Wiltshire Council is “falling behind” on its climate emergency commitments, say local campaigners.
The Wiltshire Climate Alliance (WCA), which was set up to hold the council to account on its environmental commitments, say that two years after Wiltshire Council acknowledged the climate emergency and sought to make Wiltshire carbon neutral in 2030, “little has been achieved.”
A report produced by WCA, has identified where the council is falling behind, and makes five key recommendations on how it can accelerate delivery.
However, Wiltshire Council has said that whilst it “welcomes” the group’s report, it “fails to recognise” much of the council’s progress and contains some “inaccuracies”.
WCA say, “While the council has made some progress on its own greenhouse gas emissions, it is not acting with the urgency required to deliver meaningful reductions across the county by 2030, and it continues to support developments that will increase emissions.
“Urgent action now is critical if the planet is to avoid dangerous climate change. Local councils, as well as national governments, must play their part in delivering the required year on year reductions in emissions.
“After two years, the council has not completed a strategy for reducing emissions, nor has it set any quantified reduction targets. Meanwhile, it continues to approve new housing built to less than carbon zero standards, despite having the power to require this now. It continues to develop major new road schemes and urban extensions that will significantly increase emissions and increase dependency on private cars.
“WCA recommends the council urgently take the following five actions to accelerate delivery and achieve the required reductions in emissions:
“1. Recommit to acting on the climate emergency as its top priority, setting and reporting on year on year reduction targets, and making carbon reduction an integral part of all council policies.
“2. Publish a comprehensive carbon reduction strategy and plan by end April
“3. Use existing powers under the Planning and Energy Act 2008 to set net zero standards now for all new build houses in Wiltshire.
“4. Start investing in projects that reduce emissions, including renewable energy, tree planting, and electric vehicle infrastructure, diverting funds from high carbon projects such as road schemes.
“5. Use existing planning powers to stop or postpone developments that will significantly increase emissions, and make carbon reduction a priority in all planning decisions from now on.”
Bill Jarvis of WCA said, “Wiltshire Council already has the power to do much of what is needed to achieve its climate emergency goals. There is no time to waste. The council needs to start treating climate change as the emergency it has already acknowledged, and act quickly and decisively to bring about the radical change required.”
In response to WCA’s report, Wiltshire Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for climate, cllr Richard Clewer said, “We welcome this report from WCA, though we do feel that it fails to recognise much of the progress we have made.
“There are also some inaccuracies; for example, we do publish an annual greenhouse gas report; we are taking material action to reduce carbon emissions, both as a council and as a county – indeed, we are projected to have reduced the council’s carbon emissions by 80% since 2013/14, while countywide emissions have fallen by 37% between 2005 and 2018. We are developing our Climate Strategy, with a strategy discussion document presented to the Full Council this week.
“We have also set our carbon baseline and benchmarked it against other local authorities, using the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s local authority data.
“Many of the suggestions in the report are constrained by existing legislation, and we are actively lobbying Government to change these to enable us to move forward with climate programmes in Wiltshire, particularly in planning and house building. We are also part of the Countryside Climate Network to ensure that the voice of rural knowledge and experience on climate action is listened to in Westminster.
“In terms of our own progress, we are leading the way in many areas, particularly when it comes to retrofitting our council houses to raise them to at least an energy performance B rating. This £50m investment over ten years is forecast to reduce carbon emissions by between 15,000 and 20,000 tonnes each year and reduce residents’ annual energy bills by around £500.
“It will also create a market and generate demand for retrofitting properties here in Wiltshire, embedding these skills in Wiltshire businesses to enable private homeowners to use contractors within the county to also make these changes and make their own homes more energy efficient.
“We are also committed to building new council homes over the next ten years to a zero carbon standard; we have bid for £4.5m of Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme funding to replace existing gas heating with air source heat pumps at several of our buildings; and we have also ensured that addressing climate change and biodiversity net gain are embedded in our ongoing Local Plan review.
“These are just some of the many things we are doing as a local authority to reduce our own carbon emissions, and to help the whole county of Wiltshire to become carbon neutral, too.
“But of course, there is much more to do, and we will be consulting on the Climate Strategy later this year to enable our communities and businesses to help us to make countywide changes to reduce Wiltshire’s carbon emissions. It takes time to engage and get buy-in to this strategy, as we are adopting a partnership approach to reach our goal, and we need to get everyone on board. But we are not standing still while we develop the strategy; we’re continuing to drive forward the climate agenda in Wiltshire.
“We have a good working relationship with WCA and will continue to engage with them, other organisations, our communities and businesses as we work towards our aim to make Wiltshire carbon neutral by 2030. We can make a significant impact as a local authority, but we can’t do this alone, which is why we need to work closely with partners, communities and businesses to achieve this goal.
“Addressing our climate ambitions, both as an organisation and for Wiltshire as a whole, is a priority for Wiltshire Council.”