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Andrew Gray's blog

Wool Against Weapons
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This personal blog is not being updated currently, but will remain as a record of some of my campaigning and ideas since 2009/2010. For up to date campaign news, please see our facebook page or sign up for updates online:

Mon, 20 Apr 2015

Local Election leaflet for 7th May 2015

I have not been able to upload this leaflet except as a super-large file that you would not thank me for when downloading. So below is the text, and please get in touch if you would like a paper copy delivered to you.

About your South Heaton Green Party candidate

Andrew Gray was born in Newcastle and has lived in Heaton since 2000. He shares an allotment and is committed to the ward.

If elected as your Councillor, I will resist the imposition of austerity budgets on our local services and community facilities.

Andrew works in a library, where he has also acted as a Trade Union caseworker and negotiator. He understands the damage caused by zero hours contracts and insecure employment.

The enthusiasm and diversity of South Heaton's residents make this a great place to live. I will work with all local residents to ensure that the Council delivers more for our community. And I am committed to the principle of 'recall' for elected politicians. If requested by 20% of the electorate within South Heaton, I will resign and trigger a new election.


Too many of South Heaton's residents are living in private rented accommodation that is cold or damp. Sub-standard housing is bad for our whole community. Andrew Gray has called for better regulation of the private rented sector. Locally, the Council could strengthen the landlord accreditation scheme, help to limit advertising opportunities for bad landlords, and provide more information to residents on issues like home insulation and environmental health.

Nationally, Greens would cap rents, introduce more secure tenancies, and build 500,000 social rented homes by 2020. We would abolish the bedroom tax which has forced hundreds of South Heaton poorest residents to face hardship or eviction.

Local Economy

Local shops and independent businesses are at the heart of Heaton's culture. They help to keep our high streets vibrant and safe, and keep money within the local economy. Local businesses create more jobs and provide better services for the elderly or more vulnerable, than the chain stores and corporate giants. Andrew Gray has campaigned for a range of practical measures, from street markets to local loyalty cards, to support our local shopping streets. While Labour's budgets continue to promote the city centre with major capital spending and free car-parking, Green budget proposals would strengthen our neighbourhoods and local services.

Green policies would deliver an economy that works for all. National plans for a Robin Hood Tax and closing tax loopholes would end austerity and support better public services. Greens oppose the use of zero hours contracts without exception.


One in every 20 deaths in Newcastle has been blamed on air pollution. Increasing traffic levels on our main high streets cause more problems for those with breathing difficulties, and the congestion damages the local economy. That's why we back the Space 4 Cycling campaign, support improvements to assist pedestrians, and have campaigned for re-regulation of the buses.

Our national policies would return the railways to public hands, and use some of the money earmarked for road building to deliver an immediate 10% cut in rail fares.

Litter & Rubbish

Newcastle City Council has targetted its budget cuts on street cleaning and neighbourhood services. Combined with the effects of austerity and an unregulated private rented sector, these cuts have left many of our back lanes and high streets deep in litter.

Andrew Gray has put together plans to tackle Heaton's rubbish blight, with a five-point action plan involving universities, landlords, letting agents, the council and high street businesses. If elected on 7th May, his first priority will be to work with residents and all available partners, in order to reduce levels of rubbish and litter.

permanent link to this post category: /heaton/elections

Sat, 06 Sep 2014

Think Global, Act Local

It's an old slogan, but still a good one. And I think I'm entitled to use it, given that the latest Green update leaflet combines the action plan and petition for Heaton's back lanes, with proposals to move the Scottish border and the ongoing campaign to scrap Trident nuclear weapons.

If you live in South Heaton, you should have received this leaflet. A few are going out in the next few days, so let me know if you have not received yours by 10th September, or if you want another copy.

Meanwhile, you can download it here, and please get in touch if you have any queries about it.

permanent link to this post category: /heaton

Thu, 21 Aug 2014

Waste and recycling facilities close to hand

In case anyone thinks recycling is hard in South Heaton, or that it is difficult to get rid of excess waste, here's a helpful map of what's on our doorstep.

More information and online links are at the Council's website.

permanent link to this post category: /heaton/backlanes

Butterbean-powered survey at Northern Pride reveals some hard truths

At our Green Party stall at Northern Pride in Newcastle in July, we put our butterbean-powered voting machine to a slightly different use. Instead of using it for voting, we carried out a survey of visitors to the stall.

The survey was not extensive or scientifically balanced, and participants were self-selecting, but it was both fun and revealing. We asked a single question:

Would you (or your gay or trans friends) feel safe showing affection or being yourself in the following places?

Visitors were able to choose as many options as applied, or could vote for the 4th option The options and survey results were as follows:

  1. in your workplace, school, college or uni: 114 votes
  2. in your local streets: 83 votes
  3. in your local pub: 83 votes
  4. none of the above: 77 votes

The emphasis was on how safe LGBTI people feel within their local or 'normal' home and working environments, rather than in the city centre, gay bars, or spaces like Northern Pride. Unsurprisingly perhaps, given the work of Stonewall in partnership with many employers and Councils etc in the area, option (1) came out as the 'safest' place.

But less encouraging, was the high number of people who would feel safe in none of these places (option 4): although we can't extract exact figures from such a simple survey, it is probably fair to assume that most of those who chose options 2 or 3 also chose option 1. That would suggest that more than half of those surveyed do not think that their local streets or pubs are 'safe' places for LGBTI people to express themselves as they should be able to (114 + 77 = 191, of which 83 is only 43%).

Our survey concentrated on 'safety' for LGBTI people, and so in part reflects the effectiveness of our local police in helping to tackle the culture of homophobia and transphobia that is still clearly endemic in some of the region's residential areas. The results suggest that more may need to be done at a local or neighbourhood level, to make our residential streets and communities genuinely safe places for all, and to ensure that LGBTI people have confidence in their local police. For that reason, I have today written to our local Police and Crime Commissioners to ask them to explore this issue further. Diversity and Equality for the police (as for wider society) should not be tested by official policy statements, nor merely by support for events like Pride, but also by the realities where LGBTI people live.

permanent link to this post category: /lgbt

Tue, 19 Aug 2014

Some photos of the re-wool-ution on 9th August

North East campaigners joined Scotland at the Blue milestone on 9th August, for the unfurling of the human peace scarf. Along with the Saltire and lots of bunting, we had pointers to our neighbours, at the Purple and Green milestones.

On 18th September, one more country might be added to the list of those nations who have given up the false security of nuclear weapons!

Here, two of the Scottish coordinators are considering where to base the big knit - a single 6-metre length of knitting that could be worked on simultaneously by a group of knitters. In the end, we had this on the grass, and held a separate length across the road while ringing bells at 1pm for the join up time, followed by a period of silence to remember the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 69 years ago.

North Easterners were lucky enough to have some beautiful woodland to unfurl our lengths of scarf in, while the Scottish lengths were mainly used along the grass verge to the west of our milestone.

Once the scarf was fully joined, we stood for a few minutes of triumph, hope and memory. It was all too brief, but a reminder that today was just the culmination of a protest that has happened mainly in people's living rooms, craft groups, pubs, workplaces, trains and cafes over the last 18 months.

The Scottish rolls of scarf were a sight to behold, so many beautiful parcels of creative inspiration. Once liberated from the coach, much time was spent carrying scarf rolls to fill gaps.

