On May 16th 2019 Shropshire Council voted unanimously to declare a Climate Emergency. How do things look one year on?

In May 2019 all parties scrabbled to put motions declaring a climate emergency. Arguments on the day centred around a target date for ‘zero carbon’ and whether a decision should be made immediately for future home building being zero carbon. We ended up with no target date (though the council has subsequently committed to 2030 for its own operations, though not for the county as a whole), and the home building issue was kicked in to touch for future consideration. So how have things gone since then?

Current Shropshire annual greenhouse gas emissions (approx. 2017)

piechartShropshire (blue) 1,760,000 Tonnes CO2e

Shropshire Council (orange) 23,000* Tonnes CO2e



There are two parts to the story of getting Shropshire to carbon zero. The council’s own ‘carbon footprint’ and the emissions coming from the activities of the whole county. The council’s footprint is tiny when compared to that of the whole county, but it is absolutely crucial because the council can lead by example and help develop the infrastructure to take the rest of the county with it.

A Climate Action Plan for the Council

For the council’s own activities, we need a costed plan, broken down into projects, which, when added together, provide the route map to zero carbon. This means each project needs a timeline, a financial budget and a carbon budget.  Other councils – including rural counties such as Cornwall, have published more detail, but we still await that. What we do have is a ‘Strategy Framework’ which sets the priorities.

This is not to say nothing has happened. For example, there have been a series of Sustainable Energy in Public Buildings projects with completion dates earlier this year that should achieve a saving of 207 tonnes of CO2e emissions (so around 0.9% of the council’s footprint). These have all relied on European Union funding!

Scope 3

Projects so far focus on direct emissions. These are important and should be welcomed. But the scope of emissions runs from heating the offices and running vehicles through major contracted-out work on highways, to equipment purchase, staff commuting and investments, including the pension fund. These non-direct emissions are known as scope 3 emissions. It is quite possible that these are greater than the direct, scope 1 and 2 emissions, but at present we just don’t know. *That 23,000 tons figure includes only a small part of probable scope 3.

Council housing

An example of ‘scope 3’ projects that could both reduce emissions and improve people’s lives is the need to ‘retrofit’ the councils housing stock managed by Shropshire Towns and Rural Housing. But so far there is no sign of such a project. This could kickstart a retrofit industry, reduce fuel poverty for many low-income families and reduce carbon emissions.

The lack of a published Action Plan is not helped by the fact that no budget has been allocated to this work. Elsewhere councils have set aside specific pots of cash, whilst Warwick District Council (also Conservative controlled) has a cross-party agreement to hold a referendum on a climate action additional levy on the council tax. Shropshire Council, like many others, is in financial crisis. No one yet knows what that will look like in the coming years as we slowly emerge from the coronavirus emergency, but without a dedicated budget the risk is that only projects with zero or very little upfront cost will get started, even if the long-term savings might be financial as well as in CO2 emissions.

A Climate Action Plan for the County

When it comes to the county’s direct greenhouse gas emissions there are very few things the council cannot influence, even if it does not have complete control. This will take a combination of policy changes, public engagement and partnership working.

 Policy changes

The key policy areas that can drive change are around planning and transport. Planning can ensure we move towards zero carbon homes suitably placed and designed to enable walking, cycling and public transport as the first-choice options for day-to-day travel. Transport policies can ensure that we follow a sustainable transport hierarchy.


So far, we have scant evidence of such policies. A ‘Local Plan Review’ continues to aim for high numbers of new homes. Many challenge the need for such numbers, and the appropriateness of much of the planned development. New planning policies on building energy, transport and biodiversity are yet to see the light of day. But even existing policies could be applied more rigorously to avoid ‘business as usual’ housing going up with minimal effort to mitigate emissions. Phase 2 of the Weir Hill development on the east of Shrewsbury is an example which could be so much better.


hierarchy 2 (2)

We have been told that a much-delayed new Local Transport Plan is in the pipeline. But at a recent ‘Overview Committee’ it became clear that the claimed climate change expertise of the councils contracted consultant on this – WSP – had not yet been drawn on. Sustainable Transport Shropshire, a local campaign organisation, recently pulled out of consultations on a Walking and Cycling strategy because it became clear the work was concentrating on leisure activities rather than promoting ‘active travel’ as the first choice for many day to day activities. So the worry is that those in charge still don’t really get it.

