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So Charlie Hague’s beautiful eco-home, which wouldn’t be out of place in The Shire, is to be bulldozed within two months on the instructions of Pembrokeshire County Council because:

“”benefits of the development did not outweigh the harm to the character and appearance of the countryside

A lack of affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges for young people today. Local authorities are often reluctant to build or facilitate it, preferring instead to take money from developers to fund future social housing developments. In a different  place, at a different time. In a more ‘appropriate’ development. Rather than now, when people might need them.

We see this locally in Basildon with the proposals to build hundreds of “aspirational” homes on ancient pastures in Dry Street. Essentially, these will be unaffordable, luxury homes with a bare minimum of affordable provision. Neither the local council nor the developers have any interest in providing houses that local people can afford to live in. Instead, they are content to see greater and greater strain placed on local services and infrastructure by encouraging new people to move to the area.

Having been on a downward trend in the UK for years, the number of households in temporary accommodation has started to rise again. The long term impact of poor quality housing on health is well-documented. After four years of living in a damp caravan, Charlie Hague decided to act.

Charlie’s father owned a plot of land next to the pioneering Lammas Ecovillage. For around £15,000 he built a roundhouse out of straw bales, plastered with lime, and covered with a reciprocal roof (self-supporting, essentially). You can watch the story of Charlie’s house below:

I’ve served on local planning committees. The decisions are never easy. But retrospective planning permission is granted up and down the country all the time and for less considerate developments than this.

We should be looking to promote and support inventive and sustainable ways of building and living. This kind of construction should be championed as an example of how a new house can be sympathetic to its environment – not bulldozed out of existence.

Sign the petition to save Charlie and Megan’s house and please like, share and reblog to draw attention to the their plight.

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Small birds bounce back

31 March 2011

Over 600,000 people took part in this year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, a record breaking number watching their garden birds.

And their counts revealed that some of the smaller birds that decreased in numbers last year, bounced back this year.

Sightings of goldcrests, the UK’s smallest birds, doubled, long tailed tits increased by a third and coal tits increased by a quarter.

The long, harsh winter of 2009/2010 hit birds like long-tailed tits, goldcrests and coal tits with all three species dropping significantly in last years’ Big Garden Birdwatch.

Although smaller birds can be particularly badly affected by harsh winters, a good breeding season can help reverse declines, and these new results suggest that may have been the case in 2010.

Thousands of people were also lucky enough to see waxwings.

The striking birds flood to the UK from Scandinavia every few winters and this year saw an influx, known as a ‘waxwing winter.’

Waxwings are bold birds that are comfortable feeding around our towns and cities, and over 7,000 were counted in this year’s survey, in almost 1,000 gardens.

Big Garden Birdwatch Co-ordinator Sarah Kelly says: ‘It’s fantastic that so many people stepped up for nature by taking part. We were really interested to see how the small birds fared, after such a disastrous last year. It appears that many may have had a decent breeding season and have been able to bounce back a little.

‘But we mustn’t be complacent –another hard winter could see numbers back down so it’s important everyone continues to feed their garden birds.’

RSPB Scientist Mark Eaton says: ‘We knew this was going to be a bumper year for waxwings as we’d had so many reports from all over the UK.

‘But the Big Garden Birdwatch is the first indicator of exactly how many were seen in gardens, and we’re pleased that so many people got to enjoy sightings of these beautiful birds.

‘They’d only come into gardens if the right food was available to them. They feed on berries so it shows that lots of people are planting the right things for wildlife and reaping the rewards.’

609,177 people counted 10.2 million birds

A total of 609,177 people counted over 10.2 million birds. Over 70 species were recorded in 300,780 gardens across the UK over the weekend 29-30 January.

Starlings and blackbirds have swapped positions on this year’s leader board, with starlings now at number two and blackbirds at number 3.

Starling sightings have increased by a quarter since last year, but their numbers are still down from when Big Garden Birdwatch began in 1979.

The house sparrow retained its top spot for the eight year running with an average of four seen per garden, and has increased by 10 per cent.

Numbers of blue tits increased by 22 per cent and great tit numbers were up by 12 per cent.

Almost 90,000 school children and teachers took part in the schools version of the survey, ‘Big Schools’ Birdwatch.’ The UK-wide survey of wildlife in schools, which celebrated its 10th birthday this year, introduces thousands of children to the wildlife visiting their school environment.

Nearly 3,000 classes from more than 2,000 schools were involved, which was also a record-breaking number for the survey. 87% of schools taking part reported seeing blackbirds, with an average of five being seen at each school, making it the most common visitor to school grounds.

From the RSPB.

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In June 2008, David Cameron opened a speech with the following words:

“Today, I want to tackle an argument that seems to be as cyclical as the economy. The argument that when times are good, we can indulge ourselves with a bit of environmentalism – but when the economic going gets tough, the green agenda has to be dropped.

