Sunday, 22 July 2018

The Green Group's position on the IHRA definition of antisemitism

A resident contacted me this week asking why the Green councillors refused to support Labour's motion on antisemitism that was passed by Bradford Council (with Tory support) at our July meeting.

Our full amendment (which did not, unfortunately, attract all-party support) is below and is self-explanatory. Our UK Green MEPs took a similar approach when the European Parliament recently adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

Everyone is also welcome to watch my colleague, Cllr Martin Love, explaining our position to the meeting here on the Council webcast:

https://bradford.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/353934/start_time/9350000








GREEN AMENDMENT TO MOTION 7
(ADOPTION OF IHRA DEFINITION OF ANTISEMITISM BY BRADFORD COUNCIL)

Proposed by Cllr Martin Love
Seconded by Cllr Kevin Warnes

Bradford Council is deeply concerned by the rise in hate crime and racism across the UK, including the rise in antisemitism in recent years.
Council notes that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted the following definition of antisemitism in May 2016: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, towards Jewish Community institutions and religious facilities”.

Council notes that the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee published a report on antisemitism in the UK in October 2016 which: (a) emphasised the “importance of establishing an agreed definition of antisemitism”; (b) went on to “broadly accept” the IHRA definition; and (c) recommended that the adoption of the IHRA definition by the British government, law enforcement agencies and political parties needed to include “two additional clarifications to ensure that freedom of speech is maintained in the context of discourse about Israel and Palestine, without allowing antisemitism to permeate any debate”.
Council notes that the Home Affairs Select Committee’s two clarifications were: (a) “It is not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent”; and (b) It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent”.

Council notes that the UK Government subsequently signed up to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, but without the two caveats recommended by the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Council notes that, in March 2017, Hugh Tomlinson QC (Matrix Chambers) provided a ‘Counsel’s Opinion’ on the government’s decision to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism in this way on behalf of four campaign organisations (Free Speech on Israel, Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign).

Council notes Tomlinson’s detailed six-point conclusion, which reads as follows:
1)   The IHRA “non-legally binding working definition” of antisemitism is unclear and confusing and should be used with caution. 

2)   The “examples” accompanying the IHRA Definition should be understood in the light of the definition and it should be understood that the conduct listed is only antisemitic if it manifests hatred towards Jews. 

3)   The Government’s “adoption” of the IHRA Definition has no legal status or effect and, in particular, does not require public authorities to adopt  this definition as part of their anti-racism policies. 

4)   Any public authority which does adopt the IHRA Definition must interpret it in a way which is consistent with its own statutory obligations, particularly its obligation not to act in a matter inconsistent with the Article 10 right to freedom of expression. Article 10 does not permit the prohibition or sanctioning of speech unless it can be seen as a direct or indirect call for or justification of violence, hatred or intolerance. The fact that speech is offensive to a particular group is not, of itself, a proper ground for prohibition or sanction. The IHRA Definition should not be adopted without careful additional guidance on these issues. 

5)   Public authorities are under a positive obligation to protect freedom of speech. In the case of universities and colleges this is an express statutory obligation but Article 10 requires other public authorities to take steps to ensure that everyone is permitted to participate in public debates, even if their opinions and ideas are offensive or irritating to the public or a section of it. 

6)   Properly understood in its own terms the IHRA Definition does not mean that activities such as describing Israel as a state enacting policies of apartheid, as practicing settler colonialism or calling for policies of boycott divestment or sanctions against Israel can properly be characterized as antisemitic. A public authority which sought to apply the IHRA Definition to prohibit or sanction such activities would be acting unlawfully.

 Council therefore:
1)    restates its total condemnation of all forms of racism in all its manifestations, including antisemitism;

2)    requests that the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee conducts a detailed review of the options for adopting a clear, robust definition of antisemitism that will enable Bradford Council to ensure that (a) everything possible is done to end the scourge of antisemitism in our society, while (b) also ensuring that our fundamental right to freedom of expression is properly protected.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

New crematorium in Northcliffe Park? Over my dead body...

I've had the privilege of witnessing plenty of dodgy Council decisions during my fifteen years as a Green Party councillor for Shipley, but Labour's utterly daft proposal to build a new crematorium in Northcliffe Park is an absolute corker.

