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Reasons to be cheerful and vote Green! For real jobs, protecting our green spaces, safer streets and defending the public services we all rely on. We stand for a more equal society and a strong, stable local economy.

Check out our local manifesto in the video on the Shields Gazette website and make yours a Green vote today!

We may have won a victory in getting Newcastle Council to remove the Salters Lane site from the plan and to cut the number of houses to go on green belt, but they are still planning to allow the developers to build 6,000 houses on the green belt. So the struggle carries on!

Gateshead and Newcastle’s draft plan has generated huge opposition – they received 15,000 submissions from residents and organisations – a heartening figure which shows the strength of feeling and we must build on this. I even see that neighbours Sunderland City Council have put in an objection because the plan “would undermine the integrity of the green belt”.

The Save Gosforth Wildlife campaign meeting tomorrow night will agree what next, with plans for immediate work to stop the planning application from Bellway to build on land to the north of the reserve – going to North Tyneside Council planning committee this month. We then need to keep the pressure up during the assessment of the plan by Newcastle and Gateshead council officers in the next month or so (a fuller technical site assessment exercise). An amended plan will then be published for a second stage of consultation from June – for 3 months. A revised plan will be developed following the consultation and there will then be a statutory consultation for 6 weeks from November. After this a further revised plan will be submitted to the Government for formal inspection by an independent planning inspector. The Councils’ aim is to have the final plan approved in Autumn 2013.

Linking up with all the campaign groups fighting this plan for green belt land grab and appalling demolition of good terraced housing (especially in Gateshead) is vital across both sides of the river and Greens are involved in several.

What we as Greens offer is a genuine alternative to their crazed plan to magic up rates of housing, retail and office development, and of population increase especially through more students, that are all higher than in the last decade of economic boom! There is the all-pervasive desperation to get economic growth going again – at a rate which even the councils’ expert report concedes is “fairly ambitious” – more like wildly unrealistic!

We need a stable local and regional economy – to use this economic crisis to move to a steady-state economy where we are prioritising the tasks urgently needed to move to a way of life consuming less – not just carbon (though that is vital – both because of climate change and also peak oil) but all resources and energy. A world where we will have in many ways a higher quality of life – after all who wants to sit in massive traffic jams, having to commute to work, when we could plan for cities, towns and villages where we can live, work and do most of the other things that give our lives their real value – including access to green space.

Delighted to have a guest blogger! Lucy who was on the Food Programme:

Continuing along the theme of food cooperatives, I am going to write a bit about my experiences and thoughts as a member of South Birmingham Food Coop.

SBFC is not a football club, but a collection of around twenty households that place an order with the cooperative distributor Suma each month. After emailing the designated coordinator for that month with our choices from the online catalogue, we deposit our money into the SBFC bank account and wait for our orders to be delivered to a member’s house. On delivery day orders are sorted into piles and collected. Simple!

And it is pretty simple. Of course sometimes the money doesn’t match up exactly, the right things aren’t delivered or someone forgets it is delivery day. But the benefits of buying collectively and side-lining the evil that are supermarkets makes it well worth it.

But this blog entry is not about why supermarkets are awful (huge profits taken away from community, destroying local small business, driving down the price to their dairy suppliers until making milk only works on an industrial scale), but why food cooperatives are a constructive, doable alternative.

Firstly, we have greater control over where our food comes from. Buying collectively means we are able to order through distributors such as Suma who are themselves a cooperative with strong ethical and environmental principles. It also allows us to approach local producers directly – in Birmingham we have access to local honey, milk, cheese and spices. The North East is just as bountiful with a range of local food networks which already exist.

Most of what we buy are staples – rice, pasta, washing up powder, coffee – which we buy in bulk. This reduces packaging and drives down the price for our members. Affordability is important to us as we want SBFC to be a viable alternative to the supermarket, not a luxury that only those on a comfortable income can enjoy.

From this initial setup things can grow, as is happening with SBFC. One of our members runs the community bakery and social enterprise Loaf. In May Loaf and SBFC are opening a shop on Stirchley’s (currently pretty dilapidated) high street. This will be run by and for the community, it will provide a place to discuss local issues and share ideas. It will help us to draw more members of the community into the political issues that surround food; this is especially pressing when two new supermarkets are planned for Stirchley in the next year.

