All posts by Jonathan Essex

Our Environment: Not an Optional Extra

The Environment

I strongly believe that environmental issues and social issues must be addressed together, as two sides of the same coin. Which means rethinking our politics (including making better, longer term decisions) and our economics (to make sure our economy delivers better quality of life for all, within environmental limits).

Climate change, air pollution and the countryside are not factored into policies about housing, industry, or for that matter trade and Brexit strategies.

The Green Party has challenged the other parties to take the environment seriously. Our key commitments are set out in our environment manifesto.

Neither public debt, nor Brexit should be used as excuses to delay or downgrade the importance of including environmental issues in our decision making today. Instead, they require different decisions and priorities. For example, we propose a better alternative to austerity that would start with creating a million green jobs to improve the vitality of our economy alongside protecting (instead of cutting) public services.

Living Locally – and Protecting our Green Belt

The Green Party has long been in the ‎forefront of campaigns to protect our countryside, as well as advocating a radical shift in transport and planning policy to encourage far more people to walk both for leisure and as a mode of travel. Yet with the current government in power we recognise that there is much still to do.

At present our Green Belt is under threat not because there is a housing crisis, but because developers and Government want to maximise profits in the one region of the country where land prices are high and where public investment continues to create infrastructure and jobs. Our housing crisis could disappear if people really believed other regions have a strong prosperous future. If people could become confident in investing and living away from the south east the situation could be changed and the sacrifice of our landscape and ecology and our public health could be unnecessary. At present the Government is planning for a further 3.5 million people in Greater London over the next 25 years. We need to implement a green plan to rebalance the national economy if other places are given the chance to compete and grow.

The local consequences of not having a national plan are already being felt. For example, here in Surrey, cuts in government funding have meant spending on rights of way was cut from £300,000 to £100,000 this year. This is barely enough for the summer vegetation clearance from paths alone. Meanwhile, the coalition government’s National Planning Policy Framework has led to a quadrupling of building on the Green Belt.

We need move things in a positive direction instead. Investment in low traffic neighbourhoods and safe, convenient networks of routes for walking and cycling would be a good start.

I believe that Surrey residents want to be able to enjoy a healthy environment and an affordable place to live – not be forced to choose between these things. Which is why we are calling for better protection of the Green Belt, National Parks, SSSIs and our AONB. And we also need an Environmental Protection Act to sustain environmental safeguards in the face of Brexit and improve our food and farming systems.

Thinking Globally – needs a Different Political Climate

The issue of climate change has for so long has been a policy discussion, not resulting in sufficient action by politicians.

For example, the idea that we can expand Heathrow Airport, generating an additional 22 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year, and stay within a carbon budget that requires huge reductions in emissions by 2050 is creative accounting. The Green Party’s position on this is clear – we can’t expand Heathrow or Gatwick as either would accelerate climate change.

We must bridge the chasm between political promises and current economic priorities. We have taken big steps backwards in the UK in the last few years – cancelling programmes to insulate housing, eliminating the ‘Code for Sustainable Homes’, which committed all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016, and then Vince Cable introducing tax incentives which led the dash towards the extraction of unconventional oil and gas through fracking and similar processes. We’ve seen this – locally at Horse Hill, Brockham and Leith Hill. Our government is moving us in the wrong direction.

To prevent the worst impacts of climate change, as predicted by the vast majority of climate scientists, we need to move at least twice as fast, reducing fossil fuel emissions to zero by 2030. And this means not just focusing on direct energy use (in transport, heating, electricity) but the carbon ’embedded’ in our imports –which accounts for around half our impact on the climate. I have written an idea of what such a transition to a more caring, stronger local British economy might look like here, in a report I wrote for the Green House think tank.

And it requires some new hope injected into our politics and economics, before Trump’s plan to exclude the USA from the Paris climate agreement raised the stakes yet further.

Beyond Climate Change

But the global environmental challenge is not just about acting on climate change is not the only environmental challenge – that ‘just’ sets some limits of how different the future might be, and how quickly we must act. We also need to stop disposing of plastic, which is that is getting into the food-chain and swirling around in the middle of our oceans and getting into the food-chain. And we need to care for our environment so it can retain and improve soils (not degrading degrade it them with chemical dependant farming) so we can feed ourselves sustainably into the future. Also, we must start to revalue not just the rural economy (beyond farming to how we manage natural resources more widely), and countryside, but land, on which everything ultimately depends.