Trees and biodiversity

Council meetings have made commitments on tree planting but a search of the council website finds only a suspension of last year’s community tree scheme. Bids are apparently being sought to develop a ‘green infrastructure strategy’, which suggests that, sadly, there isn’t the capacity to develop this in-house.

Public engagement

The Council needs a plan that helps us all change the way we travel, work, shop and eat, remembering that all these changes, if done right, can make us healthier, better connected and happier. Crucial to success is really good public engagement. Whilst other Councils such as Oxford have held or planned citizens assembles and juries to consult on the nature and speed of these changes, Shropshire has not.

Partnership working

To develop the plans we need, and to win over many of the ‘anchor’ businesses and activities in the county as allies (from the NHS to Veolia) we need some robust collaboration between public and private sectors. That is why the emergency declaration motion called for the establishment of a Climate Action Partnership. We are still waiting for this.

Alongside the partnership we will need to redirect the work of the council’s economic development team towards a green renewal plan. To get to carbon zero we need local firms with skilled workers to make our homes warmer and more efficient, which will in turn support public health. We need to give people travel options that are ultra-low carbon: safe walking and cycling; clean public transport (Shrewsbury remains the largest town in the country without a Sunday bus service); EV vehicle infrastructure. We need to work with our farmers to make our use of land part of the solution rather than part of the problem as it often is at present. We need to invest in making things that last and can be repaired rather than being thrown away. We need to think through what a zero carbon tourism industry look like.  And we need to use the new recognition of the vital role in our survival of key workers across the ‘foundation’ economy where jobs need to be better rewarded and more secure.


Behind the scenes there are committed members of staff doing their damnedest. But the energy, drive and resources must come from the council leadership. By now we could have seen political commitments from leading councillors on all the areas discussed above, but we just haven’t. And of course, the council leadership remains committed to a dirty, expensive, divisive, and retrograde North West Relief Road.

Without a robust, transparent, publicly shared plan covering all these areas it seems highly unlikely that we will make the progress needed. There are plenty of others with plans that will scupper all this. Influential organisations like the  Marches LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) and the ‘Midlands Engine Partnership’ remain largely committed to business as usual and, in particular, the continued growth of road-based transport infrastructure.


This account demonstrates that, sadly, we are not getting the leadership we desperately need.




The Covid 19 emergency is a tragedy. But out of it we have seen some remarkable developments, not just in Shropshire but nationally: as Jessica Studdert of New Local Government Network has said (in a webinar presentation; 36mins in) we have seen an ‘incredible sense of mission and purpose’ amongst council workers. We have also seen a ‘significant community power response’ to the crisis. So even without the leadership we need, there is work to do to mobilise this energy – to lead from behind.


In my day job with the Green Party I am conducting a survey of how councils are getting on with climate action across the country. Watch this space for some results.


What to do (with ref. to Shropshire)? Early thoughts

IMG_20191207_100751We face a government led by people who have gone through the portal from ‘traditional conservativism’ to trumpist populism. And they’ve taken huge swathes of the country with them. Shropshire is Conservative territory, and voted for Brexit, so given the national mood no one should be surprised by the results here. Julia Buckley (Labour Party candidate for Shrewsbury and Atcham) put up a good fight in Shrewsbury. I just about remained calm in the face of understandable pleas to ‘not split the anti-Tory vote’. Knowing that this wasn’t going to be the story on the night gave me no pleasure.

So now what? Where are the chinks of light to fumble towards? How do we start the conversations in our community that could plant shoots of hope?

Here’s an anecdote. Several weeks ago I was at a meeting about ‘community led housing’. It was attended by around fifty, mostly rural Shropshire parish councillors and clerks. So not the Socialist Workers Party. The discussion made it clear that these county stalwarts passionately want affordable homes, built to carbon zero standards, with active and public transport options, for young people and families, so that their communities can thrive.

My point is that ‘up there’ at the level of national abstract politics it is true that we live in a community that is generally right wing, somewhat xenophobic, somehow taken in by posh liars… but ‘down here’ people share many of the same problems and whilst the solutions are still contested (the North West ‘Relief’ Road for example) that contest is less ideological and more practical.

In amongst the horrors of 2019 there was a chink of light in the May local elections. The Green Party doubled it’s number of councillors. But also independents did well, especially a new breed of progressive locally minded independents like ‘It’s our county’ in Herefordshire. The result there is a new administration including Greens.

