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.