Monday, July 31, 2006

MRF Visit!

Exciting day today - went on a visit with members of the Sustainable Development Committee to the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) in Greenwich (yes, I know, I'm a sad green geek!). Part of the reason for the visit, besides to see how it worked, was to reassure members of the committee, and hopefully in turn the public, that the materials put into the green wheelie bins are being recycled. Public confidence in recycling has taken a bit of a battering since some rather negative programmes on TV recently about waste being shipped to China etc. Residents also get confused when they think their recycling is going into an ordinary waste van - the council uses the same vans for both recycling and non-recyclable waste.

Have to say I was really impressed by the facility. All of the recyclable waste collected in green bins in Lewisham goes to the Greenwich MRF, which has been in operation for about 18 months now. It is collected first at Hinkcroft recycling in Deptford, then bulked up and put in articulated lorries, rather than every recycling van going all the way to MRF. Once there it goes along an array of conveyor belts and crushing drums which seperate paper, cardboard, glass, tins, plastic bottles and non-recyclable waste. The vast majority of the waste is sorted automatically, but pickers are employed to pull out anything that might contaminate the materials eg food waste. Between 93% and 95% of the waste sent there is seperated into recyclate, which is then sold on to reprocessors. The remaining 5-7% is residual waste which is returned to SELCHP and incinerated.

It is one of the few MRFs in the country/world that is able to deal with glass. It does this by crushing it into small pieces which then fall through a mesh, while larger items such as newspapers go down a different chute. The downside of dealing with glass in this way is that it is not suitable to be recycled back into glass bottles, but is sold as aggregate. This reduces the amount of waste going to landfill and the amount of aggregate being quarried, but is not as energy efficient as recycling it into glass (or better still reusing bottles, of course). The alternative would be to collect glass from households seperately, which would be expensive and result in more vans and more pollution.

Apparently 60% of the volume of recyclate processed at the plant is paper and cardboard, 20% is glass and the remainder is plastic bottles and tins. The facility can process 12 tonnes of material an hour and will soon be working at full capacity 24 hours a day to meet demand. At the moment the MRF can only deal with plastic bottles, as these are the types of plastic there is a market for - yoghurt pots, plastic trays etc get filtered out and rejected, or they lower the overall quality of the product and hence the price. Plastic bags also slow down the process and have to be removed by hand.

When we asked about where the recyclate was reprocessed, we were told that the paper is exported to Malaysia and the plastic goes to China. This is apparently because the markets for recyclate are more developed there than here, Cleanaway, who run the MRF get more money and paper recyclers in the UK refuse to take paper that has been mixed with glass during the sorting process (even though it is seperated). Cleanaway track the goods from when they leave the UK right until it is delivered to the buyer, and are confident that it is being recycled, not being landfilled. They are keen to make the distinction between waste and sorted recyclables, known as recyclate, which is a commodity which is bought and sold. When we expressed concern about the distance the material travelled, we were assured that the material is put into containers that have brought goods to the UK and would otherwise be returned empty and therefore it is not that environmentally unfriendly.

Clearly, it is far from ideal that the materials are shipped to the otherside of the world to be recycled, but the market here is not sufficiently developed, and the infrastructure to reprocess so much material is currently lacking. It is arguably greener to ship recyclate to China for reprocessing than to landfill it here, but the long-term aim must be to develop our domestic recycling industry. Apparently in other countries such as Germany, government subsidy is greater to support the reprocessing, and of course they are also streets ahead of us on reusing packaging, so the type and quantity of waste they produce is very different. The difference between the recyclate exported from Greenwich MRF and that shown on the BBC TV programme which caused the controversy is that the material from Greenwich is sorted and basically a raw material ready to be used, whereas the programmes showed mixed recyclables arriving in China some of the containers were contaminated with food waste and by the time they arrived a large amount of the material was unrecyclable.

Lots of food for thought, but the basic message has got to be: keep recycling, and keep trying to reduce your waste. Oh and only plastic bottles - no plastic bags, yoghurt pots etc!

