Friday, 10 December 2021

Kirklees reneges on Rugby League museum promise

Last year, with much fanfare, Kirklees Council announced that Rugby League would be 'coming home' to its birthplace, The George Hotel in Huddersfield, after the Council won a tightly contested bid against other towns to host the National Rugby League Museum. It was the fact that the sport originated from a meeting in The George Hotel in 1895 that was the clincher. At the opening representatives from the Council and Rugby League Cares held a press conference. The Leader of the Council Shabir Pandor said,

"This is absolutely fantastic news and we’re really excited to get started and bring Rugby League home"

“It is so much more than a building to local people and to Rugby League fans across the world. This is where it all began for Rugby League and there is no better place to create a museum that celebrates and remembers the history of the game.”

News broke last month that Kirklees was to renege on it's promise to have the Rugby League museum in the hotel. This has provoked much anger by Rugby League fans around the world as the Council had used The George Hotel to secure the Museum and also some external funding. The Council now says that the business case just doesn't stack up and so it would be now sited in the 'Cultural Heart' of the town that is being developed as part of the Huddersfield Blueprint. At Wednesday's Council meeting, in response to a question I asked on the proposals, West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin let slip that the Council was proposing to put the Museum in what is currently the Huddersfield Library and Art Gallery on the other side of town from 'The George'. As someone who is elected to represent the ward that includes the Town Centre finding out this way, by accident was to say the least annoying.

When the Council said it was buying The George Hotel I was very supportive but at the time I asked to see what the Business Plan was going to look like and kept asking. More recently Conservative Councillors have also been asking about the Business Plans. Now we are told the numbers for including a Rugby League Museum in The George don't stack up, but still we haven't seen the papers that demonstrate this. As a local Councillor I'm just asked to trust the judgement of officers with no detail, no business case, no options to weigh up. It is all deeply disappointing and the big question is how did we end up in a position where the Council made such a firm and public commitment and a partnership with the Rugby League and then had to make such an embarrassing climbdown? As someone who is elected to represent the Council I would really like to know the answer to that question.

A bit of nostalgia now. Here's the joint Kirklees/Rugby League event announcing the Museum last year.

Monday, 15 November 2021

COP26 - What did it mean for Local and Regional Government?

COP26 resulted in what is officially known as the Glasgow Climate Pact. This is the document that included the now infamous ‘phasing down’ rather than ‘phasing out of coal reference. Many of us feel immense dismay about the COP26 outcome but within the document it is worth knowing what is in it that is relevant to our local Councils.

There are several key references in the ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ document. There is a mention in
the Preamble to the pact

“Recognizing the important role of indigenous peoples, local communities and civil
society, including youth and children, in addressing and responding to climate change, and
highlighting the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action”

Multilevel action means local government and it’s important it is recognised in the preamble to the Glasgow Climate Pact as it gives legitimacy and recognition to national government for the role councils play in addressing climate change.

At the UK level the key body we have to key into is the Local Net Zero Forum which is a body where national and local government come together to work on action to address climate change from a local perspective. This was announced as part of the Net Zero Strategy in October so we know nothing about how it will operate or it’s terms of reference. The Local Net Zero Forum has its roots in the agreement at COP24, 3 years ago. As well as Government Departments it includes the Local Government Association so we Greens have the opportunity to get our input through that route as members of the LGA Independent Group.

The importance of involving local communities on action to address climate change is also mentioned,

“Emphasizes the important role of indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ culture
and knowledge in effective action on climate change, and urges Parties to actively involve
indigenous peoples and local communities in designing and implementing climate action and
to engage with the second three-year workplan for implementing the functions of the Local
Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, for 2022–2024;”

The only way that local communities can be effectively engaged is through the facilitating role that local Councils play as the body that works most closely with local communities. There is no structured way that this would happen coming from a national level so each Council will do it in its own way. There needs to be a more organised and structured way for Councils to engage their communities in climate action.

Getting the Local Government Association to do some work on this and get it recognised by national government would be one way to progress this.

There is a special mention for ‘youth’ and in the context of local government

“Urges Parties and stakeholders to ensure meaningful youth participation and representation in multilateral, national and local decision-making processes, including under the Convention and the Paris Agreement;”

This is the first time I’ve seen a specific role for youth in a COP outcome document and also in reference to local decision making processes. As with local communities it seems it is up to local councils as to how they do this with no specific guidance from national government. Again some guidance on how this can be done meaningfully would be helpful.

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

COP26 countries cop out!

