Friday 26 April 2013

Greens Express Support for New Wind Turbine

Lagan Valley Greens have issued a statement in support of renewable power generation, following concerns raised by Ravernet residents at a proposed new wind turbine:

The Green Party believes that renewable energy generation is vital to the future of Northern Ireland. Due to the increasing scarcity of fossil fuel reserves, a worldwide energy crisis is a very real possibility within the lifetime of a child born today. Fossil fuel generation also carries with it human health and environmental risks, as became frighteningly clear during the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Locally, the combustion of fossil fuels to generate heat and energy has created its own problems. On 6th March 2013, the Guardian reported that Belfast received a maximum pollution index of 10/10 for air pollution relating to these sources.

Robust planning is vital when choosing a site for a renewable energy generator of any kind. The Green Party's definition of environment is the human environment - the everyday life and world of people. Issues such as housing, welfare reform and provision for the elderly and vulnerable are of paramount importance to us. We are keen that the impact on people near to any proposed plant be minimised where possible.

Notwithstanding necessary transport links, access to the energy grid and other required infrastructure, we believe any plant should, ideally, be situated far enough from the community that local residents need not be aware of its existence.

Due to its proposed size, it is likely that the Ravernet wind turbine will be visible to some of the local community. Its proposed location, however, seems remote enough that noise pollution will not be a major problem. When compared with the pollution and effluent generated by power stations such as Ballylumford, and the proposed “fracking” that may soon be taking place in Ireland, perhaps even in Lagan Valley, these concerns do not seem to be on the same scale.

Finally, there are enormous benefits offered by the Green economy. These new technologies employ large numbers of people with a wide variety of skills, such as engineers, electricians and maintenance staff. A new wind turbine equates to new investment and more jobs in our local area. We believe that an investment in renewables is a sound economic decision as well as a socially conscious one. Regarding the Ravernet turbine, we remain hopeful for a resolution satisfactory to all parties.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Lagan Valley Greens Support Business Improvement District Schemes

The John Lewis and associated retail development at Sprucefield has been rumbling on for almost ten years. Arguments both for and against the proposed 500,000 sq ft retail development have been persuasive. While the development could bring 1,500 jobs to Sprucefield, the reduction in footfall could also decimate Lisburn’s remaining city centre retail businesses.

It is clear that Northern Ireland has been hit very hard by the economic recession, and one of the areas that have suffered most has been small business and city centre trade. It is a serious concern that Lisburn is above the national average for vacant retail space.

It is clear that Lisburn City centre needs help to survive. Investment, promotion and a truly local response is needed. To survive retailers will need to help each other on a local level to compete, revitalise their areas and address local issues.

The Lagan Valley Green Party believe that the best way to address this problem lies with the Business Improvement District Scheme (BIDS) currently being considered by the Social Development Committee at Stormont. This legislation has been spoken about favourably by NIIRTA (Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association) and has a proven track record in England, Wales and Scotland.

The Business Improvement District Scheme allows any retailer to suggest a BID is set up in their area. This then is put to a vote, requiring a threshold of approval from other retailers in the area. If successful, a BID area is established. The scheme is financed by the retailers in this area in the amount of 1% of the rateable value per year. This is not a tax on traders who are already struggling. It is best thought of as redistributing some of the money from rates relief and routing it straight back into the scheme with one aim - to increase revenue. As it is local, it is the most sustainable way we have of getting local people back into the city centre - the lifeblood of our local economy. Town and city centres need better planning and more control for local business. We see this as the best way to deliver both.

The Business Improvement District is democratic, a management committee is formed and each trader gets as involved as they want. Examples of BIDS in the UK have included creating a mobile cleaning unit, organising free transport to the town centre, creating festivals and running advertising campaigns. Each BID is reviewed regularly and ends after a set period. BIDS increase revenue and because they are run on behalf of the traders themselves, they are flexible enough to meet local needs.

The Lagan Valley Green Party wants to see Lisburn City centre restored to its full prominence as a place to do business, meet, shop and relax. We believe the best way for Lisburn City centre to be revitalised is for small and large businesses to band together and invest directly in themselves as a group and a product. Lisburn needs and deserves a stable and sustainable local economy for its whole community.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Green Party deeply concerned about Fracking

Green Party in Northern Ireland European candidate and European Shale Gas Working Group co-ordinator Ross Brown said: “Fracking is a dirty extraction process which involves injecting millions of gallons of chemicals deep underground to fracture rock to release gas.

