The chairman of a new committee tasked with helping Northampton to become carbon neutral by 2030 admits the task is a ‘daunting’ one, but that it must be attempted.
Northampton Borough Council declared a ‘climate emergency’ earlier this month, which means it is now putting the environment at the heart of the decisions it makes.
Tuesday evening (June 18) saw the first ever meeting of the council’s ‘air quality’ panel, though its remit is expanded to include all things climate related.
Members of the borough and county councils, all three main parties, the Green Party, and the Youth Council attended the inaugural meeting, which from now on will meet ‘regularly’ and become paperless.
Its chairman, the borough council’s climate champion Councillor Samuel Kilby-Shaw, said: “I must admit that this is a daunting task. On the one hand, you have the task of getting the borough council carbon neutral, but then you also have the borough of Northampton to consider, and they are two very different things.
“I think it’s ambitious, but we should be aiming for it. We will make some mistakes along the way, but we have to be prepared for that.”
Council leader Jonathan Nunn added: “You will have seen already that we have declared a climate emergency, and it’s a really serious thing for us. There’s going to be changes and many costs associated with that.
“I’m frightened as hell by the target for becoming carbon neutral by 2030, but we have to rise to the task. Principles are principles, and the purpose of this group is to get us through these challenges. But this council can’t do it on its own, it needs support and help from everyone.”
Cabinet member for the environment, Councillor Mike Hallam, informed the committee of some of the actions the borough council had already taken to improve the environment.
This included purchasing electric vehicles for the environmental services contract holder Veolia, adding solar panels and high efficiency boilers to existing housing stock, launching a taxi emissions policy and installing LED lighting in council car parks.
Dialogue at the meeting focussed on making buses more attractive to commuters, educating residents through marketing, the use of electric buses and cars and increasing the amount of charging points in the town, and air quality.
Labour councillor Zoe Smith said: “I would love to have an electric car, but I know that I would find it quite difficult to charge it. It would almost be impossible at the moment to own an electric car where I live in Abington.”
And David Garlick, of Transition Town Northampton, added: “I think this is all great, but how do we measure where we are now and how do we know when we are carbon neutral? Do we set targets so that by 2025 we are halfway there, or are we nearer or further away? And I’m all for marketing and engagement, but I’m more impressed with some quick wins that we can get like reducing speed limits in some areas.”
Councillor Hallam said that when it came to air quality ‘some areas are a little better but some are a little worse’. Recent figures indicated that areas such as York Road and Cheyne Walk had increased over the last year, but Councillor Hallam said the figures may have been affected by the warmer climate in June last year. But earlier this month, he did concede that air quality was ‘a serious concern’ in the town. The annual air quality report for Northampton is set to be submitted to DEFA by the end of the month.
He added: “This is a complex issue and we thought it would be useful to get some experts in the room. We are not professing to be the experts on this, but the council has made a very clear commitment moving forward.”