Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Age of Plastic

Change happens imperceptibly but there are moments of transition, if we notice them, that show that the world is going through a phase change if not your full on paradigm shift. One moment in time I captured on camera was the move from orange sodium streetlights to pearly white LED ones with 50% of the energy demand and 50% of the cost. A positive all ways round you would think except that some people liked the warm orange glow and others thought is gave a better light. This demonstrates the first law of change - "You can't please all of the people all of the time". 

Other changes are more symbolic but nonetheless filled with significance. The move from paper £5 notes to plastic ones was interesting in many ways. On the reverse side we lost social reformer and Quaker Elizabeth Fry and gained former Tory Prime Minister Winston Churchill whose very chequered political past has been largely forgotten due to the strong, inspiring and necessary leadership he provided in World War 2. It was, however, the material rather than the images on it that had the most impact on me. We had moved from paper, a renewable resource, to plastic a byproduct of the fossil fuel industry. The £5 note, as a symbol of our economy, showed that the Bank of England investing in a non renewable resource (even if it is longer lasting and can survive a washing machine) and as such is a symbol of the problem with how UK Government policies on energy are fundamentally flawed on climate change with support for renewables and energy efficiency dumped in favour of fracking and nuclear.

Compared with the worldwide subsidy of fossil fuels, the changing of the material for a few billion worth of UK bank notes is small fry. It is estimated, by the International Monetary Fund, that worldwide fossil fuels are subsidised to the tune of $5.3Trillion each and every year. On Tuesday I was interviewed by Talk Radio who asked me to comment on the £100/year on UK domestic energy bills to support renewables and energy efficiency programmes. This is peanuts when compared to the huge tax breaks and other subsidies enjoyed by fossil fuel companies and generators and this will be something I will be pointing out at every opportunity when I attend the World Climate Summit on Climate Change, COP22 in Marrakech next month. The shift we need at Marrakech is to put the subsidy we give to climate destroying fossil fuels into sustainable sources of renewable energy and energy efficiency to limit demand for heat and power.

If we do invest $5.3 Trillion a year towards a sustainable future maybe then we could symbolically return to paper based money, sourced from recycled materials but who would we have on the back of the £5 note? Answers on a post consumer waste postcard please.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Kirklees Local Plan - Highfields Community Orchard saved

There are lots of stories coming out of the Kirklees Local Plan since the Publication draft was approved by Kirklees Council last Wednesday. The story of Highfields Community Orchard goes back about 7 years when Kirklees threatened to sell a valued green space next to Wentworth Street and Mountjoy Road. The land was on the border of Newsome and Greenhead Wards which provided a particular party political dimension with myself and the then Council Leader taking different views on this issue.

Highfields Community Orchard was confirmed as having Local Green Space status at Wednesdays meeting. The land was subject to an ongoing disagreement between the local community and the Council over whether, the former school play area should have been allocated as building land or remain a place that the community could use for events, childrens play and for growing local food.

It's a long story full of politics and personalities. All credit to the local people who campaigned to save the land. Events over the last few years has brought neighbours together, sharing food and good times. the big problem for the Friends of  Highfields Community Orchard is no longer Kirklees but the Apple Thief who has stripped the trees bare for a number of years now.

So the land should be safe for at least 15 years which is the life of the Local Plan. How high will the trees be by then?

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Andrew Cooper - Local Plan Speech Kirklees Full Council - 12/10/16

