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Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Clacton By-Election : Reasons to Vote Green

Chris Southall (see above) has been nominated as the Green Party candidate in the up and coming Clacton by-election, following current MP Douglas Carswell's move to UKIP from the Conservatives. While the media narrative may focus on the UKIP vs Conservative Party battle, there are many reasons why voting Green is the best option. The Green Party, both nationally and locally, have policies which are broad based and aimed at a wide range of the electorate.
Many people in the wider area of the Clacton constituency have genuine concerns about over-development and urban sprawl. They don't want housing estates dumped in inappropriate places or their countryside to be concreted over and buried under unwanted developments imposed on them from on high. Only the Green Party has concern for the environment and our countryside running through its entire political DNA. We support the provision of more affordable housing but on brownfield sites and in places where they are wanted. We believe in localism and right of local people to determine what is best for their own communities rather than having to be passive bystanders as their countryside is swallowed up. If you live in a rural area or village, voting Green is the safest option if you want to preserve the countryside for future generations.
However we are much more than a single issue party. The Green Party is well aware that many voters in Clacton face diminishing real incomes, low wages and economic insecurity. We understand that many people are attracted to UKIP because they believe that their legitimate concerns about jobs and wages are being ignored by the other parties. People are right to be concerned as the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour are indeed led by people from similar backgrounds with very similar political attitudes and who, as Mr Carswell has described the Conservative leadership, "are not on our side". Conservative columnist Matthew Parris, writing in the Times, summed up this attitude towards Clacton residents with his comment:

"Clacton is going nowhere, its voters are going nowhere, its rather sad and there's nothing more to say. This is Britain on crutches, this is tracksuit and trainers Britain, tattoo parlour Britain, all our yesterdays Britain. I an arguing - if I an honest- that we should be careless of their opinions."

However voting UKIP is not the answer because their only solution is to leave the EU and reduce immigration rather than to address the genuine root causes of low wages and job insecurity. The Green Party however has policies in place that will genuinely challenge the political establishment on poverty, rather than just scapegoating Brussels and immigrants. These Green Party policies include:

1) Raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour by 2020.

2) A guaranteed Citizens Income for all, in order to reduce crime and push wages up, thus removing the 'poverty trap'.

3) A cap on rents to ensure that housing is affordable.

4) The abolition of zero hours contracts.

4) A job creation programme in the Green Economy , particularly renewable energy.

Green Party policies offer a genuine alternative to low wages and job insecurity. By voting Green you will be joining the real people's army, one that will tackle the root causes of economic decline while at the same time defending our countryside and our natural heritage. At the same time you will be voting for a party that is open to people of all ethnic backgrounds and believes that people are people and of equal value.






From the past... The Green Party Election Broadcast 1997


Saturday, 13 September 2014

Poll on Local Priorities

As a Green Party candidate, I am keen to find out what people feel are the the main issues that we should be prioritising locally in the Colchester area. Please take some time to fill in the poll on the left. You can tick multiple answers.

Support the Coggeshall Community Action Group



The Coggeshall Community Action Group are staging a protest walk on Sunday 14 (tomorrow) in opposition to a planned housing development by Honywood School and Marks Hall Estate.The group will meet at the Coggeshall clock tower in Stoneham Street at 11.30am on Sunday 14th September to walk through Coggeshall and on to Marks Hall.

The proposed £30million school could span the A120 joined by an access bridge and plans could see the current school site developed into houses. The new school would be built on a green field site which is unnecessary as the school already has a site and could be refurbished and rebuilt in stages. This is clearly a surreptitious attempt to get away with a large development on green field countryside by using the 'flipping' tactic ie swapping the housing estate with the school in order to depict those opposing it as opposing a school rather than urban housing sprawl. Also it is part of a dangerous trend whereby infrastructure improvements are funded only by housing/industrial developments and communities bullied into accepting this or putting up with run down facilities.
The Action Group is also asking people to write to the Charity Commission. See below (from their website):

