Sunday, 8 July 2018

Introducing Alex Airey: the Green Candidate for Orton Longueville

Alex Airey, candidate for Orton Longueville ward in the 2018 Peterborough City Council by-election.
Alex Airey, candidate for Orton Longueville ward in the 2018 Peterborough City Council by-election.

UPDATE: Alex did us proud at the election on 2nd August. He didn't win a seat this time but he did succeed in increasing the Green vote share in Orton Longueville, a feat that is very rarely accomplished in a by-election. Alex is continuing his work as both a parish councillor and a community volunteer in the area. If you live in Orton Longueville ward and need Alex's help do contact him at alexairey@hotmail.com.


I was delighted to be elected to serve as a City Councillor for Orton Waterville earlier this year. I didn't get here alone. I had the backing of many local residents and also a fantastic team of other Green Party members. They stood at my shoulder for 22-months while I fought to win the first Green Party city council seat that Peterborough has ever had.
Their sacrifice means that they stepped into the shadows while I stood in the spotlight. Now the time has come for this to change.

A few days ago, it was announced that there will be a by election in neighbouring Orton Longueville ward on Thursday 2nd August 2018.

I'm thrilled to let you know that your Green Party candidate in this election is Alex Airey.

Alex Airey talking to someone on their doorstep
Alex has already dedicated many hours to speaking to Orton residents
on their doorsteps to find out what they need for their city council.


Alex is already a familiar face to many of you, as he accompanied me when I knocked on doors in our ward during 2017 and 2018. 

I can't say enough good things about Alex. He is already a local legend, having been the one who encouraged me to stand as a Green Party candidate in the Peterborough City Council Elections in 2016. Given I had never been a member of any political party (and never voted Green!) up to that point, this is an indicator of Alex's exceptional ability influence and persuade!
I have witnessed first hand on many occasions his commitment to making life better for the people of Orton Longueville ward.

Alex outside the Herlington Centre
Alex outside the Herlington Centre where the parish council
meets on the first Thursday of every month.

Like me, Alex has been a parish council for both Orton Longueville and Orton Waterville parishes for over two years. If you've ever come along to a parish council meeting you may well have seen Alex in action. We have all been very impressed by Alex's careful attention to the details that really matter, particularly when analysing contracts and policy documents. He is definitely the guy you want standing in your corner and has earned a lot of respect from everyone he works with.
While he is impressive in meetings, Alex is just as comfortable working out in the community. He has accompanied me on more litter picks that I can remember, and dedicates a few hours ever Saturday to help me to do outreach work in my ward. His thoughtfulness and willingness to put other people before himself make him very easy to work with and I confess that I have come to rely on him.

Alex with Peterborough City Councillor Julie Howell outside the post office in Herlington.
Alex with Peterborough City Councillor Julie Howell outside the post office in Herlington.

40-year-old Alex lives in Stagsden in Orton Goldhay, and is well-known to people living in the area. He recently got himself an allotment and spends a lot of time there, cultivating an impressive range of vegetables and chatting with other allotment holders from the area.
During the week, Alex works at Peterborough Regional College where he helps students to reach their full potential. He is also a well-known face on Peterborough's art scene and holds a degree in event management. 
Alex has lived in Peterborough for twenty years, and lived in Orton Brimbles before moving to Orton Goldhay so has a really impressive knowledge of the local area.

Alex is committed to stamping out fly-tipping in Orton
Alex is committed to stamping out fly-tipping in Orton

He is very concerned about the blight of fly-tipping and littering, particularly in parts of Goldhay and Malborne, and he is campaigning to save the post offices in Herlington and the Orton Centre. 
If you live in Orton Longueville ward (Orton Goldhay, Orton Malborne, Longueville, The Village, Botolph Green) I warmly encourage you to vote for Alex at the election on 2nd August. I know from experience that local council wards need diversity and that a single Green councillor can provide much-needed scrutiny. Alex will ask the questions that will make life better for residents and is fully committed putting residents first and serving you to the best of his ability. 

Alex Airey carrying bulky rubbish
Alex helps elderly Orton residents get their rubbish to the
parish council's bulky waste collection point.

This post is published and promoted by Fiona Radic, for and on behalf of Alex Airey and Peterborough Green Party, 15 Kings Gardens, Peterborough PE1 4EN

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Orton Wistow Residents Strongly Oppose Access Road Proposal

Councillor Julie Howell (centre) with Orton Wistow residents
Councillor Julie Howell (centre) with Orton Wistow residents

UPDATE: APPLICATION WITHDRAWN!

Following a huge public outcry, the developer and the city council have confirmed that the application has been withdrawn and a fresh application that will not include plans for an access road between Lynchwood and Wistow Way will be submitted. 


Read more on the Peterborough Telegraph website.


What going on?

A few weeks ago I began to receive phone calls and emails from residents of Orton Wistow. They were all very concerned by some information they had received about an outline planning proposal for changes to Lynchwood Business Park, that would include the creation of an access road linking a car park within Lynchwood to Wistow Way. The exit point on Wistow Way would be directly opposite Napier Place Sheltered Housing and just along the road from Orton Wistow Primary School.

Concerned, I had a look at the plans and very quickly began to understand why the residents who had got in touch with me were so worried.

