to cope with uncertainty. Some argue that standardised play equipment is actually dangerous. When the distance between all the rungs on the climbing net or the ladder is exactly the same, children have no need to concentrate on where to put their feet. This lesson cannot be carried over into all the knobbly and asymmetrical forms with which one is confronted throughout life.
It may be unrealistic to think that we can restore children to the ‘free-range childhoods’ enjoyed by earlier generations, but we can take steps to lessen the constraints. Too often our playgrounds are devoid of any greenery or free-spirited, playful engagement with nature. Let us call a halt to these more sterile playgrounds with tubular steel, rubber surfacing and primary coloured plastics galore.
Freiburg, a German city, has done just that for over a decade. At a fraction of the cost they have built over 40 ‘nature playgrounds’ designed with a lifetime in mind. The results are diverse spaces with mounds, ditches, logs, boulders, wild flowers, secret corners and shady spots. The construction materials are a model of sustainability compared to the raw materials and processes used to make conventional playgrounds. Not surprisingly research shows more children staying away from television. So how about Gloucestershire leading the way in creating nature playgrounds?
Cllr. Philip Booth, Stroud District Green Party.
Photos: view of bank that has now been saved
S.08/1740/FUL Land at Glenfield, Townsend, Randwick.
Apologies but I will be away for work next week and therefore unable to help re this application at the meeting. You will note the objections to this application are almost solely around the condition to cut back the roadside bank. It is the view of myself, Randwick Parish Council and most of the letters of objection from residents that this is an unnecessary and damaging condition.
I welcome the work done by Stroud District Council Officers and Highways on achieving significant changes on the original plans for gabions that were thrown out by the Inspector. However even these milder works to the roadside bankare considered intrusiveby the community.
I would urge that you give consideration at the meeting to removing the conditions for any works to the roadside bank.
Please consider this in terms of road safety and visual impact:
(i) There is some concern that cutting back into the bank will result in the road appearing to widen. This in turn could encourage drivers to go faster. At the moment the reduced visibility of the existing road canencourage drivers to slow down on this stretch. This is a busy road used by pedestrians particularly walking to local schools and the church. Some of those walking regularly are among those objecting to these changes to the bank.
The road off this road, Ash Lane, is already used by a handful of houses and many cars with walkers and bikers visiting Standish Woods.If it is the view that additional highwaysafety measures are necessary for this one house, then rather than cutting this bank I would strongly urge that other measures like a 20 mph would be a more useful way of slowing traffic and increasing safety on that stretch of the road. Randwick Parish are in the process of trying to implement a '20 is Plenty' scheme: in my view funds towards that or other traffic calming agreed by the Parish Council would be more useful.
(ii) Cutting back into the grass bank will have a negative visual impact. As the Inspector has said this bank is a large part of the local landscape feature and creates a characteristic sense of enclosure, which is a feature of the local roads. Cutting into it will alter that sense of enclosure in an artificial way and impact on the AONB.Furthermore increasing the slope at some points could disturb this bank and lead to possible landslips in the future. In the Appeal earlier this year the Inspector alsonoted:
5. It seems to me that these qualities help to create a distinctive and most attractive local character. The site is also within the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which should be afforded the highest level of protection in relation to landscape and natural beauty, and is adjacent to the Randwick Conservation Area.
10. This leads me to conclude that the proposed development, by reason of the works to the bank, would harm the character and appearance of the area. To the extent that the development would harm the semi-rural character of this part of the settlement, I am of the opinion that the character and appearance of the adjacent conservation area, based on the traditional street pattern and building forms, would not be preserved. Furthermore, I consider that the scheme would be detrimental to the form and setting of the settlement in the surrounding AONB, a fine pastoral landscape of gently rolling hills and copse woodland.
The Inspector was considering the much larger proposed works, however it is my view that cutting into the bank as proposed would still alter thelocal landscape negatively and significantly. I consider this proposal to the bank to be contrary to Policies which were identified as BE5, NE8 and NE13 of the adopted Stroud District Local Plan. I hope DCC will consider removing the appropriate conditions relating to the bank.
Photo: a view from 'Local Scribbler Russ' re the canal
The canal got voted through with seven objections and one abstention. I have to say this was a particularly difficult decision for me - there were good reasons to support this and for rejecting this project...
As many testified that evening the canal is a bold move - and for me at this time of crisis an investment of this size in the community is likely to have a significant impact on the local economy and perhaps more importantly a positive impact in the business and community confidence in the area. There is no question that some excellent work has been done on this by Stroud District Council.
