Maya Evans Has Her Say

In HIP 145 Julia Hilton reviewed the pledges made by Hastings Borough Council (HBC) in its climate change motion passed in February 2019, and concluded that it “does not appear to be taking the declared climate emergency seriously”. 

Maya Evans, cabinet member for climate change, here insists that progress has been made despite a severe funding crisis brought on by government cuts.

A year on from creating progressive and ambitious goals to tackle the climate crisis, we have not rested on our laurels. Far from it. The council is following through on its pledges and has been working hard behind the scenes to make action on climate change a priority.  

Just the other week I was at a meeting with the Sustainable Transport Forum. As a result, I am meeting with Stagecoach directors to discuss the possibility of an electric bus fleet in Hastings. A community conference is timed for the release of our ‘toaster ready’ climate change strategy, which will be regularly renewed updated and shaped by public engagement. The Local Plan is under review, which will finally allow us to install onshore wind energy. EV Charge points are soon to be installed. Everything is happening at breakneck speed.

Central government cuts mean that this year Hastings Borough Council has had a £2 million shortfall to make up. Managing austerity with a climate crisis is near impossible. But we’re doing our best. 

The two officers recently recruited to develop a climate change strategy have been busy exploring options in the borough and working on a draft plan. This will involve an extensive network of rooftop solar panels on large buildings, both commercial and industrial, council-owned and private. At present an extensive desktop analysis is taking place looking at all the feasible rooftops and the potential for solar array canopies on car parks. 

As many residents will confirm, conservation rules and planning regulations for listed buildings are a huge issue – for instance, at present listed buildings are technically blocked from having solar arrays as they visually impact the building, of a listed building in the vicinity. 

Visual impact has always been a sore point for renewable energy generation. From day one people have objected to the sight of wind turbines on the horizon and to solar panels. I regularly hear concerns that onshore wind turbines disrupt the flight pattern of migrating birds, and more recently that drilling of the seabed for offshore wind is allegedly causing earthquakes on the opposite side of the planet.  

I agree that it would be much nicer to leave nature well alone, but unless we want our species to go extinct, we will need to accept that our landscapes and rooftops will be changing. 

The same goes for our Country Park. The two sites under consideration are used for farming practices: the North Seat field has sheep grazing on it; the Milking Parlour site is tucked away out of view behind a farm. In both cases the grassland is classified as low quality, and biodiversity is low. If plans press ahead, it will be coupled with planting a wildflower meadow amongst the ground-mounted solar arrays, biodiverse rich hedgerows and perches for birds. 

The council are very proud custodians of seven nature reserves, including the Country Park, where Friends of the Country Park have noted the excellent care taken by HBC in managing invasive species, expanding biodiversity and helping to restore the original landscape of clifftop grassland. This has led to the appearance of several new species, most recently the Yellow Cricket. 

A final word on Barclays Bank. It has been alleged that HBC has “£3 million invested in Barclays Bank”, which has investments in fossil fuels. In fact, the council – with an annual budget of around £14 million – has a bank account with Barclays, not an “investment”, which is very different indeed. Secondly, it is an account which has large sums constantly flowing in and out of it on a daily basis. On any given day it could be any amount, or nothing at all: the £3 million was a ‘snapshot’ on one particular day.

Thirdly, according to our chief financial officer Peter Grace, there are no known ethical banks which offer accounts to local authorities, and Barclays at least provides Green loans for sustainable development. Climate Emergency UK  – experts in assisting councils to go carbon neutral – told me they also didn’t know or any such banks, but promised to get back to me.

Meanwhile, the party that promised a Green Industrial Revolution is still serious about the climate crisis. Hastings’ Labour council will continue to explore every option in our determination to create an ethically green town, placing the most vulnerable within our society first, and allowing the ability to tackle climate change accessible for all. We invite everyone, especially socially-aware HIP readers, to join us.

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