Welsh Green Dragon


Fairtrade Fortnight – what will you swap? by Chris Halpin

This years FairTrade fortnight has centred around one thing. Making individuals pledge to swap just one product they’d normally buy to a fair trade one. Organisers say this year has also been about raising awareness of the whole range of more unusual items that now carry the fair trade logo.

Fair trade groups work throughout the year to dispel any doubts people may have about fair trade products, but fair trade fortnight is the highlight of the calendar.

Welsh Green Dragon went to a Tea Dance organised by FairTrade Wales in St David’s Shopping Centre in Cardiff to find out more.

It’s never been easier to switch to FairTrade, especially now many of the big supermarkets are paying a fair price to suppliers in developing countries who help to produce many of their own brand products. When you think of FairTrade, what immediately springs to mind? Most people we asked said Tea, Coffee,  Bananas, then perhaps chocolate.

But there are many other ways in which we can switch to ensure a fair deal for farmers in developing nations. Cotton is the perfect example, and Tesco have recently made a pledge to sell fair trade school uniforms for the academic year 2010/11. Fairtrade organisations are pushing for hospitals and hotels who use alot of cotton to think about ethically sourcing their linen. Other ways to switch could be with Wine, Rum, Olive Oil or like Environment Minister Jane Davidson, you could promise to switch to buying fair trade Melon’s.

However getting your hands on these items is not always as easy as it seems. Fairdo’s in Canton stocks a range of products ranging from pyjamas to peanut butter, but as part of your weekly shop you’re restricted to what you can find in the supermarket.

I asked some people in Cardiff if they knew exactly what FairTrade stood for.

It’s clear that Wales is leading the way in ensuring a fair deal for farmers in developing nations, and that groups here work tirelessly to promote the fair trade ethos.  There are groups right across Wales who organise events from Tea Dances to holding stalls at farmers markets. However, changing consumer attitudes is easier said than done, as can be seen from the video above.

Fairtrade campaigners hope that with big players like Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and Nestle‘s KitKat jumping onto the FairTrade bandwagon,  other multinationals will also follow suit.

My swaps will be Rum and Coffee – although I don’t think I’ll be mixing them together.



Welsh Assembly gets tough on councils to become Zero Waste by Chris Halpin

Measures to improve how Wales deals with its waste have been proposed to the Welsh Assembly Government.

Environment Minister Jane Davidson wants Wales to adopt more sustainable waste management practices.

She hopes Wales will become a high recycling country by 2025 with aims to reach a Zero Waste country by 2050.

There’ll be targets for local authorities to recycle and compost, with financial penalties if these targets are not met. Certain materials will also be banned from going to landfill, like biodegradable food waste which could be used as biomass fuel. The announcement made by the Assembly also includes plans to start charging for plastic carrier bags in all shops from 2011.

What is ‘Zero Waste’?

The concept of ‘Zero Waste’ is to try and recover as much energy from our rubbish as possible, and options on how to do this are being researched by a group of local authorities.

Prosiect Gwyrdd is a partnership between, Caerphilly Borough County Council, The County Council of the City and County of Cardiff, Monmouthshire County Council, Newport Council and Vale of Glamorgan Council.

They are looking into the different ways of turning waste into energy, through modern incinerators (also known as combined heat and power), or anaerobic digestion (where the methane gas produced when waste decomposes is captured to be used as fuel).

Recycling as it stands

We are doing quite well when it comes to recycling in South East Wales. For the last quarter the figures are as follows.

Caerphilly: 39.32%
Cardiff: 38.5%
Monmouthshire: 41.67%
Newport: 39%
Vale of Glamorgan: 41.81%

On average there’s been a 3% rise each year in the amounts recycled since 2001. Its admirable that the Welsh Assembly are committed to reducing the amount we send to landfill and that schemes like Prosiect Gwyrdd are looking into ways to convert our rubbish into energy.

However – will ruling with an iron fist work (dishing out fines to councils left right and centre) or will it just hinder any further progress? Surely working to financial incentives and encouraging better waste management is better than penalising councils for not being up to scratch.

Call me a cynic but if councils are fined, then surely it’ll be us lot who suffer in the long run when we have to cough up more council tax.



Asylum seekers demonstrate against racism outside UKBA in Cardiff by tanyamercer

Asylum seekers have been demonstrating outside the UK Border Agency in Cardiff today.

They called for an independent inquiry following allegations by whistleblower Louise Perrett, who worked for the Agency last summer, that there was a culture of discrimination within the organisation.

Chris produced this radio piece on the background of the story.

Pressure mounts for independant inquiry at Cardiff UKBA Offices

Chris and I went down to the demonstration to find out more.

