Thursday, 30 June 2011

Weekly compilation 30.06.2011

Here's the latest collection of stories collected from twitter arranged by campaign theme:

Energy & Climate Change
Demand a better #energybill - the current one isn't good enough and won't tackle fuel poverty: #fuelpovbrum

Uh oh! Energy security and CO2 both very important: RT @guardianeco: Electricity companies switch from gas to coal

Was getting hypnotised by this monitor showing how much energy being produced by solar panels on Balsall Heath church:

Guardian: Govt urged to stop homes leaking heat #greenestgovtever

RT @YourHotTopics: Want to know more about #smartmeters ? Check out the latest @EnergySvgTrust advice here

RT @wwwfoecouk: MPs slam 'unacceptable' World Bank spending on fossil fuel power plants in developing countries -

Aren't floods, cancer and infant mortality enough to stop Hinkley nuclear proposal?

New blog post on Fuel Poverty in Birmingham after yesterday's #fuelpovbrum meeting:

RT @wwwfoecouk: Supplies dwindling. prices rising. Europe and the US releasing emergency supplies. Where next for oil?

Wow! Last year was " the hottest, wettest, and in many cases also the driest and coldest in recorded history"!!!

Local Shops & Food
New blog post on the @superstirchley meeting on Tuesday, why & how people should object to ASDA's planning application:

RT @SuperStirchley: Bloomin' cheeky twisting of words by ASDA in their planning docs: - typical of their behaviour!

Have people heard about Urban Harvest? Check out the info on @loafonline's website about it here and get involved:

RT @SoilAssociation: Junk food adverts really do make children hungry for unhealthy meals, say researchers.

RT @SoilAssociation: Sign declaration to end the use of cloning in food production in Europe @CloneFreeFood campaign:

Lovely positive story: RT @BirminghamPress: “Kings Heath: edible gardening hub of Birmingham” according to @AlysFowler.

RT @hidschow: new UN food chief says financial markets has "contaminated commodity markets" #foodspeculation

No oil left? RT @AAPresident: EC official tells me they are determined to phase out all petrol/diesel cars by 2050 but couldn't explain how

Financial argument of anti- #HS2 camp is tricky. Are they saying don't spend on transport & give to students & public sector, instead?#J30 Seems that this advert is trying to appeal to those people: yet does propose improving rail facilities.

Shipping emissions could be as big a problem as aviation unless regulated. Not looking promising, though:

RT @AndrewSimms_nef: I like this 'Free Range Children', promoted by @sustrans, but hope they don't intend to eat them.

A sad lesson to think about from Spain when we think about #HS2, airport expansion and road-building:

This letter to the FT on #HS2 makes some very good points. Totally disagree with the way it's been handled by govt:

"Four Million Britons Give up Flying Due to Airport Stress" seems very hard to believe, sadly:

So councillors want to ensure there's more space for cars in city centre now? Thought we wanted to reduce congestion:

Birmingham Critical Mass has been growing recently. Wonder if they'll make 100 people this month:

How about communal bins for the remaining waste after food is taken out for composting - could be a good solution?

It'd be great to have a zero waste shop like this in Birmingham, although @TheOneEarthShop is close on some items:

RT @GeorgeMonbiot: This week's blog post: Sustainable cities must be compact and high-density.
RT @GeorgeMonbiot: Killer graph posted in response to my blog post by EwanB: Tells the story better than words could.

Very robust response from David Boyle to @GeorgeMonbiot's article earlier on us needing dense cities to be green:

"Returning to the Big City Plan" a blog post mentioning our work on this as well as the plain English version:

RT @Magpiemoth: Places available for fantastic West Mids Friends of the Earth Gathering, Bham this weekend:

RT @wwwfoecouk: Blog: Our biggest annual event open for bookings: Book now for our annual conference

RT @wwwfoecouk: Does my bum look big in this? Campaign for new ethical law to make shopping easier

It's not all about CO2, other resources are stretched, too: RT @guardianeco: Global water stress - interactive

Super Stirchley fights back against ASDA

On Tuesday evening I went to a lively meeting at the British Oak pub in Stirchley where over 40 passionate local residents and shop-keepers came together under the banner "Super Stirchley".

They were there to discuss what can be done to stop a large ASDA supermarket being given planning permission and also how they can promote their vision of a vibrant and exciting high street.

Tom Baker of Loaf has been a real driving force behind this, but he is certainly not alone and it seems that there is a lot of strong feeling in Stirchley about the issue now. Hopefully, this time the council planning officers will listen to local people rather than big business (unlike in Moseley).
There are very strong reasons why this planning application should be refused:

Traffic and Transport
Another large supermarket will drastically increase traffic, impact on local air quality, safety of pedestrians, particularly local school children, and work to make the Pershore Road corridor a ‘smart route’. ASDA’s traffic data does not reassure me that there will not be a significant negative impact on the health of Stirchley. I therefore urge the council to do carry out a thorough, independent and transparent assessment of the traffic and transport issues.

