Friday, 31 October 2008

Train Drought

There is still a train builder in UK - its at Doncaster and its called Wabtec. There was a train builder in Birmingham called Metro Cammell - but they were allowed to quietly close. The loss of Birmingham's train builder was in contrast to the noisy barks that accompanied the death of car maker Rover (since reborn).

In the Midlands it seems we can drop anything from the railways with barely a simper. If you think that is wrong, the chance to take action has arisen.

Please think about whether it is reasonable for a train service between two West Midlands centres to be withdrawn. If it is not, then add your postal address to the words below and send to your MP (find yours and how to contact them at and to Geoff Hoon (Transport Minister)

You only have this one chance. Here is an idea for text:

In December 2008, the Walsall-Wolverhampton passenger rail service will be withdrawn.
It is a vital link for many Walsall and Wolverhampton residents, providing a quick and reliable connection between the two boroughs and giving much needed access to connecting rail services. Existing bus services take over 40 minutes to cover the 15-minute rail journey.

Thanks to the increase in reliability and punctuality on the Walsall-Wolverhampton line, the number of people taking advantage of this service has risen significantly to 60,000 per year. The planned withdrawal will result in a great opportunity lost to build on this success further.

I urge you to think what measures can be taken to retain and develop this service. The service could even operate using older trains usually only hired out to train enthusiasts.

John Hall

Monday, 22 September 2008

Only so much money to go around...

Birmingham New Street station keeps getting into the news. However, lets keep it real - its a railway station. With designers coming and going and criticisms and witticisms about the likely cost, I cant be sure if the figure is now £400 million. Once it has been built, downstairs there will be the same tracks but without the areas at the ends of the platform where you can sniff the fresh air of Birmingham.
Actually with that slab above, the folk (permitted briefly to be) on the platform, may feel like the filling in a burger.

In transport there is, however, only so much money to go around - so when from the public transport budget money is given to provide part of the City Centre car parking arrangement (Park and Ride), something else is cut.
Though money is running out, the problem is coming to a standstill. That challenge of course is difficult to sort out. Usual solution is to seek a study. Paying for the study means... you get the picture.
So here's an idea for the next transport consultant - take the last study, the West Midlands Area Multi Modal Study, and put a new cover on it. Recover, recycle, reuse

An electronic version of WMAMMS is in

Colin Welch of SRA was on the committee that prepared it.

John Hall

Thursday, 7 August 2008

TV Heaven

It's not often that I am so stunned by a wildlife documentary that I want to tell everyone about it. However, BBC1's Lost Land of the Jaguar had exactly that effect on me. It was a truly amazing programme that put across the passion of the experts examining the wilderness and its dazzling array of flora and fauna in such a way that I suddenly felt the saving of this area must be a major issue for everyone, because it truly is unique.

Protecting rainforest is one of the stereotypical “green issues” that we are expected to campaign on and people expect us to do it. I have even been asked by members of the public on stalls why we don't campaign more about rainforest preservation. The fact is that we do, but by encouraging behaviour change that will decrease pressure on such resources and as yet untapped riches. The biofuels campaign this summer has had a strong message showing that our everyday actions can directly influence the future of such places.

There is a place for direct action in terms of conservation of very special places, though, and this programme brought it home to me how badly needed this is. The government of this country is under great pressure to create more revenue, as it is the second poorest country in South America. Selective logging has started in the north of the country, but now the timber concessions are spreading further and further south, which means there is more and more threat to this area. In the first programme they stated that the Guyanan government had proposed some sort of carbon trading scheme and the BBC website states that

the Guyanan president had offered to place the entire standing forest under the control of a British-led international body in return for a bilateral deal with the UK that would secure development aid and the technical assistance needed to make the change to a green economy.

If that is true and we do not take the chance, it will be one of the worse climate change crimes of all. Deforestation has a greater impact on climate change than most people realise. The BBC website also cites the Stern review as saying that deforestation over the next four years could create more emissions than all flights taken from the Wright brothers up to 2025.

I have always thought of carbon trading and such systems to be a cop-out, but in this case whatever can be done to ensure this land is not lost to commercial exploitation should be done. The government of Guyana should be given every possible type of assistance in return for preserving such a priceless land. If you haven't seen the programme, please take the time to watch it for yourself. After that, please take the time to think about how to save this place.