Ok, hopefully I’ve convinced you that food coops are a good thing. If you’re lucky you may live next to an existing one, use Sustain’s food cooperative finder to check. If not, then consider starting your own. Call a local meeting, leaflet for an afternoon and see who attends – that’s how we started. There is loads of support for food cooperatives from initiatives such as Cooperatives UK. Recommended reading would include the ‘Food Co-ops Toolkit‘ which outlines the initial steps.

For me this is all about doing things for ourselves instead of buying into things we don’t agree with. I don’t want to screw people over when I buy food and working cooperatively with other people helps me to avoid this. SBFC is itself part of a larger network of community projects in Stirchley which help to take control back from big business and into the community, where it belongs.

Lucy

More on ways people are coping with the increase in food poverty in today’s Food Programme on radio 4 about food clubs. A truly inspirational example is True Foods who won a Food and Farming Award last year for Best Retail Initiative. They started as a food club, a very informal local group in 1999. They wanted to source good, affordable organic wholefoods when there was a gap after local shops closed down. Five years later they became a Community Cooperative and now have a shop that is the hub, and run mobile markets in community centres taking food to a much wider range of people. They say:

“We are pooling our grocery budget, by regularly giving a little of our time we are pooling our human resources. The combined result benefits us with good access to good food at a price we can afford.”

The programme covered a range of other food clubs including Loaf in Birmingham, a bakery which has taken up the idea of Community Supported Agriculture, where people pay upfront to receive a share of produce – or in this case loaves of bread weekly. They also spoke to a member of relatively new food coop in Birmingham, Lucy who is the daughter of Green Party friends in North Tyneside, Alison and John Whalley, and is herself a Green activist. Their food buying group is being supported by Loaf, with the offer of retail space to be run jointly, at Loaf’s new HQ due to open soon.

Lots more info on food coops on the Sustain website.

Some wonderful green shoots in these grim times….

Closer to home, I’ll be joining the Sunderland Greens for their stall next to the Farmers’ Market on Friday 24th February, next to Park Lane bus station – campaigning against fuel poverty.

And at home, snowdrops and crocuses in the garden are so welcome, and reminded me to sort out the seeds and get the seed potatoes chitting. Our gardening club at school will be back in full swing next week, to get things happening in our community garden again.

Spirit Level co-author Richard Wilkinson concluded his lecture last Thursday with an impassioned plea for a reduction in the appalling and widening inequality in this country – stressing that another kind of society is possible, with more cooperation,trust and wellbeing. He was speaking at the Equality Trust event in Newcastle University to such a huge audience that they had to open a second lecture theatre for the overspill. Lots of Greens were there, asking two of the questions in the discussion after the lecture. We had a stall, with our latest leaflet “No to Austerity” which calls for higher and fairer taxation, as wealthy corporations and individuals should pay more to help create a more equal society.

I saw his co-author Kate Pickett speak on a panel on Inequality at the Green Party Conference a couple of years ago and she applauded our policies as being very much in line with the recommendations of their book. As well as our redistributive taxation policies, we also have policies on restricting top people’s pay to a ratio of only 10 times that of the lowest paid in their company or public body, and limiting bonuses to be less than the annual wage of the lowest paid.

There is now going to be a meeting to set up a local Equality Trust group in Newcastle, on Thursday 9th February 5-7pm at St John’s Church, Grainger Street, Newcastle (near Central Station). Greens will definitely be part of this new campaign group.

That meeting is going to be followed by a public meeting about the Core Strategy, a plan for the next 20 years of development in Newcastle and Gateshead, which will in fact increase inequality in our region! Tyne and Wear Left Unity have asked myself and David Byrne of Gateshead Green Party to come and talk about this, along with Rick Anderson of Newcastle Labour Party. You can download our full objection to this terrible plan on the North East Green Party website, which includes some of our alternatives. So that’s 7 – 9pm also at St John’s Church Hall.

