Saturday, 15 December 2007

European Reform Treaty

I'm pleased that the European Reform Treaty has been signed. It should allow an enlarged Europe to work better together.

Last week, in Council, the Tories proposed that the District Council should urge the Government to hold a referendum on the treaty (aka the Lisbon Treaty). We urged a referendum on membership of the EU: the point being that this is the real agenda of those wanting any kind of a treaty.

The debate was interesting. Some of the Tories made it plain that they do, indeed, want out of the EU. Others that they're committed Europeans, but that the treaty is in fact a constitution for Europe. If that were true, then they ought to be arguing for a Europe-wide referendum, because a constitution would be a pact between the people and the government. This is a principle that comes directly from local hero Thomas Paine. On the other hand, if it's a treaty between nations, then there might be an argument for a national referendum.

Bizarrely, the Tories tried to hold us to our general election manifesto commitment to a referendum on the treaty! I had to remind them that neither of our parties had won the general election. We've changed our policy since then.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Dodgy procedures

The government are saying that the Child Benefit data went missing because procedures weren't followed. It seems to me that means the procedures weren't adequate.

But, here's a much, much, much more scary example of insanely lax procedures. Thank your lucky stars it wasn't one of these nukes that got "lost in the post".

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Who do you trust?

The Inland Revenue have lost two disks with financial information about 7.5 million families - 25 million people. That's 40% of the UK's population.

They contain the "name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number and, where relevant, bank details" of every family in the UK that claims child benefit.

Lost in the post, on the way to the National Audit Office, who "audit the accounts of all central government departments and agencies…, and report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which they have used public money."

They were using what they call the "internal post" - a function that they've outsourced to private couriers TNT. Were they the lowest bidder for the contract? That's great value, eh?

I digress. My real point is that this is the same government that want to put all your key data onto a central database to back the national ID card scheme. All these organisations might want to verify your ID. Every time they do, their request will be logged against your name. Some day, a criminal organisation, or a dishonest person in an trusted organisation, will get access to this database.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

iPhone

A post from my iPhone. It's a marvellous thing, with a real web browser, and a great mail client.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Cancelling phone books

We never use the phone book, or yellow pages. And, they're hard to recycle. So, I thought I'd have a go at cancelling them.

It turns out to be very easy. Each has a phone number for ordering extra copies printed in the front. It turns out that the people at the other end are happy to cancel deliveries, too.

The numbers are 0800-833-400 for the phone book, and 0800-671-400 for yellow pages. It only takes a minute.

Online services are available at the Yellow Pages web site http://www.yell.com/ and BT's web site http://www.bt.com/ for personal and business numbers

Encouraged by this (apparent) success, I thought I'd try to opt out of Royal Mail's junk mail delivery service. They call it "unaddressed mail". It turns out you have to email optout@royalmail.com. They'll post you a form to fill out. There's no phone service, for "security" reasons.

For addressed junk mail, you can register with the mail preference service. Funnily enough, these people (who pay to send you junk mail) don't regard this as a security problem! Here, you can register your own name, that of a previous occupier, your own previous address, or the name of someone who has died. They also run the Telephone Preference Service, and the Fax Preference Service. We've been registered with these three services for years, and get little junk mail, and hardly any marketing calls.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

End of oil

Two publications are reporting on energy security concerns today. Both Wired - The End of Oil is Upon Us. We Must Move On - Quickly. and the Financial Times - Act now to avoid an energy crunch cover the latest World Energy Outlook from the International Energy Agency.

Essentially, they say that unchecked growth in China and India will increase global oil consumption and CO2 emissions by 50% by 2030, forcing oil prices up and increasing climate change.

They conclude "The emergence of China and India as major players in global energy markets makes it all the more important that allcountries take decisive and urgent action to curb runaway energy demand...Many of the policies available to alleviate energy insecurity can also help to mitigate local pollution and climate change, and vice-versa...in many cases, those policies bring economic benefits too, by lowering energy costs – a 'triple-win' outcome."

Monday, 5 November 2007

Heating timer

Since we moved in here, we've laboured under the impression that it wouldn't be easy to replace our central heating timer. It's one of those old mechanical dial devices - a Danfoss Randall 102 to be precise. It turns out that Danfoss still make these things, and they also make two electronic timers can can be direct plugin replacements. You just unscrew the old one, and slot the new one in place. There's a 5+2 day timer (102e5) and a 7 day timer (102e7).

So, I've ordered a Danfoss Randall 102e7, which will allow us much better control over our heating. For example, there's one day a week that we're both out. We'll no longer have to remember to switch the heating off on that day. It'll save us time and gas, and C02 emissions for very little outlay.   

Energy prices

I notice that petrol has topped £1 per litre at a couple of filling stations locally. I wonder whether they'll start to shoot up now that that barrier has been broken. Crude oil prices have gone up by 50% in the past year (from $60 to $90 a barrel), and the petrol retail industry has seen margins cut heavily...

