Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Concreting over Green spaces could seriously damage your health...

I've called on Brighton and Hove City Council to do more to protect urban green spaces against development to improve the health of some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Academic studies have shown that there are wide variations in life expectancy across the city, with an average resident of Moulsecoomb, Bevendean or Queen’s Park being likely to live a significantly shorter life than an average resident of Rottingdean, Withdean or Patcham.

At the same time, academics at several universities have argued that preserving green spaces in more deprived areas – even small ones – can boost everyone’s health and reduce such differences.

This council has shown an alarming tendency to approve building and car parking schemes on green spaces and grass verges - but the experts say this is widening inequalities – and shortening lives.

As academics have said – this isn’t about ‘prettying up the neighbourhood’ – it’s about reducing health inequalities and, frankly, making life a little fairer (and longer!) for everyone.

I presented a motion (reproduced in full below) to the full council, which batted it down the the cabinet member responsible for planning and the environment (Geoffrey Theobald). He said no - for the mazing reason that there isn't enough cash in the council's coffers to consider the health impact of every development bid.

Am I alone in thinkin that's appaling? And that what it shows isn't that we should shy away from protecting thwe health of the most vulnerable - but that we need to ensure our planning officers are better resourced so they can do their job properly?

Sometimes it seems at though this Tory Council just doesn’t care about health, preserving our built environment, addressing inequality – anything at all in fact except keeping Council Tax bills down.

Here's the motion in full:



This Council notes:

The 2008 report of The Director of Public Health for Brighton and Hove, which reported that health inequality persists in the city, and that this manifests itself in wide variations in life expectancy, with an average resident of Moulsecoomb, Bevendean or Queen’s Park being likely to live a significantly shorter life than an average resident of Rottingdean, Withdean or Patcham.

The recently-published findings of researchers at Glasgow University and the University of St Andrews that green spaces near homes can reduce such variations in life expectancy, and the November 2008 comments in The Lancet journal of Dr Terry Hartig of The Institute for Housing and Urban Research at Uppsala University in Sweden that: ‘Green space does more than ‘pretty up’ the neighbourhood – it appears to have real effects on health inequality, or a kind that politicians and health authorities should take seriously’.

And therefore resolves

To take into account this impact on life expectancy and health generally whenever it considers removing, developing, or granting landlord’s consent for development on any green spaces under its control in the city, however small.

Proposed by: Cllr Ben Duncan

Seconded by: Cllr Keith Taylor

Kemptown children going hungry at school

Sometimes I just can’t believe that people believe New Labour are really a political party that represents the less well off in our society. I know it’s hardly news that whoever ratchets up most votes in an election (sort of) the Government always wins, and that Governments are never really interested in prioiritising the needs of the poorest, but today it has been reported that almost a million children across the country are living in poverty but not receiving free school meals.

According to The Guardian newspaper that’s about half the total number of children living in poverty across the country. Since, according to the Child Poverty Action Group, some 50 per cent of all children living in the Brighton Kemptown area fall into that category, it implies that one in every four children here are struggling to meet the costs of eating lunch at school. The mind boggles really.

The answer has got to lie in rolling out free school meals to everyone, something the Greens have been calling for years – and managed to persuade the council was a good idea for Brighton just last week.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Mark World Human Rights Day by helping to stop climate change

Today is the 60th anniversary of the signing of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I'm not sure either Eleanour Roosevelt, H G Wells or any of the other original drafters would make of the world now. Or, come to think of it, the US military-industrial logic that human rights can and should be defended with cluster hombs and a space age arms race.

But perhaps their biggest surprise would be that we are failing to take climate change seriously enough. Of course its real impact is going to be less about the wonderful new varieities of sparkling wine growing in Sussex - or even the inevitable flooding at Brighton Marina - and more about the devastation set to wreak havoc across much of the developed world. The price will be paid hardest by indigenous communities and minorities, who are least able to take preventative measures - and whose voices are so often denied. Now that's a human rights violation if ever there was one, and it shames us all.

There's loads more on this here - and a petition you can sign to add your voice on climate change to some of the most voiceless on the planet.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

A new police station for East Brighton - probably the greenest in the country

Earlier this month something happened I wouldn't have believed possible 18 months ago when I took my seat on Sussex Police Authority: the Chief Constable presented a set of environmental awards to key staff and talked about how sustainability had be mainstreamed into the way policing is delivered.

I have always believed that cutting emissions and improving environmental performance should be seen as an essential component of one of the police's primary remits: keeping the public safe. After all, what's the point of getting burglary, rape and murder rates down if we see Sussex devastated by the worst aspects of climate change in a few short years - and report after report has warned we'll see some of the worst impacts here by the south coast. Of course, the police have got a job to do, and solving climate change isn't their job alone - but it's everyone's job - including the Police - we've all got a duty to cut our emissions, and public services more than anyone.

That's why I'm delighted that, after making just this argument in several Police Authority meetings since my appointment - and playing a key role in persuading the authority to adopt a challenging environmental policy last year (alongside proposals to spend more money on delivering neighbourhood policing, of course) - the concept of sustainability seems to have made the mainstream at Sussex Police HQ.

Which brings me to the new police station opened this week in Hollingbury. As I say, it's probably the greenest in the country. It'll be open to the public (as long as the SPA can find the money to pay the necessary staff), and house neighbourhood police officers serving much of the city.

But it uses light wells instead of fluorescent tubes, was designed to require almost no heating in winter or cooling in summer, is accompanied by bat and bird boxes and other measures to attract and conserve wildlife living nearby, will harvest rainwater (and recycle it for washing cars), and is fitted out with chairs made from recycled tyres and car batteries and the wooden tables and desks are made from wood from a sustainable forest here in Sussex.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Bill Hicks probably said it best

So there's new leader of the so-called 'free world'. Barack Obama has won a landslide in yesterday's US Presidential election. He has galvanised the American people (well a few more than half of them, anyway) around his message of change - and though I'm a little more pessimistic about the difference he is really likely to make than some - I wish him well.

But at this momentus time (I just saw Jesse Jackson crying on telly, and heard someone likening his acceptance speech to the moment man first walked on the moon) I am reminded of the words of the great late Bill Hicks, who warned that every time a new US president is elected he is ushered into a room by a small band of shadowy, overfed white men in dark suits. Through the fug of cigar smoke, a TV screen unfurls from the ceiling and a video of the JFK assassination shot from the perspective of the sniper is shown. 'So here's what you'll be doing for the next four years, ok?' one of the suits rasps...

Seriously, though, if Barack Obama is really going to deliver significant change in the way the US economy, oil industry or war machine do business, the battle with John McCain is just a warm-up act for the struggle to come - with the lobbyists, bankers and money men who have pulled the strings of every US president since FDR almost a century ago.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Do as I do, not as I say...

So the latest Tory sleaze story is that environment cabinet member Geoffrey Theobald has been caught parking his Jag in a disabled parking bay. The Argus tells the story, with pictures, here.


It's not so much that, as a public servant, he thinks it appropriate to
drive a gas-guzzling car most of his constituents could never afford, or
that he is happy to ride roughshod over the very parking rules he wants
the rest of us to uphold, or even that he deprived a disabled driver of
a suitable space. No, it's his bizarre justification: no apology, just
an admission that he uses council staff, whose wages are paid by the
taxpayer, as his private parking attendants.

If this episode didn't fit the pattern of the Tories' 'do as i say, not
as I do' approach to public life, the mind would truly boggle.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Planners: ignore climate change at your (and all of our) peril...

Members of the Tory-dominated planning committee have recently rejected proposals for a solar panel on a roof in leafy West Drive, overturning the recommendation of the expert planning officers and making a clear statement: micro-scale renewables just aren't in keeping with Brighton's built environment.

Now I'm not arguing that democratically-elected planning committee members should never overturn the officers there to advise them - sometimes, of course, they should - but the sort of thinking this decision heralds is plainly bonkers.

Of course we've got to conserve our built environment and countryside.

But surely the best chance we've got of doing that is by taking steps to limit the most devastating impacts of climate change in our communities.

And if we're going to do that, we'll have to shift the way we use and produce energy - and that means being prepared to say 'yes' to sensitive planning applications for renewable energy generation schemes - whether they're in conservation areas or not: like these solar panels, for example, or the proposed wind turbines outside council HQ King's House (rejected by the Tories earlier this year).

Frankly, it's ridiculous for the Tories to pretend they've got the answers to climate change (remember the 'Vote Blue, Go Green' slogan wheeled out before the last local elections?) while they're saying no to practical solutions here in Brighton and Hove day in day out.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Electing police managers could open the door to extremists - and increase hate crime

Labour proposals to directly elect members of Sussex Police Authority will divert cash from neighbourhood policing - and risk increasing racist and homophobic hate crime in the city.

