Category Archives: Politics

An Introduction to Transition Streets

Jim Attenborough

Transition Streets is a process designed to bring neighbours together with a view to saving them money, reducing their environmental impact and getting to know their neighbours.

This scheme was originally started in Totnes in Devon but has now spread internationally.  Visit https://www.transitionstreets.org.uk/ for more information.

The scheme works like this:

Members of the community who express an interest in the scheme are provided with letters to deliver to their neighbours to see who is interested in taking part.  Once there are 8 – 10 interested parties, neighbours come together to form a Transition Streets group in their road.  The initial meeting is facilitated by a member of Transition in Kings (TiK) in one of the members’ homes.  At this initial meeting all members are provided with a free and comprehensive workbook filled with tips, information on government grants and practical suggestions on how to reduce waste and improve efficiency.  Some of these actions are free to do, some require investment and some can be eligible for government grants.

There are seven meetings and members of the group decide for themselves when to have them – monthly/bi-monthly etc – and whether to have a break at Christmas or in August when members may be away.  Aside from the initial facilitated meeting and a wrapping up meeting at the end, there are five meetings in between, themed as follows – energy, water, food, waste and transport.

During the trial scheme that TIK ran in 2015 with thirty-four households, apart from the information in the Transition Streets handbook, there was a great deal of information passed between members of the groups – different members had experience with heating controls, solar panels, electric vehicles, applying for grants and funding, reducing energy consumption and growing food.  This was a real plus as it added to the wealth of information contained in the handbook.

Each household can save £500 a year with ease and some will save more, especially if they use the money saved to invest in further efficiency measures.  Ideally this money would be spent on local goods and services to aid the local economy.

One of the new ideas we introduced in our “version” of this scheme was a thermal-image camera survey of participants’ homes which identified missing insulation and poorly performing windows and doors.  We took pictures of problem areas and emailed them to the owners so they could look into improvements and show contractors exactly where the issues were.

Some of these groups continue to meet socially, which is no doubt helping to combat the loss of community spirit and loneliness that is a fairly constant criticism of our society, although I would say Kings Langley fares better than most in this regard, but we can still improve on this.

If you would like to take part and reduce your expenditure, get to know your neighbours better and reduce your impact on the environment, please keep an eye out for announcements regarding our new round of Transition Streets later this year.

The UK’s First Eco-Town

Lindsey March

Bicester is famous all over the world as the site of the UK’s biggest tourist attraction, Bicester Village.  The signs in Japanese that you see in London are to direct visitors there.  It offers an immersive shopping experience, designed to help you consume as much fashion as you can manage to pack into your huge suitcase.  But it may soon become as synonymous with restrained, sustainable, comfortable but also aware and proud ways of living, made possible in the Bicester Eco-Town, where residents began to move in in 2016.  The second phase will have 6,000 homes.

TiK (Transition in Kings) hosted a talk by Nicole Lazarus who told us about Bicester Eco-Town.  It follows on BedZED, a development in London which is sustainable and also a successful community, where houses sell for 10-15% above the average local price.  She worked on this project and is now the Oxfordshire programme manager for Bioregional, working with a major housing provider and the local council to build the new town, whose first phase has 393 homes, a primary school, a community centre, an eco-pub and an eco-business and retail centre.

Bioregional is the organisation through which these projects are built.    It is guided by the idea of ‘One Planet Living’ – seeking to make it easier for ordinary people to live happy, healthy lives within their fair share of the earth’s resources, leaving space for wildlife and wilderness.  This idea has ten principles, covering health and happiness, equity and the local economy, culture and community, land use and wildlife, sustainable water, local and sustainable food, sustainable materials, sustainable transport, zero waste and zero carbon.  They seek to deliver ambitious but practical products and services, which bring a commercial advantage for partners.  http://www.bioregional.co.uk/

All the homes will be built to Code for Sustainable Homes Level 5, incorporating triple glazing, rainwater harvesting and water recycling.  Electricity will be generated from PV solar panels on every home.  Heat and hot water will come from a combined heat and power plant, and will eventually use heat supplied by an energy-from-waste facility.  There will be cycle and pedestrian routes, a bus stop within 400 metres of every home, live timetable updates in each house, charging points for electric vehicles and an electric car club.

As well as building the Eco-Town, Bioregional has delivered a lot of environmental and energy-saving projects to the residents of Bicester itself.

