30 Sep 2009

Chas steps down

Councillor Chas Fellows, Leader of Stroud District Council, has stepped down as leader. He gave the scoop to the SNJ who put it on their frontpage.

Photo: John Marjoram talking to Chaz at recent elections

Chas has held the office for five years, and is the longest serving leader at the council - he will continue to represent the Chalford constituency as a district councillor and is also a county councillor - indeed he has just been appointed as chair of the county council's Environment Scrutiny Committee - this will hopefully be a good move - he has done lots to drive the environment agenda forward in Stroud District - although from a Green perspective this has not been nearly enough! He has certainly worked hard for the District and also holds the respect of opposition groups.

Here's what he told the press: "This is something I have been mulling over for a while, and a decision I have not taken lightly. I initially intended to step down in May this year but a number of my colleagues convinced me to stay on to help deliver some efficiency improvements and changes. I also wanted to help ensure that the problems with our housing service were addressed so that it was left on a strong footing before I stepped down. Now it's time for a new chapter in my life. It's been an enjoyable and challenging experience, and a privilege to represent the whole district. It sounds a little clich, but at the age of 64, I want to spend more quality time with my family, and free up time for gardening on my allotment. I've only just unearthed my passion for gardening and am thoroughly enjoying it! Relinquishing my leader role will also allow me to focus more on my Chalford constituents, who I have been fortunate enough to represent since May 1996."

Councillor Fellows will step down as leader at the next full meeting of Stroud District Council on 12th November, when a new leader will also be elected. The bets are on as to who will be the new leader - Francis Roden, the current Housing portfolio holder in the Cabinet is looking to be one of the most likely candidates. It will be interesting to see how much a change of leadership leads to changes in the way Council works....

Hulks reveal hidden secrets

I've been following the wonderful developments at Purton where Marine Historian Paul Barnett has been working to preserve the 'Purton Hulks' - why you say have I got a pic of the launch of the Stroud currency? Well Paul is holding the £1! Anyway here is his latest news:

Following what is now being billed as the first ships excavation to take place this century, the last remaining Kennet built barge Harriett of the now famous Purton Hulks is set to take centre stage amongst the country’s archaeological fraternity and ignite a massive debate into the distinct lack of national funding for our nations maritime archaeology.

This comes in the wake of this week’s site excavation of the vessel by volunteer guardians of the site, The Friends of Purton, set up in 2008 in light of continued governmental inactivity to afford formal protection to the nation’s largest foreshore ships graveyard in the country.

Friends of Purton Chairman Paul Barnett today remarked “that despite it being too early to comment, I am thrilled with the results and believe that there is so much more to discover regarding this rapidly disappearing epitaph to a dwindling maritime way of life and a once proud maritime nation.”

In line, Head of Archaeology for the Friends, Laurent Coleman, heralded the excavation as “a great success, the works giving a vital insight into the state of preservation of the vessel and answering questions regarding the hull form and construction. Further I am immensely impressed by the hard work and cooperation demonstrated by members of The Friends of Purton, of the NAS and of the local community in achieving our common aim. I look forward to presenting a report to the archeologically world in due course”.

This early success has been marked by Mark Beattie - Edwards,Programme Director,
Nautical Archaeology Society, who issued this from their Portsmouth headquarters “The NAS are delighted to see what quantity of the Harriett actually remains preserved beneath the ground at Purton. The challenge now of course is to try and protect in any way we can the remains above the surface for all to enjoy. I am sure that the Friends of Purton will work tirelessly to this end and will not rest until their heritage is protected for future generations and for that we applaud them”.

The excavation itself was conducted as part of a rolling programme to record the entire site and was carried out in conjunction with 3D laser scanning of the exposed timbers by Vista, University of Birmingham and a magnetic surveyconducted by Worcestershire based Stratascan Ltd. Further details on this and the other vessels within the Purton Hulks fleet please visit www.friendsofpurton.org.uk

Plus here are the details of a programme of guided tours through the remains of the Purton Hulks in the company of Paul:
Sunday 17th January 2010 1pm
Sunday 21st February 2010 1pm
Sunday 21st March 2010 1pm
Sunday 18th April 2010 2pm
Sunday 2nd & 16th May 2010 2pm
Sunday 6th & 20th June 2010 2pm
Sunday 4th & 18th July 2010 2pm
Sunday 15th August 2010 2pm
Sunday 5th & 19th September 2010 2pm
Sunday 17th October 2010 2pm
Sunday 21st November 2010 1pm
Sunday 19th December 2010 1pm

Meet Purton Lower Bridge - Tour fee £3.50 per person - Approx tour time 2 hours weather permitting - Slide show presentations also available upon request Tel. 07833 143 231 or Barnadillo(at)aol.com

Help stop biofuel power station in Bristol

Local Green Party groups in Newham, Ealing, Newport and Portland have helped stop 3 out of 3 biofuel power stations being granted planning permission. Since the power stations would very likely use palm oil, this has saved 30,000 hectares of rainforest being destroyed or if it was EU land to provide feedstock, the land saved can feed over a 100,000 people. Now the threat of a station has come to Avonmouth. Biofuelwatch have written asking me to help publicise this latest threat: the info below is mostly from them.

Photo: from Russ

The plans in Portland by W4B Renewable Energy for a biofuel power station were rejected by Weymouth and Portland Council, amidst concerns about the impact of biofuels in general and palm oil in particular on the climate, on forests and other ecosystems and on communities in the global South. There were also concerns over air pollution and public health in nearby areas.

Now W4B has submitted plans for a biofuel power station more than twice the size of the largest one applied for before. They want to build a 50 MW power station at Avonmouth Docks in Bristol, which would burn 90,000 tonnes of vegetable oil, most likely palm oil, every year. More than 22,000 hectares of oil palm plantations would be required to feed this one power station, and even more land if other feedstock was used.