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Urban Wind

I've always felt that urban environments weren't right for wind power, for three reasons:

1. Lots of small turbines would be ugly - even worse than the forest of TV aerials that we see now.

2. There often isn't much wind in town, especially when the towns are built in the shelter of hills, like Lewes is.

3. The wind direction changes all the time, which makes the turbines less efficient.

Well, I've just seen an article describing a number of new designs that challenge these assumptions. Some vertical axis designs that look quite elegant, and are less sensitive to changing wind direct. And, a design that exploits the funnelling of wind by the buildings themselves.

Of course, these aren't going to be suitable everywhere, but they could help to increase the range of suitable sites.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Open Source in Government

Dr. John Pugh made a very sensible speech in parliament about software procurement. It's an esoteric field, but the same principles should be applied to software procurement in local government. 

The full debate is here. It's quite esoteric, but his third paragraph is the most important.

Monday, 29 October 2007

test

Is my blogger widget still working, after upgrading to OSX 10.5. If you're reading this, it is.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Green Electricity

We switched to a green electricity supplier today. It's pretty hard to choose between them, because they all have such different approches. In the end, we went with Ecotricity because they were top of the listing at WhichGreen.org.

The listing compares the suppliers by the amount of new renewable energy that they're building, adjusted for the number of customers they have. Some resellers don't do any building, so they don't do very well in this rating. Ecotricity, on the other hand, topped this league for the third year running - they were 10 times better than the number 2!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

San Diego fires, 3

Just one of the San Diego fires (the Harris fire) has burned an area equal in size to Lewes District. The Harris fire isn't even the largest fire: the Witch Creek fire is two and half times larger - almost the size of Wealden District. 

San Diego fires, 2

A photo of the San Diego fires. Evidence of global warming? No, no single event is. However, climate models do predict an increasing frequency of such fires (remember the Greek fires, recently). As temperatures increase, the ground is more frequently dry, winds are higher, vegetation is drier.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

San Diego fires,1

Here's an excellent use of Google Maps for emergency response. It's a detailed map of the San Diego fires, evacuation zones, evacuation centres, road closures and so on.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Happy Feet

Carlotta Luke's Happyfeet Urban Design web site has gone live at http://www.happyfeet-urbandesign.com/Home.html. It's a proposal for improving traffic flows in Lewes, based on her Masters degree dissertation.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Crude oil jumps to all-time high

The Financial Times reports that crude oil has hit an all-time high price. 

Friday, 5 October 2007

Ming on Iraq

We always opposed the Iraq war. Here's what Ming has to say on the current situation.

 

Peak tungsten?

Here's some good news for the environment. General Electric are shutting down production of traditional light bulbs, in favour of low energy light bulbs.

I hope (but somehow doubt) that they're looking after the employees.

In case your in doubt about low energy bulbs, the technology has come a long way in the last few years, and is improving rapidly. So, you can get bulbs with the same light quality as traditional bulbs, they fit a wide range of lamps (including halogen spots), and they can start instantaeously. So, there's no real reason to not use them.

The savings make it a no brainer - a conventional bulb will work for about 1,000 hours (if you work full time, you might work 2,000 hours per year). In that 1,000 hours, a 100w bulb will use 100 units of electricity. That's about £10 worth. An equivalent low energy bulb will last 5,000 hours, and cost from £2 to £10, while using a quarter of the electricity (about £2.50 per thousand hours). So, it will pay for itself in the first 1,000 hours, and by the time you have to replace it, will have saved you about £37 in electricity - that's probably enough to pay for a new light fitting, if you need one.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Bored of election speculation

I'm bored of all this election speculation. It's a huge waste of time. We should have fixed term parliaments, to avoid all this nonsense. Of course, parliament should still be able to sack the government!

Friday, 21 September 2007

Conference

Lib-Dem conference is over. I attended every day, except to attend a Lewes Alternative Travel day on Wednesday afternoon.

The organisers did an excellent job. There were always too many interesting things going on, with debates and discussions in the conference hall, exhibitors of all kinds, and dozens of fringe events at breakfast, lunch and in the evening.

We passed new policy on the environment, political reform, the surveillance society, flood defences, gun crime, Darfur, and a host of other issues.

On the environment, we're promising to cut carbon emissions by 100% by 2050, with specific measures on transport, housing, electricity generation, etc. to get us there. But, most importantly, also including proposals to ensure that the developing world has access to technologies for carbon neutral development.

An interesting proposal - which was rejected for lack of detail - was for a new planning process which would allow local authorities to get more income from the development process. It's a two stage closed bid auction process, worked out by an economist who was a student of the guy who designed the 3G auctions which generated an astonishing £22.5 billion. That's 500,000 times more than the "beauty competition" that was used to sell off 2G licenses!

If this proposal was made to work, it would allow local authorities to raise enough money to properly support new private development with development of public services. At the same time, it would remove all the problems that are currently involved in negotiating with developers about section 106 agreements - where the developers currently hold all the strings. Too often, land owners and developers are acting as local monopolies at the moment, with their power derived from our local plans. Under this system, they'd be bidding against their peers, with the local authority calling the shots.

