Only if the Government allows, say Labour

In response to the threat of climate change, Hastings Borough Council passed unanimously a motion brought by leader Peter Chowney last Wednesday that aims to make the town carbon neutral by 2030. The stated intention is to become “energy self-sufficient”, pressing ahead with a programme of “sustainable energy generation” on council-owned and other land and buildings. Every “viable” council-owned site, as well as other sites, is to be investigated, with a target of supplying 30% of the town’s own electricity use by this date.

PICTURE: www.jakebowers.co.uk

The Local Plan, currently under review, is to introduce policy requirements that new buildings should meet “the most rigorous possible energy efficiency standards”, including electric vehicle (EV) charging points in new housing and commercial developments, and solar arrays or other sustainable energy generation wherever possible. Existing supermarkets will also be “encouraged” to install EV charging points, and East Sussex Council lobbied to take up existing government grants to install on-street EV charging points.

A member-level ‘Climate Change Champion’ will be appointed to oversee the implementation of these and other commitments, monitoring the progress of the town towards the goal of carbon-neutrality.

However there was a sting in the tail of the motion. The council would “maximise the resources [it] dedicates to combatting climate change when national government restores council funding to a sustainable level”.

In a packed full council meeting, a large number of councillors, both from the majority Labour side and minority Conservatives, gave addresses urging the seriousness of the climate crisis and the need to take drastic and immediate action before rising temperatures and sea-levels engulf the world. Cllr Antonia Berelson, a nurse, spoke about global damage to people’s health, such as the asthma epidemic in London and deaths in Canada caused by “freak” weather. Cllr Mike Turner made a plea for a change of diet away from meat consumption that engenders environmentally destructive farming practices. 

However the most impassioned speeches from the Labour side were directed at their Tory counterparts. Cllr Dominic Sabetien asked them to petition Amber Rudd and her colleagues to end the ban on on-shore wind turbines, re-instate solar feed-in tariffs and invest in tidal barrages. 

Cllr Ruby Cox argued that ‘green’ policies would only work for people who don’t expend all their energy just keeping a roof over their heads and food in their mouths. Cllrs Leah Levane and Maya Evans made similar pleas. Austerity measures had to be reversed, and “green socialism” take the place of capitalism which “is consuming the world”.

When Cllr Rob Lee indicated that he and his Conservative colleagues would support the motion but submitted an amendment to include prioritising the planting of trees, he was effectively slapped down. Labour were not in the mood for bi-partisan politics. Cllr Chowney concluded that his party was looking forward to a change of government to give councils the funds and the political support to meet the challenge most successfully.

Which was a little ironic, given that the council motion and debate had been initially spurred by a petition organised by the Green Party –  unrepresented in the ranks of council members but clearly making its presence seen and heard in the attending audience bearing placards that named some of the 70-plus local signatory businesses and organisations. Green Co-ordinator Julia Hilton was clearly pleased that the motion had received unanimous backing but complained afterwards that it had “omitted any commitment to measuring progress towards the 2030 goal…It is essential that we have a baseline for measuring success, and one of the first tasks of the working group should be to research best practice on how to do this. There are many tools available without having to appoint costly consultants.”  

She added that the council should start by talking to some of the petition signatories so as to “engage local businesses, both large and small, to create a local economy that works within planetary limits”.

She also pointed out that the best way both to reduce carbon emissions and to relieve fuel poverty would be to roll out mass energy efficiency measures. The national Committee on Climate Change is calling for all practicable lofts to be insulated by 2022. In Hastings a large percentage of housing is privately rented. “How about making this a requirement of both social and private landlords as part of the local landlord licensing scheme?” she asks.

• For a further Labour Party viewpoint, see the article by Josie Demuth – ‘’The Green Transformation”, go here.

• Sarah Gomes Harris will be convening a meeting entitled “Ideas Salon – Creatives against Climate Change” on Thursday 7th March, 6.0opm – 8.00pm at St Mary’s in the Castle.


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