To be fair, our senior Labour councillors are considering the park as one of five possible locations for the two new crematoria that they have decided need to be built, but the fact that they are willing to contemplate the option of building on any part of the park in the first place for this reason - including the creation of a new access road - speaks volumes for their judgement.

Let's be clear. This is never going to happen. And the reason is simple.

The Indenture which handed trusteeship over the land to the Council in 1921 - open beside me on my desk - makes it refreshingly clear that it would be illegal to build a crematorium in Northcliffe Park. It states that "the lands and woodlands conveyed...shall be used at all times hereafter solely and entirely as an open space for the recreation and benefit of the public and for no other purpose whatever...".

It's an open and shut case, Watson. None of the land can be built on in this way, ever, and cremating the deceased does not fall into the category of recreation as far as I am concerned.

Martin Love and I (the two Shipley Green councillors) attended the meeting of the Regulatory and Appeals Committee last Thursday afternoon. The committee members were meeting in their capacity as trustees of the park to decide how to proceed in response to Labour's amazing proposals.

They had two main options: either (a) kick Labour's genius suggestion into touch; or (b) agree to seek permission from the Charities Commission to evaluate the proposal further - a step deemed essential by all concerned in order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest (heaven forbid).

Martin and I each spoke to the committee (our thanks to the Chair, Cllr David Warburton) and emphasised our very strong objections to the idea. We highlighted the extent to which proceeding any further would simply be at odds with the charitable objectives entrusted to the trustees.

In the event, the committee managed to locate a third option! Never under-estimate the dexterity of politicians caught in the spotlight. Rather than either abandoning the idea completely or pursuing it further via the Charities Commission, the councillors hit the ball back over the net to the officers. Specifically, they asked the Bereavement Service to provide them with additional information about the possible benefits of the scheme and (I think, though I am not entirely sure) to consult with the public as well to gauge opinion in the local community.

One lone councillor - Cllr Mike Pollard from Baildon - voted against. Mike argued strenuously and repeatedly and correctly that the terms of the Indenture are as clear as night and day, there is no wiggle room, it is black and white, done and dusted, copper-bottomed, nailed on and lashed to the decking. He firmly stated his view that the Council should not entertain Labour's genius plans for one moment longer.

Now, it is fair to say that Mike Pollard  - a Conservative councillor - and I do not exactly see eye to eye on every issue that crosses our path! But, on this occasion, I wholeheartedly applaud his clarity, insight and wisdom.

So, as Martin and I did several weeks ago when Labour's bonkers idea first surfaced, we call on the Labour Exec to waste no further officer and public time and remove Northcliffe Park as an option for a new crematorium. Unless the Council intends to cremate people in the open air for free as a form of public recreation, I really don't see how a new crematorium is permissible under the strict terms of the Indenture.

And, in the meantime, we'll campaign to block any proposal for a crematorium in our park, no matter how slim the possibility is that this will actually happen in our lifetimes.

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Moment of Reckoning for the Branch Hotel in Shipley

In two days time, at 10am on Wednesday morning, the Keighley and Shipley Area Planning Panel convenes at Keighley Town Hall to consider the future of the Branch Hotel. The meeting is open to the public if anyone feels like attending.
 
Bradford's finest minds are proposing to demolish this landmark 170+ year old building in order to - wait for it - widen the road junction.
 
As if that was not a bad enough idea in principle, the Council does not know what the new junction will look like, or assessed its environmental, social or economic impacts, or consulted with local people.
 
I have therefore written to all the councillors on the panel urging them to call a halt to this madness, divert the bulldozers and send the planners back to their drawing boards before it is too late.
 
My email reads as follows:
 
Colleagues,

I am writing to ask for your help in ensuring that the planning panel meeting on Wednesday rejects the Council’s premature application to demolish the Branch Hotel.

The report submitted by the Design and Conservation Officer is very clear. He states that demolishing the Branch without any immediate indication of what will take its place will neither enhance nor better reveal the significance of the World Heritage Site. This is a breach of Paragraph 137 of the Planning Practice Guidance of the NPPF, which states that local planning authorities like ours should look for opportunities for new developments that enhance or better reveal the significance of World Heritage Sites like Saltaire.

Leaving the site cleared and levelled, as is proposed, (a) will worsen the appearance of the site in the immediate future and possibly for several years; and (b) the Council has not clarified how any subsequent junction enlargement will make a positive difference as far as the World Heritage Site is concerned. The supporting arguments submitted as part of this application are no more than aspirational, are not evidenced, and are therefore not sufficiently robust to justify the loss of a building of this sort.

