Category Archives: LOCAL ECONOMIES

SUSTAINABLE HOUSING FOR SMALL HEATH & Green New Deal endnote

Alan Clawley believed that maintenance and improvement of the built environment is the starting point for urban regeneration and localisation. In 2002 WMNEG was awarded a grant by the West Midlands Social Economy Partnership to do an action research study. Study visits were made and a report was published in 2004 for distribution to policy-makers, practitioners and academics.

The study, “Sustainable Housing in Small Heath” (2004), is the illustrated story of the year-long study into the application of renewable energy in an inner-city neighbourhood. In section seven of his report on Small Heath he set out his thoughts on this.

The large scale urban renewal schemes of the 80s was seen by government as the only an alternative to massive clearance, redevelopment with municipal housing and building huge new council estates on the edge of the city or further afield in new or expanded towns. The Conservative government with Michael Heseltine, its leading minister, was enthusiastic about it at the time.

The New Labour government has moved even further down this path. Few council houses have been built and within a few years there may be no council owned housing at all. The job of managing and building social housing has been passed to the voluntary housing movement.

Whoever is responsible for “social housing” in Small Heath it is inconceivable that they will try to return to the days of mass clearance and redevelopment. They will have enough on their plate dealing with the legacy of the former council housing built since the war without worrying about poor owner-occupiers. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that some form of public intervention will be needed in the next decade to ensure the future of its people and their houses.

THE MEANS

We have the technology for sustainable housing now. For the last twenty years the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales has been trying out new ideas for ecological housing. Their website describes the technologies which are available now, publications, consultancies and training courses. The basic tools in the sustainability tool box include photo-voltaic roof tiles, solar heaters, super-insulation, rainwater collection, and reed beds. There are many more yet to come.

Fitting all 8,500 houses in Small Heath with a solar water heater would be a start. A more detailed technical and financial feasibility study needs to be done to get an idea of the total costs involved over many years and suggest means by which it could be financed. There are now many ecological consultants and green architectural practices capable of doing this.

There are no solar panels in areas like Small Heath: the application of this technology to Small Heath is the next step. If a big impact is to be made then it is in areas such as Small Heath that progress must be made. This will not happen on its own, nor can it be left to the manufacturers of green building products to sell them to the residents of Small Heath. Government must take the first step to make sustainable housing affordable and available to people on the lowest incomes. This will certainly require a new Act of Parliament, along the lines of the Housing Act 1974. A private members bill will not be adequate.

The practical approach would be like that used by Urban Renewal in the 80s as described earlier. This will mean organising work at the individual, street and neighbourhood levels:

  • A local project team should be set up for Small Heath with staff skilled in sustainable housing.
  • An open competition for providing the service could be held for which suitable agencies, such as housing associations, surveyors, architects, community development trusts, voluntary organisations, and even departments of the City Council are invited to bid.
  • Small factories and workshops should be set up at the start to make, install and maintain the components needed.
  • Local people would be employed and trained to run the businesses and do the work.

No time limit should be put on the programme. The process of converting old houses into sustainable houses should be seen as a continuous process of renewal that needs long term support, not bursts of funding.

 

ENDNOTE: 2018

Colin Hines, convenor of the Green New Deal Group, has advocated such ‘retrofitting’ measures nation-wide.  In the Guardian last week he adds: 

“A climate-friendly infrastructure programme would make the UK’s 30m buildings super-energy efficient, dramatically reduce energy bills, fuel poverty and greenhouse gas emissions.  Building affordable, highly insulated new homes, predominantly on brown field sites, would involve a large number of apprenticeships and professional jobs, as well as opportunities for the self-employed and local small businesses. This can be paid for by “people’s quantitative easing”, from fairer taxes, local authority bonds and green ISAs”.

 

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New Economics:  a local alternative to Uber

Transport for London has decided not to give Uber a new license, though its application (Uber requires drivers and users to have a smartphone) will still be operational in London while Uber appeals against the decision. Problems have arisen partly due to the company’s policy of not finding out whether the prospective driver has a criminal record.

An Uber executive from the scandal-prone company is said to have advocated hiring investigators to “dig up dirt” on journalists who criticize them. A commissioner in Virginia who opposed Uber was flooded with emails and calls after the company distributed his personal contact information to its users in the state.

Uber has been banned from or – due to legal restrictions – has voluntarily pulled out of Alaska, Oregon (except Portland), Vancouver, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, German, London, the Northern Territory in Australia, Japan, and Taiwan.

The New Economics Foundation has called for a mutually-owned, publicly-regulated alternative to Uber, providing better working conditions for drivers and higher safety standards for passengers.

Stefan Baskerville (NEF: Unions and Business) said: “Digital platforms are here to stay and technology cannot be reversed. The question now is how they should be controlled and by whom, as well as the standards they set and how they treat people. It is time to develop alternative models which put people back in control”.