Greenwich MRF Brochure. Incidentally, I was amused by Cleanaway's slogan: 'For a greener world think blue' - not quite sure who got there first, Cleanaway or the Conservatives!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Ladywell Safer Neighbourhood Police Panel, 27th July

Thursday was the second mtg of the Ladywell Safer Neighbourhood Police Panel. The mtg was better attended than the first one, and 2 of the community support officers also came along, which was good. Pauline Morrisson (former Ladywell councillor) was appointed as chair, and after some discussion, the priorities we set the team for the next 2 months were (in no particular order):

To maintain a visible police presence
To tackle graffiti and flytipping
To tackle anti-social behaviour by young people
To tackle the illegal use of mini-scooters

Tackling speeding and drivers using mobiles was removed as a priority for the team as Sgt Deuchar felt it was difficult for them to deliver on, given that the PCSOs can't arrest or even stop drivers. However, he did agree to try and get the traffic division to do several sessions a month within the ward to tackle these problems.

The team has undergone some staffing changes as PC Steve Snipp and PCSO Cherif Bensidhoum have both moved on, and the full team now comprises Sgt David Deuchar, the PC is called Brian and the PCSOs are Abdul, Ben and Graham (not sure of everyone's surname). The PCSOs are all doing lots of overtime this month to maintain a high visibilty presence during the school summer holidays.

The panel was still somewhat under-represented by younger people and also people from the Arabin/Braxfield/Comerford Rd and Tressillian/Breakspears, Chalsey Rd areas, so if you are from these areas (or elsewhere in the ward) and would like to join the panel, e-mail the team on

Full Council Meeting 26th July 2006

Wednesday was the second full council mtg since being elected.

The deputy mayor proposed a motion saying how good Lewisham is on sustainable energy, but accepted an amendment submitted by us pointing out that while the council has been good on procurement of green energy, it has lagged behind other boroughs when it comes to on-site generation of renewable energy. The final motion, which was passed unanimously, “calls for the council’s commitment to renewable energy to be taken further with energy action zones, the establishment of ambitious renewable energy targets for new developments in the Local Development Framework, the installation of at least 1,000 renewable energy devices across the borough, the integration of renewable energy into the Decent Homes programme and the Building Schools for the Future programme, and initiatives to make it easier for everyone to improve energy use and energy efficiency in their homes.” Yippee! This bodes very well for getting good renewable energy targets into the Local Development Framework when it is up for review soon.

However, the deputy mayor did somewhat tarnish her green halo when she watered down a motion Romayne proposed, calling on local MPs to support the Climate Change (Contraction and Convergence) bill (a bill originally tabled by Labour MP Colin Challen, it ran out of time before the summer recess but should return to the house in the Autumn). We thought that this would be a straightforward motion that would get all-party support, but the deputy mayor tabled an amendment removing endorsement of contraction and convergence and simply stating that “there are a number of international models for future actions on climate change, including the Contraction and Convergence Model, the Brazilian Historical Responsibility Proposal and the use of Sustainable Development Policies and measures in the framework of the Climate Change Convention”. There is broad consensus in the environmental movement and with development charities that contraction and convergence is the fairest way to reduce carbon emissions globally. The Tories supported the Labour amendment, meaning that the amended, watered down motion was what was passed rather than the original. The deputy mayor also laid into Romayne for copying and pasting from the internet, seemingly failing to grasp that this was the point, it wasn’t our original motion, it was a motion being put to numerous councils across the country to try and bolster support for this all-important bill. Once again, vote red or blue, don’t expect to go green.

Lib Dems proposed a motion on giving more power to area forums, a concept that we are also committed to, but there was some confusion over amendments which had/hadn’t been circulated and a rather flustered chair proposed that it be brought back to the next mtg. The Socialists proposed a motion calling for council tenants in the area due to become an ALMO (arms-length management organisation) to be balloted about whether or not they wanted to proceed. We supported them, but Lib Dems, Lab and Tories got an amendment through reducing the requirement for a ballot to if the ALMO decides to have new powers in the future.

Questions to the Mayor and Cabinet
Each councillor is allowed to ask 3 written questions to the mayor and cabinet, submitted 10 days before the full council meeting.

