The UK's fracking commissioner, Natascha Engel, resigned last week, claiming that government rules created a 'de facto ban' on the industry. But in an interview on Radio 4's Broadcasting House on Sunday, she made it clear she just didn't understand either the consequences of a fracking industry or the concerns of its opponents – such as the many campaign groups fiercely opposing fracking here in Sussex.
The government has sold exploration licences across Sussex to oil and gas companies. Cuadrilla has licences covering over 270 square miles in the eastern half of Sussex. Celtique Energie/Magellan Petroleum owns licence blocks right across West Sussex.
These companies are determined to drill. And it will affect us all if they go ahead. Extraction is only profitable for the oil and gas companies if they drill large numbers of wells close together over a large area.
In West Sussex, Celtique Energy is promising its shareholders vast profits – the volume of oil and gas they promise would require over 6000 shale gas wells and 800 shale oil wells.
(Find out more at Frack Off's website. The map above is from Frack Off.)
The Commissioner for Shale Gas’s role is to act as a contact point for local residents. You might hope, at the very least, that she would be impartial. You might also hope that she would be well informed.
Natascha Engel failed on both fronts, spectacularly. Before her appointment she had been hired by fossil fuel company Ineos to write an information booklet promoting the benefits of shale gas exploration – so it was clear which side of the fence she sat on when the government appointed her.
No surprises there: this government has pushed shale exploration on the UK relentlessly, despite huge public opposition, and at the same time has created a hostile environment for renewables.
Engel’s grasp of facts seems to have been a little shaky too. She seemed to think that fracking would enable the UK to reduce its imports of gas. The UK already exports more gas than it imports – but she didn’t mention this. Her obsession was with the UK’s imports of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).
In the interview, Engel claimed that the UK could reduce its carbon footprint by reducing the amount of LNG it imported, because LNG requires considerable amounts of energy to liquefy and transport.
However, the UK’s imports of LNG have been falling in recent years: LNG imports fell by a third between 2016 and 2017.
In addition, the UK exports more natural gas than it imports LNG. The ONS figures for 2018 show that the UK imported less than 100TWh of LNG but exported more than 120TWh of natural gas. So the UK can end its need for energy-hungry LNG by using its own natural gas.
The product of fracking is a fossil fuel: creating and using it will generate more CO2, and add considerably to global warming.
The Conservative government and the oil lobbies are desperate to frack. They still do not see that we need to turn to alterative, renewable technologies.
Nor do they care about the views of local people whose lives and environments will be shattered by fracking.
The Green Party has opposed fracking from the start, often on the front line, standing with people in villages and towns across the UK as the exploration rigs arrive.
Locally and nationally, Greens know that fracking isn't the future. It maintains our dependence on dirty fossil fuels and takes investment away from the renewable energy sources that can provide us with energy security for centuries to come.
Patricia Patterson-Vanegas, Green Party candidate for Wealden District Councillor for Forest Row, says "I welcome the resignation of the Fracking Tsar. Across the country, Greens have been making the case for increased use of renewables and an end to dependence on fossil fuels. We've consistently supported efforts to keep Sussex frack-free."
And Tony Lewin, Green Party member and Forest Row parish councillor, says "Here in Forest Row we have a thriving Energy Co-op, which is successfully moving people away from fossil fuel consumption, and is ensuring that dirty industries such as fracking have no future in the UK."
ONS Figures are from the Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES), published 26th July, 2018.
Appointment of Engel as Commissioner: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/natascha-engel-appointed-as-commissioner-for-shale-gas
In Brighton & Hove, Greens on the City Council pushed for social rents to be pegged to local incomes – not to local housing market rates. And they won, so households with an income of £20,000 can now afford social housing in the city. That’s the difference Green Councillors can make.
We need more 1- to 3-bedroom houses and flats to be built, because that’s the size of most modern households. We need more social housing. And people on low and average incomes need to be able to afford to live in Wealden.
