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Friday, 16 November 2012

Martin Francis on Brent Civic Centre Again

I assume picking up on this post, Martin Francis of the Brent Green Party seems upset that I suggested that Brent Greens were reactionary and not very interested in climate change issues.

Commenting on the Civic Centre, he goes on to suggest that, for him,  "how green it may be is not the main issue".  That was what I was pointing out as counterintuitive.  Most people would expect that anyone describing themselves as green would consider the environmental effect of the Civic Centre as the main issue.

I have pointed out before that the new Civic Centre building will be one of the greenest in the UK. Indeed it is the main hitter Brent Council has in reducing its own carbon emissions, and improving its property estate in other beneficial ways, such as water conservation.  In doing so, it also enables Brent Council to credibly go to other partners and argue for them to improve their environmental performance as well.

Martin's response appears to be to argue that a new building must have greater effect on carbon emissions than retrofitting a series of old ones.  There is no evidence for this , and plenty against.  The Civic Centre, as I have observed before, has specific measures to limit the carbon emissions of building by local sourcing and innovative building techniques, which are a key part of the BREEAM accreditation.

A fuller record of the environmental benefits of the Civic Centre can be found here, for those who do consider it the main issue.

For those who think environmental issues a bit passé, there are a wide range of other benefits. Again I have described these before.

The one that engages Martin is the direct financial cost, seeing that in its narrowest sense.  The net reduction in costs to the Council is of the order of £3 or £4 million every year.  That is the savings minus the cost.

One could also look at the wider outlook of course.  Ed Balls has argued plausibly that the present government cut too far and too fast.  I have long held this view, that in a recession the UK and other economies needed to boost demand through fiscal expansion rather than George Osborne's programme of fiscal contraction.

There is a legitimate argument about how best to do that, with many people critical of simply increasing consumption.  However, most people agree that investing in public infrastructure is exactly what we should be doing, most noticeably in housing. Borrowing costs are low, so the direct cost to the taxpayer (not counting the benefits of keeping people and firms employed rather than idle) would be maximised. Construction costs are currently relatively low, although if a macroeconomic policy of boosting the construction sector worked, that might reverse.

Cancelling infrastructure spending is in fact what the government has been doing, which brings us back to Martin, who feels that the Civic Centre might not be "necessary" or "desirable" in an "era of austerity".  We therefore have the bizarre spectacle of Martin, who I am sure considers himself a man of the Left, supporting cuts in infrastructure spending on the same lines as George Osborne!

That makes Martin reactionary not just in a general sense, but also in the quite specific one of supporting George Osborne's austerity policy, even as Osborne himself sidles away in view of the mounting evidence of failure.


Martin has replied below whilst apparently missing my main points. Firstly, environmental benefits are not a useful add on for good times; they are essential, as one might expect a Green Party candidate to know.  Second, the Civic Centre actually saves us money to the tune of £3 or £4 million a year.  Not going ahead with the Civic Centre would have meant £3 or £4 million cuts in public services on top of what the government has imposed on us. Finally, the Civic Centre is a good example of how we can use procurement by public bodies to re-orientate towards a less carbon intensive economy, and that is a long term route to better living standards.


Martin Francis said...

Oh James! I am a man of a left which is why I left the Labour Party in 1965. The argument is surely that with Brent's budget under unprecedented pressure and mounting needs in the borough that spending on such a grandiose building is not justifiable. It will take 25 years to recoup the cost.

Anonymous said...

Martin - you should stand for your next attempt at election on this platform of tearing down the new civic centre - halting growth in Wembley - protecting street drinking in Willesden Library square and refusing to pass balanced budgets. Vote Green!

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