Monday, 29 August 2011

Green leader calls on UK to "stop selling arms to repressive regimes"

23 August 2011. Caroline Lucas MP, leader of UK's Green Party, called on the UK govermnent to "stop selling arms to repressive regimes".

In response to the changing situation in Libya Caroline Lucas said: "Despite the intensified fighting in Tripoli today between rebel forces and those loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, and the confusion over the reported arrests of Gaddafi's sons, it seems certain that the Libyan dictator's days are numbered. The hope now is that the fighting will be brought to a swift end, and that Gaddafi will be made to face justice in a court of law. And the priority for the international community must be to do all it can to ensure that the pressing civilian needs for essential services and humanitarian assistance are urgently met.

"The mammoth task of rebuilding the country and providing legitimate, truly representative governance after 42 years of a dictatorship now falls to the National Transitional Council and its chairman, Mustafa Abdul Jalil - and it is crucial that these efforts are fully owned and supported across Libyan society. The process of filling the post Gaddafi void and maintaining stability as different elements compete for influence will need to be carefully managed by those who know the country - not by Western nations - if the transition is to be a peaceful and sustainable one. Furthermore, the new administration must show the Libyan people that control of the country's abundant natural resources lies in their hands only.

"Here at home, there are lessons to be learned about the UK's foreign policy. With the help of Western governments and companies acting in their own interests, Gaddafi was able to market himself as a respectable figure on the world stage. Just a few months before the uprising, our Government was still selling him weapons. If we are truly committed to upholding human rights in the region, then we must urgently review our role in the international arms trade - and stop selling arms to repressive regimes. We cannot continue to arm dictators who abuse their own citizens and then try to claim the moral high ground when addressing the conflicts that those same arms have helped to perpetuate."

Friday, 5 August 2011

Who's to blame for rising air pollution? Greens pile pressure on Brighton and Hove Conservatives

London Road (Brighton) - Argus
Brighton and Hove Green Party released information to back up their claims that air pollution has risen in the city - by up to 40% between 2007 and 2010 - and that the policies of the previous Conservative administration over that period are to blame.

Earlier this week, the local Green Party website published links to publications that detail where the biggest rises in air pollution occurred:
"On 21 July Brighton & Hove City Council released its latest Air Quality Action Plan which contained the air quality figures for 2010. This can be viewed here: Air Quality Action Plan 2011 (page 23). These reveal an increase in traffic related air pollution across the city particularly in Nitrogen Dioxide which is the main pollutant measured. Comparing figures with earlier years contained in the preceding report air pollution has increased significantly. The 2010 report can be viewed here: 2010 Air Quality Progress report (page 24). Parts of Lewes Road for example have seen an increase of pollution levels from 52 ug/m (microgramme per cubic metre) to 74 between 2007 and 2010, a 40% increase in four years."
The website also pinpointed 2009 press statements by Ian Davey - who warned of rising levels of pollution - and Conservative Cabinet Member Geoffrey Theobold - who said transport planning measures had ensured continuing improvement in nitrogen dioxide levels citywide.

In the Brighton Argus of 19 May 2009, Ian Davey said air pollution levels were increasing in some areas. He said "the council is not solving the problem and it may be getting worse in some areas of the city". He said more effort was needed to get people to cycle and walk to work to school and work. [Recent data suggests much of our traffic originates from inside the city - and that a large proportion of car journeys to work are less then three miles long - ed].

Ian Davey suggested improving the cycle and walking network and a 20 mph limit as well as improvements to the bus network to ease the pressure on the number of buses passing through the city center. [These might include rapid transit links, and direct links between suburbs avoiding the city centre - ed.]

He added: “The Conservative administration needs to recognise that if you keep insisting on more car parking you will get more cars.”

Here is the response of the Conservative administration, quoted in here from the 2009 Argus article.
"Councillor Geoffrey Theobald, cabinet member for the environment, said in a statement that coverage of air quality was alarmist. He said: “I would recommend that your readers visit our city air watch website which is recognised as one of the best local authority air on the internet websites. Our air quality action plan is improving air quality ... The council recorded an improvement at more than 80% of its sites in 2008. Transport planning measures have ensured continuing improvement in nitrogen dioxide levels citywide.”
Nigel Jenkins, project development officer for the Sussex Air Quality Partnership, said there had been an overall improvement in air quality over the years which can be pinned down to a series of measures. He said: “The air quality in most cities in the UK is improving because there are European and UK driven initiatives that are reducing pollution across the board. In Brighton there is a very good bus system and generally there have been technological improvements with cleaner engines in cars. If we had the number of cars that we have today on the roads ten years ago the emissions would have been dirtier than they are today.”"
The Conservative Administration 2007- 2010 cancelled several crucial elements of the Cycle Town network for safe cycling and attempted to repeal the city's commitment to sustainable transport - to replace it with policies in favor of the car.