W4B have mentioned jatropha as well as palm oil, yet jatropha is not yet commercially available, many plantings are failing, yet thousands of people have already lost their land and livelihood for jatropha plantations to feed Europe’s biofuel market. Peat expert Professor Siegert of Munich University has said about palm oil power stations in Germany: “We were able to prove that the making of these plantations and the burning of the rainforests and peat areas emits many thousands of times as much CO2 as we then are able to prevent by using palm oil. And that is a disastrous balance for the climate.” Ever more communities in countries like Colombia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Ecuador are losing their land to palm oil companies, with plantation expansion to a large extent driven by Europe’s biofuel policies.

Biofuelwatch also suggest local residents will be affected by increased levels of nitrogen oxide and small particulates which are linked to respiratory and cardiac disease. Avonmouth in particular already has high levels of pollution. I am not sure if this is likely to cut much ice with the regulators. Ground level NOx and particulates from this plant will be unlikely to breach accepted limits.

Anyhow there is plenty wrong with this plant so please go and object to this application at:

If you live in Bristol I am sure they could do with help campaigning on this - and if you live in or near London go along to the demonstration outside the Department for Energy and Climate Change in London on 12th October at 6.30 pm against the subsidies for biofuels. For
more information, see www.campaigncc.org/biofuels

Without 'green energy' subsidies, biofuel power stations like the one planned in Bristol would not be viable.

Lib Dems not so eco?

Nick Clegg was claiming in the IoS that his is the eco-party. See Caroline Lucas' article in the Indy here. I do have to note delight that Lib Dems are talking Green, but there track record is still poor - very poor - as Caroline points out.

Photo: moss

Also as most people now know, being Green isn't just about the environment - it never has been – it's about social and economic justice too. Nick Clegg's call for "savage cuts" in public spending, and his pronouncements on tuition fees and child benefits will therefore do little to endear him to Green voters. It seems Lib Dems are no sure whether they are after the Tory voters or the Labour ones?

29 Sep 2009

Energy Monitors come to Glos libraries

I am delighted to say that this project to see energy monitors in Glos libraries, that I initiated, is finally set to launch today. See my previous comments here. I enclose the County's press release below which interestingly has forgotten to mention Transition Stroud's role in initiating this project.

A pity as I think it would benefit the County to show that they are working with local groups - and of course encourage those of us in Transition Stroud to develop further projects. Anyhow below is their press release plus the comment from me not used.

What’s crunching on your kilowatts?

Gloucestershire’s libraries are giving customers the chance to ‘go green’ and save some cash by exposing the energy guzzlers in their homes.

Monitors that allow you to measure the amount of energy that your appliances use will soon be available to borrow from nine of the county’s libraries. These can help to both reduce energy bills and carbon dioxide emissions. You can borrow a meter pack free of charge for up to three weeks in the same way as you might borrow a book, DVD or CD. You will need to put down a deposit of £5 which you will get back when you return the monitor. The pack includes a single appliance power saver monitor, information about the project and energy saving tips and activities.

This six-month pilot project is being run by Severn Wye Energy Agency (SWEA), who will supply the monitors, in partnership with Gloucestershire County Council’s Libraries & Information. It is being funded by the Gloucestershire Environment Partnership and district councils.

Five monitors will be available for loan at each of the libraries - Stroud, Nailsworth, Stonehouse, Dursley, Cirencester,Tewkesbury,Cheltenham, Quedgeley and Lydney. There will a launch event at each library with a display stand and a representative from SWEA to show customers how to get the best out of the energy monitors.

TewkesburyLibrary: September 29th,10am to 12pm
Nailsworth Library: September 30th,10.30am to 12.30pm
CheltenhamLibrary: September 30th,1.30pm to 3.30pm.
Stroud Library: October 2nd,10am to 12pm
Dursley Library: October 2nd,2pm to 4pm.
Quedgeley Library: October 6th,10am to 12pm.
Cirencester Library: October 6th,2.30pm to 4.30pm.
Lydney Library: October 9th,10am to 12pm.
Another launch is planned for Stonehouse library but a date has not yet been set.

A SWEA spokesman said: “These monitors are simple to use and can help customers to manage their electricity consumption and reduce their bills. When people realise how much money certain appliances and actions are costing them, it often encourages them to use less electricity. You can measure the energy consumption of your whole house at any one point or use the power saver to measure single appliances. This can show you how many units your appliances are using and how many they should be using, so you know if they need to be replaced.”

Cllr Antonia Noble, Gloucestershire County Council Cabinet member for libraries, said: “What a great idea – giving customers the opportunity to reduce their energy bills and be greener when they pop in to borrow a book or DVD. I’m sure this project will capture people’s imaginations and that they will be surprised at how much energy some appliances use – I would certainly like to give it a go!”

For more information, go to www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/libraries/energy and www.swea.co.uk

Philip Booth, a member of Transition Stroud, who initiated the idea of Energy Monitors in Gloucestershire libraries, said: "I am delighted that Gloucestershire County Council and SWEA are supporting this project. Energy monitors offer people a way to become more aware of their energy use and any energy-guzzlers in their homes. Research indicates this is successful in helping people cut their electricity bills and CO2 emissions."

28 Sep 2009

Transition Stroud becomes incorporated

Saturday from 2pm to 8m Transition Stroud members came together to share where the project has got to, the appointment of Directors as we are now a not-for-profit company and shared food and two bands.

In this blog there are loads of photos of folk involved with the day - by no means all - and my brief bits do no justice to tell of the wealth of stuff going on - it was a privilege to be amongst so much wonderful energy.

Anyhow first pic is of Helen Royal, Coordinator, introducing the day - she also coordinated the Open Homes event and has been great at keeping us all communicating - regular emails - plus helping new groups get up and running - plus dealing with the numerous requests from other Transition groups and more for info etc.

Lots more info can be found at the Transition website - see here.