Such was the enthusiasm for the project north of the Tees, that we had far more scarf than we could use in our section. So much of it got loaded into a trailer, to support some of the other groups from nearer Aldermaston/Burghfield, who had arrived with more people but less scarf.

Amidst all the excitement of unfurling the scarf, meeting campaigners and helping to organise the Blue milestone, I was unable to view the scarf lengths until we were rolling them up again at the end of the protest. This was an opportunity for renewed inspiration, as I could see the imagination, skill and love that had gone into making lengths with messages, symbols or just sheer beauty knitted and crocheted into them.

Here are some of the North East group towards the end of the protest, when the scarf was rolled up and folk were beginning to head home.

Thanks to all for the inspiration.

Sat, 16 Aug 2014

Nuclear bomb factories joined by pink scarf, and more to spare!

We should have known that we would have more than enough scarf, after our local trips to the Angel of the North and Millennium Bridge in the spring and summer. But the sight of a trailer full of Scottish scarf being taken to other milestones because we didn't need it all at our Blue milestone, and news that the scarf was fully joined along the route, with bells ringing from 1pm and two minutes silence to remember the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 69 years ago, still seemed remarkable.

I'll get a small selection of photos onto the blog site as soon as possible, but meanwhile a mountain of photos from the peace scarf action is online at the separate image gallery.

Holding up a small section of the North East and Scottish scarf with other campaigners across one of the small roads last week, we could feel the immense energy, creativity and hope that had gone into knitting and crocheting each length. Thank you to all who took part.

Between us, we must have knitted 80-100 million stitches. So here's a statistic, to help make sense of the immense cost of our nuclear deterrence policy. If every knitter had thrown into a bonfire 1,000 pounds for each stitch - knit one, throw out 100 £10 notes, purl one, throw another 100 £10 notes  - then we still would not have thrown away as much money as the government plans to spend on replacing Trident.

Tue, 29 Jul 2014

Yet again exceeding our targets - the pink scarf reaches the Millennium Bridge

On Sunday, the #peacescarf stretched from end to end of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. As in May under the Angel of the North, we had more scarf than we expected, stretching to both ends of the bridge with extra to spare in the middle. And we know there's more scarf being knitted as I write: deadline to get this to us is 7th August (unless you can come to the protest on 9th August), please get in touch using the contacts at left hand side if you have extra pieces to contribute. And as in May, lots of bystanders joined in. We're hoping that the weather and local people will be as good to us on 9th August.

As for other images on this Wool Against Weapons blog, you are welcome to use any of these images for your own publications or online, as long as a link is included to this blog. Much larger or higher-resolution versions of the images are also available for publicity purposes, please get in touch if you need one of these images for printing.

For our unfurling on Sunday, we had groups of people and big rolls of scarf on each side of the bridge. On the left is the Newcastle team walking towards the middle of the bridge, and on the right is the final section of the Gateshead team.

After several minutes on the bridge, and a few minutes holding up the scarf as high as we could, we walked off onto Baltic Square, where we talked with more of the bystanders and rolled up our lengths.

Sun, 27 Jul 2014

The Human Peace Scarf at Gateshead Millennium Bridge today

A first batch of images for today's unfurling of the human peace scarf along the bridge is online at the image gallery. I'll post more there and on this blog site shortly, meanwhile suffice to say that we did it. Reaching from end to end of the bridge, with a big surplus loop of scarf in the middle, we had yet again exceeded our target. All bodes well for 9th August.

Time for a more ambitious target perhaps. Global abolition of nuclear weapons perhaps? Yes, we can reach that target too! And for humanity's sake, we must...

Meanwhile, here are two videos from today.

Thu, 24 Jul 2014

Action on back lanes: causes + solutions

Now that Council officers are at last managing to catch up with the worst of our back lane rubbish dumps, it's time for an overview of my proposed five point action plan for dealing with the problem. But first, here is my own list of top four causes.

  1. Swinging cuts to Neighbourhood Services budgets, amounting to 55% over three years. This affects both service standards (rubbish has to be left for longer due to staffing cuts), and levels of management.
  2. A thriving and unregulated private rented sector. This means that landlords are able to re-let properties quickly, without sufficient preparation or even clearing them properly between tenancies.
  3. Austerity measures have left many more tenants in precarious circumstances, increasing levels of arrears, evictions and hasty departures by residents.
  4. Growth is increasingly dependent on consumer spending and excess consumption of over-packaged products.

So here is my five point action plan for tackling the issue in the longer term. None of these measures are sufficient by themselves, none is a complete solution, all require hard work by Councillors and other partners. But all are achievable.

(1) Target the landlords

Landlords should not be dumping rubbish or waste furniture, fridges etc themselves. They should also be passing on information to their tenants, to encourage them to use the recycling and other services properly.

The petition to local estate agents is one part of this action point. Another would be to strengthen and extend the voluntary landlord accreditation scheme, partly with the aim of freezing the worst or least regulated landlords out of the market.

(2) Work with the Universities

Many students set up their first home within Heaton, and need both support and direction. Information about recycling and waste collections should be routinely passed on by the universities.

Elsewhere, universities have paid for additional PCSOs to work in specific areas. They have also employed student community wardens to work with residents and intervene on issues of waste or noise where necessary.

These are the sorts of steps that our Councillors could be pursuing through the university liaison groups.

(3) Set better budgets

The effect of budget cuts in street cleaning and emptying of litter bins has been severe and immediate. While the Council is right to work for behaviour change, the city budget should safeguard spending within our neighbourhoods, in preference to city centre projects.

See our city budget submissions for examples of how this could be achieved. It will be especially important going forward, as both Labour and Tory front benches are committed to further cuts in Council grants, and we need to ensure that there is sufficient money to maintain our neighbourhoods, especially at particular times of the year.

(4) Communal Bins

The proposed communal bins could help keep our back lanes cleaner and suit many of Heaton's terraces, but only if properly implemented. That means an open consultation, exploring technical solutions to some specific issues, running good information campaigns, and extra support and intervention in the early days.

See my previous post on communal bins for further notes.

(5) Tackling consumerism and over-packaging

Many long-standing Green Party policies aim to challenge the link between consumer goods and happiness. For instance, both our commitment to the Living Wage, and our long-term policy for a Citizens' Income, would enable more people to work part-time by choice, a slower lifestyle being good for us and the planet alike (but not so good for the shopping malls).

At a local level, planning and licensing policies can be used to win agreements on plastic bags or other excess packaging. And our priority for small independent shops and street markets would have the side effect of reducing the amount of packaging waste inherent in many supermarket vegetables or chain-store purchases.

permanent link to this post category: /heaton/backlanes

Petition to estate agents - deadline extended

Due to overwhelming support from local residents, I have extended the deadline for the petition to estate agents, which asks them to stop their landlords dumping rubbish in our back lanes. It will now run until 29th August, and you can sign either online or a paper version.

I'm extending the deadline because so many residents have wanted to sign it when we have knocked on their doors. But we will still need petition sheets back by end of August, because we want to give them to estate agents before new tenants arrive in September and October. That is another time when old mattresses and overfull bin bags are thrown out into our back lanes. We all want to avoid the horrendous scenes of drifts of rubbish, which characterised Heaton's back lanes in early July (and in some cases still do).

permanent link to this post category: /heaton/backlanes

Tue, 15 Jul 2014

Join the Human Peace Scarf on 9th August

A growing number of people from the North East will be travelling to the Atomic Weapons Establishment sites in Berkshire on 9th August, to take part in the Wool Against Weapons protest. This is a quick update for anyone planning to go, on travel arrangements and timings.

