Tuesday, 4 November 2014

To frack or not to frack?

Oxfordshire County Councillors entering County Hall on Tuesday to speak on fracking insisted this was not a debate but simply ‘airing personal opinions’. Some also claimed that, as the planning authority they have limited powers relating to fracking. Although licences are now issued nationally the planning authority still has oversight. It was Lancashire County Council in the dock at Preston magistrates’ court for allowing Cuadrilla to continuing to drill two months beyond their permitted time in breach of their planning permissions. In Balcombe,  Cuadrilla have been shown to be in breach of their noise conditions and have withdrawn two applications for amendments to their planning consent on suspicion that the original consent was not fully lawfully granted, and an extension was challengeable

 The report presented to Oxfordshire County councillors specifies that the ‘authorities should ensure the … safety of underground storage facilities … taking into account the maintenance of gas pressure [and], prevention of leakage of gas …’ http://mycouncil.oxfordshire.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=27562&ISATT=1#search=%22fracking%22

Yet the well casing at the notorious PH1 Cuadrilla fracking well at Preese Hall, Lancashire was almost certainly deformed during earth tremors and now has problems with pressure. This is usually an indication that the cement casing is failing and there is gas leakage. The Health and Safety Executive have claimed that there have been no gas leaks  at PH1 and that the cement casing was thick enough to prevent "significant" leaks yet they have performed no inspections and are relying on data provided by Cuadrilla.

The Department of Environment and Climate Change assures us that the UK has a strong track record of robustly regulating the energy sector. They certainly do not have a robust record of monitoring fracking wells.
The same HSE we are asked to entrust with monitoring the safety of fracking wells has demonstrably and dramatically failed to do so.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Who are buses really for?

The North East combined councils are applying to regulate bus services and introduce an oyster-style travel card for the region.

What a brilliant idea. We all know from our own experience that buses are too expensive. The East Coast train line has demonstrated that the public sector can run public transport better and cheaper than the private sector

The North East Green Party has welcomed the move and fully supports it

Long-standing Green Party policy states, "public transport [should be] designed and planned to create a user-friendly service, that is reliable, affordable, accessible, integrated with all other
sustainable modes and environmentally friendly. Public service, not private profit, must be the primary function of public transport."

So hooray for the North East Councils for not bowing to commercial pressure and actually doing something for the public good and please when can we have a similar scheme in the South East or South Central England?

Why is this government afraid of judicial review?

A Bill currently going through parliament is designed by the government to allow them to block judicial review cases.
Why should we be interested? And why is the government so concerned to get control over judicial review cases?

Judicial review is one way that ordinary people can challenge decisions by government through the courts. It has come to be used as campaigning tool. In Canterbury a group opposed to an out of town college campus used judicial review to slow down the development. Eventually the College gave up and did what the campaigners had asked for from the start – they redeveloped their existing town centre site preserving one of East Kent’s last orchards and keeping the college close to public transport links.

Judicial review was used by the Save Port Meadow Campaign in Oxford to challenge the City Council’s appalling planning decision to allow over sized blocks of flats at Roger Dudman Way to block the famous views of the dreaming spires from the River Cherwell.

However, the House of Lords has opposed the government and amended the Bill to keep the discretion of the courts.

Ironic that we have to rely on this unelected, undemocratic institution to prevent the government form bypassing democratic accountability.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

How can we improve air quality in Oxford?

Oxford is in the top ten most polluting cities in the UK when it comes to car emissions with the 9th highest emission in the UK http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2769975/London-cars-worst-polluters-Vehicles-emit-quarter-carbon-dioxide-kilometre-Peterborough.html

This confirms that, as long as cars are not included in the Low Emission Zone in the City Centre, it will be ineffective in reducing air pollution. Air pollution kills many more people than road traffic accidents. Air pollution caused an estimated 28,416 deaths in Great Britain in 2010. This compares with 1,713 road deaths in 2013.  It’s about time we took reducing car use seriously.

A new report shows how we could achieve carless cities and cut air pollution within the next 20 years.
"There's no town in Denmark which a main road goes through. No town. Zero. … They’d actually think it was slightly mad to have a main road going through a centre of town. … Consequently, their culture is much happier than ours.” Andrew Davies CEO, Environmental Transport Association

Oxford is considering introducing congestion charging. The report criticises London Congestion charging for being a blunt instrument. It argues for variable charging for certain types of vehicle and road user and according to the level of congestion in real time. However, ite warns that congestion charging will only reduce traffic if there are viable public transport and cycling alternatives.

One example of good public transport is Vienna where if costs only 1 Euro to go anywhere in the City – a City much bigger than Oxford.

A transport researcher argues for “ a magnificent network of cycle routes”:  an area where Oxford used to lead but which now seems to have stalled with a cycle improvement budget from central government remaining largely unspent by the City and disputes with local cycle groups over ‘improvements’ to Frideswide Square and The Plain roundabout.

The report advocates joined up transport so car-sharing becomes part of a package that also includes train travel, bus travel, cycling and so on. With a travel card you could swipe and take a car when it suited, but swipe onto a bus where that made more sense.

A more radical suggestion is that the green man should be the default at pedestrian crossings and cars should have to stop and get permission to cross.

If we make it easy, normal and safe to travel on foot or by bike people will chose to do so. I know of someone who would love to cycle in Oxford but doesn’t dare because she finds the traffic too intimidating. If it was easy normal and safe to cycle in Oxford much more people would do so.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Why the wealthy should pay their taxes like the rest of us.

The UK is one of the most unequal countries amongst wealthy nations when looking at household income. Should we be worried? There is evidence that less equal societies have higher rates of violence and ill health.

But the wealthiest may believe they are protected against the effects of inequality. Not so.There is abundant evidence that reducing inequality improves the quality of the social environment for everyone. (The Spirit Level Chapter 2)

Inequality increases mental illness, clinical obesity, violence including murder and rates of imprisonment not just amongst the poor but across the population as a whole (The Spirit Level, Chapter 13)

If we halved inequality in the UK, the evidence suggests that:

- Murder rates could halve
- Mental illness could reduce by two thirds
- Obesity could halve
- Imprisonment could reduce by 80%
- Teen births could reduce by 80%
- Levels of trust could increase by 85%


 Comparisons show that in less equal countries like England and Wales death rates of working age men are worse than in more equal countries such as Sweden – including amongst those of high social class such as professionals 

Similarly literacy is better amongst children with parents of the very highest levels of education in the more equal countries of Finland and Belgium than in the UK. (Spirit Level, Chapter 13)

A more equal society is better for all of us – including the wealthy. Now all we need is to elect Greens so we can become a more equal society. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ec.html