Friday, 28 October 2016

Green Councillor calls for more green and less red for pedestrians at busy Southgate crossing

Green Party Councillor Andrew Cooper has called for more time for pedestrians to cross at a busy Southgate junction opposite the University of Huddersfield.

"This crossing is used by many hundreds of people each day such as students who go to the University, Sainsburys shoppers or those walking to Aspley and beyond. People using the crossing have to get across the road in 3 to 4 seconds from when the green pedestrian light comes on till it turns back to red. This is simply not enough time for many people to get across safely. If you are elderly or have poor mobility crossing this road at this junction safely is almost impossible. Additional seconds are needed for pedestrians if we are to reduce the risk of injury or even possible fatalities at this very busy junction off the roundabout."

Cllr Cooper has raised the issue with Kirklees Highways and asked for more consideration to be given to pedestrians on this busy route

Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Green Party Response to the West Yorkshire Transport Strategy 2016 - 2036

Here's the final response  we gave to the West Yorkshire Transport Strategy. I was persuaded to take the following sentence out of our response as it wasn't the right tone I quite liked it though

"The intermediate West Yorkshire stop on the Northern Powerhouse Rail route HS3 should be located in Narnia as a fantasy project should be located in a fantasy kingdom."

 So if you're reading from West Yorkshire Combined Authority that is what you could have had!

The Green Party Response to the West Yorkshire Transport Strategy 2016 - 2036

This response to the West Yorkshire Transport Strategy represents the views of the Green Parties of West Yorkshire and has been shared and agreed with our elected representatives on Leeds, Bradford and Kirklees Councils and through consultation with Party members throughout West Yorkshire.

How strongly you agree or disagree with our proposed policies described in each of the core themes and the cross-cutting theme?

We believe a 60 year vision is needed. 20 years is too short a period to realise the sort of transformation in our transport system that is needed.

An initial observation on the consultation questions is that there are a lot of obvious ‘Motherhood and Apple Pie’ statements that we are asked to express an opinion on. This devalues the consultation exercise and could lead respondees to question its validity.

Delivering the Strategy is very dependent on road improvements with a strong emphasis on road schemes which will lead to increased capacity on Major routes. This accommodation of demand can only be temporary in nature. Delivering road improvements to local congestion hot spots is eventually and inevitably self-defeating as demand increases and diminishes the dubious benefit of the investment.

Road surfaces however desperately need improvements for all road users especially cyclists who are at most personal risk from potholed roads. The austerity budgets being imposed by central Government on local Councils is leading to a rapidly deteriorating road network

In the Consultation questionnaire it asks whether we should “Provide new roads to improve access to development sites” – This seems a very odd question and leads to a strong suspicion that it is aboutencouraging development in green belt as it assumes development will be away from existing hubs.We need to develop housing and employment around existing transport hubs and communities rather than creating new ones. We must avoid monoculture communities e.g. commuter belt towns. We also have concerns that improving orbital roads may well suck the life out of city centres

Demand reduction needs to be an aim of the Strategy. We must have policies in place that limit the necessity to have vehicles. Spatial Planning that links existing transport hubs with new development is one way of addressing demand, as is l.  Travel diaries/Travel Planning are important tools to help people adopt healthier forms of transport.  More food grown and used locally to avoid food miles is another approach.  You should also be working with local councils, developers, and bus operators to ensure that developments proposed over the next 15- 20 years in DLP’s can be serviced by public transport, cycling and walking.  The alternative is more congestion and pressure to carry out self-defeating road improvements

We strongly believe that local and community rail improvements should be prioritised over new road schemes, as should improvements to the bus network which currently carries 5 – 6 times more passengers than rail. A process of “Debeechification” should begin with greater emphasis on improving and expanding the rail network; while more road space should be dedicated to bus priority lanes.

HS2 is largely irrelevant to our local transport needs and the money would be much better spent on improving public transport infrastructure locally ie rail, light rail, tram and bus networks. We strongly oppose a masterplan for a new HS2 Yorkshire Hub Station in Leeds on that basis.

The question as to where the intermediate West Yorkshire stop on the Northern Powerhouse Rail route HS3 should be located is unfortunately irrelevant as we believe this is a fantasy project not grounded in reality.

The Consultation Questionnaire says that we should “Involve Communities in making improvements to their neighbourhoods to create safer and healthier places” – How and with what money?

Accessibility for people with disabilities should be an important part of the Strategy particularly as we move to more pedestrian friendly town centres.

