Thursday, 30 September 2010

Supermarket sweep - the onward march of 'Clone Town' Brighton

The onward march of 'Clone Town Britain' took a step forward this week when Morrisons in St James's Street lodged a formal application to sell alcohol from 6am until 11pm, seven days a week.

According to coverage in The Argus, the chair of the local residents' group - the St James's Street LAT - is 'relaxed' about the application, but let's be clear: I'm not.

Along with my fellow Green Party councillors for the ward I've lodged an objection to the plans. Although the big-business-friendly Licensing Act 2003 only allows objections to be raised on the grounds of protecting children from harm, public safety or an increased threat of crime, disorder or noise nuisance, I think the dangers posed by increased availability of cheap supermarket booze round-the-clock reach far more widely.

Of course, Morrisons sits right in the heart of Brighton's so-called 'Cumulative Impact Area' and therefore, given residents' concerns about crime, noise nuisance and disorder, as well as children’s health, the hours extension really shouldn't be allowed, but it's the impact on smaller, local businesses, that really worries me.

Just last week it was reported that the locally-owned Tin Drum pub up the road was closing to make way for an extension of the supermarket next door.

Where will all this end? If Morrisons is granted its extension then Tesco will surely ask for the same thing – and probably be granted that too.

If we are relaxed about this sort of thing we’ll see most pubs closed, and most alcohol sold cheaply, round-the-clock, by supermarket chains: communities like ours will be left to pick up the pieces while our streets lose their distinctive ‘feel’, and the profits, instead of finding their way back into local pockets, are whisked away to shareholders and investors far away in the world’s financial centres.

The sooner the licensing laws are changed to allow local pubs and clubs to protect themselves from this 'supermarket sweep', and councillors to recognise that protecting public health should be a reasonable consideration when looking at new booze permits, the better.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Tory Brighton Council celebrates Democracy Day - but turns back on real democracy

I've just got back from taking part in an event at Brighton's Jubilee Library to mark the city's Democracy Day: present were eight councillors and, when I had to leg it to collect boys from school, a sum total of two members of the public.

I chatted to one of them - she was an active member of a lobby group (Friends of the Earth) and already knew several councillors, at least by name. Hardly the target audience - you could argue she was already pretty engaged with local democracy!

But people care a lot about the issues that the council makes decisions about - and, believe me, many residents do get in touch with their councillors about them to try and influence local democracy at work.

So the real question is: why did so few residents want to talk to councillors at today's event? Maybe it was the timing (middle of the day), or the weather (drizzly), or maybe the location (back room, top floor).

More likely city residents, aware that the Tory-run council here doesn't care much for their views (just last week we saw Geoffrey Theobald - cabinet member for the environment - ignore a consultation that showed a majority of residents in Canning Street and Queen's Park Rise wanted to see residents' parking schemes extended to cover their roads)  just have as little respect for local democracy as it seems to have for them.

We Greens believe in opening up decision-making to neighbourhoods, through participatory-budgeting and taking a much more transparent approach to the way choices are taken (for starters bothering to listen to the results of consultations) - if we get our way I hope we'll see more people taking part in future events like today's.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Elections are like Christmas - they don't come around that often and people start gettting obsessed with them months before they actually happen

Well it's less than 100 days to go until Christmas - and already the cards are on sale, the official parties are being planned - but it's even longer (about eight months) until the local elections here in Brighton and Hove, and already the preparatons are under way.

The local institution that is the Brighton Politics Blogger has already started to call results in some seats -  Goldsmid, Central Hove, East Brighton, Brunswick and Adelaide, though he hasn't got round to Queen's Park yet (my favourite is the post predicting gains for the Green and the end of the Lib-Dems).

I guess after the debacle that saw May's General Election result called more slowly than ever before (after count-room reports of mising ballot boxes and more tears and thumb-twiddling in the Brighton Centre than staff have seen since the Dixie-land banjo-fest came to town) the city's election supremo John Barradell will already be making his preparations.

Other senior council staff have privately confessed to me that work is now pretty much on hold: in the face of disappearing partner agencies, public spending cuts and politicians' focus turning to next May don't hold your breath for any new council work until June 2011 at the earliest.

