Cambridge Friends of the Earth
Environmental action in Cambridge, Newmarket, and South and East Cambridgeshire
Newsletter December 2000
CHUMMS: a real chance for public transport ?
or just the latest excuse for road-building ?
Please make your views known NOW
You have probably heard something of the Cambridge to Huntingdon Multi-Modal Study (CHUMMS). Perhaps you went to the exhibition and saw that the proposed road schemes could bring about a 30% increase in traffic entering Cambridge. Or perhaps you are worried about stories of new roads in the area but haven’t yet had time to find out the details of what is going on.
In either case, please make sure you make your views known by the new deadline of 5th January. A form for this purpose is enclosed. You will find below some answers to the questions we have been asked most frequently about this process.
What is CHUMMS?
It is one of a series of "Multi-Modal Studies" initiated by the Government when various schemes previously in the Trunk Roads Programme were put "on hold". The idea is that a team of consultants will investigate "all the options for travel in an area, including cars and lorries, buses, trains, cycling and walking". Each study will result in a recommendation to the Regional Planning Body of one or more strategies aimed at solving identified problems and meeting various criteria related to the environment, safety, the economy, accessibility and integration.
CHUMMS will be among the first of these studies to report. The aim is for a decision in March. This pressure for a "quick fix" comes from the campaign by the Cambridge Evening News, backed by local rural MPs, for A14 widening. The brief given to the consultants, Mouchel, is to look for solutions to the congestion problems of the part of the road between Huntingdon and Cambridge, where two major long-distance lorry routes meet with heavy commuter traffic.
What strategies is CHUMMS considering?
The good news is that any strategy that emerges from CHUMMS is likely to include re-use of part of the former St Ives railway line as a public transport route. But it is likely also to include a significant increase in road capacity to the west and north of Cambridge, either through widening the existing A14 or by building a new motorway. Mouchel recognise that this will bring about a significant increase in road commuter traffic, and are therefore likely to recommend some form of congestion-charging in the City. It remains to be seen, though, whether there is the political will locally to implement such a system.
What are the road options?
1. No major "improvements".
2. Widening the A14 to dual three or four lanes (the latter north of Cambridge as far as the Milton interchange) with parallel local roads, presumably to raise the main road to motorway status. This option is also likely to include a new southern bypass for Huntingdon and Fenstanton and an eastern bypass for Huntingdon (the latter is included in options 3 and 4 too).
3. A new road to the north of the present A14 which will run beside public transport along part of the old railway line. This would pass north of Huntingdon and Cambridge, rejoining the present road east of Fen Ditton. It would involve a new river-crossing near Milton and seriously damage nature conservation sites like Mare Fen. There will be a spur (between Oakington and Girton) to the present end of the M11 at the Girton interchange.
4. A road to the south of the present A14 which would comprise the already planned "improved" A428 (but widened to dual three lanes) and a new road passing south of Godmanchester and close to Papworth Everard. A spur to the M11 (Barton interchange), passing close to Coton, would damage sensitive landscape west of Cambridge.
What are the public transport options?
1. Do nothing.
2. Guided Bus.
3. Light Rail.
4. Heavy Rail.
All modes would make use of the former St Ives line. If light rail or guided bus is selected, alongside one of the road options, the present elevated section of the A14 Huntingdon bypass may also be used. It is possible that these options could run alongside the existing railway in Cambridge to Addenbrooke’s and Trumpington, but little thought seems to have been given to how to achieve good access to the City Centre. The heavy rail option, which Mouchel believe would only attract half the commuter traffic of guided bus, would leave the old railway near Swavesey and pass to the north of St Ives and Huntingdon to join the East Coast Main Line.
How can these Options be combined?
Mouchel have assured us that any of the road options can be combined with any mode of public transport, but the recent public exhibition was based on four possible Strategies, three of which made use of guided bus. The one that made use of rail (light or heavy but not both) also involved the most controversial road option - the northern route.
What are Cambridge FOE doing about all this?
We have been working with other local environmental groups within our regional umbrella organisation, STEER (Sustainable Transport and Environment in the Eastern Region), and have reached agreement with these groups on a common set of objectives. STEER and its affiliates will be objecting to new roads, pressing the claims of rail (including the possibility of combining light and heavy rail), and calling for road-user charging.
