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Most Have No Idea of GBC’s Declared Climate Emergency But Council Is ‘Pleased with Progress’

Published on: 5 Jun, 2021
Updated on: 5 Jun, 2021

By Hugh Coakley

A large majority of Guildford residents are totally unaware of Guildford Borough Council’s declared climate emergency or the subsequent action taken by the council. That’s the indication of a “vox pop” sample of residents questioned by The Dragon NEWS in Guildford High Street on Thursday (June 3).

Of the fifteen questioned, only two had heard of the council’s declaration and most were unaware of any climate change actions taken by GBC.

Around 1,000 protesters marched in the High Street against government inaction over climate change in September 2020. Photo – Mandy Millyard.

Tony Jay, a retired teacher, said he had heard of the electrification of buses and council vehicles. “They are making efforts. But how can they expect to get more vehicles off the road by building in Wisley and forcing the new residents to drive because there is no infrastructure or adequate public transport?”

None of a group of five 18-year-old students from Guildford schools, sitting together in North Street, were aware. “I haven’t got a clue,” said one about GBC declaration or actions, adding, “We haven’t seen anything on social media about it.”

One of the fleet of electric buses on Guildford’s park and ride routes.

One of two women spoken to at Costa Coffee in Swan Lane said: “I can’t believe the traffic. I have an electric car but I don’t get any incentives from GBC.  There are fantastic advantages in London.”

Rob and Alex, who live in the town centre, were only aware of the electric Park & Ride buses, and recycling of shop waste in the High Street. Rob said: “It’s inevitable things have to change, but it’s not fast enough.”

Town centre shopkeeper Kris was not aware of the declaration or GBC actions but was dismissive: “Climate change doesn’t bother me anyway.”

Jan Harwood GBC’s lead councillor for Climate Change

The borough council unanimously declared a climate emergency during a dramatic council meeting in July 2019 (see Teenager Tells Council She Is Petrified For Her Future As Climate Emergency Is Declared).

And GBC has “made great steps in reducing CO2 emissions” from its own activities says Jan Harwood (Lib Dem, Merrow), lead councillor for climate change, and it remains committed “to becoming a net-zero carbon borough by 2030”.

But while some opposition politicians agree that progress has been made others remain sceptical.

Sam Peters

Sam Peters, Green Party spokesperson, said: “GBC has made real efforts since 2019, and has had some significant successes in doing so.”

He wanted “bolder steps on improving energy efficiency and emissions standards in construction” through stricter planning standards and more support for retrofitting homes with insulation and renewable energy.

Brian Creese, chair of the Guildford Labour Party disagreed saying the council had “failed to grasp the word ’emergency’ in their own policy”.

Brian Creese

He said: “Climate change requires urgent action from people at every level,” and he accused the R4GV and Lib Dem administration of inaction with “many fine words, but rather fewer fine deeds.”

Alastair Atkinson, chair of the Guildford Environmental Forum and co-opted onto the council’s climate change board, said GBC had now established a baseline and that the next six months were crucial “…to turn the ideas into a set of priorities and costed pipeline of deliverable projects”.

He added GBC needed to “show more leadership…if we don’t act now we will all live to regret it”.

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

Ramsey Nagaty (GGG, Shalford) said the original climate change working group was a Guildford Greenbelt Group initiative. He said “great strides have been achieved” but added that GBC should “impose higher climate change standards on developers as a planning requirement”.

He criticised the GBC planning team who he said “resisted” the concept that “dense urban building is better than car-dependent sprawl both in terms of the housing carbon footprint and the fact that the countryside retains its carbon sink benefits as well as generating less traffic”.

Cllr Harwood said GBC wanted to lead the way. “We’re pleased with the progress to date but we know there is a long way to go.”

He continued: “Net greenhouse gas emissions from our activities fell by 21% between 2016-17 and 2019-20,” outlining around 15 actions being taken to achieve the 2030 target.

Of these, five were actions taken since 2019, including publishing a high-level action plan in July 2020, installing solar panels on GBC buildings sufficient to power 49 homes, ordering 10 new electric minibuses making the fleet around 21% electric, encouraging rail and bus travel, plus reduced price bike and car hire through easitGuildford, and joint funding a tour of six local primary schools to teach about air quality.

The rest of the listed achievements noted were either inherited from previous administrations such as active travel plans, a new Park Barn station by 2025, going paperless at the council or aspirations including the identification of “opportunities to work together, share expertise, and develop exciting projects” with Surrey County Council, more electric charging points and arranging a Guildford Car Free Day on September 6.

We have asked the Conservatives, Extinction Rebellion Guildford and Zero Carbon Guildford for a comment but none was received at the time of publication.

See also Dragon Interview: GBC Looking For Solar Farm Opportunities Within The Borough Says Climate Change Councillor)

Hugh Coakley is a member of Extinction Rebellion.

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Responses to Most Have No Idea of GBC’s Declared Climate Emergency But Council Is ‘Pleased with Progress’

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    June 7, 2021 at 7:31 am

    The declaration of a climate emergency is meaningless, as long as GBC continues with the Tory ‘trajectory’ on the Local Plan. The plan, as it stands, will be disastrous to the local environment.

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