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Clearly no emergency for SHDC on climate matters

April 13, 2021 10:45 AM

Nearly two years after South Hams District Council (SHDC) declared a Climate Change & Biodiversity (CC&B) Emergency almost nothing has been done to address it and a recent meeting with the council leader and officers was little more than a sham.

"The word 'emergency' is important here. Most people now agree that we face an existential emergency unless we take action at every level - local, regional, national and international. We all have to play our part, and the South Hams is no exception.

"Time is running out. Climate experts say we'll have used our 'carbon budget' in five years unless we substantially cut emissions*. But it appears that our district council is being led by people who have a deep and profound ignorance of what is really at stake," said Councillor John McKay.

The Liberal Democrat group on South Hams District Council is dismayed that nearly two years after declaring the emergency no progress has been made, because of a lack of political will at the top of the council.

"In the time since SHDC declared an emergency in July 2019 it has devised an "Action Plan", that could have been produced in a couple of weeks, and it has allocated some money to do something at some stage… and that is pretty much it. I had a meeting with the Council's Leader and officers recently to discuss a wide range of proposals that I had put forward in December of last year.

"Every single proposal was kicked into the long grass, in so far as they were discussed at all. I was allocated just 45 minutes after waiting for months. Apparently tree-planting schemes are of no interest, due to ongoing management costs. Even the highly controversial and contested recent suggestions that tree-planting is ineffective against climate change was cited as a reason.

"As for solar-panels over council-owned car parks… well they are apparently discussing the feasibility of a feasibility study. Remember that word 'emergency'?" said Councillor McKay.

The SHDC Climate Change and Biodiversity Emergency declaration was a Lib Dem and Green Party initiative. The monies that have been allocated for CC&B were a result of pushing by the Lib Dem group and Green Party councillors. No initiatives of any worth have been brought forward by the Tories on CC&B over the last two years.

Concerns are growing about the position of this Council's Conservative leadership on climate change, which appears to be at best disinterested.

"If there is a member of SHDC or indeed any council that has any doubt about the real and desperate emergency we face, they have a duty, as holders of a public office, to be very clear about their position on such a crucial issue," said Councillor John McKay.

A CC&B Working Group tasked with delivering the so-called Action Plan deliberated for nearly 18 months until December 2020, when it finally produced a plan considered by the Lib Dem group to be wholly inadequate despite their best efforts. The working group was disbanded and since then nothing of substance has been done.

CC&B is now solely an Executive responsibility, which means the Executive - the 'Cabinet' of the council - now calls the shots on all decisions relating to how SHDC deals with CC&B.

"Members of the Council, your representatives, have very limited influence. Every six months some members get to 'scrutinise' things but their views carry limited weight. So, here we are after two years of pointless argy-bargy and absolutely nothing of note being done. This cannot be allowed to continue.

"I was elected in 2019, with a promise to address climate change and biodiversity issues and to work with colleagues of any political hue to do so. This has proven to be absolutely impossible over the last two years," said Councillor McKay.

Because of the 'whip' used within the Conservative group on SHDC, all Tory councillors are obliged to vote as they are told, making it difficult for any of them to vote with their conscience.

"When you vote for a Tory Councillor you are not voting for a local representative, you are voting for the views of the local political leadership," said Councillor Keith Baldry.

"If you have any desire to see South Hams District Council start taking the climate emergency seriously, then it is absolutely clear what needs to happen. There is a chance on May 6th for the voters of Ivybridge West to tip the balance of power on the council away from the Tories. For all our sakes, let's hope they do so."


For more information contact:

John McKay



*A report from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research released this report, which states that the South Hams will have used up its carbon budget in five years unless emissions are substantially cut:

Based on our analysis, for South Hams to make its 'fair' contribution towards the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the following recommendations should be adopted:

  1. Stay within a maximum cumulative carbon dioxide emissions budget of 3.4 million tonnes (MtCO2) for the period of 2020 to 2100. At 2017 CO2 emission levels, South Hams would use this entire budget within 6 years from 2020. Berry Pomeroy