Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Walking the No Fracking Way - Wednesday 8th March to Sunday 12th March







It's a 5 day mission to boldly walk from the Yorkshire Fracking site at Kirby Misperton to the Lancashire Fracking site at Preston New Road in Blackpool.
A core group of Green Party activists will walk the 120 miles between the 2 points starting on Wednesday 8th March and finishing on Sunday 12th March. Along the way we will be highlighting the dangers of Fracking to local communities and the global environment. We will also be talking about the alternatives  to Fracking such as energy efficiency programmes for existing and new homes,  renewable energy for communities and also at scale.


It is a tough walk but we're hoping to meet lots of people along the way raise the profile of community campaigns against Fracking and the importance of electing politicians who will consistently oppose Fracking in Yorkshire, Lancashire and everywhere beyond.


Symbolically we'll be carrying some soil from near the fracking site in Kirby Misperton to Preston New Rd. As soil from Yorkshire is deposited at the fracking site in Lancashire we'll emphasise that the assault on the environment at one site is an assault on us all and that the aims of the protectors in Lancashire are shared by Yorkshire Anti Fracking activists and thousands of campaigners across the world.


There will be daily video diaries of our march (in March) across the North of England and evening meetings at each point along the way. It is undoubtedly a challenge and one I approach with a certain amount of trepidation as a 52 year old man who could do with losing a bit more than a pound or two! I've always felt that if things are hard to achieve they will have more meaning if you actually achieve them and so it is with this particular challenge. Bring it on!

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Reflections on the 2017 Kirklees Budget meeting

Last Wednesday's Budget Council meeting was a fairly bad tempered one. There was the usual bearpit stuff that I'm used to. It's a bit of theatre a lot of the time and the absurd and occasionally the insightful are on display. What marked this one out was the rude and sometimes quite offensive comments made by certain members. I like the interplay between Cllrs, the ribbing and people expressing their opinions based on their beliefs. If you've got different views of the world you are going to clash. There were a lot of things at the meeting that didn't bother me. My old sparring partner Cllr Andrew Palfreeman claiming (wrongly as it happened) that the Green Party amendment was unconstitutional. It wasn't but it saw the Council adjourned for 15 minutes while the Mayor, Chief Executive and the Councils Head of Legal Services considered the dubious points made. Cllr Palfreeman had dramatically explained how our amendment was so calamitous that it could see Kirklees in the Supreme Court. Once the amendment was cleared for debate Cllr Palfreeman went to argue how our legally dangerous amendment was now insignificant and unimportant. Did this bother me? Not particularly. I found the whole thing just part of the entertaining absurdity of what happens at Full Council. Pointless you could argue and it could irritate you if you let it, but not offensive.

For me the annoying thing about the meeting was when certain Tory members started asking what 'bungs' the Green Group had taken in the past for voting for Labour's budget. The reason Greens have voted for Labour, Liberal Democrat and yes even Conservative Budgets over the last 17 years is because of the amendments we have put to Council being accepted. This is transparent, in full view and in no way can be described as a 'bung'. One bug bear they have is that the Chair of Overview and Scrutiny is a Green Party Councillor and that they believe that as the largest opposition group they should have that role. This may be what they regard as 'a bung'. The fact is that Scrutiny is supposed to be a non political role and shouldn't be used as a tool of opposition to the administration but instead be a non partisan 'critical friend' to the Adminstration. Sometimes Scrutiny will be challenging to decisions made by the Cabinet and offer alternatives. It isn't however another route for expressing the politics of opposition. The fact that certain Conservatives fundamentally misunderstand the role means that they really shouldn't be in that position. My colleague Julie Stewart-Turner is both hardworking and scrupulous in ensuring the independence of the Scrutiny function from Party politics and I can't think of anyone better for the role. As someone who is not a member of any of the larger political groups, and isn't seen as combative in Council meetings, Julie has a particular advantage in not being perceived as having any axe to grind.