We will also be commenting on certain deficiencies of the exhibition, including the bias towards guided bus. We will be calling for effective measures to reduce road freight, to encourage walking and cycling (both as travel modes in their own right and to link with public transport), to reduce the need to travel and to improve public transport access to Cambridge City Centre. We also feel that more could be done in the short-term to improve access to existing public transport, for example a Park and Ride site near the A14 at St Ives to promote use of the good Huntingdon - Cambridge bus service. But we are aware that our campaigning on such issues will only be effective if there are sufficient individual representations making the same points - and that is why we are asking you to spend a few minutes in completing a form.
How can I find out more?
If you have Internet access, you will find much of the exhibition material on the CHUMMS website (www.go-east.gov.uk/modalc2h.htm). For more information on our objectives (agreed within the Cambridgeshire Sustainable Transport Forum - essentially an informal county branch of STEER), see the latest local Transport 2000 newsletter (www.nenie.org/t2000cam/newsletter74.html).
Alternatively, contact John Ratcliff, STEER’s representative on the CHUMMS Steering Group, by writing to him c/o our office, email (email@example.com) or telephone (01223 245533).
How do I make my views known to CHUMMS?
Complete the enclosed form, using the back (or enclosing a letter) for your additional comments. Send it, to arrive no later than 5th January, to Judy Howlett at Mouchel Consulting Ltd, The Colonnades, Beaconsfield Road, Hatfield, AL10 8YJ
On the 17th November I went with about 500 FOE and People and Planet members to construct a sandbag dyke around the COP16 Climate Change Conference in Den Haag, Holland.
1. The Outbound
My panniers were full of large banners from Cambridge FOE, CPRE and the Wildlife Trust who had responded positively to my phone call. Precariously strapped on top was my rucksack. A little practice and I was off.
Being early, I relaxed into a pleasant seat on the train, reading the paper, only to see the one to Ely pull away from platform 5, not the posted platform 6. The station manager tracked down a last minute route via Norwich for me. "No problems taking the bike", he said. "You’ve got to take that off as we’ve already got two reserved on here", ordered the conductor.
He relented to persuasion......
By the way there are only steep steps at Manningtree, non-bicycle or wheelchair friendly. Despite 75kph we arrived at the Hook at midnight - queuing four deep for baggage retrieval. "Do you speak English - is this one or two conveyors?" "Two". Most people found their luggage on the other belt.
If anyone has got a comfy floor, let me know. Pity the sensitive souls who only had red and white tape on the floor to segregate the sexes. My neighbour built walls out of her bag, clothes and boots - hob-nailed probably. I didn’t venture past, of course.
We 100 men had two sinks between us. Someone had too much to drink in one and was too mean or ill to clean it up. Let's be charitable, they were probably too ill to care, hopefully. Breakfast was at Central train station to avoid the 500 person queue at the rendez-vous, the flooded Flood Refuge tent.
3. The building
An inner and outer dyke, each about 5 feet high was built. Being one of the mistrusted great unwashed, I was on the outer wall, with my girlfriend who had come the other way via four changes in five hours from Germany - it must be love, thank goodness. We were the first filling bags after the speeches by Tony Juniper.
However, half an hour later, I was crowded out from my pile of sand by a four-year-old wielding her spade handle in an unconscious eye poking manner, unfortunately with the approval of her mother. So I joined the chain gangs passing the parcel to the rapidly growing wall.
Over one hundred closely linked chains finished the job in a couple of hours. Unfortunately for the washed elite, too few were allowed over the barrier so the police had to lend a hand. It’s a pity there aren’t any cafes at that end of town, they would have done a roaring trade.
Everyone was quiet on the coach, the weekend had obviously taken its toll. Luckily I had wimped out and booked a hotel room. But I did miss a superb breakfast apparently - buffet style prevented the queues.
Harwich had similar problems on the conveyor, "is it one belt, or is it two". But watching the wake recede at 40 knots was amazing, with apparently less pollution than by plane. Unfortunately, for some of the FOE preparation team, their train was cancelled and the next was late and we saw them sprinting across the quays as we steamed out. I hope FOE made funds available to put them up, they deserved it.
