Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Energy Action Zone coming to Ladywell

Ladywell is one of the wards due to be covered by Lewisham’s Energy Action Zone (EAZ) in 2009/10. Lewisham’s EAZ has been running since 2007, and has already covered a number of areas in the borough including neighbouring Brockley. The EAZ focuses the Council’s energy efficiency advice service within a ward through:
  • Contacting every household in the ward by letter and on the doorstep to offer general advice and help people access grants for insulation or heating improvements
  • Promotional work on energy efficiency at local events, doctors surgeries and other similar activities
The team intend to start contacting Ladywell residents in April and to have been to all households in the ward by July.

Of course it would be better if they could offer not just advice but free insulation for all, as we proposed in our budget amendment this year, but it's a start, and hopefully the free insulation will follow!

Also, don't forget, if you want to apply for a free home energy survey and a year's subscription to the Green Homes Concierge Service, there are still a limited number of places available (20 as of today). Further details here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ladywell Police stepping up patrols in Dressington Avenue

Local residents may have read in the South London Press about a recent incident outside Abbey Manor College in Dressington Avenue in which a pupil was slashed with a knife. The Ladywell Safer Neighbourhood team have said that they have increased patrols in the area around school time. There have also discussed security issues with the headteacher and plan to go and speak to pupils about the effects and dangers of knife crime soon.

I thought I would mention that this has happened, and that the local police are taking steps to try and prevent it happening again, but I don't want people to be unduly alarmed, as Ladywell is generally a safe place to live and has one of the lower crime rates in the borough. While there have been recent spates of burglary and car crime and incidents of pirate DVD making in the ward (and suspects have been arrested for these), violent crime has generally been low.

Partial Resurfacing of Dressington Avenue this week

The section of Dressington Avenue from near the entrance to outside house number 35 is being resurfaced this week. We've received a number of complaints from residents about this road over the past year or so, as well as from users of the Ladywell Day Centre.

We've followed up on these, but one of the reasons it has taken so long to get anything done is that the road came under the housing budget rather than highways, and when the housing management was transferred to Regenter B3, responsibility for the road maintenence remained with the Council, but there was no funding earmarked for it and so there has been a fair amount of negotiation to get some progress on this.

A partial resurfacement is less than many residents will be hoping for, but hopefully it will at least repair the worst section of the road until funds are available to do the rest. I am hoping that all the 'estate roads' in the Brockley PFI area which are also in the same state of limbo (ie the responsibility of housing but no budget to repair them), including Viney Road and Foxborough Gardens will be transferred over to highways, so they can at least be added to the resurfacing priority list.

UPDATE 31st March: I've had confirmation today that funding has been found to also repair the road by the junction with Lion Close, which was also in dire need of repair so that's good news.

Leaf Mould and Frogs!

I spent a few hours yesterday tidying the back garden - long overdue and good to switch off from other things for a few hours. I have a large London Plane tree in my garden which produces bags and bags of leaves every year. I've been dutifully collecting and shredding them for about the past 7 years and putting them in a wire mesh container and hoping they would turn into leaf mould.

London Plane tree leaves are infamously slow to decompose, so I was inordinately proud, after 7 years of my efforts, to have something roughly approaching leaf mould when I emptied one of the wire bins yesterday. I've spread it over the fruit and veg bed and it is supposed to condition the soil, add nutrients and help retain moisture. We will see. I may need to dig it in a bit before it blows all around the garden again.

I also disturbed one or two little frogs, which must be from last year's frog spawn, and tried to persuade them to go into the pond out of harm's way while I was using the shredder. This one seemed strangely reluctant and was quite happy sitting in this upturned shell next to the pond instead! I have lots of frog spawn in the pond again this year, so envisage another summer of using froglets in the grass as an excuse not to cut the lawn. I may just scatter some wildflower seed and call it a wildflower meadow and done with it!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Embleton Road being resurfaced this week

I've been notified that resurfacing works are due to take place on Embleton Road, between Ellerdale Street and Brookbank Road, starting tomorrow (Wednesday 25th March) and lasting for approximately 3 days. Residents (and commuters!) are asked not to park their vehicles there for the next few days.

