Breckland Sustainable Strategy (Standing Item) (Agenda item 9)
Councillor Ian Sherwood, Executive Member for Customer Engagement to provide an update on climate change/environment.
Councillor Ian Sherwood, the Executive Member for Customer Engagement and Leader Member for Climate Strategy provided Members with the following update.
Since March 2020, due to the outbreak of the coronavirus and subsequent emergency activities environmental work had been paused. COVID-19 had changed the way that many Breckland residents viewed the world including their views on their local environment, climate change and, in particular, issues such as air quality.
These matters would now require further thought as to what Breckland’s potential approach might be. At present, the most effective way of picking up this work would be to ensure that this was considered as part of the Council’s work on recovery. Given that there was still a lot of uncertainty around restarting the economy and its impact, it would be difficult to establish at this point if positive impacts on the environment, such as reduced nitrogen dioxide levels, would remain once industry restarted. Additionally, given the guidance around social distancing and to avoid public transport it was likely that there would be a greater usage of cars; therefore, at this point, some of this work would be a watching brief so that the impact could be understood over the coming weeks and months.
The Norfolk-wide Climate Change Partnership Working Group would be reconvened on 20th July 2020 to look at collective partnership recovery actions across Norfolk.
On 15th June 2020, a Climate Change Post-Graduate Intern would be starting a placement with the Council until the end of August following his previous placement in 2019. This would add some extra resource around this agenda and help to restart the process of looking at what the Council’s strategy should look like and to understand where resident’s expectations had moved to.
Councillor Morton commented on the update and understood that the Covid crisis had dominated the recent months; however, he reminded Members that at the Cabinet meeting in February 2020, it had been agreed that an all Member session on sustainability would be held - to date he had not seen any record of this. The response to the Covid crisis had shown what the Council could do in such a short time period and he felt that climate change in the longer term would me more of a threat than Covid and he felt that the Council needed to put more strength and urgency behind it. He also asked if more resources rather than just an intern could be devoted to climate change.
Councillor Sherwood was very passionate about climate change and understood Councillor Morton’s disappointment. Covid-19 had set back many projects not just in Breckland but all over the country and the Council’s achievements on this matter should not be forgotten. He agreed that the Climate Change Strategy had been delayed by a few months but an initial budget had already been allocated and the university intern would start in August. This he felt would be an opportunity to see how Covid-19 had changed the way people looked at the world and the environment. He assured Councillor Morton that these matters would be picked up as soon as practically possible and he looked forward to working with him and other Councillors.
The Leader, Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen acknowledged Councillor Morton’s disappointment but felt it was important to note that if the Council had gone out to consultation at the beginning of March those questions that the Council would have asked residents and businesses in Breckland would now be very different. The whole world had changed and hopefully everyone would have a more positive outlook on climate change and the environment.
Councillor Peter Wilkinson reminded Members of the public consultation that had been carried out in 2015 in respect of air quality and the subsequent report that the Council had submitted to DEFRA and agreed with the Leader that very different questions would need to be asked.
The update was noted.