Crime and justice (4/34): assessing the Green Party of England and Wales’ policies

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This is part four of a continuing blog series aimed at noticing amendments that may be useful to the Green Party of England and Wales’ main public-facing document, the Policies for a Sustainable Society (PfSS). The full set of 34 policy chapters can be found here.

Starting opinions and personal thoughts before reading the chapter
Protection of the public from physical and mental harm is a crucial element to creating happy, sustainable communities. Too often, progressive politicians, movements and parties have been seen as unthinkingly “anti-police” without any nuance. Greens should champion the good that the police can do and question the cuts to funding that affect their ability to properly and fully tackle the root causes of crime. Nevertheless, the institutional racism or police forces, the erosion of civil liberties and warped policing priorities need to be called into question in order for root and branch reform of the police and the justice system to gain traction in the public’s imagination.

Most important thing I learned
There is an organisation that provides companions for pregnant women who are in prison.

Bulletpoint policies

  • Introduction of two departments at every level of government: Departments of Crime Prevention – including social crime prevention (i.e. reducing social pressures that are/likely to be conducive to crime) and promoting education around communication, cooprtation and problem solving skills – and Departments of Justice – combining current functions of the Lord Chancellor’s Department and the Home Office in relation to the administration of justice, including responsibility for the judicial system, sentencing policy and practice, and sponsoring services such as assistance to victims and dispute resolution initiatives.
  • Ensure universal access to high quality youth facilities and open spaces.
  • Improve street lighting and ensure people-friendly street design.
  • Ensure prompt repairs of public amenities and spaces.
  • Increase resources for caretakers, attendants and staff on estates, railway stations, parks and other public areas.
  • Tackle drug related crime by pursuing measures such as better-funded health education/service and free counselling and advice, especially to children and young people, and establishment of appropriate drug-use clinics and needle exchange schemes, and other harm minimisation strategies
  • Support for police forces being supervised and accountable to elected local government.
  • Support for an independent approach to investigations of police criminality and corruption, incorporating transparency in ensuring police are charged and investigated in the same manner as all other citizens of the UK.
  • Support for the appointment of more community and part-time police.
  • Support for recruitment to police forces emphasising selection of candidates with previous experience in other walks of life.
  • Support for an emphasis on crime prevention.
  • Support for thorough anti-racism and equalities training for all staff working in the police and related services, full implementation of all Lawrence inquiry report recommendations, and requiring all police forces to have equality and diversity liaison officers whose remit is to support and educate colleagues and ensure that incidents and hate crimes which target LGBTIQA+ people, people from black and ethnic minorities (including refugees and asylum seekers) and disabled people are thoroughly investigated and where appropriate, prosecuted, and that preventive action is taken.
  • Support for strong, democratic community policing committees in every neighbourhood.
  • Support for more local police stations.
  • Support for greater emphasis on ensuring diversity in all levels of policing
  • Commitment to fully independent inquiries into deaths in police custody and the police shooting of civilians
  • Commitment at local level of government for the setting up of Local Mediation Centres and funding of their running.
  • Commitment for re-targeting of resources towards enhancing co-operation between the police, the Prosecution Service, defence services, mediation services and courts and towards providing all parties involved in the justice process with sufficient means to reach fair decisions through transparent due process.
  • A detailed conception of the use and process of restorative justice and mediation for victim and offender
  • Commitment to significantly reducing the prison population.
  • Introduction of new principles giving Courts the duty to sentence to ensure reparation to the victim/community, then persuade and enable the offender to become a law-abiding member of the community.
  • Take into account any completed reparations before sentencing.
  • Replace fines with measures which make reparation for the harm/ inconvenience caused.
  • Support for vulnerable people to reduce likelihood of offending.
  • A commitment to constant monitoring of sentencing practice.
  • Commitment to a comprehensive strategy to tackle, significantly reduce and ultimately end hate crime.
  • Commitment to end the disproportionate targeting of ethnic minorities through stop and search.
  • Commitment to provide relationship education in schools and other appropriate environments to inculcate values of respect for others and respect for difference
  • Introduction of training programmes for key frontline staff to recognise signs of domestic abuse and to be able to provide pathways of escape for victims, with encouragement of peer support networks, with appropriate training and support.
  • Commitment to expand access to counselling for all those affected by domestic abuse, the victims, the witnesses and the perpetrators.
  • A commitment to permanent guaranteed funding for refuges, future housing and safety measures for victims of domestic abuse.
  • Commitment to essential services for all victims to help them through the trauma and difficulties to escape abuse, including help with housing, legal costs, etc. Provision of appropriate resources to the court system to ensure that the needs of victims of abuse are recognised, both in hearings related to their case and other matters.
  • Commitment for every police force to have a dedicated Wildlife and Animal Crimes Unit, which will work in liaison with local/regional Animal Rights Officers
  • Commitment to a separate code dealing with motoring and road traffic offences.
  • Call for the repeal of the Vagrancy Act 1824 because it is open to abuse by police and government, discriminates against homeless people and wrongly labels them as criminals.
  • Statement that only the Crown Court will have the power to order detention and only when it is satisfied that the public must be protected because there is a substantial risk of a further grave crime, or that the offences have caused such public alarm that the offenders presence in the community would constitute a threat to his/her own safety.
  • Commitment to a maximum duration of detention, with parole or early release subject to Department of Justice executive review with a right of appeal to a judicial forum.
  • Commitment to prisoners’ right to vote. (Any decision to deny a prisoner the vote will be taken only by a judge, taking into account the particular circumstances of his/her case.)
  • Commitment to community payback for inability of individuals to make financial reparations.
  • Commitment that no person in contempt of court will be detained until an opportunity for non-custodial means of purging the contempt has been offered.
  • Improvement of the physical and social standards of prisoners so that as far as possible the only limitation on the dignity of their lives will be the denial of freedom of movement outside the prison. (This includes having their own room, facilities for communication and association with family and friends, unsupervised visits and as far as possible detention near their family and home community.)
  • Statement that the only women who should be in custody are those very few that commit serious and violent crimes and who present a threat to the public
  • Ensure community sentences are designed to take account of women’s particular vulnerabilities and domestic and childcare commitments, and increase flexibility of the restrictions placed on sentencers around breaches of community orders.
  • Replace existing women’s prisons with suitable geographically dispersed, small, multi-functional custodial centres.
  • Provide more supported accommodation for women on release to break the cycle of repeat offending and custody.
  • Extend the scheme for pregnant prisoners provided by the charity Birth Companions to all women who wish to use it, with government funding
  • Improve prisoners’ access to meaningful activities, particularly real work and education and artistic and creative facilities and ensure all prisoners attain levels of literacy sufficient to allow them to function effectively in modern society.
  • Offer counselling and appropriate assistance to prisoners to overcome the root cause of their offences and reduce the likelihood of re-offending.
  • Commitment to seek innovative schemes (such as offering training in construction skills that prisoners can use to restore dilapidated housing that they can then inhabit) to help deal with homeless on release from prison.
  • Ensure prisoners rights are legally enforceable, including grievance procedures, a prisoners’ complaints commission, a prison ombudsperson, regular spot inspections by lay visitors and Department of Justice inspectors, step up of suicide prevention efforts and strongly encourage ‘Buddy schemes’.
  • Incorporate the Prison Medical Service into an improved National Health Service, with access to complementary health care, health education and the provision of counselling as well as the direct medication care of prisoners.
  • Apply the Health and Safety Acts and Factories Acts, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Unfitness provisions of the Housing Act 1985 to prisons, and absolish Crown Immunity in relation to prisons.
  • End custody of those under the age of 18, with Social Services Departments being responsible for establishing and running a range of small secure residential homes to cater for the needs of particular types of young people with special needs, with safeguards built in to the system.
  • Provide adequate facilities and a suitable environment to allow a young child to stay or live with their parent or guardian in custody when this is considered to be in the best interests of the child.
  • Opposition to privatisation, use of PFI and any creeping or part privatisation of prisons and the prison service.
  • Commitment to strengthen the right to bail for suspects, only being withheld when the court has strong grounds for believing that a suspect must be separated from the public until the trial for the same reasons as apply to the power to order detention, or if the suspect has failed to honour bail commitments. Ensure that special arrangements are made to ensure that the trial of such suspects will normally be held within six weeks from the time of arrest.
  • Remand in custody will only be used for offences and offenders where detention after sentence is permitted, with a strict limit to the length of the remand.
  • Ensure a high level of gun control,  as well as addressing the social factors which contribute to people committing crimes with guns.
  • Commitment to define quantitively the lethality of a gun in law, thereby covering new weapons resulting from developments in firearms technology.
  • Prohibit the most dangerous weapons in law, with a complete ban on the private ownership/possession of all automatic and semi-automatic firearms.
  • Constitute a Gun Safety Advisory Committee to regularly review which weapons are prohibited.
  • Treat deactivated weapons as the same as activated weapons in licensing and prohibition terms.
  • Establish a single rigorous licensing system, based on public safety not the convenience of shooters.
  • Require firearms users for sporting or agricultural purposes to demonstrate their competence in handling firearms and satisfy the authorities of their mental and emotional stability, including obtaining the signature of a number of citizens to vouch for their good character, with any medical and psychological test costs being borne by the applicant.
  • Introduction of a new annual fee for firearms users which is sufficient to repay the economic damage – to police, court and NHS – inflicted on it by the abuse of guns generally.
  • Require firearms licence holders to renew their applications on an annual basis, with individuals whose licence application is rejected being required to wait at least two years before re-applying.
  • Commitment to a complete ban on the manufacture, sale and import of imitation weapons (replica guns and blank firers) and a ban on their public possession, with licenses for imitation weapons used for film/theatrical purposes, and legislation to ensure toy guns are highly distinct in appearance, probably by being made of clear/translucent plastic.
  • Abolition of the death penalty in all countries, and support of instruments and campaigns at national and international level which seek its global abolition.
  • Commitment to legislate to provide for the proper and robust prosecution of those who commit financial sector and banking fraud and participate in the mis-selling of financial products.

