Monday, 20 February 2017

Air pollution secrecy at Maidstone Borough Council

Maidstone Greens have claimed that Maidstone Borough Council is hiding something after their refusal to provide documents relating to air pollution under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Greens requested the material after claims by the Lib Dems that they were meeting with council officers to tackle Maidstone air pollution.

Stuart Jeffery, Maidstone Green Party: “Air pollution is responsible for around 130 people deaths each year in Maidstone and air pollution here is as bad as in central London so why are the council trying to cover up work that they promised to do to tackle it?

“They seem content to increase the number of cars driving through the town from the large housing developments on the periphery yet when it comes to tackling the appalling air pollution they are clearly not interested.

“And this is a Lib Dem led council and they are supposed to value freedom and transparency. I have to really question what they have to hide.”

Ends.


Notes:
  • FOI response below
  • FOI was requested in response to claims that Lib Dems were arrange a meeting to discuss the issue.
  • The exemption they are claiming is only to prevent draft documents being release whereas I have requested completed papers that are known to exist.
  • An appeal has been lodged.

From MBC:
Some of the information is enclosed in the format you requested. The remaining information is exempt under Regulation 12(4)(d) of the Environmental Information Regulations.

Regulation 12(4)(d) has been applied as the request relates to material that is still in the course of completion, unfinished documents or incomplete data.  The materials held by the working group are incomplete as they have yet to report findings and outcomes to committee, at which point the information will become publically available.  Regulation 12 (4)(d)  acknowledges that public authorities should have the necessary space to think in private. To this end, public authorities are entitled to refuse access if the request concerns material in the course of completion or internal communications. Having considered the public interest, the Department’s decision is therefore to withhold the information.


Friday, 27 January 2017

Homeless in Maidstone is rising. The council is doing very little.

This week's figures show that Maidstone has the 19th highest rate of rough sleepers in the country out of 326 local authorities. I find this shocking and it should be a sobering wake up call for the council who must take immediate action but won't. Maidstone Homeless Care have issued a warning that things are getting worse too. The article points out that "Homeless applications in Maidstone soared by 84 to 630 in the five years to April 2016, but the number of affordable homes built in 2015-16 was at its lowest level for 24 years." Well done to the KM for their campaigning.

There is a real lack of local and national government funding for short term shelters in the town. Organisations such as Porchlight, the Maidstone Day Centre and the Maidstone Churches Winter Shelter do excellent work but this is work that the council should be doing rather than relying on charities. Clearly the Lib Dem council is failing along with the austerity politics of the Tories and Lib Dems - they should be ashamed of themselves.

The council’s focus on building executive homes on the periphery of the town must be reversed too. The need is for affordable homes near to where the jobs, shops and public transport links are.

With my local Green colleagues I will continue to campaign tirelessly to reduce homelessness but it is time that the council took some real action too. Sadly it is not the marginalised, oppressed people in society that get to elect our politicians, rather it tends to be older wealthy middle classes who turn out to vote.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Bigotry towards the working classes, plusTrump, Brexit and climate change

I'm a huge fan of John Michael Greer's blog, even though his politics are way to the right of mine economically. His latest post focused on the bigotry of the liberal middle classes towards the working classes, a bigotry felt keenly by them and that helped to put trump in the White House yesterday and is also responsible for taking the UK out of the EU.

While the liberal middle classes rightly talk of liberation groups, they often ignore or worse still deliberately exclude the poorer people in society, those who simply want a decent job that pays enough to live on or alternatively need enough support from the state as they are unable to work. I'm sure other's remember Emily Thornberry's tweet of a picture of a house in Strood a couple of years ago: a Labour MP seemingly belittling a working class household for flying the St George Cross.

The bigotry is perhaps best demonstrated by Clinton's attempt to 'break through the glass ceiling' rather than focusing on the problems that the working class women were facing. While the glass ceiling is a common theme in feminism, it plays to the 1% rather than the 99%. Quite a few years ago I remember a discussion with Natalie Bennett when she talked of poverty being a feminist issue and it struck me then that this was a more urgent and widespread problem than the glass ceiling. Had Clinton focused her campaign on the working classes rather than being a representative of the elite, the result may have been quite different.

Instead we have a hyper nationalist leader of the formerly free world talking of America First and removing all reference to climate change from the White House website as one of his first acts of hatred against the planet. Of course I very much doubt that he will help the working classes either despite his election rhetoric.

But there is a chance that Trump may have a very positive effect on reducing CO2 emissions... Should his rhetoric against free trade introduce barriers that stifle the global economy or even crash it, then this will reduce emissions far faster than a UN COP agreement could blink. Of course if the crash was managed in a way that meant the 1% took the economic hit and if there was a fundamental redistribution of wealth, then this could be a truly good thing. Can't see those latter points happening though!

Which brings me neatly to my problem with the anti-brexit discussions, they often talk about the need for free trade as if somehow that was the most necessary part of the EU, (which is clearly is for many economists and corporate people). But 2016 was the hottest year on record and climate change is the biggest global threat to humans and the planet generally. There is only a tiny sliver of hope to prevent runaway climate change which will make the problems in the Middle East look like a rainy day compared to the approaching storm. Runaway climate change will devastate people and planet and there are clear signs that the feedback loops are starting such as the very low arctic ice and the methane from the tundra.

