New Shaftesbury Council Urged To Make Climate Breakdown Top Priority

A Shaftesbury environmental campaigner is calling on our newly elected councils to declare a climate emergency.

Robin Walter from Planet Shaftesbury believes that our local authorities need to make a statement as soon as possible. And whilst he welcomes Shaftesbury Town Council’s new Biodiversity and Environmental Policy on tackling waste, the use of water and pesticides, Robin wants our new representatives to do more.

Back in February, Shaftesbury Town Council approved a plan that recognised that its ‘day-to-day operations can impact both directly and indirectly on the environment’. Councillors agreed a policy to manage the Council’s land using environmentally friendly practices that will promote biodiversity.

Robin Walter

“Some of the things they propose in the policy are things that, I imagine, should be happening anyway, such as ‘providing adequate training’, ‘minimising waste’ and ‘identifying and managing environmental risks and hazards’. These are standard practice. It’s good that they’re reiterated in the policy,” said Robin.

The Town Hall policy has committed the authority to ‘reduce the use of water, energy and any other natural resources’. It will ‘source materials from sustainable supply and also locally, when practicable’. Robin supports these moves but he says the staff now need to measure consumption levels so they can set targets.

“The proof will be in how well this is implemented. If you’re talking about reducing the use of this or minimising that, the first thing you need to do is to find out where we are now. How much of these resources are we using? What’s a reasonable target? And then we need some milestones along the way. How well have we done?”

Shaftesbury Town Council’s Clerk, Claire Commons, told ThisIsAlfred that work to measure use of materials and then set reduction targets was underway. The Town Council says it is examining every new project to see whether it could be approached in a way that is better for the environment. Claire explained that staff had looked into collecting run-off water for use at the new allotments on the A30, but that it had not been practical.

Through their newly adopted policy, Shaftesbury Town Council say that they will now only engage contractors who are able to demonstrate ‘due regard to environmental matters’. They will ‘promote environmentally responsible purchasing’ and will ‘support local businesses in the adoption of impact practices’.

The Town Hall has also made a firm commitment to limit the use of a herbicide, which is used to kill both broadleaf plants and grasses. “It says in the policy to ‘eliminate the use of glyphosate in sensitive areas, such as those rich in wildlife, play areas, dog walking areas and high profile tourist areas’, but the implication is that in other areas they can use it,” said Robin.

Mrs Commons said that Town Hall staff had been using alternatives to glyphosate in the specified ‘sensitive areas’, including a treatment called chikara. But she advised that only glyphosates are effective in tackling Japanese knotweed. “Obviously reducing the use of pesticides wherever possible is welcomed,” Robin added.

When the new Town Council is formed, Robin wants its members to formally recognise the need for urgent action to protect the environment. “What we would like to see is for the Council to declare a climate emergency as other councils have done. We think that would ‘up the ante’. It’s a way of raising the issue of climate change and climate breakdown by putting it to the top of all agendas, whether it’s roads, housing, care for open spaces or the use of chemicals,” said Robin.

Claire says that no formal request for such a declaration had been received yet and she confirmed that there is no legal reason why a town council could not pass that sort of resolution.

Planet Shaftesbury is aware that the Town Council has a limited remit, so the group recently launched a petition to the new Dorset Council, which has overall control over planning, building, highways and development matters.

At 3pm on 3rdMay, as candidates for Dorset Council were still waiting to hear whether their election campaigning had been successful, 1,488 people had put their names to the online form. Those petition signatories want Dorset Council to debate a climate emergency motion, pledge to make Dorset carbon neutral by 2030 and to ask Westminster for the powers and resources to make this target achievable.

Robin warns that some of the problems that the new authority is inheriting will become worse without action on climate change. “If we don’t do all we can to prevent climate breakdown, there will be more poverty. There will be more homeless people. It’s a question of priorities really. So I would urge all the elected officials to make that their top priority.”