Saturday, 29 August 2020

Planning for Leicester's Future

If you follow this blog, you could be forgiven for thinking that Leicester Friends of the Earth has been taking a break during lockdown. In fact, we’ve been busier than ever but it just hasn’t been very newsworthy.

Leicester City Council published their draft local plan in March and we have spent the last few months reading it carefully, discussing each chapter in Zoom meetings, learning more about the planning system, looking at local plans prepared by other local authorities and deciding what an ideal local plan for Leicester would look like. We’re working with Climate Action Leicester and Leicestershire on this project. The consultation has been delayed but we’re now expecting it to re-open in September and we’ll let you know more about our response then.

All local authorities which make decisions about planning have to develop a local plan. This document is then used to decide whether planning applications are approved or rejected. It sets out the council’s expectations and requirements and covers everything from where development should take place and the density of housing to energy efficiency standards, the amount of parking provided for office blocks and the amount of green space needed for a given size of population. The local plan decides what our city will look like in the future. When we are facing a climate emergency, it is incredibly important that local plans take this into account and set high standards for making our towns and cities sustainable, healthy places to live.

The process for local authorities to create a local plan is long. It starts with detailed analysis of the area and what is needed (e.g., the type of housing, the level of flood risk, the requirement for employment land) and then works through several rounds of consultation. People who live in or near to the area can review the council’s drafts and have a say. Friends of the Earth groups and other campaigning organisations put an enormous amount of time into responding to local plan consultations and often manage to persuade their council to strengthen the environmental credentials of the final version. This is as it should be; democracy doesn’t begin and end at election time.

But now the government wants to change all of that. On 6th August, they published their ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper setting out proposed reforms to the planning system. And it is clear that they envision a future in which we have no say about our local area at all. The Guardian, the Town and Country Planning Association, Rights Community Action and even the Financial Times have all published articles explaining what is wrong with the government’s proposals. (And I urge you to read these articles if you haven’t already – everyone who cares about the future needs to understand what is happening.) To summarise: the government wants to move to a zonal planning system, where our local plan would be reduced to a colour-coded map and all of the detail prepared by those who know the area and have a stake in its future would simply be removed. Planning applications would not even be needed apart from in exceptional circumstances, so we wouldn’t be able to object to individual developments. We might be able to have a say about the design code, but the government is also preparing a national version so our control over our local area would be minimal.

We cannot accept this. Our planning system needs reform but we want more democracy, not less. Those who live in an area should have a say about its future. There is a campaign gathering steam to object to the government’s proposals. Some of the people involved have written their own proposals for what needs to change and called it The People’s Charter for Democracy in Planning. The articles of this Charter are as follows:
  1. The right to participate.
  2. Local decisions should be made locally by democratically accountable bodies
  3. A meaningful legal duty to secure sustainable development, tackling climate change, and the health and well-being of all citizens.

We think this offers a much better vision of the future of planning. We will let you know how you can get involved in supporting this Charter.
In the meantime, if you want to object to the government’s proposals, national Friends of the Earth has written a model response to the consultation that you can use and adapt. Please get involved and do whatever you can to prevent this attack on our rights.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Michael Gerard and Doug Holly

