Micheal Gove – Tree Hugging Eco Warrior

Sheffield Star  

I’ve written about this before – Nick Clegg probably bent his ear.  Sadly not about showing up the problems with a badly designed PFI but about keeping Gove in the News so he can read about himself.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has made an extraordinary intervention in the Sheffield tree-felling saga, writing to council leader Julie Dore and chief executive John Mothersole to demand an end to the controversial programme.

In a letter seen by The Yorkshire Post, Mr Gove warns “the destruction of thousands of mature trees from the Steel City will surely damage our children’s rightful inheritance” to an improved environment and highlights concerns about the “transparency in the decision-making process” around which trees are felled.

Sheffield Council has responded with a strongly-worded statement describing the Environment Secretary’s letter as being “full of inaccuracies”.

Around 6,000 trees are being removed from city streets as part of a 25-year £2bn highway maintenance programme based on a PFI contract signed with contractor Amey in 2012.

While the council insist only trees that are dead, dying, diseased or dangerous are being removed and then replaced, protesters argue that many do not need to be chopped down and the work is being carried out as a cost-cutting exercise.

Mr Gove says: “I would call on the council to listen to the people of Sheffield and end the tree-felling and replacement programme.”

 Mr Gove’s intervention came after The Yorkshire Post highlighted the ongoing concerns around tree removals in Sheffield to him.

Dave Dillner, founder of the Sheffield Trees Action Groups, said: “I never thought I would have wanted to hug Michael Gove, I’m knocked sideways. I can only hope this is a game-changer. It will certainly add to the pressure on the council and the pressure really is mounting.”

But Sheffield Council today strongly criticised the Environment Secretary and said “only a very small minority of people in Sheffield object to the tree replacement programme”, while expressing surprise Mr Gove had not contacted them about the issue prior to sending the letter.

Mr Gove’s intervention is the latest development in an increasingly-bitter battle between Sheffield Council and campaigners.

 The Labour-led council will find out next week whether it has been successful in winning High Court injunctions against three protesters, including Mr Dillner and Green Party councillor Alison Teal, to prevent them participating in future ‘direct action’ to stop the removal of trees.

 

If the injunctions are granted, those involved could be chased for damages or even face the prospect of jail should they disobey the orders. The council claims the action is a last resort after months of disruption to the felling programme, with protesters’ tactics including standing directly under trees scheduled for removal.

Several other campaigners sent legal letters have already signed undertakings pledging not to take part in direct action protests.

Coun Teal today said: “Despite our political differences, I am delighted that the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, is calling upon Sheffield Council to end the tree-felling programme.

“I am embarrassed to be a member of a council that is being criticised on a national level for such woeful standards of community engagement and transparency. Thousands of residents have objected to the council spending millions cutting down our city’s most beautiful and beneficial assets.”

The ongoing row has previously seen 14 people arrested but no charges brought after the CPS dropped all cases.

In November, a controversial pre-dawn raid on Rustlings Road saw tree-fellers arrive at 5am to remove eight trees, with local residents woken by police to move their cars.

The incident, which resulted in the arrest of three people, including two pensioners, was later described by former deputy prime minister and Sheffield MP Nick Clegg as “scenes you’d expect to see in Putin’s Russia”.

In March, police commissioner Alan Billings said there would be no further arrests as “the CPS are not prepared to criminalise peaceful protesters”.

In his letter, Mr Gove says: “On my trip to Yorkshire last month, the matter was raised with me directly.

“It is clear that many of Sheffield’s residents are deeply frustrated and angry at the decision to remove a large number of trees from local streets.

“Understandably, local people place a significant value on their green spaces and their local environment, and these trees are a really important part of that. We know trees and leafy streets make places healthier, cleaner and more desirable places to live.

“So you can understand why this issue has caused me such grave concern.

“Despite the strength of local feeling, and some persistent and persuasive campaigning by The Yorkshire Post, the call from local residents to end the felling appears to have gone unanswered.

“They feel that the council has not provided transparency in the decision-making process, which would seem to me a minimum for any elected body dealing with such a highly-contested policy decision.

“If our aim is to leave the environment in a better state than we found it, we must examine how our actions impact the next generation. The destruction of thousands of mature trees from the Steel City will surely damage our children’s rightful inheritance.

“To that end, I would call on the council to listen to the people of Sheffield and end the tree-felling and replacement programme.”

Paul Billington, Director of Culture and Environment at Sheffield City Council, said: “We were surprised to receive a letter from Michael Gove that is full of inaccuracies, and seems to call for us to breach the terms of the Streets Ahead contract.

“The Government, through the Department for Transport, are party to the contract, and it was at central government’s instruction that the PFI model was used to finance this programme of work.

