Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Protecting Devon's wildlife

There are fears that Brexit would  be problematic for the the environment:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and whether it spells disaster for Devon wildlife

The County Council has taken note: last month its cabinet agreed to take action 
Futures Forum: Brexit: and the County Council protecting Devon's nature

- and this will be taken to full council tomorrow:

Devon Brexit environment motion debate decision 
set for this Thursday (27 April)

Monday, 24 April 2017 by Claire

My motion on protecting Devon’s nature after Britain leaves the European Union will be debated this Thursday (27 April) at Devon County Council’s full council meeting.

It is thought to be the first council motion of its kind in the country.

There are currently 122 sites across the county, covering 115,000 hectares that are protected under EU legislation - the Habitats and Birds Directives - including The Exe Estuary, Dawlish Warren, the Pebblebed Heaths, such as at Aylesbeare and Woodbury Commons, Braunton Burrows and large parts of Dartmoor, Exmoor and sections of Devon’s coast and coastal waters.

All are also designated Sites of Special Scientific interest and receive some protection under UK legislation.

We all fervently hope that the government will simply and straightforwardly transfer these laws into British law, but environmental groups are worried enough to have launched a campaign and are urging MPs to sign a pledge insisting that at least the same levels of protections are provided.

A number of species which are found in Devon such as the dormouse, otter and bats are given extra protection under EU legislation. These directives will no longer apply in their current form in UK law, even if the UK remains in the single market.

At the same time as all of these sites are set to lose this high level of protection under EU law, the latest State of Nature report outlined catastrophic news of our wildlife, finding that 15 per cent of those studied are threatened with extinction. 97 per cent of all wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s.

A government committee - the Environmental Audit Committee - has also outlined the dangers of not applying the same protections and urged the government to take action.

My motion, which I prepared with Pete Burgess from Devon Wildlife Trust, is:

Devon is home to many scarce and threatened habitats such our ancient woodlands, rivers and wetlands, upland blanket bogs, lowland heaths, Culm grasslands and our stunning coast
and marine environments.

These support a myriad of species with internationally important populations of marsh fritillary butterflies, greater horseshoe bats, otters, overwintering waders and marine creatures including whales, dolphins and basking shark.

European Union Habitats Regulations protection of land and seascapes such as the pebblebed heaths in East Devon, large swathes of Dartmoor and Exmoor, the Exe and Tamar Estuaries and Lundy Island have meant that wildlife has flourished over the years and has ensured that these places remain crucial international strongholds.

The latest State of Nature report published last October found that the UK has experienced huge losses of habitat and wildlife, and 15 per cent of those studied are threatened with extinction.

Leaving the European Union puts at risk all of these protections - and the Government has not yet promised to retain the same level of protections that currently exist under EU legislation.

This Council recognises the huge importance of these rich landscapes for people and wildlife in Devon – and calls upon the Secretary of State for the Environment to support the Environmental Audit Committee, as well as the coalition of wildlife and nature organisations, asking for retention of at least the same level of protection for our wildlife and environment, as takes place currently under EU law’.

The motion will be debated and a decision made on Thursday. The meeting starts at 2.15pm.

Pic: Dartmoor, currently highly protected under EU legislation.

Devon Brexit environment motion debate decision set for this Thursday (27 April) - Claire Wright

However, the UK government's intention to simply adopt all EU law for the moment might provide that protection:
Environmental laws to be transposed through Great Repeal Bill | Resource Magazine

Devon County Council elections > the candidates

There's plenty to discuss over the elections coming up next week:
Futures Forum: Devon County Council elections: the issues > school funding
Futures Forum: Devon County Council elections: the issues > flooding
Futures Forum: Devon County Council elections: the issues > air quality
Futures Forum: Devon County Council elections: the issues > services

The candidates have plenty to say on these, as covered in the Herald:

Breaking news & sport in Sidmouth | Sidmouth Herald

"Renovating all our homes could mean that we don't need big new power stations like Hinkley"

Much of the focus of 'energy use' is on what we burn:
Futures Forum: Zero coal in the UK
Futures Forum: Peak Oil Demand

Perhaps we need to look closer at how much energy we use and try to bring it down a bit.

