Greens on Autumn statement: “The best way to solve our housing crisis is to let our Council build.”

It is bizarre at best – and cruel at worst – that councils can borrow to build a swimming pool or a hotel, but not for desperately-needed homes, writes Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty on the upcoming Autumn budget 

November 22nd is the Autumn Statement. It is vital that the Government takes this opportunity to deal urgently with the housing crisis as it is hitting Brighton and Hove.

And we need strong action. Since 2010, the number of people under the age of 45 who can afford their home has fallen one fifth. More is being spent today throughout England and Wales on repairs of homes than on building new homes. Escalating rents have meant that the biggest cause of homelessness is evictions in the private rented sector. Just last week we were reminded through Shelter’s report, ‘Far From Alone,’ that 1 in 69 people in Brighton and Hove are homeless. Our city is ranked 20th of UK cities for homelessness, surpassing many London councils.

So called ‘affordable’ housing is too often anything but. National planning laws embrace so-called “developer viability” and cause huge concerns to us. Developers hide behind ‘viability assessments’ to protect their profit margins and have meant that in just 11 councils they contributed to 79% fewer affordable homes. Yet the truth is that ways to fix the housing crisis are being ignored. The Government continues to block Councils from borrowing to build more genuinely affordable housing. Homes lost under the failed ‘Right to Buy’ scheme are not replaced like for like. There are very few ways we can force developers to publish their profits when they claim they can’t build more affordable housing.

Green Councillors have been lobbying through the body that represents councils- the Local Government Association- to try and fix the broken housing market. That work has been ongoing all the time I have been elected but has intensified since the government launched its Housing White Paper in the spring. Locally we have been busy too: fighting successfully for lower rents on Council homes, putting more money in the pot to re-buy housing we lost, and to create additional night shelters for rough sleepers.

Local Green Councillors are encouraging others to pledge to ‘do all they can to end homelessness.’ Picture from Brighton and Hove Housing Coalition

The best way to solve the housing crisis is to let our Council build. It is bizarre at best – and cruel at worst – that councils can borrow to build a swimming pool or a hotel, but not for desperately-needed homes. Especially at a time when interest rates for council borrowing have been so low, we need to be able to invest in a new generation of council homes fit for the 21st century.

Greens say that the Government must take the opportunity presented in the Autumn Statement to let councils keep 100% of the receipts of homes sold under the failed ‘Right to buy.’ Councils must once again be able to provide homes to those on low incomes.

The housing crisis is an urgent priority but any new homes must be affordable, in the right places, and have adequate infrastructure and services. The Budget must deliver powers and fiscal incentives for councils to build our local economy. Last year more than 475,000 new homes in England and Wales had planning permission but are yet to be built and that means we also need powers at a local level to make sure developers build out the housing schemes they have planning consent for.

We will be following the details as they are announced on Wednesday. Two years ago, after criticising the Green Councillors for presenting a letter to Government ministers demanding a better deal for our council as an “empty gesture”, it has been interesting to watch Labour leader of the Council Warren Morgan now sending a letter to…Government ministers. The new funding he speaks of is of course desperately needed, as indeed it was two years ago. But when it comes to the Conservative Government, we don’t have the ‘shared goals’ that he refers to – or any gratitude for their work so far. And instead of accepting corrosive changes to our NHS and seeking more funding for ‘Sustainable Transformation Plans,’ Greens want to oppose them. The Government must provide better support in their budget to local people and to our city – but, on the evidence so far, we won’t get it by asking them nicely.

Whilst we remain hopeful that the Government will act, we must be determined that if they don’t, we will continue to lobby for sufficient funding and powers that tackle the housing crisis and actually make a difference for local residents. If there are concessions around housing in the next budget, the success will lie with campaigners and those lobbying hard to get the Government to wake up and listen.

Phélim Mac Cafferty is the convenor of the Green Group of Councillors in Brighton and Hove and ward Councillor for Brunswick and Adelaide

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Events in our city need to pay back to our communities and respect our environment

Greens propose new sustainability criteria for city events, but Labour Councillors vote down proposals and idea to improve funding for parks and open spaces

Labour Councillors have rejected Green proposals for a fairer fee structure for events coming to the city that would have improved funding for our parks and open spaces.

