Saturday, 29 September 2007

Disease spread - a not so widely discussed aspect of climate change, until now...

Climate change has a wide range of serious health implications both for people and other animals, including enabling diseases to spread more easily.

A worrying story about African Horse Sickness in todays Bristol Evening Post (in a section where I dont usually find that much to read). This sickness is related to Bluetongue disease which has just arrived in the UK for the first time, and which we so far have seen 11 confirmed cases of. Horse owners are understandably concerned that we should be prepared for the imminent arrival of African Horse Sickness, which is spread by midges as Bluetongue is.

Climate change is certainly in the picture as one reason why Bluetongue has spread northwards across the globe, through Europe to the UK. The virus is transmitted by midges more effectively in warm, moist conditions. (A cold winter might drastically reduce the virus but we dont have many these days).

Its also possible that globalisation is a contributory factor, helping virus-carrying midges to spread as people and goods travel more and more across the globe more and more frequently.

The consequences for animal welfare are significant, as are the costs and stresses on farmers, particularly as we still have foot and mouth problems. The appearance and spread of African Horse Sickness could be devastating to the equine industry.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Massive potential for overspend building a 10 mile barrage

We cant build the Redland Green local secondary school to budget. Bath's spa project was three times over budget and six yrs late. Wembley Stadium was massively delayed and cost nothing like original estimates. Ok, each project had their own particular problems, but even so who thinks that we can build a 10 mile long Severn Barrage on time and within its estimated £15 billion (£15,000,000,000) budget? As with many big projects it wont just be private money that's involved - there will have to be local and national government involvement.

We really should ask whether investing in a huge barrage is the most effective and efficient way to spend money becoming greener. How many millions of houses could be made ultra energy efficient within months with spending on this scale, massively cutting carbon emissions? Private and public money going into the barrage isn't available to spend elsewhere, on what could be better projects.

Take major steps to fight climate change very soon - poll result.

A major survey of 22,000 people in 21 countries on climate change has been conducted. The key results? 4 out of 5 people say human activity is a significant cause of climate change; 9 out of 10 people say action is needed, with nearly 7 out of 10 saying its necessary to take major steps very soon. People have caught on to the message from best science - will we see action of the type and scale needed from conventional politicians now?

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Yr on yr loss of green spaces

Great letter on loss of Bristol's green spaces from Chris Miller today. I've commented twice this month alone on the flogging off of allotment land for house building so there's a few clear exmples for a start! Pigs can fly, the Earth is flat, and Bristol City Council's 'green capital' plans really will make us a sustainable city!!

Monday, 24 September 2007

Bristol City Council at it again ! More allotments to be flogged off for for building over

On Sept 6 I commented on the campaign to save allotments in Myrtle Drive, Shirehampton from being flogged off for building houses on. Today I read in today's local paper that Bristol City Council are at it again - wanting to sell off allotments in Bonnington Walk, Lockleaze for house building. The UKs 'green capital' would be doing the opposite of this ie trying its very hardest to up the number of allotments and the take up of allotments.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

So many issues and problems for Bristol are transport-related

Today is World Car-Free Day. If Bristol is going to become the UKs ‘Green Capital’ it is transport-related problems that have got to be tackled perhaps more than any other. The list of issues raised by our current car, lorry and road-focussed, intensive approach to getting around is very long(not to mention flying of course, that’s another – related - issue).

Here’s a list of issues off the top of my head:

climate change contribution from carbon emissions;

toxic air pollutants and their health and wellbeing impacts, especially for children;

noise and vibration and the quality of life effects;

the footprint caused by transporting food over many hundreds/thousands of miles;

congestion stress, delays and costs;

public transport, cycling and walking investment relatively and absolutely poor whilst service quality is also lacking;

deaths, injuries and accidents;

road crime;

contribution to obesity and other health problems through lack of exercise;

loss of green, open space and threat to wildlife and biodiversity due to road construction…

Given these very serious issues doesn’t it make sense to: cut the need to travel as much; protect and enhance local community facilities and services; go by walking, cycling, bus/coach/train (invest serious money accordingly); make the price of travel by all methods fully and fairly reflect their total costs (raise the costs of non-renewable fossil fuel, bring in congestion charging and reinvest money raised in public transport..); plan transport properly (create a Transport Authority for Greater Bristol asap) ?? Challenge the green talk we get an awful lot of and demand green actions and outcomes.

For more on World Car-Free Day.

Friday, 21 September 2007

St Brendan's College green progress and green plans set a good example

The college where I worked for five yrs (1999-2004, including teaching environmental science), and whose governing body adopted the environmental charter I drafted and put to them certainly seems to be continuing to make some green progress as well as having green plans for the future. I hope of course that they make all the green progress they can.

