Thursday, 30 October 2008

BBC Shocker! (no - not that one)

These are not good days for the BBC - I'm not going to dwell on the Brand - Ross business, it's been done to death already, (although as resignations go up the chain, I will be interested to see if Gordon Brown goes). Unsavoury though that was, no-body died, - the arms industry is a different story.

The BBC's Top Gear programme is taking part in the MPH motor show which opened today in London, and the owners of the show, Clarion events, bought up the DSEi, ITEC and LAAD arms trade show earlier this year - see here

Campaign Against the Arms Trade have called on the BBC to recognise the level of public opposition to the arms trade saying "Clarion owns arms fairs which have cheerfully invited officials from brutal regimes such as China, Colombia and Saudi Arabia. Involvement with this trade is not an option for any company that cares about its reputation". In as much as the BBC has any reputation left. Protests can be hoped for - and expected.

No surprises that the programme in question is 'Top Gear' of course. This is a show, paid for out of the license fee/broadcasting poll tax of all of us, which glorifies speed and petrol burning and will no doubt have led indirectly to the deaths and injuries of many at the hands of boy racers trying to emulate the presenters (not to mention the climate change impact). The fact that it is apparently so popular is a slap in the face to all green-minded people in the land. I tuned into the Television Awards programme last night to see Clarkson hurtling down some highway holding a Bill Oddie mask in front of his face to fool the speed cameras as the show won an award for best factual programme (!).

Which leads me on to my 'Daft comment of the week'. A host of possible contenders here, even without considering Palin and co as the US election reaches its climax. No, my choice is an excerpt from Manchester Evening News' TV editor Ian Wylie, who in a half page eulogy to the show claimed that 'there can scarcely be a TV viewer in the country who isn't excited about the return of Top Gear'.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

A Tale of Two Cycling Cities

With 1966 becoming a fading memory it's good to know that there is another sport in which we rule the world, and have done consistently over several recent events. I am of course referring to track cycling, which was back in the news this week with two-wheeled gold medallists taking pride of place in the first bus for the Olympic parade in London. The current home of British cycling is at Manchester's velodrome, and there is even a chance of seeing some of these medallist out and about on the streets of the conurbation. Indeed one or two may have passed me, but at the speed I pedal on my 1985 Coventry Eagle, I would not have seen them for dust.

So Manchester leads the world in track cycling, and this can rightly be seen as a source of civic pride; this is one of the Cycling cities referred to in the title. Given that you would think that Manchester would be a leading city for ordinary cyclists too. Alas not.

This other of the two cities was also in the news this week, with figures on the accident rates for cyclists in the city, and its didn't make encouraging reading. Whilst facilities are better than they were, Manchester and other large British cities still trail comparable cities in continental Europe by miles. Some comparative statistics can be seen here for countries and for comparable-sized cities
This year Manchester had the chance to become Britain's cycling city, but lost out to Bristol. Some reason why may be gleaned from the following comment at a recent Cycle Forum meeting "Cycling England basically said that the Council had shown no leadership in promoting Cycling or increasing the amount of Cyclists in Manchester…when the bid went through the Council didn’t even have a Cycling Officer as he moved job and wasn’t replaced for 3 months."
In Manchester's current great transport debate cycling was little more than an afterthought, and its increasing profile during the consultation is due entirely to hard work by environmental groups such as FoE and Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign. This despite the leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese no less, being a cycle user.
Daft Comment of the Week
I'm introducing this as a new feature. For our inaugural comment we go from the least polluting form of transport to the most polluting, and a comment from John Twigg of Manchester Airport. What follows is as reported by the Manchester Evening News (so it must be accurate) from their Greenlife debate on Sustainable Cities this week. Bizarrely given the title, this event was sponsored by Manchester Airport (a bit like King Herod sponsoring a conference on successful child-rearing). The quote is "Creating a sustainable city is part of the long-term plan for us - we want to maximise the potential that air travel brings to the economy and population".
I think Mr Twigg has set a high standard for daftness here; however I fear there will be anough material around to maintain the standard for weeks to come.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

A piece of history

A piece in the business section of the Manchester Evening News caught my eye this week as it brought back memories of my life in a period of the mid-eighties. The article concerned the preservation of the Mather and Platt factory in the Newton Heath area of East Manchester, where I worked for two years.

I remember the almost Dickensian atmosphere of the plant with its noisy, grimy machine rooms (I was normally in the quieter confines of the IT Office, but I went out onto the floor occasionally). To environmentally-minded colleagues of the day it seemed the last sort of place that a Green should be working. Even now, a survey of Green Party members would probably show a majority in the 'helping professions' or in small scale ethical businesses; however there is a role for heavy metal-bashing too (where else would our renewable energy devices be made?), and it is those types of industry where environmental and energy awareness is likely to make the biggest difference.

It's easy to forget nowadays just how big East Manchester was as a centre for engineering in times gone by. The eighties of course was the heyday of Maggie Thatcher and the replacement of manufacturing in this country with service industry - particularly financial services (look where that's gone!) The last proposal for creating employment in that area of the city was to build a huge gambling den. That too is now history, and rightly so.

As the laissez-faire financial markets collapse around us, why not bring back appropriate (and cleaner!) engineering back to the area, as part of a Green New Deal to invest in sustainable technologies for the future instead of propping up the 'banksters'.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

The TiF Bid

Nobody could spend any time in Manchester these days without noticing that there is a big transport debate going on, with a proposal for massive public transport investment paid for with a congestion charge (the Tif bid). I won't go into the basic details - there are a range of sites from both proponents and opponents for you to sift through (various links in the text) - but this has been a more difficult subject for us Greens to deal with than you might think.

Colleagues in groups like Friends of the Earth express surprise that anyone other than a diehard motorist should oppose the scheme; it improves public transport, it discourages cars - surely it must be a good thing. Greens campaigning for other congestion charge schemes around the country might feel the same. However detailed reading of the consultation documents raises a number of issues from a true Green point of view.

The first issue is with the rationale of the whole proposal; it isn't for environmental benefit, it is to support continued economic growth in the City region. The problem to be solved is the negative impact of congestion on business.
The environmental aspects of the proposal are tacked on as an afterthought, indeed the 24 page consultation document sent out to households contains just 2 brief paragraphs on the environmental impact.

Reading the small print one finds out that the reduction in carbon claimed by the scheme is only a reduction in the increase that would result from a 'do nothing' strategy. A low carbon option was put forward by consultants Steer Davies Gleave in their Strategic Environmental Assessment; this was rejected by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) as being too radical. Walking and cycling have a low profile despite the fact that 17% of car journeys in the conurbation are of less than 1 km and 51% are of less than 3 km. And there is always the worry that AGMA will have an incentive to keep car use at a level such as to pay off the loan via the congestion charge for years to come.

Much of the public debate (particularly in the business-obsessed Manchester Evening news) has centred on the pro and anti business groups, ('United City' and 'Greater Manchester Momentum Campaign' respectively) slugging it out over which outcome will best suit their interests. The motoring lobby has of course been vocal in framing it as 'another stealth tax on the poor motorist'. Community groups may well be deeply involved in the consultation process, but if so, it is under the radar and one wonders how much say they will actually have.

Anyway, decision time approaches. The question is - from a green point of view is the scenario which would result from a succesful bid better than the balance of likely scenarios if it falls? Most green-minded people might answer yes, but it can be argued both ways.