Friday, 22 July 2011

Wildlife Vandalism - Drayton Park Sidings

As you might have read in the local papers, a couple of weekends ago Network Rail workers completely destroyed the trees and shrubs at Drayton Park Station sidings, a site of Local Importance for Nature Conservation in Islington whose trees included silver birch, willow and rowan as well as a number of woodland plants. The workers have razed the entire site to the ground. It is of the utmost concern that Network Rail did not consult with the proper bodies before taking irreversible action to destroy the wildlife at this site.

A large number of bird species either nest in or depend upon the sidings, including the great spotted woodpecker, sparrowhawk, kestrel, jay, greenfinch, goldfinch, woodpigeon, the house sparrow (a Red Data Book species, pictured) and many others. Some species will have had their nests destroyed in the devastation, and it is quite likely that their second and third brood nestlings will have been killed.

It is an offence against the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built. The Friends of Gillespie Park have written urgently to the Council asking them to take immediate action to bring those responsible to account for their actions. Thus far, the Friends have, unfortunately, been met with a succession of excuses and misinformation. Now Network Rail are saying that the wildlife was cleared for 'safety' reasons - an explanation which sits ill with the fact that they had previously let trees grow at the site undisturbed for nearly ten years.

Drayton Park sidings has been an important part of a ‘green corridor’ which, together with Gillespie Park, the Parkland Walk and other open areas including the Arvon Road allotments, needs to be managed for the benefit of local wildlife. We support the Friends of Gillespie Park in calling upon the Council to act now to ensure that there is no possibility of any future vandalism at this site or at any other wildlife site in the borough. Those responsible must be held to account.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Can we trust Islington Labour to safeguard our trees?

Last week, the campaign to save two mature plane trees in Richmond Avenue, came to an abrupt conclusion when the trees were unceremoniously chopped down by the Council. As reported by the Islington Tribune, private insurers had said the trees were the cause of subsidence to a large property in the road and that the trees had to go.

Campaigner Meg Howarth claims in last weeks's Tribune that the recorded damage is "very slight, the lowest possible official category of structural damage and certainly fixable by underpinning".  This suggests the felling is a clear breach of the council's new tree policy 14: "we only fell trees for sound arboricultural reasons such as...proven to be causing significant structural damage."

Executive Member for the Environment Cllr Paul Smith inherited a comprehensive tree policy written in 1992, updated in 2002 and again in 2009.  He decided a new common sense tree policy  was required to "protect Islington's trees while slashing bureaucracy".

Cllr Smith has certainly "slashed bureaucracy", but his new slimmed-down two page tree policy  has not "protected" two precious, mature planes from the unreasonable demands of insurers keen to minimise their costs.

Ironically the trees were felled, in the same week that Islington Council published it's excellent Fairness Commission report . The felling was in direct contravention of the Commission's Recommendation 11 on Public Space, which states "we need to reclaim, protect and maintain communal spaces in Islington for community use".
The benefits to health and well-being provided by the needlessly-felled plane trees in Richmond Avenue are lost to the community for ever.  Street trees take years to grow and are an invaluable asset to the community not only providing shade, cleaning our polluted air and improving the visual amenity of public space, but also contributing to the health and mental well-being of all residents.
Nothing can be done in the short term, to replace a pair of trees, thought to be a hundred and fifty years old, but perhaps Islington Council can commit to considering the fairness implications of spending council money to destroy community assets for the benefit of insurance companies and private householders?

Friday, 25 March 2011

Alternatives to the Cuts - meeting 22nd March

In advance of the big March for the Alternative on Saturday, Camden, Haringey and Islington Green Parties held a public meeting in Archway, to encourage discussion of economic alternatives to the damaging Tory/Lib Dem cuts to essential public services.

Speakers and audience contributors agreed that it was essential the many anti-cuts groups battling to save individual services understood that there was a major structural problem in the British economy that needed to be dealt with, rather than feeling that they had to fight against others for shrinking public funding.

Natalie Bennett, chair of Camden Green Party, said that Britain was a wealthy country, which had lots of people living in poverty and poor public infrastructure. That situation had arisen through a failure to tax the wealthy and large corporations.

She said: “Throughout the Thatcher years taxation as a percentage of GDP was greater than 40%, but in 2009 that was 36%. ‘Corporate social responsibility’ shouldn’t be about staff having a fun day out painting a local community centre, but companies accepting the need to pay the tax they fairly owe. We can’t continue to see, for example, Barclays bank paying 1% tax in the UK on profits of more than £11 billion.”

Sue Hessel from Haringey Federation of Residents' Associations spoke about the NHS as “our biggest miracle”, saying it provided “the psychological magic of people feeling cared for”. She said that while public sector provision of services such as residential care homes might be marginally more expensive than private, this was due to better pay and conditions for staff and consequent greater stability for residents, something that was vital for the vulnerable.

She noted how before 2000 it had been assumed that NHS services would be provided by the public sector, but the new health bill allowed for “any willing provider”, which might soon only mean the private sector. “I worry 2011 will be seen as a watershed year,” she said. “We need to stop the train leaving the station.”

Lydia Prieg of the New Economics Foundation outlined the many faults in our current banking system. She described London’s banking regulation as looser than that of the US and said attempts to deal with the “too big to fail” problem were regarded by many commentators as inadequate. She added: “Large banks are effectively getting a subsidy when borrowing on the market. All the participants understand they can’t default, so they get cheaper rates and smaller institutions can’t compete.”

