North Yorkshire County Council insists its taking environmental issues seriously after criticism

County Hall in Northallerton.

A local authority which has set an ambition of becoming carbon neutral by 2030 has insisted it is taking environmental issues seriously after it was claimed a move to phase out single-use plastic had been stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire for 470 days without any apparent progress.

A full meeting of Conservative-run North Yorkshire County Council heard the council had acknowledged its “ultimate aim was to make North Yorkshire plastic-free” following a Liberal Democrat motion in November 2018.

At the time it was agreed would be considered by the authority’s Transport, Economy and Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee before being being put to a vote at the next full meeting of the council on February 20, 2019.

The motion called on the council, working in partnership with its suppliers and contractors, to demonstrate support for plastic-free initiatives within North Yorkshire by phasing out single-use plastic in council premises within the next two years.

It also pressed the council to set up a task group or joins with other local environmental group initiatives and businesses to create a robust strategy to encourage local businesses, other organisations and residents to go single-use plastic-free.

Councillor Bryn Griifiths said he had reservations over the degree of priority and urgency that was being given to the development and implementation of the county’s carbon emissions plan.

He questioned whether passing the work to the council’s four scrutiny committees, with another committee, the authority’s scrutiny board, co-ordinating the work, was “a bureaucratic and slow way of catching this issue” as work on the motion was not scheduled to start until Thursday, some 15 months after it was initially instigated.

Cllr Griffiths said: “This lack of urgency understandably gives the public a perception that environmental issues are given a low priority by the county and I fear this will be the case with the climate change issues being treated by the scrutiny process in a similar manner. ”

He urged the authority to consider setting up a special cross-party climate change and environment committee, that reported directly to the council’s executive.

The meeting was told the council’s four scrutiny committees had specific areas of scope and setting up another committee “would just cause confusion.”

Executive member Councillor Greg White, who has been tasked with overseeing climate change projects, said Cllr Griffiths had misunderstood what the authority was doing.

He added officers and members of the executive were working hard to come up with plans that are affordable and sensible to deliver on the motion that was passed by council.

Cllr White said: “A lot of work has already been undertaken, there is more work to come. What we are not going to do is waste council taxpayers money on things that don’t deliver for the environment. We are making sure what we do is sensibly worked out and will actually deliver for the money which is being spent on it.”

Cllr Griffiths said the council’s ambition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 deserved being placed as its highest priority.

The council’s leader, Councillor Carl Les said: “I agree that it is a priority, but we have lots of other priorities as well. We can’t just do climate change, but we have had to do climate change as it impacts everything else.

“We have got to look after vulnerable children, but yes it is a high priority that’s why we set up the working groups. We have an aspiration towards 2030 and we will move towards getting there.”