Five reasons to say no to 9,000 homes plan

Lancaster’s MP Cat Smith, in her recent detailed article about the south Lancaster plan for 9,000 houses and a new road, lists many very reasonable conditions she would like to be fulfilled before she could support the project. She might recall that she wrote a letter of support for the HIF bid submission back in 2019.

Unfortunately, like the planners and highways officers who devised the scheme, she fails to mention the huge carbon impact of building a new road linking to the M6, never mind the resulting number of additional car journeys made on it in a time of climate crisis. But apart from that huge elephant in the room, below are some thoughts on other issues the Housing Infrastructure Funding and the associated plan creates.

1. We can’t extend the deadline for further consultation

Firstly, Cat Smith is rightly concerned that “there will be further, genuine consultation with residents in South Lancaster, particularly regarding the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) and its implications”.

But this call should have started long ago. The deadline for the decision is 31 August and government will not extend it despite our recent request. The Council has already had one deadline extension, as she must know. We have been repeatedly told we have run out of time to adjust this particular scheme.

2. This scheme will not prevent ‘uncontrolled development’

Secondly, she takes up the contention by Lancaster City Council planning officers that without this scheme we will have ‘uncontrolled development’ in the area because we have no five-year land supply, i.e. ‘the scheme meets the five-year housing land supply, so that local involvement isn’t eroded.’

The truth is that the HIF funding will not help us meet the five-year housing land supply for a number of years. Here is the view of a senior council officer this summer in response to my questions on this: “your general concerns regarding housing supply are well-founded. The pandemic certainly hit build out…and you are right that the supply of strategic sites is dwindling until more come forward for planning permission (part of the North Lancaster site is likely to be next, later this summer). That means that we are unlikely to be able to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply.”

In short, we will continue to have reduced powers over ‘uncontrolled development’ here and elsewhere because there is no five-year land supply and that is what determines our ability to control planning permissions. The HIF is not the magic bullet despite what some commentators think.

In fact, the numbers of expected housing from south Lancaster are indeed very low for the next 13 years — as expressed in the Local Plan, with just 1,205 realistically delivered: as the land must be ‘deliverable’ not just earmarked. See below.

Mechanisms for Delivery of Growth in South Lancaster (including Bailrigg Garden Village)

12.18  Policy SP6 of this DPD sets out the overall housing target and identifies a wide range of development sites which will be required to meet that Local Housing Need. The broad location for growth has identified opportunities to deliver in the region of 3,500 new homes, 1,205 of which the Council believes can be realistically delivered during the course of this plan period up to 2034, due to the strategic infrastructure required to facilitate growth

3. We have no guarantees we’ll get the affordable housing we urgently need

Thirdly, our MP picks up the matter of affordable housing, an absolute priority for the city council’s homes strategy and for Green Councillors. Designed for people earning low incomes, affordable housing is created when developers sell homes at a discount to housing associations so they are available for rent or shared ownership. Greens would like the same  assurances that our MP seeks;  that, “a substantial number of homes built are genuinely affordable, and there is a plan in place to ensure this is actually delivered”.

But there are no guarantees about this whatsoever.

Greenfield sites should contribute 30% affordable housing because developers can make their highest profits on such sites. Because of that required profitability, discounted homes are sold for Housing Associations to run and maintain as affordable. Developers often negotiate down the amount of affordable housing because they say that they will not make enough profit:  in their terms, affordable housing makes the developments ‘unviable’.

For the last 3 years these are dismal affordable housing figures that have been achieved in the district. And gives an idea of just how many new dwellings have been built in reality:

Net new total dwellings (excluding student units)

Affordable housing units as % of total (excluding student units)  Total dwellings on greenfield sites (including student units built on greenfield)
2018/19 262 21% 110
2019/20 282 15% 141
2020/21 206 8% 125

And there is every reason why this struggle will continue in south Lancaster: taking a “roof tax” or developer contribution to pay for the highways works doubles the usual s106 payments (which generally contribute to local play spaces, community facilities, schools and GP surgeries) and this will be a genuine reason for developments being “unviable.”

The best way to find out whether developers are going to be able to reduce or remove the affordable housing is to have our own council viability study.  This has not been produced, despite our calls.