As part of the campaign to get the two Councils to ditch this destructive plan, there is a Walk on the Wild Side – a mass ramble (echoes of the mass trespasses…) from the Gosforth Nature Reserve at 11am, down the course of the Ouseburn to the river Tyne. We are having a Green contingent on the Walk on the Wildside and a gathering for lunch at the Cluny. More info from Save Gosforth Wildlife campaign

Well, one notable one, Ruth Archer! My light relief is The Archers and their current story line about the local agribusiness fat cat’s plan for a mega dairy has had me shouting at the radio in horror. Finally last night Ruth (the Geordie character) had a furious rant about it. She is right that these kinds of intensive farming are completely appalling – though her farm is not completely perfect, not being organic, but they have at least moved to a lower input system of longer grazing of their cows out in their fields. The future cannot be these massive scale intensive farms – the welfare issues for the animals are intolerable, the human health risks (with massive use of antibiotics and growth promoters etc and diseases like swine flu) and we won’t be able to squander fossil fuels as fertilisers etc with peak oil and climate change. We have to move to organic smaller scale farming with all of us consuming less meat and dairy, wasting less food, importing less out of season stuff, growing more of our own.

And of course, we need to stop the swallowing up of agricultural land for house-building and out of town business and retail parks. Which brings me on to what I have been doing for the last few weeks – campaigning against the national government’s plans for a planning free for all, and now the Newcastle and Gateshead council’s Core Strategy for the next 20 years – which includes a massive land grab of the green belt to the north and west of the cities. North Tyneside are already in the process of trying to build on every bit of land too – as someone said to me it seems as if every blade of grass there is an affront to the planners and must be concreted over.

Well, the campaign against this mad and bad plan is building up very rapidly. There were well over 170 people protesting (some estimated 250) at the Civic Centre in Newcastle on 2 November and several public meetings organised by residents over to the west with up to 200 people. Residents groups in Gateshead are appalled at the plan to demolish over 4,000 perfectly habitable (and indeed inhabited) homes in their neighbourhoods. Then on Tuesday Gosforth Civic Hall was packed, standing room only, we reckoned more than 400 people – all extremely angry and opposed to the destruction of the vital wildlife corridor the plan would wreak by proposing 600 houses to be built on the fields around the Gosforth Nature Reserve. There is a meeting of this particular campaign next Tuesday 22 November at the Gosforth Hotel at 7.30pm.

Green Party activist Dave Byrne from Gateshead, professor of social policy at Durham, spoke about the wider reasons the plan is wrong – the fact that it does nothing to address the real issues of the economic and environmental crisis, and that if it were implemented it would make things worse. We are busy working on our formal submission to the consultation on the Core Strategy and will be doing as much campaigning as we can right across Tyne and Wear – and indeed the North East, as this sort of grab for new housing development by trying to lure developers with the promise of their preferred green field sites impacts all the other councils in the region. Watch this space….

A final thought, one of the issues protesters have raised, especially at Tuesday’s meeting was that of increased flooding – some of the sites are on flood plains, some will block water flow and cause flooding downstream, some will simply reduce water being soaked up by open land by having been built on. Last Thursday’s afternoon drama was a drama-documentary was The State of Water brilliant, but unfortunately no longer available to listen again. Set on a Welsh hill farm, it explored the way that ecological management of the land could restore its capacity to retain water and prevent flooding. The drama of the family was intercut with beautiful, poetic pieces of science about what we are doing to this precious resource – terrifying, if we don’t radically mend our collective ways…

Fuel poverty was back in the news last week with the further exposure of the effective cartel of the big six energy companies, their disgustingly exorbitant profits and just how little they are actually investing in renewable energy. Meanwhile the subsidy to oil and nuclear industries escalates.

Friends of the Earth have a petition which calls for a public enquiry into the power of the Big Six and for the Government to use the opportunity to fix our broken energy system.

Another interesting news snippet was the scrapping of the last carbon capture and storage scheme (CCS) at Longannet in Scotland. Labour joined in the criticism of this decision, as did the Clean Coal lobby in the TUC. But the fact that this is still an unproven technology, means the only safe thing to do is leave the coal in the ground. We need to cut our energy use, through increased insulation – which creates a lot more jobs than a CCS plant would, and by changing our lifestyles away from high-consumption – which is actually towards a better quality of life.

The other frustration I have is that so much of the discussion about our energy use only focuses on domestic use, and especially on electricity production, whereas the bulk of energy use is on transport, intensive food production,and industrial production (though mostly we have exported that to China and other parts of the world) – and so is petrol, diesel and oil.

More madness is coming our way if we don’t succeed in stopping it, with the government’s proposed change to the Planning system, to allow a free-for-all, which will see yet more out of town dormitory housing estates and massive retail and business parks.