Joe Peacock

Monday, 14 July 2008

Save the bees!

After watching an item on Countryfile the other week on the plight of the bees did it drive home the importance of the bees. Not only do bees produce honey but they also are very important to our food supply. Did you know that 40% of our food supply relies on bees? All the orchards and fruit farms are reliant on bees pollinating their flowers. They also have an important environmental role, being responsible for pollinating wild plants which produce seeds and fruits on which birds and wild animals depend.

Einstein said that if the bee died out, that it would only be 4 years until human civilisation would end.

Now the bee population in America are reducing because they are being attacked by colony collapse disorder and this may emerge in the UK. New exotic threats such as the small hive beetle are expected in the UK anytime. In the UK the populations are reducing but nobody understands why? The UK doesn’t know enough about bee disease control and the medicines that are available are inadequate.

In the UK there is virtually no wild honey bees left due to the effects of the parasitic varoa mite and the viruses it carries, and for which to date, there is no cure.

What can you do about it?

* Sign the bee keepers associations petition at
* Make your garden bee friendly by planting flowers that they prefer.
* Make or buy a bee house
* Take up bee keeping, see for advice


Thursday, 3 July 2008

Longbridge to Frankley rail

It is not easy being an optimist and believing we do not have to have conflict and environmental damage. Those who come up with ideas are the ones placed in the sights of the ‘sharpshooters for inaction’.

We are all humans and together we exist at the expense of something else. There are a lot of us, we are organised, we are needy, we are intelligent. As we grow richer, we seem to grow less intelligent and drive expensive miles to save pence at an air conditioned supermarket. We then get home and find not all the food can be stored before it goes bad and has to be thrown away. You notice the use of the word ‘we’ as though there is a standard person and a standard solution. There is not a standard anything as here in Birmingham, we have choice.

Here’s an environmental and transport choice:
You are one of an existing population in a city and it is decided that people need to be able to travel within that city and further afield. A substantial proportion of the adults (and of course all the children) through circumstances or choice, have no car. It is just as well all these people do not each have a car as the residential streets are full and car parking at city centres is expensive to provide (and rather spoils the place).

So, there are feet, cycles, buses, and trains. The buses struggle as they squirm between parked cars in housing estates and travel quickly or slowly, dependent on the time of day, along the major roads.

So what to do ? If you build a railway to run trains, the construction and the operation is not without environmental consequence. Railway maintenance uses weedkiller.
The trouble is, there’s now a practical example in Birmingham where a closed railway long earmarked for reopening, Longbridge to Frankley, beyond Rubery Lane to Frankley, runs through a nature reserve. Should you give up on the people of Frankley, maybe boarding up the houses and moving the folk away? Who decides on the balance between nature, that brings joy to lives, and the quarrying to produce parking for the car growth resulting from the lack of trains. Put on the trains, less wildlife at the railway line, but less destruction and more wildlife elsewhere.

In this Frankley case, you only get to express a view if you respond to planning application S/01814/08/FUL. You can express your view here:

Your thoughts?

John Davison

Friday, 13 June 2008

Tesco Spring Hill and the demise of local shops

Here’s a puzzle that I’d like answered: You take a boat out to really deep water. On the deck of the boat is a really really heavy anchor on a short chain. When you throw the anchor into the water, does the anchor keep going and drag the boat after it ?

I ask because part of Birmingham, Spring Hill, has a proposed shopping development and part of it, a supermarket, is to be The Anchor. Why is a supermarket an anchor anyway ? Could you wake up one morning to find a parade of small shops blocking the street because it was not properly anchored ?

Birmingham FOE has its own local Shops campaign that expresses concerns that building yet more supermarkets usually means that local shops are lost. There aren’t black and white cases as items in a supermarket may be cheaper than in the local shop – price savings at the shop, but the customer has had to travel and that travel has taken up more time. The customer can solve this by living close to the supermarket. There may be a downside: streams of cars heading to the supermarket car park.