Is there a coach or minibus from the North East?

We have not organised coach transport, partly because it would need to set off too early on the morning, and partly because most of those going are combining the trip with other visits.

If joining us on 9th August, you will need to stay in the area (e.g. Reading or London) on the night before, but will have time to get home on the afternoon/evening of the 9th. Coaches are booked from London, or you can make your way to Mortimer Station to get one of the shuttle buses. A few of the local group are staying in central Reading, get in touch if you want details so that we can meet up on the evening before.

Alternatively, you could stay in Yorkshire on the Friday night, and get the early morning coach from Leeds or Bradford. Details of the Yorkshire and London coaches are on the CND website.

Where will we be going?

The route is shown on a google map online. We will join Scotland for the blue milestone, which is near the Aldermaston end of the route.

Head for the blue milestone pointer on the map, or for Mortimer Station, where shuttle buses will be running to all the milestone points throughout the morning, and back in the afternoon. Once at the milestone, we'll meet up for briefings and then people will head in each direction with lengths of scarf, until we reach Berkshire and Hampshire groups (to our West), and the Green Party groups (to the East). We hope to have a Saltire flying at the milestone, in solidarity with the 90% of Scottish people who have voted against the nuclear weapons convoys from AWE to Scotland.

When do we need to be there?

Aim to arrive any time from 10am, but by 12 noon latest. That gives enough time to walk to the best location and help with the joining up of the scarf lengths - we can't carry a whole mile of pink scarf at a time! The scarf will be fully joined from 1pm to 2pm. We have then allowed an hour for taking apart into manageable lengths and rolling it up, tidying up the area, singing songs, and waving our fists one last time at the Atomic Weapons Establishment.

From 3pm, shuttle buses will be operating again, to take people back to Mortimer Station. From there, if travelling by train, you should be able to get home on the day.

What should we bring?

Please be as self-sufficient as possible. The only car-space is needed to carry lengths of scarf, so everything else is being taken by hand on public transport. If you can help with carrying string, ribbons, bin bags, toilet paper, first aid kit etc, please get in touch!

And please bring your own sun-cream, hats, waterproofs, water (lots), food. Also placards, banners, darning needles and bells for entertainment at 1pm. A commitment to safety and non-violence. And a spirit of hope and resistance.

Shall we meet up locally first?

Yes please! If you can come along to the Millennium Bridge on 27th July, we can meet up then. Please get in touch if you are joining the human peace scarf on 9th August.

What have we forgotten?

Please get in touch with questions and ideas! We're bound to have forgotten something, and need your help to ensure that everything is in place for an uplifting, safe and enjoyable demo on 9th August.

Let's join Gateshead and Newcastle with a Pink Peace Scarf!

Our final local outing for the human peace scarf will be on Sunday, 27th July. We will meet up at 1:30pm, on each side of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, with separate lengths of scarf.

At 2pm, we will walk onto the bridge, and link our two sections together. We're hoping to have enough to go along the full length of the span over the River Tyne. This will be an exciting moment, as some of the group prepare to head to the Atomic Weapons Establishment on 8th August, for the 7 mile protest on Saturday 9th August. It will also be one of the last opportunities to get your finished length of scarf to us: bring it on the day, or if you can get it to us earlier, we'll get it joined onto the main lengths in advance. See contact details on the local Wool against Weapons site.

Lots of people are needed to help hold up the scarf, so please spread the word, and bring family and friends. No knitting or sewing skills needed for this one!

Sun, 13 Jul 2014

Petition to local estate agents - paper copies available

For those who prefer to sign petitions on paper, or if you would like to invite your friends and neighbours to sign, a printable copy of the petition is now available. You can download it from here.

permanent link to this post category: /heaton/backlanes

Sun, 06 Jul 2014

Action on rubbish in back lanes: (1) petition landlords' agents

piles of rubbish in a South Heaton back lane

Anyone living within the main terraces in South Heaton at the moment will have seen the rubbish in many of our back lanes. If you're lucky enough to have a tidy back lane, you won't have to go far to find something looking like the picture, with overflowing bins, rubbish bags ripped open, or simply old clothes, furnishings and kitchen goods left in a heap.

But this post is about taking some action, not having a moan. So my first proposal is something that all local residents who are concerned about the state of their back lanes can join in with. Much of the rubbish comes into the category of household throw outs: left behind clothing and goods thrown out by tenants on departure, by new tenants on arrival, or (most commonly of all) by landlords when preparing a property for new tenants. This action targets those landlords who go through one of the local estate agents: other proposals will try to tackle the landlords who do not use an agent, via the Council's landlord accreditation scheme and University housing offices.

The petition to local agents has four requests.

  1. Landlords must not throw out bulky waste or clothing in back lanes, but use the local textile recycling facility and the Council's bulky waste collection.
  2. Agents or landlords should remind all outgoing tenants to use their wheeled bins and the local textile recycling facility to dispose of unwanted clothes etc.
  3. Landlords preparing properties for new tenants should make use of the Council's bulky waste collection and local furniture recycling services. Costs should be met by the landlords, this should not be left for new tenants to arrange and pay for.
  4. Agents or landlords should routinely inform all new tenants about local arrangements and dates for waste/recycling collections.

I will visit residents on some of the back alleys to collect signatures on this petition over the coming week. Meanwhile, please feel free to sign it online by completing the form below. Unless you leave the box ticked to receive Green Party updates, I will not retain your name/postcode details online after the petition has been delivered, and I will retain your email address only in order to report back to you what response we get from local agents, after which I will delete it.

The online petition will close on Friday 29th August. Any signatures collected online will then be added to signatures collected on the doorstep, and the petition will be handed into local estate agents on Saturday 30th August 2014.

Update September 2014

The original petition closed end August 2014, and was handed in to several estate agents on Chillingham Road on 30th August. Others will be visited with the petition during September. Initial response has been mostly positive, with some ideas for improvements being greeted positively by agents: an update will appear once we have had more feedback.

Meanwhile, many residents have still wanted to sign the petition, and some streets have only had their Green Summer Update leaflet very recently. So the online petition is again open for signatures, which will be supplied to agents as a supplementary submission in late October (together with any comments you add for their attention).

Sign the petition online here

Your details (to show you're a local resident) First name:
Last name:
Post code:
Petition to local estate agents

Please take action to ensure that your landlords and their tenants use available facilities for recycling and disposal of bulky goods, spare clothing, household furniture or other waste, so that it does not mount up in our back lanes. Rubbish left in back lanes is unsightly, can be dangerous or a health hazard, attracts further fly-tipping and is very unpleasant for other residents.

In particular, please pass on details of local bin collections, textile recycling facilities, the Council's bulky waste collection service and local community furniture re-use schemes to both landlords and their tenants. Please ask landlords:

  1. NOT to throw out bulky waste or clothing in back lanes
  2. to REMIND OUTGOING TENANTS of the services available, and that they should not leave rubbish in back lanes except in the proper bins
  3. to USE THE SERVICES AVAILABLE when preparing properties for new tenants, making all arrangements themselves and not leaving new tenants to arrange or pay for collections of waste goods or furniture
  4. to INFORM ALL NEW TENANTS about local arrangements and dates for waste/recycling collections.