To begin with, only residents of Svenskaby got in touch. This was because they had received through their doors a notification from the council to let them know about the proposal and inviting them to comment as part of a formal consultation. However, Wistow is a close community, and pretty soon alarm had spread from one street to the next.

Quite apart from being a city councillor, I have twenty years of experience as a policy officer and campaigns manager. My immediate reaction to the situation was to address the concern and confusion by making sure that all Wistow residents had access to the facts.

I let the Peterborough Telegraph know that the proposal was causing great worry to residents, spoke live on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire's Breakfast Show.

A very public meeting

On Tuesday 19th June, I called a public meeting so that residents who had concerns about the proposal could hear from one another and I could hear from them. To my astonishment, 650 residents attended the meeting, which was hosted by Orton Wistow Primary School (thank you to head teacher Simon Eardley for that).

Public meeting
650 residents attended the public meeting to express how they feel about the proposed access road

650 is an incredible turnout by any standard. The vast majority of those who attended are not in favour of the access road. Many expressed concerns about road safety, noise, destruction of tree belt, pollution and irreparable damage to the unique character of Orton Wistow.

Where can I view the plans?

You can view the proposal on the city council's planning portal at https://www.peterborough.gov.uk/council/planning-and-development/planning-and-building/search-applications/. Search for planning application 18/00923/OUT. When you have found the application, click on 'Documents' and then on 'See Associated Documents' to view the details of the proposal.

screenshot
The screen looks something like this
(documents are being added all the time)


How can I comment on the proposal?

The city council is currently running a public consultation and your comments are very welcome. Just visit the online planning portal and once you have the details of the application on screen click on the 'Comments' tab to leave your feedback.

The consultation remains open until 10 July 2018.

If you know someone who wants to comment but who doesn't have access to the internet, they can send their comment by post to the case officer Mrs J MacLennan at Peterborough City Council, Town Hall, Bridge Street, Peterborough PE1 1HF quoting application reference 18/00923/OUT.

What should I write in my comments?

What you write is up to you. However, the following tips may help.
  • Important: start by writing whether you support or object to the proposal
  • Use your own words, don't copy someone else's comments
  • Write about the impact the proposed access road would have on you and your family
  • Ask everyone in your household to write in separately


Things you might like to write about


Character: Orton Wistow is a quiet, safe residential area. The introduction of business park traffic onto Wistow Way is inappropriate, out of character and potentially dangerous.

Access: Emergency vehicles may not be able to get through gridlocked traffic.
Napier Place Sheltered Housing regularly requires emergency vehicle traffic.
Moving the bus stops discourages residents from Napier Place from using public transport.
Some Napier Place residents will not be able to walk the extra distance if the bus stops are moved.
The proposal to move the school's four parking bays will exacerbated the traffic problems at the start and end of the school day.
The access road will act as a 'rat run' between Wistow Way and Lynchwood Business Park.

Health: Emissions from queuing traffic on Wistow Way are harmful.
There will be additional harmful emissions due to the additional traffic on Wistow Way.
Road noise will be increased.

Safety: Pedestrians (including children and older people) will be forced to cross at the busy Napier Place junction to reach the bus stop and parking bays.
Additional traffic will travel around the whole of Wistow Way as more vehicles will access the other end of Wistow Way to get to the access road.
Risk from blind overtaking parked vehicles on the bend if parking bays are moved there.

Traffic: Additional traffic could block Wistow Way while traffic queues on Oundle Road could block that too.
Traffic exiting from Wistow Way will have to give way to traffic at Lynchwood.
There will be delays at the blind corner due to cars parked in the (moved) parking bays and the (moved) bus stop.

Appearance: Loss of trees will open up views of a large car park and five-storey office buildings.
The tree belt serves as a 'buffer' between the residential estate and the business park. Part of the tree belt will be destroyed to create the access road.



And if you'd like to get a bit more technical... Policies affected by the development


National Planning Policy Framework - Section 4 - Promoting Sustainable Transport

All developments that generate significant amounts of movement should be supported by a Transport Statement or Transport Assessment. Plans and decisions should take account of whether:
  • the opportunities for sustainable transport modes have been taken up depending on the nature and location of the site, to reduce the need for major transport infrastructure;
  • safe and suitable access to the site can be achieved for all people;
  • improvements can be undertaken within the transport network that cost effectively limit the significant impacts of the development. Development should only be prevented or refused on transport grounds where the residual cumulative impacts of development are severe.
Peterborough Planning Policies DPD (2012) - PP12 - The Transport Implications of Development

Permission will only be granted if appropriate provision has been made for safe access by all user groups and there would not be any unacceptable impact on the transportation network including highway safety

Peterborough Local Plan 2016 to 2036 (Submission) - LP13 - Transport

a) New development should ensure that appropriate provision is made for the transport needs that it will create including reducing the need to travel by car, prioritisation of bus use, improved walking and cycling routes and facilities. 
b) The Transport Implications of Development - Permission will only be granted where appropriate provision has been made for safe access of all user groups and subject to appropriate mitigation.
c) Parking Standards - permission will only be granted if appropriate parking provision for all modes of transport is made in accordance with standards.