At a fringe event, we were told that all the main parties are interested in the proposal - and our leadership are to look at developing the proposal in detail. It's even possible that the income from such auctions might be enough to cut council tax completely!

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Internet Service Providers

Which? have just published their Internet Service Provider survey.

The results are not surprising: once again the providers that spend lots of money on advertising come bottom of the pack. They're the large providers, that you'd heard of like Talk Talk, AOL, Orange (formerly Wanadoo or Freeserve), and Tiscali.

The top three providers were Global, Waitrose and Zen. These are companies that spend their income on service provision, not advertising.

Ice shortage

I came across the European Space Agency web site the other day, and subscribed to it's RSS feed. An interesting, and worrying story about Arctic ice today. It's at its lowest since measurements began 30 years ago, and has taken a big drop this year.

Of course, the amount of ice declines every summer, but this year it's reached a level 25% lower than the previous minimum - 3 million square kilometers, compared with a record minimum of 4 million in 2005 and 2006.

Melting sea ice doesn't directly contribute to sea level rise, because it's floating. However, sea ice does help to keep the planet cool by reflecting sunlight better  than water does.  

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Carbon Offsetting

So, the debate on carbon offsetting was very interesting. It turns out there are a lot of very difficult problems judging whether a particular scheme is effective or not. On the other hand, an effective scheme can be a far more effective way of spending money on saving carbon emissions than some ways of trying to cut your own emissions.

What annoyed me was the academics arguing that, because we can't be certain about carbon offsetting, and because it might make people complacent about their own emissions, we shouldn't do it at all. And this from a guy who's flying to China to talk about global warming. Talk about hypocrisy!

My conclusions were:

1. Save on your own emissions where it's clearly free or economic to do so.
2. Where the economics of saving emissions are doubtful, think about offsetting instead.
3. Where you can't save on emissions (hey, we all have to eat something!), then definitely offset those emissions.
4. When offsetting, offset more than your own emissions. Maybe double or treble the offset, if you can afford it.
5. Look quite carefully at the particular scheme you're investing in.

A good offset scheme should make an investment in some low carbon technology. That technology should not be the cheapest available for the job, otherwise the investment would have happened anyway. Alternatively, look for a well managed reforestation scheme.

I've not managed to find a site that reviews offset schemes, or even lists many of them. If you know of one, please comment below!

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Wooden Stakes

On Friday afternoon, Ley and I stashed 230 wooden stakes, and a load of timber (nearly a ton in all) in a locked vault under Baxters Field. This has nothing to do with my previous post, you understand. It's all there pending construction of a nature trail through the wood in Baxters Field. Honest.

Whitby Holiday

We went to Whitby for a week. You can take a trip round the harbour
on the old lifeboat, for a couple of quid. This is a view of Whitby
Abbey, beneath which Dracula's ship, the Demeter, was wrecked.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Carbon Offsetting

I've been invited to a debate on Carbon Offsetting. It won't cost me anything to attend, since it's at the University where I work - so I won't have to worry about offsetting my travel!

It seems to me that the issue of carbon offsetting is actually two issues:

1. Should those that can afford it be helping those that can't to invest in CO2 reducing technologies? Perhaps, through charitable donations. To my mind, the answer is clearly yes, especially where the return on investment is good. 

2. Should such investments be used to salve our conscience where we're failing to make our own CO2 savings? This is where charitable donations become offsetting. 

Here, the answer is less clear cut, and probably depends on whether the offsetting tends to sustain the activity that is being offset. For strictly essential activities, which would continue under any circumstances, there's no danger of this.

Let's take two examples: 

First, imagine that you have £10,000 to spend on a new, low energy, heating system for your house. You might save a ton of CO2 per year. If, instead, you spent it on efficient wood stoves in Africa, you might save 100 tons per year. Unless they would have bought the stoves anyway, you might well be justified in doing this, and regarding the savings as offsetting your heating emissions. This seems sensible to me.

Second, suppose you're planning an Australian holiday for your family, and lets imagine that no special circumstances apply - you've no relatives or business there, for example. This isn't a necessity, and it would cost you less to holiday nearer to home. If offsetting makes you less likely to change your destination, then it's probably a bad thing.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Cann Table is resilient

I have this web program, which shows football league tables in a way that lets you see the gaps between teams. It works automatically, capturing the data from the BBC's web site.

I noticed today that it works even when teams have negative points, which is nice!

For example, Leeds United are on -12 points at the time of writing:
http://www.eiloart.com/canntable/index.php?source=eng_div_2

Friday, 20 July 2007

Medieval tech support

Here's an excellent little (2.45 minute) video about how to use a book. http://www.milkandcookies.com/link/57946/detail/. If you've ever shown anyone how to do anything on a computer, you'll love it.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Wind Power

The FT has an article today about David Gordon, chief executive of Windsave. Windsave make domestic wind turbines, which you can just plug into a 13 amp socket - which is a nice feature. But, they're expensive, and even Windsave think that only 20% of houses have sufficient wind to make them worthwhile.