Any additional comment or request to pass on (offensive or spam statements only will be omitted, any other comments will be passed on to agents anonymously)
Your email address (for updates on this petition, will not be passed on to estate agents)
Do you want to receive Green Party news and updates? (if unticked, your personal details will not be retained long-term)
Enter the number in the image (to prove you're a real person)
Click the button to sign the petition

The supplementary online petition will close on Friday 17th October 2014.

permanent link to this post category: /heaton/backlanes

Sun, 29 Jun 2014

Great at sewing up, not so good on the smartphone

Here's a couple of videos of our last sewing-up session in Gosforth, with thanks to Frances for getting these posted, and for clearly being much better than me at the art of videoing with a smartphone! They give a close-up view of some of our most recent sections of scarf.

There's just time for you lovely knitters and crocheters out there to get extra pieces knitted. And if you have lengths to join in, please bring to the last local outing at the Millennium Bridge on Sunday 27th July, or to the Green Party's Northern Pride stall the previous weekend. Thanks!

Sat, 21 Jun 2014

Beauty and the Beast: the pink scarf at Fylingdales

I have received some photos from the Yorkshire CND picnic at Fylingdales on 21st June. Unfortunately, our Tyneside length wasn't able to join theirs, due to lack of transport. But as the photo shows, Yorkshire knitters have set us a high standard when it comes to getting their message sewn into their scarf! In the distance of the photo above, you can see the phased array radar for RAF Fylingdales, which is watching the skies as part of the US Missile Defence program. This has contributed to increased standoff between the US and Russia over the last decade.

The Yorkshire knitters demonstrated a clever technique for holding their scarf up, using bamboo canes, string and clothes pegs. There are plenty of trees around the blue milestone where we will be holding our scarf on 9th August, so we will pack lots of clothes pegs and string in case needed to help hold up all that creative knitted energy.

Here are a few of the Yorkshire lengths on display, showing the great range of pink shades and designs in our scarf lengths.

Some of us were shown around the radar building a few years ago, as part of a Fylingdales public relations exercise. The Officer in charge was keen to hide any evidence of American involvement, though a naive question about the old computers on show revealed that all the equipment belonged to the US and even redundant kit could not be disposed of without their approval. More worrying was the recognition that space is littered with stray objects and unexpected events (our visit came days after the Chinese had blown up one of their redundant satellites, without forewarning the West). Any of these incidents might be misinterpreted, as they have been in the past, and with only seconds or minutes to make snap decisions on whether the Missile Defence system should be deployed, there's a lot hanging on the judgement of the men sitting in the bunker at the bottom of that radar building.

Wed, 14 May 2014

A lesson from Tories and New Labour, with help from North West Greens

How do you take a treasured national institution and much-loved public service, and turn it into a hollowed out, privatised US-style healthcare system? That was Thatcher's dream in the 1980s, but it was left to John Major, Tony Blair and David Cameron to finish the job. Not quite finished, as this excellent cartoon video from the North West Green Party shows, but well on the way. Enjoy and be forewarned!

permanent link to this post category: /health-socialcare

Mon, 05 May 2014

Video of Wool Against Weapons at the Angel

Yesterday's unfurling of our pink scarf was captured on two videos, which you can see below.

Sun, 04 May 2014

With the Angel's Blessing - WE DID IT!

We took our pink peace scarf to the Angel of the North today, to see whether we had knitted enough to stretch the full 54 metres of the Angel's wingspan. As I hope you can see from the image, we had! And as the picture makes clear, there were lots of other visitors to the Angel who enjoyed the spectacle - taking photographs, asking for information and flyers, and even helping us to hold it up. So with a great sense of success so far, we planned some more dates, and these will appear on this site soon. But first, an account of today's action.

First that lovely roll that we sewed up last week is delivered. We're hoping we won't have to carry it too far during the main action on 9th August.

Unrolling started easily enough, until we realised we needed to be on the other side of the path to stop wrapping up all the bystanders in our scarf. Thanks to them all for their patience, navigating a pink peace scarf wasn't in the brochure for the coach party who had just pulled up!

With perfect choreography, the scarf holders set off for the far side of the Angel. We knew we had more than 40 metres, but weren't yet convinced that the scarf would be long enough once held up.

With two helpful bystanders joining in, we had plenty of people to hold up the scarf comfortably (and take photos, and run from end to end to check on progress). But had we bargained for the need to go round the feet and the slope on the far side, both of which added to the 54 metres?

We've got many more photos from today which will get into an online gallery by the end of the week, along with two videos which we'll get online. Meanwhile, if you want bigger/high-resolution versions of any of the images on this site, please get in touch.

Once it was all unfurled, I first scrutinised the far end, to check that our anchor person was perfectly in line with the Angel's northern wing-tip.

Then back to the southern tip, to check it against the final piece, held up by Green Party Euro candidate Shirley Ford. As you can probably see, she was beyond the edge of the wingspan (where I am standing and pointing). Our pink scarf is at least 57 metres long. Wow!

OK, so an extra 3 metres isn't going to lead directly to an outright ban on nuclear weapons, as most countries are now calling for and working towards. But it's a good sign for the grassroots action that is needed to make sure that nuclear weapons are, in the Austrian Prime Minister's words to the United Nations last September, stigmatised, banned and eliminated.

Fri, 02 May 2014

Torn down and mutilated - lessons from a UKIP poster

Jusdging from conversations with local residents, many of Heaton's voters will be pleased to see that someone has mutilated a local copy of a xenophobic UKIP poster.

Migrants benefit us both financially and socially. The Green Vision I set out for Heaton two years ago mentioned the need to ensure that strangers feel welcome, and continuing austerity does not dim the need for that vision.

UKIP's attack on this vision is despicable, but it does not come from nowhere. They can attack the welfare state, international aid and immigrants, because other parties have failed to make the argument for such a vision. After 13 years of Labour government, inequalities soared, the privatised system of assessments for sickness benefits was established, and rights to asylum were repeatedly curbed. Nobody in government made positive arguments for a welfare state, in which protections for the ill and the poor benefit us all. We never heard strong arguments in favour of multi-culturalism, despite the advantages of living in a more diverse society. And the politics of immigration and asylum was always about how far should we limit. That is why, within months of taking power, the Tory/LibDem government was able to start dismantling the NHS and to introduce a privatised work programme. It's a bit late for the big parties to blame UKIP now, for merely continuing what they began.

And now to counter one of the sillier arguments for curbing immigration. Some groups suggest we need greater immigration controls for environmental reasons, because an expanding population is putting more pressure on finite resources. That last point is of course correct, though the increasing consumption and energy use of the world's (and this country's) existing population remains an even greater threat.

But the idea that concern about a growing world population should lead to more curbs on immigration misses the point, both logically and morally. Climate change is a global crisis, and trying to create a perfectly-balanced population within our island while the rest of the world plunges into war or climate chaos isn't going to help us. Nor can any immigration policy be justified, which fails to consider the root causes of migration, especially conflict, poverty, human rights abuses, insecurity and (increasingly often) environmental degradation. We need to address those root causes, not double-punish the victims by erecting bigger borders.

The good news is that increased security and reduced child mortality have proved to be the most effective recipe for curbing population growth. So tackling the root causes of immigration itself helps to limit the birth rate and thereby (a generation later) reduce population growth. It goes hand in hand with living more sustainably within our island, but not with further xenophobic immigration curbs.

permanent link to this post category: /heaton/elections

Mon, 28 Apr 2014

A little stretch and we're there!