Of course it’s true that local politics excites only a minority. It’s also true that the biggest issue we face is global. But breaking your back trying to move a mountain ain’t gonna help. Leveraging the local just might.

So what makes a place get it together to turn progressive?

Looking around it seems that local traditions and organisation and initiative really can provide the foundations for a movement for greater change. From Liverpool’s Sun boycotters to Brighton’s bohemians, cultural politics can marry with local politics to produce new possibilities. This counts for smaller places too. Think of Frome or Stroud or Hebden Bridge. These places are not uniformly revolutionary of course, but they seem to share a healthy pluralism with the progressive element to the fore (The frustration for Shrewsbury in particular, I suspect, is that many of us feel the place is not far off from having the critical mass that could make it a truly progressive town.)

There is no single answer. There is no single organisation that holds the key (but I’ll stake a claim for the Green Party to be vital). What we need is energy and initiative. Some of this will be in the form of protest and council motions and twittering and letter writing. But part of the story will be things like the Environment Centre; the Bike Hub; patient groups; parent groups… and then trying for initiatives that reach further in to our communities; a local energy co-op or a community bus or (to boost my own barely begun scheme) an intra-town walking festival.

So this is a call to activism. Yes that will include electioneering and leafleting (and – in the case of the Labour Party – coming out clearly against that bloody road) but it also includes building visible community structures that provide the sinews of a progressive community that can nudge and budge and tempt the town and the county towards the light.

Then we just have to hope that elsewhere things are happening that will help us.

Here’s a way to make a start. In January the Town Council will have a load of trees to plant. Let’s make this a lovely community event. If you want to join my ‘Porthill Posse’ go to this link.

Postscript. I humbly pay tribute to all those who are doing these things already. They are our heroes. To name-check just a handful of initiatives not so far mentioned; the Shrewsbury Cup; the Food Hub; Bishops Castle Land Trust; Funky Frankwell; Belle Vue Tree Planting Group; Surfers Against Sewage, Shropshire Defend our NHS, XR…



Power and Pluralism – some thoughts in these dark days.

These are dark days.

Last night the troubling groundswell that fuels all populist movements was in plain sight on the terraces of the Bulgarian national stadium.


Priti Patel meanwhile is setting up entrapment centres for vulnerable homeless Europeans and is likely to set aside her supposed principles to back Johnson’s versions of May’s Brexit so she can hold on to the home office keys. May and Cameron have been found out for lobbying in Bahrian for petrochemical firm bosses who happen to be Tory funders, confirming they will sacrifice all our futures for power. (Yes, profit goes to the firm’s boss, but for the politician the aim is power.) The Johnson leadership dismisses balanced budgets, the screams from most of British capitalism against Brexit, and all our futures in the face of the climate emergency, in an attempt to whip up a storm that will consolidate his power. In the Middle East Putin, Assad and Erdoğan scrap over power in the region at the price of further death, displacement and misery for Syrians and Kurds.

Most of these power players have their useful idiots who claim to be on the progressive side. They all share a hatred for ‘liberals’. Putin and Assad apologists, lexit and ‘blue Labour’ fans of working class racism; all take their aim at liberals first, as if Trump and Farage would go away if only some people would stop suggesting solidarity with democrats or wanting their kids to go on an Erasmus programme.

Of course many in the world have seen or are seeing even darker days than these.   They share an experience of power that cannot be explained with the tools of  marxist political economy. From Stalin and Hitler and Mao to Moduro and Assad and Mugabe it should have become clear that power is not simply the working of the unseen hand of capitalism; it is an end in itself.   It should also be clear – to put it mildly – that we should beware of left populists baring gifts. To be blunt, political programmes that are devoid of addressing democratic deficits are poisonous.

Where are the chinks of light?

Extinction Rebellion is changing the conversation on the Climate Emergency in a way that no political party has been able or – in most cases – willing to do. Anyone can take part, and some surprising people actually do. Their central demands are ‘Tell the Truth’ and – through citizens assemblies – enable people (without a ‘the’ or a capital p) to make informed decisions through citizens assemblies.

Portugal is making some headway with a coalition that holds the Socialists’ feet to the fire. As Eunice Goes argues, the ‘secret recipe’ includes common achievable goals and ‘dialogue and more dialogue’.

Michael Chessum of Another Europe is Possible argued last week at our Conference that the Green Party was an essential ingredient in pushing Labour towards supporting a confirmatory referendum.