In June this year: St Brendan's College said that it ‘is part of a new national initiative launched today which aims to showcase green education and help encourage sustainable development.’ It gave several specific examples of green initiatives, including new buildings that will have 'sustainable technologies such as ground source heating, solar energy generation, automatic buildings that control themselves, natural ventilation to avoid the need for air conditioning and automatic close down of PCs at night.'

Yesterday saw the unveiling of the 500th sign thanking people for not driving in Bristol, one of several, installed at St Brendan's College, encouraging students staff and visitors to think again before using their own car.

St Brendans continues to offer the AS and A level Environmental Science course (and has done since I taught it there).

Plus the college website says that the ‘…second key area in which the College Chaplaincy functions is that of Christian action. This takes a variety of forms, the most significant being: Justice and Peace Group,…& People and Planet Group…

But this is not all….

St Brendans is also part of the Sound of many waters Catholic environmental initiative and on Oct 4 is launching a UK Catholic school’s environmental audit project with the help of a presenter from the TV program Coast (an Open University/BBC series!).

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Multiple studies show road safety cameras save lives!! (Though camera opponents will believe only what they want, whatever the facts)

Bob Bull thinks the evidence does not show that speed/safety cameras save lives and serious injuries. His letter says the figures I gave have been proved wrong (‘Speed Cameras’, Bristol Evening Post Soapbox, 20 Sept). I have to tell him that the evidence in favour of speed/safety cameras, from multiple studies, is overwhelming. I fear that he and possibly others will only believe what they want to believe, no matter what the facts are. An independent review by University College London, published 2005 of more than 4,000 cameras over a four year period, featured on the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents website, clearly demonstrates that cameras reduce speeding and collisions a great deal. Deaths and serious injuries at camera sites were cut by 42%.

The review concluded: vehicles breaking the speed limit at fixed camera sites fell by 70%; the reduction at mobile sites was by 18%; speeding at 15 mph or more above the limit fell by 91% at fixed sites and by 36% at mobile sites; average vehicle speed across all new sites fell by 6%; people killed or seriously injured fell by 42% at camera sites, meaning there were 1,745 fewer people killed or seriously injured at the camera sites per year – including 100 fewer deaths; people killed and seriously injured fell by 50% at fixed sites and by 35% at mobile sites; there was a 32% reduction in the number of children killed or seriously injured at camera sites; the number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured fell by 29% at camera sites; a 22% reduction in collisions involving (fatal, serious or slight) personal injury at camera sites, equating to 4,230 fewer personal injury collisions per year.

The impact of the first British speed cameras, installed in West London in 1992, was assessed by the West London Speed Camera Demonstration Project in 1997. In the first three years of operation, cameras: cut deaths by 70% ; cut serious injuries by 27% ; cut slight injuries by 8%.

A 1995 study by the Police Research Group concluded that speed cameras reduced casualties by 28%.

Initial evaluation of the pilot schemes by the DfT in 2003 found that the: drivers exceeding the speed limit fell from 47% to 20%.; drivers exceeding the speed limit by more than 15mph fell from 7.4% to 0.3%.; average speeds at the camera sites fell by 10% (3.7mph).; 35% fewer people (numbering 285) were killed and seriously injured; there was a 56% reduction in the number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured at camera sites.; there were 14% (about 510) fewer crashes.

A three year review of cameras in 24 areas (“The National Safety Camera Programme: Three-year Evaluation Report” by University College, published 2004 ) found they significantly reduced speeding and collisions, and had cut deaths and serious injuries at camera sites by 40%.

Looks like Bob Bull and company are in a small minority of 18% or less since the level of public support for the use of cameras has been consistently high with 82% of people questioned agreeing with the statement that ‘the use of safety cameras should be supported as a method of reducing casualties’.

Public attitude surveys clearly show that people support safety cameras because they save lives. In a 2005 parliamentary statement the Secretary of State for Transport said that 71% of people surveyed agreed that the primary use of cameras was to save lives. Surveys conducted in the 8 pilot areas had previously found that: 70% agreed that “fewer accidents are likely to happen on roads where cameras are installed”; 67% agreed that "Cameras mean that dangerous drivers are now more likely to get caught"; 82% agreed that "Cameras are meant to encourage drivers to keep to the limits, not punish them"

Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents site has more.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Shock (?) - Bristolians support the new waste/recycling system

So, people in Bristol support recycling - shock? Not!!

The Bristol Citizen's Jury on waste set up to advise on Bristol's new waste management and recycling systems, especially the brown bin food waste composting arrangement, has come out clearly in support of recycling.

