Posts Tagged ‘Environment Agency’

Monbiot’s List of the Corporate Politicos in Blair’s Government: Part One

April 23, 2016

Chapter six of George Monbiot’s book, Captive State, is entitled ‘The Fat Cats Directory’. The book is about the way big business has wormed its way into government, so that official decisions and policy reflects their interests, not those of Mr and Mrs British Public. In the ‘Fat Cats Directory’ he lists the businessmen and senior managers, who were rewarded with government posts by Tony Blair in May 1997. The list gives the name of the businessman, their ‘previous gluttony’ – a summary of their corporate careers, and ‘Subsequent Creamery’ – their posts in the British government. Those lists are:

Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge.
Chairman of British Airways
– President of the Confederation of British Industry

– Put in charge of Gordon Brown’s energy tax review, and helped promote the government’s campaign against the Millennium Bug, even though his 1999 holiday brochures told customers that they wouldn’t be responsible for any problems caused by computers malfunctioning due to it.

Ewen Cameron

President of the County Landowners’ Association
Owner of 3,000 Acres in Somerset
Opponent of rambling.

Chairman of the Countryside Agency, concerned with tackling the right to roam, social exclusion in rural areas, and someone, who has very definitely contravened the Countryside Agency’s rules on the maintenance of footpaths.

Lord Rogers of Riverside

Architect of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 on greenbelt land
Architect of Montevetro Tower, London’s most expensive building.

Chairman of the government’s Urban Task Force.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

Chairman of J. Sainsbury Plc
Chairman of the Food Chain Group
Principal backer of biotech company Diatech
Funded construction of the Sainsbury Laboratory for research into genetic engineering
Replaced skilled jobs with unskilled shelf-stacking.

Minister in Government’s department of trade and industry
Minister with responsibility for science and technology
As science minister, led Bioindustry Trade Delegation to US
Ultimate control over Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Chairman of the government’s University for Industry.

Lord Simon of Highbury

Chairman of BP
Vice-Chairman of European Round Table of Industrialists
Under his direction, BP assisted the Colombian government in forcing peasants off their lands, and imprisoning, killing and torturing trade unionists. Gave money to the 16th Brigade, notorious for murder, kidnapping torture and rape.

Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe
One of the ministers responsible for implementing the ethical foreign policy.

Jack Cunningham MP

Adviser to agrochemical company Albright and Wilson (UK)
Member of Chemical Industries Association lobbying for deregulation of pesticides.

Secretary of State for Agriculture
Chair of Cabinet Committee on Biotechnology.

Sir Peter Davis

Chairman of Reed International, which made 900 workers unemployed.
Chief Executive of Prudential Corporation Plc, company most responsible for miss-selling pensions.

Appointed by Treasury head of New Deal Task Force.

John Bowman

Director of Commercial Union, which possibly miss-sold 7,900 pensions.

On the board of the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority.

Lord De Ramsey

President of Country Landowners’ Association, sold part of his enormous Cambridgeshire estate for house building, and in doing so destroyed a pond of Great Crested Newts. Lobbies against regulatory burdens on agriculture. Grew genetically modified sugar beet on his land for Monsanto.

Chairman of Environmental Protection Agency.

Paul Leinster

Director of SmithKline Beecham (SB) Plc, which polluted streams in Sussex and Gloucestershire. Previously employed by BP and Schering Agrochemicals, part-owner of bio-tech company AgrEvo, which was publicly shamed for breach of environmental regulations for growth of GM crops.

Head of the Environment Agency’s Environmental Protection Directorate.

Justin McCracken

Managing director of ICI Katalco, responsible for a long list of plants polluting the environment with carcinogens. In 1999 it was listed as the worst polluting company in Europe, responsible for pouring 20 tonnes of hormone disrupting chemicals into the Tees. Also allowed 150 tonnes of chloroform to escape into groundwater at Runcorn. From 1996 to 1997 Friends of the Earth recorded 244 unauthorised pollution incidents from its Runcorn plant.

