Help Save Solway Moss

By Charles Paxton

People who visit Cumbria tend to do so for our landscape. With some of the most beautiful countryside in the British Isles on our doorsteps, landscape conservation is an important topic for many Cumbrians. Uunderstandably, we get quite riled when we hear of developments that threaten our landscape heritage.

On Saturday, June 4th I went along with some like-minded friends to a place near Longtown to participate in a demonstration and panel discussion against a wind farm proposal on Solway Moss. The threat in this instance is a proposal to build a wind farm of giant (125m tall) turbines on rare peat moss habitat favoured by curlews and migrant geese.

In addition to learning more about the Solway Moss itself, community conservation volunteers who’d won their own battles against maldevelopment shared strategic tips on how to prevail against the further proliferation of wind farms elsewhere in Cumbria. This is so important because each small community so beset faces very similar challenges. Anyone who watched BBC2’s Windfarm Wars documentary series will have a good idea of the attrition involved, but should not give way to despond. Thankfully the winds of change are turning against the inappropriate siting of wind-farms now.

Rory Stewart MP for Penrith and the Border speaking out against inappropriate developments such as Solway Moss

Here’s my account of the day:

I’m very glad that I attended the June 4th demonstration against industrial scale wind turbines on Solway Moss and the public meeting and panel discussion that followed in Longtown’s Memorial Hall. I learned a lot. Our MP for Penrith and the Border, Rory Stewart responded to appeals from his constituents to protect our landscape with the passion and efficacy that is so characteristic of him.

It was the first time in Cumbria that such a wide range of anti-windfarm groups had assembled to voice their collective concern. It was especially heartening to see so many ladies and gentlemen, from the very young to the mature, gathered in defense of this rare raised peat bog habitat, haunt of wildlife and historic battlefield. Clearly undaunted by the concluding episode of BBC’s Windfarm Wars, it was good to hear representatives of various local landscape defense groups speaking out about the threats that overhang their lives. The message on one placard was particularly memorable, “No turbines near Nan”. I heartily agree with such a prohibition and when the time comes to write a letter of objection to this project – which I certainly will do, that will be one of my reasons for objection.

As Rory poignantly observed, the fight for landscape integrity is likely to continue beyond the span of our lives. Why should Nan’s head be overhung by this sword of Damocles?

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After the demo we circumnavigated the north side of the Moss and admired the sizable remaining forest cover from a distance. It’s quite hard to imagine a worse place to put a giant wind farm than on a natural carbon sink in a flat-as-a-pancake flood plain where the 125m tall turbines will pose a potentially lethal obstacle to the night-flying migratory birds of the Solway wetlands. There’s no way the landscape will gel with these enormous machines or “flow” around them.

The plan to erect nine of these bobdignagian behemoths on the site is opposed by people on both sides of the border, Scots and English. Scottish landscapes have been savaged by a recent proliferation of these machines, Ayrshire particularly. An area of the Cambrian mountains in Mid Wales that rejected the offer of National Park protection in the mid-70s is now being vandalised beyond reasonable measure. The lessons are there to be learned.

Enthusiastic applause at Rory's concluding speech

Enthusiastic applause at Rory's concluding speech - Longtown Memorial Hall

At the panel discussion in Longtown’s memorial hall, Dr. Mike Hall of the FELLS group gave a short but powerful presentation on the issue.

The 1000’s of tons of reinforced concrete that would serve as the turbines’ foundations, plus tracks, ditches and cable trenches are likely to have a deleterious effect on the surrounding peat, drying it out, shrinking it and returning  millennia’s worth of stored atmospheric carbon to the air, offsetting any savings achieved by the turbines which, in any case will become less and less as cleaner power stations are expected to replace the older dirtier ones.

Using the Government’s own data, Dr. Mike Hall showed that the  expected emission savings of turbines like these (if allowed) will have fallen from 860kg for each megawatt hour generated  in 2000 to 430kg today with a projection of just 70 kg for each megawatt hour by 2030. This clearly demonstrates that, in terms of climate change, wind turbines are not fit for purpose.