So here we are again with a vote on the Kirklees Local Plan.
 Let’s remember how we got to this point. The last time we had the then Local Development Framework in front of us. That Plan was withdrawn through a vote of this Council due to concerns expressed by the Planning Inspectorate. The reason that was given from the Government Planning Inspector was that we had not fulfilled the ‘duty to cooperate’ with other Local Authorities but in reality the truth was that there were simply not enough houses in the Plan to satisfy Government demands. The Green Party voted not to withdraw the plan, to call the Government’s bluff to show that we didn’t really have any say over how many houses needed to be built in our area. If we had kept the plan then the ball would have been in the Governments court. It would have been up to them to overrule the wishes of our democratically elected Council just as they have done with the Fracking Planning Application that was recently refused by Lancashire County Council. We are not the masters of our own destiny. Government sets the rules of the game and we have to follow.
Between 2008 and 2011 developers gave 3.3 million pounds to the Conservative Party during that time they and later their Government was formulating what became the National Planning Policy Framework where we see the guiding principle behind all Government Policy – the presumption in favour of development. Did the construction industry give money to the Conservative Party because they are philanthropists and it was a toss up between the Tories and the Save the Children Fund who they gave their brass to? Of course not they wanted something in return.    Since the Coalition and now a Conservative Government has been in power we have seen a weakening of the planning powers of Local Authorities and a strengthening of the hands of developers. It is because of Conservative Government rules that developers are able without a Local Plan to apply to build anywhere in Kirklees. So we are caught between a rock and a hard place. Produce a Local Plan with more houses than are needed to satisfy rapacious developers or have no plan and let those very same developers have a free hand to put planning applications in anywhere in Kirklees. So I say to the Conservatives this planning shambles is of your own making, your fingerprints are all over it, you’ve taken the money and you have been seen leaving the scene of the crime.  So much as it would be convenient to blame the Labour Administration of this Council a Conservative Administration would be in the exact same situation.
 So what about the Plan itself. There are some real positives and of course negatives. On the positive side we are very pleased that the Green Belt has been extended down from Castle Hill to the stretch of land bordered by New Laithe Hill and High Lane at Newsome. The people of Taylor Hill Road can rest a little easier knowing the Council will not be pursuing the threat of building housing on their back gardens. In Highfields the Community Orchard bordered by Wentworth Street and Mountjoy Road will be redesignated as a Local Green Space protecting it for local kids and the Community to use as they already are doing. We are disappointed that land at Jackroyd Lane , Newsome has not been removed from the plan as it is part of a green corridor of land leading up to Castle Hill and is part of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Stirley Farm Estate. We are however pleased that land at Newsome Mill, the former Stile Common School site, Cambridge Road have been allocated for development. We hope that they will be high quality properties with Passivhaus energy efficiency standards and will be available to people on lower incomes to rent or buy.
We have played a full part as a group negotiating the best we could for the communities we serve and represent. We will continue to do so but let us be under no illusion the negatives here are those created by the policy direction given by this Government. No attempting to wriggle, to shift the blame will wash. This isn’t Labour’s Plan, it’s not really even Kirklees Plan, in reality it isn’t not even the Conservative Government’s Plan but is the Plan of their paymasters  - the developers.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Speech to Clean Energy Live Birmingham NEC – 3/10/16 - Cllr Andrew Cooper - Green Party Energy Spokesperson

Being in the Green Party you are often subject to popular misconceptions. One which I’m sure many people have is that we are anti nuclear power. Now nothing could be further from the truth. We are actually very pro nuclear power with just some conditions around the finances. There should be no public or consumer subsidy for capital costs, the same rule should apply to ongoing revenue costs and of course decommissioning costs which are often a concern for nuclear power plants. The question then is always well would a nuclear plant ever be constructed under such a hostile financial regime? To which we would answer “ Constructed?  it already exists! It is 93 million miles away, is pretty reliable, predictable and if it ever did develop a fault we really would be in trouble”.

The UK Government is also very pro-nuclear power but it prefers its nuclear energy to be closer to home and they have a different take on the finances. The cost of Hinckley C to the consumer via the deal they have agreed on our behalf is reportedly around the £37 Billion mark.  Government is all about choices and what could we do with £37 Billion with solar for instance? Here’s a very rough and ready calculation. £37 Billion/ £5000 the lower end cost of a 4kWp solar PV system would provide on-site solar energy to 7.5 million homes. This is around 30% of all UK homes. Of course that is a very rough and ready figure but it shows the potential -  but possibly only the lower end of the potential. What if we had a national house by house programme which helped reduce costs further could we shave another £1000 off the cost that would be enough for 9 and quarter million homes. Such a programme would encourage significant expansion in solar manufacturing in the UK bringing with it more jobs, investment and the tax revenue that governments love. If we invested in large community owned solar PV installations the value of that £37 Billion would go even further. The advances that continue to be made in storage make solar an ever growing option for year round energy.

