Earlier this week Hastings’ Green party issued a press release critical of Hastings Borough Council’s ruling Labour group over what they perceived to be the council’s lack of action over climate change, even going so far as to brand last year’s climate emergency motion as ‘tokenism’.
Today, almost exactly a year on from the passing of that motion, Maya Evans the council’s lead member for Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development explains just what HAS been going on: “Although you may not hear about every meeting that takes place, rest assured there are a huge number…” she says.
‘Climate change has been a pressing problem for over two decades. However, climate activists and environmental political parties have sadly failed to make it a widespread central concern for the majority of the public.’
Exactly a year ago Hastings became one of the first councils in the country to pass a climate change motion and won immediate praise from Climate Emergency UK for having progressive and ambitious goals writes Maya Evans, Hastings Borough Council’s lead member for Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development.
But we have not rested on our laurels – far from it.
The council is following through on its pledges and has been working hard behind the scenes to make climate change a priority. Since the motion we have become one of only a few councils to appoint a Cabinet-level lead member for climate change and that’s me.
We have also employed two council officers to specifically focus on the climate crisis – no mean feat when this years’ annual austerity cuts have entailed 30 job losses. Our officers have already written a climate change strategy, as well as identified sites in the town for installing renewable energy. This draft is now ‘toaster ready’ and will be publicly available soon.
I am encouraging community involvement wherever I can. This has included me consulting schools and holding community climate change ward surgeries and on my own initiative I am organising a community conference in March to get people’s ideas on how we can take forward action on climate change locally, such as an extensive tree planting programme.
Climate change has been a pressing problem for over two decades. However, climate activists and environmental political parties have sadly failed to make it a widespread central concern for the majority of the public.
This failure is in part responsible for the crisis we face today.
For this reason, I am deliberately going out of my way to engage people across the whole town.
I’m especially interested in how people on a low income can feel empowered and involved in tackling climate change. If we’re to succeed in countering this crisis, it’s going to take buy-in from everyone, and it needs to involve prioritising those who are least able to independently tackle climate change in their own lives.
Last week I was at the Conquest Hospital working on improving sustainable transport with among others the NHS and Stagecoach buses. Later this week I’m meeting with directors from the Optivo housing association to present ambitious climate strategy proposals which will not only improve the quality of life for some of the poorest in the borough, but, as an incentive, add value to Optivo property.
Although you may not hear about every meeting that takes place, rest assured there are a huge number, especially with stakeholders, and climate change is centre stage.
Hastings Borough Council (HBC) itself is edging closer to carbon neutrality, thanks mainly to solar panels installed on buildings such as the council’s seafront offices at Muriel Matters House and last year, following a 2018 pledge, festivals funded by the council took place without any single-use plastic – this included Pride, the Seafood & Wine Festival and the Herring Festival.
As we approach the May local elections climate change will increasing become a politicised issue. One such cause appears to be the potential plans to place solar arrays in the Country Park, with grossly exaggerated claims that the council aims to “industrialise” the park by covering a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in solar panels.
In reality there are only two fields which are currently in consultation. These are generally used for grazing sheep, and one is actually cut off from public access as it adjoins a working farm.
Plans for the ‘North Seat’ field could possibly see half the area – which is south facing – house solar arrays, which would potentially generate energy for up to 300 families. Our ambition is for residents on nearby Downs Farms Estate to be the recipients of this clean green and affordable energy – underlining Labour’s socialist approach to tackling the climate crisis.
Hastings is one of 277 local authorities in the UK to have passed a climate emergency, none of us has a statutory duty to tackle climate change and there’s no extra funding for doing it, but we choose to do so because we sincerely care. Our neighbours, Rother District Council, is aiming to get its climate strategy to full council by May, which will be around the same time as us.
The council appreciates that tackling global warming is an emergency. But if our plans locally are to work, they need to be logical, realistic and well thought out. Some policies may take longer than others – that’s not because we don’t care, or don’t appreciate the urgency, it’s because they are annoyingly complicated and we want to get things right.
Last year Maya Evans spoke at length to Hastings In Focus about her role as lead member for Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development. You can hear her interview by clicking on the link below