My questions were:
Cabinet Member for regeneration: Can you confirm whether there are plans to demolish the sports hall at Ladywell Centre in Slagrove Place to make way for a travellers' site to replace that being lost on Thurston Road?
Cabinet member for children and young people: Are you aware that some primary schools in the borough are introducing finger print ID to borrow books from their libraries?
How many schools are planning to introduce this and do you think it is an appropriate system for primary school libraries? Do you share the concerns of parents in thinking this is unduly intrusive and would you encourage schools to adopt an alternative system, eg involving swipe cards?
Cabinet member for regeneration: Would the council consider expanding the shop improvement grant scheme to include Ladywell, which suffers from an ongoing problem of graffiti on solid shop shutters? I understand that, funding permitting, you plan to expand the scheme to Brockley - can you confirm whether this might include the parts of Brockley Road and Loampit Vale which fall in Ladywell ward, but are geographically in Brockley?

The responses I got were: yes, there are plans to demolish the sports hall at Ladywell Centre in Slagrove Place to make way for a travellers' site to replace that being lost on Thurston Road, no the cabinet member for Children and Young People didn’t know about the plans some primary schools in the borough may have to fingerprint pupils to borrow library books (informally after the mtg he confirmed he thought it was ridiculous) and no, the shop improvement scheme can’t be extended to include Ladywell, but some of Brockley Road which is in Ladywell ward may fall within the Brockley scheme.

The plan to demolish the sports hall at Ladywell Day Centre is controversial. Clearly the travellers need a new site as their existing one is going to be part of the new town centre development, and the proposed site would be a better place to bring up kids than in the current site underneath Lewisham Station. Yet the trade-off is to demolish a sports hall that is currently used by various disability groups, including a disabled girl guide company. The argument is that the sports hall is currently underused and not cost-effective. Whether the solution is to demolish the hall is debatable. In an area crying out for better youth provision, uses could always be found for a sports hall.

I'm also concerned at what the impact of reducing the overall number of spaces for travellers from the current 16 to the planned 7 will be. The council is only planning a site for the 7 families that have asked to be relocated from Thurston Road. Although the council no longer has any legal obligation to provide travellers' sites, it is not clear what provision there will be should any more travellers move into Lewisham. Tomorrow (Monday), Mike, Ute and I are having a briefing with council officers on the application when I hope some of our concerns will be addressed. At the moment, promises of photovoltaics on the roof of the outbuilding for the travellers are not sufficient to convince me of the scheme's merits.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Planning mtg, Whitstable, Casework

Bit of a time since my last posting - sorry.
Planning mtg last Thursday - long mtg with lots of cases (none in Ladywell). V difficult balancing act - can't reject applications without good reason under planning regulations or council is at risk of getting sued, however vociferously neighbours may object. Also can't currently oppose application on grounds that there is no renewable energy requirement, but hopefully this will change when the local development framework is revised.

Saturday was Lewisham Green Party's annual outing to Whitstable and despite the weather forecast it stayed dry and we all had a good swim in the sea and laze around on the beach. I would highly recommend Whitstable as a day trip, easy to get to (train from Crofton Park, change at Bromley South).

Lots of casework recently, on a variety of issues - query re trees being cut down on Chudleigh Rd (due to protruding roots), someone chasing a freedom of information request they hadn't received (data now sent, but a complaint has been lodged with the Information Commissioner) question re road resurfacing, maintenence issues in a sheltered housing complex, someone who'd been waiting 2 years for the council to send a bill for work done to her property, someone wanting info on solar panels . . .

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Weekend in the solar capital of the UK

Just come back from a weekend in the solar capital of the UK, aka Kirklees, where I went for an Association of Green Councillors conference. Good to meet other Green councillors, find out what others have achieved, share ideas, problems etc. The Green group in Kirklees were successful in getting the council to set up a Renewable Energy Fund, which was used to support the installation of solar panels on a number of council homes. They also have introduced a minimum renewable energy requirement in all new homes built, starting at 10% last year and rising by 5% each year to reach 30% in 2011. The building where the conference took place was a college which had a wind turbine, solar panels and brown roof. Apparently, over 5% of all renewable energy produced in the UK right now is made in Kirklees.

Lots of food for thought and stuff to work on over the coming months.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Sponsor Dan!

Have been asked to give a quick plug to Cllr Dan Houghton's sponsored walk, so in an unprecedented (on my part) show of cross-party co-operation, here goes, pls sponsor him at:Walk for Life.

