Thursday, 27 August 2015

Summer holiday lunches held for kids in Lowerhouses were a great success.

Lunches were prepared 3 days each week over the Summer holidays with help from local children and charity Worth Unlimited at Lowerhouses Community Baptist Church. The project was led by Wendy Marsden who lives locally and regularly fed 40+ children. The project was supported by the Town Foundation. There were a variety of tasty healthy lunches provided with fresh vegetables and a pudding.

Green Party Councillor Karen Allison who helped out at the lunch events said  “This has been a really positive project and the kids have loved getting involved in preparing meals, laying the tables. I am really proud of them and the huge enthusiasm shown by Wendy who has been so committed to this project.” 

 Councillor Andrew Cooper who helped out with the washing up on the final day of the project said,  "All credit to Wendy and the kids for preparing these great meals for so many people."

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Bird and the Bees

'Alan' the Partridge
 Its been a funny old week. I get a call off Councillor Julie Stewart -Turner one morning saying "You've got a car. Can you go and rescue a young partridge that is sitting by this shop in Lockwood?" So off me and Cllr Karen Allison trot armed with a cardboard box and find the aforementioned partridge, looking a bit sorry for itself and put it in the box. Now it is worth saying at this point for people who do not know Huddersfield that Lockwood is not the natural habitat of partridges. It's like finding a crocodile in the Antarctic or a Lib Dem in Newsome. It's just not their natural habitat. Lockwood is built up, close to the Town Centre and not a place you feel likely to find what some people refer to as 'game birds'. So having rescued the Partridge the question was what to do with it next? We rang Cllr Robert Barraclough, a farmer who living in Farnley Tyas may well have come across the odd partridge in his time. We didn't fancy his first suggestion too much but then he did identify a spot in Farnley Tyas where it would be good to relocate it. It would be in its natural surroundings and be able to forage, so off we went and released it back into the wild. What has happened to 'Alan' now is anyone's guess but hopefully feeling a bit more at home than it was. As casework goes a bit more bizarre than usual. So that was the bird! Next the bees!

Cllr Karen Allison opens the Apiary at Kirklees College Taylor Hill Annex
For a long time I have been keen to get the concept of the Bee-llotment established. We have had A-llotments for years but we need to get more and more purpose built homes for colonies of bees where their hives are cared for, secure and are safe from predators. Somewhere a hive can thrive! I was really pleased to hear that Huddersfield Bee Keepers Association have established an Apiary with 3 hives at the Kirklees College Taylor Hill Annex. Cllr Karen Allison was asked to open it which she was very keen to do and she is even considering getting her own hive. It is an ideal spot for holding bee keeping courses and the links with the College are particularly welcome with opportunities to pass on skills to new generations. This is an important project with the many threats to bees. Their fate and ours, with regards to the pollination of many crops, are inextricably linked. The Bee-Keepers are hoping to build the Apiary up to be a 8 hive site and they regard the area as a great spot for foraging. The next job for us is to look at what we can do to get more wild flower plants in the area. The fact that the Council are cutting back on grass cutting might be something we can turn into a real positive by finding more areas for wild flowers providing new food sources for the new bee colonies in the Newsome area.
The 'Bee- Suited' Cllr Karen Allison

Friday, 14 August 2015

A West Yorkshire/Leeds City Region Mayor?

A Mayor
Kirklees had a referendum in 2001, asking the question whether we wanted an Elected Mayor or not. The result was 27977 (73%)  against and 10169 (27%) for. That's a far bigger margin that the Scottish Independence Referendum and the Scots were told that this should settle that matter for a generation!There's been no clamour for an elected Mayor since then. All the other Local Authorities in West Yorkshire have had referenda on the Elected Mayor question (most much more recently than us) and they have all come back with similar results.