This hygiene kit isn't working. COP26 still stinks

 At COP26 yesterday I went to the UN Environment Programme's Press Conference to watch them present the findings of their 2021 Emissions Gap report. This is where UN scientists get their chance to number crunch the pledges that countries have made to reduce their carbon emissions and see if they have any significant impact on helping achieve the Paris Climate goals. The short answer is a big NO.

The panel were pretty scathing. " There's a leadership gap not an emissions gap" was damning of the world's political leaders. One particular point they made was countries that were making Net Zero by 2050 statements with no convincing plan to achieve them. Australia being the most obvious example.

If (and it is a very big if) we believe all the countries statements produce the emissions then we are still heading to miss both the 1.5 and 2 degree C Paris Climate goals. The UNEP report says we need a 4 fold increase in ambition to reach 4 degrees temperature rise and a 7 fold increase to achieve 1.5 degrees. It is that stark.  That is all if they keep to their promises. 7 of the G20 countries are currently 'off track' with their carbon savings so that is to say the least unhelpful.

What now? We have 3 days left. Apparently Boris is coming back to the COP summit. Given a large part of this process is about keeping commitments and trust  why does that not fill me with confidence?

Here's Juice Media's from Australia's take

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Sunday, 7 November 2021

UK Government finally implements COP24 - 3 years later

COP24 in Katowice, Poland was 3 years ago now and I'm now sitting in my son's flat in Glasgow as a delegate to COP26. Back then I was a delegate for the EU Committee of the Regions but Brexit has closed that avenue to me and I'm now a delegate with the Green Economics Institute so "Thanks" to Miriam Kennet of the GEI for that.

At COP24 I was on a mission to get the concept of Locally Determined Contributions (LDCs) accepted by the UNFCCC. LDCs were to give the ability for Local and Regional Authorities to set their own carbon reduction targets in conjunction with Nationally Determined Contributions which are the responsibility of national governments. This would establish a clearer role for sub-national bodies like Councils and Devolved Administrations in taking action to reduce carbon emissions and help towards achieving the Paris Climate goals. I had some excellent support from staff at the EU Committee of the Regions and Locally and Regionally Determined Contributions were backed by the LGMA, the body that represented Local Government globally. 

 In the end we didn't get LDC's adopted but we had moved the debate significantly and there was a statement in the final text on how to assess  Nationally Determined Contributions that referred to "preparing implementation plans to include domestic institutional arrangements, public participation and engagement with local communities”. In the UK context this basically meant Governments would have to work more closely with Councils on action to address climate change. Then (in the UK at least) nothing happened. Councils still had no official role. the UK Government continued to make statements and policy about climate change with no significant involvement with Local and Regional Authorities.  

The Green Party made one of our goals in the run up to COP26 to push Government to set up a joint Central/Local Government Taskforce to put pressure on Government to act. Then at the end of last month the Government produced their Net Zero Strategy and in it there was a statement saying they would establish a,

"Local Net Zero Forum to ensure that there is direct input from local leaders. Chaired by BEIS, the Forum will be cross departmental and bring together national and local government senior officials on a regular basis to discuss policy and delivery options on net zero. The forum will build on our current engagement mechanisms through the representative bodies such as the Local Government Association (LGA), Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), Core Cities and the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT)".

So a Taskforce and a success of sorts! 

I first raised the need for National and Local Governments  to work more closely together in Paris at COP21 back in 2015 in a side event where I was representing the EU Committee of the Regions. So my own involvement in calling for something like this degree of cooperation is nearly 7 years old. All that really has happened, with the establishment of the Net Zero Forum is that a structure is now in place so we can have discussions, there is still a lot of actual work to do! Though the Forum will be chaired by BEIS the culture of the Forum should be that all participants come to the table as equals and that it is not dominated by national government. We need initiatives for policy change to be able to come forward from local government. After all it will be councils that will have to deliver a lot of the action needed to reduce emissions so why not allow the practitioners the chance to be the policy makers as well?

There is a lot to do. Changes to Building Regulations, a revised National Planning Policy Framework that takes into account climate change, addressing skills gaps and the need for a large scale domestic retrofit programme, all these need serious attention to get us on track towards a genuinely Zero Carbon Strategy for the UK. 

Lets get to work!