As our economy worsens we need to focus more resources on neighbourhood policing.

Locally, burglary and car crime are both on the rise, as people increasingly struggle to make ends meet with poverty and unemployment levels getting worse everyday.

Of course we need communities to become more involved in decisions about policing - but the way to do that is to allow them to participate in spending decisions, not simply to introduce another tier of elections without even explaining if the cost will be met by taking police off our streets.

I am deeply concerned that direct elections to Sussex Police Authority will open the door to extremists and single-issue campaigners and drown out the voices of our city's distinct and vulnerable group's and communities.

Direct elections will inevitably mean different political parties back different candidates. You only need to look to the Metropolitan police to see the dangers of that kind of political sponsorship.

A living wage - not just a minimum wage

GREEN Party leader and Sussex Euro-MP Caroline Lucas has called for fairer pay for the thousands working in the county’s restaurants and hotels.

She said a loophole in the minimum wage legislation allowed tips to be included in regular pay packets – rather than received as an added ‘extra’, as most restaurant-goers believed.

This loophole means staff in some restaurants were being paid well below the minimum wage – in some cases staff receive as little as £3 an hour.

Dr Lucas, who also hopes to be elected MP for Brighton Pavilion at the next election, said: “As the Unite union has said, the minimum wage laws are failing to protect staff in one of our biggest sectors of the economy from low-pay abuse.

“It’s just not good enough – even the minimum wage, currently £5.72 an hour, is a poverty wage in this city.

“The Government must replace the minimum wage laws with a guaranteed living wage, based on what life’s essentials actually cost working families: in Brighton and Hove it should be raised to about £7 an hour, just as Green Councillors have proposed.

“We are seeing an increase in poverty amongst working families here in Brighton, and it’s no coincidence: fair pay is an issue which affects everyone in this city.”

The picture shows Caroline outside Brighton’s ‘Carluccio’s Restaurant. A BBC investigation earlier this year found Carluccio's paid some waiters £3.75 an hour, which is below the legal minimum: read the BBC report for more...

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Burglary on the rise in Brighton as economy slows

Figures presented to Brighton and Hove's Community Safety Forum (of which I am a member) show that burglary in the city has gone up by almost a third in the last year alone.

This summer (April - August 2008) there were 551 recorded house burglaries compared with 426 in the same period last year - a rise of 29.3 per cent.

Violent crimes are coming down, but burglaries and thefts from and of vehicles are rising fast: more people turn to so-called 'acquisitive crime' when times get tough.

And boy are they getting tough: child poverty, fuel poverty and unemployment are all on the rise. It's almost impossible to open The Argus these days without reading of another slew of redundancies and job losses.

We need to increase the share of the police budget that's spent on neighbourhood policing: people I speak to in Kemp Town like their regular neighbourhood police patrols - they just don't see them as often as they would like!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

UN criticises UK human rights record

The UN has criticised the UK's human rights record again.

It seems the Government isn't content with destroying children's lives through worsening child poverty - it wants to deny them human rights agreed under the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child too.

New Labour Britain has been strongly criticised by a United Nations committee for failing to meet international standards on children's rights.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has called for the abolition of Asbos and for custodial sentences for young offenders to be used only as a last resort - currently we lock up some 3,000 children behind bars, far more than any other European country.

For more analysis, and a copy of the UN report in full, visit the Children's Rights Alliance for England, an umbrella group of children's charities and human rights bodies, with more than 380 member organisations.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Crisis? Bring back Mandy... Brilliant!

So Bottler Brown has got a solution to the deepening financial crisis after all: bring back arch enemy Peter Mandelson into the Government and go running to Paris to seek a European bankers' bail-out to mirror that agreed in America yesterday (at a cost of about $2,500 for every woman, man and child in the country).


It's not just that Mandy has a track record of deceit and failure (who could forget his two resignations from Blair's cabinet, his dodgy loan for a luxury West London home or his crooked intrervention in a passport application for the super-rich Hinduja brothers?)

It's not the fact that he's spent the last four years as EU Trade Commissioner doggedly pursuing free-trade and economic globalisation deals around the world despite all the evidence that this approach destroys lives and and environments across in poorer countries and weakens communities at home.

It's not even his key role as 'architect' of the New Labour project, or that he's hopelessly out-of-touch with ordinary families.

No, the real problem with Mandy's return is that it sends out the clearest signal yet that Gordon's response is one of 'business-as-usual', that he has nothing of the radical response required up his sleeve.

It's getting clearer every day that we're in a mess: here in Brighton you can hardly open the Argus without reading of another burst of redundancies and job losses (today it was 60 staff at Rosebys joining the dole queue). Inflation is up. Child poverty is up. Fuel poverty is getting worse, prmopting charities to warn that thousands of our most frail, vulnerable and elderly friends and neighbours may die this winter. The oil supplies on which our economy relies are dwindling, and worsening climate change threatens to devastate whole communities' very existence: it's already killing thousands around the world every year.

If we hope turn this around we need some pretty radical responses, and quickly. A starting point would be a Green New Deal between government, business and ordinary families based on the ideas of ending our dependence on oil, cutting climate change emissions, creating thousands of new 'green' jobs and re-regulating the banking and fuel multi-nationals.

Government should spend serious money helping those who need it most - the 50 per cent of Kemptown and Peacehaven children living in poverty, for example, or the thousands of the frail and elderly facing a choice between heating their homes and eating nutritious food this winter - not the fat-cat bankers who got us in to the mess in the first place.

A group of leading thinkers and campaigners - including my Green Party colleage and Brighton Pavilion MP candidate Caroline Lucas MEP - have come together to form the Green New Deal group calling for policies just like these.

And the good news is that some of them are coming to Brighton in a few weeks for a public meeting to discuss what they would mean for us here in Sussex.

Joining Caroline will be Ann Pettifor, former head of Jubilee 2000 debt relief campaign, Colin Hines, Co-Director, Finance for the Future and Guardian Economics Editor Larry Elliott.

The meeting will take place on Monday, November 10th, and will be chaired by Hanover and Elm Grove Green Party councillor and local jobs and housing champion Bill Randall. Watch this space for further details soon!

Friday, 3 October 2008

Reports show depth of poverty in Kemp Town and Peacehaven

Two sets of figures published today reveal the shocking depths of poverty suffered by thousands of children and families in Kemp Town and Peacehaven.

Incredibly, a report from the Campaign to End Child Poverty shows that half of the children in the Brighton Kemptown parliamentary constituency are living in low-income families.

According to the umbrella organization, which includes UNICEF, Save The Children and the TUC, 50 per cent of children growing up in the parliamentary constituency live in a home where either no adult is working more than 16 hours a week or the family is reliant on benefits.

The figure shows that Brighton Kemptown is the third toughest area in the region to bring up kids, with only Hastings and Rye and Portsmouth South scoring worse.

And as if that wasn't enough Government figures released today revealed the number of households in fuel poverty rose to 3.5 million in 2006, one million more than in 2005. Fuel poverty is defined as affecting any household which spends more than 10% of its income on fuel.

It’s pretty clear that life is hard – and getting worse – for thousands of children and their families in this city.

Labour promised to halve child poverty by 2010 – and these figures reveal how far the Government is from actually delivering.

We need to introduce a range of new initiatives to make a practical difference to child poverty and worklessness: free healthy school meals for all primary pupils, for example, a roll-out of free insulation to cut fuel bills and winter poverty and massive support for ‘green’ industries to get our local economy moving again.

This Government seems to think nothing of bailing out city bankers - when will it do the same for ordinary families?

It's an indictment of life under a Labour government and Tory councils, and it reminds me how urgently we need some Green thinking at every level of government.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Greens Clean Up in Kemp Town - again!

Green councillors representing Queen's Park (that's me, Rachel and Paul) joined forces yesterday with residents and council staff to help spruce up the Eastern Road neighbourhood.

Cleaning up (and not just in elections!) was followed by a session planting bulbs, to add a splash of colour to the area next spring, and a tree planting session outside Hampshire Court.

The first of three Sea Buckthorn trees (one of nature's most concentrated sources of Vitamin C for all the 'free food' buffs out there) was erected on the patch of grass between the flats and Upper Bedford Street.

Organised by the Eastern Road Area Partnership, these ‘Clean Up - Green Up’ events are a highlight of the area's community calendar.

This is the third such event I’ve attended, and the lasting environmental improvements they deliver bring the community a little bit closer together – and make a real difference to local people’s everyday lives.

The latest report into the city’s health trends - the annual report of Brighton and Hove's Director of Public Health, published last week - shows that the Queen’s Park ward is one of the most deprived in the city.

People living here want safer, healthier and greener lives – and events like this make all the difference.

The next one will be held in the Tarner Area of the ward on October 29 - I hope some of you will be able to join me (and Sammy, who will be enjoying the first half-term of his school career. What a Dad, eh, making him sweep the streets in his first week's escape from the 'sausage factory'!)