It was a wonderfully well organised event. The dyke got built. The message was put across and the publicity was enormous. Oh, and my banners got on German TV - if the interview was used. Sure there were a few teething problems, but it is difficult co-ordinating so many people. And a good, worthwhile, time was had by all.
Chardon hearing indefinitely postponed
Future of UK’s first commercial GM crop in doubt
According to a National FOE press release of 15 November 2000, plans to allow a GM crop to be sold to farmers for the first time were plunged into doubt when a £500 000 public hearing to consider objections to the proposal was indefinitely postponed. Alun Aylesbury, the senior barrister appointed by the Government to chair the hearing, agreed to a Government request for a delay after considering the views of people taking part. The hearing, which has so far lasted six weeks, was scheduled to run for nine. The Government requested an indefinite postponement of the hearing last week after it discovered that official basic tests on the GM crop, a type of GM maize called Chardon LL, had only been conducted for 1 year by the French authorities rather than the 2 required under EU law.
The UK Government is now waiting for guidance from the EU Commission, as the defects in the French testing regime have serious EU-wide implications. The revelation that test data hasn’t met legal requirements only came to light after FOE and members of the public forced the Government to hold a public hearing into the proposal to add Chardon LL to the National Seed List.
"Suspicious" higher death rates
During the hearing, expert scientific witnesses have produced evidence casting severe doubt over the validity of allowing the seed to be listed. They include concerns over the failure to test the GM maize on cows, and "suspicious" higher death rates among chickens eating the GM maize during trials.
Peter Riley, GM campaigner at FOE, said: "This is the latest chapter in the Government’s comedy of GM errors. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. If FOE and members of the public hadn’t raised objections, this GM crop would now be commercially available to farmers. But even if this latest cock-up hadn’t come to light the weight of scientific evidence against the listing is overwhelming. The obvious solution now is for Aventis to concede defeat and withdraw its application".
Aventis refused to produce evidence
In April, the Government announced its intention to allow Chardon LL, which has been genetically modified to be resistant to Aventis’ own herbicide, on to the national seed list. This is the final legal barrier before a seed can be sold to farmers. However, FOE discovered a little-known law which gave the public the right to appeal against the decision. Sixty seven groups and individuals paid £60 each to have their objections heard in public, with hundreds more filing written objections (which cost £30). Aventis refused to produce any evidence at the hearing.
Law on GM liability
It has also been revealed that the Genetically Modified Food and Producer Liability Bill has been presented by Alan Simpson MP (Labour - Nottingham South). It will require biotech companies to have insurance cover for all types of claim and to establish a compensation fund for cases where blame is hard to apportion. Alan Simpson MP said: "My Bill is very simple. It requires those who bring GM foods and crops to the market to be entirely responsible for the impact they may have". Apparently the Bill has just passed the first round in the Commons, 90 something in favour, 30 something against.
Oh, we’ve been through all this before!
GM foods petition goes to Anne Campbell
The long - promised presentation of our GM foods petition to Anne Campbell finally happened on the evening of Friday 7th April at 7.30. I had rung Cambridge Evening News that week to invite them along for a photo opportunity. The best they could do was to send a photographer to meet me in our office on the Thursday before. A picture of me, with the petition in the FOE office, duly appeared in Friday’s edition of the Cambridge Evening News. The photograph was accompanied by a very short article, paraphrasing the petition, and stating that I was presenting it to Anne that night.
The petition actually reads: "We the undersigned, are extremely concerned about genetically-modified foods because of their potential threats to human health and the environment. We call upon you as our local MP to support a five year moratorium on all outdoor planting of GM crops, during which time they can be tested more fully and safely. These tests should be conducted in a safe laboratory environment. We object to the environment being used as an open air laboratory, and the way we, the public, are being used as human guinea pigs".
I met Anne at her Ross Street Community Centre surgery that evening, told her I represented the local FOE group and gave her the petition, which had in the region of a thousand signatures. Her attitude was one of "Oh, we’ve been through all this before", and so she had, with our previous GM foods campaign leader, Dave Bailey. And her words were exactly the same: "Surely you’re not suggesting that we do nothing for five years and then say go ahead and plant your crops". And of course FOE aren’t suggesting this at all. I acknowledged that there was a need for open air trials, conducted by independent research institutes in such a way as to be of minimum threat to the environment, to determine whether these crops would have a detrimental effect on it.