For Revolutionary Pluralism

Of course, we need policies for mitigating the climate emergency and for addressing inequality and poverty. I will be doing my bit as a Green Party candidate in the forthcoming election to argue for, amongst other things, a basic income for all (now fully costed), a carbon tax and a four-day week. But we must make doing something about power central to a progressive project. We must recognise that winner-takes-all systems are dangerous. And just saying you are ‘for the many, not the few’ is no guarantee that, when it comes to power, you actually mean it.

Fair votes, written constitutions, regional layers of government, committee systems for councils… international structures built on democratic foundations capable of challenging power: these things do not make for a sexy manifesto, but without them we are probably lost.

Defending Democracy against Populism. Speech notes for Open Britain Shrewsbury meeting, 11/9/19

Thanks for the invitation to speak. I’ve been asked to focus on the issues of  ‘Defending Democracy and the Rule of Law, and how to get out of the current mess’. I’ve also been reminded, this is not a hustings!

We are facing a populist attack on democracy. What does that mean?

This is not a fully-fledged attempt to do away with democracy, but it is about weakening the checks and balances, and protections, that prevent versions of authoritarian rule. From Trump, to Orban, to the Law and Justice Party in Poland, to the League in Italy, to Putin in Russia, we see elected leaders using the same three-part approach: claiming to represent the ‘will of the people’; ‘othering’ groups in such a way that they no longer belong to the people, and blaming them for everything; using their claimed leadership of ‘the people’ to undermine institutions and groups who might hold them in check.

We have heard repeatedly the claim that ‘people just want to get on with it’ and that the referendum result ‘must be respected’. The evidence for both suggests that, at the very least, there is no single dominant view on these things.

We then also hear a variety of ‘out’ groups getting the blame: un-elected EU bureaucrats, (who are about to be replaced by a new set…. elected by the European parliament or nominated by elected governments); the liberal elite; treacherous parliamentarians organising a surrender; even – unbelievably given the backgrounds, connections and income streams of the Brexit hardliners – the Establishment. But underneath it all I remain convinced that the principal driver in many people’s decision to vote for Brexit, and the principal driver that still motivates them, is chauvinism and hostility to immigration.

Finally we see the attacks on the rule of law; the stretching of the constitution to near breaking point with the Proroguing; the ease with which they float the idea of simply not implementing the law; and of course this was all preceded by the attack on Judges as ‘enemies of the people’ for stating that only Parliament could invoke Article 50 back in the winter of 2016.

So how to respond?

Firstly, (and I don’t claim this to be the only view in the Green Party) replacing one form of populism with another isn’t going to solve the problem. So when the Labour leadership talk about ‘people’s real concerns’, claiming they really aren’t to do with Brexit, and then, to quote Corbyn, describe it as a ‘Bankers Brexit’ or an ‘Establishment Brexit’ (as Momentum have said), this doesn’t help. It’s not accurate, and it deliberately avoids taking head on the issues which are driving Brexit. I am not persuaded that the vote was a straightforward response to austerity or neoliberalism. After all, even in the leave constituencies, we know most Labour voters voted against Brexit. So, the left populist version is really about not taking on the more conservative, chauvinist elements within the core Labour vote, and therefore will probably leave them in the hands of the right-wing populist.

Secondly, I can’t see how defending democracy can be helped by calling for the revocation of Article 50. OK, if the LibDems won a majority in an election on that platform then they would have a mandate, but it doesn’t offer a way to heal. A Peoples Vote on the best deal available versus remain seems to me to be the best way to get out of this particular mess. I would prefer to see this Peoples Vote prior to an election. A General Election is highly likely to fail to resolve the issue. Assuming Johnson fails to present a deal that can command a majority, a vote of no confidence, followed by an interim government that comes to an agreement with the EU quickly, and then puts that to the People, is my preferred route.

But more generally, we need to push back against the notion that the nation speaks with one will. We simply don’t. We need healthy debate to give voice to the different strands in society. My voice will be about standing up for diversity, for freedom of movement, and for social justice. I also believe that we really have reached the end of the road for the two-party system and first past the post, and that introducing PR is part of the way forward.

Lastly though, there are moments and issues that can unite, and which show that we can’t give up on turning the tide in a progressive direction. Who remembers the outpouring of practical support for refugees in response to the picture of a dead boy on a beach? Or – and this is tricky for me as I was pretty sniffy about this at the time – the sense of unity in diversity and social democracy that went with the London Olympics opening ceremony?

