Luton and Bedfordshire Green Party

Green Party Policies for Luton and Bedfordshire

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Jim Fisher's Thoughts on Local Issues in Luton and Bedfordshire

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Introduction

This page contains a statement of my (Jim Fisher, webmaster) views on local policy issues, with some straying into national aspects. They are not necessarily Green Party policy, but I think they probably are in most cases. Except for the item on environmental organisations, the local matters are almost entirely confined to Luton, which is where I have local knowledge.

Many of the sections are no more than headings at present, an indication of subject matter I intend to include when time allows - keep coming back for the latest material.

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Environmental organisations

This item is not a political policy statement, but a view of the respective roles of the various organisations involved in the environmental movement. There are many such organisations, working at different levels and in different ways. All, or almost all, are desperately short of resources (both financial and manpower), so it is vitally important that the resources available are used in the most effective way, in particular by ensuring there is no duplication of effort and that no vitally important aspect is left out through excessive concentration on other, perhaps more "glamorous" than the mundane but essential jobs.

As I see it, the major task areas are:

  1. education of the public and, especially, politicians;
  2. preservation of particular areas of special importance by nature reserves;
  3. local specific campaigns on single, limited duration, issues, such as individual proposed development proposals;
  4. longer term, more geographically dispersed campaigns on particular issues, such as whaling and economic globalisation;
  5. working to obtain direct political power.

The first of these is clearly something to be done by everyone concerned about the environment taking every opportunity that offers itself, and is a natural part of every one of the other activities listed.

The second task, owning and maintaining nature reserves, is carried out in UK mainly by the various county wildlife trusts, supplemented by such organisations as the Woodland Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the National Trust, etc. This is specialist work requiring skills which these organisations have available.

The third and fourth tasks each come in two forms - the law-abiding, learn-and-use-the-system approach, and the non-violent but often outside-the-law direct action methods. Friends of the Earth have both local and national organisations which are skilled in handling the use-the-law approach, attending public planning inquiries, etc. On a national or wider basis, Greenpeace are the best-known and generally most effective direct action campaigners, although there is a danger that the involvement of other groups in anti-globalisation protests may sometimes be counter-productive when right-wing extremists participate and provoke violence. For the local, one-off protests, local people supplemented by a few travelling experts seem to form and take action on an ad hoc basis, which is probably the best way.

This leaves the work needed to achieve political power. To my way of thinking this is the most important of all in the long term. Unfortunately it attracts little attention from the media, and much of the necessary activity is rather mundane and boring. There is therefore a temptation for people who have committed themselves to this form of action to allow themselves to be distracted by the more publicly visible and more exciting direct action work. Unfortunately this detracts from their main task, which is then left hanging, delaying further the already too remote date when real political power is achieved by environmentally committed people.

The main point of this section of the web page, therefore, is to appeal to those working to achieve political power, the Green Party activists, to resist the lure of exciting direct action in order to concentrate on the vital task of building a party able to win elections and so be able to make immeasurably more difference than all the direct action campaigns in the world could conceivably achieve. As I hope I have shown above, there are organisations already existing and skilled in the direct action work, so for Green Party activists to get involved makes only a minor contribution to that work while neglecting the more important long term work which nobody else is doing.

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Democracy

Politicians of all kinds, once in office, invariably and inevitably become impatient with the time it takes to get decisions finalised and implemented. They feel they have been elected, they know what they want to do, but are frustrated by the slowness and inefficiency of the various processes of consultation and committee procedures. They are then tempted to streamline the system citing the need for efficiency and making comparisons with the process of taking similar decisions in private industry. It is crucially important that these changes are vigorously resisted and, if at all possible, prevented.

The reason such things are slow and inefficient is because they are subject to the processes of democracy, which is about far more than simply voting in an election once every few years. Democracy is undoubtedly a poor, and very inefficient form of decision-making. It does, however, have the advantage of being far better in the long run than any alternative so far invented, not so much because what it does is good, but because what it prevents would be evil. Every step taken to centralise or speed up decision-making by government (whether national, regional or local) is a serious blow to the democratic system and yet another deterrent against people bothering even to vote.

Examples abound of this process in action since at least the mid-twentieth century. Some recent ones are the transfer of more and more power to the unelected and unaccountable European Commission and the doubly indirectly elected Council of Ministers, the increasingly dictatorial approach of prime ministers replacing genuine Cabinet responsibility, the continued centralisation of power and emasculation of local government, the ever-increasing rigidity of the party whip system at Westminster, the introduction of elected mayors, the proposals to reduce the opportunity for people to challenge major planning proposals through the (already inadequate) public inquiry system, etc., etc.

