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Solent citizens debate plans for Hampshire devolution, in UK’s first ‘Citizens’ Assembly’

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Citizens from the Solent area debated and voted on proposals for a new devolved body in the region, as part of the UK’s first ever ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ on local democracy this weekend.

But residents called for real public involvement and further debate in decisions on devolution at the Citizens’ Assembly, which concluded on Sunday evening (15th November).

Over two weekends of discussion and voting, the nearly 30 participants – drawn from a broadly representative sample from Southampton, Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight and other parts of the Solent area in response to an invitation by polling company YouGov – reached their conclusions through a deep process of engagement with the details of different potential devolution arrangements. The Assembly was chaired by the BBC’s Peter Henley.

‘Assembly South’ was only the second such event in the world to include both citizens and politicians as participants in the process, after the Republic of Ireland. Five local councillors participated alongside the citizens for the four days.

The participants were given unique access to national and local experts to aid them in reaching their own conclusions on how Hampshire and the Isle of Wight should be governed. The project has been closely followed by local councils across the region.

Last weekend saw local politicians and other experts giving evidence to the Assembly, including Cllr Roy Perry, leader of Hampshire County Council. The project is being backed by Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton Test, who attended the Assembly on Sunday and called it ‘really important and significant’.

The first weekend in October saw key local figures address the Assembly, including Councillor Stephen Godfrey, Leader of Winchester City Council, Steven Lugg, Chief Executive of the Hampshire Association of Local Councils, and Mike Smith, Director of Cities for Cofely UK and former Director of Finance for Southampton City Council.

Participants voted that if there were to be a new devolved body:

– It should cover the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight area, instead of other options like the South East or the Solent.

– Health and social care integration should be the most important priority for the body, followed by public transport, business support and housing investment

When asked to vote on the devolution deal currently on the table in negotiations with the government:

– There was a dead heat, with participants evenly split on whether they would vote for or against the proposals.

The project, entitled Democracy Matters, has been organised by the University of Southampton, University of Sheffield, University College London and University of Westminster, in conjunction with the Electoral Reform Society, and has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Hampshire and the Isle of Wight is one of two pilot areas taking part in the experiment, alongside Assembly North in Sheffield. Citizens in the parallel Assembly for the South Yorkshire region gathered on the weekend of the 7th November to reach their conclusions. The 31 participants similarly called for stronger powers for South Yorkshire, as well as a Yorkshire-wide elected Assembly and more democratic engagement in the process.

These Assemblies come in response to the sweeping constitutional changes currently facing the UK, a year on from the Scottish referendum and with key questions of devolution, English Votes for English Laws and the EU referendum currently high up the agenda.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “This Citizens’ Assembly has shown well and truly that when given a chance to have a say, people jump at the opportunity. The Assembly has given citizens a real voice on the government’s plans to hand councils in the Solent area more powers – and they’ve spoken loud and clear. Politicians in Hampshire and across the UK should sit up and take note.

“It’s clear that as the Government seeks to devolve powers towards local areas, they need to include citizens and not simply deliver their chosen solutions from above. So far, many feel left out in the cold by back-room deals.”

Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton Test said: “This Citizens’ Assemblies project is something which is really important and significant. I applaud this attempt to bring the public into the devolution process, and it is showing that politics can be done differently.”

Professor Will Jennings, University of Southampton, Co-Investigator for the project, said: “This Assembly has challenged the myth that people are disengaged from politics. When they are given the chance to assess a range of different positions and possibilities they do it with gusto – people are more than capable of grappling with complex questions about the way we are governed.

“This marks an important contribution to the conversation about politics and democracy in this country. We have shown there is a real potential for a new way of doing things.”

Professor Gerry Stoker, Professor of Politics and Governance at the University of Southampton: “Instead of devolution being a stitch-up between local and national politicians, we need engagement from citizens to bring new insights and new ideas into the debate. Our Assembly has shown one way that can be done.”

Environment

How Climate Change Altered this Engineer’s Life

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how climate change affect our lives
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Living the life of an engineer likely sounds pretty glamorous: you are educated and highly regarded, typically have high paying gigs, and with the breadth of knowledge and array of fields of specialty, your possibility for jobs is usually immense.  But what if there was something else that needed your attention? Something bigger than just being an engineer, going to work every day and doing the same technical tasks typically associated with the profession?

For Kevin McCroary, that is exactly how it played out.  A successful engineer, gainfully employed in a prosperous job, a simple trip to the Philippines made him see that there was a bigger issue at hand than using his engineer training in a traditional profession.  This bigger issue was that of climate change.  And working as a volunteer for underprivileged children in the Philippines, he saw first-hand the extensive pollution and poverty that existed here and that impacted the livelihood of these kids and their families.

Upon returning home, from his trip to the Philippines he had a new perspective of the impact we as individuals and as humanity have on the earth, and more than that Kevin wanted to know more.  He started to do some research and study these human-environmental interactions, and shortly thereafter ended up in Greenland.  There, he spoke to a man who had lost his home in a tsunami, and, who, through consistent weather tracking could indeed confirm that the current weather trends were “strange:” there was undeniably a general warming tendency happening in the arctic, causing an array of negative effects.