We should look to banning diesel cars from all Town and City Centres – California has set a good example with a policy that we should follow – starting by announcing a ban on the worst polluting diesel vehicles/cars from Town Centres to start by 2020.

“The current duopoly of First and Arriva in West Yorkshire is uncompetitive and does not act in the interest of the public transport user.  It gives unfair advantage to the dominant operator in any sub-area and stops the development of other operations that could significantly improve services.  Effectively the market works for First and Arriva, but nobody else.  In our view anything short of the powers that Transport for London have regarding buses means the main providers of public transport in West Yorkshire will not work in the interest of its people.”

What you think we should measure to show our progress in delivering transport improvements in each of the core themes and the cross-cutting theme?

The Strategy should be set against the context of the Paris Climate Agreement. It should be an integral part of the Strategy to show how it is contributing to the carbon emissions reduction targets set in the Nationally Determined Contributions agreed in Paris last year. It is a major omission that it is not. 

The Strategy says it wants to have “The best bus system in Europe” as an aspiration. This is a very strange aspiration. Where is the best bus system in Europe? How is it determined – what about the rest of public transport? What about walking and cycling?

The automatic assumption that all growth is good is a fundamental problem with the strategy. Growth can negatively impact on quality of life through, for instance, air pollution and the knock on impact on public health. What we should measure to show progress in delivering improvements to road network are decreasing emissions in terms of Carbon/SOX/NOX/Particulates and noise reduction. 

We need a holistic cost analysis of different transport options for instance public transport V car would have added a lot of substance to the strategy. There is no such analysis in the strategy and this is a major weakness.

Another important way to measure the success of the Strategy would be by measuring modal shift from car to Public Transport and measuring the use of the Mcard for regular public transport users.

“Road deaths” are not just about traffic accidents but the premature deaths caused each year as a result of emissions and low air quality – Gloucestershire’s Speed Reduction Partnership give communities their own speed guns – This is a good example that West Yorkshire could emulate.  

We were asked to say how we should measure progress in delivering improvements to places to places to live and work? There is a well established methodology called the Happiness Index that would be well suited to this task. We should also measure progress through satisfaction surveys of commuters and general transport users using all modes of transport.

Have we missed anything you feel should be included in the strategy?

A hierarchy of users should be followed through in the Strategy starting with the pedestrian first and the private car last.

The strategy should not encourage aviation by supporting the expansion of Leeds/Bradford airport. This would be in harmony with a strategy that took a holistic approach to transportation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Rail use for freight should be encouraged and there is an absence of serious comment on this in the strategy documentation.

We need to invest in traffic signals so vehicles can move more freely, more efficiently and in a less polluting fashion. This should be linked with Action in the ground by the Highways Agency and local Councils.

There are jobs in a ‘green approach’ to transport policies – e.g. cycle logistics firms. Showing how the transport strategy is going to support employment would be a positive addition to the strategy

The benefits of new technology should benefit us all – autonomous and connected vehicles providing “collective” solutions rather than new gadgets for an elite. We are thinking particularly of advances towards driverless cars which may become a reality during the life of this strategy.

Fleet Managers need the right policy levers to enable them to be the first movers on new vehicle technology such as electric and hybrid cars. Showing how this could be achieved in the strategy would have been helpful.

We would be happy to meet relevant officers of West Yorkshire Transport Authority to discuss our observations 

Yours sincerely

Councillor Andrew Cooper on behalf of Green Parties across West Yorkshire

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Age of Plastic

Change happens imperceptibly but there are moments of transition, if we notice them, that show that the world is going through a phase change if not your full on paradigm shift. One moment in time I captured on camera was the move from orange sodium streetlights to pearly white LED ones with 50% of the energy demand and 50% of the cost. A positive all ways round you would think except that some people liked the warm orange glow and others thought is gave a better light. This demonstrates the first law of change - "You can't please all of the people all of the time". 

Other changes are more symbolic but nonetheless filled with significance. The move from paper £5 notes to plastic ones was interesting in many ways. On the reverse side we lost social reformer and Quaker Elizabeth Fry and gained former Tory Prime Minister Winston Churchill whose very chequered political past has been largely forgotten due to the strong, inspiring and necessary leadership he provided in World War 2. It was, however, the material rather than the images on it that had the most impact on me. We had moved from paper, a renewable resource, to plastic a byproduct of the fossil fuel industry. The £5 note, as a symbol of our economy, showed that the Bank of England investing in a non renewable resource (even if it is longer lasting and can survive a washing machine) and as such is a symbol of the problem with how UK Government policies on energy are fundamentally flawed on climate change with support for renewables and energy efficiency dumped in favour of fracking and nuclear.