What we need is the maximum devolution of real power to the lowest possible level. Ideally, every decision should be taken only by the people directly affected by it. While perfection in this will never be achieved, we do need to move the system as far in this direction as possible, which means reversing most of the changes in the decision-making process which have taken place over the last 50 years. This means greatly increased powers for parish councils and district councils, and far less in Whitehall and Brussels.

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Open Spaces

Introduction

I am opposed to any kind of development of the few remaining open spaces in Luton, whether for houses, industry, roads or other uses. People need to have available open areas such as parks and countryside for sound psychological reasons, as well as for the more obvious exercise and the preservation of natural or semi-natural habitats for our wildlife. The former Labour controlled council seemed determined to build over every bit of grass in the town, other than golf courses from which the overwhelming majority of us (i.e. all the non-golfers) are excluded. We await with interest to see the extent to which the replacement Liberal Democrat control will change this obsession and introduce greener policies. Early signs (e.g. U-turns over the airport runway and Translink) are not promising.

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Butterfield Green

This area at present consists of largely agricultural land with a lane running through it to serve a few scattered houses and two farms (combined under one management), with a cemetery and playing field on either side of the end of the lane nearest to the main Hitchin Road. The lane leads on to a network of very popular footpaths through very scenic countryside. A part of the agricultural land has long been held in reserve for future extensions to the cemetery. The agricultural land is a mixture of grazing for cattle and arable, with a few pieces of woodland and some small ponds.

There was at one time a proposal, thankfully cancelled, to put a major road through the area to link with the proposed northern section of Luton's East Circular Road. One unfortunate legacy of this proposal is that the area designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was curtailed so as to avoid its being divided by the proposed road. The area left in limbo was the Butterfield Green area, now the subject of plans by Luton Council to be the site of a so-called Technology Village, a "science park", an additional university campus, a hotel and a park-and-ride facility.

It has been made clear that the AONB could now be extended to include the entire area, but this will happen only if requested by Luton Council, which unfortunately intends to do the opposite - destroying it by building all over it.

The "Technology Village" and "Science Park" are, of course, fancy names for yet another industrial estate, but aimed at the sort of high technology industry in which the unemployed of Luton, made redundant by Vauxhall and others, have no relevant experience. It will, therefore, draw in outside workers from nearby towns such as Stevenage and Hatfield, which have in recent years lost large numbers of jobs of just this kind. The contribution to Luton's unemployment problem will therefore be minimal. Furthermore, the use of this greenfield site, in total opposition to government policy, has been made even more unnecessary by the closure of Vauxhall, leaving a much better (from a transport viewpoint) brownfield site neglected.

Luton University has shown little interest in using the site, has at least once said it does not want it, and in any case has no financial capability to develop it (and may even come under threat of closure for financial reasons). The proposed student accommodation is, like much other council-planned student accommodation in Luton, completely misplaced and will, inevitably, remain unused like other units, because it is too far from the main building in the town centre.

The transport implications of the proposals are numerous, with some good points and some bad. It is intended that access to the site will be only via a new road, joining Hitchin Road at a new proposed roundabout located at the Hitchin end of the site, adjacent to the (recently closed) petrol station and just outside the existing cemetery. If this decision is maintained indefinitely this will at least avoid the potential increased traffic load on Butterfield Green Road and the inevitable subsequent widening and "improvement" of that quiet, pedestrian-friendly lane, but what guarantee can there be that this decision will not be reversed once the building developments are in place and the new access road and associated roundabout become congested?

One certain result if the proposed new buildings are occupied for any purpose is a major increase in traffic on the already busy and dangerous Hitchin Road and yet further congestion at all roundabouts between here and the town centre, airport and M1 motorway as well as at several points in Hitchin.

In itself, the further proposal for a new roundabout at the Hitchin Road/Butterfield Green Road junction is welcome as a means of slowing down traffic on Hitchin Road, but it could be used as justification for increased use of this road and roundabout at a later stage.

Taken on its own, the park and ride facility could, if done properly, be a useful step in taking traffic away from Luton town centre. By "done properly" I mean such that people will be encouraged to use it. This means it must be either cheaper than and just as convenient as driving into Luton and parking there, or just as cheap and more convenient (or of course better still both cheaper and more convenient). It is also essential that there must be effective security so that there is no significant danger of parked cars being broken into. A few cameras and lights will not do - a minimum of 18 hours a day active security patrols will be needed. This cannot be done cheaply, so it must be faced that the facility will cost significant sums to be effective - the return will come indirectly in the form of the improved environment in the town centre. The bus service will also need to be heavily subsidised, frequent and reliable if it is to be used. Of course, if most of the traffic parking there, as is likely, is of cars belonging to people working in the new development, it will be totally ineffective as a park and ride to relieve the town centre, however secure and cheap it is for users.