We need to stand up for protecting animals from – not just those threatened with extinction that is important, but protecting animals full stop. Only the Greens are prepared to take on big business by opposing all forms of factory farming, and working for the full replacement of animals used in research and testing. As well as resisting any attempt to weaken laws on animal welfare or environmental protection, we have set out seven key pledges on animal welfare to reflect how we must not just better care for each other, but animals too.

Finally, standing up for the environment means protecting nature, for its own sake – from the Spring-watch excitement of seeing blue tits leaving the nest for the first time (which I did this morning at home in my garden!) or the wonder of wilderness. We need to leave space for wildlife, too which means we must stop over-exploiting nature. And have better protection of our nature hotspots and wild spaces (including opposing Reigate & Banstead Borough Council’s plan to possibly build homes on a nature reserve off Cockshott Hill in Reigate and into the Biodiversity Opportunity Area and Nutfield marshes east of Redhill, a network of varied wildlife habitats which is a major focus for environmental improvement by the Surrey Wildlife Trust, east of Redhill that are restoring to create an important wildlife corridor.

I hope you share my passion that it is this issue – how we value the environment, alongside inequality and how we value each other – which must define our politics, as together they will define the future we create for ourselves.

I might not win, but I am standing because I want to change politics for the better. And then means a joined-up plan for how we can make quality-of-life better for everyone, while respecting environmental limits. Which It needs a lot of hope, and a bold, clear vision too.

Please support and, if you share my passion and believe this too, then why not join us.

A Better Plan for our Railways in Reigate: Take Back Control of Southern, Fair Fares and Invest Locally

As a regular member of the Reigate, Redhill and District Rail User Association (RRDUA) and commuter I am passionate about how we can improve train services in Redhill, Reigate and our local stations. I think there is (still) much to do, and a clear role for government to make it better. This should include:

  • Take Back Control of Southern (just like the London Mayor holds TfL to account) and taking failing franchises back in-house (including Southern)
  • Bringing in Fairer Fares with the new 2018 timetable (which could still be better) – and 3-day a week season tickets on Oyster; and
  • Working closer with Network Rail to secure longer term plans including a flyover for the Redhill line at Stoats nest to speed up our London journey, a pedestrian footbridge at Redhill and electrification of the North Down’s Line

Government Failed to Stand up to Southern, so in the Delay it was we who Paid out

I understand, totally, the hard last few years we have had commuting to London. Our constituency has been hit hardest by the works at London Bridge (as Redhill is on the ‘slow-line’ to Brighton, so has been hit more than services into London than those on the ‘fast line’). And has been hit again by the RMT and ASLEF disputes. But the government response has been inadequate.

In London it is the Mayor of London that holds Transport for London (TfL) to account. However, here, out of London we need the UK government, that is Ministers overseeing the Department of Transport, to hold our train companies to account. This has plainly not happened. The Conservatives have let the rail dispute continue with Southern (who as a ‘managing agent’ had no financial incentive to end the strike). The costs of the strike, including the £50m delay-repay bill which covers only a fraction of the financial impact to commuters, was picked up by government and repaid by us, the taxpayer. Unacceptable. We need a government that is prepared to step in and help resolve disputes not wash its hands and leave a company, in this case Southern Rail, failing to act.

When Rail Company Franchises Fail then take them in-house.

The Green Party position is to bring the rail franchises back into public ownership. When the East Coast Mainline franchise failed it was taken over by the state where it was more profitable. It was then privatised. Instead of a system where the company makes risk-free money and then passes on financial impacts (like the recent strike) to the government, this public good should be run publicly. This would enable the government to stop the annual above-inflation hike in rail prices, so our cost to commute is similar to that in Europe.