What I need to find out more about
Birth Companions
Crown Immunity

What I disagree with
Nothing major, except phrasing.

What I think needs amending or adding

  • CJ360-361 is too vague. It alludes to a “strengthening of legislation” around “environmental problems”, but doesn’t state to what it refers or what specifically would be strengthened.
  • The section on gun control (CJ500) is poorly phrased, and implies that the costs of medical/psychological tests for potential firearms license holders should be “borne by the applicant”, which is contradictory of Green principles of an NHS free at the point of use. Suggest removal of “the cost of medical and psychological tests must be borne by the applicant” in Licensing (Part iv, paragraph b).
  • Is it a good idea to use the term “loners” in a policy document? (CJ500)

The policy that I think needs most pushing publicly
Ending the disproportionate targeting of ethnic minorities through stop and search.

Next up: Chapter 5 (Culture, Media and Sports)

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Countryside (3/34): assessing the Green Party of England and Wales’ policies

Image result for english countryside

This is part three of a continuing blog series aimed at noticing amendments that may be useful to the Green Party of England and Wales’ main public-facing document, the Policies for a Sustainable Society (PfSS). The full set of 34 policy chapters can be found here.

Starting opinions and personal thoughts before reading the chapter
With the majority of the human population of the planet now living in urban or peri-urban areas, the countryside as a protected geographical area is under threat from further urbanisation and loss of biodiversity and green spaces for recreational enjoyment. The challenges of people living sustainably in the countryside are many, not least in terms of transport-based emissions. Too little farming is involved in food production to lessen food miles and provide an alternative to intensive factory farming. I will admit that I am less concerned about the countryside than I am about making cities sustainable, and also quite ignorant of what the countryside chapter includes.

Most important thing I learned
Many European countries have banned snaring, but the UK hasn’t.

Bulletpoint policies

  • Consolidate and strengthen The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (and related legislation) to remove loopholes and weaknesses that allow further destruction of wildlife and habitats, and resource effective to enforce the legislation
  • Make it a general offence to cause cruelty to wild animals or suffering where it can be practicably avoided
  • Prosecute cruelty to wild animals in the same way as for domestic animals
  • Require humane methods of killing
  • Bring in an outright ban on snaring
  • Work at the European level to strengthen protection of habitats through the Habitats Directive and ensure Pillar 2 of the Common Agricultural Policy continues to provide environmental and habitat protection
  • Support the establishment of Nature 2000 network of special areas of conservation established by the European Habitat Directive and its associated legislation
  • Ensure good quality habitat restoration and avoid the introduction of harmful or invasive non-native plants, review legislation and implement new laws where currently there are only codes of practice and  collaborate at a European level to achieve this, including both live plants and seeds in the review
  • Support measures to introduce a European Wild Plants directive which would give clear labelling on all living wild plant material traded within Europe, license all traders dealing with wild-collected plant material and tighten up
    import and export controls on wild plants
  • Ensure that Ramsar Convention sites (wetlands) remain highly protected and that other designated areas retain a high degree of protection from development
  • Opposition to the relocation of environmentally damaging operations overseas
  • Support shorter supply chains and direct links between producers and consumers to maximise income generation in rural areas and to supply healthier, fresher food
  • Discourage large-scale agribusiness, processors and retailers which take large profit margins, concentrate jobs in urban centres and cause the closure of small, local retailers
  • Discourage the amalgamation of farms, support family farms, improve access to land for new entrants to farming and horticulture and favour the setting up of sustainable, small-scale and labour-intensive enterprises and their associated dwellings
  • Support sustainable diversification and multiple use of agricultural land and buildings, for instance for appropriate renewable energy, tourism, recreational pursuits and low-impact enterprises.
  • Support small-scale, environmentally benign farming systems that protect the soil, biodiversity and water resources, minimise greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, support ‘joined-up’ wildlife habitats and provide secure jobs in rural communities
  • Support farming and land management which conserve and, where appropriate, increase woods, orchards, agroforestry, hedges and other trees
  • Phase out ‘factory farming’ and discourage farming systems highly dependent on fossil fuels and imported feed that have large-scale environmental impacts and tend to reduce rural income and employment.
  • Ensure that all farming and land uses protect and enhance the soil through legislation and support for agri-environment schemes
  • Support a strategy to reduce release of nitrogen compounds and other pollutants, increase monitoring of watercourses and enforce penalties for pollution of watercourses and unsafe or inappropriate use of pesticides.
  • Work towards replacing the Common Agricultural Policy, and while it still exists, support a radical reorientation of the CAP to support sustainable farming systems that protect and enhance wildlife habitats and biodiversity, ensure fair and secure farm incomes, support sustainable and thriving rural communities and promote regional and local self-reliance in food.
  • Support extension and further investment in the concept of agri-environment schemes such as Environmental Stewardship and initiatives such as catchment-sensitive farming to the whole of the countryside
  • Introduce Land Value Taxation, calculated to take into consideration the economic effects of having to conserve wildlife habitats, archaeological sites and other landscape features
  • Ensure that planning for sustainable use of the countryside for multiple purposes is a major and integral part of the Local Development Frameworks to be implemented by all Local Planning Authorities and National Park Authorities, including conversation advice from government and ecological criteria are given full weight in all planning decisions.
  • Ensure that planning decisions are made at the lowest appropriate level
  • Ensure councils have the necessary training and access to knowledge to make appropriate decisions
  • Strengthen independent planning inspectorate so they are competent to take all factors into account
  • Abolish Infrastructure Planning Commission, or any similar separate fast-track body for national infrastructure decisions
  • Review the case for the right to appeal against local planning approvals
  • Strengthen planning controls for large-scale or damaging land-use changes in the countryside, in particular, large-scale farm buildings, new and improvement works by drainage bodies and water authorities, clearances of woodland, works affecting woodland and large-scale afforestation.
  • Introduce legislation to halt and reverse the spread of light pollution in the countryside in order to protect the dark night sky and to minimise disturbance to wildlife from artificial light, and incorporat this into all Local Development Frameworks
  • Require improved lighting design and the use of more efficient lighting in new developments or replacement of existing lighting.
  • Promote energy conservation, including the removal or reduction of unnecessary lighting
  • Retain, strengthen and enforce national policy that encourages local renewable energy installations
  • Endorsement of the extra controls and incentives for specially protected areas and commitment to work to link the current protected areas into a wider network of sites.
  • Encourage Natural England and the Countryside Council for Wales to carry out a thorough review of the complicated system of designated areas.
  • Strengthen and widen the role of National Parks and the Park Authorities by encouraging better democracy in their governance, by addressing the lack of control and investment in species and habitat protection and by encouraging better take-up of renewable energy opportunities.
  • Commitment to press for the earliest withdrawal of inappropriate military training within National Parks.
  • Ensure that the National Planning Policy Framework continues to provide strong policy protection against mineral extraction in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), encourage local authorities to make a concerted effort to remove the remaining old dormant permissions in these sensitive areas, and oppose all mineral developments in National Parks, other than small-scale operations that produce materials for local traditional building and repair.
  • Halt all damaging road construction within National Parks, in favour of the enhancement of public transport and improved access for walkers and cyclists.
  • Provide adequate funding for the management of designated sites, including Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), National Nature Reserves (NNRs), Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs)
  • Give local authorities the power to make Countryside Conservation Orders to protect vulnerable features which require conservation
  • Give Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty comparable status to National Parks.
  • Retain and rigorously strengthen Green Belt legislation as a positive measure to revitalise the countryside, improve quality of life for people in cities and large towns and encourage the extension of ‘green wedges’ into the cities
  • Extend environmental and social impact statements into all areas of decision-making.
  • Ensure that woods are an integral part of Local Development Frameworks, require planning authorities to liaise with the Forestry Commission and other bodies when dealing with the establishment of new woods and the management of existing ones, and rigorously protect the public ownership of and public rights of access to woods and plantations
  • Encourage good management of existing woods, plantations, orchards and hedges, and farmers and landowners to allow new woods to grow and where appropriate to create new plantations, orchards, agroforestry and hedges
  • Prohibit destruction of ancient woodland
  • Extend the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to provide wider public access such as that granted in Scotland by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and ensure Access Authorities ensure that the law is properly implemented.
  • Ensure that adequate funding is provided to protect and maintain existing rights of way and to create new ones.
  • Support for the further devolution of powers from central government and higher-tier authorities to lower-tier authorities and a commitment to strengthen the role and responsibilities of Parish and Town Councils
  • A Rural Housing Agency will be established to keep under review the needs of people working in rural areas who might not be able to access homes through traditional routes
  • Support will be given to low-impact living initiatives, particularly where they can meet rural housing need and help with rural economic regeneration, required to follow the principles of sustainability and self-reliance being pioneered by the Transition and Low Carbon Communities movements, including self-build
  • Commitment to enact policies to discourage the speculation in land that pushes up prices beyond the means of the majority rural population and second home ownership
  • Change of planning policy to reflect the need to reverse the trend away from local facilities in favour of centralised, usually town-based developments.
  • Require new housing developments in the countryside to recognise the potential transport needs of residents, providing solutions that do not rely on private car ownership.
  • Development of innovative approaches including shared vehicle ownership, community  transport schemes, multiple-use vehicles such as the alpine-style post bus and locally based and affordable private hire, as well as modern web and phone-based technology to enable more efficient use of available transport
  • Reform and increase the Rural Transport Grant to a level that allows for the costs of delivery of rural transport services
  • Encouragement of innovative solutions to maintain vital local services if necessary, such as post offices relocated into village shops, community halls and pubs, internet access in vilage halls and churches doubling up as meeting rooms and music venues.
  • Ensure Department of Health funding allocation makes sufficient allowance for the higher cost of delivering health services in rural areas, so reversing the trend of closing local facilities and transferring their functions to large urban centres.
  • Ensure that high-speed broadband is available to all rural areas at the same cost as in urban areas, if necessary by adding a small fee for all phone lines.
  • Commitment to seek to ensure that recreation and tourism are sustainable and benefit the economy of the locality where it takes place, and require Local Planning Authorities to consider the sustainability of the enterprise, the quality and permanence of the net employment the applicant claims would be created and its overall landscape and environmental impact, with periodic reviews incorporating an environmental impact assessment and the input of local residents.
  • Encourage the development of multi-purpose facilities, usable throughout the year, to meet the needs of local people as well as visitors, and that they are designed and managed to minimise social and environmental impact