Back to the meeting itself. I proposed the amendment because I wanted to see some real hope injected into a very depressing Council Budget. There was rightfully some discussion over the appalling financial settlement we have received from central government that offers us a real challenge with £14million dropping out of our budget next year on top of the millions we have already lost from central govt. The  Conservatives were in full denial mode which any objective observer would regard as an untenable position. They said that the Council would not be in the financial situation if we had followed their advice in previous budgets but then offered no substantial evidence to back up this claim. It was simply an assertion. The fact that they were part of the All Party delegation to the Communities Minister to ask for our £14 million back rather implies they knew the reality of the situation. The fact they also put no amendment was also very telling. They argued the budget was 'unamendable'. The reality was at it was only unamendable for their more right wing members who illogically would vote against any Council Tax rise while wanting at the same time to not see any services cut. Their Government had made the rules of the game but they didn't want to play. Easier for them not to play! So they voted against our amendment, the budget and everything. It was a denial of reality and denial of their Party's responsibility for the mess Local Government is in.

Conservative Councillor Andrew Palfreeman was 'spot on' in saying that we need more trust between Councillors across Party and the people referring to 'bungs' whichever Party they were from was not going to encourage that trust. Wise words from an old hand but there are other old hands in their group and they appear to hold the sway and some (not all) of the newer members seem to take their lead from them. The Labour group have also not been short of their own problems, the factions, the suspensions and on the positive side some committed Cabinet members and the Leader David Sheard, soldiering on. I don't demean  them by saying they are 'soldiering on' and goodness knows we need that at the moment! We also need more. We need ideas and political direction that shows we are not simply managing decline but reshaping and redefining what Kirklees Councils role is. Our proposal for a Local Housing Development Company is part of that but it is only one idea from one Party on the Council. We need people across Party to demonstrate some goodwill to each other and towards the future of the Council. If we can develop a Party of Goodwill on the Council we would achieve much and give real meaning to the Kirklees motto 'Together we serve'.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Councillor Andrew Cooper speech to 2017 Budget Council on the Motion

We had an all Party delegation to see the Government as represented by Junior Minister Marcus Jones MP on the 10th of January.  As well as 4 Kirklees Party Leaders we also had Jason McCartney Tory MP and Tracy Brabin Labour MP there to support our case.
It was a strange meeting. We put our case, the Junior Minister and his civil servants silently heard it. They didn’t contradict us or say we were wrong. They just said sorry there’s no money.  All the meeting amounted to was just Tea and sympathy only they didn’t offer us any tea.

So what was our case.  Simply put because we had taken Government advice on taking their Council Tax Freeze Grant the Council is over £14 million worse off than we would have been.  All parties represented here supported taking the freeze grant and no one expected the Government to penalise us for taking that  grant leaving us high and dry. But they did.

So is it just bad luck that we took the grant. Well not so for all councils. Does anyone remember last years so called ‘Transitional funding’ for councils - £300 million was made available. This is what some Councils got.

Surrey - £24.1m/ Hampshire - £18.7m/ Hertfordshire - £15.6m/ Essex - £13.9m/             West Sussex - £12.4m/ Kent - £11.4m/ Buckinghamshire - £9.2m /Oxfordshire - £8.9m/ Leicestershire - £6.6m/ Cambridgeshire - £6.4m/ Wiltshire - £6m/ Warwickshire - £6m/ North Yorkshire - £6m/ Cheshire East - £5.9m/ Dorset - £5.9m/ Richmond upon Thames - £5.8m/ Devon - £5.6m/ Staffordshire - £5.6m/ East Sussex - £5.4/ Worcestershire - £5m

So how much did Kirklees get?

Zilch, Nada, Zero , nothing!

The need of the leafy Tory Shires was obviously somehow greater than ours.

So this year Tory Surrey comes with the begging bowl again and comes up Trumps again. The threat of a referendum on a 15% Council Tax rise receded quicker that £350million/week pledge to the NHS post Referendum

I’m sure they didn’t get a meeting with a nodding hand wringing functionary like we did.

So for all those reasons I believe that we should send an invoice to UK Government for £14million for taking their advice which has cost the people of Kirklees dear.

