Sunday, 31 January 2016

Taking the fight to raise awareness about the dangers of fracking to the streets.

Members of North Staffs Green Party joined over a hundred campaigners from Friends of the Earth and other organisations in Hanley to protest against government fracking proposals this weekend.

They were taking part in a national day of action and members involved came from across the region with representatives from Newcastle, Leek and Cannock present.

The demonstration took place outside the Intu Potteries Shopping Centre and was followed by a march to Hanley Town Hall. Organisers said the main objective of the event was to raise awareness about the risks to the environment and to communities posed by fracking.

In a speech made on the steps of Hanley Town Hall Sean Adam, a coordinator for North Staffs Green Party and one of the organisers of the event outlined the dangers posed by fracking.

These included damage to the environment caused by the toxic materials brought up from underground as part of the process. He had not, he said, heard any convincing evidence from supporters of fracking that the safety measures they claim will be put in place would be effective.

The process was, he went on to say, being driven by utility companies who were 'putting profits ahead of people' and were not investing in infrastructure such as piping and water treatment plants.

He also warned of the potential impact on local communities. Although Stoke-on-Trent City Council do not include the use of fracking in their energy policy there is a possibility that contaminated material generated as part of the process may be brought to a site in Middleport for treatment.

This would be, Mr Adam said, 'another blow' to a community that had been hit hard by the decline of the pottery industry. As a result of the risk of contamination property values in the area would go down whilst insurance premiums would be likely to increase.

He added that this would also happen in areas where fracking took place and there would be additional problems caused by issues such as water shortages that would have an impact on householders.

After the march the protestors took their banner to a bridge over the A500 in Stoke to raise awareness amongst passing motorists, receiving a mostly favourable response.

North Staffs Green Party Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough who attended the event said, 'the number of people who have come out in the wet and cold today to make their feelings known shows the deep level of public concern about this issue. We are committed to promoting sustainable forms of generating the energy we all rely on and believe that rather than ever more extreme methods of extracting fossil fuels are what the government should be investing in.'

Further events are planned throughout the year with the next being held in Cannock on an as yet undisclosed date.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Capping LHA will cause already vulnerable people health damaging levels of stress.

Changes to housing benefits that could see a cap placed on the local housing allowance (LAH) could have a damaging impact on the health and well-being of vulnerable people living in sheltered and supported housing.

Research carried out by the National Housing Federation and published in the Sentinel yesterday revealed that 41% of all sheltered and supported housing could be affected with tenants losing, on average, £68 per week in benefits.

The cap on LHA could also see care homes and sheltered housing developments close causing distress for residents, some of whom may become homeless as a result.

Before Christmas North Staffs Green Party launched a campaign for social justice in the housing sector, as part of which party member Sean Adams spent a night sleeping rough outside the Civic Centre in Stoke to highlight the plight of homeless people.

Today, as part of their ongoing campaign the party wrote to the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to protest at the cap to LHA.

Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough said,: 'This is a massively unfair cut to the benefits of some of the most vulnerable members of society, people we should be supporting to live with dignity; not putting under unnecessary financial pressure.'

He added that ' as a volunteer for a local mental health charity I see a great many people who have been either made ill due to stress or had an existing condition made worse through the pressured associated with living on benefits. There is no question that this cap on LHA will have a devastating impact on the well-being of people who are already facing significant challenges.'

As part of its manifesto at the 2015 election the Green Party put forward a range of policies aimed at making the benefits system fairer and improving access to social housing. These include, building 500,000 good quality social homes and giving local authorities control over housing benefit budgets ,allowing them to design packages of support tailored to their specific area. The manifesto also included policies aimed at improving benefits for people with disabilities and their carers.

Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough said ' as a party we are committed to building a fairer and more sustainable society where every member is valued and able to live with dignity. Those values mean that we will fight the damaging austerity agenda of this government at every opportunity.'

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Life as told by the 'Man from the Pru.'

Easily Distracted
David Vickers
(city Voices Publishing, 2014)

The one thing a writer of memoirs needs more than anything else is the happy knack of being someone to whom interesting things happen. Despite downplaying his achievements as a poet and composer David Vickers has said knack, as this charming, funny, sometimes profound and always interesting book demonstrates.