Nature's Gym: Forthcoming Events Locally

I've been sent the April-June calendar of events organised by and in conjunction with Nature's Gym. There's loads going on and you can see the April events here.

Dates for diary include:
Sunday 19th April: Friends of Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries work day. Meet by chapel in Ladywell cemetery at 10am (tbc).

Thursday 21st May: Hilly Fields Nature Reserve, 11am-2pm. Placing chicken wire on the steps in the nature area, paint the railings and other various activities. Meet on Eastern Road off Adelaide Avenue. Look out for the white van.

Saturday 30th May: ‘3 Rivers Clean Up', 11am-2pm, Ladywell Fields – North field. Cleaning the Ravensbourne Catchment of Himalayan Balsam and litter. Meet at the environmental classroom in Ladywell fields just off Ladywell Road. A follow up event on Saturday 6th June, organised by Thames 21, is tbc.

Ladywell Fields: Big Plans in the Pipeline - Consultation Event on 4 April

The Council has secured nearly £2m in funding from the LDA (London Development Agency) to carry out major improvement works to the middle and southern fields in Ladywell Fields. The feedback I've received from residents about the works to the northern field that was carried out a year or two back has been almost entirely positive, and there's been a noticeable increase in the number of people using the park, so I think it's great news that the other two fields are also in line for a 'makeover'.

The plans for the other two fields include:
  • Improving biodiversity and access to the river, including building a series of timber viewing platforms along the riverside
  • Creation of a series of new wetland lakes including riverside planting, ponds, reed beds and wet grasslands
  • New bridges will connect the river to increase use and access
  • Work to existing and new entrances, to connect residential areas with the green space and adjacent town centres
  • New lighting and street furniture
There are also plans for clearer signage and improvements to the Waterlink Way cycle path, which runs from Deptford Creek to Beckenham Place Park, totems to mark the Waterlink Way, cycle parking, the creation of a new meeting point, resurfacing of footpaths, new rubbish and dog waste bins and improving the sports facilities.

A public consultation event to seek the views of local people on the proposed plans is being held on Saturday 4 April. The event will run from 10am to 12.30pm and will feature a walkabout showing where developments are planned, as well as a workshop on proposals so that people can not only learn more about the development plans, but also give their own thoughts and suggestions.

To get involved contact Alison Taylor, Project Manager, on 020 8314 8758 or email alison.taylor@lewisham.gov.uk or meet in Ladywell Fields park, by the entrance on Bournville Road, Catford, at 10am.

Of course in addition to this, and with separate funding, there are also the plans to build an adventure playground in part of the middle field.

3 Years Old Today!

Please excuse the rather self-indulgent nature of this post, but Green Ladywell is 3 years old today, so I thought it worth having a little look back over the past few years in blogland.

When I set up the blog, in the middle of the 2006 election campaign, I wasn't really convinced about blogging, whether anyone would read it, whether I would have enough things to blog about, whether we were going to get elected (our canvassing returns fortunately turned out to have been very conservative) and whether I would continue the blog once elected. It seemed rather gimmicky, but I figured it was free and another way of trying to get the key messages of our campaign across, so decided to give it a go.

Back in early 2006, the number of local bloggers was fairly small, with Transpontine, Andrew Brown, Bob from Brockley, Andrew Milton and the Man from Catford being the stalwarts of the (male-dominated) blogosphere. Things definitely took off when Brockley Central joined the foray in February 2007 (for the first few posts, the number of comments were still in single figures!), and a few other women bloggers such as Deptford Dame, Kate and Clare came on board, while Brockley Kate joined the Brockley Central team (though women are still notably in the minority amongst bloggers). The occasional Lewisham bloggers meet ups were a great opportunity to put faces and names to previously anonymous bloggers.

Meanwhile in Green blogland, back in March 2006 you could count the number of blogging greens on your fingers, in fact I'm not sure who besides Natalie over at Philobiblon was blogging, though lots of others, such as The Daily (Maybe), Ruscombe Green and Charlie Bolton came on board shortly after. Now there's dozens of us, we have GreenHome, GreenFeed and even the green blogosphere's answer to the Oscars. I have to ruthlessly scan my blogroll each day to keep abreast of what's being said.