People critical of the system were for me always a minority, probably a pretty small, but a very vocal one. Was the issue ever that controversial or contentious? Was a Citizen's Jury needed?

See the city website, or Bristol Evening Post report, 'Verdict in - people support recycling', 18 Sept., for more.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Community benefit and the common good - from nuclear waste??

The terms ‘community benefit’ and ‘common good’ are in my view ideas inherently incompatible with nuclear waste. Yet both these terms have recently been used in connection with it! A report before West Somerset councillors describes a proposal, from the Magnox Electric firm, to set up a nuclear waste disposal facility near the Hinkley A nuclear station to help with decommissioning, along with a ‘community benefits fund’ to ‘compensate’ residents living nearby.

Is this the beginning of a number of such proposals around the country as old nuclear stations have to be decommissioned? This is the kind of territory that having an ongoing nuclear power program gets you into (including trainloads of nuclear waste flasks through Bristol every two/three weeks).

The Bristol Evening Post (‘Nuclear waste dump spurs cash handouts’, Sep 10) quotes the report as saying,

‘The establishment of a permanent disposal facility for low-level radioactive waste means that a continuing element of risk will continue for the foreseeable future and , as such communities should derive a benefit.’

First, this is an admission of the dangers of even low-level radioactivity!

Second, I certainly wouldn’t feel I’d benefited from having nuclear waste disposed of near me because ‘compensation’ was paid into community development projects.

The report also refers to the ‘substantial financial contribution to a common good fund’. Apparently its ok to sacrifice the common good of public safety provided cash is offered!

Not surprisingly the Stop Hinkley organisation does not like the fund idea, and does not want to see this idea used around the country. Spokesman Jim Duffy referred to the offer of cash as a ‘sweetener’ and ‘pay-off ’ which would be ‘spread very thinly in the community’ and could set a precedent – they are spot on. The idea of trading safety for cash like this should be seen as unethical.

Stop Hinkley’s views and work. The Bridgewater Mercury report on this issue.

Guardian report on how green groups are poised to withdraw from the government’s nuclear power consultation process because the facts are being distorted.

The influence of the nuclear lobby is high so perhaps, whether people generally want it or not, we will get both the nuclear dump plus 'compensation' and a new set of nuclear stations built (each of which will at some point need its waste disposed of).

Friday, 14 September 2007

Who pays for 'cheap' supermarket food??

'There is no such thing as truly cheap food' is something I've long believed. There are many hidden social and environmental costs here and around the globe, now and on into the future, that purchasers just dont have reflected in the cost of goods or supermarkets in the size of their profits. Action Aid illustrate one cost of 'cheap' food with their latest campaign.

I've been involved with Action Aid for some time now as a child sponsor and strongly support its work on reducing global poverty (especially extreme poverty), HIV/AIDS, women's rights, food and hunger, emergencies, and rights to education, security and fair governance. I especially support its current Who Pays? campaign aiming to highlight the fact that its not the major supermarkets like Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury's, and Morrison's who pay the costs of the price war (they make massive profits in fact). The costs are passed to the workers making what many buy, who work long hours for little pay in poor conditions (Action Aid cite examples from South Africa, Bangladesh, Costa Rica and India). Supermarkets force very hard bargains from suppliers who in turn force low pay and conditions, including health, safety and environmental standards.

Action Aid are asking people to sign a pledge card (which I have just done). The pledge says 'Many people around the world who produce goods for the UK supermarkets endure exploitation and poverty. I want government regulation to tackle this problem so I know no-one has suffered producing the goods I buy.'

An independent watchdog, binding rules and keeping supermarkets from abusing their power sounds good to me. I dont really use supermarkets that much anymore (I belong to an organic/local fruit and veg box scheme, use my local corner shop a lot and have meat, fish, dairy and misc. delivered by ordering from an online supplier). Supermarkets are useful for some things now and then though and many people will rely on them for some time yet.

More on Action Aid and their campaign.

Cant change the past but can help shape the future - stop slavery today !

‘As regards the current debate on apologising for Bristol's role in the slave trade during the 17th and 18th centuries, a recently published book (50 Facts That Should Change The World) stated that there are 27 million slaves in the world today. Perhaps rather than focussing on the past and seeking an apology for it, we should actually learn from that horrendous episode and now focus our attentions on stopping slavery in the modern (enlightened?) age’, said Damian Wardingley from Eastville (‘Learn from the past – help today’s slaves', Bristol Evening Post, Open Lines, 13 Sept 2007).

This is a very good point. We cant change the past but can help shape the future so that there is no more slavery.

