WCA Newsletter No4

Contents

  • Forthcoming Meetings - Dates & Links

  • Roads to Ruin – An opinion piece. Wiltshire Council's new roads policies are incompatible with its Climate Emergency aims

  • Transport Topic Group - info and next meeting date

  • Other Topic Groups – How WCA is moving forward, with groups covering   Energy, Economy, Land Use & Management, Waste & Recycling, and Outreach

  • New Creative Writing Team – WCA reaches out to the local press

  • WCA Youth Workshop with Wiltshire Council – Young people get their say  

  • Engaging with MPs - We need your help!

  • Opposing the Governments Planning System - How the present system works – Public Inquiries and Appeals - The Government's proposals and the WCA response

  • Wiltshire Council Gags Questioners – Row leads to complaint

  • Why Soil Matters - An invitation from Climate Friendly Bradford on Avon

 

Upcoming WCA Meetings

All Members Meeting - 4th November @7pm 
At the meeting there will be:

  • An update on where we are with our Topic Groups and the new writers group,

  • a discussion around the recent response to the White Paper Planning for our Future and what to do next. 

  • A look at our own life style and emissions, opening up the debate on the realities of personal impact on the climate. After all, in Wiltshire and Swindon there are over 700,000 of us... so we’re probably having some impact! If we're all at 10 tonnes of CO2e per person then we're emitting over 7 million tonnes between us ever year.
    If possible before the meeting we're asking you to check your personal tonnage and bring the results with you. Don't worry if you can't we'll try to give a bit of time in the meeting. A new app, Giki Zero. Access will be on the registration page for you to try. 

Register for the meeting here

 Waste & Recycling Topic Group Meeting - 6th November @4pm 
Our 1st meeting. We’ll look at the latest on the on-going campaign against the county's planned waste incinerator plant in Westbury and a discussion of how waste and recycling services in Wiltshire can be improved. All are welcome.

Register for the meeting here

Land Use & Management Topic Group Meeting - 9th November @6pm 


Our next meeting will look at tree planting, how to work with the County, Parishes and local communities on environmentally friendly verges and an update on our planning to engage with farmers.

Register for the meeting here

 

WCA Youth Workshop with Wiltshire Council - 12th November @6.30pm 


This event will provide young people with the opportunity to have their voices heard and directly influence the direction of the council. Come along and make yours heard.

Register for the meeting here

Transport Topic Group Meeting - 12th November @7pm


Cycling, general discussion and Roads will be the order of play

Register for the meeting here 

Energy Topic Group Meeting - 17th November @7pm 


Agenda will be issued shortly. Register for the meeting here

Engagement & Outreach Topic Group Meeting - 24th November @6.30pm 


Agenda will be issued shortly. Register for the meeting here


 

Roads to Ruin

This is an extended version of the article by Brig Oubridge published in our November 2020 newsletter, with additional contributions from Andrew Nicolson, Patrick Kinnersly and Chris Gillham.

 

The meeting of Wiltshire Council's ruling cabinet on October 13th clearly exposed the fact that their commitment to a strategy of new road building across the county makes a nonsense of their declared intention to tackle climate change, and to make Wiltshire carbon neutral by 2030. The two aims are simply and utterly incompatible.

 

The council's wish list for new roads is certainly extensive. There's the Stonehenge tunnel, cutting through the UNESCO World Heritage Site and destroying history and archaeology as it goes, opposed by archaeologists and conservationists the world over, and (incidentally) destroying the only view of the monument which anyone can get without paying £20 per head to English Heritage. There's a new Chippenham bypass.  There's the Melksham bypass on the A350 (to bypass the existing bypass), and demands for another around Westbury (which is the next in line, and after that a string of bypasses through Dorset to Poole). All these are under active consideration right now, added to which they are also supporting the whole length of the A303 being raised to motorway standard, and demands for a new Salisbury bypass (or two) are waiting in the wings.

 

All this road building is self-defeating, even in its own terms. Decades of experience and research have shown that new roads can never solve traffic problems, because they simply generate more traffic to fill them up, leading to further demands for yet more new roads. And all these roads and increasing traffic lead inevitably to more air pollution, causing more ill health for people and driving even greater and faster climate breakdown. It is, without doubt, a strategy of roads to ruin.

 

Nor have the roadbuilders ever demonstrated an economic value to road-building, nor indeed even contested the very real evidence that it is economically detrimental. Their appraisal ‘Webtag’ has long been known to be fraudulent, ignoring as it does all externalities – it is not economically sensible to reduce the user costs of an activity that is highly subsidised. Road building does not save time (a central pillar of Webtag) but merely increases the distance travelled, the economic costs and the resources consumed for the same economic activity.  The roadbuilding mythology of connectivity into depressed areas consistently fails to take account of peripherality considerations (roads are two-way things – economic activity is actually more likely to be sucked out of a depressed region, than brought in).