In Germany, the 'transformation' has not only been about reducing reliance on big energy - but also about reducing the huge amount of energy which is lost through buildings:
Futures Forum: “Energiewende” – energy transformation... reducing dependence on fossil fuels and changing the role of the large traditional utilities.

The Energy Transition in German homes

Germany has set itself the target of making its building stock virtually climate-neutral by 2050. This means improving energy efficiency in buildings as well as using a greater proportion of renewable energy for heating and hot water. 
The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is supporting the work to make buildings sustainable through a whole range of different funding programmes.

This was the focus of today's Costing the Earth on Radio 4:

Insulation for the Nation

Our homes are responsible for 25% of our carbon emissions in the UK. Tom Heap asks if we can retrofit our homes to fight climate change.
An Englishman's home is his castle, but most homes are not well defended against cold air and high fuel bills and if we are going to hit our 2050 carbon dioxide emissions targets we need to start a retrofit revolution from our front doors.
Tom visits the house of his producer, Martin, to take stock of his 'typical' Edwardian terrace. Pre-1920s housing makes up a big proportion of UK homes and what Tom and a team of eco-house experts discover in Martin's house is not uncommon: draughty doorways, patches of damp, hot-spots and cold spots.
Martin's home has room for improvement and so Tom then makes a whistle-stop tour of homes that are part of the SuperHomes network. SuperHomes is an organisation of determined householders who have made big changes to their dwellings to improve energy efficiency, cut bills and reduce emissions. They show that small changes can make a big difference.
However, in order to tackle our ageing housing stock, a lot of skilled workers are needed. Energy consultant Peter Rickaby, and Gavin Killip from the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University explain that we simply do not have the skilled workforce to carry out the necessary retrofit renovations. The problem will be, according to Professor Linda Clarke from the Westminster Business School, exacerbated by Brexit.
Meanwhile, at his 'power station' in Notting Hill, Michael Liebreich, director of New Energy Finance at Bloomberg thinks we should think big: renovating all our homes could mean that we don't need big new power stations like Hinkley.
Presenter: Tom Heap

BBC Radio 4 - Costing the Earth, Insulation for the Nation

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Devon County Council elections: the issues > services

It is not just at District Council level where local government is facing a collapse in the services it provides:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: and facing bankruptcy

The County Council is also having to deal with a squeeze on its budget from central government:
Futures Forum: The assault on Local Government: The Strange Death of Municipal England:
Futures Forum: "Councils in Crisis" >>> a quiet revolution in finding new ways to raise money and deliver services
Futures Forum: County Council calls for "an urgent national review of local government funding" as "thousands of small businesses are set to be hammered by a rise in business rates"

One area of concern has been the cuts to care services:
Futures Forum: The future of our care services: councils increasing tax to fund adult social care

Another is cuts to road maintenance:
Futures Forum: County Council training members of the public to fill in potholes it cannot afford to mend itself

It is difficult to blame local government:

Council spending on 'neighbourhood' services falls by £3bn since 2011

Cuts to services such as bin collection, planning and pothole repair amount to dismantling of core functions of local government, says report

Patrick Butler Social policy editor
Tuesday 25 April 2017

English councils’ spending on neighbourhood services, such as bins, planning, potholes and leisure, has fallen by more than £3bn in the past five years, research has found.

A report, published by the benchmarking group, the Association for Public Service Excellence (Apse), says the huge cuts to funding and the wide variations between authorities in funding services were “changing the very nature of local government.”

The reductions amount to a dismantling of universal services that are the most high-profile, core functions of local government, the report says. “These services need defending in their own right as part of wider defence of local government as a whole.”