The Transport Implications of Development
Planning permission for development that has transport implications will only be granted if:
a) appropriate provision has been made for safe, convenient and sustainable access to, from and within the site by all user groups, taking account of the priorities set out in the LTP; and
b) following appropriate mitigation the development would not result in a residual cumulative severe impact on any element of the transportation network including highway safety.



Thank you

I would like to thank the many hundreds of Orton Wistow residents and people who travel to Orton Wistow regularly (e.g. parents whose children attend Orton Wistow Primary School) for attending the public meeting, responding to the consultation and making others aware of it; the 12 residents who distributed leaflets for me; Simon Eardly, Head Teacher, Orton Wistow Primary School for use of meeting rooms; Luke Moore for invaluable research; members of Peterborough Green Party. More names will be added here!

Monday, 4 June 2018

Something Old, Something Older and Something Even Older

Alex Airey and Julie Howell
Parish Councillor Alex Airey with City Councillor Julie Howell.
And 12 sacks of rubbish. 


Another sunny Sunday morning, another litter pick.

This time, and at the request of its lovely residents, my team headed over to Rangefield in Orton Brimbles. We were told the council's litter picking team had been there earlier in the week. We proceeded undeterred. In our experience the council team only picks up the litter that is visible and in easy reach. My team go that little bit extra, poking about in bushes to remove the glass and plastic waste that poses the greatest threat to local wildlife. Litter picking isn't just about making our streets look nicer. It's about making them safer too, and most of what is dangerous tends to be hidden from view.

We often find discarded food packaging that has a BBE (best before end) date on it. This gives us a strong clue about how long the rubbish has been lying in the undergrowth. Five years is not uncommon. How about 35? We recently found a crisp packet that would have been dropped in the street when I was doing my A levels (and not by me, I hasten to add!).

Today, we were joined by several new volunteers. They were all amazing. However, newcomer Babs really impressed when she found not one but two antique pieces of litter that are worthy of a blog post all of their own.

Do you remember Marathon chocolate bars?


Very old Marathon wrapper
A very old Marathon wrapper


If you're as old as me then you will recall that Snickers used to be called Marathon. 19 July 1990 - that's the day when Marathon became Snickers. So the Marathon wrapper Babs found in a bush must have been there for at least 28 years, evidence that plastic degrades very, very slowly.

Other Orton residents have since pointed out that Mars temporarily manufactured Marathons again in 2008. Without the aid of carbon dating (or an expert from Mars) we may never know its true provenance.

Babs, Julie and Barry
Babs, Julie and Barry


Buried treasure?

It's not unusual for us to come across lost identity cards, lanyards and even house keys. But a cheque guarantee card that expired in 1999? That's a new one on us. From its date we know it has lain in undergrowth for at least 19 years (probably more). Writing on the card asks anyone who finds it to return it to Midland Bank. We would if it could, but Midland Bank ceased trading in 1999 (having been taken over by HSBC).

a debit card
A cheque guarantee card that expired in 1999
Who remembers Midland Bank?
Who remembers Switch??
Who remembers cheque guarantee cards???

All credit to Babs for finding this gem. Sadly, it has no worth whatsoever, not to us, nor to the person who lost it (who no longer lives locally as far as we can tell).  Although the mind boggles as to how it found its way into a bush this is irrefutable evidence that in two decades no one has done as thorough a clean of the area as we did on our litter pick. I'm sorry to tell you we find litter that is many years old all the time. The council picks up a lot of it but plenty is deep in undergrowth and gets missed.

This is also irrefutable evidence that plastics left in our local environment take a very long time to biodegrade. They just lie where they are dropped or where the wind blew them and underneath them little can grow. Please remember this when you see any plastic on the ground in the street where you live and - if you have gloves on or a litter picking stick - please pick it up and put it in a bin. Nature would thank you, if it could.

Not everything we found in the bushes was as difficult to spot...


Clearing up fly tip in Orton Brimbles 03 Jun 2018 from Julie Howell on Vimeo.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Getting a Grip on Fly-tipping

Why do people fly-tip and what can be done to prevent it? These are two burning questions that most councils across the country face. Peterborough is no different.

Why do people fly-tip?


A fly-tipped chair on a residential street in Orton Goldhay
A fly-tipped chair on a residential street in Orton Goldhay


The easiest and most obvious answer is 'because they are lazy'.

As explanations go I think this is far too simple.

Perhaps people feel abandoned by local government and disenfranchised from society and have simply stopped caring about the state of the streets where they live. I see evidence that points to this all around the city. I'm sorry to say there are several examples of tenants and homeowners alike dumping rubbish immediately in front of their own homes in our communities. Of all the kinds of fly-tip that I see, this type makes me the most anguished. I want people to feel happy in their homes, not to turn them into rat-infested, eye sores that affect the quality of life of people who live near them.

Some fly-tipping is done by residents who don't understand that leaving unwanted stuff on the pavement for the council to collect isn't how the systems works. Fixing this should be relatively easy through education and leaflets in various languages (in some countries leaving your rubbish on the pavement is completely acceptable).

A lot of fly-tipping isn't done by residents at all, at least, not directly. Unlicensed waste carriers are known to knock on doors in Orton and offer to take away larger items of rubbish for a small charge. These unlicensed traders then illegally dump the rubbish on streets and in rural areas around Peterborough (in places without CCTV where they think they won't be caught). In the past two weeks alone there have been at least two instances where fly-tippers who don't live in Orton have come to Orton Goldhay for the sole purpose of fly-tipping.