I think there is a monumental task facing us that really could unite people: facing up to the threat of global heating and a climate catastrophe. This weekend I’m working with Green Party councillors from across the region, looking at how to develop local Green New Deals. Of course we would love to be holding the main reigns of power to see this through locally and nationally, after all, we’ve been at this the longest. But just imagine if all progressive parties got behind the transformation of energy, transport, construction & retrofitting, wildlife protection and re-invigoration, that then produced the skilled green jobs and affordable warm homes we all need.

I’m sure the discussion will want to focus on the practical issues around defeating our local populist excuse for an MP. And I will respond as constructively as I can to that discussion, given that we all know discussions are bound to be taking place above our pay scales; but I really wanted to layout some more general thoughts about possible directions of travel.

Thank you for listening.




Iran: Our enemy’s enemy can still be our enemy.

This is my second blog piece in an effort to lay out the basis for an independent Green internationalism. This time it’s prompted by an Owen Jones piece about a looming war between the US and Iran[1].

Owen Jones once again glides across all complications and caveats and questions of international solidarity to present an unflinching defence of the Jeremy. To avoid misunderstanding I’ll start by saying I am opposed to military attacks by the US or UK on Iran.

Now, let’s work through some of Owens glides.

“It happened in Iraq, it happened in Libya too”. This is not the first time Jones has ignored the very significant differences between the US led war on Iraq and the NATO intervention, based on a UN security council resolution, in Libya in 2011. In Libya there was an uprising. In Iraq there was none. In Libya there were civilians and rebels on the ground being bombed by a disintegrating fascist dictatorship. In Iraq there were not. In Libya the final defeat of Gaddafi was brought about by Libyans themselves. In Libya is wasn’t a handful of uppity puppet exiles who provided cover for intervention to stop the bombing, it was those fighting, without planes or anti-aircraft weapons, to overthrow a dictatorship who shouted loud and clear for a ‘no fly zone’ and never asked for boots on the ground (and indeed, never received them). This was not ‘regime change’ intervention. So the rights and wrongs of each situation were entirely different. Human rights watch estimates 72 civilians died as a result of the intervention in Libya. All this is well documented. [2]

For Jones, Corbyn is entirely trustworthy in his call for evidence and for ‘de-escalation and peace’, because, as Owen put’s it ‘War looms’. Tell that to the Syrians. Iran has funded and trained the militias, which, together with Russian air power, saved the Assad regime from defeat at the hands of the Syrian uprising [3] War is not looming, it is happening. Jones concedes this in Yemen, but doesn’t mention Syria. Iran has blood on its hands in both countries (and, no, that isn’t a defence of Saudi Arabia. Get a grip). Corbyn’s calls for evidence have a history of avoiding the issue. He did the same thing in the face of overwhelming proof that Assad has used chemical weapons. Once the evidence became entirely clear there was no follow up; no condemnation or calls for action. Just more bland calls for peace and de-escalation. Imagine if you will a situation where the US bombed Venezuela (it won’t). Would Corbyn ask for more evidence, and then call for ‘de-escalation? And of course, Corbyn spent many years as a paid commentator on Press TV, a state owned Iranian station. [4]

There is no mention in the article of the nature of the Iranian regime. Over the last couple of years there have remarkable scenes of brave protesters taking on the Iranian regime – a regime which, let’s remember, routinely hangs gay men and women who are victims of sexual violence.[5] [6] Yet Owens’ piece makes no mention of the atrocities of the regime, or of the need to look for ways to provide solidarity with those opposing it. And we know that Corbyn has a history of defending it.

The point here is not to provide an excuse for accepting the case for war against Iran by the US or UK. The point is to start from facing up to the reality that my enemy’s enemy can still be my enemy. It is this simple fact that Corbyn struggles with. It is this inability to provide solidarity to those facing supposedly ‘anti-imperialist’ dictatorships that leads to the horror of the British left tolerating the likes of George Galloway, or the Morning Star[7] declaring the fall of Free Aleppo to Assads’ forces as a ‘liberation’. [8] Saying this loud and clear does not undermine our ability to oppose US or UK warmongering. It actually strengthens it. Because it means we are not taking sides with one brutal regime against another, but rather we are standing with those who fight oppression, wherever it comes from.

