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Letter: Cllr Jackson’s Support For County-wide Climate Assembly

Published on: 18 Feb, 2020
Updated on: 18 Feb, 2020

From Guildford Borough Councillor Gordon Jackson (independent, Pirbright), who chairs the council’s Climate Change Innovations Board

In response to the story Two Petitions: Car Free Day And Demands for Climate Action Citizens’ Assembly

I would like to clarify the views attributed to me in your above article. In fact, I support the establishment of a citizens’ assembly, although in common with other examples across the country, I believe its recommendations should be advisory.

However, I believe it is counter-productive to establish such a body at local borough level and I support the initiative by The Surrey Climate Commission to establish a Surrey wide assembly, which is based on the successful model followed by Leeds Climate Commission.

Cllr Gordon Jackson.

Given that approximately 33% of carbon emissions are transport related, 18% from power stations, 18% from business and 18% residential, it makes much more sense for the citizens’ assembly to be a body embracing all of the 11 boroughs in the county as well as Surrey County Council, so that we all work together towards tackling the extremely serious challenges that we face.

Funding for the assembly will be required, as the basic principle is that an independent body has to invite a representative sample of citizens to attend and they then assess expert evidence before coming up with recommendations.

Why replicate this all across Surrey, when the same evidence can be considered once by a Surrey-wide body at considerable saving to the taxpayer and the relevant authorities can then consider one set of recommendations?

The local borough council can and will do its part and the Climate Change and Innovation Board is charged with developing a strategy for the council and the borough, which will then be recommended to the Executive and ultimately full council.

Any member of the public can see the agenda and minutes of the CCIB, including details of what the Council has already achieved and what is being considered by looking on the Council’s website (

As a local borough council we are not the Highways Authority and have to work with Surrey County Council on all matters relating to transport, our Local Plan already includes ambitious policies in relation to emissions reduction in respect of new homes and further policies are due to be put forward for consultation in the very near future.

We are also looking at what can be done to promote local low carbon and renewable energy networks.

These are just a few of the 50 or so measures that are currently under consideration as summarised by the CCIB terms of reference, which are also on the GBC website.

I strongly support as much engagement as possible by residents and local businesses.  I recognise that the council cannot meet this emergency on its own and, as has previously been indicated, the CCIB is strongly supportive of all initiatives to encourage participation by residents and businesses to develop the means by which every person can take responsibility for their individual emissions.

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Responses to Letter: Cllr Jackson’s Support For County-wide Climate Assembly

  1. B Smith Reply

    February 19, 2020 at 8:32 am

    I think this is putting far too much faith in Surrey County Council to enact appropriate climate policy.

    Let’s not forget they are refusing to divest Surrey pension funds from fossil fuel investments – despite the evidenced massive risks of asset stranding and the constant flux of investors out of fossil fuels. Then we have the ongoing issues of SCC bowing to fossil fuel lobbying in allowing Horse Hill drilling, despite NPFP showing no favour for onshore drilling. The county council has shown it will not take the measures necessary.

    The borough however, can do! A citizens assembly is a chance to build a community climate plan – Cllr Jackson is correct, this needs massive community involvement. But the way to get that, and the way to show locals that they can have an impact, thus empowering them to personal action and lending support to policy shifts is to run a citizens assembly locally. They are the foundation on which the community plan is built. Public involvement from the start, to grow more public engagement.

    Furthermore, Guildford as the largest town in Surrey needs its own climate plan as I’m sure the council acknowledges, and as such needs its own residents involved in building this plan.

    Community energy schemes, town centre rejuvenation, and education are MASSIVE factors here that the borough and its residents absolutely can influence.

    This is focused too much on financial power and not enough on GBC’s lobbying power! Let’s be ambitious! Let’s push for the top of the friends of the earth council table! Let’s lead by example. Wirral council just got a grant for £300k for tree planting alone to tackle emissions and biodiversity loss.

    If we don’t think big, we won’t win big. Get the community involved now, at scale, and watch the borough flourish in its climate plans!!

  2. Freya Turner Reply

    February 19, 2020 at 8:52 am

    I think that Cllr. Jackson’s optimism for engagement from Surrey County Council is… hopeful, but somewhat naive. The top down approach that he is pointing towards is the same one that has been failing us for decades on climate change.

    Surrey County Council are regularly ignoring the wishes of residents already – their actions should be drastic by now, considering their declaration of a Climate Emergency, yet drilling at the second largest onshore oil site in the UK has still been approved within the borders of their control.

    These words and action do not line up. Pressure from a borough level, especially the largest borough in the county, helps to emphasise the level of local engagement to force them to take bolder action.

    Additionally, there is so much to be done at a borough level. GBC may not have authority over Highways, but if 33% of emissions are transport related, a redesign of areas of the town could achieve great changes, as could a greater engagement of the public over these issues.

    A Citizens’ Assembly is an opportunity for bringing the local public onboard to develop a COMMUNITY Climate Action Plan, which brings residents of Guildford closer together, as well as allowing space to discuss both changes we can make to our own transport habits, as well as how GBC can support us to implement these – a more pedestrian/cycle friendly town centre for example, which benefits the residents rather than chain companies.

  3. Ben McCallan Reply

    February 19, 2020 at 8:57 am

    The glaring issue here is that Surrey County Council has legislated to hit carbon neutrality by 2050 (widely accepted to be far too late to avoid climate tipping points), whilst GBC has committed to carbon neutrality by 2030.

    So it will render it impossible for the borough to meet their own policy requirements simply by following what is done at county level.