Slavers literally own and control people, giving them little or no rights or freedoms, little or no pay for work, and basic subsistence only. The 27 million figure probably means a definition involving these aspects – use only slightly broader thinking and definitions means there are many more.

For more on slavery today.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Organic (ie low additive) food is healthier

The latest research on food additives, published in The Lancet last week, strongly reinforces the argument that organic food is healthier (most of the 290 additives allowed in non-organic food, including all artificial colours, the subject of the research, are banned from organics). Artificial colours in food worsen behaviour and attention span in children.

Full details of the study ‘Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial’ are available here if you register, free, with The Lancet.

I see that as a result even the Food Standards Agency has modified its additives advice somewhat (though it does not go far enough for me).

The most serious form of ADHD affects between 2.4 and 5% of the UK population

Academies: education/child focussed or a business deal?

Both Labour and the Tories are keen on schools becoming academies. I’m certainly not, as I’ve written before, in relation to Hengrove. Schools should be set up and run in the interests of children, parents and local communities and not private individuals, businessess or religions. Consider the latest news on academies in Bristol - Are we talking about education , children, parents and community here, or a business deal??

The Bristol Evening Post reports that Christian charity Oasis Trust, founded by Rev Steve Chalke, has confirmed it is interested in turning Portway School in Shirehampton into an academy. In South Bristol Oasis is already due to take over what is now Hengrove Community Arts College, transforming it into Oasis Academy Hengrove in a year's time.

The Post says, One major complication for any potential sponsor is that Portway has already been rebuilt under a private finance initiative. The construction firm HBG has a 25-year deal to run the school premises and its associated community facilities. This means that although the sponsor would not have to contribute to the cost of a new building it might not have the same control as it would under the usual academy arrangements.Several organisations have looked at the possibility of taking over at Portway, among them another Christian group that runs schools, an offshore banking group and a further education organisation. But these schemes have not been pursued.Some observers say the Government does not think a privately- sponsored academy is viable at Portway because of its dwindling numbers. For this reason, there has been talk of including some primary sector schools in an academy "package."

Sounds like the primary focus is not education, children, parents and community – but is a business deal - to me. And didn't they try to put together a primary/secondary 'package' in Hengrove which the local people vigorously and successfully opposed?

The Post goes on ..Rich Williams, who was the National Union of Teachers' representative at Portway, said: "There seems to have been one mistake after another in the past few years over schooling in this area."It would be better and cheaper to invest in smaller classes rather than pushing for an academy."

Spot on Rich Williams – this is what we need to invest in, not academies. Smaller classes are key to good quality education.

People in Shirehampton would like to see more community involvement returned to the school, which has been run by an appointed interim executive board instead of a governing body for more than two-and-a-half years.

Spot on the people of Shirehampton – community involvement is key to good quality education and neighbourhood quality of life. But its not what we are getting from the big political parties.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Anita Roddick: Great leader and role model

Body Shop founder Anita Roddick spanned the spheres of business, the environment and politics, naturally. She was a bundle of energy and a great inspiration and role model for me in the early 1980's when I was first involved in green campaigning (and she is still an inspiration and role model). Her campaign involvements were many and varied: women; environment; animal rights; business ethics; fair trade; homelessness; missing persons; indigenous peoples; human rights...

Her sudden death at 64 is a shock to many, not least her partner, children and granchildren, as well as the many people her life and work impacted. How many people did business her way in 1976? She challenged, informed and was a spark to light a fire. Her influence will live on.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Children need real: play, food, experiences, interactions & time

We are letting children down very badly in the UK. I’ve written about the importance of understanding children and childhood, boosting outdoors education for children, the effects of air pollution and transport policies on childhood health, the rights of young people to gather in Bristol’s green spaces, and involving and empowering children and their parents within their schools, on this blog (click the label young people). Many other posts relate directly to child wellbeing, such as those on road safety, organic food, loss of community facilities like swimming pools and safeguarding the environment eg open/green spaces on into the future.

It wont surprise readers then that I fully back the letter ‘Let our children play’ sent to todays Daily Telegraph, not just because I’m a green but also because I’m a father and a teacher who worked with kids in secondary schools/colleges for over fifteen yrs.

The list of 300 expert signatories to the letter
is even more impressive and weighty than the 100 or so on a similar letter to the Telegraph in Sept 2006 (see blog entry of Feb 22, 2007).

The BBC headline when reporting this 'No outdoor play 'hurts children'...' is very appropriate. Children need: real play; real food; real first hand experiences of the world; real quality interaction with adults; and real time.

What does it take to convince some people about the need for road safety cameras?

