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Hastings Green don't feel enough has been done since a climate emergency was declared in the borough a year ago.

Hastings Greens don’t feel enough has been done since a climate emergency was declared in the borough a year ago.

Greens and HBC’s climate champion differ over climate emergency record

A year after Hastings Borough Council unanimously passed a motion declaring a climate emergency and committing itself to taking action to make the borough carbon-neutral by 2030, what has happened? Not enough, says a disappointed Hastings Green Party. Quite a lot, even if not in public view, says the council’s climate champion, Cllr Maya Evans. Nick Terdre reports.

One year on from the unanimous declaration by Hastings Borough Council of a climate emergency, Hastings Green Party has condemned the lack of action, saying that very few of the commitments made in it have been honoured.

“A single councillor has been appointed as climate change champion, but the promised working group has not materialised,” the party says. “There is no sign of the ‘local and low carbon procurement policy’. The council still has £3m invested in Barclays Bank, Europe’s top funder of fossil fuel infrastructure.

“The motion contains a promise that council land will be managed to promote species diversity, but the proposal to site a solar farm in the country park goes directly counter to that, with the Friends of Hastings Country Park stating that the solar farm would be ‘detrimental’ to biodiversity.’”

“A year on, the lack of action by Hastings Council on the climate emergency is extremely disappointing,” says spokesperson Julia Hilton. “There has not been a single public meeting inviting key groups with useful expertise to contribute to a plan, and it seems that as usual any work is going on behind closed doors and will be presented to residents for the usual ‘consultation’ tick-box exercise.

“In order to reach the target of making Hastings carbon neutral by 2030, we need annual goals and action by the whole town. So far the climate emergency motion feels very much like tokenism from a council determined to carry on with business as usual.”

Different view

The council’s climate champion, Cllr Maya Evans, offers a different view in a statement which appears to have been prompted by the Green Party’s criticisms though it does not mention them.

“The council is following through on its pledges, and has been working hard behind the scenes to make climate change a priority,” says Cllr Evans, lead member for climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development. “Since the motion we have become one of only a few councils to appoint a Cabinet lead member for climate change and that’s me.

“We have also employed two council officers to specifically focus on the climate crisis – no mean feat when this year’s annual austerity cuts have entailed 30 job losses. Our officers have already written a climate change strategy, as well as identified sites in the town for installing renewable energy.”

The climate change strategy will be out by the end of March, Evans told HOT, but timing of the official launch will be affected by the period of purdah ahead of May’s local elections.

Community conference planned

Moves to encourage community involvement include consulting schools and holding community climate change ward surgeries, she says in the statement. “Plus a community conference is planned to get people’s ideas how we can take forward action on climate change locally, such as an extensive tree planting program.”

Organising the community conference has also proved difficult, and she now thinks it is likely to take place after the strategy has been published, the elections held, and people have had a chance to read and digest the strategy.

Cllr Maya Evans speaks in support of the climate emergency motion at the full council meeting on 13 February last year.

Cllr Maya Evans speaks in support of the climate emergency motion at the full council meeting on 13 February last year.

She was “basically piggy-backing onto existing ward surgeries, and publicising them on Facebook,” she explained to HOT. “It’s a relatively informal arrangement, mainly a means of making myself accessible to residents.” She had also done community meetings such as Hastings Old Town Residents Association, and would attend the Tree & Grassland community meeting at 6pm on Thursday 12 March at the Bridge Community Centre.

Side-swipe

In what appears to be a side-swipe at the Greens, she says in the statement: “Climate change has been a pressing problem for over two decades. However, climate activists and environmental political parties have sadly failed to make it a widespread central concern for the majority of the public. This failure is in part responsible for the crisis we face today.”

She is acting to engage people across the whole town, she says, and especially people on low incomes. “If we’re to succeed in countering this crisis, it’s going to take buy-in from everyone.”

She has attended meetings with the NHS and Stagecoach buses on improving sustainable transport and with Optivo housing association “to present ambitious climate strategy proposals.”

The council “itself is edging closer to carbon neutrality, thanks mainly to solar panels installed on buildings such as the council’s seafront offices at Muriel Matters House.” And last year festivals funded by the council took place without any single-use plastic.

“Exaggerated claims”

Evans also has some words to say on the solar farms proposal, which she broaches by saying that as the local elections in May approach, “climate change will increasingly become a politicised issue.” She refers to “grossly exaggerated claims that the council aims to ‘industrialise’ the park by covering a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in solar panels” (an allusion to the Friends of Hastings Country Park, which refer to”industrial scale solar arrays” on their website). There are only two fields currently in consultation, she says – both are used for grazing sheep, and one is cut off from public access.

In what appears to be a change from the original intention of selling the electricity generated by the solar arrays to the National Grid, she says, “…our ambition is for residents on nearby Downs Farms Estate to be the recipients of this clean green and affordable energy,” though she stressed to HOT that no decision had yet been made.

“…if our plans locally [to tackle the climate emergency] are to work, they need to be logical, realistic and well thought out,” she concludes. “Some policies may take longer than others – that’s not because we don’t care, or don’t appreciate the urgency, it’s because they are annoyingly complicated and we want to get things right.”

In a departure from usual policy, Cllr Evans’ statement was issued by the local Labour Party rather than HBC’s communications department. This was due to the political nature of some of the content, a party spokesperson told HOT.

Posted 14:28 Sunday, Mar 1, 2020 In: The HOT Planet

2 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Harold2

    It is not only the HBC responsibility what about ESCC, National Government and businesses in the area. Standing outside and throwing metaphorical stones adds nothing, I would strongly suggest any policy put forward would have its detractors, remember there is a percentage of people, often Tory, Brexit or UKIP supporters who will happily tell you Climate Change is made up. I think it is a valid point we all have taken too long to get round to acting, personally I think the ending of the solar panel scheme was wrong, I walk round Hastings and see roof after roof which would have been ideal for solar panels.

    Comment by Harold2 — Thursday, Mar 5, 2020 @ 09:52

  2. Zelly Restorick

    Behind closed doors? Why not full-frontal out in the open?

    Surely planetary conditions need to be put at the forefront of every decision?

    In all of our lives?

    Surely this is the ultimate priority and responsibility?

    This is not a council responsibly only – this is a responsibility for all of us.

    It’s not ‘us’ and ‘them’.

    Will we EVER get beyond ‘us’ and ‘them’?

    Someone versus someone else?

    It feels like this is a time for working together, collaborating… all of us.

    Comment by Zelly Restorick — Monday, Mar 2, 2020 @ 08:47

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