green party logo borderThe Green Party of England and Wales has polled 10% for the first time this week, and online media reports that – according to a YouGov pollster – the recent surge in support is coming largely from Labour’s younger voters.

Although there has been a small increase in support from all age groups, the backing of 18–24 year olds is the driving force in its improved poll ratings.

Business Green (BG) comments that “The Greens are clearly positioning themselves as the ‘real opposition’ to the Coalition ahead of the general election, with Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas‘ article in the Guardian setting out seven reasons for this advance in the poll and asserting that Labour has failed to provide opposition to the government, particularly on austerity.

BG then referred to “the popularly held idea that the Labour Party has an historic role as the principled voice of the masses, which was lost when the New Labour project took off and has never been regained”.

New Labour has acknowledged this and appointed Sadiq Khan to head a new strategy unit hoping to address the Green challenge to Labour votes.

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Voters’ views are more in tune with the National Health Action Party than government

NHAP logoAnother new poll shows that most voters in David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt’s constituencies are at odds with the PM and Health Secretary over the NHS and more in tune with the NHAP Party which is fielding general election candidates in both constituencies.

On behalf of UNITE, Survation interviewed 1016 residents of Prime Minister David Cameron’s constituency of Witney and 1062 residents of Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt’s constituency of South West Surrey by telephone. Fieldwork was conducted between 2-5 December.

The poll shows that the overwhelming majority of voters in Witney and South West Surrey want the NHS exempted from the EU-US trade treaty, or TTIP, currently being negotiated in Brussels. Yet the Prime Minister has refused to keep the NHS out of the deal, even though he can.

Just 13% of voters in Witney and 16% in South West Surrey are in favour of including the NHS in TTIP.  Yet this is official Tory Party policy.

The poll also reveals that local NHS and GP services are by far the most important local issue – in Witney they are almost three times as important as immigration and in South West Surrey, they are as important as crime, immigration, employment and education put together.

lobbying for ttiphttp://corporateeurope.org/international-trade/2014/07/who-lobbies-most-ttip

The National Health Action Party have long been campaigning for the NHS to be exempted from the TTIP deal and now believe the entire deal needs to be opposed. The Party’s co-leader and general election candidate for Witney Dr Clive Peedell said he welcomed today’s poll:

“It’s encouraging that such an overwhelming majority of voters in this constituency are calling for the NHS to be saved from this damaging and secretive deal and that they are putting health at the very top of their election agenda. If the NHS were to be included in this deal between the EU and the US, it would allow US corporations easier access to our NHS as well as other public services, and would mean NHS privatisation being locked in . . . The NHA Party is standing up against both NHS privatisation and this trade deal . . . “

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nick_mathiasonIn his monograph on housing issues, business correspondent Nick Mathiason* records that – in England alone – there are 1.4 million households on council waiting lists – a 34% rise since 1997.

Almost 85,000 children are living in temporary accommodation. Few local social housing units are being built – with honourable exceptions in a few local areas, including social housing in Chelmsley Wood being built by the North Solihull Partnership and affordable homes by Bournville Village Trust in Shenley Green.

In Solihull Council’s 2012 site assessment, Lowbrook Farm and Tidbury Green Farm land was excluded from the green belt to meet the long term needs of developers for aspirational housing – not for the needs of those on the housing register. Other sites – some flood-prone – were scheduled for release in a few years’ time. A year later, possibly due to the strong local opposition, the Council’s Local Plan, which was approved by the Government’s Planning Inspector and formally adopted by Solihull Council in early December 2013, included the return of Lowbrook Farm and Tidbury Green Farm land to green belt status.

During early January 2014 a legal challenge, submitted to the High Court, by Gallagher Estates (Lowbrook Farm) and LionCourt Homes (Tidbury Green), succeeded in overturning the Council’s Local Plan.

In May 2014 the High Court found the local plan was flawed and ordered the two large sites in Tidbury Green to be removed from Green Belt. The Council challenged the decision and on 17th December the Court of Appeal dismissed the Council’s case.

greenfield site 4

The greenfield flood-prone site above, has already been covered with ugly, expensive housing described as ‘poky’ by a viewer.

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Continued: 2. What hope is there for Birmingham’s Development Plan?

 

*Nick Mathiason, who frequently writes articles exposing links between the governing hierarchy and wealthy donors, is business correspondent at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and also works with the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development. He was previously Business Correspondent at the Guardian and Observer newspapers for 10 years.

birmingham council logo2The Birmingham Development Plan expresses the intention to build on brownfield sites – but will find it hard to get developers to do this.