    2030 is highly ambitious (and very welcome, so well done there) and as such requires a total rethink of how we write and enact policy – and this is exactly why a local citizens assembly is so important, in both generating policy informed by emissions specialists and in involving local residents from the get-go.

    The Climate Commission is a good start, and undoubtedly has some good members on the spearhead group. But the stumbling block is that the decisions made both by the commission and an associated citizens assembly is that Surrey County Council will have to sign off any decisions.

    SCC has been woefully inadequate on climate policy, including granting permission for the UK’s 2nd largest onshore oil field – despite it being repeatedly demonstrated – and championed by Mark Carney, ex governor of bank of England- that to be Paris accord compliant we need to make an immediate managed transition away from fossil fuels to avoid the bursting of the ‘carbon bubble’. Oil and gas companies already have 5x more fossil fuels on their books than can be burned to avoid the climate tipping points at 2° that will cause accelerating clinate breakdown.

    Despite this SCC continues to pander to oil and gas companies at the expense of Surrey residents

  4. Alison Moulden Reply

    February 19, 2020 at 9:27 am

    A Surrey County Council Citizen’s Assembly (CA) will not have insight into Guildford town’s unique transport limitations, and will not be able to respond accordingly.

    I am glad to hear Councillor Jackson is in favour of a binding CA. If he wishes to cut the cost of CAs, which is not a bad idea in itself, then combining the selection process, where both one county and multiple town CA’s are selected at one time in a collective way, we can benefit from the perfect alchemy of a county wide policy, and tailored local one.

    Councillor Jackson needs to accept that Guildford must have its own Citizen’s Assembly if we are to have any chance of tackling the 33% emissions from transport, for example.

  5. Sam Peters Reply

    February 19, 2020 at 2:23 pm

    It is welcome news to hear that Cllr Jackson is supportive of the idea of Citizens’ Assemblies, although his earlier comments suggest he perhaps isn’t yet fully aware of the intricacies of the concept.

    It is also encouraging that Surrey Climate Commission is aiming to hold a Citizens’ Assembly, although this will not be possible for quite some time.

    However, whether a county-wide Citizens’ Assembly would be agreeable to all councils given the vast difference in their stated aims is dubious.

    Surrey County Council’s Climate Emergency declaration targets net zero emissions across the county by 2050, while Guildford Borough Council’s 2030 target is only for council operations – two entirely different ambitions with vastly different solutions.

    Of course, we could push for a Citizens’ Assembly that aims to find ways towards what is scientifically necessary – net zero emissions by 2030 – but I find it somewhat doubtful that many councils would gather enough councillors with the political selflessness to accept or enact the proposals put forward by their representatives in such case.

    It seems we’re left in Guildford with the Climate Change Innovation Board, which is of course a promising initiative on the surface.

    However, progress appears painfully slow, with the CCIB taking nearly four months just to approve its Terms of Reference. Meanwhile, its target remains only ensuring that council operations are carbon neutral by 2030, a feat which has been comfortably achieved already by several councils. Stroud District Council had in fact already reached carbon neutrality in 2015, in the process cutting bills for residents and bringing in over £36million in investment, and councillors are now working on reaching net zero emissions for the whole district.

    If GBC is as committed to tackling the climate crisis as we’re regularly told, it should welcome a Citizens’ Assembly to inform councillors in making the (presumed) politically sensitive calls necessary to actually achieve carbon neutrality in the timeframe we have been given by climate scientists, including the excellent research groups at Surrey University.

    If the opposition to this is money, perhaps GBC would consider investing slightly more than the paltry £250,000/year committed to climate change recently.

    If the opposition is duplication of effort across multiple councils, then maybe a standardisation of climate targets based on the climate science would be helpful.

    GBC may currently have a better record on the climate than many, but welcome as they are, these baby steps will not meet either the necessary scope or speed of change, nor residents’ wishes for genuine action on the climate crisis. The precedents already exist, from Stroud to Kirklees, so if a Citizens’ Assembly is a step too far, how about GBC aims to overhaul its feeble target and join these and other councils in taking action on the scale and scope required?

  6. Lisa Wright Reply

    February 22, 2020 at 11:46 pm

    Could GBC be pushing responsibility for climate change because they are utterly useless at looking after our local environment?

    GBC, including Cllr Jackson, voted through a Local Plan that will desecrate a huge area of local countryside which will have a significant impact on our traffic emissions and subsequent air pollution.

    In addition, Highways, with GBC and SCC support, have had two major ‘road improvements’ at The A3 slip at Stoke and are just about to open another one at Tesco. Millions of pounds of taxpayer money which has absolutely no effect on alleviating traffic conditions in rush hour. A pointless, costly waste of everyone’s time and money.

    GBC have also built much of the Sustainable Movement Corridor at Parkway and at Tesco, again, has anyone actually seen any cyclists on these routes?

    Let’s face it, you’d get better ideas from 5 year olds which would also cost less money.

    GBC might want to push the buck to SCC so they relinquish accountability for climate change but personally, I don’t buy it.

    Until GBC fess up and accept they’ve made a huge mistake with our Local Plan and lack the talent and credibility to improve the lives of residents regarding traffic, pollution and place making, I suggest they move aside from their Cllr positions and let someone else take the reins.

  7. Guy Sutlieff Reply

    February 24, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    We already have a county-wide body to discuss things like this in which we elect people to speak on our behalf. It’s called a county council.

    I’m sure the last thing we need is to fork out more money for another bunch of people to sit around chatting on expenses.

    I appreciate councils do actually achieve more than this, but I can’t see why we need another body to discuss global warming, other than contributing more hot air.

    What exactly would it achieve that a council couldn’t?

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