Saturday, 19 October 2013

Planning debate on supermarket in Slaithwaite

On 17th October I attended the Kirklees Council Planning Committee to voice my opposition to a planning application for a large ALDI supermarket, with a car park with spaces for 90 vehicles, in the village of Slaithwaite in the Colne Valley. About 2,000 people have registered their objection to the proposal, about double the number of people supporting it. I was one of 19 residents speaking against the proposal, with eight people speaking in favour of it. Residents opposing the planning application made a compelling case that the road network is not suitable for the traffic that the supermarket would generate. Narrow roads, steep in some sections, would be unable to cope with the projected traffic increase and heavy delivery lorries. Pavements, already narrow, would be made even narrower in some places, making Slaithwaite unpleasant and unsafe for pedestrians, in particular parents with buggies and the elderly and disabled who have difficulty walking.

My personal perspective and reason for opposing the planning application is not as a resident, but as a frequent visitor. I live a few miles away, but am often in the village for business and community meetings in the cafes and also visit for leisure with my family and friends. The village is distinctive with many interesting buildings, and it is the starting point for walks along the canal and up into the hills. An ALDI store, the same prefabricated building as all the other stores, would not be in keeping with the distinctiveness of the local area. Furthermore, trees which provide an important habitat for bats and several species of birds, including skylarks and lapwings. I am surprised that the supermarket is even being considered, as the village is in a designated conservation area.

Green Valley Grocer
The Green Valley Grocer in Slaithwaite sells a great range of fresh produce

There is a cluster of small independent shops in Slaithwaite, and you can buy a good range of groceries at reasonable, competitive prices. For example, the Green Valley Grocer sells a great variety of fresh fruit and vegetables and provides a wide range of locally sourced products. This benefits the local economy, in contrast to major supermarkets’ lengthy supply chains. Indeed, the Green Valley Grocer sells not just local food, but ‘super local’, from within a five-mile radius. The shop is run as a co-operative, putting the long term benefits for its members above short term profits. This is the type of more equitable and sustainable business model, successfully weathering the global financial crisis, that needs to be supported.

E&R Grange Butchers has been in the village since 1990, and all their produce is locally sourced, supporting farms in the area. The Handmade Bakery, with a café, located on the canalside, provides wonderful quality fresh bread, with a policy of sourcing ingredients locally where possible. Bread of this quality is a rarity in the UK, where almost all bread that is available is industrially made using all kinds of additives like preservatives, emulsifiers and flour treatment agents. Like the Green Valley Grocer, the Handmade Bakery is a co-operative, and won a national co-operative award in 2010.

The New Economics Foundation 2005 report, 'Clone Town Britain' showed how the increased domination of large chain stores had hollowed out high streets, leaving them devoid of independent retailers. An update in 2010 found an escalation of these trends, and observed that some major retailers were ‘fair weather friends’, abandoning high street sites to migrate to larger shopping centres. ALDI is the fastest growing food retailer in the UK, where it already has 500 stores. With its rapid expansion it is snapping at the heels of the Big 4 UK retailers – Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. Advocates for an ALDI store in Slaithwaite cited the benefits of increased competition, but the bigger picture is that competition is reduced as the biggest supermarket chains increase their market share and dominance.

Independent retailers in Slaithwaite are engaged in community events and activities which make the village a lively cultural centre. Slaithwaite is part of Totally Locally, a network of towns and villages leading shop locally movement – promoting and supporting local shops, and organising community events to revitalise the local economy. This summer saw the second street market and Colne Valley local food festival with arts, crafts, dance and music. Many local businesses support the Slaithwaite Moonraking Festival. This biannual event attracts many locals and visitors for story-telling, puppet shows for children, and music and lantern workshops, culminating in a lantern parade lighting up the streets in the dark of a winter’s night. Slaithwaite's Moonraking Festival in 2013 was on the theme of time, these are some of the lovely lanterns handmade by residents.