In addition, the demolition will breach a key priority of the NPPF, namely to ensure that planning for places protects and enhances the built and historic environment. If the Branch is not part of our historic built environment in Shipley, given the fact that it is one of the oldest buildings in the town located on one of the key junctions and important approaches to Shipley, I don’t know what is.

Yet we are proposing to demolish this historic landmark simply to create a larger road junction that has not yet been designed and whose economic and environmental impacts have neither been assessed nor publicly consulted on.

The Council already owns the site and the building. The Council therefore has the opportunity to properly assessed all the options for an improved junction and their impacts BEFORE seeking premature consent to destroy one of the oldest buildings in our community. There is no need to rush into this matter and I hope that you will press the pause button before it is too late by rejecting this specific application outright.

I agree with the officer report in so far as it correctly states that “a balanced judgement will be required having regard to any harm or loss and the significance of the heritage asset…harm should also be weighed against the potential public benefits of the proposal”. Fair enough.

But the problem is that the Council has NOT demonstrated in any detail or with any supporting evidence that a bigger junction will actually deliver the kind of public benefits (economic, environmental, social) that might outweigh the loss of this landmark building.

I urge you all, please, to resist promises of ‘jam tomorrow’ from the highways team and focus on where we are right now. We have a 170+ year old landmark building in the midst of our community that is a heritage asset which might be saved and regenerated in some form (perhaps as part of a housing development, for example). The weight of comments submitted shows overwhelming local public support to retain the building for some future use. But that opportunity will be lost forever if you give the green light to the Council’s bulldozers.

A few years ago, we lost the old post office building in central Shipley (now a private car park). The nearby Oddfellows Arms – dating back to 1840 - is also under threat of demolition. Historic Shipley is gradually being torn down bit by bit and I hope that Wednesday’s meeting will call a halt to this mayhem.

Many thanks,

Kevin Warnes

Cllr Kevin Warnes
Green Party Councillor for Shipley
Bradford Council

Friday, 25 May 2018

Casework Corner...it's all about trains, buses and pedestrians...

A busy morning catching up on Council emails after my teaching week. The key theme today seemed to be transport.

Got in touch with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority about the new rail timetable between Saltaire and Bradford. A resident is worried about the longer gap between trains during the morning rush hour. It turns out that the number of Shipley-Bradford services remains the same, but that the gap between the peak trains has grown from 35 to 40 minutes. WYCA acknowledge that the gap should ideally be only 30 minutes, but that they are trying to accommodate additional Leeds services to meet rising demand. The good news is that they will ask Northern to reduce the Saltaire-Bradford gap when the timetable is refreshed in December.

Contacted the Area Managing Director of Yorkshire Tiger to find out more about their plans for services to the Higher Coach Road estate, where residents are concerned about their new bus timetable. Found out that the new service is secure for at least three years and that there are no plans to cancel it, which is great. But still trying to assess the extent to which the new bus service is less frequent than the old one. Will meet with residents in early June to chase this, and have contacted the transport authority for more info in the meantime.

Got hold of data from the wonderful Friends of the Earth that confirms illegally high levels of NO2 traffic pollution at the junction of Otley Road and Bradford Road, near the Branch Hotel. The pollution is also worryingly high in the playground at Shipley CE Primary School. The problem, of course, is high levels of traffic and diesel-powered vehicles, the result of decades of unsustainable transport policies from both Conservative and Labour governments. It's all about economic growth, with air quality and the health of our local communities very much sidelined in the list of priorities.

Have written to City Connect and the Canal and River Trust to ask them to upgrade the canal towpath in Saltaire for the benefit of walkers and cyclists - again, in response to concerns expressed by Shipley residents. There is a popular stretch near the mill that regularly becomes waterlogged and muddy, yet nothing has been done there for years. I've also asked City Connect if they are going to get around to dealing with the two unimproved parts of the towpath between Shipley and Apperley Bridge that were not upgraded as promised three years ago. I've asked before and they have done nothing about it, but thought I might as well pester them again. Tellingly, the money being wasted on demolishing the Branch Hotel would more or less pay for all these towpath improvements if our local decision-makers had the requisite vision and ambition.

