Friday, 14 January 2011

Are there plans for a new Tesco on London Road?

We all know that successive Government policy has forced the closure of many Post Offices - some villages, and many urban areas, have seen their Post Offices close - often with devastating impacts on communities.

This is all set to get even worse, as plans originally championed by Peter Mandelson and the Labour Party finally received parliamentary support yesterday: the Royal Mail is to be sold off.

The Green Party's sole MP Caroline Lucas voted gainst the proposals, of course (we belive that the post is an essential public service a vital community hub, especially for older residents, and that it should remain entirely in public ownership), but her view didn't prevail.

But even before the new privatisation received MPs' go-ahead, the local community was rocked by the news that Post Office Counters hopes to close its store in London Road and re-open its old one on Preston Road instead.

The news is a massive blow for the thousands living in the area who use the Post Office but for whom travelling an extra mile is completely out of the question.

Remember that it was only two years ago the nearby Trafalgar Street PO shut, forcing many city centre residents (especially those in the Tarner area) to travel to London Road: now they'll be left with no local Post Office at all.

If you're appalled at the idea, I encourage you to sign the petition organised by the local Green Party councillors.

But the great irony is that business is booming at the London Road PO. It's well run, is used by many, and is in a great location - all of which begs the question: what pressure is being put on Post Office counters to move?

Is it, perhaps, that there are plans for the old Co-op building which houses the post office no-one's telling us about yet? Another Tesco perhaps, now they've being driven out of the New England area and abandoned plans to open a store on the site of the Lewes Road Community Garden? Watch this space...

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Meet your new(ish) Green Team for Queen's Park: Me, Geoffrey and Steph

Well New Year, New Start and all that. It's been in the pipeline for months now, and neither Steph nor Geoffrey will be entirely new to anyone, but I can finally announce the Green Party's candidates for May's local election: myself, Steph Powell and Geoffrey Bowden.

The Green Party holds all three council seats in the area which also includes the Tarner and St James's Street neighbourhoods.

If you're reaing this, you know me already: I'll be standing alongside youth careers adviser and community activist Steph Powell and Geoffrey Bowden, a journalist and healthcare communications consultant.

Steph has played a major part in the campaign to save a frontline youth careers service in the city from closure as a result of the Coalition Government cuts to local government.

Geoffrey has many years' experience of working with the NHS, patient groups and health professionals.

He has served as a Trustee of Pride in Brighton and Hove and is a former prison visitor.

Queen's Park councillors Rachel Fryer and Paul Steedman are standing down having spent four years promoting a greener city and defending the people of Queens Park and the wider city of Brighton and Hove from cuts and privatisation of public services.

I'm thrilled to have been reselected to fight Queens Park Ward for the Greens, and to have the opportunity once again to fight to make our neighbourhood a fairer, safer and greener place to live, defending the less well-off in difficult times.

I'm proud to showcase what Green councillors have achieved for local people over the last four years, in all walks of life, in spite of the savage cuts imposed by the Coalition after the legacy of financial mismanagement left by the previous Labour Government.

Queens Park is one of the most diverse and exciting parts of city.

Dynamic and responsive Green councillors have shown time and time again across the city that they trump the other parties - whatever their political colour - on the results they achieve for local people.

Voters just across the street in next door Brighton Pavilion constituency made history last May by electing the UK's first Green MP in May partly for that reason.

Whether it's improving road safety, winning funding for more police community support officers, helping tenants with housing issues, building stronger community networks and helping residents and public agencies set up the Local Action Team to make our neighbourhood safer and greener, Green councillors deliver.

I'm honoured to have two outstanding community activists with years of professional experience standing with me - Steph Powell and Geoffrey Bowden. Both have strong links with the lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) communities in the city.

They'll offer flair, insight and expertise as first rate community councillors benefiting everyone in the neighbourhood.

Finally, I should thank my retiring councillor colleagues Rachel and Paul.

They've played a huge role in the life of this area over the last four years.

I think I speak for every fair minded person who's active in the community when I say that Rachel and Paul have been beacons of honesty and professionalism. They have really worked their socks off for local people and they'll really be missed.

Monday, 3 January 2011

It's a pretty dark start to the year: but the onward march of real democracy is the cloud's silver lining...

2010 was a dark year - the culmination of several years of economic gloom caused primarily by the failure of Labour and Republican governments here and in the US to properly regulate the banking sector began to be translated into tax hikes, benefit cuts, job losses and public service reductions.

And, as the increasingly smug-sounding David Cameron said in his New Year's message, the worst is yet to come: a lot of the 'heavy lifting' will need to be done in 2011.

Cuts in local government funding will see hundreds of jobs go in Brighton and Hove, from the council and Sussex Police.

Those jobs that remain will be paid less than ever before, with thousands facing pay freezes or below-inflation rises. It would take a 2.5% hike - a privelege enjoyed by few - just to eliminate the rise in VAT which comes into force tomorrow.

A recent survey of private businesses has found that the news is hardly any better from that side of the fence: more than half are planning wage freezes or pay cuts this year.

Those on benefts are likely to fare even worse: Shelter has warned that families face homelessness thanks to government reforms of Housing Benefit - especialy those living in London and the South-East, including Brighton and Hove.

And with a wholesale review of all benefits and tax credits due too - a review that's bound to reduce spending on the neediest, not boost it - who really knows on which thumbs the screws are likely to tighten next.

Of course costs keep marching ever-higher too: just this week rail fares between London and Brighton have risen by about 8%, despite the Lib Dems pre-election promise to resist any increases in rail fares.

But there is a silver lining to all this - well, a political one anyway.

First, there's the local annihilation of the Liberal Democrats. They've only got two councillors left: one of them (David Watkins) has been deselected and the pair are reportedly not talking to one another, finding themselves on different sides of the right-left divide.

After the student fees debacle, and their lies over rail fare hikes for commuters (not to mention the whole propping up a Tory government thing), their days are surely numbered locally.

Secondly, and far more importantly, is the resurgence of popular engagement in the political process. Almost every week now we see protest and demostrations to try and prevent something or other, or defend the rights of someone or other.

It seems fewer and fewer of us are prepared to have politics be something we engage in once every few years, when elections come around. Where the Tories on the council see an unruly rabble, and the police see a potentially lawless public order situatuon, I've really enjoyed seeing a resurgence of botom-up politics.

(Oops, I'll probably get another official complaint made against me for saying that - it can only bring the office of councillor into disrepute, surely)

Just in the last fortnight, for example, internet campaigns have sprung up around rail fare increases (look out for the activists at Brighton Station over the next week), and plans for the new Sainsbury Local on St James's Street: it seems the commnuity-led campaign against the supermarket has materialised ver more quickly than I predicted.

And just to prove I'm not writing this in a bah-humbug way, here's my favourite pic anyone's send me today - Father Christmas working closely with the National Elf Sevice (groan) at the Tarner 'All Different, All Equal' event a couple of week's ago.

Ho ho ho!