Monday, 15 November 2021

COP26 - What did it mean for Local and Regional Government?


COP26 resulted in what is officially known as the Glasgow Climate Pact. This is the document that included the now infamous ‘phasing down’ rather than ‘phasing out of coal reference. Many of us feel immense dismay about the COP26 outcome but within the document it is worth knowing what is in it that is relevant to our local Councils.

There are several key references in the ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ document. There is a mention in
the Preamble to the pact

“Recognizing the important role of indigenous peoples, local communities and civil
society, including youth and children, in addressing and responding to climate change, and
highlighting the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action”

Multilevel action means local government and it’s important it is recognised in the preamble to the Glasgow Climate Pact as it gives legitimacy and recognition to national government for the role councils play in addressing climate change.

At the UK level the key body we have to key into is the Local Net Zero Forum which is a body where national and local government come together to work on action to address climate change from a local perspective. This was announced as part of the Net Zero Strategy in October so we know nothing about how it will operate or it’s terms of reference. The Local Net Zero Forum has its roots in the agreement at COP24, 3 years ago. As well as Government Departments it includes the Local Government Association so we Greens have the opportunity to get our input through that route as members of the LGA Independent Group.

The importance of involving local communities on action to address climate change is also mentioned,

“Emphasizes the important role of indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ culture
and knowledge in effective action on climate change, and urges Parties to actively involve
indigenous peoples and local communities in designing and implementing climate action and
to engage with the second three-year workplan for implementing the functions of the Local
Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, for 2022–2024;”

The only way that local communities can be effectively engaged is through the facilitating role that local Councils play as the body that works most closely with local communities. There is no structured way that this would happen coming from a national level so each Council will do it in its own way. There needs to be a more organised and structured way for Councils to engage their communities in climate action.

Getting the Local Government Association to do some work on this and get it recognised by national government would be one way to progress this.

There is a special mention for ‘youth’ and in the context of local government

“Urges Parties and stakeholders to ensure meaningful youth participation and representation in multilateral, national and local decision-making processes, including under the Convention and the Paris Agreement;”

This is the first time I’ve seen a specific role for youth in a COP outcome document and also in reference to local decision making processes. As with local communities it seems it is up to local councils as to how they do this with no specific guidance from national government. Again some guidance on how this can be done meaningfully would be helpful.

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

COP26 countries cop out!

This hygiene kit isn't working. COP26 still stinks

 At COP26 yesterday I went to the UN Environment Programme's Press Conference to watch them present the findings of their 2021 Emissions Gap report. This is where UN scientists get their chance to number crunch the pledges that countries have made to reduce their carbon emissions and see if they have any significant impact on helping achieve the Paris Climate goals. The short answer is a big NO.

The panel were pretty scathing. " There's a leadership gap not an emissions gap" was damning of the world's political leaders. One particular point they made was countries that were making Net Zero by 2050 statements with no convincing plan to achieve them. Australia being the most obvious example.

If (and it is a very big if) we believe all the countries statements produce the emissions then we are still heading to miss both the 1.5 and 2 degree C Paris Climate goals. The UNEP report says we need a 4 fold increase in ambition to reach 4 degrees temperature rise and a 7 fold increase to achieve 1.5 degrees. It is that stark.  That is all if they keep to their promises. 7 of the G20 countries are currently 'off track' with their carbon savings so that is to say the least unhelpful.

What now? We have 3 days left. Apparently Boris is coming back to the COP summit. Given a large part of this process is about keeping commitments and trust  why does that not fill me with confidence?

Here's Juice Media's from Australia's take

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Sunday, 7 November 2021

UK Government finally implements COP24 - 3 years later

COP24 in Katowice, Poland was 3 years ago now and I'm now sitting in my son's flat in Glasgow as a delegate to COP26. Back then I was a delegate for the EU Committee of the Regions but Brexit has closed that avenue to me and I'm now a delegate with the Green Economics Institute so "Thanks" to Miriam Kennet of the GEI for that.

At COP24 I was on a mission to get the concept of Locally Determined Contributions (LDCs) accepted by the UNFCCC. LDCs were to give the ability for Local and Regional Authorities to set their own carbon reduction targets in conjunction with Nationally Determined Contributions which are the responsibility of national governments. This would establish a clearer role for sub-national bodies like Councils and Devolved Administrations in taking action to reduce carbon emissions and help towards achieving the Paris Climate goals. I had some excellent support from staff at the EU Committee of the Regions and Locally and Regionally Determined Contributions were backed by the LGMA, the body that represented Local Government globally. 

 In the end we didn't get LDC's adopted but we had moved the debate significantly and there was a statement in the final text on how to assess  Nationally Determined Contributions that referred to "preparing implementation plans to include domestic institutional arrangements, public participation and engagement with local communities”. In the UK context this basically meant Governments would have to work more closely with Councils on action to address climate change. Then (in the UK at least) nothing happened. Councils still had no official role. the UK Government continued to make statements and policy about climate change with no significant involvement with Local and Regional Authorities.  

The Green Party made one of our goals in the run up to COP26 to push Government to set up a joint Central/Local Government Taskforce to put pressure on Government to act. Then at the end of last month the Government produced their Net Zero Strategy and in it there was a statement saying they would establish a,

"Local Net Zero Forum to ensure that there is direct input from local leaders. Chaired by BEIS, the Forum will be cross departmental and bring together national and local government senior officials on a regular basis to discuss policy and delivery options on net zero. The forum will build on our current engagement mechanisms through the representative bodies such as the Local Government Association (LGA), Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), Core Cities and the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT)".

So a Taskforce and a success of sorts! 