The principal argument against Elected Mayors is that it puts too much power in the hands of one person and that they will inevitably become remote and unaccountable. Rather than just accepting this, the Conservative Government are now pursuing the idea of an Elected Mayor with power across, not just one Council area but across a number of Councils. This would be on a similar basis to the deal that they have made recntly with Greater Manchester. The sweetner/bribe is that the regions will have greater access/control over money, currently controlled by the Government, that is spent in their regions. So we are not necessarily talking new money but perhaps a greater say over how funds are spent that were destined for the region anyway. In some ways this would be a good thing. It would stop Government misappropriating funds like they did in 2013, when nearly £200million of EU funding, allocated to Yorkshire, was sent to Scotland instead. I guess this was part of the strategy to keep Scotland as part of the United Kingdom. The problem is that instead of an illegitimate Government elected by 37% of the electorate deciding the fate of that money there will be a single person, a Mayor, somehow representing millions of people, deciding how it is spent. We have not necessarily made any progress here!

In West Yorkshire and the wider Leeds City Region there seems to be an almost resigned air amongst the Council Leaderships and a feeling that we must bow to the inevitable. So the West Yorkshire Combined Authority has produced a number of 'Asks' to central Government including
  • the ability raise funding through a 10 year infrastructire precept to improve public transport
  •  power to levy and retain business rates,
  • devolved budgets and responsibility for major roads including motorways
  • Control of a new £500 million Housing and Regeneration Investment Fund
  • Powers to incentivise developers to bring forward strategic sites and prevent land banking; and to bring empty listed building back into use
  • Responsibility for local energy generation and efficiency
  • Responsibility for managing European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) in the same way as London.
These are just some examples of the 'asks' and they are generally positive ones. The problem is that having responsibility for these new budgets will also mean having responsibility for any cuts handed down by central government. It also requires a degree of trust and a belief that Government won't disproportionately cut devolved budgets particularly in areas where the Conservatives have little electoral support.
What has been dismally lacking from the 'asks' from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority is anything about improving governance and accountability for the Elected Mayor, that Government want to foist on us. In London the Mayor is accountable to the Greater London Assembly which has a role in scrutinising the Mayor's decisions. With a 2/3rds majority the Assembly can amend the Mayors strategies and budgets. The Assembly is elected by the Additional Member System so the number of seats are roughly proportional to the votes cast. If we are being pushed into a less democratic Mayoral model then we need to ensure that we have a new representative body to make sure the Mayor is more accountable. It should also be elected by a system of proportional representation. If West Yorkshire Leaders are opposed to creating a new West Yorkshire Assembly or Leeds City Region Assembly then, at the very least, we need to ensure our own local Councils have an effective scrutinising and vetoing role over any Elected Mayor's budgets or plans. This should  not be the preserve of Council Leaders alone or a small group of  'the great and the good'. All elected Councillors should have a role in debating and amending any potential Mayor's plans. Preferably at the same time and in the same place each year.
Reviewing our own Councils electoral arrangements is long overdue, and this should be considered at the same time that we look at establishing any new potential Mayoral arrangements. With West Yorkshire Councils having elections 3 years out of every 4, we are in a state of almost constant electoral warfare. This is not good for governance and detracts from time Councillors can give to  Council work and community focussed activity. Like York, London Boroughs and many other Councils we should have 'all out' elections in West Yorkshire on a 4 year cycle and ensure that these elections do not clash with General Elections. This will help ensure that we retain a focus on local issues and concerns. In May, when we had General, Local and Parish Elections all on the same day the General Election naturally dominated political discourse. We also have the opportunity to elect Local Councillors through a system of proportional representation. If it is good enough for Scottish Councils then why not English ones as well?
As with all negotiations you have to be prepared to walk away and to recognise when what is on offer from the Government is simply not worth it. We do have to overcome the Conservatives desire to centralise power with a Mayoral model but we also have to democratise our own local electoral arrangements and drag them into the 21st Century.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Newsome Play Day? Don't ask me!

