Outside The Grand with supporters

Outside The Grand with supporters

During the Labour Party conference we helped national Friends of the Earth leaflet about the People’s March for Climate, Justice and Jobs, taking place on Sunday, 29 November in London, to raise awareness about climate change.  In particular, the march is highlighting the urgent need for politicians to come to a meaningful agreement at the climate talks in early December in Paris.

Providing both people and a polar bear, we managed to distribute hundreds of fliers to delegates and members of the public along Brighton seafront.  The polar bear was a particular hit, in high demand for selfies and photos, bringing a smile and a willingness to engage from most people as we walked along.

The polar bear was only offended when he was mistaken for a giant rat by one ‘myopic’ meeting chair, who was quickly corrected by less visibly challenged members of the audience.  Overall, a great success and great fun too.

The Polar Bear and Monica prepare to leaflet outside the Mercure Hotel

The Polar Bear and Monica prepare to leaflet outside the Mercure Hotel


Brighton & Hove Friends of the Earth (BHFOE) has slammed the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ (Defra) consultation on its draft plans to improve air quality as a sham [1].  Defra is claiming that the level of nitrogen dioxide in Brighton & Hove is below the legal limit [2] but didn’t check its facts.  The city has air pollution levels significantly above legal limits [3].

This news from Brighton highlights that Defra’s assessment of air pollution in the UK is wrong, while the VW scandal undermines the assumptions Defra has been making of how quickly new diesel and other engines will become cleaner. This means that it is likely that air pollution is a bigger problem than is being admitted and that it will take longer to reduce it to safe levels unless greater and faster action is taken by Government.

BHFOE now believes that Defra’s consultation needs to be scrapped and a new strategy developed.  It is critical of the approach Defra is advocating which is to push the problem onto local authorities without providing them with the tools or money to fix it.  Defra’s approach also lacks any urgency.

Chris Todd, planning and transport campaigner for BHFOE said:

“50,000 people a year are now dying from air pollution in the UK every year [4], making it one of the biggest threats to human health.  Much of that pollution comes from traffic.

“The Supreme Court ruled this year that the Government needed to come up with a new action plan to reduce air pollution ‘as soon as possible’.  Defra’s draft plan had already been highly criticised [5] before the latest scandals emerged but now it is completely discredited.  Based as it is on dodgy statistics, the plan should be binned and Defra forced to come up with something that will do the job properly and quickly.

“The Government cannot be allowed to keep kicking this issue into the long grass.  People’s lives are being ruined by Government inaction.  It has a moral and legal duty to sort this out as soon as possible [6].”

Notes to editors:

[1]   Defra is currently consulting on its draft action plan until 6 November, 2015.  The consultation started on 12 September.

[2]   See table 2, page 9, Draft plans to improve air quality in the UK, Tackling nitrogen dioxide in our towns and cities, UK overview document, September 2015. This shows that Brighton supposedly had annual mean nitrogen dioxide levels of only 41µg/m3 in 2013 (worst case scenario) and that it would meet the standards by 2015.

[3]   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.  Pollution levels at some key areas around the city are:

            North St façade: 80µg/m3 (twice the legal limit) – page 33, Brighton & Hove City Council                                                 Air Quality Action Plan, February 2015

            Valley Gardens facade: 69µg/m3 – page 35

            Queens Road facade: 56µg/m3 – page 36

            Lewes Road (Elm Grove to Vogue Gyratory) facade: 68µg/m3 – page 37

       The problem is that Defra has based its figures on national monitoring data and modelling and has not bothered to check its figures with real life monitoring in Brighton & Hove.  The question is how many other areas have been affected by this and with the reductions in monitoring how many other areas are exceeding air pollution limits but have not been registered as such.

 [4]  29,000 people were previously estimated to die prematurely every year in the UK due to particulate pollution.  Now Defra is estimating that 23,500 additional people are dying prematurely due to nitrogen dioxide pollution (paragraph 8, page 5, Draft plans to improve air quality in the UK, Tackling nitrogen dioxide in our towns and cities, UK overview document, September 2015).  Together, that makes over 50,000 people a year dying prematurely due to air pollution. It is estimated that 115 people a year die prematurely in Brighton & Hove due to particulate pollution alone.

[5]   Clientearth, who originally took the Government to court over its inaction on air pollution, were highly critical of the Government’s approach as outlined in Defra’s draft Action Plan, published on 12 September, 2015.

[6]   The European Court ruled that the National Courts must make sure that the Government produces plans to reach the limits in as short as time as possible.

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;

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


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


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.



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