The time we have left to avoid climate disaster is getting short and the sun is setting on the opportunity to avoid catastrophe. Not that you would know it from the political inactivity around here. Getting one of my local District Councillors (Elliott & Pratt) to respond to my questions about Maldon District Council’s lack of an Environment and Climate Change strategy required a letter to each of them by post (no response), asking a town councillor to pursue the matter on my behalf (lots of obfuscation), shaming their inactivity on social media, and emails to both of the District Councillors (including my original letter as an attachment) before hearing anything in return. This being a year of local elections in my area I thought they might be a bit more responsive than they were, which doesn’t give much hope for how responsive they might be in a non-election year – should of course they be re-elected.
Another Burnham resident I am in contact with, who lives in the other local ward, also emailed her District Councillors (a different Elliott and Pudney) – but neither replied. I eventually got an email response from one of mine – Ron Pratt, with the exceedingly brief:
Dear Mr Taylor, I cant find the original emal [sic] in my inbox, perhaps I deleted it by mistake. However I now have asked the relevant officer at Maldon to offer some advice.
Given my original letter (not email) included questions about the response I received from a council officer and related to policies which should be directed by the councillors this seems to have circled back to the beginning with no-one taking responsibility.
My town councillor provided some more information that they had received from the District Council around the same time:
Further to your email, we are currently undertaking a full review of all of our Council Strategies, and a schedule for updating them will be produced following the finalisation of our Corporate Plan on the 14th February. This plan will clearly set out our priorities and our strategies and policies will then be prioritised for updates based on the proposed corporate outcomes.
The Corporate Plan as it is drafted does include a focus on protecting and improving the environment.
So this gives something ‘to look forward to’, I’m rather concerned that it doesn’t point towards any policies for the council reducing it’s own impact, but let’s wait and see what it does says.
Elsewhere, a contact on social media who lives elsewhere in the District has recently emailed the council asking them to make a declaration that there is a climate emergency. After a wait, he received this reply :
Having myself now received your latter e-mail, I can confirm that Maldon District Council previously signed up to the Nottingham Declaration relating to climate change which helped to shape our activities at the time and going forward. We currently engage in work relating to improvements to the thermal efficiency of dwellings in the District, as well as considering the environment in our more general decision making. However, as with much of Local Government, financial constraints mean that we are not able to commit to significant pledges and promises that we may not be able to honour at the current time. For this reason, we will not be signing up to the declaration that you have referred to in the near future.
Environmental Protection Team Leader
I think the matter of whether, or not, the Council signs up to a Declaration should be decided by elected officials rather than by a council officer, nevertheless this response probably gives a good sense of where the politics of this are right now locally.
It sounds the same mood music that I’ve heard before: a sense that Maldon’s thinking about this topic was done in the past, that it has not been updated in light of new information like the Paris Climate Agreement or the 2018 IPCC special report – and is ambiguous even about whether the policies and commitments made previously still influence current activity.
The ‘Nottingham Declaration‘ it mentioned was a statement signed by many councils signalling their political commitment to tackling climate change – I’m happy that Maldon was a signatory – but this declaration was signed in the year 2000! nearly two decades ago. Maldon does not appear to be a signatory to the successor document Climate Local, a a Local Government Association initiative launched in June 2012 “to drive, inspire and support council action on climate change”. That document required signatory councils to produce “a Climate Local action plan outlining commitments and actions they will undertake on carbon reduction and/or climate resilience”.
The position of Maldon council remains (unless next week’s Corporate Plan is more radical than its briefing sounds): not now, not ‘at the current time’, not ‘in the near future’. ‘Near future’ is a weasel set of words – how many years does it encompass? The term of a local councillor is usually four years – so if the sitting councillors, with their lack of interest, are re-elected in May we might expect that a third of the time we have left to make preventative action to limit climate change catastrophe will be wasted. Some have noted that climate delay is as bad as climate denial – knowing and not acting being no better that denying action is necessary and perhaps worse. The Environmental Protection Team Leader implicitly lays the blame for inaction on central government and their attack on local government finance. But unless there’s some upset the next general election in the UK is scheduled to be held on 5 May 2022, a quarter of the way into the opportunity window – we can’t wait that long for change. What reason is there not to rebel?