Archives for category: Planning

Reading Christian Wolmar’s article: ‘Rail’s dirty secret’, recalled last year’s  question on this site: ‘How many lungs and hearts will be damaged by air pollution before action is taken?’

There is concern about the levels of diesel-generated air-pollution on Grand Central (New Street) platforms experienced by travellers like Professor Rex Harris (Birmingham) whose work includes the promotion of a hydrogen fuelled transport system for rail and waterways.

Professor Thorne’s student monitoring air pollutants at Grand Central

Research conducted by Professor John Thorne (Birmingham) found almost seven times the annual average EU limit of particulate matter on one platform.

The TV programme Dispatches then visited New Street Station with its own monitors and found “high levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulates on one of the platforms… way above EU annual limits”. Network Rail told the programme it wanted the station to be a “safe and healthy environment” and that in the coming years it “will shift to less polluting electric trains”. Wolmar writes:

In the Rail Engineer, Malcolm Dobell wrote about a hydrogen fuel cell locomotive he saw four years ago; a team from Birmingham University had designed, constructed and entered a fuel cell powered one-fifth scale locomotive in the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Railway challenge.

He reported that Alstom’s new train, the Coradia iLint (above), which runs on hydrogen power rather than diesel, has had its first successful test run. It is the first low floor passenger train in the world to be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

The hydrogen used for the test runs is the by-product of an industrial process, which is reasonably reused as a waste product, but because Germany has invested heavily in wind turbine technology as part of its energy mix, it will also be able to use the energy generated by the wind turbines to make hydrogen when electricity demand is low.

As Dobell mentioned, the Birmingham Centre for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research undertook a cross-disciplinary venture with a number of Birmingham Energy Institute academics and Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, to design and construct the UK’s first practical hydrogen-powered locomotive.  The Centre’s website adds that there will be a requirement for such autonomously powered trains to serve non-electrified lines.

Hydrogen-powered locomotives, cars and boats, emitting only steam and condensed water, Dobell comments, are better for the environment, more pleasant for passengers and less disruptive to communities.

Time for change.

 

 

 

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One of the charms of Stirchley is the active community bonding between many of its residents, regardless of age, income or education.

This may be seen by attending its neighbourhood forum, its market, its local history group, its renovated park, its library support group and many more activities housed in the re-opened Stirchley baths community centre (below) and the former Stirchley Institute.

Samuel Clark, development director at Seven Capital, looks forward to the ‘gentrification of this important Birmingham suburb’.

Gentrification (aka more expensive ‘aspirational’ housing) – the influx of more affluent people concentrated in a block on the nine-acre site on the corner of Hazelwell Lane and Pershore Road – would be a retrograde step.

Many who admire this active and creative neighbourhood, hope that developer Seven Capital, with bases in the city, London and Dubai, will really listen to ‘local stakeholders’ and, together with the council, design plans which include affordable, social and more profitable ‘gentrified’ housing for the new ‘mixed-use scheme’.

As one resident said on Stirchley online:

Mr Clark, please note. An appropriate scheme would counteract ‘Which’s designation of Seven Capital’s ‘worst case’ offer of housing as an investment opportunity.

No more empty ‘investment’ flats should be seen in the city; let house-building mean home-building.

 

 

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The city has at last gained a council leader who really cares for the 99% (search housing blogs) – the only one since Theresa Stewart was elected.  

Measures taken (2016-17) include:

Clancy also works effectively to maintain and increase economic prosperity for the city’s business community:

Does ‘Sir Humphrey’ resent his success?

Howard Beckett (Unite) points out: “Let no one lose focus here that this is a cuts agenda being forced through by a paid officer, Stella Manzie, who takes home £180,000 a year and in her last year at Rotherham claimed over £160,000 in expenses”. He stated:

“The Council have agreement with the unions for changes in a working week, shift patterns, increased waste revenue. The Labour Cabinet needs now to honour the Acas deal and in doing so do the right thing by workers and the people of Birmingham . . . the council needs to admit it did ratify it and stand by it – and if it doesn’t, it needs to be honest and admit it’s going back on its decision. This is a fair deal and the equal pay issues are made up”.