There is then another discussion to be had about how we can properly support those fighting for their rights. There does need to be an honest discussion about what practical help can be offered. This must include some hard thinking about the legitimacy and possibility of humanitarian intervention. But so far that debate has failed to happen on the left because the ‘anti-imperialist’ voices simply shout ‘Iraq!’.

As a member of the Green Party of England and Wales, I would like to see us get to grips with this, and to stop allowing others to define the debate on peace and solidarity for us.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/19/us-war-iran-looms-justified-iraq

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_military_intervention_in_Libya

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iranian_involvement_in_the_Syrian_Civil_War#2019


[4] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/jeremy-corbyn-iran-protests-why-overlook-human-rights-issues-regime-press-tv-a8138696.html

[5] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/iran-gay-men-executed-hanging_n_1515207?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZWNvc2lhLm9yZy8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAACMt1XgLBPucRMOPTmBGTS_Mr23Tstb_01RxRFDcWl6gIJ4-hGwXFhIZgCohZxWWG2JD1T51ZjKVfZvLBwRHWu4G5ZrQuMDrkvcpCwa12EmF76DUZpfSTM1XICCaVipgvl0Tk-pcKMSwbwsoCpOdIbJ_rKu87HJmoXC7yHLdIWcL

[6] https://iran-hrm.com/index.php/2018/12/28/iran-hangs-young-woman-another-victim-of-sexual-violence/

[7] https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/media/2016/12/no-aleppo-not-being-liberated-despite-what-morning-star-says

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Aleppo_(2012%E2%80%932016)

Shropshire Council has just voted to declare a Climate Emergency. The devil will be in the detail.

What just happened?

Today, Thursday 16th May 2019, was somewhat epic when you think about it. Apart from one flat-earther, who didn’t have the courage of his convictions when it came to the vote, everyone who spoke at the Shropshire Council meeting favoured declaring an emergency, and then everyone voted for it. In a council with an overwhelming Tory majority.

How did we get here?

Votes of thanks have to go to Extinction Rebellion, both nationally and locally, for shifting the debate. Greta, too, is owed a huge thank you. So is David Attenborough (Richard? not so much: someone will need to let one of the LibDems know the difference). The scientists who finally got a hearing at the IPCC also need to be thanked, even if their timetable is hugely risky. The technologists who have developed the means for the world to get to Carbon Zero have to be thanked too: let’s be honest; so long as it felt impossible, it was very hard to stare reality in the face.20190516_091332

Then we have to thank those who have doggedly fought on this issue for years. Because this movement has not sprung up from nowhere; it’s been gestating and developing its arguments for years. And here I must pay tribute to the political party that I only joined about 4 years ago, and even then, mainly because of their ‘Social Justice’ agenda – the Green Party. For years they have been saying this is an emergency, but they – we – have also been saying; look, saving the planet (by which we really mean humanity) is both necessary, and good for us; it actually addresses fuel poverty, social isolation, mental health, inequality….

What actually happened today?

Firstly, Extinction Rebellion did ourselves proud. The numbers, the banners, the mood, the singing… Adam’s radio spot and speech to the Council… even persuading those of us (me included) who were sceptical about following up December’s climate change motion so soon.

Secondly, we had a mishmash of motions, partly the result of somewhat inept email exchanges between various councillors and myself that – between you and me –  did not reflect well on claims that this all needs to be ‘above party politics’.

Motion number 1 from the Labour Party called for carbon zero by 2030. But people who are late to the party don’t always know the songs, so it took the Green Councillor (ok… me) to jump in and explain why being ahead of the IPCC 2050 deadline matters. (Briefly: that deadline is itself too weak; it’s for the whole world, and many poorer regions legitimately complain that they will struggle more than the wealthy countries who pumped out most of the CO2 since the industrial revolution; so wealthy countries need to get ahead of the curve; the public sector needs to lead in the wealthy countries; right now in the UK local government needs to lead the public sector, both because – it turns out – it is a fairly vibrant form of democracy and so can be influenced quickly, and because the government is… distracted.) But Motion 1 was defeated by the Tories because they are keen to be realistic and don’t want to disrupt their growth agenda. Actually several Tories supported it.

