Friday, 23 February 2007

Change the law so that 'grot spots' cant develop in the first place!

A few days ago I had a telephone conversation with Bristol Evening Post reporter Tom Hodson who has written features about littered and vandalised 'grot spots'. I expressed my concern to him about one Knowle grot spot and sent him the email below:

Tom
Please find attached photos of the 'grot spot' in the area of Knowle where I live. Its a former Texaco Petrol Station at 174-178 Wells Rd in Knowle and has been abandoned and left to gradually decay for I think at least 18 months, possibly longer. Its now covered in graffiti and strewn with litter. Its possible that people have been tipping their rubbish on the more out of sight parts of the area too. There is evidence that drinking and goodness knows what else has been taking place on the site, inside the fencing.

I've grown more and more concerned about this increasing eyesore as its been left to get worse. Its a possible health risk and obviously encourages a growing rat population. Why does it have to take so long before a valuable piece of land can be put to good use? Why are an irresponsible minority of people intent on ruining the way this bit of Knowle looks? Why are the land owners allowed to be so irresponsible in allowing the site to decay and become vandalised?

I've contacted the Bristol City Council Clean and Green Team (Denise James) and reported the state of the site. I also contacted the planning department at the council and found that finally a planning application was put in for the site on 29 Jan (13 1-bed and 10 2-bed apartments plus a ground floor retail outlet - application number 07/00377). When open, green spaces are threatened with mass house building its very important to make the very best use of sites like this former petrol station, and so subject to the nature and quality of the application, this development is welcome news.

I very much hope that a clean-up can be done by those responsible, with help from the council as needed. What I'd really like to see is a change in the law to give councils much greater powers to ensure that owners of land and property cant abandon areas to rot for months and years unused. This would stop such eyesores developing in the first place. I shall be following up on this as part of my work within Bristol South Green Party.

London's Congestion Charge

I personally cant agree with the National Alliance Against Tolls (NAAT) when they say that London's congestion charge has been a bad thing ('Congestion charge will not work here', Bristol Evening Post, February 20). Congestion, as the Confederation of British Industry are saying, has damaged London's business and its - and therefore the nation's - economy. Its also damaged Londoner's health and its environment.

The congestion charging initiative is a powerful approach to dealing with congestion. It helps to: reduce congestion; reduce through traffic; encourage use of public transport in central London; benefit business efficiency by speeding up the movement of goods and people; create a better environment for walking and cycling.

Congestion charging results in substantial decreases in traffic according to modelling predictions as follows. Inside the zone: traffic reduced by 10 - 15%; queues reduced by 20 - 30%; traffic speeds increased by 10 - 15%. Outside the zone: traffic increase on orbital routes by up to 5% ; traffic would be reduced on radial routes by 5 - 10%; overall reduction in traffic outside zone by 1 - 2%.

Obviously any scheme for Bristol has to be got right and so it is well worth doing the required research to see if we can get the benefits London has. It wont work without a powerful Transport Authority for Bristol in place first however, with all the powers needed to create a decent, affordable, high quality, environmentally friendly, integrated public transport system. Its not fair to say that the London congestion charge has not worked well up to now though, which is why the decision to extend it was taken.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

The importance of understanding children and childhood

Children and childhood are very important and central to green thinking and action given that we are about creating a new ethics - that of securing a decent life for future generations. I was recently reminded by a magazine article of what I think is a very important and significant letter sent to the Daily Telegraph in Sept '06, signed by over 100 prominent public and professional figures on the subject of children and childhood.

The letter, with its massively impressive list of signatories, talks of the way we are neglecting children's emotional and social needs and indicates the depression, behavioural and developmental problems of children. It states that they need real food, real play, real experience of the world first hand, real and quality interaction with the adults in their lives, and time. I highly recommend reading the letter, available from:

http://www.suepalmer.co.uk/articles/Letter.pdf

We have also had the recent very damning report from Unicef

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6359849.stm

which showed the UK at the bottom of its league table of childhood wellbeing.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Green leadership interview

The Green Party is unique in having effectively two leaders. The organisation has two Principal Speakers, always one man and one woman. The current speakers are Sian Berry, and Derek Wall who was interviewed on internet tv recently. The 30 minute interview gives a really good outline of what green politics is about and what its current status is. If you have a broadband connection and are interested click the link below:

http://doughty.gdbtv.com/player.php?h=f85b27fea5ede43bc744643da3942ea4

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Boost your quality of life - work your proper hours!

Green MEP Jean Lambert has done some great work on work, stress and employment culture in the UK (see http://www.greenparty.org.uk/news/2874).

If we are going to raise the social sustainability of our lifestyles and raise the quality of our lives we need to get a good balance between our work and the rest of our lives! What's it all for otherwise!

Support Work Your Proper Hours Day, Friday 23 Feb. - click below to find out more....