Bob Bull’s letter in todays Bristol Evening Post criticising the Green Party (‘Driver education is what is needed’, Open Lines, 10 Sept) for being very strongly in favour of speed/road safety cameras misses the point on several crucially important grounds as well as being plain wrong that cameras ‘…in no way contribute to safer roads or better driving.’. The national pilot scheme on safety cameras showed a 35% average reduction in casualties where cameras had been placed. The pilot also showed an average 56% reduction in the number of pedestrians being killed or seriously injured at safety camera sites.

Bob talks about cameras in relation to accidents but completely fails to mention that speeding not only increases the likelihood of accidents but also of deaths and serious injuries in the event of accidents. Take the 30 mph limit – the police point out that in an accident at 20mph 90% of pedestrians survive, at 30mph 50% survive but when breaking the limit at 40mph 90% die. So Bob, more speed, more death.

He also misses the point that its not just the ‘..road safety groups and the Green Party…’ that have, in his terms, ‘…naively supported the speed kills campaign..’ but also our police force, local councils and central government. Are we all na├»ve? Bob seems to forget why a speed camera can appear in a place – local community concern, evidence of breaking the law by speeding, and a history of road collisions. So Bob, despite the vocal minority against cameras, many people do actually want them and campaign for them!

No-one is against the driver education and better traffic policing he calls for but we need these things along with cameras to increase road safety and the quality of life. Finally, its notable that Bob, along with others who have written to oppose safety cameras, did not condemn the illegal destruction of them by extremely anti-social people.

My household ecological footprint (approx!)

My three person household’s ecological footprint is between 1.82 – 2.90 global hectares (comparable national average = 5.3 according to and carbon footprint between 4.20 and 7.64 tonnes per yr (10.22 = national average), according to various rough estimation methods available online (details below). Not bad at all given that the lowest figure I could find was 2.56 global hectares for the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland (though note that since the methodologies and degrees of accuracy vary any comparison should be very cautious). See WWF and Wikpedia for decent background on fooprinting issues.

For various reasons I am putting together a more accurate and detailed household/personal footprint document, (with results put into context via use of a consistent method) and will make it available through a link on this site soon. By far the biggest footprints are found in the northern hemisphere and especially in the west – strikingly illustrated by this map, which expands/contracts a country’s land area according to footprint. The planet entered ecological debt in the 1980’s.

There’s an awful lot of talk theses days about our footprint, usually ‘carbon footprint’ (tonnes of carbon emitted per yr) and sometimes ecological or environmental footprint (land area needed to sustain a lifestyle) as a measure of human impact on our planet. I spend a lot of time with my environmental science and technology students discussing and calculating footprints eg using the Ecocal computer model developed by Best Foot Forward Ltd following the work of Chambers, Simmons, and Wackernagel (reported in the book Sharing Nature’s Interest for instance).

Having spent the last seven years annually measuring my own ecological footprint when my students were doing theirs I recently took an interest in the carbon footprint application available through Facebook, curious to see how the rough estimate compared with the more detailed calculations I’d been doing at work. - ‘carbon footprint’ application available through Facebook gave an estimated figure of 4.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide per yr for my 3 person household (1.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per yr).

This figure seemed a bit low (my own estimate is 5 tonnes, or 1.7 tonnes per person per yr – about half the national average of 10.22 tonnes given on the website), so I decided to trawl around online, trying out some of the many sites available for both carbon and ecological footprint estimation. - rough estimate of annual eco- footprint = 2.9 global hectares (4.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide per yr) ie 0.97 hectares per person (1.57 tonnes carbon dioxide per person). - 2.8 global hectares (compared to a national average of 5.3). - 2.21 hectares (needing 1 x UK – great since we do only have one!!). - 1.82 hectares – below the UK average, according to this site - (6.62 tonnes of carbon). - 7.64 tonnes of carbon dioxide (10.22 national average).

Friday, 7 September 2007

Breaking the law - ever justifiable? If so, when?

Is it ever justifiable to break the law when campaigning? This is a topical question given for example recent campaigns against climate change/flying at Heathrow.

Few people, if any, would argue that law breaking is never justifiable - think of prominent examples of law breaking to achieve positive social change like Vaclav Havel and the 'Velvet Revolution' in 1989, perhaps inspired by people like Mahatma Gandhi to gain independence in India and Martin Luther King Jr campaigning for civil rights in the USA.

I do belong to a radical party that has this core value: '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.'

It is justifiable to break the law when campaigning and in fact some may feel compelled or duty-bound to do so, often inspired by people like Gandhi (who in turn was influenced by Henry David Thoreau) . However, if the law is broken it must, in my view, generally: appeal directly to the sense of justice of the majority; not reject the rule of law; be non-violent; accept lawful punishment that results; be a shrewd tactical move (why do it otherwise?); be consistent with core green values.