Compared with the worldwide subsidy of fossil fuels, the changing of the material for a few billion worth of UK bank notes is small fry. It is estimated, by the International Monetary Fund, that worldwide fossil fuels are subsidised to the tune of $5.3Trillion each and every year. On Tuesday I was interviewed by Talk Radio who asked me to comment on the £100/year on UK domestic energy bills to support renewables and energy efficiency programmes. This is peanuts when compared to the huge tax breaks and other subsidies enjoyed by fossil fuel companies and generators and this will be something I will be pointing out at every opportunity when I attend the World Climate Summit on Climate Change, COP22 in Marrakech next month. The shift we need at Marrakech is to put the subsidy we give to climate destroying fossil fuels into sustainable sources of renewable energy and energy efficiency to limit demand for heat and power.

If we do invest $5.3 Trillion a year towards a sustainable future maybe then we could symbolically return to paper based money, sourced from recycled materials but who would we have on the back of the £5 note? Answers on a post consumer waste postcard please.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Kirklees Local Plan - Highfields Community Orchard saved

There are lots of stories coming out of the Kirklees Local Plan since the Publication draft was approved by Kirklees Council last Wednesday. The story of Highfields Community Orchard goes back about 7 years when Kirklees threatened to sell a valued green space next to Wentworth Street and Mountjoy Road. The land was on the border of Newsome and Greenhead Wards which provided a particular party political dimension with myself and the then Council Leader taking different views on this issue.

Highfields Community Orchard was confirmed as having Local Green Space status at Wednesdays meeting. The land was subject to an ongoing disagreement between the local community and the Council over whether, the former school play area should have been allocated as building land or remain a place that the community could use for events, childrens play and for growing local food.

It's a long story full of politics and personalities. All credit to the local people who campaigned to save the land. Events over the last few years has brought neighbours together, sharing food and good times. the big problem for the Friends of  Highfields Community Orchard is no longer Kirklees but the Apple Thief who has stripped the trees bare for a number of years now.

So the land should be safe for at least 15 years which is the life of the Local Plan. How high will the trees be by then?

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Andrew Cooper - Local Plan Speech Kirklees Full Council - 12/10/16

So here we are again with a vote on the Kirklees Local Plan.
 Let’s remember how we got to this point. The last time we had the then Local Development Framework in front of us. That Plan was withdrawn through a vote of this Council due to concerns expressed by the Planning Inspectorate. The reason that was given from the Government Planning Inspector was that we had not fulfilled the ‘duty to cooperate’ with other Local Authorities but in reality the truth was that there were simply not enough houses in the Plan to satisfy Government demands. The Green Party voted not to withdraw the plan, to call the Government’s bluff to show that we didn’t really have any say over how many houses needed to be built in our area. If we had kept the plan then the ball would have been in the Governments court. It would have been up to them to overrule the wishes of our democratically elected Council just as they have done with the Fracking Planning Application that was recently refused by Lancashire County Council. We are not the masters of our own destiny. Government sets the rules of the game and we have to follow.
Between 2008 and 2011 developers gave 3.3 million pounds to the Conservative Party during that time they and later their Government was formulating what became the National Planning Policy Framework where we see the guiding principle behind all Government Policy – the presumption in favour of development. Did the construction industry give money to the Conservative Party because they are philanthropists and it was a toss up between the Tories and the Save the Children Fund who they gave their brass to? Of course not they wanted something in return.    Since the Coalition and now a Conservative Government has been in power we have seen a weakening of the planning powers of Local Authorities and a strengthening of the hands of developers. It is because of Conservative Government rules that developers are able without a Local Plan to apply to build anywhere in Kirklees. So we are caught between a rock and a hard place. Produce a Local Plan with more houses than are needed to satisfy rapacious developers or have no plan and let those very same developers have a free hand to put planning applications in anywhere in Kirklees. So I say to the Conservatives this planning shambles is of your own making, your fingerprints are all over it, you’ve taken the money and you have been seen leaving the scene of the crime.  So much as it would be convenient to blame the Labour Administration of this Council a Conservative Administration would be in the exact same situation.
 So what about the Plan itself. There are some real positives and of course negatives. On the positive side we are very pleased that the Green Belt has been extended down from Castle Hill to the stretch of land bordered by New Laithe Hill and High Lane at Newsome. The people of Taylor Hill Road can rest a little easier knowing the Council will not be pursuing the threat of building housing on their back gardens. In Highfields the Community Orchard bordered by Wentworth Street and Mountjoy Road will be redesignated as a Local Green Space protecting it for local kids and the Community to use as they already are doing. We are disappointed that land at Jackroyd Lane , Newsome has not been removed from the plan as it is part of a green corridor of land leading up to Castle Hill and is part of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Stirley Farm Estate. We are however pleased that land at Newsome Mill, the former Stile Common School site, Cambridge Road have been allocated for development. We hope that they will be high quality properties with Passivhaus energy efficiency standards and will be available to people on lower incomes to rent or buy.
We have played a full part as a group negotiating the best we could for the communities we serve and represent. We will continue to do so but let us be under no illusion the negatives here are those created by the policy direction given by this Government. No attempting to wriggle, to shift the blame will wash. This isn’t Labour’s Plan, it’s not really even Kirklees Plan, in reality it isn’t not even the Conservative Government’s Plan but is the Plan of their paymasters  - the developers.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Speech to Clean Energy Live Birmingham NEC – 3/10/16 - Cllr Andrew Cooper - Green Party Energy Spokesperson

