Thinking about sustainable homes

Today is a lovely, sunny autumn day, and I had a long walk with a good friend, the wonderful artist and County Councillor Hilary Cox Condron, discussing all things sustainable. Everything from hedgehogs to the emerging local plan, and what we can do as local politicians (or not) and in our own lives too.

Hilary is going to start to make her home more sustainable and I’m going to give some advice, starting with measuring what the footprint is first – actually measuring up the home and using the utility bills – then look at reducing energy 20% every year.

A few years ago I wrote a guide to making homes and buildings more sustainable, and I thought it would be worth sharing with Hilary and anyone else, so I’m publishing it here

Katies’ Guide to Becoming More Sustainable

1.5 degrees is too much

[Image shows the shadow of Katie and her phone, as she takes a picture of dry grass on the hottest day recorded so far in the UK, in Cambridge in July 25 2019. ]

On Monday that Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Sixth Assessment Report, looking at the the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, and it made chilling reading, as this report from the BBC makes clear

I was invited onto BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to talk about the report with Chris Mann

I’m angry because we knew this was coming and we know what is needed – we have to live resilient lives and act in emergencies, we have to adapt our built environment, and we have to make hard choices in order to make sure that our planet remains one we can live on.

The last Labour government put in place a Code for Sustainable Homes, which called for zero carbon homes and the recognition that water neutrality was necessary in water stressed areas – but these forward thinking policies were abandoned by the Tory-LibDem coalition between 2011 and 2016 and we are still waiting for replacement regulations to reflect the dire situation we are facing.

In the face of this global crisis, what we can do as a local authority can seem insignificant, but it does make a difference, and it offers an example for others.

We are working hard to do what we can to deal with the climate emergency, and our priorities for the next Local Plan include Climate Change and Biodiversity as well as Wellbeing and Tackling Equality. Our aspirations for the Plan go well beyond all current regulations, and we will do whatever we can to assure new communities are sustainable, ensuring that we are “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (this is taken from the National Planning Policy Framework NPPF 2021, paragraph 7).

The City Council has put in double glazing and sealed external doors in all council homes, and have started on a programme of external insulation, loft insulation and solar PV as part of a retrofitting programme. We are working with local organisations like Cambridge Sustainable Food, Cambridge Carbon Footprint, Transition Cambridge and other to transform the way we think about food, waste, recycling and reusing materials, and much more. And we are working to make sure that Cambridge is a net zero council by 2030, and we will work to help our residents, local organisations and businesses to do the same.

Some of the other things we are doing are:

  • A 6 month trial of giving free advice to residents on options to reduce energy use in homes latter this year.
  • Actively encouraging new opportunities for sharing of tools and re-using materials, including starting a library of things in the central library.
  • Listening to residents wanting to start community gardens and more food growing.
  • Working towards having the best possible local plan for sustainable development and communities.
  • Looking at more opportunities for food growing including more meanwhile growing areas and talking to local farmers.
  • Preparing a transport and movement strategy for the whole city and for all living in and around our city. Including tackling pollution, congestion, and provide more opportunities for walking, cycling, and public transport.
  • Starting a trial of electric community cars

None of these will solve global heating, none of them is enough – but they show that we are serious about what we can do here in Cambridge, offer ideas for other people to adopt, and demonstrate that we are willing to change the way we live.

We believe that we can make a difference – but at the same time we will be campaigning for governments and the large corporations that are responsible for most of the world’s carbon emissions to change the way they work too.

Preserving and enhancing our chalk streams

In 2019 I convened a Water Crisis Forum which was attended by representatives of many local organisations, as well as Anglian Water. That forum, and the hard work of many organisations that care about water like the Wild Trout Trust, FECRA, the Wildlife Trust, Cambridge Eco Schools, and Cam Valley Forum, managed to put concern over the local water supply on the news agenda, and made people more aware of the threat to our precious chalk streams from over abstraction of water from the chalk aquifers.

I’ve continued to talk and campaign about this issue, and have followed up on the report we issued last February.

In this video (which you can watch by clicking the link) I talk about biodiversity, and the chalk streams. Labour is committed to doing more to help, so please vote for your Labour candidate on Thursday May 6.

Planting the Turing Tree

One of the most important activities I am responsible for as the executive councillor for Planning Policy and Open Spaces is  the Cambridge Canopy Project, which is planting 2,000 trees across the city between 2019 and 2022. 

This is part of a bigger European project to roll-out ‘green infrastructure’, or natural solutions, to make cities more resilient to the likely impacts that will be brought about by climate change.

This week we hit two milestones –  the 1,000th and 1,024th trees – so it seemed fitting to make an occasion of these milestones and celebrate accordingly, and I’m really pleased that we are going to commemorate one of the city’s best known residents in the process.

The 1,000th tree – a magnolia ‘Galaxy’ – was planted in Stourbridge Grove, adding spring colour with its large pink flowers, and today (Jan 29) we are planting the 1024th in Christ’s Pieces. This will be the Turing Tree,  named for the mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing. 

