Will anybody in Peterborough see tomorrow’s solar eclipse?

For a second day running it has not been possible to see the sun in Peterborough at 09:30.  I had made a note to check where it would be on Friday (tomorrow) when there is a chance to witness a near total solar eclipse. People have made plans and some have plotted parties and bought cameras, filters, projectors and protective eye wear, ready for the big day.

“It will begin in the UK at 8.45am. The maximum eclipse, when the moon is nearest the middle of the sun, will be at 9.31am. The event will end at 10.41am.” 

Instead we have “fog”. This is a polite word for particulate laden and polluted air.  It might be a lot more accurate to call it “smog”.  Yesterday it almost lifted just after lunch and shafts of sunlight penetrated into the city centre. Today we have what looks like heavy cloud. But it is more likely that the smog has simply floated up a bit. The government website is predicting worse pollution levels on Friday than today.

air pollution for solar eclipse

I joined the Green Party in 2007 as I tried to reverse Peterborough City Council’s decision to support the incineration of domestic waste. This was a battle which we campaigners lost. We saw a neighbouring proposal fall in the face of a far more successful campaign. Lessons were learned, as they say. And I started to consider the vexed question of what exactly drives politics in Peterborough.

A key supporter of incineration of waste is Cllr Marco Cereste (he is also a director of Peterborough Renewable Energy Limited which builds slightly cleaner incinerators than the one the council is building).  As leader of the council he personally attracts huge amounts of anger, frustration and suspicion: some of it reasonable, some of it less so.  But in the last couple of weeks he has told the story of his signing (on behalf of the city he represents) a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on his facebook profile (shared with his facebook friends).  This MoU is with an entity locals understand is a Chinese government funded organisation, possibly what we’d call in the UK, an “NGO” (non governmental organisation).

Then in an online discussion elsewhere entirely about this morning’s fog, someone shared this video which I hadn’t come across previously. The story of this video’s making and removal from Chinese social media is available online. I just wish that we’d had this video at the time the council’s decision was still not made. At the notorious moment when Pam Kreling (then one of the councillors making the crucial decision about whether or not to use incineration) said words to the effect that if she couldn’t see anything emerging from a stack, then there was nothing there and there was by implication nothing which could do anyone any harm. As campaigners we weren’t allowed to speak at critical moments in meetings: in fact the chair of one of the meetings offered to have me and Richard Olive thrown out when we stood up to tell them they were being hopelessly misinformed by their advisors. But as I observed this pantomime (there was no beadle to implement the Chair’s desire) I was left reeling from a deeper revelation. I still wonder how people in key positions got through even basic level schooling, what exactly went on in their science lessons and what their marks were.  

incineration decision: a second response

unofficial poster

I wrote to my ward councillors on Tuesday 13th September and had received a first dismal response within nine hours.

But the following Monday I received a very different second response.  This one from Cllr John Shearman (here he is).

First of all he apologises for not replying sooner.  Frankly speediness of response is not the most important thing to me.  And since I wrote about a jargon-prone subject which most people would find technical, difficult and tedious an over speedy response really wouldn’t impress me.

But offering an apology for responding within a week achieves so much.  Starting like this says to me (these are my words, not his) “Hello, I am a human being with manners and I understand the common courtesies.  Moreover I have standards: they are mine and…..”

I don’t need to go on.  And nor will I copy onto my blog the content of his response or our subsequent conversations.  That would be impolite:  he has expressed himself to me honestly, frankly and (absolutely critically important to me, and to anything relating to planning) he comes over as open-minded and prepared to listen. That is what I think people expect of a ward councillor.

And, best of all, from what he says I can see that he has done his homework and understands the incinerator campaign work which has being quietly going on in the city.  His email is a very tiny but very concise executive summary of how the situation actually is.  Hats off.

Thank you, John.

I am still waiting for a response from the third of my ward councillors.

incineration decision: a first response

unofficial poster

Yesterday I wrote to my ward councillors.  Today I opened an email, sent last night at 20:51.   My first response!  Here it is:

“I have evaluated all your points & have complete confidence in the Council to do the right thing. If you had your way, we would all be living in caves.