Well the blog probably didn't have much of an impact on the 2006 election campaign, with only 100 or so people visiting the blog in the run-up to election day, and for the first few months I wasn't sure whether anyone locally was reading my blog or not. A key moment for me was when I turned up to the well-attended first meeting of FOBLC and someone there told me they had read about the meeting on my blog; the first time a resident in my ward had told me that they read my blog, yay!

There's been the odd blip, with a few weeks when I didn't get around to posting, but they've now been close to 500 posts, on all sorts of local issues, from speed humps to betting shops and insulation (LOTS on insulation lately!) plus the occasional rant from me on national and international issues. Since January last year Ute has joined me with the occasional blog post. Traffic to the blog isn't that large, but we regularly attract well over a thousand hits a month and I estimate that have between 200-300 regular readers. I gave the blog a bit of a facelift towards the end of last year, and have tried to make it a bit more interactive, by showing recent comments and starting to experiment with Twitter etc, but would happily hear suggestions on how we can improve it.

So, before I waddle off into the kitchen to eat a huge piece of celebratory cake, my verdict on 3 years of blogging? It's occasionally felt like a bit of a chore, but generally I've enjoyed it, it's been a good way of reflecting on what we've been doing and I've found it a useful extra way to communicate with local residents (and greens further afield). Ultimately however it's an extra tool or frill and not a substitute for getting newsletters through doors and speaking to residents face to face.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Joan Ruddock sabotages Fuel Poverty Bill

On Friday the Fuel Poverty bill that I previously blogged about had it's second reading in the House of Commons. As feared, Lewisham Deptford MP and junior minister for climate change and energy, Joan Ruddock talked out the bill, following, it would appear, the instructions of her boss, one Ed Milliband.

Over the past few days I have been at Green Party Spring Conference in Blackpool. Today conference unanimously passed an emergency motion that I proposed, condemning the government's decision to kill this bill.

To quickly recap, the Fuel Poverty Bill was backed by campaigning groups including Age Concern, Help the Aged and Child Poverty Action Group and would have introduced a major energy efficiency programme to bring existing homes up to the energy efficiency standards of modern houses, cutting fuel poverty and ‘social tariffs’ to protect vulnerable people like pensioners from high energy bills.

I haven't yet received a response to my e-mail to Joan Ruddock at the beginning of the month, urging her to support the bill, but I fully anticipate one in about 3 weeks time, once the dust has settled, thanking me for my correspondence and saying 'it was a very difficult decision' etc etc.

How difficult can it be Joan, given you have previously stated that tackling fuel poverty is a top priority for you, and given that within your own constituency, an estimated 3,407 elderly people live in one room during the winter months to save money on heating their home, 2,555 stay in bed to keep warm, and 1022 have to make the choice between heating their home or eating properly? (Source: Association of Energy Conservation.) Across the UK, that translates to 5 million households living in fuel poverty, and 25,000 older people dying each year in the winter months as a result of this.

So we now have an MP who is now in favour of nuclear power (quite a volte face for the former president of CND), supports Heathrow Expansion, student tuition fees, ID cards, 40 day detention, has towed the party line on pretty much every vote in the House of Commons over the past few years and now, as junior minister for climate change, has torpedoed efforts to lift millions out of fuel poverty and reduce carbon emissions at the same time. Nice one Joan. Now clearly I'm biased, but I think Darren would do a much better job at representing the people of Lewisham Deptford.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Limited number of Green Home Concierge Subscriptions up for Grabs

Lewisham has a limited number of Green Home Concierge subscriptions up for grabs. They are being offered on a first come, first serve basis to residents in the borough. It usually costs £199 for a year’s consultation. Included is an assessment of your home and a report tailored to your needs, whether you want to save money, reduce your carbon footprint or just make your home warm and cosy.

Green Homes Concierge is supposed to take the headache out of commissioning improvements by finding you competitive quotes and searching for available grants. They will be on hand with advice for the next 12 months.