Four fly-tipped fridges
Four fly-tipped fridges. How did they get there? Read on.

Catch them if you can. The three male occupants of this white van were seen fly-tipping
four fridges on a residential street in Orton Goldhay.


In one instance (see above), three men were seen getting out of a white van and dumping four fridges (one of them full of rotting food) on a street in Orton. In another, a large quantity of tyres were dumped opposite a sheltered housing complex. It is highly likely that whoever these items belonged to did not imagine that the person they paid to take them to the recycling centre would dump them on our streets.

A pile of tyres fly-tipped in Orton Goldhay.
A pile of tyres fly-tipped in Orton Goldhay.
Did local residents do this? I don't think so.


The final group of fly-tippers are those residents who do it deliberately because they think everyone else does it and that they won't get caught. Included in this group are the landlords who don't clear out the rubbish from their properties before allowing new tenants to live there. The people who move in are left with the responsibility of getting rid of the rubbish. Clearly this is not fair.


Why is fly-tipping such a big problem today?


Fly-tip in Orton Goldhay
Fly tip in a wooded area in Orton Goldhay


The way we live has changed drastically since I was a child 40 years ago.

Back then, we didn't have cheap, mass-produced furniture to the degree that we do today, and the standard of living was far lower. You would do all you could to look after your possessions because replacing them was costly. Furniture was built to last back then. It was expensive because it was well-made. You wouldn't dream of getting rid of a chest of drawers unless it was completely unusable. My dad made my childhood rabbit's hutch out of an old chest of drawers. My mum made me a pair of lurid green trousers out of a pair of curtains. My dad made my brother a go kart from off cuts of wood. My mum made me a hobby horse from the same material. That's what we did back then: we made the most of everything we had because we couldn't easily afford to buy new things.

Add to this the great pressure we are all put under now to buy the newest and very latest thing. Holding onto something for a long time and getting the most use from it that we can is no longer 'fashionable'. We are all put under pressure (especially our children) to own the very latest model or to follow the very latest trend, which leads to enormous pressure to throw away things that have not come to the end of their useful lives.

We need to acknowledge to ourselves that the way we live has created the fly-tipping epidemic. We buy too much new stuff and we don't look after the stuff we already have. The wartime culture of 'make do and mend' is entirely lost on us now. We are mass producing and buying more than we need and a lot of it is plastic. What we no longer want no one else wants either... or do they?

Orton Sellers
Find Orton Sellers and stuff on Facebook

'Buy and Sell' pages on Facebook are doing a great deal to keep used goods in circulation and preventing them from becoming fly-tip. Here in Orton we have a fantastic group called 'Orton Sellers and Stuff' which was set up six years ago by local resident Sharon Bellamy. The group has nearly 3000 members. Here local people have created a secondary market, buying, selling and gifting unwanted goods to one another. Without Orton Sellers I think the problem of fly-tipping in Orton would be a great deal worse.

Without doubt, fly-tipping worsened when Peterborough City Council took the decision a few years ago to charge for the removal of unwanted large items from people's homes. The council needs to cover its costs by either increasing council tax or charging for certain services. Some residents feel that it's right to charge for services that only some people use, such as the doorstep collections of bulky items and brown bin waste, services that the council does not have a statutory obligation to provide. However, doing so affects older and disabled people and people who don't have cars disproportionately and these are also the people who are less likely to be able to afford to pay the additional charges. So should we all pay a lot more more council tax and eradicate fly-tip from our streets or do we accept that people in less affluent areas will continue to live surrounded by rubbish? This is the question we're all struggling to answer. Does being elderly and isolated and on a low income and unable to drive or carry heavy items mean you have to pay to have your rubbish removed from your home, while someone fit and strong who can drive to the recycling centre does not have to pay?

A snapshot of fly-tipping in Orton Goldhay





On Saturday, I joined a couple of a residents on a walk around the part of Orton Goldhay that falls within Orton Waterville ward. We noted all instances of fly-tipping and reported them to the council for removal. We spotted 36 separate instances of fly-tipping this area alone. Here's some of it...

fly-tip collage
Fly-tip collage





Why didn't the council's free doorstep collections trial work?




A few months ago, Peterborough City Council re-introduced free doorstep collections for bulky waste as a time-limited trial. Unfortunately, this proved to be an expensive failure. While all the slots were taken up, the impact on fly-tipping was minimal, while the council claims it lost £40,000 in revenue by not charging for the collections.

I haven't seen a breakdown of the figures for Orton Waterville, nor do I know the metrics the city council uses to measure success/failure. What I do know is that the city council made a rotten job of letting the right people know about the free collections. It's my belief that news of the trial only reached people who read the local newspaper and who already have the means to get their waste to the recycling centre. Very little was done to get the message out to the people who really needed the help and those most at risk of falling prey to fly-tippers. It did help people, it just didn't help the right people.

I'm one of the Orton Waterville parish councillors who pioneered the introduction of bulky waste collection points here. These collections, which are free at point of use to Orton residents, happen for two hours on a Saturday morning every few months in the small car park behind the Orton Centre.

