Berry last blog

Since newstatesman.com relaunched on 30 November 2006 Sian Berry has been a regular contributor on h

Yes, I know I promised to file a blog on eco-towns a fortnight ago. However, I have to confess I was tempted into moonlighting it away to the Telegraph, who are running a series of stories on what they are calling ‘Gordon’s poll tax’. So, for an update on the impressive number of campaigns that have emerged to oppose the fifteen shortlisted eco-town sites, you’ll have to read my article here.

In other news, therefore, the Greens have scored a second decent result in a by-election with our best ever mid-term Westminster score of 7.4 per cent and second place in Haltemprice and Howden.

Congratulations to Shan Oakes, who blogged her determined campaign for this site, and who worked incredibly hard to win many new voters in a seat we haven’t contested for many years.

This comes just two weeks after an excellent third place for our candidate Mark Stephenson in Henley, on an election stage that carried a full slate of parties, and where we beat a Labour candidate for the first time in a parliamentary election.

Interesting developments also in the Census Alert campaign to prevent arms company Lockheed Martin running the 2011 Census. No, not the response from the government to our petition, which we received this week. Their three paragraph missive said nothing much, other than they were getting everyone to sign agreements to look after our personal data properly, which is not particularly reassuring.

However, the Treasury Select Committee have been taking up the cause, rightly supporting our concerns about how the US Patriot Act (which forces US companies and their subsidiaries to hand over any data they hold that is deemed of interest to their country’s intelligence agencies) would apply to any work done by Lockheed on our Census.

In a recent report, the committee put in a strongly worded request for more work to be done, saying: “We remain concerned that the personal information gathered through the 2011 Census could be subject to the United States Patriot Act and therefore we ask the government to take clear legal advice and advice from the US State Department and to publish it in response to this Report.”

We’re now looking forward to reading this advice. If the legal position continues to be a grey area then, faced with the choice between breaking UK privacy laws and the Patriot Act, which government would Lockheed choose to ignore? The point of our campaign remains that it would be better to ensure the Census data is not allowed anywhere near Lockheed Martin by removing them from the procurement process altogether.

And finally, goodbye, as this will be my last blog for this site. From this week I will be going, if not undercover, then at least behind the scenes to work full-time in the Green Party press office. We have an extraordinarily important two years ahead of us, with European elections in 2009 followed (or possibly preceded) by a general election in which we have our best chance ever of making a breakthrough into Parliament.

With no elections I can personally fight until 2010 at the earliest, I have decided the best way I can serve my party is to help promote the excellent work of Greens around the country, and to help Caroline Lucas MEP make history by winning in Brighton Pavilion, where we already have a majority in local election votes.

Westminster elections are, of course, a world away from local polls, so winning there will be a tough and exciting challenge, but also a huge opportunity to make a real difference to UK politics which I am looking forward to with great relish.

I will miss the opportunity to blog here though. Not the angry and libelous comments I get in response, naturally, but it has been a privilege to be able to highlight the work of a wide range of campaigns and causes on this site. Over the past 22 months, lots of green issues have obviously had an airing, from the campaign to stop Heathrow expansion to the exploitation of Mongolia’s natural resources and the failings of the Tory Quality of Life review.

But I’ve also been able to bring up much wider issues, including local high streets, fair pay campaigns and free and open source software. I hope the New Statesman will continue to give all these issues prominence and trust it will find someone to replace me who has even more to talk about.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.