“There are thousands of well-documented instances of environmental contamination and negative health impacts associated with fracking.

“In places where fracking has been permitted doctors are reporting cases of weakness, headaches, nausea, rashes and burning eyes from residents living in the area.

“The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment are just about to grant more prospecting licences which will mean that many areas in Northern Ireland will now be covered. (see map below)

“Fracking has been banned in France, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic and has been halted in a number of other locations including a number of US and German states.

“In 2011, the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a Green Party motion calling for the withdrawal of four exploration licences, which had been issued in Northern Ireland at that time. In spite of the real dangers highlighted during this debate, Arlene Foster, the DUP Minister has failed to act.

“The Green Party in Northern Ireland wants to make sure that citizens know exactly what it is happening before it is too late and they suddenly find their areas dotted with gas wells spewing out contaminants and chemicals.

“Fracking is an extreme energy which is akin to scraping the bottom of the barrel to reach gas reserves.

“Concerns are often rightly raised regarding fracking and contamination of water supplies but it must also be remembered that this is a dirty process which also can contribute to significant air pollution.

“Fracking also puts in jeopardy two of our biggest revenue-driving sectors of tourism and agribusiness.

“Not to mention the disruptive and negative impact it will have on people leaving close to well pads who will see their health put at risk and their house prices devalued.

“The people of Northern Ireland now need to come together and make it known to the Department of Enterprise that we do not want the process of fracking destroying our health and environment so multi-national energy companies can make money off the misery of communities living in close proximity to these wells.”

Thursday 18 April 2013

Greens Oppose Granting of Fracking Licences

Lagan Valley Greens have written to Arlene Foster MLA, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment to express serious concerns about the imminent granting of licences for hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas.

In the letter, Dr Luke Robinson points out that the there are many uncertainties and considerable potential dangers presented by fracking technology, such as contamination of the water system and the possibility of induced seismic activity. The Greens believe that fracking will blemish areas of pristine natural beauty and damage valuable ecosystems.

In addition to these concerns, Dr Robinson points out that we should be moving away from fossil fuel sources of energy and towards more sustainable sources.

He also expressed disappointed at the extent of public engagement, which amounted to a very small announcement in a few local newspapers.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Lagan Valley Greens response to McCulla Ltd's proposed AD plant on Altona Industrial Estate

We in the Green Party agree with Friends of the Earth, the Environment Agency and the Agriculture, Food and Biotechnology Institute that Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is a very good, sustainable way of producing renewable energy for local needs. This is considered to be both safer and cleaner than other more routinely used methods of energy generation.

Indeed the AFBI has an AD plant on its Hillsborough site near the famous Forest Park. The fact that many reading this will not be aware of it is testament to the fact that the plant does not create any problems for Hillsborough residents.

We cannot find any examples where an AD plant has caused any health issues as a result of the process and note that the Health and Safety Executive require a full risk assessment.

However, it is clear from the literature that AD plants are usually sited within farmland, well away from housing developments. Whilst we applaud the good business sense of McCulla in investing in renewable energy, we share the concerns of many residents that the externalities of noise and light from a required 24 hour period of operation, as well as the potential for an unpleasant smell, may mean that the proposed location, very close to many houses and businesses, is not ideal.

Again we emphasise we are very happy that McCulla have opted for a progressive option, which should be good for their business and we hope that small scale energy generation by anaerobic digestion becomes more mainstream. We would suggest that McCulla should investigate the possibility of more appropriate sites, including the expanse of nearby farmland.

We also note that the planning application remains open until later this month for general submissions and we hope that McCulla heeds the genuine concerns of their neighbours. We echo the concerns of these residents and businesses and call for any alternative locations that are fit for purpose to be given adequate consideration.

Monday 15 April 2013

Green Party Endorses Call For ‘Youth Guarantee’ To Tackle Unemployment In Young People In Northern Ireland

The Green party has backed proposals for a ‘Youth Guarantee’ scheme to tackle growing youth unemployment in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland has a headline rate of 23% youth unemployment, the highest of any region in the UK, though lower than in the Republic.

The call for a ‘Youth Guarantee’, along with other policies to address the unemployment crisis in Northern Ireland, has been made in a recently launched paper from the Nevin Economic Research Institute.

Speaking after attending the launch of the Quarterly Economic Observer report on the Northern Ireland economy, North Down Green Party Councillor Dr John Barry said: “I congratulate the authors of this report who offer a fresh perspective on analysing our economy, identifying its weaknesses and providing evidence-based solutions.

