Sunday, 10 August 2014

Some thoughts on the House of Lords

Congratulations to Ex Kirklees Lib-Dem Leader Cllr Kath Pinnock on her elevation to the House of Lords. I'm sure she will make valuable contributions to political life there and be a working peer. I look forward to hearing her official title' Baroness Pinnock of Cleckeaton' maybe? The latest round of Lords appointments brought the  not unexpected controversey, a number of big donors to the Tory Party got their rewards by being appointed to 'The Lords'. For the Lib Dems this latest round of appointments takes their numbers over the 100 mark. The Green Party has 1 member in the House of Lords, 'Baroness Jones of Moulscomb' or Jenny to her freinds. Moulscomb is the name of the Council Estate in Brighton where she grew up and when she was 'signed up' for the Lords she wore a fake ermine gown for the ceremony so really proud of Jenny for sticking to her principles on that one.

Did I mention 'principles'? It is always interesting talking about 'principles' and the House of Lords. A few thoughts. Recently in the news we had the positive news that women could soon become Bishops in the Church of England as that institution comes kicking and screaming into the 20th Century just as we are well into the 21st. What I found bizarre was the lack of much mention that this progressive move would mean that these new women bishops would find themselves automatically appointed to the archaic unelected House of Lords. OK quick quiz question, 'Which 2 countries allow religious priests into their legislative bodies?' Ok you know one, it's the UK right! The other is another beloved well respected democracy, yes you guessed it, Iran! Is there any logic to having people in the House of Lords, who represent a body that as a central tenet believes in the supernatural? Well they have gone through an election process of sorts from within their membership unlike many Tory donors . I'm always happy when someone stands up to the many Government policies which I regard as regressive and that is often Bishops in the absence of many political defenders. It does however make me feel uncomfortable that these champions of the underprivileged seem about as relevant as the wizards in Hogwarts Castle. They are generally benign but the fact that I am reluctant to see them go is more a reflection of the awful state of our backwards democracy more than any logical argument for their retention. in our legislature.

This brings us, (on the subject of principles and the House of Lords) to House of Lords reform, the Coalition Agreement and the Liberal Democrats. It was going to be great, well better anyway. We were going to have a wholly (or mainly) elected second chamber elected by proportional representation with 450 members. The draft bill when it went in front of Parliament in 2011 was by no means perfect. There were still appointments and 12 'Lords Spiritual'. Ultimately 91 Tory MPs defied their Government Whip and Labour didn't exactly cover themselves in glory by effectively allowing the status quo to continue.So it was dead in the water and so much for the Coalition Agreement. Future appointments to the House of Lords were to reflect Party shares of the votes at the 2010 General Election but definitely not the 2014 Euro Election where the Greens beat the Lib Dems. I'd like to see more Greens in the House of Lords influencing policy but I find it bizarre that the archaic House of Lords is allowed to continue in existence as well as still having elections by the 'first past the Past system. We are truly a backwards excuse for a 'democracy'. We may well be the mother of all democracies but our children have by far surpassed us and left us behind.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Festival time - Cambridge Folk to Huddlefest

I describe my blog as "about Kirklees Council and our activity to improve the local and global environment (and also anything that I fancy talking about)" Well this post comes under the category of 'anything I fancy talking about'. Just got back from Cambridge Folk Festival and it was their 50th Anniversary bash. Its probably around the 10th time or more our family have been there. It is the usual mix of good company, food, music and beer that make it a relaxing 4 days. It's not as big as Glastonbury but still thousands of people go and research has shown that it is better for the local economy than Mr Eavis's Glastonbury making  a cool £1.7million for the local economy each year for the Cambrige economy. So any lessons for Kirklees Council here on holding events to raise cash for the Council? Of course any Council can selflesssly support events for the community which may well come at a cost to the Council but have a wider benefit to the Local Economy. How much Councils could and should support such events when budgets for vital services are threatened by the Coalition Government cuts agenda is a reasonable question. In the 2013/14 Cambridge City Council budget book it quotes a net income from the Folk Festival of £237,000 from the paying punters like myself so a useful sum. To reduce the cost of the Festival the Council are looking at transferring the organisation of the Festival to a charity which they reckon will save the Council around £1 million over 5 years. Obviously there are real concerns about the transfer of jobs and pay and conditions issues for employees but the attraction for the Council in ensuring jobs remain, council budgets are healthier and the festival continues are very real.

