'Only a fool would think climate change is unimportant,' says Northumberland chief, as action plan updated

‘Anyone who thinks climate change is not important is a fool’ – that’s the view of a senior councillor who welcomed Northumberland’s efforts on this front.

By Ben O'Connell
Monday, 15th February 2021, 12:25 pm
Northumberland's natural resources help absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Northumberland's natural resources help absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The comments, by Cllr Jeff Watson, came at a meeting on Tuesday, February 9, as the county council’s cabinet formally approved the updated Climate Change Action Plan, including detailed proposals for the next two years on the road to the overall goal of reducing Northumberland’s emissions to net-zero by 2030.

As previously reported, the document sets out that this carbon-neutral target will require an inward investment of around £1.6billion over the next nine years, however, the ‘level of investment in the scenarios modelled in this plan could create up to 11,000 local green jobs’.

More than £6million is set aside for climate change improvements in the draft budget plans due to be approved at the end of this month, but the council has also been successful in attracting grant funding to support a number of major schemes, including £2.9million towards a solar carport at County Hall, £2million for a potential Hexham hydro-electric project and £8.6million for renewable heat schemes.

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Areas of progress since the previous action plan, published in January 2020, include progress on the decarbonisation of the council’s fleet, the installation of 12 additional public electric vehicle charging points across the county, and the first free tree giveaway to households and community groups.

Council leader Glen Sanderson said: “There is a significant opportunity for Northumberland to position itself as the centre of the UK’s thriving green economy.

“As a council, we will continue to lead the way by reducing energy consumption of our estate and installing renewable heat and power solutions in our buildings, as well as assessing the carbon impact of all key policy decisions we make.

“But we need the public’s support to have any chance of realising our ambition of a net-zero Northumberland by 2030. Every resident, business and visitor to Northumberland will need to make their contribution to see our great county become the UK’s greenest area.”

As part of the action plan, the authority wants to create a network of Community Climate Champions over the next 12 months to help develop their own evidence-based community action plans with the council’s support.

Cllr Sanderson added: “We have vast natural resources, already absorbing more carbon than any other English county and with the potential to sequester far more, while supporting nature.

“We have resilient, innovative communities eager to build back stronger and greener from the Covid-19 crisis and as a council, we will be seeking to attract green investment, to create jobs and build more green infrastructure which will have a positive impact not only on the climate, but on our day-to-day lives.

“Achieving this net-zero target is driven by a strategic intent to attract green investment to the county, which in turn will grow the green economy and create new jobs. We are taking climate change seriously - taking a positive lead on this is a key priority for us.”

However, the description of tackling climate change as a key priority was questioned by Cllr Georgina Hill, the independent member for Berwick East, at the corporate services committee meeting to discuss the budget on Monday, February 8.

She said that while residents had raised a vast array of concerns with her over the years, climate change was not one of them, before asking why the council was building new car parks if the climate emergency was so important.

Cllr Sanderson said that the additional parking was to support the county's tourism industry and market towns, given that switching from cars to public transport is not always possible in rural areas, although the move to electric vehicles is an option - one that is being supported by additional electric vehicle charging points.

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