 

Anyone who imagines that we might need these new roads in an idyllic future of unlimited travel in pollution-free electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles is simply deluding themselves (and, in the case of many of our councillors, attempting to delude their electors). No matter how many wind generators and solar panels we manage to install, there just isn't enough available lithium or cobalt to make the batteries for all the electric vehicles which would be required, and not enough time left for hydrogen technology to be developed to fill the gap. And whatever the power source, ‘zero-carbon’ cars and trucks will still emit harmful particles from brakes and tyres, and are far from 'zero-carbon' in the energy and materials needed in their production. *

 

As the most discretionary of all UK economic activities (i.e. the one that we can most easily do away with by behaviour change), transport should be of lowest priority in the queue for what renewable energy becomes available (and will be as the less discretionary activities start to compete).  In addition, the ‘golden future’ optimists neglect to consider the capitalisation limitations on the drive to eliminate fossil fuel. Realistically we have ten years to take most of  the carbon out of transport, and it cannot be done by technology; it has to be done by by behaviour change – a massive reduction of road and air traffic.

 

The plain truth, which our councillors are closing their eyes to, and which many others will find unwelcome, is that if we are to take meaningful action against the impending climate change disaster before it engulfs us all, the days of unlimited fossil-fuelled mass motoring will have to end, and to do so in the very near future. It is a situation which demands big changes in people's expectations, and one which cannot be addressed just by adding a few new cycle lanes into an overall approach of business as usual.

 

The country needs a massive investment in public transport – trains, trams and buses - and in shifting freight onto the railway.  Where would they find the money? Well, they could start with the £27billion budgeted for new major roads. In fact, that £27B is just the strategic road programme – the MRN, HIF, LEPs and council’s own budgets add up to a lot more – possibly as much as £90B lined up for roads in the next 15 years?… and then there’s a hundred billion or so for the elitist and destructive HS2 executive express to Birmingham and Manchester ….

 

Transport Topic Group

The new WCA Transport Topic Group is addressing all the issues around transport, including roads, railways, EVs, public transport, and (of course) cycling and walking.

Meetings take place on Zoom, and all WCA members are invited to join in. The next Transport TG meeting is to be Thursday 12 November 7-9pm. Outline timings are: 7:00 pm Cycling; 7:30 pm General; 8:30 pm Roads; 9:00 pm Finish
 
Transport is just one of the Topic Groups which have now been set up within WCA to bring together members all across the county who share concerns over the various aspects of the Climate and Ecological Emergencies. Others are listed below, and anyone can join. It doesn't matter whether you have particular expertise or experience in the subject, or are just interested to learn more from others pooling their knowledge and ideas.

We know that collectively on all these subjects we probably have more knowledge and better ideas than most of our Councillors, and by coming together we can help set the agenda for the action which is needed to take Wiltshire forward to its goal of becoming carbon neutral and environment friendly by 2030. Just go to the website for more information on each group and sign up to get involved in its activities.
 

Other Topic Groups 

 

Economy Group – This is the last topic group yet to get off the ground. We are currently in the process of trying to arrange an initial meeting, anyone interested in this topic can sign up to help on our website here

Waste & Recycling Group  - The first meeting will take place on Friday 6th November from 4pm - 5.30pm. This will include an update on the latest state of the on-going campaign against the county's planned waste incinerator plant in Westbury, and a discussion of how waste and recycling services in Wiltshire can be improved. All are welcome.

Register to take part here

Land Use & Management Group

 

Thanks to all who attended the 1st meeting on 16th October. We had a really great exploration of people’s ideas, which were far ranging, from regenerative farming and soil sequestration to trees, local food production and verge greening.

We agreed working out how to properly engage with farmers is very important. A small group are going to be working on that over the next weeks. We’re also setting up a meeting with Wiltshire Council to discuss changing their verge treatment.

Our next meeting will look at tree planting, how to work with the County, Parishes and local communities on environmentally friendly verges and an update on our planning to engage with farmers. Look forward to seeing you there. Next meeting is on Monday 9th November @6pm.

Register to take part here

Energy Group

 

 The next meeting is due to take place on Tuesday 17th November @7pm.

Register to take part here

Outreach & Engagement Group

 

Engagement was the main topic discussed at our last members' meeting on October 7th, and came up with a number of ideas. (Notes from that meeting are available on the website).