The benefits by 2020 have been listed - if project is completed within 4 years - as an extra 215,000 visitors, 21 new permanent tourism jobs, 600 other new jobs in private sector, 13,800m2 of new work space, £83m in private sector investment (eg new homes etc), help to rare species plus a £94,000 multi-user trail / towpath...but wow are there risks - huge risks - the Council has spelled those out in the papers that evening - here are some from the report and other areas of concern:
- Iceland borrowing has still not been sorted,
- Brimscombe Port will have to have a developer for the site (not easy in this current climate where many local developments like Hunts Grove have been partially or totally moth balled) and if not then the whole project can't proceed,
- there are strings attached to the Lottery grant that mean we could be liable to repay the grant ourselves - ie Council Tax rises or service cuts,
- complex legal arrangements,
- there is still no agreement or plan as to who will maintain the canal after the works have been completed - ie possible Council Tax rises or service cuts,
- the impact on the project of the economic downturn has not fully been assessed,
- money from the sale of Dudbridge Depot and the planned sale of the Dursley supermarket site are earmarked for the project: my own view is that despite assurances at Council last night that Dursley and other areas far from the canal will get little benefit from the canal yet have to bear the costs,
- projects like this have a habit of costs over running especially where contaminated land is involved (eg Millenium Dome and Bath Spa) - again poss Council Tax rises or service cuts,
- some of the benefits would appear to be overstated - particularly as this is a landlocked canal: 'a 6 mile pond' or as Cllr Lunnon described it last night as a 'palatial if skinny duck pond' - there do not appear to be allowances for this and comparisons of benefits are made with those connected to the canal system
- I still have concerns that the multi-user trail will not be up to scratch - if it is not wide enough it will not be used significantly as a commuting route - see more discussion here,
- the canal route at Capel Mill is still subject to much controversy - see here - but more importantly the way this was handled raised concerns about the whole consultation process - indeed other local groups like a Parish Council have also raised this concern,
- another example of this is that the Green party back in early June submitted a series of questions to the Council re the canal - see questions and discussion here - incredibly despite at least four requests for those questions to be answered they only arrived late Friday with the Green party Cllr Sarah Lunnon who was unable to forward to the rest of the group until Monday - the day before the meeting. I have to say this lack of willingness to engage with elected members gave me very real and serious cause for concerns,
- lastly and perhaps most importantly, while this project clearly would have a positive impact on the community it does not tackle head on the greatest needs of our community or the greatest threats to it. We are using all our capital millions and quite possibly needing to borrow in the future to progress this project yet our priorities should be cutting CO2 emissions
and preparing for the impacts of climate change, it should be tackling the shocking 20% who are now considered to be in fuel poverty in Stroud District (in some local areas that rises to a massive 32%) and of course forecasts show fuel prices are expected to rise significantly and this will impact on all aspects of our local economy and communities.
Hard to treat insulation grant cut
Perhaps one of the most disturbing bits of news on the day before this vote was that the 'hard to treat' insulation side of SDC's WISE Homes grant has fallen victim to budget cuts. This is despite all the hard work to expand and promote the scheme which is key to making homes more sustainable in the future. The renewables part of the WISE Homes scheme will apparently continue as usual but there is no funding for the hard to treat insulation because of reduced funding into the Private Sector Housing Renewal programme. To date SDC funding has topped up regional funding, giving a much larger PSR budget and enabling a more innovative policy. From April 2009 regional funding has been cut and there will be no SDC funding going in either.
This was only £35k funding so it is disturbing to see this important project cut - will we see more of this if the canal goes ahead? Indeed I hope we can reverse this decision but more worrying is that similar vital projects like this will not be possible if all capital money is diverted to the canal.
The vote was a free vote and all political parties had their objectors - a handful of Tories did not attend the meeting (two of whom have said in the past they do not support the canal) - I think the final tally at the vote showed 2 Labour, 2 Greens, 2 Lib Dems and 1 Independent against. I abstained. It would have been easy to go with the flow and enthusiasm by some for the project but I have deep reservations that this is not the best way to be spending taxpayers money - indeed more people against the canal than for it have contacted me - equally I can see there are benefits for pursuing this project. I am yet to be convinced by objectors or supporters.
Certainly talking to other councillors I know of at least three who literally made their mind up in the last moments of the vote: I wasn't prepared to do that. Some have called this brave and honest, others cowardly - I leave you to make your mind up if you can!
Greens have said repeatedly that they believe the £20 million cost of the scheme can only be justified if it meets key demands - listed below - we will work to see these become a reality although I fear this is going to be very difficult - particularly as a Green amendment to confirm 30% affordable housing was lost last night.