If you have got as far as reading this blog, you have more time than many people and could also go through the following website and make a comment on the planning application… website and look at Application number: C/02037/08/OUT
Location: Spring Hill / Icknield Street / Camden Street / Ellen Street, former Brookfield Precinct, Hockley, Birmingham, Proposal: Erection of foodstore (Class A1), 8 additional retail units (for A1, A2, A3, A4 or A5 use) with offices above (B1 or B2 use), 6 three-storey dwellings and alterations to Spring Hill Library, associated parking, landscaping and highway works, redevelopment of Birmingham Central Baptist Church to provide reconfigured and extended accommodation. In the development, the supermarket is to be ‘the anchor’.

Birmingham FOE’s planning campaigners have so far said:
Outline Planning application C/02037/08/OUT, Spring Hill, Camden St, Ellen Street,

The proposal to provide housing in a location close to existing facilities and services is welcome. However, the housing is a small part of the development that is dominated by a Supermarket. Does the whole development work, and does it comply with the planning rules ?

FOE have concerns about the Sustainable Development issues such as set out in paragraph 3.14E of The Birmingham Plan 2005. In particular the supermarket carries a 316 space car park with entrances and exits on Camden St and Ellen St that will considerably inconvenience pedestrians. FOE ask for seating spaced at suitable intervals on routes that radiate out from the shopping centre as it is claimed people will walk there.

FOE further state that the size and height of the proposed development provide an opportunity to collect energy from the sun through the use of solar water heating and/or photovoltaic cells on the roofs and the southerly facing facades. This to be in accordance with The Birmingham Plan 2005 paragraph 3.79.

On transport FOE ask where taxis and minibuses will wait / set down staff and customers and suggest this will need to be covered in a Travel Plan.

Tesco, the supermarket in this case, does not, however, consider the availability of the planet’s resources. Is it right that we fuel-prosperous Brummies take long drives past adequate but smaller shops closer to home, which leads to the demise of our local High Streets and corner shops?

John Hall

Monday, 9 June 2008

Poverty & climate change

Last Monday I was invited to speak at the Diana Stableworth Memorial Lecture by UN Association Birmingham. As a humanitarian aidworker by day and an environmentalist the rest of the time, I chose to combine the two: talking about poverty, climate change and the role of the UN. The main cause for people to be poor (not just financially, but genuinely and fully poor) in the majority of countries is environmental: loss of livelihood due to forest being chopped, loss of life and property due to desertification, floods and landslides. Landslides are often exarcerbated by loss of forest as tree roots no longer hold the soil together. And these forests are at great risk of being chopped and sold off cheaply to pay for international debts, debts often incurred by previous regimes (of dubious integrity) and with eye watering interest rates. This means many countries spend more on servicing debts than they spend on healthcare, education or sanitation. This in turn means next generations have less opportunities to escape debt and poverty through education and good health.

The UN has laudable aims (see UN charter preamble and article 55 for instance) and positive plans (e.g. 8 Millennium Development Goals, incl. halving hunger and ensuring environmental sustainability, all in SMART objectives to be achieved by 2015). Achieving these objectives doesn't come cheap (a few billion here, a few billion there). However, these amounts pale by the amounts we even spend on make-up in Europe, or pet food in the US, let alone spend on the military!

So what are our priorities? What will truly compel us to action? Is it when climate refugees become a 'security issue' (which some Governments are starting to call it)? The UN has a role, but WE ARE the UN, and the poor didn't choose to be poor, nor did we have much say in being lucky enough to have been born in wealthier parts of the world. So come on, let's BE HUMAN, let's care for our joint future and take ACTION (think what difference millions of 2p can do, together!).

In peace, Rianne

Friday, 23 May 2008

Birmingham going green with plastic bags!

Not sure if anyone else in Birmingham has had the same problems but we have been dutifully in our street putting out our green bags and it has been 4 weeks and they are still waiting to be collected.
I called up the Recycling hotline run by the council and was told that the council are behind in their collections. This is the same council encouraging us to "go green". If you come down my street in Yardley this seems to be by not collecting all the green refuse bags as the street is littered by them!! Its very de-motivating to turn into my street and to be confronted daily by all these bags. I know they don't have any hygiene issues, but maybe rats and mice might find them nice places to nest in and so I don't envy the bin men that have to collect them.
It is very commendable that the council is running this campaign and running a week long Climate Change festival, promoted as the first in the country. However actions speak louder than words and if they cannot cope with the current recycling collections then how are they planning to increase our recycling rates.
Birmingham Council is performing badly in the UK with the bottom 20 councils in the UK in the recycling league tables, how do they propose to improve the recycling rates when they cant manage the collections they already have!


