Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tories don't really care about the environment - part 2

The Chelmsford Community Plan to 2021 fails to put protecting the environment at the absolute heart of local strategy. It opens by saying:
Our Vision
Our long term vision is for Chelmsford to become the economic, cultural, leisure and retail heart of Essex and a leading regional centre in the East of England. It is a vision for the future of the Borough and its people – for Chelmsford Tomorrow.

Yes, the environment is one of five main themes later on (the fourth one, though), but when Chelmsford is facing massive development, you might expect the sustainability of all this development to be front and centre i.e. integral to the overall objective.

The Plan, in particular its impact on the North West Chelmsford, was discussed today at a forum meeting. The presentation from some residents of that neighbourhood was uplifting and can hopefully be copied elsewhere.

The community plan was adopted by the Borough Council on Wednesday night, and is linked to in the Council Agenda.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Actions speak louder than words on environment

Today we had confirmation that the Labour Govt. and Conservative Council do not really place a high priority on the environment. Today was day two of the public inquiry into the Borough Council's Town Centre Area Action Plan. The topic was a variety of transport issues.

The Chelmsford Cycle Action Group (to which I belong) was there, calling for improvements to the cycle network. For instance, north-south links through the town and making Sustrans Route 1 up to the proper standard for its full length through the Borough. Lib Dem Cllrs. Keith Francis and Graham Pooley backed this up and made the case for improved walking and bus links too. For instance, promoting the idea of a circular bus route to move people round the town centre. The Lib Dems also tried to make the fine words about cycle networks etc. into a firm objective "to be delivered within the timeframe of the plan" but the council and the inspector resisted this as 'outside their control'. So what is the point of the plan? Most of its objectives are outside direct council control - but footpaths actually are not!!

The Inspector's response? "I have to strike a balance between the different modes of transport. I cannot favour one over the other." Setting aside for a moment that the latter does not follow from the former, he and the plan clearly DO favour one over the other. The vast majority of the resources allocated in the plan are for more roads. Government policy, which he is supposed to be implementing, talks about making local development more sustainable. I asked him whether he accepted that that was a Government objective and that he is supposed to deliver it, but he ignored the point.

Under questioning from the Lib Dems present, Chelmsford council shifted their position from saying "High Bridge Road may be demolished" to it WILL be demolished, and replaced with a new road across the water meadow onto Chelmer Road. (The road is only 14 years old.) Clearly they have no idea what sustainability means in practice.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Global warming WORSE than estimated

Last Saturday I was in local shopping centres with fellow Lib Dems, asking for support for a "Fair Deal for Chelmsford" and for a "Greener Chelmsford". One person asked whether global warming really is as bad as some have said. "Aren't some scientists saying it's not true?" he asked. "A few" I replied "but the vast majority are agreed that there is a really serious problem." And today is an article in The Guardian from the Government's climate change expert suggesting it could be worse than thought: "I underestimated the threat" says Stern.

So instead of backing massive road building projects, perhaps local Conservatives should be looking at reducing the need to drive. (They want to widen the A12 all the way to Colchester; build a major North East Chelmsford by-pass and build two new roads in/out of Chelmsford town centre.) A mile of rail track costs £40 million and a mile of motorway £79 million. Can we not prioritise greater capacity on the rail network? It desperately needs it.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Poverty gap has not narrowed under Labour | Politics | The Guardian

Higher national taxes under Labour; higher local taxes under the Conservatives (up 5% in Chelmsford) and today we learn that the Poverty gap has not narrowed under Labour. A number of lower-paid people will be WORSE off next week, when the 10% starting rate of tax is abolished. Apparently some Labour MPs are surprised about this (according to the reports in The Guardian). If only they had listened to David Laws or Vince Cable at the time.

No wonder everyone is feeling under pressure.