What has our District Council done? It has given permission for masses of 4- and 5-bedroom houses that most people can’t afford. Even worse, it has overseen the building of way too few of the 2- and 3-bedroom homes that people are asking for.
Wealden District Council is also happy to let properties at the government’s laughable definition of ‘affordable’: 80% of a ridiculously high market rate is still ridiculously high and out of reach for most people.
Why is this? Why do our Councillors so singularly fail to make sure people in Wealden have somewhere to live? Could it be that the biggest profits lie in building large houses, and our Council is a pushover for greedy developers?
Could it be that Wealden’s housing policy is a mess of contradictions and figures that just don’t add up?
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Wealden District Council believes that the market will deliver the homes we need, despite all the evidence showing that the market responds to a few developers’ profit margins, not to what people need.
Why do we have so many large houses and so few smaller homes? Easy: large homes turn a pretty profit for developers; small homes make them less money.
In the early planning stages, the developers show Wealden’s planners a good proportion of smaller homes. They get permission to go ahead and build. But the developers don’t actually want to build those smaller, less profitable homes.
What do they do? It’s simple. They tell Wealden District Council that they can no longer make a profit with the mix of housing on the plans. They can only build homes if they cut the smaller ones – and Wealden District Council has housing targets to meet, so it agrees, time after time, so that at least some houses get built. They’re massive houses that few people can afford, but hey, the target was met. It’s bye-bye affordable homes yet again.
Only the brave read Wealden District Council’s draft Local Plan last year. But if you waded through it, you realised that it was a tangle of confusion and conflicting figures: the Council doesn’t know what it’s doing when it comes to housing.
The government’s target for new housing in Wealden is 14228 homes over 15 years, so Wealden needs to build 950 homes a year to meet this.
How many of these new homes need to be affordable? Wealden doesn’t seem to know. Its own Affordable Housing Delivery Plan(2016) stated that Wealden needed 812 affordable homes per year.
(‘Affordable’ here means social rented housing, lower-cost home ownership schemes, and the government’s extremely unrealistic definition of affordable as 80% of market rent.)
Those 812 ‘affordable’ homes would be a high proportion of Wealden’s target of 950 new homes a year. Handy, then, that three months later, consultants appointed by the Council published a Strategic Housing Market Assessment. It assessed that Wealden needed just 331 affordable dwellings a year.
That’s a pretty huge discrepancy, but unsurprisingly Wealden decided to go with the lower figure in the draft Local Plan, not even mentioning the higher figure.
With this, Wealden District Council has abandoned many – if not the majority - of people it has assessed as being in housing need. They will be unable to afford market rents or to buy in Wealden, because of the Council’s preference for giving profits to private housing developers over working with housing associations – or building homes itself.
In 2012 the coalition government introduced "self financing", mandating that local authorities became wholly responsible for their social housing costs. This responsibility came at a high cost for Wealden: the Department for Communities and Local Government determined that the District 'owed' the government just under £48 million. Wealden District Council therefore borrowed that amount, and promptly paid it into the government's coffers.
A positive outcome of the law change was a renewed local impetus to build more social housing. Wealden District Council developed plans to build more than 60 new council houses on three sites across the district. Unfortunately, despite the new financial freedom, Wealden decided that it needed a £1.4 million government grant in order to progress their plans. Wealden's social housing tenants are paying the price of that grant because it came with a very thick string attached: any social housing constructed using the grant must be let at an 'affordable' rent.
Affordable rents are a lot less affordable than they might seem. 'Affordable' rents were introduced by the coalition government and are set at 80% of market rent. Here in the South East that's still very expensive, and considerably more than social rents at about 50% of market rent. Increasingly, the Council is undermining its position as a social housing provider by letting to new tenants at the higher ‘affordable’ level, rather than at the older social rent level.
Following completion of the 64 new council-built houses in 2014, progress has stalled. Less than half that number have been constructed in the five years since. And far too many of them are being squeezed into areas that already have a disproportionately large concentration of housing and not enough infrastructure.
