Archive for August, 2010

August 27, 2010

The Housing Crisis

There’s a housing crisis. Still. There are still long waiting lists for social/council housing and still plenty of people homeless and still many badly housed families. They can’t afford to buy, can’t get a mortgage, have unreasonably high rent. There is a shortage of affordable (read ‘fair priced’) homes. Apparently NOT a shortage of properties though. In most cities there are plenty of empty properties. In some cities there are more empty properties than homeless people.  More and more wealthier people even have second homes. As Shelter put it ‘There simply aren’t enough decent, affordable homes.’

Decent. Affordable. Not much to ask, is it? A decent affordable home. A basic essential, you’d think.

There’s a great piece on the UK housing situation at A World To Win – ‘Housing policy clearly requires a revolutionary approach because capitalism has a way of recreating shortages.’

This piece from April’s Guardian CiF says housing policy has ‘occupied a marginal space in political discourse’ for the past 30 years. say research by the London School of Economics and the Federation of Master Builders suggests the Housing crisis could provoke social unrest.

Shelter have the numbers, although I think they get them from Government’s stats anyway. Scotland’s stats here.

Don’t Mention The Housing Crisis

National Housing Federation


August 23, 2010

Climate Campers Protest Biomass

Climate Camp’s in town since last week and as part of a day of action a few of them have targetted the biomass industry. They locked on to Forth Energy down in Leith and hung banners from the roof saying ‘BIO MASS HEALTH HAZARD’ and ‘BIO MASS = CLIMATE CHANGE’ in protest at  Forth Energy’s plans for biomass power stations in Scotland. They’re reminding us that biomass power is not necessarily a sustainable energy alternative.

As quoted in the media, they say ‘Wood burned in the proposed Leith, Grangemouth, Rosyth Port and Dundee Port sites will be fed primarily from wood chip freighted in from abroad. In reality these power stations will increase carbon emissions, pollute local air, increase deforestation and lead to the displacement of native peoples in the global south.’ More here.

Although the camp’s main target is RBS, activists also joined locals in opposition to plans for open cast coal mining in Scotland. See Coal Action Scotland.

Independent media Climate Camp feature here.

August 17, 2010


While I was living at Sanford it went through an important transformation, a big project based on sorting out the farty and unreliable old heating system. All fourteen houses were refitted with solid fuel burners for their hot water and heating. Each pair of houses in the street now share a burner that feeds on kilos of little wood pellets. Not sure if it’s cheaper than gas but it’s supposedly carbon neutral, at least if the wood is genuine waste and/or from sustainably managed woodlands.

It’s easy to get pellets in the UK these days. In fact, there seems to be a growing biomass industry now with subsidies for growers of ‘bioenergy crops’ and some debate on the pros and cons of building large biomass power plants. Something to do with the ever rising price of gas and coal? Or, more hopefully, to do with a rising environmental consciousness? A hegemony of both, I suspect.

The pellets at Sanford were made of recycled sawdust and wood shavings from sawmills and forestry industry waste but biomass can come from all sorts of organic material – food waste, manure, straw and other crops, including hemp. Some plants are grown specifically to become biomass fuel as more commercial, industrial and public buildings, local authorities, prisons, and farms are being fitted with biomass boilers. Some places are even burning municipal waste arguing that it will help reduce landfill. I don’t like that idea, general waste likely contains all sorts of plastic and dodgy chemicals. Do they just throw all those black bin bags into the furnace? Well I suppose it must be a cheap fuel, only the cost of transporting it, and a potentially unlimited supply too.

The arguments against biomass mostly seem to revolve around a justified mistrust of commercial interests. There’s a danger that land will be lost to growing crops solely for burning, perpetuating large-scale monoculture. Or, as will be the case in a few UK biomass power plants, wood will be imported from half way round the world, potentially from unsustainable logging. It was great to get rid of the gas supply at Sanford and to know that we had collectively slashed our carbon footprint by switching to the biomass burners, but we knew our regular supply of pellets came from genuine waste or sustainably managed woodlands.

Imagine if you could burn your own waste to heat your home, if you could DIY your own biomass, use your rubbish as fuel for your heating and hot water. If you have enough garden waste. That is, if you have a garden. And can afford the few grand or so for a certified-for-use-in-smokeless-zones boiler/burner and it’s installation. And don’t live on the tenth floor of a council tower block.


‘Waste as Resource: The Unintended Consequences’ (

‘UK may have to import rubbish for incinerators’ (

Moorlands and hills targeted to grow crops for biomass and biofuels (

THE WOOD FUELLED HOME’ (Centre for Alternative Technology)