Leckhampton’s first zero carbon homes

I don’t always support new housing developments in Leckhampton (there’s still time to object to Redrow’s awful new plan to build right in front of the AONB here using ref 21/02750/FUL).

But last week I gave enthusiastic support to one new development. Local developer Newland Homes brought forward a plan for 22 new homes on a former nursery site in Kidnappers Lane. 9 will be affordable, meeting the Cheltenham Lib Dem target of 40% of every new development being affordable housing. They’re on a so-called ‘brownfield’ site actually suggested by the parish council as appropriate for development – a good example of how trusting local people and their representatives, instead of trying every trick in the planning playbook to override local opinion, really doesn’t mean no homes being built anywhere. Newland spoke at length to Cheltenham’s professional planning department and to parish councillors as they revised their plans.

Where Cheltenham’s first zero carbon housing estate is going to be built on Kidnappers Lane in Leckhampton

But most important of all every single house will be zero carbon when its occupied. This is going to be achieved through a combination of really good insulation, air source heat pumps and solar panels which will also send some electricity back into the grid to offset any non-zero carbon electricity that’s bought in. It’s a big step towards the Lib Dem goal of getting Cheltenham to net zero by 2030.

This is a revolutionary moment and something I’ve been campaigning for all my political career. When I was an MP the Lib Dems pushed the coalition government into setting a deadline of 2016 for all new housing to be zero carbon. As soon as the Conservatives took over on their own they got rid of that deadline despite the science surrounding the climate crisis getting more and more alarming with every passing year. So we’re struggling to persuade other developers like Miller Homes – hoping to build 350 new homes only a few hundred metres away – to build zero carbon homes because government rules still say they don’t have to.

But here in Leckhampton at least one developer is doing it anyway with our support, proving it can be done, by a private developer, with both open market and affordable housing. It’s possible and it’s commercially viable. At last, the revolution has begun. And I’m really proud that it’s happening in Leckhampton.

Lib Dem MEPs welcome new renewable energy schemes in the South West

I had the chance to visit Tellisford Mill in Somerset where they’re generating enough micro-hydro power to power their home plus 100 more in the local area! This is just one of many exciting new renewable energy schemes in the South West and across the UK that are shaping our greener future and working to tackle the climate emergency.

I had the chance to visit Tellisford Mill in Somerset where they’re generating enough micro-hydro power to power their home plus 100 more in the local area! This is just one of many exciting new renewable energy schemes in the South West and across the UK that are shaping our greener future and working to tackle the climate emergency.

Meanwhile, the conservative group in the European Parliament hosted a very surprising meeting on climate change…

The Solomon Islands and the case for stopping Brexit.

Find out why one trade agreement with the Solomon Islands is taking us closer to tackling the climate emergency – and why that means we need to stop Brexit.

Westminster MPs recessed, then prorogued, now dissolved altogether. Don’t worry, your Members of the European Parliament are still hard at work!

Find out why one trade agreement with the Solomon Islands is taking us closer to tackling the climate emergency – and why that means we need to stop Brexit.

Leckhampton secondary school & green fields update

There is news on the planned new secondary school at Kidnappers Lane – and it’s a mixed bag for local residents.

First of all, a government inspector, Wendy Burden, has issued her interim advice on the draft Cheltenham Local Plan – one of the key local planning documents for our area. Against the run of previous inspections and the wishes of both the Borough and Parish Councils – she concluded that the 39 hectares proposed by our local councils as protected Local Green Space at Leckhampton might be too “extensive” and not justified. This is very surprising since an enormous amount of evidence has been amassed to justify the protection of the Leckhampton green fields (alongside a substantial amount of new housing next to the Shurdington Road). Under the National Planning Policy Framework, there is no upper size limit on LGS and it should for local communities to determine this but nevertheless the opinions of this experienced inspector carry huge weight in the process and the councils have to pay attention to this or risk the whole draft plan being declared “unsound”. I have been in discussion with Cheltenham planning officers along with fellow parish councillors to see what we can salvage from this situation.

The inspector’s verdict has played right into the hands of the Conservative-led county council who want to grab some of the planned Local Green Space for their controversial new secondary school instead of building it on the land next to Shurdington Road which had been earmarked for development (see my earlier update here). The county presented plans for the Kidnappers Lane site at a recent public meeting:

The site proposed by the county council for the new secondary school between Farm Lane and Kidnappers Lane – with apologies for the poor quality of the image.
Again with apologies for the image quality, a plan of the county’s proposed school building and playing fields.

There are some positives to these plans: it’s noticeable that they retain the extensive and ancient hedgerow around the school site which will be really important in Kidnappers Lane and Farm Lane retaining some of their current charm and rural character and will make an attractive green environment for the school students themselves. The plans also set the school building right at the northern end of the site, closest to planned development and the least intrusive location in respect of the planned protected Local Green Space to the south and east. The playing fields – and in particular the all-weather Astro pitch could be important community assets for local young people, including Leckhampton Rovers Football Club.

A sketch of the proposed new school building including some natural-looking materials but little evidfence of genuinely environmentally freindly features – and the apparently small scale is pretty misleading!

