Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Climate Camp comes to Lewisham!

Exciting news for Lewisham today as climate camp sets up on Blackheath.

I went to both the Heathrow and Kingsnorth camps and found both to be very well organised, and the sites were left in immaculate condition. The main irritation in both cases was the heavy-handed policing.

Brockley ward councillor Darren Johnson and I popped up to the site earlier on today and were impressed with how things were being set up. Happily, policing was reasonably low key and hands off. In fact, campers told us that the local ice cream vans got there before the police vans did (covert surveillance with your Mr Whippy perhaps?!).

The camp runs from now until 2nd September and there is an emphasis on education, awareness-raising and training at this year's camp, with a whole range of workshops on all sorts of things from composting, DIY and yoga to training for non-violent direct action. You can see the full programme of workshops here, and it's all free.

Lewisham Green Party have put out a supportive press release today. Lewisham Lib Dems and Labour in contrast have condemned the climate campers as irresponsible. Hmm, now let me think about that one . . . supporting the building of more motorways, airports and coal-fired power stations, allowing the only wind turbine factory in the country to close, or a group of people camping in a field and discussing practical steps that they need to take to reduce our carbon emissions and curb climate change. Hmm, I know which one I think is more irresponsible, how about you?

Anyway, I'm looking forward to discussing green stuff with like-minded people and attending some of the workshops at climate camp over the next few days, and hope that the peaceful atmosphere and hands off policing continues.

It's also great to see more micro-renewables in the form of solar panels and wind turbines in Blackheath Conservation Area than have ever been seen before -a dream for a Green councillor who sits on planning and is constantly frustrated by how inadequate our planning policies are to meet the challenges of climate change!

Greenwich Green Darryl also has a nice write-up and photos of the setting up of the camp on his 853 blog.

UPDATE 11pm, 26th August: pleased to see that Lewisham Lib Dems have now released a more positive statement about climate camp following the earlier quotes attributed to Blackheath councillors that appeared on the Guardian website.

11 comments:

weggis said...

I didn't know that Blackheath was in Lewisham, and me a map fetishist!! I thought it was in Greenwich. I must get to grips with Sarf London.

Sue said...

It's on the border - part is in Lewisham and part is in Greenwich, but the climate camp is firmly in Lewisham, as Greenwich Coucil's website was at pains to point out earlier:

"Local residents may have seen media reports of an eco camp taking place in the Blackheath area. Greenwich Council can confirm that the main focus of the event is taking place on the Lewisham side of the heath."

Will you be paying us a visit?

Tressillian James said...

Interesting to see your views on solar panels and wind turbiones in conservation areas Sue. Where is the line between representing Green politics and also representing your constinuency - who overwhelming want more protection of the conservation areas - not less?

weggis said...

I doubt it, I like me Mod cons!

Sue said...

James - I think you might have taken my slightly flippant remarks rather more seriously than intended, but for the record, these are my views:

Reducing carbon emissions to tackle climate change and save millions of lives globally will always take a higher priority for me over protecting the aesthetic qualities of any conservation area - there seems little point in protecting a conservation area if sea levels and the Thames are rising all around it and the people of coutnries like Bangladesh are drowned/made destitute as their country disappears under water.

That said, the two need not be incompatible.

Before we rush to stick solar panels on every roof in the country, there is a huge job that needs to be done first in insulating those properties properly to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat them in the first place. This is where I think our priorities should be focussed first and what Greens on Lewisham Council have been consistently pushing for.

Once a home is well-insulated, then I think it does make sense to look at whether micro-renewables are suitable for it or not. For the vast part of London, wind turbines are not really an effective or appropriate option, but solar panels in many cases are.

Well designed and positioned solar panels, in my opinion, would enhance rather than detract from the conservation area and would have far less of a visual impact than many satellite dishes (which I know should come under planning enforcement), dormer windows etc do. In a large number of cases, I would imagine that solar panels could be sited on the rear, rather than the front of homes in any case, but obviously it depends on where the sun is coming from.

The solar panels on St Peter's Church (a listed building in Brockley Conservation area) is a good example of how solar panels can fit unobtrusively on buildings, in my opinion.

The great thing about solar panels etc of course is that should better technology make them obselete, they can always be removed/replaced from a property without any long-term damage done.

I don't think a conservation area should prohibit any adaption to modern needs - I'm glad, for example, that most houses now have central heating and we're not living in a smog due to everyone having coal fires, as was the case when the homes were built.

My reference to frustration with our planning policies is primarily about applications for new buildings, and the in my opinion inadequate standards of sustainability and levels of renewables they are required to reach. However, I would also strongly support any application for solar panels in a conservation area, assuming all reasonable steps had been taken to make them as unobtrusive as possible.

I hope that clarifies where I stand for you.

Tressillian James said...