Then came the Tory motion, as amended by the LibDems, which didn’t have a target date but did move us forward on some accountability issues, and did declare an emergency. I put an amendment to this. Again I really have no choice but to blow the trumpet of my party: we have done our homework – see our ‘Shropshire Green New Deal 1.0.’ SGNDSo I could propose some specifics on what needs to be done between now and December, and then on to this time next year,  especially on planning policy. Don’t yawn – this is important: if we continue to build homes and workplaces that spew greenhouse gases either we are not going to get to carbon zero, or we are going to look very silly retrofitting nearly-new buildings. Those who were paying attention could see the sense of this. The administration said, ‘hold your horses; this sort of detail needs careful consideration’. They won the day, but only just, with several Tories again breaking ranks to vote for my amendment alongside everyone else. Once that was out of the way there was a fag end of a discussion on the main motion, which was duly passed unanimously.

But does this really mean anything?

Yes, I think it does. The shifts from denial to grudging acceptance and from acceptance to urgency are really happening – at different rates amongst different groups of people. The shift to action is being developed – not least by some dedicated council workers in Shropshire. I have been told that for years, and right up until last December, you had to whisper ‘climate change’ if you didn’t want to be regarded as a bit weird. That has changed, and some staff are really on it. Then there are enough councillors who get it, across all parties, for this to shift the mood on some of the committees. There is now a steep learning curve to be climbed, whereby councillors can start talking confidently about heat exchange and AECG building standards and waste management. But the sands have shifted and are continuing to shift. And those leading the way are not always the people you’d expect.

But what about the North West ‘Relief’ Road?

At the same time, there are enormous blind spots all over the place. The biggest by far is the continued support by both Labour and the Tories – but no longer the LibDems – for the North West Relief Road. This will create major disruption to ecology, require huge amounts of CO2 spewing concrete production and present a colossal financial risk. The case for it entirely relies on the disastrous continuation of car-dominant private transport. Yes, cars will be electric eventually, and will still be a vital part of the mix, but they will still clog up streets and burn up energy needed elsewhere, and car-is-king policies mean they will hog the space and resources needed by walkers, cyclists and public transport users, making the ‘modal shift’ to other forms of transport so much harder.

There are plenty of other harmful policies still being pursued: cuts to bus services; the unnecessary extent of new homes building on the edges of towns, hungry for yet more infrastructure; cuts to the ‘rights of way’ team who could be leading on developing walking routes…

So what’s the ‘balance sheet’?

2019 needs to be remembered as the year Shropshire (and everywhere else) turned the corner. We can’t say that yet. But there are people across the campaigns, in council offices and on the council itself who are, to varying degrees, trying to make this happen. Between us there will continue to be disagreements and frictions, but with enough good will and effort it’s just possible that we will look back and be proud; not just of the effort but of the achievements.

Climate Emergency: what can Shropshire do?

Image result for ipcc climate change report

Scientists have given us less than 12 years to slash greenhouse gases worldwide in order to have a chance of preventing runaway climate breakdown that will bring civilisation to its knees. Some people still scoff at this, but they are, to be blunt, wrong.

At the time of writing we have a UK government and parliament paralysed by Brexit. But out in the country there has been a wave of councils, big and small, declaring climate emergencies and setting targets for zero CO2 emissions by 2030. Shrewsbury has joined this. Shropshire has set up a ‘Task and Finish’ group of councillors to look at how the county authority can do its bit. Alongside this we have seen a growing movement of ‘climate strikes’ in schools and colleges, with young people demanding action now. So what steps need to follow in our county?

Energy production

The biggest issue for the world is energy production. Yet we now know how to harness wind, solar and other sources of energy more cheaply than old and dirty sources like oil, gas and coal. What can be done locally? Well, it turns out Shropshire has the potential to produce enough energy from clean sources for up to 1/5th of the West Midlands needs.

We need new strategies and planning policies to encourage and facilitate renewable energy production. This includes a rethink on wind power, where there is a need to have sites identified in the Local Plan if they are likely to succeed at planning. No such sites were in the recent Preferred Sites consultation. Are there any in the pipe line that can be brought forward?

Development sites can be required to produce a proportion of there own energy. The technology is straightforward, and getting better all the time, from photo voltaic with batteries, to ground source heat pumps and beyond.

Ground source heat pump for flats
From House Builder and Property Developer


Energy use, new build and ‘retrofitting’

We don’t just need to produce clean energy, we also need to reduce energy use if we are to reach the targets. Again, we now how to do this. Homes and workplaces can be built that produce no greenhouse gas emissions over all, and this is also means virtually zero energy bills. At the moment it costs about 8% more to build ‘clean’, and this will come down the more we insist on builders using this technology.

