Building communities – can all the factors be designed in?

It might sound like an idealistic vision to create affordable, energy–efficient houses, built around the principle of creating communities. Kevin McCloud gave  it a go in The Triangle in Swindon, and found it not to be that easy. Communities grow over time and need the means to include neighbouring residents. It is however, good news that the government has announced it will shortly be launching a new £30 million fund to provide short-term finance for self-build projects. It could be an opportunity to create well designed, energy-efficient, sustainably constructed, affordable homes.  So much of the mass housing that is built, woefully lacks any of those things – our construction industry seems stuck in the dark ages – unable to adapt to anything other than bricks and mortar!

There are a few bright stars on the horizon, and if Kevin McCloud can shake off the image that good design costs lots of money and only achievable for ‘Grand Designs’, we might be able to raise the standard of new buildings in the UK.  We don’t need, pastiche, twiddly bits or architectural ‘gob ons’.  We need imaginative design, built sustainably, so that people can live sustainably. The CANTEL Project wants to do that; a planned series of modern communities where neighbours and community are always at heart. The project is the vision of Julian Thompson, who explains more about what residents can expect.

“We plan to build brand new neighbourhoods that are safe, supportive, relaxing and friendly. Nowadays Facebook and Twitter are how many people communicate, whilst many of them don’t even know their neighbours names. These virtual communities aren’t helping people; we aim to give people the real thing, neighbourhoods with friends and neighbours, people who you can really connect with.” Thompson explains.

He continues, “Of course, affordability is also a key requirement, it’s madness that for over 15 years the average couple still can’t afford an average home in the UK. We’re not looking to make a profit, we’re looking to build homes and neighbourhoods for people to enjoy life in, and that includes me and my family.  Lower prices mean smaller mortgages which means more disposable income to enjoy life with.  Every home will be built to be as energy efficient as possible so that future energy bills won’t be an issue.”

Thompson and the team at The CANTEL Project have plans for developments to be located within commuting distance of London, Southampton, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Swindon and Stafford.

Each neighbourhood is planned to boast around 40 energy efficient homes built around communal facilities including allotments, a small community hall and a children’s play area. With homes ranging from one-bedroom flats to 4-bedroom houses, accommodation will come in shapes and sizes suited to all budgets.

Finding sites will be the challenge – development, whether well designed and energy efficient or not, has an impact, all development does. Trafffic generation is often the main concern.  And such developments need to take account of existing residents. Green field sites are cheaper to develop but are likely to have the most negative impact. Brown field sites should be considered first and the government should still be encouraging this.

Fancy a spin? ALL-ENERGY 2012 showcases hydrogen and other low carbon vehicles

Low carbon vehicles are featuring heavily at this years All-Energy 2012 conference taking place in Aberdeen on the 23-24 May.  From hydrogen powered to electric and hybrids the low carbon vehicle market is growing. Of these perhaps a hydrogen refuelling system, with an electric charging point not far away, is the most important development.  As well as this there are 580 exhibiting companies from up to 20 countries at the show, and well over 300 speakers in the world-class conference – featuring hydrogen, fuel cells and sustainable transport.

Visitors will see the two Hyundai Fuel Cell SUVs, powered by ITM Power’s HFuel Here on-site hydrogen generation and refuelling system, given  its UK-show launch. Also at All-Energy will be the Honda Jazz Hybrid; Peugeot iON; Honda CR-Z Hybrid; Honda Insight Hybrid; Mitsubishi iMiEV; Nissan Leaf; Tesla Roadster; Renault Twizy; Renault Kangoo; Vauxhall Ampera; and a Zeroed Commercial Vehicle. Microcab’s new Microcab H2EV will be on the Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (SHFCA) stand (powered by hydrogen, courtesy of Logan Energy) and other hybrids include the Toyota Auris and Prius.

Event Manager, Jamie Thompson of Reed Exhibitions, explained that “Some of the vehicles, including the Hyundai SUVs will be available to try out in the All-Energy Ride & Drive area,” and “The Low Carbon Vehicle Zone provides an excellent opportunity for fleet managers and individuals to find out about the benefits of low carbon vehicles; with the conference providing up to the minute information”.

“What a marvellous event we have for visitors and exhibitors alike,” Jamie adds. “…some fascinating and highly relevant associated events; and our incomparable Giant Networking Evening – all designed with one thought in mind, getting buyers and sellers, specifiers, suppliers and developers all under one roof to share their aims, objectives – and business opportunities. We are looking forward to two extremely busy and highly stimulating days, and news of some highly positive outcomes.” Registration for all elements of All-Energy is free of charge for all with a business/professional interest in renewable energy (no entry to anyone under the age of 16).

