Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lazy press

Last week's Riverside CAF meeting promised to have it's fair share of controversy and political sniping. And it didn't let those present down, with some rather enjoyably acerbic exchanges between councillors John Anglin and Jane Branley.

However, there was no Gazette reporter present. The Gazette had been forewarned that the Riverside CAF meeting would be an exceptional one. Unfortunately the Gazette declined to send someone. Perhaps the Gazette's ace reporters were on holiday.

This is just one example of a local journalistic decline. The Gazette prints (copies and pastes?) council press releases without question, making the newspaper appear part of the local New Labour PR machine. It's difficult for the Gazette to deny this when you consider South Tyneside MPs Miliband and Hepburn, and Labour council leader Waggott, all have regular spots in the Gazette.

It would be naive of me to expect no political bias. However, the feeling that the Gazette is excessively council-friendly was reinforced in the run-up to the local elections when the paper was bursting with Labour councillors gurning in photo ops and taking credit for mediocre successes, which coincidentally all happened to be resolved just before the elections.

The Gazette has started to fill space with stories from Sunderland. Page 2 of the Gazette should be referred to as the 'Sunderland Echo Echo' page, since that's where the pieces are lifted from. There's no shortage of news in South Tyneside, just a lack of willingness to dig out the stories. Tuesday 24th July's Gazette is a case in point. There are massive issues currently facing the borough, but the centre pages feature an airhead two-page spread plugging the Gazette 'spook' reporter's (if there is such a thing) new book on imaginary friends.

We get the basic luck news stories, but there's no real accounting taken of local politicians and comment is left to the letters page.

If the Gazette fails to adequately cover what's really going on politically in South Tyneside then it's failing it's readership. The paper's editor should be ashamed that local bloggers are reporting and analysing the news that the Gazette can't be arsed to do.

A free press is important to democracy - but only when it fully reports on the actions of those we put into positions of responsibility. Otherwise it's just fluff and marketing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Coastline sidelined

Here in South Tyneside, we have one of the most beautiful coastlines in the UK, made more remarkable by it's easy accessibility. In Saturday 14th July's Guardian there was a free magazine featuring the UK's best seaside attractions. South Tyneside featured once in it's plethora of top tens, and that was for seaside pubs, namely the Marsden Grotto. It's a unique and remarkable pub, cut into the limestone cliff face opposite probably South Shields' most famous landmark and natural feature, Marsden Rock (which the Guardian piece fails to mention). But frankly the pub has seen better days.

It's a real disappointment that the massive spread of coast missed out on any of the other 'Top 10' features - the sandy beaches, the excellent coastal path, the impressive Frenchman's Bay, Souter Point and it's lighthouse, and of course, Marsden Rock.

How someone could only mention Marsden Grotto and miss all these other attractions only leaves me to conclude that the reporter visited on a cold wet foggy day, and the pub was the best place to be.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Talking rubbish

Not content in allowing the Progressives to get all the stupid is as stupid does action, South Tyneside's Labour councillors are now also weighing in behind incineration. At the Riverside CAF meeting on Thursday 19th July, Councillor Ed Malcolm threw his reputation behind "Energy from Waste" (yes, I know it's a spin word for incineration) as a 'solution' for dealing with the waste we don't recycle or compost. Councillor Michael Clare assured everyone that "no incinerators will be built in South Tyneside"; but it does allow plenty of leeway for building them in nearby Sunderland or Gateshead. I can almost hear the people of Wrekenton groaning.

Councillor Malcolm seemed anxious to let everyone know that EfW (yes, I know, burning rubbish) isn't as bad as it used to be, and verbally painted a rosy image of free energy and heating for homes. He missed out the less than tinted bits about the carbon dioxide emissions, heavy metal particulates and our old cancer causing chums dioxins. He also missed the point that incineration reduces take up of recycling. Oops, and you still have to find somewhere to bury the toxic slag that's left over.

I'm sure the people from Byker have a lot of good things to say about EfW incineration. Well, the one's who didn't get cancer anyway.