Arianna Tassinari, incoming co-chair of the SOAS students’ association, said British students were facing the most expensive fees in Europe. “As a society do we value education as a public good?”

Camden Green Party Councillor  Maya de Souza, said councils could make savings, for instance marginally reducing all workers hours could save jobs and services, avoiding large redundancy costs and the misery of unemployment for many. 

With the March for the Alternative tomorrow, we have a chance to show the government and communities across the country that the cuts are not inevitable and there needs to be another way.  If you want to save your library you need to recognise that you are part of a wider movement towards a different society in which the better-off will make a fair contribution. 

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Parking, fairness & health - will the Council join the dots?

For a Council engaged in a Fairness commission, Islington is doing a strange job of ignoring the impact of its policies on health inequality.  Last Aug, prompted by the revelation that Islington has the sixth worst air quality in London, Islington Green Party encouraged residents to respond to the Mayor's consultation on Transport policy, telling him to maintain policies that decrease car use.

The Islington Gazette has just woken up to the impact of vehicle emissions related poor air quality in Islington - front page today and has made the link with the destructive new council parking schemes to increase the number of short trips by car in the borough.  Reducing the number of cars on our densely congested roads creates a safer more pleasant street-scape, encourages walking & cycling and reduces the pollution in the air we are breathing.

The Council's Fairness Commission is meeting next week to discuss health inequality, but the discussion is confined to smoking, mental health and diet.  By avoiding the elephants in the room that are increased car use, poor air quality and more sedentary lifestyles, the Commission is missing a whole raft of ways that the Council could support residents' health.  Cancelling the residents' Roamer Parking scheme and the scheme for unlimited visitor parking vouchers would be an easy step to support residents to incorporate more active travel into their daily lives and to improve the quality of the air we breathe.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Recycling follow up

Last November the Islington Gazette reported that the Council was going to introduce compulsory recycling. We were delighted that Islington were minimising rubbish sent to landfill but felt that a "carrot not stick" approach would be more successful - see my letter to the Gazette.

It looks as if the Council may have listened. I arrived home this afternoon to find a motivational message attached to my food waste recycling box, thanking me for recycling and encouraging me to continue. Praise where praise is due, well done Islington.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Cuts and Consultation

In December 2010, news reports suggested that jobs were under threat at Islington's Ecology Centre and Gillespie Park local nature reserve.

The Friends of Gillespie Park have been around for as long as the Park itself - 25 years this year. The park exists because of a community campaign to 'save the sidings' which resulted in the park - then a railway siding- being transferred to the Council for just one pound, for the benefit of the community.

The Friends have been pressing the Council to tell them what is proposed for the park and Ecology Centre, amidst fears that job cuts could make the park less safe. But the new Executive member for the Environment, Paul Smith, failed even to answer their emails.

When the draft budget was published, it showed £750,000 being slashed from the sustainability budget, which includes the Ecology Centre.

On Tuesday, at an emergency meeting with the Friends and concerned local residents, the Council was again pressed to consult the Friends on what was proposed. The response from the new Council leader, Catherine West, was that the Council could 'no longer afford' to consult people - it was, she said, too expensive.

But consultation doesn't need to mean glossy brochures or expensive consultants. Consultation simply means talking to the people involved at an early stage when all the options are still on the table, and taking their thoughts into account when you reach your view. Done properly, in a case like this, it will probably cost nothing at all - and the Friends' twenty-five years knowledge and experience of the Park will be invaluable in finding suitable ways to safeguard it now for future generations to enjoy.

I'm glad to say that Council officers have now agreed to meet the Friends to explore the options. With any luck this will be a constructive process and the decisions ultimately reached will be the best that they can be in the difficult circumstances we are now facing.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Trees for all!

Recent reports that street trees could fall victim to cuts were brought a step closer to home when I attended Islington Council's Overview Committee to listen to a debate about the new Tree Policy.

The new administration is determined to tear up the work done by the previous administration (their political opponents) and by local residents, and has reduced the trees policy to just 2 pages.

Cllr Paul Smith is the new (Labour party) executive member for the environment. His speech to the committee on trees was revealing. Cllr Smith believes that while trees 'may be a big issue in the more fortunate parts of the Borough', they are not a big issue elsewhere - for example, on council estates.

But is this right? Surely, people living in areas of greater social deprivation are the ones who need trees the most - and who suffer most when their physical environment is degraded. People living in cramped accommodation, without gardens, rely on access to parks and other green spaces. And the majority of residents in the Borough who don't have cars can't easily drive further afield to enjoy the benefits for their health, wellbeing, and peace of mind offered by our forests. Most of all, isn't it patronising to assume that people only worry about trees if they are middle class?

Cllr Smith told us last night that in these straitened financial times we couldn't afford to be spending 'lots of money on paper'. Well, we'd certainly agree that lengthy documents are a waste of paper (and trees) - and the previous policy (at 69 pages) was rather wordy - but I'm not sure that cuts in the Council budget should mean any lesser degree of protection for our trees (especially now that we can ill afford to replace them).

Today, the Council has published its budget proposals for the coming year. There's a lot of detail there which we're only just beginning to analyse, but they've already announced that tree officers will be lost.

And on top of that a whopping 3/4 of a million pounds will be wiped off the sustainability budget. Apparently, the Council plans to "realign sustainability priorities to energy efficiency and resident focus". It also plans to use the Ecology Centre to provide "services in line with [the] fairness agenda". If I find out what that means, I'll let you know!