Ellie Chowns – Councillor news 28 May

Last Friday’s Annual Meeting of Herefordshire Council (25 May 2018) approved various positive changes to the Constitution.

One very good set of changes will improve the process for public questions: the word limit per question has been doubled to 140, the six-questions-per-person-per-year limit has been changed to one-question-per-person-per-meeting, and responses to questions will now be provided in advance, making it easier to ask good supplementary questions.

Another positive change is the adoption of gender-neutral language throughout the constitution – it’s about time!

These and other changes were proposed by a cross-party working group which worked hard together in recent months to review the whole constitution. I’m grateful to them all for their efforts.

Two other very important changes were proposed last Friday as amendments by It’s Our County councillors (with Green support). One concerned the need to promptly publish full details of any code of conduct complaints against councillors that have been upheld after due process (including any appeal) i.e. including the name, nature of the breach, and any recommendation or sanction applied. This was passed unanimously, after some discussion. It’s important because, if there has been misconduct, voters need to know details about who and what. Under the earlier proposals, we’d only have received information about the number of complaints upheld per council.

The other amendment was about the need to hold Councillors to the same standards of transparency as officers. We think Councillors should declare what organisations they are members of; there shouldn’t be any secrecy. Greens supported IOC councillors in asking for a ‘recorded vote’ (which means each councillor’s vote is recorded individually) and the motion was passed with a good majority (although a number of Conservatives abstained or voted against).

Altogether these changes represent important steps forward. It’s been good to see effective cross-party working getting positive results like this!

Big Green Conversation 23 May – SOIL

Kate Adams (Wye & Usk Foundation) and Caroline Hanks (local farming advisor on soil and meadows) led the latest BGC and gave a fascinating presentation.

Their topic “LOVE SOIL – Healthy soil for healthy crops, healthy livestock and healthy rivers”

Since the intensification of farming, soil has not been managed well, but things are looking up. Instead of focussing so much on the Physics and Chemistry of soil, more emphasis is now being give to its Biology.

Under the EU Water Framework Directive, water authorities must measure overall water quality and the health of river wildlife. The Rivers Wye and Usk are about as good/bad as the average of British rivers. Phosphates are a well known issue, particularly for the River Lugg. About half the phosphates in Herefordshire’s rivers come from domestic sources, primarily sewage. Agriculture  contributes roughly the same amount. Phosphate attaches to soil particles, so elevated phosphate levels in water indicates soil is being washed into rivers.

The negative impacts of poor water quality include:

  • poor appearance and taste of tap (drinking) water
  • lower quality agricultural produce
  • recreation (canoeing and fishing for example)
  • tourism (landscape, biodiversity)

Improving water quality means minimising the release of phosphates from agriculture – more accurate and targetted us of fertilisers, keeping stock out of waterways, and reducing soil run off. The Environment Agency uses satellite imaging to track fields left bare in the winter months and follows up with farmers to educate them on better practice and sanction them is necessary.

Follow Dave Throup on Twitter to see how it works.

 

Caroline Hanks explained some of her work is helping local farmers introduce better arable farming techniques (eg. different rotations, use of cover crops, understanding soil biology, ) that will improve soil quality. See examples on Farm Herefordshire website here

 

Michael Gove’s recent announcements as DEFRA head on how UK agriculture might change after Brexit were briefly discussed. Some scepticism expressed that the walk might actually match the talk!

Press Release: Greens call for halt to Forest Holidays development in Mortimer Forest

North Herefordshire Green Party is calling on the head of the Forestry Commission to halt plans for large-scale commercial development in Mortimer Forest.

The Greens are asking commission chairman Sir Harry Studholme to intervene and scrap “damaging” plans for 68 holiday houses on 125 acres of forest below High Vinnalls close to the Herefordshire-Shropshire border. The scheme would be “a gross and inappropriate” form of development in a much-loved local forest, say the Greens.

The plan by Forest Holidays, in association with the Forestry Commission (which has a 15 per cent stake in the company), would include access roads, car parks, an on-site shop, bar, restaurant and takeaway facilities.