Poor design
The design does not connect the store to the local high street, meaning it will have a negative impact on trade and attempts to rejuvenate the area. It is also well outside of Stirchley’s ‘retail core’ as identified in the Stirchley Framework SPD, and reiterated in the recent draft Birmingham Core Strategy. The loss of high street parking, the three-lane vehicular access from the Pershore road that crudely cuts through the established building line (contrary to the Birmingham UDP), and consequent poor pedestrian access to the site from the high street are also of concern.

Proof of Need
With the existing CO-OP and the approved and pending TESCO, there will already be considerable supermarket provision in Stirchley. The need for a third supermarket should be fully proven and independently scrutinised. The land could be used for more pressing requirements such as employment, housing or leisure as identified in the draft Core Strategy LDF (s10): “Outside the [retail] core encouragement will be given to conversion and redevelopment for high quality residential, office and non retail uses.”

The Local Economic Impact
Along with the loss of parking spaces, the high volume of car traffic will impede the local businesses’ ability to trade, not only in Stirchley, but also in Bournville, Cotteridge, Selly Park, and Kings Heath. I also fear a loss of skilled, entrepreneurial jobs in the local area as the National Retail Planning Forum conclude that on average a new large supermarket leads to 276 job losses within a 10-mile radius.

Shops in Stirchley will be collecting objections to the planning application, as will members of Super Stirchley at the CoCoMad festival this weekend. If you care about the future of Stirchley and keeping a thriving local high street there, please go to the council website and search for Planning application 2011/03485/PA (Land off Pershore Road/Fordhouse Lane Former Arvin Meritor Works Stirchley Birmingham B30 3BW). Object either using some of the points listed here, or your own objections before 7th July.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Fuel Poverty in Birmingham

Yesterday I attended a meeting of different organisations from around Birmingham who are all concerned about the issue of Fuel Poverty and are looking for ways to work together to tackle it.

It was an eye-opening event for me and made me realise how important the work on cold homes we were doing for the energy bill campaign was. It also made me realise that we has missed an opportunity to engage with these people and get the kinds of stories we really needed to shock people into action while we were working on it.

We had various presentations throughout the morning, but the messages that came out were all the same, that this is a massive problem, which is only going to get worse unless some serious action is taken. The problem with Birmingham's housing stock is that many properties are "hard to treat" with effective insulation measures to ensure that they stop leaking heat and therefore wasting energy and money for the people paying the bills. According to Keith Budden (now of E-On), there are over 200 000 houses that need remedial work to make them energy efficient. That is a huge number, but it offers an opportunity to create employment while we remedy the situation as well as posing a problem of how to fund it.

Fuel poverty really does have a huge effect on people's lives. Physical and mental health declines in cold, damp homes with people getting respiratory problems that could last their whole lives, children's attainment at school being negatively affected and social lives destroyed through not having the possibility to invite guests round.

Green Doctor schemes of various types have managed to reach a few people and those that they have helped have really benefited, but the funding to these has now been cut and there is a real danger we could lose the expertise of those people if their work cannot be paid for. The Birmingham Energy Savers project is also having a substantial effect on those lucky enough to get solar panels installed through it, but compared to the scale of the problem - 20% or so of Birmingham's households are estimated to be fuel poor - this is still a small number and not the most vulnerable or poorest people, as the homes done already had a good standard of insulation.

The people I heard from who work for Birmingham Settlement and the Citizens Advice Bureau gave the starkest messages of the difficulties faced by the most vulnerable people. Those with fuel debt cannot switch tariff to a more suitable, many people cannot read their own meters and 90% of fuel poor people use electricity during the day, so should not be on tariffs such as economy 7 that are sold to them as being cheap. 60 000 people go to the CAB with debt problems in Birmingham and almost all of those are related to energy bills.

What came out of the day was a real willingness to start working together and form an affordable warmth action group similar to one we heard about in Walsall that has been really successful.

We need to get the NHS on board as well as energy providers and the city council. However, there was a desire that this would be led by the voluntary sector initially, due to their understanding of the issues.

Proposals such as the one from John Morris of LWM that home improvements should be available on prescription make a lot of sense, as it costs around £10K to treat chronic respiratory conditions each time a patient is admitted. We could do a lot to a home with a fraction of that amount, in terms of insulating it to make it warmer, so joining up these links and putting in early interventions is a crucial part to solving this as it is with many other environmental, health and social problems.

This wasn't just a talking shop, everyone came away with some things to do and we will be looking at helping to refresh the council's strategy for dealing with this problem through partnerships with everyone who is affected by the issue of fuel poverty (and that is a lot of different agencies).

Monday, 27 June 2011

Weekly compilation 24.06.2011

Here's another of our weekly round-ups of news that relates to our campaigns in some way:

RT @cyclingmobility: Analysis of highway design from cyclist’s view. Let us know ur thoughts!