Please write to the Charity Commission asap if you want to stop the Honywood Project!! The CAUSE group have written to the Charity Commission outlining our concerns and the Commission has written to tell us that Marks Hall must explain how the sale of the land is considered in the best interest of the charity otherwise they will not be allowed to sell the land. THE COMMISSION WILL TAKE INTO ACCOUNT ANY REPRESENTATIONS MADE BY THE PUBLIC OPPOSING THE PROPOSAL. 
We therefore need as many people as possible to write to: Tony Robinson, Charity Commission, PO Box 1227, Liverpool, L69 3UG saying, in your own words:
That you do not believe that it is not right for a charity which manages land left to the nation for the advancement of agriculture, arboriculture and forestry to sell agricultural land for 300 homes, an industrial park and a school.
That you do not believe it is in the best interest of the charity to give away five sixths of the proceeds of the sale of its land.
That you would like the charity to fully consider other options to secure the financial future of the Estate and that the Honywood Project is not the best way to go about it. (Please note that after several meetings with Marks Hall and three letters, CAUSE has still not been given any information on how the proceeds of the sale will actually be spent)
And anything else you feel about the behaviour of the charity. Time is ticking, please write!!!!!!! CAUSE - Campaign Against Urban Sprawl in Essex, is a partner group to CCAG

There is a link to the Action Group's website at the bottom of this blog. Please lend your support.



Friday, 12 September 2014

The Battle for Twyford Down: 20 Years On

Twyford Down is an area of chalk downland lying directly to the southeast of Winchester, Hampshire, England. It is situated near the South Downs National Park, next to St. Catherine's Hill. The down has been used as a settlement since pre-Roman times, and has hosted a fort and a chapel, as well as being a popular 17th and 18th century coaching route. When in 1991 the Department of Transport (DoT) announced the scheme to replace the A33 Winchester Bypass with the final section of the M3, there was widespread outrage. The road would destroy two Sites of Special Scientific Interest, two Scheduled Ancient Monuments and an area of outstanding natural beauty.
This was the most protected landscape in southern England, yet in just 2 years it was to change from a beautiful piece of historic land to a motorway.
The scheme was opposed for decades & became the subject of an official European Community environmental complaint. The European Community were ignored by the UK Government, and the complaint was later dropped amidst allegations of back room negotiations. The initial protest was led by the Twyford Down Association, local people who loved the Down, and adopted the conventional campaign tactics of lobbying, rallies, marches and legal appeals. They succeeded in getting the scheme reassessed and reassessed again, but the Government finally went ahead, despite numerous legal and political challenges.
National Friends Of the Earth intervened at the start of construction with non-violent direct action, but were forced to back off by the threat of massive legal costs. But while FoE camped on the threatened water meadows, a group of local young people were living on St. Catherine's Hill in the 'bender' dwellings which originated with the Gypsies, and which had become standard quarters in every protest site. These were the folk who were to become known as the Donga tribe.
Although the protests failed to stop the road being constructed, they succeeded in making the government of the day think twice about similar projects and, 20 years on, continue to serve as an inspiration to all those who value the countryside.


Some music: The Levellers "Battle of the Beanfield"


The Ongoing Rise of the Greens


Not since the 1989 local elections, when the Greens polled 15% of the vote, has it been a better or more exciting time to be a Green Party supporter. In the local elections this May the Green Party increased its vote across a range of Colchester wards, including my own New Town. Nationally, Green Party membership has increased by 28% this year alone and our youth wing is up by a colossal 70%. We are fast becoming the party of the youth of Britain. In a recent poll of voting intention by IpsosMORI we came in at 8%, level with the Lib Dems and a big increase from 2010 when only 1% voted Green.


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Firstsite, Skateboarders and Council Killjoys

Its time to stand up to the killjoys on Colchester Borough Council who are constantly trying to stop young people skateboarding and socialising in the area outside the gigantic folly that is Firstsite. It is ironic that a those who are running a building that was supposed to provide a fresh new attraction in the town should then proceed to support the council in shooing away the largest group of people who actually seem to be using the space ie teenage skateboarders. Whenever I've visited Firstsite, which hasn't been very often due to there being very little in it, there have always been far more people outside the building having fun than inside it sniffing at the one or two modern art sculptures or enjoying a cappuccino in the ridiculously high priced cafe.
Perhaps this actually is the problem that the council and Firstsite people have. Its more fun staying outside than going in the wretched thing. Firstsite is a collossal waste of money; a gigantic banana with sloping walls so no pictures can be hung and a decent auditorium which is used mainly to show obscure art films that only around two people ever want to watch. The tiny proportion of Colchester's population who frequent the place, a largely middle-aged and middle class elite arty circle, seem to think that the rest of the town should subsidise their leisure activities while freeing them from the awful prospect of having to encounter the Hoi Polloi as they approach the building , especially if said Hoi Polloi happen to be *shock, horror* young.
The fact is that there is a woeful lack of space in Colchester for young people to meet up and to enjoy skateboarding and other basic street entertainments and activities. The car culture has made the streets unsafe for kids to play in and teenagers to skateboard in.The Lib Dem/Conservative dominated borough council killjoys would rather spend a fortune on projects such as Firstsite, which hardly anybody uses, than spending far less on a basic skateboarding rink for young people to use. Seriously, mostly all you need for a skateboarding rink is an open space and some concrete. A fraction of the cost of Firstsite and it would be used by far more people.
If I'm ever elected as a Green Party Councillor I would lobby hard for the freeing up of more space in Colchester for leisure activities. Lets build a proper skateboarding rink outside Firstsite and turn the building itself into a leisure centre for young people with affordable facilities. Instead of a huge building where a tiny handful of people can discuss the existential meaning of life as revealed a couple of conceptual art pieces lets create a space that lots of people can enjoy.



