From the emails I receive and the conversations I have there is a huge appetite at grassroots level for the changes that will enable us all to live more sustainably. Three of the eight villages in my ward have active environment groups (in Braunston, Crick and Yelvertoft). Kilsby village is also considering setting one up. A proposal to link the small village of Yelvertoft, which has no public transport or general store, to the larger village of Crick by a 2km cycle/walking path received 70 likes on Yelvertoft’s Facebook page and filled my inbox with supportive emails. (Strangely, the only negative comment was from one of my fellow ward councillors!)
Many Yelvertoft residents really do want to leave their cars behind for the short journey to access the shops, post office, surgery and Crick’s other amenities. The Parish Council has set up a working group to look further into this proposal and the WNC cycling officer has confirmed that the highway would be suitable, only the cost almost certainly prohibitive. Fortunately there is a possible cheaper option of upgrading a bridleway which connects the two villages. Ironically on the day the local resident and the officer cycled the two possible routes the Transport Minister announced that Active Travel funding for the parliamentary term is being cut from £3.8 billion to £3 billion, such a backward move for the economy, the environment and our nation’s health.
Now that the clocks have gone forward I am intending to fulfil my personal sustainability pledge to cycle any distance shorter than 5 miles by bike. This can be a challenge when time is short and evening meetings will mean cycling on rural roads in the darkness, however the longer hours of daylight mean I’ll have no excuse! Cycling is such fantastic exercise, particularly in our undulating countryside and certainly around my part of West Northants there is a large network of small, largely car free lanes. My dream would be to link all our smaller, isolated villages with a network of “green lanes”, connecting them to larger settlements, where the pedestrian, cyclist, mobility scooter user and horse rider would take precedence over the motorist. Cars would be discouraged from using these lanes (except for access) by a 15 mph speed limit.
WNC should be hearing soon whether this year’s Active Travel bids to construct car free routes between Far Cotton and Brackmills via Delapre Abbey have been successful. Cycle and walking routes can’t of course be the sole solution to Northampton’s dire air pollution. It’s unfortunate that on the day WNC announced its initial report on its baseline emissions, the first important step in the Council’s net zero journey, news in the press identified our county town as the top UK city for air pollution. Worse than London, Bristol, Nottingham and many others, being exposed to Northampton air is the equivalent of smoking 189 cigarettes a year. No wonder residents in living in some parts of the town have exceptionally high rates of COPD.
WNC has received further funding to tackle its severe air pollution problem and this may include extending smoke control areas to reduce concentrations of harmful particulate matter pollution. If this extends to rural areas there is going to be a huge fault line between those who currently rely on solid fuel for domestic use and those for whom a cosy log fire is purely recreational and how those on either side of this line will respond. Looking into the future perhaps wood burning purely for pleasure will be as frowned on as indoor smoking.
Mindful of its harmful effect to my neighbours and beyond, I have certainly been lighting my open fire rarely this winter, so have had little ash to spread on my vegetable plot. At this time of the year I am always excited for the growing season, although by the end of the summer it’s usually a case of as many failures as successes and the triumph of hope over experience. My experience as a volunteer with Garden Organic’s peer support scheme to encourage people to have a go at growing was positive reinforcement of the fact that whatever open space you might have access to it’s always possible to grow something of your own, whether it’s herbs on a windowsill or potatoes in a bin bag. (My son had a good crop of potatoes grown from a bin bag on his London balcony during lockdown.)
In my view planting seeds and watching them metamorphose into fresh green stalks to junior plants and then mature into edible delights is one of the best antidotes to withstanding the burdens of the complex, endangered world we inhabit. And, of course, the results are (hopefully) delicious, with a freshness that is incomparable to what you might buy at even the highest end supermarket, plus of course you are making a contribution to carbon reduction and saving money.
The vegetables that are offered at the weekly Daventry Community Larder where I volunteer would all have been destined for landfill had they not been taken by the various suppliers who distribute surplus food to our local larders. The recent growth of these larders in West Northants – there are 9 now over the whole area, including two in the villages of Brixworth and Woodford Halse – is an effective response to tackling food waste and mitigating hardship, with so many in desperate need during this cost of living emergency. Given the scale of the task of both reducing the amount of food that is thrown away each year and the heating or eating dilemma for so many families, these larders will be one answer to sustainable grocery shopping for a long time to come. They are also social places and any activity which helps dispel the memory of the terrible social isolation that was the experience of significant numbers of people during the pandemic has got to be a positive benefit. As one customer observed to me at the Larder: “People talk to each other here – they don’t do that in Tesco’s!”
Cllr Rosie Humphreys - Braunston and Crick ward