Mansions: more 19th than 21st century...

Personally I'm never going to be comfortable with Bristol’s Lord Mayors living in a luxurious Mansion. This is supposed to be an age of much greater equality and fairness not the 19th Century. Anyone else feel this way?? An article in today’s Bristol Evening Post relating to this caught my eye…

'David Clarke, the Lord Mayor's secretary and Sword Bearer, gives a brief history about the Mansion House to the guests' (‘Tea time at the Lord Mayor’s show’, Bristol Evening Post, 7 Sept) but does he give the full history and context surrounding the Mansion House or does he start, as the article suggests, in 1874? I may be wrong but I just cant see him outlining the 1831 Bristol Riots!

Just in case he doesn't, the extract below from the Bristol City Council website makes
the picture a bit more complete and if you want more detail see the extract below ** from the Bristol Radical History site (see the very good Guardian article too):

'It is in fact the third Mansion House, the original building in Queen Square was destroyed in the Bristol Riots of 1831. [Note: ‘A popular revolt for the vote which led to the first Reform Act’, The Guardian]. Although replaced by a second house in Great George Street, this was closed in 1835 under the drastic economies forced on the City Council by the Municipal Corporations Act. For many years the Mansion House was not only the home of the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, but also the lodgings of the High Court Judges.'

**1831 was a period of significant unrest in Britain centred in the political arena around issues of parliamentary reform[3] and the abolition of slavery. In France in 1830 suffrage issues had caused a revolution that had brought people to the barricades and forced the King to abdicate. The warning signs were there for the corrupt and tiny minority that controlled political power in Britain. As a pacifying reform, a bill that would extend suffrage to a small section of the middle class was introduced and then defeated in the House of Lords in September of that year. Public anger was widespread, there were riots in the Midlands against anti-Reform aristocrats, the effigies of Bishops who were against reform were burned and there was widespread sabotage in factories and mines.
In Bristol the magistrate, Sir Charles Weatherall, a notorious opponent of reform arrived in the city to open the hated assizes and decided to celebrate the defeat of the reform bill with the Bishop and other notaries. A protest by pro-reformists was joined by an angry mob who then attacked the Mansion house where Weatherall tried to take shelter after his carriage was stoned. After a cavalry charge by the Light Dragoons cleared the crowd from Queen’s Square the wealthy merchants who made up the notoriously corrupt Bristol Corporation must of thought the unrest was over. How wrong they were! The next day the mob returned with greater numbers and with a determination to burn, loot and destroy those institutions that they despised, the prisons, the houses of the rich (Queen’s Square, the Mansion House) and the houses of the corrupt (the Bishop’s Palace, the Cathedral). Some middle class pro-reformists attempted to halt the actions of the crowd by trying to convince them that Weatherall had left the city and in so doing had completely missed the point. This wasn’t about parliamentary reform
[4] any more this was an explosion of class anger…(

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Dont flog allotments for housing - increase the number of sites and get people using them

One of the greenest things you can do is grow some of your own food. I therefore strongly support Paul Wilkes campaign on saving allotments (‘They’re losing the plot’, Bristol Evening Post, 6 Sept). Allotments have great environmental, health and social benefits. Bristol should be doing more to encourage the popularity of allotment gardening. Instead of flogging off allotment sites the city council, which after all has ambitions to be the UKs ‘green capital’, should aim to increase the number of plots per thousand residents. Neil Dixon, of the National Allotment Gardens Trust, said, ‘The average across the country is about 15 allotments per 1,000 population and in some areas that rises to 38 per 1,000. Bristol has about seven per 1,000. Bristol has sold a fair amount of allotment land. Some of the money has been used to run its allotments stock and improve it, in other cases it has gone on other projects.’

Allotments benefit well-being - allotment gardeners enjoy affordable fresh produce, tend to eat more fruit and vegetables than average and get plenty of exercise growing it! Composting on allotments also cuts waste. Go to these sites for information on allotment growing:

At a Shirehampton site allotments are set to be redeveloped for 32 houses and flats ( Bristol City Council is set to flog Jubilee Allotments, in Myrtle Drive, to the Jephson Housing Association).

Paul Wilkes said "They are going to have to stop building on allotments. Where else are they going to find space for all the plots they will have to provide? They are closing allotments. Demand is increasing…more people appreciating the health benefits. The general population is increasing. So eventually you will need more allotments, not fewer."

He’s dead right. To flog off allotment sites now, when there is high potential to get more people, especially young women, growing their own, is very short sighted and not what you would expect of a city with ‘green capital’ ambitions. Thirty yrs ago only 2% of allotment holders were women. Now women account for at least 20% of allotment tenants. The rise is allotment popularity has been well reported .

