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Photo courtesy of FoE's The Big Picture and Matt & Clare

Photo courtesy of FoE’s The Bigh Picture and Matt & Clare

Open-invitation picnic/barbeque/optional nature-walk, eco-chat and more at Terridell Farm Eco House, Devils Dyke Road. The house is in a hollow just before you reach Devils Dyke, with stunning views and lots of land to explore. The Eco House is in its infancy and run by a small cooperative whose plans for its future are environmentally exciting and challenging. They will explain their plans and lead those of us who wish to on a nature-walk of around 2 miles (those of us who don’t can continue to picnic and chat!)

  • Brief explanation about the scheme, plans for the future and a bit of a tour around the house,  barns etc amongst the wild flowers and blackberries.
  • Picnic and/or BBQ in the lovely garden, or if raining (?!), in the house. Bring rugs and food/drink.
  • Two mile walk over the Downs for those who wish.

Contact Monica if you would like to come along: monica_jennings@hotmail.co.uk She will send you all the travel info for cycles, buses and cars when you confirm. Please invite family/friends too – we´d like to meet as many prospective members as possible!


There will also be a chance to input ideas for our event-involvement in the ´Brighton Time to Act!´ week of activities in the lead up to the Paris Climate Talks later this year. The week is being coordinated by the newly formed Brighton Climate Action Network;

BrightonCAN:
A broad-based network of groups and individuals across Brighton & Hove meeting, developing, taking action and creating change to address our climate crisis. Brighton CAN was established on 11th June at Brighthelm following a call-out and resolved to focus initially on the COP21 Paris Climate Talks in December.

The outcomes from this UN backed Conference will shape the immediate and future international response to climate-change. We are committed to supporting and campaigning with all those who want the outcomes in Paris to be as timely, robust and effective as possible.
Besides expanding our networking role locally, BrightonCAN has these initial aims:
1) Coordinate a ‘Brighton Time To Act’ week of activities between 16th – 22nd November 2015; inviting a broad spectrum of organisations (inc. schools/colleges/universities), community groups and individuals to put on events during the week, raising awareness before Paris and gathering together around the issue of climate change. Will include welcoming and supporting the ´Pilgrimage´ walking-group from London to Paris, arriving in Brighton on 18th November.
2) To promote and build support for the national ´Time to Act´  demonstration on Sunday 29th November.
3) To promote and support the UK mass-cycle to Paris passing through Brighton on 6th December. Arranging to welcome the estimated 200 cyclists as they arrive from London; food, comforts, celebration! and overnight hosting before the ´local rally´ to Newhaven.

Containing Waste

Please+pledge_your_support_CRD_containers Cat Fletcher, waste guru, is running a crowdfunding campaign to buy 8 shipping containers to form a creative reuse hub for Brighton and Hove. She is founder and Head of Media for Freegle – UK’s biggest online free reuse community with over 2 million members and runs the Brighton Freegle group which facilitates reuse between 22,000 locals. She’s worked on the multi-award winning Brighton Waste House since 2012 sourcing ‘waste’ materials for its construction – it is now Europe’s only permanent public building built with waste. She’s also worked for the city council redistributing over 100 tonnes of their unwanted goods back into the community. This saved the council money and carbon, while helping residents, charities, artists and businesses in the process.

For the past few years she has benefited from free space at Circus Street old Market via the City Council and Cathedral Developments – allowing her to gather, assess, store and redistribute intercepted ‘waste’ – hundreds of tonnes of reusable materials and goods. However, the Circus Street site is being demolished this summer for redevelopment. So, she’s crowd funding to buy shipping containers to establish a permanent (but potentially mobile!) creative reuse depot.

Having operated pop-up reuse depots in many unused spaces around the city for the past 3 years, she has stacks of evidence about the positive impact this can have. When goods cannot be reused for their intended purposes she’s been able to connect with hundreds of projects, artists and enterprises who can upcycle, reprocess, repair and refurbish all this so called ‘waste’ and keep it in circulation and out of the waste stream. PRBH_CRD Getting a new secure depot would not only allow her good work to continue but it would help accelerate and improve this waste intervention service.  Hence the crowdfunder.

To find out more about the project, the rewards on offer see this very short film.

With just a week to go (the crowdfunder ends on 30th June) the project is already 75% funded, but it still needs that last push to help make it become a reality. Can you help make this happen? Pledges start from just £1 and you will be rewarded with cake. So what’s holding you back? Please back this great project.

