Thanks again to Christina for this detailed summary of the meeting.
Public Meeting, The Exchange, Sturminster Newton, 9th October 2019
Simon Hoare, Conservative Member of Parliament for North Dorset
The meeting was very well attended with approaching one hundred and fifty participants or more, and with questions for Simon Hoare covering a variety of issues pertinent to the Climate Emergency. Accompanying the MP was Ray Bryan from Dorset Council; he is the Portfolio Holder for Highways, Travel and the Environment. He also responded to a number of questions.
The meeting opened with Simon Hoare’s statement that Parliament acknowledges the Climate Emergency and is committed to the 2050 endpoint for net zero carbon emissions; this date was challenged as too late by the meeting on several occasions, and in response to a question about the critical impact on developing countries of the climate emergency, he acknowledged that politically, the challenge is global and that Britain’s role needs to be to set an environmental example and be a major influence across the world. However, Simon Hoare frequently referred to “green growth” and how poverty limited many developing countries from implementing environmental measures.
The meeting concluded with Simon Hoare reading out a list of concerns derived from the participants’ questions and which he promised to raise with relevant ministers and other departments. Participants at the meeting were invited to submit our contact details in order to receive feedback from his discussions. He also said that he would be happy to attend future meetings with his constituents on the topics. Individual members of the meeting were also invited to ask him questions at the end.
This was a very busy hour and a half meeting and the chair apologised for some participants not being able to ask questions. The following points summarise the key points covered by the participants and listed by Simon Hoare as topics he agreed to investigate:
A commitment to cross party discussions on the formulation of policy decisions relating to environmental and energy concerns
Acknowledgement of the contradiction inherent in the government’s commitment to become carbon neutral in the 2015 Infrastructure Act which says that we must extract all feasible oil and gas reserves in the UK (sign the petition at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/259116).
Acknowledgement that the government had given greater subsidies for fossil fuels and fewer for renewable energy and even less to environmental projects
Agreement that incentives are required for existing homes to become more energy efficient but that feed-in tariffs to the Grid would not be a necessary incentive if all housing was already energy efficient
Agreement that formerly cheapness in house building had taken precedence over environmental considerations, and that now planning authorities need to enforce environmental standards on all new buildings, including the installation of electrical charging points for vehicles. He was informed that there are heat pump systems which can be fitted to old buildings in order to make them energy efficient, and that the government’s proposal for seven million energy efficient homes by 2025 needs to be brought forward. Ray Bryan also said that the new Dorset Local Plan has provision for 50,000 energy efficient new homes
A concern about the need to increase cycle provision, not only to encourage less car use but for safety reasons was answered by Ray Bryan who said that a cross-party plan is already underway in Dorset.
Agreement for improving green and reliable public transport
An investigation into the reduction of single-use plastic, a bottle deposit scheme and the distribution of drinking fountains. Ray Bryan told the meeting that Wessex Water had begun the installation of public water facilities which would be topped up each day for free public use
Ray Bryan also responded to the threat of flash flooding in vulnerable villages by saying that there was an appeal for cross-party information on the needs of all villages, and that this concern was a recognised priority by the Highways Executive Advisory Panel
An investigation into the overturning by the Inspectorate of the decision to go ahead with the conversion of the Drax power station in North Yorkshire where the government has approved four new gas turbines as recently as 7th October; it currently receives green subsidies for burning biomass which has environmental problems of its own. Simon Hoare suggested that a judicial review was the only recourse we had to revoke the decision
In his reply to how he can get the government to act now in response to the climate emergency, Simon Hoare said that much was already being done but that the government needed to make its green policies more visible and include easier access by the public to local implications. This acknowledged the need to engage the public more and increase awareness. He frequently referred to “pester power”, namely how people can exercise power through consumer choice since “green growth” and market share are, he believes, the way forward; he acknowledged the problem of flying and the privileged tax position of aviation fuel
Acknowledgement that the trajectory time for the zero carbon emissions and not just the end date of 2050, needs to be considered and reflect the reduction targets well before that date, and hence that ever increasing road building is unsustainable.
The meeting wanted incentives to support the creation of a more local self-sufficiency-based economy to reduce air miles
Agreement that it is a responsibility of local government to set a green example and drive public awareness and that national government needs to enable this; there are low carbon grants available in Dorset offering technical support to encourage businesses to reduce their carbon footprint, the county being in the top 20 councils in the country for so far achieving a 36% reduction in carbon emissions
Agreement to extensive tree-planting especially when the Woodland Trust gives trees away to councils. There are, however, wider landscape concerns involving suitable land and awareness of land already in agricultural use. The government has already committed to a 25 year tree-planting strategy (see Forestry Commission report for 2018-2019)
Agreement that local government needs greater resilience in enforcing environmental standards and agreed contracts with local developers: Ray Bryan informed the meeting that environmental and climate considerations are now part of all council decisions whether transport, building regulations, tree-planting and verge-cutting or farming practices. As a rural county, Dorset has issues with use of chemicals in farming, river pollution and especially air pollution from livestock. The September 2019 NFU report declares a goal of net greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, and the point was made that farming subsidies need to be for good environmental practices. Re-wilding land which is not good enough for agriculture was suggested; this would not only provide biodiversity but also sustain and increase wildlife habitats. Simon Hoare acknowledged the need for greener farming, food security and the need for fewer food miles; he referred to how the September 2018 Agriculture Bill focuses on the environmental quality of land management as opposed to production, and he described how technology is improving farming practices. These and other green technologies are the very things with which we need to help developing countries
Agreement to incorporating environmental awareness within educational courses of study
Wildlife protection schemes were not discussed but raised at the end
A topic which was also not raised but which is relevant in view of Dorset council’s current priority actions is waste management; the council is also examining vehicle emissions as another priority.