Is the civil service attempting to undermine the elected leader of the council? Technically no officers, including the interim chief executive, have the authority to overturn a cabinet vote  seven for three against according to a ‘senior Labour source’ at a council meeting on 17 August called to discuss the deal

Clancy’s ‘crime’: addressing a major overspend on the bins department which relied heavily on costly agency staff and overtime payments to fulfil its basic service and a potential equal pay liability that the Labour leadership inherited from the former Tory-Lib Dem council which oversaw the 2011 bin strike.

There will be a full council meeting on Tuesday, September 11 when two councillors with a minimal track record of achievement will table their vote of no confidence in the leader.

It should be overwhelmingly defeated.

 

 

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Connectivity, though identified as such in the Midlands Connect strategy report,  is not the greatest transport problem

The Midlands Connect Partnership and the Department for Transport have developed a transport strategy that identifies the major infrastructure projects needed to improve the connectivity of the region’s key locations and drive economic growth, but it omits any reference to waterway passenger and freight potential. 

Its ‘Final Strategy’ paper (left, March) has no canal or waterway references, 12 to congestion and only one to air pollution.

Sir John Peace, the current Chair of Standard Chartered plc and Burberry Group plc, has been appointed as Chair of the Midlands Engine and will continue to chair Midlands Connect. As his experience is in financial services and retailing, he needs to draw on the wealth of experience in organisations such as Freight for London, the Commercial Boat Operators Association (CBOA) and the Canals and River Trust (CRT). Though employment opportunities abound in the inland waterway transport sectors in India, Uganda, South Sudan and continental Europe, according to online advertisements, Midlands Connect appears to be unaware of the transport potential of waterways. 

Jonathan Guthrie, Financial Times Enterprise Editor, reported years ago that canals could regain their role as conduits for trade because of gridlock on the motorways according to a new study for West Midlands councils, the Highways Agency and British Waterways, which found “considerable potential for the reintroduction of freight on the canals”. What has changed?

He added that the findings will resonate with any driver who has ever watched narrowboats putter past on nearby canals while stuck on a motorway. A canal freight shuttle service between the Black Country and Birmingham could move 175,000 tonnes annually and save 61,750 urban lorry miles, the study found. All valid points today. 

The CRT report, Transport energy, planning for inland waterways freight, records evidence given to the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Rural Affairs Committee (ETRAC) 38 suggesting that there is significant traffic potential. One barge company claimed that, “without trying at all”, there was half a million tonnes of freight that could be transferred from road transport and that the Aire & Calder Navigation could quite easily take 2,000 lorries a day off local roads.

To create a more comprehensive strategy, Sir John Peace and the partnership could co-opt a number of people with the right expertise. One of many is Tim West of Robert Wynn and Sons Ltd. He was consulted about low bridges restricting the ability of the inland waterways to accommodate some cargo on certain stretches and replied that his firm has been able to carry large abnormal loads to locations such as Worcester, Leeds, Nottingham, Rotherham, York, Preston and Manchester. The Inland Navigator (above) sailed down the River Ouse carrying a transformer to Drax power station, avoiding a possible 15 mile tailback on the motorways.

London’s River Bus Express (above) run by Transport for London offers the public a regular service which is described in detail here – a model for other towns and cities. The city is also moving large amounts of water and construction materials by water.

The CRT report points out that it is Government policy to promote alternatives to road transport for both passenger and freight movements, partly to reduce congestion and partly to reduce the environmental impact of road transport.  

Inland waterways have the potential to assist in both these objectives.

 

 

 

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Councillor Lisa Trickett, Cabinet Member for Waste and Recycling, sent a message to Birmingham citizens to say that the pattern of industrial action changed on August 11. There are now three one-hour strikes each working day (7am-8am, then 10.30am-11.30am and finally 1.30pm-2.30pm):

“The travel time before and after each hour of industrial action along with crew breaks being taken at their depot – rather than out and about in the city – will have a significant impact on collections. In simple terms this will be much more than the three hours of strike action that Unite the union claim to be staging”.

She corrects the impression that there will be job losses and cuts to basic pay for workers that are affected by the removal of the “leading hand” role ( “one of the two supervisors we currently have – in a crew that is only a three-person team”).

