Sunday, 8 August 2010

Manchester's Two Transport 'Gods'

When it comes to Manchester and modes of transport there are 2 'gods' to which the local environment can be sacrificed – one is the Metrolink tram system and the other is the Airport. When the two combine, then Heaven help what is left of South Manchester's biodiversity.

As recently as June 24th I mentioned the possibility of a Metrolink line to the Airport, stating that it had not yet got funding. Things have moved faster than I thought, the line has now been approved, and work is expected to begin within a year. There is a good case for improving public transport links between Wythenshawe and the rest of the city, for example when Withington Hospital was closed, it was on the basis that Wythenshawe would serve the whole catchment area. The line isn't about this though – it's about the Airport. To emphasise this the South Manchester Reporter's lead story on this granted the longest quote and the only photo, not to a South Manchester politician but to the boss of the Airport, Geoff Muirhead. Residents living close to the Airport line will also be pleased to hear of the intention to run trams from as early as 3 am, whilst to add injury to insult, the branch which passed Wythenshawe Hospital in the previous plans seems to have disappeared completely.

In that previous blog I mentioned the impact on the Mersey Valley, and I'll refer people again to an excellent blog post from Dave Bishop on this; also here's a photo of the type of area which will be lost , but there are issues with the route from Chorlton even before it gets that far.

Presumably the plan is still to destroy the central reservation of Mauldeth Road South, with all its trees.  As well as the loss of trees this would create 6 lanes (four road and two rail) down that stretch and the junction with Barlow Moor Road would be highly problematic.    When the plan was route was first proposed, back in the late 1990s, Greens in Chorlton opposed this destruction. I have long felt that if the Metrolink is there to take cars of the road, then it should take up road space instead of Green belt or existing heavy rail lines (elsewhere in the conurbation, the development of Metrolink has led to the closure of existing rail facilities for years at a time). In this case it should use part of Princess Parkway. That's if one accepts that such a tram-link is the best transport solution.

There is a precedent for protecting the valley from outdated transport plans. Decades ago there was a proposal to extend Mauldeth Road South/Hardy lane into a motorway spur across the Mersey Valley at Jackson's boat and onto what is now the M60. Apart from a half-hearted attempt to revive it about 20 years ago by Trafford Tory Philistines, it has been long dead and buried.

The usual approach of the '3 Main' Parties to any Metrolink expansion is along the lines of 'We brought the Metrolink', 'No, we brought the Metrolink' etc. - It's like a scene out of the movie 'Spartacus'. Following their well-publicised opposition to the football development plans in the Mersey Valley, it will be interesting to see what the local Lib Dem councillors, and the remaining Labour councillor, in Chorlton/Chorlton Park have to say about this route.  

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Every Little (and Big) Hurts

On Sunday 27th June, I had a chance to witness England's great sporting triumph of that day. Those of you looking back at the calendar may be puzzled – surely that was the day we were thrashed by Germany in Bloemfontein, hardly a triumph. True, but I was referring to our cricket team taking an unassailable 3 -0 lead over the Aussies at Old Trafford, a mere 2 miles from my home, and a match to which I might have gone.

So why didn't I? Because, Lancashire County Cricket Club have hitched their ground improvement to Tesco, who plan to put what is arguably Britain's biggest hypermarket close to the ground, with the redevelopment money as a bribe to Trafford Council and the Cricket Club. I've blogged at length on this before - Just Not Cricket so will just focus now on more recent events in this sorry saga.

Tesco's application was approved by Trafford Council, but a strong campaign from No Mega Tesco called for the Government of the North-West to have it called in. A particular argument for call-in was a rival supermarket plan for Sainsbury's at White City little more than a stone's throw away, and on a site where such a store was already permitted. The Government of the North-West deferred their decision until after the election; several weeks after the result, with the Tory – Lib Dem coalition in power, and cuts very much on the agenda, the Government let it go. As the cricket club celebrate the many campaigners have only a possible appeal from Derwent Holdings (who are behind the rival Sainsbury's) bid to hold on to.

To add insult to injury Tesco are apparently planning a further supermarket in Chorlton, to add to the one they forced through against local opinion a few years back. Unfortunately as they are taking over a disused pub, they don't need planning permission, so we can expect it imminently.

Battles against Tesco rumble on continually across the country, indeed there is a well-known national campaign group concerned with this one topic – Tescopoly. Former Green Party principal speaker Derek Wall has the honour of being banned for life from Tesco, following an earlier act of opposition.