Saturday, 6 November 2021

And the award for missed opportunities goes to........ Kirklees Council


The word on the street is that Kirklees Council is Award chasing. Don't get me wrong I think it is important that work by some of Kirklees Council's excellent staff is recognised but it would be interesting to see the ratio of awards applied for, how many were shortlisted and how many resulted in winners. Among other things Kirklees Council has recently won Catering Business of the Year which I'm sure is well deserved but if there is a push to chase awards for their own sake that would be worrying

Another Council that has received recognition this week is the Green Party /Lib Dem Administration in York. It has been named by the United Nations as a Global Centre of Excellence for high performance buildings - one of 26 around the world to mark COP26 including New York, Pittsburgh and Renfewshire in Scotland. This has been lead by Green Party Councillor Denise Craghill the Cabinet Member responsible for housing and is a recognition of the Councils plans to build an impressive 600 houses to the Passivhaus standard There has been a big push in the Green Party to get action the Passivhaus Standard more widely adopted and I wrote a Passivhaus  Flatpack Campaign Pack back in 2016 and around the same time I chaired an All-Party Policy Group at Kirklees Council which in It's final report recommended the following to Kirklees Labour Cabinet:-

 Repeated question on how the Cabinet would respond to the recommendations were met with silence or misinformed myths about the Passivhaus standard. Now 5 years later the Council is carrying out a 12 house pilot project. At the last Council meeting I asked what the point of the pilot was? What will we learn that we don't already know from the now numerous projects around the country and places where they are now working to mainstream the standard. We should drop the pilot and go straight to more ambitious passivhaus projects at scale.

To say I am frustrated at the timidity and lack of ambition by Labour politicians on action to reduce carbon emissions is an understatement. Political power is a precious thing and wasting the opportunities it brings to bring positive change is a crime.

Here's "Drop the pilot" by Joan Armatrading

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Sunday, 24 October 2021

West Yorkshire Pension Fund and Divestment - Some progress but painfully slow!

There was some welcome news from Labour Cabinet Member Paul Davis when I asked a question regarding fossil fuel divestment from West Yorkshire Pension Funds. I'd been prompted to ask the question as Calderdale and Wakefield Councils had already indicated that they would back divestment  so I wondered what Kirklees were doing. A Green Party motion by our Bradford Councillors on Divestment from the West Yorkshire Pension Fund had failed only days before but that was probably more about the fact that it didn't come from the Labour Party rather than the rights and wrongs of the issue. So that just leaves Leeds to give an indication of where it stands. During the Mayoral Election campaign Labour's Tracy Brabin gave an equivocal response to divestment saying she supported it but that had to be balanced with 

Tracy seems to be pushing on divestment now as a possible 'Win' coming up to COP26 but the Mayor has no direct influence over the Pension Fund but certainly has influence through Labour Councillors who sit on the Investment Panel.

The really irritating thing is that a Green Party motion calling for divestment from the fund was passed in 2015 by Kirklees Council. It said,

"Kirklees will ask our representatives on the West Yorkshire Pension Fund - Investment Advisory Panel to call on all Pension Trustees to exercise their fiduciary duty and to call for a review of WYPF fossil fuel investments in the light of climate risk posed by fossil fuel equities".

Over the next week or so we will see if there is any movement on this at all and WYPF does divest from fossil fuels. If it did however that could not be the end of the story because the fund also invests in AMP Capital, the Australian company that owns Leeds Bradford Airport. It has an investment with them worth £1.3 million. Leeds Bradford Airport expansion plans would if realised result in a huge increase in emissions completely demolishing any chance of West Yorkshire achieving it's zero carbon economy by 2038 target. The problem for Labour is that West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin has at best been equivocal in her stance on Leeds Bradford Airport and avoided discussing it during the Mayoral campaign. I witnessed this first hand when she refused to answer a yes/no question on Airport expansion during the  recording of the BBC's Mayoral debate. It was never aired unfortunately. 

In the Mayor's West Yorkshire Climate Action Plan there's a lot of good stuff including the statement,

"We will use influence as a significant investor to start the process of developing options for West Yorkshire Pension Fund divestment from fossil fuel companies and other environmentally damaging activities".

The Plan then goes on to call for annual progress reports from WYPF. Given that Airport Expansion in an environmentally damaging activity will they include AMP Capital in their Annual Report? They should do.

So now Labour have discovered after many years a renewed interest in divestment will they extend their divestment enthusiasm to AMP Capital? Well perhaps we shouldn't expect too much on that one.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Facts and nothing but the facts! - Labour's tree toppling A629 road widening scheme

I got accused of a number of things at the last Kirklees Council meeting by Labour Cabinet members including "politicking" "spinning"and "making up my own facts".  I found this particularly annoying as all I did was quote the facts provided by other independent and professional people with no political axe to grind . Facts that the Labour Administration of Kirklees found inconvenient to say the least

I raised the issue of Kirklees Council's plans to remove over a 100 mature trees as part of their road widening plans on the A629 at Edgerton. Since the previous Full Council meeting a number of inconvenient facts had emerged that didn't fit their narrative. The first of these was the response to the Planning Application of the widening scheme from the Council's own Tree Officer. He gave a number of facts in his submission. These were:-

No positive impact on air quality

"The pollution levels are not predicted to improve as a result of the proposed scheme according to the Air Quality Assessment. There is no clear evidence however that the positive effects of trees on air quality have been considered and that the loss of mature trees may mean that pollution levels may get worse as a result."

