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The recent blog of Kitty S Jones, Labour Party activist and blogger, has left many of us rather shocked and dumbfounded by her lashing out at the Green Party. This is not new but simply stronger language than what Greens face routinely from Labour. Kitty S Jones claims that the Greens are somehow on the Malthusian Right because we point out the need for policies that allow us to live within our planetary resources and not cause hardship to the poorest, as will no doubt be the result of climate change and environmental degradation. She goes on to say that if the Greens were really green we would join Labour.

Labour still, shockingly, fails to recognise the social and environmental reality of climate change and the limits to what our planet can sustain. How long will it take Labour to accept this truth and stop its dishonest politics of pretending that it is taking climate change seriously? When will it address the social injustice that this failure will lead to? These are are just some of the reasons that Greens are not able to join Labour.

Still in thrall to the filthy rich?

Many Greens left the Labour Party for its failure to do anything significant to challenge the Thatcherite agenda and because it continued to entrench that system when in government: setting up academy schools outside the control of democratically elected bodies;  tendering parts of the NHS to private sector bidders; continuing with a tax regime that fails to redistribute wealth in our highly unequal society; allowing a free-for-all in the City; and tendering out prison and other services. (And that’s without mentioning the destructive Iraq war.) Labour seemed in thrall to the rich, the filthy rich that they were happy to hang out with and take money from. This was the Labour Party of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and, we must remember, Ed Miliband. However much we may hope for more from Ed, can we with our hands on hearts ever trust him?

Only the Greens have been willing to speak out about domination by the wealthy and big corporates – the Establishment as Owen Jones powerfully explains – and to develop alternative solutions. Labour’s mild scolding of its wealthy banker friends hardly caused a ripple. Only the Greens have argued for the break up of large companies, for state funding of political parties to diminish the political influence of the rich, firm regulation of banks, and to challenge the domination of a handful of media barons.

It’s clear that Labour are nervous. No doubt in their heart of hearts they know that they failed the people in their 13 years in government: failed to tackle the underlying inequality in power and wealth and the big issues that face the UK and the world. Perhaps it’s this guilt that hits them hard and leads to them lash out at the Greens, with their half truths and exaggerations. Jones returns to the old lies about the minority Green administration in Brighton Council and refuses to acknowledge that the Greens were trying their very best to fairly address an equal pay problem in the Council in the months before the strike.

If Labour really wanted change, they would attack the Tories not the Greens.  A stronger Left is needed if we are to make sustainable change, not the weaker Left that Labour seems to want.

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Sian Berry and Maya de Souza at Camden Library, which is currently shifting to be largely run by volunteers

Sian Berry and Maya de Souza at Highgate Library, which is currently making the shift to be largely run by hard-working volunteers

By Sian Berry, Green Councillor for Highgate ward.

At Monday’s full council meeting, Councillor Flick Rea and I have proposed in a motion that the Council should set up a reserve fund to help community centres and libraries stay open and keep providing vital services.

Supporting libraries and community centres was top of our manifesto commitments in the local elections and this idea is something I first talked about in the summer at the Resources and Corporate Performance scrutiny committee.

At the July meeting of the committee we were asked to look at Camden’s plans for how to deal with an £8 million underspend in last year’s budget, which were to allocate the remaining funds to various reserves, many of which were already stocked beyond was required to deal with risks to other Council functions.

At the scrutiny committee, I made some suggestions for better uses, including topping up outsourced contracts so they would pay care workers and other staff the London Living Wage, and for a reserve fund to help give more security to the many community centres and libraries that are moving towards more self-sufficiency, fundraising and volunteer working.

The second suggestion didn’t go down completely badly with either officers or the other councillors on the committee so, with Cllr Rea, I’ve put the proposal to the whole Council in a formal motion.

You can see what happens on the webcast of Monday’s meeting, which will be shown here: http://democracy.camden.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=149&MId=5022

This is the text of the motion, which we hope is worded in a way that all parties can support:

This council:

Is committed to ensuring all residents have access to quality local public services, including local libraries and community centres. These facilities are vitally important to meet the health, educational and social needs of protected groups and to support residents of all ages.

Recognises the enormous budget pressures on the Council and the rationale for seeking opportunities for local community services to become more self-funding over time.

Recognises that current plans for increasing the self-sufficiency of many community centres and libraries are ambitious, can depend heavily on the effective mobilisation of volunteers, often by other volunteers including hard-working board members and steering groups, and frequently involve creative ways of extending services and significant changes to the way facilities are run and managed.

