Thursday, 21 July 2011

Greening Calderdale

Scholes Farm in Calderdale. That roof's looking a bit bare!

 At first glance you might think Calderdale didn't need much 'Greening'. It is indeed a green and pleasant area and a Council I worked for for a while as their Home Energy Conservation Officer. They pioneered universally free insulation for the over 60s regardless of income before any other Council in the country and did so for around 8 years before funding constraints took hold. Calderdale has Hebden Bridge with the Alternative Technology Centre and more 'right on' folk than you can shake a stick (that may be later used as biomass) at. It also has Todmorden which pioneered the food growing revolution that is 'Incredible Edible'. The Council is also doing some pioneering work on new social housing with high Code for Sustainable Homes standards. So there's a lot for them to shout about on the green front but even the more proactive areas have a blind spot and Calderdale's is their Planning Department's approach to solar PV on listed buildings.

 A recent planning application for a solar PV panels on a listed farmhouse at Scholes Farm is a case in point. The applicants wanted to put their panels on a section of roof that was on a new extension to the listed building that could not be seen from the road or particularly easily from anywhere else. Calderdale Planning however reckoned that this was still adversely impacting on the buildings listed status and recommended refusal. All I could imagine that the applicants could have done to make the panels more acceptable to planners would have been to bury them in the garden but this would have rather negated their purpose in life.

St James Piccadilly Solar Panels
 Having listed status does not mean you can't have solar panels. There are many examples from around the country including St James Piccadilly, a 17th century church designed by Sir Christopher Wren of St Pauls Cathedral fame no less. These panels are on a grade 1 listed building and again can't be seen from the road. I've been in the church and very nice it is too it even has a meter in the lobby to show how much electricity is being generated by the 'eyesore' on their roof. In Calderdale itself they have an even better example in Gibson Mill near Hardcastle Crags. This National Trust Visitor Centre is a converted listed mill and proudly  displays its solar pv panels for all to see at the front of the building. It also uses hydro and biomass as other power sources for the building. So looking in the context of these 2 examples it makes Calderdale Planning's approach to this application look rather harsh.

I advised the applicants of their right to ask one of their local councillors to refer the matter to the Planning Committee for a decision rather than be decided by officers. Fortunately the Councillors could see that the interpretation of government planning policy in this instance was not being regarded as an enabling one but in a more restrictive light. Evidence was ably provided by Mr Adam Gillespie of the Energy Saving Trust on behalf of the applicant. The Councillors wisely approved the application.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Down on the farm

Kim Warren in the foreground with David Browning of KEP
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's project to establish a community farm at Stirley Farm is coming on leaps and bounds. A few of us hardy souls went to see progress on the site on land between Newsome and Castle Hill on Saturday morning. The plans are to make it into a working farm with an educational and community focus.

 It enjoys strong support in the Newsome Ward as perceived insurance against housing development as well as being a good use of the land in it's own right. There is also a strong link with the Growing Newsome project and it was with their movers and shakers that I was out in the rain on Saturday morning. Many of the buildings on the farm site are in a pretty ropey state so there is going to have to be a major refurb which gives an opportunity to have some 'wacky do'' eco and energy features.

Diane Sims central behind some peas. Oh look there's David Browning again!
 At present the staff on the site are working out of a temporary container style  office unit without electricity. We were shown round by the Food Education and Training Officer Kim Warren who has a wealth of knowledge about food growing and used to be Jamie Oliver's gardener but has now taken on the challenge iof getting our local communities interested in growing and eating their own food. She is already making links with local schools.

I got some curly kale from the farm to put in a stew. After my recent experiences with the allotment this was a much needed morale boost on the local food front.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Shepley First School 'Eco Lodge'

Shepley First School has opened a new Eco Lodge for its pupils. It incorporates  a solar PV panel, a sedum roof, a mini  wind turbine, water recycling and a mini greenhouse to the rear. It was erected by Timberline who have put a case study up on the web. Myself and Green Party Parish Councillors Michelle Atkinson and Vanda White attended the opening on Friday.