The problem with domestic wind turbines is that most towns and cities are built in river valleys, where they don't get much wind. Worse, the buildings create turbulence, which reduces the turbine efficiency (they find it hard to remain pointing into the wind), and life span. 

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Glyndebourne Turbine

The planning applications committee passed the Glyndebourne Wind Turbine application on Wednesday by 6 votes to 4. Despite some press reports, the vote wasn't quite split down party lines. 

The lib-dem chair didn't vote, but the rest of the lib-dems (including me) voted in favour, one tory voted in favour of the application, citing energy security concerns, but the rest of them voted against. If they'd all voted against, it would have been a 5-5 tie. The casting vote of the chair might have gone with us, but equally it might have gone with the officers' recommendation.

A couple of alternative suggestions were put by councillors who voted against: to build an offshore turbine, or to build a vertical axis turbine. Neither would be good technical solutions.

Vertical axis turbines are have no great noise or efficiency advantage over horizontal axis turbines. They've not been widely deployed because they're techically difficult to build, and they're limited in size by engineering constraints. Nobody builds them. If, as suggested, a horizontal axis turbine were 23m, one third the height of the proposed turbine, then it would need to be at least 90m wide to produce the same energy!

An offshore turbine is expensive to build and to maintain though they do have a longer life and be produce better economic or energy returns in the long run. In this case, the developer is paying nothing for the land, and is in a better position to maintain a local facilty than an offshore facility. No doubt they also value the prestige that will attach to this very visible statment of commitment to the environment.

Whatever the merits of these alternative solutions, the planning application committee is not permitted to consider them. It has to consider the proposal in front of it. In this case, it was necessary to consider whether the turbine would be effective, so we've asked for a wind survey to be performed. If the proposal was not sound in energy terms, then we'd have to consider the turbine as we might a piece of sculpture - and would almost certainly have turned it down for lack of artistic originality!

Friday, 6 July 2007

Lewes Matter

Oops, it looks like the Lewes Matters web site has been hacked! Here's the text that I've just seen on their front page.

IR4DEX 2007 RULEZ 
Br aNd Morocco Force
OwNed by Zakix
We Are: Zakix - XgeN - an0mix - aLoNe 
For Help - irc.gigachat.net #IR4DEX

greetz: (Sys7ech) Xtech Inc - H4ck3rsbr

PEACE AND LOVE
 
uname -a: Linux server5.tayserver.com 2.6.18.1.dn1.p4 #1 SMP Sun Oct 29 23:06:50 EST 2006 x86_64 uid=32086(mylewes) gid=32088(mylewes) groups=32088(mylewes

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Testing Dashboard Widget

There's a neat Dashboard Widget for Mac OSX, which lets me blog pretty simply - just press F12 and type!.

It's available from Google, for anyone with a blogger.com or blogspot.com blog.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Tories reject what?

So, I read on the Sussex Express web site that the Tories are "to fight compulsory recycling" in Lewes District. They've picked an easy fight, since the Lib Dems have already said that we're not going to introduce it!

Monday, 18 June 2007

Google Maps

For a few years now, I've preferred Google Maps over other map sites, for its ease of use. Recently though, Multimap made big improvements in its ease of use, putting it on a par with Google. It also has better street maps, and high resolution aerial photography.

At about the same time, Google launched a feature "my maps" which allows you to annotate maps. Just in the past couple of weeks, they've added high resolution satellite photography of (as far as I can see) all of Lewes District. It's such high resolution that I can tell it was taken before we removed a small yucca tree from our garden!

This map
shows the site of Lewes Library, before it was built. Can you see any other clues that date the satellite imagery? It looks to me that these images were taken during a working day, but which year?

Sunday, 3 June 2007

My committees

Council. Meets five times per year. Most decisions are made by cabinet, but the Council appoints cabinet.

Minute Secretary of Liberal Democrat Group. The group consists of just the Lib Dem councillors. It meets in advance of every cabinet meeting, so that all the Lib Dems can discuss the issues on the cabinet agenda.

Planning Applications Committee. Meets every three weeks to decide the fate of planning applications. Most applications are actually decided upon by officers. However, the committee will decide those which are controversial for some reason.

Devolution Committee. Meets as required. Handles devolution of property and powers to town or parish councils. For example, we're considering giving management of The Crypt in Seaford to Seaford Town Council.

Standards Committee. Meets as required. Handles matters relating to the code of conduct.

Travellers Working Group. A group tasked with finding an official site or sites for travellers to stay.

Recycling Group

Joint and Outside bodies


Court of the University of Sussex. Meets annually, to recieve the accounts. Appoints six members to Council, and appoints the Chancellor.

Housing Consultative Panel - a panel of council housing tenants, staff and councillors.