It should also be noticed that the proposed development includes taking for industry/university use some of the land reserved for future cemetery extensions. The excuse offered for this is that the cemetery will still have sufficient space to last it for several years to come - presumably the council "planners" have arranged for Luton people to stop dying after that time.

The implications for wildlife are considerable and entirely deleterious. Considerable lengths of existing hedgerow will inevitably disappear or be downgraded by being "tidied up". Nesting and feeding areas will be destroyed which currently support many birds, such as the rapidly declining skylark, song thrush, yellow hammer, corn bunting, linnet, partridge and lapwing (in addition to commoner species with more stable populations such as blackbirds and blue tits), as well as mammals such as brown hare, many species of butterflies, moths and other insects, and numerous wild flowers. We are promised that the ponds will be maintained and improved from a wildlife viewpoint, but how much reliance can we place in such promises when the maintenance is handed over to the official vandals for whom any grass or other plant more than two inches tall is ripe for mowing?

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Stockwood Park

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Bradgers Hill

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Area adjacent to M1 Junction 10

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Wardown Park

With the extensive publicity given recently to the poor state of public parks in Britain today compared with former times, it is good to see that Wardown Park is still in pretty good condition and is still heavily used by families with small children, sunbathers (in good weather), boating on the lake, tennis, crazy golf, putting and simple walking for pleasure. The flower beds near the museum are a delight for most of the year. Judging by press reports, so many parks these days are apparently havens only for vandals, muggers and drug-takers; it is good to see that Luton is getting something at least approximately right (although it would be an improvement if we could have a few more shrubs - to encourage wildlife - and if a little of the grass could be left to grow wild flowers instead of all of it being mown short). Keeping the swimming pool in its present location just across the road in Bath Road is also a small asset to the park by simply being readily available to cool off on the occasional hot summer's day! I notice quite a large sum is now available to refurbish this park - I just hope none of it is used by the "tidy-up" brigade to reduce further the park's value to wildlife.

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Transport

General transport policy

Transport of almost any kind uses energy, mineral resources (for vehicles, roads, etc.), occupies land and takes time for travelling. It is therefore highly desirable as the first requirement of a sensible transport policy to so arrange society as to minimise the need for it. This means in particular that housing and work places should be close together, as was once the norm, as should housing and shopping facilities, while goods on sale should as far as possible come from local sources.

Even after everything possible is done to minimise the need for transport, however, it will still be necessary to have a transport system. This needs to be designed so as to be as efficient as possible in terms of energy usage, mineral resource depletion and land usage, while minimising pollution of all kinds. Note that pollution is not just the, nowadays obvious, atmospheric pollution from road vehicle exhausts but also noise, disposal of worn out vehicles, disposal of old oil and even light obscuring the night sky from badly designed street lamps.

The most energy efficient form of transport, by quite a margin, is cycling, with walking second, while air travel, especially by helicopter, is the least efficient (although sub-orbital rocket flight, if it ever developed, will be even worse). Both walking and cycling, however, suffer from three inherent problems - exposure to inclement weather, low speed, and inability to carry bulky or heavy loads. The relative efficiency of the intermediate methods of transport must therefore be compared, while ensuring that these low-impact, efficient methods are encouraged wherever possible - that is, the exact opposite of the policies followed by most countries for the past 50 years or so and still followed in practice (depsite lip service to sustainability) in UK both nationally and locally.

Careful research done some years ago, and still valid today, showed that in terms of energy efficiency, atmospheric pollution and in use of land, after walking and cycling the most efficient methods of large-scale transport were, in order, a) for people: trains, trams, trolley-buses, buses, and only then motor-cycles and cars; b) for long-distance goods: trains, canal boats, heavy lorries, small vans and cars; c) for short-distance goods: small and medium size vans. Detailed policies on transport and related issues should follow from those facts.

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Economics of transport

This is a national, not a local topic, but it is so fundamental to the problems that beset our transport system today that it cannot sensibly be omitted. From the Beeching-led disaster onwards, governments have pretended that all forms of transport must compete with each other on equal terms, so the market will determine which is really most suited to our requirements. At the same time the system has been rigged grossly in favour of private transport by air, lorry, van and car and against all forms of communal travel. Even if one accepts the premise that the market should decide (which in this case I don't), that only makes sense if all methods are assessed on the same terms, but this is very far from what actually happens.