Follow the project on Twitter @CityReuseDepot or like on Facebook

Windpower Cutbacks

polegate_windfarm313

The announcement today that Government will  speed up the withdrawal of subsidies for onshore wind comes the day after thousands of people from across the UK travelled to Westminster to lobby their MPs on the urgent need for action on climate change.

Despite comments from Amber Rudd (Energy Minister) to the contrary, even the Government’s own research reveals that significantly more people favour the development of onshore wind than support the push to provide more of our energy from fracking or nuclear.

Callie Lister of Brighton and Hove Friends of the Earth said:

“Given the urgent need to take action on climate change, and the unpopularity of harmful and costly practices such as fracking and nuclear, it seems crazy that the Government appears to be undermining a technology that has already proven to be a cost effective and sustainable way to tackle our energy needs. We need more clean renewable projects delivering low-carbon energy to help drive down energy costs and to meet our climate commitments, not fewer.”

Friends of the Earth’s renewable energy campaigner Alasdair Cameron said:

“While the Government rolls out the red carpet for fracking, they’re pulling the rug from under onshore wind. Proposed changes to the planning system could make it more difficult for local authorities to give the go-ahead to new wind installations – even if it’s the local community who want to build and run them. Basically you get fracking whether you like it or not – but if you want wind, you may miss out.”

A breath of fresh air?

local campaigners at Brighton clock tower

local campaigners at Brighton clock tower

The other week the consultation ended on the City Council’s draft Air Quality Action Plan. This will be an important document what with the recent Supreme Court Judgment (on 29 April) which has ordered the Government to draw up a new national Action Plan to bring air pollution down to within legal limits ‘as soon as possible’. What exactly that means is debatable, but recent rulings in the European Court suggest that difficulty and cost are not reasons for delay.

Yet why would anyone want to delay? The problem is deadly serious with over 29,000 premature deaths every year attributable to air pollution, ten times the number killed in road crashes, and the second deadliest killer in the UK after smoking. Even this is likely to be a serious underestimate as it only looks at the impact from particulates (tiny particles of black soot). It does not include any estimate of the impact of nitrogen oxides and other pollutants. At a local level, that equates to 115 people a year, more than die through alcohol poisoning or drug overdoses where it seems more public funding and effort are spent tackling these issues. Certainly there is greater awareness.  In contrast, little is spent tackling the root causes of air pollution, which in Brighton & Hove is predominantly traffic, with no focus on traffic reduction.

We have responded to the consultation and welcomed much of the analysis in the report and its commentary. However, where we have struggled is with some of the proposed actions. More car parking and road building should be the actions of last resort, yet these are fairly high up on the list. They will only bring short term relief and most likely make the situation worse within a year or two.

The report is big on evidencing the problem and identifying where interventions can be targeted to have most impact. Yet the same rigour is not applied to potential solutions. A park and ride site on greenfield land near Preston Barracks is likely to create more pollution in the Lewes Road corridor. In addition, if we are to build on a green field it should be for housing and in this location could be virtually car-free.

Recently, we also responded to a further consultation on the City Plan modifications (the document which creates the blueprint for development in the city over the next 10-15 years). In our submissions, we requested the Inspector revisited the wording around air pollution to ensure it conforms with the recent Court rulings. We want there to be a requirement that developments do not delay air pollution being brought down to safe levels as soon as possible.

What we want to see is national Government shift funding away from road building into low emission buses, to tackle this issue in many of our cities. At a stroke, that would make a vast improvement and could be done within a few years. Secondly, we want the Council to focus much more on getting more people walking, cycling and using public transport. One reason why the Valley Gardens scheme is so important, but also why action needs to extend further than this. As part of this process we need to see joined up thinking with planning across Government and action taken to promote more car-free development and have development focussed around alternatives to the car. Unfortunately, the Government seems hell bent on removing local autonomy around planning, apart from on wind turbines, despite its so-called localism agenda, which has been anything but.

Alongside all of this, and this is certainly something local government can do, we need some serious awareness raising with the public so that they understand what the issues are and why we need to tackle this invisible killer.

Only then, can we afford to breathe easy.

Challenging times ahead

Ballot-Box-4x3

Photo courtesy of The Galleon

 

Last Thursday saw the latest merry-go-round in party politics as Labour became the largest party on Brighton & Hove City Council, 8 years, or two administrations, after they last were ‘in control’. However, to get things passed, they are going to have to rely on the support of either the Conservatives or the Greens.  In essence, some things haven’t changed and the parties are still going to have to collaborate for the good of the city.