Speaking at a meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council’s Tourism, Development and Culture Committee, Green Councillors Phélim MacCafferty and Tom Druitt said it was time that private events coming to the city contributed more to the community and to the environment. But Labour Councillors rejected the Green proposals for a fairer events policy, criticising them for being ‘too long’.

Green Councillors raised the examples of other Councils such as Haringey and Oxford, who levy an ‘Environmental Impact Charge’ to account for the impact large scale events have on the city including large amounts of non-recyclable waste and damage to parks and open spaces. Greens want to see this charge introduced in Brighton, with the funding ringfenced to support the many ‘Friends of’ associations who help to maintain the quality of open spaces.

Damage on Brunswick lawns

Repeated events can affect the quality of parks and open spaces – with little done to repair the damage

Councillor Mac Cafferty raised concerns that in some cases profit-making festivals on Hove Lawns could be charging double the cost of the fee paid to the Council to run just one stall, whilst measures to ensure the parks were returned to their original state are clearly not working.

Speaking after the meeting, Green Spokesperson for Tourism, Development & Culture Cllr Tom Druitt said,

“Residents have raised a number of concerns about some of the events held in the city, ranging from the direct impact in terms of noise, rubbish, and the closure of footpaths and cycle paths to the cumulative impact of the events on our parks and open spaces. Moreover, it is clear that different event organisers pay different amounts for very similar events.

“It is a crying shame that Labour voted against our proposals to address these issues, seemingly for no reason other than because they were Green proposals. In doing so they have thrown away the opportunity to create a fair and transparent fee structure for events that would have improved funding for our parks and open spaces.”

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty added:

“A much clearer charging schedule in B&H is needed, where we’re not curtailing community or arts events but also not being completely ripped off by events which are run solely for profit for someone else. Local Labour Councillors voted against our proposal for fairer events for Brighton & Hove that pay back to the community and respect our environment, for example by not leaving trails of plastic waste.

“In my own ward of Brunswick and Adelaide, whilst residents are very good about events, there is virtually no occasion where residents have had not their lives disrupted by events on Hove Lawns. Our open spaces are taken away from our communities, and the small amount that is charged by the City Council goes nowhere near mitigation of the impact they cause.”  

Shame on the dinosaurs on the East Sussex Pension Fund (ESPF) Board

divest now

The illogical practice of Councils investing in fossil fuel companies must stop now, writes Brighton and Hove Green Party Councillor Louisa Greenbaum

Divestment from fossil fuels is a powerful and important step towards halting climate change and yet in the two years since the Paris Accord, the percentage of funds invested by Local Authorities in fossil fuels has not significantly changed, in contrast with the good progress made in other areas of public life such as universities, faith organisations and cities.

Brighton and Hove is sadly no exception to this trend. The Green Group of Councillors put forward a motion in 2015 calling on the East Sussex Pension Fund (ESPF) to divest, but frustratingly and astonishingly this received no support from our Labour or Conservative colleagues at the time. Fast forward two years, and the Labour group put forward the same motion, which this time passed, but the ESPF, although they paid lip service to considering the climate impact of its investments by commissioning a two-page report, have done precisely nothing.

Why? Well, where there are fossils there are dinosaurs, and there is a certainly a whiff of the stone-age about the six representatives who make up the ESPF Pensions Board.

So, for the sake of the dinosaurs, let’s go over again why divestment is a no-brainer.

Perhaps they need reminding of the impacts of climate change:

  • Higher temperatures have already led to an increase in heat-related deaths and illnessrising seas, increased storm intensity
  • One-fourth of the Earth’s species could be headed for extinction by 2050 due to changing habitats and competition for resources.
  • Sea level rise from climate change could displace tens of millions of people.
  • Climate change is making floods, fires and droughts more frequent and severe.
  • In 2003 extreme heat waves caused more than 20,000 deaths in Europe and more than 1,500 deaths in India. In addition to heat-related illness, climate change will increase the spread of infectious diseases, mainly because warmer temperatures allow disease-carrying insects, animals and microbes to survive in areas where they were once thwarted by cooler weather.
  • Climate change is affecting businesses and economies at home and around the world. If action is not taken to curb global carbon emissions, climate change could cost between 5 and 20 percent of the annual global gross domestic product, according to Nicholas Stern’s government review.