It then says: “Having explored the capacity within the urban area it is clear that it will be impossible to provide sufficient new housing to meet the City’s growing population with a shortfall in the region of 30,000 dwellings . . . This means that we must also consider the potential for development on the edge of the City – which means on land currently in the Green Belt”.

The plan has been submitted to Planning Inspector, Roger Clews, in July but no public response has yet been recorded.

Nick Mathiason* records that the supply of affordable housing has gone into reverse:

“Government figures project 42,710 affordable homes will be built in England in the year to April – the lowest number since 2006 and a 26% fall since 2010”

boi logo smallerLast year research undertaken for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that of 82 of the UK’s biggest housing developments in 10 major cities only 40% met local affordable housing targets.

Under Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy’ policy, approximately two million council homes were sold at a substantial discount and local authorities were banned from using the proceeds to replace them.

Further setbacks to the affordable housing sector were George Osborne’s 2010 Whitehall spending review 60% cut to the affordable housing grant and last year’s additional 2.2% reduction. The government also allowed housing associations to increase rents on their new build homes to 80% of market rents; in many areas, particularly in the south east, such ‘affordable’ rents are too high for ordinary people.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, the homeless campaign group, fears that low cost housing providers are in danger of forgetting their core mission.

Viability guidance

Kris Hopkins, the planning minister, thinks that viability guidance is not the reason for falling numbers of affordable homes. It is a question of how councils administer it.

‘Viability expert’ Christopher Marsh, explains: “There’s no question if you deflate value and inflate cost while adopting a typical profit margin, the effect will be, potentially, to reduce the amount of affordable housing delivered, especially if land value is fixed. That’s undoubtedly true and I have seen it very many times. If local authorities were sufficiently well equipped (with specialist training and experience) you could safely say the overall amount of affordable housing would be greater.”

In Birmingham, it is alleged that not one of the nine biggest schemes met the city’s 35% affordable housing target

In one planned 353-unit Birmingham project, even the allocation of 12 affordable homes – just 3.4% of the scheme – was considered “unviable” by planning advisers representing the developer.

Time for change – put the public good first and be content with reasonable profit.

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*Nick Mathiason, who frequently writes articles exposing links between the governing hierarchy and wealthy donors, is business correspondent at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and also works with the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development. He was previously Business Correspondent at the Guardian and Observer newspapers for 10 years.,

 

The European Court of Auditors’ report into EU-funded airports finds that the EU spent €129m between 2000 and 2013 on building airport infrastructure that was not needed.

eu funded airport infrastructures20 airports in Spain, Italy, Greece, Poland and Estonia, built with €666m of EU funds were examined.

One Greek airport had running costs of €7.7m between 2005 and 2012, while revenues were €176,000. The EU approved a €16.5m extension to its runway, which has yet to be used.

Cordoba airport in Spain received just 7,000 passengers in 2013 – compared with a forecast of 179,000. Spain’s Fuerteventura airport added 14 boarding gates based on a forecast of 7.5 million passengers; six were later closed due to lack of traffic.

The auditors found that in only four of the audited infrastructure expansions was the work funded ‘in line with real needs’ – and that excessive capacity was created in 11.

They concluded that for most of these regional airports, there was little evidence of an improvement in customer service or of regional socio-economic benefits, such as job creation.

Transport and Environment has criticised EU money being spent on regional airports at the expense of vastly underfunded, more sustainable modes of transport. Andrew Murphy, Transport & Environment’s aviation policy officer, points out that governments already exempt this most carbon-intensive form of transport from fuel taxes and VAT worth over €30 billion per annum.

The report will be of interest to those wishing to curb the expansion of airports because of adverse effects on the EU/public purse, neighbouring residents’ health and peace and the global environmental effects.

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The clearest and most detailed account read was published in European Voice:

http://www.europeanvoice.com/article/eu-wasted-money-on-new-airports-say-auditors/

Read the full report: http://www.eca.europa.eu/Lists/ECADocuments/SR14_21/SR14_21_EN.pdf

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Journalist Ross Crawford has charted the pattern of ‘progress’, from choice, to saturation, to domination and then – as the original traders fail – to no choice.

The Secretary of Solihull Ratepayers Association writes about ’a rather sad turn of events’ – a restrained reaction to a development anticipated by many.

chaggers

Chaggers store has been valued by the local community on Haslucks Green Road’s Station Parade for many years.