Being in the Green Party you are often subject to popular misconceptions. One which I’m sure many people have is that we are anti nuclear power. Now nothing could be further from the truth. We are actually very pro nuclear power with just some conditions around the finances. There should be no public or consumer subsidy for capital costs, the same rule should apply to ongoing revenue costs and of course decommissioning costs which are often a concern for nuclear power plants. The question then is always well would a nuclear plant ever be constructed under such a hostile financial regime? To which we would answer “ Constructed?  it already exists! It is 93 million miles away, is pretty reliable, predictable and if it ever did develop a fault we really would be in trouble”.

The UK Government is also very pro-nuclear power but it prefers its nuclear energy to be closer to home and they have a different take on the finances. The cost of Hinckley C to the consumer via the deal they have agreed on our behalf is reportedly around the £37 Billion mark.  Government is all about choices and what could we do with £37 Billion with solar for instance? Here’s a very rough and ready calculation. £37 Billion/ £5000 the lower end cost of a 4kWp solar PV system would provide on-site solar energy to 7.5 million homes. This is around 30% of all UK homes. Of course that is a very rough and ready figure but it shows the potential -  but possibly only the lower end of the potential. What if we had a national house by house programme which helped reduce costs further could we shave another £1000 off the cost that would be enough for 9 and quarter million homes. Such a programme would encourage significant expansion in solar manufacturing in the UK bringing with it more jobs, investment and the tax revenue that governments love. If we invested in large community owned solar PV installations the value of that £37 Billion would go even further. The advances that continue to be made in storage make solar an ever growing option for year round energy.

We need a Government vision informed by the renewables industry. During the General Election the Green Party policy in our Manifesto was attacked by some as being undeliverable but we were on firm ground because we worked with the Solar Trade Association to develop a policy that was ambitious but would be realistic based on the assumption that it would come from a Government that truly believed in a renewable energy future

Politics is all about choices and the vision we have for the future of our country and the wider world. Solar is not just a renewable energy it can also be a democratising energy that puts more power in the hands of individuals and communities and less in the hands of large corporate energy supply interests. This is not the general thrust of current UK Government policy. The abolition of the Zero Carbon homes standard for new build properties and the loss of Energy Company Obligation funding for retrofit insulation measures helps maintain high and growing domestic energy demand. The effective outlawing of onshore renewable energy through the planning system in England  and the hacking away at the Feed In tariff has slowed the advance of renewables in our country and as such the UK Government should be regarded as at best disinterested in sustainable energy and at worst overtly hostile. The future at the moment is nuclear, fracked gas heating and poorly insulated buildings. It’s their choice of future , not mine and I’m sure not yours.

Brexit may be Brexit what ever that means but it is not good news for renewables. The EU Renewable Energy Directive is/was a useful driver for investment in renewables even if UK policy was pushing us in the wrong direction and we were way down the EU Renewable Energy League Table along with Malta and Luxembourg. We need to ensure that whatever Brexit means that we stick with EU targets even if failure will no longer mean a financial penalty on the UK Govt.