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

A great week for Brighton

It's certainly been a great week for sport and culture in Brighton: The Albion beating the richest club in the country, Man City, Fatboy Slim entertaining thousands on Madeira Drive and news that the world's biggest extreme sports festival could be coming to Kemp Town beach next year.

I hope everyone involved makes use of the year of negotiations we've got ahead of us to ensure residents, businesses and all visitors get to share some of the benefits: requiring the organisers to stump up some cold hard cash to fund environmental improvements on Madeira Drive, as Green councillors have proposed, would be a great start.

As for Fatboy Slim: I went to the show and thought it was fantastic. I hope he comes back to Madeira Drive with a Big Beach Boutique Five, but that when he does so the food and drink available are a little more affordable, the sound engineers strike a better balance between the wishes of concertgoers and residents - and that a levy to compensate locals for the loss of access to the beach is built into the ticket price right from the start.

Hang on - a failure to bail out the banks isn't that bad news, surely?

Today's media coverage of the US Congress's refusal to adopt a £700 billion bail-out package for the banks is almost universally negative: it's being described as a disaster for us all, and the proof offered is the sharp share price falls around the world following the vote.

Of course, anyone with a pension linked to the stock market will lose out - but of course the stock market is always governed by the cycles of boom and bust, so none of us should be surprised when it all goes bust once in a while.

Surely a more sensible response to all this mess is to compensate the pensioners for their losses and re-regulate the banking and pensions sector to prohibit gambling with our future livelihoods in future?

It's no wonder that, facing an election next month, members of the US congress rejected a plan to do exactly the opposite: protect the fat-cats who got us into this mess in the first place from their losses in the hope of returning as quickly as possible to business-as-usual economics.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Good manners start at home

A bus-stop conversation with a lab technician at Brighton College today reminded me that the middle-ranking public school (for public, read private, of course) is supplementing its lessons in English, Maths, Chinese and Traditional Economics with training in conduct these days.

Well that can hardly be bad thing - as long as the lessons don't simply restrict themselves to questions of high-society etiquette, and include discussions of everyday good manners, on pavements and buses and so on, as well.

But staff will have their work cut out for them: surely the biggest influence on the behaviour of Brighton College students is their parents.

As a neighbour of the college I witness the daily chaos and occasional stress and confrontation caused by some of these very parents’ failure to observe not just good manners but the law of the land when they illegally park on double yellow lines in Walpole Road to drop off and pick up their charges.

Surely the lesson is that parking rules don’t matter, that it is fine to act anti-socially and ignore the impacts on those living in the area (as long as they know which cutlery to use for which course)?

This picture shows (not very clearly, but hey I'm no photographer) some of the parents' and nannies' cars on the double-yellow lines at collection time earlier this week. I counted 11, just in Walpole Road.

Perhaps the college should also consider taking effective sanction against the anti-social behaviour of some parents, or, better, more fully engage with the council’s ‘Safer Routes to School’ programme to encourage parents to leave their cars at home.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Back to school - and the best school dinners yet

Pupils across Brighton and Hove will today be returning to school guaranteed fresh, seasonal and sustainable school dinners, thanks to the work of my Green Party councillor colleague Paul Steedman.

Following Paul’s campaign, Brighton and Hove City Council has this month for the first time signed up to Food For Life’s ‘Bronze Standard.’

To achieve the Bronze Standard, schools must meet several criteria when it comes to both learning about and eating food.

These include:

- ensuring school dinners are at least 75 per cent freshly prepared.

- giving every pupil the opportunity to visit a farm during his or her time at school

- serving only ‘farm assured’ meat and eggs from cage free hens at dinnertime

Signing up to the Food For Life challenge is great news on so many fronts – not only does it mean pupils will eat healthier food – they will also learn more about where it comes from.

School dinners help shape the appetites of our children for the rest of their lives, and making sure they are given good quality food can set them up for healthier and happier lifestyles as adults.

The Bronze standard will also ensure parents are involved – they will now have the opportunity to feedback on their children’s dinners, and even attend school lunches. I'm very excited at the prospect of attending one at Coombe Road, where my littl'un Sammy will be starting next week...

But this is just the beginning, and it’s not just our school children and their families who will benefit. If, as I very much hope, Brighton and Hove moves onto the Silver Standard, all our schools will provide a range of locally sourced items on their dinner menus.

This is good news not just for local farmers, but also for the planet. Fewer miles between spade and plate means less greenhouse gas emissions. This is not a small change - food is thought to produce almost 20 per cent of the UK’s annual greenhouse gases.

Ensuring schools dinners are fresh, healthy and sustainable is of benefit to our children, our economy and our planet. It’s no wonder some local authorities have seen a rise to 80% of students having school meals as a result of Food for Life.

I am delighted Brighton and Hove Council has agreed to adopt the Bronze standard, and hope this is the first of many such common sense policies that can make a real difference.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Brighton - where life is short(er)

Figures recently released by the GMB union show that Brighton and Hove is trailing behind the national and regional average when it comes to life expectancy rates.

Brighton and Hove is ranked in the bottom third of the country when it comes to life expectancy. Scandalously, we’re not only trailing behind the regional average, but also that the country as a whole.

Across the region, men have an average life expectancy of 78.5 years. But in Brighton, boy babies can expect to live for just 76.3 years – a difference of more than 2 years. In the South-East, only men in born in Thanet or Hastings can expect to live shorter lives than those born in Brighton.

I can hardly think of a better time to be arguing that the Government should be funding free school meals for all.

School meals play a vital role in ensuring our children’s well-being and future life expectancy.  Providing free, healthy school meals for all our children would be the first step towards ending health inequalities.

Not only would this help close the gap between rich and poor children when it comes to life expectancy; we could also expect to see children performing better in school as their attention levels and overall health increased.

Free school meals aren’t just about giving everyone a fair start in life, they could also prove a lifesaver for low income families facing rising food prices - recent figures suggest they could save in the region of £300 per child on the costs of paying for school meals or packed lunches.

Providing free, healthy school lunches is the common sense solution to tackling so many of the problems facing our children and their parents today. When it comes to childhood obesity, spiralling food costs or the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor areas, policies like this will go a long way to ensure a healthier, happier and fairer society.

And as another cohort of four and five-year-olds start their school careers, what better time?

Monday, 1 September 2008

Age-friendly floors improve Kemp Town buses

Finally, bus services connecting central Brighton with Kemp Town and East Brighton are to be improved with a new fleet of low-floor buses.

The No 37 route, which is part-funded by Brighton and Hove City Council, will use the low-floor vehicles, designed for easier use by disabled and older passengers, from September 28, after a barrage of complaints and a campaign for more age-friendly buses by Green Party councillors.

Brighton and Hove prides itself on being a city which celebrates its diversity and one of the best bus networks in the country.

But for too long bus travel has not been a realistic option for many disabled and older people in the Queen's Park and Kemptown areas. Last year Greens called on the council to improve bus services in line with the World Health Organisation's recommendations for 'Age-Friendly Cities' and I am delighted that No.37 buses re to be served by low-floor vehicles at long last.

With petrol prices rising, an ageing population, and tackling climate change becoming ever-more urgent, it is vital that we improve public transport accessibility across the country.

Greens believe that all bus services should be re-regulated and run for the benefit of passengers, not the profits of bus operators - and if I am elected to Parliament I'll make improving access to all public transport options a top priority.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Opposing the visual clutter of 'Clone Town' Kemp Town

In 2005 Boots the Chemist took over Alliance Unichem in a surprise merger which shocked the business editors and caused a flurry of headlines for a day or so.

It's just another sign of the impending 'Clone Town' Britain, the tendancy for retailers to be snapped up by each other until just a few remain, and every shopping street looks the same as every other. The excellent New Economics Foundation (nef) tells the story better than anyone.

Locally, we've done quite well at resisting the march of the clones: Kemp Town retains much of its unique character - but I'm concerned that with the coming of Starbucks and with work already well under way on a new Tesco Express in St James's Street the steady erosion of the area's identity is gathering pace.

That's why I've lodged a formal objection to a planning application by Boots to put up a sign advertising their new 'corporate identity' outside the former Alliance Pharmacy in St George's Road.

It's just a sign, and in a free world it might seem fair enough to let a shop put up a sign advertising its name, but the reality is this Boots sign would be another step towards the area looking just like everywhere else.

Kemp Town's unique character is achieved in large part thanks to its independent traders, local businesses and visually interesting environment.

A sign advertising a chain store that appears in almost every shopping street in the country – and in at least five other locations in Brighton and Hove alone – can hardly be deemed to be ‘visually interesting’, a planning requirement.

