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Climate emergency declared by South Cambridgeshire District Council - but one councillor votes against it

South Cambridgeshire District Council has passed a motion to declare a climate emergency in response to rising global carbon emissions.

A meeting of the full council voted in favour of the motion – 36 to one – making a commitment that “all strategic decisions, budgets and approaches to planning decisions by the council are in line with a shift to zero carbon”.

XR Cambridge caarried out a protest in Cambridge on Friday calling for action on the climate crisis. Picture: Jeremy Peters
XR Cambridge caarried out a protest in Cambridge on Friday calling for action on the climate crisis. Picture: Jeremy Peters

The council also voted to approve a £1.3m retrofit to its Cambourne headquarters, using money from its “renewables reserve” fund.

The precise details of the work have not yet been finalised, but it will be “for a range of energy efficiency and green energy measures at South Cambridgeshire Hall”.

The climate emergency motion was put forward by chair of the council’s climate and environment advisory committee, Liberal Democrat Pippa Heylings, and was supported by all parties, with only the independent Deborah Roberts voting against.

Cllr Heylings, who is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for South East Cambridgeshire, said: “At the moment we have done a lot of the things that we should have done – put it in the business plan, we have made sure that the local plan, the new one that is being drafted, is looking at, for the first time ever, putting zero carbon at the heart of it.

“The urgency bit of a climate emergency says that within six months, for the first time ever, we are going to have to look at what our council contributes in terms of emissions, and what are the difficult decisions we are going to have to make as well about how we reduce them and how quickly we can reduce themselves”.

Cllr Pippa Heylings
Cllr Pippa Heylings

She added: “We have never had the targets before, so we will see a budget – how much we are gong to be emitting and how we are going to cut that down over time”.

Cllr Heylings said the reason the council has not declared a climate emergency sooner is because it made a zero carbon pledge prior to the “climate emergency” language being taken up across the world. According to her motion South Cambridgeshire “was one of the first district councils to pledge a zero carbon target back in November 2018,” and Cllr Heylings has said the council has been trying to reduce emissions even though it didn’t “say the words”.

But she insists “it’s not just the words, we need to act with even more urgency”.

The motion calls for a report within six months “on the carbon reduction targets and projects for the council’s own buildings and operations” and calls for government and industry to “implement the necessary changes with funding, transformed national infrastructure, policy, new technologies and legislation” in order to reach net zero by 2050.

Cllr Peter Topping
Cllr Peter Topping

Leader of the Conservative group, Cllr Peter Topping, said he supported the motion, but said he wanted some clarity on what the council “can and should be doing”.

Cllr Roberts, who represents Foxton, told the meeting: “I’m getting weary of the Armageddon tomorrow arguments”.

“This is going to take a lot of officers’ time and we don’t have a lot of officers,” she said.

Councillor Deborah Roberts, pictured with plans for the 'Station Fields' development. Picture: Keith Heppell
Councillor Deborah Roberts, pictured with plans for the 'Station Fields' development. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cllr Roberts called it “a tangent of trying to pretend we are saving the world – we are not going to save the world until places like India and China make some effort, and whatever this country does, it is minimal, it is absolutely microscopic”.

She added: “It’s arrogance, I would suggest, for a local council to be declaring a climate emergency. Yes there is a serious situation that needs sorting out, and it will be sorted out I have no doubts, but what you are trying to do, I am afraid this is a terrible political ploy, during an election to put this on the agenda”.

The full list of candidates standing for election in South East Cambridgeshire is:

  • James Bull - Labour
  • Edmund Fordham - Independent
  • Lucy Frazer - Conservatives
  • Pippa Heylings - Liberal Democrats

The county council and Cambridge City Council declare climate emergencies earlier this year.

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