Is concerned that some of these changes may take time to fully reach their potential, and that some facilities will face difficulties when first implementing them and even the risk of closure in the coming years if fundraising and income targets are not met.

Believes that allowing vital public facilities to stop services or close due to short-term difficulties during a transition period, then trying to revive them later (perhaps once management teams and developing community networks have disbanded) represents poor value for money, and that short-term support to keep facilities open and running smoothly while obstacles are overcome would be a good use of council funds, if administrated in a responsible way.

This council therefore:

Supports the creation of a specific reserve fund in the 2015-16 budget for Camden, aimed at helping community centres and libraries through short-term difficulties on their way to becoming more self-supporting.

Suggests that this reserve fund can be created by the reallocation of funds from other reserves without impact on the overall budget of the Council, and that the support it would provide would save money overall.

Calls on the Leader of the Council and the Cabinet to investigate and consider this proposal while preparing next year’s budget.

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In the first of a series of posts about her eight years as a Green Councillor in Camden, Maya de Souza writes about the influence Greens have had on planning in the borough:

Maya-AirQualitySummit21Nov11_webIn my eight years as a councillor, initially with fellow councillors Adrian Oliver and Alex Goodman, we influenced planning policy as well as actual decision-making.

Our knowledge of the law and our determination to make an impact on policy has certainly helped. Good planning and good design is something we Greens are passionate about. Shaping our local environment and protecting our heritage is so important. We are also keen to use planning policy to protect our local shops and high streets and ensure, through section 106 payments or the community infrastructure levy, that developers provide affordable housing, open spaces and community facilities.

King’s Cross – To give some examples; early on as a councillor on the Development Control committee I considered an application for a building by Christopher Hatton school in the Holborn area that raised issues about the playground being overshadowed. I felt the answer must be to have roof gardens to compensate, given the pressure to build in the very urban parts of the borough. I raised the issue in committee, including when we were considering the Kings Cross development, and in discussions on the new Camden Planning policies. Roger Madelin, the Kings Cross developer, has taken this on board, and the policy was amended to included a reference to roofs for amenity spaces and food growing.

Basements – When the issue of basements first arose the planning department felt that it wasn’t a planning matter. It was for neighbours to manage through party wall agreements or standard negligence actions. I read the policy and disputed this interpretation. I argued that the impact on water movement and possible flooding of neighbouring property made this a planning issue. This is now accepted and the Council seeks independent reports on hydrological issues, regarding it as a relevant ground for refusal. I’ve also argued that, to ensure its independence, the council should commission the report itself at the applicant’s expense. This is now virtually accepted practice.

Change of use – In council discussions on change of use of the Torriano pub in Kentish Town, I realised there wasn’t enough protection for pubs with a community function, and argued for the inclusion of a stricter ‘change of use’ test in such circumstances. This, again, has become planning policy. I understand that this was helpful in resisting the application for change of use of the White Bear pub in Hampstead. In recent council discussions I argued, persuasively, for stricter protection that takes into account not only the community functions of pubs but also their heritage value.

Construction nuisance
– Another issue we are proud of is insisting that, in special cases, construction issues are taken into account before a decision is made. This was of relevance in the Fitzroy Farm (Highgate) and Little Green Street (Kentish Town) applications. We argued that in some cases the construction nuisance was serious enough to justify the refusal of planning permission altogether. We also argued that granting planning permission and then, later, considering construction issues, always left the Council in a weakened position. This approach has been accepted, though officers need to be consistently reminded of it by vigilant councillors.

Local environment quality
– These are some examples of our work, but there are many others – for example, challenging officers in planning decisions to ensure they have fully considered efficiency standards in buildings, biodiversity, flood resilience, green and open spaces and other issues.

The developer pays – I’d like to mention one notable example of the role of section 106, in which a developer makes a payment towards a neighbourhood amenity. In this case, Camden council, as the developer in Holly Lodge Estate, was persuaded to contribute to a new family centre building. It was the idea of a local resident. I pushed for it and was pleased to see it happen. Though councillor Sally Gimson may claim credit, it had been agreed long before she arrived in the area. There remains much to be done in terms of good use of section 106 funds and the Community Infrastructure Levy. We’d like to see innovative approaches, for example using some of the funds to pilot a small network of pipes for a combined heat and power system, an investment in our infrastructure that would create jobs and improve our homes.

