Environmentalists 'not as interested as made out' after none attend council climate meeting

A council leader has spoken out after environmental campaigners who questioned the authority’s progress on tackling climate change did not attend a cabinet meeting where green recovery was on the agenda.

Stafford Borough Council's Civic Centre at Riverside Stafford
Stafford Borough Council's Civic Centre at Riverside Stafford

Residents and members of local green and sustainability groups penned an open letter to Stafford Borough Council leader Patrick Farrington raising concerns about the authority’s lack of involvement with the community in its climate change and green recovery strategy.

Members of the public also quizzed borough council members about the strategy at their latest full meeting, held two years after the authority declared a climate emergency and pledged to become carbon neutral by 2040.

The open letter said: “What we cannot understand is why you and the members of your controlling group give so little of that time to the biggest issue facing us since the last mass extinction: global warming. You declared a climate emergency in July 2019, but it seemed inadequate at the time and there have been few outward signs of progress since

“In January 2020 the council did, it is true, launch a public consultation about its new climate change and green recovery strategy. The council’s report on the results of the consultation claimed that ‘the general view held was that the strategy was headed in the right direction’. A number of climate campaigners had however sent critical comments, and many comments were redacted in the report.

“Your controlling group has allowed no other involvement of the local community in dialogue and action on the global warming crisis. Members of climate action groups have written dozens of letters to you and other Conservative councillors, including Councillor (Jonathan) Price, with virtually no response. Requests for meetings have been ignored.

“Campaigners did ask questions on climate in the space for public questions at November’s council meeting. When more questions were submitted in advance of the following council meeting, however, officers rejected them. They invoked a rule which restricts ‘the submission of questions similar to any that have been asked at the meeting within the previous six months.’

“The only action which did produce a result was organised by Extinction Rebellion and others. When about 25 people lay down in a peaceful climate catastrophe ‘die-in’ at the Civic Centre, Tim Clegg, the chief executive, invited them upstairs to talk about the issues with him.”

On Thursday, Councillor Jonathan Price, cabinet member for environment, gave an update of action taken by the council to address climate change and green recovery.

He said: “The council has recognised that it has an important role in responding to the threat of climate change and in response to this formulated a strategy that was approved at full council in November 2020. The strategy detailed how we would reduce emissions from our own activities and how we would work in partnership, mitigate and adapt to climate change and continue to implement our green recovery objectives.

“The implementation of the strategy was unfortunately delayed because of the Covid pandemic and all of our officers were – and still are – heavily involved in responding to the pandemic and making sure that vulnerable residents and businesses were supported.

“We have appointed a full time Corporate Climate Change Officer who has been working in the Corporate Business and Partnerships Team on a full-time basis since June. We commissioned a carbon audit that was completed in May and the report provides an overview of our carbon emissions by area of operation.

“We want to reduce our carbon emissions as much as possible but at the same time we need to be pragmatic as we recognise that some of our services will continue to produce some emissions. In order for us to achieve our net zero commitment we are currently investigating options for carbon sequestration – removing carbon from our atmosphere – where the carbon emissions cannot be reasonably removed any further, for example by planting more trees.

“For the past six months the council have been working in partnership with Keele University, Centre for Alternative Technology and local authorities across Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent. In addition to this work is underway to set up a small panel of community representatives to work with us to support the development of a climate change pledge and information packs for residents in line with the Sustainable Staffordshire initiative being run by Staffordshire County Council.

“I am very pleased with the progress that this council has made in such a short space of time given this situation. They have worked tirelessly over the past 12 to 18 months.”

But Councillor Farrington said: “I find it noteworthy that despite emails and lots of other representations not one member of any organisation that contacts me or our officers is here this evening to note the progress just reported.

“No opposition councillors are here to hear the report about something this authority and this group on Stafford Borough Council takes very seriously. I know that you and others have worked tirelessly to get to this stage we are at.

“I am disappointed that not one of the people who contact us regularly to suggest we are not making progress and not giving climate change the airtime it deserves are here this evening. It is a public meeting and it is fully advertised.

“It suggests to me they are perhaps not as interested and keen to hear what is happening as has been made out.”

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