I first raised the need for National and Local Governments  to work more closely together in Paris at COP21 back in 2015 in a side event where I was representing the EU Committee of the Regions. So my own involvement in calling for something like this degree of cooperation is nearly 7 years old. All that really has happened, with the establishment of the Net Zero Forum is that a structure is now in place so we can have discussions, there is still a lot of actual work to do! Though the Forum will be chaired by BEIS the culture of the Forum should be that all participants come to the table as equals and that it is not dominated by national government. We need initiatives for policy change to be able to come forward from local government. After all it will be councils that will have to deliver a lot of the action needed to reduce emissions so why not allow the practitioners the chance to be the policy makers as well?

There is a lot to do. Changes to Building Regulations, a revised National Planning Policy Framework that takes into account climate change, addressing skills gaps and the need for a large scale domestic retrofit programme, all these need serious attention to get us on track towards a genuinely Zero Carbon Strategy for the UK. 

Lets get to work!


Saturday, 6 November 2021

And the award for missed opportunities goes to........ Kirklees Council

 

The word on the street is that Kirklees Council is Award chasing. Don't get me wrong I think it is important that work by some of Kirklees Council's excellent staff is recognised but it would be interesting to see the ratio of awards applied for, how many were shortlisted and how many resulted in winners. Among other things Kirklees Council has recently won Catering Business of the Year which I'm sure is well deserved but if there is a push to chase awards for their own sake that would be worrying

Another Council that has received recognition this week is the Green Party /Lib Dem Administration in York. It has been named by the United Nations as a Global Centre of Excellence for high performance buildings - one of 26 around the world to mark COP26 including New York, Pittsburgh and Renfewshire in Scotland. This has been lead by Green Party Councillor Denise Craghill the Cabinet Member responsible for housing and is a recognition of the Councils plans to build an impressive 600 houses to the Passivhaus standard There has been a big push in the Green Party to get action the Passivhaus Standard more widely adopted and I wrote a Passivhaus  Flatpack Campaign Pack back in 2016 and around the same time I chaired an All-Party Policy Group at Kirklees Council which in It's final report recommended the following to Kirklees Labour Cabinet:-

 Repeated question on how the Cabinet would respond to the recommendations were met with silence or misinformed myths about the Passivhaus standard. Now 5 years later the Council is carrying out a 12 house pilot project. At the last Council meeting I asked what the point of the pilot was? What will we learn that we don't already know from the now numerous projects around the country and places where they are now working to mainstream the standard. We should drop the pilot and go straight to more ambitious passivhaus projects at scale.

To say I am frustrated at the timidity and lack of ambition by Labour politicians on action to reduce carbon emissions is an understatement. Political power is a precious thing and wasting the opportunities it brings to bring positive change is a crime.

Here's "Drop the pilot" by Joan Armatrading

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Sunday, 24 October 2021

West Yorkshire Pension Fund and Divestment - Some progress but painfully slow!

There was some welcome news from Labour Cabinet Member Paul Davis when I asked a question regarding fossil fuel divestment from West Yorkshire Pension Funds. I'd been prompted to ask the question as Calderdale and Wakefield Councils had already indicated that they would back divestment  so I wondered what Kirklees were doing. A Green Party motion by our Bradford Councillors on Divestment from the West Yorkshire Pension Fund had failed only days before but that was probably more about the fact that it didn't come from the Labour Party rather than the rights and wrongs of the issue. So that just leaves Leeds to give an indication of where it stands. During the Mayoral Election campaign Labour's Tracy Brabin gave an equivocal response to divestment saying she supported it but that had to be balanced with 

Tracy seems to be pushing on divestment now as a possible 'Win' coming up to COP26 but the Mayor has no direct influence over the Pension Fund but certainly has influence through Labour Councillors who sit on the Investment Panel.

The really irritating thing is that a Green Party motion calling for divestment from the fund was passed in 2015 by Kirklees Council. It said,

"Kirklees will ask our representatives on the West Yorkshire Pension Fund - Investment Advisory Panel to call on all Pension Trustees to exercise their fiduciary duty and to call for a review of WYPF fossil fuel investments in the light of climate risk posed by fossil fuel equities".

Over the next week or so we will see if there is any movement on this at all and WYPF does divest from fossil fuels. If it did however that could not be the end of the story because the fund also invests in AMP Capital, the Australian company that owns Leeds Bradford Airport. It has an investment with them worth £1.3 million. Leeds Bradford Airport expansion plans would if realised result in a huge increase in emissions completely demolishing any chance of West Yorkshire achieving it's zero carbon economy by 2038 target. The problem for Labour is that West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin has at best been equivocal in her stance on Leeds Bradford Airport and avoided discussing it during the Mayoral campaign. I witnessed this first hand when she refused to answer a yes/no question on Airport expansion during the  recording of the BBC's Mayoral debate. It was never aired unfortunately. 

In the Mayor's West Yorkshire Climate Action Plan there's a lot of good stuff including the statement,

"We will use influence as a significant investor to start the process of developing options for West Yorkshire Pension Fund divestment from fossil fuel companies and other environmentally damaging activities".

The Plan then goes on to call for annual progress reports from WYPF. Given that Airport Expansion in an environmentally damaging activity will they include AMP Capital in their Annual Report? They should do.

So now Labour have discovered after many years a renewed interest in divestment will they extend their divestment enthusiasm to AMP Capital? Well perhaps we shouldn't expect too much on that one.