Huddersfield does have a Festival coming up called Huddlefest in Greenhead Park on Saturday 20th September. This is not a Council event but is using council facilities, lets hope it is a success. Inspiral Carpets and Aswad are playing and here's a link

And here's 'The Melodic' a band I came across in one of the lesser stages at Cambridge in 'The Den'. They are really good.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Passiv Insistence versus 'Zero Carbon' homes

From the Solar Trade Association & the Renewable Energy Association
At the last Cabinet (Holding the Executive to account) meeting Lib Dem Councillor Christine Iredale submitted the following question.

" Because of the Government’s zero carbon housing policy developers will soon be required to pay for carbon reduction schemes in Kirklees. Would the Cabinet Member agree that this “allowable solutions” money could be used to further enhance the homes building policy Kirklees Liberal Democrats will propose later today?  For example, it could help to pay for the installation of energy efficiency measures on the new homes, such as solar hot water panels.”

I was rather surprised the Lib Dems are wanting to talk about the Coalition's so called Zero Carbon Homes policy as it is widely regarded as a big disappointment by those concerned with reducing the carbon emissions of new homes. With the backtracking and the amendments to the policy a 'Zero Carbon Home' is one that emits carbon at 32kgC02/m2 as opposed to the 47kgCO2/m2 that a house built to 2006 Building Regulations emitted. You would be forgiven for thinking 'zero emissions' meant well 'zero emissions' but that is Government 'Newspeak' for you. It is really a measure of the success of the Home Builders Federation in getting the Government to lower standards and therefore their costs.

"allowable solutions" simply means opting out of high efficiency solutions for buildings by paying a sum of money to other carbon saving initiatives.  Funding  was, at one point, going to be destined for use by Local Authorities. This would have made a lot of sense, as it could have been targeted at those people in fuel poverty or on community renewables initiatives but now developers decide how they want to use it and there is a lot of uncertainty over where it will end up and what it will be used for.

In  Planning Resource magazine it stated,

Housebuilders will decide how to meet carbon mitigation requirements under the zero carbon homes policy rather than local authorities, the government has confirmed.

Colin Morrison who is a  director and head of sustainability at a building consultancy Turley, said:

 "Based on our experience of allowable solutions projects and policies within emerging local plans, this will come as a disappointment to local authorities as it could have represented a significant source of funding for local carbon reduction projects. 

So unfortunately the ‘greenest government ever’, with a Department of Energy and Climate Change led by a Lib Dem Minister, has failed to come up with the green goods yet again.

However in the absence of effective policies coming out of the UK Govt, Kirklees Council can, within the Local Plan, set its own standards for buildings erected on land the Council owns and they can be better than those established by central government.  Housing built to a Passivhaus standard has very high insulation performance, low heating demand , controlled ventilation and very low fuel bills. A Passivhaus social housing development built in Oldham by  Keepmoat has homes that are costing tenants no more than £20a year in fuel bills and the builders were trained by the Green Building Company which is based in Huddersfield.

So I so will certainly be pushing hard for Passivhaus standards on Council land as part of the new Kirklees Local Plan. In the absence of good policy from central government we at least can do our best at the local level and show them the error of their ways.


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Open Rights Group Euro Hustings 8/5/14

Government surveillance of citizens has been high on the political agenda with the 'emergency' Data Retention & Investigatory Powers Bill' that was passed by 438 - 51 in the House of Commons. Backed somewhat amazingly by the Liberal Democrats but what it has to do with Liberal values I really don't know. During the Euro Election Campaign we had a hustings on digital rights  (no UKIP Candidate attended yet again or Labour but that was unusual for them). Not an amazing attendance it has to be said but if you've got a spare couple of hours here's the panel debate. It is supposed to be raining this weekend and the telly might be rubbish. I'm really selling this!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

'The first 100 Days of the next Government' the Local Government Association vision and the Energy Company Obligation

The Local Government Association  launched its new vision document 'Investing in our Nation's Future - The first 100 days of the next government'. It marks the vision of the LGA under the new Labour Leadership of  Cllr David Sparks.

 I was able to offer some input on an earlier draft on the the issue of the Energy Company Obligation.

 On Page 8 it states a proposal to

"allow Councils, not just energy companies, to use the percentage of money already collected for energy efficiency schemes through fuel bills to insulate homes, reducing household bills and giving those families in greatest need more money to put towards rent and mortgages" .