We lost two longstanding members of Leicester Friends of the Earth recently – Michael Gerard and Doug Holly. Both had been members for so long that we’re not sure when they first got involved but we think it was probably in the 1980s. A fuller account of their lives is given in the latest edition of the Leicester Secularist but we wanted to pay a tribute to their contribution to the group here.
In recent years, the campaign that was perhaps closest to Michael’s heart was ‘The Bee Cause’ – a national campaign to draw attention to the plight of pollinators. In Leicester, we planted two small bee meadows and we held many street stalls, collecting signatures on a petition to ban the use of pesticides that are known to harm bees. As a beekeeper, Michael was very helpful in talking to us about the best habitat for bees. For example, did you know that city trees are abundant nectar and pollen sources for bees? There is likely to be more food for bees in one tree than in quite a sizeable area of wildflowers so it is vitally important for Leicester’s bees that we protect our trees.
Doug was the coordinator of the group before handing over to Jill and I (Hannah) in 2011. His most recent focus had been a campaign about the carbon impact of our food system but he helped out with every campaign we worked on until ill health prevented him attending meetings a couple of years ago. Perhaps because of his background in education, he was brilliant at talking to people on street stalls. I remember having a silly competition with him a few years ago to see who could collect the most petition signatures in an hour and of course he won hands down - he could talk people into signing anything! People always stopped to talk to him – perhaps his waistcoat with all the pockets dazzled them. Doug was awarded an Earthmover award in 2011 and when he went to collect it at the national gathering, he declared that he was merely the ‘poster boy’ (at the age of 80-something) for a very successful group. But the truth is that he was an inspirational campaigner.
Michael and Doug will be very much missed. We won’t forget the things that you cared about and we will keep campaigning for the greener world you envisioned.
Doug and Jill on a stall

Sunday, 12 April 2020

As we "move out", nature moves in....

Hello All, hope you are keeping well.

As we all hunker down at home, well most of us at least, it's interesting to see how nature is responding.  We might be in lock down, but this time of year nature certainly isn't!

There's a certain cruel irony with us being stuck at home and in the house this time of year, but the eerie peace and quiet enables us to see and hear things we wouldn't normally see and hear. 

Just yesterday I raised the kitchen blind first thing in the morning to see a mallard duck and ducklings passing under the kitchen window. In the 29 years of living here I've never seen that before.  Melanie managed to nip outside and snatch a quick photo, below. Good camouflage!

As they were heading towards the A47 at the bottom of our garden I went round to see if I could catch them coming out, to no avail. I hope they've survived, especially given the lack of ponds nearby and the resident fox population.  Whether we should try and intervene in these situations is an unknown, to me at least, although I did go armed with a bag for the duck and cardboard tray for the ducklings, just in case..

On our nightly walks we've also seen bats on Bushby main street, toads mating in the gutter, as well as hedgehogs scurrying about and owls. We've even managed a stroll across the A47, not something you can say normally!

During the day the ring necked parakeets, normally in the wood between Thurnby and Stoughton have decided that Thurnby village can now be explored, as well as the lesser-spotted woodpeckers and the odd red kite and buzzard, all enjoying the lack of boy-racers with their noisy exhausts.  

As we look forward to the lock down coming to an end, there are some things I will definitely miss, which makes you wonder how we can preserve the good bits of the lock down whilst enjoying the return of previous freedoms. No easy answer to that one but sure to be exercising a few minds - a challenge for us all. 

We had to cancel our planned event of planting of the wildflower margin outside the Thurnby Scout & Guide HQ, but nature doesn't wait.  So we've had to press on, on our own, with nightly sessions of turf removal (completed), seed sowing (completed) and now transplanting of wildflowers from our garden (mainly forget-me-nots and foxgloves, which self seed all over the place) and watering.  Let's hope this experiment is successful and spawns more planting elsewhere in the village. It certainly had widespread support when we did the door-door survey of local residents it was claimed would be affected. I'm looking forward to nature moving in here too.

Bruce Wakley

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Biomass power generation

Sounds good doesn’t it?  Nice and green. Dig into it a bit further though and it’s a different story.  The majority of biomass is cutting trees down in the USA, making them into pellets, shipping them across to Liverpool, loading them on trains and transporting them across to Drax to be burnt to make power. Doesn’t sound so good now does it?  Even if you accept trees as a power source as carbon neutral, the transport of the pellets makes the claim on renewable power a farce. It’s somewhat ironic that as we push to plant more trees, others are cutting trees down to supply our power while claiming it’s environmental.

If you want to see what’s going on try the Gridwatch web site.  Here you can see the reality of where our power is coming from.  How we rely on interconnectors to our near European neighbours (Brexit impact unknown!) which means exporting our power generation pollution (e.g. France is 75% nuclear powered).  Once again we are exporting our pollution to other countries.