Landport Bottom Management Committee. Landport Bottom is the hill on which the Nevill Estate is built. It's also the site of the Battle of Lewes (1264). The committee manages land on Landport Bottom that is jointly owned by the District and Town councils.

Local Transport Plan Panel. A County Council panel.

Transition Town Lewes - housing 2

The second Transition Town Lewes housing event was an "open space" meeting. I missed the first of our open spaces, but I really enjoyed this one. It was the first real opportunity I'd had to discuss politics issues, without having to make immediate decisions, in about 2 years!

The open space format was quite interesting. There was no advance agenda, but the day was structured. There was an introductory session, an agenda setting session, four timeslots for parallel discussions, and a reporting back session.

We were in the market lane garage, in North Street, in one large open space. Six locations were designated, so up to six discussions could take place at one. Anyone could create a session, by picking a topic, time and location. During the sessions, everyone was free to move between groups, to find the most interesting discussion.

It was all quite informal, but each discussion was recorded, to feed into Transition Town Lewes' future work. And, interesting discussions were had, new contacts made and new ideas discovered.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Transition Town Lewes - housing

Transition Town Lewes held two housing events this week.

Wednesday's meeting consisted of two talks. First Brenda Boardman, from Oxford's Environmental Change Institute. They've produced a report called "The 40% House", a name we nicked for our event. She took us through all the demographic changes that we'll have to cope with over the next 40 years, and what that means in broad terms if we're to cut carbon emissions.

Essentially, there are four things (a) refurbish existing homes where possible, (b) build the best new homes we can, and (c) because some old homes can't easily be improved, some will have to be replaced with new ones, finally (d) we need to replace electrical equipment with more efficient equipment. The 40 year time scale means that replacement of equipment need only happen at the natural end of life of that equipment - how many 40 year old electrical items do you have, for example?

The second talk was by Duncan Baker Brown, of BBN Sustainable Design Ltd a local company that has won several RIBA design awards. Their web site really sucks for accessibility, though!

Duncan showed us a lot of really cool housing designs, not all his own(!), but including that of his own Lewes house. They included some really imaginative ways of improving existing stock.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

So what's next...

Well, it's been a busy time since the elections.

The Council runs a good induction training programme. So far, I've been to two general induction sessions, at which new councillors were given an overview of the context in which the Council works, and procedures in Council meetings. The staff are also busy setting us up with IT facilities.

The Liberal Democrats have had two meetings to allocate Lead Councillor, Committee, and External Body appointments. They'll be formalised in the Annual Meeting of the Council on Wednesday 23 May - the meeting (like most formal Council meetings) is open to the public. We've also had a social (thanks to Cllr Steve Saunders), so that councillors can get to know each other socially - that may seem like a trivial jolly to some, but it's better to get to know each other socially, before we get into political debates! Oh, and there was the Lewes Constituency Party meeting, too!

I've also attended a few other meetings in that time. Transition Town Lewes, have had a useful meeting to review our purpose. We're pleased with progress so far, and were glad to have a chance to step back from the daily business in order to discuss more strategic stuff. We've also met a good bunch of people who are going to start up "Transition Groups" - essentially special interest groups who will look at different aspects of our Energy Descent Plan.

Finally, I also attended the AGM of Nevill Residents Association - it was good to get a chance to meet others on the estate who are actively interested in life here. We had a talk by a local Fire Officer, appointed a new management committee, and talked about Landport Bottom (the countryside surrounding the estate), parking(!), travellers, the accounts (healthy), and the new wheelchair accessible roundabout on the playground at Nevill Green.

So, that's 10 meetings in 16 days. Next week, we've another Lib-Dem group meeting on Monday, a photo-session and full Council on Wednesday, and a coach tour of the District on Friday.

[edited to refer correctly to Nevill Resident's Association. Thanks, John!]

Sunday, 6 May 2007

I'm in!

Well, the count is complete, and I'm elected!

The turnout was really good in this ward, so if you voted at all (and especially if you voted for me), thank you!

The count was an interesting experience. Watching the ballot papers being opened and counted, it was obvious that Ruth O'Keeffe and Ann de Vecchi would be elected. Early on, it looked like the Tories were a bit behind Doug Taylor and I, but it was really hard to tell with eleven candidates and three votes on each paper.

People were voting for all sorts of unlikely combinations - Tory, Labour and Lib-dem? Lib-dem and UKIP? Lib-dem and Seagulls? Well, I suppose that last was a single-issue protest. Anyway, that made it really hard to guess who'd get the third seat. At one point, I had a tally of 59-58 in favour of Doug, and was wishing I'd not voted for him. Sorry Doug, but you know how it is!

In the end, after a couple of hundred votes were counted, it became more comfortable, and I was able to start thinking about trying to analyse voting patterns. Again, hard because of the pepper-pot voting. Finally, count complete, we were able to think about celebrating with a bottle of Breaky-Bottom, and Sussex strawberries.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

It's all over...

...bar the counting.

