Thursday, 22 August 2013

Can we trust the government to regulate fracking and keep us all safe?

The owner of the proposed fracking site at Balcombe has declared there is ‘little or no risk to [his] estate or the wider area' because it will be ‘carefully managed and properly regulated’. (

Does he not realise that this government is ideologically opposed to regulations and wants to ‘cut red tape’?

Is he unaware that the government is currently making savage cuts to the budget of the Environment Agency which could lead to the loss of as many as 4,000 of its 11,000 staff?

This is in addition to a series of past cuts to staffing levels e.g. 15% reduction in Environment Agency staff in 2011.

Where are the staff going to come from to check that regulations are being complied with under these circumstances?

We already know that fracking in Lancashire has faced minimal inspections with three government agencies (Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Environment Agency, and the Health and Safety Executive) all passing the buck because nobody has overall regulatory oversight for fracking and none of them have the resources they need.

Why should it be any different in Balcombe, or indeed anywhere else in the country?

Monday, 19 August 2013

How we could avoid fly tipping and increase recycling rates.

The small town of Neustadt an der Weinstrasse in Germany doesn’t have a problem with fly tipping. One of their waste managers says that their waste recycling scheme is so cheap and easy to use that they don’t need to pursue and fine fly tippers because there isn’t a problem.

Here Kent County Council complains that it is difficult to catch fly tippers and expensive to prosecute. Maybe we should do things the German way on this?

So how does Neustadt ensure that people recycle and don’t fly tip? For starters there is no payment at all for collection of recyclable waste. Bins for residual non recyclable waste are much smaller than here: standard wheelie bin in the UK 240l, standard bin in Neustadt 60l – and a 40l bin is available at a reduced waste collection fee. Collections are fortnightly but weekly collections are available – at twice the price.

Half a tonne of construction waste costs 270 Euros to leave at the waste site – but only 17 Euros if it is sorted, and the site is only a mile from the town. That’s cheap and convenient.

Recycling rate in the UK currently around 40%, target for 2020 50%. Recycling rate in Germany already 70%, target for 2020 100%.

Why can’t we do that? Because there is a lack of political will. Instead of encouraging recycling, the Minister for local government and communities has just handed out money to selected local authorities to reintroduce weekly bin collections – a measure which is guaranteed to reduce recycling rates.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Ever higher rails fares, a problem we don’t need

Rail fares increased over the past decade even faster than house prices, according to the RMT union, which calculated that tickets across the network had increased 57.7% in the decade to January this year.

We already have the most expensive rail fares in Europe – on average 40% higher. However for annual season tickets for typical commuter journeys (around 22 miles) our prices are up to 10 times that of comparable journeys on the continent.

In the meantime the real cost of motoring has remained steady or fallen in real terms.

So what would you choose expensive travel by rail or cheap travel by car? We know what most people in this country do because we have serious congestion and air quality problems.

At the same time we have so many roads we can’t keep up with the repairs. Have your nearest potholes been filled? Probably not unless you reported them. 

The solution from big business and this government: build more roads. The solution that would actually reduce congestion: make public transport cheaper, more attractive and easy to use.

Is this the best kept secret in Kent?

I recently discovered that Kent County Council runs a lift share scheme – did you know about this? 

Lift share schemes bring together people wanting lifts with people with spare capacity in their car. Run properly they have the potential to reduce road traffic by filling up the cars which are on the road and reducing the need for one person car journeys.

I have sent a Freedom of Information request to KCC asking about the uptake of this scheme in the first half of 2013. Let’s try and make sure that the uptake in the second half of this year is greater. Click here to get started:

Register and use it!

A tale of two taxes

France and the UK have both introduced taxes on HGVs which comply with EU requirements – but they are very different in the effect they are likely to have.

The French eco-tax is charged per kilometre and therefore designed to reduce the amount of freight carried by road and encourage rail, sea and river freight.

The UK HGV charge is charged by unit of time: by day, week, month or year. It will therefore have no effect on the distance freight is carried by road.

The income from the French eco-tax will be used for green infrastructure projects to protect the environment and promote sustainable development.

The UK tax take will be used to repair roads thereby encouraging more road traffic.

Need I say more?