We need planning policy that insists on ‘Zero Carbon’ building from now on. Despite fears to the contrary, there is no block on planning policy requiring energy efficient standards above building regulations (page 10). The Chancellor’s Spring Statement included a ‘future homes standard’ to mandate an end to fossil fuel heating systems in new homes from 2025. Individual schemes in Shropshire and neighbouring authorities are coming on stream that reach very high standards, but the county will get left behind if the current local plan review does not make this a requirement.

We also have to ‘retrofit’ older buildings to reduce their energy use – and their bills.

Here, individuals and successful businesses can take a lead.

From GreenSpec.co.uk

Retrofitting can be expensive, but this money is recovered through massive savings on bills. Councils should encourage those in our community who can to do this now by providing information and guidance, and encouraging firms that can carry out the work to a high standard. This then helps to build the skills and workforce locally that makes it easier and cheaper for the councils, housing associations, private landlords and small businesses to also make this investment.

Ironbridge Power Station site

This should be an iconic development for the 21st Century, showcasing the best of what can be done. Does Shropshire want to be outdone by Rugeley?


Transport is  now the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. Whilst vehicles have got more efficient over the years, the miles covered have increased and so there has been no overall fall in greenhouse gases. Transport needs to be clean and the vehicle miles need to be cut.

Councils should be investing in clean vehicles for their own fleets and those of its major contractors. Veolia has trialled electric vehicles, so these should become a requirement as soon as feasible.

Image result for electric waste vehicles

Public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure needs to be developed – plenty has been written on this elsewhere.

Planning policy should require developments to include covered secure bicycle parking; dedicated car free routes on and off site; high quality public transport information (‘live’ bus time information at key points in a development for example) and electric charging points, whether active (i.e. with a charging post) or passive (i.e. infrastructure under ‘plates’ ready for charging points). In rural areas where bus routes remain unsustainable developers could be required to establish shared electric vehicle clubs or other schemes to enable sustainable transport.

The provision of infrastructure for electric vehicles is developing rapidly in cities but it will remain poor in rural areas and small towns without encouragement and persuasion. Think of Shropshire’s experience with broadband. But there are schemes. As well as Highways England investing in charging points on main routes there are schemes to help appropriate businesses such as restaurants, hotels and sports clubs establish charging points. pub car park EVAnd there is a need to follow through on commitments to do the same on the council’s own sites.

Staff transport plans also need development. A sustainable transport allowance could replace free parking, with the added benefit of freeing up some land.


Natural Shropshire

As the authority for a rural county Shropshire Council needs to give a lead in transforming agriculture. Looking after wildlife means that wildlife helps to look after us –  by absorbing back some of the greenhouse gases and regenerating the biodiversity that underpins sustainable lives for all species. Sadly, wildlife is in as much of a crisis as the climate, with huge falls in the number of insects needed to pollinate crops. Fields are almost empty of worms which act to break up the soil. The councils could call farmers and land users together and provide advice, incentives and policies that steer them towards clean farming and growing.

Shrewsbury – known as the Town of Flowers, could be a national leader in Planting for the Planet.

A Climate Emergency Hub?

Recently a shop in Shrewsbury was used as a centre for promoting and consulting on the Big Town Plan. Related imageShropshire owns plenty of empty shop units in the towns shopping centres. How about having a dedicated centre for addressing the climate emergency? This could include public and private partners providing education, information, advice and guidance on:

  • The scale of the emergency that faces us: independent, well presented information.
  • What the councils are doing: news on policies, investments and adaptations.
  • How to retrofit your home: information and marketing opportunities for appropriate building firms.
  • The Business Environment Network supported by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust.
  • How to keep your home warm and your bills down: information and advice from the Marches Energy Agency.
  • Community Campaigns (Friends of the Earth and other campaigners)
  • Learning about the climate and biodiversity (space for activities or displays from the University Centre, College or Schools)
  • Coffee! (bring in or buy your Shrewsbury Cup, filled by a neighbouring coffee shop).

Our Future

What would our county look like if we did all this? Would it look poorer? Would it be a return to the stone age? Of course not. We’d have warm homes that are cheap to run. We’d have towns and villages with less pollution that are more pleasant to move around. We’d have healthier children used to walking and cycling. We’d have a countryside renewed with the plants, birds and insects that we need to sustain life. And we’d have a much, much more secure future.