Jarvis Brook is one of the most severe examples. In 2014, 22 new dwellings were built at the end of a congested cul-de-sac, and another 40 are now being built on a former refuse depot site. Between them, these new builds bring the total number of dwellings served by a single access road to 500. But Wealden have repeatedly refused to take any notice of calls to ensure that transport provision on the estate is improved to cope with the increased traffic.
Wealden Green Party challenges Wealden District Council to do better. We want our Council to:
A certain party is busy trumpeting the fact that almost no waste from Wealden goes to landfill.
There is no landfill site in Sussex. So of course we don’t send our waste to landfill.
Instead, we burn our waste. Wealden DC drives it across the district to Newhaven’s incinerator. The incinerator generates some power, but it’s absolutely not the best way to solve our waste problem. It’s polluting, creates greenhouse gases, and burns waste that could be recycled.
Wealden’s recycling record is unimpressive
In 2018, Wealden was 71st out of 345 councils for composting, reusing and recycling our waste. Not bad, at first sight, but at 51.3% Wealden is way behind the best-performing councils who achieve 64%. And since those figures came out, East Sussex County Council – led by the Conservatives who are so keen to pretend they are Green - has shut the local, busy, recycling centres at Forest Row and Wadhurst. The picture above is of the busy centre at Forest Row on its last day. Following these short-sighted closures, there is no way we are still recycling and reusing at the same rate.
Waste collection – poor contract, poor management
Wealden has a shaky record of collecting our waste in the first place, thanks to poorly negotiated and managed contracts with Keir, from which they have just extracted themselves. We all know how many missed collections there have been over the last couple of years. And we’ve all seen our carefully separated recycling thrown into the general waste collection when a lorry finally arrived a week or more late. Where is it going? Off to the incinerator.
Incinerators are a growth industry driven by profit
Maybe poor waste collections worked in Wealden District Council’s favour? A recent piece in the Daily Mail highlighted the uncontrolled growth in incinerators in Britain. Councils have locked themselves into long contracts with the incinerators that force them to send waste to the incinerator that could be recycled.
The piece quotes Professor Peter Edwards of Oxford University’s Chemistry Department as saying that incinerating waste, “can be harmful, and incineration, of course, also produces high levels of greenhouse gases.”
Incinerator owners’ profit comes before recycling – just as Keir’s profits came before providing a good waste collection service.
The Green Party believes in finding the best ways to reduce the amount of waste we all produce, and recycling as much waste locally as possible. In Wealden, we are working with others to find ways to run local recycling centres sustainably. We want to reopen Forest Row's recycling centre. We are also working with local businesses to look for ways to reduce excessive packaging and throw-away plastics.
Gatwick Airport never gives up - it has just revealed its plans to expand - more planes, more pollution, more congestion, more noise - and of course, more profits for them at local people's cost.
Gatwick Airport lost its bid to add a new runway in the government's review. But it has continued to increase flights, noise and pollution - local communities suffer more and more while Gatwick's owners rake in the cash. Now Gatwick has issued its Master Plan, revealing that it still intends to expand massively, despite solid evidence that Gatwick is in the wrong place for a mass transit hub. The local economy has full employment so does not need more jobs, few local businesses benefit from more flights - most suffer because of increased congestion and higher employment costs, and local communities are subjected to appalling noise and air pollution, quite apart from the wider impact on the environment.
Local campaign group GON (Gatwick Obviously Not) has written a really clear guide to answering the consultation. We've pasted it in below so you can use it.
Here is the link to the plan overview: plan overview
Here's where to respond to the consultation online: consultation response
Or email your response to the consultation to: gatwickdraftmasterplan@ipsos-mori-com
QUESTION 1: To what extent, if at all, do you support or oppose the principle of growing Gatwick by making best use of the existing runways in line with Government policy?
QUESTION 2: Please explain why you hold this view.
The growth proposals in the master plan would further enrich the airport's shareholders whilst inflicting more flights, more noise, more emissions and more public transport congestion and over-crowding on local people and those under flight paths.