I know how my constituents feel
Having said that, I then went on to express a number of valid concerns about the way the current farm-scale trials were being run, and other matters relating to the GM foods issue. I raised the issues of the buffer zone surrounding these trials being reduced from 200 to 50 m at least in some cases, and reports leaking from the United States that insects were already developing resistance to Bt toxin-producing plants. Anne seemed to know nothing about any of this. She was reluctant to discuss the issue further and said she would send me a standard letter. I then went on to use the petition as a bargaining tool and said, "but this is how your constituents feel. People are happy to sign this". "I know how my constituents feel", she said. I could see I was getting nowhere and with that I left, feeling that at least I had accomplished my main objective in handing the petition over.
A week later, Anne’s letter arrived, outlining the steps the Government had taken to "protect public health, the environment and consumer choice". These are given below.
1. At present only two GM food ingredients are on sale in UK shops or restaurants, both of which were given licenses by the previous Conservative Government
2. Labelling rules for manufacturers and restaurants have been introduced to allow consumers to make an informed choice and Labour will continue to press for stricter labelling in Europe.
3. We are setting up two commissions with strong consumer representation to advise on biotech issues.
Anne went on to state: "With regard to GM foods, Labour is acting sensibly, on scientific advice in the public interest.
Point 1: GM foods
How stringent were food safety checks on GM foods when the Conservatives were in power? The Labour Government proposed the addition of Chardon LL to the National Seed List. This is a variety of forage maize modified to be resistant to glufosinate ammonium, a broad spectrum herbicide. The mechanism of resistance involves production of an enzyme known as PAT (phosphinotricin acetyl transferase) which inactivates the herbicide. The case of Chardon LL and the doubts over the legality of its commercialisation are now well publicised and I won’t dwell on it here (see Chardon hearing indefinitely postponed, p. 7).
Computer studies prove nothing
The products (including the flour), of a similar strain of maize with the same genetic modification, will be used as food ingredients in the UK, if the crop is commercialised. Tests conducted by AgrEvo USA, the producing company, found very low concentrations of PAT in the flour. The ACNFP (Advisory Committee for Novel Foods and Processes), then the official national body to advise the Government on the safety of new foods and food processing techniques, therefore investigated the possibility that PAT might be allergenic. The "investigation" involved comparing the chemical structures of the protein and its gene to those "of a range of known allergens" and their genes, using specialised computer packages and data bases. Why not compare the structures to all known allergens - and what about unknown allergens? Even apart from these problems results obtained by such computer studies do not prove anything by themselves. They need to be backed up by experiments. And what was the ACNFP’s conclusion from this study, published in 1997? They were "satisfied that there was no evidence to suggest that there was allergenic potential in the PAT protein".
Finally, at the time, the FAC (Food Advisory Committee), examined the labelling implications of this strain of maize, its derivatives, and all processed foods produced from them, and concluded that no special labelling was required for any of them.
Point 2: Labelling
Any improvement in labelling and the laws enforcing labelling must be welcomed. However, the regulations governing the labelling of foods containing GM maize and soya, were widened to include foods sold to catering establishments, only April this year. Also, regulations requiring the labelling of foods and food ingredients using additives and flavourings which contain GM material had not been introduced until April this year. And these foods had been in our shops for over a year at that time!
Anyone wishing to see the full text of the new regulations and all the current domestic (English) rules on GM food labelling, should write to Ms. Candice Olsen, FSA, PO Box 31037, Room 239c, Ergon House, c/o 17, Smith Square, London SW1P 3WG, or check the web site: http://www.foodstandards.gov.uk/press_releases/pr000410.htm
Point 3: New commissions
Again, the formation of new bodies are to be welcomed if it means that new GM crops or foods under development are going to come under more careful scrutiny during development, and a wider range of relevant issues are going to be addressed. However, Anne made no mention of these new commissions. The commissions set up early this year were: the advisory Group on Scientific Advances in Genetics (AGSAC); the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC), which advises on all aspects of GM technology other than food and medical applications; and the FSA, responsible for all food-related issues.