Sunday, 17 October 2021

Facts and nothing but the facts! - Labour's tree toppling A629 road widening scheme

I got accused of a number of things at the last Kirklees Council meeting by Labour Cabinet members including "politicking" "spinning"and "making up my own facts".  I found this particularly annoying as all I did was quote the facts provided by other independent and professional people with no political axe to grind . Facts that the Labour Administration of Kirklees found inconvenient to say the least

I raised the issue of Kirklees Council's plans to remove over a 100 mature trees as part of their road widening plans on the A629 at Edgerton. Since the previous Full Council meeting a number of inconvenient facts had emerged that didn't fit their narrative. The first of these was the response to the Planning Application of the widening scheme from the Council's own Tree Officer. He gave a number of facts in his submission. These were:-

No positive impact on air quality

"The pollution levels are not predicted to improve as a result of the proposed scheme according to the Air Quality Assessment. There is no clear evidence however that the positive effects of trees on air quality have been considered and that the loss of mature trees may mean that pollution levels may get worse as a result."

The value of the trees

"The trees lining the A629 and side roads add to the character and setting of these areas and importantly provide a significant visual amenity and gateway feature when entering Huddersfield itself from the North"

The replacement trees will take 50 years to provide the same benefit as existing trees

The mitigation proposed will take many years, potentially 50 years, to develop to the size where they can provide a similar amenity value and other benefits to the trees present today. the scheme seems to rely on the woodland creation at Ainley Top to provide significant numerical increases in trees but this is the creation of woodland which will take many years and will do nothing to address the lost amenity value within the urban areas of A and B which are one or two miles from the proposed woodland.

The scheme breaks both Kirklees and National Planning guidance

The proposals for the Blacker Road junction, area A, and Cavalry Arms junction, area B, are contrary to Kirklees Local Plan policies LP33 and LP35 as they have a significant impact upon the character and setting of the areas and will harm public amenity for many years. In addition, the proposals do not comply with the directions of the National Planning Policy Framework in that they are not sympathetic to the local character and history of the areas and do not ensure streets are tree lined. The impacts of the proposals based on the evidence provided have not been outweighed by the benefits of the scheme with regards to trees.

Kirklees Carbon impact Assessment makes dubious assumptions

The Council have a policy of planting more trees to address climate change and therefore the principle of planting new trees is supported. The Carbon Impact Assessment proposes however that tree planting will sequester a much higher amount of CO2 over time than the existing ageing tree stock but this assumes that the ageing trees will not be replaced when they reach the end of their safe lifespan. The report appears to not take into account that as protected trees are removed due to old age the Council can condition a replacement tree be planted. The trees present particularly those around the Blacker Road junction are protected and their replacement in time already assured by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Concluding sentence

The impacts of the proposals based on the evidence provided have not been outweighed by the benefits of the scheme with regards to trees.

Another inconvenient bundle of facts came from the Independent Kirklees Climate Commission with their view of the Climate Impact Assessment provided by the Council to support their Planning Application.

In the report it says,

“There appear to be several errors and points of confusion in the document.”

It goes on to say

“This document does not provide underlying evidence to validate its claims and the underlying data does not appear to have been published. Without such data it is almost impossible for the reader to have meaningful engagement with the assessment.”

In detailed criticism the report cites serious defects in the report

“The accurate quantification of emissions must be questioned when over 8000 of the approximately 8900 HGV movements described are effectively ignored by assuming that the majority of the construction waste will remain on the site”

“Where does this material go and how much Greenhouse gas is not accounted for if removed? Each of those waste materials stored on-site will need removing at some point.”

The report goes on to cast doubt on the accuracy of the measurements made in the Council report.

“If all of the document has had the CO2 divided by 3.67, then the whole of the emissions reported in the document could be significantly out by a factor of approximately two thirds.”

“In summary the report says without an appraisal detailing the whole life benefits or dis-benefits of this scheme; and without having a Kirklees wide road map in place setting out year on year emissions savings required across the KRN, it’s impossible to state whether any benefits predicted as part of the A629 will support Kirklees in meeting its objective”

And the highly respected Woodland Trust said in it's submission to the Planning Application


The Woodland Trust in their response to the scheme said that the scheme

"should not be taken forward on the grounds it does not comply with national planning policy".

Whilst the council has pledged to plan more than 700 new trees to compensate for the loss of those being chopped down, the trust says the offer is not sufficient.

"New planting simply cannot replace the value lost when mature trees are removed, and such planting can never replace the loss of ancient and veteran trees.

"This large-scale loss of trees from a council scheme is simply inappropriate and alternative solutions must be found to prevent the loss of these trees."

It also considers the plan to be "not consistent" with the council’s own policy within its Local Plan.

These are not my "made up facts" but the views of respected organisations and professionals. 

The A629 Widening scheme has a serious credibility problem and at present Labour appear to be doubling down in their backing for the scheme but they risk blowing their claims to having any legitimacy to be a leading 'green' Council. They may make the mistake of believing that this is between me and them. It isn't. They risk alienating the large community of informed environmental organisations in Kirklees who are their real critics. Critical friends should be valued and their evidence not dismissed and negated.

So what next? There are all sorts of ways of addressing an issue like this. If I am cast as an opponent as opposed to the critical friend that I regard myself as, then I'll just have to reconsider how to affect change. I have some ideas.

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Green Voters not properly represented on West Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority

 

With the new scrutiny arrangements for the West Yorkshire Combined Mayoral Authority bedding in following the Mayoral Elections it is pretty clear that the new governance arrangements are undemocratic and failing to properly represent the views of West Yorkshire voters.

 In the May Local Elections, of Parties represented on West Yorkshire Councils the Green Party got 10% of the vote while the Liberal Democrats got less with 9%. Despite this fact the Lib Dems have a ‘balancing seat’ on the Combined Authority and the Greens are not represented at all. Also the Liberal Democrats have 6 out of 48 seats on the Combined Authority’s Scrutiny Panels & the Green Party just 1 seat. That one seat is held by me and I'm our sole representative on WYCA and I sit on the Corporate Scrutiny Panel.