Also helping open the Eco Lodge was Miss Eco Earth 2009 who was wearing a dress made out of plastic bags

Growing pains

We've had a theft on our allotment. A dozen onions and half a row of spuds. The chap who nicked them wandered through the gate which was unlocked and merrily dug up our produce while talking to the new plotholders opposite telling them what ' hard work' it was having an allotment. A blond chap in his forties apparently.

We put this sign up opposite. Normally I'm against capital punishment but there must be exceptions to the rule!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Kirkburton Parish Walks

The Kirkburton Parish Walks project part funded by the East Peak Innovation Partnership and Kirkburton Parish Council is beginning to take shape. Hand sculptured stone guidestoops will be a key feature of the walks. Parish Cllr Michelle Atkinson is leading on this exciting project which will leave a lasting legacy on our local landscape.

They're carved by Shepley sculptor Dave Bradbury and they truly are things of beauty. The great thing is that they will most likely be still around in over 100 years time and then who knows how long they might  still be around pointing the way along our beautiful pathways.

I wandered down a path at Farnley Hey this evening on a hunt for the latest guidestoop which I came across about half a mile from the main road. There should be around  ten of these dotted around the Parish which covers around 22 square miles. Once they're in it would be good to arrange a walk where you can visit them all in one day.

Solar PV - Kirklees slips down the rankings

The Microgeneration Top 10. Kirklees isn't in it!
AEA Technology are providing a valuable service monitoring the take up of microgeneration technologies through the Feed In Tariff. This is broken down by region and local authority with top tens for microgeneration as a whole and also broken down by technology. Kirklees has slipped out of the top ten for Microgeneration as a whole. The top six local authorities make a lot of sense intuitively. 3 scottish authorities with a good wind and hydro resource. Sedgemoor scores highly with its anaerobic digestion facilities. The large new authority of Cornwall also features with its high PV resource with the best solar potential in the UK. Then coming in at 7th, 9th and 10th places respectively we have Barnsley, Sheffield and Rotherham. 'Er what!' I hear you say. Well much as there's some good work going on in these local authorities this uptake in PV is largely due to a company called 'A Shade Greener' based in Tankersley who are offering free solar PV to householders in return for signing over the feed in tariff. Properties have to have reasonable sized roofs and be southerly facing.

Kirklees doesn't do so badly when you look at the solar PV top ten coming in at a respectable 9th with 1 megawatt of installed microgeneration capacity. Much of this will be due to the award winning RE-Charge scheme a Green Party initiative that is now completed and ' A Shade Greener' has done some installs in Kirklees as well. There was a time when we could claim to be producing 5% of the UKs solar PV capacity but not anymore. We can now only claim to have 0.933% of the UK's microgeneration resource.

So what are future prospects like for Kirklees in the microgeneration league? There are plans for putting solar PV on a thousand council houses and a lot on Council buildings so this looks good doesn't it? Maybe but procurement rules, as interpreted by Kirklees, seem to be slowing things up and of course other authorities have plans as well - we're not operating in a vacuum. Now RE-Charge is over the Council has no strategy or plans to promote the take up of microgeneration in the private sector at present, but is looking to link in with the Green Deal which is over a year off . There remains uncertainty as to whether or not it will be a compelling offer anyway (see previous posts). Of course if the government imposes its cap on the feed in tariff all plans to increase take up of microgeneration could come to naught.

Review - 'Behaviour Change and Energy Use' by the Cabinet Office

The secret Cabinet Office Briefing Room where national emergencies are coordinated from. It probably has nothing at all to do with this report which most likely was written a few floors up from this (probably) armoured basement.
I've just been a reading a rather annoying document entitled 'Behaviour Change and Energy Use' just published by the Cabinet Office. It is principally annoying because it presents information on how people and organisations react to exhortations to save energy as if they were startling revelations rather than things that are well known and widely understood in the energy sector. The other annoying element is the way the laudable 10% reduction in CO2 emissions is presented. It states (overstates?), "The Government has led the way on showing that it is possible to reduce emissions rapidly and cost effectively". OK its good but government has hardly 'led' on this. The very fact that it has been relatively easy to acheive shows that government must have ben fairly inefficient in the first place. This agenda has been led by local government, which at its best has made significant reductions based on a combination of belief in reducing emissions linked with financial necessity.

