Agenda item

Climate emergency - a response to Overview and Scrutiny

Councillor Max Wilkinson, Cabinet Member Climate and Communities


The Chairman reminded members that the committee had asked to hear from the newly elected Cabinet Member for Climate (Change) and Communities, once in post and Councillor Wilkinson had been appointed in September.  Councillor Wilkinson had provided a written response to Overview and Scrutiny which focussed on things that might happen in the future, rather than covering in too much detail, existing work being undertaken.  He stressed that some of these projects related to matters entirely within the control of the council; some were matters that the council could influence via policy change; some were items the council could work with partners to achieve; some were entirely outside of the council’s control.  But in order to successfully deliver carbon neutrality in all four areas, public engagement would be vitally important.  He was keen that the core of very knowledgeable activists be expanded to include the wider community, with a variety of means by which they could get involved.  He reminded members that when the initial motion was passed by council, a letter was sent by the Leader to the Secretary of State to ask for more support from government to enable   local government to pursue ambitious carbon neutral targets and advised that a follow-up letter was being drafted to restate the case for changes to legislation and increased funding.  The fact was that there was little spare capacity within existing resource to pursue enough new projects and the extra demands placed on the council as a result of the pandemic, were only making the situation more difficult; but the climate change emergency budget would be to employ new members of staff who could take forward some key projects and job descriptions were being drafted. 


The Cabinet Member for Climate and Communities gave the following responses to member questions:


·         Vision21 had done a huge amount of work to assist the council in meeting carbon reduction targets in the past and were currently working on a conference for community groups and businesses which aimed to expand on engagement and taking them on the journey, rather than simply telling them what they need to do. 

·         Another group were looking to establish a Library of Things, a form of community sharing of tools and equipment.

·         The toolkit would be for communities, though the plan was also to produce something for individuals on how they could reduce their own carbon footprint, by walking instead of driving, planting trees in their gardens, reducing the amount of red meat they consume.

·         Sustainable transport was an important issue and of much personal interest to the Cabinet Member.  The Council’s ‘Connecting Cheltenham’ report included ambitious proposals for initiatives in the town and he endorsed much of the content of the government’s ‘Gear Change’ report which urged highway authorities to bring forward plans for fully segregated cycle lanes.  ON the topic of GCC, he was pleased to see that they were starting to trial ‘School Streets’ and would welcome further collaboration on shared goals, for which there were huge opportunities. 

·         The council had supported Clean Air Cheltenham on their ‘Clean Air Day’ and a framework for what we do/support and how we do it, was currently being developed.

·         Bio-diversity was not directly a carbon reduction issue, though clearly it was climate change related.  In terms of tree planting, there was a question over how the target could be delivered and he was keen to get more local residents involved.  Throughout the borough there were wild flower planting and uncut areas in green spaces, but there was more we could be doing, including green bus shelters (grass on the roof).  There was lots already being done, but there was also lot’s more that could be done in his view.

·         Whilst he acknowledged the frustrations around the issue of Pilley Bridge footbridge, the issue was that any repairs would represent a huge proportion of the climate change budget for a number of years and ultimately the council was endeavouring to achieve as much ‘bang for its buck’ in terms of what it could achieve with this budget.  This was not to say that the council couldn’t work together with GCC on a future project and he was happy to take this forward after the meeting.

·         2.5k trees were planted in Cheltenham last year, which was clearly some way off the target of 100k set out in the carbon neutral report.  However, there was also the issue of nursery capacity in terms of being able to produce enough trees of local provenance to meet demand. 

·         He felt that the council should be more ambitious in terms of the carbon footprint of new homes in the borough and he was in talks with CBH about opportunities for a development that tested this approach.

·         Engagement was important but there was also a need to manage expectations.  Lots of people were expecting lots of progress, but given resource, capacity and financial restraints at the council, this was slower than some would like and whilst he accepted that we must get some projects underway, we would need to overcome some of the current uncertainties first.


In terms of weed treatment, this fell outside of his portfolio and as such he would refer the question to Councillor Coleman as the relevant Cabinet Member. 


The Chairman thanked the Cabinet Member for not only his attendance, but for his honesty and wished him well in his new role, adding that he would be invited back at a relevant time to provide a further update. 


There was no decision required.



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