Thursday, 28 February 2019

Kirklees Locan Plan - Extraordinary Council Meeting - Cllr Andrew Cooper Green Group Leader speech

Councillors Cooper, Allison and Stewart-Turner examine the Local Plan
Many years ago, shortly after primordial life fell gasping onto the shores of the virgin earth Kirklees began the Local Plan process. Of course it wasn't known as the Local Plan back then. It was known as the Local Development Framework. Looking back at the documents, in the original Latin, you realise how naive we were back in those more innocent times. We somehow believed that we had control of our own destiny, that we could decide the numbers of housing that we felt comfortable with and just tell the Government in Londoinium where we were prepared to allocate for development and no more. I remember well how our now Chief Executive used all her persuasive skills on the bloke from the Planning Inspectorate to accept our housing offering. It was to no avail and under the pretext of failing to consult with neighbouring authorities, to which there was no guidance on how to do so, we were told to go back to the drawing board and start again and so we began the Local Plan process.

For us as Newsome Ward Councillors we have had some real successes. The land below Castle Hill at New Laithe Hill has been added to the Green Belt protecting the aspect of Huddersfield's most iconic feature, the back gardens of householders at Taylor Hill Road that the Council had allocated for development in a draft of the Local Plan were dropped and Highfields Community Orchard, a source of some disagreement between myself and the former Council Leader Mehboob Khan, was allocated Urban Greenspace status. We have also been keen to promote development where appropriate, at the Newsome Mill site for example. There are still areas where we disagree with development  both in the ward we represent and in other parts of Kirklees and the housing numbers indicated in the plan far exceed what has ever been built in past years. Government has set the rules of the game and we have to provide housing on sites we wouldn't wish to develop. So I'm sure the Tories will refer to this as Labour's Local Plan but really its Labour's Local Plan using rules provided for it by the then Lib Dem/Conservative Government.

This is a plan that does not really address housing need. It will not provide the secure, social rented homes so many people need. When I hear people talk about the local plan as a way of addressing homelessness or giving people on low income a home, this plan falls short. Developers make money on 3 or 4 bedroom properties for owner occupation. Developers donate millions to the Conservative Party. This plan and every other plan around the country is for developers not for the people of Kirklees and its needs.

In this plan we are pleased that our amendment, that ensures that any fracking company would have to demonstrate how it has net zero impact on climate change has been adopted in the plan. Now I know Councillor Donald Firth will say that you can't do Fracking in Kirklees due to the extent of the Bowland shale but there are some places (in former coal mining areas) where unconventional gas extraction such as fracking and coal bed methane extraction are still possible so we still need a policy to protect ourselves from fracking and other forms of fossil fuel extraction. We should be proud this policy has national significance and sets a useful precedent for other Councils and is consistent with our Declaration of a Climate Emergency.

So what to do. I'm genuinely conflicted and because we don't operate a Party Whip I'm free to be conflicted. Nethertheless its a dilemma.

We need a Local Plan. If we don't have one then rapacious developers will have free rein  to build where they will. There will be limited protection for all green spaces without a designation like green belt

In many ways this is not our choice the rules of the game were set in the National Planning Policy Framework. Thanks to the Coalition Government. Thanks former Lib Dem MP Andrew Stunnell in the a Minister in DCLG.  As a result many areas which should not be developed on because they are valued green space are in this plan.

We don't have the ability or freedom to produce a plan that we want and the Conservatives and the Lib Dems would be in exactly the same position as the Labour Party is now if they were running the Council. It is important to be honest about that.

So what next. Once the Plan is adopted we have the opportunity to introduce Supplementary Planning Guidance to set our own energy efficiency standards in new build properties. It should be where feasible to Passivhaus standards not simply because it will reduce carbon emissions, or even because householders will have energy bills 75% less than a standard new build but because of the high standard of building delivered through a quality assurance process. Sadly we would not be the first Council to be pushing strongly on the Passivhaus standard. We need to catch up.