Another revealing aspect of the report is how it addresses reluctance to take up energy efficiency measures by householders. While praising the Green Deal mechanism they are creating (and which many are sceptical of) it goes on to say "we also recognise that households may need additional prompts and encouragement in order to overcome their natural inertia". It then goes on to reveal trials which include incentives such as B&Q and Homebase vouchers and loft clearance services etc. All these trials are based on the lower cost measures not the higher end measures such as solid wall insulation. There is a tacit acceptance that Green Deal on its own is not going to be enough of an attractive and compelling an offer. The other measure mentioned was the possibility of a month's Council Tax 'holiday' for people taking up energy efficiency measures.  One question you always have to ask with this government, (which knows the cost of everything  and the value of nothing) is 'where is the money coming from?'. The obvious one is the Energy Company Obligation. Its not taxation so will be recycled from our energy bills. That is not my principal concern (though we need to keep an eye on the impact on low income households) The ECO is an increasingly called upon pot in terms of supporting Green Deal with subsidised high cost measures and supporting those on low incomes so if it is to be used as an incentive mechanism then its impact must be transparent and understood. No mention is made in the document about area based approaches to insulation schemes such as Kirklees Warm Zone. It's proven, it works, therefore Government are ignoring it. Because it doesn't fit at all well with the Green Deal, an unproven mechanism requiring additional incentives?

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Attack of the Mutant Potatoes

Ms Karen Allison with our mutant spuds
Down on the allotment I share with Karen Allison in Primrose Hill it has been harvest time. A bit early but we've had some good spuds and onions. The spuds as you can see are a bit misshapen but I guess they'll taste OK. We also grow beetroot, broccolli, courgettes, leeks, lettuce, parsnips, swedes, turnips. The inconvenient element of all this is so much of the work needs to be done in the run up to the local elections so as you can imagine it has been a bit manic this year. It's our second year of growing and we're looking to expand the plot more next year and do more growing from seeds.

Monday, 4 July 2011

A Tale of Two Community Gardens

The community came together.

There was a disused, council owned play area near their homes.

They wanted to create a place to relax, to come together, to grow vegetables, fruit trees and herbs.

You may be thinking this is another blogpost about Highfields Community Orchard in Huddersfield but you would be wrong. At the weekend I went to the Association of Green Councillors Conference in Norwich and on the Friday night (before the beer and curry) we went to see a successful project to  transform a forgotten patch of land to the rear of some houses into a community garden. Grapes Hill Community Garden was truly inspirational with a project where local  people can collect herbs and fruit and disabled wheelchair users can grow their own vegetables in raised beds. We got a special pre-opening tour of the garden which will officially open in August.

The parallels with Highfields are significant. Both Council owned land, both former play areas, both are near the town centre, both have local people coming together in common cause to improve their local community. That is where the parallels end. In Norwich the Council has supported the project and funding has been found from external sources to bring the project to life. In Kirklees the Council still sees the future of this land as a lucrative development plot rather than a community resource. The Highfields Community Orchard folks have permission from Kirklees to be on the site for the next 6 months or so and this may be extended but a political steer has not been forthcoming.

Ironically, the local Councillors in Greenhead Ward are supporting the establishment of a village green on Clayton Fields a mile up the road. This is something I very much support not least because I used to go sledging down there as a kid when I lived on Imperial Road. The irony is that the council owns the Highfields land at Wentworth Street. With the smallest amount of political direction it could allow local people to have a community orchard in a built up area with all the social benefit that would come from that. This, unfortunately, is not forthcoming.