Thursday, 27 January 2022

Crimanalising protest via the Policing Bill is not the way for a democratic society to proceed

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is an assault on the civil liberties of all citizens. It seeks to give ever greater powers to the police to limit or ban protest altogether. Among the measures proposed are making "locking on" and obstructing transport networks into criminal offences. Other offences proposed include restrictions on demonstrations plus new surveillance and stop and search powers for the police. The Bill would also effectively criminalise Travellers and Gypsies ways of life. The government appears to be reacting to the protest of Insulate Britain, Extinction Rebellion and those who pulled down statues of slave owners such as Edward Colston in Bristol. The process though of cutting liberties in exchange for security has been ongoing for many years. Anti- terror law was where this attack took root, with the claimed extraordinary powers needed to combat terrorism, quickly being downloaded into the ordinary criminal law. The right to silence was an early casualty of this process. How effective it was in combatting terrorism never seemed clear. Many though suspected the process was really a backdoor way of cutting liberties. A more useful approach would be to engage in a meaningful way with what protesters are calling for. The environmental demands are shared by most in the country, the protests are coming because politicians are not listening and acting. It is interesting to reflect on how many properties could have been insulated for the £4.3 million spent on policing the Insulate Britain protests. There has rightfully been an outcry across the country against slavery and racism. Yet, when a jury acquitted those charged in relation to the pulling down of the Colston statue, there were those who called for an override of the decision. Amazingly, the Attorney General is considering referring the case to the Appeal Court. The centuries old right of trial by jury is apparently up for grabs. What the government needs to do is engage with people's demands, not simply seek to criminalise dissent. If people are taking to the streets with direction action it is because their demands are not being heard via conventional channels. There is already huge distrust of this government, fuelled by its own failure to abide by rules set for the rest of us during the pandemic. The refusal of so many to have the vaccination is another sign of breakdown in trust between governors and governed. The answer to this breakdown in trust is not to simply make more laws to make it easier to lock people up. Successive governments have thought the way to deal with social problems is to pass laws and criminalise more people. It does not work. There has been huge opposition to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, from protesters , Amnesty International, Liberty and several former senior police officers. The House of Lords recently rejected much of the Bill. So there is everything still to fight for, against a government that seems stuck in the past and deaf to the calls of the people.

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

Retrofitting old buildings can help counter climate disaster

The film, Don’t Look Up, charts the effort of scientists to alert politicians to the pending threat of an asteroid hitting the earth. The response of politicians is a mixture of denial and ineptitude when faced with the approaching disaster. The film has been widely viewed as an analogy of the way in which politicians continue to fail to address the imminent dangers posed by climate and biodiversity devastation. Don’t Look Up offers a stark warning of the dangers of inaction. There are though positive things happening across the country to counter the climate crisis. Many councils, including Redbridge and Waltham Forest, have declared climate emergencies. These declarations have then led onto policies to counter the growing levels of emissions, whether they come from buildings, transport or waste. In the case of Redbridge and Waltham Forest, buildings were found to be major generators of CO2 emissions, 51% in Waltham Forest and 56% in Redbridge. So, it has been good to see Waltham Forest taking positive action over the urgent need to retrofit old buildings, so that they do not continue to create so much damage. Waltham Forest Council working with the Aston Group have retrofitted a 1902 4-bedroom house to become its first ever eco show home. The results have been revealing, with heat demand cut from 17,219 kWh to 7,995 kWh per year. The has meant savings of almost £2,000 a year, though the initial outlay for the retrofit ran to just over £37,000 (itemised costs). The individual actions included putting in an air source heat pump that takes air from outside to provide the energy to heat the house. A new set of radiators were also fitted. The cost of installation was £10,200, the saving £860 a year, with a 4240kg saving in CO2 emissions. Some 12 solar photovoltaic panels plus storage battery were fitted to provide the electricity to drive the heat pump and other devices in the house. The installation cost £12,294, annual saving £609, with a 653kg reduction in CO2. Underfloor, solid wall and loft insulation were provided at a combined cost of £14,760, annual saving £528, with 1,757kg saving in CO2. Other retrofit features include an upgrade in double glazing glass quality and a waste water recovery scheme. The whole project shows what can be done to really cut CO2 emissions and save money. The initial outlay is high but there are grants available for some aspects of the work eg £5,000 grants toward replacing oil and gas boiler systems with heat pump installations, which becomes available from government in April. (Gas fired boilers are being phased out.) This initiative certainly points the way toward a cleaner, greener, more healthy way of living. And it will only be when there is an enforced commitment to make existing and new building zero carbon that the overall CO2 emissions will really begin to tumble across the country. *To learn more about the retrofitted house and book a visit – see:

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Pandemic shows power of collective action