Council spending on 'neighbourhood' services falls by £3bn since 2011 | Society | The Guardian
Council neighbourhood services – a thing of the past | East Devon Watch

Indeed, the Conservative-controlled County Council has made several noises:
County council objects to hospital cuts amidst public outcry at Okehampton Hospital's in-patient beds situation | News | Tavistock Times Gazette
Devon County Council pleads with government to reverse cuts - BBC News
38 English councils join forces to oppose school funding changes | Devon Live

On the other hand, with an election looming, all sorts of questions and alternatives are being posed from all sides:

Figures reveal how cuts are hitting Devon's arts funding and youth centres

By Devon Live | Posted: March 29, 2017

New figures reveal how arts funding has been slashed and youth centres hived off in Devon. All spending on arts and culture grants was stopped last year, while three-quarters of youth centres and more than quarter of those for children are no longer in Devon County Council control.

The Conservative-led administration was accused by the Liberal Democrats of having a "huge downer" on young people in the county. "The Conservatives in Devon are making these decisions, but the compelling force behind them is the continuing cut by the Conservative Government to the grant made to the county council," said Alan Connett, leader of the Lib Dem group on the Devon authority. "This means there is £32 less for every child in classrooms in Devon."

However, James McInnes, the Conservative cabinet member responsible for children and schools said the council was "absolutely committed" to children's services which had seen "considerable extra investment".

The figures, obtained following a Freedom of Information request by the Lib Dems, show the arts and culture grants budget fell by 8% in 2015 and was cut completely last year.

Figures reveal how cuts are hitting Devon's arts funding and youth centres | Devon Live

Education law expert blames council for schools cash crisis

Friday, 31 March 2017 By Toby Leigh in Education

A legal expert claims financial mismanagement by Devon County Council is responsible for “unprecedented anger and disquiet” among headteachers over school funding.

South Hams solicitor Antony Power specialises in education law and heads up the education team at Michelmores Solicitors in Exeter.

His words come just days after Devon’s education chief wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May urging her to reconsider a proposed new funding system that could see large numbers of Devon schools lose out. The latest consultation period on the controversial schools national funding formula closed this week.

Mr Power said: “Any parents reading this may well have received a letter from their children’s school warning of a funding crisis. As a lawyer working with schools nationally for more than 15 years, I can say it is unprecedented in my experience for schools to write a letter like this, and it demonstrates the challenge that they are facing.”

Mr Power said schools in Devon faced a “double whammy” of funding challenges.

“As well as the Government not increasing the amount of money they receive to reflect increased staffing costs and a new apprenticeship levy, the county council had cut a further £33 per pupil to cover its “mismanagement” of the special educational needs budget.

He added: “Our local Conserv­ative councillors are trying to say that all local authorities are having to make cuts like the one they have just imposed. As someone who works with schools all over England, I can tell you they are not. Many local authorities foresaw that they would have to spend more on special educational needs and planned for it. In particular, they used money available from the Government to build new special schools, to cut the amount that is spent on private special schools. At the moment, DCC is spending around £12m every year sending Devon children to private special schools, often outside the county.”

Mr Power, who is standing as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the South Brent and Yealmpton division in May’s county council elections, added: “The Liberal Democrats at County Hall urged the Conservative administration not to make the cuts and proposed an alternative budget that would avoid the reduction in school funding.”

Education law expert blames council for schools cash crisis | News | Totnes Times

Free school meals would benefit 500 Ivybridge children says Labour candidate

Friday, 7 April 2017 By Toby Leigh in Politics

A candidate for May’s county council elections has got behind his party’s pledge to provide free school meals for all primary pupils. Tony Rea from Ivybridge said he fully supports the announcement by Labour, and claims around 500 primary pupils in the town alone would benefit.

Labour says 29,019 children across Devon would receive free meals under its proposals. The party has said it will fund the policy by introducing VAT on private school fees, and it "will benefit the educational attainment and health of all children, while ending a subsidy to the privileged few".