Said Leominster Green councillor Jenny Bartlett: “Mortimer Forest is a peaceful beauty spot much-loved by people throughout North Herefordshire and beyond. It supports a tremendous variety of wildlife – this sprawling holiday park would destroy precious habitat.

“The Forestry Commission is approaching its centenary – in 2019 – and its chief, Sir Harry Studholme, recently publicly championed the Commission’s role ‘in safeguarding and protecting the Public Forest Estate now and for the next 100 years.’

“Well Sir Harry, the plans for Mortimer Forest utterly conflict with that worthy objective. We call on the commission to abandon plans for such damaging development.”

Hereford Times coverage here

                 BEFORE and AFTER?

White Wood butterfly – Mortimer Forest
Forest Holidays ‘luxury’ cabin in Forest of Dean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jenny Bartlett invested as Leominster Mayor

Jenny at the mayor making ceremony, Leominster Community Centre, 12 May 2018

Green Party town & county councillor Jenny Bartlett, has been installed as the 464th Mayor of Leominster.

She is the second Green mayor of the town in four years (the term of office is one year).

In her acceptance speech, Jenny said she will treat the job as a much more than a ceremonial role and help nurture an ‘active citizenry.’

As her mayoral charity she has chosen SHYPP – Supported Housing for Young People Project, which provides accommodation, support and training for young people of 16 to 25.

23 May: Big Green Conversation “LOVE SOIL – Healthy soil for healthy crops, healthy livestock and healthy rivers”

Talk and discussion, jointly led by Kate Adams of Wye and Usk Foundation and Caroline Hanks of Herefordshire Meadows

“Healthy soil underpins our agriculture, horticulture and ecosystems – but it’s a topic that’s often undervalued.

We will explore the importance of soil health and water quality to Herefordshire’s economy; what are the challenges and solutions and how we can influence those who manage this precious resource.”

Scientists are warning that soil erosion threatens UK capacity to produce food, e.g. Lord Krebs of Committee on Climate Change in 2015, “The most fertile topsoils in the east of England – where 25 per cent of our potatoes and 30 per cent of our vegetables are grown – could be lost within a generation,”

The recent extreme snow with drifting showed how soil is being eroded from fields – see pictures and discussion here.

At the Garden Room, Left Bank Village BRIDGE STREET, Hereford HR4 9DG

Come along to hear what can be done to protect our soils and wildlife.

17 May: Lecture & Discussion “Upcycling Cycling”

Hereford Civic Society Annual Lecture  – A comprehensive consideration of cycling and cyclists in this country compared with Europe,  by cycling experts:

Brian Deegan – one of the UK’s leading street design engineers

Jess Read – healthy transport engineer and urban designer

Jesse Norman – MP & Highways Minister

Hosted at the Hereford University Centre, Folly Lane, Hereford HR1 1LS

Arrival from 7.00pm, for 7.15pm start, 8.30pm close

BOOKINGS to Julia Davis email: DavisJulia@hlcollege.ac.uk or tel: 01432 365431.

https://www.herefordcivicsociety.org.uk/events-1

Wye Ruin It? – A Herefordshire walk not long for this world?

Toni Fagan’s article in the May 2018 edition of The Hedge. Are we really going to build the Hereford Bypass through  such a special landscape and ruin it forever?

Wye Ruin It?

Sometimes – often, we don’t realise what we have lost until it is gone. With this thought nagging me like a tired child I find myself walking from the heart of Hereford, within minutes in a landscape I hadn’t truly realised existed.

The beautiful River Wye is swollen, angry, tumultuous after a spring of unprecedented snow and rain in a time of tyrants and loss. Every walking step I take tries to bring me back to the moment, each precious one I am training myself to value. Blink and it is gone, but here comes another.

From Hunderton Bridge we walk past the Model Railway at Broomy Hill, following the Wye Valley Walk, past the Waterworks Museum and into the meadows where walking is free to the poorest, and richest, of Hereford. In the future these are the kinds of open spaces that city planners will try to recreate. Places where families can breathe out, emptying their heads of all the busyness that makes us ill, escape the fumes of vehicles that lay claim to our right to clean air – places where children can run free with nothing but the wind in their ears. How amazing that places like this exist I tell myself, in cities like this. Following a band of dedicated Green Party friends, we follow the path along the river to Breinton.

