current affairs

Last night’s Council Meeting on the Core Strategy

Last night saw an epic Full Council meeting in Brighton Town Hall… With about 90 amendments planned to go forward either from various individual parties or collectively from all the opposition parties together. Why so many? Because we were debating the ‘Core Strategy’ which is the document which defines our aims and visions for the city’s built environment over the next 10-15 years. It’s an important document which sets the shape development in the City should take.

All that being said, it’s only a part of the overall planning process, which includes local plans, masterplans for areas, supplementary planning documents and briefs plus the usual application process to the committee. So something being in this Core Strategy doesn’t guarantee that it will happen, but it certainly sets a direction of travel. (An appropriate turn of phrase given that the most contentious section by far was on transport!)

You’ll be relieved to know that I won’t be going through all the amendments here. I’m just going to highlight a few of particular interest to me, I expect others may well also blog their amendments of interest.

It has to be said that the Tories were not best pleased by the prospect of being outvoted by the opposition parties working together. So they kicked off the meeting with some pretty poorly chosen words attacking our joint working as somehow being undemocratic. If we could collectively agree issues and made up more of the council chamber than them, then surely that was exactly how representative democracy is supposed to work!

As was said many times in the long (very long) evening, if the Tories had taken the time and effort to involve the other parties much earlier in the process, many of the amendments might have been avoided — they could have been incorporated through consensus prior to the meeting. As a minority administration I’m astonished they thought they would be able to push through such a critical document without engaging with the other parties.

As the meeting wore on, it dawned on the Tories that they were going to have to get on with the job of collaborative working. Suddenly a 10 minute adjournment was called, which stretched to 90 minutes as the four party leaders went through the amendments and the Tories accepted a good number of them… except some of the critical ones about transport, of course, which they truly seem to be in denial about. Have they not seen the daily traffic jams and dire air quality reports?

Anyway I digress from my pet amendments which were all Green only amendments. They all related to plans for the Brighton Square and Churchill Square Area. In essence the plan is for Standard Life (owner of Churchill Square) to financially support the new Brighton Centre in return for being able to expand their shopping centre. My key amendment asked to delete the plans to add 20,000 square metres of retail space to Churchill Square. I don’t believe such space is needed, especially given the large number of vacant commercial properties across Regency Ward: In Churchill Square, Western Road, North Street, Ship Street etc. We don’t need more large chain stores and the retail study this plan is based on used wildly optimistic growth projections in population and disposable income which are already well out of kilter with reality and official predictions. Furthermore the Core Strategy on this part of the city absolutely fails to even mention residents — people actually live around there!

I was disappointed, but not surprised, to have that amendment ruled unsound by the planners. This meant it couldn’t be voted on because it would render the final document unsound in the eyes of a Government Planning Inspector and so would risk a central government plan being imposed on us instead of our own.

However two ‘sound’ Green amendments to help mitigate the growth of the Churchill carbuncle did get passed. These require additional car movements to be kept to the ‘minimum necessary’ and required ‘high quality public and sustainable transport facilities [to] serve new development’. Furthermore they add that ‘Car trips linked to large scale retail provision will be the minimum necessary.’

I had insisted on our amending language using ‘minimum’ instead of ‘minimise’ which is much softer and easier to talk around in my view. I hadn’t expected cross-party support for those amendments but we got it and they’re now in the Core Strategy. A win for Regency Ward I think.

Thanks to all the amendments we overall have a much better Core Strategy than it would otherwise have been. The process could have been less painful and chaotic on the night if the Tories had thought about their minority position more carefully instead of trying to brazen it out. It will take a Green council administration before we can really get the document where we want it to be though…

PS The Argus’ Andy Chiles has covered this whole affair in recent days here and here plus a centre spread in today’s paper.

notes from JK

Dealing with green waste: Brighton & Hove vs the world

bulldozer_in_landfillI’m asking you to support a council-run green waste collection in Brighton & Hove with a pledge.

As some have noticed from my blogs and press work, I’m passionate about waste and recycling. I want to see Brighton & Hove at the forefront of best practice, aiming for zero waste. Unfortunately at the moment this is not the case, the city’s draft waste strategy has us planning to come in under the national targets for recycling and composting.

The first small step in trying to turn that around is arguing for a green waste collection in our city. This is something many people have called for, including the Older People’s Council, who rightly argue that many don’t have space to home compost, don’t have a car to drive waste to a collection point and can’t afford private pick-ups on a regular basis.

Based on what other councils provide, I expect we can provide a collection for a fee of around £50 a year. This would mean only those needing the service pay, it wouldn’t be supported by council tax, thus ensuring those without gardens aren’t paying for a service they can’t use.

To help convince the powers that be that this can be done I’m calling on everyone who’d like to use this service to pledge that they will sign up if we get the collections launched. Please signup at and spread the word. Pledgebank wouldn’t let me specify the full area covered by the city, but if you live in Portslade, Hove, Brighton, Kemptown or Rottingdean then you can sign up.