Any growth at Gatwick should be matched by a directly proportionate reduction in noise, emissions and other local impacts. Gatwick's draft master plan contains no new proposals for reducing these impacts on local people or on communities under flight paths. In our view, therefore, Gatwick's proposals are not consistent with the basic principles of fairness and balance that underpin government policy or with the specific policy requirement that environmental issues and mitigations should be taken into account in airport growth proposals.
The nature and scale of required reductions in noise, emissions and other local impacts should be agreed in parallel with any formal growth proposals and growth should be conditional on achieving those reductions. In each case the metrics to be used should be agreed with local community representatives and their achievement should be measured and certified independently. Required noise reductions should take account of the fact that the airport's noise footprint has increased in four of the past five years, in contravention of government policy. Required emissions reductions should address the fact that the government already expects aviation's greenhouse gas emissions to increase from 7% of total UK emissions now to 25% by 2050. Expansion at Gatwick and elsewhere will make the position worse but the draft master plan contains no credible plans to address this situation.
The question, and the context in which it is asked, are designed to be misleading. It is intended to give the impression that growth at Gatwick on the basis proposed in the master plan would in fact be consistent with government policy. For the reasons set out above we do not believe that is the case. This cynical approach to consultation is inappropriate and inconsistent with good practice. It suggests that Gatwick's master plan consultation is designed to be a PR exercise rather than a serious attempt to gather and assess local views.
QUESTION 3: Given the draft master plan looks out beyond 2030, to what extent, if at all, do you agree or disagree that land that has been safeguarded since 2006 should continue to be safeguarded for the future construction of an additional main runway?
QUESTION 4: Please explain why you hold this view
We strongly oppose the use of this land for an additional runway. Following the government's decision to support a third runway at Heathrow there are many reasons why no further runways should be constructed in the UK and specifically why Gatwick would not be an appropriate location for an additional runway. Given Government policy does not currently support an additional runway at Gatwick, currently safeguarded land should be made available for other more economically and environmentally advantageous purposes.
Continued safeguarding of the land to build an additional main runway leaves a threat of future expansion hanging over the heads of local residents and blights a large area.
It also precludes consideration of how that land could be best used for the benefit of local people.
QUESTION 5: What more, if anything, do you believe should be done to maximise the employment and economic benefits resulting from Gatwick's continued growth?
The local area does not need yet further Gatwick expansion in order to thrive. Even more dependence on the airport reduces resilience in the event of an economic downturn. There is a range of other sectors that could generate similar economic benefits to the regional economy. Local Government, working with local communities, must be more imaginative in the creation of a more diverse economy that supports the Government's Clean Growth Strategy. This includes considering how safeguarded land could be better utilised to meet the needs of local communities.
QUESTION 6: What more, if anything, do you think should be done to minimise the noise impacts of Gatwick's continued growth?
Any further growth of Gatwick must be conditional on directly proportionate reductions in noise, measured on a basis to be agreed with local community representatives. A regulatory regime should be established to ensure this principle is adhered to at all times and that any "excess" growth is promptly reversed until proportionate noise reductions are agreed. Measures of noise impact must take full account of the frequency of aircraft noise as well as average noise levels.
The measures to be taken to achieve proportionate noise reductions should be for Gatwick airport to propose in consultation with local community representatives. They must include an ongoing commitment to dispersal of arriving and departing aircraft on a fair and equitable basis to be agreed with local community representatives and accelerated fleet replacement.
QUESTION 7: What more, if anything, do you think should be done to minimise the other environmental impacts of Gatwick's continued growth?
Any further growth of Gatwick should only be conditional on drastic measures to reduce the environmental damage that its activities cause. We believe these should include:
QUESTION 8: Do you believe our approach to community engagement, as described in the draft master plan, should be improved, and if so, how?
Gatwick's approach to community engagement is based on two principles:
The airport's approach to engagement should instead focus on enforceable, directly proportionate noise and other impact reductions as pre-conditions of any growth. It should also agree to full compensation for all people whom its activities adversely impact, including for diminution in value of properties.