In twenty or so chapters he takes a leisurely wander through his life and times, covering a period from the end of the war to the present day. Along the way he has a range of mostly comic misadventures, including coming face to face with a demon cardboard baler in his first job, having an authentically swinging sixties night out in Wales and accidentally rubs shoulders with several stars including country singer Gene Pitney.

The interest in the book is primarily local with the names of long gone pottery works and the much missed, by the generation before mine, Sherwins record shop in Hanley featuring prominently There is though plenty to interest readers from further afield.

Vickers is an adept observer of human nature in all its flaws and virtues, a skill honed no doubt during his stint as a 'Man from the Pru,' This section of the book yields some to his best anecdotes showing his customers as a more diverse, even eccentric, community than might be expected.

His writing style is self deprecating with a strong sense of compassion for the sometimes troubled people he has encountered along the way. The whole thing puts you in mind of a chat around the fire in a back street pub rather than the 'look how well I've done' showing off that often spoils autobiographies.

This is an amiable and unpretentious book, rather like its author, only after a conversation with both has ended do you come away surprised by having heard something unexpected.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Becoming the UK's City of Culture could show the world what Stoke is made of.

Last night members of the council's cabinet voted to back Stoke-on-Trent bidding to become the UK City of Culture.

Speaking to the Sentinel cabinet member for leisure Terry Follows said that Stoke was 'a city which is awash with culture' adding that a successful bid see the city 'achieve recognition throughout the world.'

It could certainly see prestige events like the Turner prize and the Brits come to the city, previous holders of the title have seen their economy receive a significant boost, £5 for every £1 spent in the case of Derry, Hull set to be the next City of Culture in 2017 expects to see an extra £60 million added to its economy.

There is a considerable cash outlay, just making a bid will cost £165,000 with an extra £10 million bill if the city is successful. This makes it a tough sell at a time when funds are tight and the public has been made cynical by seeing too many grand schemes come to nought.

You can see why there isn't exactly dancing in the streets at the thought of another project that might deliver less than it promises every time you ride a bus into Hanley and look upon the multi-coloured mess that is Smithfield. The last administration ran up a huge debt to build what is essentially a speculative development no different from a Spanish timeshare that might or might not ever turn a profit.

Proponents of the bid, and I am one, with some reservations, might point to the fact that in this instance we won't have to build anything and there is a fair chance that they, visitors, will come. That isn't though to say that we should be starry eyed about things, far from it, to succeed a bid to be UK City of Culture must be ruthlessly pragmatic.

For a start the risk has to be spread, local businesses will benefit from extra trade and so should be expected to put up much of the funding, the role of the council should be primarily as a facilitator and project manager. Whoever puts up the cash the budget has to be watched closely, there cannot be an overspend, largely due to poor planning, of the sort that plagued Smithfield.

Despite the risks involved making a bid, even an unsuccessful one, provides a golden opportunity to market Stoke-on-Trent to a wider audience and attract much needed outside investment; so what's holding us back?

In part its the, not unreasonable, concerns about cost and official competence outlined above, but there is another and much darker reason why so many people may be sceptical about our chances. One that goes to the heart of the flawed psychology that has so often held this city back.

Stoke is a city afflicted by a massive inferiority complex, a cultural cringe that has lasted for decades and left us feeling that we aren't quite good enough. We're the salt of the earth, hard working and nice enough in our way, but 'culture'; that isn't for the likes of us.

Nothing could be further from the truth, Stoke is a city with creativity hard-wired into its DNA. You can see this in the mostly unsung artistry shown by generations of pottery workers. It can still be seen the city's outstanding music scene, whistle down an alley in Fenton and you're likely to get a cracking guitar riff back.

We've got one top university and another on our doorstep, both are producing the artists and innovators or tomorrow. A world famous football team, two depending on which part of town you live in and a history that takes in everything and everyone from the Spitfire to Jackie Trent composer to the theme tune to Neighbours. That's more than enough culture for a city twice the size.

Most of all we have, even those of us who will never compose a symphony and can't draw much beyond stick figures, the unique character that comes from living in Stoke. This is a famously friendly city with a refreshing dislike of pretension and an original sense of humour.