The second pic is Eric who introduced his plans for a skill share scheme - he has already been in touch with various others about how this might work.

Next pic is Dave Cockcroft, Green party Town councillor who spoke with Fiona about the Transition Energy group - he mentioned the Open Homes and also plans for a community run wind turbine - lots of research done but stuck finding a site. I chipped in too mention the Energy Monitors project in Glos libraries - see blog tomorrow about that!

We also heard from Molly, an Economist, in this pic about the Livelihoods group and of course the launch of the Stroud Pound - a hugely exciting development locally.

Nigel Westaway, pictured with her was chair of the event and helps run an exciting informal wood fuel project at Hawkwood - more of that comng soon as I am exploring possibilities for one locally here in Randwick area.

Nick weir spoke about the food group and the latest on the Community Supported Agriculture projects and numerous other developments re food - perhaps one of the most exciting new ones is the food hub - see here for details.

Simon Allen, is the next pic and he presented stuff about the work of the Business and Government group - one of the highlights was their report to the LSP on food security - this led to Simon and Fi going to a conference to present their report - see here. It also got covered by the Sunday Times - I copied the article onto my blog here.

The next pic is of James Beecher who spoke in several roles but here with his proposal of a 'Protest and Survive' working group looking at how protest and campaigning can help the Transition process - to me this is a positive development as I think we need to integrate all these ways of working to maximise our impact. Apparently such a role has been controversial in other Transition groups and not been adopted - however in Stroud all the indications were that it would gain support and be formally established.

Another big area of discussion was how to move forward - we are very fortunate to have new member Gail Bradbrook - she has lots of fund raising experience and is immediately putting it to very good use.

All this led to much discussion as more 'radical' members of the group wanted to ensure we were not repeating the mistakes of current ways of working - see Molly's very personal discussion about the meeting here.

Isabelle Ellis-Cockcroft was one of the next speakers - she shared the exciting developments of her role as part of the UK Youth Climate Coalition - she will be part of the official delegation to the UN Copenhagen meeting and have access to the chamber and to ask questions - other negotiators have said how powerful it is to have young people present who really make them think about what they are doing.

Clare Sheriden, who chairs the largest Transition Group - Textiles - some 50 members - shared their many successes like the Trashon Show - and some frustrations like the not so great hemp crop.

Carol Matthews and John Meadley below both shared stuff re the Transport group - their new website is great stuff - see it here: www.changinggear.org.uk

They have done some brilliant work with schools and are now exploring where next to go to.

John Meadley also shared the EDAP - the Energy Descent Action Plan - this is just at the beginning stages - I've mentioned before it was Kinsale's plan - the first one that inspired work on a local Parish Plan...

....anyhow this one from the City of San Buenaventure looks brilliant - a couple of slides below with great chapter headings like 'Energy: passive is massive" - see more about it here.

Meanwhile I learn that Maribyrnong City Council have made history by becoming the first-ever local government organisation in Australia to complete a Peak Oil Contingency Plan, which is now available for download here. See here Rob Hopkins on other plans.

Also of interest is the publication this August of the second All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil (APPGOPO) report, 'Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs): A Policy Framework for Peak Oil and Climate Change' co-written with The Lean Economy Connection. The report urges the government to begin planning for the introduction of a system of energy rationing to mitigate against oil price increases, fuel poverty and fuel scarcity, and to reduce carbon emissions. John Hemming MP, Chairman of APPGOPO, said that the UK government remains unprepared for peak oil. "The evidence is now strong that peak oil is either upon us or just over the horizon. Even the International Energy Agency accepts that an oil supply crunch seems to be on its way. The UK government should urgently consider the TEQs system, as I believe it's the only comprehensive and fair way to tackle climate change and the coming oil crisis. The alternative to rationing by tradeable quotas is to hold back consumption through massive price increases. This gives economic instability, unemployment and fuel poverty. We need to plan for a system to give some stability in what will soon be a sellers market for fossil fuels rather than a buyers market. It is important that we plan for the technology required soon. To work effectively this will need some international agreement to reduce demand across the world. It is, therefore, important that the technology is put in place to track fossil fuel usage together with cash payments. It is entirely possible for people to do this using credit and debit cards, but only if the technology is planned for soon." Read the report here.

Fiona reported on the Transition Tales group - and finished the meeting with a wonderful story about how precious our earth is....

...then it was time for wonderful food and two bands - great stuff - huge thanks to all who made this possible.

Talk on the threat to our tap water


Come and hear a talk by Stephen Peckham from 'Hampshire Against Fluoridation' about what maybe imposed on us in the South and West.

Details: 11.30am Saturday 10th October 2009 at The School of Art and Science, Lansdown, Stroud (opposite the library). The talk will be followed by the AGM of the Safe Water Campaign for Gloucestershire.

Philip Booth, Secretary of the Safe Water Campaign, said: "Stephen Peckham is an active campaigner with the 'Hampshire Against Fluoridation' group and seen how despite massive opposition for fluoridation there, including from Hampshire County Council, the Health Authority still unanimously voted for fluoridating their water supply. Stephen is a health service researcher and has published widely on health services, public health, ethics and health policy. We hope to learn from Hampshire's experience to ensure that there is no way that the people of Gloucestershire get compulsorily medicated with fluoridated tap water."

Safe Water Campaign for Gloucestershire - Further information Tel. 01453 872915

27 Sep 2009

Four parties in Stroud debate defence

On Thursday Bruce Kent was in Stroud - see here with links to actions on Trident - this was followed on Friday night by a debate sponsored by the Green party in The Space in Stroud with spokespeople from all four parties.

Photos: Panel from left to right: MP David Drew for Labour, Parliamentary spokespersons Cllr. Martin Whiteside for the Greens, Chair Jane Mace, Lib Dem spokesperson Cllr. Dennis Andrewartha and Neil Carmichael for the Tories. Plus other pics from the evening.