Monday, 19 May 2008

Food waste dilemma

In a week where there has been a lot of media coverage about food wastage in Britain, here's a puzzle I'm often faced with while going about my shopping : my local co-op regularly puts out 'reduced' items, which are past their sell-by date. I've asked the staff, who tell me that what isn't sold ends up in the skip - so I've been in the habit of buying such items which I can use, rather than let them go to waste. But I wonder : in helping to reduce their waste, might the store merely be encouraged to continue over-ordering?

Aldo Mussi

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Tropical Birmingham...

I spent Saturday night in the Accident and Emergency Department at Selly Oak Hospital, accompanying a friend who had been bitten in many places by mosquitoes in her back garden in Harborne. Her leg had become infected, was swollen and incredibly painful... quite impressive for someone already on opiate painkillers! What was significant was the stark comparison of my times sitting in A+E Departments in African countries just two years ago. 3 hours in an overheated A+E full of people wearing flip flops, shorts and skirts with insects flying all over the place and a patient needing treatment as a result of a tropical insect felt remarkably like the times I spent with malaria patients (of which I was one) in Africa.

I can't help thinking that the apparent rise in mosquitoes in the UK has got something to do with climate change. While we have some wonderful weather at the moment (no complaints from me), there is certainly a downside.


Friday, 25 April 2008

Low Carbon Cars? The King Review

Prof. Julia King Vice chancellor of Aston Uni. 15 April 2008

The King Review was ordered by Gordon Brown, as a follow up to the Stern Report.
Its object was to look at the potential to reduce emissions from road vehicles.
This did not look at having fewer vehicles, or using them less, or sharing them, or at a shift to public transport. Just focussed on the engine and the fuel source. King presumed that everyone wants a car of their own. A technical fix was sought.
Prof. King is an engineer, who used to have a senior position at Rolls Royce.
Proposed 25 years to decarbonise road transport in Britain.
Assumed that a 60% cut in emissions will be needed by 2050.
In UK, 22% of emissions are from transport; 13% of emissions are from private cars.
Traffic projection shows a doubling by 2050 (Eddington report). So, a 90% reduction per kilometre is needed from road vehicle efficiencies.
If UK can do this, there will be huge export opportunities in India, China and the 3rd world where car use has to be decoupled from carbon emissions to prevent dangerous climate change.

Conclusions of the review
1. There is huge potential to reduce emissions from cars. Available technology could reduce by 30% if it was used in all cars. Today, you can buy a model in all types that produces 125 gms per km. If everyone chose the most fuel efficient that would be a 25% reduction in average emission per km for traffic.

2. There is scope for further gains. Hybrid cars emit half the emissions and are on sale, though the price needs to come down.

3. Problem is that fuel efficiency has been a minor consideration in how cars are sold and how people choose them. People still want powerful cars. Rising fuel prices may change this preference in future. Fuel efficiency of cars should be clearly labelled in the showroom. The tax system needs to incentivise people at the point of purchasing a new car to go for low energy models.

4. Example of EU regulation on diesel particulates suggests the industry will respond but only when forced by regulation. There is an agreed EU target for all cars to be 130 gms/ km by 2012.

5. Biofuels may generate CO2 in production that greatly reduces positive effect on CO2. They conflict with human food. Tropical deforestation for biofuels is a disaster and strong sustainability criteria have to be worked out. Only bio-fuels made from wastes, that don’t require new land are likely to be acceptable. Message of slow down on bio-fuels from King Review. Bio-fuels may be required for aircraft, where liquid fuel seems essential. See Scharleman and Laurence Science 4/01/08 for latest estimates of fuels and their greenhouse gas emissions. Gallagher Review is coming on bio-fuels.

6. Oil from tar sands will need much more energy to extract.

7. Electric vehicles depend on the carbon content of electricity. There will have to be plans to ‘decarbonise the electricity supply’, if electric cars are to be widespread. The same argument obtains for hydrogen cars. Novel high density batteries are being developed.