For more information on why we should be concerned about rising levels of NO2 click here.
For more analysis of the Air Quality Action Plan, including graph of rising NO2 at several locations click here
Link to Brighton and Hove Green Party website - this story.

Revival for 'crucial cycle lane' as Old Shoreham Road Cycle Lane Scheme receives £330k funding from Sustrans

OSR planning story - Nov 2009
3 August 2011. Brighton and Hove City Council announced that it will revive the "crucial cycle lane" once planned for the Old Shoreham Road (OSR) - and scrapped by the previous Conservative council administration.

This is a special moment for cycle campaigners since the changes in spec, safety worries, and eventual scrapping of the 'OSR' scheme sparked interest in the campaign for sustainable transport in Brighton and Hove in 2009.

A council spokesperson said today: "A safe cycle route could now be built along part of one of Brighton & Hove's busiest roads. The city council has won £330,000 from the sustainable transport charity Sustrans to help develop a 1.5 km route along the Old Shoreham Road from the BHASVIC junction on Dyke Road to The Drive. Sustrans' 'Links to Schools' cash would be added to £125,000 of council funds to complete most of the work by March 2012.

"Lanes on either side of the road will have low kerbs to physically separate motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. No parking spaces will be lost under the plan. Two busy junctions on the route will also get safety improvements for pedestrians and cycles. Councillors believe the new lanes would fill a vital missing link in the local cycle network, particularly from the seafront in Hove to the Seven Dials area.

"Previous surveys of residents along the road, which carries up to 27,000 vehicles a day, have shown 66 per cent favour a dedicated cycle route."

Cabinet councillor for Transport and Public Realm Ian Davey said: "This shows the council meeting manifesto commitments to improve cycling facilities. Where we build cycle lanes we want them to be excellent, user-friendly and safe lanes which link to existing routes and facilities and really improve everyone's experience of moving around the city by bike.

"This is a crucial east-west route across the city but traffic speed and volume can make it an uncomfortable place for cyclists and pedestrians. The proposed scheme will make Old Shoreham Road safer for everyone including young people using the many nearby schools.

"When the Grand Avenue cycle lane was threatened last year there was a huge petition asking for the council to extend, rather than reduce, cycle facilities. This is our positive response."

A new consultation will now be undertaken before any work starts, subject to official cabinet member approval on August 17.

The council spokesperson added: 'The scheme is being reprieved by the new administration after councillors shelved the idea last year."

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the systematic destruction - by the Conservative administration - of plans to transform Brighton and Hove into a cycling city, or more accurately, into a sustainable transport city. These plans were the basis of the Cycle Town grants made to the city from 2005 by Cycling England. The Old Shoreham Road (OSR) Cycle Lane was the backbone of the scheme, providing a safe cycling link between the town centres of Brighton, Hove and Portslade. In 2009, the city planners under Conservative leadership removed segregated cycle lanes from the OSR plans and then found the scheme to be unsafe - and cancelled it. After that they cancelled the Marine Parade cycle lane scheme, and finally tried to rip up the one part of the scheme already installed - The Drive. Public protests, a big media campaign, and a huge swing at the May local elections saw the Tories lose half their seats, and the Greens gain power in the council.

Stuart Croucher, a member of the team who designed the original scheme, made an impassioned plea for the reinstatement of the scheme, and a powerful argument in favour of a network of segregated cycle lanes for young people and learners, in an interview he gave last year. The original plans - and the 'crucial' part played by OSR cycle lane - are all shown in another entry on this blog.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

"Appalling 40% increase in air pollution under previous Conservative administration" slammed by Green councillors in Brighton and Hove

26 July 2011. Earlier today, the Green Group of Councillors in Brighton & Hove's City Council criticised the "appalling 40% increase in air pollution under previous Conservative Administration".

Green Councillor Ian Davey said: "New figures show a serious deterioration in air quality over the four years of the previous Conservative administration."

A spokesperson for the Green Group of Councillors said air quality figures for 2010 released last week, showed that parts of Lewes Road saw air pollution levels rise by 40% in the four years to 2010. The figures were released in Brighton and Hove City Council (BHCC) Air Quality Action Plan 2011.

Cllr Davey is Cabinet member for Transport & Public Realm in Brighton & Hove since he was appointed under the Green-led administration which came to power following local elections on 5 May 2011.

“Air quality is incredibly important for residents’ health. You don’t need to be a scientist to work out that these figures are appalling. When I raised concerns over deteriorating air quality over the last four years, the Tories accused me of being alarmist while claiming that air quality was improving.

“These figures show how irresponsible and complacent their attitude was. Rather than dealing with the problem they preferred the easy option of ignoring it.

