On Thursday, Shropshire Council voted to declare a climate emergency. It was a good move and a late negotiated amendment got a deal on the table. But the Tories insisted that the “emergency” was taken out of “climate emergency” by removing all references to the target date of 2030. It was the best we could get through in the face of opposition from the Conservative leadership who refused to accept any deadlines for action. There will be opportunity for negotiating dates and a move from the council’s environmentally destructive business as usual approach over the next sixth months. I wish we could have got to that point on Thursday.
The final motion was drafted by me and revised in cross party talks minutes before the meeting began. It was approved unanimously. The Labour motion and Green amendment were defeated despite support from many Conservatives.
There was a huge public attendance, with well over one hundred people attending the public protest before the meeting. Many sat in an overflow room watching a livestream during a less than inspiring debate.
It was bittersweet meeting. Learning that the Labour motion was likely to be defeated, along with the cross-party motion, we were faced with a weak motion backed by the Tories. The Lib Dem group agreed to my amendment overnight but we had to modify it just before the meeting or face a high risk of defeat by the Conservative majority. If the Tory motion passed unchanged, we would have lost some valuable points – including the Labour proposals for carbon emissions appraisals in council reports and for a climate action partnership. These were incorporated in the Lib Dem amendment.
I was outside Shirehall and had just spoken to the protest group, led by Extinction Rebellion when Roger Evans arrived for an urgent discussion. He had been negotiating with the Tories. It was clear the amendment would have been rejected unless we removed the target dates of 2030 for zero carbon across the council and the country. It was time to be practical. Save the motion by changing it or lose it. The Tories did propose “setting an ambitious target for Shropshire Council to be carbon neutral” but the emergency had gone out of the emergency. I had no choice but to agree with the changes. We would not be permitted to bring the topic back for debate once the Tory motion was accepted. Labour indicated their support for the compromise.
After formalities and another petition, the meeting began with Adam Shipp from Extinction Rebellion speaking to the climate emergency petition. It was a lucid presentation and well received, with applause from many councillors. It set the mood for following debate. You can hear Adam’s presentation here.
I welcomed the speech. My colleague, Hannah Fraser, asked councillors if they really believed there is a climate emergency. As it turned out, many of them didn’t. She asked if the council administration (the cabinet) had the capacity to deliver change. Peter Nutting, the council leader, praised the council’s environmental record and said the biggest problem we have in Shropshire is transport. He said the real question was how fast the council can change. 2025? No. 2030? No. That can’t be done without harming the economy of Shropshire. I was appalled by Nutting’s view that acting quickly would damage the county’s economy – a theme he returned to later in the meeting. He has clearly never heard of the green economy and obviously does not understand the pace at which Shropshire companies have been greening. But then he is the council leader who wanted an international passenger airport in Shropshire and still has ambitions for a cargo airport at Cosford.
You can hear part of the debate on the petition here. The council doesn’t vote on petitions so we moved on to the three motions.
Next up was Labour leader Alan Moseley presenting his group’s motion. He said that if councillors did not realise it is an emergency, they have no right to be in the council chamber. It is time Shropshire Council showed leadership on climate change and took on greater challenges. Julian Dean spoke on the importance of setting a deadline for zero carbon. Roger Evans stressed the need for the council to show leadership and act quickly, not for this generation or even the next, but for the generations that follow. Viv Parry spoke about the wasteful way we live our lives. Nigel Hartin said a 2030 deadline is essential.
My recording covers the first part of the debate. The full debate is linked below.
The portfolio holder Councillor Dean Carroll called for the motion to be rejected. It was lost by 37 votes to 23. Fourteen councillors were absent from the room for the vote or the entire meeting. Five Conservative members voted for the motion. That’s unprecedented for a motion that is not introduced with cross party support. It shows the underlying strength of feeling for tackling the climate emergency, despite the lack of leadership on the matter from council leader Peter Nutting. The five Conservatives voting for the motion were Karen Calder, Lee Chapman, Simon Jones, Robert Tindall and David Turner.
The lowest point of the meeting was the contribution by Ed Bird, councillor for Shifnal South and Cosford during the debate on the Labour motion. By his own admission, he had not spoken in the council chamber before. He doesn’t sit on any committees either. Councillors struggled to recognise him. He said the climate change debate was an important matter. He’d been following it closely in the media. But he declared: “I do not believe there is a climate emergency.” He believes in global warming because he studied it at school. He said that he was not persuaded by the scientific models on temperature. He does not believe that the scientific consensus gives an accurate prediction of the future. Setting a date [for zero carbon] would be arbitrary. He fretted over “unintended consequences” from any policy decision. He worried that tackling climate change could weaken Shropshire’s economy. He said the Extinction Rebellion petition only represented 2% of the county’s population and we need to think about all the others and their welfare.
It was a shameful speech and was criticised by several members, including his fellow Conservatives. I hope never to hear the like of it in the council chamber again. You can listen to Councillor Ed Bird’s speech here.
The council then turned to Julian Dean’s cross-party motion. He announced he was withdrawing it and would submit an amendment to Motion 4, the Conservative motion.
We then moved on to Motion 4 and the amendments from the Lib Dem group and Julian Dean. The debate was rarely inspiring.
The motion was introduced by Dean Carroll, the portfolio holder for climate change. He said that Julian’s motion went into too much detail. Responding, Julian stressed the need for ensuring that the local plan recognised the climate emergency including allocating sites for wind farms and ensuring future proofed housing that do not rely on gas.
David Minnery, the cabinet portfolio holder for finance and corporate support said: “We are not going far enough fast enough”. Rather than facing a climate emergency, he said, we are facing a climate catastrophe and 2030 is too late [for zero carbon]. Councillor Ed Bird tried to justify his earlier statement. His party-political statement on behalf of the Tory right didn’t succeed and was met with protests from across the chamber.
The vote on Julian’s motion was by a show of hands. I initially thought it had succeeded but there were 31 against and 28 for with three abstentions. With hindsight, we should have called for a recorded vote.
After some procedural confusion, I introduced the Lib Dem amendment saying I was disappointed with it – even though I had drafted it. I was disappointed with the lack of target dates. There was no demand to go ahead quickly. We need ambition and stretchy targets. I waved Alice the Dodo when I spoke about extinction and argued we are facing the biggest change since the industrial revolution.
Peter Nutting then spoke to the motion. He said we need a flexible approach:
“But Andy, I make no apology that I am not prepared to risk the economy of this county. We must act sensibly and in a way that protects jobs at the same time as driving the economy and protect climate change. Jobs and the economy are important. And I think that must be accepted as part of what we are saying.”
The amended motion was passed unanimously.
I felt embarrassed that we have a council leader so stuck in the twentieth century with his ideas. Being green is the future of our economy and jobs. It is the only way to protect society in the coming decades. Nutting does not have the support of many Tories on climate change, let alone other councillors. Tory led councils across the country have set a date of 2030 to reduce their operations to zero carbon but Peter Nutting is not prepared to face up to challenge and do so for Shropshire Council. He needs to adopt more progressive views or he will become as extinct as the Dodo.