“According to this argument, protecting the environment is a luxury rather than a necessity – and it’s a luxury we just can’t afford in an economic downturn. I want this generation to be the one that bucks that trend: to be the generation that finds a way to combine economic, social and environmental progress.”

In what I imagine was a shot at critics who thought that the huskies and the cycling (with his papers in the car behind) were a stunt, he made the following  very firm statement:

“Today I want to make my position on this absolutely clear. We are not going to drop the environmental agenda in an economic downturn.”

At a press conference this morning David Cameron gave a list of ten reasons to vote for the Conservatives.

The environmental agenda did not feature at all.

The green agenda has been dropped. Completely. And, ironically, as Britain continues to teeter along the brink of recession.

Spend a moment looking at those two documents and then tell me Cameron’s long-term critics weren’t right. Cameron’s environmental credentials have been exposed as the cynical exercise in hoodwinking they always were.

This should ring alarm bells across the South East, and particularly in Basildon and Thurrock, where the threat to our green spaces and natural environment is ever-present. With DP World’s recent announcement that they will be deepening the Thames to allow the largest cargo ships in the world to dock at the proposed London Gateway port, voters should now be clear that making sure developments like this – which are important for jobs and regeneration – don’t wreck our environment is not a priority in any way for Conservatives.

Back in October last year, at the Tory conference, Cameron called for more leadership on the environment:

“And to be British is to have an instinctive love of the countryside and the natural world. The dangers of climate change are stark and very real. If we don’t act now, and act quickly, we could face disaster.

Yes, we need to change the way we live. But is that such a bad thing? The insatiable consumption and materialism of the past decade, has it made us happier or more fulfilled?

Yes, we have to put our faith in technologies. But that is not a giant leap. Just around the corner are new green technologies, unimaginable a decade ago, that can change the way we live, travel, work.

And yes, we need global co-operation. But that shouldn’t be difficult. It just takes leadership, and that’s what we need at the Copenhagen summit this December.”

By contrast, a recent survey of Tory PPCs by ConservativeIntelligence (!) revealed what looked like a shocking gulf in thinking between prospective Conservative MPs and David Cameron’s leadership team. Reducing Britain’s carbon footprint was their lowest priority. Even protecting the English countryside from over-development, something Tory councillors have been preaching for years, was way down the list of priorities.

Then, following ‘Climategate’ and the sceptics’ even more outrageous and very public manipulation of scientific evidence (i.e. flatly denying it), public opinion has shifted on global warming. The BBC recently reported a drop of 8% in the numbers believing it is taking place.

Does Cameron show the leadership he demands, attemting to lead public opinion rather than follow it? No, like his candidates, he limps on behind, dropping environmental commitments that might dent his chances.

When it comes to the environment, David Cameron has been playing us for fools for a long, long time. His environmental commitments were just the latest in a long line of rebranding exercises, designed to get votes by saying whatever people want to hear.

The 75% of people who understand global warming is taking place should stop giving him and his party the benefit of the doubt and take a long hard look at the evidence.

Cameron and the Conservatives cannot be trusted on the environment.

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“The Members of Essex County Council are very concerned that the Government is only undertaking a very limited public consultation on Bradwell being a suitable site for a replacement Nuclear Power Station. Members call upon the Government to widen this consultation across Essex so that all our residents have the opportunity to make their voices heard on this very important issue.”

This was the motion put forward by Essex Liberal Democrats at the meeting of Essex County Council on 15th December.

It looks pretty measured doesn’t it? It doesn’t indulge in party-political posturing. It doesn’t even pompously declare that “Liberal Democrats are very concerned” but uses the neutral “Members of Essex County Council are very concerned”. It doesn’t require the spending of large sums of taxpayers’ money or force the County Council to do something (heaven forfend!). It simply requests that the Government – the Labour Government – extend its very narrow consultation on a potential new nuclear power station at Bradwell to the rest of Essex (the existing Bradwell nuclear power station was decommissioned on 28 March 2002). The motion doesn’t put pro-nuclear supporters in a difficult position by offering an opinion as to whether nuclear power is a good thing or a bad thing. Rather, it simply makes the point that on an issue this big the whole of Essex should be consulted.

As motions go, particularly those designed to attract support from across the political spectrum, it’s pretty darn good. So more on the motion in just a moment.

First, it’s worth taking a moment to examine quite how appalling the consultation referred to is. Or rather – was. I think. To be honest, it isn’t so clear. On 9 December, the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) issued a press release entitled “What does new nuclear mean for Essex?” It boasts:

“Residents of Essex are this weekend being asked to have their say on proposals to a build a new nuclear power station in the area……The announcement on new nuclear sites was made as part of a planning overhaul for big energy projects and ten potential new sites for nuclear energy were named in the draft Nuclear National Policy Statement. These sites are Bradwell, Braystones, Hartlepool, Heysham, Hinkley Point, Kirksanton, Oldbury, Sellafield, Sizewell and Wylfa. Bradwell was nominated by EDF, who are currently seeking to sell the site to a credible nuclear operator.