 This is not about the Green Party but about the 61,101 voters who made us West Yorkshire’s third most popular party in last May’s local elections. We were ahead of the Liberal Democrats who got 53,433 votes. That the Lib Dems should get 5 more seats on the Combined Authority’s Scrutiny Panels is clearly unfair and undemocratic and contrary to the views of West Yorkshire voters. I don't blame the Lib Dems for this it is the result of a system that doesn't reflect voters views bt instead the number of Councillors elected to each West Yorkshire Council.

 When proposals for the Governance arrangements for the Combined Authority were being negotiated between Government and West Yorkshire Councils the Green Party proposed that there should be an additional seat on the Combined Authority to ensure all voters were represented. Our proposals were ignored by Labour in their representations to Government on West Yorkshire Devolution arrangements. Obviously we think this is wrong but it is the voters who have been cheated of the representation they deserve. I recognise I now have a big responsibility to represent over 61,000 Green voters and I’ll do that to the best of my ability”.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Houses of shame

 The unholy seemingly transactional relationship between the big house builders (donors) and the Conservative Party (recipient) does not serve us well in this country. 

Planning laws are weakened to make it much easier for developers and therefore harder on our local environment, Building Control is not a public sector function but one developers buy in themselves. So they pay someone to tell them if they have built to a high standard. or not. We also have the issue of the 'performance gap' where the expected energy efficiency standards of new build homes rarely match what is expected under building regulations. The Grenfell Enquiry has uncovered all sorts of weaknesses in the building sector not least of which the developers responsible for poor construction simply winding themselves up leaving no one legally liable for their actions. We are not well served. 

Kirklees, like all local councils, has limited powers to tackle these issues. We can ask for higher energy efficiency standards but developers have the right to challenge this request to government on financial viability grounds. However dubious and questionable their case is they are likely to come out on top. 

I was pleased when I was asked by the Labour Administration to provide input into the new 'Climate Change: Guidance Note for Planning Applications (June 2021)' a document which provides local guidance to developers and also a questionnaire to complete.  One suggestion I made, which was, accepted was to put a sentence in explaining that the Kirklees Planning guidance was in accordance with the direction of travel indicated by Government, 

"The UK Government has announced that it will be seeking to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 so this guidance is in accordance with the direction of travel indicated at a national level".

If the Government is true to its word (yes I know!) then we should expect developers to have to achieve higher energy efficiency standards in their developments. No harm pointing this out to them.

Another proposal I made was about ensuring that if Solar PV and solar Thermal systems are installed that people could see when they are generating heat or electricity so they could make best use of the energy generated by installing,

"a visual display showing when hot water and electricity is being produced should be provided in a convenient part of the house, such as the kitchen, to encourage householders to make use of the free energy in the home when it is available."

A key part of the proposals was for all developers to be required to complete a climate change statement in the original document it asked the question,

"What measures have been/will be taken to reduce the energy demand associated with your proposed development?"

my addition were the words,

"beyond the minimum required in Building Regulations"

I could have imagined developers simply cutting and pasting from Part L of the Building Regulations as relates to energy efficiency saying,

 "We have complied with Part L of the Building Regulations" 

If they have done the bare minimum I wanted them to say so. I wanted them to say that they don't care about climate change or conversely that they do and that they have gone above and beyond our the rather meagre Government requirements on Building Regulations.

Recognition and praise are motivators, but failing that, so is shame, for taking no heed of our obligations to the environment. Here's a great parody of the Cersei's Walk of shame to illustrate the point.

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Friday, 21 May 2021

If you go down to the woods today.........

 When people think of, or talk about, the Newsome Ward they usually refer to the communities that make it up such as Lowerhouses, Ashenhurst and Newsome itself, but at the heart of the ward is the natural jewel in the crown that is Longley Woods. 

Longley Woods is a sprawling area of 63 acres of mixed woodland and is a quiet haven surrounded by housing. It is a great place to walk, collect your thoughts, to appreciate nature and maybe gather a bit of wild garlic. There's lots of exploring to do along the woodland trails and part of it arches round Longley Park golf course. I first became aware of the woods about 20 years ago through the work of Stephen Preest, who is sadly no longer  with us. He was one of the founders of the Friends of Longley Woods that represented the community interest in the woods and acts as its eyes and ears coordinating volunteer activity there. Stephen is sadly no longer with us but in recent years Louise Galvin and now Julia Clark have taken up his mantle as the community custodian of the woods, providing the focus for the Friends group and coordinating clean ups. Each of them showed/show a real passion for this area and care what happens there. 

In recent years the main issues have been noisy trail bikes illegally using the woods, heavy littering especially on the boundaries and just a general impression that the woods has no institution that cared what happened there. Many would have no way of knowing that Kirklees Council actually owns it. So using our small ward budgets Newsome Councillors have been doing what we can to invest in the woods. Councillor Karen Allison has lead on a project to make it as awkward as possible for trail bikes to access the woods with new stiles and fencing placed strategically at

possible access points. This has enabled me to write such great headlines as 'Karen causes a fence' on our newsletters. I lead on a project to put new signage at the access points telling people what the expectations are for people using the woods. Karen, Sue Lee-Richards and I have all helped out with community clean ups which is an ongoing task unfortunately but it makes a real difference when it's done.

For the future I'd like to see more activity in the woods helping the community to appreciate this natural beauty and learn more about the ecology of our local area. As Green Councillors showing we and the wider community care for this valued woodland is the best way to secure its long term future.