So we have reached the end of a 10 year + epoch with the Kirklees Local Plan. I get the feeling that we are reaching the end of a number of epochs. Brexit, the Local Plan, the end of another Municipal Year. We need to recognise that things are in flux and that opportunities to shape the future are in our hands if we choose to take those opportunities.

Lets be bold, lets be positive, lets ensure that homes are built to the very best energy efficiency standards in Kirklees over the next 15 years. Let's show the rest of the country how things could be.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Kirklees Budget 2019 - Green Party Leader Cllr Andrew Cooper's speech

It’s at moments like this that I genuinely miss Tory Councillor Andrew Palfreeman as he had his good natured bash at the Green Party Budget Amendment with no hint of malice. He would always end by naming us. My favourite was when he referred to us as Compo, Clegg and Foggy. Which I pointed out were 3 old guys from Holmfirth who had some bizarre ideas. I suggested that perhaps he should look closer to home for these characters. But I guess nothing from the Tories today, no Tory Budget amendment so they must be happy with Labour’s budget. No ideas not even bizarre ones. So I guess it will be a dignified silence from them now. Perhaps not.

We have reiterated our call for support for rough sleepers in our town centres, to restore play areas removed for health and safety reasons and greater support for safety schemes on our roads. We have proposed taking action to address the lack of support for new tenants on low incomes getting set up in a new homes and provision of outdoor gym equipment in our town centres to encourage greater exercise and a new element as part of our town centre regeneration. We of course recognise the increasingly embarrassing record of Kirklees on recycling and have suggested ways to address this.

We have been inspired by the Council’s Declaration of a Climate Emergency and want to get Kirklees off to a flying start in efforts to reduce carbon emissions and play our small part not just saving the world but also creating a better world for us here in Kirklees.

We have sought a realisable but ambitious tree planting programme. The Kirklees Forest Project, where every school child will get the opportunity to plant at least one tree during their education. But this is not just a fluffy feel good project, or as has been suggested by one uninformed commentator ‘virtue signalling’. This is a project to plant 150,000 trees over 4 years and the precursor to a much larger project over the next 25 years. The Kirklees Forest project is not just about capturing carbon, it is about flood resilience through strategic planting, it provides habitats for wildlife, reduces air pollution and noise levels in built up areas, creates natural space which is good for communities, well being and mental health.

As you will see from our amendment it is not all Council money we are using it as leverage to bring in funding from other sources. It is an ambitious and worthwhile project the sort of thing we need to be doing if we are to be a leading Council on something that stands out in this country and beyond on addressing climate change.

We have again called for a much more ambitious investment in electric vehicles. Leeds City Council has 200 in its vehicle fleet, Kirklees 3. I know there are more to come but it’s piecemeal. We need to be bold, we need to regain the lead we once had, that has been lost, as a ‘Green Council’. We propose 127 electric vehicles cutting emissions on our roads, lowering running and maintenance costs for our vehicles and the investment in the charging infrastructure needed to support them.

Not a matter for this budget but we also need to see what we can do to set higher energy efficiency standards in our Local Plan though Supplementary Planning Guidance. We can do this and we should

With these 3 measures we can make a beginning on the road to action. Without some sort of significant, substantial actions on climate change then you simply make the words of the naysayers true. If your house is on fire it is an emergency. You don’t throw a cup of water on it you call the fire brigade and get a hosepipe on it. Declare a Climate Emergency yes but then act accordingly.

So I propose that after we have heard the Lib Dem amendment that we have a short recess to consider the elements of the amendments that refer to a climate emergency and see if we can come to a consensus on this one crucial issue.

The support for a Declaration of a Climate Emergency was agreed on a cross party basis so why not an amendment to the Council Budget agreed by those parties who voted for the Climate Emergency and those that have actually submitted amendments.
In other parts of the country we have people protesting in council chambers because they feel they are not been listened to on action on climate change. We are not in that place yet in Kirklees and I sincerely hope we won't be.

