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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

A Use for Jumbo: Have Your Say!

Colchester Green Party are keen to hear your views as to what should happen to Colchester's iconic Jumbo water tower, currently languishing in a semi-neglected state. You can vote in the poll on top right of leave a message with your suggestion. Possible options include:

1) A restaurant/cafĂ©, which could offer panoramic views of Colchester, based of the principle of the Fehnsehturm in Berlin.

2) Penthouse apartments, utilising the space for housing.

3) A Civil War Exhibition. Jumbo becoming the location of the new English Civil War/Siege of Colchester museum which the Green Party are proposing, along with Charles I memorial.

4) Shops. Offering retailers an exciting opportunity to attract customers to a unique shopping experience.

5) An Eco-Tower. Allowed to return to nature as a site for nesting birds.



Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Disgusting State of Ipswich Road

Several people have reported potholes on Ipswich Road to me. So this morning I took a look for myself and this is what I found. The fact that they have been circled by county council operatives could make it harder to claim on the insurance if your car is damaged by one. Suffice to say I will be reporting these on the county council's website. You can report potholes here: http://www.essexhighways.org/tell-us-pothole.aspx








Monday, 28 March 2016

Nature Notes 2: The Madness of the March Hare

In recent years I've enjoyed watching hares dancing and boxing in spring, in fields close to where I grew up in Leicestershire. The brown hare's spring behaviour can appear quite strange and has given rise to the expression 'as mad as a March hare'. In fact such 'madness' is simply part of their courting ritual.
Unlike rabbits, hares are not particularly sociable animals but they do show an intense, if sporadic, interest in each other during the mating season. This lasts from mid-February to mid-September however it is most noticeable at the start of the breeding season when all of the females tend to come into the breeding condition at about the same time. A male hare (a jack) will mate with as many females (does) as he can, following each doe around. Sometimes the boxing matches are between rival jacks fighting over the doe. They rise up on their hind legs, box and batter each other with their forepaws and turn in circles with their hind legs thumping the ground. Until recently it was thought that these displays were mostly between rival jacks however it is now known that it is usually the larger female fending off the advances of a too amorous male.
Having mated, the jack and doe go their separate ways, the jack to look for yet another doe.

Baby hares are called leverets. Each doe will give birth to several litters during the season, the first usually at the end of February/beginning of march. Litters consist of around 1-4 leverets which are born out in the open, usually in shallow depressions in long grass. Here they must lie absolutely still to avoid the attention of foxes and birds of prey.
Brown hare leverets.
Hares differ from rabbits due to the hare's longer, black-tipped ears, slimmer body and more muscular hind legs.
Hare

Rabbit
'Hareports'

In recent years some of the hares' most bizarre behaviour has been seen at airports. Several times in recent decades large numbers of hares have been reported at Heathrow, Gatwick and Belfast airports living on the grass along the runways. It seems odd that hares, which have very sensitive hearing, should live in such an ear-shattering environment, yet they seem to enjoy racing alongside the planes as they take off as if trying to outstrip them. However there is a sad side to this in that it is a symptom of the decline of viable habitats elsewhere.
Hares at Belfast Airport

Declining Hare Numbers

Unfortunately, like much of our wildlife, hare numbers are declining in the UK. Hares, unlike foxes for example, have not adapted to survive in urban areas, nor do they live in woodlands and most nature reserves are too small to support viable populations. During the 1800s there were around four million brown hares in Britain and this has declined by around 80%. The intensification of agriculture has been a major factor in this, since it has reduced the biodiversity and food supplies which hares need. For example 95% of hay meadows have been lost since World War Two. We simply cannot allow this to continue. You can read more about this issue on the Hare Preservation Trust website here:
http://www.hare-preservation-trust.co.uk/status.php


Further Reading

"Rabbits & Hares" Anne McBride Whittet Books London 1988


Greens Provide New Homes Above Shops

In several towns across the UK, including Worcester, the Green Party is leading the way to providing new homes without concreting over the countryside. Worcester Green Party has championed a scheme to get the space above shops into use for housing and they are getting cross-party support. Communities Minister Marcus Jones has voiced his support for the city's 'Living Above Shops' (LOTS) campaign, saying that it could inject more life into retail areas.
The LOTS campaign was launched by Louis Stephen, the chairperson of Worcester Green Party. The push to turn them into flats has also won the support of Worcester Conservative MP Robin Walker.
The council does not need to buy the space, it simply does deals with shop owners who receive part of the rent.

The Green Party is fully prepared to put aside party differences to get schemes like this up and running. Unfortunately in Colchester very little has been done to get the space above shops into use. The borough council created 9 "apartments" by selling off Angel Court and some more from the former Telephone House but that's about it. And "luxury apartments" are not the most pressing housing requirement.

