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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.

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