Why the Green Party's Citizen's Income Would Benefit Us All


Given that it is almost impossible to pick up a copy of one of the tabloids without reading some or other article about 'scroungers', 'dole spongers' or 'benefits cheats', it might seem that the Green Party's promise of a guaranteed income for all is a hard policy to sell to the voters. However, despite the context of condemnation of the disadvantaged and the 'Benefits Street' poverty porn demonisation of the poor, its high time to shout as loud as we can about a policy that will actually bring positive advantages to everyone. Green Party policy states:

EC730 A Citizen's Income sufficient to cover an individual's basic needs will be introduced, which will replace tax-free allowances and most social security benefits (see EC711). A Citizen's Income is an unconditional, non-withdrawable income payable to each individual as a right of citizenship. It will not be subject to means testing and there will be no requirement to be either working or actively seeking work.

It may seem on the surface that offering a universal basic income to everyone, including those who do not seem to be making the effort to look for work, will just encourage people to put their feet up and live off the taxpayer. This is what the tabloids would shout from the rafters. However this superficial emotion-based argument completely misses the point about how to encourage people into work. It is not whether or not people have an income or not that counts it is whether work pays ie whether you earn more if you work than if you don't. It is the gap that matters. At the moment we have thousands of people stuck in what is termed the 'poverty trap', meaning that their various benefits give them a higher income than getting a job would. This is indeed untenable and needs to change. However the primary cause of it is not generous benefits but the fact that we live in an economy based on low pay ie a minimum wage that is not a living wage, zero hours contracts with no guaranteed income and the importation of the cheapest labour from the EU in order to keep wages down. As a result, the taxpayer has to fork out millions to top up the earnings of the low paid in order to subsidise their exploitative employers and private landlords who are making money out of this crazy situation. Meanwhile for many facing a choice between working for a non-living wage or living on benefits that are slightly higher, the latter is the obvious choice.

The Citizen's Income however would be a major step to solving this. For a start, in order to attract a workforce, wages would have to rise to a higher level than the income. The higher the Citizen's Income is then the higher the minimum wage would have to be, its as simple as that. Clearly it would have to be paid to EU migrants as well (and the tabloids would howl) or free movement of labour in the EU curtailed, however the result would be that wages for those in work on the lowest incomes would have to rise as a result of the guaranteed income. Without the ability to keep a pool of people in total poverty as a means of threatening the poor into accepting the lowest of wages, and without the ability to use people from Eastern Europe to work for next to nothing then wages in general would have to go up. And this benefits us all.

It benefits us all in less obvious ways. For a start it would reduce crime. The main reason why it benefits the middle classes to have a benefits system for the poor is that you are less likely to get your house burgled or your car stereo pinched. If people have no income then their choices are crime, charity/food banks or prostitution. Threatening to remove the benefits of those, 'not actively seeking work' always was a tabloid headline grabbing fallacy that is causing far more social problems than it solves. Who wouldn't rather burgle a house than starve? The Citizen's Income would guarantee everyone a basic income without any moralistic caveats or attempts to distinguish the 'deserving poor' from the 'feckless' and as such would mean that there is less need for not but food banks but also petty crime. I'm not suggesting that it would solve all petty crime, where people have already built up patterns of behaviour, but it would surely have some effect. Coupled with a serious attempt (backed up with serious government spending) to get people off hard drugs, I suspect it could have a major effect.