Yes - that you are not supporting the majority view of your constituents. it does suprise me Sue, but not nearly as much as learning that: a) the only community group that you informed of the recent iniative by government to gain views from the people up was Brockely Transition Towns; b)that they were therefore the only community group that had time to make a submission to Lewisham Council for this year; and that c) that submission included a request that environmental iniatives (such as turbines and solar panels) should not need planning in conservation areas.

Sue said...

Tressillian James: you seem very firm in your conviction that the overwhelming majority of local residents would oppose solar panels in conservation areas - on what basis are you making that assertion? I am less certain of people's views and think this is largely a debate that still needs to be had. I believe there was talk recently of an article on this very point in a future Broc Soc newsletter, to gauge local residents' views. I've also knocked up a little poll on this site to test the water.

On your second point, about the Sustainable Communities Act, you are wrong. There was limited time for discussing proposals for submission this year, as the Council left it fairly late to decide how it would be running the process (despite our requests for clarification). That said, I spoke about it with people from a number of local people, as did Ute. Ute worked closely with local residents who were involved in the earlier campaign against Portland Bookmakers, to come up with a proposal to tighten gambling legislation. This was taken to the Ladywell ward assembly and agreed by those present. I worked with residents involved in the 'Stop the Strip' campaign, as well as Telegraph Hill ward councillors to work up a proposal to tighten licensing laws on strip clubs.

If you do a search for 'Sustainable Communities' on this blog, you will see that I have posted about it a number of times, going back to September 2007. It was as a result of a motion I proposed to Council in September 2008 that Lewisham Council opted into the act (the second local authority in the country to do so). In October 2008 I organised a well-attended local meeting in the town hall with speakers from the Local Works campaign to talk about the Sustainable Communities Act and how it could work for them. So to sum up, I think Ute and I have done more than any other Lewisham councillor to raise awareness of this act and its potential, but ultimately it's not our job to do the role of the Council's communications team for them.

Tressillian James said...

But Sue - is it not true that you personally contacted the Transition Towns team? I know, for a fact, that Brockley Society was suprised about this.

And I am afraid you are wrong about Brockley Society running this on their newsletter - in their last meeting they were fairly forthright that they did not need to open a debate on this - that although solar panels on back roof slopes may be acceptable, they should still go through planning. Which was something that the Transiton towns statement wanted to avoid - and something that the Brockley Society wouldn't put their name on.

Sue - don't you think, rather than campaign on this, your efforts would be better directed at changing the ways of big business and government - rather than the 500 odd houses in aconservation area that has been protected on architectual and historical grounds for future generations. And PLEASE do nto come back with rising Thames levels and Bangladesh - I think both would be better servced by stopping the main pollutors and carbon outputters in industry than worrying abnout whether the conservation area has solar panels.

Sue said...

James - I've been supportive of the Brockley Transition group since its inception, which came about as a result of discussions at Lewisham Green Drinks, and have attended a number of their meetings, the same as I attend other local groups' meetings, as time permits. We had a speaker from the Local Works campaign who came to Lewisham Green Drinks to talk about the Sustainable Communities Act and I know Transition Brockley members were at that. He was the same guy that spoke at the meeting I organisd last October, which Broc Soc were invited to, along with many other local groups and amenities societies.

The process for submitting proposals under the SCA was promoted by the Council in Lewisham Life magazine and on its website - not exactly a huge fanfare, but hopefully it will be better publicised next year, and perhaps incorporated into the ward assemblies programme in some way.

Were you at the Broc Soc meeting I attended a couple of months back, when Fran from Transition Brockley presented her proposals? If so, you will know that I had concerns about some of the proposals the same as others did, and Fran was more than happy to take on board these points too, if I recall correctly.

I haven't been actively campaigning about solar panels in conservation areas - you asked for my opinion and I gave it. If you disagree, fair enough, but don't expect me to change my sincerely held views just because you disagree with them!

As for changing the ways of big business and government - silly me, if only I'd thought of that myself, I'll get on to that tomorrow . . .

Tressillian James said...

Wow Sue - Sorry if I hit a nerve - I've been voting Green ever sinvce I came to Brockley - but it looks like if my views on the conservation of our heritage differ from yours you get slightly annoyed with a constituent. I'm an active member of quite a few local groups and try also to do my bit, in my own way,and am very proud of the protection Brockley Society gained for the area (hard won) and the Planning regs give the area I live in. I was just trying to get you to understand my opinion, and yes, in the hope that it may change yours slightly.

I do consider myself Green, but I also have a love of architecture and our history. I don't see that this needs to be spoilt for what are smallish gains.

Sue said...

James, I'm not annoyed that we have different views - we're both perfectly entitled to hold different views - it was the implication of some kind of dodgy goings on between Transition Brockley and me that ruffled my feathers!

I am also keen to protect our local architecture - both in and outside the conservation area, hence the ongoing battle with the Council over UPVC windows in Victorian properties, amongst other things.

I've not suggested that solar panels should circumvent the planning process entirely, or that regard shouldn't be given to their visual impact, but I do think we need to adjust our planning laws to make it easier for those living in conservation areas to get solar panels than it is at the moment.