Bring in Fairer Fares with the new 2018 timetable – and 3-day a week season tickets

Which brings me on to fairs. Simply speaking we pay to much in this constituency – more per mile than commuters nearer London, further to the coast, to the East and to the West. We are in centre of the biggest timetable re-organisation to be brought in following the 10 day shutdown this next Christmas and New Year. This should be the time to rationalise fares, and make good the promise from the 2015 general election’s Fair Fares campaign. It is not right that the fairs from Redhill are more expensive than East Grinstead, and in some cases it is still cheaper to get a train ticket from Gatwick when I travel to London from Earlswood. So, we must fight for:

  • The Oyster option to be cheaper than the ticket option (in some cases it is still more expensive).
  • The Oyster zone to be extended to Reigate (by TfL), and
  • Now we have electronic tickets have a 3-day-a-week or 4-day-a-week season ticket option for those who partly work from home, or part-time, such as back-to-work mums.

Finally, as MP I would seek regular meetings with Network Rail. The state of Redhill station could be better. Regardless of future development plans more bike racks could be extended along the bank, the pigeon netting finally complete and why not have a tour or a display of the new platform zero plans. And in terms of improvements there are three further things that should be prioritisied:

  • A flyover at Stoats Nest invested in the next investment period, to secure more fast services from the Redhill line to London in future.
  • A pedestrian – platform level bridge – from Redhill station to the Bus Station as this would massively help rush-hour congestion around Redhill. The recent changes to traffic around the station were government funded – but missed an opportunity.
  • Electrify the North Downs Line (which should also be part of the government’s plan to tackle air pollution) and investigate how we can improve the services between Redhill and both Tonbridge and Reading (perhaps a new Tonbridge to Reading route).These longer-term plans they should be planned now, not just routes to/from London like Thameslink and Cross Rail.But the priorities for now still remain – stand up to Southern and bring failing franchises into public ownership, and secure a deal to bring in fair fares for our Redhill, Reigate and our other stations). There is no excuse – we should be making public transport more affordable, and the 2018 timetable is a perfect opportunity to do this. Now let’s make it happen.

Provide the truly-affordable homes we need to address the fastest rising cause of homelessness

We all need a place called home – which is why making that affordable for all sits at the heart of the Green Party’s election manifesto. Our key policies require government intervention – to ensure we have a national target for affordable housing, to introduce private rent controls to better regulate this sector, and to protect the Green Belt. How would this play out here in Surrey?

Here in Reigate we know there is a problem with average house prices already 14 times average earnings in 2016. This crisis in housing affordability (crucially also for rent) will not be addressed by simply building more homes – it needs us to focus on affordable home provision together with a range of other measures, which are set out in the Green Party’s manifesto – in sharp contrast to the government’s failure to provide a clear plan to sort out housing – for a long time.

Much of the problem sits with central government. Here is a flavour of what our MP has supported in government since 2010:

  1. A massive reduction in government support for providing affordable homes, which in 2010 fell from £100,000 to around £16,000 per home provided here by Raven housing.
  2. This led to the redefining what is ‘affordable to rent’ from 50% of market rent to up to 80% of market rent – in one fail swoop making new social housing up to 60% more expensive in 2011. The result is that in the last few years much of the so-called ‘affordable housing’ has become completely unaffordable to many; and then
  3. The ‘viability test’ which gives developer’s an ‘opt out’ to provide any affordable housing or other local social or environmental standards. Now the ability of developer’s to make 20%+ profits trumps any obligation to do what is needed locally. This vicious new policy is part of the Coalition’s National Planning Policy Framework, voted through despite vocal opposition, including from Green councillors here in Redhill. [Note: this weakening of planning policy, led by Conservative MPs, has also led to a four-fold increase in building on the Green Belt]

This is reflected in our poor record in providing affordable homes locally in recent planning decisions. For example, the failure to even provide the minimum amount of affordability on a number of large developments in the centre of Redhill – the station redevelopment, Liquid and Envy, the council’s own development of Marketfield Way and Cromwell Road and the new flats above KFC in Redhill. The Town and Country Planning Association recently highlighted that we are not alone – government needs to make better planning policy nationally to sort this out.

The knock on effect of rising ‘affordable’ home prices is spiralling private rent costs, which are increasing homelessness as well as the number of people stuck in half-way housing, unable to afford to move on into a new home locally. This totalled 141 families in Reigate and Banstead in December 2016: 116 in temporary accomodation and around 25 families in Bed & Breakfast accomodation (see p41 of budget evidence).