However, some things will be different. The cuts experienced to date are going to seem like a walk in the park, compared to what are coming. How parties react to these cutbacks could impact heavily on their electoral success next time round.

It’s also worth looking at what Labour said in its manifesto about the environment and the big challenges that we think it will face over the next four years.  Some if its ideas are good, such as looking to clean up the city and instill a sense of pride. Many are recycled and are being done already, such as managing our green spaces in an environmentally sound way, and one or two are rather vague or smack of tokenism, such as the school tree-planting programme. However, to be fair that is probably true of all parties.

The big environmental challenges we think they will face are:

  1. Recycling and rubbish – Labour made great play about the poor recycling record of the Greens who were naive to promise a 75% recycling rate when they came into power.  The Greens also had to deal with equal pay issues which previous administrations had avoided, which led to industrial action and a drop in recycling.  Now that’s all over, will Labour fair better?  We’re not so sure.  Historically our recycling rate has always been low, somewhere between 25-30% and with the incinerator, and a secretive private finance deal attached to that, there is little incentive or ability to significantly up the recycling rate.  Without investment we don’t see how they can achieve this and money is going to be in short supply.  Unless Labour can reach a recycling rate of around 40%, this could come back to haunt them.
  2. Air pollution – during the election campaign the Supreme Court ruled that Government must draw up an action plan by the end of the year to bring air pollution down to legal levels in “as short as time as possible”. This could work in the Council’s favour, if the Government is forced to provide funding for local authorities to improve things, or not if Government try to pass the cost onto local authorities causing them even greater problems. It could rile the motoring lobby who don’t seem to care that at least 115 people a year are dying prematurely in the city from air pollution and believe that you can somehow magic away congestion by widening roads. It could also make developers show that their plans are not making the current situation worse (which could be problematic) but it could ultimately lead to a cleaner and more integrated transport network to the benefit of the city.
  3. The urban fringe – with the Government likely to go down the road of less planning control, and pressure for more housing in the city, the urban fringe could come under even greater attack. Already, the Council has had to concede to building over 1,000 homes in the urban fringe to try and get the City Plan approved and that is still not a done deal.  Were that figure to be forced upwards then many green spaces could be under threat, more than they are already.  Labour has pledged to “uphold strong environmental planning policies” but does that include restricting car parking and will it be able to stand up for the local environment in the face of a Conservative Government likely to further dismantle the planning system?

These are not the only challenges.  The elephant in the room of course is climate change, but without a strong national lead and a willingness to embed climate friendly policies across all Government departments, particularly in transport, planning and business, it is difficult to see how the Council can have any significant impact.  That is not to let it off the hook, as there will undoubtedly be things it can and should do and we will certainly be scrutinising its actions to see if Labour lives up to its promise to consider the environment in all decision making across the council.  This is something that is supposedly done already, but all too often it is nothing more than tokenism.

Will they succeed in these challenges?  Well we certainly hope so and that all parties can set aside their political differences to work for the good of the city.  The next few years are not going to be easy.

 

National Park 5 years old

Hilary Benn MP with Robin Crane, chairman of the South Downs Campaign holding a signed copy of the Confirmation Order

Hilary Benn with Robin Crane, chairman of the South Downs Campaign holding a signed copy of the Confirmation Order in 2009

After such a long battle to get the South Downs designated a National Park, in which Brighton & Hove Friends of the Earth played a prominent part, it seems almost surreal to realise that the designation is now 5 years old.  The campaign could be said to have started in the 1920s when people started agitating for National Parks to be created in the UK.  However, it wasn’t until after the 2nd World War that the legislation was passed in 1949, by the then Labour Government, to allow National Parks to be established.

The critical moment for the South Downs was in 1947 when the National Parks Committee chaired by Sir Arthur Hobhouse recommended that the South Downs be one of 12 landscapes that should be designated as a National Park. By the 1990s it was the only one that hadn’t.  That was due to lobbying by various vested interests in 1956, when the South Downs was turned down as a National Park on the spurious grounds that due to intensive farming it no longer offered the required recreational opportunities.  Yet this was clearly a trumped up excuse.  The area is simply littered with rights of way and while it might not have as much open access land as other National Parks, it is one of the most visited of all the UK’s National Parks.  People in effect had voted with their feet and its landscape beauty (which was not deemed to have been diminished by farming) was later recognised when it was designated as two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the 1960s.