When someone is deciding what mode of transport to use for a particular journey, the decision will be based on feasibility, convenience and perceived journey cost. Leaving aside the first two for the moment, the perceived journey cost of travel by rail or bus is the cost of the ticket, while the perceived cost of car travel for that one journey is the cost of the fuel, plus possibly the cost of parking at the destination. The fallacy in the system here is that the cost of the rail ticket covers not only the fuel used for the journey (negligible when shared by all the passengers on the train), but also the cost of track and vehicle maintenance, signalling, station maintenance, interest charges on money borrowed for the vehicle purchase and track, signal and station construction plus, in a privatised world, profit for shareholders. Buses are not quite so heavily handicapped, but there also the fare has to cover the cost of vehicle maintenance, interest charges and profits as well as fuel. None of this is included in the perceived journey cost of travel by car, which can hardly fail to appear to be the cheapest option.

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Rail

Bedfordshire is well-served with railways (if not always with rail services) for travel north and southwards, but with little between east and west. Three main lines from London to the north and Midlands pass through the county, that from St. Pancras up the middle through Luton and Bedford, from Kings Cross up the east through Biggleswade and from Euston up the west through Leighton Buzzard. Little attempt has been made in recent years to encourage the use of rail locally other than for airport-bound traffic. I believe there has been some cross-county rail re-development in the north of the county, but Luton Borough Council, aided at times by both central government and Beds County Council seem intent on destroying the obvious rail corridor in the south with their ridiculous Translink scheme (see below).

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Translink

Luton Council has been trying for some years now to get work started on a scheme for a guided busway along the route of the old railway line which ran from (and extended beyond at both ends) Luton and Dunstable. The idea is that special vehicles would run on a special track olong the rail route but could also use normal roads to give extra flexibility to service local areas further from the track. Superficially this is an attractive idea, but it appears that the officials at Luton Town Hall and the councillors involved have not looked beyond the superficial.

As mentioned in the previous section, there is a need for a rail link across the south of the county to give the people of Dunstable a rail link - any rail link! - but especially one to connect with London. There is also a need to provide them and the Leighton Buxxard area access to the line through Luton to the east midlands and north-east of the country and to give Luton people access to the line to the north-west. All this could be accomplished by reinstating services on the old line from Luton via Dunstable to Leighton Buzzard. The Luton to Dunstable section of this (probably the most important part) could be in business relatively quickly and cheaply, because the track is still in place. Translink, which would cost much more and take much longer to establish, would destroy this option.

The Translink concept is not an entirely new one. There is experience of such schemes in several other places in this country, and they have all proved to be expensive failures. The officers at Luton Town Hall are obviously wedded to the concept and simply will not listen to any reasoned argument on the matter - their minds are closed. The previous Labour administration appear to be in the same condition. The new situation of Liberal Democrat control augured well, since they had consistently opposed the project in opposition. However, as with other aspects of their much-vaunted "green" credentials at that time, as soon as they took office they did a U-turn. Whether this is the result of simply dishonesty or incompetence showing in their inability to control the officers I don't know. Beds County Council changed their minds twice on the matter, apparently the second time under unreasonable (bordering on corrupt) pressure from the government.

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Roads

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Buses

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Cycling

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Airport

Luton Airport is misleadingly (and dishonestly?) called London-Luton by its owners and operators, presumably in the hope of conning unsuspecting visitors that Luton is in or close to London. It is a major source of pollution by noise, discharged fuel and exhaust fumes in the area, and leads to considerable through traffic on local overcrowded roads. Travel by air is the least efficient means of mass transport yet invented in terms of fuel usage, yet it is encouraged (in contrast to other forms of transport) by totally unjustified tax and legal advantages. The Government repeatedly claims that greater capacity must be provided to meet demand, while notably failing to take the same approach to genuinely desirable objectives such as hospitals, schools, public transport and support for the elderly and disabled.

My feeling about Luton Airport is that it should be closed down completely and the huge area of land so released used to build many of the houses John Prescott is determined to foist on our area (and yes, the country does need more affordable houses), as well as the necessary associated schools, shops, children's play areas, additional employment (in place of the Butterfield Green development?), etc. This is an area already served by transport links, level, at high altitude to simplify drainage and flows of sewage and serving no useful purpose other than to make profits for airlines and pollution for everyone else.

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Waste disposal

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Links

Jim Fisher's personal home page

Jim Fisher's general Politics and Philosophy page

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Produced by Jim Fisher, 48 Swifts Green Close, Luton, Beds., LU2 8BS
on behalf of Luton and Bedfordshire Green Party, 13 Wedgwood Road, Bedford, MK41 7NW.


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Policies for Bedford | Policies for Luton | Policies for Mid Beds | Policies for South Beds

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