What we need to do is focus all our officers’ time on delivering the Canal Quarter and  the realistic plans for affordable housing within it.

So on behalf of the Greens, I have to say to our MP that there is no plan in place to ensure affordable housing is delivered. And the requirement to pay the “roof tax” significantly reduces the chance of affordable housing being available.

4. We are in the middle of a climate crisis, and this will not be a low-carbon development

Cat’s fourth call comes close to recognising the climate crisis and reveals some real problems with the HIF project: “the homes built are as sustainable as possible, ideally net-zero carbon, adhering to the boldest environmental and climate regulations,

There is much focus on making homes themselves as low-carbon and sustainable as possible.  This is in line with the new Local Plan review which requires developers to build to the highest energy efficiency standards. Unfortunately, the council’s consultants’ initial report in the spring raised questions over the viability of genuinely low-carbon emission housing on strategic greenfield sites.’

Once new build dwellings are raised to the high standards we require, build costs rise and the houses become less viable. This in turn reduces further the chances of affordable housing but also means developers will be contributing less to community facilities through s106 contributions.

One other call: that “air quality in Galgate is improved by diverting traffic away from the village, as has long been demanded,” 

Yes, we would agree that if we build the road, there will be less traffic through Galgate for a few years.  However, research into road-building shows that if you reduce congestion and make journeys easier, more vehicle journeys are made. The traffic comes back as induced traffic and with a local new population of 30,000 people this is likely to be serious, despite some funding for cycling and bus infrastructure — the details of which remain very vague indeed. So in effect we will have spent over £100 million on the reconfiguration of Junction 33 and a new slip road for a few years’ respite from traffic whilst hugely increasing the risk to Galgate from flooding due to the run off from the new road. This is not a scheme fit for the 21st century, especially given the climate emergency.

5. The financial risks are enormous

There are huge financial risks too, many of these are only evident in the confidential and supposedly commercially sensitive information that only councillors, and not the public, are allowed to see. But I think the above clearly indicates that this particular HIF plan does not fulfil our Labour MP’s own criteria for support, and it is to be hoped that Labour councillors do not vote for it on this Wednesday.


Adjusting to the Local

Life back in Lancashire for the last five weeks has certainly had a different feel to that of Brussels and Strasbourg, with distinctly less travel, although I’ve still managed quite a few train miles within the region to various green and other events; to London for a Local Authorities Pension Fund investment strategy conference, and an unplanned family-related trip to Ireland (with much sadness due to an unexpected bereavement). I hear that for most of February, it also rained in Brussels.

I am missing my fellow MEP colleagues and staff teams, the conviviality, and the sense of influence! But it’s good to re-connect with lots of local and regional Greens, and of course, friends. Now that the Brexit process has started, the action at a local level by individuals, communities, campaign groups and local authorities is more important than ever.

In short, I have been busy with lots of catching up as City and County Councillor, so much so that my intention to carry on fortnightly instead of weekly blogs went out of the window. So this blog is a brief summary to highlight the range rather than the detail of events as former MEP.


Lancaster City Council news: Freeman’s Wood is saved!

Firstly, my huge appreciation to fellow Green Lancaster City Councillor Mandy Bannon who was newly-elected (with me in Marsh ward) to Lancaster City Council just three weeks before the European elections last year. I had reassured her I would be there to help her learn the ropes, then got swept off to Europe. She has done  an amazing job of quickly assuming the role of representing Marsh ward – chasing casework, ward projects, campaigns and networking in our little corner of the Lancaster District. And as part of the Friends of Freeman’s Wood, Mandy helped to finally get Freeman’s Wood recognised as a Town Green by Lancashire County Council last month (after five years or more of waiting!). This is a really important achievement in helping secure the Wood against development.

Flood prevention

I recently attended the AGM of the Lune Valley Flood Forum – a fantastically-led community group which looks to ensure the communities affected by flooding have a strong input into city and county policies, and provides very good networking. Chris – a former teacher and now lecturer at the University of Cumbria – is developing teacher training tools for teaching about flooding and climate change prevention across the curriculum. A great initiative. More about the LVFF here


I caught up with some of the Nanas of Lancashire again. While they are not required right now to defend our environment and communities by their roadside vigil at Preston New Road fracking site (as all activities there have ceased), they are busy with plans and supporting other campaign groups including the Youth Strike for Climate. Well done Nanas!

