Sunday 28 February 2016

Underground Coal Gasification in the UK ............... and in Derbyshire?

The subject of underground coal gasification came up the other day and I remembered writing about it here: Labour Party Conference 2015 - People , meaning to follow it up but other issues crowded it out. At the conference I spoke to delegates from the North East who warned of the imminent threat of UCG in their area. We spoke of Easington and the fear that a large stretch of coastline could be at risk of subsidence or possible explosion. There is also the possibility of groundwater contamination. This diagram graphically explains the concept:

The Easington coastline is dominated by the coal industry, some of you may remember it in the film "Get Carter" where Michael Caine meets his end in a landscape seemingly drawn from the depths of Dante's imagination. The mine reaches out under the sea but the colliery waste is transported from the pit head to this beach. Deep seam mining is coming to an end in the UK, the industry turning to surface, strip mining production but even that is drawing to a close. Imported coal was promoted by the Thatcher government in the 1980's, partly as a means of completing the onslaught on the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) but also because it was cheaper and better complied with the emergent environmental legislation which required coal containing lower sulphur.

With the closure of the pits a way of life was lost, the tight knit coal mining communities forced to look elsewhere for work and in some places complete villages being abandoned. The one positive, or so we thought, was that with the demise of coal the amount of pollution that we were pumping into the atmosphere would be significantly cut back and the scars on the landscape would be reclaimed or given back to nature; even the Northumberland coastline. We had not bargained for UCG.

See here: The Hartlepool Mail - government licenses being granted for UCG in East Durham.

But what of Derbyshire? There is a reference to UCG at Newton Spinney (where is that?) but this was an experiment carried out by the NCB in 1950. So there is a tenuous history of UCG in Derbyshire.  See this reference: NCB experiment in Derbyshire 1950. The potential has not gone unnoticed however as this link to the Frack Off website shows. Yes UCG is the evil cousin of fracking and we should be aware of the threat. We know that the Tory government is sympathetic to such exploitation and seemingly unheedful of the dangers. The possibility of UCG licenses being granted in the East Midlands is there with international companies such as Tesla (click on their UCG link) having an office in Alfreton.

The Frack Off website mentioned above is well worth exploring if only for their very informative maps. by writing this post there is no desire to be a scaremonger but as we have seen, assurances from Tory politicians that all is well in our county are usually devoid of substance. Who can forget the promise that no fracking would be allowed in national parks only to find out that licenses were being granted for fracking activity based outside NP's would be allowed to bore underneath them. There is no doubt that statements about UCG would be similarly untrustworthy.

Origin - Frack Off  - their website has better definition

As you can see from the accompanying map our region sits on sites designated for potential gasification as the East Midlands sits on some of the richest coal seams in the UK. The potential has not gone unnoticed as this Memorandum of the House of Commons shows. This was submitted by the Department of Energy and Climate change in 2012. It explains the principles behind the various methods of extracting gas from the earth but in this instance it is the accompanying map that is of interest (I'm sorry - yet another map). This shows the status of redundant coal mines, the depth of coal reserves even to the point of highlighting coal mines that could be expected to be suitable for UCG. What is most chilling is the reference to the "14th round of consultation" which the map reproduced below suggest covers what must equate to 60% of the country including all of the East Midlands. More recently Margaret Greenwood MP (Labour) has asked a very pertinent question in Parliament and you can read about it here on her blog: Margaret Greenwood blog. (you need to scan down a bit to find -

Where does the Government stand on underground coal gasification? Margaret Greenwood MP presses Energy Secretary for answers

The energy secretary being of course our old friend Amber Rudd who was featured on this blog here: Tory energy strategy. A definitive list of UCG licenses granted or applied for in the UK appears to be very elusive but if there is a poor demented masochist reading this post who wants to find an activity somewhat akin to sticking pins in your eyes then reference to this government dataset could be useful: Llicence-area-dmt-v1.
Extracted from the House of Commons memorandum

Wednesday 24 February 2016

EU Referendum ..................... debate in Bavaria

A month ago three Derbyshire residents visited Bamberg, a beautiful town in Franconia which is in northern Bavaria. Two from Cromford and one from Belper (your BelperStuff editor). We stayed a few days, a combination of business and pleasure and on our last evening we had dinner in a charming restaurant come beerhouse, the Kachelofen.

Inside the Kachelofen
We three sat at one end of a long table enjoying local dishes washed down with the very distinctive Bamberg Rauchbier (smoked beer - if you are interested try this link Wikipedia explains smoked beer). Three young people joined us, sitting at the other end of the table. They were students, a couple studying business and the other pediatrics (to become a Kinderkrankenschwester or children's nurse).