Moon Raking Procession

 Moonraking event in February 2013

So much is at risk if a large supermarket is built in the area, there are already several within a short distance. Slaithwaite could become another ‘clone town’. I think that, instead, Kirklees Council should support the established local businesses and cooperatives which have worked hard to create a lively village centre. The existing retailers have been loyal to the area and kept going providing vital goods and services throughout the economic downturn. The Council could encourage more small businesses to the area, with support such as providing incubator space and training. This would help develop the established cluster of businesses which is improving the economic vitality and stability of Slaithwaite.

At the Planning Committee meeting, the chair proposed that the number of speakers would be limited to just three opponents and three supports of the planning proposal. Fortunately this proposal was challenged, and people’s democratic right to speak was asserted. After a debate of nearly three hours, the decision was deferred by a considerable majority. I intend to attend the next planning meeting when this application is discussed. After listening to the debate I am convinced that supporting independent retailers will benefit residents and other businesses in Slaithwaite, including job creation, and that this is preferable to a new large supermarket.This is the page on the Kirklees Council website where residents can register their objection, or indeed support, of the planning application, and make comments.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Campaign to save heritage village of Aranmula

This is a map of Aranmula, a heritage village in Kerala, southwest India. At the top of the map, on the bank of the Pampa River, the Aranmula Temple is marked. Below, you can see that the area is mainly fields and forests. This is an ecologically diverse area of wetlands and paddy fields. At the bottom of the map, to the right, is a long, pale brown strip. It has been filled in for construction of an airport. A far larger area has been notified for the airport and an industrial zone. About 3,000 families may face eviction. The negative ecological impacts include loss of biodiversity and depletion of groundwater.

View Larger Map

A great many reputable organisations report that the land acquisition, and filling in of wetlands, is illegal. Supposedly, the new airport will bring in more tourists, but it would destroy much of what is attractive to visitors. Moreover, there are already two airports nearby, one of which, Cochin, is only about 90km away. The project site is very close to Aranmula’s famous temple, and aircraft noise would hardly be conducive to peaceful contemplation. This is the website of the group campaigning to preserve Aranmula. The Aranmula Paithruka Grama Karma Samithy aims to protect Aramnula and its heritage. Below is my letter of support to the campaigners.

To the Aranmula campaign,

It is wonderful to be in contact with your campaign, all the way from England! I support your campaign to save Aranmula from an airport which would concrete over so much of your farmland and community. Thank you for sending me more details of what is happening, which I will study, and I will help to raise awareness of your work.

I have researched aviation policy in India and am astonished by the aggressive land acquisition in Aranmula and all over the country, and the extent of policy support and subsidy which drives expansion, in particular for domestic flights which are the easiest to replace with surface transport. For example, I saw this article which outlines aviation ministry plans for subsidy to increase air traffic to 89 small airports - expecting state government to provide free land, airport infrastructure, waive property tax and reduce fuel tax. 

So many plans for airport expansion, and new airports, threaten to destroy farmland, or wildlife habitats. There are groups opposing similar projects all around the world, so the good news is that a growing number of projects are meeting with strong opposition from local groups, and collaboration between groups is building into a broader movement. Also, non-governmental organisations are challenging the support for aviation expansion in the form of favourable policies and subsidies. We can build on the work of local, national and regional coordination, and build a worldwide movement against unsustainable aviation expansion, and to achieve a shift to surface transport.

I live in northern England and the biggest airport in my region is Manchester. There is a long-term campaign against the airport’s expansion, of freight warehouses and other commercial development, over land designated as ‘greenbelt’, a rare urban green oasis hosting rare species such as newts. See the blog SEMA (Stop Expansion at Manchester Airport).

The biggest airport in the UK is Heathrow, which wants to expand its concrete footprint even further over the southeast of England. It is so enormous that it is like a city in its own right, a noisy and polluting city that blights a wide area. HACAN (Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise) led a campaign which achieved historic victory against a third runway, in 2010, with all major political parties stating they would not support the development. But the UK’s Conservative led coalition government betrayed their pre-election commitment, and it turns out that Heathrow’s plans for a third, or even fourth, runway are dormant rather than dead.