To provide some context on what’s happening elsewhere and add to the pressure on the Council administration, here are some links:

notes from JK

Reflections on the Green win in Goldsmid

Going down with swine flu in the final few days of the Goldsmid campaign was pretty galling. I missed those golden last days of campaigning and of course the count…

When party chair Simon Williams rang me with the result I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, the result was beyond my expectations. I had been quietly hoping for a narrow victory over the Tories, but a 350 vote margin – wow! Amy summed it up best with “Goldsmid: Epic Green Win”

Turnout was 9 points above the Regency by-election, I think a sign of the greater interest in the Goldsmid result and warmer weather (the Regency by-election was on a cold 13th December).

There has been some debate in the blogosphere over why people voted Green. Labour activist Dan Wilson argues Greens aren’t passionate about the city, that we’re using it as a vehicle for Westminster success. Nevertheless Wilson also claims Greens don’t have any achievements from 13 years on the council.

All I can say to Dan is, if we didn’t care about this city there’s no way we’d still be working our socks off 13 years later! Many changes were Green initiated from council webcasts to refusing directly elected mayors, much more in our archives.

I think Brighton Politics blogger is right to surmise that Labour’s collapse in support in Goldsmid had many good national and local reasons and that the city’s political landscape has changed. (Former?) Labour activist Neil Harding also agreed with this analysis. Of course fellow Green Cllr Ben Duncan also was keen to celebrate our success.

Mary Mears and others were quick to criticise our policies or claim our leaflets had been misleading. They somehow arrogantly prefer to assume that voters are stupid than actually believe voters may have preferred the policies and approach used by the Green Party! Perhaps easier for our opponents to swallow when facing our second straight by-election win, first seat won off a Tory and first seat in Hove.

Having lead the design and writing of all of our leaflets in Goldsmid I’m very confident in stating they were truthful and straightforward. We discussed our policies on:

  • Education
  • Employment
  • Energy efficiency
  • Housing
  • Honesty & Integrity in public life
  • Older people
  • Transport
  • Waste & Recycling

We also touched on our opposition to privatisation, ID cards, nuclear power & weapons, wars and council tax.

We additionally exposed some of the cosy votes Tories and Labour have taken together, giving each other additional allowances as well as forcing in the new council constitution a year early. Our leaflets had to rebut some of the false allegations from others and explain to voters that Alex was blocked by the Tory mayor from speaking on residents’ behalf.

I’m very happy with how the leaflets were received. Based on what I’ve seen from the opposition we not only covered far more policy than all the others combined, we were more positive and avoided personal attacks.

The other parties were all misleading about us at some point or another but Labour, as usual, excelled in false allegations. They claimed that Alex hadn’t attended local meetings when she had (in fact despite Labour Cllr Melanie Davies trying to block her), claimed Alex was a student when she isn’t and claimed she works for Caroline Lucas MEP when she doesn’t.

So, unless there’s truly a skeleton in the closet to be exposed, I think once again we see negative campaigning doesn’t work.

The Green success story continues, we’re set for more hard work in winning votes for the General Election. And the Green group of councillors know we need to work harder than ever to make this council work for the city and keep people’s faith in us. With power so finely balanced lots of negotiation and detailed proposals will be required but we might, just might, be able to get more Green policies in place if councillors in all parties can stay open minded and resist petty back-biting. We shall see…

current affairs

The Learning & Skills Council fiasco

You may have been aware of the grand plans a good number of colleges in Brighton & Hove had been preparing over the last two years. These plans involved new facilities, amazing new buildings, incredible resources and flights of architectural imagination. Certainly I didn’t agree with all the detailed plans but I welcomed the additional resources scheduled to be ploughed into education in our local colleges.

But the resources weren’t in fact there. In an astonishing, jaw-dropping tale of mismanagement it subsequently emerged that the Learning & Skills Council, a government quango, had massively overpromised. They had told hundreds of colleges to proceed with their plans, take out loans and hire consultants, architects etc to flesh out their plans. However finally the LSC had to admit they couldn’t afford to pay for all the schemes they had initially suggested should proceed.

How so many colleges could be led up the garden path by a government body beggars belief, it’s an epic cock-up whereby hundreds of colleges will be left out of pocket due to government failings – taxpayers are paying for these problems.

A committee of MPs have come to similar conclusions. More from the excellent Westminster blog I Spy Strangers (who I feel report on Parliamentary business in an old fashioned way – which is a good thing in this context):

A committee of MPs has castigated the “financial fiasco of the capital programme in further education colleges” and blamed the “heinously complicated” management structure at the Learning and Skills Council.

“But, as we set out in this report, no-one was keeping an eye on the total amount of money which was being committed and the value of applications coming forward.
“In December 2008 it suddenly dawned on the senior management of DIUS and the LSC that the total potential cost of projects which had received ‘Approval in Principle’ exceeded the capital budget and many more applications were in the pipeline.
“Far from trying to damp down increasing demand in 2008 the LSC had been encouraging it.”

I hope Brighton & Hove’s colleges pull through this, I know we’ll support them 100% in trying to recoup their losses from the government.