We started chatting and were eventually joined by another German, a retired chap vising from Bonn. The discussion moved on to the issue of Europe and the upcoming summit in Brussels where Britain was seeking certain opt-outs. The man from Bonn wanted to know what each of us Brits thought of the EU and would we be voting to leave. We took it in turns to speak and it emerged that all three of us wanted to stay in though one had concerns about immigration and jobs, the younger of us three was somewhat relaxed about it all whilst my view was that it was time that Europe grew up and start to deal with the real issues of poverty and inequality within the union and a more cohesive and a more statesmanlike position on the big issues of the day such as refugees and the environment. We then asked the Germans to state their view and all four wanted the UK to remain as members of the EU. Each of them said that Germany needed Britain to stay in and that we had many common interests that were best served by continuing as partners.

We spent a lot of time discussing refugees and, following my statement that Germany had opened its borders as the birth rate had decreased resulting in the country facing a demographic of an aging population, immigration thus bringing an influx of younger people of working age. The issue of integration was to the for but then one of the young women said how difficult it was for young Germans to start a family as the problems of finding adequate work and housing had resulted in many opting to defer having children until well into their thirties. Of course the situation in Germany is not too dissimilar than that in the UK.

So, a UK/German debate on EU membership; the vote being 7 to remain in and 0 to leave. Of course the reality is that even if those four Germans lived in the UK they would not be allowed to vote in the referendum. There is an interesting article on who is eligible to vote here: Who can vote in the referendum - Jon Danzig's blog. The accompanying graphic is good:

In conclusion

It is important that we don't get locked into a "little englander" bubble with this debate. We must see the wider issues taking into account what a leave vote means to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ............ in fact the consequences for our trading partners throughout Europe and the rest of the world.

EU referendum ................ excitement mounts in Belper

BelperStuff has decided to follow the in/out debate in the run up to the vote on 23rd June. There are many questions that need to be answered before we can make an informed judgement and this first post is something of a roundup of where we are after just a few days of the Remain/Leave debate.

The media has initially focussed on the declarations of prominent politicians and the personal mud slinging that inevitably follows. Despite the fact that many of these leading players are considered by BelperStuff to be unworthy of public office this blog will concentrate on the issues and not personalities. This early example of Brexit politicking is deplorable and in future is something that will be avoided in future blog posts but hopefully we can be excused if something emerges that just has to be commented upon:

Has LEAVE scored an own goal with this one?
No comment necessary except that the opposing camps have recruited some amazing bedfellows (in an attempt to avoid sexism I tried to think of a gender neutral term but failed to come up with anything ......... comments welcome).

So how have the political parties split on this issue?

Before we turn back to the issues perhaps a snapshot of where the parties stand would be helpful as the battle is enjoined.

Where the MP's stand on the EU in 1st week of campaign
Remain Leave  Undecided
Conservatives 132 115 84
Labour 215 8 7
SNP 54 0 0
LibDem 8 0 0
UKIP 0 1 0
Green 1 0 0
Independent 4 0 0
Plaid Cymru 3 0 0
Ulster Unionist 0 0 2
SD & LP 3 0 0
Sinn Fein 8 0 0
DUP 0 8 0
Total 428 132 93

A BelperStuff distillation from this article in the Guardian

So at this moment 66% of MP's want to remain in the EU, 20% want to leave whilst 14% are undecided. (Pauline Latham is one of the undecided). The overwhelming number of MP's who want to leave or are undecided come from the Tory ranks whereas there is a thumping majority of Labour MP's who will vote to remain in.

Of course come the referendum it does not matter who you are, the vote of Joe Bloggs or Jill Biggins counting as much as a Jeremy, David or Boris but the latter have access to the media and their every whim and whimsy will be slavishly reported, for good or ill depending upon the editorial slant of particular newspapers or TV channel. (Hopefully the media watch team at Loughborough University are already on the case). There will be poll after poll that will give us some idea of how accurately the division of MP's reflects the populace as a whole as the issues are debated.

The debate so far

Perhaps the most reasoned and thoughtful comments on the remain/leave debate came from Jeremy Corbyn as he described Cameron's efforts to gain an advantage in Brussels as a "theatrical sideshow" aimed at appeasing Tory MP's and party backers in the city. You can see a report of this here: Corbyn in Parliament criticising Cameron's EU negotiations. The details of what the Brussels negotiations achieved are far from clear as even Cameron has admitted. The agreement document can be read here: Reuters press release of UK - EU deal. BelperStuff is going through this line by line and there are a number of questions that are being thrown up not least the precise nature of the "benefits brake". This will be the subject of a subsequent post as there are real concerns about how this will affect the 1,260,000 UK citizens living and working in EU countries (outside the UK). On the other hand there is a debate on the payment of child benefit to EU citizens working in the UK: see here Migration Watch briefing paper . The actual saving will be 0.28 % of the total UK child benefit budget or, approximately £30 million a year (that is before the added costs needed to administer the reduced payouts is factored in ......... the savings could be far less as it will be the responsibility of the DWP and heir track record is not very good; see a previous blog: Disability benefit testing costs more than it saves). Whether you think that this is a significant gain from the the EU negotiations will depend upon your own viewpoint but it does seem rather trivial to trumpet this as a major consideration for the second largest economy in the EU. Yes the UK economy comes second only to Germany.