But before I get to that please email Miliband before 1st October here on arms control. While Governments talk, over 2 million people have died from armed violence. As the campaign Control Arms website says: "Irresponsible arms transfers fuel conflict, poverty and human rights abuses. In the past, David Miliband and the UK Government have shown leadership in promoting a strong Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at the United Nations. But right now the Treaty is stuck in the slow lane – governments have been discussing the ATT since 2006, meanwhile over 2 million people have died from armed violence. The UK Government needs to finish what it started, it's time to get down to business."

Anyway to the evening of discussion - a turnout of around 80 people with most engaging in challenging and informative discussion on topics including the replacement of the Trident missile system and the military alliance of England and America.

All four parties were represented and spoke from the platform: MP David Drew for Labour, Parliamentary spokespersons Cllr. Martin Whiteside for the Greens, Neil Carmichael for the Tories and Lib Dem spokesperson Cllr. Dennis Andrewartha. This was the first meeting of party spokespeople ahead of the elections that will take place before May 2010.

During the course of the evening Green Party Parliamentary candidate Cllr. Martin Whiteside – who has wide ranging experience of poverty and war - been to Afghanistan 5 times - found support for his views on non-proliferation and democratic solutions to international problems. Perhaps not so surprising being so many Greens in the audience - only the Conservative spokesperson spoke in favour of the need to retain Trident. Anyway there is now a more full report on the evening here.

Next month the Coffee House discussion returns to Star Anise cafe and looks at planning locally: Where should housing go? Where should wind turbines go? And more - but before signing off this blog wanted to quote Stop the War Coalition, of which the Green party is a member -- they said today: Much is being made of UN calls for nuclear disarmament this week. Every missile nuclear or otherwise that is scrapped is welcome. Anything which reduces tension between big powers is to be applauded. But the cuts proposed will leave enough nuclear weapons in play to destroy the planet many times over and the changes taking place amount to a shift to new military priorities not a move away from intervention.

Long range nuclear weapons, even aircraft carriers and big tanks may be de-prioritised because of the kind of wars the west will be fighting. The new British Chief of staff General Richards outlined the new thinking last week. Afghanistan was a "signpost" indicating the nature of wars in the future - "asymmetric" conflicts with less need for traditional military hardware like tanks and warplanes.

"Future conflicts are more likely to involve non-state actors and failed states, like Afghanistan, rather than traditional wars between states... How we deal with the threat posed by violent extremism, often embedded in dangerously radicalised states, will be an issue that will dominate our professional lives." In reality the big powers will keep enough nuclear weapons and hi-tech hardware to continue to intimidate potential rivals, but they are clearing the way to spend more on targeted, infantry-led interventions round the world. General Richards also made clear the military sees no choice but to fight to the end in Afghanistan - whatever that is - and he explained why defeat is not an option. Imagine he said, the "enduring grand strategic impact on the UK's authority and reputation in the world of the defeat of the British Armed Forces, and its impact on public sentiment here in the UK." The war in Afghanistan is not about the well being of the Afghan people, economic, social or political, it is about the projection of American and British power abroad.

We can also remember that there is a national Bring the Troops Home demonstration on Saturday 24 October at Hyde Park at midday. It will be lead by anti-war military families, army veterans and soldiers and will march to Trafalgar Square for a mass rally. Unfortunately this clashes with the 350 Internatioonal Climate Day when here in Stroud we will be planting 350 trees and finishing 350 beehouses.

26 Sep 2009

Climate Rush in Stroud: direct action is legitimate

As noted before on this blog Stroud was fortunate to have a visit from Climate Rush -see Stroud District Green party comment re visit here. In the Stroud News and Journal this week they asked about Direct Action - well as regulars will know I've written before on that - here is my letter this week to the SNJ:

The SNJ asked, following the visit to Stroud by Climate Rush, if Direct Action is the best way to encourage government to tackle climate change (23/09/09). Climate Rush, dressed as Edwardian suffragettes, say we need to be as 'radical and fearless as the suffragettes' who were marginalised and scorned and even called terrorists at the time.

A recent Guardian poll found 9 out of 10 climate experts do not consider current political efforts will keep warming below the crucial 2 degrees C. James Hansen, NASA climate scientist, says the democratic process is not working and that "peaceful demonstration is not out of order, because we're running out of time."

US Ex-Vice President Al Gore now calls for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants. Meanwhile David Cameron's advisor Zac Goldsmith appeared as a defence witness in the trial of Greenpeace activists charged with causing £30,000 of criminal damage at Kingsnorth coal plant. The jury concluded that a degree of damage to property can be justified when protesting to prevent a greater damage to property from climate change.

Inaction on climate change is not just foolish, but criminal. Non-violent direct action is a legitimate form of political activity when traditional forms are blocked - it was used against slavery, against apartheid and for women's right to vote with the original suffragettes. It is a sad reflection on our current political leadership that although the science is clear, and the three main parties say they agree, none have the plans to actually take the action needed.

Let us hope that our politicians will finally hear the many hundreds of thousands of voices lobbying for the changes we need at the Copenhagen conference. We cannot leave it any longer.

Cllr. Philip Booth,
Stroud District councillor for the Randwick, Whiteshill and Ruscombe ward

25 Sep 2009

Bruce Kent in Stroud

Last night I was at The Space to hear Bruce Kent, a former Catholic priest, a former tank commander and a long history with CND - he stands with the great political radicals of my youth like Tony Benn. Anyway he spoke for half an hour then answered questions....We were also treated to wine, coffee, tea, cake and songs from the Stroud community choir - one song at the end had us all joining in for an anti-war song - plus some powerful poems from Jeff Coates and Dennis Gould.

Photos: Bruce, the Community Choir and below audience listening to Bruce

Hearing Bruce Kent speak re-fired my anger that we are even contemplating Trident - just this week we heard that Trident could cost as much as 97 billion pounds - five times what the Government claims - this is based on research by Greenpeace using only Government sources - see here - add that to the running costs of two large aircraft carriers will be as much as £130bn. Can we really even entertain the idea in the current recession but even setting that aside completely Trident makes absolutely no sense.

