Saturday, 1 August 2015

Review - Euro Weekly News - Costa Blanca North Edition

On one of our occasional holidays in Spain in Javea it was interesting to read up on the top news stories in the English local Newspaper 'Euro Weekly' read by the large Ex Pat community in the Costa Blanca area. It seems bizarre that in sunny Costa Blanca that hot weather is front page news but it is. The record global temperatures have been reflected locally with the University of Alicante reporting the highest local temperatures for 150 years. This has had a knock on effect in terms of local deaths linked to heat strokes and water shortages. Costa Blanca Environmentalists have been providing advice on best watering strategies to avoid wasting precious water and new sources of water are being sought. There is a desalination plant locally to Javea which has helped secure local supplies but is not regarded as a solution to the problem. The scorching heat has also had more mundane but very real effects with local Taxi drivers calling for shelters from the sun and people's sleep patterns being adversely affected by the heat. Just down the road from where we are staying the communal bin area caught fire a few weeks ago due to the heat causing the area around to catch fire as well. A helicopter with several  buckets of sea water was drafted in to deal with the fire. There will be similar local stories all over the world with the same variation of a theme of adjusting to the reality of climate change. It is interesting to note that no mention of 'climate change' is made in any of the articles as a even a possible cause of the high temperatures and the knock on impacts on everyday life.

On the solutions side of things there are some interesting articles/adverts in the Euro Weekly. When we first came here, 20 odd years ago, we would pass the Silvasol solar company on the way into town which I always gave me a warm glow as I went off in search of tapas. When it began it would have focussed mainly on solar thermal but now PV is of course a big part of the business. Further into town is a company called Ecoforest that sells and installs wood pellet biomass boilers! I say bizarrely but the temperatures can drop below shirt sleeves standards for a few months of the year so having even a wood pellet stove can be an of value for occasional heating during the winter months. The solar story in Spain is a mixed one with solar energy having received a lot of Public investment but now it is being taxed as part of the Spanish Government drive to search for new sources of income in difficult economic times.

Insulation is still an issue even here. As we know thermos flasks keep liquids hot OR cold. The same principle applies to buildings and for those self builders out here with cash a 'Thermo Casa' home with high insulation standards which limit the need for air conditioning is an option. I wonder how far off Passivhaus standards they are and those standards would best apply in a hot climate?

One of the most interesting articles for me was about the grants that the Spanish Government makes available to householders carrying out energy efficiency (2000 Euros) or conservation works (4000 Euros) for homes built before 1981. This is at a time in the UK where funding to support the Green Deal loans has been cut as well as Government support for the Green Investment Bank. Clearly even in an economy which is generally regarded as weaker than the UK for Spain energy efficiency is still a higher priority.

The final story which gave me pause for thought was one about putting pigeons on the pill. Pigeons often regarded as flying vermin and we have issues in Springwood and the Town Centre with hundreds of the birds doing what they do all over the place. The town of Badia Del Valles in Barcelona reckons that contraceptive laced feed will cut the pigeon population by 80%. Not sure what I think about this yet but worth investigating.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Coronation Street & Newsome Ward

Simon Gregson aka Steve MacDonald with Growing Newsome Guru Diane Sims and the gang
There has been both positive and negative input from the cast/former cast of  Coronation Street in the last few weeks in the Newsome Ward. To start with the really positive, Simon Gregson who plays Steve MacDonald in the hit soap came to show his support to Growing Newsome at the Community Allotment at Ashenhurst. Growing Newsome are finalists in the 2015 National Lottery Awards for their sterling work to grow individuals and communities as well as fruit and vegetables. What they do is really inspiring and has made a genuine and positive difference to the area with the community events like potato day and seed swap day at Newsome Scout Hut, the Community Allotment and most important of all to get folks who may never have met before to come together doing positive and enjoyable activity in their local community. It brings people together on a project where they can literally enjoy the fruits (and Veg) of their labours. You can support Growing Newsome in the National Lottery Awards here