“The Green administration will not shrink away from showing the leadership necessary to tackle the problem. We are starting with the Lewes Road where we have been successful in winning £4m from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund. Our immediate efforts will be focused on getting traffic moving to prevent congestion and pollution, while working to offer people a real alternative to using private cars to get in and around the city.”

The £4m bid for the Lewes Road corridor project was made under the Tory administration, but Greens claimed credit for the idea. For more on the Lewes Road Corridor Project click here.

For analysis of the AQAP 2011 report: click here.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Brighton and Hove to publish "climate change action plan" in the autumn

A "climate change action plan" for Brighton and Hove will be published later this year, according to a report presented at a council cabinet meeting on 15 July 2011.

A spokesperson said the report outlined moves to "radically boost energy from renewable sources produced in Brighton & Hove".

Cabinet councillor for environment Pete West said: "The council is gearing up for a massive investment in sustainable energy in the city. We're leading by example by starting with the city's biggest-ever solar electricity programme.

He said this would help the local economy and open up opportunities for others to install solar electricity using the council's buying power to bring down costs.

Cllr West said: "There is no overnight fix and we don't underestimate the technical and financial challenges. But the council will be working hard to overcome them with a range of partners and agencies." 

The report was made in response to an independent scrutiny commission set up by the council in April, which called on the authority to help radically increase use of low-carbon power citywide. The council's response made on 15th June highlighted progress:

• A major installation of solar electricity panels on dozens of council buildings and schools, plus 1,600 homes. Work is expected to start this year.
• Households encouraged to participate in domestic electricity generation in the Feed-in Tariff scheme.
• Some new or refurbished school buildings are being fitted with solar hot water and electricity panels plus air-and ground-source heat pumps which cut electricity use.
• The council has undertaken to work with developers of major schemes, such as Shoreham Port, to ensure as much renewable energy as possible is included.
• A Climate Change Action Plan will be published by the council in the autumn, addressing housing, transport, industry, commerce, and sustainable energy.
• A new online tool for developers to plan low-energy buildings introduced this month by the council's planning service.
• The council is looking into setting up a Sustainable Energy Agency to co-ordinate green power initiatives in the city. The authority is also investigating how much energy could be generated by alternative sources such as wind power.
• A 'heat mapping' exercise would identify areas where high energy demand might be met from small-scale low carbon generation locally.
• There will be work done to increase training and apprenticeships in the renewable energy sector, and a campaign to spread the low-carbon message.
• A bid for £1m of EU funds is being made, aimed at setting up apprenticeships related to green energy.
• Officials will investigate funding for a scheme to help communities generate their own low-carbon power.

The Renewables Scrutiny Panel was chaired by Dr Adrian Smith, of the Science and Technology Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex. Other panel members were councillors from various political parties including Cllrs Pete West, Warren Morgan, and David Watkins.

The Panel held four public meetings, hearing from 26 expert witnesses, including council officers, representatives of city partner organisations, experts on renewable energy, sustainable energy businesses and local residents.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Greens propose small tax rise and invite public to help set budget

13 July 2011. Green-led Brighton and Hove City Council has proposed to increase council tax by 3.5% next year - up from the 2.5% increase that was planned by the previous Tory administration. The tax increases will help protect vulnerable people from the worst central government cuts - but cuts will still need to be made, and the council intends to involve the public in setting the budget, by talking to bodies such as trade unions.

The additional 1% increase proposed by the Greens presents about £13 per year on annual council tax bills of around £1,300 for a person living in a typical band C house.

The increase of 3.5% is the maximum allowed under UK law, and is less than inflation which has been running at 4-4.5% over recent months.

A council spokesperson said: "Vital services for the most vulnerable residents in Brighton & Hove will be protected under budget proposals to change the council tax increase by 1% to 3.5% next year as part of a budget that will face unprecedented scrutiny. Brighton & Hove City Council has proposed a budget that aims to protect frontline services for residents including the 9,000 older people and one in five children in the city who suffer in poverty.

"In a major revamp of how the budget is set, the public will have much greater involvement as part of a city wide consultation. In addition all political parties, the voluntary sector and trade unions will be offered the chance to play a part in setting the budget priorities.

"The council faces central government imposed cuts of about £84 million over four years. The council tax proposal will help keep services running for vulnerable residents whose lives are affected by inequality, alcohol and substance misuse as well as domestic violence.

"Savings of up £51.8 million over the next 3 years are being targeted as part of a package that proposes to increase council tax by 3.5% in 2012/13 rather than 2.5% planned by the previous administration. The change from 2.5% council tax to 3.5% generates an additional £1.2 million for the council.

"Promoting efficient use of public money is central to the budget process, as is supporting the local economy in a sustainable way by working in partnership with public, private and third sector organisations. The budget proposals will go to full public consultation in the Autumn.