“The proposal in this report for a Youth Guarantee scheme is very welcome as the aim of such a scheme is to reduce the time young people spend in unemployment and inactivity.

“Such a scheme would provide relevant training, work experience or paid employment for every young person unable to find work, or additional employment opportunities to the person through ‘on the job’ training or to community employment in the social economy.

“In relation to youth unemployment, the report rightly highlights the fact that young people (18-24) have been particularly negatively affected by the recessions.

“Unemployment amongst this section of our community continues to rise to dangerous levels.

“What is particularly worrying is that despite young people emigrating in greater numbers (not least amongst those with qualifications and degrees, representing a great loss to NI), we still see youth unemployment rising.

“The Green Party welcomes and supports the proposal for focused and targeted action to prevent long-term youth unemployment and to reconnect with young people who have become detached from the labour market.

“The report highlights a particular of cyclical unemployment due to the recession becoming long-term structural unemployment amongst young people.

“One of the most startling findings of the report is that based on international evidence the cost of youth unemployment in Northern Ireland could be in the region of £300 million.

“If we are to seriously tackle the escalating problem of youth unemployment there needs to be a strong emphasis on and provision of, literacy, numeracy and ICT skills for trainees.

“There also needs to be better coordination of employment and training services, including cooperation with local based social economy projects and the community and voluntary sectors”.

“However, the NERI report also makes a compelling case that it is vital that any Youth Guarantee scheme avoid the provision of low-quality work experience which adds little by way of skills and useful experience to individuals.

“It also needs to explicitly ensure it is not replacing or displacing older workers by young trainees at lower wages.

“The Green Party welcomes the report’s clear view that any Youth Guarantee scheme should not use compulsion to force young people off benefits if they do not accept a job offer or training place.

Concluding, Cllr Barry said: “Evidence from both Sweden and Finland which have a Youth Guarantee scheme is encouraging in terms of its effectiveness.

“The Youth Guarantee is something the NI Executive and especially those department with most direct responsibility for youth employment – DETI, DEL and OFMDFM – need to explore urgently.

“This report from the Nevin Economic Research Institute is an excellent place to start”.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Green Party launches online poll on 'civic conversation'

To mark the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, The Green Party in Northern Ireland has launched an online poll to gauge public opinion on the best way for citizens to contribute to the future governance of Northern Ireland.

Green MLA and Party Leader Steven Agnew said: “We want people to have a real and meaningful stake in the future of Northern Ireland.

“We believe the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) is the peoples’ agreement, and as such if it is to be refreshed to made it fit for purpose 15 years after its initial inception, then the public must be included and allowed to practically contribute to its updating and reshaping.

“That is why the Green party in Northern Ireland is calling for a ‘civic conversation’.

“We have just launched an online poll to ask people whether they agree that there needs to be public engagement in the political process.

“This means providing formal structures for citizens to engage, discuss and then contribute their thoughts and opinions regarding the structures of governance in Northern Ireland.

“15 years after the GFA, various changes to the operations of the Northern Ireland Assembly have been or are currently proposed - such as a reduction in the number of MLAs, the introduction of a formal opposition and the removal of community designation.

“Recent events regarding the issue of flags and falling voter numbers clearly indicate that there is an increasing sense of public disengagement with local politics.

“Since our local Executive parties have failed to agree on a way forward, the Green Party believes there is now an opportunity to re-engage our citizens with local politics through the process of ‘civic conversation’.

“This means providing the space and structures for citizens to engage, discuss and then contribute their thoughts and opinions regarding the structures of governance for Northern Ireland.

“The GFA was endorsed by the people through a referendum - the Green Party believes that major changes should only be made to the Agreement with the people's consent.

“I urge people, regardless of their political affiliations, to use this poll, which can be found at, to let us know if they want to see the setting up of a formal mechanism for a civic conversation.”

Monday 8 April 2013

Green Party leader extends sympathy after death of former Prime Minister

Green Party Leader Steven Agnew has extended sympathies to the family and friends of former Conservative Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher who died this morning aged 87.

“Coming from the other end of the political spectrum, myself and my party are opposed to the policies that Margaret Thatcher promoted and implemented,” Mr Agnew said.

“Those polices still cast a long shadow over UK politics and her vision of society is what underpins the current cuts to welfare provision.

“However, on such an occasion as a person’s passing, it is important to separate the personal from the political.

“Baroness Thatcher’s death will be a sad loss to her family, friends and former colleagues.

“I send condolences to them on behalf of the Green Party in Northern Ireland.”