Work Your Proper Hours Day - 24 Feb 06

Transport Authority for Greater Bristol needed

The Labour Government continues to fail us on transport. Five out of seven of their own targets, including air quality, public transport and carbon emissions have not been met according to the House of Commons Transport Committee that reported recently.The Department of Transport are apparently meeting targets on road safety and rail punctuality, though road safety campaigners and rail passengers may well do more than raise their eyebrows when they read this!

The committee went on to say that the Department of Transport had no "clear strategy" to put things right and seemed to have "given up" on improving bus services!

Given these facts I find it particularly galling that Bristol South MP Dawn Primarolo was on the same day reported as saying, "Who wants to live on the edge of a busy road?" ('Pupils do homework to oppose new road', Bristol Evening Post, February 15). I have to tell her that many of her constituents, such as those who live on or near the busy Wells Rd in Knowle, and people across the country are doing just that, often beside roads that her party had built!

Many have lived all their lives by busy roads and know that successive governments have let us down by not tackling congestion and air quality and not organising decent public transport services. If she goes to a recent study in the highly respected medical journal The Lancet she will find research showing that living near a busy road impairs childrens lung development. We know that the poor air we breathe has many toxic effects (http://www.britishlungfoundation.org/air-pollution.asp?lung=2.)

When can we expect the situation to improve so that our health and wellbeing is not damaged? There is no evidence that this will be within five years, given the current state of the Department of Transport, according the House of Commons Committee! The government needs to urgently create a powerful transport authority for the Greater Bristol area with the ability to do everything needed to get us moving around in safer, healthier, affordable and environmentally friendly ways or will be guilty of further letting our children down.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Bird flu and intensive farming practices

It looks increasingly likely that the bird flu outbreak on the Bernard
Matthews farm in Suffolk got there in imports of poultry meat from Hungary
now that government vets have confirmed that the virus type here matched
the virus there. Scientists are now trying to trace back to find the exact
source ('Hungary link to UK bird flu', Bristol Evening Post, February 9).

Part of the problem is that movements of both animals and their products
over large distances and frequently, is a key feature of current intensive
animal farming and trading practice. Furthermore the animals are kept at
very high densities, crowded in very close proximity to each other.
Disease spread is density dependent and so once infectious material enters
intensive farms it has the potential to spread quickly and easily.

With both the BSE/Mad Cow Disease and foot and mouth crises we have
experienced how animal movements and intensive stocking are factors
helping disease spread.

Is it not time to learn lessons from what seems to be a general pattern of
practice weakening our food security, safety and health? More localised
production by less intensive and more natural methods is both better from
an animal welfare, human health and food safety and security viewpoint.
Unfortuneately it seems that part of the hidden cost of so-called cheap
food is the periodic occurrence of potentially very serious diease
outbreaks of various types.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Core green principles

We do all need to look at our lifestyles as a letter from 'Bradley Stoker' asks us ('The world will soon be running on empty', Bristol Evening Post letters, February 7). It is very encouraging that increasing numbers of people are doing what Bradley Stoker did (finding out just how little oil there is left) that is, do a bit of research to find out the state of our planet and its resources and, having done so, take part in the debate and express concern.

The Green Party believes that life on Earth is under immense pressure and that it is human activity, more than anything else, which is threatening the well-being of the environment on which we depend (go to http://www.green.tv/ for illustrations). Conventional politics has failed us because its values are fundamentally flawed and it has brought us to the state we are in.

The Green Party isn't just another political party. Green politics is a new and radical kind of politics in that it aims to tackle the root causes of problems. For the Green Party all issues are connected and therefore all issues are green issues, whether its the economy, or education, health, or the environment itself. It is guided by ten core principles, which are developed and expanded upon to cover all those policy areas needed for the governance of a country in our comprehensive manifesto for a sustainable society (www.greenparty.org.uk) :

1.Humankind depends on the diversity of the natural world for its existence. We do not believe that other species are expendable.

2.The Earth's physical resources are finite. We threaten our future if we try to live beyond those means, so we must build a sustainable society that guarantees our long-term future.

3.Every person, in this and future generations, should be entitled to basic material security as of right.

4.Our actions should take account of the well-being of other nations, other species, and future generations. We should not pursue our well-being to the detriment of theirs.

5.A healthy society is based on voluntary co-operation between empowered individuals in a democratic society, free from discrimination whether based on race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion, social origin or any other prejudice.

6.We emphasise democratic participation and accountability by ensuring that decisions are taken at the closest practical level to those affected by them.

7.We look for non-violent solutions to conflict situations, which take into account the interests of minorities and future generations in order to achieve lasting settlements.

8.The success of a society cannot be measured by narrow economic indicators, but should take account of factors affecting the quality of life for all people: personal freedom, social equity, health, happiness and human fulfilment.

9.Electoral politics is only one way to achieve change in society, and we will use a variety of methods to help effect change, providing those methods do not conflict with our other core principles.

10.The Green Party puts changes in both values and lifestyles at the heart of the radical green agenda.