“Developers simply won’t take no for an answer.”

In September 2011, Sainsbury’s planning application for an Express store in the Haslucks Green Road Station Parade was unanimously turned down, though it had been supported by Council Planning and Highways Officers. But, as the Solihull News editor at the time, Ross Crawford, wrote, “developers simply won’t take no for an answer.”

There was a 2000 strong petition and over 400 letters of objection and local traders and residents turned out in force at the Council Chambers hearing.

Mr Crawford points out that Shirley already has ‘no end of supermarkets . . . Haslucks Green Road already has a thriving group of shops and the last thing they need is a national giant muscling its way in.” Like many, he believes:

“It’s about time Sainsbury’s and their ilk got the message.”

The writer visited Station Parade and after speaking to the traders it emerged that the shops most likely to be damaged by the advent of Sainsbury’s were Chaggers convenience store and the family firm of traditional butchers, J. Hughes, who sells meat of excellent quality. Chaggers has now fallen victim to the competition from the Sainsbury Local that opened next door.

SRA’s secretary ends: “We have a great deal of sympathy for Raj Chaggers and his wife and will be sorry to see him go – the shop is due to close early in January”.

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bob kerslakeThe author of a recent ‘independent’ government report, Sir Bob Kerslake, is the first accountant to lead the civil service and works with Mr Pickles as Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

They appear to forget that many of the city’s problems – including an under-funded children’s services department and lack of good training, care and education for its less privileged youngsters – date from the time the city was under Conservative-Liberal Democrat control.

Both administrations have invested in ‘iconic’ city centre development, whilst neglecting the areas where those on below average incomes live.

Today’s prime example of the failure of this strategy is that the Library of Birmingham is to reduce its hours significantly and a hundred more jobs will go. Brian Gambles, the director, has resigned. The council borrowed to fund this icon and now has to pay £12m annual debt servicing charges.

Another icon, the NEC exhibition centre, is on sale — so far without any takers.

german market

As the city is congested by the German Christmas market, drawing crowds from afar to buy over-priced trivia, councillors are reading this government-commissioned review of the council’s “governance and capabilities”, and its verdict that it showed a “dysfunctional” management, failing its poorest communities and being unable to deliver the most basic services.

Grant Thornton, the city auditors, warn that the city’s heavy debt charges could leave the council unable to settle the £638m it owes to hundreds of female staff over a longstanding equal pay dispute pursued by both administrations from the early 2000s.

Kerslake has recommended setting up an “improvement panel” to oversee  Birmingham’s performance from Whitehall. The panel will report back to government next December. If insufficient change has been made, some forecast the break-up of the council . . . whatever that implies.

Time for change – at national and local level. A Green/NHAP decentralising coalition could do no worse and might well do far better !

enda kenny david cameron belfast

The Irish Times reports that the Prime Minister and his Irish counterpart Enda Kenny of the right-wing Fine Gael party, ‘abruptly’ left the negotiations yesterday, because they could not reach a deal ‘over the future of Stormont’ – though saying that progress had been made.

David Cameron warned Northern Ireland’s political leaders that they needed to “start delivering” – but what and to whom?

Mr Cameron told reporters that a deal would be possible because the parties have done a lot of good work on the issues that need to be settled:

  • how to manage parades,
  • how to handle the past,
  • the issue of flying flags and
  • welfare reform.

Focussing on the first three issues appears to be a divide and rule strategy which might well destabilise the power-sharing administration in Belfast and allow in the corporate picnic which would follow implementation of the fourth:

Welfare reform (spending cuts), entail the corporate handover advocated in the name of efficiency and lowered expenditure, rarely delivered

wendy savage prof save nhsProfessor Wendy Savage, consultant gynaecologist and president of the Keep our NHS public campaign, delivered a warning to delegates:

‘Northern Ireland must beware of the creeping privatisation, use of social enterprises as Trojan horses and the right wing rhetoric that we cannot afford the NHS,’ she said.

‘A civilised country can afford to provide free health care to its citizens and the NHS has again been rated as the most cost effective in the OECD countries by the Massachusetts-based commonwealth fund.’

The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance comments that these developments reflect the dominant trend in neo-liberal economic policy over the last forty years, undermining the post Second World War consensus and the protections “from the cradle to the grave” to which it aspired.