Not far along the path past the ancient woodland that is a haven to the wildlife that is fast dwindling under pressure from our human developments, we see Belmont House across the river. Grade ll listed, designed and built by James Wyatt in 1788, a second gothic skin added less than 100 years later by Edward Pugin. To our right is Warham House, dating back to the 16th century and later rebuilt, reputedly with input from Edward Pugin, in 1854. Beneath the house lies the Queen Elizabeth II Field in Trust, gifted in perpetuity by the Wegg-Prosser family to the people of Hereford during the Queen’s 2012 celebrations, and designated Local Green Space in Breinton’s Neighbourhood Plan. Several magnificent trees, exactly as they were painted by local artist Brian Hatton in 1908, stand like sentinels over this precious, threatened, space.

We walk on, past rich medieval water meadows where pastoral keepers once fattened their livestock early, onto National Trust land where Jeremy Milln from the Civic Society shows us Breinton Spring, rescued after a landslip a few years ago. We drink thirstily from the spring. This is Breinton, bordering the River Wye European Special Area of Conservation, and Site of Special Scientific Interest, a landscape little changed since it was immortalised by the tragically young Victorian painter Brian Hatton, killed in action in Egypt in 1916; a landscape designated by Herefordshire Council for a bypass that will slice its way into a vision of progress that will, by all accounts, do nothing for the traffic congestion in Hereford, but at enormous cost will enable 44 tonne HGVs to move unfettered from Wales past the city.

Our walk moves us uphill, clambering up to patches of wild daffodils by St. Michael’s Church (Victorian but with Norman foundations) where we head back towards Hereford, weaving alongside wild periwinkle, guiding us like timeless purple stars past hollowed oaks that have stood patiently for hundreds of years. Back at Warham House we marvel at the trees towering above us that might soon fall beneath the blades of an alleged progress, taking with them all those sentient creatures who harbour in their boughs. We leave through the kissing gate, passing Hereford Community Farm, set up in 2013 to provide animal assisted and land-based therapy and skills to people who are disadvantaged by ill health, disability or social need – just the kind of place a ‘big society’ aspires to have. The kind of place that will be impossible to replicate when a road destroys it.

Slowly we follow the lane as it winds back to Broomy Hill. I try to counter my sense of sadness, my feeling of loss, my anger – with an optimism that surely, we won’t let this happen. Surely, we have learnt enough by now to know that this is a landscape, with all its special designations, that must be valued, protected and acknowledged for how much it has to offer us – how much we have to lose should it disappear?

Join us for another walk across the proposed Western Bypass route on Sunday 13 May 2018, ring Rick on 0780 5441457 for details.

For more information:

WyeRuitIt

Herefordshire Transport Alliance

 

Response to consultation on revised national Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

The NPPF is an important piece of government policy. It shapes the way development decisions are made – for example on where houses can be built and what sustainable transport arrangements should be made. The current proposals (May 2018) to revise the NPPF include support for Fracking and restrictions on on-shore wind.

Our brief submission to the consultation addressed these two issues:

Onshore wind power developments

The draft text in paragraph 153 and footnote (40) are wrong to make provisions specifically for onshore wind, which have the effect of making it more difficult for developers to get planning permission. This is contrary to the aspiration set out in Para 147 which says (paraphrased) –  that the planning system should help to achieve radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

While para 153 requires that local authorities should approve an application for renewable and low carbon development if its impacts can be made acceptable, footnote 40 penalises developments where more than one wind turbine is proposed. There is no justification for this approach, which will only serve to hinder progress towards the objective set out in para 147.

In contrast, elsewhere in the NPPF, provisions are made to allow large-scale infrastructure developments, like roads, to be permitted on the grounds of compelling public interest, even where significant harm will result to landscape, heritage and biodiversity.

 For instance in para 173 regarding SSSIs, development is generally to be avoided but: “The only exception is where the benefits of the development clearly outweigh both its likely impact (…)”;

and then regarding ancient woodland and trees, “Where development would involve the loss of individual aged or veteran trees that lie outside ancient woodland, it should be refused unless the need for, and benefits of, development in that location would clearly outweigh the loss;

 and again, “development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons [49]”

 “49 For example, infrastructure projects (including nationally significant infrastructure projects, orders under the Transport and Works Act and hybrid bills), where the public benefit would clearly outweigh the loss or deterioration of habitat.”