The parish council has offered this popular service a number of times now. It is paid for via the parish council 'precept' which is a quantity of money raised via the council tax that we all pay to the city council. In effect, it is paid for by you.

I produce a free newsletter to let residents know what I'm doing at their councillor. It is called 'Orton News' and it goes through every letter box in the ward. In 'Orton News' I always include details of the forthcoming free bulky waste collection points. In addition to this I invite any residents who need help getting their things to the static collection point to contact me and I will help them if I can. My partner and I hire a van (at our own expense) and invite older and disabled people who need help getting their large items to the collection point to contact me. Often, these residents tell me that they've had rogue traders at their door and one can only imagine how many people make use of their services because they can't easily make use of the free collection point.

By leafleting all homes in the area and offering practical help to people who can't get their items to the collection point we are stopping rogue traders who fly-tip from doing so much business in Orton.

I wish the council had taken this approach when advertising its trial of free doorstep collections. The information needs to reach the people who are vulnerable to approaches from rogue traders who fly-tip, not people who are quite capable of disposing of their rubbish in a responsible way.

To be absolutely blunt, fly-tipping is linked to poverty and social exlusion and the council's trial would have been far more effective had it been focused on areas of higher social deprivation. Making it city-wide was a £40,000 mistake.



Me with a van full of rubbish picked up from older residents' homes
Me with a van full of rubbish picked up from older residents' homes
Julie with two residents
Time we started helping the right people

What's the solution?




Putting all this together I believe the council needs to do a piece of work to discover who is fly-tipping and why they do it. There is no doubt at all that doorstep collections and collection points are helping people to get rid of rubbish, but it seems that these measures are not helping to combat fly-tipping.

What are we trying to do here? Help people or combat fly-tipping? If you ask me, both goals are equally important because our overarching aim should be happy, healthy people living in a happy, healthy environment.

Here are my top six suggestions:
  1. Free collections. The council could re-introduce FREE and unlimited collections from people's homes on a permanent as-it-is-needed OR regular, advertised basis. We have to understand that people want to be rid of large items when they want to be rid of them. Large items take up space in people's homes. We now need a from-home collection service that is both free and accessible. If one phone call results in large items being taken away it will drive rogue traders who fly-tip domestic waste out of business pretty quickly.
  2. Rogue traders. Get a better understanding of who is vulnerable to rogue traders who fly-tip and ensure that these people's needs are being met. These are older people, disabled people, people who don't have access to transport to take items to the recycling centre or the money to pay the council to come an take items away. These people need information to enable them to do the right thing.
  3. Landlords (including housing associations). From the fly-tip I see, and the fly-tipping that is reported to me, it is obvious that much is as a result of short-term tenancies coming to an end. Far too often new tenants are moved into homes that have not been properly cleared out by the landlord or housing association. This situation leaves new tenants with the burden of responsibility for removing the rubbish (although it shouldn't) and if they don't have the money to pay the council to remove it nor the means to take it to the recycling centre then what is to happen to it? Landlords and housing associations must do more to prevent fly-tipping in our communities. 
  4. Communicate. The council must invest resources in communicating with residents in a clear and friendly manner. Leaflets through doors will help an incredible amount but the message must be enabling and the language must not be threatening. Many people don't like interacting with the council at all, so a charm offensive is needed to build trust between residents and Peterborough City Council once more. 
  5. Community. Most people don't want fly-tip in their streets. Foster community champions in every street who will report fly-tipping as soon as it happens to ensure it is cleared away as quickly as possible. Fly-tipping should never be 'normal'. Make it universally unacceptable.
  6. Prosecute. I don't believe that people who are caught fly-tipping should go to prison as is this a further, chronic waste of taxpayer money. But I do believe that they should be fined as heavily as possible and their vehicles and driving licences should be confiscated. Unfortunately, the law in this area is very weak and relies upon witness statements. Many people who witness fly-tipping don't wish to inform on their neighbour or become involved in a criminal trial. It is clear that the law needs to be changed so that it is much easier for the police, councils and the crime prosecution service to work together to see that people who fly-tip are apprehended and suitably punished.

A Historic Night for Orton Waterville, Peterborough, you and me



Whoops.

No false modesty, I genuinely wasn't expecting to win. Not this year. My team and I were fully prepared to come a very respectable second. So when the voters of Orton Waterville ward elected me as your new city councillor with more than 50% of the vote we honestly were lost for words.

Elections are really difficult to win, especially if you're in a small local party with very little in the way of resources and have never won a seat in the city before. What's more, a week prior to the election our hallowed local paper the Peterborough Telegraph said that all sitting Conservatives were expected to keep their seats. No one said anything about the possibility of a historic landslide win to a Green Party candidate who had never won an election before.

The results for Orton Waterville ward
The result in full

Peterborough politics pie chart
Look! A little sliver of green!



How did this happen? 

Hard work and high visibility. In the last couple of weeks leading up to the election we knew we were doing okay as high numbers of residents were telling me and my team that I am the only politician who knocks on their door throughout the year and the only local politician who takes the trouble to communicate with them. For me, communication is obvious and important - I just didn't realise just how important it was to Orton Waterville residents, nor how rarely the other local politicians were doing it.