Commission recommended in 1994
The AEBC, the FSA and the Human Genetics Commission (HGC - also founded this year, and responsible for medical aspects of GM technology), together will fulfil the role of the so-called over-arching body (that should oversee and advise on all aspects of GM technology and monitor its impact) that the Royal Society said should be established in their report in April 1999. The report states: "We (the Society) ...... urge the Government not to delay further in taking action in this direction". It also stated that such a body was recommended during a conference organised by the BBSRC as long ago as 1994! The BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) is the Government Research Council responsible for formulating research policy and funding public sector research in all areas of the biological sciences and their applications except for medicine and the natural environment.
Yes, our Government is setting up new commissions to address these issues, and acting sensibly on scientific advice - six years after receiving it! - when it is forced to do so by public pressure.
GM crops on secret trial in county
Secret trials of genetically modified crops were conducted in Cambridgeshire this year, authorised by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF). However, they did not identify the trial site.
It was a small scale site about the size of a tennis court. The trials were of a herbicide-resistant maize produced by Aventis, which has a base at Hauxton. The same strain was also grown at sites in Oxfordshire, Somerset, North Yorkshire, and Shropshire by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB). A MAFF spokesman said "It meets regulations with regard to testing of GM crops". The crops were grown alongside conventional crops for comparison. A spokesman for Aventis said herbicide tolerant maize would help growers tackle difficult and poisonous weeds without damaging the crop. He said "these varieties offer a more benign and environmentally friendly way to manage weeds than many of the practises currently utilised and will result in safer, higher quality animal feed.
Nearly 70 environmentalists, including Patrice Gladwin and Eva Novotny, lodged objections to the maize being approved for commercial growth. Mrs. Gladwin said, "Modern agriculture is riddled with problems and genetic modification is not addressing the real basis of the problem. It is trying to patch up a mistaken fabric and we have to get back to sustainable agriculture in tune with the laws of nature. I would say that no test, whether legal or illegal, which does not test for the effect of these crops on the soil can be called scientific".
Cambridge FOE is currently investigating the issue of secrecy surrounding GM trial sites (see GM test site secrecy, ). There will be more on this issue in the next newsletter.
This article was based on an article in the Cambridge Evening News, 9th October 2000.
GM test site secrecy
On the 21st July, in answer to a query from the vicar of Telford via his FOE local group, we wrote to Anne Campbell MP asking if there were any unpublicised GM maize crops planted in the Cambridge area. We asked her to note that the DETR might not have information about this and that the Plant Variety Rights Office in Cambridge may be better informed. Our letter was passed on to Chris Mullen MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the DETR who replied to Anne Campbell with the following information:
1. The regulatory framework which governs the deliberate release of GM organisms in Europe recognises two broad classes of release; Part B releases for research and development purposes and Part C for planting for the market. The locations of Part B releases must be made public via the statutory public register, but there is no formal requirement to notify the public about GM maize grown under Part C.
2. The GM maize being grown in the current programme of Farm Scale Evaluations has a European marketing consent (reference C/F/95/12/07), which means that it can be grown anywhere in Europe, without further approval from, or notification to, national Governments. However, in the UK, the Government has agreed with the biotechnology industry that there will be no unrestricted commercial planting of any GM crops until the end of the Evaluations programme.
3. The biotechnology industry have also agreed that, during the course of the Evaluations, in order to be ‘open and transparent’, they will tell the DETR the locations of the GM maize fields. The locations of all Evaluations trial sites can be found on the DETR web-site at: www.environment.detr.gov.uk/fse/index.htm.
4. Other small-scale trials of GM maize which might be undertaken, for example to test varietal purity or for research and development purposes, are not notified to the DETR.
In response to the original letter to Anne Campbell MP, we also received a letter from Baroness Hayman informing us that a National List trial of GM maize is underway at Girton and that it is possible that trials under Part C consent are also being undertaken.
