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 As funding for the services Kirklees provides is withdrawn by Central Government a greater proportion of that funding will have to be directed at those in the greatest need and so the Council will be largely funding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.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Kirklees Democracy Commission - A huge opportunity for progress

Democracy Commission Roadshow l to r Cllrs Cooper, Firth, Wilson and Chair Andy Mycock
I am a member of the Kirklees Democracy Commission that has members serving on it from all Parties and it  is chaired by the University of Huddersfield's Politics Lecturer Andy Mycock

Its mission is to achieve the following,

By 2020 Kirklees is an informed citizen-led democracy with accountable elected representatives who enable communities to influence and affect decisions governing their lives.

It is going to do this by looking at the role of Councillors, how we run our elections and seeking to improve how we go about our decision making to enable people to feel they have more of a stake and influence over how our decisions are made.

Kirklees is not a loved institution. It is an artificial construct cobbled together after Local Government reorganisation in 1974 and named after a place in neighbouring Calderdale rather than anywhere in the actual district. As such the name pleased no one rather than alienating any particular town by naming it after another. There are regular calls to split the Council by the Public and politicians seeking to garner a few populist votes but both Labour and Tory Governments have dodged this over the years.

A lot of time and effort has gone into preparing and running Commission events and sourcing witnesses by Kirklees officers. My own view is that we have the opportunity to come up with some radical and far reaching proposals for the Council to implement and where necessary to seek Government approval. we cannot go through this whole exercise and only propose piecemeal changes. We also need to regard what we are doing as a possible template for other cOuncils We need to be bold, forward thinking and consider doing things that have never been tried before. I will be blogging about the work of the Commission throughout. Lets see where the journey takes us


Saturday, 27 August 2016

A Question of Taste? - Ugarit Restaurant, Cross Church Street, Huddersfield

The Ugarit Restaurant
The old Estate Agents before Ugarit took over
Beauty like so many things is subjective, to a point.

If I was asked for a view on whether Cross Church Street in Huddersfield was one of the most beautiful streets in the Town Centre  I'd be hard pushed to agree to that one! It has some high points. I quite like the shop frontage for the hardware store, some of the pubs have made an effort to have attractive signage and quality fronts but then there are the dubious looking takeaways and other shops with tired old plastic signs.

The Ugarit Restaurant has recently opened on the street  offering Syrian and Lebanese dishes and it looks like they have made a real effort to improve the appearance of the building both on the interior and exterior. I was surprised to discover that the Council's Conservation Team in the Planning Service deemed the signage outside Ugarit to be a detriment to a listed building and ordered changes to be made. The Restaurant was formerly an Estate Agent with a plastic sign outside. No damage has been caused to any of the buildings features as a result of the restaurant sign going up. A short wander down Cross Church Street and the vast majority of people I believe would regard the Ugarit shopfront as a positive thing compared with some of the garish signs on display. I have used my right as a Ward Councillor to refer this matter to the Planning Committee to see whether other Councillors see this issue as I do. There are a number of times I've seen matters differently to the Conservation Team in the Council. I really don't regard myself as some sort of Philistine who doesn't appreciate the need to preserve important architecture but I do find it difficult on a number of occasions to appreciate their viewpoint like this one on changes to New North Road Baptist Church from a few years ago.

Ugarit is a business which will hopefully be part of an improvement to the Town Centre and I hope the Council will be seeking to help businesses like this get established and not be regarded as an obstacle.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Green Energy Spokesperson to attend COP22 Climate Summit in Marrakesh, Morocco

Kirklees Councillor Andrew Cooper is to attend an International Summit on Climate Change in Morocco in November. Andrew is the Green Party's Energy Spokesperson.

COP22 (Conference of the Parties) includes representatives from most Countries in the world working together to develop policies and programmes to address climate change. Councillor Cooper will be attending as a member of the European Union's Committee of the Regions where he is a leading member of the the ENVE Commission, that leads on Climate Change and Energy policies.The EU Committee of the Regions is the body that leads on the role of local and regional authorities and their role in delivering policies agreed at a European level.

" The negotiations in Paris last year established the targets for reducing greenhouse gases. The talks in Morocco are all about the practical steps we will need to take to make those targets a reality" Councillor Cooper said

" The UK signed up to the EU target in the Paris agreement and we will have to play our role in acheiving that target whether in or out of the EU. The UK may have voted for Brexit but we can't opt out of the world and the consequences of an ever warming planet."