Those supervisors will be offered other permanent roles within the council that their skills are broadly suited to, with training on offer to help ensure they could move into the jobs as easily as possible.

The plan being discussed with the unions is based on the best practice used by other councils. Under the new model, more than 200 new permanent employees will be recruited to collect rubbish and recycling from our streets. This will bring stability to the service and improve efficiency.

Many readers will welcome the determination to move away from an over-reliance on agency staff and other in-house moves taken – notably the reduced use of Capita services.

To read the full message go to: http://birminghamnewsroom.com/refuse-collections-an-open-letter-to-citizens/

 

 

 

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Birmingham City Council’s cabinet has approved a proposal to enable the development of new homes for self and custom build in the City; read more here.

‘Incentivising self-build in the city’, signed by Council leader John Clancy and Waheed Nazir Corporate Director (Economy), puts forward a series of proposals to enable the development of new homes for self and custom build in Birmingham, identifying and disposing of suitable council-owned sites and applying for grants and loan funding to support self and custom build. Self-build schemes currently deliver around 10,000 homes per year in the UK – see the government’s research briefing.

The Birmingham Newsroom release points out that the Government has taken steps to raise the profile of self-build, easing constraints in the planning systems, cutting taxes for self-build developments, providing a number of funds to assist individuals and communities to self-build and releasing public land for self-build projects. In 2016 councils became legally obliged to keep a register of potential self and custom builders and to facilitate access to suitable sites for interested parties. In 2014, a Guardian article refers to Eric Pickles as initiator and gives news of continental self-build.

The news release explains that ‘self-build’ is when the end user directly organises the design and construction of their home: “The most traditional is where the self-builder selects the design and undertakes much of the actual construction work themselves. However, self-build also includes projects where the self-builder arranges for an architect/ contractor to build their home for them; and those which are delivered by kit home companies. Some community-led projects are also defined as self-builds as the members may organise and undertake a proportion of the construction work themselves”.   There is a Self and Custom Build webpage on the Council’s website with five documents, one of which gives information about applications for self-build by individuals or associations.

As most online images were of individually designed houses in rural settings this Lancaster co-housing scene (small houses, with communal facilities and storage areas) was chosen – not ‘pure’ self-build, but the group designed it and did ‘site preparation on the periphery’.

As Brandon Lewis, when Housing and Planning Minister (2014-16) said, many other countries have a track record of delivering large numbers of local homes through self-build and there is now a determination to ensure significant growth in self housebuilding.

Long-forgotten references were revisited:

The Walter Segall Self-Build Trust has a website, not updated of late. In the late 1970s the ‘Segal method’ was adopted by Lewisham Council for a self-building housing project across four sites and in March 2016 the Architectural Association’s School of Architecture held an exhibition concentrating on two of the streets, Walter’s Way and Segal Close, built under Segal’s personal guidance.

A search updated news gf Mary Kelly, architect, self-builder and teacher who for ten years co-ordinating the activities of the Walter Segal Self Build Trust. She is now living and teaching in Northumberland, building her own house.

Habitat for Humanity, backing self- build in Peckham, has an online directory with a section for the Midlands.

The Self-build Book – Broome & Richardson – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Self-build-Book-Enjoy-Designing-Building/dp/1870098234

Selfbuild 123 – timber frame houses www.selfbuild123.co.uk

Green Building Store https://www.greenbuildingstore.co.uk/

Self build houses: http://www.selfbuildit.co.uk/

 

 

 

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The sketchy reports on the dispute about the refuse collection changes on the BBC and Birmingham Mail websites have been supplemented by welcome information from Jacqui Kennedy, Corporate Director for Place.

She explained that this action is being taken because the council is facing significant financial challenges following six years of cuts to local government funding.

Taking refuse collection ‘in-house’ – dispensing with 200 expensive agency staff

Jacqui continued: “It is extremely important that we move away from relying on expensive agency staffAt the moment 200 out of 595 employees in refuse collection are hired from agencies. We intend to replace agency staff with up to 246 full-time staff employed directly by the council. All of these new permanent employees will enjoy the associated benefits that come with working for the council such as pension, holiday entitlement and sick pay”. The Mail adds that overtime will also go and the number of binmen will be increased by 152.

