NHDC Declares a climate emergency
By Nicky Clark on behalf of NH&S GP, Hitchin Labour Group, NH XR, FOE, and TTL
In March 2019 Labour's Cllr Martin Stears-Hanscombe tabled a draft Motion for NHDC to declare a Climate Emergency that had been written by David de Smet of Labour. He had the support and backing of a cross-organisational group including the local Green Party, the local Labour group, Extinction Rebellion, Friends of the Earth & Transition Town Letchworth. The Motion was to be debated at the council meeting on 4th April 2019. This meeting was cancelled at the last minute because there were ‘no important items on the agenda'. In frustration and disbelief, a petition was launched and representatives from many local environmental groups set about collecting signatures from concerned citizens - all desperate for NHDC to wake up and act on this most urgent issue. The petition of almost 500 signatures was brought to the Annual Council Meeting in Letchworth on 22nd May. We were given the opportunity for three speakers – one to present the petition, one to do a presentation and one to ask a question. However, in spite of full support from both Lib Dem and Labour groups, the Democratic Services Manager and the outgoing Chair didn’t allow it. The meeting was brought forward to 21st May. Thanks to the dogged determination of Phil Devonald, the petition was put on the agenda, with 5 mins for speakers (no question).
It really should not have been this hard!
At the meeting, there was still some resistance to the petition. However, the 5 minutes was finally allocated and the cross-organisational group had the floor. Anni Sander (Green Party) spoke about the terrifying scientific facts behind climate change, followed by Gilly Chegwyn (Extinction Rebellion) who reminded councillors of their democratic duty to their constituents and their responsibility to protect us. She offered the help, support and expertise of local people. Councillors from all political parties spoke, proving that this is a cross-party issue, and then the vote was taken. The results: 43 for, and 1 abstention.
The NHDC Climate Emergency Motion 210519 has passed – but what next?
Perhaps we should start with a look at what other councils have achieved. Let's take inspiration from Stroud district council, who became the first carbon neutral council in Europe back in December 2015. Council buildings have had solar panels installed with upgraded lighting, insulation and air-tightness; staff have been encouraged to be much more energy efficient; village and community halls have received funding for environmentally-friendly improvements and local businesses have taken part in initiatives to reduce their emissions.
Norwich and Exeter are among many local authorities adopting the Passivhaus+ standard for new buildings and this could be one of the first de-carbonisation steps for NHDC. Changes to the National Planning Policy Framework in 2018 now enable local authorities to set ambitious targets for energy efficiency standards above and beyond Building Regulations.
Brighton & Hove City Council pay for local bus services which could not run without council funding, including some school and weekend services. The Hertfordshire Traffic and Transport Data Report 2018 shows that traffic flow is at a record high, with 2017-2031 traffic growth in North Herts predicted to be 22% - the highest in the county. Transport accounts for over 40% of our emissions with 32 locations exceeding safe air-quality thresholds. An alarming:
- 26% of all car journeys travel less than 3 miles
- 41% of school runs are by car, and
- 56% of all journeys under 5 miles were by car.
Reliable non-polluting public transport is the key. There are many successful local authority-run bus companies in the UK, running environmentally-friendly fleets with excellent customer service – why can’t we?
On the 6th Feb 2019, it was announced that a fleet of 36 Electric buses were going into service in Cardiff and Caerphilly backed by £8.5m worth of UK government funding, while Stagecoach will have 16 for its Caerphilly depot. The money came from a £48m Department of Transport grant scheme to promote greener public transport across England and Wales.
Now is the time for hard work and creative cooperation. A workshop took place on 2nd June to brainstorm ideas to present to NHDC's Hitchin Committee on 18th June. This is an opportunity for all local environmental groups to work together with NHDC for the greater good. This is how we can make a real impact to our lives and in our life-time - together.
It can be done, and it is being done throughout the country. We must jump on board and embrace these changes if we are to have any hope of meeting those essential targets (1). This is not just for our local community, or the County, but for the future of every living thing on this beautiful planet – the future of all our children and grandchildren. Without change we are lost. Thank you to all who are working together tirelessly to drive these changes and congratulations to the councillors of NHDC for having the wisdom and vision to declare this Climate Emergency.
'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.' Margaret Mead
- Details of NHDC Climate Emergency Motion 210519
Sustainable development goals: United Nations Environment Programme: Annual Report 2015