Tuesday, 29 January 2013

PRESS RELEASE - Andrew Cooper to contest Euro Elections for the Greens

Kirklees Green Councillor Andrew Cooper has been selected by Yorkshire and Humber Green Party as Lead Candidate in the 2014 European Elections in a vote of Party members from across the region.
Andrew has been a Green Party Councillor in on Kirklees Council since 1999 and has been re-elected 4 times. There are now 5 Greens elected to Kirklees Council. Andrew’s proudest achievement has been establishing the UKs first universally free insulation scheme which insulated over 50,000 homes in Kirklees. In 2008, in recognition of his work promoting sustainable energy, Andrew was named as one of the UKs top 100 Environmentalists (number 59) in the Independent on Sunday’s Green List. Andrew is also the national Chair of the Association of Green Councillors which has over 130 Councillors from around the country. He is the Green Party’s National Spokesperson on Energy and Climate Change
On his selection Andrew said,
“I am pleased to have been selected by the Green Party to contest these elections in 2014. If elected, I would seek to ensure more European funds are levered into our region to promote jobs and economic security. We want to ensure that more people are able to work in the expanding green technologies sector.  This will help not just employment but peoples fuel bills through improved energy efficiency. We will work hard to give more young people hope of secure worthwhile employment.  We need jobs which are fulfilling, improve society and help protect our local and global environment.”
In the last European Elections the Greens only narrowly missed gaining an MEP seat by 1.3% in the Yorkshire and Humber region. Since then support for the BNP and the Liberal Democrats has waned giving the Greens a real chance of electing their first MEP in the region. The Green Party already has 2 MEPs in the European Parliament representing London and the South East. The European Elections are conducted under a list system of proportional representation
In Yorkshire and the Humber the Green Party now has 15 Councillors on 6 Councils in Yorkshire including Sheffield, Kirklees, Bradford, Leeds, Scarborough and York.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

40 years of the CAT

CATs Kim Bryan, Paul Allen and myself at the Environment Question Time
It can take a long time to get to the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) near Machynlleth.It is in deepest North Wales on the site of an old slate mine about 10 minutes bus ride from the town centre. It is its distance and semi isolation which adds to its mystique within the Green Movement. If you are going to go on a pilgramage to a place which was the springboard for a lot of the pathfinding work on 'green living' you don't necessarily want it to be easily accessible . A degree of remoteness adds to its status as a place set apart from the modern world where new ideas and ways of living could be explored free from distractions in an almost monastic way. I reckon I've been to CAT around half a dozen times, usually taking the water powered train /lift carraige. When you get to the top it is an alternative technology theme park dealing with environmentally friendly ways of growing food, dealing with waste and generating energy.

At the time the first pioneers went there in the early 70s we had a backdrop of the international oil crisis and concern about the 'population bomb' affecting our life support systems. Whilst in London, 70s politicians were  having 'beer and sandwiches' in Machynlleth the CAT pioneers with 'beards and sandals' were taking the first steps in establishing sustainable new ways of living in a modern world. My latest journey to CAT earlier this month was as a visiting lecturer on one of their Architecture courses talking about 'The politics of sustainable energy' drawing on my experience at the local and national level getting projects off the ground in an ever changing policy landscape.

For all its isolation CAT is not isolationist. It actively seeks novices to learn the technicalities and practicalities of integrating sustainable technologies in our communities. To help acheive this CAT have recently opened a purpose built educational facility, the Welsh Instititute for Sustainable Education (WISE), with lecture theatres seminar rooms and accomodation for visiting students. It is of course built to the highest environmental standards but this is further enhanced by its location which was particularly stunning with the addition of the snow that fell during my stay there. On the evening following my talk there was environmental question time for the students with myself and CATs Paul Allen and Kim Bryan where we asked a range of questions looking at some of the issues we'll be facing getting the green message across over the next 40 years. I left CAT in the snow impressed by their ongoing role as a biomassed fuelled crucible of ideas and passion rooted in the 1970s but still way ahead of their time.

And here from the 1970s is Al Stewart's 'Year of the Cat'. What else?

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Bins, Pickles, Fracking and Chicken Tikka Masala

As eaten by Eric Pickles
 One issue that has been concentrating the minds of the Local Government Association's Environment and Housing Board is the issue of weekly bin collections for grey bins. This ‘interest’ is not our own but that of the Communities and Local Govt Minister Eric Pickles. He has said something along the lines of it being everyones right to have the remains of their Chicken Tikka Masala collected once a week by the Council. Many Councils, like Kirklees have transferred to bi-weekly collections for grey bins for a number of years now. This has been motivated by a desire to cut costs in response to budgetary pressures and also to increase the drive for householders to recycle more of their household rubbish. To incentivise Councils to go back to weekly bin collections Mr Pickles announced a £250 million fund to help councils to convert back. He has also stated in the Daily Mail (where else) that further cuts could come to councils who do not go back to weekly bin collections. So is Eric’s position reflecting a general concern amongst the population? Not really. A recent ICM poll showed 74% of people were happy with their bin collections and only 9% wanted a return to weekly bin collections. Even with the one off grants on offer, changing back to weekly bin collections would put additional ongoing costs back onto Council Tax payers for years ahead. Most Councils have realised this and only one (Stoke on Trent) is using the funding to convert from bi-weekly to weekly collections. What we do know is that if we were to go back to weekly grey bin collections that recycling rates will decline further. Nationally recycling is at around 43% of household waste. We have signed up to an EU target to reach 50% recycling by 2020 otherwise we will be fined for non compliance. The target is of course completely achievable, it is just the nonsensical policies from central government that are making this difficult to achieve. What is somewhat perplexing is that the waste specialism within government is with DEFRA but because Eric has a particular beef about his chicken tikka masala he is sticking his very unhelpful oar in from the Department of Communities and Local Government. There was cross party agreement on the board that Eric’s view on bin collections was just plain wrong. Knowing that logic makes little impact on people like Pickles my suggestion was to approach the issue from a different angle. I suggested we write to Eric and DEFRA requesting a meeting with Government to work together on a Waste Reduction Strategy to stop so much waste going into our bins in the first place. Measures such as taxes on packaging and plastic bags have been successful in other countries so why not here? The Board agreed with this suggestion and I’ll let you know how we get on.