What I liked about Bruce's talk was his discussion about creating a peace culture rather than one of war - looking at the everyday words and phrases we use related to war like 'in the firing line' and 'watch your back' - he talked about the failures to recognise our great peace campaigners - the UK's first peace Nobel prize winner whose grave in London is covered in brambles yet we celebrate or Generals by putting their statues on podiums - he talked about our Royals going into the services rather than say the Fire Service - he talked abut our processions of soldiers rather than nurses and lifeboat folk.....anyway as usual with these blogs I'm running out of time - see here a talk he gave elsewhere that covers some of the same points.

There are actions planned in Stroud but for now two that I have taken are as follows:

Take Greenpeace action to email your local MP re Trident here.

Take 38 degrees action here to email Gordon Brown.

In his speech on Wednesday to the United Nations general assembly, Barack Obama named "non-proliferation and disarmament" as one of the four "pillars" essential to move ahead - and as Bruce Kent says he is the first President to talk about elimination of nukes. There is some hope.

However Gordon Brown's gesture to cut Trident subs from 4 to 3 is, as Paul Rogers says, 'an exercise in political symbolism rather than a major change in Britain's nuclear posture'. The fourth submarine is essentially a "spare" and it is probable that. It doesn't move Britain on - many have welcomed it as a gesture but we have been here before - we need much more radical moves than that if we are to make an impact.

"...the current economic recession - and the severe and long-lasting cuts in public expenditure that will follow - could have important consequences for Britain's defence and security policy: in effect, forcing the country to acknowledge both the irrelevance of much of its current defence posture and the need for a radically different approach to international security."
Paul Rogers (see more here).

Trident costs graphic

24 Sep 2009

I walked out of Council

Indeed all six Green Party District councillors walked out of the District Council Extraordinary Meeting yesterday evening. We walked out at the end of the debate on the investigations into the Housing Revenue Account overspend which had exposed weaknesses in financial control and series of other serious deficiencies - I've never done it before and had no intention of doing it before the meeting - indeed I don't recall anyone walking out in the 3 and a half years I've been a councillor.....so what happened?

Cllr. Martin Whiteside put forward a motion for councilors to apologise to Council tenants and taxpayers for the poor management and oversight of the Housing Service that led to the overspend and very serious other weaknesses. Indeed I have to say I am shocked by the extent of failures. Yet only two other councilors joined the Greens to make an apology - it was a spur of the moment decision to walk out - all six of us felt the same deep disappointment. Below are some of the comments Martin Whiteside made at the meeting and afterwards.

I fail to see why other councilors could not join in the apology - we are ultimately responsible to taxpayers and tenants - other councilors have said we are not to blame because we were not given access to info that would have allowed us to point to the overspend - others blame the lack of management over the loss of so many senior staff at one time - another blamed the complicated structure of housing. All play there part - indeed I raised concerns re the loss of senior staff at the time and was told not to worry - we were also given info about how well Stroud was performing in housing - it is true some targets were good but the weaknesses are very considerable - we heard almost nothing of those and weren't given the info to challenge.

So lessons learnt but how can we change politics and restore faith in politicians if we are denying our role??? An apology is owed.

Having said all that I am delighted that the Improvement Plan is in place and also welcome that the evening did not resort to 'heads must roll' approach - Cllr Francis Roden, tipped as a future Tory leader, is the Housing Cabinet member responsible for the department - as she said she was not aware of the overspend until late Feb - 'lessons have been learnt' - and at the moment I have faith that Francis will start to turn around the housing department with the many dedicated officers at Ebley Mill. Many other measures are being put in place and already fact finding missions have been made to other Councils to learn.

Over the last months there have also been many meetings on housing and we look set to have more to scrutinise the changes that are being made. However there are still some unanswered questions about why it occurred - allegations were made at the meeting that need investigating.

Anyway it is v late now and been a very busy day at work then running a Woodcraft group (22 6 to 9 year olds) then onto the Peace is Possible talk with Bruce Kent (more on that v soon) - hope this looks coherent in the morning - am happy to talk more on this if anyone wants info - but for now I'll leave you with some of Martin's comments:

Cllr Martin Whiteside said: "We bear collective responsibility for letting our tenants and council tax payers down. We should say sorry. We have discussed at length the reports about the housing service: some of which are pretty damning. There are still questions to be answered about some of the causes of the problems. It appears councillors in some cases may not have been given all the facts. Yes, we welcome and support the Improvement Plan which is already underway and the other measures being put in place. Nevertheless it is right for us to collectively apologise for the poor service tenants and taxpayers have received, so that we can move forward."

Martin Whiteside added: "I am shocked by those councillors who voted against this motion. Councillors need to understand that we are elected to make things work properly - the buck stops with us. It is not good enough to try and wriggle out of responsibility - that way we will never make things better. One of those who refused to apologise blamed problems on the complex structure of the housing service - yet councillors have a role to ensure structures are simple and effective."

Martin Whiteside stressed "This does not undermine the fact that we have some brilliant, dedicated officers who are striving to improve our services. However what this HRA saga makes clear is that we as members have a responsibility to our electorate to re-assert our role in governance. I am disappointed that many other councillors do not see it the same way."

Stinchcombe turbines: Q and A

Last week Stroud Life covered views regarding the wind turbine proposals near Stinchcombe - the so-called Berkeley Vale Wind Farm - see my previous comments here (with links to Green party news release that was also covered by the paper).

Stroud Life's Q and A were so good I've copied them below....if the scheme goes ahead it will power the equivalent of nearly 25% of the Districts housing.

Stinchcombe turbines: Q and A
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why is Stinchcombe an ideal site for turbines?