The trouble is as a city we have spent so long on our knees we've forgotten that we might just be a bit special. Its time to stand tall again, to challenge the negative image of our city perpetuated by an insular elite, most of whom have seldom left the confines of Islington, and show the world what we can do.

Culture is not the property of a single class who then get to dole it out like parish charity; it belongs to all of us because making or appreciating it is central our humanity. That idea more than anything should be at the heart of our bid to make this a city of culture, whether we win the official title or not.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Being forced to spend the night in a public toilet isn't a lifestyle choice.

Members of North Staffs Green Party have put forward a question to Stoke-on-Trent City Council about the use of Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) .

A PSPO is based on powers given to councils under the the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014) allowing them to ban non criminal activities in a specific area. Fines incurred as a result of breaching a PSPO can be up to £1000.

A number of councils, including Hackney, Manchester and Oxford, have used them in the past to ban rough sleeping and persistent' and 'aggressive' begging.

PSPO's have also been used to ban freedom of speech and the right to protest.

Late last year local Green Party activist Sean Adam staged a sleep out in Stoke town centre to highlight the difficulties faced by local homeless people, speaking about the question put to the council he said:"it's important that this latest legislation is used in the right manner and not abused in the manner of 'numbyism'. Most of us don't want people, in this day and age, having to sleep rough; some just do not want to see them!"
Campaign group Liberty have identified a number of ways in which the use of PSPO's by councils breach the Human Rights Act. These include Article 8 the right to privacy, Article 10 the right to freedom of expression and Article 11 the right to protest and freedom of association.

A statement on the Liberty website says 'If somebody is forced to beg or spend the night in a public toilet, that's not a lifestyle choice or anti-social behaviour its extreme poverty' and goes on to call for local authorities to 'focus on ways to help the most vulnerable not criminalise them with fines they cannot pay.'

The question put to the council calls for it to 'give an undertaking that it will not impose such measures and will instead focus its efforts on helping rough sleepers find suitable accommodation and appropriate support in order to deal with the issues that have led to their becoming homeless.'

North Staffs Green Party Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough who put the question forward said 'local authorities who use PSPO powers against homeless people are taking entirely the wrong approach. This is not a problem relating to anti-social behaviour, it is one caused by poverty and in many cases mental health issues that have not been met by a welfare system that has been slashed to the bone by this government.'

He added that 'we have been in contact with the council before on issues relating to homelessness and have been satisfied with their response. However this is such an important issue, one that touches on some of our most fundamental civil rights, that we feel it necessary for the council to state clearly and publicly that it will not impose these draconian measures on the streets of our city.'

The Green Party fought the 2015 election on a range of policies designed to deal with the chronic shortage of affordable housing.

These include bringing the UK's 700,000 empty homes back into use, building 500,000 high quality social homes and giving tenants stronger rights.

The Green housing policy also included measures to devolve power over housing benefits to local authorities allowing them to design a package of support specific to their area and providing the same right to help to single homeless people as is currently given to families.

The question has been accepted and will be included in the agenda for the 17th March full council meeting.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Blues and folk on the bill at Stoke music pub.

Acts to appear at popular music venue The Glebe over the next three months as part of the pub's Choose Days sessions on Tuesday nights.

Between January and March the pub will play host to an eclectic mix of performers with familiar and new artists represented.

Regular performers making a welcome return include folk act The Idioms featuring Gillie Nicholls (Feb 2) and blues duo Jim Kirkpatrick and Chris Cliff ( Mar 8).

Leek based blues outfit Bad Soul Buskers (Feb 16) and 5 piece Bucket of Blues (Mar 15) make their Glebe debut as do Crewe based The Maple Clouds ( Jan 12).

Folk/punk artist Doozer McDooze pays a visit to the venue as part of his UK tour (Mar 29). He has been described as producing music that sounds like 'a scrap between The Levellers and The Pogues' by BBC 6Music presenter Tom Robinson.

Other artists playing over the next three months include Irish singer/songwriter James McGrath (Mar 22) and local duo Sara Miller and Dan Machin (Feb 9).

Located near to Stoke Minster and short walk from the railway station The Glebe was extensively refurbished by owners Joules in 2010 and offers a range of real ales and bar snacks.

The pub has a friendly atmosphere and is popular with members of the city's creative community.

All gigs start at 9.30pm and entry is free.