But local residents still have deep and – in my view – well-founded worries about the safety and traffic implications of such a large school set amongst what are now rural lanes with already congested roads around them, not least because the county’s shifting of the site will make way for developers to try to put even more housing on the fields next to the Shurdington Road. It’s also disappointing that the building and site so close to a Local Green Space and clearly visible from the AONB seem to boast so little in the way of green features, in stark contrast to exciting low energy new developments like the two Gloucester Services on the M5 which are camouflaged so well as to be nearly invisible from any distance or even the headquarters of Gloucestershire Constabulary in Quedgeley which boasts a fantastic reneweable energy resource in the shape of a large ground-source heat pump.

Unusually the county is applying to itself for planning permission to build the school instead of to the usual planning authority, Cheltenham Borough Council. A further consultation event is planned for 4.30-7pm 27 June at Hatherley & Reddings Cricket Club (on the left of the Shurdington Road outside town down towards Shurdington). Come along and make your views known!

Saving green spaces

Martin has never believed that the best way to help the homeless or make homes affordable was to build all over the countryside. So he has always strongly supported campaigns to protect treasured green spaces around Cheltenham.

Cheltenham’s new local plan allows for new homes and a brand new secondary school (purple and yellow striped area) but also permanent protection for Leckhampton’s most precious green fields after a 40 year battle to preserve them (green cross-htached area). Burrrow’s Field (pale green) is protected as a sports field.

But he welcomed Lib Dem-run Cheltenham Borough Council’s new local plan, adopted in 2020, which will allow several hundred new homes (not the thousands that once threatened to engulf all our local green fields) and a brand new secondary school aimed at local children as well as permanently protecting 26 hectares of Leckhampton’s precious green fields.

And just recently he moved a motion at a council meeting to defend the 16 Local Green Spaces now designated across Cheltenham in any future round of planning at neighbourhood, borough or joint authority level.

As an opposition MP, Martin developed a policy for the Liberal Democrats which was then implemented by the 2010-15 coalition government as the Local Green Space designation.  It provides protection for local green spaces not for their landscape value or scientific importance but simply because they are important to local people – providing free recreation and quiet enjoyment, growing local food, improving physical and mental health and absorbing both CO2 and dangerous particulate pollution.

It’s been a long battle. For 40 years, Martin and other local campaigners have had to fight planners who wanted all of Leckhampton’s green fields “safeguarded” (!) for future development, then Labour’s centrally-driven Regional Spatial Strategies and now Conservative attempts to let developers ride roughshod over local plans.

As Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury councils worked together to develop their own Joint Core Strategy, Martin consistently lobbied for enough housing for local people in need but not the tens of thousands required by a strategy based on economic growth regardless of environmental consequences.  In particular he lobbied hard against the loss of precious green spaces at Leckhampton, Chargrove and Springbank.  This was made difficult because neighbouring councillors like Tewkesbury Conservative councillor Derek Davies condemned Cheltenham Lib Dem councillors as ‘greedy’ and ‘precious’ for trying to protect Leckhampton and regularly blocked moves by Cheltenham to protect key green spaces. In the end the JCS ruled out a huge ‘strategic’ development at Leckhampton, reducing the likely housing there from over a thousand houses to a couple of hundred and with most of the green fields permanently protected.

At the 11th hour, the Conservative-run county council moved the planned school onto land they had previously agreed would be protected green space while an unelected government inspector arbitrarily ordered the Local Green Space to be reduced in size. So less green space has been protected than originally planned but we can still look forward to new homes and the new school and 26 hectares of green space for new residents and students to enjoy along with everyone else.

Martin’s father, Don Horwood, was one of the founders of the Leckhampton Green Land Action Group (‘Leglag’) and Martin joined at an early age. When he returned to Leckhampton with his own family and his children began attending local schools and nurseries the need to protect a green, safe and healthy local area for the future became even more personal.

Martin believes more homes should be built on brownfield sites and in mixed use developments as they have been at Leckhampton View and in St.Paul’s, the Brewery and North Place in Cheltenham, in urban city centres in need of regeneration and close to smaller villages and market towns whose shops, post offices, pubs and schools are closing for lack of people.

Martin has also called for more action to support rural housing (for instance in and around farms) where it is wanted and needed, tougher measures to bring more of the UK’s 850,000 empty homes back into use and new powers at local level to encourage the buying and building of more social housing for rent which is where the need is greatest.

Martin pledges to keep hunting ban

The campaign group Keep The Ban (http://www.keeptheban.org.uk/) are asking all parliamentary candidates to commit to keeping the hunting ban if they are elected on 8 June. Cheltenham’s Liberal Democrat candidate Martin Horwood has been quick to sign the pledge.

The Conservatives have again said they will bring forward a vote on repealing the hunting ban, on which MPs are traditionally allowed a free vote.

Cheltenham’s Liberal Democrat candidate and former MP, Martin Horwood, has been quick to sign the pledge and put this video on social media this morning: https://twitter.com/ClareSoftley/status/864423997542457344. 