At the end of an upbeat sewing up session in Gosforth Garden Village Hall yesterday, we rolled up our completed pink scarf length so far, ready for its trip to the Angel next Sunday 4th May.

It doesn't look that big does it? But hidden inside that roll is metre upon metre of creative hope and inspired stitching. We had knitters bearing scarf lengths from Hexham to Sunderland, Wideopen to Whitley Bay. The two hours passed quickly, and we thought we would never get it all sewn together. But as 4 o'clock approached, we realised that the mountains of pink metres were all joined, and it was time for some practice at holding it up.

We counted the lengths: 40 of them. We also realised that many of them are quite a bit longer than a metre - a case of knitters going the extra rows for peace and a world free of nuclear weapons. And our practice at holding up the scarf suggested that we'll need need to stretch it a bit to hold it up successfully.

Will we want to stretch it enough to reach the tips of the Angel's wingspan? We'll only know that when we get to the Angel of the North next Sunday, 4th May. We'ld love lots of people to come along and help us unfurl it beneath the Angel at 12 noon - please be there by 11:30 if possible (especially if you have an extra piece to sew on). The no.21 bus to Chester-le-Street from Newgate Street and Gateshead interchange will drop you off at the Angel and runs every 10 minutes.

Sun, 27 Apr 2014

Imagine ... what would Democracy look like if everyone was involved?

It's meant to mean government of the people, by the people, for the people. Abraham Lincoln's vision of democracy has inspired millions to fight for the right to vote, from women in the UK 100 years ago, to black people in apartheid South Africa before 1994. Lincoln was inspired by an abolitionist Minister's statement,

Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, for all the people, by all the people
So why is the all the people part still such an issue in Heaton?

Analysis of recent electoral registers coupled with my knowledge of particular streets, suggests that 700 or more households within South Heaton are not on the current register. Most of these households are occupied, many by multiple adults (often students, and often from other parts of Europe). On a very conservative estimate of two adults per unregistered household, there are almost certainly more people with a right to vote who aren't on the electoral register, than the 1,304 who voted in last year's by-election. From feedback while our recent canvassing, it is clear that there are many other households with new residents who are not on the register.

These are people who are not even counted in the official 'voter turnout' figures. They are invisible to the mainstream politicians, and unsurprisingly ignored by them. They are also often the people living in the worst quality private rented housing, most dependent on zero hours contracts, and least well served by government or council services alike.

Which is what makes this weekend's Join the Vote campaign by 38 Degrees, Bite the Ballot and others so welcome. I was particularly encouraged to see Generation Rent involved in Join the Vote, given the close association between Private Rented Housing and non-registration within Heaton.

And if you or your neighbours or friends are not currently registered to vote, here are a few pointers.

Imagine what our country might look like, if our democracy was dominated as much by the needs of a younger, more transient, less secure population, as it currently is by the settled householders?

It will take more than some inspired campaigns led by young people to change democracy. I know that Green Party canvassers are playing their part too, as we don't confine our canvassing to registered households or to known, safe voters. (As Greens, we don't have any 'safe' votes and have to work for every one!) But ultimately, it is only when politicians show that they care about the needs of those who are currently not inspired to vote, that will we turn the tide on apathy and begin to realise the dream of government of the people, by the people, for the people.

permanent link to this post category: /heaton/elections

Wed, 23 Apr 2014

Help to Turn Heaton Green

Residents across Newcastle are doubtless emtpying their recycling bins, ready for the flurry of election leaflets about to come through the letterbox.

So here is a digital logo you can use online. But if you prefer the printed version, you can click on it to download a poster for this year's local election in South Heaton ward.

If you want lots of window posters for friends and neighbours, please don't print a big batch of these. Instead get in touch, and a local Green Party volunteer will bring round a batch for you.

permanent link to this post category: /heaton/elections

Fri, 18 Apr 2014

Towards Back Lane Utopia?

Those of us living in the Heaton terraces are due to have individual wheelie bins removed over the next year, and replaced with a set of large communal bins for waste and recycling. Does that sound like defeat in the overflowing bins battle, or an imaginative approach to the problem that has blighted so many of our back lanes?

I think that this is potentially a very good idea. Many residents don't perceive their bins as their own responsibility, and for them a communal solution makes more sense. Many new residents do not know which bins are collected when, and for them having both waste and recycling bins always to hand will make sense. Bigger bins don't get blown over every autumn, shedding litter all the way to the railway line. Their lids are less likely to be broken off, so no more bins filling with rainwater and rotting rubbish bags. And the back lanes will be much easier to keep clean without having to move every bin out from the wall.

But bigger isn't always better. Rubbish thrown on top of a big bin of recycling could consign even more to landfill. Heavy lids may be difficult for some residents to open. And commuunal bins can overflow and attract rubbish as well as wheelie bins.

As so often with any bright idea, the devil is in the detail. Well implemented, with sufficient investment and information upfront, the communal bins could significantly improve our back lanes. But if they are merely introduced with minimal information and no extra checks in the first few weeks, we could just be replacing one set of messy bins by another.

So here is what I have suggested to Council officers should be put in place, to give the communal bins rollout the best chance of success.

  1. A good information campaign in advance of communal bin introductions, for the particular streets concerned. This should include door knocking as well as leaflets, and can be used to determine who would be happy to have one of the bins near their back gate, and who wouldn't.
  2. Repeat information campaign once the new bins are in place.
  3. Clear labelling on each bin, to indicate what can go in it, and whom to contact if it is over-full.
  4. Additional patrols for the first 4-6 weeks, to ensure that the bins are being used properly and to pick up any problems early.
  5. An active programme to replace damaged bins or illegible labels.
  6. Repeated information campaigns, including one in September/October when many new residents first arrive.

The City Council should be able to make considerable long-term savings from this project - but only if it puts in extra support and doesn't look for budget savings from day one of the introduction.

Let me know what you think.

permanent link to this post category: /heaton

Wed, 16 Apr 2014

Putting Power in its Place

You may have seen her on last night's BBC Look North, talking about Carlisle's new sustainable Meals on Wheels project, and the need to support local small businesses. Or on BBC3's Free Speech, covering topics such as education and benefits. Or on Radio 4's The Westminster Hour (from 35.24 minutes in), about Green Party policies and the Euro elections.

Soon you can listen to Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett yourselves, when she comes to Newcastle for a day conference on music and politics at the Sage. Natalie will speak and answer questions on the theme, Putting Power in its Place, at 7:30pm on Monday 28th April, at the Arts Centre on Westgate Road.

You can download a flyer for this event here. If you can use or distribute a large number of fliers, please don't print a big batch but get in touch.

permanent link to this post category: /tyneside

Tue, 15 Apr 2014

The pink(ish) scarf just keeps on growing

Here are photos of a few of the Wool Against Weapons scarf lengths completed so far.

These and many more will be at our knit and sew up session, on Sunday 27 April, 2-4pm.

Venue for session on 27 April is now confirmed, as Gosforth Garden Village Hall (near Regent Centre Metro, please get in touch for directions).

After sewing our lengths together (and perhaps knitting a few more, extra knitters are all welcome!), we will take the length to the Angel of the North, on Sunday 4 May.

The scarf will be unfurled under the Angel's wings at noon on 4 May, please be there at 11:30 if you have extra lengths to sew on and to help with the unfurling!

After the Angel, we'll be knitting more lengths, and hope lots of you will be too! We'll then head to the North Yorks Moors for a picnic at Fylingdales (21 June), and to Atomic Weapons Establishments in Berkshire for the big day (9 August).

