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!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Vote Harry Perkins for Labour Leader!

Harry Perkins MP (sadly Ray McAnally RIP)
 There's a lot of talk about Ed Miliband's leadership of the Labour Party at the moment. Some of it is a reaction to him inadvisable holding a copy of 'The Sun' up in a photocall for said Murdoch owned rag. Some of it appears to be a contrived media fuelled campaign where Labour's reasonable Local and European Election results are being interpreted as a failure by BBC interviewers.

The Leadership issue for Labour is a real one, but at its heart is the lack of a distinctive agenda from them or an inspiring alternative vision. Simply saying we accept current govt spending and aping the Tory rhetoric on welfare must be disheartening to manĊ· qLabour activists, who presumably joined up to champion social progress. At a Billy Bragg gig this weekend I saw a few Kirklees Labour Cllrs obviously  enjoying his good music and his principled undiluted, full fat socialism. It must have been a much needed shot in the arm for them given the lack of that sort of message coming from the Labour Party at a national level.

If I was a Labour activist I know who I would want as Labour Leader and that would be Harry Perkins. "Who?" I hear you cry. "Is he an obscure up and coming backbencher that we should look out for?" No Harry Perkins was the fictional Labour Leader who 'came to power' following a run on the banks in Chis Mullin's 'A Very British Coup'. It is one of those peculiar dramas where the TV series is better than the book in my opinion. Harry is a fantasy Labour Leader who sticks by his socialist principles, opposes nuclear weapons and American bases, champions the NHS and  alternative energy. Through a combination of wily manoeuvring and being smarter than the entrenched right wing establishment he generally comes out on top. What comes across in Ray McAnally's portrayal of the Sheffield Trade Unionist turned Prime Minister is his authenticity, what you see is what you get. Agree with him or not you know he won't be mealy mouthed or slanting his message so as not to offend a particular constituency of opinion, probably identified following exhaustive fieldwork and opinion polling research. Ed Miliband's is as far from Harry Perkins as Brie is from Red Leicester. It depends on whether your taste in leadership is like your taste in cheese, soft and bland or hard and full flavoured (and red)

So who are the potential Harry Perkins types coming through the Labour machine? Well there aren't any that I can see. Chuka Umunna, one potential future Leader, is a classic example of what's wrong with Labour, He's undoubtably capable, a safe pair of hands and media savvy but lacking that uncompromising idealism that makes you under no doubt that his principles come first and last and won't be swayed by misinformation and supposed public opinion. He's definitely the SPAD or smart guy you want informing a 'proper politician' but not a Leader.
If Labour,  (and the Tories and Lib Dems come to that) failed in the May Elections it was by having Leaders who were so bland and seemingly interchangeable that they allowed Nigel Farage, a former Tory Stockbroker, to characterise himself as 'anti establishment'. That is a measure of how low the level of political leadership has become in the UK.

Of course this is really none of my business. I'm not a Labour Party member and don't regard myself as a socialist (even though the Kirklees Tory Leader has described me as an extreme socialist!). All I can say is that many people who do regard themselves as socialists find themselves more comfortable  in a principled party like the Greens than having to make excuses or apologise for the lack of direction and leadership from the Labour Party. Fortunately for Labour in Kirklees they now have there own version of Harry Perkins in the form of the unabashed, unashamed, unreconstructed Socialist Councillor David Sheard.

Here's Harry on form

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Kirklees Local Elections Reflections

The 2014 Kirklees Local Elections were unusual in that every Party that was defending a seat held their seats. The much overused 'Time for Change' election slogan went unheeded by the majority of electors.

UKIP stood in 5 seats in Kirklees. They got their worst result in Newsome. Their Candidate seemed quite a pleasant sort of bloke when we met and chatted with him briefly on Polling Day. He was standing in the corridor of the Polling Station at Newsome Church Hall to greet and chat with voters and I'm sure that probably didn't go down well with everybody. They got some reasonable votes elsewhere, spurred on no doubt by their media fuelled coverage for the Euro Elections. What the longevity and depth of their support is remains to be seen I guess.

Highs and lows for the Green Party. Obviously we were pleased that Karen Allison held Graham Simpson's seat in Newsome with a comfortable majority. After years as a committed Green Party activist she is now a Green Party Councillor.  
Selfie by Newsome Labour Candidate Sheikh Ullah who I bumped into at Lockwood Petrol Station - NOT an endorsement!
  It was disappointing that we didn't take the last seat off the Tories in Kirkburton Ward. The usual lies and half truths from the Tories in their pre poll leaflet about the Green Party. One particularly annoying claim was that the Conservative Candidate was,

" the only Parish Councillor to have argued consistently that the Parish Tax should not be increased"

Actually he emailed every Parish Councillor in November last year suggesting it be raised by 2.5 % which coincidentally was just a little more than the eventual agreed rise. He then turned up at the Parish Budget meeting and proposed a standstill budget from the floor with no prior discussion or papers provided. No one supported him not even the other Conservative Parish Councillor who was present. It was such obvious cynical politicking and so predictably appeared on his last election leaflet. Shameless stuff really.  I'm just glad that we can be proud of our campaigns win or lose. It is always a tough fight in Kirkburton, but we always make sure we learn from setbacks and continue to tell the truth.

In Newsome, Labour's Candidate was Sheikh Ullah, who fought a pretty clean campaign compared with the one Labour ran in 2012. A prepoll leaflet they put out had a very dubious graph entitled 'Polling Report' on it which would make a Liberal Democrat blush. It still showed us winning but fortunately not by as a big a margin as we eventually won by.  Again, as in, Kirkburton we need to learn from every election we contest and this is no different in the Newsome Ward.

Dodgy Newsome Labour 'Polling Report' graph
 The count was the usual unpleasant experience. You're always wondering if all the effort you put in comes off in the end. At the end of the day we are exactly where we were numbers wise and so is everyone else. One Conservative Councillor quipped that we could have skipped the election and saved everyone the effort and the money.

The pleasing thing for us is to have a new Councillor, who is well equipped to do a good job having been a council employee and a long time Green Party activist. The important thing now is to make a difference for people and make best use of the votes and faith they have placed in us.

Karen Allison takes her seat in the Council Chamber