Rory Stewart informed us that the threat to Cumbria’s £2 billion annual revenue from tourism that giant wind turbines represent flies in the face of sensible economic planning and quite apart from that opportunity cost, the intense human suffering and social division that wind farms cause nearby residents is unacceptable.

He added that a switch from older Coal to new advanced Gas-fired power stations could reduce our CO2 emissions by a hefty 50% and would represent a far more effective strategy to meet Government climate change obligations.

It seems to me that in the light of the three new nuclear power stations planned for Cumbria’s energy coast and the switch from Coal to Gas-fired power stations it is becoming nigh-on impossible to justify the erection of wind farms in environmentally sensitive locations and places where such projects do not enjoy majority support from the local population.

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Cybermoor to Fibremoor – Communications Workshop Illuminates

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On February 9th, I was kindly transported to and from a very nicely organised, well attended and highly illuminating event at Alston Moor’s Town Hall.

Fortified by coffee and biscuits from the local bakery we were treated to comprehensive coverage of the the Cybermoor Community Communications project.
Please see their site for more details and video links when they are ready.

I think that Daniel Heery and his Cybermoor team came across as very professional and polished, but it was clear from their presentations that they’ve done a lot of learning the hard way as pathfinders! 10 yrs ago was clearly a tough time to try and set up a Community Communications network. They may well be poised to reap rewards for their perseverance and years of accumulated experience, I think. They can manage and deliver community communications networks and maintain them with a convenient-looking electronic management system.
Thanks to the focus that Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border has brought to bear upon the subject through his Rheged Broadband conference and the continued efforts now reinforced by the Big Society paradigm shift – 2011 is a more favourable time for communities to upgrade to future-proof internet – I expect that Fibremoor will expand it’s customer base rapidly soon!

Alston Moor’s website strikes me as a very good example of a Community microsite, and they’ve got their act together with community transport too.

They shared detailed knowledge with us and encouraged us not to be discouraged!

This event has definitely confirmed in my mind that though wireless has its place, Fibre To The Premises is the way to go if we can.

Carlisle Conference Heralds Paradigm Shift Toward Localism!

By Charles Paxton (Broadband Champion for Lyvennet Valley Community)

Better communications are increasingly being seen as essential for appropriate societal response to some important challenges of our times. Inclusive information exchange is critically important for:

More effective local government, Rural business development, Community health care outreach, Neighbourhood, Farm and business security, Regional renewable energy target obligations.

On Saturday, January 17th, 2011,  interested members of the public participated in a conference at Carlisle Racecourse, hosted by Carlisle Parish Councils Association and sponsored by British Telecom plc. that as Ronnie Auld Chair of CPCA pointed out effectively heralds a paradigm shift away from traditional top-down, Big Government – Small Society,  toward bottom-up, Big Society local empowerment. Better communications are being seen as an essential element in the transition toward greater inclusion and participation. Make no mistake, we’re not just talking about modernising technology here, a crucial element of localism is the Big Society ideal of greater public engagement in our society in multiple ways, including frank and open public dialogue and debate about the way we would like things to be. The effective exchange of ideas, perspectives and factual information is naturally expected to communicate, refine and improve ideas that can then inform practice to help steer progressive development.

As resources aren’t infinite, an important motivational factor for us is efficiency, making the most of our available resources! This is true in all matters, but especially relevant when it comes to our communications infrastructure.

BT will be making the single largest private investment of all time into upgrading British Communications infrastructure in the UK! Two and a half billion pounds.

However, unless we act in a cleverly coordinated fashion to gain maximum leverage from our existing resources, then our remote rural areas, often referred to as “the final third”, are likely to be the last areas to be connected to future proof Next Generation Access speed broadband. That’s generally considered to be symmetrical broadband at over 50 Mbps download and upload (fast enough for telemedicine applications).  Ironically, it is just these remote areas that most need connectivity to overcome the challenges represented by geophysical rural isolation, according to recent reports:

http://leith-lyvennet.broadbandcumbria.com/2010/12/09/reports-show-importance-of-rural-broadband/

There is open debate on BroadbandCumbria.com about how best to go about achieving an Eden-wide network and I recommend that you join the site, read up about it and have your say. It’s particularly important that you read The Eden Declaration (a credo statement for a desired level of service throughout Eden), and sign it too, if you agree with its contents.