What I need to find out more about
Ramsar Convention
The Common Agricultural Policy

What I disagree with
The section on planning (particularly CY540 and CY541) is not up-to-date and seems to be premised on the view that planning authorities and the planning inspectorate are hostile to ecological principles.

What I think needs amending or adding
As a priority, the reference to the National Infrastructure Commission, which was abolished in 2012.
CY503 seems to repeat points made earlier.
References to a “Nature 2000 network” need updating.
Language around Local Development Frameworks needs updating as these are now more commonly called Local Plans.
What does giving ecological criteria “full weight” in planning decisions actually mean?
Remove negativity towards the planning inspectorate (CY540).
Remove the idea of reviewing the ability to appeal planning decisions (CY541).
Revise the tenor of the Green Belt policies to make them more reflective of the need for development on land that doesn’t have special recreational uptake and use within or on the edge of cities (CY562)
“Reduce speculation in land in both urban and rural areas” (CY562) – how?
In my view, this is an incredibly cumbersome chapter and needs heavy revision so that it more succinctly expresses key policies. Many of the policies can be included in other chapters of the PfSS instead of here.

The policy that I think needs most pushing publicly
The introduction of Land Value Taxation and the establishment of a Rural Housing Agency.

Next up: Chapter 4 (Crime & Justice)

Climate Change (2/34): assessing the Green Party of England and Wales’ policies

Image result for climate change
This is part two of a continuing blog series aimed at noticing amendments that may be useful to the Green Party of England and Wales’ main public-facing document, the Policies for a Sustainable Society (PfSS). The full set of 34 policy chapters can be found here.

Starting opinions and personal thoughts before reading the chapter
Climate change is the greatest threat that the human species faces and could result in an extinction level event. The scale of change needed across multiple sectors of public and private life requires rapid implementation of carbon reduction measures from governments at every level – local, regional, national, continental and global. The lens of public focus should be drastically shifted to publicly hold to account those companies and governments contributing the most harm in terms of greenhouse and CO2 emissions. Green policy should present a coherent and powerful worldview that can be utilised by Green administrations, councillors and local parties in their campaigns for a low- or zero-carbon future.

Most important thing I learned
The Green Party policy advocates for greatly increasing the use of electricity. (I also learned that we are in favour of research into artificial meat!)

Bulletpoint policies

  • Support for Paris Agreement 2015, particularly to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”.
  • Calls for the UK to increase its Paris Agreement commitments on emissions reductions, climate finance, capacity building and technology transfer.
  • Calls for the UK to make the case for compensation for climate-related loss and damage and begin to pay such compensation.
  • Calls for the UK to advocate an emergency international agreement to conserve and enhance carbon sinks and reservoirs including forests, peatfields and coastal and estuarine areas.
  • Calls for the UK to reduce, by international collaboration, the emissions associated with its imports.
  • Calls for the UK to reduce its own emissions to net zero by 2030, through practical action in the UK and not by carbon trading or offsetting
  • Calls for the UK to create an adaptation programme which ensures the safety of its citizens, as well as of key property and infrastructure.
  • Advocates for a centrally-led transformation programme which will involve substantial state funding and require changes in the behaviour of ordinary citizens.
  • Calls on government to conduct a major public education campaign.
  • Advocates for a strengthening of the Climate Change Act to require the Committee on Climate Change to set budgets on the basis of the need to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.
  • Creation of a strategic Climate Change Agency directly responsible to the Prime Minister with veto over any government policies that are inconsistent with climate change targets
  • Require all public bodies and businesses to define their own adaptation plans and Locally-Determined Contributions (LDCs) to climate change mitigation
  • UK policy should encourage small families, a circular economy, less avoidable consumption and a shift to low carbon products, services and processes
  • Advocates for a carbon tax and dividend (on greenhouse gas emissions and with a progressive element), publicity campaigns and possible carbon rationing
  • Require all adverts for high carbon products, including food, to carry an ‘environmental health warning’
  • Invest heavily in energy efficiency in all sectors, especially in housing (including funding for retrofitting), industry and transport
  • Set energy efficiency standards for vehicles, appliances and equipment at the best currently available and tighten them progressively thereafter
  • Advocates for UK to switch its sources of energy system from fossil fuels to renewables by changing incentives and by direct investment
  • Advocates for greatly increasing the use of electricity, expansion of the grid and development of heat networks
  • Advocates for UK to implement interconnectors with overseas electricity systems, a smart grid and a variety of energy storage systems to provide resilience
  • Advocates for UK to convert to less intensive agriculture and convert grassland to forest where possible, with transitional arrangements and compensation for farmers
  • Require full disclosure of the climate-related risks on all investments
  • Require all managers of pension and investment funds based in the UK to divest themselves of holdings in fossil fuel companies, most urgently from coal
  • Advocates for UK development and deployment of systems to remove CO2 and other greenhouse gases from the air and from the exhaust from industrial processes such as cement making, including investment in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) systems which may also need to be used with some power plants.
  • Advocates for UK funding of R&D and pilot projects in key emerging technologies such as NETs (negative emissions technology), Solar Radiation Management and artificial meat.
  • Advocates for UK to adopt a new approach to planning that places work, living, retail and leisure facilities close together, leading to reductions in travel necessity.

