Saturday, 30 May 2009

Tamsin needs help with Banks

Tamsin Shaw, a postgraduate student at Leeds University has contacted me through this blog. She is doing a postgraduate degree dissertation looking at the interactions between industry and communities, in particular exploring H J Banks Developments (Shotton and Delhi mining sites, in particular) and the communities around the Cramlington area. She’d like to hear from anyone who has been involved in any of Bank’s Liaison Committees or other community engagement work.

Contact her at or mob 07817 405 621

I was on the Liaison Committee for the opencast near Pegswood for a while – nominated from CMBC – and Banks’ were very good indeed at consulting, keeping people informed and funding a community chest - considerably better than their competitors by all accounts! However Shotton is their biggest venture by far (so far as I’m aware) so it’ll be interesting to see how they progress.

And it doesn’t really address fundamental opposition to opencast coalmining in the first place.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Investing in the car industry is wrong

This is an article by Cllr Prof John Whitelegg, which I think is so good, I'm going to post all of it...

We live in interesting times. Almost all the largest world economies are assembling packages of financial support for the car industry and financial incentives to persuade citizens to throw away an older car and buy a new one. The recession and the rise in unemployment is a personal disaster for many and the pressure to “rescue” industries is intense. Sadly global thinking and decision taking on this matter is way out of line with evidence and with the need to identify opportunities out of the mess rather than continue on the same lines that created the mess.
Investing in the car industry is wrong. We need large scale investment in things that create real jobs in real communities and have a huge impact on the big things that we are all trying to address including peak oil, climate change and poverty eradication. Investing in renewable energy anywhere in the world is a “no brainer”. It will create lots of jobs in every community. Designing, equipping and retro-fitting every building with whatever is needed to reduce energy use by 50% is also a front-runner for climate and job creation success. Investing in high quality streets for walking and cycling and public transport will do the same but throwing cash at an early 20th century industry based on moving objects that weight about 75 kg in a metal container weighing about 1 tonne is not very intelligent. We can restructure cities, mobility and accessibility and in one highly co-ordinated policy deal with road safety, health, obesity, climate change and peak oil but it looks like the answer is, as usual, “no”.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Farmers' Hustings

Euro-election hustings organised by the NFU last night. It was a cosy affair with less than a dozen farmers and just three candidates, me, Fiona Hall for the LibDems and Martin Callanan for the Tories.

I was surprised that there was no one from Labour or UKIP there, though someone unkindly said the only food & agriculture policy UKIP has is a dislike of Brussels sprouts.

Anyway it was far more a discussion than a question & answer session. Main messages to would-be MEPs was that the CAP should be common ie applied equally across the EU and a policy ie with a clear, relevant intention. I’d already tried to make the distinction between the intention of a policy, the systems put in place to achieve that intention and the way those systems are implemented. Much of the bad press the EU gets is (IMO) down to the way our government (and particularly DEFRA) chooses to implement Directives etc. Sometimes it feels as though a policy is being deliberately sabotaged.

Main message to the farmers was that there’s lots of Euro-money for research but very little in the old Structural Funds. Unfortunately, our Government isn’t helping farmers work with universities to tap into these new funding streams.

And there is a lot of research to be done into adaptation of farming practice to changing climate: the CAP needs to be revised to focus on food production and security adaptations to climate change, and a low carbon economy. I believe the Greens are the only political party thinking in these terms.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

A challenge from Susan

A comment from Susan Scott which deserves a fuller response than it would get as an add-on to an article. She writes:

“I appreciate your aims but your plans for transport do not appear to make provision for a person like me with severe mobility problems who would not get anywhere without a car. They do have some advantages!”

I wholeheartedly agree. There are uses for cars, and helping people with mobility problems is one of them. And if we could reduce the number of people choosing to use a car when they do not need to – then life would be a lot easier for those who do need to – in terms of less traffic congestion, safer roads and easier parking.

And I am suggesting that we provide alternative forms of transport or reduce the need to travel not just making it difficult or expensive to use a car.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Retail Demand and Assessment

So - we now have planning applications in from both Sainsbury's and Tesco's for edge of town stores out at Coopies Lane (and north Hepscott) - which M&S are expanding into the new town centre development, Iceland are returning to Bridge Street and Morrisons are about to expand too. Recession? What recession?

If they all happen, we may get plenty of choice for a while - but people seem to forget that 'competition' is only one stage in the market cycle, and a temporary one at that - cartels and monopolies are also part of market forces, and where there is competition, there are losers.

We already know that any jobs created are likely to be offset by job losses in shops put out of business or forced to cut back, and they'll be low-paid part-time jobs in the main anyway.

The White, Young, Green consultants' study on retail provision in Morpeth published by CMBC last September does not even include the local shops - butchers, greengrocers, bakers etc - in Morpeth as part of their assessment. They just looked at supermarkets for food shopping.

Morpeth shopping is special - is still special - precisely because we have locally owned shops like this. There are few market towns that have them. Even in Northumberland, Hexham, Alnwick and Berwick are in a steeper decline that Morpeth as far as shops go - partly because they all have edge of town supermarkets.

We should value what we've got and shop locally - for the good of the town and the local economy.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Expenses and Voting

The MPs' expenses debacle has really undermined the public's faith in the political process and in politicians. And I can't say I blame people for losing faith. On the Borough Council, we were subject to ultra-strict rules about what we could and couldn't claim for. I couldn’t even get my moat cleaned, let alone pay for a second home in Longhirst! So I'm pretty appalled at what many MPs have been allowed to get away with.

The polls are suggesting that many people will either not vote at all, or are looking again at the smaller parties. I’m encouraged that more people may choose to vote Green, but I’m also worried – if the turnout is really low it makes it easier for the BNP look as though they have a lot of support.

So – please do vote – but think very carefully about who you choose to back.

‘For evil to triumph, it is enough that the good should do nothing’ [or something like that]

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Oxygen of Publicity II

They were back again yesterday (Weds) – the BNP - with a stall outside the Town Hall and placards pasted on the hoardings. And they’d brought their own film crew this time, to make sure Morpeth features on their website.

I suppose in a way, it’s a compliment to the way that Morpeth Market brings people into the town now that they should think it worth their while to have 8-10 people out leafleting the market. Though from the comments I got, the market traders were barely aware they were there. And, by and large, people seemed to be ignoring them.

A number of people did complain to the NCC Information Centre (formerly Firstcall) though and as far as I can make out, similar action was taken as last time:
A couple of police were in evidence quietly patrolling the market
The Market Supervisor made a report to his boss which (I hope) will be incorporated into the routine monthly ‘tension monitoring’ report that all local authorities make to the Home Office
They were made to remove the placards from the Town Hall contractor’s hoardings, since they are private property and clearly marked ‘No Posters’

So – Phil’s hope that they wouldn’t come back was over-optimistic but at least they were ignored.