In conclusion

With 119 days to go I am sure that we will be heartily sick of the subject come June 23rd. One can only hope that we voters will be given the information we need to make a fair judgement but if the opening salvos are anything to go by then we are in for a barrage of spin and bluster that is all to common of political debate. Jeremy Corbyn has set a benchmark for honesty on the EU and the issues involved and I do hope that others follow this lead ............. how naive can this blog be as no doubt the media will find an angle to tear him to shreds. There will no doubt be some valid points made by the Leave group and if so, a careful judgement will be needed. Let's hope that we have less of this type of ill informed and evidence poor statement that has become the hallmark of ODS:

It's that man again.

Iain Duncan Smith Grilled By Evan Davis On Why - Voters Should Believe Him Over Security Experts On Brexit - Huffington Post. The astute amongst you will no doubt realise that the promise to avoid personalities and concentrate on the issues has been immediately broken. Do not expect an apology because no promise is binding where ODS is concerned.

Friday 19 February 2016

Calais refugee children ............ I signed the petition today

A makeshift school in the Calais camp during February. Photograph: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

I was emailed by 38 degrees today, being asked to add my name to this open letter:

Dear David Cameron,

The recent announcement by the Calais prefecture to raze the Southern part of the "Jungle" refugee camp in Calais is an act that if allowed to happen, will destroy the temporary homes of over a 1000 people. Many of these people are amongst the most vulnerable in the camps as this is where the majority of families and unaccompanied minors currently live.

Such an enforced move would uproot again those who have already had to abandon their homes due to war and persecution. The eviction also threatens vital community facilities built and run by the residents and volunteers including the Women and Children's Centre, the Youth Centre, three mosques, one Orthodox church, three classrooms, the camp's only library, the Good Chance Theatre, the Legal Centre, the Vaccination Centre and three crucial distribution centres for aid and food. These spaces offer much-needed respite and comfort for all those living in the intensely difficult conditions within the camp.

We, the undersigned, a number of whom have seen first-hand the refugee camps in the last few days, urge the British government to do three things:

1) To create an expedited process for the implementation of Dublin III's family reunion provisions so that all minors who are currently residing in the camps in Calais and Dunkirk with family connections in the UK are able to reunite with their loved ones with immediate effect.

2) To ensure that those minors who have no legal right to come to the UK are protected and supported within France and that the French child protection process is also expedited to afford them the protection they are entitled to.

3) To persuade the French authorities that the decision to destroy further parts of the camp in Calais is postponed until all the minors currently residing there are either given child protection within the French system or enabled to reunite with their loved ones in Britain.

We believe the above actions are the absolute minimum that the British government should be taking to alleviate the suffering of the refugees in Calais, and must be made an urgent priority. The British charities, Help Refugees and Citizens UK, have already largely identified, screened and begun to process the minors in question. This is a humanitarian crisis that needs to be acknowledged as such and it is imperative that we do everything we can to help these innocent and highly vulnerable refugees, especially the minors, as swiftly as is humanly possible.

Yours sincerely,

Benedict Cumberbatch, John Porter, Sandi Toksvig, Jude Law, Stephen Fry, Bob Geldof, Danny Boyle, Helena Kennedy QC, Jamie Byng, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mariella Frostrup, Michael Morpurgo, Philip Pullman, Rowan Williams, Shami Chakrabarti, Steve Coogan and many more

I of course added my name. Whilst Cameron is in Brussels demonstrating to the rest of Europe just how xenophobic a British right wing politician can be I think it important that there are some of us standing up for what is truly important.

I also signed this:

Yes who can believe that the 6th (some claim it to be the 5th) largest economy in the world decides to deport a frail 92 year old woman back to a country where she now knows nobody. In the Britain in which I was born this would not have been countenanced. Why is it deemed impossible for this woman to remain with her British daughter, to be loved and cared for in her remaining days. Can you imagine the torment i one of your own elderly relatives were to be treated in such a fashion. It doesn't matter where she is from but it does matter where she is now.

Two very different scenarios but both symptomatic of a callous government

Update on Friday evening:

The deportation has been postponed for reconsideration due to public pressure:

Now let's hope that the letter concerning the children in Calais has a similar result.