Greens welcome opportunities to discuss politics, values and lifestyles and feel it is particularly important that people examine very closely any so-called green claims from other political parties. They seem today to be doing what they tried to do twenty years ago, that is jump onto the green bandwagon because they feel there are votes in it. They need to finally realise that the issues at stake are far too important for such behaviour and develop policies to solve problems rather than policies simply to gain electoral advantage.

Surge in green interest and concern

There is now a very strong surge in interest in being Green . Articles are appearing in all sorts of publications. I was contacted by a journalist yesterday for instance, who said,

'I'm writing a feature for Glamour magazine which I need an expert quote for - hoping you may be able to help! Basically the piece is about how winter never really arrived this year and how this could be attributed to global warming, increased levels of CO2 in our atmosphere etc. Anyway we basically wanted to run a few short tips from you about how the average Glamour reader can cut their carbon footprint.....Obviously these have to be quite female-orientated and unusual, rather than the things people are probably used to reading.'

My reply was as follows:

How about these suggestions (I've tried to think differently, as you suggested):

* Cut down on baby paraphernalia; support reuse and lower consumption by buying second-hand baby clothes; use untreated cotton bedding that hasn't had lots of chemicals used in its manufacture

*Dress ethically by visiting Ethical Consumers Green Clothing Directory (www.ethicalconsumer.org)

*Use natural fragrances - over 5000 chemicals are used in fragrance manufacture and 95% of these come from fossil fuels

*When eating out choose organic options from the menu (see www.soilassociation.org), especially if locally sourced; also support restaurants with small menus - the more different types of food they have to have ready the more food will go to waste

*When going to a hotel ask them to put 're-use' towel and sheet cards in the bedroom and bathroom - using sheets and towels for more than a day cuts at least 5% off the hotel's energy use and 70% of guests are likely to choose to reuse; dont use the freebie mini soaps and shampoos - they are a very wasteful form of packaging - and ask the hotel to use refillable dispensers

* Give a plant as a gift instead of flowers - many flowers are grown in chemical, water and energy intensive ways and are often flown around the globe for sale!

*Entertain by candlelight using natural beeswax or vegetable based candles that are biodegradable and aren't made from oil-based materials

*Cut your consumption, thus cutting energy and materials use, by supporting buy nothing day (see www.buynothingday.co.uk)

Looks like the magazine are likely to use the candle, plant and small menus quotes. Lets hope the surge of green interest is sustained and that fundamental action happens - it will need to be if we are to achieve real change!

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

We've had this green debate before!!

Is this the standard of 'green' debate we should expect in Bristol? Bristol Conservative leader Councillor Richard Eddy, photographed of course - since all Conservatives were really Greens all along - looking very concerned that newspapers are not being recycled at the city council, ' slagging off ' Councillor Gary Hopkins and his Lib-Dem colleagues as 'two-faced' ('Recycling - is it one rule for us and another for the council?', Post, February 6). Councillor Hopkins of course has a go back, in characteristically bruising style. Both claim to be Green these days, because they feel (as they have done in the past) that there are votes in it of course, but engage in the debate in the most un-green manner!

Councillors Eddy and Hopkins both seem to have a particular fixation with recycling, as if it is an end in itself! This one feature of politicians who are not Green but who are trying to appear Green. Actually recycling is far from the top of the list as far as being environmentally friendly is concerned. The first priority is waste reduction or minimisation and on this basis I'd be asking why there are so many newspapers at the council that need dealing with in the first place! After reduction comes the reuse of objects so that they do not enter the waste stream: for example the refilling of bottles. It's not until one gets down to the third level in the waste management hierarchy that one gets to recycling, composting and the recovery of energy from waste and yet much of the focus is here, both in government targets and council action.

Real Greens would be campaigning hard to emphasise the need for reduction and for reuse as our top priorities instead of quibbling over a relatively small point about city council newspaper recycling, the solution to which appears to be forthcoming anyway! However, I've no doubts that Councillor Eddy has achieved his political objective of getting some significant publicity by appearing to be concerned about so-called 'green issues'.

My great fear when I see and take part in the Green debate of today is that we have been here before. Back in the late eighties and early nineties there was a surge of interest in and concern for all things Green, as there is now. Politicians in the big parties suddenly 'became green' and claimed to have green policies. Yet if they had and they had followed through on those policies nearly twenty years on we would surely expect far fewer problems rather than the greater problems we actually have!

Something I wrote back in summer 1990, in response to Bristol City Council's Green Charter, is as worryingly relevant today as it was then:

'Can the institutions and decision making processes and politicians who have been in power and caused the problem really be trusted to solve it? Will they compromise at crunch points, as has happened over the years which have brought us to this point? Indeed we must ask whether the political will for real action can exist without Green Party councillors on the City Council. One of the big dangers is that people will feel that everything is ok because 'the council is doing something' when nothing fundamental has changed and environmental problems are more urgent than ever. It is vital that everyone keeps the pressure for action on, and remembering the kind of politicians that have given us our problems we must all beware of 'greenspeak'.'