The housing and welfare policies of government since 2010 have created a huge increase in homelessness and rough sleeping. To address homelessness requires an integrated approach which must include a rebalancing of the housing market, focused on providing truly affordable homes, and a reversal of the cuts to public health, including here in Surrey which helps tackle alcohol and drug misuse and sexual health and welfare, helping to address some of the other underlying causes of homelessness. The Green Party policies include a number of ways to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. This includes investing in ‘Housing First’ initiatives, where homeless people with complex needs are moved into a home first instead of expecting them to recover on the streets. We must also reverse damaging cuts to welfare, such as the bedroom tax and the removal of housing benefit to under-21s.

And action is also needed locally, Here on Reigate and Banstead Borough Council, my Green Councillor colleague Steve McKenna put forward a council motion – which was partially accepted by the Conservative council – for a guarantee that the council will treat its affordable housing policy as a minimum standard, and apply it to all public sites. But these targeted measures will not be sufficient unless they sit alongside a clear and well thought out restructuring of UK housing policy and funding:

– Firstly we need to have not so much a general ‘housebuilding target’ but a target for truly affordable homes. This is why the Green’s housing target is to build 100,000 council homes (homes for affordable rent) every year by 2022. Individuals and families are currently locked into living in hostels or having to move across the country because of the lack of council housing. This in turn means that people on the streets cannot get into hostels.

– Secondly, we need to reform renting – for as long as there is a lack of truly affordable social housing places then the biggest cause of homelessness in the UK is the loss of a private rented tenancy. This is reflected here in Reigate and Banstead, where the end of tenancy (including to introduce a hike in rent prices) is the main factor responsible for the rise in those made homeless. We would tackle this by giving tenants protection from no-fault evictions and rent controls to keep their home affordable.

– Finally, this needs a stronger planning framework. As noted above the Conservative/LibDem government’s reduction of 10,000 pages of planning policy to 52 pages in 2012 and redefinition of affordable as 80% rather than 50% of market rent might sound technical but this frames the problems we have today. The former allows the housing market to support 20% developer profit (as a minimum) before providing any affordable homes and the latter made new so-called affordable homes 60% more expensive overnight and has led to a continual spiralling in housing sale and rent costs. This has devastated living standards for those in private rent more than the last decade of stalled wages for many.

The government has repeatedly made bold promises and then failed to deliver positive changes to UK housing. And while the recent Homelessness Reduction Act will extend from just helping those with a ‘priority need’ to all those made homeless we still need to deal with the root causes – reduced public health provision and a lack of truly affordable homes. Addressing homelessness in the long-term must start with provision of affordable homes, as a right for all – but also requires the integrated social safety net, including public health care, and a commitment to provide these homes on brownfield not countryside and Green Belt sites. It is possible. But changes nationally are crucial if we are to make this happen locally.

A Better Plan for Schools starts by reversing the Funding Cuts

I am shocked that this government thinks that it can cut school’s annual (mainly teaching) budgets without this having an impact. With average class sizes already above 30 in many schools this will have a significant impact. The way to reverse this is not the Conservative promise to end free school dinners for all, while forgetting about the impact of academies on budgets. And The IFS has today exposed that this unfair idea would still lead a to 3% a year cut by 2021.

I highlighted this school funding crisis in my recent campaign to be re-elected onto Surrey County Council. The full extent of the government’s cuts to Reigate constituency schools are highlighted in the table here.  

This is unacceptable. I admire the excellent work done by teachers and other school staff under the current difficult conditions. I believe it is truly shocking that the Conservative Party is cutting funding for schools, with many schools now reducing teaching staff as well as cutting back on basic equipment. I understand that through speaking to a governor of one local primary school that around 90% of the school budget goes on staff – so cutting budgets will surely have a knock on effect, estimated at over 100 less teachers across the Reigate constituency.

