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The “New home front”

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Everyone has heard the stories about the changes that were undertaken during the second world war in terms of people’s diets and the use of energy etc. Obviously they were not optional – due to wartime rationing etc. But amazing things were achieved and the population was the healthiest it had been for years!

Through the efforts of government and public action, wartime Britain achieved feats that would be considered extraordinary today. In just six years, British homes cut their coal use by 25% (a total of 11m tonnes) and their use of personal motor vehicles by 95% (public transport use increased by 13%). So could some ‘Blitz spirit’ be the answer to climate change?

Green MP Caroline Lucas thinks so, and has launched the New Home Front, a project that aims to learn the lessons of World War II-era Britain and apply them to the new global crisis. The posters of that time could be relevant to today, such as: “Is your journey really necessary?”

Caroline Lucas is collating ideas from those who lived through the war on ways the country can face the new realities of changing climate – whether that’s growing our own food, eating seasonally and locally, or creating a new national bank. And her comments make sense;

“If we are to overcome the climate crisis,we must move on to the equivalent of a war-footing, where the efforts of individuals, organisations, and government are harnessed together – and directed to a common goal.”

Her document can be downloaded here, it’s worth a read and may well give you cause for thought. I think she may be onto something, although it requires perhaps a higher degree of social conscience than we currently have in the UK?

Total change needed in UK car policy?

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This weeks ‘electric car challenge’ by the BBC (trying to drive London to Edinburgh in an electric mini) and the recent hike in fuel costs has set me thinking. Do we actually need a total change in car policy in this country?

Currently most drivers consider themselves as victims of the tax system – not a view I would disagree with. But, one needs to consider what the Governments supposed aims are in levying these taxes, and more importantly whether they can work and if not what the alternatives are?

So which is it?

Taxes on car use – like those on alcohol and tobacco – have always provoked bitter arguments about the Governments real goals and hidden agendas.

Is the ultimate aim to curb people’s bad habits, be they driving, drinking or smoking, or is it more about raising revenue on the sly, without putting up income tax? I believe at the moment it is hard to argue that the prime reason for the tax hike is to raise finance. Any reduction in car use or emissions is purely ‘a lucky by-product’.

We can expect renewed debate on those familiar lines following recent events;

The minister for decentralisation, Greg Clark, has written to local authorities to tell them that the Government is scrapping its parking charge advice to local councils.

Until now, this advised them to raise charges in order to get more people out of their cars. So the response from some quarters will be to claim that both changes offer proof that the Coalition Government is dumping whatever green credentials it claimed to have, and that the Tory party, to which Mr Clark belongs, is playing to the gallery. Conservatives have indeed long been seen as the car-friendly party while Labour has carried the flag for public transport. No surprise then, if you follow this line of argument, that the congestion charge is being banished from wealthy west London, the capital’s Tory heartland.

But, when London first introduced the congestion charge in 2003, the case in its favour looked overwhelming. Businesses opposed it from the start. But those complaints were initially trumped by falls in the levels of traffic of about 30 per cent in the first two years, which made London a cleaner, more pedestrian-friendly place. Since then, however, traffic levels have crept back upwards and congestion levels today are more or less what they were in 2002. This has prompted claims that the charge has become another regressive tax that doesn’t cut car numbers or reduce pollution, while hitting the less well-off hardest. Supporters of the charge are thrown back on the claim that matters would surely be worse without it, but this can’t be proven.

The Governments argument for scrapping advice to local councils on parking charges also deserves consideration. He maintains that high charges do not force people out of cars but only encourage them to drive further to out-of-town shopping centres where they can park for free. The big casualty, therefore, is the old town-centre high street with its necklace of small shops. A fair point!

Part of the problem with the way that Britain has handled car-related questions has been over-reliance on foreign planning models. In the 1950s and 1960s, we had an almost slavish adherence to American thinking on how we should live, inspired what now seems the absurd idea that everyone would want to drive everywhere – paying little or nothing for petrol.

Since the 1980s, looking to Europe has been more in vogue. But copying the transport policies of continental cities has not always proven much more helpful – they have a very different social structure to their cities. It is easy to winkle drivers out of cars and on to trams in small, high-density cities like Amsterdam; less easy in much more spread-out British cities like London, where living patterns are very different.

So what is the answer? If I am honest I have no idea, but whatever happens we are going to have to come up with a different model for our car policy. It needs to be a much more ‘joined up’ approach, the car is going to have to change and we need some real investment in public transport. The current policy isn’t working!

Petrol and Diesel costs

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The price of petrol and diesel at the pumps has soared to a record high.

The average price of petrol is now 121.76p a litre, overtaking the previous record figure of 121.61p reached on May 12 this year.

The average diesel prices are now 125.73p a litre – still short of the July 2008 record of 133.25p (but there is time!)