Labour cites research by the National Centre for Social Research and the Institute for Fiscal Studies showing universal access to free school meals improves educational attainment, enabling primary school pupils to advance by around two months on average. It also says school meals are a healthier option than packed lunches, containing more fruit and vegetables on average.

Free school meals would benefit 500 Ivybridge children says Labour candidate | News | South Hams Gazette

Knowle relocation project: and facing bankruptcy

The latest version of the plans to relocate to Honiton/Exmouth have been waved through:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Audit and Scrutiny Cttees consider Cabinet proposals: reports

This is despite still-huge questions about the financial viability of the project:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: ‘spend now, pay later’

Much of this is being financed by asset-stripping:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: "We’re digging into the opportunities to release assets and invest in assets to increase revenue streams."

Although it is by no means clear that any eventual sale of the Knowle site will 'release' enough:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: and ‘undeliverable’ projects

It seems extraordinarily irresponsible, therefore, to be committing to spending millions on a new HQ when the District Council is facing considerable financial difficulties:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: 'fiddling while Rome burns'

This council has had to raise its council tax:
Council tax increase announced for East Devon - Breaking news & sport in East Devon | East Devon24

Along with other councils:
Councils 'at breaking point' due to budget cuts and rising social care bills | Society | The Guardian

The promises of 'devolution' remain empty with no cash to back them up:
EDDC gives green light to devolution deal - Breaking news & sport in Sidmouth | Sidmouth Herald

Which is happening across the country:
Metro mayors sound great. But they can’t save local parks and pools | Peter Hetherington | Society | The Guardian

And meanwhile, this council is having to cut back on services:
EDDC’s cut to homeless budget after ‘success story’ - Breaking news & sport in Sidmouth | Sidmouth Herald
Suez to oversee East Devon three-weekly waste service - letsrecycle.com
Petition launched to protect Branscombe’s public toilets - Breaking news & sport in Sidmouth | Sidmouth Herald

As are other councils:

Councils are facing bankruptcy – is this the end of public service?

Peter Wilby

Struggling to fund libraries, road repairs and social care, local authorities are turning to commercial activity. It’s all part of a neoliberal vision

In 2016, local authorities spent over £1bn on real estate. But what would happen if the property market were to crash?’ Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Monday 6 March 2017

The abiding problem of local government in Britain is that nobody wants to pay for it. When council taxes or business rates go up, outrage inevitably follows, as recent furores demonstrate. When councils try to make money from user charges or parking fines, they are accused of “fleecing” their residents. When they cut rubbish collections, they are blamed for spreading disease and endangering public health.

When they turn to central government for help, they find that, faced with a budget deficit, ministers are furiously cutting grants to local authorities, many of them for services the councils are required to provide according to standards laid down by Whitehall.

Local government, like the NHS, is the victim of a perfect storm: austerity combined with the rising demands of an ageing population have broken the system for financing it. Thanks to cuts in central government grants and Whitehall-imposed prohibitions on raising council tax, councils will spend 22% less on public services in 2016-17than they did in 2009-10. By 2020, they estimate they will be short of £5.8bn, about half of it because of the rising costs of social care. The mayor of Liverpool says the city council could close all its libraries and sports centres, switch off all its street lights and stop all road repairs, street cleaning and park maintenance – and it still wouldn’t be able to balance its budget by the end of the decade.

Councils are facing bankruptcy – is this the end of public service? | Peter Wilby | Opinion | The Guardian

This council is also playing with the property market:
East Devon District Council is setting up its own housing company | Devon Live

Devon County Council elections > Hustings for Sidmouth: Friday April 28th > CANCELLED

The County Council candidates were due to present themselves at the final hustings this Friday:
Futures Forum: Devon County Council elections > Hustings for Sidmouth: Friday April 28th > the issues and the candidates

However, as only two of the six will now make themselves available, the chair of the VGS (which was to host the event) has decided to cancel the event:

"Fundamentally the Hustings allow the electorate to judge the candidates. Only having two there gives them an unfair advantage."