Reported by Tanya Mercer, produced and edited by Chris Halpin

Plaid Cymru AM Bethan Jenkins is part of the Cross Party Group for Human Rights, which is also calling for an independent inquiry into the alleged discrimination at the Agency.

She explained how people seeking asylum were easily manipulated because they couldn’t understand the system.

She also commented how the UK Border Agency expressed disapproval that Louise Perrett was invited to speak at the Cross Party Group on Human Rights meeting on the 16th of February.

But demonstrators say the only way to fight for asylum seekers rights is to continue to put pressure on organisations like the UK Border Agency. And the biggest and most important battle, they say, is changing mindsets and attitudes.



Cardiff Man hit by flooding calls on Council to do more by alexlodge

One in nine homes in Wales is at risk of flooding from rivers and the sea.

Whilst the Environment Agency announced plans to extend its flood warning system in Wales last week, we spoke to one man who is calling on Cardiff Council to do more to stop flooding in his area.

37-year old Anthony Cornick’s garden was damaged when Whitchurch Brook, which backs on to the house at Heol Waun Y Nant, broke its banks two weeks ago.

Flood water washed away land at the bottom of Mr Cornick’s garden, dislodging his fence and leaving a seven-foot drop.

Mr Cornick said: “I’m worried about my three children. They enjoy playing in the garden, in the Spring and Summer. But obviously, I don’t allow them to play in the garden at the moment, with the condition it’s in.

“What I want to see is some action. I want to see the land put back, and see someone take responsibility for the land that was there. But I don’t seem to be getting any response from the local authority.”

Flood defence projects

Cardiff Council has told Mr Cornick that he must repair the damages himself.

A Cardiff Council spokesman said: “Council officers are eager to re-open lines of communication with Mr Cornick in order to work towards a satisfactory conclusion to this issue.

“The council is attempting to find out exactly who is responsible for the piece of land in question, but while this is in progress, we must stress it is Mr Cornick’s responsibility to secure his own ground and fence.”

The council will spend will spend £451,000 on the brook as part of a European scheme supporting eight flood and coastal defence projects in the local area.

Flood Warnings

From March, the number of properties who automatically receive free flood warnings will increase from 47,000 to 90,000.

Eligible homes and businesses will be notified by post, a phone call to their landline or a text to a mobile phone.

Alan Proctor, Flood Risk Manager at Environment Agency Wales said: “Last November’s devastating events in Cockermouth remind us that the dangers of flooding and how being prepared is crucial.”

“We urge everyone to check whether their property is at risk and taking steps to prepare, such as looking at ways to make properties more resistant to floods.”



Prime Minister petitioned to help Cardiff buses by tanyamercer

 

A petition from Save Cardiff Central is going to ten Downing Street asking Gordon Brown to prevent Cardiff Council reducing the city’s bus services. 
Campaigners, including the city’s Green party, say the council’s development of Cardiff Central is making it more difficult for people to use public transport in the capital and reducing the city’s main transport hub.
Signatories are calling on the Prime Minister to prevent other local authorities across England and Wales from doing the same. 

Matt Townsend, Green party candidate for Cardiff South and Penarth, started the petition.  He said: “On a national level the government has been talking about integrated public transport, but if on a local level individual councils are able to take away those facilities or reduce the amount they are used, then that seems inconsistent. And once they’ve been reduced in size I’m worried they’ll never go back to the way they were before.” 

Councillor Delme Bowen, Travel and Traffic Executive for Cardiff City Council, said: “The petition fails to see the benefits the changes will bring. We are not reducing the integrated transport hub but modernising it. We will have two hubs – one in St Mary’s street and one at Cardiff Central.”
  

Sustainable Travel City
The changes were introduced as part of Cardiff Council’s joint Sustainable Travel City initiative with the Welsh Assembly Government. The council hopes the changes will reduce congestion in the city centre and encourage more people to use public transport. 

The ‘bus box’ 

Cardiff bus box

The new bus routes, which were introduced in October last year, mean all the buses now travel in an anti clockwise direction around the city.
Campaigners say this means people have further to walk to get to bus stops and adds considerable time onto people’s travel signs. 

Cardiff Central Station
In an attempt to reduce congestion around the bus station, more bus stops have been introduced along St Mary’s Street. Consequently only half the buses now stop at Cardiff Central Station.
Councillor Bowen says this will help keep traffic flowing around the city centre.
But Matt Townsend said: “Nearly all buses used to stop at Cardiff Central, but now many stop away from the station. This means people wanting to make connections with local and national trains and buses have to walk further. This means people will be less inclined to use the buses and those with mobility problems will be particularly affected. If the council wants people to use public tranport they need to make it easier for them, not more difficult.”  