Compare Simon's support for Growing Newsome with the recent views on a key local issue expressed by Bruce Jones, formerly Les Battersby in Corrie. He was in attendance for the opening of The Newsome Tap, the former Newsome Working Mens Club on St Johns Avenue recently He gave his opinion to the Huddersfield Examiner on the leaseholders proposal to build on the adjacent Bowling Green which has been there for the last 110 years. He suggested that it was time for the Bowling Green to be built on to build much needed housing. It is progress apparently and matches the  view of the proprietor of The Newsome Tap who had hired him. It is a plot worthy of Corrie itself where someone with a degree of 'ownership' is seeking to make a fast buck by destroying a facility which is well used and very much loved by the local community. There will be more plot twists yet in this particular tale!

This is not the end of the Newsome/Corrie relationship. Back in 2012, in Labour's I'll fated attempt to take Newsome from the Green Party, former Kirklees Labour Leader Cllr Mehboob Khan engaged the services of Tracey Brabin who played Tricia Armstrong in their campaign. The Labour supporting star canvassed for a while in the rain at Ashemhurst before heading to the University to try to canvass Students. This was the year that Labour threw everything into the campaign, including a Corrie star, but fortunately for us to no avail.

Friday, 24 July 2015

PRESS RELEASE - Greens call for Passivhaus Revolt by local Councils

A Passivhaus in Denby Dale near Huddersfield

* Greens call for a cross party campaign by local Councils to specify ‘Passivhaus’ low energy building standards
* Chancellor Osborne is ‘ignoring the reality of climate change’

The Green Party is calling on Councils to respond to the government’s cancellation of Zero Carbon Homes by specifying ‘Passivhaus’ design standards on Council-owned land and as a condition of sale on all Council land.

Earlier this month, Chancellor George Osborne announced that he will withdraw a commitment to improve the energy efficiency standards of new homes by cancelling an improvement of building regulations scheduled for next year. The announcement has received widespread condemnation from over 200 businesses (1) who have asked the Chancellor to reverse the decision.
Councillor Andrew Cooper, Green Party Energy Spokesperson, condemned the dropping of these higher energy efficiency standards:

“This backwards step by the Government will hardwire higher fuel bills for people living in homes built today. For people on low incomes moving into new social housing this will mean they are more likely to suffer fuel poverty and be faced with the difficult choice of whether to eat or heat their homes.

“The Chancellor is ignoring the reality of climate change by locking us into energy wasteful building standards for many years to come.

“Nearly a decade of work has been carried out by building professionals preparing for the new Zero Carbon Homes standards. The Government has simply wasted the skill and expertise that has been established by industry in preparation for what was mistakenly believed to be a firm Government commitment.”

The Green Party is calling for a cross party campaign by local Councils to specify ‘Passivhaus’ standards on all new homes and buildings constructed on Council land or as a condition of sale on Council land sold for development.
Passivhaus is an internationally recognised standard that typically means that an average household can have heating bills of less than £100/year due to the highly efficient thermal performance (2).

Cooper added:

“This is the Local Authorities’ own land and there is no reason why Councils cannot decide to adopt more sustainable standards than the unambitious ones specified by the Government. As the Conservatives say they believe in Localism we would expect them to not stand in the way of locally determined targets be they specified in Local Plans or as we are calling for as policy on their own land”.

PRESS RELEASE - Greens dismiss Amber Rudd’s speech as a Smokescreen for an attack on green businesses & covert climate change denial

"Weasel words" from Climate Change Minister Amber Rudd on fossil fuel subsidies
Councillor Andrew Cooper, the Green Party’s Energy Spokesperson responded to Conservative Ministers speech on climate change today by describing her attack on “left wing anti capitalists” influence on Climate Change Policy as a smokescreen

“In the few short weeks since the Tories were elected we have seen cuts for support to the solar industry, cancelling of high energy efficiency standards for new homes, cancellation of the minimal support to householders through the Green Deal and an abandonment by Government of the Green Investment Bank. We are now told by the Minister that the problem with climate change policy is “left wing anti capitalists". This can only be described as a highly cynical smokescreen by the Conservatives. When Ministers are in a very weak position it is not an uncommon tactic for them to go on the offensive rather than have to defend the undefensible. This is what we have seen from Amber Rudd today”

“The only rational explanation for the Tory assault on policies to address climate change is that there is a covert strain of climate change denial in the Conservative Party and particularly in the Treasury. If Government policy is being driven by an unscientific climate scepticsm then the Government should come clean and not hide behind paranoid, unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.”