Regional General Manager, Environment Agency, North-West Region.

Dinah Nicols

Non-executive director, Anglia Water. In 1999 it was prosecuted six times for pollution.

Director-General of Environmental Protection at the Department of the Environment.

Ian McAllister

Chairman and managing director of Ford UK. The company was a member until December 1999, of the Global Climate Coalition, lobbying against attempts to reduce carbon monoxide emissions.

President, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which has lobbied against the Department of the Environment’s standards on ozone, lead and sulphur dioxide pollution from cars. Also lobbied against European directives against exhaust gases, removal of lead from petrol, and forcing motor manufacturers to install catalytic converters.

Chairman of the Government’s Cleaner Vehicles Task Force.

Chris Fay

Chairman and Chief Executive of Shell UK, the British company with the most controversial environmental record due to pollution incidents in Britain and in the Niger Delta.

Executive director of BAA Plc, attempting to double size of Heathrow Airport.
President of the UK Offshore Operators Association, oil industry group responsible for lobbying against environmental regulations.

Chairman of the government’s Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment.

Brian Riddleston

Chief executive of Celtic Energy, an open-cast mining corporation which destroyed the Selar Grasslands Site of Special Scientific Interest in Wales, wildflower habitat and home of extremely rare march fritillary butterfly.

Member of the Government’s Countryside Council for Wales.

Graham Hawker

Chief executive of Welsh utilities company Hyder, which sp0ent £42.2m on making people redundant, and only £700,000 on research and development. Opposed windfall tax on privatised utilities.

Chair of the New Deal Taskforce in Wales

Martin Taylor

Chief executive of Barclays Plc. Multimillionaire manager of company which made 21,000 redundant in ten years to 1997.

Lord Haskins

Chairman, Northern Foods Plc. Member of Hampel Committee on Corporate Governance. This was criticised by Margaret Beckett for failing to recommend ways for companies to regulate themselves.

Chair of the government’s Better Regulation Task Force.

Peter Sainsbury

Managing director for Corporate and External Affairs, Marks and Spencer.

Head of Better Regulation Taskforce’s Consumer Affairs Group, whose duties include consumer protection. This decided that voluntary measures and ‘consumer education’ were better than regulation.

Geoffrey Robinson

Director of Central and Sheerwood plc, property owned and chaired by fraudster and pension raider Robert Maxwell. C&S merged with Robinson’s TransTec, to form Transfer Technology Plc. Company later collapsed.

Paymaster General.

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Flooding Somerset for the Frackers?

February 13, 2014

somerset village and fracking plant montage

Image from the Guardian article ‘Fracking the Nation: the Dash for Gas beneath rural Britain’ from 28 June 2013. The picture is captioned ‘From this to this … ? The village of Compton Martin in Somerset, left, and a Cuadrilla shale gas drilling rig near Blackpool’.

In my first post attacking Cameron for his lies about the floods in Somerset, I received this comment from Amnesiaclinic

The DM found the 2008 document put out by the EA to comply with the EU directive on habitats. There is also the trojan horse of Agenda 21 stalking in the shadows. The general idea is that areas are left to go back to nature (costs less) without letting the locals in on what has been decided. So dredging and pumping, very expensive are out as they are expensive and unnatural. So I say stop all the flood defences for london – far too expensive and let them sink or swim.
Also, there were lake villages in Somerset with houses on stilts – that might be useful! Plus coming together as communities and buying up all the EA equipment and doing it themselves.

People are very angry as they have seen this coming.

Other commenters concurred. Kathrynd posted this comment, pointing to an article from the Central Somerset Gazette

Barry is probably spot on. http://www.centralsomersetgazette.co.uk/Somerset-flooding-EU-plan/story-20556464-detail/story.html.