Ultimately, of course, it all comes down to political priorities. We can continue to widen our road junctions, create more space for more traffic, pursue growth at all costs and allow vehicles to be sold in the UK that pump out pollution into our communities. Or we can invest more in better mass transit, clean, reliable train and bus services and attractive walking and cycle routes while quickly phasing out dangerous technologies like diesel engines (2040? Don't make me laugh).

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The more things change, the more they stay the same...

This week saw a fresh intake of councillors taking their seats in Bradford. The ruling Labour group has now swollen to 52, leaving them with even greater control of the Council and all of its committees.

The Green group of councillors now includes Martin Love and myself. Two councillors out of ninety. We have lost Hawarun Hussain, who worked hard on behalf of Shipley constituents for fourteen years and will be greatly missed on Council. She was a true progressive councillor who grew up in one of the poorest parts of the District, went to a local school, put herself through university, raised her children here in Shipley and has spent her entire working life in the voluntary and public health sector. She knew Bradford to her finger-tips and was a brilliant networker who worked closely with colleagues of all political persuasions. We wish her well.

It says a lot about Labour's determination to oust our local Tory MP that they pulled out all the stops to eject Hawarun from the Council after her many years of dedicated service to the community. Their campaign was framed around 'sending a message to the Tories', and I fully understand why they are so keen to ensure that Shipley elects a Labour MP at the next general election. In many ways, Tory Austerity has been a disaster for Bradford and Shipley, as our Labour-run Council staggers from one round of savage budget cuts to the next.

For me, though, the message I heard was that Labour has no real interest in working with like-minded political groups like the Greens, either locally or nationally, in order to bring about the positive, progress change that this country badly needs. The message I heard is that Labour will sweep anyone aside on order to try to get back into power. It was not enough for them to have a controlling group of 48 councillors in Bradford, and it will not be enough for them to have 52. 'The more the merrier' is the order of the day as the benches at City Hall fill with councillors who will bend their knee to the Labour whip.

Our new Labour Council is only a day old, yet has already approved plans to build over 1,500 new homes across the District. New homes are good and the Green Party want to build thousands of them, but not if they are so energy inefficient or devoid of renewable technologies that they are effectively 'mini carbon factories' as these will be. Over the coming decades, they will add hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon pollution to our atmosphere. New homes are wonderful, but only if they are affordable for our children (and most of these will not be). New homes are fantastic, but not if they carpet swathes of our Green Belt as many of these will. This is why the Green councillors have consistently criticised and voted against these controversial planning decisions.

Labour also wasted no time in abolishing the Environment and Waste Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee that has been chaired by Martin and myself for the past five years. This committee has worked well across party lines and done a very good job ensuring that our Council meets its environmental responsibilities. This key area of civic oversight will be undermined by the new committee arrangements pushed through by the Labour group against Green opposition.

Martin and myself and our colleagues in Bradford Green Party will continue to 'bear witness' to these kind of irresponsible Labour decisions, and campaign for more local people to vote to return more Green councillors to Bradford Council in the next round of elections.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Smart Parking - a further update about the Oastler Road car park situation in Saltaire

Smart Parking, as is now widely known, are unlawfully operating a car park on public highway on Oastler Road near Saltaire.

The Council has served a formal notice that Smart Parking has until 30 November to remove their ticketing machines, signs and ANPR cameras, or the Council will do so on their behalf. This equipment is an obstruction to the highway AND the company failed to secure planning consent for it all in the first place!

I have been in correspondence with Ben Johnson, the Director and CEO of Smart Parking in the UK. He has refused to refund local residents who have been ticketed or to explore the possibility of compensating local businesses for lost revenue. Moreover, the ticketing machines (and presumably the cameras) have not yet been switched off.

Here in full is MY reply to his letter to me.

------
Dear Mr Johnson,

Many thanks for your letter of 26 October and the responses it contained to my earlier correspondence with you (attached). I appreciate your reply.

There is much here that we clearly disagree about in terms of the way in which your company operates car parks like the one at Oastler Road.

For us, though, the key point is this. The clear advice that we, as ward councillors, have received from the Council’s officers is that your company has no legal right to operate a car park on this site due to the fact that it is vested as public highway. This is why Smart Parking was served with a formal notice by Bradford Council giving you until 30 November to remove all of your machines, signs and ANPR cameras from the site.

In addition, your company’s recent application for planning consent for those charging machines, signs and ANPR cameras is effectively an admission that Smart Parking did not secure the necessary planning permission for erecting all this equipment in the first place.

