Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Pensions Strike

A really inspiring turnout today from Unions, staff and folk generally expressing their concern about the cuts. I couldn't stay too long unfortunately but I did make the mistake of telling Cllr Khan it was my birthday. Apparently after the video finishes they sang me a rendition of Happy Birthday. I wish I'd had time to see it. Thanks Mehboob - I think!

What I think was a real game changer for this March was that it wasn't just the usual suspects in the crowd. The crowd for one thing was a lot bigger which reflects the fact that the concern is more deeply routed than those who are permanently politically aware and motivated. It also recognises the links between large scale public sector cuts and the assault on public pensions.  If this is the way things are now what are they going to be like in another 12 months, 2 years or the 6 months of pain we are told we have. The government haven't a mandate for these policies and their therefore legitimacy is highly questionable. I don't think I've ever see a government in this country that is more divisive than this. Thank goodness we've got the Lib Dems using their restraining influence - Ok that was a joke!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Greens join with Holme Valley Independents on Local Development Framework

Grimescar Valley - saved from development by all Parties

The 16200 figure presented in the Green Party/Independent amendment has a strong
evidence base supported by economic projections, past performance on housing completions, the impact of Coalition Government policies on the construction and housing sectors and the Communities and Local Government Paper, 'Estimating Housing Need' (2010).

Current economic projections for growth show 1.5% this year and 2.5% next year according to the government's own Office for Budget Responsibility. Historically these figures have been highly optimistic. This projection compares to the an annual growth rates averaging 2.68% between 1992–2007 according to the IMF. The British Chambers of Commerce Economic Forecast in March this year said:

“Further forceful cuts in the budget deficit, the unresolved problems in the banking sector, and the financial fragility in the household sector will delay a return to pre‐crisis growth rates. Over the next 4‐5 years, growth of UK GDP is likely to average just over 2% per annum, considerably less than the 3.0% average growth recorded in the 15‐year period 1993‐2007”

Coalition Government cuts of 60% in the Homes and Communities Agency is going to significantly reduce the levels of social housing and shared ownership housing available. The viability of younger people being able to enter the housing market will be increasingly stifled due to the impact of tuition fees which will mean that when students leave college and start receiving the sort of salaries they would need to consider the purchase of a property they will start having to repay those fees.

While we recognise that there is an increasing social need for more housing, the mere projection of house building figures in the absence of interventionist social and economic policies will not create the construction of needed housing units. Rather it will give greater licence to the speculative builder of executive properties on green field sites. Without changes in government policy which will support the development of social housing, an open supply‐side private housing market cannot solve this problem, but only create distortions of excessive building on green field sites whilst leaving the overall stock of needed housing low.

Simply making land available in its own terms will not deliver new housing so the LDF’s own targets are not realisable due to the underlying economic conditions the UK is in and the lack of policies to stimulate an economic revival and develop social housing.

Past performance on housing completions does not support the targets given in the LDF document. The average number of completions between 2000 and 2010 was 1248 per year and even this level is skewed due to particularly high years. Expectations of mainly 1500 completions per year across the plan are clearly unattainable.

If our figures were to be adopted this would require no housing development on land that is currently in the greenbelt. We wish to see development in Grimescar, Honley, Meltham and Brockholes taken out of the plan. Just as the Local Development Framework has proposed to remove greenbelt status from nominated areas we would add land below Castle Hill bordered by High Lane and New Laithe Hill which is directly adjacent to greenbelt land and part of the backdrop to the historic and iconic Victoria Tower on Castle Hill.

Like the Government asserts we also believe in Localism and support the concept of Neighbourhood Development Plans where communities establish what land they would like to see developed in their area above and beyond those targets set in the LDF. Our fear is that the Government's belief in localism is only skin deep and that the Government through the Planning Inspectorate would favour developers rather than communities.

We believe that where previously undeveloped land is to be developed that this should be constructed to a higher environmental standard than those proposed in building regulations in terms of energy performance and sustainable urban drainage.

We recognise that there is value in the juxtaposition of new design and new technology with heritage assets such as modern glass atriums on church buildings and solar panels being utilised on older properties and we would expect the LDF to include policies that support that approach.

Overall the Kirklees Local Plan should not only consider the urban settlements on a quantitative basis, but qualitatively take into account their unique features of these different communities taking into account their urban, rural and environmental factors . Hence more detailed and specific polices should be developed for the Huddersfield Hub, Dewsbury, North Kirklees and the valleys in the South of Kirklees.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Huddersfield Tesco Public Enquiry - Barry and the Barrister

Fortnum and Mason - where i believe Tesco's Barrister shops. Go on sue me!