Free B bus
Matt Townsend also has concerns about the new Free B bus, which is designed to link up bus stops around the city.
“Because the free bus only runs til about 8pm, it means people have to wait at other bus stops late enough. Although Cardiff Central Station isn’t the safest place, it is busy and people feel safer waiting there.”
There are also complaints from Cardiff residents that people haven’t been told about the free service. Consequently, very few people are using the service.
Councillor Bowen says a new publicty campaign has now started to advertise the new service. There will be a leaflet drop to people’s homes and posters put up around city bus stops.  

Future Plans
Save Cardiff Cental campaigners are concerned that the council has not been clear about its longer term plans for Cardiff Central Station and the city’s bus system.
Coucillor Bowen says the plans could take another five years to materialise. He said: “We’re in discussions about a new bus station and new sustainable transport systems such as a tram that can run on the road or on tracks.
“I know we’re going through a transition period now, but we will end up with a much better transport system, with less congestion. Consequently, people will be able to move around the city much more easily.”



£6 Million scheme to turn M4 into ‘Hydrogen highway’ announced by Chris Halpin

Ambitious new plans to turn the M4 in South Wales into a testing ground for vehicles powered by renewable fuels have been announced by Welsh Secretary of State Peter Hain and Environment Minister Jane Davidson today.

Dubbed the ‘Hydrogen highway’ futuristic filling stations will be installed along the motorway which can fuel electric and hydrogen cars, linking into a larger network across the South west and the Midlands.

A welcome boost to Wales’ Motor Industry

With yesterday’s news that Bosch would definitely close its Miskin plant, these new plans could give a welcome boost to Wales’ struggling motor industry. Building on years of research by the University of Glamorgan’s Renewable Hydrogen Research Centre, the Welsh Assembly Government hope developing the infrastructure will attract international manufacturing companies back to Wales.

£6.6 million pounds of funding has been awarded to the University’s research team to take the first steps into developing the hydrogen fuel technology and how the filling stations can be rolled out up and down the motorway. Some of the funding for the three year research project comes from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Welsh Assembly Government as part of the activities of the Low Carbon Research Institute. Here’s Welsh Secretary Peter Hain’s comments on the scheme.

Reaching a Low Carbon Economy

The plan will also help to meet Wales’ targets to move towards a low carbon economy and to tackle climate change. With fossil fuels running out, Environment Minister Jane Davidson says Wales should be at the forefront of developing alternatives to petrol fuelled cars. She believes hydrogen and electric power vehicles are the way forward and that Wales can be at the forefront of this technology. She also said that whilst carbon emissions from household energy were reducing, Transport emissions were still rising.

Listen to the full interview here.

The technology’s ready but the forecourts are not

Hydrogen fuel is extremely clean emitting only water when used as fuel. So far fuel cell technology has proved expensive, but the new funding will help research how to make the fuel more efficient. The next step is the expansion of the next generation of fuel filling stations. A number of car companies have already designed hydrogen powered cars but fuel station forecourts are not ready for them. Here’s the Honda clarity as reviewed by James May on the BBC’s Top Gear.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

It’s hoped that by 2015 hydrogen powered vehicles will become a common sight on our motorways as they’ll be much cheaper to buy and you’ll be able to refuel them. With todays announcement we may be a step closer but there’s still a long wait until such vehicles are likely to be hitting roads near you.



Robbing from the rich and giving to the poor? by Chris Halpin

Getting involved is billed as taking part in the ‘Greatest Bank Job Ever’. Loosely based on the Tobin tax, a group of charities have launched a new campaign which proposes to raise money from those notorious misers the bankers through – guess what – the Robin Hood Tax.

Bankers have had a bit of a bashing of late, blamed for the economic meltdown and lets face it, the banker on Noel Edmonds ‘Deal or no Deal’ is a right git.

Today the campaign came to Cardiff and I was there to see what happened.

At one o’clock unsuspecting city centre workers on their lunchbreak were treated to a surprise flash mob of dancing bankers springing into action outside Cardiff Central Library.

As you can see from the film Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams was also there for the photo opportunity to show her party’s support for the scheme.

The idea is to impose a 0.05% tax on transactions over £1000, which could be used closer to home to avoid massive cuts to vital public services like the NHS and help tackle climate change and help end poverty further afield.

The idea was launched yesterday and has already received a massive reaction, with the campaign plastered over Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. This is also thanks to celebrity endorsements from the likes of Richard Curtis and actor turned activist Bill Nighy who made this film.

But will the UK government really impose taxes on the banks? There are some bloggers out there who hope so, and some who do not.

And what do the banks make of all this? I tried getting in touch with a couple this afternoon to get their take on it but no one wanted to talk to me.

Government policy making is about as far removed from dancing flash mobs gyrating to Abba as you can probably get but it’ll surely be interesting to see who jumps on this political bandwagon in the run up to the general election.