The council chamber was rammed full. This was the first time in 20 years of being a councillor I had seen so many people come to support a decision the council was about to make. I knew about half them, jostling for standing room at the back of the chamber and was deeply encouraged to see a raft of new Extinction Rebellion (XR) recruits getting involved in local politics. I did want to cry out: “Welcome! But where the f*** have you been for the last 30 years? Have you had your heads in the sand like everybody else?” But they were fired up and I wanted them on my side. Also I could see a Green Party member schmoozing with potential candidates, leafleters and canvassers for the next local election.
While it was the joint leaders of the council (Green, Red and Yellow ) who had publicly declared a Climate Emergency a few weeks before, it was Greens who drafted the wording of the motion .Then, bizarrely, because we had included an implementation budget there was opposition from Labour.
When Labour moved an amendment to remove the budget there was uproar at the back of the chamber with Sarah Lunnon, retired Green Councillor and now XR political coordinator calling out Labour hypocrisy. I was then, as Chair of the committee, faced with the proposition of getting my friend physically thrown out of the chamber to continue with the meeting and risk XR getting publicity rather than the Council. Fortunately, after a few stern but calming words I managed to restore order. With support of the Tories the budget was removed, but the substantive motion approved and subsequently endorsed by Full Council.
To “do everything within the Council’s power to make Stroud District Carbon Neutral by 2030“ is a politically brutal commitment when the council is only directly responsible for just under seven per cent of the district’s 1,235,285 tonnes of CO2 equivalent annual emissions. Therefore, showing real leadership and setting an example combined with partnerships to enable action by others will be crucial.
Since our declaration, the Carbon Neutral 2030 (CN2030) ambitions have been incorporated into our Corporate Strategy, Audit and Purchasing Policy. We have appointed a CN2030 officer and replaced the community service vehicle fleet with two e-cycles, six fully electric and four hybrids vehicles. Our planning committee has, against vociferous local opposition, approved permission for a 40-hectare solar farm, which will generate 10 per cent of the electricity for the district. With matched funding from the EU, County Council and Health Authority, we have resurfaced a key cycle route for commuting and leisure use with recycled tyres.
Our emerging local plan (if approved before changes to the planning system) will require all new developments to be Carbon Zero and will allocate preferred areas for solar farms and wind turbines. We have committed over £1 million to replace the gas heating system in the council offices with water-sourced heat pumps. Funding has been provided to Transition Stroud to support the 18 parish councils that have also declared a Climate Emergency. We are also assessing installation photovoltaic and battery storage on sheltered housing, the feasibility of business rate reduction to encourage improving energy efficiency and we are now looking at how to raise £54 million to retrofit our council housing stock. In the autumn we will be consulting on the next stage of our implementation strategy on which we would welcome realistic, positive and practical suggestions to make Stroud District Carbon Zero by 2030.
Simon Pickering is a Green Councillor in Stroud and Chair of the Environment Committee on Stroud District Council.