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Solar panels have been installed on the roof of Muriel Matters House, the council’s main offices (photo: HBC).

“Lack of vision” in HBC’s climate change strategy

Hastings Borough Council says it is taking steps to implement its climate change strategy, including establishing an internal board, and calls on residents to play their part. Its actions have drawn scepticism and criticism from some quarters, including the claim that its plan lacks vision and ambition. Nick Terdre reports.

Hastings Borough Council has issued a call for “everyone to do what they can to help tackle climate change, as it puts its climate change strategy at the heart of decision making and delivery.”

Since it agreed its climate change strategy in March, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the council has set up an internal board of key officers, chaired by council leader Kim Forward, to oversee its implementation.

It also says it will “work closely with partners on what we can do with them to tackle climate change more broadly in the town.”

To encourage and support others to do what they can, the council has created a new area on its website dedicated to tackling climate change, with information and resources to give businesses and residents ideas for what they can do.

It will provide updates on progress via this area and its weekly residents’ newsletter.

“We were one of the first councils in the country to declare a climate emergency,” Cllr Forward said. “Although Covid-19 has been our focus over the past few months, this has not stopped us also continuing working towards tackling climate change.”

Key role for internal board

The new internal board “will ensure our climate change strategy informs all that we do and how we do it.

Charge points for electric vehicles at Pelham Place and, this one, Marina car parks have been updated.

“We understand that climate change is not just something we need to address separately anymore, but something we must address in everything we do going forward. We also know [that] to make a real difference we must work with partners and our communities.

“The plans being developed by the council and its partners over the next few months, such as the town deal, the local plan and the town’s recovery plans, will be an excellent opportunity to rethink what we do and embed tackling climate change at the heart of our major programmes and strategies. I am pleased the town’s local strategic partnership will be leading and joining up this work.”

In addition to the council leader, the board will consist of the managing director, sustainability project officer, energy development and delivery project manager and other officers as required, the council told HOT.

Climate champion’s new role

Questions were raised when, in the course of the Cabinet reshuffle that followed the removal of the two Tory Cabinet members, the then climate champion Cllr Maya Evans had her portfolio changed from Climate Change, Sustainability and Biodiversity to Natural Environment and Leisure.

Cllr Evans has now addressed that concern, saying “Within my new cabinet role climate change is still a key focus; bearing responsibility for overseeing the climate action plan, and ensuring sustainability is embedded at the heart of our local plan review.

“The council cannot tackle climate change alone. We need to work together to change our habits to make sure we have the best chance of reducing the impacts of climate change…

“It’s important that we all start making small changes that have a positive impact on our environment.”

Good advance

“One good advance could be that the Council seems to recognise the need to bring together climate change with the recovery plan, the town deal and the local plan,” Chris Lewcock, former chair of Hastings Urban Design Group and local government town planner, told HOT, though adding, “We’ll need to see what that means in substance.”

“The council’s climate change plan shows a staggering lack of vision and ambition,” said local Green Party secretary Julia Hilton. “It has failed to even work out what actions would be necessary in order to meet its own target of zero emissions by 2030. Without that most basic information, how can the council possibly achieve its goal?

“What’s more, its current plan includes no measurable goals, and no attempt to involve or engage the local community, despite Kim Forward’s admission that the council needs to do this.

“The council needs to start working with the many other local councils that have declared climate emergencies in order to put serious pressure on the government to enable councils to take the legal and financial steps that are necessary to meet the target, but the plan has little to say on that score.

“Cllr Evans says that we all need to ‘start making small changes’: the reality is, that if we all only make small changes, we’ll only achieve a small amount. The council needs a big vision, coupled with a roadmap of how it will be achieved. This plan is totally lacking in either.”

No public input or transparency

While questioning why it had taken so long to set up the internal board, engaged resident and elector Russell Hall pointed out that the board “meets in private with no public input, transparency, or public accountability,” and that the climate strategy had been “foisted on the public with no public consultation or input.”

He also noted that Cllr Evans is not a member of the Local Strategic Partnership (LSP), on which the only HBC representatives are the council leader and leader of the opposition, nor of the internal board.

Mr Lewcock was also unimpressed with some of the council’s moves. “The LSP is a talking shop with no executive authority,” he said. “The Council website is not at all interactive, just having a few standard tips on how to be more sustainable individually and leading anybody with ideas to the Council’s standard complaints form (which I guess they may or may not take any notice of).”

Rooftop solar programme delayed

Meanwhile the business plan for an extensive programme of installing rooftop solar panels in the town, one of the key parts of the council’s climate change strategy, which was due to be presented to Cabinet in June, was delayed, a council spokesperson told HOT.

“This is because of the impact of COVID-19, with resources having to be re-deployed into the community hub and assisting with the delivery of business grants, and obvious difficulties progressing the business engagement element of the work.

“We will be working with partners and businesses as soon as we can to review and assess the new business case in light of new circumstances. Once drafted it will go to cabinet for approval, the date for which will be included on the forward plan.”

HBC actions to combat climate change

On its website HBC lists actions it has taken to combat the effects of climate change. They include the following:

  • Launching the #SaveOurSeas campaign to reduce litter dumping in the sea, particularly plastics
  • Installing solar panels on the roof of the main council offices at Muriel Matters House
  • Encouraging recycling in the borough through MyHastings
  • Improving street-cleaning services to reduce environmental waste
  • Supporting community beach cleaning events
  • Updating electric vehicle charging sites at Pelham Place and Marina car parks.

It has also commissioned expert research to understand the interventions needed to plan for carbon neutrality, and a study to understand what a zero-carbon new housing development would need to consider.

The climate change strategy and action plan can be seen here.

Posted 11:57 Friday, Jul 17, 2020 In: The HOT Planet

3 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Bryan Fisher

    It all seems the sort of measures we would expect of a body like HBC – but 10 years or more ago! This is becoming a more and more important topic, so try harder HBC!!

    Comment by Bryan Fisher — Tuesday, Jul 21, 2020 @ 14:04

  2. Sharon Moore

    One of the things which I would like to see HBC change is to start recycling cartons again, in the pink bags we put our recycable rubbish in. Since the council have started collecting recycle bags they no longer include cartons, which considering the amount of non dairy milk a lot of us drink now, myself included, must have made quite a difference to the amount of waste rubbish collected for land fill.

    Comment by Sharon Moore — Monday, Jul 20, 2020 @ 10:15

  3. Michael Madden

    OK – all fair comments. But the rooftop solar programme is very welcome, and so much more welcome and Green than the badly thought out and now thankfully abandoned Country Park ‘solar arrays’ initiative.

    I, for one, would like to say thanks to the council for that, at least. I hope it needn’t be delayed any longer, now that lockdown has been eased.

    Comment by Michael Madden — Friday, Jul 17, 2020 @ 14:41

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