Fun and games

Went to Ladywell Centre fayre on Thursday afternoon - very enjoyable, lots of groups doing karate demonstrations, performing music etc. Spent some time talking to people and had a tour of the centre by the manager.

Saturday was our surgery in the Old Bothy on Hilly Fields - 5 people came to see us, on a variety of issues.

In the afternoon of course it was Lewisham People's Day. Ute and I were somewhat surprised to be told by the security and police on the gate that we couldn't take our bikes in, given that it was the entrance advertised on the programmes for cyclists to use because there was a secure bike park. Tried to explain this to people on the gate but they had their orders, so had to chain our bikes up to the railings outside. Later returned to the gate with the council cycling officer, Carole Crankshaw, just as word came through on their walkie talkies that they could let cyclist in afterall! Lewisham Cyclists were understandably annoyed, as people couldn't get through to their Dr Bike stall and it didn't exactly give out a cyclist friendly message!

Other than this initial irritation and the somewhat patchy recycling provision (both of which I will be following up on), I thought People's Day was excellent. Ute and I spent a couple of hours wandering round the stalls and talking to various groups, and left Mike to do the Green Party stall! Had a long conversation (through an interpreter as my sign language is limited to the alphabet) with Lewisham Sign Language Community group and we will be following up on some of their concerns about access to interpreters.

On Saturday evening I went to see Deptford Stories at the Albany - a combined walk around the historical streets of Deptford and sketches depicting the history of the Albany over the last 100 or so years. Highly enjoyable and v informative. Lots of local groups and schools were involved, ranging from local primary school children to the Sunshine Grannies.

We had a local party mtg on Monday. We have just about outgrown members' living rooms now and are looking for a bigger venue, so if anyone knows of any cafe/pub/community centre located fairly centrally (Ladywell/Crofton Park area) that we could hire for a fairly small fee on the second Monday of every month, I'd be interested to know. Monday is the best night to meet, as it doesn't clash with other council/Green Party mtgs, but it rules out several local cafes as they close on Mondays. Of course, if you are thinking of joining the Green Party, you can do so here ;)

I spent a lot of time on Tuesday and Wednesday catching up on casework. Quite a lot of queries coming through from residents at the moment, some more politely phrased than others. I think the post-election honeymoon period, when lots of the e-mails we received were congratulating us on our election, is definitely over now!

Some residents expressed concern that the traffic calming consultation in the Crofton Park/Ladywell South area had not been delivered to all of the area, so I knocked on a few doors in each street to check. I'm confident it went to most of the area, but it doesn't seem to have been delivered to Ivy Road, Huxbear Street or all of Ladywell Rd, which I have followed up on with the trasport team.

Some small successes lately, with graffiti removal and getting a green bin to a private residential block that hadn't got recycling facilities before - sounds simple, but took an awful lot of negotiation and convincing to get it in place. Also chased why e-mails to the envirocall address were bouncing - didn't get an entirely satisfying response, but it's best to either phone to report flytipping etc (020 8314 7171) or to use the lovelewisham site now.

Am off to deliver Ladywell Green News to the last few streets now, then later going to a public mtg with Joan Ruddock at the town hall about her recent trip to Africa as part of the International Development Select Committee.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Greens in the European Parliament - batteries and aviation

Green MEPs Jean Lambert and Caroline Lucas have been busy this week in the European parliament. The European Parliament has today approved the Battery Directive, which will mean that schemes for the collection of used batteries and accumulators are set up throughout Europe by 2008. Belgium, Austria, France and Germany have had collection schemes for portable batteries in place for some time now and the UK will now have to do the same to reach a minimum collection rate of 25% by 2012 and 45% by 2016. At the moment, I think the Landmanns Way site in New Cross is the only place to take used batteries to in Lewisham and I'm not sure if that's all batteries or just car batteries. According to the directive, easily accessible collection points must be available to consumers by 2008 and distributors will have to take back the used batteries at no cost regardless of when they were sold. Sounds like a good idea to me.

Euro-MPs also voted to adopt proposals drafted by Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas to introduce a range of measures including an airlines-only CO 2 Emissions Trading Scheme and emissions charges to tackle their non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions.