Information should be in public domain
In response to these replies, we wrote back to Anne Campbell saying we were disappointed that the small scale trials were not publicised and suggesting that the Plant Variety Rights Office, Cambridge and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), located in Cambridge, should have more information and that it was a pity that the DETR hadn’t put us in touch with the body that did have the information. This was probably rather irritating of us, but it should, we think, be information that is in the public domain. The upshot of this is that we now have a list of some Part C trial locations, sent to us by Professor Brian J. Legg at NIAB who stated that NIAB, as a matter of policy, will always comply with the law, including any legal requirement to disclose the grid references of GM trials and that they can be found on the DETR website, adding: "We do some other small scale trials for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which has recently placed on their website (http://www.maff.ov.uk/planth/pvs/natlist.htm) the parish locations of certain GM trials". If any of the sites are located near your allotment, garden or bees, let your MP, the DETR or FOE know.
Our queries about government secrecy over GM trials was vindicated by Geffrey Lean in December the 3rd’s Independent on Sunday, headlined "MPs astonished by hushed-up GM sites". Apparently locations of some GM trials have been kept so confidential that even government ministers didn’t know their whereabouts. Some two months back the Independent revealed that the Minister of Agriculture had authorised a further five test sites. Michael Meacher said that he had no information when asked and that it was extremely difficult to find out where they are. Chris Mullens’ junior environment minister said that his department "is discussing with industry" whether to go public. "Given the recent vandalism of such sites, they may be reluctant to do so". Aventis confirmed at the end of November that trials had taken place.
Credit where credit is due
our councils commended
Cambridge FOE are delighted with the recent actions by South Cambridgeshire District Council with the kerb-side recycling schemes now in place and the soon-to-be-in-place scheme by Cambridge City Council. Kerb-side collections are what FOE have been promoting for a decade - it has been in place with a number of other councils too for some time. At last we have it too! We can also add our congratulations to the County Council on the Slim Your Bin Campaign and to the award they have received with this initiative. The campaign won the top national award in the National Recycling Awards 2000 for the Best Recycling Partnership Project. The Slim your Bin Campaign is a regional campaign involving the City and County councils and over 40 other councils across East Anglia. It is supported by Anglia Television, local newspapers, and radio stations. This year the campaign is promoting three actions to reduce waste: re-use plastic shopping bags, buy loose fruit and vegetables instead of pre-packed, and buy products made from recycled materials. This year’s ‘Are you a Smart Shopper?’ campaign distributed 27,000 reusable cotton Slim Your Bin shopping bags to shoppers in Cambridge and Peterborough.
Criticisms still due - Councils not doing enough!
We have some thoughts on plastic recycling - or lack of, and the following article (Plastic bottle recycling not affordable, p. 13) and FOE Campaign will publicise this issue .
Ken Richard and James Murray
Plastic bottle recycling not affordable
But City Council explores options
Plastic bottles have been recycled in this country for ten years. Householders are sometimes asked to wash the bottles, remove the lid and collapse them (possibly with hot water). The local authority collects them either in kerbside containers or plastic bottle banks, in the form of either 1,100 litre wheeled bins or a net held in a large frame, from which the bottles are sucked up by vacuum and hand sorted. Kerbside collections bring in the largest quantities (averaging 3.5 kg per household per annum), especially if containers for other waste items are also provided. Large numbers of bottles are also deposited in supermarket car parks, especially if the recycling facilities are well publicised.
The recycling process
The bottles then have to be sorted. This can be done mechanically but the equipment is of course very expensive and the job is usually done manually. In Uttlesford it is done by a team of six people. There are three types of plastic that can be recycled: PET, PVC and HDPE. Some of them are marked with a code to ease sorting. Bottles made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate, code no. 1), are typically used for mineral water, cooking oil, cordials and particularly for fizzy drinks. They are transparent and have a hard white spot in the middle of their base. PVC bottles (polyvinyl chloride, code no. 3), are often used to hold cordials, still mineral water, toiletries and cooking oils. They are clear and have a seam running round them. And those made of HDPE (high density polyethylene, code no. 2) are opaque and may be coloured. They are typically used for washing up liquids, detergents, fabric conditioners, milk and fruit juices.
The sorted bottles are baled by powerful machines which squash all the air out. This crushing enables a lorry to carry 20 times the number of bottles and thereby reduces transport costs and energy expenditure. Uttlesford send their bales to the north west of England so the mileage is considerable. The reprocessing plants break the bales apart, cut the bottles into flakes, wash, dry and blow the flakes into bags or boxes ready for sale.