Petrol is now 11.88p more expensive than it was at the beginning of this year, with motorists having to pay almost £6 more to fill an average tank.

If current prices persist, the new year increase in fuel duty and VAT will push petrol prices up to 124p a litre (that £5.64 a gallon for those of us who remember them!)

Our only hope is that either oil and fuel markets settle back down or the pound strengthens against the dollar.

While the increases this year have been driven by a number of factors, you can’t get away from the fact that we have seen five rises in fuel duty in the past two years – and we’re due another one in January, plus a VAT rise.

Who knows what the price will be come January 5 2011? An average of 125p per litre is very feasible.

If the Government is serious about ending the war on motorists, then for the large majority of drivers that starts at the petrol pumps. January’s rise must be cancelled, and the overall issue of the price of petrol in this country needs looking at urgently.

I am getting grumpy – but I think with reason!

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Ok, so I am getting to that time of my life when society would have it that I can be classed as a ‘grumpy old man’. Not something that I would have considered a matter to be proud of a few years ago. But, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that in this country we are becoming so self-centred that someone needs to point out to people what is ‘correct’ behaviour and what is not!

In the last few weeks my car has been hit twice in Sainsbury’s car park, the first time it happened it was just a minor ding – a quick job with the touch up paint and all was well. I gave the person the benefit of the doubt – they may not have realised they hit the car.

Today’s however is of a far more impressive nature – wheel arch scratched, side of rear bumper heavily scrapped – no one could do this without having some idea! It appears however that it is totally acceptable to just drive off nowadays!

This is the thin end of the wedge behaviour wise – would this type of person help someone who collapsed in the street? or was attacked? – probably not in my view.

Do we really want to have a society that frankly does not care about its fellow-man or woman? I really believe that this country has some of the lowest standards in terms of behaviour and ‘personal ethics’ in Europe. We love to believe that we are ‘better’ than many other countries – how wrong we are.

Perhaps it’s time we learned some humility in this country, our arrogance does us no favours in the World.

Yes I am annoyed, and possibly being somewhat ‘over the top’ in this regard, but I do strongly hope that the current economic conditions make people think and get their priorities back in line.

Life is not just about self – we all have to give something back to society or it collapses.

And we were surprised when we failed to land the World Cup?

School Gardens

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I blogged last week about my role as Chair of Governors at Edwalton Primary school, and more importantly about what a fantastic school it is especially with regards to its green credentials. One of its best features is the way the children embrace the concept of being green, and more importantly have regard to the effect their actions can have on the environment – take note BP.    

One of the most amazing recent ‘happenings’ at school is the growth in the demand and love for the school gardens. Subject to availability, any of the pupils can have their own patch of garden in the school grounds – not a large space, but enough to express themselves by planting and tending it.    

Some of the gardens

 

The recent building work at school to put in the new eco room and classroom building caused a section of the school playground to be ‘destroyed’ by the builders as they put in services etc. Considering this work was only done a few months ago the transformation that has occurred since the gardens were returned to the children is nothing short of miraculous! (apologies for the quality of the photos, they were taken on my phone). 

The poly tunnel and gardens

 

The addition of a poly tunnel (by way of a local authority grant) has further increased the discovery that the children can have of the world of gardening. I have been amazed at how the children and especially the boys, are keen to get involved in the gardening. Again this highlights the need for education on these subjects at this early age. The world would be a far more pleasant place in the future if all children had this type of experience early in their educational lives.

Interesting quote?

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Perhaps Tolstoy had the right idea?

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself

Leo Tolstoy

I have blogged before about my problem with NIMBY’s and how we seem to suffer from that attitude more in this country than any other in Europe. I am trying to improve my families green credentials; our car is being down sized, we don’t use it for short journeys, we are much more aware of energy usage and we recycle everything we can. The younger generation also seem to embrace this approach much more readily than those of us of an older disposition! Perhaps this should tell us something?

I believe education has a lot to do with the way forwards on this issue. I am chair of Governors at the local Primary School – Edwalton Primary – which is a beacon school for sustainability and has, I would like to think,  helped to make its pupils far more caring future members of society.

The school has a farm with sheep, goats, pigs, chickens and bees. The pupils look after the animals but are also aware of their long-term destination – the dinner plate. We have recently acquired a new  building at the school which provides an ‘eco room’ useable by the community and groups with green agendas to meet and use the schools environment for its education.

The school also acts as a guardian for Rushcliffe Borough Council of the Meadow Covert, a wooded copse next to the school which also provides an outdoor classroom for summer teaching.

The recent changes to the school grounds has caused a move to some of the children’s gardens (they all have their own small plot). Rather than cause a problem this has exploded the interest in gardens and there is now a waiting list! The school grounds also look amazing because of the gardens!