What I need to find out more about
Interconnectors with overseas electricity system
Negative emissions technologies (NETs)
Carbon Capture and Storage
Solar Radiation Management

What I disagree with
I do not agree that an environmental health warning should be carried on adverts for carbon intensive food (CC121).

What I think needs amending or adding
The first bulletpoint of CC110 requires grammatical editing, I think.
“Possible carbon rationing” – vague as to whether we are advocating for it or not in CC121.

The policy that I think needs most pushing publicly
Invest heavily in energy efficiency
in all sectors, especially in housing (including funding for retrofitting), industry and transport and for the UK to switch its sources of energy system from fossil fuels to renewables by changing incentives and by direct investment. (I know I’m cheating, this is two policies!)

Next up: Chapter 3 (Countryside)

Animal Rights (1/34): assessing the Green Party of England and Wales’ policies

Image result for animal rights

This is the first of my blogs aimed at noticing amendments that may be useful to the Green Party of England and Wales’ main public-facing document, the Policies for a Sustainable Society (PfSS). The full set of 34 policy chapters can be found here.

Starting opinions and personal thoughts before reading the chapter
The Green Party and the environmentalist movement in general overemphasises the importance of individuals taking action through lifestyle decisions around diet. The emphasis should more clearly be on the actions of unethical treatment of animals within the meat industry and the emphasis on mass-market meat production rather than localised sustainable and ethically-reared meat. I have no ethical qualms about the killing of certain animals and the eating of meat (this has occurred for millenia for practical survival reasons that I think we should not forget), but I do have concerns about the overall environmental effect of the meat industry, particularly around deforestation to provide grazing land and the effect of methane from grazing stock. Clearly it is also healthier to eat less red meat within diets, but I do not think this is something that should be mandated by the state. My knowledge of other animal rights issues is quite limited and so I am looking forward to reading this chapter to learn some things.

Most important thing I learned
The Five Freedoms of the Animal Welfare Act are:
1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst (by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor).
2. Freedom from Discomfort (by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area).
3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease (by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment).
4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior (by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind).
5. Freedom from Fear and Distress (by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering).

Bulletpoint policies

  • Introduce Animal Rights Officers in local authorities
  • Introduce clear labelling on all animal-derived food products stating all facts about animal treatment and method of killing
  • Phase out factory farming in favour of small free-range units
  • When slaughter does take place it is done so as to cause least suffering to the animal
  • Slaughtering to be monitored without prejudice towards minority religious and cultural groups
  • Ban on the use of GMOs in animal feed and all genetic modification of animals
  • Desire for internal rules on import restrictions from country’s with lower animal welfare standards
  • Minimising of live transport of animals
  • Prioritising of smaller, local abattoirs and improve conditions
  • Mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses
  • Extend the Animal Welfare Act to cover all fishing activities, including an end to overfishing, prohibition of intensive fish farming and restrict the use of fishmeal for animal feed
  • Support for a progressive transition from meat-based diets, and organic and stockfree farming
  • Ensuring that vegetarian and vegan options are widely available in public sector establishments and included in catering certificates and food technology courses
  • Illegal to import or sell foie gras
  • Ban import, export and sale of fur
  • Continue prohibition of ivory, reptile skins and whale oil
  • Ban on all experimentation and research that harms animals and transfer of government research funds to non-animal technologies
  • Replace use of animals and animal material in educational settings, but support for use of animal cadavers/material when these have been ethically sourced
  • Introduction of a two-tier system of dog-licensing [breeding and non-breeding], licensing of all animal breeders and dog owners, subsidised spaying and neutering, implementation of animal warden schemes, and prohibition on import of exotic animals
  • Creation of a national register of convicted animal-cruelty offenders
  • Ban on sale of young puppies and kittens unless the mother is present
  • Animal patents will not be granted
  • “Pest control” redefined to “wildlife management and control” and implementation of a wildlife management and control protocol
  • Extend the 1911 Protection of Animals Act to protect captive and non-captive animals from unnecessary suffering
  • Opposition to all blood-sports
  • Amend Firearms Act to prohibit the use and private ownership of firearms and lethal weapons except on registered premises
  • Prohibition of the import of all animals for circuses and re-homing of all existing circus animals
  • Abolition of zoos and private collections of animals except where they are of benefit to the animal concerned
  • End the exploitation of animals in horse racing, greyhound racing and all situations where animals are commercially raced including immediate ban on the the whip in horse racing and non-linear tracks in greyhound racing
  • Single regulatory authority for each commercial racing sport with strict welfare standards (detailed in the policy)
  • High level of compulsory levy imposed on all betting to be used solely for welfare improvements
  • Endeavour internationally to initiate and develop an Animal Rights Division within the UN
  • Opposition to all lethal and harmful uses and treatments of cetaceans and any move to end the current moratorium on commercial whaling
  • Abolition of research into xenotransplantation

What I need to find more out about
GMOs. I am way too ignorant of this issue.
Xenotransplantation, for the same reason. Will it really unleash “an epidemic amongst the human population”?
Why are we just calling to minimise live export of animals? Can’t it just be banned?

What I disagree with
The vagueness of this in AR411: “The Green Party will support a progressive transition from diets dominated by meat and other animal products to healthier diets based on plant foods, through the use of research, education and economic measures…” What economic measures are these exactly?
AR427 seeks to abolish zoos. I think there is a genuine need for some animals to be homed in zoos and that this policy should be more to do with emphasis. Animals in zoos should be predominantly those that need sanctuary rather than simply those that zoos want to place in captivity for our entertainment or enjoyment.

What I think needs amending or adding
Specifics about what economic measures we would (or wouldn’t) use to transition away from meat-dominated diets. A meat tax? Or something more subtle?
AR418 could be read as contradictory of itself.
AR419 – is there a less cumbersome way of saying “those animals who are chosen as companions to the human race”. It is also unclear which animals this includes and excludes.
I would change AR427 as I think its emphasis is wrong.
I might change the hyperbolic aspects of AR 431 which I think are unnecessary.
A position on lab-grown meat, which could be market-viable in a matter of months.

The policy that I think needs most pushing publicly
Mandatory CCTV in all slaughterhouses.
Next up: Chapter 2 (Climate Change)

The design and application of neighbourhood planning in England acts effectively to constrain local autonomy and inhibit public participation in planning. Discuss.

Introduction

The introduction of neighbourhood planning (NP) has been met with critical discussion both inside and outside of planning literature. I will argue that NP processes have produced some positive participative practice but within a framework that does not allow for local autonomy or inclusive participative practice at the sub-local authority area. I will go on to recommend strategies for reforming the structures that have been put in place.

What is neighbourhood planning?

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government (2010-15) introduced neighbourhood planning as part of the 2011 Localism Act (DCLG, 2011b). The preamble to the government’s neighbourhood planning guidance claims that NP “gives communities direct power”, allows them to “choose where they want new homes, shops and offices to be built” and provides “a powerful set of tools for local people to ensure that they get the right types of development for their community” (DCLG, 2014). Both academic and non-academic critique often includes the contention that the government has seen NP as a tool to encourage neighbourhoods to accept further development, particularly housing (Parker and Salter, 2017).