 Our civilised society should value education as a public good and invests in it accordingly. Failure to do so is not only dereliction of duty towards individual children, whose opportunities to learn and thrive are greatly reduced; it is also extremely short-sighted, as the UK relies upon a well-educated population for its workforce and its global reputation – and for us to create a different and better future for the UK, and worldwide education is absolutely central.

We need to reverse both the government school budget cuts and academisation that are squeezing our school’s operations and leading to teaching posts being cut and class sizes going up across the UK.

In addtion, the shift to schools to academies is exacerbating this issue – as the additional cost of running the academy chains itself also draws money away, leaving less for teaching.

This means schools budgets are not just being squeezed by the government – but by the need to support academy chains. So schools budgets are in a double squeeze.

The Green Party’s position on this is clear. We must reverse both of these pressures on school budgets – and get better schools for all as a result.

  • Firstly, we must ensure that real terms spending on schools increases and is protected; which will reduce class sizes, with a long-term goal of 20 per class at both primary and secondary level.
  • Equally, we commit to return all schools to local authority control, ending the disastrous experiment with free schools and academies, which has fragmented the school system and directed money to where it is least needed while failing to improve children’s education.

Reversing this requires strong political campaigning to be brought, for which I am happy to act on your behalf.

Three Alternatives to a “Dementia Tax”

I have been trained as a Surrey County Councillor in dementia awareness and pledged to be a Dementia Friend. What would that mean if I were elected as MP?

I don’t accept that the best way to do this is Theresa May’s approach – to cut funding to local councils (who pay for social care) by £5.7 billion and instead increase the burden that will be paid by individuals through their £100,000 home “dementia tax” cap.

By loading the burden of responsibility on individuals – and particularly in Surrey with its high house prices – this is likely to increase stress and anxiety for elderly people. Totally unacceptable. Instead of worsening the current ‘care lottery’. where those with the greatest care needs have such a tax imposed on them, and risk a lack of dignity in older age, we need to fund social care equitably across society. So what might this response look like for dementia?

Firstly, we must reverse the cuts to the social care and NHS budgets have led to a crisis in care in the UK. As a county councillor I campaigned against the closure of Surrey’s last residential care homes –and raised this in council meetings. I have had residents and care workers highlight poor standards in some care homes. One care worker pointed out to me that there are minimum care ratios for residential care homes in Northern Ireland, yet funding pressures in England are increasingly putting patients at risk. Academics around the world have shown that minimum staffing levels save lives. Yet the standard of some care homes in Surrey is, in my view, not good enough (consider, for example, Merok Park in Banstead. This in itself needs a public inquiry to undercover the true extent of care home problems.

Secondly, I am concerned that the causes of dementia are rarely discussed, such as the increasing link between air pollution and dementia. While many have highlighted how air pollution leads to 40,000 early deaths in the UK each year there has been far less focus on what the health impacts are. Increasingly, research is linking air pollution to issues like dementia. So, the government should act – not just because it is in breach of minimum standards on air pollution, but because the health impacts – and costs – are huge.

Finally, I think dementia needs a new approach. I want to end on a positive note by highlighting the work of a good friend of mine, Brigitta. She is a Swiss nun who teaches social workers how to care for those with dementia. Her story is this – that you forget how to do tasks before you forget how to love. That a hand massage can reach those who no longer remember facts or names. This message is highlighted in the work of the many caring people who see people with dementia as people first, and seek to find the things they can still do and enjoy. The best care homes already do this of course – as in the example of the young care worker who helped a 93-year old musician reunite with his band.

I will definitely continue to do what I can to support those with dementia in my community – whether I’m elected to parliament or not. But if I’m elected would wish to take this further, and highlight how the lives of people with dementia locally, and their families and friends, is already impacted by the proposed Conservative changes, and that to stand up for those with dementia and their relatives a sea-change in how dementia is addressed is required.

Why I’m standing in the General Election

I have lived in Redhill for nearly 20 years. I serve as a councillor on Reigate and Banstead Borough Council and Surrey County Council, where I was recently re-elected with a greater majority.

I am a chartered civil engineer working (part-time) in international development and serve as a trustee of two local charities, Furnistore and Voluntary Action Reigate and Banstead. Previously I have helped set up new social enterprises to reuse building materials and preserve architectural heritage.