Well, all the leafleting, canvassing, telling, data entry, knocking up and finger crossing is done. And, I'm knackered. The count is tomorrow, and I've no idea whether to look forward to the result at all. The cross party voting in this ward makes it very difficult to predict the outcome.

I'm enormously grateful to all the effort that people have put in to get my colleagues and myself elected. And, having witnessed the hard work that the council officials have put in to opening postal votes (with a new system adding extra work), I'm very grateful to them, too. I know that I've only seen the tip of the iceburg there!

Friday, 20 April 2007

South Downs National Park

The South Downs National Park decision process has been held up by a legal challenge on the meaning of "natural beauty". Defra has details of the challenge on their web site. Essentially the court found that Hinton Admiral Park did not qualify as possessing "natural" beauty, so it could not be included in the New Forest National Park.

Defra appealed, lost, and changed the legislation, so that farmland, managed woodland, parks and other areas affected by human intervention could be included in National Parks to preserve their "Natural Beauty".

So, Defra have now restarted the decision process. They've begun a round of consultation, and may even reopen the enquiry.

I support the National Park in principle, but I'm not sure about the precise boundaries. That doesn't mean I oppose any of the proposed boundaries, it just means I've not considered the issues.

East Sussex County Council seems to have opposed the National Park on the grounds that there's no proof that the Park Authority will manage the park with better financial efficiency than current arrangements. Frankly, I'd have been embarrassed to be associated with such an argument. The point of the Park is surely not simply to improve financial efficiency, and this really isn't a logical reason to oppose it - heck, they're not even claiming that money will be wasted, just that there might not be any savings!

West Sussex County Council seems to have made the same objection, and the rather more principled objection that planning will be taken out of the hands of the elected authorities. I have more sympathy for that argument, and that might be a good reason for keeping Lewes, say, out of the Park boundaries. However, I believe that the Park can delegate some of its planning role, and that any problem here would lie in the implementation, and not be a reason for objecting in principle to the Park.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Falmer Stadium

A few people have asked about Falmer Stadium.

I'm going to assume that I'll never get a vote on this issue, so the problem of fettered discretion doesn't arise for me. So, I'll speak frankly.

Before I moved to Lewes, I signed the petition in favour of the Falmer Stadium. I'm an Arsenal fan, and we've moved into a great new stadium this year. Brighton got sold down the river over their old stadium. They've done well for themselves since, despite having to endure ground sharing, and a badly undersized stadium. They really do deserve a good stadium.

I never really believed that the proposed site was a particularly beautiful one. I think the proposed National Park would protect the surrounding area from further development. Public transport is reasonably good at Falmer. OK, it would take a long time to empty the stadium using just the public transport available, but football fans are willing to walk a couple of miles to and from a match.

Since moving to Lewes, I've discovered that the main reason for opposition to the development is actually to prevent Falmer village being subsumed into the Brighton conurbation. That's a reasonable objective, and one that I sympathise with. So, now I'm in two minds about the stadium, but still probably in favour on balance. Perhaps I could be persuaded that there's a better site - I'd certainly like to see it more central.

The whole saga of the stadium proposal has dragged on and on. But, I don't think anyone has done the Albion any favours with this.

First, the club itself should not have put in a proposal that crossed the boundary into Lewes District. The application was mired from that point. It was always going to be much more difficult for them to get the application accepted when it fell into two jurisdictions. If they'd put the coach park south of village way, instead of in Lewes District, perhaps the application would have been acceptable.

Second, John Prescott did the Albion no favours by (a) sitting on the application for so long, and then (b) failing to realise that the development fell partly outside the boundaries of Brighton and Hove. That failure ultimately allowed Lewes District Council to apply to court to overturn the decision.

LDC's application was opposed by some as a "Waste of money". You still see posters in Lewes saying "LDC - End the challenge". Well, the challenge was won, without spending any money on court fees. Why? Because the government realised that the decision was flawed, and agreed to reconsider.

Of course, the Lib-Dems in Lewes didn't do the Albion any favours by opposing the stadium development. But, you should note that the LDC cabinet has Tory and Lib-Dem members, and they were unanimous in opposing the development. They were also supported by Falmer parish council, and many other organisations. Lib-Dems in Brighton, by the way, supported the development.

Fettered Discretion

In talking about my views on various issues, I have to be careful that I don't disqualify myself from voting on those issues.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life requires that official decisions should be made by people with open minds, based upon the facts available at the time the decision is made. I think that's reasonable. Clearly it's hard to do if you've already committed yourself to a view.

For example, if you make public your views on a planning matter, before the application is submitted, then you may disqualify yourself from voting on the matter. It's reasonable to outline concerns - they can be used by the applicant to modify their application - but not reasonable to say that the application is either acceptable or unacceptable before the application is in.

This is a difficult area, because voters have a right to ask my opinions on various issues. And, they have a right to know what kind of person they're electing. Do I share their concerns? Will I support their views? All I can say is that I'll try to answer any questions as fully as possible. And, I'll indicate where I'm unable to express myself fully.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

About the election.