Places are available on a first come first served basis until 15th April, to residents within the borough of Lewisham, who want to make their homes more energy efficient. Some properties may be more suitable than others – new builds may not benefit from the scheme. If you are not a homeowner, permission must be granted from your landlord. Assessments must be booked in and completed by 30th April.

To take advantage of this special offer or find out more please call Gareth Bates on 0800 089 0098. See Green Homes Concierge for more details.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What is happening in Ladywell?

A lot, if Saturday’s local assembly social event is anything to go by. With 19 stalls from a wide range of community groups and some Council services, it was a lively and enjoyable event, and an opportunity to share information and find out what is happening in the ward and which services are available locally.

All this information (and more) is going to be compiled into the Ladywell Directory and it will also be made available online – the aim is to get this done in time for the next formal assembly on 20 April (it's always good to be ambitious!).

Anyone who lives, works or studies in the ward can attend the assembly. It provides an opportunity for people in the area to work together and develop plans to improve Ladywell. Bigger projects are put forward to the Council and local initiatives can be taken forward by residents in their area.

Future Assembly dates
Monday, 20th April 2009, 7-9pm
Tuesday, 23rd June 2009, 7-9pm
Tuesday, 22nd September 2009, 7-9pm
Saturday, 6th February 2010, 11am – 1pm

All assemblies are going to take place in Prendergast School, new science block, Adelaide Avenue, SE4 1JL (not in the main building in Hilly Fields). There is full disabled access and light refreshments are provided.

The Ladywell Priorities
The assembly has decided upon the following 5 priorities for Ladywell:
Local shops
Streetscape and environment
The Playtower
Lack of youth and community facilities
Anti-social behaviour and crime

Additional Funding for Ladywell
£50k has been allocated to each ward assembly from the Mayor’s Fund, in addition there is the £10k Locality Fund, meaning that there is £60k available to spend in Ladywell ward in 2009/10 in addition to ongoing Council spend.

The Mayor’s Fund
Projects funded by the Mayor’s Fund must be linked to the Ladywell ward priorities. The decision as to how these funds are allocated will rest with the assembly. The proposals will then go to the Mayor and Cabinet for final approval. Local Assembly officers will work closely with the assembly to ensure that any bids fit all the necessary criteria.

The Locality Fund
This is a fund for smaller projects and activities and these do not have to be linked to the ward priorities. In the past funding has included, amongst other things, activities for young people and youth groups, greening streets, the Ladywell village Christmas tree, a table tennis table for Hilly Fields, a contribution to Brockley Max closing night and Brockley Fund Run (both in Hilly Fields), and there are now plans to launch activities for older people.

A consultation on projects and activities to be funded in Ladywell ward will start soon, but in the meantime if you have an idea for the Mayor’s Fund or the Locality Fund, please contact either of the councillors or the assembly coordinator Paul Gale on 020 8314 3387 or email paul.gale@lewisham.gov.uk.

For more information about the Ladywell assembly please visit http://www.lewisham.gov.uk/localassemblies

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Dean's blog is back!

Brockley ward councillor Dean Walton has revived his blog. He recently bought a Blackberry and along with irritating the heck out of his fellow Green councillors by 'pinging' us incessantly (fortunately that didn't last long), he's found a more useful function in that he can use it to update his blog. Please read and comment to convince him it is worth continuing with; before you know it he will be twittering. He also discovered that I had removed him from my links due to lack of blogging in recent months. Oops, link duly restored.

Ladywell Assembly social event this Saturday, 14 March

The next meeting of the Ladywell Assembly does not have a formal agenda but it is a social event which provides an opportunity to find out what’s happening in Ladywell ward, get information about local services and meet other residents. Local groups and services will present themselves at stalls and will be available to answer questions and provide further information about their activities. It is going to take place this coming Saturday, 14 March – please pop in at any time between 11:00 and 13:00 in the new science block of Prendergast School on Adelaide Avenue (not in the main school building in Hilly Fields) for a chat and a cup of tea.