Another reason for the win was undoubtedly the large turnout of 39%. This may not sound like a very high number, but compared to other wards in the city it is impressive. We can put this down to many people deciding to vote in this election who usually would not and many of these people deciding to vote Green. Residents used to joke that you could stick a blue rosette on a potato in Orton Waterville and it would win. I don't believe that any seat should be 'safe', so my team and I worked hard for over two years to offer residents a genuine alternative. I thought we'd do okay, but I did not expect to leap from an 8% share of the vote to over 50% in a single election. That caught us all by surprise.

And then there are the issues. I'm not talking about Green Party policies. In the Green Party we don't have 'the whip', unlike the other big parties. This means I'm free to speak my mind and to represent my community as I choose. So the issues I'm talking about are the ones that are important to you: the survival of our local post offices, the condition of our roads, fly-tipping, the accessibility of local buses, etc. Because I talk to you over and over I understand what is important to you and have already taken action on many of the issues that concern you.


Just some of the things I've achieved in Orton Waterville ward over the past couple of years
Just some of the things I've achieved in Orton Waterville ward over the past couple of years

That's about the size of it: hard work, high visibility and offering a genuine alternative (and independent) voice. Those were the three things that inspired the residents of Orton Waterville ward to make history in Peterborough by voting in the first Green Party city councillor that we have ever had. I can't tell you how honoured and humbled I am. My team and I were utterly bewildered by the result. We expected to come second. We really, really did.

I've got to tell you about my team

Elections are won by a hard-working team with a strategy and strong leadership and I can't tell you enough good things about my amazing team. To put sufficient resource behind Orton Waterville meant withdrawing resource from campaigns elsewhere in the city and that is a big ask to make of party members who have been selflessly campaigning in their wards for many years. It takes real sacrifice on the part of many candidates (we stood candidates in all 18 wards this election) to ensure the return (or near return, which was our expectation) of just one councillor. My team wholeheartedly got behind me and gave me, and you, everything they had. You've met many of them when they've been out delivering my leaflets or knocking on doors for me. They're amazing and I could not have done this without them.

The same goes for our many volunteers, residents just like you who deliver my leaflets in their own streets. So many of you championed me and ensured the success that became our new reality on election night. You put posters in your windows, you talked about me to your friends and family members. You turned the tide towards my win. I am so humbled by everything that you did. Humbled and inspired. Thank you.

Peterborough Green Party
My incredible team

What next?

I've fought this election campaign for the past two years as if I was already your ward councillor. This means that you can expect from me what you've already grown used to: hard work, high visibility, regular communication. The main difference now is that I have greater access to council resources. If you thought I was effective before I was elected, just wait to see what's coming. I can hardly wait.

My driver is to serve you. This is now my full-time job. My party wants me to be independent so I'm free to represent you the way you wish to be represented. I enjoy knowing many of you and being in constant touch with you. None of this will change now that I've been elected. In fact, expect to see me in your community more and more.

Thank you - I've led a full and rich life with many ups and many downs. But this has made me so proud and I can't wait for what's to come. Together, we'll make Orton Waterville ward an even more wonderful place to live.

Green win!

Julie's joy at becoming the first ever Green city councillor in Peterborough
Click to enlarge

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Standing up for Peterborough

Article from the Peterborough Telegraph: Lack of government funding in our city
Have you heard about the city council's 'Stand up for Peterborough' campaign?

Read this article on the Peterborough Telegraph website.


It cannot have escaped your attention. Essential services, services that are paid for in part via our council tax, are no longer up to scratch. Our streets are dirty. Housing lists are long. Treasured local services like Orton's bowling club are yet again under threat. What might not be so clear are the reasons why Peterborough City Council is currently experiencing such challenging circumstances.

Council tax just went up by 6% so why is there a problem?

There isn't one single reason for this present financial crisis. Management of the budget has a role to play, as do the decisions taken by city council. However, it is undeniably the case that Peterborough is suffering due to a dramatic cut in the amount of funding the Treasury makes available to our city council.

The problem is a programme of cuts known as 'austerity'. In 2013/14, Peterborough City Council received £55million via a Revenue Support Grant from the Treasury. This grant supports a range of council services. The grant will have reduced to £15million in 2018/19 and then right down to £10million in 2019/20, a reduction of 80% over seven years! It's not fair, not fair at all.

In response, Peterborough City Council Leader Cllr John Holdich launched a public campaign 'Stand up for Peterborough' on 30 November 2017, the aim of which is to garner local public support and to then lobby the Treasury for an increase in funding. If you haven't heard of this campaign you are not alone. I don't think many local residents in Orton have heard about it and from what I've heard support from the public has been slow to catch on.

My background is in campaigning for disabled people's rights. I understand why the city councillors feel that the 'Stand up for Peterborough' campaign should be effective. I also understand why it's failing to capture the imagination of residents. The trouble is, for a campaign like this to succeed it needs a massive amount of grassroots support, and this is something that very few local councillors in our city have managed to achieve. Essentially, if you want to attract the attention of residents over a particular issue you have to speak to them, clearly and frequently. You cannot suddenly spring a campaign on them out of the blue and expect them to support it. You have to work hard for residents all the time. When you do, then and only then, can you expect them to get on board. This is really basic stuff.