It seems to us that the reasonable, responsible, professional and ethical course of action would be for Smart Parking to (a) immediately cease unlawfully charging fees for people to park their vehicles there; and (b) refund everyone who has been unlawfully charged and penalised to date.

In contrast, I was astonished to find that on Saturday at least one of the two charging machines was fully operational and that people are still paying your company to park at this location. These machines should have been switched off as soon as you received notice from the Council that the car park is illegal. In addition, in the attached letter, you refuse to consider refunding the people who have been charged and penalised by your company.

Given the way in which Smart Parking have managed this care park to date, and continues to do so in the face of clear advice that your actions are unlawful and despite the financial cost to local residents and businesses, I have to reluctantly advise you that Hawarun and I will do our best to block planning consent (Martin cannot take a position on that due to his membership of one of the committees) and all three of us will do our best to ensure that your equipment is removed as quickly as possible after the deadline of 30 November expires.

We will also encourage our residents to take court action to secure the refunds to which they are entitled, both individually and via social media.

All of this is a great shame for us all. Your company (and Saltaire Investments Ltd) could have worked with the Council from the outset to ensure that the operation of a private car park at this location was legal. You could also have adopted a different business model that would have enabled you to make a profit (nothing wrong with that) without imposing extortionate penalties on residents for minor infringements of the parking arrangements (one consequence of which is a fall-off in trade for local shops that has, for example, reportedly cost the Coop £8,000 per week).

Bearing the above in mind, I am copying in Mr Liam Jarman from West Yorkshire Trading Standards and Mr Steve Clark from the British Parking Association, along with our legal colleagues.

I very much hope that this situation prompts you to comprehensively review this matter in order to reach a solution that meets the needs of the whole community.

Regards,

Kevin

Cllr Kevin Warnes

Green Party Councillor for Shipley

Bradford Council
-----

Finally, all residents who have been fleeced by Smart Parking should write to the Parking Ombudsman to seek redress: https://www.popla.co.uk/. If that fails, take your claim to court. You can register your claim on the government website in 30 minutes (https://www.gov.uk/make-money-claim-website) and the cost will be £25 (which you can hopefully also get back).

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Oastler Road car park in Saltaire - an update

So, we have now established that the private Oastler Road car park in Saltaire is being operated illegally by Smart Parking Ltd on behalf of the absentee owner, Saltaire Investments Ltd (their Lancashire-based Director is Mr Jacob Cope). Here is a statement just issued by the Shipley Ward Green Party Councillors:

The Shipley ward councillors are deeply dismayed by the mismanagement of the privately-owned Oastler Road car park in Saltaire over the past five months. Smart Parking Ltd, the site operator, has fleeced local shoppers to the tune of thousands of pounds in unfair penalty notices. The Director of the absentee company that owns the site, Mr Jacob Cope of Saltaire Investments Ltd, has allowed Smart Parking to do so despite the economic harm this has caused for local people and businesses.

The ward councillors have now established that this car park is unlawful due to its site being legally adopted highway. We have therefore written to Smart Parking Ltd and Saltaire Investments Ltd asking them to (1) suspend all parking charges at this site and disable their ANPR cameras for an indefinite period until this matter is legally resolved; (2) fully refund everyone who has been penalised; and (3) meet with local businesses to discuss possible compensation for any adverse impact that the car park’s draconian operation has had on their turnover in recent months.

We have also written to the Board of the British Parking Association to ask them to investigate this situation as a matter of urgency and to consider suspending Smart Parking Ltd’s membership of this professional organisation.

We will continue to liaise with the Council’s legal and highways teams to ensure that this site is properly managed in future by Saltaire Investments Ltd for the benefit of local residents, businesses and the whole community that we represent.

We urge all residents who have been forced to pay penalty charges at this car park to write to Smart Parking Ltd demanding a full refund and any associated additional costs that have been incurred for them (letters can be sent to Smart Parking Ltd, Unit 43, Elmdon Trading Estate, Bickenhill Lane, Birmingham, B37 7HE).

We also urge everyone affected by this to write to the Director of Saltaire Investments Ltd, Mr Jacob Cope, asking that he personally ensures that this car park is managed responsibly from now on (letters can be sent to Mr Jacob Cope, Director, Saltaire Investments Ltd, 47 Bury New Road, Prestwich, Manchester, M25 9JW).

We hope this is helpful information for all concerned!