In direct practical terms, this new statutory power allows, in coordination with their local authority, any set of 21 citizens to become a “qualifying body”, designate a neighbourhood development plan area, write a neighbourhood development plan (NDP), put this plan out to consultation, have it assessed by an independent examiner, and then ask for the NDP to be approved by the local community through a referendum. NDP policies must conform with the Local Plan and the Government’s newly introduced National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF, 2012). The NDP then becomes a statutory part of the development plan, alongside the Local Plan for the area designated.

Parker et al (2015) suggest that NP is a significant statutory shift that local authorities cannot ignore and is unlikely to be abandoned. The 2011 Act was the culmination of a building political rhetoric around the terms localism and decentralisation for both government parties whilst in opposition, with Copus et al (2017) suggesting the localist political shift may relate to the effect of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution on English provincial thinking. NP represents the first time a statutory right of this kind has been granted to communities at the sub-local authority area, but as we will now discuss is not the first instance of attempts to sub-localise the planning system.

The pre-2010 context of neighbourhood planning

NP was thus a departure from the previous Labour government’s (1997-2010) policies if not its language of ‘new localism’. The unformalised ‘local strategic partnerships’ were the New Labour precursor of sorts to NP. However, specific sub-local authority governance structures such as parish councils and urban-based neighbourhood forums had hitherto not had any planning powers, leading to an unsatisfactory situation where local authorities could choose to adopt or ignore non-statutory sub-local plans (Gallent 2013). Parish Plans, produced since 2000, were an example of community-led planning used regularly prior to 2010, almost exclusively in rural areas. Parker and Murray (2012) state that pre-2010 consultations on these plans would “rarely carry quality criteria which are applied or enforced”. However, in April 2009, the Labour government did introduce a wide-ranging ‘duty to involve’ powers on local authorities (DCLG, 2008) and a Central-Local Concordat in conjunction with the LGA (HM Government and LGA, 2007, cited in Bailey and Elliott, 2009). The Coalition reforms can be said to, at least rhetorically, respond to New Labour’s ‘managerial’ localism (Sturzaker and Gordon, 2017), although Brookfield (2017) argues that the Coalition were echoing the New Labour rhetoric, and adopting a neo-liberal justification for localism.

Local autonomy’s non-existence

Planning literature in the aftermath of the 2011 Act refers largely to decentralisation and localism, rather than autonomy, perhaps for the reason that the former are concepts perceived as less political and more operational in orientation. There is no agreed definition of local autonomy within democratic theory, with Clark (1984) stating that its meaning “remains opaque”. However within the NP context we are clearly discussing any ‘autonomy’ that exists at the sub-local authority (i.e. neighbourhood) level. Internationally, the term ‘local autonomy’ is used synonymously with ‘local self-government’ (i.e. local government) with one 2014 assessment (see Ladner et al, 2016, 344) measuring the UK as 31st out of 39 European countries. Pratchett (2004) makes a strong claim that local autonomy and local democracy are conceptually not the same, with Clark (1984) defining two aspects of autonomy in governance terms. Immunity is “the power of localities to function free from the oversight authority of higher tiers of the state”. Initiative is “the power of localities to legislate and regulate the behaviour of residents”. These aspects are closely mirrored by Pratchett (2004) as “freedom from central interference” and “freedom to effect particular outcomes”, stating a further aspect, “reflection of local identity”, an addition that brings participatory governance into our analysis of autonomy’s definition. It’s clear that a qualifying body could affect particular outcomes in a positive way by delineating land use more specifically than its attendant Local Plan currently does. However, this does not in itself represent an autonomous state of affairs, merely an ability to change some aspects of the local authority’s development planning documentation in line with what already exists or will exist.

I contend (under the auspices of traditional anarchist thought and the definitions of the aforementioned thinkers) that autonomy only exists independently of prescribed democratic and institutional structures, in arenas where local citizens make their own rules and practices, what Parker and Murray (2012) describe (from a non-anarchist perspective) as a “direct challenge to established decision-making models”. Indeed, Gallent (2013) differentiates democracy as a top-down, “provider-led” approach, and governance as a bottom-up approach (with the crucial caveat that it is liable to myopia and a lack of detail and coordination). The introduction, therefore, of NP can be said to have had a negligible effect on local autonomy, as NDPs are required to be submitted both to the local authority and the planning inspectorate (an executive agency of HM Government) for approval, as well as conforming closely and working within the Local Plan policies and the NPPF (Parker et al, 2015), with no variation on this pattern legally condoned. As local autonomous governance structures are thus only theoretically possible and currently non-existent, it is difficult to say whether “they” are constrained or not. Regardless, this conclusion does not preclude the possibility of improved public participation under NP, a subject to which we now turn.


Public participation in neighbourhood planning

Public participation has been part of planning law since the 1968 Town & Country Planning Act (HM Government, 1968), although it was almost immediately followed by the Skeffington Report (DoE, 1969) which critiqued the Act’s top-down solutions and recommended a far more neighbourhood-orientated approach (recommendations 1 and 2, appendix 1). Today, there are still charges that public participation can be tokenistic, with Parker and Murray (2012) describing participation opportunities as “little more than rhetorical bulwarks used by politicians seeking public support and legitimation for particular policies”. Certainly the Localism Act’s emphasis on delivering growth by a neo-liberal economic model could be characterised this way, but are there opportunities afforded by NP for authentic communicative practice?

Vigar et al (2017) posit two dominant schools of thought within communicative practice – a participative-deliberative tradition and a radical-agonistic one – suggesting that the latter is the dominant contemporary planning paradigm. Forester (1999) recognises the role of emotion in planning but takes the deliberative position, describing planners as crucial to facilitating any “joint gains” that can be made between “conflicting claimants” (p. 12-13).

I agree with Parker et al (2015) that NP presents as a dialogic space (see Wegerif, 2016) of rational actors (see Rydin and Pennington’s (2000) five rational choice questions) but that in reality its public participation remit is limited and the design of its structures preclude agonist practice. Brookfield (2017) notes that planners are not ‘levelled down’ to the status of another stakeholder as is typically an interest of collaborative planning. Also, as Parker and Murray (2012, p.8) note, individuals don’t always act rationally or in some narrow self-interested sense, implying that some people engage if others (and particularly others ‘like them’) engage. Overall, for NP, “the benefits and problems of participation are likely to be mixed and fluid; reflecting the so-called fuzziness of neo-liberal institutions” (Parker et al, 2017). The design of NP, to which we now turn, is also one of the main factors in assessing NP’s public participation credentials.

The design of neighbourhood planning

Neighbourhood planning has been communicated and legislated maximally but resourced minimally. The government’s 200 or so pilot areas each received £20,000 up front (Bailey and Pill, 2015). Up to £9,000 is available to qualifying bodies from DCLG through Locality’s website (2018), a sum which hypothetically allows payment of a living wage to a dedicated planning employee for a little over 27 weeks of full-time employment. The median time for an NDP to progress to referendum is 29 months (Parker and Salter, 2017), which makes it logistically unfeasible to offer anything other than part-time, freelance work to a planning consultant, who may or may not be able to work in the way that conveniences the designated neighbourhood forum (DNF). In one study (Parker et al, 2015), it was found that 69% of NDPs relied on consultant support. Staff resource from local authorities is not specified quantifiably in the legislation, so the DNF must negotiate support resources (DCLG, 2014). The local authority has responsibility for setting timetables and time limits, but the emphasis as regards advice and assistance is on what planning officers “consider appropriate” (which of course could be minimised to solely the aforementioned time factors) (DCLG, 2011b).

The concern expressed by some (e.g. Lord et al, 2017) about the risk of the de-professionalisation of planning comes to the fore in light of this design, with the overall neo-liberal framework not being hidden by the government (Parker et al, 2015) when they state that local authorities will have “more freedom to work with others in new ways to drive down costs” (DCLG, 2011a, p.7). Parker et al (2017) suggest that New Public Management theories lead to a “wider traducement of public sector planning” for a performative end. However, Brookfield (2017) notes two specific benefits for communities after an NDP has been adopted: the retention of 25% (as opposed to the regular 15%) of any Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) raised on local development and (for plans that promote housing development) the New Homes Bonus, an unringfenced grant where government matches the Council Tax raised on each new home for six years. (Both positives are contingent, of course, on the NDP promoting rather than restraining development.) Parker (2017) also notes that local authorities receive a £30,000 ‘burdens’ payment on plan completion.