My priorities are to:

  • protect our Green Belt whilst securing the affordable homes we need locally within our towns and villages
  • reverse the squeeze to school funding and the cuts to the NHS, prisons and neighbourhood policing, and campaign against cuts to councils so they can provide decent social care and other services
  • fight to make sure Southern Rail is held to account (or loses its franchise) and that the extension of the Oyster zone to our borough is matched by fairer fares.

How? We need a stronger planning framework and better housing policies nationally and a different, sustainable plan for Britain. We won’t get this through a hard Brexit, corporation tax cuts, continued over-reliance on London’s economy, and airport expansion. Instead we need a clear plan for Britain to work towards the better future we all need: creating jobs across the UK that transitions us to a fair, resilient and sustainable economy.

I believe politics needs honesty, integrity and hope, and I am prepared to listen and stand up for all in our local area.

No New Runways at Heathrow or Gatwick – A Sustainable Future is a far more credible alternative.

The South East Green Party, which includes communities at Gatwick and Heathrow, is calling for an end to airport expansion and real action on climate change in response to the Airport Commission’s recommendations this morning (July 1) that a third runway is required at Heathrow. But the uncertainty remains as the Commission has also said that Gatwick expansion remains “a credible alternative”. This announcement comes less than 6 months before international leaders meet to negotiate their commitments to climate action in Paris this December – and just one day after the independent Committee on Climate Change published an update on the government’s progress on this issue.

The Airports Commission had been charged by the Government with reviewing whether further capacity is needed at any of the UK’s airports and whether Gatwick or Heathrow should be preferred. Their decision fails to acknowledge that all airports (with the exception of Heathrow) are currently underused. The matter will now be determined by MPs.

“The real choice our Government needs to make in response to the Davies Commission is whether it wants to invest now for a sustainable UK or continue to expand aviation. The only reason why the Airports Commission has discounted climate change as central to this decision is because it has followed the Government’s current approach, which is to ignore all the climate impacts of international aviation. As well as recognising the true scale of local environmental impacts of expansion, our Government must now show its leadership on climate change by choosing a different course for the UK’s economy – one where environmental and economic sustainability walk together. The Committee on Climate Change says we need an emissions action plan for aviation. Any decision should be delayed until this is drawn up.”

A recent yougov poll shows that 64 % of people believe that the best way to address climate change is by reducing carbon emissions. With the COP talks coming up, our Government must show concrete commitment, including by investing in the transition to more sustainable modes of transport instead. This would signal that the UK is committed to the joined-up approach needed to turn the G7’s call for zero carbon economies into practice, and make the hard decisions to invest in what our common future requires.”

This is echoed by Cait Hewitt from the Aviation Environment Federation, the leading UK environmental NGO campaigning on the environmental impacts of aviation. Commenting to a report out just yesterday from the government’s independent Committee on Climate Change she said, “this report highlights the need for Government intervention to manage aviation demand just at a time when a decision on new airport capacity is looming. Our work has shown, a new runway would make the aviation emissions cap impossible to achieve in the real world. Ruling out South East airport expansion is the most obvious first step for the Government to take in response – at the very least it must postpone a decision on a new runway until after it has published an emissions action plan for aviation.”

The Green Party says we must tackle the trend of excessive flying. Green MP Caroline Lucas and South East Green MEP Keith Taylor are supporting changes to taxation around flying to discourage ‘frequent flyers’. The plan, backed by the Campaign for Better Transport, the New Economics Foundation, the Tax Justice Network and many more would replace air passenger duty with a frequent flyer levy.

UK ordered to cut NO2 Air Pollution – will Surrey play its part?

On Thursday, the UK’s highest court ruled that the government must take immediate action to cut air pollution. Campaigners had started the legal action because the UK is breaching EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air. NO2 is produced mainly by emissions from diesel vehicles and is linked to a range of respiratory illnesses. It’s also caused by burning waste.

Unfortunately, Surrey County Council is making air quality worse rather than better. It is pushing ahead with a new polluting waste incinerator rather than improving recycling, and is cutting funding for public transport. The way in which Surrey will reduce its support for bus travel by £2million a year is not due to be revealed until after the election.