The scale of the task is epic, the complexities are “eye-wateringly complex” (quoting Rory Stewart, our  MP for Penrith and The Border) but the impact is likely to resonate far into the future, promising a broad range of benefits.

The Localism Bill, likely soon to become an Act, promises to give the most local of our authorities, our Parish Councils, far greater say in many of the matters that concern us most – our local ones. This is both a momentous development and a very necessary one to help our communities cope appropriately with the current and future challenges of modern life, and just as crucially, to make the most of the opportunities.

Click here to view a digest of new powers that will help increase the influence of local authorities Localism digest

Ronnie Auld, Chair of Carlisle Parish Councils Association opened the conference with an introductory speech explaining the format of the conference, the first half examining the current problems associated with broadband in Carlisle District and its surroundings and the second half examining the likely impacts of the Decentralising and Localism bill currently before parliament. He pointed out that both the broadband problems and the localism agenda warranted an issues-based approach on the part of Parish Councils. He said Parish councils will be playing a very important role in the improvement of broadband in keeping with the Localism agenda. He drew attention to a Carlisle area survey document in our conference pack and said that alongside quantitive data about the speeds that people reported getting, there were comments that reflected that their broadband services left a lot to be desired, and compared very badly in some cases to conditions in other countries. He cited several examples of disastisfaction, one experienced problematic disconnections and just 0.39 Mbps of speed. He talked of the importance of including broadband in Community Planning.

See his speech below (kindly made available by John Popham)

http://www.youtube.com/p/0FB6CCA183CA70A6?hl=en_US&fs=1

He introduced the next speaker, Rt. Hon. Rory Stewart MP for Penrith and The Border, as our Broadband Champions’ Champion!

Rory Stewart, Broadband Champions' Champion emphasises that people inlocal communities know more, care more and can do more than remote officials.

Rory sits on the Localism Bill Committee and is one of the prime forces in the movement to bring more powers to the most local levels of government. He explained in no uncertain terms that community involvement would be essential in the effective roll-out of broadband throughout Eden and that unless there is seen to be a very good reason to stop them, the assumption should be to let each Parish or group of Parishes drive their project forward. He urged us to move away from the old state of affairs where Parish Councils  could only suggest things or be consulted to one where it is assumed that they know what they are doing.

He says “Let’s create a situation where people want to sit on Parish Councils because they know that they’ll have the power, the responsibility and sometimes the financial authority to bring about change.”

The necessity for popular local participation is partly due to financial considerations. In order to connect the 27,000 homes in Eden by conventional methods (@about £5000 per household) we’d be looking at a total of around £135 million.

He then explained that  funds have been allocated for a pilot study to help kick start the process, but that these funds were going to be spread thinly – “a proportion of £10 million” will come to Eden. This is where community support comes into it’s own. If we are prepared to gather, to define the demand and to aggregate it, to say that 70-80% of the community are prepared to use fast broadband then the economics become favourable for provision, if land owners are prepared to fore-go wayleaves, if communities are prepared to engage imaginatively and to use local assets, then the cost per premises could be reduced dramatically! Perhaps reduced to about £1000!

( Re asset sharing, please see this encouraging document (http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/business-sectors/docs/b/10-1308-broadband-deployment-sharing-infrastructure-summary-of-responses.pdf) that was drawn to my attention on broadbandcumbria.com shortly  after the conference!)

Barry Forde has since proposed a hypothetical plan that would employ great leverage, please click here to view

This is fascinating, we are now starting to get an idea of the potential tangible value in pounds of effective local democracy at Parish and Neighbourhood level and the potential value of intelligent mutualism within a competitive business framework! This is aside from, but would be compounded by the massive benefits to be derived from the better communications technology itself!