People from all levels and areas of society, from the top to the bottom, are realising that this can’t be allowed to continue. As Pope John Paul said, “Any harm done to the environment is harm done to humanity.” “Human beings,” he said, are “not authorized to abuse the planet, much less to destroy it.” So, what can be done?

One of the fastest moving areas in which climate change is being challenged is the Divest-Invest movement, which now represents a staggering $2.6 trillion shift in investment behaviour all over the world.

When the Rockefeller fund announced a few years ago that it was divesting the 7% of its fund connected fossil fuels, the movement went mainstream.  What these groups have all understood is that moving away from fossil fuels not only makes environmental sense, but also financial and ethical sense.

Environmental

The environmental case is the best rehearsed of the arguments in favour of the divestment from fossil fuels. 80% of the world’s fossil fuel reserves MUST remain unburned if we are to contain the rise in global temperature to 2%. We don’t have a hope in hell of achieving this if we don’t slam on the brakes. We simply don’t have time to change down through the gears and come gently to a stop over the course of a decade. The damage will be done, and we will be on an irreversible path with disastrous and fatal consequences.

We are actively contributing to global warming by investing in fossil fuels and it needs to stop now.

Economic

But this isn’t just a green issue – it’s also a financial one. The 80% of ‘unburnable’ fossil fuel reserves run a high risk of becoming a ‘stranded’ or worthless asset and a poor investment.

While climate legislation that limits fossil fuel extraction is a considerable driver for stranding these assets (which is why the fossil fuel industry is lobbying so hard against climate legislation), there are economic and physical as well as regulatory factors.

These include the falling price of oil against the increasing cost of extraction through more extreme environments or extraction techniques and the rise and rise of renewable energy.

Either fossil fuels stay in the ground and banks and commercial organisations lose billions writing off these “stranded assets,” or irreversible climate change will threaten human life as we know it. It’s that simple.

In the words of the Rockefeller heirs: “We are quite convinced that if he (John D Rockefeller) were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy.”

It’s what Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, called ‘the Tragedy of the Horizon’ in his speech to Lloyds of London. His speech examined the impact that climate change would have on financial stability and I quote, “We don’t need an army of actuaries to tell us that the catastrophic impacts of climate change will be felt beyond the traditional horizons of most actors – imposing a cost on future generations that the current generation has no direct incentive to fix.”

Surely, with this huge weight of knowledge behind us, it is the moral duty of anyone in public life, and in positions of authority, to show leadership on this issue of global and historic significance.

Shame on the dinosaurs.

Greens and local campaigners call for a ‘plastic free’ city

Greens urge Council to ‘go plastic free’ and encourage traders, residents and businesses to do the same in a bid to reduce damage plastic waste causes the environment and public health


The Green Group of Councillors and local campaigners [quoted below] are calling on the Council to take serious action on plastic waste in Brighton and Hove.

Ahead of a meeting of Full Council on 2nd November, the Green Group are urging the Council to take decisive action on single-use plastics (SUP) such as bottles, plastic cups and straws, that are used just once before being thrown away and are not widely recycled.

The Green Group are also hoping that all parties will support a call to work with residents, businesses and local traders to set up a ‘Plastic Free Network,’ that builds on the best practice of organisations in the city already phasing out the use of plastics, to support people in making the transition to more sustainable alternatives.

Over 56 venues in Brighton and Hove have signed up to the ‘Plastic Free Pledge’, a campaign to limit, or remove, many single-use plastics from their business, such as plastic straws.

Only 14 percent of plastic packaging is ever recycled or re-used and like many other Councils, Brighton and Hove only has the facilities to recycle plastic bottles. With recent studies showing that plastics are now present in samples of British tap water, and present in a third of all fish caught off the British coastline, the Greens have also raised the alarm about the role Brighton and Hove has to play in preventing plastics from entering the ocean.