Surrey County Council this last week gave the Shepperton incinerator – in effect the county’s biggest exhaust pipe, at 49m high – financial go-ahead. Taxpayers have subsidised Surrey’s 25 year contract with SITA to build two incinerators. The first of these will produce twice the carbon emissions per unit of electricity generated as burning coal. Even as the IMF has highlighted the ridiculous position that while the UK talks up its climate credentials it still spends 0.5% of its GDP subsidising fossil fuels. But it is hidden in an ‘eco-park’ that also treats food waste and has solar panels – so Surrey can claim that it’s a green project.

Surrey’s own value-for-money assessment showed that the incinerator is unlikely to benefit the council financially – which raises the question of who benefits from the taxpayer’s money it’s been given.

My analysis shows this pet project will waste somewhere between £85 million and £160 million of taxpayer’s money, which could be invested in improving reuse and recycling (see also

Air pollution already exceeds legal limits across the whole of Spelthorne Borough, where the planned incinerator will be located – as it does in parts of our Borough too. The High Court ruling means that the government must act to cut air pollution. It remains to be seen whether Surrey County Council will play their part by binning the plans for the incinerator.

Protect our Green Belt and Provide the Affordable Homes we Need

Protect our Green Belt and Countryside

Green Belt prevents housing sprawl: vital to sustain the balance between Surrey’s settlements and our fantastic countryside. But Green Belt planning permissions have doubled since the coalition government’s new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF, which three developers drafted) was adopted in 2012. Why? Because the government’s new planning framework has made it easier to do so – and has set higher housing targets based on the ‘housing need’.

Locally, rather than increase affordable home provision and protect our Green Belt the way this new planning framework is structured has led our Local Council to plan to build up to 1400 homes on the Green Belt, East of Redhill and/or South West of Reigate, for the first time.

Address the Crisis in Affordable Housing

House prices have sky-rocketed, especially in London and the South East. These high prices make it harder for local people in the Reigate area to afford to rent, let alone buy a new home.

This is the result of a combination of coalition housing policies that have recreated the economics of ‘boom and bust’, and of inequality, in the form of another housing bubble – the very thing that underpinned the last financial crisis.

As well as loosening controls on developers to make building on greenfield and Green Belt sites, the government has stopped providing truly affordable homes for those who need them, which has helped drive up housing prices for everyone. These policies included:

  • drastically reduced funding to Raven and others to build affordable homes (an 84% cut locally) so less is being built; 
  • the government made new affordable housing 60% more expensive, so this less affordable new social housing is now harder to get, and now competes directly with the buy-to-let market; and
  • a get-out clause which allows developers to avoid providing the affordable homes we need, so many new homes are instead snapped up for private rent.

This is reflected in zero affordable homes being provided by developers in the Liquid and Envy site and station redevelopment in Redhill, as neither exceed the profit threshold that comes before a developer is required to provide any affordable housing at all.

The result is less affordable homes and above inflation rises in both house prices and private rents locally. With house prices averaging eleven times incomes, many people are priced out of home ownership altogether. But even worse it has led to much higher homelessness in Reigate (an average of 50 households in emergency and B&B accommodation now) and made food banks part of a ‘new normal’ – needed to address hand-to-mouth levels of poverty in Redhill, Merstham, Preston and now Banstead.

A Better Plan Needed

The Conservative’s plans are to spend billions to extend the Right-to-Buy initiative which would reduce the amount of affordable housing, so make things worse. Right-to-Buy has seen less than half of the homes sold replaced with new affordable homes since 2012. Less affordable housing, means prices remain high – not only leaving much new housing in the hands of overseas investors but keeping the ‘market need’ pressure to build on London’s Green Belt.

The Green alternative is to provide the affordable homes we need locally, address the so-called Generation Rent and strengthen planning to protect the Green Belt again. But ultimately, unless we rebalance the economy of the whole country, the South-East’s Green Belt will likely be overtaken by unsustainable urban growth in the next 25 years. Instead, housing must be part of an economic plan that creates a sustainable economy across the UK not just rising inequality and house prices here. We have a growing imbalance between higher unemployment and cheaper homes up North and a crisis of affordability here. So, instead of further stoking London’s economy and housing market as highlighted by the CPRE, with airport expansion and continuing tax avoidance in the city of London, we need to create jobs across Britain where unemployment persists and empty homes and brownfield sites abound.