 And I suggest to the Labour Party that having a Majority and taking on the views of other parties shows more strength and confidence in your administration than the times when you have had to because you don’t have a majority.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Press Release - Green success in Kirklees Anti Fracking Policy

Cllr Cooper on an anti fracking march in 2017
Green Councillors are celebrating after a ground breaking policy they submitted to the Local Plan has been approved by the Government's Planning Inspectorate.

Green Party Leader on Kirklees, Councillor Andrew Cooper said,

"Because the Government has a pro-fracking policy we couldn't simply ban it in the Local Plan. We had to take another approach. We added a condition that any application to Frack for gas would have to demonstrate how it has 'net zero impact on Climate Change'. We used the Government signing up to the Paris Climate Agreement and their support for the Climate Change Act as evidence to justify our proposal."

This is the first time that the link between the negative impacts on climate change has been linked to Fracking in a Local Plan anywhere in the UK.

Cllr Cooper who is also the Green Party's Energy Spokesperson said,

"The policy we have successfully proposed here has implications for every Council in the country. Now others will be able to refer to this policy in Kirklees and use it in their own areas as another way of protecting their local environment from the HGVs, earthquakes and toxic chemicals involved in the Fracking process".

"If we have learnt anything in the last few years it is that we need to extracting less fossil fuels not more. The best way to ensure we have energy security for the UK is by having more energy efficient buildings with less energy demand and more home grown renewable energy. Fracking is the past not the future."

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Kirklees Budget 2019 - Green Party Budget Amendment

The aim of our budget amendment is to address just some of the social, environmental & financial issues that affect the Council. What this amendment cannot do is solve all the problems faced by the Council and the people who live within its boundaries

We have proposals here that will enable Kirklees to make a meaningful start on action to address carbon emissions following the Declaration of a Climate Emergency.

Kirklees Forest Project

A large scale project to increase the tree cover across Kirklees with an initial target of planting 150,000 trees across Kirklees in 5 years. We regard this project as a precursor and pathfinder for a much larger project over the next 25 years
We will seek a mix of urban, suburban and rural locations for tree planting to help improve the attractiveness of built up areas.
 Where appropriate we will provide fruit trees to help with provision of local healthy food and to support the local bee populations helping the pollination of local crops.

There are many other benefits to this project including:-

Flood resilience through strategic planting

Habitats for wildlife

Reducing air pollution

Tackling Climate change by capturing carbon emissions

Reducing noise levels in built up areas

Creating access to natural space

The project will have a strong focus on citizen engagement with a particular emphasis on:-

          Schoolchildren – the opportunity for every school age child to be able to plant at least one tree during their school years
          Kirklees employees – in their two days of volunteer time each year Kirklees employees will have the option of engaging in tree planting activities
          Communities – provision of tree whips will be made available for community groups and  Parish Councils
We will seek partnerships with other organisations and landowners to identify land and provide partnership funding and support.
A detailed note comes as an appendix to this amendment showing how the project would work in practice

Restoring Play Areas removed for Health and Safety reasons

Play areas have recently been removed from Manor Estate in the Newsome Ward and Rufford Road in the Golcar Ward. These were removed for Health and Safety reasons but no provision was made by the Administration for their replacement. This amendment addresses that deficiency.
Huddersfield Town Centre is not a family friendly area and our proposal to provide a play area on Macauley Street outside the Bus Station would go some way towards addressing this.

Mount Pleasant Primary School - Roof to Multi Use Games Area

Mount Pleasant Primary School in the Crosland Moor Ward has just had a new school building built to Government specifications. As a result it has lost the large covered Sports Hall that enabled children and local people outside school hours to play sport in all weathers. Installing a roof on the soon to be installed Multi Use Games Area would restore the flexibility the school had previously with all the benefits for health, school effectiveness and wider community engagement.

Traffic Calming measures

The provision of resources for traffic calming are insufficient. This amendment will not resolve that but will provide more flexibility to address the many calls on the Highways Service for traffic calming across Kirklees.