There's not much I, as a local councillor, can do about Boots’ takeover of the Alliance Pharmacy, but I can seek to preserve the area’s unique character by arguing against chain stores’ intrusive attempts to advertise their presence with dull logos and visual clutter.

Fortunately, members of the council’s planning committee seemed minded to agree when I made similar arguments about a bid for an illuminated sign outside the controversial Starbucks café in St James’s Street.

I hope they'll take a consistent line - and agree this time too.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Why creating a fairer society can't mean cheaper petrol

News today that the Taxpayers' Alliance thinks the Government should intervene in the oil market so we can enjoy cheaper petrol.

Of course no one wants to pay more for anything, especially in these times of rising prices. The cost of housing, food and fuel – for heating our homes as well as getting us about – are all skyrocketing, while wages fail to keep up.

It’s vital that we urgently address these economic woes, and that means changing the way we do business on a whole range of fronts: reining in the vast profits of the energy companies with windfall taxes, improving public transport (and making it more affordable with public subsidies) – and tackling fuel poverty by ensuring everyone has access to better energy efficiency measures to keep our homes warm (domestic insulation should be free for everyone, for example).

We should be promoting locally-produced food – as Green councillors have made sure Brighton and Hove’s schools will be doing. The shorter the journey from farm yard to dinner plate, the lower the cost of food – as rising fuel prices lead to imported produce being more costly.

And as for the chaos in the housing market, we must introduce tough new regulations on the banking sector – to stop the financial fat-cats who got us into this mess in the first place from gambling away any hard fought economic recovery – and call an immediate moratorium on all repossessions.

All of these measures will make life more affordable, sustainable, and fair.

But none of them will be able to make much difference to forecourt petrol prices.

Energy analysts are increasingly warning that we’re hitting the moment of ‘Peak Oil’ – at which demand increases faster than new oil-fields are being found. The law of supply and demand economics means this is bound to push prices up further. Who’d have thought a few months ago we’d be paying £1.40 a litre for unleaded before the summer was out? Well it’s only going to get worse.

Of course, the Government can tinker around with the rate at which at which petrol is taxed – and it can even subsidise the oil giants by paying them to produce more cheap fuel. But I believe that is short-sighted: as supplies dwindle it can only get more expensive to do this, and before long we’ll be facing the same problems as we are today but with higher tax bills and a little less in the treasury to help tackle it – and with the small matter of the increased greenhouse gas emissions that come with burning fossil fuels rather than seeking alternatives too.

Surely it’s better for us to start making the shift to a greener, cheaper, fairer, society now – and implement measures to make life a little more affordable, even if that means having to pay a little more for petrol on the forecourt?

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Crocodile tears over Poohaven

The news that East Sussex County Council's planning committee has given the go-ahead for Southern water's 'Poohaven' sewage treatment works on the South Downs at Peacehaven is a disaster not just for local people, who will have to endure the smell and congestion associated with the plant, but for the principle of local solutions for local problems. The reality is that it will handle waste from much of Brighton and Hove and the surrounding area, and it would have been better for everyone if Southern Water had proposed several smaller solutions, planned according to the principle that no community should have to endure the waste of another.

But it's no big surprise - and it's not entirely Southern Water's fault either. The firm was effectively 'given the nod' by both the Labour Government and Tory-run East Sussex. For the the Labour and Tory general election candidates to shed crocodile tears about this decision on the pages of The Argus is yet more evidence that neither party is capable of the joined-up thinking that enables them to both make decisions and represent local communities.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Celebrating children's right to play - as long as they're wrapped in cotton wool

Today is Playday 2008, an annual celebration of children's right to play, and it will be marked locally with a programme of play events free for all children at Hove Park from 10am (courtesy of the council) - one of thousands of locally organised events for children, young people and communities taking place across the UK this summer. Similar events, boasting games, art, fun and even music and drama performances, are happening at Queen's Park every Friday until August 22nd, also from 10am.

Organised events like these are great: lots of fun for kids and a breath of summer holiday fresh air for parents too. I'll certainly be taking my little boy, and taking my hat off to the council for organising the sessions (though I wonder why they have missed out swathes of children and families in Moulsecoomb and Whitehawk from their provision...)

But far more shocking than the fact that Brighton and Hove Tories don't like providing services in the more deprived areas of the city (hardly news) is a major new study by Play England, released to coincide with Playday, which found that children's development is suffering from their being denied the chance to play outdoors and without adult supervision.

The study found that half of all children have been stopped from climbing trees, 21 per cent have been banned from playing conkers and 17 per cent have been told they cannot take part in games of tag or chase. Some parents are going to such extreme lengths to protect their children from danger that they have even said no to hide-and-seek.

Of course, there are all sorts of dangers out there now which make it difficult for parents to give their children the freedom they need, but we have to get these into perspective, for our kids' sake.

Yes, some children are abused - physically or psychologically, and sometimes even sexually. Of course this is inexcusable, and we should never increase the risks of our children falling victim. But the tragic truth is that these terrible crimes are usually carried out by a child's parents themselves, or a church leader or someone else known to the child. Most children who are abducted are taken by a parent or relative. In reality, stranger danger is overstated.

When it comes to the safety of the games children play if left alone, again, the figures show we've been getting a little wrong. Last year, almost three times as many children were admitted to hospital after falling out of bed as those who had fallen from a tree. Both of these figures were overshadowed by the numbers treated for obesity brought on by an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

But there is one area in which the risk faced by unsupervised children, especially in urban areas, has increased dramatically: the risk of being hit and injured or killed by a car.

I think we should be doing something about that, and not keeping our children indoors: campaigning for better road safety measures and slower speed limits and, when we're behind the wheel of a car, slowing down and paying more attention. Twenty is plenty, and I think Brighton and Hove should follow Portsmouth's example and reduce all urban speed limits to 20 MPH, with the exception of major routes into and out of the city. The bottom line is speed kills, and reducing speed will mean fewer children die on our roads.

Now that really would be a step forward in terms of delivering children the right to play.

Time to tackle 'institutional homophobia' at the Home Office

In the years since the McPherson report the Government and the police have come a long way in tackling the 'institutional racism' that used to lie at the heart of the way the Home Office dealt with race issues (shooting the odd Brazilian by accident notwithstanding).

But, alas, the same can't always be said for the way the state treats lesbian and gay people. It's no exaggeration to say that 'institutional homophobia' remains rife in the Whitehall corridors.

Gay and lesbian asylum seekers are still regularly deported back to countries where they face persecution, punishment, torture or even execution simply because of their sexuality. Iranians Pegah Emembakhsh and Mehdi Kazemi were just the latest high profile examples.

The sad truth is that the immigration staff making decisions about such asylum cases just don't really know what they are doing. They don't receive training in issues surrounding sexual orientation - and they often don't understasnd that fleeing a regime which persecutes on the basis of sexuality is an internationally recognised and legitimate justification for asylum, and such cases should be granted according to the UK's commitment as a signatory to the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention.

But now three activists from Brighton and Hove Green Party are trying to change things - and have called on the Prime Minister to change the way LGBT asylum seekers are treated, logging a petition with the Number 10 website.

The petition, which can be read in full - and signed - at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/lgbtasylum/ - calls for an urgent review of the services provided for all LGBT asylum seekers. In particular its authors think that the following are needed for fair treatment -

1. Compulsory training for all asylum staff on sexual-orientation and trans-awareness.

2. Explicit instructions to all immigration and asylum staff, and asylum judges, that homophobic and transphobic persecution are legitimate grounds for granting asylum.

3. Clearer and up-to-date guidance from the Home Office for asylum judges to reflect the accurate scale of LGBT persecution throughout the world using expert information from NGOs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

4. Legal-aid funding for asylum claims needs to be substantially increased.

It really is time the Government started treating LGBT asylum seekers with the fairness that they deserve. These are people who’ve often fled persecution, rape and torture who flee to our country and our response is to lock them up like criminals. They say enough is enough of this inhumane policy - we need to stick our necks out now and stand up for LGBT asylum seekers.

And I agree. If you do too, please take a minute to sign up.

Monday, 4 August 2008

New Labour has 'lost mandate to govern' as charities warn thousands of winter deaths loom

As the energy crisis takes another bite out of household budgets this week, charities including Friends of the Earth and Help the Aged have warned that thousands of people are likely to die from the cold this coming winter. It's becoming increasingly clear that we need some joined up thinking on this - and quick - if we are to avert the twin disasters of fuel poverty here in Brighton, Kemp Town, Peacehaven, and the rest of the UK, and the most devastating impacts of climate change, which are already taking their toll on millions of the world's poorest.

But the Government wants to take us in entirely the opposite direction: diverting cash from efforts to tackle climate change into simply cutting bills in the short term. If telling the energy companies what to do is going to really help the poorest, wouldn't it be better to take a long term view, forcing them to spend their gargantuan profits on more lasting measures, like better insulation, home energy conservation, or even trying to increase renewable micro-generation possibilities?