Local campaigners Claire Potter and Jake Arney, co-founders of the Plastic Free Pledge, have commented on the issue. Jake said:

“Plastic straws were the first target of the Plastic Free Pledge, however we are already helping organisations to look at their single-use plastic waste in other areas. Whether it is plastic cutlery, takeaway containers or coffee cups, there are viable alternatives available. We don’t hate plastic, we hate the wasteful misuse of plastic and the damage it causes.”

Claire Potter added:

A recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation states that if we carry on in this throwaway nature, by 2050 there will be a greater weight of plastics in the ocean than fish. Plus we are yet to outlive a single piece of plastic – unless we have incinerated it, every piece of plastic we have ever created is still on Earth. We need to use and value plastic more highly – single use-plastic needs to be removed from our convenience lifestyles and replaced by for more sustainable alternatives, such as reusable containers instead.”

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty, who is proposing the motion for the Green Group of Councillors, commented:

“A plastic straw – used just once before being thrown away – can take up to 600 years to degrade. This and other single-use plastics in fact break down into smaller fragments, which studies now unequivocally show are strangling the life in our seas, entering our food chain and even our water supply, affecting our health too.

“The Green Councillors are calling on our city to lead by example on this scourge of plastic waste. We want to phase out the use of these unnecessary single-use plastics in all Council buildings, including in our purchasing and supply chain, and to champion alternatives. But plastics don’t just damage the environment; the waste costs us billions a year.  

“As a coastal city we all know about the beauty of our seas. But our seas are incredibly fragile so the time for action cannot come soon enough. We are also a city full of trailblazing organisations who we can learn from, and who already have advice on how they have reduced plastic usage and waste in their own business models.

“We are hoping all of the political parties are aware of the need to take decisive action on this issue and can come with us on what is perhaps the most important environmental issue of our time.”

Proposals to reduce single-use plastics will be heard by the meeting of Brighton and Hove full Council on November 2nd.

 

Notes…

Unnecessary (i.e. excluding medical items) Single-Use Plastics (SUP) used once before disposal e.g. bottles, cups and straws, are not widely recycled. Studies from Columbia University show SUPs can take up to 600 years to degrade, breaking into fragments that cause damage to the environment and permeate the food chain. Recent studies found that 72% of U.K tap water samples were contaminated with plastic fibres, and a third of all fish caught off the British coast contained plastic.

The Plastic Free Pledge encourages organisations and individuals to reduce SUP waste https://plasticfreepledge.com/ A petition calling on the Council to issue guidelines to local businesses on plastic reduction is here: http://bit.ly/2gtwqFC and a petition calling on Government to reduce and end SUPs here: http://bit.ly/2xSFLhs

Several businesses and organisations in Brighton and Hove have already implemented plastic free alternatives, such as Brighton Catering Supplies, Silo, HisBe supermarket and The Tempest Inn.

Are plans for recycling in Brighton and Hove simply going up in smoke?

Leo Littman, Preston Park Ward Councillor

News that cardboard meant for recycling may have instead been sent to the incinerator by the company in charge, Veolia, is scandalous if true.  Residents in this city pay the Council a considerable amount every month to have their refuse collected, and many residents spend time sorting their rubbish to ensure as much of it as possible is recycled. If they now learn that the people they rely on to process that recycling are simply burning it because they don’t have the staff needed to do the job properly, they are entitled to be furious.  Both Veolia and the Council need to be open about what is going on – the Council’s statement, which placidly accepts Veolia’s ‘assurances’, will put no-one’s mind at rest.

Local Labour are once again failing to get even the basics right.  The city is becoming dirty and run down and recycling rates are still in the doldrums. Let’s not forget: it was Labour who landed the city with this regressive 25-year waste PFI (Private Finance Initiative) deal in the first place, a deal which pays us not to recycle effectively, or even to reduce our waste. The Tories then extended the agony for another five years. Neither Party can be trusted on this issue. If the investigation finds a breach of contract has occurred, the Labour group must commit to serious review of the terms of the contract.
Residents deserve better.