Budget news

February was budget month for both Lancaster City and Lancashire County Councils. At City Council, the Green group of 10 are part of the cross-party administration, with Labour and the Lib Dems. The Greens have three cabinet members who hold the portfolios for Environmental Services (Dave Brookes), Housing (Caroline Jackson), and Economic Regeneration (Tim Hamilton-Cox). The budget is starting to be aligned with the climate emergency action plan. I will report more on this in my overdue report as MEP: Local authorities and the Climate Emergency: From Declaration to Action which covers Lancaster as a case study. Available very shortly!

Meanwhile, in the County Budget, climate measures are far less evident. My tabled amendment included: reinstating the Home Improvement Service, which helps keep people with disabilities and the elderly living with adaptions at home; funding for maintained Nursery Schools, which provide in particular for children with additional needs and are currently under desperate financial pressure, and a new post of climate action coordinator. Within the capital budget, I proposed at least five per cent of the transport grant should be ring-fenced for cycling infrastructure, plus more for pavement repairs from existing budgets. Labour and other opposition groups supported my amendment but with the Tory majority at County, it lost 26 to 41.

Pension Fund Event

Attending the LAPF investment strategy conference as a committee member of Lancashire County Pension Fund – an event funded by investment companies (the Black Rocks of this world) – for the second year running, I have used the opportunity to hammer home the message that corporate investors need to urgently take more leadership on demanding climate action by companies. Not surprisingly, I am recognised there as ‘having an agenda’. This year I received various comments such as “you must be delighted to see climate change mentioned in every workshop and panel session.” To which my answer was “I’m slightly encouraged, but I’d only be delighted if carbon emissions were now drastically reducing as a result of changes in business practices.“  Former speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow,  the after-dinner speaker, was entertaining.

Last week I was back in the Preston meeting of the committee. Lancashire invests far less than the average Local Government Pension Scheme in global equities and therefore has less exposure to fossil fuel companies – definitely a good thing. But there is so much more to be done, and my 7 year efforts at getting a clear commitment to divestment are still not succeeding. I am a lone voice, despite plenty of other councillors on the committee.

REGIONAL: North West

Salford University media department students, The DEBATE, invited me to be on a panel alongside an Extinction Rebellion activist. We debated the effectiveness of different types of campaigning in pushing the green agenda and the Green New Deal. It was very professionally chaired by Joseph Kelly.

I talked about my Green New Deal report at Trafford Green Party’s launch of their local May elections campaign, which I repeated at a public meeting in Lancaster – although no elections here this spring. In essence the Green New Deal is a chance to create jobs, training and reduce poverty whilst tackling the climate crisis. These meetings also gave me an opportunity to share again my wonderful experience as North West Green MEP and the delight –  if I haven’t mentioned it before – of being in a room with 70 other competent, experienced, professional European Greens all committed to action on climate and protecting human rights.

Digital City Festival

This week I was the only politician(!) invited to speak on a panel at the Digital City Festival in Manchester, bringing together the leaders, creators and change-makers who are shaping the future of digital. We discussed the environmental and economic impact and opportunities that can come from applying AI, data and other emerging technologies to achieve green objectives IF rolled out with attention to ensuring good jobs and training, decent two–way communication with the public, and policies to ensure the benefits are widely spread. More Green New Deal in fact.

I also advocated the importance of carbon literacy training. I had interviewed some students about their role in Manchester Metropolitan University’s Carbon literacy project and the associated HySchool project (education about the role of hydrogen in a future renewable energy mix) when I was keynote speaker at their conference five weeks ago in my first engagement as former MEP.


International Women’s Day celebrations: I was pleased to be invited onto the BBC’s North West Sunday politics show on International Women’s Day. In answer to their key question- Yes absolutely more women are needed in the Cabinet -indeed more women from all backgrounds are needed in all areas of public life and leadership! Some beautiful photos here on the Guardian website of this year’s commemorations world wide of IW,  which has been held every year on 8 March since 1977, when the UN invited member states to declare a day for women’s rights and world peace.