Many people aren't familiar with the roles of the different councils in the area - particularly if they've come from areas with a unitary authority.

There are three levels of local government here, represented by Lewes Town Council, Lewes District Council, and East Sussex County Council.

Lewes Town Council covers just the town of Lewes. It has quite a limited role, but looks after some important local amenities, such as the Town Hall, the All Saints Centre, allotments, and so on. Councillors are elected from three wards, Priory, Castle, and Bridge, which each elect six councillors. Each elector gets six votes, each of which can be given to a single candidate. The Liberal Democrats currently have 15 of the 18 seats. There's an overview of the Town Council functions on their web site. The Town Council has a budget of about £800,000

The District Council covers an area from Seaford, Newhaven and Peacehaven on the coast, extending inland through Lewes up to Ditchling, Chailey and Newick. This map shows the boundaries, as well as the rough locations of the various wards, and who the current councillors are. The town of Lewes has three wards, which are the same as for the Town Council. Priory ward has three councillors, but Castle and Bridge have two each. Priory ward electors get three votes in the District Council elections. The District Council has 73,000 electors and a budget of about £12 million. The Liberal Democrats currently have a small overall majority on the Disctrict Council (26 of 41 seats), including 6 of the 7 Lewes based councillors.

The County Council has one and a half wards in Lewes - One covers Priory and Castle wards, and the other covers Ringmer and Lewes Bridge ward. Each of these returns just one councillor to the County Council. The County Council is run by a Tory administration, though the Liberal Democrats return most of the councillors from this end of the county. There's no election for the County Council this year.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Your Questions

Got any questions that I haven't answered here. Click the "comments" link below, and post your question here. You don't need to register, or identify yourself, but it would be nice if you do.

I reserve the right to refuse to answer, or delete any anonymous or abusive comments, or any comments that might cause offense to other visitors to this site.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Local transport

Yesterday, I said I had some ideas for reducing Lewes' traffic problems.

They're not revolutionary ideas, but we need to do more to encourage people to use cars less. We already do enough discouragement.

First, we need to have some proper joined up thinking about transport. For example, we need to ask ourselves why parking charges are enforceable on days and times when buses aren't available.

buses


We need to run buses to the railway station, in particular to get people home from the station in the evenings. Perhaps a shared taxi-like service would do. Airports in the US, for example, run minivans, that will take half a dozen people, and drive them to their destinations. It's more convenient than a bus, but cheaper than a taxi.

Buses need to run later at night. Its ridiculous that only handful of local buses run after 5:45, and none at all after 6:30, and none on Sundays or bank holidays. Several people have said to me that they'd take the bus to work in the morning, if only they could get home at night.

Buses might also be used more frequently if people could find out when they run. None of the bus stops on the Nevill estate have timetables on them. Nor does the Tesco bus stop. Countryliner bus drivers can't give you a timetable - I got the last one off one driver when I asked. Another driver told me they weren't given timetables. They are available online: Countryliner, Brighton & Hove. There's even real time information for the 28 and 29 at Lewes Prison, for example. None of that is any use if you're at the stop, though.

car shares


As well as public transport, people need to be encouraged to share cars. As I walk past the queue of traffic to the Prison crossroads every morning, I see that almost all the cars queuing have no passengers - just the driver. If just 20% of those cars took a passenger, maybe there'd be no queues. There are car share schemes out there, but they need better publicity, and better incentives from the council and from employers.

car clubs


Car clubs could help, too. There are some informal car clubs operating in Lewes, using Google Calendar to book the car - which is a nice innovation. I've also looked at all the large car clubs that operate around the country. There's at least one (City Car Club) in Brighton, for example.

So, how do they help? Well, for every shared car, about 30 club members are required. Of those 30 members, about six will sell their second car, or even their only car. So, each shared car frees up about five residential parking spaces. Some large employers participate in car clubs, using the cars during the day, while residents use them in the evening. That means that essential car users don't need to bring their car to work, so it encourages use of public transport. In fact, if you have to book and pay for every car journey, then you're more likely to consider using the bus or train instead. Finally, it's cheaper to share a car, because you share the license, MOT, servicing, depreciation and so on.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Good Friday parking

Out canvassing on Prince Edward's Road yesterday, one resident told me an extraordinary story. On Good Friday, he'd seen a car full of parking attendants descend on cars parked outside Christ Church, ticket them and drive off in the direction of St. Johns Sub Castro. When he asked them if they should warn worshippers that they were being ticketed, they said it wasn't their job to do that.

Now, I suppose the job of parking attendant would be impossible if they were required to warn car owners before ticketing, so that is perhaps understandable. But, what were they doing there?

I spoke to a manager at the parking shop, and asked him about this. "No way" were they targetting church goers, they were just doing their usual patrols, he said. But, who do they expect to find parking on a Good Friday morning in Lewes. It's not a busy town on bank holidays, so why are bank holidays enforceable in Lewes?

