Council Watch November 2022

CA-WN watching West Northants Council for us all

CA-WN has not conducted a survey about what people think of the council’s progress to date on tackling the climate crisis and delivering their sustainability agenda, however for most people the consensus might be summed up as ‘frustratingly slow’.  It is difficult to point to concrete examples where there’s been any change in practice to match WNC’s declarations of intent in this area – if anyone has got such an example to share, we would be very happy to know about it.

Of course external observers don’t see what is going on under the bonnet.  A key foundation for taking effective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to baseline current emissions levels, and we are told that this important exercise is close to completion for the council’s own operations, which is excellent news.

A couple of other updates from recent committee meetings:

  • The report of the Tree Policy & Strategy Task & Finish Group recommended that a Tree Policy be prepared no later than March 2023
  • The council still aims to deliver a draft Active Travel Strategy by the end of this year, having received funding to do so.

The next council meeting in February will be primarily about discussing the budget for the coming year.  We already know that finances are tight for WNC, in common with many other local authorities, and do not underestimate the scale of the challenge in finding money for ‘green’ initiatives as well as the council’s many other responsibilities.

We do not seek to teach WNC its business in this respect, but would remind councillors that it will not be enough to fund a few standalone projects.  Making substantive progress towards a zero-carbon future will require a fundamental shift in approach, so that all proposed spending is meaningfully tested against the sustainable development goals.

This is the opportunity for WNC to really show their hand; achieving the clean and green future we all want will need investment in, for example:

  • Public transport that enables residents to travel to work, shops, hospitals and places of study at a cost they can afford and in a way that meets their needs (see the post More Demand, Demand More).
  • Supporting householders to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and move away from fossil-fuel heating
  • An extensive, safe, modern active travel network
  • Support for local groups planting trees, creating community gardens and creating wildlife-friendly environments
  • Monitoring air pollution
  • Climate adaptation measures – making sure our essential services and infrastructure will be resilient to the effects of the changing climate.

Spending to enable travel by private car must be rigorously examined, whether that is on new roads and car parks, or on subsidising parking.  Consider the example of the proposed changes around Northampton train station, which include plans for a new 1400 space multistorey car park.  We will not achieve net zero by encouraging more people to travel to the station by car.  It’s also important to remember that provision of parking spaces only benefits people who can afford both a car and the parking charges.  Is travelling by train equally accessible for everyone?

A reminder that details and papers for all Council committees can be found on their website and meetings can be watched live or recorded on YouTube.

I’d also highly recommend subscribing to NNJournal as a way of staying well-informed about local issues.  They’ve recently covered funding plans for the above-mentioned multistorey car park (October 31st), as well as an analysis of the attendance record of WNC councillors (October 28th), something you might want to think about when the next elections come round. Some content is free but it’s all available for £5 a month, well worth it to support genuine local journalism.