All things Corona Virus. Debate is now raging about whether the Government has missed opportunities to stop the spread of the virus during their commitment to the early ‘containment’ phase, and whether more should have been done to test population samples. It appears clear now likely the UK will move into adopting a ‘social distancing’ strategy very soon. Those most likely to be seriously affected and with higher risk of mortality if they contract this disease (people with  underlying health problems and  the elderly) are likely to need the very services provided by local authorities and community organisations whose funding has been hollowed out over years by austerity. If the UK gets to a ‘worse case scenario’ the lack of NHS provision may mean people will be treated at home who otherwise would have stayed in hospital. We can all look out to help people in our communities who may help, or need to selfisolate to prevent catching or spreading the virus. Public Health England is providing a regularly-upated  blog  

Where hope lies….

The Government introduced a big spend budget. It was just on the wrong things.  Government has promised to spend on what is needed to tackle the Corona virus, and it could invest at speed to address the far more threatening climate, biodiversity and inequality emergencies. Green Peer Jenny Jones joins others in writing about this  enormous missed opportunity.

Its important to  keep the pressure on Government but meanwhile do all we can at a local level in the fight to environmental and social justice.



(More again on Europe next time. Please consider sharing this Long Read and encourage others to sign up for my newsletters!)






Final Farewell in My Role as Your Green MEP

A Sad Farewell

Welcome to my extra-long blog this week. Sadly, this is my last writing in my short-lived role as a Green MEP for the North West. What an amazing experience it has been, and I want to say again: a huge thank you to everyone who supported or voted for the Green Party in May 2019 to enable me to represent the North West in the European Parliament.

It’s incredibly difficult to summarise the emotions I have experienced during these last two weeks. But, due to the amazing work of my wonderful team of staff, both in Brussels and the North West, we have been industrious and maximizing the time we have left on research reports, event launches and parliamentary business right up until the last minute.

There is little to compare these recent weeks to. It’s deeply saddening, clearly historic, yet very moving. The warmth and respect shown to the UK by all the other MEPs and people working on all levels in the European institutions is so clearly sincere. There were incredibly moving speeches in the penultimate plenary session about the tremendous contribution that the UK has made to shape the EU of today, from (almost) all the political groupings in the Parliament.

My favourite quote during the debate in the European Parliament on the Withdrawal Agreement was by Philippe Lamberts, co-leader of the Greens/EFA group:

“In Europe, there are two types of countries; small countries, and those who have yet to realise how small they are.”

The Greens in Europe have such vision, and although leaving it all behind is hard, I am taking so much with me when I go. From the experience of working on the Horizon Research and Innovation programme; memories of numerous cross-cultural and cross-group events; wonderful connections made not just here in Brussels but including the many organisations and individuals I have met in the North West, and several reports that we have published over the last few months.

Withdrawal Agreement Debate

Only 49 MEPs, which certainly included all the UK Greens, voted against ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement. As a UK MEP, I don’t feel the deal we have is good for the UK or for Europe, and I worry about the difficulties to come. However, Molly Scott Cato repeated our joint desire to continue current links with our European neighbours, extend friendships groups, and revive pre-EU membership initiatives, such as town-twinning.

Also, we issued a statement following the Withdrawal Agreement vote, from the seven UK Green MEPs on the final vote this week, which neatly summarises our position:

“In spite of the powerful campaign waged by Greens and many others for almost four years, with a deep sense of regret and grief, we accept that the UK will leave the EU this Friday. But Brexit isn’t done; the negotiations over the nature of our future relationship are only just beginning.

“Europe is a beacon of peace in the world, upholding human rights, leading the world on climate change, protecting our environment and safeguarding consumer standards. And we believe that in the months ahead pro-Europeans, who would prefer us to remain in the EU and who make up at least half the electorate, have a right to help shape our future relationship with Europe.

“So, we urge the Prime Minister to aim for a settlement that maintains the vital legal protections offered by our EU membership. For Greens, this must include freedom of movement, a privilege we are proud to champion because it offers the chance to live, work and form relationships across 27 other countries.

“It is particularly important for our young people that we maintain the closest possible relationship with our European neighbours as we know they are considerably more pro-European than older generations. It is their future that is being limited by leaving the EU. So, while now is not the time to campaign to re-join the EU, we will nonetheless aspire to this in the future.”