The parties all seem to be busy electing their candidates - and there appears to be general jubilation at the news that Tom French, the student Labour activist who presided over the increase in the St Peter's and North Laine Green Party vote following councillor Keith Taylor's elevation to the European Parliament, has been chosen to stand here in Queen's Park.

Labour whip Warren Morgan was quick to celebrate his selection in a twitter comment to followers (he's blocked me for some reason so I only learned about it second-hand) : the Green Party activists among local residents and beyond seem pleased with the choice too.

In any event I'll be keeping my feet firmly on the policy ground, at least until the campaign 'proper' starts. I'll report any titbits of gossip here when I hear it, but my focus until April will be continuing to do what I've been doing since May 2007, representing the residents of Queen's Park as best I can, ensuring they get the best possible local services despite the best efforts of the Tories on the council, and two Governments, to undermine them.

The latest bunfight, of course, will be about the coming cuts. Sussex Police have already announced they'll be shedding more than 1,000 jobs - and the council will surely follow.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Questioning reality is far more dangerous than sex or swearing

Last night I enjoyed a good old-fashioned Saturday night out with Charlie, my partner and the love of my life.

We went to see the film Inception, before enjoying a cocktail or two in the company of two thirty-somethings from London dressed as Smurfs for the night at the wonderful Brighton Rocks bar near St James's Street.

The film was fantastic, just the sort of dark, philosophical thriller - with just the right balance of humour and high-adrenaline action - that every Hollywood blockbuster should boast.

But it was only classified as a 12A - meaning even quite little children (and there were a few there) could go alomng if they were accompnied by adults.

I'm not really sure that the British Board of Film Classificatton, who come up with these ratings, should have a role in telling us what we can and can't watch, but they've clearly got a job in helping paremts decide what's approprioate for their kids to see.

And I just can't understand their logic really: some films get 18 ratings that are completely harlemss while others, like this one, are deemed acceptable for kids when they deal with issues, in a pretty scary way, that get right to the heart of the meaning of everyday experience.

I can't see how fucking on screen, swearing or even poking fun at religion or others' beliefs does much harm - but questioning the very nature of reality is about as scary as it gets. I certainly wouldn't recommend this film to kids or anyone with a shaky or vulnerable grip on reality.

Perhaps it's time the BBFC stopped being so prurient, and starte bein a little more philosophical in the way they make decisions.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Labour Party council candidates step down in Queen’s Park

Usually, the bit at council or community meetings where last time’s minutes get signed off is over in a flash.

But on Wednesday, a meeting of the St James’s Area Local Action Team spent more than half an hour discussing the last meetings minutes – with a bitter row centred on whether they reflected residents’ concerns about the after-Pride street party or not.

One disgruntled resident said: “I’ve had a look through these minutes and, frankly, I don’t recognize the meeting I was at.

“It’s no wonder so many residents don’t come to these meetings when their views aren’t even recorded, let alone acted upon.”

I almost found myself feeling sorry for Chris Cooke, who has been selected by the Labour Party to stand against us Green Councillors in next May’s local election – when the talk afterwards turned to a vote of no confidence in him as chair.

But then I remembered that he used to be a member of the Green Party – and, it is rumoured, the local Tories – so he’s clearly a man who likes local politics but isn’t really sure what he believes in.

And then I heard that the other two Labour candidates for the ward have resigned, finding Chris difficult to work with.

And is if that wasn’t’ enough, I heard he wants to see smoking banned on the outdoor areas of the pier (for the record: I think the existing smoking ban goes quite far enough, and people should certainly be free to smoke outdoors if they so choose).

Chris undoubtedly joins a lot of community groups, but has a bit of a tendency to upset people and, often, walk away: I can only say if it’s true his personality means he’s unpopular with residents and is driving other Labour candidates away I’m glad he decided to leave the Green Party.

Anyway I do wish him well in next year’s election – I hope he manages a good fourth place behind the three Greens who already serve the ward so well (I would say that wouldn’t I!)