But no - as usual the Government is proposing policies for next 100 days, not the next 100 years. It's no wonder that Friends of the Earth have issued perhaps their 'hardest' anti-Labour statement in recent years this weekend.

A spokesperson for the environmental charity told The Observer newspaper yesterday:

'This New Labour government has managed to construct a fuel poverty strategy which has both increased fuel poverty and carbon emissions, letting down millions of the most vulnerable in society and condemning thousands to die of the cold this winter. On this basis I believe they have lost the moral mandate to govern.'

Blimey. Perhaps that's something for Simon Burgess to think about next time he accepts an invitation for a chummy photo opportunity with Brighton Friends of the Earth - and vice-versa.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

A wonderful Pride - but it really needs to green up its act

Well it's the morning after the night before and all that... Pride 2008 was a wonderful celebration of all that's good about Brighton, and Kemp Town in particular. Gay and straight working together to prove that, here at least, it makes less sense than ever to talk about what makes the LGBTI and straight communities different, it's what makes them the same that matters most - our shared humanity, community-mindedness and freedom of spirit.

Of course there were leaflets from all sorts of weird and wonderful political and pressure groups, not least the Labour Party, talking up dissension and division, but the fascist BNP and homophobic Christian Voice seemed to stay away (or at least keep a very low profile) this year.

Proof, I think, that Pride 2008 was more about celebration of unity than diversity lay in the kind of organisations who had the biggest floats in the parade: the police, a church or two - even the Tory Party (!), all groups traditionally associated with institutional homophobia, all groups that seem to have grown up a little in terms of their attitudes to the LGBTI community (at least here in Brighton).

But although this year's Pride was a wonderful event, a celebration of so much that matters to us all, and a wonderful testament to all involved in organising - and participating - in the weekend's events, there's still room for improvement.

Though they were down on last year, there were still complaints from those living in and around St James's St and the Old Steine, about noise, litter and public urination. And you should have seen the state of the temporary camp site at Sheepcote Valley on Sunday!

Personally, I think Pride needs to 'Green Up' its act - employ some friendly 'green activisits' to point out the social and environmental dangers of hedgerow abuse (in the lavatorial sense!) and sort out waste collection and recycling. They can do it at Glastonbury, so why not Pride?

Failure to do so plays right into the hands of the homophobes who are just desperate for another stick to beat Pride (metaphorically) and LGBTI people (sometimes, alas, not) with.

Pic shows (l-r) some of the elected Greens on the Pride parade: Brighton Pavilion MP candidate Caroline Lucas MEP, yours truly, and fellow councillors Jason Kitcat, Paul Steedman, Vicky Wakefiled-Jerrett and Hove MP hopeful Ian Davey.

Friday, 11 July 2008

The Green Party: True Champion of the Labour Movement

With the Green Party Trade Union Group holding its first national conference in Brighton this weekend, it seems as though finally the Green Party has become the true home of the Labour movement.

The slowly souring relationship between the Labour Party and the Trade Unions (we'll see the latest chapter of this story play itself out next week when local government workers walk out on strike at the Government's latest poverty wage settlement for public sector workers) is reminiscent of that between a victim of domestic violence and her abusive partner: however much the Labour government abuses the unions their members struggle to walk away that final time.

But all this is beginning to change as unionists increasingly recognise that the Green Party's record of championing Trade Union priorities, from defending public services from privatisation through to promoting a Living Wage, demonstrates that they are the real party of social justice.

The fact is there is no contradiction between policies to save the planet and policies to protect workers' rights.

And the stark reality is that climate change is not just an environmental issue: it's a social issue, and it's the world's poorest that will pay the heaviest price.

Taking steps to cut carbon emissions could create thousands of new jobs. A recent study by the European Trade Union Commission found that job opportunities were likely to rise if governments cut emissions, and that moves towards a zero carbon economy can be ones that enhance employment.

A zero-carbon world is a labour-intensive world. Some jobs would certainly be lost in some of the more carbon intensive industries, but these would more than be made up for by new jobs in an economy based on repairing, recycling, and re-use.

Greens and Trade Unions are working ever-more closely together as we realise we share strong principles of social justice, wealth redistribution, public services and sustainability - and that we are prepared to argue for them and to be prepared to stand up for them, clearly and strongly.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

New Brighton branch of Anti Acadmies Alliance formed to defend state education at Falmer


GROUP TO PROTEST OUTSIDE COUNCIL OFFICES : 4pm, 10th July, Outside Hove Town Hall

A new Brighton and Hove branch of the Anti-Academies Alliance has been formed to oppose proposals to replace Falmer High School with a City Academy, following a public meeting called by the Green Party. Some fifty people attended, including teachers and parents of children at Falmer High School, members of relevant trade unions and staff from both Brighton and Sussex universities.

Speakers included Green Party Education Spokesperson Cllr Rachel Fryer, Linda Newman (outgoing president of the Universities and Colleges Union and a former pupil at Falmer High School), and Alistair Smith, the National Secretary of the
Anti Academies Alliance and a teacher and lecturer in education.

The meeting was chaired by Cllr Ben Duncan, prospective parliamentary candidate for Brighton Kemptown.

Cllr Duncan (Green Party, Queen's Park), said:

"I'm delighted that there was such enthusiasm from parents and teachers in Moulescoomb and the surrounding area to defend a local school from what is, at it's heart, an attack on community run education. Plans for an academy are a big gamble - with our children's future at stake."

The meeting saw animated debate about the proposals to close Falmer High and replace it with an academy, including much discussion of the downsides which were not heard at the recent council-held meeting at the high school.

These centred around:

* the future of children with special education needs
* children whose aptitudes or enthusiasm lay outside of the academies planned specialities of sport or entrepreneurship
* the role replacing the high school with an academy will play in education privatisation

The meeting heard that the proposed academy:

* would not have to follow the national curriculum
* would not have to meet existing staff's pay and conditions into the long term
* would not have to follow the councils admissions policy.

Concerns were also raised that recent government figures suggested that 20 per cent of maintained comprehensive schools were under performing while a third of academies were.

The meeting heard how the proposed sponsor, Rod Aldridge, stood to make financial gains from the proposal. Questioned were raised about his motives, and one speaker challenged him to give money to benefit the education system in Brighton and Hove without demanding control of a state school.

A planning meeting for the new group took place after the meeting and it expects to hold its first demonstration before the Council's next cabinet meeting, which takes place from 4pm on July 10th at Hove town hall.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

You've almot got to feel sorry for them, haven't you? (Well almost!)

So Labour have lost another scalp: Wendy Alexander, Scottish Labour Leader and close friend of the Browns, has resigned after being caught out, wait for it, breaking parliamentary rules on cash donations. You couldn't make it up. Coming just hours after Labour came fifth in Henley (behind the Greens) it really tells the story of a Labour Party with absolutley no hope of winning the next general election.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Vote Green to keep the Tories out in Kemptown

First Labour lost the formerly safe seat of Crewe and Nantwich to the Tories, now they have come fifth in Henley (Greens 1,321 votes, Labour 1,066), next Haltemprice and Howden (where Labour aren't even standing)... Every by-election we have sends out a resounding message to the country - Labour are in electoral freefall. I reckon this gives us one clear message for Brighton Kemptown: only a Green vote can keep the Tories out.

Falmer Academy: A gamble with our children's education

REPLACING Falmer High School with a new city academy will threaten the future of a school which had the second highest value added results in the city last year.

Brighton and Hove City Council and the Government want to pull the existing school down - and build a new academy on the site, at a cost of more than £25 million pounds. Outline planning permission for the scheme was granted last week.

But a new academy would be outside local authority control: the private sponsor, who admitted at a recent public meeting that he is yet to observe a lesson at the school, would have the power to appoint all members of the board who would appoint the new principal and in effect decide how the school is run in all aspects.

Worse, it would require all pupils to specialise in either sport or entrepreneurship, by building those areas into all lessons, regardless of a particular child's interests or abilities.

I am deeply concerned that replacing Falmer High School with an academy will mean a drop in educational standards and staff morale.

The school currently has a high retention rate of teachers who manage but under this proposal they could be required to retrain and, after a three-year 'settling in period', to accept poorer pay and conditions than their colleagues in other local schools.

Falmer School is one of the fastest-improving schools in the city - and this proposal threatens to undo all the good work of the existing management team: if it all goes wrong it will be pupils from Moulescoomb and Coldean who end up paying the price.

The council has begun a public consultation on the scheme, and is inviting parents and anyone else concerned with Falmer's future to let them know their views. A public meeting explaining the supposed benefits of the scheme has already taken place at the school - now a second meeting has been organised to hear about the potential downsides.