- 30% of all new housing to be affordable
- No loss of existing jobs and new jobs and training provided
- New buildings to be exemplars of energy efficiency
- Maximum use of energy from water power opportunities
- Provision of new or improved cycle and pedestrian routes along the length of the regeneration area
- Brimscombe Port to be an exciting destination with significant water, imaginative design and multi-purpose community centre
- Canal and river corridor to maximise opportunities for biodiversity and flood management
- Connectivity between the canal and Stroud Town Centre.
15 Dec 2008
....meanwhile I saw in the SNJ that this Thursday 18th there will be carol singing around Whiteshill and Ruscombe villages in aid of the Cotswold Care Hospice - a chance to get in the mood for Christmas if you haven't already been caught by the Christmas consumer hype - anyone wishing to join please meet at 7pm at the Whiteshill War Memorial - take a torch - carol books provided. Unfortunately that is also Randwick Parish Council night so I wont be able to join them - at the parish there will I think be presentation of cheques to local groups so come along to find out what the Parish is doing if you don't fancy joining the singers....
12 Dec 2008
Photo: See how this was created here.
The government has now launched a consultation into secondary legislation under the ID cards act, some details of the civil penalties under the act have emerged. Regular blog readers will know I am wholly opposed to this move and publicise here some of the latest developments courtesy of NO2ID...
Here is how NO2ID describe what this will mean under a heading 'A lifetime of ID Control': "For instance you could have £1000 penalties sent to you by e-mail if you fail to turn up at a time and place of their choosing, refuse to be fingerprinted, photographed or hand over documents (e.g. birth or marriage certificates), or fail to tell them you've moved house for 3 months. Anything that the Identity and Passport service think is "deliberate or reckless" provision of incorrect information could lead to 2 years in prison. Other dubious 'highlights' include: a tax on marriage - women who change their name will have to buy a new card; those without bank accounts won't be able to get ID as you can only pay by credit or debit card, or cheque; and the homeless will be able to nominate a park bench as their 'address'. Welcome to a lifetime of state identity control!"
The Coroners and Justice Bill, announced in the Queen's Speech last week has extraordinary new data-sharing powers which could be exercised without Parliamentary debate. It seems the government is trying to sneak through new powers in a bill "to create the new role of The Office of the Chief Coroner".
Here is NO2ID again: "The new powers follow on from the Thomas/Walport Data Sharing Review which recommended "that where there is a genuine case for removing or modifying an existing legal barrier to data sharing, a new statutory fast-track procedure should be created". Jack Straw highlighted these new 'fast track' data-sharing powers which he said will "simplify the data protection framework and remove any unnecessary obstacles to data sharing".
"These powers would allow the government effectively to set aside not just the Data Protection Act and data protection principles when it suits, but the much more fundamental protections of Articles 6 and 8 of the ECHR/HRA, of common law confidentiality and of ultra vires (Ultra vires refers to acts of a public body which fall beyond its jurisdiction or remit). This goes far beyond data protection into administrative and constitutional law. Rather than protecting our personal information as it should, the government is cutting away safeguards for its own data-trafficking convenience. This bill as it stands smashes the rule of law and builds the database state in its place. We need to do everything we can to stop these powers being passed otherwise it really could mean the end of privacy as we know it."
10 Dec 2008
I can enjoy most films from aliens to a love story - but not horror here are three fun quirky warm DVDs that I have seen over the last month:
Juno (2007) - Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, an offbeat young woman makes an unusual decision regarding her unborn child. Watched this and enjoyed after seeing Caroline Lucas had liked it!
Happy Go Lucky (2008) - Mike Leigh - a look at a few chapters in the life of Poppy, a cheery, colorful, North London schoolteacher whose optimism tends to exasperate those around her. The amazing thing about this is that the actors were given their characters then put in situations without script to create the movie.
Lars and the Real Girl (2008) - A delusional young guy strikes up an unconventional relationship with a doll he finds on the Internet. Great film - wish all townsfolk were like this place!
7 Dec 2008
First the book I enjoyed immensely: Nature Cure by Richard Mabey - In 1999, Richard Mabey, Britain’s foremost nature writer, fell into a severe depression. Worst of all, the natural world - previously a source of inspiration and joy for him -became meaningless. This great book charts his gradual return from sickness to health and happiness through his re-awakened love of nature and through falling in love. Along the way he reflects on the wonders of nature and tells many fascinating tales. He shows how the British countryside increased his understanding of what really matters and restored his sense of delight. This was his ‘nature cure’. See The Independent review here.
The second book was more of a ramble - Retrieved from the Future by John Seymour - this book anticipates another English civil war after the collapse of oil supplies and the pricking of the global economic bubble. All too possible when one reads the forecasts around Peak Oil. In my view this is not his best writing but others seemed to have enjoyed - it is in a similar vein to Survivors which I enjoyed lots - something wonderfully quaint about that original series - I understand it has been remade and is reshowing....anyhow John Seymour is also author of the 'green bible': The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency - he died some 4 years ago - see more here.