It's a County Council policy, which the NCP manager wasn't prepared to comment on (nor would I in his position!) I find it somewhat bizarre that the Tory County Council would unnecessarily enforce parking on Christian holidays - given that the Church of England has been described as the "Tory Party at Prayer" (my apologies to non-Tory Christians, and non-CofE Torys alike - oh).

I think it's also unreasonable that parking charges are enforced on days that the local buses don't run - which is also the responsibility of the County Council.

A resident of Bradford Road asked why parking charges are enforcable on Saturday. Well, Saturdays are quite busy in Lewes, and the buses do run. However, in that area, parking problems are mostly caused by the influx of County Council employees (I know, because I used to live in De Montfort Road, and parking was only hard on weekdays during office hours).

So, I've written to the County Council officer responsible, to ask what the thinking is behind these policies. It seems to me they could easily change the policy on Bank Holidays, but I'm not so sure about Saturdays.

I've also got some ideas about how to encourage people to use other forms of transport, as opposed to discouragment with charges and fines. I know that traffic and parking in Lewes are hard, and the problems need to be tackled - for the sake of all road users. I'll talk about my ideas in a future posting, but if you have any comments on parking or traffic, please make them here!

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Why the Lib-Dems?

Why did I join the Lib-Dems?

It wasn't an automatic choice for me. Before I moved to Lewes, I thought about joining the Co-operative Party, because I'd been involved in housing co-ops for a long time. The Co-op party is a party within the Labour party, and one of the Brighton Labour MPs is a member. The other option for me was the Lib-Dems, basically on the basis that I think their policies are generally well thought out, and not a result of either populism or dogma.

However, when it became clear that Tony Blair was going to invade Iraq, I swore I'd never vote Labour again. Once I was in Lewes, the Lib-Dems were the obvious party to choose. When I took a look at the national policies, I was pleased to discover that the Lib-Dems also support co-operatives.

I also liked the look of the environmental policies, and policies on crime and civil liberties.

I joined the Liberal Democrat party shortly before the 2005 elections.

Shortly after the election, I started going to Lewes Town Branch meetings, and quickly got involved with several things. I was elected branch secretary, and representative to the Constituency Party from the start of 2006. I also started to help Norman Baker with his monthly Lewes surgeries (he has weekly surgeries, but the others are in other parts of the consituency), which was a good way to start to find out about local concerns.

Many people think that the three main parties are all the same. But, we're different from Labour because we believe in civil liberties. We're different from the Tories, because we believe in economic fairness.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Who am I?

I was born in 1964, and grew up in Cambridge, and St. Ives Cambridgeshire.

My education was science based. I've a degree in Maths, Statistics and Environmental Toxicology from Anglia Ruskin University, and a masters degree in Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science from the University of Sussex.

Currently I work at the University of Sussex, managing the email service for the University. I'm also secretary of Lewes Town Liberal Democrats, and I'm an active member of Transition Town Lewes.

I moved to de Montfort Road, Lewes from Brighton in the summer of 2003, and moved up to the Nevill Estate a few days before Christmas in 2005.

About my name.

I often get asked about my name. In fact, most people that meet me ask where it comes from, as well as either how it's pronounce or how it's spelled. So, here we are:

The name Eiloart was invented by a piano tuner who moved to England from Poland, with his family in about 1800. His name had been "Mispel". The family settled in North London, and we have a (probably) complete family tree.

The name is pronounced "EYE-low-art", with the emphasis on the EYE. It's a natural pronunciation for a German speaker.

There's one other Ian Eiloart in the world. He's not a close relative, and I've never met him.

I've two middle names: "Alexander Beaupré". The first was for my maternal grandfather, who died before my parents met. The second is a name passed down from my paternal grandfather, Arnold Beaupré Eiloart. It means "Beautiful Meadow" in French, and he was given the name because he was born in a tent. His mother had been sent to the countryside as a treatment for TB. My father, half-brothers and nephew all have the name Beaupré, too.

For the first time, election candidates don't have to have all their names on the ballot paper. I've chosen not too, for two reasons. First, "Ian Eiloart" is distinctive enough without the middle names. Secondly, the full name is a bit cumbersome.

Friday, 6 April 2007

I'm a District Council candidate.

Yesterday, Lewes District Council published [pdf] the names of candidates for the May elections. My name was among them, for the first time. I've not stood for public office before, so this is a new experience for me.

I'm lucky enough to have a very experienced and hard working bunch of people around me. Well, that's not so much down to luck: part of the reason that I joined the Lib-Dems is that they are an established party, that are doing well here. We currently are the majority party on both the Town and District councils here, as well have having the sitting MP (Norman Baker). There's no room for complacency though, the Tories aren't far behind.

Of course, I also support most of the Lib-Dems policies, locally and nationally. I also share the basic principles of the party, and think that the party tends more than most to base policies on principle rather than either dogma or (increasingly) populism.

I aim to blog daily during the campaign, so check back here regularly if you're interested to get more information that we can give in our printed literature.