Because wind turbines can be built here, we believe, with minimal impact. It’s one of the very best places in the district. It’s not in the AONB, it’s windy and it’s far enough away from homes that we can be sure turbines here will be good neighbours.

How big is the site?

The site area is 145 hectares (359 acres) of which a tiny proportion would be taken up by the turbines – they typically occupy less than 1% of the land they sit within. The rest of the site can continue to be used for farming – animals can graze and crops grown right up to the base of the turbines.

How many turbines would go there?

We currently think this is a good site for eight turbines. This is subject to consultation though and may change as we learn more about the site.

How do turbines work?

The wind turns the blades which turn a generator which makes electricity. This electricity travels down the tower to a substation where it’s made into grid quality electricity. We then feed this into the local grid. The turbines we use are fully automatic. They keep themselves facing the wind as it changes direction and feather their blades to make optimum use of the wind. If they develop a fault they send us a message but they generally need no more than two days maintenance a year. They really are amazing machines.

What are they made from?

The tower is steel and the blades are glass fibre.

How are they built?

An underground foundation supports the turbine. The actual construction takes a matter of days. Tower sections are lifted into place by a crane which is then used to lift and fit the generator and three blades.

How tall are they?

The turbines we’d like to build on this site have a tower height of nearly 80m with the blades reaching up to a maximum height of 120m, the same dimensions as the three turbines at Avonmouth Docks.

How long is each of the blades?

About 40m.

Why are there only three blades?

Two’s not enough and four’s too many! Three blades is the optimum design for making electricity.

How much noise do they make?

Modern wind turbines are very quiet.The ones we propose to use are the quietest available. Standing several hundred meters away you’d be hard pushed to hear them. Anyone concerned about noise should go and visit our turbine at Lynch Knoll, just outside Stroud. We built this turbine 13 years ago now. It’s been working day in day out, disproving many of the myths that exist around wind power.

Why are turbines white?

They’re actually a light matt grey. It’s a colour that the industry arrived at because it’s the most neutral in a wide range of weather conditions.

How strong does the wind have to be to generate power?

Our turbines start producing electricity at wind speeds as low as 5 mph and up to over 60mph, that’s gale force. Data from the nearby Met Office at Avonmouth shows that in 17 years just 10 hours have been recorded with a wind speed exceeding 63mph.

How much power will each of them produce?

The eight turbines combined are predicted to generate nearly 40 million million Units (kwh’s) of electricity each year, equal to the power consumption of nearly 12,000 homes, that’s about 25% of the homes in the Stroud District.

Is there any threat to the environment or wildlife?

We don’t believe there’ll be any adverse affects. We’ve spent a lot of time studying the site and considering the potential impact turbines here could have. We’ll shortly be producing an environmental report which will set out all of the information we’ve found. Before we submit an application we have to be sure our turbines will make good neighbours. If we can’t be sure, we won’t proceed with an application. We run fifteen wind parks the length and breadth of the country, none of which have caused any major problems for our neighbours.

Do you need planning permission?


At what stage is the planning application?

There is no planning application as yet. We’re currently in discussions with the Council and other consultees to define the issues we should be looking at.

How can people comment on the plans?

Anyone can comment or put questions to Ecotricity at berkeley-vale@ecotricity.co.uk, by phone at 01453 756111. Once we have submitted a planning application, you can register your support or objection, and any comments you have, with the planning department at Stroud District Council.

If the scheme gets planning permission, how long would it take to build the turbines and start harnessing the wind?

We'd hope to have the turbines up and running within twelve months of getting permission. And then each year for the next 30 years they’ll feed green energy directly into the local grid, enough to power nearly 25% of the homes in Stroud District. All from a local renewable source saving over 16,000 tonnes of CO2 from being emitted each year - in it's lifetime that’s nearly 500,000 tonnes of CO2. A very worthwhile contribution to the fight against climate change.

23 Sep 2009

Randwick a Cold Calling Zone? Foxes Field and more

Randwick Parish meeting last Thursday covered lots of ground - more later in this post about the meeting and other bits - but first it started with a discussion after a presentation by Ricky Pellatt about Cold Calling and possibly setting up a scheme in Randwick.

This is all about trying to stop residents becoming the victims of distraction crimes and bogus callers.
Signs would be attached to lamp posts in the area warning cold callers and uninvited salespeople are not welcome. A bogus caller helpline number will also be displayed on the signs along with a 999 number.

It is true that these crimes are particularly distressing for older people and we heard stories of one local person done for £40,000 and several other examples. To go-ahead with this more than 50% of replies in an area to a request by the Parish or other need to be in favour of the zone - I have to say I dislike yet more signage that can also contribute to raising people's fears that this is a cold caller area. In fact there appear to be few examples in our area - nevertheless it is a problem and this is an effective way of stopping cold calling groups come to an area. What do others think? See more details re No Cold Calling Zones here.

So what else at the Parish?

I gave a brief report re the inquiries I'm involved in re planning and climate change (several meetings already relating to the planning one - again apols not in this blog yet as so much info!), an update on the disasters relating to the Housing Revenue Account and housing service - that is for discussion tonight at Full Council - all set to be a fiery meeting - you can see the scrutiny meeting last week that I went to on webcast here - that was also a more interesting one than usual - at one point I think I ask the same question 4 or 5 times - anyhow there will be more tonight so I wont cover that here now.

There was also feedback relating to a planning application that I have made enquiries about - of course the proposed development just in Stonehouse ward also came up - see clipping - there is a public meeting on 29th held by David Drew - unfortunately I have another Council meeting that night but would urge people to go - it would be crazy if this field was developed - it is the last green space between Stroud and Stonehouse - indeed I am astonished it has got to this point.

Anyway the Parish are also moving forward on identifying street lights that could be switched off late at night like in Whiteshill and Ruscombe, the '20 is Plenty' signage is nearly ready to order....anyway that will do for now as must dash to work...