Elsewhere in the country right now, the Norfolk town of Sheringham is trying to hold out against the juggernaut, with evidence of dirty tricks from the Supermarket giant - as reported in the Independent recently -
Meanwhile in Brighton, Green councillors and even a Green MP don't necessarily tip the odds enough, - see here for information on their fight to save a Community Garden from the Tesco onslaught:- Lewes Road Tesco

Tesco already control over 30% of the UK grocery trade; in the wake of these developemnts we can the loss of more local shops across South Manchester and Trafford, and more money siphoned out of the area, to the pockets of Tesco shareholders

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Same Sh*t, Different Referendum

So we are going to get a referendum on the voting system (for Westminster elections) next year. For most of England this will be the first referendum for over thirty years – I say most, because of course, the people of Manchester had a referendum much more recently (on the 'TiF Bid/Congestion Charge).
At first glance these two referenda, one on transport the other on voting reform, have little in common. On the contrary I can see a lot of similarities.

In the Transport referendum the majority of green-leaning groups, such as Friends of the Earth campaigned for a Yes vote, but there were many, including myself, who felt that what we were offered had so many flaws that we couldn't get behind it with any real enthusiasm. There were some Green Party activists who felt for sound reasons that a No vote was the right response.

In the Alternative Vote referendum coming up, I can see remarkably similar lines being drawn. I only have to look at my inbox – the day after the referendum announcement I received 2 emails almost simultaneously. One was from Vote for a Change' gushing with 'amazing news' and a 'huge victory', and of course urging me to campaign for a 'yes' vote; the other from a respected Green Party colleague inviting me to join the Facebook Group 'No to AV – Yes to PR', and calling for a No Vote.

What will guide me in whether I vote Yes or No (or abstain altogether for that matter) when the referendum comes, is which outcome will do least damage to our transition to a genuinely proportional system. Will a Yes vote be taken as 'Well we've gone to all that trouble to change the system, we're not changing it again' or will a No vote be taken as 'people don't want to change from the present system so its off the agenda for a long long time'. If I vote Yes it won't be with any enthusiasm whatsoever. What we are being offered is completely the wrong referendum (and at the wrong time too – more of that later).

What should have happened was a healthy open debate about the different voting systems, along with wider constitutional issues (what is happening with the House of Lords?, what about voting reform for local councils?) engaging as much of the electorate as possible. This would be followed by a referendum offering a range of choices, as it was done in New Zealand when they changed their voting system. Instead we're being granted an artificial choice between two systems which are only marginally different in their effect, a feeble offering from a bunch of establishment politicians looking to entrench/advance their own Parties' positions. Why don't groups like 'Vote for a Change' stop drooling over this pathetic choice and start campaigning for real Change?

Wrong time too – holding it the same day as the local, Scottish and Welsh elections, presumably in an attempt to boost the turnout. It will be particularly strange for voters in Scotland; as well as casting their votes for the Scottish Parliament and local councils, using two different voting systems, they'll be asked to vote between two different, and worse, systems for Westminster. Far better to keep such votes separate so that voters can concentrate on one set of issues at a time. It may well be a bad time for the coalition too, as their cuts begin to bite. It smacks of desperation on the part of the Liberal Democrats, as their influence within the coalition seems to be slipping.

The TiF bid/Congestion Charge proposal was heavily defeated. With many supporters only too aware of flaws, a hostile media, and tarnished by a close association with the political establishment, it's not surprising in retrospect that it lost. My feeling at the moment is that the Alternative Vote referendum will go the same way.

PS for description of different voting systems see – Electoral Reform Society – but note they are very evangelical about the Single Transferable Vote system so take any bias into account.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

How Green is Our Valley

Last Sunday I attended two events in our local green lung, the Mersey Valley. The first was a walk organised by the 'Friends of Chorlton Meadows (FOCM)' (see blog) which looked at the different species of bee which can be found in the area, with a local bee expert, Brian Robinson. I have to say that I hadn't realised there were so many different species of bumble bee in Britain alone, and also that there is still so much for us to learn about their role in the eco-system.

Bees have been in the news a lot recently and not for the right reason. The honey bee has been hit very badly by a disease called Colony Collapse Disorder, whilst in recent decades many species of bumble bee have gone into decline or even disappeared from this country as habitat has been lost.
The role of bees in the pollination of plants cannot be overestimated. Whilst larger species in danger of extinction such as the polar bear and the tiger get the publicity, the loss of the humble bee would have a far greater impact on our lives.