The Citizen's Income would benefit the taxpayer in the long run by reducing the need to subsidise the wages of the low paid with umpteen other benefits because their wages themselves have risen, especially when coupled with the Green Party policy of raising the minimum wage to a living wage. It would reduce the need for food banks and the constant fear of petty crime which exists in certain areas of our major cities. Above all, it would ensure that wages in general would have to increase and that brings benefits to far more people than those at the very bottom of the pile.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Overdevelopment in Colchester

It seems that Colchester is threatened with even more possible overdevelopment in the years ahead. Or to be precise the countryside around Colchester is being threatened. The latest possibility is that a 'garden city' could be built on the outskirts of town. 'Garden cities' are the coalition's equivalent of Gordon Brown's 'Eco Towns'. Such titles are examples of the kind of guff used by politicians when they wish to disguise massive housing developments as in some way being green or eco-friendly. In reality a massive housing estate is a massive housing estate. Another such disingenuous term is the acronym 'S.U.E' , which stands for 'Sustainable Urban Extension', which is.... you guessed it a massive housing estate, although with some infrastructure added on.
It seems that the possibility of a garden city has arisen because Colchester Borough Council has appealed for suggestions of sites across the borough that could be turned into housing or business land to feed into the council's Local Plan for development up to and beyond 2032. In the Call for Sites document, the council states:

"In particular, the councils- working together with Braintree and Tendering districts- would be willing to review proposals  for larger sites based on Garden Cities principles, designed to support infrastructure provision and sustainable growth". The council will accordingly work with adjacent authorities to evaluate proposals for land close to the borough boundaries that could potentially form part of a cross boundary development." 

Two terms in the above extract need clarification. Firstly councils and the government define 'sustainable' in an odd way ie not in terms of the long term survival of our countryside, wildlife and planet but simply as whether a bit of infrastructure, such as a school or new road is bunged onto the side of the massive housing estate. Secondly the term 'cross boundary development' resurrects the fear of a large-scale green field development on the border between Tendering and Colchester around Salary Brook, off the St John's estate.

Colchester has already seen massive development and expansion, much of it onto green field sites both in the town and on the outskirts over the last 20 years. The Turner Road area has been swamped with it and now there is the disaster which is the new Mile End development; thousands of houses built on green fields. It cannot in any way be sustainable to go on concreting over the countryside forever in order to use construction of buildings to foster a form of growth which disguises the woeful state of the rest of the UK economy. I've yet to hear any of the politicians who support this kind of development on green field sites, such as Conservative Housing Minister Nick Boles, say at what point such development should stop and whats left of the countryside protected ie  when is enough enough. Rather Mr Boles and his colleagues have simplified the planning rules from a document several thousand pages in length to one that is fifty pages in length, removing much environmental and wildlife protection, in order to encourage the destruction of our countryside. Now all large developments have to be judged via a 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' with 'sustainable' defined as, you guessed it, a bit of infrastructure bunged on the side.

The problem with planning and development in Colchester doesn't stop with the countryside either. While I, and the Green Party, fully support the building of homes on brownfield sites, the kind of homes being built in our town are too often inappropriate and more about developers' profits than quality. Massive ugly boxes with no gardens and no green areas are precisely the reason why so many people object to new developments being dumped on them. For example:



The ugly modern block of flats above was plonked on the end of Maldon Road against the wishes of many of the residents. It looms over the Victorian terraces around it and bears no similarity to neighboring buildings. Another example:


This is part of the new Brook Street development and is a typical of modern housing. Not a row of small affordable houses and bungalows with decent gardens but rather massive three-storey boxes built to maximise profits with tiny gardens and little green space for children to enjoy.

No wonder people object to such developments cropping up next to them.

As I see it there needs to be a complete turnaround from the current direction of travel that development in and around Colchester is taking and only the election of Green Party candidates can bring about that change. It is true that Colchester Lib Dem MP Bob Russell has a very good record as far as fighting inappropriate developments are concerned. However his party nationally, as well as the Conservatives, are responsible for the very planning reforms which are actually encouraging those developments. The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives who dominate Colchester Borough Council have a much poorer record on standing up against urban sprawl and countryside destruction. In addition, Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for north Essex, recently stated:

"Where housing development is to support funding for infrastructure we have got to be more open-minded. For example the A120 west of Colchester..."