This links to an article reporting the arguments by Richard North, who runs the Defence of the Realm and EU Referendum blogs. North argued that there was a deliberate policy by the Environment Agency to allow increased flooding in Somerset and elsewhere as a form of flood management. This was intended not just to replace flood defences, but also to replace intensive farming with new, and diverse forms of managing the countryside. Part of this was the intention that part of Somerset’s wetlands should be allowed to regenerate naturally and revert to the wild. This new environment was to be termed ‘washland’.

The policy was first proposed at an EU meeting in Warsaw in 2003. This seems to have influenced a Defra document, published the next year in 2004, entitled Making Space for Water, setting out the same policy. On page 23 the document acknowledged that the same issues were being discussed in the EU. The EU’s policy was published in a COM final (2004) 472. The policy then became European law under directive 2007/60/EC of 23rd October 2007. This stated in recital 14 that as well as preparation, protection and prevention, river management should also be conducted “with a view to giving rivers more space, they should consider where possible the maintenance and/or restoration of floodplains, as well as measures to prevent and reduce damage to human health, the environment, cultural heritage and economic activity”.

North then goes on to make the following points

Just so that there should be no doubts as to where the policy thrust law, DG Environment in 2011 issued a note, stressing that flood risk management “should work with nature, rather than against it”, building up the “green infrastructure” and thus offering a “triple-win” which included restoration (i.e., flooding) of the floodplain.

By then, the Environment Agency needed no encouragement. In its March 2008 plan it had decided that, “providing a robust economic case for maintenance works on the Somerset Levels and Moors remains a challenge” (p.131).

We believe, the Agency said, that “it is appropriate to look again at the benefits derived from our work, particularly focussing more on the infrastructure and the environmental benefits, which previous studies have probably [been] underestimated”.

We have, they said, “international obligations to maintain and enhance the habitats and species in the Somerset Levels and Moors, and it is within this context that all decisions have to be made”.

And, with that, they were “doubtful that all the pumping stations on the Somerset Levels and Moors are required for flood risk management purposes. Many pumping stations are relatively old and in some cases difficult to maintain. It is necessary to decide which ones are necessary particularly in the context of redistributing water”.

Of six policy options, the Agency thus adopted the sixth, to: “Take action to increase the frequency of flooding to deliver benefits locally or elsewhere, which may constitute an overall flood risk reduction”. This policy option, they said, “involves a strategic increase in flooding in allocated areas” (p.141). The Levels were to be allowed to flood, as a matter of deliberate policy.

North is obviously a Eurosceptic, highly critical of the Green movement and its environmental policies in Somerset. However, there is another possibility why the floods have been allowed to occur, quite apart from environmental concerns: fracking.

Owen Williams suggested this in his comment

I don’t suppose I’m the only one thinking about the coincidence that the Somerset Levels sit on top of a large Shale Gas deposit, am I? Can it really be pure coincidence that the Levels have been allowed to flood so severely – and it has been allowed, the EU edict more or less confirms it – just as the Fracking industry rears its head in the UK? I’m not saying that the Government deliberately flooded the Levels – no man can control the weather – but that they knew that the Levels would eventually flood with such severity as they have, and that they seem too well-prepared to exploit the opportunity.

What happens next will be as simple as it will be brutal to the people who live on these flood plains: the Government will make the requisite level of noise about helping these poor souls, while actually doing nothing at all; this will be to first encourage them to leave of their own accord, before setting up a buyout scheme to relieve people of their property and ‘help them to move on’; the people will only be offered a mere fraction of what their land or property is actually worth in its damaged state. And then, finally, the Government will issue a Compulsory Buyout Order to forcibly grab the land, and take action to remove those who can’t or won’t leave on their own. They’ll then quietly auction off the rights to commence the fracking process on the land, in return for a share of the profits, all of which will line their own coffers, rather than go into the public purse.

In short, the Somerset Levels will become an industrialised disaster area poisoned beyond repair by fracking, and the people who’ve lived there for however many generations will be unjustly displaced and robbed of their livelihoods with no-where to turn. The Government will continue to sit pretty above “commoners’ problems” as it always does, and Big Industry will continue to profit off the backs of people’s misery.