What line do we get from the city? Council spokesman Simon Caplan said: "The Jubilee Allotments have been vacant and derelict for at least 10 years. The land has been earmarked in the local plan - the long-term blueprint for the city - for housing. As far as the law goes, we have to provide enough allotments across the city for people who want them. We do that. Demand has gone down and we have sold off land. We have 98 allotment sites currently, with the equivalent of 4,039 full plots, of which 2,942 are let (73 per cent). So there remains plenty of capacity across the city. Our target is to have 90 per cent let by 2012. The total we raised from these sales was £6.4 million - and £2.5m will go back into allotments to upgrade them."

Better quality allotment sites is good but it doesn’t sound like there is anything even remotely like a policy of getting more allotments plots per thousand to me. With this attitude we will never reach the national average number of plots in the city – so much for ‘green capital’ thinking!

Green Party policy on allotments, enacted in Bristol, would take us forward considerably:

· Local authorities to provide more proactive support for allotments and to work to cut waiting lists where demand for allotment plots is high.
· New allotment sites to be created on brownfield land and new housing estates.
· More public information on the availability of allotments and improved public education on the benefits of allotments.
· Allotments to be given much greater protection through the planning system.
· The removal of restrictions on the sellling and bartering of allotment produce, as long as it confirms to food safety standards.
· Improved access and better facilities for disabled people and raised beds.
· Allotment provision to be tailored to meet the needs of those who wish to take them up including different sized plots and ensuring provision is as close as practicable to all who would like them.

Involve people in plans right from the outset, as idea generators

Its really important to fully involve everyone with a stake in new plans right from the outset so this one has not got off to the brightest start. Plans for the redesign of Broadwalk shopping centre in Knowle have been unveiled (80 new flats, extra office space, and a new fa├žade) by the owners Frogmore (‘Broadwalk’s revamp plans are unveiled’, Bristol Evening Post, 6 Sept) but locals are reacting to ideas presented rather than having been part of the idea generation process to now, it seems.

The Evening Post report, by Tom Hodson, on the plans quoted several local traders. Matt Savage from Knowle Traders' Association complained that local businesses had not been consulted prior to the unveiling, though the association will be meeting with owners Frogmore now.

Will Appleby of M &W Meats in Wells Road said: "It will bring more people to the area, but I still can't understand why they didn't tell us about it beforehand, so we could have helped push the scheme."

Pedro Nunez of The Barber Shop in Redcatch Road said: "It doesn't look as bad as I thought it would, but it would have been nice to have known more about it before they unveiled the plans."

Amir Amrabadi of Mr Crispins Fish and Chips in Wells Road said: "One of my worries is that the dentist inside the centre might go, which has thousands of patients and brings people into our shops."

Lets hope the process from now is a lot more participative – plans have been on show in the Broadwalk Shopping Centre.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Pesticide dependent farming: critical to sustainable development?? Huh?

The Crop Protection Association’s Dr Anne Buckenham said‘…it's worth remembering that farmers will only use a pesticide if they need to control pests that would otherwise ravage their crop and deprive them of their income. The judicious use of pesticides is therefore critical to sustainable development in many countries.’ (Bristol Evening Post, Open Lines, ‘The other side of the pesticides debate’, 5 Sept).

Slight flaw in this thinking, in the medium and long term, if not in the short term. Pesticides are manufactured from oil, a finite, non-renewable fossil fuel.

Oil will run out and where will pesticides then come from? The consumption of oil and its many products, pesticides included, is causing climate change that is already seriously impacting farming. Take these together and you have unsustainable food production.

How does it help farmers to keep them dependent on pesticides and not assist them to develop sustainable, more natural alternatives? Farmers can ‘control pests that would otherwise ravage their crop’ by methods other than unsustainable, toxic chemical use – organic farmers do it. At some stage soon they have to find sustainable methods in any case.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Hengrove Park Regeneration Project: how green will the planning/development process be from now?

Today I received an A5 envelope in the post addressed to The Occupier (very likely along with many others in South Bristol). It contained an A4 full colour, 8 page brochure detailing the Hengrove Park Regeneration Project, ( 'a joint public and private sector initiative to redevelop a large former airfield' (actually much, much more like a park for many years, thus Hengrove Park [!], if you ask locals and look at the glossy picture at the top of the brochure). I'm particularly interested in how the development will be 'Built to meet the highest level of design and sustainability standards'. Bristol City Council Leader Helen Holland says the development is '...potentially the jewel in the crown for South Bristol...'.