The value of the trees

"The trees lining the A629 and side roads add to the character and setting of these areas and importantly provide a significant visual amenity and gateway feature when entering Huddersfield itself from the North"

The replacement trees will take 50 years to provide the same benefit as existing trees

The mitigation proposed will take many years, potentially 50 years, to develop to the size where they can provide a similar amenity value and other benefits to the trees present today. the scheme seems to rely on the woodland creation at Ainley Top to provide significant numerical increases in trees but this is the creation of woodland which will take many years and will do nothing to address the lost amenity value within the urban areas of A and B which are one or two miles from the proposed woodland.

The scheme breaks both Kirklees and National Planning guidance

The proposals for the Blacker Road junction, area A, and Cavalry Arms junction, area B, are contrary to Kirklees Local Plan policies LP33 and LP35 as they have a significant impact upon the character and setting of the areas and will harm public amenity for many years. In addition, the proposals do not comply with the directions of the National Planning Policy Framework in that they are not sympathetic to the local character and history of the areas and do not ensure streets are tree lined. The impacts of the proposals based on the evidence provided have not been outweighed by the benefits of the scheme with regards to trees.

Kirklees Carbon impact Assessment makes dubious assumptions

The Council have a policy of planting more trees to address climate change and therefore the principle of planting new trees is supported. The Carbon Impact Assessment proposes however that tree planting will sequester a much higher amount of CO2 over time than the existing ageing tree stock but this assumes that the ageing trees will not be replaced when they reach the end of their safe lifespan. The report appears to not take into account that as protected trees are removed due to old age the Council can condition a replacement tree be planted. The trees present particularly those around the Blacker Road junction are protected and their replacement in time already assured by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Concluding sentence

The impacts of the proposals based on the evidence provided have not been outweighed by the benefits of the scheme with regards to trees.

Another inconvenient bundle of facts came from the Independent Kirklees Climate Commission with their view of the Climate Impact Assessment provided by the Council to support their Planning Application.

In the report it says,

“There appear to be several errors and points of confusion in the document.”

It goes on to say

“This document does not provide underlying evidence to validate its claims and the underlying data does not appear to have been published. Without such data it is almost impossible for the reader to have meaningful engagement with the assessment.”

In detailed criticism the report cites serious defects in the report

“The accurate quantification of emissions must be questioned when over 8000 of the approximately 8900 HGV movements described are effectively ignored by assuming that the majority of the construction waste will remain on the site”

“Where does this material go and how much Greenhouse gas is not accounted for if removed? Each of those waste materials stored on-site will need removing at some point.”

The report goes on to cast doubt on the accuracy of the measurements made in the Council report.

“If all of the document has had the CO2 divided by 3.67, then the whole of the emissions reported in the document could be significantly out by a factor of approximately two thirds.”

“In summary the report says without an appraisal detailing the whole life benefits or dis-benefits of this scheme; and without having a Kirklees wide road map in place setting out year on year emissions savings required across the KRN, it’s impossible to state whether any benefits predicted as part of the A629 will support Kirklees in meeting its objective”

And the highly respected Woodland Trust said in it's submission to the Planning Application

The Woodland Trust in their response to the scheme said that the scheme

"should not be taken forward on the grounds it does not comply with national planning policy".

Whilst the council has pledged to plan more than 700 new trees to compensate for the loss of those being chopped down, the trust says the offer is not sufficient.

"New planting simply cannot replace the value lost when mature trees are removed, and such planting can never replace the loss of ancient and veteran trees.

"This large-scale loss of trees from a council scheme is simply inappropriate and alternative solutions must be found to prevent the loss of these trees."

It also considers the plan to be "not consistent" with the council’s own policy within its Local Plan.

These are not my "made up facts" but the views of respected organisations and professionals. 

The A629 Widening scheme has a serious credibility problem and at present Labour appear to be doubling down in their backing for the scheme but they risk blowing their claims to having any legitimacy to be a leading 'green' Council. They may make the mistake of believing that this is between me and them. It isn't. They risk alienating the large community of informed environmental organisations in Kirklees who are their real critics. Critical friends should be valued and their evidence not dismissed and negated.

So what next? There are all sorts of ways of addressing an issue like this. If I am cast as an opponent as opposed to the critical friend that I regard myself as, then I'll just have to reconsider how to affect change. I have some ideas.