2010 if of course the Year of Biodiversity, and this was one of a series of walks highlighting the variety of different types of flora and fauna in this part of the Mersey Valley. FOCM Chair Dave Bishop stated that he was struck by the degree of biodiversity across the range in this small area of South Manchester. All the more reason for valuing and safeguarding this vital green lung, which brings me on to the second event.

The Save Chorlton Meadows campaign (not to be confused with FOCM) came into being last year when a plan was proposed to convert the Meadows at Hardy Farm into football pitches including floodlighting. Whilst that plan was defeated, an application has just been put in for floodlighting and other changes at the existing pitch on the edge of the meadows. Smaller scale it may be, but the floodlighting and increased capacity will still have an adverse effect on both wildlife and local residents, and the Campaign is fighting it with as much vigour as the earlier application.

Good to see the defence of our valley against the rampant god of football. It will be interesting to see if it can be defended against another local god – the Metrolink. A planned future route of the light-rail system takes it straight across this part of the Mersey Valley. This particular development has not yet secured funding, so would be some time in the future but it is definitely time to challenge the route.

One of the arguments put forward for Metrolink is that it will take cars of the road, in which case I have long felt that the lines should be run on current roadspace, and not on existing rail-lines or greenbelt. I was pleased to hear local MP John Leech, state the same opinion, and I think the newly-radicalised campaigners of Chorlton and Chorlton Park may have plenty to say when the impact of the Metrolink on this area becomes clear.. Especially those who have witnessed the line being driven though other parts of the area, such as the cutting between Wilbraham Road and the Fallowfield Loop cycleway, a matter of yards from my house.
The aforementioned Dave Bishop has plenty to say on the matter here

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Back to Normal ?

I haven’t posted on this blog for a good while – partly due to my focus on my election blog for the campaign period; my excuse since polling day is that I’m in a recovery period. However enough things have happened in my area of Manchester in the last few days for me to put finger to keyboard again.

Last Friday I got an invitation to a mass lobby of John Leech MP, following Israel’s outrageous act of piracy against the Gaza Flotilla. Mass lobby was something of an exaggeration, it was a group of about 10 students from Manchester University Action Palestine. Enough to fill Mr Leech's Office though.
The Lobby called for:

. End the Siege of Gaza

· No to an Israeli enquiry, yes to an International enquiry

· Sanctions on Israel – End the EU-Israel Association Agreement

John Leech was generally supportive and agreed to take various things forward with the relevant authorities/people but could only display limited optimism at achieving the changes being demanded particularly in the relationships between Britain /EU, and Israel. I'm pleased to see he's signed the Early Day Motionon the subject.

Eat Your Streets

Saturday was World Environment Day, and a local event in nearby Manley Park (Whalley Range) was organised by Manchester Friends of the Earth and ''Eat Your Streets'. In perfect weather, guests were served up food by a Chorlton-based group called 'Cracking Good Food', whilst the more dedicated dug a small plot on the park and planted soft fruit plants and vegetables. This planting is one of several which the group are doing in different parts of Whalley Range - watch this space (something might grow in it!).

On Sunday, St. Clements Parish Church in Chorlton put on a talk by Professor Michael Northcott St Clements of Edinburgh University, a leading expert in the field of environmental ethics (and also described as the 'thinking man's Michael Moore)'. The talk was primarily on the ethics of climate change, particularly internationally; unfortunately I missed a significant part of it, but it was a salutary reminder of both the truth and the importance of this topic, in the wake of the recent publicity given to climate change deniers in the media.

As an example Professor Northcott pointed out that whilst Britain is usually quoted as being responsible for 4% of world emissions, when all of our exploitation of resources in other countries is included it's more like 10-15%, and if the effect of all British companies is included as well it's more like 30%.

At the end of the talk there was a chance to look at a range of designs for the rebuilding of the scout hut adjacent to the church; the Centre for Alternative Technology have been brought in to advise on the most ecologically sound designs. All credit to the Church for the way they are going about this, and for arranging the talk by Professor Northcott.

Back to normal? - well, the above events are the sort of things I would like to consider normal for a weekend.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

New Election Blog created!