QUESTION 9: If you make use of Gatwick, what areas of the passenger experience would you like to see improved?
QUESTION 10: Are there any aspects of our Surface Access Strategy that you believe should be improved and, if so, what are they?
Gatwick's surface access is wholly incompatible with expansion of the airport. The airport is the wrong side of London and is handicapped by an overburdened rail connection north/south and a totally inadequate rail connection east/west. It is only accessible by one motorway that reaches neither the Capital nor the coast. As a result the airport's operations already cause severe road and rail congestion and overcrowding for local people. Any further growth of the airport should be conditional on (a) reductions in the number of people accessing the airport by road and (b) reductions in public transport congestion. The airport should fund all improvements required to meet these conditions.
QUESTION 11: Do you have any other comments to make about the Gatwick Airport draft master plan?
Gatwick's draft master plan is a manifesto for corporate greed, environmental irresponsibility and local destruction.
The master plan makes no attempt to balance the interests of the airport with those of local communities impacted by its operations. The growth proposals in the master plan would further enrich the airport's shareholders whilst inflicting more flights, more noise, more emissions and more public transport congestion and over-crowding on local people and those under flight paths.
We reject the one-sided, industry-takes-all, approach set out in the master plan. We propose instead that the airport and local councils and community groups should agree arrangements under which growth is permitted only where it is matched by directly proportionate reductions in noise and other environmental impacts and where full compensation is paid to any person who suffers additional noise as a result of any permitted growth.
Our MP, Nus Ghani, is Minister for HS2, the high speed rail link to the north of England. Its route runs through Whitmore Wood in Staffordshire and will destroy over 6 hectares of ancient woodland.
The Woodland Trust is campaigning for a tunnel to avoid this desecration, but although a tunnel would cost a fraction of the overall cost of HS2, the Select Committee has rejected it. They're prioritisng commercial interests over the environment yet again.
As Nus Ghani's constituents, we're in a great position to petition her to stop this appalling vandalism.
Please sign the Woodland Trust's petition here AND write to Nus Ghani.
Despite HS2 coming nowhere near the Wealden constituency our MP, Nus Ghani, is the HS2 minister! As the MP for an area that benefits from so much important natural habitat, we might hope that she will be a champion of environmental protection in her ministerial role. Now is her chance...
The Green Party has consistently highlighted the folly of spending more than £50B on one railway line, when there are so many other infrastructure projects that would provide greater benefit to more of the UK. Also, an enormous amount of environmental damage will be caused during HS2's construction, in particular to the numerous Ancient Woodlands along the route.
The Woodland Trust is currently calling on Nus to use her influence as HS2 minister to ensure a tunnel is constructed in Staffordshire to protect 6 hectares of woodland at Whitmore Wood and Barhill Wood. The cost of the tunnel is just 0.2% of the cost of the whole HS2 project, but the HS2 select parliamentary committee rejected the request to tell HS2 Ltd. that the tunnel must be built.
In total, 98 ancient woods are threatened by the scheme.
On January 16 the Parish Council was shocked to learn from County Councillor Francis Whetstone that East Sussex County Council plans to close Forest Row’s recycling facility.
Tony Lewin, Green Party Parish Councillor leapt into action with other members of the community. Together we’ve started a campaign to show the County Council the importance of the site to people in Forest Row.
In a week more than 4000 people signed petitions – many of them visitors to the busy waste site on 20 January, where Tony and others met and spoke to them. Every user opposed the closure.
We’re appalled at the Council’s short-sighted decision. It doesn’t even make sense!
Tony Lewin has asked Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas MP to help. She is writing to the Treasury about the effect of Government cuts on local communities - and we hope she'll include the planned closure of our site in her letter. Tony Lewin and other Wealden Green Party members plan to go with her to deliver the letter on 28 February.
We'll be fighting this closure every step of the way. Recycling is extremely important to all of us, so watch this space!