All very well so far, but I argued that the money from the Energy Company Obligation should be managed exclusively by Local Authorities and 'The Big 6' should no longer act as the gatekeepers of ECO funding. So I was pleased to see on Page 22 with the tabulated summary of the proposals that  the word 'just'  from the above quote is removed, effectively cutting the Energy Companies out of management of ECO'. The £0.9 Billion/year indicated is well short of what is needed for a mass national energy efficiency programme like the GreenNew Deal,  but at least there will be a greater opportunity to ensure funding is properly targeted if made available by Government directly to Councils. The best way of targeting this limited funding would be to ask Councils to produce credible plans showing how they will deliver energy efficiency schemes in their areas, reducing fuel poverty and carbon emissions. Local authorities would be encouraged to find matched funding from a variety of sources such as the EU, public health budgets etc to demonstrate joined up working and thinking.

There are some disappointments in the document. An assumption that the fracking issue for local government is all  about how much money localities can extract from the process with an implicit assumption that Fracking is an acceptable policy option. 

Greens Propose Parish Plan for local libraries

Green Party Cllrs Rober Barraclough and Derek Hardcastle at Kirkburton Library

Kirkburton Parish Council, which has a majority of Green Party Councillors, last night proposed the first part of a plan to save local Libraies

Councillor Derek Hardcastle who serves as a Councillor on both Kirklees and Kirkburton Parish Council proposed that the Parish Council should,

“investigate the feasibility of establishing Parish Libraries Trusts where the current Kirklees owned libraries at Kirkburton and Shepley are ‘asset transferred ‘ to the community by Kirklees Council. We will seek a partnership agreement with Kirklees Council to retain Library services including an enhanced service offering home library services to elderly and disabled householders in all villages served by the Parish. Furthermore the Parish will investigate and come back with proposals for transferring the Parish council office into Kirkburton Library to help ensure a sustainable future for this key community facility. ”

Green Party Councillor Robert Barraclough who also serves on Kirklees Council and Kirkburton Parish Council said,

“there is a real danger that if we do not act decisively that we could lose rural library services. Kirklees has indicated that it is looking to halve the Library budget. This could mean having only a few large Libraries in towns such as Huddersfield, Batley and Dewsbury. We simply cannot wait for this to happen or just make meaningless statements from the sidelines. Those communities that take the initiative and act early will have the best chance of retaining services. If we do not engage with the administration of the Council in Kirklees to seek a sustainable resolution to the Libraries issue we could lose these valued community buildings and services.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Highs and Lows of RHI

Flashback to 2010 our solar thermal panels  are installed
In the dying months of the last Labour Government the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was conceived. The Govt had recently approved the Feed In Tariff for the generation of renewable electricity from small and medium scale solar, wind and hydropower. The approval of an incentive scheme for renewable heat technologies, such as biomass boilers, heat pumps and solar thermal, did comes as a bit of surprise from a government that had been pretty lacklustre on the green agenda for the previous 12 years in government. Before the details of tariff payments made there way through parliament in 2010, Labour went and lost the General Election to be replaced by the 'greenest government ever'. There followed a depressing spate of cuts of green energy schemes but not to the Renewable Heat Incentive which remained protected. Some cause for cheer one would think but then the years went by. Consultations, delay, promised start dates reneged on and more delays. The non domestic RHI did eventually commence but the domestic version was only launched a few weeks ago, nearly five years after it as originally approved.

At this point In the story, I will declare an interest. I had a Solar thermal system installed by Hebden Bridge company EcoHeat in April 2010. Any renewable heat technology installed after July 2009 with a valid Microgeneration Certification Scheme certificate would qualify for a legacy payment. So after more than 4 years I'd finally get the promised RHI payments but not without going through so e unnecessary hoops. First I'd have to get a Green Deal Advice Report at the cost of £120. This was supposedly to ensure I had insulation measures installed, but then I had an Energy Performance Certificate carried out only a couple of months ago to enable me to have cavity wall insulation installed. This just seemed to be an expensive exercise to allow DECC Minister Greg Barker to go on the television and claim people are 'taking action' as a result of Green Deal advice when I took action 4 years ago. Anyway I got the report done as otherwise I wouldn't have been able to claim the RHI.
So I get to the point where I'm completing the online RHI claim and it asks me if I have had any
Grant support for my installation as this will be deducted. I remembered I'd had a £400 grant under the Low Carbon Buildings Programme so declared that and pressed 'submit'. A few days later I get an email from OFGEM who were administering the scheme saying they wouldn't process my RHI claim without proof of my Low Carbon Buildings Programme grant. This was particularly annoying as I hadn't got proof, I'd volunteered the information, all solar thermal grants under he LCBP were £400 and anyway shouldn't they have a database of people who had LCBP grants anyway as they are acting on behalf of government. After making these points to them OFGEM relented and decided to trust me. My first payment comes in September. Now remember, other legacy RHI applicants to make sure you declare your LCBP grants like I did!