NIPSA adds that those who say that there is “no such a thing as society”, see public services as a series of barriers to making money that have to be demolished: “The “wrecking ball” for this aspiration was and is privatisation”.

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smog april 14 brumIn April this year, parts of London, the south-east and the Midlands were covered by smog. Elderly people and asthmatics were told to stay indoors or to avoid exercise.

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The Birmingham Press, courtesy of the Brummie aggregator, has covered the response of BFOE’s Julien Pritchard to the recent report by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee that air pollution is a “public health crisis” causing almost as many deaths – 29,000 deaths annually – as smoking. The BBC reports that the committee found traffic responsible for 42% of carbon monoxide, 46% of nitrogen oxides and 26% of particulate matter pollution and proposed a scrappage scheme for diesel cars to cut emissions and changes to fuel duty to encourage low nitrogen dioxide vehicles as well as low carbon dioxide.

hyd buscitiesWalking and cycling are  advocated as “ultimate low emission” options and some will make the transition. For mass transit, however, installing hydrogen buses with roof-mounted fuel tanks is a good move.

Despite its serious levels of air-pollution, Birmingham has not, as yet, opted to have clean tourist and/or commuter buses and barges

ross barlow city backgroundAnd despite work done in the heart of the city designing a hydrogen-fuelled barge, by Professor Harris’ team at Birmingham University (see Energy Daily’s report from Switzerland) the Mailbox shuttle and other vessels operated by B’ham Canal Boat Services on its large canal network do not use cleaner fuels. And even though pioneering work is ongoing at Coventry University on cleaner vehicles, that city is also afflicted by traffic-related pollution.

Powering a cleaner future: in 2011 the first of a fleet of eight hydrogen fuel cell buses entered service on London’s bus route RV1.

hyd boris

Mayor Johnson sees hydrogen as a universal fuel playing a major role in a clean, sustainable energy future.

hydrogen london logoHydrogen, if produced from a carbon-neutral source – London’s waste, solar or wind power – is a carbon-neutral and emission-free fuel.

America’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), has carried out US Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bus Evaluations. Its findings are that ‘transit’ buses are one of the best ‘early’ transportation applications for fuel cell technology.

Will this or the next government ever take suitable action?

Dr Ian Mudway, a lecturer in respiratory toxicology at King’s College London, told the BBC: “The evidence is there. The 29,000 figure is very solid, so really it is a case of acting. But it is a strange one, because it’s their third [report] in five years and it is an attempt to get the government to do anything”.

Other national or state governments have acted:

hyd cities

Read more at http://www.hydrogenlondon.org/. Its hydrogen and fuel cells page gives an introduction to this technology.

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blue phoenix logo

Blue Phoenix invites readers to sign a petition asking Birmingham City Council to find alternative uses for Birmingham Central Library to preserve our history and one of the greatest remaining examples of brutalist architecture. You can read the full petition at http://www.thebluephoenix.co.uk/campaigns

Birmingham Central Library was the main public library in Birmingham from its construction in 1974. For a time the largest non-national library in Europe, it closed on 29 June 2013 and was replaced with the New Library of Birmingham.

This building is due to be demolished in 2014 as part of a regeneration project.

blue phoenix library view

Designed by architect John Madin, the library formed part of an ambitious development project by Birmingham City Council to create a civic centre around its new Inner Ring Road system. However significant parts of the masterplan including the exterior being plated with marble were not completed as quality was reduced on materials as an economic measure.

Despite the original vision not being fully implemented the library has gained architectural praise as an icon of British Brutalism with its stark use of concrete, bold geometry, inverted ziggurat sculptural form and monumental scale. Its style was seen at the time as a symbol of social progressivism.

Based on this, English Heritage applied twice for the building to gain listed status and due to strong opposition from Birmingham City Council the building has gained immunity from listing until 2016, when we will have already lost this, one of the finest remaining examples of brutalist architecture.

This Central Library petition now has 760 signatures. The initiators set a target of 2,000 so keep spreading the word. Sign here: https://www.change.org/p/birmingham-city-council-find-alternative-uses-for-birmingham-central-library-preserve-our-history

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Ben Parkinson is running a fundraising concert for CYEN at Small Heath Baptist Church on 13th December at 7pm – tickets £7 in advance or £8 on the door. The programme will include Christmas music, gospel music and his own jazz piano.

Concertjpg

 

Tickets can be acquired from this link – https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=LKBNTXK7KV9PW - or people are free to call 0121 430 8980 to reserve tickets.

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