Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Renewable Energy Quandaries

There's a planning application at present in the ward that's proving just a tad controversial.  Teesside High School wants to generate some of its own power - very laudable.  In doing so it wants to educate the pupils about the need for energy conservation and about renewable energy - again, very laudable.  So on the roof of the school they want to install some solar panels - very good idea.  So far so good - what's the quandary?  Where's the controversy?  Well, they also want to install a wind turbine, a 15m high mast, down towards the river bank.  This is the very same river bank that's part of the Tees Heritage Park, so much part of Stockton Council's strategy for tourism, green spaces, biodiversity etc.  And here's the problem - how can anyone seek to encourage in pupils a love of their planet, a caring attitude to the natural world, a desire to reduce their carbon footprint and yet encourage them to think that planting a huge concrete base with a 15m turbine on it in the middle of the Tees Heritage Park is a good thing?  Just how much wind is there down there?  How much power is going to be generated?  And at what cost in the visual amenity of the Park? 

Friday, August 26, 2011

MOD memories

Do you have stories to tell of what happened on the MOD site at Allen's West during the war?  Did you work there soon afterwards and see the changes that happened?  If you're in the Eaglescliffe area next Friday, Sept 2nd, then the industrial archaeologists looking at the site would love to hear from you.  As local residents will know from our Focus leaflets there is a planning application being prepared for even more housing on that site.  Before it can be finalised the agents are holding an event to collect the history of the site.  From 10 till 4 on Friday Sept 2nd, Allen's West site office is the place to take your stories and memories and share them with archaeologists.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tees Valley Enterprise Zone

At last the months of hard work have paid off - the Tees Valley has its enterprise zone, announced today.  Of course some will complain that it's being called Tees Valley, but to be honest I don't care what it's called as long as it helps to bring some much needed enterprise and employment to the area.  The real triumph of the people who've been working on it for so long is in convincing the civil servants that a zone is not necessarily a point in space.  The Tees Valley's zone is made up of several locations across the area, some of which will benefit from being able to offer help with capital investment and some with reduced business rates.   Stockton will have 2 such areas immediately - one at Belasis Park to build on the successful business presence already there and one at the Eco Park at Billingham.  Eventually, part of North Shore will also benefit.  All in all, a very good outcome for the Tees Valley and the Borough, enabling us to encourage businesses to come in and provide jobs and spending in areas of need. 
So another good government policy takes effect.  Well done to all the people who've worked so hard to make sure it happens.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Can Liberalism Survive?

Gladstone said “Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence.  Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.”
The reaction to rioting over the last week has shown one thing more than any other – the majority of those aspiring to be opinion formers and leaders in this country tend towards conservatism.  Distrust of people tempered by fear seems to sum up the reactions of most politicians, journalists and Facebook pundits.  It even seems to me to have reached over into the courts.  I am not for one moment suggesting that magistrates or judges are all supporters of one political party – far from it!  But that sense of not trusting the people, being afraid of what they will do, seems to have coloured the sentences meted out this week.  A month ago someone who stole bottles of water from a shop with no previous convictions or contact with the legal system would probably have been cautioned, might have been fined, and would have gone on his way a wiser and a contrite man.  This week he’s possibly facing a custodial sentence. What has changed?  Yes, we need justice.  But we also need mercy and we need to ensure that the punishment really fits the crime.  I was impressed by one person I heard interviewed in the street by a local radio journalist.  When asked what should be done to those who caused damage and mayhem he said “Make them clean it up.  Make them pay back to the community for the damage they’ve done.”  He saw that the community didn’t benefit from these people being locked away, but they would benefit from the clean-up operation being carried out.
It’s relatively easy for me to remain a Liberal – my home wasn’t damaged or even remotely threatened.  My family are all safe.  I haven’t, as far as I know, got any direct involvement with anyone involved in any of the cities affected.  I’m not a councillor in one of those affected areas wondering what on earth I do now to start to rebuild the community.  I’m not an MP for one of those areas wondering what this is going to do to my credibility and my votes next time.  But I believe that gives me, and others like me, a responsibility – to keep Liberalism alive.  To show that trusting the people most of the time is the best way, but that in order for people to be able to respond to trust we all need to know where our  boundaries are and what our responsibilities are.  Being part of a liberal, democratic society is a two-way thing.  We all have a responsibility for making it work, for looking out for each other, lending a hand and not expecting “them” to do it all.  And sometimes we do have to be prudent – we don’t automatically trust every stranger we meet to look after our house, our children or our money without some kind of checks.  We don’t assume that everyone is a saint.  But please, don’t let us go the other way and assume everyone is a criminal with the worst possible intentions without doing some kind of check first.  And let’s not send so many people to prison for relatively small offences that we lose the ability to have proportional sentences for those who really need to be locked away from the rest of society for a very long time.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Living with a busted boom

We hear a great deal about the economy these days, unsurprisingly, and more particularly about whether or not the British Government is going the right way about dealing with our national debt.  I'm not an economist and I don't claim to know the best way to deal with a debt so huge that the interest repayments on it are unimaginably high.  I do have an instinct that we've got to do something about reducing it, but it worries me that doing so seems to mean hurting some of those least able to protect themselves from the impact but also least to blame for the problems. 
I've just spent two weeks in Ireland, visiting family and having a wonderfully relaxing holiday.  But throughout the time there I was reminded regularly of the problems that come with tackling the national finance crisis too late.  People talked of the government perhaps bulldozing half built housing and returning the land to agriculture because no-one could afford to finish the buildings nor to buy them if they were finished.  I was told in one parish that10 young people emigrated to Australia this year and tried to imagine 10 young people from Egglescliffe just going like that, all in one group - the loss to the local community and the heartache for the families, knowing that they wouldn't see them again perhaps for years.  I talked with small B&B owners struggling to keep their businesses going while the government quango which now owns many bigger hotels offers rooms at cut rates to recoup some of the bank bail-out money.  And so it went on. 
No, I'm not an economist.  I don't understand how global money markets work.  But I do understand that some people made and are still making decisions on that scale with no apparent regard for the human consequences, whether it's the B&B owner in Ireland, the redundant council worker in England or the starving refugee in Somalia.  Man's inhumanity to man goes on.