The Covid 19 pandemic has really highlighted how much we need each other in order to survive as a species. The relentless mantra of the past 40 plus years has been about individualism. Everyone striving to be better, never mind the cost to anyone else. The survival of the fittest. Remember, those famous words of Margaret Thatcher that there is no such thing as society. Some of the response to Covid could seem to emphasis the individual and isolation over collectivism and society. The lockdowns, social distancing and isolation. However, such a view takes those actions out of context. The reason for doing these things is not only self preservation but also for the survival of us all. We're all in it together. So people wear masks, socially distance and get vaccinated for their own good and that of their neighbours and friends. These are acts of solidarity. Indeed, those refusing to do these things for the collective good of all can be said to be behaving in a very individualist selfish way. There have also been the collective acts of generosity, like the support of foodbanks, front line workers and the homeless. What this period has shown is how much more effective things can be when everyone pulls together in solidarity, rather than behaving in an atomised selfish manner. It must be hoped that this collective sense of worth continues and grows. It can see off the pandemic but will also be needed to take on other crises of the moment such as climate and biodiversity destruction. It must also be helped that a new ethos emerges from this collective approach, one that sees a more equal society emerging whereby the wealth and resource of all is more fairly distributed. A move away from the dangerous polarisation between a small elite of very rich and increasing large number of relatively poor - the haves and have nots of society. Also, a greater recognition of the work and workers that are vital for survival -NHS and care workers emergency service staff, teachers, street cleaners, local authority workers and supermarket staff. They should receive monetary gain, not just words and applause. Thinking beyond just self will be better for everyone in the long run. A better world premised on the common good of all can emerge from these dark times.

Thursday, 6 January 2022

Allan Tuffin and Brian Arkell - stalwarts of the community

Two great teachers in our local community died at the end of last year. Allan Tuffin had been a teacher and head teacher before retiring some years ago. Allan lived for many years, just round the corner from us in Aldersbrook. My brother was good friends with Allan and Mary's son Luke. Allan and Mary have been lifelong socialists and members of the Labour Party. They have always striven to make the world a better place. Allan was chair of the Constituency Labour Party for a time. He also stood as the Labour Prospective Parliamentary candidate in a general election. But many will remember Allan's devotion to the cause, walking the streets, knocking on doors, listening and persuading, attending the Labour Party stall in the high street and organising branch and constituency activities. Mary and Allan also attended numerous protests and marches across the country. Allan was always there, an activist well into his eighties, in fact right up to his dying day. Always striving to make the world a better place. Another teacher to pass was Bryan Arkell, who was a deputy head teacher at Wanstead High School, when he retired a few years ago. Brian was at the school for his whole 40-year career. I remember seeing him at the adjacent school, when attending Aldersbrook Primary. Once at Wanstead High, he took us for games. A fan of the cross country run, he was always on the look out for those trying to take short cuts. He was also a rugby enthusiast, though many if us preferred the round ball. Brian also taught geography. Always firm but fair, I most recently met Brian a few years ago when my nephew was in some of the school drama productions. He was helping out behind the scenes. He had seen much over his decades at the school. Brian was on good form that night, as he recalled some of the old days at the school. There was something of an impromptu re-union of staff and pupils at Brian's funeral at St Thomas of Canertbury Church in Woodford last month. Brian and Allan will be sorely missed, they both contributed in different ways to the local community and beyond. It us upon such people that our community has endured and grown over the years. Allan and Brian were great teachers in so many ways, it remains now for the others, who come after them, to take on their work. RIP Allan and Brian.

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Need for a revolution in terms of development to address biodiversity and climate crises

Need for a revolution in terms of development to address biodiversity and climate crises The whole landscape of Redbridge needs to change if the climate and biodiversity crises are to be in any way addressed. The need to increase biodiversity, whilst countering climate change means that the built as well as natural environment need to change – there has to be a coming together. Frankly, there is just too much concrete around – whether that be housing or shopping centres or office blocks. Yes, these things have a place but increased biodiversity and schemes like for active travel, that address health and carbon emissions, need to be integrated as part of a new vision. The idea of the park in one place and the shopping centre somewhere else is something that has had its day. The two must integrate together. Under the new Environment Act, there has to be a 10% net biodiversity gain in any newly built property. If properly implemented this should have a dramatic impact on the urban landscape. The building will simply be part of the wider vista. On older housing stock, Waltham Forest Council have come up with some interesting ideas, including working with the Aston Group on a retrofit of old property. A costly enterprise but really reducing emissions and enhancing biodiversity. In Redbridge, the report of the Nature an Environment Task and Finish Group (which I chaired) has just been published It is intended as the third part in the council’s response to the climate and biodiversity crises – the other two being the Climate Action Plan and the Green Urban Landscape policy. Among the recommendations are the extension of Growzones across the borough, Wetlands and more tree planting. The 14 recommendations coming out of the report, which seeks to extend biodiversity in the borough. Other recommendations include developing wildlife corridors, phasing out pesticide use and promoting allotments and community gardens. Growzones began in Wanstead. We have seen successful areas developed on George and Christchurch Greens as well as at the Roding Valley Park – Elmcroft Avenue entrance. There have been encouraging biodiversity gains at all of these sites, which helped in the effort to promote the idea across the borough. We also need to look at how to encourage measures to help biodiversity on private land - the fruit tree giveaway was one such initiative. It was a concern raised by community groups giving testimony to the T&F Group that too much of the borough is going under concrete. The has been happening incrementally, with front and back gardens getting concreted over for a variety of reasons. The report calls for a review of present processes, with possible stipulations on the amount of an area that remains in natural state. The report highlights the potential for Wetland developments which can help deal with flood threats as well as extend biodiversity. And as Walthamstow Wetlands and others across the country show they are a great visitor attraction. A review of the Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (sincs) with a view to extending their coverage is another integral element of the report. The whole approach has to be holistic, taking in every part of life. There also needs to be a flexibility of approach – tree planting is very good in terms of cutting carbon dioxide but it is not the only way to do this. Increasing biodiversity is a broad canvass, which offers an opportunity in many formats. All parts of the environmental policy need to interact together from planting more trees and developing wetlands to facilitating more active travel and extending the electricity vehicle charging network. All of these things need to work in unison, if the dual threats of biodiversity and climate disaster are to be tackled. What is important is development per se becomes a far more holistic notion with climate and biodiversity considerations forming part of every element of council policy. It will be a steep learning curve but it needs to happen if there really is going to be the sort of revolution required to start addressing climate and biodiversity crisis. And what is for certain is that time is running out to act. These early reports and initiatives are now in place but they cannot be allowed to sit on the shelf and gather dust – we all need to see the initiatives, and more, happening immediately as the whole change in culture starts to develop.