Given the importance of climate change, we consider the NPPF should take a similar approach to onshore wind turbines as it does to other infrastructure development like roads – that is to allow the public benefit to be weighed against the landscape and other impacts on a case by case basis, rather than there to be a presumption that multiple wind-turbine developments are to be screened out of consideration.

Our view is that avoiding the worst effects of climate change is of such importance that developments that add to genuinely low carbon energy supplies, like onshore wind, should be treated in the same way as other infrastructure projects of national significance.

 Oil, gas and coal exploration and extraction

In the draft para 204, the text states that developing on-shore oil and gas reserves supports the transition to a low carbon economy. In our view, this is far from the truth. Prospecting for, extracting, and in particular, burning oil and gas contributes significantly to atmospheric concentrations of green house gases. This is incompatible with the UK’s statutory obligations under the Climate Change Act, and its moral responsibility to take urgent and effective action to minimise the likely negative effects of global warming / climate change for UK citizens today and in the future.

It is also in direct conflict with the objective set out in para 147 – that the planning system should help to achieve radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

We therefore ask that support for all developments that extend Britain’s use of fossil fuels, including on-shore oil and gas extraction, be removed from the new NPPF

Big Green Conversation Apr 2018: “Palestine Children on the Frontline”

Betty Hunter, Honorary President of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, spoke at April’s Big Green Conversation about Palestine and particularly how Palestinian children are treated by the Israeli justice system, police and military.

She said Israel signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, but effectively treats Palestinian children as terrorists.

Children suffer trauma, mental illness, and disrupted education – as a result of interrogation, detention and physical and mental abuse.

Most children who are detained are alleged to have been seen stone-throwing. They are protesting about land grabs and (for example) wanton destruction of olive trees. Their treatment by the Israeli justice system is akin to apartheid – the law enshrines discrimination against Palestinians, eg:

  • the maximum period of detention without charge is 40 days for Israelis, but 188 for Palestinians
  • the maximum period of detention without access to a lawyer is 48 hours for Israelis, but 90 days for Palestinians

After being arrested, Palestinian children are commonly held in solitary confinement – the average period in recent years is 13 days, the longest on record is 45 days. And nearly all children are interrogated without a parent or lawyer present. Almost all confess, because they know the chances of proving their innocence are so slim.

Betty went on to outline how her organisation works to support the Palestinian cause. PSC started in 2001 with a call to boycott Israeli goods. As well as generally raising awareness, they also now encourage divestment and argue for sanctions. “Companies that support the Israeli State are the targets, not British based ‘Jewish’ companies like Marks and Spencer”. Israeli football is also a target – campaigners argue that it is racist and should not be allowed to play within Europe.

Support among Israelis for their government’s treatment of Palestinians is far from universal. A group of ex Israeli conscript soldiers known as ‘Breaking the Silence‘ bravely report on what they experienced. Palestine support is growing in the USA – a group called Jewish Voice for Peace is promoting divestment.

Betty gave a short interview after the meeting – video here

Ellie Chowns – Councillor news 1 May 2018

First of all big thanks to everyone who helped with newsletter distribution recently – great to have you as part of the team.

I held another surgery in Cradley last week – non-stop visits from residents for 2 hours; really good to meet so many people. Lots of issues raised regarding highways; I’ve followed up on all of them with Herefordshire Council and Balfour Beatty and will be feeding back any information I get.

Next surgeries will be in Fromes Hill (28 May) and Storridge (25 June).

I’ve accepted an invitation to be part of a ‘task and finish’ group scrutinising the council’s highways work including pothole repair issues. One thing I’m keen to do is push for better service standards – it’s very frustrating when enquiries disappear into a ‘black hole’ and you don’t know who is acting on it or when…

Together with Green colleagues I’m working on putting a motion to council soon to tackle the issue of single use plastics. We’re also working on action on green housing standards, divestment from fossil fuels, and sustainable transport. Watch this space!