8. Oil provides a dense and portable store of energy that is hard to duplicate from any other source. Alternative energy sources all need a lot of development, but King is optimistic that they can catch up in performance.

9. A new way of calculating life cycle emissions, not just at the exhaust pipe is needed.

10. Would people compensate for increased fuel efficiency by driving further? A big unknown...

Wider reflections on the King Review – from discussion and questions
There seems to be the technology to achieve big reductions in the emissions of road transport, but does the government have the political courage to “incentivise”, or force the industry to offer highly efficient vehicles and drivers to use them (but over-use them) ?

Making car engines more efficient is only one aspect of making the transport system more efficient. Measures to restrain driving, e.g. by road pricing were not part of their remit. Nor measures to change modal split between car and public transport, cycling etc. Nor potential to substitute electronic communication for physical travel.

The huge demand for driving coming from the developing countries will feed through the price mechanism. This year’s steep rises in oil price and soon perhaps a peak in oil production with demand over-shooting could be important new factors... i.e. the space for ever-growing fuel consumption by private motorists may be disappearing fast. The car will have to get much more efficient, or die.

John Newson

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Farming - Start them young

A few little fields and some smiling faces – first impressions from the Woodgate Valley Urban Farm. Those faces are mostly of children who can visit the farm to see the range of shapes and sizes of domestic animals that are all too often cartoon characters. Undeniably the Urban Farm has educational value and it is one of Birmingham’s assets. Tucked away at the western edge of the city at Clapgate Lane (though very close to the 23 and 002 bus routes), it should perhaps be a model to be copied elsewhere in the city. Birmingham people need to eat and yet the city dashes to ‘develop’ green areas that could support allotments, chickens, ducks, and perhaps even sheep. Shouldn’t we get more food locally ? The dilemma is where to develop. A city functions better and can be based on facilities within walking distance of homes, if people are densely packed. To incorporate parks and urban farms can improve human well being but does it cost us convenience ?

At Woodgate, short term, there is a Thursday volunteer scheme at the farm (sponsored by CNSW) that could be a sampler for people thinking about outdoor work, details at Meanwhile I will think some more about the development dilemma. I don’t have the answers but see an urban farm for yourself (there is also one at Balsall Heath).

John Davison

Monday, 3 March 2008

Planning vs Climate Change - what's easier to sell?

Are local issues easier to sell?

This year I have been on two days of action and although both of them could be considered a success, the difference in the reactions of people when talking about them was very noticeable. The first of these was in Harborne, where we were asking people to sign postcards regarding the government's plans to change planning regulations, which remove local people's rights to have a say in the process. The second was a Valentine's day action about climate change, asking Gordon Brown to include aviation and shipping in the targets for reductions in carbon emissions and to raise them to 80%.

In Harborne, people were quite engaged with the idea, on the whole, and there were even some people who knew as much or more about it than I did. It was a busy local High Street with a large number of people who cared about their local community and were showing the signs of eco-awareness, such as shopping locally and carrying their own reusable bags rather than plastic carrier bags.

In the city centre, the atmosphere was obviously very different, as this was not a small place with a community feel, but also there was a lot more negative feedback on the issue of doing something about climate change. Unfortunately, it seems that many people have still not got the message and are either ignoring the facts or are unwilling to accept that anything needs to be done. Even people who proclaim to care about wildlife (there were also people there from the RSPB amongst others, who attracted bird lovers) wanted to boast about the fact that they have fast cars and want to continue driving them whatever. The consequences of their actions still seem either a mystery or something very distant and not related to how they live.

We did get a lot of cards signed (and I would like to say a big thank you to all the people from the other organisations who were there with us) and there was a lot of positive feedback on the day, but it did also make me realise how much more there still is to do to convince people about the urgency of the situation. There is no doubt that progress has been made in raising people's awareness about the big issue of our time – the future of the planet, but sometimes a reality check on the streets can show just how far there still is to go. Think global, act local, as the saying goes.

Joe Peacock

Monday, 25 February 2008

The spill's on us

It was a sombre end to the FOE evening when there was a showing of a programme about events at Bhopal on 3rd December 1984. The programme, narrated by talented British actress Indira Varma, was no rabble rousing call for action but an attempt to assemble the facts. A more passionate account is to be found on More alarming than anything in the film has to be the responsibility for that incident. At Bhopal, India, poisonous methyl isocyanate was released by a chemical plant.