Parents can't make an informed choice until they've heard both sides of the story. The council doesn't seem to want to describe the potential downsides of an academy, so we've organised a meeting in Moulescoomb next Monday to do exactly that.

The Government is effectively trying to bribe the local community here. It has promised £26 million to rebuild Falmer, but only if the school is taken out of local authority control and handed to a sponsor who has made no secret of his support and financial backing for the Labour Party.

I think that stinks. If the government was committed to improving Falmer School, it would agree to spend the money in the way that parents and the local community think it should be run.

The meeting to discuss the scheme will be held at the Learning Development Centre, Hodshrove Lane, Moulescoomb, between 7.30 and 9pm next Monday, June 30th.

Speakers include former Falmer pupil Linda Newman (outgoing president of the University and College Lecturers Union), Alistair Smith, National Secretary of the Anti-Academies Alliance and Cllr Rachel Fryer, the Greens' education spokesperson. I'll be in the chair.

The Government is trying to bribe the community into replacing Falmer High School with a City Academy, even though Falmer is an improving school - and a number of academies are failing badly.

The bottom line is the proposed sponsor, Rod Aldridge, is a businessmen (one incidentally who has amassed an enormous fortune from schemes just like this, and donated a fair whack of it to the Labour Party) and not an educationalist.

I don't dispute that he knows a lot about making money from privatising schools but he is happy to admit he doesn't know much about running them - or ensuring the diverse needs of pupils are met. I hardly think that makes him the right person to be in control of the only secondary school serving the children of Moulescoomb and Coldean.

This is nothing less than a huge gamble with the future of our children's education at stake, and I hope concerned parents and teachers will come along to the public meeting next Monday to discuss these issues further - and find out what they can be doing to try to prevent the scheme going ahead.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The onslaught continues apace...

Well it hasn't taken long, has it? Almost directly opposite the unlawful Starbucks cafe on St James's Street, a clothes shop has begun clearing its stock out to make way for a new tenant: Tesco Express. The issues, of course, are quite different: while Starbucks needed (in theory at least) to get planning permission, as it sought to change the use of a building from a shop to a cafe, Tesco don't. As the site's already an 'A1 retail outlet' they can just open - and will. This is clearly a massive weakness in the system. It's been well-documented that a new Tesco store will take money that would otherwise be taken by local businesses, forcing some of them to the wall, and that any profits they do take will be whisked away from the local community, impoverishing us all (except Tesco's owners) a little. Local residents and traders are, unsurprisingly, staunchly opposed to Tesco moving in and futher chipping away at St James's Street unique character (as ward councillor I have already started receiving complaints about it - and its opening isn't even common knowledge yet!). but there's nothing the council - or anyone else (lawfully at least) can do about any of this. Of course Tesco has deep pockets, and can afford to run at a loss while it forces the competition to the wall - and therefore denies shoppers the effective choice to take their business elsewhere - so there's little chance that even a consumer boycott could work. But I feel a responsibility to try, and I certainly won't be shopping there.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Rubbish talk

With matters (literally) hotting up in Newhaven as Veolia has reportedly started work on its new waste incinerator without waiting for the technicality of planning permission, now seems a timely moment to talk some rubbish.

Speak to just about anyone (apart from, of course, the local government chief officers and waste company shareholders who benefit most from the deals) and they'll say the same thing: we don't need or want new incinerators burning rubbish, or more landfill sites, in the beautiful Sussex countryside. But with existing sites near capacity and exporting waste hardly a sustainable or just solution (in fact we face the opposite situation: the reality is that we in Sussex are committed to disposing of millions of tonnes of waste from London) the only way we can avoid new facilities is to throw away less rubbish in the first place, surely? Seems obvious, eh? But, on average, we are all throwing away more and more. Of course, much of what we dispose of is pretty pointless over-packaging and marketing guff, and there's lots industry and the Government can do to prevent us 'consuming' it in the first place, but a lot of it is entirely recycleable, or even perfectly good and reusable in its current form. Yet still we throw it away: few of us make the connection as our hands hover over our bins that unless we minimise our waste we'll have the incinerators and landfill sites whether we like it or not. And it'll only get worse under proposed changes to planning law which could mean such facilities are deemed of strategic importance and therefore beyond the remit of democratic planning committees or the views of local communities.

What we really need is for Government to show some political leadership on this (which is, of course, a problem being repeated up and down the country) and adopt a 'zero waste strategy', including, for example, making manufacturers meet the true costs (social and environmental as well as simply economic) of disposing of the products they produce, making it more difficult NOT to recycle than to do so by channelling some of the money raised from waste charges to the local authorities responsible.

This isn't pie in the sky thinking, it's already been implemented successfully, with astonishing results, in parts of Canada and Australia.

This is just a two-minute rant - and I'm certainly no waste expert. But the latest in Transition Brighton and Hove's series of public talks on energy and resources promises a much better informed and comprehensive discussion on the subject of waste.

Speakers include Biffa Waste Services Limited director Peter Jones and Professor Marie Harder from Brighton University's Waste, Energy and Resources Group.

The meeting takes place this Thursday, June 19th, at the Brighthelm Centre, North Road, Brighton. It's open to all, and tickets are £3 on the door. It should be both interesting and, at the same time, a rubbish discussion (sorry!)

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Circus Street Graffiti Update

Well those of you who read my previous post on the future of council housing in the Circus Street market area are probably pining for an update.

Circus Street is due to be redeveloped into new homes, office space and creative work spaces. However this may take a number of years. Since the market has closed the area has become a hotspot for graffiti tags and residents have said they don’t feel very safe in the area because it doesn’t look cared for.

The Tarner Community Safety Action Group together with the property developer Cathedral and City Clean have put some funding together to commission a well known graffiti artist to spray one continuous piece of graffiti art along the entire length of the shutters. The artist is responsible for the graffiti art in the North Laine area (see pix at previous post) which has become a popular tourist attraction and has prevented unsightly tagging.

Of course the bigger issue for many is whether or not the Kingswood and Milner blocks will be included in the development. Residents are effectively being forced to consider whether they want to transfer the ownership of their homes from Brighton and Hove City Council to a Housing Association, just months after they voted resoundingly against such a stock transfer. But despite formal and informal requests for council leader Mary Mears to make a statement about how and when the council will bring the flats' standards into the 21st Century, she is yet to do so to residents' satisfaction. How can residents be expected to decide where their interests best lie if the administration insists on keeping them in the dark about future plans for their homes? The frustration was palpable at last week's Annual General Meeting of the Tarner Area Partnership. We'll keep asking, and until the answers are forthcoming, argue that any decisions about the future of Kingswood and Milner should be, regrettably, put on hold.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Bomb makers and another dead cyclist

That UK factories are busy making components of bombs and other weapons that have been used in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and possibly Somalia to unlawfully kill and maim civilians, including children, should be an absolute scandal.

That cyclists and pedestrians so regularly die under the wheels of cars should too.

But that these two coincided when a 19-year-old girl was killed as she cycled from London to Brighton this week to attend the 'Carnival Against The Arms Trade' demo outside the Brighton base of EDO-MDM, an arms manufacturer responsible for bomb release mechanisms, should be a matter of national shame.

19-year-old Marie Vesco, a committed anti-war activist with the Whitechapel Food Not Bombs and the Brixton Reclaim Your Food groups, was demonstrating her commitment to tackling climate change by cycling from London for the protest, alongside 11 others, when she was pronounced dead a the scene of a car crash on the A23.

A close friend described her as “a very warm and generous person who was always laughing and always made people laugh."

To paraphrase one of the peace activists, the fact that she was killed on the roads, whilst cycling lawfully and safely, speaks volumes about the priorities of the British government. Whilst arms dealers are subsidised to the tune of billions of pounds, the relatively small amount of money that it would take to provide safe cycle lanes for bikes just isn't made available.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Free breakfasts for cyclists to mark Bike Week (June 16-20)

To celebrate national Bike Week 2008 and encourage cycling in Brighton & Hove the JourneyOn campaign is offering free breakfasts to cyclists. Just turn up with your bike to one of the venues mentioned below and claim your breakfast.

There will also be musical entertainment, a bike doctor service and lots of cycling freebies. A focus on improving facilities for cyclists is needed now, in the face of peaking petrol prices forcing people from their cars, more than ever.

Just a few days after another young cyclist lost their life in a crash on the A23, we need action on cycling now: new cycle lanes (contraflowing their way round one-way streets where appropriate) and enforcement of existing bike lanes would be good start. A free breakfast isn't quite the same, but I hope it will get a few more city workers on their bikes. A cynic might say we need a focus on cycling for 365 days a year, not just five, but we've got to start somewhere, I suppose...

To get your free breakfast, just head to:

Monday 16 June from 0730-1000am
at Baobab Cafe,
South of the Level, St Peter's Place

Thursday 19 June from 0730-1000am
at The Meeting Place Cafe,
near the Peace statue, Hove seafront

Saturday, 7 June 2008

World becomes more peaceful, no thanks to Labour's Britain tho...

