Prime Minister’s actions appalling, says Ellie Chowns

From Hereford Times 4 September 2019

“We live in extraordinary political times. This is a crisis on a scale not seen for decades. And the most extraordinary thing of all? This is an entirely manufactured crisis, homegrown in Britain, created by the actions of a handful of people – Boris Johnson chief among them.

Last week Johnson took the unprecedented step of announcing the suspension of Parliament – a move that rightly outraged the majority of MPs and citizens. No wonder so many thousands took to the streets across the country, including here in Herefordshire, to defend our Parliamentary democracy and stop the coup. It was indeed a coup, albeit without ‘tanks on the lawns’ – it was a brazen, autocratic attempt to seize power from elected representatives, by a prime minister with a wafer thin majority.

It was indefensible and appalling – and those are the words of a Conservative MP!

Johnson has been gambling recklessly all along. He gambled that he could pretend the blockage was the EU, when the truth is that his problem is the division within his own party. He gambled that he could side with the Brexiteer hardliners and force moderates to give up. He gambled with the country’s future by threatening ‘no deal’ – a strategy of catastrophic self harm. Johnson’s gambles have backfired spectacularly.

All other parties have been absolutely united in opposing Johnson’s attempt to silence debate – and a significant number of brave Conservatives have put principle before party, and country before personal interest.This week, Johnson not only lost his party’s majority in the House; he lost his very first vote as PM, and all shreds of credibility as a leader.

There is another way forward. As a country, we have been deeply damaged by this Brexit mess. It’s high time we started looking for common ground and rebuilding our broken politics. That’s a task that goes way beyond Brexit – but first we do indeed need to resolve Brexit.

I believe we are better off in the EU, but I recognise that a narrow majority wanted to leave, more than three years ago now. So what we need now is a compromise agreement – the best possible withdrawal deal – which should then be put to the people for the final say.

I would of course campaign, as I have always done, to remain.

Because Brexit was never our core problem. Membership of the EU costs less than one per cent of government spending. Brexit has left us no time to think about the other 99% of government business – vitally important things like the NHS, schools, social care, and tackling the climate crisis.

Brexit would make things worse in all those areas. We are quite literally fiddling while the planet burns.

Fundamentally the Brexit mess has shown just how broken our political system is. Our democracy is creaking at the seams, in desperate need of fixing.

Here are three positive ideas for starters: change the electoral system so that all votes count equally, abolish the unelected House of Lords, and clean up politics by removing the influence of dirty money. A fairer, cleaner, more grown-up politics would encourage our leaders to act in the long-term interest of the country as a whole, and seek common ground rather than taking extreme positions.

It would enable us to re-set our relationship with the European Union, and finally turn our attention to other things that really matter – starting with the climate emergency.”

Visit Ellie Chowns MEP in Brussels or Strasbourg

Ellie writes:

“I believe a key part of my job as an MEP is to help bring the West Midlands and Europe closer together. One way I can do this is by inviting people to visit the Parliament and see how it all works. So I am always delighted to welcome constituents to visit the European Parliament in either Brussels or Strasbourg.

Visits can include:

  • A visit to the Parlementarium, the Parliament’s visitor centre in Brussels;
  • A peak inside the Hemicycle and Greens/EFA group room (depending on the Parliamentary timetable);
  • Breakfast, coffee or lunch with me in the Parliament’s canteen (depending on my schedule);
  • Q&A with a member of my staff team; A visit to the excellent House of European History museum, just next to the Parliament in Brussels;
  • A chance to explore the beautiful city under your own steam”

read more here

The Times 7 June 2019 – Opinion piece by Ellie Chowns MEP

We must unite against the forces of raw nationalism and rapacious neoliberalism

Ellie Chowns June 7 2019, The Times

Being a Green in Brussels is inspiring and energising: it’s wonderful to be part of a group that more than doubled its parliamentary numbers in one election, being in meetings helping to democratically decide what our positions should be in shaping the next five years of the European Union.

Hearing how other groups in the EU are scrambling to talk about our issues and pick up our language on the climate emergency and social justice, there is an enormous sense of possibility.