Continue reading “Planting the Turing Tree”

The Last Six Months

The period since March has been among the most challenging any of will us ever have known.  I know how much the pandemic has affected my family and my work, and I hope that everyone has been able to cope.  My sympathies go out to everyone who has been ill, or who may have lost loved ones.

Like many of you I have been busy doing what I can to support those who have been badly affected, in Trumpington Ward and across Cambridge. 

I worked with residents and other councillors to set up the trumpington.info online hub to share information and provide a focal point for volunteering

Katie in a mask and visor at the food hub
Katie in a mask and visor at the food hub

After spending time working at Abbey Food Hub I initiated a similar offer for Trumpington, which has been open in the Pavilion since May 5, initially for two afternoons a week but currently on Fridays only. Over the last twenty weeks we have provided hundreds of families with access to much-needed food. The Food Poverty Alliance has used funding from the City Council and Cambridge United to buy food from Fairshare, and we have also had generous donations from local businesses and residents. 

Life on the City Council has been very different as all our meetings are now online. This has had the welcome side effect of making them more accessible to councillors with caring obligations, and I plan to make sure that we retain online access even after we go back into the Guildhall.

I am now the City Council lead for a local action group seeking to establish whether the ‘doughnut economics’ model would be useful for our long term planning. Doughnut economics combines the ideas of planetary and social boundaries to provide a framework for sustainable development shaped like a ring doughnut.

This is an idea that has been growing in importance and has been adopted by many cities around the world, including Amsterdam. I believe it offers us a way to plan for a sustainable world, and will be one of the ways we will come through these difficult days.

Room With A View

I get to use an attic room overlooking King’s Parade, and it is a great place to view all very many ways this significant Cambridge street is used: for protests, for dancing, singing and busking, for weddings and funerals and picnics both on the wall outside King’s and, more recently, on the college’s lawn. 

I often get my phone out to photograph the comings and goings of people but also the rain, sunsets and birds. Some I post up on Twitter with or without comments, but mostly they get left in my cloud storage. 

Today I photographed some dancing, singing, a bubble machine, families with dogs, some drummers, all in blue and silver glitter with flags, bunting and banners. A protest about the threat to water, and the climate crisis.  Both things I am very concerned about.  

The group behind it was Cambridge XR, and once they had assembled there were some speeches. About the climage emergency. About Black Lives Matters as well. Taking the knee and silence.  All on the green in front of King’s College, while the sun shone and a group of brass instruments played loudly further down the street.

After a short while the group reassembled and moved on, while continuing to protest while dancing and singing. I posted a couple of photos and quoted the banners, and referenced Cambridge XR. 

I don’t support any form of violence, but I do support freedom of speech and peaceful protests. I campaign for equality, to protect biodiversity, nature and to mitigate the climate crisis. 

I’m not a member of XR but I can see the impact they have had on the conversation about the climate crisis. The younger people are speaking out and I am trying to listen. 

Trees and Water

It was a real pleasure to listen to students who had marched from Shire Hall to the Guildhall yesterday to highlight the need for more trees and to deal with our water crisis as part of an event organised by Cambridge Schools Eco Council, and I’m pleased that it got coverage in the local press. 

While I did say to the students that we wanted their help planting trees, it’s not that we won’t be putting the. on council land- we just don’t have *enough* council land. And I think that comparing Cambridge to the whole of Essex is a little misleading…

I’m looking forward to the forum on the water crisis that I’ve convened for next month. Although the report says I’m doing this as part of my work as Executive Councillor for Planning Policy and Open Spaces this isn’t the case- it’s just something I’m doing as a local councillor. The report will be available for the council and everyone else to use to help decide what we can do to deal with this important issue, but it’s not a formal City Council document.

Cambridge Independent: Screenshot of article 'Trees and Water: Youth Strikers look to Cambridge Council'

The article is on the Cambridge Independent website.

Please note that my brief has now changed and as of June 2021 I am Executive Councillor for Planning Policy and Transport, having covered Streets and Open Spaces 2018-2019 and Planning Policy and Open Spaces 2019-2021

Hedgehogs on my mind

It’s Hedgehog Awareness Week, organised every year by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) to highlight the problems hedgehogs face and how you can help them. This year Cambridge City Council is helping Cambridge Hedgehogs, a new charity, to give hedgehogs a higher profile both during the campaign and all year around.

Hedgehog Awareness Week: https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/hedgehog-awareness-week-2019/

In the UK hedgehog numbers have declined by 97% since the 1950s, and this is a particular issue in Trumpington, where I’m the local councillor. When I was first out canvassing in Trumpington in 2016, I met many Green Party members living in the ward and we talked about biodiversity loss in the ward as development increased and the number of new dwellings was delivered.  What seemed to be a  thriving population of local hedgehogs had dwindled as new homes increased.  I was shocked about the news, and that I had not been aware of the situation.

Hedgehog decline:https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/hedgehogs-decline-uk-climate-change-agriculture-ptes-a8525651.html

Continue reading “Hedgehogs on my mind”