Shropshire Council reconsiders bus cuts – that’s good news but we await the details

Update

On 12 June, the Cabinet agreed the following:

Local Bus Services

  • To not implement the reduction or removal of services as consulted, but where the consultation feedback has highlighted genuine efficiencies or cost pressures those will be focussed upon.  
  • To amend the Council’s 2019/20 budget and reduce the planned reduction in the public transport budget from £405,000 to £180,000.

Future Public Transport Services

  • To commence a review of the current operation and future opportunities for, improved public transport services across Shropshire, including reviewing concessionary travel and the opportunities for bus franchising.

The Cabinet also recommended increases on some Shrewsbury park and ride charges but deferred other increases until they have been reviewed.

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Shropshire Council declared a climate emergency on Thursday – but its leader would not agree to emergency action

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.

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Shropshire Council want to cut planning committees because Tories can’t be bothered to give up one day a month – it’s an attack on democracy

Update 20 May 2019. Shropshire Council has agreed to merge the north and central planning committees from September. Many councillors voted against the move, including – as far as I could see – all members of the South Planning Committee. The south committee is south for now but the executive has made no secret of its desire to progress to a single committee for the entire unitary area.

Original article

The South Planning Committee is safe from the latest Shropshire Council attack on democracy – for now. But council leaders are determined to merge the two committees that cover the Shrewsbury area and North Shropshire into one. The justification is very thin. The paperwork makes it clear that the council’s ambition is a single planning committee for the entire county. They also want to make more decisions behind closed doors rather than in a democratic forum. And part of the justification is that Tory councillors are reluctant to give a day a month to serve on a planning committee. I think it is also to ensure that the Tories have control of all three planning committees.

This is an attack on democracy. Planning one of the most important functions of any council. It is one of the most public facing duties and one where residents are most closely engaged with decision making.

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Climate emergency set to dominate Shropshire Council agenda next Thursday with three motions and one petition

The climate emergency features on Shropshire Council’s agenda on Thursday, 16 May. Not once, not twice or even three times. There is one public petition and three motions from political parties and independent councillors. This is unprecedented and I am not sure how the debate will be managed. It would be a good idea to move the motions from the end to the beginning of the meeting to be debated along with the petition. But it is sea change from the February council meeting, when the council speaker cruelly extinguished a public question on climate change over a technicality.

I am sure the council will get the hint that we need to declare a climate emergency. But this must be more than a token gesture to capture the current public mood. The council must bring forward its plans to become carbon neutral from a target of 2050 to 2030, if not sooner. And it needs to seriously rethink its plans for cuts to bus cuts and building an environmentally destructive North West Relief Road around Shrewsbury.

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International experts say we are heading towards a global biodiversity emergency. We must act in Shropshire – now

Look around you. Trees are being felled. Hedges grubbed out. Arable fields are too often growing a monoculture crop boosted by chemicals. Biodiversity is the loser. As will be humanity if we continue this way.

Few of us have heard of the body that published a technical report on the loss and threat to all manner of species today. But that doesn’t make the report from the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) any less important. It is one of the most important environmental reports of this decade. It states bluntly that almost all environmental indicators show the health of nature is decreasing. Biodiversity is dying.

Like tackling climate change, we must do what we can locally. That means ensuring that new developments not only lead to biodiversity gain but deliver that gain more quickly. It means we must cut down fewer trees and hedges. It means we must set aside more land for nature.

If we want prosperity, we can’t destroy the environment that supports our wellbeing. We need to work with nature not against it.

The IPBES is the biodiversity partner of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Today’s report says nature is in trouble and one million species of plants and animals are at risk of going extinct. The scientists blame development leading to loss of habitat, climate change, overfishing, pollution and invasive species. Species are being lost tens or hundreds of times faster than before. The panel’s scientists blame the biodiversity crisis on humanity. They say there is still time to save the planet if governments, companies and individuals act.

It’s a wake-up call. We should heed it.

The IPBES report says that biodiversity is not just about birds, bugs and beasties – it’s a development issue, an economic issue, a social issue and a moral issue. Nature is essential for food production, for pure water, for medicines and for the wellbeing of people and society.

This is a report about global issues. It talks a lot about the large-scale destruction of the natural environment underway on other continents. The question is for us in Shropshire is what we can do here right now. There are many actions we can take.  

Shropshire Council’s Biodiversity Action Plan has not been updated for a decade. The council’s excuse is that the government stopped funding it. Surely a council that cared about our county’s future would have an up to date plan for its biodiversity as well as its economy.

Planning policies in the county – and nationally – assume that biodiversity is a secondary consideration. Build first, stick a few trees and plant pond sometime afterwards. We need to insist developers introduce biodiversity improvements early on in developments. Once a tree is cut down – and more than 100 will be cut down for the Foldgate Lane housing development – it will be decades before any replacements host the same richness of biodiversity.

We need to link biodiverse areas into a network of wildlife corridors, not just isolated pockets. The London Borough of Brent is creating a seven mile Bee Corridor. That’s just one example of how we can make biodiversity work at a local level. Why aren’t we doing that in Shropshire?

The council is promoting the North West Relief Road around Shrewsbury despite the damage it will wreak on ancient ponds, silted up oxbows and veteran trees. It should rethink the route and the concept.

We must stop massacring verges in the name of tidiness. We must maintain sight lines for safety. But huge areas are routinely mown down with monotonous regularity because of our obsession with short grass. Shropshire Council made clear last year it doesn’t understand how it can help biodiversity and save money at the same time by changing its mowing regime. It regards biodiverse rich verges as the exception not the norm.

From biodiverse to ugly – a verge on the edge of Ludlow

At today’s press conference in Paris, Sir Bob Watson praised the IPBES report:

“But we must recognise that the basic message is the same as what the scientific community has been saying for more than 30 years. Biodiversity is important in its own right. Biodiversity is important for human wellbeing and we humans are destroying it… In 1992 the Earth Summit in Brazil… recognised that biodiversity loss needed to be halted. Since 1992, the loss of biodiversity has accelerated. We ignored the warnings of 30 years ago. Unless we act now, we undermine wellbeing for future generations.”

We should not wait for national and international bodies to negotiate agreements. We should make promoting biodiversity central to all our policies and actions in this county.

We must stop wringing our hands and muttering apologies for what we are doing to our planet. We need to protect and enhance what we have. The time to do that is not tomorrow. It is today. We have a biodiversity emergency. We need to tackle it at local, national and international level. We must tackle it root and branch, if you will excuse the pun. 

Sign the petition to ban hedge netting by developers to stop birds nesting.

Sign the petition to make “hedgehog highways” mandatory on all new builds.