The councillors’ surgery, which usually takes place in the old bothy in Hilly Fields from 11:00-12:00 on the second Saturday of the month, has exceptionally been moved to also take place in the new science block of Prendergast School on that day.

Unfortunately due to an oversight the posters and flyers advertising the event contain the wrong date. This is being rectified now but please note the correct date is Saturday, 14 March.

I just thought I'd also mention that there is a farmers' market in Hilly Fields on the second Saturday of the month, from 10:00-14:00 near the bowling green/old bothy. So why not combine the two and stack up on local information as well as fresh fruit & veg and other goodies in one round trip.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Council Tax, savings and measures to tackle the recession

…or in other words, Lewisham Council’s budget for 2009/10.

A brief summary of Monday night’s Council meeting is that the Mayor’s budget proposal was adopted unamended on the casting vote of the Chair of Council (Labour voted in favour, the two Tories abstained and we, the LibDems and the Socialists voted against). However, it is still worth looking at the budget amendments and the debate in more detail because of the different strategic and political approaches to Lewisham’s priorities they reveal.

The basic fact is that for the Council to provide services and infrastructure for over 250,000 residents costs money. About a third of the funding the Council has control over and can prioritise (which excludes the education budget, the majority of capital investment funding and earmarked grants for specific purposes that are all ringfenced by the government) is made up of Council Tax. The other two thirds are a government grant.

Because this government grant increases at a lower rate year on year than the cost of providing services increases for the Council, savings have to be made every year, and these are effectively either genuine efficiency savings or cuts to services. The total amount of savings made on existing services determines how much extra money is available for new initiatives. Whilst we obviously have no problem with efficiencies, we disagreed on some of the savings proposals because they constituted service cuts which would disproportionately affect vulnerable residents. Therefore we proposed to reverse these savings; by also suggesting additional non-service savings this would have meant that slightly less funding was available for anti-recession initiatives (but more would be provided from other sources) – thereby still ensuring a balanced budget. Rather bizarrely in the debate on Monday one cabinet member spent most of his allocated speaking time enthusiastically defending savings proposals we hadn’t objected to – so maybe the conclusion from this is that he didn’t find anything substantial to criticise in our amendment.

Apologies if the above sounds a bit technical but it is important to fully understand the impact of the Council Tax freeze proposed by the LibDems. As was outlined in the debate on Monday, several London boroughs have gone for a zero increase for next year. This proposal is easy to understand and undoubtedly popular with voters. However, it does not come without a price. If implemented in Lewisham, the freeze would have led to a lost income to the Council of £2.21m, thus wiping out any scope to fund anti-recession initiatives. The LibDems proposed that these should be funded from reserves instead. The problem with that is that by their very nature such initiatives would require funding beyond the next financial year while money from reserves can only be spent once, so budget pressures would simply be postponed to future years or reserves depleted to an extent where the Audit Commission would get very nervous about the borough’s financial arrangements.

Another consequence of the freeze would have been that there would have been no scope to reverse any savings proposals at all including the service cuts. In boroughs where a freeze was agreed, such as Southwark, substantial increases to service charges for residents were required to balance the budget – particularly hitting families and other service users.

Freezing the Council Tax would have saved a Lewisham household in a Band D property £25.42 per year. It would not have saved anything for the 17,000 households who are on low or no income and receive 100% Council Tax Benefit. It would also not have done anything for the residents who are hardest hit by the economic downturn and who would benefit from anti-recession initiatives.

In addition, if in the future the Council wanted to increase its budget to the levels achieved by a 2.5% increase over several years, the only way to do so after a freeze year would be by implementing a higher increase later on to make up for the difference. Whatever anyone thinks about Council Tax (Sue has already outlined why we are against it in principle), as long as there is no other (and better) system to replace it, this is unfortunately the framework we have to operate in.

The Tories submitted an amendment to the LibDem proposal suggesting a zero increase in Council Tax for two years should be funded not by scrapping the anti-recession measures but by finding more than £2m additional savings. This was withdrawn on the night.