Meanwhile, down on earth, everyone else loses everything horribly, through no fault of their own.

What a pleasant country we live in. ¬_¬

When I replied to Owen, I thought it was unlikely that this was a deliberate policy, but found it quite credible that the fracking industry would move in after the area’s population had been cleared out due to the disaster.

Now I’m inclined to believe that Owen’s right, and that there may indeed be a definite policy at work here.

I was talking to a friend yesterday, and she recalled reading an article in either 2003 or 2007 – she couldn’t remember which – in which it was stated that the affected areas in Somerset should be abandoned to flooding so that fracking should begin. This confirms what Owen said in his comment.

Now without any documents to prove this, it’s all just hearsay and speculation. The memory does play tricks on people, though not as often as it appears to affect members of the Coalition, who regularly deny having said or done anything that conflicts with their policies. However, as the picture at the top of this post shows, there is a campaign to begin fracking in Somerset. This has provoked angry opposition from local people, concerned about the possible effect on the environment and drinking water.

The proposed fracking fields at the moment are in the Mendips, as shown in the map below

coalfield_licences

This covers a long list of communities and villages in Bristol, Bath and north-east Somerset. A list of them can be found at this website here: http://somersetfrackgate.blogspot.co.uk/p/coalbed-methane.html. Proposed sites for fracking include Keynsham, a small town between Bath and Bristol and the hometown of the comedian Russell Howard, and near Chew Valley Lake, a local reservoir in the Whitchurch and Chew Magna area just down the road from South Bristol. Among the groups campaigning against fracking in this part of Somerset are Frackfree Somerset, based in Saltford and Keynsham.

Frackfree Somerset.

Fracking, almost needless to say, has the backing of David Cameron and the government. More sinisterly, the Somerset County Gazette reported in its 27th January 2014 issue that the government was considering reforming the trespass laws so that fracking companies can drill under people’s homes without their permission. This contradicts the Conservative stance on both sides of the Atlantic that, apart from big business, the stand for the property rights of the small businessman and ordinary people. Remember all that stuff Margaret Thatcher used to say about small businesses and how she remembered living above the shop when she was small? I also remember Clint Eastwood stating that part of the ideology of the Western was having your own land. This disproves it. The Conservatives stand only for the property rights of big business. Like the corrupt cattle barons fought in Westerns by the likes of John Wayne, they’re quite prepared to use any and all means to force others off their property so that they can move in.

BBC News this morning reported that some of the victims of the Somerset floods wish the government to buy their properties at market rates. I don’t know if this will happen or not, though I’m sure that the government will buy their land, and then start to develop it. And it’ll be interesting to see if this includes fracking.

The Floods and Cameron’s Lies

February 12, 2014

somersetfloods1

I’ve put up a couple of posts recently on the lies David Cameron has told about the floods. In the first post I questioned Cameron’s assertion that the Coalition had spent more on flood defences than the Labour Party. The second post I put up was reblogged from Pride’s Purge, which provided the figures showing that the Coalition was spending far less on the floods than Labour. Further confirmation of this comes from this article from Private Eye’s issue for 20th to 23rd January 2014:

‘”There are a lot of flood defences being built,” claimed David Cameron outside a flooded village pub in Yalding, Kent, at the end of December. “But we have got to do more.”

Days later environment secretary Owen Paterson insisted that cuts to 550 flood prevention, warning and recovery jobs at the Environment Agency (EA) – splashed on by the Telegraph last week, though Eye readers read about them last year – are somehow being made “with the intention of protecting frontline services concerned with floods.” “This government is spending more than all preceding governments on flood defences,” he added. It should, but it isn’t.