Councillor Jason Kitcat, Cabinet Member for Finance & Central Services, said: “We believe this small rise is needed to help protect vital frontline services that support some of our most vulnerable residents such as older people and children who stand to suffer because of the excessive and unnecessary cuts imposed by the Coalition government. This is part of our vision to create a fairer society that meets everyone’s needs.

“The previous administration planned to increase council tax by 2.5 per cent so we think that most residents will agree that a further one per cent rise to protect some of our most important frontline services is a price worth paying.

"As it stands the city faces deep inequality with thousands of children and elderly people languishing in poverty, women suffering domestic violence as well as high levels of alcohol or drug abuse.

“Everyone has to reduce spending in this recession and the council is no different. The government is forcing us to reduce spending by £84 million over the next four years despite significant efficiency savings we have already achieved. To that end we will be reducing spending by up to 15% over the next two years. This council’s entire approach will be focussed on value for money.

“At the same time we are lobbying the government to review the current council tax system and introduce a more progressive local taxation that is fairer to everyone. In a recent meeting I have personally asked local government minister Grant Shapps MP to reconsider the cuts he is imposing on Brighton & Hove.”

The proposed council budget-setting process will go to Cabinet for approval on 14 July with the proposed budget to go to Cabinet for approval on 8 December before being considered by Full Council on 27 February 2012.

New, Consultative Budget Process

Brighton & Hove City Council’s Budget Council takes place 27 February 2012. The budget process allows all parties to put forward viable budget amendments and council tax proposals.

The proposed new consultation process will involve:
• more in-depth public consultation in September/October through a process to be agreed by all political parties;
• greater scrutiny both early in the process on particular issues and in considering published proposals in December / January;
• for the first time cross-party review and challenge of the options as they are developed within the “star chamber” process
• consultation with business rate payers;
• roundtable discussions involving all political parties, recognised trades unions and the Community and Voluntary Sector Forum
• formal and informal consultation with Trades Unions and with staff affected
• formal consultation with service users as needed

Friday, 8 July 2011

Greens win campaign for Cycle Parking at main entrance to Brighton Station: 40 new spaces at front (south entrance)

May. Cyclists locked bikes to railings outside
8 July 2011. Southern Rail today announced that a new 40-space double-tier bicycle parking facility is to be installed at the south side of Brighton railway station by September 2011.

The announcement is a reversal of the previous decision by Southern not replace cycle parking facilities at the front of the station, which were removed during renovations earlier this year. At that time, Southern said cycle parking representated a security threat in that they could not monitor bags left on cycles in the busy main entrance to the station.

The new cycle rack will be located where currently there is a small car parking area used by British Transport Police (BTP) and Southern Staff adjacent to the building that houses the BTP offices and public conveniences. It will be fenced, and monitored 24 hours a day by Southern’s CCTV Control Centre. The new facility is due to be completed by early September.  

As they once were: an estimated 100 cycles or more at station front
May: The space where the old cycle racks once were
Cyclists protested against the removal of the cycling facilities, saying no consultations were made, and that the remaining provisions were less convenient since they were at the rear of the station and required cyclists to dismount, and walk through the station onto a rear platform before they could park. As a consequence, the front railings became festooned with bicycles locked to the railings.

The cabinet member responsible for Transport in Brighton and Hove's new Green-led City Council, Cllr Ian Davey, backed the campaign to get cycle parking re-instated at the front of building. He described the move as a Green win and said: "I have been discussing the need for provision of cycling parking at the front of the station with Southern since coming into post in May. I am delighted they have listened and responded so positively. I look forward to them being opened in September.”

Cllr Ian Davey is also Brighton and Hove City Council’s Deputy Leader.

A council spokesperson said: "Southern has been working closely with Brighton and Hove City Council on plans for the station frontage including cycle parking, and following recent feedback from cyclists who use the station, installation of the two-tier rack will begin next month."

Southern’s Franchise Improvement Director, David Scorey said: “We are pleased to announce the installation of this new facility. Although we have put in over a hundred extra cycle parking spaces at the rear of the station which are very well used, some of our passengers told us they wanted parking to be available at the front. This will go some way to meeting those requirements.”

Cycling should be made a more convenient option option, not less convenient.

In my opinion, the 40 new cycle parking spaces will barely be able to cope with the number of cycles already chained to the front of the station. It seems clear that people some people are leaving their cycles there for long term parking. Not only is there a train station and a bus terminus there, it is the gateway to Brighton's main shopping area, and dense residential areas of Queens Road, Western Road and the North Laine. If we are going to encourage cycling, we need to plan for storage for a lot more cycles. It seems a pity to waste the quadrangle in front of the Station, and Southern should play its part in promoting sustainable transport. But they do face a problem - how to deal with cycles left there long term, and even abandoned. Could they levy a small fee, as is done in some other places? Should the city provide a large cycle parking facility? Watch this space.

Sign warning cyclists not to park cycles there
Another view of railings outside the front of the station