Planning permission has already been given for redevelopment. The brochure outlines the plans for a Healthplex with pool, leisure facilities and all sorts, Hospital, Skills Academy, Computershare HQ and more...(note: house building is briefly mentioned only) and invites peoples views. I will certainly be sharing my views, not least because of my involvement in trying to save Jubilee Pool from closure (see numerous posts on this blog), which is interlinked with the Hengrove development. In fact Lib Dem Councillor Simon Cook (then 'in charge') responded as shown in bold below to my campaign to save a locally available, quality of life enhancing facility (whose closure in 2010/11, I'd been told, is due to the pool at Hengrove Park opening). Extract from blog entry of March 19:

In a pretty desperate attempt to give the proposed Hengrove Leisure Centre, which will be built on open, green space by the way, a greener gloss, [closing my local pool also results in raised carbon emissions from additional travel impacts] he says, rather vaguely, 'We will also try to build in some sustainable technology - maybe having some solar panels on the top, or a wind turbine'. I get the distinct impression from his vagueness that these features have not so far been integral to any plans, though I will track his progress towards doing these things with some interest.

Anyhow, whilst its no longer Cllr Cook I will be tracking I will still be most interested to see how integral to the regeneration process and designs sustainability will be from now. All I could do today was send the email below (watch this space for more on this issue):

Please could you inform me whenever the Hengrove Park website ( is updated - just visited it to find it has little on it as yet!

What I'm particularly interested in is any info relating to 'the highest level of design and sustainability standards' referred to in the (not very environmentally friendly) glossy brochure I received in the post today.

More of what our bodies do need and less of what they dont: organic food

Over the weekend I've been involved in a debate on the Bristol Blogger site about the merits of organic food, or lack of. I got involved because I felt that the benefits of organic food were being swept aside and massive problems with intensive farming, to which organic farming is in my view a partial solution, were not acknowledged. I based my first comment on my blog entry of January 9 2007 but was then asked for sources...I spent a fair bit of time putting together the response below - if anyone knows of better examples/arguments please send them to the Bristol Blogger!

... I referred to research that was widely reported in my first comment as well as giving a reasoned case that no-one has disputed the sense of. Blogger cant simply throw it all out by throwing mud at the Soil Assoc. []

Its not a substantial argument from Blogger to accuse me of being scared of technology and attacking all technology in farming (organic farmers eg use plenty of it!). This is just stereotyping on his part and is a feature of the way he argues.

Its also not credible for Blogger to argue that there is no connection between intensive farming practices and BSE, foot and mouth and bird flu. Cases of BSE in cows born and raised organically are zero for instance.

My general point is that organic food is healthier because it has both more of what we do need and less of what we don’t need for our wellbeing. I acknowledge that the debate is of course ongoing as more research is done but the body of evidence in favour of organics is now mounting rapidly. Go to this report for example: .

I guess the big and politically influential multinational companies involved in agrochemical manufacture have not been keen on research into organics to say the least. Now, if you want to look at the reports of the research I referred to in the media...

Evidence for more omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin C, E and A, and anti-oxidants like flavinoids is very strong in certain foods. Evidence of negative health impacts from contaminants of various kinds is stronger if anything.

For reports on organics having less of what we don’t need, go to: for a start.

For reports on organics having more of what we do need:

More vitamin C:

More phytonutrients such as anti-oxidants called flavinoids:


More omega 3 fatty acids in milk:

More vitamin E and vitamin A in milk:

One Soil Association briefing leaflet (available via their website ) dealing with how organic food has more nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, as well as less contaminants like artificial pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and anti-biotics, uses these sources: The King’s Fund, an independent medical charity; Professor Vyvyan Howard, University of Liverpool; the British Medical Association; the World Health Organisation; the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine; and a range of academic papers – a list pretty strong on that vital property of evidence quality - provenance - I’d say.

On other issues - I do think that a lot of organic food is very overpriced (and imported) and I agree this cant be addressed through the law of supply and demand alone, so...has a point. Our society effectively subsidises the mass production of chemical and energy intensive food, making it superficially 'cheap' because the costs of poorer health and environmental pollution are not a private but certainly are a social cost, for now and for future generations. What we need to do if we are to subsidise at all is to switch favour to the greener, healthier options.

Now, also raised was the issue of whether we can produce enough food for a large population by organic methods alone. [Note: I'd earlier in the debate argued that a low meat diet would free up land, making feeding larger numbers without imports easier]. I'm not arguing for all production to be organic, though I'd like to see chemical farming get a lot smarter and more frugal in its operation (through science and technology!). I'd also like to see a lower population in the long run but thats another big debate...and at the moment I'm writing more of Bloggers site than he is!!