Shaftesbury Council Calls Climate Emergency And Backs Plastic-Free Movement

Shaftesbury Town Council has declared a climate emergency and backed plans for Shaftesbury to pursue ‘plastic-free status’.

Alfred’s Keri Jones was at the meeting.

Shaftesbury Town Council has followed Dorset Council in declaring a climate emergency. Cllr Alex Chase made the proposal, known as a member’s motion, which he says goes further than just paying lip service to the climate emergency.

“On its own, it is just a fashionable phrase. It’s useful in describing what it is, but it means nothing without the second part of the motion, which is the Town Council committing to looking to go carbon neutral ourselves,” said Alex.

“97% of academics agree on climate change,” Cllr Piers Brown told the meeting. Piers said that environmentally-focused action was, “not a new foray for this Council.” The solar panels on the Town Hall and the Oasis swimming pool are a “best-kept secret,” he said.

Whilst Cllr Peter Yeo agreed that climate change was a ‘no brainer’, he questioned whether making a declaration was the right approach. “We all know that global warming is happening but in the grand scheme of things, other countries are making no effort. Why don’t we just say we are going to get proper recycling bins in the High Street and use electric vehicles,” Peter added.

His remarks were met by hissing from the public seating. Piers was also heckled with shouts of ‘pull the other leg’ when he told the meeting that Britain was leading the way by declaring carbon neutral status by 2040.

Cllr Philip Proctor wanted to go further. He announced his vision for local power production, suggesting a series of mills to harness the flow of streams in the hills surrounding Shaftesbury. “There’s no reason why this Council shouldn’t put water mills on each of those sites,” he said, before the Mayor asked him to focus on the motion.

Alex said that it wouldn’t cost anything to draw up a Town Council plan of action by October. “What we’ve got is a commitment to have a report done into ways we can reduce our carbon footprint. When that report comes back to us, we can look into which of those ways can make a difference. We will do everything we can to push those forward and monitor them as they go forward,” said Alex.

Passionate and knowledgeable locals will be invited to advise the Council through this process. Christina Strickland, who watched the debate, was delighted that the Council will form a panel of experts. “We’ve got this big world. We’ve got global problems but locally, we can make a difference. The more people can feel that they’re actually making a difference, the more they’ll feel involved and participate. They need to be given a chance. A decision to create a local group, with support from all these amazing groups in Shaftesbury, is really amazing.”

Even though the larger Dorset Council has already declared a climate emergency, the Shaftesbury Council decision pleased resident John Nelson, who also attended the debate. “The more unanimous decisions that are made across the board and within the hierarchy of local government, the better. I think it’s a good thing that the Council has declared it, and they are backing it up with an action plan. That means they are planning to look at ways in which they can actually put a practical application, to deliver on climate change,” said John.

Next, the Council agreed to support the process of Shaftesbury becoming a plastic-free community. “It doesn’t really mean plastic-free Shaftesbury, it just means single-use plastic,” said resident Gillian Lewis, who sat through the meeting. “We have got to start somewhere. We have got to try, and it’s making all the old people and the middle-aged people aware, because the younger ones are quite good on it,” Gillian added.

Cllr Chase’s second proposal was, “principally a community action”, but he felt that the Town Council needed to, “kick start it.” The Council will undertake an audit of items that it buys with an aim to remove all single-use plastics from Council premises.

Some councillors raised concerns that products like bundles of toilet roll were usually plastic-wrapped, until Cllr George Hall recommended a suitable sustainable supplier he uses. Mayor Tim Cook went on to explain how some pubs had allowed metal reusable cups during Shaftesbury Fringe. Alex cautioned that drinking vessels were outside the Town Council’s influence, but the Chamber of Commerce had shown interest in backing biodegradable cups for events, and he believed that Shaftesbury Carnival may introduce a similar initiative.

Peter Yeo warned against outlawing single-use plastic. He argued that plastic pint glasses could offer a better option at an event. He said he had witnessed two incidents when people had been ‘glassed’.

George Hall said that he backed sustainability and explained that he operated a sustainable energy business. But George said he preferred Peter Yeo’s call for town centre bins to separate recyclable and non-recyclable waste over the plastic-free initiative. All councillors, apart from George, supported the Council’s plastic-free drive.

Alex believes his motions offers all the Council can realistically do at this point, but he welcomes an approach from any resident with ideas. “I think there’s a limited amount that, as a Town Council, we can do, especially a small town. At this point, I would say we’re doing everything we can. If someone were to come up and say, ‘how about this?’ then we’ll look into every opportunity to see what we can do in the future,” he said.

Christina was pleased by the two decisions that she hopes will encourage further action. “The least we can do as a town is get our act together,” said Christina. “It is really quite simple. There are alternatives. And little acorns grow into big oak trees.”