Martin said: “We were warned that the hunting ban would wreck the rural economy, stop even the valuable social side of hunts and make it impossible to protect livestock.  None of that turned out to be true and I don’t think Parliament should go back to condoning the hunting of animals for fun.”

Martin took up many animal welfare causes as an MP, many in conjunction with Cheltenham based charity Naturewatch (naturewatch.org).  He successfully campaigned for more money for alternatives to animal research, voted for the ban on wild animals in circuses, supported the international whaling ban and opposed the badger cull in Gloucestershire and elsewhere.  In 2009 he was voted Animal Welfare Champion by fellow parliamentarians of all parties at the Dods political awards.

Martin added: “At the Trinity church hustings in 2015, all the parliamentary candidates were asked to say yes or no to keeping the hunting ban. Alex Chalk famously replied ‘free vote’.  Well, we all know it’s a free vote but that was just dodging the question!  We then found out he was being actively supported by members of the Vale of White Horse Hunt, North Cotswold Hunt and the pro-hunting organisation Vote OK – so it’s pretty clear where he stands on this issue.  The question is: will he have the courage to say so this time?”  (He didn’t.  Despite again receiving active support from hunt members, Alex Chalk replied ‘pass’ to the same question at the same hustings in 2017!)

Lib Dems vote to ban fracking

The Liberal Democrats Spring Conference in York has voted for an outright ban on fracking – the extraction of shale gas using the high-pressure hydraulic fracturing of underground rocks.


Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for Cheltenham voted for the successful motion: “Fracking poses really significant risks to the local environment wherever it is allowed” said Martin, “from the millions of litres of water pumped below the water table and lost to local water systems, to the pollution and disruption caused by the thousands of trucks transporting water and gas to and from the wells. I’m horrified that the Conservatives even plan to allow fracking in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty like the Cotswolds.”

“It’s also a crazy energy strategy. We’ve just committed to a low-carbon future for the planet in the Paris Climate Change Agreement. So why put direct investment into a new fossil fuel industry instead of energy efficiency and renewables? Fracking for gas won’t even displace coal because dirty coal will be on the way out anyway by the time fracking delivers any significant supply in the 2030s.”
During the General Election campaign last year, Alex Chalk – now Cheltenham’s Conservative MP – promised to oppose fracking in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. But in December 2015, he voted to support it.

Stopping climate change

Martin has campaigned tirelessly at local, national and European level for tougher action to stop climate change – and for smart planning for the inevitable effects of climate change too.

As an MP, he was a member of the Aldersgate Group which brings together leading MPs, businesses and green organisations committed to fighting climate change and was on the advisory board of the Energy & Climate Change Information Unit which actively promotes accurate and accessible facts about climate change in the UK media. As his party’s shadow environment minister, he jointly tabled the amendment to the 2008 Climate Change Bill that raised the UK carbon emission reduction ambition by 2050 from 60% to 80% and helped to develop Liberal Democrat policy that went much further and aimed for Zero Carbon Britain – a policy which other parties are gradually, painfully catching up with only now.  He opposed new coal-fired power stations, supported a moratorium on fracking and spoke out in parliament in favour of more wind, tidal, solar and other renewable forms of energy.

As an MEP, Martin raised climate issues on everything from trade to transport. He voted for the European Parliament’s declaration of a climate emergency and for the Green New Deal for the whole of Europe brought forward by his liberal renew Europe colleague Pascal Canfin MEP.  Watch short videos from Martin as MEP on EU policy affecting rainforests here, on local renewable energy here and on trade deals that support climate action here.  It is tragic that Brexit cut off our participation in climate initiatives like these when climate change is so obviously a challenge that one country can’t possibly tackle alone.

As a Cheltenham councillor, Martin has backed Cheltenham’s Lib Dem council in its declaration of a climate emergency here and its plan to get Cheltenham to Net Zero by 2030.  In his own cabinet role with responsibility for licensing and planning he is working on a plan to get all Cheltenham’s taxis to zero carbon by then and is pushing for all new private sector housing to be zero carbon (and the first step on that path has just been taken in Leckhampton!)

He was proud that LibDems in the coalition government achieved great progress on the environment:

  • the biggest carbon dioxide reduction on record for a growing UK economy
  • the world’s first Green Investment Bank
  • investment in low-carbon energy locked into UK energy markets through the Energy Act
  • 200,000 green jobs
  • a million trees planted
  • renewable energy generation in the UK more than doubled with solar energy generation going up 60% just in the last year

Many of these achievements were put at risk when the Conservatives took power on their own in 2015. Support for renewables was cut, the Green Investment Bank sold off, the energy efficiency Green Deal plan scrapped with no replacement, green lights were given to new coal and oil exploitation and greenhouse gas targets are now likely to be missed. They even scrapped the target for all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016 – which would by now have meant every new home built in the UK would be climate-friendly.

Martin has consistently spoken out for tougher action both to stop making climate change worse but also for adapting to the now inevitable impacts of climate change, including at the 2014 LibDem conference.  You can watch Martin’s speech here.

As a result of his efforts for the environment, Green Liberal Democrats elected Martin as their President, a position he still holds today.