Enjoyed a lovely rally at lunchtime today, joining the South Yorkshire Freedom Riders at Sheffield station to celebrate their third birthday – and their victories.
The campaign began when free train travel for elderly and disabled people was removed in South Yorkshire, despite it continuing in London and many other parts of the country.
Here’s a report of one of their protests from 2014 – some of the police involved are today facing disciplinary action.
But today was in large part a celebration – complete with cake, for the Riders have won considerable victories – the restoration of free travel for disabled people, and half-priced fares for the elderly.
They’re not resting on their laurels however, and were in fine voice, both chant and song, demanding the restoration of free travel.
I was delighted to speak at the rally, and urged them the Freedom Riders that when they win their direct cause, they should continue to campaign – for railways run for public good, not private profit in particular. (This on the day that we learned a Chinese company – effectively an arm of the Chinese government – has been granted part ownership of a UK franchise).
There was also a speaker from Keep Our NHS Public – a reminder that this is part of a broader struggle, against the disastrous model of privatisation of public services that’s shovelling public money into private hands, cutting the pay and condition of workers and the quality of services.
And a great reminder from one speaker that campaigners need to stick together. She writing urged those present not to downplay other’s campaigns but to acknowledge that everyone does what they can, on issues that touch and move them.
Today the Guardian reported that despite all of the publicity, most Britons are still unaware of the poor quality of the air that they breathe.
That’s one reason why it is great that Friends of the Earth is encouraging members and supporters to install simple tubes that measure the level of nitrogen dioxide in the air in their communities in a citizen science project that will spread awareness and knowledge.
There are quite a few up around Sheffield, some at sites like Hillsborough Corner (below) where you might expect poor quality air, others in parts of the city generally thought of us “cleaner”, although some of those might shock local residents when the results come in.
Building awareness of the issue is one reason by Sheffield Green Party is running the Let Sheffield Breathe campaign. It includes a petition calling on the council to adopt a new air pollution strategy. (It adopted one in 2012, which aimed to cut pollution levels in the city to below European levels, which failed, and since then there’s not been a coordinated attempt to take action.
It is also disappointing that when five cities (Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton) were chosen to be Clean Air Zones (with associated funding), Sheffield was not among them – we must lobby hard to be added to the list.
On Saturday I crossed the ancient boundary between Lancashire and Yorkshire, one of many people who came from around the country to support the ongoing campaign to prevent planned fracking at Preston New Road.
More than 700 people gathered at the site, and the signs and messages made two key points.
First, that the people of Lancashire, in the form of their elected county council, said “no” to fracking. I was outside the council chamber as that hearing went on, and you could hear the strain in the councillors’ voices (the hearing was broadcast to the crowd), with huge pressure being applied by David Cameron and George Osborne showing fervent support for the frackers, but the councillors instead listened to their voters. Then London overturned that decision.
The second key message was that there is an obvious, far better alternative – investment in renewable energy and energy conservation.
It was great to catch up with Tina Rothery, one of the longtime stalwarts of the anti-fracking campaign.
She was wearing her “Nana’s” apron – and it is grandmothers (and some “honorary” grandmothers among whom I’m proud to number myself) who are at the forefront of this campaign. One had this simple message:
But I liked this simple placard, which got across a lot in three words. The frackers proclaim that their industry will create jobs, what they don’t account for is the jobs that will be lost in other industries if they are allowed to go ahead – or the alternative (and far greater in number and quality jobs) that could be created with renewable energy and energy conservation.
Coming up next: The No Fracking Way walk, which will be carrying some soil from near the fracking site in Kirby Misperton to Preston New Rd. As organiser Clrr Andrew Cooper said: “As soil from Yorkshire is deposited at the fracking site in Lancashire we’ll emphasise that the assault on the environment at one site is an assault on us all.” (I’m planning on joining the final day.)
On Valentine’s Day there was a gathering in Dore, with red hearts, fervent messages of love, and original artworks.
The subject was shared among scores of people: Vernon Oak, a magnificent 150-year-old oak tree, much valued by the community, which could have another 150 years of prime life. That’s if it isn’t cut down by private contractor Amey with the support of Sheffield Council and (because it will certainly take that) South Yorkshire Police.
I joined Green councillor Alison Teal in a visit there, where we heard from locals how the council’s own independent tree panel had recommended it be saved, but the council has ruled that Vernon is to be cut down anyway.
Around the corner in Chatworth Road is a magnificent line of lime trees, which locals reported are packed with bees when in flower. They’re on a wide road, with big pavements on both sides, yet more than half are scheduled for the chainsaw, despite the fact that their impact seems insignificant, and easily covered by “engineering solutions” such as half-width kerbstones to accommodate roots.
This is yet one more part of Sheffield where the services provided by trees to the benefit of human health – cutting air pollution, combatting flooding, providing a healthy environment – are under threat, as the profit of a private company is put before the public good.
It’s a very obvious demonstration of the failure of the model of providing public services through contracts with for-profit providers. What’s happening here is also what’s happening to our NHS, just rather less visibly.