Simples? Apparently not
Published: 21 Dec 2011
The Government's "simplified" National Planning Policy Framework has yet again come under attack, this time from MPs. The Framework was designed to reduce over 1,000 pages of planning guidance to just 52 as, it is claimed, a simplified system is needed to boost growth and sustainable development.
Although many welcome the simplification, it seems it has created more confusion than anything else. A Commons communities committee reported that the guidance has been slimmed down so much it is now "unhelpfully vague."
It has already been subjected to a high profile campaign from the National Trust who were worried that the Framework placed too much emphasis on economy, detracting from other planning elements such as the environment and society. The Daily Telegraph has simultaneously been running a "Hands off our land" campaign in response to, amongst other things, fears that the Framework may make it easier to develop the greenbelt.
Most of the concerns stem from the "presumption of sustainable development" included in the Framework, which is not defined and could be considered to be ambiguous.
The most recent attack is, however, over concerns about the new policy that creates a default answer of "yes" to development. The Commons communities and local government committee's Labour Chairman, Clive Betts, said the Framework must be rewritten, stating, "The way the framework is drafted currently gives the impression that greater emphasis should be given in planning decisions to economic growth." He added, "As currently drafted the default "yes" to development also carries the risk of the planning system being used to implement unsustainable development."
However, the Planning Minister Greg Clark said that most MPs support the main points of the plans, but, "What they felt is there are some ambiguities and have suggested some changes. I have invited them to advise me and so of course I'm going to take their advice very seriously."
Too many n-ice days for outdoor rinks
Published: 20 Dec 2011
Alongside the twinkling Christmas lights and enormous tree, outdoor ice rinks have become part and parcel of many UK cities' Christmas scene. However, the unseasonable warm weather may leave many cities out in the cold, with fears that ice rinks will be replaced by piles of slush.
Mark Nelson, who runs the ice rink at Somerset House in central London, says that 6C is the optimum temperature. Any warmer, and increasing amounts of energy are required to maintain the ice. Any lower and "little, if any" energy is used, with "zero consumption" being reached at 1C. Once the air temperature falls below zero, natural icing produces a "harder" ice.
"On average, the ice rink requires energy for 50% of the time," said a Somerset House spokeswoman. "The ice is made of purified water, which ensures that it is frozen more quickly and is more resistant to melting." A computer monitors the quality and temperature, avoiding any needless refrigeration. This saves both energy for the environment, as well as money for the operator's budget. In 2007, Salford city council said it spent £10,000 on electricity running its 200-square-metre Winter Wonderland rink.
However, there is no fear of a wash-out at the outdoor ice rink in Lytham Square, Blackpool, where synthetic ice is used, which is a melt-free alternative. Although synthetic ice receives criticism, Professional ice-skater Natalia Pestova insisted that the high-density plastic panels that can be locked together like a jigsaw are just as good as the real thing.
Guide to thy perfect light
Published: 19 Dec 2011
Fire chiefs have this month issued a warning over the safe use of Christmas lights.
Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service has said that people need to be careful with festive lighting for both indoor and outdoor use. Peter Hope, their community safety advisor commented, "We know that many people will be turning their thoughts to Christmas and we want to make sure that safety is high on their agenda as they unpack their lights and decorations from last year, or plan to buy some new ones. In recent years we've seen a dramatic rise in the number of people using lights to decorate the outside of their homes and gardens for Christmas and we want to make sure they are not putting themselves, their families or their homes at risk by doing so."
He also urged everyone to be vigilant and follow some basic safety guidelines when using fairy lights and other illuminated decorations over the festive period. In particular, you should:
- check Christmas lights conform to British Standards guidelines, or have the European CE safety mark;
- check each set of lights, old or new, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wire or any loose connections;
- make sure the lights are switched off at the mains before inserting or removing bulbs;
- only use the correct bulb for that particular set of lights;
- always use a residual current device (RCD) on outdoor electrical equipment;
- take care not to overload electrical sockets;
- not let bulbs come into contact with anything that might burn easily (such as wrapping paper);
- only use lights designed for external use outside;
- fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, walls and fences, out of the reach of young children;
- always turn off Christmas lights when leaving the house or when you go to bed;
- double check your smoke alarms are working as you put up your Christmas lights.