Thursday, 30 December 2021

An heroic response to the pandemic by a nation of lions led by donkeys

So the year closes, as it opened, with everyone wearing masks and socially distancing. Everyone hoped we would be seeing the back of the Covid 19 pandemic by now but it seems to have revived with the Omicron variant. It would seem there is some way to go before it can be said the pandemic is behind us. Everyone has been through a lot, many losing loved ones. These are difficult times with people being asked to give up their liberties in exchange for the safety and security of all. What has been most galling is that some of those doing the asking have been exposed as so flagrantly breaking the rules themselves. The news that last year, as citizens obeyed government rules to socially distance, wear masks and not mix inside, occupants of Downing Street were operating in a totally parallel universe - partying the night away. One rule for us and one rule for them, had been the cry previously over the Dominic Cummings/Barnard Castle fiasco but the parties farago took the whole thing to a new level. Trust is vital if we are to come through this pandemic with the minimum of damage. And trust has taken a battering from this government. Citizens are being asked to abide by restrictions that they know those doing the asking have failed to do in the past. This is perfect storm territory. But the people must rise above the inadequacy of todays leaders and think of each other. It has been the community response that has seen us through in the past 18 months. The foodbanks, support for homeless and house bound. The heroic efforts of NHS, care staff, police, firefighters, soldiers, teachers, refuse collectors, local authority workers, postal and supermarket staff. These are just some of those who have helped everyone get through the crisis. We will all look to them again to see us through the latest stage of the pandemic. And we will get there. Everyone has a role to play, not least by getting vaccinated. It is just a shame that we have so much become a nation of lions led by donkeys (if that is not unfair to donkeys). Everyone deserves better in 2022. Happy New Year.

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Let's have a less wasteful Christmas

Christmas is a time for celebration but also when a vast amount of waste is created. There is all the paper, food waste, packaging, and plastic. This year will be the first when the whole of Redbridge has been served by wheelie bins. The roll out of the wheelie bins has been a tremendous success, as well as making our streets cleaner by containing waste more securely it has increased recycling rates by around 5% - with around a third of our household waste now being recycled. This has been achieved by limiting household waste to what will fit in the wheelie bin and ensuring residents make full use of recycling facilities. Hopefully this will encourage people to create less waste in the first place. A group of councillors recently visited the East London Waste Authorities (ELWA) Renewi facilities in Newham and Ilford to see for ourselves what happens to the borough's waste. Household waste and recycling of Newham, Barking and Dagenham and Redbridge finishes up at these facilities. The waste end up in a giant warehouse type building. The waste then undergoes a treatment where it is shredded and dried out for 14 days, reducing its volume by about 30% with the moisture being pumped into woodchip containers on the roof of the building which biologically filter out odours and bioaerosols. Recyclable materials such as glass and metals that have not been separated by households for separate collection are removed for recycling from the dried waste, as well as organic material which goes on to be composted and used for land restoration. The remaining treated waste (about half of what entered the plant) then goes off to Energy from Waste facilities to create heat and power. The materials for recycling that comes from our boxes ends up at the site on the high road in Ilford. This is another impressive facility, with paper and cardboard dumped in one silo, cans, glass and plastics in another. A meticulous sorting process then takes place before the metals and plastics are crushed into bales and the glass bulked and then sold on for re-use The whole process us about re-using and utilising waste. So there is much positive going on to deal with the borough's waste, and ongoing efforts to reduce emissions and further widen what can be recycled - with the recent addition of plastic pots, tubs and trays to our weekly collections. The visit to the ELWA/Renewi facility was most instructive, and the scale of the operation and volume of waste also drove home the need for us all to be less wasteful. We all need to reflect more on the amount of waste being created and its impact on the planet. Less must always mean more on waste. So heres to a happy, cleaner, greener Christmas.