Shaftesbury Council Wants Your Help To Identify Climate Emergency Actions

Do you have experience of how organisations can reduce their carbon footprint? The Town Council is recruiting residents for a new climate emergency working group. Alfred spoke with Cllr Alex Chase, who is leading this project.

“We’re looking to put together people from the town and the surrounding area who really know what they’re doing with regards to environmental and working practices, so that we can gain from their expertise and insight,” said Alex, as he outlined this unpaid role.

Over the last year, environmental action group Planet Shaftesbury’s volunteers have been championing action on climate change. I asked Cllr Chase why he didn’t simply ask that organisation to advise on best practice.

“We’ve appealed to Planet Shaftesbury already. One or two people came to speak to us. Planet Shaftesbury is a very enthusiastic group, but they don’t necessarily always have, shall we say, the qualifications. I wouldn’t want to say ‘expertise’ because they probably do. The qualifications are what will enable them to work through what is required for a given idea. We’ll certainly listen to Planet Shaftesbury and work with them as closely as possible, but we want to appeal to a wider group as well,” said Alex.

Cllr Alex Chase

Alex says the need for this working party was identified when town councillors declared a climate emergency. “We’re looking to work out ways in which this council can improve its working practices, its purchasing and how we can really reduce our environmental impact,” said Alex.

Many councils will have been through this process already and Alex says the Town Hall team will confer over best practice. “We will go to other councils and ask for their feedback on things that they’ve done and things that they want to do. Because Shaftesbury is the sort of town where there is already expertise, why not bring the community on board? Let’s not make it just a council thing,” he said.

Alex says the Town Hall staff have already started making positive changes. “We’ve managed to get almost completely renewable energy. We’ve got solar panels on the Town Hall and the swimming pool roofs. We’re doing as well as we can at the moment. There are a lot of places we can look and I’m sure we’ll find plenty that will inspire us.”

Alex says there has been a slight delay in launching this recruitment exercise, because of other projects. “The development of the council’s strategic plan has taken up a lot of officers’ time. Our Town Clerk, who is doing a fantastic job, has a course to enable her to be a better Town Clerk, if such a thing is possible,” said Alex. “That (course) is requesting a report from her on this very subject, next summer. Rather than getting her to do two lots of work, it seems sensible to take some actions now, such as renewable energy, and get the working group together in less of a rush. Then we can make sure that we’re taking further actions throughout that period,” explained Alex.

Any delay could potentially disappoint residents who want action now and not in two or three months. “The problem we have here is that there’s only a limited amount that a town council can do,” said Alex. “We realise that the climate emergency is a really serious issue. Unfortunately, perhaps some folks in town don’t necessarily see it as quite as serious as all of the other things required of a town council. We could stop operating on anything else and just focus on that. But rather than doing that, we want to make sure that all of our other services are continuing and that the report has good, solid ideas and that we have done something already. We have started doing the work. It’s not that the work is being delayed – the report is being delayed.”

The climate emergency is an emotive issue. Differing opinions over the best environmental practices were aired in the full Town Council meeting earlier this month. Cllr Peter Yeo suggested that Shaftesbury Town Council should show its commitment to sustainability by purchasing an electric works vehicle. Alex insisted that such a move would be less environmentally sound and sticking with the current van would be better. He maintains that position.

“Ultimately, that’s something we’ll definitely want to do, whether it’s electric or possibly a hydrogen-powered vehicle. But the problem is that every new car costs more, environmentally, than keeping one of the old diesel-powered trucks running until it dies,” he said. “It will be better for the environment than splurging £40,000 on a new electric vehicle for which all the relevant minerals have had to be mined from opencast mines and where all the materials have had to be transported across the seas on great big container ships, or flown.”

Alex added that the vehicle would then be assembled in a factory ‘belching out smoke’. “Let’s keep what we’ve got. When we have to replace it, we can with something a lot cleaner.”

Alex is hoping to recruit a small group of locals to this working party. If you want to put your name forward, please email the Town Hall on enquiries@shaftesbury-tc.gov.uk. “If we get more than a dozen, we’ve got too many. If we can get half-a-dozen folks, we will hold the first of the meetings probably in November,” he said.

Cllr Chase says he knows what he wants this new group to achieve. “As far as we’re concerned, if we know we’ve done everything we can, that’s a pretty good end goal.”