Final sponsored visit to the European Parliament

Last week I hosted my fourth and final visitor group to the European Parliament in Brussels. Students from Manchester Metropolitan University, developing future alternative energies, as well as Pro-EU and climate campaigners from the North West joined me in Brussels, and as on previous visits to Parliament, there was much awe and wonder at what goes on here.


I am delighted to say that one of the visitors from the group has written a genuinely insightful account of her experience.

“I believe this country has slammed the door on a system it does not understand and will regret doing so. I believe we are depleted economically and culturally as a result and fear the coming isolation will cast us into deeper internal conflict, division and inequality.”

You can read Miranda Cox’s write up in a guest post here.

The Sustainable and Active Transport Report

Last Friday, I launched a report in Lancaster, written and researched by well-respected transport experts, which highlights what sustainable transport systems could look like in different communities across the North West.

In a full and engaged room, I was delighted to be able to promote this follow-up to The Green New Deal in the North West report which we launched last year, with more details on an action plan for low-carbon sustainable transport.

The idea behind it is to have a functional and workable plan to decarbonise transport in the North West. Carbon emissions are still rising within the transport sector and so a transformation in the North West region is essential to meet the demands of the climate crisis. Our new report demonstrates that a sustainable and fairer travel network is both possible and achievable, with huge benefits across the board, such as high-quality jobs, reducing isolation in communities, and better health outcomes.

All local authorities, indeed, all those responsible at a sub-national level for climate plans, transport, health and economic development, can and must ensure that investing in public transport – including walking and cycling infrastructure, to achieve far fewer journeys made by car.

You can download the transport report here.

The Role of Research in Achieving the Outcomes of the European Green Deal

AS Greens/EFA representative on  Horizon Europe, I co-hosted a workshop about the key role of research and innovation in the European Green Deal last week.

The European Green Deal is this Commission’s flagship programme, settings the EU on a clear path of accelerated decarbonisation and its implementation. Research and innovation will be key in delivering these goals, however, the exact role and potential of R&I in this historic proposal is still fairly unclear.

We need research and innovation to deal with the challenges facing society. From tackling climate change to digitalisation and maintaining European industrial.

The workshop looked at the recently released E3G report Delivering Climate Neutrality: Accelerating EU Decarbonisation with Research and Innovation Funding.

We also presented eminent examples of how innovation leads to market success. Northvolt is Europe’s leading battery start-up, offering crucial lessons on the future of European industry, with their expanding company which produces batteries in Sweden and they have a  full commitment to component recycling.

Additional presentations were given by EIT InnoEnergy, a knowledge and innovation community delivering practical innovation, fostering the creation of start-ups and entrepreneurial spirit to support European industry as it undergoes vital transformations. The Jacques Delors Energy Centre, a Europe-based think tank, talked about the social dimension of clean energy innovation.

MEPs urge Commission to End Double Standards on Trade With Occupied Territories

Just two days before leaving the EU, I chaired a Roundtable discussion on EU Trade with Occupied Territories.  Along with three other MEPs from France, Ireland and Denmark representing both Greens and S&D groups we had organised this event to bring together legal and policy experts to debate the divergent and piecemeal approaches of the EU towards trade with occupied territories such as Western Sahara and of course Palestine.

We heard the details of how on one side, the EU imposed sanctions on Russia in relation to the occupation of Crimea, while on the other, it has included the territory of Western Sahara in its bilateral agreements with the occupying power, Morocco. In Palestine, experts highlighted the lack of implementation of EU rules concerning the correct labelling of Israeli settlement products. Towards other situations of occupation such as Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh or Northern Cyprus, participants considered the EU’s approach as a best practice to be emulated.

You can read more in our press release here.

Farewell to my European Colleagues

Brexit is finally happening. There were almost too many moments to say farewell – often with tears, hugs, and small gifts exchanged.

With our European friends, there is a real energy to ensure we keep the friendship ties strong in the coming years and door open to be one day welcomed back. There were beautiful memes and messages carrying the hashtag #LeaveALightOn and #SeeYouSoon.

Terry Reintke, a German Green MEP, said:

“Friday night will be a sad night for millions of Europeans. There is a call to light a candle in your window during the night:

“A light for continued friendship.
“A light for our common home Europe.
“A light for a common future.

