Council faces fresh challenge over climate change ambitions

County Hall, Northallerton.

A local authority aiming to create the UK’s first carbon negative county has had the scale of its climate change ambitions called into question and accused of only “paying lip service” to environmental improvements.

Leading members of North Yorkshire County Council’s Conservative administration pledged to seek out opportunities for cutting carbon initiatives across the area as they faced a fresh challenge from newly-elected opposition councillors over the authority’s green record.

While the authority has frequently faced pressure over its environmental goals since setting one of the region’s most ambitious carbon cutting goals in 2019, the first full meeting of the council since the Tory group saw its large majority dwindle at the polls heard opposition members call for changes in direction and greater impetus.

A report to the meeting by the council’s executive member responsible for climate change, Councillor Greg White, stated how the administration believed embedding carbon reduction activities throughout the council’s services, rather than creating dedicated roles and committees, would best help meet green targets.

The report also highlighted projects launched as part of its Beyond Carbon transformation scheme, moves to enable residents and visitors to take low carbon travel choices and how research projects with the University of York to identify emissions cutting opportunities would shape the authority’s future policies.

However, opposition councillors claimed the council’s current policies meant environmental concerns were just “tagged on at the end of every meeting” and questioned whether the council’s leadership was taking climate change and biodiversity seriously.

Coun White and the authority’s leader, Councillor Carl Les, then faced a grilling over subjects ranging from conserving North Yorkshire’s peatlands to providing electric cars for council staff.

Green Party councillor Arnold Warneken told the meeting scientists had proven introducing measures to reduce motorists’ speeds would result in the formation of fewer potholes, saving the authority money while helping to save the planet.

He said: “How serious is the council about climate change? Because I am getting the picture that it does exactly the opposite to what you say. You are only giving it lip service.”

The meeting heard calls for the authority to take immediate action by planting trees on its many plots of land and questions over why a council resolution dating to 2019 to ban single use plastic within the authority had not been implemented.

Amid opposition cheers Coun White then committed to banning single use plastics within the authority.

He said the council was prioritising climate change and that it had already invested a significant amount of money in moving towards becoming carbon neutral.

Coun White said the authority was making good progress towards its ambitions, adding: “Planting the right trees in the right place is the right thing to do.”