Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Stop Junk Mail...

The Mailing Preference Service blocks junk mail in the UK. It really
works as companies are legally required to stop bothering you if
you're on the list.

Registration took me 1 minute 36 seconds and lasts for 5 years!
Just go to:

Click "next", enter your postcode, choose your house No. and type in
your email - all done, no junk mail for 5 years.

Wasn't that easy! :-)

Please share it with your friends and help stop the junk mail tide!

Andy Pryke

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Plastic Fantastic

In these days when any post is rare, it may seem boastful to say that a leaflet dropped through my door that filled me with excitement. No, it wasn’t a new menu for Papa Johns (my goodness they’re offering a free bottle of pop with every order over a tenner – our luck has changed) it was a work of genius from Birmingham City Council telling me all about recycling. The leaflet depicted a plastic bottle alongside a picture of an unlovely fleece that had been made from recycled plastic. My little eco-heart skipped a beat, but being inherently lazy I put the leaflet to one side to ‘read properly later’ and begun salvaging plastic bottles in earnest. I’d spent a few weeks staying in Tendring in Essex, where the local authority collects all metal, paper, cardboard, glass and plastic bottles and I was thrilled to think Birmingham had finally joined tiny Tendring in the twenty-first century.

Two million tonnes of plastic is thrown away each year – just 7% of which is recycled. The problem is not simply that our landfills are overflowing; it’s also the issue of the world’s finite supply of oil being used to make packaging which is used once and then thrown away.Birmingham City Council currently sits at a shameful 363rd out of 393 in the local authority league table for recycling. Lichfield makes it into the top 10 and elsewhere in the West Midlands, Warwick, Coventry, Solihull Walsall and Wolverhampton are all recycling more than mighty Brum.

With more than a passing nod and wink to this esteemed website, in 2006 Birmingham Friends of the Earth ran the Birmingham’s Total Rubbish… campaign to highlight the Council’s dire recycling record. Petition-postcards told the shocking story that the city’s total amount of rubbish is 551,442 tonnes per year and rising.

Such was the support for this campaign that in the space of a few months over 1,500 postcards were signed and delivered to the Council. Who didn’t just chuck them in a landfill - as some had feared - but instead announced a doorstep recycling scheme for all homes not in multiple occupancy by spring 2008. (So that’s the second city finally coming up to the standards of rural Essex just four years later). Since the arrival of the new glossy leaflet I’ve saved an array of plastic bottles from landfill and last week (after a few carefully chosen words from my other half) decided the time had come to dispose of them.

I read the glossy leaflet again, properly this time. It told me which types of plastic could be recycled, what happened to them after recycling (the unlovely fleece), but not where or how you could recycle plastic in Birmingham. Undeterred, I rang the Council’s recycling hotline and spoke to a Very Nice Young Man who tried hard to be helpful. He told me that plastic recycling is only operating as part of a pilot roll out within a limited area, which doesn’t cover my postcode. And, after talking to his boss for long enough for me to fear for his job, there is NOWHERE in Birmingham for wannabe plastic recyclers to take their waste. He also, interestingly, mentioned that he’d never spoken to anyone who was as interested in recycling as I was - which is a tad worrying seeing as presumably his entire department is employed to focus on ensuring that waste is re-used. The council’s leaflet made no mention of ‘pilot schemes’ or select postcode areas. So, what was the point of it? Surely Birmingham City Council wouldn’t try to present a false image of their recycling record so that lazy readers like me would be fooled for a while? That would put them on a par with a moment of madness of the Solihull Conservatives who in election leaflets this year claimed that 80% of waste in the authority was ‘recycled’, when in fact it was being ‘burned’.

I’ve since found out that you can recycle plastic in Warwickshire and am now trying to work out if driving to Leamington Spa to drop off the plastic is worse than just not recycling it at all. I have to decide quickly though as if the bottles don’t go, I’ve been told I will have to.

Libby Hayward

Ed: thankfully plastic can be recycled at a few places in Solihull too... not as far as Leamington Spa!