All of this  has been the culmination of many years of development at the school in relation to its sustainability and other green matters. The current Headmaster, Brian Owens has total commitment to the aims and beliefs of the school and is one of the most driven individuals I have ever met. The kids also have a huge respect for him and even more importantly are totally behind the ethics of the school – it is a very special place!  Ask any of them and they really feel they belong to the school.

The school are also winners of the DCFS Award for Sustainable Schools – East Midlands Region, and Brian Owens has been awarded The GTC Carol Adams Memorial Award for Excellence in Professional Development, Equalities and Diversity. 

Tolstoy was quite right, it is down to the individual to make the changes in society which will benefit us all, we cannot rely on our leaders and large industry to make these changes. We have started well with our kids – let’s now try and re-educate ourselves to help everyone – not just ourselves!

A taste of things to come?

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Recent events have highlighted to us all the dependency we have on our airline industry, and how we could not live without it. Or could we?

There is no doubt that the volcanic ash cloud has caused havoc across Europe stopping many thousands of people from getting home. The media has been full of their stories of getting back without the aid of an aircraft. There have been some excellent tales, many becoming apparent ‘live’ via Twitter (the BBC F1 team being an example). Undoubtably this has caused a great deal of pain and cost to a large number of people, but how much have you heard from business about this?

I would suggest, not a lot! All of the supermarkets have today confirmed that they only get around 1% of their food via air freight, and most of that is fairly obscure food which could not be described as ‘British staple food’. As far as industry is concerned, yes there have been some issues. Nissan has had to stop production in Japan of three vehicle types due to a lack of air sensors from Ireland of all places!

I general though I would suggest that business can, and has for a while, managed a lot of its business via the web. Travel to meetings is less necessary these days because of this. The majority of people caught in the ash cloud problems are therefore it appears holiday makers. Air travel has got progressively cheaper of the past few decades, we now take long haul travel for granted. This was not the case 30 or 40 years ago, long haul was the preserve of the wealthy. People used to holiday closer to home or in Europe, travelling by car, train or boat (remember those?)

We are heading towards a time when for various reasons; CO2 emissions, fuel costs, fuel extinction etc – we will see a rise in travel costs by air. The airlines are already saying we have seen the end of budget flying – the good times are over! Perhaps what has happened over the last week is a wake up call to us all? I can see aircraft use becoming the preserve of the rich and for specialist air freight rather than something we all take for granted.

In reality the world has not ground to a halt due to the cloud, yes it has caused some problems, but equally it has highlighted some issues that need addressing to prepare us for the future. A future that is not as far away as we would like to imagine.

For the first time as a family we are looking at the possibility of driving to Southern Europe for our Summer holiday rather than flying. This time it may be an enforced decision, we have flights booked already but are looking at a ‘plan B’ for if the cloud either stays or comes back! However in future it may be that we would look at making this part of the holiday – who knows? The costs are not in fact that different – it’s mainly the time factor that is affected. Perhaps this is a slow down call for us all!

The next month will be interesting, both in terms of seeing if the cloud issue goes away, but also to see if it changes the plans of holiday planners. No one knows for example how long it will take the airlines to get back to ‘normal’ once they get the clearance to fly. Aircraft and crews are all over the place, and mostly in the wrong places! Also who is to say that we don’t get a month of clear skies and then the issue comes back again? Let’s face it the timing this time was awesome – Easter holidays! How long to the summer holidays?

First Aid

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For a number of years I have felt that I should have a basic knowledge of first aid, particularly when I had a young family. However the opportunity to take a first aid course did not present itself to me and I relied upon my wife (a nurse) to be available when needed.

However, last year I attended a course for basic work first aid and can confirm that I found it very informative and ‘a good life skill’ to have, one which I would recommend to all.

The St John Ambulance have recently undertaken a study and believe that a wider knowledge of simple first aid techniques could save thousands of lives each year,

It is focusing a new campaign on five health emergencies which account for 150,000 deaths each year in England and Wales.

These include heart attacks, choking and severe bleeding.

The charity is offering a free pocket guide which it feels will boost the survival chances of many more patients.

It believes that if confident first aiders were present on more occasions, many lives would be saved.

The charity’s own poll suggests that most people would still not feel confident attempting first aid techniques, while a quarter would do nothing and wait for other people or paramedics to arrive.

Its chief executive Sue Killen said:

We believe that anyone who needs first aid should receive it. Our latest research shows that’s just not happening. We can’t rely on other people to have the skills – everyone should take the responsibility to learn first aid themselves.

I am also amazed to discover that certain European countries have very high levels of first aid training. Germany has almost 80% of its population with basic training. This should be something we teach at secondary schools as a life skill. I know I feel far better prepared for dealing with a basic emergency since my training.

Belonging

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We all want to belong to something, it’s a natural urge. It may take the form of following a football team, or going to a pub regularly. 

I have been a target shooter since I was 15, and in that time have belonged to only three different clubs – until today. 