On the south cost of England, Lydd Airport Action Group is fighting a legal battle against Lydd Airport’s runway expansion plan, which would ruin important wildlife habitat in Romney Marshes. There are groups opposing new runways, new terminal terminals and night flights all over the UK. See the Airport Watch website Campaign Community page list. Also, check out Plane Stupid. As well as critique of the aviation industry this group has undertaken direct action such as occupying runways and terminals and a rooftop protest at the House of Commons.

There are effective protests against airport expansion all over Europe. Most of the projects pose the threat of encroachment on farmland and important wildlife habitats. In France, thousands of protestors camping out to demonstrate their opposition to a new airport for the city of Nantes, on farmland in Notre Dame des Landes. Last autumn, the protest camp was removed by police, but this triggered more supporters from all over Europe to flock to the site to help prevent the development. In Germany, every Monday thousands of protestors gather in the terminal at Frankfurt Airport to protest against the new fourth runway, which was built on land which was previously forests hosting a wealth of biodiversity. Plans for a third runway at Munich Airport have been stalled by a citizens’ vote that rejected the proposal, winning the vote with far less resources than the pro-new runway lobby.

It is very exciting in Europe now, as a coordinated movement is gaining strength, sharing knowledge and strategies. Cooperation between the different groups and countries also counters one of the key justifications for expansion - that other, rival, airports are expanding unopposed, and if the airport in your area does not expand, its traffic will not keep up and economic activity will drain from the region. See this report - Sea of Protest, community opposition has led to plans for two new airports in Italy, at Siena and Vicerbo, being cancelled.

The UECNA (European Union Against Aircraft Nuisances) website has information from groups in many countries, and a report from a conference that brought together 250 campaigners, from communities affected by airports. The non-government organisation Transport and Environment (T&E) addresses aviation and related policy at the European level. Greenhouse gas emissions, causing climate change, are growing faster from aviation than from any other transport sector, and currently constitute about 5% of world total emissions, but journeys by plane emit higher levels of greenhouse gases than by road, rail or ship, and the benefits of flying are only enjoyed by a relatively wealthy minority. Also, T&E has calculated the value of subsidies to aviation through tax exemptions, most notably on fuel. In Europe it is estimated at about £33 billion per year. Another issue that is being investigated is state aid to airports and airlines. This has continued even as governments impose austerity on citizens, cutting back on benefits to the ill and unemployed and on vital health and education services.

Peotone was selected as the site for a third airport for the city of Chicago more than 30 years ago. The site is mostly prime quality farmland. Even though air traffic to the city has declined, the new airport is still being pursued and people could face eviction from their homes and farmland. Chicago. This is the website for the campaign group Shut This Airport Nightmare Down (STAND). There is a campaign, Airport2Park, which is campaigning for Santa Monica Airport, in a residential area and used for recreational flying and flight schools, converted into a park. There are lively campaign groups all over the US. Aviation Justice brings together airport communities and campaigners for climate justice. The website has a state by state listing of local airport campaign groups.

In Canada, there is a strong campaign against a third airport for the city of Toronto. The site, in Pickering, is prime quality farmland and the campaign for over 40 years with successive rounds of land expropriation and evictions. The Land Over Landings group has worked tirelessly, aiming to establish a land trust to preserve the land for farming, in perpetuity. In the same city, there is a campaign, NoJetsTO, against expansion of the airport on the waterfront to accommodate larger aircraft. 

I have written a book about aviation, Plane Truth: Aviation’s Real Impact on People and the Environment. It includes a short section on Aranmula and other greenfield airports in India – at various stages of planning, approval and construction, all on farmland and involving aggressive land acquisition, and all meeting with vigorous opposition from predominantly agricultural communities facing displacement and low rates of compensation – in Mopa (second airport for Goa), Andal, Kushinagar and Sriperumbudur. A proposed new airport for Mumbai at Navi would remove mangrove habitat and agricultural land. I would be interested in your views of the new Land Acquisition Bill that has been passed and any effect this might have, if the promise for fair compensation and an end to forcible land acquisition will be upheld. I wonder if there will be an improvement in the protection of farmland against industrialisation. The book is published by Pluto Press later this month.

Yours in solidarity,

Rose Bridger

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