RT @birminghampost: Warwickshire County Council to object to #HS2 plans

RT @beleben: How #Bickenhill parkway station illustrates the fundamental #flaws in the #HS2 concept #disconnectivity

Surprised Bham only 13th most congested city -urgently needs investment in public transport, cycling infrastructure etc

World Bank and OECD have recommended removing support for biofuels, yet the aviation industry continues obliviously:

RT @sustrans: Encouraging more people to get on their bikes should be applauded not ridiculed *applauds Wales*

RT @philiploy: NHS looking for community members looking at promotion of walking and cycling by Fri 8 July

RAC has revealed some great news. People starting to think about car use more. Just need to make alternatives easier:

RT @sustrans: Sustrans & CTC join other environment & safety groups to fight Govt plans for longer lorries on UK roads:

Glad that Stephen Joseph highlighted the problems with parkway stations and #HS2 yesterday - huge problems with plan:

Cllrs & planning officers being misled by exaggerated claims that expansion of airports will create lots of extra jobs:

Flying in the face of the facts - FoE Europe's report on biofuels and the aviation industry:

Many can't afford holidays this year, almost as bad for the British tourism industry as subsidised cheap flights:

Zero waste or zero ambition - has the Waste Review delivered? No, but we can still push locally:

Energy & Climate Change
RT @wwwfoecouk: Citizens across the world oppose #nuclearpower - new poll #climatechange

@northfieldeco Are you doing anything for Zero Carbon Britain Day?

RT @lucianaberger: Every Tory and Lib Dem on the #energybill cttee just voted against the Warm Home and Local Carbon Budget amendments

RT @wwwfoecouk: Please sign the petition for local carbon cuts: #energybill

RT @guardianeco: Germany's nuclear phase-out will cause UK emissions to fall, report says

RT @wwwfoecouk: Cameron must tackle Tory MEPs over climate vote: Tory MEPs revolt over proposed 30% EU emissions cuts

Local Shops
RT @traidcraft: Supermarkets try to delay setting up Adjudicator

RT @wwwfoecouk: US & Brazil scupper G20 action on #biofuels - despite expert food prices warning:

Trial of anti-aphid GM wheat awaits government green light:

RT @PigBusiness: New article in local paper ahead of tomorrow's town hall meeting we're hosting with @SoilAssociation

Embarrassed, at all? RT @businessdeskwm: Friday Funnies: Whitby out of tune with the times!

Great comment by Paul de Zylva on govt making "sustainable development" meaninglessness after this planning blog post:

Nice of the government to clear up what sustainability is:

Blog: Brum-Hilde - street opera comes to Birmingham: Opera singers highlight environment with Save the Diva

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Airport Watch Conference, ULU 18th June

This weekend I went to represent Birmingham FoE at the Airport Watch conference and discovered that there has been a lot of evidence gathered both on the environmental, but also the economic effects that aviation is having on this country.

The day was divided into 3 parts: in the morning session we had presentations on the different areas that will be covered in the scoping document on aviation which the government is consulting on at the moment. Then, in the afternoon session we were able to question civil servants from the DfT who are working on this on the process on how it will work. For the final session, we had the minister for aviation, Theresa Villiers, who spoke on the government's attitude on various aspects of what we had been talking about through the day. This was the first time a minister had attended a gathering of aviation campaigners and her presence was a welcome sign.

Generally, quite a positive thread ran through the day's presentations, especially from the two chairs, John Stewart of HACAN and Airport Watch and Tim Johnson of AEF. The main reason for their positivity seems to be the government's very different tone to the previous administration and the presence of Theresa Villiers as minister, who was one of the main people within the conservative party pushing for abandoning the 3rd runway at Heathrow.

In a way, it was a shame that the presentations were given in the morning when the speakers were just preaching to the converted (the attendees from airport watch and related groups would have known most of what was said already). The presentations were all very good and showed how well our evidence base is building in order to fight the case of the airports and airlines economic arguments, as well as their technical and environmental ones.

It was heartening that the government has made the consultation so open (in complete contrast to the one on HS2) and that they have deliberately left an appropriate time-frame for people to be able to collect evidence to back up their arguments. There is still a complete imbalance in the financial resources available to pro and anti-aviation campaigners, but we were given assurance that the evidence provided will be scrutinised properly, unlike the evidence given by the aviation industry which formed the basis of the 2003 white paper.

One of the biggest themes of concern to come out of the day was the conflict between the government's localism agenda and the need to tackle aviation and climate change at a national or even international level. I think that Theresa Villiers was left in no doubt that she needed to go away and look at that to ensure that all the work on the aviation framework was not going to be in vain. There was some assurance that issues of national strategic importance will be tackled at a national level, but this does seem to be a contradiction in much of government policy and the dots need to be joined up a lot better in many areas, if we are to be able to tackle environmental problems, particularly the country's climate change targets.

With no economic case for airport expansion, growth incompatible with legally binding CO2 reduction targets and a growing awareness of the blight on local communities in terms of both air pollution and noise are issues that sound alarm bells loud across government. The aviation industry surely has quite a battle to win in order to persuade people that business as usual can continue.

Joe Peacock