County council faces calls to move “further and faster” over environmental issues

A car stuck in flooding at Wensley.

A Conservative-led council which declared a climate emergency this summer has faced intense pressure from opposition councillors to reconsider how its environmental actions are managed before postponing a decision on whether fracking is appropriate in the area.

A full meeting of North Yorkshire County Council saw a North Yorkshire Climate Coalition, which includes 18 environmental groups based from Selby to Stokesley, calling on the authority to move “further and faster” over environmental issues, and drop party politics to introduce measures more rapidly.

The coalition pressed the council to address the twin climate and ecological emergencies and to harness “huge economic opportunities” during a transition to a cleaner, greener economy.

The meeting was told that the authority’s leader, Councillor Carl Les, had this week called for people to support the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Change Commission move to declare an ecological emergency, before his Conservative group voted to stop the creation of a biodiversity crisis working group at the council.

Councillor Greg White, executive member for climate change and customer engagement, said the authority did not want to judged on what it said, but rather its actions, and that its plan for cutting carbon was “bold”.

Coun White added while the council was working to introduce carbon-cutting measures it also needed to focus on its main purpose, which was to provide much-needed services.

Nevertheless, opposition councillors insisted more action and a greater focus was needed.

The administration then faced numerous questions from opposition members over its environmental actions, ranging from public transport to buying zero carbon electricity, and from installing air source heat pumps to offloading pension fund investments in fossil fuels.

Conservative members said the authority put environmental considerations at the heart of its existing system, which was be best placed to guide the council over cutting carbon and accused opposition members of “grandstanding”.

The meeting also saw opposition councillors prevented from debating proposals to brand fracking in a county which has declared a climate emergency as inappropriate so the authority’s executive could consider them first and report its conclusions at the next full council meeting in February.

Labour, Liberal Democrat, Independent and Green group leaders lined up to back proposals designed to create greater oversight of the authority’s climate change actions, with some claiming the Conservatives were “resisting transparency”.

Green group leader Councillor Andy Brown accused the administration of “downplaying the order of the problem” and said they needed to develop “a clear, costed action plan”.

He said: “We have had floods destroying a bridge at Tadcaster, we’ve had Richmondshire experiencing floods, we’ve had more fires every summer virtually, we got close to 40 degrees in the summer in Yorkshire, we’ve had 20 degrees in February and in November in North Yorkshire. We are on track for the warmest year ever.”

Ahead of Conservative councillors voting down two climate change proposals, they highlighted while funding was the biggest determinant of potential climate change action, from April the county’s new unitary authority was facing a black hole of up to £70m.