Globalisation claims to bring down barriers and to bring people out of poverty. The international trade that the WTO lobbies for adds air freighted Kenyan beans to the cookbook of smugness, but also requires cheap food and cheap production. Cheap food was, it appears, much of the motivation for Union Carbide to export its technology from the USA to build the Bhopal plant and thus ensure that the right pesticides were on hand. Trouble was, the pesticides had to be super cheap. To cut costs, hardly anyone worked nights and the chemical plant, once in trouble, could not be controlled because the equipment was faulty and the expertise was lacking.
From the leaking poison, those who suffered terrible premature death were consequences of our food chain. Those same people are our neighbours on this wonderful planet. The trouble is, we do not seem to realise how good we have it and we continue to throw away food as though there were no tomorrow. If we did not waste so much, would we need so much pesticide ? Did we even need that chemical plant ? It would be good if Bhopal had taught us something at least about caution in dealing with industrial processes. All sorts of systems fail – just remember the Buncefield fuel depot sent its black smoke over Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire only a few months ago.

We are going to have industrial processes even to maintain what we have now and to fuel the demand for (quickly obsolete) computers and the like. But don’t despair as we are not in a hopeless situation. There is no need to standby wringing our hands. To reduce the frequency of disasters we can tighten up the controls but we can also reduce the number of the chemical plants by consuming less and wasting less. Even though dropping consumption does not fit the economic model, isn’t it unacceptable to poison people and planet ?

John Hall

Friday, 22 February 2008

Paperless banking...

About a year ago I went paperless with my HSBC bank account, instead using internet banking. It suits me this way, as I download all my transactions from the website and its great as I am saving a few trees by not getting the bank statement and all the other leaflets they insist on sending you. This makes my filing a lot less and for about a year has caused me no problems.

However, I applied for a loan the other week from Abbey National and I got it- hurrah! I Then was asked for ID and proof of my current account. On it, it said they only accepted printed statements that are 3 months and not those printed from the internet. So when, frantically searching through my statements realised that I had cancelled paper copies from 2006. So that definitely does not fall in the 3 month period!!

So then tried phone banking, and after being put on hold twice and a 16 minute wait was very apologetically told that she was unable to order statements from her system. They would only be able to send me an email copy? I find this strange that they can’t order a paper copy when required. So she suggested that I go to the local branch.

So off I went to the various banks, luckily only a few doors between each other on Sutton High Street- which as you can see was very fortunate. First of all I went into HSBC and they said unfortunately that they cannot give a paper copy from the branch and that they can order me one but that will take me 3 days to come through. At the branch they can only give an internet copy and that they don’t think it will be accepted for loan applications as they need proof of address, but just in case I took a copy.

So off I went to Abbey National and asked if they would accept an internet statement, if I had a paper copy with my address from 2006. So after phoning the loans department they said that if I got it branch stamped then yes, they would accept it, so off I toddle up the street to HSBC to then get it stamped. So they dutifully stamped my documents and so now my loan agreement is on its merry little way by snail mail!!!

So now I am wondering when will this be a truly paperless world. How many offices do you know that were supposedly going paperless and then were told to keep paper copies? I know many people who print out emails “just in case”. So when is the mysterious paperless world going to happen.

And don’t even get me started on a paperless world without books…. The techno geeks have said for years that they were going to be replaced by ebooks but I see that a long way off. And as the bookworm that I am – I will be sad to say goodbye to my books and the joy of the smell of a brand new book.

The moral to all this being persistent counts and a paperless world is a long way off!!

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

A new energy system in 40 years?

It seems very radical to many people to say we must de-carbonise our energy supply by 2050, to save the atmosphere. However, it may be useful to look back at how much things have changed over the last 50 years.

I used to go to my granny’s house in the 1950s, on a steam train, powered by lumps of coal. Her lighting and cooking were by town gas, made from coal, as was the electricity that powered the trams and trolley buses.

There were real winters then, that will never be seen again - with one that allowed us to enjoy snowballing from Boxing day through into March. Fogs were normal for half the year, until a lot of people died of bronchitis and they passed the Clean Air Act, making smoky fuel illegal in towns, with a dramatic effect on air quality (and visibility).