Provision of Electric Vehicle fleet

The first Kirklees Council Electric Vehicle was provided over 10 years ago as a result of a Green Party Budget amendment. Electric vehicles since then have come on leaps and bounds and have low servicing costs, lower costs per mile and the range of electric vehicles is well within the Councils operational requirements. The benefit to the Council is not just lower running costs but also demonstrates that we are playing our part in reducing vehicle emissions at a time when we have growing concerns about air quality in Kirklees. As the carbon intensity of UK electricity begins to fall electric vehicles will play an important role in storing renewable energy generated overnight. This will help us play our part in reducing carbon emissions in line with the COP21 Paris Climate Goals.

Public Rapid Charging of Electric Vehicles

With a growing number of people buying and using electric vehicles the Council needs to play its part in providing the infrastructure we need to allow this cleaner more efficient form of transport to grow.  Match funding is being provided for charging points so this proposal can be used as leverage.

Addressing the growing number of rough sleepers in Kirklees

There are a growing number of rough sleepers in Kirklees as the result of benefit changes, mental health issues and the lack of sufficient social rented housing. This proposal seeks to provide more support and assistance to rough sleepers to help them get back control of their lives.

Kirklees Recycling Initiative

Kirklees needs as a matter of urgency to address our poor recycling rates. This budget amendment will seek to improve community recycling facilities, glass collections and pilot food waste collections for possible anaerobic digestion linking with our climate change objectives.

Furniture & Appliance Scheme (KNH)

To re-establish a furniture/appliances service for new tenants on low incomes. The Food banks seek to help around 500 clients a year moving into new homes with nothing. Getting loans or low cost options from ‘Pass it on’ takes considerable time often meaning that tenants fail to move into their homes and end up back sofa surfing and can end up losing their tenancies. KNH could be source furniture and appliances from their own voids and donations.
To re-establish a furniture/appliances service for new tenants on low incomes.
One used to run through Fusion housing but this was discontinued. As a consequence the food banks seek to help around 500 clients a year moving into new homes with nothing. Getting loans or low cost options from ‘Pass it on’ takes considerable time often meaning that tenants fail to move into their homes and end up back sofa surfing and cab end up losing their tenancies. A service like this might best sit with KNH. They could be sourcing furniture and appliances from their own voids and donations. They could more easily organise gas and electrical checks on donated appliances. It would be expected that they would help both council and private sector tenants and coordinate with support staff at the Food banks.

Kirklees Budget 2019 - No Tory Amendment

A bloke in a pub
One of the key purposes of being an opposition party on Kirklees Council is to provide an alternative view on issues facing the Council. That doesn't mean you have to be oppositional for the sake of it but give a perspective on the budget that reflects the values of your Party. So for what I think is the third or maybe the fourth time in the nearly 20 years, that I've been a Councillor, the Conservative Group have failed to submit an amendment to the Council's budget.

I'm always interested in the reasons why political parties make the decisions, or non decisions, they do. These often split into two categories. The reasons they give and then there are the real reasons . So what reasons can the Conservatives give for failing to produce on of the  expectations of a functioning political group on the Council. The last time they didn't produce an amendment they said it was because the Labour budget was "unamendable". They went on to say that if the Labour Party had taken account of their previous amendments then it would have been amendable but as they hadn't it isn't. This is clearly nonsense. Other groups can find funding for priorities, projects and schemes as the Green Party Group and the Liberal Democrats have but the Conservatives are not presenting the Council with any priorities, projects or schemes.

The real reason I believe they aren't submitting an amendment is because it would mean having to admit that their own Government has given them very little room to manouvre from a Conservative perspective. To attempt to maintain maintain services requires that you raise Council Tax to the maximum limit that their own Government will allow given the  reduction in funding the Council receives from central Government. Their Government. There is no dodgy Council Tax freeze grant from the Government any more and efficiencies are harder and harder to find.

Will this mean that the Conservatives will be exhibiting an uncritical dignified silence in the Council's Budget meeting next Wednesday to reflect their non statement on the Councils finances. I doubt it. They will of course be getting up and saying how terrible things are and how this and that needs sorting but they will have all the relevance of some bloke mouthing off in the pub.