The new Outreach group began working on taking forward those ideas at a meeting on October 28th, and will meet again on Tuesday November 24th @6.30pm.

Register to take part here
 

New Creative Writing Team 

One of the ideas that came out of our general Members Meeting on October 7th was to set up a group of writers to help produce articles to go in local papers, blogs on our website and technical reviews on environmental issues.

We are in discussions with one of the top Wiltshire newspapers (we will reveal which very soon!), so we put out a call and, by gum!!, we were impressed with the talent that came forward.

With such a diverse and interesting writing team we are sure to have some great articles to fill the local papers with. This is a great opportunity for all WCA members and member groups. If your group has an upcoming project that you would like promoting, get in touch as we might be able to support with a write up or interview peice.

If you are a writer and interested in getting involved, get in touch on media@wiltshireclimatealliance.org.uk
 

WCA Youth Workshop with Wilts Council 

Open to anyone aged under 25 and living in Wiltshire, this event will provide young people with the opportunity to have their voices heard and directly influence the direction of the council when it comes to the climate and ecological emergency. The workshop will be delivered virtually via Zoom on 12th November between 6.30-8pm, and will follow a similar format to the very successful joint WCA / Wiltshire Council meeting held in August, involving Wiltshire councillors and officers.

Breakout rooms will enable participants to have discussions on specific topics such as: Biodiversity; Waste; Sustainable Fashion; Food production & distribution; Energy Production; How to bring about change.

Please share this opportunity with any under 25’s you know that might be interested in joining. Register on our website using this link.
 

Engaging With Our MPs

We’re looking to get a meeting with ALL Wiltshire and Swindon MPs, on 8th December at 4pm, to discuss all aspects of climate and ecological change and how they’re supporting their county’s plan to achieve net zero carbon by 2030. We’ll aim for an initial meeting to set the scene and try to agree how this forum might work; then into focus meetings on various subjects including farming, transport and transport infrastructure, grant funding and many more.

To make sure all subjects get a reasonable airing we would only cover 2 topics at one meeting. However, I’ve jumped too far into the future. Feet back on the ground.

We need help to get letters to the MPs and invite them to the first meeting. 

Of the 7 MPs in the Wiltshire/Swindon area we have people to cover 4:
Michelle Donelan - Chippenham – WCA Mel Moden/Nick Murry
Andrew Murrison - South West Wiltshire - WCA Richard Ecclestone
John Glen - Salisbury – WCA Christian Lange
Danny Kruger - Devizes – WCA Ros Oswald

We still need members to write to the other three: 
James Gray - North Wiltshire – WCA??
Robert Buckland - Swindon South - WCA??
Justin Tomlinson - Swindon North - WCA??

MPs will normally only respond to their constituents, so PLEASE could we have volunteers to send the letter to their MP. Email a reply to this newsletter or to bill@wiltshireclimatealliance.org.uk to register and we’ll be in touch shortly.

We have a letter already drafted. It will need editing to match your particular MP. We’ll send that out to you once you’ve registered. If we do get a meeting we’ll need a rep from each constituency, otherwise the MP won’t! It doesn’t have to be the same person who sent the letter, but it would help at the first meeting. We don’t expect miracles, but whatever response you get will be useful in planning our next move.

Thank you.                      Bill Jarvis (WCA Convenor)
 

Opposing Governments Planning System

How the present system works

Ever since the introduction of the Town & Country Planning Act in 1947, every new building or other proposed development has had to go through the planning process. This means that developers first have to obtain “outline permission” from their local council's planning department for what they have in mind, and then submit detailed plans of what they intend to do. These plans are then publicised in the local area, so that local people know what is going on and have an opportunity to object or to support the proposal.

The council in charge of the process (the Local Planning Authority or LPA – in our case Wiltshire Council) then circulates the plans to the relevant Town or Parish Council, and to various statutory bodies including the Highways Agency, Environment Agency and National Rivers Authority, who all have an opportunity to comment, and the LPA's own planning officers also have a good look and decide whether they think it should be allowed to go ahead.

After a period of time (which should not be longer than eight weeks) the LPA's councillors (either in a full council meeting or, more usually, through a smaller planning committee) have to vote on the application. They can either refuse it, grant it in full, or grant it with certain conditions attached. They usually go along with the recommendation of their planning officers, but may also be swayed by the reactions of local people.

Since the 1970s, the deciding factor has usually been whatever it says in the Statutory Local Plan. This is a document drawn up by the LPA and approved by the Government, which sets out where in the area the council wants different types of development (eg. residential, commercial or industrial) to take place, and under what conditions it should or should not be approved. If the Local Plan says something should be approved, it almost invariably will be, with or without conditions attached.