Following the nomination of the sites the Department of Energy and Climate Change is conducting a 15 week consultation to hear people’s views about the proposals.

The new Infrastructure Planning Commission will use the National Policy Statement when considering planning applications for new nuclear power stations. This consultation is an opportunity for local people to influence what the IPC should take into account when considering whether to grant consent or not.”

It looks promising. There is a fifteen week consultation. There is an opportunity for local people to influence what should be taken into account when considering whether to grant consent or not. In fact, the press release begins by saying “Residents of Essex are this weekend being asked to have their say on proposals to a build a new nuclear power station in the area”.

  • On Wednesday 9 December DECC issues its press release including consultation details.
  • On Thursday 10 December there is an exhibition in West Mersea.
  • On Friday 11 December there is an exhibition in Maldon.
  • On Saturday 12 December there is an exhibition in Bradwell-on-Sea.
  • And there were two “two public discussion events” – but no details were provided in the release. (They clearly weren’t intended for non-locals who I assume – hope – were at least leafleted.)

And… Er… That’s it.

Residents of Essex, eh?

Even though DECC describe the site in their press release as “near Chelmsford” there isn’t a consultation in Chelmsford. Despite it being a fifteen week consultation, Essex gets five highly localised events in the three days immediately after the press release going out. I may be atypical of your average Essex resident, but even despite my political interests, I don’t keep tend to keep track of Government department press releases day by day.

Good luck to those of you who do and managed to get there.

According to the website of West Mersea Council, West Mersea has a population of 6,925 people. According to the website of Maldon District CouncilMaldon has a population of approximately 60,700. The website of Bradwell Parish Council doesn’t provide any information on population – but Wikipedia lists the population as 877. According to the website of Essex County Council, the population of Essex is 1,396,400 (excluding Thurrock and Southend-on-Sea – though in the event of disaster, I am not convinced fallout is as discriminating as the Boundary Commission).

Of course the residents of those places should be consulted. However the Labour Government (DECC) and the Infrastructure Planning Commission think that consulting 0.05% (I am rounding up here) of the population of Essex is somehow giving residents of Essex the chance to have their say. As for the time given over to consultation, the DECC press release highlights a paltry three specified days in a fifteen week consultation.

It is nothing short of outrageous – a complete scandal in a 21st century liberal democracy.

And you would think that the Conservative Party, a national party of opposition, that controls the County Council, would want to stick up for the right of local people to be heard, regardless of its own policies on nuclear power.

Back to the motion…

Did the Conservatives support the Liberal Democrat motion?

Not a chance. The Tories voted against. They opposed the extension of the consultation to the rest of Essex and, by doing so, have effectively said our views don’t matter.

Essex County Council doesn’t record how people vote as a matter of course. Why should they – after all, you are not interested in what your elected representatives are doing, are you? Therefore, finding out which way your local representatives voted looks like being a case of emailing them directly.

You can find your way to the contact details for Essex County Councillors here. For those readers in Basildon, the following Conservative councillors may well have voted to prevent you having more information:

I have emailed each of them to ask if they were there on 15 December and, if they were, how they voted. If they opposed the motion, I have asked why they don’t believe the Government should consult the people in Basildon that they are elected to represent.

You might want to do the same.

I would be interested to know the reasons people vote as they do – so please add a comment to this blog piece!

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It’s a peripheral consideration for many when making a choice as to the make of phone to buy – and it certainly wasn’t one of mine. However, I have since discovered the Greenpeace International guide to Greener Electronics and I will be paying more attention in future to the companies I buy from.

I am simply glad that Nokia beats the competition by a mile.

If you go to the Greener Electronics page, you will see the little graphic of a hand-held device. Click the number 13 to see the latest report, from September 2009. With a complex formula for scoring the major companies out of ten, Nokia is the only company to score more than 7.

You can read Greenpeace International’s report on Nokia, which puts them 1st, and see how they arrived at the score of 7.5, by clicking on the thumbnail below:

By contrast, Apple may have improved its standing from 11th to 9th, but, by clicking on the thumbnail below, you can see its score is still a paltry 4.9:

Power Geek Enthusiast vs. Flash Git competition aside, there is a real issue here about the ways in which companies that manufacture mass market devices for international distribution respond to real world concerns such as the environmental impact of their commercial activities. If those issues interest you, you can read the full Greenpeace International report by clicking on the thumbnail below:

So there we go.

Apples aren’t always green…

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