In other words all a developer needs to do is promise to upgrade the roads nearby a bit or build a primary school and Mr Jenkin will support their massive urban spawl proposals.
As for the Labour Party, their stated aim nationally is to massively increase house building and I have yet to read or hear of any suggestion that environmental considerations permeate any of their thinking.

The simple fact is that only the Green Party has ecological concerns woven into its very political DNA. Colchester Green Party believes that housing developments should be on brownfield sites not over our countryside and wildlife habitats. If you are a Conservative or Lib Dem voter worried about potential green field developments next to you, then the only power you have over the coalition is to take their votes away. You can be sure that if elected to Colchester Borough Council I would fight the imposition of massive developments on green field sites tooth and nail, no ifs and no buts. Furthermore there will be no hypocrisy in terms of my position locally on issues and my position nationally. I think most people are fed up with the kind of politicians who oppose developments locally, or the closing of local hospitals, while happily trotting into the House of Commons and voting for the very national policies which facilitate such developments and closures. The only alternative is to vote Green.

Furthermore, The Green Party position on housing is to prioritise the building of affordable homes over the construction of massive expensive carbuncles. Brownfield sites in Colchester should not be wasted on massive houses, luxury 'apartments' or frivolous follys such as Firstsite. Colchester needs affordable homes, backed up with rent capping to ensure that all people get access to housing.



Natalie Bennett Announces Living Wage Policies at the Green Party Autumn Conference

The Green Party of England and Wales autumn conference is underway and our party leader Natalie Bennett has announced plans to create a 'living wage' by raising the minimum wage to £10 per hour by 2020. At the moment the minimum wage (as of next month) is £6.50 for those over 21, £5.13 for those aged 18-20 and £3.79 for those under 18. The problem is that with the cost of living rising due to increasing rents and utility bills, among other costs, the minimum wage is often not a 'living wage' which is defined as the amount needed to meet the basic cost of living in the UK ie food, clothing and shelter. Currently the living wage in the UK is calculated as £7.65 if you live outside London and £8.80 inside London.

How the policy would work is that the minimum wage would rise in stages by £1.15 to £7.65 an hour next year and then in further stages until reaching £10 in 2020. To help pay for this, those with more than £3million in assets will pay an annual levy of between 1% and 2%, amounting to £30,000 - £60,000 a year.

In addition to this, Natalie Bennett also promised to abolish zero-hours contracts in her speech to conference. She said:

"We’re also backing a complete ban zero-hours contracts. No employer should be able to hold their staff captive in a life of uncertainty and fear, subject to the whims and favouritism of managers, with no way of planning how to pay their bills. The zero-hours contract is the return of the Great Depression’s street corner queues for work – and we say NO!"

As for rent costs, she outlined plans for both rent capping and an end to short-term contracts:

"And we’ll ensure that private landlords are NOT allowed to continue to charge extortionate rents for rabbit hutches. Our smart rent cap, combined with long-term rental contracts, will keep rent rises down. And we’re demanding a living rent commission, to work out how to bring rents back in line with incomes."

Colchester Green Party's Local Manifesto : Where We Stand



1) Housing and Planning

We will seek to retain the town’s historic character, preserve greenbelt areas and end urban sprawl. Housing should be affordable and built on brownfield, not greenfield sites, with fewer huge developments. Retail developments should include nearby housing. We would cap rents and abolish the ‘bedroom tax’.

2) Health and Wellbeing

Centralised funding should be diverted to community health centres offering self-help solutions for preventing illness and promoting health. The health benefits of natural environments are well documented. We would thus ensure that all children and young people have access to outdoor play and learning.

3) Transport

The new bus station must be expanded. We oppose rail fare price hikes that disadvantage commuters. We support 20mph default speed limits and programmes to encourage car sharing, walking and cycling.

4) Community Safety

Our approach to crime reduction focuses on the social causes of crime. We oppose the proliferation of nightclubs in the St Botolph's area of town, and propose revoking the licences of any venues linked to incidents of violent crime.

5) Energy

All Council-owned facilities would be audited and given energy reduction targets. We would generate locally sourced, affordable renewable energy to tackle fuel poverty. Solar arrays in suitable locations can be combined with ‘green gas’ produced from food waste. We would make it easier for residents across town to obtain replacement green bins and garden waste bags.

6) Business

We favour socially responsible companies that respect the environment and pay a living wage to their employees.