As regards inter-relational aspects of NP design, Davoudi and Cowie (2013) state that the self-selecting character of NP groups may result in the favouring of better educated, well-off and more vocal social groups who may have the time, capacity and inclination to engage. Although the NDP must go to referendum to be judged by the public, there are questions about the legitimacy of unelected bodies acting on behalf of the wider community before this occurs, particularly as the DNF proposes the extent of the area covered.

Overall, there are some basic problems with NP design and with the necessity to conform to the Local Plan and NPPF, what Bailey and Pill (2015) call ‘framing and constraining’ activity. These tight controls on NDP content ensure that ideas, policies and priorities will be “rescripted” to ensure conformity, with their obligatory passage acting as a means of control on participants (Parker et al, 2015).

The application and practice of neighbourhood planning

The non-compulsory nature of NP will always mean patchwork rather than blanket coverage, with 2,228 projects applied for as of October 2017 and only 349 having been formally adopted into local development plans (Planning Resource, 2017), with only 10% of neighbourhoods who could have initiated NDPs doing so (Parker and Salter, 2017). Reasons for lack of uptake have been variously cited, but government assumptions about willingness and capacity, homogeneity and ability to put aside self-interest may also be a factor. The government’s professed light touch approach may have acted to create a degree of confusion rather than enable or expedite processes.

The government forecasts for overall take-up of NP, but not for regions or wider demographic factors (Parker and Salter, 2017). It is observable that the south (comprising just two of England’s nine regions) accounts for 41% of NP take-up (Parker and Salter, 2017). Only six of the neighbourhood areas to have passed referendum by October 2016 were in the 20% most deprived areas of England with 60.8% of plans being produced by those in the 40% least deprived areas (Parker and Salter, 2017). NP has undoubtedly been taken to more in rural, parished areas, although there are examples of large cities, such as Leeds (see Brookfield, 2017), taking a proactive approach, with council officers recommending to the executive board an overall approach to give equality of opportunity, although even in this instance there were participation challenges.

On the issue of whether NDPs have representational legitimacy, although 21 named local individuals are necessary to become a qualifying body, it has been noted (Parker et al, 2015) that a small group of people usually steer things, not the whole of the qualifying body or larger community. Davoudi and Cowie (2013) suggest that the key assessment criterion of this “symbolic representation” is the extent to which DNFs are accepted among local communities and trusted by them to draw up NDPs, highlighting the poor turnout at referenda as a sign of lack of acceptance, despite the figure (32.4%) being commensurate with local election turnout figures (Carpenter, 2016).

There are also clear examples of inequality of implementation. North Shields Fish Quay in North Tyneside was in 2011 part of the government’s ‘Frontrunner’ programme, but even after spending substantial time and effort on developing an NDP, opted instead to formulate a supplementary planning document as result of delayed guidance from government and the group’s “fatigue” (Parker and Salter, 2017).

More positively, some NDPs have taken the opportunity to advance socially and environmentally sustainable solutions, protect heritage assets, and ensure local housing needs, with slightly more control over the type, mix and location of new development than previously (Parker and Salter, 2017). The example of West Berkshire by Parker and Murray (2012) provides some clues for ensuring success. National funding was granted by the Countryside Agency and action was taken and resources allocated by the local authority chief executive, with the LA enjoying a good pre-existing reputation. This enabled trust to be built between the local authority and participants with a neutral agency (the Rural Community Council) providing a valuable brokering role. There is also evidence that – in contradistinction to my earlier analysis of funding – influence on LAs and a resulting access to resources and networks has emerged, an example of the ‘foot in the door’ thesis and allowing for “some limited orientation” (Parker et al, 2017). A counter-example in Exeter involved the DNF negotiation design changes of a development after their NDP adoption, but this could have been managed without the work going into the NDP, with the DNF opining that NP powers are “not as strong as promoted” (Lord et al, 2017) and that “the council did not have to consult us or check whether we were satisfied with their interpretation of neighbourhood plan policies…and they didn’t” (Sturzaker and Gordon, 2017). Blackpool and Manchester are also given as examples where NP has been said to have had negligible impact (Lord et al, 2017).

Parker et al (2015) report that more than two-thirds of people get involved with NP because they want more influence, greater say and to shape a local vision. By any reading, NP can be seen as a positive development in this regard, even if the process overall may struggle to meet these expectations. Parker et al (2017) show that “known co-production” (i.e. diverse actors working together on NDPs) is actually occurring. More critically, the government’s aim could be seen to be reducing local conflict through this consensus-building in order to increase housing supply (Gallent, 2013), although conversely a report from Turley (2014) found that the key theme of 55% of NDPs was the preservation and protection of what already exists (Lord et al, 2017). This suggests that NP may not currently be meeting government’s expectations.

On one analysis (Parker and Salter, 2015), it was recognised that planning skills were crucial but that for most groups the lack of this expertise delayed but didn’t prove fatal to their NDPs (Parker et al, 2015). The implication is that local authorities were then required to intervene or, for wealthier areas, private resources were utilised to fund a consultant tasked to plan-write. At this stage, community aspirations are likely to be rescripted into ‘planning language’, with some suggesting that this, combined with interactions with the local authority, led to a feeling of lost ownership. This “instruction from authority” and tendency for the instrumental pragmatism of “getting things done” can limit the “imagineering of alternatives” and has an effect on the rational choice realities mentioned earlier leading to a ‘why bother?’ result amongst some groups. Conservatism, self-regulation and self-censorship were observed in particular in the latter stages of the process (Parker et al, 2017).

There are instances where a Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) has informed a Local Plan (rather than vice versa), with over 1,138 areas being designated in areas with no up-to-date (post-NPPF) Local Plan (Parker and Salter, 2017). This represents an ability of DNFs to use NDPs to shape policy, and potentially re-opens our whole debate around local autonomy. The government guidance itself states that NDPs “can be developed before or at the same time as the local planning authority is producing its Local Plan”, yet simultaneously a draft NDP “must be in general conformity with the strategic policies of the development plan in force”, with additional guidance that qualifying bodies and local authorities should discuss and aim to agree the relationship between policies (DCLG, 2014). Anecdotally (Parker and Salter, 2017), some forums and parishes have slowed their processes to wait for a Local Plan to be adopted in order to know what policies they should follow. This ambiguity in precedence has been tested at examination, with one examiner comically citing Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialism in defence of allowing an NDP to not conform to a non-existent Local Plan (Sturzaker and Gordon, 2017). In general, though, the LA-DNF relationship is characterised by Parker et al (2017) as a “critical dependency” rather than a “truly co-creative relationship”. Mutual exchange only delivers desired outcomes when there is trust, transparency and accountability and Gallent (2013) suggests that there is a structural hole that needs bridging by incidental mediators, giving the example of Ashford where housing (rather than planning) officers were effective at connecting group members to the local authority.

Superficially, it might be observed that a DNF’s powers can be described thus: “Although it cannot choose what to do, once given a specific task it can implement it in any way thought consistent with its tasks.” (Clark 1984, p. 201). Neighbourhood planning groups do choose what emphasis to take (if not exactly choosing what to do). Nevertheless, this gives the impression that their deliberations have a weight that the Localism Act ill affords them in terms of setting planning policy.

Parker et al’s (2015) assessment of their user experience study with Locality of 120 neighbourhoods uncovered a feeling that a local authority ‘duty to support’ needs to be operationalised through memoranda of understanding, which could set out clearer guidance for how to plan rather than just what to plan. The study also found that managing expectations and investing in the early stages to raise awareness in the community paid dividends. Parker et al (2017) believe the relations, knowledge and understanding built by NP may influence new forms of community engagement. More critically, Davoudi and Cowie (2013) argue that for inclusivity to improve we should consider not just how to incorporate marginal groups, but also how to limit the influence of privileged groups. Parker et al (2015) similarly query how we “proof” neighbourhood planning against dominant actors and a ‘managerialist’ consensus. Agonistic practice may have some of the answers in allowing dissensus to reveal power differences within the process (Vigar et al, 2017), but must be used sensitively by well-trained, ‘bridging’ mediators. The user experience study also noted the challenge of designating NP areas in urban settings, recommending a simplification of the process and more targeted, clear guidance for groups. The study also found that clarity around the referendum rules, consistency around resourcing, and clearer messages around the continuation of DNFs (with the view of reviewing or amending the NDPs) as further ways to practically improve the NP process (Parker et al, 2014).

