Plans to tackle climate change in Northumberland discussed at public meeting

Improving public transport and more community engagement were among the points raised as Northumberland County Council shared its initial proposals to tackle the climate emergency.

Saturday, 19th October 2019, 8:00 am
Updated Saturday, 26th October 2019, 3:25 pm
Northumberland County Council is working on an action plan after declaring a climate emergency in the summer and pledging to reduce the council’s emissions by half by 2025 and make the county carbon-neutral by 2030.

The local authority is working on an action plan after declaring a climate emergency in the summer and pledging to reduce the council’s emissions by half by 2025 and make the county carbon-neutral by 2030.

The draft action plan, which has five key themes – energy generation, energy consumption, emissions capture, policy and engagement, is due to be approved by the full council at its meeting in January.

Ahead of this, a public meeting took place at Morpeth Town Hall on Thursday (October 17) night to gain some initial feedback on the emerging plans.

Coun Glen Sanderson, the cabinet member for the environment, said: “This is not just to tick boxes, this is a genuine commitment.”

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Following presentations from councillors and officers, there was an opportunity for those present to discuss what had been put forward and what more can be done, with most seeming to agree that the council was on the right track and had made a good start, but more needs to be done – and with some urgency.

And there was a call for Northumberland to aim for below net zero in terms of carbon emissions, helping to mitigate emissions produced elsewhere.

The meeting heard that the county’s total emissions have fallen from 4,251 kilotonnes of CO2 in 2010-11 down to 1,856 last year, although those produced by transport have risen from 619 to 652 in that time.

The council is already looking at initiatives to expand its household waste recycling, create more footpaths and cycling tracks, increase the number of electric vehicle charging points and is exploring using heat from mine water to provide a new, clean heat source.

Future proposals include looking into low-carbon heat networks for residents and businesses, supporting potential solar, hydro and wind sites – where they have the backing of local communities – for lower-cost renewable energy generation, and identifying land which can host battery storage to support this.

There are also plans to set up a Climate Change Commission – although one attendee at the meeting suggested it should be a Climate Emergency Commission – involving world-leading experts and industry leaders, who can help to ‘critique’ the council’s plans as well as ensuring any efforts have a wider impact.

In terms of its own emissions, the authority says that, among other initiatives, it will be auditing all of its buildings to find ways to reduce energy demand and increase renewable generation as well as including emissions measurement and reduction options in school transport contracts when they are renewed.

Joining up public transport and improving footpaths to help people get out of their cars, ensuring residents know why this is important and what needs to be done, and the county council using its powers through the likes of licensing, procurement and planning to influence behaviour and reward green businesses were common discussion points raised by those in attendance.

It was also highlighted that a lot of the ‘quick wins’ were multi-faceted and would provide benefits beyond environmental ones, for example, planting more trees and woodland.

And the day before the meeting, it was announced that the council had been successful in its bid to the Forestry Commission’s Urban Tree Challenge Fund – securing £265,000 for a new two-year tree-planting programme.

This initiative will involve 633 trees being planted at 29 locations across Cramlington, Seghill, Seaton Delaval, Blyth, Bedlington, Choppington, Prudhoe and Hexham.

The council is also keen to underline the collective responsibility as well, accepting that it needs to lead the way on this, but that every resident and business in Northumberland has to play their part too.

The evening closed with a short speech from Robbie Scott, a youngster who is on the council’s climate change steering group, in which he said this crisis could be turned into an opportunity.

“Young people not only have to face the consequences, but have to bring up our own children in them,” he added.

There will be additional opportunities for public engagement as the plans progress and residents are able to email any comments or queries to climate@northumberland.gov.uk