Fuller details are online.

Sun, 13 Apr 2014

Because a better Heaton IS possible

There's a lot good about living in Heaton. The streets are vibrant and feel safe. There are good green spaces nearby, and lots of live music. That's why some of us have stayed here for a decade or more.

But there are also too many residents living in sub-standard housing, or unable to pay their way following benefit changes. Ever-rising bus prices can leave people feeling trapped, and our local high streets struggle against the onslaught of the supermarket chains and online giants.

You should all be receiving a copy of the latest Green News leaflet this weekend or in the next few days. If you have not received your copy by Easter, please get in touch.

permanent link to this post category: /heaton/elections

Sat, 12 Apr 2014

YES to Reform, NO to Abolition

That sounds like our Euro elections campaign. But it also summarises my response to the Government consultation on civil partnerships, which closes next Thursday 17th April.

The consultation is mean-spirited and narrowly focused. There is an implicit reluctance to undertake it (the government were forced into agreeing it during the equal marriage debates in Parliament), and no commitment to follow up anything that comes out of it. And it rules out anything substantial, like making same-sex marriage truly equal, or extending civil partnerships to non-sexual relationships, or reforming marriage law more substantially.

But it's still important to take part in it. Otherwise, low numbers of responses will feed complacency, and the government can claim it has no evidence that continuing inequalities in civil partnership law matter. They do matter, because inequality always matters. So my response is below. More importantly, you can leave yours by going to the consultation website

I believe civil partnerships should not be abolished because
I am in a civil partnership and would not wish to convert it to a marriage. There will be others like me, as well as straight couples who would choose civil partnership over marriage for legal recognition of their relationship, if it were available. Reform of civil partnerships to open them up to non-sexual relationships (for instance, between elderly siblings) would be valued, and the refusal of this consultation to consider that possibility is a mistake.

Once marriage is available to same sex couples, do you think it should still be possible for couples to form a civil partnership as an alternative to marrying?
YES (no room for comments)

I believe civil partnerships should be extended to opposite sex couples because
Not to open up civil partnerships is to limit equality, and equality before the law should not be limited. In countries where this is available, it has proved popular with opposite sex couples. For instance, 94% of French PACS unions are between straight couples, and they have been popular with straight couples in the Netherlands since 1998.

Are there any costs and benefits that are not included in this document...
Costs involved in abolishing existing civil partnerships would arise from those of us who would refuse to have our relationship branded as marriage and continue to insist on being referred to as civil partners. Benefits would accrue from opening up civil partnerships because many cohabiting couples who choose not to marry would opt for a civil partnership, saving legal wrangles and complications for surviving partners and their children. Benefits would also accrue from opening up civil partnerships because a more equal society almost always does better.

Are there any detailed implementation issues that are not included in this document...
Because the consultation refuses to countenance further reform of marriage law more generally, despite the fact that this has changed regularly and fundamentally over the last millennium, means that the options are necessarily limited and imperfect. In the first place, rules for survivor pensions, adultery and non-consummation should be equalised, and longer term the licensing of religious marriages and their relationship with civil marriages should be revisited: my submission to the previous equal marriage consultation contains some starting proposals in this area.

permanent link to this post category: /lgbt

Mon, 07 Apr 2014

DIY streets coming (at last) to Heaton

Is traffic too fast or badly parked outside the school gates? Are some of the cycle routes in the wrong place? Are there no-go areas for pedestrians on some of our residential streets? Or perhaps you have seen imaginative traffic calming or street surfaces in other places, which would work well in your own street or on our high streets?

Slower traffic speeds and more people-friendly street layouts can make a big difference to our neighbourhood. Getting cyclists off crowded pavements and into a safe road space, improves life for both cyclists and pedestrians. Safer streets have more people around them, which not only helps local trade, but also encourages other residents to go out and meet people or shop locally.

So the Sustrans project called DIY streets is worth following and taking part in. Their consultations will come to Heaton within the next few weeks or months, and provide an effective way for residents to pool ideas. Funding is limited, so not every good idea will be followed through, and the consultations will be used to prioritise streets or junctions where the greatest improvements are needed and possible.

It's time to have a look around, imagine for a moment that anything is possible, and look out for the DIY Streets meetings. Meanwhile, go to the DIY Streets website (you can use the Follow link to keep in touch with any updates). And you don't need to wait any longer to complete their online Heaton Survey.

permanent link to this post category: /heaton

Fri, 04 Apr 2014

Moving from fine words to deeds in Council procurement

I have noticed that my contribution to the Council's review of how it does business in 2012 never made it onto this blog. So here is my submission to the procurement review.

Sadly I don't see much sign that the Council has prioritised or understood the needs of small local businesses in its buying policies, beyond use of the Quick Quotes online scheme for small contracts.

permanent link to this post category: /tyneside

Thu, 03 Apr 2014

At last a good proposal for the high street

As any reader of The Journal will know, the Council's Red Routes proposal is causing a big stir in Gosforth. So below is my contribution to this debate.

Meanwhile, you have just one more day to take part in the survey and let the Council know your views, on the Lets Talk Newcastle site.

Dear Editor,

from the perspective of Chillingham and Shields Roads, I can understand why some Gosforth traders don't trust the Council's plans for their high street. Double yellow lines are a blunt tool that only scared customers away, the council's support for ASDA impacted heavily on neighbouring stores in Shields Road, and subsidising free city centre evening parking continues to draw people away from all the neighbourhood centres.

But the worst thing that the Council could do would be to allow our high streets to become even more congested and dangerous, or to become so dominated by cars that cyclists and pedestrians are scared away. To thrive, streets need to feel safe, to be busy with people, and accessible for the elderly and for bus users.

Probably neither of the Red Route proposals will be enough by themselves to counter the onslaught of supermarket giants and Amazon sweatshops. But the 20mph speed limits, better cycle routes and safer pedestrian crossings will help. They might even lure me back, to explore what Gosforth High Street has to offer.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Gray

permanent link to this post category: /transport

Sun, 30 Mar 2014

We're off to the Angel of the North: date and time announced

After another upbeat group session yesterday, the local Wool Against Weapons group confirms plans to take our scarf length to the Angel of the North, and measure our progress so far against the Angel's 54 metre wingspan.

Below is the press release sent out last week. The website has been revamped too, with details of our events and useful links.

From the Angel to Aldermaston, northern knitters join 7 mile peace scarf project

Press briefing, 27 March 2014 (no embargo)

A growing group of knitters from Tyneside and Northumberland has joined the Wool Against Weapons project, to knit a section of a 7 mile pink scarf. The scarf will be stretched between the two Atomic Weapons Establishment sites in Berkshire on 9th August 2014, in an anti-nuclear protest being described as the world's biggest ever yarn bomb.(1)

Tyneside's contribution is already well advanced, with 20-30 metres of scarf knitted or on the needles. The Tyneside pink scarf will be taken to the Angel of the North on Sunday 4th May, when it will be unfurled beneath the Angel's 54 metre wing span at noon.

"Wool Against Weapons is greeted enthusiastically wherever we mention it," says Andrew Gray, one of the local coordinators. "I was at a conference in early March, and somebody came up to me to ask why so many of us were knitting. The number of people joining in just keeps growing - which is lucky, as we need 11,000 one metre lengths to get from Aldermaston to Burghfield."