Order books from Stroud Bookshop online here.
5 Dec 2008
Photo: Green party coordinator Elinor holding hands with police - see more Aldermaston by clicking link below
Meanwhile if you are short of something to read I recently added a summary of Green party news to the Glos Green website - see GNN here.
....except that we cannot and must not accept this - campaigners will be regrouping to fight this...indeed for over 5 years I've been fighting these plans and despite this set-back we have never had more support and more sanity - however it seems that some of our elected members still do not understand the enormity of the tasks ahead of us.
Here is out the residents group report it:
After coverage of the meeting in the local press and on ITV West during the day the meeting began at 18:00. In the half hour before it started there was a peaceful demonstration, by opponents of the plans, on the steps of the Council offices. Featuring a cheque made out to the 'Gloucestershire Airport White Elephant' for 'Many many millions of pounds' and a banner featuring a flying white elephant emitting clouds of CO2 from its behind the demo was again covered by local press and TV.
The meeting itself was addressed by representatives of the Airport, CASE (Concerned residents Against Staverton Expansion), Gloucester Environment and Ecology Forum, Cheltenham Borough Council, Glos Uni Business School, Gloucestershire First, local Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses. Three members of Glos City Council also addressed the meeting, two of whom are also directors of the Airport. Several members of the public also had the opportunity to address the meeting, all speaking out against the proposals.
The presentation by CASE featured an explanation of the concerns of local residents, a report by a Chartered Accountant which highlighted the serious flaws in Airport's business case, and the an outline of the environmental case against the expansion.
In particular, we felt that statement given by the CAA to Glos City Council: "the CAA have confirmed that they are currently satisfied with the Airport's management of the variations" and that " in the absence of significant changes to the operations at the Airport they are likely to remain satisfied" showed that there was no danger of further restrictions being imposed on the Airport. This CAA statement contradicted the Airport's justification for their plans, which is based on making improvements to prevent further restrictions.
However, after a very brief deliberation the Committee unanimously decided to recommend that the Cabinet be advised to support the Airports plans.
Here is one campaigner's letter to the press which summarises it all:
On Tuesday evening I listened to the deliberations of the City's Environment Scrutiny Committee on Gloucestershire Airport with a growing sense of the surreal. Here was a clear case of airport expansion being solemnly presented as no more than 'safety measures', even though the Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed that they are already satisfied that the runway is safe, both now and in the future.
Here also was a collection of elected councillors apparently swallowing whole the flawed arguments of the airport proponents, while failing to see that both 'peak oil' and climate change are already threatening to turn airports into dodos in our lifetime. Do these people all live in the unchangingly sunny uplands of Cloud Cuckoo Land?
Cherry Lavell, Cheltenham
4 Dec 2008
Photo: Ebley Mill viewed from Randwick
David Drew MP was one of the leading instigators of this potentially radical piece of legislation - Caroline Lucas Green MEP and Green party leader was also a key player - many other campaigners have also pushed this hard - indeed some 3 years ago Greens held a meeting in Stroud to push this through - since then we have had various letter writing campaigns and more - it has been astonishing to see it get so far - indeed could almost restore faith in politics!! Now we need to make it work.
Locally the Leader of the District Council, Chas Fellows has made positive statements about the Act but he notes that he wants to understand the implications more before signing. Green party councillors have put a motion to the next Full Council on 16th Dec (see below) - correction I meant 21st January - the December meeting is only re canal - already 25 local authorities have now chosen to take part, including Birmingham (the largest council in England), Norfolk, Brighton and Hove and South Tyneside. You can get more info and see a map of the councils which have already decided to take part on Unlock Democracy here.
Sustainable Communities Act
That Stroud District Council
(i) supports the bottom up process in the Sustainable Communities Act designed to allow local authorities and their communities to drive the help that central government gives in promoting thriving, sustainable communities;
(ii) notes that the Act gives local authorities the power to
• make proposals to government on the action and assistance government must take or give to promote sustainable communities, and
• argue for a transfer of public money and function from central to local control;
(iii) notes that the Act defines the sustainable communities broadly, that definition having the 4 aspects of
• the improvement of the local economy,
• protection of the environment,
• promotion of social inclusion, and
• participation in civic and political activity;
(iv) notes that reasons for a local authority choosing to use the Act include gaining new assistance from government, determining that assistance, being able to argue for transfers of public monies from central to local control and involving citizens in democracy.
(v) resolves to use the Act; and to inform central Government and the local media of this decision;
Proposed by: Cllr Sarah Lunnon
Seconded by: Cllr Martin Whiteside