Tuesday, May 23, 2006

yellow isn't green, it's blue

Here in Leeds, our City Council is hung. Sadly not from traditional stout British gallows (we're too busy exporting those to Zimbabwe); I mean it has no overall control by a single party.

Labour have the most seats, but a coalition of Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the Greens act as the dominant group.

Even though the British National Party received more than half the number of votes the LibDems got, the BNP only got two seats compared to the LibDems’ 26. This allocation gives the LibDems a real political punch in Leeds. How do you think this party, so used to opposition, uses its power?

I live in the Hyde Park area of Leeds. It's a lot of terraces, many of them back-to-backs. Green space is at a real premium here.

The park that gives the area its name is especially treasured. As everyone lives tightly packed into houses with little or no private outdoor area, everyone treats the park as one big communal garden. In summer it's like a beach, full of people hanging out, music, games, a real vibe.

One section of it, Monument Moor, is under threat. The City Council is planning to concrete this green space and make it a car park.

The plan has a number of especially galling elements. Top of the list is that the considerable money for the plan - about £170,000 - is from the 'Parks Renaissance' budget.

You couldn't make that shit up could you? What kind of 'renaissance' does a park get being turned into a mass of tarmac?

Coming a close second in the fucks-sake stakes are the reports of the supportive public consultation, when in fact no real consultation took place and the first most residents knew of it was when there was a story in the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Trying to contain the ensuing furore, LibDem councillor Mark Harris wrote a letter to the YEP 'to categorically assure readers that no decision at all has been made for a car park on Monument Moor'.

No final decision, no; but the Council's planning application had gone in two weeks earlier. It was a detailed plan and a statement of intent: it is quite definitely a decision.

LibDem councillor Kabeer Hussain says 'I think the consultation could have been improved.' Doing it at all would have improved it no end for most of us, I'm sure.

He alleges, 'There is also a lot of public support for the car park,' even though his colleague Councillor David Morton has seen the responses and says reports, 'my sample of the survey returns showed a 100% opposition rate'.

Still, Kabeer tells us, 'it will be really nice - with shrubs, and trees surrounding it.' How many 'really nice' car parks have you ever seen?

LibDem councillor Penny Ewens also argues for the tarmac on the grounds that it will have nice neat trees. But, as the YEP's Oliver Cross explained, unmanicured land is far more valuable than car park borders.

I don't think anybody has so far argued the case for spare and useless land being left spare and useless as a matter of policy.

If the bit of scraggy grassland around HR Marsden's statue were to be used sensibly, there would be scarcely anywhere in central Leeds not dedicated entirely to cars, flats, offices, flat-letting agencies or more flats.

Coun Ewens says the car park's surface could be made of something softer than Tarmac, but it will still have to have white lines and pay-and-display machines and will, I'm sure, look so much like a car park that nobody will mistake it for a moor.

The area will also be landscaped. One of the glories of the threatened piece of land (which, for reasons unknown, the council calls Monument Moor) is that no landscaper has laid hands on it.

The reasons are not unknown, incidentally. It's unsurprisingly named after the monument that stands on it. It's that aforementioned statue of Henry Marsden, Leeds industrialist and - oh ripe irony - Liberal Mayor of Leeds in the 1870s.

The LibDems like to imply they can be trusted to be all green and lovely but, as in Leeds, time and again their record in power tells a different story.

On the day the government said GM crops might go ahead, LibDems in Westminster were officially opposing it but in Scotland, where they have power and could do something about it, they weren't blocking it, they were unanimously supporting it and merely saying they'd ask farmers not to plant GM.

The infamous Newbury Bypass, a scheme now conceded by the then Tory Roads Minister as utterly unnecessary, was rabidly cheered on by those with local power - the LibDem council and the LibDem MP.

In the case of Manchester Airport's second runway - an monstrously destructive project taking nearly three times the land of Newbury - in Stockport under the flight path they opposed it but in Manchester, where their power was, they were in favour.

The Kingston Poplars tree protest was for a load of mature trees being felled to improve the view for new luxury flats. The council that gave planning permission? LibDems.

This is a party that openly admits it ‘starts with a bias for market solutions’. That is to say, if there’s ever a conflict between profits and the environment, profits win. As they ascend in the polls and get closer to national power, so they move to become just another Big Business party. The environment's all well and good as long as it doesn't get in the way of the wealthy and their markets.

It's a flipside to the way that as the Tories move away from power they start saying there should be good student grants and in-house hospital cleaning, conveniently forgetting who invented student loans and privatised hospital cleaning in the first place.

Indeed, David Cameron has twigged that the environment is an ideal issue for those who are firmly in opposition. Everyone wants it to be cared for but those in power are beholden to the markets’ hunger for growth, so environmental concerns can only be acted upon if they happen to coincide with profitability.

As the markets tend to regard the environment as raw materials or a cesspool, that coincidence is rare. Eco credentials must be ditched in direct proportion to the ability to act upon them.

The market is built upon the absolute requirement for perpetual economic growth. As I keep saying, it doesn’t take an especially brilliant mind to understand why you can’t have eternal accelerated consumption of finite resources.

As power drains from the cadaverising Labour regime, some of them now find they’re free to talk about this openly. One Labour MP is now readily comparing the intrinsic injustice and obvious ephemerality of economic growth to the Third Reich.

The lesson is clear; whoever's hands it's put in, power itself is the problem.

Now I see the LibDems literally just across the road from me, wanting to take away some of the tiny green space in a densely-populated, low car ownership, overpolluted inner city for the convenience of commuting drivers. In other words, favouring the rich over the poor, favouring industrialisation over the environment.

This season, yellow is the new blue.

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UPDATE: Following overwhelming public opposition, the Council has withdrawn the Monument Moor plan. The South Headingley Community Association's Sue Buckle was one of the main organisers of the campaign. After the announcement of the victory, she said, 'It shows what can be achieved if people are prepared to protest and make their views clear... It's the sort of outcome that gives people heart for bigger struggles.'

Amen to that.

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