As a development specialist, I’m excited about the work of the parliament’s trade committee, taking up issues crucial to social and environmental justice.

But at least for the next four months, that’s going to be topped by another priority — the debate in the West Midlands about the future of the UK within the EU.

I’m exploring how I can best contribute to that.

One thing I’d like to do is bring Europe to the West Midlands; bring people over from Brussels who can add to understanding of what the EU does for us. I also want to take the West Midlands to Brussels, to showcase our diversity, creativity and innovation.

So much of this debate is about emotion, not data. Crucially what I’ll be doing is getting out and listening to people’s concerns, ensuring they know I’m a direct conduit between them and Brussels. I’ll also be doing my best to ensure that Westminster, which is so distracted, again, by the Tory leadership question, listens and learns.

I want to be part of building a bridge, helping the people of my region to understand more of what happens in Europe, and helping them see its relevance to their lives, from fighting tax-dodging and exploitative employment contracts, to cleaning up our beaches and protecting our wildlife.

I also want to help them get involved, engaged and doing politics themselves, working with their friends, neighbours and communities to take control of their own lives. That means fighting for radical changes in our UK political system, which is so clearly broken. We need to make the most of this political crisis to rebuild a fairer and more democratic UK politics from the ground up.

But this weekend will be a small break, a chance to travel north to Scarborough, where the Green Party is gathering for its conference, a celebration of our wonderful results in the European and local elections.

That Green wave took me to Brussels, elected in a region that even Greens were not talking about as a possible win a week before the vote.

And just a few weeks earlier we doubled the number of Green councillors in England, including many great wins in my own West Midlands.

In Scarborough, which was like my own West Midlands a majority Leave-voting area, we’ll also be seeking to build bridges, joining with local pro-European groups in an “Our Europe” rally that will focus on the benefits of Europe.

Greens have particularly highlighted the rich possibilities that free movement brings to all our lives: the chance to live, work and love anywhere across Europe, and the benefits that people from other parts of the EU bring to our societies.

We’re also staunch defenders of the EU’s record in protecting and extending environmental, social and human rights.

There is much more to do. We face big challenges: social and environmental emergencies, no less. These are problems we can best tackle together, working across Europe, united against the forces of raw nationalism and rapacious neoliberalism and building instead a Europe of hope, fairness and collective action.

Ellie Chowns is a Green MEP for the West Midlands

12 October – visit to NMITE (Hereford University) design cohort students

This afternoon I visited NMITE (the new University in Hereford) to meet informally with the ‘design cohort’ of 25 students who are helping work out how to turn the vision into reality. It was great to hear their enthusiasm! This week they’ve been thinking through what the learning spaces should look like. The photos show some of their creative ideas. It was really good to hear them talk about their hopes for sustainability principles to be woven through all aspects of the new Uni.

Response to 2019-2020 Herefordshire Council Budget Consultation

Ellie Chowns says:

I’ve been asking some pointed questions about the council’s recent budget consultation. In particular, I’m frustrated that there was no consultation on the capital budget. This is where Hfds Council currently has quite a lot of ‘wiggle room’, given that it recently made nearly £50m from selling off the farms. Only half that money has so far been allocated, so what is the Cabinet planning to do with the rest? I believe local residents should have a real say in this decision. This is a once-in-a-generation windfall, so we should think REALLY CAREFULLY about how to spend it, and the Cabinet should consult local people on what the priorities should be. I don’t think enough people understand the opportunities and risks here – the council has not communicated openly about this at all.

You can read my full response to the budget consultation process here.

I’ve also asked the Council Leader, (Jonathan Lester) and the Cabinet Member for Finance (Nigel Shaw) for answers to five questions I asked them at the full council meeting a couple of weeks ago:

1. Why was virtually no information given to residents about the capital budget in the recent consultation process?
2. When will residents (and councillors) be consulted on the capital budget?
3. Why were councillors’ suggestions for improvements to the consultation design (such as the inclusion of open-ended questions), made at the budget consultation briefing in July, ignored – even though assurance was given to us at the time that they would be acted upon?
4. Will the Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance commit to giving councillors much more opportunity to feed into consultation design in future?
5. Will the Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance commit to giving residents much more opportunity to participate in the budgeting process in future?