“What Green Business wants is the same as what all businesses want and that is certainty and not a Government that continually chops and changes the rules. If we are to seriously address fuel poverty, insulate millions of homes and build the renewable sector we need to provide us with stable prices and clean energy then Government has a big job to do to regain the confidence of businesses. The Government has provided certainty and support for the fracking industry, for the oil and gas sectors and the nuclear industry yet it has abandoned the thousands of people employed in the green energy and building industries.”

Councillor Cooper  responded  to the Ministers claim that the "UK Government does not subsidise fossil fuel consumption" - "These are clearly weasel words. What the Government does subsidise to the tune of billions of pounds is fossil fuel production. In the March 2015 budget the North Sea Oil and Gas sector received over £1.3Billion of tax breaks. Does the Minister really believe we have such short memories?"

Monday, 20 July 2015

PRESS RELEASE - Green Party Action on Flying Lanterns.

Green Cllrs Robert Barraclough  & Andrew Cooper, Farm Manager Ian Smart and Cllr Karen Allison
Green Party Councillors are calling for a ban on the release of Flying Lanterns from Kirklees Council land and are encouraging the Council to urge other large land owners in the area to do the same. A Green Party motion to Kirklees Council on July 29th will call for a ban and for signage to be placed at the entrances to Parks and sites such as Castle Hill.

Cows on Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Stirley Farm, near Newsome, have had to be destroyed due to metal from flying lanterns contaminating their feed. Lanterns are known to have been set off from Castle Hill and have been chopped up into small pieces when grass in farm fields is mowed for animal feed. Once in bales these small pieces of metal are almost impossible to detect but do terrible damage and pain to animals as the metal tears through their internal organs.

 Green Party Leader Councillor Andrew Cooper said,

 “This call for a ban is aimed at raising peoples’ awareness of the consequences of setting these lanterns off and the consequences it has for cows, sheep and horses on local farms. Many people simply do not understand that these lanterns are dangerous and damaging.

 Kirkburton Green Party Councillor Robert Barraclough who himself is a farmer and formerly owned a dairy herd for 30 years said.

“This is not just about litter in our environment it is about animal welfare and educating the public about the dangers posed by these lanterns. There is also the very real danger of fire risk to land and property particularly during long periods of particularly dry weather.

This problem not only affects livestock farmers but also the thriving Equestrian population in our area as horses also are fed on fodder which can be contaminated with the lanterns.

Organisations such as the National Farmers Union and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust are backing calls for a ban on these lanterns

The Green Party motion will be proposed by Cllr Robert Barraclough at the Kirklees Full Council meeting on Wednesday 29th July


Green Party and Valley Independent Group Motion on Flying Lanterns

 That the Council recommends that the Cabinet considers the potential risks   associated with sky lanterns (known as Chinese lanterns)  including those relating to health & safety ; fire risk , animal welfare and impact on the environment including litter and referred to in the Trading standards Institute code of Practice  for sky lanterns  and  if it accepts the potential threat and risks and subject to proper consideration of the cost implications

 1.            Where legally possible to take steps to ban the use and release of sky lanterns from council owned land following the statutory test in section 120 (1) (b)  LGA 1972 ; and encourage other landowners in Kirklees area to do likewise on their property ;

 2.            Place appropriate signage at prime locations for launching sky lanterns e.g. Castle Hill and Public Parks

 3.            Consider recommending that  full Council adopt byelaws for pleasure grounds, public walks and  public open spaces under section 164 Public Health Act 1875 and sections 12 , 15 of the Open Spaces Act 1906 which may contain a specific provision to regulate the release of sky lanterns  (subject to confirmation by the secretary of State for Communities and Local Government ) ;