In an earlier post Sue has already provided information on our growth items and the home insulation schemes in particular. On Monday night one cabinet member was surprised that our main focus in tackling the recession was insulation schemes. As I said in the debate, the reason is because they deliver on several fronts. In Kirklees the mass private sector home insulation scheme has successfully been rolled out (following a Green budget proposal that the other three parties are also now claiming credit for), and on the basis of its proven benefits even the Local Government Association, which does not normally shine with Green policies, now recommends it. Kirklees households collectively save more than £1m on fuel bills every year, and more homes were insulated there last year than across the whole of London under the government’s Warm Front programme. At the same time such schemes provide local employment and training opportunities, and thereby generally boost the local economy.

Another plank of our anti-recession package was funding for implementing the London Living Wage in Lewisham’s contracts. While staff directly employed by the Council already receive LLW (£7.45 per hour), contractors providing a wide range of services from school meals to social care are currently only required to pay their staff the national minimum wage, which is £1.72 per hour less than LLW. This is fundamentally a question of fairer pay (which is why we proposed a motion to Council on this last spring which was unanimously agreed) but even more important in the current economic climate as this recession is predicted to hit those on low incomes hardest. Whilst we had earmarked a substantially larger amount of money for this in our budget amendment, we are pleased that there is at least a start and LLW is going to be implemented in some Council contracts now.

So what’s going to happen next? The savings proposals are going to be implemented and the Mayor has announced a range of initiatives to tackle the recession in Lewisham (apprenticeships, tackling long-term unemployment, a social enterprise fund, additional support for the advice sector, London Living Wage). He also said that whilst he could not accept our proposals as part of the budget, he actually quite liked some of them (home insulation, the capital programme and our fuel reduction savings proposal) and would get officers to investigate them in more detail. Hopefully Lewisham is going to be a better if not the best insulated place after all!

Various Highways Issues

Quick update on a number of highways-related queries that I've been following up on in the ward. Not the most exciting of posts I'm afraid, unless/even if you live on the bit of road affected.

Big pot hole outside 254 Brockley Road: I first reported this in January 2008 and was told that the owner of the forecourt would be written to and advised to make repairs. One year on, the hole was bigger than ever and still posing a hazard to pedestrians. I again asked and have been told "Our Highway Asset Manager will ensure that we remind the shop of their responsibility to maintain the forecourt in a safe condition and will pursue the matter until a repair is carried out". I've pointed out that the shops say it is the responsibility of the owners of the yard behind. I will continue to follow this up. I've asked whether the Council can carry out the works in default and put a charge on the property if the owners fails to do so, as it's a health & safety issue.

Junction of St Margaret's Road with Tressillian Road
In the recent heavy rains there was a huge pond of water here and clearly some kind of drainage problem. I've been told that the Highway Maintenance Team will inspect the gullies near the junction of St Margaret's Road with Tressillian Road and arrange for any that are not running clear to be jetted.

Road and footpath on Tressillian Road
I have reported the poor state of the footpath and road on Tressillian Road (specifically the lower section from Harefield Road down, which is in Ladywell ward) several times. I've been told that it is currently 25th on the Council's carriageway resurfacing list and Highways are hopeful that it can be resurfaced next year. They are also currently considering this section of Tressillian Road to be included on the footway reconstruction programme for 2009/10. So, fingers crossed, this should be done within the next year.

Missing street tree outside 154 Tressillian Road
I've been told that this "will be considered for a replacement tree next year". This sounds rather vague to me so I've asked for clarification.

Broken Bollards on Greatfield Close
There are a number of broken concrete bollards on Greatfield Close that pose a safety hazard if they were to fall on someone. For the past 18 months, since the Brockley PFI Housing contract was signed, there's been a certain amount of wrangling and passing the buck regarding responsibility for estate roads in the PFI area. It seems they don't come under highways remit or Regenter B3 but remain the responsibility of Lewisham's housing department, which can be rather slow to commisssion Highways to carry out the work.

All seems rather silly and convoluted to me and I think the roads need to be transferred to highways, otherwise the upshot is that the work never gets carried out. We have had the same hoo-ha with Viney Road and Dressington Avenue. Viney Road eventually got sorted after lots of prompting and I've been told the repairs will be carried out to Dressington Avenue in Feb/Mar of this year. We will continue to push for repairs on Greatfield Close too.

