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GBC Lags Behind Waverley and Woking On Climate Change Planning Says Independent Assessor

Published on: 3 Feb, 2022
Updated on: 4 Feb, 2022

By Hugh Coakley

GBC has been rated below average by Climate Emergency UK who scored the council 39% on their climate emergency planning.

This ranks the council below the national average of 43% and behind neighbours Waverley and Woking councils who scored 76% and 70% respectively.

GBC scored by Climate Emergency UK. Click on the image to see the full GBC score.

GBC dramatically declared a climate emergency as one of the first acts of the new Lib Dem administration taking over from the Tories in 2019. That same year Guildford was rated highly by Friends of the Earth.

But two years on, GBC scored only 1/9 for community engagement, 0/5 for diversity and social inclusion and 1/5 for measuring and setting emissions targets. Recently there has been no climate change officer in the council, a post which has been vacant since September 2021.

Climate Change march in September 2019. Photo – Mandy Millyard.

The results reflect the findings by The Dragon in June 2021 when those interviewed were “totally unaware of GBC’s declared climate emergency or the subsequent action taken by the council”.

The previous GBC lead for climate change, Jan Harwood (Cons, Merrow) said at the time he was “pleased with the progress to date”.

Local politicians and environmental activists have called the poor rating “unsurprising” and “deeply embarrassing”. In a statement to The Dragon, Mr Harwood accused the council of “unwillingness to provide officer resourcing for climate change”.

Climate Emergency UK, a not-for-profit cooperative which shares best practice about what councils can do to tackle the climate and ecological emergency, had assessed the climate action plans councils in the UK. 

84 of the 409 councils had no published plan while others have “plans of very varying quality and ambition” said the Climate Emergency UK spokesperson.

Climate Emergency UK scorecard. Click on the image to access the scorecard.

The government has legislated to commit the country to hitting net zero carbon by 2050 but have themselves been criticised for not having an adequate plan.

Cllr Cait Taylor

The new GBC lead for climate change and air quality, Cait Taylor (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) said: “We recognise that we have work to do and our climate change action plan is our highest priority.

“The Climate Change Board will be meeting regularly to bring this forward at pace.  One of the first areas of collaboration with Waverley will be on climate change and I am looking forward to working with them.

“As a local authority, we have opportunities to make what we do greener and to bring together local groups and individuals who are uniquely placed to make a difference. We are committed to becoming a net-zero carbon borough by 2030 and we will continue to find more ways to reduce our impact on our planet.”

Chair of the Guildford Environmental Forum, Alastair Atkinson said: “The key comparison is with Waverley and Working, both of which score almost twice as much. This shows that it’s possible to do substantially better within Surrey.

“Technical expertise is hard to find in today’s labour market but we urge the council to think more innovatively to ensure that it makes make more progress, learning from Waverley and Working but also working with local community groups.”

Cllr Jan Harwood.

Former Lib Dem lead councillor Jan Harwood now a Conservative (Merrow) said: “This is a very disappointing review of Guildford’s position relative to its peers. As a previous lead member for climate change, I never hid the fact we were not doing enough.

“Given the unwillingness to provide officer resourcing for climate change, I pushed for much stronger cooperation across borough boundaries.

“Unsurprisingly, our neighbours continue to outperform us whilst the current Lib Dem/R4GV administration continue to largely virtue signal without actually taking any proactive steps forward. I sincerely hope that the council will now take this matter seriously and follow the lead of neighbouring councils.”

Brian Creese.

Chair of the Guildford Labour Party, Brian Creese said: “I think these results are deeply embarrassing for a town like Guildford, where there is huge support for more effective action to avert the climate catastrophe.

“Sadly, it is equally unsurprising – the council often talks a good game, but real action is hard to discern.

“Our experience suggests that the council is struggling with even the most basic of environmental measures such as recycling, waste disposal, keeping our rivers clean and developing green spaces.”

Sam Peters, Green Party candidate in the borough and county elections in 2019, said: “It is no surprise to us that the Green Party is represented on four of the top five district councils, including as part of the governing alliance on two. On both these councils – one of which is Waverley Borough Council (WBC) – a Green councillor heads the Environment Committee.

“WBC is surging ahead on sustainable housing, with all new social builds to be net-zero carbon, including several Passivhaus-standard homes finished last year – among the first built and rented by local authorities nationwide. On green transport, WBC is making significant investment in walking and cycling infrastructure, EV charging and improving public transport. The council also strongly opposes fossil fuel drilling locally.

“It is possible to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies in a way that ultimately not only saves money, but also creates healthier towns and villages, cuts bills, provides green jobs, and builds community. We look forward to working cross-party in Guildford (and on Surrey County Council) to realise this greener future.”

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