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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”.

 

 9

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Green Economics: 1. Relocalising economic relationships

Chapter 9: Relocalising economic relationships – extracts from Green Economics: An Introduction to Theory, Policy and Practice 2009, by Molly Scott Cato

Such a vision offers greater community and personal satisfaction: a world where conviviality replaces consumption, where local identity replaces global trade, and where community spirit replaces brand loyalty. Lord Beaumont of Whitley, speaking in the House of Lords

For a couple of decades the proponents of globalisation have been winning the ideological battle, in spite of strong and growing opposition and proposal for more humane ways of organising international economic relationships, as outlined in the previous chapter.

During this time the few green economists calling for local food and energy security, or protection of local economies and communities, have seemed like voices in the wilderness. Yet, partly as a result of the immanence of climate change and increasing oil prices, putting all our eggs in the globalisation basket has begun to seem rather a risky strategy. Put this together with the recognition that globalisation means vastly more carbon-intensive transport of people and goods, and localisation begins to be an increasingly popular strategy. 

In his ‘global manifesto’ for localisation Colin Hines defines globalisation as follows:

Globalization n. 1. the process by which governments sign away the rights of their citizens in favour of speculative investors and transnational corporations. 2. The erosion of wages, social welfare standards and environmental regulations for the sake of international trade. 3. the imposition world-wide of a consumer monoculture. Widely but falsely believed to be irreversible—See also financial meltdown, casino economy, Third World debt and race to the bottom (16th century: from colonialism, via development.

This is, as Hines himself concedes, a blunt and indeed a savage critique. He sees globalisation not as a positive move but rather as an economic de-localisation or dismantling of local economies on a global basis.

There is plenty of evidence to show that the beneficiaries of this massive expansion in international trade are the transnational corporations (TNCs) that control it. For example, 51 of the top 100 economies in the world are TNCs. Just 500 TNCs control 70 per cent of international trade and a mere 1 per cent of TNCs control half of the world’s foreign direct investment. And whilst the global economy typically grows at 2 to 3 per cent every year, large corporations have an 8-10 per cent growth rate.

As well as political concerns about the shifting of economic power from governments to corporations, there is the obvious concern that the increasing amount of transport of goods and—increasingly—people too, has severe environmental consequences. In addition there are anxieties about the failure of security of supply of our most basic necessities such as food and energy.

The UK’s dependence on food imports makes us particularly vulnerable to rising energy prices. We currently rely on imports to provide almost one third of the food consumed in the UK, and have one of the lowest self-sufficiency ratios in the EU.8 Although the UK has been a net importer of food for a long time, imports are currently growing at a significant rate. DEFRA figures show that imports in tonnes increased by 38% from 1988 to 2002. For some types of food, the increase has been even more dramatic. Imports of fruit have doubled, for example, while imports of vegetables have tripled. Half of all vegetables and 95% of all fruit consumed in the UK now come from overseas.

The problem for the proponents of localisation is that the rules of the economic game are stacked against them. Although globalisation has resulted in a single economy for sales, there is no global rate of wages, or internationally agreed standards of employment or of environmental protection.

Green critics of globalisation are very keen to make clear that their objection is not based on narrow xenophobia. Hines draws a distinction between globalisation and internationalism, which can be thought of as ‘the flow of ideas, technologies, information, culture, money and goods with the end goal of protecting and rebuilding local economics worldwide

Its emphasis is not on competition for the cheapest but on cooperation for the best’. The following opinion from J. M. Keynes is frequently and favourably quoted by greens:

Amongst green economists there is a consensus that, in James Robertson’s words, ‘A revival of more self-reliant local economies must be a key feature of the 21st-century world economy’. However, there is less agreement on the sorts of policies needed to revive those economies. This section looks at some policies that have been suggested. Other greens despair of political solutions and look for homegrown solutions that lie within the power of communities: their activities are documented in the next section.

Hines’s 2000 ‘manifesto’ includes policies designed to localize production and dismantle TNCs, specifically a ‘site-here-to-sell-here’ policy. This is a classic example of the protection of a locality’s industry for strategic reasons—to ensure security of supply of the essentials of life—as well as in order to protect the environment. According to Hines, ‘Market access would be dependent on compliance with this policy, ensuring that whatever a country or a geographical grouping of countries could produce themselves they did’.

Woodin and Lucas go further in their support for local economies by suggesting an end to all subsidies to agricultural exports and the introduction of a food security clause into the World Trade Organisation treaty to protect self-sufficiency in poorer countries.

The Green Group in the European parliament has called for strong measures to support local food economies including the ending of dumping of subsidized EU production and greater local self-reliance in food production and ‘Rewriting the EU Treaty and the rules of the World Trade Organisation. This is necessary to ensure that food security and maximum self sufficiency, with its inherent reduction in fossil fuel use, replaces the present emphasis on more open markets and international competitiveness. At the same time, poorer countries which currently depend on their exports to EU markets, must be supported in order to enable them to develop stronger national and regional markets closer to home.

At the heart of green policy for the local economy is a focus on the small locally-based businesses which create most jobs. The Party also supports the establishment of democratically accountable community banks, which could provide capital for local businesses, as well as local and community currencies.