The Brook Street Closure

One of the great myths about the Green Party is that we want to ban all cars. I'm still hearing it occasionally on the doorsteps. No we don't. We do however want to solve the congestion problems in Colchester, which is certainly not likely to happen while Rodney Bass and Essex County Council remain in charge of our roads.
I will admit that I enjoyed walking down the largely car-free Brook Street on Saturday and breathing in the fume-free air for once. Pollution has been a big problem down there for years due to traffic volume. However it is obvious that this closure is causing huge and unnecessary disruption to many.
The cost of closing Brook Street and replacing the mini-roundabout with traffic lights is £440,000. That is £440,000 of council tax payers' money. Imagine it flowing down a drain... I know that may be hard given how so many of our drains are blocked due to failure to maintain them. It won't make any difference at all to Colchester's traffic congestion, however the weeks of disruption ahead will at least allow Rodney Bass to appear to be doing something.

To solve congestion will be a long process and must involve schemes to introduce more cycling lanes and to encourage car sharing. We need to ensure that our roads aren't full of potholes so that the traffic can flow more easily.
Essex County Council currently has £70 million to spend on roads, yet Ipswich Road is full of potholes and Mr Bass is wasting chunks of the money on hare-brained schemes like this Brook St fiasco instead of putting more cycle lanes in.
Just getting a few drivers to car share or cycle would make a huge difference.

Just a 1% reduction in car use would lead to an 18% reduction in journey times.

AIR QUALITY

We need an air quality strategy in Colchester and that should start with forcing the 8 bus companies to use cleaner buses. Buses also need to become more reliable and to be staffed by friendly drivers if we are to entice more people onto them. Which is why we need national regulation of buses.
In the mean time, the Borough Council does have the power to use Section 106 money (the bonus it received for building all its new houses) to pay for the conversion of old polluting buses into cleaner ones. It should do so.

RODNEY BASS

It is wrong for the upkeep of our roads to be in the hands of people who don't live and work in Colchester. Therefore we must campaign for our roads to be controlled by the borough council rather than at county level. In the mean time, I suggest that Brook Street be renamed Rodney Street in Mr Bass'  honour. Gven that we are all well and truly up Rodney Street until control of our roads is returned to the borough.




Challenging Lib Dem Plans For Huge New Towns Near Colchester


You may have seen my recent letters in the Gazette regarding 'West Tey'. On 23rd February I attended a borough council scrutiny meeting at the town hall in which the Liberal Democrat councillor for Castle Ward Bill Frame, who is the councillor responsible for planning, outlined plans for a series of huge new towns on the outskirts of Colchester. These would be built on greenfield sites, open countryside, with two planned in the first instance and more to follow. Countryside around Marks Tey (the "West Tey" proposal), Langham and on the Essex-Tendring border near Essex University are all being mooted as possible sites. The leader of Colchester Borough Council Paul Smith (Lib Dem) has described the proposal as having, "great potential". In other words he is all for it. A petition against the West Tey proposal already has over 6000 signatures on it, however the council are doing all they can to kick this petition into the long grass and to avoid having to hold a full council debate over the issue.
Cllr Frame is using a clever piece of flim-flam in order to disguise the nature of the proposals. He is calling the new towns "garden settlements". At the scrutiny meeting several councillors clearly had no idea what a garden settlement was, which allowed Cllr Frame to wax lyrical about 19th century urban idealism, Cadbury homes at Bournville and all to use all manner of nice sounding eco-friendly terminology. However reality soon emerged. These are new towns with as much housing as possible and the average cost of each home will be £200,000 each. Cllr Frame explained how this housing would be affordable and you could almost hear the sound of jaws hitting the floor. Out of touch doesn't even begin to cover it.
This is a classic example of green sounding language being used to disguise urban sprawl and countryside loss. "Garden settlements" conjures up images of pretty cottages in the Cotswolds with thatched rooves and lush gardens brimming with roses. The reality will be new towns crammed with expensive and large modern houses. It is a similar disingenuous approach to the use of confusing acronyms such as SUE (Sustainable Urban Extension) to disguise developments and lend them a green veneer.

COUNTRYSIDE LOSS

Should the West Tey  plan go ahead, large amounts of countryside near Marks Tey and Braintree would be concreted over with 14,000 houses. Coggeshall would also be seriously affected and become just an offshoot of the main new town (see map below):

There would also be a large increase in traffic on the roads around Braintree, Marks Tey and Witham.
Rather than protecting the countryside, the plan simply involves moving the urban sprawl a few miles further out from Colchester and dumping it there.