It is clear that this race is primarily a two-horse race, as observed by the Save Our Sidmouth blog:

Cllr Rixson has a solid reputation for thoroughness and efficiency, much appreciated by local people in the successful fight against the planned Sidford business park. Long-serving Cllr Hughes offered promises such as “the long-awaited Sidmouth traffic management plan”, and “funding for Alma Bridge” this year.

Changes to our landscape, and to services, in whose hands? DCC hustings this Friday (28 April, 7pm, Kennaway House) | Save Our Sidmouth

It is nevertheless unfortunate that not all the candidates seem committed to this election:

Politicians need to engage better with electorate, says Campbell

In a candid address on the eve of the Election, Campbell – who as Tony Blair’s spokesman helped mastermind three successive Election victories – said the big lesson from the 2015 campaign was that politicians needed to better engage with the public.

“The stuff that doesn’t matter gets so much attention, and the stuff that does gets so little. On the one hand it cheats the public, while on the other politicians have to do a far better job of engaging on the stuff that does matter. Somehow we have to get this triangle of politics, media and public into better shape.”

Vital Topics: Alister Campbell -Master Admissions Newsletter - Issue 8

See also:
Vision Group for Sidmouth - Election Hustings

March for Science > standing up for scientific evidence and against fake news

On Earth Day we looked at how we can 'look after' our planet in all sorts of ways:
Futures Forum: Surviving Earth Day: "As long as Earth Day focuses on emotional romanticism about nature and dismisses the role of science and technology in protecting and even improving our world, it is a threat to agriculture and to food security."

As suggested, one of these ways to look after the planet can be to take a scientific outlook - and that is exactly what happened with a parallel series of events stressing the importance of science today:

The March for Science stretched all the way to the North Pole

Andrew Freedman

The Trump administration's assault on scientific evidence and research funding may have triggered the March for Science, but the more than 500 events around the world on Saturday demonstrated that the movement is truly global. 
The marches began Friday night in Oceania, with events in New Zealand and Australia. As Saturday dawned, the marches spread to Europe, with major gatherings in Berlin, Geneva, and London, among other locations. 
There were even marches, albeit small ones, in Greenland and the North Pole, where climate scientists are deployed studying the rapidly melting land and sea ice. 
Here are some scenes from around the world. 
The North Pole:
It remains to be seen how this global show of support for science, reason, and facts can be channeled into action going forward, but the turnout on Saturday has been impressive by any measure.

The March for Science stretched all the way to the North Pole

With the event covered across the board:
Thousands turn out for Washington March for Science - BBC News
Why we joined the March for Science | Science | The Guardian

