As an NHS doctor who ‘does’ politics, the subject of our now ex-health secretary comes up frequently. Various people tell me they don’t see the problem with Matt Hancock. It’s been a difficult time, he’s been under pressure etc. So I offer you this comparison.
Matt is your NHS ward matron.
He and a ward sister are caught kissing in a corridor, on work time. Appropriate NHS Trust disciplinary procedures are followed. Turns out Matt recruited the ward sister, who he knew already. Questions are asked about when the affair started, as preferentially employing someone you are in a relationship with would be very inappropriate.
We find out that last year, the ward had a lot of staff vacancies. Matt was worried this was an emergency situation, perhaps caused by his poor management. So what he did is call all his mates to come in and work, rather than have a fair and transparent interview process. And he paid them more than usual.
Then we discover that the ward has had more deaths than usual. Difficult to investigate though, because the ward culture is now pretty closed- well of course, it’s staffed by Matt’s mates.
Oh, and during the process of looking into all this, as a small aside, we find out Matt’s been sending out sensitive information using his gmail account, rather than nhs.net.
None of this is OK. And it’s no where near the whole story. At every stage there should have been credible voices- colleagues- perhaps a functioning opposition party- calling it out. Because the thing is, it’s not a ward. It’s a national government. And it’s unacceptable.
Low traffic neighbourhoods are being introduced across Ealing, with ten schemes starting in the next month. Some residents feel angry and scared and are concerned that the implementation is undemocratic. The scheme is being labelled as ‘not fit for purpose’.
I’d like to address these concerns. We must talk as a community about our response to the climate emergency, and the interconnected issues of air pollution and health, including covid-19.
‘Fit for purpose’ The purpose of a low traffic neighbourhood is to reduce air pollution, decrease vehicle collisions and increase community activity. That’s from the council’s communications. Great, but I want to state the aims in much stronger terms.
The purpose of an LTN is to address the climate crisis, by making active transport a more convenient choice than driving. The purpose of an LTN is to cut air pollution around homes because air pollution kills. The purpose of an LTN is to address COVID 19 by leaving space for public transport to be used by those who have to. The purpose of an LTN is to address COVID 19 by reducing air pollution because evidence suggests air pollution is linked to COVID 19 death rates. The purpose of an LTN is to get us working together to address these immense challenges and to feel great about being part of a community that acts to change the world for the better, not just for ourselves, but for all.
‘Congestion will be worse’ The evidence suggests otherwise. London Living Streets have some great information on this. I’d like to introduce two concepts.
‘Induced demand’– if driving is easier, more people will do it. If you make it harder, you get ‘Traffic evaporation’ – where people who can switch to other means of transport.
‘Disabled people/older people will be worse off’ The evidence suggests otherwise. Quieter, safer residential streets are easier for those with poor mobility to get around. Reduced air pollution is better for those with health problems. And who decided disabled and older people aren’t concerned about the climate crisis?If you are not someone who has to drive, why not turn this concern into positive action? Use active transport and leave the roads as clear as possible for public transport and those who have no option but to drive. And campaign for the infrastructure and incentives to make these journeys electric.
‘Emergency Services will be affected’ Emergency Services have been consulted and have not raised concerns.
‘Consultation’ Consultation before is ideal. I can’t disagree here. Ealing Council have made it clear that in this particular situation the Government legislation enacted to support covid measures means they cannot undertake consultation. The council have chosen to do more consultation once the schemes are in place than they are required to do.
In fact, low traffic neighbourhoods have been in the Mayor’s transport plan and in Ealing Transport strategy for some time. This is not new, although it feels quick because the council are having to respond to new government legislation and crucially, available funding, while they can.
But there’s something unsaid here.
Change is hard. Change that requires short term pain (getting used to new ways of getting around) for long term gain (air pollution, climate) is hard and unpopular. We elect our council to serve our community responsibly. Opponents of LTN have charged them with not doing this by failing to consult. I suggest the opposite. If our council failed to take advantage of this opportunity to address the interrelated issues of climate change, air pollution and COVID, then yes, they would indeed by failing to serve out community responsibly. and finally:
‘LTN are inconvenient’ This is precisely the point of them. Make driving less convenient, to achieve the aims. Underneath this sentiment is something more challenging. Inconvenient to who? To those with the privilege of car ownership. Are we really saying that a longer driving time, where no other option is possible, is not a price worth paying to benefit those in our local, national and international community affected by climate change, COVID, and air pollution? I really, really hope not.