You can also see what happens on sunny days.  Yes, solar ramps up but mysteriously wind power generation can drop, even when the wind is blowing well.  This is due to curtailment, where wind generators are paid not to generate power so as to preserve our power generation agreements with other generators and interconnector partners. 

Curtailing renewable power, when it could be stored or used to generate green hydrogen is surely an environmental “crime” that needs addressing.  It’s all a symptom of a skewed power generation market that needs overhauling, but I’m not going to hold my breath. 

Frustrating?  Totally.

Bruce Wakley

Do you love/hate Marmite?

So, do you want HS2?

It seems to me it is like Marmite or Brexit or Veganism. You either want it or don’t want it – love it or hate it. Everyone has an opinion.

I’m afraid I don’t want it – well not in its present form – but not because I don’t want railways because I do. Well, I try to be an environmentally conscious person so I would - wouldn’t I? I want to get some cars off the road and get more people onto trains after all. Also, it isn’t because of the cost although I realise that is astronomical.

No, the reason I have to say – we can’t go ahead is because of the Ancient Forests. Did you know that 108 Ancient Forests are in the path of HS2? Which makes me wonder what the point is in the Government saying let’s plant 11 million new trees, whilst at the same time planning to chop down thousands of ancient trees!  Obviously planting new trees is good but saplings are not nearly the same as a 300-year-old tree when it comes to sucking up the CO2 in the atmosphere.

So, whether you love/hate Marmite, Brexit or HS2 – take a stand for nature – for the Ancient Forests – take a stand and say NO we can’t do this! We have to look for another route or another way forward – if you have time – write to your M.P. and don’t just ask them to re-think – beg them to save the trees. Make a stand for Nature and help us all to breathe cleaner air. We might not get a second chance.

Melanie Wakley

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Climate Action Plan consultation - don't forget to respond!

Leicester City Council were the first council in the East Midlands to acknowledge that there is now an urgent need to act on climate change; they declared a climate emergency in February last year. They are following this up by writing a Climate Action Plan for the city, with proposals for reducing the environmental impact of housing, workplaces, transport, land use and even the products we buy.  

The City Council have published their proposals and they are asking people for their comments before they write the final plan. We have responded, firstly by praising the Council’s approach to writing the plan and secondly by asking that sustainability be embedded within every department, committee, and policy of the Council so that the impact on the environment is always considered first. 

We have stated that they think the Council now needs to set annual goals for reducing carbon emissions and then create a carbon budget for the Council’s activities. We are also asking the Council to take all of their pension fund investments out of fossil fuels, explaining that it is incompatible with their declaration of a climate emergency to continue to invest their employees’ money in the dirty energy that has created this problem. You can read our full consultation response here.

Leicester Friends of the Earth are part of Climate Action Leicester and Leicestershire, a group of individuals and organisations working together to address the climate crisis. (We helped to launch this group last year.) Climate Action is encouraging everyone to respond to the consultation and they have written a briefing and a template letter to help people, which are available on their website. They will also be running a drop-in event on Saturday 2nd February, from 1pm to 4pm at Quest Gaming on Belvoir Street, where people can write their responses to the Council’s proposals together.

We hope that thousands of people in Leicester will get involved in helping the Council to write a Climate Action Plan for our city. Democracy doesn’t start and end at election time – we can have our say about the Council’s plans at any time and on such an important issue, it is really important that everyone joins the conversation about how we can tackle climate change.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

"Jingle Bells, Fracking Smells"

We decided to celebrate Christmas this year with some divestment campaigning, by joining Red Leicester Choir to sing anti-fossil fuel carols in three banks in Leicester. 

In Barclays, we sang ‘We wish you would stop drilling’, in HSBC we sang ‘Jingle bells, fracking smells’ and in Santander we sang ‘Dirty energy, dirty energy’ to the tune of ‘Oh Christmas tree’. All three banks invest their customers’ money in dirty fossil fuels and we wanted to voice our objection to this and encourage people to move their money. We hope these banks will make a New Year’s resolution to clean up their investment policy!