So I went to Westminster

Julie Howell with Caroline Lucas MP
I accompanied Caroline Lucas MP to the Treasury to hand in our letter

I do care about Peterborough. I care a great deal. So I decided to take matters into my own hands. On Wednesday 28th February, when the snow was falling thick and fast in London, I travelled to Westminister. Once there, I met up with Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and together we walked to The Treasury where we handed in a letter for the attention of Phillip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequor.

This is what the letter said:

Rt Hon Philip Hammond, MP
Chancellor of the Exchequer
HM Treasury
I Horse Guards Road                                                   Date: 28 February 2018
London SW1A 2HQ                                                    Ref: ML.C0069.RD.22.02.18
                                               
  
Dear Philip,

Spring Statement 2018 and local government funding

As Green Party councillors and council candidates, we are writing to you, ahead of your Spring Statement on 13 March, to urge you to heed warnings from the Local Government Association (LGA) of real and growing uncertainty about how local services will be funded beyond 2020, and to urgently provide local councils with the money they so clearly need to protect services and restore spending on community and frontline services to sustainable levels.

As the LGA noted in December:

“Local services are facing a £5.8 billion funding gap in 2019/20, as well as a £1.3 billion pressure to stabilise the adult social care provider market today. The additional council tax flexibility – estimated by our analysis to be worth up to £540 million in 2019/20 if all councils use it in both 2018/19 and 2019/20 – is nowhere near enough to meet the funding gap. The Government needs to provide new funding for all councils over the next few years so they can protect vital local services from further cutbacks.

It is extremely disappointing that the Government has again chosen not to address the continuing funding gap for children’s and adult social care. We have repeatedly warned of the serious consequences of funding pressures facing these services, for both the people that rely on them and the financial sustainability of other services councils provide. An injection of new money from central government is the only way to protect the vital services which care for older and disabled people, protect children and support families.”

Indeed, our local experience confirms that the current funding gap presents an existential challenge not only to valued community services, but to essential frontline services such as support for users of adult social care, older people, looked-after children, care leavers, those with disabilities or special educational needs, survivors of domestic violence, and low-income families in crisis. And it is having a deeply negative impact on initiatives needed to improve equality, sustainability and resilience, such as providing genuinely affordable, energy efficient homes, supporting socially necessary bus services, transforming how we collect and sort waste, and public-backed investment in renewable energy. 

This cannot go on. We believe the Government must act now to end this unprecedented and ultimately counter-productive erosion of local government. Strong communities require strong local services to support the most vulnerable and those in temporary crisis. It is vital that essential local services are both protected from further cuts and restored to sustainable levels.

Yours sincerely, 
Julie Howell, Peterborough


Standing up for Peterborough

I am not opposed to Peterborough City Council's 'Stand Up For Peterborough' campaign. However, some of us have always stood up for Peterborough and feel disappointed that the situation has been allowed to get as bad as it has before our city councillors made any effort to inform the rest of us of our city's plight.

I also doubt very much that many of our city councillors really support the campaign. When you visit the campaign website you are offered an opportunity to download a campaign 'frame' to add to your Facebook profile image. To date, I haven't found a single city councillor using it. If they have so little faith in the campaign, why should we lend our support to it?

The MP for Orton (and the rest of the NW Cambs constituency) is Shailesh Vara (rarely seen here but he is pretty responsive on email in my experience). He made a video supporting the 'Stand Up For Peterborough' campaign. When I looked at it just now it only had 28 views, and it's been on YouTube since 27 November 2017. That's not very impressive really, is it? 





My experience of Orton residents is that they are smart, switched on and perfectly able to stand up for themselves. But we can only do this effectively as a community when we know what's going on.

Find out more about Peterborough City Council's 'Stand up for Peterborough' campaign. 

Friday, 2 March 2018

Why Doesn't Peterborough City Council Pick Up Litter? (and other frequently asked questions)

Litter pick in Kilham
A recent litter pick around Kilham in Orton Goldhay

While Peterborough hides under a blanket of snow, you may have temporarily forgotten about our war against litter. Unfortunately, in just a few days from now, the ice will have melted and the snow will have thawed and any litter that was hidden beneath it will look even worse than it did before Storm Emma came.

This afternoon, one brave resident trekked a mile through a virtual blizzard to put a note through my door with a list of questions about why we do the things we do in Peterborough Green Party.

As the snow shows no sign of letting up this afternoon, I have the perfect opportunity to stay indoors and address his/her excellent questions about litter, the council and Peterborough Green Party.

"Whilst it is very admirable of you and your team to tidy up the litter I would like to suggest/ask..."

1. Why don't the council undertake the task?

This is an excellent question. The council is indeed responsible for keeping our streets free from litter. However, it is painfully clear that Peterborough City Council, like many councils around the country, isn't keeping on top of it.

It is no secret that Peterborough City Council is in financial trouble. Budget cuts imposed by central Government are having a devastating effect on the council's ability to provide essential services to an adequate standard. But this is only part of the problem. The council isn't the one doing the littering. That, I'm afraid, is the rest of us, aided and abetted by the manufacturers that have introduced a completely unsustainable amount of single-use plastic into our lives. 