Herefordshire Council votes unanimously for green vision!

Ellie Chowns wins cross-party support for proposal setting out green principles for £40 million investment

On 13 July 2018 Herefordshire County Councillors voted unanimously in favour of Ellie’s motion for a ‘Sustainable Development Partnership’. The decision shapes the strategic direction of £40 million of Council investment in new housing and industrial sites – the biggest item in the capital budget for the next two years. New buildings will have to be energy and water efficient, which will help make them more affordable. Residents will have access to green space, and developments will be ‘wildlife-friendly’. Local businesses will be prioritised for contracts, and walking, cycling, public transport and car-sharing will be encouraged. This is a significant win!

Ellie said: “This investment is a major opportunity to shape the strategic direction of the county, so we must make the best possible use of it. I’m delighted to get cross-party support for green principles to underpin the new development. I’ll be working hard to make sure these principles are now put into practice!

In moving the motion Ellie made the following points:

  • The motion was a cross-party initiative to help shape the direction of development in the The motion provided a framework for development to follow;
  • The motion built on an earlier motion to Council in 2014;
  • Consultation had been conducted with officers and other members; and
  • the inclusion of additional wording ‘…development designed and constructed through…’ in place of ‘…housing built through…’; and an additional bullet point, as follows: ‘designed to promote walking, cycling, public transport and car sharing.’

The motion as resolved:

Motion – Development Partnership
(Proposed by Councillor EE Chowns, Seconded by Councillor SP Anderson. )

Noting that Herefordshire Council has recently mobilised a large amount of capital from the sale of its farm estate, and plans to invest this in a ‘Development Partnership’ which will significantly shape the growth and development of the county, we call on the council to resolve:

That the Development Partnership should be designed to be a Sustainable Development Partnership, with equal consideration given to social, environmental, and economic dimensions of planned development.
That the executive be asked to consider ensuring that all development designed and constructed through the Development Partnership should be:
  • planned to maximise residents’ health and wellbeing, including through shared green space and opportunities for outdoor exercise and social interaction, with maintenance thereof;
  • built to the highest possible standards of energy and water efficiency in order to ensure affordability for residents and low environmental impact;
  • sourced using local procurement wherever possible, in order to maximise local economic benefit and employment opportunities;
  • designed to support and enhance wildlife habitats, in line with Herefordshire’s identity as a beautiful rural county; and
  • designed to promote walking, cycling, public transport and car sharing.

Ellie Chowns Councillor news 24 June 2018

My next informal ward surgery will be on Monday 2 July from 10am to midday at Storridge Village Hall (NOT 25 June as previously advertised).

I’ll be at the Cradley Fete on Saturday 30 June of course, so if you’re not able to come to Storridge on Monday week, do catch me in Cradley this Saturday!

Very quick update: I’ve been pushing this week for Rectory Lane to get the attention it deserves i.e. proper resurfacing. The uneven surface is a real hazard for pedestrians and it’s such a shame that this short stretch of road – essential for access to the church and the village hall – is in such terrible condition. I’ve been putting pressure on Balfour Beatty, and have written to Cllr Barry Durkin (who is in charge of roads) to urge him to prioritise this in next year’s Forward Plan (which is the list of roads that will get proper attention, as opposed to just reactive patching). I gather that Balfour Beatty did a couple of patches on Friday and that local residents are not impressed So I’ve asked Cllr Durkin to come and have a look at the problems with me. I’ll keep you posted.