It stinks doesn’t it? No amount of smoke and mirrors from the Conservative Group can hide the fact that the people of Kirklees have been stuffed by their Government. There will be sound, from them there may even be fury, but we all know that sound and fury signifies nothing. Which is why they can offer nothing - no ideas, no rabbits out of hats. Nothing.

Still not putting a Budget Amendment in which would inevitably expose the lack of options Kirklees has and the real necessity to raise the Council Tax means the Tory’s don’t have to have anyone go off on Budget Sick Leave. Offering Nothing and doing Nothing except talk.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Green Party Amendment to the 2017/18 Kirklees Council Budget


This Council agrees to develop a Local Housing Development Company as a special purpose vehicle to deliver new housing on land identified for development in the Council’s Local Plan. This would be as a minimum cover Kirklees but could be developed at scale with our neighbours. This will ensure this will ensure that we can work with the Homes and Communities Agency and Registered Social Landlords, developers and institutional investors who can lever in additional resources as well as keeping the income generated from new development within Kirklees to help to support local services.

 

The company would deliver new housing on council land that has been identified for development in their Local Plans.

 

There are a number of reasons why this may be attractive to Kirklees. 
  • At a time of diminishing balances Central Government is encouraging Councils to develop new housing to fund local services through the New Homes Bonus and new Council Tax revenue income. If the Council is in partnership with third parties developer profit from new development would be shared amongst the partners involved and could be used to help fund Council Services.
  • There are occasions when the Council has granted Planning Permission on land but frustratingly developers with which the Council has no relationship have dragged their feet, sometimes for years, leaving areas blighted. The Council would have more control over development if it was itself part of the development vehicle.
  • There is the opportunity to use the newly merged KNH and Building Services as  a vehicle for  Housing Development utilising existing skills in electrical and gas services
  • The standard of new build housing in the private sector is variable and some Councillors have had cause to tackle substandard housing with developers. If the Council can put pressure on the market – control of building will be more effective. Cutting corners and reducing the quality of build to reduce costs will be avoided.
  • The opportunity to promote higher energy efficiency standards, such as Passivhaus development could be pursued by such a company. The embedded Quality Assurance in Passivhaus developments will ensure a quality build as well as very high energy efficiency standards. Householders benefiting from very low energy bills will have more money in their pockets to spend locally helping them to pay rents and mortgages more easily.
  • With a substantial portfolio of work over a number of years partnerships with educational institutions could provide a rich source of local employment for apprentices working in a range of building jobs.

 No income has been put against this budget amendment as it is too early to say how substantial the potential income could be to the Council. However, any revenue income generated above that required for the core purposes of the Housing Development Company would be utilised to support valued services in town and village centres that provide contact and services to people in our communities. This amendment does however show that there are alternatives to simply managing decline at a time when central government is starving the Council of funds.

 

If this amendment is passed the expectation would be that the Council establishes a Project Team to quickly establish the Local Housing Development Company before the 2018/19 Budget so projected incomes can be factored in to the Councils hard pressed finances.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

EU Committee of the Regions takes on Trump on Climate Change


Today the EU Committee of the Regions ENVE Commission agreed the following statement that I proposed on President Donald Trump's intention to abolish the US Climate Action Plan. This Plan is a key part of the USA's responsibilities as a signatory to the COP21 Paris Climate Treaty.
The ENVE Commission notes with concern the cancellation of the Climate Action Plan by the incoming Trump Administration and recognises that a lack of action on climate change by a large Country like the United States could negate the positive impact of much of the climate change mitigation work that EU Local and Regional Authorities are engaged in.

The CoR has a Memorandum of Understanding with the US Conference of Mayors.

The CoR ENVE Commission requests that the CoR contacts the US Conference of Mayors to determine their reaction to the Trump administration’s attitude and actions on Climate Change policy with the intention of making a strong statement in support of positive local and regional action on climate change in the United States.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

M Card - not quite an Oyster

A couple of things recently have been driving me towards getting an M-Card for travel between Brockholes and Huddersfield. The M Card is the West Yorkshire version of London's Oyster Card and I thought it would be ideal to solve some travel problems I have.