" Each country that signed the Paris Agreement agreed their own Intended Nationally Determined Contributions to acheiving that target. Government's may decide targets but it is at the local and regional level where planning policies, energy efficiency programmes and renewable energy projects can play a big role in making those targets a reality. Our practical experience at the community level is vital. We have to think global but we have to act at the local level".

Friday, 29 July 2016

Speech to "Yorkshire says NO to Fracking Demo" - York 30th July

I’m Andrew Cooper, a Councillor in Huddersfield and the Green Party’s National Energy Spokesperson.

I was in Northallerton when the Kirby Misperton Fracking Application was being considered. The evidence was poured over for 2 days and North Yorkshire County Council were well prepared. They set up 2 enclosed areas outside County Hall in Northallerton both were considerately provided with Portaloos. One area was set aside for the Protestors and another area was set aside for the Fracking supporters. Now I’m pretty sure that no one used the Portaloos on the Fracking supporters side due to the simple fact that there was no one there to make use of these facilities. What did happen in Northallerton to the shame of the County Council was the decision to allow Fracking near the village of Kirby Misperton. The decision was met with disbelief. Of course given the same evidence as a Councillor with years of planning experience I would have voted against.

On my own Council, Kirklees, I am proposing an addition to our Local Plan documents so when 3rd Energy or Cuadrilla put an application in our area,  to extract shale gas they will have to demonstrate that their application will not result in a net addition to CO2 emissions. Now I don’t think that’s possible but at a time when we have the 14th or 15th highest global temperatures ever, I believe they should have to prove it as a part of any planning application.

Now a word for my Labour opposite number Lisa Nandy MP the Labour Opposition Energy and Climate Change Secretary (Is she still? I don’t know) Her response to the Kirby Misperton decision was this,

“ We need robust rules to offer communities reassurance that the environmental risks will be properly managed.”

Labour doesn’t get it. Even if you trusted the companies reassurances, even if you regulated  it to somehow or other make it safe, you still cannot manage the environmental risks of extracting and burning more fossil fuels when we need to keep those fuels in the ground.  Our local and global environments simply cannot afford to let fracking happen. It must not happen.

The alternatives to fracking are available now. Energy efficiency, insulation are the way we should be ensuring our energy security, by making homes warmer and reducing energy demand, but Government has cut funding massively for these measures while keeping energy demand high and reducing costs for those poor hard pressed energy companies.

So we have the wrong energy priorities from Government, a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem with fracking from the opposition. So it comes down to us. We are the people and we are the ones who are going to have to stand tall, to speak truth to power. Simply being right is not enough. We must challenge robustly every application, every proposal, exercise our right to peaceful civil disobedience and protest, refuse to pay fines. Make a nuisance of ourselves.

2016 has been a bloody awful year so far. Friends let us come together, let us be united and let’s tell them NO Fracking Way!


Friday, 15 July 2016

DECC decked!

There is a perverse logic to the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Since 2010 when David Cameron famously declared, in the DECC building, that his would be the 'Greenest Government Ever' there has been a constant reduction in financial support  for measures to address climate change. We have had catastrophic reductions in Feed In Tariff rates for renewable technologies and for energy efficiency through cuts to the Energy Company Obligation. The Zero Carbon Homes standard due to be introduced this year for new homes was dropped by George Osborne. Planning rules for onshore wind turbines have been made so restrictive that they are as good as a ban. One of the few drivers that remained for investment in renewables was the UK being a signatory to the EU Renewable Energy Directive which required us to produce 15% of our total energy from renewable sources by 2020. Even though many of our EU partners had higher targets that they were exceeding the UK was shamefully set to fail to reach our 15% renewables target. Then Brexit happened and the threat of the UK being fined by the EU for failing to achieve a target we had voluntarily signed up to began to diminish. With a lack of commitment to energy efficiency and renewables in the UK Govt it is becoming increasingly difficult to see how we will be able to achieve our carbon reduction commitments made in Paris last December. With the significance of DECC being diminished as a direct result of Government policy the abolition of the department is consistent with the Conservatives ambivalence to action to address carbon emissions. To all intents and purposes the Conservatives are Climate Change Deniers in all but name.

We know that Government will say that addressing climate change has been 'mainstreamed' into an important Government Department but it has in fact being sidelined with no Cabinet minister acting as 'champion' following a decline in financial and policy support over the last 6 years. The irony is that one of the Ministers who managed that decline, Amber Rudd has been promoted to Home Secretary which as we know is only a short step to Number 10. Who would have thought the 'Aristocracy Advisor' on the film 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' could have come so far.