Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Points to include in the objection to Moseley Tesco

We thought it would be a good idea to make it easier for people to make objections to the planning application to the Tesco store in Moseley, which is potentially very damaging to the sustainability of the independent shops in the area. Therefore, we have put together a few points that you could use, but objections must be in before tomorrow 1st April.
  • site is not large enough to 'claw back' significant amounts of trade from Kings Heath as the retail assessment says. Much more likely to divert trade from the supermarkets in Moseley centre whose parking is further away.
  • It's an edge of centre site because it's separated from the centre by a busy junction. People will not walk down to the centre to use the other shops. So a store of this size here (and with parking) is likely to divert trade from Moseley's main shopping area and its diversity of shops, which will damage the viability of the existing centre.
  • there is not enough space for parking on the site for all the uses envisaged. This will cause illegal parking problems and congestion.
  • Lack of space means deliveries will need to be very early and therefore in a large lorry, which will cause noise problems
  • Because deliveries require a large lorry, the plans feature widened roadspace at the junctions, which is contrary to guidance for residential areas and will endanger pedestrians.
  • It will increase traffic considerably at what is already a very congested and problematic junction (Oxford and Wake Green rds), and this in turn is likely to affect the very busy junction with the Alcester Road.
Go to - click access planning online, and copy in the application number 2009/05931/PA into the 'application number search' and click 'search'. It'll bring up one reference, click on the application number link and you'll get the details including a bit that says "add comments here" click that and write your comments. You don't have to use these, but they are here to give you some ideas.

So, get objecting now and save the Moseley area from this unwanted development.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Birmingham Transport Summit 2010 – Len Gregory's last one!

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Transport Summit at the council house in Birmingham. Whilst it wasn't quite so full of middle-aged businessmen in suits as the High Speed Rail conference the week before, it still seemed a case of style over substance and trying to impress everyone with big flashy projects, rather than local transport improvements on the ground.

Councillor Gregory was first up and did make some of the right noises about low carbon transport, but there was an insistence that this was a “carrot not stick” approach. To me this misses the point, as he is not offering a carrot to cyclists, as there is a lack of safety for them on the roads of Birmingham, to public transport users whose buses get snarled up in the congested roads of the city without being given priority or to pedestrians for whom the pavements are often in a shocking state of repair, aren't gritted and are often expected to cross busy roads without proper crossings or enforcement of speed limits to make it safer. Even though there is a pedestrian taskforce and I have heard good things of the meetings, there is little evidence of improvements on the ground.

Also notable was that he did not once mention cycling in the time he was speaking until a question was asked by John from Pushbikes at which stage he gave an answer that they had invested over a million pounds in cycling – really? I still remain convinced that he would rather bikes were kept off the agenda as much as possible, though.

There was much talk of the Camp Hill line and re-opening the stations that we have been campaigning for, which was encouraging in terms of the fact that we are listened to when public opinion is so strongly in favour, but short on substance of how quickly it can be done. With all the fervour about HS2 and “the opportunities” this brings (when it won't open for another 16 years at least), I would really like some more urgency on getting rail sorted locally in the short term, not in another 10 years' time. Unfortunately, he'd rather focus on glamorous projects like the “Gateway” project at New St, the new coach station (Mike Whitby called this the Selfridges of coach stations!) and HS2.

On buses, Councillor Gregory suggested that “the bus network works well”, which will be news to many people who suffer unreliable services and are unable to reach anywhere but the city centre with any ease. He instead blamed Birmingham's climate and the fact that it rains here, which prevents people from walking to a bus stop apparently, for the fact that people still choose car over bus. Well, in my experience, it's the waiting times and lack of reliable information at bus stops, anti-social behaviour on buses and fact that they get snarled up in traffic (making reliable journey times impossible) that puts most people off. Many people do use the bus, so obviously it's not always that bad, but I'm not sure everyone would agree that perception matches Gregory's claim that the safety record has improved dramatically and the operation to do this has been “highly successful”.

What he seemed to be most proud of was the PFI for the highway network, which he claims will bring in huge amounts of investment into this infrastructure, sort out all the problems with pavements and potholes. Generally, PFIs fall well short of what is promised, so we'll have to wait and see on this one and I don't see any point in commenting further at this stage.