Things were already bad under Labour. In 2007, official figures showed the EA missed its target of keeping just 63 percent of England’s existing flood defences up to scratch (Eye 1187); and the National Audit Office said it would take an extra $150m a year just to reach the target. But since the coalition came to power in 2010, far from tackling the flood defence backlog it has actually spent even less on flood defences.

A briefing paper last year found a 6 percent overall fall in central government funding for flood and coastal defence during the 2011-15 spending review period. Even the extra £120m announced in November 2012 – after it was revealed that 294 flood defence schemes across England were on hold after never receiving funding they’d been promised – didn’t bring spending back up to even 2010 levels.

But never mind! Government had a new wheeze to encourage local and private funding of flood defence through “Flood and Coastal Resilience Partnership Funding”. This, claimed the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, would enable “more local choice” and “encourage innovative, cost-effective options”. Alas, as the Local Government Association told parliament last year: “securing private sector contributions in the current economic climate is particularly challenging.” By 2015, just £38m for flood defence is expected to be raised from private sources – and the likely funders are firms who want to develop on flood plains.

Extra cash is available from taxpayers via the government’s “Growing Places Fund” – which is specifically for infrastructure, such as transport or flood defence, which will “unlock jobs and housing “developments. So the only way to get flood defence funded is … to build yet more on land at risk of flooding! Clever, eh?’

This piece not only shows that Cameron has been lying once again – and one wonders if anyone at the Coalition has ever, in their entire lives, told anyone the truth – but it’s also par for the course for the lamentable performance of Thatcher’s programme of wholesale privatisation. Thatcher, you will remember, was insistent that private industry would give you more choice, as well as be more efficient than state-managed monopolies and concerns. Hence the Coalition’s boast that their Flood and Coastal Resilience Partnership Funding would provide ‘more local choice’. Well, it has been demonstrably less efficient and effective at raising money for flood defences than traditional forms of state taxation, borrowing and allocation of funds. As for choice, that hasn’t noticeably been one of the Partnership’s priorities either. None of the poor souls now being flooded out of their homes and businesses in Somerset, Berkshire and elsewhere chose to be so, and the government has gone back to using state spending to combat the floods. So that’s another resounding triumph for private industry then.

Or at least it will be the next time Cameron and his cabinet start telling lies about it.

Conservative Apologies and Lies in Flooded Somerset

February 10, 2014

somersetfloods1

‘How do you know when a politician’s lying?’
‘His lips move.’

-Old Joke told on the Max Headroom Show circa 1986.

‘How do you know when David Cameron is lying?’
‘I refer the honourable gentleman/lady to the answer to the previous question.’

David Cameron will be touring the flooded areas of south-western England this morning trying to reassure the poor souls there that the government is doing its uttermost to combat the disaster and help the people recover their homes, land and livelihoods that are now drowned under the flood waters.

It’s a horrific disaster, as a brief glance at the pictures coming from the affected areas show. In Somerset people have had to be moved out of their houses, while farmer’s have lost crops as the floods covered their fields. One farmer was faced with the stark choice between selling or giving some of his cattle away, or sending them to be slaughtered as he had nowhere he could keep them, so hard was his farm hit by the floods.

During prehistory, and then in the early middle ages the Somerset levels was marshland, and some memory of the extend of the marsh environment is shown in area’s place names. The ‘ey’ in the names of places such as Muchelney, Athelney and so on comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘ieg’, meaning an island. These villages were islands of dry land in the surrounding marsh. During the Neolithic the local people constructed the Sweet Track, a timber walkway through the marsh supported by poles as a way of getting across the marshy environment. Similar wooden tracks crossing the north German moors were built during the Iron Age.

The marshland was gradually reclaimed from the 13th century onwards, though by the end of the 17th century only about a 1/3 of the levels was dry land. The remaining land was reclaimed during the 18th and 19th centuries. Water management and drainage has continued to be vital to the maintenance of the Levels, as the area is criss-crossed by a series of ‘rhines’ and drainage channels, like the King’s Sedgemoor Drain. Historically it has suffered from terrible floods. One in the early 17th century, created through a combination of bad weather and a tidal surge up the Severn Estuary, drowned houses, fields and livestock with the flood waters advancing about eight miles from Glastonbury itself. One eyewitness to this inundation recalled seeing crows perching on floating sheep, until the sheep in their turn sank and drowned. Fortunately the modern floods aren’t that severe, but they’re harmful enough to the people down there, who’ve had to be moved out of their houses.