Original article on the claims that cardboard recycling in Brighton and Hove is being incinerated available here: http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/15522573.Cardboard_collected_for_recycling_is_being_incinerated_claims_whistleblower/

Comment on school places in Brighton and Hove

Councillor Alex Phillips, Green spokesperson for Children, Young People and Skills Committee has commented on the state of school places for young people in Brighton and Hove:

“Whilst we recognise that catchment area plans are often difficult to resolve, families are continuing to pay the price for the Labour Council’s lack of leadership over plans for a new school in our city. The Labour group on Brighton and Hove City Council have tried to avoid responsibility for the current debacle but the fact is, since the previous Green administration handed over plans for a new school more than two years ago they will have been well aware of rising student numbers and the urgent need for more school places.

The Labour group have sat on their hands. Their inaction has resulted in an impossibly complicated situation that will surely create even more confusion for parents and upset for students. Essentially, families will suffer because the local Labour group dropped the ball that was handed to them so carefully.”

Greens call for transparency as Council announces fresh wave of youth service cuts

The Green group have condemned the Labour Council for continuing to make cuts to the city’s youth service despite a city-wide campaign to save it that saw the budget for the work largely restored in February.

Councillor Alex Phillips, spokesperson for Children, Young People and Skills has called for greater transparency as information about recent cuts to the service appeared as a small note on the internal council information network, ‘the Wave.’ [1] You can read the notice below.

Councillor Phillips has made a statement, commenting:

“At the last full council meeting in July I directly challenged the local Labour group about the current state of youth services and was told that the youth service information bus would be retained for a further year. Now we learn – from a notice quietly ushered out on an internal council network – that the entire dedicated detached youth work team is to be lost.

“The young people who campaigned to save the youth service repeatedly made clear that access to support where they lived made a huge difference. A few in-house services in the city centre mean little to young people unable to shore up the bus fare in and out of town. Detached youth work and services like the youth mobile information bus meant that help and support came to them, where they live, with advice and activities.

“After the Labour Council attempted to axe all council youth work last February, Greens launched a series of successful budget proposals that together with amendments from the Conservatives saw the youth service funding almost entirely reinstated. The disgraceful reality is that despite this, key elements of youth work are still being axed behind the scenes. Getting rid of detached youth work flies in the face of everything we and these young people campaigned to protect.”

1] The information published on Brighton and Hove City Council intranet, ‘The Wave’:

Youth service changes

From 1 August our Youth Service is changing. 

We will no longer have an in-house detached team working from the youth bus. You will still see the bus from time to time but there will no longer be a dedicated team.

Over the years the city has been lucky enough to have a bus which has had a positive impact on thousands of young people since 2003. The team want to thank everyone for their support in helping with the delivery of the bus.

The council will still fund a Participation & Advocacy team and Youth Arts and Duke of Edinburgh programmes will continue to be delivered but now externally funded.

 

2] Question from Councillor Alex Phillips, to the Chair of Children, Young People and Skills Committee Councillor Daniel Chapman at the meeting of full council, 20th July, Hove Town Hall
Question from Councillor Phillips – Youth Services

“Could the Chair of the Children, Young People and Skills please clarify how the plans to move Brighton & Hove City Council youth service staff into the Integrated Team for Parents and Families is in the spirit of the amendments made at budget council which aims to protect not only our youth service i.e children and families work but also the provision of detached youth workers?”

Response from Councillor Chapman, Chair of Children, Young People and Skills Committee

“As you know we are going through a restructure of the in-house services to provide services in the greatest area of need and to continue to work in partnership with voluntary sector and I’m happy to discuss with Councillor Phillips as well on another occasion in more depth about what’s going on with the youth service.”

Supplementary Question

“I’ll take that to mean they’ll be no more Brighton & Hove City Council youth service that technically the council will stop prioritising open access in house youth service and I think it is awful that that may well stop.

“The youth service bus came up as a much-loved resource through the consultation. Can the Chair of the Children, Young People and Skills Committee please confirm that this bus, which amongst other things provides sexual health and education outreach to young people, will remain as is?”

Response

“The bus will be retained for a further year and resources will be available for the wider youth teams and the voluntary sector.”