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 http://resource.co/article/green-councillor-lambasts-surrey-incineration-plans-10039).

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.

Standing up for a Better Future – no to Gatwick or Heathrow expansion

The local Green Party, like many others, has formally objected to an extra runway at either Gatwick or Heathrow Airport. We pointed out that there has been no assessment of health impacts, there would be a definite increase in noise and that an increase in flights would make it impossible to meet our climate targets.

The Airport Commission’s evidence clearly set out many negative impacts associated with expanding either airport. I was shocked that neither Surrey County Council nor Reigate and Banstead Borough Council opposed  doubling the size of Gatwick Airport. Our County Council’s fence-sitting is conditional on more money for expanding road and rail capacity if Gatwick is expanded. Meanwhile, the Borough Council has opted to remain neutral while accepting that the Airport Commission’s analysis that an extra 130 homes/year here would require ‘some’ building on the Green Belt.

Local MPs here argue against expansion in Gatwick while remaining relaxed about expanding Heathrow airport instead. MPs around Heathrow say the opposite. How selfish. Sustaining our quality-of-life is not more important than someone else’s right to a decent life. And how hypocritical for the UK to submit our draft commitment to reduce carbon emissions this month and then consider further aviation expansion after the election next month. Without words being backed up by actions then the world will see a UK posturing, not leading on climate change.

Choosing to expand aviation is part of a short-sighted economic strategy that depends on continually expanding the scale of everything – including inequality – at the expense of our communities and our local and global environment. Instead, we can make better use of what we have already got. This requires us to be better connected to each other – not have better flight connections to China. Bigger is not automatically better. That is why we remain opposed to runway expansion, not just at Gatwick Airport but elsewhere too.

Surrey Conservatives vote to end residential care in all six remaining Surrey County Council care homes.

On Tuesday, Surrey County Council voted to end provision of residential care in its last six care homes. These included the Park Hall Care Home in Reigate. The council received two petitions from over four and a half thousand people and their consultation with the public showed 87% of those responding wished the residential care to be retained for many different reasons.

I asked questions challenging Surrey County Council’s ending their last residential care provision. The question “How can Council ensure value-for-money for the private sector with the same degree of assurance without the hands-on experience and grasp of costs that comes from running the same services in house?” was not answered. When I asked whether the cost-benefit analysis, which under-estimated bed use, did not value that these sites co-locate residential with other care services, and over-estimated refurbishment costs (and impacts) – which justified the closure would be updated, I was told that, “it is not a financial case” that is leading to these homes being closed.

  • If care really is cheaper in the private sector is that because staff are paid less or care standards are lower?
  • Or if it is the quality of care that is important, much admired in these longstanding community care homes, then why did the question asked as to whether carers will follow those cared for, providing continuity when older people are relocated from their care homes, received no response at all.

But it is a private care home (Merok Park) muted as an alternative – not one of these six care homes – that was closed recently by the Care Quality Commission. If the ‘mum’s test’ (whether or not you want you mum to be in the care home) is the guide for quality we should replicate and improve Surrey’s care model, and make this choice available to more people across Surrey.

The real reason for this closure did appear to be financial. Outside the meeting pictures of the six care homes were displayed, showing how Surrey had failed to invest in these homes, including basic energy efficiency improvements – which the council cannot afford. Instead, with adult social care carrying a heavy burden of council budget cuts, some of these sites will be used to provide other services (proposals to come back to a future council Cabinet meeting). So at least the council did not decide to close all six entirely. Four of the care homes, including Park Hall, will be retained to provide social care in the community.

But still, for me this was soul destroying. When the investment in basic road maintenance is inadequate we resurface roads. When we fail to invest in our care homes they are shut. Yes the roads affect us all but its surely a question of priorities: I stand by those whose care has been cut by the council – whatever you do to the least of us, when we need care, you do to me.

Save our Care Homes march in Reigate

Time for Fair Fares from Redhill

This new year Reigate and Redhill commuters were greeted by higher fares, while engineering works until 2018 have led to fewer Redhill trains going to London Bridge. The improvements at London Bridge will improve Redhill’s train service when finished. However, in the short term the service from Redhill has become slower, with trains diverted to Blackfriars and London Victoria – while other routes (such as the East Grinstead line) continue to London Bridge unchanged.

The irony is that Redhill and Reigate are already paying over the odds, (compared to comparable rail journeys into London) so this would be an ideal time to freeze prices, while commuters experience increased delays, on a daily basis. The engineering works could have been the excuse for fairer fares. Instead train fares have continued to rise even as the engineering works leave a poorer London service for the next few years.

Jonathan Essex told the local website reigate.uk that the Government had to act to ensure that commmuters are fairly treated. He said “If our train service from Redhill to London Bridge was cut like this for just one day passengers would be compensated. Now this happens every day with Southern Trains new timetable penalising Redhill over all other routes.” “The government must ensure that passengers are compensated now”, he added.

The AGM of the Reigate, Redhill and District Rail User Association is from 7.30pm on 12 March 2015 in the Harlequin Theatre in Redhill. This is our opportunity to hear from and speak directly to representatives of Network Rail, Southern and Thameslink (now both part of the Govia Thameslink Railway Ltd, the UK’s largest train franchise). You can join as a member and attend the meeting for £3 on the door.

Time for a better bus station

Commenting in this weeks Surrey Mirror on Redhill’s new two-way system. Why are there are still parked buses in Marketfield Way which block the view of oncoming cars as drivers exit the car park?

Borough councillor Jonathan Essex said: “At the bus station we have now, there isn’t enough space for buses to lay up. Therefore there can be up to five buses here. The bus station isn’t fit for purpose. It’s the biggest unfinished part of the sustainable transport scheme. If you could fit more buses in the bus station, you won’t need buses parked all along the road.”