An exponential increase in the amount of single-use plastics in our shops (particularly drink bottles and sweet wrappers) combined with cuts to local government budgets multiplied by a laissez faire attitude among some people to taking their litter home with them has got us all into this situation. 

Peterborough Green Party regularly organises litter picks in response to requests from residents. We don't do this because we want to do the council's work for it. Like all Peterborough residents, we pay council tax for the council to provide this service. We don't do it to show the council up either, though residents often tell us that the council's contractors rarely do a good job and only bother to pick up the litter that is obvious, rather that the stuff that is caught up in the undergrowth where it does real harm to our local environment. 

We do it because it is a simple act of kindness that we can show towards our community. It doesn't make a huge difference long-term, we know that. But it can bring a bit of happiness to an area that is being neglected and we know that residents are grateful for a bit of TLC, even though what we can do has a relatively small impact in the greater scheme of things.

We also do it because we believe in leading by example. People very rarely drop litter when they see us working hard to pick it up. Positive action has a positive effect.

But I have to let you into a secret... when we litter pick we don't just pick up litter. No. We also report fly tipping and other issues that the council is able to fix. And we talk to people. Lots of people. I've never been on a litter pick where local residents haven't come up to us and engaged us in conversation about the local community. 

Litter pick in Matley
The new Lapwing  Retirement Apartments in Orton Brimbles are a wonderful addition to the community.
But nearby Matley is always strewn with litter.


2. Why aren't people who have been given a punishment of community service forced to clear up the area? Can't people from the prison be tasked with such work?

Community service is a great idea and I believe that to some extent this does happen. I would imagine it's slightly more difficult to deploy people from the prison due to the costs of administering this (overseeing the prisoners while they work, for example).

I wrote an article about this for the Peterborough Telegraph in 2017. I suggested that those responsible for fly-tipping might be made to clear it up as this would be better use of taxpayer money than imprisoning them. You can read the article here.

Litter pick in Orton Northgate
Recent high winds caused recycling bins to blow over in Orton Northgate.
As neither the council nor the developer seemed interested in helping, residents cleared this lot up ourselves.


3. Unemployed people, claiming benefits, may be pleased of such work

Unfortunately, such work is likely to be low paid and therefore not suitable for people claiming benefits due to the rules regarding what you can and can't do when you are claiming certain benefits. However, this is a fault of the way the welfare system is structured. I must add that many of the people who come on our litter picks are unemployed, on benefits or retired. In fact, very few of our volunteers are in full-time work. 

Sack of beer cans
A bag full of cans. We pull hundreds from bushes and streams every year.


A bush is not a bin 

We can all do something to reduce the amount of litter in our environment and take the pressure off Peterborough City Council: by taking our litter home with us.

I guarantee, prod any hedgerow in Orton with a litter picker and you will very quickly hit a beer can. There seems to be a myth circulation around our local community that a bush is some kind of magic litter bin. I bring news that will come as a shock to some: it isn't. A bush can do a lot of things, including providing shelter for us from noise and pollution and habitat for a wide range of wildlife. But a can in a bush will just sit there forever until some removes it.

Milder March weather will soon replace the snow and Peterborough's shame - our blanket of litter - will be exposed once more. My team will happily come out into your communities again, but for us all to see a real difference in the amount of litter in our environment we all have to change our ways, permanently. 

Litter pick in Orton Goldhay
Litter pulled from bushes near Beckingham, Orton Goldhay

Friday, 2 February 2018

Peterborough is an Environmental City? I don't think so...



I appeared live on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire this morning, to express my disgust at the 15% increase to the charge for kerbside collections of garden wast (aka brown bins).

Peterborough City Council leaders have no idea how people live.

At this rate, everyone with a small garden will simply pave over it to avoid the problem of garden waste disposal, while our populations of garden birds and hedgehogs will continue to decrease dramatically, as is the case in London. 

Meanwhile, back in the real world...

People on lower incomes in rented accommodation are compelled by the terms of their tenancy agreement to keep they gardens in good order. For many, this increase to £45 per year will simply be more than they can manage on their tight household budget. This is a service the council should provide for free (rather, it should be paid for via our council tax, which, we are also informed, will rise by 6% this year) as we're not encouraged to light bonfires any more.

We will see an increase in fly tipped brown bins and fly tipped garden waste that introduces inappropriate nutrients and non-native specious to our precious woodland.

Residents with large houses and large gardens may well be able to afford the charge. Perhaps Peterborough City Council might consider introducing it for households that can reasonably afford to pay, e.g. band D properties and above. 

And residents who cannot afford to pay may be better off composting their garden waste and selling it. You can get a composting bin for less than £10 and lots of good advice from getcomposting.com

Over-priced and unreliable

It's not as if the city council's brown bin service is even reliable. 

I recently helped Orton resident Nell to get the council to empty her brown bin after they repeatedly failed to deliver the service she had paid for. Why should residents who have shelled out for this service then have to deal with the hassle of chasing the council to deliver the service they have paid for?


I helped Nell to get her brown bin emptied after the council let her down

It's a Garden Tax


It's time to call the brown bin collection charge what it is: a tax on having a garden.

I daresay Peterborough City Council will push ahead with this increase regardless of how residents' feel about it, but its aspiration to be an 'environmental city' really is nonsense.