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Andrew Cooper - Green Party Candidate for West Yorkshire Mayor - Responses to FOE 10 Point Plan

 

  1. Ensuring all infrastructure plans, programmes and investment decisions – including COVID-19 recovery plans – are in line with what’s needed to address the climate and ecological emergency, and in line with the city region’s carbon budget and carbon reduction pathway.

 Yes of course I agree that all plans, programmes and investment should be in line with the city regions carbon budget. In my role as a member of West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Green Economy Panel I have already challenged the Carbon Impacts Assessment tool being developed to measure the emissions resulting from WYCAs investment decisions. I have asked that the Assessment tool is comprehensive in measuring emissions. It must measure not just the impacts of the scheme itself but also emissions facilitated by the investment. A good example would be investment in public transport links to Leeds Bradford Airport. I would regard that as a highly questionable investment by WYCA. We have also got to be wary of the use of dubious carbon offsetting  such as tree planting to mitigate carbon impacts. We don’t have enough land to robustly mitigate the impacts of all negative carbon expanding projects. If  schemes come before the Combined Authority that clearly have a negative impact on the Carbon Budget I will simply oppose it. 

  1. Ensuring those impacted most by climate breakdown and nature loss are heard and centre-stage in decision-making.

 This is a local, regional and a global issue. Climate breakdown and nature loss affects people now in our own localities as development projects are favoured on redesignated greenbelt and greenfield sites. Tree loss is blighting many communities and diminishing their quality of life. More areas are becoming subject to flooding due to climate change and the practice of building on flood plains. I would set up a process where communities could alert the West Yorkshire Mayor when their localities were threatened by climate breakdown and nature loss so they could influence decisions and investments to protect and enhance their environments. 

We also need a global perspective on loss and damage and a meaningful dialogue with the global south is important. I would challenge Government to ensure we are recognising loss and damage in our response to climate change.  I would seek dialogue with representatives from the global south through my links with the international organisation ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability). 

  1. Protecting workers and communities through a just transition from a fossil fuel-dependent economy to a low-carbon, nature-rich, circular economy, including delivering over 42,000 new jobs. 

The groundbreaking ‘One Million Green Jobs’ proposal by the Campaign against Climate Change showed us how addressing the climate crisis will deliver meaningful, worthwhile and rewarding jobs. There is a lot to do and the amount of retrofit work needed to buildings in West Yorkshire could easily generate 42,000 jobs. The opportunity is so much greater though, improving our public transport and active travel networks, enhancing biodiversity in communities, tree planting, establishing nature based solutions to heavy rainfall events. The role of the Mayor is to ensure investment is directed to deliver those jobs but also to provide the training and skills needed. There are things we are going to have to stop doing e.g. building new roads, widening roads, airport expansion so it is vital that we replace jobs from sectors that are incompatible with a stable climate with ones that are. There is more than enough to do. 

  1. Introducing policies and measures that ensure new development is net zero carbon and existing homes are brought up to high energy-standards and addressing fuel poverty. 

One of the flagship policies in my bid for the West Yorkshire Mayoralty is the Green Building Fund where I will seek to ensure that all public sector procured or influenced projects are built to the Passivhaus Standard or equivalent. I will establish a fund that will support an uplift in expected capital costs by 5% to cover the expected additional costs of building to that standard. I have proposed such a policy on Kirklees Council for several years but have met opposition from the Labour administration who have exaggerated the capital cost uplift by wrongly referencing the costs of one off projects to seek to justify their opposition. 

I have a strong record on initiating projects to retrofit homes and initiated the UKs first free insulation scheme, the award winning, Kirklees Warm Zone in 2007. There are strong plans being developed by WYCA looking at the challenge of retrofitting existing buildings. What is lacking is a convincing offer to householders to invest in whole house solutions to reduce their emissions. I will ensure funds are available for a Green New Deal Demonstrator Project that will be used to show Government the value of HS2 levels of investment in large scale retrofit projects. It will demonstrate positive health outcomes of living in warm homes, alleviation of fuel poverty, putting more money back in the pockets of the community and out of the pockets of the big energy companies. I have a strong record in addressing fuel poverty in my previous career as an Energy Efficiency Advice Centre Manager and as a Trustee of the fuel poverty charity, National Energy Action for 6 years. 

  1. At least doubling public transport use, cycling and walking within the next 10 years, to cut emissions and ensure everyone can breathe clean air.

 Getting people out of cars and into/onto cleaner forms of transport needs a compelling offer that is cheaper and more convenient than the car. The best example I have seen is in Tallinn the capital city of Estonia where public transport is free to everyone. Ideally that is what I would want to see in West Yorkshire but ensuring we at least have the same powers over public transport that the Mayor of London has would be a great start. That would require a specific ask of government and extending the powers of the West Yorkshire Mayor. That is what I will seek. In the meantime, I would seek to invest more in public transport and much less in building new roads and widening roads. 

Supporting active travel is something that I would want to see a huge expansion of. The West Yorkshire Carbon Pathways report indicates the need to expand cycling by 8000% but at present travel for cyclists is often dangerous so we need to invest more in dedicated and protected cycle lanes so we can expand and democratise cycling. I would also want to support the expansion of e-bikes and would seek financial mechanisms to make the purchase and rental of e-bikes more accessible to more people. I would also want to support projects like the Queensbury tunnel to give more and safer options for cyclists.

 Ultimately most of us are pedestrians and provision for them is often lacking. I would ensure that pedestrians were considered in all appropriate investment decisions. I was responsible for removing all signs in the ward I represent with just the words ‘Public Footpath’ on them and had them replaced with Public Footpath signs that say where they are going to and the distance. I am enthusiastic about the Slow Ways initiative and would like West Yorkshire to a national leader in this. 