As NEF points out, drivers in different parts of the UK are developing their own platforms

In 2015 Cab:app was co-founded by London taxi driver Peter Schive, who said: ‘Cab:app draws on the heritage and expertise of the black cab industry and translates it for the digital world.

Other early examples included the Bristol Taxi App – abbreviated to Braxi – which will only employ drivers licensed by Bristol City Council. Farouq Hussain, ‘one of the brains behind the app’, described it as being “just like Uber, only local”, with no surcharge and 25% pay cut. He added: “Our app takes the best of Uber and makes it local”.

The most recent: in June Anlaby-based 966 Taxis in Hull designed and launched its Uber-style app which they believe could transform the service. Alice Martin (NEF: Lead for Work) said: “TFL’s move will send ripples across the country where there has been a recent surge in private hire licenses given out to support Uber’s growth, particularly in the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West” adding:

We’ve been working with drivers in different parts of the UK who are developing their own platforms. The time has come for the Mayor to back a better alternative to Uber and lead the way for other local authorities to do the same”.

COMMENT

Jeremy Heighway writes:

Years ago (but still after the dawn of apps) I thought about putting some effort into an app that would be more closely related to hitch-hiking than getting a taxi.

Basically, new trips by car should not be generated (aside for slight detours), and drivers would only be sharing the costs of trips they would have made anyway – and not making an actual profit.

I hope that a new platform manages to get the idea across that socially and ecologically sound mobility is not via job and journey creation using cars, but more efficient vehicle use.

 

 

 

 

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Addressing a question posed at the recent Planet Centred Forum seminar

Could you give us some guidelines about how you would change the present economic system to a new and greener economy, so that the current (political) parties have something to work on?  They will need this if they are going to move from a market economy. 

Good guidelines/practical strategies for moving towards a green, balanced economy were given on this website recently and last week the concept of a circular economy was summarised on Localise West Midlands’ website.

A regenerative ‘Circular Economy’ includes more localisation of economic activity and would replace and address the social and environmental damage done by the current ‘Linear Economy’ with its ‘take, make, dispose’ model, depleting finite reserves to create products that end up in landfill or in incinerators. It achieves its objectives through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling – reducing waste to zero. Some examples of such practice are presented on the website of the World Economic Forum.

20th century 

The idea of circular material flows as a model for the economy was presented in 1966 by an economist, Professor Kenneth Boulding, in his paper The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth. In the 70s, Walter R. Stahel, architect, economist and a founding father of industrial sustainability, worked on developing a “closed loop” approach to production processes. He co-founded the Product-Life Institute in Geneva; its main goals are product-life extension, long-life goods, reconditioning activities, waste prevention, advocating “more localisation of economic activity”.

21st century 

‘Resource’, the first large scale event for the circular economy was held In March 2014 and Walter Stahel joined the programme of 100 business leaders and experts. Many major stakeholders and visitors from across the globe attended. An annual large scale event is now increasing the uptake of circular economy principles.

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) a charity, which receives funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Northern Ireland Executive, Zero Waste Scotland, the Welsh Government and the European Union was set up in 2000.  From its headquarters in Banbury it works with businesses, individuals and communities to achieve a circular economy through helping them to reduce waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way. (Above: the header for its March report)

On 17 December 2012, the European Commission published a document entitled Manifesto for a Resource Efficient Europe. This manifesto clearly stated that “In a world with growing pressures on resources and the environment, the EU has no choice but to go for the transition to a resource-efficient and ultimately regenerative circular economy” and outlined potential pathways to a circular economy, in innovation and investment, regulation, tackling harmful subsidies, increasing opportunities for new business models, and setting clear targets”.

Peter Day explored the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and its associates on radio (In Business) on 23rd April 2015 – listen again here.

Ellen (right) established this independent charity in 2010 and eloquently outlines the economic opportunity of a circular economy, giving the concept wide exposure and appeal.

Any comment?

Marc Stears, New Economics Foundation – an extract

Marc Stears: webmaster@neweconomics.org writes:

We are six weeks away from a general election. Politicians always say elections are important. But this time, their usual talk of “the most important vote for a generation” is absolutely right.

This election is about power, and about Brexit. It’s about the right to shape Britain’s relationship with the EU and the rest of the world.

But it is also about the right to try to shape our country’s future at home. Because the way Britain works right now is simply not accepted by millions of people.

People yearn to gain some purchase on the places where they live, and the forces which shape their lives. People want control over what matters to them – their work, their homes and families. 

At the New Economics Foundation, we are fighting for real control. That means:

* Building power in our workplaces, where new technology is combining with the old power of capital.

* Real choice over where we get to live, in the face of a vicious housing market which continues to deny so many of us a decent, affordable home.

* Revitalised local communities, which are so often overlooked by top-down efforts at regeneration.

* Fair access to essential services like energy, rather than allowing six giant companies to dictate terms to everyone.

* A reformed financial system, so that banks can start to serve the public interest and not just their own.