There was also mention of a freight hub for distribution of good throughout the city and using canals for freight with waste carried along them too, as facilities are next to them. Promising projects, but there was not enough detail on those for BfoE to comment at this stage.

Len Gregory admitted that he would not be missed by many when he leaves his post during this speech and I for one will be looking for much more ambition from the next cabinet member for transport, to take Birmingham towards a low carbon transport future.

A revealing talk by Jasber Singh

See the website for more details and also please not that you can now get RSS feeds from the website as well as the blog.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Eco-teams training day

As an environmental outreach officer for Birmingham Friends of the Earth I recently attended a workshop/training day through Eco-Teams, which was an interesting event as where I made some good contacts. I met Phil Beardmore of Birmingham Sustainable Energy Partnership, John Boyle of the Midlands Co-op and of the staff who helped facilitate the event itself.

The Venue was the Birmingham & Midland Institute, which was very nice, but didn’t have any signs to the event in the building. To cut a long story short, there were two events on that day and I ended up in the wrong one to start with. After I realised this I eventually found the location of the event and I was welcomed, despite being somewhat late.

The event was slightly rushed, which was a major pitfall, in my opinion, as it created a chaotic environment. Although the miniature classes/workshops were very basic in terms of the main issues of climate change, more time would have been appreciated. However, the material used was informative and made me think about how I waste energy on a domestic level. There was a lot of group work involved in the activities and it was led by table facilitators, so we were never left to our own devices.

I think the way they organised it was interesting as there were about six or seven tables, each with a facilitator. They all had separate topics to cover and at the end of each lesson/workshop, we did a brief presentation on what was covered to all the groups, which was a very effective way to cover many topics related to climate change quickly. Although my reflections on the day may seem negative, the overall agenda of the event was admirable and people without much knowledge could learn and do something practical.

The main point of the event was to inspire people to lead their own Eco-teams. This could be done on an independent basis or as a group. Eco-teams have an array of support on their site, from activities to lesson plans and ideas to use in your projects. Each person has a five-month period to complete their project, but if they have someone else in their group who wants to, they can take over the role of leader and continue the project.

I would generally suggest that this is a great project for people who want to take it on and environmental organisations should work together to provide support for it.

Karl Whale

Thursday, 18 March 2010

HS2 Station - A new Masshouse Circus? Opinion piece

Whilst looking over the plans for the proposed HS2 station at Curzon Street, I thought there seemed to be benefits, but also a few quite glaring and serious issues with the current design and its location as it stands.

The station is proposed to be built in the Eastside area alongside the current Birmingham to London railway line and places the terminal building adjacent to Moor Street Station on Moor Street Queensway. Undoubtedly Eastside is the best location in the city centre for any new high speed station, given there is available land, access to the proposed high speed route and it is an area in need of further investment. The general location may be convenient for these purposes, but unfortunately the proposed positioning could have bad consequences for the area in terms of urban planning and investment potential. Looking at the plans, the station cuts a swathe through the area, which looks to cut off several streets linking the Northern Eastside area to the Southern Digbeth area, and thus creating a significant barrier between these areas. Many will remember the much loathed Masshouse Circus that once corralled the city core and restricted development and people's movements across into the Digbeth area, and how this was removed in favour of an open boulevard which was to allow the expansion of the city into the area beyond. It strikes me that the new station design is likely to resurrect this physical barrier, curtailing people's movements and cutting off potential economic opportunities for both existing and future business in Digbeth. What streets remain will cross the station underneath, which when added to the existing railway bridges will mean for a dark and foreboding environment to greet anyone wishing to venture beyond. So in this design, are we simply recreating Masshouse Circus, albeit in railway form?

In addition, the proposed station's position also swallows up a great deal of development land, much of which already has development proposals and planning approvals. Most notable of these is BCU's Media Campus, which was due to be approved for detailed planning permission very soon and BCU are already very committed to this project. The station would also slice through Park Street gardens (which is also a graveyard) cutting the far end of the proposed Eastside City Park off from the Bullring area and causing a further barrier.