  1. Powering the city region with clean, renewable energy, reaping the economic and job opportunities that this brings. 

We have to start planning for clean energy production by reducing the demand for energy through efficiency measures. This has to be at the top of our plans as it gives us more choices, more cost effectively than a simple predict and provide approach. 

I would want to see the return of Solar PV and other renewable technologies as mass market options for the majority of householders during my first term as West Yorkshire Mayor. I would establish a revolving loan fund enabling householders to install renewable technology in their home by accessing a preferential loan based on a second charge on the value of a property. This would effectively mean no upfront costs to the household and the loan being paid back to the fund upon sale of the property. This is based on the Kirklees RE-Charge scheme I initiated in Kirklees which was the winner at the British Renewable Energy awards in 2008. With the Mayor being unable to reintroduce a feed in tarrif this is the next best option to kick start the household renewable sector. Beyond households I would seek to establish Mayoral Development Areas in conjunction with local Councils to build solar farms and wind farms. I would also seek a relaxation on the constraints on wind development in local planning. 

  1. Greening the city-region by increasing tree cover, protecting nature, and eliminating green-space deprivation. 

I am an enthusiast for promoting tree planting and have initiated a small scale tree planting project in my role as a Kirkburton Parish Councillor. The 1000 fruit tree project engaged communities across the Kirkburton Parish in planting fruit trees in their own community and was taken up by village associations and schools. There are great opportunities to integrate tree planting programmes with wider climate education and engagement with young people. Ensuring tree cover is included as an integral part of any urban regeneration schemes will be a stipulation and condition of Mayoral funding. 

I have a proven track record of promoting tree planting projects and in 2019 proposed a 150,000 tree planting project over Kirklees which unfortunately was not accepted by the Labour administration. I will ensure that any Mayoral Development Area that may be designated is not on redesignated greenbelt on greenfield land. The focus will be on the regeneration of brownfield land. 

I am shocked that WYCA funded schemes like the widening of the A629 at Edgerton in Huddersfeild is going to see 126 mature trees removed. Schemes such as this I would simply not support. 

I am keen that biodiversity gain is achieved for all developments we make and that the ecological crisis we face is addressed as well as the climate crisis by protecting habitats and creating new ones. 

  1. Becoming a zero-waste city-region by 2030 without relying on landfill or incineration, to reduce pressures on nature from resource extraction and pollution.

 Incineration is demonstrably a disincentive to a circular economy and recycling. Council waste contracts are beyond the powers of the Mayor though we can insist in any contractual arrangements we make that proper consideration is given to waste minimisation, recycling and reuse of materials. I would seek out the very best Local Authorities on recycling and waste management, such as Stroud District and convene a workshop of all West Yorkshire Councils to promote best practice.

 I would ensure that the very likely conflict between recycling and incineration of recyclables is highlighted and that Combined Authority funds do not support the incineration of recyclables. 

  1. Calling on the local government pension scheme to divest from fossil fuels, to stop profiting from environmental harm. 

I have been calling on Labour Councillor representatives on the West Yorkshire Pension Fund Investment Panel to divest from fossil fuels for many years but have met resistance. I have worked with divestment campaigners and will continue to do so. Apart from the environmental reasons to divest there is also the very real possibility that they could become stranded assets lacking any significant value. So there are good financial reasons to divest from fossil fuels as well. As West Yorkshire Mayor I would give my wholehearted backing for the WYPF divesting fully from fossil fuel investments. 

  1. Opposing the unsustainable growth plans for Leeds Bradford Airport and joining with Metro Mayors across the country to ensure regional airports keep within carbon budgets. 

I watched hours of the Leeds City Council Planning Committee when sadly they decided to pass Leeds Bradford Airport Expansion Plans. I am pleased that some Cllrs on the Leeds Planning Committee including my Green colleague Cllr David Blackburn voted against expansion but sadly they were not in the majority. I have raised the issue at Kirklees Council meetings trying in vain to get the Leadership of the council to come out against the proposals.  As West Yorkshire Mayor I will not back any proposals that support Leeds Bradford Airport expansion and I am happy to try and make expansion of Regional Airports an issue on all Metro Mayors agendas

 

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Covid 19 - One year on - Prescient thoughts from the archive!

 On the 22 February last year I asked for consideration of the coronavirus to be added for discussion to Kirklees Council's Leading Members meeting.

At this time there were a total of 13 confirmed cases in the UK. 4 of which had come from people disembarking on a cruise ship. It was only 3 weeks after the first 2 cases were discovered and quickly isolated in York. The first clusters of cases had started appearing in Northern Italy and I got a really bad feeling about its ability to travel so far so fast.

Reading it back the email I sent to the Council's Chief Executive and other Party Leaders seems rather prescient sadly:-

"Are we developing/have a plan for a possible serious outbreak in Kirklees/West Yorkshire?

 A few thoughts off the top of my head

 Addressing and limiting fear has to be a top priority as well as mythbusting.

 A Public Information campaign on the reality of the Coronavirus has to be an essential - How it's transmitted. How dangerous is it actually compared with other diseases. What precautions get the balance right between  being effective/proportionate/limiting fear.

 We need to appreciate how long precautions against a pandemic may last. A month? a year? Will Huddersfield, Leeds or Sheffield or anywhere end up in lockdown with limited public transport/ check points and people being told not to leave their homes for weeks at a time. Is it possible for the UK to take China style measures given our different cultures and expectations regarding authority.

 What guidance have we received regarding Local Authority response to a Coronavirus outbreak and are funds are being made available for additional demands on social care and other services

 Getting more staff to work from home is obviously something to explore as well as video conferencing even for people working in the same building perhaps.