Taking ownership – More recently, I’ve supported the neighbourhood forums as away of communities sharing the use and feel of the area. I see the forums as a way forward on decisions relating to better transport and streets, energy efficient homes, protecting parades of shops and space for business, as well as heritage and prized sites. In Highgate Ward, this would include the Mansfield Bowling Club site amongst others. I’ve worked with residents to develop a constitution for the forum that makes it inclusive and participatory.

We Greens have done a fair amount of work but more, lots more, remains to be done. Green councillors, with their knowledge, expertise and commitment, are well equipped to play this important role.

Maya de Souza
Camden, May 2014

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by Charlie Kiss, a Camden Green Party member
After leaving my own picket line, we travelled to Camden Town Hall, Judd Street from Camden Town and we passed three other pickets. One by Bayham Street, one outside the Working Men’s college and one by St Pancras hospital. At Camden Town Hall, there was a large group gathered. Mostly Unison members like myself and also PCS union members.

I was surprised but pleased to see some Labour Councillors showing support outside the Town Hall as the Labour Leadership were saying they did not support the strike action. The Green Party Camden councillor was there, Maya De Souza, and she spoke to the crowd from the Unison open-decker bus.

She explained that no Green Party elected representative would cross the picket line today. (This was confirmed by BBC news, noted that this wasn’t just in England and Wales – Scottish Green MSPs also refused to enter Holyrood.) And that the Green Party was the only national party back the strike, with strong statements on it from Caroline Lucas MP and Jenny Jones, our London mayoral candidate.

Then we set off towards Lincoln Inn Fields, marching along Euston road and stopping off at other pickets that were still ongoing, such as one outside the UCH in Euston Road, and then the Colleges in Gower Street and Malet Street.
(more…)

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Call to Defend The NHS

This week sees the third reading of the Health and Social Care Bill which intends to fundamentally change the National Health Service.

The proposals seek to break up the NHS into allowing easier access for private companies to deliver public services. The Green Party believes that the market has no place in the health service and that privatising public services results in worst service at a higher price to the public.

These proposals were not contained in any pre-election manifesto yet represent a fundamental change in the way health care is delivered in this country.

On Wednesday, the day of the vote, there is a London march on Parliament called by Keep Our NHS Public and Unite the union. We think it’s important the defend our health service and would like to encourage everyone who can make this demonstration to turn up and show your support.

Wednesday, 7th September.

Assemble: 6.30pm
St. Thomas’ Hospital
Westminster Bridge Road
SE1 7EH

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* London’s Housing Crisis: An open meeting hosted by the Green Party
Thursday 16th June, 7-9pm, Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, Holborn. All welcome

London faces a chronic housing shortage, with hundreds of thousands of families on council waiting lists – and more than 6,000 council properties standing empty. Also rents are climbing, and a recent survey showed those hoping to buy do not expect to do so until they are 38. Where do we go from here? What is to be done to help renters and first-time buyers, and stop buy-to-let landlords cashing in?

Speakers: Rachel Orr – Shelter; Dave Smith – London Citizens; Katy John – Priced Out; Robert Taylor – Camden Federation of Private Tenants
Chair – Alastair Milne – West Central London Green Party

Also
* Environmental Films at Open City London Film Festival, Friday, June 17, from 6.15pm at Torrington Place, Bloomsbury. More.

* Join Transition Belsize, Transition Primrose Hill and other local groups and churches for a Midsummer Picnic to celebrate the summer solstice. Bring local homemade food to share on Sunday 19 June at Primrose Hill, More details at http://www.transitionprimrosehill.org

* Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association: Environment and Human Rights Day on Saturday 25th June – open to all in the morning, youth focus (workshops) in the afternoon. More

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We’ve had a lovely weekend at what was Camden Green Fair – although this year it has had a well deserved promotion to London’s Green Fair no less.

Large numbers of attendees came to Regent’s Park and enjoyed the fair in the baking sun most of yesterday and in, well, more varied weather conditions today. The Green Party had a stall as usual with quite a few of the local activists helping out through the weekend.

It’s good to see so many people interested in green ideas and wanting to make a positive difference to their community and planet. It’s also good to see the great variety of ways people are finding to make their own little difference to the world. We certainly don’t agree on everything but we certainly all agree that we need to get active for change and that we need to focus on the practical steps weneed to take.

Lots of people, lots of sun

Green Party activists hard at work at the fair

Jenny Jones, Ken Livingstone and others regale us with their thoughts

A cycle powered gig taking place

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