In the 1980s, as development threats started to intensify and modern agricultural practices were still causing harm to the area, it was people like Paul Millmore and Phil Belden who started pushing the case for a National Park.  However, it wasn’t until 1990 that the South Downs Campaign was formed at Sussex Wildlife Trust headquarters under the chairmanship of Robin Crane, who led the campaign right up to its dissolution in 2010.

Along the way there were many ups and downs and Brighton played a big part in rejuvenating the campaign in 1995 when the Council (then Labour) tried to sell off the downland estate and faced a huge backlash with a 12,000 signature petition opposing the sale.  This was no mean feat before the time of social media and electronic petitions.  The Council backed down and then to its credit got behind the National Park campaign, with full cross party support (Conservative, Green and Labour).

The 1997 General Election was also a key moment, when Farmer Harmer decided to plough up a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Offham Down.  He was well within his rights, but the situation was not helped by a weak and underfunded Government Agency, unable to properly protect these valuable sites.  However, it made great media and resulted in John Gummer (then Secretary of State for the Environment) having to order a Stop Notice to protect the site during the General Election campaign (only the 4th that he had ever issued).

After the election, Michael Meacher became the new Secretary of State and was instrumental in creating the right framework for the National Park to be created.  We received strong support from the city’s MPs, particularly Dave Lepper and Des Turner, and a wealth of other people too numerous to mention.  And despite being almost tripped up by the poor decisions taken on the New Forest National Park, we finally achieved the South Downs National Park in 2009, with the order confirming the designation coming in to effect on 31 March 2010.  It covered a much larger area than could have been anticipated and that was down to the keen interest and enthusiasm shown by the then Secretary of State, Hilary Benn and his minister Huw Irranca-Davies.  They in effect finished the job that the Labour Government had first started some 60 years earlier.

Today, Margaret Paren, a former member of the South Downs Campaign, has chaired the National Park Authority since its establishment and overseen its development and progress.  Already, it is taking a more strategic and consistent approach to planning.  It has supported nearly 200 local community projects, secured funding for research, restoration work and investment in new cycle routes throughout the National Park.  It has produced a Management Plan and this year embarks on its own Local Plan.  There is much to do and the threats to National Parks are increasing as Government slashes the already very small National Parks’ funding and presses ahead with dismantling the planning system and spending money on new roads.

On a day of celebration, it was appropriate to see the Brighton & Hove bus carrying Paul Millmore’s name heading to Lewes and beyond.  But we must also realise that the future of the South Downs is not guaranteed.  It may be in a better place than it was 5, 10 or even 20 years ago, but it faces some very big challenges over the next few years.  If it succeeds in overcoming these, then we will know how successful it has been.

 

Parking Mad

Group criticises draft planning document

Brighton & Hove Friends of the Earth (BHFOE) has submitted a critical response to Brighton & Hove City Council’s consultation on its draft Parking Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), which ended on 27 March.

BHFOE is concerned that if the SPD is adopted as it is currently drafted it could lead to the long term increase of cars in the city, creating more congestion and pollution, delaying bus services and harming the local economy.  It believes that the SPD may not be lawful if it leads to an increase in air pollution and delays the time that areas already above the legal limits take to become compliant [1].  It is also concerned at the unintended consequences of the standards which could see the loss of front and back gardens for parking when properties are redeveloped and the loss of historic streetscapes.

Chris Todd, planning and transport campaigner for BHFOE said:

“While we fully support the need for local parking standards what is currently proposed could be highly damaging.  It could lead to the loss of green space within the city as front and back gardens are tarmacked over to provide parking.  This would be detrimental for residents and would also harm the city’s historic streetscapes.

“Overall it will increase the number of cars in the city which will only mean more congestion and pollution.  This is at a time when more and more evidence is emerging about the harm that air pollution is causing.  The UK has an obligation to reduce air pollution to below legal limits as soon as possible.

“All new development within the city centre needs to be ‘car-free’ so that it improves the current situation, not makes it worse.  Allowing development which will bring more cars into our strategic bus corridors in the heart of the city is madness.  In the long term it could bring the city to a grinding halt and seriously damage the local economy.”

[1]        Large parts of the city centre are within an Air Quality Management Area and have nitrogen dioxide levels above legal limits.  The worst areas are around North St, Western Road and the Clock Tower.  The UK has already missed the deadline that it was mean to have met to reduce air pollution to safe levels by and recently lost a European Court Case due to its lack of action to tackle this serious issue which leads to at least 29,000 premature deaths every year in the UK.  It is estimated that 115 people a year die prematurely in Brighton & Hove due to particulate pollution, although the number who die prematurely due to all air pollution will be higher.

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