 Huddersfield is a University town with a large student populations. We need to ensure that they and particularly the chinese community do not become a target for racist attacks on the back of Corona outbreak. We also need to coordinate with University authorities to ensure our actions are coordinated and complementary.

 Setting up the equivalent of a local COBRA committee to strengthen a multi agency response would be a good idea and with guidance to do this formulated jointly by LGA and the appropriate Govt departments.

 Engaging the power of the community to look out for vulnerable people and to disseminate information will be a key task for us to extend our reach.

 Do we need a regional/sub regional approach to this potential problem?"

That was on 22nd of February. A week later the first Covid infection for someone who had not come from abroad was detected. A week after that the first death in the UK was announced. The following week 250,000 attended the Cheltenham Festival and 52,000 attended the Liverpool V Athetico Madrid match with 5000 Spanish spectators. By the 23rd of March we entered the first national lockdown. 

My main reflection is that National Government acted far too slowly and that cost lives, thousands of them. At some point they must be held to account for what they did and didn't do. If they are allowed to portray the vaccine roll out as some form of victory then democracy will have failed us again. The seriousness of this crisis required an all Party approach and not a partisan one. The Conservatives should have sought talents from all parties to come together to address the crisis and sadly it never did. Coming from a Party that must make best use of its often limited influence I am annoyed beyond words when politicians in power waste their opportunities to act. That is as true of the Conservative Government in Westminster as it is of Labour Administration in Kirklees.


Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Speech to the West Yorkshire Growth and Economic Development Conference - 10/2/21


 I’ve been a Kirklees Councillor for 22 years, elected and re-elected for the Green Party 6 times. I’m the Green Party’s National Energy Spokesperson and I represent the Newsome Ward in Huddersfield which in many ways it is a microcosm of West Yorkshire. It has large Council estates, some streets with £300’000 pound houses, and some large asian communities.

 I’ve worked in Energy Efficiency and Renewables sector for 17 years. Project managed insulation and heating schemes. I have worked in the public sector and the private sector and used to work as lobbyist for the Renewable Energy Industry where I was ignored by some very important people.

 During many of my years as a Councillor I have learnt how political power can make positive change happen. For many years the Council lacked a majority, and to get budgets passed and leaders of the Council elected the largest party, whichever one it happened to be at the time, needed the support of just a few Councillors from another political group to achieve that. The Green Group was more than happy to help and as a result Kirklees had the UK’s first universally free insulation scheme, a renewable energy fund that installed solar panels on many council buildings, a solar scheme for householders with no upfront costs and schools constructed to very high energy specifications. Kirklees now has a majority party in control and is less innovative, risk averse, officer lead and managerial. My own politics aside it is a real shame and a waste of political power. For me the whole point of my political journey has been to make change happen and that is why I am standing to be West Yorkshire’s first Mayor.

 So enough about me what about the policies I will champion as West Yorkshire Mayor.

 The Green Bullding Fund that I propose aims to mainstream quality assured high energy standards in public sector building and social housing projects.

 4 years ago I chaired an All Party Group on Kirklees Council looking at the Passivhaus standard. A quality assured means of construction that produces buildings with low energy demand,  low carbon emissions and high energy efficiency standards. These are airtight properties with mechanical heat recovery ventilation.

 We looked at costs and gathered evidence from the Passivhaus Trust, and leading pioneering councils like Norwich City Council and Exeter City Council where they have mainstreamed Passivhaus on public sector projects. Once backed by a good supply of work and a policy that gives the construction sector the confidence to invest in skills, construction costs are not that much higher than building to current building regulation standards. The Passivhaus Trust reckons additional building cost are somewhere between 4-8% but that cost is soon recovered in saved energy costs. Some of the most powerful evidence we took was talking to people who lived in passivhaus properties and also seeing passive houses being constructed.

This is where policy can make a difference. So the conclusion of the All Party Passivhaus Group 4 years ago was to recommend to the Kirkees Labour Cabinet that we specify the Passivhaus Standard or equivalent in all public funded projects or as a condition of sale on the sale of council land for development.

 Sadly the Kirklees Cabinet has ignored the report and sadly when challenged uses evidence on costs derived from one off demonstration projects which by their nature can cost an additional 30% or more.

 So my proposal as West Yorkshire Mayor is to establish a Green Building Fund to cover up to 5% on top of the usual capital cost of the development to ensure that all public sector projects are constructed to the Passivhaus standard or an equivalent standard that achieves the same outcomes. The fund would stay at 5% for the first 5 years and then the percentage would decrease gradually as skills and familiarity with the standard help construction costs come down. This would not only cut emissions but put thousands of pounds back in the pockets of householders in saved energy bills, with money generally going back into the local economy.

 Won’t the Government’s future homes standard do the same job in reducing energy costs and carbon emissions? Well probably not . Research has shown that there is a substantial performance gap on supposedly green homes where they use far more energy than predicted. The quality assured approach to Passivhaus Construction ensures it does pretty much what it says on the tin and energy demand remains very low with 70-90% reductions in fuel bills typically being reported.

 We also want to tackle the need to retrofit existing properties to reduce their emissions with some substantial demonstration programmes that will aim to influence the significant investment needed from national Government, who have so far avoided a long term strategy to tackle the emissions of existing buildings. This is where the Mayor can make a real difference by being a pathfinder and policy innovator leading the way forward for national governments.

 The education and skills responsibility of the Mayor should be harnessed to ensure we have the architects, suppliers and builders to deliver the Green Building Fund, renovation of existing houses and to ensure that we have the skills to address challenges we know are coming such as the move from gas boilers to air sourced heat pumps which is a significant challenge in itself.