Firstly I learnt my craft at Tetbury Rifle Club in Gloucestershire, initially as a school boy and then as a  student I discovered the social side of clubs (the pub)! 

On arriving in Nottingham I needed a new club, I found it at the Royal Ordnance factory (where our office is now). I shot here while a student at university and then in the first few years of work. It was a friendly club, with quite a diverse membership, but with the impending closure of the factory it was time to move on. 

Full bore shooting at Bisley

 

My move was to “Freelancers” at Langar. A very sociable club and highly successful in both county and national terms. I became secretary for almost 10 years and helped guide the club through a merger to become Langar Rifle Club. This was a very social club with a lot of young professionals at the time I joined. I felt I belonged! They also introduced me to fullbore shooting, huge fun (if not a touch on the expensive side!), and Bisley, the home of British shooting and a very sociable place! 

Time moves on though, and last night I shot at my new club. I have joined Old Nottinghamians at Nottingham High School. Many of my former colleagues from Langar are now here, so it feels more ‘comfortable’ to me. Also the range is heated (something that the Langar range lacked!). I will miss being involved at Langar, it has been a part of my life for a long time, but it is time to move on.

Eco Living & Development

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A number of recent articles in the press and visits to some ‘eco’sites has set me thinking about what we really need to achieve in the way of ‘eco’ living from a residential standpoint.

Last summer I went to visit the Hockerton Housing Project in Nottinghamshire. This is probably one of the UK’s more established residential ‘eco’ developments and an attempt (successfully) to achieve as close to a zero carbon footprint as possible.

The residents have made a number of decisions about the way theywish to  live, and the properties they have constructed to achieve this aim reflect this. The reality of their way of life borrows more from a commune lifestyle, than a ‘traditional’ modern way of life. Some of the sacrifices they have made I believe are further than the average person would be willing to go, but have been adopted as a final way to reach ‘zero carbon’. But equally there are many parts to their way of life that can and do translate to everyday life for the wider population.

If we consider the housing that has been constructed, this has been designed to be very fuel efficient, but still comfortable to live in. We were allowed access to one of the residents homes (doing tours for outsiders is part of their agreement for living there). The buildings are partially ‘buried’ and are constructed with a high thermal mass (lots of concrete) and a ‘greenhouse’ section along the front which acts as a thermal barrier and store. Each house has an active ventilation system and is fed heat via a ground source heat pump and via the ‘green house’. We were told that the internal temperature of the properties is maintained to within a few degrees all year round – at no cost!

The small payback is in relation to the layout which is quite linear with all rooms leading off each other in most cases.

To enable the community to try and take no energy from the national grid photo voltaic cells have been added to the roofs of the houses, and more importantly wind turbines are on site – not the small pointless B&Q style units. But two mast mounted units now providing spare capacity to the National Grid!

As you might expect obtaining planning for the masts was painful – even though they are almost invisible from most viewpoints! However they have now been in situ for a number of years and their efficiency is constantly monitored. By using two competing turbine suppliers the community has managed to get free upgrades to their blades which has increased efficiency greatly!

So far then we have mainly positives and things that I think most people would accept in some way or other. Now for the ‘downside’.

To buy a property on the site a purchaser has to enter into an agreement to undertake certain tasks etc for the good of the community and to limit their life in other ways. The most relevant to this piece are as follows;

  • Only one car per household
  • Spending a number of hours a week helping the community
  • Working on the allotment
  • Tending the livestock
  • Servicing the water filters (the site is self sufficient on water)
  • Tending the reed filter bed (the sites sewerage system)
  • Doing tours around the site and promoting it.

All of the above rely on residents ‘buying into’ the way of life. Not an issue on this scale and on such a pioneering scheme. But I would suggest not something that the general public would buy into?

So, what type of people live on this scheme? Vegetarian tree huggers who wear rough hand made clothes and preach
to everyone about how they are saving the planet?

No, the residents are a quite diverse bunch, and properties have changed hands since the first build. There are architects, engineers and teachers on site as far as I am aware. Yes, they are proud of what they do and promote it. However they are also keen to show that to achieve what they have done does not make them live like hermits!

I was very impressed with what they have achieved. There are a number of lessons to be learnt from their work many of which can be filtered into current design and lifestyles.

 What has been done recently in the Nottingham area which potentially builds on this work?

Abel Collins Almhouses - photo Tim Garratt

The recently constructed Abel Collins homes in Nottingham utilise some of the features of the Hockerton Housing Project, particularily the thermal mass and green roof. My colleagues blog has more information on this scheme.

Green Street - Blueprint Regeneration

Blueprint are also shortly to commence work on the ‘Greenstreet’ development in the Meadows area of Nottingham. This is a low energy scheme of 38 residential properties, and another great step forward.

It will be interesting to watch the effect upon the market of these two very different schemes.