Express & Star

Councillors have their say on creation of a 'Staffordshire Forest' to help with climate change

Senior councillors have ruled out a recommendation to put on hold planned disposal of authority-owned land and county farms so they can be considered for the future creation of a “Staffordshire Forest” to help tackle climate change.


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The recommendation was one of six put forward by Staffordshire County Council’s Climate Change Working Group as part of its report on actions the authority could take to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The report, presented to county cabinet members at their meeting in January, revealed that the planting of two and a half million trees in Staffordshire over the next few years could help the county council achieve its goal by capturing and storing carbon – also known as carbon sequestration.

The cabinet was asked to consider how much carbon sequestration could be achieved on council land, as well as how to progress plans for tree planting, woodland creation and a concept model for a Staffordshire Forest.

Council leader Alan White presented the cabinet’s response to the Climate Change Working Group report at a Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on April 9.

He said: “The majority of what you’ve proposed we’ve accepted in full, one aspect we accept in part and one aspect we do not accept.

“You have suggested the cabinet be requested to consider cessation of disposal of council-owned land and county farms already on the disposal list until this has been considered for inclusion in the concept model.

"You will be aware, because this committee does the MTFS (Medium Term Financial Strategy) work, that our MTFS is built around a whole series of strategies – one of which is the asset disposal strategy which has been successful.

“The question back to you is if we aren’t disposing of assets to support the MTFS in pursuit of the climate change agenda, where do we get the money from to support the MTFS? This is the delivery of legally-mandated services that we must deliver as a consequence of our obligation to our citizens.

“Cabinet was requested to consider the amount of carbon sequestration that can be achieved on Staffordshire County Council land. We identify the Zero by Nature study which goes some way to identify that number.

“I appreciate there may be some disappointment amongst those who were in the Climate Change Working Group, simply because of the amount of effort that went into it. But there is always going to be some tension between what you would like to achieve in an ideal world versus what we have to balance – those competing priorities we have as a council.”

Working group member Councillor Nigel Yates thanked the cabinet for agreeing to put a significant fund down for the planting of trees.

He added: “The reason county farms was put in there was because if you have got land you’ve got options, if you don’t have land you are reducing your options.

“We have got to double down and look at how we can get the land area for us to do our bit. We have got to be radical and look at new ideas and different exemplars of where we can go to find something that does resolve that carbon sequestration issue of Staffordshire County Council without affecting other people’s own carbon sequestration.”

Councillor White replied: “Farming is a complicated business. We need to make sure food security is in place; there are all sorts of geopolitical tensions around at the moment.

“We can think about how we solve the carbon emissions problem but we’ve also got to think about how we feed the mouths we have in this country. We don’t go into this in a helter skelter fashion, we have got to think about how we achieve it in order to deal with those competing priorities that we have.”

Committee vice chair Councillor Gill Heath, who represents the Leek Rural division, said: “The land that will grow stuff has got to be maintained to grow crops and feed the nation. But where I live in the north of the county, there is a lot of land that would benefit from trees that cannot be grazed or grow crops.

“Why don’t we invest in some of the poorer land that isn’t suitable for farming and agriculture and plant some trees there? I can take you within five miles of where I live where there’s loads.”