The world became more peaceful this year, according to a survey out this week.

But Britain fell well behind most of its European neighbours in the rankings of the world's most peaceful countries, coming in at 49th place, with Ireland the sixth most peaceful country.

Iceland, Denmark and Norway, were in the top three positions, with war-torn Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan the bottom four, out of the survey of 140 nations in the Global Peace Index by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

But the world did get a bit more peaceful compared to last year, according to a measure of 24 different indicators.

The factors include internal ones, such as levels of crime, government corruption, prison population, spending on weapons and the threat of terrorism.

External factors include relations with neighbouring countries and military involvements abroad - a reason why the UK falls down the rankings compared to similar, democratic western nations.

Sixteen of the top 20 most peaceful nations are European, with Germany ranked 14th and France at 36th.

The US, with its high levels of violent crime and military "World Policeman" role is ranked 97th, behind China, 67th, but ahead of Russia in 131st place.

The index has won the backing of an influential and distinguished group of supporters including Nobel Laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Professor Joseph Stiglitz and Professor Muhammad Yunus as well as endorsers from the world of business including Sir Richard Branson and Sir Mark Moody Stuart.

Supporters of the index urge policymakers to focus more on education, wealth and well functioning government and emphasise the importance of business in building prosperity and peace.

On average, scores for level of organised conflict (internal) and violent crime, political instability and potential for terrorist acts have all got marginally better.

In contrast, the world's armed services have grown on average per country, as has the sophistication of its weaponry.

Steve Killelea, founder of the Global Peace Index, said: "The world appears to be a marginally more peaceful place this year. This is encouraging, but it takes small steps by individual countries for the world to make greater strides on the road to peace."

It looks to me like we need to be taking a few of those small steps here in the UK.

The full rankings can be found here.

Friday, 6 June 2008

New Neighbourhood Charter for Eastern Road - great, but hardly a substitute for cash...

It's not everyday I find myself in such illustrious company, but this week I joined Council leader Mary Mears and Brighton's top cop Paul Pearce in taking the pledge - singing up to the Government's latest wheeze, that is, the Eastern Road Neighbourhood Charter.

In a nutshell, the Neighbourhood Charter - one of 12 pilot schemes in the country - is a contract between the community and the providers of local public services to meet tough new minimum standards on rubbish collection, street light repairs, contact between the police and the public, that sort of thing.

So far, so good. The logic of the charter is sound: give our neighbourhood (and, eventually, of course, every neighbourhood) the opportunity to set its own priorities for action and the ability to hold the police, Brighton and Hove Council, and the health authorities to account to make sure they deliver them.

The Eastern Road area is one of the most deprived in the city. Though it is surrounded by pockets of affluence, regarded as some of the most desirable areas to live in the whole country, here we are blighted by a range of 21st Century urban afflictions – poor air quality, a high fear of crime – especially amongst the area's many older residents – no local community secondary school, problems with housing management, and a hospital with one of the highest levels of MRSA infections in the country, to name just a few.

Last year residents were asked exactly what they thought about living in the area in one of the most detailed neighbourhood attitudes surveys I've ever seen. The answers were clear – people were proud of their area, but wanted to see public services that enabled and empowered them to live greener, healthier and safer lives – and the results of that survey have formed the bedrock of this Charter.

But it makes no sense to me that residents are being promised great new service delivery standards while government funding for local services is tighter than ever, and falling.

The whole project is overshadowed by the reality that this charter has come on stream in a year when the Government has effectively slashed funding – for Sussex Police, for Brighton and Hove Council, and for local neighbourhood renewal.

And that its launch comes just a month after the council here was forced to abandon its open, democratic system of decision-by-committee by a central Government edict and in the face of cross-party and widespread public opposition.

There's not much we can do about Government cuts and the erosion of local democracy – but the Charter we are launching today gives us an opportunity to rebalance the relationship between public services and the community in which we live. I really hope it works, and knowing the people of this quite special neighbourhood, I don't doubt for a minute that it will.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

If war criminals arrive at Gatwick, surely it's Sussex Police's job to arrest them?

Will they never learn? War criminals are not wanted here. George Bush will visit Britain Between June 9 and 16. The last time he was here, in November 2003, it provoked one of the biggest mid-week demonstrations in British history, with up to 300,000 on London's streets. Since then his war of terror has led to the loss of over a million lives and spread from Iraq and Afghanistan to Pakistan, Somalia and Kenya, with ever intensifying threats suggesting Iran is next.

When Condoleezza Rice visited in March 2006, it turned into a public relations disaster, with large demonstrations in Liverpool, Blackburn and everywhere else she went. Only last week the fanatical warmonger John Bolton, formerly Bush's ambassador to the United Nations and vociferous advocate of an immediate attack on Iran, cancelled a planned visit to Bristol for fear of the anti-war demonstration that was
planned to meet him.

I hope Sussex Police will feel able to arrest him should Air Force One choose to land at Gatwick. There is plenty of evidence that he is a war criminal after all, and the police do have powers to arrest those who have committed crimes abroad. Of course I doubt the Government will let them - but after Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's insulting attitude at the Police Federation in Bournemouth today, I shouldn't think the police are feeling very well disposed to the Home Office's views at the moment...

On the other hand, maybe getting Sussex Police to arrest George Bush might just save things for Gordon Brown, and allow him to really lay the ghosts of Tony Blair and the label 'bottler Brown' to rest once and for all.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Government proposes biggest invasion of British privacy... ever!

I could hardly believe this at first, but it is The Times business section after all...

Apparently the Government is proposing the biggest invasion of British privacy ever: a single database of every phone call and email made, website visited and time spent online for everyone in the country - and all in the name of stamping out terrorism. Read the full story here.

Just imagine the amount of spam email and sales phone calls that will clog the system up before it even starts offering the government any genuine snooping opportunities.

This must be either a hoax - or a plan to create loads of work for IT and database companies in South East England (and therefore employment...). It surely can't have anything to do with terrorism, though?

If the Government is serious about reducing the risk of further terrorist attacks in the UK, perhaps it should start by ending its support for Israeli human rights atrocities, pull British troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan - and instead spend some political capital stamping out starvation, political oppression and the rise of Christian and Muslim fundamentalism instead?

St James's Street 1 - Starbucks 0 (half-time score)

RESIDENTS and local traders in St James's Street are celebrating victory after local planners decided to reject an application to open a Starbucks coffee shop on the road.

Brighton and Hove City Council's planning department has agreed with more than 500 objectors that a Starbucks store would damage the unique character of the street by replacing yet another shop with a café.

Local planning guidelines say there must be a predominance of traditional shops in the area.

This is fantastic news and a victory for local democracy.

Many of the local traders we have spoken to as local councillors feel very strongly that a Starbucks café would threaten the viability of their businesses, and ultimately the unique character of the whole street.

More than 1,200 people have joined an internet campaign to campaign against the chain opening a branch in St James's Street.

But the campaign is far from over.

If Starbucks decides to appeal a decision will be taken by Government inspectors who could overturn local planners.

And flaws in the planing system meant the firm has already done much of the work – and already caused significant disturbance to local residents.

The building works have caused a great deal of disruption in the last few weeks, obstructing St James's Street and even closing neighbouring roads for Southern water to increase water supplies to the building.

That someone can commence building works, and even theoretically open for business, before they have permission to do so makes a farce of the planing system and undermines the power of communities and local authorities.

Monday, 19 May 2008

On the Verge

I have just watched the excellent Schmovies' film 'On the Verge'. It tells the story, sensitively (if a little one-sidedly) of the four-year SmashEDO campaign to close down Brighton-based arms manufacturer EDO-MBM. Lovely bunch EDO - the bits and bobs they make in Brighton are essential components of war planes and bomb mechanisms that have been responsible for the death of civilians and destruction of social infrastructure in Iraq, Lebanon and Somalia.

Pretty much everyone involved in the sustained attempts to halt the campaign and allow EDO-MDM to get on with its lawful activities making weaponry and murder weapons came in for severe criticism and ridicule, in pretty much equal measures. The firm itself, some of its key personnel, the private security firm hired to hassle the protesters, and especially the law and the lawyers responsible for drafting and interpreting it. But strangely, the police got off quite lightly, I thought.