Tuesday 16 February 2016

Rage, rage against the dying of the light -------- Tory cuts killed 27,000 elderly in 2015

The belief at the heart of the welfare state is that the measure of a society is how it cares for those in need. As a country becomes more affluent it can afford to spend more on those deprived of wealth and ensure that at the very least it's citizens are not deprived of adequate health care and that in their latter days they are well looked after. There is an unwritten contract between people and state that contributions made during your working life will ensure free healthcare for all with extra elements of care being available towards the end of your life. Without any plebiscite or consultation this current crop of privileged individuals that govern the country from Westminster have decided that the state should shrink, the future will be commercial rather than commonweal.

I have Dylan Thomas running through my head, the opening lines from Do not go gentle into that good night:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I was thinking that if you wait until old age before you start to rage against this government it will be too late. The light will fade much sooner than it ought. Reading this article in the Independent (the source being the HSJ) it would appear that government cuts are responsible for the rising death rates for those in their twilight years: Death rate in England and Wales rising at fastest pace for 50 years due to cuts to social services. Well we all sort of know that to be the case but it is important that we have definitive evidence or else those wiley Tories will wriggle and twist to avoid any blame or responsibility. The central point of the article is that the death rate has gone up and the only way to understand this is to factor in government cuts.

Professor Danny Dorling, from Oxford University and an adviser to Public Health England on older age life expectancy, said: “When we look at 2015, we are not just looking at one bad year. We have seen excessive mortality - especially among women - since 2012.”

"Death rates in England and Wales have been steadily falling since the 1970s but this trend has been reversed since 2011".

This is very worrying, not just the headline that the increase of "avoidable" deaths between 2014 and 2015 was 5.4% or 27,000; but that this will be compounded by cuts now working through the system and future cuts yet to make themselves felt. We can see the desperate measures that are being taken to minimise these effects in Derbyshire with the County Council targeting cuts on areas such as Surestart and support to bus services as they try to hold on to 18 out of the 23 old people's facilities, day care and home help.  As the Tories cut and cut again at local government finances it is the young, the elderly, the disadvantaged and isolated who pay the price.

Source: Daily Mail
I placed here a graphic I unashamedly lifted from the Daily Mail (well that paper must have some uses) because I know that Tories will defend their actions by claiming that we cannot afford to look after the elderly because of the bulge in population caused by the post war baby boom ........... yes we've all heard that one but can it be credible that in a country where there is an increase in the number of pensioners which will continue to increase for decades to come, that you therefore adopt a policy of cutting the money needed to care for this group. I can think of no logical argument where this could be deemed anything short of,  at best stupidity and at worst cruel and callous unconcern. The 43% cut in central government funding for district, county and metropolitan councils has seriously impacted on core services and there are more cuts on the way in this current parliament ......... up to 2020; the shortfall in local government funding by then reaching and annual £9.5 billion (close to £140 per head of population) . This is a massive switch in responsibility from central to local government which embodies a massive change in taxation, from income tax to council tax. This will hit the poor disproportionately hard as a greater percentage of their income is taken in direct taxation.

There is no doubt that this age profile will have changed quite markedly by the time of the next census in 2021.  The birth rate is falling because of the difficulties faced by our youngsters in forming relationships and family units; the inexorable drift to a low waged economy, being denied benefits below the age of 25 and cost of housing being root causes. The pressure on the working population with an increase of those living in poverty coupled with a growing problem of the over fifties displaced from work finding alternative employment. The babies born in the fifties boom are now beating on the doors of retirement and should expect that the institutions behind those doors and the promises made throughout their lifetime should still be in place. 

The following may prove to be of use here: England age profile graphic, click on this link and you will find a slider underneath the graphs that illustrate how the over 65 group will grow up to 2037 (goodness knows what will happen after then). On the right hand side, above the graph you can choose a district, say, Amber Valley or Derbyshire. Prepare to be worried.

Should I apologise for the use of the poem in this post? No ....... but it is now that we should rage, rage against the dying of the light; the dismantling of the welfare state. When you next meet a Tory I urge you to raise this issue and ask them why, when the need is increasing their Tory government decides that it is best to cut expenditure resulting in the loss of 27,000 untimely deaths. What will be the figure in 2016?

Further reading:

The effect on individuals is profound as was highlight in this recent article in the Guardian:

Care homes will close without government help as council budgets are starved 

You might also look at this:

This is the Local Government Association's answer to this crisis. It's obviously well intentioned but more like whistling in the dark than raging at the failing of the light.  It somehow ignores this interesting paper that they have produced: Future funding outlooks for councils 2019/20