Brockley Grove/Huxbear Road Junction
There's always a problem with water pooling at this junction whenever it rains. Huxbear Road is non-maintained highway, whereas Brockley Grove isn't. I've been told that one of the highway inspectors will visit the area to determine the extent of the repair needed and will arrange what works are considered necessary.

Ladywell Road (particularly outside Ladywell Tavern)
The road here is in quite a state and the speed hump keeps breaking up. I've been told that highways have already done some repairs at Ladywell Road, but a're aware that these are of a short term nature. They've said that they are currently investigating the extent of the damage around the speed hump to determine the extent of further works; It may be that a road closure is necessary for the works to be carried out and if this is the case they will probably need to avoid the period when Blackheath Hill is also closed.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Latest Edition of Lewisham Green News

Our latest edition of Green News has just arrived back from the printers. It focuses on our European Election campaign and the work of Green MEP for London Jean Lambert, but there are also articles about our work as local councillors. You can read it on our website, or look out for it coming through your door in the next few weeks.

We have a hard-working and enthusiastic team of volunteers who deliver our newsletters, but as a small party we always welcome more offers of help. If you would be willing to help deliver Green News to your street, please get in touch.

Fuel Poverty Bill: Ask Joan Ruddock to support the bill

I've been contacted by campaigners for the Fuel Poverty Bill, a private members bill that is currently going through parliament and which would tighten up the government's legal duty to tackle fuel poverty.* They are concerned that the Department for Energy and Climate Change may try to block the bill's passage through parliament. The junior minister responsible for making a recommendation to cabinet on this is Lewisham Deptford MP Joan Ruddock.

The campaigners want as many Lewisham Deptford constituents as possible to contact Joan Ruddock over the next few days and ask her to support and call for government backing of the bill. She is expected to make a formal recommendation to cabinet this week, so it is important that people contact her at the beginning of this week. Please call her consituency office on 020 8691 5992 or e-mail her.

The Fuel Poverty Bill aims to ‘fuel poverty proof' homes by bringing 6 million homes up to the energy efficiency standards of modern homes. It was taken up (with cross-party support) by David Heath MP and is backed by a broad coalition of organisations, including Age Concern England, the Association for the Conservation of Energy, the Centre for Sustainable Energy, Child Poverty Action Group, Consumer Focus, Disability Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Help the Aged, National Right to Fuel Campaign, SERA, Sustainable Energy Partnership and UNISON. The National Federation of Women’s Institutes are about to come on board too!

The very quick background to the Bill is that in 2000 the Labour Government passed the Warm Homes Act, which required the Government to publish a Fuel Poverty Strategy setting out the ways and timescale in which they were going to end fuel poverty. The resulting Fuel Poverty Strategy set dates for the eradication of fuel poverty in the vulnerable sector (2010) and in the rest of the sector (2016). MPs and Ministers believed that this was an absolute duty – until the High Court ruled otherwise on 17 October. In a judgment that campaigners believe to be perverse (and that is being appealed), the judge, Mr Justice McCombe, ruled that the duty to end fuel poverty was not a duty at all – merely a duty to make efforts.

Put simply, the Fuel Poverty Bill reinstates the duty in the Warm Homes Act. It aims to ‘fuel poverty proof’ the homes of the fuel poor by bringing them up to the energy efficiency standards of modern homes. Joan Ruddock recently confirmed that this can be done for the relatively modest sum of £7,500 per (average) fuel poor household. In addition, the Bill will give a much-needed boost to the UK “green construction” industry and create tens of thousands of new jobs. The Bill also requires energy suppliers to provide a social tariff to vulnerable households in the short term.

Back in 2000, Joan Ruddock enthusiastically supported the original 2000 Warm Homes Act with its aim of ending fuel poverty in the United Kingdom. In addition, just a month ago (on 14 January 2009), in giving evidence to the EFRA Select Committee, she expressly confirmed that the Government “do not intend to miss the 2016 target”.