If conditions are imposed, they must be justified. They may relate to details of the building itself (eg. it should not have a window overlooking its neighbours) or its appearance (eg. it must be built of a certain type of brick, or be painted a certain colour, to blend in with its surroundings). For large developments, LPAs may make a Section 106 order requiring the developer to provide or pay for additional infrastructure made necessary by the development, eg. extra school or playground provision, or a new road or junction.

Public Inquiries and Appeals

If a developer doesn't like a LPA's decision, or if the LPA doesn't make a decision in a reasonable time, they can appeal to a public inquiry. This is like a court case, but less strictly formal, decided by an Inspector appointed by the Planning Inspectorate and, as well as the developer and the LPA, local residents also have the chance to appear and make their views known.

If the appellant (ie, the developer) is an ordinary person (eg. someone who has been refused permission to build a 'granny flat' on the side of their house), the LPA has the advantage of knowing the rules and the system, and the appellant may not be able to afford legal representation, or fear having to also pay the council's costs if their appeal is judged to be 'unreasonable'.

If the appellant is a large development company, the boot is on the other foot, as it will be the LPA which fears the costs of losing an inquiry, and councillors are likely to be under pressure from their planning officers to avoid refusing big applications if they are likely to lead to an inquiry.

The Inspector usually makes the final decision, which must be justified in terms of planning law and the Local Plan. In exceptional cases involving the 'national interest', the Inspector;s verdict can be ;called in' by the relevant government Minister, who makes the decision instead.

The only way to challenge the decision of an Inspector or Minister is by Judicial Review in the High Court. For this, the appellant or LPA must be able to prove that the decision was wrong in law, and / or 'Wednesbury unreasonable' (ie. so unreasonable that no sane person could have made such a decision). Even then, the court cannot change the decision, they can only refer it back to be made again.

The Government proposals

The proposals in the Government's White Paper would do away with huge chunks of the present system, in order to “simplify” the process and speed it up, in order to benefit big developers and Boris Johnson's policy objective of “Build, build, build”.

Instead of (or possibly in addition to) locally consulted Neighbourhood Development Plans feeding into Local Plans (which are themselves subject to a Public Inquiry before being adopted), there would be nationally defined “Growth Zones” in which planning permissions would be immediate and automatic, so that developers could do whatever they liked, and neither local people nor their elected councillors would have any say whatsoever..

The present system allows local people, both as individuals and acting through organisations like WCA and its local member groups, to influence the thinking and behaviour of councillors. The way in which we can influence planning decisions is profoundly important in combatting climate change, because it determines the future of both the built environment and transport infrastructure, which together are responsible for a large majority of Wiltshire's greenhouse gas emissions.

They also want to do away with Section 116 orders, and replace them by a uniform Infrastructure Levy, based on the financial “value” of each development, rather than the cost of whatever extra infrastructure it requires.

Wiltshire Council Gags Questioners

WCA activists were more than a little upset at the council's Cabinet meeting on October 13th when questioners weren't given speaking access to the online meeting, contrary to the Agenda front sheet, which stated that “This meeting is open to the public, who may ask a question or make a statement.”  

A number of people, including WCA stalwart Adrian Temple Brown, were so enraged by this that he has put in a formal complaint. Others, who had submitted various questions on the proposed Melksham bypass, were unable to read them out or ask any supplementary questions because the link to connect into the meeting was inactive. Andrew Nicolson commented “...as a matter of Council process it needs to be resolved otherwise it will happen again.”

WCA will continue to question councillors at all their meetings, and intends to hold them to their stated aim of making Wiltshire carbon neutral by 2030. More questioners are always welcome. To find out more, including a link showing dates and times of forthcoming council meetings and how to put questions, visit our website
 

An Invitation From Climate Friendly BoA

Join us online for inspiring talks at this major CFBoA event. Discover why healthy living soils are vital for life on earth.

Earth’s Energy: Why Soils Matter
for Climate, Food, Farming and Wildlife
Tuesday 10th November 7 - 8.40pm (Free online event) - Numbers are limited

Dr Matthew Shepherd, Specialist in Soil Biology for Natural England – on the diversity of life within healthy soils and why it is essential for us and for wildlife.

Helen Taylor - on positive frameworks for regenerative farming.

Cate Le Grice Mack - first-hand experience of a regenerative farming approach and why consumer choices matter.

BoA Soil Event - Earthworm Challenge! Registrants have the option to take part in a Citizen Science exercise prior to event - see the details here. Findings to be returned by 5th November to Dr Matthew Shepherd.

See Eventbrite here for full event details and registration.

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