“I will join and show my solidarity.”

The UK Green MEPs returned the gesture with a bit of adapted Shakespearean rhyme. Here is a sample:


The time has come to say goodbye to you,

Our eyes are full, our hearts are torn in two;

But this is not “Goodbye” but “See you soon!”.

For Auld Lang Syne we’ll sing a happy tune



Stay friends! I do not want to say farewell!

It’s far too soon, I’ve still so much to do,

So much to say, such urgent truths to tell

On Palestine, research, and fracking too.



Just hear me now! I’ve not yet had my say!

It won’t take long! We do not go away,

Into obscurity. We fight to win.

Against dark forces. Let the task begin!



I took the train from Brighton week-by-week.

I battled Brexit, sought a Green New Deal;

Equality for genders too I seek.

What next, I wonder, now that Brexit’s real?



The East of England sent me, their first Green,

To serve a term, to put the planet first,

Seek change from planes to trains, make seas more clean

To work for human rights, where wrongs are worst.



It gives us hope to know that you are here,

Campaigning for the values we hold dear:

For fairness, justice and equality;

Climate, nature, sustainability.



Too soon our time with you is at an end;

With heavy hearts we part this hallow’d ground.

Keep warm my seat for now my trusted friend,

Till tyranny is crushed and hope is found.


I must also say a final massive thanks to my wonderful team of staff – without them, none of this would have been possible.


Meanwhile this week…


An invitation to join a panel discussion during a public event outside the Parliament was an opportunity for me to finally launch my report What’s on the Horizon for UK Science, Research & Innovation? This report looks at the impact of EU funding on UK research and its crucial role in solving society’s greatest challenges, from the climate emergency to life-saving healthcare. We emphasised the importance of future research funding to meet these local, regional and global challenges, highlighting the huge range of projects already underway in the UK through the existing Horizon 2020 scheme, and drawing attention to the risks that Brexit poses by severing or attenuating our links with Horizon Europe.

You can download the report and read more here.


The Green MEP delegation wrote on behalf of EU citizens, to Stephen Barclay, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. We are very concerned with how citizens are being treated. As MEPs, we have been receiving letters from distraught citizens from the EU27 since the 2016 referendum. Residents are seeing their lives being changed, with any plans they made on the basis of an existing legal situation, being undermined in a way that causes them considerable distress. In this context, the very least we can do is to provide them with the maximum level of reassurance and protection.

You can read our letter here.

Where hope lies:

In between all these events in Brussels, I also attended the North West Green Party Annual General Meeting in Whiston, and I am pleased to announce that I was elected Chair of the region. This role is something I look forward to taking on at this crucial time for the climate and our Party.

Working for the North West in this capacity gives me an opportunity to help boost the party membership and support efforts to get new councillors elected in May. It also gives me another ‘hat’, along with my position as Lancashire County Councillor and Lancaster City Councillor roles, where I will continue to promote the Green Party.

My fellow UK Green MEPs and I are going back to the UK to work tirelessly on all of the things that need to be done to turn the climate emergency into solutions for a safer, fairer and protected future.

I look forward to keeping you in touch with my work now as Lancashire County Councillor and Lancaster City Councillor.

Thank you to you all for the support I’ve had in my role as MEP!


Onwards and with continued hope, with a final send-off message to us all from our friends, The Greens, in European Parliament:

“We will keep the light on.”


Gina x


The Final North West Visit to the EU: Guest Post by Miranda Cox

Guest post by Miranda Cox

The Final North West Visit to the EU

A small delegation from the anti-fracking campaign in Lancashire joined our Green Party MEP, Gina Dowding and representatives from other campaigns and research groups at the European Parliament in Brussels for two days.

This visit was partially sponsored by the European Parliament as part of its outreach and education programme. This enables groups to visit, network and understand a little more. Previous visits have included a delegation of young adults. Our delegation was the last one from the North West before the UK leaves the EU.

I can honestly say that I personally had only a rudimentary understanding of the EU before our Green representatives shared the daily workings of it via social media.

The fact they initially took their seats without a withdrawal date had meant that month-to-month, they have not really known how long they could be influential. Now that withdrawal date is fast approaching and final preparations are being implemented it was a particularly interesting time for us to visit.