The main design mantra behind city centre transport hubs is that high density development should cluster around them, thus generating a critical mass of use around the hub to support it, and affording easy access and maximum benefit to these surrounding uses. Currently as the station would take up so much of the development land in the area, there would be little left for the development of these high density building clusters. Plus, as the station is slated to take up so much room, we'll be left with the barren wasteland of Eastside for the next 10 years or more before the new HS2 line becomes operational.

So is there another option? Where in Eastside could we put a 400m long high speed station without carving up the urban fabric, without displacing current developments, without losing a mass of development land, and without leaving the area undeveloped for 10 years or more? Well the proposed Eastside City Park is around 500m long, is linear in form, and follows the right geometry for the incoming railway. No, I'm not suggesting dropping a station right on top of where the park would go, I'm thinking of placing it underneath. Much like Gare Montparnaise in Paris, which has Jardin Atlantique above it, the station would sit in a sunken box below ground level with the new park above, perhaps with sculptural lanterns and elements of glass floor to let daylight down onto the platforms below (we don't want another dark New Street Station). Access by trains to the main line could be via a short tunnel under the canal, ring road and container terminal. The concourse could pop out on Moor Street Queensway to integrate with the City Park Gate development. It would be a short walk to Moor Street Station, and if the Metro were routed via Priory Queensway, Moor Street Queensway and under the Bullring tunnel, all four of Birmingham's city centre stations would be linked together for easy transfers. A secondary entrance could even pop out into the old Curzon Street station building to allow easy access to the wider Digbeth area too.
Above: Location of Curzon Park Station.

Above: Map showing re-routing of metro.

So would this new Curzon Park Station be preferable to that proposed by the government? Well, it would allow development to continue around Eastside, not cut through a graveyard, not form a new barrier to access and development, and still ensure a city centre terminus for HS2, and one merged with a beautiful park. Yes, it would no doubt delay the City Park a little, but the basic 'box' and park above could be constructed early on and then fitted out later. It may also cost more money, but then again what's an extra few million when you're spending £30bn on a rail route? On the opening of the station passengers would be greeted by the sight of a beautiful park flanked by successful and established development all around, ready to be connected to London and Europe.

So I'm putting out the idea for comment. Any thoughts on a Curzon Park Station?

Ben Mabbett

Thursday, 11 March 2010

HS2 - the big day!

Rather than write another long piece about our opinions on the whole HS2 debate, this post will just round up a few of the articles that have been published on it.

I have been on the radio twice commenting on it. The first appearance was on the Ed Doolan show on Radio WM along with Paul Kehoe from Birmingham International airport (or London Elmdon as it seems to want to become), who was obviously loving the fact that the route takes people direct to his airport so they can fly more and not happy that anyone was being critical of the plans. He wondered "what planet Friends of the Earth are on" - umm that'll be the one in the name, you know, the one with dwindling supplies of fossil fuels and an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions. I also recorded a few comments for Smooth Radio and sent out press releases to other media folk. A copy of the one from the day before is on our website.

If you like reading the whole long detailed reports on the scheme, then this is the place to go. A few key things I drew out of the section on HS2 and climate change in the appraisal on sustainability were that the carbon reductions are not dependant on this scheme, but many other factors in government policy and investment outside it. Reductions in flying are the only thing that will make significant carbon savings - and then only if slots for domestic flights freed up at crowded airports aren't replaced by more international ones. Also, power generation is key to its success and so far the government's record on getting renewables onto the grid isn't great, so we'll either be reliant on a lot of nuclear, which is also extremely problematic, or more polluting power stations to run these trains.

Advantage West Midlands have been talking about key transport projects (HS2 being one of them), but then also talk about the extension of the runway at BIA and more capacity on the motorways, yet still talk about tackling climate change. Talk about mixed messages.

Passenger groups and CBT were given their say in one article in the Birmingham Post, which was again fairly positive apart from CBT stating "Fares must be cheaper than flying and driving and HSR must be an alternative to new motorways and airports."with which I agree.

The Tories responded by rubbishing Labour's plans because they don't go to Heathrow! I agree that their plans are flawed, but so are most and more airport stations aren't the answer.