Bioregional constantly checks on what they have built to find whether their ideas have been successful or whether they need to be changed or modified, and communicates this follow-up research widely, so that any mistakes may be avoided by new eco-towns and villages.  They work on a policy level, national and international.  BedZED was initiated by Bioregional, developed by the Peabody Trust in partnership with Bioregional and designed with architects, ZEDfactory (based in BedZED) and Arup engineers.  The homes are all very highly insulated but also well ventilated, using the wind cowls on the roofs.  Fresh outside air is drawn into the building and pre-heated by outgoing stale air via heat exchangers.  There is a mini district heating system, and a large hot-water tank in each home helps to keep it warm in winter as well as storing hot water.

TiK was very lucky to have heard this very encouraging and inspiring talk from Nicole.  She has worked for Bioregional for 20 years and lived in BedZED for ten years.  With us, she had a very appreciative audience, but she often speaks to audiences of developers and other business people, who are not necessarily so receptive.  Speaking personally, I was very encouraged, while at the same time thinking, ‘Why are developers not required by law to do many of the things that BedZED were demonstrating back in 2002?’  Bioregional estimates that residents of BedZED save about £3,258 a year in transport, water and energy bills.  That would be a worthy subject for the talents of the advertising specialists, along with advertisements for the delights of Bicester Village.

Two films about climate change which couldn’t be more different!

John Ingleby – Chair, Transition in Kings

My wife and I went to see the film “Tomorrow” by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent, and then four days later we saw “The Age of Consequences” by Jared P Scott.  Both films are about climate change, but they couldn’t be more different.

The Age of Consequences” is one of several films about climate change, including Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and others, such as “Years of Living Dangerously” by James Cameron.  These films are all well made and lavishly presented, with the theme best described as “Stark Warnings to Humanity”.  They graphically illustrate how, if we don’t change our ways, our planet Earth is becoming more dangerous and less habitable.

My problem with “The Age of Consequences” and similar doom-laden films is that they don’t give any clues about what we could possibly do to avert disaster.  After watching pictures of devastation from droughts, storms, melting ice, warming oceans, mass migrations and so-on, the cynic in me begins to notice how parts of the film are actually computer special effects.  Small wonder that so many are persuaded this whole issue is a carefully choreographed “hoax”.

So I want to explain why “Tomorrow” is so different from many other films dealing with climate change.  To begin with, “Tomorrow” was crowd-funded from the inspiration of Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent when their first child was born.  Where could they find real-life examples of people and communities today, who are creating practical solutions for a more sustainable, equitable and just way of life?

Tomorrow” was produced in France, and first shown to wide acclaim at the Paris Conference in December 2015.  It took just over a year to add English sub-titles, and the Transition Network (based in Totnes) is arranging UK screenings for a minimal charge of £100 per event.  Most of these are being organised by local Transition groups, and shown to small audiences in town and village halls.

The story of Cyril and Mélanie’s journey is different because climate change is rarely mentioned.  Instead, their story illustrates the human activities which produce climate change alongside alternative approaches, to show how destruction caused by those activities can be avoided, and even reversed.

Did you know, for example, that while small-scale farming obviously involves much human effort, each acre produces on average five times more food compared with today’s large industrialised farms?  Moreover, small-scale farming is better at preserving soil structures and absorbing rain and nutrients.  How did we come to accept industrialised agriculture as the natural and inevitable way to produce food, with its demands for ever-growing inputs of water, fertilisers and energy?

The term “permaculture”, meaning permanent (i.e. sustainable) agriculture, describes modern approaches derived from the study of age-old methods of food production.  Cyril and Mélanie’s journey shows how permaculture methods are being used to grow food in today’s urban environments.

Tomorrow” is a positive, affirming and inspirational film, exploring creative solutions in the fields of food, energy, transport, economics and education.  In their travels to many different parts of the world, the couple visit permaculture farms, urban agriculture projects, community-owned renewable-energy schemes, local currencies, creative schools, and an ambitious recycling project.

If you search YouTube for “#Tomorrowfilm“, you will see how this film leaves people with a more optimistic and positive outlook for their future.  It is opening eyes to new possibilities for our own communities.

Future screenings of “Tomorrow” can be found by Googling “Tomorrow Transition” followed by the town name below.  So far, I only know about these dates and places:

Tulse Hill – May 2nd;   Wembley – May 5th;   Letchworth – June 20th;   Brighton – June 21st