Lancaster councillor: Declaring climate emergency ‘like turning an oil tanker around’

Coun Kevin Frea at the Halton Hydro.
Coun Kevin Frea at the Halton Hydro.

“It’s like turning an oil tanker around. It will take time, but it’s got to be done”.

Lancaster has declared a “climate emergency” after city councillors voted unanimously to work towards creating a zero carbon district by 2030.

Protestors outside Morecambe Town Hall - 'There is no Planet B'

Protestors outside Morecambe Town Hall - 'There is no Planet B'

Now a national Climate Emergency Conference will take place in the city on March 29.

Prior to a meeting at Morecambe Town Hall on January 30, demonstrators flew banners stating “there is no planet B”.

The full council meeting heard from young people, scientists from Lancaster University, and others, who all expressed grave concern about irreversible climate change over the coming years.

A motion submitted by Coun Kevin Frea coincided with a petition backed by more than 1,500 young people from the Lancaster area, also calling for a climate emergency to be declared.

Rosie Mills with the petition

Rosie Mills with the petition

Councils in London, Manchester, Nottingham, Leicester, Bradford, Sheffield, Oxford and Cornwall are just some of around 20 others that have declared climate emergencies in recent weeks.

Coun Frea, who represents Halton, told the Lancaster Guardian after the meeting that in his opinion, Lancaster City Council’s Local Plan would need to change in the future to take into account the council’s new position.

But the current Local Plan, passed by the council in December 2017, is due to go to a hearing on April 2.

Coun Frea said: “It’s one thing to say ‘okay, we have a climate emergency’, the real job we have is to say ‘now what?’.

“Zero Carbon Britain has already produced a whole report on how we can do this - transport, buildings, energy - all sorts of things.

“And this will ultimately have to change the way that the council operates.

“In the future the Local Plan will have to change, and also the ambitions the council sets out.

“This is not going to happen overnight. It’s going to be a process that takes most of the year.

“It’s going to be a considerate and careful process.

“By the end of the year we’ll have a budget, and some very demanding targets.

“This will include a requirement for developers to up their game as well - it’s just madness to be building houses now that aren’t energy efficient.

“It’s like turning an oil tanker around. It will take time, but it’s got to be done”.

Lancaster Girls Grammar School pupil Rosie Mills, who launched the petition, told the meeting: “The young people of Lancaster are the generation that will feel the effects of global warming, yet we are currently seeing little action to reduce or mitigate these effects.

“Despite us having been taught from a young age the dangers of climate change, the majority of adults in our community have not yet changed in the ways we have been taught are available to us.”

Dr Paul Young, climate scientist and senior lecturer at Lancaster University’s environmnent centre, said: “The science is clear that limiting global warming to 1.5 Degrees Centigrade is our best chance of preventing loss of unique and threatened ecosystems such as coral reefs.

“Above this level of warming we not only risk losing these wonderful environments, but the resulting climate change exposes us to multiple risks in food, energy and water sectors, and reduces the geographical range of a host of animals, plants and insects.

“We will exacerbate existing hazards and create new ones, particularly for vulnerable populations in Africa and Asia, but also flood-prone communities like our own.

“Beyond that, as our lives are so interconnected through commerce and services and their supply chains, these global impacts will have local ramifications”.

Last summer, the Labour group which runs Lancaster City Council won support for proposals which committed the authority to achieving 100 per cent clean energy across its activities by 2050.

But Coun Frea told councillors that a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that urgent action was needed around the globe within the next 12 years to tackle climate change.

He said the council needed to act faster in order to avoid extreme weather becoming more frequent and severe, as the Met Office has warned.

Funding for plans to build a two mile flood wall along the river Lune have already been agreed, and work is expected to start soon.

The Cimate Emergency policy means that the council will set up a Climate Change Cabinet Liaison group immediately, involving councillors, residents, young people and academics.

The group will review the council’s 2010 climate change strategy and come up with costed plans to cut carbon emissions which will feed into next year’s budget.

A Citizens’ Assembly will also be set up to maximise impact in sectors including health, agriculture, transport and the economy, and work with other agencies to make the district zero-carbon by 2030.

Coun Oliver Robinson, who is one of the council’s youngest councillors, said that young people should be fully involved in the process rather than working separately through their own climate panel.

Possible measures to tackle climate change could include increasing energy efficiency of buildings - which will also help address fuel poverty - further development of solar and renewable energy, and replacing the council’s vehicle fleet with electric or hydrogen powered vehicles.

Coun Frea said: “I’m thrilled that these proposals attracted support across the council chamber.

“Climate change has already had a devastating impact across our district through the flooding which has caused so much misery in recent years.

“We all need to do our bit and it was vital for us a council to commit to acting faster and going further in reducing carbon emissions and encouraging other agencies to follow suit. The hard work starts here.”

Conservative City and County Councillor Charlie Edwards said that the council should look at Passivhaus development, reconsider Bailrigg Garden Village, and put in smart meters to enable the use of green energy suppliers in council houses.

But Lancaster City Council has just signed a five year contract with energy provider NPower, which Coun Frea pointed out would make carbon zero “much harder to achieve”.

Coun Edwards added that Lancashire County Council’s pension fund is the biggest owner of wind turbines in Portugal, and had invested in new greener trains on the Greater Anglia line.

He said: “I’m working with Green Party County Councillor Gina Dowding on a responsible investment fund, and I’m involved in the Air Quality Champions Network, which aims to improve air quality across the county.

“Lancaster district should be the bastion for green cities in the north of England, and I think it’s awesome that we have seen such an important issue raised by our young people.”

Green Party Coun Jon Barry pointed out that the council had managed to reduce the gas and electricity consumption at Salt Ayre Leisure Centre more than eight years ago, and that solar panels there were now making a profit for the council.

Coun Frea added: “There are councils that have already mandated for sustainable homes, there are already councils that have put in measures in their local plan.

A lot of the council’s carbon footprint is heating and lighting its buildings. And we’ve just signed a five year deal with NPower which doesn’t help.

“One of the sections in the motion is to call on national government for support.

“Our budgets are being slashed, and we’re finding it difficult to maintain even basic services.

“Unfortunately this government is very anti-solar and anti-wind power.

“It cut the subsidies for solar power, because it’s still investing in fossil fuels.

“There was no outcry because the firms working in solar are relatively small.

“Half the solar jobs have been lost since the Conservatives cut the feed in tarrifs.

“There’s going to be a call for a new Green Deal, with a positive vision for job creation, and it’s got to be done from a grass roots level.”

The Climate Emergency Conference will be held at Lancaster Town Hall on March 29, and will feature speakers, workshops and practical solutions to the climate change issue.