Fantastic to see progress being made. The Green Party would ensure all buildings were built to PassivHaus or equivalent standard. But this is not what we are seeing built in Ealing in 2020.
In general, as buildings get higher, the energy demands go up. Lifts, of course, but also pumping water, ventilation, embedded construction costs. Heating can become difficult to control with high losses if not properly insulated. Smaller buildings, up to probably (depending on design) around 10 floors, are generally the most energy efficient way to build new homes.
But you’ll all be familiar with ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’. Let’s think about this with housing too.
Reduce energy demands of the housing we have by making sure housing is fitted to the highest environmental standards, by retrofitting with insulation for example.
Reuse- refit and refurbish what we have already. Look at ways to bring second homes and long-term empty homes back into the general market.
Recycle- Get local communities involved in identifying sites that would be suitable for small developments. And make these homes available at a price that those who need it can afford.
Towers make the existing community miserable, isn’t that a good reason to stop them?
There are certainly problems created in existing communities. Here are some focusing on the effect on the local environment:
Tall buildings can cause high winds at their base. The shadows thrown create shadows and dark streets. This means the houses around them need more artificial light for affected properties. Sunlight for solar panels can also be blocked.
Large numbers of new residents in an existing community can have negative effects if not planned for properly. Improved public transport and cycling facilities need to be provided, to prevent traffic build up. This is rarely done. We need to build housing that means you don’t rely on a car to lead a full life.
Why do Greens get involved in planning? Aren’t you about environmental issues?
As you can see there are plenty of environmental issues in planning. And so far we have just talked about buildings. There’s also protecting the green spaces- parks, areas of outstanding national beauty, local green space protection, metropolitan open land protection, trees preservation orders.
A common misconception about the Green Party is that we are only interested in ‘green’ issues. We see it like this:
The Green Party is a party of social and environmental justice, which supports a radical transformation of society for the benefit of all, and for the planet as a whole. We understand that the threats to economic, social and environmental wellbeing are part of the same problem, and recognise that solving one of these crises cannot be achieved without solving the others (from our core values, https://policy.greenparty.org.uk/core-values.html).
We need to look at the environmental impact of towers, but also at whether they solve the housing issues affecting our society. In Ealing, they don’t offer enough solutions to the need for genuinely affordable housing, social housing, housing for families, provision for the homeless. Rather, Government policy has encouraged the treatment of housing as a form of speculative investment, rather than a basic requirement for individual and social well-being.
We need more housing, so what do you suggest if you don’t like towers?
What we actually need is more social and more affordable housing. We don’t need tower blocks that only the affluent can afford and which are being built to make gigantic profits for developers, landowners and speculators.
But how can we afford these high environmental standards?
Landowners and developer make vast profits from current tower block developments. Developers can afford to build high quality flats and still make a profit. It just needs the political will to stand up to developers and insist on this.
So what’s next?
Get involved! We have the solutions if we work together.
Stops the Towers are working with local MPs to propose a Design Review Panel. This would be a great start.
needs affordable housing to address inequality and poverty. We need
homes for our workers and families.
needs to address the climate crisis. Air pollution is already
damaging our health. We must protect our green spaces.
London needs to deal with both issues urgently.
The best way to do this is by working with the communities involved. Planning law is set up so that this is a huge challenge. Objections to planning have to be in line with certain considerations, and strength of local opposition isn’t one of these.
How can we change this?
involved. Know how to object effectively to planning.
Join a local group; in Ealing: Stop the Towers. Save Gurnell. Warren Farm. Your residents’ association. Keep up to date by signing up for the latest from developments in your area. Old Oak Common needs particular attention.
Planning applications have to be in guidance with local plans; so making sure the local plan is appropriate and sustainable is crucial. Look out for local plan development– sign up for information here:
Support plans which develop on existing industrial sites, within reasonable limits and with affordable provision. We need buildings constructed with biodiversity preservation in mind, swift bricks and bat boxes built into the plans, and green space close by.
real change and to give local communities more say over development
in their area, we
need change at a national level.