Jeanie Molyneux adds, "Wool Against Weapons is part of a growing international movement to ban nuclear weapons. In September, the Austrian President urged that nuclear weapons should be 'stigmatised, banned and eliminated'. We're calling on the government to disarm its nuclear weapons, before the vast majority of the world's governments declare them illegal."(3)

The Tyneside group is planning additional events and outings for its length of scarf, after unfurling it under the Angel on 4th May. In August, several local knitters will be travelling to Berkshire with the scarf, to join it onto other sections coming from around the world. They will then bring it back to Tyneside, where it will be taken apart and re-assembled into two metre square blankets, and donated to local hospices or disaster relief efforts.

Andrew and Jeanie are available to talk further about the project, and there will be an opportunity for journalists to meet with members of the group at one of our monthly knitting sessions, before we measure it against the Angel's wings at noon on 4th May. Further information from Andrew Gray or Jeanie Molyneux as below.


[see left hand side]


(1) Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston (Berkshire) is responsible for the research and development of new nuclear weapons, and the maintenance and testing of the current weapons. Its sister site 7 miles distant, AWE Burghfield, assembles the plutonium shapes with explosives and other fissile materials, to create the warheads. Further information [see links at left hand side]. 9th August is the anniversary of the second (and so far the last) use of a nuclear weapon in wartime, on Nagasaki in Japan, 9th August 1945.

(3) The Austrian President's comments were made to the United Nations General Assembly on 24 September 2013. Austria has agreed to host the next conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons later this year. At the second humanitarian conference, in Mexico in February 2014, growing numbers of countries called for nuclear weapons to be banned: see report at http://tx0.org/7cc.


Sat, 29 Mar 2014

Let's go pink for a day

For one day last year, this blog turned red in memoriam (or perhaps it was in shame). Let's celebrate a more upbeat event today, as we go pink to mark the first gay marriages in the UK. I can't put it better than Peter Tatchell:

Same-sex marriage is an unstoppable global trend because love and commitment are universal human traits, regardless of sexual orientation or nationality. No ignorance or prejudice can hold back the triumph of love,

As Peter has pointed out, today is not the first time that same-sex marriage has been legal in the UK. There was no ban on two men or two women marrying each other in the 1949 Marriage Act, with the prohibition only entering the statute books in 1971. Peter tells a good story about the Westminster Registrar who paniced on realising that the 1949 act didn't ban gay marriage, when gay campaigners from OutRage! attempted to register marriages back in 1992.

Nor is it the first time that marriage legislation has been fundamentally changed by Parliament, in the teeth of religious opposition. And, as I suggested in the 2012 equal marriage consultation, it should not be the last.

It's also not-quite-equal marriage, not technically full equality. But that discussion will resurface in a later post, so meanwhile let's celebrate.

permanent link to this post category: /lgbt

Fri, 28 Mar 2014

16 degrees and falling: why Private Rented Housing needs more than hot air

The government has just hosted a consultation on how conditions could be improved within the private rented sector. It doesn't contain much that is radical, and is clearly meant to be landlord-friendly (under the guise of disliking red tape). So are the (few) good ideas within it just straw men to be dismissed post-consultation, or might even this government recognise the problems caused by the many rogue (and many more not-particularly-good) landlords out there? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, congratulations to 38 degrees for spotting this consultation, just in time before it closed today. Hopefully lots of people took the opportunity to ensure that the government heard more than the responses of landlords. My own response follows.

I'm worried about property conditions in lots of private rented homes. I live in Heaton within Newcastle upon Tyne, and have spoken to many of the younger (and some older) residents who are in private rented housing over the last few months. I have heard many stories of damp, mushrooms, draughts and landlords putting up the rent because they have spent their own money decorating the rooms. The issue is not merely the minority of really 'rogue' landlords, but the more general substandard nature of much of the private rented sector. But I think this consultation has good proposals, even though wider reform is needed.

In particular, I support plans to:

  • Stop landlords evicting tenants for requesting urgent repairs
  • Make landlords pay back rent if they've illegally evicted a tenant or where the property is in a serious state of disrepair
  • Require landlords to install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
  • Ensure landlords carry out regular electrical safety checks

Strengthening voluntary accreditation schemes is important, not least as Councils have no spare resources to put into such schemes in order to make them more effective. So some DCLG funding to support sharing of best practice, in ways to strengthen accreditation, would be good. For instance, Councils should work with universities, post offices, local shops, libraries and estate agents to limit opportunities for non-accredited landlords to advertise their properties, so freezing the rogue landlords out of the market and ensuring greater uptake. This should be combined with good information campaigns. A pot of money could be provided by DCLG for local authorities to bid into for this work. On selective licensing of properties, the current conditions are very restrictive (evidence of ASB and/or difficulty of letting properties). An additional condition, that selective licensing be allowed where there is evidence of significantly substandard housing within a particular (usually quite small) area would be helpful.

Even more helpful would be controlled rents and more security for tenants, so that landlords see their properties as a very long-term investment rather than a way of making a quick buck. But I recognise that those are outwith the scope of your review, and unlikely to find favour with the current government.

I'm not too keen on the idea of the government inviting local councils to bid into pots of money, doling it out to those who do what the government wants while pretending to be devolving more powers. But it is the way Eric Pickles likes to operate. Hence the suggestion about how to improve landlord accreditation schemes above.

permanent link to this post category: /heaton

Wed, 19 Mar 2014

Using outdated economics to justify the wrong project

It's not often that I agree with two MPs who both have associations with Newcastle's East End, Nick Brown and Kevan Jones. But in their disagreement with Nick Forbes of the City Council, the MPs are on the right side of the argument. The disagreement stems from moves by the HS2 chair to speed up development of the Leeds section of the proposed high speed rail line to London.

The HS2 chair, David Higgins, continues to claim that the new line would bring economic benefits to the North (which he apparently thinks starts at Birmingham and ends in Leeds). But research has shown that the biggest beneficiary of the development will be London. This is hardly surprising, as HS2 will simply fuel further the region's dependence on London, and perpetuate the myth that successful Northern businesses have to trade primarily via London, or have headquarters in the capital city.

A Green economy would encourage northern cities to work and trade with each other, and support direct links to Northern European and Scandinavian countries via our North Sea links. We have plenty here that the capital city can't offer, and it's time we capitalised on it... Remaining dependent on London will simply ensure that we remain second class citizens within our nation's skewed economy.

It's not just Greens who see through the mirage of HS2. As so often, Newcastle's John Tomaney testified to the same effect to the Transport Select Committee back in 2011. It's good to see similar arguments on the !ChangeIt petition about HS2.

Time for our City Council leaders to stop being bewitched by false promises offered by big projects like HS2, and to remember that their first duty is to locally-based small business, not the London-based giants.

permanent link to this post category: /transport

Mon, 17 Mar 2014

Ignoring the Science: why neither badgers nor people can have faith in DEFRA

The online petition link in the box at left hand side should be self-explanatory. But in case not....

You might remember Environment Secretary Owen Paterson as the one who claims that the destruction of ancient woodland can be offset by planting trees elsewhere. Or as the minister in charge of a response to the floods, you may recall his climate change scepticism.

But nothing beats his accusation against badgers in last year's 'pilot' cull zones, whom he accused of moving the goalposts. You can even play an online version of that one if you want. So what chance is there that his department (DEFRA) will listen to the science when it comes to the latest reports on last year's badger culls?