Conclusion

I have argued that neighbourhood planning does not act to constrict local autonomy, because local autonomy does not exist in the English democratic system at the sub-local authority level. Using Clark’s description of the concept of local autonomy, I have suggested that only a wholesale, near-revolutionary change in the British democratic system would allow for this conception to make sense on its own terms of “local self-rule”. NP is fundamentally a state-led and state-run activity, regardless of how specifically the initial bottom-up inception of processes occurs, as it is limited by both central and local state’s policy framework on what local communities can prescribe in their NDPs. However, this does not in itself preclude the possibility of public participation in NP.

There has been limited research thus far into the comparative uptake of local planning participation before and after the 2011 Act. Nevertheless, I have found substantive examples of neighbourhood planning producing forms of public participation which were hitherto unrealised. Even a mechanism so tightly scripted by state actors has the potential for delivering non-state actors’ priorities into local development schemes. My concerns with these processes are almost wholly to do with who is participating and how NP can be reformed and developed to ensure a greater breadth of uptake amongst diverse communities, urban areas and English “non-southern” regions. The cited example of Leeds gave me some hope that urban areas can respond to the current set-up through strong leadership to encourage a joined-up process at the local authority level.

Thus, I would contend that there is a need to directly link neighbourhood planning to strategic planning timetables, so that Local Plans and NDPs are concurrently produced. This could be linked to a statutory responsibility on all local authorities to review and consult on their Local Plan (a consolidated document covering all local and neighbourhood plans) every five years. This would dispel fears of a lack of consistency in a two-tier system (Lord et al, 2017), potentially widen the breadth of topics found in NDPs, and allow all councils to plan for ‘big bang’ engagement at regular intervals. Needless to say, this would require substantial financial investment and new revenue-raising powers for local authorities. It would be perceived as a retreat from ‘localism’ and a centralisation of power. However, to release greater participation and community dialogue (particularly in deprived areas), it is imperative that neighbourhood planning is well-resourced. This seems to be the only effective way to ensure a coherent planning system that allows local innovation, increased diverse and inclusive participation and outcomes that effectively and fairly balance local and national planning priorities.

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Can you rely on Labour representatives to stand up for sustainable transport?

Here’s the vision: local communities where people own fewer cars, with high car club membership, where people are unimpeded in driving out and around the city, but not across or through it, where streets are more accessible for play and contain livability measures (e.g. pocket parks, small businesses, kiosks, etc.), and where walking and cycling are the main methods of travel for small distances (under 5 miles).

Here is what is standing in our way of this vision for cities: the dithering, mediocre position of the Labour Party on sustainable transport. It’s not that there aren’t Labour councillors who care passionately about sustainable transport and making our cities less dominated by cars and streets safer and better for walking and cycling. It’s that there are lots who don’t, and who don’t really know what they’re talking about, haven’t looked at the evidence, and are mostly about appeasing those people they perceive to be shouting the loudest and who might cost them most votes. You might think it’s cycnical for me to say this, but it isn’t untrue.

Last night, I attended a meeting about the Easton Safer Streets scheme, an effort by Bristol City Council and Sustrans to fund a number of road closures of rat runs to make streets safer in the community. The scheme developers have already had to row back once on making Chelsea Road (the main area where car drivers speed unsafely through the community) one way. Yesterday, we learned that the 6 Labour councillors have decided (“a consensus position” between them, apparently) that the only street closure that they will countenance will be the Bannerman Road tunnel closure, and they have rejected the High Street and Rosemary Lane closures and asked project officers to redesign these two streets with other traffic calming measures. Never mind that this is adding cost and additional time to transport officers’ workloads.

The key thing to consider is that the Labour councillors are desperate to keep the scheme money, as they don’t want to have headlines about economic incompetency and massive sums wasted on schemes that don’t come to fruition. This scheme has the built-in proviso that there is at least one road closure. Bannerman Road School has long been plagued by speeding motorists and a particularly unsafe tunnel nearby for pedestrians, scooters and cyclists. The Bannerman Road PTA (Parent Teacher Association) have been active in calling for the road closure, which is great – not least that this has been an issue for over 20 years. If we extrapolate from this activity and there’d have been a high level of understanding of the benefits of street closures to businesses (brought about by Cllr Afzal Shah or a local businesses “pro-street closure group”) then the High Street closure would have gone through, and if there’d been a “parents of May Park” or “local residents for green spaces” group, the Rosemary Lane closure may have gone through. When councillors blow with the wind, even the slightest level of activity influences them.

Of course, these closures would have negligible impact on journey times for drivers, the majority of residents would use different streets to access arterial routes or simply stop making short, unnecessary journeys in their cars. So far, so non-contentious, right?

Wrong. Apparently, sending two addressed letters, running numerous pop-up consultation events and attending Neighbourhood Partnership meetings several times is not adequate in terms of a consultation exercise. Up pops a biased organisation called “Easton Voice” who decide that it’s time for unthinking car drivers to take back control and ruin the one chance the community has for a well-funded, sensible approach to the huge influx of cars into and through the community. Ironically, the Bannerman Road closure is both the least contentious and also the one that most annoys the “Easton Voice” people the most because it apparently “divides the community”. What really divides the community is organisations calling themselves “Easton Voice” when they don’t represent the views of everyone who lives in Easton and are not partaking consultation in an appropriate way.

The person who set this organisation up, a chap called Stuart Phelps, has an incredibly high view of “direct democracy”, which leads to him believing that unless every single person has given their view on an issue, nothing can be decided. Now, I’m as idealistic as the next person, but even I recognise that this is just not a realistic proposition. His claim is that if you had an open public meeting, it would hugely help. He’s out of his mind if he thinks that this would breed consensus – it would just cause anger and hackles to rise further – particularly if he’s present and badgering everyone about how undemocratic everything is.

The tenor and tone of last night’s meeting was set up to fail from the word go when the councillors were literally (I kid you not) seated in an “inner circle” of seats. Participants were expected to up sticks from their position back in the cheap seats to join the “goldfish bowl” in the “inner circle” to ask questions and make comments to their councillors, then voluntarily give up their seats for other people to come and have their little rant at the councillors. There was no sense that these comments/rants were building towards an ability to breed more trust and connection across the warring clans, so unfortunately they failed in the first task of the meeting. The meeting was effectively unchaired, which given the high tension did not really give the necessary basis for people to gracefully listen to each other, particularly when there was no set up of an evidence basis to frame the conversation.

There was a lot of talk about consensus-building (one of the councillors ended the meeting by saying that we needed to stop talking in terms of division, seemingly unaware that this meeting had bred more of it), but this is about as far from a good model of consensus-building as I can imagine. Short of having an open public meeting where everyone is given an opportunity to yell and rant about the plans and achieve nothing (apart from a bunch of sustainable transport advocates sitting quietly fuming, like I was for most of last night, when I wasn’t “rudely interrupting” a councillor who had failed to answer a basic question). I don’t know whether it was the Labour councillors or the facilitator (a decent guy, who did his best) who came up with this meeting format, but it really didn’t work.

An alternative structure that is far better for achieving consensus is to get everyone on their feet, put up posters with clear declarative statements or options for the future on the walls of the room, ask people to talk and mingle on a personal level, all the while writing short messages about their honest feelings about each of these statements (some of which are “compromise positions”) and figuring out what solution (that still IS a solution to the problem of unsafe streets, increasing population and car ownership, and air quality concerns) holds the space of the participants on that day. The councillors, or more likely a facilitator who knows the issue inside out, assesses and talks through the outcomes as written up by the meeting participants and suggests to the room which things should be abandoned as unpopular and unfeasible, and which things should be kept as good proposals. This is by no means a perfect format (what is?), but there would potentially be more light than heat generated and people would feel heard without immediately devolving into the back and forth we witnessed.