Green Party propose to repeal the National Planning Policy Framework
and instead give power to local councils to assess, with their
communities, the housing need. At present this is done by the same
firms who work for developers. We need to remove the presumption in
favour of allowing development while supporting brownfield
development and giving councils more powers to buy land for this.
nice summary from our Political Programme:
it easier for communities to block the wrong type of development:
The planning system is based on a presumption in favour of
development, which loads the dice in favour of speculative developers
seeking high profits. We will repeal this presumption, and replace
the current National Planning Policy Framework with spatial plans
that preserve ecological habitats and prioritise council house
building on brownfield land. A new developer’s duty will ensure
that a greater share of the profits that are created when new homes
are built goes back to the local council, to be spent on planning new
council homes and accessible green spaces for the community. We will
use the planning system to increase the amount of green open space –
we want everyone to live within 5 minutes’ walk of publicly
accessible green spaces.
We believe the people have a right to vote for the party and person who best represents their views. This is particularly crucial in this time of political change.
We understand that to save our climate and ecosystems, sustainability must be at the heart of every debate, policy and decision. We fear the consequences of empty election promises made to win votes and broken by party political divisions, within and between parties.
We know to achieve environmental and social justice we need to show the strength of the Green vote, united together in our country. We need to increase Green representation in all parts of our democratic system.
seems that no voter can honestly say the 2016 vote was well informed
or included a full understanding of what leaving the EU would entail.
We need to go back to the people of the UK with the Withdrawal Bill,
once it has been through Parliamentary process. We also need to
discuss – in Parliament, and as a whole nation- what we do with the
results of this vote before we ask.
Scotland votes to remain, and England to leave, what next?
Wales does the same? Or the opposite?
we are split 50:50, what then?
answers to this need to be made clear so that the people can make
their vote in with clarity; and with trust that it will be respected.
In a referendum every vote really does count.
Green Party members are not ‘whipped’ into taking a particular
line. This post represents my thoughts, and while I know these
resonate with others in the local and national party, each elected
Green is free to vote in the way that represents their view and the
best option for the people they serve. We also must keep an open mind
and be prepared to change in response to a changing situation.
know we have a climate problem; and we know air travel contributes to
any individual factor contributes to the overall heating of the
planet is always going to be a subject of much debate. There are
views that changing diet is more important, that emissions from fuel
are where we should be focusing, that there’s no point doing
anything unless China or the USA change. We can think about our
technology habits, mobile phone networks, fast fashion.
can be so paralysed by the reasons why that we end up doing nothing.
Free 2020 have a simple idea:
not to fly in the year 2020, knowing that 100,000* other people are
doing the same.
their own words:
is easy to think that individual actions don’t make a difference,
and not to bother trying. But if we can show that there are 100,000
people who are prepared to take an air-free year, we send a clear
signal to industry and politicians – and also to each other –
that there are many who are willing to change their lifestyles to
protect the climate.
I suppose technically that’s 99,999 people other than you)
Ealing Greens joined millions across the World in gathering to call for action on the Climate Emergency. Some were striking from school, but joining them this time were adults drawn by the energy of the student strikers.
The atmosphere in London was hopeful but frustrated. Creative home-made signs, chalked slogans and passionate speakers were all wonderful to witness.
I left, like many others I suspect, feeling ‘well that was great but what now?’.
Greta Thunberg provided the answer in this inspirational short video with George Monbiot:
Protect. Restore. Fund.
Clear, plain speaking.
Here’s an even quicker summary in case you don’t have time for the video:
Protect: Nature is a tool we can use to repair our broken climate; but only if we also leave fossil fuels in the ground. Where nature is doing something vital, we must protect it.
Restore: Nature can regenerate and we can help ecosystems bounce back.
Fund: Stop funding things that destroy nature and pay for things that help it.
And at 2mins57 the inspiration to keep going I really needed: ‘vote for people who defend nature’
I struggle to describe myself as ‘anti-HS2’. I dislike being ‘anti’ anything, in the same way, I try to avoid using the word hate. It’s an unhelpful sentiment. If I say I’m anti-HS2, and it does get built, and one day I use it, what does that make me?
Instead, I will say I am HS2-disappointed. Disappointed because a big ‘yes’ to rail projects.
But not this one. Too much impact, not enough benefit. We need better rural rail links, integrated transport, better rail pricing. We haven’t even got a consistent system for taking bikes on trains!
I met a local resident profoundly affected by the works at Old Oak Common. Trying to get her voice heard. Her struggles are that of overwhelming HS2-disappointment- the list of broken assurances is astonishing.
The residents affected by HS2 works are real-life examples of the failings of our political system- where is the power? It’s not with the people.
Where is the justice? It’s not coming their way anytime soon.