To start things at All-Energy off, the Lord Provost of the City of Aberdeen – Lord Provost George Adam will welcome everyone, followed by keynote addresses delivered by Alex Salmond MSP, the First Minister of Scotland; Charles Hendry MP, Minister of State for Energy, DECC; Keith Anderson, Chief Corporate Officer, Scottish Power; and David Gartside a Board Member of the Health and Safety Executive. Three speakers – David Blunt CVO, Director Public Policy UK and EU Institutions, Gamesa Wind UK; Huub den Rooijen, Head of Offshore Wind, The Crown Estate, and Dr Graham Cooley, Chief Executive, ITM Power will give ‘quick-fire’ addresses to set the show firmly on the road to success in this session chaired by Jeremy Cresswell, Chairman of Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group, and Editor of the Press & Journal’s ‘Energy’.

There is plenty more to keep you occupied as there are then seven parallel streams, encompassing 48 equally relevant sessions on every source of renewable energy and on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead; and an equally busy two days in the on-floor seminar areas where Offshore Maintenance and Smart Energy (the All-Energy take on energy efficiency, energy management, microgeneration and onsite renewables) take place in the centre of dedicated exhibit areas.

There is a conference session devoted to hydrogen and fuel cells, Hydrogen to the fore, sustainable transport and energy storage (including a session on nanotechnology) speak for themselves; a special lunch time session featuring Bert De Colvenaer, Executive Director of the Fuel Cells & Hydrogen Joint Undertaking who has made traveled from Brussels to speak on: “Towards the deployment of fuel cell and hydrogen technology”

For more details and a full All-Energy 2012 Conference programme see

Look after the little fishies too

A recent report from the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force called for the need for fisheries managers to pay more careful attention to the “special vulnerabilities of forage fish and the cascading effects of forage fishing on predators”. The Little Fish, Big Impact report published in April 2012 is by a group of 13 preeminent scientists formed to provide practical advice on sustainable management.

The focus on conservation of fish numbers usually is on the larger varieties. This report highlights the need for attention to be given to small to medium-sized fish species that include sardines, anchovies, herring and menhaden. This direct catch of forage fish makes up more than a third of the world’s marine fish catch and has been a contributory factor in the collapse of some forage fish populations. This study provides the most comprehensive global analysis of forage fish management to date, the Task Force found that conventional management does not always help forage fish because it does not adequately account for their wide population swings and high catchability. The critical role of forage fish as food for marine mammals, seabirds, and commercially important fish such as salmon, tuna and cod.

In order to redress the balance the report recommends cutting catch rates in half in many ecosystems and doubling the minimum biomass of forage fish that must be left in the water, compared to conventional management targets. And further, even more stringent measures are advised when important biological information is missing. A summary of the report is available from the Scott Partnership working on behalf of the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force.

Sowing seeds for bees

Nature & More: sowing seeds for bees

Bees need our help and this european project is assisting them by distributing bags flower seeds.

Its excellent news that the international “Bees love organic” campaign finds overwhelming response

Sowing seeds for bees - cyclist sowing wildflowersMore than a thousand Dutch cyclists are currently transforming a 1000 kilometre long bicycle trail into a “bee trail”, by sowing organic flower seeds; 23 German organic wholesalers and retailers  are distributing 280,000 bags of flower seeds with their organic products; the Youth Initiative Program in Sweden created a flowering meadow as well as a short YouTube video featuring buzzing students. All these activities, large and small, are part of the international “Bees Love Organic” campaign that was recently launched by Nature & More. Nature & More, together with a number of NGO’s, is distributing 400,000 bags of organic flower seeds throughout Europe. The message: let’s start helping the bees, by sowing seeds and eating organic. The campaign will run through the summer of 2012.

It is alarming that beekeepers and researchers are reporting the worldwide drop of bee populations with increasing worry. In a scientific publication from 2007, A.M. Klein estimated that 35% of global food crops depend on pollinators; of which bees are the most prominent. So, statistically speaking, more than 2 billion people would have their existence immediately threatened, if the bees and other pollinators vanished off the earth. This spring, Science Magazine published two articles claiming that neonicotinoid pesticides are at least partly responsible for the infamous Colony Collapse Disorder.

Nature & More, a Dutch-based international distributor of organic fruits and vegetables with an estimated  100 Million USD turnover, decided to take positive action. Assisted by several environmental NGO’s, “The bees love organic ” campaign was established. One of its goals is to distribute 400,000 free bags of organic flower seeds for bees in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Sweden and the Czech Republic; which will create over 400.000 square meters of bee flower pasture. In the Netherlands, a  popular 1000 km long cycle track along farms and countryside called the “Potato trail” is being transformed into a “Bee  path”. More than a thousand consumers have already applied for the free flower seeds to sow along the track, like Olga from Amsterdam, who wrote: “What a great initiative! I love cycling and want to help save the bees from dying out. Please send me some of those seed bags.”

It would be great if an organic producer could do the same in the UK, as according to the “Bees love organic” campaign, bees have better survival chances with organic farming, not only because pesticides aren’t used, but also because organic farming increases biodiversity. Nature & More founder Volkert Engelsman: “Since the ’90’s of last century we have been trying to get across that “organic” means much more than not using chemical inputs. Farmers in Asia, America and Europewho work with us, recognize that the future of agriculture must lie in teaming up with nature, instead of fighting it. The bees are our allies, so let’s support them.”

More info: enter “BEE” at