So campaigning to keep free trade when a massive shift in the way we consume is the only thing that will stop climate change seems a real failure to seize a final chance. Leaving the EU will be the wrong thing to do but continuing to grow the global economy will be far worse.


Sunday, 8 January 2017

Fracking in Sherwood Forest

Just a quick call to people. The latest threat to our land from the frackers is in Sherwood Forest of all places. I can't think of anywhere more English or a legend that encapsulates the English spirit better. The concept of standing up for the oppressed goes to the heart of Green values and now it is time to stand up and protect the forest and the Earth.

Start by signing the Friends of the Earth petition here https://act.foe.co.uk/act/save-sherwood-forest-fracking but make sure that you follow event on the various anti-fracking websites too - my favourite is The Warrior's Call a Pagan activist campaign against fracking but there are plenty of others including the ridiculously useful Drill or Drop from Ruth Hayhurst.


Sunday, 1 January 2017

2017 must be better that 2016

Let's have a better 2017 than 2016. There are some things to be positive about...

We have high hopes on increasing the number of Greens on Kent County Council in this year's elections. Our councillors in Hythe have been working hard for many years and enjoy a strong following, added to this is the high level of support in Canterbury where Henry is looking set to make a breakthrough.

There is the Global Greens, European Greens and England and Wales Green Spring Conferences all rolled into one big conference in Liverpool. That should be an impressive weekend!

People are waking up to the problems of Brexit. Sadly Corbyn is happy to allow Article 50 to be invoked without conditions setting the scene for a very rough transition and high levels of social unrest as uncertainty of residency kicks in.

There finally seems to be the signs of reducing violence in Syria. The UN should have stepped in a few years ago to avert the appalling crisis, even its backing of the Russian / Turkish efforts seems a bit passive. I want to see a much more active roll by the UN - we must see another Syria.

And finally the celebrity death toll has to be lower this year. There can't be many celebrities left...



Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Electoral fraud is embedded in

Hot on the heels of Labour's and Tories attempts to destroy the democratic representation on the London Assembly by scrapping the PR system, the Tory government looks set to trial voter ID at polling stations which has the potential to disenfranchise people without passports or drivers licences, mainly poorer people.

Showing ID at the polling station may sound like a sensible idea to combat electoral fraud and indeed it is, however doing it in a way that disenfranchises specific groups of people, such as those who don't drive or don't have passports, is an even worse type of electoral fraud that the one it is trying to fix. Of course those people who don't drive and don't fly - they might just be Green voters too.

If the government want to get serious about tackling electoral fraud then perhaps they should start to think carefully about how much is spent in constituencies, especially marginal ones. The police investigations have gone very quiet - I assume they are continuing?

And the biggest electoral fraud? The refusal of the political elite to bring proportional representation to the UK thereby ensuring that millions of people have no representation in government. Disenfranchisement was fought against by the Chartists and Suffragettes, yet here at the end of 2016 the vast majority of people are represented by an MP that they didn't vote for. That is real electoral fraud.




Monday, 5 December 2016

In 47 years global arable land area per person may have halved

One of the more worrying trend, if there can be anything more worrying than climate change, the rightward swings in politics, peak oil, etc., etc., is the increasing noise on soil degradation. Even the Archers are talking about no-till agriculture to improve the soil, plus today is World Soil Day.

A few weeks ago I was at a talk on Global Health at UCL where Christiana Figueres. Primarily she talked on climate change but one of the challenges she mentioned was soil degradation. Obviously I've been aware of the issue but she pointed out the speed of the degradation which I hadn't quite realised.

According to Wikipedia there is currently 1407 million hectares (5.4 million square miles) of arable land in the world, although figures and definitions do vary a little! This is about 10% of all land.

We have lost a third of available arable land to degradation since the 1960's and Scientific America reported a UN official suggesting that there may only be 60 harvests left. Monbiot cited a study which showed that 12m ha are lost each year (almost the size of England) and that we need an additional 6m ha each year to cope with the increasing population.

Without wanting to go all Malthusian, we have many people who are overfed and many who are underfed currently and there is a lot that might be done to make sure everyone gets their fair share. Obviously this also ignores potential improvements such as farming methods, safe GM crops doubling yield values, the end of deforestation, and the halting of climate change, however I can't see any of these happening given the current global political and corporate scenarios...

In 60 years at a loss of 12m ha per year, around half of all arable land will have been lost. Adding in the impact of population growth and assuming that the world carries on with BAU on climate change etc., it will only take 47 years for area of arable land per person to be half its current level.

If we think that Europe is struggling to cope (at least politically) with refugees from North Africa and the Middle East, imagine how much worse that would be if the was only half the amount of food available per person.

So those things that I cannot see happening given the current global political and corporate scenarios are, with the exception of GM, necessary. Improvements in farming, fair distribution, halting climate change and so on are essential. Import too is action at a local level. We can't build on greenfield sites; we need them for growing food but we need more homes so build upwards and build high density homes rather than the sprawling executive houses that we see springing up on former wheat fields.