The issue of Shale gas was raised as a topic for the Environment and Housing Board in the context of the Council's planning role in relation to applications to establish drilling operations. Concerns were raised about the impact on chemicals in the water table and seismic activity but the principal issues I highlighted were the impact on energy policy and carbon emissions. There is a reported 8% leakage of natural gas from fracking operations which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The other concern I had was the fact that extracting the last dregs of fossil fuels to fuel the economy rather than proper investment in low carbon technologies is at best a distraction but more likely a disaster in its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. The Conservatives on the panel were not swayed by these issues and talked of the boost to the economy and jobs it would give. I imagined the Captain of the Titanic giving the order to ‘Head faster towards that iceberg!’ Without a trace of irony or self knowledge one of the same Conservatives asked for concerns about wind turbines to be raised as a future agenda item.

We do need more ‘natural’ gas and there is plenty of this that can be sourced above the ground. In Europe, and Germany in particular, Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is big business. AD is the capture and usage of gas given off by farm, food wastes and manure to produce methane which can then be either injected into the existing gas network or used to generate electricity. This is a truly renewable gas of the type that we all produce from time to time, possibly after a chicken tikka masala!

So 'frack' or 'frak' was also the profanity of choice in the surprisingly good remake of Battlestar Galactica. Here's a selection of its use for your entertainment (or not)

Monday, 7 January 2013

Armitage Bridge over troubled water

Work on the new Armitage Bridge flood barrier has begun. Regular readers of this blog will recall the 2 floods on Dean Brook Road that have occured in recent years. At times of high rainfall there is increased danger of a high water level on Dean Brook which has seen the road turn into a river and some local houses flooded with all the misery hat accompanies such events.

This solution to the problem has come out of the community and a lot of credit should go to local man John Lockwood who came up with a solution that diverts water onto the field before Dean Brook Road at times of high flood risk. Local Architects 'One 17 Design' have also been a great supporter carrying out the work and have matched funds from local people and those that Newsome Ward Councillors have contributed from Area Committee funds.

This is a real good news story and one where it is local people and community spirit that has produced a locally grown solution that should protect this part of the village for years to come.

Dean Brook Road during the first flood a few years ago

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Blue Hotel

The George Hotel

Just before Christmas I went with a couple of work colleagues from out of town to 'The Head of Steam' for lunch. It was heaving and there was no way we were going to be able to get a meal so we went across St George's Square to 'The George Hotel'. We went through the deserted lobby into the deserted bar. It was properly deserted with no staff behind the bar and we had to go hunting around the building to get some service. The meal was OK but there was no draught lager or bitter behind the bar so we had Guinness. Things were clearly on the slide. The George was moving from the faded grandeur stage into just plain tatty with poor service. Now it has sadly gone into administration with it sole occupant being a security guard.

For years The George had things pretty much their own way with very few hotel options for people visiting the area that could be regarded as vaguely upmarket. There was the business rates dodging 'Huddersfield Hotel 'at the bottom end of town opposite the former pole dancing club and empty former Bingo Hall. Then more recently we have had both a Premier Inn and a Travelodge come to Huddersfield within a stones throw of the town centre. These modern budget hotels are part of a national chain were bound to draw trade away from places like 'The George'.

It is ironic that in recent years the Council has invested considerable funds into St George's Square, the Chinese granite and new fountains (one looking like a urinal), the Festival of Light and Food and Drink Festivals. None of this investment has been enough to help save the Hotel from its fate. It feels like watching someone dying of thirst next to a spring of fresh water (or a fountain). Apparently during the Food and Drink Festival 'The George' was fairly empty unable to capitalise on the tpotential trade on its doorstep. It all smacks of poor management and a disengagement from the town and the opportunities that presented themselves.

So what's the future for 'The George'? It could get another owner to limp along in the same old fashion   . Inevitably a year or two down line they will probably be in the same position. 'The George' needs a vision. It can't be a budget hotel as the competition is too great, it needs to go upmarket a bit and that will need investment to give the place a significant facelift. It will need to re-engage with the town and have a high profile Hotel Manager with strong marketing skills to draw on. 'The George' has a lot going for it, history, character, the birthplace of Rugby League in 1895 and more recently Yorkshire and Humber Microgeneration Partnership (OK only me and a few others know or care about the latter). So I and the town in general will watch with interest to see what happens next. In the meantime here's 'Blue Hotel' by Chris Isaak who is a great live act if you get chance to see him.