The combination of these observations, as well as his own research, led Kevin to conclude that something had to be done.  With that in mind, he launched his project Legend Bracelet.  The mission is simple: create a reminder of the legacy we are leaving behind.  As individuals and as humanity, we are leaving behind an imprint on the earth, and the magnitude of it is something that needs to be brought to the forefront of public awareness.  The idea is to have a bracelet that can serve as a daily reminder of the impact on the earth that each of us can have every day, regardless of how big or small.  The bracelet has two capsules: the first is filled with sand or earth, and the second is empty.  As the owner, you are to fill the empty one with your own earth, carrying it with you as a reminder and symbol of your connection and commitment to helping look after our environment.

We are all impacted by climate change, and we all have a responsibility to help.  And it can start with something as simple as putting on a bracelet.  Support Kevin on his Kickstarter campaign for Legend Bracelet, tell others about it, or take action in your own way and play your part in slowing down the effects of climate change.  You may think “but I’m just one person!” You are indeed.  But so is he.  Every change starts with one.

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Lifestyle

5 Things You Can Do Yourself to Improve the Value of Your House

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home renovation and improvement
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Whether you want to own it or list it, every once in a while, a house needs a facelift. This will not only improve quality of your life but will capitalize your home’s value significantly, too.

The best way to improve home value by yourself is to upgrade only what is necessary and nothing more. For instance, why would you buy a new bathroom door when a little retouch and a coat of fresh paint will suffice? By taking this approach, you are allowing yourself to make several small improvements instead of venturing just one or bigger ones. Select projects thoughtfully and know when you should stop.

Pitch in for the kitchen

If you really want a return on investment one day, start in the kitchen. By many, the kitchen still represents the heart and the soul of the house, the central hub of a property and it will all on its own add colossal value to your home. Moreover, the kitchen can be a breaking point in selling the house, so you should not hold on to your wallet in this area.

There are many little things you can do to spruce up the overall image of your kitchen. You may paint the kitchen cabinets, replace old door handles, add additional storage space with a sliding wall or a kitchen island if there is enough room for it. In addition, you may open the living space up by taking a kitchen wall down. Possibilities for do-it-yourself are many.

Add an attic or a basement bedroom

Properties are usually valued by two things: land size and the number of bedrooms. The price range between a three to four-bedroom home is two to four hundred thousand. Since you can’t change the size of your land, you can at least increase the number of bedrooms.

If you are prepared to go full-scale, converting the attic or the basement into the bedroom is another especially favored project that will by far boost up your home’s value once you decide to put it on the market. Until you decide to list it you will enjoy in your own extra space for entertainment, living, sleeping, playing, exercising, or whatever you fancy.

Transformation with paint

If your walls have scrapes and stained paint, a vintage color or shabby wallpaper, several cans of paint can make a striking distinction. In order to increase the value of your home, it is recommended to go with neutral colors that will unify the whole house and make the space visually bigger.

transformation with paint

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Bottom line, nothing can transform a home like a cast of fresh new paint. It is the number one way to beef up a property value of any budget. Additionally, painting the house is still one of the easiest, fastest and highest value drivers.

Secure with style

All of your effort and money would be wasted if you can’t protect the investments you made. A good security door costs as little as a few hundred dollars but if it saves you just once from being robbed it instantly pays itself off. People avoid putting security screens on windows because they mostly do not look stylish enough, but there are other options, such as installing shutters. There are so many elegant and cool shutter options that we found at Independent Blinds & Awnings that it’s really hard not to find something for you.

Basic maintenance for a worry-free mind

A clean house is a healthier house for you and your family. By making a clean house your number one on the list for improving, you accomplish a couple of things at once.

First, you stay on track with maintenance issues and, consequently you are able to recognize future problems before they become costly ones. Secondly, you don’t allow dirt and garbage to pile up over time. Thirdly, smudged, dirty windows can have a bad impact on the overall perception of the house. Same as eyes are windows to the soul, windows are for the home. Therefore, you need to wash them properly.

Spice up the landscaping

Big backyard is an all Australian dream and still, it is more often than not the most ignored area of the house. However, landscaping is really important as it frames a property from every corner.

Simple, low budget cosmetic changes in the front yard including installing garden beds, adding plants, pebbles or mulch, and paving or painting the front walls will positively lift the curb appeal as well as the property value. As for the backyard, you may span a lawn to create more open space for you and your family to move freely, cut and reduce unruly trees and vegetation, and fix the fence if needed.

Adding value to your home through a cosmetic or structural renovation is an actual way to quickly enhance your money invested in a property. In the end, you need to make sure that if you will continue to live in the house and renovate, that your renovations will contribute to a good lifestyle and that it will give the impression of a “ready to move in” property once you decide to list it.

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