Agreement with the unions is sought as waste collection crews will be required to shift from a four day week of just over nine hours per day to a five day week of just over seven hours per day. Joint development of the detailed plans needed to make these proposals work is important.

Jacqui points out that over 40% of material in our bins is food waste. Last year, UK households wasted around 20% of all the food they buy – but there has been a 17% reduction since 2007, according to Food Waste Facts.

Visitors to this site come from many British regions and other countries – last week’s stats (right). A Gloucestershire reader recommends their food waste collection which began in 2016. Though some Birmingham gardeners already compost such material, other residents could make good use of a similar facility.

A Stroud newspaper recorded in 2016 that two weeks into the scheme 232 tonnes of food waste from 52,000 residents had already been collected – more than the weight of a blue whale.

Even the most careful householders have eggshells and orange peel to place in the small kitchen food waste bin provided – and the less careful dispose of ‘leftovers’ and unused, decaying food. These are emptied into a larger bin (right) kept outside. The bins are collected once a week and taken to an aerobic digester. In a few weeks it is turned into gas used in the grid and the residue is put on the fields as fertiliser.

“A great example of the renewable circular economy”, according to Green councillor Simon Pickering.

 

 

 

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Proposals for Brummie Bonds were first put forward by former Greenpeace economist Colin Hines at the end of 2004 (Birmingham Post – Comment: 5.2.04), at the end of 2004 by then Conservative council leader Mike Whitby mentioned here, advocated in the Stirrer (2008) and frequently by John Clancy (right), before he became Labour council leader (most eloquently in 2011).

Clancy acts, 2017

Professor David Bailey (Aston Business School, Birmingham) welcomed the news that the City has found a new way to finance house-building – John Clancy’s first issue of Brummie Bonds (more detail here):

“The City Council is already building more new council houses than any other local authority in the country – with the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust building 30% of all new homes in the city last year. But that’s still not enough and using Brummie Bonds to raise £45m to help finance more house building is welcome news. Clancy has talked of Brummie Bonds opening up new funding streams to deliver a “step change” in building homes”.

The Council has stated that the interest rate it will pay on the Brummie Bonds is actually lower than that charged by the Public Works Loan Board (or PWLB – a government body that provides loans to local authorities mainly for capital projects).

Pensions and life assurance specialists Phoenix Life, which employs around 600 people in Wythall, has agreed to invest in a ‘Brummie Bond’ and there is the prospect of other investors coming in. The West Midlands Local Government Pension Fund and other union and business pension funds could take up future issues.

Hines goes further, seeing municipal bonds as a safe haven for ‘People’s Pensions’ – just as when, following the Housing Act of 1919, the London County Council and other local borough councils began to sell housing bonds to the public to raise money for public housing. schemes. He also advocates that, in due course, such bonds would also fund the retrofitting of houses and clean modes of transport.

As Professor Bailey ends: “Hats off to Birmingham City Council for pulling this off. A “confident act of local economic self-determination”? Yes”.

 

 

 

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A scientist recently asked in a private email message: “Just how much of a scientific rationalist is Jeremy Corbyn? As far as I know he has never distanced himself publicly from his climate-denialist brother Piers”. He was recommended to read Corbyn’s reports Protecting our Planet & Environment and Energy and to see his video (snapshot right):

It has welcome input from the excellent Alan Simpson, a former Nottingham MP, about the Robin Hood energy co-operative.

More recently Kate Aronoff in the Guardian sees hope for real progress on climate change lying in its appeal to the interests of the 99% (our term, replacing her use of ‘populism’).  

It’s one of history’s greatest “us v them” scenarios, pitting a handful of oligarchs and profit-hungry fossil fuel CEOs against the rest of humanity”.

She continues: “The brand of climate denial that informs Trump and the Republican party line is the result of one of the global elite’s most effective projects yet. It’s been multinational corporations funding the campaign to cast doubt on scientific consensus. ExxonMobil, for instance, has poured at least $33m into such efforts since the Kyoto protocol was launched in 1997”.