Ellie Chowns

Ellie Chowns councillor news 12 June 2018

Last week I spent half a day looking at road safety issues in the ward with Ian Connolly, who is the Traffic Management Advisor for the West Mercia Police Safer Roads Team.
Issues we discussed (with site visits) included:
1. Extending the Fromes Hill 40mph speed limit further west to the laybys – we did a site visit with Paul Hunter from Balfour Beatty Living Places (BBLP), and this is now going to be formally requested by the Parish Council. It will probably take the best part of a year to go through the full ‘Traffic Regulation Order’ (TRO) process, but at least the ball is now rolling formally.
2. Tackling speeding on the B4220 in Cradley. Ian is going to organise radar data collection on traffic speeds within the next three months. I’m going to talk to the Parish Councils in the ward about jointly requesting a Speed Indicator Device from BBLP, and sharing the costs.
3. Stopping vehicles going the wrong way down one-way Butchers Lane in Cradley, next to Pixiefields. There’s a real problem with vehicles dangerously driving the wrong way down this lane, which is very narrow, with no footway. Like the residents, I’m worried that this is an accident waiting to happen – and it will only get worse when more houses are built above Pixiefields. I’ve written to Balfour Beatty (the Council’s highways contractor) asking them to investigate the possibility of closing this off to vehicles altogether using bollards. Ian is also going to write to BBLP raising this as a road safety concern and requesting them to investigate possible solutions.
4. Addressing the problem of parking on the blind corner on the B4220 outside the surgery in Cradley. Ian suggested double yellow lines are needed here; the Parish Council has to make a request to Balfour Beatty for a TRO to do this, so I’ve asked the PC to take this forward.
5. Extending the 50mph speed limit on the A4103 between Stony Cross and the Red Lion and/or reducing the speed limit to 40mph at Stony Cross. Ian is going to talk to Simon Hobbs (the Senior Accident Investigation Engineer at Herefordshire Council) about this and will report back to me. Again, the Parish Council would have to make a request to Balfour Beatty for a TRO to do this.
6. Remodelling the A4103 / B4220 to Bromyard (Ridgeway Cross) junction. Ian agrees that it’s not ideal, but explained that unless it shows up as an accident ‘cluster site’ (which it currently doesn’t) it’ll be hard to get this prioritised. I explained that several local residents have contacted me with serious concerns about this location. Ian agreed to talk and formally write to Simon Hobbs noting this concern. I have asked Cradley & Storridge Parish Council to keep a record of any incidents at this junction (even if they don’t require police involvement) so that we can build a case for addressing this dangerous junction.
7. Addressing the problem of dangerous driving affecting horse riders in the Acton Beauchamp & Bishops Frome area. Ian gave me some useful advice which I have passed on to the concerned resident.
8. Addressing the problem of speeding traffic on the B4214 in Munderfield. Speed data is currently being collected here as part of a planning application (I think), so I’m going to see if I can get hold of it. If the Parish Councils can share a speed indicator sign, that would also help.
Altogether it was a very useful morning and I hope we’ll be able to make some real progress on tackling some of these road safety issues on behalf of residents.

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!

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!

Ellie Chowns – Ward surgeries

On 26 March, I held my first ‘ward surgery’ at Bishops Frome Village Centre. This was a bit of an experiment. Many thanks to Godfrey, Tony and Robin who came along for a chat and a cuppa. We inspected some potholes and drainage issues in the village, and collected a bagful of litter while we were at it.

My next ward surgery will be at Cradley Village Hall on Monday 23 April from 10 am to 12 midday.

Potholes and other road issues

Potholes and other road-related issues are high up my list of priorities at the moment, as residents often contact me about them. I have to admit I’m rather frustrated that we still don’t have a Balfour Beatty (BBLP) locality steward for the ward – I’ve got an ever-growing list of issues to take up with the new person as soon as s/he is in post, which BBLP assure me will be in mid-February. In fact, wouldn’t it be simpler all round if it was Council staff doing the work, rather than it being outsourced to BBLP? The collapse of Carillion has sparked a long-overdue debate about the pros and cons of contracting out; personally I’d much prefer the Council to be running its own highways services in-house, as I’m sure the extra layers of management and contract supervision mean that contracted-out highways services are more expensive and less responsive…

Anyway. One very practical and useful thing that we can all do is report potholes and other roads issues to the Council via this web page (which also shows you if it has already been reported). You can also use this pothole and road defect progress map to see which issues are currently being addressed. So please, if you notice a pothole, help us all out and report it online – and I’ll make it my business to chase BBLP up. Thank you!