Cllr Pam Kreling”

Who is she?  Here she is.  (and the email address she used to respond!)  This is one of my ward councillors, and she serves on no fewer than eight council committees, including Planning and Environmental Protection, Audit and, of all things: Strong and Supportive Communities.

incineration decision: letter to ward councillors

unofficial poster

Today I wrote in the following terms to my ward councillors, copying in my MP.

mass burn incinerator for household waste

I invite your comments on how you have protected the interests of the residents of my ward and of the city in the years since 2007 in this matter.

Should the council reconsider what it is doing: What would the costs of pulling out of this contract be today?  And tomorrow (assuming it is signed tomorrow)?

Have you checked whether or not the council considered options other than incineration?  What evidence of careful consideration of other options are you relying on?  Are you aware that the council has been consistently challenged on this since 2007, (and possibly earlier)?

Are you aware that the business cases for incineration in general and for this particular incinerator are both now being challenged as unsafe (the economy and the market having changed substantially)?  Have you considered the financial impact on council tax payers should these cautions turn out to be well founded? And that if the business performs as badly as expected are you aware of the likely impact on recycling, too?

Has the contract been set up in such a way that it can attract structural or grant funding?  Or has it been set up in such a way that it is ineligible?

Are you aware of the total cost of this contract?  Figures of £76M and £80M have been quoted recently in the Peterborough Evening Telegraph for the capital costs alone.  Is that figure current?  What are the overall 30 year costs for this project?  Is it acceptable that this information is still not in the public domain?  Is it acceptable that innocent readers of their local paper might assume that this figure is the total cost of the project?

Are you aware that the council is deliberately choosing out of date technology and describing it as “tried and tested”?  (the information on technology is still not in the public domain).

Are you aware that the council might be comparing the energy recovery of its own plant with Scandinavian examples?  If so are you aware that in Scandinavia (which is used to colder weather and historically much more aware of the importance of insulation and energy security) high performance hot water supply grids are planned in (eg for swimming pools or district heating).  Peterborough has not planned a supply grid and has not explained who will buy energy and power generated by this incinerator.  Have you seen an example of the output and recovery figures from either Peterborough’s as planned and have you compared that with an operational equivalent in Scandinavia and an operational equivalent in the UK (local campaigners are finding that those in the UK can’t sell their power).

Are you aware that the UK’s statutory regulatory regime for air pollution (in which the council has placed its trust) is widely regarded as unfit for purpose?  The Health Protection Agency is about to undertake research into whether or not it can substantiate the assurances and claims it has been making and upon which the Environment Agency and numerous councils have historically relied.   Is the council aware of the potential damage it could do to its own Environment Capital “aspiration” if, as widely expected, it can’t?

Do you know enough about air pollution and monitoring in the city?  Does Peterborough monitor anything other than road traffic?  Where are the monitoring stations and are they in the right places?  What regime is planned for when the incinerator is operational?

Have you considered the social, health and cost impacts on the city of a mass burn incinerator in an area with very high (and rising) levels of social deprivation?

Are you aware that a new incinerator on an industrial site in Fletton is operating and is apparently making people ill, but that the council has not done anything about it,  and that not one person amongst the “officers’ panel” and members present at the Sustainable Growth and Environment Capital Scrutiny Committee Call in Meeting on 29th August was equipped to advise the ward councillor who asked about this problem in his ward?  I understand that the ward councillor had been told by the Environment Agency that it was a matter for the council.  As a member of the public I witnessed that not a single person actually knew how to deal with this relatively small problem – nobody offered to look into it or explain who the ward councillor should talk to, if it wasn’t the Environment Agency.  This is despite the presence of senior council officers and (at least) three lawyers.

Are you satisfied with the monitoring and regulation of pollution in the city?

Please can Richard Olive have answers to the questions which Peterborough Friends of the Earth has asked the council on this matter?

Can you write NONE against – or otherwise provide detail of any personal, family or party interest you have had, have or are likely to have – in any of the following:

  •  the council’s Energy Services Company?
  • “Blue Sky”?
  • this sector?
  • this decision?

I look forward to hearing from you, etc.