Category: Blog

This one is a no-brainer for blog action day. The UK’s Committee for Climate Change has called for it, Boris Johnson of all people includes it in his air quality strategy, and it will help people save money as energy bills rise. The Government should set-up a boiler scrappage scheme (and you should sign the petition). Let people trade in old, inefficient boilers for new ones, or at least to get a massive discount. They did it for cars to help an ailing industry, why not do it with boilers to promote jobs across the country, cut carbon and help vulnerable households? This fun little gimmick is of course one small piece of the unprecedented housing puzzle. How exactly do we cut emissions from heating, cooling and electricity by 90-100% across all the nation’s buildings in the next twenty to thirty years? The technical challenges are big enough, and with…

Read More Scrap those old boilers, politicians

Dave Hill writes in his Guardian blog about Boris Johnson’s housing plans for London. What could be more important to Londoners than housing that is affordable for all, of a decent quality, energy efficient and in the place they want to live? He has done great work on this topic, but he misses some basic facts and figures that expose just what Boris’ priorities are. All the evidence shows that London needs a mix of new social, intermediate and market (private) housing that is evenly spread around the city – much like this photo, which I took in south Camberwell. The most pressing need is for social housing, and to end “segregation by tenure”, where your income determines which ghettoised community you can live in. Thankfully my patch is pretty integrated, but go down into Dulwich or up to Elephant & Castle and you quickly enter predominantly rich and poor…

Read More Getting a home we can afford

Way back in July – goodness, that seems a long time ago! – I went on holiday near Kircudbright in Dumries and Galloway, which is in south west Scotland (I had no idea either). The landscape is actually quite beautiful. Not breathtaking like the higher Scottish peaks, but almost deserted beaches with warm seas for swimming and really gentle hills for walks. We went for a hike up one and I put some basic details into OpenStreetMap when I got back. But now somebody has scanned in a set of OS 7th series one inch maps from the 1950s and the results are very clear. Maps go out of copyright after 50 years so it’s fair game. I’ve spent a few evenings winding down from work by tracing streams, forest, woods, salt marshes and correcting the coastline. Given that the “no names” map style is currently very out of date,…

Read More Tracing OS maps in Scotland

Over the summer a few fantastic initiatives have started to grow from the grassroots. I’ve been going along to meetings of Transition Town Peckham and Growing Southwark, full of local people who share my hopes to grow more food in the area and fix up our homes with the Peckham Power Company. This year I managed to get the last of the blackberries on One Tree Hill and grew plenty of tomatoes, salads and herbs with my partner. But living in a flat means my options are pretty limited, and allotments are a big commitment. Walking around Peckham you can’t help notice lots of underused green spaces just begging to be used for communal food growing, and beautiful parks with barely a handful of fruit trees for the public. We’re busy pushing forward the food strategy Green councillor Jenny Jones introduced through Southwark Council, and I’m exploring ways to connect…

Read More Growing communities in Southwark

A discussion with two friends on the back of my post about the cuts agenda brought up some interesting figures about benefit and tax fraud. There’s nothing the Tories and right-wing media pundits like more than a good old attack on benefit fraud. Lazy good-for-nothings scamming our taxes! Get ’em! But how big a problem is benefit fraud, and how does it compare to the rich ripping us off with offshore tax havens and the like? Benefit fraud in 07-08 cost us around £800m out of a budget totalling £125bn. Tax evasio by the rich cost us around £18.5bn and a tax avoidance is estimated at around £100bn compared to a government budget totalling £589bn. Tax evasion  is harder to tackle, involving international negotiations, but it says a lot about your priorities. Tory plans to bail out a few thousand rich families through inheritance tax changes would cost considerably more…

Read More Who is really ripping us off?

The Government raised the national minimum wage today to £5.80 per hour, a welcome 7p extra for Britain’s working poor. But here in London, and in many other expensive parts of the country, it’s still far too low. The London Living Wage, calculated by GLA Economics to meet basic living costs, currently stands at £7.60 per hour, almost £2 an hour more! Just imagine earning 23% less than the amount you’d need just to get by. Or imagine working an extra 12 hours per week to make ends meet. Working poverty accounts for almost half of all child poverty in this city, and one fifth of all London workers – almost 400,000 people – earn less than the Living Wage. That goes up to 47% for part time workers. Until everyone – especially public bodies and the Government itself – pays the Living Wage or above, we’re failing people and…

Read More Minimum wage rise is still to low for London

Weekends that begin with 8.29am trains back to London for Green Party meetings are never going to end with a relaxed glow! Still, in amongst it all I came across two real surprises. First was Bounce’s breathtaking Insane in the Brain show at the Peacock Theatre. If you get the chance to see this, go! I can’t pretend I understand most contemporary dance, I’m not really partial to ballet and I’ve never liked dancing myself either. But this Hip Hop interpretation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was witty, very cool and it kept my my tired brain’s attention throughout! Here’s a sample clip: After a welcome lie in, Rachel and I met up with Kathryn on Sunday afternoon for a stroll in the surprisingly wild Sydenham Hill Wood. A little nature spotting (we just about identified oak, hornbeam, sycamore, hawthorne, beech and silver birch trees) was rounded off…

Read More Notch up two unexpected delights

Moving to the centre isn’t usually my cup of political tea, but in a peace process it seems pretty fundamental. Of course, when you have two fairly fundamentalist sides opposing each other, this is pretty unlikely! Reading Ken Livingstone’s interview with de-facto Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal (pictured), I couldn’t but hope that there are private moves to soften their attitude. Meshal’s reconstruction of past events, and his narrative of European colonialism and racism, is enlightening and instructive. But he has to move past this, past his anger at dispossession, and past Hamas’ refusal to admit Israel’s right to exist. It’s all very well playing the underdog, saying that Israel needs to make 10 groundbreaking moves to the centre before he makes even one. But it won’t exactly broker peace, or do much to help the Palestinian people! It reminds me of an excellent South African apartheid episode of the Radio…

Read More Can you only make peace in private?

As long as the Democrats talked within Republican frames like “tax relief”, they always lost the argument. So why are Labour taking on Tory economic narratives during their party season? They’re handing the election to Cameron on a plate. The first narrative is that we need to cut public expenditure to save the deficit and curb the national debt. Except that our national debt is much lower than most developed economies, and is projected to stay that way. Our deficit is large, but Cameron’s criticism of any fiscal stimulus would only have landed us in a bigger hole with more unemployment and smaller tax receipts; perhaps even a depression. The second is that the public sector is an unproductive drag on the economy, and should be the focus of cuts. Except that the public sector injects stable spending power into the economy; provides the infrastructure and services that business can’t…

Read More Don’t let the Tories get away with it

Last night’s Growing Southwark meeting was graced by British-Armenian designer Vahakn Matossian, who explained his Fruit City project and his beautiful picking tools. When I first got involved with OpenStreetMap I started to make my own private map of apple trees and blackberry brambles in public places. I spent one or two summers eating about four fruit crumbles a week! I love his map, and although it might lead to some sources drying up due to demand, that will hopefully just lend weight to public calls for more fruit trees and bushes to be deliberately planted in our streets and parks. I’ve started to enquire about the chances of getting some fruit trees in small parks like Warwick Gardens and Holly Grove in The Lane part of Peckham/Bellenden/Camberwell. Jenny Jones has been doing the same in her ward – South Camberwell. Maybe Vahakn will get the production line going for…

Read More Urban fruit freebies in Southwark