Newsome Play Day has become a regular Annual event. Stalls, picnics, play equipment and Kirklees Youth Service all there, plus loads of kids having a good time. This is another project that is lead by the Newsome Ward Community Forum chaired by Green Cllr Julie Stewart-Turner. I usually drop by say hello, have a chat with a few folks for an hour or so. The real work is done by local people and Kirklees Youth Services staff. Both Julie and Cllr Karen Allison have put hours of work into making the day a success. It is another part of the jigsaw that makes up the strong community lead activities in the area and it is important that it is focused on kids. Having absolutely nothing at all to do with it, all I can really say is that its great that it happens. I guess the strength of the array of community offers in the area is that different people do and lead on different things.

Longley Road traffic calming at last!

Longley Rd is in Almondbury in address terms but politically in the Newsome Ward. It's a long straight road and as a result not short of speeding traffic. Newsome Green Party Cllrs approved the traffic calming for this stretch of road using our limited Ward budgets four years ago. What has taken so much time has been ongoing pressure on Kirklees Highways staff. Highways Engineers can command higher salaries outside financially hard pressed local Councils with limited budgets and so we seem to have lost Project Management for the scheme on a number of occasions. We had to but a bit more pressure on than usual to finally get the scheme off the ground. This is a good win if hard won!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Review - Euro Weekly News - Costa Blanca North Edition

On one of our occasional holidays in Spain in Javea it was interesting to read up on the top news stories in the English local Newspaper 'Euro Weekly' read by the large Ex Pat community in the Costa Blanca area. It seems bizarre that in sunny Costa Blanca that hot weather is front page news but it is. The record global temperatures have been reflected locally with the University of Alicante reporting the highest local temperatures for 150 years. This has had a knock on effect in terms of local deaths linked to heat strokes and water shortages. Costa Blanca Environmentalists have been providing advice on best watering strategies to avoid wasting precious water and new sources of water are being sought. There is a desalination plant locally to Javea which has helped secure local supplies but is not regarded as a solution to the problem. The scorching heat has also had more mundane but very real effects with local Taxi drivers calling for shelters from the sun and people's sleep patterns being adversely affected by the heat. Just down the road from where we are staying the communal bin area caught fire a few weeks ago due to the heat causing the area around to catch fire as well. A helicopter with several  buckets of sea water was drafted in to deal with the fire. There will be similar local stories all over the world with the same variation of a theme of adjusting to the reality of climate change. It is interesting to note that no mention of 'climate change' is made in any of the articles as a even a possible cause of the high temperatures and the knock on impacts on everyday life.

On the solutions side of things there are some interesting articles/adverts in the Euro Weekly. When we first came here, 20 odd years ago, we would pass the Silvasol solar company on the way into town which I always gave me a warm glow as I went off in search of tapas. When it began it would have focussed mainly on solar thermal but now PV is of course a big part of the business. Further into town is a company called Ecoforest that sells and installs wood pellet biomass boilers! I say bizarrely but the temperatures can drop below shirt sleeves standards for a few months of the year so having even a wood pellet stove can be an of value for occasional heating during the winter months. The solar story in Spain is a mixed one with solar energy having received a lot of Public investment but now it is being taxed as part of the Spanish Government drive to search for new sources of income in difficult economic times.

Insulation is still an issue even here. As we know thermos flasks keep liquids hot OR cold. The same principle applies to buildings and for those self builders out here with cash a 'Thermo Casa' home with high insulation standards which limit the need for air conditioning is an option. I wonder how far off Passivhaus standards they are and those standards would best apply in a hot climate?

One of the most interesting articles for me was about the grants that the Spanish Government makes available to householders carrying out energy efficiency (2000 Euros) or conservation works (4000 Euros) for homes built before 1981. This is at a time in the UK where funding to support the Green Deal loans has been cut as well as Government support for the Green Investment Bank. Clearly even in an economy which is generally regarded as weaker than the UK for Spain energy efficiency is still a higher priority.

The final story which gave me pause for thought was one about putting pigeons on the pill. Pigeons often regarded as flying vermin and we have issues in Springwood and the Town Centre with hundreds of the birds doing what they do all over the place. The town of Badia Del Valles in Barcelona reckons that contraceptive laced feed will cut the pigeon population by 80%. Not sure what I think about this yet but worth investigating.