Tories criticised amid two-speed response to climate change challenge

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New Forest climate emergency
The issue of climate change has been forced up the agenda partly by protests such as in London in February

NEW FOREST Conservatives have been accused by the Liberal Democrats of kicking the global warming issue “down the road” as their county colleagues officially declared a climate emergency.

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Hampshire’s ruling Tory cabinet announced this week it was joining 70 other local authorities by publicly committing to put environmental issues at the heart of policy, such as cutting carbon and building resilience to climate change.

But at New Forest District Council a similar idea has been passed to a group of councillors to investigate before reporting back later this year.

Announcing HCC’s new stance, its leader Cllr Keith Mans, from Brockenhurst, said: “The climate emergency programme has gathered pace and profile at a rapid rate.

“In the last few days, the government has announced a UK target of net zero greenhouse gases by 2050 and we are committed to ensuring Hampshire County Council plays its part.

“It is clear that action on the scale required to meet the urgency of this global challenge can only be achieved if we all commit to lasting change.”

He pointed to measures such as reducing building energy costs by £30m since 2010, installing solar panels, and dimming or switching off streetlights to save £240,000 a year.

Eighty new electric car charging points have been installed and HCC’s fleet is increasing its share of electric vehicles.

The declaration picked up a motion put forward by two Lib Dem councillors at a full HCC meeting in Winchester last month.

Things are progressing more slowly at NFDC, however, where a similar Lib Dem motion at its May meeting has instead been passed to a group of councillors who will report back later this year.

As reported in the A&T, last month opposition Lib Dems proposed declaring a “climate emergency” along with a raft of measures including a target for the New Forest district to be carbon neutral by 2030.

It was sent to the environment overview and scrutiny panel which discussed the motion last week and in turn voted to pass it on to a task and finish group to bring back recommendations.

The panel’s Conservative chair, Cllr Steve Rippon-Swaine, defended the decision to look into it further due to the “complexity” of the situation.

He said: “It was done to not make a serious decision like this on the hoof. We wanted to do it with the true facts that are available and get the right judgement. It has enormous consequences, particularly financially.”

Cllr Rippon-Swaine said NFDC was already increasing the number of electric vehicle charging points on council-owned land, and also had a new policy to buy electric fleet vehicles unless there was a specific “business case” for fossil-fuel models, such as for carrying heavy loads.

Lib Dem environment spokesman Cllr Malcolm Wade said afterwards: “Why can’t the Conservatives who oversee the district council finally confront the key issue of the day?

“Not Brexit, not their own daft leadership election, not foreign trade or aid, but the very fabric surrounding our continuing lives. Climate change. We cannot go on like this. Why keep kicking the issue down the road?”

Members of the task and finish group are Cllrs Wade and Rippon-Swayne, plus Cllrs Derek Tipp, Sue Bennison, Stephanie Osborne and Geoffrey Blunden.

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1 COMMENT

  1. One would hope district level leadership would be in step with county level. On such a fundamental issue, the creation of a talking shop may be seen as wasting time, but perhaps an opportunity to create strong and robust local actions in support of national level policy. We all know what must be done now. Local councils must lead.

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