March for Science: Thousands in London join global protest

  • 22 April 2017
  • From the sectionUK
Science protesters in LondonImage copyrightAFP
Thousands of people have gathered in London to join a celebration of science amid fears research is under threat from a "post-truth" age and Brexit.
Scientists and celebrities were among those who turned out for the first March for Science, part of a string of events across the UK and the world.
Organisers said the growth of fake news and misinformation made it crucial to highlight science's "vital role".
It took place on Earth Day, which promotes environmental protection.
Science protesters in LondonImage copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
London science marchImage copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
London science marchImage copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
London science marchImage copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
March for Science protesters in LondonImage copyrightPA
Supporters gathered outside the Science Museum in Kensington, bearing placards on which double helices and chemical symbols sat alongside political slogans.
Thousands then marched to Parliament Square passing institutions such as the Royal Society.
Many of them were protesting against what they see as a trend among politicians for discrediting scientific research.
Concerns that rhetoric threatens to override research flared in the UK last summer when former cabinet minister Michael Gove claimed during the EU referendum campaign that the public had "had enough of experts".
In the US, President Donald Trump has previously called climate change a "hoax", raising concern in the scientific community there that the public were beginning to doubt the facts provided as scientific evidence.
A dog wearing a banner at the protestsImage copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
Organisers said the events were also a celebration of science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community.
Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi and comedian Robin Ince were among those who joined activists in London.
Mr Ince, who hosts the scientific podcast The Infinite Monkey Cage, said: "I think there are many reasons people are out here.
"I think we're worried about the fact there seems to be a reigniting of parochialism in politics...
"I think the idea of deriding experts, the idea of deriding people that spend their entire life researching and experimenting, is a return to charlatanism if we start doing that."
Peter Capaldi at the march
Image captionDr Who star Peter Capaldi was among those at the march
A woman protestor holding signsImage copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
The Commons Science and Technology Committee this month stressed the importance of allowing scientists and experts to come to the UK following Brexit.
It followed a host of warnings from influential figures in the scientific community that divorce from the continent could have a crippling impact on research and provoke an exodus of talent.
In March, Nobel Prize winning scientist Sir Paul Nurse said: "I don't think there's anything in Brexit that helps universities, either in teaching or research, but we are where we are... we have to make the best of it."
Parallel marches were hosted across the UK, including in Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff and Edinburgh.
A government spokesman said: "As we prepare to exit the EU we will maximise our potential by building on our achievements so we remain a leading destination for the brightest and best minds at all stages of their careers."

March for Science: Thousands in London join global protest - BBC News

And finally:

On the March for Science

Tags:  | 
‘I’ll interview you in a minute,’ a man with a dictaphone said to me at the entrance to the Science Museum on Saturday. A sociologist from Brunel University, he was there to conduct field research, asking people why they were on the March for Science. The crowd – archaeologists and neuroscientists, physicists and psychologists, academics and the ‘sci-curious’ – was quieter than the average London protest, chanting occasionally: ‘What do we want? Evidence-based research. When do we want it? After peer review.’
Other slogans included ‘Science not silence’, ‘Respect existence – or expect resistance’ and ‘Politics = opinion, science = facts’. ‘The oceans are rising and so are we’ was someone’s Earth Day message; LGBT activists were ‘Showing off the entire spectrum’. There were people from Science Is VitalScientists for EU and a group with the banner ‘Liberal Democrats: A Voice for Science’. A philosopher carried a placard that said: ‘Reason’.
The organisers of the event, which took place in more than 500 cities around the world, called it non-partisan but political:
Politics and science are intertwined, whether we face a travel ban that restricts the free flow of scientific ideas, changes in education policy that diminish students’ exposure to science, or budget cuts that restrict the availability of science for making policy decisions.
The US government has proposed a 31 per cent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget. British scientists expect the US cuts to affect their work. Budget allocations in the UK notwithstanding, a physicist from the Joint European Torus, an EU nuclear fusion research facility in Oxfordshire, said their post-Brexit future looked uncertain. The march wasn’t billed as anti-Brexit (or indeed anti-anything), but some people wrapped themselves in EU flags. A marine researcher, whose companion had ‘Science not censorship’ on her placard, said: ‘I’d rather it was just about science.’
Explicitly political stuff – ‘Stop Trump’ posters, copies of Peace News and Socialist Equality Party leaflets – didn’t appear until Piccadilly. Further down the route, in Trafalgar Square, the ‘Feast of St George’ was kicking off. ‘I thought it was for us,’ a woman next to me said, pointing at the stage, ‘but it’s not.’
At the rally in Parliament Square, the speakers mocked headlines like ‘Scientists discover brain area that likes Ferrari’; lamented the lack of funding for health research and space exploration; and criticised the British government for not doing enough to secure collaboration with European institutions. ‘How did we populate the planet?’ the astronomer Francisco Diego asked. ‘By migration!’ The physicist Jon Butterworth talked about international research at CERN and raised a ‘cheer for the Higgs boson’.

On the March for Science « LRB blog