Cameron visited the area yesterday, promising the local people that there would be every effort to combat the floods and that £3 million had been allocated to do this. He also made other, predictable claims that the government was spending more on flood defences than the Labour government.

Cameron has been merely the latest in a line of politicians and public figures to come down to look at the disaster and speak to its victims. They included Chris Smith, the environment secretary, and Prince Charles. Smith’s response to the crisis had caused even more anger. The local Tory MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, was furious at the way the environment agency had handled the disaster. He stated that when the area had suffered flooding a year ago, he spoke to Smith, who promised that suitable action would be taken. Nothing, however, was done. Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, Eric Pickles offered an unconditional apology to the people of Somerset for the way the government had mishandled it. Liddell-Grainger had gone even further, and demanded Smith’s resignation. Smith duly appeared on TV to say he had absolutely no intention of resigning, and was completely satisfied with his Agency’s actions. This had simply infuriated Mr Liddell-Grainger even more, and no doubt contributed to the apology offered by Pickles.

Cameron also acknowledged that mistakes had been made. He stated that the Agency had stopped dredging the Levels in the 1990s, and that this was a mistake.

Now the floods wreaking havoc throughout the country are a vital issue for Cameron and his administration. Not only are they a national disaster, but the areas affected are of crucial political importance for the Tory party. Like much of rural England, parts of Somerset are a Tory heartland. My parents have joked before now that in some of the villages, there used to be only two social clubs you could join when they were young: the Farmers’ Union and the Young Conservatives. With the Tories now suffering competition from UKIP, Cameron needs to show the Tories’ traditional constituents that he is indeed acting on their behalf.

Mixed in the with promises, however, are liberal amounts of the lies, which you can expect from a Tory leader. I’ve reblogged a piece from Mike over at Vox Political, on the way the way the BBC – surprisingly! – picked up the way the Tories had manipulated the graphs showing funding for the Environment Agency to suggest that it was actually much larger than it actually was. As for their claim that the Tories were now spending more on flood defences than Labour, this is may well be true. Now. After the floods had occurred, and demanded immediate action. I doubt very, very much this was the case before though. An administration dedicated to cutting government spending, and which reneged on its promises to preserve the NHS, is hardly likely to have left the Environment Agency untouched.

As for Cameron’s acknowledgement that they had stopped dredging in the 1990s, and this was a mistake, this occurred under the last Tory prime minister, John Major. During Major’s administration Private Eye ran a number of stories reporting the way government agencies and watchdogs regulating the environment and the utilities were increasingly downsized, with their powers restricted, in order to give greater freedom to industry. I’ve got a feeling that one of these was almost certainly the Environment Agency or its predecessor. Cameron’s government is similarly dedicated to minimising, if not removing altogether, government regulation and interference, and so I cannot see any long term changes occurring under Cameron. In fact, I can see the complete opposite. After the floods recede, what will probably happen is that, after a brief show of some token of increased funding or activity, the Environment Agency will go back to doing as little as possible as usual. Worse, it will probably be under pressure to cut services further to make savings to make up for the vast amount spent dealing with the floods. So despite Cameron’s grandiose claims, the people currently hit by the floods will be less protected afterwards than they were before.

What matters is not that permanent solutions are put in place to tackle the floods and prevent them occurring all over again. What matters is that Cameron is seen to be doing something, so that he can continue to cling to power and make further savings by slashing government expenditure. This is what his paymasters in the multinationals want. And the locals in Somerset, Devon, Dorset and Berkshire will be left to fend for themselves.