I say strangely, because after a clumsy-seeming attempt to prevent 'On the Verge' being shown at the Duke of Yorks independent cinema last month, Sussex Police attracted ire in the local, national and international media, generating a level of interest in the film Schmovies can hitherto only have dreamed of. The whole saga was told particularly well in The Guardian. I'm sure the police's actions must have boosted audiences for the film enormously: I certainly wouldn't have found out about it so quickly without all the coverage. And everyone, myself included, assumed all the fuss must have been because the film contained hard evidence of police wrongdoing: harassment of peaceful activists, perhaps, or collusion with EDO-MBM's own security goons. But no - they were made to look a bit silly, of course, but on the whole they were seen to have acted fairly within the confines of a ludicrous legal system that is designed to stifle peaceful protest against lawful activities, like making weapons used to kill children. It's not the police's fault the law's an ass! Anyway, having seen the film I can only conclude the real reason the police tried to suppress the Duke of Yorks' showing was to generate some media coverage, boost support for the campaign accordingly and therefore hasten EDO-MDM's closure - freeing officers up to do something more useful instead, like dealing with alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour.

But don't take my word for it, the film is now available as a download.


so watch it and make your own mind up (there are certainly worse ways to spend 90 minutes of your life!)

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

International Day Against Homophobia marked in Kemp Town

LGBT and human rights campaigners are holding a rally to mark 'IDAHOBIT' (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia) on the Kemp Town beach this Saturday, May 17th, next to the Volks' railway half-way station and 'Peter Pan's playground'.

There are still 77 countries across the world where homosexuality is a crime punishable by imprisonment or even execution - a direct affront to international human rights law, which guarantees everyone's right to life, privacy within the family and freedom from discrimination in the eyes of the law.

We shouldn't put up with this. Our government, and others in the so-called 'Liberal West', should make respect for international human rights law a central plank of an enlightened foreign policy.

The trouble is our own record isn't so squeaky clean. We can hardly demand everyone else respects international law fully when we are breaking the same rules in Iraq, Afghanistan - and even Berkshire, where the Government has given the go-ahead to building the next generation of nuclear weapons in clear breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

So not only do we not speak up about human rights abuses and homophobic discrimination elsewhere, we are actively complicit. Take the case of lesbian Pegah Emambakhsh. The Home Office wants to deport her to Iran, where she faces arrest and, possibly, being stoned to death, for her sexuality.

It's no surprise that conservative and neo-fascist regimes in Iran, China, Eastern Europe and even Berlusconi's Italy, continue to harass, abuse and discriminate against their citizens on the basis of their sexuality. That our Labour Government is up to its neck in it and refusing to campaign against it daily is much more shocking.

It really is time for a renewed international campaign on human rights. In the last century nations came together after the Second World War and developed a network of treaties, UN bodies and other international legal mechanisms to make sure its horrors were never repeated. Every new protection was hard won, and the system was far from perfect. Many nations (including those mentioned above who sill criminalise homosexuality) simply ignored the law.

But it was still considered a universal system, with broad support from around the world. The first decade of this century though has been marked by a weakening of the international legal system. Every breach - an invasion of a sovereign nations like Iraq or Somalia, for example, or a public statement of support for new nuclear technology - makes it that little bit easier for everyone else to ignore it too.

Green Party Euro-MP Caroline Lucas (who pollsters have predicted will win the Brighton Pavilion MP contest at the next general election) will be speaking at the rally (alongside Michelle Bridgeman of the Gender Trust and Melvin Hartley of Broken Rainbow). She will be using her speech to call for genuinely ethical foreign and asylum policies in the UK, and just such a renewed campaign for international human rights. I think she's spot on.

As well as the speeches, the IDAHOBIT rally will feature music from the City of Brighton Gay Men’s Chorus and the Rainbow Chorus, and a visually spectacular display of 77 stunning sky lanterns, one for every nation in which homosexuality remains a criminal offence.

It really fills me with pride to live in a community that cares enough about discrimination and human rights to even host such an event. I hope there'll be a good turnout.

Monday, 12 May 2008

What a waste! Britons throw away £10bn in food every year...

I have just read an incredible piece in last Thursday's Independent, reporting that we in Britain throw away as much as £10 billion worth a year of food -that's £610 for an average family with children. This is staggering, and would be at any time. That these figures have come out while thousands starve in Burma as its government carries on exporting rice to the west, some of it perhaps destined to eventually end up in a Sussex landfill site, really sends a chill down my spine. Read the full story here.

Natural disasters: in the south they die, in the north they don't.

With all eyes on Burma, now is perhaps the perfect moment to reflect on the injustice of a world in which natural disasters cause widespread death, disease and homelessness in the developing world but not to anything like the same extent in the richer north. Last year 149 natural and man-made disasters hit Asia, causing 13,748 dead or missing. By contrast, 82 freak weather events in Europe and North America killed only abut a sixth as many.

The figures are from The Economist. To me they are absolute evidence of the links between international economics and climate change - and that our moral duty to prevent its worst impacts should be seen as protecting the most basic Universal Human Rights (to life, housing and health) of some of the world's poorest.

At last, some good sense over house price rises

Well, I can't help myself this morning: I have to say 'well done BBC News' for bringing us the news that more people would like to see house prices fall than rise. According to pollsters ICM only 22 per cent of people want to see house prices rise further, the remainder want them to stabilise or fall.

In the months since the media began to use the 'credit crunch' phrase, coverage has focused on the impact rising prices and interest rates will have on car drivers and home-owners across Middle England.

The stories of the thousands of families for who rapidly-increasing fuel, food and housing costs are forcing them to choose between them as they are pushed into real poverty, are less often told.

The 'crisis' has been described as one of lower-profits for second home owners, falling share portfolio values and the rising cost of foreign holidays as the value of the pound plummets. Where its impacts on the poor have been mentioned, it's in the developing world and, as usual, tells an all too familiar story of starvation and riots in the face of food shortages.

But we're hardly hearing about the quiet majority, those who are barely able to keep themselves warm in winter (a plight soon forgotten by the media when the sun comes out), or those who are having to scour supermarkets for bargains just to make sure there is food on the tables.

Why? It's not because the media don't consider them important (they need to sell newspapers and advertising space, after all). Maybe it's actually because reporting the reality that a boom and bust economy is so much worse, for so many people, than an alternative based on economic stability and social justice, is just too threatening to the handful of businesses and institutions that control so may of the public voices we hear.

We are repeatedly told that our interests are fundamentally the same as those of the corporations and the world's wealthiest few individuals: economic growth at all costs. But it's just illogical to suggest that we could break one of the most fundamental laws of physics and create something from nothing - let alone that we could keep on doing it forever.

Unless, of course, we cheat, and discount the value of all the natural resources buried beneath our feet, and pretend that the damage done by, say toxic pollution, wars over scarce water resources, and slavery, is impossible to measure in terms of financial cost. And the social impacts of permanent price inflation, too, of course. And so that's exactly what the economists and the governments and media they advise have done.

Which brings me back to house prices. Exactly the same economic logic lies beneath the media's obsession with rising house prices, property speculation programmes and the over-consumption of the goods and services they advertise.

A great swathe of people across the country (but by no means evenly spread out across the regions) have made more money from increased property prices over the last decade or so than they have from work, and paid more tax in stamp duty than income tax.

This is plainly a perversion of the reality that most people's lives are completely dominated by the work they do, and the time they spend doing it, and that income tax is the single most important tool for creating a fairer society by making the better-off pay their way in the treasury's armoury.

But as house prices rise, it becomes harder every day for those who don't currently own their own home to ever do so. The problem is especially severe in areas where house prices have risen fastest, like Brighton and Hove, and it means the gap between the haves and have-nots is yawning ever-wider. The benefits are mainly enjoyed by the banks and money-lenders, the biggest five of which made £40 billion profit in 2006, the last year before the 'crunch' started to take hold. Owning your home isn't like owning a second car - you just can't realistically sell it unless you buy another, and if prices have risen everywhere it's only by 'moving up' the property ladder that you can enjoy any of the boons of boom.

On the other hand, when prices fall, that is no longer possible, so demand drops and prices fall further, with the most expensive homes falling in value fastest. Those who have gambled most heavily, and financed their homes and social mobility on debt, fall first. Most of them end up living in a slightly smaller house - or having to actually work for a living rather than simply speculate and gamble, but the media is full of their stories.

But its those for who doubling mortgage payments mean repossession and homelessness (almost 40,000 families in the first quarter of this year, according to official figures), and those in social housing (whose landlords, mainly housing associations, as more council housing stocks are effectively privatised, are being denied access to credit just like everyone else) who are bearing the biggest brunt of the credit crunch.

Reporting that more people recognise their interests are best served by stable house prices than rising ones is real progress towards changing the way we think about the economy - and that of course is a fundamental first step to delivering real change.

Nationally, and internationally, we need to move away from the economic language and logic of the 20th Century, towards a true-cost economics, a way of making tax and spending decisions based on their true social and environmental costs. Locally, we need an urgent summit between social housing providers, politicians, homelessness charities and tenants' groups to work out how to keep a roof over everyone's head during the inevitable economic 'bust' we ae now witnessing. What about it Mary Mears?