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Public Services Should be Publicly Owned and Funded

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For me this has always been an absolute red line in terms of how our society is organised.  I’ve never been opposed to the free market, even though in my experience in business the free bit is usually very far from free.

But there are certain services that society needs to function, and our economy is also dependent on.  These are broadly health, education, social care, welfare, transport, police, fire services, the military and local infrastructure.  I may have missed something but you get the gist.

Over the past 10 years we know that these have all been the subject of cuts, and we’ve all seen the results.  Not only has this left us impoverished as a nation, it’s also applied serious downward pressure on our productivity and our economy.

It’s analogous to the way that businesses are run when they start to get into trouble.  First you cut the things you don’t really need, then the things you think you can do without but would like to have, then you cut they think you do need but try to work around, then things you actually need to operate like stock and equipment and then finally you realise you’ve removed your ability to actually do anything productive.

We’re pretty much at the end of that process now, and we need to fix it.

Additionally, we know that many of the things that were cut didn’t need to be cut.  The Tories are never one to let a good crisis go to waste and used the financial crash as an excuse to decimate social services and welfare, dismantle the NHS and remove many of the support services for those in the greatest need.

This was driven more by ideology and the Tories obsession with reducing the deficit at all costs, even though this had very little discernible effect on the national debt.  When productivity and the economy stall, you end up with less money coming into the coffers and you have to borrow more.  That’s where we are now.

There should be a real end to the culture of austerity and public service cuts. We’re one of the richest nations in the world, with everyone paying their fair share we should be able to care for and protect all our citizens and keep the infrastructure we all rely on well maintained and working properly.

The cost of train fares for example is absolutely ludicrous at the moment and are some of the highest in Europe with some of the worst services being provided.  This gives lie to the idea that privatisation makes things more efficient.  That said, I know that nationalised services gained a bad reputation back in the old days, but I think that was more an issue of management culture.  There’s no reason why things can’t be run completely in the public sector by staff and management who are properly motivated.

Overall though there are vital services keep our economy moving, and they should be properly supported by government.  I’d like to see all of them eventually brought back fully into public ownership and run collectively for the good of the people who rely on them on a zero-sum gain basis.  If private businesses can make a profit out of these services now, there’s no reason why they can’t be revenue generating for society or provided at a reduced, subsidised cost where appropriate.  It may even be possible to provide some of them for free!  Hopefully much freer than the so-called free market!

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Housing on Green Belt Will Never be ‘Affordable’

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I took a day out of campaigning this week to attend and speak at the public inquiry of the Oxford City local plan.

It was a feeling of déjà vu for me as I spent several days doing the same thing in Cherwell earlier this year when our local plan partial review was being examined.  Cherwell is pushing to build thousands of houses on green belt land in the south of the district and I have been campaigning for the past 2 years to protect those vital green areas for future generations.

I was at the inquiry into the city plans because it’s those proposals that are forcing local district councils to add to their own housing requirements to service what the city claims is an ‘unmet need’.  Whilst I and other campaigners don’t dispute that Oxford has a need for housing for its own workers, claims that they can’t meet that need within their own boundaries are hotly disputed.

It’s generally believed that the reason they can’t meet that need themselves is that they would rather use their own land for economic development to build more shops, offices, hotels, restaurants and student accommodation.  The Labour run city council then expect the surrounding rural districts to meet their housing need for them and Conservative run councils like Cherwell are only too glad to oblige as this gives them a perfect excuse to enrich the local landowners and developers who support them.

It’s sad to see that both Labour and the Conservatives are pursuing a policy of green belt destruction in Oxfordshire when there really is no need.  There are plenty of brownfield sites available to build on, as well as empty properties that should be re-purposed or brought back into use.

I want to see more genuinely affordable housing for people on average incomes. More social and council housing. Rent controls on private landlords and an end to unfair developer lease & ground rent charges, but we will never see large amounts of affordable housing in Oxfordshire if they are built on high value green belt land.  The only reason these areas are targetted is because they are ripe to be used by developers to build high value executive homes and mini-mansions to make a massive killing.

There should not be development on Green Belt land except where there is an incontrovertible need to do so.  Our precious green spaces should not be handed over the developers simply to make huge profits for landowners and speculators, especially when much of that housing is not affordable in any real sense.