The aviation sector is one of the fastest growing sources of carbon emissions yet airlines currently enjoy tax breaks and hidden subsidies worth more than £9 billion in the UK alone. Apparently MEPs were intensively lobbied by the airlines in recent weeks, yet fortunately they don't seem to have caved into their demands for air travel to be included in the EU's existing Emissions Trading Scheme. The proposals aren't yet law, Caroline's report will now form the Parliament's submission to the EU Commission's forthcoming legislative proposals, but it could be on the EU statute book by 2008. See article in Independent and also Airport Watchs Rethink website.

Also in the Independent, a survey apparently shows strong support for householders to be charged for the disposal of non-recyclable waste. When the topic of recycling has come up in class with my students (I'm an EFL teacher and it's surprising how often environmental issues come up in my classes ;)!), Koreans always explain that they are charged according to how much waste they produce, that they have to buy special (expensive) rubbish bags for non-recyclable waste, which acts as an incentive to recycle more. They don't seem to question it and are critical of how little they see recycled here, but it would take quite a change in mindset to successfully implement this in the UK.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Consultations: CPZ and traffic calming

Residents in the southern part of Ladywell between Chudleigh Rd and Ivy Rd (Phoebeth through to Abbotswell, Brockley Grove and part of Ladywell Rd) should have received through their doors a consultation document on traffic calming in the area. This is your chance to have your say! Questionnaires should be returned by July 14th. If you haven't received a consultation document, click here or call Keith Gordon on 020 8314 2591/ Tom Henry on 020 8314 2562.

Meanwhile, residents in the area of the proposed extension to the Lewisham CPZ (Bertrand, Branscombe, part of Algernon, Claybank Grove, Loampit Hill and Elswick Rd still have a few days to respond to the consultation document on the planned CPZ. For more info visit Lewisham parking

Monday, July 03, 2006

Pensions, fairtrade, cycling training for kids

Aargh! Haven't written anything in ages. V busy week last week with training/meetings every night. Bizarrely, we seem to be getting training now for the things we needed to know 2 months ago, but better late than never I guess.

Pensions Committee: had 2 mtgs in which we received presentations from fund managers about how their funds had performed in the previous quarter. I questioned fund managers about how investments in the arms trade fitted in with a socially responsible investment policy. Lewisham Council's pension scheme has a policy of 'positive engagement' with companies on ethical issues, which means that rather than screening out companies fund managers think are dubious, they invest in them and try to work with them on issues. I had a slightly bizarre conversation with one fund representative who proudly said that they had decided against investing in Nike because of their reputation on sweatshops, but that they were positively engaging with a certain arms manufacturer. Now I'm no big fan of Nike but I can just about see how you could positively engage with them on workers' rights issues, but how do you positively engage with an arms manufacturer (can you make weapons guaranteed not to kill anyone or to be sold to anyone who might use them?!/can you start making solar panels instead please?!)? I would like to see the council pension fund screen out investments in tobacco and arms and will be pushing for this. Top priority must be to maximise returns for pension fund members (and minimise the contribution council tax payers make to the fund), but I don't think profits and ethics need to be mutually exclusive.

Also went to the Fairtrade steering committee meeting with my Oxfam hat on. Lots planned for their stand at Lewisham Peoples' Day this Saturday. When time permits, I would like to do some work on encouraging cash and carries to stock fairtrade goods, which would make it easier for small shops to do the same. Every incentive for people to use small shops instead of supermarkets is good, as far as I'm concerned and I think that lots of people who buy fairtrade might also be inclined to support local shops over supermarkets, if they sold the products they wanted to buy.

Went to Gordonbrock Primary School Fete on Saturday - well-attended event with lots of kids bringing their bikes for Dr Bike to check over. I understand that the rebuilding/repairs work for the school will be on the agenda at the next mayor and cabinet mtg, which I hope to attend. Made the mistake of staying to watch the penalties in the England v Portugal match on Saturday instead of going straight to the joint meeting of the African Families Federation and various local trade justice groups. Went for the last hour and there seemed to be lots of enthusiasm for different groups to work together and it was much more inspiring than the football!

Glad to see the government has put some extra money into cycling training for kids.