Coincidentally, Ed Malcolm's brother, Deputy Leader Councillor Iain Malcolm, has a financial relationship with rubbish supremos Premier Waste Management, although I'm sure Iain Malcolm removes himself from such discussions in council.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that Labour councillors support burning rubbish. Labour councillors support the second Tyne Tunnel, backed concreting the Fellgate greenbelt and proposed planting a training shed (sorry, 'superschool') on Temple Park. Given that Labour and Progressive are supposed to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, when it comes to incineration how do they both manage to take the same ground at the same time?

When it comes to rubbish ideas our councillors are world class.

Has no-one told them - there's no such thing as a safe level of pollution?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Wasted targets

Further exploration of South Tyneside Council's Draft Joint Municipal Waste Management Strategy reveals another example of target-itis. Here we have the policy aspiration for recycling:

"Policy 7: The Partnership will aim to achieve the following recycling / composting targets:
- 30 per cent by 2010
- 35 per cent by 2015
- 45 per cent by 2020"

Look impressive? Challenging? Compare South Tyneside's aspirations compared with what other UK councils are doing now:

Top 10 recycling councils:
North Kesteven 51.5 per cent
Rushcliffe 49.9 per cent
South Cambridgeshire 49.4 per cent
St Edmundsbury 48.6 per cent
Huntingdonshire 48.0 per cent
Melton Mowbray 47.1 per cent
Waveney 46.6 per cent
Forest Heath 46.1per cent
Teignbridge 45.4per cent
Lichfield 45.4per cent

These councils are beating South Tyneside's 2020 recycling target now.

Like the Council's pathetic 'target' to reduce it's carbon dioxide emissions by 5 per cent over 5 years, it seems the council only like targets which are easily achievable with the minimum output. It looks good on performance target press releases I suppose.

If the council wants to avoid accusations of being cynical and lazy, it (and that includes councillors too) really needs to up it's game and aim higher.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Burning ambitions

South Tyneside Council has launched it's consultation process covering the new Draft Joint Municipal Waste Management Strategy which will take us to 2020. Among the commonsense "three R's" (reduce, reuse, recycle) proposals, the council is raising the subject of incineration.

South Tyneside Council has entered into a partnership agreement with Gateshead and Sunderland councils to establish the new waste strategy.

Incineration is proposed as one of the possible methods of disposal for the waste which we cannot (or we can't be bothered to) recover. Since the terms 'incineration' and 'burning' aren't easy to sell, the process comes under the wizzy euphemism of "Energy from Waste" (EfW) or "energy recovery".

If incineration is selected there's a rumour that the preferred site is on the site of the former incinerator at Wrekenton, on the border between Gateshead and Sunderland, although it should be noted there is no official documentation supporting this.

So soon after seeing off the industrial park on the green belt at Fellgate, and the rehabilitation of the Monkton cokeworks site it seems that residents in that part of South Tyneside may be faced with another dark environmental cloud. Not to mention the people in the Wrekenton area who thought they'd seen the last of local waste incineration.

Dioxins are a pretty nasty bunch

Incinerators release dioxins and heavy metals, which can cause cancer, birth defects and endometriosis.

The rise of endometriosis – a painful condition possibly afflicting as many as ten per cent of British women – is linked to emissions of dioxins. British mothers carry in their breast milk levels of dioxins which significantly exceed the World Health Organisation’s recommended “tolerable daily intake”, partly due to the widespread incineration of hazardous waste.

Studies have repeatedly linked dioxins to both breast and testicular cancers.

A study by the US Environmental Protection Agency suggested that as many as 7 per cent of all cancers are caused by dioxins, mostly from incinerators.

Progressives - the crazy bunch?

At the East Shields CAF meeting on the 5th July Progressive Councillor and Progressive Party leader Jim Capstick nailed his colours firmly to EfW (yes, that's incineration) as his party's preferred method of disposal for the waste designated as 'unrecoverable'. The Draft Waste Strategy concedes that incineration "will generate additional hazardous waste".

Quite why his party is called 'progressive' is odd. They have lent their support to a practice which will damage the environment and will precipitate a new crisis in public health. The victims will be among the poor and the young. In my understanding this is about as far from progress as you can get.