“It is a shame that during his recent trip to Yorkshire, Mr Gove did not try to contact us. We would have been happy to meet with him to discuss any concerns in person.

“We plan to respond and extend an invitation to Mr Gove to come to Sheffield and find out first-hand what is really happening with the Streets Ahead work. For example, how only a very small minority of people in Sheffield object to the tree replacement programme, with the majority of people either in support of or indifferent to the works; how we have planted an additional 65,000 trees in the city since the beginning of the Streets Ahead programme, making Sheffield greener than ever by the end of the contract; and how we have gone to great lengths to consult and work with the people in Sheffield affected by the programme.

“The truth is that a small number of people in the city have strong views against the tree replacement programme. We respect this, but the majority of people in Sheffield want to see the work completed.

“There is a lot of misinformation around, and it is surprising that the Secretary of State would not seek a full understanding of an issue before announcing a position.”

Why Cutting Stamp Duty would have Minimal Effect on Downsizing

Telegraph has been siren on this recently

The tax in not particularly efficient, compared to say a proper land value tax, but even in its present form its nowadays a huge earner for the Treasury, so change is less than likely.

But would the key argument, that cutting it would release lots of homes for younger people from older people downsizing, hold water?

No.  The flaw in the argument is the belief that houses prices would remain the same.  Never ague from a price is the economics saying, you also have to look at the demand effects.

A price cut from a tax cut would encourage more sales, but also more purchasers, we have a huge shortage of housing, especially right size housing for older people. The additional purchasers would push prices back up again.  In technical terms  the housing market is supply inelastic.  This would mean the impact on released supply would be small, and also incidentally the reduction in the Stamp Duty tax take.  This line of thinking suggests that some reform of stamp duty might have some minor effect at the margin, and be revenue neutral, if for example you lowered it for age categories likely to downsize, and raised it for categories likely to upsize.  However a tax break based on age would be politically toxic.  It isnt going to happen.

Birmingham International HS2 – A car Park or New Urban Hub

Birmingham Post

The Government is being urged to upgrade plans for a Midland high-speed rail interchange in a bid to create a gigantic new urban centre.

The Department for Transport has been formally asked today to alter its blueprints for the Birmingham Interchange HS2 station near Birmingham Airport by development body UK Central Solihull Urban Growth Company (UGC).

Its ambitions for a major mixed-use development near the airport could add billions to the local economy – but it feels the current HS2 plans do not go far enough.

Published plans for the site comprise just a ‘parkway’ rail station and car parks serving the HS2 high-speed line between Birmingham and London, due to open in 2026.

Now the UGC has outlined the major changes it wants to see to the controversial transport scheme to deliver the infrastructure needed for a fully-connected urban quarter – with HS2 at its heart.

Original vision for Birmingham Interchange HS2 station in Solihull
Original vision for Birmingham Interchange HS2 station in Solihull

The changes range from altering bridges and moving roads to making provisions for other future public transport and pedestrian links and creating new landscape features.

Before and after CGIs (above and below) show the differences between the two plans.

The cost will be met by the West Midlands Combined Authority through its HS2 Growth Strategy Fund secured as part of its devolution agreement.

West Midlands mayor Andy Street said: “HS2 is one of the biggest public sector infrastructure investments ever in this country and the West Midlands is uniquely positioned to benefit from this project.

“This submission demonstrates our ambition in making the most of HS2. What we are looking for is to go beyond a railway station and create something far bolder.”

UK Central comprises four areas of Solihull: Blythe Valley, north Solihull, the town centre and The Hub, which includes the Arden Cross regeneration site.

The Hub alone is expected to contribute £4.1 billion to the economy by developing 4,000 houses and 8.3 million sq ft of commercial space on land a mile from the airport.

It was first unveiled to investors in March at the international property conference MIPIM in France.

Solihull UGC, backed by Solihull Council and the West Midlands Combined Authority, is the first organisation to formally propose such changes to an HS2 station site.

UK Central Solihull Urban Growth Company's vision for the station
UK Central Solihull Urban Growth Company’s vision for the station

Managing director Huw Rhys Lewis said: “This is Solihull’s chance to make the most of HS2’s arrival so we have to be challenging to ensure our vision becomes a reality.

“We want to create sustainable jobs, homes and commercial and leisure space for the people who live and work in the region but the proposed parkway station won’t allow that to happen.

“The UK Central Hub is already home to Birmingham Airport, the NEC, Jaguar Land Rover, Birmingham Business Park and Arden Cross.

“Our recently published Hub Growth & Infrastructure Plan co-ordinates those organisations’ individual plans, looks at the infrastructure needed to make it all happen.

“But make no mistake, the development of the Arden Cross site is absolutely critical in delivering these big ambitions which is why we’re formally requesting much more than a parkway style station.”