22 Sep 2009

Eco-Renovation Open Homes 2010?

Monday I met with folk who helped organise the Eco-Renovation Open Homes weekend - we looked at loads of feedback and will be writing a report - but we are delighted by over 600 visits made to the houses and 200 to the installers fair at The Exchange.

Photos: Me with the leaflets and the two banners re Open Homes - one on Merrywalks bridge and the other outside Waitrose - despite following advice on the size of banners I think they could have been larger? Below balloons advertising way to The Exchange - sadly not biodegradable but big thanks to Open Heritage Days for their enormous support in providing insurance cover for houses participating. Lastly a shot of Helen Royall.

In the report on the homes must go big thanks to Helen Royall who coordinated the event this year - she was a star! Anyway in our discussion we explored the possibilities of another year of Open Homes - if we go ahead we will need to keep it fresh and introduce some new homes...apparently visits to Oxford Open homes this year were down on the previous two years. Having said that with moves by the Government on feed-in tariffs and other measures I reckon the interest will be growing.

"...it was enlightening to see what is possible by visiting some of the exhibitors who were part of last week-ends Eco-Renovation Open Homes event. This is a welcome annual addition to Stroud district’s calendar. We must all do more to go green. I welcome the growth in take up of renewables both at producer and consumer level."
David Drew on Open Homes in Stroud Life

One further idea being explored is a sort of Open Food Gardens or Open Eco_Gardens - can't get the title yet but a chance to see allotments, chickens, community orchards, other food gardens, wildlife gardening etc. We plan to explore further at the big Transition Stroud meeting this Saturday.

21 Sep 2009

Global Wake-Up Call on climate

Copenhagen is drawing nearer - already Climate Rush visited Stroud Friday and Saturday - although were held up on Saturday getting to the framers Market (see local Green party comment here and here for their website re their tour). I saw them on route to Stroud in Fairford last week when I was there for work - just before (or was it after?) they dumped manure at Jeremy Clarkson's home (see report on that below).

Photo: Green District councillors sign up to 10:10 - see here - more on that locally coming soon

Today is Sept 21 and the Global Climate Wake-Up - the local event will be at sub-rooms in Stroud at 7pm prompt - see here.

Avaaz, who are organising the day are suggesting we phone our own governments - already activists are flooding the media and government office phone lines worldwide with wake up calls for leaders to act - I've just tried on 5 of these numbers and can't get through on any!!!! I will try again....

Prime Minister Gordon Brown
(+44) 020 8144 7459 / 0300 060 4000
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband
(+44) (0)207 979 7777 / 0300 060 4000
Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband
(+44) (0)20 7008 1500
First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills Peter Mandelson
(+44) (0)20 7215 5000 or (0)20 7215 6740 (Minicom)

What Avaaz are asking is that we ask leaders to commit to go to the Copenhagen climate meeting in December and agree on a global climate deal that is FAIR, AMBITIOUS and BINDING (“FAB”), and ask them to register your call and convey the message to the decision-maker. Once you’ve made your call, visit the Wake-Up Hub and post a short update on how it went in the live-blog on the [right] of the page:

In recent weeks, Avaaz have surprised national governments, heads of state and political parties with sudden barrages of thousands of calls. These phonecalls tie up staff and shut down phone lines - but they are never missed, and time after time, we're finding, they work. 14,000 calls reversed the Brazilian President's position on a new climate protection law, 3,000 calls persuaded the German Chancellor's party to engage with climate groups, just a few hundred calls got the attention of top advisors to French President Sarkozy. We have less than three months left until the final UN meeting in Copenhagen, where we'll succeed or fail to get an historic global treaty to place binding global limits on carbon pollution, stop a climate catastrophe and unleash a new clean and green economy. Our leaders are nowhere near success, they're not even planning on going to Copenhagen. We must try and change that!

Other local actions

Also in the run up to Copenhagen locally there is a march and rally in Gloucester on 17th October 11.30 to 12.30 - starting at Gloucester City Council Offices. Then 'International day of climate action' on Oct 24th with the environmental campaigning group 350.org - two local projects at the moment that I'm helping - to build 350 beehouses by 24th Oct and hopefully, if funding comes through, to plant 350 trees at Thistledown near Nailsworth with Woodcraft groups.

Climate Rush in Chipping Norton

Dressed as Suffragettes, seven activists from the environmental group Climate Rush, unloaded two bags of manure, plus a banner bearing the message "This is what you're landing us in", in his front lawn.

Group spokeswoman Millie Forrester, 19, said to the press: "I love Jeremy, I love fast cars, I love progress, but I learnt some things and those things terrify me. I learnt that climate change will make my future unrecognisable. I know that I'll not have the same choices that Jeremy has now. If we keep on loving the fossil-fuelled lifestyle then by the time I hit 49 the world will be too busy coping with the impact of climate change to bother about how big an engine is possible. I'm the biggest libertarian of them all – I'm dumping dung at Clarkson's gates so he might understand that his attitude will land us all in manure."

The group claims to have targeted Mr Clarkson because of his "blasé attitude towards climate change" and have made reference to his recent drive to the Arctic, which they say emitted an estimated 1.7 tonnes of carbon.

Criticisms re local flood management

Two local projects re flooding are facing criticisms from water action groups. The first in Painswick and the second in Frampton Mansell.

Photo: From The Citizen re Frampton Mansell - a pic of Tom Carey and Adam Broadhead (see more below) - both at the recent RBAG AGM -Tom is also working on a project for Ruscombe Brook with Water 21

Painswick scheme will add to flooding

I've yet to look at the Painswick scheme in detail, but basically Stroud District Council is accused of ignoring the recommendations of its own report on flooding in the Painswick Valley.