 4.            Request Licensing committee to consider the scope to which Licensing legislation may be used to mitigate the risk associated with sky lanterns;

 5.            Consider the provision of advice to discourage organisers of events from using sky lanterns due to the potential harm they may cause;

6.            Encourage West Yorkshire Trading Standards /West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service to work with manufacturers , distributors and retailers in West Yorkshire to improve safety standards ;biodegradeability  of sky lantern products  and  urge them to sign up to the Trading Standards Institute  Industry Code of Practice –sky lanterns

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Bowled over by the support for the Bowling Green

They say a picture says a thousand words. These photos from today's demonstration in support of retaining the Newsome Bowling Green certainly demonstrate the tremendous support in the community to protect this 110 year old local asset from development. Given the provocation that we have seen in the last few days it was particularly heartening to see such a calm and dignified demonstration by the local community.

 There was a lot of promotion on social media and myself, Cllr Karen Allison and Jacqui Sullivan got out the best part of 1000 flyers out over the last 2 days.  A lot of thanks are due to Jacqui Sullivan for all her hard work on behalf of the Bowling Club, to Diane Sims for taking the photos & helping publicise the event, to Janet Siddall for making so many banners and of course to everyone else who helped and turned up today.  Our colleague Cllr Julie Stewart-Turner, who wasn't able to be there today, has given a tremendous amount of support behind the scenes to the bowlers. The campaign to save the Bowling Green from development goes on!

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Zero Commitment

The first Zero Carbon  Home by Kingspan. It was built on the BRE Innovation Park
One of my many personal failings is that I am always surprised when Government does the wrong thing. Given the inglorious record of the 'Greenest Government Ever' I should be used to the many disappointments by now. The lastest is the complete abandonment of the Zero Carbon Homes policy. This was due to come into force next year and was already mired in controversy as energy efficiency standards to comply with the policy had been diminished and a system of 'allowable solutions' introduced meant that builders could affordably make up for the carbon saving shortcomings by some carbon saving activity off site e.g. planting trees or mitigation activity in existing buildings. The 'allowable solutions' regime already looked pretty dubious but even that has now been dropped. There were also legitimate concerns backed up by a study showing that so called exemplar eco efficient homes were not performing as well as they were supposed to bringing into question the whole approach being taken by Government with Zero Carbon Homes.

It started off so well with a lot of innovation and experimentation carried out by industry to see how they might achieve these standards. Kingspan went to considerable effort to build the UK's first net zero carbon home back in 2010. A number of developers worked with the Building Research Establishment to develop ways of reaching this new standard. A Zero Carbon Hub was established in 2008 with a wealth of professionals in the energy and building sector who together have put in thousands of hours of work . Their role was to "take day-to-day operational responsibility for achieving the government’s target of delivering zero carbon homes in England from 2016"  They must be seriously asking themselves now whether Government has let them down and wasted a considerable amount of their valuable time.

 Why? Is the question.Well it is to help hard pressed developers reduce costs & regulation so they will build more homes. The reaction from developers however does not appear to have been at all positive. They definitely sound like they have been seriously mucked about by Government. Roy Lambe of Wilmott Dixon was reported in the Architects Journal today saying the following,

“Since the original zero-carbon announcement, Willmott Dixon has been supportive of setting a long-term trajectory, enabling industry to invest with confidence. This announcement seriously undermines industry confidence in government policy and will diminish future investment.”

Here's Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive of the Green Building Council in todays Guardian

 “It is short-sighted, unnecessary, retrograde and damaging to the housebuilding industry, which has invested heavily in delivering energy-efficient homes. Britain needs more housing, but there is no justification for building homes with a permanent legacy of high energy bills.”

The whole Zero Carbon homes policy has had poor support from Government for years and the lack of a  robust Building Control regime meant that there were serious doubts as to how these properties would perform anyway. This is the reason why the Green Party advocated the Passivhaus standard in our manifesto. It is an internationally recognised energy performance standard for buildings that is assessed using a quality assurance method. The real fundamental strength of the Passivhaus Standard  is the fact that the UK Government has nothing whatsoever to do with it and long may that continue.