We arrived late on Monday and returned on Wednesday. Our time in between was full of conversation and sharing ideas as well as discovering more about the European Parliament and issues around Brexit.

At the morning session with Molly Scott Cato MEP and Gina, delegates asked questions about the potential impacts of Brexit upon the UK electorate, pondered issues around our current electoral system, the divisiveness of our adversarial Government chambers and what could be done moving forward.

It is evident that the UK MEPs feel deeply troubled by what the UK will lose in terms of working partnerships, regulatory protection and influence.

Our future isolation concerns our European friends too, who were saddened and very sympathetic.

This session was followed by a highly entertaining and illuminating presentation on the workings of the European Parliament by one of the last British civil servants to be recruited.

The Workings of EU Parliament

My main takes from this were:

  • The political parties form alliances based on shared beliefs and principles.
  • The debates are negotiations and compromises are made rather than being adversarial arguments.
  • 26 languages are spoken.
  • The number of civil servants and interpreters employed is 55,000. This seems a lot but apparently the same number of civil servants are employed in Leeds alone.
  • The main chamber “Hemicycle” is open, light, and arranged in a semi-circle unlike Westminster debating chambers.
  • Voting takes place electronically and representatives are not able to filibuster (talk until time runs out) unlike in the UK Parliament.
  • There are over 700 representatives and smaller nations are deliberately given more MEPs so they are not dominated by counties with larger populations.

Our visit to the parliament concluded with a smaller presentation by the Metropolitan University of Manchester who explained a little about hydrogen fuel.

At the end of the day, we were very fortunate to be included in the European Green Group’s New Year reception. This was full of youthful energy and hope for the future.

The following morning we met with Terri Reintke, a German MEP to discuss how we continue to maintain partnerships, exchanges and a level of communication after Brexit. We discussed cultural exchanges, friendship groups and information sharing.

Gina took us to her office, where I sadly noted the cardboard boxes ready to be packed. We briefly met Scott Ainslie a London MEP, who promised to take inspiration from us northern activists and we also saw reminders of the three-year campaign near Blackpool at Preston New Road in the Nana blanket hanging on the wall and campaign photos dotted across tables.

The End of an Era

What struck me as I walked around the parliament was that the energy was palpable. The architecture encouraged debate. There were lots of seating areas, open cafe spaces and meeting zones.

There was no sense of entitlement and the elected representatives were indistinguishable from visitors and staff. There appeared to be a real equitable nature.

Modern art nestled amongst photographs of leaders and everywhere there were views looking out to the world beyond the offices.

I personally felt very privileged to have been given this opportunity. I feel the enormity of the task ahead and therefore face the 31st of this month with trepidation.

I believe this country has slammed the door on a system it does not understand and will regret doing so. I believe we are depleted economically and culturally as a result and fear the coming isolation will cast us into deeper internal conflict, division and inequality.




End Times, Determination and Fresh Hope

Last week saw the final Strasbourg plenary session before Brexit. The last time that UK MEPs travelled to this small town on the Franco-German border for late-night political discussions, negotiations and votes on proposals aimed at improving the lives of European citizens. A sombre backdrop to the many good news stories that came out of the week’s plenary proceedings, not least around the climate.

Strasbourg & Green Victories

The big thing that happened last week, was the European Parliament’s resolution on the European Green Deal. As I’ve previously written, the European Green Deal is the new Commission’s flagship programme: a huge package of political reforms aimed at making the EU carbon-neutral by 2050 at the latest.

After the Commission published its first communication on the reform package in December, it was now Parliament’s turn to say its piece on what the Green Deal should contain. I’m happy to say that we managed to secure a hugely ambitious text, significantly improving on the Commission’s proposal. Among our Green victories were:

  • Strong text on the urgent need for ambitious climate action to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.
  • EU Member States should adopt intermediate and long-term targets for both renewables and energy efficiency.
  • Underlining the need for the green transition to be a just one, and to focus support programmes on especially vulnerable localities, such as coal-mining regions.
  • Calls for EU industrial strategy to be inextricably linked to a circular economy action plan, and for the elimination of planned obsolescence.
  • An amendment on the necessity of nuclear energy to tackle the climate crisis was voted down.