We have started a campaign against a horrendous plan hatched by Newcastle and Gateshead councils which will pre-empt the new national planning framework with huge housebuilding on green belt land, demolition of perfectly good housing in urban areas and retail developments etc. They are fixated on putting all eggs into the basket of “getting economic growth going” – and population growth too – through this strategy of doing more of the same as they did through the boom years – insanity!

There are lots of other examples of terrible planning in the region which we need to cooperate as widely as possible to defeat.

We do need to revolutionise our planning system to deliver truly sustainable communities, where everything is local, people can live, work, shop, play, grow food and have green space within twenty minutes walk or cycle – well actually, ten minutes for the green space! Nobody actually wants to sit in horrendous traffic jams or commute for hours every day by crowded metro, train or bus. And we simply can’t go on planning our towns and cities in this way, with peak oil and climate change.

Marching behind one of the original Jarrow Crusade banners from the Town Hall to Christ Church today really did feel like being part of a long chain of protest across the years. Then sitting in the church from where they set off 75 years ago was very moving, and standing to sing Jerusalem, imagining those men and their families right there, with their class warrior MP “Red Ellen” Wilkinson.

In quite a radical address, the Archdeacon of Sunderland Stuart Bain, went through the history of the march and then made the link to the present, asking our current government “Is what you are doing going to bring hope and justice? If not, then think again.”

Well, I think it’s quite clear what the real answer is to that question, whatever the coalition might try to argue. For real hope and justice, what we need is a genuine Green New Deal to bring real jobs to Jarrow and the rest of the UK, rather than throwing money into a black hole courtesy of the banks.

BTW Jerusalem was chosen as an all time great protest song by Pauline, one of the people on the Rebel Radio programme on NE1 FM last Tuesday and you can listen to it all again. Pauline played a version sung by Paul Robeson, a great singer and political activist. I had suggested Gil Scott Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised to another of the programme makers and was delighted to hear that played along with some other great songs – part of a whole hour of alternative news, political analysis and humour. This is going to be a regular monthly programme so you can get involved, send in ideas and news…

Spirit Level author Kate Pickett in today’s Guardian CiF argues “How to make children happy? Reduce social inequality”. She is welcoming the UNICEF report exposing the damage that high income inequality and consumerism do to family wellbeing.

Meanwhile the Daily Mail goes straight for the guilt angle, blaming parents for spoiling children with designer labels to make up for lack of quality care, and quoting right winger Jill Kirby:

It is amazing that this study manages to blame consumerism rather than lack of parental discipline or the absence of fathers in the family. The reason why this country has low levels of child well-being compared with Sweden and Spain is surely connected to our much higher levels of family break up.

There’s a good riposte to this from Madeleine Bunting also on Guardian CiF “Guilt is for ministers, not mothers”. She follows her initial argument against yet another knee-jerk reaction blaming working mothers, by looking at why consumption of expensive brands is so linked to status in this country compared to Spain and Sweden:

surely relevant is the “strong and shared social expectation of family” evident in both Spain and Sweden, an alternative value system to challenge materialism

Food poverty and food banks – more evidence of the widening of the gap between rich and poor – on Radio 4′s Food Programme today. Exposing how the government is stepping back from any responsibility to ensure that people on benefits or low pay have enough money to be able to eat properly, leaving charities to try desperately to fill the gap with food banks right across the UK.

Central government needs to bring in a living wage and benefits that are liveable on – a citizens income, and local government needs to be enabling people to grow more food too – more allotments, garden sharing, community gardens… Our community garden at school has continued to be successful with lots of great produce and some wonderful shared meals round the fire pit. My front garden has also flourished, despite the dry spell doing for the spinach – great crop of delicious strawberries. We also had some excellent potatoes from the back garden and from the community allotment at Bill Quay Farm.

 

Our Front Garden raised beds this summer

There was more on the 3D use of our space to grow things edible, medicinal and useful for dyeing etc – forest gardening – on Gardeners Question Time today.

Of course what the government would much rather do is give a tax cut to the rich by getting rid of the 50p tax band, because of course the rich need to be paid more to incentivise them, while the poor need to be paid less. Richard Murphy demolished the eminent economists’ argument for this tax cut on the Today programme last week.

Caroline Lucas was on a panel on tax dodging at this weekend’s Green Party conference and last week welcomed a report by Ethical Consumer on the tax haven firms that run our public services.

I wasn’t able to get to conference but instead went to the Sunderland Carnival Against the Cuts with Gangsters of Ska and 1977 – exactly the music that politicised me aged 13 in 77.

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