We CAN do this. We can provide the truly affordable housing we need locally and reinstate strong protection of our countryside and Green Belt, and plan a UK economy that works for all. 

Follow the Money? – Why Incinerators cost more and lead us to recycle less

Decision time this month

The final decision on whether to progress with a so-called ecopark in Surrey was not made in the planning meeting (2 days before the planning permission granted in 2012 was due to run-out) but is due to be made when Surrey County Council Conservatives review a value-for-money assessment later this month. But whatever this concludes – whether Surrey saves or loses money from building the ecopark – it will cost British taxpayers a lot of money every year it operates. Here I briefly explain why. And set out a clear alternative.

Do the Math – It Costs More to Burn Waste

So what happens when we choose to build an extra incinerator instead of using existing landfill space or improving recycling?

Surrey’s new incinerator at Shepperton may or may not save the council money. Taking government average figures for new incinerators (Defra, 2013) suggest it could be between £20 cheaper and £35 more expensive per tonne than landfill costs us now, and around £70 to £140 per tonne more expensive than recycling.

That is because of around £100 per tonne Surrey pays to landfill waste, this only costs us, as taxpayers, around £20 per tonne as £82.50 per tonne of this is reclaimed by the government in landfill tax.

This means that the treatment of 55,000 tonnes of waste a year taken by the incinerator at the so-called ecopark at Charlton Lane could be saving Surrey County Council up to £1.1 million a year OR costing Surrey up to £1.9 million a year. We don’t know which, because Surrey is keeping these figures confidential.

But regardless of whether Surrey saves or loses money the government loses a lot more: around £4.5 million in lost landfill tax revenues each year. So, Surrey’s decision to shift waste from landfill to incineration will cost the British taxpayer overall between £3.4 and £6.4 million a year – which is between £85 million and £160 million pounds over the 25 year life of the plant.

[And this is before considering the upfront government money in the form of a ‘private finance initiative’ deal and the additional money that our waste contractor may get if they can prove that the two seconds the waste is ‘gasified’ before being burnt allows the Shepperton plant to classified as a certain type of incinerator (a gasification plant) so it gets even more government funding.]

I think it is ludicrous for Surrey County Council will have to make further cuts across the council – because the government encourages it to build an incinerator which reduces by millions the money that is available to allocate to local councils, including Surrey.

The Result: Planning to Recycling less.

Surrey County Council just passed its new Waste Management Strategy redefines recycling to include recovery – street sweepings, leaves and burning wood – in its target – dropping from a 70% target for recycling into one that is something over 60% instead. Surrey’s Conservatives should not accept that recycling rates are stalling and then pay more for privilege to burn ever more waste.

The £85 and £160 million of public money saved from not building the eco-park could be invested in good waste management: reducing, reusing and recycling even more of what we currently throw away.We should follow best practice in Europe, where the best councils aim for zero waste without incineration, with over 85% recycling rates already being achieved. But this needs the government to work with councils – and incentivise reuse and recycling rather than costing millions of taxpayers money when we decide locally to burn more waste.

The Alternative: Save Money by Recycling More

This extra money spent burning our waste could be instead be used to help us to recycle more. We could invest in building new recycling plants rather than building incinerators – to keep jobs in recycling plastics, and reverse the decline of UK paper recycling. This approach could create green jobs across the UK, a different way to rebuild our economy. The government should support councils across the country to make it easier to recycle where it is hardest – like in blocks of flats (45 councils supported – but not Surrey) instead of choosing to incinerate waste where recycling rates are lowest. This would be real leadership – inspiring all of us to make Surrey better together.

Who Benefits

So, who benefits from the current approach? Not the government or Surrey Councils.Instead it is the waste companies will who earn more and more per tonne for disposing of our waste.We can save a LOT of money by not pouring valuable resources into incinerators. The green alternative is to invest in what want actually want – better recycling collection and creating even jobs that can then reuse and recycle these valuable resources – which would be better for us all.