So, where did the Labour councillors go wrong with this scheme?

1) They didn’t decide what they thought about the scheme – and the urban design principles underpinning it – from the get-go.

Labour’s values are about solidarity and – in particular in the Bristol context – representing the voices of the BME communities as the play-out of this idea. These two principles come above all others for Labour politicians. It’s an understandable position, but we shouldn’t pretend that it’s an intellectually coherent one. Increasing participation amongst BME communities in the political process is a crucial aim, and one the Labour Party has a solid record on. But simply deciding the rightness or wrongness of a course of action based on what people from BME backgrounds say is not, in every circumstance, an effective method of making sound decisions for the community. I would like the Labour Party to start from an evidence base. What do transport planners, urban design professionals, and the best academic research say about the positive or negative impacts of streets closures on local communities? What work needs to be done to effectively communicate these conclusions to those communities we represent and start a positive dialogue about why this scheme isn’t the end of the world (far from it) for residents? What attitude and values should I be modelling to these people in terms of the honesty and integrity of my stated positions?

I am sick to death of politicians allowing themselves to be blown this way and that by the storms of public opinion. There are sometimes right and wrong answers, and politicians are there to stick their necks out if there is a clear evidence base for action in a community. There are far too many intelligent Labour politicians for them to continue to pretend that the evidence basis, rather than the populist basis, isn’t the community engagement model of the future. The Labour politicians in question in Bristol didn’t inform themselves and decide what they thought about the scheme at the beginning of the process, so they couldn’t lead the community – which is one of their primary roles as elected representatives. We don’t elect delegates with the view that they will do whatever we (or 50%+1 of us) tell them to do. We elect representatives who we should expect to come to their own conclusions from all of the available evidence.

2) They didn’t realise sooner that they needed to put out ward-wide information in an addressed letter.

“Universal” information arrived later than was ideal (during the co-production phase). However, I would maintain that sending two addressed letters to every household in the scheme area is sufficient for effective consultation, and that those who say they “haven’t been consulted” need to do a better job of reading their post and getting involved in their community. This scheme used a number of methods of engagement to reach people:

  • 24 workshops across Easton – held at high footfall locations throughout Easton
  • Discussed engagement methods with Bristol Muslim Cultural Society.
  • Members of engagement staff completed courses with the Shah Jalal Jame Mosque
  • Regular presentations at the Ashley, Easton and Lawrence Hill Neighbourhood Partnership/Forum
  • Presentations given to the Disability forum
  • Events were publicised via Up Our Street, posters in notice boards and flyers were distributed.

Over a year of community engagement resulting in….

  • 1200 leaflets distributed in total through the project
  • Engagement with 855 people
  • Capturing over 1000 comments
  • A further 500 people attending the 3 final street events

Does this sound like a thorough consultation process to you?

3) They believed the concerns of the “Easton Voice” pressure group were evidentially valid because they hadn’t got a set principled position on whether the scheme idea was good or not.

I would argue that only 1 of the 6 local councillors for the three wards is sufficiently interested in urban transport as a policy area for them to be able to speak with authority on the issue, and that person (Mhairi Threlfall) happens to be the Cabinet member for Transport in Bristol. It would have been good if Mhairi could have attended some of the public meetings, but alas we were left with her fellow Eastville councillor Sultan Khan who unfortunately doesn’t have the first clue about urban design principles, arguing at one point that closing roads will adversely affect businesses, when the evidence shows the reverse is true.

When you aren’t coming from a position of principle, you can’t push back against people whose arguments are spurious on the technicalities and the effects of the scheme. This is like trying to repel a battering ram from entering the city gates with a feather duster. It also spoke volumes that no urban design professional from the council was invited to this final meeting.

4) They weren’t honest about the decision they’d taken, or the effect of it.

After a final councillor- and officer-led design has been reached, it goes through the Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) process, an antiquated way of “ensuring” public feedback through what is called a statutory consultation phase. In reality, the TRO is a rubber stamp of what has been decided and it is very very unlikely that any feedback given to this statutory consultation will affect whether or not the scheme, as submitted, does or doesn’t go ahead.

I asked the councillors point blank last night to be honest and admit that this was the case, but they were unwilling to do so, and indeed despite saying they had come to a collective decision on which aspects of the scheme to keep (Bannerman Road) and which to throw out (High Street and Rosemary Lane), that the process was still open-ended. This is disingenuous at best.

We need councillors to be honest with people, not pretend that decisions haven’t already been made. If this meeting was about communicating the decision and moving forward with that decision, then that should have been that.

5) They didn’t give their personal views.

When I was a councillor, there was a moment where I had to decide whether to outwardly give my views on the Residents’ Parking Schemes proposed for different districts in my ward. I decided that I didn’t need to go overboard on what I thought (that RPS is a really good tool for promoting sustainable travel), but if asked by someone directly I would give my views honestly.

I realise now this was completely the wrong approach. It would have been far better if I had simply explained at the start – in a public leaflet, delivered to every door in the ward – my position on the schemes and the evidence base for it. This is exactly what a fellow Green councillor, Charlie Bolton, did in Southville ward and he was re-elected in 2016. Democracy is not well-served by elected representatives ducking the issues, or simply being swayed by the quantity, ferocity or volume of people who make the same erroneous case. This isn’t what I did on RPS, but I regret that I wasn’t more open from the start about what I really thought.

The small amount of sympathy I have for the local councillors in east Bristol is that if they were to continue to publicly make the case FOR these schemes, they would be castigated every time they opened their mouths and their popularity, at least amongst those present, would take a hit. I can understand why that prospect isn’t too appetising, but to be honest with an issue like this, they are going to have some people agreeing with them and some people not. If you try to “manage” this in any political or electoral sense, it’s pretty obvious.

All in all, I was left dispirited and angered by this meeting, and would not quickly sign up to attend another one with the same personnel in a hurry.

Anyone who is a local of Easton (or Lawrence Hill or Eastville) should make sure they make their feelings known to their local councillors both before the statutory consultation begins, as it is taking place and after the final scheme is implemented. It is my view that failing to close Rosemary Lane and High Street is a huge missed opportunity to change the balance of power in our streets towards safety, walking and cycling and away from private car ownership, use, rat runs and speeding.

Why voting Green in Bristol West will NOT let the Tories in

We’ve already knocked on thousands of doors in Bristol West in this campaign, and the most common reaction we get is “we must keep the Tories out”.

As Greens, we agree. As a party, we have led on attempts to negotiate deals in seats the Conservatives hold or threaten to take without a strong, singular progressive-minded voice on the ballot paper.

However, Bristol West is different. The result in 2015 shows a few things:

1. Labour just beat the Greens last time leaving the Lib Dems and the Tories in a distant third and fourth place.
2. Even if the entire UKIP vote from 2015 went to the Tories, they would still be in fourth.
3. The Tories cannot win this seat (and won’t be attempting to), so progressive voters can back the Greens and make history by electing Bristol’s first Green MP.

A Green MP would work cooperatively with other progressive MPs but hold Labour to account where the party’s policies veer away from the progressive values this constituency holds dear.

The differences between a Green MP and the Labour Party’s approach are profound:

  • A Green MP would campaign for a final referendum on the negotiated terms of Brexit. The Labour Party are not in favour of this referendum, preferring to let Theresa May push through her plans rather than let the people decide.
  • A Green MP would campaign to halt NHS privatisation and invest in our health. The Labour Party did not back Caroline Lucas’ NHS Reinstatement Bill and during the last Labour government, began the process of privatisation through PFI schemes.
  • A Green MP would campaign for a fairer voting system to make votes matter. The Labour Party are divided on the issue and have made no clear statement that they would change to a proportional voting system.
  • A Green MP would campaign for action on climate change. The Labour Party barely ever mention climate change, the country’s greatest threat to security.

A second Green MP would do more to push a Labour or Conservative government to do what is right by providing effective opposition and critique when it matters.

Theresa May does not want another Caroline Lucas in Parliament. She does not want Molly Scott Cato to be elected – an economist who can lay bare the inadequacies and falsehoods of the Conservatives’ disastrous economic policies.

If you want a future to believe in, it’s time for a Green MP in Bristol.