*The official definition of fuel poverty is if you spend 10% or more of your income on heating your home.

Free insulation or freeze on taxation?

I posted last week about our amendment to this year's Council Budget, which includes a proposal to roll out free insulation to homes across Lewisham. The Lib Dems have set up a Facebook group called 'Let's FREEZE Lewisham's Council Tax' so not to be outdone I've set one up called Lewisham needs a Green New Deal, not more cuts to public services! Even if we don't manage to get our proposals through the budget this year, I think the Facebook group has a longer shelf life than just this budget round and could be a useful group to discuss ways of greening up Lewisham's economy, while also creating jobs and reducing fuel poverty.

Anyway, please do join the group to show your support for our proposals. There is also an article and discussion about the proposals over on Brockley Central.

Nuclear Power - Still Not the Answer

There's been quite a lot in the press in the past few days about 'leading greens' doing a volte-face and coming out in favour of nuclear power. I thought it was worth clarifying that the vast majority of those in the green movement, and the clear stance of the Green Party is that nuclear power is not the solution to our energy crisis or tackling climate change.

A little bit lazy on my part, but rather than reinventing the wheel, I thought the article below from a Lancaster Green councillor John Whitelegg was a pretty good summation of the arguments against nuclear power.

We don't need nuclear power to stop climate change
Prof John Whitelegg, Green Party spokesperson on sustainable development and one of 12 Green councillors on Lancaster city council, discusses why renewables, rather than nuclear power, should be the focus for economic recovery.

It is true that a small number of Greens, feeling the urgency of the climate crisis, have suggested a nuclear re-think as a lesser of two evils. But it's also true that the Green Party overwhelmingly thinks they're wrong.

The case for nuclear power to deal with climate change simply doesn't stack up.

Let's forget for a moment that nuclear energy is risky, and that after fifty years the industry still hasn't worked out what to do with the dangerous waste it generates. Even then, nuclear power should still be phased out in the interest of good economics.

A recent study showed that the UK nuclear industry has wasted £32 billion. It's the most expensive form of energy when we take into account its long-term waste costs, even if we ignore the potential costs of a nuclear disaster.

But there are other reasons why Greens oppose nuclear power. We want to create a truly sustainable economy. That means viable jobs for huge numbers of people in sustainable industries. Studies have consistently shown that nuclear energy sustains far fewer jobs per megawatt than non-nuclear renewables.

It also means creating resilient, diverse economies. Currently many local economies are far too dependent on the industrial monoculture of a nuclear power plant.

Renewable energy would not only sustain jobs in significant numbers at major locations, for example where wind turbines are being manufactured. It would also create huge numbers of jobs spread around the entire country, benefitting every local economy, for instance the jobs installing and maintaining microgenerators and servicing very large numbers of small-scale windfarms and biogas plants and so on.

Studies have consistently shown that nuclear energy sustains far fewer jobs per megawatt than non-nuclear renewables.

Of course, in the immediate term we have a recession to deal with. We need to create very large numbers of jobs right now. We can't achieve this by building nuclear power stations in fifteen years' time.

We can, however, unclog the planning system so that all the offshore and onshore wind projects that are currently held up can go ahead urgently. We could immediately announce new feed-in tariffs that would give investors the confidence to pour money into renewable energy. We could put the UK economy on something like a war footing starting tomorrow, to get all the wind, wave and solar systems in place that we need to achieve a low-carbon or even zero-carbon economy.

If we achieved Denmark's rate of growth on wind energy we could create something like 200,000 jobs in that sector alone by 2020 - faster than you could build nuclear power stations.

And also, as a matter of priority, we could start straightaway with domestic and business energy conservation. Not only would this rapidly create many tens of thousands of jobs within a short space of time - it would also save as much energy as all the UK's nuclear power stations currently generate.

So we simply don't need nuclear power to stop climate change. But we do need comprehensive Green policies, and we need them to be implemented now.

Green Party spokesman and Lancaster councillor Prof John Whitelegg is former Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University and former Professor of Sustainable Development at York University's Stockholm Institute of the Environment.