Localism clearly has major implications for our economic and social development.

Rory Stewart explaining how local community support can make fast internet accessible to Eden residents

Rory Stewart explaining how local community support can make fast internet accessible to Eden residents

Rory then said that if the Government were prepared to make patient finance available (perhaps via Parish Councils) that could be paid back at say £60 per year, then fast broadband service would seem far more attainable.

He then talked of the need to overcome a series of obstacles in technology, existing technical infrastructure and regulation. In order to make sure that the taxpayers £10 is used as well as possible then there’ll need to be an enormous amount of work done by government and civil servants. We’ll probably have a mixed solution. He cited the enormous amount of enthusiasm that was emerging in Parishes such as Crosby Ravensworth for super fast fibre to the home and said that while this unparalleled speed suited some people, he realises that other people may find a slower service acceptable.

He then introduced Bill Murphy of BT as the second guest speaker. His speech will be the subject of my next article.

Election 2010: Change is in the air

Paxton’s Perspective: My hope is that in 2010 New Labour will be old news

Electioneering is in full swing at the moment and we are again being presented with some important political choices. If the last general election in the UK was viewed in terms of an intelligence test, I’d see it overall as a collective failure of epic proportions. I’m happy to say that Penrith and the borders did well with David MacLean, even though the country at large has been saddled with four more years of Labour government that it could ill afford and is now facing an £167 billion national debt* as a consequence of a government that appeared to be working hard spending money on overseas problems at the expense of our local issues. I think that this policy of distraction has run its course and we should expect a better quality of engagement with matters of local and regional significance.

Rory Stewart Rally in Appleby

Rory Stewart, sensible pledges delivered succinctly and persuasively

So when I saw Rory Stewart climb on top of his vehicle in Appleby’s Boroughgate yesterday and speak about rebuilding strong communities, I was pleased to hear his election pledges. Though he touched upon the painful decline of rural services under labour misrule, he didn’t dwell upon that unpleasantness as long as he could have done, but instead focused upon the potential for turn-around and positive changes to come under better governance. He promised to promote better rural services, health care and emergency services. He promised to strengthen the rural economy and support farmers, sustainable tourism and all other local businesses. He promised to listen to the electorate and be accessible to us through regular surgeries. Music to my ears. He didn’t waste a lot of time in empty yakking, but his succinct speech struck home. Our prospective MP for the Conservative party came across as positive thinking, vigorous, dynamic and sensible. My impression was entirely positive; he seems a sincere and wholesome character, a man of integrity that I’d trust to represent me in Westminster.

We need people of Rory Stewart’s calibre and integrity in government. It will take men and women of accomplishment and intelligence to restore confidence and rebuild a sturdier social infrastructure.

Please can we have a government that works for us? A government that supports local industry, local agriculture, local services and local businesses? Can we have a foreign office that is unashamedly energetic and assertive in promoting British interests internationally, please? A discriminating government that won’t sacrifice local environmental concerns through eco-pornography, but will be supportive of effective and lasting local and international wildlife habitat conservation measures. A government that values landscape protection because it recognizes the intrinsic value of scenic beauty.
I want a Chairman of The Bank of England that recognizes the value of collateral in his lending policy! It has, after all, been the corner-stone of bank lending policy since the Renaissance. The mishandling of Northern Rock proves to my mind that The Bank of England can’t be trusted to serve independently.

I want a government that doesn’t gag the BBC and doesn’t choke us to death with bureaucracy – that’s what I want. I want our government to be open to good ideas from abroad. No repeats of the Foot and Mouth Fiasco, The Dutch have model methods to handle Foot and Mouth outbreaks. I think our Labour government handled the issue very poorly.

I don’t want a bunch of self-important, champagne swilling, neomarxist postmodernists dominating our corridors of power for the next four years.

My hope is that in 2010 New Labour will be old news – only in the land of the blind can the one-eyed man be king and I’m hoping that the British electorate will be going into this election with all eyes wide open. Our votes count and I’m voting for change. I’ve had a bellyful of oily spin doctors.

*BBC News 22/04/10