The business people had their say about how wonderful it all is, although where they got the time of over 2hrs for the average journey to London now, when it's easy to do it in under 1hr 20 if you want to pay Virgin prices I don't know. Lord Adonis gave the game away a bit with one quote in his
official statement "As we grow wealthier as a nation, so we travel more and move more freight." he said, which is a problem if we are looking to reduce resource use, localise and build a more sustainable and resilient economy.

The stirrer's article
asked "will Brum become a North London suburb?", which is a line that concerns us in this debate. How do we stop it from just being part of the commuter belt with people buying property here and taking the train to London to work. Will this whole scheme just suck money out of the region as it's easier to travel away, rather than bringing it in?

Much more has been written, but that gives a bit of a round up for this day. See last week's post on my reflections after the summit for more opinion.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Switching to a “Green” Supplier

What is a Green Supplier?

A green energy supplier is an electricity supplier which sources the electricity they supply from a renewable source. At the moment, there are very few options for switching to a green supplier for gas. This is because the uptake of sources of renewable gas in the UK are so few and far between at present.

Consumers have been able to change our electricity supplier since the mid 1990s but still relatively few people choose to switch supplier despite the fact that by switching supplier, customers can choose to save money or make ethical choices about the energy they consume.

There are a number of suppliers with green credentials out there. Some of the biggest suppliers operate green tariffs which involve sourcing energy from renewable sources and a donation to a charity such as the National Trust. For details about different companies and tariffs available go to: This site gives a comprehensive account of the sources of the electricity being sold different suppliers. You can also use this site to sign up to a new supplier but be sure to look at the individual company’s website first because this site earns referral fees from suppliers so you may pay a lower fee by going direct to the supplier.

Types of Renewable Energy

Suppliers operate by sourcing electricity from generators and selling it on to consumers at a profit. Your new green supplier could source all or some of its energy from renewables such as:

Waste incineration (this is still termed a “renewable” source of energy)

As the uptake of renewables increases, suppliers may be able to source electricity from tidal and wave power and off shore wind farms. However, sourcing from solar would be a more practical solution for individual households for the foreseeable future rather than electricity suppliers and until the production and subsequent improves, I think it will be extremely difficult for a consumer to source a 100% renewable heat supply from an energy supplier.

Some suppliers only source a proportion of their electricity from renewables and you will have to consider which tariff and which company appeals to you. Doing some research before switching is recommended! It is likely that you will not be able to avoid a supplier that buys some of its electricity from waste incineration generators.

You may also wish to consider the way a supplier makes use of ROCs. “ROC” stands for Renewables Obligation Certificate. All electricity suppliers have an obligation to supply a minimum percentage of the electricity they supply from renewable sources. If a supplier cannot or does not meet this requirement, they have to either:

buy ROCs from other organisations; or
pay a fee (which is comparatively more expensive than buying ROCs.

Renewable generators obtain income from ROCs which helps keep the price down for their customers (the suppliers) because renewable generation is more expensive than burning fossil fuels to generate electricity. Some suppliers choose to “retire” their ROCs instead of trading them with the generators. This means that there are fewer ROCs for suppliers to buy which in turn, creates an opportunity for increased investment in renewables. If you are thinking about switching, do consider what percentage of their ROCs your supplier sells and which proportion it keeps. Selling ROCs will generate income for your supplier which might (but only “might”) reduce the cost a bit for you. Buying electricity from a 100% renewable supplier is still likely to be a bit more expensive than buying from one of the “usual” suppliers. However, you can always use this as an incentive to use less energy when you make the switch!

How to make the switch

First, do your research! Get some quotes from suppliers. You can get a more accurate quote if you know roughly how much electricity you use per year or per quarter. When you are happy that you want to switch and have found a company that you want to switch to - then sign up!

It is usually possible to sign up online. You will need to complete various forms and it will take a couple of weeks (estimated) before you have switched supplier. Some suppliers will be able to talk you through the process over the phone and should be able to answer any questions that you may have.

Good luck!