So what do we do?

In Kirklees our 2000 Council house solar PV programme was stopped in its tracks last year. We got to 600 before the feed in tarrif cut hit. So we had to start thinking of other ways to make progress

In Kirklees we are looking at the viability of establishing our own building standards on land that we own. Those standards would be Passivhaus standards with 10% of the energy demand of a standard new build. They could incorporate solar PV and thermal. An all party working group that I chair on Kirklees  Council is developing recommendations for this policy. We want to hold a mirror up to Government to say this is what you can do when you have the political will. If that can be achieved in one Council in one part of the UK why not everywhere?

So I’d like to conclude by saying the Green Party does not have all the answers. We need the humility and common sense to realise that we need to work with others who share our vision and values for a clean energy future. So let us work together.  Let’s work on solutions with common purpose and optimism.

The future will be bright , if its solar and renewable.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Kirklees Democracy Commission - A Huddersfield Town Council?

Huddersfield's Coat of Arms
  As part of our evidence gathering for the Democracy Commission we took evidence from a representative from the National Association of Local Councils. This body represents the myriad Parish and Town Councils around the country from the very small village councils (the Dibley Model) to Councils representing many thousands of people. The largest Town/Parish Council in the country is the newly created Sutton Coldfield Town Council which has a population of around 75,000 electors and came into being following its first elections this year.  It occurred to me as we received the presentation that there may be some mileage in applying a Town Council model to Huddersfield and perhaps other separate Town Councils for the other large towns in Kirklees.

Kirklees Council will never be loved. It is an artificial construct of disparate communities and towns brought together under local government reorganisation in 1974. Kirklees has done some marvellous things and made some mistakes over the years but it we'll never achieve the semi mythical status of the Huddersfield Borough Council in the eyes of many older/voting resident. Comparisons aren't really fair as the pressures and responsibilities of the old Huddersfield Council doesn't compare with that of modern day Kirklees. You also have the misconception in North Kirklees that all the money goes to Huddersfield and in Huddersfield that all the money goes to North Kirklees. Around the margins some areas may get a bit more money based on whoever happens to be running the Council at the time but largely the increasingly meagre pot of money is distributed according to need. As funding for the services Kirklees provides is withdrawn by Central Government a greater proportion of that funding will have to be directed at those in the greatest need and so the Council will be largely funding adult social care and vulnerable children's services. Funding for things people care about in their communities such as libraries , museums, roads, street cleaning will all diminish hugely. It doesn't look like Kirklees Council will be loved any more any time soon! Nor will it be abolished. Requests to halve it quarter it and establish new councils have been rejected by Governments of all hues over the years. Love it, or more likely, loathe it, Kirklees isn't going anywhere fast!

So why and how a Huddersfield Town Council? We have a Town Council in Kirklees now. Meltham is a Town Council. We also have Parish Councils in Mirfield, Kirkburton, Holme Valley and Denby Dale. In Kirkburton through a  Green Party initiative, supported by Independents and most Parties, we developed a successful plan to save Kirkburton Library (there was no other plan!) Without the Parish Council it is unlikely that the building would have remained open and would probably have ended up as a large private bungalow or a small supermarket. Similarly in Skelmanthorpe there has been another asset transfer of the Library to Denby Dale Parish Council. So these bodies can act as lifeboats for the retention of local facilities and services and to be a way of promoting more local priorities.

Attempts at devolving power to Area Committees and now District Committees covering different parts of Kirklees have never really worked and I guess never will. However enlightened and willing teh chairs and members of Huddersfield District Committee are they are still beholden to the Kirklees Cabinet and have to operate within their priorities. Whoever happens to be in power at the time. Issues like the future of Huddersfield Town Centre are regarded as outside the scope of the District Committee and responsibility for it is jealously guarded by the Cabinet. A new political body representing Huddersfield once established could see responsibilities and some funding transferred to it from kirklees as part of new political settlement for our area. Whatever decisions were made by Huddersfield Town Council would be those established by the representatives elected by Huddersfield people. Town Councils have the same status as  charities and voluntary organisatuions and are able to apply for funding that Kirklees would not have access to. So we could get more 'bang for our buck' than we ever would with KMC.

Highly symbolic, but nethertheless real, would be the moment the Council was established and it adopted the coat arms of the old Borough Council of Huddersfield. The people of Huddersfield could begin to believe they had got their Town back and greater control of their own destinies.