Green spaces are also now even more vital to help combat climate change and flooding.  Concreting them over and adding more roads and houses with inefficient heating systems just piles on the pressure to the environment and exports Oxford’s poor air quality standards to the rural areas of the county.

The Green party has pledged to build 100,000 genuinely affordable socially rented properties every year for 10 years.  Houses that will be built to the Passive House standard meaning they will be both sustainable and affordable to maintain and heat.

This will not only provide much-needed homes for people of average incomes, they will be the right houses in the right places and will also provide employment for thousands of builders and manufacturers.

This is on top of retrofitting every house in the country to make them more energy efficient as part of our Green New Deal.

As a founding member of a housing co-op in London in the 1980s, I also want to encourage other ways of getting people into affordable housing such as Land Trusts and Co-ops and see more social and council housing built.

You can find out more about our policies on housing in our manifesto here https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/Elections/Green%20Party%20Manifesto%202019.pdf

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Cherwell Passes a Climate Change Emergency Motion but Labour and Conservatives Still Vote to Destroy Greenbelt

imageAt last week’s full council meeting of Cherwell District Council, councillors unanimously passed a climate change emergency motion calling on leader Barry Wood to report back to the council in six months on progress made on several environmental objectives for Cherwell.

As Cherwell’s only Green councillor I supported the motion with some reservations about the council’s true commitment to the difficult decisions that will need to be taken if the district is going to become truly carbon neutral by 2030.

As if to prove that point the council then went on to debate my motion calling for a rethink on plans to build on green belt in south Cherwell.

The motion, seconded by Libdem councillor Conrad Copeland,  asked for a temporary pause to allow for new evidence to be taken into account that casts doubt on the number of houses needed to support Oxford’s unmet need – the justification for Cherwell’s partial review of its local plan.

I also raised concerns about the amount of expansion being tacitly agreed to for the Begbroke Science Park that also encompasses large areas of Yarnton.  In my opinion, this has been slipped into the review under false pretences, given that this has nothing to do with housing need in Oxford.  As a result there’s mounting local criticism of the university’s ambitions to commandeer at least 1000 of the houses intended to meet Oxford’s needs for its own use as part of a new campus at Begbroke and Yarnton.

Chair of the Cherwell Development Watch Alliance, Giles Lewis, spoke in favour of the motion at the packed meeting and read out emails between the council and the university, obtained under and FOI request, that suggested plans to allow the university to expand in the area were already being supported as long ago as 2016.

The Labour group on the council then introduced an amendment which blocked any re-consideration of housing need numbers, even though this might mean more houses that were needed would be built on green belt.

I pointed out that just to offset the amount of carbon produced in building the unaffordable and unneeded houses in the first place would take 572,000 trees over 10 years, or 200 per house, rather than the 1 tree per building that Cllr Wood had suggested during his address on the climate change emergency motion.

It’s clear that neither Labour nor the Conservatives are prepared to take the difficult decisions that are needed to combat the climate emergency.  Labour were far more concerned not to be seen to be challenging inflated housing need figures proposed by their colleagues on the city council, whist the Conservatives simply want to be facilitators for large wealthy landowners in the area including the university.  The location of the housing clearly has more to do with the university’s ambitions than it does with genuine housing allocation priorities.  Either way it ends up with unnecessary and unaffordable housing being built that locals will have no access to on the green spaces at the heart of their community.  This is a stitch-up perpetrated on the people of south Kidlington, Yarnton, Begbroke and Gosford!

Libdem Councillor and spokesperson for the Progressive Oxfordshire group, Katherine Tyson said “These plans will simply expand the city’s appalling air quality into our rural community.  At one point Labour councillor and vice-chairperson of the council Hannah Banfield seemed to suggest that, as Banbury residents had accepted bad air quality as a result of housing development in their area, the people of south Cherwell should just do the same.  The argument that one ward coming to peace with poisoning their residents and children doesn’t mean that another ward should also poison their constituents. That’s not good enough for Cherwell residents.  It beggars belief that such a comment could be made from a Labour councillor just after we had voted in favour of a climate change emergency motion”

The motion to pause the local review pending the outcome of the examination of the city council local plan and to separately consult on the university’s plans in Begbroke and Yarnton was successfully amended by the Labour group to an undertaking to review the allocation sites for the 4400 houses. It was carried by Labour with Conservatives abstaining on the vote.  The subsequent motion was defeated by 16 votes to 23.