 INFRASTRUCTURE PROMISES

Cllr Frame has suggested that the new towns will contain their own infrastructure, schools, shops and healthcare facilities so that pressure will not be increased on Colchester's already stretched services. Frankly if you believe this, you may as well believe in Santa Claus and leprechauns. Colchester has grown by 24,000 people and thousands of new houses since 2001, yet the rate of infrastructure investment has not kept up with this expansion. Our hospital is struggling to cope, our roads jammed up and our bus station remains a joke. If they can't secure the investment needed for Colchester, then why should we believe that they will do it for the new towns? Pressure will just be further increased on Colchester's services as the new residents drive to Colchester.
Developers tend to promise the earth in terms of infrastructure in order to secure planning permission. Afterwards they negotiate down their responsibilities in order to maximise profits. The basis of any negotiation process is to go in hard in the first instance so that the resulting compromises are in your favour. Unfortunately, given the lack of infrastructure to go with Colchester's huge recent growth, the current council seem to lack the energy to do this. Its almost as if their approach to developers and central government is to raise the white flag.


HOMES FOR THE NEXT GENERATION?

Cllr Frame has claimed that the new houses, 14,000 at "West Tey" alone, are to house the next generation.
Yet how on earth would young first-time buyers be able to afford £200,000 homes given the proliferation of increased student debt and zero-hours contracts which Cllr Frame's party pushed through when in government?  The reality is that this is an expansion programme and part of a growth, growth, growth agenda.
The new housing he has provided since 2001 has simply increased the Colchester population by 24,000. These were not primarily homes for the local young.

THE NEED FOR SOCIAL AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING

We do need to utilise brownfield sites to provide homes for local young people and families in need. We also need to make renting a viable alternative to buying as this is the only way to stabilise house prices. I explain how to do both here:
http://markgoachergreen.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/we-need-new-approach-to-housing-and.html


 



Friday, 25 March 2016

Natalie Bennett is Coming to Colchester: Monday April 11th.


 
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett will be in Colchester for the day, supporting the Green candidates standing in the council elections in May. She'll be using the Waiting Room as a base to go out and meet local residents, to campaign on the doorstep and explain how voting for Green policies will be good for us all.

Come and share a delicious and reasonably priced vegetarian meal with Natalie and members of the local party.Please email pamnelson@ntlworld.com to confirm booking if you'd like to join us for:

LIGHT LUNCH – 12-2pm
Vegetable soup and selection of spelt / wholemeal / rye rolls £4
Selection of cakes from £1.50-£2.50

Afternoon Tea for older people – 2-3pm

SUPPER – 5.30-7.30pm
Spring vegetable casse...role with herby dumplings £5
Rhubarb spice cake £2.50

The day finishes with a public meeting from 7.30- 9.30pm, all welcome. Both myself and Natalie will be speaking.

Catering by Good Souls Bakery. Vegetables from Bennison Farm.
 
NB: The Waiting Room is located next to Firstsite.

 

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Nature Notes 1: Frogs





















The frogs have been spawning in my pond and three clumps of frogspawn have appeared. Spring is when frogs and toads are most active (from February onwards to be precise) as this is the breeding season when they migrate to the spawning ponds. Very often frogs and toads return to the same pond every year and this is usually the one in which they were born. Toads tend to be fastidious about this, while frogs are more likely to try a new garden pond. When frogs start migrating varies and they won't travel on frosty nights, but usually they are on the move by February. Once spawning begins, the males make their 'purring croaks' and the water is alive with splashes, kicks and frogs scampering about everywhere.

UK Frog and Toad Decline

There are three species of frogs and two species of toads in the British Isles. These are the common frog, edible frog, marsh frog, common toad and natterjack toad. It is common frogs that reside in my pond. Frogspawn can be distinguished from toadspawn because it is laid in clumps while toadspawn is laid in strands. Toads are squatter in appearance than frogs and move with a clumsy walk rather than hopping. Modern farming practices, urbanisation and pollution are devastating frog and toad populations around the world, with almost a third of global species under threat.
In the UK, numbers of natterjack toads have declined by 75% since 1900. According to a 2011 report by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) Trust, common frogs are becoming less common in the south of England, especially in areas which have experienced most development in recent decades.

Common Frog

Natterjack Toad
You can find a list of amphibian and reptile conservation groups in the UK here:
Amphibian & Reptile Groups in the UK   

How To Encourage Frogs and Toads into Your Garden

Frogs have declined so much in the open countryside due to modern farming methods that gardens are now a vital habitat, indeed it is probably the case that without gardens frogs and toads would be extinct across whole areas of the UK. To encourage frogs and toads into your garden you need to create a 'frog & toad larder' ie don't try to get rid of slugs, snails and plant-eating insects. Let the frogs eat them. Also you need to build a pond. A pond can be a small, ready made plastic one from a garden centre (like mine). Almost any garden pond is likely to be suitable for frogs. The pond can be shaded but not too shaded as tadpoles do better in warm water which gets some sunshine. It is good to leave some long grass and a rockery around the pond.


Further Reading:

"Frogs & Toads" by Trevor Beebee (Whittet Books, London, 1985)