You'd be forgiven for not knowing about the Tesco Public Enquiry. Not highly publicised they held it out of town in the Hudawi Centre this week. Just to recap Kirklees Council sells Huddersfield Sports Centre and surrounding area to Tescos for millions to allow them to build a huge store at the edge of the Town Centre to help suck more money out of the local economy. The money from Tesco's is then going to used to build a new Sports Centre on Springwood Car Park. The Planning Committee decision was highly dubious given the background and expressed reservations of Counciilors who then went on to vote for it. Barry Sheerman Huddersfield's MP (he managed to beat me in the General Election as did  a couple of others) successfully called for a Public Enquiry. You should be up to date now.

Here's the Tesco Enquiry I spoke at on Friday. On your left is the Tesco Legal team mob. At the far end is posh Barrister. The Planning Inspector in the middle and Barry Sheerman on the left. I followed on from our esteemed MP
I managed to get there for half an hour to present my evidence. I arrived as Barry Sheerman MP was having a set to with Tesco's rather plummy Barrister. It seemed I had entered just as class war was breaking out between Barry and the Barrister. Barry gamely slagged off supermarkets and how much money was being drawn out of the local economy while the 'Tescos Toff' said Barry was biased against supermarkets and wasn't giving any planning reasons to oppose the application. So when I took the stand following Barry I decided not to go off on a Tescopoly tirade but to stick to the unsound nature of the planning decision itself. I pointed out the deep reservations expressed by councillors in the planning meeting who then went on to promptly vote for the application. I told the Planning Inspector about the seven fold increase in traffic at the end of an air quality management area on Leeds Road, the lack of a commitment to social housing, the lack of natural stone in the development despite Councillors wishes. I went on to point out the extraordinarily long time, 9 years, that Kirklees had granted Tesco to build their barn and the lack of trees and biodiversity about the site as well as the impact on the Town Centre. I finished giving my evidence and awaited the onslaught of probing questions from Tescos Barrister. The Planning Inspector invited him to respond but 'No questions' 'Cmon!' I said, 'there must be some questions' I had focussed on the Planning Decision after all. 'I've no questions but that doesn't mean I agree with what has been said'. During my evidence 2 of  Barrister Posh's staff rushed up to him with bits of paper and conferred with him but whatever they said it did not seem like he wanted to engage. I counted about 8 Tesco's people there either legal or company people so they are certainly throwing some money at this lets hope Kirklees Planning's deeply dodgy decision on this ( with the honorable exception of Cllr Christine Iredale) is overturned.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Solar Sundown

Many council and free solar schemes have checked into the Sundown Motel

A few weeks ago, and somewhat inexplicably,Winchester City Council in Hampshire cancelled its plans to install solar panels on their municipal buildings as they said that they did not stack up financially and that the prices they got back from their tender were not what they were expecting. To any informed outside observer this must have been nonsense. Up and down the country Councils had been pursuing schemes to install panels on their own buildings and council houses having done the maths and concluded their proposals were self financing. Possibly Winchester knew something the rest of us didn’t about the FIT cuts that were coming over the horizon.

The implications of the Governments rushed review of the Feed In Tariff rates for solar photovoltaics are significant and in many ways tragic. In Leeds the City Council had innovative plans to use the Feed In Tariff incomes from installations on Council houses to help finance free insulation for private homes. That great idea would now appear to be a total dead duck. In Kirklees we have/had a thousand house solar PV programme some of which are in the Newsome Ward. I’ve asked the Council’s Leader Councillor Khan and the Chief Executive to see what can be done to accelerate installations ahead of the cut. It’s going to be difficult and I anticipate a lot of weekend working to get PV systems commissioned and working ahead of the deadline.

So why are government making this cut? Well the first thing to say is that this is not public money we are talking about so this is not saving you and me tax. We do however all pay for the feed in tariff through a levy on our fuel bills along with a number of charges which subsidise nuclear and renewable programmes. The FIT element of this is reckoned to cost the average household around 30 pence per year or less than 1 penny/week. As the FIT is the result of public policy however it is counted in the governments Public Sector Borrowing Requirement and so Treasury has put a cap on it OR as Climate Change Minister Greg Barker refers to it ‘a budget’. Given the very low cost of the tariff the cap is obviously set very low demonstrating a very limited ambition by government for the solar sector. Government’s argument is that the capital costs for installing PV have dropped dramatically and therefore the FIT should drop. While this is true it is only half the story. Government are ignoring the fact that demand for PV has been generated by the level of FIT that has in turn helped generate the economies of scale that have enabled prices to come down. So if you reduce the FIT rate then capital costs are likely to start rising significantly. There is probably a reasoned argument for a limited FIT reduction but not one of over 50% that will put companies out of business and make thousands unemployed.

The cuts to the FIT rates take effect on the 12th of December yet the consultation on the review of feed in tariffs is due to close on the 23rd of December. So Merry Christmas everybody! This is just one of the reasons that solar companies are pursuing legal routes to challenge government over this abomination of a consultation. The other reason is that right now there will be many millions of pounds worth of solar panels and inverters on the high seas already bought and paid for by British companies on the understanding of a return based on current FIT rates. Some of these solar panels will have been destined for Council projects such as those planned for Kirklees, Leeds and York but NOT Hampshire.