Poem: View from the canalside

there's hardly a single place i know
and it fills my heart with grief and woe
for i can't find brummagem

william dobbs, 1825

we drop down out of sight
down to the water's edge
where the cold black inpenetrable water sits
snake oil patterns swirling on its surface
many a secret does it hide
way down in its depths
as we walk
the gravel crunches under our feet
and the damp morning chill makes us shiver
toadstools and fungi
exalt among the damp foliage
the breeze dislodges rusty leaves
one by one
silently they fall
to float on the canal
or to collect in crunchy piles
to my surprise
this hidden artery is a hive of activity
panting cyclists and runners breeze past
pressing us into ragged single file
on the opposite side of the water
at the bottom of a private garden
two empty chairs and a table
await their next view of the sunset
uncollected conkers litter the far bank
out of the reach of greedy schoolchildren
meanwhile hannah preoccupies herself with a pretty snail
attached to a broad green leaf
she is a little upset that she can't take it home
but cheers up
when she gets to put it to bed on a grassy verge
now the canal converges with the railway
fluorescent yellow workmen grumble and goad
huge victorian brick arches restrain a high bank
beside the two parallel tunnels
a red and green barge with a complaining engine
passes smoothly by
hannah gives the owner one of her cheery waves
as the boat slides nonchalantly into the tunnel's jaws
96 metres long
says the sign
our voices echo as we stamp through
mind your head, hannah
says funny uncle john
and everyone laughs
(hannah is three foot nothing!)
it is a relief to see daylight again
when we are disgorged from the other end
the landscape slowly becomes more urban
residential gardens give way
to tall sharp-angled buildings that climb skywards
at holliday wharf
canada geese couples court
under the watchful eye of steel cranes
then exotic golden figures catch our eyes
half woman half swan
peering out at us through a set of doors
a lunchtime special at kinaree is too inviting to refuse
i discover that the waitress and chef are from hat yai
on the thai-malaysia border
where i spent a half-remembered night way back in 1991
later we will continue on through gas street basin
through centenary and chamberlain squares
to the museum and art gallery
but for now
filling our hungry bellies is our only thought

Dave Watton

Monday, 1 October 2007

ASDA: Consulting the public or a forgone conclusion?

ASDA has recently been putting surveys around the Selly Oak and Weoley Castle area about plans for two supermarkets. ASDA are asking for public opinions on two sites: one in Selly Oak opposite Battery Retail Park and one in Barnes Hill, in the Weoley Castle area.

Under close examination the Selly Oak option looks highly suspect as a viable project. The planned supermarket would be opposite Battery Retail park, which already has a supermarket onsite and has approved planning applications to redevelop the area. So its very unlikely that the Council would want to allow another development in the area. In contrast, the Weoley Castle area has no nearby supermarket neighbours just a thriving local shopping centre.

When you to look at the plans of Selly Oak they are not well developed with the car park not clearly defined and some car-parking spaces not even big enough for a mini! Also in the plans are triangular retail units - not really practical for a viable shop. There are no plans for a petrol station or recycling facilities in the Selly Oak plans whereas the Barnes Hill these have all been planned and laid out as well as proposed road changes.

So why are ASDA asking the local community about these two proposals? To make residents and Councillors feel like they are being given a choice, thereby backing the Council into a corner and making the council feel obliged to allow the Barnes Hill project. I argue that if they present two plans, they have a better chance of getting the Barnes Hill supermarket than just presenting it as a standalone application. It is not a choice of yes or no, it’s either one site or the other.

There have been other supermarket sneaky tactics happening around the UK for the developers to get what they want. In Birmingham we have seen a lot of these tactics. At the Swan Centre in Yardley the plans for a new Tesco were passed by the City Council but at the last minute the plans where adjusted to allow them to build on an area of the local park opposite for extra car-parking. As this was a last minute change the council allowed it as they needed some development at the Swan and if they delayed it again, it would mean that the area would be further delayed in re-development. In Hodge Hill, playing fields were not allowed to be used for football matches for years so that the land can be considered as less important as a community facility and therefore open it up for development. Local residents there are still campaigning to save their children’s playing fields despite the Tesco plans having already been approved by Birmingham City Council.

I think we have to stop the march of the supermarkets as its going to kill off the High Street. The supermarket power and monopolisation of the food sector results in the closure of local shops and this has so many implications:
- On the local economy, rather than creating jobs, they result in fewer jobs overall once local shops have closed. Supermarkets employ fewer staff per square metre of retail space they own.
- Supermarkets take money away from the local economy. Research by the New Economics Foundation found that every £1 spent in a local shop is worth four times more to the local economy than every pound spent in a supermarket. Local shops typically invest far more in the local economy than big businesses with shareholders and suppliers abroad.

You only need to go out to the now moth-balled Maypole shopping centre to see the damage a supermarket can do to a local shopping centre. We have to join together to show our Councillors that we are not prepared to allow huge superstores that do not have local interests at heart to come in and dominate our communities.

Mary Horesh