Melanie Brookes

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

HS2 Conference Reflections

I have previously written about our views on High Speed Rail, but we seem to be in a real minority of people with anything to say other than what a great opportunity it is.

Last week I attended a conference where people who were mainly enthusiasts for the project were being encouraged by Mike Whitby and other interested parties in becoming even more dedicated to the cause. There was almost universal acceptance of the claims that HS2 will bring huge amounts of money into the West Midlands economy and that this was some panacea to cure all our economic and transport ills.

The phrase that everyone kept repeating was that we've been given the ball and it's ours to drop, as though we're being given the most wonderful present. This ignores many previous transport schemes which show that new transport infrastrcuture into deprived areas tends to suck people and money out as they can travel away from the area to work, rather than bringing investment in. We don't want Birmingham to be turned into a distant commuter city for the South East with a rise in house prices, but no real improvement in local connectivity and employment.

One question was asked by Kevin Chapman of Campaign for Better Transport about whether this incredibly expensive high profile scheme will take all the money that can be invested in transport infrastructure away from local projects, especially in such difficult economic times. The answer came back in the room that this was not the case and that the money, as with HS1 and the eurostar route, comes from "a different pot". However, as this article shows, projects to get traditional rail improvements done are already struggling to get funding. Also, in the Birmingham Post last week, Jerry Blackett tells of a very poignant encounter with a young person from a disadvantaged area of Birmingham who can't believe £250 million is being spent on making Chilterns journeys to London 20 minutes quicker when there are people in this city who don't even have a home to live in. How many people are really going to benefit from HS2 compared to the amount of money spent? Is it not just going to be the business elite who rake in some lucrative contracts, while most ordinary people in Birmingham and especially the rest of the West Midlands gain no benefit whatsoever?

It was claimed that HS2 will increase capacity for providing improved local services by taking trains off the mainline and yet not affect the standard of provision on routes from places like Coventry and Wolverhampton (concern over this was raised by Gerald Kells from CPRE). Is it just me who can't see how that works? Either they take faster trains off the lines feeding other towns in the area and make those slower and less frequent, or there won't be any extra capacity, surely.

I really found all the figures given in this conference as unbelievable as those the airport bandies around about the wealth and jobs that would be created by expanding their activities, extending the runway etc. Here is the article published in the local press which says that 42 000 jobs could be created. It is not actually as outrageous as some of the airport's claims, but still, as one of the people there confessed, job creation figures cannot be believed as there would have been zero unemployment long ago if they were true just from projects completed over the last decade.

BIA are desperate for HS2 to call at Birmingham International as well as the city centre, but this would once again go against all the claims of creating emploment opportunities in the most environmentally beneficial areas (i.e. city centres). What we would get is a parkway station causing more pressure to develop greenbelt and attracting more traffic to this already crowded road system.

It also makes the idea of our airport becoming "London Elmdon" more likely as BIA takes the strain from the South East's airport's (45 minutes from central London) and local people are subject to more air and noise pollution as air travel is allowed to grow unchecked.

The claims of HS2 reducing CO2 emissions are extremely optimistic at best. The loading ratio predicted, based on Eurostar services, which would allow them to operate only using the same amount of energy per passenger as slower trains is very unlikely as it would require large numbers of people travelling on these routes who are prepared to pay higher prices. Then, there is the carbon involved in building and maintaining the network, which is also considerably higher than for traditional trains. The savings only really stack up on the longer routes to Scotland over a long period, whereas we really need urgent action to cut CO2 now and this means the opposite will be true.

Surely, it's better to encourage people to travel less or reduce the need to travel, as this is the most benefical policy carbon-wise. I asked this question at the conference, but nobody wanted to answer it, instead concentrating on tokenistic ways of conserving energy and generating green energy.

I have a lot of reservations over whether building HS2 is really going to benefit the people who need to benefit from improved public transport. They are the ones who have no access to a car and suffer from poor provision locally, whose streets are clogged up with too many cars and those whose livelihoods are threatened by climate change all over the world and who need us to make urgent cuts in CO2 emissions now. Unless that is the case, I can't see why we are planning to throw billions of pounds at this scheme, when there are better ways of spending money to improve everyone's lives.