We need a Government vision informed by the renewables industry. During the General Election the Green Party policy in our Manifesto was attacked by some as being undeliverable but we were on firm ground because we worked with the Solar Trade Association to develop a policy that was ambitious but would be realistic based on the assumption that it would come from a Government that truly believed in a renewable energy future

Politics is all about choices and the vision we have for the future of our country and the wider world. Solar is not just a renewable energy it can also be a democratising energy that puts more power in the hands of individuals and communities and less in the hands of large corporate energy supply interests. This is not the general thrust of current UK Government policy. The abolition of the Zero Carbon homes standard for new build properties and the loss of Energy Company Obligation funding for retrofit insulation measures helps maintain high and growing domestic energy demand. The effective outlawing of onshore renewable energy through the planning system in England  and the hacking away at the Feed In tariff has slowed the advance of renewables in our country and as such the UK Government should be regarded as at best disinterested in sustainable energy and at worst overtly hostile. The future at the moment is nuclear, fracked gas heating and poorly insulated buildings. It’s their choice of future , not mine and I’m sure not yours.

Brexit may be Brexit what ever that means but it is not good news for renewables. The EU Renewable Energy Directive is/was a useful driver for investment in renewables even if UK policy was pushing us in the wrong direction and we were way down the EU Renewable Energy League Table along with Malta and Luxembourg. We need to ensure that whatever Brexit means that we stick with EU targets even if failure will no longer mean a financial penalty on the UK Govt.

So what do we do?

In Kirklees our 2000 Council house solar PV programme was stopped in its tracks last year. We got to 600 before the feed in tarrif cut hit. So we had to start thinking of other ways to make progress

In Kirklees we are looking at the viability of establishing our own building standards on land that we own. Those standards would be Passivhaus standards with 10% of the energy demand of a standard new build. They could incorporate solar PV and thermal. An all party working group that I chair on Kirklees  Council is developing recommendations for this policy. We want to hold a mirror up to Government to say this is what you can do when you have the political will. If that can be achieved in one Council in one part of the UK why not everywhere?

So I’d like to conclude by saying the Green Party does not have all the answers. We need the humility and common sense to realise that we need to work with others who share our vision and values for a clean energy future. So let us work together.  Let’s work on solutions with common purpose and optimism.

The future will be bright , if its solar and renewable.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Kirklees Democracy Commission - A Huddersfield Town Council?

Huddersfield's Coat of Arms
  As part of our evidence gathering for the Democracy Commission we took evidence from a representative from the National Association of Local Councils. This body represents the myriad Parish and Town Councils around the country from the very small village councils (the Dibley Model) to Councils representing many thousands of people. The largest Town/Parish Council in the country is the newly created Sutton Coldfield Town Council which has a population of around 75,000 electors and came into being following its first elections this year.  It occurred to me as we received the presentation that there may be some mileage in applying a Town Council model to Huddersfield and perhaps other separate Town Councils for the other large towns in Kirklees.

Kirklees Council will never be loved. It is an artificial construct of disparate communities and towns brought together under local government reorganisation in 1974. Kirklees has done some marvellous things and made some mistakes over the years but it we'll never achieve the semi mythical status of the Huddersfield Borough Council in the eyes of many older/voting resident. Comparisons aren't really fair as the pressures and responsibilities of the old Huddersfield Council doesn't compare with that of modern day Kirklees. You also have the misconception in North Kirklees that all the money goes to Huddersfield and in Huddersfield that all the money goes to North Kirklees. Around the margins some areas may get a bit more money based on whoever happens to be running the Council at the time but largely the increasingly meagre pot of money is distributed according to need. As funding for the services Kirklees provides is withdrawn by Central Government a greater proportion of that funding will have to be directed at those in the greatest need and so the Council will be largely funding adult social care and vulnerable children's services. Funding for things people care about in their communities such as libraries , museums, roads, street cleaning will all diminish hugely. It doesn't look like Kirklees Council will be loved any more any time soon! Nor will it be abolished. Requests to halve it quarter it and establish new councils have been rejected by Governments of all hues over the years. Love it, or more likely, loathe it, Kirklees isn't going anywhere fast!

So why and how a Huddersfield Town Council? We have a Town Council in Kirklees now. Meltham is a Town Council. We also have Parish Councils in Mirfield, Kirkburton, Holme Valley and Denby Dale. In Kirkburton through a  Green Party initiative, supported by Independents and most Parties, we developed a successful plan to save Kirkburton Library (there was no other plan!) Without the Parish Council it is unlikely that the building would have remained open and would probably have ended up as a large private bungalow or a small supermarket. Similarly in Skelmanthorpe there has been another asset transfer of the Library to Denby Dale Parish Council. So these bodies can act as lifeboats for the retention of local facilities and services and to be a way of promoting more local priorities.