Products from waste
PVC can be recycled into drain pipes, electrical fittings and clothing. Recycled PET is used to make egg cartons, fibre filling for sleeping bags, duvets and anoraks, industrial strapping, hard-wearing wall coverings, tufting for carpets and rugs and new bottles. With recent technical advances it can even be used for food contact packaging e.g. mineral water bottles. Another interesting development is the use of PET for making fleece - about 25 soft drinks bottles will make one fleece jacket.
Recycled HDPE can be made into household products, garden furniture, compost bins, pipes, signposts and recycling boxes. It is also put back into new plastic bottles, which can be recycled again and again. However there is not much capacity for reprocessing it in this country.
Cost is enormous
At present about 40% of local authorities in the UK operate a plastic bottle collecting scheme. 11,000 tonnes of plastic bottles were recycled in 1999 (about 210 million bottles), but these figures will have to be increased. 30,000 tonnes must be recycled in 2001 if we are to meet the overall European Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive Targets for plastics, but the cost is enormous. An average plastic bottle collection scheme requires about £275 per tonne more than the value of the baled material sold for reprocessing, and the present subsidy will cover less than 10% of that amount.
As far as our own national policy is concerned, the Waste Strategy for England and Wales, published in May 2000, sets targets for recycling or composting of at least 25% of unspecified household waste by 2005, rising to 33% by 2015. The government will probably inject £140 million in the next three years to fund local government recycling and the Waste Resources Action Programme, a new market development initiative. Local authority recycling programmes will also receive money from producer responsibility and the landfill tax credit scheme.
Recycling would have to be affordable
And what do Cambridge Council plan to do? As for any other council, plastic recycling is not a process where sale of the end product will cover the costs of collection and sorting. Just taking bottles to landfill sites mixed with other waste costs £25 per ton; reclaiming them would cost over £100 per ton. And the energy required to process and transport them would not be justified by the amount of reclaimed material obtained. Asked what it would take to make Cambridge City Council decide to recycle plastic bottles, they replied that it would have to be affordable. They would have to have the finance to set up collection systems and sorting plant and to cover the transport costs.
However the Council are always looking for new solutions. The most promising one at the moment is gasification, a non-incineration thermal process which uses extremely high temperatures in an oxygen-starved environment to completely decompose input waste material into very simple molecules. The by-products of the process are a combustible gas which can be re-used to produce energy, and an inert slag which can be used in a variety of different applications, most of them relating to building materials.
And meanwhile they are recycling 7,000 tons per annum of other waste which is cheaper and simpler to collect and re-use: 3,500 tons of organic waste, 2,200 tons of paper, 1,200 tons of glass, 80 tons of cans, including aerosol cans, 12 tons of books (for Oxfam) and 30 tons of white metal.
Not only housing
Think globally, act locally. FOEs favoured injunction is a tough one to follow at the present time. At either level. The coming of President Bush not only overshadows Rio, Kyoto and The Hague but also promises more missiles and oil-burn to trouble the globe. Locally, John Prescott juggles with the estimates of vast housing needs supplied by his in-house professors and pundits. If they are to be implemented, few doubt the truth that in the South East at least it will spell the end of country as we know it today. Politicians are supposed to carry out the will of the people. Yet who, apart from the construction industry, is really calling for these massive developments in the remaining countryside?
A Gallop Poll last October reported the biggest three changes desired by two-thirds of country dwellers were a ban on pesticides and herbicides, an end to housing developments and a ban on shopping malls. Not much support for Prescott there. And most local authorities are challenging the size of mandatory housing programmes handed down to them from above. On top of this, much of the credibility of Whitehall's forecasting ability has leaked away as it has hopped clumsily from one declared cause of need to another.