Owen Paterson's track record isn't good and we certainly deserve better. So that's why we need local Councils everywhere to add their voices to those who have campaigned tirelessly against the cull in the South West. And that's why I'm supporting Operation Badger. Our petition to Newcastle City Council calls on the council to prohibit badger culling on its own land, and to invest in vaccination programmes locally.

Please sign the petition online (or use the link below the menus at left hand side or end of blog stories). The badger in the picture last came out to protest two years ago. We need to make sure it will still be safe for her to come out of hiding in two years' time.

DEFRA under the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition has been dubbed the department that Does Everything Farmers' Representatives Ask by some environmentalists. For the sake of wildlife and farmers alike, let's ensure that they don't repeat the mistakes of Foot and Mouth Disease, when blind faith in culling decimated our local countryside. So please share the Operation Badger petition once you have signed it.

Please get in touch if you would like to receive updates about plans for handing in the petition to the Council in a few months' time.

permanent link to this post category: /environment/operationbadger

Tue, 11 Mar 2014

Is the Community the best defence against Corruption?

Last week the Metropolitan Police was branded institutionally corrupt by Jack Straw. The allegation is a fair one, following the shocking revelations in the Ellison report, about the corrupt officer involved in the original Stephen Lawrence investigation, about information withheld from the McPherson inquiry, and about undercover infiltration of the Lawrence family itself.

This comes on top of corruption allegations arising from phone hacking and related investigations, and continuing attempts to thwart legal action by women who are still recovering from revelations that they have had relationships with undercover police. So why is the Met police force so corrupt?

That was the question I put this evening to Vera Baird, Northumbria's Police and Crime Commissioner. She was speaking about her role and the principles that should underpin policing, at Northumbria University. Her answer was fair enough, pointing to the size of the Met as a possible factor, and trying to reassure us that Northumbria is very different.

But there must be more than size involved. Like Vera Baird, I can't offer an easy explanation about the causes of institutional corruption within the Metropolitan Police. But their emphasis on counter-terror and other 'national' roles, must have something to do with it. So must the fact that policing by consent has broken down in parts of London and among some of its communities, due in part to excess use of stop and search powers. Without consent, policing becomes divorced from the people, and arrogant. Guarding the capital city and country's parliament feeds the same arrogance, exacerbating the sense that the police are not here to serve local people. An arrogant force that thinks it is superior to its community, is more open to corruption.

permanent link to this post category: /policing

Sun, 09 Mar 2014

Searching this blog: new features

I doubt you'll need to refer to this page, but it gives the see help link next to the search box at top of page something to link to. Below are the instructions for advanced use of that box, though in practice you shouldn't need to do more than type in a word and click on the button if you're looking for something.

I've also added a calendar with clickable links to posts from previous months and years at the bottom of the left hand pane (or below the menus at very end of page, if you're viewing this on a mobile or small-screen device).

Use of search box

This is from the documentation, within the perl module.

term1 term2; term1 or term2
These match any page with term1 OR term2

term1 and term2; +term1 +term2
These match any page with both term1 AND term2

term1 not term2; term1 -term2
This matches pages with term1 that DO NOT contain term2

term1 not (term2 term3)
This matches pages with term1 that DO NOT contain term2 OR term3

"term1 term2 term3"
This matches the exact phrase, term1 term2 term3
" pen "
This will match the word "pen", but not the word "pencil".

You can also use regular expressions within your search terms to further refine your searches, creating a very powerful search engine.

permanent link to this post category:

Sat, 08 Mar 2014

Why is Labour making alliances with the Tories?

From Bristol to Brighton, Labour councillors seem to have forgotten that they're meant to be in opposition to the Tories. In Brighton, they have conspired with Tories to vote down the Green budget proposals, increasing austerity and social care cuts within the Council. And in Bristol, they have done a deal with the Tories to choose a Lord Mayor who is known for his homophobia.

So what unites Bristol and Brighton? Good Green councillors of course, who are using skill and imagination to counter the cuts. In Brighton, the Greens proposed a budget with a 4.75% council tax rise. This would have required a local referendum, and meant that the Greens were the first ruling group in the country to propose holding a Council Tax referendum. They were up to the challenge of arguing in favour of a rise to save social care services, and ready to stand up to Eric Pickles (who must have thought that no Council would dare break ranks by holding a referendum on an above 2% rise).

Labour's response? Not Defend social care services for vulnerable elderly, or Let the people decide. but How can we get one over the Greens. Instead of working with the Greens (ruling from a minority position), they went into alliance with the Tories to defeat the budget. Not for the first time, it's Labour and Tories on the same side in Brighton, and the city suffers. To avoid Eric Pickles taking over the running of the Council, Greens have been forced by this unholy alliance to agree a budget that cuts hard into social care services, and leaves the city much more vulnerable in the longer term.

Meanwhile, Labour and Tories have been having secret meetings in Bristol too. This time, it is to elect a Lord Mayor with a history of homophobia. Bristol Green councillors expect to break with tradition and vote against the election of Chris Windows as Lord Mayor, following his comment that he was unhappy and a little disturbed at Stonewall's involvement in local schools, and in visits by Ian McKellen to act as a role model. He now claims that his comments were taken out of context; that he didn't want Stonewall and Ian McKellen to encourage gay schoolchildren to come out in case they became victims of homophobic bullying. So does he advocate that we should all stay in the closet as a 'solution' to homophobia?

That's an attitude that you might expect from some Tory councillors. But you might have thought that Labour wouldn't do a deal for such a person to be the ceremonial figurehead of a great city like Bristol.

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Tue, 04 Mar 2014

South Heaton Private Rented Survey, 2013/2014

Our survey on Private Rented Housing includes just a few things that the Council could do to help those in rented accommodation, and to improve our streets and back lanes for all local residents. This list is far from exhaustive, and is designed to indicate the kinds of things that the Council could do to intervene in the private rented market, in order to improve things for both those in private rented housing, and their neighbours.

Apologies that I didn't get these notes and the survey poll online before now.

If you would like to vote for one of these options, you can use the quick poll at the bottom of the page. Sorry that the poll doesn't allow you to vote for more than one (or even all four) of the options: get in touch if you like more than one of them!

(1) Have a tougher Landlord accreditation system

Compulsory licensing of landlords is not possible here under current legislation, but accreditation standards could be made tougher, or agreements reached with local businesses not to accept advertisements from un-accredited landlords; accreditation covers deposit guarantee schemes and quality of accommodation, so supports good landlords as well as penalising bad ones.

(2) Publish reviews of properties by previous tenants

If prospective tenants could view impartial reviews of a property by those who've lived there in a previous year, this would be much more useful than a brief summer visit to a newly-decorated flat accompanied by a smiling estate agent.

(3) Ban 'To Let' boards

The Council agreed in January 2013 to apply to the Secretary of State for a ban on letting boards within certain areas (including South Heaton, which has the biggest density of letting boards in the city), but only sent off the application in July, so a decision could still be months away; the ban is supported by students, as boards are not used by them to find properties, but merely provide advertising for estate agents.

(4) Provide better information (e.g. on bin collections)

A much better information campaign is needed following the introduction of fortnightly bin collections, as the system clearly isn't working in some areas; the same principle applies to other services (noise helpline, environmental health officer etc).

(5) Other — your ideas?

I am sure you will have your own ideas, so am keen to hear from you. The Contacts page includes my details if you want to get in touch.

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Promoted by Andrew Gray, 61 Addycombe Terrace, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 5NB

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