... and a partridge in a replanted tree
Published: 19 Dec 2011
From mountains of Christmas cards to Christmas trees that have served their purpose, there are ways to recycle your waste this Christmas.
There appears to be much focus this year on ensuring that wood use over the festive period becomes more sustainable in a bid to help the environment over a very demanding time on the natural resource. For example, different sources are encouraging those who buy a natural tree to pot it, and then find a place in your garden to replant it after Christmas. This means the tree can be used again the next year.
In addition, thanks to a partnership between the Woodland Trust and Marks and Spencer, you can recycle all of your Christmas cards. For the past 14 years, the Woodland Trust has recycled 700 million old Christmas cards and the money raised has helped the Trust to plant over 200,000 trees.
M&S stores around the country will be continuing to help the good work the Woodland Trust started by collecting your Christmas cards once the festive period is over. They aim to collect 9 million cards by 31 January 2012, and the Woodland Trust have pledged that for every 1,000 cards collected, a new tree will be planted. If M&S reach their target, 9,000 trees will be planted!
To make the process even more interactive, you can click the following link http://cedr.ec/1r to visit the M&S website and vote where in the country you would like more trees to be planted.
Christmas cancelled for pensioners
Published: 16 Dec 2011
Pensioners at a sheltered housing block in Brighton have been denied any Christmas cheer this year as Council bosses crack down on Christmas decorations.
Residents have also been told not to put up pictures or clocks on walls in case they fall on their heads, but Brighton and Hove City Council said staff at Elwyn Jones Court in Patcham are simply trying to decide where the decorations can "safely go".
Councillor Carol Theobald agreed to take up their cause and said, "The hallway at the entrance to the building is a big area but they have been told they can't have a Christmas tree in the corner or have anything on the walls because of health and safety. They are very upset because they were allowed to put up decorations last year. I understand the need to make sure things are done safely but this is way over the top. It's a real bah humbug attitude."
But a council spokesman denied Christmas had been cancelled at the block. "We are not banning Christmas decorations at Elwyn Jones Court-far from it. Staff and residents will be working together to decide where the decorations can safely go. It's common sense stuff, but we need to avoid things like putting Christmas trees in front of fire exits or wrapping strings of lights around handrails."
This is the second year in which Brighton council have put dampeners on the city's festive spirit. In 2010, the Council made 63 year-old Ian Cameron take down the Christmas lights that were hanging from his 19th floor balcony over fears that they could be dangerous.
Do Ewe Hear What I Hear?
Published: 16 Dec 2011
One of Britain's oldest sheep breeds is being used to produce environmentally-friendly Christmas trees in North Wales.
Peter and Joy Price have bought a small flock of Shropshire sheep to graze their ten-acre plantation, near Llandegla, Wrexham. It has baffled scientists and wise men for years, but pure-bred Shropshires are "tree-safe" - unlike other breeds of sheep that will strip bark and foliage from trees. So for growers looking to cut their use of herbicides, Shropshire's provide the ultimate in organic weed control and replace the need for mowing and reducing groundwater pollution.
Mr Price commented, "I don't know if the climate is changing but the grass seems to be growing longer each year. As we get older, and can't get down to pick out the weeds like we used to, we thought we could do with some help."
Peter recently became aware of the Shropshires tree-safe reputation, and in the summer he bought eight ewe lambs from established breeders in Penyffordd. Already they have proved their value, though the sheep must be carefully managed to make sure they do their job.
The Shropshires tree-friendly grazing was first identified more than 20 years ago by Graham Allan, a Scottish shepherd who lives in Denmark. He developed and promoted the system in Europe, and in recent years it has been adopted by Christmas tree growers in the UK. The sheep have now started to attract the attention of fruit growers, as they can also help reduce fungal diseases by consuming fallen leaves.