BARFF (Bridgend Against River Frome Flooding) claims that SDC has already begun clearing the Painswick stream when the report specifically states that this should be delayed until the completion of a detailed study on the rest of the Five Valleys. These issues clearly need looking at in more detail and questions need answering - while I believe the Council is making many efforts to change the way it looks at flooding to be more holistic, it would seem they may not have taken the report into enough consideration so far....

Tim Davies (BARFF secretary) says of that the £50,000 study; “It is recommended that further detailed investigations are performed to fully understand the implications of any alleviation works before they are implemented to ensure that flood risk in the wider catchment will not be increased. It is plaintively obvious – if you read the report – that more information is needed on the effects of flooding downstream. And yet SDC has ignored this recommendation and pressed ahead with the work, spending more than £40,000 to date. The council even wants to spend another £45,000 completely clearing the culvert under Salmon Springs when the report admits it has not calculated the full impact of a clear culvert. What worries us is that the Painswick Flood project will make matters worse for families and businesses downstream. And that councillors appear to have ignored their own report, which cost nearly £50,000 of public money. Why pay that amount of money and then ignore one of its fundamental proposals.”

Frampton Mansell - drain nonsense?

In March, the county installed a £45,000 drain on Martin Neville's land in Frampton Mansell to take rainwater from the lane near his home at Bakers Mill. Farmer Martin Neville and Water 21 say this large drain laid by Gloucestershire County Council will only increase that risk. He has instead dug his own flood alleviation pond at a cost of £2,000 to £3,000 to reduce the risk of the River Frome bursting its banks further downstreamin Chalford Vale.

Mr Neville said in The Citizen: "Their extensive drainage system is designed to remove water from the road under flood conditions. The design moves the water straight into the River Frome rather than allowing it to flow into meadows and the river over several days as has been the way for years. As a way of compensating for the added flow we have dug alleviation ponds. he said. These attenuation areas are a much cheaper solution to flooding than expansive engineering."

Julian Jones, director of Water 21, said of the drain: "It has fundamentally accelerated the flow of water into the watercourse and exacerbated flooding."

The County deny that the drain adds to river flows.

Julian Jones comments further at our recent RBAG AGM: "Decades of ill considered development continues in the Stroud Valleys with no attempt to plan for the consequences of putting increased rain run off into our watercourses. Approximately 1000 acres of millponds and other water storage has been lost locally during the last century with no attempt to compensate for this. Even much of the increased expenditure on drainage and 'flood alleviation' by the local authorities since the 2007 flood is simply worsening flood risks downstream because there is no attempt to plan or 'hydraulically model' the consequences of the increased run off."

This is another example where at the very least consultation has failed - indeed I understand from the farmer that no consultation took place with him!

Ruscombe Brook Action Group AGM

5The Ruscombe Brook Action Group AGM was on 15th Sept 7.30 at Randwick Village Hall - over 20 people turned up which wasn't bad considering we had 5 apologies and hadn't really advertised much - anyhow the photos here are a bit of a record of some of the two presentations by Water 21 and below there is als a summary of the AGM for local press.

We also had the Water for Life exhibition which has been touring the County - a Vision 21 project with Severn Trent Water.

The evening started by Zarin Hainsworth, our Chair (pictured here with her daughter) giving a brief review of work of RBAG - what has been achieved over the last year - including the setting up of the new water forum.

I said a few additional words the Treasurer gave a report and then we went staright to appointment of officers - Chair, Zarin Hainsworth, Secretary, Jo Botterill and me as Treasurer - I was delighted by this as I have been Secretary for over 4 years and with being so busy was doing a less good job - Jo has already been helping lots and will be great.

However that does mean I am now in charge of the dosh - I think we have all of £100 - anyway we then had the Water 21 student presentations followed by a preview of a new Aussie 'Land & Water Microbial' film - very exciting stuff that I mentioned briefly at one of our previous meetings - see here.

Report on Ruscombe Brook Action Group AGM for local press

The Ruscombe Brook Action Group (RBAG) formed in January 2005 to end the flooding at Puckshole and the repeated incidents of sewage getting into the Ruscombe brook. Since then the group has met monthly and learnt lots about water, sewage, biodiversity and more. We've worked with various agencies and seen some significant improvements: sewage pipes replaced, roots cut from inside pipes and a plan for further work.

Photos: These next two photos are of Downton Road (Brigend) - a lidar of the flood area showing how the road increases flooding - the second slide is ofe some of the solutions being considered.

We've also organised three seminars and held other public meetings, met with agencies to see improvements at The Lawns and Hamwell Leaze, initiated projects with University students and school children to look at water quality, produced information leaflets and much more.

At our AGM in Randwick Village Hall, Chair, Zarin Hainsworth, outlined work this year. It included a walk along the 2 mile brook to identify problems, one day digging out silt from near a culvert and one day removing a vast amount of rubbish including two sofas, a tent, waste bins and of course a shopping trolley. Apart from work to improve the sewage system we are also delighted to have finally got agreement and funding for a grill and clearing out of the culvert at Puckshole. This initial measure will reduce flooding of the lane but there are further improvements planned for the site. We're also producing information on how to reduce our water use.

Photos: the next three are re Slad showing where attenuation ponds could be, using the map and lidar and then a picture showing attenuation capabilities increasing when heavier rainfall

Another exciting development this year is Stroud Valleys Water Forum that RBAG helped set up with the four other water action groups in the area. We are together seeking a water management strategy in the Stroud area that will give greater protection from floods and drought.

At the AGM after Officers reports and elections, we heard from Adam Broadhead and Julian Jones from Water 21. They talked about how Stroud Valleys’ complex hydrogeology has been disrupted by artificial modification, urbanisation and intensification of agriculture. Infiltration zones such as fields and woodlands have been covered with paved, impermeable surfaces.

We also heard about specific problems at Brigend and what solutions might be possible, the work in the Slad Valley and more. The evening concluded with a DVD preview of work in Australia around soils and water. We are now looking forward to another year of improvements along the brook.

Philip Booth, Ruscombe Brook Action Group