By Julia Hilton

On 13th February 2019 – exactly a year ago – Hastings Borough Council (HBC) passed a climate change motion, pledging to limit its own use of fossil carbon, encourage others to do the same, and set a target for Hastings to become carbon neutral. The motion included specific policy commitments. Here is a progress report – the council’s stated commitments in bold:

Establish an ongoing Climate Change working group to scrutinise the climate impact of every policy.
No working group has been announced, just a single ‘climate champion’ councillor (Maya Evans) and two climate change officers. A far wider breadth of knowledge and experience is needed if the council is serious about action on climate change.

Develop a local and low carbon procurement policy. 
Not only has there been no progress on this, but the council has £3m in Barclays Bank, the top funder of fossil fuel infrastructure in Europe. This does not look good for a council that has called for divestment of fossil fuels from the county council pension fund and is meant to have a responsible investment policy. Finances may be tight but the council still has a budget of over £17m, giving them plenty of scope for prioritizing both local spending and companies actively working to reduce their carbon footprint.

Press ahead with a programme of sustainable energy generation aiming towards supplying 30% of the town’s electricity by 2030.
No announcements have been made, but digging the capital budget shows £6m allocated to solar panels including £2m for ground-mounted solar and £2m ‘unallocated’. There’s no mention of wind power although the south-east region’s energy strategy acknowledges a big role for offshore wind. Just one 12 MW offshore wind turbine could generate 66m kWh of electricity a year – that’s over 3,000 times the amount that could be generated by the proposed solar farm in Hastings country park. Other councils are co-operating on large-scale renewables: why not Hastings?

Ensure council land is maintained in a way that maximises species diversity and mitigates species extinction.
A little ironic, given the current plans to install solar panels in the Hastings country park nature reserve, close to a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). According to the Friends of Hastings Country Park, “It is inevitable that the construction of solar arrays [in the park] would result in the disturbance of the soil structure, loss of sequestered carbon, and a loss of biodiversity.”

Use the current review of the Local Plan to introduce stricter energy standards and insist on on-site renewable energy.
The Sustainable Transport Forum, Hastings Urban Design Group and Transition Town Hastings and St Leonards are all keen to ensure that there is a townwide conversation  about the local plan as an essential document for the future of our town, setting standards for housing, energy and transport visions. However, public engagement has been sadly lacking so far in the council’s efforts, despite a commitment within the motion to “Work with voluntary, statutory and community organisations in the borough to achieve the above commitments.”

All in all, HBC does not appear to be taking the declared climate emergency seriously. It could have convened a citizens’ assembly on climate change, established a panel advised by experts in the field, invested its money in an ethical bank, installed solar on many more council-owned buildings, taken the initiative in encouraging local businesses to install renewables, worked with East Sussex County Council to make a travel plan to encourage sustainable transport, made plans for planting more trees and explored the carbon sequestration potential of the country parks, encouraged small-scale local food-growing, and passed stricter energy efficiency regulations for both new and private-rented houses in the borough. Instead it’s done nothing of any note. 

People need leadership and information. We only have ten years to make the changes required in energy, transport, food and most especially our draughty housing stock. It is time to do regeneration differently. Good use of the £25m My Town funding due to come to Hastings would be a start.

Julia Hilton is co-ordinator of the Hastings and Rye Green Party.

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