Despite this long-running disinformation campaign, Kate notes that the majority of voters in every state support the United States’ participation in the agreement” and today we read about the critical response from some major industrialists and about several US states deciding to ‘go it alone’ after the president refused to be part of the Paris accord. Representatives of American cities, states and companies are preparing to submit a plan to the United Nations pledging to meet the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions targets under the Paris climate accord, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement. The group (to date) includes 30 mayors, three governors, more than 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses. Read more in the New York Times.

Kate points out – as Hines, Green New Deal convenor has long asserted, that any reasonable solution to climate change will require massive amounts of job creation, putting people to work doing everything from installing solar panels to insulating houses to updating the country’s electric grid to nursing and teaching, jobs in two of the country’s already low-carbon sectors.

She quotes climate scientist Kevin Anderson, who said earlier this year that shifting to a low-carbon society within the timeframe we have is an absolute agenda for jobs, “You are guaranteeing full employment for 30 years if we think climate change is a serious issue. If we don’t, we can carry on with structural unemployment.”

Her tactical advice: “Don’t chide Trump and the rest of his party for denying climate change when they pull out of the Paris agreement. Chide them for denying millions of Americans the well-paying jobs and stable future they deserve”.

Corbyn summarises: “A Labour government, under my leadership, will deliver an energy policy for the 60 million, not the Big 6 energy companies, championing community-owned renewable energy”.

 

 

 

Deeply troubling? Is this democracy? Is this sovereignty? 

Should not political decisions be taken in the interests of the 99% ?

The Guardian article refers to troubling revelations by Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer and notes that the Electoral Commission is now investigating the role played by US billionaire Robert Mercer in our EU referendum – adding ruefully, “But if it discovers any breaches of the rules, the penalties are feeble”.

Journalist George Monbiot goes on to highlight the use of ’dark’ money that does not seek to influence elections directly, but to change the broader political landscape.  

He explains that dark money is funding used, without public knowledge, by front groups and some thinktanks which resemble ‘covertly funded lobbyists’. The research group Transparify ranks these “thinktanks” by their openness about their funding and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the Adam Smith Institute and Policy Exchange are rated as “highly opaque”. But though they refuse to reveal their sponsors, they are often invited to speak by the BBC – in the Today programme, Question Time, (IEA’s Jamie Whyte on 5-Live today) and other media.

Monbiot cites the tobacco industry, which has sponsored the IEA since 1963 – a fact only revealed when a legal settlement forced open its archives. Last week the IEA published a report critical of the UK’s smoking ban and tobacco packaging law which was covered in the media, but with no reference to the institute’s funding-related bias.

Though the Conservative Party manifesto outlines a plan to “lead international action against climate change”, it also pledges to ensure oil and gas plays a “critical role” in UK energy provision. 

Ben Chapman in The Independent points out that the Electoral Commission files show oil and gas corporates’ donors to the May government including:

  • Ayman Asfari, the chief executive of Jersey-registered oil and gas firm, Petrofac, who gave £90,000 in December.
  • Ian Taylor, chief executive of the world’s largest oil trader, Vitol. He has personally given the Conservatives £47,000 since Ms May won the party leadership in July last year, adding to hundreds of thousands he had previously donated.
  • Former Vitol partner Matthew Ferrey has also given £124,000 to the Tories since last July. He has now set up his own investment company which invests in the sector.
  • Alexander Temerko, Ukrainian-born former deputy chairman of the Russian Yukos Oil Company, who has donated £63,800.
  • Amjad Bseisu, the Palestinian-born boss of energy company EnQuest who previously worked for Petrofac has given £28,500 to the Tories under Ms May, while
  • Abdul-Majid Jafar, chief executive of United Arab Emirates-based Crescent Petroleum, gave £28,000 in December.

The Independent article records accusations made against some of those listed, a legal case pending and a conviction and Monbiot ends:

“Why has there been no effective action on climate change? Why are we choking on air pollution? Why is the junk food industry able to exploit our children? Because governments and their agencies have rolled over and let such people make a mockery of informed consent. Now the whole democratic system is sliding, and the Electoral Commission is neither equipped nor willing to stop it. There’s an urgent, unmet need for new laws to defend democracy”.

 

 

 

 

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