For the duration of the election campaign I have set up the following blog
to cover my campaign and associated comments events etc:

This means I will probably posting less here for a while and posting more there - should be much more there.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Battle of Bolton

I went to Bolton yesterday to support Green Party colleagues and Bolton against Racism oppose the EDL. Anyone relying on reports in the mainstream media (including the BBC) is likely to have a very misleading view of what was going on. I must also confess that during the time I was there it was difficult to tell what was going on, and I left before the end; this is very much a personal account. I did witness some very heavy-handed policing towards the anti-fascist demonstrators. I notice the Police were claiming that 2 injuries were caused by protesters, however I saw the two injured people being escorted away and it didn't look like that to me. Surely after the G20 the media should be a bit more wary of Police accounts.

I was intentionally going to support Bolton against Racism (BAR), and to be part of a dignified protest. I am please to say that there was a good number of BAR people there, many in a community choir. A number of local MPs of various Parties had also called on people to go and oppose the EDL (although I didn't see any of said MPs while I was there). I regret that some elements on the UAF side were less than dignified; there were some people there who would have welcomed a fight. The EDL are a rag-tag army of racist thugs and it takes a degree of skill to cede any moral high ground to them, so that is disappointing.

Having said that, the Police seemed at best confused about how to deal with the situation and looked like they were deliberately winding up the pressure in front of what I consider was basically a peaceful demonstration . Perhaps it was an opportunity to show off all their nice new riot gear, and their menagerie of animals. First they showed us the dogs, bristling and snarling, then the horses; I would not have been surprised if elephants had followed. And the arrest of UAF's Weyman Bennett was ridiculous.
In one bizarre sequence our group were moved further and further back by a solid cordon of Police to make a wide empty space. I surmised that this was the space the EDL were coming though. But no, half an hour later, the Police had all moved on somewhere else (mainly to kettle the core of the demonstration) and we were able to mill around again. They seemed to be making it up as they went along.
World War 2 Veteran knocked over - Video clip

Police tactics before the demo were also disturbing. Local Green candidate Alan Johnson (definitely not to be confused with the Home Secretary of the same name) informed me that whilst leafleting for the anti-EDL demo at a local mosque he had see police there advising Muslims not to attend. Alan had even felt in danger of arrest himself for leafleting the mosque. So members of Bolton community are being advised to keep out of their town centre to make way for a bunch of racists from outside!. No wonder feelings run high.

The most disconcerting moment for me was my return to the station. Bradshawgate was crawling with EDL (and noticeably fewer Police...), who were hitting the local bars. I think there were more of them there than in their section of the central square. I was amused to see a group of them being frisked by a black bouncer, but apart from that it was a creepy feeling. I knew what these people had done in Stoke; I feared for Bolton later that day.

The EDL demonstration, which had nothing to do with Bolton, should not have been allowed to happen in the first place. This organisation is clearly out to make trouble and divide communities. The Government have banned Islam4UK from marches, so why are the EDL exempt? Ant-fascist groups, whilst rightly standing up to racism need to beware of giving ammunition to the media and the authorities. As for the policing, there needs to be a proper investigation as to how that was conducted, both before and during the demonstration.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Airport Twinning

Apologies for the long gap between posts - roles may change (see below), but life doesn't get any easier.

Town Twinning has been around for a while but I was present at an event yesterday which could be described as Airport Twinning, although Anti-Airport twinning would be more accurate.

Residents of Hasty Lane, threatened with demolition to make way for a hanger, linked up by webcam with residents of Sipson, the village threatened with obliteration if the Heathrow third runway ever goes ahead. The picture shows representatives of the 2 campaigns cutting a ceremonial ribbon.

This was part of a well-attended event, which also included a tour of the immediate area (including a bio-diverse pond) which will all be destroyed if the Airport get their way (see here), and an Adoption ceremony.

This last exercise was an extension of something which has already been done at Sipson, whereby activists 'adopt' an affected resident and thereby pledge their support for the campaign. There were enough people there to give each resident (7 currently threatened with eviction I believe) a team of about 10 adopters.

Among those attending were several guests from Sipson and leading anti-airport campaigner John Stewart (pictured with Manchester Central and Hulme candidate Gayle O'Donovan and a guest from Sipson). The event was well covered in the local media including BBC regional news.

Role Change? I have recently relinquished the post of Chair of Manchester Green Party after 4 years, only to exchange it for the role of MGP Treasurer. I'm still deciding what to do with the blog - abandon it, keep it as it is, push it in a different direction. I won't replace it with a Treasurer's blog and regale you with tales of Bank mandate forms and Paypal accounts.

I am also gearing up for dual election candidacy, for Withington constituency in the general election and Chorlton ward in the local council elections - see Chorlton Greens blogspotThese roles should make for more blogging potential as the elections approach.