Ellie Chowns – Budget concerns

My first full Council meeting was last Friday, and it had a full agenda: setting the 2018/19 budget (including the proposed 4.9% rise in Council Tax) and approving the Capital Programme, as well as approving the continuation of the Council Tax reduction scheme. I voted for the latter, but did not feel able to support the budget or the capital programme. On the budget, I appreciate that the Council is working within very tight financial constraints, and that officers are doing the best they can to ensure vital services are protected. But I just don’t believe that this Conservative council has fought hard enough against the swingeing cuts imposed by Conservatives in Westminster. The simple fact is that Council Tax is going up and up – even though wages are low and stagnating – because local authorities have been starved of funds by central government.

Regarding the capital investment programme, I have two major concerns. The first is that about £2.5m is being borrowed for initial work on building a bypass to the West of the city (I understand the full bypass scheme will cost much much more than this in total, potentially well over £100 million). Yes, Hereford has congestion problems – but in my view they are mainly due to people like me driving into town and trying to get from one side to the other to get to work, school, the shops, the hospital etc. A bypass won’t address this – and it especially won’t do anything to help those of us living to the East of the city. Instead, I feel the council should be investing much more money right now in sustainable transport, both a) within the city (e.g park and ride/bike/car-share) and b) in rural areas (e.g. using mobile tech to support community transport). That sort of thing will be cheaper and more effective, and I’m hoping to make links with people who can help make detailed proposals along these lines. By the way, the council will next week launch a consultation on the bypass plans. I’ll be going along and I encourage you to do so too, and have your say before it’s too late! (BTW, I’m not simply ‘anti-bypass’ – I think each case should be assessed on its own merits. My key objection here is that I haven’t seen any actual evidence making the case for a Western bypass).

My second major concern is the proposed £20 million earmarked this year for the Development Partnership. This is by far the largest chunk of the capital programme – a hell of a lot of money. Half of it will come from the sell-off of the council farms, and half from borrowing (but I have no idea why the council plans to borrow even more, when we’re due to get about £42 million from the farm sales…). I have lots and lots of questions about these plans, so I’ll be meeting some of the key officers this week to get more info. Investment in infrastructure and economic development is a good idea in principle, but the devil is in the detail. The recent Blueschool House fiasco highlights what can go wrong if contracts aren’t properly supervised. So, we need much more detail about the ‘Development Partnership’ will involve, proper analysis of the potential social, economic and environmental impacts, and assurance about financial safeguards. I’ll be keeping a very close eye on this going forward.

Highways – resurfacing woes, and safety improvements

I met the Head of Highways, Clive Hall, last Friday, which was very helpful. One of the things we talked about was learning lessons from the A4103 resurfacing road closures in autumn 2017. Clive explained some of the background (including the delays due to the unexpected General Election purdah period), and I made two main points:
1) Communication: This simply wasn’t good enough. There wasn’t enough consultation with residents in affected wards, and there wasn’t adequate real-time information available to travellers, neither online nor on the ground. Disruption was worse as a result.
2) Compensation: Individuals shouldn’t have to bear disproportionate costs for improvements that are for public benefit. Many business owners along the road suffered very significant financial losses during the closure, and haven’t had adequate compensation. Future compensation schemes need to be much better designed.

The stretch of A4103 from Newtown Cross to Hereford is also due for resurfacing later this year, and the council are currently consulting with affected people. Amazingly, they weren’t planning to consult with our ward! I made a very clear request that we should be consulted, as road closure in the Hereford direction will obviously have knock-on effects on the same businesses that already suffered last autumn. I’ll post that info separately. I very much hope that lessons will be learned from last year’s debacle, and that this year’s work will be much better organised.

Finally on roads, I met the council’s senior road safety investigator at Stoney Cross on Tuesday to discuss the planned works on the junction there. This has reached the top of the priority list due to a cluster of accidents in recent years, and so the planned works will straighten the road somewhat, prevent overtaking at the junction, and improve the camber. I’m glad to see that Cradley is getting this investment to improve safety at this junction; and I’m also glad that the works will be done with traffic lights and convoys, i.e. there will be no full road closure.

You can check on planned roadworks using this map: https://www.herefordshire.gov.uk/…/2001…/roads/234/roadworks

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