Council Watch - Council meeting September 2023

CA-WN watching West Northants Council for us all

Council Watch - Council meeting September 2023
The full West Northamptonshire Council Meeting on 28 September 2023 - Photo Dave Pearson

Two items on the agenda at the full council meeting on Thursday 28 September were related to CA-WN’s work on local air quality and our readiness to meet the challenges of climate change (links to meeting agenda and recording).

The first, a motion on air quality, asked WNC to commit to additional actions to reduce air pollution. Councillors arriving at the Guildhall for the meeting were greeted by an impressively organised silent protest, part of the 1000 Voices campaign calling on the council to take action to improve air quality in the area.

The silent and peaceful protest at The Guildhall - Photo The Umbrella Fair Organisation

A substantially amended version of the motion which committed WNC only to fulfilling their statutory duties was voted through by councillors. Regrettably this means no immediate action on tackling the main sources of dangerous emissions. For the foreseeable future the people of Northampton will continue to breathe heavily polluted air and for years to come our public services will be picking up the cost of repairing our residents' ill health.  

We don't think this is ambitious enough for one of England’s principal unitary authorities seemingly unwilling to learn from other authorities’ progress on reducing air pollution.

The second motion asked the council to re-confirm its July 2021 declaration of climate emergency, and among other things, to take climate impact into account in all decision-making. Despite some debate over the implications, this motion was passed by councillors with minimal amendment, which we see as very positive.

In support of the motions, Jane Wood made the following statement on behalf of CA-WN.

Good evening, my name is Jane Wood. I am chair of Climate Action-West Northamptonshire. We are local residents working on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our area, and preparing ourselves for life in a changed climate.
At your meeting in July 2021 I spoke in support of the motion to declare climate emergency. Since then I’ve been asked many times if WNC has declared a climate emergency. It’s a shame that such a significant step taken by this council over 2 years ago managed to slide under the radar for so many.
Let’s look at what has changed since that motion was passed:
-          The cross-party sustainability working group has been established
-          The sustainability team has grown and done some great work
-          WNC has joined UK 100 and been accredited by the Investors in the Environment scheme
-          A programme to retrofit some NPH homes has been completed
-          The council participated in No Mow May this year and encouraged parish councils to do the same
-          The council has issued emissions reports for the first time
This is all good and I know that more projects are in the pipeline.
However, taking a wider view and looking at how the council is operating overall, it still looks very much like ‘business as usual’ and not like a response to an emergency that will affect every aspect of our lives in the near future. We need joined-up thinking on traffic and travel, public health and education, social services and housing. We have an opportunity to make the place where we live cleaner, safer and resilient to the effects of climate change, a place where town centres are safe to walk, play and relax, rather than being dominated by cars, homes are efficient to heat and keep cool, everyone has access to affordable healthy food, and biodiversity thrives.
The motion on the agenda this evening provides an opportunity for the council to proudly and publicly endorse its previous important decision. And to go further, by standing behind that decision and embedding the declaration of climate emergency into all the council’s behaviours, procedures and decision-making. Please support the motion.
I’d also ask you to support the motion on air pollution, preferably as originally tabled including the proposal for a School Streets trial rather than the amendment which removes this and other proposals. Improving air quality has significant co-benefits for climate change, and also for public health and pride in our communities. It’s wonderful to have so many people gathered outside today in silent protest to push forward the conversation on air quality. It would be even better to see the council working together with the people and groups represented out there, to give us all cleaner air.