The train journey from Brockholes to Huddersfield on our' heritage' Northern Rail trains is great but sometimes the ticket machines are either not working or the collector doesn't get round to you. This means queuing at Huddersfield station to get a ticket which sometimes takes longer than the journey itself. Then when you get the tickets they are just stupidly long and unwieldy. The ticket collectors hate them so do the passengers. Progress apparently.


Daft new long tickets next to old usual ones
So for all these reasons I thought the M Card was the solution to my problems because 'it's like a London Oyster Card' . So I've just been over to Huddersfield Bus Station to get one. The woman was very helpful and asked me if I wanted a weekly or monthly M Card. I told her I didn't travel by public transport everyday as sometimes I walk in to Huddersfield or use the car when I need it and occasionally need a ticket to be able to claim back work expenses. So the M Card unfortunately is not geared up for that like an Oyster Card is. In an average week I might use the train for two return journeys and 2 single journeys and use the car one day. If I had a weekly or monthly M Card I would end up more out of pocket than in. If I travelled by bus I would be able to one the pay as you go M Card but train travel (when it works) is cheaper and more convenient.


I'm definitely glad M Card exists and this is a real positive but I hope it can be the equivalent of the Oyster in the not too distant future. 

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Locally Determined Contributions - filling the emissions reduction gap & going global

Regular readers of this blog will remember that back in December I introduced the concept of Locally Determined Contributions (and Regionally Determined Contributions) as a way of filling the emissions reduction gap that needs to be bridged if we are to achieve the targets set in Paris at COP21. These LDCs and RDCs would form the basis of targets and delivery plans for Local and Regional Governments to lead on the reduction of emissions in their own areas. The good news is that the EU Committee of the Regions voted to include the development of this proposal in the work plan they are putting to the European Commission. Hopefully the EU Commission will adopt the idea. Local, Regional and devolved governments have many opportunities to reduce emissions through transport and planning policies and even by specifying higher energy efficiency standard on buildings that they procure and land that they own. The scope for action at the local level is immense. Never have the words 'Think Global Act Local' been more relevant.

The local level in the UK was simply not involved or consulted in any way on the Nationally Determined Contributions that were presented by the UK as part of our COP21 emissions reduction figure. Anecdotally this is the case right the way across the EU and is an issue I've raised many times in Brussels in my role on the ENVE Commission of EU Committee of the Regions. I have also raised the matter directly with the EU Commissioner responsible for EU Climate Change policy Miguel Canete.

I await to see whether the EU Commission decide to adopt the development of Locally Determined Contributions in their work plan but in the meantime a number of issues are making me wonder how the concept could be adopted beyond the EU. If it is regarded as a good thing then it makes sense to empower the local level to take positive action from everywhere from Kathmandu to Kirklees. It could form the structure for a positive community based movement across the globe making tackling climate change more relevant to peoples everyday lives. Another issue that has made me want to see the idea adopted beyond Europe is of course Brexit. It would be ironic indeed if I developed an idea that was adopted by the EU and then we ended up leaving, and the policy was not adopted in the UK. The third reason is of course Trump. Among many other things he is a Climate Change Denier and policies that he may adopt in his Presidency to promote fossil fuels are a threat to us all. When Bush refused to ratify the Kyoto Treaty back in 2001 politicians at the State level defied him and took action to limit emissions at their level of Government. Locally Determined Contributions to reduce emissions below that of National Governments would give structure to that defiance and pull the USA back into action at the International level, Trump or no Trump.

I've made ICLEI the organisation also known as Local Governments for Sustainability aware of the proposal. They promote local action on climate change and other environmental initiatives. They also coordinate the Global Covenant of Mayors a network of Local Governments championing action on Climate Change. They could be the initial adopters of Locally Determined Contributions testing out the concept and developing the organisational architecture needed to deliver the cumulative emissions savings we need to achieve. The EU's key partner in promoting the Global Covenant of Mayors is the EU Committee of the Regions. Serendipitous indeed!