Someone then called at every house to convert our appliances to North Sea gas (no individual choice). Central heating replaced open fires. Britain became an oil-rich state, and we soon forgot the 1973 oil price shock from the Arabs. Trams and half the train network were closed. Car ownership soared and bicycles were forced off the roads.

But North Sea oil and gas have peaked in 30 years, so these fuels are now increasingly imported from distant countries. The coal mines closed. No new nuclear stations have been built for decades and the oldest are closing (before we have worked out what to do with their wastes.)

While we ran through all these energy sources, we ignored insulation and efficiency, so the scope to use less must now be huge. Microelectronic chips have been developed that can control all appliances. The North Atlantic brings these islands more wind, wave, tidal and hydro power than we can use. Windmill Hills and Mill Streams across the land wait to be re-discovered.

So, can we completely change our energy system in 40 years ? I say that we have in the past, we can again, and really have no alternative. “Unsustainable” means exactly what it says.

John Newson

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

It's the economy, stupid!

'It’s the economy, stupid!'. That slogan served Bill Clinton well in his 1992 presidential campaign - and it still applies ... although green thinkers might have a different idea to Clinton's about what makes a healthy economy.

We could point out all sorts of changes that would make our economic rules more useful to 'people & planet' : on taxation, regulation, employment, wages, benefits, localisation, fairtrade ...etc.

While those 'big themes' can be a bit daunting, by working collectively we can keep up the pressure for change ... and meanwhile there's been an increasing awareness that as individual 'consumers' in the 'marketplace' we can use our spending power and choose local / organic / fairtrade / cooperative, etc. In our busy lives though, it can be easy not to get round to a simple step we can take which would make a big difference : choosing better personal banking and finances. By, for example, switching bank, it means you are ‘making your money work for you' round the clock towards making the world a better place. And ‘ethical’ finance is no longer a complete 'fringe' activity. Some of the best performing institutions are also the most ethical (now why are we not surprised?), and there are now plenty of options to choose from.

It's always worth getting tips from an independent financial adviser, but for starters, you could consider :

1) Switching your bank account to the Co-operative bank (or Smile, their internet bank) or similar.

2) If you're thinking about savings or other 'products' another option is things like Triodos Bank - to get an idea of how these types of bank work differently/greener, have a look at

Switching my own finances has definitely been a good decision - so if you haven't yet, what are you waiting for? (Imagine if we all did it?!)

Happy banking

Aldo Mussi

Parting thought :
If we want to win the lottery, are we losing it? :o)

Monday, 7 January 2008

Tax on car parking

Benefits and favouritism – what do you make of them?

Let’s say you go to work and you are paid for what you do, do it well – as does the woman at the next workbench. The boss, however, gives, for no charge, a massive lunch daily to your colleague as a reward for some lifestyle choice or principle – for instance being a vegetarian. That seems fair surely – that money spent at the burger van could be saved by adopting your colleague’s lifestyle.
The taxman thinks otherwise, however, as your free lunching colleague is effectively being paid extra and must be taxed on the value of that lunch. Is that fair ?
The taxman takes a different view when your employer spends a few thousand pounds to build a car parking space and annual maintenance and then lets employees use it. You might be taking the bus to work (and paying full price) but your neighbour is having part of the cost of the home to work car journey, the car parking, paid for and not taxed. At one time the gift of car parking was counted as a bonus to be taxed but was decided to be too complicated. The result might anyway be that people would park on the street and that surely is worse than having a well organised car park. Added to that, without a car, journeys to some places (such as Birmingham Business Park would be, without a car, protracted). You as a bus user could start travelling by car and so could everyone there, until the firm went out of business through spending all the profit on tarmac.

So try to work out what you think of the ‘workplace parking levy plan’ for Nottingham (Local Transport Today 20 December 2007). The idea is that people driving to work are imposing a cost on Society and are being subsidised by being given free car parking at their workplace. In Nottingham it is the City Council who are pressing ahead with a levy (or tax) on parking. The levy will be charged on each business who will pay a charge for each parking space for each employee parking space. Naturally there are exceptions to the levy and relaxations of the rules proposed. The money raised would be spent by Nottingham to expand their street tramway network.

John Hall