Us Greens managed to include many of our amendments in the resolution and I’m going to miss this when we’re gone – the power and purpose of a large Green presence in Parliament. The outcome really shows that a strong green voice in European politics has a concrete impact.

I also managed to do some personal lobbying on climate action this week. On Tuesday, I had a meeting with the Commissioner responsible for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans. Apart from discussing the reforms needed to tackle the climate crisis, I also gave him a copy of my report on The Green New Deal in the North West, to help inform his work.

Australia Bushfires

On Monday, the Parliament debated the devastating and tragic bushfires in Australia. The link between climate change and extreme weather events like this was clear in many statements made by Commission representatives and MEPs. It’s commendable that even Conservative politicians on the EU level seem to be waking up to the fact that we are in a climate crisis. We can only hope that our UK Conservative government will follow the example of our European colleagues in this regard. Or at least that we must continue to lobby and push for policy to match reality.

Citizens’ Rights Post-Brexit

There are over three-and-a-half-million EU citizens living in the UK, and around one-and-a-half million UK citizens living in the EU. After Brexit, we have to ensure that citizens’ rights of both these groups are properly protected and that they are treated fairly and lawfully.

These issues were the subject in Parliament for Tuesday’s debate. I spoke about the difficulties that many EU citizens in the UK are already facing when it comes to applying for settled status.

The UK government claims that the process should take one-to-four days, but many people have to wait for far longer than that. The uncertainty, stress and difficulties that waiting months for a decision on settlement status brings, is unacceptable. Leaving people without essential documentation and rendering them unable to get jobs or rent a home.

The UK government must uphold its commitments to protect citizens’ rights. We must ensure that everyone is treated fairly and that the quagmire of Brexit does not contribute to more uncertainty and anxiety for EU and UK citizens than it already has.

If you want to see my speech, it is available here.

Palestine: Stopping EU Complicity in War Crimes

This week I also published an opinion piece in Middle East Eye, on how the EU is funnelling millions of euros of taxpayers’ money to Israeli weapons manufacturers. A new report shows that the EU’s current research programme has handed out around nine million euros to Israeli defence companies Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries.

In the article, I argue that the EU is putting its reputation as a credible and trustworthy partner to both parties of the Israel-Palestine conflict at risk by financing these companies.

The EU also counteracts its own policies towards Israel by funding companies that provide the Israeli military with much of its hardware. Arguably making the EU complicit in the oppression of Palestinians and the undermining of international law.

Meanwhile this week…


Despite a sense of sadness at leaving, I am so very grateful to have had this incredible experience of being the Green MEP for the North West; it’s been an honour and an inspiration. I am particularly proud of our The Green New Deal for the North West report that can be used as a framework after we leave the EU and I am looking forward to launching our Sustainable and Active Transport for the North West report this coming Friday – both have ideas that I will continue to champion in my work as a Councillor. Armed with the research and experience, we can continue to make clear just how much our region could benefit from a green future with quality jobs and improvements in all aspects of our lives:


After our final visit to Strasbourg this week as UK MEPs, I’m more disappointed than ever that we are deliberately breaking away from collaboration and cooperation with this huge block of our nearest neighbours. This is not just about quality trade in goods and services with an underpinning agreement to protect the environment and working standards, but also a relationship in a whole range of other endeavours that EU countries together undertake: to deal with global problems from the climate crisis, to social inequality to addressing the challenges of the digitisation of the economy. Such a desperate shame.

Where hope lies:

Soil getting the attention it deserves. I wrote recently for the Ecologist that:

“The North of England has experienced the largest increase in flooding in Europe – flood levels have increased by 11 per cent, per decade, since 1960. Promoting and increasing healthy woodlands and restoration of peat bogs will help to ’slow the flow’ of water up-stream, reducing the risks of flooding to our towns and cities.”

And this week we see in the UK media, some reasons to believe this is finally being taken seriously:

“The commitment will be part of the biggest shake-up of British agriculture in 40 years and requires a regular report to MPs outlining supply sources and household expenditure on food, as well as consumer confidence in food safety.

“Other changes include a stronger emphasis on the soil, at risk from overuse, erosion and nutrient loss; farmers are to receive help maintaining healthy soils, as well as with improvements to the tracing of livestock movements between farms. There will be powers to regulate fertiliser use and organic farming after Brexit.”