Immigrants - now scapegoats for housing policy
At first the need was said to be due to internal migrations, increases in single parents, divorcees, young people leaving home early, and people living longer. We swallowed this until last August when the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showed that the North-South migration theory was a myth. Still, some of the argument was left standing. But in September the Government switched to an entirely novel tack. The immigration regulations must be relaxed to admit more people into the UK to fill a suddenly-discovered vital shortage of workers to keep the economy turning, including a desperate shortfall of 250,000 skilled IT workers. This new inward migration was now said to add pressure to stated housing needs. Oddly enough however, this new factor did not show any alteration in the original official forecast of need for 4.5 million houses that was in currency at a time when a stricter regime against asylum seekers was in force. Prescotts forecasts now looked more shaky than ever, a fact that may not have been lost on him because he has announced (December 12th) a new consultation to be conducted county by county in the South East, aimed at curtailing the old target of 900,000 new homes over the next 15 years. He has already dropped the annual target of homes from 43,000 to 33,000. (The South East region does not include Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk but the process of review is expected to be applied here too.) The good news is that the more Government figures are challenged, the more they appear to shrink.
Airfields, greenfield sites and the wildlife corridor
If we are going to act locally, we should be scanning the housing plans at the Guildhall and Shire Hall and making our views known to Councillors and the planning departments. The proposal to build on Cambridge airport relies most sophistically on its status as a brown field site, while we all know that it is essentially a large open green space. A similar threat overhangs villages close to the old airfield sites at Waterbeach and Oakington. The outcome here must affect projects for satellite towns elsewhere in the county. There is renewed talk of building on Clay Farm at Trumpington which is a blatant south-of-city green field site and, more immediately, plans for building on the government offices (MAFF) site at Brooklands Avenue can be seen in the Guildhall. A good part of this is grass, shrubs and some well-established trees the whole of which could provide a ready-made park adjacent to the Botanical Gardens and a part of the designated wildlife corridor to the south and beyond Long Road. Pressure to retain at least the larger hardwood trees and shrub borders could help save them.
The 101 new dwellings at Ravenscourt Gardens, the old Ridgeons site on Tenison Road, are almost finished and although very dense, they are an improvement on what was there before. Yet they bring 101 extra car exhaust pipes and 101 domestic heating flues pointing up at the sky -- facts that, to my knowledge, were never even mentioned at the many preceding planning and consultation meetings. The claims of Rio, Kyoto and The Hague never seem to get recognition at local level. Unless we can make that vital connection between local and global affairs.
Current planning and other issues
Due to the complexities and timing of certain planning and other issues, particularly housing and CHUMMS issues, it was not possible to cover these issues comprehensively in this issue of the newsletter. Cambridge FOE are currently looking into these issues and they will be discussed in the next issue of the newsletter early next year. These issues are summed up below:
Plans for a township of 13,000 houses on the Waterbeach barracks site, including a widening of the A10 and a rail shuttle service to the city.
Plans for new housing settlements at three other potential sites, namely Oakington, Great Abington and Childerley Gate south of Dry Drayton.
Housing and other facilities on the Marshalls Airport site.
Peter Dawe’s Cambridge Great Park to the north of the City.
Development schemes which may have to be reassessed because of the risk of flooding.
Plans for a new road to the north of the A14. The road is envisaged to run alongside the former Cambridge St. Ives railway, linking with the M11, and joining the A14 at Fen Ditton.
The new recycling scheme which will include the kerbside collection of glass and cans from the city’s households.
The City Council's action to improve the Green Bin scheme by improving the quality of the waste collected.
Improving home energy efficiency
Last October, during national Energy Efficiency Week, Cambridgeshire’s Energy Efficiency Advice Centre conducted a survey of homes in the county to find out how energy efficient they were. Assessment forms were delivered to all homes in the county. Households that returned the forms were sent an individually assessed report telling them about the steps they could take to save energy, reduce fuel bills, and make their homes warmer. The free service also identified money saving grants and special offers available to all residents, both home owners and tenants in rented accommodation. The survey was also used to get information about the different types of housing in relation to energy saving measures used.
NEA, the national energy action charity held a fuel poverty forum in Madingley that week. Community and voluntary groups involved in helping low income families improve the energy efficiency of their homes were invited.
This is an area that Cambridge FOE intends to get involved in, and hopes to soon launch a campaign. If you would like to get involved, please ring the office.
This article was based on an article appearing in the Cambridge Evening News, 23 October 2000.
Return to December 2000 Contents
Updated February 2001