No more ‘business as usual’ in Doncaster

“If Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council is serious about declaring an emergency, it needs to act like there is an emergency.” Green mayoral candidate Warren Draper outlines the next steps for climate action in Doncaster.

Doncaster town centre

St Sepulchre Gate and Printing Office Street junction in Doncaster, Frees (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Warren Draper

Following the campaign mounted by Doncaster Green Party, I wholeheartedly welcomed Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council’s (DMBC) decision to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency back in September 2019. 

Some Doncaster Green Party members sat on Ed Miliband’s Climate and Biodiversity Commission (CBC) panel and although, as you shall see, we were not altogether enthralled by the way the panel was conducted, we also welcome the publication of the first CBC Report.

There is a lot to admire here and anyone concerned about climate change and biodiversity loss should visit the website to find out what they can do to help. But if DMBC is serious about declaring an emergency, it needs to act like there is an emergency. We don’t want to portray DMBC as the villain here, it is a huge organisation which will take some time to make the vital adjustments we need to create a greener, healthier, fairer, more sustainable and more resilient world. But this does not mean that we will not hold it to account and remind it of its duties in light of the climate and biodiversity emergency.

Plans to plant 80,000 trees are wonderful, but look at the recent Middlefield Road street tree fiasco, which saw 62 out of 64 healthy trees destroyed before residents and activists (including many Green Party members) managed to persuade the council to look again at its policies.

This means that we’re actually starting at a deficit. We now need to plant 80,062.

In the report, the DMBC itself highlights the fact that we need to change behaviour and ‘make better decisions and choices’. But we can’t help feeling that, in the light of the current emergency, the DMBC has not entirely embraced the spirit of change. In fact, in many ways it still feels like business as usual.

In its ‘What you can do’ section, the report highlights the important changes we can make as individuals. There’s lots of good advice to be found here, but the science says that the two most important things we can do as individuals with regard to the climate and extinction emergency are eat less meat and fly less. Unfortunately, flying hardly gets a mention in the report at all, even though Doncaster has its own airport. Could this be because Peel, the company behind Doncaster Sheffield Airport (DSA), was allowed to present at two of the CBC’s main meetings?

Of course, the airport should be allowed to be involved in the development of our response to the climate and biodiversity emergency. It is, after all, a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. But its input to the CBC was largely greenwash. LED lights in the terminals, recycled bog roll in the toilets and daydreaming about electric planes is not going to keep us below 1.5 degrees of warming. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Peel is all about cheap holidays. The PR line hides the reality that it’s gearing up for 24/7 air freight. More night flights, more HGVs, more mega-warehouses and more disruption to Doncaster’s greatest ecological asset, Thorne Hatfield Moors. Peel owns much of the land around the moors and could help turn Doncaster into an internationally significant centre for green tourism, but it showed little appetite for change during the CBC meetings. Sad to say, but Peel will always put profit before people and planet. Peel is all about business as usual.

Unfortunately, the attitudes of some people in DMBC are very much business as usual too. We have to put the pre-emergency, carbon-based economic dreams of warehousing and transport aside and dare to dream bigger… and greener. We’ve wasted too many years trying (and failing) to emulate other towns and cities. Why does the council always look elsewhere for inspiration when our borough is perfectly placed for green innovation and a post-carbon economy? Being 270 square miles of towns and villages set largely in agricultural land, Doncaster is an ideal region to pilot new industries and new ways of doing things. Few other boroughs in the UK have as much potential for both green innovation and self-sufficiency. We should be working to attract the industries of the future, not saddling ourselves with an economic model which we are going to have to abandon if we want life as we know it to continue.

With the success of the Middlefield Road tree protests, Doncaster Green Party has proven that it will not let DMBC backslide now that it has declared a climate and biodiversity emergency. We will work tirelessly to highlight and fight the issues which threaten human and environmental health locally (glyphosate, incinerators, industrial pig farms, airport expansion, road building, the overdevelopment of fast-food outlets, to name but a few), and we will be ready for any issues we might have to face in the future. But we will also work tirelessly with anyone who wants to build real and lasting solutions to the problems we face, including, we hope, DMBC. For the health of people and the planet we promise one thing: no more business as usual.