 I’m also a strong supporter of social rented housing, but they have been poorly served by successive governments of all political hues, with an ever diminishing council housing stock due to the wrong headed, right to buy policy. Social housing is a social good, an alternative to ownership, more secure than private rental and ensures there is an alternative to both. We need a strong and growing social housing sector to create not just the poverty housing of last resort but a viable option for people who can’t get on the housing ladder. With enough support and rising numbers of council housing it would be an essential check on rising house prices. The power I would seek from Government is the right for Councils in West Yorkshire to suspend the right to buy to ensure the business plans for investment in new Council housing stacked up and there would no longer by a hole in the financial case for investment.

 The role of West Yorkshire Mayor should not just be a souped up Council Leader or a MP with a bigger constituency. It has to be something different, It has got to be about generating real change, providing direction for the region and providing the policies that we need to deliver a sustainable future.

Friday, 5 February 2021

Greens propose 6 month rent holiday for Kirklees hospitality businesses


The Kirklees Green Party Group have proposed an amendment to Kirklees Council’s 2021/22 budget to tackle the economic threats from the Corona virus crisis and climate change.

 Following on from the successful 3 month rent holiday Cllr Andrew Cooper proposed for Kirklees hospitality businesses last year, the Green are now proposing a 6 month rent free period for caf├ęs, coffee shops, pubs, restaurants and clubs.

 Cllr Cooper said,

 “it is vital for the vibrancy of our town centres that the hospitality industry doesn’t collapse following the long period of restrictions and lockdowns. We have some excellent and welcoming businesses in Huddersfield Town Centre who have lost thousands. If Kirklees really has a commitment to revitalising Huddersfield then protecting the businesses we already have is vital at this time.”

 The Greens have also proposed a Covid Community Recovery Fund

 The £30k Covid recovery fund introduced last year was very welcome and Green Councillors have made good use of this fund.

 Councillor Cooper said,

 “Using this funding we have helped schools with IT equipment prior to the wider scheme introduced by the Council. We have helped community organisations with little access to funds to repair buildings, helped with the provision of food to vulnerable people, helped isolated people keep in touch with friends and relatives using smart technologies. Our budget is pretty much spent but the pandemic and its effects go on hence our call for another round of funding.”

 The Greens have also proposed an initiative to involve local people in the regeneration  of our Town Centres

 “Plans to revitalise our town centres are welcome but we believe the Council is not engaging as well as it could and we are proposing a new board that involves local people and key local organisations in the detail and decision making regarding regeneration proposals. Ideas we would like to see considered by such a body would be a strong emphasis on children’s play in the town centre, drinking water fountains, free wifi, public art and more pedestrianisation”

 The Green Group has also submitted a wide range of initiatives to address climate change and reduce peoples energy bills including a project to construct all new council buildings to a very high energy efficiency standard and also a new project to improve the energy performance of existing homes.



Sunday, 31 January 2021

Keep providing the tablets.

 In November, in a Newsome Ward Partnership Zoom meeting, I was made aware by representatives of local infant and Primary Schools in the Newsome Ward that there was a shortage of laptops/tablets for children in years 2 and below to do home learning. The biggest impact was of course those people on the lowest incomes. Children in these years were not helped on the Government scheme being run by DfE. This looked like an ideal opportunity to use our local Ward budget that we as the 3 Newsome Ward Green Party Councillors controlled. So we asked Council officers to look into the details liaise with Kirklees IT staff and allocate an initial £3000 to the project. Kirklees staff did a great job and allocated the laptops which duly went out tho the pupils who needed them. Emails of thanks came from local Headteachers and we were pleased we had been able to help.

Fast forward to 19th January this year and the next Newsome Ward Partnership meeting and we met again with representatives of local schools who told us how things were going and said they could do with about the same number of laptops again. So we started to see what could be done. In the meantime I had been asked by the Green Party if there were any good examples of positive things Green Councillors had managed to do during the Covid crisis. This looked like a good example so on Thursday I appeared in a Green Party Political broadcast that went out on national TV. There I was in my kitchen over Zoom and I said the words,

"In Kirklees, Green Councillors saw that younger pupils were missing out on vital IT equipment to enable them to learn from home. They weren't being helped by government or council schemes so we stepped in to help using our local budgets."

The next day I get an email from Labour Councillor and Cabinet Member for Education Carole Pattison

"Andrew, I hope you read or have read the briefing that I am putting out to all councillors about the provision of laptops to children in Kirklees Schools. You will note that Kirklees has distributed the 3rd highest number of laptops in the country and that we are providing an extra 1000 plus out of the council’s budget for them, your statement during your broadcast last night was completely at odds with this. If any schools in your ward are in need then please point them in the direction of the Learning Service because we are trying to make sure that all children in Kirklees have equal access to the devices that they need and that none go wanting, again in contradiction to what you implied last night.

 Would you like to withdraw your statement."

I had a number of problems with this email. The briefing  was sent out in the afternoon that very same day and so of course I hadn't read it. Why would I withdraw a statement about some positive action we had taken in November because Labour had just announced a scheme 3 months after the one we did. A cynic might think that Labour's briefing went out as a hasty response to the publicity for our successful scheme and they didn't like the idea of anyone else other than themselves getting recognition for positive action. I also pointed out to Councillor Pattison that Kirklees Headteachers were not all aware of this offer from the Council as only this week we had contact from neighbouring schools asking how they could get funding for laptops like that we have provided in the Newsome Ward. It is all just a bit disappointing really. The most important thing is that children get the support they need and I am pleased that Kirklees is now providing the support that is needed. There was really no need for this petty politicking.

Here's the 'offending' part of our broadcast.