Attempts at devolving power to Area Committees and now District Committees covering different parts of Kirklees have never really worked and I guess never will. However enlightened and willing teh chairs and members of Huddersfield District Committee are they are still beholden to the Kirklees Cabinet and have to operate within their priorities. Whoever happens to be in power at the time. Issues like the future of Huddersfield Town Centre are regarded as outside the scope of the District Committee and responsibility for it is jealously guarded by the Cabinet. A new political body representing Huddersfield once established could see responsibilities and some funding transferred to it from kirklees as part of new political settlement for our area. Whatever decisions were made by Huddersfield Town Council would be those established by the representatives elected by Huddersfield people. Town Councils have the same status as  charities and voluntary organisatuions and are able to apply for funding that Kirklees would not have access to. So we could get more 'bang for our buck' than we ever would with KMC.

Highly symbolic, but nethertheless real, would be the moment the Council was established and it adopted the coat arms of the old Borough Council of Huddersfield. The people of Huddersfield could begin to believe they had got their Town back and greater control of their own destinies.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Kirklees Democracy Commission - A huge opportunity for progress

Democracy Commission Roadshow l to r Cllrs Cooper, Firth, Wilson and Chair Andy Mycock
I am a member of the Kirklees Democracy Commission that has members serving on it from all Parties and it  is chaired by the University of Huddersfield's Politics Lecturer Andy Mycock

Its mission is to achieve the following,

By 2020 Kirklees is an informed citizen-led democracy with accountable elected representatives who enable communities to influence and affect decisions governing their lives.

It is going to do this by looking at the role of Councillors, how we run our elections and seeking to improve how we go about our decision making to enable people to feel they have more of a stake and influence over how our decisions are made.

Kirklees is not a loved institution. It is an artificial construct cobbled together after Local Government reorganisation in 1974 and named after a place in neighbouring Calderdale rather than anywhere in the actual district. As such the name pleased no one rather than alienating any particular town by naming it after another. There are regular calls to split the Council by the Public and politicians seeking to garner a few populist votes but both Labour and Tory Governments have dodged this over the years.

A lot of time and effort has gone into preparing and running Commission events and sourcing witnesses by Kirklees officers. My own view is that we have the opportunity to come up with some radical and far reaching proposals for the Council to implement and where necessary to seek Government approval. we cannot go through this whole exercise and only propose piecemeal changes. We also need to regard what we are doing as a possible template for other cOuncils We need to be bold, forward thinking and consider doing things that have never been tried before. I will be blogging about the work of the Commission throughout. Lets see where the journey takes us


Saturday, 27 August 2016

A Question of Taste? - Ugarit Restaurant, Cross Church Street, Huddersfield

The Ugarit Restaurant
The old Estate Agents before Ugarit took over
Beauty like so many things is subjective, to a point.

If I was asked for a view on whether Cross Church Street in Huddersfield was one of the most beautiful streets in the Town Centre  I'd be hard pushed to agree to that one! It has some high points. I quite like the shop frontage for the hardware store, some of the pubs have made an effort to have attractive signage and quality fronts but then there are the dubious looking takeaways and other shops with tired old plastic signs.

The Ugarit Restaurant has recently opened on the street  offering Syrian and Lebanese dishes and it looks like they have made a real effort to improve the appearance of the building both on the interior and exterior. I was surprised to discover that the Council's Conservation Team in the Planning Service deemed the signage outside Ugarit to be a detriment to a listed building and ordered changes to be made. The Restaurant was formerly an Estate Agent with a plastic sign outside. No damage has been caused to any of the buildings features as a result of the restaurant sign going up. A short wander down Cross Church Street and the vast majority of people I believe would regard the Ugarit shopfront as a positive thing compared with some of the garish signs on display. I have used my right as a Ward Councillor to refer this matter to the Planning Committee to see whether other Councillors see this issue as I do. There are a number of times I've seen matters differently to the Conservation Team in the Council. I really don't regard myself as some sort of Philistine who doesn't appreciate the need to preserve important architecture but I do find it difficult on a number of occasions to appreciate their viewpoint like this one on changes to New North Road Baptist Church from a few years ago.

Ugarit is a business which will hopefully be part of an improvement to the Town Centre and I hope the Council will be seeking to help businesses like this get established and not be regarded as an obstacle.